It’s that time of year when people start talking about “best of the year” type stuff. I never got into doing that myself, mostly because I don’t keep up with enough of what’s new to really weigh in, but some CJAM peeps have been playing some of the music I put out there this year on their best-of-2010 programs. That’s a nice surprise. I’ve said it about a hundred times already, and I’m sure I’ll continue to say it some more in the future — thanks to everyone at CJAM for all the support. For me at least, it never gets old hearing my noise on the radio. It’s always a surreal feeling.
Elsewhere, I’m encountering a bit of a dilemma. You know that album I’m working on right now? You know how I said it was going to be a pretty crammed CD? Last night I was going over the work I need to do — songs that need to be mixed, songs I still need to record, and other such things — and I did some rough math. Even after dropping a good six or ten songs that probably won’t end up making the cut for one reason or another, there’s still far too much material to fit on one CD.
As you probably know, a CD will hold a maximum of eighty minutes of audio, and maybe another few seconds beyond that if you really try to push it. By the time I’m finished recording everything I want to have in place for this album, there’s going to be at least two hours worth of music there, and about forty songs. Again, that’s not counting the tracks I’m already discounting as probable out-takes.
I don’t think there’s any way I can shave it all down to eighty minutes or less. It would be like making a film that needs to be three hours long to pack everything in, but in editing you cut it down to about an hour and forty minutes to make it more commercial. Maybe it’s a tighter film that will appeal to a wider audience, but as the creator of the film you know it’s emotionally all wrong and there are huge gaping holes left in the story you wanted to tell. It doesn’t matter if no one else feels anything is off. The point is, you feel it.
I really didn’t plan it this way. I mean, I know there are some people who assume the reason I’m so prolific is because I never came up with an idea i didn’t like and I literally throw everything I have lying around at any given time onto an album. The reality is nothing like that. IF I HAD A QUARTER and LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS have about twenty out-takes between them, and those out-takes aren’t throwaway songs. Some of them still feel like they’re up there with the best work I’ve done. They just didn’t feel like they belonged on the albums for which they were recorded.
A lot of thought goes into choosing which songs belong on any given album, and how they’re sequenced, though that wasn’t always the case. From what I understand, most people go into an album with everything more or less mapped out already. All the songs are written, and they have a pretty specific vision in mind. I tend to work the other way around. I record a bunch of songs, sometimes with an idea of what kind of album I want to make, but the deeper I get into it the more things start to shift. I write more, I record more, and things shift some more. When I feel I have enough material recorded, then I start taking a serious look at what kind of album it wants to become and how it’s going to get that way.
So I guess, on some level, I discover what kind of album I’m really making during the “editing” or post-production process. A lot of good material gets thrown on the “to be revisited later” pile. A lot of it will find its way out into the world eventually, one way or another, but only when it feels right.
Anyway. As I see it, there are about three things I can do here to solve the problem:
1. Make another two-CD set.
A little insane, because I just released a double CD in the summer. This one would be a good deal more jagged, disjointed, and off-kilter — which is the kind of album it’s going to be anyway by design, but it could be a bit much to take in a concentrated two-hour dose. Then again, I thought the same thing about MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART, and I didn’t really get any complaints about that one being too much music. A few people don’t seem to like the second disc as much as the first, but that makes sense, since a lot of the weirder stuff is over there. Making a double CD is also double the workload, and a bit more expensive. One thing’s for sure: I wouldn’t come up with a CD design that used anywhere near the amount of ink the last album did. Not about to put myself through that kind of headache again.
2. Make two separate albums.
This approach could make the whole thing a little easier to digest. At the same time, sequencing it would be a lot more difficult. With a double CD you treat the whole thing as one album in two movements, and you let it ebb and flow accordingly. To make two distinct albums out of one big pile of material is a very different challenge, and there’s going to be some serious overlap between the two no matter what, so they would have to be considered companion pieces. I would also have to come up with a whole new album title, new cover art, and a new design template for the second album. I have a number of album titles and covers sitting around waiting for future use, but I’m not really feeling any of them right now for this music, aside from the one title I already have in place for what I thought was going to be a single CD. Releasing two albums right out of the gate would be a pretty cool way to kick off 2011, though…
3. Make an album and an EP.
In theory, I could take what I feel is the absolute strongest material from the pile of current stuff, cram as much of it onto one CD as possible, and then take the best of what’s left and carve a shorter album out of it. For me, at this point, a “shorter album” or EP is probably going to be no less than forty minutes long. More likely closer to an hour. Which is longer than most full-length albums. Again, this would necessitate coming up with a second album title, different cover art, and so on. So it wouldn’t be a whole lot different from the second solution.
Cutting myself off before I’ve recorded all the songs I want to have in place is not an option. The last thing I’m going to do is mess with my own creative process and risk throwing things off balance. Right now I’m thinking something hovering between option #2 and option #3 might be the way to go, with the second album not being released right on top of the first so it’s a little less overwhelming (and a little less expensive for me).
I’m sure I’ll figure it out as things get closer to the finish line, but if anyone wants to weigh in with an opinion, feel free.