Thursday, July 29, 2010

it's not enough

i remember the very moment this song came to me...

driving up the slope of our street
Gavin in the backseat
past a gigantic house on my right
with the yellow Hummer in the drive
and a giant inflatable Statue of Liberty
in the front yard

"get born, get ahead
snatch it all up like they's not enough"

April 2, 2oo8
i was leaving for Austin
to record with Billy Harvey
in about a week
this one came spilling out
in a flash
i made a demo for Billy right away
it felt good to write quickly again
"the Man Who Learned to Love"
had preceded this one by only 5 days
i felt like i was on a roll
going to make a record with a songwriter as good as B.H.
inspired me
i didn't want to show up with B-grade stuff
when i pictured myself playing him songs i knew were just "ok"
looking down at my shoes in embarrassment
and making disclaimers
the thought horrified me
i was determined (even with plenty of time constraints)
to show up with as many good songs as i could muster up

"it's Not Enough"
turned out to be the bear of the bunch
the most difficult one to record mainly because of the sprawling
song-within-a-song psychedelic middle section
we wrestled with that section up until the very end
i loved the harmony vocals Billy put in that part
i kept asking for Lars Goransson, who was finishing the mix on it
finally we just put Billy front and center
and shoved my lower vocal to the side
if i'd had it my way Billy's voice would have carried the entire bridge

"when i was a boy
laying in the grass
i would always dream
of what i didn’t have"

a subtle nod to the Nourallah Brothers "those days are gone"

"i’m an old man now
and the flowers are in bloom
and all the pretty young things
pass by my window
...i’d gladly give up my soul for another go"

another nod
but to Bob Schneider's beautiful, poignant and funny "Swimsuit Season"

the recording features our 1st usage of the Optigan
with a loop on the chorus we snagged off of it
Billy played the wicked bass part
i played the main electric guitar
i never cared for my lead vocal much on this one
so i kept having Lars and Billy lo-fi it up
with distortion and EQ
still wish i'd sang it again
oh, well...

ce la vie!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

dreaming of carter

this is a re-post from 5/18/08

something happened to me this morning
that's never happened to me before
not once in 14, 600 days here
i woke up crying
sobbing in fact
i was dreaming of carter
begging him not to leave
he was there
clear as day
we'd been hanging out talking
but then he said he had to go
when the light hit my eyes
tears were streaming down my face
it was terrible

i got to billy's around 1:30
we decided to turn our attention ro "the man who learned to love"
as it was the starkest of the bunch
only some fingered picked acoustic guitar so far
lead vocals and a slight bit of synths billy had put down quickly
at the end of last night's session
it wasn't "doing it" for either of us
something was just slightly not kick ass enough
so billy said
"how 'bout we start over?"
sounded good to me
so i re-cut my acoustic part
this time on an epiphone he's strung with flat wound strings
to give it kinda of a duller more muted sound
i re-sang the lead vocal
on the groove tubes AM61 again
this vocal was a definite improvement
already the song was sounding a lot better
then i asked billy to sing the harmonies instead of me
we doubled tracked a few throughout the song
and once again the mojo of our two voices together
was working in spades
the song was really beginning to sound good now
but the real push over the top came when billy started playing his
j-45 acoustic
he instantly came up with a part that took what we were doing from
pretty good to pretty badass
we worked on that for about an hour and then decided to take a break
it was around 7pm now
we went up to a bohemian coffee shop
the kind that you would only find in austin
all kinds of arty bored kinds hanging about
listening to music
and killing time
it was actually kind of an amusing scene
like we'd stepped into some sort of '80's john waters film
but i enjoyed getting something different than what you get in dallas
post zen bohemia we went back to billy's house
we only had half an hour before he had to leave
to work on his own record
at craig ross' house
i asked billy to put some harmony vocals on
"in the blink of an eye"
i turned the lights down in the front room
and opened the front door
the cool breeze blew in
while i sat in the orange striped chair
and listened with headphones
the song took me back
it sounded so inviting and warm
i thought of carter again
and how much i miss him

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

in the blink of an eye

overcome by sadness
i sat on the pale green couch in our living room
and these words came out

"you’re gone now, you're gone
you’re gone in the blink of an eye"

Ryann told us Carter had made a pact with her
that if something ever happened to one of them
they would leave feathers as a sign
to show that they were still out there

my son happily played in the living room
while this song about my dead friend came to me
then he said "daada, what is this?"
and pulled a long white feather out of the vase
on the coffee table in front of me

it's hard for me to say too much more about this song
here instead is an excerpt that refers to its recording with Billy Harvey:

sunday april 13, 2008

"let's do, blink of an eye" billy said
"ok...why not?" i thought
billy told me to play it for him
right there on the couch in the living room
after i rang the last chord he mentioned some things about the structure
so we worked on that a bit
then i went into the vocal room
and started playing it live
he got a click track going for me
which made me laugh
i said he didn't have to do that
he said he wanted to
i gotta admit
it felt good having back my "brassiere"
we spent about an hour working on getting the right tempo
and fiddling with the song structure
once we had a good take
we started overdubbing
it was off to the races
everything we did worked instantly
and it felt kinda like we'd been making music together for much longer
than 1 and a half days
billy came up with another super cool
piano part
really evocative and haunting
i picked up the foot long casio sk-1 and the first sound i chose
was perfect for this little part i was thinking about
it was just one of those days
everything we did was easy
and toward the end something happened to me
that has never happened in all my years of making music
billy was playing his hofner electric guitar
and then i closed my eyes
and it sounded exactly like carter
although billy had never met him or seen him play before
what he was playing sounded identical to carter's very
distinctive way of bending notes
and then i was overtaken
i couldn't help it
tears welled up and there i was
sitting behind billy
crying like a baby
it felt like carter was right there with us
i will never forget that moment

it has already made all of this more worthwhile
than i could have ever imagined

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

be here now

"it's such a beautiful day
why am i so far away?

...i want to be here now"

struggling with some sort of A.D.D. has been a challenge
especially now that i'm a father
i want to experience each and every moment with my children
free from the endless mental chatter
that comes with being a "grown up" trying to survive in a grown up world
thinking about mortality
bills to pay
wasting days
jury duty
worn out shoes
money coming in
money going out
is Jayme cooking?
phone calls
unfinished songs
conversations gone wrong
errant software
empty radiators
doing the dishes
lack of insurance
it never ends
it never stops
it's never enough
it's always too much
one minute i'm sitting in my son's room playing with him
next minute i'm gazing slack jawed out the window
lost in a sea of useless thoughts
why all the maneuvering?
the pushing
the pulling
the doing...
are we humans or humants?
running around
grabbing this
collecting that
but all the while
what do we ever really have?
all we have is this very moment
and look
now it's gone
did you soak it all in
as good as you could?

an excerpt posted on 5/15/08 about the recording of "B.H.N."

i woke up with this sentence stuck in my cranium

"i wanna give in to the moment of my choosing"

i know
it may not sound like much
but this has been my struggle
in real life
and also with this song
it was the line i needed to finish "be here now"
it was so simple
but so elusive
the key to finishing the chorus
the whole point
i'd been wrestling with this lyrical bear
for months
it felt good to get another message from lalaland
thank you lala nourallah

when i got to billy's house
i re-cut the vocal on b.h.n. with the final lyrics
then we worked on some electric guitar
he played his hofner galaxy through this badass boss re-20 delay
the sound was gigantic
when he gets on the guitar
the fun especially begins
that's his #1 instrument and it shows
he's brilliant
after that we put down some electric piano
a part i know rip (r.r. to you diehards) will dig
very supertramp!
i thought of him the whole time
more indian food followed
(i know i know, typical)
at the star of india buffet this time
(i only made one trip friends...)
and a good lefler style hang at momo's after that
for kacey crowley's cd release show
her and her band sounded amazing

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

stranger in my own skin

in 25 years my father has never attended a single one of my shows
he's done plenty of other things that i appreciate though
so i'm mostly ok with it now
music is such an important part of my life
in the past i struggled to understand why he chose to do this
it hurt me
i wished he could've been more involved in my life
but the again, it's inspired me to be different with my kids

for years i threw press clippings related to my music
into a large green box
the box sat in a corner of Pleasantry Lane
a couple of years ago my friend Lisa
gave me a really thoughtful Christmas present
she started a scrapbook for me with show paraphernalia, set lists, reviews
and some pics
it got me thinking that it would be nice to pull out all that stuff
sitting in the green box
and make a nice scrapbook out of it
maybe years later my son could see what his old man was up to
when he was a kid
a nice idea, yeah, but a big time suck of an undertaking
especially for someone with no extra time to spare
Jayme swooped in to the rescue
she offered to help me out - which made it all possible
still it felt kind of strange and adult/boring dropping G off with his Grandparents one afternoon
so we could go home and scrapbook
once we emptied the contents of the green box
and finished the book i was kinda proud of it
it was a lot of work in the non ditch digging variety
J's pages looked especially awesome and arty
it had sentimental value to me
it contained a lot of stuff that sort of summed up most of what i'd been up to
since i'd left El Paso
i wanted to share it with my parents
i wanted them to be proud of me
to say i hadn't wasted my life chasing around foolish dreams

one afternoon i took my son by to see them and i brought the book along too
i was excited and nervous about sharing it with them
while i watched my father uncomfortably skim through it
in about 3 minutes flat
i had a sort of out of body experience
i saw the little kid that i used to be
being dropped out of a space ship over the Franklin Mountains
i saw that kid being raised in El Paso
all those years feeling like an alien
like a stranger in his own house
like a stranger in his own skin
when i left my parents house that day
i might as well have gotten into a spaceship
and shot off to Mars
i felt like they had no idea what i did with my life
while i was anywhere else but sitting in front of them
in their own living room

on the way home from my parent's house that day
"stranger in my own skin" came to me
i wrote it straight away once i got home

here's a bit about the recording of stranger - originally posted on 4/17/08:

we started at 5:30
i was feeling a little uptight
about tracking one of the best songs
i feel like i've ever written
"stranger in my own skin"
it came out in 10 minutes
one evening a couple of months ago
after a visit to my parent's house
billy told me at the end of yesterday's session
"let's do stranger tomorrow..."
the past 24 hours thinking about it
iced me
when i showed up
he says
"i'm feeling like pictures tonight"
i felt relieved for some reason
so i happily started playing that one
even though in me heart i felt like it was half the song
billy got out his orange framus electric
and totally bad-ass guitar
and pondered the end of my bridge
after about 15 minutes he suddenly changes direction
"let's do stranger!"
i'm totally relaxed now
ready to tackle it
and guess what?
it was the easiest one to date
a little strum strum on billy's j-45
the tempo there right away
3 vocal takes
then billy puts down some spacey electric guitar
in 2 takes
discovers two new amazing melodies
that immediately unlock the atmospheric world
this song is going to live in
then some fender rhodes electric piano from billy
in 1 take
i hear a wurlitzer part and put it down
billy sings some incredible harmonies
in just 4 hours we have one of the most developed
great sounding recordings of the batch

Thursday, July 01, 2010

western hills

Western Hills was the name of the elementary school i attended in El Paso
from kindergarten through 5th grade
roughly 1972 to 1978
it was at the very bottom of the steep hill of a street we lived on
called Constellation
6224 to be exact
from the patio on the East side of our house
you could see right down the middle of El Paso del Norte "the pass of the north"
the copper refinery Asarco loomed way off in the distance
its huge smokey chimneys towering over the banks of the Rio Grande
the lights of Juarez stretched out beyond the factory and into blackness
it was an incredible view i probably took for granted most of my life

from my bedroom window, facing North
stood the Franklin mountains
they partially adorn the Constellation album cover
lifted from a Polaroid taken by my mother
around 1970
the city no longer looks like it does in this picture

this song originally had an entirely different lyric
i really struggled to find words i liked to fit the chorus melody
the "western hills, western hills, western hills i'm there still..." refrain
finally came to me one morning
i'd obsessed over it for weeks
after that it was off to the races
the words came pouring out
a sister song of sorts to "1978"
it opens with a recollection of being in 1st grade
with my face hogging glasses
the beginning of feeling different from the other kids

"brother F is crying from a bullies’ rock
i’m the lone avenger with revenge to plot"

one day i came home from school and my brother was crying loudly
he must've only been in 2nd or 3rd grade
he told me Chad Sorenson had thrown a boulder on him
the next day i punched Chad in the face
and told him to never mess with my kid brother again
when F was a teen he got his nose broken by a kid who was trying to impress
his sister with his ability to throw a left hook
the kids parents said they'd pay for F's nose fix
since it was obviously their son's wrongdoing
they quickly changed their minds and stopped returning phone calls about it
i then cooked up a scheme to steal the bullies' guitars and give them to my brother
as payback
it was one of the dumbest things i've ever done

"sitting on the blacktop at the end of class
betting if the jam was better than the clash"

in the days of my youth
endless hours of musical debate took place
mainly between my brother and i
sometime with our friend Jeff G. included
we really did once go album by album
song by song
to try to determine who was better
the Jam or the Clash
we also tried to figure out if U2 or the Alarm would be better
if they just swapped lead singers

"under cover ear pressed to the radio
cutting off transmission of guitar solo"

i did have an old transistor radio
that i'd listen to at night
under the covers
with the volume turned way down low
as to not arouse the suspicion of my parents
i'd pick up stations from Colorado
like KCOS and KOA
high school basketball
the Denver Nuggets and the Alan Berg show
(Berg later took 13 bullets in his driveway for being a liberal)
El Paso radio was all heavy metal and classic rock shite
from an early age i developed a hatred for the guitar solo
i decided it was an instrument vital to this crap medium
i really would literally turn the dial if one came on
when i started writing songs later
i intentionally left out guitar solos
please take note of the lack of guitar solo on this recording
as well as the 11 other songs on Constellation!
Billy did however sneak a banjo on to "Western Hills
how he made that god awful instrument sound cool is a true testament to his genius!

excerpt from the recording of "Western Hills" 5/15/08

i didn't sleep well last night
a bass part idea
for "western hills"
looped in my brain
for 12 hours
over and over
and over again
it tormented me
i woke up at 7am
after a fitful night
of tossing and turning
with "bah da bah da"
thumping in my brain
all night long
we went to borden creek
for some breakfast taco galore
bass loop still going full throttle
driving me nutso
i was beginning to even get a little snappy
when it took half an hour for our tacos to arrive
ready to go off on someone with a tofu stick!
at 2pm i finally found peace
billy put me out of my misery
by letting me tack this instrumental idea
onto the end of "western hills"
and my bass loop jumped from my brain
and into the song
i was able to finally let go of my little thumping buddy!!
we worked another 3 hours on "w.h."
added the wah-wah trumpet from the wurlitzer
and a few other things
we agreed it sounded great and then moved on