Sunday, December 25, 2011

songwriting 101 (part 6)

this post is about 2 new songs:
13. also back in the day
rainbow unicorn

also back in the day
is the acoustic guitar version
of the keyboard-heavy back in the day.
it has a breezy jazz-like feel mostly because
of a drum loop played with brushes
and run through a bit of distortion.
not sure if it wants to remain an instrumental track
or if I'll eventually succumb to singing it,
perhaps even writing an addition verse.
as usual it is around a minute long.

rainbow unicorn was written on the AB parker fly.
I played it for a short period during the painting with guitar
show as a backdrop to the q&a section we had each night.
but it's grown into something more.
I wrote a short poem which I might recite as a voice over.
or..I might keep it an instrumental.
probably both.
it will also be short, but I don't yet know how short.
I'm recording rainbow unicorn first thing tomorrow.

and that brings us up to date on the record so far.
not all of the material is finished, many vocals are still required
but the good news, at least for me,
is I have written the words to all of these
so there will be no hang-up waiting for the lyricist.
I have 3 or 4 other songs ready and waiting in line
as well as things like variations of wave pressure,
though that may be for a separate record.

happy new year!

songwriting 101 (part 5)

this post is about 3 new songs:
10. dinosaurs in my tree
11. y

back in the days before jurassic park the movie
there were rumors of exciting new developments
in the world of dinosaurs, one of my passions.
I began reading every book I could find on the subject.
paleontolgists had proven the skeletal structure
of t. rex is exactly the same as that of a chicken,
if fact it's the same as that of all birds.
the shocker was: this means birds
are the direct descendants of dinosaurs. ergo,
birds are dinosaurs!

to this day it fascinates me to think
when I'm feeding wild birds on my deck each day
or watching them fly across my backyard,
I'm actually seeing dinosaurs!
(it follows then that if I'm eating a chicken sandwich...)

dinosaurs in my tree expresses this fascination
over top of an african-esque rolling tom tom beat
and an acoustic guitar tuned DADEBE but
with a capo far enough up the neck (on the 7th fret)
to sound somewhat ukelele-ish.
the singer expressing his amazement is surrounded
by bird chirps and dinosaur roars
(made on guitar, of course. the nice thing about
making dinosaur sounds on electric guitar
is that no one can say they didn't sound that way).
dinosaurs in my tree is under 2 minutes long.

for song #11 in our recording marathon feast
I was up to my usual manipulations of another passion:
wordplay. it comes naturally to me.

I was thinking about the letters of the alphabet,
wondering what it would be like if they had feelings.
the letter a for example might think of itself
as a trendsetter, the very first, numero uno.
the letter a might therefore possess a maladjusted ego.

given that so many names in cyberspace
now begin with a lower case i, (ieat, isnore, ipoop).
the lower case letter i would certainly
see itself as the current favorite of the main stream.
a very popular letter.

but the letter that I would envy the least is the letter y.
there you go, the letter y will always be a question.
and always next to last.
poor y.

so I wrote:

r u beside z
& stuck next 2 x
where no 1 wants 2 b

4 ever the ?
but never the answer
when u could b a c
who doesn’t like the sea?

o y
the trouble u r n
o g i feel bad 4 u
but then look @ q

o 2 b an a
or lower case i
instead of @ the end
n the alphabet line..."

y was written in standard tuning
and lasts just over 1 minute.

keeping with the same tactic of wordplay,
I saw a vanity plate that said ICTHRUU.
"clever enough," I thought, "y not use it?"

so in song #12 the singer repeatedly sings:
"I see through you".
I liked ICTHRUU so much I made a second
version called ICTHRUU2.
both songs are based on a very krim-esque
loop of two guitars and bass with some
trash can-style drumming on the same ludwig
drum kit I played on my first record, lone rhino.

ICTHRUU and ICTHRUU2 both were written
on the silver adrian belew signature model parker fly
in standard tuning, each lasting a minute or so.

Merry Christmas, etc.

Merry Christmas everyone!
(if Christmas is what you celebrate,
and if not, merry whatever you do)
and just in case the mayans somehow
got lucky and miraculously guessed
the end of the world is 12/21/12
(the odds of which are larger than
the odds of me throwing an elephant)
we hope this is the happiest new year ever.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

songwriting 101 (part 4)

this post is about 3 new songs:
7. facebook blues
8. one more day

9. rong!

what would a modern bluesman have to sing about?
in order to have the "blues" something must bother you.
I have never actually used facebook and have little idea
what goes on there except what I overhear from others.
but as a student of human nature I expect there
are sometimes "catty" comments just as there are on blogs.
and so I crafted a lyric in the style of a bluesman
who has somehow been upset by something on facebook.
it's not a hilarious concept but a curious one.

facebook blues was written with the DADEBE tuning
on the taylor acoustic guitar
and is in 2 parts for a total of 2.5 minutes.

one more day is much more uplifting in it's message:
"wake up, now it's morning
open up your eyes
see the prize you've awaited
nothing is for certain in this life we make
use what you've been given,
one more day..."

also written on the taylor acoustic in the DADEBE tuning,
one more day is a svelte 50 seconds in length
but it communicates exactly what I want.

one of the many benefits in working with an engineer
who is also an audio professor is learning the latest
and greatest new software capabilities.
rong! is a beefy instrumental piece born out of
experimenting with some new software effects.
it's brash, big, and orchestral but with an edgy drum loop.
rong! is 1:44 seconds long, but I plan to do a second
version called more rong! and maybe even a third.

rong! was written on the yamaha motif keyboard.

songwriting 101 (part 3)

this post is about 2 new songs:
5. rocketship
6. peep

upon finding this latest tuning DADEBE the first thing
I did was to discover as many chord shapes as possible.
that's one of the beauties of alternate tuning: new chords!
new chords bring out fresh melodies.

I found one set of chord changes which had unique voicings
I was certain couldn't be played in standard tuning.
curious what they were, I worked them out on the piano
and found it was a real stretch for the fingers.

instead of only writing a song from these chords
I decided to use their notes as the basis
for an a capella chorale of 5 voices.
I knew the effect would be beautifully mysterious.
something like the beach boys in outer space.
so I decided to make the chorale the intro to a song
which would have something to do with outer space.

usually I find chords and a melody which intrigue me
and then I play them over and over again
or record them and listen to them over and over,
until a lyric line or subject matter comes to mind.
I let the song tell me what it wants to be about.

but this time I determined to be more purposeful.
I decided to write a PIXAR-inspired song.
what I mean by that is a song whose content
and demeanor might fit well in a pixar film,
not a song meant to sound like randy newman,
even though I love what randy's done with pixar.
(there is only one randy newman).

lyrically I started with
"I wish I was on a rocketship sailing far beyond the moon".
from thereon I based all the words on visual things
one might encounter during a space adventure
imagining what those stunning pixar animators could do.

it took several weeks to craft the entire lyric.
then daniel and I recorded rocketship
and sent copies to my pixar buddies
andrew stanton and pete doctor.
on my solo drive to new york to do our
3 of a perfect pair
band camp
I received phone calls from both andrew and pete.
they both loved the song!
which meant so much to me.

I would never presume to do a pixar film,
(they already did a fabulous space adventure WALL E).
I wrote rocketship to prove something to myself.
but I am so pleased it was acceptable to andrew and pete.
I love their work so much.

rocketship is another of my personal faves,
but with further listens I realized I recorded it too slow
just as I had done with picture show.
I think my body tempo slows down when I'm at home.
so we sped the song up a bit and solved that problem.
from now on I am being very aware of song tempos.

song #6 we've recorded is called peep.
it's about the boundless joy of our puppy peep.
she is a miniature yorkshire terrier now one year old.
after years of continual badgering from the girls
I finally broke down and bought a puppy. glad I did.
yorkies are smart, quick, and playful.
and peep is just hilarious.
if it's true dogs can extend your life expectancy
I should live to be a hundred and twenty.

the song peep is much like the dog.
small, quick, and happily full of pep.
it features some of peep's best vocalizations
and some of her amazing squeak toy performances.
peep is 1.5 minute long.

songwriting 101 (part 2)

this post is about 2 new songs:
3. the war within me
4. I'm a food for you

"the war within me

to sink or to swim
I’m fighting to survive my own indifference
and most of the time I feel like giving up
because I know my best
is never good enough

a long time ago
I was a simpleton
I set my sights too high, I thought I’d always win
but now I’m getting older I see that ship has sailed
and left me here to ponder
the reasons I have failed

hour after hour
I sit in a chair
and stare out the window, I no longer care
I’m paralyzed by knowing the fundamental truth
that nothing really changes
no matter what I do

the war within me
problems I can’t solve
daily the battle erodes my resolve
and most of the time now I feel like giving up
because I know my best
is never good enough..."

sometimes you're perspective of life comes at you
in such a rong way as to disarm your ability to reason.

songwriting is all about perspective.

the war within me was written
on my favorite taylor acoustic using standard tuning.
it is 4 minutes long but I may make into two-2 minute parts.

the 4th song we've recorded is called
I'm a food for you
it's about the various foods the singer likes to eat.
and all of them are bad for you.

written on the yamaha motif keyboard
complimented with a rockin' band of adrians.
it's the kind of looneytune I may have written
back in the day of twang bar king.
meant to sound like a live club gig
with a blues-ish singer pouring his heart out.

except that he's singing about bad foods he likes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

songwriting 101 (part 1)

this post is about 2 new songs:
1. picture show
2. back in the day

since returning from our fabulous 6-week extravaganza
I have been utterly preoccupied with two things.
my first preoccupation has been songwriting.*

there is an excitement in the ongoing journey which begins
with the germ of an idea (a melody, a set of chords, a riff)
and more or less plagues the writer until the big payoff,
which is the day the song is finally completed
and righteous enough to be communicated to others.
what a sweet moment it is when you finally
hear your idea fully realized.

songwriting is all about communication.

as I said elsewhere in these posts
there was a string of 5 years when I all but abandoned
songwriting and doubted I would ever write songs again.
then one day I suddenly remembered one of the oldest
songs I had written, in fact it is the oldest song of mine that
I can remember from my early days of trying to write songs.
I believe I wrote it in 1970 at the age of 19.
it's called picture show.

for some reason picture show reappeared in my mind
just like a record being played and I was able to recall
not only the melody, chord changes, and lyrics
but also my ideas for the production of the song.
it would be another full decade before MTV arrived
but I remember deciding to write the song based
on a very clear idea I had for a "short film" (i.e. video)
to go along with the lyric of picture show.

the song is about a lonely guy who rides
the downtown bus to a noon matinee of the latest
"picture show" and ends up alone in the second row
imagining himself to be the star of the movie
"with his name across the screen" only to end up
realizing once again he's really just "a nameless face".
I had blocked out each camera move in my head
and could clearly visualize the piece.

songwriting is all about visualization.

remembering picture show is what caused my reawakening
back into the world of being a songwriter.
so I tried to work out on acoustic guitar how I had played it.
it wasn't easy since I knew it had been in an alternate tuning.
but by remembering the finger-picking method I had used
I was eventually able to recall the alternate tuning.
D A D E B E.
(I have always preferred simply alternate tunings
which don't require changing string gauges.)
it's an easy enough tuning,
you tune the low E down to D and the G down to E.

what happened next surprised and amazed me.
the more I fooled with the new chord shapes I could
achieve with this new tuning the more songs began
to pour out of me like someone had turned on
the creative faucet. I was inspired again!
the melodies came along at the same time
and uncharacteristically for me, so did many of the words.

songwriting is all about inspiration.

another inspiration I had was to do a hand tremelo effect
over the sound hole of the acoustic taylor
to make what sounds like a leslie slowing down.
I've never seen anyone else do it
so it was an exciting discovery.
I'm going to post a yourtube of the effect.

naturally the first song daniel and I recorded was picture show.
but the first version was too slow and in the wrong key
so last week I re-recorded a much better take.
this week I plan to add the vocals, orchestration, and bongos.
it is only 2 minutes long.

in the new studiobelew a yamaha motif keyboard
is the centerpiece. able to be utilized for everything from
samples to midi sequences it is the perfect tool for arrangers,
or songwriters, and is used in many movie and tv scores.
as soon as I got my yamaha motif I began writing with it.

the second song daniel and I recorded was written entirely
on the yamaha and has a "synthesizer pad and groove track-feel"
unlike anything I normally use on my records.
back in the day is a phrase I often encounter watching
one of my few favorite tv shows: pawn stars.
the old man on the show (known as "the old man")
uses the phrase repeatedly in reference to better times.
though I watch very little tv I never miss pawn stars.
I'm a history nut and the show manages to be highly
entertaining while teaching wonderful nuggets of arcanery.

the song back in the day is about my boyhood.
the simplicity of loving to be outside, to ride a bike, and so on.
it's a yearning for a time of innocence.

"back in the day we used to play, even if it rained
we couldn't wait to run outside or ride our bikes at night
man, I wish it could be so simple again
I wish it could be innocent

there was a time when boys would climb
to fall into leaves
back in the day when money meant nothing
and love had not come into play..."

it's one of my favorite songs I've written in a long time.
I plan to do a second guitar-based version for the record.
back in the day is 2.5 minutes long.
it's a trend I intend to follow throughout the record:
short songs connected in quick surprising ways.
(a la op zop too wah)

don't go away, I plan to continue this dialogue about
each and every song we are adding to the ever-growing list
of new music you will (hopefully) someday have in your earbuds.

*the second preoccupation could be so amazing it keeps me
up at night just thinking about it though is not something
I should talk about now (in case it ultimately doesn't work out)
but believe me it's an extremely exciting prospect,
one I have dreamed of for many years.