This was the last solo album I would make for two years. That might not sound like a big deal, but we’re talking about a time in my life when I finished a new album about as often as I washed my hair. There was a pretty significant break from meaningful solo adventures after this, as Papa Ghostface evolved into Guys with Dicks and that stuff kind of took over for a while.
The short version of the story goes something like this: in the summer of 2000 I found myself more inspired than I’d been in a long time, writing and recording songs for both this album and PAPER CHEST HAIR at the same time. I wrote enough songs to make each album a two or three-CD set, but never got around to recording some of my favourite things I’d written, and I kind of lost interest in this album before it was even finished. I started out thinking it was some of my best and most accessible work, and then decided it wasn’t that great after all — shades of what would happen a few years later with an album called OH YOU THIS.
I had the “accessible” part right. This music is pretty free of weirdness, and my working title was Almost Normal, which just about sums it up. I think I decided it was time to get a bit more approachable and let more craft sneak into things, recording some of the songs I was writing in the traditional sense instead of improvising everything while it was being recorded.
I mean, I was sixteen years old. I was in the autumn of my career! It was time to try something new. In this case that meant songs with choruses, bridge sections, and no profanity or bizarre sexual references.
For something so free of strangeness, this CD is pretty weird to listen to today. It’s almost “adult contemporary” by my standards. Mine kicks things off on a bright-sounding acoustic note, though the lyrics aren’t exactly sunny. There was a part at the end of the song where I thanked the imaginary backup vocalists. I guess I thought it was a little too silly, so I cut it out. Though I wasn’t thinking of anything in particular when I wrote the song, I later realized it did a pretty nice job of encapsulating the closest thing to a romantic relationship I’d experienced up to that point.
And that’s the first and last time anything on the album comes within sniffing distance of autobiography.
When It Rains was written as a sad piano ballad. About half of the lyrics came to me while I was taking a bath. When it came time to record the song, I threw out the original music and grafted the lyrics to this uptempo electric guitar thing instead, which changed the feeling of the whole thing. It’s funny how happy you can make lines like, “Baby’s back / High on crack / She gave it all away for a little bit of pleasure,” sound just by playing major chords against them and singing with a bit of energy. I’ve always liked the way it turned out, in spite of some occasionally off-key singing.
La Montage is probably the only thing that gets a little off-kilter, with lyrics about how God has no tonsils and the sun has no nipples, but the music is catchy enough to keep it grounded. Jesse once told me it reminded him of INXS, and he said he could see himself playing a live cover version with the band he had at the time. Given the very different universes we inhabited as artists, that would have been pretty messed up. I kind of wish I’d seen it happen.
Here She was written as a stab at capturing an old acoustic Rolling Stones vibe, circa Beggar’s Banquet, but doesn’t really end up sounding much like its inspiration would suggest. It also marks the first time I ever played real drums on a recorded song (I’d just bought my first drum set that day). I had no idea what I was doing behind the kit, but I like the big, detuned sound I got here.
The Sound of the Smell has always been a favourite. I couldn’t tell you why. Not sure why I didn’t go back and replace that drum loop with real brushed drums, but the electric guitar sounds nice and meaty — I was forsaking the POD while recording this album, reminding myself I had an actual guitar amp to mic up. And the bouncy piano ballad What’s Best wears its John Cale influence where everyone can see.
The vocals for Jiklönne were recorded the day after the Papa Ghostface tracks “C’mon” and “Gay Animal Rights” (the music was recorded a month or so earlier). At first it showed up on the PG semi-compilation KISSING THE BALD SPOT. In the end I decided it felt more at home here, since it was a solo piece after all. It seemed like a good note to end on.
I’m not sure what possessed me to try re-working We Was Dead as a ballad, but i think it turned out a lot better than the Papa Ghostface version did, even if I still never quite captured the song the way it sounded it my head when I wrote it. Dirty Reflection was written on piano, complete with lyrics, but for some reason I decided to turn it into another one of my early stabs at something approaching electronic music, and I never got around to recording vocals. The weird filter effects were added after the fact when I finally mixed the song in the summer of 2002.
Promises may be the strangest thing of all — a marathon ballad that really sounds like a genuine love song. I would never write something like this today. Then again, it was written for someone who didn’t actually exist, so maybe I would. It’s always been a high spot for me, with some of my best singing on the album and a jazzy instrumental mid-section — or as jazzy as I could hope to get in those days.
In the end, I’m not sure where I’d rank this CD. It’s grown on me over the years, and it’s kind of fun to listen to now. I think it works as an interesting, more conservative companion piece to PAPER CHEST HAIR, given the way those two overlapped. I would sometimes record vocal tracks for songs that would end up on both albums on the same day.
Maybe someday I’ll record a bunch of the songs that were written for the album but never made it to the recording stage, and issue that as a very belated sequel. It’s a thought.
When It Rains
Sound of the Smell
We Was Dead