The Fourth Man

These 15 tracks were originally released as two limited run CD pressings between 1994 and 1996, totaling about 1500 copies. The songs were a consolidation of cassettes put out independently between 1992 and 1994. The majority of tracks were initially recorded as demos to be “shopped” to record labels, the intention being that someone would see the nascent talent in the murk and start throwing money at us so we could buy better equipment, get studio access, quit our day jobs, and develop tragic drug habits. Major label interest never really developed, so we just started putting/handing them out ourselves.

Eventually we got the interest of Factoria Records, a very new and very independent label, run by Andrew Amy. Through Andrew, we started getting wider exposure, live shows, and eventually pressed the CD, which at the time seemed like a big deal.

Once the CD came out, internal conflict and other issues flared up, resulting in a very slow and possibly regrettable collapse of the project.

The first time I heard the master pressing of the CD in the summer of 1994, it was with a combined sense of accomplishment and disappointment. Besides some glaring oversights in the mastering process (the 3 tracks from the “Sick” EP were noticeably quieter than the rest of the album – something I chose to correct this time around), our jump from analog cassette to a digital medium seemed simultaneously belated and premature. Many of these songs had been recorded two years previously, and some were finished years before that, so in that particular case the CD was a long time in coming. On the other hand, it had been put out too soon in my opinion, since it had been my intention to eventually have the opportunity to record and mix them in a real studio before having them “released”.

I'd always felt like the CD should have come with a disclaimer, a series of excuses, or some sort of apology for its’ shortcomings. So here it is, 20 years later, as I blink back tears of shame and say... sorry.

T4M 1994 - CD Front Cover Front Cover T4M 1994 - CD Tray Card Back Cover

In our defense, we lacked a proper understanding in the art of getting a good mix. Also, the mixing channels on the four track cassette units we worked with were poorly suited for what we were doing. One consistent issue we came up against during the process of recording and mixing the songs was a bottleneck in terms of our ability to properly separate the various instruments on to individual tracks and “mix” them in the traditional sense. Multiple instruments came straight out of the stereo outputs of the samplers and synths onto the tape, with very little control of the EQ, effects processing, and stereo placement. Having that additional control would have helped in dealing with some of the sonic issues that ended up on the CD. We never did make it into a studio with more than 4 tracks, a larger mixing board, or with any sort of recording budget. We literally recorded in basements, bedrooms, and a walk-in closet. Oddly enough, after hearing these versions so many times, I’ve gotten used to the low fi sound of them – sort of.

It was pretty stunning that, after the CD came out, we started seeing positive reviews in ‘zines and started doing interviews for something that was essentially a demo. Granted, there were some criticisms - observations made that some of the tracks sounded like they’d been recorded in a basement. We really should have had an advisory sticker on the front warning people of precisely that.

Label interest and further releases might have developed on an alternate timeline, but within 6 months of putting the CD out, issues that had been bubbling under between Gabriel and myself continued to ramp up. I started working with Numb at this point, and that became more of a priority. T4M continued to do periodic live shows, as well as nearly an album’s worth of new material, which never saw the light of day. By about 1998, Gabriel and I had completely lost touch with each other, and after 6 years of doing cranky and morose electronic music, I was pretty burnt out on the diminishing returns, so I put T4M up on blocks in the front yard, so to speak.

1993 / 1994 - D.D.A.S, Apocolypse, Sick

The Fourth Man on “tour” 1994: a mere 24 hours from hearing the CD for the first time. From left to right: Jeff Ranger (bass), Andrew Amy (Keyboards), pig’s skull (soon to be crushed), David Collings (vocals, town idiot), Gabriel Abney (drums, door stop, eye candy). The Fourth Man on “tour” 1994: a mere 24 hours from hearing the CD for the first time. From left to right: Jeff Ranger (bass), Andrew Amy (Keyboards), pig’s skull (soon to be crushed), David Collings (vocals, town idiot), Gabriel Abney (drums, door stop, eye candy).

At some point, someone gave me a cassette recording of an evangelist doing a tent sermon, which said “featuring The Fourth Man”, and I sampled a few lines from it. Around that time, I’d finally figured out the purpose of the “swing” feature on Creator, and realized that one of the basic elements in the vast majority of hip hop at the time involved putting some triplet notes into the drum patterns, which got it to “swing”, instead of doing blocky straight notes. I had no real intention of doing a hip hop track, but putting the evangelist on top of the rhythm track with some crunchy noises and incidental gun fire came together so quickly, that it was done before I’d realized it. The overall results were pleasing, the process was painless, and it sounded like we’d forced an insane guy from the southern states to do a commercial for us. The working song file was “ddas”, which stood for “down, def, and stupid”. I consider it to be the slickest sounding track on the CD. It figures the easiest track to make would be the best sounding one.

I got the basic idea for “Apocalypse” after I’d just bought my second sampler, an Akai S900, and was getting the hang of using it. In and amongst the spooky Hallowe’en clichés, the idea, initially called “►Git3”, had some aspects that seemed promising in some ways, but it was set aside until around the time of our first live show in the fall of 1993.

When we came back to the idea of putting together new material, I restructured the song, and wrote some lyrics in the form of a megalomaniacal rant. We didn’t have the resources to properly record vocals, but around the time of our second live show, I lost patience and attempted to duct tape something together in order to record them.

At this point, Gabriel was living in a house up the street from me, and we had sporadic access to the basement for recording and rehearsal purposes. The “studio” was nearly perfect in terms of being squalid. Besides the typical low ceilings and poor lighting, my workstation was next to an unlit room with a dirt floor, which the housemates’ cats converted into a litter box. There was also a cramped and crooked pool table for entertainment purposes. We were reaping the rewards of the wild success of the “C.I.R.S.” cassette.

I tracked the vocals, and effects in one take onto the semi-functioning Yamaha MT-2X four track. I’d discovered that the MT-2X still had the capability to record, but not to erase, which meant that it had essentially become a “write once” device. Because we had extremely limited cash and a limited number of decent cassettes kicking around, I only had one or two bashes at it. More as an overly self-indulgent experiment, I automated the delay returns on the vocals to trigger at specific points in the song via MIDI. I was pretty pleased with myself, given the primitive environment and no-budget resources. The results were perhaps less-than-pleasing. Once again, mixing through budget speakers and cheap headphones, the song was, at best, “finished”.

Gabriel, frequently a glutton for psychological self-abuse, chose to attempt a reworking of “C.I.R.S.” during this time period. I believe he was resurrecting it under the creative file name “C.I.R.S.2”. The bones of the track made more sense to me this time around, and after screaming at rehearsals and live gigs, I felt better about being a bit more aggressive with the vocals, as well as being less precious with the lyrics – lyrics which still made almost no fucking sense to me. Thanks to the S900, I once again had access to more options in terms of what I had come to call “incidentals”, the non-musical noises that I liked to add to a song when I started getting bored with myself.

Through contacts from doing live shows and through Andrew, we were able to record the vocals at a home studio used by label-mates Children of Atom. The recording situation was better than usual, but our sense of what was a good or bad mix was still far from optimal. We were also still dealing with the common pre DAW era bottleneck of having far more “virtual” samples and synth tracks than tape tracks and proper mixing board channels to fine-tune the mix. That being said, there are one or two moments in “CIRS2” that I am still pleased with.

“Sick” was an oddly transitional track, as it was written concurrently with material that would eventually get bumped to the next T4M release, which never did get finished or released. Also, this song shared a thematic link to most of the 4th man tracks that came after it, in that it really didn’t take itself seriously. Lyrically, the track was a passive aggressive rant about people in general, particularly those close to me. It was partially the result of a diet of instant noodles, bitterness, coffee, beer, LSD, and cigarettes. It was also a reaction to the cartoonish quality of the “industrial” genre.

Industrial music seemed to have broken through to the mainstream in earnest and had become a series of clichés. Frat boys and metal-heads that used to beat me up were now jumping around to Nine in Nails, Ministry, and Front 242 at Lollapalooza, and the novel combination of cyberpunk, metal, new wave, and experimental noise seemed to be getting simultaneously dumbed-down and taken maybe a bit too seriously. With the exclusion of perhaps Revolting Cocks and KMFDM, the lack of sense of humor was bit cloying. That and the fact that Gabriel and I were skinny little pasty-skinned mouse clickers, often too wimpy to lift our next cigarette, let alone intimidate someone, all these big angry drums and distorted vocals made me feel like a bit of a phony. As we started getting taken more seriously, I found myself behaving quite the opposite. “►Sick” was a good thematic juxtaposition of cheerful and psychotic, and for all its’ flaws, it’s one of my favorite tracks on the CD.

One aspect of “Sick” was that it had been performed live prior to being recorded, but after the first couple of verses, I would just stumble around and sing the words to “The Love Boat” over the second half. In the process of recording the vocal tracks for a couple of verses, the four-track, in its’ final days as a functioning piece of equipment, reverted to being “play back only” again, which sort of clinched the idea of additional lyrics or vocals for time being. Half out of necessity and half out of novelty, I sampled my vocals from the chorus and re-sequenced them to trigger in the last part of the song, which in my mind was pretty ambitious stuff - a cheap precursor to the “cut and paste” method being used on this new hard drive recording and editing program I’d been hearing about called “Pro Tools”.

By the spring of 1994, the 3 new tracks were put out as an EP entitled “Sick”. Also, since T4M was the first band on Factoria with enough material, we became the first CD “experiment” for Factoria.

At some point during the mastering process, which involved transferring the cassette versions onto Pro Tools, fixing the levels a bit, and then transferring them onto DAT, the levels actually got screwed up even worse. Also, somewhere along the way, the original tape of “Dirge” had gotten so badly damaged that the first 20 seconds were unsalvageable, and our only option at the time was to splice the middle part onto the beginning. There were also some major tape drop-outs here and there which we attempted to compensate for. Given the comparative slowness of computer equipment at the time, simple processes were quite time consuming, and more often than not, we opted to simply transfer a song from analogue to digital with a minimum of “fixing”.

The last track on the CD was an accident that we decided to keep. The DAT we had used for the master had originally contained a recording of our second live show, which had been a complete mess, so no love lost in erasing it. When giving the DAT a proof listen, we unexpectedly heard the sound of lounge music and me throwing some sort of tantrum from the end of our live set from 1992, after the end of D.D.A.S. Since we still had space on the CD, we left it on.

Back in 1992 at a club called “The Twilight Zone”, Gabriel had either accidentally or intentionally* triggered the preset “lounge” song on a drum controller, and I was in the process of having a post show meltdown on stage. It seemed a fitting end to the CD.

* I'm gonna go ahead and 'fess up here... it was intentional. ~ Gabriel