We’re now officially in the summer season for 2022. This is a fun time for me. We have our national park hiking adventures booked for the year. This is the time when I start to put together our guide for what to do and see in the parks. There’s scenic roads to drive, breath taking overlooks and many amazing trails to cover. We don’t make specific plans for each day, but it really helps to be familiar with all the options you have which allows you to experience as much of the parks as you can in the time available. What does this have to do with our music and blog posting? Inspiration. Creating music is an interesting process. There’s lots of things you do on a daily or weekly basis that don’t require any creative flow. I’ve found I can clean, workout or do household projects without needing to be ‘inspired’. Creating music, videos or blog posts takes a bit more creative inspiration. Practicing instruments from a technical stand point can be much like a workout. You focus on the process and try to improve your techniques. I’ve found, at least in my own case, I need to feel some inspiration to write and record music. If you’re ‘not in the mood’ it’s difficult to put ideas together that have any feel to them. When I’ve tried to force recording or writing, I’m not usually happy with the results. And yet there are times you have to push yourself to get going and work out musical ideas or nothing will ever get started. This is the mystery that has to be solved when you’re working on creative projects. Equal parts sweat and inspiration. At this time of year I’m hoping that the inspiration of trip planning carries over to musical creation. It usually does and I’m looking forward to new and interesting results that we’ll be able to share with you. Let’s move forward with the Grapevine selections and see what inspiration we can get from enjoying other artist’s creativity.
First Up: Graham Day – ‘Out Of Your Narrow Mind’
I thought we’d start out with a good blast of garage rock to wake everyone up. For me, the foundation of most songs that follow this style is the guitar sound. This is a good example of the impact of a song depending on two things: the song writing itself and the choices that are made in the recording process. For the perfect garage sound you really have to hit both targets. Listen to the guitar sound when the other instruments drop out at the 1:07 mark. It has a lot of top end, just enough distortion that it’s crunchy but not totally fuzzed out. Imagine if this guitar sound was more mid tone and the distortion was too heavy and actually smoothed out the sound. It would totally take out the impact of the guitar. The crisp, treble heavy sound is also applied to the drums and vocals. If you didn’t do that the other instruments would be overpowered by the guitar sound. This is an important part of mixing. When mixing you want to check the EQ levels of the instruments both separately and together. You rely partly on your ears, but it’s also a good idea to look at the EQ using the software or other tools that are available to you in your system. There’s definitely a late 60’s throw back feel to the song structure and sound. Good, chunky garage rock will never go out of style.
Next Up: Ditz – ‘Hehe’
We’re moving on to a song that practically weaponized the guitar sound. In some ways this song is more physical and visceral than musical. Guitar crunch and blasting feedback dominate this tune. There’s an interesting sound attached to the drums. Listen when the drums come in to start the song at :11. There’s some choices they make with the drum sound that set up the rest of the song. The snare and kick drums are drenched in distortion and reverb and yet if you listen closely, the high hat sound is clean. The guitar comes in and sits on a single note while the vocals appear and are placed in the background of the mix. All these mixing choices are used to set the feel of the song. You could take the same song structure, but if you had clean drums, put the guitars back further in the mix and put the vocals out front, you’d have a totally different song without changing the actual song writing at all. There’s also a lot of attention to dynamics – the drums drop down to rim shots before everything blasts in to full mode again. Again, the guitar sound is put in the spot light by separating the guitars in to left and right stereo channels, one side crunchy and the other side guitar drone. By the 1:20 mark the song settles in to a what feels like a more straight forward beat. There’s also an example of some very small choices that have a nice effect – see the one second drop out at 1:55. When you have a song this pummeling and it runs 4:30 you have to do something to break it up and add interest. At 2:50 the drums and song suddenly slow down before returning to full speed ten seconds later. At 3:15 the song begins to slow down again. At 3:30 the drums drop out and you have only guitar drone. This runs through the end of the song. I can picture the band setting down the guitars and walking off the stage as they feed back. It’s these arrangement choices that make the song interesting.
Finally: Kevin Morby – ‘Rock Bottom’
So for our final song, let’s have some fun. The first thing that hit me when I heard this song is ‘more cowbell’ (if you don’t know this SNL skit, you have to look it up!). The cowbell travels through the whole song. Somehow they pull this off without the sound becoming totally obnoxious. This points to another example of how important mixing is. You have to have that sound at just the right level in the mix that it drives the song without becoming overbearing. All the parts in the song have great energy and drive. Another song where I really love the guitar sound. The vocals are very syncopated and rhythmic which drives the song along with the instruments. There’s lots of nice drop outs where the bass comes to the front. It feels like the kind of song where if you see the band live the crowd would be bouncing along with the song. The song is great and what added to it and really sold me on it was watching the video. The concept is great and had me chuckling though the whole video. Sometimes a song has a video that feels right for the music and keeps the vibe of the song. There’s even a nice guitar solo thrown in that has the feel of a sax solo. Sometimes you hit a video that adds a whole extra dimension to the music. That’s definitely the case with ‘Rock Bottom’. It starts with dialogue and has some song breaks where the video takes front stage. Lyrically the song is for all the people who are treated as ‘losers’ – “All of my life, Everybody roasting me, All of my life, Like I was a piece of meat, It’s cold down here, despite the heat, In the rock bottom (bop-bop), Rock bottom (bop-bop)”. The video follows the concept throughout, with the people who laugh at the characters getting their comeuppance. The end of the video is the best. Enjoy!
Retro: Keelhaul – ‘Driver’s Bread’
So let’s go retro with some good old fashioned mathcore. Can you listen to Keelhaul at low volume? I guess you can, but why would you? When I want to clear out my head there’s nothing better than dropping on Keelhaul’s ‘Subject To Change Without Notice’ album and letting it rip. Loud, aggressive, multiple time signatures and loads of syncopation and changes in dynamics. I love the opening guitar riff in this song. So different from a straight forward time signature guitar riff. Then the drums come in like rolling thunder behind the guitar, sitting on another different rhythm. There’s knife sharp drop outs and returns throughout the song. At 1:35 the guitars drop on to another riff while the drums roll throughout the kit at breakneck speed. At 2:15 the bass guitar gets it’s turn at driving the boat. Then the song pulls back a bit with held guitar chords and rolling bass. This change in dynamics sets up the punch when the original guitar riff returns at 3:10. When we enter some ‘mellower’ sections of the song keep your ears tuned to the drums which stubbornly refuse to sit down on a straight beat. When you get to 5:30 the dynamics really pull back to a simple guitar part. The song rolls out to the end on this relatively softer feel. This style of music might not be for everyone. There are no vocals. But the aggression, time signature and riff complexity certainly have a place in my musical world. Try it, you might like it.