I should have posted this a few days ago, but I’m close enough. This blog/site/thing is now two years old. Everybody dance now!
Since I began in February of 2008, much has changed. Back then I was scattered and overwhelmed with projected albums, piles of songs, and ideas, unsure of where to start or if/when I would ever get things back on track. Since then, I’ve produced five full-length albums of new material, a three-disc collection of out-takes and misfits covering a period of several years, I’ve produced/recorded an album of someone else’s songs (what?!), and there’s more on the way.
I’m still overwhelmed with projected albums and piles of songs and ideas — there’s more to sift through now than there was when I started — but I think I can say I’m back on track now.
In the beginning I got an average of five hundred hits a month. Now it’s between two and three thousand a month. Not gigantic numbers for some people with blogs, to be sure, but gigantic for me and how little I do to call attention to this thing aside from printing the URL on CD inserts.
Back then there wasn’t much to look at, aside from a lot of text that featured me essentially talking to myself. Now, not only do I talk to myself on the internet, but the words are broken up with various pictures that range from the relevant to the ridiculous, and the odd bit of video content pops up as well. It’s a much more visually interesting place now, I think.
In the beginning, I swore a lot and occasionally went off on long, winding tirades for no particular reason. Now…I still do both of those things.
Some things change. Others stay the same.
I started this whole thing as a half-assed attempt at motivating myself to get things moving again musically. It’s done that and a lot more. Starting this blog may be one of the best random decisions I’ve ever made. I can say whatever I want here, no matter how absurd, inflammatory, or self-indulgent it may be, and I can have an online representation of my music that reflects who I am and what I do in an honest way, that’s coming directly from me with no one else’s fingers poking into the pie crust. It ain’t a sexy, flashy, uber-expensive website, but that’s not what I’m about, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thanks to everyone who’s read my ramblings, left comments, sent me emails, or even just given their heads a shake and said, “That boy ain’t right.” Having a readership to interact with and get feedback from makes this whole thing a lot more fun than it would be otherwise.
Sorry for dropping the ball a bit in the blog updating department. Things have been pretty busy over the last little while.
The show at Green Bean was a lot of fun. I somehow found a way to mess up in just about every single song, which is some kind of record even for me, but at least some of the mistakes weren’t too ugly. I find it kind of hilarious that one of the few songs I didn’t mess up on was the one we didn’t really rehearse at all. My most obvious mistakes came in songs I was pretty comfortable with.
It’s odd. I got these impulses to just improvise things in the middle of songs. That usually worked out well, even when I was taking some pretty big risks. It was the more straightforward songs that worked well in rehearsal where I ended up hitting most of the bad notes. But only on piano. When I was playing guitar or banjo, I was fine.
I guess that’s just how I roll.
Kind of wish I performed my one spotlit vocal moment better, but the audience seemed to like it well enough, so maybe it sounded better out there than it did from my vantage point. Travis sure sounded good, at least. In general the response was positive, and I didn’t hear one person talking during any of the songs. It’s a little surreal sometimes having such an attentive audience, but it’s a nice feeling.
Bree took a lot of great pictures. At a few points I looked to my left to find her crouched down a few feet away from me, taking pictures of me mid-banjo solo. Here are a few of the shots she captured.
Maybe I really do have a proper beard after all…
Elsewhere, lots of stuff has been mingling with other stuff and making stuff babies. I should probably keep some of what’s going on a little hush-hush until I check with the other parties involved to see how much information they want to divulge at this stage (how mysterious).
One thing I can tell you: I was hanging out at CJAM the other day, guesting on Murad’s show Productive Confusion. Is it just me, or is that a great name for a radio show?
Murad sometimes does these “album spotlight” things. He’ll devote a show to playing an entire album by a local act, along with a song-by-song interview. I don’t think anyone else is doing that around here right now.
For fun, I asked if he might be interested in doing that with my new CD while it’s still fresh. He said he was game as long as I agreed to be photographed with my Uncle Kanye.
Okay, so that’s a lie. You won’t be seeing me posing with my Uncle Kanye anytime soon, for he is a busy man. There are many more people in the world he needs to interrupt at awards shows before he can start thinking about attending photo shoots with his little nephew Johnny.
Still, I thought it was fun. Hopefully people aren’t tired of the new songs yet. We didn’t have time to get through the whole album, but we did get to some key tracks that haven’t been given much airplay yet.
As a rule I tend to feel pretty inarticulate when I’m talking about my music. It feels like I say a whole lot while saying nothing much at all. But if you wind me up well enough, I can get going pretty good. I gave some pretty long-ass answers and didn’t even touch on half of what I wanted to say. I joked with Murad that we should just take over the station for the rest of the day and keep going until we covered all the relevant bases.
Example: given more time, I would have talked about how “Animal Altruism” was inspired by reading about random acts of animal kindness — apes saving children, dolphins saving people from drowning, and these fascinating impulses animals have to help not just one another but different species as well. I would have mentioned how the dirt-cheap old archtop guitar on “Kings” sounds better than it has any right to, and how that electric guitar solo came out of real anger, which isn’t something I’ve been able to say about any guitar part I’ve played in almost a decade. I might have revealed there isn’t actually any electric guitar on “You Make Me Feel like an Impotent Squadger” at all. It’s just fuzz bass, drums, distorted vocals, and a bit of synth squealing at the end.
I might have touched on how part of the whole point of the upcoming Mackenzie Hall show is to try and shoot some gigantic holes in this image I have as a “reclusive genius” (that ain’t me, babe) and to make it clear I’m just a regular guy who happens to make music. And I might have played a Scott Walker song and talked a bit about how hearing Tilt was maybe the single most important musical moment of my life — something that completely reshaped my ideas about what music could and should be. Maybe someday, in an alternate universe, Mojo magazine will have me do a bit about it for their Last Night a Record Changed My Life feature. I might have played an old Papa Ghostface track from a decade ago to offer a tiny sliver of insight into how much things have changed over the years.
I might have said a lot of things I didn’t say. But time flies when you’re Rambly McRambles, which is what they call me in Ireland.
I think we did manage to discuss some meaty stuff in there, in spite of me not having eight hours to talk myself hoarse (you know you want to hear that happen). And I did get to throw in the heretofore undisclosed factoid about how “In My Time of Weakness” has some serious autobiographical truth in it, even if it’s truth that’s wearing somewhat cryptic clothes.
Anyway. It was a fun afternoon. I hope my rambling was somewhat interesting for anyone who was listening. I have to say I felt more comfortable than I usually do when talking about myself. Credit to Murad for asking good questions, letting me take ten years to answer, and being an all-around good guy.
Thanks to him for having me on his show, and thanks again to everyone at CJAM for the continued support. This week LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS is at #2 on the charts, while Travis’s new album is at #3. There we be, side by side.
Here’s the interview, minus most of the music, split into a few different parts:
There’s one specific thing I really wish I remembered to mention on-air — a recent thought I had that I think relates a bit to what I do and why I do it this way.
Caleb Deschanel, renowned cinematographer and father to the luminous Zooey, once worked for a while with John Cassavetes on a brilliant film called A Woman Under the Influence, before he either quit in protest or was fired. This comes from Ray Carney’s Cassavetes on Cassavetes — one of the most absorbing and fascinating books I’ve ever read, and one I need to pull out for another read. It’s one of the few books I’ve been moved to read more than once. Every time I get new things out of it.
Caleb said he felt Cassavetes never had any real interest in the mechanics of making movies — the technical process and all that went along with it — and would have processed the physical film through his brain if he’d been able to. For some reason that bit came back to me, it got stuck in my head, and I realized how much I relate to it. I’ve always been impatient. If I could just transpose the music that’s in my head from brain to CD with no work in-between, I’d do it in a second.
I work fast because I need to. If I get bogged down in over-thinking things, the music suffers. If I take too long to work on something, not enough gets done. There’s too much to get out, and not enough time in my life to get it all out. There’s this feeling of urgency, especially over the last little while, to get as much done while I’m still able.
So I think I understand that drive to just get to the heart of something without getting so caught up in the technical considerations that are, to be fair, a necessary part of the process. My ears have matured and I’ve got some good equipment at this point, but in some ways I’m still the kid with the stopwatch writing song titles on tape jackets, coming up with fake names for imaginary musicians, caught up in the rush of it all.
The same drive to get things from brain to finished album while they’re new and exciting is still there. It’s just that the methods and the medium have changed a bit, and the music has continued to evolve.
Thinking about that book and about all Cassavetes went through to get his movies made also makes me realize how lucky I am. Here was a guy who had to act in mostly shitty Hollywood movies in order to bankroll the films he wrote and directed himself — most of them made without any studio assistance — that went against everything those Hollywood movies were about. These are brutally honest, human, visceral films about how difficult love is to find and give and share and maintain, how we almost never say what we’re really thinking or feeling, and all the different ways we destroy ourselves and the people we love without even knowing it.
People didn’t want to see themselves on the screen, though. They wanted to see idealized versions of themselves. They wanted escapist fluff.
Aside from a few brief brushes with critical and commercial success, Cassavetes was more or less vilified. He fought his whole life against indifference and sometimes outright hatred to make the movies he felt he needed to make. For some of the movies he made with studio backing, whole chunks of the films were excised by simple-minded studio executives who objected to how uncommercial his work was. And his widow Gena Rowlands hasn’t exactly helped the cause, in some cases claiming to prefer the tampered-with, cut versions of his films that don’t reflect his true intentions.
Just because you gave incredible acting performances in some of your husband’s films, does that entitle you to recut one of his movies because you object to certain scenes? Does it give you the right to block the release of important work he did that was discovered posthumously? Does it give you the right to try and rewrite the story of his life, stripping it of anything real and raw, pasting on a phoney happy face no one with a functioning brain is buying?
I don’t think it does. But those films are there, and most of them can be found without too much trouble. They’re not for everyone. Not by a long shot. Some people would find them dull and self-indulgent, or just too raw. For me it’s a bit of a different story.
The first Cassavetes film I ever saw was A Woman Under the Influence. It seemed a little slow at first. Nothing much was happening. Then it sucked me in, and it hit me that everything was happening. I felt like I was eavesdropping on someone else’s life.
It scared the shit out of me. It made me laugh. It made me angry. It moved me. It made me want to walk through the television screen and protect some characters while throttling others. No movie I’d seen had ever made me feel so emotionally involved.
I sat motionless for about a half hour after the end credits were finished crawling across the screen, whispering, “Holy shit,” to myself a few dozen times. Then I tracked down most of the rest of the films.
They don’t all do it for me in the same way. But there isn’t one I don’t get something out of, and there are at least a few Cassavetes films I consider masterpieces. This stuff was the oxygen I’d been looking for without even knowing I needed it until the moment I started breathing it in.
Here was a brilliant, flawed artist who put all his heart and humanity into his work and had to fight against adversity that would cripple lesser, saner artists in order to get his films made, only to sometimes have them taken away from him and butchered by people who didn’t understand them. He was ridiculed and denigrated for daring to ask audiences to think and feel for themselves, not giving easy answers or spelling everything out in conventional, simplistic, brain-dead movie shorthand. Only a few of his films ever turned a profit. He lost millions of dollars of his own money making them.
When he died, he’d mortgaged his house so many times to raise money to pay for his independent films, he owed the same amount of money on it as he did thirty years earlier when he and Gena first bought the place. Only a few of the films had been released on home video, and all of them were out of print.
Today, thanks to The Criterion Collection you can find most of those films on DVD in their intended cuts (when I was getting into Cassavetes this wasn’t so easy, and I had to dig a bit). And now it’s considered kind of hip to be into him. But the belated recognition rings a little hollow to me. A lot of people still resist his kind of filmmaking. He still doesn’t fit.
To be savaged by critics and repeatedly misunderstood if not ignored by the people meant to comprise your audience…there’s no way the indifference, the struggle, and the rejection didn’t hurt. But he found a way to do the work he needed to do. It didn’t matter that almost no one would see it and most of those who did wouldn’t “get” it. What mattered was doing the work.
And I think it’s delicious, the way he took roles in other people’s films — some of which were awful, and he knew it — did what he could with the material, and in a quiet way turned the system in on itself by using the money he made to make movies that really meant something, that were about something.
If I could do something similar and, say, make generic instrumental music for car commercials anonymously, I probably would. It wouldn’t mean a thing to me, it would be easy money, and it would live in a separate universe form the real music I make that’s mine, that has meaning to me, that will never be for sale.
There’s a world of difference between making a product for money with your eyes wide open, knowing you’re going to use that money for something that’s the complete antithesis of what you’re getting paid to do on the one hand, and on the other, compromising your art, dumbing it down, and stripping it of its soul in an effort to turn it into something palatable that will give you a nice little career.
But that’s an argument for another day.
I am not a filmmaker. I make music. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position where I don’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to make an album. I don’t have to mortgage a house. I don’t have to try to get sponsors, or apply for grants, or talk other people into playing on my albums, or book time in a studio, or depend on anyone else for much of anything. I have all the equipment I need right here. I can do everything myself.
The only expenses at this point — aside from new instruments and gear from time to time — are the CD inserts and booklets, which I pay to have printed at a higher quality than I could produce myself, the physical CDs, which I duplicate myself, the jewel cases that hold the CDs, and the ink cartridges for the printer I use to print text and images onto the CDs.
If I paid someone else to master my albums things would get a lot more expensive in a hurry. But I don’t do that.
I’m able to do whatever I want to do, with no thought given to whether or not it will sell (because I don’t sell it) or how it will be received (because I don’t care about that), and put it out there in whatever form I choose. In my case, I give CDs away for free to whoever wants them. No one has the power to take my work away from me and reshape it into what they think it should be. I have “final cut” and complete creative control over every aspect of everything I do. I haven’t been raked across the coals by critics, but then I don’t spread the stuff around enough to be on the radar of any critics who wield any great influence anyway.
I do know very well what it’s like to be rejected and ignored while trying to share something you believe in with other people, though. I lived through that for a long time.
At some point people started sitting up and paying attention to what I was doing. Now I have an audience. It’s mostly limited to this city, and I’m not going to be the next Windsor artist to break into the mainstream and leave this place behind for fame and glory. I don’t think that could ever happen for me even if I really wanted it, in spite of what a small group of people who believe in what I do have told me. But I don’t want that. The mainstream is a boring, bland, uninspiring place. Dark corners and odd crevices are a lot more interesting to me. I seem to have carved out some sort of niche for myself, while at the same time being free to try different things and rewrite the script as I see fit. I don’t know if anything is expected of me at this point, now that people are actually listening, but I don’t feel the weight of any expectations to do anything in particular.
I do what I feel like doing. The people who hear it seem to enjoy it for some odd reason. I put out an album where I try to push my own envelope a bit, not thinking anyone will like it, and some people tell me it’s one of their favourite things I’ve done.
It’s as if I’m being rewarded for doing what I want to do and not caring what anyone thinks of it. It’s very strange.
Some people have to fight to be heard, and when they finally do gain an audience they’re ridiculed, only recognized for their courage and talent after they’re dead. Some people never get the chance to be heard at all. Some people never have to struggle, and success just falls into their laps through good luck, or good timing, or being able to buy their way into the good graces of the people who have “pull”. The “artists” created by marketing teams and manufactured like living Barbie dolls don’t apply, because they were never real to begin with and they create nothing.
There’s no clearcut path to follow, or to be led down, or to be forced down. We are all like the tears of an angry prostitute with eyes that are forever structurally rearranged. No two tears fall the same.
That wasn’t the point I intended to make at all, but several tangents wrapped up in a dish towel have led me here, so I might as well keep going.
We don’t all do the same things. We don’t all want the same things. There’s amazing art of all kinds being created in basements and bedrooms that will never be seen, heard, or experienced by anyone. In some cases, that’s the whole idea. It isn’t made for public consumption. Elsewhere, it’s not for lack of trying. The art just never finds the audience it deserves. And of course, there’s the soulless plastic drivel that sells millions of copies and serves as the disposable wallpaper of our lives.
Maybe it’s necessary for it all to coexist in a confusing mess that can never be known or understood on more than a very tenuous, incomplete level.
And really, the people who create something because they have a genuine need to create — they’ll find a way to do it no matter how much adversity they’re up against. I’m lucky enough to be in a position where, after spending an ass-load of money on instruments and equipment and learning through doing, I have the ability to follow whatever musical impulses I have, wherever they lead, whenever the feeling is there. Not everyone can do that. A lot of people have to pay for studio time, hoping the engineer/producer is in tune with what they’re doing, and then they have to hope the same thing is true all over again when it comes time to master the album, and again with graphic design, and then they have to pay for manufacturing, and promote the stuff, and try to make back some of the money they put into it.
None of that applies to me. And again, I realize how fortunate I am to be in this situation.
Some folks have a problem with this. Seems a few people feel there’s something wrong with me giving my music away for free, and they have this strange need to know where the money comes from that allows me to keep doing this.
Instead of asking me that question, they try to be coy and snoop around behind my back, nudging people, thinking someone might have some intel. Meanwhile, the people who are really my friends don’t care about any of that stuff and so have nothing to say about it.
Why this is important to anyone is beyond me. If you don’t have the decency to ask me yourself and you’d rather fish for information behind my back, you deserve whatever frustration comes out of that. It’s none of your fucking business. What I do and how I do it has nothing to do with you.
So I’ll do what I do, and you do what you do, and we’ll do what we do. Shooby-doo.
I’ve given up on trying to get across whatever I was trying to reach for here. But there’s the seed of something in there somewhere that makes some amount of sense, believe you me.
Talk about making up for lost time. I haven’t rambled like that in at least a week or two.
Travis is in the Windsor Star today, in two places at once. There’s an article over HERE, and a five-star review of the album over HERE. Good stuff. There are some kind words about me in there, too.
See? You CAN pay people to compliment you! It can be done!
But seriously, it’s good to see the album and Travis getting some positive attention. The CD release show is coming up tomorrow night. Should be fun. You should come and tell ’em Johnny sent you. Or maybe you should tell me that. Yes. You should come up to me on Friday and tell me I sent you. I think that would be amusing.
I might not be doing much singing at the show, thanks to this stupid throat thing that’s taking its sweet time going away. It seems to be some sort of low level cold or throat infection with no other symptoms aside from this raw, vaguely painful feeling that comes and goes in the throat. I was worried it might be a vocal-related thing (though I have no vocal training of any kind, I try to warm up and cool down my voice before and after singing…I’m a lot more careful than I used to be, and I kow I didn’t make my vocal cords too happy during all those years I was belting and screaming and generally abusing my voice), but none of the symptoms match. My vocal range is intact, the tone is there, there’s no hoarseness or difficulty hitting notes. Just this stupid throat infection-like feeling that would normally go away in a few days but is taking longer to dissipate this time, I guess because my throat doesn’t like me right now. Good timing, throat.
Though my vocal cords seem to be fine, this whole thing makes me a bit uneasy about doing much singing for fear of messing up my voice in the process (singing while sick is generally not the best of ideas). Hopefully this will resolve itself in time for me to do at least a bit of rehearsing before the Mackenzie Hall show. Speaking of which…check out their website’s current events section, scroll down about halfway, and look at who pops up. I’m not one to write about myself in the third person, but I kind of had to there, so I had some fun with it. I was going to include various quotes from things people have written about me before realizing I’m more qualified than anyone to write about myself. So there you go.
Looks like Travis and I will both be visiting CJAM at 6:00 today to chat with Stephen Hargreaves on the Windsor Scene program about both of our new albums. So if you’re hungry for our delicious banter, the food you’ve been craving is on the way. Or something.
Countless debates have been waged on the subject of the legal/illegal downloading of music and the brave new age of digital distribution. I’ve never really taken a firm position on either side of it. When I sat in on Adam Peltier’s show on CJAM about a year ago for an epic interview/co-hosting experience and he asked me how I felt about the whole thing, I drew a complete blank and said I didn’t have much of an opinion. It honestly wasn’t something I’d given much thought.
A few technology-savvy people have urged me to do away with the “obsolete” medium of the CD altogether and get with the times, releasing my music digitally like all the cool kids do. I nod and smile, listening to what they have to say while disagreeing right down to the core of my vessel.
That’s right — I’ve got me a vessel. A bright, shiny vessel.
I like CDs. I like vinyl even more, but releasing my albums on actual records would be expensive and problematic, and a lot of things would need to be released as double-vinyl sets at the very least. Someday I’d like to put something out on vinyl, but I’d like to do it right, and it’s not something I could make a habit of doing. CDs are cheap, easy, and they may not have the sonic warmth of a well-made vinyl record, but they can sound very fine if the music is well-engineered and you have a decent system to listen on. You can do some interesting and creative things with the packaging, though not quite on the scale of what you can do with records.
CDs are easy to store and transport, and they’re usually easy to replace if they become damaged or if you have a friend who likes to borrow things with no plans to return them in either of your lifetimes. If they stop making CD players and producing recordable CDs, which is what some folks seem to think is around the corner, I will buy up as much stock as possible so I have the materials necessary to keep making CDs. Even if there comes a day when no one else can play them anymore, at least I’ll still be able to.
I don’t like MP3s that much. I know I’m in the minority here. I don’t own an iPod, and I don’t ever plan to. I have no use for one. I like my gigantic CD collection and my growing record collection. I like how when someone asks me if I have a particular album, if I’ve got it I can usually pinpoint where it is without even looking. When I listen to music, I sit down in a room with a good stereo system, I shut my mouth, I clear the cobwebs from my mind, and I commit to the listening experience.
I can’t go through my day with earbuds in and have music happening in the background while I do other things. My brain just doesn’t work that way, as I discovered countless times over the years when I would try to study for tests or do math homework while listening to a CD on headphones. I can do menial tasks like folding inserts and assembling CD packaging while listening to music, but anything that requires me to do much thinking tends to compete with the music for my attention, and this is an area where I can’t multitask or split my brain. I have to devote most of my attention to the music or there’s no point in it being there.
I also don’t like the sound of MP3s all that much. Unless you’re going to deal with gigantic file sizes that are often not very practical, the sound quality is somewhat lacking for my taste. I’m sure it sounds okay on cheap headphones that are wedged deep inside of your ears, and some of the people who own iPods probably already have some measure of hearing loss without realizing it given how loud everyone listens to music these days and how close those earbuds are to your eardrums, so they probably don’t care much either way.
I’m not saying you’re wrong if you like MP3s and I’m right because I don’t. This is just how things sound to my ears.
I realize a lot of people don’t listen to music the way I do. Most of the time it’s wallpaper for them. And I can understand that. It just isn’t the way I operate. I also have sensitive ears. I enjoy things that sound good. MP3s…well, they don’t usually get there for me. When the Radiohead album In Rainbows was first released in MP3 form, I thought it kind of sounded like shit. And that surprised me, because as a rule I think Radiohead CDs sound pretty impressive. The reverb tails sounded grainy. There was some ugly distortion where it didn’t seem like any would have been intended. Some of the cymbal crashes were painful to listen to. Once I got the physical CD the songs took on a whole new life. The reverb tails sounded lush and full. The ugly clipping was gone. The cymbal crashes didn’t make me feel like someone was scraping a knife against my ears anymore.
I’ll never listen to those MP3s again. And really, I never got in the habit of listening to music on the computer too often in the first place. I’ll use it as a reference when I’m mixing songs to see how they sound on crappy speakers with little-to-no bass response, but I try to mix things to sound good on full-range systems, not to compensate for the shortcomings of laptop speakers. I need a good hi-fi or good headphones to enjoy music, and I’m fortunate enough to have both of those things now. If I want to listen to music while walking around, I’ll stuff my DiscMan into my coat pocket, put on bulky expensive headphones, and walk around looking a little funny. I’ve done it before. It’s kind of fun.
I put MP3s up here on album pages and in blog posts because it’s an easy way for people to hear a few songs off of my albums in case they’re interested in getting a bit of a feel for the music, and it’s a quick and simple way to share things. WAV files eat up too much server space. If someone wants to hear a full album, I give them a CD. If they don’t live near here, I mail them a CD (or four or five different ones). Even if they live in Uganda, I’ll mail them a CD. It might take three months to get there, but it’ll get there. I will never send someone an MP3 version of an album through an email or in a ZIP file. It doesn’t matter that you can arrange it so the listener gets the artwork as JPG files and other relevant information or lyrics in a text file. This is my music, and this is the way I want it to be presented — as something tangible you can hold in your hand and look at wherever you are, and not something you look at on your computer. If people want to rip the CDs as MP3s and never even glance at the physical version again, that’s fine by me, but at least they’ve got it there at full fidelity if they want it.
I know there’s been a lot of talk lately about internet distribution being the new thing, especially for independent artists, and there’s some rumbling about how the music industry is failing. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. A lull in sales and certain labels going under is not tantamount to failure. I think as long as there’s shitty music and a large enough audience of consumers who view it as a disposable background addition to their lives instead of something to be absorbed and explored in depth, the music industry will do just fine.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of great music out there. There absolutely is. You just have to work a bit harder to find it than you used to sometimes. It’s great that artists have more options now when it comes to how they’re going to get their music out there, but isn’t the whole point of having these options that you’re able to choose the method that best suits your own personal preference and artistic vision? For me, a physical album is infinitely more interesting and more psychologically satisfying than a compressed, downloaded file.
I’m not resistant to change. I just know what I like.
I got to thinking more about these things over the past few days. Someone added me as a Facebook friend because he wanted to know how to go about getting some of my CDs. I offered to give him a bunch of them, as I usually do. He asked if I’d given any thought to putting full albums up online. I got into all of the stuff about fidelity, presentation, not wanting people to pay for the music, and so on — explaining why I do what I do the way I do, and why the digital distribution thing isn’t for me.
He responded by putting some of my albums up online in full without getting my go-ahead first, after I’d just told him why I wasn’t comfortable with that and why I didn’t want to do it. He told me I could be pissed off if I wanted, but my music needed to be heard by more people, and he knew better than I did how to make that happen. He also said he didn’t think I would hear any difference in the MP3s compared to the way the songs sounded at full fidelity.
It took everything I had not to go ballistic.
On one level, it’s flattering to have someone think the music is good enough that it deserves to be heard by more people. It’s also pretty offensive when you take the time to explain how you feel about the distribution of your music, what you are and aren’t comfortable with, and then someone says, “That’s nice…but I really don’t care what you want. I’m going to do what I want with your music and completely disrespect and disregard your wishes. Eat it.”
There’s only one recent album up there so far, and only three or four albums in all. That doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of what I’ve done musically. But now I don’t want to mail or drop off any of those CDs I was going to put together for him, because I know they’ll just be ripped and put up on the internet against my wishes as well.
You’re probably thinking, “What do you care if all your albums are available for download? You don’t want people paying for your music anyway.”
It’s not about money. It’s the principle of the thing.
See, it’s my music. I want it to be presented in a certain way. Dwaine Iler (of the Windsor band The Original Lady Eyes), who I don’t really know but seems like a really nice and genuine guy, is a very vocal supporter of online distribution and digital download cards. He has a very clear idea of how he wants his music presented to the listener. Though I’m not big into the MP3 thing myself, I respect that it’s his music and his choice how it gets to his audience.
It would be nice if people also respected that it’s my choice how my music should get to the listener. I want to give it to you on a CD, with a lyric booklet and no compromises made when it comes to sound quality. It’s not going to sound like a six million dollar studio recording, because I don’t have six million dollars worth of gear (does anyone?) and I’m not a professional recording engineer. But I want you to hear the music the way I heard it when I recorded it, so if you do happen to have an expensive and revealing hi-fi system it might not sound too bad when you listen to it. And if you want to just rip MP3s and listen on your iPod, again, you can do that too, at whatever compression format you choose. But that’s a choice you make once I’m no longer in the picture.
I also really don’t want things to ever get very big. I guess that goes against just about everything everyone else who makes music wants to do, but there it is. I don’t want to get to the point where I have to make so many copies of CDs and send so many out in the mail that I have to start thinking about charging money to cover costs, and I’m not going to go the online distribution route in order to make it easier for that to happen. I don’t want anyone to ever pay for any of my music. If anyone ever tries to charge you money for any of my music and I find out about it, I will bite their fucking head off. Literally. With the teeth that live inside my mouth.
I like being able to have a personal connection with the people who like my music. I like writing people notes and letters, and sending CDs in the mail. I like that people can email me if they want to, and I will try to respond in a somewhat timely manner. If you like my music and you want to ask me questions about it while we both inhabit the same space like people sometimes do, I’ll have a coffee with you somewhere. I’m not some sort of curmudgeon who’s allergic to personal contact. I’m just a guy, and I like coffee — as long as it’s good coffee.
I’m comfortable with the way things are right now. I have a larger audience than I ever thought I would, but it’s mostly local, and it’s on a small enough scale that I can keep it personal and my overhead is still pretty reasonable. I don’t want it to get to the point where I have to look at hiring people to handle distribution or anything absurd like that. I don’t want to have to answer to a larger group of people about why I don’t play live or do the same things everyone else seems to do.
Realistically, my music and appearance are not commercial or swoon-worthy enough for things to ever get very big anyway, and I’m not about to put any effort into changing anything about myself or my music to make either one any more palatable or “ready for the big time”. But when someone starts to take steps toward doing something that threatens to potentially lead things in that direction, I get uneasy.
Let me be clear here: I don’t have a fear of success or making money. I think it’s more that my idea of success doesn’t coincide with what most people are after. Success, for me, is making an album I’m happy with and that reflects wherever my head was at when I recorded it, and then making it available to whoever wants to hear it, free of charge. That’s it. I don’t want or need to be on MuchMusic, or to be name-dropped by some sexy celebrity so I can use that hype to build steam and then use that steam to build even more hype. All of that is meaningless bullshit to me. I want to make music on my own terms, and that’s what I’m lucky enough to be able to do. Therefore, I consider myself to be a success, and no further validation is needed. If anyone else happens to like the music, that’s appreciated, and I’m always interested in hearing what other people have to say. But it’s not why I do this.
I’m aware the visibility I have and the attention I’m getting right now may fade at some point in the not so distant future when people get sick of me putting out a new album every few months. You can’t hold everyone’s interest forever. That doesn’t hold any sway over what I do at all. I was doing this for years and years before anyone cared or paid any attention to me, and I’ll keep on doing it as long as there’s music in my head, regardless of who is or isn’t listening.
The point, if I have one, is this: you don’t need to agree with what I do. You don’t even have to understand it. You can think I’m batshit crazy if you want. But I’d appreciate it if you respected that it’s my music, it’s my choice how it’s delivered and presented, and this is what I’m comfortable with. I tend to put up with more crap than I should from people, but when it comes to my music, all bets are off. Fuck with my music and we’re going to have a problem.
Happy Family Day, y’all, and happy belated Valentine’s Day. I think this picture does a nice job of summing up V-day and the love it inspires.
For once, I was not bitter or foul-mouthed on that most Hallmark-saturated of commercial holidays. Not even a little bit. Be afraid.
In the next day or two a bunch of CDs should be going out in the mail to various people. I’ve been making copies and folding inserts as fast as I can so I’ll have enough stock to last a little while. I’ve also been writing and typing quite a few notes and letters to go with the CDs. Writing a lot of letters by hand back-to-back is a good way to get your dominant hand to look at you and say, “Are you trying to piss me off? Seriously. Don’t people use computers for this shit now?” But I can’t help it if I prefer the arcane mediums of old, like the handwritten or typewritten letter. I need to make some more copies of other CDs to make sure there’s a good supply for the Mackenzie Hall show, too.
I ended up at Phog a few nights ago, just for a moment, to eat some in-transit pizza and drink root beer. It was shortly after opening, so there wasn’t really anyone there yet, which is my kind of atmosphere. But the guys from Michou were there, and a bit of their preliminary sound check led to a short conversation about sensitive ears — or mainly, how mine are ridiculously sensitive. Mike and Stefan suggested I walk around with earplugs all the time, probably half-joking. I later thought of the perfect response, and something I wish I’d thought to say at the time: life should be quieter.
So all I need is a volume control for the universe, and I’ll be set. If you know of any good suppliers, let me know. I’m on the hunt.
A bird just chirped for two seconds in the dark. At 9:30 at night. What is up with that?
The new album is now officially available at Phog and Dr. Disc for whoever might want it. Copies will soon be going out in the mail to lots of non-Windsor-dwelling people.
The initial run had three typos in the booklet I somehow missed until after everything was printed/assembled. If you’re one of the three people to end up with a copy from that run, you should either destroy it while laughing maniacally or keep it and sell it for a fortune on eBay when I get signed to a major record label at the behest of Avril Lavigne. I just couldn’t let the CD go out into the world knowing those typos were there. At first I thought, “Well…ethic instrument is kind of amusing, and piece of mind is a common mistake. I can live with those.”
Then I noticed I somehow found a way to misspell bliss as bilss. FUCKING BILSS.
I know our eyes and brains tend to correct that sort of thing. That’s how I missed the typo in the first place. But once I saw it, bilss began to haunt me at night. Minuteman Press came through once again and reprinted the booklets at blinding speed. They do great work for me, and it seems to get better each time. I think this is something like the thirteenth album I’ve had them print the inserts for now, the third time we’ve done a bona fide booklet, and only the second time I’ve ever printed the lyrics with the CD. Now that I’ve done it twice, I think I’m starting to like it.
You’ll notice two tracks are missing the lyrics. That’s because I improvised the words to those songs and didn’t see fit to print them. Technically there are other places where I could have neglected to print the lyrics (most of the words to “Skull Jugglers” were improvised too), but I thought it would have looked funny. I have a system, people. I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out what I’m singing in most places anyway. I push my voice up pretty high in the mix these days, and I think I enunciate pretty well.
I still don’t know how I didn’t see those typos until it was too late. I read over the text countless times, and looked at a proof after that, and I thought I’d seen it all. That seems to be the way it always goes, though. Stupid typos being sneaky and all. I’ve also been putting up the odd poster here and there, so be fearful of seeing the horror that is me on a wall somewhere.
I just participated in a radio interview with Travis about his new album and CD release show on The Rock the other day (100.7 FM, or 95.1 in the Chatham-Kent area), with Theresa at the helm. That’s a good name, iddnit? Theresa. I like her. She’s fun. The interview will air on Valentine’s Day at 8:00 pm. Why do I find that hilarious? I guess I’m a romantic at heart.
I have to say I like the way the new album came out looking. There isn’t a single picture or piece of art anywhere on (or in) it — just text, text, and more text — but I like the font I chose, and the mixture of black/white/red, and how it all turned out. I guess I’ve gotten better at the layout side of things over the years. And I like the way the lyrics look as white text on a black background instead of the other way around. Perhaps you will too. Or maybe this is all a dream, and none of us are real, and this blog doesn’t even exist. Now that would be a mindjob and a half, wouldn’t it?
Anyway. It’ll be interesting to see what people make of the new album in the weeks ahead. I think I’m pretty happy with it. And I find it funny that the only swear word on the whole album appears not in the lyrics, but in a song title.
Travis’s album is in the top ten on the CJAM charts for the second week in a row. As the kids who like to reverse the consonants at the beginning of words and then alter the spelling accordingly like to say, yell ha! Thanks to everyone at the station who’s been playing it.
My posters are finished, which means that soon my face will be giving people all around town unexpected nightmares and providing generally traumatic stimulus. Inserts for the new CD are also in the process of being made. Boys keep swinging. Dandelions keep singing.
Katie, who is kind of like the younger sister I always dreamed of when I used to live in Europe and drank a lot of bourbon while watching illegal snail races (that’s a story for another time), played her first show at Taloola on Saturday. I got it all on video, but for some reason I felt like I should create a special blog for the occasion instead of putting the footage up over here. If you want to check it out, you can do so over here. I especially like the Dark Dark Dark sing-along, “Life Goes On”, the song about plastic animals, and the improvised encore that references exploding underwear.
I still don’t know how she plays that accordion like she do. I think she has more than one brain. It’s the only way.
I finally decided on a poster design that sums up who I am and what I’m about. Behold the glory.
For all intents and purposes the new album is done. I need to tweak a few mixes tonight/tomorrow, and then post-production fun and CD assembly begins. Hopefully I’ll be able to start spreading it around by the end of next week. You can read a bit about it over HERE, though I’ll probably be tweaking the album page a bit over the next little while.
Right now I have no idea what to put up there in the way of MP3s because the album is all over the place. I’ll figure something out. I might put up a few little videos on the album page in the days ahead, exploring some moments that were excised from certain songs, a few of the many things that didn’t make the cut, and how some songs evolved while recording to the point that they ended up almost unrecognizable from what they sounded like when I wrote them.
Listening party at my place next week? I’m kidding, of course. My listening room, while equipped with a pretty nice hi-fi system, could maybe accommodate five people. Maybe. And you don’t want to have a listening party with me. I take off my shirt and dance around when I get into the music. No one wants to see that happen. Or do they?
Edited to add: I didn’t watch the Grammys and haven’t done so for years, but I’ve just learned Lady Gaga won two of ’em. Whatever credibility and validity the award and the ceremony once had, I think we can consider it dead and buried now.
I’ve been messing around with poster ideas for the Mackenzie Hall show. I’m no master when it comes to the art of poster design (I’ve never once done it before), but this is what I’ve come up with. I was tempted to stick with my initial design that featured pictures of me looking completely insane and poked some fun at the “mystique”. Then I decided it was probably better to go with something that just tells you when I’m playing and where. I made a collage out of a few of the many pictures Breetook of me during the CREATIVE NIGHTMARES photo shoot, and I kind of like the way it turned out. I’m sure it would look sexier if someone with graphic design prowess took a crack at it, but I think it does the job well enough.
I was iffy on the font, so I kept on tweaking it a bit and came up with this revision:
I thought that might look a bit better/cleaner/more professional. But then I thought the date started to look funny and lonely at the top, so I did this:
I need to make a decision very soon. As in, before the end of this week. I don’t know what looks best anymore. Is it too busy? I think the first version might be, a little bit. Does it look better with lowercase letters? I’m kind of torn between the second and third revisions, but I don’t know. What would look most pleasing hanging on a wall? What do you think?
I’ll tell you what I think — I think this new album I’ve been talking about for a while now is about a day away from being done. It’s about stinkin’ time. I just need to tweak a few mixes, finish adding a bit of wallpaper to two songs, make sure my projected song sequence works, and then we’re off to the races.
You know how I said I felt like the second half of the album was missing something but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was? It turns out what it was missing was exactly what I was kind of avoiding — some tiny songs. The album needed a few quick jump-cuts and diversions to mix things up a bit. So instead of adding another eight-minute track (which might have been one of my favourite things I wrote for the album depending on how it turned out at the recording stage…but it’ll show up somewhere else before long, I’m sure), I added a few tiny songs. I also threw in a few songs that were written very late in the game.
I find it funny how I went into this expecting to do one thing and ended up with something that scarcely resembles what my original concept was. This is what tends to happen with almost every album, and you’d think I would have learned by now that it makes no sense to come up with a plan when the plan is going to end up getting torn to bits in the end. But this time I really thought it would stick. I thought I would put together a collection of long, dense, unpredictable songs, swimming with dissonance and multiple personalities.
And I guess there is some of that here. But only three songs fall into the “sort of epic” category. Several extended tracks just didn’t end up making the cut. It felt like things would get a bit samey if every song was eight minutes long and kept shifting endlessly, with unpredictability somehow leading to predictability. That doesn’t even make any sense, but there you go.
Of the twenty or so songs I put down on paper when I started, only two are on the album. Everything else came out of left field as I kept coming up with new ideas and tossing things aside because they didn’t feel right for this album. There’s at least another album or two worth of material that got left on the cutting room floor. And I’m talking about new songs that have been written over the past few months, without taking into account all the other songs I still need to tackle. That’s just…frightening.
Even now, when the thing is practically finished, it continues to shift. An instrumental track I wanted to put near the end of the album doesn’t feel appropriate anymore, so out it goes at the last minute. A jerky kalimba-led instrumental I planned on tackling is out as well, replaced by a one-minute a cappella interlude that was written at about three in the morning a few days ago while brushing my teeth.
What is it about late night before-bed activity that makes all these songs come tumbling out when I’m not even thinking about music?
I think the album is still the most disjointed and unpredictable thing I’ve done in a while, and it’s meant to be, but it isn’t disjointed in the way I thought it would be.
Here, for no real reason, is one of my favourite moments on the whole album, stripped of its clothing.
As usual, pardon the bedclothes. My sleep is a little askew at the moment. In the context of the song, it’s almost like a Beach Boys vocal harmony moment or something, which is pretty bizarre for me. But I like it.
On a different note, if you make music and you have a soul, watching disBand on MuchMusic will probably make you want to kill yourself.
This is the show that gave us the “band” Stereos, who are responsible for some of the most repugnant, insipid, shit-caked pop “music” ever produced. And I mean that with my whole heart. Their songs are so horrific, they’re an insult to most of the rest of the stuff that falls into the category of bad music, which will now need to be re-classified as “sort of tolerable compared to Stereos”.
Kind of like the time I went camping in 2002. It wasn’t a great trip. I didn’t know many of the people I was with and I ended up drinking so much I literally couldn’t see or stand up for a while. But before things got out of hand, one of my fellow campers presented a jug of some weird bastardized Long Island Iced Tea mixture he’d made himself. It tasted disgusting. Later I took another swig from that jug after drinking a bunch of straight eighty-proof liquor and it was transformed into the best thing I’d ever tasted.
The lesser of two evils, you see.
But back to this show disBand. You’ve got the Treble Charger dude acting as a musical guru to people who either have very little talent but are capable of scraping a few chords and words together (and thus are equipped with all they need to become overnight sensations, assuming they have model-level looks), or actually have something somewhat interesting going on before it’s beaten out of them because they’re not considered commercial enough. He does his best to lead them down the road to mind-numbing mediocrity. The voiceover narration from the “artists”, talking about what they’re experiencing and learning during it all, is so trite and faux-sincere in the faux-est of faux-sincere ways, it makes my penis shrivel and attempt suicide.
At root, the whole concept of the “talent search” TV show is a little ridiculous to me. At least with Star Search back in the day it was sort of about people who had some skill. Now, with (Choose Your Country) Idol and the like, it’s either a glorified karaoke contest where the singer with the least amount of personality and the most malleable looks takes home the prize, or it’s a search for the next Auto-Tune-enhanced pop sensation who can be moulded into sounding just like that other Auto-Tune-enhanced pop sensation before them, and an excuse for everyone involved to embarrass themselves on TV.
This could turn into another one of those profanity-fuelled rants of mine. And we don’t want that. So let’s cut it off right here with a picture of monkeys in sunglasses and suits.
There we go.
I’ll let you know when the new album is packaged and available and all of that exciting stuff.