Month: July 2008

There’s just something about the key of E flat.

I just put a new song up on Spyspace. I’ll probably leave it up there for a week or two before I mix things up again and pull out some warped songs from 1999 or something. Most of it was recorded yesterday, and today I tracked the drums and mixed it.

It’s more or less the complete opposite of everything on CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN — no vocal multi-tracking, no stringed instruments of any kind, everything soaked in reverb. The Arp Omni-2 is all over this song, and this is the first time I’ve ever recorded the bass patch on that synth. It’s a pretty cool sound. Kind of makes me think a bit of the synth bass in “Goodnight Tonight” by Wings.

I need to make some more use of that Arp beast. No digital synth I’ve ever played can spit out sounds like that, and the string sounds are pretty neat too. I keep neglecting it in favour of guitars and things. Then I play it and remember how cool it is. It’s not high up there on the list of synths people salivate over like the Prophet-5 or the Jupiters and Junos, but I dig it.

I’ve had the thing for more than a decade now, and it refuses to die even though it has to be well over thirty years old. The only problem I’ve had with it in recent years is a bit of a bit of a high drone that’s developed (I’m not sure offhand what note it is exactly), usually sounding at odd brief moments when I play around the high A key that doesn’t pass sound anymore. But actually, it’s kind of a cool sound when it happens, and the unexpected moments of dissonance tend to suit whatever song I’m using the synth on. It happens a few times in this new one.

How many more times am I going to type the word “cool”? The answer is three. Observe: cool cool cool.

There. I think it got it out of my system. I feel at least two pounds lighter now.

The song was meant to be a good deal longer — I was shooting for somewhere between seven and ten minutes — but it felt like it would get a little stale if I kept the instrumental section going for too long. So even though it’s shorter than I intended it to be and there were a lot of additional ideas I didn’t bother to develop, I think it feels right. I’m not sure if it’s a harbinger of things to come on the next CD or just a brief detour along the way. We’ll soon find out.

I thought I’d throw some piano in the mix, because I haven’t used that sound in a while. For some reason the Clavinova doesn’t really sound digital at all to me in the context of this song. It sounds like a pretty sexy grand piano. I’ve been holding off on recording a wealth of piano songs because I wanted to wait until I had a real piano at my disposal, but maybe I should just bite the bullet and use the Clavinova like I always have. Running it through a nice mic preamp with transformers seems to do a good job of warming up the sound and taming whatever digital bite I would normally try to EQ out of the picture.

The drums sound kind of muted, but I think it suits the song. And I played them with mallets. That does tend to muffle the sound a bit, or so I’m told. I guess I’m diving right into the next album(s) before the one I just finished is even packaged and release-ready (it should be ready for everyone next week sometime), and before I’ve figured out what exactly to do with that imposing misfits compilation. I figure it’s best to keep the momentum going. Maybe I’ll even become absurdly prolific again, kind of like I used to be before my little unintended “vacation” from productivity.

Here are the handwritten lyrics, just for fun. Not my neatest writing, but I think it’s mostly legible. To my knowledge this is the first time I’ve ever used the words “hyperbole” and “myriad” in a song. I borrowed the last two lines from Meryl, keeper of the smoo.

A somewhat hefty picture post.

Here are some more pictures taken by Professor Grandpapa.

I would have posted more of them initially, but I didn’t know anyone else would be interested. I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s fascinated by this stuff. I especially like the second and third from the top (the detail on the one guy’s tweed jacket and the wood grain…man oh man…), and the seventh shot. Those pickles sure look good. The sixth picture didn’t quite develop properly, but I think it’s kind of neat in its own way.

Some of these are in better shape than others, as you can see. I highly recommend clicking on the pictures to make ’em bigger.

Here are a few interior shots of the family business, though it was much larger than the impression given here. This is just one small area where some sample fabrics are set up.

Some interesting-looking people.

Written on the back of this one is, “Jo Anne, Margaurette, and Sonia, Walpole Island, 1968.”

These ones were taken in Toronto.

San Juan, Puerto Rico, May 19, 1974. Grandpa is the guy on the left with the dark shades.

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for: Little Johnny.

Holy shit! How did I do that?! Well, hold on just a second and all will be revealed.

How disappointing. The game was rigged from the start.

“I’ll show you, trick banana. You’ll rue the day you met me. Someday your loins will cry for release, and I’ll be there to deny you that which you need so desperately.”

Now, this is something that’s long mystified me. I never thought I would get to see evidence of it. I’m told by those who were there at the time that when I was a little guy, I used to bang on things. Whatever was at hand — a coffee table, a refrigerator, a wall — would become a makeshift drum, and I would tap out a beat. Only, apparently it wasn’t just formless noise. There was a discernible rhythm there, and it was surprisingly intricate. Things would go through changes of intensity and speed. I guess I must have been hearing music in my head long before I could even form any memories of it.

I do have a lot of memories from a little later on in my childhood: getting in trouble in kindergarten for humming in class; my mother telling me not to sing at the breakfast table, and me responding by chewing my cereal in rhythm to the music that was in my head; banging on various pencil boxes with pencils and pens while searching for a great makeshift snare drum sound (one pen was especially nice, with a sound almost like a tambourine being struck in unison with the drum…it was like the Phil Spector sound of pencil box/pen combinations…sadly, one day it exploded from my excessive use of it as a drumstick); riding my bike up at the trailer in Ipperwash and singing these epic songs that were like symphonies with all the different instrumental parts swirling around in my head, and then forgetting the vivid ten minute adventures as soon as they were over. I wouldn’t have been able to translate any of it into something coherent on an instrument back then anyway.

I was going through all these pictures I wanted to scan when I found this one.

What you have here is me in the middle of some pretty intense one-handed drumming. Judging by the expression on my face, I’m thinking the sound of the camera taking my picture caught me off guard and snapped me out of my musical trance for a moment. I never doubted that the stories about my drumming adventures were true, but I always wondered what it might have been like to see it happen. Now I at least have a still image to give me a bit of an idea.

There are many more pictures well worth scanning, but I could spend weeks transferring them all into digital form and posting them here, and then you wouldn’t get to read my endlessly exciting and fascinating posts about recording and writing songs anymore because I would just post pictures all the time. As tempting as it is to go completely scanner-mad, I need to keep a healthy balance between scanning images like a madman and recording like a madman. Nothing in moderation.

Perry Farrell would be very disappointed in me.

No shaking required.

I finally got a scanner. Maybe the best $150 I’ve ever spent. It came bundled with photo editing software that destroys what I previously had access to. It’s so easy to scan things it’s ridiculous, and the quality keeps on surprising me. A lot of images actually look better once they’ve been scanned, and the ability to zoom in reveals details that were previously hidden. I will probably be posting about ten times more frequently than usual, because now I can add photos! Real photos of me and things that are not lifted from various places on the internet!

The anticipation, she is anticipatory.

Nothing to do with music, but it seems appropriate to me that these should be the first scanned images I post: pictures taken by my grandfather sometime around the 1960s, I think. I’m unsure if this is what Windsor used to look like, or if these were taken in different places as he traveled to acquire fabrics for West & Son, the women’s fabric store that was intended to be a long-running family business but died before I was born.

It’s a very long story. Suffice to say my great grandfather was a very rich, very successful businessman in Prague before he was forced to emigrate to Canada and change his last name to avoid being exterminated when the Germans invaded Czechoslovakia. He owned more than a dozen stores and businesses in his homeland. Sometimes I wonder what it might have been like to grow up in Prague asking women what their bust measurements were so I could hand them the proper fabric.

Anyway, these pictures were taken with an old Polaroid camera. You can click on them for much better detail. They haven’t been retouched at all, and in some places you can see some grain or marks from age, but these pictures completely blow my mind. The man must have had some kind of eye, or the lighting conditions must have been just right, because I haven’t seen many Polaroid pictures from any era that are anywhere near this arresting.

Look at the people’s faces in the second shot. I love the different expressions, especially those of the man in the hat and the woman looking at the fabrics. Check out the detail on the buildings and billboards in the first shot. The advertisement for There’s a Girl in My Soup dates this shot to 1970. These are just a few of the hundreds of fascinating pictures that recently came into my possession. I could look at some of them all day.

You really don’t love me; you just keep buying me thongs.

I forgot to mention that I was flipping through channels on the box yesterday (I haven’t watched any substantial amount of TV in quite some time, but sometimes I’ll surf a little), and on CMT they had this stripped-down live performance segment that I think was making its debut on the channel. I watched a bit of it out of curiosity. I was staring at the mic Jessie Farrell was singing into, and I thought, “I know that mic. I know that shock mount.”

Then it clicked — it was a Rode K2. I have one of those! I used to have two of those! And then I saw one of the guys in her band was singing into a Rode NT1. I have one of those too! Not that I’ll ever use either mic again, unless throwing a sock over the NT1 somehow makes it sound amazing and gets rid of the fizzy high end and the Pearlman TM-1 decides to break up with me for someone with a more impressive beard.

But yeah. Pretty funny. I wondered why they would be using those microphones when they could easily have substituted a U87 and a U49, or something else with a lot more mojo. The vocals sounded fine until the “s” sounds came in. Then things got sibilant and I was reminded why those mics haven’t seen a stand or a shock mount over here in a few years now. The K2 is a genuinely nice mic and would probably sound good with a de-esser. I just don’t have a de-esser at my disposal.

Until THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE is all spiffy and packaged, here are a few of the songs that didn’t make the cut. They should give you a bit of an idea of what’s been going down around here without giving away any of the album’s surprises.

Electric Teeth

This one just seemed a little “meh” to me. I think it needs more instrumentation to bring it to life, but I didn’t feel like adding anything to it, and the song didn’t really feel like it belonged on the album anyway, so it got left behind. At least it’s got some of the profanity that’s mostly missing from the CD to recommend it.

The Operative Word Is “Maybe”

This is a tiny song that probably could have fit on the album well enough, but again it didn’t really feel like it belonged. I think the tricky acoustic guitar riff gets lost a bit (I couldn’t seem to arrive at a mix I liked), and while the song is fun to play it seemed a little slight to me.

Neither of these songs were serious contenders to make it onto the album at any point. I did think a song called “Row Ashore” was a shoe-in for a while. It was recorded long before the CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN sessions got underway — back in the summer of 2007, at the old house — and I emailed it to a few people when it was fresh because I thought it was odd that I’d finally written a song with a proper chorus in it after years of avoiding that sort of thing at all costs. What’s more, I liked the song and didn’t think it would have worked as well without the refrain coming back after each verse.

I thought it would be a good way to end the album, even if it was recorded with something completely different in mind. It seemed like a way to bring things full circle and end on kind of a happy note. Then things changed, a lot of songs were recorded in a very short period of time (I don’t think a day has gone by in the past three weeks without a bunch of stuff being recorded), and suddenly the song didn’t make as much sense on the album anymore. It would still probably fit in with the other CHICKEN ANGEL songs sound-wise, but emotionally it doesn’t make sense anymore. So it’ll show up on some other album eventually, and I won’t post it here, because that would take all the fun out of it for the people who haven’t heard the song yet.

Carnival Parting Shot (sketch)

There were some songs I wanted to include on the album but couldn’t for one reason or another. Some of them I didn’t get around to recording in time, and if I didn’t cut myself off one CD would have turned into two and what was already difficult to sequence would have become almost impossible. Some were recorded, but I would hit a snag somewhere along the line and give up on them.

This is one of those things. I’ve tried recording it a few times but haven’t quite been able to get it sounding the way I want it yet. It’ll make it there someday. In the meantime, here’s the original little sketch I recorded before there were any lyrics. Dig my attempt at telling myself how to position my fingers in case I ever forgot how to play it.

There’s also a song called “Don’t Be Tense” that I think would have worked well on the album, but I didn’t finish recording all the different elements in time, and I wasn’t going to drop another song in order to make room for it. All it needs now is a little more guitar and maybe another pass at the drums and then it should be mix-ready. So maybe I’ll put it up on Spyspace in a day or two once that’s been taken care of.

Actually, scratch that. I just finished it before finishing this blog post. On a whim I tried recording some banjo where more electric guitar was supposed to go, and it seemed to work better than the guitar parts would have. I did a quick mix and now it’s up on Ye Olde Space of My for a limited time. There are some mistakes in there, but I kinda like it that way. Pity about that chair creaking at the end. But since it messed with my nice fade-out, I decided to mess with the fade-out itself.

Really, this new album doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all the different things I’ve been writing and recording (and all the things I will be writing and recording) and will eventually be releasing now that I’ve got my groove back. There are a ton of piano songs, synth-based things, electric guitar-driven things, stripped-down acoustic tunes, and more tiny songs than I could hope to catalogue, none of which would have made any sense on this CD. Some songs will be ten minutes long, and others will be over in twenty seconds.

In other words, I still haven’t put much of a dent in all the work that needs to be done, and it’ll be a long time before I’m anywhere near being caught up, thanks in no small part to the crack house situation throwing everything out of whack for an extended period of time. The pile of songs I need to tackle gets larger all the time, because I’m always coming up with new ideas and writing new things faster than I can cross existing songs off the list of things to finish or record.

At least I can see that there’s some progress being made now, and someday maybe there will even be an end in sight. I’m not complaining. It just gets a little overwhelming sometimes. The important thing is, I now know I can still knock out albums quickly like I used to without feeling like I rushed anything or could have done a better job if I’d taken eight months instead of a few weeks to put it all together. In light of that (re)discovery, I aim to make up for lost time in a big way. Watch out for more new music before the year is up.

You’ve got a booger bear under there.

The album is done. I never thought I’d get it finished before the misfits collection. Apparently I underestimated the power inherent in the almighty staff of Dominique. What a strange, beguiling creature she be. I tried to woo her once, but she just hissed and hurled golf balls at my head with such precision and skill I could only love her more.

But back to the album. It’s by far the most insanely packed single-disc musical statement I’ve ever made. There are thirty-two songs, plus a hidden track.

I don’t know how well it works as one big connected series of musical tendrils, but it’s difficult to take that many songs and find a running order that shatters every bulb on the Christmas tree at the same time. Still, it seems like the track list I came up with on paper works well, and I don’t feel like tweaking it eighteen times, so it’ll stay that way until someone remasters and reissues it after I die with a revised running order decided by some hip indie rock guy for added scene cred.

All silliness aside, I think this is the best thing I’ve done in a very long time. It’s entirely possible no one else will like it at all and it’ll be way too much music for them to wade through, but that’s alright with me. All I ever really try to do is make the music I want to make, whatever that happens to be at any given time, and hope when the dust clears I can enjoy listening to what I’ve done. If that all works out, then I consider it a success. And if I find myself wishing I could erase the album from the universe, well…I still give it to some people anyway, because as I like to say, you never know when you might need a makeshift coaster or frisbee.

I aim to provide a number of services. Not all of them are recognized, but such is the life of an unsung instant rice assassin.

I’ll be posting some out-takes and songs that just didn’t get finished in time, in case anyone is interested in hearing that stuff. In the meantime, now the packaging fun begins, and I can finish off the last few songs for the misfits collection so that somewhat massive thing can find its way out into the world as well.

And now, since I still don’t have a digital camera to snap sexy pictures so everyone can rate my hotness on a scale from “putrid” to “ass-destroying” (soon, my sweet…soon), here are some new vinyl acquisitions to gaze upon and adore. Or abhor. My birthday is just a little over three weeks away, so I may soon have a turntable, a stylus, and stereo system that will at last do justice to my slowly-but-steadily growing record collection. I’m getting a bulge in my greenhouse over here just thinking about it.

I’m graphically yours.

Now that’s a catchy tune. “Big Brother” by David Bowie, I mean. That whole album is a sexy, strange affair. Diamond Dogs, I mean. Look at that cover on vinyl and tell me it doesn’t weird you out a little bit.

I like that it’s David playing all those guitar parts on most of the songs. I wish he did more of that these days. I’ve always preferred it when the artists do a lot of things themselves instead of relying on backing vocalists or other musicians to do it for them. I wish Chan Marshall would pick up the guitar again on her next album, because even if she isn’t the greatest guitarist in the world, the way she plays is perfect for her music in a way nothing else is. But I’m just weird like that.

I need to record two more songs for this album, and then it’s done. Done! I have a pretty good idea of how I want to sequence it. I’m not sure if what sounds good on paper will translate as well on CD, but I’ll soon find out. That means the whole thing should be finished in a day or two, and then I just have to get the packaging straightened out. That might hold it back a week or two, so I might not actually be able to start forcing the album on random and not-so-random people until the first few days of August, but still. New music is coming your way very soon.

I’m trying to remember the last time I was this happy with the way an album turned out. Probably GROWING SIDEWAYS. It just feels good. I had to stop myself and say, “I’m finished after two more songs,” because if I didn’t do that I would keep going, and by September we’d be looking at a triple CD. You think I’m exaggerating. I might be, but not by much. Things have been nuts around here lately.

I figure the album is going to be full-to-bursting with music as it is. I’ll save the multiple-CD sets of new material for somewhere down the road, so I have something else to look forward to scaring people with.

Also, two things:

(1) Another projected album that may or may not ever come to fruition to add to the list. LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS. If it happens, it’ll be more dissonant and angular than anything I’ve done in a very long time, or maybe ever, but in a subdued way, with lots of space and silence, or near-silence. Lots of dynamics and attention to detail. Maybe I’ll put it out on vinyl too, just for something to try. I’ve already got some ideas brewing. It might be the first thing I start work on after this CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN beast is out there. Or it might fall by the wayside like so many other things. Time will tell.

(2) I thought I’d finally move my grunty little old tube amp out of the corner it was collecting dust in and bring it out in the open to sit beside the Fender Twin where it belongs. They look cool together, like brothers who came out looking very different from each other. As soon as I get that farkin’ digital camera I’ll take some pictures and put them up here.

I forgot how good this thing sounded, maybe because I haven’t tried recording it in eight years and have barely plugged it in during that time. I kind of got it for free when I bought my first electric guitar from a classified ad in the newspaper back in 1999. All I know about it is that it’s a Paul amplifier, it was probably made sometime in the 1960s, the guy who sold it to me said he put new tubes in it (I have no idea what kind), and I think it’s Canadian-made. It probably isn’t very high up there on the list of sexy amplifiers guitarists talk about, assuming anyone even knows these amps exist, but I dig it. It’s got a cool tremolo circuit, and if you crank it you can play “Don’t Let Me Down” and shake your chin like a good little gremlin.

I like being able to dial in varying amounts of tube distortion without having to deal with the volume getting out of hand. Turned up all the way, this amp maybe gets as loud as the Twin Reverb set on two, but it just sounds wonderfully distorted and ragged in the way only a little old tube amp can. I used it on three songs today and found myself wishing I’d brought it out of the corner sooner so it could make more of a mark on this album. I guess there’s always the next one…

Here’s a little something I recorded when I first mic’d up the amp today. Just an idea, with the guitar and vocal recorded live in one pass, and then another guitar overdubbed for a little supplemental riffing. I didn’t even try to come up with lyrics, so half of the words aren’t real words, but I think it’s got the potential to turn into something. I couldn’t resist throwing the old GWD slapback echo on my voice. I need to bring that sound back on an album one of these days.

Walking Home Alone (sketch)

Q: How many times can you sing the word “ooh” without sounding like a monkey? A: Eight.

The flurry of activity continues. I haven’t accomplished this much in such a short period of time since…well, it’s been a good few years at least. It’s sort of like 2002 all over again, only this time it isn’t being used as an emotional chew-toy that’s driving me, but sulphuric acid. I’ve got it on tap over here. It’s about stinkin’ time I got back on track.

At this rate, that CHICKEN ANGEL thing will be finished within a week or so, and then I’ll just have to get the packaging sorted out. It’s going to have more songs on it than any single-disc album I’ve ever made, so be prepared. A lot of them are pretty short. Most of the really tiny songs are being held behind for other things (and a lot of them just haven’t been recorded yet), but there are a few that make too much sense on this album to go anywhere else.

Take the one I wrote and recorded today, for example. It’s about forty-five seconds long and features banjo picking that sounds like it belongs at a hoedown nestled alongside…beat-boxing. I can’t say I’ve ever done that before. It’s pretty demented. I keep listening to it and laughing.

I’ve been giving a bit of attention to another one of those neglected and quirky instruments — this toy ukulele I’ve had for a few years but never used on a recording before. The intonation is pretty dodgy, but sometimes a perpetually out-of-tune instrument is the right sound. And sometimes it’s close enough to being in tune that you can even throw some other instruments into the mix without suffering irreparable tonsil damage. Assuming you still have tonsils. I don’t, but that doesn’t mean I’m immune. It just means the out-of-tune fungus rats alter their route accordingly and search for someplace else to go.

I had a dream the other night that I was playing a live solo gig at a place that seemed to be Phog, improvising a song on my Teisco. For some reason I was standing up while playing — pretty difficult for me to do without something to lean on, given the way I play. Though the song only had two chords, it got pretty intense. I wonder if that means anything.

In the waking world I’m still not really feeling the whole live performance thing these days. Way too much anxiety involved. And if I were going to play anything off of this new album I’m putting together, I think a lot of the songs would be a whole lot less interesting (or at least they would be for me) if you just stripped them down to banjo or guitar. I’d need to put a band together in order to get them across properly. The chances of that happening are about as good as the chances of Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro making a good movie again that stretches their acting muscles. I guess Righteous Kill, with the two of them playing partnered cops, could surprise everyone, but sharing the screen with Fifty Cent doesn’t seem to bode well.

It would be kind of neat, and amusing, to put together a band that could “ghost perform” the songs — meaning I wouldn’t perform at all, and someone else would be up there singing in my place while I sat in the audience. But that would be a lot of work to pull off, and maybe impossible.

I will at least be sharing the CD with more people than usual, because I like where it’s heading so far and I’m in a sharing mood. Long live asparagus, and so on.

Every time you stub your toe, somewhere someone is singing about instant rice.

There are now twenty-one songs recorded for THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE, though a few of them probably won’t make the cut and a few still need to be mixed. I still need to record some more stuff. But how the hell did that happen so quickly? The way things are going, if I hold off on “releasing” the album for a few months it’ll probably turn into a double CD.

I don’t think I’ll do that. Trying to sequence one two-CD set is going to be enough of a puzzle as it is.

On one of the songs I recorded tonight, there’s a part where it sounds like I was sort of channeling our friend Bono, along with some pretty frenetic banjo picking. I’m not sure how I managed to keep the rhythm constant without a click track, because there’s some busy playing there. It just hit me tonight that I haven’t been using a click track for most of these songs. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t a conscious decision. The songs just seem to breathe better and ebb and flow more naturally without some clicking thing reminding me what rhythm I need to stick to. Lucky for me my natural sense of rhythm is pretty solid, or else recording the drums would be kind of maddening.

Tonight I pulled out this electric chord organ I’ve had for eight years but have never given as much love as I should have. Johnny Smith found it at a garage sale for something like ten bucks. It sounds a bit like an accordion with a chest cold. I’ve only ever used it on a few Papa Ghostface songs. It’s not in tune with any other instrument on earth, but that can be remedied by changing the recording speed when you need it to play nicely with others.

It’s got a built-in fan that starts up when you plug it in, and it takes a while before the thing gets fired up. If you try playing something right away, you’ll hear the notes start out really faint and then fade in until the fan reaches full power. It’s kind of neat to hear it whirring away. Now that I have better mics and preamps, it also sounds better recorded than I ever thought it could. Just point a mic at the top of the instrument and away we go. So I’ll be making some use of that little brown beast. I already recorded a little see-sawing thing while playing it, improvised a pretty demented half-spoken interlude on top, and sped my voice up a bit. Not anywhere near chipmunk territory, but enough to sound silly.

I also recorded something I wrote late last night on the mandolin, again inspired by the new tuning. It must be the wordiest thing I’ve written in ages. The words just keep coming and coming, with no real pauses between them. It’s like a musical run-on sentence. It’s also possibly the oddest love song I’ve ever written for someone who doesn’t exist, somehow tender and macabre at once, if that’s possible. I like it. It’s definitely going on the album.