Every song has a story as to how it came to life. Some stories are more
interesting than others. This page contains stories as to how just a few
of the original 121normal songs got started.
Fame and Vision (1984)
On Names and Faces (1987)
This piece was the result of several epiphony
moments on my part.
Up until then, my tapes were sorely lacking anything even remotely resembling
percussion. I had just come into possession of the Roland Juno-60 that year
and, one day, figured out how to make some very electronic sounding bass,
snare and hi-hat sounds using the noise generator on the Juno-60 along with
copious amounts of resonance and argpeggiator functions.
Next were the audio samples. The song was already "in progress
mostly recorded. One night, my then girlfriend was spending the night at my
house while I was still working on the tune. After convincing me to shut
everything down for night, we climbed into bed and flipped on the television.
The movie "The Wrath of God" with Robert Mitchum and Frank Langella was
playing. I wanted to hear the tune just one more time so I turned that on
as well and when I heard both the music and the movie at the same time, it
just worked and I knew I'd hit the last piece of the puzzle. I jumped out of
bed, turned on the lights, fired everything back up and began recording the
television (as my girlfriend looked at me incredulously trying to compute what
was taking place). After that, I mixed what I had recorded from the TV in with
what I had recorded earlier that day and the result is what you hear on the
downloads page. Some time later, I even managed to smooth things over with
Later, while recording the tracks for "On Names And Faces"
, the tune was
resurrected but very differently. The rhythm track and chord changes were
already in place when I realized that the changes were the same as they were
in the original "Reflections." I added in the plucked keyboard part from
the original and kept the name. I always did like the way the newer jazzy
version came out but the original will always be my favorite.
After The Fall
Fame and Vision (1984)
I'm not really sure how the opening idea for this one came about but the whole
spirit of the tune was definitely influenced by my fascination at the time for
WWII era America. I wanted to use a recording of "Stardust"
Glenn Miller record that was a favorite of my fathers but I wanted to use it
in such a way that had the same creepy feeling as the music that you could
frequently hear playing in the hotel during the Stanley Kubrick version of
Once the opening got rolling, I wanted to bring in the
sounds of war and so the airplane sounds were introduced along with the sonar
pings and bombs (all done on the Juno-60). Once the opening sequence was
complete, the tune itself almost wrote itself and the melody just fell out.
I never changed a note of it because I found it beatiful in its simplicity.
Just after completion, my first real band was having a second go at it with
a different vocalist and going under the name "March 4th."
singer Tom Tucker heard the original recording of "After The Fall"
and really loved it. In one sitting, he penned some really catching lyrics
and stayed 100% true to the original melody. Unfortunately that band didn't
last long so even though we did start working on the tune, we didn't get very
far before disbanding. I do have one rehearsal recording of the tune from that
band but the performance was very bad so it will never see the light of day.
Currently the tune is in the process of resurrection with the original opening
and everything. I'm not against the idea of introducing some vocals to it but
I would only do it with the original lyrics which I don't have (and can't
figure out from the rehearsal tape) and don't have permission to use anyway.
Tom ... if you're out there, I'd love to have these lyrics.
"Love tears your heart to shreds as a cool breeze whistles through your
head. All you can hear is the winter's call, after the fall."
Another Fool (1984)
Various News, Olds and Redos (1985)
By now, audio samples were becoming a regular part of my arsenal and my ears
were always open for anything interesting enough to use. One of my roommates
back in those days owned and was licensed to operate a short wave radio. This
seemed like it would be an ideal place to fetch all manner of sounds. I don't
remember how the continuous universal time (UTC) feed came to light. Either I
walked in and heard it playing on his radio or he heard it on his own and came
to me with the idea of using it (either was very possible). However it came
about, it was perfect. It ran all day and all night so at the next opportunity,
we recorded several minutes of it. Later on, I ran the sample along with a
drum machine lick inspired by the Sisters of Mercy's "Body and Soul."
The time sample and the drum lick sounded really cool running together and
formed the basis for the music that was written after.
On Names and Faces (1987)
121normal Cutting Room Floor (2007)
While officially released for the first time in 1987, the first go around
on this tune took place in 1986. At the time, I was heavily into a Pat Metheny
phase and was just starting to work with the chord progression that would later
become this tune. The feel was contemporary jazz and the tempo moved along
pretty fast. I was also playing with a drum track to go with it that was awash
in cymbals (think Metheny's tune "James"
from the "Offramp"
release). It wasn't really going anywhere though. Right around the same time,
my girlfriend (who I am now married to) took off for a long weekend to Boston
and it was the first time we'd been apart for that long. One night that weekend,
I was sitting in my studio alone and feeling pretty low. There was a storm
going on outside the open window and I started playing that same chord
progression again only this time, I played it without the drums and played it
very down tempo to match my down mood. Almost instantly I realized that the slow
tempo was what the tune needed and I recorded it right then and there writing
and filling in all the rest of the parts. The next day I listened and was
disappointed that I just wasn't getting the same vibe from the night before.
Later on that same day, I realized that what was missing from the tape was the
storm. I hopped a bus into town, hit the local record store, and grabbed the
first "sound effects
" record I could find that had storms on it. I went
home, added the rain, and the tune was finished. Upon her return, I told my
girlfriend the story and she came up with the title.
In 2006, the tune was re-recorded for the 121normal release replacing some
of the picked acoustic guitar as well as the electric guitar solo with Stick
parts. I even went so far as to use the same audio samples from the very same
sound effects LP I'd purchased back in 1986. The tune wasn't finished in time
though and stylistically didn't really fit with the rest of the record and so
it ended up on the cutting room floor. To this day though, "Boston Blue" is
still one of the tunes I hold nearest and dearest.
Frantic in Nature
This tune was recorded several times and has gone through many incarnations.
The first go around was in early 2000. I hadn't been playing Stick for very
long and hadn't gotten into loops yet. By then, I had heard some other
players using loops with Stick and I knew I wanted to go that direction.
I just didn't have the gear for it yet. Right around the same time, I had
started playing around with the main loop theme for "Frantic in Nature" along
with the accompanying bass part. I liked it a lot, especially with the repeat
echoes going on both the melody and bass side of my Stick. I had nowhere to go
with it aside from the main theme though. I went all sorts of different
directions and hit dead ends everywhere. One day right in the middle of a
practice session, I had a short daydream as to what I could do with the tune
if I were to loop the main melody part and almost the entirety of the tune
played out in my head right at that instant. It was too cool to pass up so I
literally put my Stick down, hopped in the car and drove to the closest Guitar
Center. I picked up a DL4 delay unit from Line6 which doubled as a simple
looping device and headed home. Right out of the box, I ran the tune exactly
how I'd played it out in my head earlier that day and that turned out to be
the arrangement that stuck for a while.
About a year later, I was doing an opening set at a club in downtown Detroit
and several friends were in the audience. After the set was over,
one guy started talking about "Frantic in Nature" and said ... "that would
almost be a cool techno sounding kind of tune ... I can hear a house beat
thumping along with it."
I hadn't considered it but I did have a drum
machine so I went home and gave it a go. He was right. The tune really came
to life and the drum track has stuck ever since.
The Sky Over Scherzer
In the fall/winter of 1983, the 121normal studio was in its Pearl Street location.
During that time, I'd added some decent effects processing and was writing and
recording some pretty spacy material. One of my roommates at the time was a member
of Eastern Michigan University's Astronomy Club and had keys to the observatory
that sat atop Scherzer Hall on campus. It was very common back then for us to
climb up there and star gaze and also just sit out on the roof. I wrote a lot of
music at the time that was heavily inspired by gazing up at the cosmos from the
roof of that building. Fast forward to around 2000 when I first started working on
this tune. While the tune was in progress, the overall vibe of it reminded me very
much of the music that I was pumping out during our late night roof sessions atop
Scherzer Hall back in 83. Although the finished product ended up sounding quite a
bit different than it did when I started, I stuck with the name "The Sky Over
named after the Scherzer Hall rooftop.
Sunday In Salt Spring
This tune was the result of several independent paths arriving at the same
point just at the right time. The very first part of the loop was already
in place except I was playing it through a Roland guitar synthesizer set to
sound like a Fender Rhodes piano. It was heavily inspired by a piece of music
Noel Gallagher had written to close out the film "X-Files - Fight the
Right around the same time, I saw the
California Guitar Trio playing at a Borders Books in Birmingham, Michigan.
They performed a version of Bach's "Joy of Man's Desiring"
technique called circular picking. With this technique, all three players
would play the melody but each player would only play every third note. Between
them, they filled in all the notes but the notes rang out and it sounded like
a harp. I love the sound and wanted to somehow reproduce it on my Stick. The
problem was that you needed multiple players to pull it off. So I started
playing around with using my looper to essentially become the other players and
the entire opening loop for the tune was born.
Later that year I attended a Stick seminar on Salt Spring Island, a gulf island
off of Vancouver, British Columbia. It was a retreat style seminar and the
setting was really inspiring. Over the course of the long weekend, I finished
the tune and performed it in front of an audience for the first time during our
Sunday evening concert at the bed and breakfast where the seminar was being