Set Lists

Set lists are always an issue w/ me (both in my band and other bands I see). We’ve all had the experience of seeing one of our favourite bands perform, but they left out that one song you really wanted to hear (at the Soundgarden reunion, they didn’t play “Switch Opens”, but I think I might be the only guy who wanted to hear that song, both in the audience and on stage). W/ Coincidence Machine, it seems that once a list is “set”, there’s all these songs I wish were there. But if certain songs were removed to make room for these wishes, I’m certain I’d start wishing the original songs were in the set. And the solution of putting them all in there doesn’t work very well, either, as to play all the songs I want to play would mean something like a 6-hour performance. I’m not sure I could even sit through six hours of me. Not because I don’t love the music, just ‘cos there are other things I like to do, like eating pizza, for example (mmmmm, pizza).

I try to keep track of what we’ve played, and more importantly what we haven’t at each show, so I can try to include songs we’ve neglected at the next performance. However, there are sometimes constraints, like the fact that we have a CD out, and feel obligated to play a lot of material from that to give folk an idea of what they’re buying (if anyone is interested in purchasing one). It must suck for a band like Rush, who is sort of obligated to play at least half a dozen of their “hits” every show. Also, the fact that on a tour they play the same set every night. That would drive me mad.

I always have the “missed opportunity” syndrome. If we play a set that opens w/ “Shine”, I worry that “what if there are people in this audience who would love “Snow Day”, but have already written us off ‘cos they don’t like this song?”, or f we play a set w/out “Swamp”, I think “What if that would be someone here’s favourite song, if only they had heard it?”.

I’ve come to only one conclusion: I’m unable to stop myself from worrying about stupid stuff like this, so I just don’t let it interfere w/ what I’m doing anymore.



Spurious Comments

Me (Twang!, the cat writing these post, in case you weren’t aware) and Matt (the other member of Coincidence Machine) were commenting at the last rehearsal (well, complaining, actually) about the comments we’ve gotten concerning our music. Not that they were bad comments. It’s just that we’ve noticed that people do one of two things: praise our musicianship or: provide constructive criticism on our musicianship. No one ever comments on the songs themselves.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I assume it’s due to one very human trait: people our (possibly) trying to give us the responses they believe we want. Those who know us know how seriously we take our musical skills, so they figure that we either want to be praised for that (which is pretty cool, actually) or that we’re seeking advice on how to better ourselves (which I rarely pay attention to. I’m not sure about Matt).

But then it occurs to me that I may be bringing this about by behaving the same way. Like when I commented on the guitar solo in Orange Television‘s song “Bill Cosby” (which is incendiary) or Ronnie Lanzilotta’s bass line in Evolfo Doofeht‘s “You Light Me Up” (which is kick-ass). Both statements are true, but I think I may also be tempering what I say to try to give the listener what I think they want to hear.

(Amusing aside: I remember telling Howie of OTV how much I enjoyed his “Bill Cosby” solo to which he pointed out that he’s playing keys on that song, and the solo was the other guitarist. Kind of awkward.)

I think another issue is that in our culture there seems to be this idea that w/ regard to the arts one must justify one’s tastes. One can’t just say “I like the new John Wilkes Booth material”, you feel compelled to say “I really enjoy the more melodic direction Booth is taking, and the increased use of harmonic motion and modified tachyon emotions really makes their sets intriguing.” or some bullshit like that.

Why do we do this? We don’t do it in other areas, like w/ food, for example. When I say I like pineapple and ham on pizza, no one starts to explain about how pepperoni and onion is a superior pizza due to it’s combination of ingredients being more in tune w/ the frequencies of the cosmos (or some bullshit like that. At least they don’t say it to me.

So I guess the short of it is the next time anyone solicits my opinion about any music, theirs or someone else’s, I’m going to attempt to just let them know how the music makes me feel, and skip all the hyperbole.

If I’m able.


BTW: Coincidence Machine just made our new song available at our website. It’s here. We welcome all comments, including hyperbole.


D. Mystifying the Recording Process

Whenever I talk about recording I always feel that for the non-musicians I’m doing something akin to ruining the myth of Santa Clause for them. I feel like most of the public have this vision of a band getting together in a studio and just playing through their songs as a tape machine is running and the album is done. Some of you know that this is not at all what happens. For one thing, vocals are often done after the rest of the music has been recorded, due to problems with other instruments “bleeding” into the vocal microphone (especially if you do your recording in a studio that is just one big room, as Coincidence Machine does) as well as the fact that singers are so dreadful to work with that the rest of the band would much rather go out for a drink while the singer is doing the 17 takes to get their part (anther myth dispelled: quite often the vocal performance you hear on a recording is actually the combination of over a dozen performances used to create the illusion of a flawless take. Hope that doesn’t diminish your enjoyment of the next Muse record.) If there are backing vocals and harmony parts, anyone in the group not involved with these can usually schedule at least a week off while this is going on.

Guitar solos are also generally done later in the recording process. Mostly ‘cos guitar players are jackasses. Not in the same way as singers, who have to do 10-20 run thrus to have enough to patch together a complete take. Many guitarists I know can accomplish a good solo on the first take. But then they insist on doing 10 or 15 more, all of which are of the same quality as the first one. This could be considered a complete waste of time if it didn’t give the remainder of the ensemble the opportunity to go out for a drink.

We also live in an age where there are an unlimited number of tracks available, so in a studio situation there are always going to be members of the band who suddenly come up with the idea of adding a didgeridoo part to the song. Or how about putting glockenspiel in the second chorus? Or breaking bottle noises at the end of the solo. (These are always fun ‘cos someone in the band will smash a bottle in front of a mic, but then it won’t be “just the right sound” and there will be multiple takes of this. It’s a breaking bottle sound for crying out loud!) Usually after all these brilliant ideas are given their due and put onto tape (or hard drive) only a small percentage of them actually end up on the final recording. At this point it becomes hard to justify the hours of my life that have been spent sitting in a control room listening to breaking glass.

W/ Coincidence Machine we’ve worked out a good balance: “bed” tracks (drums and bass or drums and rhythm guitar, depending on the song) are done together, and then it’s usually up to me to take that home and do the sangin’, solos, overdubs, and sundry broken bottles on my own time. I then send these tracks to Matt, who then can spend as much time as he likes searching for the specific reverb that the track needs, or researching the exact compression the Living Colour used on “Information Overload”, deciding how much 3k hertz boost should be put on the second measure of the guitar solo, or floor tom, or whatever other nonsense I just don’t have the patience to be involved in.

Division of labour, just like Henry Ford intended.


More Temporal Mechanics

I (Twang!) had to wake up at 8:20 in the morning for a rehearsal last week. Due to our unusual schedules, and the fact that we live in two different states, we often have to rehearse at times not really suited to music (imagine if we added a third member from Connecticut how impossible rehearsing would become). I always forget how dreary it is at 8:20 AM, or is it just me that’s dreary at that time? In fact, I tend to forget that there even is an 8:20 AM. I’ve even heard rumors of a 6:30 AM, but I assume that’s along the lines of an urban legend. We’ve all heard stories of 6:30 in the morning, but has anyone ever really seen it?
But anyway, I drag my ass out of bed at 8:20, drive to the parking lot (the one that they never ticket in, I assume ‘cos it’s next to the library, and they probably figure that no one uses a library anymore, so they don’t want to discourage it by ticketing folk parked there past the legal time frame), 5-10 minute walk to the train w/ two instruments and a gym bag of electronics strapped to my back, take the train to Manhattan, fight thru the biomass at Penn Station, walk a few blocks to the studio and set up my gear and tune the guitars and basses. And after all this, I have to somehow play and sing.
I used to video-record our rehearsals, figuring that some of the clips could be used on YouTube or wherever, but in general it’s difficult to perform to an acceptable standard in these conditions. I guess the good part is that if I can do just alright at these rehearsals then the performances should really be good. If nothing else they’ll feel easier.
For those of you around here, we’re performing in Valley stream on the 15th of February. Check our website for details.



Performance Anxiety

Your Eyes

So we now have a show scheduled: February 15th in Valley Stream. For me performance always leads to mixed emotions, and a lot of them. There’s the anticipation of the opportunity to play some great music, and the dread of schlepping my gear (four amps and three or four instruments, as well as a mic stand and a gym bag full of effects), and the joy of sharing this music with an audience, as well as the fear that the venue will be close to empty, and add in worries about the sound (we haven’t played here yet) and if I’ll be able to play at the standard I try to hold myself to, as well as the hope that some new people may get exposed to our music at this show and maybe become fans. All together it’s enough to drive someone bipolar.

So I just try to put it out of my mind (which doesn’t work) and when these thoughts and emotions do come up, not make them important (that does work). If I’m scared, I let myself be scared and go on w/ whatever I’m doing. If I’m happy I let myself be happy and don’t dilute it w/ the worries and contradictins that will invariably come up if I make a big deal out of being happy. (how’s that for irony?) This seems to work for me (somewhat). I’d love to find out if someone has a better idea.


Temporal Mechanics


I just spent a few hours redoing vocals for our next single, as when listening back to the original I don’t think it was as good a performance as what I’m capable of. Which makes sense, as I’m a better musician now than I was then (I don’t remember how long ago I cut those other tracks). This is an infuriating conundrum for a musician (at least one who is practicing and attempting to better one’s skills): no matter how good a performance you put down, in retrospect it will be worse than you could do now. This can create a spiral of constantly re-recording tracks as musicianship improves, and if you record in your own studio (as we do) can cause songs to never be released. It’s especially funny (in an infuriating sort of way) when others hear my old “crappy” tracks and my new “improved” tracks and don’t hear a difference. To them I guess I just sound like me.

There’s another curious thing that happens with time,though: when a track (or song, or whatever) is old enough, the performance doesn’t seem to be such an issue, like it’s just become this old song that I remember, and not “my dreadful performance” anymore. At least this is how I experience it. So there’s the time I’m performing the track and anything from as long as a day to as little as ten minutes afterward when I’m quite pleased w/ my performance (at times I even start to believe I’m a genius) and directly after that I listen to the same performance and hear it as complete rubbish and then after that window (which can last months) I start to like it again. At this last stage I feel like I stop hearing it as “me”. (Does that make sense or does it just sound nutty?)

Of course, this all makes the recording process tricky (and for anyone that has to deal w/ me, infuriating), since my opinion of the recording is so mercurial. I guess this is why producers were invented.


the Struggle of New Material


So me and Matt had our weekly phone meeting last Friday. The struggle isn’t in the writing of new stuff, we’ve currently got too much of that. The issue is garnering the resources (time and/or money) to have these compositions fully realized. We’re presently finishing up “Far Away from Home” (I think there’s still a demo of this on the web somewhere). The track is finished, there’s just some issues with getting the sound right (I won’t bore you attempting to explain the complicated processes of mixing and equalizing and all, partly ‘cos I’m not sure how well I understand it myself). I expect it will be fully finished before the new year.

There is a new song in the works: “I Am” If you click on the title you can listen to the demo. I’m hoping to post rehearsal takes and such, all leading to the final recording so that those of you who find such things interesting can follow the whole process (those of you who don’t find such things interesting can spend your time doing something else). I wrote it a couple of weeks ago and quickly did a demo. At first it sounded to me like I was completely aping Adrian Belew, but now it just sounds like a subtle rip-off. These things can surprise me, though. There are songs I wrote one way and after working it out w/ whatever group I’m in, have turned out very different (like “the Price”, which started out as a 60’s sounding jam tune, but became a Jazz/R&B groove after Matt got done w/ it). Fortunately, I like surprises.


Music and Spirit

Me (Twang!) and Matt were speaking, and both of us were remarking on how for us, music was a very spiritual thing. And by this I don’t mean some kind of candles in a dark room while chanting incantations type of thing. Just that we tend not to listen to music passively, but actively. Surrendering to the music and letting it take us to another state of being ( now it’s beginning to sound like candles and incantations again). I remember Kerry Merkle (of JWB) remarking on how back in the day of records (for those of you who remember) an LP was a ritualistic experience. After bringing the record home, you had to put a slit in the shrinkwrap, remove the record, put it on the turntable and then move the stylus into position to listen to the music. And at the end of one side, you had to get up and go over to the record player and physically turn the platter over to hear the rest of the music.

Though our culture (for the most part)doesn’t treat music w/ this kind of reverence, me and Matt were in agreement that we’d still like to make music at that level, and hopefully have it affect people in the same way. Or maybe it’s more a matter of finding the people who appreciate music in this way and getting our music to them. We’re still figuring a lot of this stuff out.

But in spite of the internal questioning, I still managed to spend yesterday and today tracking guitar and voice for two new songs: “In View” which was written years ago, but I think would be a great acoustic guitar/percussion track (like early T-Rex). “I Am” I just wrote last week. I thought it sounded way to Adrian Belew (who I overlistened to during the hurricane aftermath) but after recording it I said to myself : “That doesn’t sound like Belew at all.”

No matter how hard I try, I still sound like me.