Archive for March, 2013

Stories Behind the Songs: “Freak”

Posted by on March 25th, 2013

UU ChaliceThe gospel choir section at the end of “Freak” was written first, in February 2005, and the verse sections followed in April. The “choir” consists of sixteen total voices; John recorded four different harmonies for the men’s section which I then doubled, and Katie recorded four women’s harmonies which Pen doubled. Katie called it “The U.U. Tabernacle Choir” (U.U. being short for Unitarian Universalist, if you didn’t know). That part of the song expresses something of what I personally felt when I found my own “shelter from the storm”.

Happy Dynamic Range Day! #DRD13

Posted by on March 22nd, 2013

Loudness War diagramIn case you didn’t know it, there’s a loudness war on in the music world.  Without getting too technical, popular music for nearly 20 years has had the dynamics squeezed out of it in order to appear to be louder (see the diagram).  The official starting shot of the loudness war was the 1995 Oasis album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?  and from there, new releases have gotten more and more compressed.  The result of this attempt to cram maximum volume into CDs is that the music is squashed, sounds terrible (and audibly distorted), and fatigues the listener’s ear more quickly.  Well, there is a movement underway to stop the loudness war and return dynamics to recorded music, and today is Dynamic Range Day.  You can read more here:  We wholeheartedly support this effort and do not participate in the loudness war; Chameleon Red’s music is delivered to you with dynamics intact.

RehearsingNot surprisingly, given its rather patchwork nature, “Onstage” took a while to write.  The initial riff came in August 2004, before I started writing the opera.  I began writing the song proper in February 2005 but didn’t complete it until the end of March.  The tango-like beat in the section beginning with “We have worked so hard to make it…”  definitely owes something to the Jimi Hendrix Experience tune “House Burning Down”.  Also in this song, the “Won’t Do It Again” riff makes its first reappearance.  To me it signifies the negative energy stemming from fear and bigotry.

“Onstage” was one of the Transposition songs on the set list when we put together a short-lived performing version of Chameleon Red in 2008.  I must say, it rocked!

I’ve Got Nothing

Posted by on March 15th, 2013

We’re still diligently working on the new album, to the point that I can’t coax a blog entry out of my overworked brain right now.  Here, enjoy this video of Beck performing “Guess I’m Doing Fine”.  Did I mention that Beck and I were born on the same day?

Getting Ready“Getting Ready” was really the first short “link song” I wrote for Transposition; it was created to show how the events in “Simone” led to the subsequent scene “Onstage”.  The version that appears on the album is nearly identical to the demo recording; I thought we might come up with a full band arrangement, but adding other instruments seemed the take to song away from the feel I wanted to capture.  Anyway, I think the simple voice-and-acoustic guitar arrangement conveys both the anticipation and isolation Jack(ie) feels.  Obviously, this is the second of three songs on the album on which no other musicians appear.

Notes From the Studio

Posted by on March 8th, 2013

Recording "Empty Spaces"Eddie Vedder SingingIt’s been a busy week here at Van Hearlen III studio, so busy that I’m late with this blog entry.  We’ve been recording a lot for the new album: vocals for “Skeleton Crew”, “Empty Spaces”, and “Your Doubt (Can Set You Free)”, lead guitar for “Westwood” and “Ace of Blues”, and bass for “Life Is Calling” and “Small Name, Big Ego”.  At the left you can see me recording the lead vocal for “Empty Spaces”, and I’m either singing very passionately or experiencing a severe abdominal pain.  I learned this emotive vocal technique that signifies earnestness and a predilection for stage diving from Eddie Vedder.  Oh, and don’t laugh at my homemade pop filter.

Mark KnopflerEvery once in a while, I’m inspired enough to crank out a whole song very quickly, without having to struggle overmuch.  “Simone” was one of these; coming out almost all at once in February 2005.  I had always wanted to write a story song, and indeed had tried several times before, but this was the first one that really worked.  Much to my astonishment, I could see the events unfolding in my head like a movie, and all I had to do was write down what I saw.  Aside from applying the present tense more consistently, I didn’t really have to tweak the lyrics much.

As much as I like the song, though, I saw it would present a problem if Transposition was ever staged; Jack(ie) tells the entire story, leaving Simone nothing to do.  In order to try to correct that issue, I had John sing harmony on all the parts where Simone speaks.

I’m not a great mandolin player but it seemed appropriate to strum along on the cheap one I had at the time.  The lead guitar lines were played fingerstyle, without a pick, which is unusual for me; I was trying to approximate a Mark Knopfler feel, I suppose.

Incidentally, I was never satisfied with the name “Simone”; I thought it sounded made-up, probably because I have never met anyone with that appellation (how’s that for a 50 cent word).  But it was the only feminine name I could think of that rhymed with “own”.

Growing New Roots

Posted by on March 1st, 2013

Ella FitzgeraldI’m a person who is generally indifferent to trends; in fact, I usually avoid trendy things like the plague.  Despite that, I was always aware of and vaguely interested in what was happening in music until 10 or so years ago, when I stopped caring.  I found little to catch my interest in the bland fare served up on the radio and TV, and I was no longer surrounded by enthusiastic music fans who were willing to dig through the mountain of garbage to find the scattered pearls to share with me.  But that doesn’t mean that I stopped wanting to hear new (to me) music and exploring what’s out there–I just started going back in time to discover what I’d missed.  I’m always interested in roots and beginnings and how things evolve over time.  So here’s a small list of some of the delights I’ve encountered in my explorations.

Steely Dan – I always had an aversion to Steely Dan; in fact, it would be fair to say that I hated them, except for “Do It Again”.  They were too slick, too jazzy for my taste.  Well, guess what?  My taste changed over time, and not long ago there came a day when the Dan suddenly offered new delights to my ears.  I have since acquired their entire discography and their influence will be evident on our upcoming album.

The Police – Believe it or not, I didn’t appreciate them back in the 80’s.  I know, I know.

Patsy Cline – She was a little bit country, a little bit pop, and a little bit rock and roll.  What a great voice and an interesting musical palate.

Ella Fitzgerald – That voice!  My wife turned me on to Ella, and I have developed a fondness for the old standards through her.  It’s true, they don’t write ’em (or sing ’em) like that anymore.  Ella can do a good imitation of Louis Armstrong, in case you didn’t know.

The Anthology of American Folk Music – A treasure trove of music recorded in the late 20’s and early 30’s of the last century, including old English ballads, dance tunes, gospel, and blues, some of it recorded right here in the Tri-Cities.  If you want to hear our musical heritage and see where it led, this is a great place to start.