HE SITS ON his front porch in a cheap, plastic white chair holding an acoustic guitar with the name Jery dripping down its face in old red lipstick. He smiles and plays the great Joan Jett song guitar riff for the audience of four, actually five, if you include the old tramp with the Big Gulp cup watching and listening from the street.
The image of Joan in skintight shiny black leather rises immediately to the surface of the mind as Mike Semple strums a bit of "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" for Dog and Pony Show bandmates Jason Steed and Mike Ahern, a writer and the man of the street.
"That's his riff," Semple says.
"He has great stories," adds Steed.
"I think he's a fucking idiot," Semple says in reply.
The poor old guy with the Big Gulp? No, they aren't talking about him. They're talking about Eric Ambel, former guitarist with Joan Jett and The Blackhearts. It's his riff and his idiocy that has taken over the conversation.
Ambel produced three tracks on the new Dog and Pony album, Ashtrays and Afterlife Money.
"He's really friendly and nice on the surface," Semple says. "But inside somewhere he's a bitter and resentful guy. I think he's bitter that we're young and have a future and he's old and he doesn't. I only regret not dropping that (part) of the project."
"I only regret not dropping him, man, when he was yelling at me," Steed says animatedly. "I just couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I'd known this guy for like three days and he's yelling at me and calling me a prick 'cause I missed the notes of the songs we wrote. It's like, hey, if you're not getting paid enough to be here and be civilized and work with us and become friends with us and try to understand what we're doing and understand that we're not session musicians--then fuck off back to New York."
Guitarist, vocalist and lyricist Semple, bassist and backing vocalist Steed and drummer Timo battled with Ambel last summer at Waterworks Studio here in town. Ahern wasn't in the band at the time but he was a big fan with a van. He helped record the album on Epiphany Records by transporting band members and equipment back and forth from the studio.
"Not in his (Ambel's) defense, but just to be fair, I think he was led to believe it was going to be a much higher-scale type of thing," says Steed. "He was down on the studio and I can understand where he's coming from, how that was the case. I think the whole situation for him was it wasn't where he was used to working and he couldn't rise to the occasion."
Dog and Pony's first CD wound up being recorded at three different studios with all but the three Ambel tracks produced by the band.
"In the future we know that recording should be no different than playing live," Semple says. "You should go in and have a couple of beers, high-five each other, let the machine roll and try to do the best job you can. If there's mistakes, maybe they're good, maybe they're bad--you can always fix it.
"Despite the problems we had I think it's a good record, the songwriting is good and I'm really excited to record again and do the whole thing again."
The wrinkled, weathered Big Gulp man has been watching and listening to the conversation and, as there's a break in the talk, asks for some water. Everyone figures it's because the temperature is over 100 degrees and he needs to cool off.
"No, I need some water for my whiskey," he says loudly with a toothless smile.
Semple obliges, fetches his cup and puts a little water in it and tells him to be on his way.
"I'll fuck off, man," he shouts back. He starts to walk off, turns, grins and gives us the peace sign before leaving.
The small house near downtown is a rendezvous point for street people and folks on their way to the corner liquor store. They stop and ask a variety of questions that seem to come straight from a Tom Waits song. Can they have matches, can they stash their backpacks in the yard and more cosmically oblique questions that none of us have can answer...the perfect spot for discussing Ashtrays and Afterlife Money.
It's a paradoxical mix of hard-edged Nineties alt-rock reminding many of Dinosaur Jr. and Buffalo Tom, juxtaposed against classic Seventies pop elements and unusual chord progressions.
"When I listened to it I was surprised at how Seventies it sounded," Semple assesses. "We weren't going for that, you know what I mean? But there are lots of hints of almost glam stuff in there. Like 'Live Forever' is a total Mott The Hoople rip-off and 'Sad Song' is just totally pop and got that Seventies sound to it and 'Function At All'--that wasn't at all intentional."
"Nobody lives in a vacuum," Ahern says. "Whatever you're around comes out in what you do. Even if you try, like the Sex Pistols, they tried hard not be influenced by anything before them. They got the one-four-one Chuck Berry format in their songs because they couldn't help but do it.
"I think originality is overrated. If the music rocks it doesn't necessarily have to be the brand newest thing."
Ahern's status with Dog and Pony Show isn't absolutely clear. He's been playing with the band for a few months but isn't officially a member. But the former Minneapolis resident has already played with someone who formed another D & P Show.
He was in a band called Single Love with bassist Caleb Palmiter --later the bass player for Bash and Pop--and went on to form Caleb Palmiter and The Dog and Pony Show.
Palmiter was kicked out of Bash and Pop and replaced by a woman Semple dated for awhile. It's a small, small rock and roll world, after all.
The band's status in that world isn't exactly clear either. They hope to utilize the new album to introduce themselves to major labels and use it for future tour support.
"It was kind of an uphill climb to get it done," Semple says. "Now that's it's done, we're not totally pleased with it. I think that if you are totally pleased with something you do, why would you do another one? I think if a musician records the perfect album, there's no need record another. And this isn't the one. And it's good, I'm happy about that. I'm really stoked for the next one."
"It totally makes me feel that way," Steed agrees. "We can keep going until we can say 'That is the fucking best record ever written, as far as we're concerned.' By the time we get to the point we think we've made the best record we could ever make, people will say, 'Nah, their first three records were the best ones, man.' "
Photo by Jeff Smith
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