This week I’ve mostly devoted time to my band’s album. Writing/recording at the same time, it’s a process that makes my brain hurt. So, my method for approaching this is to set aside lots of time, and hit it hard for a short amount of time — an hour or two– then walk away. ‘Hitting it hard’ means devoting my concentration and imagination thoroughly to the process of discovering possibilities that make me want to dive deeper. By this process, over the last two weeks, I wrote and recorded two new songs.
France and surrounding areas were deep in a heat wave, temps were over 100F at times, and generally hovering in the 90s. In Brussels they had their hottest day since 1901. Aden was home sick from school Monday and Tuesday, and we pretty much spent the week naked or nearly so. Aden went back to school on Thursday, for her last two days of elementary school — she starts at a new school in September, the equivalent of Jr. High in France, which is called ‘college’. Her final report card was a list of “A’s” and “excellents” as long as Fast Eddie Johnson’s rap sheet.
On Wednesday night I headed to Paris, slept at our flat there, and caught the early (which turned out to be….late) train to Brussels and had a great couple of days working on Bastian Baker‘s new album. I’ve now had the pleasure on playing on all three of this great songwriter’s releases. Bastian’s only 24, and it’s been astounding to watch him grow as a writer and dude. Generally my role has been to come in towards the end of the recording process and see what kind of twists, surprises, additions, etc could give the right shimmer and sparkle to the songs. From guitar to programmed beats to keys to…whatever we think of! In this case I played quite a few guitar parts, but some unorthodox things like ‘guitar as percussion instrument’, etc. We added a lot of textural synths, both digital and analog. I played guitaret, celeste. Autoharp, even — that was the first thing we did when I arrived, and after playing it with a guitar pick, we agreed it sounded better played with my thumb, so there was no pick scrape noises…oh, my, what a blister that made, in about 2 minutes.
Sessions took place at my favorite studio on earth, ICP. ICP is where the majority of Danzig in the Moonlight was recorded, and where I’ve worked with Carice van Houten, Bløf, Eva Auad, JB Meijers … it’s pretty much like coming home for me now. ICP has a mindblowing amount of backline so it’s ideal for precisely the kind of thing we were doing, overdubs, looking for exotic flavors, etc. Just the guitar pedal collection alone is…well, it’s more or less complete. Like, every pedal. Ever.
Tom, the engineer, is a veteran of Bastian’s last album; Tom was the house engineer at Angelic where we worked, that was a couple years ago; he’s now a freelance engineer par excellence. Great guy, gentle to work with, makes it all easy. We worked like crazy, til 1am the first night, then the second day we were back at it at 9.30, and worked up until we had our respective flights and trains to catch in the evening. By 11.30 that night, I was cooling off in a bath at home.
I’m probably blowing a state secret here, but since ICP has several studios in the complex, you always run into other musicians there. Sometimes it’s a friendly thing, sometimes, they’re into their own stuff and don’t want to socialize. This week, two of the studios were booked– and have been, for over a year, by French music icon Michel Polnareff; he hasn’t released an album in 25 years. We never saw the bloke, tho. I did see him live at the Bercy in 2007, when he did like, 16 sold-out nights.
This weekend we attended the “American Festival”, where the Parc D’Expositions was taken over by rodeo, tractor pulls, Harleys, gorgeous American cars from the 40s-70s, line dancing, vintage clothes & records, a mock up of a typical open range camp, teepees…we took Aden to get a good refresher on her heritage! And rode a rollercoaster. The only thing the place missed was someone, amongst all the food trucks, doing barbecue. Seems like they dropped the ball, there. We had a great day, there was just enough cloud cover to cool things off, but still feel like a summer day.
Last night we were sipping Vouvray in the garden to celebrate Dom’s mom’s 82nd birthday, and we found a female stag beetle (i.e., with normal-sized mandibles) It was black, very strong, and had two ‘headlights’ of gold on its front legs. She seemed weak and we gave her some water, and set her on a mossy outcropping, and when we checked back after half an hour…gone.
We’ve taken to calling our yard Jurassic World; in fact, the evening Aden & I went to the film, the air erupted with gnats, flying ants and such. We were covered with them. They had timed their flights in the dusky period where the swallows are less active and the bats are not yet out. When we came back from the film, the bats were making mincemeat out of the stragglers.
Today marks the day that Darius Minwalla would have turned 39. I think about him all the time.
Last night I dreamt that my reality had been forged with that of medieval Japan. Already in trouble as an antigovernment agitator, I met a man on the road. He told me his name was Darius (he was Japanese, FYI). I said, how odd, I just lost a friend named Darius and here you are. Well, friend, we are going to a tavern to drink and gamble (Clearly, I dream in Kurosawa). He asked me where my family fishes; I said, Ocean Shores, down by Oregon. We arrived at the tavern and the game we were betting on, there were just three of us — myself, Darius, and the innkeeper–was throwing the detached halves of pairs of scissors at a target. I already knew it was too much of a coincidence to run in to this man on the lonely road to the tavern, and he was an assassin sent to get me drunk and when it was his turn to throw the scissors, he’d attempt to kill me.
Later, after a long episode of not finding my luggage, my gate etc in the airport (I have travel anxiety dreams too) I was in the downtown of a city, and trying to find shelter before a nuclear weapon went off.
A little tired this morning.
Tho’ her birthday was a month ago, schedules being what they are means Aden’s birthday party is today. We’re meeting up with 10 or so kids at Luluparc, which is a simple place with mini golf and water slides and what not. She loves it, I’m sure it will be a hit. However, she came down with a fever last night. Determined to go, she’s resting now. Her best friend’s dad’s a doctor, he gave her a look over and said she’d be fine w OTC antibiotics (yes, in France, you can get amoxicillin w/o a prescription).
Since I got home from Connecticut, I’ve been working on my own music, really. We went thru a couple rounds of mastering on the Country Album, making a few EQ, level and spacing adjustments. We can now say The Record is done!! So you should have a digital release soon. I’ve listened to it a lot in this process; I’m really proud of it. You can still pre order the LP, CD or download, by the way. Hit that highlighted link a couple lines up, there.
Other than that, I’ve been writing, which is a slow process for me these days. I work a tiny bit, walk away. My brain starts to hurt pretty fast. Come back to it several times in the day. Allergies were killing me for a couple days, I couldn’t concentrate on writing, I was sneezing or blowing my nose every 30 seconds. Awful. It stabilized, but it took a couple of days. Allergy meds weren’t helping.
I took Aden to see, in French and in rather weak 3D, Jurassic World. Could have been worse. It was nice to have a father daughter date, just us two, making jokes and spending exclusive time. Undivided attention is one of the world’s most precious resources.
We also went to Aden’s school spectacle, the end of the year party with carnival games, performances by all the kids (lame, but you have to love it– kids in insect costumes, or trying to juggle). The coveted prize from the games was a squirt gun– everybody got one, eventually, and you can imagine what *that* was like.
Dom & I had a date, too, on Friday. I was in Paris to meet with Joseph Leon, a great songwriter from Paris, and after the meetings Dom & I had a rendezvous at a special wine place I’m part of, and shared a very special bottle, I can’t even really tell you about it. It was made possible with a generous gesture from my best friend Brian (proprietor of the label that releases my music in the US). Maybe we made more royalties for Danzig in the Moonlight than I know? But I think he’s just a very generous person. We loved it, thank you!
A day spent celebrating the life of Darius. It was a very hard day for me. The reality of Darius’ loss was impossible to deny– up to this point I could still write things off as some kind of huge clerical error or misunderstanding. But there at the Comet Tavern, where Darius used to work, with his friends, his mom, his sisters/cousins, his girlfriend of several years Danielle…denial had no more room to run. Darius was known to be a massive fan of Rush (and other things Canadian– I always said that while he was born in the US, and held US & British passports, he was certainly *ethnically* Canadian). One of his brainstorms was to open a Rush-themed, uh, RUSHtaurant in Toronto, called ‘Spaghetti Lee’s’ with Rush-named dishes: ‘YYZiti’, ‘New World Manicotti’ and the like. So, for this gathering, the Comet was transformed into Spaghetti Lee’s for the afternoon. Friends delivered tearful tributes to Darius. I just couldn’t. Jon did a great job. I was just deflated. Awful. I was beyond speech.
In the evening, Neumo’s, the club across the street, was open for a musical public gathering. Darius used to manage the attached bar, Moe Bar. The Posies, with Darius on drums, was the first band to ever play Neumo’s when it opened in 2004; we did our 20th anniversary shows here in 2008. And now we said goodbye to Darius here. I admit, I drank quite a bit of wine, and a margarita, that afternoon. I’d been picked up at the airport by my good buddy Brian, and we had our traditional Seattle visit to the Red Mill burger place (the tradition extends to calling Dominique from there to tease her in her absence — we both agree it’s the best burger on earth).
Darius played short stints in several Seattle bands over the years including the Long Winters and Harvey Danger, and was close with Spiral Stairs from Pavement, who lived in Seattle for several years; together they formed his solo project ‘Preston School of Industry’. The Posies would be his longest and best known musical project. Spiral (well, Scott is his name) did some songs; Sean Nelson did some songs. Jon & I did two Posies songs — “Conversations” with Matt on bass; and “You’re the Beautiful One” with Joe on bass. I was…somewhere else. It was too soon, the music was not healing me, it was just opening the wound. People seemed to get something from it; hopefully, it was healing for them. I know it would have been bizarre if we didn’t play, but to be honest…it was excruciating. It had to be done. When that was done, Jon led a band with Matt or Joe, Mike from the local music store‘s drum department, Mike Squires, and Joe’s daughter Brette, doing Rush songs. It was pretty amazing. I was still just weighed down with grief. I hugged many friends. And then, at 10, Brian took me to the airport. Not such a crowded flight back to New York, so I managed to get upgraded to first, so I had a pretty comfortable chair and could sleep the whole way.
Incredibly, it’s already a month since Darius passed.
It was 8 when we landed in New York, and I claimed my bag and took the Airtrain, then the Long Island Railroad, then the subway to the house in Brooklyn. I was back to work on the Max Bouratoglou project. We spent two amazing days in Grand Street Recording cutting drums (Max & I) bass (me), vocals (Max of course), tambourine (that’s my department) piano and organ (me again) and upright bass (Max’s schoolmate Gus). It was good to be productive and despite flying in on a red eye, I felt pretty good. The studio is my home. Jake, the house engineer made my job easy, being available to patch stuff in, then disappearing discretely so I could run things myself. Ken, the owner came by, great guy. Then we went back to Max’s place for the next two days. The wonderful home designed and built by his parents, John & Jill. My connection to them is that Jill and I were friends all the way back in my college years at the University of Washington. Jill took the photos on the cover and back cover of Failure. We’ve always been friends, and Max has always been in to music; I can remember Jill being in town and bringing him by the sessions for “Soft Commands” for example. Now he writes his own songs, and is immersed in music at his school, too. So, last year we cut an EP in the same fashion — I recorded stuff at his home on my mobile set up, and then we did drums at Grand Street. We did more songs this time, so I had us book two days at Grand Street — in the end, Max did all the drums in a day. Neither of us are great drummers, yet — Max is primarily a guitarist & singer– but he’s definitely improved since last year. I’m not great, but I have more experience — sometimes, it was easier for me to play a part than teach it to Max, so I’d jump on the kit and play a few bars–about as much as I can do without succumbing to cascading errors. So in the end, each song has Max with some of me. Max’s lyrics and singing are much improved too — he got to where he needed to be more quickly, and, being 14, he’s over the voice-breaking stage which did make things more challenging for him last year. I found a depth to his writing that, even tho it’s clearly in a teenager’s voice, implies what could be ahead for him as a writer if he keeps at it. He’s got a great head start.
Back at the house, it’s a wonderful atmosphere. Jill & John made huge dinners each night (there are two boys to feed, Max’s brother Julian is 11). Just a nice, mellow, healthy family atmosphere. The last two days we had some guests come by as well: Lorenza Ponce who is an A-list violin player (I saw her play with Sheryl Crow, e.g.) came by for a song. Two more of Max’s classmates came by: Bal, who did background vocals, and Zach, who did trumpet. Even Friday before I heded uptown I was throwing down some last percussion ideas and keyboards. I’ll mix everything this summer.
So, I said my goodbyes; Max & Jill walked me to the subway, and I learned how to navigate with my big suitcase and other stuff; made it to my business manager’s office uptown for a powwow; then got the train to Stamford to hang with my dad. Uh, and Jill ended up coming to Grand Central as I forgot to hand her the *%#$@ key to the house. D’oh!
I took the train to Stamford, getting into some vocal editing on the way for the Popincourt album I’m mixing. My dad grabbed me there and we rolled to New Canaan, where I’ve been hanging ever since. I’ve met some great people thru my dad, so I have some good friends here, plus good food & wine (yep, I hit up Walter Stewart’s, the main grocery store in town, for a stash of Nutty Bunny vegan dessert, a favorite of mine). And of course, my dad, who is hilarious. Love him a lot. I fly back home tonite, having spent Father’s Day with dad, that’s doing it right, yeah?
It’s striking how much I love being at home, considering I still love touring, touring being a major part of my life since I was 20. In the past it hasn’t taken long for me to get itchy feet. But where we our now, with the trees and birdsong, the lizards and the bees, the sound of Aden’s singing and laughter; with the studio upstairs, our humble little life in Tours suits me perfectly. The neighborhood in terms of pace reminds me very much of the street I lived on in Seattle; I wasn’t in an urban environment, really, a bit more suburban without the distance of say, where my dad lives in Connecticut, which is truly suburban.
This week I was mixing the Popincourt album, starting on it anyway, working on the first 4 songs. Mixing now is second nature to me, and these songs, with their well-defined vintage groovy tracks, came with a direction well established so it was not difficult to get to the heart of the matter. On Sunday we took a break and went to LuluParc, which has simple things — watersides, trampolines, and the like. Aden loves it, and as a bonus, it was the airshow at the local airport/air base, so we had the jets in formation flying over us, as the base is just over the hill from where the park is. Rain came one day, I recall retrieving something from the basement (the entrance to the basement is from the outside of the house) and seeing how the rain brought out dozens of snails, from tiny newborns to big ones. There’s a jay who has established its territory near us, and is now frequenting our back yard, occasionally we leave things out there for the birds (they even took away the remnants of a gluten free loaf that had coalesced into something the texture of concrete).
Dom had business in Paris this week, and in fact when I left on Wednesday I met her in the train station — me going, she arriving, Aden & Dom’s folks picking her up. As always, leaving them is very emotional. Speaking of emotions, tho…I finally finished mixing the Country Album. After my day of mixing Popincourt would wrap, I’d go up and listen to the mixes and make adjustments to some of the songs where I felt things could yet be improved. Finally–because I had to leave town, and we need to get this stuff mastered and to the pressing plant — I had to let it go. Same thing with Mimi Schell‘s mixing, tho we have some time on that– I went thru another round on some of her songs, hearing details I could improve.
So, by Weds. night I was at our Paris flat; “Dancing Eagle”, the drummer from the Supersuckers was in town with his lovely wife Jill; they live in Austin and had dined at Le Septime on my recommendation. We had a bottle of wine and caught up, then I went to bed, but fell asleep having the big playback on the country record on my Paris stereo. No more flaws; it’s done. I also got the master back for the Phantom Sound album, made comments and I think that turned out great too, after one minor revision.
So Thursday morning, despite the short night, I headed to Charles de Gaulle feeling very good indeed. Flew to New York, watching movies the whole way (four of them). Breezed thru my formalities, claimed my bag, cabbed to my friends Jill & John’s place in Brooklyn, and got right to work. Just like we did last year, I’m producing songs for their teenage son, Max. Jill is a friend from college, and as Max has always been interested in music, he’s been popping by the studio to see me since he was knee high to a grasshopper. And now, writing songs of his own, we’re making them into proper recordings. We did an EP last year, and we’re doing a few more songs this year, not quite an LP’s worth but if you added the two together it would be. We keep it simple — track with my mobile set up in his room, and then cut drums at a proper studio, Grand Street. Max plays drums, and we share guitar duties; I’ll play bass and keys, and Max sings of course. This time we’re going to have some guest musicians, too. When I arrived, we went straight to work, starting to lay down guide tracks of guitar and vocal, and edit them to finalize the arrangements of the songs. Then over the next two days we did all the guitars, and the lead vocals. We’re just cutting to a metronome (‘click track’ in the argot of my profession) and Max will play drums to these tracks.
Each night, Jill & John cook up incredible food; lunch I have taken supplies from Trader Joe’s. And their neighborhood, Cobble Hill, has a wealth of hipster cafes and bars to visit– I have enjoyed Marquet patisserie and June wine bar on this trip so far. We worked relentlessly for these days; then this morning, as dawn broke over the Atlantic, I headed to JFK, where today and tonite I will take part in the memorial gathering for our buddy Darius. I’m still not fully convinced his death is real, I’m still thinking this is all a misunderstanding. Not sure that will ever change.
flight to Seattle