Saturday, June 28, 2008

Futuramas Past

Your Weekend Listening, 6/27/08
Futurama (Synth Pop Op. No. 2), 1998

There are a lot of different narrative paths I could follow for this entry - this is the first Weekend Listening to feature Rick Heins, and it's also the first to feature input from Karl. It's the first from an actual, functioning (albeit in a dysfunctional way) band, rather than either me playing all the instruments or in a duo with Edz.

But all of those are big, big, huge, big topics, and I'm tired.

Instead, a brief note on the writing:

This was written very soon after Edz and I started playing with Rick, while the three of us were figuring out what we were trying to do. In fact, after years of playing every single instrument, I really wasn't sure what I should be playing in this new band, so all the songs from the first few weeks of jamming have me flitting back and forth between keys and bass and guitar as well. Somewhere in the air, I suppose, was the idea that we'd find a bass player and I could be the utility man on keys and guitar (a role, curiously enough, that I fill now in the DeSk/PCMA collective).

And we did, in fact, jam with a bassist friend of Edz, but that didn't gel and Edz and I could sense Rick's doubt encroaching. So an executive decision was made to stop the flaky nature of the jams by picking up the bass myself, and from there on, the sound of the band became more focused.

But before that, in one of our very first jams (in my parent's basement, of course), Rick made the casual comment as he was exiting, 'oh, we should try to do some kind of synth-pop number.' As soon as he was gone, Edz and I commenced to writing, and two ideas came out - a chirpy number called "Keith Thinks He's Cool (But We All Know Better)" and this week's entry.

"Keith Thinks He's Cool" was, of course, the first number in the Synth Pop Opus.

When we played both for Rick at the next practice, this was the one that he liked, so we developed it further. Of course, what we showed him was just a bare-bones number, and I'm reasonably sure that the chorus change came from Rick. The coda definitely did, because those big, operatic, soaring modal guitar phrases are his stock-in-trade.

The bridge came from me, though, as a definite rip on Kraftwerk - specifically "Autobahn," which I'd first been listening to around that time. Really, so much of my writing from this period is made up of little current obsessions, as this was the first time I had to start writing lyrics to fit finished compositions. So the album contains some personal songs - most notably about the death of my Grandmother - but also contains weird tangent songs like this. Eventually, the final album also had songs with lyrics about time-travel sci-fi movies and a chapter title in a biography of Kafka I'd come across at work.

We recorded the rhythm track on my trusty Tascam at a studio down in Wayne where we used to practice. Oddly enough, the drums and keys were recorded live together, because that was really the only way we could ensure that Edz and I could keep time along with the octave riff on the Moog, the filter sweep of which set the tempo. Even given that, I've always liked the industrial low-fi sound of the drums on this song, and the cymbals are really quite explosive. I'd have to bet that Rick set up the drum mics, since he had strong ideas about that and I had none.

The string sound was an old keyboard of Edz - a Korg of some kind - that couldn't even be screwed together properly. But I do love that string sound.

The mid-section was put together with a sample from the audiobook of Carl Sagan's The Demon-Haunted World, and even though it was most likely a totally random choice, the idea of the creator of Cosmos relating a childhood memory while the Moog tweedles out the sounds of space-signals works really well, in hindsight. Honestly, if you asked me to reproduce the Moog part in that section, I couldn't do it. One of the wonders of the Moog is its one-time-only vibe when you play with the knobs just so.

I'm not sure if it was the use of these old-school synths or the fact that our album was recorded on the Tascam 4-Track, a technology that was well outmoded even by then, but Rick coined the name Analogue for us. It turns out later that the name had already been taken, by a band that it fit better, no less, but that's what we went by at the time.

As mentioned, this song is also the start of my friendship with Karl. I can't exactly recall if he volunteered or I requested, but in either case, this song - and the entire Analogue album (called The Future is Ours) - was digitally mixed by Karl and I on his old Motorola Mac running Digital Performer 2.4.

I wonder if he regrets it?

Believe it or not - and it is a little hard to believe, when you consider how huge a part of my personal geek pantheon it has become - this song was not named in honor of the brilliant Matt Groening show. In fact, when this song was written, I don't think the name of the show had been mentioned - only that Groening was working on a new sci-fi show for Fox.

I guess it's some kind of truism that all cartoonists are geeky in the same way, since I'd been obsessed with the 1939 World's Fair in my teens and had used General Motor's Futurama Pavilion as period flavor in my lame 40's detective strip, Hammond Cheese, Private Eye. So when I wrote the lyric, after casting about for ideas, it was with the themes of the World's Fair in mind - but it's funny how if you think of it as being a song sung by the show's time-displaced Fry character, you could easily see it as being written about him.

Get in my car
Start in on up
Drive to the spaceship.

Pick it on up,
Plug it on in -
Only please be patient.

You're counting on us
To explain all the fuss,
And why your time has been wasted.

Look it on up,
Then tear it on up,
'Cause you can't read the pages.

The future is what it used to be.

I've been here all week,
And I can barely speak -
In only a whisper.

On the T.V.,
They got it all for free,
And they're giving it to me.

They got what you need,
And if you keep it clean,
Every day is like Christmas.

I've got my CD's,
Got my DVD's,
But I just want my LP's.

The future is what it used to be.

The future is ours,
The future is ours,
The future is ours (in cars).

For the record, the only World's Fair I've been to was the 1982 World's Fair in Knoxville - and that one ended up getting parodied in an episode of The Simpsons.



Karl said...

He regrets nothing.

Interestingly, I didn't know you well enough to know your musical prowess at the time, so I was free to speak my mind and give input.

Then I got to know you and became intimidated by your musical skills and subsequently was easily manipulated.

Now I know you even better and don't care what you think, so I am again free to speak my mind.

Dave Kopperman said...

Speak only when spoken to!


Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is my favourite of yours..

Dave Kopperman said...

Interesting. I don't think I would have guessed that.


Anonymous said...

Can't believe that it's ten years old now! It was a lot of fun to record this. You have a much better memory about this stuff than me. I do remember really wanting to create the Cars for the next generation, since your key skille were formidable and your hooks tasty. My favorite part is when I harmonize with your keys near the end. It sounds pretty cool still.

That was the first time I recorded vocals with a band. I can actually creidt you for giving me the confidence to keep trying even though I wasn't so good yet. Many thanks to you!


Dave Kopperman said...

It's funny you should say that, because my keyboard chops were at my nadir during this period - I'd played a lot during Lizard Music a couple of years before, but really fled them in a vengeance after that.

If you like the keys on the Analogue-era stuff, you'll no doubt like PCMA, which is more of the same, only more of it.