There’s something about Daniel Victor that’s always seemed familiar to me. I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. And it wasn’t that I too once sewed Emm Gryner’s angel wings back onto her body in a dramatic music video, only to have the record company tell me it wasn’t what they were looking for at the time. A few months later, there was the video for “The Grace” on MuchMusic. Those dirty thieves.
Obviously I’m joking. I’ve never met Emm Gryner, though maybe I had a dream about her once or twice. I mean, nothing…
I digress. Just the other day it finally hit me why Daniel Victor has always looked so familiar to me. This is a picture of Lindsey Buckingham circa 1984, on the cover of his second solo album Go Insane.
This is a picture of Daniel, circa right now, shooting his latest music video.
Is it just me, or are there some interesting similarities there? The hair…the stare…even the clothes are not all that different. Normally Daniel’s hair is in a style much more like the one Lindsey is sporting on his album cover, albeit grown out a bit longer. But I couldn’t find any good pictures of it looking like that.
I imagine it’s probably just a coincidence. It’s still pretty startling to me. Either Lindsey was way ahead of his time, Daniel is a closet Lindsey Buckingham/Fleetwood Mac fan (hey! Me too! But I’m not ashamed. Let’s go grab a beer and talk about what a great song “Sara” is), or someone somewhere is still as pissed off as I am that they stopped making chocolate pudding in a tin.
I have vague memories of that stuff from my youth. It tasted so much better than any subsequent chocolate pudding I’ve ever had. I’ll never forgive the man or woman who made the decision to switch to plastic, whoever they are, if they’re even still living. Damn them to hell.
Maybe that’s a little harsh. So instead I’ll say, “Damn them to Hilary Clinton’s handbag.” There. That’s better.
And it’s too bad someone removed Lindsey’s 1982 Saturday Night Live performance from YouTube, because I think it was one of his finest moments — an unhinged take on “Trouble”. He was pretty clearly wired on a certain white powder, but the wild look in his eyes helped spin the simple lyrics into something more interesting and menacing, and he unleashed a great guitar solo at the end of the song that’s nothing like anything on the studio version.
I caught most of this performance on TV back in 1998 or 1999 one afternoon. They were showing old episodes of SNL on Comedy Central at the time, and I heard this interesting-sounding music coming out of my then-almost-stepsister’s bedroom, so I scrambled to find it on my TV. There was Lindsey, looking kind of possessed, belting it out.
Right away I went out and bought his solo album Law & Order and found myself pretty disappointed that the album version of the song was so polished and relaxed. It grew on me, and after a while I decided it was one of my favourite songs of his anyway (his recent overhaul of the song, which is a little too becalmed for my taste, doesn’t count). But it was a happy day when I found that video on YouTube almost ten years after the first and only time I’d ever seen it.
I watched it a few times. And then one day it was gone. I did manage to find a downloadable file version somewhere, but the sound quality is horrible.
Hopefully someday it’ll show up again somewhere in better shape. If someone would put it on a DVD collection, that would be nice. Until that day comes, I’ll be driving around the world in a rusty ice cream truck, searching for someone who has a dusty old VHS tape with the SNL performance on it. It’ll be a long and taxing journey, but I think by the time 2032 rolls around I should have something to show for my trouble.
Last night I found myself writing some words that were kind of the opposite of what I’ve been writing lately — closer to poetry than lyrics, I guess, though I’m no poet. They were sparse in a way that appealed to me.
I thought it might be an idea to do something with them the next day. Something kind of weightless and arrhythmic. It would give me an excuse to pull out my oddly-tuned Fender Strat and throw a little dissonance in there.
Today I gave it a try, and it all fell together pretty quickly.
I put two mics on the amp this time — the usual SM57, and then I stuck a Neumann KM184 in there off-axis, farther back, coming in from the left. Thought I’d give that a try as more of a room mic instead of rigging up an LDC and see how it fared. I positioned the mics pretty randomly, so I wasn’t expecting the results to sound that great. And it did sound a little off at first. Then I flipped the phase on one of the mics (something I’ve never done before because I’ve never run into any obvious phase issues that made it necessary), and bang. There it was.
I’ve never captured an electric guitar sound this good in my life. It kills any amp simulator I’ve ever used. There’s this three-dimensional sound and a sensation of moving air I never knew I was missing before, maybe because my ears were younger and less experienced. There’s also a bit of hum there, mostly from the spring reverb. But I kind of like that there’s some noise on the track.
I recorded a few minutes of mostly rhythmless guitar, full of suspended chords that didn’t resolve. I added a second guitar for about half of the song, at one point bouncing a pencil on the strings for a different sound, recorded vocals, tracked the drums, recorded bass and a little more singing, and there was the song, more or less.
It doesn’t sound like anything I’ve ever done before. It sounds like I’m trying to ape late-period Talk Talk, but that isn’t the case. I just wanted to try doing something without a click track, with more use of space, silence (or near-silence), and dynamics. Something more improvised and unpredictable. Plus I wanted an excuse to play something more interesting than a straight 4/4 pattern behind the drums. I ended up making use of mallets, sticks, and brushes, all in the space of just over three minutes.
I’m not sure about the mix yet. The drums sound very room-y, and maybe I should have put some effort into getting a tighter sound. I guess they sound like drums in a room. Which is a good thing. Maybe it’s just that I’m used to hearing sound-replaced, over-hyped drums in scary pop music, so drums that sound this real occasionally come off as “unprofessional”. It probably also has to do with spending years using amp simulators instead of real guitar amps, and going through about a dozen different drum sounds because of changing equipment and mics/mic placement. Building and tweaking the “studio” over the years has been an interesting education, and it’s an ongoing one.
It took me a while, but I figured out that while certain pieces of equipment and techniques may be quick and easy, they don’t always yield the most organic sounds. I still can’t believe I spent so many years neglecting my guitar amps. I should probably be thankful I can still listen to all the things that were recorded using the POD and the Digitech effects box without wincing.
I’m not sure why that is. Maybe the songs outweigh the gear. Maybe because of the limitations I had at the time, I was forced to find ways of working around or through certain problems. Which is why it’s so strange to be getting sounds that I like so much now without having to put too much work into it. I’m sure having better gear helps. and luck has more than a little to do with it.
This is probably all incredibly boring to read, but I shall play on, undaunted.
I think the song still needs a little something before it’s finished. A few brief, unexpected moments of different sounds coming in, maybe. I’m not sure what those sounds should be. I’m thinking about looking for a dirt-cheap violin and trying to get some useable sounds out of it. I could do a lot of experimenting, but I’d rather get an idea in my head of what I want to do and then get it done, instead of messing around somewhat aimlessly like I did on that Papa Ghostface song.
Then again, aimless messing around could be the answer.
I don’t know if this is song a one-off or if I should try to keep going in this direction, but it’s certainly a change. I wasn’t even sure how I should sing to the music at first. I’d like to wait until I have a real piano at my disposal (which should happen in a few weeks if all goes according to plan) and throw a bit of that in, because I have a feeling it would add whatever glue I think I need, but I’m not sure I have the patience to sit on the song for that long. I want to keep the momentum going and work as fast as possible so I can start “releasing” albums again before the year gets too ripe. Of course, when the songs I’m recording are moving in about thirty six different directions, it’s difficult to know what to put where and how to organize or compartmentalize it all.
In other news, today is the one year anniversary of my Myspace page, which is only now finally getting some use. In the words of Tom Waits, “Hail, hail the eyeball kid.”
Tomorrow Adam is coming over and we’re going to try recording some piano/keys for some of his songs. I think it’ll be interesting. I haven’t tried playing a part in someone else’s music for quite some time now. Playing a show at Phog on May 1st with Adam and a drummer (also named Adam) should be interesting too. I told myself I probably wouldn’t play live again, but being more of a background character is a different story. The spotlight isn’t on me, so I think it’ll be fun. I’m long overdue to pop in at Phog as it is.
I had an interesting phrase come into my head when I was half-asleep, and I kept repeating it in my mind in an attempt to remember it, but I pretty much lost it during sleep. It was something along the lines of, “How does the lie make itself true?” But it was much more interesting than that.
I was walking around inside the house this afternoon and started singing this little phrase with words that made no sense, apropos of nothing. I kind of liked it. So I figured out something to play on the guitar to accompany the voice and recorded a little thirty-second thing that sounds like a happy old blues song or something. I even sang the words kind of garbled and unintelligible in an attempt to sound unlike myself, which isn’t something I’ve done much of in a long time. Singing unlike myself, I mean. Although, if this new Papa Ghostface album ends up happening, I may have to experiment with trying on some different voices like I used to back in the day.
I have so many MiniDV tapes and CDs full of ideas and songs in various states of completion, it’s ridiculous. As soon as I have a still camera I’ll take a picture of them all so everyone can see just how ridiculous it is. And the songs keep on mutating the longer I wait to record or mix them.
A few weeks ago I recorded something that’s basically a ballad, assuming I would leave it as an unadorned acoustic piece. Yesterday I found myself thinking about overdubbing drums, and maybe some slide banjo and other things. I didn’t get around to trying it today, but I will sometime during the week. I think the drums will be pretty subdued — just kick, snare, and tambourine.
I also need to mix an “unreleased” version of “Puppet Shoot Puppet” that may be superior to the one that ended up on PAVEMENT HUGGING DADDIES in some ways. I’ve only got about fifteen tracks left to mix for the out-takes collection, which may seem like a lot, but compared to how much there was to do before it’s not too intimidating. Maybe I’ll even be able to get it all done by the end of the month and then get to work on figuring out how to design the CD cases/jackets/booklets and things. Fun in the sun.
The other day I sat out on the porch for a while playing twelve-string guitar. I guess it’s technically an eleven-string at the moment. A cute little girl who looked to be three or four years old was playing with a pink inflatable ball on the front lawn of the house next door. She kept coming over and looking at me like she was wondering where all the sound was coming from.
She also kept throwing her ball onto the road so her mother would have to go fetch it, because she found it amusing. She would look to see if anyone was paying attention, and if they weren’t looking at her she would give the ball a little underhanded toss off of the grass. Then she would look at her mother feigning surprise, as if the ball had taken on a life of its own and somehow got away from her. It was pretty funny. Sadly, her mother caught on and told her if the ball ended up on the road one more time she wouldn’t be allowed to keep playing with it.
All of this inspired me to come up with an idea on the guitar I’m pretty sure wouldn’t have been born otherwise. It needs words, and I have a feeling they’ll be slow to show up for this particular piece of music, but I like it.
The most important discovery of the day was that there is such a place as Wagga Wagga, Australia. I had no idea. I think that’s a great name for a city. “Welcome to Wagga Wagga!” It has this exotic ring to it, like something out of a movie. You’d think it was something a screenwriter made up, but no. It exists.
You know how I said a lot of times songs know what they want to be better than I do? Here’s some recent proof.
A few weeks back I mentioned this song I recorded electric guitars for one day when I was playing around with an SM57 and a guitar amp for the first time in ages. Over the past few weeks I’ve been chipping away at it here and there.
The lyrics were there almost immediately, so I recorded the vocals. I left it alone for a while. A few days ago I set up the R88 in front of the drum set (now that I have extension patch cords, I can actually move the mic around a bit) and thought I’d try a few passes at recording drums for the song, mostly just to see how the mic fared.
Since I still don’t have a mic clip that will hold the mic properly, I couldn’t use it as a straight overhead mic. I set it up as a front-of-kit mic a few feet out front, with the top of the mic just below my head level. Probably far from the ideal place to record a drum set. Not that I’ve ever been anything approaching an expert at mic placement.
Anyway, I spent a few seconds getting the mic centered and got on with recording. Then I listened to what I’d recorded and said, “Jesus Christ, this microphone is nuts. Why did I let it sit in its case for more than a year before thinking to start using it? What was I thinkin’ in my head?!”
(Dig the Sly Stone reference. He’s a quotable guy.)
After a few passes I got a take that seemed decent enough to keep. I found I had to hit the snare a bit harder than usual to get it to come through, and I’m not a hard hitter behind the drums. But when you consider one stereo microphone was capturing all of the drums and cymbals, with no close mics or overheads used, the sound that came out of the monitors was pretty insane.
With no mic on the kick and no EQ, I think this is my favourite kick drum sound I’ve ever managed to record. It just sounds right. It sounds real. No mud, not too bassy or thumpy, no hype, but it’s not wimpy either. It sits where I want it to in the mix. It might not come through as well on computer speakers, but it sure sounds good on headphones and studio monitors. I don’t think my cymbals have ever sounded this good before either.
I added a generous amount of high frequency EQ to bring out a little more shimmer, or sparkle, or whatever word you prefer for “that which doth not fizzle but maketh mine pikestaff grow nonetheless”. I don’t have any good outboard EQ at my disposal. Actually, that’s not quite true. There’s the EQ strip on a Chandler TG Channel mic pre, but I’ve yet to really put that thing through its paces. Otherwise, I’m limited to what lives inside of the VS-1680.
If I need to cut lows or something, it works fine. If I want to boost high frequencies, it’s going to sound much closer to “my ears are bleeding!” than “auditory sweetness”.
Real outboard EQ is what you want to use for this sort of thing. The problem is, I went so crazy on mic preamps when I was retooling the studio, I didn’t think to get at least two channels of high quality EQ while I was at it. So I try to get it right the first time, as Billy Joel suggested back in the mid-late 1970s, and I avoid the use of EQ as much as possible.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying, “My EQ is not sexy. It cries at night. So sad.”
So, knowing nothing good would come of it, I tried boosting some highs just for fun. And it sounded good. It didn’t really change the character of the mic. It just added that extra bit of air I wanted.
If the mic plays this well with shitty EQ, I can only imagine how good it might sound with something more worthy.
Now that the drums were recorded, my original plan to leave the guitars alone wasn’t going to work anymore. Some more low end was needed. So bass was recorded, and I managed to improvise a few countermelodies I liked.
Either I’m a much better bassist than I used to be or the Chandler Germanium is the best bass DI there ever was, because I didn’t have to do anything at all to the tone. Again, it just sat where I wanted it to. In the past I would EQ the mucus out of my bass tracks and add a “bass amp simulator” effect in order to get things to sound as defined as I could while cutting out the mud. I like the bass sounds I got doing that (heard on everything from OH YOU THIS forward — before that, I wouldn’t use any EQ and things would get a little muddy sometimes), but it’s nice not to have to do it anymore. Maybe the new pickups I souped the bass up with a while back deserve some thanks too.
The song still felt like it was missing something. I recorded a little bit of Wurlitzer electric piano, and that seemed to be what it needed. Part of me wishes I’d thrown another mic in there to make the snare cut a little more, and there’s a sloppy vocal moment where my voices sing “that” and “who” at the same time instead of deciding on some common ground, but as usual I didn’t feel like polishing the song to within an inch of its life. So I think those rough edges will always be there.
What’s funny is, as rough as it is, this song sounds so much more polished than the stuff I was doing a few years ago. I did a rough mix today just to see how it all sounded on CD. I’m not sure if it’ll be the final mix, but I put it up on my Myspace page instead of posting it here. Gotta mix things up and keep people on their toes.
So, a song goes from being pretty stripped-down and looking like it’ll stay that way, to being a little less stripped-down, without me having much to do with it on an active level. It just sort of happened. I can hear all kinds of other things I could have added in my head — layers of guitars and stuff — but it would have been a little tricky with only sixteen tracks to work with. I didn’t feel like bouncing things all over the place. I guess I just don’t roll that way. Austerity is in my bones, no matter how many times I try to send myself somewhere else.
Back in late January, Gord and I had our first real Papa Ghostface recording session in years. Only one song came out of it — a far cry from the hyper-productive days of old — but the knowledge that there was even the seed of a new Papa Ghostface song had at least three imaginary people in hysterics. We recorded bass and synthesizer, with me playing one-handed hip-hop synth drums for a bit of the song, and left it at that.
After Gord took off, I messed around with recording some vocals. I came up with some melodic ideas I liked, but the words weren’t really going anywhere interesting. I would write better words later on, I figured. I also added a bit of electric guitar and showed my neglected wah pedal some love. It had a long way to go, but the song was at least starting to sound more evolved.
There’s some video footage of us recording elements of this tune that I plan to put up here as soon as I have the necessary equipment to import it into my computer and edit it together — some bits of Gord and I shaping the music, and also a bit where I go through an early, unfinished mix of the song.
I had some plans for the song, but it took a while to set them in motion. The “chorus” was supposed to incorporate a piano figure that came to me in a dream sometime back. Gord’s bass-playing ended up halving the intended tempo, so I thought I’d play it in slowed-down form during those passages of the song and then add a coda where it could be heard the way it was originally conceived. I also wanted to add acoustic drums. Tried overdubbing some more of the synth drums that open the song, but it just didn’t seem quite right. So I thought I’d play something subdued with the snare open.
I didn’t finally get around to doing any of this until just the other day. I ended up keeping almost all of my original improvised vocals, only touching up one little bit. There isn’t much of any lyrical substance there, and the words don’t make any sense (not that my lyrics often make much sense these days), but I was going more for mood. While anything I replaced the existing vocals with would probably have been more polished and interesting, I couldn’t come up with any coherent narrative to graft onto the music. Besides, there’s a bit of a Wax Mannequin vocal quote in there. I couldn’t very well get rid of that, could I?
I tried recording drums through most of the song. It turned out they only felt right during a few brief passages. As with that first song, the snare didn’t cut through as much as it might have, because again I was only using the R88. On a whim I toyed with replacing the intended piano part with some Fender Rhodes, and again it didn’t seem to fit in some of the places I wanted it to go, so I ended up with a very simplified version of the original idea during the second “chorus” and a sketchy coda that briefly nods to what I meant to weave in and out of the whole song.
I wanted more percussion in there. I tried all kinds of different things: African drums, a circular piece of metal that used to function as the top of a little table (a cool, metallic sound full of possibilities, but not right for this song), and just hitting the toms behind the drum kit. Nothing really seemed to work.
It turned out the song didn’t want much in the way of drums or percussion. During the last instrumental section I added some more singing (repeating the word “somebody” over and over again for some reason that still evades me), and then I worked on putting a rough mix together.
Here, then, is the first new Papa Ghostface song since the still-unmixed-and-untitled instrumental oddity we recorded in late 2002.
I wanted to come up with a more interesting title but didn’t have any ideas. As with the other tune, I’m not sure if this is going to be the final mix by any means. At least it gets the idea across for now.
It’s an odd little song, really, mostly because of how not-odd it is. It’s grounded in the key of A minor, which I try to stay away from most of the time these days. Even though the music was improvised, the structure is very much a standard A-B-A form, which is also something I’ve been staying away from for years now. Almost everything is swimming in reverb — again, something I tend to avoid at this point.
I did dial back some of the reverb on my voice. It was a bit too much in the original work mix. But this is basically the opposite of the way I’ve been mixing my own stuff lately. I seem to be keeping everything dry most of the time.
It doesn’t feel like anything else Gord and I have ever done together. It’s a lot more “normal” than most other Papa Ghostface songs, though my singing gets a little weird in parts. It doesn’t really feel like something I would have done if left completely to my own devices, even though I did end up playing everything aside from the bass, more or less shaping the song on my own. I don’t know what it is. The beginning of a new Papa Ghostface chapter, or just a fluke?
Whatever the case, it’s the longest song I’ve recorded in a while, in stark contrast to all the tiny songs I’ve been posting here. While everything was improvised like in the old days, it feels like it’s coming from some other place. I dig Gord’s bass-playing. It’s nice to be able to hear every nuance of it, now that I have better equipment and sometimes know what I’m doing, or at least more than I did back in the crazy old days.
If a full album does end up coming out of this, the end result will operate on a sonic level far above anything we’ve ever done before as a two-man quasi-band. The hiss in this song comes from the Arp Omni-2 — an old analog synth that puts out a bit of noise I can’t mask without killing some of the tone. So I left it in.
I really should experiment with adding at least one more mic over the drums as a mono overhead, regardless of what happens on the Papa Ghostface front. It would be nice to get the snare and toms coming through with a bit more pop. Otherwise, I think I’m pretty happy with this new drum sound. I’ve thought about trying another four-mic approach, with a kick mic, a snare mic, and maybe two SM57s as overheads just for fun, but I’m not sure I’ll get around to testing it out anytime soon.
Full of surprises, these misfit songs be. Some of these things I’m mixing I haven’t listened to since they were recorded, which means it’s been anywhere from a year or two to eight or nine years since I last heard them. Some songs have been more enjoyable to listen to than I remembered, and easier to mix than I was expecting.
By the same token, some songs I thought were shoe-ins for the collection turned out to kind of…well…suck. Hard. Like a demonic vacuum cleaner set on “annihilate”. It’s a good thing I haven’t committed to anything close to a solid sequence/track order yet.
Since I still have quite a bit of work left to do before everything is finished and I can turn my attention to how best to present the thing as a whole, I thought I might as well post some of the songs that are probably not making the cut, just for fun. Most of these things are just too sketchy to include, I think.
The 2-Step Techno Trumpet Shuffle was really just recorded to test levels, and there’s a big gaping melodic hole in the middle of the song where I walked over to the mixer to make sure the two stereo channels were operating at the same volume. I kind of liked the quick little fake-trumpet idea — still do — but never developed it into anything substantial.
I still intend to turn Very Supersexy into a proper song someday, though I haven’t made my way around to writing lyrics yet. The initial idea came to me seconds after rolling out of bed, and I scrambled to record it before warming up my voice.
They Removed Your Wings was an improvisation around a few ideas and has since gone through some serious changes. I kind of like the little sketch, but it doesn’t seem interesting or fluid enough to justify putting on the album, and it’s missing some of the better instrumental additions I came up with later on.
Distorted Vocal Weirdness is…distorted vocal weirdness. Not one of my more fetching vocal experiments. I felt like messing around with an SM58 and a POD, trying out different effects. I do like the demented ending, at least.
I should probably be spending less time mixing these misfits and more time recording new songs. I was doing that, but I’m so close to being finished with the misfits, and I’ve been chipping away at this project for a good few years now in fits and starts. I think it’s time to see it through to the bitter end.
I’ll probably end up doing it all again in another eight or nine years when there’s another pile of misfits to attend to.
I spent about an hour today running around frantically trying to find the cassette tape that has my 2002 CJAM performance on it.
Before moving, I knew exactly where this tape was. Today it wasn’t in its case. It didn’t seem to be anywhere at all.
This wasn’t good. That tape is the only surviving document of those live radio performances of “Filler” and “Unstable Things”. I worked up a sweat looking everywhere I could think of. Nothing.
Defeated, I sat down at my desk in the studio…and saw the tape was right in front of my face. It was resting on top of a mic preamp the whole time. I put it there so I wouldn’t have to go looking for it.
It was then that the world heard what may be the loudest dirty word ever uttered by a living person.
Well, maybe not. But it was still pretty loud.
Also, I have a Myspace page. Scary, I know. I made the page almost a year ago, only to learn Myspace streaming made my music sound pretty horrible. So I removed the songs and tried to kill my page. Myspace wouldn’t let me delete it.
Today I thought, “If I can’t get rid of the thing, I might as well have some fun with it,” and spent some time adding a bit of stuff. I even found a way to put music up there without allowing it to pass through Myspace’s shitty streaming.
I realize this is a very important day for the human race. The repercussions may not be truly felt until years from now, but lives have been enriched, and the entire course of history has been altered.
I’ve been recording and mixing some things. My sleep being completely out of whack didn’t help my productivity, though I managed to get some work done at odd hours. At least some amount of progress is being made, even if it still feels like it’ll never all be finished.
There have been a few more interesting experiences mixing old songs. The other day i tackled “Trouble”, a ten-minute spoken word piece from 1999. That was fun. It was my first time ever recording a drum set, and nothing about it was ideal. The drums looked like they’d been around for about a hundred years and had a choked, dead sound to them. The only mics I had to record them with were two SM57s, before I knew anything about mic placement. There were no mic pres. There was no compression. And on it goes.
The mix I did in 1999 was kind of muddy. The drums didn’t sound half bad, but my voice was pretty low in the mix. That’s not such a good idea when you’re dealing with a spoken word piece.
As with “Promises”, it surprised me how easy it was to get things sounding decent without spending much time messing around. I cut out the mud, cleaned everything up as well as I could, pushed my voice way up in the mix, and suddenly the song came to life. I still can’t believe how good I was able to get the drums sounding just by adding some compression and dialling in a bit of EQ.
Today I remixed a song called “Husk” that was recorded during the BRAND NEW SHINY LIE sessions. Again, the mix I did at the time was problematic. It’s nowhere near as bad as the first mix I did of “Trouble”, but I made the mistake of cutting some of the mids out of the guitar tracks (I was experimenting with EQ at the time and trying to find a way to make the vocals stand out without having to push them up in the mix), and the whole thing just didn’t sound as defined as it should have.
This one was a little trickier. There was a lot more going on. “Trouble” just had one stereo guitar track, bass, drums on two tracks, and my voice, with everything recorded live in one pass. “Husk” has about four guitar parts that come in at different times, bass, a few different vocal tracks, the drums recorded on four tracks, a brief synth bit, and certain fader moves need to be made at specific times in order for everything to work.
Odd musical dreams continue to pop up on a pretty regular basis. A few nights ago there was one that had me watching a LeAnn Rimes video (huh?). She was singing a catchy song while walking in slow motion across a very cinematic desert setting. She was always off to the right of the frame, staring into the camera suggestively.
It didn’t sound much like a country song. I managed to remember at least part of the chorus:
Gotta keep on movin’ forward.
It sounded more natural than you’d expect. I even remember the music that went along with it.
But the real point of the dream was that the word “bra” had been outlawed from the English language because it was now considered obscene. It was an ominous sign of things to come.
Onto other, less ominous things.
When I was thirteen or fourteen years old, I was into a lot of music that kind of makes me wince today. It hurts me more than you could ever know to remember a time when I bought a Bryan Adams CD and felt no shame. I still have that CD, and all the other things I used to be into but will likely never listen to again unless I’m feeling goofy and sentimental (or drunk and sentimental, or horny and sentimental, or…you get the picture).
All was well in my world, until one day I woke up and it struck me that not one of the cassette tapes or CDs I owned interested me anymore. Nor did anything on the radio. It was all bland and boring.
It made no sense. It was like someone came in the night and changed my brain. I used to like all these things, and now they did nothing for me.
Seemed the only solution was to find new things to listen to. So I took it upon myself to search out music that was off the beaten path. I read any and every music magazine and rock encyclopedia I could find. Anything that sounded interesting and obscure went on the list of things to try and find. I still have all these lists I scratched out squirreled away somewhere.
There’s a book called Rock: the Rough Guide. That book became my most important resource (kind of my music Bible), and I’m sure there are still things to discover inside that I haven’t made my way around to yet.
This was where I first read about Nick Drake, Big Star, Scott Walker, David Sylvian, Richard Thompson, the Pixies, Tim and Jeff Buckley, Kate Bush, Morphine, My Bloody Valentine, Aphex Twin, Miles Davis’s electric period, and too many other bands/artists to list.
Most of the things on these lists I made were easier to find than I thought they’d be, but getting my hands on them still felt like I was digging up a bunch of secrets. No one I knew in high school was listening to any of this stuff I was getting into.
Hearing Scott Walker’s album Tilt was maybe the most pivotal musical experience of my life, and a huge step in my process of musical re-education. But that’s a pretty long story, and one that probably wouldn’t make for very interesting reading.
The point is, there are still things I wrote on these lists a decade ago that I haven’t added to my collection yet. Some things I got around to belatedly, like Slowdive and the last two Talk Talk albums. John Martyn was on one of these lists, but if not for the encouragement of Lucas, it probably would have taken me another five years to pick up one of his CDs with all the other stuff I was looking for, and that would have been a shame.
That’s only the second time I’ve ever embedded a YouTube video in a blog entry. Truly a landmark event, right up there with eating an apple at three in the morning and accidentally sneezing in the mirror.
(I’ll have you know I did both of those things, too.)
I continue to write lists of new music and films to hunt for. I don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I’ve crossed everything off of every list. But it’s kind of nice to always have new stimuli to look forward to. Even though a lot of the music being produced today is complete and utter shit in my opinion — or at least the stuff that keeps floating to the top is — there’s still so much good stuff out there waiting to be heard, and I’ll never be able to hear it all in my lifetime. It’s a search that never ends.
I’ve only just now crossed these guys off of one of the old lists.
I read about Wire at least a good ten years ago in that Rough Guide tome. I meant to get their first three albums back then, but I kept forgetting. It took me until a few weeks ago to finally pick up Chairs Missing at Dr. Disc. For some reason I didn’t want to splurge and get Pink Flag and 154 as well. Maybe because I already had about eight other CDs in my hands.
When I listened to Chairs Missing at home later on, I felt like kicking myself for waiting so long to pick it up, and then kicking myself again for not grabbing the other two albums. The other day I remedied that.
It would be impossible to overstate the influence these albums have had on the music that followed, and the influence they continue to have today. It’s insane. Wire were post-punk before there was post-punk. They did disco/dance-punk almost thirty years before The Rapture and all those other bands came along to soak up the genre once it knew what to call itself. They pointed to post-rock long before it even had a name. I could go on. But they did a lot of these things better the first time around.
They even did “Connection” by Elastica well over a decade before Elastica existed, only it was called “Three Girl Rhumba” when Wire played it. And “Heartbeat” has to be one of the catchiest, most hypnotic two-chord songs ever recorded.
There are other Wire albums that were recorded later on, after they broke up and got back together again, but I’m not really in a hurry to explore those when there’s so much to absorb on these first three. In three years these guys went through such an accelerated process of musical development, they sound like a completely different band on each album.
And when you have a drummer whose last name is “Gotobed”, how can you go wrong?
I guess I should also cross the Tindersticks off that ten-year-old list at some point, and maybe pick up some albums by the Pogues to supplement the “best of” collection I bought all those years ago…
I’ve come across a lot of music, films, and things on the internet over the years in random moments, while not looking for anything in particular. I seem to have a strange knack for finding things I like without really trying — a convenient accidental skill to have when you haven’t actively listened to the radio in a decade and don’t watch much television or keep up with a whole lot of what’s going on in the world.
Recently I came across a band called Francis and the Lights. I don’t know much about them aside from the information available on their website and Myspace page, but they offer their entire first EP (plus some B-sides, demos and live performances) as a free download on their site. That’s what I like to see. It doesn’t hurt that the music is good. I’ve been especially digging the first track, “Striking”.
Sounds like something I might have heard in one of my dreams if Peter Gabriel kicked Prince out of his own band mid-concert and took over for a spastic, sweaty, spontaneous performance that whipped the audience into a frenzy (and just because I haven’t dreamt it yet doesn’t mean it won’t happen someday). It makes me feel like dancing — and not much of anything makes me feel like dancing, ever since that traumatic experience in grade seven when my best friend stole my best dance move (the celebrated “Johnny Shuffle”) that won me the “Dance King” title the previous year and proceeded to dethrone me.
The dance-off came down to just the two of us in the end, and his slightly modified version of my shuffle won the hearts of everyone present. I did dance with a lot of girls, though, so it wasn’t a total wash. And we laugh about it today. But you wouldn’t be laughing if you saw me unleashing the Johnny Shuffle back then. I was a force to be reckoned with.
Looks like Francis is working on his own version of the Johnny Shuffle in that picture up there. Maybe I was more influential than I realized (I kid). I was also a child of the eighties, so squealing synths will always hold some appeal for me no matter how obscure my taste in music might become, especially when they’re used well.
So, if you think you’d be into something that sounds some sort of delicious funk/soul hybrid from the 1960s, displaced in time and warped into something new that seems at once familiar and foreign, you should go download the Striking EP. And if you find yourself feeling the need to shake some body parts, well…just make sure no one’s paying any attention, and then shake away.
As I’ve been mixing some of the songs that have fallen by the wayside over the years for this out-takes/misfits collection, I find it surprising how easy a lot of them are to work with. Some of these things were recorded back when I had very little equipment and didn’t know much about how to use what I did have, but it’s been a pretty pain-free process getting mixes I’m happy with.
I guess when you’re working within certain limitations you sometimes devise methods of working around them. Not that my new and improved gear is going anywhere. It’s just a nice surprise to find that a lot of the older songs sound pretty good in their own right.
I’m also realizing that out of the initial group of eighty or so songs I decided to work with, there are somewhere between ten and twenty I don’t think are CD material after all for various reasons. This should make sequencing the discs a little less frustrating, though it still won’t be easy to find a good balance between proper songs and sketchier things. There are a lot of other out-takes and things I’m not sure what to do with. I should probably put them all together in one place so I can listen to them for my own amusement, if the mood ever strikes.
Some things should never see the light of day. But that doesn’t mean I can’t laugh at them from time to time.
1/ Write song.
2/ Move into new house.
3/ Lose track of the lyrics in the process.
4/ Say, “Where the hell is it?” repeatedly while looking for lost lyric sheet when you realize it’s missing half a year after the fact.
I remember the first line of the song, and the last line, and nothing in-between. It’s frustrating, because this is one of my favourite things I’ve written on guitar in standard tuning. Until I find the lyrics, wherever they may be, recording the thing is impossible. Searching for one piece of paper in a sea of thousands upon thousands of pieces of paper is going to be fun.
I did decide on a final mix for “Promises”, so that’s something. Mixing the drum and bass tracks was a little tricky, what with the unusually resonant THWUNK sound of my detuned kick drum eating up a lot of the low end. I think I was able to find a good balance between getting it to sit in the mix without EQing its personality away. Funny how just a few years ago I was planning on re-recording the drums and completely remixing everything, and in the end all I really did was tighten up my original eight-year-old mix a little and use a tiny bit more of the synthetic triangle loop that was recorded to serve as a click track.
I don’t know why I only thought to use slapback echo on the drums for this one song and then never tried it again even once. And my initial lukewarm feelings have shifted. Now I think this song is one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. I have no idea why. I could listen to it over and over again.
I now have about two thirds of the songs for that misfits collection mixed to my satisfaction, so it’s getting there. Just need to figure out how to package it and what to do for cover art. I was going to make use of some old pictures, but while I was looking for those missing lyrics last night I found a drawing some person who shall remain nameless sketched of me something like eight years ago. It’s got an interesting look to it. Maybe that would work well as a cover image.
I also need to look at getting some sort of CD label printer and printable recordable CDs of good quality (Taiyo Yuden, where are you?), since working with a media broker to replicate the CDs has become too much of a hassle. It would be nice if I didn’t have to do every single thing myself, but seeing as how incompetence makes the world go ’round, there ain’t but the one way, as Sly Stone would say.
Trying to sequence somewhere between seventy and eighty songs over two CDs in a way that makes sense is going to be a bit like extracting teeth. I’ll leave that mess until all the songs are CD-ready.
Been having some strange musical dreams lately in which I come across songs I’ve recorded that I somehow never knew existed. Some of them are alternate versions of existing songs. Others are unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s all good stuff. Of course, I eventually have to wake up and realize none of these songs are real. I wonder what it means.
It’s funny how sometimes what you think a song needs doesn’t end up working at all, as ridiculously obvious as it seems. You say to yourself, “Self…this song is almost finished. All it really needs is some overdubbed kick drum to add a little low end thump.” And yourself says to you, “Why, self, of course! It just makes sense. We are so smart.” Then you sit down to record said kick drum part, and it sounds just fine on its own but in the context of the song it doesn’t work at all.
And so you say to yourself, “Self…what happened? It seemed so simple. Now I come to find out the kick drum and my stomping live in two very different frequency ranges that aren’t at all compatible.” And yourself says to you, “What can I tell you, self? Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you expect them to. Try overdubbing another track or two of stomping instead.” So you do, and all is well. Your entire universe has been altered, and things will never be the same again.
Then some drunk teenage girl throws a brick that hits you in the head, you suffer a concussion, and you forget all about the kick drum incident. But the nurse that attends to your needs is quite fetching, and she’s a jazz fan. Perhaps angsty drunken teenagers should throw bricks at your head more often.
Anyway. Today I decided to do a little experimenting with that stereo ribbon mic. As it turned out, I didn’t get to do much with it. With the assistance of Johnny Smith I discovered the mic clip provided by AEA is too large to properly thread into the mic itself, so I could only screw the microphone directly into the mic stand and was very limited in how I could position it. I also need some patch cord extensions, because the attached cords are far too short for me to get the mic more than halfway into the room, which means recording drums is not possible with this mic for the moment. Why hast thou forsaken me, AEA? Why?!
Hopefully I can find a mic clip/mount around here that’s the proper size and is strong enough to hold this mic. I was able to at least do a tiny bit of playing around, in a limited way. The first thing that hits you when you take the protective cover off is how pretty this mic is. I wanted to woo it and give it flowers or something. It just looks classy. And it should, given how much it costs.
But that’s beside the point (on the left side of it, if you’re interested in specifics). All I could really do was talk into it and try a bit of acoustic guitar. Because I couldn’t get the mic where I wanted it without the use of the clip, I had to stand on my tiptoes and hold the guitar up as high as I could to get things more or less in the middle of the stereo field. If you know how I play guitar, you might be wondering, “How do you play standing up, holding the guitar so high you could rest your chin on it if you wanted to?” The answer is, “Not very easily”. But I was able to get at least a bit of something that the mic could work with.
And holy donkey-curated vinegar, does it sound nice. My voice ended up mostly in the left stereo channel because of the awkward positioning, but the guitar sounds pretty tasty, and I wasn’t even in anything near the optimal place to get the best sound out of it. The high end is sweet without being even remotely hyped (I think the impedance button on the great river MP-2NV is partially to thank for this). I could easily stick this microphone in front of someone singing and playing guitar, spend a few minutes finding the sweet spot, stick a pop screen in front of it to catch any unexpected plosives, and as long as they kept a good natural balance between guitar and voice it would sound more or less perfect. I doubt I would need to do anything to it after the fact or add any other microphones. I want to try this thing out on guitar amps, drums, and other things. But it’ll have to wait for another day.
I realize anyone reading this is probably falling asleep at this point, and all I can say in response is, “I hope your dreams are as messed up as mine. They’re like weird little movies. It’s fun.”
Speaking of dreams, I had one last night in which “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones was performed as a sort of rockabilly/skiffle number by The Doors, with Jerry Garcia on guitar, and the original lyrics had been replaced by the words to “All My Loving” by the Beatles. The results were bizarre, but strangely catchy.
I dumped “Promises”, a nine-minute piano ballad (scare of all scares) from 2000, back onto the mixer to play with today and found out my original mix from almost eight years ago isn’t as bad as I remembered it being. I just assumed I would have to record a new drum track, because what I originally did was a little amateurish and I’d only just acquired my drum set at the time. But it seems to fit the song, and I like the drum sound. So that was a pleasant surprise. All I really have to do is remix the beast…bring the bass up a bit, use a little EQ and compression to tighten things up, and away we go.
It’s still surreal to listen to this song. Sample lyric:
And I will try not to spit out a stream of clichés.
I know they’ve outworn their welcome.
They’ve seen better days.
Yes, I will try not to break the ties that bind me.
I’ll probably forget if you don’t remind me.
What the hell?! That doesn’t sound much like the sort of thing I would write these days. But damned if there isn’t something about it I still like anyway. Everything rhymes, it’s a love song, and yet it seems to fly by in half of the nine minutes it actually takes to play out. Maybe it’s the John Lennon-inspired slapback echo on the vocals and snare drum. Yeah…that must be it. In any case, I think this song will be one of the highlights on OUT-TAKES, MISFITS & OTHER THINGS.