Song Sources: Part of Your Blindness

Sometimes it’s difficult to feel like you belong, and just as hard to explain to others why you feel that way.

This song was released primarily for a video, but it’s available on streaming services and Bandcamp.

Lyrics

I lost track of the story, what’s the last thing you said?
Did I fall asleep while you were talking, or just get lost in my head?
But cheap rooms and blacktop and the stars look the same
So I’ll call you next week from some other place

To everyone I knew sometimes leaving’s what you do
You were in my blind spot I’m part of your blindness, too
If you want to know your home from far away you can see
But if you really want to know the truth here’s what’s bothering me
Wherever I ever went, no matter how far I’d go
Where ever I’d stay I’d never called it home

There’s a faint smell to hope that fades as quick as the rain
It’s like ozone, or blood it’s like the memory of pain
When they’re closing the curtain I sense it slipping away
So I hope that I’ll find it on some other day

Someday when I’m sated, if I can hold out that long
I’ll lay down ambition and confess in a song

A performer, exhausted from another day of their a life on the road, talks to a family member (probably their mother or father) on the phone, barely staying awake, and the person on the other end of the line asks why they spend all their time away from home. The explanation is simply that it doesn’t feel like home — in fact, nowhere does, not even the road itself.

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Song Sources: The [very, very late] FAWM 2021 Wrap-Up (Part 2)

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on Pirate A.M. Waves. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists. (Part 1 here.)

I’m Not a Builder

Side 2 of the album opens with one of my favorite collaborations I’ve ever done. Joe Scala and I swapped lyrics. Although he ended up barely using anything of what I sent him, he sent me three pages of lyrics from which this pastiche of mid-career Springsteen emerged.

Lyrics

A D A
I found work turning blood and sweat to gold
E A
blessed with good fortune never earned
But I paid dearly for when I lost my way
Left me poorer except in lessons learned

Chorus
E D A
I’m not a builder, but once I thought I was
F#m E A
Fought against the gravity and rust
E D A
Thought I built a house of solid brick and stone
F#m E A
Just to watch it crumble into dust

I carried stones and set them strong and well
But time wears on what you try to keep
Now I hope you find someone build you up a home
I can only say I wish that it was me

Bridge
F#m D E
Thought we’d be stronger than every wind or fire
Thought we’d weather every storm and flood
But time crept and weakened every fracture
F#m E A
I’m not a builder
F#m D E
I’m not a builder
F#m E A
I’m not a builder and I guess I never was

Instrumental
[ A Bm C#m D x3 ]
[ F#m E A ] x4

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older
A fool can spoil everything he’s planned
Goes and carries what he cannot hold
Sets out building something that won’t stand

Chorus x2

So let’s talk about the three pages of lyrics Joe sent me: Joe seems to be better than I am about keeping his brainstorming ideas, rarely discarding anything. It’s a different way of writing, but I tend to write the story straightforwardly, rarely noting lines that I don’t think will make it in some form in the final version. Most of manipulation is meter and rhyme at that point, or word choice to punch things up.

Whereas the times I’ve seen him work (not suggesting this is the only thing he does), Joe tends to start from a concept, then write lots of lines and work out the story from the ones he likes. Maybe he has a story in mind ahead of time and writes down everything that comes from it, I don’t really know, but the bottom line is when we swap lyrics, he sends me a lot of lines, and I send him a pretty tight group of verses and a chorus. In 2020, he expanded what I sent him. This year, he discarded everything but the idea of the song. I did the same thing both years: I took the lines I liked, formed verses out of them, and then manipulated them until they resembled a song.

I’m not going to show all of the sausage making process, but I will show this part from the end where he’s typing out the story:

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Song Sources: The [very, very late] FAWM 2021 Wrap-Up (Part 1)

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on Pirate A.M. Waves. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Better late than never this time around: I forgot even to update my home page with the new album, I was so focused on announcing the release on YouTube and Bandcamp.

Covert art by my dad:

Pirate A.M. Waves

Lyrics

F Bb C
Sleep on the gravel like you planned
F Bb C
And in the backseat when you can’t
F Bb F C
Watching as the stars like birds in a vee
Bb F
Set and finely disappear

Chorus
F Bb C
If you wander then you’ll see
F Bb C
Those who disappear are free
F Bb F C
But I’ll be damned if they couldn’t be saved
Bb F
Hearing pirate AM waves

In a little church on 35
They sit and they pray for afterlife
And what you called the endless day by day
Called a different word for pain

Somewhere near nowhere and free will
Fighting through static and the still
Hidden in the sea of amber waves of grain
Sings pirate AM waves

This was the 10th song I wrote for the month, but I moved it first as I thought it was a good signal for the album’s themes.

This is a someone (in my head, a trucker, but it doesn’t actually matter) out on the road somewhere along I35 in the endless expanse of tremendously little known as the great plains trying absolutely desperately to find hope in anything. They try to find it in nature, by sleeping out under the stars one night, and in a little roadside church, but finally for some perhaps completely inexplicable reason find it in a broadcast from a pirate radio station, the only thing that they can get on the dial of their radio.

There were a bunch of things that led to this one, but I started reading about Pirate Radio a little after it was mentioned in a Tom Scott video. My site leader at work also mentioned that he was getting his ham radio operator’s license, which is kinda interesting (and apparently it’s much easier now because they don’t need to know Morse code anymore).

The song’s not about radio, exactly, and I’m not totally sure I even really explain why this makes me feel what it does (I guess this is why we write stories … to express things we can’t express otherwise, right?). I’ve never listened to a pirate radio station, but I was thinking: Terrestrial radio was declared dead not too long ago, and yet it’s almost certainly going to outlive television. And even if it does disappear, there’s this little group of people who would commandeer the now-empty space for their own purposes, and sometimes just to talk with other people who have a two-way radio. 

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Song Sources: The Howling Tongue of Each Other (FAWM 2016) part 2

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on The Howling Tongue of Each Other. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Part 1 is here. See also the equipment list if you’re curious about that sort of thing.

This covers tracks 5-9.

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Song Sources: The Howling Tongue of Each Other (FAWM 2016) part 1

Since this year’s FAWM was a bit more varied song-to-song, I thought it was worth talking about all the songs.

Most of the notes here are directly from my “liner notes” posted with the songs on FAWM.org, but I’ve updated the entries with my current thoughts. I hope this proves useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Before you click “more” I want to stress that, while I’m happy with the recordings — and some people have even paid money to download them — these are still home recordings, recorded on a lot of DIY gear, good quality budget stuff, and using comparatively simple production techniques with mostly real instruments. I think they’re good quality demos, but I can still tell the difference when I listen to something recorded in a real studio and can definitely tell the difference next to something that’s been professionally mastered. Continue reading →

Song Sources: The Howling Tongue of Each Other (FAWM 2016) part 3

This Song Sources series is a retrospective and comprehensive set of liner notes (including recording and mixing techniques) for every track on The Howling Tongue of Each Other. It’s my hope it will be useful to other songwriters and home recordists.

Part 1 is here. See also the equipment list if you’re curious about that sort of thing.

This covers tracks 10-13.

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Surprise EP of Scottish Songs for St. Andrew’s Day!

Here in the U.S. St. Patrick gets parades, green beer, and buttons telling people to kiss you, and everyone becomes Irish for a day. Everyone goes to the “pub” and sings along to “Finnegan’s Wake” even though the song isn’t nearly as hilarious as the book.

But mention St. Andrew and you get looks of “huh?” which, coincidentally, is also the reaction most Americans have to songs in the Scots dialect. Some people know what a caber is. Everyone knows Robert Burns’s “Auld Lang Syne,” or rather, they know a single verse and chorus sung to a different tune than the one Burns wrote, because they sing it around his birthday. (News Years is close enough, right?)

300px-haggis_scoticus

The wild haggis in its native environment.

There’s no swilling copious amounts of Scotch that’s been dyed blue or wild haggis hunts. We don’t run around calling each other “Jo” and dancing the fling, except by accident.

We don’t even get to see the St. Andrew’s Day Google Doodle in the U.S.! This year’s is Nessy winkin’ at ye. Look at it. Loooook!

st-andrews-day-goo_3513533a

I love that Scotland allegedly invented a lot of its history and culture during the 17th century because everyone was doing it.

I love that possibly their most famous citizen ever, Robert Burns (or at least he was until that Braveheart movie came out — you know, that movie staring the crazy racist Australian living in a America) was not just a writer, but a songwriter, and one who wasn’t afraid to toss off a bawdy verse or two. I love Scottish music and songs, especially the really dark stuff that comes from the ballads throughout Britain — stuff that doesn’t survive as well in other Celtic folk music traditions.

So in honor of St. Andrew’s Day, this year, on a whim, I decided to spend the last week recording an EP of five Scottish songs plus one that’s American but has a connection to one of Robert Burns’s most famous songs, mostly in the original Scots. Silly? Maybe. A peculiar thing to just up and decide to do on a week’s notice? Maybe that, too. But it was fun.

Here are dropbox links to the MP3s if you don’t want to use Bandcamp:

Twa Corbies
Glenlogie (Bonnie Jean o’ Bethelnie)
Battle of Harlaw
MacPherson’s Rant
The Blackest Crow
Is There For Honest Poverty

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BB King Taught Me to Talk

B.B. King’s passing hit me pretty hard for a celebrity death, even though his passing came after a long battle with diabetes and its complications, and was perhaps even expected given his age.

Although there’s probably not a lot of evidence of it in my music these days, BB King is one of my biggest guitar influences. And not in a background “the dude influenced everyone” sort of way: he was the first guitarist I ever intentionally tried to emulate in every way possible. Weirdly, he’s also indirectly responsible for my interest in Celtic music and two degrees removed from Mark Knopfler, the only other guitarist I’ve really tried to emulate. (I didn’t discover my third major guitar hero, Richard Thompson, until I’d been playing for 10 years, and I did not directly borrowed much of Thompson’s technique.)

I started learning how to play blues fairly early after picking up the guitar, and BB King was my first exposure to it. My grandfather used to tape things off public television and mail the tapes to his family, and one of his tapes he sent us had a BB King concert from the early 90s (I think). I watched it constantly, and tried playing along with him. I dissected his playing as best I could (which I can’t say I’ve done with any other guitar player besides Mark Knopfler). I wasn’t smart enough at the time to know that the other thing that truly made him great was the economy of his playing, never playing more than he needed to and actually “saying” something with the guitar. So it was pretty easy for me to play more than he was playing, but I never hit nearly as many perfect notes.

I mainly learned the use of vibrato from him. In fact, I thought I was doing it pretty close to the same way as him until very recently when I watched a video where he did it in slow motion, and I realized I wasn’t doing it exactly right at all. But in revisiting his music, I think I also learned my tendancy to use double stops (that’s where you play two notes at once) as accents from his playing. A lot of other artists do this, but King did them in slightly different places. It’s hard to explain, but I know it when I hear it.

In 1997, about the time I was starting to get really seriously into playing guitar, especially blues, he put out the Dueces Wild album, which had him playing guitar with a bunch of people. Including van Morrison:

I was blown away by Van Morrison’s voice (most people are), and promptly started picking up Van Morrison albums … mostly his stuff from the 80s onward, which is ironic considering that if I had picked up his earlier records, I would have found him doing a lot more blues. Van the Man’s Philosopher’s Stone album had some blues on it, but what interested me more was the Celtic stuff he was doing. He did an entire CD with the Chieftains:

The first Chieftains album I picked up had this song on it:

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard Mark Knopfler … it would have been hard to have been alive in the 80s without hearing any Dire Straights. I may have already had a Dire Straights best-of record. But I picked up Knopfler’s Golden Heart after I heard that, which is still one of my desert island albums. It would be a very short hop nowadays to go right back to BB King from Mark Knopfler:

(That’s from 2008.)

In a very short span of time in 1997, I had gone from playing and listening to mostly blues and alternative rock to listening to more and more Celtic folk, which ate up a lot of my attention in the following years, but I can pretty clearly remember listening to a small stack full of BB King records in the car when my dad and I road tripped to my grandparents’ house in Kentucky during spring break of my senior year in high school, including a really lousy tape-to-CD transfer we picked up in a gas station on the way.

For a long time, I thought that the blues was more or less antithetical to Celtic music. (I know better now.) Since I was better at the Celtic stuff, blues technique rarely made its way into the music I recorded, even when I did songs that were closer to bluegrass, which absolutely borrows from the blues. Blues guitar uses bends and vibrato, seventh notes and flatted thirds, almost none of which appears in the folk music I was playing. Celtic music rarely even allows vibrato. I did eventually find some middle ground, and I’m finding more all the time. I still played the blues for fun, and most of the blues songs I played were BB King songs.

Later, when I was a bit wiser, I went back and listened to BB King again, I got a little better at knowing when not to play. I’m still fascinated with the economy of his playing. In between, I learned a lot of sounds to make on the guitar: how to make it sing. How to make it scream. But BB King taught me how to make it talk.

Maybe someday I’ll be able to say as much with as little as he did.

So farewell, Mr. King. Thanks for always giving me something to learn and for the introductions to some of my other favorite musicians.

FAWM 2015 retrospectacle

Such a retro spectacle.

For the third year in a row, I took part in the madness that is February Album Writing Month (FAWM), writing (and/or co-writing) and recording an entire album of 14 songs in 28 days.

As with previous years, the recordings where I collaborated with others were particularly memorable, so big thanks are in order for Dave Benham, Rick Veader, Kate Fleming, Lexa, Joe Scala, and Mosno.

The Writing Process

Typically, I don’t try to dictate what type of music I end up with when writing over such a short span of time, and this year I almost ended up with 14 different genres!

Like last year, I picked two words around which to build the themes for the album, chosen at random in a dictionary (my Arabic dictionary this time … I like to make sure I’m surprised!). They were “drown” and “evidence.” You can’t make this stuff up! Consequently, I ended up with songs about water (“The Brigandine” and “Dry Town”; “Gold Rush” and “Oh Brother” also have connections to water in the lyrics), trust (broken or kept), crime (“Dakota” for a serious song and “Bad Luck, Jack” for a nonserious) , and other related themes. The “evidence” theme also led to a lot of thinking about history and how we record, reconstruct, and examine it. “The Brigandine,” “Gold Rush,” “1851,” “The Field of Agincourt,” and even “The Last of My Kind” came directly out of that take on the theme.

Unlike previous years, I ignored the weekly challenges for the most part and just focused on taking whatever opportunities to create that came along — but I did write a couple things that fit a select few challenges, the biggest being the “epic outro” challenge for “Last of My Kind.”

The Songs

Here’s the entire playlist, along with some notes about each song.

1. Oh Brother (Ain’t It Hard) — A Welch/Rawlings-style recording of a song made to sound like classic American Apalachian folk.

2. Southeastern Breeze — An instrumental with guitar, mandolin, and banjo. The recording sounds like bluegrass, but the tune itself is closer to Maritime. My favorite part of this was learning the same tune on multiple instruments in the course of a day. Went to Teavolve’s Open Mic in the middle, came back and nailed the mandolin in a couple takes.

3. Dry Town — A completely fuzzed-out rocker (probably the most aggressive song I’ve ever written), but with lyrics inspired by Woody Guthrie’s Dust Bowl Ballads. It is about the current droughts in California and more broadly about our use of natural resources. It was inspired by this famous photo.

4. DakotaWith David Benham on Native American flute. This is story about a woman assaulted on the Yankton Reservation in South Dakoka. Her assailant is a non-native — reservation police had (and still have to some extent) a problem investigating, much less prosecuting, non-natives who commit crimes on reservations and then leave. Many poorer reservations also have problems with higher instances of violence against women (not just sexual violence as here but domestic violence as well). Banjo and native flute are a magical combination, and there is more material from mine and David’s session.

5. The BrigandineWith Rick Veader on pennywhistle. Peter Easton was the most successful pirate that ever lived — yet most people haven’t heard of him. This is a story about someone who joins a crew in Britsol as a fisherman, but the captain of his ship hates Easton for having cut off his hand as punishment for escaping press-ganged service. The captain pays gold as protection money to Easton (a standard bit of racketeering), and when it comes time to pay again, he fires his (no doubt inferior) cannons at Easton’s ships. The pirates make short work of the narrator’s vessel, murder the captain by hanging him from the rigging until he freezes to death and then dump his body in shallow water wrapped in the mainmast, and take the rest of the crew prisoner. Notable: It’s a folk song in 7/4, with one bar of 6/4 in the chorus.

6. (Someone Please) Have Mercy On Me — This one got a lot of comparisons to Gram Parsons’s Flying Burrito Brothers, so I guess that’s what it sounds like. I try not to talk too much about my personal beliefs, but this one’s about where we go when we die, which I believe is “nowhere,” and making the most of your time while here.

7. Bad Luck, Jack — It was Friday 13th, so I started thinking of horrible ways to go. Then I just created a couple guys going around knocking people off, and the body count kept climbing. The really fun thing with this one was the recording process, where I figured out how to make my guitar sound almost exactly like a horn section!

8. Gold Rush — A slow, majestic waltz narrated by the ghost of a California gold miner who lost everything in pursuit of riches. I think this is the first time I’ve played keys (piano and organ) on a public recording.

9. I Thought You Were the Wind — This is a story of an immigrant who loses his friend/role model to a bad situation. I left the lyrics intentionally vague, so it could be about a lover, friend, older sibling, etc., and there are many different kinds of trouble that they could have gotten into. However, I will let you know that while writing it, I actually had the brothers in mind from last year’s “Hold Tight,” but told from another perspective and with a different outcome … characters are as mutable as situations, sometimes. Southwest flavor with guitars and what I think is some of my best mandolin playing.

10. 1851 (Allons Enfants) — France’s 1848 revolution had an incredibly ironic outcome: Not only did it fail to reestablish the republic after deposing the last king of France (who was comparatively reasonable as Monarchs go) but the elections that followed saw a Napoleon elected President and — wouldn’t you know it, just like the last two guys named “Napoleon,” he declared himself emperor after a little bit of time in office pretending he totally wasn’t going to do that. I realized that someone could have been a child at the time of the first revolution (old enough to remember and understand what was happening) and still be young enough to be approached to “do his part” by revolutionaries in 1851. In the song he tells them why he won’t bother supporting them, because he thinks that it will end just as badly as it did before. The arrangement has some intentional resemblance to Knopfler’s “Done With Bonaparte.”

11. This was a collaboration with Kate Fleming, called “One Little Paper.” Kate unfortunately had a cold at the time, so, out of respect for her, so I will keep it private until she gets a chance to do the vocal to her satisfaction.

12. The Field of Agencourt (King Henry)With Lexa Hartman on bodhran. I was surprised to find that there are a dearth of battle ballads about this very famous king and battle, at least in English. So I decided to write one. I played pennywhistle on this, which was another first for me.

13. The Last of My Kind — Caveman rock! This was written for the “extinct species” challenge given by a member of the FAWM forums. I picked … Homo neanderthalensis. There is a narrated poem backed by a massive amount of percussion and chanting (Lexa helped again), but stick around for a huge musical shift for the epic outro. The song/poem/thing as a whole was inspired by — and constructed somewhat similarly to — Italo Calvino’s “The Dinosaurs” from Cosmicomics (one of my favorite books … it also gave me the title of the second Midway Fair album).

14. We Are Travelling/Compagnie Generale Aeropostale — With Mosno and Joe Scala. This is a cinematic suite of recordings we made based on an idea Joe had: a pilot crashes in the desert and is rescued by Bedouins, who he has to convince to take him back to the city. I wrote the lyrics for the pilot and then wrote the verse in Arabic, which Mosno edited and sang lead on, and then we did a live recording of both songs. Joe created the plane crash (believe it or not, that’s a bass guitar), and we made sound effects, then edited everything together. This was so much fun we’ve made tentative plans to expand it into something larger. One of the best days I’ve ever had recording music!

The Recording Process

In 2013, my first year completing the challenge, everything was done as a one-take video. Last year, I had just gotten my digital home recording setup, which allowed me to do some overdubs to enhance the recordings, which was especially important for songs that needed harmony vocals and two guitars. The recordings sounded more substantial but certainly still had a hand-crafted feeling even when I wanted a fully produced sound. Both years I thought I ended up with a few decent songs that have since appeared in my set lists both solo and with my band, Midway Fair.

This year, I went one step further and decided to create more fully produced tracks and playing a wider array of instruments. In fact, I’m downright proud of the list of instruments I played:

Guitars (of course)
Bass
Mandolin
Banjo
Piano, organ, and synthesized accordion
Pennywhistle (first time!)
Bodhran and some other types of percussion
Lionel’s Cigar Box Guitar (see here)
Drum machine programming
And lots and lots of vocals

For nearly all the tracks, each individual instrument was an overdub. Last year I typically did the vocals and acoustic guitar simultaneously, which led to a lot of doubled vocals because I still wanted to get the lead vocals just right. This year I didn’t really use stacked vocals at all but instead went with a lot of two-part harmony throughout the song (and plenty of three-or-more-part harmony on the choruses), which gives the songs a different feel, more polished maybe. The recordings were definitely cleaner, but they were also easier to mix despite having more tracks, and not just because I’ve gotten much better at the recording aspects in the past year.

I also think the biggest strides I’ve made in recording and writing since last year are improving what parts I play on each instrument. Too often in the past I would overdub a part and either scrap it entirely because it was messy or try to bury it in the mix … leaving a messy part buried in the mix. Recently, I’ve started simply avoiding the EQ for a lot of parts and focusing more on playing the right thing. Granted I don’t always succeed and there are times when I could have stopped playing or one instrument is stepping on another, but I think I’m getting there, and the result is recordings that sound a lot fuller but not as messy.

My mixing skills overall still need a ton of work, but that’s a lifelong pursuit.

Technical Details

I’ll try to keep this brief, but for the gearheads, this is what I used:

1. Interface and DAW: Scarlett 18i8 with Logic Pro X.

2. Plugins: I used no third-party plugins.

Nearly all of the compression is the “Vintage FET” and “Vintage Opto” plugins. These were my primary tone shaping tools in post as well. — I used almost no EQ throughout, except as an effect (such as the vocals on “Bad Luck, Jack”) or to correct shortcomings in an instrument (such as the piano on “Gold Rush”).

I used the rotary cabinet simulator in a couple places, which I find to be a very useful effect, but it was also the “amp” used for the acoustic on “Bad Luck Jack.”

For reverbs, I stuck mainly to the presets for the vocal plate, short ambiance, and large hall with very few exceptions. Most often I would turn on a preset and then delete the EQ and redo the compression settings just to keep the reverb settings, which usually required very little adjustment for my purposes. I do think the reverbs are still the least convincing aspects of Logic, but this is likely user error on my part, as they allow you to shape them in every conceivable way. I was at least much better about it this year than last.

I used the Tape Delay plugin in a few places (especially the vocal on “Last of My Kind”) and also used it as a “tape head” filter in a couple places. It adds a nice compression and distortion when set 100% wet with 0ms of delay and will also do through-zero flanging when needed.

The Spectral Gate plugin got a couple seconds of use in “The Last of My Kind” for the utter insanity at the end. Man, I want to turn that into a pedal, but it would be hyooooooooj.

I used a stereo tremolo plugin on “We Are Travelling” and on some sound effects.

One of the vocal tracks on “Bad Luck, Jack” used the pedal plugin for a treble booster.

3. Amps: Every electric guitar and bass track was recorded using Sakura, the 5W amp me and my dad built. I never felt like I wanted anything else, and despite the low wattage, I thought it worked just find on bass!

4. Acoustic guitars: I used my Crafters of Tennessee mahogany dreadnaught (similar to a D-18) for all of the acoustic parts that used a pick. I did use it on one or two fingerpicked parts when I thought the sound was more appropriate. Most of the fingerpicked acoustic parts were done with my Koa Larrivee D-05.

5. Electric guitars: On “Dry Town” I used my 50th Anniversary Sheraton for the rhythm and lead, and the red tele for the secondary lead. The Sheraton reappears as the “horns” on “Bad Luck, Jack.” The red tele also makes appearances as the lead guitar on “Someone Please” (middle pickup) and “Allons Enfants” (neck and middle). All other electric guitar parts were the DonQuixotecaster, usually on the neck and middle pickups.

6. Bass: Epiphone Viola bass.

7. Keyboard: My Roland FP5 provided the piano, organ, and accordion sounds used on the album. I did have to do a lot of post production for the piano and organ (EQ for the piano and a rotary cabinet sim for the organ), but overall it was more than adequate for my needs.

8. Microphones: I really abused the Sennheiser MK4. It appears on every track, and there were several tracks where it was the only microphone used. I did use a Sennheiser e609 for a couple guitar tracks, an AT2021 when I wanted a darker sound for something, and an AT2020 for the acoustic on “We Are Travelling.”

9. Pedals: For the most part, I didn’t need to deviate from my main pedalboard.

Compressors: Nearly every electric guitar and bass part used my Bearhug Compressor first in line. I also use compressors a lot in post, so there are typically multiple layers of compression.

Delay: I used the El Capistan for the delay on most of the tracks that have it, though I did use some post-processing delay on a few things. The “chorus” pedal on “We Are Travelling” is the other delay pedal on my main board, a Malekko 616.

Distortion: “Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees” fuzz, the one that Luke from Luck Duck pedals built me a long time ago before I started building (and the fuzz that lives on my main pedalboard) is the main dirt pedal (besides the amp itself driven by a MOSFET booster) on the outro to “Last of My Kind.” The Snow Day OD makes an appearance during the solos on “Dry Town.” A couple fuzzes I built appear on other tracks: the Rust Bunny is the primary fuzz sound on “Dry Town,” and the Tea and Crumpets fuzz is part of the “horn” sound on “Bad Luck, Jack.” Lots more clean electric on here!

Volume pedal: Ernie Ball VP for volume swells.

Filters: I don’t use filter effects very often, but when you need ’em, you need ’em! A major part of the “horn” sound on “Bad Luck, Jack” was the Something’s Fishy pedal, an FSH-1 clone, set to a short decay and short attack.

Tremolo: The Tap Tempo Cardinal makes an appearance on “Dry Town” on the Sheraton lead track.

10. Drums: Unfortunately, for the most part, if you hear a drum, it’s programmed. However, there is some improvised hand percussion on “The Last of My Kind” and “Bad Luck, Jack,” and Lexa’s bodhran on “The field of Agincourt” is of course real.

11. Other stuff: No idea what the pennywhistles were. The harmonica on “1851” is a Hohner. The cigar box guitar on “The Last of My Kind” was made by Lionel on the BYOC forum.

I think that’s everything!

Final Thoughts

Out of the three FAWMs I’ve done, I ended this one feeling much better about the output than previous years. I had a few clear favorites in previous years, and a couple songs each year that I thought were pretty lousy, but I can say pretty confidently that this year I have no regrets. Sure there are a couple places where I wish I’d had more time to really nail a certain part (particularly vocals, which are tough on songs I haven’t internalized), a couple vocals that could have used more practice, and some mixes that could have been improved with more time, or a couple lines that I might revise in the future, but what album isn’t like that?

Now I have to decide what to do with the recordings, if anything. I have considered having the backing vocals replaced with the other people in Midway Fair and overdubbing real drums for some songs to use on future recordings. Of course, then they would need to be remixed, and I’d probably want to redo a few things in a real studio … and, and, and. I’ll just live with it for a while and see what happens!

Other FAWMers

I also want to link to two people’s albums I was very impressed by.

The first is Gardening Angel from Spokane, WA — this was her first FAWM. To me she sounds like Beth Orton and Tom Waits got together to make an album together. Fantastic heartfelt writing and voice. “Big Blue Jar” is my favorite on here.

Another is Lightning Streak Dave, who wrote a concept about the robot dystopian future, with the opposition led by Donald Duck, told from the perspective of a dozen characters including what must be the last living DJ. “Steamboat Cleanup Crew” in particular is utterly spectacular, some sort of marriage of industrial, blues, and chain gang music. Exceptionally creative and expansive recordings.

Joe Scala of course also completed his 14 songs, taking a different tack from previous years and working on several songs at once. He actually wrote 3 songs on Saturday the 28th and recorded 6 in the same day, so he totally Please Please Me-ed it! It’s a shame the recordings with Chris Durm and Tony Colato had some technical difficulties, because they were cool songs that I am excited to play at Marksmen shows. Also, check it out: Katie Scala has a co-writing credit on “Let Me Your Light”!

The Notelet War (or, How to write a snarky office note that actually does something)

A different kind of note than I normally discuss here.

For a while at the office, we’ve had a note on the microwave that says

If you use this machine, clean it.

Or some variant thereof. This morning I walked in and it said

Wh-a-a-a-a-t? Someone’s lunch exploded! Please clean the wave [sic]

I opened up the microwave and sure enough there was some crusty, cheesy and tomato-y residue. Not my lunch , but … I needed to use the microwave and considered just using it with what was in there, because I want my tea as fast as possible, but there was the possibility that something would fall off the roof of the microwave into my tea, and then I’d have to clean the microwave anyway and then make another cup of tea, so I did the adult thing and cleaned the microwave out of a robust sense of pure goodly self-interest.

But I was a little ticked about the note. And it wasn’t just that they abbreviated microwave with just “wave” and didn’t even put an apostrophe. I don’t know if it’s written by the same person who puts notes on the fridge in all caps rife with misspellings, grammar errors, omitted words, and lack of punctuation, but what really miffed me is that this note didn’t accomplish anything important. So I wrote a note that

It probably took you just as long to write the note as it would have to clean the microwave.

Those of you who are mature, rational adults are probably shaking your heads right now and realizing that this would not end well. Fortunately, all parties declared a cessation of hostilities and nothing really came of it.

Some people don’t like notes. I do. They’re just wonderful for passive-aggressive behavior, which is my favorite kind of behavior.

Back when I worked as an editor, we had a party one day, and a coworker, B, had baked something tasty (probably babkas, and since her name starts with a B, I’ll just name her Babka). She put her dishes in the sink at work afterward, and someone threw them out. These weren’t ambiguous dishes of any sort. They weren’t some aluminum trays or anything like that. They were nice CorningWare glass dishes, clearly meant to be reused and not tossed out.

This came on the heels of someone tossing out some blue cheese of mine, presumably because it looked moldy. (It doesn’t go bad! Itgoes good!) So I wrote a little note:

Please don’t throw out other people’s stuff.

And I put it on the wall behind the sink.

Whereupon later that evening, after I had gone home, some irony-deficient soul threw out my note.

So I made another and hung it up.

That one got thrown out by lunch time.

This time I made two.

Please don’t throw out other people’s stuff. This includes signs asking you to not throw out other peoples’ stuff.

Both trashed.

Come on, at least recycle.

My next task was to ensure that the sign couldn’t be thrown out. Being just a piece of paper, this is quite difficult, because, in the same way a person can shrug off a single papercut, a human can easily overpower a single piece of paper. But many papercuts may make even the strongest warrior cry out in agony! So I did what any sensible person would do, and that’s make dozens of copies, stay at work very late, and then paper the entire wall of the kitchen with signs.

Naturally, the next day, someone came around and explained that she had been removing signs because she found them “unprofessional,” though no mention was made of how unprofessional it was to throw away someone’s dishes, and was looking for the person who made the signs. My co-workers, bless their hearts, did not rat me out.

My boss called me into her office and asked me, even though she couldn’t prove it was me, not to put up any more signs.

This was right about the time that things really started to go downhill, businesswise, at that office, right before we knew for sure that the editorial contract my section worked on — which was the biggest one there — was going to someone else, and we were all going to die get fired be restructured.

Now, whenever I write a little sarcastic note at work, I wonder if this was the sort of thing that factored into my being laid off when it came time to pick and choose who got to stay.

hmmmm … naaaaaah.

Hey, I promised to tell you about an office note actually doing something, not something good!