The Short Version
A Reason to Dwell is my debut album, on which work began in March of 2010. It was completed June 2014.
The Long Version
Before 2009, I never identified too much as a musician. Sure, I’d taken piano lessons since I was three, but as far as creating my own music… nope. I always thought of myself as a writer or an animator and I figured that when I grew up, that’s what I’d do.
In February of 2009, about a year and a half removed from any kind of musical activity, my high school hosted a Cultural Weekend – artists from all over came in and held workshops. One of these artists was an electronic music guy; he wrote music for video games, commercials, and other stuff.
I knew we had an electronic music room at Thacher, but never thought too much of it. Never, that is, until that day in February, when this artist guy taught us how to use Reason and sequence together electronic music. And just like that, I was hooked.
From then on I spent a whole lot of time in the electronic music room, or the EMR, as I fondly called it. My first musical effort was an electronic mashup of some songs – Crazy Train, Simple and Clean, Lux Aeterna, MAB’s Double Guitar Solo, Eye of the Tiger, and a few improvved bits.
I finished my first composition, Apocalypse Rain, in February of 2010. Something possessed me to then take the next trimester and do an independent in music during my afternoons instead of doing a sport. I may never know exactly what that was.
March 2010 – Work Begins
I entered the studio only ever having used Reason before, never Cubase. With ten or so weeks in a semester and needing to pretty much do a song a week, this meant I would have to learn pretty quick, which I did, more or less. (In retrospect, less. Definitely less. What the hell was a compressor, my 16-year-old self wondered.)
The songs I wrote during this period formed the earliest core of the album-to-be. Until about six weeks in I was actually meeting the one-song-per-week quota… minus vocals. I’d never sung into a microphone before and figured I could just do that later. Figured it’d be easy, just do it in one take. I mean, it’s not like singing takes any great skill to master or anything. (Again. I knew less than I thought.)
Anyway, these songs formed what I call the “original five” and they were, in order of creation:
Down With the Boys
Do You Remember?
Reek of Geek
A Full Heart / Just Do Something
You may note that despite the moniker, there are actually six songs listed. This is because AFH / JDS was a detour from the main work, and I never intended to include it on the album. In the end it was Do You Remember that I cut, and the moniker fit anyway.
Throughout the rest of 2010 and the first half of 2011 until my graduation from high school, I worked to complete the album. I added vocals for the songs and added Break My Heart to the lineup in May of 2011. See, all the songs by this point were good ideas and had some good things going on, but they all lacked a critical something. If the other songs were the “original five,” then Break My Heart was the bridge; a sort of milestone, if you will, for my songwriting experience.
By the time of my graduation, however, only Break My Heart and No Boundaries had been properly mixed, and as even the final mixes of these two songs contained fatal errors (truncated audio, excess background noise, etc), I sadly deemed the project a failure. A year, at the beginning, seems like such a long time to finish something you thought was almost already done. Turns out that you can burn a lot of time in a music studio just fiddling, just fiddling, tuning up this and that but never really making a real push towards completion. At some point you have to buckle down and just do it, and I didn’t start to do that until it was much too late.
And so it was that I headed off to college in the fall of 2011, leaving the album in the vault to gather dust as just one more failed experiment.
2012 – Revival
In the fall of 2012, after a period of steep depression, I decided it was past time to get my life back on track. So I found myself a studio and I began working again. At this point I not only lacked the original files for the songs, but I also had to relearn the software, as the Michigan computers used Pro Tools rather than Cubase, which is far more intuitive. I’m sure I’ve ranted enough about the differences somewhere on this blog, though.
During this new iteration of the album, I brainstormed and added August Nights, Dark Triad, Never Say Goodbye, Britannic Angel and Burn to Dust. The original five were a good beginning to an album, but I don’t think they could have carried the whole thing on their own. The new five added a new, slightly more mature sound to the album that I think it needed badly. I also changed Down With the Boys to Back With a Bang, as I felt the original song no longer reflected my views.
This time around, I focused more on the harmonizations and instrumentations of the songs, figuring out which notes went where, as opposed to the approach I’d taken in 2010: hitting the record button, jamming to the click, and stopping the recorder when I’d found a sound I liked. At some point I told myself, alright, write all the songs down in a list and play them all, beginning to end. I couldn’t do it. I’d relied too much on improvisation and jamming the first time around. And I thought to myself, well, that could be a problem.
In April 2013, frustrated with the lack of progress and inspiration (despite all the new song titles I’d come up with, only August Nights was fully written) I created a ten-minute preview of the album with snippets from all the songs, to give myself a clear picture of what to work towards. Britannic Angel, Dark Triad, Never Say Goodbye and Make it Right were absent; old mixes of Back With a Bang and No Boundaries were used. It wasn’t enough.
Early 2014 – The Great Purge
In the dawn of 2014, the album began to take shape. Pleased, I bounced around some ideas for the end that was surely near; I began making plans for music videos and marketing. It was around this time that the album deleted itself and all of its corresponding files from the University servers, and I nearly had myself an aneurysm.
During the first week of February, as I slowly came to terms with the fact that I couldn’t recover my songs, I found myself faced with a rather large choice to make. Did I give up the album for lost? Or did I attempt to finish in four months what had taken me four years to begin? Despite my earlier feelings that the album was almost done, I hadn’t begun recording Reek of Geek yet; Dark Triad, Britannic Angel and Make it Right weren’t written beyond the first chorus and August Nights had any number of things wrong with it. I’d planned on finishing all of those tasks in the excess time I’d have with everything else done. Now, though, there was just no way.
I sighed and did the only thing I could, which is to say I followed the advice of the song I’d finished recording the day before: I buckled up my boots, dusted myself off, and I got right back to work.
I’d enjoyed certain luxuries while recording earlier; I prided myself on playing everything in, never using loops or copy/paste. No longer. Time was of the essence. I was ruthless in achieving what I’d set out to do. If that meant sacrificing some notion of honor that I’d held before, then so be it.
Classes at Michigan ended in late April; as I didn’t have to go to my next job until June, this meant I’d have a month of unrestricted access to the studios. Imagine my surprise, then, when I checked the schedule and found that starting on May 12, the studio would be booked out for summer maintenance for as long as I’d be in Ann Arbor.
I couldn’t believe it. Foiled again.
Luckily, I figured out that if I recorded everything I needed to in the big studio, then I could use one of the smaller workrooms to mix. Therefore I headed into the studio on May 11 knowing that I had to get every bit of recording done that I could.
It was towards the end of this day that I checked the schedule again and saw that the studio had shifted its maintenance dates to the beginning of June. Good thing I hadn’t seen that before I finished everything I needed to, I guess.
I spent long hours in the studio for the rest of the month until I finished it at 4:30 in the morning on Monday, June 2.
You know, way back when I started making that inane medley in 2009, I never thought it’d lead to all this – remember that I’d never identified as a musician before then, and that that was the first year I’d started playing guitar. Just goes to show how you can’t predict life.