Thursday, February 3, 2011

The First Month of Music...

To be entirely consumed. To have each stretch of stillness soaked with an overwhelming presence of a deadline... Sunday is coming, Sunday is coming. Although Sunday does eventually arrive it never seems to be satisfied for all it takes is a few hours of sleep or another bottle of wine before Sunday is coming yet again. Though menacing at times, it is comforting to think that, when left to its own devices, my mind is a vehicle driven by an anxious man who wont take his eyes off the rear-view mirror and although my current experience is not without anxiety, the driver has stopped looking behind him and now has his eyes focused squarely on the road ahead. There seems to be little time to be concerned about money or my business or any of the intermittent turbulence on this life-ride, I simply do not have time to indulge in such things... Sunday is coming, Sunday is coming.
So now I find myself existing constantly within a song. No fleeting melody is taken for granted but is rather hummed in repetition while I fumble for the small black voice recorder that has become a good friend and tireless listener. Oh the scraps of sacred delusion that that little black recorder has endured!

This past month has been strange. To go from writing three songs over an entire year to writing four within the last month has been a shift. My makeshift studio, once more of an abandoned novelty, is now littered with empty cans of beans, wine bottles and coffee mugs all holding the same half inch of black oil-like sludge... artefacts- not of visitors but of inhabitants. The truth is that to make a commitment is to build a home. Goals and dreams seem to be more like mirages to bend one’s step in the direction of but a commitment is something to inhabit.

There are other commitments I have chosen to inhabit- I have chosen to build and live within the home of an ever-blooming relationship with my wife, I have chosen to build and live within the commitment of being a support to my family, and I have chosen to be open to new possibilities and commitments as they arise... it is not easy to live in multiple homes at the same time! I have found myself visiting my other commitments less often as I explore the urgency of this new commitment- this will surely be the first lesson I learn on this adventure for I have beautiful people in my life who are not afraid to let me know when I am occurring more as a house guest than a host. So although I have given myself a week to create each song, I am learning that there is no way that I can surrender every waking hour to this end or I will find myself a very lonely, very hungry man at the end of this year with only 52 songs to nourish me. So much for a song-a-week, I am going to have closer to three days to dedicate to each song so that I can tend to my other wells of joy.

Each song has been its own universe, with its own lessons. I am a firm believer that the entire world can indeed be found with a grain of sand and that everything there is to know can be learned within this very moment. This seems to be true for every song we create- each seems to hold microcosmic manifestations of the big ol’ BOOM lessons that we forget while marvelling at the shiny things (though I am certain that even the shiny things can teach us a thing or two billion, and besides, I like shiny things).

In the song Tattered Shoes, Evan and I explored the concept of maintaining the environment within a recording rather than placing all the elements within a recording studio “vacuum”. Evan mentioned that in many of the old jazz classics one could hear the faint “clink” of glasses, the soft hum of concealed chatter, and the general approval of the audience that the band was playing for. This was a level of contextual integrity that I had never explored and so we chose to see what kind of magic we could stir up. In the Tattered Shoes track we not only maintained the sounds offered by the unique environment we were in (which in this case was the cement wine cellar in the basement) but we also added environmental elements that we felt would capture the context that the song itself was already hinting at. So we added sounds of glasses, distant chatter, a conversation that we decided had to be in French (not that either of us offered any logic to support this choice, the choice itself seemed so obvious that it needed no defence!) and then I pulled the vocals a lot further back in the mix so that the listener would be offered a sensation of sitting amongst a crowd, enjoying a glass of wine, and watching a band play from a comfortable distance. The result was certainly not the crisp attack of the “recording studio vacuum” but if you pour yourself a glass of red wine, light a few candles, and turn the volume up on this track you may very well be transported... we certainly were, but we had a few bottles of red wine.

The other joyful challenge with the Tattered Shoes song was taking what originated as an inspired drunken jam and transform it into a song. We are blessed with an amazing, sacred, walk-in wine cellar (though our wives would call it “a creepy concrete room filled with spiders and ghosts and a disturbingly eerie rocking chair”). One day Evan strummed a chord within the room and what bloomed was a reverb fit for the gods... from that day forward there has not only been spiders, ghosts, and a rocking chair within the cellar but also guitars, amps, mic stands and a floor littered with stained wine corks. It is the ideal space for spontaneous fits of inspiration gently corralled into the form of music. The song Tattered Shoes was based entirely on one of these fits. The task of turning a fit into a formulaic, clean, cookie-cutter song is not an easy one... so we didn’t do it. Other than tightening up a few parts here and there, we allowed the song to be what it was- a small raft floating aimlessly in the direction of everywhere. The perfectionist in me tried desperately at times to re-write some of the free-styled lyrics that had arrived in the cellar’s moment but inevitably I surrendered to the majority of it. The resulting song is something I believe the majority will likely pass over but I am certain that Tattered Shoes holds the combination lock to the subterranean vaults of the few and will find its home there.

Eyes on The Ground was like kicking the shit out of a wood-planked stoop on a warm country evening. It started with a rapid fire guitar riff constructed by Sir Westre- the riff itself was electric, in fact the tempo we ended up recording the riff at is about half as fast as Evan is able to play it. Needless to say, I was impressed. At the same time, that which is impressive on guitar is usually exactly the kind of riff that is really tough to write over. Words and vocal melody’s need a whole lot of room to muck about in- they need an open field where they can jump and roll around- it is my belief that it is within the breathing room that all the magic happens... this coming from a writer who’s hip-hop background can have him packing each glimpse of emptiness with swollen syllables! It is another lesson I am learning, to allow the cracks and corridors of breath.

Working with other musicians has never been easy for me. I have been writing songs, in one form or another, for 15 years and I can count the instances on one hand that I have spent actually working in the same room with another musician or writer. I am blessed to have discovered a brilliant musician within an amazing friend and I think that if any music partnership is to work it will be between Evan and I. I think we are learning to be honest with each other while maintaining a high level of respect for each other’s art. I know that he can do things musically that I can only dream of and this can be intimidating at times- my inner critic can show up and say “Jordan, who are you to comment on this part in the song” but when all is said and done, before melody and poetry, my art of choice is that of creating an experience and I’d like to think that I have become quite good at that. It is also a treat to have someone around that balances some of your musical tendencies. Evan, a lover of organic sounds and traditional methodology can sometimes raise an almost imperceptible eye brow when I have found the thickest, lung-shaking digital kick drum on the computer paired with a snare that sounds like a whip and gun shot have collided. I’m obsessed with the thud crack thud crack, I wish someone would take Leonard Cohen’s albums and line each song with a drum track that would make a veteran gun slinger hit the ground. I need a thud crack that causes uncontrollable bodily responses! I like that Evan and I can have a dual of eye brow raisings and at the same time we can both stretch ourselves in each others direction just far enough to honestly say when something works and when it does not. We found a pretty incredible compromise on the Eyes On the Ground track... the THUD THUD THUD THUD which is the “base drum” on the track is in fact a combination of sounds that we recorded around the house. We combined the sounds of empty suitcase slapping, door knocking, dryer pounding, and fireplace hitting to create an extremely thick sounding THUD and for the rare shaker sound that enters the song we recorded a bag of nails hitting the concrete floor. I think Evan and I have a ways to go in working seamlessly with one another, or at least I have a ways to go to learn how to work seamlessly with anyone, I get the sense that Evan is pretty well versed in this area. I do feel sorry for him at times because he has to put up with an “experience junky” who would vote for a single note being played in succession over a Mozart composition if it threw the listener off their chair and gave them the desired experience. Not to mention the fact that I have spent all of my musical life tucked away in my own cave refusing to create along side anyone else... I have much to learn. But Evan is an “experience machine” and is an expert in creating universes through music and this is why we do work as well as we do together and this is also why it is so damn exciting to continue on this path with him and explore the endless possibilities that await. We both do what we do for the same reason, its for the BOOM. Here’s to you Egus.

The Jar was a very interesting scenario. I had written the main riff and the first three lines on the Tuesday and had attempted to add on to this spark everyday throughout the week, without success. So there I am on Sunday afternoon, only a few lines written, only one riff constructed, and no path that I pursued as far as melody or chorus and bridge riffs seemed to work... so at about 8pm on Sunday night I let out a scream that went a little like... “F&@(@*# THIS!” and I proceeded to write and record the song (over the single riff) within the next two hours. I just wrote and then recorded it. I had allowed myself get to the place where I literally could not allow myself to care any longer because I would not make the deadline if I did, so I just opened my mouth and left all my judgements aside... out of complete necessity. Well what do you know, it s one of my favourite tracks now. That song was basically written and recorded within a 2 hour time span (though I spent about 36 hours staring at a blinking cursor on the computer screen before hand). Another invaluable lesson learned!

Well my friends, there it is, the mother of all blog entries. I congratulate you for making it this far! But I must go now for it is Thursday and I have yet to come up with a single line of lyrics or bar of music for this weeks song. Evan is coming up this evening and we will see if we cant make something happen.

Much love to all of you!

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