Paint's Alex Hickel and Joe Darcy on "Final Coat"
The Madison garage-rock outfit recently released its first and only album, a year after playing its final show.
During their four-year run, Madison band Paint were an example of how the very simplicity of punk and garage-rock can be a blank canvas for musicians in their formative years. Bassist/singer Joe Darcy and guitarist Alex Hickel met each other in sixth grade, but didn't play music together until they started Paint in the fall of 2012 with drummer Jake Stamas. Hickel says their early live sets include "Terrible version of 'Wild Thing.'" But they wrote songs that, for all their scrappy directness, also had surprising emotional range and gave Hickel room to improvise and experiment as a guitarist.
Paint released its first EP, Wet Paint, in 2014, but things really began to develop on last year's split EP with fellow Madison band Wood Chickens. Paint's side included the blistering, concise punk tunes "Rumspringa" and "House Arrest," but also a plaintive slow-burner called "Southern Cut." In June 2015, shortly after that split came out, Paint played its final show, because Stamas was getting ready to move to the San Francisco area.
But since then they've managed to complete their first and only album, Final Coat, which finally came out at the end of May on Bandcamp. In making it, they continued to expand their range, working in a couple of short transitional instrumental tracks ("In Transit" I and II), re-recording one of Wet Paint's songs ("Blade Runner II"), and finding time for some vulnerability amid the immediacy and grime ("Wisconsin Summer," "Tessellater," "I Was Cured"). The band sounds limber and confident here, with all three members throwing in more little fills and quick improvisation—again, really stretching out on that blank canvas. Final Coat also is sonically richer than their previous efforts, thanks in part to recording and mixing from Chris Joutras and Mike Noto of Madison noise-punk band Coordinated Suicides. (Full disclosure: Noto writes for Tone Madison and is a friend of mine.) In addition to the digital version, Final Coat will also be released in a limited-edition CD that is sequenced to create a slightly more continuous sonic flow from track to track.
Since Paint's amicable split, Stamas has continued to pursue a career in audiology in the Bay Area, Darcy has played in Madison rock outfits Dumb Vision and The Momotaros, and Hickel has formed a new band, Spokes. Darcy and Hickel met with me recently to talk about the record.
Tone Madison: When you started making Final Coat, you already knew that the band was going to end soon.
Joe Darcy: We recorded all those songs the week after our final show.
Alex Hickel: We did it in two days.
Joe Darcy: And then [Jake] left that Sunday. So he left the day after we finished.
Alex Hickel: The album was kind of rushed, in a sense. Most of the tracks are only one take, and we only did overdubs for guitar on one song. We did guided vocals for the whole album, and then Joe did a vocal over them, so that it has more of a raw, live sound to it. We kind of half-assed some back-up vocals and stuff, too—me and Jake were really timid.
Joe Darcy: Some handclaps.
Alex Hickel: Yeah, and we threw some handclaps in there. But for the most part, it's a really thin, simple album, and we did it really fast. We recorded the brunt of all the songs in—
Joe Darcy: Like, four hours.
Alex Hickel: In four hours, I think, we did 11 songs. And then the next day was basically dedicated to overdubs and Joe just blowing his voice out.
Joe Darcy: Yeah, my voice is really rough on that one.
Alex Hickel: It was definitely hard because Jake was leaving that Sunday, so if we didn't finish the album, that was it. The pressure was definitely on to finish it. I think Mike Noto and Chris Joutras, too, deserve a lot of credit for making it sound really good, especially in the mixing aspect of it. We definitely needed a lot of help with that. And recording was fun with them. We did it in the basement of the building next to Sooper Dooper on South Park Street. There's all these practice spaces down there, and there were other bands playing while we were recording so that kind of bled into it a little bit too at some points, which is funny.
Tone Madison: Did that pressure have any impact on the choices you made in recording the album?
Alex Hickel: Everything was pretty much done beforehand in terms of songwriting, I think. It didn't really change how we went in and recorded it. I think with our band, we always wanted it to be a live sound. We always wanted to record our records how you would hear it at a show. I think it definitely impacted our last performance, because when you have nothing to use, I dunno, you just play the best fucking show of your life.
Joe Darcy: We played every song we had.
Alex Hickel: I think we played for an hour and 45 minutes. We got in 22, 23 songs. That was pretty cool. That's probably the most fun I've ever had in my life performing, because I had no fear for the first time. I usually have horrible stage fright, but just knowing it was our last show, there was just something about it—you just break through that. I think we carried that energy into the album too, which really helped it.
Tone Madison: What were some thing you were trying to do differently on the album from the two previous releases?
Joe Darcy: One thing for sure is that the drums, we wanted to have much more depth to them. The first recording, we were kind of green and didn't really know what we were doing. Doing this the second time, we had a much better idea of how we wanted things to sound and dialing in tones and we wanted it to be really loud and as, like, pushing the levels as we could. We wanted the drums to be really solid.
Alex Hickel: The album itself is recorded very hot. It's super-loud. You don't have to turn it up very loud. It's kind of like the first Wavves record, I think, in that respect, or The Black Lips' 200 Million Thousand. It's a really rough-cut album. It sounds really blown-out. Listening to it again, even after we mastered it, some of the feedback is actually piercing, but I kind of like that.
Joe Darcy: We also wanted to pay close attention to the drums because Jake wasn't going to be here for any of the mixing.
Alex Hickel: When we recorded the EP, we felt like maybe the drums were maybe a little too quiet. Nothing against Bobby [Hussy, who recorded Wet Paint], that record still sounds really good, but we just wanted it to be even more level. [Final Coat] sounds way more cohesive, I think. With the first EP, Bobby mixed it for us, so we didn't get the chance to sit down and actually work on it, and so this time, it was cool learning how to do mixing and learning that whole process and painstakingly going through each song and listening to it over and over again and really getting everything just the way we wanted it.
The songs, too, I think, speak to us more as a band, because I think we matured a lot from the EP. We played, I want to say, about 40 to 50 shows in that year, to get ready for this album.
Joe Darcy: There's a lot more variety with these songs, I think, than there was on the first EP. "Blade Runner II," we totally revamped that one, so we wanted to record it again.
Tone Madison: I was going to ask why you did that, because the two versions are noticeably different.
Joe Darcy: It kind of just evolved over time as we were playing it. It got a little more jammy at parts and also faster.
Alex Hickel: The first version was seven and a half minutes long, and this version is only five minutes, so it's even tighter, and I think the instrumental parts, there's a lot more going on there. I think where we hit our stride was in dynamics—especially on that song. It's kind of like a roller coaster.
Joe Darcy: Cutting out and cutting back in.
Alex Hickel: We really like to do stuff like that where we really go from super high intensity to really mellow and getting you back dialed-in and listening and then just shattering your whole universe again. Especially with "Blade Runner," because it teases you. "I Was Cured" is a really similar song in its structure. It starts off really heavy and then it kind of peters off and gets really quiet, and then it bursts out into a lyrical explosion.
Tone Madison: How did the song "Wisconsin Summer" come about?
Joe Darcy: I might have written in a year before we actually recorded it.
Alex Hickel: It's an older song for sure.
Joe Darcy: It was kind of my take on the completely unpredictable nature of Wisconsin weather. I kind of kept it simple and poppy and stuff.
Alex Hickel: It's all about just enjoying the summer because it goes by so quickly and the winter can be so brutal. It's already three months until fall.
Joe Darcy: I always really liked playing that song. I felt like it was a really connected song and we all knew it back to front. I'm really glad with how it turned out on the album, maybe not as screamy. I tried to sing it more when we would play it. It's actually the same two notes as "I Was Cured," just played in a different sequence.
Alex Hickel: Joe's got some great fills on this album, too. I feel like each of us comes out more on this, independently. It comes together cohesively as a band, but if you really listen, there's a lot of great bass parts and drum parts, and I think my guitar parts, too, and we would trade off a little bit. We would do solos and stuff occasionally. I remember one time we made Jake do a drum solo, which was fucking hilarious.
Joe Darcy: "You're going to fucking play that solo, man." We forced him to take his shirt off. [All laugh.]