Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Explain an Album... (Side 2)

I figure we'll pick up right where we left off...

Blacklight Serenade Part 2:
     This was a completely different song from the aforementioned "Part 1", and really their only similarities are in regard to a few lyrical connections. Overall, this was to be the true soft moment on the album, (in the vein of "Failing Street" on the Reland EP).
      We had Bryan Daste record some banjo on the song, and even threw in a mid-section for a sort of banjo solo. Since pedal steel would be the obvious addition to this song in feel, I specifically decided that we would steer clear of the obvious instrumentation - and have a different instrument that we hadn't had on record before. Thus, the banjo on this song.

Secret History:
     I've come to the understanding that every album session, (for me, anyway), seems to have one unfinished song. That's not to say that the song isn't completed for listening, it's that the so-called "artistic vision" of the song wasn't fully realized. "Secret History" is that song for me.
    With a lyrical lean towards the early/mid 70's Kinks, this song morphed from a palm-muted rocker to a strange little pop song. I'd initially made a suggestion that it'd be cool to have a mellotron on the song, and in the magic of production we did just that.
     However, when all was said and done, (after drums recorded, in the midst of mixing), it didn't quite turn out how I'd imagined it. That's not to say I dislike the song, it's just that there's still stuff I want to do to it. But at this point it's a bit late, and it is what it is.
     On the other hand, a song like "Secret History" does translate well into the live setting - sounding a bit different form the record but retaining the clear recognition of the original. So, as we schedule out more shows, this one will definitely be popping up in our setlists.

Where's My Soul?:
      This song dates back to an early incarnation of our band and is still floating around the interwebs in it's premature form off our first demo album.  Another example of a song that I felt was unfinished all those years ago, and that we revived for this album.
       This version of the song is pretty much perfect in my opinion. Andy's more rhythmic approach gives the song a better feeling of movement, under the piano and guitars. My favorite part, of course, is the guitar solo. We spent a good chunk of time ironing out the solo for this one, and after a number of takes, finally got what we needed.  This was the hardest solo to record for the record, but it turned out perfect, (in my opinion, of course).

Nothing Fades:
      In the mixing notes I gave to Bryan Daste for this song, I stated that I wanted it to sound like Television's "Marquee Moon" album, and I would have to say that it turned out exactly as planned.
      I love the fact that all the guitars sound nice and warm but also very clean, and not over-loaded with distortion.  And again, the other solo that I'm most proud of on the record, slowly composed and organized over a few weeks.  This solo was specifically recorded on my Epiphone Flying-V and using my Vox AC-15.

No One's Home:
       This song is my favorite one on the album - and the one I'm most proud of.
       When I started writing this song, I'd been listening to a lot of Can albums and the Neu discography - this should easily explain the krautrock comparisons that it may receive. I had always planned to have the first part of the song quiet and calm, and then have the last half of the song be driven by a motorik beat. Obviously, this idea for a song has been done before, using the same influences, I assume - (see: early Stereolab, or Wilco's "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" for reference)...
         Again, the pedal steel part was provided by Bryan Daste, and the last half/outro of the song was a jam specifically arranged and created in the studio. The intention for the outro jam was also to have a song that we could play live and make it any length we wanted.  However, in the recording setting, you don't want to make it boring for the listener, thus we kept the outro down to about 4 minutes or so.

Rock and Roll Life:
        Another song that has existed in demo form since around 2006, with some intermittent live performances of it.
        The intention of this song was to have a cool, psychadelic burnout at the end, with a multitude of noises jostling the listener. A mixture of the discordant and some bit of melody to end the song. This song idea came from 2 sources: the first Pink Floyd album, and the Flaming Lips' "You Have To Be Joking (Autopsy of the Devil's Brain)".
          This song is also "the little song that could" from the mixing sessions. The explanation for that reference is because on the first day of mixing, the noisy outro part sounded underwhelming, while the first part of the song felt... well... bland upon first listen, with only the acoustic drums, guitar and vocals.
          I went the next day and recorded a quick lead guitar part, with the full intention of reversing it - thinking we could add the backwards guitar to the track during the outro. I also recorded a small spoken word segment, that I distorted slightly and reverbed out through a little Orange guitar amp. I handed these small recordings over to Bryan Daste for the final day or so of mixing, and also requested a possible filter on the drum track in the first portion of the song - I used Radiohead's "The National Anthem" as an example of the drum sound that might make the track.
          After the new tracks were mixed in, and the weird synth and keboard parts in the outro were even more reworked - the final mix was there, and it sounded, (to me), light years from the original. And I felt confident again in this song, and that it was definitely worthy of being on the album.

And thus concludes the write-up of our album... Remember - You can purchase "From A Transistor  Radio" via the following retailers: iTunes,, CDBaby.
   You can also check it out on Spotify....

Friday, June 29, 2012

How to Explain an Album... (Side 1)

     In a past life, I wasn't really meant to play music or work in the medical field. I was meant to write about music - reviewing albums and shows, talking about musicians, doing write-ups on people, etc...
     Years ago, in that weird span of time between high school graduation and starting my first year of college, I heavily considered being an English major, (What really happened, was a thwarted attempt at a double major for Music and Nursing... That lasted for about a year...), in order to continue my love of writing that I had developed from grade school....(In hindsight, perhaps a double major with English and Music would have been more appropriate...)...
      Either way, I have the sneaking suspicion that I might have a had a life reviewing music for any form of publication, and would've been at least partially okay at it... No matter the limited amount of money I would make...(That's not to say I'm unhappy with the way things turned out; things ended up pretty damn good - But it's nice to imagine an alternate timeline, eh?)...
        My reason for explaining all this is because I'm going to do a little write up on the new Hutson album "From A Transistor Radio*"... I'm doing this because it's my album, and I feel like talking about it, (now that it's completed, and due to be released on June 30th).
        This isn't going to be so much a review, as it is an explanation of the underlying info regarding the songs... So, here we go...

Blacklight Serenade 1:
        I had the chord progression of this song for close to a year, and snippet of the first verse and half of the chorus already organized. Initially, this was one that I liked the lyric parts of, but felt the chord progressions might end up sounding tedious. Luckily, when Andy and Tony came in for their parts,  they organized a much more rhythmic approach underneath the straight palm-muting and strumming guitar part.  Also, the pedal steel, (played by Bryan Daste), added an unforeseen Jayhawks feel tho the choruses.
        This song was a prime example of when you write something with your predisposed idea of how it should sound, and then come out the other end with something different - and better.

Ready To Run:
     This is a song that was written and mostly organized in the band setting, so much  that we were playing it regularly in our sets at the beginning of 2011. By the time we hunkered down and put it to tape, we had a pretty solid idea how it would turn out. Mostly acoustic driven, I felt the need to overlay a large amount of feedback in the background in order to move the song away from a standard  folk-song variation - (this is specifically a trick I nicked from old R.E.M. songs from the early 90's)...
      As far as the lyrics, this song is another example of my fascination with the apocalypse and paranoia over our current status in society, much like the song "Smokescreen" from our Reland EP, (in fact, this song has a line or two specifically written to link it to "Smokescreen", so that it's a continuation of the same idea)... 
Kill Your Scene:
      This song was built around a bass line of Tony's, and I simply augmented a chorus and middle section around it. This is another song that came about of it's own accord during the recording process. The early demo of this song didn't have the mid-section - but I eventually latched on riffy middle area, feeling the need to have something reminiscent of early Black Sabbath records and/or a Queens of the Stone Age feel to it.
      Also, there's a bit of Ennio Morricone in this song, with it's over-dramatized feel, much like those old spaghetti-western soundtracks.
      Initially, the plan was to call it "Kill Yr Scene", with the mis-spelling intentionally in there as a throw-back to Sonic Youth's "Expressway To Yr Skull"... Definitely a music-geek thing that few people would appreciate. However, in the midst of completing artwork, and organizing liner notes, the song title got spelled correctly - and thus, it is what it is.

     The second of 3 songs that were basically written and organized prior to our recording sessions, "Static" was in our set for probably a good six months before we took our break from live shows. This song was written after listening to a bunch of Hold Steady albums, (which seems a bit obvious to me). At one point in time, there was talk of adding some horns to the bridge section build-up, but due to time constraints and forgetting about the suggestion - we weren't able to add any. Which is fine, because I feel the song stands pretty well on it's own. This was also the first song we started on in the recording process.

Porch Swing:
       The oldest song on this album, "Porch Swing" has been written, (and existed), in a demo form since 2004. We've been playing this song in our sets since probably mid-2010, and we finally were able to record it. This was one of the easiest songs to record, probably because we all had our parts organized and it required little extra work to translate it to tape. Again, the beautiful pedal steel on this one is courtesy of Bryan Daste.

Riot Saturday Night:
      Oh yes. There is a stupidity to rock music. There always has been, that's why it's fun. Don't get me wrong, I like serious music. I appreciate it as a form of art. I get that people want to put part of themselves into the music they create.  But I also think that too much of that ends up being really pretentious, and over-thinking - So, to balance out the times our songs are a bit overly serious, I really wanted a song that was just a good rock song - It doesn't take many brain cells to rock - and that's exactly where this song came from.
       I initially wanted it to be a scrappy late 70's punk song, but as always, it turned into it's own thing. And as for the lyrics, well... it's a bit tongue-in-cheek... But it's fun. Because that was the point - (my personal favorite part of this is the hand-claps in the mid-section)...

To Be Continued With Side 2....

*It should be noted that the following guitars were used on this album: Fender Telecaster, Fender Jazzmaster, Epiphone Flying-V, and Epiphone SJ-220 acoustic guitar.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

It's Such A Drag When You're Living In The Past...

    It cannot be said enough how much Tom Petty affected my early musical education in my teenage years.
   It was probably sometime in late 1994 when I got my tape of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Greatest Hits... (yes... a tape...The dividing line between the two sides of the album  being between "You Got Lucky" and "Don't Come Around Here No More").....
   While my friends were immersed in Green Day and the Offspring, in the aftermath of Nirvana... I found something that clicked with me in Petty's songs. Teen angst was fun and all, but I'm guessing that I was subconsciously trying to find something with more background.... (in later years, I found the background/influences for most of these mid-90's acts to be of interest as well... oftentimes way more interesting than the bands of my generation.....)
    Now, I'm not writing this to explain the intricacy of the music,  because.. let's be honest... Tom Petty's songs aren't complicated. But there's something nicely brilliant about these simple songs that get their point across without dumbing down too much for the listening audience.
   Looking back on it, most of these songs by Petty were no less angry than the average grunge band on the radio at that time. It was just that the anger was more controlled and joined alongside other emotions, rather than the one-dimensional aggression that was exhibited by anything on the so-called "alternative" radio stations.
  Petty's lyrics touched on loss, resentment, and their own kind of anger; "You Got Lucky" being a prime example of a  pithy kiss-off to a lover. "Don't Come Around Here No More" illustrates just that and I'm still not sure what "Mary Jane's Last Dance" is specifically about... (however, that's part of the beauty of it, I think)....and "Here Comes My Girl" hits all the bitterness of living  in a small town, all the while producing a glimmer of hope by each chorus.
       Which brings me to the point that these songs always seemed to have a bit of hope in them, (mostly by the time you got to the songs from "Full Moon Fever")... An element that didn't really fit into most of those 90's band's vernacular...
     I listened to that tape constantly - so much to the point that the song-listing on each side was worn off, making it nearly unreadable for anyone except for myself.
     And then as years passed, I didn't listen to it quite as much. I moved onto other music and other bands. Yet those songs were always there, part of my teenage DNA. Even now as I'm a hell of a lot older, I still remember the words to every single song on the tape, (which is kind of a rarity for me).
    Several years later, I moved up and got an audio CD of that album, then it moved to my iPod., so it's never really left. As for the actual tape, it's still at my parents' house somewhere, along with its tattered insert. Which to me, seems like a fitting place. After all, if my parents hadn't sprung the money for a broke teenager, I might not be writing this particular blog entry.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Some Reflection... (or) Altering Your Perceived Musical Paradigm (A.K.A Giving Your Musical Taste A Shot In The Arm)

It's certainly time to wake this blog up a bit... I've been incommunicado for a while as my band Hutson finished up our first LP, "From A Transistor Radio"  - (due out in March 2012)...
  Since that job is done for a bit, I have returned to the blogging sphere.
  What I'm going to talk about is the life-changing aspects of certain albums. I'm sure most of you who are true music fans, (and even those who are casual listeners), have at least an album or two that "changed your life"... Or an album that you continuously come back to for inspiration, etc...
  However, here is where I need to make a distinction... There are those albums whose discovery
coincides with certain events in one's life... An example: you bought album "x" in 2003 after a bad breakup with your girl-friend/boy-friend of 4 years, and it helped you get through a tough time, etc ... While I'm sure everyone has plenty of those, that's not the kind of life-changing album that I'm talking about. What I'm talking about is when you've bought an album, and upon listening to it - it has shifted your paradigm or changed your understanding of music from that point on.
    Albums like this, are not as common....
   In this blog, I'm going to examine one album that did this for me.

  I'm guessing that it would be in the first couple of weeks of January 2000, in my first year of college. Me and my girl-friend at the time had seen "Girl Interrupted" at the theater, and I had the urge to purchase the soundtrack to this movie. Now, in hindsight, the movie has made little impact on my life and seems to have been only a means to an end to purchase the soundtrack. As far as that soundtrack goes, it's a fairly solid collection of late 60's rock and pop tunes, (see: Petula Clark's "Downtown" and/or the Band's "The Weight")... Some good songs on there, but nothing necessarily mind-blowing... Except for one song.
   The odd one out is a song by Wilco, called "How To Fight Loneliness."
   I found this song most interesting on the soundtrack, simply cause I knew it was a current band at the time, and yet the song sounded almost as if it had come from the same time-frame as the aforementioned song by the Band. I'd heard of Wilco, read some random magazine articles, etc... but hadn't picked up any albums by them. Still, I found it kind of invigorating to hear a band playing this type of music now, so I decided I should track down an album by them.
   Probably a few weeks later, I made the trip into Walla Walla to the only good record store in town, Hot Poop, (say what you will, but Hot Poop was, and still is, a seriously awesome independent record store)....
I found the Wilco album that also contained the song I loved so much. That album was "Summerteeth."
   This was a fairly big leap of faith for me, cause in most articles I'd read of Wilco, they were portrayed as an "alternative country" band, (and yes, I'm aware how stale and over-used this genre term has become in the past several years - especially since my understanding of it was that it was a rock/country hybrid, but it turns out to be mostly a bunch of boring-ass folk music in the past decade... but I digress...).
    The idea of anything "country"  being anywhere close to rock music gave me reason to shudder at the tender age of 19.... My reasoning? I grew up in Oklahoma long before I moved up to Oregon, and was exposed to a ridiculous amount of country music, and by the time I hit my teenage years I found anything in the genre revolting - having grown into my teenage years with the so-called "alternative rock" music of the early-mid 90's.... (It should be noted that the "country music" that is played on heavy rotation on CMT or on nearly every country station in town is still equally revolting to me, but for different reasons....)
  So, while I enjoyed "How To Fight Loneliness", I was a bit skeptical if I would dig this entire Wilco album, but I figured it'd be worth the 15 bucks to find out.
   Now, at this point I could easily do a track by track breakdown of the album to explain all the great things about it, but I think a listen on Spotify could fill in all that information for you.  But there are certain important aspects about it that made it life-changing for me. First, and foremost, it changed my perception and disdain for "country music." The type of "country" music that was incorporated into these songs was that of the 60's and 70's, even the earlier Johnny Cash stuff. This type of country I could tolerate and even like -  mostly because it wasn't the glossy, Nashville garbage that had been going on for the last 20 years - (I'm looking at you, Garth Brooks and Shania Twain...)
After hearing this album, instruments such as banjo or pedal steel became less foreign and added a fascinating touch to what were basically straight-forward pop songs, buried beneath some cool studio flourishes.
      Case in point, the song "Via Chicago" that ripples beneath waves of  feedback and intermittent squalls of detuned guitars - accompanied, (at times), by drums that sound like they were recorded in the apartment next over... These are all tricks that Sonic Youth had been doing for years, but at the time, it was rare to hear these being incorporated into a sad acoustic ballad. Not only that, with lines such as "I dreamed about killing you again last night, and it felt alright to me" - Jeff Tweedy was writing cryptic lyrics that held way more weight to me at that time-frame than anything from the KornBizkitNickelSum182 bands that covered the radio...
       So, I guess in a nutshell - "Summerteeth" made me not afraid of country music anymore, which opened me up to a broader range of music and artists, (i.e. Son Volt, the ever amazing Uncle Tupelo, the Byrds, the Jayhawks, Jerry Reed, Cracker, etc....), that I wouldn't have found otherwise.
    And really, it's just a freaking awesome album. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen.