Comment Responses and I'll Have A New Wallpaper Up Monday!

My basic tracks for “…Boots” are coming along; I’m satisfied with my performances on X/13 songs.

Cory, JT, Jake –

I have to admit, C-Rafter, that I couldn’t identify 95% of the kids’ jams in Mexico. There was a 50 Cent song, but I didn’t know it (must be newer than the birthday one). I just recognized the big, almost childish beats and inane party-choruses as urban club music. I’m trying to ease off value judgment here; I like a pop song with simple hooks almost as much as the next guy. What surprised me was that club jams were *all* they played. And never the whole track; only the first minute or so.

5*C will be coming your way, but I can’t even predict a timeline. It will be worth it, though.

On writing spiritual music; respectfully, I disagree! :-) It’s the same as any other music; just write with honesty and integrity about whatever you’re faced with. Well, I guess I agree after all – it is hard – my point is that good spiritual music is not any harder or easier than other good music. Good music is good music, and spiritual people will find spiritual themes bubbling up naturally in the music they write. Setting out intentionally to write spiritual music is, I think, a mistake; the songwriter is throwing away their integrity, which is their
greatest strength as an artist, from the get-go.

On my star-system, I think “Figure 8” is a five (desert-island level awesome) and “XO” is a four right now.

JT, the top-secret song-just-for-you is still in my head. The reason it hasn’t happened yet is that in terms of sound and recording style, it goes with a whole album that I’ve planned but not started actual work on yet. Thanks for your patience on this two-year-old promise. Maybe I can do it during this year’s XMAS session; it would kind of fit there, and might work as a test-run for Eschatron (which is still out there in the far distance).

Jake, I totes got Mockingbird back when you first talked with me about it, and it’s a great record. I found it harder than expected to integrate the songs into worship; I’ve only used “Mockingbird” and “Love Is Not Against The Law.” The meaning of his songs requires that the listener understand the context he’s coming from and his use of irony, and your average person-in-the-pew is not looking for that on Sunday morning. We’re opening up those possibilities in my faith community, but it’s slow going. I hadn’t heard about the new record; I’ll check it out.

Collected Thoughts from the Past Two Weeks

Home from Mexico Wednesday, and I’m just going to outline some of the things I noticed while travelling.

  • I sang the new Five Star Crush jam to myself at least twice a day.  Joel’s knocked this one out of the park.  I can’t wait for you guys to hear it – if we’re lucky, in a couple weeks at recordBar with Roman Numerals.
  • You Minnesota high schoolers listen to so many club jams!  Seriously, we were five days in to the trip before I heard anything but urban dance-rap joints from your battery-operated iPod+speaker thing.  That surprised me.  You guys don’t listen to rock at all anymore, or even straight up hip-hop?  Do you like the new Maroon5 uptempo stuff?  I sure do.  I hope that’s a hit.
  • I think I have my recording process for …Boots figured out now.  The secret; felt guitar picks.  I may be hooked.
  • A Tijuana rock band, Libre 3:20, played a plugged-in set at our campfire after our last day of work.  Libre 3:20, you did a Herculean task; you breathed some life into 20- and 30-year old “comtemporary” Christian worship songs.  But the *one* original Latin tune you played was eight million times better!  Do your true thing, men, and know that there is a huge US market for good Latin music!  (Good job Victor, drum substitute!  You’re going to make a living on the drums, I can tell.)
  • Waking up slowly in the hotel room Wednesday, I wrote a new thing that matches with my “Hiplife” stuff from Africa a couple years ago (it’s all un-recorded) with a little of that Ventura spice.  That’s fun; it’ll really be something someday.
  • Christian high school groups and leaders (my teammates excluded!) – we can do better than singing “I Could Sing Of Your Love Forever” endlessly and thinking we’re edgy or even relevant.  I was dissappointed as I walked around the AMOR campsite and heard the same old stuff.  It’s become rote and empty.  Let’s have some imagination and artistry and truth reflected in our music!  Discover Mike Doughty or Derek Webb, or (if you have some extra time) check out my “Hawaiian Bells.”
  • Young women: thank you for bringing knee-length shorts back in fashion.  You look great and we’re all more comfortable.  Keep it up.
  • New CDs That I Will Try To Review In More Detail: Phoenix It’s Never Been Like That (3 stars), Secret Machines Ten Silver Drops, The Decembrists The Crane Wife, The Roots Game Theory (4 stars), Elliott Smith Figure 8 (4 stars, with the potential for five if I grow to love it that much).

Music Saves Lives

At 5*C’s show with Kill Hannah a few weeks ago, a band opened for us called Liam and Me.  They were on their way back east after recording their debut album in California.  They didn’t have copies, but they had a sampler called Music Saves Lives – Warped Tour ’07 and I have some thoughts about that comp.

  1. Liam and Me, “Don’t Say a Word”
  2. Head Automatica, “Lying Through Your Teeth”
  3. New Found Glory, “On My Mind”
  4. Run Doris Run, “From Now On (remix)”
  5. Sugarcult, “Riot”
  6. Anberlin, “Godspeed”
  7. Blinded Black, “Can You Hear Me Now”
  8. Hod Rod Circuit, “Stateside”
  9. K-os, “Sunday Morning”
  10. Jack’s Mannequin, “La La Lie”
  11. Stacy Clark, “Say What You Want”
  12. Mae, “Painless”
  13. Sink to See, “Calling”
  14. Daphne Loves Derby, “The Best Part About It Honey”
  15. Kaddisfly, “Games”
  16. Tokyo Rose, “Goodbye Almond Eyes”
  17. The Panic Division, “From The Top”
  18. This World Fair, “White Flag”
  19. Relient K, “More Than Useless”

So this is what the kids are listening to these days.  Bold tracks are songs I thought were worth a third listen.

At first, I was ready to pan the disc for its incessantly formulaic emo-pop-punk.  And that’s mostly true; the songs I don’t mention are that and nothing more.  If you dig it (Nick!), great!

But I was surprised by a few bands still finding ways to make alright emo-pop-punk-sounding music.  Like Sugarcult and Anberlin, two reliable bands operating in that territory.  Sugarcult’s anthem outruns its own predictability and reaches radio home-base, and Anberlin has just enough 80s and metal influence to pull off a gem like “Godspeed.”

I really loved Liam and Me live, but was dissappointed by “Don’t Say a Word.”  I can’t find any keys in the mix, and their energy, soul, and fun-spirit were much more prevalent at recordBar.

Who knows how K-os got on this comp, but “Sunday Morning” is a hooky cut of melody and groove that is mos def worth pulling off iTunes.  Love the drum sound.

Not bad, Stacy Clark!  A remix might do your song even better, though.

Mae’s “Painless” prog-pop works if Coheed & Cambria is too weird for you (it’s not, but I’m keeping Mae around anyway for the shuffle).  Tokyo Rose charmed me because they’re more enthusiastic and less polished than every other emo-pop-punk band.

But Music Saves Lives seems to beg the question, Where’s the rebellion?  Is this the soundtrack to a generation’s exploration and revolution?  Dookie was a snotty shot across the establishment’s bow when I was in 7th grade; after endless iterations, is it the same sound kids are turning each other on to between classes?  Warped Tour thinks so.  This comp’s best tracks are novel enough to be good pop, but aren’t changing the game or even trying to advance it.  I’d like to hear a disc, or see a tour, of bands that are young and brash enough to take a stab at something I haven’t heard.


Reading the re-formatted SPIN Magazine’s reviews had led me to the position that 4-star rating systems best.  SPIN has a 5-star system, and they seem to give every damn record three stars, which is really helpful let me tell you (no it’s not).  So I will hereby have a 4-star system:

  • * – This record isn’t good.
  • ** – Not recommended, but not completely terrible.  Truly committed fans might like it (if they’re forgiving).
  • *** – Recommended; worth it if you like or are interested in the band or new music generally.
  • **** – This record is super-good and you should like it.

I will reserve an off-the-charts five-colored-stars rating for records that would make my list of ten to take to a deserted island for the rest of my life.

** – Music Saves Lives – Warped Tour ’07, with the qualifier that if you get it for free (like I did) or see it used for a buck or two, you’ll get a few good tracks for your iTunes and that’s cool.

Well, I re-routed everything

Wednesday night.  So all the recording of …Boots I did over the weekend and Monday became glorified practice.

Reason: tracks 3 and 4 of my 4-track barely record.  It’s too late to return it.  However, track 3 used to work a couple months ago when 5*C was doing demos for Red.  So hopefully, it’s correctable.  Step one is probably to clean the heads, though they shouldn’t be dirty.  Step two is to call the guy who fixed the headphone knob on my Digi001 last year.

So now, I’m using the 4-track as a mixer, and the cheap solid-state electronics have their own charm.  I’m going to try fingerpicking everything on the electric guitar, and then do additional picked or acoustic takes for any songs that aren’t working at that point.  Being in Mexico the 13-20th will interrupt (“delay” may be a better term) things.  Cory may come down on the 23rd to do his three songs.  Hmm.  I didn’t think about his overdubs until just now.  We’ll talk.

This setup has me thinking about vintage mixing consoles.  Given my tastes, something in that department might be a really good piece of gear for my studio.

In other news, MFR has been party to an exciting conversation this week about the possibilities for releasing a project by an established Lincoln artist.  This musician was the main force behind my favorite record from that scene (well, tied with You Make Your Own Self Fall, but that’s for entirely different reasons).  I’m super-pumped and hope I’ll be able to share details soon.  -h

Cowboy Songs

Kansas Citians know I’ve been talking about cowboy songs for a long time now, but the rest of you may not.

“Cowboy songs” are what I’m calling Sally Ride’s next record, You Have To Wear the Boots.  Boots is a collection of more-or-less-folkish songs about a variety of characters in the town of Dodge, in the old West.  I wrote the first ones, “Set You Ablaze” and “Ballad of the Ends of Our Ropes” about four years ago.  Save for a couple rough sketches, the rest have been written in the past year, beginning last June when I was mainly writing It’s A Trap and intensifying after we finished Trap.

Several of the songs you may already know; besides “…Ablaze” from Lone Prairie Records’ murder ballads compilation, “David S. Addington and Your Democracy” (re-titled “Have We Forgot the Code of the West?”), “A Come-On,” Cory’s “Easy Kill,” and a cover of the Killers’ “Jenny Was A Friend of Mine” will be part of Boots.

Sally Ride records have “rules” – self-imposed restrictions on the recording process to give the record a certain sound.  The rule this time is that we have to record the basic guitar and vocal tracks live, with no editing allowed.  We’ll also be recording the basic tracks to 4-track tape, and putting everything into ProTools later.

As I’ve been practicing the songs, I think that Boots represents some of my strongest writing up to this point.  I’ve gotten deep into writing little stories, and though Dodge and its citizens are fictional there is a lot of me in them.  The opener, “Storm & Stake,” is adapted from a true story about my grandma literally holding her family’s tent down in a Wyoming thunderstorm.  The whole story of Gramp’s activism is close to me.  As I wrote the struggle between the Teacher and the Barman, I looked back and saw I’d put some things in their story that came from my own.

I’m going to start setting up the recording today, and maybe get a song or two down.  We’ll see.

Oh yeah – like all Sally Ride records, the title comes from a popular 80’s movie.  Do you know what it is?  (Do you know what movies “Don’t Let Them Take Us Alive” and “It’s A Trap” come from?  Those may be trickier, since the lines are so generic.)  -h

1. Storm & Stake

2. Easy Kill

3. Iron Horse

4. A Cracked Piece of Sky

5. August Wind

6. Into the Fire

7. Jenny Was A Friend of Mine

8. Have We Forgot the Code of the West?

9. Johnny Got His Gun

10. It Was You, Kid

11. A Come-On

12. Goddamn

13. Set You Ablaze

14. Harvest Moon

15. Ballad of the Ends of Our Ropes

16. Pushing Over the Continental Divide