News Bit

I saw this today:

DEATH CAB LAUNCH ANTI-AUTOTUNE CAMPAIGN
Death Cab For Cutie arrived at the Grammys on Sunday sporting blue ribbons, which they revealed were worn to highlight their new campaign against “Auto-tune abuse in music”.

Frontman Ben Gibbard told reporters: “Autotuning is a digital manipulation, a correction of a singer’s voice that is affecting literally thousands of
singers today and thousands of records that are coming out. So we just want to raise awareness while we’re here and try to bring back the blue note… The note that’s not so perfectly in pitch and just gives the recording some soul and some kind of real character. It’s how people really sing”.

And while I am not a big Death Cab fan by any means (I have my reasons), I thought this was a nice notion, especially to express at the Grammys, a night dedicated to pop fakery.

Don’t Steal This

In response to my blog post Playing the Record for People, CBC Radio 3 got in touch with me to talk about our approach to music listening. You can listen to the interview here, and comment, if you like, about the sad state of today’s deluded music industry.

Also, in the media, Mange ta ville on ARTv is showing a rerun of the episode “L’espace temps” that includes a performance we recorded for them. It’s showing tonight (May 21st) at 18h00 (which is in like ten minutes). Moderately interesting. Mildly entertaining.

“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.

“Disclaimer” First Print

Hey. So I just posted a clip of Murray and Rob listening back to the first print they did of “Disclaimer,” a song that is shaping up to be the opening track on the album. Murray had to re-do the vocals at the last minute, actually the night before this video was taken. The original take that he did weeks before wasn’t sitting well. I thought it was too aggressive, but this new take is like Mellow Dude singing. I like it a lot and people are gonna be all: “HUNH?” when they hear it.

Check it oot: thedears.org/pagefour.

I also realised that this is the first music preview of any kind for the new album, so this is some pretty hot, inside scoop stuff here.

Ready To Print


This is what the patch bay looks like when a song is ready to print. It’s one of those controlled disasters.

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.

Glass-Half-Full Blues

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.