INCOGNITO IN AUSTIN (2002)
An unexpected side-project that came into play near the end of the Guys with Dicks days. Half the tracks feature me and Tyson playing all the instruments, with my voice processed so I sound kind of like a disembodied woman. The other half of the album is made up of a few insane jokes, depraved “remixes”, and a moody instrumental.
We knocked out the first three songs in one inspired afternoon in February. After a night of music and excess that ended with the band sleeping over at my place, I woke up to a note from Gord saying he left while Tyson and I were still asleep because the wind was calling him. Tyson said he was feeling sort of a creative hangover from the night before, when “Beautiful High” and the stoned out-takes that showed up on the CASTRATED EP were recorded. He thought it might lead to something interesting.
“We should try recording something, just the two of us,” he said. “You do that all the time with Gord.”
I felt no hangover, creative or otherwise. I was just hungry. But I figured I’d let Tyson have his fun. It was true that we’d never messed around much as a duo, outside of the goofing around that became JUST TWO GUYS. Maybe something interesting would come out of it.
He recorded some seemingly atonal keyboard string sounds to a click track while I scrounged up some food in the kitchen. I couldn’t quite make sense of what he was doing. Then I added piano, we overdubbed bass and drums at the same time, and all at once there was a melody and what he’d been playing on the keyboard made perfect sense.
Tyson asked me if I had any weird vocal effects. The first thing I thought of was one effect I’d never really done anything with — something that modified the pitch formants of a male voice to make it sound vaguely female. Tyson’s face curled into a grin while I sang some improvised, mostly wordless stuff. I shrieked, “Murder!” and the effect made my voice shriek an octave higher.
The end result was like nothing either one of us had ever done before.
For the title track and Psychotic Romantic I dug out a notebook I’d done a lot of writing in while I was in Italy in grade twelve. Incognito in Austin was written as a jaunty acoustic thing on one of Gord’s guitars, only to become something more like dark classic rock when I was seated behind the piano. Psychotic Romantic was written as semi-psychotic piano-rock. Here it was transformed into a weird ballad.
Tyson never had much interest in the piano being a part of our music before this. To be honest, at least some of that was down to me too, because I didn’t push for it. Ever since SUBLIMINAL BILE forced me to become our band’s lead guitarist I felt like I was going through an accelerated period of re-development after assuming my guitar skills had gone about as far as they could. I wanted to follow that wherever it led.
Now Tyson wanted me to play piano all the time, and the interest on his end came at a good time. My fingers were happy to have an excuse to tickle the ivories again after a protracted period of neglect. The music we were coming up with seemed to want the piano to be a part of it.
It was a perfect storm of accidental something-or-other.
On Vomitingbirds, the vocal effect didn’t mesh so well with the more aggressive music. But I had plans for that guitar riff I’d soon be setting in motion on my own on BEAUTIFULLY STUPID.
Water comes across as being stupidly misogynistic, but it was really a swipe at someone else’s attitude toward the opposite sex, written from their point of view and made to sound as dumb as possible. Tyson had to ask me to “tone down the stupid” in my vocal delivery a little, which I think is kind of hilarious. Our duet-’round-the-imaginary-campfire makes for some touching moments.
There was another unexpected development during the last session, and it led to one of the highlights of the album. The piano motif I hit on at the end of Vomitingbirds grew into something much more interesting after that song was behind us, and with Tyson behind the drums the self-explanatory Piano/Drums took shape — a slow-building instrumental improvisation that again wasn’t at all like anything we’d ever done before.
At first Tyson wanted me to add vocals and bass to the song, but I didn’t feel up to it. And after a while we both decided the music was probably best left alone. The only overdub was a bit of effect-enhanced disco hi-hat during the song’s climax. I like Tyson’s comment at the end of the track. But then I always liked the audio vérité approach and tried to slip it in as often as I could.
Cured? is little more than an excuse to insult some people from our musical pasts and get silly, though I do like my acoustic guitar riff. It sounds like something out of a Hallmark commercial. And Yes I Can is a savage re-imagining of someone else’s song. He would have murdered us both if he ever heard it. We almost killed ourselves with that one, with all the hysterical laughing that was going on.
The group name was something that came up during the first session. It has nothing to do with the comic book character, who I wasn’t even aware existed until a decade later. I was talking with Tyson about how otherworldly this music sounded to me, and how I imagined if someone were to walk into a bar and hear it they wouldn’t be sure how to react.
“Nah,” he said. “If you hear this in a bar…you like it, but you’re not sure if you’re supposed to like it.”
“I think the word sinister should be involved somehow,” I said. “It gives me that kind of feeling.”
Tyson thought for a moment. “How about Sini-Star?”
I told him I wasn’t really feeling that.
After another pause he said, “What about Mr. Sinister?”
“Hey…I like that.”
And there we had it.
I always thought it would be fun to see if we could fool people into believing we really did have a female singer. But I’m not sure it would have worked. While the voice doesn’t sound like me one bit, it doesn’t sound quite like any human woman either. There’s something ghostly about it. All I know is, using that effect seemed to inspire me to go places with my voice I wouldn’t normally think to go.
This album is a short one — not much more than half an hour long. It’s really closer to a healthy EP in length. Still, I think we were onto something here. I’ve never been able to use that specific voice effect on anything else where it’s seemed appropriate, and I don’t know if another Mr. Sinister CD would be possible even if Tyson and I tried to make music together again someday. Maybe we just had that one little pocket of time to do what we did, and that was it.
At least we’ve got this little piece of Sandra Bullock’s soul to sing us to sleep on those long, lonely nights.
Mutant Prime Minister
Incognito in Austin
Psychotic Romantic (Shoot the Shit)
Yes I Can