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Nov 30, 04 08:38 AM

Mixing.

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Dan has rented a number of fun-looking boxes with lights on them.

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I'm back at Dan's in Minneapolis; we're in the home stretch. Mixing. Dan's rented a bunch of compressors and EQs that look lovely to me, but I have no idea how one would actually implement them. Like I've said before: I'm not an engineer. Don't pretend to be. My essential function here is to say, about three times a day, "Yeah, that sounds great!"

(although "Get Along" from Evenhand, one of the Skittish/Rockty bonus tracks, is a home recording of mine, don't that beat all?)

My manager Jim calls up and jokes: "What's up, Sir Mix-a-Little?" I say: Man, you are overstating my participation in this process by a long shot.

So: this process is about keeping distracted. Lots of magazines. Spending much time on Dan's stationary bike. I intend to buy Mutual Funds for Dummies. And, of course, searching frantically for more items under $10 on Amazon, as you people keep snapping 'em up.

Everything's sounding really good, though. Guitars thicker, bass growlier. (that sentence a la ee cummings, "muscles better and nerves more"--?!).

Posted by Mike at 8:38 AM | Comments (15)

Nov 29, 04 08:48 AM

Gift City.

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My half-joking Downloader's Amnesty Plan has been weirdly successful.

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Good people have already purchased, on Amazon, for me: a set of pens, a bar of soap, three nice notebooks, three pairs of socks, a ball pein hammer, and fake-fur lined handcuffs.

Yipes!

Every day this past weekend I've had to troll through Amazon, searching for cheap items to put on there, so that one doesn't click on the wishlist and think, "I downloaded one song, and this guy wants me to buy him an iPod?!"

I want to just say for the record that you really don't have to buy me this stuff, it's OK by me if you've downloaded my songs.

But, if you've got a yen to band together and get me that Nord Electro keyboard--who could argue?

PS--Whereas it's hilarious to buy me some tiny non-sequitur of a gift, a better use of money would be to donate generously to the Musicians' Assistance Program. They help people.

Posted by Mike at 8:48 AM | Comments (21)

Nov 26, 04 01:40 PM

The Skittish Downloader's Amnesty Plan.

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Those of you who've downloaded Skittish illegally sometime between 1999 and now--I'm not gonna insist that you buy it all over again when it's rereleased on December 7--I'm gonna let bygones be bygones. I propose an offer of amnesty:

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The real drag, for me, about all the surreptitious downloading is the passing-around of unfinished, rough-mixed versions, sometimes with scratch tracks of certain instruments that I really don't want on the final version, scratch vocals that aren't comped, etc.. (particularly the rough mixes of the new record I'm doing with Dan, ouch, that sucks.)

But many come up to me at shows expressing anxiety about ripping me off economically. Which really doesn't bother me all that much--file-sharing in general has been a real boon for me. (nonetheless, those that stand in the CD-selling line and say, "Could you sign my burned copy of Rockity?" Uh, NO.)

But, if your guilt is truly overwhelming, any of these will be graciously and gratefully accepted.

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PS, I did OK at Thanksgiving--that is to say, I ate like a maniac with tremendous sensual pleasure. Thanks to all that wrote nice notes about my battle with the inner fat man--I lost 20 pounds this year, mostly by changing my woefully unexamined teenage rock and roll eating habits. I'm just trying to stay diligent.

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Posted by Mike at 1:40 PM | Comments (26)

Nov 24, 04 12:52 PM

Where's Paris?

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I battle the inner fat man.

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Going up to Connecticut. A good friend is deep frying a turkey. I meant to diet solely on salad for the week preceding this lard fest, but sadly, last night at the Knicks game (a friend gave me his season tix that he wasn't using--I've never been before), my companion bought me a footlong, Skittles, nachos, and Edy's ice cream with nuts. What was I supposed to do?

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Posted by Mike at 12:52 PM | Comments (22)

Nov 23, 04 08:28 AM

These Roads Have Me Vexed.

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I'm remembering this rapper I saw in Asheville, North Carolina.

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A couple Summers ago, I was skint and didn't take my annual trip to an exotic location: instead, I rented a bitchin' Mustang, and I drove to my friend Kelly Sue's in Kansas City. Then I drove south, to Branson, to Oxford and Clarksdale, Mississippi, Memphis, and then I headed to Asheville with the intention of driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway and then back home.

It was the day of the New York black out, which, after an initial panic (I asked a waitress at a Tennessee Cracker Barrel if she knew what was going on, and she replied, in her charming Southern drawl, "You mean here in Cooksville?"), I was melancholy to be absent for.

It was raining torrentially. I drove into Asheville, checked into a hotel, and headed to the Mellow Mushroom, which you may mock but is in fact a ridiculously tasty slice of pizza.

There was a DJ spinning instrumental hip hop tracks, and local hippie kids were getting up on the mic and rapping. It was fascinating: I mean, these were hippie kids, dreadlocked, poncho-wearing hippie kids. A procession of them got on the mic and rocked it to varying degrees of proficiency, each with, hilariously, a take on a current rapper's style: a hippie kid Snoop, a hippie kid Del, a dreadlocked Nelly manqué.

There was a dishwasher in the kitchen that I could see from my table. He was nodding his head to the track, clearly working out a strategy for freestyle, getting into the sound of the track. And then, when he was ready, he would put the dishes down and head over to the mic, wiping his hands on an apron. He was psyched, the words right there at his command, ready to rock it.

And then the moment he got on the mic, the DJ, who'd been spinning the same instrumental for a while, switched up the track. Faced with this new track, the hippie dishwasher's momentum collapsed, he halfheartedly tried to apply his meticulous plan to the new track, but always faltered, and would end unsatisfyingly and walk dejectedly back to the dishes, only to repeat the same pattern twenty minutes later, then again, then again.

I almost got up and had a word with the DJ, who was oblivious to the tragedy: Don't change the beat yet! Let the dishwasher have his moment. Please!

There was one rapper who was absolutely fantastic. He was actually dressed somewhat like a rapper, with only a modicum of hippie accoutrements. He brought a girlfriend with a taut belly and a giant buckle, and a notebook. He would get on the mic and the whole pizza parlour would elevate--all eight of us sitting at the tables in the Mellow Mushroom, munching, captivated. The amazing rain banging on the roof made us feel closed in, intimate, focussed. It was an extraordinary, urgent performance.

I really wanted to talk to him. I thought--Asheville rapper kid, why are you trying to sound like you're black? You're so talented. Go this route and you'll be good; find your unique and honest self, and you'll be great.

He had a line I remember: "These streets have got me vexed." These streets? The streets of North Carolina? Try these roads have me vexed. Wow, wouldn't it be awesome for a white hippie kid rapper to emerge from the Blue Ridge Mountains, not aping the rappers in vogue, but with his own bracingly honest style?

Posted by Mike at 8:28 AM | Comments (18)

Nov 21, 04 11:42 AM

Mini Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaves.

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Saw Mason Jennings at the Mercury Lounge Saturday night.

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We went out to Vegetarian Dim Sum House, on Pell Street, to eat before the show. Lotus root cakes, mashed taro treasure boxes, vegetarian mock pork steamed dumplings, turnip cakes, sesame paste buns. Mason and Chris (the bass player) and Chad (the front of house guy) were unfamiliar with Chinatown--"What's it called? Dim Sum? What is that, exactly?" That's the brilliance of living in New York--for all our tiny homes and surly fellow passengers on the F train--the joy of taking visitors to eat amazing, exotic food.

His songs were taut and drawly, Chris bobbing and bouncing, cracking, papery snare and chiming, arpeggiated acoustic guitar. Ben Kweller (my new labelmate, who hugged me when he met me) and Haley Bonar guested. Sometimes the songs heated up, and Mason would get so passionate he would seem dangerous, whipping the guitar neck around in a fast axis, WHAP! such that I would fear Brian, the drummer, getting conked in the head.

Hung with the musicians in the Merc's dank basement afterwards. Glenn Morrow, head of Bar/None and chillest man in the music industry, was there. Chris and Haley tried to force cannoli on me, and when I refused, pleading that I was battling my Inner Fat Man, Chris ate them theatrically, describing them in erotic detail as he munched.

There was a piece of graffiti in the dressing room: TITS ARE STILL COOL.

Posted by Mike at 11:42 AM | Comments (17)

Nov 19, 04 04:56 PM

I Met the Charlottesville Mafia.

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Dave and I are very suspicious of you.

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OK, no, we're not, really.

I went down to Charlottesville to meet the peeps at my record company. It was awesome. They have this air of liberation about them--as in, they can work in the music business without having to live in New York or Los Angeles. I liked 'em a lot; they've clearly got a powerful and funky operation; this is gonna be good. As I've said here in the past, ATO is pretty much my dream label.

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Before the gig, I was summoned to the DMB studio--one might say, the Dave Cave--and thanked Dave for inviting me into his righteous cause. They also played me a few tracks, which sounded great--there was one in particular that I thought was a really fantastic progression for them, I fear mentioning the title would be talking out of school. Also, their choice of producer, which was suprising and great.

Dave gave me a tour of the Dave Cave; it's a swank set-up, for sure.

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A fun show, too; I was energized by the hang with Dave, and I felt like I played great. The crowd was fun and friendly, except for a couple of chatties up front (I hate it when the chatties are up front--c'mon, pal, go back to the bar, at least, willya?)

I was signing stuff after the show and two girls walk up. "We have two things to say to you." Okay. "First of all, in 'Rising Sign', when you say 'I resent the way you make me like myself,' do you mean, I resent you making me appreciate myself, or I resent you making me similar to myself?"

Both, it's a double entendre.

"Oh, wow! It's such a great song, wow, I love that song so much! And the second thing is: WHY DID YOU YELL AT US FOR TALKING, WE'RE MAD AT YOU AND YOU LOST TWO FANS TONIGHT AND WE'RE NEVER GONNA COME SEE YOU AGAIN."

Posted by Mike at 4:56 PM | Comments (28)

Nov 18, 04 06:17 AM

Home; And, Memory of a Near-Miss.

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I found myself in a strangely familiar place when I arrived at JFK last night.

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I deplaned, and found myself walking down a long hallway as I moved towards the taxi stand. Suddenly I realized where I was.

Years and years ago, I went to Jamaica with school friends--and a girl that I was mad for who broke up with me like three days before our vacation--and had to come back early to start a job driving a delivery van for a gourmet ice cream company. I smuggled some weed in my socks. Just a little; packets that fit snug in the arches of my feet.

When we got to JFK, we were walking down a long hallway, then suddenly were stopped. A flight from Eastern Europe deplaned, and they were let right through. I believe it was Lithuania. Why them and not us? I thought. A bad, bad feeling.

Suddenly, a little door opened up at the far end of this ominous, sleek hallway, and a cop came out with a scrappy-looking little dog. We were instructed to put our bags down on the floor beside us. At this point I was shitting bricks.

The dog came close. He was a few feet behind me, and barked. "Good boy," said the cop. Then he went a few feet in front of me, and barked. "Good boy," said the cop.

Then they let us through. I thought I was home free. I picked up my guitar at the baggage claim and went to the supermarket-checkout like customs station. I was chatting pleasantries with a tourist lady, and then two cops and a guy with a cop-mustache, dressed in a black t-shirt, with a badge on a chain, came up. Step over here, please.

The tourist lady got a great cocktail story; I was talking to this seemingly nice kid at customs--turned out to be a drug smuggler!

They asked me the same questions over and over again, as they sliced open my guitar case with a knife (I had secured the locks with duct tape, and I guesss they found it easier to just slice the lock off than fuss with the tape), dumped my dirty clothes out on a table. Where are you going? Where did you come from? Why do you live in New York but have a PA driver's license? Why are you travelling alone? Oh. Oh. I see. Now where are you going? And why are you travelling alone?

They took me to a private room. Gave me a thorough pat down. I was near to bursting into tears. Take off your hat, said the mustache man. He shook it out, smelled it. Now take off your shoes. He shook each out, smelled them. I was waiting for him to ask me to take off my socks.

But he sighed, and he let me go. I gathered up my dirty clothes and guitar and hacked-up guitar case haphazardly in my arms, feeling lightheaded, babbling ha ha ha jokey stuff to sound innocent, and then I got on the bus.

Posted by Mike at 6:17 AM | Comments (25)

Nov 17, 04 08:11 AM

Scramble to Wrap.

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A couple passes at vocals on a couple songs, a few more guitar tracks, then madly going through everything to make sure we're done.

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Theoretically, when I return to Mpls after Thanksgiving, we'll just jump into mixing, without fussing with the overdubs. Dan's going to do a lot while I'm gone, a lot of comping.

I sleep in New York tonight, then I fly to Charlottesville in the morning. All day I meet the people at my new record company, then play Starr Hill that evening.

Bruce, my A&R guy, called to check in last night. Dan spoke with him, then handed it to me. "It's your A&R guy," Dan said. Wow. It sounded so surreal to me. It's been a long time since I've had a record deal.

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Posted by Mike at 8:11 AM | Comments (22)

Nov 16, 04 08:30 AM

Dan Wilson: Wild-Eyed Wild Man of Rock and Roll.

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The indomitable John Munson came over in the morning and played trombone parts on "American Car."

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I woke up late. 8 am! "Like a pasha," said Dan, as I stumbled out of the guest room, which is adjacent to the studio. He was already working, on headphones. Oh, I hate oversleeping. Though it's a rare musician that feels guilty when starting work at the advanced hour of 8:30.

Munson, ever delightful, came over with his horn, jumped right in the booth, and did a great part, a whole choir/section of trombones following the changes: an idea we cribbed from Joe Tex's "The Love You Save May Be Your Own." He's been crazy busy with his adopted daughter Jing-Jing, so he had to rock and get the hell out of there.

Dan and I talked about Dig!, and the scenes we dug: the familiar treachery of the A&R people, the scene where the Dandys hork the Brian Jonestown Massacre's party crash pad for a photo shoot, showing up while the BJM are still sleeping off hangovers, camera crew in tow, and setting up shots in various rooms of the house as members of the other band emerged, rubbing their eyes.

We anticipate that Dan and my records will be out around the same time in the Spring. We resolved to do our own version of the Dandys/Brian Jonestown feud. With Dan in the role of the crazed, careening Anton Newcombe of the BJM, interrupting tunes to scream at bandmates who do their parts wrong, then pushing them off the stage, kicking audience members in the head. Of course.

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Posted by Mike at 8:30 AM | Comments (10)

Nov 15, 04 09:43 AM

Tempeh and the Cinema.

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As is our policy, we took Sunday off.

(Oh, if you're just logging in at work, after the weekend, check out the entry below, Nov 14: Shiznits and Gizziggles, if you want to see multiple pixx of In-Studio Action.)

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I spent the morning yelling "ROCK AND ROLL!" with Coco, which is what Coco and I enjoy doing in the morning. She's grown up a lot; of course, she used to pronounce it ROCKITY ROLL.

Then we went, "Sshh!" and whispered, "rockandroll rockandroll," and then I would say, "Sine yo penny on the runny kind!" a la Pootie Tang, and play gimme-five, gimme-five.

Coco is my guru.

I ate a Tempeh Reuben at French Meadow, on Lyndale, as I have for the past five days in a row. Then I went to see Sideways at the Uptown Theater; brilliant. It's good to see that filmmakers are still paying close attention to American Life.

Fabulous score, too, by some mystery man named Rolfe Kent.

Then I came back, talked album theoretics with Dan over Phillipine chicken with olives, and watched a DVD of Dig!, which is a compelling tale of rock and roll rivalry and self-destruction. Highlights: Zia from the Dandy Warhols, second sexiest woman in rock history (and whom, once in Portland, I passed up the opportunity to hang out with so I could go back to my hotel room and do drugs), and Joel Gion, the endlessly charming and lovable tambourine player (seemingly little more than a very compelling, hilarious stage ornament) in the Brian Jonestown Massacre. Joel Gion is now my rock and roll kinky lord of darkness.

But I must confess: I'm not a fan of either band's. The music just sounds like 60's revivalism to me. So to hear all these dudes proclaiming these bands genius and the-last-real-rock-and-roll-act puzzled me, and made the film disjointed and odd, from my point of view.

Posted by Mike at 9:43 AM | Comments (14)

Nov 14, 04 08:38 AM

Shiznits and Gizziggles.

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Overdubbing vocals in the morning. Then, post-lunch, drums, drums, and drums.

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One of the best things about working with Dan is that he likes to hit the studio in the morning. He's got Coco, his child, so he's up at cartoon hours anyway; I'm up by seven, and we're working by 8. It's heaven. At other studios, I have to wheedle and cajole to get the engineer to show up at 10 am.

There's something more productive about the morning for me. It's partially the closeness to the dream world--I get up and do my dream-journalling, and the creative mind snaps awake, I like to pounce on it. When I'm at home, they're the most fruitful writing hours.

It's also the light--the fantastic morning light. I like it better than dusk; there's a purity to it. And I like the way I sing right after I wake up.

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So we tracked vocals in the morning. Eric came over in the afternoon to do a couple more songs; he was heartbreaking and impeccable, as usual.

At one point, Dan had a suggestion, so he said: "Try _______; just for shiznits and gizziggles."

Except Dan is new to the world of appropriating Black American slang, so it came out more like, "Shiznizznizznizzshizzes and gizziggizzigs."

I said: Please never say that again unless I have a tape recorder rolling.

ps--I took the camera into the vocal booth with me, and shot these pix by holding my arm out at random and clicking the button while I was singing the takes.

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Posted by Mike at 8:38 AM | Comments (8)

Nov 13, 04 09:09 PM

More Pix of Eric Drumming.

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Eric Fawcett--of Spymob and N.E.R.D.--drumming on "Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well," the day before yesterday.

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Posted by Mike at 9:09 PM

Calumny! Lies!

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More fun with the Mystery Cover.

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We tinkered with various parts of the Cover Song. Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken. Did a bassline. Dan played it. I asked, What are you going to play? He said, "I imagine the whole song will require only four notes."

He did a take, and I said, That sounded like at least six notes. Andy Thompson (yep, the same guy that drummed with me in Chicago, Madison, and Minneapolis about a year ago), who was there doing a little mousing for us (aka engineering) concurred.

"Calumny! Lies!" Dan exclaimed. We laughed. "I've been reading Mutiny on the Bounty, and that kind of language is seeping into my daily life."

Posted by Mike at 8:45 AM | Comments (12)

Nov 12, 04 09:21 AM

The Tube Lug.

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Fantastic drumming made the day.

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Eric Fawcett came over and ROCKED THE CORPOREAL PLANE. He did a track on "Looking at the World," and a cover tune that I will not reveal the title of just as yet. What a good guy.

We talked about the beard he wore when he played SNL with N.E.R.D. He regrets it. Dan and I strongly objected to his regret: "But you looked like a skater Levon Helm!" I exclaimed.

We tried a bunch of snares, which all had groovy names I can't recall. One of them was "the Tube Lug," so named after its tuning or tightening mechanism. We didn't end up using it--we found a nicer snare--but I do regret not being able to say, Great snare sound on "Looking," huh? That's THE TUBE LUG.

He complimented me for Soul Coughing and it made me anxious and weird. I don't do well with compliments. Particularly about something so long in the past that I feel so little connection with it (although I spose I do feel a very vital connection with a few of the songs, the ones I wrote alone in my room, and the moments and cirumstances in which I wrote them), I feel as if it were a different man doing that music.

I have such a complex about Soul Coughing, such a need to be on par with that work, and to be a vital artist--I feel that I've stayed away from the major-recording world for so long, it's really an advantage, those that instantly turn up with a début after their band disbands are short-changing themselves by overloading the public--and it took me so long, such intense soul-wracking work, to write these tunes--four years!--that I've come up with a compelling batch; there's intricate, subtle threads between the songs, and I'm just now beginning to understand just what it was I was writing about. This record, as I love records to be, is a really cohesive piece, a recording that kind of has its own world, if you know what I mean. A set of sonic rules and circumstances, a conjured bubble of mutual identity. But anyway, Eric knows only Soul Coughing, and when he praised it I became weirdly introverted, I feel like I was odd and antisocial with him. I feel badly about that, as I was so moved by his performances on my songs.

OK. And now I type an astonishing sentence. That sentence is: "I was in downtown Minneapolis, and I bumped into the Pixies." I was in downtown Minneapolis and I bumped into the Pixies! I met Charles/Frank/Francis about a year ago when we both guested with TMBG. A good dude. And Kelley Deal was there (just travelling with them, they're apparently doing a documentary and she's on the crew). I met her with Michael Azerrad a bunch of years ago, she didn't remember, and when I said, I met you with Michael Azerrad a bunch of years ago, she said, "Me? Kelley?" Yes, you, not Kim. Ha. I have a close friend who's a twin, that was a poignant insight into twin-dynamics.

We sort through vocals--a swamp of takes--make up a comp--and hopefully do some serious tracking on our Mystery Cover today. See you on the other side.

Posted by Mike at 9:21 AM | Comments (27)

Nov 11, 04 08:26 AM

On Hennepin, In My Rented Chevy Malibu.

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Backing vocals, and more guitar, guitar, guitar.

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Amy Jennings came over and did some harmonies on a couple tunes; "Madeline," and "I Hear the Bells"--on which she did some fantastic calls-and-response. We sat on the couch with a guitar, going over the tunes, which gave me gooseflesh; I haven't sung harmony with a woman before, what a wonderful feeling.

Amy is, incidentally, Mason Jennings' wife. Mason went out to meet Rick Rubin in Los Angeles recently, and, upon learning that Mason had tried meditation but had little results, Rick Rubin sent him to a transcendental meditation teacher for four days. An 82 year old woman who had been to India, in 1967, at the Maharishi's, with the Beatles. She gave Mason a mantra, which he spoke aloud once, and is forbidden to speak aloud again, and must keep a secret from everyone else in the world.

She's not expensive, and I've been itching to find a holistic psychedelic experience; maybe I'll get her number from Mason, go out there and seek her tutelage. She's not expensive, oddly for a Beatles-associated meditation teacher in Beverly Hills.

We tracked some 12-string guitar on which the low strings had been removed, leaving only the high, chiming ones; Andy Thompson (the drummer) came over and did some mousing for us, sorting out some of the big ringing KERRROW rock chords on Sunkeneyed.

Posted by Mike at 8:26 AM | Comments (16)

Nov 10, 04 09:19 AM

Spazzy Heraldic.

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It was Day of Guitars.

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There's a guitar solo--replacing the Jay Rodriguez saxophone solo, which many of you have heard on the much-Kazaa'd bootleg of the rough mixes, sigh--on "I Feel As If I'm Looking at the World from the Bottom of a Well" that we spent hours pruning and editing.

Back in New York, I listened to my two favorite guitar solos in the Universe, "You Really Got Me" and "Stairway to Heaven," and figured out that they didn't stray far from certain licks/motifs; they were almost like long parts, with liberal variations. So I sat at my home computer and played a bunch of licks, just jammed solos, and then strung them together in ProTools, cut 'em up, rejiggered the licks into something like a story.

It sounded like shit--I mean, recording-wise. I'm a hapless engineer--the ProTools revolution is a tragic development for me, as everyone's producing these superslick home recordings and mine are pretty laughable, crude. An interesting effect, given my artlessness at crossfading, was that you can hear the abrupt edits if you solo the solo. It sounds quite freaky and compelling. You can't really hear it when it's embedded in the track.

Also at home, I cut and pasted this one riff of Jay Rodriguez's, a spiralling, weird, Coltrane-y ornament, into a punctuating, recurring bit; I typed in its title as "Spazzy Heraldic." We kept referring to it when layering the guitar solo in--"So this lick should start at the entrance of the Spazzy Heraldic, right?"

PS, another favorite solo: Bob Quine's (RIP--man, what an incredible talent that guy was) on Lloyd Cole's "What Do You Know About Love?" But I was too lazy to track the recording down when doing pre-solo-cutting research.

Then Dan and I plugged my iPod into the stereo and did more listening: Jay-Z "You Must Love Me", AC/DC "For Those About To Rock", Henry Thomas "Bob McKinney" and "Fishing Blues". In a discussion of the beauty of butt rock, Dan told me tale about two guys in Fargo who took him on a joyride in a Camaro, imploring him to pay close attention to the art of a certain Canadian band. Dan said, in mid-story: "What's that band that Geddy Lee's in?"--!!!

We cut these big huge AC/DC chords on a Gibson SG on "Sunkeneyed Girl." Big fat ringing power chords. We've got Eric Fawcett, the drummer from N.E.R.D. and Spymob, coming in to cut drums tomorrow; we want to step the song up into Jungle territory.

Posted by Mike at 9:19 AM | Comments (12)

Nov 9, 04 09:17 AM

Taking It from Where We Left Off.

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Here I am in Minneapolis again.

I've been here so often over the past year and a half that coming back doesn't seem unusual at all; it's like waking up from a dream, and here's the real world again. Familiar.

As ever, the theme: scary and wonderful. We're in the home stretch. A relief, and a fear of the big unknown.

We didn't do much with the first day: I had to get up to fly at 5 am, so I was pretty fragged, and the first day back is usual more theoretical than tactile. Dan and I talked, then went to lunch with a notepad and talked, then came back, sat in the studio, and listened to Frou Frou, Regina Spektor, Ibrahim Ferrer, Will Oldham/Matt Sweeney, Low, and talked. We made lists; wrote up a rough sequence; figured out the guest players we wanted to bring in. And talked.

Posted by Mike at 9:17 AM | Comments (13)

Nov 8, 04 05:22 AM

En Route.

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Today I fly to Minneapolis to start work on the record again.

We're going to be done before the end of the year.

I've been working on this record for nearly four years--two years writing it, eighteen months recording it (whenever Dan had time to spare, flying to MN and doing a few days, a week or two, whatever)--and the prospect of completion is exhilarating. Letting go of the process--being done--on the other hand, is pretty scary.

I remember reading that Marianne Moore had revised a poem forty years after its original publication. You're never done; at some point, you choose to let go.

My excitement was unusually literal in my dreams last night. I had to wake up at 5 am to get ready to fly--I kept dreaming I was waking up at 4 am, too early, going to some weird dream-world hotel lobby affixed to my apartment and bumping into old friends and movie stars. When the alarm rang and I woke up for real, I was well-practiced for it.

Posted by Mike at 5:22 AM | Comments (16)

Nov 7, 04 11:10 AM

'Now I'm Gonna Go Smear Mud on my Ass.'

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Wet Hot American Summer is the second-greatest story ever told.

Left to my own devices, I'll watch it in its entireity for the third day in a row. The person I'm spending my Sunday morning with wants to watch the Food Network. The FOOD NETWORK. It's like the network of beigeness. Also, I just don't get watching people eat better food than I'm eating. "Hey, that gazpacho looks great--maybe I'll pretend I'm eating that, and not these here bran flakes!"

There is something about musicians; at some point we all transition to this phase of food obsession. Still: she's websurfing on her laptop right now, as I type this, and she says, "Hey, look at this!" She's reading a Food Blog, and is eager to show me a posted photo of a Chicago-style hot dog.

Posted by Mike at 11:10 AM | Comments (18)

Nov 5, 04 12:51 PM

The Pastel Sweater.

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There's a problem with being the guy who put a drug problem behind him.

I don't want to be that guy in the pastel sweater on the cover of People with the HIGH ON LIFE headline. I'm still a fuckup, still crazed and burning. It doesn't appeal to me.

(I am, however, rather high on life. Sorry.)

(And, self-medicating in the early hours of November 3rd, I was decidedly high on really obscene helpings of fried cheese, chocolate and sugar. My lardy feast of sorrow.)

But so much of the upcoming record is about drugs, or drug songs disguised as love songs, or songs about the girlfriend I used to get high with. I know I'm going to spend some time talking about it to the press. It's worrisome. I've done interviews here and there, and I tell my tale, or parts of my tale, noting the subleties and the nuances, that my story is more ambiguous than the template junkie arc, and that I don't necessarily disavow drugs (they saved my life as a teenager as surely as they quite nearly killed me as a 29 year old) but somehow it always ends up in the boilerplate HIGH ON LIFE mode.

It's dismaying. Who would want to wear the pastel sweater? I'm happier--loads happier--than I was in my long, dark night of the soul--but surely no saner. I'm not a guy who thinks that being irrational and unreasonable leads to better art--that's ridiculous--but still: I don't know if I want to be.

Posted by Mike at 12:51 PM | Comments (21)

Nov 4, 04 09:48 AM

Training. And, Making It New, Beyond the Whoomy Sound.

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I've been running scales in the morning. Something I rarely do.

I've always just sort of let my guitar sound grow and change organically, as I needed it, for new songs that required new things. These few years touring solo, I've developed a big, whoomy, low-endy sound. I tell the front of house sound guy at every soundcheck: Pretend the guitar is a bass drum.

The gangadank has worked fine for me for years. Some say I'm samey; I don't mind. I've always loved artists like Sam Cooke, the Velvet Underground, John Coltrane, who write new songs over similar changes and rhythms, and you can track their very gradual evolution album-to-album.

I discovered on the band tour in June that I needed to change my guitar sound. Scary and refreshing to discover that. The whoomy sound is swallowed up by drums, bass, and piano. So I have to make it sharper, leadier, more trebly. I've been practicing with a pick--I haven't used a pick for years--it feels weird to have this extension on my picking-finger.

Whatever the band that I put together to support this upcoming record sounds like, I have to find a new role in its midst. It's a pain in the ass to lay the groundwork, but ultimately I'm thankful to the universe for putting me in a position where I have the choice of embracing growth.

Posted by Mike at 9:48 AM | Comments (18)

Nov 3, 04 09:44 AM

3% = Not a Mandate.

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I sang it, and I still mean it:

Down in the mouth and not half-right,
But I can feel a change is coming on.
Bloom like a flower in bluest night.
Bloom like the sunlight in my song.

This defeat could be the best thing that ever happened to us. A politicized Eminem? An angry youth culture?

The old Dickensian saw: Best of times, worst of times.

Let's keep this ball rolling.

And I still love you, Ohio.

Posted by Mike at 9:44 AM | Comments (46)

Nov 2, 04 04:59 PM

And by the Way, I Just Got a Record Deal with ATO.

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Yep, you've got other things to think about today. But they're gonna announce my signing to ATO Records to the media on Thursday--and I wanted to let the cat out of the bag here first.

ATO, of course, was founded by Dave Matthews--and is, coincidentally, home of my best friend's two favorite artists, Patty Griffin and My Morning Jacket--hence winning me major points!

The label's got a great, diverse, vibe: it's where indie rock, jam bands, and singer/songwriters meet, and those are the genres I've found most interesting for the past few years.

Well, and Jay-Z. Dave, could you please sign Jay-Z?

Rockity Roll and Skittish will be out, as a double CD thing, with some bonus joints from the Skittish sessions, Bonnaroo, and Evenhand on December 7.

I'm finishing up the main record with Dan Wilson. There's drums to do, guitars to polish and fuzz up, backing vocals to lay down, some mild retooling, and that dreadful K2 of the recordmaking process, mixing. Will keep you posted. But it won't be long 'til it's out.

I am very happy to be in Dave's little cosmos. I am psyched to be in his righteous company.

Posted by Mike at 4:59 PM | Comments (32)

Mao Food.

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I went to this Sichuan joint on St. Mark's Place, Grand Sichuan--

Apparently all these Sichuan places around, Empire Sichuan, etc., are not actually serving Sichuan cuisine, but an ersatz American version. This was the genuine article. The food was tasty. But that's not the most interesting thing to me.

I'm told that there is a cuisine movement in China based on what Mao liked to eat. And so, on the menu at Grand Sichuan, there was a section entitled MAO FOOD.

There was also a photograph in the restaurant's foyer: Mao surrounded by what seemed to be a gang of international exchange students; Africans, South Americans, and Europeans. It wasn't a formal photo; they were surrounding Mao haphazardly, like a picture from a field trip on the steps of the Natural History Museum. The caption said: Mao has many friends around the world.

Posted by Mike at 7:36 AM | Comments (8)

Nov 1, 04 10:28 AM

Xing Your Nuts Off.

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I was horking songs off a friend's iPod and came across a dreadful artifact:

I guess it's pretty widely distributed: an mp3 of me performing with the Dave Matthews at Madison Square Garden. I haven't listened to it yet. I'm scared to hear it. Because at the time, I was crazy high on E and completely out of my head.

Soul Coughing was opening for him. It was a two-night stand, and I guested both nights: one night I was a maniac on E, the other night I was baked on weed. I know this is the E night, this mp3, because I was told a couple details of the performance that I don't have the guts to get into here.

I had all these E's I had gotten in the UK, where I was living at the time. There was a legendary MDMA drought going on over there. These were the only good E's in Britain, I think: every time I was high in a club, streams of people would come up to me, astonished, and begging to know: WHERE DID YOU GET YOUR PILLS?!

I put the pill in a plastic cup and had it onstage while we played our set. Before the third-to-last song, I went back to my amp, gulped the pill, and finished the show. By the time I was walking offstage, I was coming up.

Our product manager from Warner Bros. was in the dressing room when I came offstage. I had to talk to him for awhile and pretend to not be high. That was excruciating.

So I did the guest spot with Dave, out of my fucking skull.

I haven't touched a pill, or anything else, since 2000. And of course, the prospect of this recording out there in general circulation fills me with dread and loathing.

I saw Dave at Bonnaroo this year; I bumped into his wife around the tents backstage, and she invited me back for a post-show get together. In the course of the conversation, I remarked that at the time I was opening for him I was abstaining from alcohol.

Dave said, "Yeah, but half the time you were XING YOUR NUTS OFF."

Posted by Mike at 10:28 AM | Comments (13)
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