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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in The Ark-Hives Vault

Metal Face: Nets (Part II)

Hello there.

Here’s a rundown of the second half of Metal Face’s 2011 album, Nets:

9. What You Mean to Me (Steve Miller, Anthony Thompson)

This song is another product of a doctored loop programmed on LogicExpress ran through an amplifier. The B-flat drone note was unintentional, but it provided the basis for the song’s melody.

We recorded the loop, Anthony on the bass clarinet and me on the guitar all at once — maybe not the smartest idea, but again, we wanted to take the Dox approach — and I recorded the vocals separately. The first and second half of the vocals were recorded almost a year from each other, which stemmed from the original takes of the second half being completely off pitch (I must have suffered from a momentary bout of tone deafness). The lyrics and vocal effects were inspired by the Flaming Lips’ “The Impulse“: tender, somewhat mundane lyrics, doctored to the point of indecipherability.

10. Staring Back @ You(Anthony Thompson)

Anthony recorded this song three years prior to the release of Nets, and had no intention of including it on this collection. But as we were cobbling together the track list last spring, this song came to mind and I wanted to include it. So we did, and humanity benefitted.

One problem we had was the original song file contained a drum loop that wasn’t actually a GarageBand preset, and when it came time to work on it again, the loop was nowhere to be found. Instead of finding a different loop and updating the song, we decided it best to leave the song as it was made three years ago, though Anthony was a little hesitant because he wanted to re-record his vocal tracks, but Alex and I didn’t see it necessary. Overall, this was a great last-minute addition to the album, and also marks the first Metal Face song with Anthony on lead vocals.

11. Lewis Vs.(Caleb Nelson, Alex Miller, Steve Miller)

This was the first of three songs recorded successively by Caleb, Alex and myself near the end of our time in the studio (a.k.a. my basement). We decided to go once more with the click-record-and-see-what-happens approach of Dox, only this time we LogicExpress instead of Sound Recorder. It was a pretty basic setup: Caleb manned the keys, I played bass and Alex sang, this time in a very low register. As is, it sounded fairly bland, so I decided to put a phaser on the master track and brought it down when keys went up an octave, so as to add an extra dynamic at the end.

I’m not sure what “Lewis Vs.” means or how it relates to the song, but hey, it’s Metal Face.

12. There is No Way to Get Away(Steve Miller, Anthony Thompson)

Anthony and I recorded the instrumentation for this song shortly after the release of In 3D with the intention of using for a side project called Hot Neon Trash, which never really formulated (Note to self: use Hot Neon Trash in the future). The loops, programmed by Anthony, reminded me of the Beastie Boys’ “Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun,” so I laid down a Paul’s Boutique-esque bass line to boot. After adding some additional guitars and synths (both courtesy of Anthony) I modeled a refrain inspired by the Rolling Stones’ “Ventilator Blues.”

The lyrics/vocals didn’t follow immediately; in fact, took almost two-and-a-half years later to figure out what I wanted to do. I eventually wrote the lyrics while reading Franz Kafka’s The Trial, inspired by its themes of isolation and paranoia — and, judging by the opening lines (“Wake up late, and look at the clock / Pulsating vessels just won’t stop”) I may’ve been hungover as well. Vocally, I was inspired by Thom Yorke’s bored-sounding, baritone groanings on certain Radiohead songs, which was who I was listening to a lot at the time.

The ending of the song was a bit of an anomaly, but we decided a concise fade-out would do the trick. Also worth noting: The guitar featured at the end is an acoustic-electric, distorted and lowered an octave. Betcha didn’t know that, did ya?

13. Spacekraft (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

This was another attempt to recapture a bit of the Dox magic, but doing so in a more interesting way. Plus reverb. As in “Other,” Anthony played the hybrid guitar on his lap, using both hands to push the buttons on the virtual fretboard. I played an actual guitar — Anthony’s pink Danelectro, which I also used for “She’s Fat” — while Alex, inspired by Kraftwerk’s “Hall of Mirrors,” tells the story of a man losing himself. Kafka would be proud.

14. I B Who I B (Steve Miller, Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Caleb Nelson)

My personal favorite on this album, and the most difficult to record, “I B Who I B” was an attempt to replicate the ecstasy of such shameless, well-constructed pop songs like Usher’s “Yeah,” Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and Ke$sha’s “We R Who We R,” the latter of which served as the basis for the song title/motif. The song title was actually Caleb’s idea, who, when criticizing Ms. Ke$ha’s song, said, “You may as well call a song ‘I B Who I B.'” I loved the idea, bad grammar and all.

I recorded the majority of the instrumentation on a hot July afternoon in 2010, and may’ve destroyed my eardrums in the process (mixed while wearing headphones the entire time; a bad idea, but I’ve since learned my lesson). After adding all the layers via LogicExpress, the instrumental sat unfinished until May 2011, when I decided to add the lyrics I wrote during a literature and law class — which explains the references to libel, civil suits, and the mirror stage in Lacanian theory. The LogicExpress file, however, was so large that it became difficult to add the vocals directly to that file, so I had to export it as an mp3 and place it in a new GarageBand file. There were things I wanted to edit from the original Logic file (i.e. some synth levels, the setting of certain instruments, various notations, etc.,) but, as I said, the size made it very difficult edit  and export, so I left the imperfections.

The guitar work was recorded in Logic using a custom setting I named “shitstorm.” I can’t remember the exact settings, but I do recall putting a pitch shifter on top of some nasty bit-crushing and distortion effects, similar to how Jonny Greenwood, Jack White and David Gilmour (all of whom are my guitar heroes) are wont to do. I think the extra-high octave shift may’ve been what hurt my ears that day, but a sweet solo like that is almost worth it. I hope.

Alex’s spoken-word interlude was heavily inspired by the late Gil Scott Heron’s sermon on the excellent “Who Will Survive in America.” I placed this segment somewhat randomly in the GarageBand file, but it worked.

Originally, the song had no bass line, as is the style in Prince songs like “When Doves Cry,” (can’t find a link) “Kiss,” and several others. But while in route to a wedding in Salt Lake City, Utah, my older brother A.J., bass extraordinaire who plays with Montana groups the Clintons and D A W N S (a.k.a David Boone), said the song was lacking some dynamic, and suggested something to push it over the edge. His solution: a bass from the second refrain onward. I was initially hesitant to accept his advice, but I think he was right. Thank you, big brother.

The trembling, auto-tuned inhale at the onset was a long-running joke between myself and my former Margo Foorehead bandmates. It’s a reference to the

very beginning of Matchbox 20’s “Long Day,”

where, if you listen ever so closely, you can hear Rob Thomas’ deep, quavering inhale before he starts singing. Although this song is not at all inspired by Matchbox 20 (not consciously, anyway), that deep breath would later greatly factor into the song’s remix counterpart, about which you will learn more shortly.

Finally, to give this song some real-life resonance, a friend of mine told me last summer she mentioned this song when giving relationship advice to one of her friends. “B who u b” she told them. So much wisdom packed into one grammatically unsound statement — this is the true power of Metal Face.

15. “Wait ‘Til Tomorrow” (Alex Miller, Steve Miller, Caleb Nelson)

This was the final song recorded with the original Metal Face lineup, using practically the same methods as we did with Metal Face I and Dox — with the exception of employing LogicExpress. As with the olden days, we didn’t rehearse beforehand; I simply started the soulful blues drum loop/demo on a (somewhat) newer Yamaha keyboard, while Alex jived in his typical manner and Caleb wailed on his old Turser. Oh, the sweet sounds of the A-major blues pentatonic scale!

We chose this as the closer because it reminded us of the song the Saturday Night Live Band plays when the host thanks everyone for watching and all the cast members mill about while the credits roll in the screen. It’s as if that — and this — song is a wave goodbye to the listeners, a thank-you for spending some intimate time with us, and an invitation to come back again, soon. And we hope to see you again soon.

The epilogue is actually a discarded take of “Other.” We placed it at the end to give the album an extra sense of completeness, the beginning being the end, and the end being the beginning. Or something like that. We also added a heavy reverb to make it seem like one epic chord, similar to the ending of “Motion Picture Soundtrack” on Radiohead’s Kid A.

Just because we didn’t leave you just yet, we also added a second epilogue at the end of the sustained F#-major chord. It’s a discarded take of the middle section in “She’s Fat.” In that take, we thought it would be best for the three of us to sing the non-sensical barber-show syllables all at once. After discovering that was, in fact, a terrible idea, we recorded it as it appears on the final version. But not wanting to be too serious or introspective (no “It’s Time” this time) a pitch-lowered, out-of-context doo-wop segment to close things out seemed appropriate for Metal Face. Some things never change.

Next up: The r3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z). But before that, you can download Nets if you haven’t already.

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