Oh You This (2003)

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

it was a first for me in a lot of different ways — 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 the first time around); the first time i tried to mesh stripped-down acoustic songs with more full-bodied arrangements (before this album, songs of mine that were acoustic-guitar-based were almost always percussion-free, and songs with drums were generally driven by electric guitar or piano…i don’t know why…it was just an approach i stuck with for a good few years); it was the first time i made a conscious decision to try doing something more interesting than verse/chorus/verse stuff with song structure 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 serious effort into avoiding rhyming in the lyrics almost altogether.

it was also the last album i would complete as a teenager. oh, 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 — fitting, since not only were things not going well in the romance department, but my band had just disintegrated.

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 anyway, so it felt natural enough. all it really meant was the ideas i wasn’t able to get the other guys in the band interested in could now find full expression.

the post-band-breakup trilogy felt like some of my best and most varied work at the time (i’m not sure i still feel that way now). but there was at least one song on each of those albums that made me want to bite through my kneecaps with shame whenever i heard them. now i felt it was time to get serious and make a GREAT ALBUM. in capital letters. with no filler.

as a first step, i picked up some new microphones and mic preamps that caused the quality of my recordings to skyrocket. while this stuff is a noticeable 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 there i wasn’t used to hearing, 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, making sure everything was fully-formed, rejecting anything that felt like it wasn’t top-tier material. and i 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, that was the equivalent of working on an album for about four years.

the entire 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 piss shit” whenever it came up in the course of conversation. i wanted to bury it in a hole and blow it up.

hindsight has revealed it isn’t either of those things. it isn’t a masterpiece. it also isn’t 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 battle it out for that distinction until the end of my days).

i still think this is some distance from my best work, though. it came out sounding weirdly accessible for all my backing away from rhyming and proper choruses — something that disturbed me at the time. 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 appealed to a wider group of people than anything else i’d done. this in spite of all the rough edges and some seriously bitter lyrics (turned out i wasn’t able to get rid of all the anger just like that).

somewhere, somehow, it felt like it all went 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. and for all the time i spent working on it, i could have done a better mixing job.

but 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 somewhat successful first steps in the direction of the sort of “disjointed non-pop” i would soon be pursuing with more confidence and conviction on albums like BRAND NEW SHINY LIE and GROWING SIDEWAYS. soulrot felt like a jazzy voyage into uncharted territory at the time, with two guitar solos that were like nothing i’d ever played on an electric guitar before. and amphetamine rush has grown in my estimation, from filler i almost left off the album, to what i now think is one of the more interesting songs here, complete with one of the last extended guitar solos i would record for years.

every time i pull this CD out for another listen, which happens maybe once every year or three, 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 several 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 quite a bit of bitterness here. this time 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, but no one else seemed to care. it was depressing, reaching out to people, trying to connect with other artists, and never getting anything back.

some people wonder why 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 more conventional ways. 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, and i tried networking aggressively — though never with any arrogance or a chip on my shoulder. i just wanted to make friends and share work with other people. it was made very clear to me that no one wanted me there. i didn’t know the right people, and i wasn’t cool enough to justify paying attention to.

after a while i started wondering why i bothered making music at all. what was the point?

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 “even i’m better than this” 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, i’ve succeeded. everything else is gravy.

so 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 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 just felt wrong somehow. i didn’t want to feel that feeling again. so art and commerce would never curl up together in my bed again, and i would never again waste 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 just in the process 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 musically. i figured out once and for all that i don’t make music to make money or in the hope of achieving recognition — i make music to make music. it took the indifference of 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 where would we be?

all in all, this was an important turning point for me, even if it wasn’t as successful or jarring as i hoped for it to 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 the whole 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 guitar parts start harmonizing with each other. i don’t know why. i just dig it.

and 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 & 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 sountrack 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 other such things. i guess we’re both romantics at heart.

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