I’m So Excited

Good Morning, Mackronauts! Ready for launch?

I’ve been tinkering with my old keyboard music again, and it’s gotten me all excited about making music again. It’s funny, because my favourite keyboardists aren’t the most exciting guys around: Tony Banks, Anthony Phillips, Richard Wright and Stewart Copeland. These guys are my biggest keyboard influences, but they’re not really considered the best in the business. Funny how that works. I never wanted to be the best in the business myself. I just want to move people.

The first piece I’d like to discuss is The Dreamer’s Symphony:

This is a prototype of what I wanted Etcetera to sound like when we first started out. Oh, there was a certain piece of keyboard music in our arsenal I was also very happy with, but it was Dori’s song, and she was leaving us, so I knew I’d have to get us some new music to make up for the loss of her. I think she tried to downplay the importance of the piece at the time, but Derrick and Dave thought it was pretty good (I think they agreed that we had our new keyboard player, at any rate). It was really rough, and I hadn’t given it a proper structure yet, but I had the bits and pieces, which I ‘composed’ and recorded while Dori was sick at her parents’ home with a kidney infection and a case of Wayward Heart Syndrome. Both improved when she returned and started dating our producer friend, whom I’ve long since forgiven (f forgiveness was ever needed) because he did me the favour of stealing Dori from me, which accelerated my own progress as a musician and composer tremendously. I’ve never relied so heavily on another musician since then, so in many ways, I owe Dori and Mike a great debt of gratitude for forcing me to become the musician I am. And The Dreamer’s Symphony is where I started getting serious about composing music, instead of just writing lyrics for songs and moaning about not being able to play them.

The sound itself isn’t the sound I intended on using in the final recording, as it wasn’t really that great a sound for a band to have to work around. I like my keyboard sounds to eat up a certain amount of space, but not to the extent that the band had nothing else to do. The sound I used was called Heavy Hittr, a four voice patch on Dori’s Kawai K-1 synth, which had two sets of Strings and two sets of Iceblock set at slightly different attack and sustain lengths to give the patch depth and breadth. It was a ballsy sound that I could use to evoke pastoral sequences or really punchy, choppy sections with lots of bass response and bombast. I could conceivably play that patch in a solo segment and almost nobody would miss the band. Except the hard rockers. And me. It’s almost twenty years later and I still hear it as an ensemble piece with guitar, bass and drums.

The next piece I’d like to discuss is called Monte’s Birthday Suite, which consists of three parts, only two of which are in digital form at the moment: The Hunting and The Arrival

The Hunting was a piece that was improvised shortly after we’d finished jamming The Arrival, and followed by The Awakening, a short little keyboard noodle that just sounded better on the front, with The Arrival sent to the rear, as it’s the most bombastic of the three parts, making it much harder to follow. I programmed the band musically by playing some Genesis and King Crimson at them shortly before we started, and the results were far better than I could have hoped for. I remember being so excited about this piece at the time, because the band was finally fulfilling my expectations of them. In many ways, we were always strongest as a three piece, whether it was Dave or Gary who didn’t show up.

We attempted to jam and refine these parts a number of times, but ultimately, I decided to write them into songs on my own. A version of The Hunting became Breathe (which we will discuss shortly), and The Arrival I rearranged and wrote lyrics for, to transform into a progressive rock mini-epic called Up For Air, which still hasn’t been realized (I’m hoping to get that together on the next Etcetera album, which I’ve tentatively titled Steep Inclinations).

I played it to a number of friends, most of whom weren’t that impressed, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the piece.

The next piece I’d like to discuss is Bleed Into One, which was another cool jam that needed a lyric before Derrick got sick of playing it; fortunately, I already had one written for the occasion, and started bootstrapping it into place before the die was cast. It’s always been a favourite of mine, though the performances and sound quality of the original leave much to be desired. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to getting the band to sound like Synchronicity II by The Police, one of my all-time favourite pieces of rock music.

The lyric was meant to be social commentary on how people tend to turn away when they hear too much bad news. The title literally explains how all of the problems of the world just seem to run together into one huge rushing river of negativity and pain, which overwhelms many of us and makes the survivors into hard-bitten activists who become so strident and harsh that they turn the rest off even more. It’s the dilemma of caring too much in a world that is too bruised to care enough to fix the problems.

The next piece I’d like to discuss is Breathe, which is only available online in three short parts at the moment.

It is, as mentioned earlier, my effort to turn The Hunting into a proper song, so Derrick would continue to rehearse it, because all of that instrumental music I had them playing was making his life miserable. The lyric was something I composed thinking of Sting and Peter Gabriel. The original jam had been darker and moodier, but the subsequent jams and rehearsals had taken the piece in a different direction, in part because it changed keys a bit. I always intended to refuse the two disparate concepts together, so I could have my moody piece AND my inspirational anthem, as part of the greater Monte’s Birthday Suite, which I suppose would need a better title.

Now I get to flog the ‘new’ old stuff. The first piece is called The Art of Letting Go. It’s not the best piece on the Greatest Misses compilation, but it has the peculiar honour of containing one of my fastest keyboard licks, which even I will admit needs more work, but sounds pretty amazing, and would stand out even more if it were in the middle or end of the jam instead of near the beginning, leaving little else to keep you listening. I’ll be rearranging this one some day to see if I’m right. I’m not all that fond of the sound I used, but it got the job done. If I had it to do over again, I suppose I’d choose a more classic synth solo sound for the instrumental section, and write a lyric to fill up the space left by the fairly average verse/chorus riffs, which I would probably choose a less ear-splitting sound for, so the dissonant chords wouldn’t jar quite as much. I’d definitely keep the title and theme, though. It’s a song waiting to happen.

Next up is When It Seems To Be Ending, another instrumental jam that had me turning in one of my finest piano performances, despite the bum notes. I would love to hear this performed properly, with a bass line that matches the rest of the song, because sadly, I kind of squeezed Big Dave out on this one, so he just sort of noodled aimlessly through most of it. I still don’t know precisely what I’d like this piece to be, but it seems pretty much fully formed, which demonstrates how good my instincts were in 1998; after four years of pushing, I was starting to develop real composing and jamming chops.

The last piece I’m going to discuss today is probably my favourite piece of the bunch, which is an alarming thing to say, but I’m sure that, with the passage of time, it will settle back down to being one of the gang. It was once given the simple, silly title Teddy Bear Got A Robo Dick, and there’s a kind of funny story to go with that, but I think I’ll just mention that, prior to posting the piece, I finally renamed it The Furthest Shores, which is my sly nod to Tony Banks, who definitely influenced me on this one.

I’m pretty sure it’s a piano sound, but it’s a bit distorted, which means I probably cranked up the gain to give it some fuzz, or ran it through my Boss effects unit (I just don’t remember the Kawai having that patch, though it’s been a long time, so I could be wrong). This, like the previous piece, was composed on Dori’s old Kawai K-1, most likely using the piano patch which I painstakingly programmed myself, using my old Yamaha PSR-7 piano tone as the model. I have better piano sounds to work with now, but I haven’t enjoyed playing piano as much as I did when I created this sound.

I definitely have plans for this piece, which has been eating up a lot of my mental space lately.

It’s my intention to recreate all of these pieces on the multi-track with full band arrangements, so the guys can hear their parts properly, though I may have to start my search for a new keyboard player, since I seem to be playing bass a lot more these days, unless I can do a Geddy and figure some way to perform both keyboard and bass parts in turns, which is actually my preferred option, except that I also have to sing, and some of my bass lines give me trouble when it comes to singing, because the meters are sometimes funny, and I tend to write counterpoint bass lines a lot. Still, it would be a fun challenge learning to break the pieces up so I could play them on both instruments. That’s a challenge I look forward to.

Well, my agent is awake and raring to go, so it’s time to stop typing and make the coffee. I hope someone was entertained by all of this musical meandering and maundering. Thank you for reading.

Uncle Eddie.

Don't be shy. Tell me what you really think, now.


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