Speed the Plough – Before & After Silence

Our 10th Album Available Now

Before & After Silence is a collection of songs written and recorded by Speed the Plough founders Toni and John Baumgartner during much of 2020 and into 2021 when live music, or even getting together to jam or rehearse, was out of the question. The band was already on hiatus and John and Toni, along with co-founder Marc Francia, had started recording some new song ideas. So when it became clear last spring that there was no way to make music together, at least in the same room, they started sending song ideas out to potential collaborators far and wide. Of course, it took a while as everyone dealt with their own reality, from Beirut to New York to Florida and California, but everyone who was asked responded, and beautifully.

Guests on this project include Mayssa Jallad of Safar, Matt Piucci of The Rain Parade, Tara Key of Antietam, Brenda Sauter and Stanley Demeski of The Feelies, Jon and Deena of The Cucumbers, Rebecca Turner, Scott Anthony, Ed Seifert, Matt Davis, and STP alums John Demeski, Dan Francia, Ian Francia, Marc Francia, Christopher O’Donovan, and Richard Barnes. Guitars on 10 of the 14 tracks were contributed by the indispensable Michael Baumgartner.

CDs are available at our shop and at our Bandcamp page. Streaming and digital files are available via iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora and many other outlets.

Days of Confusion

An Improvisation &
A Bonus for July

“Days of Confusion”

This song, the last in our “Before & After Silence” project, originated as a literal afterthought. John was recording some piano parts for another song last summer when he stumbled on the idea for something else. Set up to record anyway, he pressed play and explored the idea, a take on the musical traditions of contrasts. Instead of soft/loud or slow/fast, he tried shifting from chaos to comfort.

Looking to build on what was basically a piano improvisation, Toni jumped in with a flute part that was reminiscent of the main theme of the film To Kill A Mockingbird, a direction worth exploring.

We wanted to enlist some particularly adventurous players for the song so we reached out to musical compatriots who have been in our orbit for 30 years or more and who happen to be two of our favorite guitarists, Matt Piucci of Rain Parade and Tara Key of Antietam. After some pandemic-related delays, their parts started coming in over the transom – Matt’s hypnotic eBow choir, then Tara’s melodic incantations – and we were floored.

To put a bow on things we brought back John Demeski, whose drums and cymbals became the perfect punctuation.

“Days of Confusion” releases July 2 at our Bandcamp site. Click here to listen.

Toni Baumgartner – flute; John Baumgartner – piano, synthesizer; Matt Piucci – guitar; Tara Key – guitar; John Demeski – drums
Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian. Mastered by Scott Anthony of Storybook Sound.

Rush Hour Remix

“Rush Hour” remix

We thought we’d bring a little symmetry to this whole thing, ending with a double release just like we started with last August. In fact, we employed one of those pieces as our swan song. We asked production whiz and STP beatmeister Ian Francia to re-imagine “Rush Hour,” written by John and guest vocalist Mayssa Jallad, and he infused it with a new energy and depth.

This free bonus track is available now at our Bandcamp site, here.

Thunder & Snow

A Homegrown Tune
for June

“Thunder & Snow”

There were long stretches of weeks into months last year when the notion of getting together to record was just out of the question. We found a workaround when it came to long distance vocals, guitars, and other solo parts. But there was really no way to facilitate remote recording of drum parts. So John started working with drum loops, which were the launching point for this song.

It was a gradual building process, starting with John’s organ, synth and bass parts. A while later, Toni did multi-tracking of vocal parts, then the sax stabs, and finally a “weird little flute.” During the winter, Michael started adding guitar parts, culminating in the wah-wah ending. John’s vocal, the lyrics of an unfinished song, were added on a last minute impulse.

We held on to the song for months, in case we ran into a blip in the monthly release schedule. And that’s exactly what happened. So here’s the penultimate song in the “Before & After Silence” series. A strictly in-house endeavor.

This song is available on our Bandcamp page.

Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian Studios.
Mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound.

A Love Song for May

“Here In My Arms”

This song sat in the woodshed for quite some time, until we pressed it into service last fall as a backup in case the monthly recording schedule went awry due to the pandemic. Of course, that happened, so Toni and Michael devised sax and guitar ideas that took things to a new level. We were thinking of making this a strictly in-house production until Toni remembered Jon Fried’s bass parts when we ran through the song with the Campfire Flies a few times. And that’s what it needed, a heartbeat.

Check it out and grab a copy at our Bandcamp page here.

Players: John Baumgartner – keyboards, vocals, percussion; Toni Baumgartner – vocals, alto and soprano saxes; Michael Baumgartner – guitar; Jon Fried – bass

Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian.
Mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound.

A Choir for April

“The Other Side”

This was written by John last summer, based on a piano pattern that had been percolating for a while. It seemed like it might be a nice framework for a choir approach to the vocals that intoned a series of slightly shifting lyrical lines. That meant reaching out to a “choir” of friends we’ve shared a lot of music with in recent years.

Our Campfire Flies bandmates Deena Shoshkes and Jon Fried came to mind immediately (and came through beautifully), along with singer-songwriter Rebecca Turner (who adds the perfect flight-of-fancy on the second verse). We knew we needed to add our bass and production guru Dan Francia because he has a great voice that we didn’t use nearly enough during his time with the band. Including Toni and John, we think the six voices seem to achieve the desired effect

Toni’s flute parts were added early, then Michael’s guitar parts as summer led to fall, and finally, as winter set in, John Demeski’s sublime work on the drums, highlighted by some shimmering cymbal work.

Lyrically, the notion of getting to “the edge” and stopping at “the edge” and falling over “the edge” will conjure the obvious references. As well they should.

Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian Studios. Mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound.

“The Other Side” is available at our Bandcamp site.

A Song for March

“Soul to Keep”

This song probably had the longest period of gestation of anything in the series, spanning the whole lockdown and well beyond. It started with music by Michael and some of his early guitar ideas. Then a lyric and melody by John and vocal ideas by Toni. And more vocal ideas by Toni. And a few more guitar ideas. And a bit of strings in the studio. And we knew throughout that the family aspect of the song would have to include drums by nephew and cousin John Demeski, Mike’s longest musical collaborator.

Plus, it was time for drums and guitar.

Check it out and grab a copy at our Bandcamp page here.

Players: Michael Baumgartner – guitars; Toni Baumgartner – vocals; John Baumgartner – keys, vocals, bass; John Demeski – drums

Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian. Mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound.

February’s Song

“Broken Glass”

After her sublime contributions on the first single of this series, as co-writer and vocalist of “Rush Hour,” we knew we needed to go back to the deep well that is Mayssa Jallad for another song. And this other Philip Glass-influenced song made perfect sense. The song also features Matt Davis on guitar and Dan Francia on bass.

The image here is from a marvelous video for the song created by filmmaker and friend Jeff Economy. Be sure to check it out.

“Broken Glass” was released February 5 at our Bandcamp page, right here. It is also a co-release with our friends at Dromedary Records, who issued it as a limited edition lathe-cut single. Details can be found at dromedary-records.com.

“Broken Glass” was recorded in New Jersey and Beirut. It was mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian Studios and mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook Sound.

January’s Song

“What Happens Next”

January’s release, “What Happens Next,” is a template for how we’re still getting music done during quarantine. It was one of the songs that began with Toni (vocals, clarinets) and John (keyboard) alone, when group recording was no longer possible. Then, like everything else, it sat.

It moved to a new level with the addition of Michael’s slide guitar parts during his weekly visits, which brought the perfect sense of longing to the proceedings. That led to a “wish list” for a rhythm section to serve as a foundation for everything. So we reached out to early STP member Stan Demeski (Feelies, Luna, et al) on drums and Scott Anthony (Rebecca Turner, Fond Farewells, Storybook Sound) on bass. We think it was an inspired pairing of players with a perfect ear for the song.

The song released January 6 on Bandcamp. Mixed by Don Sternecker at Mix-o-lydian. Mastered by Scott Anthony at Storybook. With engineering by Dan Francia.

December’s Song


Our December release, “Once,” premiered Dec. 1 on njarts.com ahead of a release on our Bandcamp page Dec. 4. Written about 5 years ago, the song was recorded by John, Toni, Marc and Michael just prior to lockdown. Then things went long distance. It was sent to STP alumni Brenda Sauter and John Demeski for bass and drum parts. And then, later in the summer, we were able to do some masked-up recording sessions to finish things up, including a mandolin part by our own Ed Seifert. Since this whole project is all about cross-pollination, this song features Brenda in a rhythm section with the son of her longtime Feelies partner, Stan Demeski, and also on a song with Ed, a friend of hers for many years. (Sneak preview: our January release will feature a rhythm section of Stan and bassist Scott Anthony.)

November Single

“Open Door”

In addition to Marc Francia, our earliest collaborator in this project, Toni and John were joined on this song by Michael B. (guitar) and STP alumni Brenda Sauter (bass and vocal), Rich Barnes (guitar), and Ian Francia (beats), making it a true family affair. This entry in our Before & After Silence” project made its premiere at The Big Takeover November 2. Click here to listen. The track is available on our Bandcamp page

October Single

“Unknown Quantity” (remix)

“Unknown Quantity” is one of the first things we devised after the Covid lockdown here in New Jersey meant that no one would be coming over to record anymore. We thought, the hell with it, let’s change things up and maybe go back to some of the original naive energy that fed The Trypes, when we were unpolished and perhaps purer. Hence, “Unknown Quantity.”

The original take was a telegraphic synth part played like a ribbon control, a drum loop, and a couple of soprano saxes. A little later we enlisted our son Michael to contribute the electric guitar parts.

This first saw the light of day in an episode of “Omniana,” a YouTube series our friends Scott Anthony and Rebecca Turner put together to help keep us all sane during lockdown earlier this year. You’re encouraged to check out the program.

This version, mixed by our long-time recording guru Don Sternecker, reflects the confusion of this period of time.

It’s available to download at our Bandcamp site, right here.

September Single

The “original” Beautiful Place

Our September single, the original imagining of “Beautiful Place,” premiered Sept. 10 in Glide magazine. This was originally recorded in 1995, possibly for a compilation our former label East Side Digital planned to release but never did. That’s the consensus anyway. Band members have a vague memory of it. It was recorded after the band completed the Marina album.

Long forgotten, it resurfaced on a cassette tape discovered by Brenda and Rich. It was a bit of a revelation because the band, with a whole variety of different lineups, had been performing the song in a very different arrangement for more than 30 years. It was like hearing what our younger selves made of the song right out of the starting gate. It’s not exactly more muscular sounding than our standard version. Maybe it’s just more straightforward, unadorned.

It’s available to download at our Bandcamp site, right here.

Speed the Plough circa 1995Speed the Plough circa 1995, front row from the left, Christopher O’Donovan, Richard Barnes, Brenda Sauter, and Toni Baumgartner; and back row, John Baumgartner and Marc Francia.

Brushing off the cobwebs

It’s been quite a while…

…and, like everyone else, we miss the way things used to be. Playing shows. Getting together for rehearsals. Interacting with folks face to face. And, like everyone, we can’t wait to get back to some concept of normal.

We haven’t gone totally quiet, though. We were on a planned band hiatus last winter, when John and Toni started working on some new music, in some new directions. Initially, they enlisted STP co-founder Marc Francia to add guitar parts on a few songs. Things were progressing nicely through January and February. Then, like everyone in the NJ/NY area, they found themselves in the epicenter of the coronavirus and in lockdown starting in March. That meant that any new recording would have to take place long distance.

Through a stroke of good luck, they reconnected with their Beirut-based friend Mayssa Jallad, singer in the band Safar. We talked about our experiences with the virus and we mentioned that we lost a good friend and fan, Tony Donato, who happened to be at the last show we played with Safar in New York. We talked about doing some sort of long distance collaboration, which seemed to resonate as a bit of a refuge from what we were all going through. So we sent the music to Mayssa, with the title “Rush Hour” and nothing else but the music. To our great delight she wove together the quaint notion of a rush hour and the loss of our connections with friends, loved ones, people.

It seemed like the perfect song to be the initial release in this notion we came up with to get these “lockdown” songs out in sort of a “single of the month” idea. And to sweeten things up, we’re putting out 2 songs the first month.

Two other players we enlisted were Dan and Ian Francia, former STP rhythm section and skilled producers and players, who added bass and beats (respectively) to the other initial release “Just Because You Can,” with Ian working in Florida and Dan at his studio in NJ. Also prominent throughout all the recordings is John and Toni’s son Michael, who has been a member of the band for a decade.

These two songs are available now on our Bandcamp page and you can access them right here. And please be sure to subscribe to our page to receive a notification when new songs are available. Proceeds from downloads of “Rush Hour” will be donated to the Lebanese Red Cross and the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture. Be generous in these perilous times

“Rush Hour” recently premiered on Popmatters, where it was described: “A sweeping, delicate track, it accentuates the refined musical sensibilities of Speed the Plough (dashes of folk, classical) with a world-inspired, otherworldly performance from Jallad. It is a brief but potent reminder of life’s fragility, whether in this time or another.”

These two songs are the first of 10+ new pieces John and Toni plan to release on Bandcamp until next spring, to be followed by a physical album release. The September single will be a newly-discovered unreleased Speed the Plough track from 1994, featuring the Brenda Sauter/Rich Barnes/Chris O’Donovan lineup of the band.

John and Toni are hoping the project will remain fluid throughout, inviting new guests, adding new pieces, adapting to what the new world holds in store for all of us. It’s nice to be back, even in some modest way.

We’re very happy to present this video for “Rush Hour” by our friend, the very talented Sean O’Brien

for your listening pleasure

“Crossing the Tizsa,” from …And Then, 2017

“On A New Day,” from Now, 2016

“Division Street,” from Swerve, 2010

“Cutting Branches For A Temporary Shelter” from Wonder Wheel, 1991

“Jane” from Tag Sale, 2013

Lucky You
“Lucky You,” from the 2011 album Shine

Coal & Courage
From our performance at the Hoboken Music and Arts Festival, September 2013, with The Feelies’ Bill Million reprising his guitar part on “Coal & Courage”

Said and Done
“Said and Done,” from the 1995 album Marina


The Plough & The Stars

And don’t forget
about our career-spanning retrospective, The Plough & The Stars, released by Bar-None Records in 2013. For more information, click here.

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