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On Trying to Figure Out Where to Start

It’s been a couple months since I released Tuesday, and while I’m excited about my next project, I’ve run into a classic snag: I’m not sure where to start. I’ve got some new material in the works, and I have a general idea about what I want this next thing to sound like, but I’m having trouble nailing down that all-important jumping off point.

Sunset on Tuesday

Tuesday was the last time I want to make a hip-hop album, at least for a while. Rapping has always been kind of a side project for me, even though it’s garnered me the most fame. It’s fun, but I just can’t get completely into it. I’m sure there are some very complex social and political reasons for this, but I think the most accurate reason is that I just don’t enjoy most hip-hop. Sorry. That’s just the way it is.

What I really do enjoy, and this might disappoint some of my fans, is folk music combined with weird electronic sounds. It’s a formula that’s worked out great for Beck, and while I’m probably not going to be as successful as he’s been, that’s more of the direction I’m headed. This creates a problem: There’s not a lot of examples of this style of music, so this project is going to require a lot of preproduction to really make it come together. With a hip-hop track, things are pretty linear. You get a good kick sound, set up a 4/4 beat, then add some rhythmic speaking over it. You really don’t even have to use a new beat if you don’t want to. It’s easy, and that’s part of the reason it isn’t satisfying. It literally takes no effort at all.

I spent some time on Tuesday looking for a balance between experimentation and accessible hip-hop, and I’m happy with most of the results. This time, I’ll be searching for that same balance in a larger and more dynamic set of musical boundaries, so it creates more of a challenge.

The Basic Concept

For the last seven years, I’ve been using mostly virtual instruments. I’ve been wanting to use more organic and analog sounds in my production, and this next project will use hardly any VSTs. Instead, I’m planning on using a variety of cheap vintage keyboards, drum machines, and auto accompaniment tools along with acoustic instruments. This project will have sort of a chiptune vibe, though I don’t think it will be accepted by the purists at 8bc.org…going “pure chip” would set too many limitations. I had this idea once before with my now-scrapped Robochomp project, but that was going to be more of a hip-hop outing than experimental electro-folk…

I’ve selected a small handful of potential noisemakers for this one, including the Korg Monotron and PSS-50 Super Section, a trio of vintage Casio keyboards, an air-powered chord organ, a MIDIfied Game Boy running mGB, a Boss Dr. Rhythm 550, a 1971 transistor organ, my trusty Ovation acoustic, and why not – a ukulele. I do plan on using Native Instrument’s Razor VST so it won’t be entirely organic, but the uniqueness of Razor lends itself nicely to the overall concept.

I tend to overindulge in my creation of soundscapes, so this will also be an exercise in minimalism for me, as I try to find that delicate balance between “not enough” and “too much”. I’m basing a lot of the engineering on the sound of 1970s-era rock albums, so it will be crucial to preserving dynamics and warmth to get that authentic 70s coloration, from the deep orange of a shag rug to the avocado green of kitchen appliances. The 1970s had a lot of artificial textures trying very hard to be real, and this album will reflect this concept as I attempt to wrangle the bleeps and bloops of the synths into laminated wood paneling and sticky vinyl seats.

Current Status

I’ve got a bit more pre-production work and a lot more songwriting to do before I start recording anything, my studio is currently running in software-only mode, and I need to fix a few things before it will be ready. If I had to wager, I’m projecting a winter release date, but that might change depending on what happens in the immediate future.

As always, this project will be free to download from both benjaminbear.net and bandcamp.com, with donations happily accepted. I may decide to release hard copies of this, it depends on the amount of funding I have. I considered trying one of those Kickstarter things, but I just don’t think the fanbase is there, and it wouldn’t cost me $2000 to make an album (actual price for a limited run would be around $150-200).

To the people who are expecting another hip-hop album, be patient. It took a long time to make Tuesday into something I actually liked rather than just poop out an album, and while I could release a quick followup with little effort, I’d rather focus on growing as an artist and exploring new concepts. Sure it’s artsy-fartsy, but that’s how one grows as an artist – with weird “experimental” material that most audiences just don’t get, except for those few people who swear that it’s the most brilliant thing ever.

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