Writing a novel is supposed to be a solitary experience. Well, unless you’re “The Weight of Sound” author and former Uncle Green/3 Lb. Thrill drummer Peter McDade, who ended up collaborating with nearly 30 people to bring his rock universe to life. Thanks to McDade’s publisher Wampus Multimedia, readers who purchase the novel will also receive a free download of the book’s 14-song original soundtrack featuring McDade’s lyrics and tunes contributed by Jeff Jensen and Matt Brown of Uncle Green, Atlanta singer-songwriter Paul Melancon, Charles Walston of The Vidalias and others.
As McDade dove deeper into chronicling the exploits of his fictitious Athens-birthed rock trio Monkeyhole, he began wondering what the band’s songs might sound like off the page. And in addition to a quarter century of music recorded by Monkeyhole and solo material by lead singer Spider Webb, other musical acts were popping from McDade’s imagination onto the page to guest star in various plot capacities.
There’s Cobraslap, a rival band on Monkeyhole’s label, riding the wave of the hit single “Bannister,” making inroads on MTV with a video featuring a fastidious French maid seductively singing, I’ll drop down to my hands and knees / Scrub hard and get everything clean / I’ll sweep and buff your stairs for sure / I’ll even wax your bannister.”
And somewhere in the dark recesses of McDade’s brain was Jack & Jill, a husband and wife duo touring behind the success of the horrifyingly bouncy earworm “How Much Fun?”
Toward the end of novel, readers meet the members of Time Capsule, a group of earnest high school rockers who are turning literary magazine poetry into art via “Thirteen Ways of Looking For Me.”
“I’m someone who is used to creating things with lots of people around,” explains McDade. “About three years into writing, I had these Monkeyhole songs and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great in addition to reading about the song, the reader could also listen to it?”
So McDade reached out to his former Uncle Green bandmate, Jeff Jensen with the lyrics for the Monkeyhole number “Gardenia” and asked if he might be interested in composing the music. “Pete is one of my oldest, most rock solid, solid-as-a rock friends and there is very little I wouldn’t do for him,” explains Jensen. “It was a wonderful freeing exercise. I knew very little of what it was about, but just enough to give the song direction.”
With the hauntingly gorgeous “Gardenia” now in hand, McDade hit up Matt Brown to help bring Spider’s first hit song “Change Myself” to life. And through Theme Music, an online musician group with over 1,000 members across the globe, McDade reached out for additional help. As each finished song arrived in his email in box, McDade went back into his manuscript and revised it, tweaking the story to reflect details about each tune.
And yes, McDade even found the real-life Atlanta husband-and-wife duo Brian Bland and Laura Seebol to tackle Jack & Jill’s “How Much Fun?” “Some of the songs like Jack & Jill’s hit, needed to be very specific,” says McDade. “It had to be a three-minute pop song that was really catchy, kind of annoying but also kind of great. Brian and Laura walked around the house singing ‘How Much Fun?’ to each other, trying out different melodies to see which one worked!”
Vocally holding everything together as the voice of Spider Webb on the project is
Says McDade: I wanted one person to sing all of Spider’s songs and luckily, Paul agreed to do it. To me, Paul has the voice of an angel. It’s a bit like how the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack was assembled. Paul is our Bee Gees. He’s on most of the songs and I guess Cobraslap’s ‘Bannister’ is our ‘Disco Inferno’ by The Trammps.”
Originally, McDade thought Spider Webb was singing a throw away novelty song until he asked songwriter Charles Walston of Vidalias fame to write the music for “(A Dream Made Of) Ice Cream” and Walston came up with a brilliant Americana ballad for Melancon to sing. Walston says the song’s lyrics inspired him to incorporate a vintage 1950s songwriting technique old pedal steel players called “the ice cream change” used to create teen love song radio hits.
“Having a soundtrack with a novel where songs amplify the story is a brilliant idea,” says Walston. “I was excited to do it. I can’t wait to get my copy.”
Reflects Melancon on singing the tune: “I tried to be wearier and resigned, but maybe with a little hope. It was really my favorite part of the whole thing, trying to method act those songs, inventing little backstories for myself.”
Sharp-eyed Uncle Green fans can enjoy a mini band reunion watching the video for Cobraslap’s 1990s era hilariously spot-on hit “Bannister” with Jensen and McDade joining singer Zoenda McIntosh in the clip.
“We wanted to evoke the late 1990s MTV thing,” says Jensen, who assembled the filmed video bits at his home in Washington D.C. “It was hugely fun to see Zoenda in her house rehabilitation or see Pete play drums on a green screen and for me to buy a green screen suit and make keyboards float around.”
Each of the fictitious songs performed by equally fictitious bands got its own album cover as well, thanks to graphic designers Paul Melancon, Sarah Melancon, Jason Snape, Bryan Dodd, Jeff Jensen, Laura Seebol, Halley O’Malley and Brandi Ediss. Michael Hunter at Catcher in the Eye Design created the soundtrack’s downloadable booklet.
Says McDade: “I wanted there to be as many layers as people want to dive into. The book can stand on its own if you’re not into the soundtrack. You can skip it. Or you can dive in deep and even watch the videos. I really wanted to simulate that experience we all had when we went to the record store and bought an LP. You brought it home and took the shrinkwrap off and there were lyrics inside, photos of the band in the studio and all the different studios where it was recorded were listed. For music fans, that’s gold!”
The soundtrack is now up on the streaming music service Spotify. To see additional videos created for “The Weight of Sound” soundtrack, go to Peter McDade’s YouTube channel.
The author discusses how 30 years of rock drumming helped to inspire his debut novel in this Eldredge ATL interview.
On Sunday, Sept. 3, Peter McDade will discuss “The Weight of Sound” in a panel conversation with Danny Goldberg and Walter Biggins at the AJC Decatur Book Festival at 5 p.m. in the Marriott Conference Center C. Click here for details.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.