hippocamp ruins pet sounds
hippocamp ruins pet sounds
It was my idea to ruin Pet Sounds. The great folks of Hippocamp agreed that it needed to be done.
I hope I'm remembering this right. Self-mythologizing is one thing, but this story involves a bunch of other people. I think this is more or less how it went down.
Pet Sounds was an album I didn't understand right away. I checked it out upon hearing that it was one of the best records ever according to everyone's dad. I felt I had some duty to give it a try. Like a lot of people, I only understood the Beach Boys as some kind of abstract surf-and-sun thing.
While it was clear to me that Pet Sounds was something very different from what I thought the Beach Boys to be, I didn't agree really that it was all that special. I'm not sure exactly when my opinion changed, but as I educated myself through the acquisition and consumption of hundreds, thousands of other albums released in the last half-century or so, it became clear that Brian Wilson spoke in a childlike yet disarmingly sophisticated emotional and musical vocabulary. Brian has a way of bypassing your brain and appealing directly to your heart.
I really do feel like the record is sort of sacred. The project was compelled by my discovery of the Pet Sounds Sessions box set. Holy shit - there's a disc of a capella tracks. This is remixers heaven. Why hasn't there been a Pet Sounds remix compilation? If I didn't do it, someone else would have. So I did it.
Fortunately I had ingratiated myself with the good people that power the Hippocamp netlabel. I hitched onto that bandwagon at an opportune time in my own development, not to mention Hippocamp's. They were just preparing a compilation for their 100th release and I submitted a revised version of a track from my first blue t-shirt album. Umlaut, as I called it, became the first track on that 3-cd release. I was thrilled. I also released an album of my own on the netlabel. I think that was #101.
Hippocamp had a forum where electronic musicians congregated, and I floated the idea that thirteen of us take the thirteen tracks of the album and produce new versions of the tracks. The proposal met with immediate acceptance, and I went to work. As the organizer of the project, I had the honor of taking the first pick of songs. I chose my favourite on the album, the second song: "You Still Believe In Me". I had an overabundance of ideas, and I more or less crammed them all in. I'm really happy with the outcome, but it's sort of tough to make out what I'm going for.
But that's just one track of thirteen. The compilation really spans the gamut of... ways to ruin Pet Sounds. The track I did is among the more reverent reinterpretations. Most are delightful pisstakes.
Oh, and what pisstakes they are. Words don't work for this. There's really a little bit of everything. To some extent, it's all super shitty, but more often than not, it's glorious. The total failures are astounding, and the victories are confusing.
Needless to say, the title came about naturally. The album art was an extension of that. As an aside, if it's wrong to laugh at Mike Love with googly eyes and a pot on his head, then I don't want to be right.
I don't think I had any particular expectations for the project. It was an experiment. I realized doing it in collaborative way risked a creative disaster, but had a much greater potential for attracting the attention of the public at large. After convincing myself that a creative disaster is still a pretty excellent outcome, I went on. Though I would have been perfectly content if the project resulted in thirteen ornate baroque Pet Sounds do-overs, it became clear right away that it was not going to turn out that way. As soon as people started signing up for slots on the album, this sense of rebellion started to infuse the whole venture. It was totally appropriate. We were destroying an icon. Desecrating a undeniable classic.
At some point, the folks at Hippocamp asked us to release the record in such a way that it was disassociated from the netlabel. All of the artists involved are associated in some way with the collective, but Hippocamp Ruins Pet Sounds is officially not a Hippocamp release. It was posted on the website of one of the contributors, autistici, and it's still available there today.
After posting, it wasn't long before we received an ominous email. I think it was a message consisting of a single line of text, to the extent of "hope you're ready to be sued", or something like that. For some reason, this sent me into paroxysms of paranoia. I felt like I had done something very very wrong and that I was going to be in big trouble. Thankfully, the Hippocamp people talked me back into sensibility. I wrote a disclaimer that made it perfectly clear how the project exemplified the tenets of fair use, and our asses were so damn covered that from that point on, we were much less concerned about the possibility of being sued. By that point, though, rumors had spread that we our record was legally dubious, and the internet justice folks decided our wagon was one worth circling. This was within a year of the release of the Grey Album, which, you may remember, was Danger Mouse's Jay-Z/Beatles mashup that everyone's mom was talking about for a few weeks. So, it was satisfying to see our album featured on bannedmusic.org alongside that cultural milestone, despite the fact that Hippocamp Ruins Pet Sounds was never really banned, per se. A minor quibble, though.
Any how, at this point, the album started to develop a bit of its own momentum, which was thrilling, to be frank. One of the album's contributors whipped up a press release and sent it out to several music publications, and I'm proud to say that the project and its contributors were mentioned on Thee Pitchfork. (If Pitchfork were a print rag, this news brief would be in my scrapbook. I'd also have a scrapbook, I guess.) Other sites covered it, including the aforementioned bannedmusic.org, and before long, the number of downloads was in the dozens of thousands. At this point, I'd estimate that 100,000 people have downloaded it. I can't even really wrap my head around that idea. If you search for "Pet Sounds" on Google, it's still on the second page of results. That's nuts.
That's more or less where this story ends. Unlike Danger Mouse, I never became a world famous music producer. Hippocamp (or rather, the folks associated with Hippocamp, but definitely not Hippocamp proper, no) put out a second compilation: Hippocamp Ruins Sgt. Peppers. I wanted nothing to do with it, essentially because there was no equivalent to the a capella tracks we had to work with on the Pet Sounds project. Also, really, let's be honest... from the moment of conception, it was shamelessly concocted as a typical half-baked sequel.
Around that time, I started working on a different project and I drifted apart from the Hippocamp crew. As far as I know, the Pet Sounds thing was far and away the most attention Hippocamp ever received, yet since the label never sanctioned it as an official release, they managed to keep some distance from it, too. I think everyone's happy with how things turned out. A bunch of people had fun, the blogosphere had something fresh to talk about for a few days, we cooked up some nifty tunes, the Beach Boys got some love, and no one got sued. Everyone wins.