Though it’s a tiny bit late, here’s May’s progress report.
Something I didn’t mention in the video (or I did, but I snipped it out because it was getting a little long) was what a sequencing headache this album turned into. Literally. It led me to a deeper understanding of the way I put an album together.
With most other people, it works something like this: you write a bunch of songs. You decide the songs will combine to form an album. You probably have a rough idea of what order the songs should be sequenced in before you even record the first note. Then you record the songs and you make your album.
For me, it’s never worked that way. I record a bunch of songs, I stop when i feel like I’ve said what I have to say, and then I start carving out what the album will be. Sometimes the best songs are written at the very last minute and added when I already thought I had the whole thing finished. A lot of thought goes into sequencing, but it’s the last thing I ever figure out.
If I were a maker of films, it would be like starting with a rough idea of the script but writing a lot of new scenes during the filming process, getting rid of entire chunks of narrative I thought were pivotal to the film, eventually throwing out the old script altogether, and changing the entire flow and meaning of the film again during the editing process while deciding what kind of film I’ve made. John Cassavetes worked like this, shooting far more film than he could ever use and trying many different things so he could go about discovering just what his films wanted to be during the editing process. I guess I go about it in a similar way, but with music instead of film.
I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve started working on an album with a concrete, far-reaching idea of what I want to do, and even then I didn’t always end up with something that had much to do with that initial idea, and I never went into it with all of the songs written before I started recording. My music is always evolving and changing, not only from one album to the next, but often within the time it takes to record a single album. There isn’t a better demonstration of that than this one, where I threw away an entirely different album so the album that now exists could be born.
When it comes to sequencing the songs, for years I just threw everything on CD in the order it was recorded. That seemed to work fine until more thought and craft began to seep into what I was doing and I decided it was time to start putting more thought into the flow of an album. After a while I arrived at a process that seemed to work well for me. I would brainstorm rough ideas of what order I thought the songs should go in, making tiny changes every step of the way throughout the process of recording an album. As the music shifted and some songs were pushed aside to make room for new ones, my sequencing ideas would keep shifting as well.
Finally, when I felt all the songs I needed for the album were in place, I would sit down and hash it out with more commitment until I arrived at a sequence that felt like it worked in my head. Then I would try it out on CD. And almost without fail, that running order always felt good to me, and I never felt a need to do any tweaking beyond adjusting how many seconds of silence there would be between the songs. The one exception was THE BITTER SIDE OF SWEET, where I had a little bit of trouble with the sequencing. But then, I had mixed feelings about that album even at the time, and it’s due for a re-evaluation.
This time things got a little slippery. I arrived at my final sequence on paper, tried it out on CD, and and it didn’t feel right at all. I had to throw out all my sequencing ideas and start from scratch, getting rid of a few more songs in the process when I realized they didn’t really add anything to the album.
Now I think I’ve arrived at a sequence that works. I’ll know for sure in the next day or two, and the album will be packaged and in CJAM-ready form next week, one way or another.
I didn’t want to give too much away in advance, so I kept snippets of new music in the progress report video to a minimum. More music and info (along with the lyrics) can be found on the proper album page, for anyone who’s interested.
As for the context-warped public domain film content in the video, the most interesting piece by far is The Terror of Tiny Town — an all-little-person Western. I think it’s kind of brilliant in its own bizarre way. The barbershop sequence I grabbed and used for the intro is like something out of a David Lynch movie, filmed before Lynch was even born. You’ve got the typical Western archetypes (the grizzled old men who can’t see past old prejudices, the hotshot young cowboy who falls for the niece of one of those grizzled old men and stirs up more trouble without meaning to, the villain who plays each side against the other and sits back to enjoy the chaos he creates, the prostitute he mistreats who has her revenge in the end, the corrupt but conflicted sheriff he has under his thumb), all viewed through a slightly different prism and skewed, because they’re all played by little people. I especially like the German chef who serves as the comic relief.
A Tale of Two Kitties is a cartoon I remember seeing as a kid, featuring a very early appearance from a bird who would soon become Tweety. Experiments in the Revival of Organisms is a Soviet-made short film narrated by a British dude, and something animal lovers should stay far away from. Whether it’s real or not (and it looks real), there’s something disturbing about watching the decapitated head of a dog responding to external stimuli as if the animal were still alive.
I’m always surprised by the stuff I find on the internet that’s fallen into the public domain, and how much fun it is to twist bits of it out of context. Sometimes the music and the images combine in such a strange way, it’s almost as if they were meant to find each other. I mean, who knew a little person standoff and dreamy non-pop would go together?