In March of 2010, I conspired to break the chains of the traditional philosophy of writing, recording, and releasing an album. I released my third (and final?) album three years earlier to some kind reviews and to little fanfare. Three years later, the industry had changed, my schedule had changed, as did the schedule of my main co-conspirator when it came to making music.
Bumblefoot was now a full-fledged member of Guns N Roses, having toured the world over. Having a longtime front row seat to Bumblefoot's talent with a guitar and his dedication to being the best he can be at his craft, my feelings of pride over his new gig far outweighed any apprehension I had about having to deal with him being gone and preoccupied for months at a time. But without Bumblefoot's presence, Q*Ball is basically a bald hack in a room with some cool analog keyboards - a decent songwriter with limited production skills. If I've laid the brickwork for the bulk of the 40-odd Q*Ball songs that have been released to the world, then Bumblefoot is the guy that puts up the drywall, spackles, paints, and polishes around said bricks. Bumblefoot likes to call himself my 'Spock'. Which makes me 'Kirk', I suppose. And what's Kirk without Spock? He's a jive talking jackass, that's what he is. My Spock is a self-taught producing prodigy with magical (non-pointy) ears, not to mention the patience of a saint when it comes to sitting in front of a computer and editing. His guitar work on our three albums together has added just the right electro-rock nuance to the tunes that I craved to hear when first composing the tunes. Needless to say, he has proven invaluable.
Some other things happened - my other project, Return To Earth, signed with Metal Blade - RTE is a far cry from the electro-pop fare that is Q*Ball, but anytime a Metal Blade starts paying attention, you put the electro-pop on the top shelf of your musical closet for awhile and focus on that. RTE is also a unique opportunity to work with an old and respected musical partner (Brett Aveni) and a guy who is one of the best musicians I've ever seen, and who's proven to be an inspiring musical kindred spirit (Chris Pennie). Those guys will - thankfully - be contributing to this Q*Ball project sooner or later. I hired a staff for my label, Bald Freak Music, turning it from struggling Pinocchio to struggling 'real boy'. I went back to work in the radio industry full-time to supplement my income and provide myself with 'real world' security and comfort in a world and a time where the word 'security' has been redefined. Radio became my Guns N Roses. There were some things I loved about it, some things I hated about it, but until I could realistically make my solo career and independent ventures financially viable, it was a necessary part of my existence. And, often times, I felt lucky to be doing it. Schedules changed. I got married. I bought a house. Priorities changed.
Running a label means keeping your ear close to the ground - getting 'insider' information from the many companies who help to manufacture and promote your music day after day, week after week. The industry was changing. Major labels were folding. The Internet grew. Facebook exploded. CD sales continued to drop. Live Nation took over the world. I slowly realized that an anti-establishment slug like me could never survive in the new music world using the old-world model of releasing music. And as a label head, albeit a very small label, I take pride in my flexibility to 'roll with the times', follow the lead of my heroes in this business (Trent Reznor, Radiohead, Mike Patton) and of those fighting the same fight for that perfect combo of 'purity', 'security', and 'recognition' (Bumblefoot, my radio boss Elvis Duran) and my realistic goals for my own music as well as my labelmates'. I just want to keep lighting a fire in myself to create, and I've learned that the best way to do that is to ignite the same fire in other people. Usually, good things happen.
So was born the Q*Ball Collaboration Project. I know plenty of Q*Balls out there - guys and gals like me who, at the turn of the century, were on the cusp, who had some things cooking when labels were more willing to give chances to unknowns, to dudes who didn't look like the Jonas Brothers or the Twilight kiddies. When the first Q*Ball album came out in 2002, reality TV & American Idol had yet to skew society's perception and definition of what 'popular music' was. Paula Abdul's career was as relevant as MC Scat Kat's. 'Getting a shot' didn't mean going on a talent show. Now? Well.....
I still want the same thing I wanted when 'Q*Ball In Space' came out. I want to make music. I want music to define my professional existence. And unlike many of my peers, I remain driven to do so. A lot of guys my age are approaching - or have approached - the "I'm just doing it for fun" stage of their careers. Good for them. It should be fun. If it's not fun, you shouldn't be doing it unless you're getting paid well for it. And even then....
For a large part of the past 5 years, Q*Ball was no longer fun for me - the live shows had screeched to a halt, other bands and projects had taken precedence, and I was hamstrung by my inability to do what Bumblefoot does so well in the studio while he was away on tour. The worst part, however, was the lack of collaborating that had pretty much defined what Q*Ball had become. Q*Ball was a one-man show - me and computers battling each other. When I brought the songs to Bumblefoot, it became more pleasurable as now here, finally, was someone who was adding their own flavor to my recipe.
The last Q*Ball album was rushed, and a lot of tunes wound up on the cutting room floor. I reached out to some old bandmates, including Return To Earth guitarist Brett Aveni, to help me finish the album when Bumblefoot got the call to join GnR. The fun had returned - going to the studio, the hum of the amps, the mics on, the lights low, four guys working out the kinks and then making magic together. Bumblefoot returned, put his chef hat on, and we belted out two more tunes and the album was done.
After promoting that record and the subsequent Return To Earth album that followed, it was time to decide what to do next. I resigned myself to working with other people or not working on anything I would call 'Q*Ball' at all. I DJ'ed often, I listened to a lot of music, old and new. I was inspired by new bands like LCD Soundsystem and veteran acts like Beck and Nine Inch Nails, who used a bevy of studio musicians, friends, and producers to hone both their recorded and live sounds.
I sent an email out to a dozen friends whose music I admired and/or who I'd worked with before, and it was on. Everyone agreed to be part of the project. I would release one song per month just as soon as the first song was produced, and I wouldn't look back. Each song would be written by myself and one or two other people, fleshed out together, tracked, and then brought to Chef Bumblefoot to be mixed and sauteed before being served to the masses. The days of putting an album out every three years are over for acts much bigger than Q*Ball, so keeping things fresh became a no-brainer.
On May 1, I arrived at the Brooklyn apartment of Bodega Brad, a former fellow employee in the radio industry, now moonlighting as a mix DJ on a few popular dance stations across the country. Brad and I had always toyed with the idea of working together in spite of his limited experience with songwriting. Brad was a beat guy - his countless record crates dominate his apartment. I suggest a song to each of my co-conspirators before getting into the room and pressing 'Record'. For Brad, I chose LCD Soundsystem's 'Someone Great'. Brad did his homework and came up with loops and beats that reflected the vibe of that tune.
I set up my Microkorg, my Nord Lead, and a mic. I had no riffs, no ideas, no preconceptions, no lyrics or melodies. I would listen to what Brad had put together and write from there. For the first hour, Brad was having all kinds of technical issues. I was calm, with my headphones on, fiddling with the boards and humming to myself as he struggled with wires. I had spent countless hours battling computers - inexplicable audio dropouts, crashed drives, bad connections, lost & misplaced files, software crashes. I was in someone else's den now and could only suggest how to fix things. I didn't allow myself to get angry or upset. I remained confident that we would get something down. We would not fail. Brad, on the other hand, was getting fucking PISSED.
For a full hour, Brad could not figure out why he was hearing a hum on the laptop that he was feeding into Pro Tools. A lightbulb went off as Brad sighed and cursed in front of me. The title came. The chorus came. The ethereal pads in the verses came. The song was coming together while Brad was coming apart. He wanted to quit. I told him I was counting on him. The world was counting on him. Another hour went by. I hadn't moved from my cramped seat in Brad's dusty studio on an unusually hot day on the first of May. I was writing. I was having....fun?
I had just seen Michael Jackson's 'This Is It' a few nights before. Watching other people perform, live or on television, always inspires me - maybe more than anything. When I go see a concert, I'm electrified the same night. I want to come home, turn on the boards or sit at the piano and go to town. Brad made some progress and I came up with the MJ-inspired bridge at the end of the song.
Brad got things fixed. I came up with bass lines, the song structure started taking form. We tracked. I wasn't resigned to any particular structure - the song could be as long or as short as we saw fit, go in any direction that 'felt right', that made us excited. We tracked some more. It was happening. We didn't fail. I added the 'Did You Ever Believe In Me's, a musical nod to my 1980s new wave forefathers, and the motto of the song. Did we ever believe in ourselves?
A month later, I brought the tracks to Bumblefoot - I re-cut the vocals, added the harmony lines, and came up with the verse parts & lyrics. The AC was broken in Bumblefoot's studio on another unusually hot day and we lost a few pounds as we put on the finishing touches. There was the traditional 'Ron & Ron Sushi Feast'. Bumblefoot added his spooky guitar magic over the intro and ending, he cleaned up the tracks, he gave the loops more bottom, he added a slick guitar lead at the end. He once again proved invaluable. Live Long and Prosper, Spock.
'The Hum' is about faith - faith in people, faith in yourself, faith in the face of imminent doom and failure. It's about belief. The Hum didn't defeat us, it just teased us into thinking we couldn't pull it off. We beat it. We collaborated and created a song, the first Mommy & Daddy of the first baby of the Q*Ball Collaboration Project (Bumblefoot performed the Briss). Now we want to make another baby.
'The Hum' is here. It's not perfect, but I think it's a good start. And I know each song is going to get better and better. I believe. I hope you enjoy it.