Progress!

Progress is the opposite of Congress.  I think Mark Twain might have said that.  Mark Twain wrote an amazing version of the story of Adam and Eve that inspired me a lot.  He took all the best elements of the story and rearranged them to showcase his unique views and phrasing.  What a great writer!  I'm trying to do something like that with my new album, JJ Vs the Digital Whale. 

First of all, rock albums don't usually have a moral so it's been fun to defy that convention.  Second, it's been really fun getting inside JJ's head and figuring him out as a character.  He's not exactly Jonah from the Bible, Torah and Qur'an.  He's an echo of one small part of Jonah-- that's why his name's JJ, get it?  I've also been thinking about God as a character in the old stories.  What does he really say?  That we have to blindly obey him?  Even when he doesn't directly tell us what he wants?  Or when we want something different?  Sounds fishy to me.  PUN INTENDED.

All the best stories are the ones you can imagine yourself a part of.  JJ is easy to imagine, he's just a normal everybody.  He goes to school, hangs out, walks around in the world, but the thing is he's constantly surrounded by technology.  Sometimes by choice, sometimes not.  Everyone he goes he's either watching or being watched.  All that technology is just engulfing him like that giant fish from the old story.  In fact that is the story, just him getting engulfed by all that technology, getting taught a cruel lesson by God, isolated from everybody.  But you can put yourself in his place very easily, right?

Does it have to be that way? Does technology have to isolate us?  Does God's will have to be at war with our individuality?  The album suggests no!  You can use all that technology to connect with people, fall in love, find God or Allah or Yahweh, find a new way of thinking, collaborate, change the world! 

In my version of the story, God is The Universe.  The World.  Everything and Everyone.  All the people you know and love.  They're separate, but they're connected.  They love you...but they will ultimately destroy you, and you WILL lose your precious sense of individuality.  That's the hard truth.  Can we run away from that truth?  Is all this technology an attempt to do just that????   

While those questions sit unanswered, progress on the album moves on at a renewed pace.  This weekend Scott Solter mixed the first two tracks, "I Know A Guy" and "You've Got eWhale."  This caps off a summer of overdubbing, building a new live band with Donovan Cheatam, and working on the video for "Nowhere Nothing NoOne Blues" with Michael Lucas, Brandy Lynn and Andrew Hiller (more on all these later).  All Curtis Eller's banjo parts are locked in.  I'll be releasing portions of Ben Belcher's amazing artwork within the next month.  Thomas Van Der Brook is adding the final saxophone & violin overdubs from Austin.  Katherine Whalen and Shawn Luby are going to sing on it, but I'm behind schedule on recording their parts.  Maybe after gigs this weekend.  Album release date should be late January or early February.  Thinking about a kickstarter just for a vinyl run.

Here's a rundown of the first two songs:

"I Know A Guy" -- a character portrait of JJ.  I wrote the guitar riff many years ago -- I remember unsuccessfully pitching it to Shaun Dickerson and Paul Tressel as a potential Screaming Zygotes song.  It slept for a very long time, but the lyrics came very quickly after I hit upon the JJ concept.  Shea rewrote my first draft and vastly improved the structure and phrasing.  I started assembling the drums in ProTools (thanks Sonny!) during the summer of 2013.  I incorporated a sequencing app called Pocket Band for the video game FX and drum machine.  I also used a theremin app for the whale sounds.  Aaron Parker laid down some wild guitar tracks and Shea topped the whole thing off with a harmony vocal.  I doubled down on guitar tracks and vintage synth samples.  Scott Solter's mix onto 1/2" tape made the whole thing sound like it's actually real!

"You've Got eWhale" -- An instrumental, and another old riff, this one came from Richmond around the end of Leaving and Returning.  It's actually a simpler version of the chord sequence to "Haunt."  The arrangement is intended to portray the behemoth of technology -- the piano and vibraphone sounds so innocent and inviting at first, but by the end, you're engulfed by the Farfisa and the bass solo melts your face.  Basic drum, piano and B3 tracks recorded at SoundPure by Allen Palmer, subsequent keyboard & guitar overdubs by Scott Solter and myself on Orient Street.  Features Shea on goat hooves and William Dawson on trombone.  Special thanks to Chris Traylor at Hohner for hooking me up with a great deal on the melodica I used on this track.

These first two songs will probably get posted online very soon.  The first place you'll find them will be at www.LLmusic.net.  I will also be screaming my head off on facebook and twitter about it so you've got that to expect.  Ah, progress!

 

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