Month: August 2015

You were born with relative ease.

tuesday no border

A couple weeks back, Steve asked if i could send him a WAV file of “I’d Name You Aubrey” from TIME AWAY because someone over at Ride the Tempo wanted to make it a featured track. I did that, kind of forgot about it, and then woke up a few days ago to discover the song made it all the way onto a compilation album called Weirdest Tuesday.

I feel like I’m trying to set a record for how many links I can drop into one paragraph. Look at me drop! Tremble in the presence of my dropping prowess!

I’ve had something I’ve recorded show up on a compilation exactly once in my life. That was about eleven years ago, and it was not a good experience. At all.

(Here comes the flashback sequence…)

This is going back to my days of being a semi-regular poster on a message board for a band I really liked. Another semi-regular poster who was also running a fan site got the idea to put together a compilation album sort of dedicated to and inspired by the band we were all fans of. Almost all of us who wrote there were musicians with access to recording equipment, so it made sense.

I sent along unmastered versions of a few tracks I thought might fit, along with a rough self-mastered version of each, just to give the mastering engineer an idea of what I was aiming for — dynamic, not super loud, not too different from the raw mix.

I was told which song of mine made the cut, and it turned out to be the one i liked best anyway. I was also told the guy who was mastering the collection said my song was the best-sounding thing that had been submitted, and he was using it as a reference for mastering all the other tracks. That felt pretty good, coming at a time when I didn’t have anything like the equipment I have now.

A few months later I got a box of CDs in the mail (that I had to pay a fair bit of money for, but whatever), popped one in to listen, and learned the mastering engineer had mastered the already-mastered version of the song i gave him instead of the unprocessed mix. Only, “mastering” isn’t the right word for what he did. He destroyed the song. There were no dynamics left. There was no life to the thing. It sounded like shit. And wouldn’t you know, it was the only song on the whole compilation that got hammered with anything close to that amount of compression. Lucky me!

If you’re a mastering engineer and you have any hope of the two of us ever being friends, don’t do that.

Had I known this Tire Swing Co. song was also going to end up on a compilation where someone was mastering it to try and lend some continuity to a lot of tracks recorded and mixed in a lot of different ways, I would have sent an unmastered WAV file instead of the self-mastered one I sent along when I thought it was just going up on the website. But I didn’t get the chance to do that. And I kind of feared for the worst.

I’m happy to say the guy sitting in the mastering booth this time was much less heavy-handed. The version of “Aubrey” on the compilation sounds about as good as you could ever hope for a song that’s technically been mastered twice to sound. It’s a tiny bit louder than the album version, and a little less dynamic, but not in any offensive way. Even when the synth sub bass kicks in, it keeps breathing just fine.

So thank you, Eric Hogg, even though you’ll probably never find yourself on this here blog. Thank you for not squashing the song I recorded. You done good.

In other news, the inaugural O-L West show at Taloola went well. We played nine songs off of the album we’ve been working on, Natalie played two of hers, and I threw in a bluesy song no one’s ever heard that will end up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE when I finish that thing around 2089.

Here’s the set list (the bluesy song is missing because it was a bit of a last-minute addition, and “Dorsal Venous” got dropped from the set because it felt like one slow song too many):

OL west taloola set list

A bunch of people who said they were coming didn’t show up, because a lot of people say they’re going to do stuff and then don’t do it, especially on Facebook. But the people who were there were good people. It’s always more comfortable for me to perform for a room of friends than it is to perform in front of a lot of unfamiliar faces. Not that I have anything against faces I haven’t seen before.

I’m in no hurry to play another show, so if you weren’t there, you missed out on hearing me bend a note on the harmonica for the first time ever. You may never get to experience that soul-stirring phenomenon again. I know you’ll be losing some sleep over that one.

About the compilation from way back when with one of my songs on it — you’ll be glad to know I chucked all the copies I bought in the basement and let them sit there for years, until i gutted most of them so I could use the clear jewel cases for my own albums. A handful of buttons have survived the years unscathed, though.

I’ve put out a few albums where I pushed the DIY mastering too far in an effort to get things as loud as I could (not a mistake I’ll make again), but even when some clipping was introduced, at least the dynamics were still there and I didn’t squash everything. This was really the only time I’ve ever been embarrassed to let anyone hear something I was a part of. I’m sure a handful of people did end up hearing the CD, but they didn’t get one from me.

And about the new compilation that inspires no such feelings of embarrassment — you can download it for free over yonder. Or you can stream it right here, if you’d like.

Life takes on a whole new hue.

The first ever O-L West show is happening tomorrow. That’s the day after today. That’s getting close now. Should be interesting.

We’re all going to take turns singing. Here’s one of Natalie’s songs. I think it’s one of my favourite things on her album, though it’s hard to choose. Public domain footage comes from Dreams That Money Can Buy, which is full of so much strange goodness, I expect to use it for at least six more DIY music videos.

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of us, I almost believe I’m veal.

Joey Acott came over to take some pictures while music was being made. Here are a few of those pictures. Here is the story they tell.

steve plays while i walk away

We begin with me sleepwalking and Steven valiantly trying to get something going.

i think i'll put these headphones on

After snapping out of it, I think about putting on a pair of headphones. That’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re recording, isn’t it?

steve is smiling

Steven thinks it’s a good idea.

mic placement

“I must record the sound of your heart! For science!”

on the porch closer in

All that moving microphones around and making sounds gets us feeling the urge to perform for an invisible audience, so we break for an impromptu porch concert. There are sixteen encores.

dave is deep in thought

Dave comes by. “The colour of your shirt has changed from what it was before I arrived,” he says. “You have given me much to ponder.”

me mixing, dave thinking

“Yes,” I say. “The fabric that cloaks my nipples and torso hair has become blue with the dimming of the day. But fret not. You sing now.”

dave singing, me mixing

And so he sings, and it is righteous, and a can of beer sits atop a stool and swoons as only a can of beer can.

playing piano while dave watches

We pause so I can play “I’m so Excited” on the piano. Dave approves.

jim is listening

Jim arrives to lend his voice to some group vocals and says, “This is how you wear a pair of headphones, my friends.”

steve laughs, dave ponders

“You wear those headphones like a true lord of sound,” says Steve. Dave can only avert his eyes, such is the power of the moment.

jim wonders if you're talking to him

“I don’t know…there’s nothing in this song about the secret lives of tap-dancing sardines. I have to say I feel a little let down. But I’ll do it. For science.”

dave likes the voice transformer

“Places, everyone! You heard the man. FOR SCIENCE!”

jim and dave group vocals

“This song…this song…
Some crazy person wrote this song.
They say he is reclusive,
but how is that conducive
to what we’re doing now?
Oh, grilled cheese for malcontents,
how you gooify the night.”

slouching over the mixer

“I can’t believe I just got some friends to sing a made-up word like ‘gooify’. This is the greatest moment of my life. Just a little more bugle in the mix, and we’ll be golden.”


Dave raises his fists in victory, and our hearts soar as one.

Sing a word that isn’t a word until it starts to mean something.

The first new Papa Ghostface album since forever has been taking a little longer than expected to get release-ready. Most of that’s down to it being a little tough to find the time and energy to mix the whole thing to my satisfaction. But it’s getting there, a little bit at a time. Here’s a song we would maybe release as an advance single if we put out singles, because we are insane.

It grew out of me showing Gord a few of the more severe vocal effects built into the mixer. There’s one that will modify the pitch and formant frequencies of a male voice to supposedly make it sound like a woman’s voice, and then one that works the other way around. I’ve only ever seriously tried them on myself, so I’m not sure how well they do in the realism department. The effect that’s supposed to make me sound like a woman can be heard on the Mr. Sinister album. The effect that’s supposed to make a lady sound like a dude makes me sound a little like an evil cousin to Barry White and can be heard right here.

We were messing around with that second effect, Gord playing something funky on the bass while I sang about being a sexy lover man, getting a good laugh out of it. Then I picked up a ukulele and started chopping out some reggae-inspired chords, Gord started playing along, and there seemed to be the seed of something interesting there. So we improvised a song out of thin air while we were recording, the way we used to do it, and this is what came out.

Well…okay. We didn’t do it exactly the same way we used to. It was improvised in stages. We did the ukulele and the bass first, both of us playing at the same time, me providing rhythm and Gord’s bass giving the rhythm some movement. Then I ad-libbed the vocals. These days I’ve usually got some words on a page in front of me when I’m singing, but back when I was winging it all the time I was very much into rhyming. Turns out that old reflex is still there — when I improvise lyrics in bulk, I slip back into “rhyme everything” mode. This is how you get a random throwaway line about a transvestite.

The act of improvising lyrics has come full circle for me, with the emotionally naked wailing of the Guys with Dicks days long gone. Aside from that one unexpected spoken word thing at Mackenzie Hall that one time, it’s back to being more about trying to build and inhabit a character, role-playing to some extent, and what falls out of the brain is just what falls out. The stuff I improvised for the near-spoken section in the middle was a little better and more fluid when I was checking levels and not recording what I was doing. Alas, I wasn’t able to duplicate it when I hit the record button, because I’d already forgotten the little rap I came up with. But I think what’s there in its place works well enough.

After the vocal track was out of the way, I laid down some rough drums I knew I would replace the next day. Later that night, after Gord was gone, I messed around on the lap steel, using a lot of delay and reverb. I liked the way it was sounding but wasn’t sure about what I played. I considered it a rough scratch track at best.

The scratch track is what you hear in the song now, just with one or two little dodgy bits snipped out. The more I sat with it, the more it felt like it fit and anything else I might come up with would lose the feeling of spontaneity I wanted.

Another night I did my best to double the ukulele part — a little tricky when what you’re trying to double isn’t premeditated — and we both added some acoustic guitar. That was difficult too, because Gord’s bass line bobs and weaves all over the place and doesn’t follow any predictable pattern. After trying to figure out the chord changes we just started recording and hoped for the best.

remorse code notes

(I did try to work out the movement of the thing — not that these notes did us any good.)

I hit on a way of recording acoustic guitar with Gord while we were making this album that really seems to work well for what we’re doing. I stick a Pearlman TM-250 in front of him in omni and a TM-LE in front of me in cardioid, and we do our business. Whatever bleed there is always seems to sound good. Then we do the same thing again, attempting to double what we just did. There are always going to be some discrepancies when there’s this much improvisation involved, but they lead to interesting little moments of interplay, harmony, and friction. Fan them out where they want to be panned, and those four tracks have a sound that will cut through any mix, no matter how dense it gets.

Gord’s been playing a lot of that cheap old Futuramic archtop I almost forgot I had for a while. It’s absurd how good the thing sounds in his hands. There’s quite a bit of that guitar on the album, but here he was playing my trusty standard-tuned Gibson LG-2. I can’t remember what I was playing. Based on the sound, I’m pretty sure it was my Martin 00-17.

I toyed with the idea of layering some unprocessed vocal harmonies to play off of the weirdness of the pitch-shifted lead vocal, but by the time I got around to adding some shaker and improvising some piano on top there weren’t any free tracks left. The mixer was maxed out.

I think this song is as good an illustration as any of the way our music has matured, for lack of a better word. An improvised character sketch with a weird vocal effect is exactly the sort of thing we would have done back in the day, but there’s a depth of sound and a focus here that wasn’t always there in the past, and the whole thing builds in a way I’m not sure we even would have known how to attempt back in the old days.

It also seems fitting that the only song on the album with a proper chorus/refrain is the one where the words weren’t written beforehand. Though, “Eemoninanasinai, I got a bonfire in my eyes,” is pretty loopy as choruses go.

As for the “music video”, our friendly public domain film content this time comes from Dementia (an alternate edit is called Daughter of Horror), a dark, surreal, pretty daring-for-its-time 1955 horror film with no dialogue or true diegetic sound of any kind. It’s sort of a silent movie with sound, if that makes sense. Gord and I were looking around the Internet Archive for something interesting a few nights ago when we stumbled onto this, and it ended up fitting the song so well, it’s a little eerie. I had fun with the editing (the dude getting stabbed and then driving over the newspaper headline about a mysterious stabbing after the person who stabbed him kicks it away doesn’t happen that way in the movie), and the dancing being more or less in sync with the music was a happy accident.

Is it just me, or could Bruno Vesota (the guy who gets stabbed in the stomach, and possible uncredited co-writer and director of the film) have easily had a second career as Orson Welles’ stand-in?