Above: Airlines live in Union Square Park.
L-R, J. Neilson, D. Roby, J. Arcidiancono, T. Kelley, J. Tanzer.
Tanzer - Vocals, Guitar,
Airlines (originally known as "Burning Airlines") were the best-known of the Quixotic roster when the label began; already well-established band on the NYC underground scene by the early 90s, they got their start way, way back in 1987, with Jim Derogotis on drums, Jim Quinlan and John Tanzer on guitars, and John Neilson on bass. This line-up would release two great singles on the Minneapolis-based Susstones label--"Test" b/w "Ambulance Dance" and "For Richard" (these are of course now way out of print, but well worth tracking down). Internal differences would lead first to the departure of Derogotis, who was immediately replaced by a drum machine (he would go on to write about music for Rolling Stone--until a bad review of Hootie and the Blowfish got him canned--and the Chicago Sun Times). This version of Airlines recorded a number of tracks at Fun City with Wharton Tiers, but none has seen the light of day, at least not yet.
Shortly thereafter Jim Quinlan departed to form Lid. The two Johns soldiered on, recruiting new members as needed (including at times Debby Schwartz of Aquanettas fame and Chad Swanberg on bass), until the Airlines membership eventually solidified around 1991. This included Joe Arcidiacono, a deft guitarist and bassist, who also sang and contributed songs. Tom Kelley was a unique drummer, with a tiny jazz kit and a jazzer's sense of timing and syncopation. When Debby Schwartz fell and hurt her wrist at the Airline's "Socrates Sculpture Garden" gig in Brooklyn, David Roby was recruited as a able replacement.
Airlines now had a three-guitar frontline, with Neilson, Arcidiancono, and Tanzer all employing various effects--fuzzboxes, e-bows, echo, phasing, volume swells, etc.--to create a swirling sonic attack.
Their first Quixotic single was
"Steady Goes" b/w "No. 2" (catalog number QX003-7). These tracks were recorded at Excello Studios in Brooklyn, NY, in April 1992. Behind the board was Chad Swanberg (later to form Halcion).
Billboard, our nation's premier music trade mag decided to review the disc even though they freely admitted it had little commercial potential:
"Dueling guitars give the song crazy rhythms and cool melodies, while hazy, double-tracked vocals and bubbly bass put the power in this pop. Easily absorbed into the memory, but elusive enough to require multiple listens."
At the other end of the music criticism spectrum was the crazy world of the fanzines. You'd have to go to See Hear to find these things, usually very home-made magazines xeroxed and stapled together and mailed out to the various small record shops and bookstores in college towns and big cities. Some of them were more professionally done, and there was also Option Magazine, a glossy that had a purported circulation of 10,000 at its height. The 'zines were fairly enthusiastic about the Airlines record as well:
Skin (#4 Fall 1992, Alyssa Isenstein)
Outlet (Spring of 1993, Trev
Baby Sue (#12 Spring 1993,
Don W. Seven)
Your Flesh (#27 Summer 1993,
Music Journal (November 11, 1992, Deborah
Rockpool ( 12/01/92, Mike
Fresh from the success of this first Quixotic single, the Airlines crew dug into the cargo hold for the next single, "Talking About Talking" b/w "10,000 Days" (catalog number QX007-7). Like the tracks from the previous record, these were taken from the Excello sessions engineered by Chad.
The three-guitar assault that Airlines unleashed on their first Quixotic single was back in full force on the A-side. Joe Arcidiacono's bass and Tom Kelley's drumming provide the propulsive foundation, and the guitars weave together in a wonderful mass of sound.
The flip, '10,000 Days', was written by Arcidiacono and represented a different sound for the band.
Chairs Missing (#mr. suit,
October 1993, Scott Munroe)
Second Skin (#6 Winter 1994,
ND (#18 Spring 1994, Daniel Plunkett) "'Talking' is fairly direct pop riff and '10,000 Days' is a charmer which seems to dance around some old Eno song in my head. Quite nice and worth checking out for you that like intelligent and thoughtful guitar pop."
Their fourth 7" record now under their belts,Airlines took off once again to the depths of Brooklyn to record tracks for a proper album. With the faithful Chad again in the engineer's chair, the band would spend three solid days recording and eating Chinese food. The resulting tracks were assembled (along with the previously released Quixotic singles and some live cuts) into the monster collection titled, simply, "Airlines" (catalog number QX011-CD).
Thus the shiny compact disc neatly contained Airline's best recordings: "Empathy Box," "Deja Vu," "Ad Infinitum," and "Manitoba" (all of which included viola, courtesy of Jamie McEwen);
"Still Life," "Remote Color," (an old Jim Quinlan gem) "Interval," "Weekend," (recorded live at Excello for a broadcast of WFMU's Live Music Faucet).
"Manitoba", which was penned by Arcidiacono, was recorded live at Sub Rosa, Quixotic's basement rehearsal studios on 3rd street and 2nd Avenue.
The tracks were mixed by Ryk Oakley (best known as the producer of Kraut) at Saatchi & Saatchi's 24-track in-house studio, which was a pretty cool place. KAO Optical, formerly American Helix, pressed the CDs up and they were sent out into the world to spread the sound of Airlines...
Summer 1994, Stephen Fievel)
New Music Report (#381 May 23, 1994, Steve McGuirl)
Big Takeover (#35 July 1994, Jack Rabid)
Missing (#"Mannequin" August 1994, Scott
Trouser Press Guide to '90s Rock (1997, Ira Robbins)
Airlines on the rooftop of the old Saint Mark's bathhouse
(later Kim's Video, nowadays who knows?), 1993. L-R: Tom Kelley, John Tanzer, Joe Arcidiacono, David Roby, and John Neilson.
It seems like a thousand centuries ago, but the Airlines were riding the comet into the furthest reaches of space, whatever that means. The band racked up live appearances with Band Of Susans, Tall Dwarfs, and a host of other local and 'major' acts (including appearances at the last two Brooklyn Woodstocks), as well as airing live radio performances on WNYU, WFMU's Live Music Faucet, and NY Public Access TV (Generation TV). Airlines also contributed a scorching version of "Point That Thing Somewhere Else" to the Dark Beloved Cloud tribute compilation for NZ indie greats The Clean. In a word, amazing!
All of this, however, was not enough to keep the band from imploding just a few years down the road, leaving behind these fine recordings. John Neilson, John Tanzer, and David Roby would later play in the Wharton Tiers Ensemble, while Tanzer, Arcidiacono, and Kelley would re-group as Nickel Hex.Be sure to check out the official Airlines Webpage.
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Quixotic Records NYC