From Anecdotes

Anecdotes #6 – 1981

I said a few posts back I was just gonna do singles for a while. You know what? I thought I’d be into it, but I’ve found it’s just leaving me a bit unfocused and scattered. So I’ve canned a few of the tunes I was gonna release – at least for now – and decided to go head-first into making a new record.

Went through the old bucket of demos the other night and pulled out a dozen or so songs I think could work together in kind of a new-wave/not-quite-synth-pop kind of way. Put together Simple Minds, Depeche Mode, early U2, Devo, the Police, etc, and ruin it all with my voice, essentially…

Started with a song I wrote 20 years ago originally as ‘Synthesis’, and later renamed ‘Ideal Standard’. It was a dischordant, droning guitar thing, based around the kind of evil notes you usually hear in Black Sabbath songs but turned into indie rock. (Listen to the original demo here – be warned, it’s two decades old and none of the instruments are in tune with each other…)

I recorded a synth-heavy version for 2001’s first Luna Spark EP ‘Sarah’ using music software on the original PlayStation, hilarously enough. It all sounded pretty awful, using cheesy distorted beats and terrible samples.

Spent the past couple of days arranging a new version – I guess it’s the third time I’ve recorded it, so it should get a third name, how about ‘1981’? The name would fit, with the song now having chorused Fender-style guitar, an army of CS-80 synths and reverb/echo you could drown in.

Used a trick I once heard Sonic Youth use – mixed in some of the 2001 version into this one, heavily reverbed/echoed, to fill space in some of the quieter moments. It adds a layer of murk that can be hard to achieve when you’re recording alone at home on a computer. It’s a trick I think I’ll use a lot on this album – takes away some of the glossy sheen. I mean, I’m going for glossy sheen, but it’s too easy to end up with something sterile when you’re working digitally, eh.

Anyway, I’ve lined up a new single for release next month – a brand new tune, as in written in the near past, not 20 years ago – called ‘Does Anyone Remember Helen Clark, Bobby Fischer or 9/11?’ Yes, really. That’s the title. Taking my time with the release to see if I can get it on any playlists, etc.

Anecdotes #5 – September 27, 2020 – The Queenmaker

I put out this song ‘The Queenmaker’ a few years ago, but was never happy with the recording. It’s a bit amateur, you know? Recorded a new version that didn’t make the cut for Bunkerland, since it was a bit on the pop side.

Today I replaced all the digital-recorded guitars with versions recorded through my new amp, then remixed the vocals and holy shit – it’s probably, soundwise, the best thing I’ve ever done. The song is catchy as hell – that’s apparent in the old version – but was never gonna be a ‘hit’ recorded that way.

Pretty stoked with how this new version’s come out…

Also did a bit more mixing on ‘Perimeter’. The drums were just too clean in yesterday’s mix, so listened to the Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Quiet’ then got to work.

Anecdotes #2: August 11, 2020 – Wheel in Rain

Was gonna record the vocals for the track I recorded last week, ‘Reversal’, but decided instead to lay down another song in a similar vein, ‘Wheel in Rain’.

Written around the same time, I figured if the mix I’ve got for ‘Reversal’ works, it would too for this one! So used the same drum mix and acoustic guitar mix, and in place of the electric guitar I added to the right channel last week, instead threw in a tambourine loop.

The melody for this one’s a little more complex than ‘Reversal’, so to beef up whatever weak vocals I lay down, added a simple Moog synth line doubling the melody.

As for the bass, while I like the McCartney-style palm-mute sound, I needed a bit more sustain on this one – so ran it through the Big Muff Deluxe on a light distortion setting. Gave it a slightly more muffled sound, but filled the bottom end out nicely.

I decided the piano sound I got last week wasn’t cutting through, so replaced it with a sharper upright piano. Then for ‘Wheel in Rain’, found a more experimental preset which added a nice subtle psychedelic feel to the tune.

While the piano ran right through ‘Reversal’, it doesn’t in ‘Wheel in Rain’ – so I added a little Polymoog synth hit with a lot of reverb at certain points.

Just when I thought I was finished, I noticed a particularly clumsy chord change from F to Dm7 – so went to re-record it, but my headphones were playing up! Recorded it with the rest of the track playing through the monitors… so if the track ever gets released and you have the kind of ears to hear that kind of stuff…

Songs vs albums

Been thinking recently I might not bother with albums for a bit. You do all these songs, make sure they work as a set, put in so much effort – and no one cares. It sometimes feels like you’ve just thrown 13 great songs to the wolves, on the fire, into a black hole. Wouldn’t it be better to lose just one at a time?

Might just do singles. I have a few hundred songs yet to see the light of day, dozens of others I’ve put out in the past before I really knew how to mix things properly that could do with being redone entirely. Seriously, I could almost do one song a week for the next decade without running out.

I keep spreadsheets of my songs. One is all of them ranked by quality – of the top 10, I’ve only ever released two, and neither in forms I’d consider satisfactory. Perhaps that’s an album. Amongst the rest are about three dozen allocated to a concept triple album.

The rest are grouped according to style/genre, but who really cares about that anymore?


Anecdotes #1: August 4, 2020 – Reversal

This is gonna sound real pretentious, especially considering no one’s likely to read it, but I’ve decided to document what I’m writing and recording in real-time, on this here part of the website.

Background: I’ve got this spreadsheet with every song I’ve ever written (at least those I have documentation for), and a folder of demos dating back to the 1990s. I can’t always remember what I was thinking when I wrote and recorded them, which kind of sucks. Firstly, it’s easier to reproduce a song where you know what the bloody chords are, or how it was done… Secondly, lyrics can become impenetrable with the passage of time removing your state of mind from the context they were written.

I’ve got this new bunch of songs coming out in a couple of days, and it might surprise you I have little memory of how most of them were written – even though the majority were penned in the last few years. I tend to write in bursts – usually in late summer – and haven’t used pen and paper for a few years now.

I like looking at the old songs I wrote the old way, seeing lyrics and chord progressions crossed out and replaced with (usually) better parts. But for a few years now I’ve written pretty much exclusively on the computer – so bad (well, even worse) lyrics are purged forever, and all the chords and melodies are written down in MIDI rather than paper.

It’s certainly much more efficient, but makes it hard to piece together exactly what was going through my mind when it happened! This writing is as much for me as it anyone else – probably even more so!

So with that in mind, here goes. I’ll start with what I did today – August 4, 2020.

Recording ‘Reversal’

After spending the first few months of the year – pre-lockdown – working on the 99 percent electronic Battle Thru Time, and the post-lockdown months on the heavy grunge Bunkerland, I decided to restring my acoustic guitars and chill out a bit.

I’ve got two – one is a steel-string axe I bought in about 2001, covered in nearly two decades of stickers in a layer probably half an inch thick; the other a cheap nylon string guitar I think we bought to let the kids play with.

I went through my spreadsheet and pulled out a song called ‘Reversal’ I wrote in 2013. Around that time I had started writing more using the keyboard to figure out chords and melodies, having written pretty much exclusively on the guitar until 2010 or so. This is a strumalong acoustic song, but with a piano lead part and a tricky melody obviously written on the keyboard, rather than vocally.

I kept the song’s brisk structure largely intact, changing the opening chord to whatever it is when you play an F, but leave the G string open – matching the opening bass note, before hitting the F.

The chords used in the song – F, Am, G, C and Em – frustrated my guitar, which refused to play them all in tune at the same time. I had to do two different takes for each track – one where the guitar was tuned to C, G and Em, and the other to F and Am – then carefully join them together so each sounded like a single take. Worked out quite well. I’ve set up my condenser mic on a kind of extendable mechanical arm thing which can be whipped out when it’s needed and hidden when it’s not. I bet this is just how the Beatles did it…

The nylon guitar had no such tuning issues but didn’t sound as nice, so I ran it through a fuzz pedal VST and panned it hard right (I’m trying to do an L-C-R mixing type thing with acoustic tracks in particular – simplifies things a lot, and definitely adds to the Beatles feel!)

Reversal - Anecdata

The two main acoustic tracks were run through a bit of a Harmonizer, one panned left and the other centred. In the right channel I added a clean electric guitar (the Grungemaster) doing a fingerpicking thing – very rare for me, since I suck at it! But it worked here, kind of murky and buried.

On the past few Anecdata albums the bass parts have been largely programmed – both synth and bass guitar – but wanting a looser feel on this, I played the bass part this time. Good old palm-muting to get that extra McCartney feel of course.

As for the drums, used the ‘tea towel’ setting on Toontrack’s ‘UK Pop’ sample set – for obvious reasons – with some better cymbals from another set. Put the overheads in mono to keep the soundstage clear, lots of tape and compression too.

Later in the afternoon I came back to the mix and decided it needed something else in the middle eight, so turned down the piano in that bit to make way for a bit of fuzz guitar – a lead part mostly following the piano melody, but with a few flourishes. Nice and direct sound, nothing fancy.

Haven’t done the vocals yet. Gotta go over the melody from the demo and simplify it a bit – it has some rather ambitious leaps I know I used software to fix in that recording, and I’d rather not do that anymore! Also, might see if I can jazz up the lyric a bit.

So, that’s today – August 4, 2020. I have no idea if I’ll persist with this nonsense, but I hope I do – even if no one else reads it, I might be interested in it myself one day?