Eric & Magill “Old Man Winter” (Influenza)
Published in Blog, Culture Bully. Tags: Influenza, Music.
To put it bluntly, the journey leading up to the release of Eric & Magill’s new album has been a long and arduous one. Dating back to the late-’90s, during their time together in the Milwaukee-based band Camden, Ryan Weber and Eric Osterman have had a long and trying relationship, but one that has ultimately lasted due in part to a meaningful friendship and a mutual passion for creating music; this despite some spots of typical band drama including Osterman leaving Camden around the turn of the millennium which would drive a divide between the duo which lasted the better part of a decade. All Those I Know, which was released independently last month, has generated quite a bit of buzz in the Milwaukee-scene with the general consensus being that the album is nothing if not a proper representation of the duo’s tremendous talents. On Milwaukee‘s Bob Purvis notes how the band’s “textured indie-folk” “draw[s] comparisons to the lush orchestration of bands like Midlake and Grizzly Bear”; Ryan Matteson of Muzzle of Bees reflects on the group’s music by commenting on how it “travels many genres from folk to electronic under a warm blanket of guitar fuzz”; and Dan Oberbruner of the AV Club reveals how the album is focused on “rectifying the divide between simple, earnest, nostalgic folk-rock and highly polished, manipulated pop.” Just as the duo’s history dates back quite a few years, so too does the story behind one of the closing tracks on All Those I Know. “Old Man Winter” is an effect-laden slow-roller that glides along quietly, gently cascading over a chorus of unusual voices and a calm, repetitive guitar stroke. In this edition of Influenza, Weber traces the history of the song all the way back to a random meeting in the late-’90s where the duo were introduced to a musical influence who would end up capping off the song through an unlikely collaboration.
I’ve been tasked with dissecting a song on my new record. I’ve been thinking about this for over a week now, and I have so many cool stories about recording this record. I fooled around with it for almost three years. It has something like a hundred guest musicians on it. I started working on it in a tiny bedroom in the house of an unfamiliar family in the Republic of Armenia. There are stories at every twist and turn and voice and blimp and bleep of this record. Three years is a lot of time. I got married, the economy collapsed, and I lost my job.
Reviews have been coming back, and as could be expected they mention that I collaborated with members of Shearwater and Dirty Projectors and Owen, and Volcano Choir and others depending on who the author deems most noteworthy. One artist, however, has not been mentioned as of yet and is perhaps the collaboration that is most noteworthy in my mind. Though the story that follows might sound like a couple guys that had a couple too many drinks in a hot tub and went online, I think it affected me in a profound way. It was the universe letting me know that what I wanted from it was there for the taking, and all that I had to do was pursue it. So in this story I will attempt to dissect how there came to be a yodel at the beginning middle and end of the ninth track on the Eric & Magill record entitled “Old Man Winter.”
We’ve got to go back to 1998 when my musical partner, Eric Osterman, and I began playing music together. We were part of the band Camden and toured throughout the country playing with a host of indie bands. One of the more noteworthy things about Camden was that we recorded two records and toured with the now famous Death Cab for Cutie. Back then, outside of their hometown Seattle and our hometown of Milwaukee we were lucky to play to 40 or 50 kids a night. Fast Forward to the fall of 2000. We had just played a bunch of shows in the Pacific Northwest. After the shows we stayed in Seattle and recorded some songs for our upcoming record Pieces of Places with Chris Walla from Death Cab. Instead of driving straight back to Wisconsin after recording we set up a few shows along the way. On a day off we did an interview on a college radio station in Moscow, Idaho.
We got along really well with the station director and she was kind enough to offer us a place to crash that night. We bought some beers and hung out all night with her and some of her friends. After numerous beers were consumed someone pulled out an old record with a cheesy photo of some guy kind of dressed like a dorky cowboy (picture your grandpa playing guitar). It was kind of country music but with one main difference… there was yodeling on it. Everyone thought it was hilarious and, as hipsters from the late ’90s, we were happily lost in the irony. We drank and listened to the Idaho Yodeler record over and over again. The next day we said our goodbyes to Moscow, Idaho and started our trek back to Wisconsin.
I never kept in touch with Christina (the station director) but she must have had my address from some promotional materials I sent her. Over a year later a strange package arrived at my house and there was a note inside that read “I saw the Idaho Yodeler at the Idaho State Fair last week and thought you guys would enjoy this.” It was a cassette of the Idaho Yodeler himself, Mr. Buzz Goertzen—it was his new record! I was 23 at this time and kept that tape in my Dodge Neon for laughs for as long as I had the car.
Around the end of the year 2000 on one tour, Eric met his future wife and ended up moving to Michigan. He and I ended up falling out of touch for several years after that. Starting in 2001 I began playing bass for the Promise Ring. I ended up touring with them and recording Wood/Water. Around the same time I also started to play in and produce the band Decibully. Since being introduced to the Idaho Yodeler I have managed to record 7 full-length records with various groups and shuffled around on tours with many of today’s more well-known indie bands. I’m not mentioning this to talk about what I’ve done, but really to point out that though I’ve had a “career” in music by some standards, since first hearing the Idaho Yodeler; I’m still struggling but still putting out music like the Idaho Yodeler himself.
In 2007 Eric and I ran into each other again in Milwaukee and decided to record music together. Shortly after this meeting I moved to Armenia. Throughout the next three years we managed to write material by exchanging tracks back and forth over the internet. Because it was so easy for us to send tracks back and forth over the internet, it gave us an idea. We began to ask musicians we had known to collaborate with us. This proved to be a huge success. For some tracks the sound quality wasn’t that great, but it proved to be an aesthetic that we loved and incorporated into songs. We then pursued the idea of collaborating with friends even further and began asking more and more people to contribute vocal tracks to a song that we called “Old Man Winter.” We came up with the term “Internet Choir” and ultimately stopped asking for tracks after we ran out of friends on Facebook to ask for them from.
I find myself in January of 2010, and Eric and I are preparing to do some of the first mixes for the record. I drove out to Michigan with my laptop and hard drive in hand. It has now been 10 years since we had been introduced to the Idaho Yodeler, the legendary Mr. Buzz Goertzen. After mixing all day on Friday January 15, Eric and I retire to the hot tub in his back yard with a case of beer. We reminisce for hours while drinking and soaking. From somewhere in the back of my mind the Idaho Yodeler emerges. Eric had moved to Michigan before I received the mysterious Buzz Goertzen tape in the mail and he was absolutely blown away by the story. At this point we were not ready to mix “Old Man Winter” yet as we were still waiting to receive tracks back from friends and fellow musicians. Without much deliberation we both get out of the hot tub with one goal in mind… we need to get the Idaho Yodeler to sing on our song.
We grab our laptops and begin to scour the internet looking for Buzz. To our delight, the Idaho Yodeler not only has a website, but he has his e-mail address and home and cell phone listed as well. It is about three in the morning and the idea of calling and waking Buzz up to ask him to Yodel on our record is absolutely thrilling to us. We don’t call, but we do stay awake for another hour just talking about how amazing it would be to get Buzz Goertzen, the Idaho Yodeler, to sing on our record. After looking at his website and admiring his long career (no longer out of pure irony nor mockery) it is very clear that we need this man, who dresses like your grandpa if he was a cowboy, to Yodel on our record.
All of the songs posted on his site are beautiful and very heart felt. There are songs about his religious beliefs and others that were fun and more lighthearted. The fact that most Americans haven’t heard of the Idaho Yodeler does not mean that the guy isn’t extremely talented. He has been putting out records his whole life. He did a record with his whole family, and another with just his daughter. The more I listened to this man’s songs the more I find myself truly loving his music. As I continued to sift through the site I began to feel a kind of kinship with Buzz. I have been putting out records my whole life and I am still an obscure musician living in Wisconsin; I’m nowhere with my musical career. I’m just a dorky guy that—the older I get—the more I appear to be dressing like Buzz Goertzen in his promotional photos. I am not the same asshole indie rock hipster that I was when I was 23. I’m married and my wife sings on just about every song our record. Eric is teaching his kids to play music. Though both of us think that having the Idaho Yodeler on our record would be ridiculous, we both truly, from the bottom of our hearts, want him to sing and have a great deal of respect for him. We manage to compose ourselves and then send this letter to his email address…
First of all I want you to know that I am a huge fan of yours. I was first introduced to your music in 2000 while I was on tour and passed through Moscow, Idaho and I’ve been a fan since. My best friend and I have been working on a record for the last year. We do a lot of harmonies, but neither one of us are able to yodel. We would sincerely love it if you would be able to sing/yodel on the song that I have attached. If you are able to record onto your computer and e-mail me a yodel track I would be so thankful. You will hear the part where the yodel belongs. Please e-mail me with any questions. All the best and much respect.
Eric’s five and a half year old son and two and a half year old daughter wake me up about four hours after I fall asleep. After the late night hot tub & drinking my brain is hardly prepared for this. I check my email…
What a pleasant surprise this morning as I woke up early and seeing your email waiting for me. Thank you for your compliments. You made my day. I will be glad to help you out anyway I can and I listened to your song this morning first thing. Let me explain the problem I’m having.
First, I am now in Yuma, AZ. Spending the winter down here away from the cold and living in a camper. I have with me my lap top but don’t have a microphone on it nor the know-how to add a yodel to the song if I did have a microphone. My speakers to listen to the song are the little tiny ones found on a laptop so the sound leaves a lot to be desired. I am very ignorant when it comes to doing anything but email on the computer. Anything done with a computer for me is done by someone else who knows what they are doing. I don’t know how to begin to fulfill your request nor do I know anyone down here who could help me. So you see we have a problem and it’s one I’d love to help you on but just don’t have a clue how to do that.
As I listened to the song I wasn’t sure where you’d want the yodel if I was able to add it in. I will listen some more and try to figure it out in case I find someone who could help me help you. Again thank you for your letter and for being a fan. I always like to help anyone who likes what I do. One other problem. (and this isn’t a small one) is I’m having a very serious problem with my right leg and will probably be hospitalized this coming week.
Two years ago I was run over by an SUV while standing on my lawn. (Driver fell asleep and lost control.) After having several surgeries including a new knee I have complications with that knee. As I write this I am in terrible pain. Unable to walk I was helped to a clinic yesterday where x-rays show I need surgery. I’m having to wait until Tuesday since Monday is a holiday. With the help of strong pain pills I will have to hold on until next week when I can be admitted into a hospital for surgery. I hate to give you this news and am willing to help anyway I can. Just don’t know how I can at this time.
Where do you live and would I be able to help you in the spring when I get back to Idaho? Waiting for your response.
We can’t believe Buzz Goertzen, the Idaho Yodeler, not only wrote us back, but he offered to sing for us if he could figure out the technology. He wrote some really tough and personal shit just about four hours after we emailed him. We have been completely blown away by some of the people that we have gotten in touch with for this project. Even though Buzz’s turnaround time and circumstances seemed so bizarre, we now felt that it was meant to be that the Idaho Yodeler would join us in song.
I really couldn’t offer much more than my sympathy. My heart truly went out to Buzz since he is in so much pain. Since we feel as though destiny is bringing us together, Eric and I decide that we need to find a way to get Buzz to yodel for us. We respond with this letter…
First of all, I can’t tell you how much it means that you took the time to write me back. Second of all, I’m very very sorry to hear about your injuries. I’ve had some people close to me that have also had extreme problems with knees and legs and I understand that can be difficult and painful. My thoughts and prayers are with you.
I also understand that if you don’t have the know-how to record with your computer that would be difficult. I can say that I’m in studio right now and I’m wondering if it would be possible for you to yodel or whistle a track over the phone while listening to the song I sent, or just doing a slow yodel in A min. (similar to your version of home on the range). I know this may seem unorthodox, but it would be such an honor to have legend like you join me in song.
Unfortunately I’m only in the studio today, but if this is something that you might be able to do today (Saturday 1/16) please write back and arrange a time or call anytime so we can discuss. Again I can’t thank you enough for getting back in touch with me. Keep a yodel in your soul! I look forward to hearing from you.
Eric and I are in the studio that morning by 10:30 am. This letter was sent at 1:06 pm. I should point out that the “studio” that we rented from a friend was under construction. It also wasn’t really a studio yet. It was a guy’s house and we weren’t told any of this prior. I had just driven six and a half hours from Wisconsin and Eric had taken off work. This was our one shot at mixing together and the guy who ran the studio had his stuff set up in some little closet room off the side of his main living space. The laundry room was connected to the mix room as was the furnace and what seemed to be the sewer line. The owner was sanding a concrete floor in the room next to our mix room and half of the time we couldn’t use the bathroom because his girlfriend was in the tub. The girlfriend was home the entire time that we were there… this place was a hive of activity.
Saturday, while again trying to mix in these less than ideal circumstances, we spent most of the day watching my inbox for something from Buzz. We also kept a close watch on my phone to see if there are any missed calls. Somehow it just feels like we are seconds from the Idaho Yodeler calling us. At about 6:00 pm, just as a computer program crashes and the “studio” is full of people dropping things off, I feel a vibration in my pocket. The number is not in my phone contacts nor do I recognize it. Eric and I look at each other like it was John Lennon calling us from the dead. I answer… It is Buzz.
Buzz sounds exactly like I expected him to sound: like a really nice grandpa that wouldn’t be uncomfortable in cowboy garb. I had a plan to get him to yodel into the phone. Technology has come so far, I can edit him and for my purposes he could pretty much mumble three blind mice into the phone and I can make it work. Buzz is a professional and has been in the studio enough times to know that this was not going to sound like a sweet track. He started telling me that “this is not going to work,” “this is a terrible idea” and “this will sound horrible.” In between asking me how I planned to do this and where I wanted him to yodel he kept on interrupting me by yodeling and saying, “something like that?”
The whole scene from what I remember was chaos. Between Buzz “phone yodeling” in my ear, trying to get the guy who ran the studio to help me set something up, guys dropping off guitars and the computer crashing my brain was melting. I had to bail.
I told Buzz that I would have to figure out some technical things and then call him back. Eventually we rigged the 1/8” output of an iPhone to the mixing board. The plan was for Buzz to listen to the song on his computer in his camper in Yuma and yodel into the phone. The catch was, I would have to have Buzz call the iPhone’s number and just start yodeling. We would not be able to answer the phone due to our crazy rig. After a little persuading I managed to get Buzz to agree to phone in a yodel. Eric and I wait with bated breath for the iPhone to ring. Three minutes go by and my cell phone rings: it’s Buzz and he’s not happy. He must have mis-dialed.
We go over the number again and it is correct but he is not getting through. Buzz says that he will try again. A minute goes by, the iPhone rings, we pick up, and over the studio monitors we hear our song crackling in the background while being played from Buzz’s computer. Then we hear “it”: What is perhaps one of the best sounds that either of us has ever heard in all the years in the studio, the Idaho Yodeler himself, Mr. Buzz Goertzen, lending a hand and a beautiful yodel to one of our songs. We got Buzz on the record. We are both in shock. In a twist it might be important to note that Buzz was escaping winter in Idaho by going to Yuma, one of the core themes of the song. After he is done Buzz gives me a call and I thank him over and over again. We say our goodbyes. I was left in awe.
The legend of Buzz Goertzen the Idaho Yodeler is demystified. He was a real person that was kind enough to help some strangers out even though he was in pain. Buzz continues to demystify himself as I occasionally get some right wing spam he forwards out to his friends, but although I disagree with him politically, when I see his name in my inbox it still puts a yodel in my soul.
Thank you Buzz, you are a talented and kind person and the without the tiny piece you contributed to our puzzle, the record would not be complete.
[This post was first published by Culture Bully.]