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.
(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?