I’d like to continue the story of the making of the (as-yet still upcoming) record called “Superfluity” because I am assuming all the people reading this entry have also read the previous 10 or 6 or at least the last 4 blog entries here. Right? You have, haven’t you?
After recording in various studios in April and May of 2015, I only had a couple of gigs before heading out to the countryside for most of the summer. My wife’s family bought an old farmhouse out by a lake about 40 years ago when the family inhabiting it had finally all emigrated to the US or to the big cities, as most people living in the Swedish countryside did by the 1950s and 60s. So most of the apartment complexes in the cities were built in the 50s through to the 70s, and most of the old country communities emptied by the 70s. This place is like a 16th century log cabin farmhouse and then a toolshed and a barn, to which is now added another log cabin room that was literally moved whole from a nearby location to our yard, and set above an older pit that had been a potato storage cellar.
Additionally, they recently built a little shed that is supposed to be a hygiene house, with a shower and toilet, but so far it only has a dry toilet…which is actually more civilized than the outhouse, of course, but the running water thing hasn’t worked out yet.
Anyway, the second cabin is a single room, it’s used as a guesthouse and my wife’s mom uses it as a painting atelier. It’s all wood, so needless to say, I’ve been recording there every summer I’ve ever been there.
This particular summer, I had a lot to work with, so I brought my Stratocaster, Les Paul, an old Fender lap steel, a fretless Fender Musicmaster bass, a violin, my Princeton Reverb and whatever percussion things were out there left over from recording Shine Out. And I proceeded to listen to the recordings, letting them work into my brain. I started doing overdubs on the studio jams, to see if they were heading toward anything. This, for me, involves finding specific rhythms or melodies and figuring out how to bring them out of the mix by accentuating them. Making improvisations into composition, in a way.
The other thing I had to do was to finalize the mixes for the Øresund Space Collective album, the deadline for which was August. I was about done with the mixes, I thought, but being a triple-LP/double-CD, it was hard to make sure every pass. At this point I was sort of pre-mastering the mixes by taking my final mix and mixing two versions of it against each other, one through an analog tape emulator (UA’s ATR-102) and one through a stereo field enhancer (UA’s K-Stereo). This made very vivid yet heavy finals, which I was sending to Mr Sanderson at Gyroscope Studios to do the final mastering EQ and compression.
[of my own music] The jam sessions from Eastman Studios were the first things I worked on. Each one was around 15 minutes long, there were five of them. I realized pretty quickly that the last one where I played violin was just a series of endings, so that couldn’t go anywhere as it was. The fourth one was where I played bass and nobody played guitar, but my studio pals Nathan and Johan wanted to come in and they played piano and violin. This was a weird track, sort of floaty, never really getting to the melody that Johan kept implying. I left it alone also. #1-3 seemed like they had some decent parts. I started in playing guitar with the guitar parts, or violin or lap steel, figuring out which sections could go where. Of course, the entire first improvisation seemed good, taken as a whole—though with some accentuating some melodies and whatnot. Number 3, where I played Les Paul, was also pretty good, but needed a bit of editing, and not much more. Number 2 was odd, and needed to be cut up. And then I got into adding synths and things.
These first three ended up being tracks called “The Dying Stars”, “Confabulation” and “Like Mercury, It Slips Through Your Fingers.” This will mean something in another half a year or so, unless you’ve been subscribing to my bandcamp site, in which case you may have already heard one of them. Number 4 became “Drishti”, after adding guitar and other violin parts later.
Over the next month or so, I went over the tracks recorded at Mattias Olsson’s studio, and the tracks that had drums from both sessions even, to see what to do. Some of these tracks were nearly ready as they were, only needed some lyrics or melody to go on, some were very raw. I had improvised with Mattias for several tracks, and as I listened to these, they also began to take shape in my mind. I started writing the lyrics.
Now, it really was not my intention to be all caught up in working on a new album. I wasn’t even sure what I was saying anymore, given the state of music and its place in the world. For me to make yet another album is useless. It’s so completely superfluous to life. What I was thinking about was the fate of the human race, really, in the long term. People always think so short-term—how can I survive this week!—so they can’t even have the extra brain cells to consider how their actions affect coming generations. What if everything you did was valued on a hundred or thousand year basis? Or longer! What if your forebrain didn’t actually filter out the passage of time as it does so that you can live comfortably in the seemingly-unchanging specious present like you do, but instead saw the consequences of actions, and the consequence of past actions that led to the moment you found yourself in?
Many of the songs started forming around these ideas, in different ways. One of the tracks we made up at Mattias’ became “Strawberry Sun”, a song essentially about how long the rocks, dirt, water, and light took to make that strawberry whose juice running out of a child’s mouth is creating a smile. That particular smile, a billion years in the making!
Others, after applying a Les Paul to an improvised baritone guitar take with Mattias on drums, started to feel like a multi-sectional prog rock masterpiece. This was going to take some work. And the lyrics would be more philosophical, on a human level. Some of the other tracks were actually songs to begin with, they just needed (actual) lyrics and organization. The entire project was looking very large.
On some songs, like “Sleep for a Hundred Years” and “No Backup Plan” (again, this shouldn’t mean anything to you yet. The record isn’t done!) I had tried to get Andreas to play drums at Eastman, then again got Mattias to do them at Roth Händle, but I wasn’t super happy with either on No Backup Plan, although I figured out a plan to use sections on “Sleep”, every section of the song would have different drums and different guitars, even some drum machines. But I worked out what was going to happen for the middle section of “No Backup Plan” and a general idea for the others, wrote a bunch of lyrics, played guitars and violins and what not all summer whenever I could work on the stuff.
I did finish the Øresund Space Collective mixes in time, they got them off to the manufacturers, who later called me from Germany to say that my CD master files were erroring out, and it took me a while to figure out that it was because of the Ø in Øresund being written in the CD-Text information. No odd characters, folks! The album title was changed to “Different Creatures” partially based on the amazing artwork that Mårten Smid did for it. A three-LP package is a lot of space to cover!
In August I went back to the states to tour with Camper Van Beethoven, the original five piece version that has been playing lately which includes Chris Pedersen, our drummer, who lives in Australia. He was coming over with his wife and a son, and a cousin’s son, who were going to be merch sellers on a tour of the southwest and our Camp-Out festival in Pioneertown, California.
At this point I got the bright idea to ask Chris if he could drum on a few tracks, like “No Backup Plan”, and we arranged to do this sometime in the fall, he knew a studio he could record at in Sydney.
In the fall I continued to work on the songs when I could, wrote more lyrics when I could, did some overdubs, and mixed as I went along. Everything started shaping up, with certain pieces dropping out. In October I had the opportunity to take over Mattias’ Roth Händle studios for an entire week myself while he was on tour with Necromonkey and then with Akaba in the US.
With that in cards, I thought I could finish off any overdubs, maybe make a number of acoustic-based tracks, improvise, set up everything… hell I could record a band. So I set it up to record Sista Maj over there later in the week.
I did a lot. I brought many instruments, played a lot of acoustic guitar and mandolin, made up whatever I could when the mics were up. Recorded overdubs of vibraphone, marimba, Hammond, piano, even pipe organ (on the proggiest of the prog, of course) and the Tenori-On that was there while Akaba was rehearsing before they left to New York to meet up with Mattias. I thought I might make a few more tracks for the album, but it didn’t seem like anything new was going to fit in. So there was just more. More that’s going into the Superfluousness batch of the Superfluity sessions.
When the Sista Maj guys came, Micke Tuominen and Andreas Axlesson, I had set up drums and bass and electric guitar, as we usually did, in hopes of capturing a rocking improv session. What happened was way more subtle, however. We started with Micke playing an upright bass that was there, and I played violin. The entire vibe of the session was very minimalist and droney (I was using my Electro Harmonix SuperEgo, which is a note-capture drone pedal…) On other tracks Micke played baritone guitar or electric sitar, or even an Asbury bass, these little things with rubber strings. There was definitely some space rock and hard rocking moments, but overall, it’s fairly somber. A very interesting set of tracks, more to stew over.
After all this, we actually all had a gig together, Øresund Space Collective and Kungens Män (Micke’s band) at the Melody Box in Stockholm. Alexander Skepp, the drummer from Gösta Berlings Saga, and Matthias Danielsson on pedal steel,who had played on the Different Creatures album both lived in Stockholm, so they were part of the band, and Hasse Horrigmore, the Tangle Edge bassist from the sessions came down from Norway. The rest of the band came up from Copenhagen, some of whom I was just meeting for the first time. KG Westman, who had played sitar, didn’t want to play, so his sitar teacher, Stian Grimstad, was going to sit in. It was a long night, a long amazing concert. I did lots of guitar, violin and even theremin. The “Different Creatures” album was out and we all got copies here, I got several so I could sell them at the Camper shows coming up in December. The next ØSC album scheduled would be “Ode to a Black Hole”, a doom piece we had recorded in that same session, mixed by Scott Heller, Dr Space himself.
So the Superfluity songs bubbled in the background now, nearly all recording done except some drums from Chrispy and some backing vocals. My wife, Sanna, who has sung on several of my (and even Camper Van Beethoven’s) albums did a few backing vocal tracks. I had asked a couple other people about doing backing vocals, and the most enthusiastic response came from Kelly Atkins, who sings with 20 Minute Loop, and with Kitka, the women’s choir. When I sent her tracks, she loved them, so she agreed to do parts for them in the near future. So I spent a bunch of my time mixing the Sista Maj tracks, adding a few bits, doing a few edits. Then it was time to go back to California for Christmas with the family, first time back for my wife and daughter since we left in 2011. And then, I had a week or so of shows with Camper Van Beethoven.
Normally I write on this weblog about touring with CVB. I haven’t been for this past year. Why not? I don’t really know. Ask me anything, I’ll tell you. I just didn’t feel like writing it all down at the time.
So, then in the past few months, early 2016, I finished up mixing the Sista Maj sessions. It’s going to be a double CD at some point, entitled “Series of Nested Universes”. And I set about mixing the rest of the Øresund Space Collective tracks from the same sessions as these other ones mentioned, with the same critical ears of Hasse and Scott, and I think they’re all done now, for release later this year or early next.
And then I got Chris Pedersen’s drums for ‘No Backup Plan’, some for ‘Sleep…’, and a couple others that are going to be finished later, not for this album.
And Kelly Atkins’ vocal masterpieces started coming in track by track—she was doing multiple parts! She was composing counterpoint to what was there already, incredible. I’m still messing about with late-stage mixes, but the album has sorted itself out into a sequence and nearly final mixes. Now I just need somebody to put it out! (literally. If you have a label, let me know.)
(I’m going to try to write more about the songs themselves as a potential release gets closer. Meanwhile stay tuned.)