Notes on Monster
Morning Light - This song was the hardest to complete. It almost didn't make the cut. It has 2 distinct sections, separated by a brief chaotic interlude. The first section features a banjo playing harmonics. This half came together very quickly. The middle ‘noise’ section has a banjo being played with a bow, a sound which is somewhere between a violin and a sitar. It’s also got some tinkering on the piano, which was held over from a previous version of the song. The second section went through a few transformations. Originally it changed to a much slower/softer piano driven vibe. When I was in the studio with Paul to record drums for this section, that's how it sounded. It wasn’t until much later that I decided to scrap that idea and remake this second section with the current banjo groove. I had to scrap everything from the second section, including the finished drum tracks. Thats how the 808 thing came into play. I then added a bunch of various percussive elements on top of that. To me it feels like a bit like Bollywood music, played on a banjo...at a rave. I wanted to really push the electronic vibe a bit further, so I grouped most of the top level elements together in a folder, and they are side chained to the kick drum. This song also has some questionable trumpet playing on it by me. I am not a trumpet player. I rented a trumpet, and returned it shortly after finishing this album. It only shows up in a few spots on the album.
In The Sun - When I write songs I often start without any intention or meaning in mind. I sing gibberish over the changes, until a form starts to emerge. Sort of a stream of consciousness writing. The line 'it's in the sun' is one of those lines. Sometimes they stick, and you have to write a song around the gibbersish. The main pulsing sound that the song starts with is a guitar running through the POG2/Flint reverb sent into a hard square wave tremolo, not a synth. The second half of this song was also very hard to complete, it went through a lot of changes. When Paul and I where in the studio recording drums, we captured about 8 different percussive ideas for the second half. Open endedness can be a bad thing when you are trying to finish a project. Option paralysis. The final track is a composite of a few different ideas. The second half also features an Omnichord, which is an 80s synth made to be a sort of electronic autoharp. It has chord buttons, and a little pad that you can swipe your finger along to create a strumming effect. The very end section of the track is actually an excerpt from a previous version of the song (which had a lot of glockenspiel in it). I chopped it out, dropped the pitch by an octave, filtered the sound, and added some layers like harmonica and trumpet overtop of that.
I Know You Know - Before I started working on this album, I had a couple of recording sessions with my brother in-law, drummer Paul Clark. The purpose of these sessions was just to generate some ideas. He would improvise for a couple minutes, and I would take those recordings home and find my favourite sections. I would then chop them up, move things around... speed them up, slow them down, whatever was needed. This track was built around a short 2 bar loop I created from those sessions. It isn't in the song at all though, but it certainly a part of the frame work. I recorded a demo over that loop, and added a B section with a slightly different drum groove. Once I had completed the arrangement, we recorded 'real' drums overtop of that, and removed the loop. The ‘guitar solo’ section of the song is actually played on a short scale bass guitar. The very end of the song (with the dark pad like chords) is again not a synth. It’s a combination of 4 different trumpets (heavily effected) and a guitar through the POG.
Guitar Song - On my last album I had a track called 'Piano Song'. It starts with a soft piano theme and explodes into aggressive feedback. This track is a continuation of that idea, but flipped. It starts with a loud droning feedback and drops into a finger picked guitar theme. It's a little ditty I've been playing live for years, so I'm glad it finally has a home.
Twitch & Shake - I wrote this song while recording my last album 'Albino Black Bear'. I remember the night, because it was one of those songs that came out all at once. The first draft probably took me 15 minutes. It was written on guitar, and a recording of the guitar version almost made the cut. However in the end, I preferred the piano version. It sort of reminds me of "Bennie and the Jets”.
Willis - Just before starting this album I finally got a 'real' piano. The piano is made by a Canadian company called Willis & Co. This is the very first song I wrote on it. The piano has a wonderful old timey quality to it. It's probably over 100 years old, and on it's last legs. Dark and slightly out of tune. I wrote this song from the perspective of the piano, as if it where a person. In that way it is almost a companion piece to the song “Solitude” from albino black bear. That song was written from the perspective of a guitar that my friend Joshua Clark had growing up. The guitar felt betrayed and abandoned, being replaced by a newer/younger guitar. It’s fun to write very serious sounding songs based around such silly concepts. If you listen carefully to the last section of the song, there is a few samples from my song ‘Lie Cheat Steal”. The end of the track has piano strings being played with a pick, reversed.
Better & Better - 'Every Day In Every Way I’m Getting Better And Better' is a phrase coined by French phycologist Emile Coue. I first heard it on the tv show Boardwalk Empire. It's almost like a mantra, an auto-suggestion. Something about it in the context of the show seemed wonderfully self-deceiving. As if the person saying it was in denial of their actual situation, and by simply saying a few words their life would improve. I'm fascinated by these sorts of naive ideas, having grown up in a religious setting. On the recording end of things, this song also went through a few different versions. The main body of the track is a complete reboot. It was originally a slow building piano piece, only taking off at the very end. I was bored with that, and felt the song needed something more aggressive. I started with piano, and added percussion (floor tom, finger cymbals, sticks) all record in my bedroom studio. The first verse of the song is actually not my voice. It’s a friend of mine Max Weiner, who also did the album art. Joshua Clark is singing the harmonies in that verse as well. It started off with them doubling me, but I liked the combination their voices so much that I took mine out of that section entirely. The second half of the song is from the original recording. Paul did some awesome drumming, and I just had to keep it. The high melody line in that section is a guitar using similar effects as the intro.
Monster - Rhythmically this track has fun with 3 against 4. It starts off in 3, but then the 'stomping' theme from the introduction of the album comes in and changes the feel. The conflict of 3 against 4 seemed to fit perfectly with the theme. The narrator in this song is confronting his darker half. Acknowledging that he has a darker half and is stuck with it. I was originally going to call the album Shapeshifter… but somehow that started to real a little 90s in a bad way. This song sort of sums up a thread that is running through most of the tracks, so I decided to name the album after it.
What Now - One thing I tried to do with this album is to make it sound like a 'real band'. Not just one guy in his bedroom. There is a section near the end of this track that is an all out jam. It builds and builds into a chaotic tapestry before getting abruptly cut off. Probably inspired by the Beatles "I Want You (She's So Heavy)". The cutoff is where the 'band' part of the album ends. It suddenly shifts to a solitary sound. Just me and my banjo, singing a wordless melody...then deteriorates into a darker form before emerging into the synthetic light at the end of the tunnel.
Runaway - A lullaby at the end if a storm. This was originally a finger picked guitar song, and there is a version recorded that way… however it was feeling a bit to ‘folky’ in a way that was boring to me. I decided to try laying in some synths, but quickly found that just muting the guitar altogether and using only the synths was a much more satisfying sound for me. I’d love to some day create an album of entirely synthetic sounds. There is something about the way the human voice contrasts against electronic elements. Reverb is very beautiful, it's easy to over use it. On this track the vocal is very wet sounding... however the reverb is so heavily compressed that it sounds like it's trying to escape and bloom, but it can't because it is being oppressed by some very heavy limiting distorting. The lyrics in this song are a bit strange. The narrator starts off with what sounds like a love song, but the chorus reveals that he is more of a crazed stalker than a hopeless romantic. I was inspired by the idea of a lover (or deity) who will never give up on you, who will follow you to the ends of the earth. It sound romantic, but if you actually think about it, it is terribly creepy.
For the Geeks
Recording - My main vocal chain was a Shure SM7b through a Great River ME-1NV through an original (the grey one) Apogee Duet. For everything else (except the drums) I used only 3 microphones. SM7b (most things) SM57 (when I needed something in stereo, in combination with the SM7b) and a Audio Technica 4033a (when I needed something brighter). I also used a cheap portable recorder for a few things, the Zoom H1. I recorded everything into Reaper, at 24/48.
Mixing - I mix as I go, it’s very much a part of the song creation. This album was mixed on headphones (ATH-M50). I use very few plugins, limiting my options helps me focus on the music. Almost all of this album was mixed using the following: PSP NobleQ (EQ), PSP Oldtimer (Comp), Soundtoys FX Bundle (Everything they make is magic) Valhalla Vintage Verb (a great reverb) and Uh-e Satin (tape emulation).
Mastered by TW Walsh, who did a great job at retaining clarity and not over compressing or squashing the masters.
That’s all for now, thanks for reading. I find that writing about music helps me to better understand what I am trying to make… so if you have any questions about anything I didn’t mention here, please email me. Thanks! - Andrew