It's been a long time since I've performed live - November 2008 to be exact. It was Lugsole's last show at Slacker 66 in Birmingham. We would go on to write, record and release seven new songs in 1999, but we never played as a band again.
Enter Ryan Russell. (http://nervousenergies.com & http://ryanrussell.net)
I remember Ryan hanging around towards the end of my scene days. He took a lot of pictures and has gone on to pursue a career as a rock photographer. As I've attempted and accomplished some things during my solo efforts over the past 12 years, Ryan has always kept up with what I was doing.
Late 2010, Ryan emailed me asking if I'd be interested in filming a Nervous Energies session. Instead of shooting stills of a band, he puts his camera in video mode and records the band playing a stripped down version of a few of their songs. I reluctantly said yes.
From 1994 to 1999, I wrote songs with two bandmates with the intention of performing those songs in front of an audience. We usually worked out the tunes live before we recorded them - except for a couple of the last songs we wrote. There were several songs we recorded in 1999 that were never rehearsed. The frustration of trying to perform those tunes mixed with the already mounting dissension within the band hurried our demise.
When I began writing again in 2000, there were no plans to play live. A habit of "anything goes" became the norm. So in 2010 when confronted with the opportunity to perform some of my creations in front of a camera, doubt crept in. I told Ryan to give me a few months. I was about to embark on the 2011 song-a-week thing and was positive I would write some tunes that would easily convert to being performed solo and acoustic.
During 2011, my writing style and method changed drastically. I began writing drum and bass parts first before I even picked up a guitar. Needless to say, transforming any of these new songs to an acoustic format would be daunting
2011 came and went. Ryan and I would touch base every now and then with me still saying I was on board with doing a Nervous Energies session.<br />
2012 was a dud of a year as far as accomplishing anything musical. I did concoct a few schemes on how I would pursue Nervous Energies. There was this idea of just drum/guitar and a thought of a folksy set with a couple of other musicians. A hybrid of electronics and noise was even practiced a few times with one of my former bandmates. In the end, I decided to go at it alone.<br />
By November 2012, I had five songs selected and arranged for their acoustic debut. "Perils of Summer" (http://youtu.be/FW6iSjeYJ30) and the old "Too Dope to be a Hipster" (http://youtu.be/D4LVQcLQO28) were easy conversions since both were very guitar oriented to begin with. "Dope" pretty much matches the recorded version. I slightly changed the arrangement of "Perils" and added some vocals at the end.
"Theories on Cannibalism" (http://youtu.be/hTSIq5qvJ_c) is one of my favorites from 2011, but it is in no way a "guitar" song. The weird thing is - this song was one of the few I wrote on guitar. During the recording process the main guitar part was limited to the vibrato riff that was panned either left or right during parts of the song. To attempt to make this song work, I revisited the original parts and stumbled upon an alternate chord progression that enhanced the acoustic version. I added a new bridge section and incorporated the original guitar at the end. The vocal melody is slightly different but still keeps the recorded vibe of song.
"Face of the Earth" (http://youtu.be/Ger6Q5grskY) is another favorite from 2011. Not a guitar song, but I was able to follow the bass line with guitar chords. The recorded version kind of builds and wanders. For the acoustic version I attempted to focus the song more by breaking it up a bit with a bridge section and dynamic diversity. This one is my favorite.
I merged "The Unknown is Known" and "Fake Ears" (http://youtu.be/kwPLPTiUNJY) create one rambling tune. On "Unknown" I mainly followed the bass line. The point where it switches to "Fake" happened by accident. I was practicing "Unknown" when I effortlessly went in to the jangly guitar part. That jangly part is actually a guitar part that is buried in "Fake". From there I just let "Fake" run its course. I really like the recorded version of "Fake Ears", especially the vocals and guitar at the end. But the song's long wandering intro probably lost a lot of people before the vocals kicked in. I'm glad I got the chance to emphasize the vocals on the Nervous Energies version.
The whole process of transforming these songs to a more simplified format was a challenge, but it was rewarding for me. These are not necessarily my "best" or favorite songs, but they were the ones that best fit a one-man-acoustic setting.
The actual recording of the Nervous Energies sessions was difficult. I was definitely a bit nervous. There was no way of hiding my vocal and guitar shortcomings. It was all out there in the raw.
On a side note... I chose to play the old Kay archtop - not because of its sonic beauty (it sounds rough), but because it looks cool. I guess there is still a little "hipster" in me.
It took about an hour to record all five songs. I could hear mistakes as I was playing but decided to bury my OCD as best I could and let the mistakes live and breathe. To be honest, there was no way I was going to nail a perfect performance anyway, no matter how many times I tried.
A couple of days after we did the session, Ryan sent me the videos. It was awkward to listen to and watch because of my perfomance - not because of Ryan. I doubted many times my decision to go through with this. But in the end, it is what it is. And I'm ok with that.
I don't have any expectations from doing this. It has motivated me to do more musically this year, and that is a good thing.
A big thanks to Ryan for asking me to do this. Be sure to check out his stuff from the links above.