Some of you who see me on a regular bases know that for the better part of last year I've been working on a few different projects: recording the Downward Dogs album, playing bass in Mimi Oz's band Rooster, and a certain comedic character based on a certain Long Island troubadour. Also - getting my act together physically, running specifically, which has become a source of great happiness for me. What hasn't been happening, pretty much at all, is putting in the work to write new songs. That changed last night when, snowed in, and dealing with a lot of mind-chatter, I decided to just sit down and do it.
It was a lot how I remember it: fun, difficult, rewarding, frustrating.
Again with the waiting until after midnight to post and the feeling like I have to mention it because this has the feel of a daily piece but I doubt I will get to it daily and don't want to set myself up for failure, but really want to just use this an as excuse to write original content that won't be filtered through facebook (as if getting filtered through weebly and whoever your ISP is tons better) and will be a reason for you to keep coming back to this website, which will ostensibly good for me if I keep churning out art and telling you about it here!
Today's reason to go on - figure out just what the hell long distance running is and why I love it so.
Running is something I took up back last January to supplement the general weight loss/fitness routine that I'd implemented in order to finally be able to blame my depression and horrible self image on something other than my weight, general sloth, and self destructive tendencies. Turns out that doesn't work but I did discover something else. I enjoyed it, and I was good at it.
I know technically it's January 2nd, but I've always believed it's spiritually and emotionally the same day until you fall asleep. In that spirit, based off a post inspired by a healing picture of Dvorak that I found on some bizarre facebook group, and the result of a youtube black hole of 19th century Bohemian folk inspired chamber music, is Jacqueline du Pré performing Dvořák's Cello Concerto in B minor, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim conducting.
This is a incredibly profound and moving piece of music. I'm not too super into Dvorak on the regular, but after listening to this tonight I feel I may be relying a bit too much on the heavies (Bach, Beethoven, etc) and pick up some of my old Bartok and Elgar records and dig deep into this rhapsodic, emotional chamber music that kind of flies under the radar. Du Pre is really amazing here. I've been a fan of her since the old bookstore I used to work at had a copy of her EARLY BBC RECORDINGS... but I didn't hear this Dvorak piece till years later.
There is an amazing lineup of music happening on Saturday Nov 29th at Sidewalk Cafe. And I'm not just saying that because I'm in the show - I'm also saying that because I helped put together the bill! It also has the added bonus of actually being TRUE, but you'll see that for yourself as you're nestled warmly in the back room of one of NYC's best listening rooms, catching some spectacular live music while pretending to be "sick" so you don't have to take the LIRR out to see family you'll see at Christmas anyway.
Last month I did an online-only release of my new album THIRTY LOVE.
HOWEVA I believe that it deserves more. So this solo set will be a celebration of the record. At this show I will have CD-Rs, Lyric Booklets, and Download Cards! I will be playing songs from the album.
6th st and Ave A, NYC
Thursday October 16
8pm - FREE
I love you.
THE ALBUM! https://joeyoga.bandcamp.com/album/thirty-love
THE FREE SINGLE! https://soundcloud.com/joeyoga/box-of-things
#2 in a series celebrating the 10th anniversary of our album We Pitched a Hut and Called it Providence!
We had a really shitty breakup and I couldn't get her out of my head. Everything was so unfair. How she treated me, how she left me, the situation that her leaving put me in, the fact that she now had everything. The perfect job, the perfect relationship, and I was alone. The vast majority of my friends had moved out of the city or moved on – I’d kind of put all my chips on black and it turned up red. I couldn't escape the first part of that equation – “I” and “put” yet still, it didn't necessarily have to turn out this way. It certainly didn't for her. But it did for me.
Now she was in my dreams, taunting me. I was sitting in a subway station and she was barking at me. I tried not to listen. I opened my eyes and I was sitting on the bleacher seats at Coyne Park, a group of baseball fields in Yonkers where I used to play ball as a kid. She climbed up and tried to explain. I was somewhere else. I’d moved to an overpass and her faces were in the cars. I even remember an Atlantic City bar where I drank a $40 glass of scotch after winning 500 dollars in one sitting. I ate a steak and drank a bottle of wine. I turned down a prostitute. I watched a grown man crying on the bus home “Why? Every damn time. Why?” I tried to explain zen to a car full of strangers at Niagara Falls. Not much else had happened in my life at that point. And not much else would after. But that’s not important. What was important was that at each of these she was there, explaining. She was the bartender that served my scotch. She uncorked my wine and held it out for me to smell. She held my hand on the bus. She patted my head at the unfathomable sadness I felt on that bus. She laughed at zen when I realized I was closing a chapter of my life.
All the way she was explaining she was the end of something too. When I finally could ignore her no longer I grabbed her by the shoulders and told her to leave me alone, if what she was saying was true, then go away, leave me alone, if it was new, then leave me to it. I shook her. I closed my eyes again and leaned into her.
Part of the source of the frustration was that I was given what so many people long for but couldn't see it: a fresh start. I’d fucked up beyond belief, made terrible choices, spent other people’s money recklessly, incurred debts I would never pay off, treated people like shit, ran from problems, yet still here I was, with a new apartment, a decent job, a great band. Sure, I’d been wronged too, I’d been abandoned, I’d been forgotten, but couldn't I just call it a wash?
My thinking was – well, not if I wasn't enjoying myself. Not if I wasn’t “happy” (something I still expected and demanded back in those days). Not if I wasn’t able to get past what wronged me. Not if my ex was going to keep showing up in my dreams to torment me. I’d forced myself to believe I didn’t want it in the first place and this cognitive dissonance was lingering. How could I trust that I actually wanted anything if I could just think my way out of it eventually? And yeah sure we’re all part of the cosmic vibration of love and energy; I’d done enough mushrooms to know that. But if I couldn’t be happy, what was the point? Sure everything is perfect, but what good does it do me?
I woke up when I smashed my alarm clock into my face. Great. Fucking dreams. Good for nothing. I had a cut on my cheek that turned yellow and persisted for days. I wrote a poem about it. I prayed, in my way, for release. It came at band practice later that week.
This was a few months into playing with the band. We’d already learned the first batch of songs, had our first show or two, moved into our first rehearsal space and were realizing our sound. Most of the stuff we were working on were songs I brought to the band but every once in a while Joey would bring a riff or part of a song, or an unfinished idea and we would all flesh it out together. I tried at the beginning to get him to sing but he didn't really have any interest so when we would jam on these part-songs I would basically improve melodies over them and then go over the rehearsal tapes and see if there was anything worth keeping.
This was always a dicey proposition because this was my first time being lead singer and bass player in a band so there was always the chance that I would come up with a bass line I really liked but wouldn't be able to sing over it (or vice versa). I was still learning the ins and outs of this. Turns out that this is fairly random for me – even to this day I can’t predict if I’ll be able to do it easily or not. Sometimes the simplest, one note bassline will be just off enough from the melody line that it will be near impossible and sometimes the busiest, most complex bassline will be physically tucked in to what I’m doing just right and I’ll have no problem at all. Over the years I've gotten asked for advice on how to get it right and really the only answer is practice practice practice. I’d been playing bass for ten years by the time Trousers came around and I’d only just started to get it right.
ANYWAY the point is, this one time, a few months into the Trousers story, we were at our rehearsal space and I came back from the bathroom to find George, Becca and Joey jamming on this cool little surfy chord progression. It was just two chords, back and forth, actually. But very breezy and pretty. I picked up my bass and almost immediately came up with a bouncy descending bassline that to this day is one of my favorites. Everyone dug on the song and I asked Joey if there was anything else to it but he said he just had that chord progression, no chorus or anything. We had it on tape so I said I would go home and work on it and see if I could find anything that would work with it.
Later I was working with the song and trying to sing some melodies over the tape when I found the poem I’d written earlier about the dream I had. It took just a few extra words here, a word taken out there, a quick shuffling of a few syllables to make a lyric that worked in time with the melody I lalala-ing over the tape:
Sitting on the platform, stretching my legs
waiting for the subway home
talking to my ex who I haven’t seen in years
Rats on the track below
Something tells me I’m kidding myself
I close my eyes but the light don’t change
this could be a dream but what’s the difference
I feel like shit about it anyway
That’s where the chorus would come. I tried a couple of things but what sounded good was, of course, the A# (the IV). But it didn’t sound exactly right, so I slid it up an octave and dropped it back down right away and that sounded tight for the question that resolved the first verse.
Does that make sense to you?
Then the verse riff again once, for a pause before going back up to the IV and pushing it to the V for the climax of the lyric:
Because I always fall for this
And I always see the same way out
And everything is perfect
But what good does it do me?
I could hardly wait for the next practice to bring this to everyone.
As for the recording of the tune, it might be my favorite tune on the record. It’s definitely my favorite vocal. Joey had a great guitar tone throughout, but it’s really perfect on this tune. There’s a bit of laze and just the right amount of extra verb. Not to mention the great distortion sound on the choruses. This is one of George’s strongest drum tracks on the record. There was a running joke that Becca’s high note at the end of “does it do me?” was supposed to be doubled with a high falsetto background vocal. That never materialized but we always had so much fun doing the meeeeEEEEE at rehearsals. The bass solo at the end was something I worked on for a long time and was thrilled to nail when we recorded. One thing I always loved about our band was that there was always someone doing some great shit musically. Everyone did such a great job of filling the gaps. Instead of just repeating a verse, musically it was always different. There was always something going on, something for someone to build off of. We could do C-Em – Am – G for ten minutes, tweaking it each time through the progression, improving it, building on it, picking each other up, listening to each other and making it swell and eventually building a narrative. Which was instructive. Eventually. But I always had such a hard time seeing it until I’m on the outside looking back. I still do.
Next week: George, stomps, thesauruses, the darkest timeline vs the best of all possible worlds
part of a series celebrating the 10th anniversary of our album We Pitched a Hut and Called it Providence!
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I sat down.
“You’re gonna sit?”
“Yeah I guess.”
“You need anything?”
“No I’m good.”
I had no idea if I needed anything. I’d never recorded vocals with someone else before. Everything up to this point had been me in my basement, in my apartment, with my dented 58 and all the time in the world. Here I had the band watching me from the booth while Josh (the engineer and owner of the studio) set up everything around me. It felt like standing with your arms spread while a tailor pokes around you, measuring. He adjusted the mic (a beautiful, and I imagined, very expensive microphone that looked like the kind you saw in footage of real studios), he adjusted the mic stand, he twisted cables. He adjusted levels on the little box the cables went in. I sat there with a bottle of water, waiting. Waiting. I hadn’t yet realized how much of recording is waiting. But I was getting there. I felt sort of ridiculous being the center of attention so I was deferring to Josh and keeping my requests at a bare minimum. But I was the singer – and fair or not it would be what most people judged right away. So I felt enormous pressure to get it right even though I had no idea how to get it right. But Josh would, I figured. So I let him do everything.
“I can turn the lights down if you want? Get a little mood lighting going?”
“Sure that sounds nice.”
He faded the lights down and left the room. I sat there alone. If I close my eyes I can still see the room.
“What do you want to start with?”
“I guess the first song.”
“When I Go?”
“When I Go.”
This was a song we struggled with for a long time before getting it right. When I first brought it to the band it was an up-and-down song with distortion and a stomp. I really wanted to keep that vibe. I had this vision and I was reluctant to let it go (this is the story of the whole album really – me dropping my illusions of how I saw things if other people were going to be emotionally invested in my music). The song was super important to me for a lot of reasons – I felt it was the first really powerful song I wrote, I felt it was important in the sense that the lyrics had something to say other than woe is me, or “this is my experience” … meaning I felt it was a song other people would be able to relate to. I loved it because it was one of the first songs I wrote where I sat down to right a specific song (I felt I had been writing too many songs about my ex and wanted to specifically write some songs NOT about women). I don’t know at what point it became the slow, spacey jam it became but it suited our band’s sound so much better than the square peg of my clanking, machine vision into the soft stoner-y reality of our band. When we finally got it right, it immediately became our opener and we all agreed that we wanted it to be the first song on the record.
I love everything about this version and I feel we really got it right. This was the only song I recorded sitting down (even though I nailed it, and I think we ended up keeping the first take, I felt I wasn’t getting enough power so I took the more traditional route for the rest of the album). A couple of the highlights (vocally) are: the falsetto on the second line “Nothing on the TV” and the trill I do on “Ten feet out my front doorrrr” on the last verse. “Gotta wait till March to see the sun” has a little laugh/beat on “march” that was totally accidental but I loved – I remember being struck by something and kind of laughing and thinking as the song rolled into the chorus “That was awesome – I’m gonna keep that.” There’s a little gulp on “to see the sky sure IS strange” that kind of makes me wince but what are you gonna do?
Becca ended up playing Wurlitzer on this song and not cello like she usually did. The studio had an awesome one and we all wanted it on the album. I’d have to go back to our practice tapes to remember what her actual cello lines were but the Wurlitzer ended up being perfect. At 4:01 there’s a weird off note that’s one of those gorgeous accidents that, while not planned, become something you can’t imagine the song without.
I’m not huge fan of my singing on the choruses really. The song on the record is in Amajor, which was kind of high for me at the time and combined with the sitting down while singing didn’t really allow me to get the growl/push that I was able to get when I was really singing the song well. Also there were other circumstances at play that I will most likely get into as I continue this series.
I still play the song every once in a blue moon (I’ve changed the key to E) but I keep this breezy feel.
NEXT: BEDTIME (Joey, where we get inspiration, building and swells and outro solos)