Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Less Sinister Christmas

What makes a Christmas "less sinister," you might ask? What makes Christmas sinister in the first place? Well, I know that I'm not the only person out there that has negative associations with Christmas, and who has come to reject it, in part due to those associations, and in part due to being educated later in life of the ways in which celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on a co-opted Pagan holiday is a bit of a sham. Hell, I've learned that many Christians reject the holiday, while there are Christians out there who claim that encompassing other traditions and beliefs into this holiday is a "war on Christmas." The whole thing is fucking ridiculous if you ask me, but there are some ways in which I can appreciate the spirit of the holiday. I have a sneaking suspicion that placing celebrations of giving and gratitude in the winter has been an unconscious way to fight off seasonal depression. Of course evil, greedy corporations have found ways to exploit that and turn it into a time when many people experience the greatest stress of the year, driving them to commit absolutely atrocious acts in its name. Meanwhile the pressure to be joyous makes the loneliness of others seem a crushing weight. 

Personally, the holiday madness has made me prone to seriously consider blowing my brains out more than once. The fact that my father and step-mother had their brains blown out right between Thanksgiving and Christmas exacerbates that, I must admit. Also, children of divorce hardly ever have much joy during the holidays after having their parents play an emotional tug-of-war in which they were the rope. So I hate Christmas. And with my Pagan-leaning spiritual practices, I'm more likely to celebrate the solstice, and to call "Christmas" Yule. The holiday tradition I've enjoyed most in the past was having a day of feasting on bagels, cream cheese, and salmon lox, while watching horror movies in a blanket fort.

However, last year I actually celebrated Christmas with my Christian mother and step-father, participating in the exchanging of gifts, and generally having a pleasant time. I made physical albums of my music in the form of CDs in handmade sleeves to give to my parents, and I put out a holiday download online for my friends, family, and followers. I've been making a conscious effort to associate my music with days of the year that I've had negative associations with in the past, and that was a pretty successful attempt. It made for a less sinister Christmas, and this year I'm repeating the formula. However, my mother's summer wedding has brought a whole new element into this year's Christmas: a large new step-family. So I'm currently sitting (it's Christmas Eve) in my step-brother's family home, to which I've brought seven copies of another handmade album to share around. Some of these Christmas goers will have to share - there's definitely going to be more than seven other participants in tomorrow's gift exchange. I encountered many technical difficulties while uploading and assembling this year's album, so a process that I figured would leave me several hours in the day for songwriting instead had me working on these gifts until nearly midnight. As a result, I'm winging it by just passing them around to people and dictating who has to share, and (as opposed to last year's album) they're getting the same track list that I constructed for the digital downloads.

Last year's A Wintering Soul had a track listing that was customized for my parents, while Yuletide Carols...shit, I don't even know what was on that album anymore, because I didn't download it or save it as a playlist. I only remember that it included "They Delving 3.0," probably because it was a rarity I figured folks should have, though it's an oddly dark tune to have on a holiday album. Well, this year I set out to make a more uplifting collection of soft ambient-rock tunes that would be appropriate background music for a holiday get-together; that might offer a soft cushion for introspection; and would maybe bring some solace to those who have a tendency to despair at this time of year. Okay, a couple of these tunes have a bit of a manic edge to them: "Wrong Pocket Kinda Day" has it's moment of panic-stricken madness, "Signor Fancypants" has a bounce that wouldn't be out of place in a mosh-pit, and "The Seventh Swan" has teeth. But for the most part, these are songs that I consider to be soothing, without being too melancholy. It was actually pretty hard to compile, - though, in retrospect, "Lily White" could have easily fit in. Admittedly, my music is predisposed toward the dark side. However, "Cerebellum" and "Horizons" gave me the idea to attempt this, so rather than going for popular crowd-pleasers, I let these generally overlooked electroacoustic, soft-rock ballads set the tone.

Obviously, "Less Sinister Cousins" helped inspire the name of this collection, and - being one of my newest songs - feels as though it's a more-special gift than the others...except maybe for the Alternate Spin of "Fistfuls of Whimsy," which is also new. I have a terrible tendency to make my music freely available soon after its initial publication, which might be counterintuitive to making money off of it, but,'s fucking Christmas. And I hope y'all enjoy it, no matter what your spiritual/religious/anti-capitalist/atheistic/Scrooge-ish inclinations may be. It's a gift from me to you, if for no other reason than I want you to enjoy something I've imbued with my soul.

HFH, y'all. Happy Fucking Holidays!

Last year's A Wintering Soul

The physical incarnation of A Less Sinister Christmas

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Elemental Differences

It's been a while since my last blog post, and that's because there hasn't been an awful lot to report. I've been spending most of my time at work promoting the Nothing Left To Lose demo's availability on - and updating - my Patreon. During this time, I haven't been entirely idle in the songwriting department, though it has been at a slower pace than perhaps y'all have become accustomed to. As I started getting back into songwriting-mode, I made the foolish prediction that I would have an EP (and maybe even an album!) ready by the end of the year. Alas, a new home has come with new responsibilities, and I've also been adjusting my life's rhythm. I'm no longer awake for 36-48 hour stretches; I'm sleeping every 24 hour cycle, and usually at night. My psychiatrist (and my step-father) seem to think this is important. I'm just doing what the doctor ordered. While I'm not sure if this has improved my mental health, it has resulted in my being a little less manic. Maybe not-so-oddly, this has affected my creativity. I'm no longer devoting almost every hour of two whole days to write a single song. Also, I'm used to inspiration coming during the night, and I've been forcing myself into a binaural cycle in which that's the period that I'm trying to sleep. My psychiatrist is convinced that human beings aren't meant to be nocturnal...obviously, she doesn't know many eccentric artists. And my manic periods are the time when my creative juices usually flow. Yes, my drive can border on masochistic, and the come-down is a bitch, but I kind of miss going full-bore into writing a song, with the high that comes with being exhausted-yet-victorious. However, I do feel a teensy bit more balanced. Whether or not I feel the trade-off is worthwhile remains to be seen.

Whereas I used to have so much time in a period of wakefulness to create ads, promote my music's availability on various platforms, create incentives for crowd-funding, and to write/record music, now it seems like most of my time is spent doing the first three. I have been able to devote a couple of hours a day at work on new songs, though it sometimes seems as though I'm making zero progress while experimenting with new sounds and alternate recordings. Some of you who are active on Facebook and Google Plus will recall that I gave a private preview of the new song "Movement," which I actually began writing several weeks ago. It took several days where I had only a two-to-four hour window of actual songwriting for small sections to be polished; for new sounds to be realized and implemented; and for new directions to become evident. Then there were days at a time when I had to take a break from that song and play around with others so I could approach the song from a fresh perspective later on. During one such period, I found myself laying in bed and having a complete piano tune pop into my head. I forced myself to stay in bed (as per doctor's orders), but I hardly slept that night for fear that it would disappear. I needn't have worried; it was still stuck in my head the next day. And after recording it, the tune was stuck in my head for days, during which I would experiment with accompanying instrumentation, and find new ways to explore the basic melody, as well as the rhythm section that I found myself creating from a tortured drum machine, guitar effects, and new sounds. There came a point, however, that I was at a loss at how to bring these myriad ways of exploring a repeated melody to a conclusion.

So, I decided it was time to explore "Movement" again, which had been coming along in small spurts (not like the other described song, which had been coming in waves). By this time, I had completed an introduction that had many post-industrial/trip-hop elements reminiscent of "Interlude," which spurred on forth into a dance-rock rush akin to "Overdrive." Then it slammed into an industrial grind sounding more like Nine Inch Nails than anything I had done before. What followed was loosely sketched and utterly useless. Instead, I returned to the staccato cello riff that is that this tune's core, and harmonized it with another cello an octave higher. I mimicked this with piano and whoosh! I was off again, until I slammed it back into another industrial-metal grind. Redeveloping that into a more gradual build-up the following night, the conclusion of this song became suddenly self-evident, and the fact that I had been writing and then polishing small portions of this song at a time meant that the finished sketch didn't leave much to be edited before becoming the final draft, which is exactly the same as the preview I offered on social media.

If you missed that preview, then let that be another lesson to you that you should follow me on Facebook and/or Google Plus. Because the song I've decided to use in this post to promote my latest work is the other song that I had been working on, during the writing of "Movement." I returned to my earlier multi-faceted exploration of the piano piece that had haunted my sleep so many nights ago, and found that I had fully realized rhythm, string, and piano sections, accompanied by glockenspiel, that required very little editing, and the next segment seemed like it should have been ridiculously obvious. With a new piano part accompanying some epic strings and guitar derived from the original piano, the song came to a beautiful climax that was then stripped down to a gentle conclusion. All of this was recorded without a name in mind; "Movement"s' name was simply drawn from the stop-and-go bursts of writing and recording, a movement at a time. I even went through the entire editing process of this song without a title popping into my head, as they usually do. When it came time to share it with my Patrons, I had to sit and meditate on it for a while. During the writing of it, I had often thought of the cousins (the animal people) in the writings of Charles de Lint, particularly the cerva (horned cousins). This brought to mind the digital painting "Feral Strings" by Cyril Rolando. However, I knew at this point that I was intending these songs to be presented to Patrons as B-sides to the Elemental EP, and "Strings" had already been used as track art on the Artist's Edition for "Cerebellum." (To see each piece of track art for the original Artist's Edition, visit the article "Elemental, My Dear...") Therefore, I found myself at an impasse in that train of thought and meditated on the song further.

I found that it also brought to mind a naiad, which prompted the thought that naiads are the less sinister cousins of sirens. Immediately, the phrase "Less Sinister Cousins" stuck in my mind, and also fit with the cerva of my original train of thought; how there are the imposing, more menacing cerva, such as buffalo, and their gentler cousins, such as deer. This could be applied to Charles de Lint's animal people in general: they come in all shapes, sizes, and dispositions. And this song definitely calls to my mind creatures that are gentle and even whimsical. When browsing Cyril Rolando's artwork for track art (to keep within the themes of the original EP), I was initially drawn to the piece "What Do You Wanna," but scanned through each item on his DeviantArt page before settling on it. I also had "Movement" in mind while scanning through Cyril's art, with the goal of finding something that conveyed kinetic energy; it doesn't get more kinetic than the train depicted in "Train Train Quotidian."

So finally I had the long-promised B-sides to Elemental to offer my Patrons. They were a long time coming, and one song that I had intended to be among them (a vocals-and-verse piece called "Looking Glass") didn't make it, but I feel that, tonally, they go quite well with the rest of the EP. "Less Sinister Cousins" has elements of the ambience in "Cerebellum," as well as the playful glockenspiel of "Fistfuls of Whimsy." It also has drum machine techniques that I developed for "Signor Fancypants," which are evident in "Movement" as well. Actually, "Movement" has all the industrial- and post-metal aspects my music has to offer, while being a piano-and-cello piece of dance rock at its core.

The two-track Elemental B-Sides download, with individual track art by Cyril, is now available to all my Patrons. They have also been incorporated into the Artist's Edition of Elemental available to Patrons pledging $5 USD or more, as "hidden" bonus tracks, meaning they aren't mentioned in the PDF booklet, which remains the same as before. I'm not sure whether these songs will be included in the next publicly available EP, which I'm going to be taking my time on. Thanks to the generous contribution of a long-time Patron, I'm able to have a bit of breathing room in writing and recording the next one. I keep pushing back the date for its release as a result, but I'm hoping that I'll be celebrating my two-year anniversary of self-publishing my music with a public release of some sort. The next EP may be released before then and I might celebrate my anniversary in some other way. Time will tell.

This has, of course, altered the rewards available for a pledge in support of me and my art at Patreon. I decided to make an Artist's Edition of The Instrumentality Project available to those pledging $1 or more, exchanging it for Instrumentality, while keeping the compilation Embrace (a 12-track collection of my most popular songs from the four previous albums). The current selection of rarities are songs that were on Instrumentality; "Introducing... (Alternate II)," "Winter's Salve (Alternate Spin)," "Waltz for Giger (Delusions of Empathy)," and "The Nocturnal Dervish." And there's now the Elemental B-Sides. This means that for just $1 toward the release of my next EP, you can download 31 songs! And for $5 or more, you can have all that and the Artist's Editions of Occultation, Jaded, and the aforementioned  extended Artist's Edition of Elemental. A pledge of $10 or more includes all of the above, as well as the Artist's Editions of Revolutions and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and the demo for Nothing Left To Lose!

Being a Patron really is the best way to support my music; it means income for me when I publish an EP or album (always letting you know in advance), and for $10 you can download all of my music. Plus, Patrons are often treated to song previews and early downloads, and I'm always looking for ways to create something special for them. In the past, this has periodically been an extensive compilation that includes new music, and that's what I'm aiming for the next Patron exclusive to be. I don't have an idea for a title yet, but I do know that it will include "Less Sinister Cousins," possibly "Movement," and whatever other new songs I complete between now and then, effectively giving early downloads of songs that will be on the next EP(s) or album.

However, there is an alternate way to get your hands on Artist's Editions of the existing albums, as well as the new extended Artist's Edition of Elemental. You may not be aware of it, but MIME has been renovated and renamed Soundbrokers. It's still the same innovative way of supporting indie music by buying stock in an artist or band, while being rewarded with cash and artist-provided incentives. Artist's Editions of Occultation, Jaded, Revolutions, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Elemental are among those I've put on offer for $5 USD a share. If you're already buying and selling stock at the Internet's first indie music stock exchange, I encourage you to consider this option for supporting (and being rewarded by) The Lady anoNYMous.

That's all for now, folken. It's taken me all damn day to put together this blog article. Doesn't look like it, does it? ...sigh... But now I'm going to call it good and start winding down for sleep. Because that's a thing I do now. My inner snail is resiliently sliming a trail toward mental health (Ha!) is yours doing? I hope my music provides a fitting, if not soothing, soundtrack for your odd gastropod and its own journey.

UPDATE (12/17/2016): A new Alternate Spin of "Fistfuls of Whimsy" has become available! Ever since its publication on Elemental, there have been a couple of minor things that have been bothering me, and in the following months I've been fiddling with this song, trying to pin them down. I finally figured them out, and it has left me ridiculously elated! Other people may not even notice them, because the changes are subtle - really just a couple of notes in a piano riff here and a couple of guitar chords there - but it makes all the difference in the world to me. Since recording those changes, I have also painstakingly remastered the final product, and it's now available to download as one of the $1+ rewards on Patreon. I've shared an unlisted YouTube video (which I'll make public any day now, so that subscribers to my channel feel a little special) with my followers on Facebook and Google Plus, so I'm tempted to make this another example of why you should follow me there... But what the heck, I'm too excited to not share. Here you go!