Nature’s Lullaby (with Sonja Seiler)

This summer, I wrote a little progression on the piano which was intended to be a gently flowing chord progression and melody. I repeated it twice in the recording.  Having nothing more to do with it, I sent it to my friend Sonja to see if she would be willing to put a lyric and vocal melody to it.

Later on, we got together to hash out some ideas. Sometimes ideas can come from the strangest places. The piano sound I used was from Native Instruments “The Giant” and for lack of a title, I thought of “Giant…” and what’s something that’s NOT giant? “Giant Caterpillar.” So when we got together, we decided to write lyrics that reflected paradoxes or contradictions in nature, where the reality of things in nature may not be what they appear to be. Sonja came up with a gorgeous melody and beautifully poetic lyrics.

The final recording was done in my home studio, and we added a cello part to complement the piano and vocal. We also showcased the song on an episode of Song Talk Radio.

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!

Scope at Ryerson interview

Earlier this month, I had the chance to chat with Scope at Ryerson reporter Sara Cristiano about my music, songwriting, my album Counterfeit Lampshades, and the creation of Song Talk Radio.

Catacombs (online collaboration with Mike B.)

I recently re-joined an online forum that I was part of many years ago called the Muse’s Muse.  It’s populated mostly by lyricists, and there’s ample opportunity for musicians to collaborate with lyricists to complete songs.  There are also threads for posting your works in progress for peer review, and showcasing your finished songs.  I even had my album reviewed on the site!

Someone started a thread called the “Short Song Challenge” and several members posted lyric ideas for a short song (under 2 mins) that contained at least a verse, chorus, maybe a bridge.  I took a lyric written by Mike B., and decided to put some music and vocals to it.  My first take was far too bright and happy for the rather dark lyrics, so I tried a more industrial approach with heavier drums and distorted guitar.  I got his lyric into a 54 second song with a musical intro and interlude, too.  I took a cue from my friend Phil and wrote the bassline first.

Depend on Me

On April 1, 2014 (no joke), the Song Talk Radio Action Team had an episode where we wrote a song, or at least part of one, live on the air.  As one of the hosts, I suggested the idea of writing a song about a car accident, from the point of view of the brake pads of the car.

The guys liked the idea, and we ended up with the beginning of a song. During the show, we employed various tools for writing the lyrics, including using keywords and the rhymezone.com website.

Many months later, I decided to tackle the idea myself, with a more abstract take on the lyrics. I was also obsessed with taking a wide turn on the third line of the verse, then returning back.

Depend on Me is the result:

You said let’s take a ride
I’m always ready to go
Sometimes so fast I need to catch right up
I wish you’d go slow

You can depend on me
I’ll always do my best
You’re in control here
Let me do the rest

You can depend on me
Just don’t push too hard
‘Cause I just might break
Or maybe fall apart

You’re watching the world go by
I only see the underside
A dark and steely cold, that’s all I feel
A life sheltered and shrouded
You can depend on me
I’ll always do my best
You’re in control here
Let me do the rest

You can depend on me
Just don’t push too hard
‘Cause I just might break
Or maybe fall apart

You squeeze me
I grind against the tract
You push me
I brace for impact

Now we’re scattered and shattered
The waste, the wreck so fatalistic
Both our lives lay unfurled
Become another statistic

Collaboration with Dokter Nomi – Love is a Virus

Dokter Nomi, dance-pop music virtuoso approached me several months ago with a collaboration offer for his song Love is a Virus. He had the vocal track already recorded and had a couple of bed tracks already completed by other producers. This is the way he typically works, since he doesn’t play any instruments. He comes up with great lyrics and a melody and then collaborates with a producer to create the music.

I started with only piano to compose the chord structure.  Once I had a chord pattern I was happy with, I then layered on bass, drums, and synths to complete the track. The piano was no longer a part of the song, but it served as a template to structure the other instruments. We presented it at a Songwriter’s Cafe Meetup, and I made several more tweaks afterwards, mostly with tightening up the arrangement.

Nomi joined us on Song Talk Radio to talk about this song and two others. Check out the tune:

Janice Ho & Friends – Dance Without Judgement

The Song Talk Radio Backup Band, consisting of Phil Emery on bass, Bruce Harrott on acoustic guitar, and myself on drums, along with Eric Sorenson on guitar, and Alon Rodovinsky on guitar and backup vocals, accompanied Janice Ho on her soulful song, Dance Without Judgement, in an energetic arrangement. I got to channel my inner Phil Collins on the fill at the end of the second chorus :). Great fun and great performances from Janice and the band.

I recorded the audio and video, and captured Janice’s vocal as a separate recording, to mix it together in post production. I accomplished this by taking a send from the room mixer, and ensuring her mic channel was the only input going to it. The send ran into my Focusrite interface to be recorded in Sonar.  In addition to this, I setup my Zoom H2N recorder in the front of the room, near the camera to capture the drums and guitar amps.  My Nikon D7000 was setup on a tripod to capture the video.  I didn’t use the audio recording from it, as the Zoom captures a much warmer tone, and I could manually adjust the gain on the Zoom.

In post production, I first got the audio mix completed in Sonar. EQ moves on the Zoom recording consisted of a high-pass filter, scooping out some of the muddy low to mid-range stuff, and a hi-frequency shelf to cut down the cymbals a bit. Then with Janice’s isolated vocal, a deeper high-pass filter and a high-frequency shelf to increase intelligibility and shine. Gentle compression on each track, gentle compression on the master, some multi-band compression, and finally a limiter to chop off the peaks, gelled the sound together. After that, a simple sync with the video track and I was done.

Janice talked about this song and two others on her guest spot on Song Talk Radio.

Song Talk Radio with Neel and Peter

Last summer, I met Peter at the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group, and shortly afterward, we began collaborating on songs. Peter is a poet and singer, with some rather intense and compelling lyrics around sexuality, politics, and other themes. Paired with some of my neat keyboard parts and arrangements, we created some unconventional music. Listen to the full episode here:

Hyphen dom – free-dom in chains?

freedom-in-chainsFor several months in 2014, I worked closely with singer-songwriter Dom Ventura, aka Hyphen dom, on producing several songs for his album free-dom in chains?. Arrangements included drums, strings, bass and piano parts to fully round out his songs.

One of the biggest challenges I found as a producer was being able to embrace Dom’s loose attitude towards tempo. His songs would meander, sometimes adding extra beats to a measure, or rushing through a phrase. This meant that I could never record his guitar and vocal takes to a metronome or drum loop. Adding a lush string arrangement was usually not a problem, but adding bass and drums after the fact became a bigger challenge. I solved this by redefining the timing grid in the recording to match his performance, rather then trying to alter his performance to match a regular tempo. This allowed me to quantize the added MIDI tracks to the new grid.

In the end, I produced six of the songs on his album free-dom in chains?. I’m most proud of The DSM-5, as it rocks out the most with my arrangement of drums, bass, and small dashes of tambourine and organ. I also really dig the intro on The Name, which at the time, Dom didn’t get why I asked him to play the base chords for an extra 8 measures.

I got producer credit for these tracks, on which I also arranged and performed all the strings, bass, drums, and piano parts:

  • The Said of This
  • The DSM-5
  • The Window
  • Riders
  • The Thought of Dust
  • The Name

Download Hyphen dom’s albums on iTunes.

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.

Download the full album for free.

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: