The Story Behind Human Jukebox

It was sometime in 2007, between a full paid trip to Hawaii, and playing on some festival stages in Milwaukee, that I first conceived of Human Jukebox. I had been playing folk music with the Dave Rowe Trio for three years at that point. It was rewarding work and I was happy with it, but there was no drummer, and I had spent twenty years honing my style as a melodic rock bass player. I was missing that, and I decided a solo project was in order.

The trick was to decide what sort of solo project. I had already done two solo CDs at the turn of the century, and I had realized that I had neither the time nor the inclination to improve my technique to the levels of Victor Wooten, Stu Hamm, or Michael Manring. I didn’t want to do anything too straightforward either as I did not want to have DRT fans questioning why I was doing a rock solo project. I did have a number of prog rock style songs that I had never properly recorded, and some solo pieces that would fit with the vibe I was thinking. 

My friend Seth Warner had discovered a set of Roland V-Drums at Bates. One of my collaborators from my early days, Larry Averill, was also available, and he was the just the guitar player I was looking for. We had spent the early ’90’s jamming to Focus, King Crimson, and Voivod. I had the nucleus to bring the full band songs to life. I had just upgraded the studio to Pro Tools, and I was ready to try and record my first professional level project.

The blue print of the album was a question: “What would it sound like if progressive rock guys, like King Crimson, tried to play disco?” Listen to David Bowie’s “Fashion” or Voivod’s “Golem” and you get an idea of what I was thinking. I had three songs from the early ’90’s, “One Step at a Time”, “R.E.B.T.”, and “Human Jukebox”. Dissonance over funk grooves was the name of the game. I wrote “I Have No Groove (and I am Mean)” and “DB Alert” for the album, and that took care of the full band songs. 

I have to give a shout out to Seth and Larry here. While I can program a decent enough drum beat, Seth brings an energy and spontaneity to these songs that really makes them stand out. He’s a good listener and he and I operate on the same wave length when it comes to what a rock song really needs. Larry is one of the most creative, outside the box guitar players I have ever encountered. Although those three original songs already had melodies, Larry always had something to add that elevated the music, from the three part guitar harmonies in “One Step at a Time”, to the wah-effect guitar on “R.E.B.T.”, to the clean jazz fusion-inspired guitar on “Human Jukebox”. Of those songs, “R.E.B.T.” is the stand out. The first guitar solo literally explodes from the speakers and threatens to destroy not only the song, but the sound system itself. Larry’s atonal off the wall soloing competing with Seth’s manic drumming while I lay down an odd sounding groove still brings a smile to my face. 

The other highlight for me is “I Have No Groove (and I am Mean)” This is the one song where I had no guitar part in mind. I had a typical funk groove for a baseline, and I said to Larry to think like Robert Fripp. He did and then made it entirely his own. The parts he created for the bridge still astound me with their freshness and originality. 

For the solo pieces, I had written “What One Could Do (is Dance)” a while before. “Babblemouth” came together after I discovered an intriguing effect on my multi-effects board. “This Title is Longer than the Song” was punk rock ditty that came to me during the recording. I was going to make it twice as long as it eventually became, but my wife convinced me that repeating the melody was unnecessary, and she was right. “Fools, I’ll Destroy The All!” was a bass solo piece that never worked as a solo piece, but the melody line was a fantastic bass line. I added a melodic guitar melody, the funk groove at the end, and then asked Mike Prescott to come over and add some awesome shredder guitar lines. 

Another shout out has to go to Mike. Mike brought a precision and melody to the song I would never have thought off. Mike brought his Steve Vai/Eric Johnson/Joe Satriani influences for some parts, and took melodies I had written and expanded upon the them with harmony guitar parts and call and response melody lines to really make the song come alive. He and I worked on his guitar lines for seven hours because he wanted those lines perfect. It really paid off with this song.

The unintended and unexpected heart of the album turned out to be “Mood Swing”. The song had started off with an interesting effect I had discovered and I coupled the effect with a really nice chord progression and did a solo on top of that. It was in Dminor, the “saddest of all keys” as Nigel Tufnel will tell you. I paired that part to a more uplifting part, where I stacked bass parts to sound like guitar parts, and did one of the best recorded bass solos of my career. Yet something was missing and it took me weeks to pinpoint it - the drums on the second part didn’t fit with the energy the song needed. I eventually had to rerecord the drum parts three times before the song finally hit its stride. I usually can listen to my recorded songs later on down the road and feel a sense of satisfaction if I did it well - this one still grabs me. The second part of the song really takes off and the energy just builds and builds until the very end. 

I have to thank Dave Rowe for helping me mix the album. He let me use his studio speakers to give the album a good listen and it was a help. I have to thank Mike Prescott’s wife Melissa for the cover. She worked at the same school as me and when I approached her with my idea, which was essentially a rip-off of Voivod’s Dimension Hatross cover, she took it in a completely different direction. I remember going to Mike and Melissa’s house where she had me pose in different positions so she could head and body shots for what she wanted. The end result was spectacular.

So what happened to Human Jukebox? I had it available and then six years ago, I pulled it. Primarily, the reason had to do with DB Alert, which stood for a word that could not be played on radio, and a word I didn’t think my new employers would appreciate coming from their newly hired school counselor. Having made it no longer available gave me the chance to fix things that I had not gotten right on the first go round of mixing. The bass no longer sounds like it is about to blow up your speakers, I was able to fix some glaring errors I didn’t take time to fix, and I was bale to rerecord some bass parts so that I could put my Rickenbacker on the CD. 

I have to thank Naythen Wilson. We struck up a conversation one day that led to me sending him a copy of the remixed CD, and he loved it, which inspired me to give it that final once over to get it ready to make it public once again. I am happy to be able to bring it back into the spotlight!

I hope you enjoy the album as much as I did making it!

Kevin O'Reilly