If you've talked to me lately, you might know that I have been writing and recording a new album this year. Last weekend the project took a huge step forward when producer Scott Solter recorded my drums for most of the songs onto 2" tape. Scott is my next door neighbor and someone whose work I admire a lot. So now that I'm officially working on this thing I thought I'd just blog a little on it.
QUICK SYNOPSIS: JJ vs the Digital Whale is a rock concept album in the tradition of “Dark Side,” “Quadrophenia,” “Gamehenge” or “Yoshimi.” It tells a modernized version of the story of Jonah and the Whale. Jonah becomes “JJ,” and the whale is portrayed as the whole barrage of technology that we are surrounded by every modern day. Electronic instruments, computer programs, modern devices and apps are used to sonically portray the shape-shifting Digital Whale. JJ journeys through the modern world seeking truth and external validation through technology. He runs from both the truth inside himself, and true connections with other people. Ultimately, he is swallowed by the very thing he was running from. JJ does not emerge from his whale in the way of Jonah, though. In the finale, JJ leaves his body inside the whale, as his spirit discorporates and he transcends the material world.
WHY? 1. It's been 4 years since my last solo album (not counting the LL Orchestra EP).
2. As a fan of both classic rock concept albums and sci-fi, I want to tell a story. I love how Battlestar Galactica turns ancient mythology and religion into a timeless narrative. I want to do something like that, set to music that recalls early 70's Yes, King Crimson, and of course my heroes Pink Floyd.
3. As a child, I had an unforgettable dream where I was flying. It started as I was walking around my yard, then running, then realizing my steps were becoming more spaced and less connected. Eventually I discovered a technique of jumping at a high angle and gliding for further stretches. As I built my new skill, the music that would become "Sunbound" began fading into my consciousness.
Each time I would leap further up and the music would swell. I would drift back down to the ground softly as the music for “Earthbound” played. As I flew straight toward the absolute zenith of the sky, the two pieces merged. Rain began pouring down into my face as I struggled to ascend upward like an arrow. The music was so beautiful, and it was coming down to me directly from the beautiful Sun, a symphony of light and sound. But the harder I struggled to reach it, my body would fall into limp exhaustion and I would again tumble down. I was crying as the rain was hitting my face, but kept flying into the warmth of the sun until the music became so beautiful and intense that I woke up.
I have remembered that music my entire life, and only recently developed the skill to feel comfortable recreating it with notation and recording technology. It will never be as beautiful as it was in the dream, but I feel very strongly that it's time for me to share it. When I figured out how to connect that music to Jonah’s story, the concept of the album basically took on a life of its own. These are the riffs and chord sequences that just won't leave me alone. They rearrange themselves into clever segues and remixing while I'm sleeping.
So just as Jonah emerged from his whale a changed man, I want to create a multi-layered musical and narrative project that communicates a sense of transformation and emergence; to build on my own emergence from my childhood dream, and some of the musical ideas that came with it and after; and to offer a humble suggestion for how us modern humans could emerge from our self-created whale of technological isolation into a new era of communication and connection.
4. Good stories deserve retelling, and the fact that Jonah and the Whale is one of the few stories that appears in Christian, Jewish and Islamic holy books might be a good indicator of its value. I'm not trying to preach to anybody, especially not the choir. I just needed a big concept for my next original project. For whatever reason, the idea struck me and I went with it.
OTHER RANDOM THINGS ABOUT THE ALBUM: I hope to have it available for sale digitally by the end of the year. But I work for The Muses, and they don't always do deadlines. So we'll see.
I've been doing some basic tracking at home and will be overdubbing the Scott Solter sessions over the next few weeks. I'm going to try to write more about the creative process because I haven't blogged in ages. But I always say that.
Aaron Parker will be on the album. I recorded him through a virtual amp rig a few weeks ago. He also built the main guitar I'll be playing on the album. He also gave me a Bleep Labs Nebulophone that will make some appearances.
My lovely wife Shea Broussard has been helping me a lot with the lyrics. I tend towards telling and she's helping me do more showing. I'm also planning to record her singing background vocals on most of the tunes. Some other people who I'd like to be involved (but aren't yet) are Curtis Eller, Hugh Crumley, F.M. Turner and Grant Whitney.
I haven't said much publicly about this project because the last few albums I've done have taken a real long time to finish. I'm writing this blog to start thinking out it as a real project with an end point, however distant. So that's about it for now. Thanks for reading!