Jim Santo's Demo Universe, on "Foul Berth"
Dan Cray did the band thing for five years in the early '90s, but like so many groups, Beyond Id was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"We kinda shot ourselves in the foot," explains Cray from the safety of his home studio, The Rubber Room. "We were really into the Velvet Underground, no-planning, as-it-happens kinda thing; just making a lot of noise that nobody liked. We played all over Boston, but nobody ever wanted us back."
After the demise of Beyond Id -- a victim of far-flung employment and education opportunities -- Cray committed himself to The Rubber Room (so named for the foam soundproofing that hangs on the walls and keeps his neighbors happy) and the free-wheeling world of 4-track recording.
Cray has produced "a bunch" of tapes over the years, but only one has thus far surfaced in public. And what a tape! Unfurling like a long, sad dream, Foul Berth flows from one beautiful, unsettling melody to the next, sometimes contemplative, at others softly abrasive. American Music Club, Pavement, Miracle Legion and Yo La Tengo come to mind.
Cray, however, cites other influences. "I was always into Archers Of Loaf and Guided by Voices," he says. "Right now I'm really hooked on this Neutral Milk Hotel band. They've got a real heavy Kinks influence. Growing up, I was schooled on Neil Diamond."
Cray's gorgeously corroded cover of Procol Harum's "Whiter Shade Of Pale" is a pleasant surprise that does not diminish the impact of his original material. "I just always loved that song," he says. "I almost didn't put it on the tape; I'd done all the guitar tracks and vocals and it was like a real pansy version of a great tune. That was when a little bit of weed went into it. I put some crazy guitar on it, like a Bevis Frond kind of thing, and it turned out alright."
Recording in his apartment puts limits on what Cray can do with his music, but also affords the freedom to seek unusual solutions. "My last tape sounded kinda hollow, and I realized what it was missing was percussion," he relates. Real drums wouldn't have made his neighbors happy, so Cray resorted to banging on household objects. A wine rack was used in "Whiter Shade," and Saran-wrapped salad bowls are heard on other tracks. "There's no real drums at all, just a bunch of metal things," he says. "The cymbals were these weird brass trays."
Another key instrument in Cray's toolkit is the television, or rather, televisions, several of which crowd his work space. "It's good for lighting in the room," he reveals. "There's nothing better than fiddling around, watching an old movie; they write their own songs."
A famous flop provided the inspiration for Foul Berth. "On all of the tapes I make, I put these little sound clips and segues," says Cray. "On this one, they were all from 'Ishtar.' It's about two idiot songwriters; they write the worst songs in the world. I kind of let the soundbites blend into the music and determine the sequence of the songs. I let 'Ishtar' tell me what to do."
Eager to put a new band together, but as yet unable to find the right players, Cray makes do with home-taping, infrequent acoustic gigs and an odd job.
"I work in a glue factory," says Cray with some pride. "I cook, basically, mixing different chemicals, but I tell everybody that I hit the horse in the head as it comes down the conveyor belt."