A few days ago I stumbled onto a sound that I think will inform the next CD to some extent: piano and ukulele. Together.
See, it hadn’t ever occurred to me to throw those two instruments into the same pot and see what happened. There are piano songs, and there are ukulele songs. Both tend to end up decorated in one way or another, but for whatever reason I had this unarticulated idea that piano and uke should be kept away from each another within the context of the same song.
Then I got to messing around with one of several songs that’s still in an embryonic state. The writing of it is finished but the recording isn’t. This particular song is piano-led, with bass, drums, vocal cords, and some melodica. It felt like it was missing something.
I’ve been trying to stay away from automatically adding some electric guitar to a song when I feel it needs some dressing up. That worked well on the last album, and it’ll work well in a lot of other situations, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of getting lazy just because I know a certain approach will yield results that are good enough.
Thought I’d try adding some ukulele, almost as a joke, using half of my ass and not intending to keep anything I did. It ended up forcing me to rethink the entire arrangement of the song, and now I think I need to re-record the drums and maybe add a few more bells and whistles. It’s funny — within this one little song that I pretty much decided wasn’t even CD material, I’ve accidentally found a whole new musical direction to mess around with.
If it had to be given some sort of name, maybe I’d go with “semi-psychotic piano ballads with flamenco-style ukulele strumming”. Or “semi-psychotic ukulele ballads with piano flourishes”. Not that it’s all going to be semi-psychotic, or wholly psychotic for that matter, but you get my drift. Or maybe you don’t. The important thing is you’ll hear what I mean before too long.
Today I started — and finished — work on a song I’ve been wanting to tackle for a long time now. It’s existed in mostly finished form for quite a while, but only now did it feel like it had been soaking in its own juices for long enough that I knew what to do with it. Of course, it came out a little bit different from what I was planning all this time. But I’m kind of used to that happening by now.
I’m glad I waited to record the song, because now that I hear what a real piano does for it I know if I tackled it earlier it would be missing something. There’s a sense of weight there that wouldn’t even exist if I used a digital piano sound instead. It continues to surprise me how easy it is to record that instrument. I’ve read all about how a real piano is one of the most difficult things to record well (which makes sense, given all the complexities of the sound and the design of the thing), but all I have to do is stick two small diaphragm condenser mics where I think they ought to go and it sounds pretty spiffy to me.
After the piano pulled the song in a different direction, I ended up almost unconsciously throwing out a part that was supposed to be played on the Arp Omni-2. I think the whole thing probably works a little better without it. And it’s still the longest thing I’ve recorded in a while, clocking in at about six minutes. While that’s pretty tame compared to some of the marathon songs of old, it’s practically a rambling song-suite compared to some of the recent songs I’ve been recording.
It’s nice to get back to working on things with more unconventional structures, too. If your typical song follows something like an A-A-B-A-C-A-B structure, this song is more like A-B-C-D-E-F-G. I like subverting form, throwing out the idea of repeating sections of music at predictable moments and writing traditional choruses. I guess I’ve enjoyed doing that for a while now.
I’ve got a funny feeling about this album. I don’t think it’s going to have as many songs on it as the last one, given the lengthier nature of some things, but I like where it seems to be headed so far. Maybe I’ll even make good on the idea to get a few friends to play and sing on some things. It’d be fun to have some “guest musician” credits on a solo album again for the first time since 1999.