I’m a dolphin in exile.

Here is a rough mix of one of the many songs that got pushed aside when the torrent of bile that became GIFT FOR A SPIDER came pouring out. It was sitting around more or less finished for a while. There was more than enough there for it to be complete — vocals, ukulele, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, Wurlitzer, tambourine, melodica. Still, it felt like something was missing, and I could never quite figure out what it was.

I’m in that odd space right now between albums where I’m not sure what to work on next. So yesterday I thought I would mess with a few mostly-finished-but-missing-something-undefinable songs to keep myself busy, and this one ended up getting the most attention.

I’m really liking the deeper, fatter sound my brass snare drum has developed since Liam loosened the bottom wires during band rehearsals. Part of me wishes I’d been able to incorporate more of that sound into the new album. The unexpected snare-loosening happened pretty late in the game, so you only hear it on a few tracks like “Bring Rain in Case of Fire” and “Stutter Steps”. At least I can make sure it’s a sound that’s all over the next thing I do, whatever that turns into.

I thought a good point of entry would be to record a new drum track. The first time through, I played with mallets and the snare strainer thrown off, making for a more muted sound. That seemed to fit the song well enough, but I thought I would try a different approach this time, with a stick in one hand and a mallet in the other. Just for fun. That changed the feel of the whole song in a subtle way.

Then I plugged in the sexy Telecaster Travis has been generous enough to let me borrow, left it in standard tuning, turned up the distortion, and had some fun with volume swells. While I have a vintage volume pedal that’s been sitting around here for a good year and-a-half now waiting to see some use, I’ve grown so used to using my fingers on the volume pot of a guitar, I feel a little awkward using my foot. Hey, if the fingers work, might as well let them play, right?

Floating on top of a song playing pseudo-lead ambient stuff has become one of my favourite things to do with an electric guitar. In this case it was just the glue the song needed to tie everything together. The funky old Teisco is still probably my favourite axe for this sort of thing. Being able to bend feedback-ish notes with the tremolo arm adds a fun extra dimension to the sound. But the Tele is no slouch.

I need to get me one of those things someday. Not that I need any more guitars.

I thought I would mess around a little more, even though the song now felt like it was pretty much ready to mix. I ended up ditching the melodica part in favour of letting the electric guitar come to the forefront during the instrumental bridge and added some wordless vocal harmonies during both the bridge and the first verse. Then it was done.

I think this is the first time the ukulele has shown up since LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS. It’s also the first song I’ve written with anything resembling a proper chorus in years. Every once in a great while it just feels right. And I think a refrain of, “Sexual vertigo is on my mind,” is warped enough to undercut any pop appeal there may have been. The lyrics rhyme more than I usually let them, but again, sometimes that’s what the song wants.

This is a good showcase for the Pearlman TM-LE microphone, which is on all the ukulele, acoustic guitar, and Wurlitzer parts. That mic has slowly but surely become one of my favourite things to stick in front of stringed instruments, and it seems like it was made for the Wurly. The drums are a little more upfront and muscular than usual (maybe mixed a little too high in this case), and this is as good an argument as any for staying away from close mic’ing the kit. What would be the point in even throwing a snare mic in there when the stereo ribbon mic captures that much sound? It makes recording drums a whole lot easier than it would be with a more conventional setup and leaves me with more tracks to play with on the mixer.

I still think that ribbon microphone is one of the best investments I ever made. It’s almost as if the mic clip that would have given me more control over positioning it on the stand was fated to be defective, preventing me from using it as much more than a front-of-kit mic. It’s been living in front of the drums since CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, and I think it’ll be staying there for a long time to come.

Dig how the Betty Boop cartoon compliments the song in a weird way. All I really did was cut out a few little bits so the length would line up with the song. A few moments of bizarre synchronicity occurred all on their own, like the flower trying to encourage Betty to eat when I sing about having no appetite, Bimbo the Dog shouting into the well at the exact moment the vocals are drenched in reverb for one line at the beginning of the last verse — a mistake in the mix, but one I liked enough to keep — and the way the witch’s entrance and her evil tongue-dance compliment what the electric guitar is doing near the end. It’s fun throwing songs and public domain film content together just to see what happens.

Besides, Minnie the Moocher is pretty cool as public domain films go. There’s some surprisingly surreal content for a 1932 cartoon. There’s even a ghost walrus! And he dances! You can’t beat that.


  1. I do know what you mean! Synchronici-stuff! I’m still not 100% on the mix, but I never really am…the better I get at this stuff, the less sure I am of how well things are mixed, which is kind of funny. First the drums seem too upfront. I take another pass at the mix and they seem not upfront enough. The vocals are too loud. Or maybe they sit just right. Or maybe they need more definition. Or maybe that moment of accidental overpowering vocal reverb is a mistake worth keeping. It’s always something…but that’s part of the fun, too.

  2. I like it alot Mister John. It does have very cool moments of synchronisi…synchronisity…wrong spelling, you know what i mean. Very good engineering.

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