I Come From Russia With Love – Song #18 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

I bet your password is a scream.

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Shake Your Memory Bones –  Song #16 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

I was in the studio recording this and a few other songs, and was not having a very good time. I’ve not, before or since, had such a bad experience in the studio (a studio that is beloved in Portland). The engineer could not have been more uninterested in what I was doing, or me personally. I was, apparently, a really boring drag. ANYWAY!

When I was recording this weird song, Elliott Smith stopped by. I had been having trouble with the vocal sound in the studio, which is usually the thing I nail no matter what. It’s kinda my thang.

So, I figured, well, hell, ELLIOTT SMITH is right here. He probably knows how to good a good vocal sound! Duh.

So, Elliott being Elliott, which is to say, very nice, and very generous, says, oh sure, try this…so he set a different mic up, fucked with the EQ a bit, tested it (he sounded awesome)…said there ya go!

I’m like, holy smokes! This is going to kick ass. Elliott left, I got on the mic, we started recording, and…..

Sounded like shit. Ha! What worked for Elliott most emphatically did not work for me. Went back to the old set-up and used that.

Never really got what I wanted out of that studio session, but I do like this song, mostly because the sound of it is really unlike anything else I’ve ever done.

the shrine of natalie song #15 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

At the end of 1999, I went down to LA an got an apartment in Silverlake, and split my time between Portland and there for a few months in order to work on two projects. One, was what is called a ‘social network’ now, the thing I was trying to build was around sharing and discovering music with your friends. It was pretty cool, but even though I got some meetings with ‘new media experts’ at places like William Morris – literally no one knew what I was talking about. I tried to hire a couple different people to build the database for it but again, no one could quite get what I was trying to build. My bad!

The other project was a film project, or more accurately a video project. I’d just bought a TRV-900 camera, and had written a story called The Shrine of Natalie. My idea was to create short episodes, like 3 minutes long and post them online. Then I thought of the idea of having the main character directly address the camera. And voila, I invented the vlog, and the web series! Well, not totally, but it was definitely early days. Once again, I couldn’t get it off the launchpad. We got meetings with Paramount and Dreamworks, who both said – this is really cool, but what is it? An episodic that is posted to the internet, and the main character breaks the 4th wall? Well, that’ll never fly.

So, we tried to find a hosting service that would host and stream the videos. Ha ha. We got kicked off of two different hosts because as soon as we had several concurrent users, it would drag their whole network down. Early days! There was a site called iFilm that you could put your films on, but I hd a different vision for the project. 

Also, such early times that I hung out on Sundays, every Sunday, with a bunch of folks working in the tech and music world would meet at a Pho restaurant for lunch –  and one of those guys was a kid named Travis Kalanick. Really nice guy and obviously really smart. So young! He had a peer to peer file sharing service called Scour. I talked to him a little about how could we seed my video project in it, but our discussions didn’t get far. Within a few months he was being sued by the RIAA for 250 BILLION dollars. He and Scour filed bankruptcy, and he had some tough years ahead of him. He then started Red Swoosh, which he ultimately sold for 19 million dollars. A couple years after that he took over UBER. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in many years and then saw him in the news, and I was like, hey it’s Travis! Good for him. Then…I started ready about what kind of guy he was, and it blew my mind. He was a nice guy and really pretty shy when I would see him. Then – he turned out to be the bro to end all bros.

Ya never know!

At any rate, I wrote a little credits ‘theme’ for the Shrine of Natalie, and here it is! I tried to get some of the footage from the show to create a video from, but the CDs I saved it to can no longer be read. I’ll have to figure that out another time.

Song #13 – You Pull the Lever

Another fun but short-lived project I did with Bill Coffey was the band Boxer Rebellion.

Our little marketing tagline was that we were “Country-Soul”. I played acoustic guitar, Bill played electric, Tim and Jason on drums and bass. Then we added a horn section, a hammond organ and a pedal steel. So it was a full house onstage. We played together for about a year, I think, and I also think we were pretty good, and should’ve/could’ve made something of it. But we stopped playing, I was never exactly sure why. We did have some good shows –  opened for John Hiatt at a decent sized auditorium I recall.

Best of all, we actually put out a record which you can find on iTunes as we speak. It’s a live album, (Live at the Neurolux), in Boise, which might’ve been a little risky on our parts to think we could put a live record out, but it turned out pretty good. I’m pretty proud of the fact that despite all the folks on-stage, and this being live, we nailed the harmonies all the way through. The high 3rd harmony is Steve Fulton, who was also playing the Hammond, and is a great musician and a heckuva nice guy.

I wrote this song, but Bill is singing the verses. He always liked this song, and told me one time that it was actually a mainstay of his live set with his bands in Boise. It’s pretty cool when your peers cover your songs.

 

We are 14 – Song #11 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

A fair chunk of my songs I think of as short stories – Many Long Hot Summers, The Story So Far, the bridge on I Close My Eyes…which goes:

We snuck up onto the ferris wheel

After the park shut down

And we talked of dreams

And get rich schemes

As raindrops found the ground

And then the ride just started up

And we laughed until we cried 

And I’d like to get that feeling back

But I guess I…

I never really tried.

This is one of those songs. Thinking back to partying in the summer heat of Kansas. And folks, the teenagers in the midwest party HARD.

Of course, a short story needn’t be autobiographical – so literally none of the details in this song are from my life, but they SOUND like they could be this unreliable narrator’s story. And the song FEELS true to me.

And in keeping with my ‘don’t be precious’ rule this year – there are 8 vocals tracks, and the 3 guitar tracks and they are all of them first takes. Gotta crank these out!

 

 

Mother Mother-  Song #9 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

Kind of a murder ballad with a bridge by Burt Bacharach?

This is a pretty dark tune.

Many years back, I got introduced to a very very influential and powerful woman in the music publishing business.

I sent her some songs and she called me to say how talented she thought I was and who did I see myself writing songs for?

And I was like…what. Me. I’m writing songs for me.

And she said, well, what about writing some songs for Huey Lewis and the News? Or maybe ZZ Top.

And I couldn’t get my head around that. At all. 

Right when I was in the process of talking to her about my songwriting ‘career’ and publishing and what-not, she suffered a terrible tragedy. Her husband died in a helicopter crash. The helicopter that was also carrying Stevie Ray Vaughn. I didn’t know her well enough to do anything but feel terrible for her, and I never spoke to her again. She told a friend of mine before that, the friend that introduced us, that she felt like I might not be successful as I could be, because my world view was too dark. Of course, a few years later Nirvana had the #1 album in the world, and their world view seemed pretty dark to me, but what do I know.

This song came about because I was trying to write kind of a murder ballad sort of slow creep of a song. 

Success!

me and my brother – song #6 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

My brother makes a lot of appearances in my songs, because, hey we grew up together! I have stumbled onto 3 different songs now whose first line is “Me and my brother…”

As I look at all the songs over all the years, it’s easy to now see patterns in the lyrics – words, phrases and themes that repeat. Catholic iconography, fire, nostalgia and regret, drinking, home and ‘you can never go home again’, the complications of responsibility, and among many others of course the old standbys: the beauty of love and the pain of love-lost

THIS particular song, though, was simple in it’s creation and then of course I had to complicate it emotionally.

I was randomly thinking about how my brother and I shared a bedroom that was in an unfinished attic in our home in Minneapolis. As is often the case, a thought or a memory will trigger a lyric, and this one fell out as I strummed some very Ramones-esque chords and happened to have the distortion all the way turned up.

“Me and my brother

Sleep in the attic”

And so where do you go from there, lyrically? Well, I’m already talking about the past – I’m already setting the scene. What were we doing?  More importantly -WHAT RHYMES WITH ATTIC?

“Me and my brother

Sleep in the attic

Under the covers

We hear radio static”

Now we’re talking. That’s a vivid memory, listening to the radio under the covers. I was maybe 8 years old?

Now how can I take that innocent and nostalgic image and scene, and turn it on it’s head?

(you could also ask, why would you want to turn it on it’s head. leave that nice warm and fuzzy scene alone, Matt! you won’t get an answer, but you could ask).

“I told my brother

We were gonna be famous

And we’d end up 

Wherever I aimed us”

Now, did I say that to my brother when I was 7-8 years old? No, of course not.

But I think what I was getting at, was me feeling responsible for him and his understanding of the world. I’m the older brother, though by just 13 months, so naturally I want to do that. The complicating image/theme, though, is “follow me, we’re going to be famous”. There was one brief moment when we were maybe 15 and 14 (I’m guessing) where I said, you should learn how to play the guitar, we would be great together, let’s form a band. He didn’t then, he did later after I was in a band and playing shows. Did I then take responsibility for him, and his understanding of the world like I said? Nope, I didn’t do that either. I was busy writing songs I suppose.

The good news is, I love the simplicity of this song, the complexity of the emotions in it, the throbbing overdrive of the guitars (those not from Ventura don’t know that I wield a stun-guitar when needed) , and the fact that my brother Paul has grown into a man I respect enormously – the guy is literally the best dad ever. He has 5 kids for gosh sake, and his patience is other-worldy. He is always trying to do the right thing (something he didn’t learn from me) and can still make me laugh harder than anyone (he might’ve learned some of that from me). The only thing I can REALLY take credit for is his excellent taste in music. THAT’S a given.

Satellite –  Song #4 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

Pretty old song here. I remember playing it for someone in the basement space of Ozone Records –  I might’ve still been working there or maybe had just stopped working there. There was a little room down there folks would play in – I think some bands were rehearsing down there too. Bill Coffey and I ended up playing this one a few times in our every-now-and-again duo shows, of course Bill sang that low part perfectly. This recording is just me however, not sure a Matt and Bill recording of this exists – although Bill has been inspired by this project and says he’s going to plow through his old stuff too, so maybe there’s some nuggets in there that I don’t know about.

The first person I played this song with however was a friend of a friend who was a songwriter as well and seemed like a nice guy. His songs were not bad, not great, but they were definitely real songs, not sort of half ideas for songs, which is half the battle.  We decided to hang out a bit and see if we could get some songs together.

I felt like I was contributing to his songs in a collaborative way, which I really like doing and we ‘rehearsed’ quite a few times, with me expecting eventually we’d play some shows. I was starving to do anything musically so this filled the bill as ‘something to do musically’.

And then…he got really weird. He would start getting angry as we rehearsed, at what I couldn’t really tell, and he couldn’t really articulate, but it seemed like maybe he was disappointed we didn’t sound GREAT and that maybe the problem was me? Then he started saying these awfully paranoid things to me, and ultimately accused me of both sabotaging his songs as we rehearsed, and trying to STEAL them. I didn’t have the nerve to tell him he was going to have to write some better songs if I was going to be tempted to steal them. 

But needless to say, that ended that. Not sure what became of that fella.

This song is one that I sang to my daughter Emmalena when she was little, she liked the way the chorus sounded, and still says it’s one of her favorite songs of mine. As with a lot of these old recordings, I only have these cassette copies, not the original tracks, so far as I can find, so many of them I would mix differently given the chance. That’ll have to wait for a re-recording in this and many other cases. I always found this song to be a really difficult one to sing live, not sure why, not sure I ever really cracked it.

Miami Bombast – Song #3 of #365songs – A Musical Memoir

Something that there is very little of in my ‘oeuvre’, if I may be so bold as to use that term…are instrumentals. Crashing Plains had one we played a lot early on, I’ve forgotten what it was it now, not sure any recording exists. This piece here, I am not sure where it came from. My fuzzy recollection is someone asked me to do some spec music for a commercial, and this is what I did. I might’ve made that up though. The “Miami” part of the title, also not sure, I assume it had something to do with whatever I was composing for. 

Miami the city, however, has always fascinated me, starting with the showbiz stories of Jackie Gleason taking over the town. He was such a big star he was able to convince the TV network to build a studio for him in Miami Beach so he could tape his show there, instead of New York. That was crazy power back then.

The city of Miami also plays a very big role in why I am even doing this whole #365songs Musical Memoir project.

Miami was for many years the headquarters of Knight-Ridder Corporation, until 2006.

And my Dad worked for Knight-Ridder for 33 years.

He was managing director of Knight-Ridder Unicom in London until 1990.

And in those connections – Knight-Ridder, Miami, my Dad – there is a story.

More on that in later posts.