Month: January 2012

What goes around comes back around, so grab it at the lost and found.

Almost three years ago, I gave a post the title Huey Lewis with a gun, when the contents had nothing at all to do with the esteemed Mr. Lewis. A year or so later, I included a picture of the man swinging a golf club in a different post that also had nothing to do with him.

These are just some of the things I do.

The other day, that title popped back into my head with no provocation (“Huey Lewis with a Gun”, that is). I thought it was about time I wrote a song around it. So I did.

It was one of those things where you write a short, sharp, bitter song about someone you wish you’d never known at all, and then you work your way around to singing about Huey Lewis. I imagine it’s happened to everyone at least a time or two.

I recorded two songs today — the aforementioned tune that mentions but isn’t really about Huey, and a death metal song with some crude free jazz trumpet in the place of vocals. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. The death metal tune was recorded more or less the way I would normally record that sort of thing, but with Huey I felt like going a little off the map.

I thought I would do a quick-and-dirty one-take recording with just one microphone picking up my singing and guitar-playing at the same time. This is hardly a new concept in the world of recording, but it’s not really something I’ve bothered with much before, mostly because I like to have more control over levels and stereo separation.

Instead of messing with mic placement to get the best possible balance, I just saturated the hell out of the mic preamp, hit the compressor pretty hard, put the microphone in omnidirectional mode, and left it a good five or six feet away from me. I played and sang the song. Then I did it again, and panned the two tracks at around nine and three o’clock. This made for a really gritty, lo-fi vibe. I liked that there was a lot of room in the sound.

I was going to leave it like that, but I ended up recording some vocal harmonies, piano, drums, and bass. Everything but the bass went into the same microphone, with the same over-saturated levels. I ditched the drums because they felt like a little too much. And there was the song.

Sonically it isn’t really like anything else I’ve done, even though it’s very simple and stripped-down. I dig it. I think the vocals and piano have an interesting sound to them when they’re recorded this way.

To that end, I’ve learned recording the drums in a similar way (distant-mic’d, smashed to hell, and then double-tracked) makes for a sound that’s present and squishy without getting too hairy. It’s something that will only work on certain songs, not just on a sonic level, but because I like to improvise behind the drums without bothering to write any parts before recording, which is the sort of thing that can make double-tracking a performance a little tricky. When it does work, though, it’s a really fun sound to play with.

It’s good to know there are still interesting and unfamiliar sounds to be found by doing things the “wrong” way.

I think the crazy death metal tune will end up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE, while “Huey Lewis with a Gun” will probably be held over for something else. You gotta give Huey the spotlight he deserves.

The first video progress report of the New Year should be along in a few days. It’ll probably be a day or two late for an end-of-the-month thing, but that’s nothing new. Some would call me fashionably late. Others would let me fall out of the window with confetti in my hair, and deal out jacks or better on a blanket by the stairs. I’ll tell you all my secrets, but I lie about my past. So send me off to bed forevermore.

Random tandem.

I found out there are still a handful of CDs left at AH Some Records. So if there’s anyone in the city who wants any of that stuff (maybe there’s a pop purist relative you really dislike and you want to give them nightmares?), going to see James is your best bet until I’m able to re-stock the boxes at Dr. Disc and Phog. I should have some more supplies to go around in the next few weeks. There are people I’ve owed mail for a while now, too. Again, once I’ve got more materials to work with, those packages will be sent out. Better late than clever, right?

A few days ago I sat down and made a quick note of all the different projected albums I’m playing around with in my brain while I work on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. I was a little surprised to realize there are five of them. Even by my standards, that’s nuts.

What’s happened in the past is, I’ll start to work on one of these projected albums, and then all the progress I’ve made on ANGLE is forgotten. This time that ain’t gonna happen. Even so, it’s good to know I’ve got a pile of ideas and material waiting for me once I’m finished with my big magnum grope-us.

I think I’d like to look at releasing one of those post-ANGLE albums on vinyl. I’ve kicked around the idea before without ever letting it get beyond the brainstorming stage. Maybe this will be the year it really happens. It’ll either have to be a double-record set, or an album short enough to fit onto one record. Right now the idea of me making an album that’s less than an hour long seems almost laughable, but you never know. It’s happened before. There’s always a chance it might happen again.

Can you imagine the uproar there would be from the people who already strongly disagree with my whole “giving away physical albums for free” thing if I gave away vinyl records in addition to CDs? I think it would be hilarious. Heads might explode. If that isn’t motivation enough to pop my vinyl cherry, I don’t know what is.

I also had a bit of an unexpected songwriting revelation recently, when it struck me that silence has become a pivotal part of the way I construct songs. A few people have pointed this out to me over the years, but for some reason it took hearing one of the songs on the first disc of ANGLE to really hammer it home.

With the song in question, there are two points at which everything drops out and it sounds like the song is over, only for the music to start back up again. They work as false endings, though they weren’t designed to be. And in listening to that song, I thought, “I do a lot of that, don’t I?” When a song is about to shift gears or head into a hook, it’s not unusual for me to bring everything to a pretty abrupt halt. It’s almost as if the music needs to catch its breath before moving on. It’s not something I give much thought to. It’s just a thing that happens.

I was trying to figure out where it started. I think the first time I really got into using silence and near-silent passages this way was on BEAUTIFULLY STUPID in 2002. Songs like “I Make Myself Sick” and “Alcohol on an Open Wound” are full of pregnant pauses that are an integral part of the fabric of the music. What’s odd to me is that this was also where I was starting to craft the songs more instead of just improvising them all out of nothing while recording. You would expect there to be more lulls and pauses in situations where there’s no premeditation or safety net. For me it seems to work the other way around.

This was years before I would hear the last two Talk Talk albums. I wasn’t into jazz or ambient music at all. There wasn’t really any music in my collection that used silence in that way. So it wasn’t something I took from anywhere else. It just grew organically out of what I was doing, at a time when I was making a lot of very angry, uninhibited music that wasn’t any kind of conscious breeding ground for that sort of thing.

Maybe I just like space, and without realizing it, it’s become an integral part of my songwriting language. Who can say?

WordPress, you sneaky little monkey.

Even with the space upgrades I’ve purchased, the music and video content I put up here on the blog has been adding up. A few months ago I sifted through the archives and got rid of some files that weren’t in use to create a bit of breathing room, but I was only able to do so much. After the most recent video progress report was uploaded, I only had a few hundred megabytes left to work with. That meant it would soon be time to pay for another space upgrade, or else I’d find myself unable to post any more video progress reports here — unless I went to the trouble of hosting them elsewhere. And I don’t really feel like doing that. Using VideoPress and having the videos live here on the blog works just fine for me.

In the first few days of the New Year, I noticed something odd. On the media-related pages where WordPress tells you how much space you’ve used and how much you have left, instead of a few hundred megabytes and something like 2.3% of my server space remaining, it said I had more than 15 GB available. I thought it must be a glitch, or a joke, and didn’t put much stock in it until just now, when I got an email from WordPress telling me they’ve doubled the amount of server space I have as a way to ring in 2012, free of charge.

Thanks for the surprise, WordPress. I never saw that one coming. Now I probably won’t need to buy any more extra space for at least another year or two. Handshakes and half-eaten cookies for everyone!

If I had a quarter for every time I was a quarter of the way there, I’d have a pretty big bag of quarters.

The first disc of THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE is done. I think.

I made a rough assembly last night. Now I’m tweaking a few things to get the volume more consistent from song-to-song. I had to drop a few tracks in order to squeeze something close to the sequence I wanted onto one CD. It was supposed to run twenty-three songs long. Now it comes out to twenty songs and just a hair shy of eighty minutes.

I wanted to fit a hundred songs on this album, spread out over four CDs, but I don’t think that’s quite going to happen. I’ll be lucky if I can squeeze eighty songs in there. Space limitations…always forcing you to shave things down.

I’m not sure how well this first CD flows. It jumps from a moody synth-heavy soundscape, to a happy-sounding blues-folk number, to something crawling toward sloppy power pop, to an austere acoustic guitar-based ballad, to a warped 11-minute spoken-word piece, and back again. If it was a standalone album and not just one part of a larger whole, it would be one of the most unpredictable things I’ve done.

I don’t think there’s any way to sequence the songs so they make any kind of linear sense, and arranging them in chronological order would feel pretty bland to me. The whole thing is a huge mess of music. Seems to me I’m best off treating each disc as a quarter of the mess, letting things careen all over the place. Better to be governed by what feels right to the gut, and not what would make for a tidier or easier listening experience.

I don’t know if I mentioned this, but for a while I was thinking about releasing the individual discs as four separate albums. Then I realized how much more expensive and time-consuming that would be than doing it all in one shot. Trying to make something like this easier to digest would miss the point anyway. It needs to be one huge, imposing thing. It shouldn’t be any easier for someone else to get a handle on than it has been for me.

Hopefully it’ll reward the work it requires. At the very least, it might make for the strangest soundtrack you’ll ever have for a road trip. It cracks me up that some of the catchiest, most accessible things I’ve done are going on this album, and I’m sure some people will listen and think, “Why didn’t you just take those nice catchy songs and put them in one place? Why did you have to throw in the goofy beatboxing and the song that’s just a bunch of stupid internet acronyms sweetly sung as a way of poking fun at how we’ve all intellectually regressed in the wake of instant messaging? Why?!”

People could even go ahead and make their own shaved-down version of the album if they wanted, by taking whatever songs they like best and slapping them on one CD. I’d be a little curious to see what would happen there. It’s always interesting for me to look at the songs listeners isolate as being highlights or favourites. A lot of their choices surprise me. I’ve said this before.

So. One disc and eighty minutes down. Three discs and two hundred and forty more minutes to go, give or take. It should be much smoother sailing from here.

Late again.

I was going to backdate this to December 31, because all the video footage was recorded before the New Year and the editing was only delayed this much thanks to some corrupted data. But I don’t like cheating. So no backdating for me.

As the eldest member of the Fuzzy Duck Clan says at the end, it’s all a little anticlimactic for a year-ending video progress report. It’s the shortest one there’s been in a year and-a-half. Instead of the extravaganza that ended 2010, it’s more of a “get the last little bit of the year out of my system” hiccup. And I think that’s kind of fitting, given the strange 2011 I had.

Still, it has its moments. Instead of wasting new public domain film discoveries on such a lean progress report, I thought i’d return to Bride of the Gorilla, the very first film I ever chopped up back when I first thought to try doing this sort of thing. I guessed (correctly) that I might have missed some good bits the first time around, since the whole re-contextualizing thing was new to me then.

I think the intro works pretty well in the absence of the insane stuffed animal/puppet sing-along I was planning on filming. And the very end of the video, when I’m singing, “I am unwittingly providing you with the means to escape,” as Raymond Burr runs away — I didn’t plan that at all. I just grabbed a bit of video that seemed like it might work well with music on top of it and threw it over there. Only after the fact did I notice the synchronicity.

That seems to happen a lot.

So, welcome to 2012. I hope you enjoy my crooked glasses.