Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 13:03
oh i dont know. melody has been a big deal for me for as long as i can remember. probably started with the mom and the nursery rhymes. its like breast feeding. sing to your kids and maybe they'll end up writing nicer songs. even when i was into punk it was the Buzzcocks rather say alot of the more unmelodic punk coming out of LA. Even the Pistols had hooks. If anyone visiting here remembers an LA band called The Eyes i'll buy you a beer. They were melodic and fun. When i was doing "experimental" music (after i'd lost faith in song structure for a few years) i'd always throw in melodies and my colleaugues would grin cuz they thought i was being ironic. in actuality it was my way of carefully inching back out of the pop closet. When i told that band that I wanted to bring in actual songs it was like telling them I was gay or republican.
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Fri 25 Oct 02 14:12
>i think some people out there like music that doesnt sound dumbed >down. Hi, I'm Axon, and I was comped a promo version of Welcome Black to participate here. I haven't heard any of your other work yet, but I've been dutifully spinning WB two or three times a day for a week. At first it didn't really click with me, but repeated listening has been increasingly rewarding. I'm at the point of familiarity where I skip past some tracks, and go back and listen to others several times. My first observation is that your comment about people preferring music that isn't "dumbed down" seems a little perplexing. I mean, sure, superficially, there are people who want more substance in their leisure entertainment, and I'm not saying TNP *is* "dumbed down", but I have to point out that most of the tunes on WB sound vaguely familiar. The progressions betray their antecedents, and one can almost put one's finger on the original source. Secondly, all of these motifs seem based on repetitive descending or circular figures, which makes them accessible and memorable, but also shallow. They don't *go* anywhere. That's a pop convention, sure, but that's what I think of as "dumbed down", at least musically. The lyrics, OTOH, are the smart part. The promo copy didn't come with a lyric sheet, and I don't know if you included lyrics in the release version, but one reason to repeat listen is to make out all the words. So the repetitive hooks get lodged in the inner ear, but the audient doesn't have all the lyrics loaded yet, so one thing that happens, at least with me, is that the imagination kicks in with some placeholders. I woke up in the middle of the night with "Bermuda Love Triangle" going through my brain, except that it had morphed to "Computer Bug Diagno", and by the time I got up this morning, it was "Commuter Drug Buy Scandal". So yeah, I guess I've got to listen to it some more. So my question, and probably most appropriate to this conference, is about the lyrics and your writing process. They don't make a lot of sense, sometimes, and I'm wondering if they start out as vowel scat patterns over rhythm changes, and then the semiotic connective tissue is backfilled, or do you begin with verse and then look for a melodic hook to hang it on?
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 14:31
the way i write lyrics is i take a scalpel and remove any semiotic tissue. then i hop on a bus and let the rhythms of the ride dictate the subject matter. most of my songs are about bus drivers. but once i get home i realize that nobody wants to listen to a song about a bus driver so i change it. i'm sorry if what i end up with doesnt make any sense to you. my advice is that you give up on my music immediately. it strikes me as odd that you even are in here. if it aint workin' for ya why force it? i wouldnt.
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Fri 25 Oct 02 14:59
>if it aint workin' for ya why force it? I'm not "forcing" it. I'm letting it breathe, taking my time to let it reveal itself. Some stuff I didn't like before (the Clavinet in the BLT reprise, e.g.) is growing on me. I now enjoy the crunchy texture, whereas before it seemed like jagged shards. Perseverance furthers, etc. >i'm sorry if what i end up with doesnt make any sense to you. No need to apologize; I'm just trying to understand what meaning you intend, and how your process works. "Sebastian Cabot" for example, wtf is that about? It seems as though you just like the way the syllables *sound* together. There being no Sebastian Cabot in my dreams, I'm sort of bereft of any substance. It doesn't seem to mediate any narrative, metaphor, or even a subtext to the ironic popcult referent. This is one I skip past anymore. No blame. But see I *love* BLT. Even though it works with placeholder lyrics for the chorus, the narrative is terrific. I care about the characters, I enjoy their tragedy both as a morality play and as an allegory. And the wordplay is funny. Great stuff. It's a truly superior song; I'm working it up as a bossa nova. >let the rhythms of the ride dictate the subject matter. This sounds like you're saying the lyric and the melody happen simultaneously. I don't know if the bus thing is intended as a metaphor, but buses, clothes dryers, vacuum cleaners, coffee roasters, etc. all furnish a persistent low tone, a tonic root around which to extemporize. That would explain the circular changes, anyway. Most songwriters I know of either start with changes and write lyrics on top (my preferred approach), or they begin with verse and try to set it to music. Some I know have a melody in mind when they write lyrics, than harmonize that later. Not too many songwriters have the lyric/melody/progression emerge at the same time. Is that how it works for you?
Scott Underwood (esau) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:12
Stew and Sebastian Cabot: separated at birth? http://images.amazon.com/images/P/B00004Y6Q1.01.LZZZZZZZ.jpg http://www.incorrectmusic.com/gallery/covers/cabot.jpg
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:19
i write songs in my head. when they are finished i pick up the guitar and put them on paper. i dont sit around strumming and searching. i'm too busy reading the poetry of bjorn borg. cabot is about a homeless man who thinks hes sebastian cabot. and i should hope i sound like i "like the way the syllables sound." thats what makes singing fun. its pop music - which means the syllables can be just as important as the lyrics -- depending on the mood yer in. i must say i find it rather bizarre talking so clinically about such a light-hearted record we had so much fun making. every one of our records has a general studio mood that infused the proceedings. this one was all about alot of laughter. does anyone remember laughter?
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:22
>Stew and Sebastian Cabot: separated at birth? hes a BIGGER influence on me than Dylan.
ifihadahifi (dmd) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:26
Stew - i went to check out <tnf> a few weeks ago at the metro in Oakland (great <tnf> gig btw) and was totally knocked out by you and Heidi. Wow. It was all going on ...the music, the schtick, the stage presence, and the aesthetic , oh the aesthetic. ok, ill stop gushing now. i was in stitches during lalalalalfuckinglala, but was sad to hear the fucking part not on the recorded version. how come?
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:31
>but was sad to hear the >fucking part not on the recorded version. how come? the "fucking" bit developed while on tour. a live version of Ken will be available on our next sweetboot which will be out shortly. I'm happy that the live version will finally be available. i've felt rather guilty about people buying "Joys" expecting to get the acoustic "Ken." They really are completely different songs.
david-michel (dmd) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:47
Neat. Any up-coming tours? Europe? Paris? Maybe?
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 15:52
no, but the Stew thing will be at the NY Knitting Factory on nov 20th and at Maxwells in NJ on the 21st. We have some amazing shows lined up for next year but i dont wanna talk about them right now. if all goes well with our new UK label (Fire) we will be touring europe more often. Our time there playing with Love was simply dreamlike. Its my wish to relocate in europe at some point next year. I'm starting to get that "gotta get out of america" feeling again.
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Fri 25 Oct 02 16:14
>does anyone remember laughter? Sure. Laughed my ass off to "mystery grab bag from Beirut to Baghdad" which doesn't need to mean anything to be funny. I'm not trying to be clinical; I'm just curious about your process. For example, I notice that some tunes exhibit strong resemblences to other tunes in the popular reportoire. (Bong Song has strong echoes of Bowie's "Ashes to Ashes"; "Is This The Single?" calls English Beat's "Sooner Or Later" strongly to mind, etc.) Now I understand that you're not copping anybody else's stuff, and these resonances seem more like jumping off points than homage, but the transformation of identifiable antecedent art into pop cliche seems sort of recursive. I noticed a similar lyrical lift, quoting "cake out in the rain", e.g. What's going on there? So here's just a playful question. The spoken line "Can you turn the robot up?" (on Out Now); was that an actual ad hoc studio direction you just decided to leave in, or was that planned? *That* made me laugh.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 16:44
uh, if you were familair with my work you'd know that in 97 we released a cover of Mac. Park where we changed the lyric to "someone left the crack out in the rain." We received a great deal of attention for this little joke. The idea was to contrast what Mac Park was in Webb's time with what it became. Throwing that into "Watering Hole" was our way of nodding at our OG fans. if anything you've heard on welcome black reminds you of songs you've heard before well, STOP THE PRESSES AND GET LARRY KING ON THE HORN!!! some pop tunes remind you of others??? gee bloody whizz! i'm gonna get fitted for some handcuffs. you know,theres this guy named Bach who basically wrote the music to damn near every pop tune I've ever heard. and hes good too! i'm totally bored by this game of trying to find out what this and that song reminds one of. its all bach and chuck berry anyway. its such a geeked out way of listening. either you dig it or you dont. those of us who make records are constantly engaged in a dialogue with what came before. welcome black is commenting on every record i've ever made before as well as every record i've ever listened to. Making music is itself a form of music criticism. And with all due respect to all the rock intellectuals out there, its the form of music criticism I prefer. Playing "name that tune" with music is quite boring. the robot thing was me saying to the engineer while singing into the vocoder "could you turn the robot up?" and then while recording the double i heard myself asking that question and i laughed. so we kept both in.
Helen Donlon (hdonlon) Fri 25 Oct 02 16:52
>Making music is itself a form of music criticism. That's a great comment.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:09
i really look at alot of music that way. punk rock was clearly more about the Eagles than it was about itself. And being a punk rock fan was not so much about "liking" punk but more about having chosen it. the relationship of say one painting to another painting that came before it is a common idea in the art world obviously. Lit as well of course. But people dont give rock musicians credit for being smart enough (or self-conscious enough) to contextualize things historically. And maybe some of us arent smart enough. But we do it anyway. And we know what we're doing even if we dont "know it."
Gail Williams (gail) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:10
Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:17
>STOP THE PRESSES AND GET LARRY KING ON THE HORN!!! Dude, I'm not dogging you. Hey, I've done the same thing. I wrote a song I thought was the pure product of my imagination. Later on I was listening to Johnny Hartman's "You Are So Beautiful" and I realized I'd lifted the first four bars of the bridge, pretty much intact. I'm only asking because I want to know, okay? It happens. Sometimes it's deliberate and sometimes its unconscious. It's all *valid*, I'm just curious. >uh, if you were familair with my work Uh, well, see, I'm not. I've read others' high praise of it on the WeLL and elsewhere, and heard some buzz, so when the offer to listen to your record and participate in this topic came along, I went for it. I'm your newest fan. My questions reflect my initial impressions. >those of us who make records are constantly engaged in a dialogue >with what came before. Can I ask about your recording process? Do you have all the musicians playing simultaneously and multitrack? Do you build layers a track or two at a time? Do you edit down a composite track from multiple takes?
Helen Donlon (hdonlon) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:27
re #40. I wholly agree about that, and maybe it's because music might be the most intuitive of all art forms anyway, because it's not necessarily bound by the same conventions as other forms of expression, especially, perhaps, literature. It's true that the intuition of rock musicians that doesn't often get talked about in the way that it often is with classical or jazz musicians.
Kosher Swan (shmo) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:37
Not meaning to interrupt Stew's answer to <axon>'s question above regarding the recording process . . . Just wanted to chime in and welcome Stew to The Well. Many of you who know about Stew through the Well are, I'm sure, surfeited by my rantings and ravings of the last few years about the man's music. So no need to repeat any of that here. Up front I want to be forthcoming and say I've known Stew for a long time and have been a fan of his genius since the night we met at band practice in a pal's garage/studio way back, oh, before the Civil War approximately. I also wrote the liner notes for Stew's "Guest Host" and do a brief singing stint on "Naked Dutch Painter," so my opinions are far from objective. Just so's y'all know. Stew, after you address <axon>'s question about recording, I'd love to hear you talk a bit about the music/lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. I don't listen to your music necessarily as "pop music," but rather as art songs, almost like German lieder in a way, a tradition I know Sondheim has acknowledged as an aspect of his lineage and I suspect is also an aspect of yours. Has Sondheim's work-shadow ever consciously crossed your desk while you're at work on a new tune? Do you consider him a prominent influence on the way you think about composing (both lyrics and music)? And, second: How do we get Art Terry's music into the ears of the American listening public?
Kosher Swan (shmo) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:41
Also, I think it is appropriate that we acknoweldge with sadness the passing of "Sweet" Richard Harris, whose voice, at least to me, is inseparably connected to the song "Macarthur Park."
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:41
axon, i just think in both cases your accusations of similarities are highly bogus. i'd be perfectly happy if you said Lime Green Sweater sounded like the Faces because thats EXACTLY what we were trying to do. in the case of bong song i think yer really reaching. and "is this the single" is a three chord song just like "save it for later." but other than that? i dont even hear it. i'm glad to hear yer not "doggin" me cuz thats certainly the impression i got from your initial posts. they seemed unnecessarily confrontational and i didnt come here to spar about my music. it wouldnt have been cool for me to rip you a new hole like i wanted to when you first posted. so yer not doggin me? cool. as for the phrase "PURE product of my imagination" WOW i dont think theres any such thing!If its coming out of my imagination its anything but pure. on this record there was no strict method of recording. it was all mixed up. sometimes we started with a guitar against a click and sometimes we had everybody in there at the same time. this record was recorded in 2 weeks between tours and i'm happy to say it was a rush job. While i think we work faster than most bands in our world, this being the second record we released in 2002 gave us the proper "who gives a fuck" attitude to leave things a bit sloppy and not get too anal. My solo record before this "The Naked Dutch Painter" was a more precious fey thing. even though it had many roughneck live aspects to it.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:44
>>because music might be the most intuitive of all art forms anyway, because it's not necessarily bound by the same conventions as other forms of expression, especially, perhaps, literature.>> absolutely.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:45
oh, how sad about richard harris.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 17:56
oh dear, talking about sondheim. its like talking about brel or dylan isnt it? what can one say? i came to sondheims music the same way i came to all my fave stuff: in the used bin when i should have been in school. i picked up Company because in film school I'd just seen Wiseman's documentary and i was stunned by the whole affair. The songs hit me like Beatles on steriods. I just couldnt believe that one song after the other was so mindblowing. I knew as much about broadway as any LA kid (read zilch). i listened to Company in the same way i listened to Between the Buttons or Revolver: it was just another amazing record. I've yet to see any of his stuff in the theater and while i'm looking forward to it i'm glad i had the intro to it that i did. seeing it in the theater first would have been overwhelming. my connection to sondheim is just listening to the songs -- not the story or the images on the stage. i'm never thinking of any artist when i write but hes in my head at all times. it doesnt show with every song. but its there.
Stew (blackstew) Fri 25 Oct 02 18:02
as for Art Terry, oh he has to finish his full length record and then i suppose i'll start raving about it to whomever i run into. For those who care art co-wrote the hidden track "Happy" which can be found on NDP. he also wrote i'm not on a drug with me.
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