Able Baker Fox

Able Baker Fox
Able Baker Fox is an amalgam of past punk greats. Comprised of Nathan Ellis, formerly of Casket Lottery and Coalesce, as well as Mike and Ben Reed as well as Jeff Gensterblum, the backbone of Small Brown Bike, they represent some of the most influential underground bands of the ’90s. Their former projects dissolved, all four members now reside in different cities, a factor that played a crucial role in Able Baker Fox’s formation. Ben Reed shared his thoughts with Exclaim! about the band's long distance connection.

You’re dealing with a lot of people, myself included, who are big fans of the other bands you’ve been involved in. Is there a lot pressure in putting out this full-length and confronting people’s expectations?
Bassist and vocalist Ben Reed: I feel pretty disconnected, to be honest. It’s been four years since Small Brown Bike played any shows, outside of our reunion show. I haven’t really thought much about anyone having any expectations. We just went into it, and it sounded like fun, and we gave it a shot. I think after we finished recording it, I started wondering what people would think. But I honestly feel like this is more of a return to the kind of music that our bands got known for in the first place, than, say Small Brown Bike’s last album.

Was there ever any difficulty in matching what you hoped you would achieve as a band, purely on a creative level?
I was curious what this would sound like, but I didn’t have great expectations of what it would sound like. It was fun, because… I don’t know if you know how we recorded it, but we each wrote songs and would share them online, and add parts, and send them back to each other. It was a pretty different way of writing. It was fun. You would have a song, and you would record it, and you would hear it one way in your head, and then someone else would get it, and put something on it that would change it entirely. Things came out entirely different than how you imagined them.

I was curious how the genesis for the whole project as MP3 trading worked.
It wasn’t like we would totally finish songs, but we would send a couple of ideas back and forth. [More like] ideas for a verse or a chorus. We would write them separately and then send them off. We did it using GarageBand, and we would just layer another guitar or bass on top of the song. We got together one time in Chicago about a year ago and we practiced. We took all the songs that we had written online, and just played them for a couple of days. Then after we practiced we all went back home, and each of us took a couple of songs and wrote lyrics and vocals for those songs. It was pretty fun because everything got mixed up. I wrote the lyrics and vocals for two songs that I didn’t write the music for. It was cool how it worked out.

Is that style of writing something that you would want to do again? Do you see another record written in this way, or was it just an interesting exercise?
I would defiantly do it again. It was fun. It was a lot different than practicing every week with a group of guys. It was nice. It was… What am I trying to say? It was different. I play in another band, and we practice once a week, so I get my fix of playing music. It’s fun to just sit at home in your own space and write songs like this. It was funny to come together for the first time and play these songs we’d never played together but we could all play them from start to finish.

I wanted to ask what it was like playing the songs all together for the first time in Chicago.
Well, we’ve all played music together before, so it went really smoothly. All we did once we got together in Chicago was just play the songs and spend some time tightening them and structuring them. It was really easy, and really quick.

Did much change when you guys actually started tracking when you got down to Kansas?
I suppose a little bit changed. We played a few things just a little bit different. But that was pretty funny, too, because when we actually went to record, Mike, Nathan, and Jeff got out there a few days before me, so when I got there, the drums were already done. A lot of stuff was done. Jeff had played stuff I wasn’t expecting to hear. Then we changed stuff after Jeff had left. It came together really well, though. I’ve never recorded an album so… I mean, we did it in four days. It went really smoothly, and I think it sounds really good, and I’ve never been able to record something that quickly. No one was stressed out at all. Everything went so smoothly I can’t even believe it.

Was there ever any difficulty in finding what would be a cohesive voice in the band given that there are three of you singing and writing?
I think a big part of it was just the fact that all three of us are singing on almost all the songs, even if one person is taking the lead. Everyone comes in the chorus or adds harmonies or whatever. I think the recording process, and working with Ed Rose, was one of the biggest things. His ears were tuned in to that. He had his ways of making it seem cohesive. I mean, the instruments stay the same through the whole album.

Besides the actual sound of it, in terms of songwriting, were there any weird deviations that almost happen? I mean, for three people writing songs, it comes across sounding really unified.
I think it’s just how it happened. Me and Mike and Jeff were all in Small Brown Bike together, so we already had a similar style and knew it worked together. And we had recorded with Nathan before. We knew each other’s styles. There actually was a time when we thought about having someone else be the singer. I mean, we wrote all the music, and after the music was entirely done, we moved on to the vocals and the lyrics. We liked the idea of working on something and giving it away and seeing what someone else would do with the vocals. But when it came down to it, we’re all pretty capable vocalists and we wanted to do it ourselves. Which I’m glad we did.

Who were you considering?
We never really talked to anyone else. We were just thinking of friends of ours. Someone brought up talking to Rocky Votolato one time, but we never asked him to do it.

Given everyone’s other musical and familial commitments, do you expect to be able to play together live much at all? I know you have your CD release and the Hot Water Music reunion show, but outside of that, do you have any plans?
This whole project has just been one step at a time. We went into it just open to it, and we’re all still feeling that way. We just want to get the album out and play a few shows here and there. We definitely want to play in all the cities where we live. I think we just want to see if people are interested in the album and interested in us coming out. I mean, it is different now. We didn’t have the same responsibilities, and Nathan didn’t have kids. We need to make sure that if we go out now, we’re not going to lose everything. It needs to be worth our time. I mean, it’s a double-edged sword. You get more popular by touring, but we need to wait to get into that. We just want to sell enough albums to do it again. Break even on what we spent on it, and go back and record another one.