Last year, an old friend from my author circles asked about improving some mixes his musical duo recorded on his phone. They used an interface called an iZotope Spire, with minimal setup and automatic settings, so unfortunately all its processing and effects were already baked into the tracks I received. We call these full-track exports “stems,” which we can import/align in our audio software of choice agnostic from what it was recorded with. I used a ton of plug-ins like tape saturators, amp simulators, compressors, EQs, and maximizers, as well as time-based effects like (additional) reverbs, echoes, and flanging. One of the most useful was a transient designer to either shorten reverb tails or sustain other signals. No pitch correction. Here’s a video overviewing some of this work for one song.
Bucket released these songs as an EP titled We Have No Idea What We Are Doing, available though your favorite services by selecting the album cover. Two cover songs were left off, with one posted to YouTube: an amusing medley about how many hits fit the “Wonderwall” chord progression.
Four more songs hit my inbox this fall, whose tracks were cleaner, given the lessons learned from the previous effort. That allowed more mixing flexibility without being confined to pre-cooked ingredients. Still, I went for the same sonic palette, given that it’s just acoustic guitar with v-drums, vocals, and bass. They also incorporated a vintage rhythm unit and sampled some reclaimed furniture as percussion.
Based on the AI-generated cover image referenced in the song “The Deepest Fake,” they titled this EP Ugly Little Sculptures and released it around Thanksgiving. Here’s a lyric video they made for the song “Driver On Fire,” about the solar deathwish of vampire ennui (inspired by the TVseries What We Do in the Shadows).
Oh, I also made a video for “Me & Whiskey” from red-dirt-country band Sons of Sterling.
Sleep is now a three-hour event. Twice per night on good ones, many aimless wee hours in between. Often, I don’t bother going back to bed. (cue Tyler Durden …)
372 days ago, I ate in an empty restaurant for my parents’ anniversary, already a sketchy endeavor at that time. Public dining, I mean. My beloved Chiefs had recently celebrated their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years with mass public gatherings that would soon be prohibited.
Since my pandemic experience resembles many of yours, I’ll skip the tedious details. I’ve been fortunate for 1) continuous employment and 2) living alone. Those are also my biggest stressors, but there’s no oxygen right now for such gripes when mere survival tops everyone’s bucket list. That you cared enough to click this truly warms my heart, and if I have a point here—other than narcissism and obsessive listmaking—it’s to encourage checking in on those we take for granted. Maybe that’s your extended family, friends who rarely post personal updates, service providers, or even the purveyors of your favorite doodles. Sometimes we need to be asked how we’re doing, too. If the relationship autopilot is still functioning after this long … consider some in-air maintenance. Even metaphors get exhausted.
Early on, people were either hyper-connected or off-grid. It took a month to receive word that a cousin died of the virus, and about half the relatives I know contracted and recovered from it at various points. For many not in imminent danger, lockdown felt like being away at camp. “I’m wired for this,” I would tell folks, having lived alone for twenty years of self-amusement, with more unread books than remaining life expectancy. Plus the tools and flexibility to work largely from home. We held online gaming nights, walk-n-talk meetings debating recent streaming binges, even attempted some small outdoor gatherings.
What did I watch this year? Probably the same shows as you. Schitt’s Creek, The Mandalorian, Ted Lasso, Cobra Kai, Raised By Wolves, Upload, The Good Lord Bird. No interest in Tiger King, though, nor any of the so-called reality or talent shows on network. I loved shotgunning all four seasons of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, unlike my brutal wait between episodes the first time around. I’m currently catching up on the past decade of The Simpsons since football has dominated Sundays (including another Chiefs Super Bowl campaign). My favorite watch was a special on Hulu called In & Of Itself, entertaining and affecting. Of course you can imagine how Pixar’s Coco wrecked me, given the nature of this post. My brother’s (executive producer) film Saint Frances won both the Audience Award and Breakthrough Voice at SXSW the previous year, and is up for an Independent Spirit as well. It tackles tough topics warmly and with a light touch. Despite universal acclaim, 2020 meant they were deprived of a theatrical run, being distributed on demand instead, now widely available.
After a month of serenades from other shut-ins, I felt an obligation to entertain as well, and performed a medley of my favorite childhood TV themes, with the lyrics “Weird Al”-ed into various disturbing misremembered soundalikes. Y’all know I’m no singer, and it’s pretty tricky swapping lyrics in real time that you’ve been humming for forty years while making your hands do something else and maintaining a semblance of camera awareness. Your enthusiastic response caught me by surprise, as did demand for a second volume. That one was tougher because I had to learn its music from scratch and replace some broken keys under the hood.
Productivity hasn’t been an issue this year; it’s creativity. I’ve got enough new lyrics for two albums (or one good one) but haven’t written a note of music yet to go with any. Given a topic and a perspective, I can craft artful phrases on command. But the music—the notes—those have to come from someplace more inspired, currently stunted by lack of new life experience. The last thing I wanna hear right now is another friggin’ pandemic-themed tune. (I did write one, titled “Greetings from Fort Riley,” but it’s about 1918.)
While treading water musically and avoiding household chores, it dawned on me that I’d never bothered notating my original songs. At best, some chicken-scratches to get through their recording, because most haven’t been performed beyond that. I completed most of the *cough* notable ones, 27 down so far. Transcribing yourself is such an odd exercise, and I discovered some tendencies in the process. Apparently my favorite key is G-minor, in which you could perform an entire Deep Purple set, or keep the B-flat orchestra kids happy.
Home-improvement projects continue slipping down the list. My only real accomplishment was some studio declutter by installing drawers with plucked foam, and reorganizing bookshelves to permit future acquisitions in my favorite genres.
Good news: I haven’t been sick in over a year! Bad news: I needed a lot of dental work even before this whole thing began, still unaddressed because I wouldn’t feel safe during such long procedures, not to mention the certain backlog that will await after choosing a new dentist. My history with grille docs could fill a book. One recommended steroids. Another got busted in a meth ring. Yeah, the supply/demand joke writes itself.
On my 18th anniversary at Sprint, I became a T-Mobile employee. This complex merger landed me on a team where I split time between video production and emerging learning technology. For example, my morning might be spent animating and narrating, and my afternoon developing the platform where it will be delivered. Our progressive culture is something I’m very proud of, and has helped through many tough stretches of the pandemic and civil unrest, confronting issues head-on while devoting the necessary energy to help alleviate them. It’s frustrating how “essential worker” changed once vaccinations became available.
Because work requests continue pouring in through the evenings, I’ve adopted a west-coast schedule and delay my mornings to compensate. Had someone told me I’d only set my alarm clock a handful of times in one year, I’d say that sounded like paradise, yet insomnia is the result because it feels like working second shift. Once I’m back in the office regularly, I’ll end this practice. Speaking of, those buildings are newly remodeled, and our video production complex is damned impressive, including an extended-reality studio with LED walls/flooring, which combines lens data with videogame-engine rendering to position the background and maintain perspective in real time. This allows us to shoot the final composite in-camera instead of using a greenscreen then figuring it out later. It’s much like this, though we swapped out some components.
Early summer, my aunt and uncle visited, getting tours of KC’s fine barbecue and outdoor-recreation superstores. I had previously cancelled July plans for a reciprocal hometown trip. About the best I could manage was helping my sister shop online for an acoustic guitar.
If you mostly know me through creative work, I’ve probably never mentioned genealogy. Hours spent on that in recent years dwarf other projects, 2020 most interestingly of all, because I organized a private Facebook group for some of them, allowing me to share findings with more than just a handful of people, while putting them into interesting or amusing historical contexts, and getting feedback. As part of that, I created over 100 unique family trees in the cloud, with photo galleries for as many as possible. A distant cousin from Germany even provided entries from the village directory back to the 1700s to confirm and correct findings.
Subscribing to archival newspaper services enlightened me more than anything else, from high-school athletic supremacy or bravery in crises to romantic elopements, juvenile misadventures, or incarceration. Even found a branch of previously unknown cousins who’d lived nearby back home. And another cousin I’d previously called godmother, being my uncle’s wife. Turns out my dad and his brother both married women from the same ancestor. Further back, I discovered a trio of brothers who all married sisters in the same pecking order. Can you imagine the pressure of being the youngest?
I’ve continued attempting to reach out to newfound distant relatives from many branches, with varying results. Many are intensely interested … for brief periods. Others know so little that I end up doing all the sharing and learning not much. Emotions can run high from discoveries of events from generations ago. I’ve submitted my DNA and am awaiting those results, expecting more confirmations than surprises, and hoping to connect with others who’ve done the same.
October 6, my lifelong musical hero Edward Van Halen crossed over to the great gig in the sky. His influence being evident in my playing and songwriting and impossible to capture in words, this essay attempt linked below required 7000 of them. Van Halen was the soundtrack to so many of my life events, this became an autobiography of sorts, should any mystery still remain. Six months later I still find myself down YouTube rabbit-holes of vault treasures.
This week I finally polished up this site. Dumped the audio player entirely, so those selections are functioning again and now just open in new browser tabs. Nixed links that went 404, mourning each while welcoming others. The updates most worth your time are under the Visual category up top, like the Graphic Design page with its new Memes section where I’ve curated some of my favorite silly Photoshop creations. Even if they look familiar, click through for the large versions, because they’re often crops of collages. I even GIFed a few of my ancient sites so you can experience how they functioned back then! It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious Photography, but I added more amateur Snapshots to that page for fun.
Speaking of offline sites, CDBaby is no more, so if you’re still looking for a physical copy of Finding the Light, you’ll have to get it directly from me. (CD is that hot format kids are talking about, like miniature vinyl with digital quality.)
I’d written another about virtual reality for the same class, unfortunately inspired by The Lawnmower Man. A couple of years ago when the price dropped, I got a VR headset and Move controllers for my PlayStation. We’d been creating some virtual reality experiences at work, and I wanted to see what else was possible. Was hooked immediately, suspending disbelief and feeling like I was inside the game environment itself, peeking around corners, 3D audio moving along with my head. Cockpits, escape-room puzzles, sea diving, lightsabers, vacation simulators, etc. Total blackout makes it especially effective for horror experiences. Often I find the immersion relaxing, but even without motion sickness, I only play in about 30-minute increments. Here are the best PSVR titles I picked up last year.
Well, that about does ’er, wraps ’er all up. Last month, I bought a ukulele (behave, and I promise you’ll never hear it). Friday, my parents received their first vaccine doses. And today, despite losing yet another overnight hour to something called Daylight Savings Time, I’m stepping out to witness some of this stuff we’re conserving.
EDIT: Nope, a rainy 48 degrees. Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.
NEXT DAY: Tornadoes on the ground nearby. Tub time.
Last year, I scored the serialized horror podcast Larkspur Underground, written and produced by Michael Paul Gonzalez in Los Angeles over 11 episodes. You can read more about that process in this blog post.
With the first season concluded, now’s your chance to binge it if you haven’t already. Things got … um … crazy in those last few episodes! I’ve also decided to make my musical score available, which you can hear in its entirety below, or anytime on my Music page with all my other projects, newly updated as well.
Visitors to my Music page know I’ve produced many tracks for multimedia. Theme songs, spot cues, drops/bumpers, etc. However, the closest to a complete score that I’d recorded was for my 2006 short film Featurette, clocking in at a mere 19 minutes. Then came an opportunity to compose for a new serialized horror podcast called LARKSPUR UNDERGROUND. We’ll get down and nerdy in a bit, but first the story.
In late January of 2014, the Colorado Sheriff’s Department investigated a call of a strange odor coming from a remote ranching compound outside of the tiny town of Larkspur, Colorado. Upon investigating, they uncovered a fallout shelter that had been converted into a brutal torture and murder facility. Over a dozen victims were found at the scene in various states of decay. While finishing the first day of investigations, one of the deputies was cataloging evidence near a body that was chained to a radiator. To his shock, the woman was still alive.
She became known as Jane Doe, the Larkspur Lady, the only survivor of what had been a two-year spree of murder and carnage by a man known only as The Scientist. After recovering in the hospital, she began to work with authorities to help them uncover as much about these crimes as possible in the hopes of bringing The Scientist to justice. Things took a strange turn when it was revealed that she had not only been his victim, but also an accomplice in several of the murders. She was quickly tried and convicted of manslaughter for her role in the crime.
Since that day, the Colorado Innocence Coalition has been working to free her. Podcast host Tara Bay has been with the Coalition since they took on the case. She is a tireless advocate for Jane Doe, seeing her as a woman who was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, an unwitting pawn in the hands of a madman. After months of work from a dedicated team of attorneys, Jane Doe won a new day in court. Her conviction will be overturned soon.
In conjunction with Plainview Public Radio, Tara Bay has created the show Larkspur Underground to present the life of Jane Doe. The media has had plenty to say about the presumed guilt or innocence of Jane Doe. Tara Bay has been there almost since the beginning, and is using her exclusive access to bring you the full story so that you can decide for yourself.
So … you’re saying it’s my job to creep out listeners? Please and thank you! Doing a horror project was on my bucket list (the imaginary one conjured for this post), so I signed an NDA, devoured the scripts, and got to work. First I went through and “spotted” all of the sequences I thought could benefit from an underscore. The nature of the material demands tension and discord, but there were a few opportunities for lighter moments, station imaging, and some diegetic music (that which is heard by the characters).
Three guiding decisions I made up front:
• I wanted it to be entirely electronic, in-the-box MIDI, with vintage-inspired synths and effects. Minimal use of drum set.
• It still needed a strong rhythmic pulse, however, achieved through extensive arpeggiators, echoes, and sweeps.
• I would deliver the songs like a stock-music album, with tracks designed and named for specific scenes, but left up to the producer to implement.
One cue introduced in the first episode is “The Scientist.”
Villains as sinister as our guy deserve their own motif. It’s a neutral, dull-attack riff, but that unsettling element you can’t … quite … place … is the 5/4 time signature. Sure, on one hand we’ve got the pursuit of our fugitive, but he’s really the predator, and that’s what I was thinking about: this car-as-shark roaming the desert highway at night, world visible only in its hi-beams. A little CHRISTINE-ish in hindsight, but at the time I was feeling a MIAMI VICE groove. Maybe the shark became a dolphin, who knows, but blessed restraint prevented me from embarrassing myself with a screaming Jan Hammer solo. Then listeners would be picturing cocaine and Testarossas instead of injections and cargo vans. So, I kept this one simple; I think it’s only three or four tracks. The second half builds with some choral “scream” swells that respond to each “stab” I’d previously established. This motif is reprised in a more developed form in later episodes.
Some have said the music reminds them of DRIVE by Cliff Martinez, or even STRANGER THINGS, and I won’t deny either influence. More about the score in a bit.
Michael Gonzalez created and produces the podcast. I first got to know Mike on the forums at Chuck Palahniuk’s fan site, from which several new online writing communities blossomed. We’ve long supported each other’s creative efforts, through workshopping and promoting books, even crewing an abandoned short film together. After last week’s premiere, I asked him a few questions to shed some light on the process.
Gordon Highland: You should be really proud of this. I’m already getting glowing messages from people, and I’m just the piano player! With that in mind … what do I tell folks who ask whether this is true-crime or fiction? Michael Gonzalez: Thanks for the kind words, piano monkey! I tell anyone who asks that it’s fiction. I would never personally present the show as something that actually happened. That said, I’m treating it like an Augmented Reality Experience, so people who approach the show’s Facebook or Twitter page with questions will effectively be in the world of the show. I hope it feels real enough that people are dying to google the events portrayed.
I’ve been thinking about creating a podcast for a long time, and was deeply inspired by shows like LIMETOWN and THE MESSAGE, which present themselves as reality while accurately being categorized under Performing Arts in podcast directories. I do like to blur the lines: None of the actors will be revealed until the end credits of season one, and none of the show staff listed in each episode actually exist … except one guy: the music man. So there’s an anchor in the real world to help keep that line blurry.
Coming from a radio background, I’m a fan of that sonic “theater of the mind,” really taking advantage of the medium. And yet, despite podcasts’ popularity … it seems to be kind of a lost art. So I especially dig those sequences where you go “on location” and put listeners in the moment.
I think it’s really important. There are a lot of podcast dramas that present themselves as taking place in real time, but characters sound the same whether they’re outdoors, in a car, or in a restaurant. Other podcasts pay close attention to ambience. HOMECOMING is a pretty cool podcast that recorded both in and out of studio to get the sound they needed. LIFE/AFTER used boom mics and had actors moving around actual spaces to get the ambience of a busy office or military war room. BRONZEVILLE is a sonic marvel, but it’s all done in-studio, I think. I’m trying to make my editing work easier by actually recording that ambience instead of adding it later. It’s a huge pain, but my goal is to record as close to “on location” as possible, which is why I’ve created my own murder bunker in Colorado and am busy kill—
I’ve said too much.
How much initial thought went into the musical element, as far as how it could enhance things? We discussed the themes, and you sent me some theatrical cues you liked. Most of the music was delivered before the voices were recorded. Was it a challenge to integrate it and mix it that way?
The music has been an absolute trip, and your work has really taken the show to another level. When I approached you, I was hoping for, at best, a theme song and a couple of drum loops I could layer in under the vocals. What you delivered was amazing … and we haven’t even gotten to all of the pieces yet! One great thing about music beds is they can cover up little imperfections in the audio. We were still kind of figuring out how to set up a room for recording in the first and second episodes. There was a lot of work to get traffic noises out of the “studio” portions of the show, which I’ve since learned to mitigate further with my magic DIY sound booth. The “real world” parts of the show—Jane Doe in her hospital or therapy rooms, accidental noises—weren’t as big of a deal. But having your music beds under Tara Bay and Jessica Laughton just amplifies the tension. My favorite thing is that I rarely had to tweak the position of the music. I’d find a good spot to start it, and it somehow thematically rolls with whatever the characters are talking about. It’s nice when I don’t have keep trying to “hit the post” with music.
Without the benefit of hearing the voice performances first, I could only estimate lengths required based on the script (which I actually did do in spots, providing notes accordingly), so they needed to be easily loopable for the editor. Most of the songs feature two or three sections that repeat with variations in the instrumentation: either more sparse or more dense, inverted chords, double/half-time-feels, etc. That way, they can either let the song play and use its own development to punctuate dramatic transitions, or cut and save those other variations for a later cue. Again, that’s something you’d find in stock-music libraries, except they’ll provide several different mixes and edits of each song, while I created a single dynamic track.
Here’s the main theme that bookends each episode:
The melody came first—no surprise—but it was originally written as straight quarter notes, as heard during the end reprise, which is a bit like a march. If not quite the major-key victorious variety, it at least sounds like some sort of order has been restored, closure achieved. To infer a story arc, I needed the beginning to contrast it. So at first that same melody instead swings—almost hopelessly—with a dragging feel aided by a snare pattern resembling shuffling feet. (Symbolism alert.)
When the main theme recedes and gives way to piano, that’s the host’s cue to duck the music and start talking. It gets pretty minimalist for a while, making for an easy fade. The next movement brings in the piano more aggressively with some plaintive woodwind lines and breakbeat teases, blah blah blah—I’m not gonna chart the whole damn song. That solo cello, though. I just loved the way it sounded, and marooning it in one speaker like that … then, one moment before your brain can signal that something bad is about to happen, that TOM SAWYER crash punches you in the face, only to retreat and tumble into the big finish. It made the fur stand up on my arm the first time I heard playback.
As with “The Scientist,” this melody reappears in other forms, played by other instruments, different accents, yadda. A number of cues share similar chord progressions by design, so I had to make sure my track naming was on-point. For some sonic glue, I used the same recording session file for large batches of cues. Coloring with the same little box of crayons, so to speak, by limiting myself to a couple dozen sounds. For a while, anyway. And then another session file would feature all the burnt siennas and periwinkles and whathaveyous.
Composing music to complement another medium (like the spoken word), especially when it’s someone else’s vision, is a great excuse to explore some psychology. For example, I wanted to create my own news sounder. Besides the obvious brass urgency, there’s something else those all seem have in common melodically that just boasts impartiality. What’s the most “objective” chord? I asked myself. Well, one that abstains from any major- or minor-third emotional giveaways, right? Fourths, mostly. (Ritchie Blackmore would agree.) Pound that tympani, keep those harmonies close, dodge the third, and you’ve got insta-news. Other psychosomatic manipulations included things like what being drugged might sound like, or ritarding the tempo when the character’s out of breath from being chased.
Earlier, I mentioned conceiving this as an album. The length is certainly worthy. Sure, there’s lots of repetition, but all soundtracks have that. We’d like to make this available to you sometime in the future—whether as a perk or a purchase—under the podcast’s name or my own FLASH moniker, I don’t yet know. Depends on the demand. Would you be interested in hearing that? Might make for some good “writing” music for you creatives.
I’ll leave you with more of my conversation with Michael Gonzalez.
You’re an Angeleno. You’ve even published an anthology of L.A. stories. Hell, the first time we met in person was on the Sunset Strip, where I was promptly defeated by a stack of pancakes bigger than my head. What influence or effect has that had—your city, I mean (pancakes optional)—on this production, whether that’s finding voice talent, or even the material itself?
It certainly makes access to actors a lot easier. I think in broader America, people view Hollywood as this cesspool where everyone comes to chase fame and money … and they’re sort of right! But, it’s also where a lot of artists come looking to create things. There’s a deep well of people out here who just want to be involved in something creative, to have a chance to express their art and get out there and work. That’s been nice. I also have easier access to rent equipment or try out microphones, things like that. It’s a producer’s paradise out here: a lot of showrooms with people ready to walk you through every piece of equipment. But mostly I’ve tried to stick to a network of people I know. You’ve been an invaluable source for technical tricks and questions.
Are you going to be posting supplemental media on larkspurunderground.com? What kind of listener interactivity are you hoping for?
Host Tara Bay is active on Twitter @tarabtalks, and I encourage people to reach out to her with story questions. We’ll be putting up photos of the crime scene and some evidence photos as the season rolls on. I’m hoping the audience clicks into that, because there’s a section later in the season where it would be great to have a Twitter following, and it’s going to be a one-shot deal. People bingeing the show a year from now wouldn’t be able to follow along on Twitter like current listeners, so it’ll be a cool “gotta be there” thing if it happens the way I hope it does.
When you first contacted me about this, I assumed it was for a voice role, and I’ve been promised a larger one if we get a second season. Really, I just wanted to get that down here in print … but what’s gotta happen to ensure it continues? Give me your best pitch; pimp away.
You weren’t supposed to reveal that. You’re fired! Or maybe not. The tricky thing here is I can’t talk about anything that might happen in season two or three without letting details of season one slip. So I suppose the reveal there is … I’m trying to tell a full story across three seasons. Jane Doe’s journey is just beginning, and Tara Bay is chasing a madman. It could go anywhere, right? Some of my favorite reactions to Episode 1 have been people telling me how dark they thought it got. It’s just the tip of the iceberg compared to some of the stuff coming down in the next three episodes! The show goes to a really brutal, hopeless place, but does chase after redemption and a light at the end of the tunnel. Each season will tell a complete, satisfying story: no real cliffhangers, no major loose ends.
My goal right now is to get those download numbers up so that I can run a Kickstarter or something around mid-season to fund the rest of the show. I want to move this beyond a passion project into a recurring gig. I’ve dubbed my studio Radio Lost Angeles, and the hope is that I can launch a few more podcast dramas (and a comedy) over the next year or two. That’ll be easier if everyone reading this subscribes to Larkspur Underground on their favorite podcatcher and leaves us a nice 5-star review!
Thanks, Mike! Subscription buttons are below.
Subscribe to LARKSPUR UNDERGROUND with:
Also be sure to visit my updated Podcasts page for all kinds of aural goodies.
• The song itself was inspired by Jason Webley (troubadour accordionist extraordinaire). Late into one of his shows, when taking audience requests, someone shouted that he should play something really old and embarrassing. Jason replied that if we got him drunk enough, he’d play us some songs he wrote in the ’80s. These lyrics were born the next day, and this was the first track recorded for the Finding the Light album.
• I’ve said before that this would make an excellent drinking game, with all of its name-drop references to the decade of excess. The image pop-ups now allow our hearing-impaired friends to get in on the fun.
• It’s hard to tell with the jacket, but that’s a Cobra Kai t-shirt the singer’s wearing. Strike first, strike hard, no mercy! With the exception of the Royals World Series t-shirt, all the other shirts remain closet survivors from my ’80s tribute band Molly’s Crush way back in ’03.
• The reason the drummer employs an utter lack of trademark rock faces is because the only time I’ve ever played an actual kit was while goofing off at band practices long ago, so it required all my concentration just to execute a passable performance minus the showmanship that comes from experience. I’m just good at programming them on the computer.
• During the keyboard solo on the recording, I used an effect called an arpeggiator that splits chords you finger into individual notes played in time to the beat. But I thought that would look silly and confusing on video, so I learned a half-assed approximation of it.
• I started playing guitar in the summer of ’86, and Van Halen was my first hero.
• This is the first time in 20 years I’ve dusted off that magenta guitar.
• It broke my heart how overexposed the split-screen wide shot was, but that’s the risk you sometimes take with a GoPro.
• I actually wrote very few songs in the ’80s. Some instrumentals, sure, but those with lyrics probably weren’t until the early ’90s.
With my Finding the Light album release this week, I figured I should preview a full track. And in the same spirit as the recording process, why not keep the video DIY, too?
• Self-shot with a single GoPro on a gooseneck clamp in my Womb With a View studio.
• This was the penultimate song written and recorded. Given the theme of the album, I needed a climactic, scorching “set-closer” of sorts before the metaphorical encores.
• There was supposed to be a double-time section that really smoked (third verse), but in the moment I simply forgot to record it!
• I program all of my drum tracks one measure at a time, which is why there’s no kit in the studio (that, and I wouldn’t be able to actually execute it).
• The lyrics employ a method called polysemy, where each instance of the word antidote has a slightly different meaning in context.
• Probably the best bass line I’ve written to date, though my blistered fingers might disagree.
• On guitar, I’m using a “hybrid” picking technique (pick + fingers) that makes those triplets in the verse much easier to play in time and with the proper accents.
• That device I’m holding over the guitar pickup during the solos is called an EBow. It replaces the pick, and a battery creates a magnetic field that vibrates the string for infinite sustain. You can also achieve cello-like volume swells by moving it closer to or farther from the pickup. This song was the first time I’d ever used one, and you can hear it throughout the opening overture track, called “Zeitgeber.”
• Final Cut Pro (video editing software) has a “multicam” mode that was a huge timesaver in synchronizing all those clips to the audio track.
Here it is! She’s a beaut, eh? The artwork comes from the illustrious brush of Boden Steiner. He said the concept originated in my song “Costumes,” which is a nostalgic tune that’s partly about kids auditioning different personalities (“trying on costumes”) and figuring out what kind of people they want to become. The album’s larger themes are probably obvious from the title and his bold step into what surely will be flight, yeah?
(Click pics to embiggen.)
And here’s the back. This one’s sourced from stock, but modified heavily. It complements the lyrics to the title track, as well as illustrating the way the album loops from end to beginning.
In case you missed the audio preview I posted last week, here’s a new version with something pretty to look at during those six too-short minutes. Sharing encouraged.
I’m expecting a mid-September release on CD, download, and streaming.
This anthology contains my short story “‘Burgatory” originally published at Solarcide a few years ago, but which has been offline for a while. It’s about a life-insurance salesman facing his mortality as planes of the multiverse collide.
From the publisher:
Visions, plagues, angels. A different view of the miracle of birth. Bestiality farms, departing souls, talking cold sores, and of course, elder gods. All of this and more. Edited by Martin Garrity and Nathan Pettigrew, this is a collection of some of the darkest and most peculiar words ever published by Solarcide. The long-awaited return of some of the craziest, funniest, and most brutal fiction that was featured during the first couple of years of the site’s operations. Featuring an introduction by neo-noir road warrior, RichardThomas, and boasting stories from wonderful folk such as Ben Tanzer, Gordon Highland, Brandon Tietz, Rebecca Jones-Howe, and Garrett Cook. Wicked words are contained within.
Table of Contents:
Introduction – Richard Thomas Perfectly Natural – Jessica Leonard Horsepower – Bryan Howie & K. A. Hunter Child – David Bobis ‘Burgatory – Gordon Highland A Lady on the Streets – Renee Asher Pickup Triple Flash – Len Kuntz Enhancement – Garrett Cook Distance From Daddy – Rebecca Jones-Howe Something Special – Ben Tanzer Carl – Brandon Tietz Hands and Tendrils – Axel Taiari The Love – Teri Skultety The Legend Of Johnny Bell – Laura Andrews My Life In A Brutalist Concrete Bunker – Tony Rauch Year of the Pig – Andrea Taylor Love, Posey – Michael J. Riser
Remember my debut novel from back in 2009? Ever wanted to cut out the eyeball middlemen and have the author’s voice streaming between your ears handsfree?
Of all my fiction, Major Inversions made the most sense for an audiobook treatment because:
• it’s written in first person, so the entire narrative is “in character”
• the character’s voice is basically my own (though not his assholic persona)
• he’s a jingle writer, and I couldn’t not include those, right?
• I was between projects
Whispersync-enabled, making the audiobook a mere $1.99 for Kindle edition owners.
Reviewers, e-mail me for a free Audible download code.
While authors are the ideal interpreters of their own work, most are not skilled live readers, let alone voice actors, nor are they in possession of sound studios or the requisite production know-how. I happen to be uniquely suited to all the above, so I finally figured what the hell. Long ago, I produced books on tape as a freelancer. Yes, cassettes. Twenty-five minutes per side, because that was the average commute. I’d record the actors in a pro studio, then dump the material into my feeble home Mac for editing and mastering, Jaz drive choking all the while. Those jobs actually paid for the first incarnation of my studio that’s now mostly dedicated to musical shenanigans. And I’ve been performing voiceovers since my earliest radio days on through my present career.
The first-person point of view is what sold me. For those unfamiliar, that book featured a silver-tongued lothario whom we’d now compare to Hank Moody (Californication), though I wrote it between 2003 and 2007, influenced by Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Hornby, et al. I drew upon my personal experiences as a musician and security guard, exaggerated the hell out of them, and filtered everything through a character who’s pure id, at least at first. Of course the plot itself is total fiction. Thank Christ. And yes, I find it hilarious that iTunes has me listed under Romance.
The novel employed jingles (36 of them) as a metafictional device to reflect his inner state at certain moments—or just whatever he happened to be working on that I found amusing. They proved to be a fun challenge for the audiobook, because on the page they’re just chord names over lyrics, having put zero thought into melodies or syllable counts. Even as simply as they’re rendered here, some were real head-scratchers, these ten-second commercial breaks.
Also included is the bonus epilogue “Phenotypic Variations” (written in 2013 for my Submission Windows collection), which catches up with our hero several years later. The entire book runs a mere seven-and-a-half hours, which’ll get you through either a couple of weeks’ commutes or one manic, meth-addled day.
I produced this edition with great care over the course of a month. The sheer amount of labor involved means any future audiobooks will depend on the financial success of this one, so it’s up to you to convince me whether they’re worthwhile. I don’t personally know any other authors in my circles who’ve produced an audiobook yet, so I hope to be that literary gateway drug for you. Happy listening!
Your roommate says you should date more, that all those spandex nights on stage paying tribute to hair metal and banging faceless groupies only amplify your Jekyll/Hyde syndrome. That this quicksand town of floozies, fiends, and filmmakers will survive without your commercial jingles. And your narcotics. That you should turn in your daytime security-guard badge and settle down.
He’s got the perfect girl, a cinnamon-scented innocent who will bring that elusive substance to your life despite the familial forces that conspire against your union.
Always lurking in the periphery, the parasitic roommate remains buried in his Master’s thesis throughout your reinvention, the search for your birth parents, and your all-too-brief film scoring career. A supporting cast of lecherous directors, deluded bandmates, federal agents, and nostalgic exes enable and obstruct your path to closure and ironic revenge in this revisionist character study that is Major Inversions.
I’m the focus of this month’s Community Spotlight over at the excellent LitReactor, profiled by Jessica Taylor. The main topic is Submission Windows, my shorts collection, but the interview also delves into the art of sequencing compilations, poetry, and the differences between writing for the short versus long form.
LitReactor is one of the most popular book/writing sites out there, with columns, interviews, online courses, and an enormous community forum (I’ve been active since day one), whose members Jessica has taken the initiative to feature. Recent Spotlights have profiled Chris Lewis Carter, Pantheon Magazine, Solarcide, David Buglass, and Jonathan Riley. Jessica also co-hosts Books and Booze, a weekly podcast featuring author interviews and discussion.
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Prison bars. Stained church glass. Deadlines precursing rejection. These are Submission Windows: vantage points for peeking in on—or out from—surgeons, killers, priests, perverts, inmates, athletes, musicians, and more than a few celebrities past their prime. Most clinging to frayed ropes of their own making, desperate for redemption, love, or merely an enduring pulse. For others, it’s their ambition on display, destined for humility.
These voyeuristic and vicarious vignettes include 26 short stories bridged by several dozen poems exclusive to this collection, and a story notes appendix. No theme, no genre … just some troubled characters inviting you to watch.
I’m thrilled to announce this collection, because it represents nearly everything (novels aside) from this phase of my fiction-writing career. All those links I shared to each published story online or in print that you couldn’t find time to (or afford to) chase down individually, now they’re all in one book, priced to move. Fifteen of these stories have never appeared anywhere before, nor have any of its poems. I spent months compiling, sequencing, and designing it, as well as writing notes about each entry. Genres are all over the place, including noir, domestic, magic realism, coming-of-age, and others I can’t define. And a lot of black comedy. So there’s something for everyone. Except kids; keep them away from this … y’know, unless you’re an adventurous, open-minded parent.
The paperback will be available though additional online booksellers in the coming weeks as distribution trickles down. Both e-books are identical in content to the paperback, and the Kindle edition is free if you buy its paperback through Amazon (MatchBook program).
As always, I’d really appreciate a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads: good, bad, or indifferent. If you’d like to review Submission Windows for an established media outlet, please e-mail me for a copy.
A couple of years ago, I read Andrez Bergen’s excellent post-apocalyptic sci-noir novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and began a correspondence with the author, interviewing him for The Velvet and keeping in touch all friendly-like, as we do. A few books later, he re-approached Goat‘s publisher, Another Sky Press, about releasing an anthology of stories by other authors that he compiled (along with co-editor Guy Salvidge), all set within the well-developed universe of that first novel. I immediately jumped on board as a contributor, taking it as a challenge to write my very first story in that genre.
Here’s what you need to know. Melbourne is near-future Earth’s last city standing, where the ominous, ubiquitous Hylax (plastics) Corporation and its CEO Wolram E. Deaps are behind the push to apprehend, incarcerate, and even terminate Deviants for their behavior, enlisting Seeker Branch to police such matters. Affluent residents live in the Dome: an enclosed, city-center shopping/entertainment community that shields them from Melbourne’s post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Outside, under the ubiquitous toxic rainwater, Melbourne is inhabited by hardboiled dames, grifters, and gumshoes trying to get by. It’s Blade Runner meets The Third Man.
Short story contributors include:
Andrez Bergen – “In-Dreamed,” “Waiting for Sod All,” “We Are Not Afraid, We Serve”
Paul D. Brazill – “Murphy’s Bright Spark”
Julie Morrigan – “Sanctity”
Nigel Bird – “A Kick in the Googlies”
Gordon Highland – “Plan E”
Liam José – “The Holy Church of the Scalpel”
Kristopher Young – “Tomorrow Will Be a Better World”
Chad Eagleton – “Blood on the Milky Way”
Guy Salvidge – “The Dying Rain”
Gerard Brennan – “Frilly”
Josh Stallings – “Dream Juice”
Chris Rhatigan – “Wake Up, Time to Die”
Tony Pacitti – “Venus from Mars”
Chad Rohrbacher – “Picture This”
Devin Wine – “La Bomba”
Harvey Finch – “Identity Parade”
Jay Slayton-Joslin – “The Great Milko of the People”
Also featured are several collaborations, with stories by Andrez and artwork by Drezz Rodriguez, Andrew Chiu, Michael Grills, and Marcos Vergara.
In my story, “Plan E,” the Dome’s elite are known for their physical “enhancements,” so I thought a back-alley surgeon would provide a cool counterpoint-of-view to the crime focus of the original Goat. It’s also a vehicle for social commentary, while being a well-worn noir trope I could play against. I had a lot of fun devising technology and laws and playing within its existing geography, while working to keep such things in the periphery as if this were all routine. Being one who can’t resist a good twist, its framing device hit me over the head once I was nearly done, which hopefully earns a second read from a new perspective.
Czar Bar, Kansas City, 5/24/12 (“$@!# Authors Say” event). To warm things up, Winebox performed our very first show. I already had a camera set up for the readings, so I thought we should go ahead and record a live showcase video as well. Here are some selections for you:
Somewhere in between readings by Phil Jourdan, Caleb J Ross, Hollie Hayes, Hampton Stevens and Brandon Tietz, here’s what I had to say. First up, an experimental meta piece, then some microfiction, and finally my short story “Fry Girl.”
To see the other authors’ readings, check out my YouTube playlist for the event. Tell you what, I’m gonna go ahead and embed Caleb’s below, just because it was really funny.
Now that Finding the Light has been mixed and mastered, here’s a six-minute sampler with a little from each track.
Intrigued? I’m anxious for you to take the entire 50-minute journey, because so far only two people have heard it: the mastering engineer and cover artist (the only two roles I delegated).
My next post—very soon—will be to reveal the cover artwork. I’m expecting a mid-September release if everything falls into place. Still got a bunch of flaming hoops to navigate, like the design, manufacturing, publishing, and online stores. At that time I’ll link up a dedicated page with all the info to get it in your CD, download, or streaming library.
This album will need all the promotional help it can get, so I’d appreciate you loosening up those jaws in preparation to spread the Word of mouth … or any other mouth-love you can provide. Thank you, and enjoy!
My lack of recent updates is because historically most of them have been literary, and I’m on hiatus from that world for a bit. (I will, however, be hanging in Minneapolis during AWP, eager to let you buy me drinks.) My stack of unread books grows monthly, as I’ve barely cracked a spine since last summer. But if you figure I’ve gone dormant, perish those thoughts.
I’m recording a new album.
Too long, I’ve been away from my first love of making original music. Sure, I created those Winebox tracks a few years ago—proudly—but the live gigs just weren’t coming. After my patience reached its tether, followed by the requisite mourning period, I returned to the woodshed (Womb With a View studio), doing the one-man-band thing under my FLASH moniker.
I began work on Finding the Light (a title based on a famous Leonard Cohen lyric) last fall, which I recall only because my Royals were in the World Series at the time. Now I figure I’m a little over halfway done, and though not usually one for pre-release hype, I’m too giddy to stay mum about it. This is a killer batch of tunes so far. Most of the lyrics you’ll recognize from my Submission Windows collection. A few I had sketched out for Winebox, but all are new recordings, and no covers. I’m writing, performing, and recording all the parts myself, DIY from top to bottom (which I’ve pretty much always done, give or take some vocals). They’re festooned with guitars, as you’d expect, but this is not an instrumental wank-fest. It’s about song power, with catchy hooks and lush arrangements alongside a few requisite face-melting riffs. Melodic rock, I guess you’d call it, somewhere between the simplicity of Winebox and the indulgence of my old FLASH stuff. There are hues of Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd, and ZZ Top, but diverse as the tracks are, they actually sound like they were performed by the same artist for a change. In fact, there is a bit of a pseudo-concept at work here, a loosely-assembled story.
Fall 2015 seems like a realistic street date, but time will tell. Likely download-only, though I may do a short CD run if demand is there. More info coming when release nears, so prepare thine ears and eyes for the Light!
This is our first topic on a new must-listen podcast: Important Question? where we explore and debate such taboos with the profundity and absurdity and hilarity they warrant. Ensuing episodes will examine other grey areas soaking in our collective grey matter, like, I dunno … ruining a child’s Christmas(?) or taking a bullet for a stranger(?).
Alongside myself, the devil’s original advocate (author, BookTuber, marketer) Caleb J Ross brings his perverse wit and flexible morality (and web hosting) to the dialogue. Will it end in aural fisticuffs or virtual high-fives? Who knows. Either way, you’ll come away with the requisite ammunition to argue these topics later with your racist grandmother.
Episodes post weekly or biweekly and are 15-20 minutes: more Adult Swim than sitcom. And yes, that’s me performing the theme song. Find the complete episode guide at ImportantQuestionPodcast.com. Get interactive, Like us on Facebook.com/ImportantQuestion for even more fun media and discussion.