By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
That same karaoke machine occupies a central spot in the living room of Green's Coral Gables condo and has played a pivotal role in her songwriting career. The turning point came in early 1995, after Green had worked for a few years as co-writer on a project for a well-known dance music producer whom she diplomatically -- and firmly -- refuses to name. "Bad things that shouldn't be in the world," Green now says of the songs she helped write with the hotshot producer, her voice dripping with disdain. Indeed, she looks back with more than a little embarrassment at having authored lines such as "You make me wet all over" and "With the right love you can't go wrong." But, as she points out, "people always said, 'If you do this and you have a hit, then you can do anything you want afterward.'"
To be sure, the collaboration could've been Green's ticket to the big leagues; before making the demos, the unnamed producer signed her to a one-year recording and publishing deal. But beyond picking up some extra vocal experience and getting a chance to work in a professional studio (the songs were cut at the Bee Gees' Middle Ear studio in Miami Beach), nothing ever came of the demos or the deal. Following that artistic debacle, Green retreated to her condo and the karaoke machine. "It was so irritating to me because at that point I was in a multimillion-dollar facility and I was basically working for hire," she grumps, "and when I was finally writing the songs that I wanted to write, I was here at the karaoke machine on my floor."
For the next six months or so Green taught herself how to play the guitar while experimenting with melodies, lyrics, and sounds. She refers to the results as "the karaoke tapes" -- the literally hundreds of unlabeled cassettes that litter her apartment, each filled with melodic ideas, nonsensical aural fragments, and songs in various stages of development. It was one such cassette that sparked Ulloa's enthusiasm. After seeing her perform, he asked Green if she had anything on tape. She demurred, he persisted, so she went to her car and found one under the seat. The tape floored him. "There's so much magic that I'd be willing to put out a CD just of the karaoke tapes," he says. "They're that incredible."
Those early, homemade versions of Green's songs brim with an urgent kind of tension that connects daring experimentation and raw talent. If anything, the effect is enhanced by Green's rudimentary guitar chops and the limitations of the karaoke machine. (The device is made to record only one dub clearly; subsequent dubs make the preceding mixes murkier, and some of the songs have been copied at least a half-dozen times.) "A lot of people have told me I play the guitar like a pianist, which is kind of weird," she states unsurprisingly. "I think because I know what notes go together, but I don't know where they are on the guitar, I wind up with voicings that sound different than regular chords. I know enough chords to write songs, though. You only need a few, right?"
Despite the technical limitations, Green's playfulness with lyrics and melodies pierces through the decidedly low-fi murk of the karaoke tapes, whether it's the bright, relatively uncluttered mix of the whimsical "Twenty Years" ("I like pretending that I'm in the CIA/I spy on strangers just to brighten up my day") or the hazy, opium-den feel of "Way Out," a seething fuck-you dirge ("I'm not your friend/I don't like you any more/Season's over/Don't let your ass hit the door").
"It was a total gamble what was on it," Green observes of the tape she handed over to Ulloa. "Actually I was lucky because there were a few songs on that tape, and I could have given him a tape of me mumbling to myself." Green pauses to reflect on the felicitous twists of fate her career has taken in the past ten months. "I mean, think about it: My whole life I'm living up to a certain day in a certain way, then one day I just played a show and I meet Matt and then I started playing a bunch of shows, and it's been completely different since then. Last year at this time I wasn't doing anything. I was thinking about signing up for summer school and, you know, getting a life."
Another pause. "I just hope I don't use up all my luck.