I don’t expect this to be comprehensive in terms of expressing my feelings because that would be impossible, because I am tired, a little tipsy and the events leading to the creation of this next album are essentially indescribably complex, but I would be remiss not to catalog, in some way the legacy of its manifestation.
Hrm, I will endeavor to turn off my verbose brain I think to get this across.
As I write this it is 5am in Los Angeles, my sister left for Toronto this morning en route from a pilgrimage to the mystic ancient city of Machu Pichu in Peru to a Tech trade show in Canton, China. My uncle Paco is visiting from Ecuador and is sleeping in my bed, my girlfriend is sleeping on the floor (her grandfather is being taken off life support in the morning) and Josh Joudrie, my co-producer and soundman for Blue Dog Pict, visiting from Toronto, is sleeping on my couch. Having nowhere left for myself to repose, I am up typing this chronicle.
We started this album three years ago. An effort to continue to the work we did with BDP almost a decade ago. Lest you don’t know me, I am not some balding wannabe ex-rocker seeking former glory days. I am a kid who didn’t feel like I had yet reached the root. So I decided it was time to move to the next set of songs and find a way to tell their unique stories. I had no money in my pocket, I still don’t, but I have found in that, some amazing benefits – restrictions engender innovation, experimentation, cunning, tenacity, faith and play, and all of those put together lead to extraordinary ideas that may have otherwise been circumvented.
I would not trade a single moment of my tumultuous journey for any other. I have learned so much and continue to learn.
Because we recorded this album piecemeal – parts in Toronto, parts in Los Angeles, parts in England via email – it has been a fascinating jigsaw puzzle to assemble. After months, even years of configuring arrangements, painstakingly lining up different audio sources and trying to find their relationships, something as simple as bringing a completely new voice like Marc Thomas (of LA band Madras) to play guitars can re-liberate a song and make it feel totally alive all over again. You see, in the editing process, we find all the various pieces that we have recorded and build a comp. After cleaning it all up it feels a little stilted and after the fact. Having a new musician with fresh ears come in and just replay it with their own unique brain makes it feel completely inspired and in-the-moment. And that is because it is.
Last week, Ryan Brown came in to replay some snare and cymbal parts. Instead we ended up playing brushes on the windscreen, chopsticks on pots, pans and coffee jar lids and throwing things around the room while Pro Tools was faithfully recording at 24 bits in the background.
Marc brought in a heap of pedals and I added my own to his arsenal. We spent four separate days tracking guitars just for Killing Days; primary melodies, harmonies, swirling ambient washes, whatever occurred to us in the moment.
I would then assemble all of this discovery into a variety of stereo tracks, line them up, make a hundred decisions, and then when I would retire as the sun came up over Santa Monica Boulevard, Josh would wake up and take over, making sure the drums, bass, guitars, keyboards and vocals all lined up, that their phase relationships were coherent and so on. He is the ultimate audio tech head. It’s why I keep him around 😉
Now, almost two, three years later, we are closing in on seven amazing opuses. Sonic journeys. I have no idea what they sound like in relation to what plays on the radio. None. We even recorded “Box“, an acoustic album comprising several of my songs that didn’t want to be played by a band while doing vocals for this record – for me and for you – just to tide things over while we sorted out the rest in the meantime.
Sure I listen to stuff coming out now, but that has nothing to do with this other journey I have been on – that of making this record I decided will be called “Come To Life” about a year ago. The name comes from a catchphrase for the annual Sky Pirate holiday (celebrated August 4th) I created called Robot Pride Day – “My daddy builds robots; we don’t tell anyone. They have come to life. Come to life.”
The lyrics are poems I wrote at some point (of trouble, typically) to remind my future self that I have endured in the past, and that I will endure again, and every time come out the wiser, the stronger and the richer. They are about the soul, about the death of some of my closest allies, about faith, about us, about the future, about the past, about mystery, reason and benevolence and fear.
I don’t know if and when you will ultimately hear the fruit of all this labor and play and duress and fascination. Maybe it will be your children. Maybe it will all be buried under the ground. But if you do, drop me a line and let me know if you tapped in to everything that is going on with it. It is all bigger than me; the amazing talents of those involved, the adventures that led to its creation, and whatever encompasses the sum of its parts. I want to know what it is and what it did.
I hope to have Come To Life ready by the end of 2009.
Thanks for listening. Really. Every time you let me know your ears are receiving these transmissions, they fill up some little emptied battery cell in my soul.
los angeles, april 6th, 2009
Gearing Up For My New Record
This week Josh called the audio rental company in Newmarket that he freelances with and asked them to take part of an outstanding invoice he has and apply it towards an equipment rental so that we could bring a top of the line signal path to my bedroom studio here in Toronto.
Jadefox 2.0, Josh and I drove up to Newmarket and half an hour later walked away with an Avalon U5 mic pre/DI (imho the Rolls Royce of DI’s), an AKG 414 mic (which is the mic I used on the Blue Dog Pict records) a Drawmer compressor and this weird semi hollow electric guitar.
I got it all up to the room but didnt plug anything in for a couple of days. Instead I spent the next 48 hours chopping up some of Ryan’s overdubbed drum parts and filtering them in every way possible.
I called DJ Shine, who just got back into town from his tour with Nelly Furtado (he was in Osaka, Tokyo and then Los Angeles where he took my gf as his date out to a K.Fed after-party) and asked if I could get a MIDI keyboard. He loaned me his M-Audio Oxygen 8 and finally, I had everything I needed to do anything I want for the record.
That night I laid down some Mellotron, some ambient stuff I programmed on a variety of soft synths, and saw a whole new dimension emerge from the material. I was quickly reminded that just because these songs developed as “unplugged” concepts at the Hotel Cafe, that they aren’t and don’t need to remain that way. Exciting! The world is my oyster. I reminded myself to get crazy and stay crazy and keep the imagination wide.
Finally after a couple of days, my borrowed guitar all restrung with shiny new silver strings, tuned, retuned, stretched, pulled and tuned again, I plugged in and started laying down parts for Mary Magdalene. The Avalon sounds amazing! Amazing. It has six tone settings, essentially EQ curves that are optimized for electric guitar, acoustic, bass, vocals etc.
Using that alone through the solid state/tube combo within the DI, I laid down the clean and heavy parts and counterpoint harmonies for the song. I have to say, it sounds just astounding. This is before even re-amping and processing.
Finally, I imported all the different elements, the filtered breaks, the keyboard parts, pads, and the 16 guitar tracks and listened back.
I can no longer find a point of reference for the song. That is to say, it sounds incredible, but it is no longer categorizable via any artist or genre that I can name.
I am sure it will eventually come to order, but right now it is in that deliciously nebulous zone of inception that leaves the mind racing and the heart pounding in the middle of the night as one stands alone, cigarette aloft, drink in hand , in a humid breeze, gazing at the impossible depth of night and wondering if there is a point to it all, and hoping to God there isn’t.