Thursday, June 16, 2011

Where Have I Been? (From a Daze and Friday)

It's been a long while since my last post. Yes, my goal is to record two songs each month, yet, I only recently posted my two songs intended for April. That means I am currently four songs behind: two for May and two for June. Further complicating my dilemma, we are more than halfway through June.

NEVERTHELESS! I will still record 24 songs for 2011. The reason for my lag in recording was my preparations for the all-important MCAT, followed by the imposing application to medical school.

'From a Daze' is written by Ace Enders and a Million Different People. I have long considered Ace to be the musician most like me. His guitar, singing, and lyrical styles are very similar to mine, so I was glad to pay homage to him. I had to return the keyboard, so I quickly recorded the opening organ part and I like how it turned out. I tend to hide little tributes to other bands in my recordings that might only make sense to me. I am emulating two Guster songs in the opening of 'From a Daze'. The first is 'Lightening Rod', which opens with a lone organ. The other is 'Two Points for Honesty', in which the opening chorus is sung over tremolo-plucked strings.

I actually recorded 'From a Daze' in April and had it ready for release. I merely got sidetracked on the aforementioned projects and that kept me from sharing it online.

'Friday' was recorded over several weeks. The opening banjo line was recorded in April, all of the electric guitars were recorded by my brother Tavis during our short visit home in the beginning of May, and everything else was finished by Abby and I last week.

'Friday' is a new approach in my project. It was not selected at random, but rather I received so many suggestions that I make a version of it, that I gave in. I decided I wanted the song to have an epic feel, covering as many song genres as I could. I also wanted to feature different vocalists as well. The song structure is as follows:

Folk - Pop-Punk - Pop - Metal - Pop-Punk

Since I knew I could count on Tavis to deliver an awesome metal breakdown, in terms of both screaming vocals and shredding guitars, I wanted to contrast that section with a softer female voice before. This proved more difficult than expected. Though Abby is a wonderful singer, she had trouble singing Rebecca Black's autotuned monotony during the bridge. If anything, Abby tried to make the melody, well, more melodious. This really got to her and at one point, brought her to stressful tears. We had to set the effort down for a day. The next day, Abby was able to get everything down quickly. Now we laugh that Rebecca Black made Abby cry.

Tavis gets credit for all of the electric guitars and for the metal vocals. Abby sings in every chorus and in the bridge. I play the acoustic instruments, bass, and the organ in the breakdown.

Now it is my goal to get caught up!

Monday, April 4, 2011

My Friends and My Guitar

I got it online the last day of the month, but I kept my goal! Three months down and six songs recorded. Every third song I record is an original and this one is one of my favorites.

I wrote "My Friends and My Guitar" almost exactly two years ago. It was the product of a large build-up of drama that lead to a big "WTH?" moment. I think there is a point in the first year home of every returned missionary where they just look around and say, "Well, that didn't pan out...", like Mr. Cogburn in 'True Grit'.

I came home from the Dominican Republic bright-eyed and enthusiastic for a world that I assumed would be smooth-sailing compared to the rigors of my mission. After all, I had been obedient, I had sharply refined my social skills, school, friends, and happy dating had to be on my horizon.

Well, things happened. Don't worry though, this story has a happy ending.

First: my two best friends began dating. It was made more complicated by the fact that one was my roommate and the other was my ex-girlfriend. They are now married and are perfect for each other; we are all good friends now and hang out again, but in these first few months, none of us knew how to handle it. It was...awkward. Even by the time I wrote this song, things had become much more comfortable. However, as becomes married couples, I knew that things were forever going to change and the nature of our friendship would be part of it.

Second: I failed at dating. From my first few weeks in my new apartment, a flirtatious relationship had begun between myself and another girl in our ward. She had even taken me to meet her family. Though we had little to nothing in common, with maybe the exception of both enjoying The Format, we made a go at it. Never going on a one-on-one date and in spite of the girl's fluctuating feelings for me, we kissed. Then she pretty much disappeared, though she kept stringing me along. One night, all of the roommates banded together and told me to go over and demand to know what was going on in the most manly way possible. I marched over, called her outside into the night, grabbed her, kissed her, and demanded "What is going on?!"

My manliness seemed effective: she owned up to her instability and apologized. Surprisingly, she even sought a goodnight kiss. I marched back with a certain spring in my step, having conquered all. Well, until the next day. Her roommate asked my roommate if I had been crying before I had come over. That goodnight kiss? She thought that she had been breaking my heart to the point of crying; it was a pity kiss.

Goodbye manliness. Here, take my Y chromosome with you.

Not many days after, my other best friend, who also happened to be a girl, told me that if I did not date her we could no longer hang out. I found myself in a position where I couldn't date anyone else, though I knew things were ending with this other girl. As I could not give a definite answer, I said goodbye to one of my friends of four years.

As for the first girl, we ended up going on a final, "break-up date", the only one-on-one date we would ever have. There we decided that we might try casual dating in the future, since we never really got to know each other. So, on her birthday, I gave her a homemade coupon for a free dinner with yours truly.

Not surprisingly, weeks passed with no reply. As she was soon leaving town for a few months, I sent a series of texts prodding a response. Well, I got one: she snapped, saying she would get back to me when she got back to me and if it was really a present for her, shouldn't she be allowed to redeem it when she chose to?

It was right then that I asked, "WTF?" (Translated: why the face?)

I went home and wrote the song in pretty much one sitting and the lyrics reflect all of this. The first verse sings of how confident I was in myself on my mission, the second sings of school stress and how I felt all of my closest friends were moving on, the bridge is a warning for my friends still coming home to keep their friends close, and the final verse was directed at the girl I had been trying to date. However, the song's tone is optimistic: the melody is both happy and slightly melancholy and the last line is "I'll sing along with my friends and my guitar." I by no means believed that things would keep going downhill.

Two months later, I went to London and met Abby. And we lived happily ever after.

This song is one of my most personal and it is one of my favorite guitar parts. When recording, I did the guitar in one take; I wanted to give it the feel it had when I first wrote the song, almost all at once. I had always thought this would be a good song for a banjo. Well, now I had a banjo! It took me dozens of takes to get the part I had in mind. When I began to get frustrated, I asked myself, "What? You can't record a part while you are still writing it on an instrument you just started learning?" Nevertheless, I got the parts down and I am proud of it. If you want a banjo in a song, learn to play the banjo. That has some depth to it, right?

This song for me is now an interesting journal entry and its optimism is well placed. I hope you enjoy it!

My Friends and My Guitar

Monday, March 28, 2011

Crunch Time!

March is a busy, busy month.

March involved three term papers, two midterms, a couple other tests, multiple homework assignments, March Madness, an unexpected visit from my dad, and a lot of exhaustion. School really had to take priority this month over the Marshall project; it is impressive in and of itself that I managed to finish Vroom's Dumb Like That this weekend!

In spite of this general locura, I will still meet my goal of two songs a month. The last day of March is this Thursday and I will have another song done by then.

I am very happy with how 'Dumb Like That' turned out. The song was written by the now defunct Virginia indie rock band, Vroom. I discovered the song back in my old, illegal downloading days, circa 2002. I was probably trying to download Simple Plan or Good Charlotte, as was my wont at the time. Though my interest in those bands dissipated no long after, I managed to find this gem. Someone had disguised this song as being by one of the two aforementioned bands, but I managed to figure that out pretty quick. I loved this songs' slow crescendo from an acoustic moper to a kicking, over-distorted finish.

It wasn't long after I recorded 'Hit That' that I shuffled the iPod, choosing song number 8, and started thinking of how I could write this song. I did not know how I would use it, but I knew I wanted a piano part in the song. I asked on Facebook, and my first roommate from freshman year, Bryan Gwilliam, provided me with a Yamaha portable digital grand piano. It is so big, I have to keep it stored under my bed.

It was just last week that I could finally start recording; I did the acoustic guitar and piano parts at the beginning. I spent most of my day last Saturday rounding out the rest. I was excited to be able to add an organ part after the rock-build-up and a string part at the end of the song. I tried to make the string part as close to an actual orchestral arrangement as I could, writing a 1st and 2nd violin part, a viola part, and a cello and bass part; I then split them to different speakers to make it feel as if the orchestra was there in the recording studio (AKA: my bedroom).

The moral of the story is: I have a lot of fun with a keyboard and I need to get my own.

The next song I will record is "My Friends and My Guitar". It is the second original I will record with this project and I am excited to finally have it recorded!

Until then, enjoy 'Dumb Like That'!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hit That: Rise of the Banjo

So, it turns out my father-in-law owns a banjo. It sat unused in the basement. Once I discovered this, I seized the opportunity to bring it home. I had only "played" a banjo a couple of times before and I knew almost nothing of its tuning. But when I discovered that the next song I was to cover was The Offspring's Hit That, I knew that the song's lead keyboard riff would make a perfect banjo part.

Not to brag, but almost as soon as I figured out the tuning, and almost by chance, I plucked out the very riff. After teaching myself a few chords, I think the banjo plays a very nice role in my rendition. I am going for a folk/dance-rock feel here.

Now, I am sure I am the only one who cares about this next detail. The next six songs will be "The Numbers" from LOST. That is, 'Hit That' was song #4 on my shuffled playlist. My next cover is song #8: Dumb Like That by Vroom. The other covers will be 15, 16, 23, and 42, with a couple originals tossed in there.

So there you have it! I present "Hit That"!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Work in Progress and The Rules

Usually by this point, two weeks into the month that is, I would like to have a new song out to everyone. I can report that the basic guitars are recorded and on Thursday, my former Rendered Useless bandmate, Eric Johnson, will be joining me to record vocals. The reason being that my next Marshall-song will be the first of 8 original songs I will record. I figure this would be a good time to post my official rules for the Marshall vs. The Machine project.

The Rules

1. Twice a month for 2011, I will record a new song.
a. As the purpose of this project is to get me back into the habit of recording my music, every third song I record will be an original.
b. Every other song I record will be a cover version.

2. The cover songs will be selected randomly by shuffling the Top Rated Playlist of my iPod.
a. These covers can be any sort of interpretation as I choose.

3. I have the option to employ a veto, but only rarely.
a. I have some choral and orchestral songs on this list that may prove too difficult to cover.
b. There are a handful of songs whose subject-matter I may not feel comfortable reproducing

That's pretty much it! So, this being my third song, I am in the process of recording an original track. This one is an old, never-recorded track from my high school days.

Back in 2005, Rendered Useless entered the studio to record our EP "A Modest Proposal". Around that time, Eric and I wrote what we considered to be one of our best songs; we honestly applauded ourselves for our lyrical ingenuity and beautiful vocals. Six years later, though I can smile at our self-lauding, I believe this song may have been one of our best. However, when we recorded in the studio, we found our funds drying up. This left two of our favorite songs unrecorded: the dance-rock 'Mind If I Cut In?' and the acoustic love-song 'Closer'. In 2006, Eric and I worked with Tavis to make a home studio version of 'Mind If I Cut In?', but 'Closer' was never recorded.

It is important to discuss the cleverness of Closer's title, as it was the basis for much self-congratulating. The opening song for every (all 4?) Rendered Useless shows was 'Opener', a song so energizing that it could only be known for being our kick-off song. The chorus in 'Closer' refers sings of being nearer to someone. It didn't take long for us to make the Opener-Closer association.

When Eric and I finally record Closer this week, it will officially be added to A Modest Proposal as its final track; I plan to make the whole EP downloadable again for those who are curious (for free, of course).

Why don't I have it ready now, you ask? Besides my general slothfulness, it took me sometime to figure out a tiny, but extremely important tempo change in the song. You see, for some reason, Closer has us singing at 120 bpm for the verses, but then we take an almost undetectable tempo change to 110 bpm for the two choruses. Truth is, the song just doesn't work unless we keep it that way.

So, be on the look out for a song this weekend and for an announcement of the next cover!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Plus/Minus and It's Good to Be In Love

I already recorded two songs for January: Ettison Clio's Plus/Minus and Frou Frou's It's Good to Be In Love. Below are my posts from facebook about both of those.


Posted January 16, 2011

So, I've been planning this project since November. I was afraid that it would become like most resolutions I have set and never actually happen. With that in mind, I selected the first song on my Top Rated shuffle, knowing that whatever came up would make or break this project.

I couldn't have been happier with what was selected: Ettison Clio's Plus/Minus.

Anyone who knew me between 2002 and 2006 also knew me as a huge fan and street teamer for Ettison Clio (their button is still on my favorite hat). Despite being one of the best things about indie music, they broke up right before my mission. Their CD, This is for the Blue Collars, is still one of my favorites.

In this project, I do not hope or expect to produce anything close to the quality of the originals. In the words of Jack Black, this is a tribute.

I am pleased to unveil "Plus/Minus"!

It's Good to Be In Love

Posted January 31, 2011

For my second song, I asked my wife Abby to pick a number between 1 and 1552; she picked 21. Number 21 on my shuffle was "It's Good to Be In Love" by Frou Frou. The first thing I said was, "you picked me another song by a girl!" Though it would be impossible to ever do justice to Imogen Heap with vocals like mine, I am very pleased with how this song turned out.

I recommend listening to this song with headphones. Enjoy!

Marshall vs. The Machine

Not surprisingly, I've fantasized about having a band I could actually play regular shows with. One thing this imaginary band would do is play a new cover song every at every show (it is a dream, so it can be implausible). On my iPod, as of mid-January, there are 1552 songs I have marked as "Top Rated". To decide on the song to play, I would simply put that play list on shuffle and whatever would come up, I would perform.

Well, I am never going to have this band, but I realized I could still try out the idea! As a challenge to get myself recording again, I created 'Marshall vs. The Machine'. My goal is to record two songs every month of 2011, randomly picked from my Top Rated play list.

All in all, this is really a fun project for me. I can do some technique practice and share some of my favorite music for everyone; I hope you enjoy it!