Weightless two different ways.

When it came time to cover a Thomas Dolby song, the choices were many. I was very close to doing Airwaves, the lyrics of which Thomas and I had exchanged a few emails about (“I turn my vehicle beneath the river west from south” is not in fact about a submarine, but rather a car driving through the Holland Tunnel). I ultimately chose Weightless because I had a good sonic vision of where I could take things. I brought my A-game production wise because I knew the lot of the Dolby newsgroup, ALLOY, would end up hearing it and they’re no strangers to a good mix.

The original version of Weightless appears on the 1982 classic “The Golden Age of Wireless” and can be heard here:

In contrast to the lush vocal and keyboard intro of Dolby’s version, I decided to place the listener in a Viennese thoroughfare, with buses and footsteps abound. I interpreted the intro melody into a series of church bells off in the distance (which were actually permutations of one sample of a pen hitting an ashtray played at the different pitches).

The body of the song is much more aggressive than Dolby’s, but I like to think still maintains the quirk and desolation. I used a similar analog(esque) synth patch along with piano, but also added a counterpoint of distorted guitar which swirls and wahs its way into the breakdown / bridge:

You- you could be the one (she whispered)
Love is all you’ve ever wanted
All you’ll ever need

Thomas sings the bridge himself, but since he’s quoting a woman here, I decided to have a woman sing the part. Enter Melissa Reasoner, a friend I met on MySpace (yes, that long ago) who I jokingly dubbed ‘The Greyslake Karaoke Diamond’ as this was her main vocal outlet at the time. Melissa sings the part with heart and grace. We team up on some background oohs and aahs that pop up here and there as well.

In the original version the song ends:

End of our summer
Your body weightless
In condensation, my heart learned to swim
Then the feeling was gone again

Instead of ending softly and somewhat sadly, I kicked up the energy for my version and dropped the last line in the interest of a happy ending. The song fades and leaves us back out on the street with cars, footsteps, and a lone dog barking. The church bells in the distance play the opening notes again- but I moved the melody into a major key from its original minor for a final emotional lift.

Enjoy my version below:

 

 


Stagefright? On getting better.

ws_uLounge

photo by Zach Smolinski

I’m going to break a string. My guitar is going to stop making sound. We’re going to get out of sync with the keyboard tracks. Nah. These things have never really happened. Breaking a string? Sometimes, but hey, you play with the remaining five and switch guitars at the end of the song. No big shakes. But I DO have big shakes. Almost every time I play. Why? I’m not so sure.

When I played in my 20’s I was completely comfortable on stage. I would kick out the jams, work the crowd, just have a ball in general. Now every gig to me seems like a big dramatic affair. I sweat so much while I play that it’s almost become my trademark.

I’m not really even that afraid of bombing. Small screwups people probably aren’t going to notice. Big screwups? Well, again, we haven’t really had one yet. We practice enough to avoid mishaps like that. But if one did happen? So fucking what. Have a laugh and move on.

I am getting better about this with every gig we play. I focus on having a good time in the moment on stage. Not worry so much about how we’re sounding. I know it’s much more fun for you in the audience if I’m having a good time up there. Unless you hate me and would like to see me squirm, of course. But that’s probably not the case.

See Boolean Knife at Glenwood Arts Festival on Sunday August 21st at 3pm. It’s going to be a good time.

 

 


Success Versus Gravy

I’m a big Paul Thomas Anderson fan. Last night I was rewatching his film Magnolia and ended up reading some quotes on Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s IMDB page. It really helped to codify some feelings about my own artwork.

“Success isn’t what makes you happy. It really isn’t. Success is doing what makes you happy and doing good work and hopefully having a fruitful life. If I’ve felt like I’ve done good work, that makes me happy. The success part of it is all gravy.” -PSH

You have to be happy with your output and the quality of that work. It’s dangerous to rely on external factors for validation. External factors are totally out of your control. Trying to measure success based on listenership, follows, and likes is a rabbit-hole anyhow. How much is enough? 1000 fans? 10,000 fans? A million? Airplay on 5 radio stations? 500? 5000?

I was having drinks with a musician in one of the world’s largest bands at the time, and she was actually embarrassed about their success. She felt their music was less genuine because it was so popular and longed for the time she could record her own music that was “less-accessible”. It was an invaluable lesson to me. Happiness and satisfaction is not tied to popularity. In her case, they seemed to be inversely related.

A long time ago, a prominent A&R figure (and now friend) told me that he loved my work but that it was impossible to mass-market. My songs don’t fit into a neatly packaged genre. That’s just the way I write, and although it may have bothered me at the time, I can appreciate that now.

I’ve said it before that success to me is finishing a final mix, turning off the lights, and listening to the new song in a nice pair of headphones. The sales, the press reviews, and the airplay is- just as Phillip Hoffman says- gravy.

8Tmasters.jpg

 

 


Two Wheels Good: A Cassanova’s Survival Guide

twg

You surely are a truly gifted kid
But you’re only good as
The last great thing you did
And where’ve you been since then
Did the schedule get you down?
I hear you’ve got a new girlfriend
How’s the wife taking it?

(from the song Moving The River)

With this one gorgeous verse, slipping out of some tall speakers at a late-night party in an Iowa City apartment in 1989 I was hooked. Prefab Sprout’s album Two Wheels Good has since been cemented in my psyche as the perfect album.

Known as Steve McQueen in the UK, Two Wheels Good features 14 songs that offer soul-plundering lyrics against a swath of teasing guitars settled into otherworldly sonics courtesy of producer/keyboardist Thomas Dolby. The genius behind the songs is frontman Paddy McAloon who one critic raised to the stratum of “Cole Porter or Stephen Sondheim for the Morrissey years”.

When love breaks down the things you do to stop the truth from hurtin’ you.
When love breaks down we join the wrecks who leave their hearts for easy sex.

(from When Love Breaks Down)

At the time I identified strongly with the ethos of the impossible relationship around which Paddy is constantly casting outlines. During a post-adolescence of intense loves and infidelities of my own, songs like “Appetite” and “Goodbye Lucille #1” hummed right along with my own earnest drives and subsequent struggles through poignant and clever highways.

Picking out the best lyrics to highlight is an exercise in folly. Every line counts with McAloon, and there are gems everywhere. But again, lyrics are only the half the story. The music is smooth and the melodies stir the deeper regions of the soul. The soundscapes are gently seasoned by lush and heavenly harmonies by Prefab chanteuse Wendy Smith, who to the ear represents either the lost ideal love, or the soft victim of the protagonist’s philandering, depending on the track. These songs are filled with wondrous ghosts:

And all I ever want to be is far from the eyes that ask me
In whose bed you’re gonna be and is it true you only see
Desire as a sylph figured creature who changes her mind?

(from Desire As)

Released in 1985, Two Wheels Good does shine with some of the aural earmarks of the age, but the timelessness of the messages and Thomas Dolby’s haunting production ensures the album too is timeless.

Life’s not complete till your heart’s missed a beat
And you’ll never make it up or turn back the clock
No you won’t, no you won’t
No you won’t, no you won’t

(from Goodbye Lucille #1)

 

Listen to or purchase Two Wheels Good by Prefab Sprout.


SONG FOUR: I Never Said

Well, it’s March 1st and the RPM Challenge has concluded. I set out to write and record 10 songs like I did last year, but for whatever reasons was able to do only four. Here is the fourth and final song, “I Never Said”, which may or may not deal with a certain presidential candidate. Due to the temporal relevance of the song I have enabled downloads for the time being.

Thanks to Mike Koelling for holding down the bass again! I plan to record vocals for song #3 “Goddess is a Monster” and I’ll post that soon.

While I’ve got you here, I’d like to invite you to see our band Boolean Knife this Friday at Debonair Social Club in Chicago. BUY TICKETS ONLINE. Thanks and hope to see you this weekend.

-WS


SONG THREE: Tackle Box

Between battling a massive head cold (yes, still happening) and some minor equipment issues (I/O box vs Windows 10) I’ve fallen a bit behind on the RPM Challenge this month. I know that I’m going to power through and catch up, and even if I don’t, I am committed to making ten songs even if it takes me an extra few days.

Track number three is now complete and is called Tackle Box. The song is an elegy for my step-brother Boone who was taken from us suddenly last year. Bass by Michael Koelling and extra vocals by Cynthia Sizer.

EDIT 3.12.16: Access to this track has expired. It will be available on a future Boolean Knife release.

menmic

Music for song #4 is finished “left to right” as I like to say. This means I’ve got the linear arrangement down from start to finish. The instrumentation is still a little too basic. I like the words a lot so I want the finished product to be just that: finished. I don’t want to give in to the temptation of making demos, even though I’m under pretty tight deadlines. Stay tuned, crime-fighters!


SONG TWO: Goddess is a Monster

Today is Monday, February 8th. To recap, I’m taking the RPM Challenge which requires me to write and record 10 new songs within the month of February. Last year I worked steadily one song at a time, but this year there is a lot of overlapping.

ws_pmu

I have a bad head cold.

Last Friday, Tim came over and recorded his sax parts for song #1, “Dogstar”. After the session, Tim and I sat in my living room listening to jazz records and original material ideas off his phone. We enjoyed a little bit of whiskey. And then some Moscow Mules. Jeff (the drummer from Boolean Knife) texted to let us know that he was over at the Atlantic Bar & Grill having a drink, so we went and joined him. Several beers and questionable karaoke renditions later, the three of us ended up at Huettenbar in Lincoln Square. Over all it was a great night! But all the fun played havoc on my immune system and now I’ve got a ridiculous chest/head cold that’s lasted 3 days. I say this because I have been unable to record vocals on songs 2 & 3, which are otherwise musically complete.

I’m going to keep trucking on more and more songs and wait until I’m well enough to sing them without hurting myself. So while it would have been nice to present a new, complete song every three days, it’s simply not working out that way this year. The RPM Challenge doesn’t care how you record your 10 songs, just that they’re done by the end of the month. Meanwhile, it’s lots of rest and liquids for me.

Here is the music for song #2, titled “Goddess is a Monster” as it stands without vocals. Don’t mind the nasty ride cymbal in the bridge- I touched that up already. I will likely post the vocal version (along with notes about the song) in the near future.

EDIT 2.14.16: Access to this track has expired. It will be available on a future Boolean Knife release.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 902 other followers