Ben Winch

writer / rocker

Embrace Shambolism

Wig out with Cottage Industry Recordings, 2003-6

October 13th 2018

Cottage Industry Recordings – what can I say? I never wanted to be a producer, never wanted to run a record label. But I was thirty years old and I’d never made a record. Thanks to a Literature Board grant for Brothers of the Head, I’d just purchased a Tascam 788 digital 8-track and a Rode NT3 condenser microphone. I had a bunch of cheap, mostly borrowed instruments and enough songs for an album (Shadow History), but the album could wait. I knew my early efforts would be – not to put to fine a point on it – shit, and I wanted to celebrate it, Tom Waits or Captain Beefheart style; I wanted to embrace shambolism. And a set of carefully crafted pop songs done Beefheart style was not gonna fly.

So I started recording – anything, I didn’t care. I just threw some shit at the wall. Working on Brothers of the Head was inspirational. My collaborator Tim Sinclair hadn’t drummed in years (he’d contracted tinnitus after his stint in local thrash-metal act Jemima and Friends) and his playing could be wobbly. As to me, I didn’t really want to make a spoken-word and music concept album about a guy with a foetus in his head, I wanted to be a rockstar. So, from impatience, I’d only record single takes. But I’d just discovered editing, see. And though the Tascam had the world’s tiniest monochrome LCD screen, since I knew no better I thought it was gold. Loops! Of crappy old instruments! Slightly out of time! Whoa baby!

I’d stumbled on an aesthetic, one I used in almost every CIR release over the next three years, even when it sounded like we were playing live. (Bleed’s Gateway to the Snow is the exception – all live, unedited takes, if played by one musician. Oh, and the COQ Bros’ Rare 2 Medium, a rare out-of-house production.) It’s what, to my mind, made the whole project feasible, because it gave us the confidence to just wig the f**k out and trust to the editing process. It was a fiction. A conflation. And even though it sounds, probably, effortless, and sometimes trashy as hell, it took some work.

CIR 02 (CIR 01 was a teaser for Brothers of the Head), Ben W’s COQ Solo, was looped drums and mostly live overdubs. True to form, it sounded, well, shitty, but not without a certain spirit. “World is Yours” was the call to arms, but I’m not sure who I thought would hear it. Out of 20 numbered copies I’ve still got five.

CIR 03 was Bleed’s Gateway…

CIR 04, The 66 Sessions: As lo-fi as it gets, but hilarious! Cultural terrorist A. Snowball and I had just conceived of psychedelic party band the Chicken Dinners Project and this was our debut. “Chicken Dinner (The Genesis)”, I’ll admit, was a live take, if subjected to a single overdub entailing the three of us (Reed Bleed AKA Sniffy C was visiting from Melbourne) on improvised vocals, but I don’t know if it could have been so wild if it wasn’t for the thought that I could fix it later. As to BlueCOQ (No Cheese)’s “Goth Bar Mitzvah”, it’s loop after loop, cut up from improvised takes recorded to a click-track. DCB SnoCOQ (Dex C + Bartoni + Sno + COQ) is as lazy a recording as I’ve ever made: we threw some microphones on the floor in front of the amps and hoped for the best. You can hear Dex laughing with blissed-out abandon throughout, and that may fool the casual listener into thinking it’s live, but the cuts in “Lynchian” (my favourite) are pretty obvious.

CIR 05-07 – Ben W’s Transparent Tigers, W. COQ’s More COQ, and Menu’s Start / Rhythm – are all my solo projects. Ben W is my child self, a novice mastermind, a terminal beginner. COQ’s the future-primitive punk-rocker. Menu (the name of my childhood imaginary friend) plays old-time, folk and roots music. Aside from Menu (who actually wrote songs before recording them) everything on these EPs was improvised and cut-and-pasted.

CIR 08, CDP’s 04/04, came about because I’d promised Snowball we’d make an album. Well, it took a day – to record it. Again, there were no retakes, and some of these tracks were ten-minutes-plus when I first heard them! God knows how long I spent editing this puppy: picking a bar that was not too offensively out of time and looping it to make up for a fourth, hideously arhythmic bar which I’d decided to cut; or just deleting chunks and trying, without a metronome or the capability to crossfade, to make the resulting edit sound natural.

CIR 09 was the COQ Bros’ Rare 2 Medium – all live, mostly first takes, a little forethought.

CIR 10, DandyCOQ2 by Jim (Glenorchy) Dandy and the COQ Bros, is a personal favourite, despite that I was literally setting the microphones up as the other guys started playing. One take, virtually every riff off the tops of our heads, and then we sat down CDP-style for a single, three-mic vocal overdub. “Shit #2”, the second part of the “Piece of Shit” trilogy, is the apex here, and as pure a representation of the shambolist aesthetic as you’re likely to get. A night to record, probably a week or two to mix and edit.

CIR 11, The Clinic Sessions, has been sitting in my mental inbox for over a decade now, waiting for an edit. I’d always felt it had potential, but by then my life was falling apart and ultimately my focus was elsewhere. And then the Tascam’s hard drive died and, for several years, that was that. In this album, the focus is more on jamming and less on absurdity, and I’ll admit to a degree that didn’t so much interest me. I think conceptually, I guess, and without a vocal – even if it’s just some madman yelling cuss-words – a song is, well, not quite a song to me; it lacks a concept. Anyway I finally mixed and edited it a couple of months back. It’s been cut up pretty seriously, but I like to think you couldn’t tell. The COQ Bros’ “Industry” kicks ass, imho. And Rebellion Off-Duty’s “Lou Reed in Cali” is a grower, with some tasty Cheese guitar-work.

CIR 12, the Chautauqua’s Three Phase, lacks the label’s trademark absurdity, and it’s less improvised, since frontman Dandy provides some song structures. But it has been edited, since I for one refused to learn those structures. “Feed My Chicken” is one of two purely shambolist tracks here, but it’s technically a Padded COQ session, since Dandy sat on the sidelines while COQ, Cheese and Paddy Ryan of Greater Northern duked it out.

And for many years it seemed the CIR story might end there, despite that along the way I’d saved up another 30-40 tracks (or at least the basis of them) that never got a look-in. I virtually gave up home recording from 2006 to 2012. I demoed Shadow History songs with “real” producers (twice) and gigged (a little) and worked straight jobs (a lot). I left for Sydney, northern NSW, Manchester (the CIR story happened in the Adelaide Hills, Melbourne’s inner north, southern NSW and Toolangi Victoria). In 2012 I met my wife Ciannait and moved to Byron Shire, where a modicum of stability helped me get the 8-track working, set up a small but basic studio, and ultimately buy a decent computer and start working with a modern DAW (the open-source Reaper), an experience which led to my current project Light Traveller as well as the resurrection of all those near-forgotten Cottage Industry tracks. Just like the old days, I’m swamped with half-finished recordings, but every six months or so I fire up W’s Quiet Pleas, COQ’s Tightrope Walker, Menu’s Take the Slack, or the COQ Bros’ COQ Rock, and they’re coming along.

One thing I miss: that irreverance. I’m tempted to say those were fun times, but they were shit, at least for me. My life was a mess. But for as long as I could lose myself in the world of CIR it was (demented) bliss. Sometimes I dream of a Buena Vista Social Club future, where we all regroup after 20-30-50 years and the crowd are shouting out for “Mindless” or “Algebra” or “JBT vs Cheese Rock Party Metal”. Well I can dream, right?

I said I never wanted to run a record label, and the truth is I never did, not really. 12 releases and never sold a copy. Shit, after the first few releases I didn’t even bother making copies, except for the musicians. Let’s just say I never had a knack for self-promotion. Still, at last, for the first time ever, every single CIR release (90 tracks so far) is available to listen to and download, and that, my friends, is for me a minor miracle. These are the sounds I’ve been missing lately, the antithesis to my careful one-man-band productions. This is COQ rock! This is shambolism!

COQ Rock & Shambolism @ YouTube

Studio 66, Bridgewater SA 2003

Studio 66 bridgewater SA 2003
Cottage Industry Recordings @ Bandcamp

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