I haven’t posted in a while, but I wanted to put up links to two projects I worked on. The first is a piece of video art/scholarship that I made for the journal Hybrid Pedagogy. The piece is called Fountain: Scholarship and the Illusion of Permanence and it kind of brings together things I think about a lot at work with some ideas from the art and music projects I work on. The music is original, and the footage for the video was shot around Boston.
I also made a site called Newspaper Inspector which creates word clouds based on the digitized newspapers in the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America collection.
And most exciting to me, the new album Pop Songs of the Everyday comes out on Tuesday!
This is the video for “Riding in My Car” – it’s the first song I’m releasing off the new album, “Pop Songs of the Everyday”. Magda Ostas and I shot the video around Boston. I hope you like it!
I’m almost done with a new record, which is going to be called “Pop Songs of the Everyday”. I’m super excited about it – it’s the biggest sounding record I’ve made in a long time, and I’m really happy with the songs.
I’m also excited about the idea behind the record – songs that take place, in one sense or another, in the everyday world. What that means, exactly, varies from song to song. Some of the songs describe everyday events, like a long drive in the snow or a walk in the city. Other songs are about the usual topics – love, politics, life in general – but they address those topics in a way that stays, or tries to stay, true to everyday experience.
For me, writing songs that stay true to the everyday was both restrictive and liberating: restrictive because it cut off many familiar approaches and ideas, but liberating when it eliminated the need for every song to have the highest possible narrative stakes, and opened up songs I wouldn’t have thought to write.
The everyday is hard to define, but it is this slippery, “know it when you see it” quality that makes it a promising concept for songwriters. For instance, writing songs of the everyday requires attention to the details of lived experience, but it doesn’t follow that the songs of the everyday must, or even should, be autobiographical.
Once I started deliberately writing the songs for this record, it became clear that a number of songs I had already written, and even some that I had already recorded, would fit the project, while other songs would not. The non-everyday songs aren’t bad – I like some of them a lot. But they depart from the everyday in some way, often because their characters are too mythological or allegorical for the confines of everyday life. Every real person has an everyday life, but I’m not so sure the same can be said for all fictional characters.
All of this may sound austere, but the sound of the record is anything but – the songs are packed full of sounds and instruments, and each song really has its own sound. I’m excited for people to hear the record very soon!
I made this record in 2005, and it’s kind of a transitional record. I was trying to make a few things work at once – mixing real songs with some of the arrangement methods we were using in Hotel Universe and at the same time adding in new sounds. I bought an Alesis Micron, my first real synth, and started trying to program it. I think it all comes together on the record after this one, but here it’s a little bit of a jumble. Still, there are a few things I really like, especially the instrumental “Ashburn”, which starts with a harmonica/accordion vamp before the drum machines come in.
Before I got a computer that I could record on, I made a lot of recordings straight to cassette. I had a four-track for complicated things, but more often I just recorded straight to a handheld cassette recorder, the kind you could buy for $30 at CVS or Radio Shack.
This isn’t one of those records, but it’s in that spirit. Live takes, as many songs a would fit on a CD, no overdubs, acoustic guitar and vocals, minimal processing. Some odd recording choices here – the vocal and guitar were on separate mics, and they are hard-panned left and right. I think it sounds cool on a decent stereo with the volume turned up – very close to the original sound in the room.
I was really invested in the idea of folk music – I think you can hear that in these songs – and I felt drawn to this recording style that was somehow supposed to be similar to a field recording. The panning idea comes from the first Bob Dylan record, which is not at all a field recording.
There are a bunch of songs here that hold up, I think. Silver Car is one that I still like to play.
This is an exciting record to put back online – the first Hotel Universe album. In 2004 my friend Grace Marlier sent a cassette tape of her writing in the mail to me and some other friends. I decided to make a record out of that tape, with the initial idea that it would be like a hip hop record but with talking instead of rapping. I cobbled the music together on a laptop from what I had available – guitar, drum machine, a Casio keyboard, some samples, parts of tracks from other records I was working on. The songs used loops, but the recording software I was using could only loop accurately at tempos that were divisible by 30 beats per minute, so the songs are mostly at either 120 or 150 BPM.
Grace’s vocals are straight from the cassette tape, complete with hiss and other tape artifacts, which are a big part of this record’s sound. The vocals aren’t intended to sync up with the music – the idea was something different, something that betrayed the way it was made. One of the tricks of records is to make it sound like the different tracks are part of a single synchronous performance, but this one makes the process a little more apparent.
There are three more Hotel Universe records, and the last one might be my favorite out of all the records I’ve made. Stay tuned!
Another old record, on the internet for the first time! Going in chronological order so far, I recorded this one in Murfreesboro, TN. No drum machines here, but some samples and other interesting touches. I think this record has a dreamy feel for a folk record – loose performances, hazy keyboards and electric guitars. Some decent songs, too – Crying in the night might be my favorite thing here, but maybe other people won’t think it’s as funny as I do.
I’m putting my old records on the internet, where a lot of them have never been before. This is the first one, and the first record I made by myself on a computer. I started working on this right after moving to Nashville in 2002, recording in the small nearly furniture-free apartment I shared with a roommate.
I still like some of these songs a lot, while others are a little hard for me to listen to. I won’t say which are which, though – maybe you’ll like the ones that I can’t handle.
There are about eight more records where this came from, plus Hotel Universe records, and maybe some others, so keep an eye out.