“For Your Extreme Convenience”

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It’s finished! 28 days ago, these 14 songs didn’t exist and now the do. I mailed it out to RPM HQ this morning after laying down a last minute redo bass track fro “Turndown Night Service.”

The finished cover. For now.

I managed to even make the annoying “Sweet Interference” listenable (I hope). Contents are as follows:

Content
Marcella
Filibuster
The Girl From Analytics
The Office Lovers
Selfie
I Got Jumped
Days of Futile Tasks
Anti-Stress Zen Garden
Come Power Pointing with Me
Working Man
Sweet Interference
Can I Be Forgiven Now
Turndown Night Service

The new record will be available at the next Serene Dominic show at Trunk Space on Tuesday, March 4.

As yet-untitled Serene Dominic album in progress

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I’m passed the half-month mark of my FIFTH RPM Challenge and even tho I established an overall “day at the office” theme to the whole thing, I’m not sure  about how well it’s holding together.  Also,  I still have’t got an album title. I had “Content” as the title but the track being so twee and the fact that I hate saying it makes me doubt that will be it.  Others in the running are “Selfie” and “For Your Extreme Convenience.”  That last one was what I was going to do when I put out 4 EPS of completely different styles in one package. Nah, this feels like an album, albeit a short and sweet one. Maybe just a bunch of songs isn’t a cop-out. That method worked for Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.

The "HOME RECORDING" terror alert chart!

Fig 1

Looking at my home advisory terror alert chart (see Photos) , I’m going to go through the songs I have thus far and I’m going to post all of them on my private jukebox as is so that others may judge them also.

  1. “Content” - When I first wrote it, it was a spirited folk song ala “This Land is Your Land” but when I recorded it , it got wistful and sad and now I’m worried it’s a bit too twee. I must be crazy to have it as an opening track.  I put my kid’s recorder on it.  RED ALERT!
  2. “Marcella” - This was originally called “Manana.”  It had no words so I converted it to my girlfriend’s name and gave it to her as a Valentine’s Day present. Whether it stays bearing her name is up to whether she wants her name out there or not. At least she likes the song. I worked out a  crossfade with the previous song that seems to work OK.  GREEN ALERT!
  3. “Filabuster” – This is a leftover from last year’s challenge that stayed  unfinished because a collaborator wasn’t able to come through with lyrics.  This year I’m going to do it myselfYELLOWALERT!
  4. “The Girl From Analytics”- My tribute to castrato soul singers like Eddie Hollman and Russel Thomkins from the Stylistics.  I think this one is done minus some tinkering. GREEN ALERT!
  5. “The Office Lovers” – I tapped the same collaborator as track 3 for this one but never heard back. People get busy. So another one I’ll finish alone.  This uses a Motown sample so it might be one I attempt to record live drums and horns for. YELLOW ALERT!
  6. “Selfie” – I kind of wanted to call the album this. It needs a new vocal track for some tightening up on the words. BLUE ALERT!
  7. “I Got Jumped” – This was the biggest surprise, a standard blues progression and walking bass line, all the things I usually shy away from, probably cause I’m not good at it. But this turned out great, thanks to slowing the track down to 90 bpms so I can approximate a honky tonk piano. I was thinking of an album side closer I could stick here and remembered the Beatles’ version of “Kansas City” on Beatles For Sale and went for it. I enlisted Tim Alexander to  put some Jordanaires styled vocals on it so I hope that comes together.  Tim’s been on every one of my RPM Challenges, save for last year. BLUE ALERT!
  8. “Come Power Pointing With Me” – I always heard this as a second side opener and I think it’s a fun piece of work. Again, I asked Tim if he could do a Brian Wilson voice, as my attempt at doing one wa pretty rotten. BLUE ALERT!
  9. “Working Man” – I have to write better works for some of this which will necessitate punching in vocals. Some nice backwards guitars on here. I hear it as a Bang-era Neil Diamond song. Don’t get me started. YELLOW ALERT!
  10. “Days of Futile Tasks” – My tribute to The Easybeats, a stressed out “Friday on My Mind” with no fun in the city waiting. It needs a whole set of lyrics but the structure is there.
  11. “May We Be Forgiven Now” – A folkie fragment. It’s nice and darkly moody but it feels like something that will fall by the wayside and get worked on later. ORANGE ALERT!
  12. “Anti-Stress Zen Garden” - This was a song left over from last RPM Challenge but a new title made all the difference for me and it actually does fit in with the office theme. BLUE ALERT!
  13. “Sweet Interference” – This song is really shlocky sounding as it is samples some Brill Building-era pop song. I like the idea of being robotically submissive. I have to really work on it to make it good. Right now, I think it’s probably the most annoying song I’ve ever written and it’s nowhere near finished. ORANGE ALERT!

  14. “The Element of Supplies” – The idea to write a meandering melody over one chord is not a new one, but trying to make an Indian style raga on antiquated synths, well, I  really can’t stand this one.RED ALERT!
  15. “Turndown Night Service” – A late entry since the previous song would’ve made a truly lousy final track. It sounds kimda Neil Youngish and a bit Hendrix-y to me so maybe I can enlist axe an axeman for help. No lyrics, no melody, either.  I’m thinking of attempting this with live drums.YELLOW ALERT!

The original plan called for 14 songs  and with two red alerts and two orange alerts, some serious new writing has to be done. If worse comes to worse,I will rescue an old song that fits in nicely with this bunch But I think I should be able to figure out what is needed.

Time’s up! The album’s done!

March 1, 2013: Leaving Speculation in the hands of the US Postal Service.

Last night when I probably should’ve buckled down and fine tuned every last detail to arrive at perfect mixes of everything, I instead went out to The Crescent Ballroom to see Source Victoria and give my ears a rest, well, a rest from my music at least. This did afford me a chance to listen to the record in the car and except for some volume incongruities between songs (Record mastering, you’re next on the bucket list), I’m happy with it. It offers a perfect snapshot of where I’ve been the last two months, although some of the slow, darker songs got left off because they tended to dominate the overall mood. And my stock-in-trade, whether I like to admit it or not, is chipper!
I’ve spent most of the last few days obsessing over the first six songs and I feel a lot happier knowing that “Juggernaut” and “Wearing Out My Welcome” will be on the CD, just not listed. Psychologically, it tricks people into thinking it’s a shorter album. At 12 songs, It runs about 39 minutes but the two extra songs bring it up to 45 minutes. You may think that’s not  much difference but now in our age of cell phones and texting, you try going 45 minutes without an interruption.

If this were a vinyl album, the 12 song rule works perfectly. Everything is balanced, no side exceeds 25 minutes and the two bonus songs would’ve been a free 7-inch included in the album. It’s a of a part of the album but also not, the way “Stranger In the House” was part of the whole of This Year’s Model but also set apart. When I first saw the import copy of that album at Alexander’s Department Store, I saw it had a “free album with this single” sticker and I knew it had the copy of “Stranger” in it. But I didn’t have any money so I hid it where I knew no one would look in 1978, the folk music section behind a Pete Seeger album. I know. I AM ashamed.  But it was a major score and I came back the next day armed with cash and it was still there.

Anyhow, so this didn’t turn out to be the band album, that will happen next and we’ll probably take a second crack at some of these songs (We’ve already added “2791″ and “Amnesia Record Club” to the GemSeekers’ live set- we did two new song sin about half an hour. We definitely are the LensCrafters of Rock.

If you want to hear the album as submitted to RPM Headquarters this morning, play tracks 1 through 12. If you want to hear the hidden cuts, they are 13 & 14. And tracks 15 to 20 are various recordings made during the month that didn’t get finished or were never in the running.

So just for today, Speculation is finished. But when you record an album at home, is it ever really really done?

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Day 20: Album Running Order of the Day

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More Speculation cover art. I thought about graffitti'ing the song titles on the subway train door. Still might happen.

With 8 days to the end of the Challenge, I think this album is in pretty good shape except that I’m not sure how well it all hangs together. I prefer brief albums (12 songs under 38 minutes) to unwieldy ones and currently Speculation has a 14-song running order  which clocks in under 45 minutes . I may lop two songs off at the last minute but I’ll reserve that judgement when all 14 are finished. I keep changing the mission statement of this record but the only constant has been that it was supposed to be a collection of songs about music.  And mostly it is.

Here’s what I’m pretty sure this will be the running order and the status of where each song is at this late stage.

1)  2791 (a new delivery system)
Music lyric idea: Everyone likes this one a lot and I think it’s because it’s because it’s a happy song about the future. I’m thinking the usual standard future song like “In the Year 2525″ where people no longer fuck to reproduce and all that good stuff. Here’s a song that says that in the future all food stays fresh forever, no one is in any danger of dying and everyone checks a box and gets everything they want. At the same time, there seems to be the underlying worry of “what will we do for fun” and what’s gonna be the new delivery systems where we’ll get our music at that late date.  But it sounds like we’re gonna work it all out.

Work needed: put back harmony vocal  that got accidentally erased

2)  Amnesia Record Club
Music lyric idea: A brief history of music stealing
Work needed: New lead vocal, bass punch-in

3)  If You Didn’t Want Me 2 Look @ It…
Music lyric idea: My current unhealthy fascination with the banjo (it appears in three of these songs, most prominently here).
Work needed: Add another cello sound.

4)  You Could Love a Song
Music lyric idea: Songs won’t make someone fall in love with you through sheer craft
Work needed: New lead vocals

5)  I Can’t Sing Boston
Music lyric idea: My first-ever audition  for a high school garageband where I was expected to sing “More Than a Feeling.”
Work needed: Add ground switch noise

Handwritten lyrics to "Music"

6)  Music (I want to Thank You)
Music lyric idea: Self explanatory (see photo) . Originally this was called “I Want to Warn You” and even though the lyrics are thanking music for all it has done, there is the underlying suspicion that maybe your muse hasn’t been as good to you as you think it/she has been.
Work needed: New lead vocals

7)  1791 (the old delivery system)
Music lyric idea: If I had to write a pop song in Mozart’s time, how would it sound? 1791 is the year he died. Damn you to hell, Salieri!
Work needed: New lead vocals

8)  The Girl Singer
Music lyric idea: A fictionalized account of a real-life meeting with a country music legend,
Work needed: Think it’s done. Needs a big overdubbed final chord.

9) Woulda Coulda
Music lyric idea: A thank you to the people who come out and support working musicians, given all the distractions that face them at home
Work needed: Finished, needs remixing

10)  Wearing Out My Welcome
Music lyric idea: A no-thank you to the people who don’t come out and support working musicians, given all the distractions that face them at home. This song is what it feels like when you think it is time to quit being a musician.
Work needed: New lead vocals, they always sound flat and hoarse to me on this song. I wonder if that’s by design?

11)  Designated Driver
Music Lyric idea: Since I listen to a lot of music in the car, I wanted to capture what it sounds like being driven to somewhere unknown when you’re drunk.
Work needed: I hear a baritone sax here that’s not here.

12)  Juggernaut
Music Lyric idea: None whatsoever. It’s about a moral-testing dream I had. This would be a prime candidate to cut out if I didn’t like it so much.
Work needed: New lead vocals

"Sunny's Greatest Hits"

13)  Edison
Music Lyric idea: It’s a song about reinventing oneself and a head-ups not only to the inventor of the phonograph but to a band I was briefly in called Honey 123 with Christopher Pomerenke and Christiana Cole. whose concept was that the three writers in the group would write songs clocking in at no more than a minute and 23 seconds and that we’d go round robin and play them  clockwise when the 1:23 alarm went off.  The 1’23 song is great for getting rid of a writer’s block because you could write about anything. I recall writing about text messages, photo radar fines and cream of corn. These are some of the songs we came up with towards the end. I wrote the first part which was always called Edison and the second was originally called “Sunny’s Greatest Hits,” about a co-worker who had horrible taste in music except for one CD she brought in of The Cocteau Twins (Four Calendar-Café). I burned a copy of it and wrote “Sunny’s Greatest Hits” on it. Christopher Pomerenke wrote part three. This is what I remember it sounding like and what I played on it. Although then it was a pretty song about an octopus pulling you into the water.
Work needed: Guest vocalists still pending

14) You Sexy Sex Fiend You
Music Lyric idea:If Music could be the healing force of the world The O’Jays told us it was, can it also be used to destroy the world?If we could use sex as a weapon like Pat Benatar said, songs about sex should be like a thermonuclear bomb.
Work needed: Needs backing vocals, maybe a piano

Day 17: Teach Your Children and what album covers make great mouse pads

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The musical lesson learned on this day is that you can recut songs you thought were perfect before  and still find new things in them.  The life lesson learned on this day was….well, I don’t know exactly but all I know is I had my seven-year old son engineering for me  and it was so wonderful a feeling, I can’t describe it adequately, it’s that moment you  look at each other and know you’re each other’s best pals or maybe that you are seeing a growth spurt happening before your very eyes.

Bad Mouse Pad

The whole point of this year’s challenge was to record a band live and I feel a little bad I wasn’t able to get that to happen in the first half of the month. So yesterday I decided to move my whole rig out to the practice room and record my son Devi and me playing a Ventures style song we wrote called “Lock-down.” Normally we play together and it’s great but with my Propellerhead Record setup , I can only record a stereo mix no matter how many inputs I have engaged. So I had to record the song and then have Devi play the drums to the track. That didn’t work out so well, he would speed up sometimes and I wasn’t there playing live to get back to the beat so although it was great in places, it wasn’t perfect. Hearing the results, he started to get discouraged after we hit , oh my God , TAKE 6! I told him it took 100 takes to get “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks right. He immediately called me on this and said “that isn’t true.” And I’m not actually sure if  it was but I know that they had to do it in three different sessions so I went there. WTF-it’s his favorite song!

Then after two really dispirited takes where he basically gave up and just hit cymbals arbitrarily,  I put on boxing gloves and air boxed at him while he played so he’d give me a more energetic performance. It worked. It still goes off in places but we had a lot of fun, he belches at the start of it and I promised him he could have an extra donut. Please don’t report me.

But what happened next was even greater. I had to finish part three of Edison and I thought that the drum part would be simple enough for even  me to do so I showed Devi what buttons to punch and voila! Instant engineer. And he suddenly became such an adult after he saw me go through two passes and making mistakes. It was so lovely the way he came around the drum and offered encouragement – different encouragement than what I’d given him ten minutes earlier! We high-fived and called it a night.

Good Mouse Pad (back cover only)

The practice room is also where I keep all my vinyl and having moved operations temporarily there I found that the surface of the table I had the mouse on was very slippery and I needed a mouse pad quickly. I pulled the first album I could reach for a makeshift  mouse pad. That would be Emotional Rescue. True to form, it was on the surface too slick. Then I remembered the textured cover of Deja Vu by CSN&Y and that turned out to be perfect. And what song was the highest charting single off that album?  ”Teach Your Children.”  Serendippity, it’s nice to know you’re still out there.

Day 15: The album cover’s done but the record’s still in the hopper

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Now that I’ve made the executive decision to forego doing the band album for the RPM Challenge (because Tristan and Andrew Jemsek are also doing their own albums for the Challenge) I thought this could be my version of a dance album. That would mean ditching the odd country song. Well, shit, you could probably line dance to “The Girl Singer” … it stays! Maybe.

Projected album cover for Speculation"

I’ve done three shows since the start of February and “2791″ and “The Amnesia Record Club” got a good response from the get-go. I played at CIBO’s on Wednesday, Feb 13 (thanks for letting me do it, James Pyper!) and  aired out “You Could Love a Song,” “1791,” “The Girl Singer” and even the dreaded “You Sexy Sexy Sex Fiend You” for the first time.  “Sexy Sex Fiend” was a lot of fun to perform as the Human Torch. Maybe if I leave it off here, I’ll put together a Human Torch EP to sell at shows. Destined to be shoveled sideways for that EP is “Much Too Much Woman” which is fun, but again not a great song by any stretch.

I listened to the album, trying to pare it down to the best 14 songs and seeing if it flowed OK while i did some housework. As it stands I have a pretty good album but not a great one yet.  Referring back to my original Song Evaluation Sheet, a lot of the songs that were B-songs by nature have stayed that way during the recording process so I may have to enlist some of the A-songs I was saving to record with the which I will do later anyway. So out of storage comes “Here” a song I wrote two Novembers before and performed a lot before dropping completely from live shows, not sure quite why. I thought It w maybe was too long. It was almost the spiritual starting point of this record until I got distracted by last year’s foray into psychedelic music with Winter Trance Party.

More tougher a song to get right is a another old number called “Edison” which I recorded in a real studio for an audio class but never properly finished. But it’s a great song and what the end of the album sorta needs right now. It’s a song with three parts that I will start from scratch, record the three bits separately and hook ‘em together. If my friend Ed Masley from The Breakup Society gets me the lyrics he promised for a song “Filibuster,” that would be a contender and then another song must go. “The Loner’s Code” was like a speed bump in the first half. I really like the song but it’s sonically way different and my efforts to extend it maybe made it seem drearier at over 3 minutes.

Also dreary at under two minutes is a tone poem called “Slow Burning “ which I recorded not  for the Challenge but for The Song Poem Project where 20 to 30 artists sent in lyrics or poems that another random artist has to put to music. I sent in “Juggernaut,” a spoken word piece I demo’d for this album and got “Slow Burning,” which as you can hear I wasn’t inspired to do much with except a bad Bowie impersonation. I’ve actually frittered away two nights coming up with something that I hoped would fit on the record, including a different song called “Slow Burning” which was too upbeat  even for me!

Anyhoo, check out the cover and listen to the tracks. I superimposed myself into a picture which if you hold it sideways, is the parking garage of my gym. It also looks like I’ve been left for dead on the ground. Kinda.

Day 5: “I Love You More Than the Town”

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My seven-year-old son gave me the title of this song when he was five, he wrote me a little note that told me “I Love You More Than the Town” that I keep taped up to my wall in the Green Room. We wrote a song together with that name that I have somewhere, it was kind of a bubble gummy affair about how much we like playing games together but this one is a short little acoustic piece with some banjo about feeling bad that sometimes Dads have to be real tough on their sons in order to be a good dad. It  clocks in at a minute and change and would make a nice coda to an album, there’s no where else you could put it . After I wrapped this up at about 1 AM, Devi crawled out of bed in his SpiderMan pajamas and set next to me like he was just getting ready to start the day, so I knew it was time to go to bed.

Before that happened , I put some harmonies on “Designated Driver,” a new lead vocal and some echo on the fade. It still needs something else lowdown, like a baritone sax. I went on the RPM website to ask for  some outside intervention but so far no takers. Having finalized the words on this, I’m still not sure if I want to add another verse or not, just adding the spoken “I don’t suppose you remember where you live.” Ah yes, the inherent dread of having to drive someone who has passed out home without having any concrete idea where they live. Originally the lyrics came from an exercise I used to do, write a line-by-line dissection of a popular song and change all the words to their inverted opposite. This  came out of fooling around with “Drive My Car.”

Tonight I also worked a bit on “Wearing Out My Welcome,” a song I’m sure most entertainers and other would-be annoyers can relate to, not knowing when you’ve gone on too long. “Sure I thought of cutting out but my heart just won’t buy it” sang Frankie on “That’s Life” but here the guy in this song isn’t so sure. Tried the trick of adding a different instrument in every verse like a magician pulling things ou of his hat. Our featured influence tonight? The Late Fontella Bass. And more importantly   Bass’ bass player—here I copied how “Rescue Me” just ends with her and four throbbing strings. By Happenstance, I took a Best of Fontella Bass CD out of the library the week she died in December around the time this song was being written.

“Can’t you see that I’m lonely…rescue me…” is the very blatant message behind “The Loner’s Code.” a song about being so removed from people because of the bad life decisions you’ve made you might not even reintegrate yourself back into society. When I recorded this demo, the microphone picked up children playing out side that came out sounding like lonesome moans now. I don;t think I could recapture this d sound of desolation if I tried. And I was feeling it too. Will probably re-record the song with the GemSeekers under the less depressing but nonetheless still self pitying title, “I Don’t Have a Sweetheart Now.”

Day 5: “I Love You More Than the Town”

My seven-year-old son gave me the title of this song when he was five, he wrote me a little note that told me “I Love You More Than the Town” that I keep taped up to my wall in the Green Room. We wrote a song together with that name that I have somewhere, it was kind of a bubble gummy affair about how much we like playing games together but this one is a short little acoustic piece with some banjo about feeling bad that sometimes Dads have to be real tough on their sons in order to be a good dad. It  clocks in at a minute and change and would make a nice coda to an album, there’s no where else you could put it . After I wrapped this up at about 1 AM, Devi crawled out of bed in his SpiderMan pajamas and set next to me like he was just getting ready to start the day, so I knew it was time to go to bed.

Before that happened , I put some harmonies on “Designated Driver,” a new lead vocal and some echo on the fade. It still needs something else lowdown, like a baritone sax. I went on the RPM website to ask for  some outside intervention but so far no takers. Having finalized the words on this, I’m still not sure if I want to add another verse or not, just adding the spoken “I don’t suppose you remember where you live.” Ah yes, the inherent dread of having to drive someone who has passed out home without having any concrete idea where they live. Originally the lyrics came from an exercise I used to do, write a line-by-line dissection of a popular song and change all the words to their inverted opposite. This  came out of fooling around with “Drive My Car.”

Tonight I also worked a bit on “Wearing Out My Welcome,” a song I’m sure most entertainers and other would-be annoyers can relate to, not knowing when you’ve gone on too long. “Sure I thought of cutting out but my heart just won’t buy it” sang Frankie on “That’s Life” but here the guy in this song isn’t so sure. Tried the trick of adding a different instrument in every verse like a magician pulling things ou of his hat. Our featured influence tonight? The Late Fontella Bass. And more importantly   Bass’ bass player—here I copied how “Rescue Me” just ends with her and four throbbing strings. By Happenstance, I took a Best of Fontella Bass CD out of the library the week she died in December around the time this song was being written.

“Can’t you see that I’m lonely…rescue me…” is the very blatant message behind “The Loner’s Code.” a song about being so removed from people because of the bad life decisions you’ve made you might not even reintegrate yourself back into society. When I recorded this demo, the microphone picked up children playing out side that came out sounding like lonesome moans now. I don;t think I could recapture this d sound of desolation if I tried. And I was feeling it too. Will probably re-record the song with the GemSeekers under the less depressing but nonetheless still self pitying title, “I Don’t Have a Sweetheart Now.”

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RPM Challenge 2013: The Complete Blogs

Day 1: Speculation

For the past four years I’ve recorded an album in 28 days doing the RPM Challenge and 2013 maintains that tradition. This year my plan is to cut most  or all of the album with my new band Serene Dominic and the GemSeekers but the idea of recording live drum tracks seems daunting and I’m not sure if I can do all that I want to in that limited window of time. So it could turn out to be a mix of drum loops and the band tracking here and there. Someday I’ll have an RPM Challenge where I can record everything completely live but I doubt this will be that day.

"Dom's Handy SONG Critiquing Page" try it out for yourself! In pencil first for more honest results.

Unlike past years, songwriting and recording activity didn’t stop in March. Thus there are a ton of demos and ideas for a new album to start with, more songs than I had when I began my “24 originals Happening Now” project of 2010. So for the all-important  Day One, I decided to do an honest assessment of the songs in the hopper, with “Dom’s Handy SONG Critiquing Page,”  something I created in my twenties when I was a bit more academic about songwriting, Using the grading system it provides, I can look into the heart of each song and see which direction,  heaven or hell, it needs to go.  If any song is in the B minus column, it needs to be worked on a lot or else the elements need to be raided and put to use in a better song.

Figure 1: Prime songs available

As you can see some songs will have everything checked in the B column like “The Girl Singer” or “Woulda Coulda” but they are not and will never be superb. And that’s all right,  a good album should have a bunch of b songs, it just  can’t have more B songs than A songs. A good album has its peaks and valleys and ditches such as “Designated Driver” a song that kind of stops after two verses and turns into an instrumental. I like that it’s so weird but I’m not going to make any attempts to turn it into an A song. Maybe production or a guitar solo played by someone else will do that.

Figure 2: Barely even there.

There’s also a bunch of Garageband drafts of songs that are longshots  that could be utilized at some point, more musical doodling than anything else. “Baby Peed on Someone is in no danger of being included without some serious work. I was fooling with some samples on my laptop when I was on a plane last July and besides the joy of having someone with a baby crying the whole flight, that little bundle peed about two feet into the air and onto an old woman in the next aisle.  But I already plundered a bunch of these GarageBand demos last month and got an A song “The Amnesia Record Club”  out of it. It was from the same flight as “Baby Peed on Someone” and it used to be  called “Flying the Lonely Skies.”

My two main musical inspirations on this album are legendary Motown bass player James Jamerson and The O’Jays. I just bought the book about Jamerson that inspired the Standing in the Shadows of Motown movie and am approaching each bass line with the thought “What would Jamereson do?”

In the back of my mind this whole new album was going to be an ersatz O’Jays record that was gonna be called 1972 then I remembered Josh Rouse had an album called that. Now the album will either be called Speculation or All is Forgiven, depending on whether or not we include certain songs, including “Edison” where that is a key refrain. And if we get the necessary stage clothes.

Day 2: Finger Flusters

I can’t play piano, I just peck.

I’m a terrible keyboardist in the same way that I’m a terrible typist. I never learned how not to look at my hands and I peck at the keys accordingly. And yet back in college for some reason we had to take a music reading class (oh yes, I cannot read music either) and learn how to play the notes on a piano. The only thing I retained from this course was an exercise called “Finger Flusters.” So when I write a song called “1791″ about trying to imagine what music I would’ve written  if it was 1791, the year Mozart died, all I could muster on the Yamaha with the harsichord setting is “Finger Flusters.”  Lyrically, it’s kind of an elaboration on the old standard “Secret Love”  and speculating whether that secret love would continue after death. I changed the original lyrics from “When I’m gone my stupid love for you goes on and on”  when I put down the vocal but now I’m not so sure if I should change it back. Will probably get Andrew to redo the  clav piano in the bridge to sound a little more menacing.

“The Amnesia Record Club” is a song I want the GemSeekers to do live so I will probably replace the parts here with their playing but I’m actually kind of happy with the way it’s sounding, vocals notwithstanding.  I wrote it in GarageBand so there are a lot of slick sampled sounds you might recorgnize.

The original thought behind this batch of new songs is to write about music and my relationship to it. This song is about the history of acquiring a lot of music  for next to  nothing. When I was 14 I joined the Columbia Record Club and when I was 15  I joined the RCA Record Club of America. And true story, when I ordered “Diamond Dogs” as one of my selections, “the label read Diamond Dogs but the record that played was “The Best of Jim Reeves Volume 3.” Looking back now  I wished I’d have kept it but no 14 year-old wanting to hear” Future Legend” could satisfy that morbid urge with Jim Reeves singing “Bimbo.”

After having laid a vocal on “1791″  I  was somewhat hesitant to record something else bedsides the scratch vocal I had so I put on some harmonies and the polyphonic Casio tone in the bridge. that keyboard has perked up many an RPM Challenge song. It belongs to Darrin of Sha-Pink. I live in fear he will tell me he needs it back this year.

After putting some vocals on the track “Designated Driver,” my son came in laughing, possibly at my efforts to sing and hold my nose and  urged me to get some sleep. So I listened.

Day 3: Commemorating

Outside of writing a sketch of a song called “Not Safe for Dreaming” which after playing it on acoustic  guitar I realized was similar and not as good as an older song I had, I didn’t do much directly related to this year’s RPM Challenge. I did do a blog for this years enlistees for Phoenix New Times which I’ll put up a link to when it’s online (we have 10 Valley of the Sun starters so far). And last night I performed an impromptu set with two of the GemSeekers mostly comprised of songs from last year’s RPM Challenge Winter Trance Party to commemorate the Buddy Holly plane crash. Actually owing to sound difficulties, it was nearly as disastrous but we managed a save in the end by stopping performing to automated drums. Always carry an extra assortment of Radio Shack phono adaptor is the live lesson learned.

Did watch the Pepsi HalfTime Show with Beyonce. It was purty.

Hillary Tash

Day 4: Hillary, Hoss, Snookie and the triangle

Very productive night recording vocals with the talented and lovely Hillary Tash. We’d tried one other time to record vocals on “You Could Love a Song” which was originally done as an O’Jays song with me switching from calm to gruff vocals but now it’s a he and she duet. I wish I could have one of those on every album but it didn’t happen on last year’s so I’m glad this worked out coz now we have Hillary doing the calm bits at the top of the verses.and me doing my Officer McGruff impersonation. Then Hillary pushed the record button while I did two other background vocal tracks on the chorus, a bass vocalists who I named Hoss and and an alto named Snookie (I’m thinking a black dude not the Jerseyite).  It still needed something on the chorus so I added a triangle. Maybe it needs a chunk rhythm guitar as well but I’ll let it rest.

I also got Hillary to add backgrounds on two other numbers, the kinda dumb kinda smart dance track “Woulda Coulda” and “Music (I Want to Warn You)” where she sings on the bits that allude to Shannon, who had a huge hit in the Eighties with a song called “Let the Music Play.” Shannon wanted the music to play so a guy she was digging on the dance floor wouldn’t leave before she could weave her spell on him. In my song, it is “Music” itself that is not allowing a man to escape. My best friend Tina Watsky gave me the idea for this when she interviewed me for her music class and asked me about my relationship with music. And I had to answer with “It’s Complicated.” Music is responsible for a lot of the great things that have happened to me but I can also say that in my lonelier moments, a few interpersonal relationships have ended because someone was angry or  jealousy of me spending too much time in service of the muse, which is The RPM Challenge all over. The choruses kind of take a surreal ugly turn with the backward saxes and us singing “let the music play,”  part exhortation, part resignation of “oh well, made my bed and now I’m going to lie in it”

“Woulda Coulda” is written to be a live song, where the band is saying “You could have done all these anti-social things this evening, so I’m glad you came to spend the evening with us.” What band doesn’t think “we love you” when they hear applause back? So although it’s got some dumbness built-in, it does ring true for me. This also needs some chunky guitar.

I stayed up super late (3:AM- and on a school night!) to make quick mixes of these tracks to send to Hillary and post on my jukebox and I’m paying for it now. Hope sleepy eyes don’t cause me to lose recording time on Day 5.

serenedominic‘s player:

Serene Dominic Whoreblog: The Making of Winter Trance Party!

Hi, Serene Dominic here!

The RPM Challenge is coming up for 2013 and I plan on again recording a new album in the month of February this year with active participation of my new band The GemSeekers. I thought it would be a good time as any to review the work that went behind last year’s effort  Winter Trance Party by reviewing the blogs I wrote leading up to its 28 day completion. There’s a lot of missing blog when I was deep into the thick of it, but you get an idea of what went on every day and night.

Day 1:  ”Today begins my third RPM Challenge  recording an entire album from start to finish in the merry month of February. In 2011 I did a 24 track album called 24 Originals Happening Now which I still feel is the best thing I’ve ever done so in my mind it will be very hard to top. This year I may not even try. For those of you who have ever been annoyed by music that I purposefully designed to please you in the past, with this new album I am going to try purposefully annoying you and see if you are inadvertently pleased with the results.

The new record will be called Winter Trance Party in commemoration of tomorrow’s 51st anniversary of the ill-fated “Winter Dance Party” that claimed the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper and the 45th anniversary of the suicide of Joe Meek. All four musical icons will figure somehow musically in the album, tentatively budgeted at 12 to 14 songs and under 40 minutes. I’ve also written a children’s story called Winter Trance Party that some of the album will be based on. Overall, everything will have a cold and wintry feel to it. I’m in Phoenix where it’s about 68 degrees at the moment but when I wrote and recorded demos for a lot of the songs. I purposefully let the house get to a chilly 56 degrees. I hope when you play the resulting album, you will feel that lack of warmth.

I have about 15 new song ideas, some more fleshed out than others in demo form. And yet I’m missing the crucial side one closer song that would make people want to flip over the imaginary vinyl album to side two (because I still dream in vinyl). Around midnight I sat down with Reason and a sample from The Raindrops and nothing else and hoped  I’d come up with that closer. Instead I came up with a song that would be a great side two opener called “Don’t Lose That Rock Child”. Both are key song positions so I’m glad to have it. I’m of a mind that too many albums in the CD age get all aimless and dull in the middle and they’re too long to ever get to the end of anymore (my 24 song opus included- although it was a great album for an hour-long drive). Putting an album out on vinyl meant you had to start off strong and end stronger twice in one set, making for more classic albums. At least I hope so. Yesterday on Facebook I took an informal poll (because, really, is there a better kind?) and found out what people’s favorite side 1 closer was. Most people named Beatles cuts, which shouldn’t really count since almost every song of theirs sounds good enough to close a side. This album is trying to stay away from Beatles or British invasion sounds this time and concentrate more on pre-Fab and post-Fab music.

OK, so what this album needs is a “Stairway to Heaven” or “Let It Bleed.” Or “Time Waits For No One.”  And the pressure in on to come up with a song that will probably sound forced and suck!

And then maybe I’ll get a better song once that one is out of the way.”

Day 2: “Barely 24 hours into the challenge and already the hatred for a barely week-old composition has set in. I have other songs  that are in better shape than this so maybe I should’ve started with them. Instead I worked on “Please Don’t Tattle on Me,” one of three songs that just popped out of nowhere on Saturday while I was casually strumming on my girlfriend’s daughter’s pink guitar.  If it were February 27th, I’d probably be chucking this one out based on my night’s efforts. But still I persisted, rewriting lyrics and recording before going into work hoping I’d enjoy the results in the car. I didn’t. Here are the gripes:

The melody sounds lazy to me instead of pretty, like a first draft.

I haven’t figured out how to sing this one. I hate HATE HATE HATE!!!!!!  my first vocal attempt and all today I’ll be listening to Buddy Holly with an idea to try and sing it gentle and not in my usual McGruff the CrimeDog voice. “Everyday” is a good song to work from. Maybe I’ll add some knee slapping and glockenspiel. Maybe it would get it to sound less like a Mind Games outtake. I was trying to get this album to sound less Beatle-y but solo Beatles is hardly the answer.

I cut a passable slide guitar part, my first time ever attempt and my fingers are not quite where I’d like them to be.

I attempted to get a music box sound  for the guitars by changing the pitch and also running it through Garageband helium, an effect I wish Reason had. Both were fails. In olden days, you could record on tape, slow it down to half speed ad record on that and you’d get the Bob Welch “Sentimental Lady” sound I’m looking for. I was  dumbfounded on how I can achieve that digitally last night (“Where’s the easy button ? I can’t find it. Wah!” But time away from the computer and the lava lamp has given me an idea.”

Day 3: Recovered yesterday’s epic fail by fixing up “Please Don’t Tattle On Me” so it wouldn’t make me ill to hear it. Many things were tried- doubling a fey vocal, slowing down and speeding up the guitar track digitally using Audacity shareware. It sounds mechanical like a music box but not pretty like “Sentimental Lady.” I even did that Willie Weeks /70′s session player thing on the bass – it almost sounds as if I know what I’m doing besides lots of coke. I’m kidding of course. Everyone knows that cocaine was very hard to find in the 70′s.

I’ve spotted this song as the runt of this month-long litter. It demands the most attention yet might only achieve passable status in the end. Aaaargh!

Was happy to leave that song alone and for a while and move on to “Calabash” a weird little song about a party of people not unlike the Donners who migrate west in search of gold, get consumed by the coldest winter on record and die off.  That’s almost what the ill-fated Winter Dance Party was like- no one got rich there.

Feeling confident  I turned to “Heart Breaking Machine,” a demo of which I constructed in Garageband over Christmas vacation. It being also being The Big Bopper death anniversary, it felt right working on his ersatz tribute song—the “Heart Breaking Machine” referred to in the title is, after all, the telephone over which so much breakup data is transferred and stored. Slapped some bass, handclaps and vocals on it-it’s nearly done. Poor Bopper —will the movie people ever come for you?

I clenched my body like a fist and screamed the lyrics to “Don’t Lose That Rock Child.” It felt right, what with no one being in the house and all.

Ruined my voice for “Friendly Angel” although I did get enough good stuff that I don’t have to redo the whole thing. Thought I could get a good finger snapping sound by sampling the beginning of “Killer Queen” but like most lazy experiments – it’s probably best to just keep doing them yourself. It doesn’t sound as creepy as I originally had it, without vocals but it still is strange.

So five songs in pretty decent shape. Went to bed at 3 AM where there was only a dozen people on the RPM Challenge site–I imagine everyone is playing Spot-the-Runt tonight.

Day 3 into 4: It’s happened early in the proceedings but in trying to find some percussion to put on another track I stumbled on a beat and before you know it I was working on a new track. This is what I love about the RPM Challenge- the sheer force of work powers and man hours always produces something out of nowhere.

I  threw on some old lyrics and called  it “I Met Her in the Boomerang Club” Used the opportunity to learn a thing or two about laying down beats and got my slide finger to cooperate a little better.

The result of all this busy work is that I now have to redo the track from scratch because there are bits where the drums just don’t work with what I came up with afterwards.

Runaway song, why can’t you just be CORRECT right out of the gate?

Day 4 into 5:
Worked on a song with a strange directive. “Take Your Little Heart and Go” starts off like a slow Roy Orbison ballad and ends with two minutes of pure hell which was achieved by taking some of my favorite girl group recordings and slowing the speed to a crawl while keeping the pitch the same. It really gives me the willies!

My inner George Martin tells me that this is a bit excessive but why settle for a minute and a half of sonic hell when an additional 30 seconds would be so much more hellish?

I took time out to go to the library to take out a bunch of CDs. There was a Rhino Best of the Chantels that provided some nice samples and a lyrical idea that will find its way into “Friendly Angel.”

Most of Super Sunday was devoted to the tedium of fixing what should be really simple rhythm tracks to “Boomerang Club” and a slow soul number called “Cold Day in December.” What winds up happening is you write directly onto the timeline and you ultimately hear what the song needs and have to remake the song, which is what will happen in both instances.

Revived an old song from two RPM Challenges ago becuase of a faulty rhythm track and I just remade it now. I’ve altered it a bit to make it more Buddy Holly-ish and added the bolero ‘March of the Toreadors” sample from the opera Carmen. Oh you kids will get some culture and you’ll like it!

Day 7: “On the seventh day I rested.  Rest is important unfortunately I had to do OTHER work so I didn’t get the rest I required which would’ve probably been used up by the Challenge anyway but that’s all right. I stayed away from the tracking desk but I did conduct one sonic experiment, sampling the Bo Diddley beat to see what it was backwards. And it pretty much sounds the same.”

Day 20: So far in this project I’ve been able to emulate  all my favorite early rock and roll heroes in some stylistic way:

Hiccuping in a song like Buddy Holly

Singing a Roy Orbison type bolero

Writing a telephone song like The Big Bopper

Doing a song in Spanish like Richie Valens

Doing a freakbeat song like Joe Meek

My emulation of Joe Meek  didn’t just stop with the song “I Rebelled Last Night”. Having read about how Meek used to upturn his leather couch to use as a vocal booth in his aprtment studio. I tried it yesterday for “Crazed Shape Shifter” and it does get a dead sound but sounded to me like singing into a coach for some reason. I used it for another two songs “Cold Day in December” and “Suspend Your Disbelief” before moving the couch back to the living room where it will stay the remainder of forever.

I went back to my old way of cutting vocals but it was worth a try.

Day 21: I stayed up till 3 last night and as I was shutting down, a session that I had hidden away off the screen but hadn’t saved  meant that 4 hours of work was lost on “Suspend Your Disbelief.” I put up a rough mix on the jukebox so I have an idea what it sounded like but here is a time where I really miss the whole Mac experience over PC. You can;t sneeze without a Mac asking “are you sure you don’t need a handkerchief?” Usually when you try to shut down a MAc and usually my PC tells you there are stilll other programs open and it lets you quit out of them.

This time all I could see on my PC was the “Suspend” session  still open …and the fucking thing shut down anyway. Nice!

The good thing is that most of the work was trial and error stuff that I no longer have to do so really it only amounts to rerecording vocals, bass and slide…..but STILL! The idea that my personal computer doesn’t have my back in moments of sleep deprivation is really distressing. Plus I lost the vocals that I sang into the leather couch vocal booth and I’m sure as shit not going to upturn and drag that down the hall again. Might try recording vocals in the closet as per Andy Samford’s suggestion.

Tim (Letter Seventeen) sent me a sample of what he’s doing for “Winter Trance Party” so I’m psyched about that. I have a fear that with nine days left “Rezo Para Donna” will probably not get its Spanish vocals and duet partner in the fabby month of February.

Added some Ave Marias onto a Valentine’s Night demo I did of Carbon Footprint Man, a last minute song that knocked Boomerang Club out of slot 6. I’m collaborating on lyrics with Ed Masley of The Breakup Society which is great since we did 3 songs together last year.

Day 19: “Also due on March 1 is my contribution to a Jim Henson tribute album. I picked the Oscar the Grouch classic “There’s a Big Heap of Garbage at the End of the Rainbow” to cover and it took time away from the RPM album and as a result. it wouldn’t sound out of place on it.”

Day 22: “I’m not one of those people that think filler on an album is a bad deal. Every record needs its rest points (check any Stones album for the proof.) And for this album, since I’m looking strategically looking at the dead center slot on side 2, traditionally the spot where you throw in a song maybe not up to the level of some of the others, that is where I’m placing my slow soul dirge “It’ll Be a Cold Day in December.” I was trying to write a kind of Chi-Lites or Dramatics type of song – the kind I’d find on any number of Soul Tarin compilation albums I used to find at thrift stores. yes, I wrote this the day Don Cornelius died and although it didn’t strictly fit in with the plotted course of the record I went with it.

Andrew Jemsek, laid down an accordion track on "Rezo Para Donna."

I think I succeeded with the song, even the singing. It’s the rhythm track that is still a little draggy. I’ve tried speeding it up and slowing it down – tonight I’m going to try correcting it to a cllick track which might make it even more wonky.

Why will I invest more time in this song? Well, it makes me smile. As the guy who is singing the song, I’m putting myself in the head of a guy who is good at mangling well-known expressions as well as inventing a few new ones. Some of these were acheived by shouting whatever popped into my head as I stared at a lyric sheet with my glasses askew.

In driving home the main point of the song, this man has been wronged and is saying it’ll be a cold day in December before he gets mixed up in love again.  So he has a few months to strut around as a lonely man beholden to no one. But here are some of the expressions maybe you ought to try out on your significant other:

“What’s good for the gander is messing up the geese”

“Couldn’t tell my heart from a hole and my soul from a shack.”

“Sometimes love can be a translucent thing.” Huh?

“They say revenge is a dish best left cold.”

I keep my heart and my sleeve just as far as I can.”

“You know the saying ‘Once bitten, bite back.”

There’s a bunch of others climaxing with him saying “If you make it with this guy, my sky will fall and fold.” So not only will her shagging someone else cause his sky to fall, it will also cause it to double back over itself.

I will fix you, song. I will fix you good.”

Day 28: “Puppy threatened completion! A stray puppy who now answers to the name Shadow wandered into my carport and into our hearts at the Serene Dominic compound. Attempts have been made to find the owner but that meant me having to remix some tracks with a fluffy chow in tow that just wants me to stroke her. She is too cute. Anyhow, the record is done but if she’d entered the picture earlier I couldn’t have mailed in a copy of the CD today that I could stand to listen to.

Shadow.

Many thanks to Letter Seventeen and Monopoli for their contributions to the title song- the first time I ever had a title song on an album and for my friend Andrew Jemsek for coming by and taking time out from his challenge to play accordion and to no-Challenger Ed Masley (Frampton Brothers, Breakup Society) for coming up with lyrics for “Carbon Footprint Man.”

I’m going to write a self-serving blog on my own website that outlines the CD and all but let me just say here that of all three Challenges, this is the on ethat sounds most like an album and the only one I didn’t cry or have some emotional breakdown at some point in the making of. Which either means I’m getting better at these or becoming more of a cold, unfeeling prick. Nah, I’m rescuing a puppy! How bad can I be?”