Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Master Plan

This was the final webstop of my musical reconnaissance journey in the wee hours of Sunday night. Yes, I was googling chord notation for... drum roll... a new Buffy song! You see, I seem to have a pretty good knack for coming up with lyrics and melodies, then singing them. Musical instruments themselves, not so much. That's why you'll never see me bust out my guitar around the campfire or break into song at an open mic. I can hear the notes in my head, then strum a few chords or plunk a few keyboard notes just to get them down for someone who really knows what they're doing to make magic with. To my great delight, I actually managed to write out the chords for the entire song you will soon hear the details on. I even managed to figure out the one crazy chord that almost looked like a C but didn't sound completely happy or completely sad. (Ended up being a diminished. Thank the Google gods for that!)

So how did I get to googling diminished chords on a Sunday night? Rewind to last Friday when I realized I had a Buffy Ballad conundrum on my hands. I'd gotten an e-mail from Bryant last week telling me he needed a new song for the Season 1 episode of The Scoobies and the Newbie by Saturday. I'd already used You Renegade Vamp for the preseason episode. Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?, as you probably know from the last blog entry, is not entirely done. The two remaining songs we'd recorded were Ooh, Mr. Mayor and If I Were a Robot. My first thought was to sync the villains to the seasons. Realizing that I had no Season 1 villain song, my second thought was to stick a song about a villain from a later season into the Season 1 podcast. But then I realized that the two villains I had songs about, Warren and The Mayor, were the MAIN villains of later seasons. Playing either of their songs prematurely would be doubly tragic because not only do they not even appear in Season 1, but once the podcast reached their season Bryant, Barbra, and Sam would be discussing all of the geeky factoids about that character, by which time I would've already blown my wad. Alas, there was nothing I could do for Season 1, as I did not have a song for The Master. Or did I???

I actually been brainstorming a Master song for a while. I knew what style I wanted the song in -- a slow, melancholy jazz standard resembling "Stormy Weather." I even had the melody and lyrics for the very last line. But that was ages ago, and no matter how hard I stared at the Wikipedia notes or how many times I re-watched Season 1, none of the rest of the song had materialized. The main problem lay in the fact that these are supposed to be love songs, and truth be told, I do not love The Master. I'll give Joss and the gang the benefit of the doubt, since it was their first season, they were working on a shoestring budget, and they were still in the process of figuring everything out. That said, The Master doesn't have anywhere near the sophistication of any of the later villains. He's also freaking ugly. But hey, we all have exes like that, right? So I decided that instead of a raunchy sexy song or a cheesy lovey-dovey song, it would be more like a "fuck you" song.

That was a good starting point. I was able to make lyrics out of factoids now that I had a point of view. Friday, I mocked up a first draft of the song. It was cleverly chock full of trivia and rhymes, but it was missing something. It was complicated; disjointed; a little too angry; and most of all it lacked a melody. Furthermore, the original ending felt forcefully tacked on. It seemed like a good ending at the time. Would I have to scrap it? I was reluctant because I'd had it in my head for so long. On the other hand, artists shouldn't get too wedded to their creations. On the other other hand, maybe my initial instinct was right. Brain fuzzy, systems shutting down...

In the meantime, I got an e-mail from Bryant saying they were delaying recording until next week. Ah, my manna from heaven!!! If I could figure the song out by the weekend, record it during the week, and get it to them by Friday, my conundrum would be solved. I slept a bunch Saturday morning and afternoon, chipped away at it Saturday evening, and by Sunday the song was done. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't as easy as 1 2 3. The lyrics, melody, and refrain went through lots and lots of permutations. It was like one of those sliding block puzzles where almost everything fits except for the two squares that are completely out of place. And when you try to move those two pieces, all the other pieces get into a jumble. Eventually everything finds its proper place, but not before you feel so mixed up you wonder if it'll ever get back to good.

But it is. Good, I mean. In fact, it's better than good. The factoids fit. The syllables work. The refrain is in line with the point of view, and the ending makes total sense -- both word-wise and musically. I e-mailed David the chord chart Sunday night, and we met Monday to lay down the track. He can do amazing things with music. Honestly, I am always mind blown every time he works his magic with a new song of mine. We are going to record the video for "Love You... With a Vengeance" this afternoon. If we have time, we might even get to the new song, "What Kind of Master Are You?" Either way, there will be a new video on the YouTubes and a new track for the Season 1 Scooby-Newbie podcast. Victory dance!!!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Insane Psychobabble

Make sense to you? Me neither. Had I not known the genius behind the madness, I would've labeled it as psychobabble (perhaps even Drusilla-caliber). It is actually the structure for the percussion line in the new instrumental track for Wherefore Art Thou Juliet?, which David and I are currently arranging. Yes, that's right -- we are recording an ALBUM!!! I'm giddy with delight. Positively giddy!

This whole thing originally started when Bryant and Barbra Dillon asked me if they could feature my songs at the end of each episode of the podcast, The Scoobies and the Newbie. I quickly realized that though I had the musical tracks for four completed songs, I didn't have good quality vocal recordings since we always captured the vocals live on camera. I'd been planning on making a CD anyway, and this was the perfect kick in the butt. Since rerecording You Renegade Vamp for the first podcast, David has recorded and mixed vocals for Ooh, Mr. Mayor and If I Were a Robot. The only song left was Wherefore Art Thou Juliet. Juliet is taking a little longer for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was the very first recording David and I ever did. He arranged and recorded it in a couple of hours the morning that we met on craigslist (yes, we met on craigslist). And given the circumstances, it's pretty darn impressive. But now that we are doing this for real, we thought we'd give it a makeover. I wanted to add a drum track, some base, possibly harmonies and other instrumentals, and in order to do that we needed to scrap the original. We are actually going to keep the intro, since it's rather brilliant and David and I agree there isn't anything we wanted to improve. But given that the initial piano recording was done without a metronome, there was no way we could even add a drum track in. So off we went to record our new track.

Recording a drum track from a keyboard is funny business. You have to reverse engineer the whole thing, counting out the total measures for each part of the song, what you want to happen in each measure, then syncing the beat changes with the measure count exactly the right time. In short, involves a lot of math on David's part, followed by David scribbling some crazy notes that only he understands, followed by David staring at the little screen on the keyboard and pressing the right buttons when the designated measure numbers come to bat. It's pretty amusing -- not to mention amazing -- to see him geek out over all these little beats and counts and know that they will somehow translate into music. Actual music. I just sit next to him, take a few pictures for my blog, and cheer him on for moral support.

So that's what we did the past couple of days. We picked out a few Doo-wop percussion lines, decided on the speed, decided where to switch from one to the next, and got it all down in Pro tools. And let me tell you I think it sounds pretty fab. Next, we noodled with the beginnings of the piano arrangement. It's the same chord structure as before, but we were able to decide on some nuances that we obviously didn't have the luxury to do when splatting it out in a hurry the day that we first met.

David needs to take some time to practice and familiarize himself with the new arrangement, at which point we will get together and record again, then brainstorm what else we want to do with the track. This one's kind of a tall order and it may take a while to really get right. But honestly, this may very well be the coolest track on the album. I don't want to jinx myself or make a self-fulfilling prophecy. The other recordings sound great, and I'm extremely excited for the new songs -- both written and unwritten. But the Drusilla song has a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons. First of all, I LOVE the character with all my heart (we are talking major girl crush). I also love the Doo-wop style and I think I've always secretly fantasized about performing it (though I never thought with a vampire twist). I think the biggest reason, though, is that it was the birthplace of this whole project. Sure, I'd noodled with a few Spike lyrics, but the experience I had seeing Juliet for the first time gave me such a jolt. It was one of those unforgettable, visceral experiences that takes you so outside of your comfort zone; your thought patterns; your ideas about what's real and what's not. And these types of experiences are the soil where amazing art takes root.

David and I will continue to work on Juliet, and in the meantime we are scheduled to record the video for Love You... with a Vengeance on Monday. More blogging to come!