Month: January 2010

songs for stringy-haired lovers.

i can’t believe i didn’t hear about this sooner — chad kroeger (he of nickelback fame) has a secret identity that he’s kept very heavily guarded.

by day, he’s the leader of nickelback, and writer/singer of deep, soul-probing power ballads.

but at night, he transforms into…

the paddle pop lion!

he refuses to discuss it in interviews, but i think chad should just embrace his true nature and own it. it would probably win him some new fans.

in non-nickelback-related news, i kind of feel like posting a few things that aren’t going to make it onto the new album. some of them will eventually show up elsewhere. ah, who am i kidding…i’m sure all of them will see the light of day at some point, even if it doesn’t happen until i put together another sprawling collection of out-takes and stuff. maybe a couple of them will even end up fitting on that gargantuan thing called THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. for now, here they are, still fresh and fairly fragrant.

electric blue felt like a contender until i finished recording it. then it felt like it was missing something and didn’t go anywhere interesting enough to justify inclusion on the album. still, i do like the fact that the rhythm is driven by multi-tracked leg slaps, and the natural chorus effect achieved by recording two acoustic guitar parts slightly out of tune with each other is something i’d never thought to try before. i guess “i’m running on roller skates to get to you” is about as close as i get to bona fide love song lyrics these days. but isn’t that more meaningful than singing, “baby, i love you, there’s no one above you, take my hand, i’m so bland”? i would hope so.

Johnny West – Electric Blue

i feel like it just never quite finished finding itself. i tried recording drums and some electric guitar, but that seemed to take away more than it added. oh well. you can’t win ’em all. i did at least leave in a bit at the beginning where i mutter “what the fuck?” after messing something up.

twisted fingers was the song i was going to end the album with, until i wrote a tune called “in my time of weakness” and realized i liked that one a lot better as an album closer. it’s nothing personal. i still like twisted fingers quite a bit, and would have kept it on if i didn’t come up with something that felt a bit more appropriate as a parting shot.

this song initially showed up here in much shorter form, as the sketch i came up with while messing around with a new compressor (you read about it back in september…of course you did…this is the most exciting spot on the internet today, and you know it). here it is in its full/finished form.

Johnny West – Twisted Fingers

purple seahorse earring would work well enough as a happy little segue, but it doesn’t feel essential enough to be there. i do dig the slide ukulele bits, and the distant-mic’d, double-tracked, hyper-compressed piano. it’s fun messing around with sounds like that.

Johnny West – Purple Seahorse Earring

i was also going to put up a 10-minute song called “paralysis of analysis” that probably pinpoints where my concept (if you can call it that) for the album began to take shape, but that one still needs some work. it’s also long as hell, and though i will finish it at some point soon, i know that no matter how well it turns out in the end, it doesn’t belong on this album.

and that’s enough of that. if i keep going, pretty soon you’ll be able to take all these out-takes and form an EP out of them. it ain’t time for another EP yet (though a few months ago i flirted with the idea). there are quite a few other things that aren’t going to make the cut — some of them much more interesting and suggestively-dressed than these three — but many of them still need to be mixed and/or are missing a bit of wallpaper. i can’t let you see all of my naked walls. that wouldn’t be right.

fear not — none of these out-takes are really giving anything away. the songs that are going to be on the album are a lot more adventurous and have better-defined abdominal muscles.

i still feel like the second half of the album is missing something. it just needs one song to give it a kick in the ass and shake things up a bit. i keep writing new things, recording them, and pushing away things that up until recently i was sure would make it onto the album. apparently it’s going to keep shifting until the last possible second.

i’ve said it before, but i think it’s worth repeating — none of my CDs really feel like proper albums to me. they’re just snapshots of wherever i happen to be when they’re recorded. i couldn’t spend a year working on an album, or it would turn into about five different albums. as it is, this one has taken longer to get finished than i intended by quite some distance, though it isn’t because i’ve been labouring over it for months. the bulk of the work has been done this month, with a bit done in december as well.

as time goes by (a kiss is just a kiss, you know), i realize more and more that i’m never going to craft the perfect 10-song album that’s 35 minutes long. it just isn’t in me. actually, the problem is that there’s too much in me, to the point where an album like that would feel so lightweight, there would be no point in it even existing.

so things will continue to be sprawling and lengthy for the foreseeable future. that’s just the way it has to be if i’m going to have any hope of someday getting relatively caught up with all the songs that need to be given their due. but hey, in miami, burger king is starting this thing called “the whopper bar” where you can buy a beer with your burger instead of a soft drink. that has to be some consolation.

when cupcakes attack.

it has just come to my attention that the 82nd academy awards are being broadcast on television on sunday march 7th, at 8:00 pm. that’s an hour after i’m scheduled to start singing and playing stuff at mackenzie hall. i think that would be the most hilarious possible excuse not to attend my show; “uh, well…i don’t want to miss the oscars on tv. sorry dude. can’t make it.” i don’t think it gives me much reason to reschedule the show (i figure the people who really want to see me play live will be there regardless of what’s on the idiot box), but i do think it’s a pretty funny thing to compete with. you’ve got an awards ceremony that happens once a year and will almost definitely be full of almost no surprises at all (at least in terms of who wins what), and then you’ve got a live show that’s also only going to happen once this year, in all likelihood, where no one really knows who’s going to take home the award for “best mid-performance monologue”. you can always videotape, or dv-r, or—hot tamale—TiVo the oscars. i’m not sure it works quite the same way with a live gig, unless you get someone to capture the whole performance with a video camera and then they give you the tape. the oscars have the edge in terms of star power and production values, but i have a grand piano and a melodica. who will come out on top?

i’m not saying people who want to watch the oscars should come see me instead. people should do what they want to do, like on any other day. i just think it’s funny how it worked out. personally, i haven’t had much interest in watching the oscars in years. it was all downhill for me after brad pitt thanked the makers of kaopectate sometime in the mid-1990s. i did tune in last year, for the first time in many years, mostly because i wanted to see mickey rourke take home the “best actor” award. he didn’t, but i did end up writing “the penultimate kiss” on a 70-year-old parlour guitar in bed while chewing on melancholy licorice, so at least something came out of it. in general, i think the whole thing is kind of a joke. half the time the actors/artists who really deserve some recognition don’t win these days if they’re even nominated at all, the majority of what hollywood has been doing in recent years doesn’t really interest me to begin with, and once again i realize i’m probably in the minority here.

maybe i should have a post-show academy awards house party or something to capitalize on the occasion. it would have to be at someone else’s house, though. someone with a big living room.

album-related stuff keeps moving along. turns out there are two songs i still need to record, not one. one song needs to be remixed with the vocals a bit lower. another few songs need to be mixed. then i need to find out if the sequence i have in mind flows well enough. then it’s insert-printing, cd-making time, and it goes out into the world for whoever wants to hear it. things should probably be finished by the end of the week, and then i just need to take care of post-production matters. so it’s quite possible that the thing will see release sometime in the first week of february. that’s not as soon as i wanted to get it out there, but it’s probably going to be a better album for being given a bit more time to find its own identity. it could have been many things that would have been different from what it’s turned into. it could have easily been an insanely-crammed cd on par with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, in terms of the number of tracks and the runtime; i ended up having to shave things down from about forty new songs, which could have led to a double-cd if i hadn’t been more judiciously juicy. but it ain’t quite time for things to get that epic yet. it could have been a much stranger, more difficult album, but i gradually realized that it was better to just let the music go where it wanted to go, instead of going out of my way to be obscure.

i still think it demands more of the listener than anything i’ve done in a while, but it isn’t impenetrable. there’s a lot of melody, and a lot of catchy moments. they’re just leavened with more curve balls and tabasco sauce than is usually the case. the catchiest, least-messed-with song on the whole album is sung to jesus, if you can believe it, and it’s not all that ironic. another song that would probably be the first “single” off of the album in an alternate universe is made up of equal parts catchy piano pounding, demented falsetto singing, and synthesizer flatulence. there’s an instrumental track that isn’t over in a flash, and is probably as close as i get to ambient music. there are three songs that are about eight minutes long apiece and keep tearing themselves down and rebuilding until they simply dissolve. there’s one song that was written in a dream. there’s a closing track that isn’t like anything i’ve ever done before and seems to sum up the whole album without really summing up anything at all. i won’t be able to say how successful it is as an album until everything is finished, but i like where it’s going so far.

there’s also no proper cover art to speak of, aside from the album title. that might come off like some kind of anti-album-art statement, but really it’s just what feels right in this instance. and i’m too lazy to try and figure out what in the village of intercourse i’m supposed to do for album art that would seem appropriate for the album title. maybe every six years or so i need to put out an album without proper cover art.

there really is a village called intercourse, by the way. it’s in pennsylvania. something about the idea of a sign that says “welcome to intercourse!” cracks me up.

a female domestic fowl is called a hen. now go forth and spread the wisdom.

dig the progression/evolution in montage.

this is my way of informing you through random images that OH YOU THIS has officially been reissued. it looks significantly less cheesy than it did the first time around, and now comes with a booklet containing some period-specific pictures, and present day musings. i didn’t realize until it was too late that there are two typos in the booklet, but they’re merely errors of punctuation that i failed to catch on my end (an extra period in one place and a comma where there doesn’t need to be one), so i don’t really mind too much. i don’t think it makes much sense to drop a bunch of copies in the big black box at dr. disc, because i still don’t think the cd is one of my sexier moments overall, but if anyone wants a copy let me know and i’ll gladly give you one.

in other news, that album i once planned on having finished before 2010 came along is getting ever-closer to the finish line. three or four songs need some work and/or mixing, one song needs to be recorded, and then we might be done. i’d say you should expect to see it appear sometime in the next few weeks. i’ve decided that i’m going to go ahead and print the lyrics in booklet form once again, just so the words are there for whoever wants to read them. i first typed “for whoever wants to read hen”. seriously, who doesn’t want to read female chicken? i know it’s all i dream about at night.

absolutely, kind of, arguably, possibly, potentially live.

so, i bit the bullet, and my teeth hurt. or, in non-artillery-speak, i just got back from booking mackenzie hall for sunday, march 7th. there’s no turning back now. at least it’s far enough in the distance that i won’t start to feel the nerves for a little while.

i asked some people whose opinions i respect what they thought of my idea for a show, and pretty much no one agreed with what i wanted to do. at all. actually, they were in very strong disagreement with just about everything i planned on doing. they said there was no way i should just eat the cost and play for free. i should at least try to break even, since i’m already giving my CDs away as it is. they said there was no way i should play for any longer than 45 minutes at the most, or else i would start to lose the audience and people would get bored. i should leave them wanting more (doesn’t the fact that i never, ever play my own material live sort of do that already?).

they said there was no way i should throw out the idea of having someone else on the bill, because you always have to have at least one other person or band play to justify having a show. they said it would need to be bigger and better than the last time i played my own stuff live (at the FM lounge for the field assembly CD release show), and i should maybe put a band together and do something really ambitious and exciting, otherwise i would end up puncturing this balloon of hype that has built up around me with a less-than-life-altering performance, revealing that i’m actually just a normal guy who happens to write and play music.

i considered all of these things. it got to the point where i was thinking that maybe i really am going about it all wrong, and everyone else is right.

then i remembered that i didn’t get to where i am now by ever listening to what anyone else thought i should do with my music, and i didn’t build up the audience i have by doing things “by the book”.

so. if people get tired of listening to me play and sing after 45 minutes, they’re welcome to leave. you’re under no obligation to stay if you’re not having a good time. i wouldn’t stay at a show if i wasn’t into it on at least some level. i’ve walked out of shows before, just because they’ve been way too uncomfortably loud for me and i didn’t have earplugs with me, or because i didn’t enjoy the music.

maybe that’s rude. it’s also honest. there’s no point in subjecting yourself to something you don’t enjoy if you don’t have to. but i try to avoid doing that sort of thing, so i generally just don’t go to a show in the first place if i know it’s going to be (a) ridiculously loud, (b) musically not my cup of coffee, or (c) both of those things. pretty simple.

and in this case, it’s not like you’re going to pay to get in and will be able to use the excuse of wanting to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth. so feel free to take off if you feel like you’ve heard enough, but i’m going to keep on playing until i feel content that i’ve hit all the musical things i want to touch on or i’ve simply run out of energy/vocal power.

also, maybe this is because i just don’t go out to see shows anymore, but i don’t see what’s so revolutionary about playing for 90 minutes or two hours, with no one else on the bill to pad out the show. people have been doing that for decades. hell, for some artists/bands (springsteen, anyone?), that would be a pretty short show. just because most local artists don’t make a habit of doing that sort of thing, it doesn’t mean i can’t do it.

and that’s not an egotistical statement. it’s just an observation. i’m not saying i won’t fall flat on my face. but if you don’t try, how the hell are you even supposed to know what you’re capable of?

for me, a 30 or 45-minute set is pretty flimsy. that’s not even as long as one of my shorter full-length albums. at this point i have way too much material to even attempt to shave things down that much and still feel like i’m getting across even a fraction of what i have to say musically. the set at the field assembly show, as well as it went, was abbreviated foreplay.

i figure if this is the one big show i’m going to play this year where i dig into my own material (which will probably end up being the case), i might as well make it count. that means playing a lot of music. if people can sit through one of my CDs that’s 75 minutes long and not get bored, i think they might be able to tolerate a live show that lasts for longer than half an hour. just sayin’…

if people want to see/hear other artists and bands play who aren’t me, they can skip my show and go see them wherever they’re playing. with how frequently everyone else plays gigs around town, i’m sure they won’t have to wait too long for an opportunity. if, on the other hand, you want to see/hear me play my own songs, this is pretty much the only place that’s going to happen anytime soon.

if people want to hear the songs exactly the way they sound on CD, well…that’s what the CDs are for. it seems i’m in the minority here, but for me the whole point of a live performance is that it’s not the same as the album. it’s about stripping the songs naked, or giving them different outfits to wear, and getting at what makes them tick. it’s also about interacting with the audience, and creating a dialogue of some sort. if i feel that it’s not working and the performance isn’t where it should be, i’ll be honest about it and tell you as much. and then i’ll try something else.

there was a song at the FM lounge performance back in june that fell apart halfway through. instead of letting it ruin the whole set, i apologized, threw it aside, and moved on to the next song. it’s almost a given that i’m going to fuck up at some point. i’m not someone who’s going to not hit a wrong note or six somewhere in the course of a performance. there’s too much improv going on for that to happen. but i don’t think there’s any sense in trying to put together something that’s some polished-to-death spectacle. i’d rather try to play some music as well as i can, and have some fun doing it, and hopefully create an atmosphere in which whoever else is present can also have some fun.

if that doesn’t live up to the hype, whatever the hype is, then that’s fine by me. i think hype is pretty stupid and ridiculous anyway, to be frank. get up there in front of a group of people with very little amplification and no band behind you, no effects pedals or trickery, just you and some songs with nothing to hide behind, and let’s see what you can do. either you can play and pull out something interesting, or you can’t. that’s the bottom line for me.

hype is just hot air at the end of the day. hot air can’t sing you a song. it doesn’t even smell nice. good music played well will win over flash and bright lights for me, every single time.

people who feel really bad about me not making any money can give me a hug or something. i like hugs. they feel nice. or they can take some CDs home with them, or talk to me. the fact that there are people who listen to the music and enjoy it means a hell of a lot more to me than making money off of them or selling X amount of copies ever would.

eating the cost and playing a free show is my way of saying thank you to the people who have supported the music. playing live causes me a lot of anxiety. i would be very happy to never play live again, in any capacity, for the rest of my life. and if i’m honest, i’d rather not play any kind of show anywhere. i’d rather concentrate on recording all the new songs i need to get out instead.

for some reason, some people apparently would like to see me play out in a public place, and i don’t know if i’m going to have the audience that i have right now forever. a year from now, things might go back to no one being interested in what i’m doing. so i figure i should probably play a solo show while enough people are interested to justify doing it.

this is my way of saying, “alright. i’ll put myself in a situation i’m not entirely comfortable with for you. but i’ll do it in a way that i’m somewhat comfortable with. and that means no tickets are going to be sold, and no money comes into play on the audience’s end. come if you want to come. if you don’t want to come, then don’t. i’m going to be there playing music either way.”

it’s also a gift to myself — it’s me saying i won’t play “the game”, whatever the hell that is, and i’m not going to do things the way other people do them just because that’s the accepted way of doing things and i’m supposed to follow suit (according to who? and for what reason?). if that limits the amount of people who are going to be into what i’m doing, so be it.

finally, it’s me saying once again that i don’t do this to make money. i never have, and i never will. if you want to know who i am and what i’m about, and not what some writer with an agenda who doesn’t know shit about me wants you to think i’m about, come on down and find out.

i also still can’t really think of any other local band or artist you could put on the bill with me who would make a whole lot of musical sense, aside from rihanna, who isn’t exactly local. so that pretty much takes care of that. someone did suggest to me that i try to find someone else like myself to open the show — someone in windsor who doesn’t play live, who doesn’t fit neatly into any genre/category, and who produces a new full-length album every few months.

the jury’s still out on that one.

i respect the thoughts of everyone whose opinions i’ve asked (i wouldn’t have asked them what they thought otherwise), and i thank them for giving me some things to think about. except for the people who were kind of dickbags about it. i’m not so thankful there. but i think i’m going to stick with my plan. if only ten people show up because it’s a free show and no one else is on the bill (a free show? the horror!), that doesn’t bother me. and if some people don’t want to come out because it’s not at a bar and they can’t get drunk and rowdy, i probably wouldn’t want those people in the audience, because they wouldn’t be listening to anything i was doing anyway.

it’s not going to be a loud, rowdy show. it’s going to be an intimate thing that’s more like me playing for you in a rather large living room that happens to be a hall with a really sexy grand piano in it, instead of an actual living room. if you come expecting a spectacle, you’re going to be disappointed. as we’ve hopefully established by now, i couldn’t care less about flashy bullshit. that’s not what i’m about.

there will be ample time before, during, and after the show for people to socialize and chat with me, or themselves, or their chairs, or whatever they feel like doing, and there will be free non-alcoholic refreshments (including a cooler full of boylan bottling co. soda — some of the best bottled pop you’ll ever drink in your life, in my humble opinion) for anyone who wants them. though i doubt i have many fans who are not of legal drinking age, it’ll be an all-ages show, just in case.

i don’t like how a wall is often erected between the artist and the audience, where the attitude is, “i’m here to perform for you, and then we’re done.” it seems a bit too much like musical prostitution for my taste. so there will be no wall at this show. i’d like it to be more of a communal thing.

if you want to talk to me or ask questions, even between songs, go for it. i’m not some big shot rock-star-in-the-making who thinks his shit doesn’t stink. i’m just a hairy guy who stinks up the bathroom like everyone else. anyone who disagrees with the kind of show i want to play is entitled to disagree. i’m still going to do it my way.

now that we’ve got that out of the way…if there’s anything in particular anyone would like to hear, i think it would be kind of fun to do a “requests in advance” sort of thing. i have so many songs i plan on playing, if i took requests at the show there’s no guarantee i would remember the words for things i hadn’t prepared (i don’t tend to play many of my songs again for any reason once they’ve been recorded to my satisfaction, though i would obviously be making an exception for the show). this way, i can get an idea of what people want to hear ahead of time, and make sure i remember — or remind myself, if need be — how those songs go, so i can sprinkle them in amongst the things i’m already going to do.

so, if there are any specific songs anyone would like to hear, let me know. if i see you at the show, i’ll probably play them for you, as long as you don’t request something that would require me to shred my vocal cords to pieces with guttural screaming (not that you would have heard those songs anyway). and if you’re not there, maybe i’ll play what you want to hear anyway, and then put it up here on video.

for example, i know meryl would like to hear the heart-wrenching ballad that is “highest G”. murad, if he was there, would want to hear something off of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. kacper, if he was there, would want to hear one of my most moving love songs, “dr. squid bids a problem patient bon voyage”. and so on. even if you request something ridiculous, i’ll at least consider it. i do have a soft spot for certain kinds of cheese. just wait until you hear some of the covers i plan on playing.

it won’t be a CD release show, because the new album should be available several weeks before the show itself. but there will be copies of the most recent five or six CDs for anyone who wants them, along with some homemade box sets in case anyone wants to dig a bit deeper. the box sets do not look like this, but this is what they will have inside of them:

pardon the not-so-slick-or-spatially-correct collage. what’s included there is really just the tip of the ice berg, but it would be a good starting point for whoever wants to know just what i’ve been up to over the past little while. there’s also room for expansion in some of the boxes, for future CDs and such.

part of me is tempted to put up some posters poking fun at the hype with absurd invented quotes (“johnny west is really one of the backstreet boys…the truth comes out at last…so come on out and hear him sing the old favourites — backstreet’s back!”). another part of me doesn’t really care about promotion at all. but i should probably put some posters up around town in the next little while, at least saying when i’m playing and where, if only because i’ve never in my life done this sort of thing before, and i guess it’s a good idea in general to let people know when you’re playing a show.

i’m not going to be putting up a facebook event or spamming people with reminders. from what i’ve seen, 80% of the people who say they’re attending an event on facebook don’t actually show up, so it’s a pretty piss-poor barometer of how large of a turnout to expect. i really have no idea how many people i should expect to come out to this show. if 30 people show up, i’ll be happily surprised. if 80 people show up, someone will probably have to catch me so i don’t faint. i will put one or two messages up on facebook to establish that i’m playing a show, and then i’ll say something to remind people as the date draws near, and that’s about it. self-promotion is not my bag.

to summarize: for anyone who’s been wanting me to play live for a while now, this is your chance to get a concentrated dose of me-ness. if i do this sort of thing again, it probably won’t be until 2011 at the earliest, and if this one goes well, it’ll probably be another solo one-man-show affair with no one else on the bill. if you’d rather wait until i have a full band backing me up to flesh out the songs and i get some popular band to open for me, you might be waiting until i’m dead. ’cause that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. and if you’d prefer to wait until i play somewhere else on a friday/saturday night where you can buy booze and yell “freebird!” during the set, that’s probably not gonna happen either.

i will not be playing any of my own songs at the outside the factory gates CD release show on february 19th. that’s travis’ night. i might take the lead for some cover songs and obscurities, maybe, but for the most part i’m just going to play a bunch of different instruments and back travis up.

if you want to see me do my own thing, you’ll have to come to mackenzie hall and suffer through the terrible fate of not having to pay for anything. there may be a double-headed show at taloola sometime later on in march, where i will play my own solo set after playing with travis, but it won’t be anywhere near as far-reaching as the mackenzie hall performance, and none of the songs from that show will be revisited/reprised, nor will there be a real piano present like there will be at mac hall.

then i’m getting back to the 79 albums i need to work on recording, and i’m going to forget all about playing live for a good long while. in the words of the departed michael jackson, this is it.

oh, michael…you always knew just what to say.

so, if you have any interest in hearing me strip things down and turn some things inside-out to see what their guts look like, musically speaking, by all means come on out on march 7th (that’s a sunday — the day of rest and not competing with friday/saturday shows) at 7:00 pm and watch it happen. it’ll be a pretty casual affair, with at least one intermission period during the show. i imagine (if you’re in it for the long haul) we’ll be finished sometime around 10:00, so it’s not going to be a ridiculously late night. you might want to show up a little early, sometime closer to 6:00, if you want to chat for a while before the show, or to make sure you get a seat in case all hell breaks loose and it’s a full house.

when i say the music starts at 7:00, i mean it really starts at 7:00. if you show up at 9:00 figuring things will start late like most shows tend to, you’ll end up missing almost the whole thing. i’m not going to sit around waiting for the place to fill up before i start playing. and again, if there’s anything in particular you want to hear, let me know and i will probably play it for you. i will also be accessible after the show to anyone who wants to talk to me or throw balloons filled with mouthwash at me.

don’t actually throw a mouthwash balloon at me, though, or i will kick you in the shins so hard you’ll see the face of god. i don’t like getting wet when i have clothes on, man.

the stock rises…or at least it’s off the floor now.

i have a designated room where cd cases (both with and without cds inside) go after they are assembled. it’s also where i store inserts and other various relevant things. i call it the stock room, though it’s really just a room with a bunch of random cds and things in it. i used to type letters to people in there on the old manual typewriter, until it got so crowded that i couldn’t even walk two feet without the risk of tripping over something and breaking about 34 cd cases with my fall. the table and desk that i use to store things on were long ago maxed out, and for a while now i’ve just been storing things on the floor, in boxes and in piles. now i’m running out of available floor to use. in other words, it was time to get a shelf of some sort.

this is what the room looked like a few days ago:

and this is what it looks like as of 3:00 p.m. today:

it’s very strange actually being able to walk around in there now, and having some amount of organization. but it’s nice. you know what else is nice? having a song pop up on the soundtrack of one of your dreams that you can’t resist recording for the album you’re working on, even though it has nothing much to do with anything else that will be on the cd. dream songs are fun, especially when they’re performed by the blue nile and accompanied by a very strange music video/short film.

maybe it makes you feel just like an undercover sigmund freud.

i like how, pretty much the moment i fix my sleep, i get back on track (at least musically speaking). my first day back to the land of the living, i recorded one of the 6:00 am classical guitar songs, from soup to nuts in the space of maybe an hour. i like that expression. soup to nuts. you start off with a liquid meal, and end with something the psychotic squirrel from the picture at the top of my last post would slap away if he happened to be a nut nazi.

why does “nut nazi” sound so wrong?

unintentionally inappropriate-sounding phrases aside, i always find it interesting how a song will evolve from writing to recording. in this case it all happened in a period of not much more than 24 hours; the song was written at 6:00 am on monday, and by 2:00 pm on tuesday i had a mix of the finished thing on cd, which sounded quite a bit different from what i started out with. i probably should have got the recording process on video, but i think if i ever really want to capture just how the process works for me, i need someone else to man (or woman) the camera. otherwise, i can’t keep the camera running the whole time (i only have about an hour of recording time available on little flip when it’s all clear), and so some of the pivotal moments, discoveries and shifts of tone end up happening when no person or lens is watching.

someday i should ask someone to come over and just be a fly on the wall and film me working on a song. of course, if i did that i would probably clam up because i’m not used to anyone being there when i’m recording. something to think about, anyway. it’s too much trouble for me to keep re-positioning the camera and making sure the framing isn’t off when my brain would rather be concentrating on making music. better to leave it to someone else. it would look better, you’d get some camera movement, and taylor swift would rise from a birthday cake to sing a song of healing goodness.

oh yeah…i was talking about a song. it started out as a guitar/voice thing, and i was content to leave it that way, but as is usually the case it ended up shifting a bit at the recording stage. first of all, i’m consistently blown away by the microphones dave pearlman makes. anyone who’s got something resembling a home studio and is thinking about spending some money on high end microphones should check him out. i think his mics are easily worth at least twice what he charges for them…you’d be hard pressed to find anything at that price point that sounds anywhere near as good.

he also really cares about what he’s doing, and almost single-handedly restored my faith in the concept of customer service. i sound like an advertisement, but it’s true. i bought a TM1 from him way back in 2006 during the big protracted “studio revamping” adventure, and while it’s been my go-to vocal mic ever since, i’ve yet to find anything it doesn’t sound good on. i’m sure i’ve said something like this before.

the point is, when i was recording this song i wrote on the cheap classical guitar, i realized that my paul tube amp is probably fried — or rather, the tubes are fried. i guess they should be by now, since it’s been a decade since its last re-tubing and i’ve been pushing it quite a bit lately. it doesn’t sound too pretty right now. just for fun, i thought i would try recording the sound of dying tubes rasping their last through the TM1, without bothering to move it from where it normally sits for me to sing into it. so the microphone is a good five or six feet away from the guitar amp, four or five feet off the ground, not even pointing in the direction of the amp. i took a pass at an electric part for the song’s “bridge” section, double-tracked it, and damned if it doesn’t sound like just what that part of the song needed.

it’s not technically a great guitar sound, given the fact that the tubes are weeping openly, but i think it works. i’ve also got this pearlman TM-LE that i’ve kind of been neglecting lately, so i thought i’d throw it on the classical guitar for fun. it made a $149 guitar sound like it’s worth at least $800. that’s pretty impressive if you ask me.

the arrangement i ended up with is not terribly layered (classical guitar, bass, drums, a bit of piano and wurlitzer, electric guitar for only one brief section), but it’s definitely more fleshed-out than just guitar/voice, and it feels off-kilter somehow. maybe it’s a combination of the “heartbeat” rhythm i played on the drums with mallets, the improvised piano/wurly tinkling being just slightly out of tune with the guitar (i did this intentionally as an experiment), and the weird electric guitar sound. the whole thing sounds kind of hollow (until the fried guitar during the bridge blows it wide open), in a way that i like. it’s hard to explain.

it’s also hard to explain why it feels so different from anything else i’ve written. it’s a simple song with nothing weird going on structurally. maybe that’s what feels so odd about it — it’s almost jarring how the words are much less vague than usual. you don’t exactly expect to hear me singing something like, “no loving god would let an innocent child go hungry, or a species cease to be.” i don’t even expect to hear myself singing something like that.

further proof, if any was needed, that songs just happen, and i just stand there with a net waiting to catch them.

i must pause from the usual randomness to thank travis for recommending uline to me. you wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to find clear cd jewel cases and clear trays that don’t have stupid bumpy shit on them somewhere. you definitely can’t find them anywhere around here. i routinely have to order them, only to be confronted with cd cases that are not actually clear. it’s a small thing, but when something that’s supposed to be completely devoid of defining marks (aside from the little “compact disc” logo that is always visible on the cd tray) has clearly visible raised circular bumps all over the place, it makes me want to smash the cd case with my fist and then write some lyrics using the resulting blood as ink. a pretty restrained reaction, i know. i should vent a little more.

but thanks to travis, i can now order insane amounts of cd cases and trays that have no ugly circles on them, and they get here quickly. and no more blood is spilled over plastic that is not-as-advertised. huzzah, i say.

i haven’t forgotten about the mackenzie hall thing that i said i would have made a decision about by now. i ran into a few snags, with trying to find a sound guy, and having just about everyone i talked to about my idea for a show telling me there was no way in hell i could/should do what i’d like to do, causing me to re-think the whole thing. i also think i would rather just play in someone’s living room for an audience of eight people, instead of playing something that feels like a big “event” type show. but i guess there are more than eight people who would show up if i played somewhere. maybe even fifteen of them.

so i’m still on the fence, but close to jumping off. and i also think i’m getting a cold or a sinus infection, which is always fun. i’ll keep you posted on which direction i head in when i fall off the fence, and whether or not i injure my left femur.

nuts.

you remember that dirt-cheap classical guitar i picked up about a month ago? you wouldn’t think a $149 guitar (and not even a 60-year-old-one at that, but a new $149 guitar) would have much going on. when it comes to modern day guitars, from my experience you generally need to spend somewhere between $1,500 and $2,000 before you start to get into the realm of things that are actually good. this thing, meanwhile, costs less than two tanks of gas, and is a laminated, factory-assembled poor man’s version of a poor man’s classical guitar.

i’ve also written at least a dozen new songs on it so far, and recorded two of them, using that guitar instead of swapping it out for something better at the recording stage.

two of these songs have toppled out at over the past few days, at about 6:00 in the morning while my sleep is at its messiest, which normally means i’m at my least productive, musically and otherwise. yesterday, in between brushing my teeth and doing bedtime stuff (as you do when your bedtime is roughly when the sun comes up), i wrote something like a gospel blues song in about five minutes, which is not really like anything i’ve ever written before. today at roughly the same time, again in-between doing before-bed stuff, i wrote a completely different song, and again it came flying out pretty quickly. both of them written on this cheaper-than-cheap classical guitar. the gospel blues song actually features lyrics about jesus and stuff (don’t ask me where that came from…though i was raised roman catholic, i’m not even remotely religious and haven’t been since the age of reason), and i aim to have some fun with building up vocal harmonies and counterpoints when i record it. it was probably inspired on some level by the odetta record travis let me borrow:

when bob dylan is inspired by your music to pawn his electric guitar and amplifier in favour of picking up an acoustic guitar, setting off his own personal musical sea change, you’re obviously doing something pretty impressive. and when you sort of subliminally inspire me to write a gospel blues song, my sleep is obviously a mess and it’s a little after 6:00 in the morning.

the other song is not even remotely gospel blues. i don’t know what it is exactly. it’s musically subdued, but lyrically pretty acidic and fatalistic, and feels like maybe one of the best things i’ve ever written. i’m not sure why. there’s nothing all that complicated going on, and if i had stuck with my original vision for the next album it wouldn’t even make the cut, because there’s no messing with structure or dynamics there. it’s a pretty simple song, but—as is so often the case—it just feels right somehow.

it’s now at the point where at least four or so of those classical guitar songs are probably going to be on the next album. good thing i decided to throw out my original concept and just let the music go wherever it wants to go…in all, there are about 30 songs shortlisted for the album, but only about half of those are going to make the cut. which ones will make it is something that’s still somewhat up in the air, since the whole thing keeps shifting and changing shape as i continue to write more songs for the album. it all comes down to feel in the end. feeeeeeeeel.

i wonder what it is about certain instruments that makes them set off such an outpouring of inspiration and ideas. it’s not limited to guitars—it’s happened with synthesizers, ukuleles, banjos, having a real piano for the first time…at least three or four of my albums wouldn’t even exist if certain synths hadn’t come into my life at specific times. without the 1932 regal and the six-string banjo, CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN as we know it wouldn’t exist either. without the upright piano, the last few albums would be gutted, if not entirely different. it seems like just about any new sound will get the brain to perk up and say, “hey…i’m not used to this! let me see what i can do with it.” and they don’t even have to be good sounds.

maybe it’s the creative imagination’s reward to you/me/itself for being fed new stimulus?

only huey lewis could say for sure. and he’s obviously given it some thought. just look at how furrowed his brow is with concentration:

or maybe he’s about to pound on someone’s windshield with that golf club. break some glass for me, huey! i still have a soft spot for “stuck with you”. it’s the organ’s fault.

in the meantime, the interview concerning travis’ forthcoming album has been postponed until sometime later in the week. i guess that means i can go ahead and fix my sleep, and then get to finishing this album already. vampire johnny, prepare to meet farmhand johnny…of course, you’ve met before. but have you ever really sat down and talked to one another?

sketch me like your hands know me.

i was hoping travis might write his take on the recording of outside the factory gates, and he did, right over here on his site. i think it’s very well-written, and essential reading for anyone interested in what the music is about, and what was going on in and around the album while he was writing it and we were recording it. he also says some very nice things about me. those subliminal messages, i tell you! they’re powerful things. first i get people to crave velveeta, and then i get people to say really nice things about me. next up, i’m going to get a scientific team to build me some sort of teleportation device, just because it would be awfully convenient to have that sort of thing around.

but seriously, i’m not kidding when i say travis’ album is one of my favourite things i’ve been a part of. i think it’s some of the best work i’ve done so far on the production/mixing side of things…over the last few albums i’ve made, i’ve been pushing things farther than ever before in terms of master volume, trying to get things as loud as possible without sacrificing the sound quality, and sometimes the sound has ended up suffering a little, though it was definitely a worthwhile experiment. i learned how far i could go without paying for the professional mastering treatment, and i learned how far was too far. i think by the time of CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, i finally found a good balance between making things reasonably loud without compromising the dynamics. with this album, i decided i owed it to the music to just concentrate on trying to make it sound as good as i could, without worrying at all about it not stacking up to how loud everything else is (in the end, time and good ears will reveal that there are no winners in the “loudness war”), and i think i found an even better balance between a healthy overall volume and keeping the dynamics intact, while not letting any ugly clipping sneak in anywhere. i also discovered a new technique for recording harmony vocals that resulted in a huge, earthy sound not quite like anything i had recorded before. it’s not a new technique in the world of recording, but it’s new to me, and i never would have been able to try it (or even thought to attempt it) without travis’ help.

that wouldn’t mean a whole lot if the material wasn’t there, but i think the songs are some of the best i’ve heard come out of the city, and things like “beggars” and “neodepression” are, in my opinion, some of the best songs to come out of anybody, anywhere. it’s refreshing to make music with friends simply for the enjoyment of it, and not because anyone is trying to get anything from anybody. i had kind of lost sight of that after some of the experiences i had as a sideman (a useful education, to be sure), and i owe it to travis for reminding me what a joyous experience it can be to collaborate with someone when your hearts are in the right place (in your socks…duh…) and there’s no bullshit or agenda involved. i’m proud to call him my friend, and proud to be a part of the album. there aren’t many people i think i would work with very well in the “studio”, and i’m so wrapped up in my own music i don’t think i’d have the time or creative energy to record other artists on a regular basis, even if the interest was there and it was something people wanted me to do. but i would work with travis again in a heartbeat, and i hope we do a lot more together in the future, whatever musical form it may take.

on monday we’re both going to sit down for an interview about the album, so that should be interesting. i don’t think i’ve ever experienced the dynamic of any kind of group interview session before. there was that one time, when i was a member of styx and we did that interview for the sears catalogue, but it was never officially printed. my heart was broken. “don’t let it end this way!” i wailed, and dennis deyoung said, “that sounds like a good song. also, you’re fired.”

my sleep is a pretty dire mess right now, which is nothing new, so work on my own album has again slowed down a bit. but i still think i can get it finished by the end of the month. and i think i might print the lyrics with the cd, for a second time. i know that’s pretty daring. still, even if i don’t think the words are particularly interesting to read, i think it’s nice to have them there for whoever wants to read them.

and speaking of friends who make music, the very talented derek harrison has started a blog and resolved to write/produce/perform/record a new song for every week of 2010. that’s something i’ll definitely be keeping an eye on. you can do it, derek! my ears are all buckled in, ready to go.

armageddon to feel a lot like rice cakes.

hold the phone…there be news. the word “new” is inside of that word! with an s on the end! so you know it must be good.

i dropped some hints about this once or twice, and even posted a video of a recording session at one point, but have mostly been keeping it hush-hush for a while now. however, the time has come to un-hush my hushed ways. so here goes.

my friend travis and i have been recording an album together. really, it’s his album (i record music by other person not myself? how say you happen?), but it’s been a heavily collaborative affair. we started on halloween (seriously), and now we are finished. in a few weeks, it will be officially released, and everyone/anyone will be able to listen to it while swooning severely. that ain’t hyperbole—i’m going to print up stickers that say “severe swooning, or your swooning bone is broken”. travis wrote the songs (with the lone exception of a woody guthrie tune we transformed into something quite different from the original), we both produced and arranged it, i recorded/mixed/etc’d it, and we played all the instruments ourselves. it’s been a homegrown affair all the way. and now it is just about time for it to leave the nest and venture out into the big ol’ world.

you can read some of my thoughts on the whole thing over HERE, while you can check out travis’ site over here. there will be a cd release show at the green bean cafe on february 19th, during reading week—but you don’t come here to read, do you? and there will probably be another show at taloola sometime in march. in keeping with the approach we took with the album, i think it’s just going to be the two of us, in all our bearded glory. that’s right. when two bearded men get together and make music, you better watch out. beavers, lock up your otters.

ah, me, that.

i never thought i would say this, but i am toying with the idea of “reissuing” OH YOU THIS. i guess it’s a bit of an odd choice, since it’s not one of the best things i’ve done, and there are many other things in the back catalogue no one has heard that are probably more worthy of being given the reissue treatment. but you have to start somewhere, and why not with one of my most unintentionally poppy albums? it was the first thing i ever did with proper album art instead of just turning the cd-r inserts inside-out and scrawling on them with different coloured pens, and i think i can make it look a lot nicer now, since i know a bit more about what i’m doing in the album art department and have developed a good working relationship with minuteman press.

i also just came across a whole bunch of pictures i had forgotten all about, which kind of set the idea in motion. they were taken while i was in the middle of recording the album, when johnny smith and i decided to have a mock photo shoot. so it would be fun to put together a booklet with pictures and some reminiscences. it’s not something i would be calling much attention to as an exciting re-release, but at the very least it would be nice to have a version of it to put in those homemade box sets that i can actually stand to look at (the first time around, i had the inserts done at a photo place that did not exactly specialize in putting cd inserts together).

here, just for fun, are some of the pictures that were not used for the original pressing of the album. these were taken in may of 2003, so i was 19 at the time. yes, i am wearing black eyeshadow in some of these pictures (which i applied myself). those were the days. no, i’m not wearing a tie. because i’m a rebel. yes, i am rather tall.

i think this one sat for a while at bubi’s restaurant, framed, on a table across from the bar, designating that there were copies of OH YOU THIS available if anyone wanted to buy them. you read that right—at one time, i did actually sell my cds. it didn’t last long. the only place you could buy them was at bubi’s, and i think i sold about 13 copies. but hey, it was worth it just to hear my music playing in a restaurant. if you’ve never experienced that, it’s quite surreal. especially when someone at another table asks if you know what the music is that’s playing on the sound system, because he likes it, you tell him it’s actually you, and you proceed to have an unexpected conversation.

i almost used this one as the album cover image back then, because i think it’s hilarious. it makes me think of a really bad “johnny sings!” type album, where the artist is holding an instrument and smiling in a ridiculously cheesy way. all that’s missing is an absurd and obviously photo-shopped fake background, like a tropical island or something. and a “rite price” yellow sticker on the front. that’s not a typo…i’ve seen those things. they exist.

you are in awe of my dancing skills. there’s no shame in that. if you ask nicely, i may let you dance with me.

i always thought this one was a little creepy. maybe that’s why i like it. i was torn between this picture, and the one that ultimately won out for the album cover.

i look a little suspicious here. i swear i didn’t do anything to your housecoat that was unbecoming.

this was all the facial hair i could grow at the time. it was the first time i could cultivate anything more than upper lip peach fuzz. i felt so rugged and manly, oblivious to the fact that i was still very far from being able to grow a bona fide beard. imagine how i feel when i look in the mirror now…and no, i don’t feel like a bear. i don’t care how many times you saw those john west salmon commercials. i’m not the bear! his name is brutus, and he’s my pal. show some respect.

there are quite a few more, including some in-studio shots, but at the moment i can’t find the cd containing the entire series of photos, so that’s all we’ve got for now. i’m sure it’ll turn up at some point. that’s probably more of me than you want to look at anyway. i’d like to eventually have pictures of all the different music rooms and studio spaces i’ve had scanned into the computer so i can put them up here in one place…it would be interesting to see how much things have changed over the years.