Thing a Week 27: Madelaine New recording of an old song – this…

March 26th, 2011



Thing a Week 27: Madelaine

New recording of an old song – this is another one from the Supergroup set list. I’ve always liked this one, but couldn’t listen to the 4-track cassette, midi drums version anymore. I was working on something else for a while this week but then decided not to use it, long story I’ll get to later when it’s not so late.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Total cheat. Kind of surprising considering how good I was feeling in this stretch. It appears that what I was working on that week and gave up on was a mashup of Eye of the Tiger and I Want to Rock with You. Mashups are very easy to do poorly, but very hard to do well, and mine was just no good. I was also feeling weird about doing something so blatantly illegal now that I was getting more attention and starting to earn money from the site. I think probably I got excited about the mashup early in the week, lost interest on Thursday and was then just sort of stuck.

I do like this song though, it’s a got a pretty nice hook, some room for clever lyrics and such. Alternate tuning for those of you trying at home: drop both E strings to D. Supergroup was a band I played in many years before any of this started. We did a few gigs in the East Village where the whole audience was made up of our friends. We rarely rehearsed. The other guitarist was Darin Strauss, a good friend who is now a talented author, and whose first literary agent was none other than John Hodgman. Much to my shame however, that is not how you spell the M-name, not on any planet in the federation.

This was the week I first started using Eventful to track where enough fans existed to allow me to do a live show (I was certainly feeling confident!). It was an incredibly helpful source of information those first couple of years when I was figuring out how to tour. Having done my fair share of poorly attended gigs in the city before I was even semi-famous, I simply could not stomach the idea of TOURING in that way where you doggedly play to empty houses in ever widening geographical circles, hoping that people who accidentally see you one time will want to see you on purpose in the future. Just awful. So I used Eventful to identify the cities where I could be sure that wouldn’t happen (the first test of this technique would happen in Seattle sometime later, we’ll get to that). It was a great strategy for me, and really the only way I could have made it work. It’s less useful to me now that I have enough well-known markets to keep me busy for an entire year, but I still rely on it every now and then when I want to open up new territory.

I definitely can tell that a big shift happened in the weeks prior to this one. Even now, going over those weeks post by post, it’s hard to identify exactly where the change happened. But it’s obvious to me there’s new energy here, in my song writing, blogging, and tweaks to the business model - this was also the week where I set up a mailing list and forums. Who do you think you are Jonathan Coulton? Enough good things had happened to me that It no longer felt presumptuous to start planning for this to be my job.

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 26: Re:Your Brains If Hollywood has taught us…

March 24th, 2011



Thing a Week 26: Re:Your Brains

If Hollywood has taught us anything, it’s that being trapped in a mall surrounded by a million zombies would be really troublesome. But how much more annoying would it be if the head zombie used to be your co-worker, and he was kind of a prick even before he got infected? And now he’s right outside and he just keeps talking and talking – still the same jackass, only now he wants to eat your brains?

Also, for those of you who only see this feed, I should alert you that there is now an option to purchase a subscription for Thing a Week if you like. Click here for details: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/subscription

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Friday is no good for me, how is Wednesday? Oh God, it’s THURSDAY?!

I would call it a tie between this and Code Monkey for the most enduring and well-known song from Thing a Week. And here it is right at the halfway point. This one came to me pretty easily - I was walking around my neighborhood, running errands or something, and the line “All we want to do is eat your brains” just popped into my head. I could already imagine the character, a zombie who’s just trying to explain and really, what is the big deal? The rest of it fell in line around that very clear and obvious (to me) character. Of course it has now become my semi-official closing song, with the singalong, and the screaming. And zombies continue to have their moment in popular culture, which is lucky for me.

You’ll notice this is where I tried the subscription model (the link is no longer active). It was a buck a week through Paypal, and it did not contribute too much toward the bottom line. I can see the plan evolving over all these posts as I tried one thing after another, waiting to find the magical formula for turning music into money. The truth is, nothing ever worked as well as selling mp3s. Donations were always paltry, the subscription thing maybe had 50 people by the end, I really just think people are more comfortable with the “buy this thing” kind of transaction. Though of course that was only at this point just beginning to get into respectable numbers. Somewhere around here was where I started earning enough from mp3 sales to pay for the babysitter who was watching my child while I pretended to work, and it felt like a huge victory.

This was also when I first met Paul and Storm, when I opened for them at their show in New York. I was surprised and delighted to discover that many people in the audience had come to see me. I started thinking about doing more live shows after that, and Paul and Storm would eventually teach me everything they knew about touring. They connected me with their booking agent, who would become my booking agent later. They continue to be an essential resource to me for all sorts of things in both the business and personal realms (which in robot language means that they’re trusted colleagues and close friends).

People often ask me when did I feel like I had “made it.” The answer is never - I continue to feel like there’s more I should be doing, and I can always find someone to envy. But somewhere in here is where I began to see a rough outline of a viable career, if I could just turn the volume up in a couple of places. Here was where it started to feel like my software career suicide at least had not been a terrible mistake.

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 25: Stroller Town On a sunny day in my…

March 15th, 2011



Thing a Week 25: Stroller Town

On a sunny day in my neighborhood, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a stroller (believe me). I’m not complaining, in fact I freely admit that I am part of the problem. So this is kind of about that, though it’s also about a baby who likes to drag race. And before you point it out, yes, I was thinking very hard about the Beach Boys while I was doing this, specifically “I Get Around” and “Shut Down.”

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Late again, you are surprised. I’ve been waiting until I finished this song I was working on, and in fact I’m supposed to be at a session recording it right now. I am late for that too, and have rescheduled it for later this week, because I fail at being on time CONSISTENTLY.

And hey, I forgot how much I like this one! In my advanced years I’ve become a little suspicious of style parodies in my own work, it’s sometimes hard to keep it from becoming a crutch. And once you go down that road a lot depends on how well you are able to hit the right marks - style parody that fails to successfully evoke the style is a particularly sad kind of failure. I give myself pretty good marks on this front, you can at least tell that I’m faking Beach Boys. I’m especially proud of the Mike Love impression I’m doing in the lead vocal, and I worked very hard on getting just the right “crappy” guitar sound and bullshit Chuck Berry ripoff solo. I didn’t quite make it in a couple of places - the group vocals are evocative of the right things, but they don’t really get there for me. Part of the problem is that I don’t actually sing like ALL OF THE BEACH BOYS, but the arrangement is also off somehow, there’s too much low register stuff. And in the a cappella intro I was trying to do that Brian Wilson thing where he modulates somewhere extremely far away and back again, effortlessly in a couple of chords. But I am also not Brian Wilson, and I forgive myself for that.

But man, I still love the lyrics, I find them to be clever without being too precious. They lift language pretty freely from those other songs I mentioned, which helps. And the mashup of strollers and 60s drag racing songs is a pretty solid concept - there’s plenty of room for those specific details that make it sing, plus the added benefit of getting to write from the perspective of a baby (“full belly, clean bum” is my favorite line EVER). And style parody or no, it’s musically pretty successful, and the repeated chorus at the end blooming into an a cappella finish is still exciting to me.

And speaking of that Brian Wilson style extreme modulation, mine was so klunky and far away that I had a lot of trouble finding the right notes on that second chord. While I was recording each vocal part, I had to find the note, sing it out loud while I was waiting, and then just try to ignore the first chord. You can hear me doing that right here, and it’s pretty hilarious.

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

Email Blast

March 8th, 2011

If you were on the mailing list, you would have just received THIS:

Hiya.

Just an update on what’s cooking at JoCo Industries over the next couple of months (hint: I’m playing some shows).

Boston, MA – Bigass Convention Center
Saturday March 12, show time super late
PAX East! With the band!
Details: http://east.paxsite.com/
I’ll be there all weekend, and will spend as much time as I can at the Bandland table selling and signing things. I tend to plan things at the last minute, so watch Twitter for updates, I’ll let you know when the store is open.

Nashville, TN – 3rd and Lindsley
Thursday March 24 at 7PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/gTXeBc
Band show

Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
Friday March 25 at 9PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/efIpz1
Band show

Chicago, IL – Park West
Friday April 22 at 8PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/gs4LAh
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Minneapolis, MN – Guthrie Theater
Monday April 25 at 7:30PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/f6MJfc
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Richmond, VA – Hat Factory
Thursday May 5 at 7:30PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/fu7Kjp
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere
Friday May 6 at 7:30 PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/ihg2kZ
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Annapolis, MD – Ram’s Head Tavern
Saturday May 7 at 8:30 PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/eiaYUx
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Details on the shows page as always: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/shows. Please double check start times, vegetarian food options, parking situations and all other facts before making plans, because I am FREQUENTLY WRONG ABOUT THINGS.

New album. Yes. Soon.

Thing a Week 24: Don’t Talk to Strangers Yes: the Rick…

March 4th, 2011



Thing a Week 24: Don’t Talk to Strangers

Yes: the Rick Springfield song. This recording is based on an arrangement I once did live at Little Gray Books with my friend Phoebe. I heard a recording of it recently and my voice sounded terrible, but I liked the arrangement a lot so I thought I’d flesh it out a little more and give it to you nice people.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: This marks 6 months into Thing a Week (but only 24 songs due to the two weeks when I failed to make anything). So terse! What was happening in my life? No idea. I was just looking through blog posts from around then, nothing interesting. Nothing on my calendar. Was I even there? Happy JoCo is kind of a boring JoCo I guess.

This was a fun cover to do - I don’t think you can do sad versions of up tempo pop songs forever, but it sure would feel great. I cringe a little about the vocals now, it’s so damned high, I really should have dealt with it a different way. Changed the key or something. I remember recording that B section a million times, screaming into the microphone trying to keep it under control, coughing blood for a few minutes and then trying again. If I had one musical wish it would be to extend my range a little higher - on a good day I can hit a short chirpy G as long as I don’t have to linger on it, but it sure would be nice to be able to belt it out up there. Then I could do Journey covers…

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