Archives for category: Regarding Blue Blue Satellite
If you’re a podcast listener you’ll probably be familiar with the two podcasts whose names I’ve mashed up for the purposes of this series of posts. I thought it apt because what I’d like to do is to give you an idea of my creative process (à la Song Exploder) as I actually work through it over the next few weeks and months (à la Serial) on a new song called “Wrestle With Giants”. 

 

At this point, if you’ve been if you’ve been following this blog series with unbridled anticipation for each new installment, you’ll hopefully think that the tune is sounding pretty filled-out at this point. As a songwriter, this is where it gets tricky because now I can start adding window dressing and ornamentation without the song really needing it. A certain degree of dressing and ornaments is nice but it starts getting easy to go overboard. Especially since the foundation of the song has been laid so it gets temptingly easy to just throw in a new part that doubles up or adds simple harmonies to something that already exists in the mix.

For “Wrestle With Giants” and the next iteration thereof, the ornamentation is drums and a brand new instrument I’ve never added into any of my previous songs: clarinet. One of the joys of marriage (well, my marriage) is the fact that my wife and I share the love of music, her being a talented musician who plays various instruments. At one point she was even in a wind band(IN a wind BAND…not IS a wind BAG). Now, I know very little about the clarinet. I know that it does lazy and plodding pretty good, but it also does frenetic and Jewish equally well. I also know my brother played it for a couple of years in grade school. All of which helps very little in telling me how I can add it to my song. I suppose this means I should proceed with caution…so I featured it front and centre in the song’s only solo. Thanks to my wife for navigating the three sharps in the sheet music.

Oh, the drum part was also interesting because the song is definitely quite loose in its flow and I never considered laying down some kit. However, after the song’s breakdown, it naturally builds to something, and surprisingly that something is a more steady rhythmic final chorus which lent itself well to drums.

A final note before the last installment of this series…

It’s pretty obvious that I’ve been purposely avoiding what the vocal melody of this song is. If you’re a songwriter and have been following these posts, I hope you’ve had some fun in coming up with your own melody then seeing how it compares to mine when I post the conclusion of this series (possibly the next post). If you’re feeling especially adventurous feel free to Voice Memo it and send it to me!

Without further ado, here is the penultimate version of Wrestle With Giants:

Blue Blue Satellite

 

 

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It’s been pretty quiet chez Blue Blue Satellite of late. I did recently post a quick demo of an ode to wanderlust I recently wrote. But what else have I been up to? Well, I’ve been sitting on an idea for awhile now, keeping it under wraps, poising myself to unleash it on an unsuspecting world. But who am I kidding, like most BBS endeavors, it’ll be received by max six or seven people with polite nods and excuses to have to go now. So I’ll unleash it on the max six or seven people who may read this blog.

The project is codenamed OSNAP. The Ottawa String Notators And Performers. I know “Notators” isn’t a word but it fits with the acronym and it’s better than “Notationeers”.

Basically it’s a service I’d offer to singer songwriters whereby I’d write string accompaniment to their songs, notate it and gather an ensemble of string players to form a string ensemble for an eventual performance.

It’s still a work in progress. I tested it to moderate success with a friend, but now I’m applying it to myself and my tunes in anticipation of one last hurrah of a gig where I’ll formally put this service on show and offer to the good musicians of Ottawa.

I’m really too old to be using kids-these-days slang like “Oh snap” but dodgy naming aside, I hope this project will eventually see the light of day so send your positive vibes of following through my way because heaven knows a project like this doesn’t happen with a snap of the fingers as it were.

Two great European narcotics: alcohol and Christianity. I know which one I prefer.”  – The Streets, “Never Went To Church“.

I’ve heard variations of this statement over the course of time. And usually it’s a bit of an irreverent way of eliciting a “yeahhh booze, woo!” kind of reaction. And it rarely fails. You won’t hear a “yeahhh, Christianity, woo!” too often. Well then, allow me break the mold: Yeahhh, Christianity, woo!

Seriously. I do identify myself as a person of the Christian faith and unlike nouned pseudonym cohort Mike “The Streets” Skinner, I’ve indeed been to church. Weekly as a matter of fact.

Why do I bring this up? Because the penultimate track from my record, Against the Northern Sky, is actually 1/3 a Christian song about the constancy that can be found in God. With the other 2/3 made up of homage to Nick Drake’s Northern Sky and this scene from Futurama(spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Season 4):

You wouldn't expect to find poignancy in paper balls thrown at crotches and purple haired cyclopeses in evening gowns, but, well, here we are. (spoiler alert if you're actually watching Futurama season 4 for the first time)

Crumpled paper thrown at crotches and purple haired cyclopeses in evening gowns. Was I really writing seriously about God a sentence ago?

I’m not a huge fan of contemporary Christian music as a genre though. I find it doesn’t quite capture the profundity of faith in today’s day-and-age. And musically I find it kind of trite. It serves a purpose I suppose, but there are some stellar examples of music about religion that I prefer. And that’s the kind of “religious music” to which I hope Against the Northern Sky belongs.

Keytar!

Most of the strings in the song is me on my violin. However, at about 2:50 some strings come in at a very high register. These strings are being played by the king of campy 80’s electronic music, the synthesizer.

Play that synth boy! er, girl...?

Play that synth, boy! er, girl…? er…Michael Myers?

But at 3:30 I come back in with my violin and it was a bit of a gamble but the play between the fake strings and the real strings is kind of interesting I think.

So listen to the religious-leaning synth-driven tour-de-force here before we move on to the final track of “The Learning Days”!

Blue Blue Satellite

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

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

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

So tomorrow after I leave my day job for the day, I’ll be going all Clark Kent and will rush over to Gallery Recording Studios in the Glebe neighbourhood of Ottawa, transforming into Blue Blue Satellite on the way. There, I will start my first evening of “tracking”. Which, as I understand it, is just a cooler word for “recording”.

It’s tremendously exciting to be moving on from my bedroom “studio” with recording “equipment” that 11-year-olds doing Beiber webcam covers for YouTube wouldn’t even touch. And even though I probably should put all my focus on the music and nailing the performances, you can be sure I’ll have my camera to capture all those cool in-studio shots of me singing in front of mic spit guards and what-not.

So stay tuned, wish me luck, and probably most importantly, wish my producer luck as he’s about to find out the true meaning of “amateur”…

Blue Blue Satellite

…or to use the correct terminology I recently learned: “making my first record”. Which is weird, because I will be essentially recording my first CD. Regardless, allow me formally announce it:

Dear friends, in the next few months I will be making my first record. Although I am still very much an independent artist, my intention is to do this in as professional a manner as I am able. I have spoken to a local Ottawa producer, Dean Watson, who is well respected, connected and has a good track record and we have agreed to proceed with this project in the September time-frame. I have budgeted a significant amount of money for the entire initiative and even if this record turns out to go nowhere, I feel a need to do this now and to do it seriously and to do it right. And so, I am going to do it.

I’ve tried to be pretty low key in the past about pushing all things Blue Blue Satellite(that’s my stage name, for the uninitiated) but as part of my commitment to doing this project right, alas, I’m going to have to step up the self-promotion. I promise I won’t just cram it down your throats and be like “buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD.” I will try to offer something engaging and insightful that will hopefully keep you rockin’ along with me as I strike out on this endeavour.

I know I’m making a big deal out of this. And I know that most of you probably know people who have put out records of their own so it’s kinda like: “meh”. Still, I hope you’ll be willing to share in my excitement and be interested in joining me as I take this little journey. Or rather “continue this journey”…a journey many of you have been on at the important moments so please stick with me a little longer…at least until I can garner more than dozen YouTube hits.

Blue Blue Satellite

Please consider keeping in touch:
on the Web | on Facebook | on YouTube | on WordPress | on Email | …and just for the heck of it…on mySpace!

(buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD, buy my CD….when it comes out)

I was watching a film by Hideo Miyazaki, the Japanese animation master whose genius movies always fill me with awe and a deep, deep, sense of burning jealousy. Petty envy aside, his process is one of months, if not years. Meetings, storyboards, screen tests, and of course, pages of pages of painstaking frame-by-frame hand-drawn animation and still, in the end, a soul-stirring finished product. This kind of discipline astounds me…but it it inspires me too. And so, the question du jour:

If my best songwriting comes from short bursts of inspiration, how can I apply the epic scope of moviemaking to it?

This is not a rhetorical question. There is an answer. And I have the answer. And the answer comes in two words: Rock Opera. Or perhaps a different two words: Concept Album. Or if you like efficiency, one word: Musical.

All similar terms to describe the answer and the next Blue Blue Satellite challenge(for me, not you). Although “concept album” would be a bit of a misnomer seeing as I don’t even have a regular album to my name. And come to think of it, even “rock opera” doesn’t fit because I sing folk.

Oh well, call it what you will, I’m going to take up the challenge to express with thematically related songs a story with definite plot points, character arcs and, considering my inexperience as well as my laziness, deus ex machina after deus ex machina!

So, I won’t give myself a timeline. It’ll give me something to work on indefinitely rather than bore you guys with yet another song about unrequited love…unless of course, it was all just a dream.

Blue Blue Satellite

Collaboration has never really been my strong suit when it comes to songwriting. I’ve always enjoyed being in control of my own songs; melody, music, lyrics, what-have-you. Live, though, the solo act does have serious limitations. Sure, all the attention is all on you and only you…a perk that I can assure you is not lost on me, but sometimes what is lost is the audience. When I got my loop pedal it upped the ante some, but even then, over-use that and you risk crossing over to being like those ridiculous, yet hilarious, one-man-bands with cymbals between his knees and a bass drum strapped to his back. The singer/songwriter/circus act is not a niche I’d like to corner…

So all that being said, nothing really beats a good band setup. A few months back, I cobbled together a one-time-only band and we jammed with the ghetto-est of gear but once again, the music rose above! It was a thrill for me to hear Sister Rachel, my “single” if you will, with a full band setup. Then at an Open Stage recently, I got the host, who is also a drummer, play along with my newer song “Thieves”…he nailed it and once again, the seed of expanding the Blue Blue Satellite head count germinated…

So this Sunday, I intend to go back to the Open Stage and do Sister Rachel and recruit the full house band if possible. Even just the addition of a drummer is an epic improvement over beating on my guitar body like some kind of organ grinder monkey and then looping it with the RC-2. Looking forward to it…for the first time, Blue Blue Satellite will rock!

Blue Blue Satellite