So, what just happened?
Well, after more than two years of writing, demo-ing and recording, and then the last two weeks of trickling out one song a day, I’ve finally, actually, fully released my third full-length ‘record’ or ‘album’ or ‘cd’ or whatever you’d like to call it — although what I’ve actually released is none of these things, really. Those out-dated words all refer to physical mediums that are, for the most part, darn near obsolete. Sure, the product that I’ve created here could, technically, be carried out of the room on one of those encoded pieces of plastic or vinyl, should one choose to make the effort to transfer that digital information on to one of those somewhat archaic physical formats…
But honestly, isn’t it a lot easier to plug in some earbuds, headphones or some sort of speaker to the very device that you are most likely reading these words on; to scroll down to the bottom of this very post that you are reading and to click on that magic pixelated arrow? All told, the results are pretty similar to those provided by the plastic and vinyl versions of yesteryear. It’s even pretty easy to follow the link in that same box and to throw in a few digitized dollars to download it permanently. We would certainly be grateful, music may often seem *free* these days, but I can assure you that recording it is not…
But, to continue, and to contradict a certain Mr. McLuhan, the medium is not the message.
The message, when taken as intended, can be consumed as a long form musical story, loosely based on a collection of experiences that track my ‘coming of age’ years of moving to Austin, Texas from my home town in the early 90s… Or, it could also be experienced somewhat more cosmically through the kaleidoscopic lens of the accompanying Lennon-inspired nonsense poem ‘narrative’ that distances me from the story by using stand-ins for the main characters and what was at least intended to be a measure of comic relief. There are also pictures. I know that we all lament the lost artistry of the booklet or the album sleeve, but you cannot dispute that in an age of a seemingly endless supply of free data storage, there is also a unique and exciting opportunity on offer in exploring the possibilities afforded by the fact that there is also no perceptible bottom to the amount of content that can accompany every track. I don’t even have to short that ridiculously long sentence– what am I going to do, run out of ink?
It, the ‘product’, can also be taken in pieces– the songs were written when inspiration hit, not in any pre-conceived or intentional order… the oldest one, ‘Flight Path’, was written as far back as 2005 for my one time best friend (and first Austin room-mate) Kevin, who wanted me to co-write a track for his (slightly famous) band’s album that came out that year. I found myself in a pit of nostalgia even then, lamenting the loss of our early days living in Austin, and in doing so I ended with screwing up my part of the song and it taking me another 12 years to finally record a decent version of it… His part became an instrumental bit on that album; and when I hear it now, I hear only the painful, aching echoes of unrealized dreams. Or something equally as annoyingly vapid as that.
The point is that the songs are each their own story, and you can listen to them with or without any narrative. You have my express permission. The music is really cool, too, you don’t even have to listen to the words if you don’t want to– Ben Mullin produced it and played or programmed most of the parts, and he is, I can assure you, a certified bad-ass (I’ve seen the certificate)… so that part is well taken care of. Ben’s buddy Josh Hofmann helped out on the Flight Path tune I was just talking about with all that crazy keyboard stuff… And if you listen to it all the way through, you can see why he’s become a permanent member of Ben’s main band ‘The Dirty Hustle’ these days… Skills, buddy. The answer is skills.
Anyway, I’m telling you all this because Nicole tells me that people like to hear relate-able stories about songs, so I’ve tried to do that here… I’ve come to realize that she is often right, so I’ve decided to give it a shot and in the next few paragraphs, I will try to cover a few stories or the inspiration behind each of the songs on this, um, thing. Or you can just scroll down and listen, like I said, that is cool too.
‘Another One’, which formally kicks off this collection, was written in what feels like the first few minutes after I released my last album ‘Unseasonably Cool’ back in 2015 — I wrote and recorded it all in a single blastoff moment of pure agitation: ‘I will NOT build another one.’ It will be interesting to hear this one played live someday… I can’t imagine playing it with my band, as much as I love them, as this song was consciously written as an arrow on a sign pointing in a completely new sonic direction. Musically, it started with a demo I recorded all the parts for alone– In our first session for this project, Ben helped reproduce the feel so completely that I kind of decided on the spot that I wanted to do this whole album with him at the controls. I am not unhappy with that decision.
The album really started to gel when I realized this ‘new sonic direction’ thing. I have done two records with The Burning Sensations and they are all among my favourite people in the world, but, musically, I just wanted something new this time around. At least for a moment.
‘A Perfect Cliché’, the title track, was an ‘accidental’ song. ‘Accidental’ in that I wrote it all in a moment– it poured out of me in what seemed like a fever dream of emotional release– unintentional but also undeniably real. When complete, it was so hard to sing the last lines out loud that I ultimately had tear the song into three pieces and bury the most difficult part near the end of the album so that only the most dedicated of listeners would even hear it. The song only became the centerpiece of this collection later in the process when I realized that it contained the revelation that tied all of the other songs together– that revelation being that the themes of all these songs– my nostalgia, my escapism, my loops, my addiction cycles, my anxiety, my mental distress are all just part of some dumb cliché. The big, dumb, perfect cliché that as much as I want to believe I am somehow special, I am, in the end, just exactly like everyone else. No better, no different. From a musical perspective, Ben and I had a lot of fun making three songs out of this– we tried to give each one it’s own complete flavour– ‘Part One’ is the ‘tame’ introduction– ‘Part Two’ is the turn towards the almighty ROCK– and for ‘Part Three’…? I said ‘make it weird’, so we did.
‘Last Exit’ follows the aforementioned thread of sentimental wallowing with the story of a disturbingly vivid encounter with what seemed like the mystical universe that I experienced on my move to Austin all those years ago. In hindsight, it was a single, brief, strangely clear moment in which I saw another direction in my life that I could have taken, but didn’t. Ben and I had fun with this one musically, in addition to experimenting with a range of unusual-to-us instruments, Doug Hendry (from Fiddlehead Soup and my band The Burning Sensations) appears for the first time as a third vocalist and adds a dimension that has gotten comments from almost everyone who has heard it. No, it’s not a cello.
‘Everything OK’ is a cautionary tale of sorts, based loosely on a true story from the same period in my life as the other songs in the cycle. In fact, it is a song that I started to write years ago but could not finish until I had reached an age where I actually was able to finally fully understand it from all sides. It is a duet with moments as a trio for various reasons that should be obvious from the lyric. And also because love is always a duet, in a way — one in which sometimes the singers are in harmony and sometimes they slide off pitch for a moment. With any luck, they can also find their way back into tune. Amanda Giles sang the second part on this (with Doug Hendry returning on the third part) and she’s a very, very good songwriter as well, please buy her records too.
‘Hey Mother’ was written after a death in a family – not my birth family, mind you, but rather in one of the many restaurant families that I seem to have picked up along the way. The subject of this particular story lost his lifelong battle against a gruesome two-headed monster of schizophrenia and addiction. His tragic death did, however, spur a brief, sweet virtual reunion across time and space that included a sharing of the stories we all remembered about him — I have done my best to honour those stories here. John Dillabough popped by the studio to add some slide guitar for this… and ended up adding the bass line and a rhythm guitar part as well. John is an awesome talent who has taught guitar locally for years and played sideman with many of the area’s greatest… I also have reason to believe we will hear a very interesting solo outing from him at some point. And yes, that is Doug Hendry back there on the harmony again…
‘The Crown Prince of the Tongue-Biters’ is lyrically about how I filter some of the scarier thoughts in my head through a warlock’s brew of humour and wordplay in hopes of making them more palatable. (Oops, I guess I forgot to bite my tongue that time…) It’s also about solar panels. Sort of. Musically, I wanted this to be an Austin scene tribute to the loud and beautiful noises we made in those days while trying to compete with the loud and beautiful noises of those flight path airplanes flying overhead. To be fully understood, this one needs to be played at the maximum tolerable volume.
‘Wind Telephone’ was inspired by exactly two things– the first was a radio story about a disconnected telephone booth in a garden in post-tsunami Japan where anyone was welcome to come and place a call to the wind. The second was a personal loss that helped me to understand why there are some things that we can only tell to the wind.
Musically, Ben (and Doug) took this song to a new place altogether. I told Ben what I wanted and he did something completely different. Completely. At first I was shocked, but then I listened. And listened. In the end, I’m not sure I can take any credit for the beauty and majesty he created here–I told him when we started this project that I wanted *new* sounds and this song is the sound of him delivering beyond my wildest expectations. Truth be told, the last three songs, (Wind Telephone, APC – Part Three and The Rest of Our Lives) are all Ben Mullin gems with him as a producer and performer playing at the absolute top of his game.
We brought in another friend from The Branch days, Keith Glass, (6 time Juno award winner) on the last song hoping for a soulful, powerful guitar lead to match the emotion of the song and boy did he deliver… Ben built him beautiful launch pad and he took it all the way out. Thanks Keith.
That last song, ‘The Rest of Our Lives’ is for Nicole, who is, as described in the lyric, my ‘comfort and calming and coming to rest’. I can only hope that the music I am sharing with you here offers some small measure of the peace that I feel here with her. And where is here? Most of the time it is a place where I’m sorry to say that I’m just a big, silly, old, dumb, beautiful, and somehow still, at least occasionally perfect cliché.
Yes, it’s gonna be OK.