Wales v England. Always a difficult one for me. Welsh blood English heart. I can’t remember the last time Wales beat England in the football. Rugby… now that’s a different matter – but for some reason Wales just can’t pull it together in the football. Ranked between Haiti and Grenada apparently… and that’s not good! So it’s always with faint embarrassment that I watch Wales play football. And although I support England at every sport it is always a tug of the heart-strings when they play Wales. Like two sides of my soul competing in battle, ripping each other apart and yet coming together as one when the whistle blows.
Those two sides… the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. The devil telling you to write simple, easy on the ear songs and the angel telling you to always write from the heart. Or is it the other way round? Anyway, they both have a point. The devil just wants you to succeed and earn a lot of money. He just wants you to write that hit song – that song that’ll earn you a million dollars. He just wants you to write simple songs that the general public can relate to . He wants you to write a “Yellow” or a “Wonderwall” and then have an Adele-like album success story. He knows you have to eat and he knows what you could do to fill that stomach. You don’t even have to sell your soul to him… you just have to stick with the melodies, stick with the McCartneyisms, write “The Bends”.
But the angel tells you that the hits aren’t important. The angel says that you have to follow your own path and write music that you can be proud of forever more. Music that is artistically satisfying and sod the money! The angel wants you to write “Kid A”.
For a songwriter this can be a tightrope. I should qualify that! There are some songwriters that will never experience this dilemma for there are many out there who couldn’t write a great song even if a friend travelled into the future, stole an almanac of classic songs then travelled back in time and placed said almanac under said songwriter’s pillow.
But for a lot of songwriters the devil and the angel are an issue. In fact, the score right now is England 1 – 0 Wales. England play in white, Wales play in red. Hmmmm… relevant? I’m serious. The devil and the angel do indeed often come out to play. The songwriter wants to be considered an artist you see. An artist – fancy that! The musician wants to be considered clever. Ha ha! He wants to write ‘clever’ music. He wants to dumbfound and even alienate his audience. For alienation can be satisfying. Alienation can even be rewarding. The devil struggles with this… but if you get it right you can alienate your audience and mesmerise them. You can seduce them with an agile twist and turn. The devil appreciates “Ok Computer” but is unsure of exactly how it happened. The devil would rather you didn’t entertain such thoughts. Forget it and listen to “Angel” by Robbie Williams a few more times. Then the devil decides that suggesting you listen to “Angel” is a bit contrary and he suggests “Highway to Hell” instead!
The switched on songwriter knows you have to strike a balance. Whether that be across the range of songs on an album – i.e. have a couple of singalong singles and a few deeper songs… or internally within the song itself. For a song can be clever and catchy – the perfect balance perhaps. And sometimes songs that sound simple and catchy are actually clever and catchy but disguised as simple and catchy. McCartney was perhaps the king of the simple and catchy (but really clever and catchy) song. There are many exponents out there including one of my favourites, Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. Many of those songs that you think are just throwaway pop songs actually have an intricate, delicate structure hiding beneath the surface. Or you were right in the first place and they are just throwaway pop songs! Do you know which are which? Do I? Do you care? Do I?
I think that a lot of songwriters want acceptance from their peers. They need other musicians to acknowledge their talent and fulfil their want of worthiness. And this exploration for the lost chord, the sound that will cause all others to down tools and proclaim “God-like Genius”tm status, can so often be their downfall. I can think of a whole host of musicians that have at one time or another fallen into this category. It’s not important to name them… but sometimes just because you CAN play notes only a Golden Headed Langur can hear, doesn’t mean you have to!!! (Steve Vai, not naming any names… but I am pointing at you!).
So when you find a band that gets this balance right you tend to fall in love. Most of the bands I adore strike the balance. They live with the devil and the angel and survive the conflict. When one of these bands gets it right it moves you. When the Flaming Lips released “the Soft Bulletin”, I felt that power. That album was clever and simple. It was the album Goldilocks would have chosen had the house had three record players rather than three bowls of porridge. A close to perfect album. I could have picked a whole host of albums to represent examples of ‘devil and angel’ albums. I could have picked “Revolver”, “His ‘n’ Hers”, “Grace”, “Pet Sounds”, “Silent Alarm” or “Is This It?”. Albums that reach the parts other collections of songs cannot reach. And often the very same bands will start to prefer the advice coming from one shoulder over another. They veer too far away from the line of balance – with various degrees of success. They can be lucky and still produce an album which is loved… or they can be unlucky and create an album that becomes a source of amusement and derision. I think the Flaming Lips, Lennons and Radioheads of this world have all veered from the path and enjoyed the positives and the negatives of the experience.
During the writing of “Escapism” I have walked that fine line between pretentious and commercial. Every artist wants to have a commercial success… don’t let any of them tell you otherwise. However, if you can achieve that success whilst never abandoning what you believe in then all power to you. I think Bill and I have pulled off a sweet yet clever album with “Escapism” and I’m sure the song ‘A Thousand Steps’ was a contributing factor. We chose to document every second of the songs creation – from the moment I first picked up the acoustic guitar, until the moment I finalised the mix. As we worked on ‘A Thousand Steps’ I was fearful that we might be creating a song that satisfied us as writers but left the public cold. But I’m pretty sure we took the advice of the devil and the angel and in many ways Bill and I actually become the devil and the angel during the songwriting process. One of us will make a decision and the other will flag up its potential pitfalls. A battle always rages. A friendly battle… but a rewarding battle. The outcome for us has been songs such as ‘A Thousand Steps’, ‘The Calm and the Storm’ and ‘Where We Go Next’. Songs that don’t shy from being intellectual, and yet have that commercial appeal that the public crave… we hope. However, please note that I will never confuse having an element of “commercial appeal” with being a producer of “coffee table album”s. Don’t fret… I could (and probably will) wax lyrical about coffee table albums in a future post. 😉 For now my friends, I leave you with track 9 of “Escapism”… A Thousand Steps. Oh.. and Wales lost.
With the release of this album I’ve been trying to force myself to write some sort of short, concise band bio for reviews and such. As much as I talk, and write, these three paragraphs have been extremely tough.
We have to compartmentalize don’t we? There is just so much out there! We need to be able to easily fold things so they can fit inside of our glove compartments. How do you compartmentalize yourself? How do you fold it all into a neat square with smooth edges?
I didn’t want our songs to all be one feeling or tempo. I didn’t want it to be a ‘heavy’ album, or a ‘sad’ album, or an ‘experimental’ album, or…fill in the blanks. I wanted to be able to capture a time period with all of the strangeness and contradiction that entails.
Are you always sad? mystical? angry? love-sick? goofy? irritated? Me neither. I tend to float around all of these emotions and ‘feelings’ as the days go by. Right now I’m in a deep mood as I listen to ambient soundtrack music, but tell me a good fart joke and I’ll laugh and be out of it!
We’re all like this, albeit as individuals with different extremes, and different ‘nominal settings’. Then why is so much of our music one note? Why should I be always ‘THIS’ way, when that’s not who I am? I like a lot of different bands and artists who have different styles and traits, but I honestly can’t think of one where I go, ‘Yeah, that one there!’ Their is no musical genre or club I want to join. For me music is a means more than an end. I write when I feel something, and I try not to limit what ‘feelings’ I can cover.
That probably puts me in a club I don’t know about yet.haha
Somebody check Pitchfork!
I understand the necessity of it all. We’re bombarded with all of this stuff and the only way to organize it all is to be able to say ‘this covers THIS emotion’. Imagine Slayer making a ballad? Imagine Sade throwing down! Ridiculous you say? You don’t think Sade gets pissed? Ok, maybe the guys from Slayer, yeah maybe that’s for a reason. : )
I tend to just go for what a song makes me feel. To a degree, I don’t care what style. I don’t care if it’s a guitar or a synth or a violin. It depends on the day, and it depends what I’m focused on in the moment.
No, I’m not trying to make myself out to be some sort of revolutionary changing the face of music.
I mean, didn’t we make this album to be cohesive?
All of our songs certainly sound like us.
However, take three songs of ours, ‘Pitfall’, now listen to ‘Where We Go Next’, now listen to ‘Feel’. If any one of these was your first experience with our band you’d get a pretty different impression of who we are and what we do. Chasing Chaos? Now ‘Where the Start Begins!’
Truth is, we’re all these things. File us under those that are not easily compartmentalized, I guess. Who knows though, maybe I’m just in one of my ‘think about things too much’ moods and I’ll change my mind soon.
We’ll see how I ‘Feel’ about it tomorrow…
hmm wait, I still have to write that damn bio!
(irritably looks for Slayer’s ‘Reign in Blood’)
‘Mean Machines‘ was a surprise. An experiment gone wrong and yet so well. When Bill and I decided to make our collaboration a ‘band proper’, ‘Mean Machines‘ became the second song we recorded. We had to follow the majesty of ‘Where We Go Next’. Not easy to top a song that had so much slavish effort put into it. So I sat in my studio, exactly as I am now, and stared at the blank screen. I do a lot of staring at blank screens. Don’t get me wrong, I do fill my days with other things too! It’s just that staring at a blank screen is an activity which the modern musician cannot avoid. In the old days I suppose the equivalent would have been staring at blank studio walls – or watching paint dry in a rehearsal room. But now we have computer monitors to take some of the burden – to take the weight off our shoulders. Staring at a computer screen can feel more fulfilling. Ha ha!
I remember the day. Some guys were in the house changing my old boiler. I’m not referring to the girlfriend… I genuinely mean my old boiler (joke Dani xxx). And I was in my studio staring at the blank screen. Then I layed down the first beat. And then the first bass roar. In a couple of hours I pretty much had the song complete… in its most basic form. One of the men changing the boiler expressed a bit of interest and would chip in with words of advice! Ha ha! But like I say… I had the bare bones of the song completed very quickly. I’m actually quite proud of the music of ‘Mean Machines‘. It is quite heavy and persistent. I also really like some of the orchestral flourishes.
I sent the music to Bill with the title “Mean Machine”. Yes, I did indeed name it after watching a Burt Reynolds film, but I always assumed the name would end up being changed. Changed like an old boiler. But Bill took the spirit of the music along with the temporary title and sold the concept to the world. He owned that title. And so with the addition of an ‘s’ that is how it stayed and will always stay. The song is a grower. In fact the song has become an entity bigger than Bill or I could ever have imagined. In hindsight ‘Mean Machines‘ was actually the perfect song for us to work on after ‘Where We Go Next’. It was a blast and proved that we had something in us to be able to pull off a song really quickly. The song confirmed that the match of my music and Bill’s lyrics was not a one-off fluke. And most of all it made us determined to produce a whole album of work. Along the way we would often look back at ‘Mean Machines’ as being a defining moment and yet not a defining song. Perhaps as people listen to the album they will decide for themselves the significance of the song. Now… come on everyone… grow moustaches and stick your toupees on… we’re gonna have a party!!!
Have you ever wanted to laugh at a really inappropriate time? Somebody is talking. The room is hushed. The mood is deadly seriously. An airplane flies by with a sign attached to it that says,
‘It Would Be Highly Offensive and Inappropriate to Laugh Right Now.’
This makes you want to laugh even more. You suppress it, which makes it even worse. A sound jumps out of your mouth like a death row inmate who found a hole in the prison fence, and you try to stop it with your hand as fast as you can. Everyone’s looking at you now with their best, ‘How dare you?!!!’ look.
A woman faints.
A crying baby goes silent.
Then, you …just…let…go…
… and it feels soooo good.
All of a sudden, everybody starts laughing with you. Those same people who were indignant a second ago are roaring like baboons, and the more you laugh, the more they laugh. The more they laugh, the more you laugh.
Ok, well the guy or woman who had everyone’s attention is usually furious at this point which is suddenly very, very funny.
It is my opinion that the world needs more people to crack the hell up at the most inappropriate times. We live in a world full of pink elephants that everyone ignores. We need to laugh at those elephants! We need to laugh at the absurdity of it all!
It’s the presidential debate…
Some soul-less, moron pundit is asking the most general question you can possibly imagine like, ‘how do we fix the economy?’ After he asks the question, he reminds the car salesman…err I mean politician…that he has 30 seconds to answer this question…
The audience erupts into sustained and uncontrollable laughter…
Finally the laughter dies down. The pundit’s face is red and he finally volleys to the brand spokesman…again, sorry…i mean politician
The politician says a catch phrase like, ‘We are the people’s people!’ or something. You know, they’re always saying general crap like that. Words that seem to connote something good and yet they really don’t mean anything at all. Come to think of it, a politician talking is a lot like a McDonalds hamburger. It kind of seems like what it represents, but you just know that the ingredients are manufactured and not natural.
Someone in the audience yells, ‘We are the people’s people!!!!’ and then everyone starts cracking up again…
Hell, I think they should put a laugh track on these things. It would change our entire perspective on the debate. It would also be a truer view of what transpired. Whenever spin doctors come on cable tv shows you just hit the laugh track button every time they say anything. We could even get Charlie Sheen and the girl from Friends(what are their names?) to host CNN to fit in with the already sitcom-like vibe.
Yep, I am ranting, and that is partly what ‘Ready, Set… Explode!’ is about for me. It’s about reaching a point where you’ve just had enough and you just want the water to boil over already.
I’m picking on politics because it’s an easy target, but it could be any number of things. I’m saying that I feel like when watching 95 percent of anything ‘serious’ on TV I think the only natural response we should have is to just laugh and laugh. Maybe if we did, maybe if we laughed right away we wouldn’t get to the point where we have to face the consequences for all the farces we see on a day-to-day basis.
You laugh and then you politely ask them to please sit back down. You suggest coming back when they want to be serious.
Having different views or ideologies is not what I’m talking about. Intelligent, honest, and well thought out ideas aren’t that humorous. When you lose your home, it’s not funny. When you can’t pay your medical bills, it’s not funny. The Patriot Act? Well the name is kind of funny in a contrarian way, but you get my point.
All I’m saying is that, at this point, we need to question everything, and no sacred cows allowed! Remember that story about the Trojan Horse? Well lets just say you can fit a lot of things inside sacred cows. I want to live in a world where we’re not afraid to point out something like one of our civil rights hanging out of a cows ass. ; ) …no matter how ‘sacred’ it is.
What I’m asking is the next time they trot an elephant or a cow on-stage, I’m begging you, please!!!!
get ‘Ready, Set… Laugh!!!’…. ; )
I sit here with a bowl of mint choc chip ice cream and stare at an empty screen. A screen I know I’m supposed to be filling with insight. With wonder. With mesmeric prose. And the ice cream is melting. But it is good ice cream… because it hasn’t crystallised – you know, when you let it melt and then you stick it back in the freezer. It comes out with ice saturated through it. Ice cream with ice. NO!!!! I want my ice cream with no ice! And that’s what I have. So I am relatively happy.
To write about a song called “The Calm and the Storm” should be so fitting at the moment. Bill is experiencing some of the sentiment of the song literally. And while he ponders why the storm always has a girl’s name… I sit here eating mint choc chip ice cream. Rum and raisin is probably my favourite flavour. But I can certainly learn to live with mint choc chip. Anyway, this relationship is not going to last. The bowl is emptying steadily. Well… sporadically… in between fits and starts of typing.
I sit here in my studio and recall the writing of “The Calm and the Storm”. The album was progressing beautifully – plenty of hit singles in the making. Things were in danger of becoming too easy. I felt compelled to throw a spanner in the works. I embarked on a song that couldn’t possibly, conceivably, ever be a single. When I toyed with the Les Paul I was trying to choke out notes that would cause the listener to furrow a brow rather than tap a foot. I was messing with time signatures and messing with the concept of what an Eleventh Hour Initiative song should be. And when I finally sat back in my chair and surveyed all that was before me I realised that I had accidentally recorded perhaps our defining moment. It was with a sense of trepidation that I sent Bill the music for “The Calm and the Storm”. I so wanted him to like it… but for so many reasons. I needed him to like it… because the song had become an important statement of intent. The song had become a symbol of how strong my music could be. How strong music could be. full stop – /period . . . Like an obelisk surrounded by apes. I had thrown the bone to Bill and I hoped the jump cut would work. And it did.
Bill understood where I had taken our music and reciprocated with some tremendous lyrics. Not only that, but he also added more to the music and made the epic more epic. We could seriously state that our music was cinematic. The song projects images into my head. Static, moving, flickering, full colour, black and white. The song is a true journey. The song is a pivotal moment for the album that has become “Escapism”. If we were brave before, we came out the other side victorious warriors.
I feel we need Bill’s input on this one. For he talks so eloquently when the subject of this particular song arises. And I think this song justifies a second talking head.
Oh.. and the ice cream has been eaten. Everything is good.
‘Non Submersible Units’
So we’re sitting here now, I have no idea what time it is where you are, but let’s pretend it’s 3 in the morning. We need to talk clearly with this post, and as I’ve said, there is no better time.
I want you to think about some of your favorite daydreams. Are you there yet? Now imagine yourself. Who do you see yourself as? I don’t mean where you’re at right now, I mean where you’re going. Who is that person? How do you see the world? Again, not as it is, but as you think it should be. What about all those mysteries out there? What are some of your theories about them? What do you believe?
Don’t worry, we have infinity to do this, remember?
It is my belief, feel free to agree or disagree, that in order to be truly fulfilled you need to take all of these things out into ‘the harsh light of the noon sun’.
As I said in my last post, some things will be utterly destroyed, and yet that same destructive power will give other things life.
‘Why do I need to throw all of them out there?’, you ask.
Well, ok, not all of them. Just the ones that are important to you. ; )
It gets a bit more complicated though. You see, if you’re throwing everything you deem worthy out into the sun, well some of these things are going to be part of the core of who you are. Some of these things are going to be what Stanley Kubrick would refer to as ‘non submersible units’. These are your anchors. Destroy these things, and your whole internal world comes crumbling down.
Why risk it, then? Why throw something so important into the unforgiving sun?!!!
Because as awful and hard as it is, it’s a bit easier when you choose to do it. If you don’t, at some point, life will do it for you.
Trust me, life always hits harder…
Sometimes, whether you did it willingly, whether you saw it coming, or whether you were blind-sided, one of your non submersible units gets obliterated by the sun.
Some people refer to this as the death of the self. If you’re Christian you may have heard it referred to as ‘being put on the cross’. Carl Jung or Joseph Campbell would call it the death/rebirth archetype. Poets? They call it ‘the dark night of the soul’. If you asked the guy next door, he’d probably just call it deep, dark depression.
If you’re wondering if you’ve ever experienced this, then you haven’t experienced it yet.
Your entire inner world is utterly destroyed. Nothing remains. I mean nothing.
There is no quick recovery from this if it happens to you. Usually, at first, you need to mourn what you’ve lost. You want to hold onto that dream so bad!!! You fight, you struggle, and then, finally, …it dies.
What needs to happen at this point is you essentially need to be rebuilt from the ground up. Unfortunately, Rome is never built in a day, …or so I’ve been told.
It’s been my experience that you don’t have any blessed clue how to do this, how to remake yourself. You don’t want to. You don’t want to do anything! Then some time passes and all that fury of emotion settles into sadness, then cynicism, and finally apathy. You usually get one direction then. Call it intuition, call it what you want, but it’s like a quiet and calm voice, not audible, but you just know.
It says, ‘go here’
You say, ‘go here?!!!’ ‘why?!!’ ‘What’s going to happen?.’ ‘is this going to help me?!!!’ ‘i want some answers!’
It says, ‘Ok.’
So after you fight it, doubt yourself some more, and then fight it some more…. you get tired, and finally
you go ‘here’.
‘Here’ is not necessarily a physical place. It’s more about starting again. Everyone has a different ‘here’.
Once you get ‘here’, that same feeling leads you to go to another ‘here’
You ask all the same questions, and the process repeats itself, until you stop asking so much and you just go. I mean, at this point, what better thing do you have to do?
It takes a long time, but at some point, things start to feel ‘new’ again. There’s no other way I can describe it. Then you find that after another great long time you look back and you realize that you are a really different person than you were. You’re a better person. You come to terms with why that particular dream had to die. Something new and very real tends to take its place. The experience itself just changes you.
There is no moment I can put my finger on and say, ‘that’s when it happened!, Resurrection!!!’. I guess it just happens at some non-descript time when days are blurring into days. Maybe part of it is that you’re no longer thinking about it, so you don’t notice exactly when it happens.
I’m sure some of you have no blessed clue what the hell I’m going on about. This is for those of you who do. Even if you don’t, their may come a time in your life where you’ll get what I mean. When that happens…trust me,
When I was younger I used to believe that everyone, deep down, saw the world exactly the way I did. I mean how could you not? Just look around!
I was also a talker. If I was a car salesman in the 1950s people might just refer to me as having ‘the gift of gab’. It was my theory that all I had to do was talk to a person enough and I could get down to the heart of the matter. I just had to peel away all those social layers and then deep down, we’d be the same.
I mostly made this mistake on girls. A pretty girl would walk into the room and I’d already be projecting all kinds of wondrous and mysterious things onto her personality. Sure, she may seem shallow, but deep down I could get to the real her! I would just hit that rock with words, like Henry Plainview in ‘There Will Be Blood’ and eventually I’d strike it rich!
Imagine my surprise to find out this wasn’t the case.
You set up the diving board, jump off full of excitement. you do your best trick, and you find the water is only 2 feet deep. You end up with a concussion, and a lot to talk about.
How dare she not see the world exactly as I do!
How dare she not love everything I love!
Depending on how stubborn you are, you may have had to jump off of many diving boards till you figured things out. You grow, you adapt, you learn to appreciate the different perspectives different people have on the world.
How often does something like this happen in a person’s life? How often do thoughts you have that seem so natural turn out to be utter, embarrassing nonsense in the light of reality?
In my recent post on ‘Try and Get Some Sleep’ I talked about the magic that is 3 o’clock in the morning. How many ideas do you have at 3 in the morning that just seem foolish once the next day rolls around?
A character comes to mind from David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’. Her name was Dorothy and she was played by Isabella Rosellini. Throughout much of the film she is a classic femme fatale. Dorothy is beautiful, mysterious, dangerous, sensual, magical, etc. etc. A funny thing happens though, at one point in the film Dorothy ends up naked and beaten on the main character Jeffrey’s doorstep, in front of Jeffrey’s parents and girlfriend! In an instant, everything that was once sensual and mysterious about Dorothy suddenly becomes awkward and embarrassing in the light of day. It’s as if real life had stripped her, pardon the pun, of some sort of magical power and now we were viewing her as she really was.
How many ideas are like this? They are mysterious and powerful in the night of your mind and then they become instantaneously ridiculous in the light of day. Perhaps it is for this reason that many of us deem it wise to keep our inner most thoughts and dreams to ourselves.
However, reality isn’t just a harsh, unforgiving force. A funny thing happens sometimes. Sometimes an idea, a thought, or a creative work can spring out of your mind into reality. The sun eyes it up and gives it all it’s got. Then, instead of melting like the witch in The Wizard of Oz, the idea becomes purified. The sun gets rid of the dross maybe, but what’s underneath passes the test. It is deemed worthy and suddenly it exists as a real thing, clever thing that the sun is ; )
So maybe you’re sitting there tonight and you have this idea. Maybe it’s just a thought of who you’d like to be. Maybe it’s something new you’d like to try. Maybe it’s a song that you want to write, or a movie you’d like to make, or a business you’d like to start, and on and on. There is always the fear that the sun, being very strict, may mock this thing you want to bring into being. It may destroy it utterly. You may be embarrassed!!!(the crowd shrieks!) However, just maybe,
… it may be found worthy.
It may become something very, very real in your life.
Is it worth the risk?
That depends on how you feel about your life? Are you happy? Are you right where you need to be? Is there anything you truly wish to do, but are afraid to?
I say life is short, and I’ve been embarrassed enough to realize that the world doesn’t end when falling off of a limb. In fact, not too long from now, I have an ‘Escape Plan‘ that has a scheduled audition with the sun. Don’t worry about me, even if I fail, I’ll still have Isabella Rosellini
Well, you get my point!
When I think about Try and Get Some Sleep I think about the early morning hours. For as long as I can remember I’ve loved to stay up late. Since you’ve been nice enough to read this post I figure we can talk openly here.
I don’t stay up because I can’t sleep.
I don’t toss and turn in my bed.
Just between us, I stay up so late all of the time because I’ve discovered a secret. To put it simply, sometime in the morning, a little after 3 until just before 3:30am, …time ceases to exist.
Really, it’s true.
Time is like a stopwatch that is wound sometime after 3:30 in the morning. After it is wound it continues to gather speed and power until it reaches its pinnacle at 3:00pm. That is when people are at their fastest. That is when the world is at it’s loudest. That is when you walk outside and the sun is so bright it imposes itself on you, forcefully. The brightness, speed, and power of 3 in the afternoon can leave many good people bowing their heads in submission, dumbfounded, and squinting. Thoughts zip around your head like so many bees in a crowded hive, all determined to go somewhere, but not entirely sure of why, and why is it so important again? You can’t answer these types of questions at 3 o’clock in the afternoon because you have somewhere you need to be…and fast!!! People spout out a lot of nonsense around this time because the words come and go so quickly that they are forgotten before they’re even spoken out loud. 3 in the afternoon is the best time to quickly shout out all of your nonsensical, boring, meaningless, and surface value ideas…and……phewwwwwwwmmmmmm….see, they’re already gone! This is why TV is at it’s most vile at this time. Shows this bad need to be over fast, and as I said, there is no faster time than 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Then, sometime after 3:30pm time starts to wind down again. You may not notice this at first, but at around 4pm you may have found that you can catch a stray thought here, a stray thought there. The rest of your mind is still supercharged, but it is weakening slowly. By 5pm you may find that you’re eating dinner and you have actually been able to catch enough of your thoughts to ruminate on what the hell just happened to you. However, it is still not quite there and that is why when people you love ask you how your day was at 5pm, you say short, succinct things like, ‘fine’. You see, your thoughts at 5pm are like a fish you have caught, but it’s still flopping around the boat too much to actually get a hold of enough to express out loud. You may find that the sun is really screwing with you now, aiming straight for the eyes, but it’s only because it knows that 3pm is over so it’s giving you all it’s got before the end. Don’t worry, it’s all bravado.
Another mistake people make is thinking that time stops at midnight. Surely the clock is winding down, but midnight just sounds better in a poetical sense. People like a good beginning and end, and you know, with the twelve being there at the top of the clock it tends to suit most peoples love for symmetry I guess. Plus, lets face it, most people are either in bed, drunk, or high by the time 3am rolls around so twelve is as close as they get to infinity while still clear headed.
However, if you happen to be sitting at, let’s say a computer, or thinking, or working on some creative work at 3 in the morning you’ll know what I’m talking about. Time slows, slows, slooowwwssss, and then……you find yourself outside yourself. It’s uncanny. You make all kinds of rational and wise decisions on things you need to change in your life. The world seems to become somehow malleable so that you just reach out and shape it into ‘something’ that only makes sense to you between 3am and 3:30 in the morning. You live your entire life in your head, then you create another world to live another life in, and then you smile and reminisce about those lives that you’ve made and you grin again, slowly taking long, satisfied sips of coffee. Finally, you realize that you are needed back inside of time because that is the natural order of things so you sigh, rub your eyes, and look at the clock, which will always be waiting for you at 3:30am. You then nod, and allow the minute to pass…
The next morning you may arrive at work and someone will ask you how you’re doing. You’ll want to tell them about the worlds you made and the experiences you had and how you found a way to cheat time and death. However it will be impossible because scientifically it is impossible to truly express infinity within finite time, especially at say, 9 o’clock in the morning. So you give up and you say, ‘fine’ and leave it at that.
They may then tell you that you look tired and that you should ‘Try and Get Some Sleep‘…
It’s late again. And very hot. It has been like a tropical heat here. Like stepping off the plane in Cyprus or something. That sheer wall of heat! It’s late. I’m sitting here in my studio. Sweating. And so I begin to type… we could be here for some time! Ha ha!
I think I’ve been ‘producing’ music now for about 20 years. I mean ‘producing’ in the loosest sense. I, like many other musicians, started out with tape. First ‘tape to tape’ recordings on a double cassette player. There are some of you out there who will have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about. And I’m not about to explain myself. Let’s just say it was an extremely rudimentary form of getting more than one ‘layer’ of sound recorded in some form.
Then came the ‘4 -track’ recorder. I had a battered old Tascam. In fact I’m pretty sure I still have it somewhere. This was a machine that let you record 4 tracks (no shit Sherlock!) on a normal cassette tape. It did it if I remember rightly, by using both sides of the tape at the same time. This meant that if you played the cassette in a ‘normal’ player, 2 of the tracks would play backwards. This in itself, if manipulated correctly, could give magical results for certain songs. I trace my constant experimentalism back to those archaic days! And the technique, used by mistake, never did Led Zeppelin any harm!
In those “good ol’ days” the art of bedroom production was a tight-rope. You see you could never REALLY produce anything more than a demo of a song. It was always full of hiss, and the 4-track system meant that recording something like a full drum kit varied from “problematic” to “impossible”. Yet those ‘demo’ efforts held their own in some ways. You had your demo, and that demo then had to be ‘lived up to’. The next step for every musician at the time was the journey into “the studio”. And more often than not, after you’d spent all your hard earned pennies, you’d listen to the final product and say “Hmmm… Not as good as the demo is it?!?”. Ha ha!
Anyway… The Studio. That ever so magical place. The theatre of dreams! Or bloody nightmares! Ha ha! I remember recording one of my first studio sessions. We were recording a song that was supposed to be pretty heavy. Heavy and foreboding. It had been a live favourite. So we ventured into the studio to record this killer rock song. But… I decided on the day, (or was persuaded… I honestly can’t remember now!) that I had to sing this song with a real ‘gruff rock vocal’. Now… anyone who has heard me sing know’s that I’m not exactly a Death Metal singer! Ha ha! I’m more your Damon Albarn than your Max Cavalera.. but anyway, sing it gruff I did! With devastating results! I remember the band playing the finished recording to a fan at the time. His face dropped. He just looked so disappointed… “What have you done to it?” he asked. “You’ve just ruined your best song!!!”. Ha ha! We were gutted! And it was all my fault! (well… and the drums were shit, the guitar solo was shocking and everything else generally stank the place up!). But my point is… back then you had to be completely honed. Every member of the band HAD to know his shit inside out to save the day. For these were the times of recordings costing you “by the hour”. A concept lost today. For today is an era in which I can tinker to my heart’s content. Back then a recording studio could kick you in the teeth if you weren’t ready for it.
So, I learned from those initial mistakes. For a start I left the band! 😉 Found a better drummer. Learnt everything totally prior to recording. And I was a perfectionist. I spent hours on every single part. And remember, by this time I was playing all the instruments bar the drums. I would write everything down religiously. I would attend the studio completely prepared. Now, I’m not saying that I got things done in one take. I have never been a one take kinda guy! Understatement!!! But I was certainly prepared. And the final recordings, I think, still show that preparation. The album I’m talking about ended up being the only ‘album’ by my band/solo project Alexi in Winter. It was recorded at a time when I was very into acoustic music. And indie rock. And rock. I was diving deeper into orchestral accompaniment and epic, cinematic sounds. I was taking my first steps towards making music an ‘experience’. And I learned the production techniques every step of the way. The Alexi in Winter album was the last time anyone else produced my music. Since then it has been me all the way. I stand and I fall by what I do. I can blame no-one else. Success or failure is all down to me. The burden rests on my shoulders! Ha ha!
I’m probably wildly digressing here… but that was the caveat of my opening sentence pretty much. It’s late and it’s hot!
So I have a solid ten years of ‘professional-standard’ solo production under my belt now. I have produced a whole solo album. I have tried to remain on the cutting edge of music production. The idea of staying on the cutting edge is a minefield in itself. As I see it there are two ways to go. You can listen to every new cutting edge band and try to stay one step ahead… or you can listen to nothing and steer your own course. It’s probably not going to surprise you to learn that I steer my own course. During the Brit-pop era I was the guy who had every new single by every new band. I was the guy walking around wearing the “I listen to bands that don’t even exist yet” t-shirt. I WAS THAT GUY! So I can say the following knowing that I have been there and done it: I try to avoid current trends. I avoid bandwagons. I want to do my own thing. I want to try my own sounds, my own ideas. I don’t want to be influenced by the sound of the drums on the new ‘Siberian Apes’ record. Do you understand what I mean? It’s not that I think I’m too cool for school! It’s that I feel jaded by the passing bandwagons. Their cart wheels roll over my toes and break my spirit.
Anyway… ha ha! So, hmmm. Where was I? I built my own recording studio. This was an important step and has been the most creatively liberating thing I have probably ever done! I then got together with Bill last year and we decided to record an album. We worked first on a song called Where We Go Next. Now… I’m not here to talk about the content of the songs too much at the moment. I’m more interested in describing the sound I was trying to achieve. For you see, very early on I had to settle on a ‘sound’. I was producing music for the very first time that I had not provided the lead vocal for. I have pretty much sorted out what MY vocal sound is. I’ve had years to work on it. But all of a sudden I had to work out what to do with Bill’s singing. He has a style all of his own. Nothing like my vocal nuances. He has his own recording techniques and his particular way of singing. It could have been a problem. But I hit upon an idea. I would use my “basking in music’s past” and avoiding “music’s present” to produce a sound reminiscent of the ’60s, but still firmly rooted in today. For me, this concept is perfection. I hold aloft Pet Sounds, Beggars Banquet and Sgt Pepper as the pinnacle of great albums. My my, how cool would it be if I could bring that spirit into 2011? I remember writing to Bill and telling him that I’d decided I was going to give his vocals a kind of ‘Head‘-era Monkees treatment. Now, that could have frightened the poor sod off!!! But luckily he let me roll with it. So I went down the avenue of a dreamy, trebley, floaty vocal for the entire album. It is the constant. The music may veer wildly from pop rock to epic prog rock… but that vocal sound keys it all together. A strong glue!
Cool… I had the foundation of the ‘sound’ of the Eleventh Hour Initiative. This enabled me to write a collection of songs that I maintain are the most coherent and focussed of my career. I’m not going to talk about specific production techniques… coz they is a sekrit!!! (because they are a secret). But I thought it would be interesting to mention how the majority of the album was formed. I wrote most of the songs on the bass guitar. Now… to any non-musicians out there this may mean jack shit to you. But any musos will be nodding their heads that this is indeed a little out of the ordinary. I don’t have any particular explanation. It’s just the way I did it. And it’s another factor that I feel completely influences the musicality of the album. For this is a bass and drum album. Everything else is secondary. This album is all about the sound of the drums… and the interplay with the bass. This album is something a little different. You don’t even have to like it (although I have my fingers crossed that you will!), – but I believe you will get a lot out of simply listening to it. Bass, drums and Bill’s exciting vocals towering above the skyline.
Bill has spoken about the lyrical themes of Escapism. Well… in many ways the music echoes the themes. Songs such as the Calm and the Storm and Life Will Be the Death of Me embody escapism within their musical structure. Escapism has been an album where I have finally realised I don’t have to follow any rules. Rules can be good. Rules can be bad. But Escapism, at its best, unshackles itself from the straight-jacket of convention. Escapism is the continuation of the music I began with Alexi in Winter all those years ago. But I have raised the bar. A lot! I am waffling now. It is a hundred degrees in here!!! And late. Bedtime I think. Apologies for the rant. I’m not even finished. But for now… I bid you farewell! Emrys.
Okay… a pretty momentous occasion people! This site is the new place to be. The latest go-to address for the hipsters out there. The www that will top all wwws.
Seriously, this is the new Eleventh Hour Initiative website. Those of you who have already clicked this far may well be familiar with us but I would still like to write an introductory post for those of you who have strayed here by accident!
First things first. The music is and always will be the most important concern of the Eleventh Hour Initiative. It is therefore my proud honour to direct you straight to the content of our forthcoming debut album which you should see laid out in all its glory below. I suggest you give it a listen. These songs are shaping up to form an album that is really hitting the mark. I have a rough press of the album in the car at the moment and it is shocking me with its vitality and genuine fresh spirit. 🙂
The Eleventh Hour Initiative is a collaboration between two musicians, one on each side of the Atlantic. Based in England we have Emrys and it is Emrys about whom I shall speak first. Okay, my name’s Emrys. I am the producer of the band. I am also responsible for the visual output and therefore this website. I will be the primary voice of this website… but I shall make sure I involve Bill every step of the way and I hope to be able to publish a piece from him whenever he feels he has something to say. This is OUR website. So far we have been extremely tight when it comes to musical choices and I’m sure our combined opinion and expression will continue via this website. If anything this site will give us a stronger voice than ever before and will allow us to punch through the sea of mediocrity and smash our debut album into the mire of apathy with full force! 😉
Bill and I came together over the internet a year ago and pretty much formed the band there and then. We had so much in common that we just had to make our combined voice heard. The special factor is that despite all we have in common there are also those differences that give our music the edge. There are things that he does that I would never dream of doing and vice versa. We are not just two artists in collaboration. We are a band. We have a group spirit. We are not just two people working together. We have a collective ambition that drives us forward and inspires us to produce the very best music that we possibly can. I hope your initial listen to the forthcoming album has energised you enough to our cause to make you bookmark this site. You will have to return. We have only just begun!!!
Anyway… as I was saying… My name is Emrys and I have written the majority of the music for this album. Which leads me perfectly into my introduction of Bill. Bill is based in New Jersey and is responsible for most of the lyrics on the album. He also sings those lyrics and is therefore the main contender for the role of “lead singer”. This has been an organic process and, certainly for this debut album, it has been the case that we work best with me laying down the land of the song musically – and Bill then washing over the music with the ocean of his words. It has been, for me, the perfect process so far. The very best case scenario. I think we are accomplishing something very special – a concise, specific, rounded collection of songs. I acknowledge we live in an age where the digital download single reigns supreme. However I believe we have created the perfect album for this age. We have the spirit of ‘the album’ in our veins. We are producing music for people who appreciate Radiohead, Pink Floyd, The Flaming Lips etc etc ad infinitum. I’m not saying that you can’t just download a song from us that you like. I’m simply pointing out that we are all about the whole. Our debut album has an almost ‘concept’ scope. The title will be “Escapism” and every song will paint a layer of the bigger picture. Each tune will put another brick in a wall that eventually tells the story of our lives. I would like Bill to wax lyrical regarding the themes of escapism that run through the entire album. See… you gotta keep coming back to this site!!!
In the meantime… well… I just wanted to say a personal hello. Music can be so impersonal. There really is no need for it to be that way. The Eleventh Hour Initiative is here to stay. Tell your friends! Tell anyone that you think would be up for a little ‘pushing things forward’.
And remember… our debut album has not yet been released. By reading this site now you are getting a sneak preview. I hope you stay on board for the whole journey!