The album that introduced all of us in the band to Vic’s work was West Of Rome. Margo’s husband had come across it and passed it on to us knowing that it would make an impression. It did. The album had some the most off-kilter, heavy-as-shit writing that I had come across in many years. Some of the writing was definitely outside, using personal references, in-jokes and colloquialisms that cast a bit of a shadow over the meaning of some of the songs. But the emotion was always clear and the sound of the album, beautifully produced by Michael Stipe, had a really intriguing texture.
The song that sucked me right in and remains one of my favourite songs was the title track, West Of Rome. The sense of “place” in that song, both physical and mental, is astounding. In the liner notes of the album, underneath the lyrics for the song, was a note from Vic saying that the song was written immediately after finishing John Fante’s book of the same name. So I put the title on my list of books to hunt down in my travels: over the next fifteen or so years I never stumbled upon it. And then, one week after starting to record Demons, I walked into a used book store in Great Barrington, Massachusetts along with our stage tech Tim. A few minutes after being in the store Tim comes walking up to me with a pristine copy of a Black Sparrow Press edition of West Of Rome in his hands and says, “Mike, you’ve got to buy this book….”. Mysterious ways, mysterious ways, heaven and earth and mysterious ways.
For a lot of the bedtracks on this album Pete, Al and I got together to work through ideas and approaches for the songs. I would usually put down a vocal (even if the key wasn’t exactly right for my golden pipes) during the recording or directly after to give a sense of whether the musical approach was working. Here is the bedtrack for West of Rome in its rawest form:
And here is the final version with Joby Baker providing some beautiful piano and Tania Elizabeth adding her magical touches on fiddle…as well as, of course, Margo doing her thang…