I thought that in honor of today being the ONE YEAR ANNIVERSARY of the 365 Project, despite there being some unavoidable road blocks, I would post a song. I mean, why the heck not?!
Happy New Year, my friends! I actually feel one year older… wow. I don’t think it’s ever felt this marked before. My body, my mind: I’m ready for a vacation.
I made this sketch a few days ago. One of over a hundred sketches, drafts and finals I’ve completed in the past few months. Some have made the cut into the film, many have not. This one made it into the movie, and I wanted to give you a sneak peek of it here in honor of the year mark. This cue marks a very Hollywood-type scene where the hero sends his love away to safety… bring on the cheese! It’s a short one, but I assure you, its coming about was no easy task… sigh…
For those who don’t know: my dad sent me a BANJO. I cannot tell you how handy it has become in a time of need! Wow! What a fantastic instrument, and I’ve had a great time teaching myself how to play this monster.
One Year Ago Today
Love to you… The project will be back to finish the rest of the 145 songs in a few weeks – I have yet to calculate a decent starting period, but when I do, YOU WILL KNOW.
This is a collaboration! Jim Altieri is a good friend of mine, a fantastic composer, violinist, accordionist, guitarist, and all around hilarious conversationalist (of additional note: this guy is probably the most dependable guy I know outside of my own house.) You can hear is compositions here – http://tweeg.net
Jim can do a million different kinds of musics: silly songs, sad songs, serious songs, atonal pieces, tonal pieces…the sky is the limit with Jim, and he’s a very selfless musician, which can be hard to find nowadays.
I went to his house and found that Jim had just obtained some very nice, new mics, so I was lucky enough to get to break these in with a collaboration for the 365! The first thing we did was do some free-improvisation. (It’s very freeing and I would suggest it to anyone.) After some walnuts, Jim decided we should:
1. Lay down an accordion drone
2. Stack cello and violin on top, a few tracks of each
3. Put vocals on top.
The only rules: we could only do one take of each. I like the danger behind knowing you can’t take things back once you’ve done them. Mistakes don’t really exist in this realm for me because everything is just a part of the music and you use those things for good, not bad!
The lyrics: Next to Jim’s bed is his dream journal (which he doesn’t write in anymore). We opened it up and found a dream he had written about and used what he had written as our lyrics! The words we used are almost word-for-word from this book though we cut and changed a few lines and moved things around to keep the flow.
My one observation: In improvisational mode, I’m noticing that I use a particular interval in my vocals. I think I could go back to other songs I’ve done improvised vocals for and pick it out. What’s that from, I wonder?
In any case, we finished up and Jim did a really quick mix and sent it my way. He has such a great musical imagination: I hope you enjoy!
By myself at night
Remote control cars on the sidewalk
Bare feet keep me from food I want to eat
Karen left me gifts and surprises
Band-aid folded up in bed
Note on inside of my blanket
“By honey, have fun.”
Tapes a book to the ceiling
I would never find
I asked Jon to give me the first word that came to his mind at the count of three. It was Ptarmigan. A Ptarmigan, or Snow Chicken, is a medium-sized game bird in the grouse family. It is the official bird of Nunavut, Canada, and is a popular festive meat of Icelandic cuisine. Ptarmigan’s don’t have underwear, let alone dirty underwear. This is the anti-rap. I felt like taking it easy this weekend and doing a song that was quick. Featuring Jonny, the Accordion.
Pearl and the Beard had a really fun show in DC Friday night. We drove and drove, and now we’re home. How are you?
Bring me your birdies
Bring me your dirty underwear
(Not that you actually needed me to write these out for you, but maybe you did.)
Okay, I went to a rehearsal last night with Matt Singer, whom you might remember from day 38. I told him of my lyric troubles and recent total word black out… I mean… it literally feels like someone turned the main switch off in the entire building, and everything is completelyout. I can’t even spark to like the gas stove, you know? Like a I got a lobotomy in my sleep!
Matt suggested (along with several people, including myself) that I read. Now, true confessions: I don’t like to read. My mother loves to read. She reads 5 books a week, all at the same time, rotating and reading and reading and reading. I’m really not sure where my dislike of reading came… maybe after I graduated school? After I didn’t find I got a grade or had an assignment due after I finished it. I read a TON in high school and college. What happened? Now that there’s no academic payoff, I quit?! I really want to love to read. Reading helps you write better and think better… I get bored easily when reading, and I often think to myself, “I could be really doing something with my time right now, and here I am, just sitting here, reading.” I also lose focus easily in a book, daydreaming and often have to go back and reread entire paragraphs. I’m a fairly quick reader, so it’s not even a time issue. It’s really a mystery.
In any case, I love what Matt told me when he suggest I read: “You don’t have to read the books necessarily. Just look at the words. You need to at least be looking at words in order to write words.” He immediately sent me home with two books (which he disclaimered as saying, “These aren’t my favorite books, but the author’s writing is good.”). The funny thing is, just looking at the words makes me read the book, so I’m tricking myself into reading by looking at them. Maybe you’re thinking it’s kind of adolescent? Well, you gotta do what you gotta do right? If your kid won’t eat vegetables, isn’t it better to melt cheese on top?
I chose a book Matt lent me written by Cormac McCarthy. Matt and I discussed “stealing” words. I think, and Matt agrees, too, that most musicians “steal” (in the most legal of senses most of the time) from either writers or each other. I’ve even heard music teachers claim that all modern music today (ALL) came from Bach. That’s arguable, but an interesting thought nonetheless. In this case, I have taken words that aren’t mine to, hopefully, spark words that will be mine in a few days…
This song is an exercise for me. I picked a paragraph from McCarthy’s novel Blood Meridian, First Vintage International Edition, May 1992. The challenge for me was in playing an unfamiliar instrument (the accordion) and at the same time making musical, writing which is unfamiliar to me, very unlike my own, and melodically not restraining myself to a “real song” structure (verse melody, chorus, bridge), but allowing it if it went there, too.
*I’ve gotten several questions recently about whether the 365 is all “real songs”. What in the crap does that mean? (I kind of feel like people who ask me that expect me to say “no” and I would then see a reaction of disappointment or something…like it would be less interesting because the 365 might not contain “real” songs.) I suppose we all have our own expectations for the 365; me included. It’s okay.
Recording: Hung the mic from a cabinet drawer, which I think is to blame for the room sound it’s getting. Recorded main vocal and accordion simultaneously in one take mainly improvising to get a good clean head space. Did a track of accompanying accordion and back up vocal.
Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy page 146- 147
The judge sat half naked and sweating for [the night was cold].
It strikes me, he said, that either son is equal in the way of disadvantage.
So what is they way of raising a child?
At a young age they should be put in a pit with wild dogs.
They should be set to puzzle out from their proper clues the one of three doors that does not harbor wild lions.
They should be made to run naked in the desert…
They should be made to run naked in the desert
They should be made to run naked in the desert until…
The question was put in all earnestness.
And the answer, said the judge.
If God meant to interfere in the degeneracy of mankind
Would he not have done so by now?
Would he not have done so by now?
The way of the world is to bloom and to flower and die
But in the affairs of men there is no waning
And the noon of this expression signals the onset of night.
His spirit is exhausted
at the peak of its achievement.
Let him play for stakes.
This you see here…
The judge sat half naked and sweating for [the night was cold.]
I wanted to address a question I’ve gotten a few times: Was I inspired by the movie/book Julie and Julia in starting this project? Nope. Though I did enjoy the movie, I didn’t even put the two together until someone asked me that a few days ago. I was inspired by Brian Speaker’s year-long project, The Spiral Notebook, as I mentioned in the project description. But, man, that Meryl Streep: what an actress!
I laid in bed last night at 2:30 in the morning reminding myself of things I had to do the next day. One of them being a song, obviously, and for the first time since starting, I didn’t want to do it. Really? Another one? And just when I thought I was done for, I fell asleep and woke up, feeling okay and ready to go.
I’m on tour with Ugly Purple Sweater and Pearl and the Beard: really great, patient, and understanding people. We have played Boston, Jersey City, and Philadelphia. Baltimore tonight. I really love it.
I was really worried about today’s song because I’ve felt drained and tired; not quite sure what to do. Jonathan was playing around with a few chords and a rhythm on his guitar (another result of doing this project is that Jon is much more active on that dusty thing. It’s really nice.), so it was actually he who started playing arbitrary chords that lead to the creation of this song. Credit where credit’s due, you know?
For The Easy Way, I used an old trick to get out of being stuck for lyrics: I went to a book, flipped to random page, closed my eyes and let my finger land on a random word or sentence. I used whatever I landed on like you might use jumper cables for a dead battery on a car. The book used for inspiration for this song? Don Quixote by Cervantes. It was very helpful. The result? Strangely, and totally unexpectedly, I think I just wrote a really scary song… a bit disturbing, actually…but I’ll let you judge for yourself. For your mind’s back drop, imagine, if you will, a Sweeney Todd-like grossness and time period… I’ll let you take it from there. (And yes, Tom Waits was a huge inspiration musically. Experiments are fun!)
Recording: Accordion. Franz, where are you?! I was very inspired by the technique Franz Nicolay used on Pearl and the Beard’s new CD God bless your weary soul, Amanda Richardson (available on iTunes, too!) I CANNOT PLAY THE ACCORDION TO SAVE MY LIFE. But I did it JUST FOR YOU! Yay!Also, I’m trying to train myself to be done when I really don’t have the time to slave over the recording of a song. Sometimes, it’s just time to move on. That’s what I did with this. Recorded vocals and cello simultaneously and used the second full take. Accordion was over-dubbed and just took the second take of it and told myself to get over my whiny insecurities.
This song was written fairly quickly. Maybe an hour and a half for chords and vocals. Vocals took longest, choosing chords was very easy and natural. I love it when at least something is in this business! Again, the most lengthy process was the recording and mixing.
The Easy Way
instrumentation: voice, cello, accordion
I’ve been around and around and around seven lifetimes
Little here, little there,
A shoe shine and shave
You know I’ll get mine
With a cough and wheeze and a laugh, it’s perplexing
Shield your face, glue the gun
Pack your lunch, watch the fun
I’m behind you
Skin whole from head to feet
Some of the most valuable
When will we meet again?
Market place, meet me there, wear that tie, comb your hair,
I’ll be waiting, might be late, pitch a fit,
Make it loud, scream and hit, be convincing
If I come, then I come, if I’m there, then I’m there, don’t you push me
If you’re not then your not, seems a problem we’ve got,
I wouldn’t mind one
Skin whole from head to feet
Some of the most valuable
When will we meet again?
I just realized that I have just written over a full week’s worth of work! WEIRD! Hope you’re doing well yourself. Thank you for listening! Until tomorrow!
Due to the nature of this installment, I will limit my posting to how it came about being, not how I interpret it. If you don’t want to know about the innards of the process, just push play. Really. I don’t mind. It’s okay. Everybody knows the wizard behind the curtain was just an old guy with a pension for yelling when speaking to someone he didn’t know. And who would want that?
This was a tough night because I’m feeling behind even though I’m not at all behind. It is 1:02 am, and I have finally finished this piece. I’m exhausted, on tour, but happy with the outcome of this work. I can’t even begin to describe to you how I started today’s installment. It started as a writing exercise: write a song in 5 minutes by timing each verse at one minute increments. It was fairly successful, but it didn’t go far enough for me. It was a disorganized exercise anyway. I started something else instead. I picked up Johnny, my totally-awesome-ebay-score accordion, and began improvising, trying new progressions and old. I found a new progression I liked and attempted lyrics, a melody line. Nothing stuck. Nothing stood out. For some stupid reason I thought I had the luxury of being picky. Why would I ever think that in a 365 day project?!
I recorded the accordion, basically improvising a slow chord progression. Note: I do not know how to play the accordion other than the basic idea that you fill it with air and push the buttons. I am teaching myself little by little and absolutely love it. I have almost typed the words “failed attempts” in two different entries, but I have decided I don’t like that term. I don’t think any experiments are failures, just pathways to preferred successes. I even experimented with beats and bowed guitar over the accordion at first. I slowed the tempo down on the accordion track to 40 BPM. Huzaah! It created an awesome, creepy, organ-like color. Not sure where to go with it, I picked up my cello and just started listening, experimenting (lowering my C string VERY low) and improvising. This might sound fruity, but if I have a foundation of something interesting, I can often hear what might need to go next. For example, in hearing the vibrating nature of the accordion track and G flat drone, I heard trills, so I tried it and there you go. Basically, everything “fell” into place from there. Important: there were many happy accidents. I fear I’m making this sound like it took an hour, when, in reality, I did just the accordion track from 6:00-7:00, then restarted at 10:30. The final product, at a lengthy time of one minute and fifty-one seconds, was completed at 12:45 am.
It’s been really frustrating installment today. I had really intended this to take less than an hour total. It’s a good goal to stick to, especially since I’m on tour and needing to learn how to be quicker and less of a perfectionist. There’s a time and a place for being slow and detailed.
There was a lot of unnecessary judgment before it was even finished. EHP: Stop that. I didn’t come to a personal interpretation until about mid-way through. Give it a listen. I’d be interested to hear your interpretations.
*Headphones are recommended for a more robust experience.
Untitled No. 1
Instrumentation: accordion, 7 cello tracks including one track of dropped C string to a G flat (scordatura)