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Writing these Words

            I’ve never been all that interested in writing individual songs. From the moment I picked up my first recording interface at a garage sale, I was set on recording albums, something that I could put into my (brother’s) Sony Walkman and listen to from beginning to end. Long form albums that were composed of continuous and inseparable tracks. This obsession was taken to an unhealthy extreme on Gilded Prayer. All the music and lyrics were written at once to reflect and deepen each other.

            Around the time I was writing it, I was reading more, and enjoying reading more, than I ever had. I was jealous of the rich worlds and complex themes that authors could explore over a thousand pages. I felt that like writing a comparable work in a song’s relatively simple format was like trying to construct the Eiffel Tower with an Erector Set. My plan ended up being to use Gilded Prayer’s limited lyrical text to generate nearly unlimited subtext.

            If you haven’t seen the physical CD for the album it looks like this:

            Around the outermost edges are the track numbers; the inner more lines are minutes markers, and the mess of lines inside the circle are each lyrical connection on the album, color coded to match the corresponding word in the lyric book.

            Words don’t have fixed meanings. This is why most online content monitoring still has to be done by humans, words need to be interpreted based on their context. So I tried to construct a deeper narrative that would unfold as certain words’ meanings were developed through different contexts. The results of this you can judge for yourself. Personally, I can say that I still pull different meanings out of the album every time I listen to it. It has been a useful vehicle for me to probe my subconscious, however that isn’t really what most people are looking for when they listen to music.

An album that wants to be anything else.

The Graveyard – Pentobarbital

            Most of what I create never sees the light of day. I feel a sense of urgency when I’m making something, but that energy never maintains itself when it is time to show it off. Psychology aside, this leaves me with a not unsubstantial back catalogue of unreleased material, material that I have decided to place here in “The Graveyard.” I’m calling it “The Graveyard” because everything that I post in this category will be material that I have no plans for. Dead material if you will. This is where I bury it.

            Fittingly, this first piece is a song I wrote after putting my family’s dog Einstein down a little over a week ago. Pet deaths suck because you almost feel guilty for feeling any remotely powerful sense of grief over them. It is a pretty common occurrence that shouldn’t cork up your life all that much, but like any of the litany of impossibly sad things in life, it can tear you up if you open yourself to it. But opening myself up to these kinds of things is what I consider to be the blue-collar, hard work responsibility of my artistry, no matter how melodramatic it might seem. Happiness sings its own song but sadness needs to be transformed into one. In this case that song is called:

Pentobarbital

Lyrics:

The paling leaves
On the way to Long Prairie
County 75
Autumn resting in your eyes
I still see you taking laps
Begging for my table scraps
Those seizures must keep you awake
Good boy sure knows how to shake
 
But you don’t care at all
Pentobarbital
When you start to fall
Pentobarbital
 
Remember I picked you out
The only one that wasn’t loud
And when we got you home
You wouldn’t leave me alone
And then you slept in my bed
Quivering, your nervous head
September now, I watch you fade
Stupid dog, I thought I taught you how to stay
 
But you don’t care at all
Pentobarbital
When you start to fall
Pentobarbital
You don’t care at all
Pentobarbital
When you start to fall
Pentobarbital
 
Nothing can be fought
You’re dizzy in the parking lot
And these lungs aren’t mine
They’re pumping fast and out of time
Today my niece turns one
I’m sure the party will be fun
Neon pink into your leg
Don’t worry Einstein, no one’s going to make you beg
 
Don’t take much at all
Pentobarbital
My God, are we so small?
Pentobarbital

Cracks in the Plaster

            Writing can be a mixed bag. Sometimes words come out like you’re exhaling and other times they need to be exhumed painfully from parts of your self that are better off untouched. The former is the case for our album currently in production: relatively short writing periods, small edits, feelings of gratitude and connection. It’s great! Feels like a gift, exc and so on. And I can accept this because the last album, Gilded Prayer, was quite a helping of the later. It is a huge postmusical interwoven beast that is one step beyond even my own comprehension.  So, before I spoil this blog with unmerited positivity about the self-actualizing process of creating this new album, it’s important to walk through of the self-destructive process of creating the last one.

            At the end of 2014, I stumbled out of graduation summa cum laude with a degree in music composition and I was, simply put, burnt out baby. Worse than that was that I had lost a spark. The internal energy that once defined my future, directed my present, and contextualized my past was more or less gone. The avant-garde academic music I wrote felt distant and aloof, and the pop music I wrote felt infantile and self-indulgent. Around that time, I released an album, did nothing with it, and pretty much told no one.

            The tragic thing about studying a subject seriously is that it changes your relation to it. All the secrets are unearthed, all the mysteries are explained, and that can spoil some of the fun. I realized around this time that I had no interest in listening to music and little interest in playing it. My rigorous study had somehow compressed my passion into a more definable and ridged skill. It was something I could do like math equations or argumentative writing. A competency that I could put on a resume. I guess everything has a cost.

            Conversely, while my ability to appreciate music was diminished, I found that my attraction to field recordings and other incidental/ unintentional sounds greatly increased. I would listen to traffic, wind, and idle chatter with great attention. My new love was the symphonic byproduct of the indifferent mechanisms of existence. I would spend evenings browsing recordings of birds and waterfalls (many of which can be heard in Gilded Prayer).

            So I wrote the music for Gilded Prayer with a kind of indignation towards it. I’d write a song and then pick at its seams, fray out all the edges, and reduce it to a tangled weave of musical filament. I’d then send the demo recordings to drummer Devin Tomczik and frantically try to explain the concepts to him. To my undeserved benefit, Devin would always nod and work out any odd syncopation or beat I could dream up. A true friend and collaborator whose only payment was being featured on opening the record with a frenzied mess of drum solos.

There was a contract and everything.

Alone in My Head

            I’ve never been all that active in sharing my music. It has existed mostly as a creative reflux, bubbling up on its own and embarrassing me when anyone found out about it. I’ve always had a great interest in listening to my friend’s music, but for the 15 years that I’ve been recording my creations, I’ve only recently entertained the idea that they would interested in listening to mine. It was a simple epiphany: Humans are not dissimilar. If you are interested in someone else’s music, someone else is interested in yours.

            Recently, sitting at my studio computer while listening to a recording that was released by a friend, I realized that I wanted to be closer to it. I wanted to know how they recorded it, how they wrote it, how they mixed it, but as with most independent music, these details were undocumented. Once again, my eye’s focus softened and sat upon my own image reflected in the monitor as I thought, “If you are interested in someone else’s creative process, someone else is interested in yours”.

            After weeks of failed equivocation, here I am writing the first post in my creative blog.

            So as our band stumbles through the process of creating our next album, I intend to update this weekly with overly honest posts showcasing poor miking techniques, overworked mixes, and under-rehearsed performances, finally exposing us as the degenerate frauds we are. Either that or it will nurture a deeper connection between the abyss of ourselves and the bounty of our shared humanity.

Probably a little bit of both.

Thanks,

Matt