Ode to a loser

The dissonant ending to "Edge of Arpeg" gives way to the big major chords of "Nasty Boy" and its dissonant subject.

"Nasty Boy" started as another guitar riff, but one so commercial and normal sounding that I wasn't sure what to do with it. Then I found lyrics I had written, and the two fit right together, and I got over how normal it sounded and went with it.

It was already called "Nasty Boy," but it wasn't about anyone specific. I rewrote a several lines with a particular antagonist in mind, one who occupied the office of President of the United States for four, long, horrible years, and how now been turned into a bronze idol.

I'm happy the song came out as well as it did. It was the first one I recorded, the sessions during which I wrestled with technical issues and my own steep learning curve. I was not happy with how individually played drums were coming out (partly due to a latency issue that affected timing), so I decided to play live into stereo mics. I recorded the big strummed guitars, doubled. I recorded big fat guitars to take over after the bridge. I managed the two-part guitar solo. I doubled my vocal and then recorded the second vocals that repeat "STFU and get out of the way" through the outro.

If it reminds you of "Jet Airliner" by the Steve Miller Band, it's supposed to. If it sounds like the drums and cymbals especially are doing battle with the compressor, well, I've learned a few things about that.


No singing required

"Edge of Arpeg" started as a guitar riff that I recorded on my phone. (Why do we even call it a phone anymore?) I tweaked the riff a bit and formalized it, but the core line that you hear at the beginning is pretty much what was on my phone. I thought I would write lyrics for it, but no topic and no melody line suggested themselves. It already had a melody, and that was enough.

When I recorded that first part, however, I realized it was not enough. It was A part, B part, A part, C part, and then repeat. Nothing changed. So I played a descant starting at the second repetition of the sequence. And then when I got to the final shortened repetition, I realized I needed one more change. Thus, the chords high up on the neck. All in three-quarter or six-eight time, I'm never quite sure.

It needed a title, but it wasn't about anything. It just sounded pretty. How about something pastoral like "Swans Among Lily Pads" or "Waltz of the Water Nymphs"? At some point, I realized that it was entirely made up of arpeggios—chords broken into their component notes. And then I played with that, and voilà, "Edge of Arpeg."

My original project list had a different 6/8 song, but then I didn't think it fit. And I thought an instrumental would be something a little different. Now it's one of my favourite things on the album.


Turning on a dime

I wrote "Elusive" during the Lisa's Hotcakes days, but I knew it wasn't a Hotcakes song. T-Bone and I recorded a really sludgy version as our loud drums-guitar duo V+T. That was not how I heard it in my head, so I wanted a second crack at it.

The song grew from something that was happening to me at the time, but now it feels more generalized. As well, even though it means something, it was also me having fun with the AAABAAAB rhyming scheme. It took me a while after I'd written the song to realize that the song has no chorus, just three verses, the last one repeated.

This was the first song I worked on after I crawled out of a mid-pandemic funk. I knew I had to change how I recorded the drums. I was happy playing the kit and recording in stereo, but I was much less happy when it came time to mix and master. As well, I knew I didn't have the chops to play what I heard in my head, so I recorded each piece separately.

The rest is bass, several guitars, and a vocal. Nothing fancy. Some ringing Peter Townshend chords in the middle eight. The "solo" after that is me fretting an open E chord and banging the strings randomly with the side of the pick. It's pretty much the V+T song deconstructed and reassembled.


Definitely not ok

I need to change the cover of Shake the World. Again. The moon in the clouds picture was too small. Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is too generic. So I'm coming up with concept number three. I'm mulling, I thought I'd give you some blah blah on the songs. I'm supposed to do that kind of thing on video while I'm recording, but I was a little busy.

The first song on the album, "Not OK," is also the oldest, and the last one I recorded. I wrote it in 1982 for an art-punk-dance band called Kinetic Ritual. The quarter-note snare and kick drums recall both "Annalisa" by Public Image Ltd. (I was a huge fan at the time) and "Mystery Achievement" by the Pretenders. Gang of Four is in there somewhere too.

Kinetic Ritual was about pushing boundaries, so I made the juxtaposition of chords and phrases purposely confusing. The change from G to E to G to E etc. is offset by two beats. So instead of something like GGGG EEEE, it goes GGEE EEGG. That was always hard to convey, even to myself, as I learned during this recording.

I'm not sure why I made such an ancient song part of the album, but it seemed to fit 2020. Was any of last year ok? Was anyone doing ok? The song was stuck in my head, although I did need to listen to a 1982 rehearsal recording on cassette to remember all the words. Being a political art-punk, I was railing against the loss of political content in post-punk music. We were now in the time of MTV and shiny New Wave dance music. And of course the title and refrain are purposely a play on John Lennon's line "I've got nothing to say, but it's okay" in "Good Morning, Good Morning."

I recorded "Not OK" in a frenzy of activity after Christmas. It's quick and dirty with some guitar that felt pretty good. I played the individual drums separately, both for better control of the sound and because it was hard enough for me to play one drum at a time on that song, never mind the whole kit. Respect for KR's drummer, Dr. Gym Shortz.


Hello, world

The internet democratized the release of music, but the open water that is now accessible and onto which you launch your small craft seems infinite. You and literally millions of other people are trying to get billions of other people to pay attention to their artistic grains of sand in the ocean.

Nevertheless, we persist. Or some of us do, for some period of time.

Shake the World is now on the !earshot distro list, so the songs are available to programming directors of campus and community radio stations, but I need to follow up with individual emails to individual program directors to try to gain visibility and possibly to send them Bandcamp links.

Once OneRPM finally gives its blessing, the songs will percolate out to streaming services. I'm supposed to follow that up by making playlists. I didn't do that for Mostly Still Underfoot, and it shows in lack of plays. I need to learn how do use my Spotify for Artists account to better advantage.

Did you ever notice that just making music is not enough? If you create a work that no one hears, it might as well not exist. It's like the proverbial tree falling in the proverbial forest devoid of sentient listeners. Unless you do, or someone does, everything possible to get the work noticed, you're not taken seriously as an artist. You have to do business kinds of things to have artist cred. Talent ain't poot unless someone knows about it.

The other night, I saw the documentary Hitsville: The Making of Motown. It shows how Berry Gordy masterminded a one-stop shop with in-house writers, producers, promoters, marketers, and eventually musicians, all in the service of the recording artists whom Gordy signed. The collection of talent was incredible, but what struck me most was the supportive environment in which they worked. You didn't have to be talented at everything. You had a building (and later several buildings) full of myriad kinds of talent.

I've only been part of a tiny indie label, but at least some things were taken care of. Now it's all up to me. I miss having a band of people with talents I don't possess and connections with musical support people who do their thing better than I ever could. I love doing some things myself but can't stand doing other things and consequently don't do those thing well.

I'm not trying to "make it" like in the old days. I'm retired and doing fine and can afford to make music for love. But for me, music has always been communication, and communication needs listeners. I envy visual artists who can grab eyeballs with relative ease. Even writing has a lower threshold of entry. Music requires more attention and is easy to pass by.

It's my choice. I will either learn whatever promotional tricks an old dog can learn, or I will learn to content myself with creating for a tiny circle of listeners at best.