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Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fly Me Courageous

Although hardly anyone I know has heard of it, this song brings back some good memories. Those memories actually came up in a couple of completely unrelated conversations recently, which is what prompted me to get hold of the Drivin N Cryin album Fly Me Courageous was released on back in the early 90's (the album was called Fly Me Courageous as well). A couple of days after buying the CD I was playing along to it & decided to record a cover version, which was completed within a day (much like the other cover versions I've uploaded to my profile). This is also the first song to be solely recorded using my Vox AC4 that I mentioned in the 'New kit & updated recordings' blog.
The song dates back to 1991 when I was 17. Me & a couple of friends (Mark Dean on drums, Chris Donaldson on bass) formed a band called Inferno and Fly Me Courageous was one of our main songs. The band fluctuated between being a three & four piece (the fourth member varied) and had a few short bursts of activity interrupted by each of us focussing on other bands, but any time the three of us were playing together that was our band name and we played this song as our closing number. That was the plan anyway, we only ever played two gigs.
The first of those two gigs was the most memorable (for me at least). We'd entered a battle of the bands contest at a local school. From what I remember, we went on about fourth out of five bands. We were on late enough for most of the audience to have got bored and gone outside at least. As it was 1991, the grunge scene had just exploded and all teenage boys wanted to be Kurt Cobain. All except us. All of the bands playing that night did Smells Like Teen Spirit plus at least one other Nirvana song. We were the only band that was different, which is probably what made it go so well.
Like I said, by the time we played most of the audience had got bored and gone outside. We walked on stage to virtually no reaction as there was hardly anyone left to react. For our opening song we played Summer of 69. It was a good choice as by the time we were halfway through the first verse the place was starting to fill up. The girls came in & started to dance, obviously that meant all the boys who had been outside followed. I can't remember what the second song we played was but it was a ballad - the only ballad that got played all night as none of the other bands did one. That gave all the boys in the audience a chance to grab one of the girls & try their luck. Then as our third & final song we played Fly Me Courageous. By this time everyone's spirits had been lifted & it was heavy enough to keep the boys headbanging but not so heavy that the girls lost interest.
I think there was one more band on after us, but as they played essentially the same set as all the bands that went before us, they were mostly ignored. We ended up winning the contest & had to play an encore. At the time we'd only practiced those three songs with the 4th member of the band from that time (I can't remember anything about him, I think his name was John - him & me shared lead vocals & guitar) so we had a quick panic backstage before deciding to play Johnny B Goode - Mark, Chris & myself used to play that as a practice song in a previous incarnation of the band & it was easy enough for John to join in with.
Part of the prize for winning was a slot at a gig being put on as part of an annual town fair. We learned an extra couple of songs for that gig, but I can't remember what they were now. I also don't really remember exactly what happened on the day, but from what I recall I arrived an hour or so before we were due to go onstage to give me time for a couple of drinks before we played. Unfortunately everything was quite a way behind schedule & we ended up playing about 2 or 3 hours later than expected. I'd had more than a couple of drinks by this point, and although I remember playing through part of the gig sitting on the edge of the stage (because I'd drunk too much) I don't remember anything else about it. At the time I thought it went quite well, but my memory of it is so hazy that when I look back on it I have to assume I was too drunk to have played as well as I remembered. I don't think my drinking was actually a problem at that stage, but over the next few years it definitely became a problem before I eventually quit. I've now been completely tee-total since April 2000.
If I've remembered everything in the right order, that was the last time Inferno played together. I think Mark & Chris went off and joined other bands, but I lost touch with them - although Chris is on my Facebook friends list & when I posted a link to this recording on there he said he remembered the battle of the bands gig fondly as well. It’s a shame really - of all the bands I've been in over the years, that was the only band that played exactly the type of music I've always wanted to play. My other bands may have had more success or longevity, but Inferno will (probably) always be the one I remember as my favourite.
11:39 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Tuesday, June 12, 2012

New kit & updated recordings

During the past couple of months I've had a major change in my kit. I've sold 6 guitars and bought 2 new ones, I've also sold my old Marshall amp. The guitars I sold are the Palmer Twin-neck, the Wesley Archtop semi, the Ibanez Gio, the Aston Bison SG, the Stagg Mockingbird and a Westfield Strat that I didn't have long enough to mention on here before. Something I'm quite proud of is the fact that over the years I've bought & sold about 50ish guitars and made a profit on every single one of them. I was concerned that streak may come to an end, mostly because I thought the Stagg Mockingbird may not sell for much, but in the end they all sold for a profit (the Stagg only sold for £2 more than I'd paid for it, but it's still profit).
The new guitars are a Gretsch Electromatic Pro Jet (without a bigsby) and a Hutchins Venue. I'm particularly proud of the Gretsch, as they recently changed the design of their non-bigsby guitars. Instead of the awesome looking G-style tailpiece fitted to the one I've bought, now they just have a bog-standard bridge that looks like it could be on any Les Paul copy. I can't see why they'd remove something that was such a unique feature of their guitars, but it made me want to buy one of the older ones before they become a collectors item - they were already hard enough to find as most people wanted the version with the bigsby tremelo, something I'm just not interested in.
When I originally sold the Marshall, I bought a Vox VT40+ to replace it. That followed quite a bit of research into my options prompted by a few conversations (both in the UG forums and in real life) where 4 different people said a Vox amp would sound good for my style of playing. I couldn't afford the AC30 that people had mentioned, but the VT series seemed like the best compromise as it also gave me a lot of options for different sounds that I could use in my recordings. Then a while after buying that amp, I realised that about 90% of the time I was playing with the Vox AC models anyway, proving everyone right! I still couldn't justify the cost of an AC30 and wouldn't actually get any benefit from one as I only play at home these days anyway, but I found a B stock AC4TVH & V112TV going for a good price on the Thomann website so I went for it.
Best decision ever, it's an awesome amp and is just the right volume for playing at home but still cranking it up enough to get the best out of the tubes. It's cleans are also significantly better than the other one as they are actually clean, whereas the VT40+ just has some models that are clean and I don't really like any of them. You can't get just the sound of the guitar with no digital interference. That's something that is always very important to me - I like to keep things as genuine as possible, so even though I still use the modelling options on the VT amp when I need something different, I much prefer to stick with just the sound of a guitar and amp with no other influence. I use my effects pedal in the same way - it's there when I need it, but I don't rely on it all the time. For now I'm planning to keep both amps, but in time I may well decide to get rid of the VT40+ if I find I'm just never using it.
It was when I bought those two amps that I started re-recording everything. The first to be completed was an updated version of She Sells Sanctuary. That was done solely using the VT40+ and was uploaded before I'd even considered purchasing the AC4. I doubt I'll redo it again, the updated version loaded to my profile is as good as I expect I'll ever get it. I'm especially happy with the changes I made to the intro.
Since then I've also recorded new versions of Witch Hunt and both the Your Fantasy songs. The Your Fantasy songs are basically the same as the original versions but done using the new amps - both songs use both new amps. I also noticed that when I did an updated version of (I Don't Believe) Your Fantasy a while back I actually uploaded the wrong version of the MP3. The version I uploaded was terribly mixed, but it's too late now, I can't exactly go back in time and change it.
Although I was never necessarily dissatisfied with the original version of Witch Hunt, I always felt there was something missing from it. Then while recording an updated version I realised what it was - when I played it without any backing tracks, I played it significantly faster. As soon as I noticed that, I decided a whole new version of it was needed. The new version is probably at least 20bpm faster, I also play the rhythm parts slightly differently and I've improved the solo (IMO).
I've also recorded a cover of The Man Who Sold The World. There are a few cover songs I've been thinking of recording since I spent Christmas day recording the first version of She Sells Sanctuary, this one just happened to be the first I got around to. I didn't actually program the drums for this one, I found a backing track on the internet and used that. I spent very little time recording & mixing it, most of the guitars were done using a single take so there is still a couple of mistakes in there, but that kind of just makes it more like the way Nirvana played it on their Unplugged album. I've listed it as an initial demo version but I don't know when (or if) I'll ever get around to re-doing it, considering the whole thing only took a couple of hours what I've already done is passably OK.
I still have 4 unfinished original songs that are just waiting for some lyrics, but I've been suffering from some serious writers-block lately and haven't come up with any ideas - I've hardly even come up with any new riffs to base new songs around. I guess that's part of the reason for starting to record a few more cover songs - it gives me something to do to stay practiced at recording & mixing, and it's also a good way to kill time whilst also practicing playing and recording/mixing. One of the unfinished songs is probably going to be an instrumental though, so I expect that will be the next original song to be finished.
11:39 am - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, December 30, 2011

She Sells Sanctuary

This year, I succeeded in avoiding anything to do with Christmas.  Recording this song was one of the things which kept me busy so I didn't risk switching the TV on and seeing anything festive.

I started working on it at around 11am Christmas morning.  The plan was to get the drums programmed before lunch, then record all the guitars & vocals before creating a final mix to be posted before bedtime.

Unfortunately the drums took about an hour longer than I'd hoped (mainly because I kept making a mistake and having to go back & correct it) so I didn't get all of it finished within the day.  All the guitars were completed, and I'd recorded a first take of the vocals, but they weren't nearly good enough to be the final version.  Despite that, I created an initial mix of it anyway as I was going to a friend's house on Boxing Day and wanted to take a copy with me.  They were quite impressed that I got as close as I did within a single day.

I eventually finished it on the 30th, after I'd rearranged my house.  I used to have a gym set up in the spare downstairs room and all my guitars were in the 2nd bedroom, but as the downstairs room was bigger I decided to swap them around.  That took most of the 28th & 29th, then once everything was in place I spent about 30 minutes re-recording the vocals.  Obviously they aren't as good as the original, but they're as good as I'll be getting them.

5:12 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Wednesday, December 21, 2011

(I Don't Believe) Your Fantasy - the remix

For the full story of how this song originally came into life, you'll need to read the blog dated 21st August 2011, this is just a few notes about the remix.
I always keep a CD in my car of all my completed songs that also includes any instrumental demos of songs I'm currently working on.  It serves 2 main purposes - if I have a passenger in the car who shows interest in hearing my work I can play it to them, also if I get some inspiration for lyrics I can play through some of the unfinished songs to see how the new idea fits.
The more I listened to the CD, the more I noticed the mixing for this song was generally not as good as the songs I'd recorded since, mainly because this one was originally done on my old 8 track, whereas the newer ones are done on my current 24 track which allows for much more control.  It's also a more up to date piece of kit, so the technology it uses is more advanced.
I finally decided to remix it on Saturday morning when I was a bit bored, but it was still a bit too early to start playing (I like to be considerate to my neighbours).  I always keep the basic recordings of my songs so I can revisit them, so I loaded them into my multitracker and started playing with the mix.
Almost immediately I had the sound improved a bit, but there was still a thought in the back of my head relating to something I read in the recording forums about mastering an album rather than mastering a song.  Basically, someone had said something about this being a slightly different skill to mixing a single song as you need to get all songs to have a similar feel in order to make the album as a whole flow seamlessly from start to finish.  I was never going to succeed in mixing the original recording so the finished product had the same feel as my more recent work, so I decided to re-record everything.
This is obviously not the most complicated of songs, so re-recording all the bass & rhythm parts took hardly any time, then I spent most of the afternoon playing with the main solo.  I rarely learn lead guitar parts note for note, I prefer to just have a couple of signature licks which I then improvise around, although I usually have a structure in mind for that improvisation to keep the end product sounding similar each time.
It made for a fun, relaxing day and by dinner time I'd completely re-recorded and remixed the whole song. 
As a final note, anyone who's read some of the older blogs on this site will notice that the name of this song has changed from "Your Fantasy" to "(I Don't Believe) Your Fantasy".  That's because of the song which was originally called "Your Fantasy (Part 2)", that has been renamed "(Do You Believe) Your Fantasy".  Although the 'Part 2' title was good when the song was a work in progress, once it was finished I decided that there was no reason for that one being second in the series and they could be listened to in either order so I renamed them.  I've updated all the titles on the site, but I haven't bothered going through all the blogs and changing all the references to the song titles within the blog content.
9:25 am - 0 comments - 2 Kudos
Wednesday, November 23, 2011

(Do You Believe) Your Fantasy

This song is nothing like I expected it to be. When I started writing it, I set myself a challenge. I failed completely.
The challenge was to create a nice baseline, then repeat that whilst gradually building up different layers of different guitar parts, with the end result being something with a similar feel to One by U2. If you've already listened to the song, you know how much I failed in achieving that objective.
The result is good though. I like the overall feel of the song, I like the way it flows and I like the baseline as well. Even though it repeats throughout the song, part of the reason for setting the challenge of writing a song around a good baseline was because the first 'Your Fantasy' and 'Witch Hunt' both use fairly basic baselines just playing straight 8's on the root note without huge amounts of variation.
As well as being the first time I've purposely used my bass guitar for writing a new song, it's also the first time I've deliberately used a modal pattern. This is probably the only element of this song which didn't happen by accident. I haven't learnt enough theory to know if I've used the mode correctly (as far as I'm concerned, it uses Aeolian mode in E), but it works and that's all that counts.
Even though I've been playing guitar for over 20 years (with a few breaks along the way) theory isn't something I've paid very much attention to in the past. I've always instinctively known what to do, I just haven't always known why it was right. The first time I paid any attention to learning theory was a few years ago when I had a couple of lessons off the Monkeylord himself, Rob Chapman. He taught me how to make better use of the pentatonic scale I'd always known and had started introducing me to modes when I stopped having lessons. Can't really remember why I stopped, I think we just started struggling to find slots where we were both free to get together. Then I started the Monnae period of My Musical History and just generally moved on in life (I got divorced around the same time) so restarting the lessons was very low on my priorities at the time.

In the past few months I've bought a few theory books which I'm slowly reading through. Although I haven't yet really had the chance to put very much of it into practice, most of what I'm reading is making sense and I've had a few 'Eureka' moments where something I've read has directly explained why something I've been doing for a long time actually works. Hopefully in time I'll be able to actually incorporate the different ideas into my music on purpose, instead of just finding the right thing to do without knowing the reasoning behind it.
Getting back to the song, I also like the fact that I reused the 'Your Fantasy' idea to create a follow up to the first one. That's something else which wasn't planned. I'd recorded an instrumental demo of the song (as I do with most new compositions), and listened to it occasionally to see if any inspiration for lyrics would happen. Then somewhere out of the blue a couple of months after creating the demo I realised I was singing the chorus from the original 'Your Fantasy' song to it. From there, I revisited my notes from when I wrote the original and found some of the discarded lines, changed the focus of the song from confirming my beliefs to asking the believer to confirm his (or hers) and wrote a whole song where each line started 'Do you believe…' and questioned an element of religion.
I recorded a version with those original lyrics, but wasn't happy with it and discarded it immediately. I liked the repetitive nature of the opening section of each line, it went well with the repetitive nature of the whole song. Unfortunately I didn't like a lot of the questions which made up the rest of each line. Some of them were good, and those remain in the final version, but some just didn't feel right when I was singing them even though they fit the subject and the lyrical and rhythmical structures of the song.
It stayed like that for another couple of months, with me looking at it from time to time but feeling no inspiration for how it could be finished. Then one day when I was thinking of other words which would fit into the rhyming structure and which could be used within the context of the song, I started trying to find ways of incorporating the words 'keep' and 'sleep' into the lyrics. That was when I decided to incorporate the 'Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep' poem into the song. Once I made that decision, the lyrics were quickly finished, I recorded them as soon as I had time and the song was done.
5:15 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Witch Hunt

This song really doesn't have much of a story.  The main thing to say about it is that it came about by accident.  The basic patterns for the verse & chorus were originally recorded purely as a backing track for me to practice lead guitar to.  When I was jamming to it I gradually came up with the lead riff that plays at the start of the song and it eventually became a whole new composition.

Once I'd finished recording the music it went back to being a jam along backing track for a little while until I wrote some lyrics.  I'd decided it needed a fairly catchy chorus with hair metal (I hate that phrase, but it seems to have become the accepted name for this style of music) style backing vocals, something I'd never done before

After a couple of months of not coming up with anything, one morning during the drive into work the title "Witch Hunt" came to me out of nowhere.  Then the rest of the lyrics just flowed really easily and I wrote the verses and the main chorus within about 20 minutes of sitting at my computer in the office.  The extra chorus at the end was written later that evening when I got home.

I've also noticed that I seem to be hitting into a bit of a pattern with my song subjects at the moment.  This song is about a medieval Priest who turns the people in his village against a woman who uses science he doesn't understand as a cure for their diseases.  Your Fantasy is basically an atheistic rant, and one of the 4 other songs I'm currently part way through writing is a follow up to it (and will be imaginatively called "Your Fantasy (Part 2)").

Seems like the current solo project could be rapidly becoming a concept album....
3:40 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, September 23, 2011


Interlude should probably have more of a story behind it than it does because it's been a long time in the making. I actually wrote it around 10 years ago as what I thought would be an acoustic intro section to something much bigger, so it probably pre-dates all the songs from my Run Around In Circles era (with the exception of Inside Eternity which is over 20 years old). I even played it at one or two of the acoustic gigs Julie and I played when we were performing together as Monnae.

Throughout the time I was writing the songs for both my original solo work and those I wrote with Julie, I kept trying to do something with it but never found anything which could slot in between the sections. When I started playing and writing songs again recently I finally decided I was trying too hard to do something with it as it sounded just fine as it always had been without any extra sections added in.  This final version of it is exactly what I wrote originally, although I extended the first section slightly to add more of a build up when I programmed the drums.

It was originally recorded on the Yamaha AW16G I mentioned in a previous Blog: "The Story Behind The Songs - Your Fantasy" (dated 21-08-2011). Even though I couldn't create the final mixed version, I was able to write the individual tracks to CD on it so I didn't lose all the work I did on it.

I've since sold the Yamaha and purchased a Tascam 2488 MkII. Best decision ever - it's an awesome piece of kit, and was actually the model I was hoping to get when I originally decided to upgrade from the old Fostex VF-80 anyway, I just couldn't find one at the right price at the time. This is the first song I've finished on it - at the time of writing I currently have 4 others which I'm working on.

The only other piece of trivia about this song is it's name - I couldn't decide whether to call it "Interlude" or "Intermission". I tossed a coin and Interlude won.
7:30 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Sunday, August 21, 2011

(I Don't Believe) Your Fantasy

The most interesting fact about this song is that it was the first song I ever wrote purely on an electric guitar.  Before this, I'd always started off acoustically and worked on the chord patterns first before writing an electric guitar part to work with them.

Your Fantasy burst into life when I was jamming with one of my electrics and came up with the main intro riff.  The rest of the song was written to compliment this riff, deliberately keeping it as a nice simple rock song instead of trying to do too much.  I'm a definite believer in the "less is more" theory when it comes to rock music and I'm planning to write more songs in this kind of style in the future.

Another notable thing with this song is that it's the last I recorded on my old Fostex VF-80 multracker before selling it and upgrading as I'd often run out of space on the 8-track and wanted to get a 16-track.

I initially upgraded to a Yamaha AW16G, however after 10 years of buying and selling on eBay, I finally had something which didn't go to plan.  The seller had described it as being in "immaculate working order", however when I received it a couple of the buttons were broken and had fallen into the body of the machine.  As one of the broken buttons was the record button, I considered this quite serious.

To be fair to the seller, he didn't claim it must have happened in transit, he just didn't think it was worth mentioning as the recorder still functioned correctly - he'd included a footswitch in the sale which functioned as the record button.  Obviously I didn't agree, and he eventually backed down and agreed to provide a refund for the repair costs once I'd sent him a receipt confirming the amount I'd paid to have the necessary work done.

After a couple of weeks of unsuccessfully trying to find someone to provide a quote for repair (all my local guitar shops have closed!!), I negotiated a refund of £50, around a 3rd of the price I'd initially paid.  Although I still wasn't happy, I needed to get something agreed before eBay's 45 day protection period ended and as the footswitch acted as a workaround for the issue, I thought that was a fair offer.  He agreed and provided the refund.

However, I've since discovered that even though the footswitch works when you're actually recording, once you've finished that process and want to create the final mix of a song you have to use the record button.  The footswitch doesn't work in this situation.  As a result, I've had to start shopping around again for some new kit and can't finish off any of the songs I'm currently working on until that happens. 

Assuming all goes to plan, I'll be buying new kit early next month, I'm on the lookout for a Tascam 2488, probably a 2nd hand version of the MkI, but if I find one of the more recent models at the right price it will definitely be a bonus.  That was actually one of my preferred choices when I first upgraded, but I found the Yamaha first and went for it.  I guess I should have been more patient....

Once I've bought new kit, I'm intending to sell the AW16G on ebay and see how much I get for it - I'm honest, so it will be described as "damaged but working", and I'll explain what the situation is.  I'm optimistic that I'll get a reasonable price as I recently saw a faulty one sell for £40, and that one wouldn't even switch on.  I don't want to get my hopes up too high though, we'll just have to wait and see how it goes.
5:15 pm - 1 comments - 0 Kudos
Saturday, August 20, 2011

Dressed Up

Although this song is included as part of "The New Stuff" album, it could just as easily have been included with the songs from the "Run Around In Circles" era. It certainly existed then - it's based around a chord pattern I'd originally created as part of "Live It All Again", and on the Run Around In Circles album I gave out to people for Christmas a few years ago it was included with a title along the lines of "Unfinished Instrumental". At that time all the rhythm sections of the music was written, but there was no lyrics or lead guitar.
I wrote the lyrics shortly after giving out the CD. To be honest I'm glad I didn't have them written in time to include a completed version of this song, as the original lyrics I wrote for it were completely different to those which are included in the final version. It was originally called "Davey Mean". I hated that title, I can't remember where I came up with the name 'Davey', I think it was something I saw on TV which featured a character with that name. Presumably something American, you'd never get that name in a British TV show. I seem to remember trying to replace it with all sorts of different names at the time, but I never found anything else which fitted into the general flow of the song. I can't remember all the words for this version of it, but for some reason the first verse has always been stuck in my memory and went like this:
Living in the back room
Of an old dead-beat hotel
Nobody knows what happened here inside this cold dark Hell
He works all week to pay welfare
For a child he's never seen
He used to be an easy man until this life turned Davey Mean
That's probably enough to show that it wasn't exactly a happy song. It basically went on like that telling the guy's story through all the verses until he killed himself in the last one. As well as hating the word 'Davey', I also hated that I'd used his surname (Mean) in such a cheesy way at the end of that first verse.
Even though I had the music recorded back when I included it as an unfinished demo song on my album, I never recorded a version of it with those lyrics. I discarded them and started re-writing the lyrics from scratch until I eventually had the current lyrics about 90% finished, and that was how they stayed for several years as I then entered my 'Monnae' era and stopped working on my solo project in favour of the songs I was writing with Julie.
After the Monnae era faded away, I didn't pick up a guitar for quite some time, I'm not sure how long, but it was a few months. As I wasn't gigging any more, I didn't have any reason to practice and I never felt the urge to do anything. Then one evening, completely out of the blue, I had a session of playing with my acoustic guitar. I started out just playing through some of the songs I'd played when gigging with Julie (when we were doing the open mic gigs I'd often play a 15-20 minute set without her if it was a quiet night). After that I started surfing around UG finding new songs to play. Eventually, from somewhere in the back of my mind, I started playing this song and was suddenly inspired to start writing again. Within the space of about 3 or 4 hours (that's how long I played for that night, one of my longest ever sessions) I went from not playing for a few months to kicking off a whole new era in My Musical History.
Over the next few days I dug out the lyrics I'd written a few years earlier and dusted off the Fostex 8-track to start playing with it again. I quickly realised I wanted to re-start the recording from scratch. Since creating the initial instrumental demo version of the song I'd learnt so much about how to use the Fostex when recording with Julie I knew I wasn't going to be happy with the quality of the original recording. It was also around this time I decided to stop using the keyboard I'd been using for programming drums and get a proper dedicated drum machine.
I sold the keyboard and purchased a Zoom RT-323, possibly one of the best decisions I ever made. It gives me so much more control over what I do with the drums during a song, and also sounds so much better that it gives me a bit of a dilemma - I often think about remixing the original songs from the Run Around In Circles era as I know they aren't particularly well produced, but I know I'll never be happy with the original drum tracks and would want to completely recreate them. As this would take too much time and dedication away from creating anything new it means I'm less likely to do it and so those tracks will probably remain as they are and I'll remain slightly unhappy with them.
Not only did the RT-323 sound loads better than the drums on my old keyboard did, I also found it extremely easy to get to grips with. Considering this song had started life almost 10 years earlier, within a very short period of time I'd restructured it, finished off writing the lyrics, programmed a new drum track, recorded it, created a lead guitar part and mixed the final version of it.
I'd say I'm about 98% happy with the song as it is now. It loses the 2% happiness rating because at the end of the song I included a 'solo on one note' as a lead guitar part behind the final verse. This was meant to be in the background and not take too much attention away from the vocals, but I left it a bit louder than I'd intended and I find it a bit overpowering.
A mildly interesting fact about the recording of this song is that I used my guitars the wrong way round to how I'd normally use them. I typically use a guitar with single coil pickups for the clean part and humbuckers for the heavier part, whereas on this song I used my Gretsch Projet for the clean part and my Telecaster for the heavier part (both got to some of the lead guitar, I did half with one and half with the other).
Now this song is finished, any new songs I write will be just that: New. Where this one existed almost 10 years before it was finished, all the songs I'm currently working on are genuinely new and I don't have any more hangovers from a previous era (with only one exception, but that exception doesn't have much of a back story). Even though new songs may have a story behind them, it's not likely to be such a long story so future blog entries shouldn't be as long as this one. There are a few lyrical ideas which date back to those days, but I don't know if they'll ever get used and if they do, they're likely to be completely reworked to fit whatever music I write for them.
Still, I think it was a good thing that I had this song placed on hold from my original solo writing period. It was a nice way to ease myself back into the mindset needed for writing & recording, so hopefully it really will kick off a whole new era which will be blogged on a song-by-song basis, rather than one blog summarising a lengthy period of time as I did with the first 3 parts of My Musical History.
2:13 pm - 0 comments - 0 Kudos
Friday, August 19, 2011

My Musical History - Part 3: Monnae

My Musical History - Part 3 picks up where both Part 1 and Part 2 left off: with the start of the era I'm referring to as 'Monnae'.
One of the last things I mentioned at the end of the first two blogs is that I had reached a plateau in my development as a guitarist, especially where playing lead guitar was concerned, and had a couple of guitar lessons to get me past it. In addition to the lessons, my teacher (Rob 'The Monkeylord' Chapman) felt it would be a good idea for me to put what he was teaching me into practice by joining a band as the lead guitarist, instead of always sticking to rhythm as I had in the past. This was also something I was wanting as I'd left my previous band when I split up with the wife and hadn't found another one since. Rob arranged for me to meet one of his other pupils who was in the process for forming a band, and the next period of My Musical History was officially underway.
I was the fourth member of the band. At this point the lineup consisted of Brad on rhythm guitar (Rob's other pupil), John on drums and Julie on vocals. We met up and practiced most weeks at Julie's house, with Brad & me both playing acoustic guitar, Julie singing and John not doing much. We did meet up with a couple of bassists, but they never came to anything. One was a complete stoner who hardly talked and just sat there smoking a joint, whilst trying to find a particular song on his radio. Needless to say, we didn't call him back.
After a couple of months, John got a new job and moved away leaving us without a drummer. As we'd only been practicing acoustically, I don't think I ever actually heard him play. He always claimed he'd learned all the songs and was ready for when we had enough of a set to make it worth having a full on rehearsal with all of us, but I guess I'll never know….
Brad, Julie and myself kept meeting up and playing together, although we didn't have much of a plan at that point. Even though we'd never heard him play, John was probably the one who'd taken up the role of band leader and was the one with all the visions of the future. Then after another couple of months, Brad disappeared - I can't remember why anymore, but there was a reason for it at the time.
That left just myself and Julie, and is where this era of My Musical History really gets going. Although we didn't have a plan at this point, we still kept getting together and started writing some songs. It was around this time that I really started getting to grips with how to get the most out of my Fostex VF-80 multitrack recorder. Julie had some previous experience of professional recording, so she had very high standards for the quality she wanted from our recordings. With a bit of practice, I learned more about how to use the mixing & mastering functions of the Fostex and managed to create some recordings she was happy with.
The songs we wrote are all loaded to my profile so you can go have a listen. As with the songs from my other eras, I've also written a short blog about each one containing any memories I have of the writing process. The songs written and recorded in this era are:
  • Sliding Down
  • Peaceful
  • Something Better Than Fine
  • Standing Naked At An Elevator
  • You
  • Frame Of Mind
Those songs are all loaded to the band profile I created for this era at:

I can't remember how long we were doing that for (you've probably guessed that remembering the timing of these events isn't one of my strong points), but after some time we ended up being booked to play a gig. It was fairly out of the blue, and it was at the Christmas party for the company Julie worked for. I'm not sure where or how, but she found us a drummer (Brian) and bassist (can't remember the guys name, I never met him again after the gig) and it was all confirmed. We would play a 40 minute acoustic set with just the two of us, then there would be all the usual Christmas party speeches, followed by another 30 minute set with a full band.
We only had about 2 practices with the other guys before the gig, but somehow everything fell into place and it all worked straight away. I can't remember what songs it was we played, but I'm fairly sure they were chosen from our lengthy set of acoustic songs because of their simplicity more than any other reason. The gig went down really well, everyone there seemed to enjoy it and it was possibly the strangest place I've ever played a gig - in the middle of a Steam Train Museum in Swindon.
There's one other thing to mention about that gig. On the way there, Julie asked me a question: "What are we going to call ourselves?". I had no ideas, so while I was driving us there she was coming up with all sorts of strange suggestions for a band name. In the end we settled on 'Monnae', which she thought of because it was an anagram of 'no name'. And that's why I've used that word as the title of this blog and the album title for the songs we wrote together.
That kicked us off on the road to forming a full band again. We teamed up with the drummer that we'd used for the concert and Julie found a bassist (Pete) & guitarist (Darren) from somewhere, I've got no idea how she got hold of them. We called ourselves 'The Guild', started practicing & built up a good set of covers, we even got as far as recording a demo CD before it all broke up. I don't know exactly what happened, but I believe Brian had some sort of falling out with Darren & Pete. Anyway, even though it had been progressing nicely for a few months, it all fell apart quite suddenly.
Alongside that, Julie and I had kept the Monnae name going by playing a few gigs as an acoustic duo. We even got a regular monthly booking at one of our venues by selling ourselves as the host of an Open Mic night. When The Guild broke up, we put even more effort into this side of things - we realised we were getting paid the same as we would for a full band and only splitting the cash two ways instead of five, which is always a good thing. Also, as we were advertising it as an Open Mic night we were often only playing for about half an hour! In fact it did so well, at one point we had so many gigs that I couldn't make them all due to work commitments with my day job. I kept playing a couple of gigs each month, but Julie was doing several more with Darren from The Guild.
It was good fun while it lasted, but it gradually faded away. The regular bookings all ended one by one for completely unrelated reasons and we stopped finding one-off gigs so easily. Pete and Darren formed another band, Julie got married and moved to Canada and I took a short break from guitar before starting to write as a solo artist again.
For now, that ends the My Musical History series of blogs, I don't have another one planned at the moment - although I have considered doing one about all the various guitars & other equipment I've had over the years and another one containing memories of the gigs that I've played. Maybe I will, maybe I won't.
For the forseeable future, any new blogs will be about any new songs I write.  These blogs will include any stories about how & why the song was written as well as any stories relevant to my music.

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