Track 12 - We Can Be Dreamers

 

Recorded: September 23, 2001 (Note: This song was recorded in 2001, but was filed in the 2002 audio journal archive)
Instrumentation: Acoustic Kay Guitar, Electric Bass, Vocals
Tempo:
Audio Stems: No

For the final song on the record we are going all the way back to 2001. I was living in South Slope Brooklyn near the corner of 7th and 17th street. I had moved to this apartment in August, just weeks before 9/11. It was my first official apartment in NYC after a year of couch surfing. Sharing a small two bedroom with two other friends, this apartment birthed many new thoughts and experiences of which the Audio Journal was one.

When I started releasing songs for Audio Journal Vol. 1 I never intended to release “We Can Be Dreamers” mostly because of fear. Fear of what people would say, what people would think. Fear of not having a singer’s voice, fear of presenting something so old… fear of judgement. That said, allowing fear to hold me back is not what this project is about. This project is about being honest, embracing aspects of myself that aren’t like everyone else, getting behind the parts of my personality that I don’t always like and in a sense, being free.

“We Can Be Dreamers” came from a month long ‘song a day’ writing burst I had when I first moved from the city. With my trusty 4-track, my kay guitar, my bass, and a pump organ, I recorded song after song after song. With every new song I was learning how to sing, how to break out of my head, and how to not give a fuck.  Often times I would press record, grab my guitar and simply start singing. Improvising lyrics and chord progressions on the spot. Sometimes the words would come out right, most of the time they would only graze past my thoughts, capturing a glimpse of what I was feeling. This song was recorded and mixed 100% on the 4-track. (Tascam Porta 2).  The guitar and vocals were recorded at the same time with one mic, then doubled.  The bass was plugged in direct and overdrive by cranking the input gain. Still to this day the sound of my bass through that 4-track is one of my favorite distortions.  

This time period was also around September 11th.  On that clear and blue-skied morning I was walking to return paint that I had purchased and decided I didn’t like the color. My father had mentioned on the phone that a plane flew into one of the towers, and as terrible as that was, I had no idea of how actually devastating it would become, so I carried on to the paint store. People started gathering in the streets where you can catch a glimpse of downtown Manhattan. The feeling on the street was tense but nobody knew what was to come. Soon a dark cloud came over Brooklyn, and soon after that the debris came in the form of snow, covering everything with a white and pungent powder. The phones stopped working, people were running, screaming and crying in the streets. The scene was truly apocalyptic. 

When I finally made it home, my room was covered in that same debris. My bed, my instruments, my 4 track, everything. It was an experience that forever changed me. Fortunately for me it didn’t harden the way I approach life, it actually did quite the opposite. Compassion, understanding, diversity, dreams, and love are the only way to combat fear and hatred. And it’s with that mindset that I have approached everything I have done in my life since. 

Lyrics
I am a dreamer
I see that today
With my eyes as deceivers
and nights turning gray
Open what? a full circle
A train ride to place
all the memory banks searching
Behind distant days
Where I locked all my enemies
Too far away to pull up to the surface
To live in a daze
called childhood
Lookout
A world still unfazed

And how long to fight till our memories fade
Yes and how long to realize our bones were engraved
When we fell from the rooftops
Just like all our friends
And joined hand clenched circles
And for this we stayed
In a world called imperfect
A feeling with senses
Attempts to break reason

Oh, to stand on our heads
To pass through the dead looks
To notice the trees are turning from green
And the see the dirt passing
And fading as glasses
And we're just the same
As our differences shining

Our parents gave everything for us to live
And at this time it's our turn
To give back the gift
That we started to package
And share with our friends
Before all of this started
to make too much sense
In a hand written letter
Simple and perfect
Says we can be dreamers
We can be dreamers
We can be dreamers


 

Track 11 - Drum Improv

 

Recorded: May 17th, 2016
Instrumentation: Drums, Electric Guitar, Korg MS-20
Tempo: 95bpm
Audio Stems: Yes

Drum Improv started with, as you can imagine, a drum improvisation. I’ve always felt that I was a drummer in another lifetime. It’s how I hear music, it’s how I process music. From an early age I would think as a drummer. I used my teeth as a drum kit, with the back right side of my teeth being the kick and the front left the snare.  It’s amazing how many beats you can get out of clicking, dragging and rolling your teeth around in your mouth. Probably not the most normal thing in the world, but I didn’t care. And yes, if you are wondering, I did get made fun of for this as a child. 

Drums are melodic.  They are expressive. They are poetic.

I’ve lived many lives musically. I was classically trained as a child, and I was a student of jazz during the most formative years of my life, and I’ve always had rock and roll at my core.  This song is a product of all of those years and experiences.  I improvised the drums as a one pass free think.  A true Audio Journal.  Then I picked up the guitar, tuned it, set up a track to record on, and pressed record.  The drums responding to themselves. The guitar following the drums’ lead. I improvised a chord progression, feel, and timing.  Each performance was a one through pass with no edits.  

Later I decided to add the Korg MS-20 to pull on the acoustic nature of the drums and guitar. My hope was to give them perspective, almost like a person standing in a panoramic landscape shot of a mountain. We never really know how big a landscape is without a frame of reference.  Hopefully the dark synthetic nature of the Korg reminds people of how simple this composition truly is.

On a technical note, the drums are not acoustic drums, they were created using Native Instruments Abbey Roads vintage drummer. The guitar was recorded direct using the Universal Audio Fender 55’ Tweed Deluxe.

Track 10 - Lighter Blues

 

Recorded: October, 2007
Instrumentation: Acoustic Kay Guitar, hand shaker
Tempo:
Audio Stems: No

This week’s song brings us back to 2007.  A time period long before Augustines when Pela had just released Anytown Graffiti and was touring regularly across America.  It was a complex time period in my life, full of lessons on the music industry, working multiple day jobs, and struggling to make a name for myself. It was also a time period where I fully believed in the power of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle. A time when every opportunity was met with optimism.

Lighter Blues is a short and innocent melody played on my Kay acoustic using a lighter for a slide. The recording was made in a half an hour or less with one mic (sm57). The “percussion” was created by simply rubbing my hands together and looping a section. This was long before my days of midi and software instruments. The fingerpicked guitar was doubled, as was the melody, to get a sense of width and space. During the B section, rather than doubling the acoustic I opted to put a stereo delay on a single pass. This delay brought a bit more diversity to the piece, breaking it up from the A section. 

Track 9 - Meditation

 

Recorded: August 8, 2012
Instrumentation: Tibetan meditation bowl, Korg MS-20, Piano, Acoustic Guitar, Voice
Tempo
Audio Stems: No

This week's track is very special to me.  Possibly my favorite on the record.  Truth be told I may be the only person that feels this way, but one thing I've learned about music and art is that no one is an island. If I like it, surely there must be someone somewhere else in the world that feels the same.  

Ambient music has been a major part of my life for decades now.  It's not about the chord progression, or the melody.  It's not about the instrumentation, or the shock value.  Ironically for me, ambient music is about letting go and not actually listening.  A body of work that lives in subtlety, not needing attention.  Not a realist painting, or a drama, but simply a color. Bold or dull.  Like certain types of architecture, something that effects you by its presence more than what it has to say.  

"Meditation" started exactly as that. Early in the morning I rose to a cluttered and confused head. My wife had recently gotten a Tibetan meditation bowl and I decided to make that part of my journal for the day.  

I started this song by setting up a mic, getting comfortable, and recording 10 minutes of the meditation bowl. But for me it's not just recording, it's actually being a part of the sound this bowl makes.  Every scrape, the tone, the bell.  Every accident.  Every breath.  Recording not the idea of meditation, but the actual act of it.  After recording this pass I listened back, realized the bowl was between western pitches, and so I tuned it to a concert E.  Then I set up a mic on my piano, pressed record and did another pass.  Applying the same focus.  

Durning the 3 1/2 minute mark of the song you hear the piano stop, the scraping of the bowl, and a strong tone generated by the bowl.  You also hear me get up from the piano, pick up my guitar and continue the recording on the same microphone.  

After this piano/guitar pass was completed I turned to my MS-20 putting down the sub bass track.  Again, one take, improvised in the moment.  For the gear nerds out there you can hear a pretty dramatics sweep of notes just after the 4 minute mark. This is created by sweeping the low pass filter while in self oscillation.   

I also did a high pass of of the MS-20 that's rapidly moving between notes.  It's a technique I discovered years ago, that with ambient music sometimes incredibly fast moving notes can be soothing.  Almost like finding peace in chaos.  

After adding a vocal improvisation, and simple guitar melody I turned to mix the track. All in all this is a very simple mix, mostly just balancing levels. Though I did one technique that I have myself returning to in other songs. The PSP Echo was placed on the meditation bowl. The delay was set to a fast but singular repeat. This allowed me to pan the original take hard left and the delay right. Creating the feeling of the sound jumping across your ears.

Enjoy this piece as we enter the final phase of this album. A place we're music can be forgotten a little bit and life can happen around it.  
 

Track 8 - Look At Yourself

 

Recorded: January 23rd, 2015
Instrumentation: Samples, Drums, MiniMoog, Vocals, Piano, Strings
Tempo: 131bpm
Audio Stems: Yes

I’m all for new technology in music. Whether it infiltrates your life, permanently changing your workflow or not, there is always something to be learned from using it.  The main reason I feel this way about technology is every designer looks at music from a different perspective.  In the end, music is composed from 12 notes, recording comes down to a few basic concepts, and mixing is really just a few basic processing techniques. The inherent simplicity of everything we do only highlights the vast scope of individuality every person has.

This week's track, “Look At Yourself” was made entirely on Maschine by Native Instruments. For the past few years I had been using an MPC in Augustines to trigger samples live on stage. After years of countless shows and abuse, the MPC finally gave out on me and I switched over to a Maschine. At the time I had no idea how to use it, so naturally I started writing music with it.  The best way to learn anything is hands on. 

This song started with a sample from Feist’s “The Bad In Each Other” that I later heavily processed with parallel compression and EQ. Up next was the simple chord progression with strings and arpeggiated piano. I really wanted to explore more sampling, so I grabbed a Billie Holiday song and chopped it up, trimmed it down and came to the simple phrase, “look at yourself."  The chorus has a sub bass that is a Mini Moog emulation through a distorted Leslie. If you don’t know what these instruments are, it’s definitely worth a google search. The final element was a free pass of vocals that I distorted, heavily EQ’d, and ran though a stereo delay and reverb. If you don’t know about the PSP Echo check it out, I find it wonderful and easy to use. All of the banging and clanging you hear comes from this vocal track. Rather than deleting all of the “dead” space, which so often happen in digital music, I turned it up. I live for the sound of space, always trying to push that in a mix. 

Track 6 - Saturday

 

Recorded: June 16, 2006
Instrumentation: Acoustic Guitar, BaurGyil, Voice, Organ, Guitar
Tempo: 118bpm
Audio Stems: No

Let’s go all of the way back to 2006. I had recently moved into my 5th apartment in NYC in 5 years time. Pela had released our first EP and were starting to tour around the country more and more. And little did I know, but I was laying the foundation of a life style I would be living for the next decade.

“Saturday” was recorded on a beautiful, rainy (Saturday) afternoon. It started with sticking a microphone out the window and simply listening for a while. The guitar part came to me soon after and was recorded on my Kay guitar with a SM57. This recording will certainly not win any awards in the engineering department, nor the editing (as you can hear parts drop out almost randomly), but it is something that was created that day, in that moment, and that cannot be taken away.

Historically this song has a special importance to me because it was the first time I recorded a song with my BaurGyil, a xylophone that was made for me while living in the just outside of Nandom in the Upper West region of Ghana.  The instrument is not tuned to a western scale, making it difficult to record with many of my other instruments. Fortunately I had recently gotten the pitch correction program Melodyne, so I was able to multitrack the various parts, then tune them to fit with the guitar. Magic.

I was also able to work magic in order to make the Steve Reich like vocals. Originally recorded with Diana and I singing into one microphone, I was able to pitch the vocals through the chord progression. This would certainly be an example of “do whatever it takes to make something."  On a technical note there are also some ambient guitars and organ that fill out the mix. I honestly don’t remember the details of these, but I’m sure it was just playing with reverb and delay.

This song also marks the end of side one of the record. Next week begins a new journey that will go even deeper into my past and present a side of me you may not expect.

 

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.