i draw stuff too

Blow out the candles, blog-face.

Happy third birthday, blog of mine.

There was a time when I thought you were just a temporary place to rest my head and I would eventually lose the motivation to keep you updated, rendering you an online ghost town. Instead, you helped to kick my ass back into gear after I’d been slacking off for a while on all things music-related, and now you’re busier and more sprawling than ever before. I mean, I’m even talking to you like you’re a person, when I stopped doing that back in March of 2008. I bet you never saw that coming back again, did you ol’ blog?

Since I first got the random idea to create you three years ago, a lot has happened.

I went from being lethargic and having no real motivation to put any work into harnessing my musical ideas (I think some people call that “post-crackhouse blues”) to recording and releasing seven full-length albums plus a three-CD compilation of out-takes/misfits — with two hundred and thirty-four songs between them all — in the space of just over two years.

I added a few instruments, noise-makers, and sound-sculptors to the room in which music is made.

I wrote a whole lot of stuff (three hundred posts so far — some silly, some serious, some random, some rant-tastic — plus a separate page for every CD I’ve ever officially released, and dedicated sections for some other things of note), made a lot of videos (there are about eighty self-made videos of various shapes and sizes scattered throughout this place), shared a lot of music (more than two hundred MP3s between album pages and regular posts), posted a lot of silly pictures, and butchered others to make them silly when I didn’t feel they were ridiculous enough to begin with. Things looked like halloween around here for a long time, until they suddenly didn’t anymore.

I went from being so far under the radar I might as well have not existed as a musical entity in this city, to becoming someone who is considered somewhat “cool”, and somehow built up a far larger audience than I ever expected I would. I don’t think it would have been possible without some strong support from CJAM, Liam and the gang at Dr. Disc, Tom and Frank at Phog, some good friends from all walks of life, and my Uncle Kanye, who sometimes gives good advice when he’s not interrupting me during my big moment at a music video awards show.

After being shunned by the local music scene for years, I was finally treated as if I were part of the club, sort of, though I still don’t think I really am when you get right down to it. I guess it just got to the point where it wasn’t so easy to ignore me anymore. I learned a lot about the way a city’s music scene works — the good stuff, the weird stuff, and how there’s some bizarre double-dealing that goes on sometimes behind the scenes. Thankfully I was able to avoid the bulk of the weirdness by not being an active participant in the usual conventional ways.

I tried the unpaid session musician thing for a while, playing as a sideman both live and in the “studio” with a few different people. I had good experiences and bad experiences. Ultimately, I learned being a sideman — while it’s something I can do, and I think I can do it pretty well — is not really for me. It was a worthwhile experiment, at least. I did manage to make a few good friends in the process, and was reminded for the first time in a long while just how much fun it can be to collaborate with someone when there’s no stupid crap involved and you’re not only given free reign to contribute whatever ideas you might have — you get credit for everything you do, too.

I was threatened with rape and death during a home invasion but survived with my muffler intact, though I could have done without the PTSD that followed. I redirected some of the anxiety into pop songs like this one.

Cinders

After avoiding live performances for years, I played my own material live in a few small concentrated doses and then threw caution to the wind and played an extended free one-man show at Mackenzie Hall. What could have been a grotesque failure was instead a surprising success, and it still almost doesn’t quite feel like it really happened.

Then I went back to avoiding live performances.

I reissued and repackaged almost thirty CDs from the back catalogue with new artwork (many of them never had any proper artwork to begin with), mostly for my own amusement. A few people who were interested got a big black box full of these CDs.

A short-form documentary film was made about me.

(The actual number of albums recorded is much higher than the figure in that trailer, but whaddayagonnado?)

I resurrected my long-dormant Myspace page and made it somewhat presentable, using it as a convenient place to post random things I was working on before they had finished albums to call their homes. Then I realized Myspace is kind of lame, their streaming sounds absolutely hideous (I had to hide the built-in music player using html and attach my own external MP3 player for higher quality audio), and there’s really no point in me having a music page over there with all the stupid restrictions and rules when I have complete freedom to do whatever I want over here. I also have no real interest in “networking” with other bands who only want to pad out their friends lists and gain another person they can send impersonal spam to.

So I killed my profile for good, thus rendering me perhaps the only musician in this city who doesn’t have a Myspace page. It was long overdue. Just about the only good things to ever come out of having a Myspace profile were having an easy way to get in touch with Travis for the first time, being able to share silliness with some long-distance friends, and the running joke of being able to refer to that place as “Spyspace”.

The obligatory “bio section” shifted a number of times, from a very skeletal thing, to an insanely long cross between an FAQ and a place to dispel some bizarre rumours and myths that were floating around, before finally mutating into something informative but not as long-winded.

I came up with the idea of making monthly video progress reports as a random thing, only to watch as the half-assed idea took on a life of its own and grew tentacles. I’m working on progress report #9 right now and kind of wish I started doing this years ago, because it’s a lot more fun than I ever thought it would be and a great way to keep track of what I am (or should be) working on.

I also came up with several ideas I’ve yet to really run with, like a comic strip about a wild-haired, cynical-beyond-all-reason child prodigy of a focus-puller named cormac.

And a whole lot of other stuff happened too. A few weeks ago I went through the archives to insert some links where I neglected to do that in the first place (mostly linking to an album’s relevant page when its title appears in a post), and it was a little startling to realize just how much content there is here. I had to make a point of only skimming most of the posts instead of reading them all the way through, otherwise it would have taken me days to get through it all.

There’s a lot of stuff here. You can actually trace my progress from wading through a bit of a slump after an exhausting move into a new house, to getting things back on track in a big way and then keeping the momentum going while figuring out just what this blog was supposed to be. A few links have gone dead in that time (most of them other people’s sites that were abandoned, or links to my now-defunct Myspace page), and I removed them where I caught them, though I’m sure two or three slipped through the fingers of my eyes.

In all honesty, I feel like I’m only now really hitting my stride. There’s a lot more left to say, and much more music to share. Thanks to everyone who’s tagged along for the ride. It’s been interesting so far. Let’s see what else shakes loose.

(I should add that MEDIUM-FI MUSIC… is at #3 on the CJAM charts this week. Thanks, as always, to everyone who plays my stuff.)

Now who wants to go to hell?

Here’s a bit of a change of pace.

A few years before Closed Casket Funeral came to exist, one of the best bands to come out of Windsor’s metal scene was arguably Fetal Pulp. Oddly enough, half of the band doubled as my band at the very same time.

A little less than two weeks after GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE was committed to CD, I brought most of my equipment over to the Walker Power Building where Tyson and the gang had their jam space, and in spite of the drummer (Brandon, or “pogo’s dope” as he liked to call himself) being drunk and high on acid, all instrumental tracks for the songs were recorded within a few short hours on the evening of November 24, 2001.

It was kind of amazing how well Brandon could play drums in his condition. You’d never know to listen to the album that anything was amiss. These guys were all tight, though. Just about everything was done in one or two takes, and it was clear they’d honed these songs down to the smallest detail.

I was wearing black leather pants and a blue dress shirt. I have no idea why I remember a useless detail like that, but there it is.

Tyson double-tracked his guitar parts to give them a punchier sound — something that was kind of a foreign concept to me at the time, what with the “everything must be raw and live” credo I was following with my own music — while I enjoyed not having to participate beyond engineering and recording, which didn’t feel a whole lot like work when I liked the people I was recording. I still remember the decrepit thing that was brandon’s drum kit…the top head on the snare was just barely holding on for dear life, and the whole thing looked like it had come out of a garage circa 1832, somehow surviving a chemical explosion at some point over the intervening years.

I came back the next day to record the vocal tracks. Which doesn’t make much sense in hindsight. You’d think Jay (lead screamer) and Tyson (pulling harmony screaming duty and providing all of the deep, guttural moments, and even a bit of “clean” singing on the final track) could have just come over to my place and the end result would have been the same. For whatever reason, it seemed sensible enough at the time to bring everything over to the jam space one day, take it all apart and bring it home that night, and then bring it on over again the next day and do it all a second time. Tyson had quite the facility for those especially deep, evil-sounding screams, and he let one out that was so powerful, he looked for a moment like he’d been punched in the stomach.

For the one song that was sort of quiet — at least for the first few minutes, before the breakdown kicked in — there weren’t really any words, so I had fun whispering some mock-evil passages under my breath. Tyson heard what I was doing and tried to talk me into recording the vocals myself.

I laughed and said, “It’s your song, man, not mine. I don’t know what to sing.”

“You were just doing it!” Tyson said. “What you were just doing was perfect!”

I told him I didn’t have any ideas, so he got Jay to give me what lyrics he’d written for inspiration, but it was too strange for me trying to sing to someone else’s music. I mean, some of the Guys with Dicks stuff was getting a little heavy at this point, but it wasn’t metal heavy. I also just didn’t feel it was my place to butt in. This was Tyson’s band. He wrote the music and played all the guitar parts (this was before the drums became his weapon of choice).

After a bit of friendly arguing, Tyson finally gave up on me and chose to record ominous sounds in the place of vocals. He played with a screw on the floor. He played with the padlock on the door. He made weird sounds with his pager vibrating the strings on Gord’s bass. He whispered a little bit of gibberish. He threw a beer bottle on the ground three times before it finally broke.

These days I kind of wish I did a shot at recording the vocals after all. It might have been kind of fun to be able to say there was a Johnny West vocal cameo on a song by a metal band. I guess it wasn’t to be. Opportunities missed…

Over the next week, Tyson would swing by once in a while and I would work on mixing the songs. He gave me a few tips about how things should sound, since I wasn’t used to working with this kind of music, and he brought along his four-track tape recorder to dump a few things onto the mixer, including what sounded like a sound collage of televangelists that would end up serving as the opening track. There were standout moments from a woman who was looped to repeatedly say, “Now who wants to go to hell? Would you want to go to hell?” in a creepy singsong voice. He also had me mute a few of Jay’s screams where he thought they were superfluous or sounded too much like rap metal.

Super Mario Bondage

Tyson would later read me part of an MSN tirade Brandon sent him about how they recorded the album too quickly and it didn’t sound good enough or capture their full potential…which is pretty funny when you consider he was the only one who wasn’t entirely “present” during the recording sessions. I think everyone else was pretty happy with how it turned out.

In some ways the songs are closer to typical death metal territory than what Tyson would go on to do with other bands like Blindly I Follow, Cleansed by Fire, and Closed Casket Funeral. I don’t think there are any tricky time signatures, though there are some cool off-kilter breakdowns (one of them is in 6/8) and at least one passage in 3/4. There’s a surprising amount of melody in some songs, with some passages of clean guitar and guitar harmonies, and Gord plays a few things on the bass that sound like they belong in GWD songs (Tyson noted this himself at the time). Since I had no idea what most of the song titles were, for my own copy of the CD I came up with a few silly names of my own to fill in the blanks, like “Super Mario Bondage” and “Your Friendly Neighbourhood Waterbed”.

I never got too deep into metal. It never really moved me. But Tyson helped to crack the code for me, and with his help I was finally able to appreciate the amount of talent and ferocious technical skill involved. What did it for me was tuning out the vocals at his suggestion, concentrating on the music. Some of the screamers just seemed so ill-suited to the material, it made me wish a few metal or metalcore albums were instrumental.

The surprise for me was pulling out the fetal pulp CD for a listen after not thinking much about it for years, and enjoying it more than I ever had before. I like Jay’s screaming more than most other screaming I’ve heard even in much more established metal bands. He was always a really nice, quiet guy, and then he would step up to the mic and this huge voice would come roaring out of his throat. I was always amazed he could still speak after a show. Brandon, even for being frazzled, does a solid job on the drums, and I still can’t believe I got that kit of his to sound as good as I did. Gord was always a solid bassist in any genre, and he throws in some nice unexpected jabs of melody here and there. And while Tyson would justifiably go on to carve out a reputation as one of the best drummers around, I think he held his own as a guitarist too. there’s an impressive balance between dissonance and melody in these songs, and some startlingly original riffs. I’m not sure I’ve heard of any other metal band using the airship theme from Super Mario Bros. 3 as an intro.

The overall master volume is a little quiet compared to commercial releases. Other than that, I think I did a pretty good job with the recording, especially considering what I had to work with at the time: a handful of dynamic mics (nothing better than a few Shure SM57s and an SM58), the ART preamps, the Aphex compressor, and the same Roland VS-1680 I use today. Truth be told, I’m a little surprised by how good it all sounds today. This was not at all the kind of music I was used to recording or mixing, and I had to make creative use of the mixer’s middling built-in EQ to get some of the sounds to sit right.

A few years down the road I would have better equipment and the means to produce a cleaner recording, but all in all this one sounds pretty good. Hell, the guitar and bass parts weren’t even mic’d up — they were recorded direct from the amplifiers — and they still have a decent amount of body to them.

After listening to the CD a few times and jogging some memories (only the best tracksuits for them), I almost find myself wishing I’d put a bit of an effort into recording more bands at the time. My equipment was portable enough that I could go to anyone’s practice space and just set up and no, and my ears weren’t sensitive enough yet that the high volume really bothered me. Though maybe I would have ended up with some unwanted hearing loss if I recorded too much heavy music and I’d be paying for it now.

Aside from the friends’ bands I recorded, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on in the heavier pockets of the music scene back then. I wasn’t into everything I saw at the Gino (I never quite understood the popularity of Daylatehero, for one thing), but there were some bands I really liked, and I imagine some of them never got the opportunity to have a decent recording of their material made. A lot of the bands didn’t even stay together that long. I mean, Fetal Pulp — and Guys with Dicks, for that matter — only made it from about 2000 to 2002, and that was considered a pretty long run. Back then I wasn’t yet completely averse to making a bit of money through music-related means, so I could have made a few bucks and helped some people out at the same time.

One band I wish I recorded was called Curse the Sky. I’m not sure if they were from Michigan, or Guelph…I know they weren’t that far away, but they weren’t from Windsor. They came down a few times to play at the Gino and showed up at a party or two at Gord’s house. There’s another band on Myspace now with the same name, and I’m almost positive it isn’t the same group. These guys were pretty typical death metal, I guess, but they had a breakdown in the first song of their set that was so powerful I felt like it was going to force my lips back over my face. It still stands as my favourite breakdown I’ve ever heard in any metal song. I wish I had more than just my memory of it to fall back on.

I had a stoned epiphany during that breakdown one night at the Gino and realized it was my mission in life to get a twelve-string electric guitar and then record the most melodic breakdown in the world, with clean guitar arpeggios in place of the usual distorted chugging. I haven’t got around to that yet, but there’s still time.

There was also a band called Kanada (i think Joey from Phog was in this group?) that ended every set I ever saw them play with a cover of Neil Young’s  “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”. They were much punkier than a lot of the other bands I saw live at the time, but one performance of theirs stood out. They played on a pretty stacked bill one night at the Gino when I was high on shrooms. For some odd reason the set they chose to play was almost entirely instrumental. At times it bordered on ska and surf. It was cool stuff.

I was never really one of the “Gino kids”. I just went to shows here and there for something to do. But there was some interesting stuff going on at the time, and everyone seemed to be pretty friendly, with no elitist scene bullshit. I mean, I was a long-haired guy wearing a leather jacket that usually had a Ziplock bag holding a few joints in the inside pocket. I didn’t look or act like a metal or punk scenester, mostly because I wasn’t one. But no one ever gave me any crap. Everyone was there to have a good time. If people wanted to get high, they’d go outside and get high. If people didn’t want to get high, they wouldn’t. I don’t remember any drama. We even talked about renting the space and playing a GWD show there, though it never quite happened.

I guess my point is it’s been fun to reacquaint myself with that Fetal Pulp album and remember how much fun we had recording it. The album art up there is just something silly I threw together. I never got a copy of the CD with the proper artwork, however many of those were made. Gord is now one of the only remaining founding members of local band Surdaster, Brandon is in Vancouver playing in a band called the Electric Demons (or at least he was; apparently the frontwoman passed away recently), Tyson is in PEI in a hardcore band called Get Bodied, and I’m still here, doing what I do.

Funny thing: I had a dream last night that I lucked into discovering all of the song titles I wasn’t sure about while ambling around on the internet. Of course, once I woke up I couldn’t remember what any of them were. But they made a lot of sense in the dream.

Reissued.

All of these albums have now been repackaged with new cover art (and most of them never had any proper cover art in the first place).

While SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP ended up with a grey background at the last minute (which I think looks a lot nicer), most of the covers are as you see. There are still more albums I want to repackage, but none of them are priorities right now. The main thing is, pretty much all the CDs I really wanted to give the proper treatment, and the ones I felt were most important, are now taken care of. I’ll get around to the other ones eventually, but there’s no rush.

The scary thing is, all of this music was recorded between 1999 and 2002…and the other things I haven’t got around to repackaging yet come from the same period of time. People think I’m prolific now, but things used to be much more ridiculous.

Like I said before, anyone who’s interested in this stuff should feel free to get in touch. For those who I already know are interested, I should have the boxes I need by early next week.

You’ve taken my limbs and wet the wick.

Out-takes, they be funny things. And I seem to rack up a lot of them. I mean, even an album like IF I HAD A QUARTER, which is about as insanely crammed with music as one CD can possibly get, had out-takes. I can think of a dozen songs off the top of my head that were recorded for that album but didn’t feel appropriate. Some of them I liked a lot, too. They just didn’t fit in with the venomous vision I had at the time.

To that end, here’s one of the songs that didn’t make the cut on the new album. I like it, but again, it didn’t quite feel like it fit. The 1945 Martin 00-17 and the funky Ace Tone combo organ do make interesting bedfellows. I think that Martin is destined to remain my Holy Grail acoustic guitar forever. It sounds so good it’s ridiculous, and I’ve yet to find another guitar that feels so comfortable to play.

While I normally record the Ace Tone through the amp that came with it (I think it might be another mysterious Paul), I’ve started running it into the Fender Twin after processing it with some effects, and I really like the way it sounds. Seems to give it a bit more of a middle frequency push to help cut through a mix. My old friend slapback echo shows up on the vocals again as well. It must mean a Guys with Dicks reunion is just around the corner!

Well, not really. But I dig the tremolo-fried electric guitar anyway.

For the affection of Leona

While I’m still no big proponent of MP3s, I’ve started encoding them at 320 KBPS instead of 190. The files are a little larger, but the difference in sound quality is pretty huge to my ears. So hooray for meatier MP3s not sounding as bad as slimmer MP3s!

I’ve got half a mind to go back and replace every single MP3 I’ve ever put up here with a higher quality version. But I probably won’t. Because I’m lazy.

As for the picture up there, just about every single image result I got for “Leona” when I typed it into Google was a picture of Leona Lewis. And since a few of my very favourite computer drawings perished in a recent stupid virus attack (grrr), it gave me a good excuse to get back in the swing of that particular thing. It isn’t as good as a few of the best ones I lost, and it’s rough around the edges, but I kind of like it anyway.

While the song is not at all about her, I like the name, and no other Leona comes to mind (well, maybe the one who wrote “Charm Attack”), so why not put her up here? Did you know some crazy guy punched her in the face last year at a book signing and then fell to the floor laughing when he was tackled by police? I didn’t know that. I may not be a fan of modern pop music, but man — that’s harsh. Poor girl. I could never punch someone that pretty.

Justin Bieber, on the other hand…

Too hot to plot.

I used to love the summer months when I was a kid. Having a huge in-ground swimming pool for a good six years or so didn’t hurt. I don’t know if the summers keep getting hotter or if I’ve just become a complete curmudgeon, but the absurd humid spell we got for a few days this week almost had me wishing the whole summer season ceased to exist and we just got something called “sprawl” between spring and fall. I hate the heat with a passion that has no loins.

Now that’s passion.

I probably wouldn’t feel this way if the ass-face who leases us this house hadn’t lied about the central air working on all floors. We were left to discover after we moved in and signed the lease that there’s no air circulation upstairs at all due to shitty ducting. According to him, the people who lived here before us didn’t complain about choking on their own sweat for three months out of every year, so he didn’t see a need to tell us about it.

For the past few summers a window air conditioner in the room across from my bedroom has done a decent enough job of keeping things tolerable, but in this heat it just isn’t cutting it anymore. I’ve got no less than three fans going up there in different places in addition to the air conditioner, and it still feels like my bedroom is a furnace’s anal cavity on those days when it’s a sauna outside. I can’t even start cleaning my room without sweating like a pig within about thirty seconds. I suspect it wouldn’t be much better even if I cleaned my room naked, though the novelty would make it a bit more interesting.

Maybe someday landlords will stop lying and we’ll all hold hands and sing songs about celery sticks while working central air cools our naked bodies. Until then, here’s hoping a more powerful air conditioner will do the trick.

In other news, work on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART continues to move along at a healthy clip. I’m now about two-thirds of the way to the finish line, and I think my goal to have it finished by the end of the month might just be realistic. It might not actually appear until the first days of August, since duplicating the CDs, getting the inserts made, and putting the packaging together will take a little while, but I think I can probably get it finished and sequenced just before this month is over.

I wasn’t expecting HELLHOUND to turn into a double CD, but I’ve already got more than enough material recorded and mixed to fill one CD to the breaking point and it feels like there’s still a lot more to say. So I’m going to keep recording until that little purple guy who sits on my shoulder tells me, “That’s enough now. I have no son!”

That’s right. Some people have a parrot on their shoulder, but not me. I have an Elliott on my shoulder. a

As for THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE being finished sometime in August, I’m not sure I can pull it off. But I can probably put a good dent in it. Hopefully at the latest it’ll get out there before the summer is gone.

I guess we’ll see how far along I am when the next end-of-the-month video progress report comes along.

I still feel like the songs that will be showing up on HELLHOUND could be some of the best I’ve written in a while. The other day I took a stab at one I’ve been itching to record called “Everyone You Love Is Dead”. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out, and it’s much more lyric-driven than my music tends to be lately. There’s nothing vague or fragmented about it, and much like “The Cost of Allowing Yourself to Remain Living”, it doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I would normally write. It didn’t come out of any desire to do anything different. It just came pouring out, as things tend to do. Who knew I would one day write a song about the mystery of what happens after we die and there wouldn’t be anything the least bit silly about it?

I have cover art all ready to go for the next few albums, thanks again to the accidental discovery that I can sort of draw stuff using the same program responsible for designing and printing CDs. I was positive I’d settled on what to use for the cover of HELLHOUND, but I thought I would play around with another image to maybe put on the back of the booklet just for fun. Now i don’t know which one I like better, and I think they would both work as a front cover.

My initial idea was this.

And my second idea was this.

The second one is more colourful and busy, while the first one is cleaner. I think the first image still has a bit of an edge (it just looks like a good album cover to me), but I really don’t know. I like both of them. The second one almost looks like it would be more suited to an advertisement, if I ever did that sort of thing. Like so.

Don’t think I fail to see the irony here — both HELLHOUND and ANGLE will probably feature my hairy face prominently displayed on the cover, when not long ago I said I would never let my face appear on the cover of another one of my CDs as long as i lived. What can I say? I changed my mind. And it seems fitting to me that I should be there when both of these albums are pretty big musical statements. And by big, I mean long. And when I say albums, I’m really talking about my pe…uh, never mind.

The invisible reissue campaign continues to move along. A few days from now I will have fifteen different albums from the back catalogue staring with bewilderment at their new clothes. I’m still getting a kick out of doing this, and some of the CDs are coming out looking better than I anticipated. Some of the cover art cracks me up, too. CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES has a pretty insane cover for an album that’s decidedly not so weird.

I’m already throwing around ideas for the July video progress report even though I won’t be putting it together for a few weeks. I think making a video like that at the end of every month to keep track of what I’ve been up to and where I’m at is one of the best ideas I’ve had in a long time. The next video will be a lot more ambitious and should feature a few new additions to the puppet/stuffed animal roster.

On a random note, even though I’m not posting something here every other day like I was for a while there, sometimes I feel like one of the only people who still keeps their blog/site updated regularly. I mean, in more than two years now, I think the longest I’ve ever gone without an update of some sort is maybe a few weeks, and that’s been pretty rare. Kind of funny that I started this thing mostly as a lark, not expecting to do much of anything with it, and now it’s this huge collection you see before you of music, images, videos, and rambling. I guess it’s fitting then, if not a little insane, that I now find myself working on a double CD and a quadruple CD at the same time.

Hopefully nothing explodes along the way.

Everybody wishes for more wishes. Where’s the originality in that?

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: blog neglect is a sad thing. But from time to time, it’s an unavoidable evil. As George W. Bush said, “Sometimes you need a break from the internets, because families is where our nation finds hope — where wings take dream.”

To make up for this most recent instance of wings taking dream, here’s some fairly lengthy rambliness (shut up, Firefox…”rambliness” is a word, because I say it is), beginning with a random little video. There’s a lot more on the mixer I meant to get to, but I ran out of space on the camera after only going through pieces of a few songs. Dig the single long grey hair. I wonder what it wants out of life.

Since I got cut off prematurely while in the middle of explaining how I recorded some acoustic guitar but it sounded a bit too trebly and percussive to really work in the context of the song, I felt it was only appropriate to end with a repetition of my instructions to the mixer to come on, time-stretched and warped with a cheesy effect.

I’m not sure why I was so strangely animated while talking this time. And I should have looked into the camera more when I was speaking, but then I wouldn’t be able to see what I was doing on the mixer. All of those songs will probably end up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE.

There will be more video action later on, but first…

One of the things I meant to play a bit of in the video, but didn’t get to, is an old Papa Ghostface song that was given a tentative title of “The Magic Fatty”. It was recorded about two seconds after I finished work on KEEP YOUR SCARS, which takes us back to October of 2002. Up until “On Your Life” came out of nowhere two years ago (and I still haven’t figured out what to do with that bit of one-off reunion residue), it was shaping up to be the last new Papa Ghostface song there ever was.

I don’t remember much about the night it was recorded. Gord came over to the house on Chilver, long before the crackheads came to haunt us, and we ate some pizza, drank some beer, and had some laughs. Then we sat down to make some music. My cheap Strat copy had just become a six-string again, and I wasn’t too happy about it. The high E string was borrowed to replace a broken string on a rented Les Paul just before we recorded “She’s Awfully Lovely” for YOU’RE A NATION back in 1999. It was only supposed to be temporary, but I found myself liking the guitar as a five-string. Losing a string seemed to free me up to experiment with tunings and try different things, and when I did finally go to the trouble of replacing all the strings — not because I wanted to (I hate the sound of new strings and never change them unless they break), but because I felt it was important for me to learn how to change strings, and Gord was nice enough to show me — I made sure to rip that high E back off in a hurry.

Even after I had better guitars at my disposal, I still found plenty of uses for the five-string red thing. During the late-period Guys with Dicks days it became my go-to “heavy” guitar for sludgier material, and it’s the only guitar I used on the low-fat version of the CASTRATED EP — now available with proper artwork for the first time ever! Holy frozen bean sprouts! Something about that cheap single coil pickup just sounded sweet to me when I would dial in a lot of distortion, and it was easy enough to avoid the dead frets.

By the fall of 2002 a few dead frets had turned into too many, and the humbucker pickup had stopped working altogether. It was time to bring it in to Schlong & McLame. The guy who took my order tried valiantly to convince me the cost of repairs, while reasonable, was more than the guitar was worth. He reasoned I’d be better off buying a new Squier Strat copy or something to replace it, so I could come back in a few years to trade it in for something else and they could give me a fraction of the resale value of the guitar and smile knowing they would mark it up by 400% the second I left the store, giving me a good ass-fu…I mean nothing.

By this time I’d learned enough to know what a good guitar was. A Squier trying to pretend it was a Strat would be more of a sideways move than any kind of step up. If I was going to buy any kind of new Strat, it was going to be a Fender.

My Strat copy was not a “good” guitar. But it was mine, and it was a part of my musical history. No way was I going to dump it over a bill of a hundred bucks. I had the work done, the dead frets came back to life, and then I got the guitar back with all six strings, in standard tuning. It looked wrong somehow. Like a beautiful actress who’s had some plastic surgery when she really didn’t need it. Sure, her nose was a little crooked, but that was why you found her attractive. Her flaws made her interesting.

I came close to ripping the offensive string right back off of the fretboard again, but something stopped me. I decided to play around with some new tunings, since this guitar had always taken anything I threw at it without much trouble. I slowly found myself starting to like it as a six-string. Isn’t that one of the seven stages of guitar grief, when something has been modified and you’re not entirely happy about it? Grudging acceptance? No?

Anyway, when we sat down to record I picked up this guitar, using a new tuning I’d been messing with a little bit. Gord grabbed the bass and we sketched out a few ideas. I made a drum loop on the Yamaha W-5 synth (still a year away from having its revenge on NUDGE YOU ALIVE), and we recorded about nine minutes instrumental improv that started out sounding like a soft echo of the Guys with Dicks track “We’re out of Tuna” before developing into its own unique thing. I messed around at the synthesizer for some overdubbed atmosphere, flicking through different patches, playing random things through the whole song with no real direction. I thought it was pretty mediocre and figured I’d cut most of the synth stuff out of the mix later on.

Then I thought we might turn this into one of our demented spoken word tracks — something along the lines of “What They Had Was So Pure” or “The Happy Dentist”. I found something I’d written back in high school called “The Magic Fatty”. It was just a few paragraphs of setup for a bizarre story I intended to finish and never did. It was written with this exact thing in mind — making a weird Papa Ghostface spoken word track out of it. I thought I would improvise the story as I went during the recording process, which was my whole modus operandi back then. After all, “What They Had Was So Pure” started out with a written sketch that was very unfinished, only to grow legs and head off in an unexpected direction when I was forced to improvise the meat of the story while recording the vocal track.

So I put on a goofy voice and talked about this mythical marijuana cigarette that was shrouded in mystery, and started telling a story about how, when I smoked it, a holy mackerel appeared before me and granted three wishes. After wishing for more wishes and being denied, I wished to eat my fishy wish-giver and was rebuffed. And then I had nothing else in my head, and it was less than two minutes into the song. I hit on the idea of adding some demented falsetto singing with a rhythmic delay effect, but the words weren’t coming.

What had come so easily to me in the past wasn’t there this time, and leaving the song instrumental seemed like an admission of defeat. We ran out of steam after that and the evening wound down with nothing else recorded. Shortly thereafter, Gord and I went our separate ways musically, he to form Sürdaster and me to record a whole lot of solo albums. Papa Ghostface didn’t break up so much as go dark, and while we’ve threatened to wake the beast a few times since then, it hasn’t yet stirred for long enough to do much more than scribble out a few of its more interesting dreams before drifting off to sleep again.

So the song sat unmixed, remembered but not listened to, for seven and-a-half years.

Fast-forward to the present day. The world is overrun with artistically vacant musical atrocities like Stereos, Justin Bieber, and Wondersexstuffmuffinface, Paris Hilton’s infamous Spanish poodle who fancies himself a singer. I’m in the process of giving a few dozen albums from the back catalogue the proper packaging they never received the first time around, and I arrive at the final Papa Ghostface album, KISSING THE BALD SPOT. This is a posthumous collection made up of out-takes from the PAPER CHEST HAIR sessions and some things recorded later on when GWD had all but taken over — tracks we considered album material, though they never quite found an album to live on.

At the time I put it together, back in the summer of 2002, I had yet to gather all the finished material from the CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES solo sessions in one place, so I dumped some of the newly mixed tracks on KISSING THE BALD SPOT to pad out the album and bring the runtime up to about an hour, since the recording dates for CHILDREN and CHEST HAIR overlapped to the point of blurring together.

I was pretty happy with my sequencing for a few years. Not so much anymore. For a while now I’ve been meaning to get rid of the solo tracks that don’t really belong and replace them with some other out-takes to make it a true PG album. Problem is, while there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of forty or fifty Papa Ghostface out-takes unavailable in any official capacity, the majority of them are either (a) not worth putting on a proper album, (b) not in a format that allows me to remix them, and with existing sound quality that isn’t good enough to make the grade — “If You Were Mine” and “You Are Me”, two of our better and more interesting non-album tracks, sadly fall into this category — or (c) not bad songs, but just not really compatible with the rest of the material on BALD SPOT and not anything I could throw on the CD without disrupting the flow of the whole thing.

The one song I think might fit in is this “Magic Fatty” thing, and at eight minutes and change it’s long enough to help keep things at a decent length even without the CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES tracks. Maybe if I get all revisionist on the song’s ass, adding real drums and some new vocals, it’ll become something a lot more interesting. So I dump it back on the mixer — again, not having heard it in more than seven years, but remembering it as a middling, waffling instrumental with unrealized potential.

The first thing I notice is the quality of sounds I have to work with. It’s a whole lot better than most other Papa Ghostface material, sonically speaking, because I had much more equipment by late 2002 and knew a lot more about how to get decent sounds out of it. I clean up Gord’s bass, getting rid of some low frequency mud, and manage to carve it into something defined and upfront without too much work. Too bad I didn’t know how to kill the mud like this back when we were recording those GWD albums…but I don’t have the time or energy to go back and remix that stuff right now. Maybe I’ll get to it someday. Or maybe the music should be left alone.

Sure, it would technically sound better if I cleaned up the low end, did what I could to bring out the drums more on some of the songs where Tyson completely killed the snare’s attack through bad mic placement, and pushed my voice way up in the mix. But it would be like painting new additions on a mural you finished years ago. Maybe you’re a better artist now, but the whole point of the work is that it exists as a document of who you were and what you were capable of then. I didn’t particularly like my voice back in those days, and I went out of my way to bury it in the mix and slather it in slapback echo so it became just another instrument. And I didn’t know much about EQ, nor did I have the bass DI tools I have now, so the bass doesn’t have as much definition as it could and there’s some mud in places.

Maybe that’s as it should be. I feel a bit uneasy about the whole revisionist mixing thing in most cases, and sometimes sit uneasily on the fence with “the overall sound could be improved quite a bit” on one side, and “it sounds good enough, and the way I meant for it to sound at the time” on the other. It’s possible I could make everything sound a little better without messing with the spirit of the original recordings, but I think it would be a tricky thing to navigate. And it really would take a lot of time to do and necessitate clearing everything off of the mixer for a while, killing the ability to record any new material until I was finished. These are huge albums we’re talking about, often pushing the limits of how much music a single CD can hold, and most of them were recorded as one complete file, with all of the songs (and out-takes, and sound checks) in one place, bleeding into one another. It’s a huge job to undertake for music only a small group of people outside of myself would even have any interest in.

Maybe I’ll get to it someday in the not-too-distant future. Maybe when all this stuff I’m working on right now is finished.

But where were we? I’m playing with the mix, surprised by how workable the raw sounds are. I get things sounding pretty good, and then I pull up the synth track. What sounded like aimless crap back then now sounds off-kilter in a good way, and it fits the song. At the time it was recorded I thought I would keep a few pieces here and there, but most of it would end up on the proverbial cutting room floor. Now I find myself keeping it all. I kill most of the vocal track (the half-assed attempt at a story goes nowhere and is as lame as I remember), retaining only the brief bits of falsetto weirdness and a few odd words that seem to work when taken completely out of context.

I mess around with some subtle dub-like effects on the drum loop, adding delay and reverb here and there in real-time when I feel like it, and thicken it up a bit with some compression. I add a bit of reverb to the synth sounds and my electric guitar to give things a bit more body and atmospheric heft. I was still using a POD at the time we recorded this instead of mic’ing up an actual amp, but the guitar sounds pretty good. I make a mix, “print” it to CD, listen to it, hear nothing that makes me want to take another pass at it, and am kind of stunned to find myself really enjoying this song I’ve completely neglected since the night it was recorded.

What I dismissed for years as a substandard out-take is now probably one of my favourite instrumental songs we ever recorded. It sounds like the beginning of a new chapter in the Papa Ghostface story we never bothered to explore any further, and the musicianship is light years ahead of what we were doing a few years earlier. My guitar-playing has reached a level of fluidity I couldn’t even come within sniffing distance of on PAPER CHEST HAIR, firing off distorted chords and chiming harmonics at the same time, playing some pretty busy runs, switching back and forth between pickups and occasionally grabbing a metal slide. Gord does the same, making it sound a bit like he has four hands when he’s anchoring the low end while throwing in slide glissando’s with his pinky.

The telepathic musical connection Gord and I seemed to share almost from the beginning is still there in full force, and the whole thing dissolves in a sea of dissonance that somehow feels like the only ending there could be. I add nothing new to the song, leaving it as one guitar track, one bass track, a drum loop, a not-even-half-there vocal track, and a stereo synth track. It doesn’t need anything more after all.

After listening to it half a dozen times on repeat, I decide this has to be the first song on KISSING THE BALD SPOT. It can’t be any other way. “The Street That Got Laid” was never a great opening and always felt more like a mood piece that belonged in the middle of the album. This track is the one that belongs at the beginning (though I now need to come up with a better title than “The Magic Fatty”), and it needs to be immediately followed by “C’mon”, one of our best and most sinister pseudo-spoken word creations that never felt like it found a comfortable place in the first sequence I put together.

This means I have to rethink the whole thing and shuffle the order of the songs. It takes a bit of thinking, but I figure it out, and I think the result is an album that flows much better than it did in its first incarnation. It’s always going to feel a little scattershot no matter how I sequence it, with the songs coming from different places over a period of a little over two years, but I think it can now stand alongside YOU’RE A NATION, SHOEBOX PARADISE, and PAPER CHEST HAIR as one of the best Papa Ghostface albums (and, if there isn’t ever going to be another PG album, a fitting epitaph as well).

Before too long it will also have proper cover art for the first time ever.

This is what I drew a few weeks ago, very quickly, by hand, with a few coloured markers and a piece of paper, in an attempt at tapping into the old school crudeness of something like the original SHOEBOX PARADISE album cover.

I liked it just fine until I started messing around with the paint program, which led to an outpouring of new ideas, and this.

I like that a bit better. I think it’s supposed to be a sad turnip suffering from male pattern baldness. It’s still crude, but it seems a bit more appropriate and looks more like a proper album cover. Even SHOEBOX PARADISE now has new cover art — the random weirdness of old has been replaced by my best attempt at capturing what we looked like at the time, when I was growing my hair out for the first time ever and experiencing some of the most stylish hair days of my life (it hurts me more than you can imagine that I have no photographic evidence of just how stylish I was lookin’ at the time).

Just about every album on the sidebar at the right now has new cover art, aside from some early solo CDs I haven’t got around to yet. The whole Discography page is a pretty different beast from what it was up until a few weeks ago. It’ll take a while to get everything up to speed in terms of physical copies, but so far I’ve got a few late-period GWD CDs done, and it’s surreal to see them looking like real albums for the first time in my life. The cover art for GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE still cracks me up.

Back to that red Strat copy for a minute.

This axe was always a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve only recently uncovered a bit of information about its lineage. Seems the makers of “Stage” guitars, whoever they were, operated out of Texas in the 1980s and early ’90s before going under, or closing shop, or getting into the adult film industry. It’s almost impossible to find any information about the company on the internet (try doing a search for “stage guitars” and finding something useful), but I did manage to find some old advertisements on a message board somewhere.

The full name is “Center Stage”. All these years I had no idea. Maybe there’s even a model number or at least a serial # hidden away somewhere that’s also evaded me all this time. Mine most closely resembles the red guitar below in the top half of the image, third from left, with white pick guard…but my guitar has two pickups and looks a bit different, and it also has a tremolo arm.

I still remember buying the guitar in the summer of 1999 from a guy who advertised it in the paper as a “Stratocaster” without any particular name. He was upfront with me on the phone about it not being a Fender. I think he said he bought the guitar for his nephew, but the young ‘un either never expressed much interest in learning how to play or he no longer had any use for the guitar. It also came with an amp, a stand, and a soft case. All for just a bit over $200.

Seemed like a deal at the time. I didn’t realize how much of a deal it was until years later. Not only is the guitar still going strong in spite of its odd lineage (it’s basically the bastard son of an unknown Texan operation), but I got a free amplifier that doesn’t sound like anything else and has added immeasurably to the music I’ve made, even if it took me until halfway through the recording of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to realize just how cool the grunty old thing is and how good it sounds with a mic or two in front of it.

One interesting tidbit — the guy who sold me the guitar and amp also had a bunch of banjos at his place, and I asked him some questions about them. I thought it might be cool to mess around with a banjo at some point, and I wondered if you could buy a pickup to use while recording with one (shows how much I knew at the time). He told me I probably wouldn’t need a pickup, since banjos are such loud instruments, and offered to sell me one of his at some future date if I decided I was interested. Little did I know I would someday own three funky old tenor banjos and a banjitar.

I can still see the guy in my head. He was maybe in his early forties, had brown hair that was a little wavy, wire rim glasses, a friendly smile, and looked a bit like a kindly college professor. His name is lost to the sands of time, as is the classified ad I answered. But he was very nice to talk to, and I think we could have an even more stimulating conversation today, now that I kind of know what I’m doing. At the time, he told me the amp was made in the 1960s and he had just replaced the tubes. My idea of bartering was asking him, “How low would you be willing to go?” and the price dropped a bit more.

Come to think of it, that was the only time I ever bartered with anyone. As a rule I just pay the asking price.

For some reason I think his name might have been Mark. Maybe someday, some way, he’ll stumble across this blog and fail to recognize me, since I scarcely resemble the short-haired, clean-cut fifteen-year-old I was when he last saw me and I don’t tend to post a lot of pictures of myself here anyway. But I think he’d get a kick out of all the adventures his guitar and amp have had with me over the past eleven years.

Finally, here’s something I did just for fun — a few random bits of footage thrown together to make a half-assed “promo” video with the intent of providing a little taste of what’s on the way. I’m not sure if this one or THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE will hit the finish line first, or if they’ll both be done at the same time. Suppose we’ll find out before too long. But this other album seems to be attracting some of the catchiest songs I’ve written in quite some time. I’m not sure why. I recorded one the other day with mandola, bass, drums, piano, suitcase glockenspiel, melodica, banjo, three different miscellaneous percussion instruments, and about seven vocal tracks.

(Warning: this video is six hundred times louder than the last one, so if you hiked up the volume on your computer to hear what was going on up there I suggest you turn it way down before checking out what’s going on down here just to make sure something doesn’t explode)

Born free. Died rather expensively.

Something has been on my mind a bit lately. I’ve been back and forth over whether or not I should say anything on a public forum, wanting to express my opinion but not wanting to insult or offend anyone in the process. I thought I could swallow it and leave it alone, but it won’t stay down. Apparently you can’t ply a golf ball with motor oil. And what’s the point of having a blog/self-absorbed digital playground if you can’t say whatever you want to say?

So I begin, with the caveat that I’m about to express an unpopular opinion and perhaps start an argument or two in the process. I don’t really want to participate in an argument with anyone. I just want to get rid of something that’s been taking up a bit of space in my brain.

Lately more and more people are starting to do the “free MP3” thing. Bandcamp seems to be the medium everyone is choosing to use right now. I see more people jumping on board all the time, and they usually receive praise for being all about sharing the music and not about making money.

Maybe I’m cynical, but in most cases it seems more like a calculated move, hopping onto a bandwagon, and not really about a genuine desire to cut money out of the equation at all. You still have to pay for the physical album if you want a tangible representation of the music with artwork, lyrics (where applicable), and sound quality that won’t make your hi-fi cry. A small number of people have started throwing in WAV files with the MP3s, so at least you can get the music at full fidelity, but this is so rare it might as well not be happening at all.

I don’t have anything against people doing this. Free music is free music. What’s weird to me is how celebrated giving away lossy files is (while still making people pay if they want to own the music in a more meaningful way), while what I do — giving the physical album away — is looked at by some as being “wrong”.

Think about it. The only thing these people are giving away for free is something that costs them no money to produce in the first place. You rip MP3s and put them up somewhere on the internet in a matter of minutes, at no cost, with little effort involved. You don’t even have to pay for server space. Sites like Bandcamp will take care of it for you. Then you advertise the existence of the MP3s, knowing the people who like the music and those who care about sound quality and/or supporting the artist will still shell out for the physical product later.

People who do the MP3 thing and then make a big show of calling attention to it being amazing and free like they’re saving the rain forest or something kind of make me feel a little funny. “It’s free! In digital form. But, you know, if you want it in a physical format, you gotta pay. If you come out to a show, you gotta pay. If you want any merchandise we may have available, like posters and shirts, guess what! You gotta pay.”

It’s a bit like saying, “You can have a degraded old VHS dub of my movie (with no case) for free if you like, but if you want it on DVD the way I really meant for it to be experienced, at a level of quality you can really enjoy, and with a booklet full of pictures and writing you won’t find anywhere else, well…you have to pay me for it.”

I guess this is a step in the right direction, since I don’t think MP3s were ever worth paying for in the first place. But until people start giving physical albums away for free and making everything else related to their “art” free as well, I won’t believe they’re not just interested in making money any way they can just like almost everyone else is.

The thing is, if you really aren’t about making money off of music, you LOSE money. That’s how it works. No one wants to do that. I lose money every time I put a CD out there. I never make it back. Not through music, anyway. But hey, I’m just an enigmatic reclusive weirdo, or a figment of someone else’s imagination.

Some people don’t seem to mind giving something away for free when it at least doesn’t cost them anything to do it, or when their band broke up a few years ago, they’ve got leftover CDs they want to get rid of, and no one wants to buy them anymore, or when the product isn’t something anyone would be willing to pay for to begin with. But doing something you know will cost money, putting an effort into making it something you can be proud of, and then going out of your way to not be reimbursed so things are free to your audience and no one but you pays for anything…that’s a whole new ball game.

I find it interesting how people thought I was nuts when I finally became somewhat visible as a musical entity, and all of this bizarre speculation went on, in part because of the whole “everything is free” credo. And yet none of these people who are giving away MP3s are considered crazy at all, regardless of who they are or where they operate. No one thinks they’re going too far or making anyone else look bad. Wouldn’t you know? They’re just doing a wonderful thing for the sake of sharing music. It’s now considered cool to be all about the free, or to act like you are, but is anyone really cutting money out of the picture? I don’t see it. Anywhere. I see a lot of people taking baby steps while trying to make it look like they’re sprinting.

I’m not saying people giving away music digitally is wrong, or a bad thing. We’ve covered this before. I understand the way things work. I recognize most people can’t afford to just sink money into producing something, eat the expense, and give it all away for nothing. I can respect that.

And I’m not pissed off about other people getting praise for not really doing anything out of the ordinary or putting anything on the line, when I’ve been giving physical albums away for free for years, losing money every step of the way, with no one really paying any attention until recently. It does grate a little, but that’s because I don’t think it’s quite right to make a big show of not being in it for the money when all you’re really doing is generating some free promotion for yourself in an effort to sell more CDs and get more people out to your shows so you can MAKE MONEY.

Sharing music is a good thing, however you choose to do it, whether the music being shared is any good or not. The part that doesn’t sit right with me is the dishonesty about how it’s being shared and the motivation behind the method. Just call it what it is, man. You don’t get to take a leak on Jesus’s feet and call yourself a Christian just because you give some grainy xeroxed Bibles to street kids on your day off.

I realize that analogy makes no sense at all, but it amuses me. And amusement is the spice of life. Or at least it’ll spice up your spaghetti if you treat it right.

I could say a lot more, but I think I got my point across. I feel at least six ounces lighter now. No disrespect intended to anyone specific, the opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of those affiliated with blah blah blah, my headache made me do it, so on and so forth.

Half-assed non-disclaimer aside, I stand by everything I just said. Them’s just the feelings I got.

In less rant-tastic news, I’ve been making inserts and covers for CDs from the back catalogue that never got the proper treatment the first time around. It’s a good time-killer when you’ve got bloodshot eyes and your sleep is out of whack.

I thought I would prioritize, concentrating on albums I wouldn’t mind sharing with anyone no matter how old they are and things I would have made more widely available long ago if the “packaging” didn’t consist of my handwriting on inside-out CD-R inserts using different coloured pens. I expected maybe (at best) I could come up with ideas for ten or so CDs. If I was lucky.

Then I discovered the paint option in the program I use to design inserts and print text onto CDs. It came bundled with the little CD printer, and I’m only beginning to discover all it can do. Yeah, it’s a pretty simple, no-frills program. But it’s also stupidly easy to work with, which is always a good thing in my book when it comes to computer software.

Since drawing things by hand and then scanning them can get to be a little time-consuming, I thought I would try drawing badly with one finger, on the computer, to save some time and have some fun. The next thing I knew, I was making covers for albums I don’t even consider to be very good or reissue-worthy and having a ridiculous amount of fun doing it. Within a day or two I progressed from intentionally crude scribbles to…well, I’ll show you.

Here are some of my favourites from the cover art I’ve come up with so far for thirty different albums. This means every Papa Ghostface and Guys with Dicks album now has cover art of some sort, as do some earlier solo CDs. Some even have two different covers, in case I decide I like one better than the other. If I keep this up, by the end of the long weekend every single CD I’ve ever recorded will have inserts ready to go when/if I decide to get them printed.

This was badly-drawn on purpose with one finger. Like I said before, the image I have in my head as being most appropriate for the album would not be very easy to bring to life, and I sure couldn’t draw it to save mine. Instead, you get a ridiculous rendering of the band. I am an angry, crude triangle, Gord is a chicken drumstick, and Tyson is a metal-head in vehicular form. My finger didn’t flatter him. Sorry, Tyson. Maybe if you had stubble like Gord it all could have been different.

We’ll come back to this album in a bit.

This one is self-explanatory. Nothing subtle about it. I can’t just churn out an impressionistic painting full of symbolism, as much as I wish I could. But I like how it turned out. What the dude is doing there is pretty much what I felt like doing to myself at the time. I coloured him in manually instead of using bucket fills, ’cause I’m fly like that. More on this in a bit as well.

Is it wrong that i laugh every time I look at this? I think it probably is. But I still laugh. I laughed when i was drawing it, too. The guy just looks so happy to be stabbing himself in the side of the head. Crude as it is, this may be one of my favourite things I’ve come up with so far. Make of that what you will.

All I did here was take a picture of Elmo and “invert” the image so it looks reverse-exposed or something. It’s done in one click. It feels ridiculously appropriate somehow, because I do an impression of Elmo on some of the songs (I did a pretty good Elmo back in the day, I’ll have you know), and because it’s absurd-looking and the album itself is completely bonkers.

Now, this one I’m actually kind of proud of. I started importing existing pictures into the program and sketching on top of them just for something to do, using the image as an initial guideline and then throwing it away, and I found the results were more interesting than I expected them to be. So I thought I would try sketching the person who was inspiring a lot of my mixed-up-ness (and music) at the time, and this is what came out.

It’s far from perfect. The hair is rough, and I left out some details while adding others that were never there before. I wasn’t after recreating the image I was working with by rote, but rather trying to sketch an “impression” of it, and I think I managed to pull it off. Kind of scary to think I’m a better “artist” using one finger and a mouse than I am when I have both hands at my disposal.

The subject is a lot more attractive than this rendering makes her seem, but it’s probably a good thing it didn’t end up looking much like her when it was all over, given some of the lyrics. I did some experimenting while refining my one-finger-computer-drawing technique, and what you see above turned into this.

I think it’s a marked improvement, and most of what I did was reductive, cutting out unnecessary lines and cleaning things up a bit. I’ve started to play with colouring different things in unusual ways as well — giving someone blue hair, or a green hand, or whatever I think looks cool. I tweaked it a little more after this and fixed some rough stuff like the edge of the arm there.

About that one-finger thing: because the program I’m using was not designed with drawing in mind and only features basic painting tools, I have to colour things in with my finger.

Let me explain how ridiculous this is.

Normally you would create layers and “fill” certain areas in with whatever colour you like. Easy as cake. I can’t do that. When I try to do that, it almost never turns out well. I can set a general background colour, but if I want to colour in something specific I have to move the mouse back and forth over a small area over and over again and slowly change trajectory, and I have to keep doing it for quite a while before I start to fill anything up with a significant amount of colour.

The largest amount of ground I can cover at any given time is about the size of the head of a nail. The fastest way to go about it is to keep seesawing back and forth in one continuous motion, making lines like you’d make scribbles, but this has its drawbacks. You make a mistake and colour outside the lines, and you either have to undo everything you just did, or (if you’re lucky) you can get it with the eraser tool and not end up accidentally erasing things you don’t want to get rid of.

It’s not quite as time-consuming as I just made it sound. It just gets a little frustrating when you make a mistake and have to take five steps backward instead of one.

Don’t think the hilarity of this is lost on me. I’m using a no-frills CD-printing program to do increasingly ambitious things with computer-based drawings, using an index finger, where most people would get a program designed for this stuff, a tablet, and a writing/drawing tool, they’d use their whole hand, and life would be much simpler. I can’t draw anyway, so I might as well stick with what I’ve got. It seems to be working pretty well so far. Like I said, I’m better at drawing with one finger in an unnatural position (my mouse is one of those touch-pads built into the computer itself, affording even less control and precision than a normal mouse would) than I am with a free hand and a piece of paper. Go figure.

I’ve always had a hard time making anything I draw look the least bit feminine. So I’ve mostly been working with images of women in an effort to figure out what makes them so much more interesting to look at than most dudes, and how I might go about capturing whatever it is that makes this so. The more I do this, the more people start to look like themselves. Like Carly Pope here.

It…looks…like a woman! My god! I never thought I would see the day. The ear could have turned out better, but still. I’d be kind of tempted to use that as an album cover at some point, because I like it. But I’m not sure using the likeness of a celebrity is a good idea, even if nothing is being sold, not a lot of people are going to see it, and you’re not using an existing image while passing it off as your own (or neglecting to credit the person who originated said image). Maybe I should send Carly a letter asking if I can have permission to put her face on a random CD cover at a future date.

I’m sure that wouldn’t seem odd at all. And I’m sure her email address is real easy to come by.

At the other end of the spectrum, this one isn’t even attempting to look nice. The album itself is pretty crude (and crudely recorded), so I think it fits.

This is one of the albums I’ve long felt was deserving of cover art, but coming up with something appropriate seemed hopeless. The other day I thought I would try using a picture I took myself, of myself, and attempt to modify it enough to come away with an image of what I looked like around the time the songs were recorded eight years ago. More or less. The result is a little grotesque and doesn’t look a whole lot like a period-correct me (no way could I cultivate stubble like that back then, and I was much skinnier than I look there). But I think that’s appropriate, since I was feeling pretty grotesque at the time and the subject matter is hardly sunny.

Then I thought, “I can do something better for SUBLIMINAL BILE. As amusing as it is to see Gord as a chicken drumstick and Tyson as a…goofy-looking…vehicle, maybe I can come up with a better representation of us. And we should definitely all be there, looking at least a little like ourselves, since this was the exact moment we became a real band once and for all and something really clicked. The camaraderie and excitement generated by the noise we were making (which I considered some of the best music I’d made in my life at the time) was at least as important a part of my life as the mind-numbing telemarketing work that made me want to murder people, the anger and confusion inspired by an ill-fated long-distance relationship never to be consummated, and a growing interest in illicit substances.”

So I came up with this.

I am a disembodied head, Gord is looking kind of serene, and Tyson looks a good deal less goofy, and a lot more menacing.

The more people I draw, the less I find myself relying on the image used as a reference and the more of my own touches I add. I could probably go back and redo the STELLAR cover with a much better likeness now (look at the progression from that one, to BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, to this), but I ain’t gonna.

Tyson had quite a bit of hair in the picture I was working with here, but I had to make him look hairless in order for his rendering to be period-correct. And the picture of myself I used as a guide looks nothing like what I turned it into. I didn’t just have a proper body in the picture, but a lot of facial hair, and my hair was tied back. All of that had to change, which meant effectively rebuilding my facial structure without anything to guide me, since the beard made it difficult to know where my chin was in there, because in 2001 I hated tying my hair back, avoided it as much as possible, and in spite of my best attempts I couldn’t grow the swarthy stubble I wanted. How things change.

In the end, this is probably another one of my favourites, and I can hardly believe I created it myself in less than an hour. I think it might even be one of my coolest-looking CDs ever, once it’s assembled.

I made visual art that doesn’t look like total shit. Me. How on earth did that just happen? I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself an actual artist or what I’m producing actual art, but this stuff isn’t just miles beyond anything I’ve ever done or thought I could produce in the realm of drawing…it’s a whole new universe. From a free program and a finger.

And back to the crudeness we go. Turns out I was capable of coming up with artwork for this one after all. That’s right…a bearded man with large breasts. I don’t care who you are or what gender you identify as — if you ever wake up to find your nipples looking like those guys, please seek immediate medical attention.

Now, you might be starting to think I’ve been spending an unhealthy amount of time over the past day or two drawing ridiculous things with one finger on the computer. But no. I also used some photos.

I managed to find a picture of Gord from some years back, passed out on the floor, and combined it with a picture of me pretending to be passed out from around the time this Papa Ghostface stuff was happening (albeit with less hair than I really had at the time of this particular album’s recording). Will there ever be a Papa Ghostface album cover that’s not ridiculous in one way or another? Probably not. But this one became a lot cooler after I messed with some more of that photo-inverting fun.

paper chest hair (2000)

That just looks cool to me. Who cares if by the time we recorded that album I was growing my hair out? You only get so many pictures of yourself pretending to be unconscious in bed to work with in a lifetime. You gotta take ’em where you can get ’em.

Okay, so I lied. This one is pretty normal. It’s funny, because the album is about as far from “normal” as you can get. But I thought it was appropriate to use a picture of what my “studio” space was at the time this CD was recorded, to make it clear how little room there was and how small an assortment of equipment I had to work with.

There was more in there than what you see in the picture, but not by much. A few keyboards, a bass (the acoustic was a rental), two guitars (those were the days…when I only had two guitars), an SM57, an SM58, the Digitech guitar effects processor, the BoomBox I was using as my monitors, and that just about covers it.

The first four papa ghostface albums (and most of the fifth), my first seven or eight solo CDs, the Radio-Active Waste stuff with Johnny Smith, the Traveling Westburys EP, the first Jesse Topliffe CD, the Starving Artists album, and a few things I recorded for other people were all born in this tiny room, along with a bunch of cassette tapes before the mixer came into the picture.

There was something special about that glorified storage room. I think sometimes not having much of any equipment, or space, or really knowing what to do with either of them can be an asset. You get down to work with what’s at hand, and you have no rules or guidelines to restrain you. You make it up as you go along.

I wouldn’t trade the equipment or space I have now for what I had back then, but I still have nostalgic feelings for that little room and the music made within it from time to time.

There’s a lot more in the way of album art, ranging from “things I spent ten seconds on that are kind of shitty, but they’ll do the job and the albums aren’t the best things I’ve ever done anyway”, to “holy shit…I just came up with that?!”

A few of my favourite things are for albums I don’t even rank that highly.

There’s a classic Papa Ghostface album cover if there ever was one, and the album it’s for isn’t even one of our best. I keep trying to change the title so I can use it for something else, but it doesn’t feel right. Damn you, cream-coloured guy shedding your dead skin. Damn you for making me dream about you.

And there’s this, which is for an album that isn’t even an album but a recorded conversation about our band and its possible future, back when things were at their most exciting.

It looks like a ridiculous exposé or something. Oh my god! We smoked stuff and talked about stuff for an hour! Stop the presses!

I’ve been having some surprising revelations and rediscoveries involving the music these images are meant to accompany as well, but I’ll save that for another time, lest I write a book.

One more thing, though — I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout out to WordPress. Over the past few days I noticed my videos didn’t seem to be working anymore. All the other media was fine, and the video player would load, but the videos themselves wouldn’t play anymore. I sent a message asking if there was anything I could do to fix this, went to sleep, and when I woke up all my videos were working again. Now that’s what I call customer service.