Some Thoughts On Recording

I was in the studio all day cutting a track for the upcoming tribute album to the late great Ted Hawkins.  There is no place I would rather be then the studio.  Today it was a crack commando unit backing up the singer of the Turnpike Troubadours, Evan Felker.  We knew the song we were going to do, and the key, but aside from that the arrangement was born in the studio.  It was pretty old school in that for basic tracks we just jammed until something sounded right, with Kevin Russell, who is producing, guiding our ship when we would get too far out.  It also never hurts to have an engineer like Stuart Sullivan running the technical side of things.  It was a good mix of thought and feeling today.  Never allowing the conscious mind to get in the way, but just enough thought so that the song ebbed and flowed in just the right way.

I like to do my homework before recording.  I like to know the chord changes so I’m not learning the song on the spot and wasting other people’s time.  I like to have a couple ideas stockpiled in my back pocket in case things hit a rut.  However, I am always happy to go another direction and land somewhere unexpected.    A song is like a frame.  There are certain boundaries that it dictates.  However, in that frame there are a lot of different ways that you can color it.  It is good to have a place to start from, but to not be afraid to throw everything out the window as new ideas present themselves.

When I am doing a session where I am just the bass player, I try to listen to the other musicians and be complimentary to what is going on.  I try to find that balance between giving someone what they want and making sure what I do is unique and interesting in some way.  I never want to take the focus off what is most important in the song, yet I don’t want to just deliver meat and potatoes, unless that is what is called for.  Sometimes you will find that the stock thing is what works, but I usually feel that arrangements are helped when everyone is adding a little bit of their personality to them.  The way that session players in places like Nashville play is just atrocious to me.  They may be technically amazing, but there is no soul.  I’d literally rather hear an electronic dance record by someone that knows how to make them than that shit.

So that’s what I did today, and what I’m thinking about.  I’m about to dive back into Ken Burns’s Civil War series.  Now for something completely different…

Weezer’s New Album and Cleopatra Video

Weezer have a new album out.  (It actually came out last month, but I’m only just getting around to listening to it.)  It is called Everything Will Be Alright in the End and it is the first produced by Rick Ocasek, of Cars fame, since The Green Album.  This actually may be their best record since The Green Album, and actually since Pinkerton.  I actually like most of their records, though I agree with most people that their first two records are their best.  Weezer are one of those bands that does things that I normally wouldn’t like, like making pop culture references in the lyrics, but are so good at what they do that I don’t care.  Rivers Cuomo is a melodic genius and this new album is front to back great melodies.  The production by Ocasek is also top notch.  The guitars have that same quality to them that they do on their first and third albums.  They are heavy, but they have so much texture to them that they are actually beautiful a good deal of the time.  Each guitar is like a little painting you can get lost in.  If you are a fan of Weezer you will definitely like this album.  If you are not, but like rock n roll with astounding pop melodies, then you should check them out as well.

Let There Be Rock

Was listening to the album Let There Be Rock by AC/DC all day.  It is an absolutely fantastic rock n roll album.  I have no idea how the album was recorded, but it sounds like an album recorded by a band live in a room while rolling some fat tape.  It may seem simple to some, but the playing, writing, and recording are tremendous.  Every groove is deep in the pocket.  The guitars sound like snarling dogs.  The lyrics are funny and witty and delivered for maximum effect by Bon Scott.  There aren’t many overdubs that couldn’t be performed live, a guitar part here and there.  I love records like this, that sound like an actual band.  A great deal of the magic is from the way the musicians interact with each other.  This is primal physical stuff.  At the same time there is more sophistication going on in the arrangements then appears.  This can be seen in the way there are long pauses on the title track, and then all of a sudden the band explodes back into the song.  That’s not amateur hour there.  Angus Young’s lead work sounds like he is taking the paint off of an entire countryside of barns.  There is a reason that every one from metal bands to Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye love this band.  They are the very best at what they do.  The title track, which may be my favorite AC/DC song will be posted above.  It’s also one of my favorite rock videos.

Cross the Green Mountain

I am watching Ken Burns’s amazing Civil War series.  One of my favorite Dylan songs is his song about the Civil War, Cross the Green Mountain.  These are the lyrics:

I crossed the green mountain
I slept by the stream
Heaven blazing in my head
I dreamt a monstrous dream

Something came up
Out of the sea
Swept through the land of
The rich and the free

I look into the eyes
Of my merciful friend
And then I ask myself
Is this the end?

Memories linger
Sad yet sweet
And I think of the souls
In heaven who will meet

Alters are burning
The flames far and wide
The foe has crossed over
From the other side

They tip their caps
From the top of the hill
You can feel them come
More brave blood do spill

Along the dim
Atlantic line
The ravaged land
Lasts for miles behind

The lights coming forward
And the streets are broad
All must yield
To the avenging God

The world is old
The world is grey
Lessons of life
Can’t be learned in a day

I watch and I wait
And I listen while I stand
To the music that comes
From a far better land

Close the eyes of our captain
Peace may he know
His long night is done
The great leader is laid low

He was ready to fall
He was quick to defend
Killed outright he was
By his own men

It’s the last day’s last hour
Of the last happy year
I feel that the unknown world is so near

Pride will vanish
And glory will rot
But virtue lives
And cannot be forgot

The bells
Of evening have rung
There’s blasphemy on every tongue

Let them say that I walked
In fair nature’s light
And that I was loyal
To truth and to right

Serve God and be cheerful
Look upward beyond
Beyond the darkness that masks
The surprises of dawn

In the deep green grasses
And the blood stained woods
They never dreamed of surrendering
They fell where they stood

Stars fell over Alabama
I saw each star
You’re walking in dreams
Whoever you are

Chilled are the skies
Keen is the frost
The ground’s froze hard
And the morning is lost

A letter to mother
Came today
Gunshot wound to the breast
Is what it did say

But he’ll be better soon
He’s in a hospital bed
But he’ll never be better
He’s already dead

I’m ten miles outside the city
And I’m lifted away
In an ancient light
That is not of day

They were calm, they were blunt
We knew them all too well
We loved each other more than
We ever dared to tell

John Lydon, Richard III, and the False Choice Between Empathy and Strength

KevinSpaceyRichardIII

Those that have been reading along will know that lately I have been fascinated by the career of John Lydon (Johnny Rotten).  I have read his two autobiographies, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs and Anger is an Energy, and I have watched the Sex Pistols documentary The Filth and the Fury.  One of the things that many people don’t get is that Lydon has a great sense of humor and fun.  Although he felt there were important things that needed to be said, he knew how to get a crowd wound up, and he always did things with a sense of fun.  I found it really interesting that his Johnny Rotten persona was partially based on Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard is a deformed scheming character that uses his wits to rise to power.  

That led me to wanting to learn more about the play.  Tonight I am watching the Al Pacino documentary Looking for Richard.  This is a documentary where Pacino is trying to figure out how to get the average person to understand and open up to Shakespeare.  The film is scenes of the play intercut with discussions about what the play means and how to perform it.

This little bit of dialog interested me:

First Murderer:

Relent!  Tis cowardly and womanish.

Clarence:

Not to relent is beastly, savage, devilish.

What is happening in that scene is that Richard has sent two murderers to kill a character named Clarence who is in line for the throne.  Clarence is trying to talk the murderers out of killing him.  The above lines are just a very small snippet from the scene.

I want to take them out of context for a moment.  I’ve been thinking lately about how males are given false choices about being macho and being weak.  The murderer says basically that showing mercy is to be weak.  Clarence replies that to murder is to be savage.  So many times in our society men make choices about what to do based upon if people will perceive them to be weak or strong.

Morrissey sang, in the song I Know It’s Over, that it, “takes strength to be gentle and kind.”  Well this is true, so often people send the opposite message.  Why is it that caring about nature and other people is often perceived as being weak?  How many times have you heard someone say, about someone that cares about the environment for instance, that they are some kind of, “faggot hippie.”  Meanwhile, men that rape the earth and exploit other people are often thought of as being strong and powerful, when they are really just giving in to their own ego?

I have seen so many times when males, who are really quite frightened of the world, hide behind a macho exterior.  I remember a gig in a redneck area where almost every single vehicle in the parking lot was a pickup truck.  The males at that show acted very macho.  There was clearly something tribal going on.  They were acting proud and macho, but they were really a part of a herd mentality and were clearly afraid of standing out as individuals.  It doesn’t take any strength to go along with the crowd.

And yes there are plenty of people on the left that subscribe to the herd mentality as well.  When I see a crowd of hipsters or hippies they are basically just wearing a different costume.  They are part of their own little tribe with its own rules.  They may think that they are individuals, but they are no different than a group that is all wearing suits or cowboy hats or whatever.

So many of the problems the world faces right now require cooperation with other people.  Many of our problems require national if not global solutions.  We need to get things done and macho male pride will only get in the way.

It takes strength to be gentle and kind.  It takes strength to be open minded and to be an individual.  It takes strength to stand up to a crowd when they are doing something wrong.  We need to make it more clear in our society that empathy and strength are not opposites.  Males are often taught the opposite of this.  However, if men keep acting this way, and one should mention that women have played their part in allowing this kind of attitude to persist, it will eventually lead to our doom.  The world can no longer bear males that are afraid to look weak in place of the common good.

The above photo is Kevin Spacey as Richard III.

The Filth and the Fury and Fake Outrage

filthandfury

Just watched Julian Temple’s The Filth and the Fury.  It is a documentary about the Sex Pistols.  I felt it was well done.  Having just read both of John Lydon’s (Johnny Rotten) books, I felt that it got the gist of what he tried to communicate in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, which was his book on those times.  Obviously no film could get the detail of a book, but I thought most of the important points were hit.  The film was also excellently done from a visual standpoint.  It had great archival film of those times, mixed in with multimedia clips of different cartoons and movies.

Anyway, this isn’t a review of that film.  What was interesting was how many of the same types of people that opposed the Sex Pistols are still plaguing society today.  There is still the conservative religious types that would rather do anything than look at reality.  One of the things that gets lost a lot in all of the circus and myth of the Sex Pistols is how Johnny Rotten was really class conscious.  He really cared about those that were being oppressed economically.  Meanwhile you had the preachers, the conservative members of government, the business class, and what have you, that were on TV condemning the Sex Pistols.  Those people look really silly in hindsight, but there modern counterparts are still out there raising the flags of fake outrage.  Instead of being offended that certain people live in squalor, that young men and women are going to fight in wars of empire, that people can’t pay their rent, they will do their best to destroy anyone that shines a light upon the truth of the situation.  They’ll either do that or generate some fake outrage on some kind of cultural thing that is really just distracting people from what is really going on.  It’s the same cheap trick that is being done over and over again.  When will people learn?

Love Will Tear Us Apart Video

Today the weather in Austin is less than ideal.  There is a “slate grey Victorian sky” as Morrissey sang.  Certain music fits different weather patterns better than others.  A place as grey and rainy as Manchester seems to produce a lot of music that works well with dismal weather.  I wonder if there has ever been a study on how weather affects music?  I need to burn off to rehearsal, but in the meantime I thought I would leave you with some Joy Division.