Apr 5 • 4M

Dimmest Star

(earliest sketch demo from 1997)

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Joe Pernice
Musician and writer Joe Pernice shares recordings and some words about making them.
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Below are the lyrics to the finished song as it was released back in 1998. As for the lyrics on this demo, they are what they are.

Who were you when I woke up with a bad dream on my head. How you said I made no sense then you showed me how it was. All the world broken for me. I could say that I was less when I'd never seen your face. How you said I made no sense. Can you show me how to live? All the world open to me. Stretched out so far I never knew. I flashed my light into your car. Kiss me, dimmest star. Don't ever leave. Don't ever leave. Don't ever leave until I make up my mind. Don't ever leave my troubled life.

By Joe Pernice, Bony Gap Music/BMI (admin by BUG/BMG)

A brief announcement before I get into the song: I’m not big on celebrating. Just ask my wife. But today I’m in a bit of a celebratory mood. On Saturday my record label partner Joyce and I signed a deal to license the Ashmont Records catalogue—and some new Pernice records going forward—to New West Records. We were so impressed by how they handled the 25th anniversary edition of Overcome by Happiness, that when they wanted to talk about the future, we listened. (Shameless plug, you may still buy a copy of the vinyl here: https://newwestrecords.com/en-ca/collections/pernice-brothers)

To say I’m a skeptic is putting it mildly. Anyway, over a few months of talking (eleven, to be exact), we got the deal done. And honestly, we couldn’t feel better about my/our musical future. Sure, everything else in the world is pretty messed up. But for today I will stand on this manhole-sized oasis.

Joyce and I will send out a post to our mailing list shortly, thanking you all for supporting our tiny label since 1999. Ashmont Records is not going anywhere. But we’re happy to let let people with better eyesight drive the plane.

Until that mailing list post flies, I thank you all from the bottom of my little wire heart. I honestly do not know what I would have done with my life had you all not supported us.

…and so ends the celebration.

I got the idea for Dimmest Star when Stephen Desaulniers and I took the Amtrak across America in 1996. We left Springfield, MA in a snowstorm, and headed West towards Seattle. We were due to have a marketing meeting with Sub Pop Records prior to the release of the Scud Mountain Boys LP Massachusetts. At that time I was still too terrified to fly. I had been in a plane a single time, and the experience was awful. (For some quick context regarding the fear of flying that dogged me for a few years after, I not too long ago disposed of a number of “goodbye notes” I’d written to people while in the air. I was THAT certain I would die. A flight from Boston to Amsterdam is long and emotionally exhausting when one is 100% certain the plane is going down.) Sub Pop was cool enough to book us a sleeper car. It was fantastic. Meals in the dining car. Afternoon cocktails in the observation car. Lots of looking out the window, reading and scribbling.

Anyway, early one morning I woke up as the train was barrelling through the Midwest somewhere. The morning was dark blue and misty. We passed a field of grass, empty save for a single car with its lights on. I wrote, “I flashed my light into your car” in my notebook. And that was that. Something sparked. The song grew from that.

At the time I was still an MFA student in UMASS Writing Program. My go-to poet of that time was the late great Tomas Tranströmer. (I stole the title Solitary Swedish Houses from an English translation of one of his poems.) One of the things I love about his poetry is how a spare, striking image can blossom into an entire world. I remember thinking of Tranströmer, Instead of trying to cram the world into a tiny poem, he let’s a tiny poem become a world. To this day that is something I try to do with my songs. And no doubt I tried that with Dimmest Star.

On almost every record I’ve made there’s a last-minute addition to the song pile. Dimmest Star was that song of the Overcome potentials.

In the studio, I recall recording the whole song in one take. I played my Gibson acoustic. But when it came time to mix, Mike Deming suggested we mute the Gibson as soon as the rest of the band comes in. Not exactly studio wizardry, but I recall really liking the space that was made by the guitar going away. (The Scud Mountain Boys had been basically a live band in the studio, so any kind of studio tricks were new to me.)

The vocals on the don’t ever leave part were also a new thing for me. I don’t recall how many tracks we cut, but it was a lot. The vox are thick on that tune. It was the first time I’d sung with Payton Pinkerton, and I was blown away by his voice. His is the one with the blood on that song.

Mike Deming played the piano on that song. It was his idea to have the piano play a variation of the melody for a lead break. He was having back trouble at the time. No lie, I remember the wince he showed as he played.

All that said, my favorite part of the song is an RMI electric piano track that plays on the outro. Deming sat at the keyboard while Thom Monahan stepped on pedals and twisted effects knobs. So technically they both played that outro. It was so beautiful I almost couldn’t believe it. Man, that was a fun album to make.

As for the recording included today, it’s the earliest sketch demo of the song. I made it sometime in 1997. Tracked to a single track on a Tascam 244 four-track cassette recorder. I am almost certain it’s the only demo of the song I ever made prior to recording the actual album. The spareness of the demo next to the studio recording should be a good indicator of just how much fun you can getting from Point A to Point Z.

As always, folks, thanks for listening. Take care of yourselves and those around you.