Month: May 2009

Urban garlic.

it's the thought that counts.

Random funny cat pictures are fun.

Also, check out these two good-looking guys on the cover of the June issue of WAMM.

There’s even a Sting reference there! And you know how I feel about Sting references. Or maybe you don’t. The point is, if I’ve built this fortress around your heart — encircled you in trenches and barbed wire — then let me build a bridge, for I cannot build a chasm. And let me set the battlements on fire.

Swoon.

I thought it might make sense to put up lyrics for more than just the last few proper albums, so I’ve been slowly working my way backwards and adding to the album pages. A few songs are missing, either because the lyrics were improvised or because I haven’t got around to typing them up yet, but there are now words in places where there were none before.

I think I’ve made my way back to about OH YOU THIS. For some reason it never occurred to me that for all of its “niceness” and being one of my most “normal” and accessible albums, the lyrics on that one are incredibly bitter and cynical. It really reads like a breakup album, even though it wasn’t and I was consciously trying to get away from that sort of thing after just about beating it into the ground over the last several albums leading up to it. I guess in a way it makes sense, though, since I was in the process of destroying what social life I had left and intentionally burning some bridges that were already looking pretty precarious. It’s just strange to be reading words from years past and realizing “Aura of the Insipid” is one of the most morbid set of lyrics I ever wrote, coupled with some of the catchiest music to ever come out of me. Funny stuff.

I still view that album as something of a black sheep, but maybe it’s time to pull it out for a reassessment and try to make it a bit more visually presentable for anyone who might want to hear it.

Some albums I’m not so sure about posting the lyrics for. A lot of things back in the day were improvised, and some of the more unguarded stuff doesn’t look very arresting when divorced from the music. I mean, “So you don’t give a shit about me. That’s okay. That’s okay. Nothing changes without me. That’s okay. That’s okay,” isn’t exactly poetry. But we’ll see how it goes.

In the meantime, all of the thumbnail images on the Discography page now link to their respective album pages when you click on them instead of just showing you an enlarged version of the image itself. I should have done that in the first place, but it never occurred to me until now. I also added brief descriptions for perusing purposes. So if you hover your mouse over an album image some text about the album should pop up. Sometimes there’s too much there to read in one hover, since the text only seems to stay there for about ten seconds, but you just hover on back and the words will still be there. It’s magical.

Max and I have been rehearsing for the show coming up next Friday, and I think things are coming along pretty nicely. I’m having fun taking some songs in different directions, stripping them down, and playing around with some obscure (and not-so obscure) covers. I like the intimacy of the piano/upright bass combination, and there will be a lot of improvising in the midst of structure. It’s a fun dichotomy — taking things that have already been built a certain way, leaving some of them alone, tearing others down and rebuilding them differently…controlled chaos, maybe? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem all that chaotic. I just know my plan is to try and have a good time up onstage, which is something that’s become increasingly difficult for me to do over the years.

Hopefully it’ll be a positive experience for everybody in the room and clothes will be shed in a moving display of collective arousal. If the gospel songs don’t get you on your feet, the Nickelback covers surely will.

The ashtray says you were up all night.

jay bennett, master of pretty much any musical instrument you can think of.

Sad news for Wilco fans — Jay Bennett died on Sunday.

Autopsy results are pending, so it’s hard to say if it was drug-related or just a bizarre, unexpected “natural” death. Either way, forty-five is way too young to be leaving this mortal coil, especially for someone as talented as Jay. Being There, Summerteeth, and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot wouldn’t be anywhere near as special without all the musical contributions he made.

When the news first broke, I looked at Wikipedia and found this information:

In May 2009, Bennett sued Wilco front man Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract stemming from his work for Wilco.[2] The suit came less than two weeks after Bennett publicly revealed that he needed hip replacement surgery which he could not afford due to lack of health insurance.[3] On May 24, 2009 Bennett died unexpectedly in his sleep. [4] Wilco had Bennett killed because he was suing them.

Read that last line over again a few times. That was there on Wikipedia yesterday. I’m not joking. It’s gone now, but someone somehow managed to sneak that in, and it was up there for all to see for at least a few hours before someone else squashed it.

I’m all for finding humour in odd places, but I think that goes beyond bad taste and into the realm of “things you just don’t do, unless you have no respect at all for the recently deceased”. Very strange.

In less morbid news, the show at the Loop on Friday was…interesting. Poorly organized and poorly attended, but interesting. We were pretty tight for only having played together once before the show as a full band, the night before the show (also the first time we were all in the same room together since Tara’s CD release show).

I had a minor headache looking for a solution to the banjo problem. Mic’ing it live leads to ugly feedback or me not being able to hear myself onstage (or both), and most pickups have too much of a quack to them to sound very much like an actual banjo.

I thought I’d found a work-around in a six-string banjo that comes with a built-in pickup. I ordered it from Wrong & McShit, only to have them remind me the “shit” is there for a reason. They sat on my $500 deposit for two weeks without anyone ever calling Gold Tone to inquire about the availability of the instrument. Then, after some prodding (how dare we ask those guys to stop acting like talentless rock stars for a moment and DO THEIR JOBS), I got them to tell me the banjo I wanted was out of stock. By now the show was pretty close to happening, and there was no time left to order it from somewhere else.

I thought maybe I’d play electric guitar instead, since “lead banjo player” is a bit of a weird thing to be anyway. It just so happens that none of my electric guitars like the tuning I use on the banjo for Tara’s songs, and any attempts to introduce it were met with some wonky intonation. Two times unlucky.

In a last ditch effort to make something happen, I went into Belle Air Music and bought a magnetic pickup for an acoustic guitar. For some reason none of my acoustics seem to have a problem with the banjo tuning.

I’ve had a Dean Markley magnetic pickup for a decade now. As soon as I got my hands on some decent microphones I stopped using the thing and never pulled it out for another spin. It always sounded pretty thin, and there was no low end meat to the sound at all. I didn’t have much hope, but I thought a new, hopefully better magnetic pickup was worth a shot. It wasn’t as if anything else was working.

I spent about a hundred bucks on this thing.

they call it magnetic love...It’s a DiMarzio Super Natural Plus.

SUPER!
NATURAL!
PLUS!

Those are some mighty potent words there.

Strangely enough, this turned out to be a great solution to my problem. The acoustic tone is a lot better than you’d expect to get out of a not-too-expensive magnetic pickup. There’s still a bit of quack when the playing gets aggressive, and it’s never going to sound like a mic’d up acoustic no matter how much EQ magic you try to work, but for playing live it’s just fine, and there is some low end meat there. The response from string to string is pretty even.

The old Dean Markley pickup shrivels in shame like a sagging old scrotum.

I wasn’t after acoustic tone, though. I plugged this thing into my old Paul tube amp and it sounded pretty fine electrified, with some nice natural breakup happening. Granted, it didn’t sound like a Fender Strat or anything, but it had a nice, dark kind of jazzy tone to it.

I think it worked well for Tara’s songs, and it gave me the opportunity to play one of my favourite acoustic guitars in a completely foreign setting. It also got rid of the intonation problems the six-string banjo sometimes experiences. I’ve tried the pickup on a few other acoustic guitars, and it seems to fit well and sound good in all of them.

All told, I saved about a thousand bucks in the short term, and a lot more money in the long term, because if I started playing my own songs live I would need to look at getting pickup systems installed in several acoustic guitars. And that wouldn’t be cheap. With this thing, I just slide it in and out of whatever I want to play and no one is the wiser.

I’d say that worked out pretty well. Another fun little perk: unlike the other magnetic pickup I have, this one sticks to certain surfaces pretty firmly. Like a magnet. Go figure.

But back to the show. Aside from playing to almost an empty house and needing to keep the Extreme Isolation headphones glued to my head pretty much the whole time I was at the Loop to keep my ears safe from harm (I love those headphones with a passion that knows no bounds), I think it went okay. Even with the headphones on, the sound onstage was probably the best I’ve experienced anywhere. I could actually hear myself and everyone else. That was nice.

Thanks to Jay for caring about the sound and being an all-around good guy. That man has one of the most impressive handshakes I’ve experienced. Ever. Dude could alter the shape of cinder blocks with that grip strength. It was good to see Derek again too. I hadn’t been to the Loop in years, and I’d forgotten what a large place it is. Sadly, the rake I donated for pool-playing purposes back when I was a regular seems to have vanished.

The funniest part of the night came during one of Tara’s ballads. It’s a song where I float around and sometimes don’t play much. I wing it every time we play it, because I never figured out a proper piano part for it and it’s one of the few songs on the album I didn’t play on. I put my elbows up on the keyboard while taking a break mid-song, and when I decided to start playing again the piano sound was gone. I didn’t think anything of it because I was playing pretty softly. Maybe I was just hovering beneath the threshold of audibility.

Then I heard this weird swirling sound creeping into the song kind of insidiously. I figured Jay was messing around with some effect that somehow sounded like a synthesizer and was relatively in tune with the song. It was bizarre.

I looked at the keyboard’s display screen and saw my elbow had tapped a button and changed the sound from piano to a swelling synth patch. I was the one making the noise without even realizing it. I scrambled to get the piano sound back again, the song ended, and I almost fell off my stool laughing. I later found out a few people in the audience felt like they were having drug flashbacks or something and didn’t know where the sound was coming from either. Maybe I should have kept my little accident a secret…

The Field Assembly CD release/me-playing-live-as-something-other-than-a-sideman-for-the-first-time-in-years show on June 5th is fast approaching. In some ways I’m looking forward to it, and in some ways I’m kind of dreading it. When it’s over, I don’t think I’ll be playing live with anyone, in any form, for a very long time. Three different sets in the space of less than six hours, including one of my own, is probably enough live action for me for the rest of the year.

Besides, I want to get down and dirty with working on the next album. As much fun as the whole sideman thing can be, lately it’s been taking a lot of time away from my own music, and a new album would probably be at least a third of the way finished by now if I didn’t have other obligations and distractions flying around all over the place. So if you want to see me do my thing in a live setting, you might want to catch it on Friday, June 5th at the FM Lounge (aka the Fish Market) at 10:00 pm sharp. Because that’s the only place and time I plan on doing that sort of thing anytime in the near future.

If you plan on coming, you should buy a copy of Adam’s CD while you’re there, because it’s tasty stuff. And not just because I play piano on a few songs and glockenspiel on one (though my glockenspiel does have some undeniable sex appeal).

Putting all of this aside, dig how the dates I’ve posted so far this month show up on the calendar section (over to the right on the sidebar) in such a way that they make stairs that lead up from the left. I didn’t plan that, but there it is. If I could just find French onion chip dip that didn’t taste like rancid congealed milk, all would be well in the world.

Some things that happen for the first time seem to be happening again.

I’ve been buzzin’ around like a bee, hurtin’ everything I see. Oh wait. Those are lyrics from “Can’t Seem to Make You Mine”. more or less. Some would say The Seeds recorded the definitive version back in the 1960s, but I think Alex Chilton’s take on the song from his “lost in the wilderness” period in the ’70s is at least as good. It’s got this great unhinged energy about it and eventually degenerates into complete dissonance. But for the first few minutes it’s almost maddeningly catchy, in a sorta psychotic way.

It all comes back to psychosis, you see.

Smooth segue: on Sunday Travis came over and we recorded piano and banjo for a handful of songs that will be on his forthcoming album Holes & Tones. Lots of talented people are playing on it, Derek Harrison and my current partner in jazzy madness Max Marshall among them, so I’m flattened to be in such exalted company. That’s right — I’m now flatter than ever before. I’m the flattest guy you’ll ever meet. They call me Mr. Pancake now.

But seriously, thanks to Travis for letting me be a part of it, and for allowing me to play random plinks and plonks in places where plinks and/or plonks might be appropriate. I think it’ll all be pretty spiffy once the album is finished. And you know I don’t use the word “spiffy” lightly.

Another big thank-you has to go out to Eric Welton, who surprised the pants off of me (complete with undergarments) when he showed up that same day with an Alesis Ion and asked if I wanted to borrow it for a few days. Dude let me borrow a synthesizer! That’s madness.

We all know what madness leads to: music. I’ve never messed around on anything made by Alesis before, but this is a seriously cool synth. It even looks cool. I mean, look at the thing.

If that doesn’t inspire you to start speaking German and create some dirty house music, something isn’t right.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of what this synth is capable of, and I didn’t bother to take a look at the manual, but Sunday night I ended up recording three songs that wouldn’t exist if Eric hadn’t given me the old synthesizer surprise. The next day there was another.

One of them still needs singing and then I think it might be album material. The other three I’m not so sure about. Two of them exist mostly as grooves and still need some work.

One of them is finished, instrumental, and might sound more like proper electronic music than anything I’ve ever done before. It was just what came out of a bit of improvising Sunday night, built up a piece at a time. The drums were played manually in pieces instead of relying on the arpeggiator to do the work for me. I don’t think the result is going to fit on any proper album I’ll be putting out anytime soon. It’s a little choppy and just seems like it would be a bizarre choice for an album track. But maybe it’ll grow on me.

Until it figures out where it wants to go, I might as well put it up here for fun.

Circumcised Cashew

Is it just me, or does it sound like I’ve been listening to a lot of Aphex Twin? Not necessarily the most spastic Aphex material, but maybe some of the earlier, more house-sounding stuff. The sad truth is I haven’t thrown on any electronic music at all in a while now. I don’t seem to listen to much outside music in general right now when I’m waist-deep in my own stuff, which is where I tend to be most of the time these days.

Still, maybe it’s time to whip out I Care Because You Do again. Now there’s an album with a cover that’ll give you nightmares if you’re an impressionable youth. Good thing I never laid eyes on it until I was entering the home stretch of my teenage years.

Speaking of madness, check out who’s at #6 on the CJAM charts this week. It just goes to show that nasty words and wooden guns cannot be denied. I don’t know if my album of hip-hop polkas will get the same kind of airplay, but we’ll soon find out.

The large livid lentil leapt over the lazy log-tending lad.

Gory details, RE: live action.

The show at the Loop with Tara happens on May 22, and it looks like it’s going to be a free show. I’m not sure what time the music starts. I would guess around 10:00 pm. Also, at the moment we’re being billed as “Tara Watts & the Vamps”.

Observe the following poster, made by Dan Bombardier.

live at the loop on may 22nd

Should be interesting. I haven’t been inside of the Loop in a very long time. I used to be a regular there every Friday night, almost without fail, for a good year-and-a-half or so. Then some drama drove me away and I became a ghost. Long story. Sad story. We won’t tell that story, because I don’t want to see you cry.

Then there’s the Field Assembly CD release show on June 5th. I’m playing three different sets in one day, which seems like an awful lot of activity for someone with as much of an aversion to live performance as I have at this point. That might be spreading myself a bit thin. Am I peanut butter? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

First there’s the stripped-down three-piece all-ages CD release show at Phog. That happens at 5:00 pm.

Then Max Marshall and my hairy self will be opening the 10:00 pm not-all-ages show at the FM Lounge. I’m not sure if we’ll end up assembling some kind of band for our set or not. For now, it’s just the two of us.

Then there’s the full-band Field Assembly set, during which what I have to do changes a whole lot from the earlier show, because it’s more about capturing as much of the vibe of the album as possible, brought to life by a seven-piece band. That’s right. Seven. The magic number, as we all know.

My set with Max will be heading in the other direction. Anyone who comes to hear us and expects to hear songs performed the way they sound on my albums will probably leave pretty disappointed. There’s going to be a lot of improvising and general jazzy-ness. But if you like jazzy and unfamiliar things, maybe you’ll enjoy it. Either way, it’s probably the only time you’ll catch me playing live in anything other than a background role this year, because I don’t plan to make a habit of doing that sort of thing.

I think I’m starting to form an idea of where I want to go with the next album. Then again, there are more than a few potential album ideas vying for attention right now, so it’s anyone’s guess which one will end up seducing me first. But an interesting little accidental song has been forming over the past few days, and I like where it’s going.

It started innocuously enough on Monday night when I accidentally threw off the tempo of a delay effect on an effects processor and got an unexpected dub-like sound out of it. Later that night I thought I’d try messing around with drum loops for fun. Before I could even make a loop, I ended up recording about five minutes of real-time synth drums that sounded weirdly organic, filtered through those new accidental delay properties. Then I recorded some squelchy synth bass.

Today I messed around with some piano and a bit of electric guitar, all fed through the same delay effect. I think it still needs some more sonic wallpaper and maybe a bit of singing, but so far it’s sounding like some odd union between dub and jazz, with maybe a little bit of subdued funk in there too.

In other words, it isn’t much like anything that’s shown up on the last few albums. I dig it. It’s pretty much built around one vamp that doesn’t really stray from the key of D flat. It’s fun working out ways to create harmonic movement within the confines of an unchanging bass line.

I can’t say if it’s a harbinger of things to come or just a strange little fluke. Either way, it sure is nice to have a real piano. Even when I skew it with effects, it still has so much more depth to it than a digital emulation, it ain’t even funny. And even after eight months or so of getting to know the beast I’m still surprised by it all the time. All praise is due to Yamaha, makers of the U1 upright piano. And also to Neumann and Great River, without whom said piano might not sound as sexy as it does in recorded form.

I feel it all, except for those parts I don’t feel so much.

the chicken angel woman, in colour

Katie sent me some coloured Chicken Angel Women back around Christmas. I forgot how cool they were until I came across them again a few nights back. I think this might be my favourite one.

Maybe we’ll do a colour cover for a reissue in 2034 after I’ve sold my soul to a record label called Possum Necrophilia. It’s better than selling your soul to Sony/BMG, right? At least at this label they recognize the possum population and the sad fate that awaits the expired bodies of some unlucky specimens.

Speaking of reissuing stuff, I’ve been thinking about maybe giving the proper packaging treatment to some things from the back catalogue no one has ever really heard. Specifically a few of the better Papa Ghostface albums. I’m not sure why. I just think it might be a fun thing to do. The only potential roadblock is going to be coming up with cover art.

I’m not sure if any of the people who are into what I’m doing now would be fans of the PG weirdness of old, but I’m still fond of a lot of that stuff. Might be fun to share with random people, now that there’s an actual audience for the noises I’m making, to say, “Here are a few of the six million places I passed through before I ended up here.”

Something to stew on.

In general, things seem to have exploded over here lately. There’s Adam’s Field Assembly CD release show on June 5th — an early all-ages show at Phog that will just be the two of us along with Dean Drouillard (making it the three of us, if you want to get accurate with the math), and then a later show at the FM Lounge that will feature a seven-piece band. Both sets should offer some interesting contrasts.

In addition to playing both of those sets, I might possibly maybe — Bjork song title surprise, ahoy — be playing a short set of my own to open the show at the FM Lounge. I’m not sure yet.

Then there might be a show with Tara and the gang sometime late in the month at the Loop, though I’m not sure of the details. And then maybe a few more in June and July. I’ll report back on that once I know what’s happening.

On top of all that, there’s the plotting of the next album, and a bunch of collaborative things are going on.

It all sounds like a muddled mess right now, but I’ll sort it out before long, and it’ll make sense eventually. Sort of. Probably.

And check this out: one of my songs somehow made its way onto a podcast. In Germany. You can listen HERE. Or if you don’t like clicking on links, you can listen right here.

Machtdose May 2009 podcast

I don’t know German, but as far as I can figure it, Machtdose is a show on Frankfurt’s Radio X. It’s also a blog/website/collective of some sort that produces a monthly podcast featuring some of their favourite tracks from around the internet. Or maybe roland (the DJ) is the man behind it all, and it’s a solo mission. I can’t say for sure.

May’s edition of the podcast is made up entirely of music from the CLLCT website where I posted a few things a little while back. The song of mine that was selected took me by surprise. I was expecting something off of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN after hearing a few banjo-heavy tracks at the beginning of the podcast. Instead, I’m in there around the twenty-five-minute mark with “Disowned Umbrellas”.

It’s surreal to hear that cool-sounding voice mention my name. It cracks me up when Roland reads my little bio/self-description (“I’m a guy, I have hair, and I make noise”) and then says, “That’s probably not true…”

Anyway, huge thanks to Roland and Machtdose for this unexpected airplay/recognition. And just as general thing, I think the podcast gives you a pretty solid idea of the breadth of talent on offer at CLLCT. The variety of sounds in there is mind-boggling, and it’s really just a sample of what the site has to offer. There’s so much great music there you’re not likely to ever hear anywhere else, created simply for the love of it, it’s a little bit crazy.

No more April showers for in-grown flowers.

The response the new album is getting so far has been pretty surprising, at least to me. I was expecting people to be put off by the increase in swearing and general not-so-niceness. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Seems like every time I say or think, “It’ll really surprise me if people like this album,” they go ahead and end up liking it anyway. Maybe the next time I get really excited about something and proclaim it to be my BEST! WORK! EVER! no one will really be into it at all. I think that would be a funny turnaround.

No word yet on what TPSOTSAA (The Person Some of the Songs Are About) thinks of the music she inspired, but I don’t imagine she’s a big fan. Hey, you can’t win ’em all.

There’s even a review of the album over here. Thanks to Adam for the kind words, and for all the support over the last few years. I’m not sure if it quite fits the bill as a true breakup album, and if there is a Blood on the Tracks equivalent in my discography it’s probably a seven-way tie between the last three full-length GWD albums, the CASTRATED EP, and my post-band trilogy of solo albums from 2002. But not many people are ever going to hear any of that stuff, and the new album is easily the most personal thing I’ve put out there in a while, so maybe it does fit the bill after all.

I might not have a “Tangled Up in Blue” in my catalogue of songs, but I’ve got an “If You See Her, Say Hello”, and it’s called “If You See Her, Don’t Say Hello; Tell Her She Can Chew on a Stick of Gum That Has Lost Its Flavour, Because Anything You Do Will Probably Come Off as Being Petty, so You Might as Well Have Some Fun”.

I really have no idea where to go next. As I’ve said a time or two before, it felt like this new album was sort of the ending of a loose, unplanned, and unintentional trilogy. It may not really be the end of anything, but after making three albums that feel like they’re somewhat connected at least in terms of the sound world they create, I think it’s time to go somewhere else to try and keep things from getting stale or predictable.

I guess I’ll figure something out. There are too many things swirling around in the brain right now. Don’t get me wrong — it’s a great problem to have. It just makes it difficult sometimes to decide what to focus on. Maybe it’s time to get synthesizer-happy again after going the more organic route for so long. Maybe I should get back into working with forcibly non-repetitive song structures after returning to the land of more conventionally structured stuff for a while, just to keep my toes nimble.

Whatever ends up happening, there should be another album of some sort before long, probably sometime during the summer. It’s a nice feeling to be somewhat prolific again, like I used to be before revamping the studio and living attached to a crack house slowed me down for a while. I don’t plan on slowing down again. So prepare yourselves for me spamming you with a lot more new music at various points throughout 2009, ’cause it needs to be released, and ’cause you’re lying to yourselves if you think you can’t use the extra makeshift coaster-and-frisbee sets.