So I put out a new album recently called “Sarcasm”:
Here’s the background story and some insider nerdish details…
I write a lot of songs – I can’t help it. Some are straight ahead pop, some are “quirky,” and some are what I call “post prog.” I’ve composed thousands, though many are lost in the ocean waves of my brain. But I do keep a spreadsheet of “songs I should properly record someday before I die.” This album contains a dozen of such entries, mostly written in the 1990’s.
My friend and musical comrade for decades, Jai Young Kim, has a studio in San Francisco. I booked a day there in advance with not much of a plan. As that date approached (April 29th, 2018) I hastily came up with a half dozen songs from my to-do list and figured I could at least track some drums for those. I half-assedly practiced those the week leading up to the session.
During the session I set a low bar for performance quality, so I wrapped up work on several takes of these tunes before the end of my allotted time. And so I also hastily laid down some unrehearsed versions of other tunes from my list. Two of them I didn’t even bother setting up a click track – Jai Young just hit record and I bashed out a single take in one shot. And since Jai Young had a working hammond organ I decided to tackle “Escaping to the Mall” and tracked both drums and organs for that lickety split.
I took these basics back to my studio. Excited by these fresh song skeletons, I quickly added some initial guitar/bass parts for “Recognized” and “Windows 3.1” but then life and other projects took over so I sat on this album for a while. Then the pandemic struck – this plus a horrendously sprained ankle which kept me immobile for months meant my creative mojo disappeared completely.
But the muses eventually sprang back to life, inspired to finish things I already started. Plus Jenya and I have been killing a lot of time during the interminable lockdown singing karaoke in our studio so my voice was in unexpectedly good shape. This album got put back on a front burner, with a couple more tunes added to the fold to make it a “full” album. I went into full assembly line mode for a month – working the regular SETI job all day, then spending 2-3 hours a night tracking all the various bits and pieces, followed by a few weeks of mixing, editing, mastering, etc. etc. And that’s that.
And here’s some “behind the scenes” notes for the individual tunes:
1. Alternative Song – there’s sort of an easter egg in the cover photo of this record: a picture of my silly face circa 1991 in the background. That photo was taken the same year I wrote this tune, which was in response to listening to a lot of Smiths at that time. I distinctly remember scribbling down those dramatic lyrics while in a lonely Binghamton laundromat at night waiting for my clothes to dry.
2. Increasing Numbers – a song created during the early days of the Immersion Composition Society. On December 8th, 2001 to be exact. The original was sloppily recorded on 4-track – I longed a more hi-fi version. I still have my Nord Lead synth from back then, and happily used the same woozy patch for the crazy solo at the end. The drum track is one take, no click.
3. Windows 3.1 – as described in the “liner notes” I swear to god I wrote this song in the early 90’s. At that point I was utterly resentful how I invested all my youthful computer geek years becoming both an Apple II and Commodore Amiga expert, only to have the world stupidly adopt Microsoft as the OS purveyor of choice. Then Windows ’95 came out. I just threw up my hands and gave up on the planet and this song went into hibernation.. until now!
4. Recognized – one of many bitter 90’s indie rock tunes from my Midline Errors period. The original had hateful lyrics so I wholesale replaced those like 10 years ago. I always really liked this tune and I’m happy it finally got to see the light of day.
5. Watching the News – another ICS creation, written on January 18th, 2003. The original 4-track version is available elsewhere on my bandcamp page but I always wanted to clean this song up for more appropriate public consumption. I could have, perhaps should have, rewritten the lyrics for this but for some reason did not.
6. Making Love to a Policeman – another mopey 90’s tune that asks the question: “how can anybody trust the love of a fascist?” That’s more of my precious Nord Lead synth creating the chaos and fog in the background. One of the few songs on this albums that I performed live in front an audience many years ago.
7. Florida – my sophomore year dormmate in college had a visiting friend who wrote silly crass poetry. As a challenge I came up with these chords and melodies to accompany his rude verse. A couple years later I eventually composed my own lyrics for this tune, now about vacationing in Florida. The topic was tongue-in-check back then, even more so now. I think the “Sarcasm” album title applies mostly to this song. There is a four track version of this song I recorded in 1991 which is a peppy version of this with a double-time feel. I like the more laid back mood presented here.
8. My Ass is Beautiful – a song created on September 22, 2001 during my very first ICS session! I did perform this song once live a year or two later – I wildly danced on stage during the intro and kinda stunned the unprepared audience. Like “Numbers” this drums track is also one take, no click. Maybe that’s obvious.
9. Mine – back during the Mumble & Peg days I bought a used 4 string Warwick to became my main bass axe – and this was the first song I wrote on it. Unfortunately that Warwick is now strung up to be tuned in fifths, so instead I used my 5 string Ibanez to track this tune (which was annoying as the parts are really much easier to play on a 4 string). The lyrics were an exercise to write something meaningful without ever using the words “I” or “you.”
10. Weighted Wings – straight up pop tune written back in college. I guess I was trying to mimic REM a bit in feel but with Lebofsky-esque chords and melody. One of those songs where the lyrics kinda wrote themselves as I was strumming alone in my bedroom. Whereas I’m normally a complete control freak and could give you a full paragraph explaining every line sung in every song I write, I admit I don’t really know the importance of “weighted wings.” There I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest.
11. I’m Only Having Fun – as noted in the “liner notes” this is one of those stray tunes that evolved as it bounced from project to project. It was performed live once with Jenya on drums/voice and me on Warr guitar/voice. Good to finally get a “proper” ornate version of this out there. This is proof that I’m totally down to write two chord songs.
12. Escpaing to the Mall – one more ICS tune, written on the same day as “Increasing Numbers.” In fact, the dreamy coda at the end is lifted directly from the original 4-track version, clams and all, and drenched in 20 second reverb. Yet another song about suburban ennui, which is a common theme across my whole ouevre.