Track 5 - August 5th

 

Recorded: August 5, 2016
Instrumentation: Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Korg MS-20, Drums, Strings, Piano
Tempo: 139.166 bpm
Audio Stems: Yes
Final mix by: Greg Giorgio

What’s the difference between and Audio Journal and a demo? What’s the difference between a demo and an actual recording? These days, with the presence of computers and home recording, the lines are more blurry than ever before. This song to me is still very much an Audio Journal because it is an incomplete thought. Sure, there are all of the major elements of a demo, or even a song itself, yet it is still looking for something to tie it all together. A rug so to say. For that reason, I’m excited to share this recording with the world, and to share its stems. 

The song started with the drums, as most of my work does. The beat came from me trying to learn how to use Abbey Road Vintage Drummer, a new virtual instrument I had just purchased. Originally processed with parallel compression, distortion, and eq, I wanted to hear as much of the room as possible in the mix. 

The acoustic guitar was actually recorded with one of my favorite new microphones, the iPhone. There is something so trashy and honest about the iPhone mic, almost like a Polaroid picture. Sure, this guitar could be recorded differently, or better, but then it wouldn’t be what it is right now.  

The electric guitar was originally intended to be a bass line but I didn’t have a bass at my house. Recorded direct, with no amp, then heavily processed through a AC30 emulation, EQ, distortion, compression, a convolution reverb (altiverb) setting it back in a large studio and finally more EQ. All of the other elements to the song are traditional and mixed as you would expect. Though I did do a healthy amount of side chain compression to clear up space in the low end instruments.  

What’s side chaining? With running the risk of making this blog entry incredibly boring and long…. Low end can easily get muddy. Kick drums, bass, low piano, organs, they can all exists in the same place of a mix and cloud over one another. I wanted the bass to be very present on this track, but it was masking the kick. I wanted the bass piano to be dark and strong, but is was creating a massive harmonic rub with the sub bass. Side chaining is a technique where you place a compressor on a track (like the bass piano) and set the compressor to engage only when it’s triggered by another element (like the kick).  If you listen to the stems you will really hear what’s going on.  The piano is compressed on the second chord of the progression and then returns. The Korg is compressed on the downbeat of every other measure.  (Ok enough of that…..)

A few weeks back I posted the guitar part for this recording on my socials asking if anyone had any ideas for a drums. Within the following weeks I received not only drum parts in response, but ideas on all types of instrumentation. People were playing along to the video that I made and sharing their creativity, reinforcing the idea of sharing stems for this album.  So, have at it…. Chop it up, change the key, push yourself, take away the parts you don’t like, or manipulate them until they are unrecognizable and become your favorite part of the song. There are no rules. It doesn’t matter what comes out, because no one is listening, there is no critic, there is no judge, there is only you….
 

Track 4 - Harmonium

 

Recorded: January 27, 2015
Instrumentation: Harmonium, Hammond Organ, Upright Bass, Choir, Strings
Tempo: 64bpm
Audio Stems: Yes

A few years back my wife took an intensive yoga teacher training course that had a profound impact on my life. Positioned directly between the break-up of my old band Pela and the birth of Augustines, it was during this time that I was exposed to two of the many profound philosophies of Buddhism. One is whatever you send out into the world is what will come back to you. The other is if you want to be happy, the way to find it is to help someone else be happy. Whatever it is you want, give it away first. If you are seeking peace or love, help someone else find these in their lives.  It was also during this time that I discovered the true beauty of the harmonium.  

Years later, just after Augustines returned home from supporting our second record, I started writing for our third. Every morning for a month I would wake up and record an Audio Journal. During this incredibly prolific time period in my life I recorded over 30 journals. The foundations` of the songs Are We Alive, The Forgotten Way and Hold Me Loneliness all came from this time period. As did today’s entry.

“Harmonium" was composed and recorded entirely on the computer. Originally a free pass recorded with no click, I struggled for a while to establish a tempo. The music exists between a slow 4/4 and faster 6/8.  Eventually I settled on the 4/4 and recorded what you hear now. 

To create the instrumentation I used an instrument called Kontakt by Native Instruments. The prominent clicking sound you hear in the intro is actually part of the harmonium track.  In Kontakt I had independent control over this "room sound" and was able to fade the body of the organ up into the percussive texture. A heavily distorted Hammond Organ doubles the harmonium to thicken the mix greatly and give it weight.  

For the upright I used one of my go to treatments, a plugin called Devil-Loc by Soundtoys. Not the kind of effect you can put on everything, this distortion/compression unit naturally brings out the bow and air of an upright. Go check out "The Avenue" by Augustines for another reference. 

Also in the mix are a simple choir and string arrangement.  Intended to be felt not heard, I added these two elements months after the original recording with the hope that it would bring a little more movement and air.  

If anyone has any questions about this recording or any other songs you've heard so far, feel free to reach out.  I'm thinking of hosting a live chat at the halfway mark of the album.  

 

Track 3 - August 30th

 

Recorded: August 30th, 2012
Instrumentation: Tr-909, Roland 501 Space Echo, Acoustic Guitar, Upright Piano
Tempo
Audio Stems: No

My whole life I've felt the third song of a record should present what the album is truly about.  It doesn't have to be the best song, it just has to capture the spirit. 

This week's track embodies the true difference between a traditional song and an Audio Journal. Ambient in nature and possibly a stretch for some listeners, I've always felt there is something unique and beautiful about this recording.  It's not the melody, or the chord progression, and certainly not any lyrics. It’s not the production or instrumentation or attention to detail. It's just the feeling. Loose, sloppy, perfectly imperfect.  

Welcome to 2012..... Augustines had just finished our first international tour supporting Rise Ye Sunken Ships. We calculated that I was away from home for 80% of the previous year and a half.  Life as I knew it had completely changed. My guest room was officially converted to a studio. My in-laws gave me their piano: always out of tune, always a joy to play. 

This song started with my wife's Yamaha acoustic guitar. The same style of guitar Elliot Smith used to play.  At this time I had just gotten my 909 and was still learning how to use it. Not synced to the computer, I was originally using the drum machine more as a click track than a beat.  I wanted to make it a bit more interesting so I ran the 909 through my space echo. I adjusted the delay rate to give it a laid back feel—that feel is something that's all too often forgotten with digital delays.  

At this time in my life I believe I had a Focusrite sapphire interface, though it may have still been my mBox.  The drums and guitar were tracked together, live in one take. One mic on the guitar, probably my 57.  

After this free improv of piano, guitar and drum machine was put down I placed markers in my pro tools session so I knew where the chord changes were. I sat behind the piano and improvised a pass through, then another, then another.  You can hear them all.  Left, right and center.  At the time piano was still very new under my fingers. I stumbled through the chord changes leaving no single pass strong enough to carry the song.  But all three together filled the holes, and the mistakes, and made something complete. 

Unfortunately I no longer have any of the session files for songs before 2014.  A note to all of you musician's out there.  Hard drive management is real. All too often the lack of money to buy a new hard drive puts us in difficult positions where we have to transfer data from one drive to another. In the past few years I've realized the importance of buying a dedicated drive for each project you are working on.  Don't mix and match.  

 

Track 2 - Strings and Arp / Japan

 

Recorded: 20 January 2015
Instrumentation: Hammond Organ, Spark Synth, Strings
Tempo: 158bpm
Audio Stems: Yes

Originally composed in Brooklyn and completed in Japan, I'm proud to introduce this week's track, "Strings and Arp / Japan."

Last week's track, "Outside Ahhh's," was completely immersed in acoustic instruments. Human voice, guitar, drums. Now we head down a different path to a song that was completed in one of the most historically rich places I have ever been, yet was created entirely with digital instruments.  

Music for me is, and forever will be, a constant juxtaposition. Tension and release. Soft and hard. Placement and floating.

"Strings and Arp / Japan" started in Brooklyn with the first sound you hear: a Hammond Organ played through a distorted Ampeg bass amp. The attack was rolled off in post to give that feeling of a pulse.  After playing around with that, I jumped on the piano and worked out a simple arpeggiated line that stepped through the chords.  This was too generic sounding for me so I started looking for a synth sound that could carry the arpeggiation. Personally I’ve always found it difficult being creative with arpeggiators. All too often they sound prescribed or like you are ripping off Grandaddy. But when they work, they ignite something in our bodies that is familiar yet foreign. After a bit of digging, I stumbled upon an instrument I'd never used before, Spark by Native Instruments. This synthesizer had the right blend of fuzziness and attack.  

The final element to the song was two simple string passes. The viola outlines the chord progression leaving the violin to move through the chords, pushing and pulling on the harmony.  One of my favorite techniques in string arrangements is to step through the scale over a chord progression. When done right this can create temporary tension and release within the chord's structure. It's an art form I've been working on for years and will certainly continue to develop for the rest of my life. This style can most notably be heard in The Forgotten Way by Augustines.  

This week's song marks a major announcement in my life as a musician. It's the first time I'm releasing audio stems of my work. I felt it was the perfect song for the debut of the stems because I always felt this song to be incomplete. Anyone that wishes can pull up this song and add their own creativity to it.  I hope it inspires something in your ears as it has in mine. 

Track 1 - Outside ahhh's

 

Recorded: 2009
Instrumentation: Guitar, Drums and Vocals. no reverb, no delay, or any other modulation. 
Tempo: 124bpm

"Outside Ahhh’s", as many of my songs, started on my old Kay acoustic guitar. For years now I've wanted to be able to call myself a guitar player. Growing up as a bass player, the guitar never felt fully comfortable in my hands. Yet, it's safe to say I've played more guitar in my life than bass. This hyper fast fingerpicking technique has been a recurring style in my life. It seems to always push me to the top of my playing capability at the time.  

The guitar is doubled, looped and panned hard left and right. I recorded the guitar with Shure Sm57 into my old mBox. One of my favorite parts of this song is how the two loops create the feeling of the guitar dancing from left to right in the stereo field. It's the inconsistencies between the double that create this.

The drumming is a muted floor tom played with my hands, again mic’ed with the Sm57 (my only microphone at the time). While living in Ghana, I was exposed to drum patterns and tuning techniques that have influenced all of the music I have made since. This particular rhythm is directly from the Upper West Region of Ghana outside of Nandom.

The vocals on this song were improvised and recorded live, one track after another. There may be 10 or so tracks of me singing. To be honest I don't know how many there are because the original session is no longer around. After I improvised the vocals I went through, edited out some parts and consolidated the arrangement.  I have an original recording that's much looser, maybe I'll post that some day.

I didn't intend to at the time, but track after track, words started to come out as I recorded more.  "You fall outside, you fall."  I'll never forget, when I first moved to Brooklyn, my head was so far in the clouds that I kept tripping over myself, literally tripping over the cracks in the sidewalk. I was completely unprepared to handle how tough the city was. These lyrics always stuck out to me because I never really felt safe outside. My home, my studio, my headphones, that’s where I was comfortable. Fortunately I’ve grown a lot since then, but this song always reminds me of that boy with his head in the clouds.

Audio Journal Vol. 1 - Bringing The Past To Light

For the past 15 years I have been keeping an Audio Journal.  The concept is the same as any journal. Take a moment from your day to reflect on and express what’s going on inside. A free thinking generative experience.

With most journals we start with a blank white page. With an Audio Journal I try to do the same. Clear my mind of debris so that I can focus all of my energy on listening. Grab an instrument, hear a vibration. One note on a piano, a buzzing fret on a guitar, the slow pulse of a drum machine. Encourage a spark, then go.

Recording music inspires me because you start with nothing but a feeling, and when you are done, you have something tangible that you can share with others forever. When I started my journals, they were made solely for myself.  I never wanted fear of judgement or a lack of perfection or “coolness” to get in the way of my desire to explore sound and emotions.

From these journals came countless hours of material. Some of which have morphed into ideas for Augustines songs, some have been lost, some are simply experimental and live as a placeholder in my life.

Today I am announcing a new type of record.  A living breathing record.  A journey, and a collaboration.