Month: September 2008

Green light means “stop”. Red light means “go”. Yellow light means “I don’t know”.

CJAM station manager Adam Fox recently propositioned me. And it wasn’t what you’re thinking. Get your mind out of the gutter. He said, “Yo, scraggly-face…let’s talk about what you do and record it.” And I said, “Dog, that’s phat. That’s fresh. That’s…phresh?” And he said, “I ain’t no dog. Don’t you be expecting me to bark.” So I did the barking, and all was well.

Or maybe it didn’t quite play out that way.

What did happen was this: Adam interviewed me for the CJAM show Not in My Backyard, and it aired today at around noon. If you missed it, fret not, for you can listen right here, right now, while watching the world wake up from history.

Not in My Backyard feature (September 30, 2008)

I like how the closing music is a demented instrumental song featuring toy piano, atonal recorder madness, and a title that references Luke Perry’s nipples. It fits somehow. And I’m happy to say I sound more coherent than I thought I did at the time, though I could have done a better job of articulating some of my thoughts. That seems to be the case pretty often when I’m trying to talk about my music outside of the comfort of blog-land.

There’s one specific thing I don’t think I explained very well, and that’s my whole songwriting process, or lack thereof. I’ve been trying to think of how I could get across what it’s like in a way that makes some amount of sense. A thought came to me the other day, and this is probably the best way I can explain it. You know how when you’re dreaming it seems like your brain will draw upon anything and everything it might have hanging around, from any point in your life, and throw things together in ways that don’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense in the waking world, creating situations, ideas, characters, dialogue, and stories you would never come up with while you’re awake? That’s sort of what songwriting is like for me these days. Only I’m not sleeping when it happens.

It doesn’t even feel like a conscious process. I sit down at an instrument, or I’ll be doing something unrelated to music, and then suddenly there’s an idea, and most of the time it starts to grow, and then pretty soon there’s a song. It’s almost as if it’s been written already, and I’m just transcribing it as it’s being broadcast over the airwaves of some strange, fuzzed-out radio station my brain is tuned into. I never sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song now.” The songs just happen, and for whatever reason they’ve chosen me as their vessel. I don’t know why. Maybe they like my equipment or something.

Anyway, this was probably the most comfortable I’ve ever been doing an interview — I think it helps when you know the person interviewing you and feel comfortable with them — and the most fun I’ve had in such a setting. I seem to have broken the odd habit I used to have of talking like every ounce of emotion had been drained from my body whenever I would speak into a microphone for something radio-related. I even almost sound like I know what I’m talking about once or twice! Hooray for me!

I also appreciate the way Adam left my answers untouched. I’ve had my words edited and chopped up in the past, to the point that the meaning of what I said was altered or made kind of murky. While I understand why that’s done (space considerations, most of the time), it still kind of pisses me off.

So thanks to Adam for interviewing me and not asking the typical questions like, “What are your influences? What inspired you to want to make music? What makes your pikestaff rise on humid summer nights?” And double thanks to him for sending me the MP3 of the finished feature as well. And thanks to both Adam and Tom for the kind words. And thanks again to everyone at CJAM for playing the hell out of the new album. And thanks to the makers of generic blue hand soap for planting subliminal messages in my head. Hey — if it smells okay and does its job, I’ve got no beef with them.

On a different note, you’ll be happy to know I’ve finally realized my dream of rhyming “pancake mix” with “dominatrix” in a song. At long last, my life is complete.

It’s best when served slightly chilled.

These days songs tend to come together pretty fast at the recording stage. I guess they always did, because I’ve never been much of a producer. But I seem to have things back on track when it comes to working at as brisk a pace as I did a few years ago, before the dark days of crackheads and indifference.

As a rule, it goes something like this: I record some stuff. If I like it, I keep it. If I don’t, I record some other stuff. I do this until a song feels finished and I’m happy with it. Then I mix it so I can hear what it sounds like on a CD. I call this a “rough mix” but almost always end up keeping it and making it the “final mix”.

There are exceptions, like when I made about four different mixes of “Someday Our Children Will Give Us Names” a week or so ago and couldn’t figure out which mix I liked best. But most of the time it becomes clear when a song has all it needs, and I move on to the next thing, whatever that may be.

Every once in a great while a song decides it wants to be a pain in the ass. One such song is called “Revenge Is Sweet”. I’ve been wanting to record this one for quite a while, but I held off on tackling it until I had a real piano.

Hello, real piano. Welcome to the recording stage, somewhat uptempo piano song I’ve been itching to record for a while.

It should have been easy enough. I had a pretty clear idea in my head of how I wanted it to sound. But after I recorded the piano and a rough guide vocal and started messing around with drums and bass, I started to rethink things.

This is a track that cries out for a brass section. There’s a little recurring instrumental hook in the first chunk of the song that would really benefit from some sax hits or trumpet harmonies or something. Thing is, I can’t play either one of those instruments, and I don’t have the patience to take lessons and play nothing but sax or trumpet for a few years in order to figure it out and become a decent horn player. I did give some thought to buying a cheap Taiwanese-made tenor sax or something, but it probably would have been a waste when I made the inevitable discovery that I wasn’t capable of getting any pleasing sounds out of the instrument.

I messed around with a lot of different things in place of where the horns would be, including — shudder — a brief flirtation with synth horns. This led to a near-death experience during which I was threatened with eternal damnation if I continued, so I ditched that idea in a hurry. I think just about the only song synthesized brass has ever really worked in (that I’ve heard, at least) is “Sat in Your Lap” by Kate Bush. Most of the time it just sounds cheesy and fake. Which is great if that’s what you’re going for. But it wouldn’t do much for this particular song of mine.

So…I added some things. I got rid of a lot of those things when they didn’t seem right. I tried some more things. In the end the treatment became something pretty different from what I originally intended, but I think it worked out. I threw in just about everything but the bathroom sink, and then threw out half of that and started again. This has to be the most I’ve ever had going on in a single song, though it doesn’t sound much more produced or layered than usual because it isn’t all happening at once. There’s piano, sloppy triple-tracked vocals, drums, bugle (you better believe I found a use for that thing already), organ, suitcase glockenspiel, a bit of fake vibraphone, melodica, and African drums.

I tried adding some guitar and analog synth, among other things, but ultimately none of it fit. I think this is the first song I’ve played organ on in, what, three years? It’s been a while. Having the organ and glockenspiel take on the melodic role of the hypothetical horns seems to work well enough. The organ almost gives it a bit of a vague soul feeling, which is a switch for me.

I still don’t seem to want to play the drums with sticks. Ever. I don’t know what it is. I just always seem to get better ideas and a better sound with brushes these days. Maybe I’ve found my drumming style, assuming I have one, and all it took was playing almost exclusively with brushes for a while. I guess you could call it “improvised semi-spastic brushed rhythm propulsion”. Or something. I also can’t be moved to do anything else with the drums aside from throwing the R88 in front of the kit and banging away. The sound seems to work well pretty much all the time, at least for the songs I’m recording right now. It’s been nice to focus on playing instead of mic placement.

I’m tempted to put this new song up here, but then it wouldn’t be a surprise. And like “Blue Cheese Necklace” before it, I think it’s going to be the opening track on the next album. For now there are two songs up on Spyspace that haven’t been there before, neither or which are currently available on an album. Hooray for Huggies.

I kind of wish I had a camera crew to capture the making of some of this stuff so you could see how it happens and how songs will sometimes change shape several times before figuring out what they want to be. But if I had people hanging around with cameras while I was recording I would probably get self-conscious and not get that much accomplished, and if I tried filming myself I don’t think the static single-camera approach would make for very interesting viewing. Plus I’d have to always keep the camera in mind and try to stay in the frame, which would take my mind away from what I should be concentrating on.

Oh well. Maybe once I become a household name after collaborating with Kanye West on a rap concept album called Uh, Yeah, Uh, Yeah someone will make a documentary about me doing my thing, and everyone’s lives will be richer for having seen it…because there will be musical nudity! But not from Kanye.

The fundamental things apply, as tadpoles fly.

Man…sometimes kick drum and tambourine is all the percussion you need in a song. It just feels right. I don’t want to overuse it, because I already took that approach on a few CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN songs, but when it fits, it really fits.

Also, it’s fun dressing up songs with the piano as the starting point for a change instead of building around a guitar or stringed instrument of some sort. I can hear the tuning of the new beast is starting to drift a little bit — not so it’s actually out of tune in an unpleasant way, but more in a way that makes it sound a little like an older piano. And I kind of like that. It sounds a little unrefined. I’ve probably already used the word “earthy” thirty times when talking about the piano, but that’s what keeps popping into my head.

I like that it doesn’t sound like any piano you’ll ever hear in any song on commercial radio. I like hearing the microphones picking up my nails clicking against the keys and capturing some of the trap-work. I like that I messed up completely at the end of one of the tracks I recorded the other day and let loose with a profane outburst the microphones captured for the benefit of future generations. It was the first time I ever played “brushed tambourine”. The güiro made its recorded debut as well.

The song sounds like something that would have fit seamlessly onto the last album, except it’s piano-led and Ashlee Simpson has a vocal cameo. Oh shit! I wasn’t supposed to give that away. It was going to be a surprise. Now I’ll have to cook up some more surprises as I’m putting the next CD(s) together.

And just so you know I’m no longer the clean-cut guy I was in that last picture…

There comes a time in every man’s life when he has to make a choice: will he play soulful bugle in the bathroom, wringing tears from the eyes of the jazz gods who came before him? Or will he just pretend to be blowing into the thing — because he hasn’t yet figured out how to get anything other than off-key flatulent sounds out of it — and snap a picture to make himself look savvy?

The answer, quite clearly, is “goat cheese”.

Mark my words: I’ll teach myself how to build up a grudging embouchure and get some music out of it, or else I’ll give the bugle to my Uncle Brian (I don’t have the time or patience to take lessons). Either way there’s a happy ending for someone. And really, when you find something like this in a music store and it’s so absurdly inexpensive, you just can’t pass it up.

There was also a fun moment when I was playing a guitar and the guy working at the place (the specificity here is beyond compare, isn’t it?) asked me if I was a lap steel player, and I went on to outline my entire guitar-playing history in condensed form to explain that no, I’m not a lap steel player, and I just play guitar in a completely skewed way because I could never figure out how to get my fingers to do what they’re supposed to on the fretboard. Unsolicited personal musical history in bite-size form — it doesn’t get much more exciting than that.

So I’m thinking there are two separate albums currently taking shape. One will probably be all over the place and have no real thread holding the songs together, aside from the continuation of my sloppy vocal multi-tracking ways and the way the songs feel to me like they make sense together. The other album will probably be almost entirely piano-based and feel much more like an organic whole. Both will probably have wordy titles and be crammed with a lot of songs, though maybe not quite as many as I squeezed onto the last album. There’s also a good chance my hunches are wrong and I’ll end up with something completely different from any of that in the next few months.

Either way, I think I can say with confidence that there will be at least one more album of new material coming to infect you with its sprawl before Christmas, and maybe if you’ve been a really good little elf and you don’t have a copy of MERRY FUCKIN’ CHRISTMAS I’ll give you one of those too.

Bebopolula over the sea.

The new piano now has a new friend.

Johnny Smith named him Oedipus, or Ed for short. I’ve finally got that horn player I was looking for. What’s interesting to me is that I stand the exact same way when I play the melodica in a vertical position. I must be trying to fool myself into thinking it’s a trumpet.

I’ve now made four different mixes of that song I recorded the other day, and I still can’t figure out how I like it best. This doesn’t happen to me often. Most of the time I record a song, I mix it, I call it a “rough mix”, then I decide it’s good enough and probably wouldn’t get much better even if I spent more time on it, and I move on to the next song. This one doesn’t seem to know how naked or clothed it wants to be.

I think four variations is about as far as I want to take it. So I’ll just leave it alone now and wait until an album starts to come into sharper focus. Then it should become clear which mix works better within the context of the other songs, and I can make the other mixes available on a “limited edition single”.

Okay, so that was a joke. Me releasing a single makes about as much sense as James Blunt teaming up with Autechre.

I’m sure at least one or two of the mixes I don’t end up using will eventually show up somewhere. I haven’t even finished the first official out-takes/misfits collection yet and I’m already thinking about another one, because there’s another more recent batch of songs I’m not sure what I’m going to do with. Some of them might find homes on proper albums at some point, but I think quite a few of them just aren’t going to fit anywhere.

Then again, the NOSTALGIA-TRIGGERING MECHANISM EP was a collection of songs that didn’t fit anywhere, and I still think it works pretty well as a little album. Whatever ends up happening, I should probably finish off the first compilation of misfit songs before I think too much about working on another one.

Tinkle tinkle, in the jar.

The day before the piano came I wrote something very quickly in anticipation of the beast’s arrival. I started playing a few simple chords I liked, came up with two lines, left it alone, and then a few verses came pouring out in about three minutes and there was the song.

I have a lot of piano songs I’ve been waiting to record until I had a real piano at my disposal, but for some reason I wanted to try something different. So yesterday I thought I’d take a crack at this new one and experiment with the best way to record the instrument.

Turned out I didn’t have to do much experimenting. I moved the two KM184s from the “guitar area” over to what’s now the “piano area”, propped open the lid, messed around for a few minutes with placement, and then I got a sound I liked and away we went. I know people on Gearslutz and elsewhere bash these mics a lot, but they’ve worked well on everything I’ve thrown at them, and I can’t see myself ever wanting to use anything else to record this piano. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had the chance to use an original Neumann KM84 at some point, but I haven’t…so I don’t.

Of course, everyone’s ears are different. Different strokes for different cowpokes.

It’s a pretty simple song and the lyrics don’t make a whole lot of sense, but I kind of like the way it came out, even with a bit of a flubbed drum fill late in the song and the occasional sound of me moving around on the piano bench. I did a quick mix yesterday I was pretty happy with. Then I found myself thinking the glockenspiel sounded a little garish. And then Milan suggested a more stripped down mix might be interesting, and I thought, “That might be a good idea.” So here’s a pretty naked mix of the song that lets the piano breathe some more.

Someday Our Children Will Give Us Names (piano mix)

In this context I like the glockenspiel, so I left it in. Over on Spyspace is a “full band” mix, minus most of the glock.

I’m not sure which mix I like better or which one will show up on a CD, but I keep listening to both mixes and thinking about how surreal it is to hear a real live piano in one of my songs. I never thought I’d see the day. As strange as it might sound, I’m kind of glad it isn’t a grand piano after all. There’s so much depth in the sound of this upright.

Hopefully it’ll hold its tuning for a little while as the new strings stretch their legs, because I’d like to be able to do some more recording with the thing before I have it tuned a few weeks from now. I really like just playing chords and letting them hang there, sustaining and decaying. There’s so much happening to the notes as they fade away. You don’t ever get to hear that from any digital piano, no matter how good it is. There’s a richness to it. It sounds organic. Alive.

And hey, maybe there’s something to be said for sending a CD to a radio station along with a somewhat caustic letter typed on an old manual typewriter with a ribbon so old the ink smears when you touch the page. I got an email a few days back from someone at CBC Radio 3 inviting me to sign up over at the NMC (New Music Canada) section of their site. So I did that just for fun and put a song up there.

The next day I got an email telling me another one of my songs had been added by someone who isn’t me. If they’re putting my music up there themselves, that makes me think maybe they’ve actually listened to the stuff and plan on giving it some airplay someday.

Whatever the case may be, I think it’s pretty hilarious that they stuck “Blue Cheese Necklace” in the bluegrass category. I’d change the genre to “fermented alternative” or something, but I kind of like it, silly as it is.

Thank God I’m a country boy.

Some keys are black, and some keys are white…

New piano in the house! This isn’t the best picture of it. I would have liked to get a more panoramic shot, but this was as far back as I could get. It needs a bit of tuning to sound its best but arrived here sounding good enough that for now I can play it quite happily without gritting my teeth. Just a few notes sound a tiny bit off. I think that’s pretty normal, given how new this piano is. It needs a bit of time to settle. And if it sounds this good when it isn’t even at its best yet, well…some serious fun is going to be had over here.

It came with a magic piano bench for sitting on.

You can hide all kinds of freaky things inside. Most people would put sheet music in there, but I can’t read music, so I’ll have to think a bit about what would be suitable to stow beneath my posterior.

This is my little purple accomplice Elliott, thinking he might get lucky with the piano.

As you can see, his powers of seduction are beyond compare. That smile could melt any instrument or person in a matter of seconds. He can’t really play the piano in any traditional way since he doesn’t have any limbs, but he bounces like nobody’s business.

There’s also a new friend in the music room, hanging above the piano.

Miles has been hanging around here for a while, but I couldn’t figure out where to put him for the longest time. Above the piano seems to be a good place. Alas, like I said I can’t really move back far enough to show you the whole area and how it all fits together. But I think it looks pretty neat.

I can’t get over how pretty this piano is. The thing gleams. You can see your reflection in it while you play. I think it’s going to take a while for it to sink in that I actually have a real piano now. Figuring out the best way to record it should be interesting. The R88 would be perfect (I tried it out and it sounds quite nice), but I have no room treatment and the mic is so sensitive it picks up too much ambient noise like the refrigerator’s indigestion. So close-mic’ing or something more directional will probably work better. I aim to do some experimenting tomorrow, and if all goes well maybe I’ll have some audio samples to post here.

Also, someone arrived here today after doing an internet search for “Johnny West major record label”. That made me laugh for about sixteen different reasons. It ain’t ever gonna happen. But as Meredith Brooks sang in the only hit she ever had, you know I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Combine digital piano and fake xylophone, and what do you get?

The answer is something that would sound ridiculous if said aloud, I’m sure.

I know I said I wasn’t going to put any more new songs up on Spyspace for a while, but I’m not sure what I want to do with this song. So here/there it is for at least a little while.

This track had a bit of an odd genesis. I recorded the (digital) piano way back in May of 2006 and then didn’t record vocals or any other instruments. The lyrics were already written — one couplet came from a dream — and I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do with the song, but the piano was recorded through the mic preamps I was using prior to the revamping of the studio and I thought the new preamps might be too hi-fi if they were used to track the rest. I didn’t want to go back to using the old preamps just for the sake of this song, and I wasn’t sure what kind of sonic continuity there might be if I didn’t do that. I kept meaning to work on it, but I never did. So technically it isn’t a new song.

Yesterday I thought I’d dump what there was of it back on the mixer for fun, to get back into the piano mindset in anticipation of the real piano that will soon be here. I ended up finishing the whole thing without really intending to. The Teisco once again decided to get a few shots in. I swear that electric guitar has a mind of its own. The digital piano sounded better than I remembered and wasn’t too difficult to work with. I know a real piano would sound a lot better, especially in the places where chords are just sustained and left to hang in the air for a while, but in this case there was a lot of improvisation involved in the original performance and I would never be able to capture it quite the same way again. That those improvised moments happened two years ago would make it even more difficult.

The end result probably isn’t going to fit in very well sonically with the songs I’ll be recording with the new piano, so I’m not quite sure where it’ll end up, but I kind of like the way it came out. I ended up dumping a few verses worth of lyrics even though I liked the words, because I came to prefer second half of the song left mostly instrumental.

Three funny things about this song:

(1) I’m generally good at remembering ideas even if it takes me a long time before I get around to recording them, but at one point I forgot the last part of this song and it wasn’t coming back. Everything else was there, but it was as if my memory of that one little piece of music had been wiped clean. I sat at the keyboard for a little while and tried to will myself to remember what was missing. To my amazement, it worked. Later, after getting down the whole piano track, I realized I forgot to insert a brief part that was meant to be an intro…but at that point I wasn’t going to mess with it, so I left it as it was.

(2) The pitch of the piano track changed by a hair a day or two after it was recorded. It must have been some odd digital fluke, because this isn’t something my mixer ever does to me. For whatever reason, the last two and-a-half minutes are much closer to being in proper concert tuning than the rest. In a funny little twist, that’s the part of the song that sounds out of tune, because your ears get used to the pitch of what comes before. I had to change the recording speed a little bit to record the vocal, guitar, bass, and drum tracks (they call me “the accidental purist”) and then change it back again to preserve a CD-friendly sampling rate. Because of this, if anyone ever tried to play along to the recording on a piano it would probably sound pretty ugly. I did try to correct the pitch after the fact, but it’s not so easy given the microscopic adjustment that needs to be made. Hopefully it doesn’t sound too wonky. Anyone with perfect pitch will probably have to stop listening almost right away in order to avoid feeling nauseous.

(3) Ever since I first recorded the piano part, I thought the latter half of the song should have an insistent kick/toms drum pattern played throughout. I still felt that way yesterday. My drums didn’t. I don’t know what it is. Ever since I picked up the brushes again when I was recording the last album, I find myself reaching for them over sticks most of the time. They seem to make me think more creatively behind the kit, and it becomes much easier to get out what’s in my head without thinking much about it, assuming I have any percussion-related ideas to begin with. For some reason I feel more connected to the drums when I’m playing with brushes now, when that was never the case before. I also just really like the sound of drums that are struck with brushes, and I’m still digging the R88 in that application without any close mics anywhere.

With sticks I couldn’t quite seem to get the sound I wanted yesterday, even after trying a few different passes. Once I grabbed the brushes, I just played through the song once without thinking about what I wanted to do and more or less got what I wanted. I prefer playing that way, recording cold without “rehearsing” or devising drum parts beforehand and limiting myself to one or two takes. It’s a way to get close to that old feeling of playing with other musicians and improvising collectively, keeping yourself a little unsure of what’s coming next, and in general I don’t like to let things get too studied or comfortable. But I’ve been saying that for years now. It seems to be the common thread that runs through everything I do — an intentional lack of polish.

Nail polish, however, is always a welcome addition. But that’s a different matter.

In other news, I’m still on CJAM’s charts. That’s three weeks in a row in the top ten, and once again I’m on the folk/roots/blues chart as well. This has never happened to me before. It looks like I was pretty far off the mark when I predicted no one would like the new album and it wouldn’t get much attention from anyone. Wonders never cease.

I’m going to try and get at least one more album of new material finished before the end of the year, along with that tricky little misfits compilation. Gotta keep the momentum going, now that I seem to be back in the swing of things.

Sweep it.

Why did John Mayer have to ruin Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”? Why? It ain’t right, man. There need to be consequences. He should be tied to a random streetlight and spanked with a piece of asparagus until he weeps with shame, or something similarly humiliating and ridiculous.

In less disturbing news, my piano will be here on Wednesday. This is not a picture of my personal piano, but it’ll give you a good idea of what it looks like until I can take my own pictures.

It’s the sexiest upright I’ve ever played, and I spent a good chunk of time with it yesterday to be sure I didn’t feel like I was settling for less than what I really wanted by not getting a grand piano. I think when an instrument inspires you to play some chords you’ve never thought to mess around with before and the seed of a new song is born without any effort on your part, it’s a good sign. I can’t get over how good the higher register sounds. There’s none of the plinky quality you get from some uprights as you near the top of the keyboard. Just sweetness all around. There’s even a practice pedal for late night playing, which I think is pretty neat. Brace yourselves for some piano-heavy song action, a bit of which might show up here within the next week or two.

For the past few weeks I’ve kind of been back where I was before THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN came tumbling out, unsure of what to focus on. There are enough songs and projected albums to keep me busy for at least the next few years. Picking something to focus on and motivating myself to do the work is the problem.

I think this piano will give me a much-needed kick in the ass, just like the 1932 Regal guitar and that quirky Teisco electric did a few months ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if a whole album of piano songs comes pouring out. It’s probably time for the instrument to have its revenge after how heavy the last CD was on things with strings. Still need to break in some of that scrap metal percussion too. I’m not sure how well the R88 ribbon mic will do on the piano, since I can’t play with the positioning of it much to accommodate different instruments, but we’ll soon find out.

Four days! FOUR DAYS until it gets here! Excitement.

The wind machine will blow your hair.

I have a real piano at long last. Well, I don’t technically have it yet. It’ll probably be a week or two before it’s physically over here. But the legwork has been done. Rejoice!

In celebration of the impending piano goodness (and finally being able to give some attention to the ridiculous amount of piano-based songs I’ve been itching to record for quite some time), here’s a little look at a piano song that was digitally endowed, and a good example of what a strange genesis some songs have.

Back in October or November of 2006 at the old house, I came up with a snippet of music while playing acoustic guitar and sitting on my bed. Night of the Hunter was on TV but I wasn’t really watching it because I have it on DVD and wanted to wait until I could watch the whole thing. I’m not a big fan of watching movies that are already in-progress…but that’s another subject for another time. This little song fragment was sort of a remake of what was supposed to become a song called “Another Pawn” back around the time of OH YOU THIS, and a year or so before that it had been another different song about breaking things and insomnia. I never finished or recorded any of those half-songs. I thought I would just record this new variation as a tiny song, maybe a minute long, complete with a little decorative guitar riff retained from when it was crawling toward being a proper song. The only lyrics I had were, “Catch him in the act of cheating.” So it still needed some work.

While taking a bath in January of 2007 I started singing and improvising lyrics for no real reason. I kept changing them a tiny bit until after three or four times through I had almost all of the words that would eventually comprise this song. I kept singing them over and over again for the next hour or so while in the bath (I don’t do short baths), hoping I wouldn’t forget the words or how they were sung. I figured I’d throw in the “catch him in the act” bit later on, and as I was singing through the thing I figured out a good bass line, a vocal/piano line, and a few other bits. The whole song, musically and lyrically, was right there in my head. I just needed to dry off, put some clothes on, and get it down on paper.

When I came downstairs I added another little bit. I thought I’d call the thing Backwards Hiccup after experiencing one of those in the bath. It was a strange sensation. I didn’t think “This Song Rhymes and I Don’t Care” was the right song title, even if that was my initial idea.

I went on to record two quick working versions of the song just to get the ideas down. One was nothing more than a few tracks of a cappella singing and leg slaps, with pretty much all of the melodies I would eventually use already there. The second had doubled-tracked vocals over a piano track.

After that, I decided the piano should replace the acoustic guitar as the main instrument. As the song came together in the bathtub I envisioned it as sort of a synth-based thing, like FeFe Dobson’s “Boys and Girls” on drugs, but I came to prefer a more organic delivery. It took me a few months before I took a stab at recording the whole thing for keeps. I got the piano and most of the vocals down, but it just didn’t seem quite right. So I left it unfinished.

Fast-forward to 2008, almost a year to the day since I last worked on the song. I was fumbling around trying to figure out what to work on, and we were still a few months away from THE CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN WITH A TRIANGLE deciding to be born. I thought I would listen to what there was of Backwards Hiccup just for kicks. Then I thought I would add a few missing vocal bits. Then I ended up finishing the whole thing.

All along the plan was to add bass, drums, guitar, and maybe some synth. I ended up nixing that and singing what was supposed to be the guitar part, similar to what happened with “Easy as Thigh” (another tiny song that might have shown up in your inbox at some point and has yet to find a home). I’m not sure what possessed me to do that, but it seemed to work better than the guitar would have. I also couldn’t resist throwing in a little Wizard of Oz vocal quote at the end, with a few seconds of the “Winkie Chant”. That’s a fun tune to play on the piano and sing. It’s catchy stuff.

Thus ends the journey of Backwards Hiccup, one of many tiny songs I haven’t figured out what to do with yet. I would re-record it once I have a real acoustic piano at my disposal, and it would sound much better, but I’d rather tackle unrecorded songs and new things instead of revising things that have already been finished. So here it is in both the first “demo” version and the final version, which is still pretty skeletal.

A bit of an odd and lengthy gestation period for such a simple little song.

Backwards Hiccup (a cappella sketch)

Backwards Hiccup