A History

I keep forgetting to link this. Grant gives this nonsense some context and history.

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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)

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Blasphemies

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.

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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).

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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.

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The Final Mile

11/12 songs are mastered and done – ready to go.  I can barely believe it, but there it is.  I’ve been listening to the final versions of the songs, trying to figure out a decent order for the album, and have to keep reminding myself that this is my album.  Don’t get me wrong, it certainly sounds like me – it’s very weird and loud.  That’s how I like it.  It’s just so much better than I could have done on my own, so I’m all kinds of appreciative to all the guys who helped out.  I expect the whole thing to be completely wrapped in about a week, and that’s going to be a load off my mind.  Finally, I’ll be free to devote some musical energy and headspace somewhere else – like these new songs I’ve been writing!

Anyway, what this process has shown me more than anything else is I suck at blogging/journaling/diarying/etc.  So sorry about that.  I promise, the album will be more entertaining than this thing.

So, as promised, a mastered track, and one I haven’t shared before.  We’re doing a sampler for PAX again, and this is going to be on there, but I’ll just throw it out there early.  This is called Whore Shoes, and it pretty much got written as it was being recorded.  That’s unlike most of the other songs that were finished and demoed before I even got started.  I’m really pleased with how this turned out.

Whore Shoes

James Moats: vocals
Grant Henry: guitars
Dan Taylor: bass
Kevin Lawrence: drums
featuring Jason ‘XOC’ Cox: accordion, wurlitzer

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Quick and dirty update

I’ve lost hair and sanity, but I’m edging closer to that finish line. I was pretty sure my brain has been trying to keep me from finishing this album because every time I’ve sat down to work on the last bit I needed to record, I ended up hating all of it and giving up out of disgust. I regrouped today, and got some input from James, and that was what I needed to break on through that roadblock. Ha, now there’s an apt metaphor (you’ll see).

11 tracks mixed and ready for mastering which will take place this weekend unless something bizarre happens. Grant has asked if he can master this album, and I’m all too happy to oblige. I may put up a mastered track as a preview. Maybe even one I haven’t shared yet. I haven’t decided.

One more track has one more part to go and that can be added to the mastering queue as well. That’s another special guest, so I’m just waiting patiently.

I started thinking about packaging today because I’m going to take copies with me to PAX in Seattle (Labor Day weekend), and I want to do something interesting and creative, but totally on the cheap. I’ve already got duplication figured out. So yeah, soon!

If that’s not enough, I’ve been working on another recording that’ll be out at PAX too. Three guesses what that might be…

By the way, our PortableACNerd collaboration its almost official.

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Do not as I do

Hey, remember back in https://chunkstyle.net/blog/?p=14 when I said I was experimenting with kick drum mic placement, and decided I liked how it sounds with the mic further away from the kick drum?  That was a horrible mistake.  Basically, what’s happened is the mic picked up the kick drum, and the rest of the drums.  Yes, the sound is more breathy and open, but it’s much harder to work with on the back end.

My drum processing, in a nutshell, is this: gate, compression, eq/effects.  I’m gating the drum track which means I set a threshold where any sound softer than that won’t be played at all.  Ideally, this would mean that only the kick drum hits would come through, and any noise or bleed through of other drums would be effectively eliminated.  Then, the compression and other effects could aggressively target the specific frequencies I want to manage in the kick drum.  Unfortunately, as a result of the mic placement, there are snare hits louder than some of the quieter kick drum hits, so they overcome the threshold as well.  The cymbals – especially the china and ride – also are louder on that track than the kick in places, so they’re getting mixed in as well.

What this means is basically the entire drum kit is getting effected the same as the kick drum – ie all low end with just a hint of definition in the highs.  This winds up making the overall mix overly bass-heavy, and when I compensate for that, the entire mix sounds thin.

Again, I’m hearing a chorus of “well, duh!’

Luckily, I came to my senses pretty early in the process, so only one or two songs have this problem, but it is a problem nonetheless, and I’m not really in any position to redo the drum tracks.  I’ve already dismantled my makeshift studio in Kevin’s basement, and I’m pretty sure I’d have a riot on my hands between Grant and James over redoing their parts.  So, I had to get a little creative.

What I’m doing amounts to manually gating the track.  I go into my editor and decrease the volume of any hit that’s not a kick drum so that it falls below the threshold.  It was a pain to do, but I think it helped.  Now, only the kick drum sounds like a kick drum, and not the rest of the kit.  I can boost the kick drum track without boosting the low end in the rest of the drumset.

The rest of the songs have more sane kick drum mic placement of that Realistic mic.  For the next project I do, I’m investing in a dedicated kick drum mic.

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Preproduction Junction, what’s your function?

Preproduction probably officially started several years ago when I first started writing and demoing these songs.  For this context, preproduction started sometime in late 2008.  I had been in a band that came to an end, and I was working on another project – Metroid Metal Live – that seemed like it would be a one-time event.  (That’s turned out to not be true, but more on that at another time).  I wanted to have something lined up to take advantage of the momentum from the Metroid Metal Live show in January 2009, so that’s where the idea for a “solo” project originated.

There have been a number of former bandmates I’ve kept in contact with over the years, and there’s always been discussion of doing long-distance recording, but nothing ever came of it.  This seemed like a perfect fit for this, so I started talking to these guys again, and without exception, they were into it.

Through my previous band, Life on the Blue Dot, and Metroid Metal Live, I had access to an absolutely amazing drummer, Kevin Lawrence.  He was keen on having a project beyond MMLive, and I would have been a fool to turn him down.  We’d been practicing every week for MMLive, so after that, we just picked up and started practicing the songs I’d selected for this album without, if you’ll pardon the pun, missing a beat.

I’ve noticed in the past that songs improve immensely AFTER they’ve been recorded.  When you’re tracking each instrument individually, you have a chance to figure out what does and doesn’t work, and can adjust accordingly.  Sometimes you don’t notice those tiny details when you’re rocking out at full volume.  I did some basic open-room recordings with Kevin, and they’ve proven to be very useful.  For instance, this recording of Concrete Flea felt good while we were playing it, but when I listened to it later, I realized it was WAY too fast for other parts I had planned (particularly the melody) to work effectively.  So, we adjusted, and in subsequent practices we’ve worked to slow it down.

Also, listening to these recordings has reinforced my belief that I have no business playing guitar on this album.

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Molly

Usually, one day I post a thing that says, “Oh yeah, the album is done, go get it.” Today is not that day, but I’m ready to share some details of what will happen on that day.

The new album, Yes Mayhem 3, is called “Molly.” The running length is around 50 minutes, and there are 13 tracks. I’m in the process of converting the bandcamp page over, so it’ll be weird looking in the short term. I’m working on it. There are also 7 bonus tracks if you download the entire album from Bandcamp. 4 of those are some of the tracks we’ve done (VGM and Soundtrack covers) since HH2, 1 is the original demo of one of the album songs, and 2 are things too silly to have been included on the album proper.

Here’s the cover:
Molly cover

Of course, in addition to the regulars, there are guests. There are new challengers in with some returning champions. I will list them now.

Jason Cox: noise composition
Chris Dlugosz: keys
Nate Horsfall: guitar
George Nowik: keys
Erik Peabody: guitar
Mike Willard: guitar

It’ll be “name your price” on Bandcamp again for the digital download. I’m going to do another short run of CDs, and those will be $10.

HH2 Noncorporeal

Barring some outrageous unforeseen demand requiring a reissue, HH2 is now out of print for physical copies. If you have one, it’s probably super valuable now. Rip it and put it on eBay to send your kids to college.

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:
http://www.stemagemusic.com/discography/
Notable works:
Narrowband
PRIORITY ONE: The Music of TRON
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…

Addendum

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.