The Album Update, 02-21-08

So I’m probably now 3/5ths done with the album. I’m remixing and re-recording everything one last time. I created a new folder for the final album sessions and copied ‘n’ pasted the bits from all the previous recordings that I liked — good basslines, good guitar bits, the rendered electronic tracks out of Reason — so that I can record the final bits, like guitars and vocals. I’ve mainly been going back and adding complexity: drum fills, doubled guitar parts and lead sections, synth textures, washes, etc.

And so, with only a couple of exceptions, the final album recordings are gonna sound very different from what you’ve heard in the previous recordings I’ve released. I don’t think anything’s going to sound totally radically different, but the arrangements are much more textured and nuanced. In particular, I think “Scatterlings + Refugees” sounds amazing with electric guitar parts, more drums and a sort of solo. I think “S+R” and “After The Ice Age” are gonna be the most radio-friendly tracks.

I’ve learned so much about production and arrangement over even the past couple of years, and I think you’ll be able to hear it. The recording doesn’t sound slick, but it does sound like it’s made by someone who knows what they’re doing. My greatest frustration is that I’m not a better musician than I actually am; I wish I was capable of writing and playing really complex guitar parts, for example. But I do what I can, you know? If by some miracle this album takes off, I’ll get real players next time.

But I’ll be honest; I don’t really anticipate that anybody’s going to give a tinker’s damn about Travelogues. My entire musical career, such as it has been, seems to be one big non sequitur. I don’t think the music’s particularly difficult, so maybe it’s just boring or not what people are interested in. It’s not Friday night feel-good music and it’s not indie-kid-friendly, it doesn’t sound particularly of the moment and it’s not pretty and shiny on the surface. Maybe the subject matter and emotions it deals with aren’t universal. And maybe it’s just because I don’t have a high, pretty singing voice. If somebody dug up the late Mark Sandman from Morphine, stole a bone fragment, and took the DNA out of it and crossed it with genetic material stolen from Trent Reznor’s larynx, it would probably sound a lot like what I hear when I sing in the shower.

The music is too moody for the lunchboxes and horn-rims brigade and too electronic for the Tom Waits / Mark Lanegan / Greg Dulli crowd. It’s too Americana for the trip-hop kids and too European for the Wilco fans. It’s not creepy enough for goths and too creepy for the misunderstood singer-songwriter fans. It’s too weird for the high schoolers and too middle-of-the-road for the art gallery crowd. And there’s entirely too little dissonant guitar, though there’s more than you’re probably expecting.

I think a lot of people — my friends and acquaintances — will like it well enough, but I don’t know that it will ever be somebody’s favorite album. I don’t know if it’ll ever save anybody’s life, except for mine. (Reason Not To Commit Suicide #481: If you off yourself, Ellis, nobody will ever hear “Sleeping In Flame” the way you hear it in your head, with all that space and that wall of purpose.)

Making this album has given me newfound respect for all those people who post their bedroom recordings on their MySpace page. Because even if most of that music is terrible to me, it means something to somebody, the same way my terrible music means an awful lot to me. And I wonder how many moments of transcendent beauty are waiting on an empty profile page, with only Tom and his white t-shirt to hear it. So many people can’t communicate with others except through the art they make; every unheard song is like one sentence of a suicide note, people slowly dying because they’ve hung their heart for all to see…but nobody ever sees or knows.

These days, I think that all of my possibilities and all of my life has dwindled down to the art I put into the world; the songs I write, the words I nail down on this keyboard, and the stories I’m trying to tell. Dying doesn’t scare me much, anymore — I could use the rest — but the idea of my songs sitting unheard on some darkened hard drive or gathering dust on some unplayed anonymous CD-R in the far back box of somebody’s old collection in the junk closet until entropy and bit rot erases them from the world…that’s real death. All those moments, as Rutger Hauer says at the end of Blade Runner, lost in time, like tears in rain. They matter more to me than I do. And I think they have more value than I do to the world. I don’t want them to disappear like all those beautiful unplayed songs on all those MySpace profiles.

So I’m going to ask you to do me a favor. When I’m done with Travelogues in a few weeks, I’m going to put it here as a zipped download. I’d like you to download it, load it up in your iTunes or Windows Media Player or iPod or Zune, or burn it to a CD, and listen to it. I mean really listen to it, not just put it on as background audio to cleaning your house or doing homework or whatever. Pay attention to it. Drive around your town aimlessly at night with it on your stereo. Go for a walk with your music player and your headphones. Listen to it, if you can dig it, the way I listened to Springsteen’s Nebraska or Peter Gabriel’s So or Radiohead’s OK Computer. Start to finish. I know it’s a presumptuous request, but I hope you’ll understand why I make it.

If it doesn’t do anything for you, that’s absolutely fine and no hard feelings. I understand. But if it does — if even a fragment of what I felt when I wrote these songs reaches you — let me know. Let me know I’m not just throwing bits of myself out into the dark here.

Don’t do it because you like me and think I’m a fine fellow. Don’t not do it because you think I’m an asshole. Because this has nothing to do with who I am. Who I am doesn’t matter. But the work does.

And in return, maybe you’ll get a little of what I was trying to give when I wrote these songs. Maybe one of them will make you feel happy, or maybe just feel like your own weird feelings aren’t yours alone to bear. Maybe one of them will make you fall in love, or realize you’re already in love and didn’t know it. Maybe you’ll just feel a fraction more alive than you did a second ago.

If that happens, I did what I was trying to do. And that’s all that really matters to me, in the end.

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