Last Saturday (the 18th), I woke up early and just a little bit hung over.
I made a pot of coffee and headed downstairs to my studio, where I turned on the computer. Eight hours later, I realized that I hadn’t had breakfast yet, but had instead programmed the drums for eight exciting new songs!
Between Saturday and Sunday I recorded the drums and bass guitars. Monday I recorded all the guitars, keyboards, and percussion. Tuesday I did the vocal tracks for 6 of the songs. Wednesday morning I finished that last two.
That’s it! An 8-song record in 5 days! It’s raw, it’s organic, it’s flawed (a bit), and I love every note!
The Scars That I’ve Earned
Your Heart And Mine
Watch The Blood Run
Today And Tomorrow
Now I’ve just got to mix and master the project. I can’t wait!
Yeah, I know. Delinquent blog. I’m not much of a writer, but I DO like blogging this stuff…
What’s been happening? As I said before, the music is complete. Just need to record the vocals. I’ve been trying to lay down the tracks, and they just haven’t been sounding right. I think there’s too much reverberation in my studio, so I’m going to look at building a vocal booth. For now, some supports and a couple of blankets should make a “fort” that will deaden the sound going into the microphone (no jokes about my voice, right?).
I got a little frustrated with the lack of vocal success the other day, and watched Stand Up Guys. Al Pacino, Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin… can’t go wrong with that cast! What struck me was the killer soundtrack. Old soul music, Detroit & Philly grooves. I took some inspiration, and have tried to re-arrange and re-record some of the songs with that late 60s/early 70s feeling. It’s pretty cool, but far from the more “guitar pop” genre that I normally focus on.
So now I’m going back and forth between the two. If I could compete with my ambitions, I’d record both. It’s like having 2 hot dates on the same night, and not being sure which to pick.
I remember my dad once telling me (lies) about how he managed to do it before meeting my mum. Also, I’m expanding my instrument collection.
For Christmas last year, my wife gave me a cheap harmonica. I really liked the instrument, and have written a few pieces that really suit it. So for my birthday a few weeks ago she bought me a set of good ones. I’m loving them, and they’ll certainly be on the roster for whatever comes next.
I also picked up a new ukulele last night. It won’t be a big addition to the music, but is perfect in small doses. No “tiptoe through the tulips,” I promise!
Here's some Baby Huey. Inspired me, maybe it'll give you a kick too!
I had a bad neck & head injury, and had to postpone my recordings for a while. I just couldn’t focus on singing when every movement pulled me out of the song and back to reality. But we’ve got a sunny, warm weekend coming up, and I’ll be spending it in the studio. RECORDING THE VOCAL TRACKS! FINALLY!
Here’s a little filler to while away your time…
Years ago, I wrote a piano-based song called The Shadow. I’ve always enjoyed that track. One of my many ideas was to record a techno album of my favourite (self-penned) songs. I put together a rough techno version of The Shadow, and it seemed pretty cool. Very ‘early Depeche Mode’. Unfortunately that idea hit the backburner, and it’s languished there ever since. One of the surprising aspects of the project was that if I changed the bassline, it inspired new melodies. One was a keyboard line that would have never fit in the piano version.
Last night I was plucking away on a guitar, and started playing that Shadow-inspired keyboard line. I changed the key into one more suited to the instrument, accidentally replaced one of the chords, and away I went. Straight into a brand new song! With the changes resetting my view on the song’s history, a new chorus followed. And a few shouted-out sentences that might form a basis for the lyrics.
And then company came over for dinner and I put down the guitar.
Today this new songs is running through my brain over and over. I’ll be rushing into the studio tonight to lay down a demo. I’ve got to get this one on tape before I forget it. Very excited!
Well, it’s been almost a month. I’m still slugging away at the album, but these songs are seriously kicking some ass!
Let me backtrack a bit. A month ago, I was recovering from a f’ed up hand. It was slowly getting better, but the knuckles for my pinky and ring finger were starting to get cramped and stiff. For some reason, I decided to grab the 2 fingers and lightly pull. They pulled out about ¼”! That was a little scary for a minute, I thought I’d pulled them off! They instantly started to feel better, and have been fine ever since. I guess they just needed realigning.
As for the record, I just finished the guitar tracks on the weekend.
I tried a new routine this time. Normally I’ll record in this order:
1. drum programming
2. bass guitar
3. acoustic guitars as a foundation
4. electric guitars
5. keyboards, pianos, synthesizers
This time I switched it up a little. I recorded all the electric guitars first, then added the acoustic guitars. I wouldn’t have thought it would make a difference, but it really has. Instead of having a fat acoustic bulking each song, they’ve become more of just an accent on some tracks. Sure, some have a driving acoustic rhythm behind them, but on others it’s just a chord here and there or a subtle riff. On a few of the songs it’s really changed the feel. I also did most of the synths and keyboards before the acoustics. I’m really loving these tracks. It’s not unusual to find me rocking out these days with the speakers blasting!
Next up: Vocals. I haven’t done any real singing in over a year, except for the live stuff with The Boys From County Hell. And for the live shows I usually can’t hear myself and just shout while hoping I’m getting close to the right notes.
I have notes from my signing lessons, and am going to spend a few weeks going through those and rebuilding my vocal chords. Like an athlete’s muscles, they get flabby and weak if you don’t practice and keep them in shape. Once my throat is buff again, I’ll be ready to step up to the microphone.
I'm getting close!
I buggered up my left hand a few weeks ago quite badly, and haven't been able to do much work on the new album. I don't think it was anything major. I spent a week or so doing the squeezy-squeezy thing on my hands, comparing the damaged left with the healthy right. There was some swelling, but the bones didn't wiggle anywhere that they shouldn't. Probably just some tendon damage. So I've been letting it heal by itself - all a doctor would offer is "rest it" or "surgery." Hopefully "rest it" is working.
I can play for an hour or so now before it starts to ache, so it IS healing. It's just taking longer than it should because my other passion, sailing, has been putting a strain on it every time it starts to get better.
So here's a product endorsement and story to tide you over...
In June, I was at the Beaches Arts & Crafts festival with my wife. Tired of the usual hand-made rugs, toys, and paintings, I leaped when I saw a small tent packed with ukuleles and banjos.
I ran over, talked to the luthier, and started plucking away on his wares. I fell in love instantly, and came home $200 lighter with an amazing handmade Tenor Resonator Ukulele from Rosbilt*.
I've spent the summer playing it and getting used to the size and chords - ukes are new to me, but I'm a solid fan now. If you're curious, check this guy out - Ross Stuart. He makes some incredible instruments! Mine has perfect intonation, sounds metallic yet strangely fragile and soft, it's a bit louder than standard wood ukuleles, and even after daily playing it only needs a minor tuning adjustment maybe once a week.
Sitting on the couch one weekend morning watching TV, I started plucking away absentmindedly on the uke. An interesting melody came out, and my focus instantly changed to the instrument. I rushed down to my studio and powered everything up.
I didn't want to bother setting up a microphone for the ukulele, so I decided to play it on an electric guitar. Just get the damn thing recorded before it's forgotten! 30 minutes later I had a basic drum track programmed and a full song arranged. Still, I wasn't ready to leave it alone.
While listening over and over to the song, I reached for the harmonica I had sitting on the mixing desk. Virtually instantly a counter-melody came out of the instrument that, again, I had to get down on tape before it disappeared. Again, no mic. So I set up a synthesizer and played it on the keys.
And listened to it over and over and over.
The song was too good to leave alone, so I finally set up the mic and sang whatever came to mind.
Less than 3 hours from when I first plucked that melody from the uke, I had a full song written: drums, bass, guitar/uke, harmonica/synth, and vocals. Just wild...
I love the song, it's one of my strongest. And it'll wait in line for the project after the one currently in production, to give it a little time to "mature." One of the things I love about it is that it was written on 2 instruments I'm not particularly adept with, ukulele and harmonica, but built itself into beauty. And yes, the uke will be on the record, it's just too cool to omit.
God, sometimes I just love music.
*and for the record, I have no professional interest in Rosbilt. Ross (can I call him that?) has no idea that I'm writing this, and likely doesn't remember me at all. But CHEERS to him!
I just completed the bass tracks for all ten songs in the new project. The big surprise for me was that I did them all in one single day. Normally this should have taken 3 or 4 days I think.
Perhaps it's due to this album being in "pre-production" for a year. Just not having enough time to record it, I've spent the last year tweaking the songs. With rough demos done on a computer, I can mute the recordedguitar and vocal trackss, set up a mic, plug in my guitar, and play along with the drums, keys, and bass. Or I can just mute the bass and play it live.
I've been doing that constantly, changing the lines I'm playing to see what's working best.
So I got it all done in one day. I ripped through each song one right after the other. I don't think any song took more than 2 or 3 takes (with maybe 1 or 2 punch-ins). My fingers are numb and callussed, but those are war wounds I'm proud of.
I'm pretty anxious to get started on the guitar tracks. These shouldn't take long. The vocal tracks, that's what will take long...
Thanks to everyone that came to see The Boys From County Hell yesterday!
We had a great time, and it seemed that most of you did too. I got to meet a few new people, and I really hope to see them all again soon.
To those that weren't there: You really missed out. It might have been our best show yet, everything gelled and we were in sync.
One guy told me that he liked how obvious it was that we were enjoying ourselves. I'm glad he noticed, and I'm even more glad that he actually told me. I'm pretty picky about who I play with. Not that I'm a snob, more because I don't want to do something I'm not 100% proud of and into. Phoning in a performance happens to everyone occasionally, but it's unfair to the audience that has given time and money to see you. And it's unfair to the other musicians onstage.
I try to play every show like it's my last. Give everything I have. Because you never know - it might be your last show. And if you don't give your all, your next show just might not have an audience.
Anyway, I'm really happy to be playing with Cliff, Vera, Johnny, and Jonathan.
I'm an independant musician with a day job. I work to fund a lifestyle that allows me to write, record, and produce my own music. Sure, I try to sell it afterwards, but I don't have to write for profit.