Monday, June 10, 2013

Music/Creative: Challenges with making Pixel Glass

Original Album Cover Concept
This is the part three of my personal growth of as a recording musician, aka a cautionary tale of things to think about before going to a studio...
Where we last left the story, Random Encounter had just released Unavenged and was planning a US East Coast tour for the summer of 2011. Somewhere in the planning process it became really apparent that our guitarist Konami wouldn't be able to join us for most of the tour, so on a whim I'd invited my friend Juja (a guy I'd met on youtube, had never seen a picture of, and had never spoken to outside of emails) to join us. Let's back-track a bit... Juja and I had spent roughly 11 months working on the Sonic Suite by emailing each other back and fourth through yahoo mail. It was only a month after Unavenged was released that we thought to collaborate on a second song, just for fun. We talked it over and decided that we wanted to do a cover of Phantom Temple from FF VII. After chatting with my bandmates (Random Encounter) it was concluded that they were all too busy to take part... That or I just had a lot of time on my hands... Either way Juja and I put together an arrangement in midi and completed a version of the song, blended it with two other songs, made a silly video, and posted it here on youtube in under a month. Fast forward to the aforementioned invitation to go on tour.

This Became Disc Art
Juja was happy to accept our invitation to go on tour (5 weeks before the tour). I randomly suggested that we make a short album together that we could sell to help cover his airfare from Utah to Florida (and back), having absolutely no idea what that would entail. I suppose I was just looking for an excuse to use my newly acquired editing/mixing/recording talents so it seemed like a really great idea at the time. He thought it was a good enough idea and because Juja didn't care much about the visual aesthetic of the album, I put together the visual theme and contacted an artist I'd known since childhood to work on the art while stuck on an airplane somewhere. The artist had 4 weeks to design "stained glass style art" of various scenes I had in mind, which seemed like more than enough time for someone who was working part time and not involved in any other serious activities. Juja and I worked on a list of songs we thought it would be cool to include, largely working off pieces he'd already done for his Youtube account. With minimal additions and some light remixing, nine tracks of the album were completed in a weekend but we had some bigger goals in mind... Juja had done an Acoustic Version of Zelda 2 which was how I'd found him in the first place that we'd wanted to re-record with a full band feel. In addition, Juja wanted real drums on a couple of other tracks so I asked my friend Adam "One" if he could help us out. For reference, Moose and the rest of Random Encounter were fairly busy and lived 3 hours away (43 hours away from Juja) so collaboration with them was not really feasible. Adam, recently employed by the same publishing company I worked at, had fairly available hours and drove down to my apartment to record his parts. It was quite an experience.

Recording Drums Low Tech
When recording drums on your own it's important to have multiple microphones, multiple inputs on interface, and software capable of recording multiple inputs at a time. I lacked two of these things... So it with 3 microphones EQ'd through a portable mixing board, outputted to a single channel, Adam and I recorded drums for the entire album (except for Dancing Mad, which had been recorded during the Self Titled album drum sessions). While recording Castlevania we encountered some other difficulties because the neighbors (who regularly blast expletive-filled rap music at all hours of the day and night) were upset that we saw fit to record drums on a Saturday afternoon (a time they regularly blast their music) and complained that their baby was asleep. So the last track in the rock drum recording session was quickly switched to a light jazz-style recording session in an effort to not wake their baby. Three takes through Castlevania later it was complete and the neighbors stopped banging on my door. Before the drums were EQ'd you could actually hear them banging on the door and yelling at certain parts... Which I'd have cared about if they didn't blast their music at 2am the previous night despite my very friendly requests for them not to.

Temple of the Ancients Sunrise Surprise!
Can You Find The Hidden Snail?
The rest of Zelda 2 was recorded in one very full day and mixed the same night by my longtime friend Roman in NYC. It's worth noting that we submitted the "pre-dinner mix" of the song (4:30pm) to the Dwelling of Duels contest and somehow robbed better musicians of 4th place before we passed out. I woke up around 2am and had a yahoo messenger chat/feedback/edit/mix session with Juja and Roman until the song was finally concluded at about 4am. Even after Zelda 2 was compete there was still no time to rest. I'd wanted to record a rendition of Dancing Mad and that would take the rest of the work-week. Not much weirdness there because it happens to be my favorite song and one I've been practicing since I first picked up an accordion. The only thing worth mentioning is that I wrote some lyrics for the song and had them translated to Latin by a friend.

Long Nights of Recording...
Initially we included 'The Entire Soundtrack to Castlevania' in our list of songs to record as a joke but at this point, a mere 5 days before the album had to be complete, it suddenly becoming a very real possibility. It took me the week before to arrange the medley and it took Adam 3 full takes to finish the drum parts (that's really bad for Adam). It took Juja and myself roughly 3 nonstop days of recording (stopping for mere hours of sleep) to record, and it took Roman 2 solid days to mix/master. During this time I had also come to realize that my artist friend was in fact not going to finish the art...

This Was Submitted the Night Before the Deadline
About 1 day before the drop-dead due date for the art, my friend informed me that he wasn't able to complete it, but 'it was okay' because I didn't have to pay him. After a genuine apology from him I was admittedly still upset at a situation I should have seen coming, given his reservation to share his work in progress stuff with me. I asked my friend to give me his sketches, and at 7pm on the eve of the project's due date I called Adam to see if he'd be willing to undertake an insane art project due the next morning. Remarkably he accepted and saved the project. His only question was "What's the name of the album?" because Juja and I hadn't actually come up with a name, and it wasn't until about 5 minutes before that Juja came up with "Pixel Glass by Careless Juja", which we went with. I don't think Juja was actually aware that we went with that title until the finished CD's arrived but it was the best title we had (barring "Vladimir Vengrov versus the Giant Killer Snails from Outer Space by Adam The Careless Horse"). Due to time limitations involved with the artistic deadline, Adam swapped out our original cover sketch (A slightly skewed rendition of the Master Sword) with the picture of Simon Belmont fighting Dracula, put the original sketches through various color filters, and created the CD backing art, the album back art, the credits, and the interior panel art from scratch, and formatted it before the sun rose the next morning.

This Was Originally the Disc Art
With all of our work done and an album recorded in under a month, I uploaded the disc image (made for me by my buddy boR) to the CD production company's website, and a mere week later, just in time for Nerdapalooza, the box of new albums arrived... with a gaping flaw. The data on the discs was not burned correctly so instead of being a music CD, each disc was entirely useless in a CD player because it only burnt copies of the album... Awesome. So a few phone calls and 72 hours later, we had replacement discs overnighted to us (which we were billed-in-full for, despite the company admitting to their mistake) and the album was successfully released, seemly defiant against all odds! I only wish I were embellishing this story but sometimes the truth is story enough.

Death: Who I'd Soon See if I Didn't Sleep
Quick aside: I'd mentioned that I'd never actually met Juja until the day before the tour and while I'm telling my readership this in confidence, my band was entirely unaware that I'd never met him! During the last practice before tour they casually joked that he was probably an ugly, balding, smelly man of 45+ years of age, and as they made these jokes I suddenly began to fear the worst. I was pretty sure Juja once mentioned he was somewhere in his 20's but I couldn't remember... He also didn't have any visual representations of himself online except a badly MS-Paint drawn Kirby profile picture, or various images of horses so when I stood at the airport holding a sign that read "Mr. Gary Horses" I suddenly began to panic. Juja had mentioned that he was going to wear a purple dress shirt like some character from some show I'd never seen before and the man approaching me, holding a guitar case and wearing a purple shirt, was a very flamboyant man in his late 50's. Luckily he walked by me and wasn't Juja. Next a large (for political correctness let's call him fat) man in a purple shirt brushed by, followed almost immediately by a jacked body-builder type with the purple shirt, a guitar-case over one shoulder, and a woman on his other arm. They walked by as I panicked, thinking of reasons why Juja might have brought his girlfriend and where she would fit in the RV. Lastly, a balding man in his late 30's with a purple shirt approached with an awkward smile and stopped directly in front of me. He looked at my sign, looked right at me, laughed in my face, continued to stand there, and walked away. I was a bit confused but incredibly relieved it wasn't him. True to his word, the very last person off the airplane was Juja, a regular looking guy about the same age and build as myself with a sense of humor and prominent glasses. It was one of those moments of triumphant victory that you never tell your friends about or share with anyone.

Photo of Juja from Tour
In short, we became better friends in the confines of an RV with no air conditioning and went on an East Coast tour of the US as Random Encounter. About two years after the initial release, we're proudly re-releasing Pixel Glass with a set of completely re-recorded drums for the Castlevania track! Because we dislike the idea of forcing our fanbase to pay for things twice, if you already happen to own the album send me an email/message and I'll send you the new tracks for free. It's totally worth it. Oh, and if you like the music you should also like Careless Juja on facebook...

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