Dreams Of New Fetchin Bones Songs Becomes Reality
For years, Hope Nicholls has had a recurring dream. In it, the former lead singer for the '80s band Fetchin Bones imagines she finally remembers a song she once wrote but has somehow forgotten. It’s such sweet relief to feel like it's finally back in her brain, where it belongs.
But whenever she wakes up in real life, Nicholls struggles to remember the lyrics from that dreamlike song and never can -- and it breaks her heart every time.
A few months ago, Nicholls heard “Sons of the Dinosaurs” – a song she wrote, sang and recorded in 1988 but had completely forgotten about – and it wasn’t like she was transported to the era when Fetchin Bones opened for bands like R.E.M. and the B52s.
It was more like she was back in that recurring dream.
“I was like, ‘That’s the song!’” she said excitedly recently. “I recognized everything about it -- like the lyrics -- but I’d just forgotten it. It was like a song that I had dreamed of, but there it was, actually in real life.”
“Sons of the Dinosaurs” is one of five new-old songs that Fetchin Bones released at the end of July. Though the band broke up in 1990 and hasn’t reconvened for a show since 2007, the new releases are the product of a bit of good fortune and some digital magic.
The songs were actually demos that Fetchin Bones recorded at Reflection Sound Studios, the former recording studio off Central Avenue where the apartment building The Gibson now stands. When the studio was torn down in 2014, someone called Nicholls at her Plaza Midwood clothing boutique, Boris & Natasha.
“Hey, there’s some of your music up here and it’s about to go in the dumpster,” the caller told her.
“It was original tapes,” Nicholls said. “And it had songs that we’d never, ever recorded in any other way.”
Nicholls, who now plays drums and sings in the band It’s Snakes, has long been regarded as one of Charlotte’s most influential and successful musicians. But she is not a technology wizard. So she and husband Aaron Pitkin, another Fetchin Bones member, picked up the ancient reel-to-reel tapes before they were destroyed … and did nothing with them for a few years.
But Nicholls and Pitkin did tell Errol Stewart, another former bandmember, about the discovery. Stewart, who now lives in San Francisco and works as a production stagehand, knew the 30-year-old tapes needed some help before anyone could try to listen to them.
“There's a process you have to do with old tapes, and you basically put them in the oven -- or bake them at a certain temperature -- because what happens is the emulsions on the tape start to stick together over the years,” Stewart said.
The tapes were baked, and the songs were transferred to a hard drive, which was sent out to Stewart at the start of the year – 32 years after they were recorded.
When COVID-19 hit earlier this year, Stewart’s work as a stagehand dried up and he finally had time to devote to not only listening to the tapes, but mixing and mastering them. With help from Wally McClellan in Oakland for the mixing and an old roommate named Kurt Bloch for the mastering, the songs were finally in good enough shape to release to the world via Bandcamp, Spotify and iTunes.
Well, after Stewart added about 30 seconds of guitar sound to “Supernova,” from his basement recording studio because that song needed a little something extra at the end, he said.
But other than that, the original recordings are untouched. Though the demo tapes also included different versions of some of their songs recorded between the albums “Galaxy 500” and “Monster,” they released only five songs that cannot be found on any other Fetchin Bones albums.
“The response has been awesome,” Stewart said. “So, we're really excited about it, and people are, too. It's funny how many old Fetchin Bones fans are still out there.”
After about a month online, the five songs had been downloaded about 1-2,000 times, Stewart said. Considering the lack of promotion for new-old songs released during a pandemic from a band that broke up 30 years ago, it’s done pretty well.
“I'm a little surprised, but I kind of knew that there are people out there that still love the band who would really be into these tunes,” he said. “I think the material is really strong and kind of, you know, prescient of things to come. I mean, it was pretty much a ‘90s-sounding demo, if you ask me.”
For Nicholls, it’s been like a “parallel universe” to hear songs she wrote more than 30 years ago and didn’t entirely recall. Though she still actively plays in a band – It’s Snakes just released a new album, “LX,” in August – life is different now. She’s a mother of two and a business owner. She turned 60 this year.
“As a lyricist when you hear lyrics you’ve completely forgotten about, it is a little time slip in your mind,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Wow.’ It’s just weird. Because you never really forget them. You understand why you wrote them and what was behind them. … Thirty years ago was a long time ago in somebody’s life. I’m definitely not going to write the same lyrics now.”
But there might be one factor that tops all others as the best reason these songs can now be heard:
“Maybe the dreams will stop now,” Nicholls said
This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.