Most would agree, the Album as an art form seems to be less and less in fashion these days. People like to listen to their faves single to single. The mix tape of days gone by has become the ubiquitous playlist of the times. Most people I know, do not listen to albums by one Artist in their entirety anymore.It takes some patience, and as the Dead Kennedys once said “Give me convenience or give me death”. To be fair, record labels are notorious for pushing out albums from bands developed and recorded on the cheap that maybe have one or two good tunes wrapped up in a whole lot of filler. Despite all that however, I still do listen to music, almost exclusively album by album for the same reason I read an entire book and not just my favorite chapters, I like to know the whole story.
I have made a lot of albums over the years. It is not easy to make an album. It takes time, dedication, coordination and at times perhaps a bit of luck or magic, something intangible, for it all to come together well. It may be easy to collect together a bunch of songs that you and your band mates fancy at the time and call it an Album, but it is rare, as a recording artist that you can actually create and be recognized for that singular greater entity. The goal is a body of work that flows from one end to another, tells a story and is able to hold you, the listener’s attention for a full 45 minutes or more, the way the first Violent Femmes record does or NIrvana’s Nevermind.
However, I do love a challenge, and I love making music, and as Mark Lanegan, formerly of the Screaming Trees, who I have been a huge fan of for many many years, said in a recent interview:
“The one thing I’ve always tried to do is to make the music be its own reward and by that, I mean enjoy the process of creation, the process of playing…In other words, if I never made a cent, if nobody ever listened to me, I would still play music and I would still enjoy it because the music is its own reward.”
I could not agree more. Ben my friend/drummer and I have been hard at work in the studio for the better part of a year working on a set of songs I have been writing for most of the last 3 years, and we are about to release to the world the the fully ripened artistic fruits that we have so carefully cultivated. Of course, you never really know, but it feels like I am onto something special with this one, I hope. So, without further ado let me see if I can entice you further, Listicle style, the interweb is all the rage with this prose styling, as I describe in mere words just what The Bitter Roots – Noise Vibrations and Fumes is all about. Sinead ‘O will only tell you the story behind some of her songs, she loves a mystery you know and she is rad, but me, I will tell you everything.
1. Fast and Slow
Some songs take me years to write, matching the right words to the right music is hard, but sometimes like with this song, they almost seem to appear out of thin air and take no time at all to get into the zone. This is an up tempo number, take one part punk, one part rock, half part pop and mix thoroughly. The song has a cool lead guitar part that floats above much of the tune.
Ben has some really keen thunderous moments on the drums on this one as well. I wrote this song during a stretch in the last few years where I was just not sleeping well. My mind was preoccupied mostly with how seemingly impossible it is for me to make any kind of a living making music and how for so long now I have had to lead a dual life of day job Jeff with the real musical artist me.
But I have mostly, on good days, resigned myself to never letting go of my dreams to be able to make music all the time, because that is what I love to do. If I were to stop writing albums I would not be me. As the esteemed Mr. Lanegan says, and for me also, the music is its own reward. It is the only thing I can really control in the equation. All the other things that do and do not come along with a would be ‘music career’ are not worth the time getting hung up about, or losing sleep over.
2. Too Many Freds
My family on both sides is full of people with a first or middle name of Frederick. Fortunately I escaped the handle thanks to my folks. But so many named Fred in the family does give me pause.
I wrote this song mostly about my wife Amy’s dad John Frederick Meister who died a few years ago. Thankfully, he was surrounded by family including my wife who held his hand till the very end. Musically, this is one of my most favorite compositions. It has a lengthy intro, then it builds and builds through a few verse choruses into a rather large crescendo bridge and ends with only voice and guitar.
The lyrics tell a true story, a case of mistaken identity that led Fred and I to not have the best father/son-in-law relationship for quite a few years. The misunderstanding was eventually discovered and corrected, thank you Julie. Fred was never a real warm and fuzzy guy, but I did however finally win him over: My son Liam. What most inspired this song was a story Amy told me about our nephew Brandon who still lives in Missoula. He camped out in Granddad’s hospital room for many many days on frequent hospital stays for Fred. Amy told me very near the end, Fred opened his eyes and said to Brandon ‘I am so proud of you Brandon. Every time I open my eyes you are sitting right here.’ And so in the words of this song you will hear some lovely lyrics to that effect. For Amy and Brandon.
Fire up your Bitchin’ Camaro and get ready to bang your head, this song rocks on all cylinders, or at least I think it does. As a relative unknown artist you have to wonder what the faughk you even continue to do this for ‘Sometimes’.
I am no spring chicken. It is a lot of work to write a dozen songs, practice and refine them in order to record them and promote them and play them out. You start to think about all the different people you have played with over the years, always surprised by the revelations that playing music with someone invites regarding strange pie in the sky motivations of stardom, drugs, girls, cars and getting signed to fat major label contract.
You start to wonder about the character of the whole charade of trying to get the buzz and be the IT band, playing at the IT club, for the IT crowd. Whys does that guy think he is so good? Am I any good? When you see more simulation than origination in the music of the day and see it all trending downward and to the right, it is easy to get discouraged. I understand making music, but I have never been good at understanding all the bullshit and sycophantic bullshitters that surround the art. You start to wonder if what you are doing is even relevant anymore, but considering the collective attention span out there is like 4 seconds, that can be said for just about anyone nowadays. So we rock on, do we not? Much more fun that way.
4. Habemus Papam
Latin for ‘We Have a Pope!’ It is what the college of Cardinals declares with a puff of white smoke when they elect a new Pontiff. Really the title should include a question mark, because with this song I am asking the question: Will this new Pope finally be the one to put all the Pedophile Priests in the Church out of robes and into prison? Female Priests would be good too. I would not say I was raised Catholic, I would say It was attempted by my family to raise me Catholic, which I rejected at a very young age.
I wrote quite a bit about it in another piece you can read Here. It is a tight club they run over there, even down at the level of the neighborhood Fellowship, and I myself only ever felt scorn from just about every interaction I ever had with the Church. What kind of man is this Pope Francis? We shall see… The main riff for this song is what you call a cutter, it is meant to rip, give it a listen you will see what I mean.
This is a companion piece to Habemus Papam, it is a dramatic tune. It is also a bombastic rock song with big guitar, it is a really fun one to play, especially for Ben who absolutely slays the drums on this one, huge people huge. The song tells the story of a member of the Clergy that uses faith and guilt to abuse people who are the most vulnerable and keep that abuse secret. Believe me, this still happens everyday, everywhere, and I think we can all agree that enough is enough. I and many others will keep raising our voices in defense of the generations of Victims of Clergy Abuse. We will evolve, we will see the day when this type of abuse is no more. Hope.
This song came about over a tongue and cheek conversation I had a with a friend about the possible reasons why my music might not be as popular as some of the happy nu-folk bands that have been quite successful in the last 5 years or so. I was told by my friend that my music is just too negative for a lot of people to relate too. And here I thought sad songs say so much? I would not call my music negative.
Quite the contrary, I would call it real music about real things and if that doesn’t jive with taking Molly and dancing about with 20,000 of your closest friends at a ridiculously overpriced music festival, so be it. This song is ironic because it is a pretty song about trying to write a pretty song that more people will like, Ha! get it? The songs starts out as a bit of a Cure style dirge then it turns on a dime and continues with a driving beat and a walking bass line with more than several guitar solos, the lo-fi anti rock crowd will hate that I am sure.
7. Dairy Queen
Now here is a happy pappy song that anyone can dance to and feel good about. Great vocal harmonies on this one. Up temp almost ska like in delivery. This is a song about Love. Specifically all the love in the world I have for my wife and girlfriend, best friend, lover, mother of my son of 28 years, Amy Jo. I met Amy at the Dairy Queen on Higgins Ave in Missoula in early spring of 1987. I would not say it was love at first sight, no, it took awhile before we were ‘going steady’ as they once used to say even before our time. But I think we both felt like we had met before.
Now you can’t prove past lives unless you are some kind of hard core Buddhist that has reached Nirvana and then some. However, it is true to say, over the years many people have described our presence together as having an Aura they can actually feel. Now granted, we are friends with lots of hippies, but I exaggerate not. How else to explain? Its The Power of Love, just ask Huey. I have written songs for Amy before, but perhaps not as clever as this one. I really do hope you all like it.
8. Simple Things
An inspritational folk song of very pleasing acoustic guitar sounds, with a lovely bit of keys from Ben. I was having lunch with one of my oldest and dearest friends awhile back. ‘So how are your folks’ I asked. A curious look was given by my friend and then he told me his dad had died in July. It was December.I was shocked. ‘Was there a funeral?’ I asked. No, no there was not, not even an obituary. It was all on the QT, too painful. I can understand that, having also lost both my parents when I was in my 20s. I loved my friend’s dad. He was easily the coolest of all the dads in my sphere of youthful being. We had great conversations. He introduced me the concept of Fuzzy Logic. He could roll a drum ciggy with one hand and read The New Yorker with the other, never taking his eyes off the print. He was that good. As many know and other will learn, when you get into your 40s, you will start to notice that your friends folks start passing away. I wrote this song to let all my friends know that I understand what they are going through and I am here for them. I miss my folks too.
9. Butterfly Baby
The Butterfly Baby is of course my now 10 year old son Liam. When Liam was a toddler he loved to go to the Butterfly Room at the Pacific Northwest Science Center. That is of course if you carried him past the robotic bug man that sits at the entrance to the bug room. So this should be a really happy song right? Well, it is in the key of F minor and minor keys are sad sounding, and this song does sound very solemn and serious. Fret not for it is an inside joke. To wit: You see, at the time Liam was first really becoming aware of his emotive states and he had recently picked up sadness from some Pooh story or another. We called it his melancholy phase. He loved to pretend and to delve into sadness. He would curl his lip, put both hands in front of his face and declare “Liam, is sad.” It didn’t last for all that long, but it sure was adorable and this song is an homage to that time. For Liam.
10. Paper World
This song is a reminder to all the kids out there, that not every goddamn important thing in life is on the internet. There is so much knowledge in print books that I fear will be lost simply because the contents will never get scanned and loaded up onto the Google machine. Couple that with how often I see a table of 5-6 people of all ages in a restaurant who engage in brief small talk,order food, and then individually retreat into their smart phones, I just cringe. Talk to your date, not your phone. You will never eclipse the power of actual human interaction by an artificial means of connection. Dance with the lady what brought you. Put your fucking phone away and start living in the here and now wherever you are. And support your local Library. Thank you very much. My most rockin’ friends including the crew at KISW here in Seattle like this tune because it has some really big almost prog rock qualities to it. It clock in at over 5 minutes, and includes a bridge part that I like to call, “The longest riff in the world.” Dig it.
11. The Precious
The first part of the story revolves around a short stint I did at a big company here in Seattle that sells pictures on the internet. This company as it so happens actually employs a fair number of paparazzo, the vile vermin that stalk and take pictures of celebrities wherever and whenever a nipple should slip or a leg become uncrossed. What I did not know is that many celebrities are actually in cahoots with the paparazzo and that the so called “candid” shots you see on the beach for instance are really actually staged and are very profitable for everyone involved including the celebs. The 2nd half of the song really tells the story of a workplace betrayal that led to my having to take the aforementioned gig at the web images company. Try to imagine having been let go from a job for no good reason whatsoever, a job you were very good at, only to have to take a job working with the parasitic dregs that perpetuate the celebrity culture that our society is addicted to, and how possibly you might try and make sense of it all. Took awhile, was not sleeping well, but this song certainly helped. Floyd our sound man friend extraordinaire and I think it sets a perfect mood to end the album with. Acoustic guitars a bit of keyboard, almost 6 minutes long, this is a very interesting song indeed.
So, there you have it. My first listicle. 11 songs that make Noise Vibrations and Fumes. If I have tickled your interest, if you would like to hear the album or know more, contact me here. Or check us out on our YouTube Channel. OR actually purchase a copy of the goddamn thing and support an Artist, your benevolence will be most appreciated. The album is out March 3rd in all the usual places. A note about the album title and cover image: Seattle is right now the fastest growing city in the country. The amount of construction going on here is truly unprecedented. We are surrounded by pits and cranes and trucks, noise, detours and uncertainty of what our new city will look like and who will be able to afford to live here. Also of note, there are a lot more ladies doing the heavy lifting out there these days on those job sites. We wanted to capture the Sign ‘O the Times, during which the album was made. It is a brave new world out there. We just hope Seattle does not change too much.