Archives for posts with tag: Dean Watson

I’ve started recording my second record. It’s going to be an interesting time to be doing it because it’ll be framed within my dramatically monikered “Blue Blue Satellite Manifesto”, which dictates that my musical endeavors must be about:

  • Creativity – the joy of plucking elements out of thin air and assembling them with auditory artistic cohesion
  • Expression – interpreting the ups and downs of life into a personal soundtrack
  • Enjoyment – allowing myself to be swept away with music’s sonic power of elevation

I used to believe in the idealistic trope that “it’s all about the music.” But after album #1 and not quite having conquered the world with it, I’ve decided a more accurate adage is: “it’s all about selling your music” or “it’s all about the music that will bring people in to drink” or “it’s all about Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming, Tumblring, YouTubing, Vine-ing, Cat Video-ing your music” or simply: “it’s not all about the music.” So the Manifesto is my attempt to re-focus my musical goals onto the magic which got me into music in the first place. Which will probably see me ceasing to do certain things that are standard practice in music, but simply don’t adhere to my Manifesto.

Maybe this is just a highfalutin way to say I’ve given up. Or that I’m jaded. Or that I’m lazy. Or that I don’t have what it takes. Or that I’m hoping some record executive will be impressed by my radical thinking and sign me because I’m clearly an iconoclastic polymath…

But here’s the immutable fact: I’m working with Gallery Studio‘s Dean Watson again and we’ve so far recorded two songs. They’re not mixed or mastered yet, nobody has heard them and I’ve made no money off of them. Just two people, in a basement, creating music from my songwriting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Blue Blue Satellite
Iconoclast. Polymath. Thesaurus user.

The idea of Melancholia(Receding), the final track of The Learning Days, was borrowed from Coldplay. I loved their instrumental intro to the album Viva La Vida. They then quickly followed up that record with their Jay-Z-tainted Prospekt March EP and opened that disc with the same instrumental intro except turned into a full 4-minute song with words and everything. My reaction at the time? “Chris Martin you genius bastard.” Not only did he surprise his listeners by making a good thing even better, it was also a really effective way to link the LP to the EP.

And so, to Chris Martin’s genius bastard, I became a thieving bastard and used the concept for my own record. And hopefully if you’ve heard my album, and you heard it start to finish, and you heard it before reading this blog, and you never heard Coldplay’s Life In Technicolor I & II, you will have thought “huh, he’s closing the album with the same song that …..whaaaaaaaaa?”

“We have lift off”

Quick fact: The working title of Melancholia (Receding) was Message in a Rocket.

The track ties together the on-again off-again space theme seen in my performance name, cover art, title of this track and the sound clip that I used without permission from the Apollo 11 launch (forgive me NASA). Dean had the brilliant idea to fade it out into the heavy reverb to give it that dreamy feel before the lyrics kick in.

I wrote the song during the production of the CD so there was a part of me that was writing the song for the album and I think I made a very conscious decision to end the song, and thus the record, with the word “hallelujah”. Just to give it a hint of spiritual poignancy and to give a nod to one of the wise old men of folk music…to whose music I don’t actually listen.

2013 Juno winner for Best Songwriter. (Not pictured – 2013 Juno applicant for Best Songwriter (me) )

Boni!

If you’ve read all the parts of this track-by-track blog series, I’m sorry to hear that. Unless you’ve enjoyed them, then thank you. I wrote previously that I’d maybe put a little bonus feature here for the loyal readers, or those who cheated and just dropped in on this last one. Well too bad, you’re not getting a bonus feature….you’re getting three!

  1. An early raw iPod recording of Melancholia(Receding) with me doing a bit of scatting and a bit of freestyling to figure out the melody. Listen now.
  2. Video of Dean Watson(producer), Anders Drerup(pedal steel) and I in the studio figuring out the pedal steel part for (Never) Let It Go. The final take of the video is what we went with. Watch now.
  3. A NEW song that will probably be on the next album(target date 2014?). It’s just a guitar-and-voice demo for now but I actually think it stands up pretty good as is. Listen now.

Blue Blue Satellite

Still with me? We’re trudging towards the end of the track-by-track analysis of my 1-year-old debut album The Learning Days. Will there be a reward at the end like those three-second hidden scenes after half an hour worth of credits at the end of superhero movies? Test your endurance over a few more insipid blog posts to know for sure!

So if I HAD to choose one song that I felt could be excluded from “The Learning Days”, it’s probably Science and Progress. I’m pretty open with the fact that many of my songs have very specific influences but Science and Progress takes it to a whole new level:

  1. The title and lyrics are directly based on Coldplay’s The Scientist
  2. The huge swell at the end is very much based on the huge swell of this very obscure song.
  3. The scream-y part during the swell that Dean wisely brought down in the mix was very much based on Glen Hansard’s much more capable scream-y part in When Your Mind’s Made Up
  4. The drum beat is very much based on the Verve’s litigious 90’s masterpiece Bittersweet Symphony.
  5. I used to say that this song is a sequel to Coldplay’s The Scientist. Song sequels themselves being a concept I stole from Metallica.

So what I’m saying is that I probably thought I was very clever creating this Frankensteinian monster of a song from stolen bits of mostly mainstream songs and included it on the record as a “hey, look how clever I am”. But if I remember my Frankenstein, which I don’t but am quite capable at looking up Wikipedia articles, it don’t end too well for anybody. The old timey-hot Bride of Frankenstein notwithstanding.

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Chicks with their hair on fire. Marriage material for reanimated corpse monsters and singer/songwriters alike apparently.

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For the life of me, I can’t remember why I wanted Thieves to have the little intro in the form of Things Stolen. Regardless, it’s there and its lyrics can actually be sung to the tune of Green Day’s Good Riddance(Time of Your Life) because in one of my earliest attempts at songwriting I always felt that song lacked a verse and I took it upon myself to write it. So the 20-second track is really just an inside reference Easter egg that only I would ever get. Classy.

The whooshing sound at the end of the track is actually a car going by outside since we were recording in the more open and un-soundproof upstairs church space. It worked out nicely since its timing at the end helps transition into Thieves….which now helps me transition to, well, Thieves.

“Gutter Folk”

Thieves wouldn’t be what it is today without one Jeremy Owen, a local Ottawa troubadour and inventor of “Gutter Folk”. His arresting songs are visceral and raw and he’s a cool cat to watch live. Even though I wrote Thieves back in Toronto, I never really got it and sort of wrote it off. But Jeremy got it and really re-introduced me to the song. Not only did he get the song, but he did so in an unfathomable way: I played it at an open mic night where I got through the first verse, hopelessly forgot the second and promptly abandoned ship and stopped the song. Before I could start the painful process of wiping the embarrassing performance from my mind, Jeremy approached me and said he loved the 30 seconds I didn’t screw up, wanted a copy of the demo and actually covered it at a subsequent show. And it’s from his performance that prompted the metamorphosis of the song from an uninspired 3/4-time affair to a soul-baring tapestry of woe captured in song. Thank you Jeremy.

2 am: a good time to start mixing

The other amusing story occurred during the mixing process. Thieves was the last song producer Dean and I worked on. And it was my last day in the studio, going on 2am and we hadn’t touched Thieves yet. Grudgingly and grumpily digging in for what seemed like an inevitable all-nighter, we first gave the track a quick listen. Dean almost lost his shit when, at the second verse, all the instruments came in already beautifully mixed. We had both forgotten that we had worked on the track previously and A LOT of the legwork was already done, meaning we’d probably be able to get home at a very reasonable 3am, play some xbox, get a good 3 hours sleep and f*** the dog at the day job the next morn fresh as a daisy.

These are the stories of Thieves. You’ve read them. You can’t un-read them.

Blue Blue Satellite.

Now we come to the two hidden gems on the record: “30” and “Do You Remember Me“. I kind of threw these tracks in to round out the number of tracks on the album but I tend to forget that they’re pretty good tunes.

We recorded these “live off the floor” which basically means I sang and played the song live all the way through and producer Dean recorded it. We recorded both tracks in the kitchen of the studio for a different acoustic vibe. Although I think Dean just wanted to be closer to the beer.

Both songs are musically similar sounding and when planning the tracklist I decided to call attention to this rather than play it down so I put them back-to-back.

Ottawa’s Kristine St-Pierre sang the backup vocals on “Do You Remember Me”. Kristine has a beautifully clear, strong, polished voice topped off with an outstanding vibrato. I, on the other hand, have a terribly muddied, weak, amateur voice topped off with an outstanding lack of vibrato. So Dean had to tell her to dial it back slightly so that her vocal style would match mine and not steal the show. And if anyone could steal the show by simply singing “oooooooh ahhhhhhh”, it’s Kristine.

Interesting tidbit: At about the 50 second mark of “Do You Remember Me” you can hear one of the bones in my thumb crack. You can’t really correct much when recording live-off-the-floor so the toll of age on my poor, frail hands are immortalized in that song. It would have been funnier, though, if that had actually happened on “30”, which is a song about getting older.

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…sad song lyric sad song lyric sad song lyric CRACK!! sad song lyric sad song lyric…

Blue Blue Satellite

We now come to the two rockers on The Learning Days.

The title track is next (track 6). And is probably the densest track I recorded. There’s everything from synth, to strings, to organ, to a pick slide which, next to the windmill, defines Rock ‘n Roll.

Tim Watson, producer Dean’s brother, came in to lay down the drums and man, how I loved seeing another of my tracks just crushed. Noel Gallagher was right when he said make sure you have a good drummer. Ironically however, Tim struggled to perfect one of the most bombastic fills near the swell of the song and after over 10 takes he had to settle. I thought all 10+ were spectacular but even when he left I could tell he wished he could have nailed. Soon after though, Dean and I listened to the entire track he laid down and it turns out the fill he was struggling to get he actually nailed earlier in the song, so a lil’ cutting here and a lil’ pasting there and voila! Edited rock ‘n roll!

Despite all my talk of acoustic melancholia and what-not, I still love rock music and I swell with pride knowing there’s at least one song on the record that brings a bit of oomph rather than the more typical zzzzz…

So Spinal Tap your stereo to 11 kids and enjoy the folk-rock, or frolck, of Blue Blue Satellite. Rock out now.

Blue Blue Satellite

Next on our track-by-track tour of The Learning Days…. “Blues’ll Always Be the Blues”.

This is probably the strongest song I’ve ever written. It weighs in at an accessibly bite-sized 2:52, it’s got a nice, moving pace and melody to it while still keeping it wistful, the verses and choruses are tight and succinct without losing any lyrical impact and Anders Drerup’s work on the pedal steel just crushes it…particularly on the solo. Producer Dean Watson also made some great suggestions to Blue Rodeo-ify the track once the solo comes in and I love the pause of anticipatory bliss at 1:48 just before the track really opens up.

“Like stones a-skippin’ on the water / we bounce along but eventually we falter / pick yourselves up sons and daughters”

This is probably one of the best lines I’ve written. Yes, “water/falter/daughter” are far from perfect rhymes but the analogy was truly inspired and is spot-on apt. I feel masterful lyricism needs at least four elements in perfect balance: something that sounds poetic, fits thematically, isn’t predictable by the listener and of course, rhymes. That’s why “girl/world” couplets are such a pet peeve to me; that rhyme is so prevalent in songwriting, it loses much of its poetry and it’s highly predictable so you’re already down 50% in Blue Blue Satellite’s 4 Steps to Lyrical Perfection. And that’s why I humbly submit that the above lyric is a gem because the four elements are at least 81.2% represented.

Now before my head explodes from self-congratulatory arrogance and I start humblebragging that this song made it to the semi-finals of the 2012 Unsigned Only competition and was covered twice in public by two Ottawa area artists, I will leave you with a link to listen to my untouchable brilliance for free: Best. Song. Ever……Ever.

Your move, Gallagher.

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

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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

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