Oh You This (2003)
this album has always been a bit of a black sheep for me.
it was a first for me in a lot of different ways — the first time i ever thought to try making inserts with proper album art (though i didn’t do a great job of putting it together the first time around); the first time i tried to mesh stripped-down acoustic songs with more full-bodied arrangements (before this album, songs of mine that were acoustic-guitar based were almost always percussion-free, and songs with drums were generally driven by electric guitar or piano…i don’t know why…it was just an approach i stuck with for a good few years); it was the first time i consciously decided to try doing something more interesting with song structure while actually writing the songs, operating almost entirely outside of the realm of all-out improvised freedom where i was normally most comfortable in a recording environment; and it was the first time i put serious effort into avoiding rhyming in the lyrics almost altogether.
it was also the last album i would complete as a teenager. oh, how youth trickles away, like so much spilled generic peach drink.
i had just come off of a frantic period during which i recorded three albums in the space of about five months (BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, TEMPORARY AMNESIA, and KEEP YOUR SCARS). they ended up forming something of a breakup trilogy, which was fitting, since not only were things with the opposite sex not exactly going my way, but my band had just disintegrated. after getting used to the idea of filtering my creative energy through a few other people, i was back to doing everything myself. that was where i had started anyway, so it wasn’t an uncomfortable place to be. i responded to the situation with an insane outpouring of all the ideas i wasn’t able to get the other guys in the band interested in.
while the post-band-breakup trilogy felt like some of my best and most varied work at the time, there was at least one song on each of those albums that made me want to bite through my kneecaps with shame whenever i heard them. now i felt it was time to get serious and make a GREAT ALBUM. in capital letters. with no filler.
as a first step, i picked up some new microphones and preamps that caused the quality of my recordings to improve significantly. while this is a noticeable step down sonically from the things i would go on to do only a year or two later, and a world away from what i’m doing now, at the time it was far above any level of sound quality i ever thought i could hope to achieve.
then i decided that, instead of throwing an album together in a few weeks, i would take more time to put this one together, making sure everything was fully-formed, rejecting anything and everything that felt like it wasn’t top-tier material. i also felt it was time to try and do something a little more interesting and cryptic with the lyrics, after spending such a protracted period of time simply vomiting my self-loathing into song. i spent six months putting it all together here and there, which by my standards of the time was the equivalent of working on an album for about four years.
for the entire time i was working on the album, i was convinced it was going to be my masterpiece, and the one that finally put me “on the map”. the moment it was finished, it sounded like a piece of shit to me and i never wanted to hear it again.
hindsight has revealed that it’s not quite either of those things. it isn’t a masterpiece, but it also isn’t the worst thing i’ve done by any means (LIVE AT SILVERS, JUST TWO GUYS, GUYS WITHOUT TYSON, and a few of the cobbled-together early solo EPs will probably continue to battle it out for that distinction until the end of my days). i still think this is some distance from my best work, and it came out sounding startlingly accessible for all of my avoidance of rhyming and proper choruses — something that disturbed me at the time. i wanted to make challenging music that sounded like nothing i or anyone else had done before. instead, i ended up with something broke no new ground that i could detect, and appealed to a wider group of people than anything else i had done. this in spite of all the rough edges and some seriously bitter lyrics. somewhere, somehow, i felt it had all gone horribly wrong.
it would still be a few months before i finally figured out how to cross-stick properly behind the drums. the vocal performances are not my best moments in front of a microphone. and for all the time i spent working on the thing, i could have done a better mixing job. but there are some things here i have to admit i’ve always been pretty fond of. a blanket shower is one of my most audacious, ambitious, acidic, and flat-out best spoken-word creations of all time. it would be the last thing of its kind i would attempt for years, since it felt like i had surpassed myself in the spoken-word department and there was nowhere left to go.
tracks like lick your own dog free, the recluse falls in love, and mickey rourke’s new face are fairly successful first steps in the direction of the sort of “disjointed non-pop” i would soon be pursuing much more forcefully on albums like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS. soulrot felt like a jazzy voyage into uncharted territory at the time, with two guitar solos that were like nothing i’d ever played on an electric guitar before. and amphetamine rush has grown over the years in my estimation, from filler that i almost left off the album, to what i now think is one of the more interesting songs here, complete with one of the last extended guitar solos i would record for quite some time.
every time i pull this cd out for another listen, which happens maybe once every year or two, my contempt for it fades a little more and i hear something new that i like…along with a few more things that make me wince.
though the lyrics are less spleen-on-sleeve than they had been on the previous several albums, and we’re already a long way from the visceral scream-filled territory of yore only about a year after i tried to rip my vocal cords apart on the final guys with dicks songs, there’s quite a bit of anger here. it isn’t only directed at members of the opposite sex who had toyed with me or friends who had revealed themselves to be little more than “vacant, mooching maggots” (as incandescent so tenderly sums them up). some of it also stems from the sense of deafening indifference i felt from pretty much everyone when it came to my music.
no one would give me a gig anywhere. no one would listen to a cd. no one would give me the time of day. i had been making music for a long time, and i believed there was some worth in what i was doing, but no one else seemed to care. it was depressing, reaching out to people, trying to connect with other artists, and never getting anything back but the sound of crickets chirping.
some people wonder why i’m so “reclusive” now, why i almost never play live, and why i’m not an active part of the local music scene in more conventional ways. what they don’t know is that i tried to be a part of the scene for year. i tried playing the game the same way everyone else does, and i tried networking with gusto (though never with any arrogance or a chip on my shoulder), but it was made very clear to me that no one wanted me there. i didn’t know the right people, and i wasn’t cool enough to justify paying attention to. it got to the point where i began to wonder why i even bothered making music at all. what was the point?
luckily, i had an epiphany one night while listening to some horrible, derivative music that was deemed worthy of attention. initial thoughts of “i’m better than this shit” gradually gave way to the realization that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or if anyone would ever be listening. i make music for myself, because it’s something i need to do. it’s just a part of who i am. if i can capture what’s in my head and create something i feel good about, i’ve succeeded. everything else is gravy.
so i stopped trying to connect with other musicians and songwriters who were too cool to acknowledge me. i stopped trying to get gigs at places like milk and the avalon front that were too cool to acknowledge me. i stopped trying to get cds to radio djs who were too cool to acknowledge me. and i decided i would never again charge anyone money for one of my albums, even if they insisted on paying me. art and commerce would never curl up together in my bed again, and i would never again waste my time and resources sending music to record labels who wouldn’t give me a passing thought even if i paid them to.
it was a freeing feeling.
there’s a lot more to the story, but i’m not going to get into all the gory details here. the point is, this album captures me at a moment when i was just in the process of deciding once and for all to stop caring about what anyone else thought of what i was doing, and to concentrate on simply trying to challenge and satisfy myself musically. i figured out once and for all that i don’t make music to make money or in the hope of achieving recognition; i make music to make music. it took the indifference of everyone in the windsor music scene once upon a time to hammer that home for me.
so, in a way, maybe i owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who ignored and/or slighted me. if it had turned out differently and i hadn’t been met with so much resistance, i might have actually ended up charging money for my cds and playing regular live shows like everyone else. and then where would we be?
all in all, this was an important turning point for me, even if it wasn’t as successful or nearly as jarring as i had hoped for it to be as the first step in the new direction i knew i needed to go. i guess it can be difficult to rewrite your own musical language in one fell swoop, and then to rewrite it all over again, and again, and again, without occasionally needing to stop for gas along the way. if only i had thought to pick up some trashy magazines while i was pulled over…
on a random note, one of my very favourite moments on the whole album has always been the brief “existentialism waltz” bit two minutes or so into mickey rourke’s new face, when the music starts back up again after a few seconds of silence. i don’t know why…i just like it. and at least one person once used this album as make-out music. if that isn’t a selling point, i don’t know what is.
broken & bleeding
lick your own dog free
aura of the insipid
everything you believe in
you will never
a blanket shower
the recluse falls in love
mickey rourke’s new face