David Bowie Is Dead? The Re-Mix E.P.

“David Bowie is Dead?” The Re-Mix E.P. is available for download worldwide
and you can stream it right now! Just click on the image.

 

When I first started working with Sweetheart the song “David Bowie is Dead?” was an immediate standout. I just loved that it was a simple power pop song and that the vocal took an unexpected detour on the chorus that stuck out and made it unique and original.

As we started working the “XOXOX” E.P. and were looking for ways to let people know about the record, one of the ideas that lead singer and guitarist Marty Zylstra came up with was “What if we did a re-mix contest for one of the songs off the E.P.”?

That was enough for me and I was off and running. Little did I know how far around the world the idea would reach and how many amazing contributions we would receive from producers and musicians from around the globe.

The idea of a “re-mix” is pretty simple, take an existing tune, split up the various tracks of the original performance and make them available to others so they can add to and manipulate the tracks to their own ends.

We were able to obtain some solid partners in promoting the contest. Recording software giant IK Multimedia signed on as our prize sponsor and donated great packages of recording software and iOS hardware for our winners and honorable mention contestants.  Alternative Press and Exclaim Magazine also jumped on board as co-sponsors helping spread the word through their websites, social media and contest pages.

But the bottom line is we have great musical minds enter the contest and create new takes on an already great song. Entries came in from the U.K., Canada, South America, Mexico, The Netherlands and the U.S. It was truly a global affair.

In fact we were so thrilled with the results that we decided to release an E.P. of the Sweetheart band members favorite five re-mixes. A pitched battle was fought and not everyone in the band got their way but in the end the best of the best made it onto the E.P. and in turn to the ears of the rest of the world.

Contests like these can be a huge plus for a band. Not only do you get exposure for your artists in the media with a positive story of community outreach and involvement, you also get to pull other music makers and mixers into your world. In turn they help spread the word about the project to their friends and people they do business with. To think we would have had such a world-wide response to the contest was unbelievable.

The E.P. is now available for digital sales worldwide on our imprint Porterhouse 101 and if you are a fan of Sweetheart and like the tune “David Bowie is Dead?” you are going to really enjoy hearing the 5 different versions of the song that grace the new release.  A heartfelt thanks to all who participated in the contest and helped to make the event and this new re-mix E.P. a success! Feel free to drop by the Porterhouse website and stream the record anytime.

Smoke Porterhouse

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Little Misses Debut: “Whatevers”

Little Misses Debut “Whatevers” Arrives October 23, 2012
You can stream the entire record right now. Just click on the image!

Little Misses has been a work in progress around here for a little while and out of the gate wasn’t even called Little Misses. Initially the project came to me as a production job. My friend Jenn had steered Warped Tour veteran and San Diego native Jerra Spence my way because she was “looking for help with her record” as she put it. She also told me that she had listened to the tracks and that they were a good fit for me. Punk in attitude, but with poise. Real lady like I thought!

I’ve always enjoyed working with female artists for a few reasons… one) it’s a really nice break from the testosterone filled rock world of four smelly guys and a van, two) working with great female vocals is always a treat and three) there’s such a different emotional and cerebral vibe going on with the girls. All in all it makes for a much different dynamic and I find it refreshing.

When I got the existing tracks for the record I wasn’t sure what to expect. Jenn and I have very different taste in music, as often witnessed by our arguments over barbeque playlists. I love her dearly but there’s only so much Little River Band one can take while scarfing on bratwurst. In this case she was right, it was a really good fit for my production style and I knew immediately that I could help move the record forward.

Basically what I heard was an X record. That’s a pretty good start around here, as we kinda have a soft spot for that band. It had the raw energy and it had the poetry… the lyrics, that set it apart from all the run of the mill bands. There was something going on here and it was good… really good. Oh… I should mention that it was clear from the get-go that this lady could sing and play with the best of them.

All the album’s original tracks had been laid down by members and ex-members of Los Angeles punk-metal powerhouse Suicidal Tendencies. The guys had done a bang up job and we both really liked a lot of what had been recorded already. Dean Pleasants lead guitar work really shone and we kept it all. The Bruner brothers rhythm section of Steve and Ron Jr. on bass and drums respectively was energetic and tight.

Where things seemed to need help were with some of the basic arrangements. They just needed to be developed more and allowed to breathe. Jerra and I sat each sat down and made a to-do list of what we thought the record needed. The beautiful thing was… that when we compared notes we discovered that we were basically on the same page. We were solid on which vocals needed to be addressed and which instrumental performances needed to be enhanced. We set to work and in a scant week tackled fresh takes of drums, bass and guitar. We kept everything that we both deemed fitting and only made adjustments where we felt that we could make improvements on matching the performances to the nature of the material.

Jerra was totally trusting and encouraged me to contribute as much as I liked. That trust was a really positive thing for the record. At times she would leave me alone to to work up new rhythm parts or single note riffs. Upon her return, input would be quick and deft: “I love this”, “let’s try that part again” and “I’m hearing this here… can you give that a try?”  Then it was her turn… we fired up the acoustic and striped over a couple of tunes with it.

Strumming patterns were one of the things we talked about most. (Not surprising, as I am obsessed with them) We were really focused on gluing the guitars to the feel of the songs in order to bridge the alt-country and punk rock themes in a way that sounded authentic and tough while still having a bounce and openness to them that sounded inviting. Mission accomplished! Then it was on to vocals. We tweaked melodies in a few spots but generally the parts Jerra sang are the parts she wrote.

Lyrically we were already in pay dirt so there wasn’t much need to touch upon them. When the artist presents you with “I’m a connoisseur of the self saboteur” or “we were the angels who fell, but we got pushed and we knew very well” you just let it happen. Part of making great records is to know when to leave it alone, and when to turn up the heat a little.

When it came time to mix the process really took care of itself. We had the tones we wanted and the performances as well, so things really did fall into place pretty quickly. This made mixing fast and fluid, and the final record bears that out. There is good consistency between all of the songs, even the ones that were tracked with different sounds and different locations.

Once completed we kind of sat back and caught our breath, it had all transpired so quickly and effortlessly. After a while I asked Jerra: what do you want to do with the record? I knew what I wanted to do… I wanted to put it out on Porterhouse Records and let the world hear it. After a couple of meetings and in depth talks about what we could accomplish we decided to get it out.

There was only one issue left… we didn’t have a name for the project. Since it’s inception the album was always going to be called “Whatevers” in a tribute to the SoCal girl lingo and feel… but a band name? We didn’t have one.

Jerra started lobbing things over the fence and a lot of the ideas were really good… not surprising as she is an amazing writer. It was just that none of them seemed to fit the spirit of the project. Then one day it happened, and I found the suggestion “Little Misses” in my inbox. I know on the spot that we had the band name. It instantly reminded me of one of my favorite Elvis Costello tunes “Little Triggers” and it was a perfect fit for the lyrical content and spirit of the record. We had a name!

Now we are bringing it to you! If you are a fan of X, Social Distortion, The Distillers or Neko Case this record is for you. Little Misses is the real deal and we are happy the band joined us!

Smoke Porterhouse

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Oh Sweetheart…

Sweetheart’s “XOXOX” E.P. Available August 7th 2012
Click Here and Live Stream the E.P. Right Now!

Signing Sweetheart was something I hadn’t set out to do. In fact the first time I met Marty he gave me two copies of the “XOXOX” E.P. and I told him I’d keep one for myself and give the other to the “right” A&R person back in Los Angeles that I thought would “get” his band.

The thing was when I got back, I started listening to the record and then I just couldn’t stop listening to it. It was different and that was cool with me.

The songs were angular enough to keep my ear glued, lyrically it ran the gamut from self-hating introspection to dumb pop and melodically it soared in places I didn’t expect. Perfect.  (“Hello there, Malcolm!”)

I stayed in touch with Marty and over Christmas of 2011 we got together again and talked for a bit about what he was doing with the band, I remember giving him some input about moving forward and told him “if anyone can do it it’s you, you’re just enough of a prick to pull it off!” However it wasn’t until I made a trip to Vancouver again at Easter that I was ready to talk about doing something with the E.P. because I felt the timing was right and that we were the right place for them.

After a short discussion it was agreed that Porterhouse 101 would put out the “XOXOX” E.P. and the band would start working on a new release for the future. I remember getting the contracts ready to send off and realizing that… wow! I’m signing a band and I’ve never seen them play live. That is completely unbelievable!

Come to think of it when I showed up at the band’s rehearsal space on Victoria Dr. in Vancouver for the first time to meet Marty, the guys had finished practicing so I really never saw the band play, not even once in rehearsal. When Marty sent me a link for a live video after the fact, my trust was rewarded… I thought about what I had told him at Christmas, I smiled about that.

Sweetheart sounds unique in way that only Canadian bands who have been exposed to a lot of English acts sound. This combination only works in that region of the world, and it never works the same way with American bands. There is a weird distillation process that goes on up there, but it makes for unique sounds and songs. Ask me about geographical regions and band’s sounds and I can go on for a while… it’s one of those pet subjects with me.

There are times when listening to “XOXOX” I hear the Undertones Fergal Sharkey fronting “Entertainment” era Gang of Four, at an Against Me! show. That makes what Sweetheart does work, at least for me… but hopefully for you as well.

Growing up in Canada probably gives me my own take on the band, but to me it makes sense, in the same way that the Pointed Sticks “Perfect Youth” record makes sense thirty years later.

Sweetheart has a debut L.P. on their label called “Map of the Human Heart” which sets up the bands core sound. The “XOXOX” E.P. is to the darker side of that release… and it leaves me wondering what the all-important third record will sound like. We’ll all be watching that develop closely. But for now let’s take a moment to enjoy this power pop indie rock nugget we dug up.

“Ladies and Gentlemen… Sweetheart!”

Smoke Porterhouse

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What’s Wrong and How to Solve… “It”

I just left a sponsored party at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip. Tickets were available via web lottery entry and I jumped at the opportunity. One of this year’s hottest acts were the centerpiece. The band “fun”, were actually doing a free show with an open bar on the Strip and all were invited. So what went wrong? In a word… “Everything.”

This event was a perfect display of the mismatch that is currently dominating the music industry as it tries to embrace the very tech platform that has it in a chokehold.

Tonight’s corporate sponsors T-Mobile and AOL apparently know little about music or how to market it, What they do know, is that music is a window to make their irrelevant and dead brands attractive to potential young customers.

This is what was on display tonight, and it was an embarrassment to the sponsoring companies of the event and unfortunately to a very cool band that ended up being associated with the event.

Imagine that you arrive to queue up for the free event early because it’s a hot ticket with a great band. The early crowd flows in and then… no one else shows up. Bartenders are standing around with no one to serve and two thirds of the venue remains empty. The sponsors have all the marketing clout in the world available to them but they cannot fill the room. The sponsors have the hottest act of the summer on stage and yet they can’t fill the room.

Branding for the “Signature Sounds” program they are promoting is everywhere, and the first thing that you are given when walking into the room is a box of popcorn with the sponsor’s name on it that is inedible. Serendipity. At no point does anyone give a short talk on the program, post a press release at the venue’s entrance, nor is there as much as a flyer on the tables or bartops pushing this new brand.

It gets worse. The indie pop act that folks have come to see are now being warmed up by a D.J. playing anything but what the feature band’s fans want to hear. In fact the organizers have decided to hire a saxophonist and violinist to play over a D.J. in some sort of new age train wreck. The result is that every person in the room is miserable. The entire venue is lifeless and waiting for something… anything fun or positive to happen. It never does until the band hits the stage hours later.

There’s a big screen set up on stage and the organizers have a Twitter feed running for the event. Problem is, that it’s running 15-20 minutes behind real time. Did I mention that this event is being run by two huge tech companies that want your business?

The DJ warm up is over and we are moving on to an hour long set of hip hop from the “house”. Problem is that no one is here to listen to hip hop. T-Mobile and AOL apparently don’t know whom they’ve hired to play their own event or who the band’s fans actually are. The result is an hour of folks looking at each other with a “what is going on?” glaze in their eyes. The event is crashing and burning.

Back at the bar the staff are looking at an empty room, on an open bar. They’re overstaffed and unhappy because no one showed up and they are sharing tips that aren’t coming.

This is a perfect snapshot of the present disaster that is the meeting of music content and the bandwidth overlords. It’s not working for us… the musicians and labels, the ones who develop, invest in and build the actual content.

Execs that shouldn’t have jobs tomorrow have put together an event to push branding that no one understands. I showed up and saw a banner that said: “Signature Sounds” and that was the beginning and end of their marketing campaign. After wasting 3 hours waiting for a cool band to play, I still have no clue what “Signature Sounds” is, or why I should care about it.

This exemplifies the stalemate between music and tech. As long as the corporations that control bandwidth and advertising are the directors of marketing our music, we can’t win. They can’t explain their own event… how could they possibly explain why you should listen to a really relevant band who are busting their asses to make their own record.

How much further are we going to devalue content? iTunes now has us selling records for $7.99. Records have traditionally had a market value of around $12.00 to $13.00.

Until we decide that we have to take back what we own and begin using tech as our own managed platform to distribute our content, nothing is going to change. It seems like a hard thing to get your head around but in fact it’s pretty basic. The corps have nothing to offer… they need our content because it’s the only thing that makes them appear relevant to their customers.

We control our music, we CAN control our market place and we don’t need to co-opt with corporations who can’t fill a great venue on an open bar with an amazing new act. Bottom line is… they have proven that they need us more than we need them.

Making the corporation’s websites and distribution channels the conduit for music delivery serves them. We have the ability and the smarts to develop our own paths to share and deliver the content that we own… the sooner we get off the grid the better off we’ll all be.  Let’s make us the destination… not them.

Smoke Porterhouse

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Change…

Is an interesting concept, and it’s one that we are all a little uncomfortable with.Things are fine just as they are… everything is going swimmingly… why rock the boat? Bottom line is that this philosophy is a dead end. All we actually have is this moment, this exact split second that we exist in. Everything else is either behind us or ahead of us.

Around here there’s been a log-jam of sorts and it’s one that is about to break. There are major changes coming to our little boutique record shop and they are all very positive. Some old friends are departing and moving forward on a new path. We wish them well and know that they will always be a part of who we are and where we come from. New friends are joining us on a path that none of us really knows or understands. The old guard and the old ways have been relegated to the dust bin. The future is unwritten and the fact remains that our business has become an unfamiliar landscape for those of us who grew up in an era where art and music were upheld, valued and cherished.

Sometimes it seems that those days have been completely forgotten… “what’s your cross marketing scheme?”, “you need to go viral!”, “just give everything away!”, “all we need is one placement!”.

These catch phrases have nothing to do with the value of great art and the creative process. They are symptoms of a disease that puts the dollar before all else and which saps every shred of celebration and enjoyment that should be permeating our art, our world, our craft and ourselves.

Unfortunately the state of our industry has forced many to accept this philosophy as dictum. With so many artists and so little revenue to be gained, we are all seeking solutions that will allow us to continue to be creative while enjoying the basic comforts of life.

Moving forward is always a challenge but it’s the one direction we are all going in as a community. It’s the fundamental thread of life, it’s the fundamental thread of art.

We pledge to remain true to ourselves and true to our imaginations. We will support artists and songwriters that we feel have something important or relevant to share with all of us. These are the artists who have the ability to make us feel proud to be ourselves and share in our hopes, our pains, our joys and sorrows.  They are our friends… and they are playing music in our bars, our clubs, in our backyards at parties and in their bedrooms at night.

We help them grow and develop, to learn and to succeed. We are facilitators, educators, enablers and even co-conspirators. Something that the corporations gave up on a long time ago.

We hope that by following the simple rule of “do what you love, and love what you do” that we will weather this storm of uncertainty. And we hope that as we focus on doing what we love that the world around us will stop… take notice… and celebrate with us.

Change is uncertain, projections are not results, the finish line is nowhere in sight.  But we are going to keep on making indie records in a corporate world. That’s what we do.

Smoke Porterhouse

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We’re Having Much More Fun…

is what I wanted to tell myself on this round… the third installment of our continuing saga of re-creating the band X’s finest recordings and bringing them back to home to their fans on 180 gram vinyl.

X-"More Fun in the New World" 12" 180 Gram Vinyl

Of course just when you think that you have a handle on something, you realize that leaves room for something unexpected to happen somewhere else. As much as I try to think of everything and calculate for any and all outcomes, it never fails, something else requires love and attention.

The first two X re-issues “Wild Gift and “Under the Big Black Sun” for our label Porterhouse Prime Vinyl gave us some serious lessons about cutting from original master tapes back to vinyl and the  ideal re-mastering process.

Lesson learned… if at all possible forgo digital capture from the source tape and cut straight to the lathe. While it’s a more expensive process, the results are of course truer to the original because that’s how it was done back then. If you need to pull this off you have to work with someone who knows what that path was and how to either re-create it or fake it. Please don’t think that by faking it I mean fooling the listener or performing a sonic short sale. What I mean is to be able to approximate the conditions that a record was created under 30 years ago, and then cutting a laquer (which we then create the pressing plate from) that will meet or beat the original signal path and sonic reproduction.

This time around we had to actually bake the master tapes to bring them back to a playable state. The reason being is that after magnetic audio tape sits on a shelf somewhere for 30 years it can absorb moisture (which makes it stick to the playback machines heads) or the actual tape itself can begin to shed off the backing and cover the tape machines heads making playback impossible. I have seen this happen on numerous occasions and there are few things more sickening than to see than a master tape with your performance on it actually shedding off onto the heads of the playback machine in goopy brown chunks.

Once the tapes had been baked we worked with Dave Cheppa from Better Quality Sound here in Los Angeles. We were able to go straight to the cutting lathe from the original 1/4” masters from the Warner Bros. vault and in the process bested the original album pressing in spades. In fact when you play our cut against the original “More Fun in the New World” pressing there is no doubt which cut is superior… ya it’s ours!

But just as we seem to have gotten that portion of production under control we were been bitten by the artwork beast. Perhaps lulled into a false sense of security by the starkness of the “Under the Big Black Sun” cover art or Exene’s home spun myriad that is “Wild Gift”, “More Fun in the New World” presented challenges that I had not foreseen.

Obviously intended to parallel the albums title, the “More Fun” cover art is bright, busy and somewhat chaotic. In question too, are the images of the band members on the back cover of the jacket. The selection of which, I never clearly understood. While they reflect movement and action, their lack of focus (literally) and the graininess of the original photos has always left something to be desired in my humble opinion. Combine that with the blockish copy in bold green and orange on the back cover and you have a recipe for “how the hell do we get this to look right?”

As I may have mentioned before in a past chapter, the original artwork and film for these records has been lost or destroyed so we have to scan the best original we can find and rebuild from there. It’s a mighty task when confronted by a record such as this. In the end we cut one color corrected version of the front cover and paired it with a different corrected version of the back cover. Even that was not close enough to the original and final tweaks were necessary on the printing press itself in order to achieve what was finally an acceptable re-creation. Printing the final product on matte stock per the original was a final touch that really brings back the look and feel of the first generation product.

The inner sleeve/lyric sheet also presented significant challenges. Originally printed on 70 lb. stock, the sleeves had a more delicate feel to the touch. However finding a press that can handle that 70 lb. stock in the year 2010 is impossible and so problematic, that it makes it financial impossible to re-create. This lighter stock jams in today’s modern printing machines and wreaks havoc. Forced to use 100 lb. gloss stock we took solace in the fact that the printing job looks sharp and the lyrics and liner notes are extremely legible.

So while we moved with more agility on one end of production this time around, we were forced to rethink parts of the process that seemed obvious on other releases. The bottom line is we have done everything we can to make these records as true or better to the originals… originals that we are still celebrating 30 years later.

Smoke Porterhouse

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Keeping Vinyl Records Alive In Los Angeles

Under the Big Black Sun 12" 180 G Vinyl

Re-assembling a piece of rock history…..

Who knew there were so many variables when trying to recreate a thing of the past and make it better in the process. I have recently become re-obsessed with vinyl mastering and disc cutting, while over seeing the creation of a vinyl re-issue for Porterhouse Prime Vinyl. I’ll tell you a little about the process that we are going through.

Working with some of the coolest punk rock records ever made by bands like X and Circle Jerks, and handling their master tapes during the process is like going back in time and revisiting an era. Not only in musical selection but in production techniques and mastering.

Mastering captures the essence of the mix and builds on it with a combination of eq limiting and compression. Do this part wrong and it can get pretty ugly. I see our Prime Vinyl records through production and have learned what needs to be done to get the record sounding it’s best. (of course we are all still learning but I digress)

This week it was “Under the Big Black Sun” from X we are doing a 12″ Vinyl Re-issue on 180 gram vinyl as part of Prime Vinyl’s re-issue series. We are working at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood with engineer Brian Gardner. I try to surround myself with good talented people, and Brian definitely is one of those!

Today we were figuring out a few final touchs for the mastering job. It will eq’d in a slightly different way from the first eq we came up with. We are going back and changing it up. Special attention will be paid to the high end where some of the mixes were a little dull. Right now it has the girth and volume of a great record the mids are fine, but it needs high end, and on some songs more than others. You need the sibilance on the vocal and the cymbals to sound like cymbals. It’s being re-run right now and we’ll proof that version. If I feel it passes the test we head to the plant for laquers and test pressings.

For those who don’t know, cutting a 12″ record these days is a little more technical than it used to be due to the addition of digital capture. The files are stored on hard disc and the laquers cut later that night by the cutter. When I was younger we would go to the mastering plant and they would cut it live right there. You went home with a laquer you could play right away. Nowadays we get our CD refs to listen to the eq and it’s not on vinyl so really who knows what it sounds like.

And while we have test pressings, there is still a huge leap of faith that you have to make to commit to the pressing knowing it’s sounding it’s best. When it hits the 180 gram it should sound huge… no excuses.

Hmmm, maybe it’s time to forgo that part of the process and do like I used to. Just set the eqs and cut it in real time on the lathe. We’ll need to re-budget for that.  More on creating this record and others soon.

Smoke Porterhouse

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The Devil is in the Details

Wild Gift 12" 180 Gram Vinyl

As we get closer to finishing our re-issue of X’s “Wild Gift” I feel like we are getting farther away from completion.

Tomorrow March 23) is the official street date for release of the album, and tonight it sits firmly stuck in production. Frustration is a word that gets thrown around a lot but I am feeling it right now.

When you take on a re-issue, there are so many things that can go wrong, and when you are dealing with a classic and respected piece of art, you want to remain as true or better to the original. The trick is to make it all happen behind the scenes so when folks buy the record and open the packaging look at it listen to it for the first time that their head just about blows off from the undertaking.

That’s what listening to records was like for me as a kid… a life changing experience that opened up a world that I didn’t know existed, artists sang about life’s experiences, dreams, politics, and their love and hopes. I want people that listen to this record to feel that experience and passion that makes the listener fall headlong into the music and revel in the experience.

But as I said earlier many things can get in the way of that happening, and it all has to be taken into account. This week we are battling the sonic gods and with a copy of the original Slash Records pressing in hand to compare to (which sounds pretty damn good) we are trying to exceed the results of 28 years ago. It makes you realize that the more technology we embrace in production the worse things seem to sound. The clarity and transparency we are seeking seems evasive but attainable and that is the main part of the battle. Knowing you are almost there… but not quite.

Artwork has been a real fight on this too, with no original film to draw from to recreate the jacket and sleeve we are left to our own devices… this includes tracking down the most pristine copies of the record that can be found and then scanning and painstakingly correcting every crease dent and scratch until it’s a dead knock off of the original. Even when we get that close we are still a ways apart because paper stock and ink have changed in the last 28 years as well.

Last week was spent doing test after test of color corrected prints of the outer sleeve, until we got it so close to the original that you really have to look for the difference. It looks amazing!

The wild card is the vendors, we use different ones for each piece of the package. Jackets, sleeves, labels and vinyl all come from different specialty producers who do that particular part the best and most cost effectively.

The issue there is because of an increased demand for vinyl they are all running at full capacity and we have to push our way to the front of the line to get things done. The pressing plant is now running 24/7 and I heard today that they are getting an order for 500,000 Beatles vinyl records. Our test pressing better be ready and approvable so we can get to the front of the line… if we have to wait until they run 500,000 albums this may come out at Christmas… not good!

-Smoke Porterhouse

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