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UNSEEN PLEASURES

VOLUME 2 of The Great Release Project

Unseen Pleasures was the result of a challenge to create ten songs in ten days.  I had seen somewhere online that a band was trying it, so I decided to do it myself.

At that point, I had been intensely working on the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson Immortal show for for most of 2011.  As production was coming to a close and the show was about to hit the road, my mind was at ease one night and I was inspired to create this album.  Also, the DAW Reason had a major update, which included some arpeggiators and new synths, and that aided its creation.

You’ll Never Forget Me was inspired by a woman I was in a relationship with, who spent a lot of time complaining about all of her exes and how they had ruined her life.  I decided to roll all of her exes into one character and sing from his perspective, thus creating the greatest love song ever written.  Seriously, not long after I created this song, a legendary musician and producer friend of mine, Benorce Blackmon, heard the song and said, “This is hot!  Do you know who you should give this to?  Rihanna!”  At the time, I had done some work for her live shows and sent a two track to her manager for his review.  He simply replied, “thanks”, and that’s as far as it went.

Growing up in an extremely Roman Catholic family (my dad was a deacon and I was an altar boy for nine years), I was sheltered from a lot of experiences growing up.  When I moved to New York at age 21, it took a while to open up to all of the possibilities around me for great experiences and expansion.  One Night With Lianne tells the story of one of those nights where I decided to just go for it and live life with no filters.  Lianne had showed up in my Facebook feed as a suggested friend the week I started this album.  I hadn’t seen nor heard of her for about 20 years at that point.  The song flooded into me within seconds as I gazed upon her likeness, remembering that night.  My entire body tingled as I sang the lyrics for the first time into my iPhone, as if I were there again.

If These Walls Could Talk began as a jazzy groove playing with Logic and trying out some different chords.  In its development, I had read an article about 10CC recording their voices over 16 tracks and playing the console like a sampler back in the mid-1970’s, years before samplers were commonplace, in the creation of their huge hit I’m Not In Love.  It was a favorite song of mine coming up, and I loved the lush vocals in it.  I decided to give it a go myself, recording 16 tracks of singing “oh” and “ah” for almost every note, on a scale of 10 notes, spanning almost two octaves.  Almost 300 vocal tracks later, I put them into a software sampler and created a drone, which rises and falls throughout the song.  The song vamps with a melody played by the vocal samples.  Also, live cymbals were used for the song.

A Golden Life was inspired by a former mother-in-law's life story and my own life experiences.  She had come to the United States from Vietnam with her husband, virtually penniless.  I had thought about when I moved to New York and didn’t have much either, spending the week after Christmas my first year there eating nothing but apple butter sandwiches, because apple butter was about fifty cents cheaper than peanut butter.  Ignoring the living conditions of the moment, the song reflects the sense of hope and optimism required in order for success to come forth.  It's a celebration of appreciation.

Preacher’s Daughter came from a simple lyrical idea I had recorded on my phone, “Her name is Sandra, she loves the camera.”  From there, the song took on its own life, representing the repression one experiences growing up in a religious family.  S.I.T.Y.P.I.G. (Shake It ‘til Your Pain Is Gone) is a continuation of the story, written from the perspective of one of Sandra’s “new, helpful, um, friends” she meets in her travels.

Interlude was something I came up while experimenting with Ableton Live for the first time, shortly after its release.  It seemed like a great way to break the tension of the previous two tracks and enter into the second part of the album.  The vocal line at the end was recorded on my phone as it came to my mind, while playing with my son Alex, who was a toddler at the time.

Montréal was created one afternoon at the end of my work at Cirque, reflecting the experiences of being there during a hot summer in the evenings, and all of the life, that friendly, loving city has to offer.  I had played it for Wah Wah Watson when I returned to LA, who loved the track and decided to add some guitar and synth to it.  He had given me a Reason file with over 65 tracks of guitars, strings, synths, and Echoplex. When I returned to Montreal a year later, I completed the final arrangement and mix in bed with headphones, while visiting my cousin Kim in Vermont one weekend.  That morning, when she woke up, she walked passed the bedroom I was in, and saw me passed out with the computer on the bed and the headphones still on my head. “What the heck were you doing in there last night,” she asked. I also had a habit of locking down my hard drives and computer wherever I went during that time period, because I had MJ’s content with me during the creation of the ONE show. When she saw me lock down my laptop bag to her furniture with a Kensington and a padlock upon arrival, that shocked her as well. “Who is going to come all the way to Vermont to steal this,” she asked. Fair question, but I honored my commitment with the Estate to keep his tracks protected. And I fondly remember one of my conversations with Wah Wah about the track as I played back my mix. “Boy, I don’t know what you were going through when you wrote this, but DAMN,” he said. “You know what we do Uh? We make feel good music,” he continued. “It defies any category, any genre. We make music that feels good.”

Tower 17 began as some chord play with a Rhodes sound in Logic. It developed into a song about escaping the troubles of life “on the other side of PCH (Pacific Coast Highway),” which divides the beach and the rest of the town where I live.  Tower 17 is a lifeguard tower close to home, where I would take a girlfriend when I was younger to watch sunsets, or where I would occasionally take my sax late at night and watch lovers congregate along the shore while I played.   Wah Wah heard it and decided to put down some guitar tracks. When he got to to the 2nd chorus, he told me, “your chords go crazy after that. This is all you’re gonna get.” I made a music video of this song, filming the shore at Tower 17 in Huntington Beach for five minutes with my phone, as the sun went down one afternoon in late 2011. When Wah Wah saw the video, he said, “You need to show the tower in all of the Choruses when it says “Tower 17,” and put a loving couple at the end of it before you fade it out.” Fortunately, I had taken a bunch of stills of the tower before the sun went down, and added them to the video. I’m grateful for his musical and video direction contributions.

Meat was written as a groove I created in Montréal, toward the end of the Immortal production.  Wanting to add lyrics to it when I returned home, I followed a suggestion I found about songwriting online that commanded, “Pick a random book off of your shelf, open it to page 156, close your eyes and point on a section of the page.  The closest word will be the title of your song.”  I walked over to my bookshelf, picked a Chinese cookbook I had bought from a teacher who taught a class on the subject, and went to page 156. It was a section divider, with only one word on the page, Meat. I was in a relationship with a vegetarian at the time, so I decided to make the words a humorous jab at her, how even though she doesn't eat meat, she treats me like meat.  I had some fun recording the percussion, which included a set of steak and cooking knifes, and creating the vocoder parts as well, using the Zynaptiq Orange Vocoder.

Kelly Appletree was created while enjoying the latest Reason update at the time.  The instrumental was made very quickly, on the fly.  The groove felt amazing, and I wasn't sure what to do about the lyrics.  One night, before I went to bed, I told myself, “When I wake up, I will have my song.”  That night, around 4 am, I woke up in tears, and the rest of the story is in the lyrics.  I had a lot of fun creating the intro that musically starts in the distance, and goes full volume into the second section of the first verse, where the scene is a club.  My intention was to match the walk I had in the dream, from the studio to the nightclub scene, and it worked.  Wah Wah Watson heard the track and decided we should edit two sections of it, remix it into an instrumental called Uh, the nickname he gave me when we met.  Around that time, he was asked to play at a party celebrating Brian McKnight’s star on Hollywood Boulevard, and he featured the track.  The front of house engineer wasn’t aware of the song’s unique intro, and kept turning it up as it climaxed into the verse, which slammed his levels past the max!  The lyrical story is true, by the way, and the song’s title is what we used to call the girl-next-door at school when we would tease her.

In the process of creating my songs, I had been using the iPhone’s voice memo feature.  I decided to make a sonic collage of all of the notes I had made while creating the album and call it Scratchpad.  They were done in a variety of environments, some in the car, some at home in the kitchen, and some in bed.  Getting the various voice memos to match sonically was a challenge, until I came upon Paul Frindle’s Dynamic Spectrum Mapper plug-in.  I just picked the best sounding voice memo, and had the others match it.  I also used a bunch of Chamberlin loops for the arrangement, from a Drum Machine CD I had purchased years ago. Originally this song was going to be called Shangri-La, until it switched its direction into what it is now.

The Flight Crew was another one that wrote itself, experimenting with that latest version of Reason.  The song was entirely composed in the DAW, with the exception of a “ba” vocal sample I recorded.  Wah Wah had heard this one and picked an eight-bar loop in the middle of it and recorded guitars over it.  A few times over the years I would go to his house and he would have transformed that loop into another song with guitars or other instruments.  It sometimes took a few bars into listening to his song that I would realize that my loop was still the bass and drums, supporting what he had written! I had also noticed later that the delays in the song might be slightly off, but didn't care because it felt good.

Unseen Pleasures took ten days to start the creation of it, a few months to record all of the lyrics and other instruments, and six years to commit to the mixes.  I used this album as a guinea pig for my mixing education, going through various phases, from its beginning with a simple two track stereo mix, to trying out Slate plug-ins, later summing the outputs through eight channels with a DBox and The Senator compressor by Jimmy Douglass, and even later, going through an analog phase with 24 outputs fed through Dangerous Music hardware and using a Toft Audio console for EQs only.  I had reservations about its release, especially after my wife at the time had found a rough mix of One Night With Lianne in my car and had played it.  She was pissed about its lyrical content, even though the story happened years before I had met her.  In any case, I had a lot of fun making this album and all of the gestations it took over the years.  Three of the songs caught the attention of Wah Wah, enough for him to play on them and add to their arrangement or to the creation of their remixes.  “I’m a sucker for a groove,” he often said.  So am I.