Part of the fun of being in a band is developing a stage presence, be it slightly different or wildly divergent from one's usual personality. Madison's been graced with many performers dedicated to onstage antics and fanciful band back stories; currently one of the most developed "biographies" surfaces on stage a few times a year in the form of Optometri.
As explained fully in a June Isthmus story, Optometri is a formerly famous Russian band that regrouped in Madison years after mysteriously disappearing from their homeland around the time of the Soviet Union's collapse. The band was encouraged to reunite by singer-songwriter Yuri Mishkin's "lead personal assistant" Bob Jacobson, a performer himself in bands such as Yid Vicious and the Theramones. Coincidentally, each Optometri member also has a personal assistant recruited from the Madison music scene.
Of course, in reality Optometri is Jacobson and his cohorts. But why let reality get in the way of a good time? The project moved from the stage to local CD players this past summer with the release of their debut disc, Love is Not a Potato.
"Because this band isn't anybody's 'main gig,' I was worried that it might disappear off the face of the earth without a trace," Jacobson says. "I'm really proud of these songs, and I didn't want that to happen. So our main goal was just to create evidence that this band ever existed, leave some kind of documentation for the ages."
Aiding greatly in making the disc a reality was the opportunity to record with students at Madison Media Institute. "Going to MMI and recording for free seemed like the way to go, and we were really happy to have the opportunity to do that. So we went in there and banged out the entire repertoire in one session. Many of the songs were done in one take -- drums, rhythm guitar, keys, bass, lead vocal and accordion all at once. After listening to those initial cuts, we realized that it was too good not to do something more substantial with, and the decision was made to go ahead and spruce up the tracks and make a full-blown CD."
Jacobson says one drawback of working with inexperienced recording engineers surfaced during extra overdubbing sessions, though. "Some tracks went missing, including ALL of the French horn parts, some Theremin, some added percussion, a few other odds and ends. Fortunately no whole songs or very critical parts were lost, but when that happened, we figured it was time to say 'Thanks, MMI, it's been great, but we think it's time to move the project to a more professional setting.' We never did replace the missing parts entirely, just did a bit of patch-up where necessary."
The results preserve the audio side of the band's performances very well, including various bits of Mishkin's tales behind the songs (which are helpfully indexed as their own tracks for those who just want the music and not the comedy). Beyond the theatrics, the songs are catchy, melodic rock that stand up to repeated spins even with the usually intentionally silly lyrics.
The live crowd pleaser "We Will Bury You" nails a frozen in time '80s sound, with a sing-and-stomp-along chorus, synthy keys by the world's laziest keyboard player, Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Geoff Brady), and rippin' hard rock solos courtesy of Dmitri Shostakovich (Steve Burke). While the song does lose a little bit in translation without the group's antics and the usual audience participation, I'm very thankful to finally have a recording of one of Madison's most entertaining bands.
An MP3 of "We Will Bury You" is available in the related downloads at right. More music by Optometri is available on MySpace. The next chance to catch the band live is at Mickey's Tavern on Saturday, October 24.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.