Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sound Searching

Last week I blogged about having a bit of a block. Not anything massive but rather just a week of nothing to get excited about. And getting excited about songs is the best bit. So last week, not so cool.

I've come to learn that when things aren't working you need to change it up. It's a little bit strange like that actually. It's impossible to just sit down and say to yourself, "Look, it's time to write a song, get going." Those songs never seem to be awesome. When you force yourself like that it's kind of like preparing to write not a bad song. It might be alright but it's not going to have anything particularly special. At the same time though you can't just hang out waiting for a melody to drop miraculously into your brain. So you need to be writing for something to happen but you can't force it either. Slight dilemma. And I guess that's where the most frustrating part of all this comes into play - you might spend days and days, possibly weeks and months writing with nothing to show for it and then suddenly you can have a song completed within five minutes. And sometimes not just one song but a few, all in a really short period.

So back to what I was saying: when things don't work, change. Instead of trying to write songs I turned my attention to guitar sounds. Now obviously "the song" is important. And by important I mean the most important. But next is sounds. As a guitar player one of the most enjoyable parts is discovering sounds and finding your own sounds. When playing acoustic guitar, for me anyway, it's about having a pure, resonant tone and sticking with it. In that way it's all about the guitar and nothing else. But when it comes to electric it's a completely different game altogether. Everything counts, from the guitar itself and the wood it's made of to the pickups, the setup, the cables, your in line effects and your amp. Everything matters and makes a difference to the tone. I swear you could spend a lifetime exploring sonic possibilities on guitar alone. Something that's been exciting me recently in this arena is exploring guitar sounds in STEREO. Now to achieve that you obviously need two guitar amps, something I don't have. But because I've been working in headphones of late I've been able to achieve the stereo effect. And wow! I've decided that I need that second amp.

Imagine a simple clean guitar tone. Nothing fancy, possibly a little bit of reverb on it. Now comes the stereo part. You split your signal to two amps. Still nothing fancy, the second amp might have a slightly different EQ and a little bit of grit on it. When you pan the two slightly left and right it's suddenly like a whole new dimension has just opened up. And that's just with a straight tone. Now the coolest bits are when you start working with delay. One channel plays home to your direct signal, no effect, just the straight sound like before. But your second amp is where the wet signal comes in. So in your left channel say is your direct guitar sound and in the right is the delayed signal. When it's put together it's incredible. There's enormous clarity but you still have the delay trails decaying in your right channel. And you can get crazy when you start putting a short delay in one channel and a long delay in the other. I can't explain it properly in text but the result is you have a whole new platform of sound to work with.

When I first considered changing my rig to stereo I didn't fully understand just how awesome it would be. The only problem now is I've had a taste and I need to make it happen. Which means saving some dollars for a second amp - not the cheapest things going around.

For our next record sometime this year I'm going to make the stereo thing happen. And then you can believe my ravings when you hear it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Week 6: I Think It's Called Hitting A Wall

This past week a few things happened: Andrew flew off to the USA to swan around at SXSW, John discovered that his new drumkit, affectionately known as "Esther", has arrived in the country, and I hit a proverbial wall creatively. About the last one in that list - it was bound to happen at some stage, surely. Yes, unfortunately this week I pretty much managed to achieve nothing. You know how originally the plan was to cut myself off from the world and go into 'solitude'? Well that worked for a bit but this week it started to go against me. I think that as a person you can only take so much time without contact with other people. But that seems well timed considering I am back in Brisbane as of the other day. I'm spending a few days not writing to get my breath back so to speak but tomorrow I'll set up my songwriting station and get back into it. I'll take some pictures etc of the new surroundings for next post.

I think every songwriter (and I'm generalising here without any possible way of knowing for sure) probably has moments where they just can't write anything good no matter how hard they try. That's what's happened to me this week. It's an interesting feeling. It's particularly interesting when in weeks previous you've been quite productive. So in stages such as these you know you're not completely useless but at the same time you have no guarantee that you'll be able to write something good ever again. To make myself feel better I like to think of things such as these in statistical terms. Statistically speaking, 99% of songs written are going to be either really bad, bad, sort of bad, mediocre, alright, and kind of good. That leaves 0.9% for songs that are good and 0.1% for songs that are great. When having a dry spell in songwriting the way I see it is that I'm just churning through the 99% really quickly and therefore paving the way for 0.1% of greatness to happen. Feel free to disagree, but that's how I sleep at night.

Anyway, it's St. Patrick's day so for all you pale skinned Irish heritaged people out there, like myself, have a great celebration. I for one am off to drink beers and hopefully do or witness something awesome and worthy of a song.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Week 5: Demoing

When putting a record together there's a whole bunch of steps that need to happen before the final thing is ready to go. These are roughly what the steps are (some people would say there are more, others less, but let's go with these for now)

1. Write
2. Rehearse
3. Demo
4. Record
5. Mix
6. Master

Over the last few weeks we've been writing songs and then for the last week and a bit we've been rehearsing them. At the end of last week we hit step 3, the demoing process. Before you get all serious with production you have to sound out the songs and how they translate to record. So for a day and a half we did a whirlwind trip into the studio to record demos of two new songs, "The Rafters" and "Comets".

I think it's probably the quickest we've ever recorded anything. From drums right through to vocals we wouldn't have tracked for more than 6 hours. Even at the demo stage you still need to mix and it turned out to be quite frustrating. When you're in the studio you're listening to the tracks with some pretty awesome monitor speakers. So when you make changes to the mix it's sometimes hard to know exactly how they're going to sound on your everyday stereo or in headphones. So you come out of the studio and listen to the tracks on as many different sets of speakers as you can. Then you go back in and make changes. The problem is this process can take ages and well, for a demo, you just don't have the time. That means unfortunately that the mix is never perfect for demos but if you're listening to the new tracks I hope you can appreciate the songs over the mix.

Anyway the two tracks were completed just in time for Andrew to head over to the States today for SXSW and also a whole bunch of meetings in LA and New York.

We also want everyone to be able to hear what our new stuff sounds like so you can listen online to the new songs now at myspace or

Now that Andrew's gone overseas with the new demo in his hands it's back to step 1 for the rest of us: writing. And that means I'm reverting back to being a songwriting recluse. I'll keep you updated on how the songs are coming along.

Oh, by the way. I know some people really like to know the lyrics of songs. So here they are, "The Rafters" and "Comets".

- - - - -

The Rafters

Running scared between the rafters of your conscience
Everyone just seems to stare
The wooden hands of eerie silence down upon us
A desperate plan to cut the air and run

Suddenly you feel it rising, a heat like needles
Crawling fast beneath your skin
Those lonely birds of fear and hope not quite forgotten
Coming home to roost again today

You tell yourself you'll face it in the morning
Now is just not the right time
But how many hours must this endure
Instead find the fight still trapped inside

- - - - -


I've discovered things since we've been talking
But they're hard to prove
Spies have crept inside here without warning
So I need to tell you

Let's live like comets

Lights atop those buildings means they're stalking
After our escape
The line of turning back has now been blocked
It's beyond our reach

So let's live like comets

Lies that maybe you should know
Are floating out of reach
And signs that happened years ago
Are pointing us to here
Instead of wanting home
We should be letting go

So let's live like comets

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Songwriting: Week 4

I've ditched the 'solitude' part of these posts. Sometimes things don't work out that way. This week was more about gigging than writing. Actually not entirely true. For whatever reason I've been going from Wednesday to Wednesday not Monday to Monday or whatever. So... half of this week was about gigging and half was about writing. So let's start with the first half.

We had a couple of big gigs on the weekend, one at the coast and one in Brisbane. Both were with a very cool band from Melbourne (or as they put it "Melbourne via Perth" - I think that's what they said) called The Violet Flames. Check them out here. Go do it, seriously. Come on, it's free. We'll be playing shows with them down in Melbourne in May (whoops, that's not announced yet). Here's a photo from the coast show (if you click on it it gets bigger). The show went very well and actually sold out.

Andrew and I ended up staying down the coast and went water skiing the next day with one of Andrew's good mates. I hadn't been skiing for a while but managed to get up on the ski first attempt (Andrew took two). We had a grand old time but skiing is really tough on the legs and we both bailed in spectacular fashion (meaning we were buggered, our legs buckled beneath us and we got smashed into the water). Anyway, that was fun but next came one of the most amazing things I have ever seen. Are any of you familiar with wakesurfing? Essentially, it's surfing behind the wake boat, and if you're good at it, like Andrew's mate, it's surfing behind the boat, which is moving at pace, without a rope. It sounds impossible but I kid you not it happened. There were jetski riders who nearly crashed into a jetty because they were looking across at us while this was going on. Now I don't have a video of us in particular but here's a video I found of wakesurfing. If you still don't believe me check this out. Just substitute the German dude for our friend and you should have a pretty good idea of how incredibly awesome this was to watch.

Crazy times but very cool. Next came the Brisbane show at the Globe. Thanks to everyone who made it along. You were awesome. Some of the best singing I've heard in a very long time. We played a couple of new tracks which were a little rusty (I forgot some lyrics) but hey they were only written the week before so go easy. That was our last show before Andrew heads to the US of A. Death Cab were playing that night as well at The Tivoli which would have been awesome to see. It sucks when gigs clash. Andrew got excited and bought himself a ticket to Death Cab before being reminded by yours truly that we were playing a show ourselves. He had to sell his ticket. Unlucky Andrew. End section on gigging.

So I headed back down the coast to continue writing. By this stage I had become very accustomed to the drive back and forth, and contrary to my previous post, I can understand how people can commute, though not at peak hour, that's just silly. In the couple of days I had down there before I was summoned back to Brisbane, I got another song together called

Should Have Gone To Bed Early

I also discovered an unprotected wireless internet network which was awesome. I don't understand why people don't put passwords on their networks.

Which leads me to now. I'm back in Brisbane, again, because we're about to record a new demo for Andrew to take overseas. It'll be done very soon and we might let you hear it on myspace. But if for whatever reason that doesn't happen please don't get angry.

And now for something random to finish. I was reminded recently of one of the best inspirational psyche up speeches I have ever seen. I won't embed it in this post but see the link below. As someone in the comments section points out:

According to my count, he says f@#k or its derivative 28 times in the space of 80 seconds.
He only says [word I won't even write with @# in the middle] 4 times.

So be warned it's a bit rough but soo soo funny. I have it as an mp3 on my ipod and use it for extra motivation before going on stage.