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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in The Ark-Hives Vault

Metal Face: Nets (Part I)

In anticipation for next week’s release of n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z), I thought it appropriate to have another look at last summer’s Nets, which may be my favorite project to date.

Titled after our first band name, Nets is a homage to our click-record-and-go earlier days of Dox, while also further experimenting in computerized recording techniques of In 3D (sorry, JLOL). We spent about two years of sporadic recording in various locations before releasing it last July. After the frustrations of JLOL and the setbacks of In 3D, the recording process for Nets was easy-going and organic in comparison. That is, until it came time to master everything.

In fall 2010, I took a music engineering/recording class taught by the incredibly talented and knowledgeable Charles Nichols, and it changed the way I look at production, definitely for the best. In our pieces, professor Nichols would dock us a letter grade for every clip (a.k.a. a volume max-out) and for every click (a.k.a. an abrupt audio cut), so naturally, I obsessed over every second of these songs. This thoroughness/pickiness carried over when putting the finishing touches of Nets, so much so that I listened to each song on a variety of speakers and tried to eliminate the clips. This was a long, tedious process, especially on “I B Who I B,” which seemed to max out every five seconds. In the end, though, there was no way for us to weed out all the clips — believe me I tried — and though I still cringe at even the slightest of fuzzes, I think the overall production for this album is fairly high. All and all, it was a delight to make, and hopefully for you, a delightful experience you can enjoy again and again and again.

Here is a track-by-track breakdown of the first half Nets:

1. Other (Anthony Thompson and Steve Miller)

While recording Newsfeed Anxiety’s The Compromise, Anthony’s dad, Curt Thompson, gave us a list of bad band names and left it by the computer, so we decided to make a lush, introspective-sounding song while singing the names on said list. We never intended this to be the opener, but thought the atmosphere would set an appropriate tone for the rest of the album. Instrument-wise, Anthony was playing a Yamaha guitar-keyboard hybrid and I’m finger picking in F-sharp major, but the echo effect makes it seems like there’s more to it. There isn’t.

Or is there? (No.)

2. Symptomatic Disposition (Alex Miller and Anthony Thompson)

Alex and Anthony recorded this one during Easter — or, as us Eastern Orthodox Christians call it, Pascha — weekend 2009. It’s heavily GarageBand-ized, but Anthony’s textures and Alex’s nearly impromptu lyrics are too strong to overlook, not to mention the outro solo, in which Anthony channels his inner-John Frusciante. It should also be added that I contributed harmonies on the second refrain, not that that’s very important.

3. Paint (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, and Steve Miller)

Anthony created a loop and ran it in reverse, Alex added some impromptu lyrics and whale-like effected vocals, and I contributed some echoing guitar. I can’t remember what we were trying to accomplish with this one, but I suppose we wanted to do something kind of trippy. It should also be noted that we inexplicably lost the audio for the original ring-modulated — a.k.a. screeching whale — vocals at the end. A shame, really, because those were a lot better than what’s on this version. Oh well.

4. Russia (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

I engineered a wacky loop using LogicExpress and plugged my computer into an amplifier, while Anthony played some masterfully sloppy blues licks and Alex ad-libbed a surreal story about wandering in Russia and meeting a no-legged flute player. The blips you’re hearing throughout resulted from me doctoring with the score of the loop and randomly moving the notes up and down the bars. We also added reverb in post-production to give it a dingy, Pitchfork-ready quality, not that we’re eager for a 5.7 score or anything.

5. Digital Love Despair (Caleb Nelson, Steve Miller)

I came up with an industrial-sounding drum loop and Caleb provided the keys and vocals. I’m not entirely sure what this song is about, though I recall Caleb saying something along the lines of, “I write stuff for school all the time, so writing lyrics shouldn’t be too hard.” About 10 minutes later, he came back to the room with the lyrics finished, and recorded the vocals in one or two takes. Adding the Michael Ivins-esque bass was a bit of a challenge due to the song’s weird timing, but it comes together at the outro. Speaking again of the Flaming Lips, the outro chords were also Caleb’s idea, though I added the synth trumpet to lend it a Yoshimi-era feel.

6. Scared Young Man (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

With a Dead Weather concert taking place the night of the recording, the three of us channeled our excitement by cutting a dingy, distorted Dead Weather-esque song of our own. Anthony played drums, I played bass run through a Big Muff pedal, and Alex once again provided fitting impromptu lyrics. Anthony added some bitcrusher blues guitar overdubs to give it that extra bit of atonal franticness.

7. Nets (Steve Miller)

This song sat as a drum loop on Anthony’s computer for about a year before we started working on it again. When motivation struck, I was inspired by Radiohead’s Kid A at the time, so I tried adding some indecipherable vocals akin to that album’s title track. After not being able to find an appropriate setting, I decided to layer harmonies based from the main synth melody by electronically changed pitch of my voice to make it sound as if a woman or young child were singing, an idea I got while listening to Justin Bieber’s “U Smile” played 800 percent slower. The ticking at the end is from the clock in my older brother’s room. It ticks that loud every second of the day; I don’t know how he can stand it, let alone sleep.

There’s no reason this is the title track, other than us needing a title track and this song is an instrumental, which means the name can really be anything. Anything. It’s also a dream of mine that the New Jersey this will play this song during their starting lineup. I hope you’re reading this, Mikhail Prokhorov.

8. She’s Fat (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

This is the bad-taste, crown jewel of the album, and is not for the easily offended. We wanted to make a song in the same vein as the Beach Boys’ “She’s Going Bald,” and I think I was the one who blurted out the song title. What followed was a four-part, somewhat crude but mostly endearing mini-opus about true love.

It opens with a greasy blues jam in F major, with Anthony on drums, me on guitar and Alex ad-libbing again. This is the second of two takes, the first of which was too light on the vocals.

The “Hey Jude”-esque outro was initially a minute shorter, but Anthony suggested we extend the ending, and luckily, we had more material after the original cutoff. We added actual horns in addition to the MIDI ones, with Anthony on the bass clarinet, Alex on the saxophone, and myself on the trumpet.

Not going in order, part three was an attempt to bridge the barber-shop quartet with the epic outro. It’s avante-garde, don’t cha know?

Alex provided the melody and harmonies for the doo-wop section, while Anthony sang bass. We tried recording each of us singing the bass part at the same time, but this was a failure (more on this later). The finished doo-wop section, I believe, is Metal Face’s finest moment. Ever.

Stay tuned for an analysis of second half of Nets, including a breakdown of the songs “Staring Back @ U,” “There is No Way to Get Away,” and the individual-empowering anthem “I B Who I B.” In the meantime, you can either download or stream Nets in its entirety.

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