Month: May 2010

born free. died rather expensively.

something has been on my mind a bit lately. i’ve been back and forth over whether or not i should say anything on a public forum, wanting to express my opinion but not wanting to insult or offend anyone in the process. i thought i could swallow it and leave it alone, but it won’t go down. apparently you can’t ply a golf ball with motor oil. and what’s the point of having a blog/website/self-absorbed digital playground if you can’t say whatever you want to say?

so i begin, with the caveat that i am about to express an unpopular opinion, and perhaps start an argument or two in the process. i don’t really want to participate in an argument with anyone. i just want to get rid of something that’s been taking up a bit of space in my brain.

lately, it seems more and more people are starting to do the “free MP3” thing. bandcamp seems to be the medium everyone is choosing to use right now. i see more people jumping on board all the time, and they generally receive praise for being all about sharing the music, and not about making money.

maybe i’m cynical, but in most cases it seems more like a calculated move, hopping onto a bandwagon, and not really about a genuine desire to cut money out of the equation at all. you still have to pay for the physical album if you want a tangible representation of the music with artwork, lyrics (where applicable), and sound quality that won’t make your hi-fi cry. a small number of people have started throwing in WAV files with the MP3s, so at least you can get the music at full fidelity, but this is so rare it might as well not be happening at all.

i don’t have anything against people doing this. free music is free music. what’s weird to me is how celebrated giving away lossy files is (while still making people pay if they want to own the music in a more meaningful way), while what i do (giving the physical album away) is looked at by some as being “wrong”.

think about it. the only thing these people are giving away for free is something that costs them no money to produce in the first place. you rip MP3s and put them up somewhere on the internet in a matter of minutes, at no cost, with little effort involved. you don’t even have to pay for server space. sites like bandcamp (the new myspace?) will take care of it for you. then you advertise the existence of the MP3s, knowing the people who like the music, and those who care about sound quality and/or supporting the artist, will still shell out for the physical product.

people who do the MP3 thing and then make a big show of calling attention to it being amazing and free like they’re saving the rain forest or something kind of make me feel a little funny. “it’s free! in digital form. but, you know, if you want it in a physical format, you gotta pay. if you come out to a show, you gotta pay. if you want any merchandise we may have available, like posters and shirts, guess what! you gotta pay.”

it’s a bit like saying, “you can have a degraded VHS dub of my movie (with no case) for free if you like, but if you want it on DVD the way i really meant for it to be experienced, at a level of quality you can really enjoy and with a booklet full of pictures and writing you won’t find anywhere else, well…you have to pay me for it.”

i guess this is a step in the right direction, since i don’t think MP3s are worth paying for in the first place. but until people start giving physical albums away for free and making everything else related to their “art” free as well, i won’t believe they’re not just interested in making money any way they can, just like almost everyone else is.

the thing is, if you really aren’t about making money off of music, you LOSE money. that’s how it works. no one wants to do that. i lose money every time i put a CD out there, and i never make it back. not through music, anyway. but hey, i’m crazy.

some people don’t seem to mind giving something away for free when it at least doesn’t cost them anything to do it (or when their band broke up a few years ago, they’ve got leftover CDs they want to get rid of, and no one wants to buy them anymore), or when the product isn’t at a level of professionalism anyone would be willing to pay for to begin with. but doing something you know will cost money, putting an effort into making it something you can be proud of, and then going out of your way to not be reimbursed so things are free to your audience and no one but you pays for anything…that’s a whole new ball game.

i find it interesting how people thought i was nuts when i finally became somewhat visible as a musical entity, and all of this bizarre speculation went on, in part because of the whole “everything is free” credo. and yet none of these people who are giving away MP3s are considered crazy at all, regardless of who they are or where they operate. no one thinks they’re going too far or making anyone else look bad. wouldn’t you know? they’re just doing a wonderful thing for the sake of sharing music. it’s now considered cool to be all about the free, or to act like you are, but is anyone really cutting money out of the picture? i don’t see it. anywhere. i see a lot of people taking baby steps while trying to make it look like they’re sprinting.

i’m not saying people giving away music digitally is wrong, or a bad thing. we’ve covered this before. i understand the way things work. i realize most people can’t afford to just sink money into producing something, eat the expense, and give it all away for nothing. i can respect that.

and i’m not pissed off about other people getting praise for not really doing anything out of the ordinary or putting anything on the line, when i’ve been giving physical albums away for free for years, losing money every step of the way, with no one really paying any attention until recently. it does grate a little, but the reason is thus: i don’t think it’s quite right to make a big show of not being in it for the money, when all you’re really doing is generating some free promotion for yourself in an effort to sell more CDs and get more people out to your shows, so you can MAKE MONEY.

sharing music is a good thing, however you choose to do it, whether the music being shared is any good or not. the part that doesn’t sit right with me is the dishonesty about how it’s being shared, and the motivation behind the method. just call it what it is. you don’t get  to take a leak on jesus’ feet and call yourself a christian just because you give some grainy xeroxed bibles to street kids on your day off.

i realize that analogy makes no sense at all, but it amuses me. and amusement is the spice of life. or at least it’ll spice up your spaghetti if you treat it right.

i could say a lot more, but i think i got my point across. i feel at least six ounces lighter now. no offense intended to anyone specific, the opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of those affiliated with blah blah blah, my headache made me do it, so on and so forth.

half-assed non-disclaimer aside, i stand by everything i just said. them’s just the feelings i got.

in less rant-driven news, i have been making inserts and covers for CDs from the back catalogue that never got the proper treatment the first time around. it’s a good time-killer when you’ve got bloodshot eyes and your sleep is out of whack.

i thought i would just prioritize, concentrating on albums i wouldn’t mind sharing with anyone no matter how old they are, and things i would have made more widely available long ago if the “packaging” didn’t consist of my handwriting using different coloured pens. i expected maybe (at best) i could come up with ideas for ten or so CDs. if i was lucky.

then i discovered the paint option in discus, the program i use to design inserts and print text onto CDs. it came bundled with the little CD printer, and i’m only beginning to discover all it can do. yeah, it’s a pretty simple, no-frills program. but it’s also stupidly easy to work with, which is always a good thing in my book when it comes to computer software.

since drawing things by hand and then scanning them can get to be a little time-consuming, i thought i would try drawing badly with one finger, on the computer, to save some time and have some fun. the next thing i knew, i was making covers for albums i don’t even consider to be very good or reissue-worthy, and having a ridiculous amount of fun doing it. within a day or two i progressed from intentionally crude scribbles to…well…i’ll show you.

here are some of my favourites from the cover art i’ve come up with so far, for 30 different albums. this means every papa ghostface and guys with dicks album now has cover art of some sort, as do some earlier solo CDs. some even have two different covers, in case i decide i like one better than the other. if i keep this up, by the end of the long weekend every single CD i’ve ever recorded will have inserts ready to go, whenever i decide to get them printed.

this was badly-drawn on purpose, with one finger. like i said before, the image i have in my head as being most appropriate for the album would not be very easy to bring to life, and i sure couldn’t draw it to save mine. instead, you get a rendering of the band. i am an angry, crude triangle, gord is a chicken drumstick, and tyson is a metal-head in vehicular form, looking…well…my finger didn’t flatter him. sorry, tyson. maybe if you had stubble like gord it all could have been different. we’ll return to this album in a bit.

this one is self-explanatory. nothing subtle about it (i can’t just churn out an impressionistic painting full of symbolism over here, as much as i wish i could), but i like how it turned out. what the dude is doing there is pretty much what i felt like doing at the time. i coloured him in manually instead of using bucket fills, ’cause i’m fly like that. more on this in a bit as well.

is it wrong that i laugh every time i look at this? i think it probably is. but i still laugh. i laughed when i was drawing it, too. the guy just looks so happy to be stabbing himself in the side of the head. crude as it is, this may be one of my favourite things i’ve come up with so far. make of that what you will.

all i did here was take a picture of elmo and “invert” the image so it looks reverse-exposed or something. it’s done in one click. but it feels ridiculously appropriate somehow, because (A) i do an impression of elmo on some of the songs (i did a pretty good elmo back in the day, i’ll have you know) and (B) it’s absurd-looking, and the album itself is completely bonkers.

now, this one i’m actually kind of proud of. i started importing existing pictures into the program and sketching on top of them just for something to do, using the image as an initial guideline and then throwing it away, and i found the results were more interesting than i expected them to be. so i thought i would try sketching the person who was inspiring a lot of my mixed-up-ness (and music) at the time, and this is what came out.

it’s far from perfect. the hair is rough, and i left out some details while adding others that were never there before. i wasn’t after recreating the image i was working with by rote, but rather trying to sketch an “impression” of it, and i think i managed to pull it off. kind of scary to think i’m a better “artist” using one finger and a mouse than i am when i have both hands at my disposal.

the subject is a lot more attractive than this rendering makes her seem, but it’s probably a good thing it didn’t end up looking much like her when it was all over, given some of the lyrics. i did some experimenting while refining my one-finger-computer-drawing technique, and what you see above turned into this:

i think it’s a marked improvement, and most of what i did was reductive, cutting out unnecessary lines and cleaning things up a bit. i’ve started to play with colouring different things in unusual ways as well — giving someone blue hair, or a green hand, or whatever i think looks cool.

about that one-finger thing: because the program i’m using was not designed with drawing in mind and only features basic painting tools, i have to colour things in with my finger. let me explain how ridiculous this is.

normally, you would create layers and “fill” certain areas in with whatever colour you like. easy as cake. i can’t do that. when i try to do that, it almost never turns out well. i can set a general background colour, but if i want to colour in something specific, i have to move the mouse back and forth over a small area, over and over again, and slowly change trajectory, and keep doing it for quite a while before i start to fill anything up with colour.

the largest amount of ground i can cover at any given time is about the size of the head of a nail. the fastest way to go about it is to keep seesawing back and forth in one continuous motion, making lines like you’d make scribbles, but this has its drawbacks. you make a mistake and colour outside the lines, and you either have to undo everything you just did, or (if you’re lucky) you can get it with the eraser tool and not end up accidentally erasing things you don’t want to get rid of.

it’s not quite as time-consuming as i just made it sound. it just gets a little frustrating when you make a mistake and have to take five steps backward instead of one.

don’t think the hilarity of this is lost on me. i’m using a no-frills CD-printing program to do increasingly ambitious things with computer-based drawings, using an index finger, where most people would get a program designed for this stuff, a tablet, and a writing/drawing tool, they’d use their whole hand, and life would be much simpler. hell, i can’t draw anyway, so i might as well stick with what i’ve got. it seems to be working pretty well so far. like i said, i’m better at drawing with one finger in an unnatural position (my mouse is one of those touch-pads built into the computer itself, affording even less control and precision) than i am with a free hand and a piece of paper. go figure.

i’ve always had a hard time making anything i draw look the least bit feminine. so i’ve mostly been working with images of women in an effort to figure out what makes them so much more interesting to look at than most dudes, and how i might go about capturing whatever it is that makes this so. the more i do this, the more people start to look like themselves. like carly pope here:

it…looks…like a woman! my god! i never thought i would see the day. the ear could have turned out better, but still…i’d be kind of tempted to use that as an album cover at some point, because i like it. but i’m not sure using the likeness of a celebrity is a good idea, even if nothing is being sold, not a lot of people are going to see it, and you’re not using an existing image while passing it off as your own (or neglecting to credit the person who originated said image). maybe i should send carly a letter asking if i can have permission to put her face on a random CD cover at a future date. i’m sure it wouldn’t seem odd at all.

at the other end of the spectrum entirely, this one isn’t even attempting to look nice. the album itself is pretty crude (and crudely recorded), so i suppose it fits.

this is one of the albums i’ve long felt was deserving of cover art, but coming up with something appropriate seemed hopeless. the other day i thought i would try using a picture i took myself, of myself, and attempt to modify it enough to come away with an image of what i looked like around the time the songs were recorded, eight years ago. more or less. the result is a little grotesque and doesn’t look a whole lot like a period-correct me (no way could i cultivate stubble like that back then). but i think that’s appropriate, since i was feeling pretty grotesque at the time and the subject matter is hardly sunny.

then i thought, “shit, i can do something better for SUBLIMINAL BILE. as amusing as it is to see gord as a chicken drumstick and tyson as a…goofy-looking…vehicle, maybe i can come up with a better representation of us. and we should definitely all be there, looking at least a little like ourselves, since this was the exact moment at which we became a real band once and for all, and something really clicked. the camaraderie and excitement generated by the noise we were making (which i considered some of the best music i had made in my life at the time) was at least as important a part of my life as the mind-numbing telemarketing work that made me want to murder people, the anger and confusion inspired by an ill-fated long-distance relationship never to be consummated, and a growing interest in illicit substances.”

so i came up with this:

i am a disembodied head, gord is looking kind of serene, and tyson looks a good deal less goofy, and a lot more menacing.

the more people i draw, i find myself relying less on the image used as a reference, and adding more of my own touches. i could probably go back and redo the STELLAR cover with a much better likeness now (look at the progression from that one, to BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, to this), but i ain’t gonna.

in this case, tyson had quite a bit of hair in the picture i was working with, but i had to make him look hairless in order for his rendering to be period-correct. and the picture of myself i used as a guide looks nothing like what i turned it into. i didn’t just have a proper body in the picture, but a lot of facial hair, and my hair was tied back. all of that had to change (which meant effectively rebuilding my facial structure without anything to guide me, since the beard made it difficult to know where my chin was in there), because in 2001 i hated tying my hair back, avoiding it as much as possible, and in spite of my best attempts i couldn’t grow the swarthy stubble i wanted. how things change.

in the end, this is probably another one of my favourites, and i can hardly believe i created it myself, in less than an hour. i think it might even be one of my coolest-looking CDs ever, once it’s assembled.

i made visual art that doesn’t look like shit. me. how on earth did that just happen? i wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an actual artist or what i’m producing actual art, but this stuff isn’t just miles beyond anything i’ve ever done or thought i could produce in the realm of drawing…it’s a whole new universe. from a free program and a finger.

and back to the crudeness we go. turns out i was capable of coming up with artwork for this one after all. that’s right…a bearded man with large breasts. i don’t care who you are or what gender you identify as — if you ever wake up to find your nipples looking like those guys, please seek medical attention. immediately.

now, you might be starting to think i’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of time over the past day or two drawing ridiculous things with one finger on the computer. but no. i also used some photos.

i managed to find a picture of gord from some years back, passed out on the floor, and combined it with a picture of me pretending to be passed out from around the time this papa ghostface stuff was happening (albeit with less hair than i really had at the time of this particular album’s recording). will there ever be a papa ghostface album cover that’s not ridiculous in one way or another? probably not. but this one became a lot cooler after i messed with some more of that photo-inverting fun:

paper chest hair (2000)

that just looks cool to me. who cares if by the time we recorded that album i was growing my hair out? you only get so many pictures of yourself pretending to be unconscious in bed to work with in a lifetime. you gotta take ’em where you can get ’em.

okay, so i lied. this one is pretty normal. it’s funny, because the album is about as far from “normal” as you could get. but i thought it was appropriate to use a picture of what my “studio” space was at the time this CD was recorded, to make it clear how little room there was, and how small an assortment of equipment i had to work with.

there was more in there than what you see in the picture, but not by much. a few keyboards, a bass (the acoustic was a rental), two guitars (those were the days…when i only had two guitars), an SM57, an SM58, the digitech guitar effects processor, the boombox i was using as my monitors, and that just about covers it.

the first four papa ghostface albums (and most of the fifth), my first seven or eight solo CDs, the radio-active waste stuff with johnny smith, the traveling westburys EP, the first jesse topliffe CD, the starving artists album, and a few things i recorded for other people were all born in this tiny room, along with a bunch of cassette tapes before the mixer came into the picture.

there was something special about that glorified storage room. i think sometimes not having much of any equipment, or space, or really knowing what to do with either can be an asset. you get down to work with what’s at hand, and you have no rules or guidelines to restrain you, so you make it up as you go along.

i wouldn’t trade the equipment or space i have now for what i had back then, but i still have nostalgic feelings for that little room and the music made within it from time to time.

there’s a lot more in the way of album art, ranging from “things i spent ten seconds on that are kind of shitty, but they’ll do the job and the albums aren’t the best things i’ve ever done anyway”, to “holy shit…i just came up with that?!”

a few of my favourite things are for albums i don’t even rank that highly. to wit:

there’s a classic papa ghostface album cover if there ever was one, and the album it’s for isn’t even one of our best. i keep trying to change the title so i can use it for something else, but it doesn’t feel right. damn you, cream-coloured guy shedding your dead skin. damn you for making me dream about you.

and there’s this, which is for an album that isn’t even an album, but a recorded conversation about our band and its possible future, when things were at their most exciting:

it looks like a ridiculous exposé or something. oh my god! we smoked stuff and talked about stuff for an hour! stop the presses!

i’ve been having some surprising revelations and rediscoveries involving the music these images are meant to accompany as well, but i’ll save it for another time, lest i write a book.

one more thing, though — i would be remiss if i didn’t give a shout out to wordpress. over the past few days i noticed my videos didn’t seem to be working anymore. all the other media was fine, and the video player would load, but the videos themselves wouldn’t play anymore. i sent a message to wordpress support asking if there was anything i could do to fix this, went to sleep, and when i woke up all my videos were working again. now that’s what i call customer service.

i’m noodly too.

the les paul studio i’ve been neglecting a bit lately has lived in an EBEABE (hey, it’s DADGAD up a step…) tuning for most of the past eight years, but today i was messing around with effects, tuned one string a bit differently, and this came out:

it’s fun warping the video to make it a bit more interesting when it’s grainy and doesn’t look too arousing in the first place. and it isn’t just guitar noodling that happens around here, either:

so there are two random noodly things, for no reason at all. i kind of like the guitar idea, and might take a stab at developing it into an actual song at some point.

but getting away from noodles, as tasty as they are when the sauce is properly prepared…in a short period of time, i have gone from working on one thing specifically to casting my net over a lot of different things. initially the plan was to concentrate on getting THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE to the finish line. this is still the plan, but now it’s joined by more plans. there are new songs being written and recorded that won’t fit on ANGLE, so they need to become a new album of their own. working on two albums at once is no big deal. i’ve done it before. but then i started messing around with the program i use to print cds and design inserts, and i found myself coming up with all kinds of ideas for old albums that were never given any kind of proper packaging.

i’ve been wanting to “reissue” some of this stuff for a while now, but assumed it would be a nightmare to try and figure out cover art for cds with titles like SCREAMING NIPPLES and SCOTCH TAPE SEX POT. and, to be sure, i haven’t come up with anything for those two particular titles. but once i got going, i found myself coming up with ideas for a lot of other things. i came across old pictures and drawings that felt oddly appropriate. or in some cases i just chose a colour and threw text on top of it. i was never going to come up with cover art for SUBLIMINAL BILE anyway. what makes sense there? a picture of me working at a telemarketing office, rolling a joint, staring quizzically at a few women while they prepare to devour me with wolf-like teeth? an image along those lines would capture a bit of what was going on at the time and what was informing the songs, but it would hardly be practical trying to put such an ambitious photo shoot together now, for an album i recorded almost nine years ago.

likewise with my idea for HORSEMOUTH (and other bedtime stories); i always thought it would be fun to have a picture of me reading a bedtime story to gord on the cover. i would be standing there with a hardcover book (the title of the album clearly visible on the cover) while smiling in a tender-yet-malevolent way, and gord would have the covers pulled up to his chin, looking like a terrified child. i suppose this could still be done, since gord and i are still friends and see one another on occasion, but i think it would have been more amusing if it had been done ten years ago when we had less hair and slightly younger-looking faces.

in spite of these and other inconveniences, there are now at least a dozen albums from the back catalogue that have the cover art and inserts they never got the first time around, all of which will be ready to go after i make sure there are no typos. putting together packaging for 40-something albums would be insane, so i’m prioritizing and starting out with the albums i’m most fond of, and the ones i think are the most “important”, interesting, and obscure (in the sense that the music has only ever been heard by handful people). i have no idea who, if anyone, would be interested in any of this stuff. some of it makes what i’m doing now sound like shiny pop music, and not all of the cds have great sound quality.

but, while some things might benefit from an attempt at remastering (and remixing, where possible), i’m not really into the whole revisionist approach. i think most of the albums are best left as they are, as a document of whatever time and place they were birthed in. now they’ll just look like proper cds. i don’t think it would make a whole lot of sense to widely circulate these cds at dr. disc or phog, so maybe i’ll toss out a few here and there, make a box set or two for the people who are really interested, and leave it at that. mostly i’m just doing this for myself, so some of the old cds will finally look somewhat presentable and they’ll be easier to share with anyone who might want them.

this first batch of a dozen or so different albums should be ready sometime in the next few weeks. if anyone is interested in hearing some of the weird (and occasionally very angry/ugly) music i was making before anyone started paying attention, let me know and i’ll get you some cds when they’re ready.

oh yeah…there’s also the live cd/dvd idea. i think that thing is going on the back burner right now. i’ll get back to it eventually, but there are more pressing hands that matter. i mean, more pressing matters at hand. you know what i mean.

some writers are hacks who don’t produce enough phlegm.

i posted something here about a writer who effectively stole my own writing back in february while composing an article about someone else’s music, without giving me credit, and appropriated it to further his own means — calling him out without referring to him by name. i felt all fine and justified. then i realized it was pointless. i mean, i know he’s a douchebag with no credibility or journalistic integrity. he knows he’s a douchebag. and i think a fair amount of other people know he’s a douchebag as well. that should be enough. i bit my tongue at the time, when i should have blasted him and told him what i thought of him. blasting him now while trying to be tasteful about it serves no purpose. better just to ignore him altogether.

the picture up there, however, is too amusing to get rid of. so it gets to stay, and everybody wins.

in other news, i’ve been thinking it might be a worthwhile experiment to attempt to make some sort of music video at some point. not to submit to any contest, or to try to get on tv, or anything like that…but to try and do something interesting and different with the art form. i have a lot of images i’ve collected (mentally) that might lend themselves to film, if they’re even film-able. i’m tired of seeing videos of bands miming to their songs and lip-syncing while some lame undercooked subplot plays out in quick cuts. i’d like to do something for myself, and anyone else who might be interested in seeing it, purely for the sake of creating something different. i like the idea of a video that operates like a dream; images and ideas don’t necessarily have to be connected, nor do they need to tell a coherent or simple story. sometimes things that make perfect sense at the time make no sense at all when you pick them apart later. sometimes things that make no sense when you first see them start to take on an odd sort of logic the more you turn them over in your mind. sometimes the person who sings the song doesn’t need to be mouthing the words in every other frame, or even an integral part of the video at all.

i’m not saying i’m the person to film or direct such a thing. it would probably be best to hire someone who knows what they’re doing with a camera and editing equipment, and then work with them closely. choosing an appropriate song would be a challenge, to say nothing of coming up with a concept worth developing and putting it all together. still, i think it’s something worth doing at some point, even if it’s the only time i ever do it. even if it’s just for the experience of doing it. even if i do nothing more than post it here where only a dozen or so people will see it.

something i’ve been thinking about a bit, anyway.

baby, i’ve been breaking glass in your room again.

my blog search terms for yesterday informed me someone ended up here after searching for “how to get ‘love songs for nihilists'”. whoever that was, if you happened to be looking for my most recent cd, and you happen to see this, i shall answer. or rather, i will do something i should have done long ago, and put something up at the very top of the sidebar over on the right, explaining where/how to get cds. why i didn’t do this sooner, i don’t know. hopefully it will be of use to someone someday.

the box of cds at dr. disc is happy and full once again. here is a brief example of a bit of what happens when cds are being put together. multiply it by about 200 when a new cd is being assembled, and on a slightly smaller scale when it’s just a matter of rebuilding stock. copying cds one at a time is exciting, man. i’m normally faster with the assembling of inserts/cases, but it’s a little awkward balancing a tripod between your legs and keeping the camera steady while simultaneously folding inserts and assembling jewel cases. you end up putting things in upside-down when you normally wouldn’t do such a thing.

i almost forgot — if anyone wants a poster, let me know. i spent quite a bit of money getting these things made up for the mackenzie hall show, only to end up with 20 or so extras just sitting here, wondering what their purpose in life is post-show. there’s nothing sadder than an orphaned poster. unless it’s ashton kutcher. but that goes without saying. while i was initially unsure of how well i designed the posters, i have to admit they’ve grown on me, much like fungus, and i now think they’re pretty cool-looking. if you don’t mind looking at my hairy visage, you might think so too. if you or someone you know might like a poster, let me know, and i will give you one or send it in the mail. they’re free to whoever wants them, otherwise they’ll just keep sitting in the stock room until they decide to rise up and create a rebel army of orphaned posters. you can make a difference in their lives.

— cue sappy instrumental music, much like the sort of thing you hear in guilt-trip commercials designed to bilk you out of your money —

you…can give a poster a home.

we’re lighter than air now.

today i got around to recording the new (to me, not to the world) 1932 washburn 5200 acoustic guitar for the first time, with unexpected results. there’s so much music to work on around here right now, it can be difficult to know what to tackle when. this afternoon i thought i’d mess around a bit with two songs recorded around the time of CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, neither finished in time for inclusion, nor actually intended for that album. these songs would be more at home on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE.

one is a completely ridiculous thing built around several tracks of me barking into a red toy megaphone and playing dissonant things on a strange one-string ethnic instrument (the working title is “toy megaphone grunge dance”, which does a reasonable job of describing what it sounds like), and the other is a bright, bouncy, synth-tinged song about steven seagal. i kid you not. the toy megaphone grunge dance got some weird sub-bass synth kick drum added to it along with some beat-boxing, and is now pretty close to being finished.

the other one still needs some work, but i thought it would be a good opportunity to give the virginal washburn some attention, since the open C tuning was right for the harmonic movement of the song. instead of recording it with the two neumann km184s like i normally would with stringed instruments, i thought i’d try using the pearlman TM-LE instead, double-tracking it, and using quite a bit of compression care of my friend and yours, the ubk fatso. the sound that came out had a nice upfront sheen to it, sitting nicely in the mix. i didn’t feel much like sticking it out and doing the necessary experimenting to get the song to the point where i could mix it and put it on cd, though. working on something new seemed a lot more enticing.

i was going to record a little song i wrote a week or two ago on a cheap 1930s vega tenor banjo (another instrument that hadn’t gone under the mic yet), but instead found myself playing a catchy lick on the washburn. i recorded the idea to preserve it, and quickly decided it needed to turn into a song. so steven seagal was forgotten, and instead it was on to something newer than new. the newest newness of all. the only line i had, which i sang to get the vocal melody idea across, was “i’ve been failing left and right”. i figured i’d record the music and write more lyrics after the fact.

it’s not the way i normally operate (generally i don’t record something these days unless the words are there already), but it’s worked well before with songs like “the danger of all things adhesive”, “the ass, enchanted with the sound” and “anthropomorphism dance”, to name three. i left the km184s over at the piano and stuck with the one-mic, double-tracked, compressed-more-than-usual approach. that TM-LE is turning into one of my favourite mics for auxiliary guitar parts and wurlitzer, but it seems to sound good on just about anything, and it was interesting to play with a bit of a different acoustic guitar sound.

then i recorded five vocal tracks of the one line repeated over and over again, for about three minutes. i realized i kind of liked it as a mantra, and didn’t feel like writing any more words. added some bass, toyed with the idea of some electric guitar but decided against it, added some double-tracked tenor banjo (the aforementioned 1930s vega, which sounds far better than its price tag would encourage anyone to expect and looks really cool on top of it), piano and drums. i thought i might go double-tracking crazy and try recording the drums in the same way as the guitar, but there the sound was too compressed for me, so i found myself back in the arms of the aea r88 that still lives in front of the drums, and probably will for quite some time to come.

and there was a new song.

i like how it turned out. the music sounds absurdly happy, especially given the lyrics’ repeated admission of failure. as if i’m kind of elated to be failing all the time, or i just don’t care. juxtaposition is fun. it’s just the same line and the same few chords over and over again (aside from the percussive guitar-slapping that bookends the song), but the dynamics keep shifting every so often to keep things interesting. i think it would be fun to perform live, hypothetically. get a few people who can sing vocal harmonies and get the audience to sing along, and just keep building it up, bringing it down, and building it up again. even if people started singing at different times, it would still sound good.

i thought about building up more vocal tracks and maybe trying to get some group vocals together for that overlapping sound, but i kind of like it the way it is. it sounds pretty beefy even without anyone else lending their larynx to the cause. recording the drums was fun, because i started out playing with a drum stick in one hand and a tambourine in the other, and near the end i wanted to play something quite a bit different, so i had to drop the tambourine and stick and quickly pick up the brushes i was holding between my knees without losing tempo. some people would have just recorded two different drum performances on different tracks, but i enjoy ridiculous challenges like this. besides, why eat up twice as many tracks as you need to just for the sake of convenience?

another thing that’s fun is putting a banjo on a chair, forgetting it’s there, sitting on it, and accidentally knocking the bridge flat on the body, skewing all of the strings. luckily i was able to loosen the strings, shift the bridge back into place and fix it in about two minutes. can’t say i’ve ever sat on a banjo and made it cry before. not until today, anyway.

and now, a random segue.

adding to the desire to perhaps someday release something on vinyl was the revelation last night that communiqué sounds ridiculously good on vinyl. i mean ridiculously good. no three dollar record should sound that fine. as dire straits albums go, i don’t think this one gets nearly enough love. some look at it as an underwhelming, rush-released follow-up to the self-titled debut album released nine months before, but i actually like it a lot better than the first album. it’s got this great moody late-night vibe i like, and i’ve always thought the drum sound is delicious. even now, when i prefer more true-to-life, rough-around-the-edges drum sounds, there’s something about the pillowy sound of the kit on this album that just makes me want to eat it. you heard me. i eat pillows. and drums. and drums that sound like pillows.

i knew the cd sounded good (i didn’t bother to pick up the remastered version, because the original old-school cd issue i’ve owned since about 1996 has tons of dynamic range and i doubt the new mastering job went to the trouble of keeping it intact), but when i threw the record on last night, i couldn’t get over how much better it sounded. that record makes most music being produced today sound like complete and utter garbage. there’s so much depth, space and headroom there. why the hell don’t people value these things anymore? it’s all about making things as loud, distorted and shit-sounding as possible, because that’s the way everything else sounds. i’m talking mostly about popular music, but still. it’s one of the many reasons i’m glad i’ll never get signed to any record label; getting into an argument over why your music doesn’t need to compete with the volume of everything else (that’s why they gave you a VOLUME CONTROL on every audio device ever created) isn’t my idea of a good time.

bring back dynamic range, bitches.

speaking of dire straits, i think mark knopfler is one of the most ridiculously underrated guitarists around. the guy can play circles around most people, but somehow nothing he ever does comes across as flash for the sake of flash. it’s a neat trick—playing things that are almost impossibly fluid and technically impressive, while keeping it tasteful. watching live footage is surreal, because there are no stupid guitar faces…he sings and tosses off these rapid-fire little phrases and ideas when there are a few seconds between the words, without even looking at the guitar, like it’s nothing. lots of people gush over hendrix or clapton, and while jimi was undeniably a brain-melting guitarist (and eric was good when he wanted to be, which sadly wasn’t nearly often enough…he’s put out some really horrible albums), knopfler is definitely up there in the pantheon for me.

to illustrate my point, here’s a “calypso version” of “so far away”. evidently it was only ever played this way once. they should have recorded that shit and thrown it on an album somewhere, as a hidden track or something. it’s too good to keep a secret for more than 20 years.

hairy dude in the hall, redux.

it’s “asking the opinions of those who are not me” time again.

as you may or may not know, i played a solo show at mackenzie hall back in march. a lot of people were there (a lot more than i was expecting), but there were quite a few ladies and savage men who wanted to be there and were unable to make it, generally due to illness or a lack of geographical proximity. it’s kind of difficult to get to windsor for one night if you live halfway across the globe. chances are i will play live again at some point, but it’s probably not going to be anytime soon, and it definitely won’t be happening again this year.

i posted video footage of the whole show over HERE, but i realize it can sometimes be a pain in the ass to stream twenty-something different songs on the internet (depending on how fast your internet connection is, you may not be able to watch any of the video at all because it might take ten years for the page to finish loading), and not everyone has access to a computer or the internet at their leisure.

so, i got to thinking…what if, for the people who weren’t there but wanted to be (or even those who were there but wanted to relive the evening in all of its ragged glory), the entire show was available on cd and dvd? i have video of every song performed that night. one or two songs are missing maybe twenty seconds, but pretty much everything is intact, complete with between-song banter. josh also shot some footage for potential use in i am not a seagull, though very little of it ended up in the film. jay even recorded at least some of the show on a digital audio recording device of some sort, and while i haven’t heard what he’s got, i imagine the quality is pretty good. between all of these sources, there’s more than enough material to put together both a dvd and a cd documenting the show. i would probably look at getting the audio remastered for best possible quality; some of it has to be sourced from video cameras with tiny built-in microphones. the quality is actually a lot better than you might expect, particularly the first dozen songs or so where the little flip camera was used…there isn’t really any ugly distortion or compression there. i think some good mastering equipment could help it along and make it a bit more robust.

the second half of the show shot on the other camera doesn’t sound as good, but here josh’s footage can help. while he didn’t get all the songs, at least three or four of them from the second set are there in full, and the sound quality is quite good. it’s a bit more compressed than the flip camera’s audio, but it’s also a lot more present-sounding, and again this is where a good mastering job comes into play. you take all these different sources, find the best-sounding version of each song, and work on bringing the best out of it while combining everything into a unified whole. maybe it’s even possible to combine more than one audio source to mix a more upfront sound with a good amount of audience noise and ambiance. it’s a bit of a complicated job, and not one i’m really set up to take on myself, but i think i might talk to dwaine and see if he’d be up for it. then i would just take the final audio tracks and sync them up with the relevant footage, again using the best overall source for any given song. for the first half of the show, it would probably be almost entirely the footage johnny smith shot, and for the second half it would be supplanted with some of josh’s footage.

obviously the end result isn’t going to be a high-budget pro-shot affair that looks like the last waltz, and the audio version of the show won’t make your hi-fi piss all over itself with delight, but it’ll sound pretty good, it’ll look pretty good, and it’ll be free to whoever wants it.

one potential issue: i don’t think fitting everything on one dvd would be a problem, but i might be a little torn between spreading the audio-only version out over two cds (because it’s too long to fit on one cd), or cutting out a few songs to squeeze it onto one. i wouldn’t mix up the sequence of the songs or get rid of between-song banter, but there are a few songs that might not really be missed by anyone if they were dropped. “crustacean cancer survivor”, for example, probably wasn’t one of the better performances of the night (i hadn’t rehearsed it at all, which didn’t help), and “bent bird, broken wing” might fall into the same category. i wouldn’t drop anything from the dvd; just the cd portion of things. then again, maybe it’s best to leave things alone, warts-and-all…

i guess my question is two-fold:

1. would you be interested in a dvd/cd set of the mackenzie hall performance, understanding that it isn’t going to look or sound like the most professionally-produced thing in the world, but it’ll get the point across well enough? here’s an example of what you could expect (from josh’s footage, with significantly better sound quality than the version i originally posted here back in march):

2. are there any songs you would get rid of, or do you think it’s best to keep everything intact, even if a song didn’t come off as well as it might have?

any feedback is welcome and appreciated. i think i’m fairly sure i want to do this…i just want to see if enough people would be interested in owning it to justify the expense (i’m not sure how enticing dvds are compared to cds when it comes to free stuff). theoretically, you’d be looking at a 2-cd/1-dvd package with a booklet containing pictures, ramblings, and other such stuff. THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE will remain the priority, but i might look at getting this dvd/cd set put together sometime this year. theoretically.

let me know what you think.

sad-eyed lady with the snow hands.

the black box of CDs is empty. again.

this is nuts. we’re now far past the point where, normally, the CDs pretty much stop moving. what happens is, i put out a new CD, it goes pretty quick and pretty regular for maybe a month or two, and when i’ve gone through maybe 200 or so copies, it starts to taper off until things stop moving altogether.

the last few times i’ve refilled the box, i’ve stocked it more or less equally with copies of the most recent five CDs. within a week or two, the box is empty. i refill it, and the same thing happens again. and again.

i don’t know what’s going on here, or where all these people who want johnny west CDs are coming from. like i said. nuts. i’ll get around to rebuilding some stock and hopefully the box will be full again sometime this week.

the new store location is pretty snazzy. lots more room to move around, and heat in the winter! and air in the summer! and a roof where the sitting and drinking of soft drinks can happen. i think that’s a great way to spend your break in the summer if you work there. there’s also an area upstairs where all the used vinyl records now live. cool stuff, i say.

here are a few pictures i found on facebook:

i hope liam and the gang do really well at the new place.

an unrelated thought: you know how i used to waste a lot of time, money, paper, and plastic sending music to record labels who had no interest in me or anything i was doing? well, now not only do i have several more recent albums that would potentially stand more of a chance of interesting someone, but i have a documentary about myself i could send out as well (or i will have it in a send-out-able form, once it’s on DVD).

for a moment, i thought, “hell…maybe that would get their attention. labels get CDs all the time, but how often do they get a DVD from an artist who’s actually had a documentary made about them? maybe this is the sort of thing that piques their fickle, whoreish interest.”

i stewed on this for about ninety seconds, thinking maybe i had something here.

then i said to myself, fuck record labels. i’m not going back on the deal i made with myself to never again waste my time sending anything to a label. too many CDs have already been wasted on them to no effect at all. in the immortal words of john lennon, “you don’t get me twice.”

it’s not that i carry a grudge because six years ago when i was sending CDs to every record label in the world no one was interested in what i was doing. that would be silly. you can’t hold a grudge against people you don’t even know. i just don’t see the point in wasting the time on people who still probably wouldn’t have any interest in me, and who are irrelevant to what i want to do anyway. better to send CDs and DVDs to people who might actually check them out and enjoy them, instead of someone who will toss them behind a couch somewhere, never to get a second glance.

(update: josh never gave me any DVDs to give to anyone. so much for that, then.)

so that idea is a big no-go.

but back to dr. disc. during a recent vinyl-hunting expedition, i came across the 12″ single version of “speed your love to me” by simple minds. i will not win any cool points by admitting this, but i have a certain guilty pleasure fondness for simple minds. not all of their stuff, mind you — while i can admit the catchiness of “don’t you forget about me”, pretty much everything after that is way too typical of 80s bombast for me to get into.

it was a different story back in 1997, when i was first going into high school. back then, the more 80s-sounding and bombastic something was, the more i loved it, and for a while the “selective greatest hits” album glittering prize was in pretty heavy rotation for me.

i did not enter high school with any cool music in my collection. at all. luckily, redemption and re-education were right around the corner, and i would soon find myself throwing pretty much every CD i owned into the proverbial basement. the odd simple minds song still does something for me, though.

there’s some cool stuff on some of the early albums. and they were an entirely different band before they morphed into just another 80s stadium rock monster…more synth-pop than U2-lite. “the american”, for instance, is a pretty cool new wave/post-punk pop song, equal parts weird and catchy. it almost sounds like a jerky marriage between early INXS (before there even was INXS) and mid-late-period japan (before japan had reached their mid-late-period).

sparkle in the rain (from whence “speed your love to me” hails) has one foot sinking into the stadium rock sound the band would soon mine for all it was worth, but there are enough atmospheric touches and moments of weirdness to keep things from getting generic. it’s an interesting balancing act between creative ambition and the desire for commercial success.

unlike what happened on the monstrously successful followup album once upon a time, here the bombast feels like it still kind of means something. to be sure, jim kerr’s lyrics for “waterfront” might not mean much of anything, but it’s hard not to get swept up in the hypnotic thrum of it all. the production is very much of its time, with BIG DRUMS, BIG GATES, and BIG REVERB all over the place. but it doesn’t sound half as dated as some 80s albums do, maybe because steve lillywhite was at the helm, and in the decade of cocaine and big hair he had a way of keeping things in your face even when they were in your ears.

i picked up the 12″ on a lark, because it was cheap, and because “speed your love to me” is one of those songs (unlike “don’t you forget about me”) i can still enjoy listening to. could be because i didn’t hear it a million times on the radio. actually, i don’t remember ever hearing it on the radio at all. on the b-side is the single edit of the song, which was all i’d ever heard, along with an instrumental called “bass line”. on the a-side is a 7-minute “extended mix” of “speed your love to me”.

most extended mixes i’ve heard from this era are pretty lame, limp, and amateurish-sounding. nothing like the remixes you hear today, where once in a while someone creative will rework a song from the ground up and completely alter its meaning. this is one is different. it doesn’t alter the meaning of the song, but it makes it a hell of a lot more interesting. a great guitar riff that was either buried in the mix or absent altogether on the album version is very upfront here, and there’s a lot more going on.

i first put the record on the turntable at 33 rpm without thinking, only to realize it even sounds good slowed down. it’s just a much more interesting mix that improves the song in every way without watering it down, and i already liked it the way it was. THIS should have been on the album instead of the much shorter, different mix they ended up using. i mean, getting rid of a surprise backwards-sounding ambient instrumental coda? what were they thinking?!

while listening to the song for the first time in a decade or more, i came to the conclusion that “speed your love to me” is maybe the best song U2 never wrote. there. i said it.

elsewhere, i just cracked 40,000 blog hits. that’s pretty nuts too.

out on the floor, you were something…

i just got my hands on the footage josh shot at travis’ CD release show, and though some of what i remember being the best performances of the night weren’t filmed (i was really hoping to hear the version of “wind chimes sing with her” we did with me singing lead and travis harmonizing, and the version of “peculiar love” with him singing instead of me, effectively swapping songs), this one was an interesting surprise.

at the time i wasn’t sure how successful it was. felt like my voice wasn’t at its best, so i made a point of not singing as much backup as i normally would, and wasn’t sure how much to go off on the piano. hearing it now, it works a lot better than i thought it did, and i wish i’d thrown in more harmonies, because they sound better than i thought they did at the time.

it’s not as climactic, layered, or mantric as the album version. that was going to be pretty impossible to duplicate. but for two guys playing live — one of them using a loop pedal he isn’t entirely comfortable with and the other playing a digital piano while wondering what makes sammy run — i think it turned out pretty nice. kind of wish i’d gone a little wilder on the keys, but hindsight is like a welsh corgi who enjoys licking your elbows just for something to do.

i was out of commission for several days thanks to ever-present sleep issues, but i’ve fixed that once again, for what must be about the 956th time now. so, for the time being, i should return to my normal state of thuggery and occasional productiveness. you’ve been warned.