We Are the Underworld

July 27, 2021
Strippers Union
Not on Label
Strippers Union · We Are the Underworld

So…SU3 – The Undertaking, our 3rd album will be released February 5th, 2021.

Our 1st album, “Strippers Union Local 518,” was released in 2006 and the follow-up “The Deuce,” a mere 5 years later. It was a new band for me. After 20 plus years in The Hip (at that point) the opportunity to play with different musicians, who just happen to be pals, was a welcome and invigorating release. The Hip and Odds had played together many times through the years and we had hit it off instantaneously – brothers from different mothers. I was brimming with musical ideas but needed help in the lyric and vocal departments…being in a band with an excellent lyricist/frontman for such a long time had stunted certain aspects of my song writing growth. Craig just felt like a natural and obvious choice of who I would choose to work with – so we began and never looked back.

I’ve never played guitar or written tunes because it was a job, a living, or a pay check – I do it because its what I do – It is a natural extension of me, just as it is for Craig. It is what I wanted to do with my life when I was 14 years old and its still what I want to do. I’m pretty certain Craig would say the same. Money is nice, don’t get me wrong, but it’s NEVER the reason behind creative decisions.

Craig Northey and I collaborate on all tunes, with him doing the heavy lifting on lyrics, and me on the music. Though there is always lots of welcome meddling in each others domain. We laugh a lot. Its amazing anything gets done – but it does. When the songs are written and the blueprints are finalized, we would assemble with drummer Pat Steward and bassist Doug Elliott at The Bathouse Studio and work up the tunes as a band, recording them live off the floor to two inch tape for the 1st album, and to ProTools for the 2nd – “The Deuce”.  The 1st album did surprisingly well, selling a few copies and earning a top ten rock radio hit with “Give Up and Go Away”. Nevertheless, I took a financial bath. The 2nd outing managed to be a smaller bath as well as managing to avoid detection on anyone’s radar. You’d think at that point we might Give Up and Go Away…and after 10 years maybe you thought we had…but that is not what we do. THIS is what we do.

After a 10 year hiatus WE’RE BACK!

Why so long a wait between albums? These last 10 years have had their share of unexpected twists and turns. Suffice it to say that my life was in upheaval. My lifelong dream, which was embodied by The Hip, had come to a sudden and very final end. It was, oddly, both profoundly sad and fulfilling, and it left a void for me. What was I to do now? With my dream done and my sense of personal identity badly shaken, I began the process of trying to figure out what I might do with the remainder of my life. I descended into my home studio and applied myself to the one thing I can count on to keep the demons at bay, which is song writing and recording. Apparently there were more demons than I realized, and before long I was overflowing with demos… more than 50. Originally I thought I would include an albums worth of personal tunes with a book that I’m writing about my misadventures and shared laughs in The Hip…and I may still do that, but it struck me that a lot of these tunes were Strippers Union material.

I convened with Craig in the spring of 2018 and began playing him demos that I’d accumulated over the past year or two – songs which I felt might be SU contenders. We nailed the lyrics and melodies for 5 tunes in 3 days. Over the next 18 months we had 3 more writing sessions as well as exchanges of ideas through Dropbox. By the start of 2020 we were up to 18 tunes. Initially my plan was to use my bass lines and programmed drums – I’d spent a lot of time getting them right and I was pretty proud of the work – my ego wanted to see “all instruments played by Rob Baker”, but my better judgement told me to give Pat Steward and Doug Elliott a crack at those parts. These guys have been playing together so long that they are a well tuned machine – ruthlessly efficient and tasteful.  I headed to North Van with my hard-drive in tow and spent three days in Craig’s Doghouse of Thunder Studio with Pat and Doug nailing down the bass and drums on 18 tunes – in 3 DAYS!

After a couple of months of lockdown, which had started immediately upon my return from Van., I decided that it was safe for me to begin the mixing with Bathouse engineer Nyles Spencer…we’d both been quarantined. We also enlisted the vocal talents of Ms. Emily Fennel to flesh out the background vocals. Emily had contributed to our 2nd album, so it was great to bring her more fully into the Union fold.

I also got local piano savant Spencer Evans in to play on one tune, “Permanent Damage” – it required more piano than my limited abilities could provide. We would mix a song, send it to Craig, address his notes and remix.

Lockdown also gave me the time to do illustrations for each of the songs. Photos seemed to be out as there was no way to safely travel and assemble. I’ve always been a fan of R.Crumbs illustrations so I thought I’d give it a go. I took one crack at each tune, pen and ink, and tried to do 1 a day over a three-week period. I guess I just felt that, seeing as the songs were primarily created in my home studio, that I should continue the “homemade/handmade” theme and keep as much of the work as possible ‘in house’. These will be shared throughout the records roll out

It has been a very different way for me to make an album. It’s taken a long time, and I’ve worn a lot of different hats. I enjoyed all of it, but the truth is that much of it was very solitary. I’m fine with that. The whole process is like a prolonged meditation for me, but my greatest joy in this Undertaking was in my collaborations – working with Craig is always joyful and productive, sitting back and watching Pat and Doug breathe life into my ideas, working with Nyles and Emily to bring these songs to a final state – its been beyond gratifying. The circumstances of these days were living through presented a host of challenges, but we adapt and continue – the alternative would be to stop doing what we love, and that is not acceptable.

So, all of that brings me to where we are – a double album of new material.

Why a double album…why make an album at all?  Excellent questions. A double album because I really like this batch of tunes and feel that it is an eclectic set that covers a broad expanse and represents our diverse interests. Double albums are also good for cleaning the seeds out of your pot. I love vinyl records…since I was a kid – 5 years old listening to my older sisters records and staring for hours at the album art, absorbing as much info as my little brain could hold. Eventually I had thousands of albums, moved to CD’s,  which I amassed in the thousands, then I moved to MP3s and WAVs and amassed 30+ days of music…but now I listen to and buy, almost exclusively, vinyl. So, I’d ask, “why not release an album?”

We didn’t do it for you – We do it to please ourselves. I’ve always operated under the assumption that I am not special or unique – so if it’s something I like, then there are lots of others who will like it as well.

I’m proud of these songs. I’m proud of the work. When we were young we wanted to conquer, to be respected and adored. Time marches on. These songs reflect who we are now – a little less bravado and a little more restraint, less inclined to thrash and more inclined to find a little truth, a little meaning, and to revel in the little pleasures.

  • Rob Baker
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