Portland Anonymous: Fragment Six

I have to admit that the way we went about making recordings was pretty strange.  Any of the musicians in our label could record their part or get a group of others to record individually or separate and then call on someone else to do something.  And there is no one who used that system more often than #N/A did.  He would look at rap songs that needed a hook sung, or some rock songs where backing vocals or a melodic voice was wanted and write up some lyrics or sing what others had written.  He would play viola where tracks wanted some real strings, and he would sing songs with just a basic rhythm track and wait for the rest of the music to follow.  As a result, we have dozens and dozens of songs, and we are left with a bit of a dilemma.  We still can’t figure out if we want to release them all at once and have a possible chart bomb, which I think we will end up doing, or releasing them in a slow dribble and having to deal with rumors about the artist being in hiding for years and years to come.  I suppose having an embarrassment of riches isn’t so bad a thing.  It is good that it was our most talented artist that had so many tracks that we own, but it’s a shame that he won’t be around to listen to them or to see his tracks climb the charts.

***

These days you have to strike while the iron is hot.  There are all kinds of moral questions that come about when you have incomplete and unfinished and unreleased tracks that are held on too long after an artist has passed away.  At some points, like with the use of Michael Jackson songs by artists like Drake and Justin Timberlake and others, it can get pretty morbid when some obviously subpar sessions are used to cash in on an artist’s cachet and reputation.  I don’t think that will happen in this case.  #N/A was just too obscure of an artist to have the sort of problems that Michael Jackson did, and he’s probably not going to have the cult following of someone like XXXTentacion, who was murdered.  To be sure, his death was an odd one, but it was odd in the way that will become a footnote in history, not the sort of odd, I think, that will make him a legend.  He just wasn’t the sort of person who drew a lot of attention and I don’t think he’d want people to be making a pilgrimage to Plant City like some people have done.  But you don’t get much of a choice of how people will remember you when you’re gone, I guess.

***

Yeah, so it happened like this.  We were a group of friends who wanted to sing rap but we kept on being told that no one can make it in rap in Portland, because the city isn’t street enough.  So when we had the chance to record at this swank studio in West Portland, of course we jumped on the chance to do it.  At first we thought we would just release a mixtape and get some street cred, but it happened that one of the other musicians was a really talented singer and gave us some hooks that our producers thought would be popular, and so we recorded enough material for a full lp.  The album did pretty well, and we had a couple of hits, only we started getting a lot of shade thrown at us, subliminals that said that we were only popular because #N/A was recording hooks for us, and that we weren’t street at all but a novelty act.  It got to the point where we didn’t even want to be on the same label as him because we were getting overshadowed.  You see, the problem was the way that voting happened within the group, because it depended on how well you were doing.  If you were on a track somehow by writing something or recording something on it, you got credit for that track on how well it did.  And all the songs of ours that did well on the charts had him, and then he had his own songs as well, and so he could basically control how the promotion went to make sure it went to his own songs, so we ended up forcing him out so that no one could say that we depended on him.  Yeah, we’re about to release our second album now, only his death has put all the attention back on that again, and made us look like the bad guys because we couldn’t work with him and he was obviously some kind of singular talent. I don’t think it’s fair at all and really, I don’t want to talk about him again.  I’m just sick of always having to answer questions about him.

***

The process of collective ownership about the label was something I always thought was strange.  People thought I was trying to take over because I would record so often, but I didn’t even think of it that way.  I just liked making music, and there were always suggestions about what someone was looking for.  It was pretty easy to sit for a few minutes and sing backing vocals on a track, or to release a hook for something, and it’s not like my own recording process took all that much time.  To stay fresh a lot of the studio musicians would record cover music and I would sing it as well.  I thought it was a good joke and it gave me some good material to have for b-sides on single or maybe someday for a b-side or covers album, and I thought it was good to have a lot of content and to keep fresh by trying out new songs and new styles.  But when some of the songs started getting big, it started being a problem.  The label would release a collection of materials and I would be on nearly every song in some fashion, and so that meant that I had so many votes on which song to make a video for or what song to promote to radio or to mobilize our stans to stream.  And people thought that was too much power for me to have, so after the first album did well it became apparent that I had enough power through the success of my music and the sheer amount of it that I could outvote everyone else combined, and that created a lot of bad blood, and they forced me out.  But part of the problem was that I couldn’t talk about it at first.  So here I was, going around to radio stations and singing “Beside Me” or talking about my hit songs, and I couldn’t even tell them that I wasn’t with the label and that they were buying out my songs to keep everyone else happy.  It was a really surreal experience, and one I didn’t really enjoy all that much.  I knew that major labels carried drama with them, but who ever heard of being tossed out of your label because you were too successful?  You have too many gold singles, and we’re a hipster label that doesn’t want to be too popular, so you’re just going to have to go somewhere else where you’re wanted.  Story of my life.

***

Yeah, it was really strange.  I really regret that things happened that way.  I know that #N/A was really quiet when it came to his identity, but I think it really bothered him to have to pretend that everything was okay when he was so quickly out of the label that he had recorded at.  Sometimes you just have to balance the needs of the many versus the needs of the one, and no matter how talented and successful the one is, sometimes there is just too much bad blood to overcome.  I don’t know if any other situation would have been better.  He’s the sort of person who, through no fault of his own, just causes that kind of trouble wherever he is.  If he would have been part of a band, he would have written too many songs for the band to record and would have had to cut a solo record on his own, and that would have caused problems because it might have been as successful or more successful than the rest of the group.  Here in our label that is exactly what happened.  I don’t know what we could have done differently.  He was just too successful and too prolific for his own good.  I don’t know what we could have done differently, but I can’t see how he would have been any different.  He was just the sort of person who was always involved in everything, and didn’t seem to realize how other people just didn’t feel like they had any room to breathe or anywhere without him.  And now we are all without him, and I don’t think we are the better for it.

***

Yeah, I remember talking to him soon after he had been let go from his label.  It was a surprise to me, since his song was blowing up and his album had just been released and instantly gone gold and he had been nominated for a bunch of awards, but it turns out that he had been bought out of all of the music that he had recorded with the label so that he didn’t have the rights to any of those earlier sessions.  I had dealt with that problem before with other musicians I worked with, and I knew it bothered him to have so many tracks out of his control, so I was working with him on how he could get some of those songs back by re-recording the material.  We tried to negotiate with the label so get some of the tracks released, but the label wasn’t being very cooperative at all and they threatened us with some massive lawsuits if we made our goal to get music back public.  So we had to record in private, and that’s where #N/A came up with a brilliant idea on how we could lay low without drawing much attention, and that was to build a studio of our own in the middle of nowhere where no one would think to go.  And it worked quite well, as we bought some property south of Plant City in an area called Ft. Lonesome and then built a music studio and also started building a castle, which allowed him to have a great deal of privacy in what he was doing and also to be close enough where things were going on to get musicians to come over, since it was close enough to Tampa to travel easily and to have enough session musicians.  I thought it was a brilliant solution and I only wish he had more time to enjoy his castle, as it was still being built when he died.

***

Yeah, I’m the real estate that worked out the deal.  I normally get most of my attention from people who are looking to have vacation property from up north or for people looking to move out from Tampa or Lakeland, and I wondered if he was being serious or not, but pretty quickly I realized he was a serious person and had grown up around here and was trying to do some business.  We found a large amount of acreage near Ft. Lonesome itself for around three hundred thousand, and then we turned part of that into a commercial area where the music studio was built and where the address for his own music label was set up.  Our area is remote enough that it didn’t really draw any attention, except from some of the locals, who found him friendly enough when he explained what he was doing.  The area is a ghost town so it’s not as if anyone else was doing anything there until he showed up, and the local builders were happy to help out when they saw that he was paying ready cash.  It’s just a shame he died, as we were doing some really interesting things and setting up a community in what used to be a ghost town.  But now the area will be pretty obscure and forgotten once again.

***

Yeah, I was one of the people who helped him set up his business operations here in Central Florida.  We’re a pretty laid back sort of people here, and once we knew he was a third-generation person from the area and had grown up here and made his money elsewhere, we didn’t have a problem with him coming in.  The locals as a whole were pleased to know that a local boy had done good, and he was a friendly person who enjoyed eating and shopping locally and didn’t make a big fuss.  He just seemed like a shy person, and he wasn’t unfriendly.  You never know how stars are going to be; a lot of them are really odd, but it seemed like he wasn’t strange at all, just someone who liked to read a lot and was very intelligent.  But he was also full of surprises.  I remember when we were walking around the property that he was able to fend off the snakes with his walking stick without any trouble.  I thought he would be a bit of a sissy about that, but he was a pretty bold person when it came to dealing with snakes.  I have to respect a man who knows his way to deal with water moccasins and can tell a coral snake from a king snake.  He told me how when he was growing up in the area that his grandfather’s garage would draw a bunch of rattlers and that his grandfather would kill them with a hoe and then hang their skins up on the grapevine, and that he didn’t see anything too unusual about that.  Once I saw his bravery in dealing with snakes, I figured he was the right sort of person for our neighborhood and I didn’t bother that he liked books and didn’t have a strong southern accent like most of us around here do.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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One Response to Portland Anonymous: Fragment Six

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Portland Anonymous Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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