Around the Sun Again: Transylvania Stud and the Red Queen
There is often a fine line between good, old-fashioned balls out rock 'n' roll, and over-produced commercial claptrap. Take the tightrope of time between Nirvana's debut masterpiece Bleach and the album that all but pulled the trigger on Kurt Cobain's short life, Nevermind. Both albums contain a scroll of killer tunes that feature all the elements of a great song; peaks and troughs, angst, a catchy chorus, and a decent grope of poppy hooks. But where Bleach nails your balls to a molten cast iron platter and licks at the erogenous zone of your sinister side, Nevermind leaves you about as frustrated as that blue-balled kid on prom night whose date ran off with the star quarterback. Bitch.
To put it simply, the production on Nevermind sucks. It's terrible. Butch Vig, a producer who I admire and will respect until the end of time, really dropped the ball on that one, most likely in an effort to appease the pressures mounting from the hierarchy at the band's new label, Geffen. The sound is thin, tinny, yet at times seems over compressed and claustrophobic. That's no mean feat by the way, and delivers a fantastic lesson in mind-control: Do not overthink. Keep the fucking thing simple.
Testament to that is that Bleach only cost $600 to complete, and is as raw and as angry and most certainly as accessible as any album that has ever been released before or since. Nevermind? Well, whatever...
Bar one crucial element, none of this has a hell of a lot to do with the subject of this article; Transylvania Stud. But it's a damn important element, as vital and as necessary as a good rhythm section or a lead guitarists cock size.
Complimentary and relevant production.
And this is where Transylvania Stud producer, the Nashville based J. Hall, has it down. It's a rare accomplishment in this day and age, but somehow Hall has finagled the glaven (Simpsons, sorry) that is the gift of walking the plank between goddamn rock 'n' roll and commercial viability. The man does it with aplomb, not only bringing the heavy, riff-based sound to life, but also nuancing life and vibrancy into the intangibles and subtleties that exist in one form or another on every single recording. To achieve this, Hall has stripped the process down to the basics.
"He has this thing where he says, 'Hey, we're not saving lives here. It's just rock and roll. Let's not fall too far down the rabbit hole, Alice."
-Andrew Godfrey (Transylvania Stud) on The Red Queen producer J. Hall.
In this case, Transylvania Stud's killer debut EP The Red Queen, what can't be heard is of equal importance as what is clearly audible. And believe me, this thing is as audible as fuck. Like any Motorhead album, The Red Queen is designed to be cranked up loud, proud, angry and belligerent. But even still, every individual note has been allowed to breathe, and each exist as their own single entity. This is important.
Andrew Godfrey, the Transylvania Stud singer, guitarist, bassist and drummer (that's right, the smart ass plays everything), says it best himself:
"The most underrated thing that any musician can have, especially as a one-man band, is a great producer."
Production aside, the sound in general on The Red Queen is phenomenal. To quote Godfrey himself, "it's huge." Title track 'Red Queen' opens with a stoner-sludge riff that can only be described as ball swinging. Hang them low, hang them proud. The build up to the first verse happens quickly, but in this case necessary, as the sludginess really does personify a rapid increase in tension. By the third line of the first verse, the release of pressure is sweet relief. Like heroin, but without the premature death.
It becomes apparent very early on in 'Red Queen' that Transylvania Stud could very well be that tightrope between music snobbery and commercial pop. On one hand, the heavy riffage, the sludge, and the imagery should appease even the most hardcore of stoner rock fans, whilst on the other, the production, the song craft, musicianship and pop sensibilities could go a long way to reintroducing the genre back into some form of mainstream calculation. Pop and mainstream are not dirty words by the way.
The obvious references are there: Queens of the Stone Age, where Godfrey, despite making his sound his own, very much sings with a similar measure and harmony to stoner god Josh Homme. Naturally, there's the Kyuss influence, even perhaps a hint of Motorhead, in particular with the drum pattern on track 2 'Of Suffering'. But interestingly, there are some influences from way out of left field too.
Recently reformed science rockers Failure have most certainly had a portion of sound rub off on Godfrey, who implements his own unique twist on a Ken Andrews space-factory guitar effect perfectly not only within 'Red Queen' but also on the EP's third and final track 'Consummate'.
And it is here, on this epic track, where Godfrey's intentions seem to expose themselves for the unpredictable weirdos they might very well turn out to be. Often throughout music history, the trained ear has picked up on the nuances of the final track of a particular release, and has thusly treated it as the barometer of what may follow. Whether by design, or completely by accident, the ultimate track on many recordings has been utilised as an artistic free-for-all, with the artist almost shedding the burden of weight and expectation and throwing caution to the wind, often yielding in something pretty damn incredible. (May I use Pink Floyd's 'Echoes', the final track on their 1971 album Meddle as a shining example. The band's next studio release ended up being a modest little album called Dark Side of the Moon.)
That's not to say that Godfrey has completely let loose here; 'Consummate' is certainly no freeform wig out. But, what is more than noticeable on this track is his willingness to experiment loosely with differing effects and structures, all while remaining within the constraints of a damn solid and beefy rock song. This is a Ken Andrews trademark, and whilst I'm always loathed to tear strip after influential strip off any band, particularly bands I like, naturally, whether one likes it or not, the comparison certainly does apply here.
'Consummate' is the perfect final track and sweeps the listener through a spacey journey of abstract time, whilst again signalling Godfrey's intentions, this time in the form of polite request, "bring me around the sun again."
Complete with Homme-style harmonisations and a wickedly invasive prog-metal lead break, 'Consummate' can only take Transylvania Stud in one, and one direction only; back around the sun to a profusely weirder world.
Future predictions are one thing, and whilst being fun to discuss, are kind of abstract in themselves until the future actually arrives, which is never. That's the great thing about music. But the great thing about The Red Queen EP is that whilst Transylvania Stud are still finding their feet, in between the experimentations, the impending weirdness and perhaps the deep spaciness of future stoner vacuum, which I for one am damn looking forward to, they sure as hell know how to churn out one motherfucking ball tearer of a rock song.
*Listen to track 2 of The Red Queen EP 'Of Suffering'. Need I say more.
To purchase Transylvania Stud's debut EP The Red Queen, hit one of the links below. To listen to Roadkill Radio's interview with Andrew Godfrey himsel, click here.