Back in June, the Tenderhooks were in New York for an intense, three-day recording session. The evening before they went into the studios, the group played as part of a six-band line-up at a club in Manhattan. There was one uncomfortable moment during the band’s set, when they started in on a brand new song they were planning to record that weekend.
“We got through the first couplet and [bassist] Emily [Robinson] and I looked at each other,” says singer and guitarist Jake Winstrom. “We didn’t remember the words.”
That’s one of the few missteps the Knoxville power-pop band has taken in the last six months. It also indicates how quickly things are moving for the Tenderhooks—they’re writing and recording at such a fast pace that even they can’t quite keep up.
This past spring, Dan Chertoff, the son of Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne producer Rick Chertoff, contacted the band after stumbling across their MySpace page. Chertoff was a senior in New York University’s Clive Davis Department of Recorded Music and wanted to use the band for his senior project. He invited them up to New York for a recording session, where Winstrom, Robinson, guitarist Ben Oyler, and drummer Matt Honkonen laid down four tracks. Chertoff, who’s graduated and now working A&R for a small independent label, brought the four back to New York last month for another session at a second studio, General Studios, owned by George “The General” Fullan. There they taped seven more songs for what’s shaping up to be the follow-up to last year’s Vidalia.
“It was very efficient,” Honkonen says. “We only had three days but I don’t think it was rushed at all. We did everything we wanted to do. The guys, Dan and George have done this for a long time. It cut a lot of time we would have spent had we gone somewhere else.”
“We had two guys producing, and it was the first time we were in a situation where we had these songs and someone said, ‘Well these two or three aren’t good enough, scrap these, move on to the next song,’” Winstrom adds. “For Vidalia we had these 10 songs and that was what we did. No debate about it. We weren’t recording with friends anymore.”
The quick pace of the two sessions caught the band by surprise. Winstrom and Oyler, the Tenderhooks’ principle songwriters, had some material ready but were pushed to finish a few songs before the group went into the studio. “That was an impetus for finishing songs,” Winstrom says. “We had one or two completed. We’re good at coming up with ideas, but not so good at finishing them.”
But the process added a dimension to the most recent recordings. “The essential difference between the two is that Vidalia, we pieced together in chunks, with a lot of overdubs,” Oyler says. “A lot of this one was almost live. It’s a lot more raw.”
The handful of tracks from the spring sessions with Chertoff that have been posted on the Tenderhooks’ MySpace page are a slight departure from the songs that made up Vidalia. They’re marked by melancholy, less polished but no less pop-oriented than the band’s previous work, and more immediate. Honkonen says the disc, tentatively titled New Ways to Butcher English, could be ready as soon as October. But the band is considering how to distribute the songs—either as a full CD, as a combination of vinyl and downloads, or a series of limited-edition vinyl available at shows. The decision reflects the band’s old-fashioned approach to classic guitar rock.
“We’ve talked about doing a lot less actual CDs,” Honkonen explains. “We might do it in MP3, with a limited number of CDs and 7-inches we can sell on the road, with, like, two songs on them specific to whatever tour we’re on, with specific artwork. We’re kind of in the middle of that. I’d like to go back to records. Buying something that you can actually have in your hands. Not like MP3s.”