Silly Snippets

Jonathan Relates Pieces of Silly Pillows History, Embellishing Where Appropriate
[an old Web page from 1999]



If I hadn't had some time to fill in my afternoons in the summer of 1986, my previously off-and-on home-recording activities might never have made the leap into a big focus in my life. But in the summer of '86, when I was working mornings, I needed a project in the afternoons—aside from the afternoon naps, I mean. If I could work quickly enough, I'd have a finished 4-track "masterpiece" to play for Hilary when she got home each day. Allowing for the nap (and a snack), this might give me up to 3 hours per song to write music and lyrics, overdub all the instruments and vocals (and bounce tracks as needed), and get a final mix I was satisfied with.

Regimen turned to habit and momentum, and for the next few years I went through frequent cycles of copious musical inspiration and activity.

At a certain point I had started writing some of the songs for Hilary to sing (or sing with me), which would technically make a given project a "Silly Pillows" project rather than a "Jonathan Caws-Elwitt" project. There she'd be, courageously facing the sneaker that we used to prop up the microphone (a hi- top of virtually any color would do the trick), while I prompted with melody and lyrics—hopefully to the correct song, if I was on the ball—and adjusted the analog delay that we used in place of reverb (due to my artistic opinion that we did not own a reverb unit).


When we were a "studio band", working together could be as immediate as me sitting up late with Cheryl gestating lyrics (while Hilary napped on the couch), or as remote as Sam and I communicating bass, drum, and guitar ideas over the phone (my long distance company had a great plan whereby I paid 15 cents for the first chord, and only 5 cents for each successive chord). Mike wondered if he would actually get the chance to run through the material with anyone else in the band before taping day! Each recording session was like a puzzle-party where everybody brought a couple of pieces. Dave shook hands with Sam on the way into the studio his first time, and on one occasion in 1995 we actually got finished recordings before a certain two band members who appeared "together" on the tracks had actually met in person!

In 1995-96, Linda Smith took a turn as SP female vocalist, recording one album with us and joining us in our first live appearance in New York. It was mid-way through this period that we began actually disregarding geography and rehearsing together as a band. Here was a typical itinerary that Linda faced if she wanted to travel from her home in Baltimore to join us for a rehearsal at Dave's place in Allentown, PA:

5:35 a.m. Wake up and dash out of door clutching microphone.

6:00 a.m. After a brisk walk, arrive at Baltimore bus terminal.

6:00 - 6:22 a.m. Read promotional posters in bus terminal lobby while waiting for the Philadelphia bus to board.

6:23 a.m. Board bus.

6:24 - 6:45 a.m. Admire fabric designs on bus seats while waiting for bus to depart.

6:46 - 9:34 a.m. In-depth, though unnarrated tour of "off the beaten path" sights between Baltimore and Philadelphia

9:55 a.m. Arrive at Philadelphia bus terminal.

9:56 a.m. - 12:56 p.m. Exact 3-hour layover to await once-per-day Philadelphia-Allentown bus.

12:57 - 2:23 p.m. Bus makes the most of the 45 miles between Philadelphia and Allentown, neglecting no junction.

1:55 - 2:55 p.m. Band members take time out from rehearsal-in- progress to pick you up at Allentown bus station and bring you to practice room.

4:15 p.m. Band members take another break to escort you back to bus station to begin return journey.


Working closely together as a 6-person band for the past several years has probably taught us some things about music; but it's definitely taught us a lot about group decision-making. Here's an illustration of the kind of high-precision, well-integrated, fully- coordinated manner in which a sophisticated group of musicians approaches the many professional challenges that require creative and logistical judgments:


JONATHAN: It seems to me we might want to record the organ separately, in case we want to change the reverb later.

SERVER: Green peppers, sweet peppers, pickles?

DAVE: All three.

SAM: Actually, we can alter the reverb even if the organ is recorded with the rest of the band.

CHARLIE: But then I'd have to overdub the piano, because I can't play both parts at once.

MIKE: Pickles only. So we've still got a few tracks left open, right?

DAVE: Excuse me, could I please have barbecue sauce on my vegi- patty? Do you think we'll have room to overdub those chimes we like?

CHARLIE: Very light vinger and oil, please—just a touch. Maybe the chimes could share a track with the guitar.

BELINDA: So which day are we probably doing most of the vocals?

SERVER: Salt, pepper, oregano?

SAM: I don't think we have any tracks open for oregano.

Copyright © 1999–2008 Jonathan Caws-Elwitt.