Thursday, July 28, 2011

My Musical Life - Part 6

So in 1994, I'd started writing music in a jazz-influenced rock and soul vein. I continued to bide my time and write in the first half of 1995, and a certain corner was turned - a passel of songs were coming together the way I liked, and I didn't lose the inspiration halfway in. I continued to do fill-in type gigs here and there when I wasn't working (I had a job as an inventory counter, which involved a lot of travel and weird hours), but for the most part my mind was on these new songs. I mentioned to Gary that I was looking for a way to record these songs for real, and he had a friend from whom we could borrow an ADAT digital 8-track recorder for $20 a day. Gary agreed to help me on the project and let me use his home studio room to record in...I'd already picked out a band name to record under: The Trembles. I liked the "The (Noun)s" construction - reminded me of 70s soul groups - and the vaguely unsettled sound of it matched the troubled cast of a lot of the lyrics.

Starting in the late summer of 1995, I think, I would go over to Gary's place, about 40 miles away across town (OKC is huge), once or twice a week to spend all day recording. At home, I'd stay up late at night building and editing the drum and keyboard parts in Cakewalk, a computer sequencing program. All the other parts were done live: bass, guitars, vocals, Gary's sax. Originally I had 11 songs planned, but one of them wasn't working so I cut back to 10. The project took many months, as scheduling was always tricky. We finished it up in early '96.

This project took a lot of work, both on my part and Gary's part, and it was exactly what I wanted to be doing then and immensely satisfying to complete. How did it turn out? Well...I wanted to achieve something commercially releasable, something I wouldn't have to make any excuses for. Given that it was a home ADAT recording, that would have been very tough to achieve. Basically, they're demos - much slaved-over demos, but still at demo quality. Another problem plaguing the 1995 Trembles was the vocals: I had never done much lead singing before that and didn't really know much about vocal technique, and the parts I wrote were sometimes tougher than I could pull off, and my intonation wasn't on sometimes. Gary's sax solos on the project were gorgeous, though, and I like most of the songs and a lot of my playing on it even now. And more than that, it was the first completed project I'd ever done that, warts and all, was truly in my voice as a musician and songwriter. I've wanted to redo those songs one way or another ever since - they're me.

I owe many debts of gratitude to my good friend Gary, but his helping me realize the Trembles project is among the very biggest of them. This music, which I hold as dear as life, simply wouldn't have gotten made without him.

So now I had a full album's worth of music on hand - what next? I didn't have any money to get CDs made to sell, not that that would have been the best idea anyway. I sort of tried to recruit a band to play it, but quickly grew discouraged and didn't try that hard. (Gary chose not to continue with the project, which was absolutely fine - he'd already contributed so much.)

The aftermath was kind of a letdown. I mean, friends liked the music when I played it for them, it wasn't that, but I just had no way to go forward. The style of the music was hardly what was commercially popular at the time; the only time music that sounded like the Trembles might have sold was the mid-to-late 1970s, though occasionally an anachronistic artist sneaks through. The almost-guaranteed non-hit music was all I could offer to prospective band members: I had no industry connections, no gigs lined up, no money. And the music, while not requiring virtuosos, wasn't easy to play and would require a lot of rehearsal. Building a band in this case would have been difficult even for someone who was an experienced band leader and promoter, and I was neither of those. And I started writing for a follow-up, but inspiration wasn't coming. So while I kept it in mind to take another shot at recording the Trembles songs better when I got the opportunity, at the time it looked like the Trembles would be resting on the shelf for quite a while.

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