The making of Rope-A-Dope was part of the ramped up activity phase that yielded four records in about three years. It was also the first studio album recorded with JM firmly in place, as evidenced by his lead vocals on two songs: "Leave Home" and "What She Will."
After our first extensive touring in support of Everywhere Outside and Comes Alive, we came up with two sets of songs, the first batch recorded at Snack Time Studios in Hoboken by Fred Brockman, with Lyle Hysen producing. The second group was recorded by James Murphy in the original location of Plantain Studios in DUMBO. Fred, Lyle and James all coaxed us to try out the direction we followed on Comes Alive, to translate some of the live blaze rep we had acquired, to disc and all three treated the guitar as the insistent, gritty, growly, lush and abrasive animal it was/is.
As the recording and release of RAD overlapped the gap between Bourbon County and Ear and Echo, when it came time to tour, we were promoting material from three very different albums. Wolf Knapp, who was so critical to the solo sessions in Vermont, came along for part of the trip and during that time we split the material between "Tara Key" nights and Antietam nights. One of my favorite nights I have had in a band came when Fred and Toody of Dead Moon showed us hospitality after a Satyricon gig in Portland, OR, and stayed up late, late, late with the three of us (Wolf had departed), talking and talking.
I soaked in so much from Fred and Toody that night. Certainly it was crucial to witness people even older than I (and in a couple) who did not question their compass. They just forged ahead as always in an arena, rock and roll, which rewards youth and almost questions longevity when your band has not reached a certain level. This was all despite having given myself a mild concussion during "Hardly Believe" earlier in the evening, goose egg on my forehead (no blood) by bashing into my extra Les Paul sitting on a stand during a particularly vigorous head swing.
Around that time, Yo La Tengo asked me to join them in a representation of a Factory party band in the movie I Shot Andy Warhol. I can be seen in head to toe black, opting to play my beautiful, but problematic orange Gretsch, over my trademark Les Paul. It was great for feedback -- see "Burn" -- but it stayed in tune about as well as if its neck was made of licorice. But, sigh, it WAS a beautiful guitar. We recorded three tunes for the movie with YLT producer Roger Moutenot at the board at the Magic Shop. I used a Vox AC30 instead of my normal Mesagrowl and started thinking about the realm of the clean, yet dirty amp -- leading me to the Fender Super I now use and away from the sterile and precise transmissions of the Jazz Chorus. And I got to play on "Demons" which is in my Top Ten YLT songs of all times!
From my description of the shoot in the YLT annotated discography:
Being on the movie set was like waking up at a carnival without my glasses, scratching my head and wondering if I had passed out or gotten rolled. The whole set was wrapped in the traditional Factory Reynolds reflective material and I had been deprived of my prescription eyewear by wardrobe, so all the colors and shapes and reflections of people just bounced around the whole time. In fact, my visit to wardrobe was interesting in that I became a xerox of myself... I walked in wearing my black leather jacket, black jeans, a smart pair of beaten down Byrdsy boots, a black shirt and sunglasses (mine). I was asked to disrobe and don... a black leather jacket, black jeans, a black shirt and sunglasses (theirs). The boots were deemed "fab" and stayed.
I have to admit a perverse pleasure in having someone run over at a third party's beckoning to straighten one hair on my head. Someone needs to shout "wardrobe" at me every morning!
I enjoyed seeing Donovan the Younger "jam out" on my prized Gretsch guitar (the beauty queen of my collection who was, indeed, "ready for 'her' closeup, Mr. DeMille") during breaks in filming. To think that the same hands which had wielded a whip violently and extremely close to my head moments earlier could caress its neck with such sweetness!
I also enjoyed Ira's sideburns immensely -- kinda like what he would have looked like pitching for the Athletics in the 70's. When Billy Name (the real one) was led by the filmmakers to inspect the replica closet where in real life he had spent months without coming out, it was a definite waitress on the catsup bottle holding a tray with a catsup bottle with a waitress holding a tray with a catsup bottle with a waitress (etc.) moment.