Thursday, February 28, 2008

more demos

we’ve got four demos done now:
dance alone
leroy and me
paper airplane
something to hide

we’re going to track drums in just over a week, so we gotta get a move-on to finish up the other demos in time. there’s four more that we’ve got in the pipe, but we’ll need to write probably another three or four after that. as of now, the other four we need to track are:
mayor of the moon
floyd’s bluff
no disassemble

Monday, February 25, 2008

jump in, let's save the world

hello everybody. a few months ago, me, neil robins (my writing partner/ producer), adam degraide (ceo of astonish), and jordan chesney (videographer), all got together in a little room in rhode island to discuss the ‘michael’ video. we knew it had to be as fun as the ’sweep the leg’ video was, but we didn’t want to cannibalize ourselves. once our ideas got rolling, it became clear that we wanted to do something in the vein of the spike jonze video for the beastie boys’ ’sabotage’. something retro, something silly. we wanted to reference old buddy-cop shows (essentially ‘michael’ is a buddy-cop song, only one of the ‘cops’ is a talking car).
but during the course of the discussions, our ideas had started to exceed our resources. we had cars crashing into storefronts, gas stations exploding, cars flying off the roofs of parking garages. great, fun stuff, but difficult to achieve. then we started thinking about the idea of doing an animated video, and it all started to come together.

a while ago, i was researching animation houses with the intent of doing a short, simple animated video for ‘mr b’. i found a small studio in san fransisco called ‘ghostbot’. they launched the esurance spy-action series of ads starring erin. their work is stylish and simple and super-cool. i contacted them about ‘mr b’ and they seemed excited to work on it. and of course, i was excited to work with them! soon, things started to shift, and we realized that it was too soon to make a video for a song that we weren’t planning on releasing to radio. it made much more sense to make a video for the next single. sooo i sadly told ghostbot that we would have to wait to work together.

once adam made the decision to do ‘michael’ as an animated video, i leapt for the phone to see if ghostbot was interested/available. they were!

(at the ghostbot studio in san fransisco)


next: a storyboard emerges

don’t forget to check out ghosbot’s blog:

Friday, February 22, 2008

working titles

right now i’ve got a couple of working titles. most of them are fleshed out lyrically. some i just have a general idea. i’ll have to match them with one of the instrumental pieces we have sitting around.

dance alone
leroy and me
paper airplane
the lonely futurist

Monday, February 18, 2008


recording demos is sort of like inking drawings in a sketchbook. the demos are not quite as rough as the initial sketch, but not nearly as polished as the final song. the purpose of a demo is to invoke the feeling and energy of the song, without getting hung up on specific arrangement ideas.

neil has this great new program for scratching out great drum tracks quickly. they are samples of real drums, so they aren’t quite as cheesy as the casio keyboard drums we used to demo the first album. it’s great because it gives us a pretty solid idea of the feel of the song. obviously when a real drummer comes into the studio to track, that’s when it really comes to life. but again, in the demo phase, this is just fine.
then neil throws down a guitar track and bassline. maybe keys or piano if he thinks the song needs that. i take this stuff into garageband until i figure out the melody and lyrics. it’s perfect for me, because it lets me play around with things, recording multiple takes until i get something i like. sometimes i just play with rhythm, no melody, no lyrics. when i get something that feels good i start scatting a melody of nonsense words. then its a matter of poring through my index cards, matching up phrases with the rhythm.

for this stuff, i’ve been sketching out a general format for each song. what i want to happen/say in each verse. progressing towards the them or meaning of the song. then i try to find the most concise or fun way to say what that verse needs. there’s a lot of back-and-forth going on at this point. push and pull. like a painting.
when i’m painting, it’s always a conversation between me and the piece. i’ll talk (paint) for a little, and then i’ll listen (look) for a little. i try not to push too much. i like to stop at points and see what the painting needs. it’s like that with songs too. sometimes i get stuck in the forest, and can only see tree trunks, and so i’ll bring it to neil. usually he’ll find a spot that’s out of place, or weak, or just not right. then i can go back in an rework that stuff.

then we record a scratch demo vocal, which of course sounds better than me singing into my macbook. everyday we burn a cd of our newest pass, and we listen to that in the car while we go out to lunch or dinner. that way we can start to make notes on what’s working and what’s not. and we know what to play with for the next day.

[studio shots] [audio clip? demo?]

Monday, February 11, 2008


songwriting has always been a tricky gypsy lover for me. like any creative endeavor, sometimes everything falls into place serendipitously, and you have a good song without much laboring. but most times, it’s a hard-fought battle to bend the wills of words and melodies. you wrestle them into submission, but not so hard that you hurt them.

the first album came with its own set of tricky issues. a lot of the songs were older songs, from college, that we had to rework. so they required new arrangements, new melodies sometimes, and almost always new words. ‘mr b’ is probably the song that survived the most intact from its first incarnation. most of his siblings on the album got wrestled pretty bad.

with this album, we are starting completely from scratch. all new songs, and all new ideas. which is a lot of fun for me. it’s like buying a brand new sketchbook. blank pages waiting to be filled. so this was a welcome challenge.

my approach to writing songs is a lot like how i approach painting. usually my first step is to get a kernel of an idea and then research it to death. i fill index cards with weird phrases and bits of trivia. character traits. possible titles. then i spread them all out on my floor and start making connections. putting cards together. re-ordereing and ranking. i think it’s important, when dealing with an open-ended problem, to limit the possible solutions that i’ll spend time on. so a good first pass is a shotgun approach. shoot wide. generate too many ideas. then filter them down. keep everything for later, but limit the scope of the material i have in front of me. i’ll have to do this a few times, each time whittling the cards down.

meanwhile neil is recording demo versions of the instrumentation for the songs. when he finishes them, i throw them into garageband and start matching up themes and ideas with songs that fit the vibe. then i can start playing around with melody and lyric ideas.

or [picture of index cards]
for example, here are a couple index card worth of goofy notes/ideas:

~another fine mess we’ve gotten into
me and leroy
hercules (to ioulaus)

~triskaidekaphobia (tris-ky-deka-phobia)
napolean? roosevelt? afraid of all things 13

~dirty harry had a magnum and magnum had a 45

~the serpent of the nile - cleopatra (medusa?)

~planet mercury has the shortest year
new year’s eve parties are more frequent?

i think i’ve got something for ‘me and leroy’. or ‘leroy and me’. that sounds better.

Friday, February 01, 2008


i flew to kentucky this week to hang out with neil. we’re starting pre-production on album two, which is very exciting for me. i love playing live; playing all the songs from the first album. but that project is over two years old now. so i’m definitely ready to make some new music.
we’re approaching this album a little differently from our last album. we’re hoping to make it a little funkier. maybe a little bit of a sixties and seventies vibe. (i guess we’re working backwards through the decades! the 20’s album should be awesome). so we’re referencing a lot of ‘sly and the family stone’, ‘bill withers’, ‘jackson 5’ and aretha franklin.
so the next step is to start writing and demo-ing songs. then we can choose the most successful ones and record them for real.