Assuming I get this ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE THING finished while I’m still young, and pretending for a second that I operate the way most other people do, here is what would probably be the first “single” off of the album. If I released singles. Which I don’t.
The original incarnation of this track was chosen by Craig Norris of CBC Radio 3 as a “track of the day“ back in September of 2008. That still seems a little surreal to me. It was always meant to be the first proper song on the album, and I think it still will be, but now it’s got a little more rhythmic thrust.
While listening to it again in the context of some of the other songs it struck me that the drum sound was a little weak. The song was recorded about two seconds after work on CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN wrapped up, and I hadn’t yet learned how to get the most out of the stereo ribbon mic I started using as a one-stop drum-recording solution earlier that year. It’s especially noticeable on a song like this where I played with sticks instead of brushes, resulting in an erratic sound with the cymbals louder than everything else and the snare not cutting through so much.
Eventually I would find a simple solution — instead of using any close mics, when I wanted a more forceful drum sound I would play with a stick in one hand and a brush or a mallet in the other, only striking cymbals with the softer weapon — but in 2008 I was still some distance away from hitting on that idea.
I’ve gone on rants before about the revisionist approach to music and how I feel things should usually be left as they are, for better or worse. My music is a series of documents of who I am and where I happen to be at different times, so it always seemed pretty pointless to go back and alter anything I’d done, even if I felt I could technically improve it in some way.
Turns out I feel a little different about all of that in this case. This is an album that hasn’t hit the finish line yet. The material has been recorded on and off over a period of more than four years, in two different houses.
On the one hand, I don’t want to strip the songs of the things that tie them to the time and place in which they were born. On the other hand, I do want to feel all the songs are as good as I can make them.
I’m not after technical perfection. I’m after something that feels emotionally satisfying to me.
Example — I re-recorded the drums for this song earlier tonight, and while I used the same microphone and the exact same signal path I used back in September of 2008, the drum sound is quite a bit different now. The cymbals are much more in the background, and the snare has more punch to it. Overall the sound is still ramshackle, but with much more body, and mixed much more prominently (too prominently, as it happens…I need to remix it at some point and bring the drums down a little so they sit better).
You can hear a pretty big difference when comparing what the song sounds like here to what it sounded like on the CBC Radio 3 site three years ago.
I could have taken the opportunity to change a lot of other things about the song. I didn’t. Aside from getting the drums to agree to some genital enhancement surgery and getting rid of a bit of ambient noise at the end that’s always bothered me (my fingers striking the body of a banjo), I didn’t do a thing to alter what was there in the first mix. The levels stayed the same. The panning of the instruments stayed the same. I resisted the urge to punch-in a bad note on the bass a little past the three-minute mark, when it used to drive me nuts every time I heard it. I even left in a little fffff sound when one of the vocal tracks comes in in on, “Forgive me my stupidity,” a hair too early.
So there is a happy medium to be found, sometimes, honouring the original intent while giving it a little injection of whatever it was missing the first time around.
I don’t plan on revising too many songs like this. In most cases, any improvements I might be able to make would be so insignificant it wouldn’t even make much sense to try. But where it feels like a song really could benefit from a little tweaking, I think it can be done tastefully, in a way that doesn’t disturb the original fabric of the piece, and the end result will be an album that — while grotesquely long — will feel to me like an organic whole and won’t leave me with any lingering feelings of “if only I’d taken another pass at that part there”.
I’ve set myself deadlines before, and none of them have stuck. I figure if I aim to have the album finished by the tail end of the year, I’ll probably fail — but I’ll get close enough that I’ll be able to have the thing ready to come right out of the gate at the beginning of next year. I’ve got about two hours of music CD-ready right now, which means I’m a little less than halfway there. So there’s hope.
Hey — when you’re a dancing carrot, sometimes hope is all you need.