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.

The Big Crunch

These past few weeks, Murray has been in the basement studio, poring over all the recorded tracks. He’s choosing which takes to use, re-amping things, experimenting with effects, comparing microphones, doing some editing, and on and on. He starts mixing tomorrow at the Hotel2Tango: Murray’s pretty comfortable there, and he’ll be manning the boards for over two weeks. It’s the longest The Dears have ever taken to mix a record, but I personally feel super confident in what’s going to come out of there.

The other day, Murray was working on getting the tracks ready for mixing, when he realised what he had to do: he just said f*ck it, and is going all the way. Now what, you may be asking, does that mean? It means no restraint. Not chaos, but a very careful, controlled density. I mean, this album is huge and full of crazy depth, and I’ve said it before but this is a real Dears album. I really doubt we will get played on the radio, or get a video into rotation, but we were never really good at those things anyhow, so why try to go there?

The strings came in today. We start mixing tomorrow, and today Murray is still tracking at Mountain City. In fact, we are tracking tomorrow morning, right up until we move into the Hotel. But I was at Mountain City when they showed up, just two players, viola and cello, and even as they started to rehearse the simple chords that were to replace the Mellotron, I knew this album was about to be elevated to new heights. This record is going to destroy you. I promise.

I have to go in tomorrow to do my last vocal tracks. I’ve kind of taken the lead on one track, and do some harmonies on others, and I’m always really self-conscious about my vocal tracks until I hear them in the mix. Listening back to a solo-ed vocal take is excruciating, so I try not to do that, but I did realise that I really love singing. It’s a lot of fun. Maybe I should start a vanity side-project? Naah. I’m not a song writer, so I would have to pull a Scarlett Johansson and just do covers, but I’ve always found those sorts of endeavours a bit masturbatory. I have thought of doing a not-lame album for kids that wouldn’t drive parents crazy…like re-worked lullabyes or something. I could do “Asleep” by The Smiths…though that would be kind of dark…maybe forget the whole idea.

At any rate, Neptune and I are going to be at a lot of the mixing sessions (mixing is more toddler-friendly than tracking), so I plan on posting more about how that’s going. Maybe I’ll add some multi-media as well so you can see the crazy lengths to which Murray’s hair has grown.

iPod Rediscovery

On one of my drives I put the iPod on shuffle, mostly out of an impatience to decide what to listen to. Usually I prefer to listen to whole albums top to bottom – you know, the way they were created – but while driving, scrolling through hundreds of bands with a click wheel is not very practical or safe for anyone involved. So shuffle it was, and I was surprisingly struck by “Snowsuit Sound” by Sloan. BTW if you have never heard of Sloan then you evidently: 1) are not Canadian, and; 2) do not know anyone from Canada. I used to be a major Sloan fan, back in the 90’s when I co-hosted an all CanCon indie rock show on CKUT (I was so green that I asked Matt Murphy how it felt to be Chris Murphy’s brother during a live-to-air interview…later my friend Amanda B. told me: “Um, everyone in Halifax has the last name Murphy,”…I was so embarassed…actually I’m still embarassed). So my iPod Rediscovery is that I am still a major Sloan fan (narrowed to the Twice Removed and One Chord To Another era…you know, Canada’s first insular indie rock heyday).

One time, we got an email from a girl who said she had “rediscovered” The Dears while listening to her iPod on shuffle. We were among the tens of thousands of songs stored among 60 gigs or however much space, and somehow, we had made it, literally, through the shuffle. And so she fell in love.

Is the iPod shuffle completely random? I have heard that it is not, that the iPod uses some kind of algorithm to calculate the songs it will play, using such stats as which songs you have previously listened to, which songs you skipped, etc. Personally, I loathe this idea of an untrue random. While listening to my recently loaded iPod on shuffle, I had to skip The Beatles about a dozen times. Yes, they made a lot of records and for some reason I have everything they’ve recorded on there, but that doesn’t mean I want to listen to them all the time. Why should quantity override quality, or variety? What ding dong programmed that feature into the algorithm? Seriously. I would like to know.

I’m positive it’s been hotly debated, and a simple Googling would probably reveal the answers. But that would be too easy.

Anyhow, Sloan dudes, we’re all grown up and have kids and shit, and even though Murray tackled Chris Murphy into a pile of garbage in Kingston, ON when we were on tour together, we still love you.