When We Were Animals

by Mishka Shubaly

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1.
Forget Me I don’t want to be replaced I want to be erased You want my head up on a spear I just want to disappear “I like smooth, shiny girls, hardboiled and loaded with sin.” Rode hard, put away wet, sharp teeth, soft skin I don’t want a confidant/ confessor Never wanted a friend in the first place I need someone to comb my hair, then crush my skull Obliterate every trace (chorus) I don’t want to be adored I want to be ignored Come on, babe, fulfill my fantasy Let me watch you forget about me As I fade away, I can see your eyes clear I only ever wanted your happiness Believe it, my dear Some things are better with distance Underneath bulletproof glass You’re going to love me that much more In an unmarked grave, buried deep in your past (chorus) You hate the drugs I used to do And the chicks I used to screw You should grant them amnesty Forgive them, forget me Come on, babe, fulfill my fantasy Let me watch you forget about me You’re my angel, you’re my sweet You’re my delight, my sweet relief I’ll bleed right through your clean white sheets Unlucky girl, I’m your lucky guy Your mattress sprouting wings And taking to the sky
2.
Animals 03:41
When I was an animal, I lived in a cave I got so fucking high, I didn’t come down for days When we were animals, our bed was grave I was your concubine, you were my slave When we were animals Blood running down the inside of your legs Blood running down the side of my head We were not wounded, we were already dead When we were animals You were an animal, an animal you remained I cried and called, I screamed and howled That lonely night you ran away I’m still an animal, king of my cage Turn on the TV, Frank Sinatra singing ‘My Way’ I didn’t get my way Blood running down the inside of my legs Blood running down the side of your head We were not wounded, we were already dead When we were animals Blood running down the insides of our legs Blood running down the sides of our heads We were not wounded, we were already dead When we were
3.
Coke birds sing songs of distant car alarms Distant car alarms sound like birds The moon hangs so low, it looks like a streetlight Over three old men with three tall boys of Coors Light You’re screaming underneath my window My roommate’s blacked out on the toilet again I’m checking into the emergency room Under a fake name at four AM Break, heart, break Fail, liver, fail But if you can hear me complaining, I’m neither dead or in jail I can’t remember where I parked my car And I’m afraid of what the future holds I don’t want to die in Greenpoint Where the sewage treatment plant smells suspiciously like Chinese food I don’t even want to think about what that means We’re straining our eyes, looking for those big city lights But it’s not even Jersey, it’s Queens If that’s my mother calling on the phone, Dude, I am totally not home I’m exercising my right to surrender to the poison of my choice I am the master of my own worst case scenarios (chorus) I feel like I’m going to die in Greenpoint I think I’m going to die in Greenpoint I know I’m going to go with a head full of blow in a Polish disco in Greenpoint
4.
Willin' 03:41
5.
It’s not that the heart has stopped beating It’s just moved to marking time It’s not that the lungs have stopped breathing They still deflate and rise Tear ducts micturate and dry Nerve endings wither, calcify It’s not that the body has stopped working Like it ever had the choice to resign It’s not that the cells have stopped growing They’ve grown monstrous, they divide and divide and divide and divide and divide Your new body’s brighter and boring How do you intend to excise all these vestigial organs? I cannot change I will not evolve I am an artifact, I’m the last of my kind You will encounter me in the pages of a textbook Too scared to move ahead, so stubborn I was left behind. My tiny brain, buried in my thick skull, I’m the last of my kind I’m your payphone, your calling card, a tattered atlas A relic, a curio, a useless artifact Mixtapes and photo albums, a late night long-distance phone call This used to mean something but just what, We can’t recall now. Your world’s moving forward, yeah, it’s thriving Where do you intend to bury this survivor?
6.
Destructible 03:59
(for Mattie) Farmer John, you’ve got a lovely daughter Green apple conditioner like blood in the water Chipping fingernail polish, second year of college What secrets does she keep inside her heart-shaped locket? Tea so sweet it hurts your teeth Farmer John, I’m in love with your daughter She lets the towel fall and steps into the water Her slender body swinging like a pendulum As close to the beginning as I am to the end I am destructible Paranoid, untrustable Glass half empty, resentful Out of patience, out of time Fire prone, unbulletproof I cannot tell a truth Cut the shades down, pull the lights The darkest hour is just before The middle of the night When the ‘child bride’ jokes are getting tired Time’s not on my side It’s not too late, it’s never too late for you To change your mind (chorus) Cut the shit now, kill the lights My darling Goodbye
7.
We were in a bar, I can’t remember the details I passed for conscious, you passed for female Parliaments and dick jokes and lukewarm Budweiser Lime, ice, and tonic mixed with hand sanitizer You were Xanax and Adderall, keybumps and Klonopin Borderline personality disorder in bobby pins When I kissed your mouth, you tasted like something I hadn’t thrown up yet And when I pulled down my pants, that look on your face, Like you had lost a bet I’m a trainwreck, you’re a graveyard I’m a hard-on, only half-hard Waving my dick in my hand like a tiny white flag, no bigger than a pin The World’s Smallest Violin Threw my canary down your coal mine, what a fruitless endeavor Like a flooded basement, the pumping went on forever Morning came before we did And shone cruel light on our failed fornication So we fell into the only thing that we hadn’t tried: the fetal position (chorus) Darling, tell me your name again I swear, we’ll part the best of friends At least until the tests come back negative Then we’ll both agree to never speak of this again (chorus) Lesbians and virgins, thanks for fucking nothing
8.
Wooden crosses, roadside graves White crosses at the Gas n’ Save Six million ways to come undone Six million ways and it takes only one Perverts lined up, the degradation arcade I haven’t slept in forty days I dreamed that I called you, I wish I could call But mostly I dream about alcohol I saw you in your hospital bed I saw you in your wedding dress Memories squirm like a carpet of pythons They rise up to strike then they’re gone Sweet gasoline, concrete island Blue Listerine truck-stop violence I built you this song out of dreams that expired I built you this song so you’ll know that I’m tired Tired of dive bars and punk clubs and hotels Tired of strangers with questionable motives I don’t want to be here and you don’t want me here So let’s all close our eyes and watch me disappear I’ll disappear
9.
I’m never drinking again Vodka, tequila, or gin Not alone in this dark room Well, at least not right now I’m never drinking again I’m never smoking again No more nicotine stains on my hands That warm breath of air on my cold nights Goodbye to my old trusted friend I’m never smoking again I’m never taking pills again Morphine, Percocet, ketamine Xanax, fentanyl, ecstasy Mexican Vicodin I’m never taking pills again I can’t control myself, control myself I can’t control myself, control myself I can’t control myself, control myself I’m never smoking crack again No, no more that devil methamphetamine That skeletal hand on my throat My lungs scorched by that sick wind I’m never doing white trash drugs again I’m never going to touch you again No, I’ll never even talk to you again My cold, guilty hands on your warm soft skin I hope I never see you again (chorus) I’m never drinking again Whiskey, tequila, or gin I’ve come too far to turn back now Have to start all over again But if I drink I will drink with you
10.
One more One more One more kick in the balls New York, did you have to? I guess you had to see me crawl Goodbye to my old life Goodbye to the low life My God, it seems so sad and strange to watch you circle down the drain Goodbye to my old love I’m so glad I got a taste of your husband’s wife before he did and hurt you so, you can’t forgive me Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye Goodbye to my old friends We’ll meet again in the end But if you left those debts overdue You better hope I don’t see you Goodbye I say, so long, farewell We’ll meet again down the road It’s not the end, I’m being dramatic Still I feel my lungs are collapsing Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye
11.
12.

about

I started making this record in August of 2016 with no roadmap. I’d been quasi-homeless for 14 months, bouncing between a trailer in my sister’s backyard in California and housesitting for friends in Brooklyn when I wasn’t on tour (which was most of the time). The label wanted another record but I had really intended "Coward’s Path" (2014) to be my final statement. Still, touring as much as I had and living in the weird in-between of my unheated trailer/ shitty motel rooms/ the couches of friends and strangers, I had finished a couple of new songs and generated a couple other fragments. But no, I was done with music and sick of the road. I recorded some half-ass demos on my phone and emailed them over to the label with a note saying I would need an advance of X amount of dollars in order to make the record, confident that a request for money up front would scare them off and I could finally euthanize this old dream of making it as a singer/songwriter. “Sounds great,” was the response from Charlie Kennedy at the label, “when can you have it done?” Shit.

And then, somehow, the songs came. I had started ‘World’s Smallest Violin’ in 2003 and I finished it in a night. I wrote ‘Never Drinking Again’ in an afternoon on Dave Burton’s couch in Greenpoint and finished ‘Destructible’ later that same night. I thought of my oldest friend, James Sparber. We’d been roommates at school when I was 15 and had been bickering about music for nearly 25 years. He’d taught me how to play bass and we’d played in several bands together, he had introduced me to some hugely influential bands like the Pixies and Bauhaus and The Birthday Party, and we had travelled some hard miles together. I texted him tentatively about recording and producing the record, assuming he’d be too busy or just not interested. “Sounds great,” he wrote back, “when do you need it done?” Well, shit. Now I actually had to do it.
We tracked scratch guitar and vocals over two days in September and talked through the record together. Our reference points would be ‘Naturally’ by JJ Cale, ‘To Bring You My Love’ by PJ Harvey and ‘Bubblegum’ by Mark Lanegan.

The next day, I went back on the road: New York down to Atlanta to Phoenix up to Seattle to Vegas, then Alaska, then Europe, then another coast to coast run. I left the record in the hands of James and some of my oldest friends. Brandon Goldstein—the first and best drummer I’d ever worked with—would handle the drums. Josh Taggart and Damien Paris of The Giraffes would handle guitars. James would cover bass and keys and all the other little things that glue a record together. When the special guests started falling into place— Cáit O'Riordan of The Pogues, our old pal Adrian Grenier, Bill Whitten of legendary NYC rock band Grand Mal, ace axeman Chase Crawford, the legendary Allison Langerak, percussionist Jane Boxall, singer-songwriter Star Anna Krogstie—I realized we were making something special.

Listening back to the final mixes of ‘When We Were Animals’… it feels like a weird moment in our time to be releasing a record like this. While I was writing these songs, I kept thinking “man, some feminist is going to tear apart a lot of the iffy sexual politics here.” Sadly, I don’t think that will happen—I’m not a big enough artist to merit tearing apart. It makes me sad to think someone might just give it a pass because I use some words/ say some things that could be construed as sexist or misogynist. What’s sadder still is to think that my misogyny that I try to confront/ work through/ play with on these recordings might not even register as weird or shitty with a female listener because misogyny is so stitched into the fabric of our day-to-day lives.

But some people are listening, I know that. After a show in London, a woman came up to me, told me how much she had enjoyed the show but informed me that there was one song she hadn’t clapped for. “That one song sounds a bit rapey. What’s that all about?” I was so fucking grateful: grateful that she was there (there are not a lot of women at my shows) grateful that she had been listening, grateful that she was the kind of person who drew a hard line between shit and food, grateful that she felt comfortable coming to talk to me about it, and grateful that I had the chance to explain. I explained the lyrical premise of the song to her and admitted that it required a couple of listens or at least some close listening. She nodded and said “That’s all right, then. Makes sense now. I’ll clap next time.” So this is for her. We’ve all gotta be real careful what we’re clapping for these days.

There are a ton of female voices on this record. There were none on "Coward’s Path." I like to think that change reflects a change in me, that maybe there were some rust-frozen, barnacle-encrusted parts in my chest that are now moving. Maybe not freely or fluidly, maybe they’re still squealing in protest, but they’re moving. Occasionally. I’m not going to pat myself on the back for it by calling myself a feminist. I think for guys to self-identify as feminists is kinda bullshit. Too often, it’s just deep cover for sleazeballs. Best case scenario, it’s like white folks saying “I’m not racist.” Bullshit, we’re products of a racist, misogynistic society. Everyone got indoctrinated to some degree. White folks should say “I’m working very hard to overcome my ingrained racism.” Guys can say “I aspire to be a feminist.” I’ll identify as a recovering misogynist working hard to support feminism. Still, this record certainly shows some personal shortcomings in high relief.

One voice of note on this recording is that of an ex-girlfriend, Allison Langerak. You’ll recognize her as the voice all over Alcoholica and How To Make a Bad Situation Worse. If you’ve read my work, you may also recall her as someone I went through a ton of shit with, someone I hadn’t forgiven, someone who hadn’t forgiven me. That we’ve repaired things enough for her to be willing to sing on a recording with me again, well, that feels pretty redemptive.

With a little help from my friends, ‘When We Were Animals’ became a weary, ferocious record about pining for and hating your past, a record about yearning for and fearing change, a record about burning for life and aching for death. I'm incredibly proud of it and I hope you dig it.

credits

released May 1, 2018

James Sparber - bass, keys, drum machine, background guitars & vocals

Brandon Goldstein - drums

Allison Langerak - female vocals

Josh Taggart - most lead guitars

Chase Crawford - lead guitar on Willin and World’s Smallest Violin

Damien Paris - bass on Death in Greenpoint, guitar on DiG Xmas mix & Wooden Crosses

Adrien Grenier - drums on DiG Xmas mix

Jon Caselli - bass on DiG Xmas mix

Joanna Erdos - female vocal on Death in Greenpoint (both versions)

Star Anna - female vocal on Animals

Jon Bartel - fiddle on Willin

Bill Whitten - backing vocal on Wooden Crosses

Cait O’Riordan - female vocal on Last of My Kind

Elea Phillips - hello hello on Forget Me

Jane Boxall - vibes and percussion on Destructible

Erik Nickerson - production & mixing on DiG Xmas mix

Produced by James Sparber

Mastered by Scott Craggs



Jason Frederick - designs

Justin Tesa - screenprinting

Gareth Jarvis - cover photo

Hector J. Barreto - LP layout


This record would not have happened without the support of Charlie Kennedy and Mattie Worsham and the hard work of James Sparber. I’m indebted to all the musicians who made it what it is. If you ever helped out a musician on the road, thank you. This record is for you.

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Mishka Shubaly Phoenix, Arizona

Shipwreck survivor, Jeopardy clue, bestselling writer, road dog on house arrest.

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