Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Popular culture would have it that the definition of a crazy person is someone who keeps doing the same thing over and over and somehow expecting a different result. By that standard, I guess we are all crazy to some degree, but there are times when I wonder if I haven't truly lost it. For the last 18 months I have been dealing with terrible shit and I realize after repeated crashes, that I am never going to break this cycle if I keep expecting to get a different result each revolution. I let this stupid cycle ruin a lot of 2019 for me and I know it will do the same in 2020 if am not careful. We are the architects of our own demise (another popular culture belief which, just the earlier one, is wholly accurate!) so I am saying farewell to the denizens of C.S.R. and their sordid little vipers den.


So the album is over halfway finished. Like most of the world, the band is in isolation mode right now but we were able to record four tracks already and are working on demos for the other four. Given that we all have our own studios, we were able to track keeper drums (over ghost bed tracks we had earlier tracked)  and then each of us re-do or augment our parts at home. I am especially happy that Alex and Andrew are so heavily involved in the writing, arranging and production of the album; it not only makes my job easier, it also makes the whole project unified and sustainable.

Right now everyone is writing more material to record. The concept of simple machines is still very much an underlying theme but we aren't being dogmatic about it. For my part, each of the simple machine motives is being woven into a larger machine (all complex machines use simple machines as component parts so that suits), but even just the concept of a simple machine is fair game (Alex wrote a piece called Hammer and it deals partially with assassination and guns!) so we are being very broad in our interpretation. It is really more about getting a cohesive album together than some slavish devotion to a concept.

Here are some pictures of the band recording. 




Mic'd up kit

Andrew checking mix

Tracking guitar

Friday, December 13, 2019

Yah baby.  2019 is drawing to a close and it can't come soon enough. This year I have been embroiled in various dramas with characters like The Cowardly Postman, The Vain Armchair Farmer, The Cinderella Narcissist and The Malevolent Troll. It has taken quite a toll. I could regale you with their antics as they are certainly noteworthy (if being disgusted by one's fellow man, can be called noteworthy) but if only for the sake of my mental health, I will take the high road and put them on permanent ignore. Instead, what I would like to do is offer a hearty round of thank-yous to the OTHER people in my life who have been simply amazing.

I will start with Andrew Burns and Alex Wickham (bass and drums respectively). They have been an absolute joy to make music with. There has never been a time when I play with the lads that I have ever felt less than totally comfortable. I play with some players who, although good, always need to be referenced and adjusted to as their time and grooves wobble along. That is never been the case with the lads; their pocket is deep and steady and I never need to re-calculate time, rather I can play whatever enters my mind with complete confidence and easy control. Given the fact that 90 per cent of our music is on odd meters, that is a stunning accomplishment. Not only are they immensely talented, they are both intelligent, kind and responsible men. After last night's Rebel Wheel rehearsal I drove home delighted that the band is kicking ass and totally on point, especially considering the chaos and general "running-amok" all the other facets in my life have taken. 

Lately I have been writing songs with Becky Abbot and that is another total delight. Becky is one of Canada's best vocalists and it is privilege and honour to be in the studio with her writing and recording songs for her next album. I haven't been so jazzed by a project in years. Like the lads, she is also smart and kind (qualities I admire greatly) and also happens to be drop-dead gorgeous. I don't think I have met many people who I am totally convinced will be STARS and house-hold names given the chance. I am working industriously to ensure that if the chance is given, the songs will be worth her time.

Sometime last year DeeDee Butters asked me to join Claude Marquis' band for some gigs that promoted his solo stuff. He is the main force behind The PepTides, for whom I used to play and Andrew, Alex, Becky and DeeDee still play. From that she and I went on to do a jazz duo act, a trio act and a kick-ass Aretha Franklin tribute. DeeDee is one the single best improvisors I have ever worked with and her stunning range and perfect singing pitch astound me time and time again. She kicks ass in ways few entertainers can and I consider myself lucky to be a part of her many projects.

As I mentioned, I used to be in The PepTides, and am still called upon to do any gigs the new replacement guitarist can't make. In effect I end up replacing the guitarist who replaced me.
Claude Marquis is the brains behind the band and his music is at once, poppy and other-wordly. Full of unexpected twists and turns, it never fails to astound and invite. His vision is unique and his vocal talents impeccable. Again, like all the others I have listed, he is smart and kind and talented. This of course leads me to Scottie Irving, the keyboard player for The PepTides, as well a Rebel Wheel alumnus. He is another brilliant musician and all around brilliant guy. I love talking with him and he is impossible to lose and always has the most esoteric and serendipitous information gracefully at his disposal. I thoroughly enjoyed doing gigs with the band, and the drive from Orillia to Hamilton, where Scottie and I, along with vocalist Dale Waterman, spent several hours in deep and meaningful conversation. Dale has perfect pitch and is one of the single best soul singers I have ever heard. He is brainy and decent and works super hard at his craft as well as taking a ton of responsibilities for the band.

The only other pepTide I have to mention is Olexandra Pruchnicky. She is the third female vocalist in the band and she and I wrote quite a lot together when I was in the band too. Many of the songs from Vinyl cafe were our co-writes and she is an esteemed writing partner. I am delighted to say I have re-kindled the magic we shared and am whipping up a few tunes for her perusal. Not only is her singing informed with an academic, almost acousmatic sensibility, she also has an amazingly sultry and breathy voice which I find so invitingly easy to write for. She is a sweetheart and a dedicated talented artist.

In the other Non-PepTide associations I have formed this year is a working relationship with ex-Blinker The Star drummer, Colin Wylie. In some ways we are soul-mates, having had many extremely similar experiences in the business, in studios, and with writing and producing our own music. We did a remarkable gig this year at the Ottawa Folk-Fest where we debuted his latest album in a four piece setting. We both love guitar, XTC, effects pedals and pop songs (although quite frankly I have very very few in my repertoire) and Colin is a gifted songwriter whose music is multi-layered and brilliantly done. I consider myself lucky to be involved with his project, and probably not surprising at this point in the blog, I am in total admiration of his brain power and innate goodness.

Alex, Andrew, Becky, DeeDee, Claude, Scottie, Dale, Oly, and Colin, have all been very, very bright points in my otherwise dark year and it is working with friends and artists like these, that keeps my faith in the whole life style together, especially important when the charades of the Ottawa Valley Viper's Den C-S-R chapter have derailed so much of my goodwill. Cheers

Friday, September 6, 2019

Well here we are in the cool fall weather. Finally. It seemed a fairly abrupt change really. Aug 31 was hot and humid and then on Sept 1st, it was like summer never existed and fall had taken over. You can almost see the edges of these months.

So we are busy at work on re-tooling the band, the web-site, the album and the stage show. We have written most of the tunes, but now that we have drafted a new member into the fray, we are both rehearsing old material, as well as opening up the arranging process to accommodate a new voice. As such we are delighted to introduce our newest member, Marianne Dumas.

She is a wonderkind keyboardist with a meticulous ear for synth programming. On top of that she is  incredibly fleet fingered, a great singer and an overall delight to work with. She will be able to help us get our old songs dusted off and presented closer to the album versions than we have been able to do with the three piece. We are all excited about that and with her input on the new material.

We did our August 15th gig with aplomb, for, what can only be described as a small but enthusiastic crowd (if five people can be termed a crowd). We didn't get on until late as the other acts had a shit-load of gear to set up and tear down (the smaller the act the more gadgets seem to be needed). They acquitted themselves admirably however and were fun to watch but all in all, they took as long to set up and tear down as they did to play.  That put us on around midnight on a Thursday night in sleepy ByTowne; not a great position to be in. Nevertheless, we all had fun and played well. I really am lucky to have such stalwart companions as Andrew and Alex, both of whom deliver their complicated and convoluted parts calmly and professionally.

Now, we are taking a bit of time off from gigging to get this album done and to embrace Marianne into the fold!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It has been a weird summer; stifling hot and chillingly cold, wet and dry and all within days of each other (or on the same day). Here at the Rebel Wheel HQ buried deep in the farm-land of the North Ottawa Valley, things are progressing quite nicely. We had written a plethora of tunes and we have finally decided which will be used for the album. There is only one Alex tune that needs to be finished but other than that everything is ready to record. Finally. I was hoping to be done in July but there were a lot of events (cool and uncool) that made that impossible. I won't detail the uncool events (LOT'S of that in earlier posts), but one of the cool ones was Andrew and his dad rode the Tour De France bike rally route together. Hills and dales baby, hills and dales. They are both in amazing shape and had an amazing time.

We have been asked to play an Aug 15th gig at the Avant-garde Bar in Ottawa along with two other bands (L'Orchidee Cosmique and Chloe Dances In Twilight) and are rehearsing a few of the new songs for that gig. Here is a poster Flo from the L'Orchidee band put together. We all love it. Noisy Prog Fuzzy Gig indeed!

Well that's all the news that fits, lest I go into bent finger pointing mode again, so we will end it there. Play safe, have fun, be decent.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

For a lot of us songwriter-y types, our tunes are a consequence of our lives and relationships. Songs become our diary in a lot of ways and are a creative way to expunge the hurt and abuse all of us feel.
While relationship woes are hardly the inspiration for this current batch of Rebel Wheel tunes, they do create an impetus to get the album finalized and finished. I might even include a tune or two about how the intent to deceive is the emotional distillate of lying even if the carefully chosen words are technically true. Pointing a bent finger is still pointing a finger (and it's pointing at you Missy).

The album is coming along nicely; almost all of the songs are written and fairly well-rehearsed. The band members play in a lot of other bands as well (often together in fact) so with the current spate of Dee-Dee, solo and PepTide gigs, Andrew, Alex and myself have had a lot on our plates. Thankfully things are slowing down, and with the consequences of TWO May 25th revelations (2018, 2019), I suspect I will have FAR more time to dedicate to music. 

Right now I am starting pre-production and I hope to be recording the band live off the floor in June or July. We'll see I guess; there are always factors that hit you sideways, but for now, that looks like a realistic goal.

Adios for now, play safe and ALWAYS trust your instincts.

Monday, April 15, 2019

A little south of Nowhere's-Ville, there is a tiny cottage that houses a weird black lab and an even weirder composer. If you were to walk along the meandering creek that runs fast around the place you would hear strange music emanating from the cottage, music that moves among areas of angular dissonance, textural soundscapes and full blown shredding.

Right now I am re-designing my pedal board for the current iteration of the band. I vacillate among several states; having no pedals at all (usual state), to incorporating a few, then to having a HUGE pedal board. During that sequence of events there are many tearing sounds as velcro-ed pedals get torn off and re-positioned and minute details like having a buffer before a wah, or after, or between a wah and a fuzz are posited, researched (You-tube time) and experimented upon.

It is hard to achieve a perfect balance between sonic variation and onstage usability, especially on the budgets I work with (read NO budgets at all). Nevertheless, I am close to having a pedal board that works well. It is by no means finished, but the basic infrastructure is there. Let me detail the set-up.
To begin with, one of the biggest problems with guitar effects, especially those that have a lot of knobs and tones, is tweakability. On the test-bench there is no problem, but onstage it becomes a major one. Say that you use an analog delay pedal and you want to alter the knobs in real time to create a wee bit of sonic mayhem. If the pedal is on the floor, then you need to crouch down, squint (at least I do) and spend an inordinate amount of onstage time hunched over your pedal board. Not only does it look weird, it also irks me that thousands of dollars of pedals are put on the floor getting dusty and trod upon (I guess they come by the nick-name "stomp box" honestly).

There are options of course; mostly expensive and mostly for digital pedals where different parameters can be controlled by OTHER pedals attached to the main one. You can use an expression pedal to control a set parameter, or use another pedal to switch between several pre-programmed states. These options do work, but they never are as powerful as twisting knobs and, in the case of the analog delay mentioned earlier, there really is no alternative but to bend over and tweak onstage. It seems silly. The other option is to have one pedal for one sound only and get yet another one for any other tonal variation. That seems sillier still but explains why so many pedal boards get HUGE quickly.

Over the years I have migrated pedals from the floor up onto a platform (a music stand) that allows me to tweak the knobs by hand. It is so much easier to adjust a delay parameter in real time while playing, than to plod about looking for the expression pedal on a dark stage, and hoping it is still connected to the parameter you actually want to adjust.

In order to do that though, I have had to populate my pedal boards with a lot of boxes that don't anything other than turn things on and off. I will explain my signal path and you can see what I mean.

From the guitar I go into the tiny floor pedal board.

That is "Effect Chain One". In it is a wah pedal (a Morley Wah-volume which is probably the pedal I have used most over the years, having bought my first one way back in 1977; in fact I think it is the very first effect pedal I ever bought.) Then to a boss tuner, then to a MXR overdrive-boost pedal (which given its associations to a snake-referred purchase has, through no fault of its own, a VERY negative connotation and is destined to be swapped out soon). That chain can be bypassed by a quick stomp on a Road Rage loop pedal. The beauty of this set-up is I can have my wah pedal cocked to a position I like going into my distortion and turn them both on at one go. The pedal order is the result of MUCH experimenting and I find it gives me the best sound.

On the floor board is also a Gig Rig Remote Loopy II, which turns on two other loops remotely. They are "Effect Chain Two" and "Effect Chain Three".

In "Effect Chain Two" is a EHX Ring Thing and an EHX Small Stone Phaser. The Ring Thing has an expression pedal plugged in so that I might control seperate parameters on a patch by patch basis (the Ring Thing has 9 presets and one WYSIWYG setting). It is fundamentally a ring modulater, but is equally a trem pedal and harmoniser. It does all of these things splendidly. The phaser is a pretty standard thing and used seldomly but is fun to set to crazy settings and does offer a lot of tonal variation. The fact they are both on the music stand means I can reach over and tweak any control easily and in real time.

In "Effect Chain Three" is a TC Electronics Echo Brain analog delay and a Hall of Fame 2 digital reverb. They both have a lot of knobs that get tweaked a lot. I can get any number of sounds from them with ever having to run through presets (the delay has no presets but the reverb has 11). It is so much easier to adjust the delay setting to tempo with a quick twist of the wrist than to tap it on a excruciatingly small tap tempo stomp box. Of course the analog delay doesn't even allow that anyway so...

That is the basic rig, but I am currently awaiting a few more pedals to include into the fray.
In EC1, I will swap out the MXR for a Rat2 (I LOVE Rat pedals and wished I had never sold my 1985 Rat) and add a EHX Nano Looper 360 at the end of that chain.  In EC2 I will add an EHX Mono Synth pedal (it will be the first in the chain) and a Tube Screamer clone (probably a...Behringer clone!) between the Ring Thing and the Small Stone. In EC3 I will add another looper (TC Electronic's Ditto) at the very end of the whole path and it will reside on the floor. I would also like to add an EHX Attack-Decay and a Grand Canyon into Chain 3 but space and budget are a problem there.

With the EHX looper at the end of chain one, I can basically get it to act like a step sequencer into the Mono Synth and Ring Thing, allowing me a pretty cool modular synth type set-up. With a Ditto at the very end of the entire path, I can record an effected step sequence (say a guitar figure looped by the nano, sent into the Mono Synth and Ring Thing and tweaked in real time) and then play over it. I am hardly a fan of solo artists building up layered loops one by one, but given the nature of the current line-up and our analog synth paradigm, this seems a cool way to incorporate synth sequences and arpeggiated patterns into a guitar-based "synth" set-up.

So that is basically it.

To sign-off I will include a picture of the weird black lab I mentioned earlier.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

"Work, work, work...work, work, work...work, work, work...hello boys; have a good nights rest?"  Lot's of work going on over here...not so much hanging with the "boys" but hanging with the lads is good too.

The album is getting put together slowly but surely with well over half the music written and solidified. Andrew has brought in a large piece as has Alex. We are going for a Diagramma-ish vibe here, using a lot of analog synthesizers and fewer traditional prog nuances (read mellotron and organ). We have been compared to Porcupine Tree before and that is probably a reference that will be used again.

Alex's piece is probably the strongest foray into that aesthetic and is quite exciting. He has written a nice guitar part too...very idiomatic with some nice natural harmonic melodies. Andrew has written an odd-metered latin-ish piece that is proving to be quite challenging to play. For my part I have brought several pieces in that use the simple machine motifs, but are all over the map stylistically. As we produce this stuff up I know there will be a consistent aural vibe that will unify some of these seemingly disparate elements.

So last night I had a bit of a disaster. I have a new studio buddy: WallyDog. He is a Black lab and very, very boisterous. Last night I put my guitar down on the couch and as he walked by his collar snagged one of the tuning pegs. He panicked and took off running, twisting the collar firmly around the peg. He scrambled out of the studio, into the kitchen and off up the stairs, dragging my guitar with him all the way. It is my favorite guitar; a Howard Roberts Fusion III. The guitar is a semi-hollow body and I was terrified the hollow body part would shatter on its wild ride through my house. It didn't. But it got LOTS of scrapes and dings. Two of the tone-volume knobs were broken off and two of the very cool finger style tailpiece thumbscrews were sheered off. The neck was unscathed (which was another worry) and for the most part disaster was averted. Wally was scared for hours (my shouting didn't help) but now, twelve hours later peace has been restored to the studio and my guitar, much the worse for wear is again being used for recording.