Experiments (failed and otherwise)

A big part of the appeal for projects of this nature is the ability to experiment. We’re not paying studio time, and we’re not beholden to some record company wanting us to push out product. That means we can do try things that may be dumb, but there’s really no penalty for failure.

Our process on the last two albums (and most of the non-album stuff we’ve done) has been as such: I write music, recording as many instruments as I feel necessary to flesh out my ideas, then James shoehorns his ideas into my framework. He can usually be credited with giving structure to my meanderings. More to the point, he makes my music into songs.

In the grander scheme, I’ll start with a rough demo, Kevin will record drums, I’ll record bass, Grant will record guitar, then James will add vocals. There have been many times we’ll listen to a song and Kevin will say, “If I’d known the guitar was doing that, I could have changed my part to match,” or, “I didn’t know there were going to be vocals in that part, I should have laid back,” etc. This time, the big experiment was to do full-band demos then reevaluate. Basically, we were going to record the entire album (at least) twice. That would allow everyone in the pipeline to add feedback on what needed to be changed to accommodate each others ideas. Better collaboration was the goal. A quagmire is what we got. Somehow, recording an album twice takes 10 times as long. Some of the songs are better off for it, absolutely, but we ended up abandoning the process a little over halfway through.

Here’s one of the songs that got the do and redo treatment. It’s called Stun Gun. I’ve cut together some of the demos this song went through on its way to its final version. If you’re interested in the sausage factory, give this a listen:

Stun Gun demo smorgasbord (yum).

The first cut is from the original demo I did which clocked in at just over 4 minutes. That’s just me on bass and drums, sketchpadding (if that’s a word).
Second cut is a live demo Kevin and I did where I overdubbed a guitar part to see what it sounded like. That demo was still 3:40.
Third cut is another live demo, a little faster.
Fourth cut is from James’ vocal demo over one of the bass/drum live demos Kevin and I had done. He suggested edits to the arrangement to accommodate his vocals, which really helped tighten up the song.
Fifth cut is Grant’s guitar demo over James’ vocal demo.

That’s not even all the versions I recorded over time. There are about 6 songs we wound up doing this way, and while it does give room for more collaborative input, it’s kind of unsustainable, especially given our schedules.

In this case, I think it worked out pretty well. We discovered through the process that there were redundant parts of the song, it worked better at a faster tempo, and the vocals drove the arrangement rather than leaving James to make do with whatever I gave him. What started out as a 4 minute draft turned into a song that clocks in at a lean and mean 2:47.

If you’re not sick of that loop of 3 on 4 self-indulgence, here’s a rough unmastered mix of the final version:

Stun Gun (rough mix)

Yes, Mayhem 3

I started work on material for a new album before HH2 was even completed. Depending on your outlook and disposition, you might say it’s been “maturing,” or “developing.” Other equally descriptive terms might be “languishing,” “festering,” or “never gonna happen.”

The truth is, we’ve been busy. Sure, day to day nonsense has a way of creeping in (and oh boy, does it), but we’ve all been legitimately busy with music stuff not specifically Mayhem – related. I tried to compile a list of all the things we’ve released individually since HH2 came out, but it’s unwieldy. I’ll hit a few high points:

James has released 3 solo albums:
Don’t Forget
Certified Organic
A Monotonous Work of Mind-Numbing Repetition

Grant has been a machine. I’m not going to even list all his stuff, just go look at his discography page on his website:
Notable works:
Where Good Marbles Go to Die

Viking Guitar Live: Legion
Metroid Metal: Other Album (Kevin and I are all up in, of course)
Lonely Rolling Stars: Carnivortex

We all did lots of work on the huge Spectrum of Mana album and the even huger Chronicles of Time album. We actually have two tracks credited as Yes, Mayhem on Chronicles of Time:
Chro-NO, You Di’int and Where the Monsters Hide

We had a Yes, Mayhem track on the Super VG Christmas Party album:
Northwall (Slight Return)

We also showed up on Danse Macabre 2:
Troll: Cantos Profane

Kevin and I have been hired gun rhythm section on a number of releases, including (but not limited to) Kevin’s first arrangement on the Sound Waves: A Tribute to Ecco the Dolphin album:
Squints of Medusa

This is a very incomplete list. There’s been a LOT.

Of course, as always, there were a number of high profile gigs that took up our music time as well. Metroid Metal went to Mexico and played a show entirely in Spanish. Kevin has an actual recurring house band gig. Somehow, though, the stars aligned, and we’ve had an opportunity to make some progress on a new Yes, Mayhem album. It’s happening.

Stay tuned…


So, previously I mentioned that Grant really stepped up his game this time around. It would be unfair of me to not note that James has also brought his A game. I may go back and re-record all my parts just so I don’t feel like the slack one.

Get equipped

Since the first album, I’ve picked up a number of upgrades for my recording setup.

The first album was recorded using James’ 4 track Fostex digital recorder using whatever mics I could scrounge. I picked up a PreSonus Firepod and some dedicated drum mics. I’m now using 7 mics on the drums instead of just 4, and the results have been pretty good so far. I used this same setup to record drums for Metroid Metal’s Expansion Pack. I picked up some Audix drum mics – a special kick drum mic, 3 tom mics, and two overhead condenser mics. I’m still using my SM57 on the snare. I’m also recording in a carpeted room in the basement of my new house instead of Kevin’s brick and concrete cave. I haven’t installed any sound dampening stuff on the walls, so I’m close-micing everything and making sure the overheads are pointed so they don’t pick up reflections from the walls. The first drum tracks I recorded sounded awful because the slapback was almost as loud as the original hits. I’ve sorted all that out now, and the drums are sounding better than the first album, which I guess is the point.

I will try really hard not to ruin them in post. No promises though.

I now have 10 drum tracks recorded, and at least rough bass tracks for all of them. I let you all hear works in progress previously, so why not now. Here’s a drums and bass mix that gives a decent idea of where the album is at this point. This song is fairly representative of the direction this album is taking, I think. There’s very little “production” done on here. I think volume mixing and panning is about all I’ve done with the drums, and there might be some compression on the bass.

A Thing – a work in progress (bass and drums)

This is just Kevin and I, but I’ve started sending out tracks to collaborators, so I’m eager to start getting stuff back in the not too distant future.

Taking shape

I’m now listening to a playlist of 10 songs. 9 of these are “final” bass/drum takes. One is a demo of a track to be recorded next week. Kevin and I have been at work now that he has adjusted to his new schedule.

We’re working to get all his drum tracks done before we have to shift gears and start working on the next set of things we have to do for Metroid Metal. We have a show coming up (MAGFest) in January, and the plan is to add some new songs to our set, and add a couple of special surprises. We managed to record two songs this week, and I hope we can pull the same thing off next week. That’ll put us ahead of the game.

It looks like I’ll have 15 songs by the time we’re finished, and it will just be a matter of fleshing those out with the other instruments. All 15 of those songs may not make it to the final album though (in fact, they probably won’t), but I’ll have enough to pick and choose the ones that go well together.

Almost all of these songs are in the 3 – 4 minute range. That wasn’t intentional, so I’m not sure what’s going on. I may try to squeeze in a 14-minute prog epic just to cover all my bases (do not bet on that).

Now where was I?

This is becoming a theme. Blah blah, progress being made, OH WAIT HIGH PROFILE GIG, that was fun, now try to recapture momentum…

This time, it was again a PAX. PAX Prime in Seattle, to be exact. I really kind of thought I’d be used to this by now as this is the 5th one Metroid Metal has done, but this one was no less hectic and exciting. I’m not as nervous as I was for the first couple, but I somehow managed to not actually go to the expo itself. I spent most of the time either at our table or at the venue. I did get a little hang-out time and that was cool. Actually, one of my favorite parts about this one was an increased sense of camaraderie between all the bands. I really appreciated and enjoyed that. But now it’s back to the real world and that means trying to get back into the groove of recording this album.

By my count, there are 6 songs with drums recorded. Most of them have at least a scratch bass track recorded, and one of them has guitar and vocals! I’ve got several more songs in the works, and it’s just a matter of getting them practiced and recorded. Kevin has been unavailable lately (at least when I’ve been available) but things are in flux in his world, so hopefully it’ll all settle down soon enough.

The good thing about being away from all these songs for a little while is they’re exciting and fresh now that I’ve come back to them. The bad thing is I may have forgotten how to play a couple of them.


I’m doing something different this time around, and it’s a pretty drastic change. I’m using click tracks.

Ok, actually, this isn’t new to me, I’ve done this for years, but Kevin doesn’t generally need them, and doesn’t like using them. As I’ve mentioned before, we would practice the songs to be recorded, then when he felt ready, he’d just play the songs unaccompanied and I’d record him. He did this for the Yes, Mayhem album, both Metroid Metal albums, and the unreleased Life on the Blue Dot album (I really need to finish mixing that), so it’s been standard operating procedure for some time for us.

No more!

Kevin wants to do professional session drumming, and he’s certainly got all the chops to do that, but click tracks are a certainty in that environment – especially if he hasn’t established himself yet. So, we’re doing that as practice for him.

I don’t actually mind the inevitable ebb and flow of the tempo when he’s playing without a click. I think it lends a more live feel to the whole thing, but it can be difficult down the line for other people to track on top of it – especially other people who aren’t used to playing with Kevin. That said, there were a couple of places on the first album where tempo variations made overdubbing very difficult, and I almost had to scrap a song because of it. I worked it out in the end, but I hope to avoid some of that this time around. I’ll probably create a whole host of new problems for myself but c’est la vie.