Sunday, November 30, 2014
Friday, November 28, 2014
I wanted to do something a bit different with this tune. OK, so there's no singing. I just wanted to catalog the last words of famous people. First off, many of them cannot be verified, but we would like to believe that the great among us can recognize their own mortality and put it into words that would give us some insight into our own lives. I chose the quotes that required no context and seemed to either highlight a person's bitterness (Edith Piaf), resignation (Edvard Grieg), humanity (Johannes Brahms), disbelief in mortality (Lee Harvey Oswald) or unique miscellaneous/mundane sentiment (Ataturk). When I played for my backup singers, they misted up somewhat. I even made a video. You can watch it here. I envisioned this being something viral - not super-sensational, just a few thousand hits. As usual, I was wrong. And so ends album number three.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
What began as a simple abduction has become something else. Our hero has been taken by someone who looks vaguely familiar. She offers him an avenue of escape. The only thing he has to do is shoot her. He tries, but he can't. Why? The answer lies further down the road.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
I like rodents (especially squirrels) and this tune speculates that when rats finally get organized, we're doomed. Did you know that rodents make up 40% of all mammals? So that's a lot of rats. I do hope that they won't bear too much of a grudge. OK, so maybe it's not much of a possibility, but there comes a time when a species whose prime talent is adaptation and survival makes the leap towards dominance. I'm not saying it'll happen tomorrow, but it would be kind of cool to have some super-intelligent competition. Oh, and I really dig this tune. It also has no chords but it does have a real definite groove. Plus, it's kind of weird, which is a definite bonus.
Monday, November 24, 2014
OK, so I went to see Birdman on Saturday. Overall, it was a very enjoyable film. The performances were very good by nearly everyone, but one thing has bothered me ever since: it's this naive belief that in order for art to be real, it has to be dangerous. The more dangerous, the more real and vice-versa. Michael Keaton is trying to redeem himself for years of hackery by doing something difficult. First off, there's an assumption that since what he's doing is outside the mainstream (he's adapted Raymond Carver stories) it is automatically art. Add the fact that Carver was deeply flawed and you have something worthy of everyone's notice, right? Well, not really. And that seems to be incorporated into the film on some level, because from what you see (all of two scenes), it doesn't look that great. But if you add in the whole art-must-be-dangerous ethos, that seems to give the film a real kick in the shorts. The only problem is that it's complete malarkey.
Acting, music, visual art, etc. don't require danger. They need a certain focus on the craft. And craft doesn't trash dressing rooms, have spectacular meltdowns or go into rehab. Those things happen when (for the most part) when there's a lack of craft and a full-on belief in art-danger. The problem is that art-danger makes for a better show, while craft is process-oriented and dull to watch. Art-danger is quick, exciting and has a limited shelf life. But here's the thing, very generally speaking, those works that involve heavy doses of craft tend to be the most complete. In my case, say, if I want a snappy horn arrangement for one of my tunes, what do I do? I write it myself, using knowledge that I've gathered from years of writing and arranging. In the studio, I run the players till they get it right. This is always a very calm and fun thing. Everything goes smoothly and we're onto the next tune. My experience is that a musician who believes in art-danger will hire horn players, go into the studio with nothing and then expect something to happen, which it doesn't. But boy, is there a lot of shouting and drama. And they usually emerge with a terrible arrangement. My whole point is that the one way is unfeasible while the other is just unentertaining. And once you've embraced art-danger, it only escalates. If you've almost killed yourself over some project, what's next? Killing yourself for real. Of course, I'm an adherent of the craft, because it's a way of being good. But in this world, it's advisable not to be too good, because you'll write stuff that looks/sounds/seems weird when run against mainstream faves.
But seriously, listening to opinions about art is a pretty dry socket. It's just that there was something about that film that was really bugging me. And I figured out what. And it still bugs me, but I can live with it.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
Saturday, November 22, 2014
Here's another tune without chords. It's just me playing five sax parts over beats. I was initially a little shocked at how much key noise is generated by all the saxes, especially the bari. For those not accustomed to the shorthand, that's baritone saxophone. I don't own any, but I rented one from my sax repair-guy. It sounded quite good, but the keys were so noisy. Plus, my tenor has fairly loud keys, as well. The result was lots of non-musical noise. Well, there's no taking it back, so I've gotten used to it.
I wrote this tune shortly after the revolution in Egypt. It was a time when the goodwill following the ouster of Mubarak was beginning to wane and many Egyptians were worse off than before. So I decided to write a song from the perspective of someone who can see this coming. It really doesn't matter that it has a latin feel to it. I didn't want to make it country-specific. I mean, even though it concerns itself with Egypt it doesn't have to have the arabesque sound. Anyhow, I wanted to throw in as many saxophone parts as I could and I did. I apologize for all the key noise, but it is a pretty slick tune.
Friday, November 21, 2014
The life of a working musician is often filled with petty indignities, most of which are tolerable if there aren't too many of them or too many of the same sort happening at the same time. What is completely unacceptable is when someone hires you for a gig and then blames you for ruining it when things don't go according to their inflated expectations. This generally occurs during weddings, but it happens at regular gigs, too. In the case of this tune, it's at some swanky party. The evening is a flop, the guests are a bunch of powerful louts and the musicians get blamed for it. This is where I make my stand in the tune. I point out the party's failings and question the nature of all those involved. In the end, the musicians win because they're doing something they truly enjoy. After all, if you don't enjoy making music, what's the point? Seriously, only a very few people can be in it for the money because the money simply isn't there. Me, I do this because my mind makes up tunes and picks out words, not necessarily in that order. Anyhow, I've tried to convey at least a partial reality encountered by working musicians and I've tried to set it as a kind of hearty, rustic waltz. The big open fifths in the upper and lower strings give the arrangement some real heft. I'm so happy that I hired really good players who could really dig into their parts.
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Wednesday, November 19, 2014
If there's one thing I like more than not writing love songs, it's writing songs about amorality. And if it be made into a story, all the better. Here we have a guy who kills people. It's implied that he's experienced enough in the trade to have developed a jargon for certain tasks. In this case, "the Old Castilian" refers to assassinating a very important official, a fictional king, in fact. Now, this being fiction, I'm also implying that this guy isn't a constitutional monarch. He actually rules a country that's big enough to make a difference. And he is beloved in his country and beyond. But some shadowy group decides that he has to go, so they hire the tune's narrator who gives the play-by-play. The rest is pretty easy to understand. And though he takes great pride in his work, there will come a day when the people who hired him will hire someone else to take care of him. He accepts that and just keeps hanging out at the beach.
This tune was something of an experiment. I wanted to see how many different melodies I could stack on top of the same chord changes. Basically, except for the bridge (the part that tells about the ship blowing up and sinking), you're hearing the same chords all the time. The tune and instrumentation are different, but the chords don't change. This hopefully gives the track unity in the face of what seems like too much variety. It's one of my favorites on a technical level. There's a lot going on, but it doesn't seem like it. Plus, it tells a complete story. There's a beginning, middle and end and at the conclusion, the narrator doesn't come to any great epiphanies. I wish I could write a song like this every day, but alas, something like this only happens occasionally or by accident.
Monday, November 17, 2014
This is a breezy little tune about not being able to break up with a really annoying person. It doesn't come from my or anyone else's reality. I mean, who doesn't know that rabies is a serious disease? Who's that stupid? Still the conceit is enough to give the tune a fairly exasperating end for the hapless narrator.
In the semi-interesting facts department, did you know that all instruments except the drums are fake? Obviously, the backing singers and the claps are also real, but yes, everything you hear - bass, harpsichord, guitar, koto, chinese zither, etc. - are all virtual instruments.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
OK, so the tune itself concerns itself with the fleeting and ridiculous nature of hipness, but there's also something else going on here. Or rather, there's something missing. If you listen carefully, you'll notice that there aren't any chords. There are only single lines going here and there over the churning electro beat. It all began with a tune from my previous album, Instant Classics. There's a tune on it that has four different independent parts joining in. I transferred that practice to this album and wrote this tune. And another. In total, I wrote four tunes without chords for this album. Now, I don't mean to say that tonality isn't at work. No indeed, each tune is in its own key, but without triads getting in the way, there's a lot of melodic freedom that you can work with. Also when that happens, the tune - and this tune in particular - becomes quite a bit harder to sing, because there few guide tones. The melodic line, though prominent, is just one of many. So you just have to learn how it feels in your throat, otherwise it's gonna sound wrong.
Like I said, this is just the first of four songs on this album that don't rely on chords. I'll point them out as I post them.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
Complete freedom is not an easy thing to deal with. If you could choose your ideal life, it is my experience that it will drive you kind of nuts. I have also found that if a person has a choice of anything they could do in life, there's no guarantee that they'll be good at it. In fact, there are many people in this world who aren't good at anything. This doesn't make them terrible people or a danger to others; they're just not good at what they do. And it doesn't matter what their interest level is. There are plenty of people who are living their "passion" and are absolutely terrible at it. I have worked at offices before where almost everybody wanted to do something else besides work at that office and in that profession. Once they were able to do what they'd always dreamed of, these folks were often very bad at it and it made them quite miserable, too. They were generally much better doing a job they hated. So my whole point is that freedom is a double-edged sword. It can drive you nuts and cast a harsh light on your character. It's so much easier to stay in a job that you dislike. It gives you a good excuse to not find out the awful truth.
Anyhow, what you hear on this track is a nice little arrangement (if I do say so) of fake drums, electric piano and string quartet. Hopefully, I make my point during this tune. If I don't, it's still pleasant. Maybe you think it's terrible. I don't know. I'm not you. But it would be resoundingly ironic for me to suddenly realize that I'm not any good at something I've worked hard at for my entire life. Another thing about complete freedom is that when you match it up with a certain amount of solitude, one's thoughts stray toward the philosophical. That's exactly what happened here. The perpetual struggle is to find subject matter. I don't write love songs. I try to avoid cliches like the plague (see what I did there?), but at the same time, I want my tunes to be about something. Not only that, but I want them to tell stories and make sense. Plus, most of them are structured so that they have a beginning, a middle and an end. That means if you swap verses, say, you put the middle verse at the end and vice-versa, the tune won't make sense. Of course, there's always the option to write a song about nothing. I've only done that once. There wasn't anything I could do with the tune other than that. The results were actually pretty outstanding. But by and large, I want for my tunes to have structure, content and coherence. I also want them to sound good.
This is most my "pop" album of the five I've released. It's also my least focused effort. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. In these days of internet fame, all you need is one tune. And it doesn't necessarily need to be your own. There are YouTube videos of precocious teenagers covering tunes that rack up millions of hits. And then there's the example of Psy, as well. When renown works like that, the album's impact is diminished. Even among indie bands where the album is still a viable format, most releases are built around just one or two tracks. When my discs go out for airplay, the result is fairly chaotic, because there is never a clear single. When I was writing the tunes for this album, my intention was to make every track a potential single, hence the variety (or lack of focus, take your pick). And as always, the songs that I end of liking the most are not the most compatible with airplay. Anyway, this post has gotten waaaay too long. All I can add is that I hope you enjoy this track. And I hope you're really good at what you do and that it makes you deliriously happy. And that freedom doesn't drive you crazy.
Friday, November 14, 2014
Wednesday, November 12, 2014
I really dislike love songs. Let me rephrase - I dislike the obligation of having to write love songs. I have no insights on the subject. Plus, I roundly hate most love songs that have come out over the last 30 years or so. Probably the worst sort is the super-idealized drivel that seems to sell the best. We're talking the "I'll never let you go" or the "I just want to spend the rest of my life lost in your eyes" or the "I feel so safe in your arms" varieties of garbage. There are many other types. I've just named a few off the top of my head. There are other topics to write songs about, you know. And I try to plumb those depths as best I can. After five albums, I think I've done a pretty good job. I've written tunes about resurrecting wooly mammoths ("Mammoths and Ma$todons"), intellectual property ("Creeps") and awful architecture ("Mercer Island") with many other subjects in between. But occasionally, you're going to write something about a relationship. This is one of those tunes. I try for a realistic portrayal; life is a struggle, when we're not out struggling, we're at home watching TV and projecting our lives onto what we're watching. The word "love" is never mentioned, nor should it be. It's just a tune about living life with somebody else and escaping with them for a short time. Alicia Dara joins me on this tune. Her excellent pipes really make this song into something special.
Monday, November 10, 2014
This is the beginning of album three. It's from 2013. Like all the others, it was a blast to record. Also like the others, the pervading struggle was to come up with unique subject matter. This particular tune is about death. Maybe it's not all that unique, but the message is that being alive is probably better than being dead. Having never been dead before, I can't say for sure. I'm just guessing. But although it's impossible to appreciate being alive much of the time, it's important to realize what it means to be alive at least some of the time. That's all. And yes, I did have a friend pass away just like in the song, but he was 33, not 31 and though he had a son, he wasn't married. I used some artistic license here. He's been gone for two and a half years and I still miss him. He was a great guy.
Sunday, November 9, 2014
OK, here's the entire album. I have no idea whether anybody's listening, as I've gotten zero indication that anyone is out there. I mean, I recently read in my stats that I get around 1,500 page views a day. I'm guessing that 1,495 of those are spam-bots and 5 are real humans. Or all of those views could be from lurkers. The truth may be somewhere in between. Anyhow, enjoy. The next album starts tomorrow.
Friday, November 7, 2014
Thursday, November 6, 2014
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Sooner or later, a person will contemplate the nature of success. I've found that what most people consider success is merely a wallow in tackiness. But some will betray and even kill to get there. This tune is about the point when expedience trumps ethics. Generally, once this happens, success follows. And where there's success, there's horrible banality and tackiness.
Tuesday, November 4, 2014
We've all seen them - terrible tattoos. Most are as much a product of bad judgment as incompetent artistic ability. I've got nothing against some ink, but it seems that the more tattoos a person gets, the more the overall quality diminishes. I've never really understood the compulsion to get inked up. The whole concept of expressing oneself through someone else's handiwork seems a bit, y'know, stupid. Like I always say: if you really need to express yourself, write a bad novel. And no matter how good your tattoo is, you're eventually going to get sick of it. Unless you can't actually see it, which begs the question: why get a tattoo that you can't see? What's the point of that?
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Not to be too much of a Debbie Downer on the subject, but, like with non-gay marriage, there's always the risk of divorce. While it would be nice if love lasted forever for everyone in the world, life doesn't work that way. This tune simply states that gay marriage is at last upon us, but not all unions will endure. That's all.
Saturday, November 1, 2014
I feel that if I encourage mediocrity enough, it'll just magically disappear. I have a great belief in reverse-psychology. Case in point: in the sixties, people wrote all kinds of anti-war songs and what happened? There was war all over the place. Likewise, when U2 informed us back in the eighties that war was bad, all kinds of bad global stuff happened after its release. And yes, I blame them for all those problems. So basically, in this tune I'm saying that mediocrity is just fine, but I'm really trying to eradicate it by giving it permission to exist. Does that make sense? Yes? No? Maybe? Anyhow, this is a pleasant number and I hope you enjoy it.