Recording the TPP

If you know me at all, you’ve probably already had me bug you about my band’s EP, which you can hop over one subdomain to and download.

You can also listen to & download most of the EP here, via SoundCloud:

(I tried several of these online music sharing services and this is the first one I’ve liked. Of course I found it right after I just caved in and set up an Amazon S3 account to host the files, for the next few weeks at least. Unfortunately, you can only upload 5 songs per month to SoundCloud, so to get all 6 songs, you’ll have to download the whole EP for now. “The Project” and “The Curse” are my two favorites at the moment.)

This was tons of fun to do and I feel pretty good about the way it came out. Sure, it’s a little rough in places: from some heavy “p popping” in the vocals to some cringe-worthy out-of-tune moments on all of our parts, etc. But here’s the amazing thing to me: we didn’t spend a dime on recording this. We used only stuff we already had, which, in addition to our instruments, included:

All the guitar parts are me playing my trusty Carvin kit guitar straight through the UX1 using almost exclusively the “Soldano” emulator that comes with the UX1 (I think DND has the only exceptions: the solo is the “Marshall” and the bridge is the “Roland” clean channel). The bass, vocals & drums went through the UX1 as well. The base of every song is a “live” drum track and a guitar track that Chris and I recorded simultaneously (using the UX1’s two inputs). After that we’d layer on everything else. (And on about half of the songs, almost nothing remains of that initial guitar track I recorded with Chris either.)

Comparing this to the quality of recordings I made with my (relatively expensive!) tape 4-track back in the day, it’s pretty damn good. Sometimes our equipment limited us (shoulda bought/made a pop filter for the vocals, the cracked symbol did not help, a good set of mixing monitors/headphones would’ve helped, multiple mics would’ve been a good thing, etc.), but many of the problems are also just things we could’ve fixed if we weren’t rushing through it (we did this in a few 3-4 hour sessions over a two week period).

So it was a fun learning experience. For example, mixing: not so easy. You can’t just make it sound good on whatever you’re listening to at the moment because different systems vary drastically. On my MacBook with in-ear buds, I had the songs sounding great…and then I’d put on a different set of headphones, or listen in the car, or even listen to the mix with the same headphones plugged into my iMac or an iPod instead & it’d sound awful. Obviously, good studio equipment would’ve helped but I think it turned out “okay” because I just realized you have to go for a very neutral, flat mix, which often means making it sound worse on whatever particular system you’re mixing on. (Especially when you’re using cheap consumer electronics for all this: you don’t realize how much even two otherwise identical iPods vary in sound until you listen really closely to your own music where you know every detail.)

As for the music: it’s fun music, I think. For most of the songs, I’d suggest a main riff, we’d collectively work on said riff and come up with a few changes together in practice, then I’d structure them into coherent songs & put some tabs up on a wiki for everyone to learn, and then we took turns coming up with lyrics.

As you can tell, we realized early on that none of us were up for writing serious lyrics, so we just had fun trying to cram every single metal cliche into the songs. But hey, silly words aside, I’m proud of many of the vocal melodies we came up with. I honestly do not know how people can sit down and write lyrics that they expect the world to take seriously. It’s easy to come up with melodies and pointless, but fun, lyrics that fit in with that. I admire anyone who can say, “I’m going to make a statement about X” and make it musical. That takes guts. Or a giant ego. Maybe both.

We’re playing an “EP Release Party” tomorrow night. (If you’re in the Twin Cities and want to come, email me for the info.) And then on Sunday, we move to Kansas City. Who knows what will come of the TPP. I’m glad we squeezed this in before I left because now I feel like we have some document of what we’ve done over the last year. I know, I know, the project is mostly just fun and silly (seriously, we started as a cover band for our sociology department gatherings: we played “Footloose” and “Blame it on your lying, cheating heart” our first gig…), but I’ve been a guitar player since I was 8 years old and this is the first time I’ve had a band — where I could write songs and then actually hear other people play it. It’s definitely been a nice side project to have while writing this damn dissertation, I’ll say that much.