Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Um. Just found out the photo I wanted to use for "TRAINWRECK" already got snagged for a Mr. Big album. Mr. flippin' Big. Drat.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

As of my listening test this a.m., TRAINWRECK is finished. Ten songs. Somehow, despite the ragtag way this collection of songs came together, it sounds like an ALBUM. You iPod-sporting young whippersnappers might not appreciate that... but Ye Olde Schoolers should. It flows, man. It has a shape, highs 'n lows... dynamics (now there's a word that's become archaic in the music industry...). The intro is... out there. If you've read my previous blog entries, I stuck with "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It" as the opener. Should weird out a few listeners. I closed with two brand new songs, "Let It Go" and "Punk Rock For Breakfast" (with a shout out to Lees. Awwww yeaaahhhh...). Now I just need to finish the graphics and get it duped...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I blasted out some guitar tracks last night for "Punk Rock For Breakfast". I'm pleased overall but I have a ways to go before I reach guitar tone heaven.

Monday, December 14, 2009

videoAnother quick post... here's a cell video clip of William doing a take for a solo.

I've been working on a punk song for the album. More on that when I'm at a computer... In the meantime, I'm experimenting with cellphone blogging, so I thought I'd post this pic of my brother laying down a guitar track on his project. Note the posh studio (yes... that is my shower in the background).

Friday, December 4, 2009

Saturday Morning Ramblings...

11-28-09

Hello, fearless readers... all 2.3 of you...

I have some random thoughts bubbling this morning, and since I have some borrowed internet access, I can actually blog.

First off, I've decided to call the Eutoxita album currently in progress Trainwreck. It's a favorite term of mine, and I think it suits the rather mosaic format of the record. The pieces are mostly from various recordings I've done over the last year and a half, all spooged together under one banner. It's sort of like when a label releases a compilation album of their stable of artists--the results aren't going to sound particularly cohesive, more like scanning through stations or hitting "shuffle" on a multi-CD changer. (Remember CDs? I found it confounding enough to explain vinyl records--CDs now appear to be going the way of the buffalo. Sheesh...).

For example, the song "Walnut Hill" was written for the end-credits for my Arts Integration & You movie, and was intended to have that movie-end-credits celebratory vibe to it (not to mention in compliment to the lyrical content and song inspiration). As such, it is rather compressed-sounding, a la many pop records used in films (Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" comes to mind). Meanwhile, "Life Is Rushing By", "When I Was A Child", "Late Night Radio", and "When I Get Old" were written for an entirely different purpose, with different recording methods, essentially mixed as an EP that never got released. There will be... differences. I think, though, that the overall theme being autobiographical in nature, the album will still make sense. I am also working hard to have the track order flow as an album should (not that anybody really does it that way anymore, but I am a dinosaur, so...).

Ok... next thing (though strangely related)... In this blog and the one I do for My Father's Guns, I have written about loudness as a goal in mixing/mastering/producing/plooking out recordings. I have been driving myself crazy trying to make these projects competitive in volume without killing the dynamics and spirit of the music. In the end, I have decided that the competition just isn't worth it. I have remixed "Oasis" I can't tell you how many times in this pursuit and it's getting to the point where things are getting lost, so I'm going back a few steps. So... those of you who buy the CD will have to deal with it being less loud than the hyper-squashified crap they're selling you these days (see: http://mastering-media.blogspot.com/2008/09/metallica-death-magnetic-stop-loudness.html and http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/17777619/the_death_of_high_fidelity/1). I do not wish my music to suffer a death magnetic.

Finally, I had the honor and privilege of engineering a recording for my brother the other night (Monday?). It's not done--we only had time to lay down the main acoustic guitar part--but it's already beautiful. For those of you not in the know, William was the lead guitarist in Turtlebone (Mercy Risin), Those Charming Deviationists, and a number of other bands, including being my co-conspirator in the ill-fated (but ahead of its time) Naked. The beauty and originality of his style is a much-needed affront to the blandness I hear both on radio and in clubs. Stay tuned for more on his project.

Back to Train Wreck, here is my preliminary track listing, with minor commentary:

1. "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It" - I wrote this one back in '93, never recorded it. Weird. Fits nowhere on the record but needs to be there... so I'm opening with it. Actually, the ending chords fade nicely into the intro chords of "Life Is Rushing By". I may move it to the half-way mark, in the vein of Yes's "Five Per Cent for Nothing" from Fragile (fitting, since--along with all things Zappa--that song informed the writing of "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It").

2."Life Is Rushing By"- First movement of my four-part cycle for the Arts in Human Development class at Walnut Hill. Tracks 2-4 are the full cycle and necessarily go together in the track order.

3. "When I Was A Child"
- I love this track. Acoustic drums, upright bass, acoustic and electric guitars, mandolin, lots of harmony vocals...

4. "Late Night Radio" - Like Jackson Browne? How about Fleetwood Mac? This whole development cycle represents my own human development using the framework established by Erik Erikson. For the arts aspect of it (ignoring the fact that it's, um, a bunch of songs...)I tried to style each song around the kind of stuff I was listening to at that stage, or at least stuff that was in vogue. For example, "Life Is Rushing By" is very atmospheric, very early Peter Gabriel/Pink Floyd, hopefully without being too derivative. I was born in 1972--get it? "Late Night Radio" reflects the confessional singer/songwriter period of the late '70s and early '80. Kinda fits the autobiographical theme, dontcha think?

5. "When I Get Old" - You'll have to wait for the CD. I think this is one of the best songs I have ever written.

6. "Oasis" - Yup. Written a lot about this one already.

7. "The Sky Can Fall" - I won't give you the personal side. It is, however, written all in haiku. The meter is in three, as there are three lines to a haiku. The chord structure, eventually manipulated to follow the muse, started out reflecting the five-seven-five syllable pattern that is the strict (though totally violable) structure of haiku.

8. "Walnut Hill" - Already mentioned. Recorded super-ghetto-style during a marathon production session to finish my movie in time to graduate my masters program. The drumbeats are a combination of HammerHead programming and samples from a Yamaha PSR-248 home keyboard. The swirly flute loop section also used the Yamaha. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do, son...

9. etc., uh... Yeah, there are at least two more songs, probably three, but they are still in preproduction (i.e. being written). One is called "Punk Rock For Breakfast". Another is "A Darker Purpose", for which I am collaborating on the lyrics with my teenage son, as it was inspired by an imaginary CD he designed in art class. It will be fashioned in the dulcet tones of industrial metal. I am also considering the inclusion of a track I recorded way back in the day called "Calling Colin", a song I wrote and recorded for my nephew. There are only a couple of copies floating around and I really think it needs to see wider distribution.

That's all for today...

“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary.” ~Pablo Picasso

11-12-09

Details, details, details. I have spent the less-committed parts of the last couple of days mixing, mixing, mixing. In addition to reworking some of the MFG stuff, I’m trying like crazy to finish off the Eutoxita songs where the recording phase is done so that I can throw down a couple of last-minute compositions and then move on to putting the final form of the album together. The problem is, when I mix a lot, I start to totally hyper-focus. Forget seeing the forest for the trees, I start following the maze patterns on the bark of individual trees in that forest. It’s like the scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off when they’re looking at Seurat’s “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” but even more intense. (Speaking of artists, in my commitment to finding/thinking up interesting little titles for each of these blog pieces, I cheesed out and googled quotes+details. Nothing remotely interesting turned up. That’s what I get for being cheesy. However, by some googlian fluke, Picasso’s name appeared somewhere and—bam!—that was it! Picasso is one of my favorite artists… the diary quote relates both to mixing—haha… nice dual meaning!—and to blogging. Yeah. On to the actual mixing stuff…)

My brother and I used to have a band called Naked (because that’s what an artist should be), until a major-label version came out and we had to ditch the name. After years of trials, tribulations, and cassette four-track self-releases, we finally got some scratch together to go into an actual studio and cut an EP. This experience was, in itself, filled with trials and tribulations. The item most relevant to this blog entry, though, was when I had a freak-out session because I felt—during mixdown—that the timing of one of my bass parts was a train wreck. My brother and the engineer both assured me that I was crazy, that the track in question was in fact rock solid, but I just couldn’t shake it. That’s what happens when I keep my ears in microscope mode for too long… and that’s what I’ve been running into this past week.

The main hyperfocus spawner has been to compress or not to compress, mixing and remixing around changes in track compression, group compression, mix buss compression, etc. My primary audio production goal these days is to get the clearest, most detailed, yet loudest mix possible without squashing the daylights out of everything, as seems to be the unfortunate current craze in popular music. When I produced the album The Invisible Thread for my friend Kevin Farley, he was adamant that I compress as little as humanly possible. He is “The Irish Music Guy” and the CD was a collection of cleverly arranged Irish pieces, as well as a handful of originals. He wanted it to be as airy and open as possible, and I think, by and large, we achieved that. The Eutoxita project, on the other hand, is wide open for more rock-oriented production techniques. While the current album is a bit of a mish-mash (more on that later), it is all rock of one flavor or another. Compression is not only acceptable, it’s downright necessary to get “proper” rock noises.

For example, the modern electric bass sound is almost always recorded direct rather than through an amp and cabinet. The bass track is then compressed, usually somewhat heavily, in order to have that smooth, ever-present floor beneath the rest of the music. I prefer what is sometimes referred to as the “Motown method”, where you run the bass track into two channels of the mixer (or, in computer-based recording, make a digital copy), leaving one track relatively unaffected in order to preserve the natural dynamics, while squashing the living daylights out of the second track. This gives you the best of both worlds and is also useful on vocals and drum submixes (the “New York drum mix”).

The main song I’ve been tweaking lately is called “Oasis”. If I were a major-label artist, it would definitely be the single. It’s a hooky, melodic, classic Beatle-esque track. The Beatles touch is a deliberate extension of the original genesis of the song—I wrote it for a friend who happens to love the Beatles. It’s one of our common interests. There are several aspects to the song’s recording arrangement that are direct nods to various Beatles songs and/or sonic signatures. For example, in the bridge there’s an “ooh-ahh” choir built up from seven tracks of my voice in basically three-part harmony. The timber of the choir is modeled on tracks like “Because” and “Here Comes the Sun King.” I even fattened up the group with an opposite-panned, stereo, backwards-reverbed copy.

One of my favorite aspects to the arrangement is a totally Pete Townshend inspired guitar part, which totally goes back to the story behind the song… which you won’t find here. Some things are better left unsaid. I tracked it with my trusty Epiphone Wildkat (thanks, JP!) through a blonde Fender Hot Rot Deluxe set to a nice, crunchy distortion. While I am a giant fan of the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi (Pink Floyd… David Gilmour’s solo on “Time”… ‘nuff said…), the Deluxe’s built-in all-tube crunch was just what the doctor ordered. I used two mics: a Shure SM57 up against the grill cloth, and an AKG Perception 200 large-diaphragm condenser parked a few inches back from that. This is one of three distinct rhythm guitar parts, and is intended to punctuate the pre-chorus and chorus sections.

I must say, with the individual mics panned moderately wide and pretty high up in the mix with no compression, this part really does the job. The other two rhythm guitars were single-mic’d (AKG), panned as a stereo pair, and pretty well compressed to keep them present and punchy throughout the song. The left channel is the Wildkat through my little Epiphone Valve Junior combo, and is really the main guitar in the song. The right channel is the same amp but this time with a Yamaha EG303 Strat copy. (The Yamaha is a cheap starter guitar I bought years ago. There’s just a nice resonance to it, and I love the feel of the neck). With that pair a steady push, the Townshendy part adds… the magic. There’s no other way to put it. It makes the track breathe. It’s a looser, simpler version of the main riff. It crashes in and out like breaking surf. If I had compressed it in the least, it just wouldn’t be the same, but if the other guitars weren’t compressed under it, it just wouldn’t be the same.

Details, details, details…

“I Could Use a Little More… Me…”

11-08-09

I used to think of myself as a writer. I don’t mean songwriter or composer—those are titles I feel pretty consistent about—but writer in the literary sense. I just didn’t really have the forum to exercise my skills (and—just maybe—talents). I’m no Nick Tosches, but I feel I can turn a decent phrase. This whole blog thing has always been a little suspect to me. Seems very Baby Boomer, very, “Look, Mommy, I go poopy!” It smacks of vanity press gone Frankenstein.

I’ve given in.

Writing like this is very cathartic. I HATE journal writing—ask anyone from my master’s program. There’s just something squidgy about committing my private thoughts and feelings to paper where anyone can just go and… read them (shudder…). My friend Kate shares the same opinion. There’s a reason why all of these voices are locked inside my head; to let them out would get me locked up somewhere. This is different. I might throw the odd private thought in but this isn’t my Dear Diary.

So why did I give in? Well, I started a production blog for the as-yet-untitled EP I’m working on with David Steadman from Floodwatch. Our side project is called My Father’s Guns (ask David, not me). It’s been so much fun working with him on something that is so different for us that I thought other people should be let in on the experience. Thus, the MFG blog.

I’ve gotten some nice feedback about the blog, not just with regards to letting people hang out with MFG in the home studio by proxy, but also because some people have actually enjoyed my writing style. One person (who shall remain nameless) did, however, bust me for not writing very much about my contributions to the MFG recording process. The reason is simply that, despite all of my joking to the contrary, I’m not a fan of writing about myself.

I was a pretty bright kid. Lots of things came to me rather easily. Not money, to be sure, but academics and general artistic pursuits. That’s not always a great place to be in. People tend to resent the classmate who always seems to get the answer before most of the class. You don’t want to be getting straight A’s in algebra when everybody else is bent over backwards to get C’s. People struggling with stick figures don’t want to see your moody sketch work. I can pick up just about any instrument and get a convincingly music-like noise out of it in fairly short order; people who can barely play a radio want to punch me in the face. It’s sort of like the scene in Good Will Hunting when Ben Afleck’s character tells Matt Damon’s character he’ll kill him if he stays working in construction.

Reading back the last couple of paragraphs, even I want to punch me in the face. There are plenty of people in this world who struggle with massive adversity, and here I am bemoaning getting flack for being good at stuff. I sound like some Hollywood gob or grunge-era rock star crying about being loved by millions. All I’m trying to say is, you get a bit of a complex when you’re That Guy.

So… I am going to try to blog about my solo recording project, Eutoxita (this record is also as-yet-untitled) without sounding like I’m madly in love with myself but, rather, from the standpoint that somebody might find it interesting, amusing, or at least worthy of ridicule.