Full Discography of the Los Angeles Rock Band TSAR
Although not released until 2011, the drugboy tapes were actually recorded in 1998 when Jeff Whalen & Dan Kern had been trying to get a band together for a year. The two used Jeff's stepdad's credit card to buy a ton of gear from Guitar Center, who had a 30-day no-questions return policy. During those 30 days, they recorded these songs from the backbone of the early Tsar live set. Right before the 30-days were over, the gear was returned.
The recording is pretty lo-fi, and has two live songs from a KXLU radio broadcast at the end, including a great version of "Destroyers" which has one of the best intros ever was.
Here's what Tsar's old webmaster wrote when it was released:
Well here it is at long last, Tsar’s famous (and amazing!) Drugboy Tapes, in which Jeff W. and Daniel had been trying to get a band together for like a year in Los Angeles in 1998, but they couldn’t get anything going, so they quit their temp jobs, bought a bunch of recording equipment from Guitar Center with Jeff’s stepdad’s credit card, and then spent a whole month in their tiny apartment (on the corner of Lyman Place and Clayton Avenue) doing nothing but writing and recording the songs that ended up later making up the main part of Tsar’s first record—and then they returned the equipment to Guitar Center for a full refund cause it hadn’t been 30 days yet.
Supposedly, according to what I heard back then—btw, this is Casey, I used to kind of run Tsar’s webpage back when they were getting signed and putting out their first CD—they gathered up a whole bunch of crazy drugs to take while they were writing and recording, but Daniel tells me that the experience was such a blur that he can’t remember if that part is true or not! (“Though that would make sense, considering how the music ended up sounding!” he said! )
They recorded on a ¼ in. reel-to-reel tape machine that they had gotten a hold of, but they didn’t really know how to use it, so they tried their best. According to Daniel, they used a combination of live drums and drum machines, and live guitar and keyboards, and banging on things, like a glass of water. Even after buying stuff at Guitar Center, they still didn’t have a lot of equipment, so they did all kinds of experimenting to try to get crazy sounds! For example, on “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die,” Jeff W. played the basic notes on a Casio keyboard while Daniel spun the knobs on a delay pedal, and that’s how they got those weird science fiction sounds! (Later, when they made their big expensive album, that’s how they did it again!) Also, on that same song, Jeff W. spent all afternoon hyperventilating so that he could hold that really long note that happens twice. Basically, they would try anything to see if it would work, like hooking up their VCR to the machine to get that opening guy on “Afradio.” And one time, the guys decided that everything sounded better coming out of this boom box they had (which they called the Afradio), so they mixed a song onto cassette and then played the cassette out of the boom box and put two microphones next to the boom box speakers, and recorded that!
And they kept on and on, day after day, week after week! Sometimes, with the drums and crazy guitars and trying to sing really good and everything, it was probably way too loud for their tiny apartment. Even though they got along real good with their neighbors, they were really pushing their luck, Daniel said! Also, the landlord guy didn’t know how many people were living in their apartment (it was too many), so they had to hide from him, which was hard since he knew where they lived and they were obviously at home, banging on drums and singing really loud!! Daniel says the whole experience was really stressful and also kind of liberating, too. “Kind of like, not worrying about the usual rules-things like jobs and money-and only concentrating on making music, had a screw-it, it’s-rock-and-roll thing which was a really special feeling.”
As far as the “lo-fi” sound that the recordings have, it turns out that Jeff W. was really excited about AM radio-sounding music for a while. He thought songs like “Monster Mash,” “Kung Fu Fighting,” and “Spice Up Your Life” sounded better on Radio Disney, which was an AM radio station at the time (and still might be for all I know; I don’t listen to Radio Disney), so he would “squash” all the sounds with a compressor whenever Daniel wasn’t paying enough attention. (They even did a new Drugboy-style remix of “Silver Shifter,” which they had recorded a couple months earlier.) The method makes all the Drugboy recordings sound kind of weird when you first start listening to it, but then your ears get used to it or something, and then you kind of like how it sounds.
When they were finished with their recording, they thought it was pretty interesting! They used the tapes to get people such as other musicians, clubs, and people around town interested in their band, and it wasn’t too long afterward that they had a full band and were playing concerts and everything! They changed their name to Stupid Gurl, which wasn’t a very good name, so they changed it again to Tsar, which is also not a very good name, but it’s what they’re still called, so there you go. But even though they were up and running and had a bunch of shows in Los Angeles and stuff and even some up in Oregon, they still had to make more changes for their personnel. “Those guys were cool,” Daniel says, “but it wasn’t until Jeff (Solomon) and Steve joined that everything ‘clicked’.”
All of these changes happened kind of all at once, and Tsar still had a bunch of concerts booked coming up in a couple of days. They had to act fast! First they got Jeff S. to join, and then Steve to join, too, but they only had one day to practice before their first show, which was on the radio at a station called KXLU at the campus of Loyola Marymount University. The last two songs of this album are from that first-ever concert by the guys who would make up Tsar, after only one practice! Incredible!
Anyways, I hope you enjoy Tsar’s The Drugboy Tapes! I used to listen to it all the time in my room and in my friend’s car- it just goes to show you you never know what’s gonna happen!
Los Angeles, California
March 14, 2011"
You can still get it here or on iTunes or on Amazon, etc
After the band had built a following, they started a residency at the Silver Lake club Spaceland, which ignited a major label bidding war. Hollywood Records, armed with its corporate parents (Disney) money, went all out in funding the making of Tsar's first record. Unfortunately, spending money was the where they excelled.
Offering helpful career advice and effectively marketing the group seemed to be an afterthought.
In Germany, the label changed the cover, added a bonus track and renamed the album "Calling Alll Destroyers", which showed a greater understanding of how to market the band than Hollywood's lazy efforts of tossing money at the wrong places.
The last long(ish) form Tsar release was the Dark Stuff EP,
April 17, 2007.
Features Tsar doing "Wanna Get Dead" from "Band - Girls - Money". The score to the film is by "Hedwig & The Angry Inch" co-creator Stephen Trask, although only two score tracks are on the disc.
By using "Calling All Destroyers" as the title song to his 2010 film, James Gunn (Guardians Of The Galaxy) showed he had great musical taste long before his impeccably curated Awesome Mixtapes 1 & 2 were unleashed.
"Super" was made on a tiny budget, Gunn, unable to get any response from Hollywood Records (Oh the Irony! considering subsequent events), reached out to the band directly, who pleaded with all their contacts at Hollywood to help get "Destroyers" in the film.
"Super" is a realistic dark comedy take on the superhero oeuvre, starred Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler, Kevin Bacon and Nathon Fillion. Although it was not a financial success in its original theatrical run, the film has found a new audience and appreciation on VOD.
James, we salute you for turning new generations on to classic songs of the 70's! When Peter Quill starts exploring his "new" Zune, here's hoping Tsar will be prominently featured. Or maybe "Alien Lanes" will blare in the background as the Milano blasts across the galaxy?