Baker’s Dozen: The Final-ish Word

Greetings & Salutations!

So, we didn’t hit the magic number.

But I’m Ok with that.

It was pretty clear to me back in September, when we were only five singles deep into the Baker’s Dozen Project with a scant few months left to go, that the original goal of thirteen wasn’t likely to be reached. It’s easy to blame the delays on the usual life stuff getting in the way, and it’s true enough. But for my own part in this situation, the roots are a little deeper. The truth is, I didn’t absorb the lessons that this whole project was designed to impart — at least not as well as I coulda woulda shoulda.

The purpose of the Baker’s Dozen was for us to expand the way we approach making and distributing music. Content being royalty and all, we thought that focusing on a steady stream of singles rather than epic projects with epic wait times between them would be nothing but helpful: keeping us sharp and active, and keeping listeners aware and interested. One of the many rewards that has come from my experience with Theme Music is a renewed ability to trust my instincts and make decisions more quickly, and to understand that even if something doesn’t work perfectly, there’s another opportunity right around the corner. In short, to let go and not be too precious about the process of creating. Considering my own history of ultra-neurotic control issues, I think I’ve made considerable progress on that front. But for some reason, applying it to SoN has been tougher, and taken its toll on both my motivation and my effectiveness.

The lesson was illustrated best in October, when we produced “The Way Life’s Meant To Be” (not coincidentally, as an assignment from Theme Music) in under a week, and it turned out as well as anything we’d done all year — and, just as importantly, it was received about as well, too. When we started this thing, we drew up a master list of songs we wanted to do, and we had several of them sitting on the back-burner in varying states of progress throughout the year, rather than focusing on one song at a time. This is a way of working that has carried over from the way we have approached album projects in the past, and it does have its advantages in terms of choice and flexibility, but it can also lead to a certain amount of indecision and lack of focus. So when this song, which wasn’t even originally on that list, came together so quickly with about the same quality and impact as, say, “Good Enough” (which we spent the better part of 6 months working on in fits and starts) the writing was most definitely on the wall: this is the working style and attitude we should be adopting. But by then, the holiday season was gearing up and time was scarce. The last two songs of the year that we posted (“Evolution,” a new original, and our cover of the Alan Parsons Project’s “Eye In The Sky”) had been in the works for a long time, held in reserve for just such a situation, and only took a little bit of tweaking to get ready for public consumption.

So here we are at the start of a brand new year, having not accomplished last year’s goal either literally or figuratively, and looking at a whole bunch of partially finished tracks left in the pipeline. Where do we go from here?

We go BIG!

The Baker’s Dozen project, although a reasonably busy its time and place, was in fact the scaled-down version of a much more ambitious idea that I had thought about a few years ago, but kept in reserve because it didn’t seem like the most practical use of time. However, using what we’ve learned over the past year, I can see a different way of bringing this bigger idea to fruition. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun for its own sake, and also a great help in moving forward with new material.

Already we’ve produced this little ditty in record time…

…and there’s much more to come!

Stay tuned.

TB

Baker’s Dozen Track #6: The Way Life’s Meant To Be

Greetings & Salutations!

#6? What happened to #5, I hear you cry?

We’ll get to that shortly.

In the meantime, here’s the lowdown on our latest entry in the Baker’s Dozen project. This is the first song that Matt and I have put together for Theme Music, which means the entire thing was recorded, produced, and uploaded in just over a week. Business as usual for some bands, but a pretty big leap for us. The theme assigned for submissions that week was “A Matter Of Life And Death,” meaning that a song had to have some variant of the words Life or Death in the title. Matt chose this track, and explains why below…

Matt sez:

Being the prog-rock junkie that I am, I still prefer to listen to music in album format more than I do single format, and to me the well-executed concept album is still king. I’ve often pondered what my top-ten list of concept albums would look like. Some of the classics would have to do battle with some of the more obscure or more recent offerings (like Marillion’s Brave or My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade), but I’m pretty sure one of the entries that would land in the Top 5 is ELO’s Time. That album is certainly outside the norm as far as concept albums go, eschewing some of your typical long moody musical passages for more of a pop mentality.

The song we chose to cover, “The Way Life’s Meant to Be”, is one of my favorites from the album. Setting aside the basic concept of the time traveler in the song, it is easy for me as a very late thirty-something to relate to the subject matter. I frequently get nostalgic for the good old days of four channels on the TV, music purchases based on what was at the record store, and long-lasting arguments over arcane trivia because we couldn’t solve the question with a quick google search. I can’t help but think that the lack of choice, and even more so the lack of data and metadata for every aspect of our lives, was easier and more freeing in some ways. Sometimes I feel like my simple brain just can’t keep up with the 21st century pace. It would be kind of fun to go back to 1981 just for a visit. As long as I can take my tablet with me.

For my own part, I had a blast recording this song. (And considering how I usually feel about recording, that’s a welcome change of pace indeed.) Matt generously offered me the lead vocal, and I’m glad he did — partly because I really enjoyed singing it, and partly because otherwise I wouldn’t have much footprint at all on this recording apart from the bass line. I knocked both out more quickly and easily than usual, and Matt swooped in to play and sing everything else. I’m very happy with the result: a version of the song that eschews a lot of the original’s heavy production, while still being arguably the most faithful cover we have recorded so far. Neat trick if you can pull it off.

“The Way Life’s Meant To Be” can be found, along with the rest of our recorded catalog, at the Sons Of Nothing BandCamp page.

So, only seven weeks to go, with seven songs to produce in order to fulfill the original deadline. Will we make it? Honestly, the odds are pretty long…but if the rest of the songs are as enjoyable to produce as this one was, we’ve at least got a shot.

Stay tuned,

TB & MM
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Baker’s Dozen #3 and #4: Thursdays / Nowhere To Go

Greetings & Salutations!

So, we ran into a little productivity snag on the Baker’s Dozen project during the second quarter of the year. Between preparations for the 2013 Homecoming Gig (which really was a tremendous blast – if you happened to miss it, here’s what we played and here are some live pics) and real life taking precedence (congrats to Matt and his wife Nicole on the birth of their son!) things slowed down a bit on the recording front.

At the moment, we have two tracks which are mostly completed, and a further three in earlier stages of development. Some re-recorded originals, some covers. We’ve fallen short of our initial goal of releasing a single every month, but we’ll catch up. As long as we deliver thirteen by the end of the year it’s still a win in my book.

The latest addition is Matt’s original demo of “Nowhere To Go,” and we’re going to spend a little time today blogging about it, as well as the Marie Estrada-enhanced version of “Thursdays,” which we released back in March.

THURSDAYS (feat. Marie Estrada)

This one started with a bet. Several years ago, Matt and I fell into conversation about days of the week being used as song titles. In tallying up as many as we could think of, we realized that Thursday was the most neglected when it came to that practice. Not to say there aren’t a ton of songs that utilize it – there clearly are – but compared to Monday, Friday, Saturday, etc it seemed to come up short, and we thought we should help balance the scales. Matt tasked me with writing a set of lyrics, and …I choked. Hard. It just wasn’t coming. I had an idea that I wanted to get across, but no concrete structure to hang it on. We even contemplated sticking the title on a song which didn’t actually feature the day’s name in the lyrics just to have the itch scratched, but ultimately decided that would be cheating. The Clarity album came and went, and the song remained unwritten.

Then, in the Summer of 2007, we cracked it. Writing lyrics is usually a long, meticulous trial and error fest for me – I can count on maybe three fingers the number of times that a song has arrived fully formed – but in this case, all it took was a random reminder of the great Arthur Dent quote from The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: “This must be Thursday, I never could get the hang of Thursdays,” and once I decided to incorporate a paraphrasing of that line into the song, it was all I could do to get out of the way as the rest of the lyrics came spilling out. Though we might have tweaked a word or two when it came time to record the vocals, the bulk of what I handed over to Matt was my first draft. It’s a sort of gestalt breakup song – the subject matter a composite of several real life situations – and even though breakup songs came to be a running theme on Green & Grey, it still stands out to me as one of the better ones.

Matt was responsible for the musical end of things, and that came together almost as quickly. The original treatment was a more plaintive, minor-key take which was good but didn’t quite capture the feeling we were after. Then Matt hit upon the idea of giving it a Jeff Lynne quasi-power pop treatment, and things fell into place nicely. There was a lot of back and forth about specific overdubs and arrangement issues as the recording went along, but we knew we had the core of a very cool tune from the start. I love that for as hooky a song as it is, the chord changes are both unusual and plentiful, and the bass line is one of my favorites on Green & Grey. I still have vivid memories woodshedding it while marathoning the second season of LOST.

The lead vocal was a challenge for Matt. Although I think it turned out great in the end, for whatever reason he didn’t feel like he was achieving what he wanted to hear, and didn’t enjoy the process of recording it. When it came time to do the album release party and we wanted to hand off some of extra vocal duties to Marie Estrada, “Thursdays” was near the top of the list. To no one’s surprise, she absolutely killed on it, and has sung it live at every subsequent gig we’ve played with her. Eventually, folks in the audience began asking if we were planning to re-record the song with her voice on it, and when the Baker’s Dozen project started up, it seemed like a no-brainer. We had considered re-recording the song altogether, but in the end we thought her voice sounded good against the original recording, and thought it would be better to put the single out sooner than later. So, here it is!

NOWHERE TO GO (demo)

This song is a great example of what I mean when I say that as far as the creative partnership between Matt and I goes, he married far below his station. A good 95% of the song that ended up on Clarity is represented here: all of it written, played, sung, and produced by Mr Meldrum. No way I could have done something like that entirely on my own. The band took it on gamely and added some extra flavor and texture, but the core of what makes the song work is pretty irrefutably on display here, and Matt himself was never quite as happy with the version that ended up on Clarity as he was with this recording.

Matt sez:

It may be the production geek in me, but I enjoy hearing demo versions of songs and comparing with the final versions. It is always interesting to hear what the artist changes (or not). The other interest I have in our original demos, particularly the ones that I fleshed out, is that they tend to capture more of the initial energy of the writing process for me, which is also why I tend to try to adopt as many early takes of parts as possible. Each subsequent attempt at a part may polish it, but it may also polish out the edge and excitement that the earlier takes have.

In the instance of ‘Nowhere’, I always had a soft spot in my heart for the demo, it being one of the first (if not the very first) of mine that I handed over to the band. Apart from the (name that Pink Floyd song!) filler lyrics, the song came together quickly and I was able to capture the energy that I wanted. While the guys (and girl) did a terrific job of fleshing it out more on the Clarity recording (I particularly enjoy the color that the saxophone added), I always felt it took just a slightly different direction from my original intention. Something else that may have added to the mystique of the demo was my inability to recreate the chimey strat guitar tone due to having sold the guitar that it was recorded with. Never sell a guitar. You’ll just end up spending twice as much money trying to recapture the tone. Lesson learned.

I’m also fond of the alchemy brought to the finished song by the presence of the other band members, but I do see his point. Certainly the re-write I did on the lyrics (at Matt’s request) only granted the song a limited amount of favors – I think the choruses were improved a bit, but the verses became weighted down with a lot of extra syntax, and it’s largely thanks to Juli Holt’s sadly sweet vocal performance that the final lines come across as naturally musical as Matt’s original lines do here. Ironically, I think my proudest contribution to the song was in persuading Matt *not* to change the repeated “no no no no no” in the first chorus, which he had planned to fill with “real” lyrics later. To me, that sort of discreet quirk just makes a song. But in any case, “Nowhere To Go” arrived more or less fully formed and was one of the first songs we recorded for the Clarity album. Listening back, I’m now realizing that we never did play it live as often as we should have. Perhaps we will remedy that sometime in the near future.

Matt continuez:

Regarding the subject of the song, it originally started out as a complaint about a certain local Senator based on some comments of his which I felt were ill-informed. The first couple lines of the song stemmed from that, but that topic was abandoned fairly quickly and morphed into yet another tale of self-loathing (sadly a recurring theme for me), this one with some fairly specific references to divorce and my own experience of feeling trapped at the end of my first marriage and not feeling that I could even leave the situation for lack of another place to go (hence the name).

I guess I should make my own editorial note here, considering the fact that I don’t think we’ve ever released a lyric of mine that had a particularly upbeat message. It is not because I live a life devoid of joy. Those just simply aren’t the parts I choose to write about. I always refer back to the old quote “happy people don’t write”, which in my case seems to lead to me only writing on topics that aren’t particularly upbeat. This also explains my decrease in production since getting married and facetiously referring to my wife as “writer’s block”. Luckily, getting older means I can find more and more things about the external environment to complain about, so there is still plenty of lyrical fodder for me out there, just not as much on the relationship front. Here’s to broadening our horizons!

Both “Thursdays” and “Nowhere To Go” can be streamed or downloaded from our Bandcamp site right now, along with the first two songs from our 2013 Baker’s Dozen project (“Atmosphere” and “Head Over Heels”) We’ll be back with more new goodness sooner than later. Thanks for your patience, hope you enjoy the tunes!

TB & MM
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SoN BAKER’S DOZEN: 13 songs in 2013

Greetings & Salutations!

January…

February…

March…

So, just what in blazes is going on here?

I’ll get the TL;DR version out of the way up front: the plan is for Sons Of Nothing to be releasing one new single every month for the year of 2013. (And at least two singles for one of those months, thus “Baker’s Dozen”.) Most will be re-recordings of our older songs mixed with a handful of cover tunes, but Matt and I are back in the process of writing again, so it’s likely that new music will also be coming before too long.

So, how and why did this plan come about?

Well, as has been documented elsewhere, the making of Green & Grey took a long time. A ridiculously, painfully long time. To be fair, the process was complicated by a number of sizeable events in our personal lives, and it’s not as if we had a hard, fast deadline to meet. But still, it was a frustrating experience – for us, and most likely, for some of you – and one that we don’t wish to repeat.

A lot has changed in that span of time, including the music business and our relationship to it. Although we’re past the learning curve of long-distance recording, the fact that we live so far apart has made playing live gigs a tough (and rare) proposition, and whatever momentum that the band managed to generate in the earlier years has atrophied, on a number of fronts. We’re getting older. Our audience is getting older. The chances of achieving even a scaled-down version of the dream we had when we started this are…well, not something I want to contemplate here, lest I end up turning the whole thing into a self-indulgent blues jam. Maybe later.

But here’s the thing: we still love making music, and we know there are folks who still want to hear the music we make. Maybe, if we’re lucky, there are even a few fans-in-waiting out there, just one listen away from jumping on board with us. So, it’s time to start turning weaknesses into strengths, and to begin fully embracing the technology and media landscape of the 21st century, which is a pool that we’ve been dancing around for a very long time without ever really jumping in with both feet.

Thus, this new venture into shorter-term projects.

We’re being careful not to bite off more than we can shred, keeping the commitment to one release per month, and keeping the focus on re-purposing songs that already exist. The plan is that by and large, the recording will be 100% new, even if the song is a familiar one, and some will be radically re-imagined. This latest release – “Thursdays,” with Marie’s lead vocal added but the rest of the original recording intact – is about as conservative as we’re going to play it. Most of the cover tunes will be songs that have been in our live set for a little while, so they’ll have our particular sonic stamp on them as well. And I’ve been wanting to go back and re-record some songs from our out-of-print first album since…well, practically since we released it. So there’s a lot of material from which to choose.

Everything will be available from our new BandCamp site, streaming for free or downloadable for $1 per track. The covers will be streaming-only until we work out the licensing details, then we plan to offer them for download as well.

As I already mentioned, Matt and I are also back in writing mode. So, once this operation is humming right along, brand new original music is sure to follow, likely along the same delivery method. We’re still very much album-band guys, but we’re also excited about using this new situation to helps us feel more connected to each other, to the music, and to you guys. The hope is that this new spirit of continuous interaction will lead to other opportunities as we go along, including more video projects, more live shows, more everything.

As Art Blakey famously declared: “If you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing.”

We want to be the first thing. And we would be honored if you joined us.

More soon…
TB

Baker’s Dozen #1: Atmosphere

Greetings & Salutations!

Yes, this is entry #1 being posted after entry #2, and everyone is just going to have to be Ok with that.

Atmosphere

This song was recorded for SoN’s first album in 2001, but its origins actually go back further, to the mid-90s and a band called The Rain Kings. Rick Kreifeldt (the band’s guitarist and chief songwriter) and I wanted to do a song within a song, essentially two sections of instrumental with a brief verse-chorus sandwiched between.

I had the lyrics already, and they were written specifically to fit a blues figure. Since that vibe had begun bubbling to the surface during the instrumental sections, we decided that we should go full-on blues rock and use those lyrics for the vocal section. The intro and outro jams were originally much longer, but we pared them back a bit by the time we were playing the song live, and even further when SoN got around to recording it.

My favorite thing about the song was its versatility. In The Rain Kings, we found that it worked well anywhere we cared to employ it in a live show, whether grabbing attention as an opener, ramping up to a big finale, or anywhere in between. And because it straddled its various genres pretty well, it also followed me through every band I’ve been in since — whether pop, blues, jam-band, metal, whatever, Atmosphere has always seemed to fit the bill, and take on new facets every time I went back to it.

I think the version the first SoN album turned out pretty well, especially in comparison to some of the other tracks, but it had certain weaknesses: some performances were a little too loose, my vocals could have been better, etc. But the thing I felt it was lacking most was the the crunchy power that it always had as a a live number — in short, it needed to rock more.

And now it does, thanks to stellar production (not to mention awesome guitar tones) from Matt, a propulsive, commanding drum performance from Tommy, and urgent, soulful backing vocals from Marie. For my own part, I spiced up the bass line considerably from the original, adding little side-riffs and nuances that I’ve developed from playing the thing live for so long, and also trying to tie the intro riff to the main body of the song more strongly. Helping in that endeavor was the great phat tone I got from the Thunderbird that my friend Robbie was kind enough to lend me for the session.

I never was happy with the vocal on the original recording (as was the case with most of the songs on that first album) so I worked hard to improve it on this one. I’m still not 100% satisfied with it, but I do feel that it’s far better than the older version — more natural and more musical, sounding like me while staying in key. As one anonymous listener opined: “Most people probably wouldn’t be bothered by it,” which made me chuckle. Sometimes that’s the best assessment one can hope for, I suppose.

Atmosphere is currently up at our bandcamp site, streaming for free or downloadable for the low low cost of a single American dollar. We believe it’s a fine addition to your digital SoN collection. And though the album it from will never see print again, this song will soon have some re-recorded friends and neighbors in its company.

Wait, what?

Stay tuned for details…

TB

Baker’s Dozen #2: Head Over Heels

Greetings & Salutations!

Why “Head Over Heels”? Why us? Why now? Why is this post entitled “Baker’s Dozen” and why is it labeled as entry #2 when there has been no entry #1 as of yet?

The answer to the last question will have to wait for a few days, but Matt Meldrum explains everything else below. Read on…

This is an exciting time for us here at SoN World. This is the first time we’ve ever recorded and released a (non-Floyd) cover tune! Obviously Thom and I have deep roots in the prog rock world, with heavy influences from Floyd, Yes, Rush, Marillion, etc. So it makes perfect sense that our first ever cover recording would be……Tears for Fears???

Ok, it may not be blatantly obvious from our music, but Thom and I are both pretty big TFF fans. For my own part, I came across them when someone gave me the “Seeds of Love” album as an example of great engineering and production, which it certainly is. That acclaim also is shared with the “Songs from the Big Chair” album; in fact I think “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is one of the best pop arrangements and productions ever made.

So why in the world would I want to take on a song from a band with such great street cred for engineering, and one that is an established hit to boot? Well, I’ve listened to “Head Over Heels” many times and while love it as a song, I always wanted the studio version to be a little faster-paced and, for lack of a better word, bouncier. I kind of imagined more rock-oriented version, not unlike the Ataris cover of “Boys of Summer”. So we took to the task of speeding it up a bit and basically swapping all the guitar and keyboard lines to see how it felt. I think it turned out to be a fun rock tune both to play and to listen to.

My biggest challenge came in trying to reproduce decent lead vocals. Not sure I want to take on a song originally sung by Roland Orzabal (or Curt Smith for that matter) ever again. The sound of his voice is so unique that it is hard to compete with, and it turns out that the song itself is just plain hard to sing, especially when sped up. Hopefully the vocals get at least a passing grade, but the rest of the instrumentation turned out to be exactly what I hoped it would. I asked Tommy to give a little swing to the drums and I love the results. We of course had to top it off with background vocals from Marie Estrada to give it the extra spark that it needed.

I’m pleased with the result and hope others will have a fun time with it too. So, with that, happy Valentine’s Day from Sons of Nothing.

See, we can do kind of lovey-dovey songs on occasion. We just have to rely on someone else to write them.

-Matt

Govt Machine Boy

Greetings & Salutations!

What an odd little beast this song is, and what a long strange trip it has taken in getting here.

Next week, we’ll be re-releasing our 2003 EP One Left Turn. It has been out of print for several years, and unlike our more recent releases, has never been available via digital distribution. We figured that as long as we were bringing it back to the world, we might as well polish up the original recording with a new remastering job, and cast about for some bonus material while we were at it.

“Govt Machine Boy” was one of two tracks that Matt played for me when we first sat down in January 2004 to start writing songs for what would eventually become the Clarity album. (The other track was an instrumental version of “Amazed,” which ended up in the “Trepanation” suite on Green & Grey, but that’s another story for another blog.) Entitled “Technobabble” at the time, it had the same rhythm track and synth layers, but arranged in a slightly different configuration. I don’t think Matt seriously considered it as a song for the band, more just an experiment that showed off his production skills. But I was immediately smitten with the track, and began dreaming up ways that we could put it to use — a scenario that has, incidentally, repeated several itself many times in the years since.

We used it as the intro music for a run of shows in 2004-5, accompanied by a video created by our friend Fozz. The arrangement had been changed to include the slow build-up to the drum & bass entrance, which remains today, and the first round of spoken word snippets were added. Once the track’s rhythm section kicked in, the live band would take over and play a stripped-down version of the arrangement until we could segue into the opening song proper. It’s something we might try again in the coming year, especially with our current line-up of players giving us additional musical ammo to more faithfully re-create the track’s multiple layers.

The guitars, flute, and saxophone were added in 2007-08, while the song was being considered for Green & Grey. It had been in the hopper for Clarity too, but was just too left-field to fit in with either album’s overall vibe. We were on the fence about including the saxophone at first, fearing that it would make the song’s Alan Parsons influence a too overbearing, but decided that John Flanders‘s performance was too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

By this time we were far enough into the digital side of things to release it as a standalone single, but the last few pieces of recording and arrangement — the breakdown towards the end, the inclusion of another handful of spoken bits — took a little while longer to fall into place. Now that it’s finally complete and ready for prime time, as it were, it seems obvious that this re-release of One Left Turn is a perfect opportunity to give it a home. Those songs are already such an unlikely hodgepodge of styles, with jangly pop sitting alongside crushing metal like they’ve been set up on a blind date, that adding a techo-ish instrumental at the end creates just the right straw to stir the drink. In my opinion, anyway.

“Govt Machine Boy” is currently available as a free download from Bandcamp, and will also be released with the rest of One Left Turn next week. Give it a listen, let us know what you think, and spread it around it if you dig what you hear.

TB