Sunday, September 30, 2012

"The Eighty-Nine Project"

Okay.  So...

Coming up with a band/artist name is hard.  Like, really hard.  Like harder than any of the actual songs you have to write.  Somehow, when it's all said and done, you have to come up with a name that:

A) Has never been used before
B) Is catchy
C) Encompasses your musical thesis while acting as a cipher for which the music contained within can also, in and of itself, be a definition for the name
D) Defines the rest of your musical existence

Over the years, many names pop in your head.  Many are shot down immediately by vertical thought.  Some are too long.  Some are too short.  Some are too random.  Some just don't pop.

But a few stick around a little while longer.  Upon closer examination, these may get thrown out, but for some reason, even after deletion, they borough in the back of your mind and serve as an unspoken placeholder when new ideas don't work.

In the coming weeks, I will begin to release finish(ish)ed tracks from my upcoming EP.  The project itself is tentatively titled, "The Eighty-Nine Project", or quite simply, "Eighty-Nine".

This was one such name that, no matter how hard I tried to say wouldn't work, wouldn't let me go. It's simple and succinct.  It was one of the few that inspired a breadth of artwork ideas to accompany it.  It fits well with what I believe to be my musical thesis as an artist.

Nothing quite summarizes my life and struggles both with myself and as an artist than that number. Think about it.  When you get a test back, and you receive an 89/100, what does that say about you?

"You're good, but you're just not good enough."

Why?  Because the test said so.

As far as a motif for my life, the simple sentiment from which that number evokes is the most cutting I can think of.

So, back to the matter at hand.

This project has been gestating, sloooowly, for over a decade.  It, like most of my projects, has taken on many forms over the years.  Originally I wanted to make a full length album, then it seemed far more realistic for me to just focus on a few songs.  After a while, I noticed I was only half-finishing songs and moving on to new ideas, causing me to just run in place creatively.  About two years ago, I told myself that I wasn't allowed to work on any new music until I finished existing tracks that I knew were strong enough to go the distance.

This... didn't exactly work very well either.  See, as I've been writing these songs, I've also been teaching myself the art of record production.  This double pronged goal would slow things down even further as I, in my never-ending arrogance, believed that if I just did everything myself, someone would have to notice.  The more multi-talented I am, the hotter a commodity I can be, right?


Well I'm sure all you musicians know, acting as every single part of the recording chain (writer, performer, producer, engineer, mixer, masterer) is not only taxing, it's damn near impossible to do with any timeliness whatsoever, and since I didn't have the money to get myself a fancy degree at the Berklee College of Music, I was at an even further disadvantage.

So my quest for auditory perfection hit many speed bumps, as the temporal loop of "try something, get 75% through it, find it doesn't quite work, repeat" perpetuated.  I could make the songs sound good, but on par with commercial releases?  It just wasn't happening.  When coupled with copious upgrades, system optimization issues, other time-consuming projects, and my militant refusal to make new music, I found myself at a creative standstill.

When you work so long on something, realizing that it's still not worthy of release is incredibly discouraging, and eventually saps all of your interest to work on it anymore.

This is omitting the fact that last May, I attended a Rancid concert for which I now realize greatly demanded earplugs, and my left ear has not been the same since.  I'm hoping that it's nothing more than fluid or wax buildup, as my septum does deviate toward that side, I get regular allergies and sniff with the frequency of Tourette's, but I have no health insurance as I am currently unemployed (that may change very soon, but the fact remains) so I can't check it out.  So I have to sit and wait indefinitely to find out if I've experienced some sort of acoustic trauma and/or noise induced hearing loss, the diagnosis of which will forever impair my ability to mix in the stereo spectrum.

It has not been a kind year.

I've lost interest in one of my life's biggest passions.  Today, I decide that is not okay.

So I've decided, for better or worse, rather than my initial plan of a full release that sets the world ablaze in an inferno of awesome, that it would be best for my sanity as well as my career to stagger releases.  Songs from this upcoming EP, tentatively titled "The Artist & The Soldier", will begin to creep out from this blog.  They will most likely not be as finished as I'd like them to be in their initially released versions.  I may decide to have them remixed and/or remastered by someone else with a better setup, more experience, and two fully-functioning ears.  Should that occur, I will release it again, and I will continue releasing these tracks until they are to my and/or the collective's liking, at which point they will be grouped together as one single demo.

The record itself will most likely consist of four songs, though an extra track and a couple of instrumentals may be thrown in for good measure, depending on how prolific I end up feeling. Some of these songs are less than a year old.  Some are four years old.  One song carries a riff that I thought up when I was 14 years old.

I told you it's been a while.

The only thing that I can tell you for sure at this point is that the first track to be released will undoubtedly be a song called "Leaving You", as it is the closest to finished, by far.  Here's a brief history:

The song itself was written mostly in the late spring of 2008.  It is the only song I have ever written "straight through", which is to say I sat down at the piano and wrote it from beginning to end.  This isn't how I normally approach writing.  My ego would call me a lyrical technician.  I usually end up thinking of one or two lines at a time, and figuring out where they would best fit in the song, and continue the process in a very non-linear fashion, kind of like a jigsaw puzzle.  Many of the lyrics I wrote back then (Verse 1, Chorus) stand to this day, with a complete overhaul of Verse 2 & an added refrain occurring late last year.  It will most likely be the final track on the record.

The song is about the forced acceptance of unrequited love.  You want someone or are with someone who doesn't want you back, and you have to convince yourself that you aren't right for each other, and that moving on is the right move, even if that's not really what you believe.  I tried my best to have the music reflect the hopelessness of a happy lie.

As I said, it was written start to finish in one session from a piano riff I had come up with days before.  The riff itself was inspired after hearing the song "Lights in the Sky" by Nine Inch Nails:

You know what?  Fuck it.  In my new quest to conquer my perfectionist tendencies, here is the shitty 1.0 original Garageband version as it sounded in 2008, when the idea was about three days old (I feel naked):


You can glean the connection easily by hearing the dissonance and quarter note chord rhythm of both pieces, though my riff and chord progression are substantially more consonant overall.

(Sidenote: I have no qualms about revealing the precise influences and inspirations behind my work. All musicians have them, and I don't believe that I copy or imitate my influences so much as echo the style through my own sensibilities.)

Over time it has become much more profound in dynamics and sonic depth.  My affinity for nu-metal and tendency to over-blow things made it much bigger than the original iteration.  To give you an idea, here is the instrumental of the song as it sounded in 2009-2010:


As far as its state now, it's mixed decently well.  Some vocals need to be added toward the end, and the chorus vocals may be a bit overwrought, but honestly there's little I can do now but do my best to find "the pocket" for them, which has not been easy.

So, I'll probably finish recording those vocals, then release whatever version that ends up being, and continue tweaking it as other methods become available.

Art is never finished, it is only abandoned.  All you have at the end of the day are snapshots.  I need to start taking that philosophy to heart, and hopefully this train can get moving.


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