All Songs Project

Posted in Songs, Uncategorized on September 15, 2009 by alopecoid

In the spring of this year I finished six months of work on my first CD, Eat What You Kill. I felt proud of what I had accomplished, but also knew that it was merely a first step, and that the future held a mountain of work to make sure that people heard (and, hopefully, bought) the CD. It was a serious “What next?” kind of moment, and a big part of the answer to that question involved promotion, and networking, and booking gigs, and etc, etc, etc. ⎯ the kind of odious tasks that really have nothing to do with making music. But, I also realized that, while the CD is wildly diverse, and shows several different facets of my musical identity, it still represented a small window into the years of work that led to its creation.

So, I set myself the task of attempting to record every song that I’ve ever written, at least the ones that I could remember (and there are probably almost as many that are lost in the ether). The motivation for this was at least two-fold ⎯ 1. It would stand as a testament to my songwriting ability for other people, either to simply listen to, or to take up and cover, and ⎯ 2. It would be a kind of catalogue from which I, and whoever is playing with me, could draw and learn material.

I knew that this was going to be a big project, and that the amount of time it could take to record all of these songs could easily balloon out of control. So, in order to keep it under control, I set myself a number of rules:
1. everything would be one take ⎯ no overdubs.
2. (an obvious result of the first), one instrument and one vocal per song.
3. I wouldn’t obsess over trying to get everything perfect. If I messed up, or if there was some small pop, unless it completely wrecked the song it would stay.
4. I would use only acoustic instruments, and (of course) I would play everything myself.
5. There would be no instrumental music. I wanted this to be a showcase of songwriting, and in my universe that has strict literary implications.

As will become obvious if you listen to enough of these songs, I eventually broke all but one of these rules. But I think that there is enough adherence to the formula to create a cohesive aesthetic. The unavoidable technical restrictions of my home-recording setup also contribute to the stylistic cohesion of this set of songs. Two mics were used for everything, either singly or as a pair. No external effects are used, although I did take the opportunity to play around with different reverb settings, when it seemed appropriate. In the past I have always hated the reverb that ProTools offers, but in this setting it’s nice to have something to differentiate one song from the next. About halfway through the songs I switched venues from my bedroom to the living room, and I think the different acoustics of the rooms have a noticeable influence on the sonics, as well.

This project is about songwriting, and one of the happy coincidences of recording in this stripped down manner, is that it also seems to be the clearest way to communicate the strengths of the song itself, unobfuscated by arrangement and production. I wish I could assert that the performance of the songs is neutral and will not affect your opinion of them, but the truth is that I sing some of these songs better than others. In some cases the performance doesn’t live up to the songwriting, and sometimes the performance is good enough to mask basic deficiencies in the songwriting. Occasionally, I think there is a golden match between how the song is written and how it is performed, and these are some of my favorite moments in the project.
Which leads to an important admission ⎯ Not all of these songs are created equal. I personally think that some of these songs are just not as good as the others. Maybe it’s a matter of taste, maybe it’s a matter of time gone past, maybe it’s just a matter of how I felt when the song came into being. Generally, I think it’s a result of artistic maturity and skill – naturally, I’ve become a better songwriter as I’ve gotten older. But, I really made an attempt to give each song its due, and to find a way to perform the black sheep of the bunch in a way that highlighted their strengths.

The early part of this project was very research heavy. I spent a while digging through old notebooks, and listening to old scratchy tapes. There are definitely songs here that I would never ever have thought about again if it hadn’t been for some afternoon ten years ago when I sat down with a slimline tape recorder, or some wild scrawl in a tattered notebook from 1999. And I know there are songs that have been lost. I remember writing them, I know what they were about, in some cases I remember the tuning that they were in and a vague outline of how they felt under my hands – but, the melodies and the words are just gone, and, short of a session in hypnosis, I think they are going to stay that way. Which is probably fine.

The oldest of these songs was written in the summer of 1996, while I was in my first of three summers as a camp counselor in northern Minnesota. The most recent was completed last week, about ten minutes before I sat down and recorded it. I will say that one of the oddest revelations that came from digging up and relearning all of these songs, is that I can remember vividly where I was (physically, temporally, emotionally) when each of them was written. They each have a very distinct location and feeling.

Many of these songs are grouped together in my mind, whether it be two songs that were written during the same period when I was experimenting with a special tuning on the guitar, or 11 songs that were written in one despair-driven day. I toyed with different ways to group and present them, but in order to try and level the playing field, I’ve ordered them alphabetically, rather than chronologically, or Joshologically.

This is a big group of songs, and while I don’t expect my friends and fans (I like to fool myself that those are two different groups) to listen to and study everything here, I do hope that people come back periodically and discover something new, make connections between songs, etc. Just experience them. I definitely find myself in moods where some songs sound better to me than others. One of the drawbacks of this blog format is that each song stands alone, and doesn’t segue into the next without you clicking on it. While this is kind of a pain in the ass, the bright side is that it may provoke you to bounce around and make some decisions about what to listen to, to mandate that you stay involved and not drift into the next room to start making scrambled eggs.

Ultimately, none of these performances are meant to be definitive. I think that, in many cases, I could do much better versions of these songs, and more often someone else could give these songs something I can’t. Here they are, though, out in the world standing on their own two feet. Some of them wobble, some of them stride, and some sprint. As a songwriter, which is what I think I am at my core, I hope that everyone can find at least one song that they love, and I’m very curious to hear what can happen to them in the hands of other artists. Enjoy.

A Bracelet and A Ring

Ambulance

Anna

Anymore

Atom Bomb

Bloodless

Boat and Dog

Bohemian Ideal

Butterfly

Call My Name

Catholic

Civil War

Come In Out Of The Cold

Dreams

Dolly On The Rubicon

Earlham Rd. Idyll

Every Morning

fire, fire, fire

Flagstaff, AZ

Flying Is Easy

From A Secret Source

Fuck You

Funny

Goin’ Out West

House Made Of Stone

I Don’t Know How I Feel About That

I Don’t Want To Be Your Man

If I Was A Horse

In Outer Space

Inauguration

Japan

Lake Nyos

Lingers

Lohengrin and After

The Loon Song

Mercury

Mother’s Song

My Favorite Lullaby

Nathalie

Never Gonna Wait

New Career

No Planes

Once A Cheater

Operator

Reckless

The Smiling Dead

Solace

St. George

Strangers

Sugar Momma

Superhero’s Lament

The Street

Swallow Your Pride, Mr. Give-In

Take Me Away

The Talk

To The Bear

Toboggan

Trust

The Truth

Valentine’s Day

Veteran’s Day

Waiting To Say Goodbye

Walk
https://alopecoid.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/walk.mp3'

What Do You Love

What’s That Sound?

When I Rule The World

Where You Need It

Without A Peep

Coach House Songs

Posted in Songs on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

To The Bear

Mercury/Including The Night

Take Me Away, plus Outro

Thinking With My Eyes Closed

These are four songs (plus one outro) that I recorded in my first house in Chicago. It was a coach house on Humboldt Blvd, in Humboldt Park. For those who don’t know, a coach house is a separate building, usually in the back of a bigger building. Our coach house, according to my roommate Mike Sturgess (aka Michael and Linda Lyons and Violins), was in fact the actual old coach house (as in, where they kept the horse carriages) from when the neighborhood was a kind of playground for rich people, back when Humboldt Park was out in the country. We’re talking over 100 years ago. The great thing about the house was that we could make as much noise as we wanted. Also, during the summer our landlords, who lived in the mansion in front, would landscape the hell out of the yard, so we basically lived in a botanical garden in the middle of the ghetto. And, we had unfettered access to the giant deck over the garage, right outside our second-floor door. I don’t think Mike cooked anything not on the grill from May until October. The bad thing was that it was not really built for human habitation, so during the winter it was ungodly cold. I mean, really really really, I-feel-bad-inviting-you-to-my-house cold.

Our downstairs, living room area basically functioned as a recording and rehearsal space, which Mike and I both used. Mike had an old, really great eight-track cassette recorder, which I learned to use a bit, and which all of these songs (except “Mercury/Including The Night”) were recorded on.

“To The Bear” was the first song that I wrote after moving to Chicago, when I was staying with my cousin Brian, no job, no money. I’m pretty sure this is the first recording of me playing the drums. The water sound happened because I decided to record the vocals in the bathroom.

“Mercury/Including The Night” was written as a duet when I first started playing with my friend Anna Leja, with the idea that she would sing the question part of the lines, and I would reply with the answers. Ultimately, I got my mom to sing with me, and I think it sounds pretty good. It tickles me to hear her exclaim “This is a hard song” at the beginning. I’m really happy with the songwriting on this one, and hope to do a more professional recording of it. I’m playing drums on this one, too.

“Take Me Away” was written after a visit from an old friend. The base track, of guitars and vocals, was literally the second or third time I had ever played the song. I’ve had people tell me, and I can’t argue, that it sounds like a mournful song, but it was actually meant to be a kind of celebration of that feeling of being really comfortable being where you are with a person. The “Outro” is basically the same chord progression all hopped up. Anna is playing the drums.

“Thinking With My Eyes Closed” came about one of those cold winter mornings when it was so hard to get out of bed, knowing that I wouldn’t be warm again until I got back into bed. It’s not a profound song, but I wanted to try to write something really rocking without using a guitar. Mike, being the perfectionist that he is, spent about four hours mixing it.

JEZUZ HELL!!!!!!

Posted in Industrial Death Metal, Songs on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

I Wanna Date Yer Dogg

The Accusatory Egg

Um. Where do I start? These are two more things that were made at Jonathan Grossman’s place. The name for this “side-project” came to me one night when I was super-high, sitting in my car trying to work up the composure to drive the few blocks home. (I know, I know, I know that this is not a good idea. That was then.) Something happened and I exclaimed “Jesus, hell!” Playing the age-old game of “What kind of band would that be?”, I immediately decided that it should be an industrial-death metal band. Not really knowing what that means, or much caring.

So, these two songs were born of that divine revelation. “I Wanna Date Yer Dogg” was the first one. “The Accusatory Egg” came out of another funny story. My roommate, Captain Sunshine, had recently broken up with his girlfriend. One morning, shortly thereafter, I came out, half-asleep, onto our back porch and found on the ground a paper plate with a fried egg, and, in what looked like dried blood, the word “accusatory” written on it. For several months its meaning and origin remained a mystery, until we found out that the ex-girlfriend and her friends, in a fit of rage, were going to egg our house, but decided that was too mean. So, they fried up an egg, and, just in case we didn’t get it, wrote “accusatory” on the plate in ketchup. How do you not write a song about that?

Somewhere in the back of my mind is the idea to write a whole album of these songs with strict guidelines. All under two minutes, and all with some completely incongruous breakdown stuck right in the middle. We’ll see.

The Grossman Sessions

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

My Favorite Lullaby

Smart Ones

House Made Of Stone

Here To Stay

These four tracks were recorded in Tucson, AZ with my old friend Jonathan Grossman. Jonathan spends most of his time making house music. Or is it House Music? I’m not sure what it is, really, but he’s a DJ and beatmaker. This was before I had a computer set-up of my own, and was really anxious to see what could be done recording on a computer, so I convinced Jonathan to let me come up to his place and make some music.

The first two tracks are songs that had been written before (but not much before) going in there, and are basically demo versions of songs that are on Eat What You Kill. For several years these were the only versions of these songs, and I really love them. I’m sure there are old friends who have grown attached to these versions and will argue that they are better than the new ones, but I don’t think they have to be in competition with each other. In the same way, I don’t believe a movie version of a book can ruin the book, because the book is still there to be enjoyed.

“My Favorite Lullaby” was the first song I had ever written like this. Up until this point I was writing sad-sack folk songs, and other strummy stuff. When we were done, Jonathan looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you could sing like that.” And I was like, “Neither did I.” The percussion that is through the whole song are poker chips, and the stuff at the beginning is Jonathan’s sliding door and squeaky chair. Everything besides the percussion, voice, and bass are MIDI instruments. I’m always jealous listening to this, because the synthetic instruments Jonathan has are so much better than mine.

“House Made Of Stone” was built in that room with Jonathan, and originally was meant to be a new version of an old song (hence the title), but I could never get the lyrics to work right, so we ended up just leaving it as an instrumental. This is probably one of my all time favorite bass lines that I’ve ever written. I was really trying to channel the Flaming Lips.

“Here To Stay” was more on Jonathan’s home turf, with me playing things that he turned into samples, and singing the main riff. I don’t know a lot about this kind of music, but whenever I hear it, it seems like the lyrics are a bit generic, so I just let them be that way. I was thinking about a girl for whom I’d had a thing for a long time, but never was able to make happen.

Alice’s Birthday

Posted in Songs, Whimsical on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

It was my friend Alice’s birthday and I had been so consumed with making music that I hadn’t gotten her anything. So, I recorded this ridiculous song in an hour, knowing that no matter how bad it was it would make her happy just to have a song about her. When I finished it, I put it on my ipod, rode over to the bar, dragged her outside and played it for her.

It’s been called awful by another friend, and while I see his point, it was really nice to do something so completely whimsical and carefree. And fast.

The James Lee Sessions

Posted in Instrumental Music, Soundtrack Music on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

Bossa Nova

Une, Dos, Tres, Quatro

Clap, Clap, Clap

Metal Song

These four tracks (there’s one more, somewhere…) were recorded in my house during the spring of 2008. My friend James Lee and I had both recently quit our jobs at the sushi restaurant where we met, and had nothing but free time on our hands. James is a fountain of very great and very diverse musical ideas, but has very little discipline and seems to forget most things that he plays immediately after playing them, which is a travesty in my opinion. So, he would come over, I would set up some mics, and basically let him play until something cool happened, at which point I would have him go back, hit record and start shaping it into something.

I love listening to these tracks, as incomplete as they are. “Bossa Nova” really had us wishing there was some whispery-voiced girl around to sing. “Uno, Dos, Tres, Quatro” seems to go on forever, but is so groovy I don’t really care. The end part of “Clap, Clap, Clap” became the song “La Semilla”, which is on Eat What You Kill. Listening to it, I still kind of like it better. (Don’t tell.)

In Outer Space

Posted in Songs on June 10, 2009 by alopecoid

Studio Version

Acoustic Version

Two versions of the same song. The first one was made in the long winter of 2007-2008, mostly in the practice space I shared with some friends. This was largely an effort for me to learn how to use Pro-Tools and see what I could do with it, both as far as multi-tracking and diversity of arrangement, taking a song and putting in as many musical ideas as possible.

I’ve included the acoustic version to feature the song itself, and to show how different the studio version is.