The story of Wild Hares’ second album, “Dose,” begins in San Francisco in 1983. The music business was different back then, Tracy Santa assures me. Bands recorded themselves in dingy apartments, pressed their records, and sent them out across the world in the hopes that radio stations would deem them worthy of the FM frequencies. While working as a warehouse foreman in the late ’80s, Santa entered a bustling San Francisco punk and garage rock scene and emerged with more than a few stories about far-away lands and living room recording studios.
Santa, who is also Colorado College’s Writing Center Director, told me that “the music you listen to when you’re 13/14 really imprints on you. I’m still playing some version of that.” The musical influences that Santa is speaking of include the likes of Kingsmen and Question Mark and the Mysterians. The home-made quality of this mid ’60s rock left its mark on Santa early, and his most recent album with Wild Hares is a testament to its continuing influence on his brand of lo-fi Americana.
Santa’s music career has spanned over three decades and has seen him as frontman of three different groups, travel to West Berlin to record an EP with Exile Records, and garner praise—such as this nugget from The Noise, a Boston music zine: “[Santa’s album] calls to mind an early and not overly elaborately orchestrated Neil Young.” Santa’s original group was 84 Rooms, followed by the Idlewiles, followed by a stint as a solo artist. Finally Santa surfaced from an 18-year hiatus with his current group, Wild Hares.
Santa opens “Dose” with the line: “Nothing ever comes from nothing.” The sentiment is dead-on when considering the decades of songwriting that come to life on “Dose.” While some songs are contemporary, much of the music comes from deep in Santa’s archive. “Babysitter,” for example, is a tune that Santa wrote in the fall of 1979 while living in San Francisco. “Dose” was recorded at Dan Nelson’s Rainwerks home studio near the Citadel Mall, and it retains the flavor of a garage rock album, if a little less frenetic than the 1984 84 Rooms EP, “Instant Sunshine.” Santa said, “Garage rock is a folk music, really. It’s music people can and do play. It communicated to people in the community.”
Santa is joined on “Dose” by drummer Michael Salkind, who provides a sure-handed percussion backdrop for the album. Many of the songs are tales of some kind. In Santa’s undergraduate years, he was a fiction-writing major, and this narrative influence can be seen in bits and pieces throughout the project. Every song has some thread of a story running through it. On “Tonight,” for example, Santa sings, “You’re never going to love who you know you should. / I’ll be waiting at the bottom of the hill with a bottle of whiskey and a little white pill.” The lyric sheds light on a night gone by, perhaps on the streets of Haight-Ashbury, but it is also a nod to the group’s record label, Pill Pauper.
The vocal range that Santa exhibits on “Dose” tracks such as “No Mañana Today” is not by any stretch a new discovery. In a review of the Idlewiles’ 1987 “A Room as High” EP, Francis Dimenno writes, “the real gem—Tracy Santa sounds like Roy Orbison’s ghost filtered up through a ventilator.” It’s an astute comparison and one that comes through on “Dose.” The project is at its best when Santa’s voice rises to the forefront. On the album’s last track, “What Difference,” Santa is joined by an acoustic guitar and delivers an emotional, Orbison-esque performance.
A picture of Jack Kerouac hangs on the wall in Santa’s new Tutt Library office. Below Kerouac’s face is one of his most famous quotes from “On the Road.” It reads, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” Kerouac’s iconic quote speaks to an uncontainable American energy that is often channeled through music. On “Dose,” Santa and Salkind tap into the music of their youth, into Kerouac’s imagined energy, and come out the other side burning with Dean Moriarty’s zest for life.
OVERALL SCORE: Classic/10
FAVORITE TRACKS: “No Manana Today,” “Tonight,” “What Difference”