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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in Album Notes

Metal Face: n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z) (Part I)

Assuming you read this project’s background, we can jump right into the track-by-track breakd0wn:

1. St4ring Bck @ U 2.5 (Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

This was my first full-hearted attempt at remixing, so it seemed appropriate as the opening track. For inspiration, I listened to selections from Radiohead’s TKOL 1234567 and Death Cab for Cutie’s Keys & Codes Remix, but steered clear of KoRn’s All Mixed Up and Linkin Park’s Reanimation, as I didn’t want to taint my green understanding of what constitutes a remix. But when it came down to it, this was all about wild and reckless experimenting with a song not my own. I hope Anthony didn’t mind.

Starting with the original GarageBand file, I decided to keep the vocal tracks in tact and leave everything else on the remix cutting floor. I also kept the synth melody, albeit played in a different way: ponderous and slow like the intro of “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” at the beginning, grand and serene like the outro of “White Shadows” at the end. In between, I aimed for something both chaotic and melodic, abrasive and catchy. While many of the loops were programmed on LogixExpress and imported with relative ease into GarageBand (thank you, Anthony, for recording to a metronome!), the main thrust of this track came from splicing and doctoring the instrumentation and vocalization Anthony laid down those three years ago. The foundation was already in place, I just had to destroy it. Mostly.

Again, I hope Anthony didn’t mind.

2. I’ll Wait ‘Til Tomorra (Charlie Ray, Alex Miller, Caleb Nelson, Steve Miller)

When the remix project was getting off the ground, I spoke with Alex and he suggested our good friend/frequent collaborator Charlie Ray take a stab at the schmooze blooze of “Wait ‘Til Tomorrow.” And am I sure glad he did.

Charlie was a total trooper about recutting this song. When I initially reached out to him, he was more than happy to help.

“I <3 metal face and I <3 nets,” he wrote in an October email. “I’m totally down with this song, it’s a little tongue in cheek on the record but I may just go for gold and try to make it very epic.”

About a month later, Charlie delivered on that promise — to the Charlieth power (see: xCharlie).

Charlie played all the instruments on this recording (using Ableton, if I’m not mistaken), with the exception of the guitar parts, both of which I recorded in a take or two while hyped up on caffeine. For the solo, I once again employed a pitch shifter as I did in “I B Who I B,” only this time I didn’t use the “shitstorm” custom setting — just a basic GarageBand distortion and a vocal transformation on the track. It never hurts to add a little Jack White to a guitar solo.

Whereas the original is sparse and a little dingy (no offense, us), Charlie’s version is full and polished; it’s as if the Nets rendition is the demo and Charlie’s is the fleshed-out finished product (once again, no offense, us).

3. SD/P (Alex Miller, Anthony Thompson, Steve Miller)

I’ve never been a huge mashup fan. Sure, there are some thoughtful and intriguing ones out there, but my interest in the practice doesn’t extend beyond the occasional Girl Talk and/or DJ Dangermouse’s Beatles/Jay-Z combo YouTube listen. Maybe my life is lacking because of it. But to mashup two Metal Face songs that are coincidentally in similar keys and tempo, and just happen to be side by side in their track order on Nets? Now that seemed interesting to me.

As hard as it may be to believe, this wasn’t originally intended to be a mashup. I was actually working on a minimalist version of “Symptomatic Disposition” in a similar vein as Nine Inch Nails’ “Piggy.” Then one day, while standing at a urinal, it came to me: “Hey, why not combine “Symptomatic” and “Paint”? They’re both in A minor(ish), and (as mentioned before) are a similar tempo. It’s just crazy enough to work!”

And worked it did. Pretty well, in my objective opinion.

I was surprised how well the non-related songs fit together, though I did have to apply a pitch shifter to the “Paint” tracks because they were approximately 0.73 cents lower than those of “Symptomatic.” Nothing too drastic.

Like “Staring Back @ You,” I wasn’t very involved in the making of “Symptomatic,” which gave me a somewhat detached perspective of the song, something (I assume is) perfect for remixing. And now that I had the “Paint” stems to fill the empty space, the rest felt pretty organic. I also relied heavily on imported LogicExpress drum beats to fuel the dynamic of the song rather than guitar or vocals, which are the usual standbys to achieve that end. Speaking of the end: I considered a number of approaches, including an Astral Weeks-esque flute-and-standup-bass interchange (except MIDI-ized), but eventually decided on letting the warbly drum patterns drive it home. I also kept Anthony’s epic Frusciante-channeling solo from the original, except I removed the effects and fine automated its pitch with a special AUPitch Shifter, to give it that ultra-dry, atonal feel.

4. n3tz (Steve Miller)

Because it can be pleasing to the readers’ eyes to have a shorter entry wedged between two longer ones, I’ll keep this brief: The title remix came about after about two weeks of tinkering with the original GarageBand file — arbitrarily placing tracks, changing settings and other things of that experimental ilk. It took a while, but I eventually found a direction I liked. Overall, I wanted to capture the essence of autumn in the Pacific Northwest — the foliage, the overcast sky, the rain, etc. — with a moody, brooding instrumental.

From a technical standpoint, I wanted to employ something drastic to break up the ambience and bridge the gap between the beginning and the beat introduction, hence the sharp synth stabs (inspired once more by the Flaming Lips). The slightly chorused piano at the outro, especially the high-B “ping,” was my somewhat blatant homage to Pink Floyd’s “Echoes” (which you should listen to — all 23 minutes of it), as was the wind sound throughout, though a inspired by a different song from their masterful Meddle album, “One of These Days.”

So much for being brief.

5. Beer in the Baler (William Ballew, Abel Ballew, Steve Miller)

This compilation probably wouldn’t exist if not for this song; although not a remix by any means, “Beer in the Baler” is the a B-but-should’ve-been-A side that was recorded a little too late to be included on Nets. It needed to be included somewhere, but where? Answer: here.

As mentioned in earlier posts, Will Ballew was an integral force in the band from late 2004 to mid 2007, serving first as our keyboardist then as our resident drumpaddist. But due to the solitary and sporadic nature of the In 3D and Nets recordings, we were never able to coordinate our schedules. That is, until one glorious June 2011 afternoon.

After showing Will and his younger brother, Abel, the nearly finished “I B Who I B,” the three of us were so moved we decided to collaborate after years of Metal Face estrangement. A few days later, we convened in the basement of Will’s and Abel’s friend’s house (which was where they were staying at the time) with one goal in mind: to make what appeared to be a shallow, lifestyle country song on the surface, but actually craft something subtle and strange, even a little disturbing. You know, something truly Metal Face.

Inspired by such lame-y twang thangs like the Zac Brown Band’s “Chicken Fried” and “People Are Crazy” by Billy Currington, the three of us starting penning lyrics that went from discussing a very chill but oddly vague hot summer day, to family pride, to dogs, to patriotism, to gun rights, to polygamy, all of which centered around the chief linchpins of modern country: overwrought nostalgia and alcohol, particularly beer. But the main hook of the song came when Abel wrote the refrain words and melody, perhaps the sweetest melody one could hear while they’re chugging a beer. It was so catchy, I couldn’t stop singing it at the dinner party/bonfire we went to after the first recording session. I’m sure it left an impression on the hosts.

Recording was simple and a fairly productive. We used LogicExpress on Will’s MacBook and a decent USB microphone placed on a stand with a mic screen — pretty fancy by Metal Face’s standards. The generic drum was originally just a placeholder until we added something more dynamic; that never happened, but at least we were in time. Guitar-wise, I added the slap-happy acoustic first before using some of the crisp presets on Logic, but once I found the phased-out backwards setting, that’s when the song took a turn for the weird. That’s when it became Metal Face.

We decided to break up the vocals into equal parts: Abel taking the first verse/refrain, Will the second, me the bridge and most of the final refrain, with the three of us chiming in during the song’s climax. At the beginning, you can hear my attempt to sing a middle G fall noticeably flat, but in the true tradition of Metal Face, we kept it.

The bass part wasn’t nearly as easy to come by, but I think it was definitely worth the wait. When Will wrapped up the piano in December, the song sat around a while without any changes made to it. Yet it always seemed like something was missing, i.e. a solid, yet simple, country bass line. I originally wanted bassist extraordinaire/older brother A.J. Miller to lay down something, but when his busy law school/widely sought-after-musician schedule didn’t permit him, Charlie Ray stepped up to the plate. I sent him the mp3, and within a couple of days, he had a great bass line laid down. So next time you see Charlie, tell him the Metal Face guys thank him for his contributionsCharlie.

And just when it couldn’t get any more Metal Facian, the E-flat minor seventh at the end seals the deal. I’m sure musicians are the only ones who will find that remotely humorous.

All that said, I believe this song definitely warranted an album to itself. It may be a B-side, but a mighty B-side it is.


Stream n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z) and Nets.