Song #3

First, a picture from last night that has nothing to do with anything you will hear on the audio file…
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Right, now that that’s out of the way…

 

Now to the song.  Allow me to quote the description I used on alonetone, though I’ve written about all of this before…

Long story…
or, What the hell is a cajon anyway?

I listen to a podcast about cover bands. One of the hosts is a drummer and he plays in an acoustic group. He said he played his cajon at the acoustic gigs. I thought, what the hell is a cajon?

Google informed me that it’s this box thing that you sit on and smack with your hands. There is a hole in it somewhere and even some snares and depending on where you whack it you get a bass drum-ish sound or a snare drum-ish sound. It’s kinda neat.

Fast forward a few months and I’m sitting alone in Epcot center, just outside of Soarin’ (true story) and I was tapping away on GarageBand on my iPhone trying to come up with something different from my usual power trio arrangements. Turns out one of the percussion settings in the drummer function had a cajon. I started thinking like a hippie in a coffee house and thought, cajon, acoustic guitar, and cello. Well, GarageBand’s string sounds are crap and the cello was scratched in it’s place I thought maybe I could dust off my alto sax and use that as the soloist. I hadn’t played my sax since 2013 (I think) and it was time.

Nothing ever became of that Epcot Center song idea, but when RPM 2020 came around I came back to that idea. I decided to make half of my album the usual rock band stuff, and the other half this goofy coffee shoppe thing. If time permits I am going to do a rock band mix of the coffee shoppe songs too, but we’ll see.

This song is about how the US Senate gave the fascist in the white house legal permission to rig elections.

Isn’t that a great story?  I’ve still never seen a cajon in the flesh.

Two Songs, Three Mixes

First there’s this… A 12-bar blues in the verse and a chunk of a 12-bar blues in the chorus.  This is the only electric song that I didn’t double track the rhythm guitars, but I got to spread out the stereo thanks to running through two amps which is about as awesome as it gets.

Now the screwball part of the post.  This is the first song from the acoustic half of the project.  It’s the only one of the seven that I didn’t put any percussion on (what the hell is a cajon, anyway?) so it’s just two tracks of guitar, two (actually three) tracks of vocals, and one track of sax….

Now here’s the same song with the sax replaced by an electric guitar and bass and drums added.  I call the first mix the Coffee Shoppe Mix, and the second mix the Bar Band Mix although I don’t think I wrote that onto the file name….

….and with that, I have two songs complete.  I just have to decide which version of the acoustic song goes on the final album.

What Else?

I’m so hyper focused on music right now that the world is passing me by.  What am I missing?

The New Hampshire primary was last night.  The top three places were all held by people I could reasonably see myself voting for on Super Tuesday.  Sanders was my pick last time around.  Buttigieg seems fine to me.  I’d like to see a little more grass roots and a little less big money, but policy wise he’s fine.  My step son has done some volunteer work for his campaign and I am bursting with pride over it.  Klobuchar was a surprise but I’ve liked her since the day she announced her candidacy.  I have this vague image in my head of her beating the living shit (figuratively speaking) out of the people who are making a bad joke out of the Constitution. I see her as someone who could clean up the shit show.

Warren has been my main focus and I’m a little disappointed at her showing so far.  I saw this primary as a Warren vs Sanders showdown with Biden kinda peeking in from the sidelines.  There’s still time for Warren to improve relative to the others, but if we have to settle for her as our esteemed US Senator, I’m fine with that.

Realistically, whoever ends up winning the nomination is getting my vote and at least a chunk of my money.  That nazi piece of shit in the white house has to go.  Of course he won’t.  The Senate has already approved his attempts at rigging the election, so the very concept of a legitimate election has already been flushed down the toilet.  He’ll rig it and he will win it.  Our democracy is already dead, I’m just clinging to the tiny shreds that are left behind.  Mostly just out of habit.

At least the Bruins are still doing well.  That awful dip in the standings prior to the all star break is going to bite them on the ass.  Their huge lead is gone and Tampa is right on their heels.  I was very pleased with their play of late, but losing to Detroit really grinds my gears.  We get the Canadiens tonight.  There are few things that could cheer me up as my country descends into a fascist dictatorship as much as watching the Bruins beat the holy hell out of Montreal.  No pressure though, okay Bruins.  You just go out there and have fun.

A week or so ago, Larry and I were having a discussion about various Quentin Tarantino movies and he made a joke about a scene in Kill Bill and it went right over my head.  I saw both volumes in the theater and had never re-watched them.  I thought they were both fantastic and I loved every second of them… I just never revisited them again.  I fixed that error over the weekend and watched both movies.  They are just so good.  The violence is way over the top and the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but every scene is perfect.  I forgot about so much.  In my memory the first movie is just blahblahblah Crazy 88’s and the second movie is just blahblahblah Superman’s disguise.  I forgot about all the other twistedly delightful stuff.  I kinda want to watch them both again, but instead I’ll watch the two movies I still haven’t seen: Hateful 8 and Django Unchained.

Note: I don’t think “twistedly” is actually a word.

Okay, I have to mention music again.  I can’t avoid it right now.  I did some recording this morning.  After being late to work on Monday because I stayed home a little too long, and late to work on Tuesday even though I left on time, I came up with something to try and keep me on track.  After I set up my laptop to record some voice parts, I brought up Waze on my phone.  I put in my work address as my destination and I left the phone on the table next to me.  As I worked through the two songs for today I kept an eye on the estimated time of arrival.  When it reached 8:45 I packed up and left.  It worked.  I was on time today.

Unfortunately when I was packing up I put my MacBook onto the stand on which it sits on my desk in the office (grammar, bitches), turned off the lights, and left the room.  A couple of minutes later I heard a bang.  What?  My laptop FELL OFF THE STAND!  It was still working okay, but it scared the crap out of me.  I managed to back up this morning’s work onto an external drive, but if my lappy is dead I might be in big musical trouble.  I know it’s not dead, everything was functioning within normal parameters… still… how scary is that.  BANG!

Friday is Valentine’s Day.  We don’t have any plans.  I’ll see if my beloved love wants to do anything after work.  It’s also a kid weekend so my step son will be around.  He went to a mock UN weekend last week and I can’t wait to hear about it.  Tonight will be the first time I see him since he came back.

I went to the gym last night.  I am planning on going again tonight and tomorrow night and as many days as I can between now and Disney World.  I need to build up some stamina for long walks.  I’m still stuck at the 15-minutes-before-my-back-starts-complaining point.  Every little bit helps though.

What else… I’m thinking about playing a little saxophone tonight.  If you hear crying it means I can’t pull it off anymore.  I was a music major and sax was my primary instrument of study.  I haven’t touched it in years, but normally when I start playing again a lot of the old skill is there.  What isn’t there is the muscles in my jaw.  I get a few minutes of solid playing followed by fatigue so bad I can’t play anymore.  My plan for the next week and a half is play a little, rest a little, repeat.  That’s assuming I’ve still got it.  Boy, do I hope I’ve still got it.

When you are 48 years old the phrase, “Boy, do I hope I’ve still got it” comes into play almost every day for a seemingly infinite number of topics, wouldn’t you say?

Remote Control

Check it out, I have been using the Logic Remote iPad app as a… ya know… remote.  I’ve only ever used it as a midi controller to add midi instruments to GarageBand files, but over the last few days I’ve been using it as a remote control while recording guitar parts.

When I put together my workspace I put the computer on one side of the room and the pedal board on the other.  I picked up an extension chord for my headphones, which allowed me to step on pedals while the tape was rolling, but it was the remote that let me stand by the pedals the whole time I’ve been working.

Well, most of it.  I can’t select regions from the remote (can’t I?) and I can’t set up loops (can’t I?) but it does everything else I need to do.  The best part??  It actually works!  The midi controller functionality is a mess (though it’s infinitely better than it used to be) but the remote control works!

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I picked off a vocal this morning, wrote a new song and recorded guitars for it tonight, and recorded the guitars for the only remaining pre-existing song too. I’m up to 14 songs, all with rhythm guitars done (the new song from tonight still needs a bass guitar part though, don’t forget!), and two of them have vocals too.

I have to have all the tracking done before vacation. Will I pull it off??

I think so but I’m starting to feel the crunch. The vocals are the logjam, I have to keep plugging away at them. Two down, 12 to go!

Oh yeah… and saxophone.  Argh!

More #RPM2020 Goodness

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This puppy hurts my arms.

I put the acoustic guitar onto the last two songs that need acoustic guitar, assuming I don’t come up with another one.  They are both strummy and loud and boy are my arms tired.  My arms are so tired you’d think I just flew in from the coast, har har hardy har har.

I’ve got one more song that needs electric rhythm guitar.  That’ll bring the count up to 13.  I want to add one more electric song too.  Then there’s the Blind Chaos thing.

This is taken from a post on the RPM Challenge Forum:

For the uninitiated, blind chaos was a thing that was started in 2009 and ran, I think, pretty much every year until the forums/site was rebooted. The basic premise is record roughly 36 minutes of something and someone mixes it all together into an RPM Album.

I’ve never done one of these before. This, or something similar, has gone on more or less every year that I’ve been paying attention.  If I decide to submit a contribution I would just plug in my guitar, hit record, and make noises for 36 minutes.  Those noises can be musical or not, or some combination of both.  When I first read that forum post a couple of weeks ago I was pretty intrigued by the idea.  What would I do?  Noodle?  Crank the amp and get as much glorious feedback as possible?  Kick on a delay pedal and make as much glorious self oscillation noise as possible?  Some combination thereof?

I don’t know what I’d do if I even did it, and I don’t know if I want to do it or not.  Maybe if I finish absolutely everything on the musical agenda before we leave for Florida.  Not likely, but maybe.

What’s Going On With #RPM2020

That was a good weekend.  My wife wanted to do two things to celebrate her birthday.  She wanted to stay in her pajamas for the whole weekend, and she wanted to work.  Those wouldn’t be my choices, but she’s a genius and she’s amazing and if that’s what she wanted to do to celebrate her birthday, that’s what we were going to do!

I cleaned the bathroom, I went to weight watchers, I went to the gym, I went grocery shopping, I did laundry, I washed dishes, I watched Kill Bill vol 1 and vol 2, and I played shit loads of guitar.  All that while my beloved wife stayed in the office solving all of her company’s issues while wearing her pajamas.

When I went to sleep on Friday I had 10 ideas in progress.  Nine had the song form sketched out and two had their rhythm guitar parts down.  Fast forward to Monday morning and I have 13 songs in progress, 12 have their song form sketched out, 10 have all of their rhythm guitar parts, one has all of it’s vocals, and one has some of it’s vocals.  Of the three remaining guitar-less songs, one will be electric, one will be acoustic, and one will… I don’t know yet.  Maybe acoustic?

I recorded the 12-string acoustic guitar using a Shure SM57 microphone and I doubled each track.  I am not very good at recording an acoustic because I am pretty undisciplined and I move around a lot.  I might have the guitar positioned correctly relative to the mic when I start playing only to find when I finish a take I’ve moved about 20 miles away (figuratively).

I’m also woefully under-experienced playing acoustic.  There’s a volume/touch sensitivity relationship that I just don’t get.  When I play an electric through an amp I can use a very soft pick attack and still produce a nutso level of volume.  I just turn the knob and there it is.  When I play acoustic, my brain still expects the volume but I can’t get it by picking softly.  As a result, I find that I am rarely able to pick softly.  I end up slamming the strings like a sledgehammer smashing up asphalt.  I just beat the crap out of the guitar.  That results in two things: a pathetic lack of dynamics in the recording, and very tired arms.

As for electric guitar parts, last year I limited myself in the gear I could use.  I had one guitar, one amp, and three pedals; a Klon style overdrive, a phaser, and a wah.  As things were moving this year I found that I was constantly using the same gear, basically mirroring what I had last year.  I used the same guitar on every track, two amps instead of one, a Klon style overdrive pedal, and a phaser and a wah.  Interesting to note that none of the gear I have used this year was used last year.  Everything is different but somehow the same.

The phaser and the wah are used for effect, not so much for tone.  The stuff I am doing on the recording doesn’t sound like what I do in the band.  In the band there is tons of distortion.  In the recording it’s only a small step or two dirtier than clean.  I made a conscious decision to change that up toward the end of my playing last night.  I brought in a second overdrive pedal and I used a couple of additional effects, just to shake things up.  I still have one electric rhythm guitar part to record, and I hope to add two more to the list before I’m done.  I’m going to try and shake things up on those too.  I’m hoping that one will get a fuzz box.  Maybe not for the whole song, but at least part of it.

The vocal stuff so far has been the same as always.  I sit in front of a mic (a Shure SM57 instead of my usual Shure SM58) and sing the first thing that pops into my head as I listen to the song.  Last year I played with the idea of coming up with a melody using a keyboard and then writing lyrics that fit.  I still want to do that, I just haven’t had the time.

This morning I cranked out a vocal part quickly.  I wrote melody and lyrics for two verses, a bridge, and a chorus, and recorded two vocal tracks for each, some doubling and some in harmony.  It went quickly and easily and I had a few minutes to spare before I had to leave for work so I started a second song.  I came up with something that, in my head, sounded cool.  Unfortunately the rhythm I was singing turned out to be a pain in the ass.  The song is in 7/4 time and I had it so that the end of the first line is sung on top of the start of the second line, and I kept on screwing up when the second line enters.  I eventually got it for the first half of the first verse, but I had to leave for work.

As always, the vocal part is what scares me the most.  I’m not good at it and I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoy playing the guitar, or building the bed tracks, or mixing.  It takes the most time and gives me the least reward.  I also can’t take a day off from work to do it all at once because I’m already taking a week off for Disney World.  I need to either record vocals before work in the morning, like I did today, or I have to drive to some secluded place and record while sitting in my car.  I might end up doing both.  We’ll see.

I also need to get all of this done, including the lead guitar and the saxophone, before we leave for Florida.  I’m planning on using bed time in Florida to mix at least some of the songs, and then using the tiny window of time after we get home to finish off the last of it.  I need absolutely all of the tracking to be complete before we leave.  I can’t very well record vocals during vacation… unless Mickey wants to join in.

Thematically, I am still on the half electric, half acoustic bandwagon.  I’m also wondering if I might monkey with the acoustic songs a little.  Once I have all of the mixing done, I might replace the percussion track with an actual drum kit, and add a bass guitar.  If time allows I might replace the sax with guitar too.  I would end up with two entirely different versions of the same song.  Only the acoustic guitar and the vocals would be the same.  Think of the alternate mixes as a mini-album within a mini-album.

That’s a lot of shit to do with very little time left to do it.  What the hell am I thinking?