Thursday, December 1, 2011

Nomads on the plains of time---and why?

"Nomads on the plains of time" or, how I will refer to it from this point forward, "Nomads", was born on the acoustic guitar, with the most basic of chords, G-D-C, But really the main driving concept for "Nomads" was cooking in my mind for months before--Mainly, I wanted to write a prayer.

Prayers use soft language, like "let", or "may", and I think it's because, to use hard language would challenge god. to say things like "you will walk upon the earth and always be free", is disrespectful to god. so the minister or the prayer, speaks to god as if god is the king and they are his advisers, afraid of his wrath. Strangely enough too, it seems as, whenever god says "let", it becomes a command. "let them breed and populate the earth". After I wrote my prayer, I started to notice this language in other songs.

My goal though, was not to emulate the cars, or bring god into the equation at all. I just like that soft language, it lends it self to letting go of your ego and accepting your situation. To me, we are all nomads on the plains of time. We never get to take root in any time before we must move again. Time never stops, and this was a prayer to calm the worry of the time traveler. Speaking of which, I can't believe I've been playing music for so long.

When I first put the song together on the guitar, I felt like it didn't have enough uniqueness to it. So instead of leaving it as G D C, I threw a Capo on the first fret and moved it up a step. this was fitting too because a few other songs on the album end up in this key too (man with keys, tribe from 3005). It still felt too traditional to me, so I reconciled this in the bridge by putting an unsuspecting and out of key B chord in. I managed to incorporate it so naturally in the song, that I almost don't believe it's out of key anymore, and it might not be, I still don't totally understand this sort of stuff.

It's becoming increasing more my practice when writing songs, to save some for the album and not play them live first. Trying to create systems for playing songs live, is a little like trying to make lots of different meals out of the same 4 ingredients, and by waiting until I record them, to flesh them out and solve all their little problems, I leave myself more options, and more flavors, and that was definitely the case with this song. It's unlike anything I've release before.

I layered 2 takes of acoustic guitar. I played with felt pick to try and reduce the strum noise. The bass synth line, went through several major changes before I settled on a very simple and subtle octave riff. Here's an early demo of the song with different bass.

Nomad Demo by CharlieSlick

The mood I was trying to capture with that filter bass synth on that demo was right but It wasn't as compelling as what I eventually landed on with the the meandering lead synth--like mystical flute, or organ, or more accurately, mystical noodling on my Mopho synthesizer. A mood, maybe influenced by Roxy Music, They were dominating my record player at the time. songs like this....

Keeping with the mystical type theme, I layered about 8 vocal takes, to give it choral sound. They are all me except for one take of Molly. I changed the tone by speeding up the song and recording a few takes, and slowing the song down and recording a few takes. It's a very "4-track" type trick, though I recorded the album on my Mac Mini. in reaper, you can get this effect by changing the rate. It's far superior to any pitch shifting plug-in, don't even consider using them.

The main shaker I used on the album was a cabasa. It's really fun to play and more interesting to me than a regular shaker.

I did run into, on this song and others, what I will call "Shaker tunnel ear". I was trying to find a place in the mix for the shaker, and so I would be focusing really hard on the shaker, trying to decided if it was to loud, or too "tin-y' and I would lose the rest of the song-- and it had a strange lasting effect. days later, when I'd go to listen to the song, I would have to focus really hard on other parts of the song, like the vocals or bass or something, in order to not focus on the shaker. It made it really hard to know if the shaker was in the right place. I've experienced this before, with other instruments, like focusing to hard on the guitar or keys, but the shaker takes the cake for being the hardest to lose focus on. It's like when you meet someone missing an eye or something.

As far as the linear story in the album goes, this song represent the Indian, living peacefully in the past, with his tribe, unsuspecting of his impending call to adventure.

We shot some video, not specifically for this song, but the fun and togetherness of it all, seemed to capture the mood and so we went with it. It's cool to play with a band that knows how to have fun and enjoys my company and still gets as excited as I do about ideas. I built that spin-art machine out of crap I found.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

how I wrote and recorded funn

"Funn" is by far the oldest song on "A farout indian" and so it makes sense that it would come first on the album. It was originally slated to be on a concept album I was working on called "CatCity". I abandoned "Catcity" after a failed attempt to incorporate cat sounds into my live act, in addition to the theme being to similar to my previous album "Elron Hubbard". But Funn Survived the overhaul because it adapted well to "the Jerk" (a guitar like instrument I created).

"Funn" is another song in a long line of songs I've written as a response to songs I've liked, in this case, it was "funtime" by iggy Pop.

The first time I heard "funtime", it stuck with me, and though it took a little time for me to realize how clever it was, I liked the idea of having a chorus about fun--rather than a chorus about something you really think is fun (like dancing). to me it's as if all the rivers of activities, lead to the ocean of fun. The only other thing as universal as fun, is death, and so I thought about that too when I wrote the song. Fun and death.

Musically, It was meant to be a dance song, that you could dance to without jumping around, a groove more than a club mix. I think I was listening to "more bounce to the ounce" a lot at the time.

"More bounce to the ounce" went on to influence "(we come to your party)" more than "Funn" but it seems relevant to bring up anyway.

"Funn" and most of the songs on "a farout indian", use synth tones in the place of hi-hats. Electronic hi-hats are by far my least favorite sound, but hi-hat on 16th notes can be helpful to make a slow song seem faster. By using a synth tone instead, in this case an E, I was able to get the same effect without using the hi-hat .

I used a reverse snare to give the beat a feeling I can only describe as "slide-y", the way some beats seem to slide into each other, a trick that George Clinton the master of. I think he used a noise wave and changing envelope to to get this effect instead of a reverse snare, but the general feel is similar.

The intro dialog in "Funn" could definitely be at home on a George Clinton album as well.

I recorded an acoustic snare and shaker to fill out the beat. Initially, for recording acoustic percussion, I was utilizing the "Glyn Johns" technique, but I found it to be less useful for recording single drums, like a snare (rather than a whole kit), so I went with a single mic (a rhodes tube mic) about 3 feet away and a foot higher than the snare. I would angle the mic to change the tone.

rathar than on previous albums, where I used my live tracks as the basis for the recorded song, I re-recorded all the synth parts using my Mopho synthesizer. I used long slow LFO's to control things like resonance and cut-off frequency to keep the tones changing through out the entire track.

I did several synth overdubs where I basically just noodled around until I got something I was happy with, I felt that this was in the spirit of George Clinton and would help loosen and warm up the album as a whole.

I tried playing the "the Jerk" guitar part through an amp and Mic-ing it, but I never got a sound I liked, so instead, I recorded it direct using my Sansamp para-driver direct box. "the Jerk" is layered in several parts. for one layer, I shoved a t-shirt under the strings and strummed an open E (on the jerk, that means EeBbEe) for the entire song. then 2 layers of the more noticeable guitar on verse and chorus.

initially, when I set out to record this album, I wanted to recorded most things through amps and not direct, but I found with all the layering I was doing, it really made the album murky. So I went back to running synths and such direct, but I did find that by recording some things mic-ed (like snare drums, roto-toms, vocals and shakers), the room sound that does come through, and sort of suggests that everything was recorded in that room.

from a production stand point, there is almost no effects used on the album. For the vocals on "Funn", I used an extremely minute amount of reverb (for the most part, the reverb comes from my living room, where I recorded the vocals). the most fussing I did, was adjusting levels, which change when the song moves from verse to chorus. I also trimmed off most of my S's from the vocal takes. as far as EQing goes, I screwed with that forever, but in the end, I turned off most the EQing I did and went with the original tone. though I did find, turning up low end on my vocal takes helpful. The girls vocal takes are mostly un-touched besides removing the S's.

I tried several times to add roto-toms to the song. I had my friend Geoff come over and try for something which got cut, I also had my friend Marty come over with a hand drum and try for something which also didn't seem to work. The keyboard solo thing was a last ditch effort for something to happen in the middle of the song. In my mind, it sounded too 80's for my "new" sound, but I let it sit in there for a bit and eventually it grew on me and now I'm very happy with it.

In my mind, the album starts with "Funn" as sort of a Tarantino move. To start at the end.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Farout Indian on multicolor vinyl RELEASE DATE 11/29

I'm proud to share with you, my 6th album, A FAROUT INDIAN

"it's as if Devo recorded Purple Rain--with Indians"


We're playing a release show with Johnny Ill band on NOV 18th at Woodruffs.

I've never felt better about anything in my whole life.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ambient Music Generator -- Modes

Above is a video that we did as part of what I wanted to be a series of Mini-Documentaries on the band. The Mini-doc idea got a little lost in all the other progress the band has been going through. In the last 2 months, we've moved Micah to the Saxophone, and Molly to the beat creator I built. I also Finished "A Farout Indian" and sent it to be mastered. We've been busy.

In the video, I do a poor job of explaining how my Ambient Music Generator works. You may have seen it at The Elron Hubbard release party in my yard, or perhaps heard it on WCBN.

As I say at some point in my ramblings in the video, it was my interpretation of Brian Eno's Discreet Music. On the back cover of DM, there is a diagram and an explanation of the album.

I figured I could do something similar but in my own way.

and so I built the Ambien Music Generator.

To clarify what I try to say in the video: Each of the 4 players has an identical CD with 63 tracks. Each of the 63 tracks is a single monophonic tone in the key of C (there is exceptions to this rule. 5 of the tracks are noise or trills). The players are all on Shuffle mode and the tracks are randomized. The tracks play and combine in the mixer where they get fed to a long Delay. The Repeating of the Delay, gives it a sort of tempo and musical quality that it doesn't have with just the sounds coming together.

what I try to get across in the video but gets lost somewhere is that shuffle mode isn't really random, it's an algorithm, and sometimes, on different occasions of using the machine, I feel like the algorithms repeat, but it's hard to tell because humans have a hard time seeing or hearing "true randomness" because true randomness isn't an even distribution of results, and so I may hear repeating themes, even if it was real randomness. Listening for randomness is also a bizarre concept. it's like looking for proof that there is no God, and all you can find is circumstantial evidence that God does exist.

I've had the machine for a lot of years now, maybe 3 and my friends have all seen it in action at parties and what not, and not much has come of it, except a tape that Dustin and I recorded during our short roommate situation. it can be found here on his tape label site . it's called Mellow Marsh. The tape cover is a Diagram of the machine, Similar to Eno's, of coarse.

While recording "A Farout Indian", I thought a lot about recording an Ambient record. The problem I've always had with recording an Ambient album is the idea has always lacked an encompassing vision to bring a whole albums worth of ambient music into a focus. I need a story or theory of some kind to tie it all together.

This week, while walking home from work, I arrived at a theory. I'd like to take this time to announce that I will begin recording tomorrow on what I am calling "Shuffle Modes In C", My Ambient album.

the music that the Ambient Music Generator creates is full of SCI-FI dissonance. At first, I thought this was a property of the Synthesizer tones and the lack of timing, but I realized it was because of the notes I choose and how they were spaced on a keyboard; although they are all in the Key of C, they ascent in a single octave, which means they are sometimes--on a piano-- located directly next to each other. for example C will sometimes play with a D, or A will sometimes play with B. the biggest dissonance comes from when E plays with F or B with C. Because I have no control over what notes are played when, if I were to try to affect the "mood" of a piece, I would need to change the bank of sounds, or what I have begun to refer to as "changing the rules".

So, the album will basically be an attempt to create "moods" based on idea's I have for a set of "rules". My hope is that I can set "rules" with predictable outcomes. Such as rules for "happy". or rules for "nostalgia".

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hijacking Madison Fest and beyond.

I felt like I should take the time to explain this video and my concept of "hijacking shows". Why I started and why I stopped.

It came about when Brandon Z. asked me to play Madison fest but then didn't put me on the schedule. He later told me it was because I canceled a show I was supposed to play in his back yard a week after he asked me to play Madison fest, and Madison Fest was only for people who'd performed in his backyard.

I of course, didn't know that at the time. I was personally insulted that I didn't end up on the schedule--in fact, pretty much any show going on without me on the bill summons me to say "why aren't I playing this". It's just the obnoxious way I am.

so, I decided that the real reason Brandon Z. didn't put me on the Madison Fest schedule was because he only wanted "real musicians" to play his fest. this of course was not true and primarily a product of my own paranoia.

Andy and I decided to hijack the show. I was fixated at the idea that old school rappers only needed a boom box to perform. If any rapper ever saw this video, I'm sure they thought "what's this fag doing?"

We snuck up from behind while these guys were performing, no one looked back at us, we didn't have our masks on yet. I found a baseball bat while walking through west park on the way to the fest and figured it was appropriate. we asked Jenn Smith to hold the camera but we didn't tell her what we were going to do. When we finished and she brought us the camera, she seemed both embarrassed and annoyed with us.

Andy and I waited for the band to say "this is our last song", which they did, but you can tell as we run up on stage that they wanted to play another.

In the video, you can see the moment when we put our masks on because Pat Elkins looks back at us and gets this great big smile on his face.

After we charge the stage and I stumble through my "don't hate us clause", I say something like, "we're P.E.S.T.S.--People's Electronic Synthesizer Terror Squad". Some crap I made up.

up to that point, it was truly the most awkward thing I'd ever done. The CD player skips when I dance to close. I'm clearly nervous. Andy runs out of bubbles.

As you watch me, you know, doing this goofy dance with a stocking on my head--Andy with a ski mask and bubble blower, it's important to know, that I have to answer to the video all the time, like when I met my girlfriends parents and I told them I was a musician. they looked me up and found this video and I'm sure, they questioned what the hell their daughter was doing, dating this idiot.

at 2:26 in the video, I get a phone call from Ted Miller. He asks "where are you guys" and I reply, "I'm in the middle of hijacking a show". I don't know why I answered my phone. It wasn't staged.

Then we pick up the boom box and run off stage.

However awkward this was, the reaction was really positive. It worked because we were "underdogs". People wanted us to win, so we were compelled to do it more and more.


I hijacked another show without Andy at the Olive St. house in Ypsi. It was the most epic of all the stolen shows. I asked Shelley to help me. I was trying a new "double decker boom box" I made. It was really heavy but Shelley was able to get the boom box in front of the Mic anyway. It was so well received though, I started to wonder if we were still the "underdogs" anymore. like, once you become the establishment, you can no longer parade around stealing other peoples shows when everyone was asking you to play legitimately.

After that, people started asking me to Hijack events, and by people, I mean event organizers. They wanted me to perform on a trolley during a festival, which felt more like shtick than a real thing. If I was gonna be asked to play, I didn't want to do it with a boom box. A strange thing about people who do funny shit, some of them want to be taken seriously. So, my heart wasn't in it anymore, I quit doing it.

We filmed the last one we did. Andy and I, at that party house in Detroit. It has this strange intro I filmed for it, which I don't remember doing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Professional, along with everything on "Elron Hubbard" is centered around money, working and music--and how they all effect each other. The album is supposed to have a linear story, moving from a point of optimism through to skepticism & conspiracy--then finally to acceptance.

Professional is the first track and so it represents, for me, the idea that all one has to do is work hard and stay on course and things will work out. Professional is a song of faith in perseverance.

"I'm not an artist, I'm a businessman" is a nod to the opening of Diamond Dogs by David Bowie, when he says "this ain't Rock N Roll, this is genocide". It's also a reaction to what had become of me. I was so focused on making music my career that I spent more time thinking about business than about song writing. I should be clear here that when I say focused on making money, I mean, I wasn't making any money and I was trying to figure out how to make money.

The rising synthesizer intro was also a mild reference to Diamond Dogs, though, on reflection, it sure sounds a whole lot more like the intro to the Terrible Two's LP, which must have had some subconscious influence. The influence that the Terrible Two's had on the song "Handy Man"--track 2 on "Elron Hubbard" was meditated but far less noticeable.

The jangle piano line was written in attempt to capture what my piano teacher told me was the "Gospel" sound that Prince used on songs like "dirty mind".

here's a video of me playing the lead piano line. E on the left hand and a sort of broken G and E thing, coming together it could me heard as Em7 or E/G.

I was inspired by "Dirty Mind", I liked the way the bass note stays the same and then chords change and bounced around over it. It seemed dramatic. " Professional" follows the format of "Dirty Mind" with a bridge of sorts and a "start over" moment when it goes down to just the bass, though ours are reversed in order.

My song is much slower than "dirty mind" and in comparison far more lonely. not to mention "Professional's" main riff has that minor feel. ("Dirty Mind" is G bass with C and F chords over). In reflection it sounds less like the anthem of optimism it was intended and more like a pep talk one gives themselves when the chips are down.

Some of the more cinematic percussion sounds are a pair of grass sheers from my work and a large paper cutter I was using to make confetti. The paper cutter sound was very appropriate because it was actually a huge amount of work to cut up all this tissue paper to make confetti--I was doing it that way to save money--but really, I was putting all this work into this stuff that I was just gonna go throw at people, and it would look cool for a second, and then it'd be walked all over until it was swept up and put in the trash.

as lame as it is to keep on referencing David Bowie. In the end, the song comes out closest to "Nightclubbing", which is strange because as I am a huge fan of this song, It wasn't my intention. though night clubbing isn't as minor as Professional, the mood is more fitting.

All in All, This is probably my favorite song on "Elron Hubbard", as it was my attempt to show that I was capable of more than synth-pop. I tried to show that I had patience after "Edward Murphy". If you asked musicians about their recordings, A popular response is "I would have liked to have spent more time on it" and that is true of this song and album. I felt a lot of pressure to get my next album out, not to mention I was paying for studio time and I felt a lot pressure to keep cost down-because I needed the album to be profitable-- because I wanted music to be my career--so I had to keep a tight belt, I was thinking like a businessman--which as I said, is what the album is about. so, it makes sense really.

Charlie Slick: Elron Hubbard

Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm a boy

02 I'm A Boy by CharlieSlick

"I'm a Boy" was written at a time when I was accepting the immaturity of being a boy. The lyrics were styled to be like a dirty limerick you'd hear on the playground. I wrote them at work when I didn't have any instruments, so they can really be sung over any music. a majority of the lyrics I wrote for "Edward Murphy" could really go over any music--written more for the rhythm than the notes.

I was inspired to write a song about being a boy by the song "boy's keep swinging" by david bowie.

My version is my answer to his tongue in cheek view of being a boy. Mine is a bit more dark but I feel they both have the same vibe.

Musically, it's as simple as it gets. If you were to listen to "I know you love my synthesizers" followed by "now you've got your lasers on me" and then "I'm a boy", you see my steady movement to less notes. I felt that less notes made me less 80's and also different from the washy lush synthesizer "pads" that Electronic bands were using at the time. So I went with just A C D octaves, no chords, and a simple ascending lead. The lead kind of tells you, based on the key it's in, that when you hear an A bass note, it implies an A minor chord, but because a full chord is never played, its less heavy handed.

but all in all, The music is really just a rhythmic spoon to feed you the lyrics.

The song was actually demoed in the style of stuff that Lord of the Yum Yum and Forest (ghost laws and boro) were doing--loops.

Lazy boy (I'm a boy demo) by CharlieSlick

In this version there is a lost verse about being a leader. In the finally album version, it's replaced by a sort of "bridge" in the form of "take this world, sell our souls, and place it on the foot of pretty girl". That line takes the song from a throw away goof--which the demo is, to serious critique of myself and Men. I can't really say whether that was intentional or not.

I choose to demo the lyrics in this manner because I'd settle on not actually using the lyrics--they were to ridiculous, but later I changed my mind when they seemed all to appropriate for the person I was becoming for "edward murphy".

Homo-erotic undertones about "touching the wood" were not written so intentionally, I was speaking earnestly about what I like to do at the hardware store.

People often assume that the album title "Edward Murphy" refers to Eddie Murphy's musically career, which was not my intention. The reasoning for naming albums after people was to associate the music with the generally feelings that the person evokes, IE Eddie Murphy to me, evokes immaturity, humor, and sex--mostly from his stand-up video's "Delirious" and "Raw"-- and that was what I was feeling mostly.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Start Again

Start Again.

For most people, the title implies moving to a new town and starting over. The song isn't really about that. I wrote it at the beginning of the summer when a lot of my friends were moving away and I was still here trying to do this band thing, but without a band. So the "Start Again" part of it, is more like Sisyphus at the bottom of the mountain and less like the freedom of a new town.

Musically, it centers on a bass line arpeggio that changes a bit as I move down the keyboard. During this time, I was trying to imitate the way a synthesizer's automatic arpeggio sounds. I wanted to set up rules with the first three arpeggio movements (E, D, and C) and then break those rules with the fourth (B). I thought by making the movements seem mechanical and automatic, I might be more likely to catch your ear off guard when I broke the rules.

this is a video of me playing it now, I transposed the keyboard down 4 steps so I could play it on my tiny mopho, it was originally played on my Korg Mono/poly. so, C is acutally E.

I don't really know anything about music, so this might come out funny but.

The song is in 4:4--so 16 beats, but on the chorus--it starts over on 1 after only 12 beats, instead of the 16 like the rest of the song. I got the idea to do this sort of timing thing from the pixies (the main song I think I picked up on it was "vamos" on "come on pilgrim", but they do it on others too). I liked how it was slightly unnatural sounding--and of course it was a reference to starting over before getting a chance to finish.

I also do this little thing I liked to use during the chorus of doing octaves but switching which octave landed on the "ands". like


That's the best I can explain it.

The song doesn't have a bridge and most of my songs don't. Instead it goes verse-chorus twice and then changes into an epic finally--a summation of the situation. I think about the fog machine during this part of the song. When I played it live, I would drop down to my knees, turn on the fog machine and jump into falsetto to heighten the drama.

The falsetto is an homage to Klaus Nomi. My Nomi isn't that great on this recording, but later, after I'd played the song over and over, I got pretty good. Some of my sweeping hand gestures and head tilts were nabbed from him as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Now You've got your lasers on me

The song is written from the perspective of a song. "Lasers" in the title is an obvious reference to how data is read in a CD player, so, the statement "now you've got your lasers on me" is basically saying, I am what I create. Among other things, it was a reaction to reviews/criticism I was getting for my previous album "pass the time machine", and my live shows. When you put yourself out there, peoples reactions arn't always that great and in order to save myself from reacting, I wrote this song.

The song centers on this idea that a recorded medium, like a CD or mp3, saves me from ruining it, because once it becomes a CD or an MP3, I can no longer change my mind about the things I've said. and so when you criticize me or my song, there's really nothing I can do about it at this point, because it's done. so in a strange way, when I finished a song, I saw that as freedom--freedom from choices and the feelings I sung about.

But there is some sarcasm and sadness in there too, because as it turns out, my inability to affect a song after it's released, means, no matter how much I change, I will always be held up to my words in these songs. No matter how much time has passed, or how different I am, the songs are always me. Comparable to tattoo's, of which I have none.

Musically, it's heavily influenced by Depeche Mode. Unlike earlier works, this song is a clear attempt at writing "synth-pop", rather than just writing songs with synthesizers. The lead was written first. its a descending arpeggio of Cm, Ebm7 (maybe, it's like a broken chord) and G. The breakdown in the middle was probably written from just me screwing around, but in retrospect, it sounds mechanical and somewhat like a factory pressing a CD.

I hadn't heard the song in so long, I forgot that Leah sang on it.

"Now you've got your lasers on me" was the first song written for "Walter Carlos" and much of the album has this tone of being music about being a musician, which I guess is mildly meta. I would like to eventually--pointlessly release this album on vinyl.