It’s that time of year again, time to unleash my 11th(!) RPM Challenge album on the unwitting public. This year I collaborated with the inimitable Steve Abbott of Geinus, Be Alright and Local Tough fame, an insane riff machine and lovely human being and came up with a new band project called Paper Skull. It was a satisfying and fairly painless collaboration, we exchanged tracks and mixes and he’d come over once a weekend and record some riffs and improvs that I would carve up and make arrangements around then write lyrics to and whatnot. The result is an album a good bit heavier and wilder on guitar freakouts than one of my typical Sad Tax albums but it’s full of gentler grooves and introspective experimental moments. Anyway, I’m very happy with it so give it a friggin’ listen.
It’s that time of year again, the time where I spend the last couple weeks before Christmas writing, recording and producing an original Christmas tune and the accompanying music video for it. The song is usually absurdly tragic or mournful and this years isn’t really an exception. While the narrative isn’t easy to glean from the lyrics this year it’s a song about a war veteran who is injured and wheelchair bound and while working as a mall Santa experiences and severe bout of PTSD and says some unfortunate things to children.
I’m pretty happy with the results this year, I got the immortal fingers of Victor Lewis to play some guitar solos after the first chorus and I got my lovely life partner Michelle to sing some choir vocals behind me. The video was an idea I've had jangling around in my skull for awhile where I take a stationary long take and slowly zoom out to reveal that it’s in a totally different location. It’s pretty rough in spots and if I had given myself more than a week to put it all together I could have ironed out some of these creases but y’know, that’s life and whatnot.
Local sweetheart Ashton Whitt asked me to make the album cover for his band Cicerone's debut album. The album is fucking sick, I always knew Ashton as a bass player wunderkind for some of my favourite local loud bands such as The Darts, Bad Milk and Puce but he really surprised me with his lovely singing voice and rock solid classic song writing chops. Great production, great arrangements, it's the good shit. I wanted to do something special for it so I did a proper painting for it which is something I haven't done for any other clients. I did a full 2 by 4 foot painting this is a cropping of the full piece which is this:
The Burning Hell are one of my all time favourite live bands and Matthias Kom is a lyricist and performer I've looked up for many years now. When he asked me to make a poster for their upcoming tour I felt I should bring my A game. This isn't the first time we've collaborated, I directed a music video for them a few years back, but it's the first time my illustration skills have come into play. I'm pretty happy with the final result. Anyway, let me introduce the band we got:
Darren CariBoobie Brown
Go check em' out if you see them in the wild.
Local wunderkind artist and musician and Argentinian transplant Pepa Chan asked me if I'd be up to making a music video for her Spanish language pop band Lo Siento ("I'm sorry" in English) I didn't have much on the go at that moment and Pepa's the best so I said yes. The song she wanted me to tackle was "No Tengo Remedio" and when I listened to it, it's such a jangly, uptempo, tight little pop number that my head swam with visions of technicolour rainbows and crazy Saturday morning cartoon nonsense. Then out of curiosity I translated the lyrics to English and it is the darkest, bleakest song about deep anxiety and depression imaginable. So I felt compelled to use a technique I've fooled around with on a few of projects like this music video and bits of this and some little segments in my movie where do a thing where I make compound printout sheets made of each of the frames of a video and then I draw on them and spray them with water or crumple them up and iron them straight and then scan them into photoshop and reanimate them. I end up with a bunch of sheets of paper like this.
I got the process time down to about 8 to 10 minutes to scan the page, tweak it and reanimate it. All things considered the video took a lot less screwing around with than I thought it would. The most irritating part of the project was jiggering around with settings to keep the youtube video compression algorithm from mangling the image into oblivion. I really like the effect of this process (it gives everything a really interesting random handcrafted texture) but compression algorithms absolutely hate it as basically every pixel on the image changes from frame to frame. Anyway, I got it down to point where I'm happy the effect isn't too muddled or at least not more muddy than it was by design. I think the video turned out pretty fun and spastic, just like the band. Give em' a listen when you got the chance.
Well it's that time of year again, for the tenth time around I've holed myself away for 28 days and resurfaced (probably physically worse for wear) with over an hours worth of "entertainment". Actually I'm really happy with this one, I drifted a bit out of my comfort zone here and there, I got a couple properly catchy tunes out of it I'm pretty satisfied with it but as it's only been a day I have no real perspective. There's a bit of a theme of the horrors of domestic life in there plus a bunch more flights of fancy. I'm still very tired. Anyway, check it out here on bandcamp if the embed above doesn't work for some reason and check out all the other local RPMers while you're at it, real good crop this year.
In the music industry traditionally Christmas songs were written and recorded around the middle of summer in July or August because the radio stations needed the new Christmas songs in October to screen them for December airplay. Forcing people to write sentimental winter themed tunes in the middle of the summer is the recipe for all the trite cynical bullshit that we are forced to hear every year around this time. I started this annual Christmas music video project 9 years ago with the idea that Christmas songs should be written and recorded as close to Christmas day as possible to capture more of that Christmas essence. A couple times I've cheated and started it in November but most of them were made start to finish within a week or two of Christmas day. I quickly came to really enjoy writing them because it runs parallel to my other quest to write the saddest song in the world, you can make any sad song a hundred times more sad by placing it on Christmas day. Anyway, this years Christmas tune is about ghosts dancing forever tied to one spot on the ground in some icy northern place on Christmas night wishing they could be somewhere else. It's the most up-tempo Christmas tune I've ever written and I filmed the video a couple days ago but putting my partner in a sheet and making her dance around with various instruments tied to her. I think it turned out pretty fun, I hope you enjoy it!
I always felt bad that I never made a music video for the No Culture album "River Post Motion" from the RPM before last, I just didn't have the energy for some reason. A couple months ago I got a chance to video a beached humpback whale in Bottle Cove that was in the process of drifting back out to sea. I was fascinated by the undulating mass of it and the alien landscape of it's ragged, craggy, decomposing flesh. When I was thinking about what I could do with the footage, short of writing a whole new song to fit it, this song (probably my best attempt to replicate a swans style shoegaze song) stood out as the best fit. It was a quick late night weekend editing job and I'm pretty happy with the end result, although I literally finished it a half hour ago so I haven't had much of a chance to reflect on it.
In classic move on my part I decided I was going to make a quick experimental music video over a couple weekends and then spent a good 2 and half months picking away at it. The song is one of my favourites off this years RPM Challenge album Radical Pastel Miracles, or at least the song that suited the video idea the most. I had wanted to play around with motion tracking and (pretty garbage) facial mapping in after effects. So I painted a bunch of dots on myself and filmed me lipsyncing to the song.
After that I would make random shapes in random colours and track them to different points on my face. I cut the video into thirty second chunks and made 10 or 11 different moving masks. I layered them all together on top of a background of moving geometric shapes, then after I finished off the composition file I then took the camera back out again and handheld filmed the screen with a vaselined lense to add some movement and texture to the final product and edited the handheld shots to create some rhythm and dynamics. And there you go, process! I'm pretty happy with it.
Well this year's RPM Challenge album was one of the smoothest I think I've had in the last 9 years of doing them. Lyrics flowed easy, I didn't have to fight a pile of chords into making sense, and even though I had to sit out the first week to finish off a different project I still didn't feel rushed and I'm reasonably happy/proud of the results. After completing the first couple rpm challenges it became less about it being a "challenge" where I'm proving to myself or to others that I can do a thing and more about the importance of a creative ritual in one's life. Like a type of lent where I create a thing for the world that nobody really asked for and celebrate by listening to what everybody else in my life made in that same time.
I mean, yeah I guess there is a bit of showmanship involved, I'm trying every year to make the best album I can make in that month and I hope that people are impressed by it and enjoy it. But one of the first things you learn about the challenge is that it's not very effective as self promotion to put out an album on the same day as when a hundred and fifty of your friends put out their own. But it's still very satisfying to do and I look forward to it every year.
Having an annual project with a strict deadline and a defined goal with a significantly sized community of participants and supporters with an emphasis on completion and participation as opposed to reward or potential commercial success turns out is a recipe for inspiration. The fact that I have no problem making an RPM album every year for the last 9 years but have strained and poked at my latest non-rpm album for like 3 or 4 years now is proof of that. When you eliminate the need to do things "right" or the "best way" and make everything about what is the best way I can do things "right now" because I only got 28 days to make at least 10 songs or 35 minutes of content it actually focuses you and opens you up to all sorts of creative solutions you wouldn't have thought of before.
It feels like every time I've brought up the RPM challenge to my mom she'll ask me "so is there a prize involved?" and I say "no, it's a challenge not a contest". Then she'll ask "so it's like good promotion? it gets people listening to your work?" and I'll say "well, kinda yes, there's listening parties and stuff but it's not great self promotion", then she'll leave it at that because she knows it's better to imply a criticism with me with me than fully engage me in one if she doesn't want to fully stir me up into a lather. But the thing is with the rpm challenge, if this was an annual contest with a serious prize or some big promotional endeavor where you got played on a bunch of showcases I doubt I would've participated more than once or twice.
When you change the motivations for a creative endeavor from something personally fulfilling to something commercial or competitive you change the whole tenor of the project. It's not always necessarily a bad thing (sometimes it's exactly what you need) but when the project is something you deeply connect to your name or identity it runs a heavy risk of fouling yourself towards your own work and weakening your resolve to continue making. At least that's how it effects me. It's kinda the reason I very rarely go after public grants or other proposals, I can always taste the committee mandate in every stroke of my brush like some sorta alien spice in my curry.
When I discuss my work as a "calling" as opposed to a "career" or a "business" I'm only being slightly pretentious and I'm not bragging at all, it is entirely inconvenient, stupid and awful to have a calling in this world. If this was a career I could have some flexibility in the projects I do, I could change things to suit others needs and not feel sick to my stomach. I could concentrate on what others want from me and not what work desperately needs to come out of me now. If this was a career I could detach myself from what I do by saying "well it's just this job" and feel satisfaction in the fact that I sold something and possibly helped improve my lot in life and maybe not feel a profound, sickening emptiness and self betrayal at every compromise I've made towards MY ART. God fucking forbid.
Is a "calling" just another word for some easily diagnosable mental illness probably related to depression or narcissism? very possibly. Do I feel like a total asshole writing about my work like I have the last two paragraphs? Oh my Jesus yes. Do I plan to take any actions to bring about change in my behaviors or thought patterns? What? no, of course not, that would cut into time I need to concentrate on MY ART. Anyway, what was I talking about before? oh yeah, RPMs! RPMs are great, if you check the St. John'S tag on bandcamp you'll find oodles of them there or you can check my bandcamp collection page and the top two and half rows are all new rpm albums I've purchased the last few days, plus a lot of other good stuff is on there. Yeah. cool. Talk to you later.