semper Thou Bugs Wine Demons
This is a cover song. Dido. I forget if we made this one or another one sound so close to the original that maybe it was stupid but then again I don’t even care about that. I like doing that and I like making a cover that’s totally off. Like we had an acoustic guitar plus two vocalists “around the campfire” version of Killing In The Name Of by Rage Against The Machine.
Oh man I don’t even know what to say right now. Have I said everything I have to say? I’m sure I’ve said before what a nightmare it can be to put a cover on your record. There are two on this record. I bet I’ve also talked about sampling before.
Technically, cover songs are allowed. You can do a cover song and you don’t have to ask permission. You do have to pay though. And if the song is managed by the Harry Fox Agency (they all are, really) then they want you to pay a lot up front. But if you want to sample something, you have to have all kinds of written permission and probably you’ll have to pay. It’s not inconceivable that someone could give you permission to sample something and not make you pay.
I paid 50 dollars to a bunch of Tibetan monks to let me use samples of their chanting CD.
It didn’t used to be that way with all samples. If you sampled a bit of a song, then that would be problematic. But if you wanted to sample a movie line, which I did a LOT of, all you had to do was give it credit in the liner notes. Nobody cared. I guess technically the rules were still the same, but nobody was getting in trouble. I did three records with hella samples in there. Various movie lines and other vocal snippets, never any music samples.
The first record, Martyrs And Heroes, that was fine, I gave credits, it printed, boom. For the next record, Artistic Apocalypse, I had to change printing companies to press it because the previous one had turned out to be overly Christian and wouldn’t print certain stuff. So I turned to Discmakers and they printed Artistic Apocalypse fine. All kinds of movie samples and stuff in there, all credited. Then things started changing. Napster was a real milestone but they weren’t the beginning of all this upheaval surrounding intellectual rights and the new digital media and stuff (mp3s and the like).
In fact the way I remember it, it didn’t even start with the “new media” (that’d be the mp3s copied all around on the interwebs) at all. In fact it was ALWAYS easy to copy music. We’d put records onto cassettes. Then we’d copy cassettes onto cassettes. Then we’d copy CD’s onto cassettes. In fact it only got even remotely difficult to pirate music when people starting caring whether something was a second generation dub or not. Long ago nobody thought about that. Now we try to get an actual COPY as opposed to a dub. What isn’t talked about is that for all this copy protection and shit, you can still just as easily dub something and make a copy. There are 1000 ways to do that now, too.
Anyway there was great upheaval before all that started being talked about. Honestly I have no idea why, but people just started getting in trouble all over the place. Around that same time, sampling became sort of frowned upon in some circles of fans. Like you’d find out such and such bassline was actually a sample from another song and you’d be crestfallen and then you’d hear all these nasty rumors circulating about how “oh fuck that song he stole that bassline! that’s a sample!” — “WHAT?? no WAY! REALLY? asshole!”
I remember that being said about Vanilla Ice’s big hit Ice Ice Baby. Maybe something had happened there where they didn’t get the proper permission to use that bassline, but I doubt it. Companies are pretty thorough and that was a well known line. It’s not like it was a secret.
To me that whole thing of getting disappointed in artists who sampled was just white kids coming into rap not understanding what it was. Rap/hip hop is totally about sampling. That’s half the culture. And it’s not a bad thing. Nowadays sampling is happening just as much, and it’s about paying homage to classic songs and also picking up on known themes as a means of building on that art to find new art. And it’s promotional. And it’s nostalgic. All of it at once.
But sampling ORIGINALLY was born of necessity. The first hip-hop stuff was not sampled, it was bands with whole horn sections and the like. But in the world of hip-hop, the liklihood that a kid with talent for rapping who’s killing it at cyphers and break dance circles having a BAND or being trained in an instrument is just very low. It’s a matter of money. As it turns out I was a hip-hop artist for the same reason. What money did I have for band equipment? Who did I know that could play? And for me, it was also a matter of not necessarily wanting to work with other people. Ironic, because I keep saying how it’s ALL about other people, but for a lot of us, it starts out very personal and even secret.
SO, all that having been said, if you don’t have a guitar and a horn section and you never learned to play anything, but you want to rap over some kind of music or beat - guess what? - you PROBABLY have a record player. So along comes Grandmaster Flash and he’s got TWO! He gets two copies of the same record and manages, through AMAZING SKILL (but you don’t need to do it like him, especially if you’re just recording) and you loop that beat over and over from the beginning of Walk This Way or something, and bam there you go.
From there you get creative. Maybe you let the bassline come in or you find another groove with no words, you invent scratching, or whatever. And just as prevalent as records are cassettes at this time, and dual well cassette players are in wide use, and a whole other subset of hip-hop artists like me create a whole other way of doing this called Pause Loop Beats. Capitalized that for emphasis. Pause looping is easy in concept, but like DJ’ing, VERY tricky to master. But with patience, possible, no matter how poor you are (other than having dual well cassette decks!). You just record a section of a beat to another tape and stop it when it’s past where you want. Then you play back that new tape and pause it RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the end of the phrase and record engage. Then pause the original tape RIGHT EXACTLY IN THE RIGHT SPOT at the beginning of the phrase, then record-play exactly together and create another loop and then keep on doing that!
I made 100’s of these. I’d do a whole 3 minute drum track then get a third tape and put stuff on top, then I learned to overdub, etc. That started my recording career, but there were literally 100’s of songs I did before I ever wrote a note of music. It was a long time, actually, before I discovered cheap enough gear that I could make “original” music to back my stupid macho 14 year old raps.
So THAT’S where sampling of music comes from. Nobody ever thought of it as stealing, and the whole notion that you’ve revealed some naughty secret when you say someone sampled something is stupid because it was never a secret, in fact you LOOK for recognizable beats or basslines or what not, because rather than being something you’re trying to pawn off as your own, sampling is about adding your verse, your contribution, to a known song. It’s ABOUT it being recognized as a sample. The reason white guys in Minnesota don’t get that, honestly, is because they don’t recognize the old songs because they were busy listening to Pink Floyd or classical music or whatever. Basically it’s due to the long history of segregation and dual cultures laying on top of each other in this country, where there’s a whole long African American tradition that most white people have no idea is even there.
So when you hear that little bassline in Dr. Dre’s tune that sounds original to you and find out later it was a sample and think “damn”, it doesn’t sound that way to Dr. Dre and his family and all the guys in Watts listening to it. They immedietly hear Tighten Up or whatever it is and say “OH YEAH!” and then it takes a new direction and it’s like a nostalgic reinvention of a song and it’s loveable and danecable, original and recognizable at once. It maybe partly came from simple resources reality, but maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was genius to begin with. Maybe Grandmaster Flash makes a choice to get those turn tables instead of a guitar. Hell even Ray Charles was taking known gospel tunes and writing new more racy lyrics for them!
…But… I was talking about the upheaval. Third record I did, Frosted Mini Wheats, had a bunch of snippets, from movies, video games, even a cassette tape of a stage performance of The Crucible. All credited, etc. Sent the record to discmakers and they called and said they wouldn’t print it! Sent me a form, which is now a standard part of their package when you send them a record, where I was supposed to get written permission from every sample. Hell one of them was Bobby Kennedy taken off of a Michael Jackson record. Where do I get that permission? There was no way. So I shelved the record mostly. Printed a few copies myself with stick on labels that melted or bubbled up or caused the CDs to spin wrong in players. Ugh. S’ok, it was probably better not to end up with 1000 copies of that record. I still have 700 of Cult Of Nice and that’s a FAR FAR FAR better piece of work.
So from then on out, and I KNOW I’ve mentioned this before, the rules and regulations and forms and suing and people freaking out and everybody being so “mine mine mine” about their “intellectual property” has totally changed the way *I* make art, and the creative decisions I make - and many others like me. I think it’s crazy but I can also feel for people. I mean you spend your whole life doing this stuff, and all you want is enough money to fuckin buy a sandwich, and suddenly you hear something you created out there in the world, making somebody else enough money to buy a sandwich and a coffee? Come on at least share the turkey a little.
Of course, there’s nobody in my realm that wouldn’t share the wealth if any ever came. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m really thorough and careful about making sure I have it set up to share the proper wealth with contributers to my records. But I owe each of them about 4 cents each, so *shrug*.
Speaking of 700 copies sitting in the garage. Here’s something I just said in an instant message to a buddy:
“It feels like sitting on a huge pot of gold - 10 years after the world decided gold was just rocks.”
Man I love this one. But it’s actually a little intense to listen to too much. It’s very intense, emotionally and all.
Man though. It has these mandolins. This kid Eric just had all kinds of instruments in his little apartment and he could play ‘em all and he would bring ‘em over and go in the booth/Old Man Clothes Room and play ‘em and play ‘em. What a talented cat, srsly.
This one I really could hear it’s single quality, especially in the chorus. So much so that I couldn’t stand not to sing back up on it. But it’s definitely arranged wrong for a single. It’s creative in the way it’s arranged, but the arrangement isn’t single material. I mean you don’t hear that catchy chorus until way way in. It’s written more like a poem, but it has catchy melodies. I guess if we were really serious about making it a hit single, we’d arrange it differently or do two versions or something. That’s the difference between a small indie label and a major. On a major you’re just forced to be concerned about these things, whereas with a small indie, you don’t care.
People talk about that creative freedom and they talk about wanting it but I’m not sure how many people really would trade having millions of people listen to something for that creative freedom. I also think we probably are over-angry about lack of creative freedom at the level of the majors. I mean the fact is, for something to move the MASSES, a certain formula has to be applied (usually - there are definitely exceptions), and THAT limits your “freedom”, not an evil uncreative executive. Of course I temper THAT by saying that sometimes execs are OVERLY paranoid about formulas and sometimes we indies feel like they have so much power that anything they decided to force on the masses would reach at least a modest level of popularity, and why can’t they use that power to expand the minds of millions?
I don’t know. I know that I’ve always been an indie, and when you don’t give a shit about anything because you know nobody’s listening, then you pretty much do anything, and that’s fun I guess, but I improved and grew so much more when I started doing slam poetry because I was forced to really think about what was going to work for the people out in audience. I did a lot of experimenting and a lot of things didn’t last. That REALLY quickly developed my art as a performance poet, whereas as a recordist I didn’t develope as fast or as well, because I had no feedback.
The other thing is one of the major new themes of this blog, and that’s about being self centered versus concerned with other people. When you do something for other people it really holds a lot more power than when you just do it for yourself, whether or not you’re a Buddhist. And I might have already mentioned that in this blog. That yes there’s a sick sick fame/glory/money thing that happens, but originally, it’s about doing something bigger than yourself, and that’s not sick at all.
Oh well. La La La. Drink! ANNDNDDDD DRRIIIIIINNNNNKKKKK!!!
I wonder what I said last time. Maybe I should go look. Screw it I’ll just type. It doesn’t really matter which song, when I hear this record, this is what I think:
“Why is it that with the same gear and methods, my records sound like fisher-price toy bullshit to me, but this sounds like a real record?” and then the answer comes “oh yeah because this wasn’t just one person’s isolated thing”.
There’s some kind of magic in that. They say don’t produce yourself, they say vocalists shouldn’t mix their own vocals, and of course there’s some obvious practical things about that like your perspective gets skewed when you listen to your own voice, your emotional responses get in the way, and of course having more brains involved improves something just by catching problems you wouldn’t have, etc.
But I don’t know. I think there’s something just magical, and by magical I mean real but intangible in the sense that we don’t quite have a way to explain it at this point, about something being an actual team effort that turns into something that sounds real. (And maybe also my isolated records don’t sound so fake to other people?).
It’s funny that I keep wanting to say that about this album, and right now as I type this, an IM conversation is going on in another window talking about sharing ideas, Gougain and the impressionist MOVEMENT (as opposed to gaugane’s personal individual impressionist deally bopper), and who GIVES A SHIT if you “steal my idea” and - well - basically:
THE MYTH OF THE SINGULAR GENIUS.
I had this thought while watching a movie once a couple years ago, being overwhelmed by the sheer number of credits rolling past…and…well let me basically just paste from the IM window:
“a lot of what we’re talking about is sort of coming from an anger place - like fuckers! there’s too many assholes that want to be rock stars and movie gods to the point where now everybody who actually made a movie is lost in a huge list of contributors on the credits, anonymous - it’s just this big team effort….wait a minute….maybe this is good….”
“…sometimes we get pissed seeing the beginnings of what is actually a beautiful thing…”
“what if it’s turning into a thing of movies and stuff are just created by a bunch of regular folks for regular folks. a totally sharing everybody gets to be involved thing? that seems awesome. but what’s got to be addressed is people making a living and being healthy and stuff - not disappointed and poor all the time”
I think that last part is where I can still get with the venom a bit, because really it’s the myth of singular genius thing, the whole mentality that the point of life is to do something totally “on your own” and have it be somehow better than everyone around. Have you been reading about the Winslet sisters refusing to audition for contacts their famous sister Kate gets them? I think that’s idiotic as hell. Who ever did anything “great” on their own? What’s this “I wanna make on my own” crap? If you extend that logic, then every time you get a job offer, you have to turn it down. Wouldn’t want to accept help from some already establish corporate person. Oh no, I wanna make money all by myself. Dude. You can’t make money by yourself. You have to sell something to another person. Then if you do have some money, and you’re on your own, what do you spend it on? What do you plant it in the fucking ground and grow spinach? This is STUPID.
And we’re being taught that this is what we should do, and we should feel guilty and lazy if we don’t? And we’re being taught this notion of singular exceptionalism which basically states that in a project the scope of a Hollywood blockbuster, which literally takes thousands of people to pull off, only one person can possibly deserve credit. Of course they list all the credits, so at some level, we do understand the reality.
But to someone like me, who grew up in this, and got on stage and started being told stuff like “you’re gonna be a star, you’re different, blah blah blah”, who began to think that the only way to make up for his shortcomings is to be somehow a star, a singular outstanding better than other people genius, the idea that the makers of a big budget film would all “languish” in anonymity was extremely depressing and even scary. I actually thought that the industry was crumbling because stardom seemed to be going away.
Wait what? Did I just say that? I thought the point of this blog was that stardom and the idea of wealth, glory and fame has run rampant, gotten out of control. Well it is, but a lot of times, what happens just at the cusp before something disintegrates entirely is it becomes a cancer. That is the nature of the world, especially if you’re very Taoist. Something that becomes too much soon disappears.
“…sometimes we get pissed seeing the beginnings of what is actually a beautiful thing…”
So I got depressed that day, but perhaps in reality, it will be a beautiful day soon. Lord knows we ALWAYS kick, scream and resist when the universe drags us into what we want.
This song drives my girl Jenny crazy because he’s out of tune by just a little and she has perfect pitch so it bothers the CRAP out of her. It doesn’t bother me as much.
At the end, he says something about being drunk and off key, so at least he knew This was recorded in one of our drunken one take sessions but I felt like he did a nice job with it!
He says something about hiding for 17 years, the cicada hiding in its shell being a metaphor, I guess, about him and hell us in general. One thing about running the label and making records is in the studio you’re very isolated from everything and everybody. Even though ultimately music is supposed to be for other people, you’re so isolated in the studio, and you can end up hiding for years and years and years if you’re not careful. A lot of times, if I’d been in the studio (or doing something computer intensive) all day and I had a gig or even just an open mic to go to that night, I’d be really really nervous and afraid. When I got to California, since I wasn’t committed to actual gigs much, I’d just skip the open mics most of the time.
That’s a promotional nightmare. Getting isolated and anti-social is not what you want from a rock star, or really any member of a record label. You want the whole thing to be a constant party, in a way. But you can’t get any work done that way, which is the other frustration. And party people tend to be people who don’t get anything done. I had trouble in Oakland getting somebody to simply mail one bubble mailer off, even if I’d already packaged it.
So right there is a sort of paradox that make the business of entertainment a bit hard. You have to be a serious master of changing between opposite energies, which is really rare; most people lean far one direction, and even those who can do both it can be a real chore and take a long time to get from one mode to the other. Newton’s law of inertia works on modes of being that way. The other option, I guess, is to have a team comprised of some connector/party people and some worker bees. But as it turns out, that never happened with our group. A few of us tended to be shy a lot of the time, but not productive. And most people who have a sense of sort of down home work ethic probably will just work for a real company, rather than invest their time for free in the hopes of a big payoff at some point. Hoping for that wild payoff after years of partying is kind of nonsensical, so you usually end up working with people with no sense.
That seems a bit harsh to say, but of course I include myself in that group. We all had SOME sense, but I think most of us NQuitter’s would now admit that we had less sense than we thought.
The biggest trap for me right now is in saying this stuff, I start to think that perhaps I could make it work by doing things right and being productive. Problem is, I always thought that, and so I’d keep getting myself in, and then not being as productive as I’d hoped. Now in other aspects of life, I’m trying to work things in a way that allows for my lapses in integrity and doesn’t have the flawed design of unrealistic expectations. The problem for NQuit right now is that I don’t have a design that leads to solid success that includes room for error. The only design I know requires an integrity and work ethic that nobody *I* know has, at least not when they’re making music or art and/or selling it.
But it was fun to be “drunk off the summer” with Eric.
Well I hope you maybe read my new about page.
If you did, you’ll know I’m supposed to be telling the frustrating idiotic story of deciding you’re a professional “artist”, amidst all the fame and celebrity insanity that goes around. If you happened to be reading before, you’ll know that originally I was just using this blog as a vehicle to show off all my and my label’s music. Well I had this shift in thinking, but I still have two albums I hadn’t talked about, and they’re not my stuff, so I felt like I wanted to still use those songs as a jumping off point.
So here’s Ladybug Heart, by semper Thou, aka dominguez, aka Eric, who played all the guitars on my last album. I think Eric is really fucking good. I think he’s got something really amazing and in producing his record, I really felt like I’d done something that sounded like a real record, and really for the first time. It’s very simple in scope, usually just an acoustic guitar and vocals, played live. Maybe a few overdubs. But I think it sounds really clean and natural and man I’m proud of it. The other thing is Eric is well rehearsed and/or very skilled in that things don’t take forever. He will actually pick up his guitar and play. He’s very easy to work with.
I think I can really jump off about the frustrations from a label point of view on this song. You do something like this and the first thing you think of is some other album that might be comparable that you’ve heard on some major label like Arista or something. And you think MAN, this could GO somewhere! Every song starts to sound like a hit single, not necessarily like Britney Spears on KOB Top 40, but something. There are different kinds of hit singles in different niches. But as an artist, my skill is really not in promoting things, and honestly, that kind of thing takes money and connections which I’ve never had. Even when I do have it, I’m too scared to spend it. And you really can envision this series of calls and emails and successes and you start to get this start-up mentality. Now that I’ve worked for a few venture-funded start-ups, I feel like every new record release is like a new start-up company. And I don’t know if it’s from TV or what, but you get this picture of three or five people in a room just buzzing and buzzing and calling and booking and emailing and writing press releases and making something happen and having pizza and staying long hours and creating this Google campus feel. Suddenly you think you’re some hipster next Google company.
But here’s where I call bullshit, because honestly, that doesn’t happen. If you don’t have a paycheck for people, there’s not gonna be that kind of passion. And don’t get a room full of wannabe rock stars together to try and push one of their records. Mostly they will sit and pine and drink and play video games. I’m not kidding. If you want to be professional, and run a business, then you need to run a business. Not a playhouse. When this record and Bleed (my record) were being finished, we had a loft full of things like a hockey goal and Corona and guitar hero. There shouldn’t be a playstation in your studio. But you see that shit everywhere. Go and audition for that “modeling opportunity” down in Houston. You’re going to walk into a room with three hip-hop looking dudes playing Madden 2000 on a Playstation and right then you’re gonna know there’s nothing going on.
So there you go. It’s not REALLY because you don’t have money or connections. It’s because of a strange haze that comes over you where you just don’t do the work. I try to imagine if my DAD was heading NQuit. My dad gets up at about 4AM every day and goes to bed probably 11PM. He works basically that whole time. His office is an office. He has no interest in video games or hipster anything. His toy is the plotter in the back room. What if you ran your little label with that kind of passion and intensity? You’d be Dr. Dre. You’d succeed. But Dr. Dre succeeds like that for the same reason my dad succeeds at being a waste water treatment engineer. Because it MATTERS to him. It matters to other people. And because he isn’t some white boy with just enough money to get some beer and pizza. He’s got NO OTHER OPTION. He can gang bang, which he did, or he can successfully run a business, which he did. But the honest truth about NQuit Records (and a lot of other entertainers) is that they’re there because they don’t want to do anything, and/or they have no idea what to do. It’s probably the malaise of wealth, because don’t forget, if you’re an American, you’re filthy fucking rich, I don’t care who you are.
Anyway Eric’s as frustrating as anything I’ve done of my own, because I feel like he’s really good, but dude is all over the place. He’s a human being running around the Earth. If he had no brains or no education or no life, maybe I could pin him down and have him on the road all the time playing these songs (and if I could run my side of the business like I describe above, it might all work). But I can’t do that. Plus whenever he plays, it’s in some apartment for some girls, and yes they all think he’s a rock star, but he has nothing to offer them (because of aforementioned laze on NQuit’s part). Hence, I don’t have the money to print 1000 records for him, and the best thing I can ever do to promote is get on stage myself, but people that dig my show don’t want to hear me go on about some other artist.
The other thing that drives the label nuts is this fuckin guy changes his artist name every other day. His poetry name is dominguez, mere days before we finished this record, he says his music name is semper Thou, and now I think he plays music as “hericlitus”. Arty, Eric, really creative, but to a label exec, a fucking nightmare.
I guess the basic point is that one of the things that’s really taken its tole on my passion in this business is that our best work is the most frustrating, because I want so bad for it to be fully maximized and heard, but the motivation do make that happen is lacking.
But I like this Ladybug Heart song. I like this whole guitar driven acoustic album. I think Eric’s really good. Now I’ll tell you this warning though: this is the saddest album on Earth. Seriously. The saddest, period. This fuckin guy was so broken up and obsessed with this one girl in Houston, who’d sort of dumped him but was also just not as into it as him, and all this stuff that sounds real familiar to me! But this guy’s like NIN - EVERY single word in EVERY single song is about her! *LAUGH*
I guess that’s not totally true. This Ladybug Heart and the next one, Cicada, are kinda…something else. Eric can get really political sometimes and I dig his messages.
But anyway. I’ve driven up some points here, and I know I haven’t been totally thorough and clear. But this isn’t a book, it’s a blog. I know I’m gonna touch on most of this again and again and I’ll try to explain myself. For a few entries, though, I’m gonna let myself drift so I can still present the songs I have left to show you. Because in the end, promotion or not, that was what it was SUPPOSED to be about. I want somebody to hear the stuff.