Thing a Week 48: The Big Boom Last weekend when I was staying…

September 7th, 2011



Thing a Week 48: The Big Boom

Last weekend when I was staying with some friends in Pennsylvania, there was a very loud noise that woke me up. It was thunder. But it was crazy thunder – it seemed to last about a minute and a half, and it wasn’t a bang, it was this huge, diffuse roar. And after it stopped all the car alarms were going off. It sounded like the end of the world.

At least that’s what I thought when I sat bolt upright in bed and reached for my car keys and a weapon. My first thought, probably before I was fully awake, was that someone or something had scraped Philadelphia out of the Earth, and that I was going to have to grab some provisions, get in the car and head north. I don’t know why this would be my default explanation for a loud noise. I suppose it means I’m a little on edge.

At first this was about a loud boom that led to nothing, but it didn’t take long before I realized it would be better if it was about a loud boom that really did signify the end of the world. The Big Boom. And then I changed Philadelphia to Michigan because there are too many syllables in Philadelphia. The rest of it writes and records and mixes itself!

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: This track suffers quite a bit from my DIY home studio limitations. No drummer, that’s the worst part. The loop libraries I have usually let me get pretty close to faking it, but I can really hear in this track that it’s just canned drums, there’s just no blood and guts in there. I’m also just generally not good at rocking onto tape. Of all the styles of music I tried to produce during Thing a Week, this was the hardest to get right - I think there’s a lot more subtlety to the recording and mixing process with this genre than you might think. It also helps to have a real amp, and some people who can really play. I like to rock, I just don’t always know how.

Things I like: the riff in the verse, the background vocals in the chorus, the minor major 7th chord at the end of the chorus, the bass guitar’s solo moment at the end of the bridge/solo section.

Things I don’t like: the general lack of testicles, the reappearance of one of my favorite harmonic crutches (the walkdown from F# minor, as seen in Chiron Beta Prime), the meh bridge/solo section (I need 16 bars of something, STAT!), and something about the vocal that I can’t put my finger on but has a lot to do with me not knowing how to make rock music.

Lyrically it gets close, but I think there’s just too much exposition, too much specificity and not enough evocative language. The guy is explaining too much, he should be more emotional and less able to express clearly what’s going on. Or at least that would be one direction to try, it could just be a flawed concept.

I still remember that feeling of waking up that night, that thing where your body’s awake but your brain is not, where you’re all pre-mammalian impulse and you just want to GET OUT. I think it’s what people refer to as night terrors, and it has happened to me only a couple of times. I was under some stress - great things were happening, but a lot was still hanging in the air somewhere between success and failure. Thing a Week One had just been put up at CDBaby, I was doing a bunch of Hodgman book tour stuff, and I was just setting up my very first all-me, out of town show in Seattle. It was also nearly the end of Thing a Week. I was tired of my weekly songwriting deadline, but I was also staring into an uncertain void at the end of it, riding right into a wall of clouds.

Which is not dissimilar to how I’m feeling now. Have I mentioned this new album? I have? Well, it’s called Artificial Heart, and it’s available for purchase on my website, and coming soon to all your favorite digital stores. I’m very proud of it, and I’m getting great feedback from lots of people, but it doesn’t make me worry any less. The last few years have been pretty amazing, and the old songs know exactly what to do - these new ones are just babies. They could fall! On top of that, I’m still feeling a little stretched in the danger department, getting ready to travel around for three weeks with a band opening for They Might Be Giants (who do I think I am exactly?).

Fittingly for this post, this September leg of touring ends in Philadelphia - AS WILL THE WORLD!

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com.

Multitasking

August 30th, 2011

There’s a long boring story about the many things going on behind the scenes as I move through the strange netherworld between album completion and album release. In one chapter of that story, I was on Cape Cod with my family, enjoying the beach and a lot of lobster rolls just prior to when everything started really churning. At that point, the plan was to release Good Morning Tucson as the first track shortly after my return to NYC. I thought it would be fun to have a video for it, but of course there I was on vacation with no video directors in sight. What I did have was a couple of iPhones, some duct tape, a kite, a rocket, an RC airplane, two children, a wife, a giant inflatable sphere, and a 2004 Volkswagen Jetta. Which was close enough, I figured. It helped that I had a great editor I could send the footage to – his name is Chris Dillon and you will no doubt recognized his work from my concert DVD, “Best. Concert. Ever.”, which he also edited.

You can take this as evidence of my efficiency and ability to multitask, or you can take it as an example of the many ways in which I often fail to draw a clear line between work and not-work. Mostly you can take it as a demonstration of what a FANTASTIC skim boarding technique I have, and how I need to lose about 15 pounds and maybe get a spray tan.

The song Good Morning Tucson is obviously not about going to the beach. At least, it didn’t used to be!

You can download this slightly higher quality, pre-YouTube-Compression version if you like, and well looky here, there’s the song itself, free to all. Those links will be live for a couple of weeks at which point they are timed to expire so that robots crawling the web of the future do not destroy my bandwidth. Get em while they’re hot.

Dragon*Con Schedule

August 30th, 2011

Yes indeed, I’m coming to Dragon*Con for the first time ever this year and I’m excited and scared (of dragons)! I don’t know what to expect really, so I’m playing a lot of stuff by ear. But here’s my schedule as far as I can tell.

Friday 9/2
1 PM – Geek a Week panel with Len Peralta at the Hyatt, Regency VI – VII

2:30 PM – Paul and Storm Talk About Some Stuff for Five to Ten Minutes (On Average) – LIVE podcast at the Hilton, Room 204

8:30 PM – The Artificial Heart Album Release Show, off campus at the Variety Playhouse. I’ll be playing old stuff and new stuff, both acoustic and with the band, and I’ll have the new CD and new Artificial Heart shirts available for purchase. Paul and Storm will open. This is not an official Dragon*Con event, so you’ll need to buy tickets to attend.

Saturday 9/3
During the dayish – I’ll have a merch booth set up in the band area at the Marriott, and I hope to take your money there (in exchange for music and TShirts). I don’t have a good sense for how the merch thing works at Dragon*Con, so this is one of the things I’m going to figure out on the fly. Follow @jonathancoulton on Twitter and I’ll send updates when I know more about specific times.

8:30 PM – Gonzoroo, an evening of musical delights featuring me, Paul and Storm, and lots of other stuff, hosted by megastar Ken Plume. I’ll be acoustic only at this show, and I’ll be selling STILL MORE STUFF after the show. All this happens at the Marriott, Atrium Ballroom.

Sunday 9/4
During the dayish – More action at the merch booth! Probably!

8:30 PM – Gonzo Quiz Show III: Beyond Thunderquiz, a celebrity quiz show panel show game show SHOW hosted by Ken Plume and Widgett Walls. Expect the unexpected.

Monday 9/5
Who knows! I’m going to be pretty tired and covered in dragon juice by then, hopefully will be able to take some time and actually SEE some things. Or I might be at the merch booth. Or I might be at the bottom of a Scorpion Bowl at Trader Vic’s. Watch Twitter for updates.

Really excited to finally be able to check this crazy thing out. I hope to see you there!

Thing a Week 47: I’m Your Moon A few people suggested I…

August 27th, 2011



Thing a Week 47: I’m Your Moon

A few people suggested I do a song about Pluto, and I thought it was a fine idea. It was turning around in my head last week when the first line of the chorus came to me, as if from deep space.

As you certainly know by now, Pluto is not a planet anymore. Just yesterday the International Astronomical Union made it official by redefining “planet.” Pluto is a now considered a dwarf planet, along with a few other small, icy spherical things out there. Obviously very upsetting to Pluto. As you are also no doubt aware, Pluto’s moon Charon is kind of unusual: it’s about half the size of Pluto, which is pretty large for a moon. And it doesn’t orbit around Pluto, they actually orbit around each other, faces locked, like dancers. You wouldn’t be crazy to think of them as a double dwarf planet.

What I’m getting to is this: Charon sings this song to Pluto.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: This is probably an even more impenetrable riddle song than Under the Pines. I forget because it’s so obvious to me that it’s about Pluto, but listening just now I realize there’s not really any way you’d know that unless I told you. In spite of that, it’s become an important part of the repertoire, especially in the live acoustic show.

One reason for that is that it’s a better song. Actually in my opinion it’s a little hacky - it’s a “space song,” you know, I can hear myself dipping into the bag of tricks for stuff that sounds like that. The Aadd2, the slathered reverb and delay. But the concept works so much better - this song expresses a more specific and complicated sentiment than what’s going on with Leonard Nimoy and Bigfoot. So even if you don’t know the story, it still comes across as meaningful and sweet and kind of deep. Also there’s no style parody happening (just some slightly lazy writing and arranging). I give myself points for some interesting guitar playing instead of just strummy strummy all the time. And the way the bridge wheezes to a disorienting stop feels like a good choice. Less reverb was called for though, for sure.

This is one of those songs that a lot of people really latch onto. I just got a little weepy while listening to it because I thought of all the stories people have told me about singing it to their newborns and playing it at their weddings. I was just thinking about Pluto when I wrote it, but since it left my hands it’s been infused with the essence of all these other relationships. And so now the Pluto thing really is just a metaphor, and when I hear it or sing it I think about all those real people feeling things. Which is awesome - I love hearing that songs of mine have taken up residence in people’s emotional lives. That’s the point of songs, isn’t it?

I have no memory of writing this one either.

Listening just now, I realize that the lyrics and melody have evolved a little over the years of me playing this on the acoustic. Small changes, but they stick out - I think I’m more a fan of the acoustic version. That’s one of the side effects of the breakneck pace of Thing a Week, where the writing happened mere hours away from the final, permanent recording. (Yeesh, just writing it out that way makes it sound like a bad idea.) There was never any time for a song to sit and breathe and grow up. I still think this is a good song and I’m very proud of it, but I think it had more to give.

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com.

Thing a Week Redux 2011-08-22 09:13:21

August 22nd, 2011

I think that my experience would be very different if I were opening for a band that wasn’t so close to my universe. Opening for TMBG has been great. For one thing, our fanbases overlap quite a bit, so there’s always a vocal cluster of JoCo fans making me feel like people actually want me there. And many of those TMBG fans who aren’t JoCo fans are also predisposed to BECOME JoCo fans, since, you know, TMBG and I are Pandora neighbors. So I do hope that expansion is one of the benefits of this opening band gambit, but I also am confident that we’re all going to have a good time whether that happens or not.

They will never open for me, they are rock stars.