THREE MAKE SIX Jackson, Ulmschneider, and MacDougall.
"The wah is dead," Six Star General guitarist Kyle Jackson acknowledges early on during the first of two CD release shows last weekend at the Apartment. Jackson shrugs off the momentary yet potentially monumental glitch, as anyone who has ever spun a Six Star record or caught the East Bay indie-stoner rock trio live can attest, Jackson's wah-wah pedal is an indispensable component to SSG's wall of sound. But Jackson, bassist/vocalist (and 75orLess Records founder) Mark "Slick" MacDougall, and drummer Dan Ulmschneider pull it together and unleash a 45-minute set loaded with jams from their new album Six ($7 at 75orlessrecords.com), their sixth full-length and the follow-up to '09's Take Your Teeth Out, plus a handful of covers and Six Star oldies. Give the people what they want: repeated yelps for "Dicky Dow" and their monstrous, set-closing cover of the Flaming Lips' "Jesus Shooting Heroin" are obliged.
In what has become an annual tradition since 2008's Spaceship to Planet Cookie, the band invited me to witness the two recording sessions late last year. A detached garage in Kraig Jordan's backyard houses Plan of A Boy studio; as I navigate around the shovels, mower, and kids' sleds, a second door leads to the control room, where Jordan patiently waits for Jackson and MacDougall to wrap up another brief spat.
"This is in E-F-C-G, right?" Jackson inquires, though I'm pretty sure he already knows the answer.
"Jesus, guys, come on — we know this one!" MacDougall barks. On cue, Jackson summons a sonic swarm of bees. I've seen Slick snap a few dozen times in the studio, and shoot some nasty glares at Jackson and former drummer Jay Almeida onstage. But here, he looks uncomfortable, repeatedly sitting then standing while stretching out his back.
"I don't know what's going on, I'm just the drummer," says Ulmschneider, who also plays with 75or Less acts Coma Coma and the Propellers. Six marks his first album with Six Star, though he has been playing live with Kyle and Slick for just over a year.
"Dan is the nicest guy in the world, plus he's amazingly talented," MacDougall said following the Apartment show. His skills, almost a classic jazz style, yield incredible results across Six. Jordan captures quality takes of "Hi Five Lo Five," "Best Isn't Always Good Enough," "Mark Janes Blues," and "Satellite Off the Axis and Engulfed In Flames."
Forward one month later to Veterans Day 2010, Newport — just off Broadway lies Summing Point Studio (owned by diePods bassist Scott Rancourt). It's early afternoon and MacDougall is already snapping.
"If you're not happy with the take, just fucking stop!"
Ulmschneider looks to keep the peace, "Come on guys, let's just do it again, it's only five minutes."
"Six, at least," MacDougall retorts.
Another take and Ulmschneider offers his thoughts, "Um, I like it, my fills and rolls I wanted are all there. It was good, I guess, but I'm afraid to tell you how I feel," he says to MacDougall with sincerity. Later in the session, during their first crack at what would become "Weathered Homes" (arguably the best track on Six), MacDougall is back at it: "New band rule, Kyle, do not shake your head in the affirmative if you don't know what I'm saying. Now and forever, I'll keep the commands simple."