I’m tellin’ you now, the greatest thing you ever can do now is sing a song to somebody’s blue cow.

How many country music videos do you figure there are in which the artist is seen standing on the stage of an empty theater, atmospherically lit, emoting to an audience that isn’t there? My somewhat conservative estimate would be eight hundred and ninety-three. It’s gotta be up there with “parties while the parents are away” in pop-punk videos and “shirtless abdominal flexing in the rain” in videos for R&B ballads.

Today wasn’t as productive as I thought it might be, but Sundays are generally lazy, do-nothing days for me, so I guess it was to be expected. I did get three songs pretty much finished. They may need a few tiny vocal touch-ups, but otherwise they’re fine, and one of them is four minutes long, which feels like twenty minutes compared to the tiny things I’ve been recording lately. I also recorded banjo and guide vocals for one of my favourite songs I’ve written on that instrument. It still needs stomping, clapping, and maybe bass and electric guitar, along with final vocals, but at least the bed of the song is there.

There were some fun little unexpected touches/moments. For one of the songs I felt like something was missing, so I recorded two tracks of the spiral notebook the lyrics were written in, striking it like a snare drum with brushes, and it seemed to work. I switched my vocal mic into the omnidirectional pattern to record the Hilroy makeshift snare from a bit of a distance, and then forgot to switch it back to cardioid when I went to overdub some harmonies. I wondered why the vocals suddenly sounded less present, but didn’t think too much of it. Then I found out what the problem was when I went to record vocals for a different song.

It was nothing compared to the profound goof I managed during the unexpected Papa Ghostface session in late January, when I spent the better part of ten minutes trying to figure out why I couldn’t get any sound out of my bass, only to realize it had already been set up before I did a thing — I unplugged the patch cord going into the compressor right off the bat, thinking it was the cord for something else, and kept trying to figure out why the meters on the preamp were lighting up but nothing was coming out of the monitors. There was a reason none of the other cords nearby did the trick. None of them had the bass in their signal path.

Fortunately I figured out what was going on before too many baby iguanas were eaten. Fun times. Almost as fun as recording “stomping” on a recent song by using only the balls of my feet because I didn’t feel like standing up and really committing to the stomping, and then after about two minutes feeling the burn of ligaments screaming at me to stop torturing them.

I recorded bass for one of the banjo songs, but even though it adds some low end it seems wrong somehow. Like putting a cat in a three-piece suit. I don’t know what it is exactly. These songs just feel better left relatively naked, for whatever reason. I always think it would be interesting to try doing something more layered and “produced”, because most of my music ends up coming out pretty austere one way or another. But every time, it seems like the songs get wind of what I’m planning and they all say, “It ain’t gonna happen.”

They sound just like Charles Bronson when they speak, too. What can I do? I mean, you don’t argue with Charles Bronson.

Here’s a medium-tiny song recorded way back at the old house during one of those quiet periods when the crackheads were recovering from the night before and hadn’t quite started partying again yet.

Sixteen Words I Borrowed

I never mixed it back then because I wanted to overdub some more guitar bits at the end, but when I listened to it again the other day I decided that might make things a bit too cluttered, so I just mixed it as it was. Sadly, the MP3 makes the vocals sound kind of distorted in places when they really aren’t on CD. A pox upon you, MP3, for being a compromised and mediocre medium through which to relay music. I hope your digital penis shrivels and dies.

Once I get drum-related things squared away I’ll start posting songs that aren’t so stripped-down and acoustic in nature. Songs with distorted electric guitars and bass! Songs with toy piano and Fender Rhodes! Songs with my chord organ that sounds like an accordion with a chest cold! I can sense the blog nearly exploding from the anticipation already.


  1. Hi Johnny, cool song. I like the “Blame your violent dreams on me” refrain especially.

    Who is this starnell character? Looks like you have a fan! http://ectoguide.org/artists/west.johnny

    He/she forgot to add in the comparisons section Bono, Eddie Vedder, Tim Buckley and Frank Zappa! Not sure I get the Eddie Vedder one myself but who am I to argue when I don’t have a single Pearl Jam album?

  2. What are you talking about?! I AM Eddie Vedder! Bow down before me as I sing “Better Man” in Spanish!

    But yeah. I never really got that comparison either. Maybe within the context of the song I kind of sounded grungy? I dunno. I have only one Pearl Jam album — “No Code”. I haven’t pulled it out in years, but I remember liking a few of the songs. “Smile” has a cool Neil Young thing going on.

    Thank you both. More new music will be up here soon…within the next few days, definitely. Even though I said that a few days ago. I’ve just been recording a lot of things and not mixing those things as much as I should be, because I keep going on to record other things. That particular song was basically just a regurgitation of something that happened with a girl. She really did blame her violent dreams on me, because I told her about the crack house I was living attached to and she went on to have some disturbing dreams she felt she wouldn’t have had otherwise. And the title comes from the fact that I borrowed sixteen words she had written about someone/something for the end of the song. I just liked those words and wanted to make use of them, and I couldn’t think of a better song title.

    That Ectophiles thing is a long story, and surprised the pants off of me. The condensed version of the story is that I emailed the website some years back to tell them a bit about Tim Buckley, since he was only referred to as the “folk singer” father of Jeff on the page for Jeff Buckley and didn’t have a page of his own. I wanted them to know that he was much more than just a folk singer, and covered more musical ground in a shorter period of time than his son did, or most people ever will in their lifetimes. I offered to send them some CDs, particularly a copy of “Starsailor”. I also said something offhanded about how I made music and it probably wouldn’t be the sort of thing they would be interested in, because they mainly gravitate toward unconventional female artists. Sadly I have never been a woman, though I did try to alter fate once with pruning sheers and a dress I found in a vintage clothing store.

    Neile (the woman who started the whole Ectoguide) emailed me back and suggested sending them some music just for fun, which I did. I didn’t expect anything to happen. A few years later I got an email out of nowhere telling me, “Here is where your page is on the Ectophiles site.” I nearly fell over. This was a site I found randomly on the internet in my dad’s office when I was about thirteen years old, reading about Mary Margaret O’Hara and Jane Siberry and these people that came to be some of my favourite artists, just as I was hungry for new music off the beaten path. And now I have a page there that talks a bit about at least a few of my albums. That’s insane.

    I had actually forgotten all about it and never even thought to link to it on this blog here. I still owe Madame Starnell a few more recent CDs she doesn’t have, and I should probably tell her about the blog so she can add it there since I suppose it qualifies as a “website”.

    And it’s funny that you mention Bono, because he was in one of my dreams last night! But so was Michael Jackson (and Wendy Crewson), so perhaps there’s no great meaning there.

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