Suddenly this Mackenzie Hall show isn’t so far away anymore. Two more days, man. Or woman. Or inanimate object reading my blog. Hey, you’d be surprised how many plastic hippos read this stuff. For some odd reason, they really like the idea of a hairy-rambly-music-spewing internet presence. Who knew?
I’ve had an unexpected little moment of understanding while rehearsing for this show. I always thought it would be interesting to hear what would happen if someone else covered one of my songs, whether it was in a live setting or in recorded form. I did get a taste of that sort of thing once when Travis sang “Peculiar Love” at Green Bean (it underlined just how demented the lyrics were when I heard someone else singing them), but a few people have told me I shouldn’t expect to see it happen much, if ever, because my material is not that easy to cover given how tricky it can be.
That idea always struck me as a little strange, because some of my music — particularly from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN forward, when I made a grudging return to working within more conventional song structures — seems pretty simple to me. A song like “A Well-Thought-Out Escape”, for example, is the same same few chords repeated over and over again through the whole song, and there’s a slight hitch to the rhythm that could be a little tricky, but aside from that it’s not a very complex piece of music.
The thing that made me re-evaluate this idea that I’d almost regressed on some level to writing in a simpler way was when I charted out a few songs for Dan, the dude who will be tearing it up on bass at the show. What I mean by that is, I typed up all the lyrics and wrote out chords and other relevant things in the margins — making tablature or proper sheet music/notation is beyond the scope of my abilities. This is more of a guide, in case something is needed to fall back on.
In the course of doing this and then playing through some of the songs, it became clear to me that even some of the things I assumed were dead simple are not so simple after all. There’s a song on MEDIUM-FI MUSIC called “To Be Frail Is to Begin to Be Free”. It’s one of my favourite tracks on the album, but I thought it was one of the simplest things I’d ever written. The arrangement is honed to the bone, there’s almost nothing going on outside of a few chords being played on the piano, with everything else shadowing that, and there’s a simple drum beat. Turns out there’s some pretty tricky stuff going on there rhythmically, and what I thought was a pretty straight 4/4 with lots of space is something else altogether. Liam charted it out and told me what the rhythm is actually doing, jumping from one time signature to another, and it just about made my head spin. The structure of the thing is pretty straightforward — while there’s no proper chorus, it keeps alternating between A and B parts with no real bridge to speak of and a few pregnant pauses where all that’s holding it together is the drums — but it’s not half as simple as it sounds.
Another good example is “A Fine Line Between Friendship and Baked Goods” from CREATIVE NIGHTMARES, which I think is one of the most enjoyable things to play in the set we’ve been putting together. There’s a very long first verse. It’s probably more like two verses, but it’s delivered as one unbroken piece. Then there’s a tricky little instrumental section where the tempo kind of doubles and things get more frenetic, followed by what you could call the bridge, where the opposite happens and the original tempo is halved. Then the verse chords reappear for a little while, but now they’re a backdrop for what would be the chorus if someone else wrote the song. Only in this case the “chorus” shows up just this one time and then never comes back. Then there’s another instrumental section that goes several different places before the song ends — we basically jam it out as far out as it’ll go, and I get a great opportunity to go nuts on the piano and pretend I’m a poor man’s jazz pianist. It isn’t one of the more radical examples of messing with form in my body of work, and yet there’s nothing very linear at all going on with the structure of thing.
Even the “simple” songs tend to have something off-kilter about them, and I seem to end up skewing song structure on some level even when I’m not trying to. The thing is, most of the time I don’t “write” these things in the sense that most people sit down and map out what a song is going to be a piece at a time and then chip away at it until they feel they have it right. I’m writing a lot of the songs instead of hitting the record button and winging it the way I used to, but this is still just the stuff that comes out of my brain, and all I’m really doing most of the time is trying to get it out as quickly and competently as I can.
I was under the impression that after my period of severe structure-warping on albums like GROWING SIDEWAYS and BRAND NEW SHINY LIE I relaxed into a simpler way of constructing songs while the production side of things started to get more ambitious, but apparently the songs aren’t always as straightforward as I think they are. Even when something lives inside of a structure that sounds conventional, with sections that repeat more or less where you would expect them to, there’s almost never an actual chorus. While sections of music might recur, the lyrics almost never do, so what feels like a chorus usually isn’t. As a writer, I grew tired of choruses a long time ago, and I only feel justified in writing a song that has one if it absolutely forces itself upon the music (something that doesn’t seem to happen very often).
So that was a neat little discovery. I guess even if I’m not always messing with form in ways that are as violent and obvious as before, it doesn’t mean it’s not still happening. It’s just happening in subtler ways.
While we’re on the subject, here’s the real poster for the show. I have to say I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out. It’s a huge improvement over my first attempt at making a poster. Much cleaner and less cluttered. Thanks to Bree for once again letting me use one of her great pictures.
Saturday is when the craziness happens. Like the poster says, doors open at 6:00 (though we’ll probably still be doing a soundcheck then), and the music starts at 7:00 (though I’ll probably wait for about fifteen minutes or so to accommodate people who are a little late). As I said when last year’s show was approaching, feel free to show up whenever you can — if you can only make it for part of the night or can’t get there until the second set, that’s absolutely fine — but understand that showing up at 8:00 will mean you’ll have probably missed the entire first set of music. Nobody is getting paid anything no matter how many people show up, so I don’t think there’s any point in waiting an hour or two for the place to fill up as much as possible. Having said that, I think by now most people know I don’t operate according to the usual “don’t start a show until an hour or two after the advertised start time” rules of conduct.
The show is free, as is everything that comes along with it. There will be a bunch of copies of the new CD, which will only be available at the show for the time being. It’ll be at least a week or two before I’ve built up enough stock to drop some off at Dr. Disc and Phog. I planned on having copies of a bunch of other CDs at the show, but I don’t think I’m going to have enough materials to make that happen in time. I had to sell a guitar to pay for the show and the album’s physical packaging. Things are a little tight right now. It is what it be.
The plan is to play two sets of music like last time, with a little break in-between so people can stretch their legs, use the bathroom, shoot the poo, or slow dance with me while no music is playing. This time it’ll be a little different, because I’ll be alternating between playing alone and with the band.
I’ve got a setlist of seventeen songs put together. I think there’s a pretty good cross-section of different things going on between brand new material, songs people who’ve been following my music will recognize, some drastically reworked material, and a few obscure or not-so-obscure covers. Only about a third of those songs are being played with the band, but some of them are pretty extended pieces, so it should balance itself out. Liam and Dan can play the hell out of their instruments, and it’s great fun playing with them and twisting these songs in different directions. Hopefully whoever shows up will have as much fun as we do. Jackie Robitaille will be sitting in on one song, contributing harmonious vocal/piano bliss, and my good friend T-Rizzle will be in the hizzle operating the sound-related stuff.
That’s right. I said hizzle.
Maybe I’ll see you there on Saturday. Maybe you’ll choose to haunt my dreams instead. And if you happen to be the person who ripped my poster off the wall at Green Bean so you could have it for yourself, thank you for negating the money spent on it and the promotional work it was intended to do. You could have waited until after the show, or taken two seconds out of your busy life and asked me for a free poster (I would have given you one), but you didn’t. Thanks a bunch for being such a thoughtful human being.
Also, a sincere, non-sarcastic thanks to whoever was responsible for putting a little blurb about the show in the Windsor Star.