Making little promos/trailers is easier — and a lot more fun — than I thought it would be. I made this using a crappy free program that came with my computer, in about ten minutes, and I’m almost a little bit proud of it. Hell, if I had the video footage Tyson shot of us recording and goofing around (a part of me will always regret not getting a copy of that stuff when I had the chance, especially since there’s a good chance none of it exists anymore), I could probably make a pretty neat little documentary trailer out of it and then piece together an actual documentary.
As it stands, I made what could almost pass as a documentary trailer. Just change some of the text, make it “a film about Guys with Dicks”, and it’s all the way there. But it’s for something that isn’t a film at all — an hour-long conversation Tyson and I recorded when our band was at its most exciting. It’s something not even someone who heard the music we made would likely have any interest in. How entertaining can it be to listen to two guys talk about a band no one knew existed in the first place?
Maybe if there was some ambient instrumental music swimming underneath all the talking, like what’s in the video, it would sweeten the deal a bit. I kind of like the idea of improvising for an hour on an electric guitar or something to make a bed for our voices. But this isn’t something that was ever intended to be heard by anyone. It was just us getting foggy, talking about the weird little band we had, and recording the conversation on the mixer because it seemed like a good idea at the time.
After close to a decade of letting the recording collect dust, I think it’s about time I mixed it. A pretty simple job when there are just two tracks to work with. I’m only really doing it to have for myself, and I made the video for fun because the idea popped into my head. I wanted to see if I could do it. It ended up surpassing my expectations.
I could still make my own kind of documentary, but it would mostly just be me talking about things that happened, showing some pictures, playing some music. Again, probably not very compelling to anyone but me. I’d have to find a whole lot of pictures to keep things visually interesting, and it would work much better if I had more video footage to work with.
I could interview Gord and ask him some questions, but I think it’s safe to say (and this isn’t a dig) I remember more about those days and the music we made than anyone else does. My brain is like a sponge for musical details. It’s always been that way. I don’t know why. Tracking down most of the other people who were there at the time would be difficult at best, and given how much alcohol and drugs were being consumed by everyone, it’s difficult to say how much they would remember.
In spite of all this, part of me still wishes I had whatever might be left of Tyson’s footage so I could play with piecing something together, even if no one would ever see the end results. I have this inexplicable need to preserve everything I remember of this time while a lot of it’s still there in my memory — to make a record of who we were and what we did, as a supplement and contrast to the music we made. Even though, again, I’m the only person in the world who would have any real interest in it.
As it stands, I’m in the process of “reissuing” several of the Guys with Dicks CDs, giving them proper artwork for the first time, and I’m going to end up remixing at least a few of them to make them sound as good as they can.
I feel a strange nostalgia about all of this stuff. It’s not just because it’s the eighth anniversary of the band’s breakup right now, more or less. Eight years since we last sat in the music room at the house on Chilver and made music together. It feels like maybe two years have gone by, not eight.
But my relationship with time is dicey at best. It’s like a million grains of rice falling from the sky. I manage to catch a few here and there, but most of them slip through my fingers, and after a while I give up because my hands can only hold so much. I remember sitting at my cubicle doing my bullshit telemarketing job, looking at the computer, feeling like the day would never end. That was in late 2001.
I can’t even remember the last time I had that feeling. For years now, time flies whether I’m having fun or not.
But if I talk too much about time, this will turn into a long-winded mess. And we’re heading there already, because…well…you know me. It’s what I do.
I guess the nostalgia makes sense. I had a band with two of my best friends. We shared a lot of things and had some pretty strange adventures. I think we were probably closer to one another than we were with our girlfriends (though I was the one guy in the group who was chronically single), at least for the eight months or so we spent as a trio before it all imploded.
It was the sort of thing Hollywood makes really awful coming-of-age movies about. I somehow doubt they’d want to recreate the time I was snarling, “Asphyxiate on your own vomit!” into a microphone and scaring Tyson with my facial expressions, or the night I locked myself out of my own house after work and through sheer dumb luck managed to end up at Gord’s place for a memorable evening of pizza, beer, and pot. But they were cinematic experiences for me.
The whole thing was like a great, strange movie. I was the antihero who never got the girl, and on some level it needed to be that way. If I was lucky in love, with a dream job and no feelings of teenage angst, a lot of the music we made wouldn’t exist. If there wasn’t that need for catharsis, the whole last phase of the band never would have happened at all, and we just would have petered out after A ROOMFUL OF SEXINESS when Andrew moved to Welland and it seemed like our brief flirtation with becoming a proper band was over.
Some of the best and worst times of my life were spent in that band with those two guys. We were a fiercely united little trio for a while, and then we started to grow apart, like misguided weeds who once shared a common purpose but bent away from knowing what it was. If I ever get around to writing a musical memoir (and if I do, it won’t be something I publish or really share with anyone, because who would want to read a thousand pages of me rambling about myself and my music anyway?), this time and the music made within it will be a very important, lengthy part of it all.
For all the drama and depression, I discovered a voice I didn’t know I had, and it altered the fabric of who I thought I was and the kind of music I thought I could make. I ended up trying to destroy myself, and to some extent I succeeded, but instead of dissolving into nothing I found a new self rising from the ashes of who I thought I was. It was kind of unnerving and empowering at the same time.
Whoa. Dude. That’s so deep, I think I’m going to drown.
Listening to me and Tyson talking about it all is like stepping back in time. Much like the Papa Ghostface song I talked about in the last post, I thought I had a pretty good memory of how the conversation went, but I hadn’t listened to it in years. In this case, while what I heard when I dumped it back on the mixer was much closer to my memory of our discussion than what happened with the song I thought was a dud, I was surprised how much more articulate we were than I remembered. There’s some silliness, and there are a few places where I lose my train of thought because I’m high and Tyson is doing that thing he would sometimes do, jerking the conversation in an unexpected direction without warning. But there are also some pretty philosophical things being discussed.
We spend a lot of time trying to pick our band apart and figure out what makes us tick, why we can’t give a simple name to our “sound”, and how it all happened. After an hour, I try one last time to put it all together while Tyson bangs on the African drums, having lost interest in the conversation. So I go out of my way to turn the whole thing into an improvised approximation of bad high school poetry. Then Tyson leaves and I finish up on my own.
One interesting bit comes near the beginning. Tyson asks me what my philosophy on life is. I’m caught off guard, but talk about how maybe life is just a series of meetings. People come into your life, you change them, you’re changed by them, some of them stick around for a while, some are fleeting connections, and the beat goes on. Being high made it seem like a deeper thought than it really was, but I think there’s some truth in there.
When we talk about the whole band living together under one roof and Tyson says he wants the basement, it’s kind of a poignant moment. We probably would have ended up hating one another if we lived together, but it felt like a romantic idea at the time, all of us in the same house, making music all the time. I even thought it might really happen for a hot minute.
I miss that camaraderie sometimes.
Would I trade the music I’ve made on my own over the last eight years to have it back, though? I don’t know. We broke up for a reason, and none of the music I’ve made on my own since then would have been possible if we stayed together.
Maybe the connection and odd sense of musical telepathy is what I miss the most. That’s a difficult thing to find with anyone. To find it with two different people at the same time is pretty special. The only time I’ve really stumbled across something similar was when I recorded some piano and upright bass improvisations with Max. But I see Max about as often as I see Faith Hill in my closet draped in a beach towel.
Even if I really wanted to get another band together to try and recapture some of that improvisational spark, it would be almost impossible to make it work. So much of it has to do with luck and everything lining up just right. And if you got me, Gord, and Tyson together in the same room today and we strapped on our instruments, I don’t think it would be the same.
That band and that music belong to that time. We’re different people now. I think it only worked because of who we were then, and because of that specific room we were making music in. If you compare the music I’m making now with what Gord’s doing in Surdaster and what Tyson is doing with whatever technical metal band he happens to be in at the moment, it’s hard to believe we were ever on the same page at all.
Kind of funny to think the only drummer I ever worked with who was really sensitive to what I was doing and never smashed the hell out of the drums just because he could was someone who spent most of his time playing in hardcore and metal bands. Tyson was a good drummer, regardless of what kind of music he was playing. You’d never guess he mainly played metal from our music, because there are really no metal-isms in what he did on our songs. And he knew how to listen and react to the music instead of trying to overpower it. That’s a skill I think a lot of musicians overlook, as crucial as it is. He could get aggressive when it was called for. He could also lay back and be subtle.
Gord and I already had a deep musical connection we’d forged through Papa Ghostface. It became something different when Tyson came into the picture and it got split three ways. Instead of “Papa Ghostface with drums”, we were our own unique musical entity. I still don’t know what genre we fit into. We were closer to a proper “rock” band than anything else I’ve done, but we didn’t play rock music.
The closest anyone around us got to coming up with a name for what we did was calling it “stoner music”. Tyson called it “fucked”. I didn’t know what to call it. I still don’t.
In hindsight, it seems to me we started out deconstructing what a three-piece guitar/bass/drums band was supposed to be, stretching songs out into improvised weirdness until you could barely call them songs anymore. On SUBLIMINAL BILE two songs are more than thirteen minutes long and the rest are rarely shorter than seven. Then we started wading into more conventional territory without really noticing we were doing it, shortening the songs and introducing more structure, all while I spilled my guts into the microphone with no effort to edit myself or sugarcoat what I was feeling.
After everything, I still feel a connection to those guys. I guess you don’t go through that much together, record ten albums of original material, put together a few superfluous compilations, and not feel you’re somehow connected no matter how far from one another life takes you. Even with Tyson, who I haven’t spoken to in a long time, it’s still there. It almost feels like we grew up together. Maybe in some strange microcosmic way we did.
I could talk about this for days. Maybe we should move on to something else before I get too faux-philosophical and rambly.
But one last thought on this subject before I veer off somewhere else.
If I were to try and put together some sort of film about the band, I could use that hour-long conversation as narration, taking the most interesting bits and sticking some music underneath them. We touched on quite a few things that would be pretty relevant — the strangeness of how we met in the first place, our inability to figure out what we sounded like, songs I meant to be solo vehicles turning into band songs, how we influenced each other musically, the differences between the physically violent music Tyson was playing in other bands and the emotional violence of the music we were making, the strange, special something about that music room in that house, and there’s even a bit where Tyson insists I’m the leader of the band (though a few months down the road I sure as hell wouldn’t feel like it anymore).
There are enough good sound bites there to form the backbone of the whole thing. Between that conversation, onscreen titles, and maybe a bit of new narration and commentary, I think there’s enough to get across the nuts and bolts of who we were and what we did. I could do it even without the footage Tyson shot, though it would be nice to be able to work it in somewhere. I could include the entire performance of “Something About Lies” from one of our few live shows, and chunks of other recorded songs.
There’s a bit during the stoned conversation where we talk about the first Guys with Dicks album, and I remind Tyson how frustrating it was to have him keep interrupting takes and causing false starts because he didn’t know we were recording. You could take me talking about that and then transition right into one of the songs on WITHOUT DICKS where he interrupted, before we went on to record one of the best songs on the album twenty seconds later.
It wouldn’t be an award-winning or amazing-looking film. I probably don’t have enough pictures or video content to make it as visually interesting as I’d like it to be. But it might be something neat to have up here. Papa Ghostface and Guys with Dicks only get about a minute each of screen-time in I Am Not a Seagull, when both those projects are important parts of my musical history and I’m still proud of a lot of the work we did. I think they deserve to be more than just a two-part obscure footnote.
I’m not going to push the stuff on people. But it’s there if anyone wants to hear it. Part of the reason I’m working on putting together artwork for all the old CDs is so I can finally feel comfortable giving them to people, because now they’ll really look like proper albums. And even though I said before it would be too much work remixing the late-period GWD albums, I think if I don’t do it now I’m never going to stop wondering how much I might have been able to improve the sound quality. It would only take me a few days to do it all, really, because there aren’t a lot of tracks there in any given song, and there are only five or six albums I really want to take a crack at.
Actually, scratch that. Too much work, and as soon as I wrote that, I learned some of the backup CDs from eight years ago are a little janky now. Some of those albums won’t load back onto the mixer in full. There probably isn’t much I could do to improve the sound of something like STELLAR anyway, aside from cutting out a bit of low end mud.
I did, however, remix WITHOUT DICKS, and I managed to make it sound quite a bit better than it did the first time around. My first mix wasn’t atrocious, but there was some mud in my bass sound and the acoustic guitars were kind of murky-sounding. I was able to cut out the mud while giving the bass more definition, and the acoustic guitars now sound a lot better. I heard licks in there I’d never heard before, particularly from Gord. I didn’t have much equipment at the time and wasn’t set up to record four people live off the floor, but it came out sounding surprisingly good all things considered. Even the drums have a nice amount of punch to them for only being recorded with a single SM57 (it’s possible some of the bleed from the other mics helped out there too).
I’d say it was worth the effort in that case. There are a few other things I still think I could probably improve enough to justify remixing/remastering them too, if the backup CDs ever decide to cooperate with me. But I have to weigh it against how much time I want to take away from the new music I’m supposed to be working on. And right now, the new stuff is the priority.
It’s funny. Not long ago, I was working on one ridiculously ambitious new album. Now I’m working on two (maybe three) different new albums, plus reissuing a large chunk of the back catalogue a few CDs at a time, plus toying with the idea of piecing together a GWD documentary at some point, plus thinking about putting together some sort of video following the making of the new albums, plus thinking about eventually trying to put together the Mackenzie Hall live stuff as a CD/DVD combo, plus trying to keep track of all the new songs and ideas that keep coming out while all of this is going on and figuring out where they want to go.
Apparently I’m not good at keeping things simple.
But onward, to other things.
I was thinking about it. Deleting my Spyspace account, I mean. I never really even check in over there anymore. I’d say Myspace has become a bit passé, but I never paid any attention to what social networking platform was considered the de facto artist’s space in the first place. The cool kid these days seems to be Bandcamp — which makes a lot more sense, since it actually is about just the music and not how many friends you have, because you’re not allowed to have Bandcamp friends as far as I can tell. In a year or two it’ll be something else. Most of them seem a bit redundant to me when you have your own website or blog where you can put up whatever you want, in whatever format you like, and you can say whatever pops into your head without fear of reprisal or ugly advertisements popping up.
I guess I made a Myspace page four or five years ago because I felt obligated. Then I did nothing with it, tried to delete it, got impatient when it didn’t disappear, and about two years back I decided i might as well put up some pictures, some music, a bit of information, and make it look something like a proper Myspace music page. I even found a way to work around the Myspace music player, which has some of the most hideous-sounding MP3 encoding/streaming I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m convinced major record labels have some under-the-table deal where they pay Myspace to remove the layers of shit introduced by the player from their artists’ songs, because the crappy pop music on Myspace always seems to sound a whole lot less painful than the good stuff by people who are signed to small indie labels or not signed at all.
My solution has been to use html to make the Myspace player disappear altogether, importing a different Flash player, hosting the files over here so they don’t take any more hits after they’re encoded as MP3s the first time. It’s worked well enough for what it’s supposed to be, and I’ve made/found a few friends because of it, but my heart has never really been in it. After a few years I have less than sixty Myspace friends because I don’t go around adding every conceivable band and person I can find who might stand a 2% chance of being into my music, and I don’t accept friend requests from random bands unless I happen to like the music or the person sending the request actually says something to me that isn’t a spam message copied and pasted a thousand times a day to try and irritate people into paying attention to them.
The whole digital networking thing in general just isn’t where I hang my hat. I understand why people do it, and I think it can be very useful depending on what you’re doing, but for what I want to do it’s a little beside the point. In order for my Spyspace page to come anywhere near reflecting who I am and what I really sound like, I’d have to put up about a hundred songs, a bunch of videos, a lot more pictures, and post regular blogs there. It makes more sense to me to keep the updates regular over here, when this blog gets exponentially more traffic than the Spyspace page does and it’s already got a little sampling of just about everything I’ve done over the past decade and-a-bit.
A lot of the social networking stuff is starting to seem like a waste of time to me in general. Most people don’t use these things to communicate with anyone in any meaningful way. I think the creators of some of the sites had good intentions, but they’ve all basically turned into the same thing in the hands of the masses. I would argue there’s less real communication going on between people than there was before this stuff came along (noise does not equal communication). Twitter and Facebook and JunkBox make it cool to be brief, impersonal, and to “like” things you don’t actually like, all while bathed in the light of a bathroom.
(I made “JunkBox” up. But I bet there really is a site with that name somewhere out there.)
I have a Myspace page and a CBC Radio 3 page as sort of a compromise. But you will never, ever see me on Twitter. I draw the line there. Again, I can understand the appeal. It’s just not for me. Can you see me condensing what I want to say into a hundred-and-forty characters or less?
Just recorded song about Russian flying squirrel mafioso’s downfall, botched suicide, redemption in prison. Lots of yodelling. Penis.
Not gonna happen. All I would do on Twitter is post links to posts I make here (when most of my friends on Twitter would be people who already check out what’s going on here), maybe link to the occasional ridiculous YouTube video, and throw out the odd nonsense statement. I can already do all those things here and be as long-winded as I like about it.
Roger Ebert wrote a recent piece on his blog about how Twitter has allowed him to engage in something like normal conversation with people again for the first time since losing the ability to speak. In that case I think it really is a good thing. But to me, Twitter is a bit like shaking hands with a muffin. Sure, you can lick the crumbs off your hand, but wouldn’t it be more fulfilling to just eat the thing? Me, I wanna eat that muffin.
I think I was working up to some sort of point here.
Right. I was going to delete Myspace. It seemed like a step in the right direction. There have been times in the past when I’ve been tempted to delete every shred of my existence online, including this blog, right down to getting rid of any and every email address I’ve ever used. But those were angry days, and I’m a serene ocean of calm now. It is, however, tempting at times to get rid of Myspace, Facebook, and other such things when they seem to serve no real purpose aside from occasionally filling the role of “sometimes entertaining time-killer”.
Facebook’s convenient points outweigh the pointless points thus far, so I’m keeping it, but I’ve been shaving down my friends list a bit. I dumped about a dozen people who were only really friends of convenience (their convenience, not mine), and even though I knew the chances of them noticing we were no longer Facebook friends — as if anyone gives a shit about something so trivial — were slim, it felt good to be free of the dead weight.
Myspace hasn’t done much of anything for me over the past year or so, except provide me with a reason to type and say “Spyspace” instead of using its proper nomenclature when it enters a discussion. I don’t even use my actual name or the name of any musical project I’ve ever been involved in for my music profile, so it’s unlikely anyone looking for me will ever find me there. Type my name into Google and both the CBC Radio 3 page and this blog pop up right away. Spyspace is nowhere to be found. This was intentional, and my way of avoiding promotional silliness, but it makes the existence of the page even more pointless. At least on Facebook there’s some communication happening from time to time.
Here is where I would tell you I just deleted my Spyspace page and I am now a new man…if I’d gone ahead and terminated the thing. Instead, I am the same penis-with-a-torso I was yesterday. Rather than deleting the page, I took down all the songs I had up there and put up one brand new song just for the halibut. Mmm…halibut.
I think I’ll delete Spyspace sometime soon. But in the meantime, might as well give it one last grope for old time’s sake.
As for the song, I still haven’t quite figured out what to call it. “Get Born” is far too obvious and lame as titles go. I’ll come up with something. And I’m not sure which new album this song will end up on, but I’ll find it a home somewhere.
Recording it was an interesting process. I talked about it a little bit in the last video where I went through bits of a few things on the mixer. It started out as just a drum patch on the Alesis Micron, played with my fingers in real-time with no click track. There was no song at all. I ran the Micron into the POD with a delay set to decay in a weird way, ran that into the Fender Twin Reverb, mic’d it, and then put an amp simulator effect on that. Which makes no sense. But it made for a gritty sound I found myself enjoying.
I recorded about six minutes of this, left it for a day or two, and then sort of built up an improvised song around it. First I recorded an organ patch on the Micron in much the same way the initial synth drum track was recorded, minus the amp simulator effect, alternating between playing a few chords and making dissonant, atonal sounds while messing with filters and oscillation. I more or less doubled this part, plugged into a different amplifier, for a stereo spread. Then I recorded a third organ part in stereo with no amplifier in the signal path, to beef things up a bit. I added bass, drums, piano, electric guitar, wrote some words, sang them, and there was a song.
There’s a bit of an odd dichotomy at work. It’s got a conventional, unmysterious chord progression repeated several times with no real hook, followed by dissonant sections of weirdness. Sonically it’s another story. Almost every sound was recorded in an unusual way for me. I think the bass is pretty much the only thing that isn’t distorted or processed in some way. The drums were smashed to hell with compression and distortion, which is not the way I normally treat drums. At one point near the end there’s even some wah on them. Wah drums! I don’t think I’ve gone for anything even approaching that sound since the Papa Ghostface song “Piece of Crap in Your Shoe” ten years ago.
The piano has slapback echo on it. The vocals are heavily treated, and during the “freakout” sections they morph into harsh noise with the delay feeding back on itself and distorting. The electric guitar is double-tracked and sounds like electric guitar, but there are some dissonant slide bits in there too. The whole thing is a bottom-heavy, murky beast, and I like it that way. I thought about carving out some more low end and working on bringing more clarity to individual elements of the mix, but I don’t think it would sound quite right. It seems appropriate to have everything bleeding into everything else. I also thought of adding even more organ, or maybe some Wurlitzer. Then I decided not to. It’s probably dense-sounding enough as it is.
I’d like to think this isn’t far off from the sort of thing Gord and O would be doing if we were to start working on new Papa Ghostface material. I also find it interesting how, even when I go out of my way make things sound “bad” or record elements of a song the “wrong” way, the results are a lot kinder to the ears than a lot of things I did in the past where I was trying to make it all sound good.
Better equipment? Better ears? Better luck? Who knows.
Seems I’ve gone from posting roughly every other day to posting a mini-novel once a week. And, no longer content to dig up ridiculous pictures on the internet, I’ve taken to butchering them to add my own spin. What can it all mean?
I can tell you the lack of action here lately comes down to a combination of the usual sleep weirdness and being incredibly busy. I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say I’m on fire right now (maybe someone just slipped some hot coals in my underwear and I’m slowly seething), but I haven’t been working on so many different things at once since probably 2004, when I was mixing NUDGE YOU ALIVE and the PAVEMENT HUGGING DADDIES EP at the same time i was recording BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS, and then later recording WHO YOU ARE NOW IS NOT WHAT YOU WERE BEFORE.
Mark my words with a light blue sharpie marker: by the end of the summer new music will be out there, and there’s going to be a whole lot of it. Expect more than a few long song titles. One of my favourites right now is “Slow Dancing in the Small Intestine of a Rather Large Animal”. If you guessed that one was a ballad, you guessed right.
On another note, I think I’ve discovered how to keep up the musical momentum when my sleep is off-kilter — record weird electronic music at 4:00 in the morning. I did this the other day and ended up with something dark, twitchy, and maybe the closest I’ve ever come to authentic IDM territory. I was going to add vocals but decided the song worked better without singing. It sounds more like old school Autechre than Johnny West, only a little more humanized, because everything was played manually by a person with fingers and no software or computers were used. I like it.