INCOGNITO IN AUSTIN (2002)
this was a very unexpected side-project that came into play near the end of the guys with dicks days. half of the tracks feature tyson and i playing all the instruments, with me processing my voice so i sound kind of like a disembodied woman. we knocked out the first three songs one february afternoon, awash in the glow of something that had caught us completely by surprise. after a night of music and excess that ended with the band sleeping over at my place, i woke up to a note from gord explaining that he had left while tyson and i were still asleep because the wind was “calling” him. he had left my front door unlocked, but fortunately no one else in the neighbourhood had noticed. tyson said he was feeling sort of a creative hangover from the previous night (when “beautiful high” and the stoned out-takes that showed up on the CASTRATED ep were recorded) and felt it would make us really…creative. “we should try recording something, just the two of us,” he suggested. “you do that all the time with gord.” i felt no such hangover and was simply hungry, but i figured i’d let tyson have his fun, and he recorded some atonal string sounds to a click track while i scrounged up some food in the kitchen. i couldn’t quite make sense of what he was doing. then i overdubbed piano, tyson and i overdubbed bass and drums at the same time, and suddenly there was a melody there and what he had been playing on the keyboard made complete sense.
tyson asked me if i had any weird vocal effects, and i immediately thought of one particular effect i had never really used much — one that modified the pitch formants of a male voice to make it sound feminine. tyson’s face curled into an ecstatic grin while i sang some improvised, mostly wordless stuff, thinking of the movie he and gord had recorded the previous night in my basement and remembering when i had been down there in a room i had never seen before, as my band mates were telling me that they could sense something bad had happened here a long time ago. my somewhat frazzled mental state almost made it seem like what they were talking about was a possibility, because the room did have a bit of an oppressive, creepy aura to it. i shrieked “murder” and the female voice shrieked an octave higher than me. tyson pulled another one of his “keep going! keep going!” moments while i was whispering and repeating “stay away” and “get away”. the end result was like nothing either one of us had ever done before. tyson decided we should milk this for all it was worth, and we quickly recorded two more songs. for the title track and psychotic romantic [shoot the shit], i consulted a notebook i had picked up in italy for lyrics. it’s interesting to me that the words were originally written to accompany much different music; incognito in austin was written as a jaunty acoustic thing on gord’s guitar, only to become something approaching a slab of dark classic rock when i was seated behind the piano, while psychotic romantic was written as a psychotic piano-driven thing, and yet here it was transformed into a weird ballad, and the female voice effect somehow made it sound incredibly sad. tyson was suddenly in love with my piano playing, which was a surprise, since he had never wanted me to play it much before. it was a good surprise, though; my fingers were happy to have an excuse to tickle the ivories again after a protracted period of neglect.
the rest of the album is made up of a few bizarre remixes, a few jokes, and another female-voice-enhanced track that didn’t quite turn out to my liking (vomitingbirds, where the effect didn’t seem to mesh well with the more aggressive music, though i had plans for that riff that i soon would set in motion on my own). water comes across as being stupidly misogynistic, but it was actually a swipe at someone else’s attitude toward the opposite sex, written from their point of view and intentionally made to sound as dumb as possible. tyson had to ask me to tone down the “stupid” in my vocal delivery, though i think it would be more amusing if i had kept it as dumb-sounding as i wanted it. still, our duet-’round-the-imaginary-campfire makes for a touching moment.
there was another unexpected development during the last session that led to one of the highlights of the cd. the piano motif i hit on at the end of vomitingbirds grew into something much more interesting after that song had ended, and with tyson behind the drums, the self-explanatory piano/drums took shape — a slow-building instrumental improvisation that again wasn’t at all like anything we had ever done before. at first tyson wanted me to add vocals and bass to the song, but i didn’t feel up to it, and he eventually agreed that the music was probably best left alone. i like his comment at the end of the track…but then i always liked the audio-vérité approach and tried to slip it in as often as i could. genital herpes cured is little more than an excuse to insult some people from our musical pasts and joke around, though i do like my acoustic guitar riff. it sounds like something out of a hallmark commercial.
the group name was something that came up during the first session, and it has nothing to do with the comic book character, who i wasn’t even aware existed until recently. i was talking to tyson about how otherworldly this music sounded to me, and how i imagined that if someone were to walk into a bar and hear it, they wouldn’t be sure of how to react. “nah,” tyson said. “if you hear this in a bar…you like it, but you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like it.” i ended up putting that quote on the back of the cd. then we got to trying to figure out what to call this new project. “i think the word sinister should be involved somehow,” i said. “it gives me that kind of feeling.” tyson thought for a moment. “how about sini-star?” he said. i told him i wasn’t really feeling that. after another pause he said, “what about mr. sinister?” and i said, “hey…i like that.” and there we had it. i always thought it would be fun to see if we could fool people into believing the vocals really had been performed by a female singer, but i’m not sure it would fly. while the voice doesn’t sound like me at all, it doesn’t sound like any human woman either. but using that effect seemed to inspire me to go places melodically with my voice i wouldn’t normally think of exploring.
this cd is a short one — not much more than half an hour long, so it’s really closer to a healthy ep in length. but i think we were onto something here. i’ve never been able to use the female voice effect on anything else where it’s seemed appropriate, and i don’t think another mr. sinister cd would be possible even if tyson and i tried to make music together again someday, but at least we’ve got this little piece of sandra bullock’s nose to spray our poison into on those long, lonely nights.
mutant prime minister
incognito in austin
psychotic romantic (shoot the shit)
yes i can
genital herpes cured