misfits

i know you are, but why?

vincent

early on in my digital recording days, when i was still trying to work it all out, i didn’t always back up everything i recorded. with cassette tapes it was simple. you recorded the thing, the thing was there, and you were done. this was different.

there are whole albums i neglected to preserve in any way beyond dumping the tracks on an audio CD. half of SINGING THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP and most of DON’T TALK LIKE A BABY got the backup treatment. none of SCREAMING NIPPLES or LIVE AT THE NAKED GIRAFFE THEATER did.

i can still remember sitting in the tiny music room i was working out of in 1999 and deleting all of YOU’RE A NATION from my mixer, thinking, “the CD’s finished. there’s no need to back any of this up. besides, i need the mixer space to record new things. see you later, entirety-of-what-will-later-become-one-of-my-favourite-early-papa-ghostface-albums.”

there went any chance to revisit the album once i knew a little bit more about what i was doing and at least get rid of the low end mud and out-of-control digital clipping.

i did think SONGS FOR DEAD SKIN was worth backing up in full. that right there is what you call an epic fail in the “being a good judge of your own work” department.

by the time we got to SHOEBOX PARADISE i wised up and started backing up everything but the odd out-take i didn’t think i’d ever want to revisit. by OH YOU THIS out-takes were getting backed up too, no matter how crummy i thought they were. today i don’t just back up every song i record — i back up in-progress versions and alternate mixes, and every backed-up thing gets a backup copy of itself, just in case one disc decides to crap out at some point.

this comes with its own set of problems. if i haven’t been specific enough in scrawling on a CD how evolved any given song on it is, sometimes i’ll have no idea which disc has the specific thing i’m looking for. example: there’s an O-L west song i’ve backed up at three different points. and it’s still not finished. it took me weeks to track down the most up-to-date unmixed backup. some of that comes down to the most recent several dozen backup CDs being scattered all over the place with no rhyme or reason, but still.

the other day i started thinking. it’s a pain in the ass to have to dig through boxes of CD-Rs for whatever i’m after at any given time. it doesn’t help much that the boxes are arranged in chronological order. i mean, look at the discography sidebar on this blog. i’ve recorded a goofy amount of music over the years, and what’s out there in the world in one form or another is only a fraction of it.

what if i went through every little box one by one and itemized what was in them? what if i built a database of what was on the backup CDs, so the next time i wanted to load something back on the mixer i could pinpoint where it was in seconds?

i can’t believe i didn’t think to do this sooner. it hasn’t been as tedious or time-consuming as i expected. i’m just about finished. it’s funny to see how many different brands of CD-Rs i went through over the years, and impressive how many of them still work. only a few have gone wonky on me, and they don’t have anything on them i’m missing too much.

here’s the thing. i have a pretty good handle on all the different things i’ve done. anything music-related has always lived in my memory longer than just about anything else that rattles around the old brain. but when you’re dealing with seventeen years of archived material, you’re going to uncover the odd thing you forgot all about, or that you didn’t even know was there.

the day before valentine’s day in 2004 i sat in on chris hewer’s CJAM show actual air. it was my fourth and last time on his show, i think. i played him some songs off of NUDGE YOU ALIVE (which had been released, to the extent that i released anything back then) and GROWING SIDEWAYS (which was still being recorded).

for the live performance segment — always something chris encouraged — i thought about covering a blue nile song to tie in with the looming day of romantic grotesqueries, since paul buchanan’s songs on a walk across the rooftops and hats were some of the only love songs i could stomach in those days. i decided to improvise something instead. i brought my acoustic 12-string and a few half-formed melodic ideas with me and hoped for the best.

trying to improvise a song out of thin air in a live setting when you’re not a jazz musician isn’t always a great idea. sometimes it works out. sometimes not so much.

it wasn’t a great idea that friday night. i played a little bit. then i sang:

i smell something cooking in the kitchen
don’t burn don’t burn don’t burn the prosthesis

and there wasn’t another word in my head. after all the countless times i’d opened my mouth while recording, alone or with other people, and watched a torrent of unwritten lyrics come pouring out, this time i had nothing.

i laughed, said, “i don’t know what the hell i’m doing,” and it fell apart before it could really turn into anything.

later that night i listened to the archived MP3 on CJAM’s website. it didn’t sound as much like it was falling apart in hindsight as i thought it did in the moment, until it…you know…fell apart.

kind of wish i thought to download that, if only for posterity.

a week later i sat down with the thing, built on it, and recorded it as an instrumental piece. i didn’t mix it. and then, as far as i could tell, i never backed it up and it was lost forever.

i didn’t feel like anything amazing got away there. but it was a little frustrating. the passage of time made me more curious about what i did with that song. only one or two vague bits hung around in my head long-term, when i knew it passed through something like a dozen different sections.

there’s a song called “i know you are, but why?” on one of the backup CDs from the GROWING SIDEWAYS period. i always assumed it was one of the songs that ended up on that album. must have been a working title i gave whatever song it was before i figured out what i wanted to call it.

when i was building my archival database, i decided it was time to drop it back on the mixer and find out what it really was. i saw the file size was pretty small. probably one of the shorter tracks. “an elegant insult”. “feckless”, maybe.

nope. it’s the song that got its start as a botched improvisation the day before valentine’s day in 2004. the one i was sure i never backed up.

talk about your surprises.

it’s weird to hear it all this time later. it’s not any great lost masterpiece. there are some flubs in there. i think i always meant to re-record it once i had a chance to sit with it and tweak it some more. but it’s pretty neat for what it is.

the first chunk is played on that washburn D10S 12-string. the simon & patrick spruce 6 CW that’s all over every non-synth-driven thing i recorded from 2003 to 2007 picks it up from there, and then the 12-string comes back for a brief coda punctuated by the distant sound of a door opening.

those were the only two decent acoustic guitars i had at the time. i recorded them with a rode NT4 stereo mic and ran that into one of the now-departed DBX silver series mic preamps.

i don’t regret unloading that mic. it didn’t do much to excite me anymore once i stepped up to high end mic preamps. but it served me well for a good few years there, and i can’t hear anything in this recording now that sounds harsh or cheap to me.

if you’re recording on a budget and you want a mic that will capture the sound of an acoustic instrument in stereo, you could do a whole lot worse.

anyway, here’s the song i didn’t even know existed. beef be braised.

i know you are, but why?

a hunk of burning love.

i got a proof. the proof looks good. i just need to fix a mistake i made in the booklet, and if all goes according to plan i should have some advance copies of the new CD to share with CJAM and a few special people by friday.

in the meantime, here are two more out-takes. i ended up having to throw out a few more songs at the last minute before the thing felt like it finally had a good flow to it. there’s a song i posted here a little while back called “held is not holding” that almost made it, but just didn’t feel like it belonged anymore when the dust settled. it’s funny that it wouldn’t make the cut, because it sounds more like a breakup song than some of the actual breakup songs on the album do, even though it was written and recorded pre-breakup.

Optimistic Intro

this one’s pretty self-explanatory. it was going to be the first thing on the album — an instrumental segue leading into “i’m optimistic”, with the two fused together — until i realized the opening track had a lot more punch to it without a wafting instrumental intro.

Sadly Mistaken

one track where the melodica really got a spotlit moment, and now it finds itself sitting on the out-take heap as well. felt like one downcast song too many. but i do like that big melodica-driven climax.

someday there will be another misfits/out-takes album, and all these things will have a place to call home.

getting there.

at this point, i’m closing in on the finish line. with the album i’m working on right now, i mean. all of the 25 songs slated for inclusion have been recorded. 3 need a bit of work, 6 need to be mixed or remixed, and the rest are CD-ready. if the sequence i’ve decided on in my head works outside of my head, there’s a good chance the whole thing will be finished by the end of the week, and then the packaging and post-production fun can begin.

the “lost album” of material that found itself pushed aside when all of these new songs came pouring out is almost as substantial — 21 songs by my count, all of which have been recorded in some form, though not all of them are finished. i’m pretty sure most of them will turn up somewhere eventually (maybe even on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE when i get around to finishing that beast).

here are a few of those stragglers, just for fun.

Phoenix Descending

Ain’t No Friend

Upright

phoenix descending was the guild D40’s final recorded hurrah before i parted with that guitar in favour of the more worldly 1951 gibson LG-2. i like that there’s three-part vocal harmony more or less running through the entire song, and the piece of shit classical guitar that played a surprisingly prominent role on LOVE SONGS FOR NIHILISTS shows up near the end to provide some nice ambient glue.

i should probably take another pass at the mix at some point. the vocals seem a bit louder than they need to be. i like the song well enough. just feels a little too bouncy to have a place on an album this specific and bitter. but don’t you tell me there’s no place for a silly rap song, or you’ll have a fight on your hands.

the recording of ain’t no friend was captured on video over HERE a little while back, though the mix used there was a little less refined than this one, with the drums not as prominent as they should have been. this song is hard-edged enough in the lyrics department to fit right in, but it’s about a completely different person than the one who ended up inspiring the new album. it also has a certain bounce to it that i decided to sort of mimic for another song that will be on the CD, called “emotional blackmail”.

a few years ago (i’ve been maintaining this blog for that long now?), i posted an ABSENCE OF SWAY out-take called “i’ll make a mockery of you yet, my dear” that ended up acting as something of a “study” for the vastly superior “absence makes the heart grow fondue”. i didn’t consider the first song to be a complete success, but there were elements of it i liked, so i took the approach i used behind the drums along with the idea of setting percussive ukulele-strumming against piano, and used that as the backdrop for something a lot more interesting. a similar thing happened here, albeit on a smaller scale and with very different results.

in this case, i think ain’t no friend is a much stronger song than “mockery”, and it’s probably album material…it just doesn’t belong on this specific album.

upright has yet to feel at home on any album. feels to me like it either needs to be a beginning, or an ending…but to what, i’m not sure.

maybe part of that has to do with the odd way in which it came to be a song. way back when max and i were recording some jazzy improvisations together, there was one little bit of noodling i always liked. it was only about minute long and never turned into anything. more of a between-song riff.

a year or so after the fact, i decided i felt like playing around with it a little. i added some drums and vocals on top of the existing upright bass and piano duet, improvising the words while recording, and then grafted on a new second section with my own bass-playing taking over for max’s, somehow managing to make the new piano track sound like it grew organically out of the old one.

the electric guitar went through a 1955 mason model 6, of all things, which looks like this:

it really is as tiny as it looks. it sits on top of my fender twin, looking a bit like a figurative kitten resting on a very large person. it’s only got six watts to it, but damned if the thing doesn’t sound great when you crank it and it starts to break up. someday, if i ever find myself recording a harmonica player who can actually play, i’d like to try the amp in that application. i think it could do a great job with that kind of bluesy, overdriven harmonica sound.

these might not be the most interesting cast-offs, but then i can’t be giving away all my best secrets too soon, can i?

in other relevant news, i’ve decided to make next month’s mackenzie hall show a proper CD release show after all. though i don’t like sitting on new music, i’ll only really be holding it back for a week or two at the most, and it’s possible this will be the only time in my life that a live show and the release of a new album will line up just right. might as well have some fun with it.

the album is still free, and after the show it’ll be available in the usual places. but until a week or so after the show, when i’ve recovered from all the nude dancing and simple plan cover songs and built up more stock to spread around, the only place you’ll be able to get the album is by coming to the show itself.

i plan on giving some copies to CJAM like i normally do, so you’ll be able to hear some of it before its “official” release, assuming you listen to CJAM. and if you don’t, hey…it’s never too late to start. what better reason to tune in than some hairy guy releasing an album full of dirty words and romance-bashing?

the guild, she is gone.

in the last video progress report, i talked a bit about a guild guitar i had, and how i ended up trading it in toward a 1951 gibson LG-2. it was kind of surreal getting rid of a guitar in the first place, and then seeing it for sale on the website for the store where roughly 80% of the guitars i own have come from at this point. not surreal in a bad way .it was kind of cool, really. just not a feeling i’ve had before, because i don’t tend to get rid of instruments, or anything music-related.

today i saw the guitar’s status on the folkway site had changed to “sold”, which means someone bought the thing. i didn’t expect it would be gone so quickly. i hope they have fun with it, whoever they are. i considered writing a little note and sticking it inside the case (something along the lines of, “this guitar served me well, but i have too many guitars to justify keeping it around, and i hope it serves you well too”), but thought that might seem a bit strange to whoever ended up buying it.

i can’t say i’m sad to see that axe go…i have other guitars that do more or less the same thing it does with more personality, and for my ears and fingers the gibson LG-2 blows it away on every level. still, the parting is a little bittersweet. we did have some good times together, as sporadic as they were.

“mismatched socks” on CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN probably never would have been written without that guitar, and i like that song. there are several other things i wrote and recorded with the guild as well, most of which will probably be showing up on THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE whenever i get around to finishing that magnum grope-us.

here’s one that’s always been a favourite of mine. it was literally the first thing written on the guild, the day i took it home. it was also the first song i’d written with a proper chorus in a good four or five years. i made a solemn vow to end my life if i ever returned to the land of conventional song forms, but in this case the song really wanted to have a “refrain”, and it didn’t feel right any other way.

though it was written and recorded during the crack house duplex adventure of 2007, in some ways this was a significant step in the direction of CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN, and i seriously considered throwing it on that album right up until the very last minute, regardless of the fact that it was recorded more than a year before the rest of the songs, in a very different setting.

Row Ashore

a lifetime serving one machine is ten times worse than prison.

joe strummer

i think of joe strummer, on some level, not unlike the way i think of john lennon — as a bundle of contradictions who found himself the “spokesman for a generation” and grew from an angry, confused kid, into an intelligent, articulate, thoughtful artist. he was flawed, he was human, and he didn’t try to pretend he was anything more or less than that. but he did try to use his influence to better the world in some way, and he made some great music while he was at it.

my first clash album was combat rock. maybe not the best place to start (almost everyone would tell you to grab london calling first, and i’d say just as strong a case could be made for the sprawling madness of sandinista!), but it did the job as well as any gateway drug and made me a fan when i was about 13.

i’m not about to try and write some ambitious piece about joe’s life and the music he made with and without the clash. there’s a lot of information on the internet for anyone who’s interested. there are a handful of well-made documentaries out there. there was one moment in one of those films that really resonated with me, though, and it still does.

i was watching westway to the world on TV ten years ago, when it was shown on muchmoremusic — back when they would play roxy music videos at 2:00 am and had a bit more credibility than muchmusic. a lot of people have been critical of the film, because it doesn’t fill in all the blanks and assumes the audience knows a bit about the band and the time in which they existed. i enjoyed it. i liked that there was a lot of great music/vintage footage, and i liked that the band members were on-screen telling the story themselves.

the bit that got to me was right at the end. joe, who was animated and charismatic through the whole film, had the last word. his body language changed and his tone shifted to something more resigned. “whatever a group is,” he said, “it was the chemical mixture of those four people that made the group work. that’s a lesson everyone should learn — don’t mess with it! if it works, just let it. do whatever you have to do to bring it forward, but don’t mess with it. and we learned that…bitterly.”

they’re simple words, but i felt them in my gut. and a few years later, after i had a band with its own peculiar kind of magic and it all fell apart, i understood what he meant. when you have a band, or an artistic collective of any kind, and it works, that’s something special. something to cherish. the stars don’t align like that too often. it only takes one rift, or one person to turn into a bag of douche or leave the group, and the whole axis shifts.

we’ve seen this happen countless times, with bands where the original singer leaves, or the drummer dies, and the band either keeps going or reforms later on with an ill-fitting replacement. i can’t think of a single case where it’s worked out well. a lot of money was made, sure. but the magic was gone, and the music that came out of it was either embarrassing or underwhelming.

there’s a point behind bringing up joe.

tomorrow is something CJAM has dubbed “joe strummer day”, tying strummer’s life and work in with reports on homelessness and poverty in the windsor/detroit area. i was asked to contribute something. i wasn’t sure i’d be able to come up with anything, but after throwing away the idea of a cover of “straight to hell” (not exactly an obscure choice, is it?), it came to me out of the blue. i knew what i should do. shooby-dooby-do.

back when i was watching westway to the world in 2000 as a short-haired, clean-shaven johnny, i liked the song “bankrobber” a lot — maybe more than anything else i heard in the film. because of the lack of exposition, i was left to assume the song was on sandinista!, so i went out and bought the album. but “bankrobber” wasn’t there.

turns out it’s not on any studio album. it only shows up on a few compilations, none of which were readily available at the time. now, of course, you can find just about any piece of music in crummy compressed form on youtube, as long as sony music or some other soulless entity hasn’t taken it down so they can keep dancing the corporate bullshit dance.

today you can find “bankrobber” on youtube in a few different forms. the strange thing is, when i first heard it there was something weary and beautiful in it that grabbed me. now i find i don’t like it half as much as i used to. it’s still a cool song, but it’s not something that would get me to run out and buy the album i think it might be on anymore. i’m not sure what happened there.

in most cases i’m not a big fan of artists transposing cover songs into another key when they sing them. my feeling is, if you can’t sing the song in the key in which it was written, you have no business singing it at all, UNLESS you’re going to do something really drastic with the arrangement and really make the song your own. then i think it can be justified.

i’m not one to cover other people’s songs much anyway. but when i do, i try to put my own spin on the song without transposing it at all. this time i thought i would do something different. if you tune in tomorrow, maybe you’ll hear it on CJAM at some point, if someone plays it. if not, you can hear it right here.

Bankrobber

if it reminds you a little of a song of mine off of AN ABSENCE OF SWAY called “will work for food”, that’s not quite an accident. i was toying around with a different take on that song, playing with the rhythm, shifting it around a bit, and playing it on the martin 00-17 half a step lower than i did the first time around, just for fun. then i started singing the words to “bankrobber”, and…well…you hear what happened.

i recorded it this afternoon. while i could have done a better mixing job, i don’t have the patience or the space on the mixer to take another crack at it (i’ve been recording so much stuff, i’ve maxed out everything and need to mix a bunch of things and get them off of there to free up some space). so this is as good as it’s going to get for now. i think it’s good enough. i like the song in its original key and could have kept it there, but i also kind of like what i did with it here, rendering it almost unrecognizable.

what’s really interesting to me is this: when you get rid of the reggae rhythm and the dub effects, and really concentrate on the lyrics, it becomes clear just what a good folk song is hiding in there. the words are even kind of relevant to the whole poverty/homelessness theme, though it wasn’t planned that way. just a happy accident.

incidentally, this is probably the closest thing i’ve done to a CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN-sounding song in a long time, aside from the absence of vocal multi-tracking. i kind of went out of my way to do that, just for fun — right down to the skeletal kick drum/tambourine rhythm, which isn’t the kind of drum part i seem to play much anymore.

also, the end-of-the-month video progress report will be along shortly. there’s a good chance it’ll show up on christmas day. and that’s just funny.

makeover.

i think it was about time for a change around here, after more than 2 years of things looking like halloween year ’round.

it never really occurred to me before to mess with the theme/layout at all, and i was content with the way things looked. but yesterday i found myself looking through some of the other themes just for kicks, and previewing what some of them would look like. i found a few i liked, and noticed that things were significantly easier on the eyes. lately i’ve found my eyes tend to get tired pretty quickly when re-reading something i’ve written here, and it didn’t take much pondering to put it together that the cause was mainly the odd, dark colour scheme. when things got lighter, suddenly my eyes were a lot happier. in the space of about half an hour i went from just trying out new themes to deciding it was time for a little renovating.

hence, the way things look now.

i was torn between about three different themes along these lines, but settled on this one because it gave me more widget power. things are more or less located where they were before on the sidebar, but everything feels a bit neater and sleeker to me. as a nice unexpected side effect, most of my videos now display at a larger size, and i can make pictures larger too.

don’t get me wrong; i liked the way things looked before, and had grown pretty fond of the halloween colours. but i think this is an improvement all around, and now i can’t quite believe it took me so long to think of changing this blog/site/thing’s appearance. it’s kind of silly, but i’m enjoying the fact that so many pages look different now with the new colour scheme, and some of the album cover art/images seem to stand out more than before. my eyes are happy. hopefully yours are too.

i don’t know how the hell it can be the second-last month of the year already, but somehow it is. that’s messed up. the album i’m working on (still with the working title of “bitter bearded balladeer”) continues to take shape and come into focus a little at a time. after some experimenting, i think i’m now settled on album cover art. i’m not going to promise to have it finished before the end of the year…the last two times i got over-confident about such things, the albums in question didn’t quite make it to the finish line in time. so maybe, if i don’t commit to anything, this time it’ll all work out. right now the end result is shaping up to be one of the more atmospheric and dreamy things i’ve done in a while…but there’s lots of time for that to change, and for all i know it’ll end up being another schizophrenic affair. only time will tell whether or not the 60-second borderline punk song makes the cut. things have already started to shift on some level; up until recently, it seemed to me the album was going to be piano and acoustic-guitar-dominated. now…maybe not quite as much. last night i recorded some elements of a song where the first/lead instrument is an eavestrough elbow. i don’t want to make any bold proclamations, but i’m not sure there are many songs out there that were written (or, in this case, improvised from a percussive groove) and played on eavestrough.

add a bit of delay, and it’s got a nice metallic thrust to it.

eavestroughs aside, one thing that i’m pretty sure won’t be making the cut is this song right here:

Gift For A Spider

i like the way it turned out (it’s one of those songs that sounds like i spent a decent amount of time crafting it — particularly the lyrics — when it really came flooding out in no more than 10 minutes), but i don’t think it’s quite going to fit on the album. i’m also a little perturbed by the fact that i used a bit more compression than i would normally want to; i was just getting down “scratch tracks”, not really paying attention to settings, only to find i liked the first takes, but they were a little squashed-sounding and i didn’t feel like re-recording them properly. it’ll end up somewhere, someday. because songs about disturbed people who start off intending to murder someone only to end up possibly killing themselves after maybe or maybe not killing someone else are like blankets that warm your heart. i honestly don’t know where that sort of subject matter comes from…the words literally just came out while i was picking away on the guitar, as is often the case.

on a random note, the song (if you can call it a song) by taio cruz and ke$ha called “take a dirty picture” is the most creatively bankrupt, moronic piece of stupid shit i’ve heard in a while. it gives “eenie meanie miney mo lover” a run for its money. that there are people who get paid good money to create this garbage is just sad. but hey, a critic from the BBC wrote: “the jarring clash between taio’s supersmooth soul-gentleman image and ke$ha’s sloppy drunken nonsense is genuinely fascinating. the song actually transforms from one kind of a thing to another, depending who has their hand on the microphone”. yeah. it’s high art alright. i guess the lesson here is, if you send me a picture of your naughty bits to my phone, i’ll jerk off to it and then write a song about the whole ordeal, and maybe i can be famous too.

on a less random note, MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART is somehow back in the CJAM top 30 again. how that’s possible, i don’t know…i don’t even know who’s been playing it lately. but there it be.

CJAM is cool.

(photo by owen wolter)

CJAM‘s annual pledge drive is in full swing right now. here’s a little song about it.

Heartwarming CJAM Pledge Drive Jingle

aside from the tongue-in-cheek-and-hand-down-pants “durex sheik condom song” (which can be found on the OUT-TAKES, MISFITS & OTHER THINGS compilation), this is just about the only time i’ve ever recorded a proper “jingle” for something that really exists. initially i thought i would do some sort of bizarre spoken piece, utilizing different voices and impressions — “bill clinton and barney the dinosaur support CJAM”, or something along those lines. then i wrote a song in about five minutes and thought i’d make it completely ridiculous, with cheesy dated electric piano. sort of an intentionally bad “we are the world”-inspired thing. and then, i picked up a tenor banjo, a riff just fell under my fingers (or i guess i should say it fell under my thumb), and instead of absurd cheese, i ended up with something like a johnny west song that just happens to be about the pledge drive.

it’s probably better that it worked out this way — still silly, but not so cheesy, and without a single corny fake instrument in sight. maybe you’ll hear it at some point on the radio if you’re tuning in. hopefully it’ll make some people laugh at the same time it inspires them to donate what they can to the cause. i tried to keep the lyrics general enough so the song could be reused for future pledge drive action.

oddly enough, it sounds like the closest thing i’ve done to a CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN-style song in quite some time, minus the triple-tracked lead vocal sound that’s all over that album. the electric guitar on the track is even that funky old teisco again. i’ve been dusting that thing off lately and it’s reminding me all over again what a cool little axe it is.

you can hear me sneezing just before the drums come in. i was going to get rid of that, but it cracked me up a little. so it got to stay.

i would not normally write a jingle for any reason unless i wanted to make fun of someone or something. but this is a bit different. i try to donate generously every year during pledge drive, because it’s a way for me to give back a little and show my appreciation for all the mind-boggling support everyone at CJAM has given me, and contributing a silly little song seems to be another way to do that. it’s also nice to get an extra t-shirt or two. my favourite is still the blue one from last year’s pledge drive with the prominent headphone design (it’s one of those “so comfortable you almost forget you’re wearing anything” kind of shirts), though the hoodies this year are awfully nice too.

i guess my relationship with the station goes back to the summer of 2002. i’d known about CJAM for a good few years by that time, and listened on occasion, but as far as i could tell radio was this mysterious, almost mythical organization i didn’t expect i would ever be allowed to be a part of.

then one day a friend popped in on a show his friend had (chris hewer, who used to host a show called actual air on fridays), played him a song of mine, got an invitation to bring me into the studio, and a week later there i was in the basement of the university’s student center, clutching a guitar and a few CDs. just like that. for a good hour or so, i talked about what i did, played a few songs live (both of which eventually saw the light of day on that MISFITS compilation), played some songs off of various solo and guys with dicks CDs that were fresh at the time, and sat there in awe of the fact that i was on the air and surely someone was sitting in their basement at that very moment, listening, smoking a joint, and thinking, “this dude is messed up.”

chris gave me a standing invitation to drop in on his show anytime. i took him up on it a few times, but for a while that was pretty much the only airplay anyone gave me.

things changed in a big way in 2004, when the deafening indifference i’d been encountering everywhere in the local music scene led me to completely stop giving a crap about ever trying to get anyone to care about what i was doing. i thought i might as well drop some CDs in the mail slots of a few random CJAM DJs anyway, just for the hell of it, since i’d never really tried doing that before. i figured maybe i’d get lucky and some curious person would give me a chance.

as it happened, angela desjardins got a copy of NUDGE YOU ALIVE and started playing a lot of it on her show braille radio (which recently morphed into night vision). she was really the first person to start giving my music some serious, consistent airplay, before anyone else had any interest in who i was or what i was up to, and her enthusiasm for what i was doing was worth all the “i’m too cool for you” nose-thumbing i got from just about everyone else.

of course, some of those very people would turn around and talk about me like i was the greatest thing since invisible contraceptives once i began to be considered somewhat “cool” and worthy of attention. funny how that works, isn’t it? when you’re not so well-established, no one wants to give you the time of day. once there’s some buzz built up around you, everyone wants to say they got there first, and they pull the old revisionist history trick to make it seem like they supported you all along.

adam fox was the music director by then, soon to become station manager, and he also became an important supporter, encouraging people in and out of the station to give my music attention. suddenly i had three different CDs all hovering within CJAM’s top 30 at the same time. i don’t think i’ve put out an album that hasn’t charted at some point since then, and it still feels surreal every time i see my name on the charts or hear one of my songs the radio, even after all this time.

of course, CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN came along two years ago, and then everything exploded in a whole new way. but a lot of people at CJAM were supporting my music long before it was considered the hip thing to do, giving quite a bit of airplay to BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS in particular. it meant a lot, especially during those days when i found myself wondering why i even bothered making music at all, since it seemed like i couldn’t get anyone to even listen to one of my albums if my life depended on it.

how things change, huh?

i don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say there’s no way i would have anything even close to the audience i have now if it wasn’t for the support of certain people at CJAM. i couldn’t even hope to list all the people who have supported — and continue to support — me and my music. off the top of my head, aside from angela, adam fox, and adam peltier, i can think of murad, kyle lebel, max, cristina naccarato, josh kolm, jan blondin, cassandra caverhill, cassandra brait, vern smith, the scaledown radio guys, theresa leslie, mary popovich, nicole markham, jon nehmetallah, steph and chris, eric arner, mike whaley, dave konstantino, randi irving, adam hawkes (also know as “dj dahma”)…and i could keep going. that’s insane.

though some of those people are gone now (a handful of them moved to toronto or elsewhere, because of better downtown parking opportunities, i assume), i think CJAM keeps getting better and there are a lot of great people who keep it all running. there’s no elitism there, and the support given to any and all local music is pretty incredible. it doesn’t matter if your music is folk-rock that sounds like it was recorded at a multi-million-dollar studio, or lo-fi french shoegaze that sounds like it was recorded inside of a shoebox. someone will give it a chance, whatever genre it inhabits. and the programming is so diverse, there’s something there for everyone, regardless of what you enjoy listening to.

i’m not just being nice when i say it’s the only radio station i bother listening to anymore. in my not so humble opinion, commercial radio is absolute garbage. it’s locked into a grid of mediocrity, devoid of anything even esembling soul, and there are no new or interesting sounds to be found there anymore. kind of like the aural equivalent of the hollywood movie industry, with the abysmal remakes just wearing different clothing. the only reason i turn on the radio at all anymore is to hear what’s happening on CJAM from time to time.

and hey, if you turn on your radio between 10:30 am and noon on wednesday (that’s tomorrow), maybe you’ll hear me on CJAM talking about random pledge drive-related things while i hang out with cass and sarah on this is so cool, it hurts.

i first typed that as “this is cool, it hurts”, which sounded kind of masochistic.

(thanks to owen for letting me use one of his pictures at the top of this post)

kick it in the sleep pants.

i don’t know why it never occurred to me until just now to put this up here, but here it is for anyone who may be interested — an alternate mix of “insomnia kick”. and i’m not someone who tends to do alternate mixes.

Insomnia Kick (alternate mix)

i think only about two people have heard this version in full. the meat of the song is the same as the released version on MY HELLHOUND CROOKED HEART, but the drum performance is different, and i think it changes the feeling of the song in a pretty serious way. this was the way it originally sounded, before i got the hankering to pick up the brushes and try something different behind the drums, just for kicks. and then it took me a few weeks to figure out which mix i liked better.

the best way i can think of to describe the difference is this: the mix that made it onto the album, with brushed drums taking more of a background role, sounds like a deep album cut. this mix with the more propulsive/upfront drum performance sounds more like a “single”. it gives the whole thing a more uptempo and somewhat more conventional feeling. and that’s not a bad thing, really. either mix could have made it onto the album. i just found myself liking the more laid-back drum performance a hair more when it came down to crunch time. i still feel like it could have gone either way.

just goes to show how altering one specific element of a song can have a pretty serious impact on the whole thing.

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 really 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 oo-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. 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’ve started running it into the fender twin, 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 slap-back 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 bit 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 of leona lewis. and since a few of my very favourite computer drawings of female specimens perished in a recent stupid fucking 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…

songs for stringy-haired lovers.

i can’t believe i didn’t hear about this sooner — chad kroeger (he of nickelback fame) has a secret identity that he’s kept very heavily guarded.

by day, he’s the leader of nickelback, and writer/singer of deep, soul-probing power ballads.

but at night, he transforms into…

the paddle pop lion!

he refuses to discuss it in interviews, but i think chad should just embrace his true nature and own it. it would probably win him some new fans.

in non-nickelback-related news, i kind of feel like posting a few things that aren’t going to make it onto the new album. some of them will eventually show up elsewhere. ah, who am i kidding…i’m sure all of them will see the light of day at some point, even if it doesn’t happen until i put together another sprawling collection of out-takes and stuff. maybe a couple of them will even end up fitting on that gargantuan thing called THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. for now, here they are, still fresh and fairly fragrant.

electric blue felt like a contender until i finished recording it. then it felt like it was missing something and didn’t go anywhere interesting enough to justify inclusion on the album. still, i do like the fact that the rhythm is driven by multi-tracked leg slaps, and the natural chorus effect achieved by recording two acoustic guitar parts slightly out of tune with each other is something i’d never thought to try before. i guess “i’m running on roller skates to get to you” is about as close as i get to bona fide love song lyrics these days. but isn’t that more meaningful than singing, “baby, i love you, there’s no one above you, take my hand, i’m so bland”? i would hope so.

Johnny West – Electric Blue

i feel like it just never quite finished finding itself. i tried recording drums and some electric guitar, but that seemed to take away more than it added. oh well. you can’t win ’em all. i did at least leave in a bit at the beginning where i mutter “what the fuck?” after messing something up.

twisted fingers was the song i was going to end the album with, until i wrote a tune called “in my time of weakness” and realized i liked that one a lot better as an album closer. it’s nothing personal. i still like twisted fingers quite a bit, and would have kept it on if i didn’t come up with something that felt a bit more appropriate as a parting shot.

this song initially showed up here in much shorter form, as the sketch i came up with while messing around with a new compressor (you read about it back in september…of course you did…this is the most exciting spot on the internet today, and you know it). here it is in its full/finished form.

Johnny West – Twisted Fingers

purple seahorse earring would work well enough as a happy little segue, but it doesn’t feel essential enough to be there. i do dig the slide ukulele bits, and the distant-mic’d, double-tracked, hyper-compressed piano. it’s fun messing around with sounds like that.

Johnny West – Purple Seahorse Earring

i was also going to put up a 10-minute song called “paralysis of analysis” that probably pinpoints where my concept (if you can call it that) for the album began to take shape, but that one still needs some work. it’s also long as hell, and though i will finish it at some point soon, i know that no matter how well it turns out in the end, it doesn’t belong on this album.

and that’s enough of that. if i keep going, pretty soon you’ll be able to take all these out-takes and form an EP out of them. it ain’t time for another EP yet (though a few months ago i flirted with the idea). there are quite a few other things that aren’t going to make the cut — some of them much more interesting and suggestively-dressed than these three — but many of them still need to be mixed and/or are missing a bit of wallpaper. i can’t let you see all of my naked walls. that wouldn’t be right.

fear not — none of these out-takes are really giving anything away. the songs that are going to be on the album are a lot more adventurous and have better-defined abdominal muscles.

i still feel like the second half of the album is missing something. it just needs one song to give it a kick in the ass and shake things up a bit. i keep writing new things, recording them, and pushing away things that up until recently i was sure would make it onto the album. apparently it’s going to keep shifting until the last possible second.

i’ve said it before, but i think it’s worth repeating — none of my CDs really feel like proper albums to me. they’re just snapshots of wherever i happen to be when they’re recorded. i couldn’t spend a year working on an album, or it would turn into about five different albums. as it is, this one has taken longer to get finished than i intended by quite some distance, though it isn’t because i’ve been labouring over it for months. the bulk of the work has been done this month, with a bit done in december as well.

as time goes by (a kiss is just a kiss, you know), i realize more and more that i’m never going to craft the perfect 10-song album that’s 35 minutes long. it just isn’t in me. actually, the problem is that there’s too much in me, to the point where an album like that would feel so lightweight, there would be no point in it even existing.

so things will continue to be sprawling and lengthy for the foreseeable future. that’s just the way it has to be if i’m going to have any hope of someday getting relatively caught up with all the songs that need to be given their due. but hey, in miami, burger king is starting this thing called “the whopper bar” where you can buy a beer with your burger instead of a soft drink. that has to be some consolation.