Yesterday JP (Das Piumas bass player, musical genius) sent me two recordings of himself playing guitar to the accompaniment of birdsong outside a house in Thornbury Ontario. He asked me for some vocals over top of both of them. Here are the two songs, with accompanying vocals, and the lyrics I wrote:

Forget Me

Summer Frame

Here are the lyrics:

Forget Me

You were right to leave me, wrong to love me,

I was never even close

To being the man you needed me to be.

You were right to love me, wrong to leave me,

You could never even see

How deeply I fulfilled your every need.

I am of two minds, I see I’m blind,

Love you ‘cause I never loved you right.

And it started out with all those doubts,

I’m better off here worse than I have been.

 

If you ever loved me, please forget me,

Like you did, like you did already dear

If you ever loved me, please regret me,

Oh, and never let me hear.

Yes forget me, forget me, forget me every moment of the day.

Forget me every moment of the day. Moment of the day.

 

And dreaming of the ocean shore

Reminds me of the land we wore

Like boots we built of concrete and of clay.

We never would have walked too far

I hope you know you were the stars

I watched while you just looked away.

 

Summer Frame

How delicate the face we see

Between the lines of light

We dreamt of heat and woke to it

And now the day is bright.

Falling in the fields the birds

Are swiftest on the wing.

We listen for the sounds of home

To reach us on the wind.

La la la-la-la la-la.

La la la-la-la la-la.

You’re a fever. You’re a summer frame.

Paint is peeling. The old days peel away.

 

Intricate the latticework of

Shadows where we stand.

Beading up like teardrops

On the cool drink in your hand.

We were once

Miles across.

We were once

Wildly lost.

And we were once

Miles across.

We were once

Wildly lost.

La la la-la-la la-la.

La la la-la-la la-la.

La la la-la-la la-la.

I haven’t written anything in this blog for months. I haven’t made very much music, either (some, but not much). And something I just read makes me aware of how much I’ve been missing both.

My friend Allan just sent me this piece of writing about doing what you love. If you have ten minutes, I strongly recommend reading it. Especially if you’re young.

It’s a good (if difficult) reminder that we can all try and work on things that we genuinely want to. And work doesn’t need to be – and in fact shouldn’t be – the opposite of fun. These are old ideas, but Paul Graham, the author of the piece, makes them feel new and immediate.

I want to produce good things, and do work that I love and that fulfills me. But it’s hard to know how sometimes. And it’s hard to stay on track when so many things demand your attention and your energy.

I think in order to remain aware of the path we’re on, and whether it’s the right one, we need to ask ourselves some questions on a regular basis, and answer them honestly, so we know where we stand.

Here are a few questions I’m going to try to ask myself at least once a day:

Did you make something today that you’re proud of?

Did you connect with someone you care about?

Did you remember a moment from your life that mattered to you?

Did you get lost in a work of art?

Are you okay? 

Sometimes we need help remembering what we’re here for, and what we love. Here is one thing that I love. It’s a picture of a place that has enormous significance to me – a balcony in Vienna which featured in the movie ‘Before Sunrise’.

Image

I want to remember everything about that place: the first time I saw it, on a screen in my parent’s basement on a sunny afternoon when I was eighteen years old; the moment I visited it last year with my beautiful wife; the ways its meaning has changed for me in the many years since I first encountered it.

And I want to keep things like this place, and this moment, and this photograph, closer to the surface of my life. It’s too easy to forget ourselves and fall into a drowsy pattern of work and food and sleep. I want to live with intention. And I want to be awake.

Hey everyone – I’m still here! So a couple of weeks ago, my friends Noel and Rich and I got together to make a tune. This is something we’ve been doing on and off for the last few years. We make hip hop, and unlike many acts in that genre, we’re not fronting like we made it: we call ourselves Broke. 

A while back I thought it might be cool to make a track about why we’re called that. Mainly because I’m not entirely sure myself. I know it has something to do with a distinct lack of funds, but I think there are a bunch of other reasons. 

Anyway, I created a track with samples of Jay-Z and Eminem saying the word broke, and took it to Rich’s house to work on it. The thing that I realized as we were about halfway through the recording process is that the track itself… Kind of sucked. But it was too late – we were committed. 

Yesterday I finally found the time and focus to sit down and pull the thing apart, then put it back together in a new shape. And I have to admit, I kind of like it now. There’s infinitely less Jay and Em (as in, none), which is a blessing because reminding the audience of two of the greatest living rappers right before you spit a verse about your savings account and Leonard Cohen is probably unwise. And there’s more fast-paced chorus. Anyway, here it is. Hope you enjoy it. Happy Sunday.

Broke – ‘Go For Broke’

One of my favourite artists is also one of my best friends: Allan Lewis, who records as Van der Saar, is a prodigiously talented multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. I’ve had the pleasure of following his growth since the days when he would hand me cassette tapes (it’s this plastic box with spools of magnetic material inside that was used to reproduce sounds… Never mind) with his four track recordings on them. I thought they were exceptional. I still do.

And now further proof of both his talent and his commitment to four-track recordings has emerged. He just released a new EP called ‘Sixty Six’. You can download or stream it for free right here. And you should.

It’s a stunning piece of work, and a lovely, melancholy accompaniment to the bleary days of early January, as we reacclimatize ourselves to the demands of the working world and the grim weather we all seem to somehow forget the horrors of each year. 

Take a few minutes and get lost in Van der Saar’s grainy world. And share it with your friends. The world needs more music that slows things down and helps you to appreciate the desperate beauty of the world around you.

All right – another year, another opportunity to make outlandish and potentially impossible promises. But this time, only four albums! How hard can that be? Judging by last year, very hard indeed. But I live in hope. 

I went and worked on a track with Broke a couple of nights ago – it’s off to a good start, but it still needs a lot more stuff before I can share it. The visit also allowed me to grab all the tracks we’ve created together so far from Rich, which is exciting: it means that I can start thinking about how to shape what we’ve done into a record. A very different process from writing stuff from scratch. But I really like a lot of our tracks, and I’m hoping they’ll turn into something cohesive.

For the rest of this month, music will be very central to my life – Das Piumas is playing two shows at the beginning of February, with a bit of an interesting twist. Rather than play in Toronto, which has been the scene of all our previous concerts, we’re decamping to the country. Namely Thornbury, Ontario, a charming town about two and a half hours out of the city, near Collingwood.

In order to hopefully not completely alienate the crowd by playing original post-punk songs they’ve never heard before all night, we’re going to attempt some covers. The problem here is that I don’t know how to play any songs that I haven’t written myself. So I’ll be working feverishly to teach this old dog some new tricks. 

Tonight I’ve learned a Sloan song, and started work on an Adele tune, some Franz Ferdinand, a little White Stripes, and ‘Tighten Up’ by The Black Keys. It’ll be an uphill battle retaining all this new information, but I’m really excited about improving my playing and expanding my horizons. 

According to an email I received last night, I posted 226 times on this blog last year. Not a bad total, but the original plan was one post every day. That means I still owe you guys another 139 posts (138 now) to bring it up to the total. By the time I’ve posted all 365 entries, I will also have delivered all five albums in some form. This is the goal for this year: finish last year’s work, in every sense. So if you’re game for some more rambling and some ramshackle tunes, please join me for what I won’t be calling FourFourTwelve. You’re welcome.

Well, here we are. The year’s done. I’m at my sister’s house waiting for people to arrive and the metaphorical ball to drop.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about where I was a year ago. I was considering a very silly idea: record and release five albums in four genres in one year. And I was thinking then about how little I had accomplished in the previous year, and how much more I believed I could do.

Well, for those of you who’ve followed this blog, you know that I didn’t manage to get most of those records together. But I am proud of what I managed to accomplish this year. It wasn’t everything I hoped for, but it was a lot.

I was chatting with my friend Allan yesterday, and he mentioned a post in which I talked about saying yes to things. That’s probably the major lesson I’ve learned from this year: it’s usually a simple choice between saying yes and finding out what happens next and saying no and remaining comfortable.

I love comfort. It’s a great feeling to know what happened yesterday and to be able to predict what tomorrow will look like with a fair degree of accuracy. But it’s amazing what can come about when you risk the unknown by asking it into your life.

I want to thank, one last time in 2011, all the people who offered me support, ideas, and time. It means more than I can say that you were willing to offer your valuable moments to pay attention to my vague struggles, and that you were there to help me through the inevitable pain of failures and to help mark the occasional success.

I said a while back that I’m not going to let this blog lapse in 2012, and I stand by that. You can still expect four more albums, and I’m hoping I get at least one of them to you soon. For now, I hope you’re all enjoying the last few hours of this great year, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for 2012.

Well, it’s almost over. For real, this time. Two more days and I’ll be out of room to achieve a five-album 2011. Any chance of a last-minute renaissance is passed, but I did manage to write another PHW tune, which I began recording at my parent’s place. It still needs some structuring – as in, the chorus needs to be more delineated, and it needs a better ending. But I think I like it.

Paris Hotel Wars – Swayed By Trees

Why am I singing about leafy green trees as the winter comes down around me? Maybe that’s why. I have no idea. The chorus bit (I swear it’s a chorus bit) occurred to me in the shower, and I figured I should put it down as it arrived.

I read something that Chris Martin said about writing the song ‘Yellow’ – which is actually a fairly inscrutable tune, lyrically, if you think about it – which amounted to, “I have no idea why it’s Yellow, but the song demanded that it be Yellow, so it’s Yellow.” I think that jibes with my understanding of the songwriting process at this point: if a song shows up, you don’t ask it any questions, you just direct it into the nearest recording device and try to clean up afterwards.

So that’s probably it for Paris Hotel Wars in 2011. More to come in 2012. I feel like I’m on a bit of a roll with writing and finding a sound for this record, so I’m going to keep pushing on it. And tonight I’m going to record a track with Broke, which should be as much fun as ever. Hopefully I can grab some of our older tracks from Rich and start working on turning them into a (somewhat) cohesive record.

I hope all of you had a wonderful holiday season, and are looking forward to making a series of very bad decisions on New Year’s Eve. I might post the Broke track tomorrow if I wake up.

Well, I haven’t had a moment to make any more music since last we spoke. But I’m still feeling energized. I got some specific feedback and suggestions on the second track (‘It Ended on the Beach’) which I’ll try and put into action at some point in the next week. 

Despite the obvious reality that there are very few days left in this year, and that most of those are already accounted for by merriment, I’m still living in hope that I can crank out a few more songs. There are some already in the can that I’ve revisited and feel enough about that I think they’ll make the PHW record. 

And just to reiterate something I said a while back: although I didn’t come anywhere near my goal for this project, I’m still going to deliver these albums. Just on a slightly extended timescale. So yeah – if I don’t speak to you again before the year is out, thank you all for your support and your help with everything. 

FiveFourElevenAndABit lives on.

So… I’ve written and recorded another song? That’s sort of out of character. And unlike the song I wrote yesterday, which was the first song on the record, this is the last one. I’m bookending the thing. Now I just need a middle! Which is, of course, the hardest part. But still! 

Paris Hotel Wars – It Ended On The Beach

I actually came up with the basics of this song last night after I’d finished up the blog post. I was just messing around with adding delay and distortion to some instruments and came up with the basic melody. Oh yes, I’ve also added an artificial challenge to the creation of the Paris Hotel Wars record, which is that everything on it needs to be keyboard-based except for the vocals. Meaning no guitars or basses, which are the instruments I’m more comfortable on. 

If you’ve been following this blog at all, you may be thinking to yourself: an artificial challenge? Do you really need any more of those? You did, after all, start a blog based on an insanely artificial challenge, namely releasing five albums in a one year. Well, astute imaginary reader, yes. I do need another challenge. Here are two reasons:

1) My Saga City record has guitar on every song. Someone asked me a while back, “if Saga City is just you, and Paris Hotel Wars is just you, what’s the difference?” I didn’t have a satisfactory answer. Now I have an unsatisfactory and slightly arbitrary one.

2) I’ve spoken before about how much I believe in limitations. I think most of the greatest art, and indeed many of the greatest achievements, are eked out against all odds within strictures and limitations, whether imposed by necessity or choice. So yes, I’m going to invent my own obstacles and try to overcome them. 

I can’t be absolutely sure of this, but I’d place a lot of money on there not being a third song tomorrow night. Thanks for the comments yesterday, people. Nice to know the Internet still talks back.

The year’s almost done, and despite what I said last time (and the time before), I haven’t been able to keep this blog up. But there’s a little movement, now that we’re a week or two away from the ‘Eleven’ in the title of this site from becoming evidence of how out-of-date I am. 

It comes in the first track from the forthcoming Paris Hotel Wars album. It’s called ‘Sliding Out Of View’, and I wrote and recorded it this morning. It’s hazy, hard to make out, and very much in keeping with what I picture when I think of PHW. Listen for yourself:

Paris Hotel Wars – Sliding Out Of View

See, in the last few weeks, I’ve had this crazy little fantasy in the back of my head: I wake up one morning, and I create a track. Then another. And then, before you know it, I’ve got a whole album ready to go before the year is out. 

This is a fantasy, as I said. But you never know. It felt great to be back in the songwriting game. And this is how I always expected PHW to go: playing with synths and textures until I find something that sound like it has a song in it. 

Anyway, on the off chance you’ve been holding your breath, stop. Oh dear. You’re dead by now. Sorry! I’d love to get one more record out there in the world before 2011 gives way to 2012. After all, 2 out of 5 ain’t bad! It’s terrible. But it’s twice as good as 1 out of 5. 

Hope you’re all doing wonderfully well, and if I don’t talk to you before the holidays, Happy Christkwannukah.