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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Xoc Rocks

First off, if you haven’t heard, Xoc just released Xoc Plays Super Mario Brothers 3.  I was lucky enough to contribute some bass tracks to this album, but I’d be pimping it even if I weren’t on it.  It’s pretty fantastic, and it’s only $5.  Go here and get it, I’ll wait for you.  http://www.xocmusic.com/xocplays3.

Ok, you have it now?  Great.  I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed playing on it.

I guess this is as good a time as any to announce another of my special guests: XOC (aka Jason Cox)!  You probably saw that coming.  If you’re at all familiar with his work, you know he’s a multi-instrument wizard and a musical genius.  If you’re not familiar with him, go here and start downloading and listening: http://www.xocmusic.com.  His Super Mario World soundtrack is a masterpiece, and SMB3 is being compared favorably to it.  This pleases me.  It also pleases me that Xoc has contributed several tracks of stuff to my album.  He’s acting as kind of a chaos element, where he’s adding interesting textures and noises using a variety of instruments, including some of his own inventions.  Particularly, I’m talking about an electronic noisemaking thing he calls a “Craparratus” and frankly, I’m tickled to be able to list that in the credits.

Where have I been?

Here’s the short version: I got the swine flu at PAX and everything has been crazy since then.

Long version: PAX was fantastic.  In addition to rocking faces, selling a bunch of Varia Suite CDs, and handing out ALL the promo CDs featuring some Yes, Mayhem, I got swine flu and nearly died on the plane ride home.

Hyperbole much?  Well, yes, but in this case not really.  I had a connecting flight from Houston back home, and about 30 minutes out of Houston I noticed that I was no longer looking out the window at the Gulf of Mexico.  We’d turned around.  The pilot came on the intercom to inform us that part of the cooling system had failed, and there was now a 500 degrees centigrade blast of air going directly into the back of the plane, threatening to melt the avionics.  Also they decided to just go ahead and put the landing gear down.  The stewardess said that they did this to conserve fuel, which anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of physics realizes is a lie.  That’s when I started to get scared.  What else were they lying about?  It was a horrible ride back to the airport as the deployed landing gear made the ride very jerky, and there were all sorts of noises which I probably overanalyzed as worse than they were.  I was very glad to be back on the ground.

While we were waiting in Houston for another plane, a lady said to me, “Well, let’s look at the bright side, at least we’re not all dead!”  I responded, “How can you be so sure?”  She looked confused, so I continued, “Being stuck in an airport terminal in Houston sounds a lot like Hell to me.”  Apparently, she was from there, so she wasn’t too amused.  At least she stopped saying stupid things to me.

I eventually did get back home, so all’s well that ends well, I suppose.  Except that I missed almost a week of work and gave my entire family the dreaded H1N1.  I went to the doctor, and the prescribed treatment for low risk cases like me is to go home and get some sleep.  So, that’s what I did.  I think we’ve all managed to get better around here, finally.

Also, one other note about PAX:  I went from being a fan of Jonathan Coulton to developing a disturbing unhealthy obsession with him.  His was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen and I can’t even believe we played on the same stage.

That’s why there haven’t been any updates around here.  I’ve been a bit indisposed.

From the Road

I’m in Seattle right now, trying to soak in all that’s happened today.  Metroid Metal is playing the Penny Arcade Expo, and we flew into town, got checked in, got a tour of the facility, met MC Frontalot, saw Gabe and Tycho (though separately, and only walking past – actually, Gabe was running), and then a bunch of other stuff to get ready for the show tomorrow.  The staff here has been absolutely amazing.  We’ve been treated fantastically, and I’m pleased to report that one of my primary metrics for “making it” has been fulfilled: I didn’t have to carry my own gear to the gig.

In addition to all the Metroid Metal stuff going on, there’s also a bit of Yes Mayhem action as well.  Of course, since 3/4 of the core of the band is here, it only stands to reason that this would be so.  We’re handing out sampler CDs with songs from each of our projects.  The two I’ve chosen for the CD, I’ll also link here because they’re meant for anyone to hear to get a sense of what I’ve been doing these many months.  Both of these tracks were mixed by me, but mastered by Grant.

Naked Fight (this is slightly different from the one I posted before – it’s more “final”)

Reliable

Also, as a web-only exclusive preview, I’ll include the other track I was debating.  This one was only sort of mastered by me.

Victim

That’s not on the sampler CD.

So, if you’re visiting as a result of picking up the sampler, welcome and thank you.  The full album will be available soon!

Preview Tracks (soon)

I’m not going to have the album done in time for PAX.  There, I said it.

That’s ok though, because I would have rushed it and wound up with something less than what I wanted.  I’ve still got tracks coming in from several people, so songs which have been sitting around as just drum and bass are starting to take shape.  As a matter of fact, I’ve still got one bass part to touch up.  Now that I’m not limiting myself to the PAX deadline, a couple of songs I thought I might need to drop are back on the table too.

What I will have in time for PAX is a couple of songs for the aforementioned “sampler” that is now a full-on deal.  I’m in charge of putting all this together and making the discs, and I hope to have it done early this week.  These samplers will include two songs from Grant’s upcoming instrumental EP which he hasn’t really talked about very much.  Danimal is contributing songs from his crazy popular “nostalgia celebration” band, Armcannon as well as his original prog band, Weaponex.  Kirby has some tracks from the latest TSS album, and I’m not sure what I’m including yet.  I’m trying to choose from 3 or 4 different songs that are finished at this point.  I just need to finalize the mastering. So basically, we’re putting out another album’s worth of material in addition to Varia Suite at PAX.

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Naked Fight is one I thought would be ideal, but it’s been up here for preview for a while now, so it seems kind of cheap to include that one.  I don’ t know yet.  What I do know is when I decide what tracks go on the sampler, I’ll make them available for the general public as well.  We’re only making 200 CDs to take to PAX to give away.  Those will surely be gone quickly, and we’re putting that stuff out so people will be interested in hearing more of what we do, so why limit that to just the rowdies at PAX?

Oh, and I also registered yesmayhem.com and yesmayhem.net the other day.  I’ve got to figure out what to do with those.  I have a couple of ideas.  I also registered a myspace account for yesmayhem.  That seemed like a good idea at the time.

Like a Phoenix

Hopefully, my project isn’t in ashes just yet, but I’m still rising up and getting back at it after my Metroid Metal diversion.  For those of you interested in that (ie, everyone here most likely), that album is done.  I’ve been listening to what’s being called the “final master” and it sounds great.  When it finally drops, it’s going to drop hard.  The first week of September maybe?  I’m not sure.  It’s either right before or right after PAX.  We plan to have copies available there.

I’m in the home stretch now with tracking on my album.  I’ve got just a couple of outstanding tracks I’m waiting for, and as those come in, I’m mixing more.  I gave one of my songs, Tessellating, to James to see if he could add vocals.  That song is a departure for me in that it’s kind of open and loose, and he had a hard time deciding on a vocal melody.  It just so happens that I had an idea for that, so I played it for him on bass and sent it to him.  He came back with, “why don’t you just do that?”  So, that’s what I did.  That song now features a bass solo for almost the entire thing.  A few of the rough mixes I’ve done have featured it a little too prominently, and I’ve got to tone it back.  The sound I went for is pretty Cliff Burton-y, so maybe I should really do it right and completely bury it in the mix.  It’ll be interesting to see how that goes over.

I got in a bass melody mood and that coupled with a sudden nostalgia rush with Michael Jackson’s death caused me to do this (very rough) all-bass cover of “Ben”:  https://www.chunkstyle.net/ben.mp3.

Distractions? More like DistROCKtions

Ok, I’ll go ahead and just apologize for that.

Updates have been slow in coming around here, and that’s because there haven’t been any to speak of.  My musical attention has been turned to another more high-profile project that has a more severe deadline.  We’re recording an album of Metroid Metal songs done by the full live band.  Basically, it’s an album of covers of covers.  I’ve been recording the drums and the bass, and I just recently finished all that.  The other guys are tossing their parts to Grant, and the whole thing is coming together pretty quickly.  The rough mixes I’ve heard so far sound great.

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Now that I’m finished with my work for that (barring any touch-ups or red0s), I’m back to working on my album.  I’m in the home stretch now, and I’m going to have to amend my laissez-faire approach to my collaborators.  “What you can, when you can” isn’t as good of an option anymore.

Metroid Metal is going to be playing PAX over Labor Day weekend, and I’d really like to have the album done by then so I can have it available there.  I haven’t really mentioned that to anyone, so it wasn’t as high priority as the MM album which we advertised WILL be available at PAX (and at this rate, it’ll be done well before then).

We’re also talking about putting together a “sampler” album with a few tracks from each of our other projects.  Grant may have a song or two from his new instrumental EP ready, Dan (the other one) may have some tracks from the new Armcannon album, Kirby may have some TSS tracks on there, and I’ve got a couple from this project I can put on there.  Of course, Kevin is on all but one of the tracks of my album, so he’ll be well represented on the sampler too.  This is all in the “hey what if” stage at this point, so it may not happen, so don’t hold me to that.

The Wall, and how I have hit it.

Regular readers (if there are any left) may have noticed there hasn’t been an update in an while.  There hasn’t been much activity, so not much worth writing.  As I mentioned previously, drum tracks are done.  Bass tracks are done, with the exception of one song I need to re-record.  Rhythm guitar tracks are almost all done, but Grant’s guitar was in the shop for a while.  And there are a few songs waiting on various parts from other people.  I’ve been doing some mixing, and I feel like I have four songs that are ready to be mastered.  So, that’s 1/3 of the album there.  But really, everything is kind of at a standstill at the moment.

I’ve been listening to my current mixes a lot at home, in the car, at work, on headphones, etc.  and something happened that I did not expect – my kids really like the album so far.  As a matter of fact, they fight over their favorite songs.  My son really likes Release and Corporate Rock.  My daughter really likes Neatomatter.  The both love Naked Fight.  So, if nothing else, I’ve got the approval of my built-in fanbase.

The grind

I suppose the worst part about playing music is all the time you spend on music where you’re not actually playing music at all.  It takes a few minutes to record a couple of tracks, but it seems like for every minute you spend playing, you spend 2 on getting set up, 3 on fooling with the recorder, and 100 on mixing.  That’s how it’s seemed for me anyway.  Maybe if I really knew what I was doing, it would be different, but I’m doing a lot of experimenting along the way.

One of those things that gets kicked around as common knowledge that you should listen to your mixes on many different output devices, and don’t just trust the shiny, sparkly, pumping sound coming out of your fancy studio monitors.  I hadn’t done that until just the other day.  I listen to these songs either on my computer at home as I’m mixing, or at work on a really crappy pair of free computer speakers I found in a box.  I decided I was really pleased with the latest round of mixing, so I made a CD of everything I have so far and put it in the car.  The low end was overwhelming.

Since I’m primarily a bass player, you’ve got to realize I like the low end, so the mixes were pretty heavy on my very flat response monitors.  I don’t have a subwoofer on my mixing setup, so I’d overdone it.  The most embarassing thing was it was all in the bass guitar.  OOPS.  So, I went back and made another pass where it sounds good on my monitors, but the lowest low end of the bass is pulled down (everything below about 150hz is pulled down about 10db).  That instantly cleared up the mix, and the vocals jumped out at me.  I had to turn them down.  I may have cut too deeply, but it sounds pretty good in the car now, and I haven’t noticed any huge difference in these Dell specials on my work desk -except that I can actually hear bass articulation now, which is pretty key.

I’m doing something a little weird with the bass.  Well, it seems weird to me.  It may be another of those things that people just know to do.  It’s a trick I learned from Grant.  When we were working on the Actraiser track, I thought that my bass sounded great in the heavy parts of the song, but in a couple of places where it was just bass, I noticed it sounded distorted.  Grant had doubled my bass track and put a distortion effect on the 2nd track and mixed them together.  It was very subtle, and you could only really tell when the bass was by itself, but it really helped it cut through the mix.  I’m doing something similar on these songs, where appropriate.  I’m using the Voxengo Boogex plugin (http://www.voxengo.com), and it works great.  I even used it on a background guitar track I wanted to have distorted after the fact.  The best part is, it’s free.

I originally thought that I wouldn’t be posting any songs beyond the way-deep work in progress phase (ie, bass and drum mixes, rough mixes, etc), but people can change their minds.  Here’s an all-but-done mix of one of the songs.  It hasn’t been mastered yet, and I’m going to revisit that reverb on the vocals, but the final version shouldn’t be very different from this at all.

Naked Fight (formerly Concrete Flea)

music: Dan Taylor
lyrics: James Moats

The personnel here:

Kevin: drums
Grant: guitar
James: vocals
Dan: bass

So yeah, the core of this project.

The vocal performance is something else.  There are more vocal tracks than instrumental tracks.  That seems to be true for most of the songs.  And yes, this is the song about being ambushed by the Jehovah’s Witnesses I’d mentioned earlier.