February has been a productive month. I went into it with one big objective: to work on my follow-up to my pop opera The Little Death: Vol. 1, the cleverly-titled The Little Death: Vol. 2. The MATA Festival has afforded me with a nice deadline to work against – I’ll be performing selections from TLDV2 at Roulette on April 19th – but, to be honest, going into February this is all had planned:
- Assess the bulk of songs, sketches, themes, and general musical material I’d written around the time of TLDV1, and had set aside for TLDV2. More than enough material for an album, but was it good enough and did it fit/extend the story the way I wanted it to?
- Work (with creative blinders on) on new ideas/songs and see if any of them shepherded me in new directions, both musically and narratively.
A primary challenge was going to be working in a style, both in terms of the music and the method, that I’ve largely grown away from. The Little Death is a project that goes back as early as 2006, very soon after I wrote some of my first ever through-composed pieces of music. It’s written almost entirely in Ableton Live and involves no written-out music – except in the few cases when I have someone else record a part (though Mellissa did without music more often than not!). Creatively, I hadn’t touched anything Little Death since the end of the TLDV1 mastering process, late 2009. It’s now over two years later, and I found myself in that familiar, yet utterly-unproductive, place of utter speculation.
Now if there’s one thing I’ve learned from successfully writing music over the last 6-7 years (successful as in actually getting it done) is that early speculation about a new piece is about 0.1% of the work you should do (speaking personally, others may have different processes). The more the piece resides in the aether of speculation, the more that speculative challenges and threats will arise, and the more chance there’ll be that the reality of the work will never be able to match that celestial work of art in your imagination. Long story short: I speculated way too fucking long on this bitch, and it came time to lock myself in my studio and see what came out.
What came out, based on my two-point plan:
- I assessed the bulk of songs, sketches, themes, and general musical material I’d written around the time of TLDV1 that I’d set aside for TLDV2.
I decided that most of it sucked. Or, to be more forgiving of myself, most of it wasn’t worth spending any more time on. I planned to keep some of the themes in mind, but try and start fresh. Biggest fear: I wouldn’t be able to create new music that matched the vibe of TLDV1.
- Work (with creative blinders on) on new ideas/songs and see if any of them shepherd me in new directions, both musically and narratively.
This went unexpectedly well. I decided to work mostly in Ableton Live (though with a bit more Sibelius thrown into the mix than last time). Most of the music began as melodies I sang and recorded on the spot. Then I’d listen over and over and add what I’d hear in my head, rinse and repeat. A very simple process, and very similar to how I worked on TLDV1. The vibe of the music is little different – I’m a better singer now, so there’s quite a bit more vocals being used as harmony and texture whereas before I would use samples and synths – but the spirit is very similar. Blindly diving into the writing process also helped solve some lingering plot holes and issues that I couldn’t for the life of me think my way through. Funny how my brain keeps insisting that logically problem-solving my way through these challenges is the way to go, even after he’s been proven wrong time after time.
So it’s now the end of February and I have four new songs (totaling almost 20 minutes) that are very likely to appear on TLDV2 – though still firmly in the “demo” stage – and one other I’m currently working on, but I think is going to work.
Here are some tantalizing facts about what TLDV2 is going to feature, based on my work in February:
- More acoustic instruments, including: toy piano (not sampled!), ukulele, cabasa, jingle bells, trumpet, violin, some mallet instruments, and more.
- One track that’s all acapella, and is a cover song.
- Some Pygmalion-esque themes
- A song featuring the lyrics:
“You know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know that you know that I know you love me.”
- A nod to Bedrich Smetana.
- A setting of John 3:16
- “Arky arky”
- A whole lotta doo woppy vocals
- The return of a formerly-discarded Little Death idea that Melly calls “Bochco”.
Tantalizing? Hope so. Stay tuned for more TLDV2 updates (hopefully with some samples!).