During the time in which Small Sins had stopped touring in 2009, I began work on a new record. Actually, I guess I’m never not working on something that might be a song for a potential record. I made what I thought might be a whole album’s worth of material, but ended up scrapping it to begin on a new vision – the album that would become ‘Pot Calls Kettle Black’ in 2010. With the overflow of demos and B-sides from that album, all the unused material from 2009, and all the other little things I do on the side, it was important to me to showcase the lost material somewhere. So begins the ‘Song Of The Week’ feature. Each week I will be posting and talking about a different song that didn’t make it to the new record. Sometimes this material is under-produced, sometimes it’s a finished product. Some songs just didn’t fit aesthetically with the other material – I tend to veer out of my ‘genre’ by accident from time to time – and some are only 30-second ideas that I never got around to finishing. What they all have in common is a place in my heart – and in that heart, a desire to have all of it heard by someone. Please enjoy.
It’s amazing to me sometimes how different someone can interpret a song, and this is no exception. Our good friend Jaan of the new band Videodromes did this 80’s’esque cover of Pot Calls Kettle black that I can’t get enough of. It’s so different than the song I wrote and recorded, but works. Enjoy the dancing you’re about to do:
Today in an interview I was reminded once again of one of the reasons why the Song Of The Week is so appealing to me. It’s because the songs I post here just don’t seem to have a home anywhere else. For one reason or another, they don’t fit into the sequence of a record I’m about to put out, whether it be because of genre or quality. If I write a power-pop song for fun, it’s not going to end up on a record. There will never be a cover song on a Small Sins record. (Actually that might be a lie: Steve and I have been talking about covering The Monks’ ‘Bad Habits’ from start to finish one day. I digress.) ??The point is that for the most part, these songs don’t have another home besides right here on this page. This song is the ultimate example of that. I wrote this rock song awhile back, but fought it and fought it. It’s a full on guitar rock song, and is that what I’m supposed to be about? Is that what Small Sins fans want to hear from me? No.
But the song is so damn catchy. I wasn’t even trying to write it. These words came to me by accident, and no matter how I tried to produce it, it just kept working only as a rock song. It’s frustrating to have to dump something so catchy because you’re supposed to fit into a certain genre of music, but it happens. This song could be a hit….. for someone that ISN’T me.
And I guess that’s been one of my struggles as a musician. Bands that do well are bands that are easy to market. Press needs to be able to classify you so they can write about you. They have to be able to say what you sound like. And for fans to introduce you to other fans, they need to be able to talk about you in the same way. They need to classify what you are in order to be able to have that conversation with a friend.
Yet as hard as I try to make concise records, it never really translates that way. What is the Small Sins sound? Turns out it’s a lot of things. For a song like ‘Deja Vu’ to be on the same record as a song like ‘Everything You Need’ is kind of crazy. It’s all over the place genre-wise, and makes me harder to classify. And that’s on a record where I’m trying to be consistent!! Just imagine if I stuck a song like this one on the last record. Then you would all be REALLY confused.
So, a good song gets scrapped because it just doesn’t fit in anywhere. It’s a shame, but these things happen. I wish that some rock band would cover it one day, and the song could find its rightful home. Like all of us, it needs to find its niche. Sad really, but at least we can enjoy it here.
It’s been a year or two since my local bar – The Tap – shut down and was later replaced by a bicycle shop, and I still miss it all the time. I’ve never been very fond of making plans to go out. I always preferred to make the decision of whether to leave the house or not at the last minute, and not let anyone down if I changed my mind. I loved going there just to have a drink with whomever happened to be out that night. Everyone I knew ended up there eventually anyway, thus on any night of the week I could accidentally see someone I hadn’t caught up with in years, or have another with someone I see every day. Or just hang out with the bartenders. It didn’t matter to me, I could just go there and not have to worry about whether the night would be short or long, or who I would spend it with. It got to the point where if someone wanted to see me, they didn’t bother calling, they just came. And given its proximity to my home – only a few blocks – it was just too easy.
I’ve been in the Annex in one way or another for 17 years. I went to high school a few blocks away. Some of my first underage drinking was at The Tap’s sister bar, Las Iguanas: tequila shots with breakfast on lunch break. At 18 when I moved out of my parents’ house, it was to an apartment above the futon store with a front window that literally faced The Tap. I lived in Little Italy for a few years after that, but eventually ended up back in the old neighborhood. As long as I was close to The Tap, I would never need to take a cab anywhere or bother getting on a bike. Now that The Tap is gone, I kind of feel like moving. Like there’s nothing left for me here now that we’re overrun by college kids in the bars and yuppies on the residential streets with nothing to offset the situation except shitty tea shops and mediocre sushi restaurants…. I’m just not sure where I would go.
It wasn’t a particularly fancy place – not at all, actually. A dive, in fact. There were Elvis busts painted in Kiss makeup, hundreds of photos of patrons framed in a collage at the back – although for some reason the photos were only of people who drank there ten years ago, never to be updated with current regulars. An old version of Golden Tee that I now have in my living room (it gets played at home about as much as I ever played it at the bar – that is: none). The kitchen had the best burgers in town, as well as the ‘Hot Thom’: french fries with cheese and bacon named after me because I sarcastically threatened to no longer drink there if I didn’t get my own menu item. Dave put a little picture of me the size of an asterix beside it on the menu card. You could order food right up until 2am, although you might get in trouble if you tried to do it at 1:59 and Cherry had already cleaned the kitchen. However, you could call there at 1:59 and have them put drinks in the fridge for you, show up at 2:30 after a gig to chug the pitcher, and if Chris or Jay were game, stay there drinking with the curtains closed until it got light out. Sometimes you would finish up there barely able to walk, and they would give you a bill for like nine bucks or something. Glorious.
This song is a cover of a song I used to hear at The Tap all the time. Every time Dave (bar manager and former drummer of The Pursuit Of Happiness) used to DJ, he would play this song. I literally heard it there dozens and dozens of times. It would often get stuck in my head the next day, and eventually I just had to record a version of my own. Then Dave started playing my version back to back with the original Robert Palmer version every time. C’est la vie.
And now that it’s closed? I just don’t really bother leaving the house much anymore. I mean, I’m not a hermit. I go out from time to time, but not near as much as I used to. It happens regularly that I am sitting at home, watching TV at 11pm. I might want to leave the house, but have no plans, don’t know where to go and don’t know who to call. That’s when I miss The Tap the most. I just don’t know what to do with myself half the time, and there’s no lazy way to see what’s going on outside. I could travel somewhere random and stop in, but what if there’s no one there? A half hour walk for nothing? I’m way too lazy for that. And even if I did, it wouldn’t be MY local. So I just stay in and do nothing. I miss the Tap.
Remember weeks ago when I posted a version of ‘Threw It All Away,’ with Les rapping on top? And how that was supposed to be the only other known instance of rapping over Small Sins music? Well it looks like I forgot one. This is even older, and features none other than our Steve as the rapper! The thought that such a thing exists is making me chuckle the same way I did when we made this together oh so long ago. OMG. Hilarious.
It seems like a lot of the tracks that have been making it here are pieces of music that were rejected by their intended users; this one is no exception. Years ago there was an open call to write a theme song for a cartoon called ‘Chop Socky Chooks’, for which various local indie rockers were submitting tunes. This was long before I ever started writing for any television or advertising, and one of the first things I can remember submitting on a corporate level. Steve and I got together one afternoon and banged this off.
I feel like if I were recording this song today, it would be a whole lot better. There is a whole lot of fat to trim. We should have made a 30-second version that gets to Steve’s rap much more quickly. Sonically there is a lot to be desired as well, and these days I would have gone way overboard with a harmony as opposed to my puny little falsetto, but I guess hindsight is 20/20. You can’t deny how funny this is to us though. I mean: It’s Steve… rapping.. I don’t know how to put it into words, but man… Priceless.
I often fantasize about re-doing old material. I feel like if I knew then what I know now, there are a lot of things I would have attacked differently. Especially some really old Carnations stuff.
On our first record, ‘Superluminal’, we mixed the vocals really low. This was because I couldn’t sing, and everyone knew it. We figured if we buried my voice enough, people might not notice. One of the songs on that record was called ‘Let Me Be Your Ferris Bueller’, which I recently sold to a documentary on the life of John Hughes (appropriately titled: ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’). Luckily, because the vocals were so quiet on the original, I was able to overdub a completely new vocal take. I tried to mimic the sound of my voice fourteen years ago – it was slightly higher-pitched, and MORE nasal back then than it is now, believe it or not – and once the overdub was completed, you couldn’t hear the old one at all. So essentially it’s a duet between my 31-year old and my 17-year old selves.
I mentioned to Steve the other day about sometimes imagining re-doing more of that old stuff. He told me that was ‘perverted.’ I think he’s right: What’s done is done, and what’s on record stands. I really liked some of those songs, though they just weren’t quite executed correctly. Specific lyrics bother me, production techniques, artwork, you name it. I don’t hate it all, but I truly believe most of it could have been so much better. I guess I have regrets. And it’s not that there is a never-ending road, and that what I’m doing now will be critiqued harshly by my sixty-year old self or something. I could feel back then what I didn’t like about what I was doing, but in frustration couldn’t figure out how to do it right.
But alas, my time needs to be focused on executing new material ‘correctly’, not re-living old frustrations. So, our deservedly rejected version of ‘Chop Socky Chooks’ in its original glory stands. What’s cool about this is that even though I might do this song differently today, the vibe is still there. A good song will always translate regardless of its presentation, a saving grace for so much of my old material. In cases where the vibe still translates, who cares about the quality? In cases where it doesn’t, maybe it just wasn’t a great song to begin with. Either way, there’s no need to waste my time revisiting anything at all.
I am grateful to Mr. Lindy Vopnfjord for covering this one. It’s great to hear someone else interpreting one of your songs, and I think he did a pretty good job of it.
Lindy and I have done a bunch of work together in the past, most notably in ‘Major Maker’, Todor and Lindy’s band for which I was the bass player and he was the singer. He’s also appeared on a couple of Small Sins songs doing a backup vocal here and there. One of the best singers around, I hope he finds time to make a new record soon.
Here are a bunch of links to various Lindy things for those of you who don’t know him:
Today is Christmas Day, so naturally I am reminded of the only song about the holidays I’ve ever written: ‘Happy Holidays.’ It’s funny how you can feel a certain way when you write a song, and listen to it ages later and be reminded of the same emotional headspace – especially if it’s a song you wrote on Christmas one year, and you listen to it on Christmas of another. I think I feel pretty much the same way every Christmas, thus it’s especially easy to transport myself back in time to the day I wrote this.
I suppose Christmas is a very happy time for some, and a totally depressing time for others. Maybe it’s the one time of year you see your family, or maybe it’s the one time of year you’re reminded that you have none. There are enough shitty Hollywood movies that illustrate every possible scenario and cliché. You know them all, and you probably live one of them too. Either way, I think we can all agree that this day means something to everyone, for better or worse.
I’m always struck by the split that Christmas creates in relationships. For the most part, if you’re ‘with someone’, you either have to choose whose family to spend it with (splitting the families), or you have to go your separate ways and each have your own individual holiday experiences (splitting the couple). For me, it’s always been the latter. On one hand I am visiting my family – which is nice – but I’m sort of leaving another family behind when I do so.
So this song is for all the boys that miss their girlfriends on the big day. You’re both having similar experiences at the same time, yet you are totally apart. I can’t think of another event that a couple can share so closely, yet experience completely independently of one another. It’s confusing, isn’t it?
‘Confusing’ is a good word for the holidays. Seeing your parents is good, but it’s also frustrating, right? Nagging is caring, loving is arguing and boredom is togetherness. I wouldn’t call it fun, but I wouldn’t call it bad. I wouldn’t call it relaxing, but it’s supposed to be. It’s not necessary, but I would never miss it. The whole thing is ripe with contradictions.
Anyway, Merry Christmas to all of you who read this feature, and whomever you’re spending your holidays with, try to think of the ones who you’re not with as well. Our social lives are a complex web that can’t be covered in one day, and like kids realize Santa can’t possibly deliver all those gifts in one night, neither can we deliver all our ‘holiday spirit’ to all those that we care about on one day. That task will take us all the rest of the days of the year.
Since I’ve been home these last couple of weeks, I’ve been totally bored and lazy. I sleep too much, and accomplish very little with my days. I’ve barely left the house, but when I do, I am inundated with Christmas music wherever I go. Every store is playing it in the background, and I might find this annoying except that I think I’m pretty good at blocking it out. It all becomes white noise in the end. No harm, no foul. I’m sure many of us have the same experience.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes I let my guard down for just a moment and listen to what’s playing, and when I do, I am instantly annoyed. Yet, as annoying as the whole genre is, for some reason I still feel the need to add to it.
Here is a rendition of ‘Deck The Halls’, but on a Devo tip. The great thing about having recorded this is that if I do happen to accidentally open my ears – in the case of this song at least – I am reminded of how fun this version is instead of how un-fun the version I am actually hearing is. Perhaps it can serve the same purpose for you. Sort of a ‘serenity now’ avoidance strategy against the whole thing, allowing you to do your shopping in peace.
In November of 2010, after a Canadian tour, I was left in charge of getting our van and its contents back to Toronto from Vancouver in one piece. This was an incredibly long drive, but with Steve as my navigator – he doesn’t have a drivers license – we made the fifty hours of drive time in four days. And what better thing to do on a boring drive for such a long time than record stop motion videos along the way. We filmed all of these clips using our iPhones, capturing the drives through the B.C. mountains, over the prairies, down through North Dakota, through Chicago and home to Toronto. It felt like the images would go well with the most ‘ambient’ song on the record, so now I suppose ‘Everything You Need’ is the retroactive soundtrack for our journey.
‘Keep track of yellow lines, you check your watch too much.’ This is another gem from ‘The Mellow EP,’ and I think the only song of mine that references driving, and I’ve been doing a whole lot of that this week. I drove the van home, from Vancouver to Toronto, with Steve as the navigator. The rest of the band had gone their separate ways after the last show of the tour, and that left me to get the equipment back home safely. Approximately fifty hours of driving time altogether, with a nineteen-hour shift to finish off the home stretch. This is probably the longest drive I have ever done or will ever do by myself, but it was ok. I had known for months that I would be doing it, thus was emotionally prepared.
So while Kevin went off to the Grey Cup, and Brent was dropped off at his home in Vancouver, Steve and I had to kill a whole lot of time in the van. We listened to a couple of audio books (Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, and the new Stephen Hawking book – which, I was disappointed to learn, is not narrated by the man himself). We made stop-motion videos of much of the drive, which I think will be stitched together eventually to make another video, maybe for ‘Everything You Need.’ We stopped in Regina for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants (La Bodega), I wrote songs in my head when we weren’t listening to music, and got super into it when we were. But mostly, we drove. And drove. And drove.
But like I said, I was prepared for it. When you have an experience in life, its classification as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is often buried in the context of what your expectation was prior to the event. You know when everyone tells you how amazing some new movie is? You get hyped to see it, and it seems mediocre because the reviews have made your expectation of it too high. I found this with ‘The Hangover.’ Everyone said it was the funniest movie they had ever seen, and it was pretty good, but no matter how funny it ended up being, it could never meet the impossible expectations that had been established in my head. The same can work in reverse. A moderately good thing might seem ‘extra good’ because of the context that you as the viewer bring to it.
So, knowing for months in advance that I would be making an impossibly long drive made the actual experience not too big of a deal. The same can be applied to my rating of the tour we just finished. I feel like I brought my expectations to every city, and they either were or were not met from night to night. We expected to play to a good crowd in Ottawa. When the crowd was light, it fell short of an expectation and thus made the show a failure in our minds. At the same time, we expected to play to no one in Calgary: It was cold as hell (just outside of town was the coldest place on earth that night – beat out Antarctica with a temperature of -65 degrees without the windchill), it was a Monday night, and odds were against us, but people still showed up! Not the most I’ve ever played to, but I still considered it a full on victory.
And of course a show’s ‘goodness’ is not totally dependent on the audience. That has a lot to do with it, but we’ve had bad shows to great audiences and good shows to horrible audiences in the past. Still, the size of a crowd can often dictate your mood going into it. We had good shows on this tour, and we had bad ones, but that is all according to my expectations of what they would be. My fault, really. What’s important is that you keep moving, and stay positive for the next thing, which we did and we will. The good life is near.