snaking up the old blood tree.

it’s been a while since i attempted to record myself recording. on video, i mean. it’s also been a while since i recorded anything at all. haven’t laid down a lick since february, which is not like me at all. oh, i’ve been writing and preserving ideas on the little flip camera, like always. that happens more or less daily. but i haven’t done a thing in the “studio” since i started digging into preparation for the mackenzie hall show. at first it had to do with not wanting to muddy the water with too many new songs, but then it got to be something else — that familiar “what the hell do i do next?” thing that will sometimes happen in the immediate aftermath of a new album.

i’m in a bit of an odd place right now. i feel like i haven’t released an album i didn’t feel really good about in a while, with things really kicking into high gear with CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. that’s five albums in a row that i think make up some of the best work i’ve ever done. while i don’t feel the weight of whatever expectations there may be from anyone else (i could never really get into the mindset of trying to figure out what anyone who isn’t me might make of what i’m doing), there’s a bit of internal pressure to have the next album live up to that level of “quality”, regardless of where it goes musically and stylistically. but getting too wrapped up in thinking about that stuff can lead to “recording block”, where the songs are there, but it’s confusing trying to figure out what to tackle, because, as always, i don’t want to fall into the trap of repeating myself and resting on my laurels. things can’t get too safe or comfortable. things have to keep evolving.

i’ve been stuck between finally trying to finish this multiple-cd-set-of-new-material thing that’s been a few years in the making, and figuring out whatever the next normal full-length album wants to be. working on both at once is an option, but could lead to over-ambitious confusion shit. i think it was healthy to take a bit of a break, especially after all that show took out of me. these days, it isn’t like me to go a month (or, in this case, a bit more) without recording anything, but sometimes it’s a good idea to get a bit of perspective. one month and change, for me, is a hell of a break, and hopefully has given me some perspective. i still don’t know what exactly i want to do next, but i know i need to start doing it soon if i want to stay in shape and keep the momentum going. i’d like to get at least another two albums out there this year, so i can match the three i put out last year. i figure that’s a good number to aim for.

yesterday i thought, “well, fuck it. it’s been long enough. i haven’t recorded a thing in more than a month. to hell with trying to do something blindingly different. let’s just do something, even if my voice doesn’t feel like it’s quite back to 100% yet after that irritating baritone-inducing throat infection episode.

so here is some of what i did.

this is by no means a taste of what you should expect from the next album, and it might not even show up on the next cd. it’s just what i ended up doing on this particular day. it’s an absurdly simple song from a compositional standpoint. basically it’s the same two chords through the whole thing, making it the complete antithesis of everything i was trying to do a few years ago. it’s the kind of song i said i would never write again, circa 2005, punishable by death if i ever reneged on the promise i made to myself. of course, we all know where that went. i found out that, as rewarding as it is to mess with song structure and avoid repetition, sometimes simple things are good too. sometimes…simple is best.

i kind of half-wrote this thing the other night (the initial idea i captured is at the beginning of the video, recorded in total darkness, hence the black screen), and filled in some more lyrics a few minutes before i started recording it. i realized after the fact that the line “climbing up the old blood tree” and the variations that followed were probably subconsciously inspired by derek harrison’s “barking up the wrong blonde tree”, a song he posted on his blog some weeks back. oh wait…i quite clearly used that line verbatim in the initial sketch, because it was in my head and it had the right amount of syllables for the vocal melody i wanted to sing. alright then. thanks to derek for inadvertently giving me the words i used as a jumping-off point. one line i borrowed from kevin/crowl, because i really liked the imagery (only two of you will have any idea who i’m referring to, but that’s alright). and the rest is just stuff that came out, as usual.

the arrangement still needs a little something more, i think. maybe some wurlitzer. maybe some more vocal harmonies. maybe some electric guitar or organ. maybe all of the above. but it’s getting there. it was about time to give that ’40s martin oo-17 some more love, and the pearlman TM-LE continues to be a formidable secret weapon on acoustic guitar parts. i figured if it could make a piece of crap classical guitar that cost less than $200 sound like it was worth several times that amount, it might sound pretty nice in front of a guitar that is the opposite of crap.

one thing captured on video was this weird mechanical sound that started up out of nowhere when i was in the middle of recording the initial acoustic guitar part. you can see me looking confused, wondering where it’s coming from. i thought maybe i was having a stroke for a moment, before realizing it was something going on outside. i assumed the take was ruined, but played it out anyway. then, while listening back to what i had done, i found myself wishing it had come through louder on the track, because it provided a nice bit of buried dissonant noise. turns out it was someone using an aerator on our front lawn. i thought of grabbing a microphone and recording more from the porch, but by then it was over. what a tease. when the song is finished and mixed, you probably won’t even be able to hear the aerator whining anymore unless you listen on really good headphones or a revealing hi-fi system, but i enjoy the irony of something that i thought had derailed the performance becoming a sound i now really like, almost in spite of myself. score another one for happy accidents.

i had some fun with cheesy effects this time. i tend to stay away from that sort of thing, but i felt like it made some of the static shots of me doing stuff a bit more interesting, in the absence of a dedicated camera-person to make things look nicer and provide movement. and slowing down moments of profanity can only make them more amusing. watch as i swear at the phone and the doorbell! hold your breath as i potentially ding up an expensive vintage martin acoustic guitar! giggle at the sped-up piano mic’ing preparations! i should warn you that a few parts suddenly get a lot louder — particularly the drums and the shaker. but on the whole, this is probably a more interesting and more representative look at a bit of what happens when i’m recording stuff than the last solo recording video was, and it’s almost twice as long. i should also warn you that i use a few rather strong swear words when things interrupt me or fall and hit other things. little ones, beware..

so there you go. it still needs a bit of wallpaper, but it’s getting there. everything is an improvised first take except for the singing (i generally get down a “guide vocal”, which is what you see part of in the video, and then take another pass with more commitment, so what’s in the mix is actually the second take there), and i think i like where it’s going. maybe i’ll put a rough mix up here for a bit once it’s finished. and yes — i do drink and play at the same time. it’s not an attempt at showing off…it’s just how i roll when i’m thirsty.

(edit from the future: more than two years later, when i knew a little more about editing, i took the recording footage and carved it into something much less boring, chopping out more than ten minutes in the process. instead of watching the equivalent of an ant crawling around on video, you get to see a bit of the song taking shape in a more tangible way. this edit can be seen OVER HERE, on the page for the album the song lives on.)

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