This month I decided to participate in the RPM Challenge. This entails writing and recording an album of ten songs or 35 minutes of music in the month of February. So, I did what I do, write songs. This album puts me up to 814 songs to date. I’m proud of how it all turned out! I kept a blog going on the RPM Site, which I will post below. It give a bit of an insight into the process of making this album. I will also post below a track by track analysis, detailing what each song means to me. So, if you’re looking to get a peek into this fractured soul, now’s your chance! Because, this album is probably the most personal I’ve ever made.
A fun fact about this album, it’s the first batch of songs that I’ve written using my Christmas present from one William Patrick Corgan, his Yamaha signature acoustic guitar! He personally handed it to me after he played a song on it at ZuZu’s. I’ve been thrilled with it. This is the first “nice” acoustic guitar I’ve ever owned. I’ve never had an acoustic that was more than $200 or so. So, it won’t come as much of a surprise that every track on the album was written using my new toy/tool/paintbrush. It’s a pretty sweet guitar!
Also, I am in the process of making this album available on the various streaming outlets as well as Google Play and iTunes. So, be on the lookout for it wherever you shop for music, or you can just get it from my Bandcamp Page for $1. So, without further ado, I present “Always Flying Blind” by Somnistatic.
This opening track to the album is sort of where I feel I am now in my life. I’m pushing 40 and dissatisfied with how little my artistic output seems to matter to everyone other than myself. But, I’m also painfully aware of this shortcoming. I’m just flying blind, taking each day as they come. I don’t know if I’m scared of something, or if I’m being sarcastic. “Am I frightened?” I don’t know. I don’t think so. I certainly don’t appear to be. I may be flying blind with my life, but guess what… so is everyone else, whether they know it or not…
When Does The Fun Start?:
This was the 3rd song I wrote for this project. There are a lot of influences seeping into this track. It’s basically about feeling like all my “progress” in life is really just a treadmill. Lots of steps, but no moving forward. I often feel like giving up everything that makes me, me. I don’t give up, for whatever reason. It’s really a mystery to me. People that seem to be unfamiliar with the drive to create often say something like: “Oh, it must be so much fun to play guitar” or “He just got into music for the chicks”… or something like that. But, the reality for me is, I have to do it. I don’t feel like I’m alive unless I’m working on music. It’s perceived to be fun, and it is, sometimes, but, it’s almost like an OCD level drive to pick up the guitar for me. Sometimes I loathe that about myself. I sometimes catch myself wishing that I could be “normal” and just live a human life. But, that seems alien to me. I just can’t wrap my brain around it. So, I try to find meaning in my stars, I examine what I’m afraid of and I’m wondering when the fun will start…
This song is kind of about my self-sabotage that I’ve inflicted on my life, time after time. I’m reminded by the Buddhist parable of the lotus. It’s a flower that has roots in the sludge and swamp. I’m trying to ascend above my own personal muck. But, for some reason I keep strangling myself with my own roots. I get frustrated when I find myself spinning out of control and people close to me try to reel me in. It’s a tug-of-war over their care for me and my drive to disintegrate. I’m torn between wanting to be okay and being enthralled by the pain of instability. There may be rhymes here, but there is no reason. I don’t know why I can’t function normally.
I have a memory of my father where he took me fishing at Lake Michigan. My parents got divorced when I was fairly young. He wasn’t a part of my life for a long time. But I still had an intense love for him.
I remember the dead fish we used as bait. Then the fish we caught, we took home and my dad cleaned them. I remember the tiny beating heart of the fish thumping on the table in the basement. There is such a split in the memory. The violence of cutting the living heart out of something and the peace of spending the morning fishing with my father. I don’t quite know how to reconcile the memory of that day into something good, or something bad.
Years later, in my 20’s, I found myself homeless and sleeping in forest preserves and somehow, I survived it, despite myself. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had a father that could help me wrap my head around life. Someone to guide me. Instead, I had to figure it out on my own. I don’t think I’ve been doing such a great job at that.
This track is closely tied to the time I spent homeless, while working as a bouncer at a bar. I silently watched so many interactions between people whom I was invisible to. People dancing, laughing, drinking, fighting, living. I was on the outside. Never able to be a part of any of it. All I could ask was for I.D. All I could do was whatever anyone needed me to do. They feel like I’m a fixture, a friend, but I was a wild animal coming to the back door for scraps and never bonding with anyone. I felt like I needed to wear the armor of disinterest.
This song is built on a memory of a practice space I used to go to when I was in a band. It was west of the city and I could get up on the roof and see the Chicago skyline all lit up at night. I felt alive. I felt hopeful. I felt like the world was mine for the taking. The band was really tight. The songs were great. I let my ego get in the way though. I wouldn’t play bass. I wanted an even split of my songs vs. the other guitarist/singer/songwriter even though his songs were stronger than mine. I wonder how life would have turned out if I had the maturity to let that band develop. “They’ll never get to me” is more of a delusional mantra than a positive thought. I took pleasure in any little victory that I could grasp even if I was the one ultimately hurt. I destroyed my Telecaster at a house party gig. I was kicked out of the band the next day. I felt like I was in the right. I wasn’t. I certainly would have lived that night differently, had I the choice. A few days later, I was robbed and almost all of my guitars and musical equipment were stolen. I was left with an acoustic and a Marshall that was probably just too big to steal unnoticed. They’ll never get to me. No.
Close The Door:
This song is basically about childhood abuse I experienced and the aftermath of it as an adult. Those shadows don’t hurt anymore. But, it still undeniably shaped my life. I never wanted any of that to define me. I’ve done a good job of that, but it really sent me down a different path. I’m wondering if these issues are the actual root of my problems. But, if they are, how do I deal with that? I cut myself a lot in the past. I tried to hang myself. I didn’t want to be on this planet anymore. I still feel that way, in a way. Some things keep me here. Some things take me there. For now, I’m here, rather than there…
Silver lines, the railroad. The railroad runs through my home town of Waukegan. I always dreamed of just hopping on a freight train and seeing where I ended up. I never had the guts to do that. I’ve never had the guts to leave. I hate myself for that. But, I still have to find some kind of love to keep going. The wanderlust has been a strong drive in me, but I’ve only imagined it. I shiver and want to go home. I forgive everything when faced with a friendly smile. Hotels not out-of-town were my refuge. I felt a lot of resentment for the circumstances of my upbringing. I always wanted to get away. I never actually went away. I was afraid of being alone… even though I was alone.
Round And Round:
For a good chunk of my homelessness, I lived in my car. I remember watching the ice crystals spread across my windshield as I sat and pondered life. I remember sleeping in that Buick and praying for several inches of snow, so I’d disappear into the scenery and the police wouldn’t notice me. Plans upon plans rattled through my brain, day after day. I could have just hit the road. I could have left this place called Chicagoland. I just sat in that car and played guitar. It was the only solace I had. The only way I could distract myself from wanting to die. All effort, no payoff. I wonder what the point was. But, here I am. Again, and again. Round and round.
Every day I wonder: “where do I go from here?”. That about sums up my life. I don’t know. I just put one foot in front of the other. I make music. That’s what I do. If I’m happy, I wanna write a song. If I’m sad, I wanna write a song. If I’m angry, I wanna write a song. I want to play my guitar. I want to sing. It’s the only thing that keeps me here. Only because I fear that on the other side is nothing. On the other side there is no music. I fear more that I’ll be aware, but unable to do what I do. If I knew for sure that there was no other side, I don’t think I would stick around. I’ve created a lot. I could keep going… it all adds up from here if you want it. I’m creating. Always.
RPM Blog Entries:
Day One… off to the races.
I’m starting the challenge with a sort of acoustic guitar driven song. A lot of the songs I write start with me opening my DAW and playing around with virtual instruments until I find a sound I like. For this one, I approached it like I did when I was young. Just pick up the guitar and a notebook and write a song.
I’m sure that it won’t be this way for every song on this album, but it’s nice to know I’m still capable of writing that way. So, if the apocalypse comes, I’ll still be able to make music… (and about the same number of people would listen to it. :p )
Moving onward and upwards…
Day Two, synths and acoustics battle for supremacy
I approached yesterday in my usual way. I built a song off of a synth sound that I liked. When I had all the instrumentation finished, I decided that I’d like to add some acoustic guitar on top of it all. Time will tell if it makes the final cut, but I like the way it turned out so far.
Adore from The Smashing Pumpkins is one of my favorite albums. The way my work seems to be shaping up for this project reminds me a bit of that album. I can see a form taking place and that can only help me. Like a sculptor chiseling away at a slab of marble…
I’ll have to see what appears before me on day three.
Day three, still no sign of bigfoot…
Yesterday, I started work on a track. It was all synths, I think I may scrap it. I think my explorations are giving rise to a sense of disorganization. I’m trying to narrow my focus a bit and try to think of this album as a whole, rather than just a collection of songs. So, today will be spent listening to other music and pondering the options. Perhaps I’ll come out of the weekend fresh and ready to go forward…
Super Sunday Funday, day 4…
I got very little accomplished yesterday. I’m in the process of going through the thousands of plugins I’ve accumulated to see what even works, or if I’ll ever use it. So, that took a lot of time. Scanning, rescanning, open the DAW, close the DAW. Restart the computer… and I’ve only made it about half-way through the VSTis… the effects I haven’t even touched yet. I think I’m a digital hoarder.
Anyway. I think I’m going to go back to just a notebook, a pen and my guitar. Write 8 or 9 more songs and then unleash the digital shenanigans.
Day 5, back to basics
I’ve decided to just pick up my guitar and play. Write a song as I go and do that another nine times. Once I have the “bones” of the songs done, then I can pick a sonic direction. So, on I go. Twenty-three days to go.
Day 6, On a roll…
I wrote three songs yesterday, bringing my total to 4. I’m liking the direction the songs are taking. I just sat with my guitar and came up with the chord progressions by playing around. Wrote down some lyrics and then fired up the DAW to get the skeleton recorded. Later, I’ll come back and put some flesh on dem bones.
My plan today is to write at least three more songs and get the bones done. I’ll repeat this again tomorrow, if all goes to plan. That will give me ten songs… then comes the fun part!
Day 7: The world spins on…
I accomplished my goal yesterday of writing three more songs, bringing my total to seven. My plan is to write three more songs today and then put it all together. I should have all the principle recording done by the end of the week. I’ll use the remaining time to mix and master. So far so good!
Day 8: Days a week?
Alrighty. I got all ten songs written and arranged. Today I start the actual recording process. The songs feel a bit like an early 70’s stoner rock band crossed with singer/songwriter stuff from the same era. I like how it sounds, but I may mess around a lot with the aesthetic before all is said and done.
Well, we’ll see how it all goes. I should be done with all the recording by the end of the weekend. And then I should have something to share with the class.
Day 9: Moving right along
I managed to finish recording the first song, minus vocals and get most of the next one fleshed out. For the next few days, that’s the plan. Onward and upward…
Day 10: Mellotrondramatic
I’ve got the recordings done on three songs so far. I’m hoping to knock out the rest by the end of the weekend so I can concentrate on doing vocals over next week.
This album is shaping up into some sort of acoustic/electro/psych kind of trip. The synths really add another dimension to what would otherwise be straight forward singer/songwriter songs. It’s got flavors of late 90’s Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails and 70’s stuff like America and CSNY. Interesting stuff (to me) so far…
Day 11: Slow and steady
I know it’s not a race, but I feel like I’m falling behind schedule. I wanted to have the main recording done on all 10 songs by the end of today, but I’m currently at 4 songs ready for vocals. So, I’ve got some work to do. I’ve got 17 days left to finish. No sweat. No muss, no fuss. Easy-peasy. Or something. I’ll see what I can knock out today…
Day 12: On and on I go…
I’ve got the principle recording done on six songs now. Hopefully I’ll have another one or two done today. That would leave me with two to go. Then on to the vocals. I’m not as far as I thought I’d be, but I think taking longer than my usual isn’t really a bad thing. I’m having fun and that’s mostly what matters in this project.
So, we’ll see what the day brings…
Lucky Day 13: The world takes shape…
Even though I’ve been working a bit slower than I thought I would, the overall shape of the album is something I think I’ll be proud of in the end. I’m liking the juxtaposition of my acoustic elements against the synths and drum machines.
A lot of these songs have a personal element that was missing from some of my previous work. Many of the songs I’ve written have been more of experiments in style and sound, rather than some sort of expression or statement. That’s not to say my other songs mean nothing to me, far from it. It’s just that I rarely set out to express my emotions through music. My feelings and emotions end up coming through anyway, but it has always been more of a stream of consciousness sort of way of writing lyrics. I suppose, this isn’t really that different. These songs just feel more intimate to me in a way. I wrote all of these songs on my acoustic guitar in completion, rather than one part at a time and doing the lyrics at the end. But, I guess, it’s all really the same, I just wrote these songs out of my usual order. It’s weird to break it down and analyze the process, I’m always surprised by what I find.
Day 14: Don’t keep me from spinning out
I finally have all the music done on all ten songs. I’m really happy with the sound of the album. Next on the todo list is the vocals for everything. I’ve been saving that for last, because I think it will be better singing all ten songs on the same day. My voice will be warmed up well and I’ve sat with these songs for two weeks now. I feel more confident about being able to nail a good performance.
So, on I go…
Day 15: 3 down, 7 to go…
I finished the vocals on three songs yesterday. I’m going to try to knock out the rest today. Then, on to mixing. I find mixing to be the most frustrating part of the process. I know where I’m lacking, but I’m just not sure if anything I do will help me get better. Well, I’ll just do what I can, the best I can. It’ll all work out in the end…
Day 16: All’s Well That Ends Well
Well, I’ve finished all ten songs. I really like how it all turned out. Now I just have to make an album cover and determine the track order. This was a fun experience to take part in, but now that I finished it, I’m ready to get back to preparing for live performances that are coming up soon. So, I put away the DAW and pick up the guitar once again. The work of a troubadour is never done…
Thanks for listening and reading! If you liked this album, please share it with your friends on twitter or facebook… or both!