The Flashpot Moments is a long-simmering studio project by Tim Cawley. Hoping to transport you across the canvas of America, he collaborates with an ever-shifting collective for an embracing sound. His latest album Describing The Ruckus features a range of musicians and transports you to the far corners of the continent. We sat down with Tim Cawley talk about the album, his creative process, music, collaborations and much more!
OSR: What first drew you to making music?
Cawley: Fandom. Then loving music turned into learning to play music. Started with the drums in 8th grade. One practice, our singer didn’t show up. I have a knack for remembering lyrics, so I took a swack at singing. I haven’t given the mic back since.
OSR: What was the inspiration for your new album Describing the Ruckus?
Cawley: I did a one-off show with my former bandmates, Mike and Gunter, plus a new harmony singer Alana, in the summer of 2019. It was a blast and that led us to recording two songs: ‘Last Call’ (about the night we played out in that bar) and ‘Wrongs Got Right’, our first recordings in years. My songwriting impulses were in overdrive and I had the itch to do more, but the pandemic hit. So, it was complicated to get the band together in the studio.
Up to that point, I’d spent a ton of time in the studio with my engineer/producer, Andy Pinkham. So we just kinda creatively quarantined together. I wrote a ton. We played and recorded at his studio. I looked up and the 2-song reunion EP was 11 songs deep. The early lockdowns were pretty hardcore in Boston. There was nothing else to do. It was an essential outlet to keep from going crazy.
OSR: The album features a number of musicians and engineers. Why did you approach it that way?
Cawley: I record almost everything at Revolution Sound in Charlestown, MA, with occasional studio musicians. When we seek collaborators outside our circle, it’s usually a mix engineer who brings a specific vibe for a certain song. Seven different people mixed this record! And that was by design. I think my voice is distinct enough, for better or worse, that it can serve as “the glue” to hold things together.
Some of the first reviews talked about my ability to blend genres and still produce a cohesive album. I love that. Having the amazing Ed Brooks at Resonant/Seattle master the record certainly helps. Some of the mixers on the record: Will Yip (Menzingers, Say Anything), Brandon Eggleston (Dandy Warhols, Mountain Goats), Tom Polce (Letters to Cleo), John Goodmanson (Hockey Dad, Sleater Kinney, Weezer), Jamie Woolford (Smoking Popes, Ultimate Fakebook), Kevin Ratterman (White Reaper, My Morning Jacket, Strand of Oaks). Working with these folks is like an ongoing music school. Exciting and invaluable.
OSR: What was your creative process for this album?
Cawley: I write in an attic room at home, by myself, on guitar. I pick a mood/concept. Write a ton of lyrics, single-spaced, filling a sheet. Then I open up Garageband and compose 6-10 “hooks” just using the lyrics to fit whatever melody comes to mind, pick my favourites and piece it all together. I usually re-write over 2-3 sessions, then take a rough demo into the studio and build it up from there.
‘Woke Up On A Couch’ and ‘Unboring’ went through lots of iterations. ‘Wrongs Got Right’ and ‘Riveted’ happened quickly. Songwriting, for me, is like a lottery scratch ticket. You sit down to write a song with a particular vibe, but the song gets a life of its own and leads you where it wants. It gets revealed to you. I love that element.
OSR: Is there a song on Describing the Ruckus that has a special place for you?
Cawley: I love them all, of course! But ‘Unboring’ stands out to me. I started recording that song in LA with my longtime collaborator Tom Polce, who also produced the track. It’s a 7-minute opus, in the Bohemian Rhapsody/Jungleland/Jesus of Suburbia tradition. We had one night in the studio together to build the whole sequence. I showed up with all these hooks, then Tom and I stitched them together, with legendary engineer/producer Tom Weir, in a few hours and recorded the final drums on the spot.
Immediate gratification off the charts! Then I brought it back to Boston to do overdubs and vocals, while Tom added basic tracks in LA. Great collaboration. That was me pushing my songwriting skills to the absolute limit. That tune’s a beast.
OSR: If people could take only one thing from this album, what would you like that to be and why?
Cawley: This album is a blast of positive rock energy. An escapist fantasy, written mostly during COVID lockdowns, about going out with dangerous and wild characters on an unhinged night. My advice: Once there’s a vaccine or the quarantine restrictions are lifted in your town, play this before going out!
OSR: If the album was a colour, what would it be and why?
Cawley: A flashing white-hot explosion. Flashpot!
OSR: What was the biggest hurdle you overcame when creating this album?
Cawley: Finding collaborators and maintaining a safe, but comfortable and collaborative work environment during recording.
OSR: How different is this album compared to your last two?
Cawley: More time spent on the songs. I’d never had downtime like this before and I was hellbent on capitalizing. Tight, propulsive compositions, the 7-minute opus notwithstanding. The biggest, most arena-ready production we’ve ever done.
OSR: What else can we expect from you in the next 12 months?
Cawley: I love Manchester Orchestra, and I’m kind of obsessed with singer Andy Hull’s side project Right Away Great Captain. Coming off this album with huge, bombastic production, the plan is to do something I can play myself on acoustic that still feels huge. Like Beach Slang’s ”Quiet Slang” stuff. Or Bruce’s “Nebraska.” Basically, my own “MTV unplugged, but with organ and e-bow. And maybe a cello. And percussion. Of course, that’s just the plan. The songs lead the way and go where they want to go. Once those song-writing chemicals start pumping, all bets are off.