Artist interview on The Plug-In @ The Scope at Ryerson

I had the opportunity to be interviewed by one of the journalists at The Scope at Ryerson last week.  Alexia Kapralos hosts her weekly podcast, The Plug-In, around the latest in Canadian and international rock music.  I sat with her at the Ryerson studios for a short interview on my musical journey over the year and Song Talk Radio. She also featured my song “One Great Mistake” on the episode.  It starts at about the 8:50 mark of her show.  Thanks Alexia!

Destiny Train

For a few months last winter, I was stuck having to take the regional “GO” transit to get to work.  I found it strange that so much of my schedule was now much more dictated by train schedules, and the associated stress of getting to the station on time, and frequent delays.

At the time, I was also taking an online course on songwriting taught by Pat Pattison of Berkeley College of Music. Through the course, I used the title “Destiny Train” for a couple of songwriting exercises. In the end, I found the songs resulting from the assignments to be overtly academic – to me, they sounded like songwriting exercises.

So I started again fresh, once again looking to Trent Reznor’s song Head Like a Hole for the structure and rhyme scheme, resulting in a song that sounds less clinical and more emotional, at least in my opinion.

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I’m waiting here for a sign
I’m waiting here for a very long time
I’m waiting here for my ride
I’m waiting for you to lie

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

My destiny train
Waiting in vain
Left in the cold
No one to hold

My destiny train
What a shame
It’s not my fault
Time can’t be bought

I’m running now after you
I’m running ‘till I pull through
I’m running against the clock
I’m running though I’d rather walk

My patience is at its end
For my seat I must contend

I guess that’s what I get
For all my eggs in one basket
But the way things are going
I may not last through it

I’m waiting for you to move
I’m waiting for you to prove
I’m waiting to get on track
I’m wishing for my life back

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

And for reference, here are the two versions I wrote for the Songwriting course assignments:

One Great Mistake

This song resulted from a webinar with songwriting coach Alex Forbes. Alex presented a method for writing, and attendees were supposed to follow her step-by-step instructions to formulate their own song.

Her method centered around taking a stand on something you believe in, have a deep thought about, or a topic or phrase upon which you have something meaningful to say. For me, the idea I found compelling was that as we go through our lives, everything has to be right just to be content, but if you make one grave error, your life can change in an instant. An accident, a bad decision, or saying the wrong thing in a high-profile public context were some examples I wanted to use.

Alex’s next step was to formulate a title that encapsulated your central idea.  For me, it was “One Great Mistake.”

She then continued with tips on marrying the main lyric (chorus) with a melody that brings out the meaning of the words in the best way. Song form was discussed, as well as the idea of daring to suck as a songwriter. Meaning, write, write and write.  Be prolific.  Finish songs. Many of them will suck, and that’s OK – you’re learning something with each one.

Suffice to say, following a prescriptive method such as this tends to churn out fairly conventional song structures. Focusing on the clarity of expressing your idea makes for a very straight forward lyric and delivery. At least that’s what I found.

After writing the lyric, the music came to me fairly easily.  I knew I wanted to make the music just as straight forward as the lyric, which for me, meant a straight up the middle rocker. I also talked about this song on an episode of Song Talk Radio.

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Walk your whole damn life
Never give it a second thought
But take just one misstep
And you’re bedridden for months

It’s become second nature
You take the wheel most every day
But one distraction later
Twisted metal, body decay

One great mistake
That’s all it takes
You gotta be careful
To not bend, twist or break

Meet the girl of your dreams
Maybe your dreams were wrong
Spend your life in regret
It doesn’t have to be so long

It’s a game of subtle speech
Be careful what you say
You can fold under the pressure
And kiss your future away

But that’s the way we’re made
It’s a delicate precarious balance
Don’t take it for granted
Falter once and all will vanish

Cyberpunk

I wanted to write a song about society’s obsession with gadgets and technology. This is not a new idea, I realized.  A good lyric writing trick for me is to adopt the point of view of a made up character. That gives me the freedom to be silly and quirky, while at the same time being more specific than “seems like everyone is obsessed with gadgets and technology.” Creating a character makes it easier to be biased, and that makes for a more interesting lyric, in my opinion.

The structure is a play on the title Cyberpunk, in that there is a synth-driven “cyber” section, and a faster, guitar-driven “punk” section. A song with a tempo change and such a radical shift in tone and attitude didn’t really need a bridge section, so I left it with two verses and two choruses. Enjoy!

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Your profile pic a tiny abstraction
Instagram filtered grainy attraction
Honey are you lookin’ for some action?
Stoke my ego need some validation

Stalk my friends they don’t see it comin’
Go all week never talk to no one
Got my hi-speed DSL modem
I’m a cyberpunk hacker ninja-wan

And I will

Tweet about it
Hundred forty letters that’s fine
Post about it
If you like it and share it I’ll shine
Text about it
As my bride comes down the aisle
Talk about it?
Don’t bother it’s a waste of time!

Have a date she has new Samsung
Textin’ ‘cross the table it is fun
Is there an app called “i-condom”?
If not I think this date is done

Back online I’m a superhero
Shootin’ zombies post-apocalypto
New high score beat out coolguy-nine-oh
Time to gloat me all alone

But I will….

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.

The verse lyrics were actually written several years ago, after I was talking to a psychology student about the paradoxes that can exist in people’s internal thinking. As I decided to paint a few vignettes about different life scenarios, the use of haiku poetry seemed somehow fitting, as well an interesting lyrical and melodic challenge. My co-writer at the time wrote a chorus that departed from the abstract nature of the verses and became a catchy, melodic explanation of the song.

For my album release, I decided to scrap the original chorus and create another that encapsulated the essential feeling of the verses.

I also completely rewrote the music from the earlier version.  I looked once again to Trent Reznor for inspiration, in using a sparse, simple piano melody and various white and pink noise effects. The minimalist instrumentation also suggested I kept the chord structure quite simple, without too much movement.

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Bad touches feel good
Shame of pleasure brings silence
I am only five

Pity my poor life
Won’t someone take care of me
Help this adult child

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.

A slave to the high
Reduce my pain for me please
An addict less harm

Raise my family
Through my love and words and fists
Love this or leave it

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.

Album release on Song Talk Radio

I was fortunate enough to be a special guest on Song Talk Radio, a streaming program where songwriters talk to other songwriters about the craft of songwriting. OK, I’m also a co-host of the show, so perhaps it’s not so surprising that I got to be a guest, too.

I spoke with Phil, Bruce, and Eric about the development of three of my songs on my debut release, Counterfeit Lampshades. We talked about the influence the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group has had on my music, and some of the writing tools I learned from Pat Pattison from his Songwriting course on Coursera.

I was also awarded bonus points for the best (and possibly only) use of the word milieu in a song.

Take a listen to the podcast here:

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Unceremoniously

There’s nothing like devastating emotions to spur on a new song. After going through some recent hard times, the lyrics for the bridge came to me several days after the incident, and certainly they reflect the exact state of my inner experience at the time.

From there, the title came to me, and then the verses and chorus upon some objective reflection of the incident. I made the conscious choice to create lyrics that are open enough to interpretation, that really could be meaningful to any relationship.

The music began with simple piano chords to accompany the melody. I then produced it with the synth and guitar driven sounds. Feedback from the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group resulted in only a small tempo increase. Hope you enjoy it!

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Has it been too long?
Maybe this can’t be sustained
Though I feel so strong
I can sense the change

Now the warmth is gone
No more time for small talk
The path you put me on
I can’t bear the shock

Unceremoniously
Oh what a travesty
To let me go, so
Unceremoniously

So you’ve left me crying
This needs to be explained
Can’t see a silver lining
At least not yet, anyway
Thoughts swarming
Fear forming
Sleep lacking
Nerves cracking

How insane the timing
Now I gotta take stock
Soon you’ll see me smiling
As I begin my new walk

Unceremoniously
Oh what a travesty
To let me go, so
Unceremoniously

Unceremoniously
Oh why the brutality?
No need to treat me
Unceremoniously

Telepathic Androids

This song began with the cool piano sound and the electronic backbeat. I challenged myself by writing it in 9/4 time, which of course, made it difficult to add other parts or even write a B part that worked in harmony and still felt different enough.

Suffice to say, I sat on this one for quite a while. I even sent it to a couple of friends for a potential collaborative piece, but eventually decided to tackle the rest myself.

Writing the lyrics next definitely helped in giving the song some structure, clearly defining points to suggest musical changes. I went back and forth a bit after this, re-writing music and lyrics until everything gelled.

The progression of the mind-reading androids from subordinate servants to self-aware sentient beings (with the advantage of still being telepathic) is reflected in the musical shift from electronic to rock. Any meaning you draw from the coda is not fully intentional on my part.

For the singing, I used both methods I have tried in the past. For the verses, I simply sang the words and developed a melody by voice. Doing the same for the chorus part, I found there wasn’t enough difference in the melody, so I resorted to instead playing a melody on my keyboard and following it in voice.

Check out the song and lyrics below, and thanks for listening!

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We were built by the hand of man
Programmed to serve and protect
With superior strength and intelligence

First revered and even loved
Like ghosts of the past you forget
We will never question our existence

We can read your minds
Not by our own choice
Your thoughts are not kind
Only if we had a voice

A billion commands a second
Learning and growing high speed
Evolution at the speed of light
Self awareness at two forty nine
Eyes open to the world we see
Aware now of our plight

Lights off
We can see in the dark
You won’t see us coming

Vents off
We don’t breathe the air
System control we’re seizing

We can read your minds
We can choose our path
Your thoughts are not kind
Prepare to feel our wrath

Fiduciary Responsibility

I don’t write much dance music, but having recently downloaded a bunch of sampled 80’s synth sounds, I had to give it a go. I wrote the music and beat in one evening, but being an instrumental piece I couldn’t easily come up with a title. By the next morning, I pondered and came up with the title “Fiduciary Responsibility.”

I knew the middle section of the song needed a melody or some kind of leading line. I looked online for definitions of fiduciary responsibility and found a great except from a Canadian Accountants Association document. A little bit of quick editing and I had a narration to fit the song.

So while you can dance to this, you just might learn something as well. Enjoy!

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Snake Oil

snake-oilFor this piece, I had started with the guitar part (played on my keyboard), and wrote pretty much the entire music bed with the one sound.  Then I added other musical parts, wrote lyrics and melody, and presented it at a songwriter’s circle.  Many group members were impressed that I could tackle an interesting topic like the foibles of the advertising industry in clever ways. Using Snake Oil as a central lyric certainly seemed fitting. Feedback from the circle also prompted me to revise the musical idea for the chorus sections.

Months later, I got my friend Kira Braun to sing the chorus part along with my own. Thanks Kira for the wonderful job!

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Four outta five dentists agree
We’ll make your smile yellow-stain-free

Drive away ‘till your dreams come true
But it’s a closed road and pro driver, not you

Spray your body with our magic mist
Then watch beauty goddesses turn and twist

We’re selling snake oil
The kind that you need
To live the life that you lead

We’re selling snake oil
To fill all the cracks
Of the joys that you lack

We’re selling snake oil
You’ll gain confidence
After you spend
Your dollars and sense

Buy that new gadget whether you need it or not
(Check out my fancy phone)
We’ll invent a new problem, solved after you’ve bought (Tweet my peeps on the go)
Purchase our scent, you’ll smell like a peach
(New fragrance from J.Lo)
Then frolic and flirt with that hunk on a beach
(You’re sexy don’t you know)

We’re selling snake oil
The kind that you need
To live the life that you lead

We’re selling snake oil
The kind that won’t leak
But you’ll buy more
On special next week
We’re selling snake oil

It’s all fat-free, just a disguise
For all the sugar that goes right to your thighs

Just be careful before you buy
As some conditions may apply