Month: August 2010

Back in business.

MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART has been in the top ten on CJAM’s charts for three weeks in a row now. The Arcade Fire and my friend Ron Leary keep holding me back from the top spot (it’s a conspiracy, obviously), but still. That’s pretty crazy. I guess albums that are two CDs and more than two hours long aren’t as alienating as I thought they were in this day and age. To that end, by the end of today the boxes at Dr. Disc and Phog should finally be full again. Apologies to anyone who might have gone to either place over the past week or so to grab an album only to leave empty-handed. My CD printer chose a bad time to die.

Speaking of which…its replacement arrived yesterday. It looks exactly like the old one, except shinier and less prone to being a non-working piece of crap. Rejoice!

To the dude named Tim — I don’t know how to get in touch with you (I don’t know your email address or anything), but I have a box set ready for you. Sorry it took me a bit longer than expected. I can drop it off at Dr. Disc later today when I drop off the other CDs and leave it there for you if you want. And if you want to email me your email address, I can give you a bit of background info about the CDs, because there’s a whole lot there and it might be somewhat interesting to know a bit about what was going on in and around the making of different albums. Maybe.

I’m assuming you have all the post-CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN CDs. I also threw in some other things  from 2004-2006 that already had proper cover art/packaging and weren’t a part of the “reissue campaign” but haven’t been in circulation for a while.

Stealing from your own stash.

Here, right on time, is the end-of-the-month progress report video. Instead of rambling about what’s going on at the moment like I usually would, I’ll let the video take care of that.

It’s not quite as action-packed as the last one, but it’s still pretty long (I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to make a short video again), and if listening to me talk a lot with the odd musical interlude is your idea of a good time, you’ll probably weep tears of joy. Every time I make one of these videos I feel like the editing gets a little smoother, and I think this one might even flow a bit better than the last one. I think the “introductory mini-music video” segment may be here to stay, too. I get a kick out of doing those ridiculous things. This one is probably the most ridiculous yet.

The song used for the introduction is something from 1999, taken from a cassette tape. It was one of several experiments recorded when I had my first 8-track digital mixer/workstation but before I had a CD burner, so I was able to play around with overdubs but could only preserve what I did by dubbing it onto tape. In this case I didn’t overdub anything. I set up a delay effect that would never decay, allowing me to effectively loop my voice in real-time. It’s basically a study/warm-up for what I would soon be doing on SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP’s title track.

For years I remembered this initial idea as being kind of uninspired, but when I listened to it again a few weeks ago I almost died laughing at its insanity, and I knew it had to be the intro song for my next video progress report. Even though the sound quality leaves a bit to be desired and there’s some tape hiss in there, I think the love comes through. And that’s what we need in these dark times. Love and animal noises.

Another thing I should mention — I left out the names of a few people involved in Rose City Sessions because my brain was marinating in a vat of roasted turnip brine when I was talking about that stuff. But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Eric Boucher (film-maker/editor/camera-operating guy), James O-L (who handles the audio side of things), and Eric’s assistant Mo. All great, talented guys who were a pleasure to work with. I think the video we shot for the project is going to be pretty impressive once it’s finished. More news on that as it develops.

One last thing. That little live Guys with Dicks moment…man, I like that. The live performance of that particular song as a whole isn’t as strong as the “studio” version, but when you isolate the guitar solo I have to say it’s pretty tasty. I dig the interplay, and how Gord and Tyson drop out for a second and then come back in at the same time. We weren’t too shabby, us reasonably-endowed men. Not too shabby at all.

If one more hair curler falls in my coffee, I swear I’m calling the feds.

My song “Ass Dildos” was played on the radio. For real. I’m not sure there’s anything else I can accomplish in life that can top that. I mean, what else is there, really? I think I’ve peaked.

Elsewhere, my CD printer decided to break. Whatever mechanism controls the device that allows the physical printing process to happen decided to stop working, thus rendering the printer useless. Great timing. I also discovered the Dymo DiscPainter has been discontinued, making it difficult to find a replacement. I’m sure there are better printers out there to be bought, but I’m used to this one. It doesn’t cost three grand, and it works well for me. I don’t have the time to search around for something else comparable, and the small footprint is difficult to beat.

It looks like a few places still have leftover stock. Hopefully I’ll be able to expedite the shipping and get a new one over here before the end of the week. Otherwise there won’t be many CDs to go around for a little while. I’m glad I printed as many CDs as I did while I still could, but I would have done a lot more if I’d known the thing was going to crap out on me. At least I can still make copies of whatever I need to in the meantime. I just can’t print anything on them.

What else is new? I need to get to work on that end-of-the-month progress report. Also, I need to proofread epic emails I send at 3:00 in the morning. So many typos. So many tears.

You know what else? The new album is still in the top ten on the CJAM charts. This week it’s at #4.

You know what that is? Nuts. Nuts is what it is.

How do you win respect from a bunch of tough-looking grade school kids?

According to a dream I had last night, the answer is: be Johnny West.

There were about ten of these kids congregating on the sidewalk outside of the house I used to live in up until a few years ago, and they seemed like kind of kids who would give me trouble. One of them looked up at me and said, “You’re Johnny West, aren’t you?” I said yes, he smiled, and it was like I was the Pied Piper or something. My distribution methods had apparently rubbed off on them, and they walked around giving free chocolate to anyone who wanted it. The media even picked up on it and called it a Johnny West-inspired act of random generosity.

I thought that was a pretty amusing dream to have.

I am also older now than I was a few days ago, but no wiser. I thought you should know.

The new album is at #2 on the CJAM charts right now, breathing hot and heavy on the heels of the new Arcade Fire album. Thanks to everyone at the station who’s been playing my stuff. The CDs seem to be going pretty fast. The box at Phog is empty again, which is not something that ever happens twice like this in such a short period of time. Better fill it up again this week. Next time I make a double CD, I’m planning ahead a bit more so I don’t have to do as much work to keep up with the demand for these things. A good amount of them have gone out in the mail, anyway, so if you’re someone I usually send CDs to, you should be getting a copy soon if you haven’t received one already.

I’ve been taking a few weeks off from recording, which is probably a good idea. If nothing else, it cleanses the palette a little. Getting THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE finished before the end of the summer is obviously not going to happen now, but I’m still thinking I may get it done before the end of the year. Already working on another (non-ANGLE) album in my head, and I have one song recorded from before my little break that I’m pretty sure will be going on said album.

I think it’s about time to get back into working with longer song forms and putting some serious effort into avoiding repetitive/conventional song structures. I think I said this before when i was working on LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS, but this time I mean it. After MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART, I kind of feel like I’ve said about as much as I want to say with relatively normal song forms for the time being. Time to challenge myself to do something a little different, and ambitious in a different way…making the songs themselves more panoramic and unpredictable. I don’t think it will be a return to anything like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE as much as it will be a matter of taking everything I’ve learned from screwing with my musical language over the past several years and twisting it into some other place I haven’t been yet.

I’m not putting pressure on myself to rip it all up and start again, though…it feels like an organic change that just needs to happen so I don’t let myself fall into a comfortable pattern. I mean, I could take the twenty or so songs I wrote for HELLHOUND but didn’t record, work on those, and have a glorified sequel ready before the year’s end. But I think that would be a little too easy, and a little boring. Makes more sense to keep those songs on ice and start fresh. Attack it from a different angle.

Speaking of juggling, I went back and watched that video of Harry Nilsson playing a one-man show for the BBC in 1971, and I think it deserves a repost for anyone who didn’t catch it the first time I posted it back when I had Harry on the brain while I was feeling a little under the weather and wrote a gigantic post about him. That guy was something else.

I’m stuck in this bed.

I was listening to CJAM just now, as you do, and I heard Jan on I Wear White Jeans mention he was going to play something off of my new album. I wondered what song he might pick, and this is what he said: “Kind of wish I’d cued up the track ‘Ass Dildos’…but instead we’re going to hear ‘Everyone You Love Is Dead’.”

I pretty much lost my shit laughing. Something about hearing someone say “Ass Dildos” on the radio cracks me up.

Also, I forgot what a cool music video this is. I remember seeing it a few times on television when it first came out back in 1998. So I would have been in grade nine. I remember thinking, “That sounds like Thom Yorke” (turned out it was). I also remember feeling a little unsettled, and like it kind of went over my head.

I caught it again on TV a few nights back, for probably the first time since then, and twelve years later I’m still not sure I understand what the message is behind it, but I “feel” it in a way I couldn’t back then. I think it’s kind of sad that advancements in technology have supposedly given so many new tools to us, and yet, by and large, the music videos we’re making today are pathetic drivel. If aliens one day visited earth and their first exposure to us was to see a modern music video, iIthink they would probably just vaporize us all on sight. There’s so much that can be done with the art form and, sadly, very few doing anything with it that’s worth half a shit.

But hey, this video is cool!

Reissued.

All of these albums have now been repackaged with new cover art (and most of them never had any proper cover art in the first place).

While SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP ended up with a grey background at the last minute (which I think looks a lot nicer), most of the covers are as you see. There are still more albums I want to repackage, but none of them are priorities right now. Pretty much all the CDs I really wanted to give the proper treatment, and the ones I felt were most important, are now taken care of. I’ll get around to the other ones eventually. There’s no rush.

The scary thing is that all of this music was recorded between 1999 and 2002…and the other things I haven’t got around to repackaging yet come from the same period of time.

People think I’m prolific now. Things used to be much more ridiculous.

Like I said before, anyone who’s interested in this stuff should feel free to get in touch. For those I already know are interested, I should have the boxes I need to put together homemade box sets for y’all by early next week.

You’ve taken my limbs and wet the wick.

Out-takes, they be funny things. And I seem to rack up a lot of them. I mean, even an album like IF I HAD A QUARTER, which is about as insanely crammed with music as one CD can possibly get, had out-takes. I can think of a dozen songs off the top of my head that were recorded for that album but didn’t feel appropriate. Some of them I liked a lot, too. They just didn’t fit in with the venomous vision I had at the time.

To that end, here’s one of the songs that didn’t make the cut on the new album. I like it, but again, it didn’t quite feel like it fit. The 1945 Martin 00-17 and the funky Ace Tone combo organ do make interesting bedfellows. I think that Martin is destined to remain my Holy Grail acoustic guitar forever. It sounds so good it’s ridiculous, and I’ve yet to find another guitar that feels so comfortable to play.

While I normally record the Ace Tone through the amp that came with it (I think it might be another mysterious Paul), I’ve started running it into the Fender Twin after processing it with some effects, and I really like the way it sounds. Seems to give it a bit more of a middle frequency push to help cut through a mix. My old friend slapback echo shows up on the vocals again as well. It must mean a Guys with Dicks reunion is just around the corner!

Well, not really. But I dig the tremolo-fried electric guitar anyway.

For the Affection of Leona

While I’m still no big proponent of MP3s, I’ve started encoding them at 320 KBPS instead of 190. The files are a little larger, but the difference in sound quality is pretty huge to my ears. So hooray for meatier MP3s not sounding as bad as slimmer MP3s!

I’ve got half a mind to go back and replace every single MP3 I’ve ever put up here with a higher quality version. But I probably won’t. Because I’m lazy.

As for the picture up there, just about every single image result I got for “Leona” when I typed it into Google was a picture of Leona Lewis. And since a few of my very favourite computer drawings perished in a recent stupid virus attack (grrr), it gave me a good excuse to get back in the swing of that particular thing. It isn’t as good as a few of the best ones I lost, and it’s rough around the edges, but I kind of like it anyway.

While the song is not at all about her, I like the name, and no other Leona comes to mind (well, maybe the one who wrote “Charm Attack”), so why not put her up here? Did you know some crazy guy punched her in the face last year at a book signing and then fell to the floor laughing when he was tackled by police? I didn’t know that. I may not be a fan of modern pop music, but man — that’s harsh. Poor girl. I could never punch someone that pretty.

Justin Bieber, on the other hand…

You tell me something wrong; I know I listen too long, but then…one thing leads to another.

Today is a happy day, for several different reasons.

Reason # 1:

I have ink cartridge action. Which means I can print CDs again. Which means I no longer have only limited copies of the new album to go around. Which is good, because I dropped some off at Phog on Saturday, and by Monday they were all gone. I know my stuff moves faster than it used to, but that’s beyond insane. Normally I’ll show up at Phog a week after dropping off CDs to find the little box is still at least a third of the way full. I guess there’s a market for free two-CD sets after all.

Reason # 2:

Take a look at that picture up there. You can click on it for a larger and much more detailed view. On the left is a dude named Mark, smoking what appear to be three joints at a time. On the right is yours truly, looking tired, or stoned, or deep in thought, or all of the above.

Chrisy (who I went to high school with, and who is in a long-term relationship with Andrew, who was a member of Guys with Dicks for a while in 2001) has been posting some old pictures on Facebook over the past few days, and I saw some of them were taken at Gord’s old place on Esdras, in the converted garage that served as his and his brother Cliff’s headquarters for some time. I had a lot of adventures in that room during the Papa Ghostface and GWD days. I saw pictures of Gord, Tyson, Cliff, and others that looked to be from right around that time. All kinds of memories came flooding back.

I wondered if there might be some pictures of me in there somewhere too. It bothers me a little sometimes that there’s so little video and photographic documentation of such an important and formative time in my musical life.

Turns out there’s at least one picture of me in Chrisy’s treasure trove, and she was kind enough to scan it and send it my way.

My first thought, to my surprise, was, “Hey…I wasn’t as bad-looking as I thought I was!” My hair was nowhere near as long as it is now, and I couldn’t grow any facial hair yet, which frustrated me to no end, but I was a pretty cool-looking guy back then, if I’m allowed to say that about myself now. I didn’t feel that way at the time, but there you go. Hindsight is a squirrel wearing way too much eyeliner. I’ve said this before.

The picture was taken sometime in late 2001, right around the time we were making SUBLIMINAL BILE. I know this because of my appearance, the length of my hair, and because I loved that shirt and wore it as much as I could in the colder weather. I actually still have it. I even still have the T-shirt I’m wearing underneath in the picture, though it’s thinning out a bit in its old age. Back then I was as tall as I am now, but I weighed a hundred and forty-five pounds. For years it didn’t seem like I would ever weigh any more than that.

I don’t weigh a hundred and forty-five pounds anymore.

According to BMI measurements, I was a little underweight for a good few years there, but I don’t think I was ever unhealthily skinny. I ate like a horse most of the time. My metabolism just kept me on a very even keel. I used to hate tying my hair back, and I wore it down like that every day. Now I tie it back all the time and I have something you might call a beard.

Seeing that picture almost makes me think I should shave off my facial hair for the hell of it, but I’m not sure I could handle looking like I did when I was eighteen again. Might be a little too weird.

In any case, I really like the picture. It helps to fill in the gap in photographic documentation a little bit. I guess I wouldn’t have wanted a lot of pictures taken of me at the time anyway, since I thought I was a pretty hideous creature, but I’m glad Chrisy snuck that one in.

Reason # 3:

I am very nearly finished repackaging all the old CDs I really want to make love to.

Did I really type that? I meant to type “repackage”.

By the end of next week I should have all the important ones finished. As mentioned before, I’m not planning on circulating many copies of these things, but if you’d like a box set full of about thirty CDs of music no one has ever heard before, let me know and I’ll put one together for you. I can think of about half a dozen people offhand who might be interested in something like this, a few of whom I’ve already talked to about it. I don’t imagine it would extend far beyond that, but I guess you never know.

Just having a good chunk of the back catalogue finally looking real is a really nice feeling. It wasn’t entirely inexpensive to do, and it took a bit of time to put it all together, but I feel like it’s been worth the effort. Putting everything else aside, if I hadn’t messed around with trying to make my own cover art for old CDs I never would have figured out how to “draw” things the way I can now with the program I use to print CDs, and I never would have been able to make the cover art for MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART. So it was worth it for that alone.

And then there’s album cover art like this, which cracks me up all over the place.

Reason # 4:

I realized long after the point where it was possible to change anything that there’s a tiny bit of a black outline on one of my shoulders on the cover art for the new album. I meant to get rid of that before giving the files to Minuteman Press, but with putting the lyrics together and everything else, it slipped my mind. I forgot all about it until I noticed it again several days after the booklets had been printed and initial copies of the album had been circulated.

Most of the time this sort of thing drives me nuts. This time I reacted in a way that surprised even me. Instead of thinking, “Shit! It’s a mistake! I must reprint the booklets and destroy every existing copy that has that little line most other people won’t even notice!” I thought, “I’m actually kind of glad it’s there.”

It works as a metaphor for my whole way of doing things. If there’s a connecting tissue or a common thread running through all the music I’ve ever made, as stylistically disparate as some things are from one another, it’s the intentional lack of polish. I don’t ever want things to be perfect. I don’t ever want things to be sterile, or too polished, or too predictable. It’s important to me to leave mistakes in the music so the listener is reminded that this is music made by one human being. No using pitch-correction on my voice to fix a wobbly note. No sound-replacing drums to make the snare and toms sound big-studio-slick. No chopping up pieces of different performances and taking the best bits to make one ideal performance that isn’t even a real performance, but a manufactured…thing.

Yes, I get better at a lot of things as I go, I have better equipment than I used to, and I put a bit more effort into making things sound good these days, but not so much that it takes me out of the act of making the music in the first place. Things don’t need to be perfect. I think it would be boring if they were.

So I’m glad the little hint of an outline on my shoulder remains, even if I meant to erase it. A little unintentional symbolism is okay by me.

I’m a little less glad to discover I misspelled the Italian word for “toaster” in the booklet (I missed an s), but that’s a typo I can live with, at least until I need to get the booklets reprinted. Better that than typing too quickly and accidentally misspelling “bliss” as “bilss”.

Those are all the reasons I can think of right now for today being a happy day. I think they’re pretty good ones.

Also, the box of CDs at Phog is full once again. I’ll be checking out the situation at Dr. Disc on the weekend, and if that box is empty I’ll refill it too. If I have your address and I normally send you CDs, you should be getting mail in the next week or two.

Music is a-flyin’.

I’m on fire.

Here’s something a little different.

For years now I’ve had this idea in the back of my head to do a covers album. Maybe i’d call it Other People’s Songs. Just like the album made up entirely of songs that have come from dreams I’ve had, it’s one of those things staying lukewarm on the back burner while I work on other stuff.

I have a long list of songs to tackle when/if I get around to working on this album of other people’s songs. Some are obscure. Others are cheesier than you might expect. Some would be played pretty straight. Others would be reworked so as to be almost unrecognizable (like the trippy four-string cigar box guitar take on “I Put a Spell on You”).

For whatever reason, I felt like taking a crack at one of these covers when I was deep in the sessions for MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART and ended up recording a take on Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”.

I’m on Fire

I’m not a Springsteen apologist. I’ve loved the Boss since I first got into him when I was twelve or thirteen, and I’m still a fan. Some of his work doesn’t do it for me (I still think The Rising is overrated, with only two or three songs I really get something out of), but a lot of it does, and my favourite Bruce albums tend to change according to what headspace I’m in. Nebraska and Darkness on the Edge of Town are always going to be at the top of the list, but sometimes The River, Born to Run, or The Wild, the Innocent, and the E-Street Shuffle will give them a run for their money.

The man is also a Suicide fan — the band, not the end-of-life choice — and you can hear it clear as day on “State Trooper”. Another big plus in my book.

I’ve wanted to cover “I’m on Fire” for a while now. I know it’s not the most creative choice when it comes to Springsteen, and I know other artists have covered it already. I just like the song, and I like playing it in a sort of fingerpicked version on the funky old Kay acoustic.

One day about a month ago I found myself playing the Kay after not giving it much attention for a while, and I thought I might as well record this song and see what happened. I recorded two different guitar parts and some rough vocals, along with some harmonica that I liked at first but ended up ditching. I added some bass. Then I stuck the pickup I was using back in the Tara Watts Band days into the new 1983 Martin D35, plugged it into the little old Paul tube amp, and recorded some electrified acoustic guitar. I liked the sound of that.

I recorded drums and added some organ and synth-related sounds using my friend the Alesis Micron. Took a more serious pass at the vocals and noticed the song seemed to open up a bit when I got rid of the drums. Also threw the slapback echo I was so fond of back in the Guys with Dicks days on the vocals and acoustic guitar. It felt more or less complete, but I left it unmixed while I continued work on HELLHOUND.

Yesterday I thought I’d dump it back on the mixer and give it whatever finishing touches it needed. I messed around with adding some Wurlitzer for fun and liked it a lot more than I was expecting to. That’s probably the fault of this microphone, which has become my go-to Wurlitzer mic.

It just sounds tasty in front of a Wurly. I seem to use it a lot more on acoustic guitars with the passage of time as well, and it’s all over the new album in both of those applications.

Anyway, then I added some piano on top of that to beef things up even more. I hadn’t really intended to add anything more to the song at all, but the Wurlitzer and piano seemed to give it whatever it needed. And then I mixed the thing.

It’s not a reinvention as much as it’s just the way I play the song. I think the Bat for Lashes version is pretty brilliant, and any creative overhaul I attempted could never hope to match that one. So I just left the song in its original key and played it the way I felt most comfortable playing it. It’s got no place to call its home for the time being, but I kind of like how it turned out. So it can stay here for a while.

What was interesting to me was how finishing work on that song became the catalyst for something else. I was listening to the piano part, really liking the sound of a few chords I played low on the keyboard. I don’t tend to play chords down that low. Octaves and fifths, sure. But not full-on meaty chords. They sounded really rich and full. I’m sure it doesn’t hurt that Ric just came and tuned the beast a few days ago. It’s got that extra sparkle it always gets when he tunes it.

I sat down at the piano and started playing a few simple chords, much lower than I normally would, just kind of letting them hang there with lots of sustain. Within about thirty seconds I started singing a melody. About five minutes later a song was there where none had existed before.

Funny how something as simple as the sound of a piano chord can trigger something like that.

I recorded the piano last night along with some drums, holding the snare strainer just open a titch with one hand to get a sustained, deep, detuned sound, while hitting it with a drumstick in my other hand. Sometimes I think I should use more than just the stereo ribbon microphone in front of the drum kit, but I’ve grown so used to it by now, I don’t have the patience to futz with anything more complicated. And I like the roomy, unpolished sound most of the time.

I find myself disliking modern studio drum sounds more and more. They sound so hyped and artificial. Let me hear drums the way drums sound in a room, and instead of sound-replacing them and chopping them up and quantizing them to death after the fact, let me hear the hesitations and mishits that make it clear a fucking human being is hitting those things.

This morning I recorded some bass and Wurlitzer, mostly just to shadow what the piano was doing. I still need to record the singing and other stuff, but I like where the song is going. It doesn’t sound like anything on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART. I think I want to keep it pretty skeletal. I like hearing the spaces between the notes.

I guess it’s probably the beginning of another album. So much for taking a break.

Hopefully I’ll be able to start sending out copies of the new album in the mail by the end of the week. Still waiting on those ink cartridges to get here.