A few days ago I received a notification that a music video for the song “Gimme Some Rock ‘N’ Roll” by Ed Hale had popped up on some random website. Which would be fine, except we haven’t made a music video for that song yet. Weird. But… this is a normal everyday occurrence in our biz. You get used to it. You cringe at the thought of what it might actually be…. Luckily since the advent of more formal music streaming sites like Apple Music and Spotify et al., we’re not seeing as many of these popping up daily as we used to, compared to say even just five years ago. We used to easily get ten to twenty notifications of illegal mp3s of our songs being uploaded to the web per day. Usually in Asia, Russia or the Middle East. It was (and still is) just part of the gig. Prince used to have a whole team on staff supposedly whose sole job was to attack and attempt to remove his songs from those sites 24/7. He took the protection of his intellectual property seriously. Perhaps more than anyone else.
I usually don’t address them. Simply because of time and energy constraints. There’re far too many of them for one. Take one down today, two pop up tomorrow. We have to choose our battles. And fighting constant music piracy in foreign lands is just not a battle I want to spend all my time on. (Don’t get me wrong. We hate it. It infuriates us. It limits our income streams and hence our livelihood. Besides the fact that it just continues to promote the devaluation of art and music as a commodity, an unfortunate side effect of the digital age. And it does so in a rather blatantly disrespectful manner. We don’t believe that just because a crime is possible that it should be okay to commit it. I’ve written about it plenty thru the years. Chances are, you know where I stand personally on this issue.) I still don’t actively engage with every crazy free mp3 website that pops up every day. It would greatly distract and detract from our ability to keep creating new art. And that’s ultimately the mission.
I must admit though that I was intrigued when I read that a new Asian website had just uploaded the music video for the song “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll”. Because we hadn’t made one yet. So I had to check it out. It turns out that it was actually the original song I posted to YouTube back in 2007 when I first wrote it. For a few years I was doing a Song Log series on YouTube, posting any new songs that I really liked and wanted to share with the guys in the band; or that I thought I might need to remember how to play later It was a cool way to engage with fans and other players as well.
Most of the songs I have been writing for the last 20 years are in really random funky open guitar tunings that I often come up with spontaneously in the moment. I’ll come up with a new open tuning and just keep that guitar tuned to it for a long time, creating a studio environment where each guitar I have is tuned to a different open tuning. It frustrates the hell out of the other guys in the band, because they just want to pick up a guitar and play it. But they never know how any of the guitars I have laying around are tuned. So when you pick it up, it’s like picking up a foreign instrument.
By videoing myself playing a song I am able to go back and re-remember how I actually play the chords to it. Because there’s no real way to notate the chord progressions to most of these songs, because I’m inventing the chords — the positions i put my fingers on the fretboard — based on what they need to sound like on that guitar and how it’s tuned to create the song. It can be excruciatingly frustrating to be sitting in the studio with the guys ready to record a new song when you have the lyrics right in front of you, and the tuning listed, and even what fret the capo may be on, but you have no idea where you originally put your fingers to play the song… Luckily for me, both Roger and Fernando are really good at hearing me sing songs and being able to figure out what chords I was playing when I wrote it. The basics at least. (I always record the songs as well. So we can always resort back to the original tape.) That usually compels me to start getting back into the vibe of the song and be able to remember where I put my fingers. From there it will usually flow out again.
As a sidenote, as frustrating as it can be, the reason for the process is that it has two extremely beneficial aspects to it that you just can’t get from writing songs in regular tuning. That’s why I continue to do it. Number one, you can quickly reach a point where you’ve burned out on writing songs in regular tuning. Once you’ve fleshed out a few hundred or thousand songs, there’s just no way to create something new and exciting in that same standard tuning. You’ve literally done it all. Whereas if you randomly turn the tuning pegs blindly until your guitar sounds thrillingly new and magical when you strum it without placing a finger on a fret, it can totally inspire you to write songs that you normally never would. Whole new melodic and harmonic possibilities present themselves. As I’ve said it before, the first time I ever did that was with the song “Bored”. People wonder if songs are real or if they’re fictional… That song, and it’s lyrics, are as real as it gets. That’s exactly what I was feeling in that moment, totally fucking bored. So I just randomly attacked those tuning pegs in an effort to get my guitar to play and sound different than a normal guitar. I ended up creating an Open D9 tuning and quickly wrote “Bored” from it a few minutes later. Now the Open D9 is a standard tuning of mine. I return to it often.
When I first do this each time, I’ll have no idea what chord I’ve even tuned the guitar to. And sometimes I’ll just let that be how it is for a few days, to see if I really dig the tuning or not — which of course for my purposes comes down to how inspirational the tuning is to me writing new songs. That’s what everything comes down to. For me. Usually a new open tuning will be enough to inspire me to create something new and fresh and unique and cool sounding. From there I just start playing that guitar incessantly and getting to know that tuning until I become one with it, and I’ll stick with it till I get a ton of new songs out of it. I’ll fill half a notebook in two to three weeks with one new tuning, just pumping out a new song every day till I burn out on the potentialities of that tuning. Then I’ll move on to another new open tuning. You just need to own a LOT of guitars. My father thinks I just like collecting guitars. And I do, a little. But not like most players. For me it’s really about having enough guitars in the house to hold every new open tuning that I come up with. It’s not really about collecting guitars. Not yet at least.
The other benefit of the open tunings is the SOUND. Playing a D chord in regular tuning is one thing. Playing all six strings of a guitar tuned to an open D chord is something entirely different. It just sounds way better. Much fuller and richer. And it also enables you to then easily augment that chord with various different additional notes with a finger or two to make the chord sound much more complex, adding new dimensions to your chording that you’d normally never be able to achieve, finger placements that would literally be impossible physically. That’s the thing that a lot of people miss about open tunings.
Of course the drawback is trying to remember hundreds or thousands of songs when they’re all written in these totally random open guitar tunings. Sometimes years after you’ve written them. So videoing myself playing them really helps. And that’s what popped up on this random Asian music blog this week. Me sitting in my longjohns late one winter’s night playing what was a brand new song, “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll”. It’s trippy. I had no idea the song was so old. I’m just glad we found it and finally recorded it. I was immediately taken by how much lower a key I wrote it in originally. The strings were probably just a lot looser… And also by how much softer I sang it.
If I have a regret about how the song came out, it would be that. Hearing it fresh right as I was writing it, it’s clear that I had much more of a softer romantic “dream pop” vibe in mind then, a much “closer” laidback feel to the chorus than what we ended up with. Not that we can focus on that too now… Once we lay a song down, that’s it. We move on. We already spend way too much time making albums. I get it. But it’s nice to have it as a memento of that moment in time.
Back in the day when I was doing these YouTube Song Logs I would often ramble before or after the song about how it was written or what I was going for. Used to drive my friends mad. Don’t ask me why. I stopped asking me why a long time ago. And yeah I can definitely see that as being one of the many aspects of what makes an artist an artist, this ability (or inability) to not question before doing something… just acting without thinking. That’s something that’s always driven my parents and my wife crazy. But it’s definitely a piece of what makes an artist. It’s not a “doing”. It’s a being. I would never advise anyone to deliberately try to start acting without thinking. It’s a suckass way to live. Trust me. I live it. But I also don’t believe that being an artist can be taught either. Regardless, for better or worse, many of the songs often have these long interludes of dialogue preceding or following them. Totally random. But helpful. In the rambling that follows “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll” there’s a ton of interesting data about how this guy feels about being a songwriter and an artist and the requisite struggles that accompany the job. He’s very open and honest and spontaneous, free. Streaming.
(And yeah I noticed that I tend to drift off into a third person point of view in consciousness when I’m talking about myself when seeing or hearing something that’s older… Because once it’s done, it doesn’t even seem real anymore. It takes on more of a surreal quality. Songwriting and stream of consciousness scatting like that is so momentary. You’re in it and then you’re not. You move on. So it’s a trip to experience later. Doesn’t feel like you. You don’t remember it. Feels like you’re watching someone else. Sometimes that’s cool. Sometimes it’s cringe inducing. But it’s art. So you resign yourself to all of it and everything else that comes with it. I don’t think you can be your greatest artist if you give in to too much self-consciousness. Perhaps that’s a thing. In fact, I would say that that often seems like one of the underlying differences between artists and celebrities. That self consciousness aspect. Artists tend to not care at all. The self is sacrificed for the bigger picture. The art. The self takes the back seat. You just have to let it all come out. You skate right up to the edge, and then push a little further, the cliff be damned. Or you surf the wave till it totally peters out, even if it means you’re going to fall right over in the end. You have to. The payoff is that you’re bound to get some gold out of those moments, even if it’s accompanied by a bunch of dirt or blood. Worth it.)
There’s a certain magic in hearing what a song first sounded like when the writer first grabbed it out of the ethers compared to what the finished product sounds like. It’s a special experience. And it can at times be quite exhilarating. Think The Beatles Anthology albums. But it can also be kind of a lukewarm ho hum thing too, more of a let down. Think the Beatles Anthology albums. Hah! Finding this old video was illuminating. Personally I’m not sold that we served the song as justly as we could have in the end. We knew it had potential. We kept coming back to it… (Compared to the songs we tracked and just abandoned after a few weeks….) Roger repeatedly commented “Gimme Some Rock ‘n’ Roll” man… that’s the one…” But that clay starts to dry once you spend any amount of time playing with it. It starts becoming…. and it’s damn hard to pull it back once formed….
It is what it is. BUT Transcendence is the most passionate and committed group of artists and musicians I know of. Every single one of us is more than 100% committed to the art over everything else. For better or worse. So I don’t think I can ever look back at this band, this group of guys and one girl, and say that we didn’t give it enough or didn’t give it our best. If anything we probably over-indulge when creating new albums, as the case is often made when discussing how long we sometimes take. So… yes, if you listen to those first few seconds of the song and the chorus in this original version of it, you can hear this magic we heard when we all first heard it. Something soft, mystical and romantic… It’s still there in this version. Whether it exists in the final version, I still can’t put my finger on. I’ll come back and let you know. Regardless, maybe that’s not even the point. Perhaps the point is that the original has one vibe and sound to it, and the finished version has an entirely different one. And that’s okay. (I am reminded of how many times as a band we’ve re-recorded one of the songs from the Acoustic In New York album, where all the songs are just acoustic guitar and a vocal. Songs like “Paris” or “Bored”. Both versions of the song have their place in the bigger picture.