Monday, November 22. I’m drinking black tea with sugar, flying east with the sun across the vast Atlantic towards the continent where I reside. It is daytime, and I know this from the warm sunlight beaming on my face through the window. I wouldn’t say I ever took the sun for granted; in fact, I try to protect my skin in the daytime and surf at dawn to escape it’s more harmful elements. I’m telling you this because I have just come from Finland, where darkness is wrapping the country in it’s enveloping gauze as the planet tilts away from sun towards winter. It was light in Finland from 9am until around 3pm but even so, it was never fully light. There is a perpetual dusk that settles across the land and long-term, it can take a toll on your disposition. At first, you don’t notice the loss of bright light but after a while the pervasiveness of it all settles in. When this beam of sunlight hit my face, tempered by the week’s deprivation, I could feel the life in it straight through my skin. Deprivation can cause longing over time, but also appreciation. When you are without something you undervalue as a presence in your life, you understand its true value. As the band Cinderella sang, don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone. This story begins and ends in the same place, but it’s all about the journey. And maybe it’s about the price we put on time when we don’t realize how it could all be over tomorrow. I stood in an ancient graveyard in Turku, Finland, surrounded by candles on countless graves, a daily ritual of remembering the dead. With graves dating back into the 1400’s and beyond, it was chock full of people who are no longer able to do whatever it was that they loved to do. This of course reinforces the fact that life is short, and sometimes it’s now or never. Which is why I went to Finland to complete the third official studio album by Rudy, entitled Taste the Love. And it sounds beautiful.
Most of you know that I front a swanky little band called Rudy, a booty-rocking, porno-funking combo that rides by the slogan “Penetrate your mind, boogie your behind” and means it. Featuring a killer rhythm section and a mad conguero, Rudy gives me a chance to bring out a real Rhodes, Clavinet and Minimoog and get funkier than week-old gig butt after a summer tour of Louisiana. Our first two albums- Booty and Sexy– came out during the glory days of the late-90’s, when times were good, the music was flowing and most importantly, we were all simultaneously geographically located. We became family and gelled into a tight groove machine with residencies at infamous Florida clubs like Squeeze, the New World Cafe and, of course, The Hole, where many a legendary jam was laid down. Around the turn of the century, Rudy drifted a bit, tied to the dock and bobbing for an occasional joyride. Robbie and Johnny had relocated to the west coast for work and the band didn’t jam as often as they used to. And time went by. When we did play, at least a few times a year, it was magic. There is a chemistry that happens when these four people play together that creates something that feels and sounds unique and that never really got out there in the way that it should have. And as time went by, I realized that it had been a long time since we’d made a real studio album. We had a bunch of newer unrecorded songs that we had been playing live the past few years but had only demoed them at best to be saved for some future purpose. Somewhere along the way, I realized that purpose was not going to present itself; like all great purposes, it needed to be conjured, oiled up and boiled to a perfect percolation. The universe may not always align to favor an endeavor, but sometimes it is when the universe conspires against you that you realize the greatness of achieving the task. And sometimes the task requires more than you ever thought it would extract from you. And then you find yourself on a plane to Finland with a hard drive and an iron constitution. But let’s step back for a moment to late last summer to find the spark that lit the fuse.
As the ten year anniversary of Sexy approached, I brought forth the proposition that the four members of Rudy unite to record the long awaited cap on our funk trilogy and take the band from the realm of nostalgia into a living breathing unit of groove. So in the fall of 2009, Howard came out to my G-Spot Studio outside of LA to work on some tunes for the new album. The simple act of getting together bore delicious fruit, as a half dozen fresh tunes poured forth and we demoed them as we wrote. One of the songs, “Meaning of My Life,” had languished on our back burner since the late 90’s but the rest were brand new Rudy tunes that signaled a rebirth of our sound and partnership. The plan was set in motion and within months we found ourselves in South Florida to rehearse and track the new album. We had 15 songs that spanned every facet of Rudy’s stylistic palette and even added a few new colors that are sure to surprise and delight any Rudy fan, present or future. From live favorites like “Special Thing” and “The Bus” to brand new tunes like “Messin’ With Your Mind” and “Happy,” we had an albums worth of solid tunes. Time to rock.
We began recording at The Dungeon studio in Miami under the seasoned hand of producer/songwriter Zack Ziskin and the grooves flowed freely. The Rhodes Piano Company had loaned me a cherry red Rhodes Mach 7 which I used extensively all over the record. The Clavinet and vintage Minimoog were provided by Sonic Reality studios, who have one of the most excellent vintage keyboard collections in the south east. Allan Gabay and Dave Kerzner were gracious gents and their support helped us make the music sound the way it needed to. My own Clavinet resides back in California, and there is no real substitute for the real thing. “Superstitious” and “Trampled Underfoot” aside, there are only a handful of iconic Clav songs, as it is not the easiest instrument to front a song with. We hadn’t recorded any Clav songs since the Booty album (“Brownies and Lemonade” and “Oil It Boil It”) and for this one, we had two more to add to the catalog- longtime live favorite “The Shit” and one of the dirtiest Spanish songs ever recorded, “Leche Caliente.” You didn’t thing Rudy was going straight, did you? Au contraire mon frer; on this album, we plumb new depths of dancefloor degradation with epic jams like the Moog-fueled “Boogie Down” and our ode to everyone’s Mom, “The Meateater.” Funny thing is, we actually have a couple of tunes that could make radio without making you blush, such as the upbeat “Happy” and the joyful “Meaning of My Life.” As we are a bilingual band, we have two songs in Spanish on the record, a first (and second) for our band. Aside from the aforementioned dirty ditty about hot milk (use your imagination) we have created “Panocha,” which aims to be the “Pooter” of this record and features Rey Diaz’s first official vocal track (aside from his infamous “Howard sit down!” exclamation on Booty). If anything, this record showcases the unity and collective vibe that the four of us bring to the communal pot and you can feel it and hear it with every bump and grind. As we finished tracking, we started thinking about who would mix these songs with us to bring them into technicolor glory. It was at this fortuitous time that our long lost brother Brian Fitzpatrick came back into our lives. Brian had produced the first two Rudy albums with us and knew our sound perhaps better than anyone. It seemed like kismet that he apparated at this juncture, and the band was excited to have him involved. There was just one issue: he now lived deep in Finland. Finland!
So we sent Brian the tracks and he began to mix, sending mp3’s across the net so we could give feedback and attempt to get things dialed in that way. But after some back and forth, we felt that this wasn’t going to get us to the final product the way we wanted. As we rolled it around in our brains and tried to figure out a solution, the answer quickly became clear: I had to go to Finland. Yes, to “Finnish” the record, thank you 😉 So I gathered up all the miles I could, borrowed a few more to make up the difference (thanks Chris!) and made a plan: sometime after the Rudy shows we had booked in South Florida around Halloween, I would make the long journey across the globe and hole up with Brian for a week to bring this record in for the touchdown. After practicing these tunes out in Cali, I decided to cut new vocals for the record, and began the task in earnest, laying down some inspired takes to match the energy that Rudy was throwing down. As Halloween approached, I worked through most of the tunes and got ready to play and sing them live. Our new full time addition of a Minimoog to my rig gave me a huge new color with which to paint. A few were tricky to get down tight live, especially “Boogie Down,” a rippling discoboogie anthem with dual Minimoog and Rhodes parts that had me reaching across the rig to grab right hand chords while synth-funking for booty dunking with my left hand, all while singing lead vocals and dancing my ass off. Needless to say, my neighbors got a good dose of grooves while I got ready to rock.
Our one rehearsal down in Florida went smooth, as we all showed up prepared for our mission. However, now we had Rey and Howard singing and we prepared to do our best barbershop quartet. The Halloween shows were great fun, beginning on Friday the 29th at Tobacco Road with a three-set throwdown that ran through most of our three albums’ worth of tunes wrapped in a cool LCD light show from our friend Scott O’Connor, who set out to make us look as funktastic as we sound. It was a hardcore late night spectacular that began at 11pm and ended at the crack of 3. Felt like old times, but there was a new spark alight in our eyes and our minds, something wicked this way coming. Sunday we set up at a Ft. Lauderdale club called Stage 84 to rock two daytime sets on Halloween for all of our friends with kids and gigging musicians who missed us at night. Lest you think it’s an easy task to play a kid-friendly Rudy show, we finagled our way through some lyric changes that had our adult fans chuckling at the substitutions. “The Shit,” our loving ode to herb, became “The Grits” and in “The Underpants Song,” the phrase “touch me on my taint” was deftly repainted with “kiss me on my cheek,” though we realize that since we all have four cheeks, the listener could still keep it on the dirty side. Rudy has always been about cleverly riding that fine line (or hanging off it by a pinkie toe) instead of using profanity, as with songs like “No Stranger” and “Pooter,” so many of our inside jokes zing right over the kids heads, aiming for the earnest ears of adult minds. However, some of the new record decidedly moves into a more open field of filth, so some songs were not performed at all out of respect to both the kids and the music. All in all, the family shows were a success and we got to rock some tiny minds and saw a lot of crooked smiles across the parents in the house. We did whip out “The Meateater,” which seems to perfectly encapsulate the Rudy sense of humour and had everyone cracking up; after all, a song about Moms being carnivorous couldn’t have any alternative meaning, could it?
Fast forward to Sunday evening, where we had broken down and loaded out from the first gig and were waiting backstage at the second- a huge outdoor Halloween show at Snyder Park on a great big stage with lights and everything. Even backstage catering! We were stoked. Unfortunately, the rain began to pour and as the night went on and we got closer to our set time, we thought the show might not happen at all. The band before us, the excellent Spam All-Stars, played a massive set in the pouring rain and had to cut it a little short as the wind was blowing it in towards the band. Costumed fans huddled under tents across the field and as we stood there on the back of the stage with our gear, wondering what to do. I had all my vintage gear covered up and wasn’t about to get it soaking wet. Miraculously, at the last minute, the clouds parted and the rain stopped, giving us the greenlight to set up to rock. Our hardcore fans (and a few newbies) had waited it out and came to the front, our dancers anointed the stage with love and as luck would have it, they had three HD video cameras to capture the moment. What went down was a rollicking Rudy show and a whole lot of booty shaking all around, and we got some great footage to use for future purposes. All in all, a worthy weekend. November 1st we did a wild photo shoot with acclaimed photog and all around great guy Robert Stolpe, who captured some truly bizarre photos of Rey Diaz in a fur coat, which may or may not make you want to lick him in the bellybutton. And by the next day, Johnny was gone and we moved into phase two: the Finnish Connection. I went home, took care of business, and boarded a plane November 14th to Helsinki by way of London. After roughly 16 hours of travel from LAX, I arrived just after 11pm on the night of the 15th and found Brian outside the gate. It was time to create Taste the Love and do justice to the legacy of Rudy. So we hopped in the car and began the two hour journey east to Turku and points beyond. And so I penetrated Finland and disappeared into the darkness.
Finland. What do you think of when you think of Finland? What image do you conjure of a land that sits between Sweden and Russia, a forested slab of granite dotted with pristine lakes that just 10,000 years ago laid under 3 kilometers of ice? And what do you make of her people, the hardy descendants of Vikings and Norsemen who brave winters cold enough to eat your face and are used to perpetual night for a good part of the year; the kind of people that survive the elements as they always have: sisu. A toughness that says “Fuck you, Mother Nature! You call this cold?” When you first mingle with the people of Finland, you notice that most people don’t really smile and may look rather grim. Could be that sisu or possibly an overactive colon (we’ll get to that in a moment) but I found out that beneath the superficial seriousness, there beats huge hearts that course with the blood of their homeland and the people welcomed me with open arms. And saunas. The country is a bit isolated so their society is a little less cross-pollinated than most others, giving me a pure dose of Finnish culture. And one of the important things I learned was that Finland is really called Suomi by its people, and they wield the name with pride. I would like to respectfully refer to the place as such, but since there is no good substitution for the word ‘Finnish’ (and it would ruin my whole ‘Finnish the record’ joke), I will fall back on the colloquial to better suit my flow when necessary.
Brian had sequestered the studio gear out in an empty manse on the outskirts of town and we were set to mix there any time of the day or night. After a trip through downtown Turku to pick up Brian’s partner Henry, we picked up some supplies and headed out of town, looking out for wild moose and lynx that roamed the countryside. The house sat amidst a copse of trees on a hill, a stark white villa with one ghostly light over the front door. At night, it looked almost foreboding, not the place you would stop hiking alone if you didn’t know better. Inside, we were set up upstairs with Brian’s massive Westlake speakers and two racks full of Manley gear. There was no internet signal and we were isolated from the world, all the better to focus on the task at hand. We spent the first day listening to all sorts of music I brought in so I could acclimate to the speakers and the room. I found my sweet spot to sit where I trusted what I was hearing, and we also found a few more spots to stand for extra focus on the bottom end, which is crucial to a booty-rocking band. You need bottom to move bottom.
It is at this point that we ran into some potentially derailing technical snags with the tracks I brought with me (all those vocals!) and our first few days took on the air of insanity in trying to get uncorrupted tracks out of my studio in LA. I would like to profusely thank my good friend Brad Vance for literally saving this record with his efforts and helping us rescue the trip and the mission. Without going into gory details, let’s just say that after a herculean effort, we finally got what we needed and avoided a massive coronary or two. It was time to go to work and we were now a little behind on our schedule. Could we finish mixing all these songs before I had to fly home? As President Obama once told me, yes we can. And yes we did, dammit!
Over the next few days, our schedule unglued from normal time. I was on planetary time, and every time I was awake it was either pitch dark or dusky. By the last few days, I was going to sleep by 8:30 or 9 in the morning and waking up at 2 or 3 and having my “morning” coffee as the dusk gives way to night. (It is at this point that I’d like to thank myself in the past for having the foresight to throw a few of those Starbucks VIA instant coffees in my bag months back.) Sleep was a strange commodity, to be bartered away with impunity, and even now, I have been awake since yesterday at 2pm, running on pure adrenaline and commitment. But in Suomi time, it’s all good.
In order to give you a feel for what it’s like to be in Suomi, I’m going to make a short list in hopes that will encapsulate the ingredients that make it such a wonderful place.
1. The entire country eats specifically for digestive health. I have personally never consumed as much fiber as I did this past week. I was afraid that if I sneezed, burlap balloons would pop out of my ass! I kid, but on the regularity scale of 1 to 10, Finland goes to 11! Best. Poops. Ever. Nuff said.
2. A human being can survive on a diet of dark chocolate, cheese and Ruis bread, with a healthy dose of smoked salmon and the occasional chicken thrown in there. And plenty of pro-biotic yogurt drinks! Finland has some great food and I loved their markets. They also eat reindeer and elk, which are available both canned and fresh, depending on who ya know and where ya go.
3. Cold is relative. There are different levels of cold and last night when it hit -7 degrees celsius, I felt that next level and duly increased my respect and empathy for what normal winter weather is like up there. I was told my next visit should be in the summer, and I’m highly inclined to do it. Once Brian and Henry get the new studio built, we may have to take the whole band to do a record there!
4. There are some great curse words in Finnish but their language is very hard to pick up. My buddy Henry did his best to indoctrinate me and yet, I couldn’t get it to stick. Brian’s been there for a few years and he’s still a basic speaker, though much better off than I was. However, Finns have a great sense of humor and we enjoyed a lot of laughter together. Laughter is universal, as are fart jokes and dirty words.
5. It is a big deal to have and use a sauna in Suomi. I was invited and even almost kidnapped to go hit the sauna, but it never transpired. We had a lot to do, but I could have used a good sweat in the sauna to cleanse myself anew. I will have to steam up a shower when I get home, for sure.
I could give you more insights on Finnish culture, but I’ll leave that to the travel guides. That being said, the pictures I saw of Lapland to the north were breathtaking and the place looks well worth trekking to in summertime.
The next few nights and days were a blur of music, snow, eating, pooping and learning Finnish curse words. Also had the pleasure of meeting great people like Mikko and Joke (pronounced Ho-Kay, lest you want a few hundred pounds of Finnish fist swingin’ atcha) who gave me great insight into the depth of Suomi sisu and heart. Brian’s circle of musician friends and various peeps were an eclectic bunch of kindred souls and I hope to see them all again someday.
By the weekend, we were in full swing and started really knocking down the tunes one by one, checking them off our list and diving into insane little details that the casual observer may never hear but that could make or break a mix. By then we were pretty unglued from reality, the darkness outside the windows belying the lateness or earliness of the hour and playing tricks on our minds. We had occasional visits from Brians daughter Melody, who spoke mostly Finnish and had a penchant for the word “caca” that fit right into the Rudy mode. All in all, by the time we went to sleep around 9am on Sunday, we were well on our way to accomplishing our goals, aside from getting enough sleep and getting a tan.
Sunday was going to be a brutal day, with no sleep until my flight the next morning and hours of final mixing to do. As dusk turned to night, we soldiered on and systematically ran down our checklists and mixes. We were mixing right down to the wire, transferring files to my Macbook as we zipped up our suitcases just after 3 in the morning and, after a crazy two hour night drive on a black ice highway (and a stop for dark chocolate and Ruis bread for the road) I hit the airport, made my 3-hour flight at 7:50am, did the 3-hour layover at Heathrow and am now on a 10-11 hour flight back to LA, where I’ll be landing around 3 in the afternoon, which is after midnight in Finland. Though it doesn’t matter, because in Suomi in winter, it’s always night. And when I get out into the California sunshine and feel it soak through to my bones, I’ll think about the end of eternal night and the beginning of sunshine. Rudy’s Taste the Love is coming in 2011, so plump up that booty over the holidays so we have something to jiggle! See you soon, bootyfans…
Robbie “G-Nutz” Gennet
20,000 feet over the sea, heading home….