The world has never been more connected than it is today. Such is the topic of many a tech trend story, citing social networking sites, various modes of communication and notification serving as the digital ties that unite us. We can have hundreds of friends, followers, subscribers, connections, buddies, Pinners, Instagrammers, and so forth. We’ve never been closer to each other, and yet, are we that close? Does the number of “friends” or “followers” determine one’s happiness? Are we even connected to each other? Or are we as disconnected now than ever, far from the truth, but close to the edge?
As I previously wrote, these thoughts first occupied my mind in December 2007, when a simple Facebook status change led to a host of new worries directly linked to the platform conveying the message. This weariness with such modern modes of communication only worsened in the years to come, prompting the naming and creation of a shortly lived group about which I’ve written plenty. While this group’s thoughtful-but-mechanically flawed early material addressed issues related to disillusionment, alienation and disappointment (to name a few), what came after delves deeper into the perils of our age, and confronts the void and disappointment that no amount of digital acquaintances can fill. At least, that’s what I’d like to think, having written the songs and all.
Newsfeed Anxiety’s The Disconnect came about from the gradual heightening of disenfranchisement toward a world that is not as unified as our profiles like to make it seem. By the time I was writing the songs for The Disconnect, my reality wasn’t matching the “reality” presented in the parallel online world; I had 500+ friends, but didn’t feel like many were my friends. And in my own reality, being in my fifth year of school, I had my fill of the college lifestyle (even if it was, in retrospect, pretty ideal) and the limited and not-so-accessible Missoula music scene left much to be desired. My burnout is a little too well-documented in the post “How Missoula Was Won … And Lost,” in case you need a refresher.
But the disconnect of The Disconnect goes beyond a super-senior-year discontent: It refers to the overall disjointedness and dissociative nature of this project. I will discuss each of its “dis” properties more in length.
After the disaster of adding drums to un-metronome’d tracks for The Compromise, we were determined to never make that mistake again, and from the start of recording The Disconnect, we made good that resolution. In one night, Anthony and I recorded acoustic click tracks for more than half the album, and the rest a few nights later. Within a week or so, we were adding Anthony’s bass lines, and by early June, we had recorded all of Carl’s drum parts to far far greater results than The Compromise. We parted ways after the not-so-well-attended finale performance at the Top Hat, but the plan was to resume work on the album following the completion of Metal Face’s Nets. But with Anthony in Missoula, Carl somewhere in the forests of Minnesota, and myself caught in the ever-worsening plight for post-grads, making progress on the album proved more difficult with three separate silos instead of a unified band. Even with the location disparity, I assumed the album would be done and ready for our limited fan base by 2011, or early 2012 at the latest.
And now it’s 2014.
As with In 3D and Nets before it, The Disconnect took much longer than anticipated; unlike those Metal Face albums, however, the delay of The Disconnect was so drawn out and, at times, painful, it may, in my mind, actually overshadow the music itself. It’s like our version of Chinese Democracy, minus the inner-band turmoil and/or replacement of a key member for someone who wears a KFC bucket on their head. And while very few people other than Carl, Anthony and myself may actually be anticipating the album, the self-imposed pressure was/is sometimes so great, the delay so extended, that it sometimes seemed as though the album would never happen and reside forever in the Ark-Hive dustbin, along with Centerpiece II, The Brain Opera: Volume III, Happy Marshmallow Crumbs, the original Metal Face recordings, and 20+ songs from spring 2002 that were deleted following an intense argument between me and Alex. And, even as I write this in August 2013, there still is no guarantee that album will be complete, and if it were to be completed, would anyone even care? (Will it? The answer to that and more is below!)
The reasons for the delay seem simple enough, and yet, are much more complex than they let on: Following the completion of Nets, I spent much or my post-grad, unemployed life either revisiting summer activities of my youth, lounging like a wastoid in my childhood room, or trying to find journalism employment in Boston. This I did for three months until scrapping the Boston plans to move in the opposite direction to Seattle. As I slowly settled into Left Coast living, I once again put off the Newsfeed album in favor of the more experimental, glitch-tastic n3tzR3m1x3z(+B-s1d3z), which kept me fairly busy until late January 2012. But after that fun distraction — a much merited distraction, nonetheless — it was finally time to trade MIDI notation and drum loops for actual instrumentation and messy, real-life percussion (*shudder*).
With the metronomed drums and most of the bass recorded earlier, the next phase was adding guitar tracks, which, on my own projects, can be an exploratory, if not somewhat drawn-out, process. From the humble confines of my Central District dwelling unit, I spent the next four months either recording, re-recording, thinking about recording, brooding over, or worrying over/stressing about these guitar parts. The actual recording was very sporadic — an experimental take here, an effects edit there, a solo here, some supplemental chordage there, and so on — and while it may’ve been more leisurely and incremental than, say, doing the guitar on Milk and Rain EP or The Wonder Years, it was by no means less stressful; in fact, the drawn-out, somewhat directionless nature made it much harder. Without direction or the element of collaboration, coupled with unreasonable self-imposed pressure to meet an arbitrary deadline that would be extended time and time again, The Disconnect project became an every-looming specter in my life, always hovering over me, its uncertain status a constant source of anxiety befitting of the now-defunct non-band who performed and recorded its songs.
This weird period — or as I like to call, this “weriod” — lasted from about January to mid-August 2012, the height of which being March-June. This weriod also coincided with the much-blogged-about frustrations of being a band-less front man whose only musical outlet consisted of weekly mini-sets at pubs and Haitian restaurants. During this time, I was also envious of others in bands, while I myself, at the time, was not. This resentment made me even more anxious, and my song output was borne more out compulsion to succeed rather than genuine inspiration. In retrospect, this outlook was not only incredibly short-sighted, but broken and twisted; I was spiritually maligned, more concerned with the writings of Bob Lefsetz and attaining worldly fame (a topic he discusses often) than living a God-pleasing, Christ-centered life. I made it my mission to take steps each day to become the next Roger Waters/Lindsey Buckingham/Elliott Smith/David Gilmour (you get the idea), and any days that I didn’t see a progressions, I deemed it a failure. This ambition to nowhere made it hard to enjoy life, and I began to feel guilty whenever I wasn’t furthering my these goals by practicing performing and/or rehearsing an acoustic miniset and/or working on the album, I was wasting my time. Like I said: broken and twisted.
By July 2012, however, the weriod was slowly giving way to something a little less wearisome. I had recorded most, if not all, the guitar parts for the album during that bitter stretch, and was set to wrap up the vocals as quick as I could. I set up my M-Audio mic and mic-stand in my cramped former living quarters, which nearly took up the remaining free space. (When my mic stand broke from falling over too many times, I took the mic-and-screen half and pinned it between my poorly constructed Ikea desk — whose right side was braced by my amp — and the wall.) Not wanting to disturb my housemates with my louder vocals — as heard in “The Wheels Will Always Turn,” “Friday Night Friends,” Locked, Pending,” to name a few — I would record as soon as I returned from work. Although I’d consider myself a much better guitarist than a vocalist, recording vocals turned out to be a much less stressful endeavor than adding the guitar; I knew what to sing, and I sang it. I didn’t aim for perfection, nor did I resort to auto-tune to digitally gloss over my pitchy flaws: instead, I sang several takes and used a combination of them in the final recordings. There are still some wrong notes, but I think that’s more endearing, especially in a time where nearly every damn song seems marred by auto-correct, unnatural sheen.
I wrapped up the lead vocals just in time for last year’s trip to Leavenworth (read that overlong blog entry), and after returning from Montana — during which the impromptu Silver Gate show occurred — I started on the harmonies. I had moved to my now-current location in Capitol Hill by this point, and while the extra space was (and still is) much welcomed, I found it somewhat difficult to record vocals due to the amount of radio frequencies in the playback. This was before I had any desks or tables (a squalor existence documented in “The Cupboard Sessions“), so I had to hold the upper half of the broken mic stand in such a way that wouldn’t pick up frequencies, which meant having to record in my closet, kitchen, and/or at the foot of my bed, anywhere away from the radio people (which you can hear at the end of Mariko’s song “Dear, Heart.”) I should also mention I didn’t have any power strips and limited three-pronged outlets, so I could only record the layered harmonies for 20-30 minutes at a time before having to recharge my computer, and with the amount of background vocals I recorded, I had to repeat this process a number of times. The background vocals/harmonies, in general, were meant to be lush and full, like the kind you’d hear on Lindsey Buckingham/Stevie Nicks era Fleetwood Mac, the second John Frusciante Red Hot Chili Peppers era, Steven Drozd’s contributions to the Flaming Lips, to name a few. It certainly crossed my mind that a wall of chordal harmonies on most refrains may’ve been a bit overkill, especially for an album recorded on GarageBand, but the big sound interested me at the time, so that’s what the Spirit moved me to do.
It was mid-August at this point, and the weriod in which I found myself mired had given way to a new era, one in which I was actually collaborating with others and playing gigs, mainly with Andrea Desmond, then later with Mariko Ruhle. But with the pieces all in place, after a year or so of solitary toiling, I pictured the album being fully complete within a few months, or the end of 2012 at the latest. I had my fill of these songs, so I needed Anthony’s fresh pair of ears to finish the production end. Once again, the distance proved the biggest challenge for completing this facet of the project; after attempting to send entire GarageBand files via Dropbox (a process made even more difficult by not having a reliable internet connection at my apartment yet, which led to a series of unproductive coffee shop visits to syphon a meager wi-fi signal) we decided to hold off any further work until the next time we were in the same location. It wasn’t until early November in Missoula where we were finally able to transfer the songs from my laptop to Anthony’s via ethernet cable, but we didn’t even touch the GarageBand files until late December, around the same time as the recording of Wanna’s? legacy-continuing Legacy. During our winter-time meeting, we held an impromptu, mini-band reunion in Anthony’s basement, which was recorded by Thompson house guest, Pan. We also staged a mini-Metal Face reunion that same night, as Caleb Nelson made a guest appearance. And so, amidst the activity one would expect of Christmastime, the arbitrary year-end deadline was once again extended, but by now, we were already used to the perpetual work in progress.
2013 moved quickly, and there was little time for clunky GarageBand songs made my a band that didn’t exist. I was plenty busy rehearsing/performing with Andrea Desmond (who since signed with independent record label Spectra Records), and recording/gigging with Mariko Ruhle, while Anthony was closing out the brief-but-illustrious run for the Trees, which had quickly become one of Missoula’s most-popular bands. Carl, I think, was busy in Tofte, Minn., starting his own film company. It wasn’t until early this year (a couple weeks ago, to be exact) when I decided to finish the album on my own.
But that part will have to wait. Until then, here’s a brief taste of the forthcoming album. This is “I Just Don’t Get It,” a track that quickly became one of favorite songs to play. I was heavily inspired by Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk album at the time, and I’m pretty sure the song title came from an infomercial about kids with “math anxiety” that ran when I was much younger. It’s the shortest song on The Disconnect, but perhaps one of the more accessible ones. Enjoy: