Various Goings on

Been pretty busy out here. Hell’s Own Drag is out the door and making its way in the world. We’ve managed to get Amputize couple terrestrial radio stations here in Chicago and over in Iowa where Doug lives. I’m particularly happy with Rock 108 as I have a soft spot for that station..it’s where I grew up and back in the day it was sort of the pinnacle of local band success to get a song in rotation there. So all these years later– better late than never right?

No Esteemed Deeds has been getting some plays at http://hardrockhellradio.com/ which is pretty cool. They’re really going to like the next one over there because I set my sights on full on thrash for the next one.

Speaking of which- work has progressed pretty quickly on the next Derision Cult release. Sometimes you just hit a vein you know? I don’t even remember working on this one a lot but nevertheless, a pretty cohesize set of a dozen tracks is sitting there on my workstation. I just loaded up samples and various noises against a bunch of them. I’m really happy with how it’s sounding right now. I went back to using straight up drum samples and am focusing on huge drum sounds this time. I mentioned earlier one production practice I’m wholly embracing is a single source of reverb for the whole track. I did this on the last Jefferson Dust album and it just felt, I dunno? Tighter? There’s the odd plate here or there on things like snares and kicks but by and large, it sounds more like one cohesive room the song takes place in. I also triple tracked the guitars all over the place as opposed to my usual stereo pair. It comes in and out but all in all, I think the guitars will sound the best they’ve ever sounded on this one. I need to do a few solos and then vocals before I properly mix it so it’s still a ways off but I am pretty sure this will be ready around October/November. I haven’t really done any lyrics yet but I already know the over-arching theme of the album..it’ll be about sins of the father being revisted on the sons (not me personally– more just society in general). I see it happening with the rise of the far right neo nazi stuff in the US, religious fervor etc. To me it’s all about prior generations setting the stage for where we’re at. Trump and the populist bend he represents was something bubbling under the surface for years before it finally blew up and he came on the scene. I’ll be exploring that whole idea across a range of things going on right now. So that’ll take a think or two to figure out.

I’ve done a few open mics and acoustic shows with my Jefferson Dust material and I really enjoy it. I’m having more fun playing covers than my own stuff (although a few of the tracks of Migration East are great acoustic). I decided I’d like to capture that vibe as raw as possible. After some back and forth, and ideas I’ve thankfully abandoned, I think the way I’m going to do this is just set up in the den in my house (we have one that’s carpeted, has window treatments etc– reasonably dead for what it is), set up my Zoom H5 in a well-placed spot in the room and let ‘r rip. Just me and a couple acoustics. I was really inspired by Patterson Hood’s Killers and Stars album. You can just hear the house on it. I’ve tested a few spots but I just need a free night or day where I can keep the family at bay while I sit there and jam a few tracks out. I’ll put it out on bandcamp. I’m hoping I can do that either this weekend or grab a free night this week.

Doug and I have one track we tried doing for the next Delta Shines project. Honestly it’s not turning out how I hoped so there’s a good chance it’ll end up in the scrap yard. That may be a ways off because Doug is currently offline moving and stuff. Maybe next year sometime the next chapter in that saga will see the light of day.

I have around a dozen Sys Machine instrumental tracks recorded. I’m taking a bit of a concept album approach to this. I want to blend things like Imminent Domains with vocals etc and the instrumental ambient stuff like on the prior 3 Sys Machine albums. So far I’m really happy with what I have. I’m tracking them in the order I want them to appear on the album and they should all run together (that is to say, you could listen to it as one giant song- which I’ll probably put a version of up on Soundcloud). I am using the same setup more or less from Imminent Domains– Parker guitars, Audio Damage Basic Synths etc. I have this magic number of 19 tracks in my head (yes it’ll be big). My plan is to hit that number, then start going back and refining things, putting vocals where they need to be etc. I think this could see the light of day by the end of the year.

Finally- I haven’t done anything towards this yet, but I DO want to revamp thsi site. Right now it’s sort of a lame blog but I want to create a proper repository for all my projects. I started http://www.musicalinstrumentkits.com as a place for all my instrument building projects. South Street Dungeon has a sprawl of projects now and it’d be really nice to just to have a one-stop spot where all the social media outlets, CDbaby links and streaming can live. Plus I can continue this blog. Sometime this fall I’d like to commit some energy to that. It’s looking like I’ll need to go to Europe here in a week so there’s 14 hours of flights in my near future where some web design would be time well spent.

So yeah– lot going on. It’s odd too because on the workfront things are heating up too. In addition to the aforementioned Europe stuff, I’ve got a few side projects that I have an equity stake in going right now too. I guess if you don’t watch sportsball, you end up wiht a lot of time on your hands.

Brutal Resonance

If you hit up this month’s Brutal Resonance compilation you’ll notice there’s a Derision Cult and a Sys Machine track on it! We’re labeled the “hot goths of summer”. So how bout that!

in other news- doing another open mic tonight. Feeling good about it.

Also there’s a very good chance this website will be getting a major facelift/change very soon. I’m launching a few other things that’ll require proper hosting and real actual websites and this one may as well go along for the ride Brutal Resonance July comp

Back to the Grind

Now that my little field trip to the stage is behind me, Hell’s Own Drag’s next project is pretty well ready to go save for one track Doug is still adding vocals to, I’ve begun to work on new music.  There were some revelations that were partially happy accidents and partial learning/studying recording techniques on my own part that had significant impacts on the last Jefferson Dust album that are informing my mixing approach to Hell’s Own Drag and will definitely inform things moving forward.  A few thoughts (In no particular order)

One ‘Verb to rule them all- When I first started and was acquiring all kinds of plugins and effects I was all “OH HELL YEAH!  ALL THE REVERBS!!” ….I’m almost opposite now– where I’m trying to see how little i can get away with treating.  On the last Jefferson Dust, the upcoming Hell’s Own Drag and everything I’ve been working on since, I use a master reverb channel and send everything in varying degrees to it.   I tune the nature of that verb to taste for the vibe of the track (Derision Cult gets long and dark things where more intimate sounds will get a shorter one– using Space Designer or Audio Damage’s Adverb for the most part on everything).  So instead of a verb for guitar, one for drums, one for whatever else, it all gets sent to one.  Only exceptions are snares for Derision Cult where it gets a plate.  Sometimes I’ll throw it on a vocal too if the intention is to make it an obvious effect.  But this change has caused the tracks all to hang together better and sound more consistent.

No Limiter- This is probably a rookie mistake I’ve been dragging around for years, but I liked to slap a limiter on the 2 bus and run things super hot.  More to make my pants flap than anything.  I happened upon reasons not to do that while mastering the last Jefferson Dust.  First, and most obvious- it wasn’t accurately portraying how the tracks work together.  Second- it was egregiously under-representing the low mids which ends up sounding boomy and overpowering in the final mix.  I go to the complete opposite end of the spectrum now.  I use a Pultec style EQ to carve out and dial back low mids (we’ll see 150-350hz) on the master.  This has had a HUGE impact on how well the mix translates to things like ear buds.  Nowadays, I mix to a master track sitting between -3db and -6db.  I use Landr (I know- sue me) to test mixes to see how they translate to mastering.  The net result is that tracks aren’t as hot as they may have been, but they’re sure as fuck clearer and tighter and I’ll happily make that trade.

Guitars going way down in the mix- As a guitar player this was probably the hardest lesson to learn but especially with the last Jefferson Dust (and that doesn’t really have big distorted guitars anywhere)- I finally connected the dots between cymbals and the fizzy 3k-ish sounds guitars create–and the impact these two fighting for space have on the overall mix.  Basically what I realized is if guitars are too loud in the mix, the drums sound too small.  So I backed WAY off the guitar bus and low and behold the guitars still sounded big but suddenly the cymbals had space and the snare/kicks came through much better.  I tuned some of the ways I EQ said guitar bus and it got even clearer.  I took this approach to the Hell’s Own Drag stuff and am really happy with the result.  It actually makes the guitars sound bigger because the transients sit behind the cymbals so you only really hear the body of the sound.  I’ve got a couple Derision Cult tracks where I’ve been doing this and it they are easily the heaviest sounding guitars I’ve personally ever done.

I’ve got the code cracked for the next Sys Machine and Derision Cult projects and have a handful of tracks/ideas started for each.  On the latter, the main difference between what I’m doing now and the basis of No Esteemed Deeds is that the drum source for this one will be live kit samples again (I built the drum sounds from bare metal with a drum synth– Audio Damage’s Tattoo to be specific).  My intention was to do something that was deliberately more robotic sounding.  I think it pretty much worked– even though I cheated and mixed in live snare samples here and there.  Using the reverb approach above along with the guitar/drum relationship I’m VERY happy with how it’s coming along so far.  This will be a monster sounding album if all hangs together the way it is so far.  Also- I’m basing everything off the guitar riff again.  On  No Esteemed Deeds, I  made a concerted effort to write with a bass which I think succeeded in giving the tracks a different flavor, but well…been there done that now.

Sys Machine is taking on life with an idea I had awhile ago but hadn’t really been ready to pull the trigger.  Essentially I’m making a concept album in the sense the tracks will flow between each other.  As a result, I’m writing them in order they’ll appear on the track listing.  Some will have vocals some will be instrumental.  All production approaches above are holding true.  Soundwise- my goal was to land it somewhere between Dither and Imminent Domains.  In two days, I built the basic tracks for the first three songs.  It’s a pretty fun exercise because I’m moving tempos around too…so things like delays/reverbs and such have to react.  Originally I intended to do all this one one giant session and build the whole album linearly but it’s a lot easier to work with tempos and stuff if they’re broken out.   This will definitely be darker than Imminent Domains I can feel that already.  No ideas about lyrical themes or anything yet.  I’m sure the music will sort of tell me what it wants to talk about– such is the way of these things.   But as is right and proper with concept albums– I’m going to do it right and make this thing LONG.  Shooting for 15-20 tracks all in (including 1-2 minute musical interludes).  Reference points are David Bowie’s 1.Outside, Die Warzau’s Engine, Sister Machine Gun’s Revolution and of course…things like Pink Floyd’s Wall, Abby Road etc.  I’m figuring this will take awhile so I’d be hard pressed to say I’ll get it done this year.   But once I laid tracks down it started moving pretty quickly.   I don’t know if other people are like this but that’s generally how it’s been for me– I can conceptualize what I want something to be and fret about it and be all “oh fuck that’ll take forever where to begin!” but once I get something started– like a riff or whatever that I’m jazzed about then everything else just flows.  It’s probably why I end up putting out so much stuff.

So as I mentioned early on– we’re VERY close to Hell’s Own Drag’s next one (tentatively titled “The Devil’s Thrills”).  I also have some Microwaved tracks to jam out which, now that I’ve got my Sys Machine rig back up (which is sonically as close to Microwaved as anything I do), I’ll probably do those in the next week or two.    I have some concrete ideas for the next Delta Shines but haven’t actually started anything yet.   I’ve been listening a lot to the Black Angels and I hang out at a club in NYC called Otto’s Shrunken Head which has gotten me hip to psychobilly….I’d love to put all that in Delta Shines next one.  The first one- Have Gun Will Travel was cool and I’m really happy with how it came out, but it is kind of all over the place stylistically…especially with the electronic elements.  This time it’d be cool to hone in on a vibe and just hammer it through the whole thing.

One in the bag

I came, I saw, I conquered.  Did the show at the Elbo Room last night.  All in all, it was a pretty solid night.  I was on one of those little stages for acoustic players.  I think the one thing I had completely forgotten about was how hot stage lights get.  By about the 5th song I was a sweaty mess.  But by the same token, it only took me maybe 2-3 songs until I was right back to my old 25 year old self on stage.   Setlist was as follows:
-Toe the Line
-All Right by Me
-Pay No Attention to Alice (Tom T Hall cover)
-Hold On (Tom Waits Cover)
-Hand I was Dealt
-Price of Cutting Losses
-Rachel’s Song (James McMurtry cover)
-The Dreamers
-Love You (Tom T Hall cover)
-Childish Things (James McMurtry cover)

All in all, glad I did it.  In fact I was really happy with how that Love You Tom T Hall song came off.  I think I may go ahead and record it straight up.  Just because people asked if I had it on an album somewhere after the gig.   Would happily do it again assuming the conditions are right.  That is to say- if you want somebody to play Friends in Low Places, Sweet Caroline and The Gambler type shit for 3 hours, I ain’t your guy.

Thoughts on rehearsing

I’ve been woodshedding on my trusty Martin Dreadnought pretty heavily ever since I agreed to do a set at the Elbo Room on June 5th. I even went out and got myself a Fishman Aural Direct Box in hopes of attaining a guitar sound that doesn’t sound like a brittle piece of cardboard (something that’s always bugged me about acoustic pickups). It’s interesting in as much as there’s a lot of things I’m having to overcome and get the hang of that didn’t really occur to me. Oddly, the music itself has probably been the least of my challenges. In no particular order:

-I haven’t played an acoustic guitar standing up in probably 14 years. In that time, my body seems to have shucked any ergonomics that work for holding a largish guitar. That is to say I’ve been having issues my right hand going numb. Some of this is because I’ve got some songs that call for some pretty aggressive swatting but I’m realizing a lot of it has to do with how I’m standing and neck position. I’ll probably end up making a game time decision on whether I’ll sit or stand (Ideally I’d like to stand because I’ve got some vocals that’ll require some proper belting out and also- it’s just more lively to see a guy standing vs. slouched over an instrument). But man that hands going numb thing….

-I’m making some significant changes to the arrangements for obvious reasons (well one- cos it’s just me and a guitar and none of the songs I’m doing were recorded that way). This is turning out to be a lot easier and feeling better than I thought it would. But at the same time, I had a few songs in mind where I was all “yeah! this’ll rawk!” and then after rehearsing them 4-5 times they just felt like they couldn’t hang. Oddly one was a track I thought would be the best one.

-We went and saw Slayer last Friday and I thoroughly blew out my voice screaming like an idiot for 3 hours. I attempted to rest it a bit but to date, it’s not really coming back as strongly as I hoped. In the end, I don’t think this will be a major problem since I am deliberately singing things I feel reasonable comfortable range-wise, and I’m not a shimmering angelic singer anyway. But I am having to find ways to get the voice box back in order.

-One challenge that I was particularly nervous about was playing and singing. I am not doing anything crazy on the guitar but I have plenty of finger picking and rhythms that need to stay on the rails. This turned out to be a bit of a muscle memory thing and I’m pretty well in the groove on everything save for one track which I decided last night to change up and I am 100% confident it will come together.

I have 11 songs ready to go to rock out for 40 minutes. Based on my maths from back in the day that’s more than enough to cover the slot, but solo acoustic tunes feel like they are a lot shorter. I only have one song in a different tuning and two that I have to put a capo on for. I imagine I’ll have some smartass shit to say between songs and that’ll round things out, but if I were to just plow through these Ramones style, this set could easily blow by in 20 minutes. So this week will be all about timing.

All in all this has been a fun exercise. It’s making me think about arrangements differently. I’m reserving judgement if I’m going to go out and do more of these until I get through this one. I didn’t seek this out, the promoter came to me, but unless the thing is totally tragic, I’m reasonably confident I could secure a few more sets around town. I have zero desire to be one of these guys that gets up there and plays Sweet Caroline bullshit for a bunch of drunks in Wrigleyville so I expect my horizons to be smaller coffee shop type places.

Show on the road!

In an unplanned turn of events, I’m going to play Jefferson Dust live.  I’m doing a set at the Elbo Room June 5th in Chicago. This came about because the promoter reached out a couple times asking if I’d be interested in jumping on some bills.  This has happened here and there with a couple projects and I’m always flattered but I always point out that there isn’t an actual band behind any of this that can play a set. Well this time the guy was like “well I’m booking the lounge upstairs, how about you come in and do an acoustic set?”.  I basically had no excuse so I threw caution to the wind and signed up.  Now the fun begins…

I’ve played hundreds of shows but A. Never solo acoustic and B. Not in 14 years.   So this is like a first gig all over again. First thing I’ve been working on is getting comfortable playing and singing again.  I’ve worked up a set of songs that have pretty simple chord changes so I’m not going to get tripped up.  I’m planning on woodshedding pretty hard throughout the next week.

One pleasant discovery I’ve landed on is that there’s a good chunk of Migration. east tracks that work really well in this format. I am slowing down Rocks Uphill and it has an almost strained blues feel that I’m jazzed about.

Anyhow I’m focused 100% on that gig so recording/mixing is on hold until then. We’ll see how it goes…and that’ll determine if I do more.