The Guitar Chord Closet is an attempt by me to visit the songs written by Alan and Mark in the mid 1990s. The album title is borrowing from a Mark lyric common to both “The Scent of a Pickle” and “The Lungs of My Body” and refers to a guitar instructional poster. At that time, most of these songs were documented by cassette recordings with built-in microphones. I enjoy these old recordings of theirs but I felt that some do not to justice to the these excellent songs. And I wondered circa 2001 what these songs would have sounded like with multi-track recordings. It was a mostly blank canvas I couldn’t resist painting on.
The songs I chose leaned heavier on Alan’s music, but the lyrics sampled in this project are primarily of Mark’s composition. One can see the contrast of lyrical styles between the brothers in the words. In my opinion, Alan ‘s 1990s lyrics were carefully executed, thoughtful, introspective and focused primarily on actual events. Alan tended to scribe the world at face value, adding metaphor and simile only when it served a specific purpose. It seems both Alan and I have tried with limited success to replicate the freewheeling poems of Mark during the mid 1990s. I see Mark’s words from this period as liberating free association full of metaphor and less about narrative – impressionistic, perhaps.
I made these recordings in 2001 in the same summer I was working with my friend Chris May on a project called “Black and White,” except for the song “The Yellow Banana Ant” which I recorded the previous summer in 2000. In reviewing the recording dates, I am guessing I was timing the distribution of this CD to its composers in Northern Utah in summer, 2001 around the time of the Sanderson reunion. Many recordings were made in a single week in late July, 2001. I think if I would have allowed myself more time on some of these covers, I would have produced a more-fitting tribute to these great songs.
These were recorded on a Tascam 388. This is an analog recording machine that uses a wider magnetic tape (1/4 inch) than cassette tapes, wound into a 7 1/2 inch reel. Using the machine, one has to feed the tape over the recording/playing heads and secure it around the empty reel on the other side before using the controls to play, rewind, fast forward and record. The machine recorded eight tracks either all at the same time or a combination of each track (the red buttons near the tape reel decided which tracks were armed for recording). The recorder had a built in mixer with low, mid and high EQs (the orange colored knobs), each with a sweep to fine tune. The white knobs were for panning (deciding where in the stereo field a track would sound – or how far left or right they sound). One can also use 2 effect units with the machine using the green and blue knobs. I had two effects units but I don’t remember whether I used one or two on this project. I re-used an old tape for this project, because I was a poor recent college graduate, and unfortunately this reduced the fidelity of some of these recordings.
To mix down the recordings, I had a Mini-disc recorder (another extinct technology) which recorded in near CD quality. I liked this device because it allowed some editing functions like trimming the blank space at the start and end of recordings and could, with some difficulty, splice out unwanted sections of a recording. I believe at the time I did have a digital optical input on my computer which I used to transfer the Mini-Disc audio to computer via fiberoptic cable so I could burn the project to CD-R.
THE YELLOW BANANA ANT was recorded in May, 2000, the earliest of this project. Like the CDLI version, I capoed the guitar at the 4th fret. The drums were performed on a Yamaha PSR-510 by finger, and are one of my favorite performances. Since the rhythm guitar is fairly constant on this one, it freed up for a great fill into the bridge. For percussion, I used one microphone and altered from tambourine and shaker (the actual instruments), though I had to stand further from the mic when the tambourine was played. I do have a playing error in the lead guitar – I was trying to play a line with an octave progression on two strings played with a pick and a bare finger but I think I should have used only my fingers or fingerpicks because the higher string only comes through on the first part of the song. Maybe that’s more interesting though?? I think the lyrics to this song are one of the best examples of Mark’s free association – sort of like Michael Stipe (R.E.M.).
TYLIA’S MICROPHONE TOOTHPICK was a riff-based instrumental written by Alan. He made several recordings of this song in different genres ranging from punk to ambient electronic to alternative rock. My interpretation leaned heavily on a solo recording he made in 1998 that featured some new lyrics. For my recording, I programmed my own drum loop on the PSR-510 with “A” and “B” sections and two fills – one of my favorite loops in this period. The PSR-510 did not have external memory, so any of my sequences and loops not committed to record or transferred could not be saved as was the case here.
FERRIS WHEEL / WORMWOOD is a medley of two songs were Mark was lyricist and Alan was composer. I think the Ferris Wheel section works better. PSR-510 drum loops again. The pizzcatto strings were a good line, I think.
DROPPING INTO PLACE features great lyrics by Mark. I was trying for an acoustic coffee-house folk combo feel (if that makes any sense). I didn’t have an upright bass, but I tried playing my electric bass in such a manner as to sound a bit like an upright. The bongos were samples off a drum machine I bought at a pawn shop in Cedar City. I later gave the drum machine to Mark.
DROWNING and THE SCENT OF A PICKLE feature real drumming but suffers I think from some playing errors. I’ve found that rifts in a basic track have negative ripple effects in the final touches. Drowning is a great lyric by Alan and I can’t help but smile when I try to follow Mark’s narrative on “Pickle” – I see it as a bit like “Alice in Wonderland,” like it’s a parody of modern life.
FROLICKING CLOWNS – I pictured a Oingo Boingo/Danny Elfman sort of arrangement to this one because clowns and skeletons in the closet seemed in keeping with the macabre. My inital thought was that my brother Brian helped me by running the keyboard through one of his MIDI soundfonts but this couldn’t be as he was in the Canary islands at the time. I must have used the old DAW “Recording Session” to sample it’s voices, which were maybe slightly better than those on the PSR-510 for brass and strings.
GARDYLOO – The end part with a lot of delay effect is interesting. I spliced out a redundant section but I think the transition was too rough. I think the harmony vocals were pretty good.
SIAMESE PLANET – I am uncertain whether the different tempo than the CDLI version was intentional. I think it gives more space for guitar work but it gets a bit too boring towards the end.
RED PLASTIC SHARK – I played the drums on keyboard because the tempo was too fast for me to keep up with using drum sticks.
THE LUNGS OF MY BODY – I prefer the version performed by Mark and myself on “Chronocide in California”
BONUS TRACK: COLNEY HATCH LANE – Unlike the above tracks, this was recorded digitally on a 16-track Yamaha AW16G machine circa 2004. This song was written by Alan about his missionary experiences. We jammed together in Palm Springs on the main riff and I decided to submit my take on his composition. I added a lyric line at the end (I hope that was okay). I lifted a guitar line from one of my songs and used it in this recording.
In general, I think I discovered that doing a cover of someone else’s compositions is a different process than, say re-imagining ones own works. When someone expresses themselves creatively, there is a piece of themself in their creation. It was a learning experience for me and I hope I gave the necessary love and care to these parcels of expression that made up this project.
Related blog post: Introducing Sanderson.band, and The Guitar-Chord Closet