Month: December 2009

I’m a cover story? Say what?

It’s true. Grab a copy of the year-end issue of WAMM and you’ll see this on the cover.

I’m a little sad Stephen didn’t use the shot of me pretending to rip open my shirt with a ridiculous grimace on my face. But only a little. I like how the way my hair is tied back has the unexpected side effect of giving you a pretty good idea of what I would look like if I chopped off my mane. Not that you should expect to see that happen anytime soon. Or ever.

To say I was not expecting this is a bit of an understatement. I know this is the time of year when people write things in print media about what they think the best albums of the year were. Last year CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN seemed to get a lot of attention, and suddenly I had something you might call a visible fan base. Before that, if you asked someone in Windsor what they thought about Johnny West they probably would have said, “What — you mean the sex toy in that American Pie movie?”

This year I put out three albums, and they were all well-received — some more then I expected them to be. So I figured with the nice things people have been saying, and with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN making appearances on a few local “best of 2008” lists, I would probably see one or two of my 2009 releases end up on a “best of 2009” list somewhere. And I would be flattered. And then I would say something about it here like, “Look at me, there I am, drink some rice, eat some ham.” And that would be that.

But no. Apparently I have more supporters than I thought I did. I was told so many people wrote in to WAMM voting for my albums, the decision was made to ditch the whole “best-of” theme and just make me “artist of the year”. So there I am on the cover, and there I am again inside. Here I was assuming a few things being touted recently as the best things ever to come out of our border town would kind of blot everything else out, including me. I guess not.

So here we are. Craziness.

Turns out this stirred up a bit of criticism in some quarters. I heard through the vine of grapes that some people — I have no idea who — feel it isn’t right or fair for me to be deemed “artist of the year” when I never play live.

Read that last sentence again, and laugh along with me.

This kind of logic cracks me up. It’s like saying someone isn’t a good actor because they don’t do a lot of press junkets and have found a way to keep their private life private, or a successful tennis player shouldn’t be on the cover of a sports magazine because they only do a major interview every few years.

I could say a lot of things in response. Instead I think you should check out the segment of Not in My Backyard from this afternoon that addresses the whole bag of potatoes and hear what Adam, Tom, and Stephen have to say about it all.

Not in My Backyard segment (12/8/09)

Anyway. It’s a little weird to be criticized in the article for being “self-indulgent” and a “reluctant editor” when I’m supposedly the artist of the year. And I’m not sure I would have taken the “addressing some of the hype without telling you anything meaningful about the artist” approach if it were me writing the thing. But putting that stuff aside, thanks to everyone and anyone who wrote to WAMM extolling the virtues of my noise. You’re all crazy. I don’t know if I’m really all that worthy of being deemed “Windsor artist of the year”, but you went and made me a year-end cover dude, and for that I will be eternally purple. Now you know the truth — I really am a figment of someone else’s imagination, my name is Bongo, and I live in the broom closet of a bowling alley.

I’ll try to have at least another few albums for you all to frighten your neighbours with in 2010. You can probably expect a new one in January if I don’t manage to get it done by the end of this month. I’ve been toying with the idea of paying someone else to master the music for a change, but I’ll probably just squash that and do it myself as usual.

I don’t know about that live business. I know for a fact I never said anything like that last thing I’m quoted as saying in the article. I’m not sure why or how that got printed when it never came out of my mouth. As it stands right now there isn’t any scheduled live show on the horizon, in spite of what you might have read. But I guess anything’s possible. Maybe an evening of Lady Gaga covers is in the cards for sometime in the New Year.

There are some other things a-brewing that weren’t mentioned in the article, but for now my lips are sealed with some sort of generic silly putty. All will be revealed when the time is right.

One thing I gotta say — while it’s flattering to be called a creative genius, that just ain’t possible. Or, as Ralph Wiggum would say if he were in my shoes, “Me pass music? That’s unpossible!” A genius I am most decidedly not. Anyone unfortunate enough to hear the song I wrote for a girl I was infatuated with in grade eight could tell you that. Luckily I’ve kept that horrid cassette well-guarded through the years.

I’m just a hairy guy who makes music. And I’m only going to get hairier in the days ahead. So you’d best brace yourselves.

Meet Oscar.

I was just thinking the other day about how many guitars I have, how I never thought I’d have anywhere near as many as I do now, and how I really don’t see myself ever needing any more of them. I definitely don’t need any more variety when it comes to acoustic guitars. I have dreadnoughts, big fat things, parlour guitars, a twelve-string, an old archtop, a National Resophonic, and the list goes on. Any flavour I can find a need for, there’s an axe somewhere around here to cover it.

If anything, somewhere down the road another electric guitar might make sense. I always wanted a Telecaster. Those old Harmony Bobcats are cool little things. And an electric twelve-string would be fun to try.

Still, sometimes you come across something that’s so cheap and so much fun to play you can’t resist. That happened today. I picked up a cheaper than cheap classical guitar just to kill time, and found not only was the intonation decent and the neck not horribly uncomfortable, but after five minutes had passed I was still playing the thing, in no hurry to put it down.

That usually spells trouble. And a classical guitar is one acoustic flavour I don’t have at my disposal.

And here we are,

One of the nice things about cheap-ass guitars — and yes, there are expensive asses that need pampering, but we’ll discuss them some other time — is they don’t mind so much if you throw them in a strange tuning one day and then decide the next day you’d rather return to standard tuning. Another nice thing: you don’t have to make sure they’re in a humidity-controlled environment. This thing started out in a warm place, then spent hours in the trunk of a car the December cold has turned into a makeshift refrigerator, and by the time it was transferred to another warm place the body of the guitar felt like it had been sitting in a meat freezer for a few days. It didn’t care. Didn’t even go out of tune a little bit.

Try doing that with an expensive new acoustic guitar and watch what happens.

I’m not saying high-end guitars aren’t worth the upkeep. But there’s a time for cheap guitars to strut their stuff. And this is Oscar’s time.

By the way, check out how messed up my ponytail is in the video. It looks like a small octopus has decided to make its home on my head. And part of what I was playing while I was filming decided to become a proper song about two minutes after I turned off the camera, complete with a different vocal melody. I would have recorded its inception, but it happened too fast. I’m recording it right now and thinking it might be album material.

Next up, electric guitar and pounding drums. Because every delicate classical guitar-based song needs a big noisy climax.

Madonna is singing about rain while making the pouty face.

Things are rolling along, like any rock that isn’t the least bit circular will do. Maybe “rolling” isn’t the word, and neither is “mum”. The word could be “trebuchet”. That’s a good word.

I finished that song with the odd flamenco-ish rhythm and multi-tracked leg slaps, but now I don’t think it’s album material anymore. Tried adding drums and some feedback-tinged electric guitar only to ditch them in the mix. It just didn’t quite seem to work. The thing still feels like it isn’t finished, and there are too many other things that need attention, so for now it goes in the pile marked “probably not showing up on the next CD”.

A few unexpected tiny songs have toppled out and will probably make the cut, including one that began as a ukulele improvisation and led to overdubbed dementia. I ended up slamming my hands on my desk for percussion instead of using drums. My hands didn’t entirely approve, but it was fun anyway. Everything was distant mic’d with the same mic, and I compressed the shit out of it all, and yet it didn’t come out sounding half as lo-fi as I expected it would. That either means I have some good equipment, or I really do make medium-fi music for mentally unstable young lovers after all. Who knew?

I still plan on most of the songs being longer than things have been lately, but it probably won’t hurt to have the odd sixty-second track in there for good measure. The last album had no tiny songs at all, so I’d best not neglect them altogether for too long. Yesterday I also got most of the meat down for another song that decided to end up at about the eight-minute mark. It still needs piano, drums, some nasty electric guitar, and other things, but it’s getting there.

I’ve been toying with the idea of starting a sporadic series of writings here and giving them a blanket title like Tales from Less Hairy Times, shining a spotlight on certain moments from my never-to-be-properly-written musical autobiography and then shattering the spotlight with a slingshot armed with spam. It might be a fun experiment to do the occasional bit of more “serious” and longer-winded writing here. I could write a hefty tome about band-related adventures alone. I don’t know if anyone would find that sort of thing interesting, but if you find yourself confronted with mountains of text at some point, at least now you’ll know what it’s all about.

Today, however, my soul will be stolen through photographic means. More on that soon.