New album: “…As It Goes”, and some thoughts on FAWM 2017

Without further preamble or ado… here is the Bandcamp release of my songs and compositions for FAWM 2017:

“…As It Goes: Songs From FAWM 2017” collects the 14 pieces I composed and recorded for this, the fifth FAWM challenge I have entered (and the fourth I completed, after 2015’s enforced dropping-out). How did I feel it went this year?

Well, as always, the frantic nature of the challenge—having to write and record a new piece on average every 48 hours, for the four weeks of February, means that one does not have the luxury of dismissing that many ideas when they land in your mind! This usually means that my FAWM output is usually almost crazily diverse, and 2017 tended to follow that pattern:

  • “Rockers” (“Through The Looking Glass”, “Friday Night”, “16 Valentine’s Days”);
  • mid-tempo acoustic-style (“As It Goes”, “Serves Me Right”, “Fading Day”);
  • electropop (“One Way Street”, “The Container Ship”);
  • solo guitar songs (“It Was Enough For Us”, “Philosophical Moment”);
  • ukulele pop (“Time To Dream”, “Going Round The Tearooms”); and
  • instrumentals (“Hide The Lute”, “Figure 8”)

On the technical front, this was the first collection of songs which I have recorded entirely on an iPhone (6S). I have used iPhone and iPad (and, when I started doing so in 2011–12, on an iPod Touch) for a lot of my recording since 2012, but for FAWM 2017 I only used our Logic-based Mac home studio for mixing the material from the iPhone.

The only new instruments I brought in this time around, were my Risa Solid electric tenor ukulele (which I wrote and recorded a few tracks with) and a Meinl Travel Cajon (you can hear this on “Friday Night”). I thought I would introduce more “electronica”/electropop into my pieces this time around, but I found I just didn’t have time to experiment, due to FAWM’s relentless pace. I did, however, put together two songs using Caustic, an electronic music-production app which I hope to make more use of for a near-future new project.

How do I feel about FAWM 2017 itself, now I can look back having completed it?

Well: this time felt… tough. Frankly, a real slog at times, and I came close more than once to just dropping out. I didn’t have a problem with anyone except myself—my energy levels and overall “verve” were low-to-vapour, and quite often I just wanted to run away somewhere and sleep for half the month. Paradoxically, I am actually quite pleased with my output this FAWM—perhaps slightly down on what I feel was the “high-water mark” of 2016, with a couple of perhaps-less-than-totally-inspired items, but overall not too bad at all.

Anyway: here’s FAWM 2017, “…As It Goes”. Hope you enjoy it!


New album: “Catherine Wheel”

A few days ago, I completed my third “run” at the annual NaSoAlMo (National Solo Album Month) songwriting/recording challenge, and here is the collective fruit-basket of my labours…

“Catherine Wheel” sees me have a go at producing some songs in a stripped-down, largely acoustic guitar-based approach. I had in mind, something along the lines of “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake and “Roman Candle” by Elliott Smith, but for all sorts of reasons I think this album came out a bit differently!

You may notice some variety in the sound between songs, as a result of me experimenting with microphone placement and the like (and also due to me mixing the songs as I went along). I suppose a bit of the old “spice of life” doesn’t hurt…?

Anyway, “Catherine Wheel” is a “name your price” download from my Bandcamp page (and yes, the price can be zero if you’re having one of those “tight” months). Upon purchase, you should get the option to download a CD inlay in PDF format, if you would find this of use and/or interest.

I’ll be adding a page on this album to the “My Music” section, at some stage in the future when I can get around to penning a note or two about how I made it all. In the meantime: hope you enjoy this little firework 🙂

(Update (Dec 2016): The “My Music” page for “Catherine Wheel” is now up, with a few more notes regarding the album and its making.)

New album: Book Of Small Hours

Here and there over recent months, I’ve been “teasing” with references to something I’ve called “The Prog Project”… and finally, I can whip off the tarpaulin 🙂

Cover image of album "Book Of Small Hours"“Book Of Small Hours”—as it was always going to be named—is arguably unlike any of my music releases in the last couple of years, not least because it is not a direct product of my participation in the NaSoAlMoFAWM and 50/90 intensive songwriting challenges. (That said, four of the songs on “Book” have their origins in material I composed during FAWM and NaSoAlMo in 2014, although I expanded on their composition and/or arrangement in the process of making this album.)

I began recording “Book” in April 2014 during some time away from home in the Easter holidays (creating the piece, using an iPad, which would become “Processional”, the “overture” of the album’s 23-minute title track), and completed work on the project almost exactly one year later. This is the longest I have taken on an album since “Lifecourses”, which came together slowly between 2009 and 2012; I suspect whatever I work on next, will emerge rather more rapidly, but I can’t promise!

This is a totally solo production on my part, where I composed, arranged, performed and recorded everything myself. This was not an egotistical decision on my part (well, not entirely 😉 ), but rather that my budget was really rather limited for involving others, and I also had a very specific idea of how I wanted everything to sound, so I felt I had to take complete control of the proverbial reins. It might have been nice to have (say) a really good drummer on the few bits where one was needed

You can preview tracks from “Book Of Small Hours” at its page on Bandcamp, but if I had to describe it in as few words as possible: it’s definitely slanted in the direction of the “progressive-rock” side of my musical personality. I’m reluctant to pin down specifics, but you may detect elements of the likes of Pink Floyd, the gentler side of Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator’s work (esp. circa the 1970s), Anthony Phillips, Mike Oldfield… that sort of thing. Hopefully, though, you will find plenty of myself in there as well, and it is not overly derivative.

Shortly, I will set up a page on this site dedicated to the album, where I will share a few stories and snippets of trivia which I suspect may be of interest. In the meantime, “Book Of Small Hours” is available immediately as a digital download from Bandcamp, with a PDF inlay and booklet in the download package, in case you wish to “roll” your own CD. I have no immediate plans to make a “physical” (CD, etc.) version of the album, although if I were to find there was sufficient demand, I would consider a limited-edition run of CDs… let’s see how it goes, eh?

I have really enjoyed working on this project, and if I say so myself, am very pleased with it—I hope you enjoy the album as much.

New album: The Pattern Store – “Moquettes”

Well, I completed NaSoAlMo 2014… and here is the resulting album, the first from my “virtual band” The Pattern Store:

(Note that the embedded player starts at track 6, so if you’d prefer to hear the album from the beginning, I suggest going to the album page on Bandcamp… and for best results, download your own copy (see below).)

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with “Moquettes”, especially given that I had to do the whole lot in one month (and no more), and even within that period I hadn’t much time to work on the album… that said, I think it came out rather well, if I say so myself!

You can listen to the album above (or via The Pattern Store’s “Moquettes” page on Bandcamp), and best of all: I decided to make it a free download 🙂 Go and grab your copy in whatever format you desire… only, I’d do so soon, as I can’t guarantee how long the album will remain available in this form. In particular, I’m contemplating producing a “Special Edition” at some point—the vocals and the mixing were all done in a hurry, under less than ideal conditions, and I may take the time one day to deal with these possible shortcomings.

Until then, I hope you enjoy “Moquettes”—stay tuned for a “debrief” of NaSoAlMo 2014, where I’ll look at what I thought went well (or not), and whether I might try this again another year 🙂

Thoughts on my next recording project

This isn’t going to be a big rambling post (well, not by my usual standards)… partly because I would rather not bore anyone who has made the effort to come here (!), but also because if I take too long over a post at this site, it ends up never escaping my “drafts” folder. (You should see it—it ought to have a “Dead Letter Office” sign at the top…)

I’m also aware that I’m “due” to post here, having not done so for a while… so I thought I’d share a few brief thoughts about what I’m thinking of doing for my next recording activity (or two?).

Over the past 12-18 months, I have written more songs than I think I managed in much of the past ten years—thanks, almost exclusively, to my participation in three songwriting “challenges”: the 2012 and 2013 50/90 Challenges, and FAWM (February Album Writing Month) 2013. As a result of these activities (which I enjoyed greatly, even if I fell somewhat short of the stated aims of both 50/90’s (i.e. fifty songs written/demoed in ninety days)), I’ve ended up with over sixty songs of varying quality, and I think a fair number of them are worth spending further time to work on.

In short: I have “shortlisted” ten songs—mostly, but not exclusively, from 50/90 and FAWM. Over the next couple of months I want to revisit these songs, and if necessary do some further work on the lyrics and/or music. Once I am happy that the songs are as good as I can make them, I’d like to record them as well as I possibly can—whatever that may mean…

I am rather aware that most of the recorded songs I have posted online in the last two years or so, are basically demos of (frankly) inconsistent quality. Seeing as the sources of most of them were songwriting challenges where I had to turn out a new song and demo every two days over a long period, this is perhaps not surprising; however, I feel I would like to have some higher-quality recorded songs to represent me, so I am looking at my options for how I might make this happen.

My current plan is to record the shortlisted songs with a foundation of acoustic guitars (or electric, if this suits the song better). Many of my demos feature sequenced instrumentation (often bordering on synth-pop), not always because this suits my tastes, but often because I work on songs on my iPhone, and use apps like Garageband because it’s easier and less obtrusive than carrying a guitar around on the bus.

I would like this project to be much more weighted towards “real” instruments where possible, although I would “allow” myself to play along with rhythm loops so that I can keep time better. For various reasons, I think I would play most of the instruments myself, but if I can manage it, I would really like a live drummer on at least a couple of songs. One for the “nice-to-have” pile? 🙂

I freely admit that I don’t exactly have the world’s largest budget for a recording project (OK: I don’t really have a budget), but I believe I can produce some “good enough” recordings with my own instruments and equipment. I can do a lot at home, although for acoustic recording in particular, I am thinking of seeking out another location that doesn’t suffer from noise sources (to wit, traffic and family!).

As a “spin-off” project, I am considering whether to use the “acoustic recording in a quiet location” option, to commit to disk some solo guitar/vocal versions of much older songs of mine (at least, the ones I can put up with!). Basically, any multitrack recordings I made earlier than 2007, are in formats which I cannot easily recover for remixing, and the further I go back, obviously the poorer the sound quality becomes anyway. That said, some of the actual songs are, I feel, worth preserving, and I am wondering about re-recording them—simply, with minimal overdubs, but on better guitars and recording equipment than I had at the time I first demoed them. (Think Johnny Cash’s various demo sessions over the years, and his “American Recordings” with Rick Rubin—you get the idea.)

I can’t say how long this will all take, but I am hopeful that at least the main project will be in the can by early 2014—if possible by the end of January, so I can participate in FAWM 2014 and start the whole cycle again 😉

Idea(s) for next musical project

Now that I have taken a couple of months “off” after FAWM in February, I’m thinking about my next musical/recording project, and have a couple of possible directions I could pursue (either one, or more than one “in sequence”).

The current “front-runner” concept, is for me to do what I always had in mind to do after both FAWM 2013, and 50/90 last summer, but never got around to it: to take the “best” 10-12 songs from my output during both those songwriting challenges, and rework them where needed (new/revised music/lyrics; re-record parts which require improvement; remixing; etc.), into more of a “proper” album of songs instead of a batch of hastily-dashed-down demos (which, to be honest, the 50/90 and FAWM material is).

I suppose the “model” from my perspective, is an album like “Aerial Pandemonium Ballet”, Harry Nilsson‘s 1971 collection of radical re-fashionings of his 1967-68 output. For that album, Nilsson pretty well did what I described above—he took a selection of tracks from his first two albums (“Pandemonium Shadow Show” (1967) and “Aerial Ballet” (1968)), and added new vocals to some, whilst remixing and re-editing others. The results didn’t please all his fans, but I think at least some of the APB tracks improved on the originals (“One”, to my ears, has a more pleasing mix than the 1968 version).

I have a shortlist of songs from 50/90 2012 and FAWM 2013 that I would want to work on, and have been experimenting with a couple already, such as this complete remake of “Out Of The Clouds” from 50/90:

That said, however, I am in two minds as to whether to spend time working on new versions of “old” material, even though I think the better songs would benefit from being presented less sloppily. Other ideas I have thought of for my next writing/recording project include an EP (or even a full album) with a loose uniting theme of “summer” (and I even have a working title for it which I wouldn’t like to waste!), and a set of new songs which I mostly haven’t written yet.

Of course, I could work on some or all the above over time, but I know two things:

  • whatever option(s) I choose, I want to record at least one collection of songs in 2013 which isn’t a set of hastily-dashed-off demos—I want the performances to sound as good as I can make them, and to take time to do this; and
  • due to other commitments, I don’t have a great deal of time to spend on recording at the moment, so whatever I work on, I’d like it to “count”.

My current thinking, is to work on some of the “remake” material—perhaps four-to-six songs—and see how they turn out. If I think it’s “working”, I would then turn to the four-or-so remaining songs on the shortlist, and aim to complete an album from them. Some songs would be complete re-recordings; others would probably be the 50/90 or FAWM originals with some re-recording of parts (esp. vocals), whilst still others might simply need a proper remix.

In the midst of all this, I would still like to go ahead with the “summer songs” concept, even if it only turns out to be an EP or “mini-album” in the end. (Perhaps I’m thinking too much about all this, and should just get on with the recording…!)

(By the way, or anyone wondering: I think it’s very unlikely that I’ll participate in 50/90 this year, purely because I feel I can’t devote the sustained level of time and commitment it demanded in 2012. I have no regrets about taking part then (indeed, I wouldn’t have the songs I wrote during 50/90, if I hadn’t participated), and will probably be back for FAWM in 2014, but I’m afraid 50/90 this year will have to do without me. Besides, I really want to do some “proper” recording in 2013, and I’ll need the time for that!)

So, if anyone has thoughts on any of the above, please feel free to drop me a line here or via my Twitter feed, and I’ll do my best to engage…

Hello, MakeUseOf readers!

Cover image of LifecoursesJust a quick “howdy” to anyone visiting from MakeUseOfthe site very kindly featured my 2012 instrumental album “Lifecourses” yesterday, as part of their weekly “Sound Sunday” music round-up 🙂

Please feel free to look around, perhaps at my information page for “Lifecourses”, which can be found in the “My Music” section (understandably). On the other hand: if you’d just like to go straight to the album’s page at Bandcamp: it’s that-a-way…

For the curious: “Lifecourses” is a collection of largely acoustic guitar-based instrumental pieces, with a leavening of elements of folk, prog-rock and electronica. It should be of particular interest to fans of artists such as Anthony Phillips, Mike Oldfield, Phil Keaggy, Daniel Lanois and Bill Frisell.

Thanks again for your interest, and I hope you enjoy the album!