Sunday, August 12, 2007

Philosophy Revealed...revealed

Hello there...

For those of you who followed the link from the Brazil sites, welcome back. Hopefully you find this useless compendium advantageous to whatever sorts of research and book reportery in which you may find yourself involved.

For those of you who happened to happen upon this page via happenchance, maybe via someone's blogroll, a blog carnival, or by googling your own name (you vain creature, Mr. Revealed), the following is a behind-the-skull look at an album created by the band Brazil (b. July 12, 2000 d. Aug. 18, 2007). Hopefully you enjoy - and if you do, please leave comments.

Leave comments if you don't, also.

Bloggerifically yours,
Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil

On Safe-Cracking and Rubella

The opening track on The Philosophy of Velocity is actually a minimalist piano version of a crazy psyche-freak-out song that didn't make the final cut for the finished product. (It's a shame because I listened to it earlier this afternoon and was blown away.) We wanted to set the mood from the get-go with an introspective Amelie-inspired etude that also established the Author theme. The typewriter was recorded at a farmhouse in rural Indiana with a condenser mic over the top of a Woodstock brand typewriter from the 1920's (it was an ebay find) that looks like this:

It's unbelievably heavy, and I sometimes use it as a door-stop or to keep the trailer from rolling. I bet it would also really mess up your car if you ran over it. There's a point on the track where the clicking stops longer than usual, and that's where a bunch of keys got stuck together and I had to reach in and get them back to normal as smoothly as possible. And for you audiophiles with $200 headphones, you can hear Aaron's ghost guitar murmuring underneath it all.

I remember writing this on my laptop one freezing morning in Ottawa, Ontario. The actual version on the record, however, was recorded using a real flesh-n-blood piano and I'm honestly a little disappointed in myself because I played the part in two passes – one for the right hand part, and one for the left hand part. (Nic, virtuoso that he is, has since learned to play both parts with both hands).

And now you know…the rest of the story.

Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil

Crime and the Antique Solution

The first thing you should know is that the title is a blatant borrow from the Australian, Birthday-Party-member-having art rock band Crime and the City Solution. Change one word and voila! A song title! The relationship between the two doesn't have anything to do with anything, other than the fact that I heard the band on Wings of Desire one day a few years ago and thought it was a rather handsome group of words that played well together.

The second thing you should know is that we don't condone the use of time traveling portals, wormholes, or any other machinery that would make such a feat possible, without first consulting with your family quantum physicist. If you're a subscriber to the Grandfather Paradox theory (or in modern terms, The Marty McFly Conundrum), the changing of past events would cause current circumstances to change. Hence the phrase, "I'm fading away…"

Musically, Crime was a no-brainer. Other than a guitar being run through a leslie, no strange or experimental recording techniques were employed. I vaguely remember the verses (which are in 7, if you were wondering) being in some way influenced by an old Genesis song, but I can't remember which one. It's definitely not the one with the drum fill that goes doo-doom doo-doom doo-doom doo-doom BAP BAP! I was really proud of the "fading away" section, mostly because I was able to throw in what I call a "pink" note – a single note change that brings a minor chord around to being major, and therefore in a much better mood.

One of Fridmann's major contributions to this song was the middle noise section. We had never really thought about making that section sound nearly as chaotic as it does. I don't know how many guitar tracks are smashed in there, but I do know it's a lot. Dave loves him some freak-outs. And we have come to the realization that it can be a lot more fun than actually playing music.

Incidentally, there were two separate mixes posted at different times: the noisy, psychedelic Dave mix, and a cleaner, radio-friendly mix. If you were observant, you may have caught it…

Any questions?

Warm, safe, and dry...
Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil

You Never Know

You Never Know is a mashup of a lot of different things I like: the mysterious phone calls, episodic amnesia, and midnight rendezous of B-movie noir; the creepy and sometimes paranormal storytelling of Nick Cave and Tom Waits; abandoned things, especially theaters; mysterious women (who breathe loudly into the phone); the list goes on. Oh yeah - Meta-detective? Watch I (Heart) Huckabees and you'll see where that came from.

One of the most gratifying parts of being in a studio like Tarbox, is that it is actually a studio in the artist sense where band and producer work in a completely collaborative relationship, unlike some studios that can sometimes feel more like a factory where the producer takes on the role of the foreman. (We've fortunately never experienced quite that extreme of a situation on any of our records, but we know of some bands who have.) Take for instance this episode, where we were trying to find the perfect guitar tone for Aaron's rhythm part during the verses of this song. It went something like this:

Us: "How 'bout this?"

Dave: "Hmmm. Nope."


"Perfect. That's the sound."

It never would have occurred to us, but we loved it. And for what it's worth, at any point in the record, we could have tried this:

Or this:

Or this:

But I digress.

James even had a hand in the rampant experimentation, fashioning a percussion instrument out of an industrial farming implement. That metallic "gonk" sound you hear in the middle section that replaces the snare drum is actually a blade from a disc plough with a tambourine mounted on top. James may be from New Jersey, but he knows how to strike a chord with us corn-husking Midwesterners.

That instrumental section, in my opinion, is the jewel of the song. I still love listening to it on the album (and I usually hate listening to our albums after about the first month), and I love being enraptured by it every time we play it live. To me, it's a perfect dreamy mixture of Strange Times-era Chameleons, The Joshua Tree, and Disintegration-era Cure.

As for the singin' parts, I always thought it would have been really cool to put an AM radio-style effect on my voice during the verses to give them a little more flavor, but for one reason or another we ran out of time to explore those kinds of possibilities. The half-spoken delivery was somewhat of a nod to The Fall, which makes the song fun to sing live, but half the time I wish I would have come up with something less barky and a little more melodic. Just trying on different hats, you know? (Plus I'd need two more decades of gin and scotch to pull off a halfway believable Mark E. Smith…although for what it's worth, You Never Know is one of two songs on PoV where my memory of tracking it is more than a little foggy, thanks to the plentiful spirits Thursday and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah left behind.)

Also, the chorus was more or less directly inspired by Sly and the Family Stone's song Thank You. Keep that in mind, Trivial Pursuit players.

Enjoy the rest of your Hump Day,
Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil

The Vapours

If you said you had the vapours in 1865, it meant you were in a depression, feeling faint, or otherwise hysterical. It also probably meant you were a woman, or at least were wearing a corset at the time. I'll leave it up to you to decide what was on my mind when I wrote it.

The Vapours, as we all know it, underwent several major renovations, and probably sets the record for number of re-writes (Breathe probably comes in at number two), before we finally settled on a version we liked. Like Crime, the recording process was nothing fancy. For the most part, the first half of the record leaned toward routine recording procedure, with some exceptions, while the second half of the record indicates where we started to get a little crazy with the microphones – and where the Revealed Series will start to get fun.

James in the drum cave at Tarbox.

First, we tracked the song live, followed by basic overdubs to correct bass and guitar mistakes. Piano and basic vocals were next. Pretty standard stuff. Then of course, Dave had to chime in and say, "We need more noise!" So part of what you hear in the mix (you true musicians will be saddened to know) is a single low guitar track (or maybe it was two) of pure unadulterated guitar noise. Scratch that – very adulterated guitar noise. No melody. No harmony. Pure feedback chaos.

The piano solo was somewhat of a milestone in composition for me. I set out to find a convincing 7-bar cabaret break, then proceeded to mix it with a little, I dunno, Danny Elfman or something, and what we all ended up with was Killer Queen as performed by Gomez Addams. Nic and I are both able to play this, and will sometimes trade off halfway through just to show how b-b-b-bad we are.

Gomez Newby

One of the album's unifiers that you might not have picked up on is the use of the Almighty Backward. (You thought we raped the 70's enough…we stole backmasking too!). There are several places on the album where we reversed tracks, and there are three instances in The Vapours alone. The first is with the "ghost" strings after the piano break. (Fun fact: those strings were from a live recording of our 2001 Conquer instrumental set with the Ball State Symphony Orchestra). The second is the "ghost" backup vocals on the third verse. You probably can't tell by listening, but trust me, they're backward. And the third is the "ghost" whispering that fades in at the end of the track. I could tell you exactly what I was saying, but I think I'll wait until another edition.

Til then…

Au revoir,
Jonathon Christopher Newby du Brazil


I always thought a good idea for a psychological thriller would be where a guy gets followed (or thinks he is getting followed) by a character in the films he watches. Not in real life, but every time he goes to the movies, he sees the same character, like some offscreen extra, staring at him creepily until he finally goes crazy and knocks off a bank teller or something. Who knows how it would end, but I think there might be some cool possibilities. Plus, it would go great with a Rod Serling voiceover. What I'm trying to say is, this is what Cameo is about.

This is what the outside of Tarbox Studio looks like. To the north is trees, to the south is hills, the east is more trees, and to the west is Keystone Light.

With Cameo, we went into the studio with a song I felt only mild attraction to, and left the studio with a song that seemed to make sense. With a little coaching from Dave and his handy Casio reference keyboard, we added lots of sweet layers in the vocals, plus lots of tasty guitar noise throughout, but ultimately the actual recording process for Cameo was fairly straight-forward and more or less boring, so here's a picture of Philip partying with Mogwai while we were there:

Scotland vs. USA!

There is one point I'd like to make, however. Those of you who have heard a lot of our past stuff may have been surprised to hear the mixing approach we favored for PoV. We chose, and not with a little controversy, to go with a very live, very peaked mix, and had you been in the studio with us whilst mixing, you would have been amazed to see all the red in the meters. Cameo is one of the most "clipped" songs on the record, and we felt this new approach gets across the rawness, the energy, and the danger of everything the new record stands for. Incidentally, the "loudness war" is a controversy in itself within producer circles, and At War with the Mystics has been pegged as a major offender. As well as Thursday's A City by the Light Divided, and CHSY's Some Loud Thunder. Notice a pattern here? Where there's controversy, might as well be in the middle of it.

Otherwise, my favorite parts of this song are the chorus, which is an homage to Blue Oyster Cult (at least with the guitars), and my vocals, which I think fucking rule. Srsly. One thing though, I would have really loved a shiggy-shiggy tambourine over the guitar solo, but I failed to think of it at the time and the other guys more than make up for it in awesomeness and rockity. (Edit: Believe it or not, the first line of the song is a take on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. "There you are, you're there." I'm being totally serious here.)

Yep, Courtney Cox.

Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil

Candles (Cast Long Shadows)


I thought I made up that word, but then a quick googling showed me that an ectophiliac is one who is infatuated with the works of Happy Rhodes, Kate Bush, or Peter Gabriel. So in other words, outsider pop for working professionals. Well, I tried anyway. I really wanted it to describe a lover of ghosts. But alas, it was not meant to be.

Long known as our "Velvet Underground" song during the working-title days (although the sum total of my life's decadence threefold is barely enough to fill a day in the life o' Lou) Candles was mayhap the biggest aesthetic leap for us, or at least for me as a vocalist.

I remember putting it together from a 4-track sketch out of something that had spawned in Aaron's brain, and I tried and tried for a long time to think of the most appropriate vocal melody for the verses. After multiple failures, I finally resolved to just talking the words. It felt strange at first, but after a few runs I realized that it was a lot of fun to sing, because it was less about singing it than it was about acting it. And I took it all the way, too, dropping all "proper diction" in favor of Indiana diphthongs and Hoosier-iffic syllable-adding. And maybe, just maybe, that's how I normally talk anyway… Here's a picture of me sippin' on the studio porch if you're unsure:

Some people have criticized Candles as being a bid for mainstream acceptance, and I can tell you that's far from the truth. Yes, it was written with the intention of being simple, and yes, the lyrics do recount a Neil Sedaka love story of sorts. But given that it's about a dead girl, it kind of loses its chance to be the soundtrack for this spring's prom. Plus, there's the part at the end where Aaron channels Adelaide the Ghost through his pickups. Let's see Maroon 5 do that.

Oh chorus, how I love thee. Sometimes in the studio, the best thing to do is just keep adding on layers and layers, not really knowing what's going to come out, and in the end you either have something brilliant or you have a pile of crap, and the chorus of Candles is one of the loveliest piles of crap I think we've ever created. I had this vision for when we played it live where there would be a marching band onstage with us, but it unfortunately never happened due to uncooperative band directors and stage dimensions. Ultimately, I would have been happy with these ladies:

But alas, it was not to be.

Oh, the story: a guy falls in love with a ghost named Adelaide who haunts his apartment. She was a 23 year-old who asphyxiated from a gas leak almost a hundred years ago (although I never really nailed when the song itself takes place in real time). It's fairly straightforward, and I'm sure anyone with a firm grasp of the English language could glean it. No analogies or moral lessons here, except maybe "ya cain't…al-ways….get…watcha wa-ant…"

One last thing, if you paid close attention to our goings-on a few months ago, or if you are a gamer, you probably already know that Candles was included in the last installment of SIMS. I looked around the house to try to post it on our player instead of the real version, but I couldn't find it. But it's really funny. I actually had to talk to a dialect coach to make sure I sung it correctly in Simlish. I will find it one day, and when I do, I will post it.

But for now, it's not meant to be.

Carbon-datedly yours,
Jonathon Christopher Newby of Brazil