foodography.

a little while back i was talking with johnny smith about how much our culinary horizons have broadened in recent years. not to blow our own brass instruments too much, but at this point i think we make quite a few meals at home that rival some of the better dishes we’ve eaten in restaurants.

i thought it would be fun to document some of our creations. so i started doing that, taking the occasional picture with the trusty little pentax point-and-shoot camera i’ve had since this blog’s infancy.

the image at the top of this post is johnny smith’s famous chili. for my money, the only chili in the universe that rivals it is the vegetarian chili they serve at with the grain in guelph. that stuff is godly. all others pale in comparison.

here’s some shrimp linguine. we take the tails off our shrimp. you hear that, lazy restaurant chefs?!

this is one of the roughly five thousand salads i’ve made between the hours of two and five in the morning. i put a picture of one such salad up on facebook a few years ago. to this day it’s the most likes and comments anything i’ve posted has ever generated. share some music you’ve been working on for a long time and are proud of? twelve people like it. share a picture of a salad? it gets a hundred likes.

good old facebook — ridiculous to the last drop.

here’s some jambalaya. the picture doesn’t begin to capture how good it tastes. one of the keys to its power is the honey garlic sausage. you gotta go all-out when you’re making jambalaya.

french toast with strawberries. because why not?

chicken greek salad. do you think we put enough black olives in there?

improvisation on a nicoise salad. take it from me: those fresh artichokes are sex.

salmon salad. i think maybe we like our monstrous salads…

now, here’s where it gets interesting. i snapped a picture of tonight’s dinner with the brand new camera, just for something to do. didn’t dig into any of the manual settings. i was hungry and impatient. i just pointed it at the food, got it in focus, and pulled the trigger.

so here’s steak stir-fry.

the difference in clarity between this and the pentax pictures is blowing my mind a little. i think i like this camera.

so yeah. i guess this is a food blog now, at least until i post something music-related again in a few days.

you’re nine. have some wine.

a few weeks ago this blog turned nine years old. kind of nuts to think next year it’s gonna be ten. WHERE DID ALL THAT TIME GO? WHERE?

i don’t know if there will ever be another year like the first few, when i posted pretty much every other day. those were crazy times. but you never know. i’m just glad i got through those few middle years of being kind of “meh” about the blog and have once again committed to using this as a place to talk to myself. and motivate myself. and dance with myself.

these days i don’t like to go weeks without saying anything here if i can help it. but i had a valid excuse this time, i swear! i was sick.

it never fails. i’ll be ramping up work on something, getting ready to head into the home stretch, and then out of nowhere a mega-cold will knock me out for at least a week or two and mess up my ears for a while, so even doing any significant mixing work is pretty much impossible.

i don’t get sick often (knock on laptop screen). maybe once every year or two. but when i get sick, i get sick. in italics. i’d say about every third album i make, the coughing and sneezing and muffled hearing is bound to come calling before i’m finished, disrupting my momentum.

maybe it’s just my body’s way of giving me a break when i won’t take one on my own. i don’t know.

whatever the case, it’s awfully nice to have my ears back now, and to be able to sing without hacking up a lung. i wish this one time my ears had been given a free pass, because i could have put a huge dent in all that remastering work while recording was out of the question. what can you do?

a couple o’ things that may be interesting:

a day or two before that cold showed up, i was almost finished remastering CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. one of the few songs left to revisit was “95 streets to the right (is where i will find the heart of you)”. and i couldn’t find that song anywhere. the title wasn’t scrawled on any of my backup CDs.

i knew there was no way i didn’t back the song up. it had to be somewhere. for more than a decade now i’ve been backing up everything, whether it’s worth keeping or not. on one backup CD there was something called “dream songs”. when i saw that, i was pretty sure i remembered recording fragments of a few bits of music i remembered from dreams and then, instead of making a new song, just recording “95 streets” there too.

i’ve gone through a lot of different brands of recordable CDs over the years — maxell, TDK, sony, verbatim, ridata, and a host of others i don’t remember offhand. most of them have held up. whether it’s got audio or data on it, i can grab a CD that’s almost twenty years old and know it’ll still work without any issues.

before i started getting taiyo yuden CDs for the most important stuff (and TDK for the slightly less important stuff), i liked verbatim. around 2007 or 2008 they changed the way they made their recordable CDs, and they became pretty glitchy and useless. maybe the printable ones are better. i don’t know. i just know the “regular” kind degraded so much, they were only useful for making rough mixes, and even then i couldn’t play them on most systems because they were more or less defective. i don’t buy those anymore.

you know what’s coming.

for some reason i’ll never understand, i used one of those CDs to back up “95 streets”. as you’d expect, it was toast. it would get halfway through transferring the data back onto the mixer, and then it would freeze up.

i dug through another box of backup CDs and found an alternate, backed up to a different brand. that one worked just fine. right about then i was pretty happy i always back up everything at least twice, just in case one CD goes janky on me.

and hey, i’m getting a new camera tomorrow. that calls for more dancing.

the cheap pentax point-and-shoot and the little flip video cameras have served me well, but it feels like it’s time to step things up a bit.

i almost did this a year ago. i was getting frustrated with how grainy the video i shot with the flip cameras would get in low light situations. more than that, every time i filmed myself talking to the camera i would have to get it very close to my face to get the best, most present sound possible out of the tiny built-in microphone. without a flip screen to show me what the framing was like, i would usually end up cutting off part of the top of my head (sometimes creating the illusion of a receding hairline) or the bottom of my face (leaving my chin feeling shunned). and that drove me nuts, though i learned to live with it.

i did a lot of research, trying to find better cameras that would do better in low light but wouldn’t break the bank. you can spend a ton of money on a great camera. i’m never going to be a real filmmaker. something that costs thousands of dollars would be wasted on someone like me. so i was looking for the best bang for the buck possible.

i found some videos made by ray ortega and was impressed not only by their quality, but by his willingness to share information with viewers. i sent him an email, outlining what i was trying to do and what i was looking for. i didn’t expect to hear back. he wrote a long email in response, making suggestions and giving some very thoughtful advice. (huge thanks go out to him for being so kind and eager to help a stranger.)

then i decided it wasn’t the right time to spend the money. and maybe i wouldn’t know what to do with a better camera anyway. maybe i was fishing outside of my pond. so i sat on it.

with YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK inching closer to the finish line now, i started thinking again about how frustrating it was going to be to try and get the framing right for my narration bits, which will end up forming a pretty large part of the album’s video companion piece. with the few segments i’ve filmed of myself talking so far, sometimes i’ve had to go back and do it again four or five times before i get a take where i’m not cutting some part of my head off or moving out of the frame without meaning to. even using a small mirror to try and see what the camera sees only helps so much.

one suggestion ray made in his email was to use a better camera to film the bits of me talking and any interviews there might be with the other people involved in the making of the album, bumping up the quality of those parts and making for an interesting visual contrast with the older recording footage shot on the flip cameras. the more i thought about that, the more it seemed like a really good idea.

after a lot of mulling it over, i decided a canon T5i was the way to go. it has its fans and its detractors, but for the price and the ability it will give me to take pictures and shoot video at a level of quality far above anything i’ve ever done before, i look at it as a bargain, and almost a no-brainer. plus it’s new. i gave some serious thought to a used canon T3i, but it’s always nice to have a warranty. because you never know.

when it comes to video, i won’t be relying on a built-in camera microphone anymore, either. i grabbed one of these over the weekend.

it’s a zoom H1 microphone/recorder. for such a cheap little thing, the sound quality the H1 captures is pretty outstanding. it’ll be worth the minor inconvenience of mounting it somewhere nearby but out of the camera’s field of vision, dumping the audio on the computer, and syncing it up with the video. another option would be recording my voice in the “studio”, mixing it all proper-like, and using that as the audio. but this will be much simpler and less time-consuming, and still a huge upgrade in sound quality.

so if you notice a marked improvement in the clarity of the self-shot pictures and videos that show up here from time to time, that’s why.

i expect there to be a bit of a learning curve, but i’m looking forward to figuring out how to get the most out of that new camera. and it’s not like the little flip fellas are going anywhere. when i’m shooting in-studio footage they’re still probably going to be the best choice. they’re small enough to position in odd places, i don’t have to worry about knocking them over (it’s happened before, and they don’t seem to care one bit), and it’s easy to forget they’re even there, which hopefully makes other singers and musicians feel a little less self-conscious about being filmed.

some people want to fill the world with spanish love songs.

spanish-love-songs

remastering update: 70 songs down. that would seem like some solid progress — and it is — except for this part: 118 songs still to go. woof. if you’re one of the two or three people i’ve promised a mega package of music to, this is the main reason it’s taking me so long to put it together for you. i want you to hear these albums the way they’re meant to be heard. hopefully it’ll be worth the wait.

discoveries made along the way so far:

  • a piano intro for “do the mountain hop” that was mixed but never used
  • several song ideas/sketches i have no memory of coming up with or recording, hiding before or after the main tracks for various songs, some of which are very much worth revisiting and developing
  • a bit of night ranger’s “sister christian” sung a cappella at the end of “brooke ballentyne claps her hands”, apropos of nothing
  • a bit of “amazing grace” played at the end of “and i failed”, again for no apparent reason
  • a harmony vocal recorded for “random confessions of a failed lothario” but left out of the final mix
  • “what will become of luke perry’s nipples?” begins with me having a foul-mouthed argument with a fax machine that keeps interrupting the take
  • a goofy forgotten a cappella intro to “purgatory waltz”, mixed but never used
  • i double-tracked the vocal for the unlisted track at the end of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN but decided it worked better with just the initial vocal take on its own
  • i kept playing piano through the synth-driven closing sections of “the ass, enchanted with the sound” but muted it in the mix
  • there exists an alternate mix of “weak bladder blues” with stomping and clapping
  • at the end of “the penultimate kiss” a few minutes survive of me working through the music at the piano, trying to figure out how i want to play it and swearing quite a bit along the way
  • “a solution improvised with yellow electrical tape” has both a vocal harmony part (muted in the mix until the final few seconds) and a lead chord organ part, making it appear that i thought about making it an instrumental before the wordless wailing happened
  • at the end of “some things are better left buried”, i recorded two guitar parts for a slowed-down take on “what she wants” (from way back on BEAUTIFULLY STUPID); i was considering dusting that one off at the second mackenzie hall show
  • i recorded a very harmonium-sounding chord organ part for “mismatched socks” that was abandoned when the slide guitar felt like a better accent and the two tracks didn’t want to play together
  • after finishing work on “shoelaces of the world, untie” on new year’s eve, i recorded the piano idea for “evil kid has a square torso”, singing the melody i ended up playing on melodica, and then a few minutes later went ahead and recorded the whole thing good and proper

one or two things aside, i have no memory of any of this stuff. and when it comes to music, my brain doesn’t tend to do a whole lot of forgetting. so it’s been fun digging up all these little surprises.

what else?

yesterday i got down bed tracks for a song called “la noche está viva con la locura de los hombres”, which translates to “the night is alive with the folly of men”. it’s sung entirely in spanish and features tender lyrics about walking naked on the moon and urinating in silence, “as god would do if he drank a lot of beer”. i want to see if i can get someone to play mariachi trumpet on it, because it think that would be hilarious.

AFTERTHOUGHTS landed inside the top ten on earshot’s national folk/blues/roots chart last week. i’m not sure how that’s even possible when CJAM has been the only station in the known universe to get a copy, but the earshot chart don’t lie.

i didn’t find out about this until i got an email from marlo, who counts down the weekly folk/roots/blues chart on a show she hosts over at CJRU in toronto called the rodeo. thanks to her for the tip-off, and for playing “dorsal venous” on her show.

the heart and the brain.

heart-and-brain

on this, the ninth valentine’s day the blog has seen, i think a love song is in order. and no, it’s not the one some unknown person was screaming somewhere nearby a little before dawn that went, “I HATE YOU, WHORE” — you had to be here to appreciate that little ditty.

this song was written for GIFT FOR A SPIDER but went unrecorded for a year or two. it just might be the most tender thing i’ve ever written, with gooey, heartwarming lines like, “for now, you can hide how ugly you are, but the makeup won’t stay on. it always runs when you cry — assuming you cry.”

i’m content to have no inspiration to write songs like this anymore, but i can’t say i don’t get a kick out of the venom. who says awful, soul-destroying, toxic relationships that last all of four weeks aren’t good for something?

one day all your weapons will be useless

ain’t got time to work out a place to be.

crumb-patton

this whole remastering thing is a slow slog. but man, is it ever worth the tediousness.

if you’ve heard THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE, you probably know this song. it’s one of several that’s got quite a bit of clipping going on.

weak bladder blues (original 2008 master)

here’s what it sounds like now, and what it always should have sounded like.

weak bladder blues (2017 remaster)

to say the song is easier on the ears in this quieter form goes beyond being an understatement, and flirts with chuck norris levels of truthiness. i can’t believe i ever found a way to justify letting all that clipping happen just for a little extra loudness. nothing like that will ever happen again on my watch.

for anyone who might be mastering their own music at home and wrestling with the question of whether or not they should over-compress it or introduce unnatural digital distortion in exchange for some additional volume, i offer the above as an audio add-on to my strongest recommendation that you stay away from that slippery slope altogether. concentrate on getting things to sound as good and dynamic as you can, without any consideration given to loudness at all. if anyone is miffed that they have to turn your music up a little louder than some of the other albums in their collection or they don’t want to listen to your stuff if it means they have to spend two seconds making a slight volume adjustment, well…you don’t really want people who are that goofy listening to your music anyway, do you?

as for the picture there, that’s a colourized panel from robert crumb’s patton — a retelling of the life of delta blues legend charley patton. a few historical inaccuracies aside, it must be one of the best comic strips crumb’s ever created. it’s difficult to find in printed form for anything like a reasonable price, but you can read it over here.

eighty eight keys and some lies.

mickey-piano

the piano shows up in the things i’m recording all the time in a textural role, but it’s been a long while since it operated as any kind of consistent musical driving force. i think you might have to go back to MEDIUM-FI MUSIC to find the last album where the piano provided the guts for more than a song or two.

i’m not sure it’s as simple as not being able to bring the upright upstairs where a lot of ideas are born. for some reason i just don’t seem to sit down at the piano and wander as much as i used to. i don’t know why. there’s really no excuse for that. it’s not as if i don’t keep the beast in-tune.

i thought it was about time something changed there. so i’ve been making a point of recording more piano songs lately. here’s one of ’em.

alien eggs

even if it ends up on an album, i don’t think sharing this one is giving much away. a naked tiny song is all it is. but sometimes i like those naked little tunes. and sometimes the heat comes on near the end of one such tune, a clicking sound is made, and the piano mics pick it up, but you like the performance enough to live with the click. this is one of those times.

the first verse is about mockingbirds. did you know some of them lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, and then their offspring bully any other young occupants out of the nest and steal their food, leaving the adults with no choice but to raise them as their own? i find that fascinating, and kind of horrifying.

the second verse is about being a self-aware organic compound derived from sugar. a state of being we all think about from time to time, yes?

dig.

calvin-and-hobbes

i’ve been slowly getting back into that remastering thing. i think i’ve got about 30 songs done now, with another 140 or so to go. yikes.

one of the most interesting things about doing this has been uncovering little bits of things i had no memory of — ideas and false starts hidden between the keeper tracks. did you know “purgatory waltz” on MEDIUM-FI MUSIC was once meant to begin with an insane discordant a cappella waltz? me neither! i don’t remember recording that at all. but it’s right there, mixed down and everything. makes me wonder what else is hiding between the cracks.

those surprises have carried over to non-solo music. i thought i’d dump a few of the ideas steve and i came up with during the AFTERTHOUGHTS sessions onto a CD — things we didn’t develop beyond initial rough recordings — just to have them all in one place. i knew there were at least a few of them.

combined with a few garageband demos i made of songs that did get fleshed out but didn’t make the cut for one reason or another, those ideas take up almost an hour of CD time. that’s bonkers. squirreled away on various backup CDs are a dozen or so sketches i can’t even remember us recording. what’s more, i think almost all of them are really good, and well worth returning to.

never have i been happier about the impulse to throw a microphone up in the middle of the room every time one of us comes up with a random riff that feels like it might someday have the potential to turn into something. if i didn’t make a habit of doing that, almost all of these ideas would be lost. instead, we’ve probably got a decent chunk of a new album here in embryonic form.

the lesson is simple: donald trump’s hair will one day become self-aware and autonomous. and then we’re all in trouble.

one more thing that isn’t as much of a surprise, though i guess it can go here too: i think i’ve probably mentioned before that i feel like it takes me at least a good year after an album is finished before i can unplug from it enough to hear it semi-objectively and form some idea of where it fits into the bigger picture. it’s still as true as it ever was.

about a week ago i threw STEW on and listened to it all the way through for probably the first time in six months or so. i knew i was proud of that album before, but i think this was the first time i was able to hear it as more of an impartial listener, and not so much as “the guy who recorded it and is always on some level listening for things he could have done better”. and man…i think we did good.

one of the great things about there being such a long break between KISSING THE BALD SPOT and the work we’re doing now is the way it throws into very sharp relief just how much we’ve grown. with my own work, especially when i’m in the middle of one of those “putting out several albums a year” phases (which hasn’t happened in a while, but i have a feeling another one is around the corner), you tend to hear things shift in a more incremental way. here it’s like going from beat-up old VHS tapes to blurays in one shot.

i feel like STEW is going to be hard to top. when all the dust has cleared, that one might go down as the best papa ghostface album there ever was. but i dig where the next one is heading too. with greg on board to make the cover art again, at the very least it’s guaranteed to be visually striking. i really like the idea of making his art a running theme with this grownup papa ghostface music.

sound the alarm.

fire-alarm-2

dave konstantino’s revolution rock radio show and its companion blog have both been around longer than this blog of mine, which is coming up on its ninth birthday next month. dave just posted some thoughts about AFTERTHOUGHTS, along with a funny story about a renegade fire alarm forcing the entirety of the album onto the airwaves in one shot. a sly cosmic joke directed at its absence from the charts, or a simple fluke? you be the judge.

thanks to dave for the kind words. and thanks to the fire alarm for apparently being a fan.

i now know why the album failed to chart. it had nothing to do with a lack of airplay. it’s a bit of a strange feeling when you find out a twelve-year run of being a mainstay in the top 30 has ended with some of the best music you’ve been involved in getting shafted because one specific person didn’t care enough to place it in the on-air library at any time in a span of more than three months (and counting), rendering it ineligible to chart.

and that’s all i’m going to say on that subject.

elsewhere, zara’s album is finished, assuming she’s happy with the way it sounds. now i can finally get back to work on making slick, game-changing pop music like this.

the ongoing adventures of a humble, sex-starved dishwasher

2016, you elbowed my spleen.

boxing

i’m not sure how it’s 2017, and yet another year has gone to the graveyard of years.

2016 was another one of those years in which i didn’t get as much accomplished — or finished, at least — as i hoped. but looking back at it, maybe it was a little more productive than i thought. at least three major projects saw the light of day: natalie’s album (which i recorded and played a lot of things on), the first O-L west album (a tag-team effort with steve), and ron’s new album (which i got to play a small supporting role on). and a good amount of meaningful work was done on other things that didn’t hit the finish line.

i think you’re supposed to outline your goals at the beginning of each new year, and then you’ll be visited by three spirits in various stages of undress. at least that’s what the fortune cookie told me. so, some goals for 2017:

  • finish YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. i think i’m in a place now where i can finally take that one off the back burner and give it the attention it deserves. there are a few more people i’d like to try and get over here to contribute some playing or singing, but most of the work that’s left now is just stuff i need to do on my own.
  • finish THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. yeah. i know. but i need to finish that beast someday, and it’s not an impossible job.
  • compile a second volume of out-takes and misfits. there’s a ton of material for a collection that would pick up where the last one left off, stretching from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to the present.
  • finish off the next papa ghostface album. that one’s coming along pretty nicely and shouldn’t be too difficult to tie up in the next twelve months.
  • take care of the rest of that whole “remastering a bunch of albums that were mastered too loud the first time” thing i started with good intentions and then abandoned when all the protracted construction noise got to be too much.
  • maybe make good on the occasional threat to write an album that returns to the “avoiding repetition and rhyming at all costs” approach.
  • never trim the beard again (this won’t happen, but still).
  • contemplate the mysteries of life.

i think most of that is doable.

the ideal thing would be to get at least four albums finished for the year, two of which have been a while in the making. of course, as we all know, announcing your plans is a good way to hear several giant pastries laugh at you.

’tis the season to be seasonal.

three-piece

that whole “blog heating up at the end of the year” thing hasn’t really happened. sleep demons have been doing their energy-sapping thing, and there hasn’t been a whole lot to report. there are at least a few bits of things that resemble news, though.

the next papa ghostface album is farther along than i thought it was. a lot farther along. we’ve got eleven songs recorded in one form or another. some still need work. others just need their mixes tweaked a little. and there are quite a few songs we’ve been playing around with and talking about recording, where all we need to do is sit down and…you know…record them.

between what’s already been recorded, what’s yet to be recorded, and whatever surprises fall out along the way, i think we’re headed for an album that’s a little more sprawling than STEW was. and you know how i like to sprawl.

some of those surprises are already showing up. a few days ago i was mixing a solo song. i felt this urge to slather the acoustic guitar in a thick, chewy chorus effect. i knew it wasn’t right for the song, but i liked the way it sounded. thought it might be worthwhile to try building a different song around that effect.

my brain has a habit of taking thoughts like that and running with them before i can even get my shoes on. that happened again here. i came up with a chord progression that was a little bit wonky, a song more or less wrote itself around those chords and the sound of the chewy chorus effect, similarly chewy effects were added to most of the other tracks (i think the bass was the only thing i left alone), and once gord added some insane textural noise guitar to put the musical cherry on top, i mixed it and it was done.

i’m not going to post it here. don’t want to give too many surprises away. but i can tell you it doesn’t sound like anything that was on the last album. on some level i think it was a challenge i set for myself, to see if i could take the music in a really off-kilter, more psychedelic direction, far away from the dark folky thing. given how successful it was, i’d like to try and channel that energy into some of the other songs and aim for a less accessible album with some more out-there production touches.

we’ll see how that goes.

right now i’m working on finishing up the mixes for zara’s album. for a hot minute there it looked like i might be adding a lot more in the way of instrumentation and musical ideas to this one. now i’m not contributing anything at all. i guess some people just want their music to be them and them alone, unadulterated. i don’t think i’m really the guy you want to go to for that sort of thing. there are other people in the city who are better choices for straight acoustic recordings, at least in my opinion. but i can do it, if it’s what the artist wants. so that’s what i’m doing.

i imagine she’ll want to wait to put it out there until she’s got a CD release show lined up. so look for that one early in the new year, probably.

once my work is done there, the plan is to plow straight into finishing up YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. it’s about time that thing got all its loose ends tied up. i’d say, “expect it to emerge sometime in the spring,” but every time i try to carve out a timeline for something it seems to blow up in my face. maybe i should start wearing a protective mask.

at least there’s no shortage of stuff to work on. between SLEEPWALK, zara’s album, the next papa ghostface album, THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE (remember that thing?), a second collection of out-takes and misfits, a projected album of songs that return to the “avoid repetition and anything that resembles a conventional song structure at all costs” way of writing, getting back to working on ron’s next album in the new year, whatever happens next with the O-L west, and whatever else might pop up along the way, i’ve got my hands pretty full.

i wonder what the vegas odds are on which albums get finished first…