Month: June 2018

On the radio, uh-oh.

In case you missed it — and if you’re not in Windsor, you probably did — here’s what happened yesterday when I stopped by CJAM to play some songs and talk some talk on Ron’s show.

Live on the Travelling Salesman Radio Hour (6/25/18)

It was a bit of a nervy performance, which was probably to be expected, because the last time I played live on the radio was about a third of my life ago. And I had a hell of a time figuring out which three songs to play. But it was fun. The Omnichord didn’t end up making the trip, only because it was too much to carry.

I opted for two newer songs and an oldie in the middle. You also get to hear a tiny bit of another new song at the very end, in proper recorded form. I chose to fade out on that instead of letting it play all the way through, because surprises are the stuff Baby Jesus lines his moccasins with.

Baby Jesus, if you aren’t familiar with him, is the finest bluesman still standing. His new album Mocha Sins is well worth investigating. Highlights include “With This Water I Can Get You Drunk” and a fiery cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs”.

But seriously, thanks to Ron for the invite. And thanks to Johnny Smith for taking that picture up there. Taking a selfie and getting the huge CJAM logo in the frame is just about impossible, as you can see from what happened when I gave it a try:

Two of the three songs I played are pretty self-explanatory. “A Puppet Playing Possum” comes from GIFT FOR A SPIDER and has snuck up on me over the years, growing from a song that was just kind of there to one I’m really fond of. “Monster’s Truce” was recorded a while back and will probably show up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. “Rat Shearer” is the odd man out.

It came from a dream, sort of. I have this annoying habit of dreaming music that’s really interesting and then remembering everything about it when I wake up — from the instruments used to the way they were recorded — except for the chords, melodies, and words. You know, the stuff that would actually allow me to flesh out and/or record those dream songs.

That’s what happened here. I had a dream I was in the car listening to this great lost Alex Chilton song from the late 1970s. It had the chaotic spirit you’d expect from Alex during that period, but it wasn’t quite like anything else I’d ever heard him do. There was an almost queasy feeling to the music, with some great vocal harmonies. It kind of sounded like the Beach Boys on a disconcerting acid trip.

When the dream was over I remembered the feeling of the music without retaining the nuts and bolts of it. But the song title stuck around: “Rat Shearer”. I thought it was worth trying to write a song of my own around it.

The rough GarageBand demo will give you a better idea of how it might sound once I get around to recording it for keeps. This is one of the songs I still want to record for the ambitious solo album I’ve been working on.

Rat Shearer (demo)

It’s more Johnny West than Alex Chilton, but I think I managed to capture at least a little bit of the chewed-up psychedelic spirit of the elusive dream song. The hope is that I can carry the haziness of the demo over to a more polished recording, and then expand on it. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Mild hearts vacation in Hoboken.

Mic cables are forming heart shapes again. It’s only the second time this has ever happened to me. Could it mean love is in the air?

I don’t think so. But it’s fun to look down and see a thing like this in the studio.

I’m realizing I don’t use this blog as a “keeping tabs on myself” tool much anymore, when I used to do a whole lot of that. As bland as those posts probably were to read, they helped to keep me honest and motivated at a time when I needed an extra little kick in the posterior. So here’s where things are at right now.

This is Boardy McBoardface as he looked at the end of November:

Here he is now:

When I feel like I haven’t been making much progress, I take a look at that thing. There are thirty-three songs enclosed in red boxes that weren’t in boxes before (thirty-four if you count an accidental duplicate), including some that are recent or brand new additions to the board. Pretty soon, all one hundred and two of those songs, and maybe a few more, will exist in recorded form. That’s not so bad for having to multitask as much as I do these days.

Ron’s album aside, the next Papa Ghostface album is closest to the finish line out of everything that’s on the go right now. Thirty-three songs have been recorded for it, though a few of those are holdovers from the STEW sessions. I figure about a dozen of them will end up on the cutting room floor for one reason or another. There are another two or three I still want to record — catchier, more uptempo things to offset some of the slower and more morbid moments — and then it’s just a matter of filling out some arrangements, mixing things until they sound about right, and figuring out a good sequence. The cover art is already taken care of.

It’s the last Papa Ghostface album there’s ever going to be. I didn’t know that going into it. But it feels like a good note to end on.

More about that when the music is ready for public consumption.

One hundred and one songs have been recorded for YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. That sounds ridiculous until you think about how long I’ve been working on this album (four years). When I don’t finish an album within a “normal” period of time, there’s bound to be a lot of material. There are about ten more tunes I want to record, a few more guests I’d like to try and get over here for some musical cameos, and then I can start hammering nails into that massive thing and making an album out of it.

The less said about THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE, the better. I’m still confident I’ll clothe and bathe that beast someday, but right now it’s taking a very long nap.

While The O-L West is on hiatus for the time being, I’ve heard some rumblings about new Tire Swing Co. material. Looking forward to hearing and recording that whenever Steve feels the itch to get back in the studio. And there’s another collaborative project with a friend that’s being picked at here and there, but I don’t think we’ve even decided on a band name yet. It’s tough to come up with something good these days. I thought it might be amusing to call ourselves All the Good Names Were Taken, but there are at least two bands calling themselves that already (in Michigan and New York, respectively). Phooey.

A friendly reminder for those who may be interested: I’ll be popping in at CJAM on Monday, June 25th to play a few songs on Ron’s Travelling Salesman radio show at about 5:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. When the moment of truth arrives, you can listen live online over HERE if you’d like. Of course, if you miss it, it’s no big thing. As always, I’ll post an MP3 here to commemorate the occasion.

Current bed situation.

Maybe “current” is a bit of a stretch. This isn’t my bed situation at this very moment. Right now it’s going through one of its rare debris-free periods. But this was my bed situation a few days ago.

I made a fun little discovery about the Omnichord while it was hanging out in bed with me. Unlike the autoharp — its acoustic counterpart — it doesn’t have actual strings, so when you transition from one chord button to another there’s a split-second where the sound cuts out. It’s almost impossible to avoid unless you’re somehow able to keep a finger on a chord button at all times. Even then, you’re settling for something that either feels or sounds a little awkward.

Because of this, I felt I was pretty limited in what I could do with the instrument. I could turn off the chording function and use the synthetic strings on their own as a textural thing, but that was about it. It was enough to make me happy.

Lo and behold, the makers of the Omnichord decided to hide something helpful in plain sight. Or at least they did when they were designing the model I have, the System Two OM84. Instead of giving it a straightforward name like “sustain”, they called it a “chord memory interface”. You turn it on and suddenly chords start sustaining for as long as you’d like, with no need to keep your fingers glued to the relevant buttons after pressing down on them.

I feel a little goofy for only discovering this now. It opens up a whole new world of possibilities and makes writing songs on the Omnichord a less maddening prospect. Ron has invited me to be a guest on his Travelling Salesman show on CJAM on June 25th. My goal now is to perform at least one song on the Omnichord, whether it’s something brand new or a drastic rearrangement of an existing song.

It’ll be my first time playing live on the radio since 2004. Should be fun. Ron was one of the very first people at CJAM to ever invite me onto his show, a decade and-a-half ago. It didn’t pan out at the time, mostly because of a bit of skittishness on my end, so this will be a bit of long overdue penance on my part.

Something else that was long overdue: getting some new headphone extension cables.

The ones at Long & McQuade are ridiculously overpriced, like almost everything else they sell there. This is one of the many reasons I will never do business with that place again. In the past I was able to find extension cables online for a more reasonable price, but no matter what brand I bought, they stopped working after a year or two. I’m now convinced they manufacture these things to break down so you’ll have to come back for replacements.

I like to have four headphone extension cables at my disposal to take care of each output on my headphone amp. You never know when you might want to record some group vocals, and in those situations it helps to give everyone as much mobility as possible. As it happens, I’ve got a group vocal session coming up next week…and until a few days ago, I had only one headphone extension cable that was still functioning.

Everything I looked at this time was either cheap-looking or more money than I wanted to spend. Johnny Smith came to the rescue once again and found what I needed. These ones don’t seem to have a brand name, but all the reviews I’ve read comment on how robust they are — an unusual attribute for a headphone extension cable. Most of the time these things are pretty flimsy.

I ordered three extension cables for not much more than ten bucks a pop, and when they showed up I learned just how well-made they were. These things look and feel like they can take a beating. They feel meaningful in the hand. They need a 1/4-inch adapter to plug into a headphone amp, but that’s a small price to pay.

They make a nifty hair accessory as well, for those days when you’re in a vaguely cyberpunk mood.

Completely unrelated to music:

I had an urge to pull out the old NES system for a bit of nostalgic fun. I wanted to see if I could beat a few games that have always given me trouble. The jury’s still out on whether or not I can finish Ninja Gaiden without throwing my television out the window, but I did manage to finish the Second Quest in The Legend of Zelda.

I’d made it through the First Quest before. This time I was able to do it without losing a single life. I was pretty proud of myself, until I started the Second Quest and realized how much more difficult it was. I ended up dying seven times. But I made it to the end, even after one of those stupid Like Likes (enemies that look like walking stacks of pancakes) stole my magic shield in the final dungeon. At least I’m not alone in despising these little pests — Sam Greenspan mentions them in his 11 Biggest A-Holes in The Legend of Zelda countdown.