It’s done — and documented

August 12th, 2013

Between the Walls and the Sea is now live on Bandcamp. Tapes ship out by September 25th, and you can pre-order them now.

One of the different things about this album — besides that it took four years to complete — is that I put a lot of effort into documenting the songs and recordings as they developed. I wasn’t in a hurry to get a record done and I sat on the songs for a long time. Back in 2009 I was recording a video demo of every new new song I wrote. More recently I’ve been posting sketches on Soundcloud. I’ve been posting lyrics as soon as a song is written here on Quelquechose, and as they get edited, I’ve been updating the same post with all the edits intact. Further, my Soundcloud has multiple versions of the songs as the recording progressed, so (if you want to — not saying you do) you could hear “Background” without the synths or “Cellar Door” back when it had a much simpler drum track. All of the songs on this new record have a post on this blog that archives the changes that occurred. I was also, for a while, keeping a live to-do list that I published on Twitter, but that fizzled out at some point

So, this album ended up being a songwriting documentary experiment, which you can check out by visiting the lyric archive, where I’ve compiled all of my songwriting posts grouped together by album. You can also view the song lyrics category to view the posts in reverse chronological order.

Between the Walls and the Sea

July 28th, 2013

cassette layout

There’s actually news on the solo project front. My next record is complete. I have preliminary masters for it and I’ll be releasing it on cassette and MP3 in the fall. No physical CDs to start out, but I’m offering the MP3s on my Bandcamp page on a pay-what-you-want basis.

Between 1997 and 2009, I released at least one recording every year. There’s been nothing since then. I wrote a bunch of new songs in 2009 and then tabled them. In late 2011 I started recording some of them. I’ve been working on those tracks slowly since then, and recorded a few new songs along with them. That means I’ve been working on this release for four years. I think it shows. Every step was a very deliberate process, and I’ve gotten to know the tracks very well. This is a very different record from Open or Exits — I’ve gotten pretty enthusiastic about analog synth sounds and keyboards in general, so this record is way less guitar-dominated. There’s also a shit-ton of reverb and drum machine. Warning: the rest of this paragraph is geek-talk. I recorded it all in my room using Cubase LE (which I’m done with — I recently switched to Reaper,) an Alesis SR-18 drum machine, an M-Audio midi controller and a handful of free VST synth plugins. Guitar and vocals were mic’d but everything else was done in the box. A big part of the sound is a result of using the same very wet reverb settings on the vocals and the software synths in addition to a lot of spacey delay guitar. To master for the cassette, I ran everything through a PSP Vintage Warmer plugin and a very conservative limiter. For the MP3s I might add a multiband compressor and a little more limiting to get louder tracks if they don’t sound hot enough. They might be good enough already, I’m not sure.

Maybe this goes against what you’re “supposed” to do, but this record is mixed for headphone listening. I’ve been trying to get it to sound OK in a room with speakers, but when it comes down to me having to choose where it sounds great, I chose headphones. In other words, I’m not sacrificing the headphone sound as much as I’ve done before trying to cater to different listening environments. I’m not that great of an engineer anyways and I think I’m talking about pretty subtle differences, so maybe it’s not worth mentioning. I tried to make the kind of record that I would want to listen to privately, from beginning to end, either in a dark room or going out for a walk.

The in-progress tracks are all currently up on Soundcloud, where I’ve been posting them as they come into being. I won’t be putting the finished tracks up on there. Instead, they’ll go right up on Bandcamp as soon as I finish the “hot” masters (for digital distribution) and the cassette will probably be released at a record-release show.

My last record, Open, is currently available on Bandcamp — also pay-what-you-want. You can download it for free or throw some cash at me to help get the cassette produced. Here’s the link again to go get it:

Here’s the final track listing for the record:
Between the Walls and the Sea
Side One

  1. On a Road
  2. Dwell
  3. Groundless/Flightless
  4. Background
  5. Tornado

Side Two

  1. Cellar Door
  2. Follow Apart
  3. Can of Worms
  4. Let Go

I’m recording and you get to watch.

November 14th, 2011

My vacation from music is over, I’m happy to say.

A long time ago, I started a YouTube channel where I was posting song sketches. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with it–or with the songs–but I wanted to try something different. I wanted to publish the groundwork rather than waiting until a proper record came out for people to hear the songs. I really love recording and don’t consider myself much of a live performer, so that keeps my songs boxed up until a CD release. I kind of envy bands who can test out an early version of a song in front of an audience before going into the studio. I’ve always been a little protective of my work–I’m afraid that if you hear a track that hasn’t been obsessively worked over for six months, you’ll think I’m sloppy and not very good.

But now I think that if you have that kind of attitude you probably wouldn’t even pay attention to my blog or listen to the unfinished tracks anyways. What’s the harm in letting people in on the process, letting them witness the changes, and letting them see not only the work that I put past the gate, but also the stuff that I edit out? I really like rawness, mistakes, sketches, and happy accidents. An unfinished piece usually has a lot of character that can’t be recreated in the final product.

I was initially going to start from scratch and gradually write new songs. When I had a bunch, I would record them. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking–that’s not how I work. The songwriting process doesn’t drive me. I have no interest in writing songs unless I’m recording (or unless I have the right combination of depression and privacy). Writing bass lines, tweaking echo effects, fucking with synth plugins and micing amps are as much part of the songwriting process as playing chords and coming up with words.

So I decided to pick up where I left off and rework the songs from YouTube and record a new EP. Some of them are getting a near-total rewrite. I’m trying to take the folksy edge off of all of them and work them into a layered, echoey, loud, electric landscape. It’s a lot of fun to take something that started on an acoustic guitar and rebuild it from the drum machine up.

I’m also mixing down sketches that I have sitting on my fourtrack, which will probably turn into new songs for some future project. I’m documenting everything I can online: videos to YouTube, audio to SoundCloud, and updates to my recording to-do lists get automatically Tweeted.

My finished recordings are now up on Bandcamp for listening and purchasing. I made a compilation of all my best old songs (entitled Questions Unexplained) which you can get for free as individual tracks, or at a price of your choosing if you download the whole thing. There’s also my last two “studio” records, “Open” and “Exits + Obstacles.” I consider “Open” to be a major artistic success. Erase the 10 years of stress and anxiety preceding it and maybe it wouldn’t have been such a complete marketing failure. Maybe. Anyways, I’m very proud of that disc. Listen to it. Buy it.

As for “Exits + Obstacles,” I think it’s funny how right as I was releasing it, the economy was collapsing. It’s a loose concept record that I wrote as if I was living in a post-apocalyptic, mid-western dystopia. It was pretty easy since I already felt like I was. After listening to both of these records with fresh ears, I realized that there’s this subtle, angry political undertone in my songwriting that wasn’t there before. The royal “we” left my songs back in 2004, and when it came back, it came back darker and more damaged.

It’s a Good Day to Face the Hard Things

October 17th, 2011


Please help me distribute this zine to the Occupy movement.

PDF link for digital viewing. Download this to read it on your computer.

PDF link for printing a distributable booklet. Download, print and run through a copier to double-sided copies. Fold in half and staple. The blank page is there on purpose so the pages collate with automatic feeders. I just realized it will be cheaper to run the cover separately and then collate it in. FYI.

Please let me know if there are problems.

Public Declaration of Self-Education

July 19th, 2011

If you’ve followed this blog in the past, you’ve probably noticed that I just can’t get my shit together. I’m always complaining about whatever job I have, how I can’t find my place in whatever scene I’m working within and that I can’t find the time or the resources to do the things that are important to me. I’ve stumbled my way through two independent, entrepreneurial “careers,” (visual art and music) even going so far as to set up a DBA for myself as a business. I’ve persisted and juggled and micromanaged and scrounged and saved and researched and multi-tasked my way to a cluttered mind, body and soul. For years, I held at least one art exhibit per year. For years before, throughout and after that, I recorded and released at least one album per year. My health, social relationships and peace of mind plummeted the more I worked at my seemingly illegitimate pursuits. The last gasp of that phase of my life was a show that my band and I played at the Kitty Cat Klub in January of 2010. Since then I’ve written one song and recorded no albums.

I can’t say that it should be any other way. I’m not going to bitch about how my “career” fell apart, because it had to. I don’t regret all the time and energy I’ve put into it, and there’s nothing to say that some part of it won’t re-emerge in the future. I can’t complain that I’m 32 and delivering pizza. I can’t complain that I’m living in a rented room. I can’t complain that the contents of what was once a live-in recording studio are now boxed into a south Minneapolis storage locker. My energy, identity and creativity are not contained in my career, belongings or any particular location. They don’t go away at a certain age and they don’t demand any particular activity. The events that make up my life all happened for a reason, and there can be no “should’s” about it.  After all I’ve gained and lost, I have to move on.

I have work to do, and what I’m publicly declaring here is that I’m putting myself through school — in my own way. I’m not applying for grad school or getting an online degree – I’m setting out on my own self-directed program. It won’t cost anything and I won’t be graduating in the traditional sense. What I’m committing to right now is taking my education as a priority. After my basic needs – making money, eating, and my physical and mental health – my education is the most important thing: studying, learning, developing my thinking and exercising my mind.  I’m starting small, and I’ll focus on it for at least a year and then reassess myself. Somewhere in between the stacks of books out there and the synapses in my brain, there are ways that I can connect with the world and maintain my existence in a positive way. There’s something pulling at me — which I haven’t really felt since I was like 22 — and I know this is the way to find it.

I started this in a different way this last January. I designed a very systematic structure, and I had two pretty ambitious “courses” I designed. It was an experiment. I kept at it, but I veered off course quite a bit. Then in the spring, life happened and I decided to “drop my classes.”

I’m starting small this time. My unwritten goal for July was just to get back into the habit of reading every day. Now my goal for August is to stick to a schedule, no matter what. Tired or hungry, happy or sad, inspired or not, I’m going to make sure I build the habit of keeping to a study schedule:

  • Everyday: write in my journal for an hour, uninterrupted. This is the first thing I have planned every morning after I get my routine out of the way.
  • Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday: study from Noon to 2pm. This means reading, writing, taking notes, working on problems, doing exercises – it depends on what the subject is. The point is to make a habit out of dedicating time and focus to the task of learning, beyond just sitting somewhere and reading.
  • I’m keeping my habit of reading every day as well. For now, I’m not focusing on any particular topics. I’ll do that as the need arises.

The last book I finished was The Power of Less, by Leo Babauta, author of the Zen Habits blog. He’s one of a number of sources I’ve been mining for inspiration on the philosophy of living a simple, minimalist lifestyle. In The Power of Less, Babauta stresses starting small, taking one goal at a time and making your intentions public, both as a means of motivation and accountability, and also as a way of sharing and connecting. I already know what pushing yourself to the limits can do, so now I’m taking something that’s important to me and I’m building it carefully from the ground up. Self-education and minimalism will likely be frequent post topics here on Quelquechose, and I’d like to spend some time tweaking the blog to better track what I’m doing as time goes on.

You can follow me on Goodreads where I post books I’m reading, wanting to read, abandoning, and just considering.

2009 Tour: Part Three

September 12th, 2009

Bothered by the culture of the Interstate and wanting a straight shot into Austin, I left I-40 in Amarillo, TX for the US Highway System.  US-287 to Childress, US-83 to Abilene, US-84 to Brownwood, and then US-183 into Austin.  I stopped in lots of small towns in various states of disrepair.  Maybe if these places were on the Interstate, they could throw up a Love’s and a McDonalds, a Shell Station, perhaps an outlet mall, and stabilize their local economy.  They could knock down all the windowless old buildings and become another echo of suburbia that every business traveller or tourist family could feel comfortable and confident stopping in for a meal, a fill-up and a coffee.  There’s something beautiful and real about these broken old towns, and I understand that this leftover beauty may be the flipside of the poverty coin.  These towns  are vacant.  The streets are wide and sparsely populated with bodies.  In the case of Anson, TX, cut through by US Highway 287, the “town square” is ghost of more prosperous times.  You can feel what it might have been like, walking past the line outside the Palace Theatre or running an errand to city hall.  I felt a little strange running around like a crazed tourist, a foreigner photographing the ruins of these places as the locals looked on.

Are the residents of tourist traps and truckstop towns “better off” than those of the towns a little off the map?  Maybe so financially, but in general, I tend to think not.  Something is lost by superimposing the hard capitalist idealism of American culture onto a unique place.  Along the Interstate, you are led into the fantasy that there is one culture that represents America.  You might get Dunkin Donuts in the east and Waffle Houses in the west, but generally you can expect a hegemonic experience, without surprises or randomness.  One of my favorite experiences of being on the road so far was stopping in Claude, TX to stretch my legs and walk around.  On my way to the car, I stopped inside Mighty’s for a fresh-squeezed lemonade (their specialty.)  There was nothing scary or weird about it.  There were no billboards telling me what to expect in Claude.  But it was really good lemonade served to me by a friendly local.  It’s the kind of thing that 7-11 doesn’t want you to believe in, and it’s a double-edged sword that 7-11 doesn’t necessarily need to set up business across the street from Mighty’s.  (There’s a really cool broken-down service station right across the street that looks like it hasn’t been touched since the 70s.)

I’m in Austin now, wandering around the University of Texas area in the rain.  I played a show in Houston at Notsuoh (read that a few times to get the cleverness of the venue’s name) last night with Hotel Hotel.  It was good to get on a stage.  I’ve been getting into work mode again, trying to set up some dates in cities on the way home.  Maybe something will pull through.  I have plenty of time until Milwaukee.

The guys from Hotel Hotel have been really cool.  Pablo is excellent at vegan baking so I’ve had good food to snack on hanging out at their house, especially with my recent experimentation with vegetarianism.  We’re going to see Salesman tonight, then I gotta figure out what the hell I’m doing with the rest of my trip.  I just crunched my numbers and I’m a little over-budget, not because I’m overspending, but because I think I started out with less money than I planned on.

Pictures on Facebook

2009 Tour: Part One

September 7th, 2009

I left for the open road on the afternoon of Friday, September 4th.  I had meant to leave in the morning after my 8am oil change appointment, but what with staying up too late after the previous night’s Hexagon show, and spending a lot of time saying goodbye to the new love in my life, I didn’t get on the road until after 12.  Hauling ass to Colorado Springs for Saturday’s gig was stressful, to say the least.  I took naps to make up for the lack of sleep, converting my backseat into a makeshift bed of blankets and pillows.  Slept at a rest stop in Iowa, on a street in Omaha, and outside a restaurant in Nebraska (where I had to get a jump because I left the lights on.)  I avoided Denver on my route to Colorado Springs, instead taking less-travelled State Road 71 and US-24.  I made it just in time and I pulled myself together enough to give a top-notch performance to rival any solo gig I’ve ever done.  Too bad there were only five people in the room, and that they were all trying to read.

I had a rough plan to camp in the forests just up the mountain, but it proved futile.  Slept in the parking lot of an Italian restaurant and then drove as far as I could to the south as soon as could orient myself enough to know which way that was.

The next place I slept was alongside a gravel intersection south of Pueblo, where I awoke to a beautiful sunrise setting fire to the stretch of clouds, mountains and mist outside my rear windshield on Sunday morning.  I enjoyed the remainder of my chocolate bar and got back on the road, playing the entire Velvet Underground album catalog for my drive into New Mexico, which appropriately and unintentionally began with the song, “Sunday Morning”

My beat up 91 Honda is amazing me by pulling through these hard mountain roads, and so as not to jinx it, I repeat in my head that at any moment, things could go horribly awry.  I’m taking it slow, checking my oil and giving it lots of downtime.

As for my own health, I’m done making “good time.”  I don’t have to be in Austin until the 10th.  Last night I set up camp 7 miles outside of Taos, NM.  I did some grilling and drank some beer and slept with some breathing room.  Tonight, more of the same, somewhere near Santa Fe, where I am right now.  I’ll be doing some writing, recording and making drum machine beats as I stroll into Texas.

Pictures on Facebook.


August 15th, 2009


Stream it here, buy it here. Come to the Hexagon on September 3rd and hear it live.

Order it now and you’ll have it by September 1st.

Keep Moving

July 19th, 2009

As I’ve been making progress on the final mixes for “Open,” I’ve been taking walks down 26th street to listen to them.  Looking down, I’ve noticed the words “keep” and then “moving” painted in alternating blue and red in between 35W and MCAD.  As I’m closing this record out, I feel like this little public-art gesture is speaking to me.

I always run into the darker parts of my psyche as I’m finishing a project like this.  Last year I ended up at the airport with bloody knuckles at one in the morning, prepared to spend the remainder of my savings on the cheapest flight going anywhere.  Luckily the gates were all closed and I bought a bus ticket to Chicago the next day instead.

This year, my little episode amounts mostly to bothering my friends and getting drunk listening to records.  Anyways, I’m starting to see that no matter where you get to, there’s always somewhere else to go.  Life is about journeys, not destinations.

I seem stuck on this idea that I need to spend a year making a complete, conceptual album of songs.  I’m going to rethink that in the coming year.  I’m taking a number of different approaches to try and change the way I write songs.  One is the YouTube video notebook.  I’m going to be recording alot while I’m on the road in September, and when I get back I’ll be teaming up with Sarah Wash to write and record new songs.  Maybe one of these projects will take two years to come to a close, and maybe one of them will fall into place within a month.  Maybe if I always have things flowing and regenerating, it’ll keep me going.

I’m going on one final walk tomorrow morning with my tracks, and then I can spend the day preparing them for the mastering session.  After that, I think I’ll just jump right back into recording again.

Open up…

June 15th, 2009

There’s something pure and infinite in you, that wants to come out of you, and can come out of no other person on the planet. That’s what you’ve got to share, and that’s as real and important as the fact that you’re alive… The world at large, careerism, money, magazines, your parents, the people at the rock club in your town, other kids, nothing is going to give you that message, necessarily. In fact most things are going to lead you away from it, sadly, because humanity is really confused at the moment. But you wouldn’t exist if the universe didn’t need you. And anytime I encounter something beautiful that came out of a human somewhere, that’s them, that’s their own soul. That’s just pure, whatever its physicality is, if the person can play a piano, if they’re tone deaf, whatever it is, if it’s pure, it hits you like a sledgehammer. It fills up your own soul, it makes you want to cry, it makes you glad you’re alive, it lets you come out of you. And that’s what we need: we desperately need you.

- Julian Koster of Neutral Milk Hotel, quoted at the closing of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Kim Cooper

I’ve always felt like I’m being distracted from what could be my own life.  The past few days I’ve been picturing myself as being in a cloud, where I can see myself but everything else is obscured, and I’m obscured to everyone around me.  I’ve always imagined the soul as being these lines that you cast out from yourself, to attach yourself to things.  I make music, keep up a few relationships with people, write a blog, etc.  There are things that pull at me that threaten those connections.  The demands of my job and my small role in this unnatural capitalist machine we live in, for example.  I think in your 20s you’re discovering yourself, and when you hit 30, it’s time to stop trying so hard and just be yourself.  I’m going on this solo road trip in September, and it’s by no means a way of finding myself.  It’s an attempt at being myself, without the distractions.  I think I’m dedicated to the idea whether or not I save up my ideal amount of money to make it happen.

I just finished the book that I quoted above, and it reminded me of what I’ve always thought life was about.  As soon as Careerism was mentioned it hit home why I spent 10 years recording fourtrack records that no one ever heard and unsuccessfully jumping from part-time job to part-time job, trying to get out what I needed to get out.  John Frusciante said that he believes most music is made for the wrong reasons, and I agree.  Sometimes I try really hard to make something sound a certain way, even though my heart’s not in it.  Then the songs I like the most are the ones where something just clicked and took off.  I hear about bands getting all this hype and going on these huge tours and it just seems like too much of an industry, and I’m still trying to reconcile that attitude with the fact that I need to make money to fucking survive and I really don’t see myself delivering pizza much past the first frost.

The new record is entitled OPEN and will be out September 3rd, my 31st birthday and the night before I leave for the road.  I decided tonight its underlying theme of authenticity.  I’m looking for something real in myself, and others, and in the world around me, and I’m struggling to find it.  The idea is that you’re more likely to find it by leaving your door open than by knocking on closed ones.