Hi! I’m bringing back the blog, but am moving to another platform — and format! I’m inviting you to subscribe to my all new newsletter (click here). It’s free for now and I’ve curated a collection of some of my oldest blog posts for you to read and you’ll receive an invite to my private Discord server for subscribing. Hope you have been doing great! I’m looking forward to reconnecting and thanks for reading my blog. Consider this my last post here… See you over there!
I was at the cottage and…
The problem of navigating through Ontario is that invariably some large body of fresh water gets in the way. Adding hours to any journey, driving around lakes and rivers is scenic but frustrating. Mainly the problem is that they haven’t built a direct route from, say, Montreal, Quebec to Wiarton, Ontario. We’ve come up to my aunt’s cottage for a little vacation. The weather is a bit dark and rainly, but there remains great value in being surrounded by quiet pine trees and the great Lake Huron.
As kids we would come up here every summer, and one year (as a tween) I came up with my BFFs Lis and Heather. We had this silly joke about the pile of blankets we needed on our beds to keep us warm. I think we had about eight blankets over the bed and at night they would be so heavy on our bodies that we nicknamed the collective beast “Big Bertha.” We would fight over the covers, invoking the dilemma of Big Bertha: you want her but can’t have her.
My aunt’s cottage has remained unchanged since the 80’s, and judging from the abundance of wood paneling, peach-coloured tile and kitsch furniture, was likely established in the 50’s or 60’s. Even my family’s attempts at updating the decor have purposefully maintained this timelessness. Redecorations have been subtle, to say the least, and the framed 2,000-piece Manet puzzle of a lady wearing a hat figures prominently alongside the tattered National Geographic world map, published 1968.
Our day trips include the quest for the ultimate butter tart, cinnamon bun and homemade preserves. The sugar high is seemingly perpetual, offset only by long walks to watch the sun set or futile attempts to say hello to resident jackrabbits. This weekend we will visit the low-rent lakeside town (that they forgot to close down…most probably because it was never opened in the first place) of Sauble Beach, including the batting cages and wicked french fries at Mar’s chip shop.
…so that’s why there’s been no post in a while. I had hoped to post from my Blackberry, but the signal was too weak and it kept crashing. I think it’s time for an upgrade in mobile phone…Blackberry Bold, anyone?
A series of recent events caused me to realise that they should create a variation of the term “grupster” that incorporates the word “nerd”. While “negrupster” connotes a black grupster, and “grupsterd” sounds like it belongs in a toilet, I contemplated “grerdrupster” before giving up on trying to pigeonhole my already complex identity any further.
So what events could possibly lead to this assumption? First: a childlike glee that I experienced after learning that the latest title I purchased for my Nintendo DS was really quite enjoyable. And that I was looking forward to playing “Professor Layton and the Curious Village” through to the end.
Next, due to weeks of rainy days and thus a listless, playground-deprived daughter, I decided to try the Centre des sciences de Montreal. I have such fond memories of the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, what with all the buttons and things to touch, ancient Chinese xylophones and that model train that drove through tunnels between two glass display cases. And the running. There were bridges to jump on and technicolour replicas of my shadow to be made. Anyhow, the Centre des sciences is much newer, smaller and a little less in-depth. There’s still a lot going on in there, but nothing recommended for toddlers. They literally told me to not bother buying an admission. So we went to see the river and a pond in the rain, got a giant lollipop and went home. I love science but I guess not that much.
Finally, and most awesomely, was that I posted a comment on an article on Wired.com’s Listening Post blog and the author (Scott Thill) knew who The Dears were. That blew my mind; it was really rad and made my day. I read Wired.com every day, so it was like we were exchanging a knowing nod: yes, nerds and music can co-exist…as they must…
Then, after all this I met up with my misanthropic pal Michael, who completely de-asserted my nerdness. This was after I admitted to him that I hadn’t read a science fiction novel in years. And that I had never read (nor had I seen) “Dune.” He recommended I read “Valis” by Philip K. Dick and call him in the morning. I felt ashamed and unworthy of my admittedly hasty claim to the “grerdrupster” title — even though he was totally right.
I’m a little bit of a nerd at heart, and at least that I can be proud of.
Facebook, I Loathe Thee
I just couldn’t stand it anymore: I needed to see it from the inside. The average Facebook user seems to be reluctantly addicted. It is something like: “Yes, I’m on Facebook. I check it thirty times a day and I hate it but I keep coming back.”
In an emergency situation, they say the first 48-hours are the most crucial time to respond to the event. In this case, while severe addiction may qualify as an “emergency situation,” the first 48-hours have definitely been telling. Some things I’ve observed:
– Other users (they call them “friends”) are very happy that you’ve joined. Lots of jubilation is expressed via yaaays, whoo-hoos, horrays and some hurrahs.
– This jubilation is coupled, however, with a sort of razing. Phrases like “you caved,” “welcome to the dark side,” “welcome to the greatest waste of time on the internet,” “it was just a matter of time,” or even “ha ha ha,” are used to express the apparent joy shared by the community.
– Where are the British people? Are there only North Americans on Facebook? Or is my community just too Canada-centric to connect internationally?
– What a gross waste of time.
Anyhow, the up side is that I can play fake Scrabble with my sister and spend hours looking at class photos from the 80’s and 90’s. I had some good laffs and ohmigod! moments, which has made it worth while.
I know, I know: I’ve expressed my disdain for Facebook before. My foray into social networking started with a turn-of-the-millenium stint on Friendster, which I aborted abruptly one day. And I fear the same fate for Facebook. I only got into MySpace for The Dears, and I’m kind of only getting into Facebook for the same reason.
Only time will tell…lots and lots of poorly allocated, lonely and wasted time with my laptop.
“You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong and YOU…You’re Way Off Base.”
Today I feel defeated by everything, that my world is too hopeless to blog about. Is it? Probably a little bit: the weather like my mood, overcast and blurry. But there should be something to write about, shouldn’t there? Shouldn’t I be excited about the future? Well, to be honest I am excited about it: about playing shows and having people hear the album, about getting back out there. But there seems so many obstacles, such an enormous shit storm hailing down over The Dears, over the entire music business. The cynicism is devouring people left, right and center…chewing them up and spitting them out.
The thing is, is that I can’t let go of the hope. I believe in music too much; I believe music is more powerful than money or success. Those things are intangible, unreachable and in some ways, they don’t even really exist. So, *deep breath* I say fuck it. Fuck the past, fuck today, fuck popularity and pretention. This is art. The Dears is art — again — and these songs are fierce and uncomfortable, just as they should be. After nearly a decade of struggling to fit in under a forced, false identity, I feel like maybe we are finally free to be, well, you and me.
Post Scriptum: Recognise the obtuse KITH reference from the title? As good and quotable as: “We need an exorcist in here and this time I mean it.”
Playing the Record for People
On Tuesday, Murray and I embarked on an Ontarian adventure. We drove down to play the record for some people. This album is precious to us, and we would be totally devastated if our past year’s work was misused or stolen from us. So we never sent out any CDs to anyone, and in fact the only way anyone who didn’t play on the record can hear it is to come to one of our impromptu board room meetings for a listening session. We came to Toronto to play it for friends and also some industry types: at least, the ones who were open to the idea of a listening session. We would gather people together, put the CD on the stereo, then leave the room. After 58 minutes we’d come back, reclaim the CD and that’s it. That’s how we’re rolling: no burns, no iTunes imports, no files somewhere on a server. No ripping, burning, leaking or stealing allowed until we’re ready. Because we know it’s going to happen eventually — we’d just like to be involved when it goes down. Call us crazy, but these songs are the keystone, our main conduit keeping us connected with our fans, and we want to enjoy that communication, not live in fear of it.
So we’ve got a lot of convincing to do: our works’ cut out for us. Murray and I are kind of on a reconnaissance mission: collecting information, seeing who’s into our outsider ways, observing people’s reactions, their favourite tracks and single selections, what they did and didn’t expect. It’s been interesting, and the common thread (for me) is how good it sounds no matter where we play it. It carries itself with a creative consistency across several platforms: headphones, car stereos, amazing stereos, crappy stereos, computer speakers and other small systems. Even after hearing it dozens of times in its finished state, I still hear things I’ve not heard before.
Now we’re simmering, letting all the ideas come to us as sort of a natural reaction to how the music is being perceived. The music industry has forced our hand, compelled us to let go of old world methods and marketing templates for organic ways and the opening of an unconventional, artistic discourse. We want to put something out there for you to hear soon, too. Stay tuned for the news of listening sessions, because we might get crazy and invite you to the next one.
So now that mastering is done…
Murray and I got back from mastering on Tuesday night. We drove down to Portland, Maine to work with Bob Ludwig. It was a really nice, scenic drive from Montreal. Here’s what it looked like:
Anyhoo, a lot of people don’t really know what mastering is, so here’s a quick rundown of the whole process:
1. Recording or Tracking: Each instrument is performed and recorded individually. A dense song can have more that 50 layers of instruments.
2. Mixing: All those 50 layers or tracks are balanced together into two tracks: Left and Right.
3. Mastering: The mixes are then kind of “mixed again,” compressed together, hopefully resulting in a unified sound. Also the songs are put in running order and any fades or gaps are added.
Or, in Jughead Jones sandwich terms:
1. Recording: Picking out all your ingredients for your ultimate, multi-level sandwich: slices of havarti, provolone, tomatoes, Swiss, lettuce, sprouts, (veggie) meats, pickles, and five to seven slices of bread. Don’t forget condiments such as mustard (regular, Dijon or en grains), mayonnaise, corn relish, etc.
2. Mixing: Assembling the towering sandooze.
3. Mastering: Pressing assertively (but not too firmly…don’t want to bruise the lettuce) down on the sandwich to achieve a height suitable for the most openest mouth. Finally placing toothpicks in each corner before slicing diagonally, into triangles.
…and one year later you have an amazing album/sandwich in your hands!
It’s been an emotionally and psychologically rough year for The Dears, and especially for Murray, so it’s really good to have the album done and sound REALLY incredible. BTW, we’ve mastered with a lot of people, and Mr. Bob Ludwig is a genius: he’s got that bag of magic pixie dust and he’s not afraid to use it. I’ll tell you more about it soon.
Death To Indie Rock
Being part of a band that has been plunked into the “indie rock” category, I often struggle with the genre and what, exactly, it means. What is indie? I believe it is a dead identity: like how the title “alternative” was borne from grunge in the 90’s, and has since come to define bands like Nickelback. It’s outgrown its meaning: Death Cab is indie, but on a major label. So WTF?
The term “indie” essentially used to mean “not major label” and oftentimes “not on any label.” But now the new “indie” had been commodified and major label bands can be indie rock. And to me “indie” still means angular guitars, you know, like Pavement. Let’s see what the my go-to knower of all things says:
“Indie rock artists place a premium on maintaining complete control of their music and careers, releasing albums on independent record labels (sometimes their own) and relying on touring, word-of-mouth, and airplay on independent or college radio stations for promotion. Some end up moving to major labels, often on favorable terms won by their prior independent success.” – from the Indie Rock wiki.
OK, well that kind of explains it but doesn’t fully satisfy me, because it doesn’t address the indie rock sound or aesthetic. I mean, I don’t even think I could easily define it, but I know it’s out there, and everybody is trying to do it. And then this morning I read this: The Question Mark: Is Feist Still Indie?. This appears in the Canadian broadsheet ‘National Post’ who are notoriously conservative, but are trying hilariously to be ‘with it.’ Anyhow, the article is flimsy at best but addresses the issue: “What is indie?” It seems that we can’t agree: it’s an important label for some people, so important that they won’t listen to it if it’s not indie (even if it’s totally amazing); and yet for others it’s entirely meaningless.
As frustrating/obsolete as retail CD shopping has become, at least we can rely on a shop’s inability to define any sub-genre beyond “POP/ROCK,” which I am just fine with. You really, really cannot please everyone. I mean, is being indie that important to you?
So as The Dears put the finishing touches on our orchestral sci-fi noir-funk opus, we prepare ourselves mentally for the inevitable: being lazily lumped into the indie category. This is me, being curmudgeonly about the whole thing: *grumble*. We always say that making an album is like raising a child: you give it everything you can and then release it into the world, as if sending it off to its first day of school, and you can hope for the best, pray it makes good friends, but really, it’s beyond our control. We’ll see what the fates allow.
Murray and Rob (Arquilla) have passed the midway point in mixing: working on song seven now and quickly running out of time. Murray negotiated a few more days at the Hotel to finish the album, and due to scheduling conflicts we had to move our mastering date to April 21st. Aside from being totally exhausted, working fourteen-hour days and barely sleeping with Neptune waking up at 7AM, Murray is starting to burn out, worried that his mixes aren’t going to cut it. He says his ears are so hyper-sensitive to frequencies and sounds that he can’t see the forest for the trees. The unity is ceasing to exist and all he hears coming out of the monitors are layers.
This morning I listened to the six finished mixes and they are really impressive. I referenced them to some other albums with great production – Air’s Virgin Suicides, Beck’s Sea Change, Doves’ Some Cities, Radiohead’s In Rainbows and Kid A (lots of Nigel Godrich) – and one thing struck me about the production of these albums: they each have a unique sound. The textures created by effects and unconventional instruments are what make those albums stand out and, well, special. When I went back to listen to The Dears’ mixes, I was struck by the same nuanced sound: these tracks already have an identity, and aside from needing to be squashed in mastering, I think it’s all there.
Mixing this record is a huge feat: some songs have over sixty tracks, recorded digitally. They’re being sent out of Logic, through a pair of converters that are hot enough to fry an egg on, and into an analogue Neotek board. They’ve had to do in-the-box sub-mixes of grouped instruments to make everything fit on the 32-channels that they have. After running all the outboard effects and compressors, the patch bay becomes a total entangled mess, and Murray has the habit of stepping back and saying: “It looks like we’re ready to print a mix.” It’s intense, and I know I couldn’t do it in the amount of time that we have given ourselves (if I could do it at all). Actually, if I did it this album would sound pretty jazzy, and not in a good way.
I’ll just stick to keyboard playing, administrating, childrearing and blogging.
Perennially frustrated with The Dears’ wiki, I decided to get serious. I found better photos from a friend who came on tour with us (thank you, Clément). I figured out (kind of) the GFDL. And I even emailed the Overlords of Wiki to make sure the photos were OK to use. And they wrote back only a few hours later, which surprised me most of all. People actually work for Wikipedia…it musn’t be the free-for-all I took it for.
I was inspired by a friend, only know as “Guay to Guay” who was over, stealing our wifi on his iPhone, and started razzing on me because our wiki wasn’t “up to date.” I was like: “I know. I KNOW!” and got frustrated, realising that I could not let the Rules of Wiki defeat me.
I’ve let a few days pass and…yup…everything is still there. I fleshed out the entry a little bit, and added references to make us look real legit. All in all, it felt really good to close out my battle with Wikipedia. I feel like I kept the integrity and original spirit of the entry, and I fully expect it to morph into another beast as time passes.
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