I'll explain later.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
So Cliff was over at the house to work with me on some demos for Skates & Rays, and The Machine had picked this Replacements song for me to do, and I roped him into contributing. Seemed a natural as he's one of the few people I know who agree with me that Don't Tell a Soul is a good album. As a sort of odd unplanned part of the process, all of the drum samples we ended up using were played by Derek, our drummer, so we had unwittingly created a Skates & Rays song. Ooops! But we've never done a thing where Cliff and I switch off vocals Waylon & Willie style, and it's me on the bass and Cliff on lead guitar, so that's new.
In the course of finishing, editing and mixing the track, I had planned to add a second lead guitar to bounce off of Cliff's, and then the little 12-string riff on its own. But Eden and I were at the movies today and I thought she might have fun playing the riff, so she did. And that turned out to be all it needed. Neat how things work out sometimes.
Clifford Ulrich ~ Lead vocals (stereo right), lead guitar (6-string), harmonica
Rex Broome ~ Lead vocals (stereo left), acoustic guitar, bass, backing vocals
Derek Hanna ~ Drums
Eden Hain~ Lead guitar (12-string)
at 10:25 PM
Monday, June 28, 2010
So for this one I did something that I might've been able to do on maybe one or two previous songs, but never have. I knew this song really well, so I decided not to bother to listen to it before working it out. I guessed at the key, choosing something that fit my range and thus was probably the original key since my singing was basically developed from Hitchcock anyhow, and I did look up the lyrics online, but I didn't consult a chord chart or anything. I went by memory... I didn't quite get the chord sequence right, but it worked for the melody line; I couldn't remember the bridge, either, and I think what I played is actually more like the bridge to "He's a Reptile", but then, what isn't?
It ends rather abruptly as Eden sat down beside me and I thought she might need something.
As to the photo, we didn't have any radishes in the house, but we do eat rather a lot of corn.
at 7:43 PM
Sunday, June 27, 2010
I'm actually pretty ignorant of Bob Seger's music-- this song comes from a compilation in my parents' collection-- with the exception of "Old Time Rock & Roll" which I played a million times with Thunderhill. I'm not sure I'd really ever heard this song before. But I connected with it pretty quickly and without overthinking it, and that's often the best way. The vocal was a first take and one of my favorites that I've done so far.
I've mentioned a couple times that I often borrow the early Billy Bragg approach for my voice and guitar performances... this time I went a little too far at a certain point, and I almost ended up literally doing a cover of "Love Gets Dangerous". These things happen.
at 8:02 PM
Saturday, June 26, 2010
It's Day 100 and Song 100 for 39-40. And I get to do The Fall again! The Unutterable is a great, great record, and not necessarily appreciated as such. It doesn't actually get dissed very much, but it comes from such a spotty period in Fall history-- the preceding Levitate is confused at best and the subsequent Are You Are Missing Winner is quite likely the gruppe's worst ever, brilliant title notwithstanding-- and it sounds so unusual for a Fall record that it is a little hard to process. But it is brilliant, totally brilliant, probably in my top 5 personal favorite Fall records.
It is, though, tough to do a Fall cover without sounding like you're doing a bad MES impersonation. It took me a while to land on an approach that did the trick for me. And having done so, I went ahead and recorded the "B-side", a "Part II" whose lyrics were a direct reading of the William Blake poem from which MES cribbed a lot of his original lyrics. That part I totally did as an MES impression. It's long. Is it self-indulgent? Well, I should say so. I've been doing this daily for 100 songs now... I figure I've earned it.
Miranda & Ridley ~ Distorted giggling of the sort that ends up on real Fall tracks
Rex ~ Everything else
Additional lyrics ~ William Blake, from "Song of Liberty"
at 10:23 PM
Friday, June 25, 2010
Yes, it's a karaoke backing track... I had to spend most of my time on this track learning to sing it in Esperanto! Which led down a number of blind alleys. I had Casey's original as a roadmap, but in order not to screw it up-- which seems only fair, since I pronounced yesterday's dada poetry correctly-- I took to the series of tubeses in search of an Esperanto translation engine. It was easily found, but offered translations from English into three different variants of Esperanto, which, for a supposedly universal language, isn't really a good sign. Good job, opposing Esperanto-speaking factions!
But anyhow, none of the translations of the lyrics to "Send in the Clowns" looked anything like what Casey was singing, so it was back to transliteration in the end. And I also learned that singing along with an orchestral backing track is way harder than it might seem, timing-wise. The tempo slides around a lot. It's not just the lack of drums... it's something else, and it gives me a bit more appreciation for singers who have a sharp enough feel for phrasing to do this kind of thing on regular basis.
Backing Track ~ Avid Entertainment
Vocals ~ Rex Broome
at 3:15 PM
Thursday, June 24, 2010
This is kinda weird, because it's actually the second time I've sung these lyrics for 39-40. Way back when we did the Bjork cover with ten million vocals, the kids and I squirreled away some subliminal vocal tracks in foreign languages other than Icelandic... you almost certainly can't hear them, but somewhere on there Miranda's singing a blessing in Hebrew, Eden is reading a translation she'd just done for Latin, and I'm chanting the dada lyrics used in "I Zimbra".
It may not sound like it, but this was a fairly elaborate and challenging project. There are a lot of guitars playing interlocking polyrhythmic riffs and figures on this song-- that's practically why it exists-- and I was interested in distilling them down until they could be played on one guitar. I wanted to make sure that all the major parts were represented one way or another. Sometimes that meant working out ways to play two parts at a time, working a lead figure into a rhythm part, and sometimes it just meant switching parts up every time they came around. I didn't totally nail it, but I learned a lot in the process and I think I'll be able to do this kind of thing better if I try it again.
at 8:40 PM
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
Holy shit that was close. It's a tight squeeze to get the songs done during summer vacation when the kids are home all the time. There are certainly times when they are otherwise occupied and I can steal a moment or two to lay down tracks, but I tend to not want to record my amp most of the time... it just needs to be too loud to not interfere with any activity they might be working on. So my guitar tones for a while are going to be a lot more amp-simulatey than I would like... however, the tone I got today worked out pretty well, and fit with the hack and slash Andy Gill imitation I settled on for the tune. I forget sometimes that I can do that kind of stuff.
But the real problem came about because I'd left the vocals for the end of the day, and with scant hours remaining, the only website with March Violets lyrics, which had been working just fine earlier in the day, went down down down. Now of course I could listen to the tune and transcribe it, but that takes time, and time was dwindling rapidly. I squeaked it out, but I'm going to have to alter my strategy somehow tomorrow. Holy shit that was close.
at 10:37 PM
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
So the scheduling stuff does you in, especially during the summer. Right now I have two kids on summer vacation and one still in school for a week more. Balancing things out, I'd planned on taking the two vacationeers to Disneyland tomorrow, but at the last minute that got changed to today. How to bash out a Bow Wow Wow cover within that time frame? Well, I'll tell you.
Takes about an hour to get to Disneyland from Silver Lake. So before we leave I prep a disc of the song we're going to cover, and a suitably long loop of a drum part at the same tempo, and grab a bunch of percussion instruments and similar stuff, and my laptop, which I hand over to Miranda (9) for the drive. We listen to the original; Miranda learns the guitar part on kazoo, we all get the chain gang vocal bits down, and then Miranda records the whole shebang straight into the laptop using its onboard mic. Later at home, quick as can be, I cut it all together to the original beat, and it probably sounds better than it would have if I'd agonized over a more thoroughly realized concept. The kids are alright.
It was only fairly recently, after hearing "Afrodisiac" in Marie Antoinette, that I realized that Bow Wow Wow actually kicked ass. I think I'd long assumed they were kind of a part of that style-over-substance pop-starry slick side of New Wave for which I had no affinity, Duran Duran or Frankie Goes to Hollywood or some such. Ooops... wrong.
Miranda Broome: Kazoo, vocals, engineering
Ridley Broome: Percussion, vocals
Rex Broome: Vocals, editing and assembly
at 9:44 PM
Monday, June 21, 2010
I'm not entirely sure, but I think this is the first time I've done a second song from a single album, so I'm grateful that it's a great favorite of mine. If I were doing one of those increasingly popular cover-an-entire-album projects, I guess I'd be well on the way to having Dusted in the bag.
This one is a lot more in line with the usual Live Skull MO than "Alive Again" was, so it was fun to work out the odd textural riffs and voicings on two guitars, and I'm damned proud that the "lead" guitar is really close to the actual part on the record. And it was also cool to be able to retain that sense of menace on nothing more than two acoustic guitars. Always a bonus when adding harmonies makes it sound creepier instead of prettier, too.
at 7:00 PM
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Second in the series of "quickies" done before turning the laptop in. In all honesty, the fasted way to get a cover accomplished is obviously as an acoustic strum and sing number, but it's not just playing and singing the thing straight through. That gets better results but typically takes at least five takes before I settle into the tune and play it all the way through without any major mistakes. It's much easier to play the guitar in one take, and then record the vocal in one take. It doesn't necessarily always sound inspired, but in a pinch it gets the job done.
Even then, it's a bit difficult to get myself to leave it alone, but sometimes you just have to.
at 7:16 AM
Saturday, June 19, 2010
My MacBook is approaching being three years old and Applecare is about to run out. In particular the battery's dead and it seemed prudent to take it in for one last workup. I had no way of knowing how long it would be away, so I set out to do some quick and dirty covers to tide 39-40 over in the interrim, so I wouldn't have to start from ground zero setting up my wife's machine for recording. This is the first one.
Lush was my first love among what are now unfortunately almost always known as the "shoegazer" bands; the video for "De-Luxe" on 120 Minutes struck me as powerfully unlike anything I'd ever heard before (and indeed I was at the time ignorant of most of their sound's clearer antecedents). Like most of their contemporaries, they'd fall on hard times as they attempted to grow beyond their original sound, but I maintain a certain emotional attachment to them. Miki Berenyi was one of my first and few musical "crushes": most of the female songwriters and musicians I really admire and love don't seem actually physically attractive to me for some reason-- something about what they do puts them more in the "sister" category for me, whereas actresses and comediennes feel like fair fantasy game-- but Miki did and does, and I remain saddened by the way she seemingly walked away from music after Lush ended in tragedy.
One thing I learned while hunting for artwork: Lush did a cover of "Outdoor Miner" as b-side? How did I miss that for 20 years?
at 9:35 AM
Friday, June 18, 2010
Okay, there are a few unfortunate whack circumstances affecting how this one turned out. The idea was that after a totally live, in-front-of-an-audience, have-to-dress-up-for-it kind of recording, I'd do one that was totally devoid of "real" elements except for my voice.
But after I'd programmed pretty much all of the music, something happened to the session that eradicated it, and I had to do it all again real fast. That is why the music sounds rubbish.
The other thing is the words. The lyrics are apparently in a weird hybrid of Portuguese and Spanish. Nobody in the real world within the sound of my voice was able to clarify them for me, so I did a bunch of translations from both Spanish and Portuguese to English, hoping I could cobble some new approximation of the sense of the thing together. Let me tell you, that sort of thing just doesn't work. What I got was that some kind of police action was carried out against a particular group of rural Brazilians (rendered "rednecks" by one search engine and "bass" by another; Wikipedia clarified who these folks were) resulting in a casualty that sends some kind of political shockwaves through the greater world. Another word was variously defined as "talk" or "phallus", and the nonsensical word "pizza" stubbornly refused to change to anything reasonable in any rendition. Not enough to really work with, so instead I sang all four translations as a sort of pidgin round or something. That is why the words don't make any sense.
I'm sure someone can elucidate the meaning of the song for me, but nobody could in the finite time allowed to me to finish the tune, and at some point you have to stop doing research and actually start recording something, so I did. And then it got erased, which brings us back to do re mi...
at 8:24 AM
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Yep, it's a real live track. I'm on the original, too, playing bass with my dad in the latter day Thunderhill, around 1990 at the Honi Honi in Deep Creek. I've played bass and sang harmonies on this song many, many times. So of course on my cover I had the ever-dependable Clifford Ulrich of Skates & Rays play the bass and sing the harmonies.
I'd be the first to admit that this sounds suspicious. My first live show since starting 39-40 was approaching, and I thought it would be ridiculous not to do a cover selected by The Machine as part of the set, and post a live recording of it. And the cover that was picked for me was a song I already knew by heart, which has rarely happened to this point. But it's true.
The recording of my version took place at the Atwater Village Centennial Street Fair. The sound is even dicier than usual because it's lifted from a video of the show, which is oddly also true of the Thunderhill original. So you get two lo-fi live recordings today. I hope to be doing more covers at live shows over the course of the project, so consider this a trial run. Cliff and I had never performed the song together before, so treat it gently.
Thunderhill fans, note that this is a previously unreleased recording, one of hundreds I've digitized over recent years encompassing every known live recording of the band (and related groups) between 1958 and 2009. I'm working on a project that will bring some of the highlights to Thunderhill's adoring public sometime, like, kind of soon.
Rex Broome ~ Guitar & lead vocal
Clifford Ulrich ~ Bass & harmony vocal
Bonus VIDEO of Rex & Cliff's performance of the song at the Atwater Village Street Fair
at 5:58 AM
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Listening to Green on Red always makes me happy. I couldn't describe myself as a rabid fan or anything-- I'm still only a few years into really getting them, and they have a lot of records to absorb-- but whenever I hear one of their records, it always seems just right. It's not fair that they get lumped in with all the Paisley Underground bands... they really have few if any true psychedelic leanings. But at the same time, for all their rootsiness, they're never stridently earnest about it. At all. Which makes them all that much more authentic in a way. Maybe it's really just that the Paisley Underground scene shouldn't have been pegged, in name or thought, so directly to '60s revivalism; it was much richer than that. I've been exploring it in some depth for the past few years and I still feel like I've barely scratched the surface.
I did a funny little thing with the arrangement. Maybe it's too cute. I hope the feel of the song is still there, though.
at 9:39 AM
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
After a day like yesterday when your best efforts still don't git it, you tend to feel obliged to get one really right. I think I did so on this one, with Eden's help. It was a natural to have her sing it-- it's a song like one she would write or even cover in her band Wye. It was mostly a matter of putting in the work. It turned out way way janglier than the original for a couple of reasons, one being my use of the 12-string and my sudden accidental discovery of a trick to make it sound really really good, and another being the way Eden opted to change the wall-of-sound rhythm guitar into a much choppier John Lennon kind of thing.
Sometimes you get a weird inkling to faithfully recreate a really odd bit of an original song. In this case, it was a weird mistakey-sounding boop noise right before the second guitar comes in... it might be a brief burst feedback, but on repeated listens it doesn't sound like it. I was going to use the guide tone feature on one of our guitar tuners-- the sound of the pitch of the selected note, the one you never use on purpose and irritates the hell out of you when you activate it by accident-- which sounds just like the noise on the recording, but as the track started to take shape as something people might actually want to listen to more than once, it seemed silly to put something so weird on it. Does that mean I have some kind of subconscious bias against weird experimentalism? You sure wouldn't think so, but I can't say as I know for sure.
Eden Hain ~ Lead vocal, rhythm guitar, additional engineering
Rex Broome ~ 12-string and guitar solo, everything else
at 6:04 AM
Monday, June 14, 2010
If nothing else, my record collection is, for the most part, acquitting itself fairly well in term of what The Machine has selected for me. There are many bands whose records might equally well be found in good and bad music libraries; Mission of Burma is not such a band.
This song, doubtless like numerous other Burma tunes, was extremely difficult to figure out, and then, having sort of done so, translate to the acoustic idiom. I was hoping to get it into some kind of spooky mountain-minor murder ballad shape, but neither my will nor my skill could quite take it there. The noisy guitar was a last minute concession... it's actually not a second guitar, just a copy of the first one with a cranky effect on it. I tip my hand as to that little trick in case it seems like the second guitar is supposed to be a "lead" track. It ain't, and if it were I would've done a better job of it. But the clock wound down on me, so file this under "Fail", possibly with the subheading "noble" according to your own taste.
Eden, Gen & Rex ~ Chain gang vocals
Rex ~ Everything else
at 11:01 AM
Sunday, June 13, 2010
The last time The Machine selected a Christmas tune for me, I recoiled from its unseasonal holiday cheer and insisted on remaking it completely. But I've matured since then. "Matured" is a word that means you tried something and it turned out to be hard and you don't want to do it again.
The title on the "album" from which this original comes is Unlabeled Cassette of Instrumental Christmas Carols Found at the Rexrode Residence, which is exactly what it was. My mom ended up with it when cleaning out her mother's house a few years ago; I found it along with some cassettes of old radio programs (which I digitized along with the carols, because that's what I do) and a pair of old Hohner harmonicas, which had belonged to my Grandfather Rexrode. I hadn't known he'd played harmonica or any musical instrument until then (although he was responsible for one of my earliest magical musical memories, a demonstration of a cylinder gramophone, which I wrote into the lyrics of the Skates & Rays song "Fort Ashby")... my mom was passing all of these items on to me.
So it seemed natural to reunite these tokens of my grandparents for today's cover, and making Granddad's harmonica the lead instrument on the recording. That meant playing harmonica with a little more precision than I'd ever attempted before. For the unitiated, most harmonicas are in a particular key, so if you're playing in C major and you're playing a C harmonica (like Granddad's), it's hard to play a "wrong" note, and with just a little experience you can learn how to blunder through melody lines that resolve more or less sensibly and you're okay. However, because of the way the instruments constructed, with certain notes only occurring with exhales and others with inhales, it's actually kind of hard to learn to play the "right" note at the "right" time in a prescribed melody like this familiar Christmas song. I tried pretty hard and got close enough in the limited time available to me. It sure isn't perfect, but it marks a step forward for my harp playing... not that that's saying much. Hopefully Granddad would have thought it a fair effort.
at 6:52 AM
Saturday, June 12, 2010
The central conceit on my version of this one might be too obvious. But I still think it sounds cool.
Rex ~ Everything.
at 6:41 AM
Friday, June 11, 2010
Time is of the damn essence in these things. Eden was supposed to sing on this one, too, but she was out at a play with a friend and didn't get home until her bedtime. We've rushed things through in the past, but it just wasn't happening this time. Consequently there's a lot more of my voice on this one than I would have liked.
I am, however, especially pleased that Ridley and Miranda got to sing on it. The Arcade Fire was the first band Miranda ever saw, at the Hollywood Bowl about a year before she started Kindergarten, and she's loved the band ever since. The year after that was my "bachelor" period, and whenever the kids were at my little apartment we'd have Funeral on as our soundtrack, and even now Ridley, who was three at the time, recognizes songs from that album as things we used to listen to at "our old house".
Aside from the kids singing on it, I wanted to take this song down in scale a bit: it's huge and expansive, but it has a very intimate story at its core, and I wanted to bring that out. I still wanted it to build, but far more gradually, and to a more... I don't know, domestic-sounding crescendo. That was the idea at least. My favorite detail is the little drum part that sneaks in just at the very end... mellow as it is, it's the first thing played on an approximation of a kit in the whole song, and the fist element to deviate from the very straight beat of the song. There's more, of course, but these things are getting too long...
Ridley Broome: Voice #1, artwork
Miranda Broome: Voice #2, artwork
Rex Broome: Voice #3, everything else
at 9:32 AM
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Recorded this after the longest (albeit invisible to readers because I'd gotten well ahead of myself) break between sessions since beginning 39-40. Just hit a bit of a wall.
Happenstance and free association play big roles in how I decide to treat each song thrown at me by The Machine. This one turned out to be all about a guitar. After deciding to do this tune even more stripped-down than Minnie's original and what to do about the title gender (and I hope I came up with a semi-novel approach), I got to staring at that nice archtop our girl's playing in the photo. I have a similar-looking guitar (see photo), although it's a tenor (4-string) and a bit of an oddity... it's the oldest guitar I have, with more than 50 years on it, and I grew up thinking it was my grandfather's because it was at his house. In reality, it was one of the earlier guitars my dad owned. When trying to piece together its history he guessed that he may or may not have picked it up in San Antonio in the mid-'50s; most Harmony guitars were sold through the Sears Catalog, so that's a possibility, too.
What we do know is that by 1958 it was being used in promotional photos for one of Dad's early bands, and in the past decade I used it for the same purposes with The Chiggers (whose frontwoman Nigel actually did play a tenor). And that it is and always has been virtually unplayable. As far as I know, it's never been recorded, probably for that very reason. But given its family history, I decided to give it an airing on this track, and so, not for the first time, I set about rehabbing it to the best of my abilities, and, subsequently, trying to keep it in tune for the duration of the setting (which was very difficult without plyers). It may very well be seen again, but this is in all likelihood the last time it'll be heard by the general public as well as the first.
at 9:09 AM
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
"Hi, I'm Rex."
"Hey, did you know there was a band called T.Rex?"
And so it took me a while to appreciate Marc Bolan's music. But one gets over these things, and I've been a fan for a good long time now.
Yet another thing that I've had in mind since I had the idea for 39-40 is that there are karaoke versions available of a great number of songs, and how it might be interesting to do something with that. The truth is that, to this point, very very few of the songs The Machine has selected for me have been broadly popular enough to have karaoke versions, and the few times I've been assigned ones that are (like yesterday), I've had other strategies in mind. But what I thought might be interesting would be to take a karaoke track, which pretty much by definition would be much more professionally played and produced than anything I'm going to come up with in my living room, and sing entirely wrong (or rewritten) words over it. I had something a little bit artier in mind than what I came up with for this one; I've had a sort of half-written goof song called "Rock & Roll Millipede" kicking around for years, and I have a hard time letting go of even really bad ideas, so I put these two ideas, which are both in the least highly suspect, together.
Maybe next time it'll be a little bit less of a goof...
Omnibus Karaoke ~ backing track
Rex Broome ~ lead vocal
at 1:54 PM
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
Looking over the lyrics to this tune as she was about to sing it, Eden asked, "Wow, was he really depressed when he wrote this?" She hadn't connected it with the whole James Bond theme thing, which offered a fresh perspective on what is a pretty fatalistic piece just standing on its own. What I did to it musically is pretty much just demented. It seems like 39-40 is just going through a bit of a phase like that.
Eden Hain ~ lead vocal
Rex Broome ~ everything else
at 1:44 PM
Monday, June 7, 2010
Sadly, Mr. Marsalis can have had absolutely no idea how accurately titled this piece would be by the time I was done with it. I had to enlist my robot girl Anjali to help explain this one, and even she ended up with an ambiguously pitch-shifted voice due to some kind of odd transfer error. You can hear me doing just a little bit of improvisational soloing on the one instrument on which I can meaningfully do that sort of thing, but, once again, when the lion's share of the piece's soul lies in its liveness, the interation between the musicians, I may have to resort to novelty to make anything out of it if it's just me in a room with some instruments and microphones.
Note the brief appearance of a pre-Obama-controversy Reverend Jeremiah Wright in the liner note science Anjali drops on ya.
Anjali ~ vocals
Rex ~ everything else
at 1:31 AM
Sunday, June 6, 2010
So this project has reached a point where I'm starting to take stock of how many of my initial ideas I've used and whether the remaining ones are any good. One of the questionable ones was to transform a song or two into "dramatic readings" or even something akin to a radio play, with characters and sound effects and so forth... maybe that'll happen eventually, althoug it sounds like quite a task. But the spoken word thing seemed pretty do-able, except for the part where I'm sick of my own voice again, so I solicited recordings over Facebook. The voice you hear on this track is that of Ross Overbury, who in the course of volunteering reminded me that he's been soliciting performances of monk vocals for nearly a month, which did make me rightly feel like a bit of a self-centered nimrod and get just such a recording to him. This is the part where the internet is kind of fun.
The backing track is a song written by my longtime friend and writing partner Charlie Eckstrom. It's a 15-year-old demo from a 4-track cassette... each track digitized individually, respeeded, synched, trimmed and married to new drum tracks and overdubs with every bit of its analog hissiness preserved. Although it came close to having lyrics a few times, it was generally knows as "The New Wave Song" for reasons which are less than obscure.
Ross Overbury ~ vocal
Charlie Eckstrom ~ electric guitars and composition
Rex Broome ~ bass and acoustic guitar, assembly and editing
at 1:05 PM