Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Black tape for a blue girl : In the studio - Sailor Boy, working version #1

Hi. This blog is the first installment in an ongoing series of "Black tape for a blue girl : In the studio" blogs. The idea is to bring you into the creative process of 10 Neurotics, our upcoming album. A few days ago I was brainstorming with Shea at Projekt and we hit upon the idea of letting you hear the songs in progress as they go from sketches to finished pieces. It seems like an interesting opportunity for you to peek in on my creative process.

(I am noticing that this blog quickly heads onto tangents, so if you are in a hurry, when you see [SKIP] feel free to jump ahead one paragraph).

In the last six weeks, the percentage of my time spent in the studio has drastically increased. I am thinking about music all the time.

[SKIP] Let me set the scene. I am sitting in my apartment in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It's a lovely apartment, all 400 square feet of it! And it's a 2 bedroom... two teeny tiny bedrooms! I am at the dining room table which doubles as my computer desk, drinking a Leffe (my friends Barb & Dave recently introduced me to this wonderful Belgian creation!) and streaming my fave internet radio station SomaFm Drone Zone. I just walked home from my studio which is three minutes away. That was the main reason I picked this apartment, walking distance to the studio! I was over there NOT working on Black tape for a blue girl, but preparing a new As Lonely As Dave Bowman track that might appear on a fundraiser CD for WWUH's Ambience program. [end SKIP]

In the studio tonight, I prepared the first file for IN THE STUDIO. The song is named "Sailor Boy" and this MP3 is of the June 21st 2008 mix of the song. Keep in mind that this is NOT the final version. It is a file of the song in progress: a snapshot in the process of the creation of the song. Those are NOT the final vocals, either. Those are my guide vocals. The MP3 is a one-minute segment snipped from the mix, an edit from the first couple of verses and the first half of the break.

I render MP3s of the songs in progress so I can take them home and listen to them, work on lyrics, send off to friends, etc. I was about to write "Sailor Boy was one of the first tracks started for the album," but I wanted to confirm that. When I looked at the old Vegas sessions (I record in the software Sonic Foundry's Vegas), I uncovered the following start dates on the oldest tracks of the album:

"In Dystopia" February 2007
"I Strike You Down" March 2007
"Inch Worm" April 2007
"Marmalade Cat" January 27, 2008
"Sailor Boy" February 24, 2008

This means that "Sailor Boy" is actually the 5th oldest song. There are currently 16 tracks I am working on, so it puts it in the first third.

[SKIP] Here's a brief rundown on the other early start date tracks. I created "In Dystopia" when I was putting together Revue Noir's Anthology Archive. The song originated in 2005, when Nicki was at my studio and we recorded a take of her strumming through a song she had been working on. It remained dormant & almost forgotten for years. When I was searching the computer for archival material for AA, I found the .wav file with a name like "Nicki guitar thing." I took the editing scalpel to the file and created the sequence and flow of the final track. After much consideration, I decided NOT to write vocals for it nor include it on the AA album -- because I wanted to be an archivist and stick to the material Revue Noir actually created and performed during its lifespan. The lyrics for "In Dystopia" evolved over time; we'll save that for a future blog when I discuss lyrics. I am recording Nicki singing the song this weekend.

"I Strike You Down" is a song I created for the Projekt200 compilation. It was sung by Elysabeth and is very sparse, musically. I am talking with Brian about ways to revamp it to fit into 10 Neurotics, as the version on Projekt200 is not stylistically apropo to the 10N sound. "Inch Worm" is the song that has been tormenting me for ages. I see that it's been 21 months!!! I began the song on the keyboards as a stylistic follow-up to "Knock Three Times," yet it has long been my goal to down-play my electronics and turn it into an acoustic-based song. I recently achieved this goal with considerable head scratching, brute force and mental willpower.

"Marmalade Cat" is the first song I wrote on the guitar - a cute pean to an even cuter furry friend. (Oh, wait.... actually.... the first song I wrote on the guitar was back in 1989 during the recording of Ashes in the brittle air, a song called (I think) "The sound of waves," which Loren sang. It didn't make it onto the album, but I am thinking of one day putting it up at iTunes as there is an "alternate version" of the entire Ashes album, with a number of unreleased songs on it). [end SKIP]

And then you have "Sailor Boy." "Sailor Boy" was the second song I wrote on the acoustic guitar for 10 Neurotics.

"Sailor Boy" started, as all my songs do, with me playing around, trying some notes together and seeing what sounds pleasing to my ears. I detuned some of the strings to make an interesting chord and started a picking pattern in 3, giving it that waltzy/sailor sound. I created the first 45 seconds of the song, but then I sort of hit a wall. A few days later my friend Ken came over, and he played some guitar parts that overlaid my tracks, and that pushed the song along. Then I wrote the break section which is where this MP3 fades out.

[SKIP] Now, why is this song called "Sailor Boy?" Well..... it just feels like a sailing song to me! There are certain songs I have written, which open up an oceanic feeling in my mind. "One last breath" is one of them.... "With my sorrows" is another. I feel that the watery mood of those songs led to the lyrics I wrote for them. Unlike other musicians, I don't come up with words & melody first. I come up with the chord changes and pretty much record the entire song (at least all of my parts) before I get a feeling for the mood and start with the words. [end SKIP]

And what are the words?

On the MP3 you hear my guide vocals. I am not singing the song on the album. They are there to give the vocalists the melody, and get the structure of the song together. Here are the lyrics from the MP3:

As lover, I'm shit. She's always known it.
She craves confusion, I aid her delusion.
the sailor boy, her sailor boy.
(I snipped six lines out of the MP3 here)
I chose when I hurt her, I chose when she smiles.
There's annihilation here, the love I defile.
la bah da bahbah da bah bahda bahhhhh
bah bah da bahbah bah bah bahda bah....
I lose my need for her, lose my feelings.
Lose myself in this puddle of drugs.

The funny thing is those "bahs" in there. I was emailing with Simone from Italy's Spiritual Front in June, and he asked to hear my idea for the song. One morning, I laid in these guide vocals really quick so I could send the file to him. I wasn't pleased with the lyrics I had been writing for those two lines; for the guide, I tossed in a melody real quick with "bah bah's" instead of words.

EVERY person who subsequently heard the song said "I love those Bah da bahbah's! You have to leave them in!" Ok! I figured my friends were crazy! ;-) My friend Edin said the same thing when he heard it, and that afternoon - when Brian and I were discussing the song in the studio - he also said, "Man, you gotta keep those in there!" I figured if every person liked them, there must be something going on that I was missing.

Creativity really involves a lot of chance, random events and mistakes! I was missing it because of the intention with which I laid them in there, rather than the end result of what I had done. "So," I said to myself, "why not give it a go and use those Bahs?"

To me, they didn't make sense in the middle of a verse, so in the next version of the file, you will see that I moved them to the end. Suddenly, they became the deranged rantings of the overbearing, self-possessed sailor boy as he stumbled around in his puddle of drugs!

In future MP3s, you'll hear how they become the chorus and gain significance in the song.

[SKIP] The interesting thing about "Sailor Boy," and other songs on 10N, is that they have grown over time. I will admit that in the past, most of the songs came out of my head in a burst of spontaneity. I recorded them, and they harden quickly into their final form, like plaster. In the old days, this was due to recording on porta-studio and then 1/2" 8-track. I never rehearsed a song before recording, like I did with Nicki in Revue Noir. With these new songs, they have grown over time evolving into better songs. That's exciting for me! And I think it makes for better music for you.

Ok. I just stopped and checked my inbox and there's a message from Nicki saying she likes the mix of "Rotten Zurich Cafe," the newest song on the album. Laurie got the email with an MP3 of the guide vocals for a new track. Brian received the CD-R of new songs we're working on in the studio next week. Fun. Fun. See! I told you I've got music on the brain over here! [end SKIP]

Next installment of this blog will be uploaded in a week or so. In it, Brian suggests some tweaks to the structure of "Sailor Boy," and we add his drums at Martin's studio.


1 comment:

  1. Natalie in Florida ( 6, 2009 at 12:10 PM

    Hi Sam! Although you mentioned those aren't the final vocals for "Sailor Boy," I must say I like them and hope you include them in the final version of the song. I also agree with your friends on the "Bah da bahbah's", they give the song character! Hope you're doing well, take care!