The four members of the Provocative Whites are the kind of musicians who started playing in rock bands because they couldn't think of a better way to pay tribute to the bands they love.
Their affection for bands like Nirvana, the Pixies and the Ramones is so ingrained that when they get together to make music, it ends up sounding like a genetic mutation of Nirvana, the Pixies and the Ramones, grown in sandy desert soil and watered with beer—raspy, hardened and raw, but all the better for it.
So when it came time to make their second record, the most logical way to do it was with a guy who played a big part in creating the records they love. For many independent bands, recording with your dream engineer usually remains a dream—but the Provocative Whites weren't going to settle for that.
So in March of last year, they loaded themselves into a van and headed for Chicago to record with the legendary Steve Albini.
"I've always wanted to do something with all of my idols, and touch that somehow," said guitarist Kane Flint. But it wasn't until the band was on tour in Seattle in 2006 that they realized that recording with Albini could actually be a possibility.
"We were at my friend Mike's house, and he was saying, 'You know, Steve Albini will record independent artists for a pretty reasonable rate,'" said bassist Tadj Roi. "The stars were just aligning. From then, it took one year of us thinking about it and talking about it, and then probably a year of Kane getting in contact with him."
Said Flint: "It was really strange to actually talk to him and see that he was touchable."
Although the rates were reasonable, it was still expensive. But when it came down to it, Flint said, the band decided that they could either go on tour and spend a lot of money having fun, or go on tour, spend a lot of money having fun and come home with a new album recorded by one of their all-time-favorite engineers.
"It's a different level of the whole fucking industry, something you don't think you'll be able to touch," said drummer James Few.
The band got together enough money to fund three days at Albini's studio, where they recorded and mixed nine songs. The end result is EVOLYM, a 30-minute whirlwind of rock complete with that Albini sound: guitars that crunch to the point of destruction, drums that move furniture and a crackling, analog feel that is about as close as one can get to hearing the band perform live.
Albini didn't even think that they could finish tracking in only three days, the band remembered.
Said Few, "When we first got there, I was crushed, because he said, 'I don't think I'm going to be able to mix this for you guys. I'll engineer it, but I don't think I'll be able to mix it.' I was like, 'If he doesn't mix it, what's the point of us being here?'"
But, explained guitarist and vocalist Mike Rowden, "We could play that shit in our sleep, so it was no problem."
Added Roi: "We were basically running through the record live, and at that time, we were doing a lot of shows, so we were really road-worn on those songs."
So on that first day, they set up and pounded through the tracking, playing each song in Albini's studio. On the second day, the Provocative Whites and Albini created the vocal tracks. And on the third, they mixed.
And then they rested, for they saw what they had created, and said, behold, this is good.
"It was so pure, passionate and real," said Rowden. "We were nervous; we were fucking scared; we were excited, and it almost felt like ... this was our one chance to do something great, and we all stepped up to the fucking plate, and that's why this fucking album is great."
Added Flint: "We bled on those tracks. It sounds like I was hoping it would sound. It sounds like I imagined it would sound, and that's the first time out of everything that I've been involved in that that's happened."
Since the recording of EVOLYM was such an emotionally charged experience, the band was a bit apprehensive about releasing it. The entire thing has been finished since June, after they took it to John Golden in California for mastering.
"We wanted it to be amazing, and we thought it was amazing, and we didn't want to find out that it wasn't," explained Roi.
Also, as Flint explained, "The economy took a dump," and some of their funding dried up. They had printed a bunch of promotional versions of the album to send to magazines for review and had been planning on printing a "real" version and a vinyl version. But rather than waiting for more money to appear, the band decided to go ahead and release the promo copies of EVOLYM and see what happens. So far, a few reviews have surfaced; one British online magazine, Unpeeled.net, even wrote, "Buy this now and stop lying around, you lazy fuckers," which the band thinks is amusing, since the album is not actually for sale. (Since it's technically for promotional use only, they can't sell the copies they have. Tucson fans can "buy" it at their CD-release party on Saturday, April 25, though; it'll be free with the purchase of a T-shirt or other band merch.)
With this kind of feedback already trickling in, the band is confident that exciting things are in store.
"I think we all came to this point now where we're like, we have to get these songs out. This album is our baby," said Flint. "I wanna spread this thing everywhere as much as I can. I'm so proud of it."