Smile Politely

Jay Bennett & Titanic Love Affair: The unreleased recordings

This piece is part two in a series about Jay Bennett, check out part one here.

Jay Bennett claimed he “lost his voice” at some point around 1990, so Ken Hartz took over lead vocals for Titanic Love Affair, and thus TLA became, according to The Daily Illini  “The Replacements’ replacements.”

But in the late-80’s, TLA was Jay on guitar and vocals, Ken on bass and Rob Sweeney on drums. They recorded a number of songs, a few you may have heard, and some you certainly haven’t. 

Below, you’ll hear Jay sing the original version of “Maybe,” sung later by Ken on their cassette release Ice Cream Funeral.

[[mp3 maybe_-_by_titanic_love_affair]]

The first song is “Anna C.” I don’t know who Anna C. was, but I once asked Jay about the line

She says your nose is so cute,
and that tall one you are with;
He looks just like Bob Geldof.
Is that who he is?

His response was basically “duh, it’s Eric J.” meaning the eldest son of ex-state rep Naomi and Urbana Alderman Eric Jakobsson.  

Do you think he looks like Bob Geldof? I don’t.

The song “Alarm” might have been renamed “A Place in This World” if it had been released on an album. It’s called “Alarm” because someone thought it sounded like British 80’s band The Alarm.

The sound quality is so good that I suspect these songs were recorded by Willie Wells in Monticello, Illinois. That’s where TLA eventually recorded the (much better) demos for their (frankly awful) major-label album.

In the late 80s, there weren’t many good options for audio recording in Champaign-Urbana. Matt Allison and Adam Schmitt had a Tascam 8-track in the attic of their house at 408 1/2 East White Street (recently demolished). Adam made it sound better than Matt, but the machine recorded to cassette tape, so nothing sounded all that great. (Uncle Tupelo’s “Outdone” was recorded there, by Matt.)

Mike Brosco and Louie Simon ran a studio they called Smiley Turtle. They recorded their own band (Proof of Utah) there, as well as Lonely Trailer records Test and I Know What I’m Doing, But You Don’t Think So. Test sounds much worse than, for example, Side 1 of Lonely Trailer’s eponymous debut tape (recorded by Joe Strell) and about the same as Side 2 of that tape, recorded by Matt Allison.

In the late 80s, Jon Pines (Private Studios) and Mark Rubel (Pogo) were not on the radar for indie bands. They charged professional rates and catered to people with budgets.

High-fidelity recordings were extremely expensive in those days, as was good reel-to-reel tape, as were musical instruments. Most band “budgets” went toward printing flyers at Kinko’s. Another expense was schlepping a 12-pack of Schaefer to Chris Corpora’s house on Busey Avenue, just south of Green Street.

We’d get him a little drunk, and he’d agree to give us an opening slot for Material Issue or Smashing Pumpkins or Dinosaur Jr. or The Lemonheads or The Flaming Lips or Nirvana …  the headliners that played Trito’s Uptown in those days.

By this time, Titanic Love Affair was already a headline act. They were attracting percentage seekers like management, booking agents and the like. At a time when other bands dreamed of playing gigs outside their own basements, TLA was playing gigs outside of town!

Manager Steve Daly even got them a record deal with Charisma, the label that released Jellyfish’s seminal Bellybutton a year earlier. MTV even played their video! (Jay played on the second Jellyfish record, Spilt Milk, a performance that went uncredited because the artwork had already gone off to the printers, and it was too late to alter it.)

TLA played the mainstage at Band Jam, which was then held on the vastly superior location — the west lawn of the Armory, a nice, enclosed space, it was big enough for an event for a few hundred people. When Starcourse moved Band Jam to the main quad, the event lost its magic. Moving it to the “south quad,” near the business campus, finally killed it off.  (If you don’t know what Band Jam was, that’s probably because live music is dead. It used to be A Thing.)

In the final part of this trilogy, I’ll share some stories about Jay. He was a complicated guy.

For now, here’s TLA.

Check back for part three soon.

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