Gassy Jack: This song began to emerge on February 14, 2022 when some of the staff at the organization where I’m executive director went to the 31st annual Memorial March for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in Vancouver. They sent me video of the statue of “Gassy Jack” being toppled. I composed a 13-minute instrumental piece that evening, tentatively calling it “Fallen Bloody Rapist Statue.” This piece was intentionally redolent of my 1992 piece, “As I See It,” composed 30 years earlier during the 1992 Rodney King Los Angeles Riots/Uprising. Over the next few weeks, I continued adding audio elements, hoping to make the composition more “organic.”
It started to sound like the ominous soundtrack to a Godzilla movie with percussive elements that conjured images of Godzilla taking the subway to Manhattan so he could destroy it. Interesting only so far as I’d never composed anything that sounded like this… but many others have.
I decided to add some vocal to it. I may have even written some lyrics, but when I started recording, I just made lots of noises. I then exported the noises on their own and ran them through a complex multi-effects processor, assigning various modulation controls to two expression foot pedals and 11 knobs, sitting there for 13 minutes tweaking everything in real time, hands and feet fully engaged. When I combined the modulated noises back with the Godzilla soundtrack, it took on a new working title, “I Think I Ate Yoko Ono Eating New York City.”
Around this time, since this was only one of two songs I had brewing (the other being “Everyone’s Dying,” which at the time bore no resemblance to this song), I considered taking little chunks of the vocal noises, turning them into loops and making a whole album of songs with these in them. I started on a first version, giving it the title “Whack-A-Doodle” when I started to feel enervated by the prospect of finishing it and especially making more.
I continued to listen to “I Think I Ate Yoko Ono Eating New York City.” Though I found I never really looked forward to listening to it, once I did start, it was always interesting and surprising. Its tempo made it a great speed-walking song, I found. By mid-May, when I started to feel I might actually have an album developing, not just a bunch of random noise, one of my last decisions was that, as interesting as I found the “Yoko Ono” song after I started listening to it, I didn’t want to have a song on the album that I didn’t look forward to hearing. I went back to the abandoned “Whack-A-Doodle” and finished it, then renamed it.
Artifice: This song got its start at the Vancouver Hardrock Casino, which is actually in Coquitlam (about a 5-minute drive from our house), adjacent to Home Depot in an industrial park along the Fraser River that will likely be under water from climate change within the next few decades. I wrote a little poem on my phone as I watched people play dragon-themed slot machines, musing that my next album might be comprised of songs with lyrics written at the casino.
It took several weeks for me to do anything with the lyrics. Initially I sang all the lyrics with just a bass and drum bed. I played with the lyrics for a while, then muted them and decided to do another run at them, but started in the middle of the lyrics, on the verse “Artifice/Artifickly/Artified.” I sang that nonsense over and over.
I thought my delivery was interesting and I was especially surprised by the clarity of the improbably high notes I sang at the very end. It seemed like I’d been possessed. Nonetheless, there was a lot to dislike about where this song was going, but I just kept working and working on it until it met the criteria of no longer making me cringe.
Grand Stand: This is a song that I must have started composing soon after composing the initial draft of “Everyone’s Dying,” which was an orchestral piece. I was probably thinking at the time that I would continue on with the orchestral theme… and probably even thinking of my fantasy of composing something Mahler-ish (a persistent desire, not yet insistent enough for me to carry very far).
I have no idea why I named the file “Grand Stand” when I abandoned it, and I actually completely forgot about the song until May, when I was going through all the Logic files I’d created since finishing my last album. This, along with “Whack-A-Doodle” (which became “Gassy Jack”), was one of the last songs finished for the album.
Like with “Gassy Jack,” finishing “Grand Stand” meant playing around with what I’d already composed, and then adding a new section that roughly doubled the length of both songs. The second parts of both songs were mostly improvised… hit record, play some random stuff on a keyboard. A one-week vacation I was taking was almost over. When the vacation started, I had no sense that all the music I’d been making since the beginning of the year had any qualities that would eventually cohere them into an album. As the end of the vacation arrived, I was rushing to try to finish the album… which probably contributed to the fatigue spell I developed just after my vacation, that took me out for another 5 days.
Fascinating: This song started out as a lyric inspired by someone I know getting their checkered past brought up in an unflattering way on social media. Since most of my checkered past happened before the advent of the (publicly accessible) internet (let alone social media), in the lyrics I mused about what that period of my life might have looked like with social media. Maybe I would have been flung so far outside of polite society that I never would have been able to find my way back. Then I wonder, in the song, whether that would have been such bad thing.
When I finally got around to recording the lyrics, they seemed too clunky, so I modulated the fuck out of them until they became merely noises (which are still in the song).
I toyed and toiled with this wordless song for a few months, never feeling settled with it. Then, at the last moment, I decided to exhume some of the lyrics… probably only 10% of them, but enough to get across the crux of the “story.” Probably the line, “It’s so easy/To be fascinating” is my favourite on the album. Originally, the line before that line was “I have no answers/That is my answer.” It can seem that is all it takes to be fascinating in this world.
Pretty low bar.
Indecent: My last 5 albums have included a number of songs built on sound beds created by my longterm friend and collaborator, Jason Riis. At some point early in the development of the music that would eventually make up this album, Jason posted to Facebook a piece of art that his son Saylor had drawn. Someone commented that it might make good album art. I replied, “We might be able to arrange that,” and Jason liked that comment, so I downloaded the image.
The problem was that I didn’t have any songs I was working on that were based on his sound beds. This led to me searching through the Google Drive folder where he posts things he’s recorded that I can use. Jason had named the file, “decent jan 4 2022,” from which the title “Indecent” emerged.
Composing this felt like the process of painting my style of abstract art pieces. I returned to it over and over, adding new layers… the last layer of which was to “paint” a (bass) line across the whole thing to have something that would draw the “eye” (ear) through the composition.
Everyone’s Dying: This was the first piece of music I started on after completing my last album. Initially an orchestral piece, it was interesting, but too similar to some other pieces I’ve composed through the years. The title comes from the fact that when I was composing it, I was acutely aware of the deteriorating health of a number of family members, friends and colleagues.
Through the months, I tried “messing up” this piece, but it just became less and less interesting through that process. It had a few sets of lyrics that I layered onto it and then demolished (though you can still hear remnants of them). Finally one day I threw down the organ and bass lines on it and it started asking for new lyrics, which I wrote… very dubious, again, of how they might work. My doubt waylaid doing anything with them for a while. When I finally recorded them, they felt clunky and disjoint.. but over time and with minimal tweaking, it seemed to me that “clunky and disjoint” was kind of the right mood for the moment.
I never imagined I’d sing a lyric like “Everything’s gonna be alright.” There is something tongue-in-cheek about that line here, but it also doesn’t ring disingenuous. Same with the line “Just find your passion/And follow it/And you’ll never doubt a thing.” I mean, you’ll doubt plenty, but not your presence. And… is there really anything else?