Oh You This (2003)

This album has always been a bit of a weird black sheep for me.

It’s an album of a lot of firsts. It was the first time I ever thought to try making inserts with proper album art, though I didn’t do a great job of putting it together, because I had no idea what I was doing. It was the first time I tried to give acoustic guitar-based songs more full-bodied arrangements. Before this, whenever I played acoustic guitar on a song I almost always left it otherwise unembellished. It was the first time I made a conscious decision to try doing something more interesting with song structure than the typical verse/chorus/verse dance moves while actually writing the songs, operating for the most part outside the realm of all-out improvised freedom where I was most comfortable in a recording environment. And it was the first time I put some serious effort into avoiding rhyming in the lyrics almost altogether.

It was also the last album I would complete as a teenager. How youth trickles away, like so much spilled generic peach drink.

I was just coming off a frantic period of recording three albums in the space of about five months (BEAUTIFULLY STUPID, TEMPORARY AMNESIA, and KEEP YOUR SCARS). They ended up forming something of a breakup trilogy, which made sense, given all the doomed romantic adventures I was having.

After getting used to the idea of filtering my creative energy through a few other people, I was back to doing everything myself. That was where I started, so it felt natural enough. All it really meant was I now had the freedom to explore all the ideas I wasn’t able to get the other guys in the band interested in.

The post-band-breakup trilogy felt like some of my best and most varied work at the time, but there was at least one song on each of those albums that made me want to bite through my kneecaps with shame. I thought it was time to get serious and make a GREAT ALBUM. In capital letters. With no filler. Something my legacy could rest on.

As a first step, I picked up some new microphones and mic preamps that caused the quality of my recordings to skyrocket. While this is a significant step down sonically from the things I would go on to do only a year or two later, and a world away from what I’m doing now, at the time it was far above any level of sound quality I ever thought I could hope to achieve. For the first time I found myself preferring the sound of my voice free of effects. There was a clarity I wasn’t used to hearing in my vocal tracks, and I liked it.

Then I decided instead of throwing an album together in a few weeks, I would take more time with this one, rejecting anything that felt like it wasn’t top-tier material. I also wanted to try doing something a little more interesting and cryptic with the lyrics, after spending such a long time just vomiting my self-loathing into song.

I spent six months putting it all together here and there. By my standards at the time, it was the equivalent of working on an album for about four years.

The whole time I was working on this album, I was convinced it was going to be my masterpiece. The moment it was finished, it sounded like a piece of crap to me and I never wanted to hear it again. I had so much contempt for the thing, I started calling it Fuck Shit Piss whenever it came up in the course of conversation. I wanted to kick it in a hole and blow it up.

The passage of time has allowed for a little more objectivity. It isn’t a masterpiece, but neither is it the worst thing I’ve done by any means. LIVE AT SILVERS, JUST TWO GUYS, GUYS WITHOUT TYSON, and a few of the cobbled-together early solo EPs will probably continue to duke it out for that distinction until the end of my days.

The whole thing came out sounding weirdly accessible for all my backing away from rhyming and proper choruses. I think that had a lot to do with my mixed feelings about the album. I wanted to make challenging music that sounded like nothing I or anyone else had done before. Instead, I ended up with something that broke no new ground as far as I could tell. And yet, for some bizarre reason, it appealed to a wider group of people than anything I’d done before (even Tyson was a fan, which made no sense at all). This in spite of all the rough edges and some seriously bitter lyrics.

I felt like somewhere, somehow, it had all gone wrong.

I wouldn’t figure out how to cross-stick the right way behind the drums until this album was finished. The vocal performances are not some of my better moments in front of a microphone, to put it gently. If I’m being brutally honest, this is some of my all-time worst recorded singing, and the whole “first take is the best take” mentality really backfired here. A lot of these vocal performances would have benefited from another take or two, or even just a few punch-ins. And for all the time I spent working on it, I could have done a better mixing job.

Still, there are some things here I have to admit I’ve always been pretty fond of. A Blanket Shower is one of my most audacious, ambitious, and acidic spoken word creations. All my rage went into that thing. It would be the last song of its kind I would attempt for years. It felt like I had nowhere left to go in the spoken word department after all the different variations on the theme explored on Papa Ghostface, Guys with Dicks, and solo albums.

Tracks like Lick Your Own Dog Free, The Recluse Falls in Love, and Mickey Rourke’s New Face are pretty successful first steps in the direction of the sort of “disjointed non-pop” I would soon be carving out with more confidence and conviction on albums like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS. Soulrot felt like a voyage into uncharted territory, with two guitar solos that were jazzier than anything I’d ever played on an electric guitar before. And Amphetamine Rush has grown on me over the years. At first I almost left it off the album because it felt like it was just taking up space. Now I think it’s one of the more interesting songs here, complete with one of the last extended guitar solos I would record for a good few years.

Every time I pull this CD out for another listen my contempt for it fades a little more and I hear something new that I like, along with a few more things that make me wince.

Though the lyrics are less spleen-on-sleeve than they were on the previous few albums and we’re already a long way from the visceral scream-filled territory of yore only about a year after I tried to rip my vocal cords apart on the final Guys with Dicks songs, there’s still quite a bit of venom here. Some of it stems from the sense of deafening indifference I felt from pretty much everyone when it came to my music.

No one would give me a gig anywhere. No one would listen to a CD. No one would give me the time of day. I’d been making music for a long time, and I believed there was some worth in what I was doing. No one else seemed to think so. It was depressing, reaching out to people, trying to connect with other artists, and never getting anything back.

There might be some people out there who wonder I’m so “reclusive” now, why I almost never play live, and why I’m not an active part of the local music scene in any conventional way. What they don’t know is that I tried to be a part of the scene for years. I tried playing the game the same way everyone else does. I tried networking with genuine enthusiasm, without any sense of entitlement. I just wanted to make friends and share work with other people.

It was made very clear that no one wanted me around. I didn’t know the right people. And since I wasn’t already part of the club, I wasn’t cool enough to justify paying any attention to.

After a while I started wondering why I bothered making music at all. What was the point if no one cared?

As luck would have it, I had an epiphany one night while listening to some derivative, uninteresting music that was deemed worthy of attention. Initial thoughts of, “I’m better than this junk, and I don’t even think that much of myself,” gave way to the realization that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought, or if anyone would ever be listening.

I make music for myself because it’s something I need to do. It’s a part of who I am. It always has been. If I can capture what’s in my head and create something I feel good about, something that’s an honest representation of who and where I am at a given time, then I’ve succeeded. Everything else is gravy.

I stopped trying to connect with other musicians and songwriters who were too cool to acknowledge me. I stopped trying to get gigs at places like Milk and The Avalon Front that were run by people who were too cool to acknowledge me. I stopped trying to get CDs to radio DJs who were too cool to acknowledge me. And I decided I would never again charge anyone money for one of my albums, even if they insisted on paying me. Selling about eleven copies of this album felt wrong on some deep gut level. I didn’t want to feel that way again.

I decided art and commerce would never curl up together in my bed again, and I stopped wasting my time and resources sending music to record labels who wouldn’t give me a passing thought even if I paid them to.

It was a freeing feeling.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but I’m not going to get into all the gory details here. The point is, this album captures me at a moment when I was in the middle of deciding once and for all to stop caring about what anyone else thought of what I was doing and to concentrate on just trying to challenge and satisfy myself, realizing I didn’t make music to make money or in the hope of achieving recognition — I made music to make music. It took the indifference of almost everyone in the Windsor music scene once upon a time to hammer that home for me.

In a way, maybe I owe a debt of gratitude to everyone who ignored and/or slighted me. If it went a different way and I wasn’t met with so much resistance for so long, I might have ended up charging money for my CDs and playing regular live shows like everyone else. And then what kind of bizarro world would we be living in?

All things considered, this was an important turning point for me, even if it wasn’t as successful or jarring as I hoped it would be as the first step in the new direction I knew I needed to go. I guess it can be difficult trying to rewrite your own musical language without needing to stop for gas along the way. If only I thought to pick up some trashy magazines while I was pulled over…

On a random note, one of my very favourite moments on this album has always been the brief “existentialism waltz” bit two minutes or so into Mickey Rourke’s New Face, when the music starts back up again after a few seconds of silence and those two electric guitars start harmonizing with each other. I don’t know why. I just dig it.

There’s also this: at least one person once used this album as make-out music. If that isn’t a selling point, I don’t know what is.

TRACKS:

Broken and Bleeding
Proof Positive
Soulrot
Lick Your Own Dog Free
Aura of the Insipid
Everything You Believe in
You Will Never
Incandescent
A Blanket Shower
Laugh-Lines
The Recluse Falls in Love
Amphetamine Rush
Mickey Rourke’s New Face

LISTEN:

Lick Your Own Dog Free

Mickey Rourke’s New Face

2 comments

  1. Hey Johnny, you forgot to mention that Damien Rice ripped off your guitar riff in Broken and Bleeding for his Cannonbollocks.

  2. I forgot about that! It should have been me on the soundtrack of “The L Word”! ME!

    It’s funny how different our lyrics are. Damien sings about the smell left on his skin or something, while I sing about a butterfly with the face of a cow and someone licking their own face like a drug-addicted animal. I guess we’re both romantics at heart, eh?

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