July 2022 Grapevine

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.

From The Vault 8 – ERP Plays ‘Round Trip’ Live

‘Round Trip’ is another entry in our ‘From The Vault’ series. ‘From The Vault’ is where we scour our old hard drives and CDs to find songs that we wrote and recorded preliminary versions of but for various reasons never made a full studio recording. ‘Round Trip’ was recorded live at ChurchHouse studios. This song was recorded a bit differently than some of our other live takes. The song was played straight through in a live fashion. For this song we were actually recording our parts in separate rooms with each of us hearing the mix in headphones. The vocals, guitar and drums were recorded live. The bass part was overdubbed later. This song, like many of our ‘From The Vault’ songs, didn’t receive any punch ins after the recording. We’ve done that a lot when we’re in the writing process. As with our other song ideas we’re trying to capture the essence of the song, let it age for a bit, then come back and decide if we want to do a full blown studio version of it. This is another song that has been around for a while. We’ll pull these songs out and listen to them once in a while to see if we want to revise parts and work on them. Song writing is an interesting process. I’ve found that you usually have more excitement and ideas for the newest piece you’re working on. Occasionally we’ll restart older projects, but the excitement tends to be higher on ideas that are brand new because you’re often working in a different style than older tunes. Doing our ‘From The Vault’ series gives some older ideas another look. This song may eventually be taken apart and totally reworked. Only time will tell.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs – ‘Mrs Jones’ – Live In The Studio

In this post we’re presenting another ‘Live In The Studio’ performance by Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs. The video is a live take of the song ‘Mrs Jones’ which was originally on the album ‘Superior Olive’ with our previous band Conduit. The vocal and electric guitar parts are performed live for the video. We decided to record new backing tracks to work with. Each of those tracks were recorded the same way we do tracks for the ‘Messin’ With The Music’ videos – recorded straight through in the studio using one mic in the room. Along with the tracks you see us playing in the video we added a bass guitar and two tracks of twelve string acoustic guitar. You can hear the acoustic guitars panned harder to the left and right channels. One guitar is playing chords and the other guitar is playing a single note riff. This allowed us to give the song a little different flavor than the original version. Instead of a drum kit we used a cajon for the rhythm. We have the fun of doing a song live without having a full live band.

Electrostatic Rhythm Pigs play ‘Mrs Jones’ live:

June 2022 Grapevine

We’ve reached the middle of 2022 and the year is just rolling by. It’s the time of year when you can take stock of the first half to see what you’ve accomplished and set your goals for the second half. The first half of this year has felt very unsettled. I’m hoping to make a bigger push to get more accomplished in the second half. As you get older you find that the idea of time moving faster as you age becomes a truth. How did half the year pass by already? When I was younger and first listened to the song ‘Time’ from Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ I understood what they were saying but the lyrics seemed much more abstract. Now they seem prophetic in relation to my real life. In the second verse we get “You are young and life is long, and there is time to kill today
and then one day you find ten years have got behind you, no one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun”. The phrase “I’ll get to it later” is typical of how we feel when we’re young. Then, in what seems like no time at all, you’re older and you can see the limited time left – “Every year is getting shorter, never seem to find the time, plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines, hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way, the time is gone, the song is over, thought I’d something more to say”. Years can drag when you’re young and speed by when you’re older. By now you might be saying, “boy, you’re sure a ray of sunshine”. But my point would be what I’ve probably opined before in a lot of blog posts. Listen to new things. Create without being afraid of what other people think. Throw stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Enjoy the act of creation instead of worrying if anyone else will accept it. Live your life as fully as you can. So let’s listen to our selections for this month and celebrate the creative force of others.

First Up: Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway – ‘Big Backyard’

It’s been a somewhat dark last couple of years. So I find it very enjoyable to listen to an upbeat song with a positive message. On this song we’ll start with the message. We come from different areas and different backgrounds but rather than fence ourselves in we should open up our different lives to each other. When you’re writing lyrics and want to get a message across, you have to make sure that the vocals are placed prominently in the mix and are easy to hear. The way this song is designed the music is the canvas and the vocals are the picture painted on it. After you take the song in as a whole, go back and listen to everything that’s going on instrumentally. It’s a very full arrangement. The fiddles are often running melody lines in the background. You can hear the same going on with mandolin, guitar and banjo. Mixing a song like this is pretty tricky. The instruments have to have enough clarity and presence that you can pick them out and listen to what they are doing. But they also have to be melded together to act as that canvas for the vocals. The instruments played here are very percussive so you wouldn’t always hear drums in a song like this. So having drums in this song also required a very good ear to have them placed correctly in the mix. They’re a little more in the background then you’d hear in a lot of songs, but for this song it’s definitely the proper placement. I think if you’ve ever spent time behind a mixing console (or even if you haven’t) you can really appreciate the work that goes in to getting all the instruments in the perfect place to make this song work.

As an addition I wanted to include another song ‘She’ll Change’ from the same album ‘Crooked Tree’. This is a live version where you get to see what everyone is playing. Very well recorded with nice separation considering they’re playing together in the same room. Great vocal harmonies. And there’s some really fun fast picking though out the song. Tuttle does some incredibly fast guitar picking while still keeping the guitar chords going and doing lead vocals. She’s won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s guitar Player Of The Year Award twice and you can see why. It’s always fun to see what everyone is playing and the fact that they can do this live without studio overlays or punch ins.

Next Up: The Hanging Stars – ‘Ava’

The Hanging Stars present a great combination of styles on their song ‘Ava’. For me, that’s what makes music interesting. A little country, a little shoegaze, a little space rock with a lot of well done instrumental passages. The song starts slowly with what sounds like pedal steel guitar and slide guitar. They bring in acoustic guitar slowly strumming arpeggio chords. This intro builds over the first minute of the song. Drums enter the mix and the the slide guitar plays a melody line for the next thirty seconds. It’s a great intro that pulls you in to the song structure before the vocals even come in. The vocals are awash in reverb to maintain the spacey feel of the song. The vocals go back and forth with the slide guitar taking turns carrying the melody. There is a bass guitar in the background along with the drums. By keeping the instruments a little deeper in the background of the song, the emphasis is kept on the melodic pieces – the top guitar and vocals. For the much of the song the vocals are multi tracked to add more depth. If you listen closely you can hear some of the vocals panned out to the left and right channels. As usual, I’d always suggest listening to the songs in headphones or ear buds to get the full effect of the mix. If you listen you can hear the bass line matching the vocal line in the chorus. There are wordless vocals that act more as an instrument when we get in to the later verses. The drums play very active lines through out the song, but they are mixed in a soft rather than crisp manner so they don’t step on the vocals and melodic guitar. This is a great example of adjusting your mixing technique to fit the mood you want to present in the song. The song ends with a little more emphatic and less breezy guitar part. A great example of structuring a song composition and mix to present a beautifully cohesive idea.

Finally: Field Works – ‘Station 5’

What I find most interesting about the song is the way it is created and composed. It is a interesting combination of science and art. The EarthScope project uses a number of measuring devices to track noise, movement and other geological functions in different areas. There is a lot of useful earth based data collected that is being reviewed for a wide variety of scientific ideas about continental structure and evolution as well as fault and earthquakes processes. Many of the tests record ambient seismic noise. The data from EarthScope projects is publicly accessible. Field Works combines this earth based ambient noise with music. In this song the music is also somewhat ambient. There are electronic pulses and synth based melodic pieces. All these pieces form a bed of sound that have vocals added. The vocals are in keeping with the sonics of the rest of the song. There are no lyrics added that would distract from the feeling that is being created with the instruments and ambient earth based noise. I imagine a lot of people would use this as background for meditation or just to sit back in the dark and relax. It’s always great to see people stretching the boundaries of music and songs. The ideas could also be used to add flavor to more conventional song structures. It’s cool to sit back and listen to this and realize that part of what you’re hearing is the earth ‘talking’.

Retro: Joni Mitchell – ‘Coyote’

Joni Mitchell is an artist who’s pretty hard to pin down. A lot of people have heard her name, but I would guess that not as many of them are familiar with her music. People are familiar with the song ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ – although a lot of people who recognize the song probably don’t know the title (check it out and see if it’s familiar to you). She also wrote the song ‘Woodstock’ made popular by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. There are a few things that draw me to this song. It’s extremely interesting for how it’s written lyrically. It tells a story with great imagery. Not many lyric writers put this kind of depth in to their songs. Vocally the lyrics flow on top of the music – not a standard cadence or traditional verse chorus structure. The guitar chording is unique. Mitchell experimented with lots of different guitar tunings that give a unique sound to her playing. I became more familiar with Mitchell’s work when I started playing fretless bass and became a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Actually, it’s more that I became a huge Jaco fan and wanted to learn how to play fretless bass. You can recognize his style through out the song, the harmonics you hear being plucked are on the bass, not the guitar parts. The song combines so many styles: jazz, pop, rock. If you take the time to take the song apart and analyze the structure, it’s a masters class in song writing. It’s the kind of song that really deserves an attentive listen. But it’s also a song I’d have playing on a southwest trip driving down a empty highway through the desert.

‘Messin’ With The Music’ Part 20 – ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’

It’s been a while since we worked on a cover for our Messin’ With The Music series. We’ve come back with the song ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ by Pixies. It was on their 1989 album ‘Doolittle’. One style that Pixies are known for is the ‘loud versus quiet’ dynamics included in a lot of their songs. You will definitely hear that if you listen to the original version of ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’. Pixies as a band are usually included in the ‘alternative rock’ classification – to which people usually ask “alternative to what?”. We’ve discussed before the difficulty in labelling music. Is it ‘alternative rock’, ‘indie rock’, ‘college rock’? Some music does fit in to definable categories. Some bands make their music sound a certain way to fit in to a category of music they are fond of. But labelling is often limiting. When we post music on sites they often ask for the category of music you think your band fits in to. And usually you have to pick from a list. We usually take this task on with a heavy sigh. I understand the need – they want people to find the style of music they are interested in. I also understand the lists. Imagine if everyone came up with their own style name – you’d get things like ‘Mutant Tuna Hillbilly Sea Chanties’. Anyway….. As usual we made the song as acoustic as possible. The bass is still electric as I haven’t bought a stand up double bass (and probably won’t in the near future). The main riff is on acoustic guitar, doubled to put in the left and right channels. There’s bass and a banjo part. The lead guitar is covered by two different mandolins playing harmony parts. We actually ended up cutting parts down as we recorded to make a starker change in dynamics since we don’t use a drum kit or electric guitars. One thing that has always drawn me to this song is the environmental message it sends. Nature is finite and pretty easy to destroy. In the small list of things I’m very passionate about – my friends and family, music, photography – the outdoors and saving our environment is on the list. Yup, I’m a tree hugger. I’m getting to spend more time in amazingly beautiful places like our national parks. If you time things right (hike EARLY) you can be in these places by yourself or with a few like minded people (and remember the outdoor rule – leave no trace). Life doesn’t get much better than that. I’ve included some photos from our trips in the video for the song.