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.
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.
(Edit: a few years later I wrote about it anyway.)
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…