March, 2005

Speak Softly and Carry a Big Measuring Stick

It’s been some 7 months since recording the Live CD at Ryerson University.  The show represented a very stripped down version of many of the songs- a few had even never been played before live.

It’s funny, the weeks leading up to that show were full of excitement and gusto.  There  was a sense of something to prove, maybe.  However, as often happens, when you place too much importance on something it appears at first to backfire.

The first few months, I couldn’t stand listening to any of the tracks.  All I could hear were the mistakes.  This puzzled my considerably at the time (not to mention, discouraged me)- after all, this was hardly the first time I had recorded anything.  Why then was every song sounding so painfully distant?  Again, as I realize now, I think overemphasizing the importance of that show had a lot to do with it- it being my first show back after a year abroad; loads of new material to try out on a virgin audience.

Interestingly, that show would prove to be very significant.  In all fairness, there is no denying it was full of mistakes!  But for me, the importance of those mistakes dwindled with each passing week and each passing listen.  What I did find was there was an enormous amount to learn about from these recordings regarding which direction a lot of these songs would now go.  There was an individual essence to many of the songs played from that show that crept out over each subsequent listen, amidst all the flat notes and red-line screams.  It’s kind of like that Calvin and Hobbes strip where Calvin’s dad tries to convince Calvin that they’d be better off downplaying Christmas, and instead not even decorating the tree but imagining that it had lots of lights, and a big star on top, and lots of presents underneath!  I feel that way many times when I listening to these recordings- it’s almost like extrapolating to get at what they could sound like, using your imagination as a guide.

I think we gained from this in many ways.  For one, Devin, being his usual disciplined self, very methodically sat down and through many creative hours, was able to develop bass-line interpretations for several of the songs which have already contributed much to their further growth.  I’m terribly excited to make use of these in the studio- especially for Paratoxic, The Thinker, and Climbing Trees (which was the last song written in South Africa, but wasn’t played at the Ryerson gig, on a number of different positions).  Interestingly, it was his bass line for Climbing Trees which has changed the song’s dynamic considerably, and has thus resuscitated it in many ways.

This is of course why artists try their material out live, in an effort to further develop it.  For me, almost all of the songs played at the Ryerson show had already been debuted and played several times over the course of many shows in Johannesburg.  It was the decision to record them live at this fairly early stage in their development, a further (and I would guess optional) aspect of the process, which threw me for a bit of a loop.  After all, it is one of which I little knew of the impact it would have, both negative and positive.

I think it goes back to a very simple concept-  It is what it is.  And we must draw from it what we can.  Too often in this, as in other things, expectations don’t appear to be met.  In the long run, I realize I probably gained much more from this than if I had been immediately been satisfied.  Sure, it was initially a case of idealism crumbling below, but I see a little more clearly now the there is fruit in it.  It is what it is- and ultimately, it won’t be what it can be, till it’s done right.