Our dear writer, Bobby McBride, recently released an album called Yaupon. We’re quite thrilled with his work, but obviously, it’s sort of difficult to review a work of your colleague. Instead, Bobby wrote the entire story behind the album – and that story is full of love, heartbreak, frustration, and inspiration – and it’s something that we’re proud of sharing with the rest of you. Enjoy, and remember; it only makes sense to let the music accompany your reading.
Yaupon was never really meant to be. It is a record that is born out of circumstance. The journey began last summer – my then girlfriend and I going to Oak Island, North Carolina to help my mother move back into her house, which had been destroyed by an air conditioning malfunction whilst she was in D.C. tending to my elderly Mima (who had passed). After about 2 years of insurance and contractor drama, the house was completely rebuilt, and what could be saved moved back in – along with my mother who frankly was a bit bummed out by the whole thing and just wanted us around to warm up the house and help her with bits and bobs.
The island was gearing up for 4th of July festivities, but a few days prior, wed had a spate of shark attacks that had received international attention, some tourists had been attacked and one was in critical condition and missing an arm and a leg from either a tiger or great white cruising the shallows and feeding off people from Ohio. Apparently, they taste better than the locals. The beach had been pretty much black flagged, as there had been multiple attacks by several sharks, and they were tracking a few tagged whites and tigers in the area anyway. It’s pretty much the exact plot of Jaws, except for the banana boat scene. It was weird to go back home and be terrified of the one thing that everyone came to see; the ocean.
Some things were not right. it wasn’t all fun and games. Within a week I’d heard in the local news about two county police officers being sacked and indicted for either rape or embezzlement. A third would follow within the month. A 3-million-dollar sketchy bailout had been initiated by county officials – a private land deal by a public official in the town next door had soured, and now the county was using our taxes to bail their cronies out – all the while, emergency services were badly in need of an overhaul and cash injection, there was a raging heroin epidemic, and terrible poverty in the rural areas. I’d never paid much attention to local politics – I had been away for decades – and while this seemed extremely insane to me, to the locals, it was business as usual. It stank rotten.
My father was getting married and timed the wedding to coincide with our visit back. We spent half of our time with dad and Becky, they had been splitting their time between the house further down the island, and N. Myrtle Beach, where they’d bought their condo in paradise. We loved going down to Myrtle Beach – it was a party city on the strand. Dad and Becky took us out to endless meals, dance clubs, and shopping. They lived on a disused golf course – nature had taken over and Mikaeline and I would take dad’s ridiculous 4×4 golf cart through the woods and around the turtle ponds. We decided that we would get married too – after Dad and Becky of course – so as not to steal their thunder too much. We told our families and they were all really happy naturally. We didn’t realize the gravity of the process that would follow, though.
Denmark has some pretty tricky policies when a non-EU citizen marries one of theirs. Denmark also had just had a very conservative majority come into power that meant it’s policies, in the midst of last year’s refugee crisis among other things, tightening the reins. Long story short, it would take a whole bunch of time, effort, money, struggle, and paperwork for us to live together over there. Marrying out of love was no guarantee that we could live there together. The process of actually saying “I do” in the USA was fairly straightforward – a few trips to the court house and talking to nice ladies over there was the fun part. Basically, it now meant on the Danish side, that Mikaeline had to return as planned in early August – and I would have to stay on the island until October, two months apart after having just been married.
Getting married was great. We had a small ceremony where we all got dressed up and went down to the courthouse in the swamp on a beautiful hot sunny day. We asked her father to pick a time for us to be wed – he’s an astrologist and all the stars had to be in the right order. We didn’t know that the judge would be out to lunch though at the time he selected – so we nervously waited in the halls, along with a few other people who were at the courthouse for various other reasons. When the judge finally did return from her lunch – we went straight in – after the other woman who was waiting there to put a restraining order on someone naturally. The ceremony was over in in just a few minutes – but nonetheless, we were happy and beaming. I had my first moment alone with my new wife while we walked together to the other buildings to file our paperwork. We stood underneath a huge flagpole and saw each other for the first time as man and wife in the Carolina heat that July day.
We only had a week until Mikaeline had to go back to Aarhus. It was a happy but scary time. I’d never had any feelings like this before – how would we survive with so much uncertainty? We did all the things we wanted to do on the Island and in the area before heading to Myrtle beach for a few days before her flight. I was already beginning to feel the weight of having to bid farewell for two months to my wife of only one week.
The day finally arrived, and Becky came and took us to the airport. She waited in short-term parking while we checked Mikaeline’s luggage. We sat down in the shitty ticket area café and had an awful coffee. We were crying of course. We threw the grey lattes out and I walked her to the security check. We said good bye for now and I watched her walk through the scanners and into the terminal. It was raining and I smoked a cigarette in the loading section before Becky picked me up. She took me directly to my counseling session.
A few years before when I was home I had made some bad decisions and had gotten myself into a little trouble. I had to go to some counseling to get everything right. I met up every week in this office block in Shallotte out in the swamp. Nobody wanted to be there, nobody was happy. We were all stuck there for whatever reason and learning about alcohol and substance abuse. Our counselor was very nice, but had a very dark sense of humor that sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. It was evident that he didn’t really want to be there either. I was a ghost in that group. Sometimes people would disappear from the group and never come back. I later found out that they were literally becoming ghosts. The heroin epidemic in the area has gotten completely out of hand – a new strain of chemicals was being used to cut whatever junk was coming into town, and it meant that even “casual” users were overdosing. I could see it really affected our counselor. It really affected me as well. I was constantly surrounded by people week after week that had serious problems.
It was during this period that I knew I had to write. I was very aware that I would probably never have this much time in my hometown again, and certainly, never would have this much “idle time” on my hands ever. I knew I had to make something – and there was no excuse not to make some music.
I allowed myself a budget of 150 dollars. That was basically all of the money I had left. The rest, I would have to borrow off my folks to live or get a little job. I didn’t mind getting a job to tide me over, but there just, straight up – wasn’t any job to be had in the area. I was too damn old to be a dishwasher or bag boy, I was in town too short a time to do resort work or something like that – and to be completely honest, it was tough enough some days for me to get out of bed and face another day just being in my own skin and missing my damn wife and being half way through my thirties living with my mother, who also was not at her happiest during these times either.
I had only brought over a cheap Epiphone acoustic as a bang-around while I was home. Other than that – I had no gear, so I had to get a little inventive with what I was going to use to record. I got on Ebay and found a Fostex 8-track for like 50 bucks. I bought some cables and a cheap (but good) mic off Amazon for 30 bucks. I got a mic stand and a zoom guitar pedal from Craig’s list and that left me with about 30 bucks for an electric guitar. Yup. I bought a 30 dollar no-name electric guitar from Ebay from some kid in Michigan. The shipping actually totaled as much as the item. It was a piece of crap, but it worked and held a tuning most times. I managed to borrow a keyboard from the old neighbors that mom still hangs with. I had everything now ready to go.
Despite that I had everything technically ready, it was still the writing and recording that had to be done. There was an inferred deadline too of course – I had started hanging out with my old friend Mike Mitchem, who was the first guy I ever made music with back in 8th grade, and he now had a pretty cool studio set up in his garage in Southport. I was telling him about the project, and he was willing to even record the thing, but I knew that I would need to do this myself, but he could certainly master it when I was done – by the last week of September.
Even though I do work better under deadlines – it just seemed like there were too many loose ends to write. I tried to force it a little at first, but was just coming up empty handed. I struggled for a few weeks to write anything. I thought I was washed up. I tried listening to stuff to possibly guide me in a certain direction. I made endless “mix tapes” and took long walks on the beach or along the canal to try and find the muse. I even went to the library and read everything I could on local history, I read volumes of local poets, watched documentaries on the holocaust, immersed myself in lectures on quantum physics and watched a shit load of hot rod reality shows. At night, I would watch tv with mom, always the news, Jeopardy and American Idol. Somehow, after I gave up on actually trying to write songs, they just started coming. First, a trickle, then a torrent.
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The first full song that appeared was “Hitler Was In Love”. I was comparing my wedding and the immigration process to Adolf and Eva Braun. Here we were, not sure that any government would recognize our love for each other, then feeling frustrated that even someone as terrible as Hitler could be in love, and have a dog (Blondi). I stared at photos of Eva for a while and wondered what the fuck was going through her mind. Nothing ever happens without people falling in love, I decided. Now that I had the confidence of an actual complete piece under my belt, I decided I would tackle a more complex notion.
“Bridge Trouble Again” is a title I’ve had kicking around for some years. Initially, it came to be in a dream a few years ago when I was reading about the construction on the second bridge to the island. The Oak Island bridge was really a focus for me – for many years, it was the only link between the island and mainland. My mother’s house is close to it- and at night you can hear the bumping of tires going across the sections of it if it’s very quiet. It’s also fairly dreaded, as just about every weekend night there is a checkpoint for DUIs on the mainland end and that can get you into a lot of trouble if you fuck up. There were also all kinds of infrastructural nightmares for the construction on the second one – all this put together with a whole bunch of dirty local politics, cronyism, fucked up police, my dealings with the local courts and their glad handing with the lawyers and zoning and tax laws constantly aggravating the local residents. I had also read quite a bit on the pre-American history of the island – Cherokee Indians using Oak Island as a sort-of “holiday destination” to hunt, fish, and cleanse their bodies with Yaupon tea. I wanted to try and cram all of this shit into a song. The result was “Bridge Trouble” and I’m very proud of it.
At this point, I made a realistic goal of doing 5 songs for this project – with the caveat that I could do of course more or less if I needed. I got into the habit of “passively” writing. I could sit down after dinner with mom, tune into the tv shows or debates now, if something popped into my head, I’d scribble it down, if needed to expand on it I could – but evenings were for writing. I would normally head to bed around 9:00, and wake up early to “hone” the stuff in the notebook. This went on really for 3 or 4 weeks until I had 5 songs. I can’t recall exactly which ones came when, but for each one, I remember doing little demos of them on the family piano (which had survived the flood) into my shitty flip-phone or onto my iPod touch.
A lot of this time though was spent really missing my wife. It seemed as time went on, though, that there was less and less of her presence remaining in the house, however. During the first few days she was gone – it was almost like she was just in the shower or something and she could pop back at any time. There were hair bands on the nightstand (even strands of hair here and there), there was bits of trash or something in random places, there was even her wedding bouquet that she had thrown under the back porch. I found it and rescued a few baby’s breath – but even those got accidentally thrown out one day and I went sobbing and digging through the outside trash to rescue them. All of these little sentiments ended up in “Honeymoon Without You”. Most weekends were spent out in Myrtle Beach with my dad and Becky – a fair amount of that time doing a “dead man’s float” in the pool with an Arnold Palmer at the ready. *Arnold Palmer is a non-alcoholic drink named after a golfer.
I write both lyrics and music simultaneously. I normally have a melody and a structure in mind with a chord sequence – meaning, when I write a song, it’s normally complete before I ever play it. This means I’m able to write in my head anywhere, and take notes so I can flesh it out later. More times than none, inspiration would strike in the weirdest places – like in a dance club with dad. Myrtle beach is famous for its “southern soul” or “shag” scene. All of the music has a certain 4 to the floor quality to it, dancing is what the city is known for, and wearing loafers and Hawaiian shirts while doing complicated shag dancing moves. The music is everywhere. Music in Myrtle beach hasn’t really advanced much past the 60s – it’s very much a time warp – so when it came to writing melodies in my head – a lot of what came out is heavily indebted to stuff like Chairman of The Board, The Impressions, The Tams – any of those southern soul classics you hear around the clock in the streets down in Myrtle.
“Maybe Some Day” came as kind of a gospel number during this time. It was written during one of those really bad times – stuck in this counseling, missing my wife, dealing with bureaucracy on both sides of the pond. It’s a song of hope for me – looking forward to that time where we could be together again without anyone else interfering – imagining that first phone call from the airport or something in Copenhagen and saying “I’ll be home soon” and it actually being true. It was about worrying about money – as at the time we fucking had none. Everything in some instances almost seemed like too much. “Maybe Some Day” was the way to the light for me.
“She Just Slipped Away” is a song about living with other people’s hang-ups basically. It’s a bit deeper than that, but it’s bookended with the final verse that has the narrator (me) telling his partner that despite other people falling away to things like depression, addiction, suicide or whatever – that I will never, in any uncertain terms let them slip away. I was also listening here and there to a fair bit of late classical and early romantic era composers (Mahler, Liszt, Chopin…) and some of that heaviness creeped into a couple of the numbers, this song might be a prime example of that.
Once I started actually recording the numbers it all went pretty smooth. I think I spent about 2 days on each song really – I began tracking during the final 3 weeks I had left in Carolina. I found that this went really smoothly – I could work whenever I wanted, but the best times were mornings and early afternoons. I sat on the floor of the rec-room – where I had recorded so many times since I was 14 or so, and just let it rip. I really did feel so much emotion coming out – it came very naturally. I hadn’t been singing or even playing guitar for several months at this point – and I was very conscious of myself being kind of rusty – my voice ragged or cold in some spots, my fingers cramping up on the fret boards of all these cheap guitars. The results were waaaaaay beyond my expectations though – having barely had any expectations whatsoever.
After the initial 5 songs from my goal were done – I still had some time left to mess around. By this time, I had finished my counseling, got my driver’s license back, and had borrowed my dad’s car while they were on their honeymoon in China. I felt free for the first time. I took myself on little drives. I went to the city (Wilmington) and went crate digging or just hanging in cafes where I used to slum around in my 20s. “A Couple Of Rings” was a song that just kind of came to me on one of these drives. I put together some great lines about quantum entanglement from the physics lectures those weeks back, I felt happy to know that it was possible to be entangled with someone, to be able to atomically affect them (in theory) even if they were millions of lightyears away, or in a separate universe even. I had been wearing my ring and one of those hair bands on my wrist ever since Mikaeline left. It helped me feel grounded. The hair band, more so than the ring – tightening around my wrist at all times. It’s the little things sometimes. Even atoms.
I thought I was all done with the “project”, and I was just a few days away from taking everything over to Mike’s garage to gussy it up. I had to go to the airport one night in Raleigh (3 hours away) and collect Dad and Becky from their China adventure. I was also going to set out early and stop by this guitar shop to get rid of the Epiphone. I’d kind of grown attached to the Epiphone though – she had been good to me and I had played her well on all these songs. I wanted so say goodbye one last time – I picked her up, gave her a good cleaning and some new strings and one last little strum. Next thing I knew – I was singing and “They Threw You Away” came out. I walked over to the gear, cranked it up and out came the song. I loved the spontaneity of it – the fragility. It became a goodbye to the guitar, a goodbye to the project, and sort of a goodbye to all the stuff that had happened.
Taking all the tracks over to Mike’s place – I’m not sure he knew what to expect. We had talked a little about what I was doing, but I still think that he thought maybe it was going to be something….shittier? Anyway – we listened to all the mixes and tracks I had and he kind of leaned into it out of passion. I think he realized it was something special to me, and could hear it in my excitement when I described each song to him and how they had come about. I think he wanted to spend way way more time on it than we did – and to be honest, I did rush him in the mastering and editing process, but he did a fantastic job in making them sound like real recordings rather than demos or mock ups. I was just overwhelmed to be hanging out with my oldest music friend, and have him – over 20 years later, making music come alive with me again. Yaupon was a thing now.
I packed everything up, donated the shitty electric to the pink ladies (who were happy to have it, and made me play a john Denver song to them when I brought it in to the flea market) I would be back in Denmark in a short while.
I say that this is the closest I ever came to pure sadness because – I can’t think of a situation where I could have been more sad. When you grow up, you realize that there’s a massive difference between sadness and depression – that sadness is just something that you know will someday, somehow be over. I was of course sad while I was away from my wife, but I was also sad to be leaving the island and my family behind.
Yaupon was the catharsis that kept me only sad during this strange time in my life. I’d said “goodbye” so many times to Oak Island, to that house. It kept coming back to me though. I feel that this was really a farewell to Oak Island and ultimately to my youth. I was kind of feeling like a grown up. I still feel there though when I listen to Yaupon however. More than any photos, it’s a collection of feelings and moments – each piece like a film in my mind of that strange time. That’s partly the reason why it’s taken a year to get it out. It was easy just to tuck it away – go to Aarhus and resume life there as normal. The Carolina boy in me had to let go though – almost like a Stockholm syndrome scenario, a P.O.W. still having vivid memories of his captors. I wasn’t completely free yet, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be.
It took some time to abstract myself from Yaupon – to be able to listen to it like it was made by someone else. I’m not saying that my feelings or passion for it have subsided, I’m just saying that I’m able to step back and hear it for what it is – and I can honestly say – I think it’s pretty good. I might have been worried that I was so invested in it that I was kidding myself into believing it was anything more than a selfish expression by some guy that was writing about missing his wife or something. I do think it’s more than that. A little political, a little romantic, a little dark, a little passionate, a little methodical, and a little bit insane. Those are all qualities I like in any other artist’s work – and that ultimately I strive for in my own.
As far as I can reckon, it’s the closest I’ve ever been to pure sadness – and that emotion is not forgotten here, merely replaced now with reverence for the gift of song that came from it.
You can also hear the story being told on the radio show ‘O Mundo’ on AASR right HERE, or, of course, relive the story through the album which can be found on Spotify, Apple, Bandcamp, etc.