Something happened while I was recording “Dance Yourself to Sleep” during the BEAUTIFULLY STUPID sessions. I was overdubbing some high wordless singing in the background when I hit some notes I didn’t realize I was capable of reaching.
I’d done a lot of messing around with my voice over the years, but I had no idea i could sing that high without my head exploding. All at once I became a lot more interested in exploring my vocal range. How high could I really go without screaming? How low without turning into a beef burrito?
This CD was where I tried to answer those questions for myself.
A few of these songs were written during the BEAUTIFULLY STUPID period, with one or two written even earlier, but the finished product turned into something a bit different from what I was expecting. For one thing, more than half the songs are very spare and acoustic. That happened because I had a few good acoustic guitars at my permanent disposal for a change, and I was excited to make use of them. For another thing, at times the music gets dangerously close to emo territory, without enough electricity or weirdness to keep it on-edge.
Yes, friends — this was a time in my life when I could belt out a line like, “My love is a strange and terrible thing,” and feel no shame.
To be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about this album. As soon as it was finished it felt like it didn’t measure up to the one that came before it. The rawness was there, the emotional nudity was there, but I thought I did a subpar mixing job and it felt weighed down by too much bland acoustic shit. At the same time, I felt like Bad Karma, Lankysuicide, and Thank You for Not Caring were a couple of my best songs.
Lankysuicide might be the best thing on the whole album, unpolished singing and all. It would have ended up on BEAUTIFULLY STUPID if I made my way around to recording it back then. It’s as defeated and honest as anything on that album, but also its own beast, with an instrumental workout filling out the latter half of the song that doesn’t really sound like anything I’d done before, with or without a wah pedal.
Unstable Things is another one I wrote during that turbulent time. I came up with most of the music while playing Roland (another guitar Jesse kept leaving at my house, this one the successor to Betsy II) on my side porch while waiting for Gord to show up the day of the final GWD show, and finished it a few weeks later. I played that song and Filler live on CJAM in July of 2002 as part of my first-ever radio experience.
Both those songs are a little less ragged here than the live versions were, and my guitar-playing is cleaner without the radio nerves, but there’s still enough imperfection to keep them honest. Those are the two places where the acoustic approach really pays off, and that climactic high note in Unstable Things might be one of my longest and highest held notes on record.
We Can Be Happy dates back to the band days. Gord and Tyson liked the song, so we probably would have ended up recording it together at some point. Maybe it would have found a place on the full-length album the CASTRATED EP was supposed to become. I have to say I think it works better as an acoustic thing than it would have as a band vehicle. It’s even got a proper chorus!
Sing along, everyone:
I’m sorry I love you.
I’m sorry you don’t care.
I’m sorry for everything.
I want you to kill me.
Gets stuck in your head, doesn’t it?
Lessons in Self-Deprivation and Self-Destruction is the closest I’ve ever come to straight metal, though there isn’t anything you could call screaming in it. At one point I play some speed metal guitar licks just because. That was a lot of fun to do. This has always been one of my favourite tracks on the album, and the evil riff it comes back with after the fake-out non-ending is still one of my prouder moments. Sometimes I think in another life I could have had a blast playing guitar in a metal band.
Infatuated doesn’t fare so well. That track is one of those songs I now wish I never recorded. You want to hear one of the worst songs I’ve ever written? You got it right here — though “Onto the Nothing” on KEEP YOUR SCARS might be even worse. A good friend has always liked it quite a bit, and I’ve never been able to figure out why. It’s one of those things I’m glad almost no one has heard. I like the music and the way it darts in and out of a lot of different sections, but the lyrics aren’t some of my better work…and that’s being kind.
Thank You for Not Caring was written at the time GOOD LUCK IN THE NEXT LIFE was being recorded. I played it for Gord and Tyson a few times, but it was never met with much serious interest. Same thing with Fake Happiness — part of the song was written before we started recording SUBLIMINAL BILE, and I tried to get the guys interested in it, with no success. It says something about how much material I was forced to sit on in the band days that I was still able to draw from that wellspring after the explosion of the first post-GWD solo album.
Azure was the first instrumental piano song I’d recorded in almost two years. It took almost that long just to piece it together. It never seemed finished, and I would keep coming up with new bits every few months and cobbling them together. Some parts were intended for other songs I never got around to writing, so I just threw them all into the pot and tried to make some sense of the thing. The jury’s still out on how successful I was.
Over time I’ve grown to like this CD a little more. Even if it can’t match BEAUTIFULLY STUPID blow for blow, it’s almost as angry and uninhibited, and there are some cool moments — the mass of vocals sweetly singing, “Hamster turds,” at the end of Disgust Appeal, the overlapping vocals and guitars running through Bad Karma, the rapid-fire switch from 4/4 to a brisk 3/4 at the end of Your Lover, and the double-time ending to We Can Be Happy, to name a few.
It’s just that some of these songs felt like they had unrealized potential. Take Fake Happiness, for example. It’s got a nice intro, and I always liked the main guitar riff, but it’s kind of let down by some crummy singing. Sometimes you can shoot yourself in the foot with the whole “first take is the best take” mentality.
Then again, I didn’t view this as a proper stand-alone album anyway. It was meant to be a companion piece to the CD that would follow.
It Hurts Back
Lessons in Self-Deprivation and Self-Destruction
Sweat Sock Wine
Thank You for Not Caring
We Can Be Happy
You Made the Nights
The Brevity of Our Union