Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Where does the time go

So I'm at the impressive once-a-year update pace that I started on in 2017, which somehow beats the once-every-three years pace I had been on after life threw quite a few curveballs a while ago. I will say this though. What happens when you decide to write and record a rock opera based on one of your biggest inspirations musically...and then somehow, you end up getting the opportunity to actually MEET that person and give a CD with the work-in-progress tracks to that very person!?

Yeah.  That's neat isn't it?

I got to meet Susan Soonkyu Lee in 2017, that really did happen.  Sunny.  I mean, if someone had told me that in 2012, I would have been blown away.  Even in the early months last year it seemed like a really distant possibility, like one of those dream scenarios one comes up with when writing a tribute project...and then here it is.  ooh.

Alright, her finally getting songwriting credit in a wonderfully chill duet was equally nice too.

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New year comes a new opportunity, and my vacation destination in a few weeks has given me the chance to do some international recording for the first time ever.  I'm excited.  It's breathtaking just contemplating all the creative possibilities I'll have over there, I don't know yet which of our material we'll be able to tackle (though the rock opera tracks remain a priority) in full but just to get back to the recording routine, the whole schema of arranging...

An aside.

A few months ago I had a conversation with a friend.  Some of you might know him, I pretty much wrote "Don't You Realize How Cool I Am" as his biography and took the title and two other lines of that song from his own sayings one summer evening in 2007.

For him, recording is a task to get a song documented, and then after that, it's about getting it up as soon as possible.  After that it's all about making sure the song is heard in some sort of way, that once the writing portion has been completed. it's ready to be heard.

I guess my reaction is a little bit more complicated than that.

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I've been on a Phil Collins kick lately.  It's not the first or last time I will be.  I got a new stereo system in my car and using early-80s Genesis to test out the bass range of my speakers has been a fruitful and entertaining experience.  Makes me appreciate Mike Rutherford as a bassist a lot more than I did before.

Even before Billy Joel, the Beatles, or anything else...the first songs I remember as a child were likely Phil's solo hits "Take Me Home" and "Another Day In Paradise."  Ubiquitous on 101.3 once upon a time.  Both songs are triumphs of layering but in particular, Take Me Home's heartwrenching tale of isolation and psychological erosion: an iconic wobbly synth line, the fortuitous introduction of Peter Gabriel and Sting on backup vocals, and subtle structural changes (the prechorus length being different between verses 1/2 and after the last verse) that build to the climactic and emotionally challenging finale.



When Phil Collins/Genesis, Fleetwood Mac, Billy Joel, and the Isley Brothers are some of my perpetual favorites...arranging and studio polish are critical to what I like, and that extends right into my love of Korean pop as well.  There's the bright, brassy synth lines of "Step" and "Lupin" by Kara,...






and the Isley-like mix of fuzz guitar and Rhodes piano on group member Hara's underrated solo tune "Secret Love."

 The insistent groove of what is often considered SNSD's best track, "Genie." 
 The processed drums that fade into the start of Amber's longing ballad "On My Own."  The perfect dramatic buildups of the collaborations between Nell's Jongwan and various female singers: Younha, BoA, Taeyeon.  The subtle evolution of JYP's James Brown-like influences into Park Ji Yoon's funk-R&B signature, "Adult Ceremony."  The yacht rock revival of the Wonder Girls' "Faded Love."



I like craft.  Maybe I like it only enough to serve the song  - why I prefer Walter Becker's solo material intensely more than Donald Fagen's - but I do like it nonetheless.

Even something as raw and garagey as Neil Young's first album with Crazy Horse...I still see where there is some sort of thematic intent, some intentional approach.  I was listening to "Cinnamon Girl" earlier and there's a one-note guitar solo in it, not unlike some of the runs in "Down By The River" off the same disc.

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When I first discovered Crazy Horse in the very late 90s, the idea that songs could simply be extended via vamping and soloing blew my mind.  I love and still love "Cowgirl In The Sand" for that reason.  Later on, when I became a huge fan of the late Jason Molina, I saw how his songs during his years performing as Songs: Ohia took that to a new level - three-chord progressions that lasted upwards of seven or more minutes, yet never seeming too sparse.  (I still wonder how he memorized some of the lengthy lyrics he penned for those tracks!)

Yet for all the implied rawness of these simple progressions in his singular writing style, I recall an anecdote of how he and Steve Albini constructed the song "Farewell Transmission" - the musicians were taught the chords, the singers kinda followed along for backup harmonies implicitly rather than with much practice beforehand, and Molina's command to "Listen" repeated multiple times in the coda was not a preplanned lyrical conceit, rather instead a directive to the band to stay in the moment with each other (that ended up fitting well with the themes of departure and recall that fill out the song).


And despite that being live-recorded in every way without overdubs, it's still studio magic, still a great example of how legendary engineering let the moment shine as intended.

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My friend Mike posted about this indie band he's done shows with, and they posted a recording today:
https://alharper.bandcamp.com/track/sunny-somewhere

Despite the simple drums/clean guitar/bass arrangement...the wonderful tight harmonies plus the usage of cymbals and toms to outline song structure...those things are what make this recording work well.

or maybe I just like the song title because of pre-existing biases listed above LOL

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I bring that up because of how vast the creative potential this worldwide adventure could be.  It'll be the 7th, 8th, and 9th recording sessions for the band, though we're fully bringing in another friend of mine into the group for the first time (after an epic strand of technology last year: me recording drums and Wurlitzer in San Francisco, bass guitar at home in the suburbs, my friend pulling off vocals 16 time zones away, and my best friend Dan in Kentucky using his golden ears to mix away).  Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder once recorded a whole album on three straight all-nighters!!

Maybe we're not going to be as ambitious as that perhaps but I just can't wait to get back into band mode!  All those years of ideas...all those weeks of starting to really gel with other musicians at my church, to really understand how to balance my own stylistic tendencies with where everyone else is in a song...the fine line between spontaneity and organization that to me is the core of how I live as a music man...all of that will be ready to go later this month and I look forward to that journey wholeheartedly.


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