I've been trying to keep things simple on these new compositions, structure-wise - I feel that letting them breathe will be an asset, not a liability. I need to breathe myself sometimes - the whole idea behind doing a new Q*Ball song monthly was to allow for the flexibility to take extra time and care with each song while making sure that things were being kept fresh, not to mention putting less pressure on my primary producing partner, Bumblefoot, to work his engineering & mixing magic. Yet now, all of a sudden, I find myself working on 7-8 songs at a time, and I don't take that for granted, either. It feels good to know that you've still got 'it' - that you're constantly inspired when you get inside the studio, or even out of it, writing lyrics at 3 in the morning in the dark or at 3 in the afternoon on a crowded New York City bus. It's fuel for the soul. Music has always been a welcome distraction from life's problems, and there always seem to be a need for distraction, it seems.
'Filling In The Cracks' was composed with Mike Bandolik (aka Stereomike), my primary partner-in-crime in my first electronic band, Secret Army. Mike and I shared some great experiences in that band together, and - as it always seems to happen - when the band broke up, we sort of broke up, too. But a musical bond is not easily broken, so when I decided to reach out to a bunch of folks about collaborating on present & future Q*Ball songs, inviting Mr. Bandolik was a no-brainer. Mike's best assets as a musician have always been his savvy with loops and beats, and on 'Cracks' he once again proved himself a worthy co-conspirator, adding a healthy bottom to my Lawrence of Arabia-inspired chorus and my Tears For Fears-inspired post-chorus.
Mike and I share a passion for similar bands and live music, and we had just recently seen one of Faith No More's reunion shows - an incredible, memorable performance on a steamy night at the Williamsburg Waterfront. FNM is an obvious influence on Q*Ball - always have been - the perfect mix of rock, new wave, and soul that opened up my ears as a budding teenage musician.
We set up shop in my new home studio in NYC. I had the main ethereal keyboard lines in the verses from a previous session that I sent over to Mike and the beats he had come up with immediately gave off an FNM vibe, like something that could be off 'Album of the Year'. The chorus came next, and - as usual - I couldn't help but to layer about half a dozen keyboard lines on the MicroKorg that sort of felt like a stepbrother to the theme music to 'Tales From The Darkside'. Every Q*Ball song has its dark side.
The feel of the song at this point was stark, desolate - I immediately envisioned a guy riding a camel thru the desert in rhythm to the beat, only he was holding a shotgun a la The Man With No Name in the Sergio Leone westerns (i'm a big Leone & Morricone fan). I suggested some rattlesnake & bird of prey sounds to add subtle effect to the vibe of the verses, but I still felt the song needed to open up and turn hopeful. The main problem with all this was that the prototype song for our session was Tears For Fears' 'The Hurting', and so far there wasn't a hint of Roland Orzabal to be found in this tune.
I planted myself behind my Korg N5 & a microphone and kept layering vocal lines - this has been a favorite practice of mine since I started singing in Return To Earth, treating the voice as another series of instruments to compliment the main line. So many awesome bands pull it off so well - The Beatles, ELO, and of course, Tears For Fears. I was doing it all ass-backwards, starting with three harmonic backing lines before ending up with the 'I never wanted anyone as much as I want you' hook. By the time I started laying that line down, I looked at Mike and we knew we had something solid. Bandolik took the song home to add some contrasting rhythms and the FX and I went to work on the lyrics.
Fast forward to Bumblefoot's Princeton studio one month later. I hate the recording process, I really do. I write and record based on momentum - if I come up with one part, then comes another part, then another, then another. If I have to keep stopping down to set up new tracks, clean up tracks, adjust levels, replace cables, I start to lose momentum and then my mind. Then next thing you know I'm doing Bald Freak work or watching Lord of the Rings. This is why I enjoy working with Bumblefoot - he's a master behind the controls and he's a wizard, too. Fucking Mr. Sulu. Warp Speed, Sulu. My role is typically the anxious, annoying guy who can't stop playing the same keyboard line while files are being normalized (Kirk).
After the (what would be for me but not for BBF) painstaking 'cleaning up' of all the files Mike & I recorded digitally at Bumblefoot's studio in Princeton, the re-tracking of the main piano line, and Bumblefoot's bass and guitar contributions (I asked for a Jim Martin-esque crunch over the main chorus and a 'Hurting'-like guitar lead over the last 8 bars of the ending & as usual, I got it), we met up with Brett & Chris, my Return To Earth bandmates, stopped in to Starland Ballroom for Metal Blade's Cool Tour to say hello to the folks who were nice enough to sign us, film some promo video for our new album, and to catch some sweaty metal. At midnight, Bumblefoot & I headed back to Princeton to track vocals and do a rough mix. I had been up for 18 hours but I was energized and eager to finish the song. Session ends at 2:30a, home at 3:30, up for radio day job at 5:45. No rest for the wicked.
When I played the finished mix for Bandolik, he was ecstatic, and that's enough affirmation for me that this whole Q*Ball Collaboration Project is worthwhile, no matter how many units sold, good reviews, or MySpace plays. Making music with someone can be intimate - the art of creating something together is just an amazing human experience. It's something I've missed as a solo artist and have come to re-appreciate without having to deal with the typical band dynamics and pressure that usually tear a band down.
'Filling In The Cracks' is about finding yourself, or at least trying to - about chasing your destiny. I've been trying to find myself lately - trying to figure it all out, willing to travel great lengths to make the discoveries necessary to attain happiness. The song's also about OCD. Bumblefoot & I recently had a discussion about always having too much on our plate, yet tackling low priority stuff first because sometimes the high priority stuff can seem too daunting. Filling in the cracks, and there always seem to be cracks in your life that need filling.
I, personally, am very proud of this song. It has a unique sound and it's reflective of the music Mike & I would probably be making if Secret Army had never disintegrated years ago. The better news is that Mike & I have been working on 3-4 more songs, and again, that was part of the plan. I'm not just reconnecting with music, I'm reconnecting with people. One match lights a fire. This is our match, let the sparks fly where they may.