In the recording studio all week this week. Working on the new album(s). We were aiming for one when we started last year, the follow up to Ballad On Third Avenue. But we ended up with 34 songs, with two very different styles… so it’s really two different albums we are creating at the same time. One is more acoustic and organic sounding. The other is still ballad based but more on the pop side. We had a temporary freak out a few weeks back when going to cut the vocals for the song “Oh Sophia” (yeah the one I demoed on YouTube a few years ago in the Song Log series). Couldn’t find a HUGE batch of songs. I was going CRAzy. As always Princess Little Tree stayed calm, kept me from having a nervous breakdown, and eventually we found them. Had them in a big stack next of papers next to a laptop I barely ever use in an office I barely ever use in order to make some edits to them or type them in.
[There is a process. A strict one. Like most artists I’ve slowly huddled into a very strict and detailed highly OCD and methodical routine for songwriting and tracking all the songs. Because after the first few years you start to realize you’re going to be dealing with something really big. A giant project with a mass of paperwork and tapes etc. For some reason whenever I think about this topic my mind immediately jumps to this one distinct memory of being at our summer home in the Cayman Islands and announcing the whole family the moment that I hit 100 songs written. I was 15 or 16 years old at the time. It felt like a big accomplishment. Now it seems kind of meager and embarrassing. But that’s the nature of any art or craft I’m beginning to realize. As we evolve and progress our past achievements tend to seem small compared to our present reality. I wouldn’t know how to even ascertain how many songs I’ve written now.
I remember hitting 1,000 about a decade ago. I remember when I was a kid hearing about how Steve Allen the famous comedian and talk show host had written roughly 1,000 songs and how surprising that was because most people weren’t aware that he was also an accomplished songwriter. I remember feeling angry with myself… for not having achieved that yet. So the 1,000 mark felt like a big deal at the time; maybe… not really now that I think about it. I “remembered” the Steve Allen bit for a day or two and the buzz quickly dissipated.
I remember hitting 3,000. From there I just stopped counting. Perhaps that’s the sign that you’ve finally arrived — when you reach the point where you stop counting. When it becomes so routine to you that the number doesn’t even matter anymore. I’m sure painters, career painters, have no idea how many paintings they’ve created.
Regardless of how they start — a tune pops up in your head, or in a dream, or while you’re strumming a guitar or tripping out on the piano — that song gets into a recording device (now most of the time my iPhone) as quickly as possible.
[From there I start putting it to paper. One of many legal pads kept in one of many leather binders with one of many thin silver Cross pens sitting in an inner connected loop. The song may stay that way for a few weeks to a few years or decades. When I feel like it I go back to it and work a little more on it. I never force a song to flesh out. I’m always working on so many that I don’t have to. More importantly I don’t think forced songs ever come out well. If I’m not feeling it, that song will just sit there. And I keep plenty of legal pads in leather binders around filled with plenty of songs. So there’s never any rush. Usually I can just pound through them though. A good song writes itself. Once it comes, all I have to do is just ride it like a wave. It’s all in my head already. I hear it. I hear it’s potential is more like it. So all i have to do is just keep playing it over and over again, massaging it along the way each run through, listening for different things, subtle changes and additions…
[I take breaks, a few hours, a few days or weeks, and I listen to the song play in my head over and over again. It’s like a repeating record. It never stops. Usually a few of them at a time. And as I listen to them up there, they start to take shape and form themselves, as if they already exist — (which if one subscribes to the whole “time isn’t linear but circular” paradigm, then they do already exist… just in the future which is really in the here-now only we don’t usually recognize that) — so by the time I pick up an instrument to work on it more I have a much better idea of what it’s meant to sound like as a finished product.
[Once I am done with writing it all out on pages in the legal pad, I make a copy of that original stack of pages in the legal pad. When a legal pad is finished and all the pages are filled I send it off to my mom who has been saving them for all these years since I was 17. She has boxes of them. Tons of them. Now we’re in the process of moving them to a bank vault. Can’t take the risk anymore. I keep the copies of those pages in boxes and take them with me wherever I live. Just to have access to the original (copy of the original) handwritten notes. I then sit down and type the song up and save it on my laptop in a giant database of all the songs… a folder filled with thousands of songs. There are two sub-folders: songs that have been recorded and songs that haven’t yet been recorded. Obviously the latter folder is still much larger than the former. The goal is the exact opposite of that.
[Once I save the song as a file, I print it out and it goes into a clear protector sheet and into one of many black binders where all the printed out songs are alphabetized. The black song binders are also grouped into two different groups, one for songs that have already been recorded — for when we are planning set lists for live shows, and one group of binders for songs that have not yet been recorded — so we can flip through all the songs when choosing songs to record a new album. Pretty anal huh? It works though. Smooth. No guess work. I can do it all in my sleep. All the kinks have been worked out. That’s the process in a nutshell. Why I’m telling you this I have no idea. But hey, at least we finally have this down for posterity. This is how I do it.]
I fell behind. Once Princee Little Tree and I fell head over heels in love for the millionth time back in ’08 I pretty much fell behind in everything… And taking care of the songs was definitely one of those areas. So there are songs and song notebooks in various stages of processing all over the freaking place. We travel so much that I’m lucky if I remember to bring at least just one binder with me for songwriting. Always one at least. Problem is that there are tens of other binders at home with songs in various stages of being half-written that I always seem to want when I don’t have them.
But it’s never a huge deal. I can always record ideas into my phone and scribble them down on a new notebook. That’s the thing. They’re going to eventually get typed into the main database, I know this. So it gives me a real sense of security.
So that’s what I did for the last few months. Typed up a truck load of songs that needed to be typed and put into the database and then printed out. Now I am organizing and alphabetizing them. There are hundreds. Way too many. But I need access to at least the 34 for these new albums and the 25 that are on the other new album(s), what we’ve been affectionately referring to as “the Girls Album” for the last few years. Hopefully we will finish that one this year along with these other two.
So yeah. I’ve been sitting here while the engineers are in the studio working on stuff, I’ve been organizing and alphabetizing all the song lyric-sheets from the last 25 years. (I ran out of space in this master binder I was using and decided I need to break some of the binders into broader sets.. Maybe something like Songs A to B, C to D, etc. Like that. Because the binders get so big and heavy and then songs start falling out. I’m just doing it to the typed-up ones that haven’t already been classified so far. Gotta be 1000 songs here. Big project.
Every time I come across one from our college years, the Broken Spectacles years when we were smoking out and tripping on acid everyday, there’s something very special about THOSE songs… A really deep vibey heaviosity to them. They weren’t necessarily “hit songs” — in fact they’re downright un-hit songs — long and wild and free-form and complex, with infinitely long chord progressions that go on forever — similar to “Bored” or “Rise and Shine” but even more so; but you know, that’s not what we were about back then, that’s not what we were going for.
I cannot help but feel as we are working on recording these new albums now that something has gotten lost along the way. Songs just seem to be way better when you write them when you’re tripping on something. I know that is so NOT the thing to ever say, especially if you’re a public figure… But sometimes I cannot help but think that… Some of these songs I am revisiting and seeing for the first time in years… Wow… They are just soo sooo good. So groovy and vibey….
There is so much pressure now. As a professional singer/songwriter, to make a living from it, to make enough money to live and support a family from it, especially now after we’ve had a few hits under our belt… It’s not like it was back then when we were in our late teens and early twenties. When we just did whatever we wanted. When we were going for a heavy serious vibe. I mean, now, it’s just so different…
I have to go. Have to finish this project because the guys are waiting for me. Just need to remember from looking at all these songs what it was like back then.. what THOSE songs were like… how much emotion and passion and EVERYTHING we put into them. I honestly don’t feel that commercial radio, that the commercial music market has a place for that kind of music. Really, that’s the thing. When we were young and only had dreams, we didn’t think about these things. We thought we could force the industry and the people to listen to and like whatever it is that we did. We learned the hard way. I mean I struggled for years as a starving artist. Decades. So I learned… But I loved every day of it. Homeless? More than once. No problem. I actually enjoyed the experience. It was an adventure.
Our biggest hits have come from sincerely sitting down and crafting hit songs. Being very careful in every step of the process to do things in a way that structures the song and the sound and the feel of the song to resonate with the commercial music market. And it’s paid off. Big time. You aren’t going to hear me complaining. Because lets’ face it, as these Diaries and everyone who knows me can testify, I spent YEARS doing it my way, doing whatever I wanted to do for ME. So I got a lot of that out of my system.
It was only later that I started thinking it would be fun just to “try” creating “commercially viable” music. And luckily it actually worked. I mean it’s really not rocket science. Writing hit songs is just doing the exact opposite of what you would normally do as an authentic and sincere artist who loves to innovate. Funny but true. You just write the song the way that all the other songs that people listen to sound like. Rather than try to get creative and innovate. It’s like yes you innovate during the production and sound creation process. But not during the songwriting process. People don’t want to hear innovation. At least not in the commercial world. They just want to hear what they’re used to hearing plus something a little special and different. But they don’t want to hear a twenty minute song that traverses thirty different chords and changes keys ten times… Sucks, for us, the artists. But that’s how it is now. Didn’t used to be that way. Inventiveness in music used to be highly valued. But not right now. Not in this climate. The top three songs of the last three years have been “The Harlem Shake”, “Gangam Style” and “Thrift Shop”. Fuck me. Fuck us all. We’re screwed, as artists, we’re screwed.
But frankly I like those songs too. I dig the commercial ones that we do, and that other people do. I like the “sound” of them. Not the songwriting… But the sound of them. But honestly not even one-tenth as much as i like the crazy wild non-commercial ones. THOSE are the ones that I really love. That really get me off. But then what? Get a day job. I mean that’s really the quandary. People don’t realize it. But those are our choices. We become a slave to the tastes of populace OR we settle with not making a ton of money from making music… We can always make money from doing other things… And I have NO problem with that, EXCEPT that it greatly limits our ability to spend all our time making music — which is THE thing I enjoy most in this life hands down — because we have to spend the majority of our day to day life working at something else… So it is definitely preferable to create music that, commercial or not, is popular with enough people that it generates a ton of money. Most of the time that means it’s COMMERCIAL, i.e popular, i.e. liked by many people, current, trendy, a valuable commodity to the masses. Commercial, let’s face it.
Maybe one day this will all change. My hope is that one day I will feel as though I “have enough money” from this that I can “stop working” for a living, i.e. stop creating music to make money — and have enough money saved up that I don’t need to generate revenue anymore…. Then I can just make the kind of music that I want to. And then if people like it, great. If they don’t and we only sell a few hundred copies, that’s great too. Either way, I’ll be following the inner muse. (Is it inner?? Not sure about that… save it for another blog post.) Gotta run. Peace.