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

Jam session with Bruce Harrott – I Could Do Anything

I got to play drums for another Song Talk Radio Backup Band jam session, this time with the show’s co-host Bruce Harrott and his catchy feel-good song I Could Do Anything.  We had co-host Phil Emery on bass, and Eric Sorenson and Braeden Mitchell on guitars and backup vocals.

We practiced and developed our individual parts for about 90 minutes, then recorded several takes.  Once again, I recorded both audio and video, and captured the vocals as a separate track and mixed them in during post-production.

All in all it was a fun afternoon, and I feel honoured to play with such talented guys.

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:

Ana Morales – Lullaby jam session

Last Sunday, myself with my partners from Song Talk Radio, guitarist and singer Alon Rodovinski, got together to jam on Ana Morales’ beautiful song, Lullaby. Ana presented the song on an episode of Song Talk Radio in January, and we decided to record a jam of the song. Phil and Bruce took on bass and rhythm guitar, while I played drums. Alon joined us to play lead guitar and backup singing. He also had the wonderful idea to introduce a modulation in the last verse, making it sound more a bridge,  with a different arrangement from my drumming and Bruce resting.

All in all, it was a fun day and we hope to do more jams!

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:

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.

Download the full album for free.

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!

Download the full album for free.

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….