Ep. 48: Song “Elephant In The Room” (Influenced by Kelly Clarkson)

This week, I’m sharing a track called “Elephant In The Room” from my upcoming album, which should be out this fall.

Most of the time when I write songs, I start off by playing something on the guitar or piano, then come up with some sort of melody on top of it, then add lyrics. This song is a little different, in that I had the melody in my head and come up with lyrics before I even picked up a guitar. Then, I kind of figured out what the chords were gonna be after the fact. I think because of this, the melody is a little stronger than some of my other songs.

I always thought the phrase “elephant in the room” was sort of funny expression. The image I get in my head of an actual elephant is sort of cartoony like dumbo or something and I thought it made an interesting phrase for a song. I think most of us can relate to being in awkward situations where people sort of pretend things are normal when they aren’t. I also liked the idea of using other phrases that have both a literal image and metaphorical meaning so I say things like “sitting on my hands” and “holding my tongue” and “getting under my skin” – phrases that we say all the time but don’t really think about literally but they all kind of fit with the theme.

As I thought more about the arrangement for the studio recording, the Kelly Clarkson song “Since U Been Gone” came to mind. I specially like the guitar strums and drum machine at the beginning and how big and catchy the chorus is.

That was sort of the idolized type of pop arrangement I had in my head. I quickly realized I don’t really have the vocal power to pull it off plus the production was a bit outside my usual territory. As worked on it, it sort of morphed into sounding a bit more like Nada Surf.

With those two influences in mind, I think I was able to come up with something fairly catchy that both fit my vocals and stayed true to my sound.

There’s an elephant in the room, nobody says a word
And when I say it now out loud it sounds so absurd
I’ve done everything that I can to try and let it go
And now it’s getting under my skin and starting to show

Well I’ve tried this a million different ways
It’s not like me to admit to my mistakes
But I just can’t get the words to come out right

Well I’m not gonna be here any more
Cause every time I take a step I fall to the floor
And I’m not hanging round here for the score
It’s just with everything that I give you’re asking for me

There’s an elephant in my head knocking at the door
And it’s getting much too loud for me to ignore
I keep sitting on my hands, trying to hold me tongue
I think I waited far too long but I could be wrong

Well I’ve tried this a million different ways
It’s not like me to admit to my mistakes
But I just can’t get the words to come out right

Well I’m not gonna be here any more
Cause every time I take a step I fall to the floor
And I’m not hanging round here for the score
It’s just with everything that I give you’re asking for me

Well I’ve tried this a million different ways
It’s not like me to admit to my mistakes
But I just can’t get the words to come out right

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Ep. 47: Song “Descent Into Madness” (Influenced by Sunny Day Real Estate)

For this week’s episode, I break apart a song from my “50 songs in 50 weeks” series. This one was written back in high school. I originally planned on playing it with my band at the time, Made in the Shade, but it didn’t quite come together when we jammed on it. When I wrote it, I was heavily into the band Sunny Day Real Estate. They came out of Seattle in the 90s and are considered one of the godfathers of emo. They’ve been an influence to hundreds of artists, including myself. Here’s their song, “Pillars” from the 1998 album, “How It Feels To Be Something On.”

I wanted to try to capture the some mood as Pillars. I began this song with just the guitar riff. For the recording, I’ve doubled it up to it’s two guitars playing the same part, just to help it sound a little fuller.Next, it needed a beat. I didn’t have a drum set available so I opted to use drum machine loops from my computer. It almost gives it sort of an industrial quality, which I kinda liked so I went with it.The guitar part and the drum machine and played a bit mechanical so I added some groove with the bass line.

The song needed some more texture to it so I added some ebow parts. If you’ve been listening this podcast, you’ve probably heard me talk about the ebow, which I used a lot during this era. Basically, it’s a little device which you hold up to your guitar and it makes the strings vibrate without actually touching it and sounds a little bit like a cello. There 4 ebow parts, which played together make up the main chords of the song. It’s purposely played just a little messy because I like the swelling sounds it makes when you get too close to the pickup.

Next came the vocals. The melody lines kind of overlap so there are two tracks for that, plus another track for harmony. I added distortion to the vocals, which make a messy “static” sound during the parts where I am not singing. I liked the direction of the messiness so I look a few of these static moments and ebow parts, looped them in reverse and added some strange sounding effects. I think it gives a real sinister and creepy feel fitting for the song.

I think the whole thing came together in kind of an interesting and unique way. It’s sort of a different sound than my other songs but I like it.

Hold me down, take away my pain
Let it go, show me your apathy
Washed right through, diseased soul to stay
Empty space, no one understands your place

Hold me down, release my consciousness
Think it out, concentrated thoughts remain
Sending me on my own
You’re sending me on my own

You’re so alive it’s killing me
You’re so alive it’s killing me
So unclear, so afraid
So unclear, and so diseased

Hold me down, take away my misery
Enter now, open doors you await
Sending me on my own
You’re sending me on my own

You’re so alive it’s killing me
You’re so alive it’s killing me
Able minds, Lost at sea
Endless ways, so diseased

Download “Descent Into Madness” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 46: Film Score for “The Tailypo”

This week, I’m sharing some music and sounds from a film project I recently worked on. This was a collaboration with my friend, Archie Crisanto. You long term listeners may remember Archie’s name from episode 37 when we collaborated on writing a song together and also from episode 20 when I shared some music I wrote for a play he directed called “The Woman in Black.”

This project was a short 11-minute film Archie directed called “The Tailypo.” It’s a suspense/horror film based on an old folk tale. Basically, a starving hunter shoots off the tale of a mythical beast and cooks it in a stew, only to have the beast return and demand it back. Archie and I came up with the music and sounds together. Most of it was even recorded while simultaneously watching the video in order to get the right timing and pacing.

So first, the opening theme is played on acoustic guitar by Archie. It happens during a scene when the hunter first shoots the creature. The theme is follow by a boom sound which I played on a cajon and heavily altered the EQ to emphasize the bass tones and added a long, sustained reverb effect.

For the next scene, we repeat the theme but this time played by myself on an electric guitar using an ebow, which is basically an electric device that vibrates the strings without actually touching them, making the guitar sound something like a cello. There are also little block hits played by myself on a cajon. Both parts have plenty of reverb added. This music happens after the man collects the tail and walks back to his cabin in the middle of a snowy wilderness.

The next part I played on electric guitar and is sort of another variation on the same theme but with a steady, quarter note strumming. The man leaves his cabin because it’s just too lonely of a place and so the music reflects his sense of isolation and despair. It’s played in a pattern of three instead of four so it doesn’t really seem to feel like it ever settles and resolves, which was done purposely to fit the mood of this scene. I took some inspiration from the post-rock band, Explosions in the Sky.

This last chunk I’ll share are a series of guitar squeals and fast strumming along with an acoustic guitar chimey-sound played at the headstock where the tuning pegs are (which kind of reminded up of the string hits from Psycho). This was played by Archie and done more for sound effect purposes to build tension during the various times we see the creature.

The Tailypo: A Folktale from Archelaus Bombadil Crisanto on Vimeo.

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Ep. 45: Song “Ocean” (Influenced by Pedro the Lion)

Today’s episode is about the title track from one of my albums called Ocean recorded back in 2002.

At the time, I was into a Seattle indie band called Pedro The Lion. One of my favorite tracks of theirs was “Of Up And Coming Monarchs” off their 1998 album, “It’s Hard To Find A Friend.”

When I wrote my song, there are several elements from the Pedro The Lion song that I borrow. First, I liked the 6/8 time signature. Most pop/rock songs are 4/4 time, which means each measure is made up of 4 quarter notes. With 6/8 time, each measure is made up of 6 eighth notes, which gives it a sort of waltzy, drifty quality so I wanted my song to have similar quality. I also liked the way the chords progress. The notes added between the main chord changes gives it a better melodic flow than just playing the chords straight so I tried to incorporate that as well into my song. I also liked how the lyrics mention things like like the ocean floor and swimming. I think it’s interesting imagery for a song.

I actually wrote it in 2001. I had recently graduated high school and my family was moving from Washington State to Utah and I wrote this the night before we moved. It was definitely the close of one chapter of my life and the opening of a new one. The first verse talks about returning home to an empty house and talking to the walls. That’s me sort of imagining what it will be like in the future to look back at this moment. The other verses talk about swimming in an ocean and building sandcastles and flying, which are all childhood memories having to do with growing up in Washington for me. I was thinking a lot at the time about the way a location can shape the way you might turn out as a person and how you view the world. So, I would say this song is kind of a farewell letter to both Washington and to my childhood.

I recorded this about a year later. Unlike the Pedro the Lion song, I used an acoustic guitar instead of an electric. I played a pretty straightforward and simple beat on the drums using brushes. I also invited a friend of mine, Robin Jolley, to play cello, which I think added an interesting quality. She’s great at improvising so there’s actually a cello solo on the second half of the song.

Download “Ocean” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 44: Song “The Lord Is My Shepard” (Religious)

Since Easter was this last Sunday, I thought I would share something I dug up from my time as a missionary. This is a recording of my mission companion, Elder Brad Chaston, and myself singing “The Lord is My Shepard” recorded onto mini-disc. We were in Manhattan and this would have been sometime between January and April of 2004.

This is one of my favorite hymns. We’re not perfectly in tune with our performance but for me, it has the significance of documenting an important time in my life so I wanted to share.

Download “The Lord is My Shepard” for free on Bandcamp

Ep. 43: The Fab Folk – Live Concert at ABGs (7/29/2016)

For this week’s episode, I’m sharing live recordings from a concert I played last year at ABGs in Provo, Utah with my Beatles cover duo, The Fab Folk. All together, it was a really long set. We played 50 songs (including the album “Revolver” in it’s entirety) and we had several guest performers join us. For purposes of this podcast, I picked my favorite 8 songs from the night. I’m joined as always by Matt Weidauer on vocals, guitar, mandolin and cajon. You will also hear a few guests on “Hey Jude”: Eric Robertson on keyboard, John-Ross Boyce on vocals, and Kathleen Freewin on tamborine and vocals.

Fab Folk Revolver Poster

If you are you interested in hearing studio recordings and keeping up with our latest from The Fab Folk, head over to thefabfolk.com. Currently, we are scheduled to play at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi on April 22nd and 28th, as well as returning to ABGs in Provo on June 9th. Also, the Freedom Festival in Provo July 1st, Fiesta Days in Spanish Fork July 24th and the American Fork Outdoor Concert Series August 7th. We have even more shows in the works so check back periodically at thefabfolk.com for the latest details.

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Ep. 42: Song “Scarlet Letter” (Influenced by Radiohead)

This week’s song is called “Scarlet Letter,” which was released by my band Declaration on our 2006 album, Panic Button.

This was originally written during my senior year of high school for a class project. We were reading the book, “The Scarlet Letter,” and tasked with doing something creative to depict certain aspects of the story. Most people made posters or collages but I decided to write a song and perform it for the class. This is one of the few times I’ve actually sat down and started writing a song with a topic in mind beforehand.

To give you a little background about the story, it takes place in Puritan times. The main character, Hester Prynne, whose husband was presumed lost at sea, has committed adultery and forced to wear a scarlet colored “A” on her chest so that everyone in the town would know what she had done. As it turns out, the person she committed adultery with was the town’s priest, Arthur Dimmesdale, who is put in a position where he feels forced to condemn her publicly but secretly is racked with the guilt and torment of what he had done and of knowing what a hypocrite he actually is. Eventually, he confesses his sin to the town and opens his shirt to reveal scars from the letter “A” he carved on his own chest, signifying that while Hester openly carries the burden of sin, his was carried in secret until now.

So, the lyrics are written from the priest’s perspective and speak of his torment as well as the need he felt to come clean and live a repentant, virtuous life.

The mood and tone I was going for was something along the lines of Radiohead’s song, Exit Music (For A Film) from their album OK Computer.

So, fast forward about a year. I had just finished my first year at BYU and was about the leave on a mission. I had a friend who was studying sound recording and needed someone to record for his project. I came in BYU’s studio and laid down piano, vocals, drums and bass. Here’s what the first demo version sounds like.

During my mission, it would occasionally come up that I was a songwriter and people would want to hear one of my songs. This was usually the song I would play to them if they had a piano in their house. Plus, it also has a spiritual component to it so it made sense to play it as a missionary, I think.

After I returned home from my mission, I reformed my band, Declaration and we set out to record an album. Originally, we tried to recreate the version of the song I recorded I few years before. It felt a little vanilla so we decided to experiment with some different sounds.

The first of those was a wurlitzer electric piano. One of my friends was storing it in my studio so we gave it a try. We ran it through a guitar amp for the recording. It has a really cool, smooth sound quite different from a regular piano and we felt like it really added something interesting to the song so we went with it.

After the wurlitzer was recorded, we laid down the drums. I think we got a really good tone with the recording. We added a small room reverb effect and a light delay or echo effect to help it sound a little fuller and give it additional texture.

There are three electric guitar tracks on this song. The first is played clean, lightly strumming the chords with a thin, washy tone. The next guitar plucks the chords in an arpeggiated pattern with a light delay effect. The third guitar has a stronger delay effect and heavy reverb. We were going for a spacey, cosmic sound here. The notes are played in a tremelo strumming style much like on Radiohead’s song.

Halfway through the song, the drums cut out for the third verse. I thought the song could use a shift in texture at this point so we added a church organ. When the drums come back in for the chorus, we wanted a big, epic moment so I recorded three tracks of ohs and ahs, layered with a lot of reverb to give the impression of a choir singing in a cathedral.

I think all these elements came together nicely to make for an interesting production. Here’s the final version of the song. I hope you like it.

It’s too hard to let myself go
And so I’m so far away from what I was

Never awake, I would rather choke
I spoke to get rid of life as a lie

I’ll tell you a story
While I feel the pain
The guilt is deceiving
I speak before it’s too late

Admit my sin, I hope you’ll forgive my crime,
And push is aside and stand beside my new way of life

I’ll tell you a story
While I feel the pain
The guilt is deceiving
I speak before it’s too late

I’m taking a journey
I know I’m too blame
The guilt is deceiving
I speak before it’s too late

Before it’s too late

Download “Scarlet Letter” on Bandcamp

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Ep. 41: Guest Oscar Olaya (Mormon Rapper)

Today I have a special guest: Oscar Olaya. He’s a rapper from New York City who now lives in Utah. We discuss his own journey of making music and play some tracks from his new EP. We even jam together on a song.

Oscar Olaya - Dream Album Cover
Download his album on iTunes or stream it on Spotify.

Here’s his video for “I’m OK” (you can see me in the background).

Here’s the song Oscar and I jammed on in this episode:

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Ep. 40: 5-10-15-20 (Music That’s Inspired Me Over The Years)

Pitchfork.com does a feature on their website called “5-10-15-20″ where an artist talks about what they were listening to and influenced by during different ages in their life starting with age 5, than age 10 and so on. I thought it would be fun to do it myself.

Age 5 – Miami Vice Theme Song
imagesMy parents used to have a cassette tape to the soundtrack of Miami Vice, the TV show. It was very 80s – synthesizers, heavy reverb on the drums, epic guitar solos, etc. Very cheesy. It sounded like video game music, which is probably why I liked it.

Age 10 – Beethoven: “Ode to Joy”
I was really into classical music at this point. The first CD I bought was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which I was mostly interested because of the big “Ode to Joy” section (which I had heard in cartoons and advertisements). I used to pretend I was Beethoven conducting a big orchestra. By now, I had taken a few years of piano lessons and started playing violin in the school orchestra.

Age 15 – Radiohead: “Karma Police”
ok-computerBy this time, I had been into alternative rock music for a few years. Around 12, I watched the “Beatles Anthology” special on TV, which started my Beatles obsession (which continues to this day). I bought a cheap guitar for the sole purpose of learning Beatles songs. Later, I got into Oasis (because they sounded like the Beatles) and being from the Seattle area, I couldn’t help being influenced by the aftermath of grunge (Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden). At age 14, I started writing my first songs on piano and guitar and started my first band. By age 15, I was into Radiohead, especially the album “OK Computer.” It was rock music but it was smart and artsy. It was new and fresh but also had a hint of Pink Floyd and the Beatles. I loved the song “Karma Police.” Later in high school, I was introduced to emo and indie rock music (Sunny Day Real Estate, Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, Pedro the Lion, and Death Cab For Cutie), which had a huge influence on the type of music my band wrote and played.

Age 20 – Debussy: “Clair De Lune”
When I was 20, I was in the middle of serving for 2 years as a missionary in New York City. We weren’t allowed to listen to rock music so I got re-acquainted with lots of classical music, particularly Debussy (I love “Clair De Lune”), Chopin, Schubert and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. On our days off, I still played piano and wrote my songs. Occasionally, we’d have dinner with a member of the congregation that had a guitar so I got jam.

Age 25 – Fleet Foxes: “White Winter Hymnal” album_fleet_foxesAfter my mission, I continued playing music influenced by the indie rock bands I was into during high school, as well as discovering some new artists: Arcade Fire, Memomena, The Decemberists and Vampire Weekend. By age 25, my band mates from Declaration had graduated college and moved away so we called it quits. I was looking for some new sounds and came across the Fleet Foxes’ “White Winter Hymnal,” which reminded me of my parents CSNY record. I loved harmonies and simplicity. It was upbeat without feeling fake. I was also digging deeper into Wilco, particularly their album “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”. Inspired by these sounds and wanting to do something interesting with all the acoustic songs I had kicking around, Adding Machines was born.

Age 30 – The Dodos: “Black Night”
A few years ago, I turned 30. I’ve been a heavy Spotify user the last couple years and find myself listening to a greater variety than I ever have. I pay more attention to new releases coming out and also dig through entire catalogs of classic artists. Some of my recent favorites are Elvis Costello, Beach House, The Dodos, Father John Misty, Kishi Bashi, and Ben Sollee. In many ways, I’m rediscovering what I want to do musically and the possibilities are exciting.

Spotify Playlist

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Ep. 39: Irish Music for St. Patrick’s Day

With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, I thought it was a good time to share some Irish style music I’ve recorded.

A little back, I was asked to write some music for a video game. The maker of the game described the different scenes to me and I tried to match the mood the best I could to each of those scenes (without seeing any visuals). The project ended up not happening but at least I got some experience writing music in a different style. In each of these three pieces, I play an instrument called a melodica, which is sort of like an accordion and harmonica mashed together.

In the Pub

This music is intended for when one of the characters enters a pub where there is dancing and partying happening. I recorded this is my bathroom because I liked the particular echo sound it had. I started with the “drone-like” sound of the melodica, in an attempt to imitate bagpipes. The melodica also plays the melody and harmony. The majority of the percussion consists of myself hitting a suitcase in various ways with drum sticks and EQing the mix so that I had a spectrum of high, mid and low frequencies. I also recorded about 20 tracks of myself doing handclaps in order to get the crowd sound I was looking for. Lastly, I recorded a couple of low key violin parts (I haven’t played in several years, so I kept it simple).

Missing My Bride
This music goes along with a scene in the game where one of character’s house burns down. The mood is sorrowful and is timed in a sad 6/8 waltz. I came up with the melody on the melodica, accompanied by a acoustic guitar played in a classical style. The tamborine part is inspired by gypsy folk music and intended sound a bit like a person dragging chains (to symbolize the emotional chains they carry).

Marching Into Battle
As the title implies, this music going along with a battle scene. As with the one of the other pieces, I used a melodica drone to imitate the sound of bagpipes. I recorded a doubled mandolin part for the melody. I also used my trusty suitcase for percussion: one track to imitate a snare drum sound, another heavy reverbed track to give a big, boomy kick drum (or war drum) sound.

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