RECORDING | Federation of Horsepower – Stay Down

This album is nearing its 10th birthday. Egads. So here, for the first time on Echoflower, are the “expanded liner notes” to the Federation of Horsepower release Stay Down. The following text appeared on CD Baby (where apparently you can still purchase the album) and probably on Myspace. (2017 formatting and one grammar change added.)

Following is a detailed breakdown of Federation of Horsepower’s debut album, Stay Down, a veritable dissection of the beast from KCMO. Before listening to Stay Down or reading the article, it is recommended that you listen to the following records, in this order: AC/DC – Let There Be Rock, Motorhead – Motorhead, Cheap Trick – Live at Budokan, Thin Lizzy – Black Rose, Zeke – Til the Livin End, ZZ Top – Fandango, Blackfoot – Marauder, Turbonegro – Scandinavian Leather, Black Sabbath – Paranoid, Led Zeppelin – II, Misfits – Walk Among Us, Supersuckers – Smoke of Hell, The Who – Live at Leeds, Trouble – Manic Frustration, Iron Maiden – Killers.

Are you back yet? Good, let’s get on with it.

Track 1 – Greetings from Killa City 
My boys are whiskey drunk and hell bound …
The traditional set opener also opens the album with proper bombast. Chris’ drum part punches your face, but also subtly builds as the intro progresses. Catfish and producer Paul Malinowski (P-Mal) concocted a bass tone that has been described as “if Larry Graham smoked Jack Bruce.” That covers the first five seconds of the record. Following are about seven layers of guitars – can you count them? Don’t miss the battle between the massive syncopated octave part and the “Welcome to the Jungle”-like delay part. I declare a draw.
There’s the intro: Stay Down meet the world, world meet Stay Down.
The song proper then kicks things into high gear and establishes a thesis. Yep, that’s what it does. It also eats your stereo. Did you know the lyrics quote horror rapper Ganksta NIP? It’s true. After a three minute battering, the riff returns once more, this time inexplicably with pounding piano, just like “Spirit of Radio.” Gregg and I each played half the keyboard; put us together and you’d have one shitty pianist. Whew.

“Yes or No” 
My boots are walking out that door … 
The scream at 0:07 is Mr. Chris Fugitt’s only “vocal” on the album. Jeezis. I wasn’t there, but I understand you could actually hear it outside the building. Meanwhile, this is another no nonsense (or is it all nonsense?) piece of rock and roll narrative which, like the best of them, takes place in a bar. It features the first of several trade off solos between Gregg and me. Most of the solos on the album, I’d like to point out, are double-tracked, i.e. played twice mostly identically by the player. It’s not always that easy, but it makes for a great sound. And speaking of great sounds, most of my personal favorites contained herein were generated on my ’80s Gibson Maruader through Brodie Rush’s speakerless Mesa combo through some Marshall cabinet. Thanks, Brodie!

I wonder who you’re under … 
This song is all about delicate vocal interplay as propagated by Johnny Catfish. And testosterone, I suppose. One might not think of “Sugar” first when it comes to dynamics, but I think the middle of the song – about 1:44 to 2:44 – is a great roller coaster of rage and release. And then rage again. “Sugar” will get under your skin.

“Hot Rails”
What you got is gonna keep me comin’ back …
The finest phone sex song on the album. There are several minorly varying versions of Hot Rails floating around: the video version has a slightly longer intro, mostly so we can see Gregg driving that sweet ass car; the Lead Pipe Lullabies EP version doesn’t have the vocal “heys” towards the end of the song. Also, the earlier version fades about 10 seconds sooner. All variations contain the overlapping solos of me dueling with myself like a hairy Elliot Easton.
While we were tracking Stay Down, Westend Studios came into possession of at least one new toy, a baritone guitar. Since we’d already used the kitchen sink, there was no reason to leave this new object out. So, Gregg’s outro solo features but one example of P-Mal’s suggestion, “great, now double it on baritone.” How can I relate this? Imagine writing out the lyrics to “Suffragette City” on a Schlitz coaster in pencil, then going back to trace over them with a five inch paint brush. Yeah, something like that.

“Outlaws of Hollister”
They don’t want your kind around here …
Go watch The Wild One with Marlon Brando for lyrical background. This is a filthy, scuzzy groove worthy of a mythical bike invasion. I suggest listening loudly to the first 1:16 while driving one mile per hour looking for a parking spot at a mall, preferably the Westroads in Omaha. Seriously, try it.
Now, I don’t have much experience with this type of thing, but I think “Hollister’s” solo is the very sound of hallucinogenics, its chromatically moving unison bends telegraphing paranoia and lethargy through a heat haze. Good god, I’m starting to sound like Richard Meltzer or Wolf Marshall. Anyway, note the baritone doubling at 2:32.
The album version of Hollister also differs from the Lead Pipe version. Eight measures that we play live towards the end of the track have been omitted and “simulated tape slow down” is unique to the album. A nod to “Black Diamond?”

Sequencing an album’s tracks is an art form unto itself. We knew “Killa City” was going to open the record, but that still left us with 12!, or 479,001,600 possible combinations. I think we must have entertained most of them at one point or another. Then our “label guy,” Kafka the Dog mastermind Doug Washington, suggested the very order here. His idea, more or less, was that of a rock tour de force in three movements plus coda, the first movement composed of the preceding rockers, the second containing the album’s bluesier numbers as a respite, and the third blazing out loudly, with the title track providing a unique postscript. The discussion now enters movement two, with …

“Blues for Miss Cole”
It’s been a long time comin’ …
Miss Cole is a real person; maybe you know her. But then again, aren’t all the characters mentioned real? We’ll never tell. This track, a late add to the sessions, features Gregg on drums in addition to his usual chores since he was the only one who knew the song. Hey – he ain’t bad! You think he’s ever played them things before?! If you were to listen to the drum tracks alone you could hear him humming the song to himself. The featured dobro is a souvenir from our November ’06 trip to Des Moines.

“She’s With Me” 
That girl is mine now, mister can’t you see …
A sort of Southern rock gospel stomper. Accordingly, many people (ok, me) think Gregg sounds just like Danny Joe Brown at times. He also plays a killer slide solo. I think one of the unexpected “jams of the album” comes at 1:39 when Chris’ propulsive drum work is joined by the Rosedale Boys Choir. It ain’t religious boy, I know this much is true.

“Devil Child”
Fold up your soul and put it in his pocket …
There is another great dynamic stretch in this song starting at about 2:06 with Gregg’s great slide solo through Chris’ swinging, yet technical fills, to Catfish’s nasty bass break. Once when I told someone that I was joining Federation, their reaction was, “that’s one loud band.” Yeah, but that is kind of missing the point. Loud is most effective when you contrast it with quiet and the fact that we had the opportunity to explore quiet (a little) is one of the things that makes this studio creation what it is. And we’re damn proud of it.

Together we will burn like 1000 angry suns …
From the random 5/4 drum intro (Gregg again), you know things are a little different. I suppose this song is bluesy at its core, but it’s a psychedelic space blues. There are all sorts of cool things lurking in the mix – baritone guitar arpeggios, shimmering tremolo chords, trombone (just kidding), you name it. Gregg’s lyrical solo is another fine example of double-tracking.

“Sin Wagon”
It’s dirty and I like it that way …
Automobile rock! Or could it be that there is double entendre in a rock tune? Hmm. Clearly, this song ushers in the album’s third movement with its Rose Tattoo-like bluster. “Sin Wagon” sounds best played in a car with four Jensen tri-axial speakers screwed into a plywood box. The solo reminds me of Mick Jones of Foreigner, always a pet favorite due to his “uhh … what?” style leads.

Consider this on your last love letter …
It ain’t over yet, folks. Gregg insists the intro chords are derived from a Split Enz tune. Can’t you just hear it? Anyway, the song is certainly a spiritual cousin of Corrosion of Conformity. Your spine will note the sonic boom inserted by P-Mal at 0:11 even if your ears don’t. Cool effect and obscure fact: One of the doubled solos has wah pedal while the other does not. Never forget the grinding, subbasement dwelling roar of Catfish’s bass. Just don’t.

I believe he’ll save our souls with a loud ass rockin’ band …
The Federation national anthem and standard set closer (though formerly the set opener), “Testify” closes down the rock proceedings with a crash, bang, wallop. It’s probably the best Motorhead song that Motorhead never recorded. Ok, us multiplying guitar parts is one thing, but due to a technical problem in the original take, Chris had to come back in a redo the drums on this one. So, he came in after working 12 hours, listened to himself and the rest of the track playing back and nailed this final version in one take. And we all said, “fuck!”
This is another of our favorite trade off solos. Gregg’s portion has been in existence for a couple years, but my part was never really set. So, we built it in the studio. Now, normally when approaching Federation solos, I like to think, WWGMD (what would Gary Moore do?), but on this particular day, I’d been listening to Eat ‘Em and Smile by David Lee Roth (fuck off – it’s got great playing on it …), so I had a little Vai on the brain. It may show at certain points. At any rate, it was exceedingly fun and probably my personal favorite session.

“Stay Down”
Willie was crazy, his ain’t wired right … 
The cool-your-brain-down track, alternately titled, “Tom Waits for No Man.” Bent blues weirdness. The percussion track was constructed by Gregg playing a kick drum and snare, alternately whacking a music stand (Manhasset, black) upon which rested a tambourine. It was my job to return the stand and tambourine to their original positions after each whack.We think Tom would approve. Catfish played his part on a one stringed bass found in a closet at a funeral parlor.

And so, that’s the story of Stay Down, as I see it. What do you think?

Added bonus relic:
Here’s a review of the album from way back when. Dig those references to KC peers Last of the V8s (RIP) and Architects (still going strong).

Stay Down
(Kafka the Dog)
Review from the 7.19.07 Kansas City Star by Tim Finn.

FOHP is a rock band like Olympus Mons is a volcano: When it goes off, it alters the universe. Without a whiff of pretense or a dab of cosmetic polish, it unleashes a bone-cracking pummel and convulsive vocal/guitar roar.

Yet it sustains enough groove and tune (with some harmonies!) to give listeners something to grab onto during the wild, rollicking ride.

The sound is decidedly Motor City gutbucket rock, but it has some AC/DC (“Sin Wagon”) up its sleeve, too; and “Dog,” its idea of a “ballad,” is sweet and grimy, like something killed and grilled by Aerosmith and Ted Nugent.

Gregg Todt is the singer, and he squalls like a few other “Killa City” screamers, including Ernie Locke and R.J. Mattes. He has a bruising rhythm section and a lead guitarist who can play whatever role is needed, sniper or rocket launcher.

So here’s a proposal — our music scene’s version of an UFC throwdown: Put the Federation, the Architects and the Last of the V8s in the same room and see who brings down the first load-bearing wall.


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