I suppose it would be best to begin at the beginning. I don’t know why I didn’t do that last time, but I guess I’m still not really sure of what I want to do here. I have been given the task of making sense of what our label, Sub Par Records, wants to say about our most important artist. Only he’s dead. It’s not like we can’t release more of his material; he had about four or five albums worth of material, at least, recorded and under contract to our label before he died. He was one of those artists who shies away from the limelight and who really loves writing and recording music, but he was not the sort of artist who liked publicity, and now that he’s dead he’s receiving a lot of publicity. Only it’s not an easy thing to say what we thought of him, since we really didn’t know him all that well or for all that long of a time. In fact, he was probably only a part of our label for a year and a half or so, even a little less, maybe only fifteen months, but if those fifteen months were important to him in making him a reluctant music star, they were all the more important for us, because without him we wouldn’t really have any kind of attention in the music world at all. And as a result, I have to write about him, even if I didn’t know him all that well and even if he didn’t really have any close friends at the label. I find that really strange, come to think of it. He spent a lot of time here, to be sure, but most of that time he spent with headphones on his head listening to a music track that he was laying verses over or singing the hook for, or he was listening to a simple rhythm track and singing a song over it that someone would later add an instrumental track to. It wasn’t much more complicated than that. He just did it over and over and over again, enough times that he recorded song after song after song, and left us with a large amount of material that we could release. But do we want the world to know that? Would it be best to release all the material at once? Does the fact that we have two live albums worth of material and a covers album worth of material and two studio albums worth of material to release posthumously mean that rumors will start about him not being dead at all but rather being even more reclusive than usual? I mean, that sort of thing could happen, and we would rather keep that from happening so that we don’t have to be accused of having kept him hidden from the world, which is hard to do when our whole mission is helping artists remain anonymous if they want to be, and few people wanted to be anonymous more than him. It’s all a mess, really.
Yeah, I remember how it was like for him. I am the sound engineer here during the evening shift, and that’s when he would usually come in after work. He was polite and all, but I never got the feeling he had much of a personal life. He would bring in notebooks and books that he was reading, and sometimes as a track was being produced or mixed he would read while listening to the process, but I never asked him about a girlfriend or anything like that. It was pretty clear that his life wasn’t very exciting and that he was interested in music, and sometimes he would even lay down some viola for some of the songs he was recording, but beyond polite pleasantries and his obvious interest in music there wasn’t much to tell about him. He wasn’t the sort of person who really revealed a lot about himself, for all the time he spent here. There would be times that he would stay here until ten o’clock or even midnight, and then he would nod farewell to us and head home. He would do this day after day, except on Friday nights, and on Saturday nights he would come in dressed up all fancy sometimes or dressed like he had come from the gym and then he would do the same thing until midnight or so and then drive home. I didn’t ask him about those times, about where he was coming, but he would spend a lot of time here. I know it’s odd that you can spend a lot of time with someone but not ask, but I’m not the sort of person who is going to pry into what other people are doing. We all have jobs here. I’m a studio engineer, and it’s my job to make sure that the music and vocals are being laid down right, and then I work to mix it to the right levels alongside others. No one pays me to chitchat with others and if someone doesn’t want to reveal something about their lives, they don’t have to. He wasn’t rude or unfriendly, but he wasn’t the sort of person who would volunteer information about his personal life, and no one here was going to ask him what he was doing. It was obvious he wasn’t drunk or on drugs and he wasn’t destroying any equipment, and so there wasn’t anything else we cared about when it came to his personal life. It wasn’t really our business.
Yeah, I took down a record of the songs that he performed in the studio as part of my job as the studio archivist. I figured, even before any of them were released, that it was going to be worthwhile to keep track, especially as it became obvious that he was a real studio rat. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but there are some people who just love to spend time in the studio, and you know that they are going to record a lot of songs and so there are going to be a lot of opportunities for various releases to come from that. Did you know that one of the most popular albums the Rolling Stones ever released came from various material that had been collected from the studio archives of their last few releases, and it sounded fresh because the recordings were from years ago, when the Stones were still more energetic and less worn out. Life is funny like that, as what is old can easily become new again because it’s not known to the audience. I had the feeling we had something special with him, something that could last for years. And I guess the music could last for years even his own career was cut short, unfortunately. Oh yeah, you wanted to see what he had recorded. Well, he was very organized about what he recorded, and we would sometimes have conversations about where songs would fit, and so he divided his songs into the various projects. The first set of tracks here are all the songs that went on his “High Anxiety” album, and those ones are the ones that everyone else knew about because they were released last summer and the album itself was really successful. Here’s the list of those:
Road Outside Portland
Why Do They Always Run?
Let Me In (f/Orianthi)
If These Are The Good Times
You Don’t See Me (Keane cover)
The Hounds Of Winter (Sting cover)
Somewhere They Can’t Find Me (f/Jem)
Dark Night Of The Soul
I remember that some people complained that the album had two covers, but it wasn’t as if he was stream trolling. They were a strong set of songs. Let Me In had a great guitar and some duet vocals thanks to Orianthi, and that one was a minor hit. Somewhere They Can’t Find Me was a nice song, and that sample from Jem was really good as well. But yeah, everyone really wanted to know about Beside Me. I remember when I listened to that one from the first time, I knew that one was going to be the big hit. I think everyone knew. Some people rolled their eyes because it was just the sort of song that people love to listen to on the radio, one of those love songs that you just cannot escape. I don’t think he was intentionally trying to make a hit, but it was one of those songs you just grab out of the air and can’t understand why no one else has recorded it before. And it was pretty clear that the song was genuine. It wasn’t as if he was pandering to an audience. He was someone who was obviously ambivalent about intimacy and who clearly had some trust issues. If you listen to his songs and see the lyrics on the liner notes, you know that he was someone who had lived a difficult life, even if he didn’t want to talk about it, and that influenced what he sang, no doubt. He couldn’t have written a happy and upbeat love song, but one about longing, yeah, that sounds right.
Everything thinks that making music is a really glamorous process. Most of the time, it’s not. Long before I ever made music, I was a writer, and that’s not a very glamorous thing either. I approach my music making the same way I approach my writing. I start by sitting by myself somewhere and writing down the lyrics to a song. I get some tune in my head and I write words, or the tune of the lyric melody comes as I’m writing words and reflect on how they fit together. Maybe the lyric verses have four lines, or five, or six, or eight. Maybe there is a prechorus, maybe not. At any rate, I start with the writing of the lyric and the tune in my head that goes along with it. Then I would go into the studio after having written some lyrics and I would get into the booth with a simple drum machine track to keep me on rhythm and I would sing the lyrics that I had written. I would then note to the engineer what kind of other instrumentation I wanted with the track. Maybe there would be a piano or keyboard, maybe there would be some strings, maybe there would be some guitars and bass. Then the engineer and producer would collect the other studio musicians and they would come in and lay down the instruments. Sometimes one of them would write a melody and I would listen to something and think that I could write something to it and then I would go into the break room of the studio and write some lyrics and then come in and sing them. So yeah, I could spend a lot of time here. Most of the time my vocals were good enough that I only had to sing them once or twice. A lot of the time I would listen to the cover tracks that the studio band would lay down and sing cover versions. I must have sang dozens of them, and I would tell the studio archivist that I wanted a couple of them for an album, and to save a few more of them for the b-sides of singles released in England, or for the inevitable rarities album that we expect to make some day. Yeah, the label has all of that still. It’s not like I won’t be able to record more songs of that nature in the future. I know that things didn’t go well between all of us, but I expect there will be time in the future to make more music, so I’m not bitter about having lost the rights to the other material; it’s not like I wasn’t paid enough for the privilege, and whether or not they do anything with it, they spent a lot of money to get rid of me, so I’m not concerned about what they do with it; I figure at some point they will try to recoup the investment and make money on it by selling it, but how long they will wait to do it, I don’t know.