Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My first solo release - "Debut" EP (Reissue)

Eleven years ago was I was at a huge turning point in my life.  I was out of high school and I was playing drums in this metal band called "Dwelling".  I had just reconnected with my high school sweetheart after a bunch of disastrous relationships, and I was working a bunch of random dead-end jobs.  At the time I had a lot going on, I was everywhere.  Everything was happening really fast and I didn't have any real direction.

I had all my gear in my bedroom at my parents' house where I grew up.  I had been demoing a bunch of stuff there and much of it wasn't fitting together so to speak.  I don't know what I expected.  I was trying to make this epic rock record with a bunch of cheap shitty gear and I wasn't getting the results I wanted.  That's when I decided to start a new project, something small that I could package and pass out at shows and put my own name on.  I had to start from scratch.

It was the summer of 2002 and I was listening to a lot of Weezer and The Frogs at the time.  I really liked the simplicity of their albums; short alt-pop songs with a lot of distortion and catchy hooks.  I wanted a project that could be simple like that, where the songs didn't really have to mean anything and they didn't have to be terribly technical.  I had a lot of free time back then.  I could have recorded a prog-metal record or maybe even a more serious rock effort.  Instead I decided to start from scratch an make this little pop-punk EP.

Dwelling just got back from playing a festival out in Wisconsin somewhere.  It was a disaster.  The headliners were Bongzilla and Tub Ring which were entertaining, but there were a lot of butt-metal bands there too.  It was hot and muggy, and because it rained the day before it turned into a big sloppy mud pit.  I remember it taking hours to get our van out the next day.  There was this band there though that was handing out their demo on these little 80mm mini CD's.  I thought that was really cool and different.  I wanted to put out a demo that was tiny like that.

When I got back, I started with a few simple riffs and a notebook.  I scribbled down a few rough lyrics that went with my riffs and then I worked on the structure.  Intro,Verse, Chorus, Verse, Chorus, Bridge, Chorus, End, etc.  Once I got the song structures down I was ready to start tracking.  I spent maybe an afternoon or two tracking everything.  The recording process was rather crude.  I had a single Sure BG 1.1 microphone on a boom over the drums and a ddrum redshot trigger on the bass drum connected to an old Roland Octapad and Alesis SR-16 to handle the kick drum trigger.  All of this went through a 6 channel Crate solid state PA head into the line-in connection on the back of my parent's HP pavilion desktop (with a Pentium 3) computer.  Fancy huh?  Guitar, bass, and keyboard went direct into the Crate head; I used a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal on the guitar.  The DAW I used was a demo copy of Magix Music Studio that I got at the local Best Buy for $10.  It was a 4-track program; I was able to bounce the tracks down to free up more tracks if I needed them.  For mastering I used an old copy of Sound Forge, I can't remember what version but it was still developed by Sonic Foundry at that point.

I didn't scrutinize about every detail like I had before in the past, and it showed.  Much of the vocals are quiet or even pitchy, some timing issues were present, and the gain on the kick trigger was way too high on the opening track "I Hate People."  I loved it though, because it was the first combined set of songs I completely made myself.  In total, what I had ended up with was about seven finished songs and three or so unfinished songs.  The three unfinished songs eventually were scrapped altogether for various reasons; too long, too sloppy, and one simply sounded over-produced.  They just didn't fit the little punk demo thing I was going for.  For the initial release I cut the track list down even one more for a total of six songs.  The seventh and last song I finished called "Nineteen" was about being nineteen (which is how old I was at the time) and feeling tired with the music scene, but not being able to do much about it because I was broke and needed a job.  The remaining six songs were unique in their own way.  "I Hate People" was a goofy upbeat song about how I disliked most people and thought as a society, we give them too much credit and control.  "Sin", "Cheat", and "Heaven" were my protest songs to failed relationships.  "Mr. Creepy" in a song about how people are so willing to take advantage of one another, and "Beer Bitch" is about rednecks bringing cases of cheap beer to the beach and watching hockey on TV.  Overall the song topics were rather silly and different from other music I had written in the past.  Maybe that's why I related to them so well.

I gave the project the name "Ebeneezer" since I didn't want to use my own name at the time.  I called the demo/ep/record "Debut".  I figured "Debut" was a good name since I intended to make a lot more recordings like this in the future, and this was just the first.

The artwork was simple and fun.  I wanted to convey the same careless freedom of expression with the cover art that was present in the recording.  I first created a "mini-cover" for each song that somewhat represented what the song was about.  These were used for the individual tracks that I uploaded to Mp3.com.  The front cover was simple a star with the "band" name and the title "Debut".  I later used a picture of myself and cloned it in with the crappy photo software that came with my parent's computer.  Inside the booklet was an illustration of eyes and the "Ebeneezer" moniker in a pixelated font.  I had also personally signed each Mini-CD copy with a little note.  The one copy I have says "I Love You - James Monte".  Going back to the eyes; I never fully decided what the intended meaning of the eyes were.  Looking back now I feel like it signified the hypnosis of past relationships.  Women always seem to get me to do things or agree to things I normally wouldn't do.

The cover from the first 80mm demo.
Open case from the 80mm demo.
80mm demo inner booklet.

The First Release:

The first release of the recording I duplicated and printed myself with the 80mm discs.  I released it at a show I put together at Round About Records in Duluth, MN on August 30th, 2002.  The show consisted of The Spoogees, Dwelling (my then other band), Number One Common, Farewell Tour and myself playing as Ebeneezer.  For the show I used a Sony Discman and a CD of 3 songs with only the drum and bass tracks.  The songs I played were "I Hate People", "Sin" and "Cheat".  I played the CD and the guitar direct through the PA system.  The Discman made a loud and hilarious "beep" when I hit play or switched tracks.  I hummed, or sang the accompanying guitar pars rather that having them over dubbed on the recording.  It was fun and I got an okay response, but overall I think it would've been better with a live band.  That was the first and last time I've performed the songs live to this point.  I would like to someday play them live again, maybe with a band.  That night I sold out or gave away all my existing copies of the 80mm discs except for the 1 or 2 I still have in my personal collection.

Flyer for the first show and release.

Later in 03 or 04 a couple of the songs were featured on a "My Own Volition" sampler disc with other Duluth acts that was put out by my other band at the time, Flat Earth.  I forget which songs though.

Standard sized CD release:

Around 2003 or so I re-released the CD in a standard size jewel case on Mp3.com.  Everything was the same except for the back tray, inner tray art and the inside of the booklet.
On the inner booklet the small mini-covers accompanied a large picture of the Duluth Areal Lift Bridge.  A symbol of where I grew up and where I was living at the time.  At the center of the bridge were the ominous eyes.
The back cover was a picture of me holding my best friend's B.C. Rich Warlock from a promo we did with our old band (Zephaniah) in our home town of Esko.  Both versions I released on my own "Jimmy James Records" label that was nothing more than a name at that point.  I used Jimmy James for the label because it was a nickname the guys in The Spoogees, a local alt/punk band would often call me.  I liked it, so it stuck.

Cover from the later released standard CD.
Back of the MP3.com Standard jewel case.
Inside with the standard CD.
Tray art on the standard jewel case.
Inner booklet art for the standard jewel case.  Note: the 6 mini-covers on the bottom left.

2013 Re-Release: exit Ebeneezer, enter my own.

Fast forward 10 more years.  I've been married for 9 of them and have a 4 year old now.  I've been playing music all this time, but only drums in a bunch of different bands.  Nothing really stuck and I started getting anxious about making my own music again.  I have some other material I want to put out, but before that I figured "Debut" needed to be re-released again.  

I started recording a follow up to "Debut" in the early summer of 2003 which I have worked on periodically for the last 10 years.  The bulk of the recording was done in 2003 - 2005 but there's still a little that needs to be done once I have the guts to revisit that seemingly ancient work.  Finishing that project is next on my agenda, but before I could tackle that I had to re-release "Debut" one more time and give it a proper home with my own moniker.

This time around I included the song "Nineteen" which was omitted from the first two releases, otherwise everything else is the same.  I feel the song really fit this EP and is a good closer.  Why I left it out in the first place is beyond me,  I guess I just didn't like it much at the time.  I recall planning another release in 04, 05 or something that included the track, but that never really came to fruition.  With this release I also tweaked the artwork to include my name instead of the old "Ebeneezer" moniker, as well as a few different things.  All in all I tried to keep it true to the original layout with it being very simplistic nature.

2013 Cover
2013 inside cover

I look at this little EP as my jumping off point.  The start of something new, even though it's already almost 11 years old.  So today on April 9th, 2013, exactly 10 years, 7 months, and 10 days later; I'm happy to say that "Debut" is once again available, this time as a digital copy through Google Play.  You can find the download link for the album below as well as a link to download the updated artwork.  It's a little rough around the edges, but I hope you enjoy listening to it as much as I did making it.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The hunger and anticipation of a new project.

Lately when I'm working on, planning out, or even thinking about new music I get a feeling of hunger and excitement.  Hunger to get back out there and bring it to the world, and excitement at the very thought of it.  It's a feeling I haven't felt in a long time and it's absolutely fantastic.  The feeling of wanting something and the anticipation of getting close to it, maybe even loving it; brings back past feelings.  It's much like a first kiss with someone you've crushed on for a long time, or like the very first time you figure out how to play a song. The anticipation and excitement phase is definitely where I'm at. I want to get that first kiss with this new project; that first song.

I won't be satisfied though, until I can break away from the glow of my LCD monitors and get out there on stage with my new songs and a live band behind me.  I want to let my real voice out this time; no gimmicks, no masks, just the songs for what they are and my awkward voice laid bare for everyone to judge for themselves if this is something they dig.  I want to make songs (and records) that I want to listen to.  I want to sit back and say "I fuckin' dig this shit."  That's the most important thing.  It has to be true to me.  Once I've achieved these things I'll be at that stage where all that longing and pining for that "kiss" will be ratifying.

As I fight my daily routine for the time to work on my projects I must remain diligent.  It's easy to get lazy and procrastinate.  That's where the last 10 years went, and I don't want that anymore.  I need to stay focused if I'm going to make my dreams come true.

Support structure is key.

I've been rallying support in small ways from my wife and now friends.  I'm calling on my wife to hold me accountable and to kick my ass when I try to watch TV when I should be working on music.  I'm starting to reach out to friends, many of whom are musicians to gain support in different ways too.  Most importantly I need to form a band.  One of my potential projects would require a live band, but I need to make a recording first otherwise my intentions of the direction could be skewed.  All of this means I need to get working and writing/recording this record.  It's all up there in my head waiting to get out.  I can hear what it will sound like.  I can predict how the tracks will be laid out.  I can picture the album cover.  I know the "band" name, but I'm not going to divulge that yet.  That's for another time.  Right now I gotta get working.