Love, Analog Style

Fighting the good 'n' quiet fight with the American Analog Set

After the subsequent tour, Kenny graduated from UT, began grad school, and moved to New York. But he couldn't fully let go of the band. First, he wished he could go back to the early records and fix some of the amateurish moments, like touching up old photos, removing a few imperfections here and there, using the new techniques he'd learned in the years since. The process certainly worked with "Gone to Earth," a track from The Fun of Watching Fireworks that had been reworked and rerecorded for Know by Heart. Originally stretching past the six-minute mark, Kenny sheared half of it clean off -- dead weight, in retrospect -- and returned with a sharp, pithy take on the original. But, he thought, why stop there?

"The Golden Band is a good, moody kind of record," he says. "I like the way it sounds, but there's so many things I wish I could go back and fix. On the older records, the problem was doubled or quadrupled by the fact that all the songs went right into one another. If you messed up once in a 20-minute mix, it meant going back and fixing the whole thing all over again."

With Know by Heartand Promise of Love, the band recorded the tracks on (what else?) analog equipment but mixed everything digitally, painstakingly tweaking and retweaking, "mostly fixing things that we thought should be quieter," Kenny says.

Promise of Love is not a bad record, but coming after the complete reinvention of Know by Heart, it felt like a lesser achievement. Eight songs long, Love didn't have Heart's heart nor its little laptop soul; the eight-minute "Modern Drummer" even wastes time frivolously, in a return to the band's old habits. Still, catchy little items like "Fool Around" (which could have been left off Know by Heart), "The Hatist" with its castanet-guitar clicks, and the purty, laconic "Come Home Baby Julie, Come Home" all contain moments of unguilty pleasure.

"The songs themselves I have to stand by," defends Kenny. "I think they'd be standout songs on Know by Heartif they'd been treated a little differently. They're as good as anything else we've ever done, but it wasn't really about the songs. It was about making some magic happen on tape. If I had to do it over, I would go back and touch up every song on the record. You live and you learn, you know? I thought that was going to be the period at the end of the sentence. I didn't know it was gonna be a comma in between Know by Heartand the next record. If I did, I would have done things a little differently.

"We thought [Promise of Love] might be the last record, with me being in grad school and all," he explains. But earlier this year, Kenny withdrew from Columbia so he could continue "to do the Analog Set for a little while. For the time being, anyway. I think I'm going to make music for a little while longer. I knew I'd miss it if I left it forever at this point. I'll do it for a little while longer, and then I'll go back and finish my Ph.D."

In the interim, AmAnSet is back to the grind, showing up anywhere it didn't hit in the past few years (the band hasn't visited South Florida since 1999). When not pillaging nightclubs, Kenny and clan continue to write and record an ever-growing stable of new songs. By next fall, there should be a new American Analog album in the racks. And then -- yeah, you know it, baby -- it's on the road again.

OK, everyone, back in the van!

"That's usually the way that we roll," Kenny laughs. "And then from there, we'll kind of take stock and say, 'Did this massive full-time touring and writing and recording schedule do us any good?' If we're all still gung-ho, we'll make a decision at that point. I feel like, in some way, we're kind of fighting the good fight, and it [keeping the band going] seemed like the right thing to do. This being the only thing any of us have ever really done in life that we could be proud of, it didn't seem right to just drop it and not do it anymore."

Of course, Kenny can be satisfied with his book-learnin' regimen too. And he can be proud of the work AmAnSet has done in pursuit of a Dr. Pepper ditty suitable to the suits at the soft-drink empire. In 1999, the band recorded a short, sweet homage to its favorite beverage (the track was later to emerge, retooled, as one of The Golden Band's drone-rock anthems, "The Wait"). Unfortunately for the band, "Dr. Pepper didn't share our sentiment, and the jingle was rejected," read Kenny's notes on Through the 90s, on which the 40-second would-be commercial is included.

"They really hated it," he remembers, adding that he's ready to take a second crack at the pop.

"Now that we're a little more wired in to the way things work, we're gonna rerecord it this January and try it again. I can record it a lot better these days."

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