Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Smashing The Myth of "THE" Creative Process: "My Everyday"

Well, I had promised some posts related to the progress of my next CD for anyone who was interested, but, well, things happen. Pigasus fell behind schedule -- I had hoped to get the drum tracks done by end of summer, but I didn't and, since the band I am in starts playing again each autumn, I had to pack up the drum kit. It's just not practical for me to record drums while the band is working...

So, it will happen, but it will wait a little. In the meantime, the music never stops...

I started working on a collection of things that I will release before Pigasus -- a CD of my instrumental music: piano pieces and more orchestrally-oriented things (no drums)...but even that was delightfully delayed by a call from my friend Mark, a guitarist and singer, who wanted to record a song and had a deadline.

This was my project for the past month and (here comes that you-don't-have-to-be-a-musician-to-appreciate-this part) it was testament to a statement that I often make: to call it "THE" creative process is foolish -- it is not a mappable process by any stretch of the imagination. Creativity is, at best, riding a runaway mine car while clutching a wrinkled map.

Mark is probably the most talented musician I have ever worked with and we have known each other for years, having been in an original band together in the late eighties -- a band, as we recently discussed, that was a little too original; it was so original, you couldn't see the connection between one song and the next.

That said, over the years we worked in a cover band together for a little, but then went separate ways, musically, where opportunity took us. We don't work together these days, but we have remained in contact, always, so I was looking forward to this. But check out "THE creative process" of this one.

He came with his song nearly complete. The chords were there. The melody was there. The general feel was there, but the words were more of a "guide vocal." (Back to that later.)

We rehearsed it together a few times -- piano and guitar -- and, then, we threw down a guitar recording (as a backbone to flesh out later) along with my initial drum part. Mark went home and listened and decided on some changes, rhythmically, and we then re-recorded drums and guitar. Once the drum feel was where he wanted it, we were off and running...

As luck would have it, he realized that he had a "slide" (a metal tube to slide along the strings at the neck of the guitar to get that...slidey sound) in his gig bag. This gave him an idea. An idea that became one of the most important parts of the track. The irony is that he never plays with a slide. It just so happened that he had needed it on a job the night before. He hadn't used one, he said, for about fifteen years. Creative process = creative luck, in this case.

Some nights went by and I worked alone, polishing up piano tracks, working on the musical "mix" and adding percussion and whatnot. After one session, Mark left me with an idea: a "swell" before the second chorus. At first, it was slated as a spot for a conventional "solo," but...when the idea of a "swell" came up...

See -- Mark have something in common: we put in our time with and still appreciate the merits of progressive and art rock, but we both really appreciate good "pop" music. Still, if you tell me you want a "swell," you are opening up Pandora's handbag. He was thinking a gentle, yet substantive, swell. I gave him an orchestral swell. (When I texted him suggesting bringing French horns into it, he replied: "You're dangerous." My response: "SO WAS PICASSO!" [We never used the horns.])

Be that as it may, the swell took him by surprise in the next session, but he liked it a lot. Creative process? No one had an inkling that would be part of the song; it was an accident of collaboration (and a predictable result my ongoing and pompous dream of being the next Ravel).

The last obstacle (and the ever-lovin' killer of the myth of "THE" creative process) was the bass part. Neither of us is really a bassist. We had two options: use a synthesized bass, as I do on my stuff, or, bring in a bass player. Mark wanted a tonal/melodic bass part; reggae-style, so the synth didn't really work. I suggested that he lay down a part with the guitar -- just to give the bass player an idea of what he wanted -- and I would get Kurt, from my band, to come in and do it. Mark played with dials and took off the "highs" on the guitar until it sounded shockingly like a bass. We burned a copy of the song and, during the week, he texted me to say how much the guitar/bass was growing on him. I played with dials on the recorder and brought out even more bottom-end.

Guess what? We used in in the final recording. No one does this. If no one does this, how can there be "THE" creative process.

And, in the end, we went through Phil Collins Syndrome. We kept the "guide vocal" that Mark had every intention of rewriting. (Phil Collins, as many writers do, used to sing nonsensical vocals while working out melodies; "In the Air Tonight," despite rumors about his having witnessed a murder, etc., was actually a guide vocal he decided to keep.) In the end, to Mark (and I agreed), the sounds and wistfully simple sense of the lyrics were married to the song. There was no need to revise; the music worked closely with what he had done originally as a guide...the simplicity of the lyrics add a perfect innocence to the tune. (Sometimes, "THE" process is not doing anything at all...)

So, here is "My Everyday," written by Mark Yushchak; arranged and produced by the two of us; him on guitars, me on keys and drums; mostly him on vocals with a little me in the background. The result of a great and completely ego-free musical relationship. (You can tell you have one of these when we suggest turning down our own instruments in the mix...musicians just don't do that.) Mark has "the touch" for writing infectious hooks, so beware...

I hope it sounds, to you, as fun as it was to record. Don't hate me for the pompous swell...

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