Archives for posts with tag: The Learning Days

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

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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.

Untitled-2

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

Blue Blue Satellite

On May 15th, 2012, I played a show at Room 5 in Los Angeles. You may have heard me mention this. No offense to all of my other gigs, each of which I hold near and dear to my heart, but the L.A. gig was in a league of its own. If recording, releasing and promoting my debut CD was the ice cream, chocolate syrup and rainbow sprinkles…the L.A. gig was the culminated glory in being told: “…and would you like all that deep-fried?”

And like all things deep-fried, my L.A. experience touched my heart. Staying with another musician in a lovely house in a lovely neighbourhood, putting around L.A. seeing and meeting fascinating folk, sharing the bill with the extraordinary Dahls and Sara Melson and even making $20…for a few days, I was living the dream. But considering that dream has been over for two months, so where does it fit in with reality…?

Reality

I once jokingly told someone, “why would anyone bother to listen to a 30-something melancholy Chinese folk singer?” and she answered without missing a beat: “THAT’S exactly why.”

I was stunned by her optimism and strangely inspired sense-making. But in my more cynical times(i.e. all the time), I still stand by my original question. Add to that the pointless bar gigs, the inverse proportionality of audience size to gig frequency, the scores of other talented artists doing what I’m doing with more success, the scores of other talented artists doing what I’m doing with less success and Justin Bieber, getting a little down on myself is inevitable.

But having had the L.A. show affords me something I’ll always have now: the right to say, “well, at least I had the L.A. show.” And that is something important for me to remind myself of because letting the challenges of being an indie artist overshadow the epicness that was Blue Blue Satellite In Los Angeles is truly an insult to one of the most exciting 5 days of my 30-something Chinese years.

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

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

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

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