Cleanliness is not Nessesarily Next to Godliness

soapWhat I believed to be the foundation in my constantly expanding sonic dialogue has been shaken, crumbled, and rebuilt. I had thought for years that to gain the perfect tone in your playing, you must start out with a perfectly clean fundamental tone. I did and still do believe to an extent that the high gain screeching of the 70’s and 80’s rock guitar gods was a barbaric and primitive style of expression, reserved for those who didn’t have the knowledge nor the patience to truly sculpt their own sound. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule: There is the soulful blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Ballsy-but-clean Led Zeppelin, and the classic and natural sound of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, but the list is much shorter than most people perceive it to be. The genre “Classic Rock” is anything but; filled with the he-man garbage of many a one hit wonder, but on occasion the music industry gets it right with bands like those listed above, and it is these bands that have inspired my next move artistically.

For those of you who know me, I am an aficionado of fuzz effects. The type of gain that is an almost 180 degree turn from the distorted Marshalls of classic rockdom. Thick and low gain, becoming lower and lower in fidelity with a thumping low end driving the amplifiers tubes into oblivion. Unlike regular distortion, fuzz gives you a more tangible feel for the gain stage of your signal. More cutthroat than the hardest distortion in some cases, and yet it can be more dynamic depending on the effect. The fuzz then is an extremely dynamic instrument, yet… yet this wasn’t working for me anymore.

Yes, fuzz does and will always have a place in my heart and on my board, but the difference between my clean sound and fuzz is just too drastic. To transfer from a smooth silky ala “Bon Iver” style verse to a heavier chorus using fuzz almost changes the attitude of the song, even at lower gain settings. Moving on from fuzz, I decided to try the extreme low gain types of boosts/overdrives. I’ve had and still use a Blackeye Effects Palmetto, a JHS Morning Glory V3 overdrive, and a DMB Cosmic Crunch among other low gain alternatives and still the difference between the two types of distortion couldn’t be spanned by a suspension bridge.

This is where I currently reside. I understand that I need a middle ground alternative to bridge the gap between crazy low and gritty high gain, without the thin snarly classic rock sound. After much deliberation and several hours of asking around and trying out, I have narrowed it down to two options. With both amps still set on a fairly clean setting, a JHS Angry Charlie or a boutique type of Klon Clone would both have enough gain to push the delays, amps, octave effects, and reverb just enough to squeeze every last drop of tone out of my rig.

My previously distorted ideas of distortion have been wiped clean, realizing that given enough searching and tweaking, I can make it work to better my own sound. Adding a rumble underneath the dark, rolling repeats of a Dbucket-style delay, or to push a smooth plate reverb just enough to lengthen the decay and boost its mix. This is how I will utilize the distortion effect to my own advantage, and how I will apply it to change the style of my music.

Into the Light

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Setting the Mood

The remoteness and rugged beauty of Acadia was the inspiration for the sound of the album. Rugged; beautiful; melancholy. The complexity of transposing a physical space for a sonic one is quiet difficult, yet with enough meditation and attention to detail of each track, it can be done.

I wanted the album to flow from track to track, not like that of new albums formatted to fit single after single until a ten to twelve song “album” is complete. Acadia has been written to flow. The tracks themselves tell a story of the search for personal understanding in an empty and desolate landscape such as the Acadian wilderness without the utterance of a single word. Each track produces the emotional processes of thought of the unknown man (Who can be interjected as yourself) as he treks through the wilderness. In some ways, it is a story not unlike that of the Exodus led by Moses, or the frostbitten musher leading the pack of Alaska’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race. By the time Acadia crescendos to a powerful final act and soon thereafter end, the mental journey as well as the sonic pleasure of those hearing it emerge as a well-rounded and beautifully sculpted idea which quietly exits the audible stage that your mind has developed in the hour the album is played.

The Tracklist

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Saltwater

– The introductory track gently pulls you into the world that our unknown man resides. Perhaps arriving by boat, or even by foot, the misty hidden world he chooses to isolate himself on slowly steps into view. The song of the track itself deep and somewhat muffled; giving your ear the air of something tucked away by the fog. This world is completely alien to anything you know, almost as if blanketed in a cloak of monochromatic greyness.

Out of Acadia

– Out of Acadia establishes the insoluble security of dry land. The jagged rocky shore acting as a barrier between where our man with no identity has come from, and where he wants to be. The track is much more clear, almost sharp sounding like that of the craggy mystic shore of which you just arrived. 

Lost Pt.1

– Out of determination to understand yourself, our character begins to wander into the vast wilderness, unable to prevent any type of harm that may come to our man who walks into the bleak abyss empty handed, only to find himself abandoned to the mercy of the island, and lost beyond hope. His personal journey has now began, as he has nowhere to be; nowhere to go. The feel and sound of this track in particular is meant to feel heavy and dark, giving the listener the feeling of a burden like that of Mr. Unknown.

Dirty

– Locked into this small world of nothing and everything, you begin to rely on the things you cannot trust; yourself and the strange new land you now lay on. Being more scared than reflective, he falls to the ground, tired, hopeless, dirty. This song in particular is written in a minor key, to put pressure on the emotional psyche of you the listener, and delve into the depression of our man who is looking for any possible way out of this darkness.

The Storm and the Sea

– The ground you lay upon is no longer ground. You are in a dream, upon the tilting desk of a thrashed sailing ship, far out at sea. The waves overwhelm the boat, plummeting you into the dark cold sea at the dusk of a stormy day. Just as Mr. Unknown breathes his last, there is an incredibly powerful drum of thunder, which lays the sea flat in its wake. Starting as a whisper, the man becomes quickly overwhelmed with the infinite knowledge of a greater entity. The man does not know if it is in fact God, or deep self discovery that is fueling this wave of awareness which is feeding him now, but nevertheless understands what he has to do. The man now realizes that in order to regain self-purpose, he needs to remove anything in his own life that distracts him from personal growth. All the people, the jobs, the media, the stress of day to day monotonous life must be eliminated for him to truly become his own person. This will make him happy; this will make him whole. The track is a mini story set within the tale to add drama and depth to the storyline of the dream, as well as the entire album.

Lights

– You have awoken. From your dream. From your old life, on a grassy desolate plateau on an overcast morning. In the hazy distance, you, our man sees two single lights on either side of the horizon. The one behind you represents the old life you can still return to: The one even farther away in front of you represents where you want to be. You begin walking one step at a time in the direction of your future, shedding off the problems of your past as you go. This is still a struggle, yet you have seen what life would and will be like if you could only keep walking. The sound of Lights is almost that of a distress call from either light on the horizon to follow them. This creates the idea of choice between the two distinct calls, and which to follow in the end.

Lost Pt.2

– Our man is running now, working harder than ever towards the light on the distant horizon, miles and miles away. He becomes Lost once again, frantic to find his way out of the wilderness that is Acadia. Stumbling and weak-kneed, he is walking with everything in him towards what in his mind he knows to be true. With the same feel as Lost Pt.1, this second addition to these pair of songs but with a slightly more uplifting feel, showing the overcoming power of Mr. Unknown’s determination.

Palisades

– There is a cliff. A cliff towering infinitely taller than the beach below of which the sea crashes over, stretching out to the distant white light. Unsure of what to do, he sits. He takes in the beauty of the island which has caused him so much pain, and so much hurt. The ground, the towering rocks that were once his weakness would now become his strength. He must begin to climb. Palisades takes in the full spectrum of beauty that our man observes during his meditation on the cliff. In building intensity towards the end signifies the building up of nerve and initiative to climb down the infinite cliff; the final test.

Electric

– Spurred on by the insatiable drive for a better life, he begins to climb down, the energy electric flowing through his body. This climb is long, and tiring, but the listener cannot give up now. The Unknown Man cannot give up now. If he lets go, everything he worked for would be for nothing, everything he wants will never come to pass, and Acadia will win as easily as it had invited him in. He does not waver. He does not stop. Absolutely drained of every last ounce of energy, his feet touch the rocky sand of the beach. This track sounds desperate, at nerve’s end and tired.

Remnant

– You have nothing left in you but the weakness left behind from the most tiring journey you have ever endured, but you are proud. You, the unknown man stand at the foot of the vast expanse of ocean, looking towards the light that glows not so far off through the haze. You are happy and have made peace with yourself, perfectly content with whatever type of confrontation whether physically, mentally, or spiritually possible. With the comfort of a new soul and the remnant of your old self left far behind in the wilderness of the island, the man with a smile begins to swim. The sound of the final song is comforting, soft, warm, and theatrical, a sweet and somewhat untold ending to the story of the Unknown Man.

 

 

 

Simplicity is Bliss

I know what you’re thinking; I have to be the most self-contradicting burk humanity has ever beheld for making such a statement after building one of the most difficult to understand stereo setups I could find. But, on the contrary, I completely understand the concept of simplicity in a gigging musicians environment. Although I run through up to sixteen pedals at a time, my signal path only runs through two before entering the front of my amp. I only use one guitar for ninety five percent of my work; I have only used two amp for an entire album, and even more amazingly my live setup this week has been boiled down to become even more logistically logical than ever before. Therefore on paper, and in the studio, my rig does its job beautifully, but when push comes to shove, simplicity makes the life of a working musician easier, and from time to time better sounding.

The reason I am writing on this topic is because of this past Sunday morning’s worship service I had been invited to play at, at Forest Hill Baptist Church. After being invited by my friend and seriously talented musician Christopher, I sat down with my current setup to run though and hone sounds for the Sunday morning service. After several hours of tweaking my pedalboard, amps, and even changing out guitars, I came to this simple conclusion: This is not going to work. As much as I love the sound that this large amount of equipment gives me, I need to think smaller, and easier for this specific type of gig.

I decided that for worship music there are only four types of effects that are nessessary for a great sounding set, of which are compressor, drive, delay, and reverb. Only one amp was needed, which I instantly picked the AC30, and only one guitar, which naturally was going to be my Fender Stratocaster. When I had been employed at one particular church in years past, I had used a similar setup to craft “my” tone, which I still use to this day. I had started out with an Ibanez TS-7 Tubescreamer, which I later gain-stacked with a Boss BD-2 Blues Driver. Shortly after, I discovered delay in the form of a Ibanez AD-9 Analog Delay, and the world changed. I began using more reverb and low-wattage combo amps, as well as the same Fender Stratocaster I still use today. This old-school, analog style was the direction I wanted to take myself again, so I quickly began to pull my new rig apart.

Surprisingly, I only needed one pedal (The MojoHandFX Clementine compressor) which was permanent to my “Mothership” pedalboard to complete the new “Analog Baby” flatboard. I used the tabletop from an old seventies T.V. Table for the board itself, and after upholstering it with hooked velcro carpet and adding modern stainless steel handles, was ready for the addition of effects.

I started with the copmressor; my MojoHandFX Clementine. The Clementine is a simple, one knob compressor/booster that I use at the front of my signal to not only add a light compression to the overall sound, but for its incredible clarity. I have never heard a pedal which can add such a full-spectrum sound, with only a single volume knob! Talk about simple setups! Moving on to the drive section, I used a JHS Morning Glory (V3) low gain overdrive, for its natural, smooth clipping and the way that it pushes my amp instead of coloring its tone. With the tone rolled back while just using the Vox AC30, I was able to emulate some of the great worship lead guitar tones, with just a single click of my foot, making this one of the all-time great analog overdrives. 

Picking the delay was a bit of a harder choice. I wanted to definitely use an analog type D-Bucket circuit, but with my small collection of delays slowing growing as I can afford them, the choice was a little difficult. I finally settled on my original Ibanez AD-9; genesis. This was the first, and what I would consider to be one of the best analog delay pedals ever made, which made it a clear answer as to which delay I should use on my home-brewed analog board.

Finally, I finished my board with a bit of a surprise. I had received my Malekko Chicklet reverb as a Christmas present four or five years ago, and quickly began to hate it. At the time, I wanted a smooth and clear plate reverb, or a hall/arena type reverb unit that could sit nicely behind a digital delay. After buying a Strymon BlueSky, I gave the Chicklet the boot, leaving it on a shelf for the last few years. I never had the heart to sell it because I believed it to be a wonderful emulation of a spring reverb, but I could never find the place to use it. I never even sound-checked the board after installing the Chicklet, but once on stage at Forest Hills, I began kicking myself in the head for not using it more. Sitting in front of my Vox, it had a airy creaminess that my BlueSky, no matter the tweaking just couldn’t match. This may have differed if I had been using my stereo amp rig, but running such a pedal into a single combo amp was exactly what I was looking for in an analog-eques reverb pedal. 

For the amp settings, everything remained the same, save the volume which was almost halved. Luckily, this made for a sweeter and chimier sounding AC30, reminiscent of Vox tones from years’ past. I kept the amp off the floor, on an amp stand at a forty five degree angle, projecting out into the front of house.

Once plugged in, I was taken back a few years to the church where my search for my own personal tone began. The exactly same organic, clear, balanced and bell-like tone all came back in a flood of sound. Simplicity in many cases can trump complexity, just as in the way one plays an instrument. I love the sound of my “Analog Baby” just as I love the sound of the “Mothership” in their own different ways, just as you love the sound of an Alembic or a Telecaster in much the same way. I have changed my AD-9 out for a more versatile DMB Lunar Echo, but the idea is the same; being a good musician is not in the same as being a clever musician. Things such as guitars, amps and effects should not be used to hide your imperfections, but enhance your abilities.

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It’s Time To Go Back To Work

So after a week’s vacation to Florida, I am finally back to start full on recording for Acadia. In the past few weeks, I have made a deal with Wolfhead Artistry for a promotional deal, as well as brainstorming a promotional short with local film maker Adam Shull. I’ve found that I work much better and with more efficiency when I have pressure from many sides to complete said work, therefore sealing promotional deals like those above to force my hand at creating better work.

I’ve also kicked around ideas for the theme of the album as well as a few tracks, and album artwork, making the pressure ever increasingly stronger on my shoulders. I now have a professional drummer, Zach Cormier, willing to do anything to aid in the recording aspect of the album, and Christopher Scott on other electric instruments including bass. Between the three of us and with my new looping and sampling skills, we are a force to be reckoned with.

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So as you can see, Acadia is alive and well before of half of the actual album has been recorded! More exciting new will be posted soon, as well as updates and of course, the Acadia promotional video.

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I leave you with a few pictures from my fun, relaxing, and always too short trip to Florida this past week.

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Out of Acadia

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Although it has been a lenthy seven months since I have graced the servers of wordpress.com, I am finally back talking about my newest project, “Acadia” which is still in its infancy. This album has been a three year long metamorphosis of two albums, several different bands, and thousands of hours, and dollars, and hundreds of people to finally get a set image and feel for the album.

Firstly, the album has actually been constructed from two separate entities. The first album from my band The Northern Arcade never saw completion, along with the many hours of solo “sonic exploration”, I was able to come up with a palette of sounds that “worked” for me. By picking the best pieces from The Northern Arcade and mixing it with the almost shoegaze and ambient complexity of my newer works, my album could finally have a place to grow in the mind of myself, and others who have aided me in this mind-boggling task.

The new album in itself will be a feat of sonic engineering. “The best albums overall of any band is always the first” I had said in an interview. “You can hear and feel the creative hunger in the music, you can hear the soul and the long hours of searching for the right sound until they put down whatever they have, and say ‘To hell with it; we second album will sound better anyways.'” This is exactly my predicament: I want this album to have the hunger and edge like that of the first recordings I can remember laying down, but with a more mature and natural sound. This will be the third album I have put out in recent years, but the first I have released under a self-titled and solo name, truly making Acadia a difficult venture.

In the past six months, I have worked with a new drummer, vocalist, bassist, and possibly two new guitarists to give the new record a fresh, and hopefully “Freshmen” album feel. The sound will be as dramatic as the making of the record as well: Two drummers, like that of The Northern Arcade, two guitarists (me being one) focusing on ambience and mood setting, rather than intricate guitar licks and screaming solo work. Unlike my previous band, most of the work for this album will be instrumental, with the addition of harmonic, string-like vocals. To cap off the already dramatic arrangement of instruments, the bassist and keyboardists are new and will build a ambient pad that the rest of the band can work on top of.

The sound of the band will be reminiscent of Explosions in the SkyMogwaiand Bon Iver, but with an acoustic twist, a hint of piano, and a dash of experimental effects usage. Very mellow, very melancholy, but at times uplifting and overwhelmingly beautiful, this new sound will become almost cinematic as the album presses forward, ending as though you have just finished a blockbuster movie. As for now, only about 20% of the final product has been approved and is ready for mastering, with the other 80% being written and recorded within the next couple of months.

At the rate that Acadia is progressing, the finished product will air by the end of summer 2013, but as of right now, hard work and perseverance is my motivation, not to mention my work ethic. Hopefully the following album cover spoilers will keep you interested, as well as a promotional video for the Acadia album in the near future.

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Just when you think you’re out of ideas.

So I’ve been worried lately with whether I could get another band off the ground and running before life catches up with me and makes is almost impossible. However, by taking a trip to a small music store earlier this week, there is hope for this idea yet. I went to a great local music shop, Redphish Music, on Monday afternoon with prospects of seeing my old friends Travis and Dane, always slumped behind the counter, always talking of bigger and better plans. As predicted they were there, slumped as they will ever be, waiting for an inkling of business to trickle in. As we caught up from the week, me and Dane grabbed a couple guitars off the wall and began to fiddle with them. As any musician knows, this snowballed into a jam session to the point that I was late for my evening class at the local community college! Another friend and haunt of the business filmed us, and quickly has both videos on the internet. As me and Dane looked back at the material, we realized how much wasted potential there is in our playing together. It was with this spark that we discussed him retrieving his equipment from Indiana, and the two of us beginning another band. This could be the beginning of something great- two seasoned players from two different backgrounds collaborating solely for the art of music. This Saturday we will be reviewing old materials from records’ past that never made it to the final cut, discovering new sounds, and maybe even writing a few new ideas. Just when you think you’re out of ideas, everything gets dropped on its head, and you start from scratch.

Happy Recording!