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TRACK BY TRACK: ANNUALS’ SWEET SISTER

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There are only five songs on Sweet Sister, but the latest from Raleigh, N.C.’s Annuals contains a double album’s worth of interesting sounds and instruments.

The recently released new EP (on Banter Records) finds singer, songwriter and band leader Adam Baker once again in the producer role. Baker recently answered some questions about each track on Sweet Sister, as well as offered some additional insight into the making of the experimental pop collection.

1. “Loxtep” — What was used to make that swirly, disco-ish keyboard sound? Also, is there a Hammond B3 or a xylophone in there anywhere?
Adam Baker: “The swirly keyboard, if we’re thinking of the same one, is some MIDI software called “vacuum,” which comes with Pro Tools 8. It’s basically an analog synth modeler — I loooove it because it has all the same parameters as a great analog synth, without the constant maintenance. And yeah, there is a Hammond, which I am very fond of, and ya gotta have the xylophone.”

2. “Turncloaking” — How did you get that megaphone-sounding vocal? And are those drum-machine handclaps?
Baker: “That vocal sound is one of my favorites to generate. All I have to do is gain up the take beyond its peak and then it starts to distort. With some nice fat compression, it sounds pretty gritty.

“The handclaps are organic. I always spend, like, 30 minutes debating between just dubbing and overdubbing claps, or just stacking 808 claps with others. Every time, it’s more fun to clap them out myself.”

3. “Sweet Sister” — Are those bongos that are mixed real low?
Baker: “Are they mixed low? That’s comforting. For the longest time, I thought they were too loud. But yes, that song in particular I wanted a nice ‘Rhythm of the Saints’ kind of groove. I still wish the kick drum was louder in that song, but then again, I always want the kick louder. My favorite thing about this song is the bass line. I challenge any bassist to play through that song all the way without getting cramps — no picks allowed.”

4. “Holler and Howl” — Talk about those rhythmic squeaks that come at the end of each main acoustic guitar part.
Baker: “Anyone whose listened to us before already knows I’m a huge fan of using environmental sounds in music. The squeaks are the tip of pool cue being chalked up; it goes very well with the Taco Bell straw riff at the end of the song. The T-Bell straw also sounds amazing with a contrabassoon, which was a sweet surprise.

“I love this song; it’s one of my favorites I’ve ever written. I sat on it for a few years waiting for a chance when [I] could focus on making it a truly interesting and different song. When I finally decided to take it into the studio, it was just too fun to record and experiment with.”

5. “Flesh and Blood” — Does this song feature strings, keyboards, neither or both
Baker: “I mean, it certainly features both of those instruments at one time or another. It’s a Johnny Cash cover, and I made it a point to remain true to its first recording. It was really fun to work on this song because I love, love, love the song already, and since I decided to honor the original arrangements, I don’t know — it was a just cool to imagine Johnny and June [Carter Cash] and their band hearing it the way they did when they were working on it the same way I was now. Johnny Cash has always been one of my heroes, and it was very personally rewarding to re-create one of his best songs.”

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Annuals on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 17: Clemson University — Clemson, S.C.
* May 5: The Pike Room — Pontiac, Mich.
* May 6: Grog Shop — Cleveland Heights, Ohio
* May 7: The Empty Bottle — Chicago
* May 8: 400 Bar — Minneapolis
* May 11: Crocodile — Seattle
* May 12: Doug Fir Lounge — Portland, Ore.
* May 14: Bottom of the Hill — San Francisco
* May 15: Spaceland — Los Angeles
* May 16: The Rhythm Room — Phoenix
* May 19: Emo’s — Austin, Texas
* May 20: Mango’s Cafe — Houston
* May 21: Hailey’s — Denton, Texas
* May 23: Old Rock House — St. Louis
* May 26: Duke University — Durham, N.C.

Annuals photo by Charles Harris