sorting things out

I howl at the moon and rage against the light that’s left.

Another year is about to disappear.

I want to say 2017 wasn’t very productive. I failed to hit almost every goal I set at the beginning of the year. YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK still isn’t finished. Neither is the followup to STEW. THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE is still suspended in cryogenic stasis. The second misfits compilation remains little more than a rough outline.

But I did remaster all eight of the albums I wanted to take another crack at. That was a huge job. Ron’s album matured a little more, and after we get down the bed tracks for another song or two I’ll be able to concentrate on arranging and dressing things up. Jess’s album — a surprise development late in the year — was recorded in a day. All I need to do is finish mixing it. And in the waning weeks of December I managed to record thirteen more songs for SLEEPWALK.

You might think having to coordinate schedules with so many different contributors would be one of the reasons behind that last one taking so long. There’s only been one real culprit, though: crummy time-management and a lack of motivation on my end.

I guess that’s two culprits. Or a single culprit with a very vocal imaginary friend.

When the only music I had to work on was my own, I had a very clear sense of purpose. It never took me more than a few months to finish an album. Things are different now. With a few serious collaborative projects on the go and semi-steady work recording other people, there’s less time to focus on solo work. Prioritizing a recording someone else wants or needs to get out in the world within a certain timeframe is something to feel good about, I think, but my own stuff has been getting pushed to the side too often over the last little while. When I do have time to focus on it, the energy doesn’t seem to be there. In the back of my head I’m always thinking, “There are all these other things that need my attention, and there’s so much work I still need to do on this album of mine, I don’t even know where to dive in.” I end up psyching myself out before I get started.

I’m not complaining. I wouldn’t trade the friends I’ve made and the musical experiences I’ve had over the last few years for anything. It’s just been a bit of an adjustment trying to find space for everything, and I haven’t been doing a great job of setting aside enough time for the music that’s mine alone.

Giving that old whiteboard a new lease on life was a psychological step in the right direction. The work I was able to get done right as the year was slipping away was a much more significant leap. It felt good to ignore everything else for a week or two and pack in some much-needed musical Me Time. I know there are other things I have to work on, and I’ll give them the attention they need, but I think I’m in the right headspace now to make my ambitious solo album with many guests a priority again. If for no other reason, I need to get it finished while it still feels like it’s relevant to where I am right now.

It hasn’t been a small undertaking. There’s the supporting cast, which now amounts to twenty-six singers/musicians and thirteen visual artists. And as it stands right now, there have been eighty-four songs recorded just for this specific album. When I worked that out and saw it on paper, my brain did a backflip, a cartwheel, and something too distressing to describe. Some songs are finished, mixed, and CD-ready. Some still need some work. There are a few more things I need to record, and then it’ll be time to start looking at how I’m going to carve an album out of all of this.

There’s no way it’s going to be a single-disc affair, no matter how judicious I get and how many things end up on the cutting room floor. We’re probably looking at somewhere around fifty songs spread out over two discs. That’s assuming I can get everything to fit on two CDs. If not, I’ll make it a triple CD and live with the inevitable accusations of “self-indulgence” and “raspberry-scented binocular hoarding”.

Bite-sized musical statements have never been my thing anyway. You need a whole seventeen-course meal that leaves you so full you start hallucinating and singing made-up show tunes to strangers. Otherwise what’s the point?

I seem to shoot myself in the foot — and the face, and the ankle, and the armpit — every time I make any kind of list outlining what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year. In the interest of avoiding being riddled with proverbial bullets again, this time I’ll just say I have a feeling 2018 is going to be interesting, and I hope to bring a few long-gestating projects to fruition within the confines of its vast yearliness.

Meet the new board, same as the old board.

This whiteboard began its life in a pretty unassuming way. Once in a while we’d draw some silly things on it or use it to play a large-scale game of Hangman. It got packed away and forgotten about until the Great Demoralizing Move of 2007. Once I had my new studio space up and running, I thought it might be worthwhile to repurpose it as an “ideas board”.

I started out with good intentions…

…but within a few years the board was maxed out, and most of what was written on it was pretty outdated. I kept meaning to wipe it off and start fresh. I kept forgetting to do that. I think about six hundred people have heard me say, “I need to clear that thing off and write some new stuff on it,” at one time or another when they’ve been over here and have noticed the whiteboard.

Lately I’ve been in a bit of a recording funk. A lot of it has to do with feeling a little overwhelmed. It’s not as if I haven’t been here before, with several albums on the go at once, but sometimes it can be difficult to figure out what you want to work on when the options are a little bewildering. The whole idea behind propping up that whiteboard in the studio was to have something to fall back on. If I couldn’t figure out what to work on, I could walk over to Mr. McBoard and just point at something random and say, “You. I’ll work on you.”

It worked for a while, until I ran out of room to add anything new. Then it was just a thing that took up space.

Seemed like a good time to revitalize the board and get it up to date. The only things I was sad to lose were the doodles a few people contributed over the years.

There was a bird.

There was a cat.

And there was this happy face that grew evil over time.

Now I’ll have to ask some friends to draw some new things in the spaces between the words.

I hadn’t written anything new on the board in at least a good five or six years, and I made the mistake of using permanent marker, so you can imagine how difficult it was to wipe clean. Soap and water didn’t do a thing. It took toilet cleanser, a reckless sponge, and some serious wrist action to get anything happening at all.

Right around the time my hand was ready to fall off, I finally had a blank slate to work with. It was very strange to see the board with nothing on it for the first time in a decade.

I picked up some dry-erase markers. This way, the next time I feel a need to do some wiping it’ll be a lot less time-consuming. Then I went to work building a new list of stuff to fall back on.

Now it looks like this.

Most of the song titles are abbreviated, because some of them would stretch all the way across the board if they were written out in full. And what’s there is really just a drop in the bucket. But at least there’s a group of songs to choose from when I need to bail myself out of an overthinking (or underthinking) jam, with room for expansion.

Songs in red boxes have been recorded. Some need a lot of work. Some just need a fresh mix. Songs that aren’t in boxes haven’t been recorded yet. When there’s no work left to do on a song in a box and it feels CD-ready, the box will get filled in. “Stricture” at the top of the second column got smudged, and it’s annoying me every time I look at it (these dry-erase markers live up to their namesake to an insane degree), but once that song ends up in a box of its own no one will be the wiser.

It feels good to have a fresh start in this little corner of the room. Weird, but good.

You’re nine. Have some wine.

A few weeks ago this blog turned nine years old. Kind of nuts to think next year it’s gonna be ten. WHERE DID ALL THAT TIME GO? WHERE?

I don’t know if there will ever be another year like the first few, when I posted pretty much every other day. Those were crazy times. But you never know. I’m just glad I got through those few middle years of being kind of “meh” about the blog and have once again committed to using this as a place to talk to myself. And motivate myself. And dance with myself.

These days I don’t like to go weeks without saying anything here if I can help it. But I had a valid excuse this time, I swear! I was sick.

It never fails. I’ll be ramping up work on something, getting ready to head into the home stretch, and then out of nowhere a mega-cold will knock me out for at least a week or two and mess up my ears for a while, so even doing any significant mixing work is pretty much impossible.

I don’t get sick often (knock on laptop screen). Maybe once every year or two. But when I get sick, I get sick. In italics. I’d say about every third album I make, the coughing and sneezing and muffled hearing is bound to come calling before I’m finished, disrupting my momentum.

Maybe it’s just my body’s way of giving me a break when I won’t take one on my own. I don’t know.

Whatever the case, it’s awfully nice to have my ears back now, and to be able to sing without hacking up a lung. I wish this one time my ears had been given a free pass, because I could have put a huge dent in all that remastering work while recording was out of the question. What can you do?

A couple o’ things that may be interesting:

A day or two before that cold showed up, I was almost finished remastering CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN. One of the few songs left to revisit was “95 Streets to the Right (Is Where I Will Find the Heart of You)”. And I couldn’t find that song anywhere. The title wasn’t scrawled on any of my backup CDs.

I knew there was no way I didn’t back the song up. It had to be somewhere. For more than a decade now I’ve been backing up everything, whether it’s worth keeping or not. On one backup CD there was something called “Dream Songs”. When I saw that, I was pretty sure I remembered recording fragments of a few bits of music I remembered from dreams and then, instead of making a new song file, just recording “95 Streets” there too.

I’ve gone through a lot of different brands of recordable CDs over the years — Maxell, TDK, Sony, Verbatim, Ridata, and a host of others I don’t remember offhand. Most of them have held up. Whether it’s got audio or data on it, I can grab a CD that’s almost twenty years old and know it’ll still work without any issues.

Before I started getting Taiyo Yuden CDs for the most important stuff (and TDK for the slightly less important stuff), I liked Verbatim. Around 2007 or 2008 they changed the way they made their recordable CDs, and they became pretty glitchy and useless. Maybe the printable ones are better. I don’t know. I just know the “regular” kind degraded so much, they were only useful for making rough mixes, and even then I couldn’t play them on most systems because they were more or less defective. I don’t buy those anymore.

You know what’s coming.

For some reason I’ll never understand, I used one of those CDs to back up “95 Streets”. As you’d expect, it was toast. It would get halfway through transferring the data back onto the mixer, and then it would freeze up.

I dug through another box of backup CDs and found an alternate, backed up to a different brand. That one worked just fine. Right about then I was pretty happy I always back up everything at least twice, just in case one CD goes janky on me.

And hey, I’m getting a new camera tomorrow. That calls for more dancing.

The cheap Pentax point-and-shoot and the little Flip video cameras have served me well, but it feels like it’s time to step things up a bit.

I almost did this a year ago. I was getting frustrated with how grainy the video I shot with the Flip cameras would get in low light situations. More than that, every time I filmed myself talking to the camera I would have to get it very close to my face to get the best, most present sound possible out of the tiny built-in microphone. Without a flip screen to show me what the framing was like, I would usually end up cutting off part of the top of my head (sometimes creating the illusion of a receding hairline) or the bottom of my face (leaving my chin feeling shunned). And that drove me nuts, though I learned to live with it.

I did a lot of research, trying to find cameras that would hold up better in low light but wouldn’t break the bank. You can spend a ton of money on a great camera. I’m never going to be a real filmmaker. Something that costs thousands of dollars would be wasted on someone like me. So I was looking for the best bang for the buck possible.

I found some videos made by Ray Ortega and was impressed not only by their quality, but by his willingness to share information with viewers. I sent him an email, outlining what I was trying to do and what I was looking for. I didn’t expect to hear back. He wrote a long email in response, making suggestions and giving some very thoughtful advice. (Huge thanks go out to him for being so kind and eager to help a stranger.)

Then I decided it wasn’t the right time to spend the money. And maybe I wouldn’t know what to do with a better camera anyway. Maybe I was fishing outside of my pond. So I sat on it.

With YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK inching closer to the finish line now, I started thinking again about how frustrating it was going to be to try and get the framing right for my narration bits, which will end up forming a pretty large part of the album’s video companion piece. With the few segments I’ve filmed of myself talking so far, sometimes I’ve had to go back and do it again four or five times before I get a take where I’m not cutting some part of my head off or moving out of the frame without meaning to. Even using a small mirror to try and see what the camera sees only helps so much.

One suggestion Ray made in his email was to use a better camera to film the bits of me talking and any interviews there might be with the other people involved in the making of the album, bumping up the quality of those parts and making for an interesting visual contrast with the older recording footage shot on the Flip cameras. The more I thought about that, the more it seemed like a really good idea.

After a lot of mulling it over, I decided a Canon T5i was the way to go. It has its fans and its detractors, but for the price and the ability it will give me to take pictures and shoot video at a level of quality far above anything I’ve ever done before, I look at it as a bargain, and almost a no-brainer. Plus it’s new. I gave some serious thought to a used Canon T3i, but it’s always nice to have a warranty. Because you never know.

When it comes to video, I won’t be relying on a built-in camera microphone anymore, either. I grabbed one of these over the weekend.

It’s a Zoom H1 microphone/recorder. For such a cheap little thing, the sound quality the H1 captures is pretty outstanding. It’ll be worth the minor inconvenience of mounting it somewhere nearby but out of the camera’s field of vision, dumping the audio on the computer, and syncing it up with the video. Another option would be recording my voice in the “studio”, mixing it all proper-like, and using that as the audio. But this will be much simpler and less time-consuming, and still a huge upgrade in sound quality.

So if you notice a marked improvement in the clarity of the self-shot pictures and videos that show up here from time to time, that’s why.

I expect there to be a bit of a learning curve, but I’m looking forward to figuring out how to get the most out of that new camera. And it’s not like the little Flip fellas are going anywhere. When I’m shooting in-studio footage they’re still probably going to be the best choice. They’re small enough to position in odd places, I don’t have to worry about knocking them over (it’s happened before, and they don’t seem to care one bit), and it’s easy to forget they’re even there, which hopefully makes other singers and musicians feel a little less self-conscious about being filmed.

2016, you elbowed my spleen.


I’m not sure how it’s 2017, and yet another year has gone to the graveyard of years.

2016 was another one of those years in which I didn’t get as much accomplished — or finished, at least — as I hoped. But looking back at it, maybe it was a little more productive than I thought. At least three major projects saw the light of day: Natalie’s album (which I recorded and played a lot of things on), the first O-L West album (a tag-team effort with Steve), and Ron’s new album (which I got to play a small but very rewarding supporting role on). And a good amount of meaningful work was done on other things that didn’t hit the finish line.

I think you’re supposed to outline your goals at the beginning of each New Year, and then you’ll be visited by three spirits in various stages of undress. At least that’s what the fortune cookie told me. So, some goals for 2017:

  • Finish YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. I think I’m in a place now where I can finally take that one off the back burner and give it the attention it deserves. There are a few more people I’d like to try and get over here to contribute some playing or singing, but most of the work that’s left now is just stuff I need to do on my own.
  • Finish THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE. Yeah. I know. But I need to finish that beast someday, and it’s not an impossible job.
  • Compile a second volume of out-takes and misfits. There’s a ton of material for a collection that would pick up where the last one left off, stretching from CHICKEN ANGEL WOMAN to the present.
  • Finish off the next Papa Ghostface album. That one’s coming along pretty nicely and shouldn’t be too difficult to tie up in the next twelve months.
  • Take care of the rest of that whole “remastering a bunch of albums that were mastered too loud the first time” thing I started with good intentions and then abandoned when all the protracted construction noise got to be too much.
  • Maybe make good on the occasional threat to write an album that returns to the “avoiding repetition and rhyming at all costs” approach.
  • Never trim the beard again (this won’t happen, but still).
  • Contemplate the mysteries of life.

I think most of that is doable. Maybe.

The ideal thing would be to get at least four albums finished for the year, two of which have been a while in the making. Of course, as we all know, announcing your plans is a good way to hear several giant pastries laugh at you.

‘Tis the season to be seasonal.


That whole “blog heating up at the end of the year” thing hasn’t really happened. Sleep demons have been doing their energy-sapping thing, and there hasn’t been a whole lot to report. There are at least a few bits of things that resemble news, though.

The next Papa Ghostface album is farther along than I thought it was. A lot farther along. We’ve got eleven songs recorded in one form or another. Some still need work. Others just need their mixes tweaked a little. And there are quite a few songs we’ve been playing around with and talking about recording, where all we need to do is sit down and…you know…record them.

Between what’s already been recorded, what’s yet to be recorded, and whatever surprises fall out along the way, I think we’re headed for an album that’s a little more sprawling than STEW was. And you know how I like to sprawl.

Some of those surprises are already showing up. A few days ago I was mixing a solo song. i felt this urge to slather the acoustic guitar in a thick, chewy chorus effect. I knew it wasn’t right for the song, but I liked the way it sounded. Thought it might be worthwhile to try building a different song around that effect.

My brain has a habit of taking thoughts like that and running with them before I can even get my shoes on. That happened again here. I came up with a chord progression that was a little bit wonky, a song more or less wrote itself around those chords and the sound of the chewy chorus effect, similarly chewy effects were added to most of the other tracks (I think the bass was the only thing I left alone), and once Gord added some insane textural noise guitar to put the musical cherry on top, I mixed it and it was done.

I’m not going to post it here. Don’t want to give too many surprises away. But I can tell you it doesn’t sound like anything that was on the last album. On some level I think it was a challenge I set for myself, to see if I could take the music in a really off-kilter, more psychedelic direction, far away from the dark folky thing. Given how successful it was, I’d like to try and channel that energy into some of the other songs and aim for a less accessible album with some more out-there production touches.

We’ll see how that goes.

Right now I’m working on finishing up the mixes for Zara’s album. For a hot minute there it looked like I might be adding a lot more in the way of instrumentation and musical ideas to this one. Now I’m not contributing anything at all. I guess some people just want their music to be them and them alone, unadulterated. I don’t think I’m really the guy you want to go to for that sort of thing. There are other people in the city who are better choices for straight acoustic recordings, at least in my opinion. But I can do it, if it’s what the artist wants. So that’s what I’m doing.

I imagine she’ll want to wait to put it out there until she’s got a CD release show lined up. So look for that one early in the new year, probably.

Once my work is done there, the plan is to dive straight into finishing up YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK. It’s about time that thing got all its loose ends tied up. I’d say, “expect it to emerge sometime in the spring,” but every time I try to carve out a timeline for something it seems to blow up in my face. Maybe I should start wearing a protective mask.

At least there’s no shortage of stuff to work on. Between SLEEPWALK, Zara’s album, the next Papa Ghostface album, THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE (remember that thing?), a second collection of out-takes and misfits, a projected album of songs that return to the “avoid repetition and anything that resembles a conventional song structure at all costs” way of writing, getting back to working on Ron’s next album in the new year, whatever happens next with the O-L West, and whatever else might pop up along the way, I’ve got my hands pretty full.

I wonder what the Vegas odds are on which albums get finished first…

Back me up.

BACKUP CDS batch 1

At long last, all those backup CDs are organized and the “Database of Stuff” is up to date.

If you’ve been over here at any point over the past few years, you’ve probably seen the mixing desk — not an actual “mixing desk”, but a massive, hulking thing with steel casing that holds the mixer, mic preamps, and other relevant outboard equipment — littered with white CDs, some labelled, some not.

For the first time since I can’t remember when, those are all gone. Well, not gone, but redistributed. They’re where they’re supposed to be.

Some of them are on that shelf seen up there. It doesn’t look like it, but there are a good dozen or so boxes hanging out there. Some of those rows run three deep.

I was trying to figure out where the rest of the boxes could go. Somewhere that allowed for easy access but was kind of out of the way. Then I remembered this little cabinet beside the drums. I pretty much forgot it was there after stashing some drum keys and extra sticks in there nine years ago.

I’m not sure what the people who lived here before us used it for. A china cabinet or a cutlery dungeon, I’d guess. It just happens to be the perfect depth for the boxes I’m using to store backup CDs. It’s even got cute little doors to keep the dust out.

BACKUP CDS batch 2

I gotta say, it’s a little strange to have all of this organized and to know where everything is for a change. I think I’ll be able to get used to it, though.

Another year in the rear-view mirror.

see ya later mashed patater

This was supposed to be the year I got back on track and released a bunch of albums to make up for lost time.

The getting-back-on-track part happened in a big way. 2014’s madness bled into 2015, and the year was packed with a lot of music being made with a lot of great people. The releasing-a-bunch-of-albums part…didn’t work out quite as well. If you don’t count the Tire Swing Co. EP TIME AWAY (which was released on Christmas Day in 2014 but didn’t get a physical release until early 2015), only one album managed to sneak its way across the finish line right before 2015 breathed its last.

There were some good reasons for that, though. The solo album with many guests (aka YEAR OF THE SLEEPWALK) kept evolving, with more musicians and singers becoming a part of it, and then it grew an unexpected extra wrinkle that…well, you’ll just have to wait and see. The O-L West album also grew beyond what we thought it was going to be. and with more collaborative things popping up all the time, and some more unexpected work recording other people, it all got a little chaotic (in a good way).

I guess one way to look at it is this: it’ll be a lot easier to get all of these things finished in the New Year, since a lot of the legwork is done now. I might be late to the party, but I always show up eventually, drugs in hand. Okay, almost always. And usually with drugs. Sometimes it’s a feral turtle instead. Who’s keeping track?

I’m not going to say my old nemesis THE ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE finally gets conquered in the next twelve months. That’s probably a fridge too far. But a lot of other things should see the light of day.

So here’s to bombarding a small handful of people with lots of new music in 2016.


Things happen in cycles, sometimes, maybe.

First: stockpiling songs for an ambitious monster of an album, buying new equipment for it, shaping and preparing and then losing the ability to record anything for a protracted period of time thanks to the noises made by others.

Then: a new house, lethargy, time and opportunity but no motivation to make good use of either, the feeling of staring at something insurmountable and lacking the limbs necessary to get on top of it, lacking even a mouth to make a meal of its dirt.

The Then after this Then: stuffing the monster in a linen closet to concentrate on less intimidating things.

The Then after that Then: eight full-length albums in three years, rhythm, confidence, an out-takes collection thrown in just for fun.

The next Then after these Thens: return to the monster, gradual loss of confidence and rhythm, a lot of writing but not enough recording, more thought than action, no new albums for two calendar years.

Now: locking the monster back in the closet to concentrate on less intimidating things. Rhythm and confidence returning. Did they dye their hair? Get a tan? It’s been a while.

In other words, I am where I was when i started this blog six years ago, and I’m somewhere I’ve never been before, splitting my pants to split the difference between the two places.

Whatever comes out of this specific pocket of time and inspiration, there’s a feeling calling itself a need that wants to document as much of the process as possible — in words, in sounds, in images moving and still — because it might not happen again like this. There’s no way of knowing how many times the monster can be lulled into submission before it wakes up all wild-eyed and drooling, demanding satisfaction, refusing to sleep again.

And there’s something less insular about this time. It’s a quality that might not belong to any other time but this, here, now. It feels like something worth preserving. Maybe this is the place to preserve it.

A little less dust, a little less chaos.

i've got tape on my fingers.

A few weeks ago I embarked upon a great cleaning adventure.

The studio is one area I’ve never bothered tidying up much. I didn’t think it needed the work. Unlike my perpetual disaster of a bedroom, it’s one spot that never seems to get very messy. It almost seems to keep itself in check because of the nature of what I’m doing in the room. I probably wouldn’t be able to work in there so often and so easily if it got too chaotic.

It turns out six years of occasional half-assed cleanings without any serious ass-destroying cleanings will take their toll, though. And just because a space looks tidy doesn’t mean it’s so.

It took a few days of intermittent work, but I got things looking better in there than they ever have before. Tripping hazards were addressed and nullified. Piles of backup CDs were labeled and organized. Dust was encountered. Wars were waged. Hearts were eaten. And a whole lot of pieces of electrical tape were cut and written on with Sharpie marker.

A saner person would have picked up a patch bay by now. A saner person would do a lot of things I haven’t done and don’t intend to do. I never came around to the idea of rack-mounting my gear. I tried once. It looked funny to me. It felt funny too. I prefer to pile things up on a massive desk so I can lean in and let them all surround me. All I need are some pieces of coloured tape to let me know what’s plugged into what and I’m good.

The thing is, a lot of those pieces of tape have not aged well. Most of them still retain some adhesive properties, but in some cases the ink has faded far past the point of legibility. So I re-labeled everything, and labeled some things that had never been labeled before, and now I know the source location of every active patch cord — something you’d think I would have taken care of a long time ago. For the first time I know where everything is going and/or coming from. That should help things run a little smoother from here.

A sample of some of the old tape I peeled off of patch cords and replaced:

I wish I’d taken before and after pictures, because I doubt I’ll ever let things deviate much from how organized they are now, and the transformation was subtle but still capable of inducing a medium-strength erection. Instead, here’s a picture of a shelf in the stock room. The cleaning momentum carried over upstairs, and I thought I should take a crack at the mess that room had turned into.

All the inserts and booklets that were scattered on the floor are now arranged like so:

Every box is stuffed with inserts/booklets, and they’re a lot deeper than the picture makes them look. The two black boxes on top alone probably hold inserts for twenty different albums between them.

It’s a little strange knowing where everything is after getting used to having to do a lot of guessing and digging. It’s a nice change, though.

Elsewhere, the mysterious album of stuff I am recording that I did not write myself is just about finished. A few songs just need a little tweaking and remixing, and then I will turn my attention back to this ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE behemoth. Would it surprise you to know that the whole thing has shifted yet again, and the track list I started to carve out on the in-progress album page is going right out the window?

Impenetrable hedge.

Time for an ANGLE OF BEST DISTANCE update.

Right now there are seventy-one songs that are finished/mixed/mastered and ready to go, twenty-nine in need of some minor tweaking, thirty-seven that have been recorded but need some significant work, and I don’t even want to think about how many things are on the “to be recorded” pile at this point.

Realistically, I need to record at least another thirty songs or so. I think. It’s difficult to see what shape the final two discs are going to take right now, and the only way to bring that into focus is to record more stuff and then start shifting it around.

I’ve probably said this before, but I don’t put an album together the way most people do. I think it’s supposed to work something like this: you write a batch of songs. You decide those are the songs you want to make up the framework of your album. Sometimes you even know what order you want them to go in. Then you either record demos to get down arrangement ideas before serious recording begins, or you go into the studio (whether it’s your home or someone else’s space) and record those songs.

I don’t do any of that. I record and write simultaneously. Any idea I might have of what kind of album I want to make is almost always ripped to shreds and rebuilt several times along the way. When I feel I’ve said enough in raw form, that’s when I start to figure out what the album wants to be, looking at which songs belong and how they should be sequenced.

The closest I come to recording demos is getting down rough ideas on my little Flip video camera in case I need to reference them again later. Once I start recording downstairs everything is for keeps, and my writing process is still as inextricably wound up in the recording process as it ever was. I may think I know what a song is going to sound like when I put on the headphones and hit the record button, but I really have no idea until I’ve finished recording it, and anything can change during that time.

Working this way gives you a great freedom to always be working on something, without requiring you to have any idea what it’s for or where it might go. And it allows the music to find its own way, in its own time, which has always been the approach that’s worked best for me. I can — and sometimes do — start out with a specific batch of songs I want to work with, but those songs are allowed to grow, get naked, reproduce, and then I can watch the kids start to grow up. If I come to what would normally be the finish line only to find that something is missing, I have the opportunity to figure out what that is and add it to the mix.

There’s a flip-side. I’ve been lucky enough not to hit many creative snags, and having enough material to work with has never been a problem, but sometimes sequencing can be a pain in the ass. Trying to turn GIFT FOR A SPIDER into a cohesive album was a maddening experience that literally gave me a headache more than once. It took some shuffling and getting rid of a handful of songs I thought were keepers before it all started to feel right.

With this gigantic album I’m working on now, more thought is going into the sequencing than with anything else I’ve ever done in my life.

Part of that is out of necessity. When you’re working with shaving a few hundred potential tracks down to somewhere between eighty and a hundred songs from all walks of life, things need to flow well or it’s just going to be chaos. There’s also something else going on this time. By finalizing the discs one at a time, I’ve changed the way the process works for me. It’s much more like a chess match this time, where certain moves that are made now limit the moves that can be made later. Having the first half of the album nailed down, I now have to make sure the second half compliments and works with what’s already there. It’s as if I’m making a few different albums at the same time I’m making one big interconnected thing.

The deeper I go, the more I feel my quality control tightening. Nothing gets to live on the album unless it feels like it justifies its existence in some way. If I really am going to finish this thing sometime this year (and I will, or I’ll spit my teeth out trying), I’m going to try to make it something I can be proud of, where there isn’t anything I look back on and think, “That’s filler,” or, “That shouldn’t really be there.”

Another thing I’m realizing — as much as there are certain songs that I think are standout tracks, they all seem work better when they’re not taken out of context. Large as this album is going to be, I think it may be best heard in one shot, or at least in a few large doses. More than anything else I’ve done, I think it works best taken as a whole. You need to feel the way different things ebb and flow, or half of the whole point is lost.

It’s difficult not to over-think things in a situation like this. And I’ve found myself getting a little lazy. I should be much closer to the finish line by now than I am. Each time I finish a disc, I kind of take a break and decompress. I think that’s healthy, but it can stretch out too far and lead to a loss of momentum. That’s kind of what’s happened over the last little while.

The last time i found myself in a situation like this, it was late 2009 and I ended up recording an album with Travis and being reminded that I really just needed to sit my ass down and let the music happen instead of spending too much time thinking without doing.

Here we are again. Travis came over last night, we ended up very casually recording a cover song, and then after he left I sat down and started messing around with bits of electric guitar for fun. Countermelodies and ideas started to appear. Before long, what had been a very bare-bones track was pretty fleshed out. Very little thinking was involved. It was all just instinct.

And once again I thought, “What the hell have I been doing lately? I have the recording time I need. I should be making it count. I don’t even need to try, or to want to make anything happen. The only thing I have to do is sit here, and play something, and it’ll happen on its own. It’s happening right now.”

So, for the second time, I got the kick in the ass I needed when I was least expecting it. Thanks for that, T-Rizzle.

I haven’t forgotten about making another video progress report either. I’ll get to it one of these days. I guess that’s the problem with no longer setting myself rigid deadlines with those things. But hey, there’s going to be lots to talk about when I do set up the camera and go to town.

Elsewhere, John Cale has a new album coming out in a few months.

If I’m half as cool and artistically engaged in ten years as that guy still is at seventy, I think I’ll be doing alright.

On a completely different note, congratulations to Milan, who just became a dad for the first time. Dan’s about to become a first-time papa any day now as well. Everyone’s having kids! And I’m not even having sex!

Honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Things are much simpler for me without anything that even resembles romantic bullshit, and it’s about time things stayed simple for a while. Makes it easier to concentrate on what’s important — making music, and growing the hedge.