Thursday, September 16, 2010

Exhuming Exhumed, the saga continues...

Exhuming Exhumed: Parte the second, in which four enterprising lads perform musical compositions of dubious quality for the first time

Despite having a shitload of music and lyrics that I've been really confident with for months, a few key elements for the record had been missing thus far, namely actual rehearsals, the album title, and the artwork concept. After weeks of coming up with potential titles to no avail, I was driving home from work a couple of weeks ago and, of course, the idea came to me instantly, no thesaurus, notebook, or search engine needed. That makes the artwork concept a lot easier to work towards, and was a real relief, as well as a nice kick in the ass to get going on the record. And yeah, I can't reveal the album title yet or any song titles, so please don't ask. Feeling galvanized just by coming up with a title, I was really chomping at the bit to get going with a proper rehearsal.

Everyone's schedules are kind of crazy so it had taken a little while to get things lined up for us to even get in the same room together up to this point. In fact, plans were still up in the air as far as where the actual rehearsal would finally take place when I headed south to the the sunny, mild climes of Camarillo to meet up with Wes. The first night, Sunday, we just hung out had a few (dozen) beers and a few laughs, before getting down to brass tacks on Monday. Monday ended up being just Wes and I fine-tuning and brushing up on songs and riffs, with me getting to try out my guitar after a full set-up for the first time. That felt awesome- like I had just gotten an entirely new, totally kick-ass axe. (Thanks again, Wes!) So after about four hours of serious work, Natural Ice took its toll and we ended up spending the last hour or so laughing our asses off while trading Dismember, Carnage, Entombed, Carcass, Obituary, Death, and Autopsy riffs back and forth. The next day we met up with percussionist extraordinaire Danny Walker after he got off work, and the three of us headed south to the mean streets of Vernon (basically L.A.) where Intronaut and Murder Construct practice. You can see Wes to the left, performing the all-important first step in any Exhumed practice.

I have a bit of a confession to make here: My usual strategy is to always project confidence no matter what the circumstance, which usually works out pretty well, but I can now admit to feeling a certain level of trepidation before we got started. Sure, we had been working for months on these songs individually, and had talked on the phone, via email, text, hung out and had a few beers, etc. etc. but Tuesday night would be the true trial by fire- not only for the new material, but really for our entire method of putting the album together. If the practice was a disaster, we really wouldn't have the time or money to get shit sorted out in time for the record. Plus, it was my first real band rehearsal in about two years. While warming up on one of the riffs from a new song of ours, Danny joined in, then Wes started playing, and before we knew it we had played pretty much the whole song. Then we started from the beginning and nailed it and all my fears melted away immediately. Leon arrived shortly thereafter and added some nice Repulsion Bass Grind rumble to the proceedings.

We made it through nine songs in all that night and, of course I'm biased here... but, I thought shit sounded intense as fuck. It was a big relief that things got going really naturally and felt easy and, well, I can't think of a better word for it than normal. It was like putting on your favorite old t-shirt that you always wear to shows or something – it just felt like Exhumed. Of course, not everyone knew every riff to every song, and some songs took a couple of tries to get through, but really things went great overall. In-jokes were bantered, dolphins (see the pic of Danny above), Ted Sanchez, butter and farts were discussed, PBRs were drained, we all shared some rad Mike Beams anecdotes, and a good time was had by all- even Leon, who was dead tired and super stressed with the prep work for Murder Construct's shows with Venomous Concept (which are happening as I type this) - see pic at right. All told, we played for about three and a half hours and I left not having to worry about projecting confidence, because I was charged up as fuck and truly very, very confident with our progress and our ability to be ready to go into the studio to cut the drum tracks in three scant weeks.

As I drove home up the coast of California after parting ways with the boys I felt better than ever about the new record and the way that everything has been coming together. So good news all around. Next year is getting interesting with plans for Europe already starting to take shape, and I'm feeling like we have our shit in a state more resembling togetherness than I thought. Anyway, tune in next time, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel for more chapters in the seemingly never-ending battle to complete this record.


Harvey and the usual gang of idiots

Friday, September 3, 2010

Well, it’s high time for another update, but the thing is, there isn’t much to be updated. Things have been in transition, but they‘re about to get hectic. I’ve just found a job, and Wes has relocated back to Camarillo (also home to the one and only Danny Walker, and closer to my neck of the woods than his former digs in OC), so we’ll rehearse there when things are more settled, probably starting next week. In the meantime, Mr. Caley has been diligently creating a new set of pre-production versions of the new tunes.

During the writing process, Wes and I each recorded rough versions of our material. My gear was pretty rudimentary and outdated, including my buddy's Dr. Rhythm Section drum machine from the 1990s (Thanks Ace!), and Wes’ setup was more sophisticated, using Guitar Rig 3 and Drumkit From Hell. This meant that his tracks not only sounded a lot better than mine, but a lot different. The difference between our recordings also made it tough to get a cohesive “album“ feel for things. After Wes and I discussed arrangement changes and ideas, which will undoubtedly be tweaked yet again before we properly record, Wes volunteered to create new versions of the songs from the ground up, including the changes we’d worked out, also enabling us to hear all the songs with the same recording quality- helping it sound like, you know - an ALBUM. So, by the time we actually track the record, it’ll be the third time that most of these songs will have been recorded. Yeesh… That said, these new tracks have been coming out great, and that’s been keeping Wes busy.

I, on the other hand, spent a couple of weeks going through all the lyrics with a fine-toothed comb to make sure they were coherent, interesting, and most importantly, that they worked with the actual music. Then came the task of divvying them up between myself, Leon, and Wes, as well as determining where we’d to use a “chorus” style of vocals like we had done on Slaughtercult (in “Slave To The Casket” and “Slaughtercult” for example). More work goes into creating this crap than you might think, let me tell ya. I'm finally confident with everything, and after getting the seal of approval from old friend and literature post-graduate Matt Widener (ex-Exhumed, Cretin, Citizen), as well as Col (Jones - who I started the band with in ‘91) who is the first to tell me when something is “gay“, I can relax and know I‘ve got something worth a shit.

In the past, I’d usually have lyrics written before any corresponding music, then I’d have to try to get the words to match up with the songs we’d written. That is not a system I wanted to continue using. This time around, aside from maybe a couple of individual lines, rhymes, or song title ideas, I wrote everything after already having music to work with. I was consciously trying to prevent the excess of verbiage that weighed down the “Anatomy…” material. I think it will have worked, but I can’t know for sure until we’re listening back to the songs in the studio. I’ve never sung at practices, in fact I haven’t owned a microphone since the mid ‘90s, and I’ve never owned a PA. So, until recording, no one has actually heard how the lyrics go, not even me, although I usually have a very good idea of what it‘ll sound like. Since Ross has been out of the band for over 10 years now, I’ve been the sole lyricist, which isn’t the way I‘d want things. The collaborative effort can bring out some really good stuff, and getting an outside opinion is incredibly valuable, but hey, nowadays at least there are fewer songs about penises than we used to have.

Meanwhile, since returning from the Cynic / Dysrhythmia / Intronaut tour, Danny has been busy working with the pre-production tracks and memorizing (or re-memorizing) the songs. One thing that’s great about working with him is that he does his homework and puts in the time to get his shit together before we practice, rather than using rehearsal time to learn things on the fly. He instinctively grasps what it is that we’re trying to do, so even if he’s learning one of our older tunes where the production and playing isn’t the keenest, he gets the intent, and then plays it the way we meant to do in the first place. The first time we practiced with him, he played our 13 song set straight through in one go with no mistakes.

Leon has been working with the temp tracks, working out bass lines from the guitar tab I’ve sent him and Wes. Also, I’ve conveniently color-coded all the lyrics so he can at least have an idea where he’ll be singing. Everything is described as far as its placement in the song as well (e.g. “over the sliding blast beat pre-chorus riff” or “over the 1st and third times of the verse riff”) so we can hit the ground running in the studio.

This whole process is worlds away from how we did the “Anatomy…” record, or how we’ve done any previous record (except for the “Garbage Daze…” cover album, but that was still a bit different) where we simply practiced more before recording - increasing from one or two days a week to three or four. Our pre-production in the past consisted of a boom box with a condenser mic, or an old 4-track with one mic in the middle of the room recording onto a cassette. Both ways have their advantages of course, this one is a bit less time-intensive as a group, but more so for each of us as individuals. Spending two or three hours a night at your jam room is great, but it made more sense when we were younger, individually and as a band. Those were the times when spending all night obsessing over a note change in a riff feels like the most important thing in the world. With the line-up we have now, we’re all more confident and experienced, and if something doesn’t work, we simply trash it and move on, rather than spending hours arguing about what purpose each note plays in making whatever riff sound whatever way it’s supposed to or whatever. It helps that we're all fairly prolific writers. There are no egos and the obsessive analysis of every little thing (as a group) subsided years ago, right around when “Gore Metal” came out. The music comes quickly and naturally, and we have a sense of what the band IS, rather than groping for a “sound” or “direction“.

It’s weird because the musical part of the process is fairly effortless, but getting it all together in a way where everyone can relate to it independently without the “rehearsal room” dynamic takes time and can be tedious. As much as I sometimes miss hanging out in a smelly rehearsal room with every available inch of wall space covered with posters and working through things bit by bit by bit, the way we’re putting things together now allows us all more space and time to live our lives (and work our jobs, and play in other bands at times). Living in different areas, it’s almost essential to work this way, and without the technology that’s available these days, it’d be a lot harder to get shit together. At the end of the day, we all know and trust each other enough to work up good stuff on our own, without having to look over each others’ shoulders and hyper-analyze every drum fill, lick, riff, piece of wordplay, rhyme scheme, bass line, etc.

Although many people regard this as a “new” line-up of the band, it doesn’t feel “new” at all. We have all played together extensively (albeit sometimes in different combinations), and we feel confident in each other’s abilities. This isn‘t a knock on anyone that has been in the band before, it’s just a different dynamic, and that change is invigorating. Since the band hasn't ever compromised our musical style, we've sought out other kinds of changes that keep things from stagnating, and right now this dynamic is working really well. Down the road? Who knows... Right now the new record is the only thing on our collective horizon. Of course, the individual songs end up a bit less collaborative (Col and I would re-arrange 99% of everything from my original ideas of songs, and Mike‘s tunes for that matter) but the album as a whole actually becomes more collaborative, with Wes contributing almost 50% of the songs, and everyone free to develop their parts on their own before bringing it all together.

Well, for not having much to update, I’ve been typing quite a bit. So I’ll leave it at that and then once we actually rehearse (in the good ol‘ fashioned sense of the term), I’ll post some more shit, as well as some current pics and other crap.

'til next time,

Harvey and the usual gang of idiots