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.
So I had this idea kicking around in my head for awhile about how I would design a box set if I ever had the chance, but surprisingly no one was beating down my door to get me to design a box set for them. So I took matters into my own hands and decided to make one for myself: the SUPERGOD! ULTIMATE BOX SET. The set features all new artwork for the complete 6 album SUPERGOD! (always ALLCAPS, always with exclamation point btw) discography, plus a new album of live and unreleased tracks "Live + Incidentals", plus the SUPERGOD! movie "A Cagematch With Benefits" plus the SUPERGOD! predecessor band Bookburners sole album "Have Spoils". It turned into a pretty massive undertaking. All the covers fit together to make two giant images (one for each side) and each disc is contained in a 6 panel fold out with a total of 27 new illustrations for the whole box. I'm quite proud of how it turned out although it's quite arduous to put one together so I probably won't design a new one soon unless some record company pays me a pile of money. You can purchase the box set here.
I just finished my annual holiday music video late last night, it has the clickbaity title of "Trump Family Christmas Bombshelter" but lyrically doesn't really mention him. Traditionally I try to write and record the song video as close to Christmas day as possible to keep the christmas spirit more potent, but I've been picking away at this song for a few weeks now. The track features the amazing Jake Nicoll on drums and the inimitable Alex Bridger on the digital guitar feedback melotron sound you hear during the choruses. Big thanks to Andrew for giving me ride up to Cape Spear to do the filming.
Had the pleasure and privilege of designing the covers for the vinyl release of local loud boys Werewoman's album Youth;Slipt. Werewoman drummer Shaun Mccabe started his own record label Brokest Records to release it and some other interesting artists from around so it's exciting times for local music here in sin city. Go down to Fred's records and pick yourself up a copy, or go to one of them hyperlinks above and buy it there if you wanna.
This month around the St. John's metropolitan area you can see my pen work in action on The Overcast newstands. Chad Pelley asked me the weekend before last to do up a smoke themed cover for their carbon pricing issue so I doodled up a storm the next 7 days and here you go tons of smoke fer your ever-loving eyeballs. Pick it up and learn!
Steve Cowan is an exceptionally talented and award winning guitarist with all the chops you could want. I was super pleased to be asked to do the album art for his first album of classical guitar music "pour guitare" which is an amazing and stunning collection of contemporary Canadian classical guitar pieces, many of which had never been recorded before this. The album design was a bit of a challenge in a couple ways, for one it was my first 8 panel cd package with a lot of liner notes to format and it involved a lot of portraiture work which isn't really in my regular wheelhouse. Steve was very hands on in the process and it was refreshing to have so much feedback throughout and not be questioning whether or not the client likes what I'm doing. I've known Steve for years now and we collaborated before when I made a music video for his prog-metal band Surgeon a few years back, I'm not nearly good enough a guitarist to be in a Steve Cowan band but it's super nice to be able to collaborate like this on occasion.
Jake Nicoll is a fantastically talented, young songwriter/musician/producer who has slowly taken over the St. John's music scene over the last few years either producing the albums of or playing behind pretty much every musician in town. But it's in his own music that he shines brightest. Jake asked me last summer if I would be into making a music video for his new album he's working on, On the spot I said "of course!" and then promptly waited 5 or 6 months for him to send me some tracks to work off of. I'd pick on him each time I'd run into him asking when he's gonna gimme some mixes already? And he'd be all "soon, soon, I'm working on it!" and then I'd give him some stink eye because I'm a complete asshole. Little did I know that Jake was working on a 23 song magnum opus song cycle that spans two whole albums and is some of the richest, most deeply felt and beautifully crafted songwriting to come out of this city in a decade or more.
So I'm listening to all the tracks for a few days trying to figure out what I wanted to do for a video and I narrowed it down to about 5 songs I wanted to work on. I was thinking "well this one and this one would be the easiest, this one would be great, My Friends might be my favourite song but it's so very, very sad it might be hard to sell as a hit single". A day or two later I remembered this experimental footage I made for an abandoned project of my own 2 or 3 years ago that I've just been sitting on ever since, it never really fit any of my own songs. But then it hit me and I played the footage in one window while playing the song under it and the mood, tempo, atmosphere and subject matter of My Friends fit so, so perfectly with the footage I was totally floored. I barely had to edit it! it was fate. The final edit came together really quickly so I had a finished video for him within a week of getting the mp3s. It kinda felt like cheating (although, when I made the footage originally I spent like 6 weeks or so making it) so I'm making a second video for Jake very soon. When that'll be done I have no idea. In the meantime watch this and please do yourself a favour and buy all his albums.