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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
For 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
- The Thought of Dust
- The Name
Download Hyphen dom’s albums on iTunes.
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!
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….
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.
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.
Michael Gee is a musical chum I met at the Songwriter’s Cafe meetup group. He had an idea for a parody of Walking in a Winter Wonderland, entitled Working With a Wookie on a Plan. He brought along a karaoke track where the only singing present was the part starting “Later on, we’ll conspire…” which, because of the pick-up on the first line, I couldn’t edit out. This was fortunate, as Michael’s revised lyric also had the line “Later on, we’ll conspire,” only he followed it up with “Against the evil empire.” So, after quite a bit of cutting and pasting, we had a base track to record his vocals too. I suggested he not sing over the “Later on, we’ll conspire” vocals of the original. Then I added a virtual sleigh bell shaker sample to the track, and we had a complete song.
By the next morning, Michael had created a video to go along with his song:
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!
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
Oh what a travesty
To let me go, so
So you’ve left me crying
This needs to be explained
Can’t see a silver lining
At least not yet, anyway
How insane the timing
Now I gotta take stock
Soon you’ll see me smiling
As I begin my new walk
Oh what a travesty
To let me go, so
Oh why the brutality?
No need to treat me