Monday, February 18, 2019

screams - Death City One [1], You Will Set This City On Fire

Hey so, I released a little four song EP in 2018: Death City One [1]. You can listen to it for free, not that you will, but I thought I'd write up some production notes, just cause, hey, why not? I'll go song by song. But first, an intro:

DCO1 is made up of four songs, three of which I wrote this year and one that I wrote, jeez, I don't even know how long ago, two? three years? Talking about Under Cover of Dark. The idea behind this release was to keep going. My main band, Face Tat, is still around, still active, however, the other half of the band, Mike G, moved on over to New York, so you know, makes the whole jamming aspect hard. Yes, of course, there's plenty people can do from afar, such as Postal Service. Plenty of artists don't even meet in person, they just send tracks back and forth. And that's all well and good, but first you really have adapt your music playing style and process for a studio project. This ain't always easy.

I grew up playing in a bunch of bands that none of you have ever heard of, so I learned to play live with others. Really learned to write by vamping out parts. In the studio, it's all on you. There's many different ways to skin a cat and write a song. Some people jam, others write lyrics first, others strum guitar. Some people are very intentional and know exactly what they want to get out of a studio. For me, music is a process of discovery. I don't really feel so much like I write or compose music, but instead that I discover curious little musical ideas, some of which have been done before, but all of which I want to share. Thing is, the studio allows you to do anything, and sometimes that makes one feel directionless, and therefore nothing happens. I really had to dig in and just experiment. As time has gone on and I've built out more and more of my studio (which is nothing fancy, just a collection of synths, guits, and drums) I'm discovering more and more what I can do. So, these songs reflect a lot of studio growth and discovery. Case in point: You Will Set This City On Fire.

One of the things about studio writing, and most creative projects I work on, is that I write about 80% of a song in about one sitting, in just a few takes. But these takes are mostly terrible. I mean, they're great ideas, but they are not at all for public consumption. They're rough, lots of mistakes, maybe only a few good takes, but that doesn't matter, they're all scratch. I then spend a week or so recapturing the initial idea and recreating the sound clean (or sometimes dirty) and flesh out the body of the song. So, we're at about 95% here. After that, everything single studio session is about grinding down the remaining 5%. Editing, mixing (and mixing and mixing), mastering, making tiny little fixes. This is why deadlines are so important. The first 70% you can do in a day, the next 20% takes you two weeks, and the last 10% can take a month or longer. As you get closer to 100% and "perfection" the more it costs in time and effort. Is that little pop at the end that will take you three hours to edit out or do all over again worth it? Sometimes yes, but mostly no. Songs are never finished, just abandoned. And they only way for me to impose this is by deadline. My point here is I wrote YWSTCOF in one weekend, while my bud Al Lover was in town visiting. We hanged out one night and after he left I just a laid out this drum patter and heavy bassline. I didn't really know what to do after that so I slapped on an arpeggiator for the chorus part, which I played by hand, meaning I was adjusting the tempo of the arp via knob twiddling. Sometimes I feel that arps that are so on time and in sync with the tempo with computer percision just takes the life and excitment out of the sound. Sometimes this is good, you want a cold, unemotional, detached feel. But for this song, it was supposed to be loud and dirty and messy, which it is.

After that, I wanted to play with tone. This song is nothing if not playful. Such as that Beastie Boys 808 tom at the end of the drum phrase. Everybody I played it for told me to take it out, but for me, that was the tone of the song. Dirty as bass and drums with a playful tone. To accentuate this I added that twinkly arp in the intro (just a microKorg with the attack turned way up). To play with tone more I played that main melody on a Roland Gaia and then decided to get real cheesey and used some midi mens chorus preset in Logic Pro X.

Finally, about 95% done I showed it to Al Lover and all he said was, "you need some hella trappy high hats on that." So I asked him, "care to send me some hella trappy high hats?" So he did. I messed with them a bunch, but they're all Al.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

I made a something: Bahia de los Muertos

I made a something. I guess it's musical, at least the second part is. It is organized sound.

I went down to Baja for New Years Eve with Angel and a group of friends. I made field recordings of the weekend, both indoors and out. I mixed, edited, and arranged the field recordings as a stand alone soundscape/narrative of our time down there, in a not very chronological order. I was lucky enough to get Deena Rosen to read some haikus she wrote on the trip and the track art is a photo Roger Thomasson took from the house down there. 

The second track is loops made out of what I captured that I mixed in and out and then later set to music: piano, cello, microKorg. I ran a bunch of tracks through an RE-101 and laid down some droney reverb over the background. This created a susurrus that gave the project a dreamlike quality. I also noticed that the susurrus, taken as a whole, was hovering around certain notes: G, A, A#, C, and D#. That's an grouping: G and C fifth/forth; A# and D#, dominant fifth; A and C, minor third; G and A#, minor third. There's a lot of harmonic potential in there. But enough nerding.

I tried to make a melody out of all of that, but nothing stuck. I think part of the reason was the loops themselves, they were constantly making new arrangements every iteration, because the loops all have different play lengths. There's all sorts of new combinations of sound every second, though over time certain ones stand out. This creates a constantly shifting landscape which makes a consistent melody hard to apply, or at least for me it was hard. Every time I found an enticing melody it felt like I was imposing order instead of bringing forth new musical ideas. I tried to address this in the mix, but many of the tracks were recorded poorly. (I tend to record loud things and up close via low input as it cuts down on windnoise and popping and other recording artifacts, things I don't want, but this time some things were too far away or too quiet for the input level I had. Frankly, I really need to get a windshield for my handheld, you know, one of them dead cat/clown nose things to cut down on wind and increase my input level. Live and learn.)

So, because I couldn't really find a melody that represented the piece I ended up playing a bunch of little variations in free time, with no backing track, on a Rhodes piano. Then I threw on a bassline that's imposes a bit of order, some cellos to smooth things over and bring out some more emotional nuance, and a random-pattern microKorg arpeggiator. That sounds all fancy, but really, I just messed around with things and twiddled knobs until it good. One thing that didn't come out until the final mix is the musical downbeat that was captured on one of the recordings. It makes a kind of beat that's in the mix on the second track, "La Muerte Sueña," that I would've liked to have explored more, but I ran out of time. Next time, boost volume and mix everything first, before trying to write music. 

At any rate, I'm pretty pumped with the result. There's some real delicate sounds that I just love (the crickets calling back and forth to each other), so I'd suggest listening to this at at least 75% volume, maybe up to 85%, with some really good headphones, but I've played this on a lot of systems and it sounds good all that I've encountered.

Finally, I wanted to dedicate this project to Michelle Ybarra, who organized the trip along with Joanne Lee, even though she didn't make it down, and all the rest of the Bajajaja crew:

Angel Lowrey
Todd Sills
Benita Sills
Sarah Solomon
Roger Thomasson
Deena Rosen
Elizabeth Ly
Liam O'Donoghue
Julia Hathaway

It's on soundcloud and on bandcamp (at bottom), so take your pick:


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Many Things

So, I mentioned earlier this year that I'd launched a new project, screams. Since my other projects (Face TatGirl-Face) were mostly in the reformation stage as people moved and adjusted to life changes, this is was mostly going to be a solo side project, with the goal of finishing up a bunch of songs I'd started over the years but didn't get finished as other projects got in the way. But as these things go, ended up writing up a bunch of new material.

Since it was just going to me with my friends helping me to flesh out the ideas and appearing as guests on the tracks, I really wanted to go for a lo-fi electronic sounds, a la Black Moth Super Rainbow, Suicide, early Grimes, with just a tinge of industrial, a real stripped down lo-fi sound. So I released the first screams song: Many Things.

I wrote the principle music for Many Things in one go (as I'm sure you can tell) and messed with it here and there. The bassline is a MicroKORG, the lead is a Roland Gaia, and the drums I built off a  Roland Octapad SPD-30. The Gaia is killer, but not as easy to interface with as the MicroKORG or the Octapad (though the Octapad has a bit of a learning curve and there's plenty of things that it can do [looper, sequencer] that I don't use cause I have other machines that can do the same and a lot easier to use). I initially recorded it just to save an idea, but really like the grittiness so I decided to round it out. Found a killer movie quote from Dune, when the Guild Navigator tells Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV that little Paul Atreides need to get whacked, and threw it on there. It took me a while to clean up the sample, there's all sorts of machine and hissing noises cause those Navigators are weird mutants and that white noise was part of the scene so I just decided to include in the song cause to take much more of it out would have taken some from the voice quality of the Navigator.

I looped the "plans with in plans" part at the end and got it to extend out so far by automating the volume on that track so that it kept increasing as the loop faded out, thus making it last nearly five minutes. Which is longer than the music. Studio magic, my friends. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Desert Daze 2012

Guess this tour diary is a bit late, seeing as how it's about Desert Daze 2012, but I just played Desert Daze 2018 and wanted to write about it and couldn't write about one without writing about the other, so here goes.

Back in 2012 I lived with two roommates, my Mist Giant bandmate Rap Dan and some guy called Al Lover, who's put out a thing or two.

Me, Al Lover, and long time goodbuddy and bandmate Mike G got together and made a few cuts: Al on an MPC-1000 doing beats and samples and Mike and me on fuzzed out guitars trading harmonic and melodic lines. It was simple, stripped down, and a lot of fun. We practiced, showed up, played some shows. Called ourselves: Al Lover & the Haters.

Well, we (and by we I mean Al) got invited to play down at the 2012 Austin Psychfest and then the Moon Bloc Party's Desert Daze 2012 music festival. So we booked up a few more shows, SF, Santa Barbara, LA, ABQ, Las Cruces, and a few spots I forget and took our show on the road. Mike and Al drove down to LA and played Burger Records while I stayed in SF to finish up some work thing, then I flew down and met up with them and off we went.

We played Desert Daze soon thereafter. It was crazy. I mean, it was great. They had the fest at an old beat up roadhouse called Dillon's down in Desert Hot Springs. Actually, don't know how run down that place usually is, might even be a fancy spot, but we didn't get there until day eleven of the fest. You read that right, they ran an eleven day music fest at a roadhouse in the desert. One-hundred and twenty acts, two stages, eleven days. So, you know place was hit kinda hard. I mean, actually, for an eleven day music fest, it wasn't as wrecked as it coulda been. But then again nothing is as bad as it coulda been, except Nazis.

Desert Daze set up some camping nearby for the attendees, but all us artists(!) got to stay in a nearby motor lodge type place. One of them two-storied horseshoe shaped deals with a big pool in the middle, though they didn't let us swim after dark and it's a fest, so nobody got to use it. The cool thing was that after the fest we got to go back to the motel and keep partying, going room to room, while the owner operators mean mugged us.

After the fest, we went back on the road and played some shows on our way to Austin, TX. Played the Trainyard in Las Cruces with the Cosmonauts.

Burt's Tiki. Blurry. Sry.
But the best show we played was to an empty lounge in Albuquerque, NM. Burt's Tiki Lounge (which moved locations by a block and then abruptly shut down earlier this year 😢). And but for the other bands and us and the bartender, there wasn't anyone else who showed up. At that point, some of us had toured a bit and some of us hadn't toured a bit, so some of us were dismayed at the lack of support from the locals and from the bands (all of whom jetted right after their set, an amateur move) and there may have been some talk about not playing the show cause it all seemed so pathetic. But that's an amateur move, you gotta show up, always play, barring you know accidents and flight delays, shit happens afterall, but you don't not play a show just cause no one cared to show up. Plus, at that point, we'd all drank our two free house beers, so you know, had to play.

Golec's wall.
And, of course, you never know what's going to happen at a show, even an empty one. We set up our merch, did a line check, and were about to go on when this shaggy haired kid showed up and asked if he missed Al Lover's set. Told him no, about to go on. And he stood right in front of the stage and bopped his head the whole time. It might have been a bit weird, one guy gettin down right in front of the stage in an otherwise empty room but for the amount of energy this kid had. I say kid cause he was like, I dunno, 24 at the time. He had a big smile and as soon as we were done he asked about merch. And asked us if we needed a place to stay. And do we want drinks? And do we like to party? He bought $60 worth of merch (which was everything we had) then threw in another $20 for gas money. Then he called his friends who were around the corner. So, we went and met them at this pretty swanky second story spot called Anodyne, happening place with a bunch of billiards tables, large selection of beers, and a lounge/library area that had a dog-eared copy of Samuel Delaney's Dhalgren, which appeared to have actually been half read (didn't make it a quarter away through that door stopper, myself). His friends were great, of course, had a few drinks with them, then went back to the kid's house and stayed up way too late talking and playing guitars. His name was Daniel Golec, but he went by Golec and was a great dude. Stayed in touch with him and I found out last year that tragically he was in a pretty terrible accident, struck by a car while on his bike that left him in a coma. The saddest part is I can't find any update online and his FB page is full of people asking for updates and people saying they miss him along with old grainy photos.

You never know who you're going to me or what's going to happen at a show. But you gotta play to find out.

(Hope you're doing well, Golec.)

Al Lover & the Haters.
The Behemoth in the rundown Trainyard, Las Cruces.
Entryway to the Trainyard venue.
Psychfest lineup. Everybody remember the Al Lover, nobody remember the Haters.
The Magic, happening.
Beauty Ballroom, our stage for Psychfest.
Golec's dog.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

A Restaurant Story

Recently, me and some friends read Stuart O'Nan's Last Night at the Lobster, which is a pretty good book about love, life, and the Red Lobster. It's funny and it's short, so that's always good. We went up to a cabin to drink whiskey and talk about the book. While talking about it, we all decided to tell horror stories about working in the restaurant industry. Honestly, I worked in bars and restaurants for ten years, so there's just too many stories to recall, so I mostly drew a blank on horror stories and instead just told one of my most memorable. It's kinda cute, though it does entail a full-grown man getting burned from head to toe.

In college, I worked at the Olive Garden, the one in the Stonestown Mall in San Francisco, for about a year. It was a pretty busy place, what with the mall and college traffic. And it was easy money, and since I was going to SFSU, it worked out very well with my schedule.

The first that you offer a guest when they come to the table is soup or salad (then you try and upsell them on wine). Breadsticks come right after. So, there's always a bunch of soup coming out of the kitchen. And the corporate catchphrase about soup temp was that it was supposed to be "pipping hot." Always. Had to be pipping hot. Which is a weird phrase when you think about it. I'm sure there's some history of steampipes or pressurized heating pipes. But, whatev. That's the term they used. Soup had to be pipping hot. And then some nonsense about when you're here you're family.

So, this one day, few months in, after I've got the hang of it, I'm waiting on this three-top, a mother and her two daughters, around ten to twelve years old. And while I'm introducing myself, Willy, a bus boy, was walking into the kitchen. Willy was a nice guy, but he was one of the slowest able-bodied people I've ever met in my life, to this day. He moved slow, talked slow, blinked slow. And I don't mean there was anything wrong with him, mentally. He just was a slow dude. Potato speed.

At any rate, he's entering the kitchen at the same time that this guy (who I don't remember) is coming out, carrying a tray of six bowls of Zuppa Toscana, a white cream based sausage soup. And right as he's coming out, just as the Zuppa guy is lined up with Willy, Big Dan stands up. Six foot four, Big Dan. See, he was bent over, refilling the ice bin and when he stood up the Zuppa had been hovering on a tray over Bid Dan's head, so when Dan sprung up and hit that tray, it was like a catapult aimed right at Willy.

There was a huge, loud crash and the whole restaurant went silent, like we were all waiting to hear what happened next. Which was Willy yelling at the top of his lungs, "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!"

Course, me thinking I was some kind of hero, I told my table to wait one minute and went over to see what I could do to help. But what could I do?

Willy was dripping in white cream soup, Big Dan was saying sorry, the other guy was trying to clean things up, and the manager was shooing us away, telling us to get back to work.

So, I went back to my table and continued with the order, but when I got to the first little girl she just look up at me and asked, very grimly, "Was there blood?" She was pretty disappointed when I told no.