Month: September 2010

Your new video editing software blows goats, Windows.

I take back every bad thing I ever said about Windows Movie Maker.

This is the program I was using to edit videos up until today. It came already installed in my laptop. When I thought I wanted to get my hands dirtied up some more, I went out and bought Sony Vegas 9, but I’ve found it too complicated for my taste and with a learning curve I don’t have the patience for.

I want my video editing software to be powerful but dead simple, with a timeline, with the ability to trim clips and insert titles without any difficulty, with the ability to accept any file format I throw at it, and to be reliable enough not to crash all the time when I’m in the middle of working on something. For the most part, Windows Movie Maker has fit the bill for me so far. I need to work on getting rid of some rough moments when I’m cutting and trimming bits of footage, but I’ve gotten a lot better at the editing side of things in the space of a few months, and the program allows me to do most of what I want to do with the press of a button or the click of a mouse. The only issue I’ve come up against is a problem with publishing or finalizing my videos. Given the length and amount of clips involved, things will often freeze up at the last stage and it’ll take me several tries before it all works out. But as frustrating as that is, it’s a small price to pay for what is otherwise the most intuitive and hassle-free editing software I’ve worked with.

Yesterday I upgraded my operating system to Windows 7 (not a Mac user over here). Everything worked out well, and I didn’t lose any programs or files, with one exception. Windows Movie Maker was gone. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the program would only work with older versions of Windows. But hey, they made a new version of the program for someone in my position, now called Windows Live Movie Maker. I assumed it would be the same thing as before, only a little slicker-looking.

I was wrong.

Windows Live Movie Maker is the most pathetic, useless, featureless, do-nothing, can’t-possibly-justify-its-existence piece of shit ever made. They took almost every feature the earlier version of the program had and just got rid of it, adding next to nothing in its place. It might be marginally helpful if you want to make a simple photo slide show and put it up on YouTube. For anything else, it’s about as useful as Paris Hilton at a Mensa meeting.

Why on earth would you throw away 80% of what makes something somewhat worthwhile and replace it with nothing? You don’t remodel a car and say, “Well, we’ll just get rid of the steering wheel, and the seats, and the seat belts, and leave them with a cute red button they can press in the hope that having no control over where they’re going and no protection won’t result in a fatal accident. Genius!” You don’t go in for a nose job, walk out with your lower body completely amputated, and then tell your plastic surgeon you’re so happy you want to buy them dinner.

Who green lights an idea that stupid? Someone who’s never seen a red light, I guess.

The new operating system will let me use an older version of the program that’s more or less identical to the even older version I was fine with using up until it disappeared from my computer, but there’s one catch. It won’t accept MP4 files…which is most of what my videos are made up of, since that’s the format my little Flip camera spits out. So that version is useless too.

I still have Sony Vegas 9, which ACCEPTS STINKING MP4 FILES HALLELUJAH PRAISE THE FLOOR. And now that I’ve been forced to spend a bit of time with it, I’m realizing it may not be quite as difficult to navigate as I first thought. It’s not as dead-simple as what I’m used to, but there’s quite a bit of flexibility and power there, and it will probably pay off by forcing me to learn a bit more about just what I’m doing when it comes to cutting and splicing bits of video. So I guess you should expect the next progress report video to look a little bit different, at least when it comes to transitions and onscreen text.

By the look of things so far, it’s a bit tricky editing audio levels, but I’m able to at least boost the volume of the footage I shoot myself to match everything else. Normally I would have to go in the other direction and bring down the level of everything else to even things out (hence the relatively low volume of most of my videos so far). So a happy side effect of using this program now may be an increase in overall volume, at least to the point where anyone will be able to hear everything clearly regardless of what they’re working with in terms of computer speakers and sound cards.

In reading up on different video editing software, it seems there are a lot of programs out there that have issues. Some are picky with the kinds of files they accept, some are buggy, some crash at random times, some will slow down your whole computer, some don’t let you edit on a timeline (which I think is a must for any video editing program worth its salt), and some just plain suck. It looks like I made a pretty good choice after all with the program I paid for, because from what I’ve read it’s one of the few that doesn’t sound like it has any serious issues, it does pretty much what I want it to do (now that I’m starting to figure out how to use it), and so far it seems pretty crash-proof. The preview window is a little jittery when you’re editing and you want to see how things are looking, but I can live with that as long as things look good when the video is finalized.

Happy endings are so sexy.

Elsewhere, MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART is in the top ten on CJAM’s charts again. It floated around the top ten for three weeks in a row, dropped off the top thirty for a week, climbed back into the top twenty the next week, and now it’s back at #10. That’s…I don’t even know what that is. I’m not sure even CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN got that kind of airplay. And I don’t even know who all is playing my music at this point. I haven’t really heard it on the shows that normally play me in the past week or two. Where am I coming from? Who is where I am going? What has sent me there?

Speaking of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, I’ve decided to repackage it. I was working on getting more inserts made for a few albums like AN ABSENCE OF SWAY that are running low when I thought, “Why not?” My reasoning is, there’s no getting around the fact that it’s one of the more important albums I’ve made, and I’ve gradually come around to thinking the lyrics are probably worthy of being printed after all. So hopefully by sometime next week I will have a special “limited edition” (ha) reissued version of the album with a booklet full of lyrics — even including some of the words that were improvised — and a cover that’s in full colour. That’s right! Colour!

I’m not remixing the album or anything like that, and I’m perfectly happy with the way it looks in its original issued form. I just think it would be fun to give it a slightly different presentation, mostly for my own amusement, and so a few of the people who are interested can read the lyrics while listening if they want to without having to sit at a computer to make it happen. Besides, the version of the cover art Katie coloured for me a few months after the initial release is far too cool-looking not to share.

You’ll see what I mean soon enough.

Re-contextualize yourself.

Here’s end-of-the-month video progress report #4. Fair warning — there’s probably more profanity here than there’s been in any of the other progress report videos thus far, even if most of it comes from a certain little purple guy.

I think it’s the best one yet. While there are still some choppy edits and a lot of it is me talking to the camera, it’s broken up significantly more than before, and in a whole new way. I hit on the idea of inserting bits of old movies in places where they may be relevant (or completely irrelevant, depending on the desired context). This is not exactly a bold new idea, but I think it works better for what I’m doing than it has any right to.

I got the random idea yesterday to take a look at what films have fallen into the public domain (thanks, Wikipedia), and to my surprise one of the first titles I came across was Bride of the Gorilla. From what I’d read, this was some sort of wretched monster movie (the title kind of gives off that impression, no?), but it was also a starring vehicle for Barbara Payton, who had a very brief and tumultuous relationship with Hollywood before her life took a steep dive into intense tragedy — making the movie more interesting to me than it might have been otherwise.

I don’t suggest you do any reading up about her if you’re easily depressed, because the trajectory of her life and career is very sad. I recently picked up a book about her called Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye that’s supposed to be the be-all and end-all of Barbara-related writing, and I’ll get around to digging into it sometime soon. In the meantime, I wondered if this particular movie might be available on the internet, even though it isn’t supposed to be one of the better things she was involved in. Surprise, surprise — the whole thing is up on YouTube, broken up into about six ten-minute sections.

It’s not half as horrible as some people would have you believe. I mean, it’s not something that’s ever going to be confused with a great film, but it’s a fun little B-movie with a few nice bits of dialogue, and Barbara Payton and Raymond Burr aren’t hard on the eyes. The special effects — what there are of them — are amateurish even for the time (this movie was made in 1951), but somehow that almost works in the film’s favour. A lot is implied rather than directly shown, and when we do see the “gorilla” in full costume at the very end of the movie, it’s a little anticlimactic.

The title is misleading, because this isn’t really a monster movie at all. It’s more of a morality tale. Here I was expecting a giant ape to kidnap Barbara and for her to spend most of the movie screaming her head off. Instead the monstrous transformation seems to be happening inside the mind of the Raymond Burr character. We only see the changes he’s experiencing through his eyes until the very last scene, and no one else notices anything out of the ordinary happening to him physically through the whole movie. To everyone else he just seems to be going batshit crazy.

Again, it’s not a work of high art (there’s an amusing review over here, with a hilarious and dead-on description of the character Raymond Burr plays), but it’s fun to watch and short enough not to outstay its welcome. I didn’t regret watching the whole thing when it was over, and that’s saying something. I also lucked out and found a good selection of snippets I was able to take out of context and bend to my purpose.

The great thing about art that’s in the public domain is having the freedom to manipulate it any way you like without worrying about the copyright police coming after you and demanding bags of money for using five seconds of material. I got a serious kick out of picking out fragments of the movie to insert here and there so a character would comment on or respond to something I said, or just putting a bit of music on top of a scene and leaving the dialogue muted. The footage that’s accompanied by “Blue Moon” almost works as a bizarre mini-music video. I think it might become a recurring thing in future videos. There are an awful lot of old movies in the public domain, and I imagine more than a few of them are available in some form online, probably for that very reason.

It’s strange how this works out. I never spend more than a day or two filming bits of things to use for these video progress reports, and sometimes I don’t think I have much to talk about. But each one develops its own personality, and every time things get a little more adventurous in one way or another. It’ll be interesting to see how far things have progressed by the time we get to progress report #10. I predict even more stuffed animals and a recurring guest spot for Elliott. Maybe someday I’ll even invest in some video editing software that’s halfway decent so I can get rid of those choppy moments altogether.

As for the intro — that’s some improvised riffing on an idea that will probably soon be fleshed out into a proper song, and there’s a good chance it’ll end up on the next album somewhere. Every time I pull out that Strat and give it some action I remember how much I like that guitar. I guess one of the benefits of having too many guitars but being a player and not a “collector” is always having an instrument or six to dust off and reacquaint yourself with. It’s a little bit like Christmas every few weeks.


Writing stuff. Ooh yeah. Recording stuff. Ooh yeah. CDs still going pretty fast. Ooh yeah. End-of-the-month progress report video on the way within the next week or so. Ooh yeah? Reading about Jandek. Interesting guy. Dancing naked on the roof, until neighbours call the cops on me.

Ooh yeah.

Meet me at the wrecking ball.

I think I’ll always be a little bit in love with Emmylou Harris. Here’s one reason why.

That’s live music. No Auto-Tune (yes — people use that crap even during live performances now to maintain the charade that they can sing so audiences won’t throw beer bottles at them), no pre-recorded backing tracks, nothing. Just singers who can sing and musicians who can play. How a voice like that can come out of someone so effortlessly, I have no idea. You can tell she doesn’t need to put any work into hitting those notes. She just opens her mouth and the magic comes out.

She’s sixty-three years old now and she’s still got that voice.

I found a quote from Emmylou that I thought was really interesting:

“Years ago, I had the experience of sitting around in a living room with a bunch of people and singing and playing, and it was like a spiritual experience. It was wonderful. And I decided then, what I was going to do with my life was play music, do music. In the making of records, I think over the years we’ve all gotten a little too technical, a little too hung up on getting things perfect. We’ve lost the living room.”

I feel that. Kind of sums up a bit of the reasoning behind keeping things rough, in first or second-take territory, and leaving mistakes and imperfections in the mix, at least for me. I like the living room. I think it’s one of the very best places to be.

Now who wants to go to hell?

Here’s a bit of a change of pace.

A few years before Closed Casket Funeral came to exist, one of the best bands to come out of Windsor’s metal scene was arguably Fetal Pulp. Oddly enough, half of the band doubled as my band at the very same time.

A little less than two weeks after GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE was committed to CD, I brought most of my equipment over to the Walker Power Building where Tyson and the gang had their jam space, and in spite of the drummer (Brandon, or “pogo’s dope” as he liked to call himself) being drunk and high on acid, all instrumental tracks for the songs were recorded within a few short hours on the evening of November 24, 2001.

It was kind of amazing how well Brandon could play drums in his condition. You’d never know to listen to the album that anything was amiss. These guys were all tight, though. Just about everything was done in one or two takes, and it was clear they’d honed these songs down to the smallest detail.

I was wearing black leather pants and a blue dress shirt. I have no idea why I remember a useless detail like that, but there it is.

Tyson double-tracked his guitar parts to give them a punchier sound — something that was kind of a foreign concept to me at the time, what with the “everything must be raw and live” credo I was following with my own music — while I enjoyed not having to participate beyond engineering and recording, which didn’t feel a whole lot like work when I liked the people I was recording. I still remember the decrepit thing that was brandon’s drum kit…the top head on the snare was just barely holding on for dear life, and the whole thing looked like it had come out of a garage circa 1832, somehow surviving a chemical explosion at some point over the intervening years.

I came back the next day to record the vocal tracks. Which doesn’t make much sense in hindsight. You’d think Jay (lead screamer) and Tyson (pulling harmony screaming duty and providing all of the deep, guttural moments, and even a bit of “clean” singing on the final track) could have just come over to my place and the end result would have been the same. For whatever reason, it seemed sensible enough at the time to bring everything over to the jam space one day, take it all apart and bring it home that night, and then bring it on over again the next day and do it all a second time. Tyson had quite the facility for those especially deep, evil-sounding screams, and he let one out that was so powerful, he looked for a moment like he’d been punched in the stomach.

For the one song that was sort of quiet — at least for the first few minutes, before the breakdown kicked in — there weren’t really any words, so I had fun whispering some mock-evil passages under my breath. Tyson heard what I was doing and tried to talk me into recording the vocals myself.

I laughed and said, “It’s your song, man, not mine. I don’t know what to sing.”

“You were just doing it!” Tyson said. “What you were just doing was perfect!”

I told him I didn’t have any ideas, so he got Jay to give me what lyrics he’d written for inspiration, but it was too strange for me trying to sing to someone else’s music. I mean, some of the Guys with Dicks stuff was getting a little heavy at this point, but it wasn’t metal heavy. I also just didn’t feel it was my place to butt in. This was Tyson’s band. He wrote the music and played all the guitar parts (this was before the drums became his weapon of choice).

After a bit of friendly arguing, Tyson finally gave up on me and chose to record ominous sounds in the place of vocals. He played with a screw on the floor. He played with the padlock on the door. He made weird sounds with his pager vibrating the strings on Gord’s bass. He whispered a little bit of gibberish. He threw a beer bottle on the ground three times before it finally broke.

These days I kind of wish I did a shot at recording the vocals after all. It might have been kind of fun to be able to say there was a Johnny West vocal cameo on a song by a metal band. I guess it wasn’t to be. Opportunities missed…

Over the next week, Tyson would swing by once in a while and I would work on mixing the songs. He gave me a few tips about how things should sound, since I wasn’t used to working with this kind of music, and he brought along his four-track tape recorder to dump a few things onto the mixer, including what sounded like a sound collage of televangelists that would end up serving as the opening track. There were standout moments from a woman who was looped to repeatedly say, “Now who wants to go to hell? Would you want to go to hell?” in a creepy singsong voice. He also had me mute a few of Jay’s screams where he thought they were superfluous or sounded too much like rap metal.

Super Mario Bondage

Tyson would later read me part of an MSN tirade Brandon sent him about how they recorded the album too quickly and it didn’t sound good enough or capture their full potential…which is pretty funny when you consider he was the only one who wasn’t entirely “present” during the recording sessions. I think everyone else was pretty happy with how it turned out.

In some ways the songs are closer to typical death metal territory than what Tyson would go on to do with other bands like Blindly I Follow, Cleansed by Fire, and Closed Casket Funeral. I don’t think there are any tricky time signatures, though there are some cool off-kilter breakdowns (one of them is in 6/8) and at least one passage in 3/4. There’s a surprising amount of melody in some songs, with some passages of clean guitar and guitar harmonies, and Gord plays a few things on the bass that sound like they belong in GWD songs (Tyson noted this himself at the time). Since I had no idea what most of the song titles were, for my own copy of the CD I came up with a few silly names of my own to fill in the blanks, like “Super Mario Bondage” and “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Waterbed”.

I never got too deep into metal. It never really moved me. But Tyson helped to crack the code for me, and with his help I was finally able to appreciate the amount of talent and ferocious technical skill involved. What did it for me was tuning out the vocals at his suggestion, concentrating on the music. Some of the screamers just seemed so ill-suited to the material, it made me wish a few metal or metalcore albums were instrumental.

The surprise for me was pulling out the fetal pulp CD for a listen after not thinking much about it for years, and enjoying it more than I ever had before. I like Jay’s screaming more than most other screaming I’ve heard even in much more established metal bands. He was always a really nice, quiet guy, and then he would step up to the mic and this huge voice would come roaring out of his throat. I was always amazed he could still speak after a show. Brandon, even for being frazzled, does a solid job on the drums, and I still can’t believe I got that kit of his to sound as good as I did. Gord was always a solid bassist in any genre, and he throws in some nice unexpected jabs of melody here and there. And while Tyson would justifiably go on to carve out a reputation as one of the best drummers around, I think he held his own as a guitarist too. there’s an impressive balance between dissonance and melody in these songs, and some startlingly original riffs. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any other metal band using the airship theme from Super Mario Bros. 3 as an intro.

The overall master volume is a little quiet compared to commercial releases. Other than that, I think I did a pretty good job with the recording, especially considering what I had to work with at the time: a handful of dynamic mics (nothing better than a few Shure SM57s and an SM58), the ART preamps, the Aphex compressor, and the same Roland VS-1680 I use today. Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by how good it all sounds today. This was not at all the kind of music I was used to recording or mixing, and I had to make creative use of the mixer’s middling built-in EQ to get some of the sounds to sit right.

A few years down the road I would have better equipment and the means to produce a cleaner recording, but all in all this one sounds pretty good. Hell, the guitar and bass parts weren’t even mic’d up — they were recorded direct from the amplifiers — and they still have a decent amount of body to them.

After listening to the CD a few times and jogging some memories (only the best tracksuits for them), I almost find myself wishing I’d put a bit of an effort into recording more bands at the time. My equipment was portable enough that I could go to anyone’s practice space and just set up and no, and my ears weren’t sensitive enough yet that the high volume really bothered me. Though maybe I would have ended up with some unwanted hearing loss if I recorded too much heavy music and I’d be paying for it now.

Aside from the friends’ bands I recorded, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in the heavier pockets of the music scene back then. I wasn’t into everything I saw at the Gino (I never quite understood the popularity of Daylatehero, for one thing), but there were some bands I really liked, and I imagine some of them never got the opportunity to have a decent recording of their material made. A lot of the bands didn’t even stay together that long. I mean, Fetal Pulp — and Guys with Dicks, for that matter — only made it from about 2000 to 2002, and that was considered a pretty long run. Back then I wasn’t yet completely averse to making a bit of money through music-related means, so I could have made a few bucks and helped some people out at the same time.

One band I wish I recorded was called Curse the Sky. I’m not sure if they were from Michigan, or Guelph…I know they weren’t that far away, but they weren’t from Windsor. They came down a few times to play at the Gino and showed up at a party or two at Gord’s house. There’s another band on Myspace now with the same name, and I’m almost positive it isn’t the same group. These guys were pretty typical death metal, I guess, but they had a breakdown in the first song of their set that was so powerful I felt like it was going to force my lips back over my face. It still stands as my favourite breakdown I’ve ever heard in any metal song. I wish I had more than just my memory of it to fall back on.

I had a stoned epiphany during that breakdown one night at the Gino and realized it was my mission in life to get a twelve-string electric guitar and then record the most melodic breakdown in the world, with clean guitar arpeggios in place of the usual distorted chugging. I haven’t got around to that yet, but there’s still time.

There was also a band called Kanada (i think Joey from Phog was in this group?) that ended every set I ever saw them play with a cover of Neil Young’s  “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”. They were much punkier than a lot of the other bands I saw live at the time, but one performance of theirs stood out. They played on a pretty stacked bill one night at the Gino when I was high on shrooms. For some odd reason the set they chose to play was almost entirely instrumental. At times it bordered on ska and surf. It was cool stuff.

I was never really one of the “Gino kids”. I just went to shows here and there for something to do. But there was some interesting stuff going on at the time, and everyone seemed to be pretty friendly, with no elitist scene bullshit. I mean, I was a long-haired guy wearing a leather jacket that usually had a Ziplock bag holding a few joints in the inside pocket. I didn’t look or act like a metal or punk scenester, mostly because I wasn’t one. But no one ever gave me any crap. Everyone was there to have a good time. If people wanted to get high, they’d go outside and get high. If people didn’t want to get high, they wouldn’t. I don’t remember any drama. We even talked about renting the space and playing a GWD show there, though it never quite happened.

I guess my point is it’s been fun to reacquaint myself with that Fetal Pulp album and remember how much fun we had recording it. The album art up there is just something silly I threw together. I never got a copy of the CD with the proper artwork, however many of those were made. Gord is now one of the only remaining founding members of local band Surdaster, Brandon is in Vancouver playing in a band called the Electric Demons (or at least he was; apparently the frontwoman passed away recently), Tyson is in PEI in a hardcore band called Get Bodied, and I’m still here, doing what I do.

Funny thing: I had a dream last night that I lucked into discovering all of the song titles I wasn’t sure about while ambling around on the internet. Of course, once I woke up I couldn’t remember what any of them were. But they made a lot of sense in the dream.

Don’t tell me love is all there is. I know…don’t I?

David Sylvian is one of those rare characters — like John Cale or Scott Walker — who I’ll probably always be interested in, because he refuses to recycle past musical glories and keeps pushing himself to say things that haven’t been said before. Sometimes it can be tough going (I wasn’t into a lot of the Sylvian/Fripp album when I first heard it, because it was too jarring at the time to hear that voice set against music that was so much more aggressive than what I was used to hearing as a blanket for it), but I’m glad there are artists out there who have enough respect for their audience to expect them to grow and evolve along with them, to the point that you can get excited when they have a new album coming out because you have absolutely no idea where they’re going to go next.

About five years ago, when a small handful of people were starting to pay attention to what I was doing, one person described my music as sounding like David Sylvian after drinking several bottles of cough medicine. I always liked that and took it as a compliment.

Once or twice before I’ve talked a little bit about my period of self-imposed musical re-education around the time I was fourteen. I think it’s best to save all the details for some other time, but one of the early discoveries that made me feel like I was on the right track was picking up Secrets of the Behive (which is probably always going to remain a desert island album for me) and the Rain Tree Crow album on the same day in 1998, and finding both of them infinitely more interesting and exciting than the diet of corporate rock and commercial radio I had been mostly existing on up to that point. “Blackwater” in particular conjured all these cinematic images in my mind, in a way I don’t think any music ever had before. I promptly went about trying to get my hands on everything David had ever done. And I only stumbled upon Japan (which led to David’s solo work) in the first place because I read a comparison to Bryan Ferry and Roxy Music. One of many happy accidents.

I think a lot of people jumped ship when Blemish came along in 2003, screaming, “Where the hell are the gorgeous multi-layered melodies? What is this weird weightless dissonance?!” But I remember thinking something more along the lines of, “Yes! YES! YES YES YES!” Because it was the complete opposite of a safe career move, and the most personal, challenging thing he’d ever done. I’d been lucky enough to absorb so many different kinds of music by this point, what may have been impenetrable to me five years before was instead something I could immediately enjoy and meet head-on.

Manafon alienated even more people and made Blemish look almost like a pop album by comparison. I think they’re both brave artistic statements that will end up standing as some of the best work he’s done. Blemish still feels like a high watermark to me. I just pulled it out for another listen a few days ago and was struck again by what a great piece of work it is. “The Heart Knows Better” deserves to be the musical centerpiece of some great independent film.

Still, I was a little surprised so many people were shocked by the flagrantly anti-commercial direction David took as soon as he established his own label and became completely independent. It’s not as if the signposts indicating where he might be headed weren’t there over the years. The Japan song “Ghosts” has to be one of the strangest hit singles to come out of the 1980s (and is it just me, or did Duran Duran basically rip off one element of Japan’s sound circa Quiet Life, water it down, rip off their image too, and make a killing?). The albums recorded in collaboration with Holger Czukay are hardly conventional. Gone to Earth features an entire suite of instrumental ambient music. And Secrets of the Beehive gets pretty close to jazz in some places.

But one of my very favourite curveballs is something that was never on any widely available album until the Everything and Nothing compilation came out in 2000. In 1989, Virgin Records — David’s label for quite some time — asked him if he might release a single that was a bit on the poppier side. He’d carved out a nice, unpredictable path for himself following the dissolution of Japan with a few increasingly adventurous solo albums and was critically respected if not an overwhelming commercial success. Virgin probably wanted to see something of a return to some of the more radio-friendly aspects of Japan and thought it was time he stop “experimenting” and give them a hit.

He responded with something called “Pop Song”, which pisses all over the entire concept of a radio-friendly single. It’s willfully jagged, with the melody subverted by dissonance at every turn. The lyrics are downright acidic, with David singing a chorus of, “I’ll tell you I love you, like my favourite pop song,” making sure you know he doesn’t mean a word of it.

I can only imagine how horrified the executives at Virgin were when he presented them with their single. The best part is, they released it just as it was, complete with David’s choice of cover art — a washed-out image of a naked, faceless female torso. Not that it got any airplay or troubled the charts. But as an artistic statement, I think it’s kind of brilliant.

(Streaming audio only so no one gets sued.)

I remember reading more than ten years ago, at the time of Dead Bees on a Cake, about a short film/EPK David made with then-wife Ingrid Chavez as a semi-explanation of the long break between albums. I always wanted to see it, but it seemed to only be available on “enhanced” CD singles that were pretty much impossible to find even on eBay. Thankfully, today we have YouPorn…I mean YouTube…to make such things much easier to find.

It’s fun to finally be able to watch this. It’s not trying to be anything too ambitious, but I think it’s kind of neat to have.

You can give a monkey a name. Seriously!

It’s time to get interactive.

This past weekend we saved a monkey from certain death. Or I should say Johnny Smith saved him. We were driving down the highway when we spotted something that looked like roadkill, but…different. There were no innards hanging out. It looked like a large brown cat sitting in the middle of the road, somehow intact. The Smithster realized it was a monkey, pulled a U-turn, and executed a daring rescue mission that was like something out of a quirky Canadian film directed by Don McKellar’s cousin.

Needless to say, there’s been yet another new addition to the family of stuffed animals (a week or so before this one, there was an unexpected new addition thanks to Chad, which will be revealed in the next progress report video). Usually I’m pretty good at coming up with a name that feels appropriate in a timely manner. I really have no idea what to call this dude. I’m stumped.

So here’s your chance to give him a name. I’m asking for your help. He’s asking for your help. Even Fuzzy Duck is asking for your help. You can make a difference in a monkey’s life.

To attempt to sell, or not to attempt to sell? There’s a question.

I’ve had a few odd experiences and discoveries lately involving other people who record music (we’ll use the blanket term “recording engineers”), and it’s been a little sobering.

I’m not going to get into details, but it’s been surprising and strange. I’ve never considered myself to be that great at the recording side of things. I never went to school to learn how to do this, and I had no one to be my mentor or teach me anything about sound or recording. I just take care of it because there’s no one else to do it for me, I know what I’m after, and I think I work best on my own when it comes to my music. But I’m beginning to realize I do have some good gear over here, and I’m starting to think I might even know what I’m doing with it sometimes. Some of the equipment some people are using while charging a lot of money for their recording services, and some of the knowledge that simply isn’t there…it kind of boggles my mind.

I’m not talking shit about anyone. I’m just flabbergasted by some of the things I’m seeing.

It kind of got me thinking about how much things have changed over here, and how far I’ve come. For a long time I didn’t have a whole lot of recording equipment to work with at all. First I had a rented keyboard and a cheap tape recorder with a tiny built-in microphone. Then I had a keyboard that wasn’t rented and the same tape recorder. Then I had a few more keyboards and a different tape recorder with a RadioShack microphone plugged into it. Then I got my hands on my first Roland VS-Series mixer/digital workstation, and a host of unexpected possibilities opened up.

I got a few cheap microphones, a few stringed instruments (some of which were rented), and started recording CDs instead of cassette tapes. Recording with “proper” equipment was an uphill battle all the way, and for a while I had no mic preamps, no compression, no EQ, and didn’t know anything about how to use those things anyway. I made a lot of not-entirely-good-sounding recordings, made a lot of mistakes, and learned a lot more than I ever expected to about something I had no training for.

In April of 2000 I thought it might be a good idea to get an outboard compressor of some sort, to help me tame peaks while tracking and to make it a bit easier to prevent things from grossly overloading when I screamed. And up until about the halfway point of 2002, I did my fair share of screaming in my music. I did a bit of research, read up about different types of compressors, and was pretty confused.

I ended up just sauntering into Schlong & McQuade, back when I used them as my main musical resource and hadn’t yet grown wise to alternative methods of procuring equipment, and found this Aphex Easyrider opto compressor. It was four channels, it was reasonably priced, and the controls were about as simple as you could ask for them to be, making it a good compressor for someone who didn’t know much about compression. I bought it and was amazed by how much more balanced a lot of things sounded with a bit of compression to smooth them out — especially bass and vocal tracks.

After a while I thought it might be a good idea to get some kind of dedicated mic preamp. I put a lot of stock in reviews I read in recording magazines, not realizing some manufacturers were probably paying the magazines to write nice things about their products when the hype wasn’t always warranted. When a review mentioned a preamp sounding “warm, gooey, and analog”, I got excited and assumed it was the magic bullet that would take my music to the next sonic level.

I read a description not too far removed from that about the Bellari RP520 mic preamp. It was a stereo unit, and it looked sexy to me. At the time, looks were at least as important to me as sound, and if something looked pretty I thought it music sound good too. Now I look at this picture and it looks pretty ugly and low-end to me. Ten years ago, I was drooling.

I couldn’t seem to order this thing through Long & McQuade, so I took to scouring eBay and found a guy who was selling one for $500 or $600 US. Seemed like a deal to me. We exchanged emails, he seemed nice, and I sent him a money order.

He took a while to ship the unit and sent me a few emails telling me he had to deal with an unexpected family emergency. The name he signed his emails with changed at least once — from John to Dan, or something like that — but I didn’t think much of it.

At last, my big beefy stereo mic preamp came in the mail. My first mic preamp ever. I raked my hands through countless chunks of styrofoam peanuts in the big cardboard box, finding nothing but more styrofoam, until I dug out…this.

It was a single-channel Bellari mic preamp worth less than half the price of the RP520. It wasn’t what I paid for.

I’d been scammed. It wouldn’t be the last time, but it was the first nail in the coffin of my idyllic “buying things off of eBay without a care in the world” period.

It got even better when I plugged the mic preamp in and discovered the tube inside was completely fried. No matter how far I turned down the gain, the only sounds I could get out of it were distorted, and not in a pleasing “analog” way. I sent threatening emails to the eBay scammer. He was already long gone, and I was left holding a useless preamp with a broken tube, and with a somewhat lighter bank account for my trouble.

I got one fleeting moment of use out of this thing in early 2002 when I pulled it out as an experiment while recording an album for ADHD, the hardcore band Tyson was in at the time. I used it on one of the drum overheads. It didn’t sound great, but it got the job done. Then it went back to collecting dust.

I guess it would have been the summer of 2001 when I decided I should get myself a mic preamp that actually worked. I was getting by okay with a compressor and no mic preamp in the signal path, as strange as that sounds, sometimes plugging my vocal mic into a guitar effects processor to spice things up a bit, but I thought it was time to take the next step.

Again, I read a glowing review in a recording magazine, and I bought this thing.

If I remember right, it cost me less than $200. It was supposed to be the best cheap mic preamp on the market and the ticket to a more professional sound. I plugged an SM58 into it and couldn’t believe how much more three-dimensional my voice sounded. I never even tried using it as a bass DI. From SUBLIMINAL BILE through to KEEP YOUR SCARS, it was my dedicated vocal mic preamp.

Today some of those vocal tracks sound a little muddy to me, but it kind of suits the angry, murky material I was recording at the time. I also bought the stereo version of the same preamp so I would have three channels of preamplification at my disposal.

This one lived on bass and drum overheads most of the time. Today my ears and gear are good enough that I know all too well how low-end this stuff really was, but I did manage to get some pretty decent sounds out of the equipment I had to work with. The drum sound Tyson and I were able to get on a few of those Guys with Dicks albums with two SM57s, ART preamps, and the no-frills Aphex compressor — most notably on the CASTRATED EP — and then the sounds I got on my mid-band-breakup solo album BEAUTIFULLY STUPID are still some of my favourite drum sounds I’ve captured on CD. Sometimes limitations force you to get creative and think outside the shoebox.

I was happy with all of this gear until I finished KEEP YOUR SCARS and decided I again needed to take things to the next level. I read some more reviews that caught my eye. The DBX 586 Silver Series mic preamps were the hot new thing, and Rode microphones were blowing everyone away with how well they competed with industry-standard mics that were significantly more expensive, or so the recording magazines and online articles told me. I bought it hook, line, and sinker, and picked up two 586 stereo preamps, a Rode NT1 microphone, a Rode NT4 stereo microphone, and a DBX 1046 four-channel compressor. The ART preamps and Aphex compressor went in a box in the basement.

The change in sound quality blew me away, and OH YOU THIS was another big step up from anything I’d done before, sonically speaking. It was like a thick layer of cheap-tube-induced mud had been stripped away and I could hear everything clearly for the first time. The Rode NT1 became my dedicated vocal mic, and for a time it doubled as my kick drum mic. I’d never heard my voice sound so good. I found myself pushing it up higher in the mix than I ever had before, leaving it dry and free of effects more often than not, when less than a year before I’d been burying it in the mix and slathering it in the thickest slapback echo I could dial up.

The NT4 appealed to me because it was a stereo mic configured in such a way that the two capsules were fused together in a permanent X/Y arrangement, saving me the trouble of having to position two different microphones and worry about phase issues. I could just point it where I wanted and go. For the next few years, this stereo mic lived on acoustic guitar, mandolin, and drum overheads.

That specific DBX compressor is one of those things a lot of engineers seem to hate, and they’ll tell you it’s good for live use but not for recording. I’ve been using it as a tracking compressor for close to eight years now, and I still use it on almost every song I record. Maybe what other people dislike about it is what has kept it in my arsenal — it has no character. It has no sound. It evens out the sound of whatever you feed into it a little, without sounding like it’s doing anything. There were times in the past when I got as much compression as I could going with the thing and wondered why I didn’t hear it pumping like mad. It just sounded like the instrument it was supposed to be, breathing in a natural way, but without any huge spikes in volume at random moments.

I think that’s a pretty good compressor. When you want those squashed, gooey sounds and pancaked transients, it’s not the tool to use. But it’s always worked well for me as a pretty invisible compressor to keep peaks in check and help things sit better in a mix without seeming to do anything at all. I can’t see myself ever not having a use for it.

By the time I was recording BRAND NEW SHINY LIE, I was getting tired of having to reposition my vocal mic depending on whether I wanted to sing into it or use it on the kick drum. So I went out and bought an AKG D-112, which seemed to be the go-to kick mic at the time.

This all served me well for a while. I used minimal EQ, cutting out some lows when I mic’d acoustic guitars (or rather the one good acoustic guitar I had at the time…those were the days), cleaning up the kick and snare tracks a little, but mostly leaving things alone. I got a four-mic drum configuration going that I liked. I had no complaints about the way things were sounding.

A little later on I picked up a few more microphones — a pair each of Neumann KM184 small diaphragm condensers and Rode K2 large diaphragm condenser tube mics — but they didn’t do a whole lot to impress me. The K2s in particular seemed to need an insane amount of EQ in order to get them sounding good, and I ended up getting rid of one of them when I no longer saw the use in having a stereo pair of such fussy mics. I would have to carve out a whole lot of mids before they stopped sounding woolly and started to sound somewhat present. I held onto the remaining K2 and the KM184s because they were expensive and they looked pretty, but it seemed strange to me that the least expensive microphones in my collection were the best-sounding and most useful.

Then I got a Great River MP-2NV mic preamp and everything went to hell as my ears heard the truth for perhaps the first time. The KM184s came to life, the K2 no longer needed EQ, and I started re-evaluating and retooling my entire arsenal of recording equipment. I got into this part of the story last year, so I won’t rehash it all again. I will, however, mention the Crane Song Flamingo I got when I went mic preamp crazy…

…and the Chandler TG Channel…

…both of which have been sitting around for a while now, unused, wondering what their purpose in life might be.

I still have all of these things, even though I haven’t used many of them in quite some time now. Some have been on hiatus longer than others. The Rode microphones haven’t seen a mic stand for four or five years now, while the ART preamps and Aphex compressor have been collecting dust for eight. A few times I’ve thought about selling some of this stuff, but I would always say to myself, “Self, some of these things have depreciated in value so much it probably wouldn’t even be worth it. And maybe someday you’ll have a friend who wants to get into recording their own music at home, but they won’t have much money and won’t know where or how to start building up some gear, and you’ll be able to donate some things that may not be the highest of the high end but could give them a pretty solid start. After all, these things worked for you pretty well once upon a time.”

I’d like to be that generous. But I’m beginning to think an opportunity to help someone in that way might not present itself anytime soon, and part of me thinks I’d rather have a little extra money if I can net decent prices for some of these things.

So this is what I’m thinking.

The Rode mics can go and I wouldn’t miss them. Not with the mic cabinet I have now. The NT4 is a pretty nice stereo mic, and you can even run it on batteries for outdoor/field recordings. I always wanted to try that but never got around to it. Through a mid-level mic preamp it sounds really good. Through a world class mic preamp it sounds less special, but you can do quite a bit with a little EQ. It doesn’t have that harsh, fizzy high end some Rode mics are known for, and if you don’t know much about mic placement it’ll give you phase-issue-free stereo sound no matter what you stick in front of it. I paid at least $1,000 for this mic when it was new, and it’s been well cared for, but now it goes for about half that price on eBay. I’d probably let it go for $400.

The NT1 is, depending on who you talk to, either superior or inferior to the NT1-A that followed and won all kinds of awards for the best microphone in the world at its particular price point. Again, you plug it into a cheap or mid-level mic preamp and it sounds pretty good. I thought enough of it to use it as my only vocal mic for three years and several albums. Plug it into a high-end mic preamp and it sounds kind of thin and sibilant. Supposedly it really opens up when you throw a sweat sock on top of it. I’m not even kidding. This mic wasn’t all that expensive to begin with, and I’d probably be lucky if I could get $200 for it.

The K2 is actually a pretty nice microphone. It feels solid. It looks solid. You plug it into a good mic preamp and it even sounds pretty solid. They say if you replace the tube with something better, the sound opens up even more. Even when I was using lesser mic pres and had to use a lot of EQ to get these mics to open up, I liked the way they sounded on acoustic guitar — especially on a song called “Khaki Lamb” that shows up on the MISFITS (1999-2007) compilation, where I used one K2 and one KM184 on the guitar.

It’s not the greatest tube LDC in the universe, but for the price you could do a whole lot worse. I paid more than $1,000 for it new. Now the mics go from anywhere between $600 and $800 on eBay. I’d probably let it go for $600 or even a little less. This is the one Rode mic I can see myself possibly having some future use for, but only as a drum room mic or an extra spot mic if I found myself recording a number of people at once, and I probably have enough bases covered with my current active mics that I wouldn’t need to reach for it even in that situation.

As for mic preamps, I’ll never have any use for either of the ART pres again. It would be way too much of a backwards move for me. But for someone just starting out recording at home, you can make some good-sounding recordings with one of those pres, an SM58, and an SM57 or two. The single-channel ART tube MP was cheap when it was new, and I probably wouldn’t get more than $50 for it now. The stereo version was discontinued years ago, and on some level I’m tempted to keep it because it’s sort of an archaic collector’s item that isn’t worth anything.

I would get so little money for either of these things, it would almost make more sense just to give them away if I really wanted to get rid of them.

The DBX 586 pres I could probably sell for $500 or so a pop. They ran about $1,000 each in 2003 when they were new. A lot of people despise them, but they served me well and were a gigantic sonic step above the ART preamps. I’m not going to sell the DBX boys, though. I like them as decoration (they look much nicer in person than they do in most pictures), and they work well as pedestals for the Great River pres to sit on. They’re also really heavy and would make good improvised weapons, thanks to the strategically-placed handles. And I’ve always been curious to try experimenting with overdriving the tubes for a really gritty vocal sound. So I might just dust one of these off and give it some action again someday.

Likewise with the piece of shit Bellari pre with the fried tube — putting aside the reality that no one in their right mind would want to buy something that’s defective and sounds like garbage, I think it might be useful at some point for some intentionally awful, distorted sounds. I should dig it out of whatever cardboard box it’s been living in and give it a try.

The Flamingo, though it’s been sadly underused over here, is a seriously nice mic pre. It’s worth keeping around because it sounds really good and offers a nice contrast to the other mic pres I have. The Chandler TG Channel is also a seriously nice mic preamp, but it’s a “character” piece, and I already have enough character with the Great River MP-2NVs and the Chandler Germanium. I also now have dedicated outboard EQ, the lack of which was one of my reasons for holding onto the TG Channel even though I haven’t made much use of it in a long time.

I paid more than $2,000 for it new. It hasn’t really depreciated in value and still seems to go for about the same price, and it costs extra for the power supply. I would probably let it go for $1,400 with the power supply included because (a) it’s not brand new anymore, (b) it isn’t the MKII version, so you just get an XLR input and not 1/4-inch (you need a dedicated DI box if you want to run your bass or a synth through the mic pre for colour), and (c) a few places on the gain pot get a little crackly. Aside from that, it works well and it sounds good. The EQ isn’t a surgical tool, but it can be very musical and useful if you know a bit about EQ. With a bit of messing around I was able to get an SM57 in front of an acoustic guitar to sound better than any SM57 ever should in that application. It also looks cool.

The AKG D112 is a kick mic. It does what a kick mic does. Some people love it. Some people find it boring. I thought it did the job just fine, but right now I can’t see myself ever close-mic’ing a kick drum again. The stereo ribbon mic in front of the kit gives me all the kick I could ever want. I could sell the D112, or keep it, or use it as a weapon in a sock. As it stands, it’s been sitting inside the kick drum for a long time without actually being plugged into anything. These go for $200-300 new. Mine is in perfect condition. I’d probably let it go for $150.

The Aphex four-channel compressor…now that’s an interesting piece. I don’t think I’d want to get rid of it. They don’t make them anymore, they’re seemingly impossible to find anywhere, and with a name like “Easyrider”, how can you not be friends? I haven’t plugged this thing in for years, but I imagine someday I could probably find some use for it somewhere. I think it would do a fine job in a live setting. It’s a good no-frills “set it and forget it” compressor that will clamp down on peaks and tame them without getting too obvious, unless you want it to. There’s more potential for this thing to become a sought-after collector’s piece down the road than there is with the ART dual MP preamp.

So I guess the things I’d consider selling, if anyone wanted them, would be these:

Rode NT1 (SOLD)
Rode NT4 (SOLD)
Rode K2 (SOLD)
ART Tube MP preamp (SOLD)
ART Dual MP preamp (SOLD)
Chandler TG Channel preamp (SOLD)

If anyone who happens to read this is interested in any of those things, let me know. If not, I might consider putting some of them up on Kijiji. Or maybe I’ll just let them stay in their respective cardboard boxes a while longer, and someday someone I know and like will just happen to be looking to get some equipment to record themselves but will be unsure of where to start, and I’ll be able to offer some assistance.

I thought it was worth throwing out there, anyway, even if only to have an excuse to take a brief look back at a few of the things that have come and gone over the years. Though none of them ever really left…

On a different note, to anyone who’s still expecting a copy of the new album in the mail — it’s coming. It’s just taking a bit longer than usual this time. My CD printer died at the worst possible time, setting me back a fair bit, and the combination of the album being a double CD, the CD design eating up a lot more ink than usual, more people than ever wanting copies of the thing, and my list of people to mail CDs to getting longer all the time has conspired to slow me down a little. It takes a bit more work keeping up with this stuff than it used to.

I did, however, manage to successfully steal from my own stash at last when I needed a few extra copies to go around. Yes-yes!