Archives for category: 1st record

Students, for this post please review Track 2, “(Never) Let It Go“.

This is the actual opening track of the album since Track 1 is a brief, instrumental intro. “(Never) Let It Go” may be my favorite track of the album. I feel the songwriting, music composition and arrangements come together tremendously well and I’m especially proud of the piano and dark sounding tom-tom drums in verse 2.

From a lyrical standpoint, I was experimenting a bit with this song. I was trying to emulate what many rappers do, namely switch up their rhyming schemes mid-verse. I think it works…even without the typical rap “uh-huhyeah boyeec’mon“‘s and of course, references to Lord of the Rings.

This is the first of four tracks that Anders Drerup, of the Ottawa-based band The Claytones, plays pedal steel on and anybody who tells me that the steel work on the song doesn’t just bring some serious beauty can get beaten by a bar of Dove soap in a pillowcase.

Untitled-4

The inspiration of such rappish rhyme schemes such as “See that setting SUN, another day is DONE just like the other ONES / I wish that it would LAST, the PAST becomes my FOE, but I’ll never let it GO.”

Blue Blue Satellite

Advertisements

The one-year anniversary of the official release of my debut CD is coming up on April 26* so I thought I’d lead up to it by blowing the eDust off the blog and by writing a few facts on each of the 14 tracks of The Learning Days, which, almost 365 days later, I still listen to with unbridled, self-gratifying glee.

So first up, track 1, Melancholia (approaching).

This track is named after the exquisite Lars von Trier movie which I loved and felt captured a lot of what Blue Blue Satellite is all about: emotional fragility, contemplating life, and of course, colossal mystery planets colliding with Earth extinguishing all life as we know it.

I liked the idea of opening the record with a super-simple musical motif that would cause listeners to think “ok…I wonder where he’s going with this”. And what is a simpler motif than: “E – E – E – E…”? Well, perhaps “C – C – C – C – C…” but sometimes you just have to live your life on the edge, baby.

The way the track bleeds into track 2 was something I always wanted to do. Hopefully the listeners get slightly tripped out because the aforementioned “E – E – E – E…” of the piano goes from being on the first beat of the bar to…uh, not the first beat. I’m pretty proud of having come up with the idea. That is, the idea of stealing it from here, here and here. Please don’t tell Emma, Noel or Jónsi. Because I’ll know who ratted me out, all 3 of you who read this blog….

E – E – E – E – E ….

Blue Blue Satellite

* I had my official CD release show in Ottawa on April 26, 2012. Coincidentally, on April 26th, 2013I’ll be accompanying L.A.’s best kept secret, Sara Melson, at the release party for her highly recommended new CD and who I’ll blog about when I get to track 7, Sister Rachel. Stay tuned.

For many moons now, I’ve always claimed to be a songwriter first and foremost. Not a singer, not a guitarist, not a CD pushing self-promoter, but a songwriter.

My Ottawa CD release made me realize that this is a false claim.

Almost all of the elements that made me very satisfied with the Ottawa CD release were not song-related. For example:

  • Taking the stage to a projected visual intro with an accompanying instrumental piece.
  • The uninterrupted, three-song, no banter set of songs to kick off the show
  • The un-amplified mandolin song while walking into the audience
  • Having a backing band for Thieves but having them take the stage halfway through the first chorus:

    (impatient? go to 1:26)

There were more but I can’t reveal all my performance secrets now can I(especially since most of them are stolen)? But therein lies the keyword: “performance”. It turns out that while I still consider myself a songwriter, the performer in me is just as strong. Maybe even slightly stronger. And this can be heard on the record as well. Every element, every transition, every nuance that pushes the CD or live show beyond a simple collection of 14 songs: this is performance.

So why is this important to me? I guess I’ve become very aware of my audience whether they’re at a show or reclining with headphones  on at home. As a songwriter, my job is to write a song. Ok. Check. But as a performer, my job is to give the audience a fresh experience that will resonate with them; make them come for the music but stay for the experience…which I hope I succeeded in doing at the Ottawa CD release.

I’m still very much a songwriter. But now I’m adding the performer aspect. I suppose it marks an evolution in me, but it begs the questions: what is it that I am evolving into…?

An artist.

Thieves

Thieves @ Gallery Studios

Blue Blue Satellite

If you bought a copy of my newly released debut record, “The Learning Days”, you’ll see a little name in the credits and hear a big voice on the record: Sara Melson.

Although not a household name, Sara is an exceptional L.A.-based songwriter and singer who has had some notable success including having a song on Grey’s Anatomy and singing backup for Moby on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Moby and Sara

Pictured: Moby, Sara, other white clad singers. Not pictured: Jay Leno, Jay Leno's chin.

This blog post will be less about how I got her to sing on my record, but more about what her being on the record means to me.

So let’s begin. And we will begin with…

Neil Halstead, my bearded musical raison d’être:

Neil Halstead

Full beard = extra realness

My bread and butter as a musician is fingerstyle guitar and finding beauty in the melancholy. And I learned how to do both from Neil’s songs. Specifically, this song and this song respectively.

Now then. Neil has a band called Mojave 3 and in 2006, their lovely bassist and co-vocalist, Rachel Goswell, fell ill and couldn’t tour in support of their new album. So as a young Blue Blue Satellite sat and listened to his favorite band on the highly influential Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show, I was saddened to not hear Rachel Goswell, but was gladdened to hear a more than capable replacement.

KCRW

Click to enlarge. Witty captions ensue.

The DJ said it was “Sarah Nelson”. After some intense research on internet search portal Google(Google, the verb, had yet to be invented), I realized that it was Sara, no “h”, and Melson, not “n”. Sara Melson. It didn’t take her long to gain me as a fan because her gift of melody, her bold, brave lyricism and her killer wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing voice made becoming a fan a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Mojave 3 had posted a blog about their bass player’s health woes:

Mojave 3 blog

Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace...and Tom. (Click to enlarge and read).

Did you catch that? Let’s take a closer look…

Two magical words

Capitalize the "s" and you've got yerself a song!

That’s right…it was this blog post and those two words, “Sister Rachel”, that inspired me to write my poppiest song to date: “Sister Rachel”. It has since been a mainstay in my setlists and always manages to be quite a crowd pleaser. And when Sara Melson graciously agreed to provide some vocals on my record, there was no doubt in my mind: it had to be on “Sister Rachel”. And it couldn’t have worked out better…the way the second verse comes in, the key and vocal range, the harmonies…it’s like Sara’s vocals had found their way home. Every time I listen to that track, I break into a big dopey grin when her vocals enter.

So in summary, here’s serendipity Blue Blue Satellite style: Sara sings on “Sister Rachel” which was inspired by Rachel Goswell of my musical heroes Mojave 3, whom Sara stood in for when Rachel fell ill while Mojave 3 blogged about their “sister Rachel” which inspired me to write my song “Sister Rachel” which Sara sings on.

Too convoluted? Ok then, I’ll put it in the form of  a lame poem:

I love Sara Melson
I love Mojave 3
Sara sang with Mojave
and now she sang with me.

Blue Blue Satellite

p.s. despite her cool success, it ain’t easy being a full time musician in L.A. and Sara needs help to raise funds for her next album…lend a hand here. Tell her Blue Blue Satellite sent ya…

I really thought I was keeping the Toronto pre-release show pretty simple. And I believed this right up to a few days before showtime. Although I probably should have known better as I left my apartment in Ottawa.

It's schleptacular!

What I should have known was that I had to coordinate the set up of a rental P.A. system, a slideshow intro for two performers, that two out-of-town couples were well taken care of, three never-before-used stomp boxes, lighting logistics, a constantly changing guestlist and of course, the worst weather(or weather warning) of the season. Add to this the fact that I was trying to deal with these details with a shirt, tie, sweater and fitted faux-leather bomber jacket on, and it was quite the ordeal. Albeit a very fashion forward ordeal.

So what began as a musical extravaganza featuring a few bells and whistles became The Bells and Whistles Super Stress Show, featuring a bit of music. But that’s okay because the music served an oasis of calm in the middle of gigzilla. I was hardly nervous at all and yes, technical glitches did occur but I tried and hope I succeeded in moving past all of it with professionalism to deliver an entertaining show.

It was fun to be a headliner for the first time and to have a class-act like Kristine St-Pierre be my opening special guest. It was also fun to call her up during the encores à la George and Elton in “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me.” Also, the beauty and uniqueness of the venue helped distract the audience from, oh, say, daisy chained pedals disconnecting from each other in mid-air and crashing to the unforgiving floor with the even more unforgiving PA system amplifying the cacophony as if to say “Hey Blue, maybe plan a little better next time, yeah?

Nonetheless, the things people actually said to me at the end of the night was just all kinds of nice and made me feel like it was all worthwhile. And you know what? It was. Even if the grand piano’s supports had given out and crushed my legs and carefully colour-coordinated pants, it would have been worth it. Because having your own professionally produced debut CD, releasing it in your hometown to attentive, close friends and family and hearing their words of praise, encouragement and support can only make you strive onwards and upwards.

Thank you attendees. It was my humble honour to share some music with you for an evening. We’ll do it again. Soon.

Blue Blue Satellite

The Learning Days debut album from yours truly, Blue Blue Satellite, is trudging steadily to completion. So, I thought I’d throw out some fun facts….

Number of tracks: 14

Number of tracks less than a minute long: 2

Album length: 50:55

Longest track length: 5:24

Shortest track length: 0:38

Number of tracks with parentheses in the title: 4

Number of tracks with the king of all instruments, the pedal steel, on it: 4

Number of guitar solos: 2

Number of pick slides: 1

Number of “girl” – “world” rhymes: 0

Number of ooh sha la la la la la’s: 0

Number of ooh la la la la la la’s: 2

Weirdest instrument used: plastic screwdriver handle bouncing off guitar strings

Densest vocal harmonies: 9 layers

F-bombs edited out: 2

Number of guitars used: 5

Off-colour jokes told in the studio: 1,543,442

Time wasted in the studio: 1,543,442 minutes

Oldest song on the record: circa 2001 – Don’t Cry (Tonight)

Newest song on the record: circa 2011 – Melancholia

Best misheard lyric after listening to it too much: “Sister Rachel” = “Interracial”

Hearts worn on sleeve: 1

Recording in a real studio was very enjoyable mostly because I got to experience what I’ve seen in movies, TV and magazines: Talking to the producer through soundproof glass over headphones, singing into a “plosive screen”, being surrounded by mounds of equipment for which I’d have a hard time finding the ‘on’ switch…

But it was enjoyable also because it brought out different aspects of me as a performer I never expected. Namely, the aspect of being a singer. Oh, I’m still a crappy singer but I was very proud of how few takes it took me to get a pretty acceptable performance. Sometimes we even settled on a “scratch track”(a placeholder take) as the final take. There is the theory, of course, that since my singing is weak to begin with, it doesn’t take that much effort to reach that bottom rung of the singing ladder. Nonetheless I also enjoyed doing the singing takes much more than anything else. When playing the instruments, I was very conscious about technique and precision. But with the singing, I felt very free and liberated to just pour as much mood and emotion as I could into the vocal performance.

That being said, whoever invented vocal correction technology is a life-saving genius.

Blue Blue Satellite

Inspiration hit this weekend and I wrote one last song for the record. It’s a little risky to put it on the record so soon after writing it, because I could just be suffering from the songwriting equivalent of beer goggles. But at the very least it’ll be a different kind of song. In fact, it’s different from any previous song I’ve written mainly due to one factor which I will leave for you to discover when the record comes out in who-knows-when. The song will probably be the album closer and I wrote it with that in mind and I do think it’ll give the album a nice sense of finality.

Anyhoo, after a brief African hiatus, I head back to the studio for a few sessions this week to hopefully turn the who-knows-when to Wen-knows-when. I’ll tell you this though…that original November 26th I hoped for was waaaay off. There’s much work to be done and now that I’ve got the new Coldplay on my mind, I’ll no doubt be asking my producer for the Enofication of my tracks. So, soaring choruses about skies and birds with tons of ambient effects and a lot of “whoo hoo”‘s and “whoa oh”‘s. I can just see him sadly shaking his head when I start singing in a falsetto.

Blue Blue Satellite

So my studio time has ended. We didn’t quite finish everything up so I’m going to have to go back in to record one last track. Then comes the editing, mixing, mastering and the most important part: running the entire record through the T-Pain Super AutoTune 5000™.

But I can tell you the tracks that we recorded, thus officially revealing the tracklist for The Learning Days:

(in alphabetical order)
1. (Never) Let It Go
2. 30
3. Against the Northern Sky
4. Blues’ll Always Be the Blues
5. Do You Remember Me?
6. Don’t Cry (Tonight)
7. The Fair’s in Town Tonight
8. The Learning Days
9. Science and Progress
10. Sister Rachel (a.k.a.: “Inter-racial”)
11. Thieves

Going to take a little travel hiatus but it’s going to be nothing but The Learning Days, The Learning Days, The Learning Days once I’m back and hopefully the record will be finished just in time to cheer y’all out of the winter blues(…or drive you deeper into them, depending on which tracks you listen to).

Blue Blue Satellite

On Friday, a professional musician came in to the studio and played pedal steel on a few of my songs. Just hearing a professional touch playing an instrument I adore on a song that I wrote was an unforgettable moment. Goosebumps, chills, tears…bodily functions were at peak flow. And although that last sentence has a powerful lack of eloquence and subtlety, I can assure you that Anders Drerup’s touch on a handful of my songs was as eloquent and subtle as a Shakespearean ninja(i.e. very eloquent, very subtle).

And let’s not forget a few days prior when Tim Watson stopped by to add some drums to a track as well. I just watched the video footage I shot and as it started I thought to myself, “Weird, I don’t remember listening to a kickass rock song in the studio”…then it dawned on me that it was my song with Tim beating the hell out of the skins for the track. A monster on the kit making a monster out of the song…and again, let me assure you, that is a good thing.

I blogged awhile back that I’d probably cheap out and muddle through all the instruments myself in order to save a couple of bucks. Am I glad I didn’t, and that I got these two gentlemen in because once you have the real deal on the tracks it just kicks it up several notches. I can’t wait to hear it all mixed and mastered… It. will. be. EPIC.

Blue Blue Satellite