Great rock ‘n’ roll records seem like bygone relics in the digital age, but when you stumble across the right one, you realize the genre is as potent as ever in the right hands. Meatbodies, the L.A. ensemble orbiting garage rock lifer Chad Ubovich, is about to release just such a record. The group’s self-titled In The Red debut LP is an absolute rager, a simple, assured compendium of humongous hook-laden rock tunes. A song like “Tremmors,” with its psychedelic harmonies riding a tidal wave of Tripping Daisy guitar crunch, will level you and the several square miles surrounding you. “Dark Road,” meanwhile, is a glammy psych ballad odyssey worthy of Bolan and Bowie. The record exists between those poles, but it’s of a piece, the product of an immensely talented songwriter coming into his own. Streaming at NPR this week, Meatbodies is big, bold, bright garage-punk that welcomes you into its world to rock right along with it.
Meatbodies hail from a scene that has produced an ungodly number of awesome rock ‘n’ roll bands, the fertile California garage rock community whose best known figure is the ruthlessly prolific Ty Segall. Everyone in the scene seems to intermingle, and that crossover played a big part in Meatbodies’ rise. Ubovich came to prominence playing bass for Segall’s side project Fuzz as well as Mikal Cronin’s live band; his Meatbodies record features members of Wand, together PANGEA, and Segall’s live band; it was recorded with Eric Bauer, whose San Francisco studio has played host to projects by Segall, Thee Oh Sees, the Mantles, Sic Alps, White Fence, and many more. Lots of great talents had a hand in Ubovich’s development, and now that his vision has come to life, it stacks up with the best of what Cali’s retro rock ‘n’ roll scene has wrought.
Ubovich called this week to discuss his musical origins, the making of his debut album, and stepping into the spotlight after years as a sidekick.
STEREOGUM: You’re known for being a sideman. How long have you been releasing your own songs? Is Meatbodies your first attempt, or is there some more obscure stuff in your background?
CHAD UBOVICH: I’ve definitely been releasing stuff since high school, just doing little projects here and there. But I think a lot of them weren’t as focused, I guess you could say — sort of imitation. I was very into a lot of noise music and a lot of stuff I was making was pretty much tape-art. It was like I would buy a lot of weird tape machines and try splicing together things and all that kind of weird stuff.
STEREOGUM: You said you started doing that stuff when you were in high school. Where did you go to high school? Did you grow up around L.A. or did you move there later?
UBOVICH: I did. I grew up in a small town like 20 minutes outside of Northern Los Angeles called Monrovia, California. And yeah, that was a small place, a kind of old, abandoned part of Los Angeles. There’s a racetrack there that Charles Bukowski would go to.
STEREOGUM: How did you end up playing in bands with Mikal and Ty and all those guys?
UBOVICH: I just kind of knew them from around the scene growing up. I first met Ty when I was in high school and he was I think just graduating because he was a year ahead of me. He had his band, and I had my band. We met that way, and that was a long time ago. Then I kind of lost touch for a while, and then somehow I just found him again and became friends with Mikal in college, and then it just started snowballing.
STEREOGUM: Oh, where did you go to college?
UBOVICH: I actually didn’t go to college, but I would party at colleges a lot [laughs]. So Mikal went to Cal Arts and I was just there, partying.
STEREOGUM: Let’s talk a little bit about the making of your album. What drew you to record it in San Francisco and with Eric Bauer?
UBOVICH: I want to record with Bauer because there is a mystique about it, I had heard. Like when I had first gone on tour with Mikal we had gone on tour with Ty and that was for the Goodbye Bread tour. I remember hearing Goodbye Bread and I was blown away by every thing about it. That album is still probably one of my favorite Ty albums ever. And I was just like, “Who the hell is this guy?” and they were like, “Bauer.” And Mikal had recorded with him and was like, “Dude, this guy is really cool.” And I just liked his sound. He reminded me of early Beatles stuff, you know? Just kind of very dry, sound-on-sound kind of stuff. It came down to, when I was on tour with Fuzz, I was in contact with In the Red, and they were like, “Yeah, we will pay for your album, just pick who you want to record with.” I was looking at the list of people and thinking about it and was like talking to Ty about it and was like, “Is it tight recording with Bauer?” and he was like, “Yeah, you should definitely go for it.” And I was like, “OK, cool.” So I wanted to do that. Also I think I was ready to kind of immerse myself in just the vibe of San Francisco cool. I really love it out there. Out of all the cities I’ve gone to around America, it has this weird mystique and kind of like magic to it, like not even Los Angeles — hell no, Los Angeles. I’ve just been obsessed with San Francisco for a while, just like its history and culture and the vibe. I don’t know, it’s weird there, it’s just very weird. I’m a big Deadhead, so it’s just fun to go out there pretty much.
STEREOGUM: What was the actual recording experience like?
UBOVICH: It was cool, it was really rad. In that situation, it was kind of like a first for me, which is always interesting to realize you’re still learning stuff at 26. It’s like, “Oh, no, I’ve traveled, I’m touring, I know what’s going on.” Then you go to the studio and then it’s just like two dudes in the control booth looking at you through a little widow, and they’re like, “Alright, go! What have you got?” “Uh, OK, so here is this song.” It’s very nerve wracking, but it is also fun to get it done. The studio was all underground, and I was sleeping down there, so there was no windows. You’d wake up at like 7 o’clock at night and have no idea what time it is. And then you’d walk out and it’s like already getting dark and you’re like, “Oh dude, wow.” So I started having to sleep on the couch in a section where I could kind of see a window so I would know what time it was. It was cool to have a moment to step away from touring and party life and whatever and just kind of go and sit there in a dungeon — we called it the sunshine dungeon. Because there is no sunshine in there, and in the studio there is this huge art piece of a huge sun. It’s cool to like lose your mind in a little cave.
STEREOGUM: Is the album mostly you on like everything, or is it a live band recording?
UBOVICH: It’s half and half. There are like four or five songs where it’s me playing everything except the drums. I never play the drums because I don’t know how. I really wish I knew. For the drumming I brought in the drummer that plays with Ty, he plays the drums on some. And my friend Eric who plays in together PANGEA, and he drummed some. So it’s like half and half, there are like four or five songs where I am on all the guitars and then like another four or five songs where I like brought in Cory [Thomas Hanson] and Riley [Youngdahl] and had them play as a live recording. And then I went back later at the end of everything, and if anything was wrong or if anything needed more stuff, I would cut out a section of the band and re-record half a section.
STEREOGUM: The album fucking rips. How did you get it to sound so big and loud?
UBOVICH: I think when it comes to big and loud it’s just like the perfect mixture of everything. On the recording side of it, Eric used nothing but vintage gear. Like nothing new, nothing at all. No digital aspect to it. It was recorded on a 24-track recorder run through an MCI 1970s board. The plate reverb on it was like actually a giant plate reverb. It’s just like how most albums back then sound huge. And that’s it, if you use really good stuff. It’s also like there is not much going on in those albums. Like if you listen to Paranoid, Paranoid sounds massive. Paranoid was primarily recorded on a 4-track, and they just had amazing microphones. It’s that aspect and it’s also who’s mixing it. I had Chris [Woodhouse] mix it, and Chris went in there and was like, “What the fuck are you giving me here? This is like 24 tracks of noise.” None of those faders are automated; he had to do it all by hand. He was like, “I have five hours to do a song, get out.” And I was like, “OK, bye.” And then on top of that, it’s the mastering. I think that’s when things start sounding really good. When I got it back, I was like, “Wow this is really big now.” And there is always the aspect of how you play it, which can sound loud. You know, it’s like dynamics — you have to have something soft and something loud. And then you got something really big. If you listen to David Bowie’s recording back in the day, it’s like a bass, one really fuzzed guitar, and an acoustic, and then it sounded huge! It’s just like dynamics like that, it’s like yin and yang, light and loud. The louder things are going to sound louder.
STEREOGUM: What’s your songwriting process like? Do you get an idea and say, “I want to write a song about this,” and build a song around it? Or do you usually write music and come up with an idea for it later?
UBOVICH: I would say I mainly write in guitar riffs. I’m primarily just a guitar dork, like a riff guy. So what’s going on is, I’ll do a riff in my head or I’ll just play for hours alone, it’s usually when I’m alone. I’ll write one riff while I’m holding a guitar and playing and messing around and Iíll accidentally play something and Iíll just be like ìoh, crapî and I have to run away and like record the riff on my phone and forget about it for like en months and then come back to it and be like ìwow that actually sounds rad.î And build it around that. And I would say the final product is taking some poems and then reconstructing the song from there.
STEREOGUM: You already mentioned that the album is on In the Red. Judging from your sound and your style, I imagine you have some personal history with that label before you started working with them. Were you a fan before you signed?
UBOVICH: I was, actually. I didn’t know Larry [Hardy] at all, though. I remember there was other bands that I had been in in L.A. and there was talk of like, “Ooh, In The Red wants to talk to you,” and I was like, “Whoa, In The Red!” It was definitely one of those labels you hear around town. It’s like, “That’s such a rad label, we got to do that one!” And so when Larry hit me up to do the album I was definitely more than stoked and jumped on it.
STEREOGUM: You’re involved with so many bands, and a lot of them tour. Are you like able to do music full-time at this point?
UBOVICH: Yeah, it’s been my main job for about three years now. And during that time it’s been like playing Meatbodies stuff [on the side]. And now the album is happening, and now I’m doing this side of things, which is like being the leader of your own band, which is quite strange. But yeah, it’s cool.
[Photo by Denee Petracek.]