Silly typos, lyric booklets are for kids.

YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK is somehow already at #3 on the CJAM charts, even though not a lot of DJs have had it long enough to give it much airplay yet. I’m a little surprised to see it debut so high.

There are a few other new albums being released right now by local artists with much higher profiles than mine. I have a twisted premonition that this will be the first thing I’ve done in years to never make it to #1 and in the weeks ahead it’ll get repeatedly lodged in the second or third spot behind the cool kids. Given all that’s transpired over the last little while, it would be kind of fitting to be on the outside looking in.

I’ll find out if my hunch is correct soon enough.

Also, if you got one of the first copies of SLEEPWALK, I owe you an apology. In spite of all the painstaking proofreading I subjected myself to, I still managed to miss two mistakes in the initial run of booklets. They’re two things most people will probably never notice — a missing bit of punctuation at the end of one song, and one printed word that isn’t the word being sung (though it sounds like it could be).

That I would forget a line in one of my own songs gives you an idea of how long I lived with this music and how much I had to try and keep in my head. I had dreams about screwing up the packaging even after I knew everything was fine. It took a while before I could relax and stop worrying about some other boneheaded blunder hiding in plain sight.

(One thing that looks like it might be an oversight is a deliberate stylistic choice. The word “Bible” appears in two different songs. In “Wherever the Lord May Be” I meant it in the literal, Old Testament sense, so I capitalized it. In “Losing Light” the phrase “black-eyed bible” refers to the unreliable words of some unsavoury characters. In that case it felt more appropriate to forego the capital B.)

Invisible though the typos may be to the naked and partially-clothed eye, I’m always a little miffed when these things sneak through. But I guess I have to accept human error creeping in once in a while. One wrong word and a missing period does hurt a little less than some of my hits of the past like “bilss” and “electic guitar”.

I made the necessary corrections and had more booklets made. If you’re one of the lucky few to receive one of the typo-enhanced copies, you now own a collector’s item.

No need to thank me. It’s what I do.

Now my heart is full.

It’s everyone’s favourite Hallmark holiday today, and you know what that means — time for a gooey song about holding hands and learning to understand while wearing a single leather glove and opening an umbrella to shield yourself from some stuff that’s falling from above.

I’ve kind of had my fill of love songs. Given how little there is left to say that hasn’t already been said on the subject, I thought I might provide a useful service to the world by writing a one-size-fits-all love song so no one else would ever have to write another uninspired variation on the theme.

This was one of the last things slated for inclusion on YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK to find itself on the chopping block. It’s one of my favourite songs that didn’t make it onto the album. I felt like I never quite got the arrangement right, I wanted to take another crack at singing it, and in the end time constraints kept it from finding a place on either disc.

I dumped it back onto the mixer this afternoon because I thought it would be a fun thing to polish off and share on the day before Half-Price Chocolate Day. I was a little surprised to find I liked the arrangement just fine after some time away from it and didn’t feel I could do a whole lot to improve on the existing vocal take. The mix is a bit of a quickie job, and I’ll probably fine-tune it a little, but it feels good enough to share.

Turn the lights down low, pour yourself a glass of onion juice, and let the love in.

This Is an Overwrought Love Song

This is an overwrought love song
written for someone who doesn’t exist,
given a name and attributes
broad enough to allow you to project
the likeness of just about anyone
and whatever feelings you have for them
onto this uninspired canvas so you can tell yourself
the words were written just for you.

Well, if this song were a small town,
it would have a population of a hundred and nine,
and all of the people who lived there
would dream up poetic ways to pass the time,
like finding a name for a fragrance impossible to articulate.
And that’s the smell of the person you love,
whoever they may be.

Maybe you’d call it deceptive.
Maybe you’d say it was something sweet
with the breath of menace inside it —
a metaphor for something you weren’t wise enough

to recognize when it might have done you some good.
And now the song has grown bitter.
But you’re bitter too, so it’s nothing offensive or jarring.

Now this is the part where a new melody
is introduced to keep you engaged.
The setting has changed but your clothes are the same.
There’s a lazy trope you can hang your hat on.
The music conveys a hint of regret,
but it hasn’t collapsed into self-pity yet.
That’s another song for another time.
You won’t find it here.
It’s not one of mine.

And here’s where a key change would happen
if I cared enough to engage in histrionics
common to the artistic vernacular,
employed in moments such as these,
but this is an overwrought love song
written for an idealized, nonexistent subject,
and if they were real a last-minute key change
wouldn’t appeal 
to their sensibilities.
So fuck all that.

This wasn’t really a love song, was it?

You’re just filler, ’til the real thing comes along.

If you get a copy of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK (which has now been officially “released”, to the extent that I release anything anymore), you might notice a link in the liner notes to the album’s video companion.

My goal was to have a DIY documentary-like thing edited before the album was finished so both could go live at the same time. If I had two brains I might have been able to pull it off. As it stands, some segments have been edited, but there’s still a bit of work left to do. I need to record some more voiceover material, film a few more things, make a few more choices about what to use and how to use it (I’m working with something like sixty hours of raw footage), and try to get Bono to sit down for an interview so I can pour a pint of Guinness on his head.

I should have everything finished in a week or two. In the meantime, here’s a little teaser/placeholder video so the URL will actually link to something.

Adventures in drum recording.

I got the chance to record a real drum set for the first time in late 1999. I piled most of my gear into the car one afternoon and brought it over to Gord’s friend Andrew’s place. The three of us became “Papa Ghostface and Friend” for a day and recorded two songs that found a home on the HERE COMES TROUBLE EP. I stuck a Shure SM57 in front of Andrew’s kick drum, put up another SM57 as a mono overhead, and that was it.

My next experiment in drum recording came in early 2000 while working on what was supposed to be a full-length Soul Crossing album. This time I used four mics — an SM57 on the kick, another pointing at the bottom of the snare, and two more dynamic mics serving as stereo overheads (an SM58 and a cheap RadioShack mic). I couldn’t believe how much more depth the sound had with just a few more microphones added to the mix.

I bought my own drum set in the summer of 2000 and started using a similar four-microphone setup, with the snare mic’d from the top and the kick mic leaning against the shell of the resonant head. I only had three mic stands, so I had to improvise. One overhead mic came in from above the high-hat. The other was situated near the ride cymbal. I had no preamps, no compression, and no idea what I was doing, but the results sounded pretty good to me.

Things got more chaotic when I found myself in band situations. For a few years those four dynamic microphones were all I had. I was recording everything live off-the-floor, with only the occasional overdub. When I needed something to sing into, the drums had to take a hit. Sometimes I would stick a single SM57 in front of the kit and hope for the best. Sometimes I could spare another mic or two. When I recorded someone else’s band, I used anywhere from two to six microphones. It was always changing depending on the nature of the music, how many extra mics they had to lend to the cause, and whatever limitations were imposed by the space we were recording in.

After trying out a few different two-mic configurations with Tyson in the GWD days, I settled on one SM57 for an overhead (we called it the “crotch mic” for obvious reasons) and another on the beater side of the kick drum. The trick was not pointing the second mic at the kick. Instead, I placed it at a ninety-degree angle so it picked up some snap from the snare. Those two mics captured a surprisingly balanced sound with a lot of character.

That wonky setup lasted longer than most, carrying over to the three solo albums I made after the band broke up. By the time of OH YOU THIS I felt it was time to start using a few more microphones again. I picked up a Rode NT1 and an NT4 stereo mic. The ART preamps and Aphex compressor I’d been using for the two-mic approach were usurped by two DBX 576 preamps and a 1046 compressor. I recorded acoustic guitar tracks with the NT4 and sang into the NT1. Then I moved the NT1 across the room, aimed it at the kick drum, used the NT4 as an overhead mic, and stuck an SM57 on the snare.

With just a touch of EQ and compression, I felt like this was the tightest drum sound I’d ever managed to get. The best part was how easy it was to dial in, with the stereo overhead mic eliminating phase issues. The sound got even tighter when I picked up an AKG D112 before recording BRAND NEW SHINY LIE, removed the resonant head from my kick drum, stuck a blanket inside, and messed with the tuning a little. Having a dedicated kick mic made my life a little simpler, and I got more “air” in the overheads when I moved the NT4 to the other side of the drum kit so it was pointed at me, where before I had it looking down at the drums from my perspective.

I was content with all of this until I upgraded my mic preamps again after finishing THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET and started hearing what was really going on. All at once those Rode mics stopped doing it for me. I bought an AEA R88 stereo ribbon mic without knowing much about it, since I liked the convenience of being able to stick a single mic in front of the drums, filling in the rest by spot-mic’ing the kick and snare.

Before I could try out my new three-microphone setup, a trio of drug dealers moved in next door and partied nonstop for seven months, robbing me of my ability to record anything. The R88 sat in its carrying case, wrestling with troubling existential questions. I didn’t unsheathe it for the first time until after we moved into this house.

When the R88 finally did come out of its case, I learned the swivel mount attachment it came with was defective. I screwed the mic into a heavy duty boom stand, tried it in front of the drum kit, and almost fell over. I heard the sound of my drums in my room, with a three-dimensional quality that didn’t exist in any recording I’d made before. There was no need for a close mic to reinforce anything. I took the SM57 off the snare and sold my AKG D112.

It took me an album or two to get a good handle on how I needed to play if I wanted to get the most out of using just a stereo front-of-kit mic. A lot of the drumming habits I developed over the years weren’t going to work anymore. I had to lay off the cymbals and simplify my approach. I was always a quiet drummer, but now I found the softer I played the more the tone seemed to open up. I got some of my best sounds using brushes. When I did play with sticks, I started keeping a brush or a mallet in one hand so I could hit the crash with a lighter touch.

The Great River MP-2NV gave me all the gain I needed to drive the R88. I added some high frequency EQ on my mixer to compensate for the ribbon mic’s rolloff at 8k and 20k. Then I got an A-Designs Hammer tube EQ in the middle of recording CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, started using that in place of the digital EQ, and almost fell over a second time.

I’ve been recording my drums this way for twelve years now. Every once in a while I’ll put up a large diaphragm condenser as a distant room mic if I want to add some extra ambience or a weird effect, and I’ve recorded a few brushed snare parts with an LDC up close, but that doesn’t happen often. Most of what you hear on every album I’ve made since 2008 is just the stereo ribbon mic in front of the drums. I’ve stuck with the same approach on albums I’ve recorded for other artists. I wouldn’t have a problem putting more microphones on the kit if someone wanted me to, but no one’s ever asked.

I’m the only person who’s played drums on any of those albums, which is pretty funny to me. This way of recording forces you to “mix” your own playing, since there are no close mics to compensate for whatever might be off. A surprising amount of people seem to have trouble controlling their dynamics. But that isn’t the reason no one else has sat on the drum throne for anything I’ve recorded since 2002.

It’s because I’m the only one who shows up to play.

When I was making final adjustments to a few mixes for YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK, I started thinking the drums sounded kind of anemic. It was a strange thing to experience after being happy with the sound I was getting for so long. It wasn’t even based on anything I was hearing. It was my brain’s way of trying to find something wrong with the album. I was having a hard time processing the idea of finishing something I’d been working on for almost a fifth of my life.

That lasted about two days. Then I came to my senses. I think I’ve heard too many soulless modern recordings where the drums are pumped-up and sound-replaced to within an inch of their lives. Sometimes you get it in your head that drums are supposed to sound that way all the time, even when you know better.

Before that weird little brain blip, I was thinking about making a change. After twelve years of recording drums this way — by far the longest I’ve ever stuck with a single approach — maybe it wouldn’t hurt me to put a few more mics in front of the kit again. The single-mic method has taught me a lot about subtlety, and I’m a big fan of the naturalistic approach, but sometimes you want a harder-hitting sound.

I did some experimenting on Wednesday. I tried out a few different things before settling on an over-the-shoulder position for the R88. I pointed an SM57 at the snare drum for the first time in fifteen years. In the absence of an AKG D112, I tried a Sennheiser 421 on the kick.

The first thing I noticed was how much sound I was getting from the R88. It was insane how vividly it captured every part of the drum kit no matter where I put it. Once I brought the snare and kick mics into the mix, it started sounding like a record.

And I hated it.

I wasn’t expecting that. The bigger, punchier sound was what I thought I wanted. As soon as the close mics came into play, I felt all the great dynamics the overheads captured starting to get choked and flattened out. More than anything, I missed all the space that lives in the sound when the R88 is out in front of the drums. This more traditional configuration sounded artificial in a way that didn’t appeal to me at all. I could have moved the mics around some more, but it wouldn’t have made much difference. I found out what I needed to know.

I moved the R88 back where it belonged.

Conclusions? I’ve got a few.

The AEA R88 is one serious microphone. Easily one of the best recording-related investments I’ve ever made. I haven’t begun to scratch the surface of its potential by limiting it to drum-recording applications, but no other combination of mics I’ve used has ever done a better, more honest job of reproducing the sound of my drum set.

A conventional, “produced” drum sound doesn’t work for my music anymore. It isn’t what I want to hear. I’m not sure if it’s because of what my ears have grown accustomed to or the specific aesthetic I’ve developed, but it’s inescapable. My drum sound has become — quite literally — the sound of my drums.

I guess I’m sticking with what works.

Proof of concept.

I hold in my hands a proof.

Okay, so I’m holding it in one hand between my thumb and a few fingers. And I’m not holding it right now. But I was holding it when I took this picture with my free hand.

I’ve been designing my own CD inserts and booklets for seventeen years. While I wouldn’t call myself a professional graphic designer, by now I have a pretty good handle on how to get the most out of the format. I’ve even taken care of the layout side of things for a few of the albums I’ve recorded for other people (Ron’s album is the most recent example). You only need to look at the first-issued versions of OH YOU THIS and BRAND NEW SHINY LIE to understand how unlikely it was that anyone else would ever trust me to do this for them. I have no idea how I got here.

I enjoy this stuff. I enjoyed it even before I knew what I was doing. I know a lot of people don’t bother to read album liner notes or lyric booklets anymore. I know sometimes you just want to let the music wash over you with your eyes closed in the dark, shutting out the rest of the world. But having something visual to explore can add another layer to the listening experience. A lot of my favourite music was first absorbed while reading the lyrics so my eyes could follow along with what I was hearing. I’m not sure if the music would have had the same impact on me if I’d listened to it in a different way.

This is one of the reasons the whole digital distribution thing doesn’t cut it for me. Bandcamp allows you to include collapsible lyrics for each song you upload, but it isn’t the same as holding a physical album in your hands and digging into its guts for whatever secrets it might contain. I have no idea how many listeners bother to read my lyric booklets. Maybe no one does. It doesn’t really matter. I like making them for selfish reasons.

I can’t say I’ve ever made a lyric booklet quite like this one. It’s full of art that plays off of the words. Putting it together was a real challenge. I had to find a way to fit all the words and images into a booklet that wouldn’t be too thick to get inside of a jewel case. The number of pages had to be divisible by four. My first finished draft ran thirty-two pages. With a little massaging, I was able to get it down to twenty-eight. The text couldn’t be too large, but it had to be easy enough to read. Some images needed to bleed right through to the edges of the page, with no white space around them. There needed to be musician credits after each song. I used one font for the outer layer and another for the body text in the booklet. Those two fonts needed to be able to play off of each other. I had to get creative with the spacing to make everything work.

You can make something look good on a computer screen, but you never know how it’s going to translate until you see it on a bunch of pages stapled together. I was a little worried this one would come out looking like a lumpy mess until Joe (who has become my main man at Herald Press) called on Thursday to tell me the proof was ready.

“How does it look?” I asked him. “Do you think I laid everything out okay?”

“I think it looks pretty damn good,” he said.

He was right. It’s pretty powerful to see everything put together. This is going to sound strange, but reading the booklet hammers home for me just how much time and care went into making this thing in a way listening to it doesn’t. It isn’t just a bunch of music and words. It’s something more than that.

I made some boneheaded typos. My brain has this habit of compensating for the odd missing word, and sometimes it causes me to miss what’s missing. I wish there was a switch I could flip to turn that off. It’s a convenient cerebral function when you’re reading someone else’s words. Not so much when you want to make sure your own work is solid. More than once I’ve had to pay for a booklet to be printed twice when I failed to catch a mistake until it was too late. I’m hoping to avoid that this time.

One of the nice things about having a proof is getting another chance to catch what’s amiss. I might have been able to live with giving myself credit for playing tambourine on a song that doesn’t feature any tambourine in the final mix or forgetting to credit myself with playing shaker on a song that does feature the instrument, but it would have been pretty embarrassing if I never noticed how I somehow managed to list two songs on the back insert in reverse order.

As impatient as I am, I’d rather have things put together a day or two later than planned instead of rushing the process and letting these mistakes slip through the cracks. I have to say I’m usually a lot better at catching most of these stragglers before a proof is even made. Then again, I’ve rarely dealt with anything close to this amount of text in a lyric booklet. It’s beyond tedious to go through each page over and over again at a snail’s pace, but it’ll all be worth it when I’ve got a stack of error-free booklets and inserts in front of me a week or so from now.

A brand new thing dressed as a memory.

Two months shy of six years after I first started work on it, YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK is finished. Over the next few days I’m going to proofread my art files for the booklets and inserts until my eyeballs liquefy. Then I’m getting them printed and bringing this baby home while it screams at me and throws up on my shoulder.

It usually takes me at least a few months after the completion of an album before I’m able to listen to it in something approaching an impartial state. I get the feeling it’s going to take a little longer with this one. I feel good about the sequence I settled on. I think it strikes a nice balance between unpredictability and plotting out a clear sonic and emotional arc. But it’s very strange to hear all of these songs together in one place after all this time, and it’s beyond strange to think of the album as a finished thing. I don’t think the reality of it is going to sink in until I’m holding the first official artwork-enhanced copy in my hands.

There’s always some minor snag or curve ball that comes along to slow me down when I’m gearing up to finish an album. Sometimes an essential piece of equipment dies on me right when I need it the most. Sometimes my immune system says, “Oh, you wanted to accomplish something? Here’s some sickness! Good luck hearing through six layers of snot!” Sometimes a pony gets the blues.

This time I couldn’t seem to make a master copy of the album that didn’t have a few glitches in it somewhere. The external CD burner I’m using has never let me down before, but it’s eleven years old now. It makes sense that it would start to break down after how hard I’ve worked it in that time.

I went out and bought a new external burner. It worked like a charm. I burned a disc, gave it a listen, and didn’t hear any glitches, but it sounded…off somehow. The high frequencies seemed to be exaggerated in an almost imperceptable way.

I was reminded of the time I tried about five different brands of recordable CDs when I was making copies of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN and every one of them sounded different to me. For all I know, my brain convinced my ears I was hearing something that wasn’t there at all. And maybe that’s what happened again with this CD burner. It doesn’t make any sense that two copies of the exact same recordable media would sound different just because they came out of two different optical drives.

It’s a subtle difference. It might be an imaginary difference. But if I went ahead and made a bunch of copies of the album with that perceived change in sound and then shared them with other people, it would bother me for the rest of my life.

One thing led to another, and I discovered my crusty old CD burner wasn’t the problem at all. It was the CDs themselves. I’ve been lucky over the years and haven’t had to deal with too many “coasters” (a common slang term for defective discs), but I finally ended up with some duds at the bottom of a spindle.

Here’s the irony of it all: my recordable CDs of choice for twelve years now have been JVC-branded Taiyo Yudens. A different company took over the production of these CDs a few years ago. I read a lot of horror stories about a dramatic drop-off in quality control. So I bought up as much old stock as I could while it was still available. A lot of people consider CDs to be a dying medium, and reliable media is getting more and more difficult to come by. I only ended up with a few batches of the dreaded CMC-branded Taiyo Yuden discs when the one store I found that still had some of the JVC-made ones ran out and sent me the new guys instead.

The dodgy CDs? They were my trusty old TYs. I tried some of the new ones just to see what would happen. The glitches disappeared.

Burn burn, spin spin, oh what a relief it’s been.

I was determined to fit fifty songs onto these two CDs. I almost pulled it off, until two songs found themselves on the cutting room floor very late in the game. Every other song that made it onto the album earned its place there. Losing even one of them would knock over the whole chain of dominoes. These two tracks, though — they could go and I wouldn’t miss them. It was a good thing they were expendable, because once I dropped them I had just enough space to cram everything onto two CDs.

Since they don’t really give away any surprises, here are those two last-minute outtakes.

I’ve talked a bit before about the experience of writing songs for other voices. It isn’t something I plan on doing again after this. I’m pretty sure at least two-thirds of the grey hair now living in my beard is a direct result of being given the long-distance runaround by so many flighty and uninterested singers. Most of the people I had in mind to sing the vocal parts I didn’t want to handle myself aren’t even on the album. Almost all of my first, second, and third choices expressed at least some interest in working with me only to turn to dust when I tried to make concrete plans with them.

I’m not at all disappointed it worked out this way. I was forced to get creative and reach out to people I might not have thought to contact otherwise, and now I can’t imagine anyone else in place of the featured guest vocalists who are on the album. I think the songs were ultimately sung by the singers who were meant to sing them.

Being able to see the positive side doesn’t negate the mind-numbing frustration I had to endure. I’ve got stories galore. Some of them are so bizarre you’d be forgiven for thinking I made them up.

I’ll save all that stuff for a post that digs into the making of the album and all its songs in a week or two. Trust me — it’ll be worth the wait.

I only mention any of this here because the first of these outtakes is one of those things I wrote with someone else’s voice in mind. I was thinking of a singer who sounds a bit like Frazey Ford. I tried to emulate that when I recorded the demo, with mixed results.

The Inverse Is Also True (demo)

I wrote an instrumental section to graft onto the beginning, worked out a horn arrangement both for that part and for the body of the song, and brought in Kelly Hoppe to play it. When I told him my lead vocal was a scratch track and I planned on replacing it with someone else’s voice, he said, “I like your singing on this one. You should keep it.”

After a year of trying and failing to get the singer I was communicating with to commit to anything, I decided Kelly was right and recorded a more serious vocal track of my own.

The Inverse Is Also True

There are a number of things on the album that thumb their noses at the conventional rules of song construction. This song does that too, but it was the one instance in which I felt I could see the seams between the disparate sections a little better than I wanted to.

I like the intro. It was inspired in equal part by the simple, declarative, powerful melodic statements John Coltrane made at the beginning of some of his songs (“Seraphic Light” comes to mind) and the brief, mournful saxophone interlude in the middle of David Bowie’s “Sweet Thing” suite on the album Diamond Dogs. I was trying to capture something of that quality when I wrote the melody Kelly darts around on tenor sax. I like that a lot of the singing is pretty high in my range without dipping much into the falsetto register, at least until the last section. But I can’t shake the feeling that I never quite nailed the lead vocal, and I couldn’t come up with a smooth transition between the final fading sax harmonies and the piano-driven coda.

It just felt a little too thin to me when I held it up against the other songs. And it seems appropriate that I would take what might have been one of the catchier moments on the album and chuck it right out the window.

Here’s a bit of video (from the time of Maximum Beardage, no less) demonstrating the outrageous difference in richness between my initial synth-sax guide track and the real thing.

The other last-minute cast-off is a much simpler affair. It’s not quite a fragment or a full-length song. It lives somewhere in-between those two poles.

A Will to Love (demo)

I went through a few different arrangements for this one before settling on something a little more pared-down. There are handclaps and lap steel tracks that didn’t make it into the final mix, among other things. I thought about getting a few people together for some group vocals at the end, but by this time my patience for being strung along was at a pretty low ebb. I’m still not sure if I should have left in that random drum flourish at the end or cut things off right before it happens.

The main acoustic guitar used here is a 1932 Washburn 5200. It’s not an axe I pull out often — it’s in a somewhat weird C tuning that only works for certain things — but when I do I’m always reminded how well it records. It puts out a lot of sound for such a small-bodied instrument. And it’s got the nicest smell to it. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s sweet without being saccharine. I’ve never experienced a fragrance quite like it with any other guitar I’ve held in my hands.

A Will to Love

Self-portrait in silhouette.

Announcing your plans is a good way to hear God laugh. So said Al Swearengen in the first season of Deadwood. As much truth as there is in that sentiment — and as often as I’ve set goals for myself only to fall short of achieving them — it’s still fun to start a new year on an optimistic note.

These are the things I hope to finish in the year of perfect vision.

Year of the Sleepwalk

This one’s a no-brainer. I have one mix left to work on. Once that’s out of the way and the mastering is taken care of, I can go ahead and get booklets and inserts printed. Everything should be done by the end of this month.

The Angle of Best Distance

A.k.a. “the albatross I’ve been wearing as a necklace since I was in my early twenties”. I can see the appeal of an album that goes on growing without ever being finished — a musical map that traces something approaching a lifetime of artistic development — but I think fourteen years is long enough. It would serve as a nice counterpoint to YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. While that album is the most ambitious thing I’ve done in terms of overall vision and scope, this one covers a longer period of time and doesn’t feature any guests.

It would also be a nice way of bringing this specific chapter of my creative life to a close with a swift two-punch combination. I feel like I’ve said all I have to say for now in the realm of more conventional song forms. Both of these albums are home to some songs that do some pretty radical things with structure and dynamics, and I can count the number of songs with conventional choruses on one hand, but I think it’s time to get back to the way I was writing during the BRAND NEW SHINY LIE period. Not to recycle or repeat what’s already been done, but to challenge myself to sustain that method of song construction over the space of an entire album again.

I’ve said this before and it hasn’t happened. I’ve let the music take me where it wants to go and written whatever kind of songs want to come out. This time it’s different. I feel in my gut that it’s time for a change, and I’ve already starting writing some things that are leaning in this direction. I want to hear what happens when the non-repetitive way of writing gets funnelled through everything I’ve learned about production in the intervening years.

We’ll see if that actually happens.

Outtakes, Misfits, and Other Things (Volume 2)

I’ve amassed such a large collection of misfit songs at this point, it’s getting a little crazy. I learned a lot from the first misfits compilation. That one was pretty haphazard and just kind of thrown together for the sake of giving a bunch of cast-offs a place to call home. A lot of things probably shouldn’t have made the cut. I mean, even outtakes albums should have standards. And discussing the songs in chronological order in the booklet while sequencing them in a completely unrelated way on the actual album is one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time but makes no sense to me at all in hindsight.

The second misfits compilation will pick up where the last one left off, covering things that have fallen by the wayside from the time of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to the present. I think this one will be a much more interesting and illuminating assemblage of music, and it should work better as a continuous listening experience.

A posthumous Papa Ghostface compilation

This would act as a more wizened sibling to KISSING THE BALD SPOT — the outtakes collection I pieced together following the end of the first phase of Papa Ghostface only to discover it worked pretty well as an album in its own right. There are a number of worthwhile things that didn’t make it onto STEW or WHAT WE LOST IN THE FLOOD for one reason or another, along with a few things we never got around to recording that I’d still like to take a crack at. I don’t expect the results to upend FLOOD as the definitive ending to the PG story, but it would be nice to take care of some unfinished business.

The first order of business is polishing off SLEEPWALK. Once that’s done, I’m going to dip my toes back into THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE and see how the water feels. If it starts to get overwhelming, I’ll kick it to the side (again) and get to work on something else. If, on the other hand, I get in a good rhythm and figure out how to sequence the mess of music I need to untangle, I just might manage to tame that savage beast once and for all.

The vanishing man.

As a rule, the end of a year doesn’t register for me beyond a few thoughts about the perceived acceleration of time and a few minutes spent taking stock of what I did or didn’t accomplish over the preceding twelve months. It’s a little different this time. It isn’t just the end of a year. It’s the end of a whole decade.

This hasn’t been my most productive ten-year period.

In the years that spanned 2000 to 2009, I made sixteen full-length solo albums (plus four EPs and two outtakes collections), nine full-length GWD albums (plus one EP, a few “best-of” compilations, and an outtakes collection), four full-length Papa Ghostface albums, a Mr. Sinister album, a West/Smith album and EP, the long belch that was The Adam Russell Project, the silliness I cooked up with Matt Malanka for grade eleven English class, various other odds and ends, and somewhere in there I found time to record albums for a few friends and appear as an unpaid, sometimes uncredited session musician on a few albums other people were recording.

From 2010 to 2019, I managed only four solo albums (the last of them released in 2011, so I started out on pace to match my output from the previous decade), two Papa Ghostface albums, and an O-L West album. I also did a few quickie mastering jobs, made a few musical cameo appearances, and recorded nine albums for other artists — ten if you count an album that was scrapped after the basic tracks were recorded because I found out the frontman was a piece of human garbage and I didn’t want my name associated with his music (I gave the band their money back). Eleven if you count another album that I don’t think got a proper release.

There have been valid reasons for slowing down so much. As my approach to making an album has grown more considered, it’s taken me longer to finish things. I’ve been getting an unprecedented amount of work recording other people over the last five years, and it’s taken an incredible amount of time away from my own music. YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK and THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE are not a normal albums, whatever constitutes “normal” for me, and they were always going to be long-range projects.

Still. That’s a pretty staggering drop-off in activity.

2019 has been one of the more topsy-turvy years I can remember having. It started out on a serious high. I managed to turn my dream of an ambitious multi-platform live show into a reality, thanks in no small part to a grant I received. Then the show fell apart when almost no one felt like honouring the commitments they made to me, I got sick from the stress, and I gave the grant money back.

That kind of summarizes my year — bouncing from hope and excitement to rejection and indifference on a level unlike anything I’d experienced before. Having that show disintegrate after putting five years of work into making it happen was one of the worst experiences of my life. Then I had to watch as some of the same people who didn’t care enough to show up for me turned around and showed up for the Wards of Windsor Music Project — at the same venue I booked for my show, with promotional material showcasing the same insect that was on my handbills — while the local “journalists” who wouldn’t give me the time of day when I reached out to them fell all over themselves to hype it up.

I don’t begrudge anyone their success. But I couldn’t escape the feeling that the whole thing was designed by the universe just to shove my face in the mud. People will be talking about that show for a long time. No one will ever talk about what I tried to do, or how a group of musicians who are celebrated for their talent and professionalism screwed me over and revealed how pathetic, lazy, and superficial they really are.

I had to eat that and find a way to live with the taste. It didn’t go down easy.

In the seventeen years I’ve spent trying to find a place to plug into this artistic community, I’ve been treated as a novelty, a trouble-maker, an aberration to be ignored, a whimsical distraction, a tool to be used and then discarded once I’ve served my purpose and injected some credibility or unpredictability into someone else’s music, a figure of ridicule, a subject of absurd speculation, and no end of other things. Outside of a handful of people who decided they liked my music based on its own merits, I’ve never been embraced as an artist or seen as a human being. I was never really accepted. I just made so much music for so long, it became impossible for an entire city to go on ignoring me.

My brief time spent as a partially-tolerated guest in The Club made it clear this wasn’t a world I wanted any part of. Even so, I thought I managed to carve out my own place and create my own community in miniature. I thought I paid my dues and then some, putting my heart and soul into what I did regardless of whether or not anyone else was interested in hearing the results, putting my money where my mouth was, seeking out collaborative situations when I didn’t have to, and going out of my way to help other artists in whatever capacity I could. I thought I accrued some amount of stature and respect. I thought I found some people I could count on.

I was wrong on every count. There isn’t a place for me. There never was. There isn’t ever going to be. Nothing I’ve done has meant much of anything to anyone. And in the end, the only person I can count on is myself.

It hasn’t been a fun lesson to learn, but I’ve learned it. Repeatedly. The difference this time is there’s no way to put a positive spin on it, and no way to delude myself into believing I’m a part of something when I’m not. Call it a rude awakening if you like. I call it a violent forced bowel movement of truth. I wish I wasn’t the human toilet bowl in the equation, but hey, you can’t have it all.

You don’t go through a thing like that without doing some serious soul-searching in the aftermath. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few months. Here are the conclusions I’ve come to.

I’m not going to stop making music. I couldn’t do that any more than I could stop myself from breathing. What I am going to stop doing, with a few exceptions, is sharing it. Having the stuff heard has never been what gives it value for me. Creating it is what I care about. Putting CDs together by hand and writing letters for people who can’t take five seconds out of their busy lives to acknowledge the effort has caused me too much frustration for too long. There won’t be any more of that.

I’ve deleted the page on this blog that provided contact information (though you can still find my email address if you care to dig a little), and I’m only making a very small number of copies of SLEEPWALK. Just enough to give to a few good friends. Anything beyond that feels like a complete waste of time. I know this is the kind of album you’re supposed to spread far and wide and scream about from the rooftops. Almost forty different people contributed to it, and by the time I’m finished I’ll have spent almost six years putting it together. It’s a massive Artistic Statement, in capital letters.

I’m going to do my best to make sure it sinks like a heavy stone. If anyone wants to swim deep enough to find it, that’s up to them. Even some of the musicians who contributed to the thing won’t be getting a copy. If you’re going to force me to hound you in order to share some music with you, you’re not all that interested in hearing it, are you?

A lot of artists don’t care about any of this stuff. I know that. They farm the majority of the work off to other people, from recording, to mixing, to mastering, to graphic design, to the physical packaging of their albums (assuming they don’t go the online-only route to save some money). If they bother to write their own songs, they’re often concerned with little more than tapping into whatever sound is popular at the moment and hitting on some mindless, heartless, gutless universal platitudes so whoever is listening will be able to stare into the massive ink blob of nothingness and hallucinate some bullshit they believe is applicable to them. The writer has no interest in expressing something or working to develop a voice that’s their own. Their music is a product, with all the emptiness and cynicism that implies. As long as they sell some albums and get a linguistic blowjob from a would-be writer somewhere along the line, they couldn’t care less about creating art or connecting with anyone. Listeners are seen as consumers.

If that’s what you’re all about, knock yourself out. What you do with what you make is no one’s business but your own, and I’ve got no quarrel with anyone who treats music as a job. I’m coming at it from a different angle because I don’t have a choice. Music isn’t something I create for money, or to generate attention, or because I think it’s going to get me laid or make me look cool. It’s something I do because if I didn’t do it I wouldn’t be a healthy person. I’ve spent my life eating, sleeping, and dreaming music — literally. It’s what defines me as a human being. When you get one of my albums, it’s something I’ve put together myself by hand, one piece at a time, with the specific intention of giving it to you. As stupid as this might sound, what I’m offering you is more than just a recording. It’s a piece of myself.

For too long I’ve been sharing these pieces of myself with people who accept them because they’re free and think nothing more of it. The music doesn’t mean anything to them. Well, it means something to me. I would rather share it with no one and at least know it holds some value for the person who created it than go on devaluing it this way.

I thought I found a way around this issue when I stopped distributing the albums in public places and forced anyone who wanted access to the music to communicate with me. It seems to be inescapable. Most of the people who’ve emailed me asking for music don’t respond when I follow up asking for an address or a convenient place to drop off some CDs (which begs the question: why waste your time contacting me in the first place?). The few who do respond almost never let me know when they get what I send them, offer nothing in the way of feedback or gratitude, and never communicate with me again in any form.

I’m done dancing this dance. I’m not going to beg anyone to let me share my music with them after they’ve expressed an interest in it. And if someone doesn’t care enough to fire off a six-word email letting me know they got what I sent them in the mail or delivered to their doorstep, they’re not going to get music from me anymore. I get nothing out of hemorrhaging time and money in order to send CDs to people who as far as I can tell don’t even listen to them.

I’ve gone to great lengths to prove I’m not in this for money. Some people seem to appreciate what I do for some odd reason. So what? That’s not enough for me. I want a dialogue with my listeners. Not some silent, faceless transaction. I know I’m asking for the moon here, but if I can’t have that, I’m not going to waste any more of my life chasing something that will never exist because I’m the only one who cares about cultivating it.

(If you’re reading this and you’re one of the few people who does take the time to acknowledge what I share with you, this doesn’t apply to you. You can expect to keep getting music from me until the end of time.)

You might think this is all sounding kind of negative and self-defeating. I don’t see it that way. What I’m doing isn’t shutting down, though it might sound like I am, and it isn’t an effort to punish anyone for not giving me what I want. I’m simplifying things and refocusing my energy. The happiest times in my life have come when I’ve gone about my business, made my music in a vacuum, pretty much kept it to myself, and paid little or no attention to what anyone else is doing. I think it’s time to get back to that. It’s served me well in the past. Maybe it’s selfish. I think I can live with that. Let the folks who don’t like what I do think they’ve “won” and I’ve stopped making music altogether. Let anyone think whatever they want.

Believe me, the people who won’t be getting CDs from me anymore aren’t going to sit around feeling sad about it. They’re not going to miss my music. They never cared about it to begin with. It was little more than background noise to them. When you think about it, I’m doing them a favour. They won’t have as much junk they need to find a place to stash so they can forget all about it.

I’m helping to fight the battle against clutter so we can all have a brighter tomorrow. I think it’s pretty commendable.

Two of the best things I did this year, meanwhile, had nothing to do with music.

I’ve struggled with my sleep for a long time. The trouble started in high school, with a lot of late nights and groggy mornings. I worked around the loss of sleep by taking naps and sleeping in on the weekends. I was able to keep things from getting out of hand until 2007, when a merry trio of crackheads moved into the other half of the duplex we called home. After seven months of being unable to sleep at any sane time thanks to their nonstop partying, I no longer knew what a healthy schedule looked like. I moved into this house with a broken body clock.

For the next eleven years I fell into a holding pattern. It was impossible for me to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, so I would stay up late and sleep in until I was getting to bed after the sun came up and waking up in the dark. The only effective way I found to turn it around was to go without sleep for thirty hours or so, crash at seven or eight at night, and get up at four in the morning the next day, forcing my sleep clock to reset itself. I would switch over to farmhand hours for a week. Then I’d start to have trouble getting to sleep again, things would shift, and after another week or two I’d be back on vampire hours.

I lost an unfathomable amount of time. I had to cancel plans I made with friends when my sleep got in the way. Hundreds if not thousands of hours of good recording time went to waste. My dream journal took some serious hits when I didn’t have the energy to get down more than vague impressions of what I remembered dreaming some days and nights — and that thing is well over six thousand pages long, so who knows how much more epic it might be by now if my commitment to it never wavered. Even when I managed to get a good amount of sleep, I almost never felt rested. Most of the time I woke up feeling like my head was gummed up with motor oil.

It can take a while for the body to recover from just one all-nighter. The sleep loss messes with your ability to store memories, your brain’s overall performance, your circadian rhythm, and your metabolism. Long-term sleep problems can contribute to the development of diabetes, depression, obesity, high blood pressure, arrhythmia, heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.

On average, I went without sleep to shock things back into shape every three weeks. There are seventeen three-week intervals in a year. That means from 2007 to 2018 I had close to two hundred self-imposed sleepless nights.

No wonder I felt like wet garbage all the time. That’s horrifying.

Kind of casts a new light on the decline in my productivity over the last decade. Viewed through this prism, I’m amazed I got anything done at all in that time, and a little surprised I’m not dead or in a state of complete putrefaction.

It wasn’t a whole lot of fun to live through that. The worst part was feeling powerless to change it. Nothing I did would break the cycle. A sleep clinic wouldn’t have done me any good. I wouldn’t have been able to get any sleep in that environment. Sleeping pills weren’t the answer either. With the leftover anxiety I had from the 2008 home invasion, I probably would have had a meltdown if I couldn’t pull myself out of sleep that felt like it was about to take a bad turn.

I made a bit of progress in 2018. I only had to pull one all-nighter early in the year. My sleep started to shift, as it always did, and then it stopped shifting. I settled into a rhythm of getting to bed at one or two in the morning and getting up at noon. It wasn’t perfect, and it started to drift at the end of the year, but I was able to make it work. I ate at more reasonable times, even if lunch was my first meal of the day and breakfast was a distant memory. I saw some consistent daylight. I felt a little better. I was able to get out of the house more often and get more done.

By the beginning of this year my new schedule wasn’t working so well anymore. It was getting too close to the vampire territory of old. In February I went without sleep to recalibrate things one more time. I told myself having to do this once a year was a serious improvement over having to do it every few weeks.

I don’t think I’ll ever have to do it again.

For the last ten months I’ve been on a healthy, stable sleep schedule. I’m in bed before eight and up around five-thirty. I eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I see a whole lot of daylight. I can’t remember the last time I woke up with that motor-oil-in-the-brain feeling. I feel rested and clear-headed every day.

I feel like I got my life back. The last time my sleep was in this kind of shape, I looked like this:

There were a few rough nights early on when I couldn’t get to sleep until around midnight. I didn’t let myself sleep in, and my body and brain got the message. They’ve been programmed so well now, I don’t need to set my alarm anymore. I can trust myself to wake up when I’m supposed to. Having trouble falling asleep is no longer a concern. The sleep demons that dogged me for so long have been decapitated and set on fire.

There are drawbacks, if you can call them that. Late nights aren’t an option for me anymore. There are events I’m not able to attend or participate in. One deviation from the schedule could throw everything off, and I won’t risk it. I’m rigid with the time I go to bed and the time I get up.

There isn’t too much going on around here at night I’d want to be around for anyway. So it’s a small price to pay.

I also lost some weight this year, though the exact amount is a mystery to me (and I think I might leave it a mystery).

For a very long time, I weighed one hundred and forty-five pounds. I was probably underweight. I went through such a protracted growth spurt during my adolescence, I didn’t start to grow into my body until I was in my early twenties. I didn’t exercise much, and I ate like a horse, but my metabolism always kept things in check.

I started putting on a bit of weight around the time we moved into this house. It was such a cumulative process, I didn’t notice it was happening until it became impossible not to notice. If I had to guess, I’d say every year I probably put on another ten pounds. Given how skinny I was for so many years, I figured this was me “filling out”.

Earlier this year I was at the walk-in clinic with a case of bronchitis. I was curious, so I weighed myself. The scale told me I weighed two hundred and sixty-five pounds.

I’m a large person by design. I’m six-foot-three, give or take half an inch, and my frame is not small. I think I carried that weight pretty well. But I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t starting to bother me. By this time I had a pretty serious gut and more than the suggestion of man boobs. I was down to a rotation of five or six shirts that were loose-fitting enough to hide the excess baggage. I found myself sweating sometimes when I was working on something in the studio, even when it didn’t involve any significant physical activity.

According to the Body Mass Index, I was obese. The BMI is about as reliable as a bunch of Windsor musicians who’ve signed on to play a show with you at Mackenzie Hall. I wasn’t obese. I was overweight, though. I could see it. I could feel it.

I’d been on Johnny Smith’s case to start walking for a while. In August, around the time of my birthday, I asked if he thought it might help if I walked with him. He said it would. I thought he could use the motivation and I could use the exercise. We decided on the Devonshire Mall as a convenient weather-proof place to walk. He drew up a schedule and we started walking every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday morning. I didn’t expect much to come of it.

A few weeks in, it hit me that I was still eating a whole lot of junk. Having that stuff in the house wasn’t going to help the Smithster get healthy. I decided if he was going to give it an honest try, I might as well give it a shot too. The junk food went in the garbage, and I started augmenting our walks with burpees, planks, and crunches twice a day.

I had no idea just how many unnecessary calories I was putting into my body. I used to have a muffin or a bagel with my breakfast every morning. I’d have a bunch of potato chips or Doritos with a sandwich for lunch, a pop or an iced tea to drink, and I’d follow that with a chocolate bar or a plate of cookies. I’d have another high-calorie drink with dinner, and for dessert I’d have a piece of cake, a piece of pie, or a bowl of ice cream. Sometimes I’d make myself a banana split. The meals I was eating were all pretty healthy. The problem was everything around them. Once I started looking at how many calories were in those cookies and chocolate bars and carbonated beverages, it made me want to weep.

I started having an apple with my breakfast instead of a muffin. I substituted a healthier low-calorie iced tea for my usual Snapple iced tea at lunch. Every Snapple product tastes like mud ever since they switched over to plastic bottles, so that was no great loss. I started making myself a small salad to go with my lunch instead of greasy potato chips, using a low-calorie dressing and being a little more judicious in how I applied it. If I wanted a snack, I’d eat a peach or a slice of watermelon. I started drinking water with dinner and following it with another slice of watermelon, or a handful of grapes, or nothing at all.

When we started walking in late August we averaged about thirty minutes. Now we’re averaging more than an hour and a half every walk. We haven’t missed a day. We even walked on Boxing Day. It was a bit of a nightmare, but we made it work.

After trying to stay away from the mall for a number of years, walking there on a regular basis has been an eye-opening experience. I knew a lot of people had been zombified by their cell phones, but I had no idea it was this bad. We see masses of people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities with their eyes glued to their phones, oblivious to their surroundings. Many of them are parents who are ignoring their offspring because whatever is on their phone is more important to them than their children. Some of those parents act more like children than the kids do. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the thirty-something dad in a toque who whined to his young daughter, “We can never like go anywhere because you always have to go to the bathroom!”

(You’ve failed as a parent and as a speaker of words. Good job, dude.)

The androids, as Johnny Smith calls them, will walk right into you if you don’t get out of their way in time. Most parents don’t even hold hands with their children anymore. If they bother to tear themselves away from their cell phones long enough to notice their kid is still present, they shout at them like a disobedient dog. “Come! Come on! Get out of there! Stop that! Catch up!” Then they walk on as the distance between them grows, not looking back at the child, assuming they’ll follow. I’m amazed there isn’t an abduction every five minutes. And I’ve lost track of how many mothers I’ve seen pushing strollers, ignoring the child inside in favour of a texting session.

This is child abuse. Plain and simple. These people are sending the message to their children that an electronic device is more important than they are. They should be thrown in some pit of a prison and kept there until they see the stupidity of their ways.

You know what else I’ve noticed about the cell phone zombies? Whatever games they’re playing or whoever they’re texting, the expressions on their faces are always flat and emotionless. There’s no smiling. No laughter. No grimacing. Nothing. Just one dispassionate dead-eyed stare after another. I wonder if they have any feelings left, or if the totality of their reliance on this soul-deadening technology has sucked all of their emotions out of them like a giant cosmic turkey baster. They’d be more upset about someone stealing their phone than they would if their child got hurt. It’s disturbing.

One image seemed to capture the startling inhumanity of it all. I couldn’t have invented it if I tried. One morning we saw a bicycle flipped upside down so it was supported by the seat. There was an iPhone wedged between the spokes of the front wheel, sucking juice from a wall outlet to recharge its battery.

Back to that weight loss thing for a minute —

I was wearing a 42″ pair of jeans when our walking adventures began. A few weeks in, I noticed they were getting loose. I dug through a closet and saw I’d saved almost every pair of jeans I outgrew over the years. I forgot to get rid of them. I found a pair of 38″ jeans, hung them in my bedroom, wrote GOAL JEANS on a Post-it note, and stuck it on the ass of those pants. I decided if I could somehow get into them by the end of the year, I’d be a very happy guy.

In October I was wearing my goal jeans. I found two more old pairs with a 38″ waist in the same closet. They were much tighter and less forgiving. By November I was wearing those in place of the goal jeans, and I couldn’t use my belt anymore. It was too big for me.

I kind of wish I’d taken some “before” and “after” photos, as embarrassing as they would be. I didn’t think to do that. I’ve never consciously tried to lose weight before, and I didn’t think anything noteworthy was going to happen.

What I can share is this:

Those are my 42″ jeans. That dark cavern is the gulf that’s grown between their waistline and my stomach. That’s…not nothing.

I have no idea how much I weigh now. Again, I’m not sure I want to know. If the number that shows up on the scale isn’t close enough to the number I have in my head, it would be a little discouraging. The number doesn’t even matter. And it doesn’t bother me if no one notices or asks me if I’ve lost weight. What matters is I know I have, and I feel better than I have in years. I also have a whole new wardrobe now. There’s a pile of shirts I had to stop wearing because they were too tight or unflattering. Some of them haven’t seen the outside of the closet in close to a decade. Now I can wash all the dust off and wear them again. It’s pretty neat.

Most diets don’t stick, and most people gain back all or most of the weight they’ve lost within a short period of time. I think this happens because you end up eating things you don’t like when you’re on a health kick, and once you lose some weight you convince yourself the hard work is done and revert to unhealthy eating habits. What I’ve tried to do here is not go on a diet at all. It’s more about making some lasting lifestyle changes. I don’t miss the junk food for a second. I’ve always loved fruits and vegetables. A good peach (when peaches are in season) or some watermelon satisfies my craving for something sweet in a way a chocolate bar never did. I still eat like a horse, but I’m a much healthier horse now. Neigh.

Here’s the secret to my modest success: I love the things I’m eating. I have no desire to go back to the way I was eating before. And instead of dreading walking days, I look forward to them, cell phone zombies and all.

Sure, I could go the extra mile and cut out my morning orange juice and my afternoon iced tea to drop even more calories. I could weigh my portions and count calories. Many people find that an effective approach to getting healthy. It’s not the way for me. Food is one of the great joys of my life. I’m not going to drain all the fun out of it with a scale and a measuring cup, and I’m not going to deny myself the occasional vegan donut or piece of pecan pie as a special treat. I’ve made some healthy changes that are going to be permanent, and they’ve made a world of difference. If I plateau around here and don’t lose much more weight, I’m good with that. I don’t want or need to be as skinny as I used to be. That would be too weird for words.

So that’s my story. I leave the house almost every day (pretty bold for an enigmatic recluse, eh?). I’m out in the world more than I’ve been since I was a teenager. At the same time, I have less to do with people than I ever have. Most of them are full of shit anyway.

Here’s to inhabiting a new level of obscurity in 2020 and learning how to disappear completely.

A grain of rice at the end of the funnel.

I set a low-key goal to have a rough assembly of YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK on CD by the end of this week, if only for my own peace of mind. There were two mixes that needed some last-minute tweaks and two songs that required a little more in the way of clothing before I could mix them. If I could get all of that taken care of and the sequencing felt right, I’d be able to focus on finalizing the layout of the lyric/art booklet.

I didn’t do myself any favours by leaving some of the most difficult work for last. These are four of the most ambitious songs on the album, with an average track count of twenty-five. Two of them are more than eight minutes long.

For those who work out of a commercial recording studio — and even for most home recordists — twenty-five tracks is nothing. For me and my humble sixteen-track mixer, it’s a lot.

The mixing process has developed all kinds of new and interesting wrinkles. Mixing a song was once almost a set-it-and-forget-it thing for me, because there were so few tracks to work with. Now it’s become a musical performance in itself, with countless pinpoint changes in panning, volume, and effects.

Early in the week, I tackled one of the songs that still needed some work at the recording stage. It was in a very unfinished state. I had an acoustic guitar track, bass, some rough piano, a scratch vocal, and multi-tracked trombone and cello.

I was never happy with the acoustic guitar sound I captured for this song. I used my Martin 000-15. I love that guitar, and it’s really opened up in the eight or so years I’ve had it, but I’ve come to rely on it more for accents and secondary parts. It can sound a little thin when you try to build a whole song around it. I prefer the warmer, richer-sound of the 1945 Martin 00-17 or the 1951 Gibson LG-2 for that sort of thing.

When I revisited the basic tracks the acoustic guitar part wasn’t doing it for me at all. It wasn’t just the sound that bothered me. It was flat and lifeless. It sounded more like I was trying to avoid hitting an ugly note than really letting go and expressing something through the instrument. So I junked it, plugged in the Telecaster, and rebuilt the whole arrangement around electric guitar instead. Everything started to feel more dynamic right away. The bass was good enough to keep. I ditched the piano in the body of the song and recorded some Fender Rhodes in its place, recorded some drums, added some of the crummy twelve-string acoustic that’s become an occasional secret weapon, nailed down some keeper vocal tracks (the vocals are layered at the beginning before collapsing down to a single, unembellished performance), bounced the trombone down to a stereo submix to make my life a little easier, threw in a bit of lap steel, and braced myself for a mixing nightmare.

This is one of those songs that goes out of its way to subvert anything resembling a traditional verse/chorus structure. I tend to do that anyway, rarely writing a chorus even when sections of music in a song repeat, but it’s often a subtler thing (at least compared to the violent refracting of song forms that drove albums like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS). Here it’s not subtle. There are four distinct movements, and none of them recur once they’ve run their course. The instrumentation shifts a fair bit as well, with different elements coming and going. The only straightforward part from a mixing standpoint is the final section, which is kind of striking in its starkness compared to the rest of the song — just piano and cello.

I almost fainted when I listened to the first mix in a few different settings and it hit me that I only needed to make a few small adjustments. That doesn’t happen with songs like this. It almost always takes me at least a few mixes to get things right, or at least as right as I’m going to get them.

The second mix, which isn’t much different from the rough pass, became the final mix. It might be one of my better mixes on the album. It’s ridiculous.

Luck? A fluke? I don’t know. Whatever it is, I’ll take it.

Full of self-belief, I jumped right into the other song that still needed some work, thought I might get it done in a day, and smacked face-first into a glass door. Proverbially speaking.

This one also has four movements, but they’re much more disparate, almost as if four different songs have been fused together. There are layers of vocals, saxophone, violin, many guitars (some acoustic, some electric, some backwards), bass, drums, and by the time I’m finished adding Wurlitzer and a few more atmospheric touches it’ll top out somewhere near thirty tracks. Not all of these elements are in play at the same time, which is part of what makes it such a delicate dance to pull all the threads together.

I added some new vocal tracks to the last section. Then I tried re-recording the vocal tracks for two other sections before deciding I liked the existing takes better. They may be imperfect, but there’s an energy there that feels right. I recorded some acoustic twelve-string guitar over the most propulsive part to thicken things up a little (using my own axe this time) and started forming some ideas about just how I’m going to mix this monstrous thing. I still need to replace some of the sax stabs with vocal harmonies and take another pass at the drum part.

It’s taking a little longer than I hoped, but given how complicated the thing is, it was probably unrealistic to think I could blow through it in an afternoon. Better to let it take its time. If that means another few days of experimenting before I figure out all the final touches the song needs, and if the two mixes I still need to fine-tune end up getting impatient and rolling their eyes at me, so be it.

I’m not quite there yet. But I’m close.