My last posts here were almost a year ago. I didn’t have any words. So I started recording music. Again.
Try as I might, I can’t stop recording music. I fully realize that it’s meaningless in this day and age to continue to hold onto this idea that there is value in recorded music, but it’s my passion and everything that I’ve trained to do during my whole life. The money and time it takes to produce a recording could perhaps be better spent on food or rent, but you know how it is with hobbies… Especially hobbies that were once professions. And I mean profession not like a job or “career” (as they might speak of referring to artists’ output) but more like one’s calling, I guess, the thing you do regardless of everything else. I know many people talk about how they can have separate lives, their work and then their “real” life, but I’ve never been one of those people that can separate myself from what I do. I am what I do. I’ve tried working just on the technical side, in studios or with computer work, but inevitably I become unsatisfied with working so hard on somebody else’s idea that I want to spend more time working on my own ideas. Even when I was doing film sound work in LA, it only made me want to make my own films. Or records. (Which I did, though the films were such crap that thankfully nobody will ever see them. The records (CDs, actually, but you know) were the second Dent album, “Verstärker” (1998) and what became my own “Scissors and Paper” (2000).) The technical knowledge of recording or computers or lighting or whatever is great to have to work on your own, but when you show that you can do it, you always end up helping everybody else, and the people who are creatives who have (or pretend to have) no technical knowledge always need help to facilitate their own vision, so anybody with technical knowledge is suddenly no longer working on the creative side of the production. If you know how to operate a mixing desk, you don’t get to pick up a guitar.
Last year I had some very severe misgivings about the importance of what I do (that is to say, being a musician and composer) in the grand scheme of life. Indeed, it’s tough to evaluate. Modern life is based on quantification, usually with money as the quantified unit, and to be sure, the qualities of things like music are rarely quantifiable. Especially in a world where there is no longer a sustenance level to being a middle-class musician as the economies become more and more neo-liberal, the small percentage of rich get richer and everybody else just gets poorer. This trend is systemic, and it’s destroying the human race’s ability to survive any long run scenario, which makes the idea of art irrelevant. I used to think that what I did was adding to the ever-growing spiral of human culture, but I have sincere doubts about culture’s (/life’s/the human race’s/the biosphere’s/etc) ability to grow any further. It never occurred to me 20 years ago that there might not be anybody alive in a hundred years to consider what the artists or musicians of my lifetime were doing. And this is without even considering the fact that what we make now is all stored digitally, so probably can’t survive another decade of format changes anyway. If people are around in a century, this era will be a dark age: no information will survive!
Well, so if it doesn’t matter at all, what have I got to lose? I might as well just continue. (Like Dorothy Parker’s poem “Resumé”). I spent most of my time in the first months of 2015 working on mixing a dozen or so recordings that I had played on the previous October in Copenhagen with Øresund Space Collective, each piece of which was between 15 and 60 minutes long. So that was a task, which I left unfinished. But then, in April of 2015 I started recording my own music again. Well, actually I started by being a technician again, but this time, I did it in order to get some studio time.
The week started with setting up some recording sessions at a studio called Eastman Studios at a study center in Vasastan, my friend Nathan, aka Diipak, wanted to record a bunch of Bob Dylan covers and so he hired a band to do the basics, and their pay was that they got the first day to record their own music. I came in as studio technician, to make sure the sounds got to tape (computer actually, they use Logic X. I don’t like Logic, personally, so there was some learning curve there) through the board, which was this awful 1990s digital mixer made for radio, which had a dead internal battery so that it lost its settings every night and all internal routing had to be reset before you started. Anyhow, after that struggle, this band started playing. What a riot! They consisted of two guys who spend all their time playing at local subway stations, one of whom insisted on using his little portable amp for his 12-string acoustic (it’s my sound, man!) and the other who was like a Mark Knopfler clone. The bassist was a metal dude, and the drummer was an American ex-pat who had been a child prodigy drummer so knew everything about everything and consistently played ahead of the beat. And what did they play? Bad blues-rock, basically. Though everybody got their own song in, so there was one sort of emo-metal track from the bassist.
I have to say, this was a painful experience. I was doing this in order to get an evening of studio time, so when Knopfler would get picky with me about the amps there (which did sort of suck) or how much time it took to get drum sounds or whatever, I had to really hold my tongue. Not like I was being paid here. And so I did the best I could with this situation, at the end of which they did not understand why I didn’t have final mixes available for them to take home, and they were troubled by the fact that it was going to take 30 minutes to copy all of their basic tracks to their flash drives.
The next day was the start of tracking for Dylan songs. Nathan wanted to do each in some different style or genre, though basics all done here. This went generally well, though there was a lot of complaining by the band guys about whatever, how to do this, how the song should go, that sort sort of thing. They had thought that they would be able to listen to their songs from the day before perhaps. But they ended up playing some Dylan songs in the end. The day after, they weren’t there much and Nathan did some overdubs. My evening was that evening, and I had asked Mikael Tuominen to come in and play bass, he had suggested a drummer named Andreas Axelsson, whom I hadn’t met. Mikael played in a few bands in town (e.g. Kungens Män) and I had played with him with Einar Baldursson (from Gösta Berlings Saga) for Einar’s final concert at a music pedagogy program, so I knew Mikael was up for some improvising. At the last minute, however, he couldn’t make it (a sick child, I think. Can’t quite remember.) So no bassist. Hmm. Nathan tried to call one bassist he knew, Jair-Rohm Parker Wells, but he wasn’t in town, so he suggested a guy he knew named Mats Burman who was a guitarist who worked at a guitar repair shop, who also played bass. Ok, I guess!
Andreas arrived early, and since we didn’t yet have a bassist (Mats said he could come in a bit later) I asked if Andreas would be willing to play drums along to some demos I had of songs that had click track or drum machine. He was fine with this, though he said he hadn’t really played rock music since he was a teenager. So I got a few takes of some interesting drumming for some songs I had been working on, or rather some ideas that were barely there, so having drums might help me try to figure out where to go with them. Then Mats arrived and we set up and I set up my guitar and violin with amps and everything and we started trying to play.
This was an odd experience. Nobody knew each other, nobody knew what type of music the others played. I tried to guide some things by playing, but it took a while to get into any sort of groove. The first piece took a while to develop, but got to some nice places. The second one was a little odd, and I got sort of frustrated and went off into abstract and dissonant Marc Ribot-style stuff for a while. For the third try I switched from Stratocaster to Les Paul, and still it was a slow build, though this one went more like Quicksilver Messenger Service perhaps. (At our best, anyway.) At this point I didn’t know where to go with the session, so Nathan and our friend Johan who were nominally at the controls came in and I played bass while Nathan played my violin and Johan played piano. This was really weird, very tentative, mellow, searching for a melody, it ended up sounding very ECM, or at least Nordic. For the last attempt, I played violin, again with Mats and Andreas. It ended up like a series of dramatic cadences.
Well, it was something to play with once I brought the audio home anyway. I planned to edit and go about my normal route of isolating good melodic elements and doubling them, or generally orchestrating the improvisation somewhat into a composition. I had one more day here of doing technical work and then I had a day scheduled at Mattias Olsson’s studio in Sollentuna, Roth Händle.
The last day at Eastman was just overdubs for Nathan and general cleanup (I could only carry some of my gear there or back each day, so it took two days to get two guitars, a violin and many pedals there, and then two to get them back). Copy off all the audio files to drives, go home.
Friday, I went to Roth Händle, with basically nothing: I figured Mattias had gear at his studio that I could use. I wanted him to play drums on a few things, including a couple that I had already had Andreas do, and then just improvise with him. We started with some of the tracks to play to, but after a relatively short time, we got sidetracked into making one idea into something else, and then sidetracked into making entirely new things. And then we ate lunch. And then we came back and I played baritone guitar for some improvising with Mattias on drums, and then I played some old thuddy bass.
Now Mattias Olsson is a nutcase. I say this with the utmost respect: these are the sorts of people that I love. He started playing professionally as a teenager in prog-rock band called Änglagård, maybe 1991 or so. They were complex-style prog rock, not the usual “Progg” of 1970s Sweden which was generally more progressive politically than musically (though not all of it. It’s a huge subject, if you’re inclined to research Swedish Progg, it’s pretty amazing.) But Änglagård sort of spurred a renaissance of complexity in the prog rock world back in the 1990s, and some people still refer to Mattias as part of that. However, after that he went on to form a pop band with his wife Åsa Carild called Pineforest Crunch who were sort of post-Cardigans pop wave and incredibly popular in Sweden and Japan. And with that, he set up his studio, though he eventually had to move it to this room in Sollentuna where it is now, which I believe was once a furniture store. In any case, the studio is filled to the brim with instruments (at least 3 Mellotrons, 3 pianos, a Chamberlin, maybe 10 different synthesizers in functional shape at any given time, organs, numerous drums and cymbals, vibraphone, marimba and bass marimba, and then a bunch of odd guitars and basses hanging on the walls). Mattias has several musical projects going on at any given point, one of which is called Necromonkey, which is with David Lundgren, also from Gösta Berlings Saga (have you listened to them yet? Why not?) Necromonkey is instrumental music based on synthetic keyboards and perhaps drums, or maybe drum machines, but somehow sounds like it may have been either from 60s psychedelic-noir era film soundtracks or perhaps some guy from Kraftwerk who got locked in a studio in Mexico City in 1980. It’s hard to tell. In any case, it’s impressive. I saw them play live once at the Stockholm Prog Fest, (which itself was bizarre), and they killed it, they had two extra players (a bassist and another percussionist) and a wall of TVs behind them. Then after they played, Gösta Berlings Saga played, with Mattias and I sitting in playing very specific complicated—and fast—parts, he on glockenspiel and me on violin. I have never seen a person be so accurate on glockenspiel after 5 beers. And I could not tell if he was hitting on my mother-in-law or just being genial.
Anyway, playing with him in the studio was great, as we wandered off track and I got a little nervous about getting some “basic tracks” done for “an album,” but the side trips proved incredibly valuable. Our improvisational tracks have since become very intense songs (won’t he be surprised!) They sound incredibly composed. Ha HA! Almost all of it ended up being used on “the album” I’m making.
So that was a draining week. But this month wasn’t over yet! I still had to continue to read a ton of Schopenhauer, because I was supposed to be a guest on “The Partially Examined Life” podcast in an episode about Schopenhauer and aesthetics, specifically music (which was hard to be specific about, though I’ll get to that later.) Plus, I had two gigs coming up, one opening solo for and then sitting in with The Plastic Pals, whom I’d sat in with several times before, and then a week later the same thing with The Dead Pollys, a punk band I had recorded a track with.
Tune in next week.