Monday, September 21, 2009

Gee, It's Good to Be Together Again

It's amazing how long ago it feels since we played our last show on August 15th. The record has progressed so much both in and out of the studio. I keep in the most regular contact with Kelly, then occasional conversations with Daniel and every once in a while with Josh. Josh and Kelly and I ran around this weekend to some music stores on Saturday so Josh could replace some drum equipment, and it was the first time I hung out with Josh since that last show. It's always fun just to hang out and do something other than practice. It feels like we never actually do that. We warmed up on some of the new stuff on Saturday, but it was short lived since Kelly had to leave.

We got together at the space on Sunday to work on what will probably be the last batch of new material. For the first time, we were working on not one but two of mine, with "Groomed to Lead" having the shortest gestation time of any Distractions song, having been written on Monday and worked up by the band on Sunday. I anticipated problems on "CIA" but not so much on "Groomed to Lead," but it turns out both presented their own problems. We did a few rough runs through "Groomed" and found that I had made "CIA" a bit too complicated to fully explain what was going on in the song without a demo. Daniel and I are going to work on that tonight. As of now, I'm optimistic that the songs will be ready to be recorded by the end of October, but we're certainly off to a bumpy start on them. Kelly's new tune, "Goin' to Texas," progressed more easily than the other two, but it still feels like it needs sort of a creative burst on it from all of us to give it the umph to make it stand out on the record. It's missing something, or things, but I'm not at all sure what.

The Distractions impress me. Seriously. I had sung "Groomed to Lead" once for Kelly and Josh before we did a dry test of it on Saturday. My vocal on it was always very straight, but Kelly really impressed me with how well he sang it and how good he made it sound. I was pleased that just his doing that gave that song an extra push. I had scripted parts for Josh and Daniel for "CIA," and they both quickly found ways to make gigantic improvements to those ideas. It surprised me that it was received better by them than "Groomed." I think that's because it provides them more room to play something different and emulate a style in new territory instead of coloring within the lines of a more defined genre of rock.

The excitement of what all three of these songs can be, just from one practice, is always one of the most exciting aspects of this band.

All in all, it's great to be back to practicing. I hope we can juggle practice and Kelly and Josh's proposed studio time with Daniel's need to finish his parts within the next44 days (don't check the calendar--I'm just referring to our self imposed deadline of Oct. 31st) with everything we have in our busy lives to crank this thing out by the end of the year like we're hoping.

Practice, New Jamz, and Headaches

After 4 weeks of not playing together, we still sound awesome!! I'm also shocked of how well everyone remembers the newest stuff during these long periods of time without any practice. But he have been in and out of the studio, so that helps.

We have three solid new tracks to get ready for the next and last band tracking session. I'm going to try and plan our a full two day session to not only get the band tracks down but finish out everything else that needs to be done. Two more full days should get all that done. In the mean time, I 'm hoping to get back and finish up some vocals and hopefully get Tha D to finish a little guitar work. It's only the end of september, time does seem to be on our side as of right now.

The band fell into Groomed To Lead and Going To Texas. We tried to work on CIA but we almost need to devote whole practice to that, and we didn't even get to it towards the end. On top of that, my practice headaches started to kick in, and doing ANOTHER new tune that required thinking seemed like a long shot. Good thing we ended when we did.

The CIA is going to be the end of the record. But what about the other two? I still think that those two are still debatable on whether or not they will appear on the final product. I like them well enough to play live and even maybe make available on a bnous EP, but they both seem like filler to me. They stand out and sound nothing like any other song, but they seem like filler. Groomed To Lead almost sounds like Whiskey Rebelllion and Going To Texas is a complete Refreshments rip off. Going To Texas is in fact such a rip off there are a few things we can't do to it. Which makes me think we don't need to put it on the album at all. The Salem Witch song got more praise than Going To Texas, but thats another I feel is very much filler.

It was very nice to practice again. After a two day stint of doing band stuff is was great to have everyone in the same room together once again. It as obvious no one had lost any steam or focus. We rocked! So lets play a show!

I get headaches when we practice. And last nights was really bad.

Lately I feel as if we play too loud but there isn't any way for us to control that. I should have worn ear plugs but last night i realized that ear plugs have nothing to do with it. I have chronic migraine. I known this for years. It has everthing to do with my brain surgery when I was 13. Band practice is going to be miserable no matter what I do to help myself.

When I wear ear plugs, I can only hear Tha D and Josh. Plus I can only hear myself singing, only loudly. The loud noises combined with me shouting/singing puts alot of cranial pressure onto my head. Bright lights bother me, which is why I wear sunglasses everywhere. This is common for someone with migraine headaches. Playing with the band makes all of that about 10 times worse because I'm working too hard.

It's no big deal. But last night I felt like shit. Real shit. Dirty shit. It was the worst it has ever been. It was so bad, I popped one of my 800mg ibuprofen tablets. The drive home sucked but I went right to sleep as soon as I got home.

I need to do something about it because i'm tired of leaving practice or shows feeling like shit. I;m sure there is an easy to ease the headaches. I've been doing some reading and trying to comply, so hopefully I wont have a repeat of last night. It was terrible.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Groomed to Lead

The inspiration for this the fourteenth completed song of the history era came while I was stuck in boring in-service meetings before the school year started. The meetings were in the library, and I serendipitously sat at a table near the history section. So while some overpaid educational consultant stood up there droning on and on, lying about how they wish they were still in the classroom, I was thumbing through various history books, mainly coming across the second edition of Don't Know Much About History, a compendium of sorts of history written for the post college American who still doesn't know squat about our country. I found it to be a good read, some of it along the same lines of what we're doing only without our humor and certainly not focusing on quite so much of the random.

In it, I found that it said that Profiles in Courage was ghost-written by John F. Kennedy's speech writers, primarily by one man who was also a book reviewer in The New York Times who turned around and gave himself a glowing review. I'm pretty well versed on the Kennedies, and what struck me about that was just the lengths that Joe Kennedy Sr. was willing to go through to have his son elected President. The Kennedy image was carefully, carefully crafted over time to produce a President.

I had been looking for a 50s boogie for the history record to round out the inadvertant organic development that it is also a "history of rock 'n' roll" record with the numerous styles we used to tell our stories. I had been looking for material, but on Monday while I had my urchins doing independent work, the words just came to me. I sat and tapped my pencil on the desk as they read and worked, and I just kept on coming up with more and more lines to put in it. When Kelly wrote "Know It All" I quickly found that I could take the rhythm and melody of the pre-chorus and come up with anything that I wanted to say and make it fit. To this day I still come up with new phrases for that song, but I certainly don't want to change it. This rhythm for the newest song was much the same, and I shot out the song in a little over an hour with nothing but pencil tapping.

All I had to do when I got home was pick up the guitar and decide what key to put it in. I decided on E-flat in honor of Fluid Ounces' "Poet Tree" and because we don't have a song in E-flat (I certainly like to mix things up).

The song itself talks of how Joe Kennedy, Jr. was originally slated to be the Kennedies' golden boy, but he died in World War II. It was Jack's turn next, and I discuss how he had to sharpen his image to become President material despite numerous setbacks. It then goes into the election itself. It's also funny to me how history creates legends: we can't imagine now that JFK ran against Nixon, the most infamous President of the last fifty years, and only won by one percentage point. The last verse shows how he squeaked into office at the beginning of the biggest period of social upheaval of the century as well as one of the most shaky in terms of foreign affairs. He quickly was in over his head, did what he could to muddle through, and was shot for being President at the wrong time. (As an aside, it's also interesting to me that Lyndon Johnson took the brunt of this, receiving less credit than Kennedy for civil rights action and taking more blame for the Viet Nam War, which started while JFK was commander-in-chief. Johnson was more of a slap-your-back politician brought in by the strategists for the Kennedy campaign to win Southern votes and was equally unprepared for the America that awoke once Eisenhower left office. I can only speculate that Kennedy could have handled it better had he completed his term, but I digress...)

I played the song for my wife, and she objected that I refer to Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis as a "trophy wife." I didn't have an immediate answer to this, but after a little reading this morning (the kids are working on essays), I would stand by what I said because the fact that she was so beautiful and elegant and so cultured even would make her a trophy wife, the only trophy wife capable of helping to create the JFK mythos. And it's just a stupid pop song anyway.

It does occur to me that a song about JFK puts him among the rest of the subjects of our record--Eli Whitney, Marie Curie, Aaron Burr, Davey Crockett, John Adams, Bob Dole--and that there's something a little less random and with less indie rock panache to have a song about him, but I think the treatment of the subject matter--my wife said it's like bluegrass because it's so happy sounding but about such a depressing topic--ranks this one with some of the more funny takes of history of what we've written for the record and one that I'm very proud of.

I wish I could have a more clever title than "Groomed to Lead" because that's just the dominant phrase of the chorus, and I don't want to overkill the "sing the title over and over as the chorus" syndrome that we overdid on the last record.

We've certainly hit a fourth flowering of songwriting in the last month. This is good, but it may mean that Kelly and I will have to choose to leave something we've written off the record. I'll push for this one pretty hard because it's so much fun. Content-wise, putting number of tracks and running time aside, if we used only the fourteen completed (writing-wise) tracks we have as the record, I would be completely satisfied with what we are saying and what we have. So with this one, I'm finished looking for new history material and am ready to move on to other topics to develop my songwriting skillz. Greek mythology, here I come!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Jazz: The New Classical Music

"Jazz musicians enjoy themselves far more than anyone who will listen to them. It's what you do when you can't get a gig. Two steps below Hollywood Squares." ~Tony Wilson

"Jam bands are the new jazz" ~ Justin Kerr

I wrote a "jazz" style song. I guess I always knew it would turn out that way because of how I sang it to myself over the last few months.

I have had some more free time, so I have picked up a few more songs that have been left by the wayside since June. June was a great month because not only was "Gold Rush" and "Dear Abbey" written and finalized pretty quickly, I also put down ideas for MANY songs. So many, that these will never see the light of day unless I end up using them for future projects. "Salem Witch" is one of those songs.

I had the first two lines written out, and a jazz beat from my keyboard. What sparked a revived interest was when Peach took a peak at my notebook this weekend while I was doing vocals. It had the rough scribble of the first verse in black marker. He asked me what it was and I read it to him aloud. He gave a look on his face that read "wow! thats depressing!" or "geez! thats dark!" I don't remember if he said anything but I do recall that he had a look on his face that screamed confusion. That means I was onto something! But the song was pretty close to being done back in June, so not much work has been put into it. I had to dig up the rest of the song because it was on another sheet of paper in a different stack of papers. It's more "inspired" by the Salem Witch Trials than about the events itself. Everyone likes witches!

It did not take long to complete this one. The demo is taking the longest because I'm doing it on Garage Band instead of the cassette 4 track. I need to hurry this one along and GarageBand will allow me to get the point across and let the others hear what i'm thinking rather than explaining it. Digital is good like that.

Will it be on the record? Maybe. Maybe not. Just getting it recorded will be enough to satisfy me.

But I know one song that WILL be on the album. Its called "I'm Going To Texas." This was another song before. (its a long story). This story is about Davy Crockett quitting the Senate and deciding to go to Texas. That simple. It's a Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers rip off all the way. No question. But the demo is pretty close to how it will be on the album. Very simple rock tune. This one will also allow me to mess around with the vocals a bit more. I used a really nice Phaser/Chorus effect to simulate the dreamy "Western sunrise." Yummy. I'm Aaron and Daniel have something in their arsenal to recreate the effect.

I need to buy a mini-megaphone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Recording Day 5: I'm Giving Myself a Tambourine Credit on the Record

I got there bright and early as the first on deck to begin the long day's work. We started with 12 string acoustic parts for "Eli Whitney." I had three separate parts that make for one complete take for the song. I then worked on the bass solo for "Let's Go to War." I had practiced plenty, but we still ended up compling several takes and then punching in the sketchy bits to make one gigantic frankensolo that I probably could not play if I just picked up a bass and wailed one out.

During this time, Daniel called me to weasel out of coming to the studio. I was frustrated about this because we are starting to feel like we're waiting on him, but I wasn't too surprised. I waited until Kelly got there to tell him because I knew his first reaction would be not to record at all (which it was). We cooled off once we got to work and realized what all could be done. Kelly finished up several vocals, and I spent more time yesterday with a tambourine in my hand than I ever thought I would in one day.

The best part of the day was starting to work on "Dear Abbey." Kelly laid down the basic classical guitar and vocal, and then he and Aaron and I just sat down, put our heads together and started talking about all the layers we could put on top of it. We wanted to add light percussion first, which meant me back on tambourine (of course). Aaron went upstairs and came back with a bongo box, which is a wooden box that looks like a Big Muff box and does a fine job simulating bongos. I wasn't sure about how it would fit the song, but Kelly did one take and really did some cool irregular things throughout the last two thirds of the song. I did my tambourine part after that and then put on some root note bass to fill out the sound. Kelly had to run, so he put on some guitar and took a rough of the song with him. Too bad, because we changed it a lot after that. Aaron had been working since 10am (this was around 7pm) without a break or food (I had been grazing all day from the cooler I brought--I am my mother's son), so I went to my house to get my Casino (which I was hoping would make it on to the record) while he took a break. I came back and added acoustic on this great guitar from his arsenal. It's a really great player with nice sound and feel, and it took the song up another notch for a fuller sound in the last 2/3s. I then plugged in the electric guitar and added a very different part from what Kelly was doing to the last 1/3. What was crazy was that after thinking about it this morning with what the upright bass player had said when we were discussing "Eli," I had inadvertantly added a string arrangement to the song with electric guitar. The bass was there, and the parts I added were the parts a viola and two violins would play. I'm now hankering to take two seconds and put in the cello part next time we're there. As always, the last song written or recorded is my favorite, and I am so in love with this song right now that it's really a chore not to want to listen to it.

I ended the day by working on "Election: 1800." I always felt like there was something missing from it, especially the first verse, so I felt it needed a really smart guitar part to mix it up a little as the song progresses. I used my ebow to simulate feedback since it is actually very controlled feedback, but it didn't simulate it well enough and was too controlled, so Aaron just said, "Why don't you just do some feedback?" Oooh boy, the fun. He just recorded my feedback a few times and comped to wherever he wanted in the song, making the first verse what I want to be. But I didn't have ear plugs and Aaron's wife and baby were upstairs and we were pushing 10 o'clock and I couldn't manipulate it to get the right feedback notes we needed (next time, write the song in A instead of C#, Kelly-gah!), so I cut it short. I did some ebow work later in the song hoping to land somewhere between Sonic Youth and New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and I'll leave it up to the rest to decide how close I came to the former (where I was aiming). I'll also leave it up to them to decide if we want to add more skronk to that one too. Personally I find it delectable and find that one to be my second favorite right now.

I took the roughs home. I was the last one there, and I needed some fresh cuts to send to places that ask for CD's to let us book shows there.

According To Plan

Well yesterday didn't exactly go according to plan but it was quite a productive day.

I arrived around 1:30. Not bad considering I had to turn around twice! Peach spent about 3 hours doing overdubs and some bass. After that we jumped into some light percussion. Then I started doing vocals for some songs. Just sort knocking them out one by one. After a few fixes here and there, we ended up with 5 completed and ready for mixing tracks. It was still early, so we started working on Dear Abbey for a bit. I got a good acoustic and a good vocal take on tape, and then we started layering one thing after another. Time was getting closer to an end (for me atleast) so we started just marathon-recording whatever we could think of just to get anything down. After Josh adds some cymbal swells and drums, and I can add thebells from the demo,we should have a nice completed track.

I sang in the bathroom! It was awesome! I'm going to do that for the rest of the tracks. I feel like the room is too dead for me to sing. The bathroom reverb really helped me carry everything.

Not much left to do. Tha D couldn't make it, so it really put a wrench in our plans but after yesterday we realized there isn't THAT much left do on these 11 songs. All Whiskey Rebellion needs is a guitar solo, and then its finished! Pretty simple stuff.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Oh Oh To The Studio We Go!!

One more day until we are back at The Gravity Boots studio. The excitement is making my work day pass by slowly.

We are almost finished. I hope. There are two/three new songs that the band has either heard or half the band has heard. We have not played any of these as a band. Will they go on the record? Not sure. but I will go with a yes for now. Mostly because we are in the head set to get the thing wrapped up in terms of band tracks. Being in overdub mode with band tracks to be recorded does come at you slightly awkward, but atleast lately we have been on a roll when we are at the studio and we go into it well rehearsed. I think we cna think alot more clearly after these initial 11 tracks are finished or practically finished. Only two/three more to learn and record. Which means we need to keep those minimal and just plain band performances. Judging from the color of the songs, that won't be a problem.

The plans for saturday have changed every couple of days, so i;m glad on sunday we nailed down what we were going to be doing. Having Tha D there will push many of the things on the to-do list along, shortening the to-do list by half if he can get most of his guitar finished. Peach will be bassing it up for a bit and I will be singing also. Very productive day coming.

I also got a replacement pedal this week. Instead of spending 100 bucks on a new Tube Screamer, I got a Boss Super Overdrive. I like it. It gets the job done. It also only cost me 40 dollars. I prefer the other pedal, but for right now, this will have to do. The Tube Screamer has a more thincker distortion and a nastier sound. This one is a little more tame in comparison. But I don't need much for what I do.

The end is near. I'm a bit relieved to hear that from many sources. This record has been a mental challenge for me. I have put alot of hours, days, and weeks into writing all these songs. There is stuff that will never become songs, and stuff that will become different songs. Certain songs like "Gold Rush" don't feel like I wrote it all. Mostly because it spilled out in a matter of minutes and the guitar riff is as old and standard as dirt. All this has really evolved any sort of song writing skill I had possessed before. Lately I have been writing more songs and not feeling as if I have to spend a tremendous amount of time of them. It's like writing a paper, it takes practice. Just the other day I wrote two songs in one day. Two songs I am proud of and could be future band songs. Writing isn't getting easier, its just becoming more comfortable.

Someone needs to fix the keyboard on this keeps skipping letters or typing the wrong ones...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gear Swap

Another day in the studio is set for Saturday. The end is definitely in sight as I think we can get most of the clean-up stuff done Saturday and then only have one more full-band day and a few little over-dub sessions as needed. It's actually hard to believe that this thing is close to getting finished.

I went over to Daniel Cat's yesterday to swap off some stuff to prepare. I borrowed his delay modeler for a part I'll be doing on Saturday, and he borrow my 12-string to prepare for "The Great Stink." I also played him the new "Eli Whitney," which he agrees is now totally awesome.

I've been listening to the Minutemen and Dos to get my brain juicy to rev up for my bass solo on "Let's Go to War" on Saturday. I ran scales last night to get my hands limbered up, and I'm going to work on the solo itself the next few nights.

The plan is to tag team throughout the day. I'll work first in the morning before everyone gets there, then Daniel and Kelly will swap off until Kelly has to leave, then all Daniel until we get too sleepy to pick up any insturments. Josh will be there after 5 for moral support, and I'm going to be there all day working on the documentary, which I haven't mentioned heretofore in the blog but will bring up later.

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