(I had this awful realization yesterday; given that my publishing schedule is weekly ("one post within each week"), in a way, if I only wrote yesterday's obituary, I would be using Vinnie's death as "material". So, to avoid such a horrible perspective, here's one more post this week. Let it also serve as a gesture of trying to overcome bad circumstances, just like he did to overcome his brother's death.)
In its latest iterations, my process of voice tracking has "grown" an additional element that is turning out to be, not only very useful quality-wise, but also perhaps the most amusing part of the whole cycle. I call it the "vocal prototype".
Its need became evident when, after some tracking sessions, I noticed something missing. Everything was well configured technique-wise, the parts of the process rolled one into the next smoothly; gear ready, check, vocals completely composed, check, lyrics completed and in an easy to handle format, check. Well rehearsed, check. And yet, there was something still lacking at the moment of pressing Record.
Each song is its own beast, and I've mentioned more than once that I see a strong similarity between singing and acting (at least the kind of music I do). In each song you impersonate a certain "mood" and "character" that can reach very nuanced extents, and sometimes getting those details right will make or break the performance. And that was the missing piece in the puzzle; my very standardized process allowed me to start recording quickly, but there was a personal factor to each song that I was missing.
Enter the vocal prototype. This part of the process is located right after the vocals are fully composed, and before the burdensome gear and parameters movements that prepare to start recording are executed.
In a similar way to what I do in the composition phase, in this part I just explore the song, taking out of the picture things like clipping, room echoes, pop filters, etc, and focusing instead on which "character" the song demands from me, how much chest, how much mouth and how much throat, how much proximity effect...
I take an excerpt of the song that I consider representative, loop it and sing over it with the microphone trying all kind of stuff, even stupid stuff, especially stupid stuff. The "prototype" is considered complete when I have those 10-20 seconds of music recorded where the voice sounds in the way I want it to sound in the complete recording, plus I have a series of ancillary notes to remember do this here, etc...
It's a playful, spaghetti-on-the walls stage, where I try all kind of stuff disorderly, and I'm constantly coming and going, standing, sitting, checking on the Internet how this or that can be done, or listening to other songs I want to mimic ("That one hit wonder of the 90's... How did they do that growl...?")
It sometimes takes a lot of work until you nail what you want (again, it depends on the song; sometimes the mood you aim for is precisely "I don't care a shit about this technical stuff", and those are quicker :) ), but like I say, it's fun work, and "externalizing" this part is a great idea that I'm happy of having had; the alternative, what I was doing before instead, was putting all the experimentation during the full-fledged recording mode, which has a lot of things to remember, and therefore benefits from getting there with everything as decided as possible: in, out, boom, your done...
My processes are constantly changing, but I thought I'd share this one because maybe it can be useful for someone else out there, and also, it's great fun...
This one has caught me completely off guard. I should know better by now, but I didn't expect that this soap opera called life could send such a shitty chapter. When I read the news, I had a first surrealistic instant when I thought "What is this shit? I better reboot the computer so this goes away. It's just not possible."
Pantera was once a "fashionable" band, and I have a feeling it has undergone the fate of things that are "fashionable"; at one point, they "go out of fashion", to leave room for the next shiny thing. And then you see people hating on them with the same virulence with which they used to love them just a few days before. That's how mobs act.
But in my case it works different. Pantera left a body of work that was great then and is great now, original and risky music that helps me through the day, music that for me is still alive and kicking (just yesterday, as I was jamming, I played some riffs from them). They were also part of my musical formation, I consider them one of my sensei (and for sure many other people do, although they probably won't admit it). So when some of the people who have made possible such a refuge, such a "safe place" dies, accordingly, you die a little too.
My sadness yesterday when I knew brought an instant association with that moment in 2004 when I read that Dimebag had been shot. What a terrible collection of misfortunes has this bunch endured.
I also enjoyed Damageplan and HellYeah ("Blood for blood" is an album I've listened to a lot); I was happy for Vinnie when some time after the tragedy he decided to resume his playing, protected by a gang of buddies (as he referred in the "Under the belt" documentary, his friends kinda made his life a "hell" until he said "yeah" :) ...) It felt sad and wrong that his work and his talent had to be interrupted by some loonie with a gun. Although of course anyone would understand; being in his shoes, having had to witness that...
But he was tough, and full of good humor like his brother, and just moved on. He was a drumming powerhouse and an original musician too, one of a kind, like Nick Menza, like Cozy Powell. Like them, he's passed too soon. Thank you for the music and the inspiration, Vinnie. In moments like this I'd like to believe in some heaven where you'll be now meeting your brother and rocking out together again until the neighbors protest...
Here's an excerpt from a recent interview with Ian Gillan from Deep Purple:
"So we [said], 'Let's call it [their latest tour] 'The Long Goodbye',' and that way, we can make our decision later. Now, the fact is that everyone's feeling great now, and we've all got over those health problems and everyone's in good shape. So I think we're gonna be looking at writing some more material next year and maybe even possibly another album."
Here's another from Brad Whitford from Aerosmith, on the decision of calling their latest tour 'Aero-Vederci':
"I don't actually feel like we're gonna be shutting the whole thing down at the end of it. I think there's a lot more life in the band. But I guess you've got to start somewhere. So we're just starting to put the farewell label on things."
Another reference worth noting for my purposes is Ozzy Osbourne, who being the "goofball of darkness" he is, has called his 'final tour' "No more tours 2" -with part 1 having happened more than 20 years ago-.
Do I see a pattern here? Three rock musicians who are way past their... ehm... twenties hint that they're quitting but then add that not really. In other place in the same Gillan's interview, he compares making music to breathing, and everybody who catches the musical "bug" will concur to that feeling. So there's no reason to quit as long as it keeps feeling good.
Then why did they announced a retirement in the first place? Is it that they cannot stick to their own decision, a workaholic kind of thing? There may be some of that in some cases, those musicians that just get out there and go through the movements because it's better than staying at home watching TV; but I want to believe that there is also something else, a change in climate, a different perspective on things.
As I defended in my previous post, rock music is connected to a way of life, a way of understanding reality and engaging with it. For example, I like the way its energy channels violence in creative, non harmful ways. Think of all those trash and death albums full of convoluted riffs and changes of tempo at neck breaking speed; I'm convinced if some of those guys hadn't had the chance of expressing all that complexity through music, they would have resorted to less beautiful devices to make the energy flow.
I see rock music a bit like those scenes where a guy slaps his friend, and the friend goes "thanks, I needed that!". The energy of rock music, for us who like it, is the same energy that makes hearts beat. The roughness of a mosh pit is taking to a playful level the violence and abuse that we all have to endure in constant doses, more or less disguised as "everyday life". Etc.
This view on life and things doesn't have to be exclusive of young people, although young people is perhaps more prone to "get" its charms, as young people tend to see things with extreme, blunt clarity (just as old people do; on both cases they are close to the mystery, ones because just came out of it, the others because are about to return to it).
This view can be carried through all the ages of your life, but, like I said in my previous post on the matter, it cannot be a "slogan". If you're going to stiffen yourself up with automatic ideas, there are other stereotypes that will serve you better than rock music.
Young age is usually expected to stir the pot, to revolt. A lot of good things can come from that abrasive insolence (like, perhaps 75% of the music I love). But if you survive that age, at one point "This sucks" stops being enough. It has to be complemented with some form of "This sucks, here's what we're going to try instead". And if you're really really wise, you will even add "and if that doesn't work, we'll try this other thing instead".
There's been a certain tendency to associate rock movements to youth exclusively. And there's certainly a base to do that if we consider the many examples, but I don't think the relation is exclusive. In fact this rock->young association is one of those crude simplifications that the laws of market are so fond of creating ("Young rebelliousness! Get your young rebelliousness here!"). But it isn't always that way.
Some rock musicians have been happy in their youth to associate themselves to this Apollo ideal. "Young" as a name rather than an adjective. I think for example of Motley Crüe. It must be way easier to sing "Girls, girls, girls" when you're 20 than when you're 50.
For others, however, this youth is only a "datum" they carry in their career, accepting -because there's no reason not to do it- the social perks it entails, but when it fades off there's hardly any consequence because the focus was always the music. I think for example in Neil Young.
And Neil Young is obviously a good example to mention here, not only because he is also way past his twenties and still active and making relevant music, but because he is such an example in many things; I love the way he has now joined Promise of the Real, a band of young musicians (whose members include Lukas Nelson, Willie Nelson's son). An intergenerational band has an additional richness to it, just like when you have bands with several genders (that's one thing I've always loved of Sonic Youth albums: the balance you get between male and female voices singing gives the whole thing an extra dimension...)
People like him (never saw a case where the name became destiny more clearly) and Leonard Cohen (publishing an album 19 days before passing away, and winning a Grammy for best rock performance at age 82!) are paving the road and opening new ways of thinking and feeling music. I'm confident that new cases will soon follow, as the old models no longer work, the shoe just doesn't fit anymore.
So let's stop copying the past and start innovating. I'm in my forties, and if one thing I know is that my forties experience has nothing to do with what being in your forties meant for my parent's generation. And this sentence has validity for any decade of human life you're reading from. The only clear fact is that in 5 years we all will be 5 years older. So let's revere the past, let's learn from it, but let's not do it in servile ways. Let's use it to do something new with it. "The future is not some place we are going, but one we are creating." (John Schaar)
I've always been a big fan, and I was kind of curious to know what my fandom would evolve into now that Leonard Cohen is physically gone.
At first I was afraid (he would have hated it too) of turning him into "The name you know", someone who must be praised periodically in the name of loyalty, instead of just affection and plain recognition of talent. So I just let the whole thing go for a while. Just as it is the case in the loss of someone in your close circle of acquaintances, I guess the only thing possible after the initial trauma was a period of silence.
Then, in a natural, beautiful way, this or that song started to visit me; I felt like listening to them. "Hey, how about that "dynamic" melancholy of Boogie Street". "Hey, my heart will feel warm now if I go to listen Democracy". A bit like a good wine connoisseur can say "I feel like Bordeaux '87 today". Perks of being a fan.
After some time of those visitations, I stumbled upon a surprise, a Cohen album I didn't know! "Recent Songs". I started to listen to it and I have to say that, although it contains wonders as usual (the haunting "My Gypsy Wife" is my favorite), it's the record I've found most close to "generic" in Cohen's discography. As if, after the "massacre" of "Death of a Ladies' Man", he would have wanted to go back to form by making "the most Cohen album he could make"... As if he asked himself on purpose "What would Leonard Cohen do?" Nevertheless the bar with Cohen is always high, the album contains more music and more soul than the whole discography of many renowned musicians out there, and the fact that some of the songs were written way back in time conspires against my little theory...
In any case; after some time listening to "Recent Songs", I moved to "You Want It Darker", his final work. And what a record. I have a feeling that Leonard Cohen took his materials from the Unconscious, from intuition, and such intuition seemed to become bigger, more intense, almost supernatural, in the final 3 albums. The way he skips steps in sentences, the things he knows+knows how to express... In "You Want It Darker", it feels as if he was almost writing from the other side already, as peeking out of a window as in the image of the cover. And some of his sentences cut to the chase like blasts of consciousness. One that always gets me, in the title song: "There's a million candles burning for the help that never came". The way of the world, the cruelty of humans, the cruelty of a god, if it exists, who allows such darkness out of human freedom.
I've later known that Cohen was very learned, and since his youth, in the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust. It is never mentioned explicitly in his work, and discovering it gives me in my view a big key to understand his elegant sadness, and his irony that never intends to hurt others, it's more like a wondering aloud, a shrug of shoulders, or a prayer.
Here's a man who sang with splendid poetry to the women he loved, to the friends he knew, and to a wish of peace and unity among his fellow humans (the word "people" always has a particular strength when he sings it, and in some of his lyrics, like the verse I've mentioned above or the song "Nevermind", he adopts a collective point of view).
Can there be a better legacy to leave for an artist? As I learn more about him, and revisit more deeply his work, my admiration just grows and grows. So look at me Leonard, one more time... which will not be the last.
Here's a problem they will never have at Toyota:
"What? You want me to build a Prius? Again? I can't, I just built one, so it's going to take a while until I even remotely understand what a Prius is anymore; I need some time out from everything Prius related. How about a Corolla, instead?"
The "cooling down" stage is a very important element in my creative process. For example, I may have some new idea that I've sung in a distracted moment, and found "hey, this would suit well in song X". So, when composition time comes, I fire up my gear, wear my beloved magenta Beethoven wig (just kidding), and start to let the old and new ideas mingle, and see if there's some chemistry there.
But after some time of such joyful process, I need to close everything and not think about it for a long time. I've completely lost my capability of judgement about the new developments of the song, and usually I reach out for anything else to do with the desperation of a drowning man, full of nervous energy (I once even started cleaning dishes, for god's sake...)
Such lack of judgment has played tricks on me in the past, and it can happen on both senses; I can leave the works of a song depressed by its awfulness, and then find while relistening later that my head starts spontaneously to bang -the ultimate quality test for me-. Surprises the other way round (ending the session with a feeling of triumph, but finding it only meh later) also happen.
The lightning rod analogy, one of my favorites, is of use here too; you've been conducting all that energy, and even if you have only been the conduct and not retained any, you don't remain the same, the iron must be cooled down, you need a rest.
This is perhaps the biggest obstacle towards applying one piece flow to song composition; distraction, doing other things, even multitasking, is a vital part of the process, and having several songs in the works at the same time, despite the many problems that increasing the amount of work in process causes, does help creativity; sometimes there is a funny game of synergies going on between the evolving songs: the way they "steal" things from one another... Since the night of times I've noticed that my songs have a tendency to come in pairs, a lot of them have a "brother" that is its complementary in some way; we used to joke about it in my former band...
I have a guitar and I'm gonna use it