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Golden Sand and the Aksarben Grandstand

From his bedroom to your headphones, Fizzle Like a Flood's ode to Aksarben musically captures the essence of a dying horsetrack and the sentimental memories it holds, both real and unreal.

 
by tim mcmahan


 

 

Want more current Fizzle?
Check out the Jan. 2004 Lazy-i Interview.

 

 

Lazyeye: Nov. 1, 2000

 

You can tell by his reaction that Doug Kabourek, the singer/songwriter/performer who goes by the strange moniker Fizzle Like a Flood, is genuinely surprised that anybody would want to listen to his music.

Rarely has there been such a Doubting Thomas when it comes to a composer's own music. Here's a guy that says his goal is to sell a measly 100 copies of his latest CD -- just enough to generate the cash necessary to professionally manufacture his next CD instead of having to burn CDRs in his bedroom.

A request for an interview after listening to his latest effort, a sort-of tribute to the now-defunct Aksarben racetrack called Golden Sand and the Grandstand, was met with disbelief (he's never done an interview before) and surprise that someone would think that his CD was good enough to write about.

In fact, Golden Sand is a dreamlike soundtrack, a slice of indie-rock flavored nostalgia that will touch anyone who's ever strolled along Aksarben's now rust-covered paddock, played Frisbee on the track's grassy infield, or put a few bucks on the nose of Who Doctor Who.

The gangly, dark-haired, bespeckled Kabourek says he's never placed a bet at an Aksarben window and hasn't even sat in the grandstand on race day. The CD's concept instead grew out of the countless shuttlebus trips Kabourek took between the Aksarben parking lot and the University of Nebraska at Omaha campus, where he started taking classes last fall.

"I would get on the bus and ride by that grandstand every day and just dream up stories," Kabourek said from a well-worn Laz-y-boy inside his Bellevue home. "My dad gave me a book about Aksarben for reference, and I thought it would make a good concept album."

 

 

 

Kabourek has anonymously played a role in the Omaha and Iowa City music scene for six or seven years, first jamming with the band that would become Norman Bailer (an early incarnation of The Faint). He left Todd Baechle and company after they recorded a cover of Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'n' Roll." "I didn't think they'd get anywhere," he said.

Instead, he moved to Iowa City to play drums in Matchbook Shannon, a power-pop trio whose high point after three years together was playing a gig at the famed Lounge Ax in Chicago for an audience that included Sen. Phil Gramm. "I didn't even know he was there 'til after we were gone," Kabourek said.

He left the band when he moved to Bellevue in July 1999 after his wife, Julie, got a teaching job at Bellevue East. With some leftover Matchbook Shannon songs in tow, he began recording demos out of his bedroom, rechristening himself as The Laces. The debut tape, Thank You and Goodbye, and his first CDR, the endearing Forever For Now, captured his cuddly, happy-to-be-sad emo-pop songwriting style. Unfortunately, you could barely hear the songs on the muddy, weak-signaled recordings.

What a difference a year and a name change makes. In comparison to those early efforts, Fizzle Like a Flood's Golden Sand and the Grandstand is an aural tour de force -- sort of a mix between Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys (Kabourek even uses a slide theremin on some tracks), Ben Folds Five (lots of keyboards), and the Flaming Lips (trippy, loopy melodies; nasal vocals). The CD is sweeping, grandiose and genuinely touching in its audacity. It's amazing, considering the entire project was recorded and mixed in Kabourek's home studio using little more than a microphone, a small multi-track recorder and a PC. His home studio looks like a high school kid's bedroom, with rock show posters Scotch-taped to the walls, a beat-up acoustic guitar and snare drum stashed in a corner, and second-hand office furniture covered in CDs, tapes and show flyers. It's hardly a pristine "sound environment."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


"I would get on the bus and ride by that grandstand every day and just dream up stories."


 


Both personal and cinematic at the same time, Golden Sand and the Grandstand is a rock opera with a tender heart, created by an insecure loner who's very nature reflects the down-and-out quality of his music.


 

But it's all Kabourek needs. The boy wonder has figured out how to take these simple tools and push the sonic envelope by layering tracks upon tracks upon tracks (an average of 40 tracks on each song) with tons of sound effects that he's either recorded himself or taken from various sound-effect websites.

His creative process involves splicing together numerous small song sections that have been recorded separately. "I never mix a song, I mix part of a song," he says.

For example, on the CD's high-water mark, the sentimental charmer "Believe In Being Barefoot," Kabourek opens with a portion recorded in his backyard, the cicadas making almost as much noise as his guitar and his shy, pip-mouse voice. "The orchestrated part is spliced into whatever comes next," he said. "Then another splice is added with a loud chorus." Meanwhile, another track holds the sound of whistling fireworks, while dozens of other tracks contain vocal harmonies. After a big buildup, the song backs down again and the harmonies fade, leaving only the cicadas.

The last song of the CD's concept cycle, the lilting-then-driving "Delayed Dedication," pushes the sound effects over the top as it builds to an enormous wall of fireworks exploding to an ear-splitting crescendo, symbolically marking the opening of Kabourek's make-believe San Gabriel Downs horse track.

Lyrically, the CD travels backward in time from the first song to the last. "Shadows," opens years after the racetrack has been closed. A grandfather clock, lonely keyboards and Kabourek's Beach Boys-style harmonies nest the opening lines "The money's not around/The queen has lost her gown/The crests are taken down/Their guests were so profound" referencing, Kabourek says, the Aksarben coronations, among other things. The song then launches into an echo-filled, march-like anthem and Pink Floydesque laughter/yell sound effects ending with a familiar bugler's fanfare. Next, "A Dance with the Dozer" captures the racetrack's last day and the arrival of the demolition crew, while pointing fingers at the cause of the collapse: "The patrons aren't around there/The dogs have taken their share/The boats are guilty, too." (Sharp-eared listeners will recognize a repeated synth sample stolen from "Call Call," a track off The Faint's Blank-Wave Arcade CD, presumably stolen when Kabourek was remixing "The Passives" for that band's 12-inch remix compilation, released earlier this year).

In between the abandonment and dedication are nestled a handful of love songs that follow the lives of the horse track's patrons, neighbors and employees. "Falling Off a Star" recounts a jockey falling from his horse as he tries to impress a would-be girlfriend. On "Again This Summer," the same jockey laments another painful season spent pining for the girl he can never have. "The Movie" recounts a failed scheme to generate attendance by filming a motion picture on the premises, while "Kissed in Stereo" is about a gambler finally hitting a longshot.

Both personal and cinematic at the same time, Golden Sand and the Grandstand is a rock opera with a tender heart, created by an insecure loner who's very nature reflects the down-and-out quality of his music.

 

Which brings us back to the fact that very few will probably ever hear this CD. Though released on Chris Fischer's Unread Records label, Kabourek is doing the lion's share of the CD's production, promotion and distribution, individually "burning" each CDR and laser-printing the labels and sleeves. Although copies are available at The Antiquarium and possibly Homer's, as well as his website -- www.fizzlelikeaflood.com -- there's little chance for distribution outside of Omaha.

And you can forget about seeing the CD performed live. "I would like to get a band together, but it's a lot of work," Kabourek said. "You'd have to take all this equipment to the show, and I'd have to have a van. I tried to pull together a band to play The Laces' music last summer but it didn't work out."

Right now, he's content with playing the songs acoustically, when possible. "I would rather do a different interpretation of my sound live than do a half-ass job recreating the CD," Kabourek said. "We would have to have a lot of singers to make it work. Band practices would be unbearable."

He says his next recording will be geared toward playing live, with "super melodic" songs, few sound effects and possibly a band. But don't expect him to enter a traditional recording studio any time soon. Kabourek is content doing the recording at home.

"Home recordings to most big-shot music people fizzle automatically as soon as they see the tale-tell blue underbelly (of the CDR)," he said. "But I think it's a flood. I haven't heard any other home recordings to match what I'm doing.

"I never know what it's going to sound like until it's done. I would never be able to have all of it in my head before I entered a real studio. I couldn't perform in front of a glass window with someone on the other side saying 'Don't screw up.' Hopefully, my studio will always be my bedroom."


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Published in Omaha Weekly Nov. 1, 2000. Photos by Bill Sitzmann, Copyright 2000, used by permission. Story, Copyright 2000 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 


"I couldn't perform in front of a glass window with someone on the other side saying 'Don't screw up."