Friday, July 20, 2012

The "Nine Questions" press release

Finally, my last completed studio album "Nine Questions" is available on iTunes and other digital retailers.  I can now safely say I have the album where I want it, and to mark the occasion, I will not listen to it again for a very long time.

Why is this?  To put it mildly, this album took a lot out of me. Almost all of it was recorded by the end of 2010, and the final tracklist has not deviated since that time.  But for the last year and a half I have let the album sit on a hard drive, while occasionally spending a weekend adjusting the mixing and mastering.  This process was very frustrating because I was seeking sonic perfection, even though I knew all along I was not going to get it, at least not with this album.  I could have been the best musician and producer in the world, but I was still recording an album in my parents' basement using subpar equipment and free software.

But as cheesy as it sounds, the journey was just as important as the final product.  Over the last year and a half I have been listening to music more for its production value than I ever had before.  So many times I asked myself "Why can't I get 'Nine Questions' to sound as well-engineered as ______?"  (insert your album of choice).  And even the final version is nowhere near the audio engineering standards of today.  When I was a music major, I learned the elements of music, but I feel like "Nine Questions" has refined my skills of putting that music on record.  "Nine Questions" was an overly ambitious project, stretching over 20 tracks, 71 minutes, and countless musical styles.  It may have been unwise to be so ambitious, but the hard work of combing over every inch of it obsessively and repetitively made me into a much better producer as I begin new projects.

As for the music itself, it is very weird, and highly varied.  This is perhaps the other reason why I found "Nine Questions" such a difficult album to produce.  It was never clear that there would be any payoff, certainly not a financial payoff, but also perhaps not an artistic one either.  The album has some very interesting moments, but it does not follow a cohesive narrative, and the general flow is awkward at times.  There are long instrumentals stretches, and a fair amount of spoken poetry mixed in.  The album does not grab the listener in any meaningful way.  Furthermore, too many of the tracks feel like dead end ideas that could have been developed further, but were not, mostly because the album tries to cram too many styles into one product.

I suppose the idea for "Nine Questions" came to me from a song I wrote on the previous album that contained the line "now he falls into the sea, trapped by the questions, answers were irrelevant."  And so one day, I sketched out nine pieces snippets of text, none of which were actually questions.  The snippets were unrelated to each other.  Some were political, and others were spiritual, but they were all brought together by the last one, which simply said "Why?"  These nine fragments were used as the text for the album's title track, and formed the basis of all the lyrics on the album.  The title track serves as a microcosm of the entire disc.  So is "Nine Questions" a concept album?  Decidedly not!  The words on the album, just like the "questions" they are based on, don't relate to each other, except that they appear together.  "Nine Questions" has always felt like an uneasy collection for that reason.  Why should spiritual pieces appear on the same disc as highly political songs?  You could even go as far as to say that such a thing is highly inappropriate.  Even though the album is released with its original tracklist unchanged, I've never been comfortable with the juxtaposition, and that is part of the reason why I have decided to avoid political music on my new projects.  Even so, the political references on "Nine Questions" are vague enough to not be too upsetting.  Even though I speak with my music, I still want the listener to dig.  You're not going to know the meaning right off the bat.

Perhaps I've spent too much time discussing this album's shortcomings.  In truth, it is unlike any album you will ever hear, and whether that's good or bad, I leave that up to you to decide.  The other night I went for a 71 minute jog, and listened to the album in its entirety, my "last listen" (at least for a long time).  As I was running next to the Genesee River as the Sun was setting, I had a feeling I had been searching for a long time: "Nine Questions" felt like art.  I hope you enjoy it.

Cover art by Edith Hanson.  Many thanks!

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