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Song Talkings #4: “Changed Me”

This song started out with a slightly different title, “Changing Me”, and a version of this song was released on our 2004 album Making the Case For Me. I decided to rerecord it after I heard how much better it sounded live with our short-lived 2012 lineup, which included Jake Hite on drums, Brion Rushton on bass, Elijah Jensen on guitar, Lindsey Lloyd on vibraphone, and Holly Johnson Wallace on vocals.

Here’s the original.

Lots of differences, obviously. I prefer the newer version, with extreme prejudice. The old version is a little sluggish, lacks Holly’s gorgeous, spunky vocals, and relies on a stale drum loop rather than real drums. Also, the ending on the new version is a lot more interesting, with nice woodwind and brass interjections, a beautiful melodic guitar lead written by Elijah Jensen, as well as some nice guitar feedback with loads of effects on it. Just a huge improvement, in my opinion.

Credits on this song include all the people I’ve already mentioned, as well as Joey Corsentino on trumpet and Josh Valencia on saxomaphone.

(Edit: I thought I might as well include a link to our live recording of this song as well. This was recorded with the 2012 lineup, minus Holly, who had to work.)

The Very Most Small Instrument Series
Part 1: Good Fight Fighting

We’re launching a video series called “The Very Most Small Instrument Series.” The idea behind the series is that I’ll be playing TVM songs solo-style on wee little instruments. The first one is “Good Fight Fighting” on ukulele. Next time I’m working on playing one of our songs on toy piano. Here’s the first in the series:

My apologies for looking a little emo in the video. Sometimes I have to really get into it or I sing really weak and miss notes and just suck in general.

My kids’ inexorable march toward music-making

I tried to warn them, but they’re all, at least for the time being, following in their old man’s footsteps. Josie, age 10, plays clarinet and piano. Mia, age 8, has started on guitar, and Sylvia, age 5, has figured out, on her own, “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Jingle Bells” on the piano. Here’s some documentation:

Also, Josie and I have been making some music together. Mainly me helping her execute her ideas. You can listen to her music here.

Song Talkings #3: “There’s Nothing Missing”

“There’s Nothing Missing” is a song that’s been stewing for a long time. It started out life as an instrumental for our Christmas album, and ended up as a song with about a million vocal parts and having nothing to do with Christmas. There are still elements of the song that belie its origins as a Christmas song, including the use of toy piano and sleigh bells (which I use on almost all our songs, Christmas or not), but I’m not sure it screams Christmas. Perhaps that’s part of why the person who owns the label that was going to release a Christmas album for us in 2011 kind of loathed this song. Oh well. I still really like it. It’s not one of my favorite TVM songs, but I’m still quite pleased with it.

This song is a collaboration with Jake Hite, who was the full-time drummer of the band from 2008-2012 and will continue to play in the studio with us as needed. He’s also an electronic musician who performs under the name Discoma (best electronic band name ever). He created the basic structure of the song and sent me a bunch of synth tracks containing pads, bass, and leads, but no beats, interestingly enough. I added the beats, toy piano, sleigh bells, backing vocals, electric guitar, and bass harmonica (more about that later). At first, I relied on one of Jake’s synth leads to provide the main melody of the song. I just couldn’t see singing a vocal over it because it varied as much as a vocal would and would clash with anything I could have sung over it. That’s why I initially thought that this song would be an instrumental. I sent a rough mix of the instrumental version to the owner of the label, and, as I mentioned before, he really didn’t like it at all. So, the song sat on my hard drive for quite a while.

When the time came to make our new EP, I decided to revisit this song, only this time I got some input from Elijah Jensen (our guitarist and my brother) and Brion Rushton (our bass player). They both provided valuable insights, and both agreed that the song was too long, that it needed a vocal, and that I should probably take out the melodic lead that Jake sent. After I took out this lead, it was easy enough to improvise and refine a melody over the backing tracks. After coming up with the harmonies and melodies, editing the song down quite a bit, and adding the super high descending guitar leads, I felt the song was more than good enough to include on our EP. I hope you agree.

My absolute favorite thing about the song is the use of bongos and bass harmonica in the second half of the song. I think it gives it quite a Pet Sounds vibe, and I’ve had a couple people mention that to me as well. Since the bass harmonica isn’t the most well-known instrument in the world I thought I’d make a little video where I show you my bass harmonica and demonstrated what a crappy bass harmonica player I really am. Enjoy!

(Sorry for how quiet the video is. I’ll work on getting the levels up for our next one.)

Studio Diary – November 18, 2012

In yet another new feature on The Very Most blog, we’re going engage in a bit of studio geek confessional we’re going to call Studio Diary. It’s kind of like a tour diary, only about recording in my studio, so it will lack any shred of local color, stories of vans breaking down, or photos of what I had for lunch. But it will have lots of videos of me talking and playing instruments and using my computer. EXCITING! So, without further ado, here it is.

My apologies for my overall weirdness in the beginning and end spoken bits in this video. I won’t record these parts at 3 am anymore. Also, I apologize for the gratuitous nose scratching during the organ parts. Rockin’ makes my nose itch.

For more information about my studio and my thoughts on recording, check out this article done by Irish blog Musical Rooms.

Song Talkings #2: “Let Her Dance”

So, happy release day! Today’s the zero-th birthday of our Ununiversalizable Us EP. You can get it here, if you’d like.

In this installment of Song Talkings, I thought we’d discuss the last song on the EP: “Let Her Dance.” This song is a cover of a Bobby Fuller Four song that I first heard in the Wes Anderson movie Fantastic Mr. Fox. Bobby’s stuff reminds me of Buddy Holly, but it came out in the same time span as Revolver and Pet Sounds, a fact that makes me smile. I really like the idea of someone in the mid-60s being a bit of a throwback to the late 50s. Would you call that Proto-Retro? Anyway, here’s the original Bobby Fuller version of the song:

This came about as a The Very Most song when our bass player Brion Rushton suggested that we play the song live. I thought it was a natural fit for us, and so we worked out the song in rehearsals. The two or three times we played it at shows, it ended up being the tightest, most well-received song in our set. It’s always a bittersweet feeling when that happens with a cover song. Because it sounded so great live, I thought it would be great for our upcoming EP. Really, there’s not a huge difference between how we played it live and how the studio version ended up. Mainly, we just added a bunch of extra guitar leads and the slide solo in the middle. Overall, I’m really pleased with how it came out.

The female vocalist on this song is the amazing Holly Johnson-Wallace. Brion Rushton plays the iconic lead guitar part on this song, and Jake Hite, as usual, does a superb job on the drums. Lindsey Lloyd played a cool vibraphone part in the middle, and I do all the other stuff.

It should be noted that Bobby Fuller died under very mysterious circumstances. It was initially ruled a suicide or an accident, but serious questions remain, including whether he was killed by the mafia. Weird.

Song Talkings #1: “Ununiversalizable Us”

Welcome to a new feature here on the The Very Most blog, eloquently titled “Song Talkings.” The idea behind Song Talkings is, oddly enough, me talking about just one song in the TVM catalog: how I wrote the music, what inspired the lyrics, how the recording process went, any interesting happenings surrounding the song. You get the idea.

The first installment of Song Talkings is about the title track from our new EP Ununiversalizable Us. It started life as a “custom song,” which was a promotion we did in 2008 where if you bought our album Congratulations Forever, I would record a song about whatever you wanted. The original was about a woman in Seattle who was expecting a child and remembering back on her life as an “Indie Rock Queen.” So, up until nearly the end of the recording process, the working title for this song was “Indie Rock Queen.” When I was writing this song, I remember making a conscious effort to use more chords than I was used to using, and it was this effort that led to the song’s descending chord structure, which I’m pretty pleased with.

The solo at the beginning of the song is a combination of two synth parts. I got the repeating, almost mandolin-y effect using an extreme tremolo effect sync’d to the tempo of the song. The flute was originally a female backing vocal, but that didn’t quite sound right. I’m really glad I went with a flute in the end, beautifully played by my daughter’s piano teacher Carly Pannell. Jake’s drums in this song are so impressive. He came in, with no real practice (as is his wont) and nailed the part (as is also his wont). I love the fills on the bell of the ride cymbal during the choruses. The smooth-as-silk female vocals were done by Christina Boyd-Eisenhauer. The bass part was written and played originally by Brion Rushton, our bass player for the last six months, but I ended up recreating his part on a synth, combining sounds from my Alesis Micron and a soft synth. I love the part itself, melodic and with a rhythm that drove almost everything that came after (the drums and the high guitar leads at the end), but it sounded better as a synth part for some reason. Brion deserves all the credit for the part itself, though.

The lyrics, in typical The Very Most fashion, were written as late in the process as possible. The song starts out discussing the idea of being forced to honestly communicate to address a problem, and the idea that coasting along and/or letting a problem or an attitude go unchallenged is a missed opportunity for personal development. “I have to say something I need to get off my chest. / I gotta do something that makes me feel weird.” The lines that follow deal with challenging inertia within yourself, an inertia that often comes from wanting to protect yourself from awkward situations or hurt feelings. “My brain is constantly looking for a way out. / It thinks it’s looking out for me.” The second verse deals with the fact that we are all better off for not being exactly the same, that, unlike moral actions, people cannot be universalized (a la Kant). I know this verse makes it sound like “Ununiversalizable Us” is an attempt to make some profound, philosophical point, but really, it isn’t. I just needed some lyrics and the concepts presented in this song aren’t completely stupid. Once a lyric passes the “not stupid” threshold, I run with it.

So this concludes the first installment of Song Talkings. Just a reminder that this song is the title track off of our new EP, available this Thursday, November 15 from the superb Little Treasure label of Seville, Spain. To pick up a copy, go to littletreasure.es. It will also soon be on iTunes, Amazon, Spotify, etc. Tomorrow, I talk about our cover of Bobby Fuller Four’s “Let Her Dance,” the last track on our new EP.

An exciting new admission of defeat
aka Titling blog posts is hard

November 2012 Promo Photo

I’m going to start my first post on this new site with a bit of an admission: I’m not sure I’m any good as the “leader” of a band. This band has existed, in one form or another, for the past ten years, and there’s only been a three year span where I managed to keep a full-band live unit together. After a nearly year and a half hiatus from November 2011 to March 2012, I tried to put together a full band that could come close to playing the things I make in the studio, and it fell apart after less than six months.

All of this made me realize that, for whatever reason, it’s just not meant to be that The Very Most will be a normal, functioning, playing-at-bars-and-touring-all-the-time-type band. Not only does it not seem to work out so well, it’s not really where my strengths lie. I’m a pretty good songwriter, a pretty good studio musician and producer, I’m good at web stuff, and I love learning how to make new types of media. Why focus so much on what I’m not good at (permanently leading a live band) to the exclusion of things I am good at (writing, recording, and, to a lesser extent, hyping stuff on the web)? As a father and a husband, I don’t have the time to do both effectively, so I’m choosing to play to my strengths.

As a consequence, this web site will become the focus for all things The Very Most. I will regularly blog, post videos, and new music. As part of my blogging, not only will I give status updates on our latest recordings, but I will also post and comment on music by other artists, write about studio recording, and even include the occasional political/cultural commentary.

The Very Most will still play live, in different ways and in different places. I just see no point in maintaining a permanent band at all costs, to play to the same 20 people all the time in Boise, Idaho. The kinds of live shows I see happening in the future may include:

  • Weekend mini-tours of the Pacific Northwest with nothing but me and my ukulele
  • Tours of various countries (e.g., the UK, Spain, Indonesia) where I assemble a band of local musicians to play four or five shows in their country
  • Local solo shows with me on keyboard and maybe a few songs on guitar

That kind of thing. I’ll miss playing with the other members of The Very Most, though more because I’ll miss hanging out with them on a regular basis since they’ve been, without fail, such good people. It’s just that, toward the end, even though we expended so much time, effort, and money into what we were doing, the really rewarding live shows just came fewer and further between. I think if I make our live shows more of a (very) special event, I’ll appreciate them more.

Anyway, thanks for listening to my rant/explanation, and please check back often. I solemnly vow to update this blog regularly, even if it’s just with music that I’ve been enjoying.

All the best,
Jeremy