Textural landscapes, upgrading techniques
This is an exploration of some things that went into the creation of Anthems for Inner Peace.
Logic Pro X
Chameleon Labs TS-1 (discontinued)
1970s Lowrey organ
Some software VSTs
Martin 00-18v steel string
Cervantes G55 signature series nylon string
I released Phoenix in 2020 right at the beginning of the pandemic, at a time when I had gone through a major breakup through 2018-2019. To say that I was reconsidering everything would be an understatement ... I was hovering around suicidal ideation for a prolonged period there. Forlorn and dwelling, stewing, it took a lot of effort and help to emerge gradually, as I moved into a new home, reformed my social world, and attempted to find myself anew. I had created Phoenix from this period, where I would put my grief into creating the songs that would later become the album. I pushed it out like a prolonged labor: using great effort at times, struggling to feed myself, drink water, then back to the studio for more catharsis. I could feel that I didn't totally have the skill or ability or mindfulness to do the songs like I really wanted to, technically, with precision, and subtlety. I threw them out anyway, recorded the whole thing, did fairly good versions of songs, emerged, and even pressed a vinyl (! ... you can buy one). I thought I might go on my first tour, and then the pandemic happened.
It was hard to have reached a point of readiness to consider performing again, touring, forming a group. It was truly a crushing time for me... what fragile artistic confidence I had was fizzing out under the weight of the lockdown.
Like for many people, the pandemic and subsequent years of home time brought up a lot of questions: what is worth doing, what will give me a feeling of life-giving vitality again, what is important? Knowing that things could go away unexpectedly, what do I most want to do with my energy, which is so clearly limited by this physical life? I had considered questions like this before ... yet it was deeper, more present.
Gradually I found myself going back to music, for healing and reintegration.
With a renewed dedication to finding refinement and clarity, I began writing and practicing recordings. I think of this time as when I tricked myself into recording an album.
I did some experimentation and tried giving myself a sense of permission to do whatever-the-fuck. I tried out some synth textures, bought my first Juno synthesizer, learned how to do arpeggios, studied Nils Frahm and watched studio videos of him over and over to figure out what synth, what little effects box, what mic placement technique I could pick up and use. I learned a lot during this time. Part of what came initially was Soft Glory - an instrumental track based around piano and synth with deep bass frequencies. Finally I felt like I was having fun again, enjoying not knowing what sounds would happen next, stretching my identity a bit to find new ways of thinking about music and songwriting.
One major realization that kept happening for me was how open music is. The limitless possibilities. Even within the small arena I was exploring (predictable rhythms, recognizable instrumentation), a song could be so many things. Spacious, dense, fast, slow, fast/slow, slow/fast, different meters. In a way this was overwhelming because the choice was clearly in my hands and body to direct: where does inspiration come from? How to trust impulse and go with something that feels good? How to get into the state of good creative flow, where the songs have their own power, and just come through?
I don't think I can fully describe how I learned to let it happen more, but I think it had a lot to do with letting go. Also I think I took enough naps, drank enough water, ate some of the right food, went to therapy sessions, danced, had good connection with friends and loved ones ... all this coalesced into creating a list of 8 songs that spanned my neo-classical interests, folk and classical roots, desire for more power, interest in texture for texture's sake, and the like.
I went through a major studio transformation during this time, adding numerous DIY sound absorbing panels to the ceiling and walls. Also I cleared out a lot of space to move and create, trying out different condensed and expanded keyboard setups, where all the gear could be at my fingertips for easy manipulation, like in this video:
Also a friend let me borrow a Buchla Music Easel for some months, the colorful keyboard gear on my right in the video with lots of knobs. It makes lots of incredible sounds and is deeply customizable, giving you access to all the parameters of a sound to adjust, and it opened up so many different worlds to me. Though those sounds didn't make it onto the album, they helped formulate the consciousness space I was in at the time.
Logistically, I had to figure out how to create better music with what gear I already had (which was objectively fairly substantial). Everything I was learning about music production told me that it was a matter of using what you already have, and using it well, with more skill and mindfulness of its capabilities. Not getting new gear, or chasing analogue antiques, or the perfect tape machine. So I set out to learning where in my process I could improve.
Panels: Initially I discovered that room treatment had to be improved. Hence sound panels, and re-arranging instruments so that panels lived over my main mixing area.
The upgraded sound panels
Recording: I discovered that I had been recording at far too low of levels, which was causing lots of noise on the back end of mixing when I wanted to make things louder. If you don't know, when you don't record at a very high level, when you turn the volume up during mixing, formerly invisible sounds like noise from the mics or the room come through and create a muddier mix. So, fixing this makes a better end product
Song focus: I realized in recording this album that the time I was spending one on song, I used to spend on maybe 2-5 songs before. Putting more in, and fleshing out the details of what a song could become. Doing more takes, being willing to admit that I didn't do something as well as I could have. Returning, again and again.
The Inner Work:
I've been working for the last few years on arriving in more inward and outer harmony and upgrading the way I approach music / life ... more musical precision, physical presence, more fully feeling. I'm inspired by the musicians that have come before me, that have shown me some of the way: Nils Frahm, Olafur Arnalds, José Gonzalez, Aphex Twin, Sufjan Stephens, Sigur Rós, to name just a few.
Trauma: It's a lot to work through layers of past traumas that have still been living in my body, which hinder me from expressing fluidly and easefully. I think i'm attempting to achieve that space that the mystics like Hafiz talk about; communion with spirit, arriving in oneness with creation, the eternal dance of devotion. I'm listening as best I am able to the universal music, that wants to express itself through me. I don't think there's anything better for me to do with my time, but to keep returning to the deep space of listening, and attempting to receive and create something true. Being of service.
So I've been working for quite some time and with a lot of dedication, to uncover something more pure. I think i've done that to some extent with this album: a bit more playing precision, lyrics that speak a bit deeper to the way I really feel.
At the risk of overly describing things, and/or cutting it all too short, i'll finish by saying that this music already feels outdated. It is what it is. I'm glad that it stands up pretty well to time .. i'm listening to the album as I write this, and it feels well crafted overall. Some things I would have taken more time with, others are great and lovely and I couldn't have done it any better. Such is the artistic journey, always evolving. It sometimes seems outdated even as it's getting released. Thankfully even that has changed, and I feel even a bit more breathing room to say, "that was as much as I knew how to do at the time," and that it's good to keep the forward motion, put those realizations into the next creations, keep producing.
Thank you for being on the journey with me.