April 4, 2009
so i was watching friday night lights tonight, which, since big love ended, is i think the best traditional hour long tv drama. i say this even though i’ve only seen like three episodes of it but those were really enough to convince me of how good it is. my favorite part of tonight’s episode was this exchange between this kind of loser-y (yet lovable) football player landry and his object of affection tyra and their story in this episode was that tyra had to write her college admissions essay and tyra is this girl who has a heart of gold and dreams and things but is not like completely book learnin’ smart (at least yet) and landry has been helping her to better herself and so she tries to write her college admission essay and it sucks and she’s sad but then he helps her to understand that she has so many inspiring things in her life which have taught her simple but profound lessons which would be good for her college admissions essays and are at the same time also proof that she is wonderful and amazing and worthy of love and then they kiss in a hotel room and shit. the show rode the line between pathos and bathos SO hard w/re: to this stuff; i mean, just to point out one thing, there was a magnolia-esque montage of all the different characters in emotional moments and the audio underneath it was this fingerpicked guitar and then tyra’s voice comes in and you realize she’s reading the admissions essay she’s just finished writing and it is really sad and it was so close to being so something cheesy you don’t want but it was like a kid who is walking along a beam and sort of wobbles and but doesn’t fall, like it just kept being good and never went into badness and it did this not through self-conscious apologies for being bad or tricks to get around it but just by making me care about the characters which is a really hard thing to make me do because i don’t have feelings so much. so watching it really made me want to make something unironic and un-meta and, like, simple and pure and emotional (god, i sound like the worst altbrohipsterrunoffetcetera here), kind of the opposite of that teenage wasteland song i did which practically needs footnotes or whatever to make sense.
so i wanted to do something simple and earnest and singer-songwritery and just dripping with authenticity but the thing is i don’t ever record whole songs live to tape, one take wonders and everything. i think i’ve done it maybe twice the whole time i’ve been recording. what i usually do, because i’m not a good musician and especially i have terrible rhythm, is i make loops of all the instrumental parts, a verse loop, a chorus loop, etc. and then i fix the loops (via either MIDI or audio timestretching) so that they sound, you know, musical, the way music is supposed to sound (or as close as i can get them to this platonic ideal), and i try to make enough loops and vary them and mix them so that it doesn’t sound repetitive and then when i have my loops laid down i record a bunch of vocal takes to try to get something usable and then i don’t get something usable so i chop up the vocal section by section and use the best takes. without this patented looping and fixing process, i wouldn’t be able to make songs quickly and simply, which is the thing that’s satisfying to me about music as opposed to writing prose, that it’s fast and easy and you do it and then it’s done and you have it and there’s no sort of you know agony. but then there is agony sometimes, too! like how in response to my friday night lights feelings, i tried to do my unironic, un-meta alt country cover of “oxford comma” (i figured i would do a vampire weekend song since i dissed them in that last song) but after like a half hour of screwing around i just couldn’t come up with anywhere near a usable take. which i really think is kind of funny — like, i’ve released 70 songs now and i still can’t play through a simple 3 minute pop song in one take of guitar and voice (!). the big thing that classic rock guys say in interviews is that if you really want to know if you’ve got a good song, you’ve got to be able to play it with just acoustic guitar and voice, no other stuff, which i think is totally stupid authenticity fetish man alone with his guitar and feelings crap but maybe i just feel that way because i can’t play a song with acoustic guitar and voice without messing up.
i always think it’s really interesting to see process, the making of things and all that paris review interview stuff — when i was in film school, i read one of those william goldman screenplay books that they make you read when you’re in film school and i remember he was talking about heist movies and he says that the most pleasurable part of heist movies is where you get the guys together, with their various skills and abilities, and they make the plans for the heist, like, watching the heist itself is never as good as watching them make the plan for the heist. i think that’s totally true (i touched on something similar to this re: commando in dear heidi, part 5) and then in sympathy for the devil there are those amazing parts with the stones jamming and they’re just so interesting and so good, to see them at work and how they come to make the thing they’re making. i’ve never been the kind of music fan who really sought out alternate takes or demos or rarities but all the same i’m kind of glad for them to exist somewhere to be discovered; even if i don’t care about them, i like to think they’re cared about by somebody. anyway, this is not anywhere near so interesting or good as the “sympathy for the devil” sessions but anyway here is twenty four minutes or so of me trying unsuccessfully to sing “oxford comma” tonight. (if you listen to the whole thing you will have nightmares, it’s like the lo fi indie rock version of the ring)