Silk Screens: Spanish Prisoners – “Downtown Chicagoland”
NYC’s Spanish Prisoners are here for our third installment of Silk Screens. Member Leo Maymind talks of the history of their song “Downtown Chicagoland”, a sweet track from their latest LP Gold Fools:
“Downtown Chicagoland” in many ways exemplified the process that recording our album Gold Fools went through. This song started out as something I was working on about two years ago based around a synth arpeggio I programmed in Logic. Since at the time we didn’t have any way to play synth arpeggios live, we decided to move the pattern to a guitar arpeggio and arrange it as a group. The “guitar arp” version is actually the first iteration that we recorded as a band at Seaside Lounge, a studio where our bassist James works. I then took it home and did a lot of overdubs- pretty much all the more psychedelic and noisy layers. Initially it actually had a much longer outro with a few loops that pushed and pulled in and out of time.
And so the song sat, in that “completed” state for a while. In the interim we worked on many other songs which all similarly evolved. The recording process that we found ourselves going through was often based around starting a song with a guitar part, adding other layers, and eventually removing that guitar part completely to let the song breathe and have more room within it. “Cadillac from Yesterday” went through a very similar process.
After recording six or seven more songs, the album was beginning to take shape and we decided to revisit “Downtown Chicagoland.” The problem was the song no longer really fit with our material. There was a long period of trying to adapt the recording to what some of the newer songs were sounding like, but ultimately this process of “retrofitting” was more frustrating than fruitful. We decided to scrap the recording and start from the ground up.
Our drummer Mike DiSanto and I have thus far been the main songwriters in the band (though our bassist James is an accomplished songwriter in his own right and has been contributing heavily to our new material), so he and I each tried to create our own versions of the song. My version of the song retained much of the same structure but it was much less driven by rhythm and much more about a particular octave guitar tone that I liked.
Mike’s was the PE1000 version- it was centered around this vintage synth called the Korg PE1000 (hence the name, obi). We like to let the sounds of our particular instruments inspire us, and this keyboard has a very analog, idiosyncratic song. As much as we liked the PE1000 version, we tried playing it that way as a band and it never really felt right.
So, we decided to start over AGAIN and that’s when we finally started crafting the version you hear on Gold Fools. Mike wrote the chorus / outro section, and we finally felt like the song had the proper arc it required. I added in a lot of the electronic drum and synth layers and all of us sing on the song in different places. To me, the essence of the album version in the song is the various percussive interplay. There are 10-15 tracks of electronic and acoustic drums.
The lyrics had remained unaltered throughout this whole process, as I’ve always liked them. They are somewhat vague but I also think they have a sentiment that everyone can relate to, which is feeling like you’ve changed from who you used to be and not being able to relate to things you used to relate to. I chose the setting of Chicago because I once had a pretty crazy weekend there during college and it seemed appropriate.
We recently played this at the Indaba loft and stripped it down even further. I played an old Roland 707 drum machine in leiu of the other electronic drum sounds we usually have.
And there you have it- our song “Downtown Chicagoland” and its many forms. Hope this gave you a little insight into the process that is Spanish Prisoners!
Thanks for the insight Leo! Listen/Download Gold Fools right here.