20 Years Later, ‘Clouds All Day’ Still a Gem

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shambles

“Call it power pop, mod-inspired, rock’n’roll, whatever, just remember to put it into your CD player and listen.”

Many albums get re-released on their twentieth anniversary, some wallow on the back of a shelf somewhere, all but forgotten by everyone except the most hardcore fans. “Clouds All Day” by San Diego’s the Shambles was released in 1996, which means it is about to hit that two-decade mark. I figured people need a reminder of how brilliant it is and how different and welcome the record sounded in 1996. The year saw the release of other solid albums: Rocket From The Crypt unleashed the epic “Scream, Dracula, Scream!” onto an unsuspecting planet. Also noteworthy were releases such as “White Light, White Heat, White Trash” from Social Distortion, “Murder Ballads” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Beck’s “Odelay,” R.E.M.’s “New Adventures in Hi-Fi” and quite a few others. The San Diego Music Awards gave album of the year honors to Rust for “Bar Chord Rituals.” It’s a very good record, but it does not hold up as well as “Clouds All Day.”

There is not a bad note from start to finish. From the open chords of “Days and Maybes” to the closing notes of the hidden track, “Clouds All Day” is a sonic ride filled with 3:00 songs of love and hope, girls, longing, tangents and regret.

Call it power pop, mod-inspired, rock’n’roll, whatever, just remember to put it into your CD player and listen. This thing is loaded with gems of clean-sounding guitar rock that sound like throwbacks to 60’s era rock and yet feel current at the same time. There are elements of blues and soul thrown in to keep things moving. Songs like “Rain” have the Beatles “Rubber Soul” in their DNA. “Nada Te Quiere Ya” has a driving beat and I have no idea what I’m singing along with because my Spanish is horrid. It’s a great cover of the Los Brincos tune. “Colour Swirl” is mod and lovely. “Clouds All Day” was recorded primarily at Blitz Studios and recorded by Richard Livoni, there is every reason to love the thing.

Two guitarists from San Diego have confirmed my belief in God: Buddy Blue and Kevin Ring. Blue could play the ever loving crap out of a blues solo and the image of his greased back hair, cuffed jeans and obligatory snarl will forever seal his place in my top two favorite guitarists I’ve ever known. The other is Kevin Ring. Without putting too fine a point on it, the man is all rock’n’roll swagger and a Cheap Trick meets Brian May sensibility fueled by power chord fury. I can’t count the number of times I have seen him live in his bands Manual Scan, The Shambles, Saint Shameless and Spitfire Torpedo. It doesn’t matter, because every damn time I’ve walked out with my ears ringing and my feet aching and feeling totally renewed to face the world.

Since Ring is one of the people responsible for an album that is constantly getting played in my house, I figured it would be rude not to get his thoughts on what holds up as my favorite record to come out of San Diego. Ever. Twenty years after its initial release, listening to “Clouds All Day” still makes me happy. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Barry Benintende: What lead you to join the Shambles?

Kevin Ring: The Shambles formed from some acoustic gigs I was doing with Ray Brandes and Jon Kanis in 1990 after Manual Scan went on hiatus. Ray and I eventually decided to form a band and tapped Ray’s former bandmates Mark Z for bass and David Klowden on drums. We did a few gigs and then Bart joined when I began to line up a UK tour.

 

What were the recording sessions like for “Clouds All Day?”

The sessions were great. It was recorded at Blitz Studios, and Richard Livoni has a great ear for recording. The only song that wasn’t specifically recorded for that album was “Rain” and if you listen close you can hear sonic differences, especially in the bass guitar. I did remix the song to be more in line with the sonic qualities of the other songs on the album, but the other guys preferred the original mix so that’s what went on the album. In hindsight, they all agree that we should’ve gone with the second mix, but it was already done.

 

It was released twenty years ago, how well do you think it holds up?

I think it holds up very well. I think if it were released today it would not sound dated.

 

When did you write “Change” and what was the inspiration?

“Change”. I think I wrote it sitting in my office. I always kept a guitar there, just in case. I’m not at all a prolific songwriter. I think “Change” was the fourth or fifth real song I wrote (that has changed somewhat. I’ve written/co-written more songs in Saint Shameless and Spitfire Torpedo than I have in the last three decades!). The inspiration? It wasn’t conscious at the time, but I’m quite sure my first wife was in the back of my mind when that all came spilling out. And it did. I think I wrote the majority of the lyrics in one burst. Ten minutes or so.

 

Why have the Shambles gone through more drummers than Spinal Tap?

Honestly, I really don’t know why we went through so many drummers. I just don’t.

 

Where is the strangest place you heard your music playing?

Strangest? I don’t know. The most memorable, though, was in a restaurant just two blocks from where I’m writing this right now. I was having dinner with family and “Change” came on the radio. It totally blew me away.

 

You’ve been musical partners with Bart for nearly 40 years, what keeps you two creating music together for so long?

I think my musical relationship with Bart continues because we work so well together. I tend to push his sonic boundaries a bit while he gives me great tunes to work with.

 

What is your opinion of the music coming out of San Diego right now? Do you have a favorite artist or band?

I am sadly quite unaware of most of what’s out there in SD right now. I rarely have a chance to listen to other bands.

 

How is Spitfire Torpedo doing these days?

Spitfire Torpedo is doing great. Jarrod, as you know, is on chemo. But it’s “chemo-lite” as he calls it. He has it every three weeks, so we work around that. We’ll likely not have any gigs until he’s done with that, but…we’re currently recording. We’ve got the drums down for five songs. I expect we’ll have another five or six done by the end of July. Gonna record bass tracks tonight for the five we have so far. By the time we have our second gig I have a feeling we’ll have a CD available. Which seems very strange to me — having product that early in our gigging cycle. But we’re all very into this band. I love our songs and playing with these guys is a dream.

 

The first time I met Bart Mendoza he left a lasting impression. My friend Paul and I were standing in line waiting to get into a forgotten club in San Diego on a broiling San Diego evening. By the time we get the front of the line, the large, intense, guy at the door said, “Sorry. Looks like we’re full for now, you’ll have to wait.” In my most mature, reasoned voice (seriously, this dude was huge, I was not going to be anything but polite) I said, “Seriously? You can’t fit two more in there, we’ve been waiting forever.” Large guy shrugged, “Not much I can do. You’re gonna have to wait.” Paul was about to pass out from the heat, or bust a blood vessel. He opened his mouth to say something that would have gotten us both beaten half to death when Bart comes walking into the place. Without breaking stride, he looks at the door giant and says, “It’s okay. Let them in.” And we were in. I never wondered why people used to tell me Bart was “The mayor of downtown.” I’m just glad he used his powers for good, rather than evil. He was kind enough to answer my inane questions. Here’s what he had to say:

 

Barry Benintende: What lead you to join the Shambles?

Bart Mendoza: I was the last to join of the original band (Kevin, Ray, David, Mark and myself). Basically, I was between bands, all the band members were good friends and they were going to England.

 

What were the recording sessions like for “Clouds All Day?”

Piecemeal. We recorded when we could, so it took a while to get all the tracks together. Really it was a blur of songs. In the same time frame we recorded the “Groovy Thing” EP, several tracks for tribute albums and released early mixes of a few album tracks on a compilation album called, Sympophony, so it all ran together and there was a lot of overlap. We didn’t waste time at all – occasionally there would be a few minutes at the end of a session, which is when we recorded those quick cover tunes. Though it was spread out, it was all fairly quick in the grand scheme of things and there were several outtakes and alternate takes. The album has been issued three times, once in the U.S. and twice in Spain. The Spanish album includes an original song “Dancing,” instead of “Nadie Te Quiere Ya” and also includes a batch of hidden demo tracks. Two of the outtakes, “Wendy Never” and “Rain” (alt mix) ended up on the It Might Rain Tonight EP released in Spain.

 

It was released twenty years ago, how well do you think it holds up?

I’m proud of it. Some of the songs have been covered, so it seems to have been listened to by a few folks at least.

 

Do you have a favorite song from the album?

To listen to it’s “Brilliant” – I like the dissonant tones in that recording. I was listening to a lot of Paul Westerberg around the time I wrote that. But probably my favorite recording of all time is the hidden track at the end of the U.S. version of Clouds All Day. It’s a bit of found sound and upon its discovery was immediately the natural album closer. We were performing at the now defunct Café Cahbalaba, across from City College. Our friend Action Andy Rasmussen accidentally left a tape recorder on in his pocket as he was leaving the show and captured not only the band playing a cover of the Rain Parade’s “You Are My Friend,” but his leaving the venue mid song. As he exits the venue, the music starts to fade and he says goodbye to friends, then you hear footsteps as he crosses the street to his car and he fumbles for keys. The music stops when he closes the car door to leave. How could that not be the closer? Accidentally perfect.

 

Why have the Shambles gone through more drummers than Spinal Tap?

A couple of reasons. There is no financial security in music and drummers are in high demand, plus the sheer length of time the band was recording / touring.

 

You’ve played the Marquee Club, 100 Club, festivals in Spain… what was your favorite gig?

Those are all special memories, but the most recent tour of Spain was my favorite – a great audience and a great time.

 

Where is the strangest place you heard your music playing?

Not the strangest, but still special to me. Once, on a hot summer day circa the 90s, I came home early unexpectedly. The windows were open and I happened to hear one of my roommates playing one of my songs on their acoustic guitar. I waited until they were done before heading in. I never said anything, but that memory still makes me smile.

 

What was the songwriting process leading up to “Clouds All Day?” Was everything already written or did anything come out in the studio?

Most of it was written and road tested, but a few songs were penned as we were completing the disc, definitely “Brilliant.”

 

What is your typical songwriting process, or do you not have one?

They sort of write themselves. Sometimes they appear complete. But I also constantly play the guitar at home and build up a stock of riffs, chord changes, verses, choruses. I do the same sort of thing with lyrics – I’ve got all sorts of little scraps of paper with a line or three. Eventually, some inspiration will hit and I finish them off, but there are probably hundreds of songs in pieces, as I keep adding to the pile.

 

What’s the most unexpected place you found inspiration?

Probably on the 5 north at 6th Avenue, circa mid-1980s. I was laying in the back seat of a car, strumming one of Kevin’s 12-string guitars, with my bare feet sticking out the back window and all of a sudden, I came up with what became the Manual Scan song “And We Still Feel The Same.”

 

You’ve been musical partners with Kevin for nearly 40 years, what keeps you two creating music together for so long?

At this point it’s psychic abilities. We know each other beyond well musically, we know what complements the other’s strengths.

 

What is your opinion of the music coming out of San Diego right now? Do you have a favorite artist or band?

Honestly I think we are in the midst of a renaissance. Yep, things could always be better, but things are pretty good across the board with more venues and avenues to expose your music happening all the time. Too many favorite artists, but Schizophonics, The Loons, Normandie Wilson, Jason Hanna, The Bassics, Mittens, Hiroshima Mockingbirds, Little Hurricane, Tolan Shaw and Alvino & The Dwells are just a few.

 

Can we expect to hear a new Shambles release in the future?

At this point I’ve learned to never say never.

 

What are you doing musically these days?

Still doing occasional Manual Scan shows, but my focus currently is Elements – this band includes songs from throughout my life as a musician. True Stories will be finishing up an album this summer as well, but we will be doing less shows. And I occasionally sit in with bands like the Joyelles.

 

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Author: Barry Benintende

Barry has spent his entire adult life watching movies, listening to music and finding people gullible enough to pay him to do so. As the former Executive Editor of the La Jolla Light, Editor of the South County Mail, Managing Editor of D-Town, Founder and Editor of sQ Magazine, Managing Editor of Kulture Deluxe, and Music Critic for San Diego Newsline, you would figure his writing would not be so epically dull. He has also written for the San Diego Reader, the Daily Californian, the Marshfield Mail, Cinemanian and too many other papers and magazines that have been consigned to the dustbin of history. A happily-married father of two sons and a daughter, Barry has an unhealthy addiction to his hometown San Diego Padres and the devotion of his feisty Westie, Adie. Buy him a cup of coffee and he can spend an evening regaling you with worthless music or baseball trivia. Buy him two and you’ll never get rid of him.

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