"Jesus, Not Him Again!" - An in depth overview/explanation of "A Lone Mutant's Sonic Salvation"
The beauty of art is in it's creation & then it's effect. There should be no such thing as a wrong interpretation. Every experience should be a unique "snowflake". So why am I doing this? A few reasons (but if you're happy w/ your impressions of "JNHA" & do not desire "inside information", read no further!). There was no room in my CD booklet to do 'liner notes', & after my earthly expiration, anyone who happens to come to possess "JNHA" & wonders "What the hell was this guy thinking!?" can get some answers (providing my 'estate' keeps up the domain renewal, of course). As a young green pea I thought the liner notes on The Tubes "Young & Rich" were stupendous, & added to the connection between myself and the creators, & I've always sought out the "behind the music" minutiae on anything that really 'spoke' to me. So- below is an overview, some technical notes, & a song by song breakdown of "JNHA". Freshen that beverage, & put on your reading slippers...
My favorite album of all time is a "concept album" ("Oops Wrong Planet" by Todd Rundgren's Utopia), & many others have impacted my artistic psyche over the years (Joe Jackson, David Bowie, Prince, & Kevin Gilbert's masterpiece "The Shaming Of The True"). The narrative may not be as obvious as w/ "Tommy" or "The Wall", but I think the lyrics, the sequencing, & even the artwork work together to imply a message. That message has a certain meaning to me, & may differ from what others take away from it, but I think it is distinct. The 1st song I had for this was track #5 ('DW&S'), in May of 2001. As I wrote & recorded more songs I began to look at the lyrics & added a couple songs from the past that seemd to gel ("Charades" & 'TMOL'), & saw an arc of sorts. This inspired some more tracks to build on the concept, a few "novel" in nature, yet most befitting. Collectively, the songs provide a trip- it is a thinly veiled trip through my own world view, however oblique or odd it may seem. The concluding point or sentiment of "JNHA" is that life is a blank canvass & we hold the brush & choose the colors. We must be our own 'savior', & either define/interpret things ourselves, our way, or live in a manner that allows external 'forces' to do that for us (and "they" are more than happy to do that, if not foaming at the mouth...). It's about achieving complete comfort w/ realizing there's more that we don't know than we do, & letting that liberate rather than inhibit. Vague enough for rock & roll???
This is for the "gear-heads"; a community for which I am more a tourist than a card carrying member. I won't go into elaborate detail because there isn't much to cover. I did the tracking at home on a 1997 Akai DR16 (hard drive recorder), & transfered the tracks to my engineer's Protools system when it came time to mix. All my parts were layed down to Yamaha RY30 drum machine programs, & those were later wiped out by real drum tracks (an ass-backwards approach, but I rolled w/ it). Bass parts were done w/ a hand made (Fender Jazz style) Kubicki bass, all recorded direct into the Akai. Guitar parts were done w/ a mid 80's Ibanez Roadstar w/ EMG pickups, Floyd Rose tremelo & D'addario .009 strings through a Digitech 2112 preamp. All vocals were via an AKG C-1000S mic'. All keyboards were done on a Korg O1W. The drums sound great, yes? I don't know what Ronnie used- I think Tama, but see his website if you must know (via 'links' page). CD mixed/mastered on a SOTA Protools rig, w/ all those plug-ins, bells, whistles, kitchen sinks, etc. There, that wasn't so painful, was it?
PRELUDE: THE UNDERTOW OVERTURE)
The 1st track was the last thing I did; I wanted some type of ceremonious introduction to prepare the listener for something that might be a tad unconventional. I've messed w/ editing like this in the past just for fun, but if I were to cite similar "collages" I've heard on record, I will submit Queen's "Jazz" album (don't recall track) & the opening moments of Todd Rundgren's "No World Order".
I've joked that this title sounds like a merger between rap group 'NWA' & the women's basketball association, but I prefer the acronym's flow/mystique to spelling it out. I'd deem this a self proclamation mission statement type tune, & have been amused by how the 1st two lyric lines fit w/ the image on CD cover. Not too different from another tune I wrote ("Caesarian Child") that got a lot of mileage w/ my band Dr. Zeus (the fact that "A knife saved my life" has never been lost on me). A friend who heard the tune asked who the "slow motion people are". I don't recall my answer then, but I'd say it is anyone who lapses into 'drone' mode. Maybe not everyone has been there/done that, but I have, & it is scary & not a desirable state. I suppose entering 'perma-drone' status is a fate some may not recognize, even as it is happening. The "purple frequency" refers to auras; a friend of mine studied such things (chakras/auras),& told me mine was of the purple persuasion, which is the highest energy field one can possess. I know Prince is big on that color, though not sure if his contexts ('rain', 'rock', 'banana') refer to auras- I've been accused of being high by others, simply by having a "bouncing off the wall" vibe (& all altering substances do is squash/diminish our light/aura). The pre-solo breakdown may be my feeble attempt at a Steve Morse/Dregs like bit of "chicken picking", but I don't dwell on it long & quickly segue into my comfort zone of controlled spasms, & patented "Velveeta" guitar tone, as a friend once descibed it (I like a big splash of "wetness"). The multi-layered vocal parts on chorus out are the most blatantly Todd Rundgren-esque I've ever done, & though I did not consciously plan to 'cop' him, it became apparent to me once I got into it, & I just went w/ it. Considering he's my #1 fave artist I'm pleased that I've never really "gone there" before like this. (To hear the master of such touches listen to "All The Children Sing" off The Hermit Of Mink Hollow.)
This is actually the 1st song I ever wrote- a collaboration, based on a bass line & melody that drummer Robert Wallace came up w/ during an early 80's 'Frisco jam w/ Pete Nuessmann (keys) & Bort Jones (bass). (I had the cassette of it for years & now cannot find!) I recorded initially solo on a Fostex 4 track, then later w/ producer Chris Camozzi, who contributed to & refined the track to the point of authorship. (Guys- I've never made a dime off this but IF I ever do it'll be a 3 way pie...) The song got plenty of play w/ Dr. Zeus (2 other singers had their way w/ it) & now the definitive version lives on "JNHA". The lyrics were/are very stream of consciousness (don't think I even wrote them down initially) & I still regard them well. I think I was at the height of my Prince fixation back then, & musically/lyrically I hear his influence. Another I rock/funk, therefore "I am" type of statement, but one that remains my most defining blueprint.
LIFE SUCKS & THEN YOU DIE)
Believe it or not, this was inspired by Reel Big Fish's cover of A-ha's "Take On Me"; they did a super fast ska version of it, & I thought, someone should do that w/ Kansas' "Dust In The Wind". Now "Dust" is a beautiful song, but for a long time it was a bit of a downer for me, until I finally heard it as a call to get your head on straight & realize life is a gift & don't sleepwalk through it (it's also a scathing & righteous slam towards materialism). Hence, I thought a bouncy, up-tempo ska version of "Dust" would bring out the joy that the Kansas version does not get across as much. Of course the licensing/publishing entanglements killed my Kansas redux idea, & so 'Sucks' was born. There may be some humor here, but darkness as well. The lyrics can be taken literally, but that is not the ultimate goal. Some folks could never fathom a mindset like that in a million years, & those are people I might have limitations in relating to, as I am no stranger to mood spirals. I have had countless 'dark cloud' days, but luckily they are pretty well spaced out. My quoting the Blue Oyster Cult here ("Don't Fear The Reaper") seemed apropos, & I see all sides myself (the beauty of wanting to 'break on through to the other side' is it eliminates any fear of perishing). Though I may not have pulled it off (you tell me!), the objective was to express what is uplifting about facing/embracing mortality. The listener should come away thinking that the very idea (repeated over/over) is preposterous. I must also admit I like the great juxtaposition of those major 7th chords in verses (the most cheerful chords known to man) & lyrics about prozac & a hang noose. Musically- I think the best bass playing of the CD is on "Sucks", & also was forced to notice the similarity in the last part of the bridge vocals & intro of "Getaway" (EW&F). The engineer bashed me for the falsetto 'la-la's' but did not call me a plagarist (however, he's no big funk fan...). Lastly- The song modulates (changes keys) towards the end, not once but twice. This in itself was a bit of a mockery of that very 'move', as I've come to associate it w/ the most cardboard cut out like generic pop songs (ala Celine Dion); the idea being to create some sense of drama/climax, but most often it becomes just the last cherry on top of a heap of weak & predictable ideas ('lipstick on a pig', if you will). So, I have an inner chuckle w/ that, & wonder if a song w/ title/lyrics like "Sucks" could ever penetrate the top 40 'hit parade'. In the meantime, we have Kansas & 'BOC'. NOTE: Since the CD came out (1/09), this track has far & away sold the best on itunes/napster/amazon, etc. I think it may be the title lures people in & they must like what they hear after that. Whatever works, I'll take it.
DEATH WEATHER & SPORTS)
OK, this one IS meant to project the lowest level of mindsets. Mission accomplished? Thank you. The main riff reminds of "Cult Of Personality" (Living Colour), but again, someting I observed in retrospect (I swear! Hey, at least I don't shy away from noticing such things- don't we all???). I can't remember what made me decide to 'rap' on the verses, but it seemed to be what worked. Don't worry- it was a 1st & a 'last'! My rapping job conjurs the vibe of a more nasal sounding Chris Rock (sorry, dude). The nice thing about rapping was I was done in no time (how many takes do 'the pro's' really require!?). Lyrically, pretty stream of consciousness again, though I thought of my local weatherman (Dallas Raines) when composing the 2nd verse. I suppose the statement here is not only do unfortunate (& prevalant) local/national news stories desensitize people over time, I think in some cases we come to expect the horror, & in some (extreme) cases look forward to it, as a form of 'info-tainment' (or, entertaintment). That to me is far more disturbing than the actual 'news' being reported. Wouldn't it be great if a news station devoted itself entirely to the coverage of good news (charity, animal rescues, good deeds, etc.)? The ad revenue wouldn't be there, but would viewership? $ trumps all. Music wise I liked pulling out the wah wah pedal, & enjoyed the quasi-calypso feel on the bridge. Gotta love that 'real simulated' 3rd world 'flute' patch I used on the Korg. No, I don't do wind instruments.
DWS II: UNSOLICITED SURPRISE REPRISE)
Well, i guess the title kills the element of "surprise", but oh well. This was an act of sheer self amusement, but it turned out to be a nice drum showcase for Mr. Ciago (I instructed him to take unlimited liberties, but just keep a steady pulse going w/ the high hat cymbals). The bass & main guitar riff define the key, but the keyboard chords & lead guitar 'noodling' defy all that w/ atonal abandon. I'm at a loss to compare this track to anything else, so that must be a good thing (?). Filler? Oh, no, no, no. How about the 1st single?
BRIEF INTERMISSION/SATELLITE FEED FROM PURGATORY)
Michael Wallace (mix engineer) said this became 1 of his favorite cuts, & mine too (it certainly stands on it's own amongst the others). I've always been fascinated w/ the concept of an "afterlife" & how people perceive such a thing. Purgatory is, from what I was conditioned to believe, a waiting room like dimension between heaven & hell. I guess your soul gets it's credit score checked before being waived onward to it's final stop. The setting I strived to create (in true 'theater of the mind' style) was a cocktail lounge, complete w/ a 'bad jazz' trio & a time warped emcee who makes Ed McMahon seem ultra hip. The script came easily, & I was lucky to get the perfect talent to bring 'Dirk Winter' to life (G.F. is a truly funny dude, & this to me is his iceberg tip, for sure). Musically I used a fake 'vibes' patch, then just did walking/meandering bass throughout (I incorporated many familiar bass line snippets as well; from Zep to Stevie to Soundgarden & Yes- more unabashed self amusement). The content is predominantly light/silly, but other parts probe into some of the questions I've always had about religion at large. The title is also a bit fraudelent ("brief"?), as it's the longest track on CD. I do think it is placed well & is a nice breather prior to 2nd half of the disc. You can even leave disc running, & go purchase popcorn, bleed the bladder, etc.
LIFE AFTER DEATH)
Lyrically, this is potentially a real "pandora's box", so I should explain- The goal was to write about the legend of Jesus in layman/childlike essence type terms. The 2nd verse gets more into folks who take the gospel as being "gospel" (ie, interpreting literally rather than figuratively/symbolically). Religion seems to be 'faith based', & I ask, is faith not quite different from utter conviction? Faith seems (to me) to imply a hope that something might be true. I think 'JC' is like Superman or The Easter Bunny; a means to an end, & if the source inspires improved human behavior & relations, then it is hard to knock it. Unfortunately, the jury is out on JC having ever strolled the earth, but IF he (or someone like him) ever emerged he'd likely be treated like a UFO or a terrorist (ie, our gov' shoots 1st, holds Q&A sessions later). Many believe religion was invented to control people in eras of pure hedonistic debauchery- folks thought 'why do anything other than seek pleasure?', & morality was soon imposed (or scared/guilted?) upon them (I guess a lifetime of endless sex/wine/song didn't foster very productive cultures). Regarding the concept of an "afterlife"- I don't know how most 'devout' people perceive this, but to do so literally (which I think many do) seems like a Club Med type form of reincarnation, which (to me) seems like delusional lunacy. I've always thought it more realistic to interpret 'afterlife' in ethereal terms, much like as in the 1st 'Star Wars' film. Right before Darth Vader snuffs out 'Obie' w/ a light sabre, 'OB1' tells Luke to "Remember the force", then poof, he's gone. In his final moments in a fleshly state, OB1 is able to acknowledge that his existence was spent playing on the 'good guys' team, & therefore can part w/ all he knows in a 'heavenly' state of mind (& that is the extent of 'heaven' for him). Meanwhile, the loss suffered by Luke alters him in a way that is transcendent & ultimately positive, & he inherits a bit of the OB1 energy/spirit, which further emboldens him to stay the course w/ "the force" (OB1 lives on in this sense beyond his physical existence, but his 'afterlife' is an invisible torch passed around by the living). Abstract, but more logical & believable to me than romping around w/ "seven virgins" (see the middle eastern doctrine that promises that, IF it exists). The lyrics in the bridge ask if we are energy. Thought/consciousness is energy, but do we possess it, or does it possess us? Maybe we do become 'worm food', but just because we're not magically transported into another dimension eating ice cream or watching HD big screens does not mean our extremely intangible 'afterlife' is not meaningful. It is our spirit, deeds & actions/creations that live on... Musically: Hmmm- fair to say the main riff is a bit Rush like, though I've never been big on them (I can admire from afar). The verses are the most up tempo sections on the CD, & i CAN disclose that the lead vocal part on verses were definitely influenced by Fishbone's "Subliminal Fascism" (off 'Truth & Soul'). More 'emoting' than singing. In addition, the backing vocals on the chorus are absolutely inspired by Cheap Trick's "Stiff Competition". Beyond that, lengthy guitar solo, & tone is different from all others as it was done w/ a Mesa Boogie amp (my main head for many years). Also enjoy the rip on naming arenas/stadiums after large corporate entities; if there's no Pilsbury named venue out there now, just give it a little more time.
HALLELUJAH (BATTLE HYMN OF THE BEAUTIFULLY DISTRACTED)
The token 'epic' of the disc, & perfect reason to accuse me of "over-producing". I admit my chorus out's often end up being elongated to the point of becoming songs unto themselves, & this 1 may take (& eat) the cake. Lucky I don't answer to a record label or some nervous A&R guy. The lyrics here are meant to point out some things that might be cause for gratitude. The 2nd verse strays from that a bit, & the bridge lyrics are actually abstract non-sequiters (the 1st part was my way of pondering the Tom Cruise/Nicole Kidman dissolve, 2nd part was a comment on the way women who like women seem to be embraced by all & get a free pass of tolerance when they're willing to 'entertain'). Sometimes you go w/ the 'flow' of the words over the meaning... "Hallelujah" is a term that usually is reserved for serious rejoicing, so I wanted the chorus hook to embody a soaring, triumphant vibe (what would U2/Bono do?). I think I got it pretty well, & big thanks to Mark Montague for uttering the words that became the refrain ("Everyone is different..."). It was MANY years ago, & likely an off the cuff statement, but it stuck like glue in my memory bank ever since. David Bowie once said the best artists are thieves- I understand that, do not agree entirely, but I always give due credit, for what it's worth. Also- had to extend the title w/ a parenthetical, as a way to distinguish my 'Hal' from the 1's that came before (Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, & even Sammy Hagar, though I heard his well after finishing mine).
THE MEANING OF LIFE)
I'm no 'ballad guy', & including this 1 I think I've written a total of 3, but this fit the 'concept' perfectly, so it made the cut. I think ballads, when they're good, seem to reach people in a more lasting way than uptempo songs (I guess a slower/sedate beat is more conducive to supporting reflective ideas/emotions). I don't think 'TMOL' is in any Lennon/McCartney or Elton John league, but I met my objective. I can cite Todd Rundgren's "The Last Ride" & Hall & Oates as definite influences here. When Ronnie did the drums I told him to think "You're Still A Young Man" (Tower Of Power), so I wanted an R&B-ish feel, at least on the verses. The lead vocal track seems particularly exposed, & in view of the like/hate relationship I have w/ my singing voice it makes sense that I'm not big on ballads for myself. I have no qualms w/ saying a 'real' singer could do the song greater justice, but such a 'cameo' would have disrupted the continuity for me (& the listener), plus I was on a tight budget. Keyboard wise, there's an organ (MW added some distortion to it later, for a subtle Deep Purple effect) & a piccicato string patch. Lyrically I'd say this is a good summary of my general outlook/philosophy. We all must blaze our own trail... At the end of "Prince Of Tides", Nick Nolte says (in gruff voiceover) "It is the mystery of life that sustains me now." That was a pretty heavy film, & that line mirrors the sentiment of this song (though I am also a fan of Monty Python's 'TMOL' flick).
WHICH WAY TO UTOPIA?)
The last proper song on disc, & it ends on a note of yearning, or zero resolve. But, that is true to life, art imitating life. Without carrots dangling before us, what would we do? We get a good look at one & take a bite, then it is soon replaced by another. Lyrics in 2nd verse take a a loving swipe at my place of residence (L.A.); a region I have come to be "at home" with, but have been plagued by unfaithful thoughts lately whenever I travel away (but, I'm usually happy to return). "Utopia" is not a place, but a state of mind, I think. Our bodies are our real houses/homes (castles?). We all seek that perfect "space" though, & the 1st verse simplifies my outlook on this. My view is we all require food, shelter, clothing, & means of transportation & communication. Beyond that, whatever level of those things one chooses to equip themselves with is a matter of aesthetics & often (fear based) competitiveness. As Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) says in "Fight Club", we don't own our possessions, they own us. I could go on/on (& dig a deeper ditch?), but the conclusive point of 'WW2U?' is the search leads us inward, & our state of mind is what equates 'utopia' with an enormous amenity infested mansion, or a straw hut with dirt flooring & outdoor stream for running water. Musically, a 'rocker', & 1 that may bring upon cries of "80's" & "dated", but that's OK (& another topic I take issue w/, but not here...). The 1st guitar solo reminds me a bit of Steve Vai & I was happy w/ it. I like the way this track ends, & almost closed disc w/ it, but instead went with...
KDWS NIGHTCAP RECAP REPORT)
"I'm Michael Cassidy, and you're not." I guess I'm freeing my inner Chevy Chase or John Stewart here. I honestly cannot recall what series of thoughts inspired me to go down this road, but initially I had the idea of a TV station signing off late at night, & I contemplated a "This concludes our broadcast day..." type voiceover, whilst a trumpet played a slow/solemn "Taps" like version of the "WW2U?" melody underneath. Maybe that would have been better than this, but my pseudo 'Weekend Update' is the closer. In it, I make light (or sarcastic sport) of events that are not too far off from current reality- humor + social commentary. The v/o courtesy of a good friend, who has quite the resonant speaking voice (he sounds EXACTLY like the guy who voices "Jack" in the Jack In The Box commercials; check it out!). The only track w/ drum machine throughout, & the fading typewriters are the perfect bookend to the typewriters that fade in at start of disc.
So ends this recap of "JNHA"... Goodnight~