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October 2005

A Month Later
October 6 2005 04:54 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

I've got to at least keep this thing updated monthly. Well, okay, I don't, but I'd like to.

Had an interesting music store moment today. While driving around this afternoon, I decided to stop at a couple of places to see if I could find an old (cheap) Fixx compilation. (I failed.) But one of the places I stopped was the Circuit City where I'd recently seen an import copy of Origin of Symmetry (their second album, which wasn't released in the States) for $16.99. I passed on it then, as it seemed pricey. When I later investigated how much it would cost to import from the UK, I discovered it would be about the same, which led me to reconsider.

When I hit the Muse section, I found Origin of Symmetry and was stunned to find it with a $12.99 sticker price. A sale? I flipped it over, and was shocked to see "Made in U.S.A." on the back cover. It turns out that Warner finally decided to release the thing (with an unintentionally amusing sticker that reads "Features 'New Born', 'Bliss', and 'Plug-In Baby' as heard on tour", which I read as: "since we were to chicken-sh*t to release the thing in 2001").

My only question: why didn't they release the thing when the band was actually on tour here? It seems like they'd have sold many more copies. This is probably just a catalog release - none of the songs are getting airplay, I assume to avoid confusing the masses should their next album come out next year.

On initial spins, I like it, but the Glastonbury performance of "Bliss" stomps all over the album version.

I went on a trip to Orlando for an Ultimate tournament last weekend. Before I left, I thought about taking some kind of music compilation(s) for the drive down, but didn't have time to make more than one. So I decided to revisit the tapes of my old radio show from college.

During the fall semester of 1994, I had the 5:00am-8:00am Friday radio shift at my college station. Yeah, you read that right. I was offered the slot the week before classes started, and, somewhat bizarrely, agreed to take it.

I basically used the show to make my own personal compilations. This was my Napster for 1994 - play the songs I wanted to have copies of, then record the shows, and voila. I recorded each show (with one exception, when I mis-set the timer) to my hi-fi stereo vcr in my dorm room. In the pre-computer "I'm too cheap to buy a DAT deck" days, a hi-fi stereo vcr could give you virtually CD-quality recordings; at the very least, it would yield far better quality than conventional cassettes. That each tape could hold two entire three-hour shows unedited was a bonus. After a shift, I then copied the tape to regular cassettes and spun them in the car.

For last week's trip, I ended up duping a show and a half to CDs, and was pleasantly surprised that I still enjoyed most of the material. My show tended to lean on "classic alternative" with the occasional grunge/industrial edge, so it's not far from what I still enjoy. Some people tend to grow out of the music they listened to in high school and college, but, for whatever reason, that hasn't yet happened to me.

The funny thing was that we ended up renting a car for the trip, which came with XM radio. I figured my discs would stay in my pack and only get listened to in the hotel. That was, until we got an hour or two down the road and realized just how out-there XM's music selections can be. I was hoping to have a channel that we could leave it on for most of the trip, but the music kept floating all over the map. Changing stations on a regular basis is a pain in the ass if you're driving, and even worse if one person basically has to gauge the station change for the four people in the car. (XM radio seems most handy for the solo traveller.) When it was my turn to drive, I finally stuck in the radio show discs, and it seemed like the folks in the car enjoyed them more than the XM radio.

At least, definitely more than the $2 sandwich I bought at a Racetrak outside Daytona Beach. If I'd only known our trip only had another forty miles, I'd have waited. Ugh. I'm never doing that again.

Some New Motivation
October 13 2005 12:49 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

Last fall, my Fall League team got together for a post-season gathering. In advance, I assumed it'd be just another fun gathering for drinks and conversation. To my surprise, one of my teammates brought his guitar, and we ended up passing the guitar around and playing songs for most of the night. It was an absolute blast.

Since he and I were teammates on a club team this fall, we kept mentioning to each other the possibility of another night of guitar playing. With our season over, the opportunity finally hit last Friday. This time, though, we both brought our guitars (as did another teammate).

Once again, it was an absolute blast. We ran through a bunch of covers, and had several others on the team singing along. (It was amazing how many times a random group of us would nail multi-layered harmonies.) We didn't really have a lot in common in terms of repertoire, but it seemed to work out well regardless. He played a couple of Indigo Girls and Simon & Garfunkel songs, and I played a handful of R.E.M. songs. I even had the chance to throw out a couple of my songs, which I rarely (if ever) play for anyone.

After working on Saturday, I woke up Sunday strangely motivated. I've been tinkering on songs for months, with probably ten nowhere-near-finished songs on my computer right now. But I felt like I wanted to do more than just record scratch takes of new songs. Over the span of the next couple of days, I ended up completing an old demo, recording a couple of new songs, and re-recording "Time (Frame of Mind)" to fit the new format.

Long story long, the "new format" is an offshoot of a recording session that I ran with Reuben back in January of 2003. He asked me to help him record a couple of new songs of his, and we spent three hours recording three songs to four-track. Mainly, acoustic guitar, vocals, plus some weird effects for good measure. On one song, we arranged a whole bunch of bizarre percussion, basically consisting of whatever noise-making instruments I had lying around. The sessions were unbelieveably organic: more than once, I'd punch a button on my effects board and the first sound would be perfect. We used mostly first-takes, but you honestly couldn't tell that when we were finished.

Hearing what we could do with a four-track, an acoustic, and some percussion sent my mind wandering. The clearest benefit was that it was far easier to record than the full-rock sound I'd been working on for years. I'll admit that certain aspects of the recordings for Once Every Never really disappointed me, which is partially why it sat so long on my computer finished but unreleased. (The last bit was recorded in March of 2002, but I didn't share the disc until January of 2003.)

A couple of months after that session with Reuben, I sat down and recorded a scratch take of "Time (Frame of Mind)" on the four-track, and loved it. Ever since then, I've been tinkering with a sound that's basically acoustic guitar, bass, and vocals, with a maraca, a bongo, and a Rubbermaid box as a pseudo drum kit.

Now that I'm no longer using a 233mHz computer manufactured in 1997, I'm blessed with the option of using something other than CoolEdit96 to record. I picked up Cubase SE earlier this year, which is a giant leap compared to the process that made Once Every Never. It's mainly giving me the freedom to layer in harmonies and additional guitar parts that were cumbersome under the old process.

I still want to re-record the four-track demos (of the "new format") from the last couple of years, but I'm delaying that for now in favor of recording other material.

I'm excited enough about how the sessions this week turned out that I'm planning on uploading the four songs I recorded to My Music. I'm still tinkering with the mixes and such, but I'm really, really pleased where this all is going.

Elliott Smith: Basement II
October 18 2005 04:21 PM ET (Permalink) (Comment)

It's weird. I'll admit that I wasn't much of an Elliott Smith fan during his lifetime, and I'm still reluctant to dive through his back catalog. I picked up From a Basement on a Hill last year, having heard "Coast to Coast" and "Pretty (Ugly Before)", and ended up liking about half of it. Yesterday, I heard the recently leaked set of outtakes (affectionately dubbed "From a Basement on a Hill II" by fans), and was stunned by this track in particular:

Elliott Smith - Amanda Cecilia (zipped mp3)

It's amazing that he didn't think this track was worth including on an album.


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