Before you do anything else, I want you to listen to the record as you read. Feel free to stream from Soundcloud via the set below. I suggest beginning with Colorado Nights.
Befriending the Scalpel...Again
18 Months. 9 Songs. 45 minutes. The beginning of something I can’t quantify.
A lot of anxiety, habitual sleep loss and endless delays for the first installment of my SEASONS project. This was something difficult for me to finish because I’m not exactly a musician, a composer or an artist. As hipster as this sounds, I’m still trying to figure out what I am. What I am sure of is that when I get behind anything containing keys between 10pm and 8am I have an out of body experience, and music flows through me. These songs are the first in a series of records I want to put out over the next few years.
I Thought About You
I try to make a habit of asking filmmakers what they need when it comes to music. Especially when it’s being written for the small group of them who are insane. The few who are decimating the creative envelope - the few who need music to come into existence that’s years ahead of its time. Despite the type of creative I ask, I continue to hear the same response: “Make something that moves us.”
In response, I decided to give the creative class a new pallet of sonic colors which they could paint with as they edited, filmed, photgraphed and scripted. I noticed some of my former tracks like “The Father’s Heart,” “Breakthrough,” “Hope,” and “Rise” were resonating and had to at least look for a pattern among them. I’ve started learning that the pieces of music which move people to create seem to be ones that connect the listener with their own heart. With their memories. With their nostalgia. With some sort of emotion inside of them. Some feeling. Some experience of loss. A longing for something better. Home. Transcendence. The ability to momentarily touch a world outside of this one. SEASONS was always a means to an end: “If I can take them to those places, their art will take people even better places.”
There is more noise on the market than ever before…more composers and producers writing music than ever before, so I have committed to only release music that has power infused into it. One of my friends told me it was arrogant to assume there was power in my music. He’s got a point…almost like I’m claiming that I’m the one who put the power in there. But my closest friends know that when I write, it’s not me writing…there is something writing through me. Someone writing through me. The Spirit of Jesus. My good friend Bradley told me once, “I know you suck, so anything good that comes out of you is from God.” He is right. I am full of darkness and absolutely loved by God all the time at the same time, so understand that when I release music that I’m absolutely sure has power infused in it, I am talking about power from another source. And because of that, I can guarantee that these songs will connect with your heart, because the person behind them is connecting with your heart.
I initially wanted to release 18 songs on this record, but the other 9 are not ready. They’ll be released when I have a significant time of rest to be re-fueled, but you cannot rush these things - especially when it’s music that has no picture or film guiding the timeline. In a film, the images are dictating start and end points - the dialogue is dictating emotional flow, and the director is the one making the deadline. SEASONS isn’t a film score…it’s a collection of songs that are designed to inspire films to come into being. The second chapter of SEASONS will be even deeper. Diverse. The language of the human heart.
Here's What I'm Learning
I TRY TOO HARD
Most of the songs on SEASONS had to be completely re-written because I was too concerned with how they would be perceived and critiqued by the public. It ruined the writing process. It sucked the life out of the songs. My motive initially with music 10 years ago was to enjoy writing it and freely share it, but since I have started to see business growth and financial return I’ve turned into a materialistic self-centered monster; more concerned with whether or not a track will perform well in the advertising or film world than I am with it serving you. More interested in keeping strategies to myself than sharing them with my community. I see it within me, and I see it in every single composer and artist I know. The human heart is dark. Any favor you see on my work has been met with equal resistance - I've lost as many friends as I've gained.
The more I open up about this heart disease, every single person I share it with in the creative world gets uncomfortable and either admits they understand and experience it, or they shut down and try to give me pithy advice…and I am not good at smalltalk. Because I am beginning to be honest with my own pride, I can see right through people’s pride when they tell me they don’t struggle with this. They're lying. I'm lying when I tell you I don't care what you think when I write. I am not interested in getting better overnight. I am interested in being honest and ensuring that my work is an honest reflection of the current condition of my heart. SEASONS was a scalpel exposing an infection, and for that I am thankful. Painfully thankful.
MUSICIANS CHANGE EVERYTHING
I brought in several artists in on the process of SEASONS. My longtime friend Liz Navarra (who you’ve heard perform vocals and violin on many of my compositions) wrote some of the most addictive lyrics I’ve heard for a track we co-wrote called Glow (I’ll expound on that in a later post). Miami meets Summer meets Warmth. I also brought in Curt Vernon, Jonathan McKeown and my friend Uday Bassalbasman for guitar work. Curt is more in touch with the Holy Spirit than anyone I know and often helps me write my chord progressions when I hit a creative wall. Jonathan is a master at creating tones you can feel with this electric rig…I love that he’s constantly more concerned with feel than proper technicality. And then there’s Uday - a random guy from India who is studying outside of Lexington and just so happened to play all of A.R. Rahman’s guitars for the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.
Cello is my favorite instrument, and my local friend Geoffery Hershberger helped me out on a massive scale here…working long hours with me to get just the right take for each of the tracks he contributed on; Angelic Highways, Dreams and Visions and Further Up, Further In. His wife also contributed some significant Viola solo work. And then there’s Jeremy Weldon, one of my best friends who happens to be a killer drummer for the Jordan Howerton Band located in Joplin, MO. Jeremy tracked drums and changed the life of Dwell, Further Up, Further In, Ariane and Grace significantly.
My genius friend Jon Hill was in town tracking some piano for a record he was contributing to and went straight analogue madness with me on a few tracks to get the Prophet 12 screaming - insanely thankful for this knowledge and insight. And most importantly, I tracked all real bass this time around. My friend here in Lexington, Carson Childers nailed the bass stuff…our 3am sessions were incredible and made each song human again! Overall, I recognized that every single musician brought with them a humility and spontaneity that unleashed life into the work…life that makes the tracks what they are.
Pictured Above: Jon Hill assisting with Synth Programming, Jeremy Weldon tracking drums at Haxton Road Studios, Roland's TR-8, Dave Smith's Prophet 12, My current Rackmount Gear Setup, and Liz Navarra writing Glow back in February of 2013.
Pictured Below: Geoff Hershberger destroying a cello solo, our mic/amp setup for the Jonathan McKeown Recording Sessions and Curt Vernon/Richard Wooldridge slaying some sick tones
HIRE PROFESSIONAL MIX AND MASTERING FIRMS
I normally mix and master everything I write and release…most composers do that because they have no other choice, but I’ve hit a wall. Maybe more like come to the realization that I am not trained or gifted in getting the dynamics of a track to sound their best. Most tracks I write nowadays are between 100-250 total tracks of audio and MIDI interlaced, and once you throw that much at your DAW you’re running severe risks of muddying everything - especially in the low end (regardless of how you think it sounds to you). I work in intricate layers, and my automation lanes are not something I want somebody else messing around with, so I don’t send individual stems to mixing houses…just instrument groups so they can side-chain certain elements, glue it, lift it, distort it, run it all through their compression and fix things that I unknowingly destroyed. My friends Neil and Ryan at Haxton Road Studios in Bentonville, AR helped me greatly here…unlocking layer of life in Ariane, Dwell, Grace and Further Up, Further In that I never knew existed!
And then there’s mastering…something I’m still investigating. In short, mastering firms ought to bring out the fullness of life in each track so that your record translates across all platforms without much room for misinterpretation. Master buss compression, EQ and limiting also come into play here since they’re running your mixes through all of their high-end physical gear to get the best possible result - and it’s a scary process! I hired The Lodge in New York City and they asked me to send them split mono versions of all 9 tracks with no compression, EQ or limiting on them! Talk about a risk…you’re basically trusting people you’ve never met to make your dull sounding mixes sing again!
In this case with the Lodge, I was asked to also send a version of each song with my digital compression, EQ and limiting for a reference…so they knew what I was used to hearing. The Lodge worked hard and did a great job with all the tracks except for Glow - which is more of an EDM/Progressive House track. In the future I will be going with a different mastering house for EDM music I’m planning on releasing…I need it glued and deep - and in the end, I used my version of Glow to release rather than theirs. Just my preference. The goal here for me is to get my team together for all future work so that I can learn their processes and they can learn my preferences and so that you can enjoy the music as it’s intended!
I CANNOT MEET MY OWN DEADLINES
SEASONS was originally supposed to be released in February of 2013. Then June of 2013. Then the Fall of 2013. Then March of 2014. Each time I got close, I’d have some massive job outside of SEASONS rear its ugly head and make a demand of me. Or I’d get sick. Or I’d not be in the mood to write. I am not going to set aggressive deadlines for my self-started projects in the future…it inhibits the growth of the songs. I am also not going to announce a release date until the songs are completely finished in the future…I added too much artificial pressure into the equation this time around in my desire to get it done fast. I’m learning to let the process breathe.
WINE IS FUEL
I drink alcohol in moderation most nights that I’m writing. Wine to be specific. Dry reds to be more specific. I’ve noticed that a good Cabernet does not need to cost you $100, and that a 58 degree serving temperature and Riedel stemware are as equally important as the wine you’re drinking. I got into a 2007 Brunello from Italy that is my new favorite. My friend Jason also got me into this cheese called Pecorino that I slice and eat with toasted pita, imported Greek olive oil, Mediterranean sea salt, black pepper and Greek oregano. Insanity. These foods give me an incentive to get writing each night. It helps trick me into getting into the zone.
More to come...
The next update will be a track by track breakdown of the stories, memories, colors and temperatures that brought SEASONS into being...