Last week, I wrote about my perfectionist streak, and how it causes me to stall out in the editing phase of pretty much every project. I don’t want to be associated with work that isn’t just right, and things can always be more just right. A friend directed me to The Cult of Done Manifesto, a set of thirteen rules that is more or less designed to thwart exactly that kind of perfectionism. Though I don’t agree with everything on the list (#5 alone would effectively decimate my creative output), I was inspired by the spirit of just being done. This coupled with my desire to get comfortable with sharing things that aren’t 100% perfect has let me to start a new regular feature: Sharing Something. I’ll use this space to share some project — any project — that I’ve been working on. Some may be more polished than others, but all will be shy of a level of perfection that would actually make me comfortable sharing them. As you’ll see, some of these projects have been waiting on the shelf for years. Some I don’t even care about anymore, but have still never seen the light of day, simply because I wasn’t happy with every single aspect of how they turned out. Kevin Smith has a good story about something similar that Prince does, but it takes up four youtube videos, so I’m not going to embed it all here.
At any rate, I don’t mean to point out that some of these are old or less finished to apologize for or distance myself from the product I’ll be sharing, just to give you a sense of what to expect (as well as illustrate how long this has been a problem). I feel a little bad about the project I’m sharing today because it is kind of old, but it was also the easiest project to write about since it was already digitized.
When I was in Junior High School, one of my best friends started playing the Bass. Another friend already played the piano, so it was up to me to start learning guitar so we could form a proper band. I did, and our first band recorded several demos that sound like they were recorded by a bunch of eighth graders. Throughout High School, that band saw enough personnel changes to justify being considered a different band. As time wore on, we started performing more and more original tunes, which made our sets either shorter or less cover-heavy, depending on the gig. When I left for college, that band continued to play a few half-hearted concerts, but it was more or less dead. That is, until Gordon (that same friend who started on bass, now the band’s lead guitarist) decided to record all of our original tunes the summer after our sophomore year of college. I think the project was mostly conceived by his parents, who were always our biggest boosters, but he was majoring in music technology, so he may have enjoyed the opportunity to flex his producer muscle.
We had ten original tunes ready to record, but since covers had always been a big part of our rep, we decided to record one gem (Gordon’s mom even contacted the copyright holders to get rights to use it): They Might Be Giants’ “Hall of Heads”.
This is kind of a weird song to be a go-to; its lyrics describe a scene from little-seen and critically reviled Return to Oz, and it devotes more than a third of it’s incredibly short run-time to a bizarre introduction. All the same, we covered it, our version eschewing the introduction and upping the tempo, slimming the song down to a svelte 1:55. In addition to being the only cover on the album, it was also notable for featuring yours truly on lead vocals. I had always preformed this song with this nasally affect — don’t ask me why — so that’s how I recorded it. I occasionally let the cheeky sneer slide a bit, which makes for some inconsistent vowels, but the thing that had always kept me from sharing this with others (you know, in addition to being a recording of my High School garage band) is the scream that comes right around the 1:20 mark:
Hall of Heads (sorry to make this a link — something wasn’t working with the audio player)
It’s not a total failure — in many ways it’s perfectly acceptable — but I was never happy with it. It’s to short, and fades in and out so quickly, like I was trying to get the microphones attention as I sped past it in a car. Mostly, though, I think my problem stemmed from comparing my performance to those of vocalists with much more skill and experience. What’s weird is that I still think about that scream when I hear a particularly good one, as happened last week when I heard Wilson Pickett’s recording of “Hey Jude.”
The good stuff starts at around 2:40:
Part of what makes these screams so effective is that Pickett spends most of the song building up to them; by the time the drums cut out, we expect him to cut loose. It also helps that he screams for a while. He never actually sings any of the “Na na nas” of the outro; he just screams over the backup singers (my favorite part has to be 3:16, where he screams on every two and four for a while). These details make for some pretty compelling screaming, but none is more important than the pure, unbridled primal nature Pickett brings (of which Paul McCartney was severely lacking). Of course, if I’m going to talk about primal screams in classic rock, I have to make the obligatory mention of the gold standard: The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Again, the screaming is supported by a kind of epic build-up, and while Daltry doesn’t scream as many times as Picket, he gives us a two measure “Yeah!” that matches the primalism.
For the heathens who need this example, the scream is right around 7:44:
(Side note to my metal-head friends: I realize that this all pretty weak sauce as far as you’re concerned. Whatever. At least the lyrics aren’t about elves and/or blood.)
My scream doesn’t get any build-up. In fact, it transitions from what my be the quietest part of the song into the guitar solo; I wasn’t just neglecting putting the scream on a pedestal, I was relegating it to putting something else on the pedestal. The Who used the scream to transition from the quietest moment into a bombastic ending, but they devoted almost a minute to build to that moment — I just screamed and hoped for the best. I maintain that our recording needed something there to transition, but my clipped yelp isn’t quite it.
Like I mentioned before, I feel bad using this as the first example because it is so old, and because I think its age will make people assume it isn’t something I particularly care for. On the contrary, being the front-man for a rock band has always been a weird dream of mine, which is why I always relish a chance to sing lead in any of the bands I’ve ever been in, even if it’s mostly a joke. Not to say that I’m going to devote any time to pursuing this dream (I don’t care about it that much), but it does take some doing for me to admit that I’m not naturally awesome at it. Either way, I posted a song recorded by my High School rock band (when I was in college, no less), which means I must be able to swallow at least some of my pride.