Mike Chick goes behind the scenes

As die-hard music fans, sometimes it’s not enough to just play our favourite songs on repeat over and over. Sometimes, we want to go behind the scenes and know everything there is to know about those songs and the artists behind them. (Not in a creepy way, of course.) Today, we’re lucky enough to be taken behind the scenes by Mike Chick, frontman of the indie-rock group Yawn Mower. Fresh off the release of his third solo LP, More Thrills, Less Hills – an effort that took years to come to fruition – he was happy to sit down and share some stories and exclusive photos from the making of the record.

“Let’s do this. Shut this off. Get these up. Here we go.” ‘Kicking Out’ starts off with me talking my way through using a digital audio workstation (DAW). We started MTLH at the beginning of the pandemic, which I thought would also be a good time to learn how to use a DAW. I screwed up a lot of demos in that period (sometimes you have to crawl before you walk) and would self-talk my way through the steps of recording each time. I thought opening the LP with actual lines would be a good nod to that memory and my learning process. 

The noise behind the self-talk is from a Roland Juno 106 keyboard my neighbor came across in a basement that would work normally for about 20 minutes after being turned on, but after that would descend into a mess that sounded like robots were malfunctioning. I have since gotten the 106 fixed and it sounds wonderful.

Mike’s early pandemic recording setup

The organ you hear in the beginning of ‘Deep Moat’ is my drummer Bill Bourke’s dad’s (RIP Dennis Bourke) Roland JX3P. The JX3P was in Bill’s practice space for years, but no one ever used it. I borrowed it in 2020 to see if it made any cool sounds and wound up using it throughout MTLH.

Originally, the lyrics for the chorus had double the amount of words, but it became a ‘how many words are too many words’ situation so I cut the lyrics in half. Emily Bornemann (Dentist) sings backup vocals on the track. She came up with the “ba ba ba” part at the end of the third verse and also stars in the video for the song.

Astronauts is about watching billionaires play with their private spacecrafts and talk about going to Mars and finding a planet to go to when Earth dies while everyone else is standing around watching them, wondering why not just spend that money on Earth and its problems? My favorite part of the song is the outro. After the pilot gives his spiel, it feels like you are taking off from a tarmac. We used a Mellotron to give it that ethereal / Bowie type vibe. I do also like the back and forth guitar parts in the verses. We came up with them on the fly while recording the main guitar tracks.

Bill Bourke ready to blast off into space

The end of ‘Dang Cold’ features a voice memo of a man selling “Coco Bello” on a beach in southern Italy, which is coconut. These guys would also sell jewelry, and beach toys for kids. I’ve been to the Napoli area a few times in my adult life and can always count on these guys being there. I had to grab a voice memo. I love how the Coco Bello part leads into El Valerie’s voice disintegrating, which leads into Ryan Gregg’s organ solo and some hand claps by the Yawn Mower 7. A logical chain of events.   

The Acetone Top 5, as heard on ‘Dang Cold’

If MTLH is ever pressed to vinyl, this would be the first song on side B. ‘I Hate Surfing’ features bass guitar by Gary Zampini (Tide Bends, Slow Dust, Gringo Motel). Gary has always been a favourite bass player of mine and I knew he had to be the one to write the bassline for this song.   

It’s not often that you have a fax machine war happening at the end of a song. It was a lot of fun assembling these sounds into the outro, which is like the opposite of the calming outro of ‘Astronauts’. In ‘I Hate Surfing’, the mainframe system is malfunctioning and the ship is going down. But not before you shuffleboard your way into ‘Shake What They Gave You’…

Bill’s studio and fax machine battleground

This was one of the last songs on MTLH to be finished. At first, I didn’t know if this song would hold up with the rest, but then it turned into one of my favourites on the record. From the Lou Panico bassline, to Emily’s vocals at the end with the Elka Panther organ (probably my favourite part of the whole LP), to Richie Brown’s spoken word about seasonings, this one came out okay. A breezy little slice of indie rock pie.

Mike and Lou Panico, who plays bass on four tracks

‘I’ll pick all the fleas off your back like an animal’ should be the new “live laugh love” sign sold at all major home decorating stores. ‘Architects’ used to be called ‘Mountain Caps’ because the song always felt big and mountainous to me. ‘Architects’ has some of my favourite lyrics on the record. Rachel Hock (Out Like Lambs, Holy Ripple) sings the whole song with me and we mixed them close in volume so it had a small gang vocal feel.

Mike and Rachel Hock, straight goofin’

One day, I was walking my dog past a soccer field in town and some teenagers were playing soccer and talking shit to one another (and possibly me) and I started singing, “sticks and stones might break my bones but names will never hurt me”. I wrote the rest of the song in about 30 minutes when I got home. I had the lap steel solo in my head and asked Chris Colon to come record it at my house. It was a great session. When I asked Mike Noordzy to play the upright bass I said, “you’ve played this song a million times, I know you’ll know what to do”. Nicole Scorsone laid down the violin part in about eight minutes. 

This is the most emotional song on the record for me. The image of your old dogs coming to the gates of heaven when you die gets me everytime. I don’t really care about writing purposely relatable lyrics for my songs, because I enjoy the lyrics that come out of me naturally. This was a happy mix of the two.     

Lap steel recording

‘More Thrills, Less Hills’ is out now via Mint 400 Records and can be streamed on all major streaming platforms via his Linktree.

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