The vast majority of In the Spirit of Almost was recorded February 2013 – March 2014 on a Roland BR-1180 digital 8-track, using one Røde NT-1A condenser microphone. The tracks were then arranged and mixed in ProTools with a Digidesign Mbox Micro interface. Many of the electric guitar tracks were processed through a Stuart Morrow Volumizer in lieu of amplification. Most of the drums were played on standard (rental) kits; however, several songs incorporate a Roland TD-4 electronic kit. The flutes are real; I bought them at Kultura in SM Makati for 200 pesos a piece. Most of the keyboards were generated by Garageband software instruments, but the piano is legit.
The drums and vocals were mainly recorded in a tiny practice room at KHS Music in Taipei, Taiwan, which charged an hourly rate of approximately $3.00 (100NT). Additional drum and guitar tracking (with amps) was done at Up Down Music, also in Taipei. The recording may not have been possible without the generous hospitality of many folks. Rajah Cheech Beldone gets a Lifetime Achievement Award for loaning me his guitar and bass. Stuart Morrow literally rocked my world by building and giving me a Volumizer. Tim Hogan showed major class by playing percussion on about half of the tracks, and leaving the instruments with me for extended periods of time.
Though they may never read or hear about this, the people at KHS Music Fuxing branch, particularly Kyle and Lulu, went out of their way to accommodate me, sometimes at the last minute. The dudes at Up Down Music were righteous as well. It’s nice when you walk into a room full of gear and say, “Which ones can I use?” and the dude says, “All of them.”
Katrina Ku, Laura Naledi Fan, and Ivria at Bobwundaye in Taipei were angels for letting me play their establishment, and a big influence on my decision to follow my passion.
The cover art is the result of collaboration between myself, Craig Stevenson, and a painting by Billy Dolan, one of my personal heroes who also plays guitar on a track. The photography is also attributed to yours truly.
My dear friend and musical soul brother, Ron Kwasman not only contributed amazing space guitar, but was a great source of support and feedback throughout the recording process. Check out his band’s new record and go see them when they come to your town.
Last but not least, the record is dedicated to my loving wife and best friend Janice Nilo Adams, who has been my biggest fan, cheerleader, and advisor since the day we met.
Without further ado, I present the first pair of cuts from the new record.
A couple of years ago, my friend Chris Fay turned me on to Rafi’s Revenge by British electronica group Asian Dub Foundation, who are widely-acclaimed for their particular mix of rap, dub, dancehall and punk influences, and use of sampled and live instruments. In truth, the majority of so-called ‘electronic music’ is not my thing, and I’d never heard of the band, let alone Rafi’s Revenge. However, upon the first listen, I was really impressed with the jungle-style drum and bass. That led me to check out the rest of the ADF catalog, which is also quite listenable. My thought was: “If I were to start an electronica band, that’s how I would want it to sound.” Minus the rapping, of course.
At the same time, I began feeling nostalgic for comfort music, and few bands bring me back to a warm, cozy place as quickly as the English Beat and their debut album, I Just Can’t Stop It (1980). For several weeks, I was listening to nothing but ADF, the English Beat, and for an unrelated reason, Led Zeppelin’s Presence; it’s my favorite Zeppelin record and the only one I have on iTunes, plus it contains three of my all-time top 10 Zeppelin tracks. For the record, here they are (Presence titles in bold).
1. When the Levee Breaks
2. Achilles’ Last Stand
3. Hey Hey, What Can I Do
4. In the Evening
5. Nobody’s Fault But Mine
7. The Song Remains the Same
8. Royal Orleans
9. Misty Mountain Hop
“Rubicon” was not part of the original group of tracks, and the only song on the record written and recorded entirely in Standard guitar tuning (EADGBE) – everything else is in Open G (DGDGBD) or a variation thereof. The song was written and recorded during the drum sessions for a batch of other tunes, and was one of those jams that took less time to write and record than it did to type that last sentence. It’s as close to one of those mythical “Songs Written in Fifteen Minutes or Less” as I’m going to come.
One Sunday afternoon, I’d just returned from tracking drums at Up Down Music. The Tele sat next to the machine, since I’d been doing guitar tracks the night before. I had this rhythm in my head, sort of a cross between the English Beat and Asian Dub Foundation. The guitar parts came one after the other. It would be generous to say I spent an hour on the structure. In fact, I played it through twice, stretching out the arrangement on the second pass. Then I dialed up the click track, plugged in the guitar, messed up the foot pedals, and that was it—one take. Then I picked up the bass. That took maybe a couple of passes. Then I spent about an hour on guitar overdubs. For the drums, I wanted a raunchier sound, so I went back to KHS. Sometime later, Tim Hogan came over and played tablas and assorted percussion.
The lyrics and vocals took a little more time; maybe a week for the words. At this stage, I was still working out some of the kinks with my guitar set-up. The end of the song features a brief reference to U2’s “I Will Follow”, which is one of the first songs I learned how to play note-for-note on electric guitar. Meanwhile, the riff at the every end came as a result of messing around with guitar effects on the lead track. Any knucklehead who has ever twirled a knob on a delay pedal knows “The Edge” setting.
I’ve made a decision not to discuss the lyrics of any song, other than to point out where I cribbed certain lines from famous jams. In addition to the U2 reference, there are two straight-up jackings of “Ramble On” by Led Zeppelin and “Point of No Return” by Kansas.
*This does not necessarily mean every song is in the key of G.
The original version of “Face” clocked in at just under nine minutes (8:53) and included a three-minute guitar and bamboo flute freakout intro, as well as a two-minute bridge and one-minute outro. All in all, that left about three minutes of actual “song”, which isn’t an ideal ratio for the listener. In the conceptual stage, when artistic energy was free-flowing and open-ended, I liked the idea of a nine-minute jam with maximum weirdness. As time went by, I thought, “Nobody is going to want to sit through this crap. I don’t even want to sit through it.” So when it came time to mix, I simply chopped most of the fatty parts, with an eye toward keeping it under four minutes.
The middle guitar section was partially inspired by Mars Volta and of course, Brian May; however, the main idea actually came from messing around with “Shotgun” by Junior Walker and the All-stars. The rest of the song came from an attempt to write something light and breezy, but not in G major. Sadly, I don’t think “light and breezy” survived the experience.
It took me maybe ten minutes to figure out a couple of things about those flutes. First, they are basically toys. Nobody in their right mind would or should spend more than ten minutes trying to figure them out. Second, because they are toys, they weren’t designed or manufactured to be used as musical instruments. So it comes in a package that says the flute is in the key of C, but it’s actually way closer to C sharp. The B flat flute wasn’t even in a key, at least one that I could identify. It was somewhere between A and A flat. Meanwhile, it makes a spine-tingling screech unless you master its goofy fingering and cover the holes properly.
Anyway, this one has a couple of obvious cribbings. Number one, from the aforementioned “Shotgun” by Junior Walker. Number two, a line from “Theme from The Greatest American Hero (Believe it or Not)”, sung by Joey Scarbury; written by Mike Post and Stephen Geyer. There is also a passing reference to “Save it for Later” by the English Beat.