Wednesday, August 28, 2013

nitpicking about geography if i may

I was in the car, listening to "Cotton Fields" as done by the Highwaymen. There are plenty of other versions, if you prefer. Creedence Clearwater Revival's version comes to mind. Anyway I was struck by the line "It was down in Louisiana / Just about a mile from Texarkana."

I've been to Texarkana. Both Texarkana, TX and Texarkana, AR. They are close to Louisiana, but not close enough that any patrt of Louisiana could be described as being "just about a mile from Texarkana." If it were up to me, that line would be rewritten as "Just a few miles from Texarkana" or something vague like that.

Monday, August 26, 2013

recording with eric and amy

The short of it is that I had a great time recording with Eric and Amy last Saturday.

The long of it is, well, longer. All in all, I spent about 14 hours with them. That included not just recording, but lunch, dinner, conversation. When I left at 2:00 AM Sunday, the recording was not finished. Eric was still working on adding some mellotron tracks. At that moment, I think, it was trumpets. He still wanted to add some more touchups, some handclaps, and adjust the volumes. Perhaps I should ghave volunteered to leave earlier?

First, I should note that Eric and Amy were extremely gracious. They're extremely nice people, and weren't at all stuck up. There was no "We're the professional rock musicians and you're just a fanboy" attitude.

One thing I noticed is that they approached this very differently than County Q studios did when I paid them to make a demo of  "Jackpot." County Q was acting as a demo service. Not as critics or partners. Their job was to produce as good-sounding a record as they could of the song I sent them. It didn't matter if they liked it or not. I could have sent them a recording of someone singing "A blind man's penis is erect because he's blind" over and over. And that's what they would have turned into a record. Oh, they would have fancied up the arrangement to make it sound as radio-ready as they could. But the lyrics would have been the same. The melody would have been the same. The chord progression would have been the same.

Amy and Eric didn't view it that way. They made some modifications to the song. More on the specifics later. I am not sure what their exact motivation was. Perhaps it was personal pride, that if they were making a record of a song they wanted it to be as good as it could be. Or it could be that they felt a sort of paternalistic desire to help me w1hen there were obvious ways to improve the song. Or it could have been something else. Or a combination of considerations. I don't know what would have happened if I had stomped my feet and said "No! I want a recording of the song Scott and I wrote. The way we wrote it. Don't change a word or a note or a chord." But I wasn't about to.

The changes? Well, they sped it up and changed the key. But those aren't major changes -- though upspeeding it certainly changed the feel. They also made some changes to the lyrics. Not major changes -- meaning there's no place where lyrics were removed or added, or replaced with something that makes you say "Where the hell did that come from?" But these were real changes. One example that comes to mind is in the second verse. The original lyric was "I remember that it ended in a great big fight / I can't remember and I don't care who was wrong or right." They rewrote that as "It didn't end in a great big fight / No one was wrong and no one was right." This works better with the following line which talks about never actually breaking up, but just fading away.

The changes were substantial enough that I asked if I should give them songwriting credit (on the off chance that I find someone interested in publishing). They said yes. So I have the thrill of sharing a songwriting credit with someone I've been a fan of for this long. For the time being I am assuming I don't have to register another copyright. This is similar enough to the original that I doubt the few new elements will be stolen. And I know that if there's money to be made I'll not cheat Eric and Amy. Which leaves the question of what percentages everyone would get. I'm inclined to avoid quibbling and just say 25% apiece (for me, Eric, Amy and Scott). Hopefully no one will feel cheated and complain. If anything, I'm erring on the generous side, since the majority of the song is me -- both melodically and lyrically. But I guess it's easy to be generous with zero.

I'll note that I also learned a bit of songwriting from the experience. I've always had trouble writing bridges -- mine almost always sound too similar to the rest of the song. Amy and Eric sure fixed that. Amy explained it thusly: The bridge is where you can go crazy. So maybe the problem is that I've always played it safe with bridges, when I should have been going bold. I'll try to remember that in future songwriting endeavors.

I am hoping that, in the future, Eric and Amy will work with me on other projects. The fee, my Kickstarter pledge, was well worth it.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

i have failed as a father

It was a small group of people -- my son, me, and a few other adults. Referring to a videotape, I said "Oh, this has Ringo Starr."

My son asked who Ringo Starr is.

When I told him that he was the drummer for the Beatles, he asked "was that the pothead band that made bad music?"

Friday, August 16, 2013

pre-date jitters

Tomorrow I have a date upstate to record with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby. This is the session that is my pledge gift for supporting their latest album, A Working Museum. And I'm nervous. And giddy. Maybe gervous is the best description. In a weird way, I feel like a schoolkid looking forward to his first date with a girl he's long had a crush on.

Remember, I've been a fan or Eric's music for several decades. There was a time I would have called him an idol of mine, though I now prefer to use that word more reservedly. But if we're considering it in the sense that a kid idolizes a baseball star or a rock star, then Eric is an idol of mine.

The plan is to record a demo of "Do You Think of Me (Now and Again)," I song I cowrote with Scott Milner (of the Montana Milners). Before continuing, I present the lyrics in their entirety:

Do You Think of Me (Now and Again)

Goin' through papers. An old photograph.
First it makes me smile, then I start to laugh.
We'd been together forever, but it's been many years since then.
Just a funky mood or time of day.
Like wantin' a smoke I try to put it away.
We'd been together forever, but it's been many years since then.

Do you think of me now and again?
Do the feelings come flooding back when
Something frees your memories?
Do you think of me now and again?

I remember that it ended in a great big fight.
I can't remember and I don't care who was wrong or right.
We'd been together forever, but it's been many years since then.
We never broke up. Just faded away
'Til beyond "Hello" there was nothing to say.
We'd been together forever, but it's been many years since then.

Do you think of me now and again?
Do the feelings come flooding back when
Something frees your memories?
Do you think of me now and again?

I'm not saying that I'll call you up.
Water over the dam.
But when I think of you
I like to think that you
Sometimes wonder 'bout how I am.

Do you think of me now and again?
Do the feelings come flooding back when
Something frees your memories?
Do you think of me now and again?

Goin' through papers. An old photograph...

The song isn't the best I have. But I decided to go with it for a couple reasons:
  • It's complete. There are a couple other songs that I'm working on that are near completion, or (arguably) complete. But  I want to avoid rushing something and saying it's done when it's not.
  • Of the complete songs I have, I think it's the one that can benefit most from a new demo.
  • I realized that this song lends itself nicely to being a duet. The first verse sounds like two distinct voices -- largely because I wrote half of it and Scott wrote half. He and I have different styles and sensibilities. While I appreciate his lyrics, I know that I never would have written them. Add to that, the second verse sounds like two distinct memories of one breakup. That is easily explained in the context of it actually being two people having different recollections. Anyway, with both Eric and Amy able to provide vocals, I have the opportunity to make this a duet. I may as well atke advantage of the resource.
But because this isn't my best, I am kind of nervouse. What if they don't like it? Oh, they'll be polite and record with me. But how will I know that they're not secretly hating the song. I remember these feelings from when I was dating.

I don't know if what I end up with will be commercially viable (i.e., something I can use as a demo to sell the song), but I am reasonably sure I'll love it. And I will have a recording of Wreckless Eric singing a song I wrote. Duetting on a song I co-wrote, actually -- but close enough.

Amy and I exchanged emails to discuss logistics. She said that if I have a favorite instrument, I should bring it, but they have plenty of equipment. I'll bring my guitar. It's an old dreadnought style accoustic by Yamaha. I forget the model number. It's trustworthy, though I'll probably want to give it new strings before I go. Though part of me wonders, why bother? They have plenty of instruments, and the plan is to have them play all the instruments. That was a misunderstanding -- they created this pledge gift with an eye toward performers who want demos of themselves performing. I, being a songwriter and not a performer, saw it from the perspective of someone who needs demos that showcase the song. Fortunately, Amy and Eric have been gracious despite the misunderstanding. At any rate, I will bring the guitar. I'll explain that I hope there's a way of fitting me in to play some part on the recording -- as long as it doesn't jeopardize the quality of the product. But that way I'll be able to listen to it and point out a guitar part, or something, and say "That's me! Like an adult coming back from baseball fantasy camp with a DVD of himself playing baseball on a field with some a former major leaguer he used to root for at the ballpark.

I have listened to several tracks from A Singing Museum. That is the instrumental version of A Working Museum, which I mentioned above. I don't know if Eric and Amy made it widely available, but they sold (at some of their shows if nowhere else) copies. It's actually been helpful in getting an idea of some of the things that can make a recording work. Even if the melody is the same in each verse, changing the arrangement can be a big help -- either to build up the tension, or to reflect a changing mood. Maybe the first time there's a simple drum track and guitar. But then the second time there's two guitars and a bass, as well as a more insistent drum. Or maybe there's an organ replacing one of the guitars... Also, I am seeing how changing tempos can keep the sound interesting. I, myself, am not good at changing tempo, but they can do that. And with several moods reflected -- bitterness, nostalgia, sadness and regret -- reflected in the song (in differing mixes at different points), there is plenty of opportunity for tempo changes. I can especially see the second verse change between the angry memory of a fight and the more wistful memory of a relationship drifting into indifference. I also like the idea of having the whole thing build, and then have a sudden drop in energy before the final tag, which would be sung by both voices, either a capella or with minimal instrumentation.

If I can figure out how to add audio files as clickable features in a blogpost, or how to make a Youtube video out of an audio file (using a photo or blank screen instead of actual, you know, video footage), then I'll be able to share the finished product.

Monday, August 12, 2013

breaking bad

In honor of the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad:

The theme from BB, played (mostly) with things you'd find in a meth lab.

Friday, August 9, 2013

mystery solved. or not.

I loved the movie, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Absolutely loved it. I thought some of the casting was a bit off. Michael Cera didn't seem right as the title character. He was too wimpy. And Ellen Wong was wrong as Knives Chau. She seemed way too old for the role. But I loved the movie anyway, due in no small part to the music.

For the unfmailiar, here's the theatrical trailer:
SPvtW is the story of a 20-something slacker who meets the girl of his dreams, but has to fight her seven evil exes in order to date her. The musical angle is that Scott plays bass for a band called Sex Bob-omb. Based on a series of graphic novels, the movie is presented in surreal fashion, with many nods to video-game aesthetics. What I really love about it is the music. Here are two examples:

Since I loved the music so much, I went to Amazon (shortly after seeing the movie) to buy the soundtrack. Before checking out, I decided to give a listen to some of the short samples that Amazon has up with the album. And the thrill was gone.Hearing the samples just didn't feel the same. So I took the soundtrack out of my cart and moved on. I'd occasionally come back to it -- I love the clips on Youtube. and sometimes I'd go back to Amazon to see if the samples hit me any better than before.But they never did.

Fast forward to today. I was browsing Reddit and found a comment about the movie. According to the comment, Beck wrote the songs, and the actors playing Sex Bob-omb perform them in the movie, but the soundtrack features Beck. Well, that would explain it. I guess I just don't like the less-rough sound of Beck.

Mystery solved.

Or is it?

I went to Amazon, but it clearly indicates that a bunch of tracks are performed by Sex Bob-omb, and they sound like what's in the movie. So I'm all confused. If anyone actually reads this and knows what's the story, please enlighten me.