I have done what every invisible cucumber-brandishing lizard never told me not to do, and started a blog. Truly the end is nigh.
Really, this is just so I can keep track of musical happenings, and perhaps motivate myself to become somewhat productive again. I’m not sure how often I’ll add to this, and I doubt the results will be anything anyone else will enjoy reading, but I guess you never know. Eventually there will be MP3s and other such exciting things.
So. I used to be insanely prolific, recording CDs about as often as I sneezed. I’ve come to realize there were two reasons for this:
1. Just about all the songs were improvised out of thin air while recording. I’d been “writing” this way since I was about ten years old, so by the time I was sixteen and had more than a rented keyboard and a tape recorder at my disposal, I had more or less honed my craft. It wasn’t uncommon for a 75-minute album to be finished in two days. The results were often pretty twisted and haphazard, but that was kind of what I was going for.
2. I didn’t have much equipment, and I had no idea how to use what I did have. I didn’t have any mic preamps, compression, limiting, or EQ, and I didn’t even know what most of those things were for. Some of the CDs from 1999 and 2000 will attest to just how much I was flying by the seat of my pants. There’s lots of ugly digital clipping and low frequency mud. Eventually I started to learn a bit about gain-staging and other such things, mostly through trial and error.
Over the years I accumulated more equipment, taught myself how to use it, and things started to sound less frightening. I was still pretty productive, even once I started creating most of the songs in a more premeditated way instead of improvising them all into existence. Even at my most methodical I was good for at least a few albums a year.
One day early in 2006 I decided it was time to get a new mic preamp. From what I read on the internet, this thing was the Holy Grail, or a magic bullet, or beautiful hummus…what have you. The point was, it would take my music to a whole new sonic level, or so I convinced myself.
I got the thing. It wasn’t cheap. It also didn’t sound any good. It’s possible I was doing something wrong, but it just wouldn’t work for me.
I traded it in for something else and got different mic preamps. These ones really were something else. They put my previous pres to shame. They also revealed to me that some of my microphones were not as good as I thought they were.
I’d been singing into a Rode NT1 for a few years (or seven albums). Through the old mic pres it sounded nice and present without being spitty, with just a touch of EQ. Now it was a sibilant beast I would never be able to use on anything ever again, unless I wanted my ears to rebel against me and detach themselves from my head to end the pain.
I ended up spending virtually all of 2006 revamping the studio. I started building up a collection of better microphones. I bought a few new guitars. I souped up my bass with new pickups. I got a reconditioned Wurlitzer electric piano, which was something I’d been lusting after since I was a kid. I got a few more mic preamps, just for fun. I did a little dance without any pants.
The whole time I was writing songs, coming up with ideas, and stockpiling them, preparing for the day when I would have everything I wanted in place and musical sex would ensue. It never really occurred to me that I’d become what is universally known as a “gearslut”, and the desire to acquire sexy musical equipment had taken the place of recording with whatever was at hand.
The day of sexiness did arrive, though. I had everything I wanted and thought I needed. I was ready to throw myself into the music that had piled up with sweaty abandon. I had a few different projected albums ready to go and the drive to make them all the best things I’d ever done.
And then, three drug dealers moved into the other half of the old duplex I was living in with my dad (who shall henceforth be referred to as Johnny Smith, for that is his truest name), and seven years of peace were shattered in an instant as they began running a crack house. Recording became impossible while they were busy throwing rap & crack parties at all hours of the day and night. They played their music so loud, it literally shook our walls.
I could write a novella about the experience, and about how no one was interested in doing anything about the situation (because, while they acknowledged there was a drug house attached to us, it wasn’t attached to them, so it wasn’t their problem). Instead, I’ll just say it was lots of fun, and my sleep was messed up so many times by the late parties, I’m still trying to restore my sleeping patterns to something approaching normalcy today, with mixed results. I was able to get a tiny bit of recording done when things calmed down for brief periods of time, but we’re talking about ten or fifteen minutes of quiet here and there. I couldn’t even put a dent in all the songs that were screaming for love.
After seven months of crack house hell we moved into a new house in August of last year. It was far from the ideal place for us, but I ended up with a larger studio space, and for the first time in years I could finally use everything and even walk around in there without tripping over something.
You’d think this would make for the perfect environment in which to plot my musical revenge. And it would have, had I not suddenly found myself feeling a strange sort of lethargy. Even putting aside the sleep issues, it was as if there was some cloud of shit hovering around me, killing my motivation at every turn. Songs continued to come, ideas were flying around left and right, and I had no drive to record any of them. It all seemed like too much work now.
If I could have cloned myself, it would have been fine. But I imagine the Johnny clones would have eventually grown unhappy and plotted to overthrow me as their leader.
It was bizarre to be maybe the most inspired I’d ever been in my life, at least from a musical standpoint, and at the same time devoid of any motivation to harness that inspiration and run with it. I didn’t finish or release a single album in 2007. I haven’t gone a year without putting out at least a handful of albums since 1993.
Somewhere, a bloated brontosaurus descendant was grinning and itching his distended belly with one very long and yellow tooth.
To make a long and ponderous tale slightly less whatever-it-would-rather-be, here we are in February of 2008, a year after the crackheads messed up my flow. I now have more music piled up than I know what to do with, and no one is going to help me make sense of it all.
So I thought, “Why not start a blog no one will ever want to read, where I can be ridiculously long-winded and sort through all of this stuff? Maybe it’ll have the side effect of motivating me to get off my ass and become somewhat prolific again. Maybe I’ll post MP3s for flirtatious squirrels to listen to, just like back when I had a website, only without the extra grated cheese.”
So it begins — not with a bang or a whimper, but with a curious sound pitched somewhere between a dog laughing and a cow giving birth.
Or, to get to the point, here are all the projected albums i need to sort through and either bring to life or euthanize.
THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE
A gigantic labour of stuff.
This began as a few different albums. One was going to be mostly acoustic, one was going to be electric guitar-driven and something of a return to the raw, full-band sound of old, and one was going to be piano-driven and more ambient. Maybe there would be some synth-based non-pop in there as well.
Then I got tired of keeping track of which songs were going where, and I thought I would just throw everything together in one place, even if it meant putting together an album that was made up of several CDs. Maybe each disc would have a loose theme, or at least a title that would make it seem so. I could try to do something ambitious with the packaging. Maybe I would even print the lyrics for the first time ever.
It felt like it would be an ending of some sort. Maybe the death of one way of working, and the beginning of another. A clean break with a weird haircut, put under a microscope.
There are now so many songs that have been written for this ridiculously ambitious album, it’s kind of terrifying. Almost none of them have been recorded, and some of them are still works-in-progress. A saner person would downsize and break it up into smaller pieces, but I’m determined to see the bloated thing through to the conclusion it deserves, even if it takes me until 2010…and it very well might.
(Update: Back in early 2008, I thought saying it could take me until 2010 to finish this thing was a little flippant and a bit of a joke. Because there was no way it would never take me that long, right? WRONG. That turned out to be a very optimistic estimate. As of 2017, it still isn’t finished. It’ll get there someday, but by the time it’s done it’ll be more than a decade in the making. The good news is, it’ll be a stronger and more far-reaching piece of work because of it.)
Once upon a time, there was a two-man band called Papa Ghostface. We made some pretty twisted music that I’m still not sure what to call. It was sort of a genre unto itself. There was a great burst of productivity in 1999 and 2000. Then an accidental band with a different name was formed, and Papa Ghostface got put on the back burner.
There were occasional recordings here and there (some of them later compiled on KISSING THE BALD SPOT), but we didn’t make another proper full-length album after PAPER CHEST HAIR, and after that other broke up, Gord (the other half of our two-headed PG beast) went on to other things with the band Surdaster.
At this point there’s a very slim chance a new Papa Ghostface album will happen. And by “very slim”, I mean “slimmer than my waistline was in the first third of 2002, when my favourite pair of jeans started falling down all the time”. There was something of a Papa Ghostface reunion near the end of January, and one new song was recorded, but it’s beginning to look like that may be all she wrote.
I kind of miss having a new Papa Ghostface CD to confuse people with. It would be fun to dip back into the demented waters of old and see if I can still hack it on the spot like I used to. Also, there were some ideas we never fully developed that I’d like to try fleshing out. And that album title is just too fun to ignore. Max Marshall sent it to me in an email, and it took me a few days before it clicked that it’s “Papa Ghostface” in French.
I just don’t know when or if it’ll happen.
(Update: Papa Ghostface rides again. Our reunion was swift, unexpected, and accompanied by a whole lot of soul confetti. We didn’t end up using this album title. We did this instead.)
THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE
Should there be a “the” before the title? Should there be dashes? I don’t know.
The idea was inspired by the design on some sort of bag Anna had with her when we were drinking coffee at Taloola right before I left the crack house behind. I forget what the image was, but there was a girl with what looked to be a halo above her head, smiling and standing with something in her hand, and she had wings.
I misinterpreted her to be a chicken-angel-woman who was holding a triangle. And then i thought, “I kind of like that. It could be a fun album title.”
I’ve written some songs on a six-string banjo, and I’ve been toying with the idea of throwing most of them, along with some mandolin songs, on one album that’s kind of scratchy and rustic, or as close to that sort of thing as i’m likely to get. If nothing else, it’s an excuse for an interesting album cover.
(Update: This album was finished and released in the summer of 2008. It was kind of scratchy and rustic, and it did end up serving as an excuse for some cool cover art. It also became the most popular thing I’d ever done — a distinction it still holds — and it took me from being “Windsor’s best-kept secret” according to about two people, to being considered cool by a bunch of folks who wouldn’t give me the time of day before, with the seismic shift in my visibility happening pretty much overnight. It was messed up.)
THE TIGRESS AND HER MOLTEN FAMILY, IN SIX PARTS
Another title that came out of nowhere. It made me think about getting back into longer song forms, and some fun potential song titles fell out, like “Part one, in which the tiger eats his tail” and “Part two, in which the tigress says, ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were hungry? I could have made you a nice salad'”.
It could be something of an illustrated book. Like a twisted children’s story, with a scene for each song. The title and song names would make it seem like a concept album, but it wouldn’t be, because the lyrics would have probably nothing at all to do with tigers.
I’m not sure if this one will ever come to fruition, but it’s fun to think about.
(Update: I still like the title. I still like the concept. I still haven’t got around to putting any of it together. It’s probably one of those ideas that never really turns into anything.)
OUT-TAKES, MISFITS AND OTHER THINGS
A lot of songs have fallen by the wayside over the years, some of them among my favourite things I’ve done. I’m working on making a sprawling collection of those lost tracks. It’ll probably end up being a 2 or 3 CD set.
I’ve got about half the songs mixed so far. A few need some serious work, like vocals and instrumental parts that were never recorded. I’d like to have this finished before 2008 gets too ripe. I’d also like it to come with a booklet in which I tell exciting stories about all the songs — how they came to be, why they didn’t come out sooner…stuff like that.
(Update: This album was finished and released in the winter of 2008. A second misfits collection should be along sometime in 2018.)
An excuse to dust off some of the many songs that were written but never recorded. Hence the title. Though the title will probably change.
There are some things I’d still really like to tackle, that I just never got around to recording because there were too many other songs to think about. “Emilio Estevez”, with its rousing tale of the great man’s genitals, was the hit single I never had. If I’d recorded it back in 1999 it would have changed the course of my whole career. Or not. What career? Exactly.
This is something that could easily turn into a long-term project with several volumes, because there are more than a few songs to choose from.
(Update: I’m now calling this one “Old Songs”, because I am creative. Though it hasn’t made it beyond the brainstorming stage, don’t be surprised if it shows up sometime before 2029.)
Songs that came from, or were inspired by, dreams. Since I trained my brain how to remember my dreams on a regular basis, there have been some interesting pieces of music in some of them that have stuck around. Maybe I’ll include transcriptions of the dreams themselves in the liner notes to make it more interesting.
I’m not sure if this will work all that well as a cohesive album, but it’ll be an interesting project to attempt. And there’ll be some pretty catchy tunes, like “Running Back to Mars Montage”, and “Things That Hurt” — Captain Beefheart’s take on 80s pop.
(Update: Still dreaming. Still have yet to start serious work on this one, though the odd dream song has found its way onto an album over the years. Hopefully I’ll get around to digging into this thing one of these days.)
OTHER PEOPLE’S SONGS
Something I never thought I would even think of considering thinking about: a covers album.
This may never happen, but the legwork is there. Of course, strong legs never stopped me from junking projected albums in the past. Potential covers include songs by the Eurythmics, John Cale, Mary Margaret O’Hara, Kylie Minogue, My Bloody Valentine, Dan Hartman, the Psychedelic Furs, Cassie, and on it goes.
What can I say? I was a child of the eighties. And some songs just seem ripe for reinterpretation/deconstruction. I’m convinced “Love Is a Stranger” will work as a slow, narcotic crawl, emphasizing the longing and stripping away the pop appeal.
I also have a dream of covering the theme song from Inspector Gadget as a smooth ska number at around 160 BPM, complete with horns and female backup vocals. I can hear it so clearly in my head, it’s not even funny. Someday it’ll happen.
(Update: A few songs have been recorded here, and here, and over here. Still coming up with new ideas now and then. What I need to do is look into how much it would cost, and what I would need to do, in order to get the mechanical rights so i can actually release an album with all those cover songs on it without running the risk of getting in any legal trouble. I don’t think I can get around that even though I’d be giving the album away for free.)
A BOX OF FIRE
Can we say “ridiculously ambitious”?
This is a projected concept album that would be a mixed media project. In a nutshell, I would have to write a book before I could write the songs, and the songs would be the diary entries of a character in the book. It’s complicated, and it would take a long time to explain the plot and how it all works.
This is another thing I will probably never quite manage to pull off, but it would be interesting to try, especially since I don’t write much in the way of fiction anymore.
(Update: This is probably far too ambitious to ever become a reality, but you never know. Maybe I’ll just take the title and use it somewhere else, because I do like it. I also like that picture — “Fire in Dumpster”, by Ben Watts)
So those are the main things. There’s also the idea to record some sort of documentary following the making of an album (or several), but I imagine that would get kind of bland after a while…static shots of just one guy doing everything and talking to the camera. And other ideas. Too many of them.
(One last update: I actually am filming something resembling a very DIY, rough around the edges semi-documentary following the making of an album. Or several. The progress report videos got into a little bit of this here and there, but the thing I’m working on now is much larger and more ambitious.)
I guess we’ll see what happens.