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A hearty thanks to the following people for inspiring me to assemble this musical madness: Ben Chlapek, for making a mix of only my songs for his friends a few months back, even if it meant they might all (Gasp!) unfriend him on Facebook. Tim Herndon, for reminding me of how much I truly love music, and for teaching me to appreciate jazz. Danny J. Gibson, for always being supportive of my creative crimes. Sam Billen, for releasing untold quantities of his own free music to an unsuspecting and ultimately unforgiving public. You gentleman are all golden, my brothers. Would I, could I, melt you down and reform you as a statue of Kenny G. and hock you at a pawn shop, I would.
Like the Easter Bunny, who hides Easter eggs for children to find, I have long sought to hide my songs deep in the brains of listeners. Like David Bowie’s “Dance Magic Dance” (from the film Labyrinth), which spun like a Satanic seven-inch in my head during a chemistry exam I took in high school, I hoped my songs might likewise surface unbidden and drive unsuspecting listeners to unspeakable acts of madness.
With the rise of Napster, the advent of the MP3, the triumph of the iPod, the establishment of the home recording studio, and a smörgåsbord of songs to listen to courtesy of myriad music blogs, Last FM, Pandora, Spotify, and innumerable other providers, it now appears that my music is competing with the music of approximately a googolplex other artists who likewise fancy themselves to be musical Easter Bunnies – all hoping to hawk their wares and hide their songs in the hemispheres of listeners’ brains everywhere. That being said, this collection is simply another attempt to burgle your brain and plant songs in your subconscious where they can flower and fester and flicker like phantoms.
I once thought people would buy my music if only they would listen to it, but upon revisiting some of these songs I hear how amateur the recordings are, how lackluster my performances are, or how much I sound like a goose, honking at the dying of the light. There are mistakes in almost every recording that any producer worth his salt (or pepper) would edit or Autotune or beat into submission with a meat tenderizer. Still, I find all of these recordings endearing enough that, once again – like the Easter Bunny – I felt the need to gather all of my audio eggs into one basket. I figured the songs might carry considerably more klout collectively than any of them do individually. With a wiggle of my pink little bunny nose and a magician’s pronouncement (“Presto!”), they are now yours to download for free – and for better or worse.
This is not by any means a comprehensive anthology of my music. There are at least a hundred more songs, but most of them (if I recorded them) are even worse for the wear of the years. I may release some of them someday, but only in attempt to play the part of the Easter Bunny again, this time stuffing the brains of a disinterested public with rotten, sulfurous eggs – of course they would still be pastel pink or yellow or blue on the outside, you understand.
In Source Materials and Sorcerer Materials, there are recordings from every era of my musical misadventures, including my pretentious college days when I made music with Mark Thorne under the monolithic moniker, The Tragicomedy. Sure, the music we made at that time was essentially representative of an ongoing bout of artistic constipation, but it also yielded a number of songs I remain proud of to this day. There are a few unreleased demos here, and also songs I kept locked away for years and am only now setting free because I feel a bit sorry for them. Disc 2 opener “I’ll Keep You in Mind,” for example, sounded too much like Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” for my tastes back in 2004. But now everyone is pilfering Leonard Cohen, including Leonard Cohen, so why can’t I?
Disc 1 consists of my more recent, more polished studio recordings. It could probably stand alone as a very schizophrenic-sounding album with all of its genre-hopping (the bunny metaphors continue, and without any intentionality whatsoever). Disc 2 features additional polished studio recordings, and also highlights from my early days as a Legend in My Own Mind. Those recordings are more primitive, but I think the songwriting is still noteworthy. I could be wrong. There are also a number of demos, rerecorded songs from that era, and songs that never ever saw the light of day (Heaven forgive me for releasing them now). “Birds of the Morning,” for instance, is fairly forgettable except for the swooping, diving EBow sounds at the instrumental break, which I created in an attempt to simulate the sounds of birds (Surprise!) swooping and diving. Only you can determine whether this creative act constitutes a musical crime or a moment of inspired musical ineptitude.
On a decidedly more bizarre note, I have included two songs I wrote for my mother in honor of Mother’s Day (“Mamagueña” and “Madre”) and her love of flamenco music, although neither song qualifies as true flamenco music. Spaniards the world over would trounce these songs underfoot if they heard them, which is why I want to urge you to refrain from playing them for any of your Spaniard friends. The former will no doubt amuse you, and the latter – which closes Disc 2 – will warm the cockles of your heart.
Below I have written notes for each of the songs on this anthology. Feel free to read them while you listen. Also, I have credited production, performance, and songwriting duties in the ID tags of each MP3 for your convenience. Yes, a man can really overdo things when he is awake at 4:00 a.m., making sure his 7-week-old daughter is not squalling and shaking her fist like a fascist dictator. I hope, however, that you will enjoy the musical fruits of my mind. I played my best for you, pah-rum-pah-pum-pum …
1. Like Friends Becoming Lovers (2004) – I get more comments about this song than almost any other I song I have ever written, which strikes me as funny since it is the only love song I ever wrote with no one in particular in mind. It is about living too fast to notice the flowering of love, but also about demanding it to flower faster than it will. I am still learning to enjoy the journey and not just the destination. It is a life-long challenge for me.
2. When I’m Dark (2007) – I like noisy quiet songs. This is one such song. I feel like the religious life is a deeply conflicted one often times, so the coexistence of noise and quiet is no strange thing.
3. Wrecked Ships, Crashed Planes (2011 DJG Was Here LP Version) – I wrote this song for my friend, Kansas City artist Danny J. Gibson, and released it publicly in August this year via Danny’s free 35-song tribute record, DJG Was Here, which is still available for download here. Danny and I both had some lean, lonely years, and I wrote this for him in hopes that he and I both might find some redemption in the wreckage of life.
4. You Destroy Me (Drill ‘n’ Bass ‘n’ Ritalin Remix) (2005) – I wrote this song for a student film at Missouri State University. It was called The Last Lonely Man, and I was pretty much perpetually single at that point in my life, so I very much felt like the last lonely man. I still think it is one of the best songs I ever conjured. I wanted the percussion to be especially skittish, as I had been impressed by the nervous programming of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, which sounded especially itchy and inspired to my ears. I also thought it would be interesting to pair a mid-tempo song with hyperactive, caffeinated drum programming.
5. (A Different Kind of) Blue (2005) – I had recorded a demo of a throwaway folk song and left it for dead, only to hear it months later and find that I liked the musical bed beneath the decidedly uninteresting vocal melody I had settled for earlier. I stripped out the guitar part and wrote a whole new song over it. The guitars at the instrumental break have reverse reverb on them, and were tonally inspired by the stylings of Wish-era The Cure. I wanted the song to sound like an overly ambitious ’80s New Wave song settling down with a late ’80s shoegazer song for a blissful musical marriage.
6. (So Primitive) I Hunt Heads (2006) – I recorded this song in October 2006, two months after moving to Lawrence, KS, where my wife and I currently reside with our daughter Evie and five cats. I was lonely and disconnected from other human beings, spending most of my hours studying film for a PhD at the University of Kansas that would never materialize. No musical instruments of any kind were used in this recording. I programmed the drums, futzed around with the EQ so the lower end of things would throb and provide the illusion of a primitive, tribal melody, added my vocals and those terribly sophisticated lyrics (“Disconnected / dislocated / speak to me I’m / tired of waiting”) and, as the string players say, “Viola!”
7. Henry Darger (2007) – Inspired by Jessica Yu’s biographical documentary about Outsider Artist Henry Darger, I stitched the pieces of this disjointed musical behemoth together for an audio class I was enrolled in at the University of Kansas. My mom despises it, which is hilarious. I wanted the song to bring the listener into the disorder of Darger’s mind. Whether it does that or not is in the ear of the beholder. The man wrote a 15,145 page work of fantasy and painted hundreds of paintings to accompany it. Where does one even begin when it comes to paying musical tribute to such a fascinating person?
8. She Loves Like Codeine (Demo 2006) – I wanted the drums to sound like tidal waves, and the instrumentation to be minimalist like a Low song. It is not, in fact, a song about drugs. I only take prescription pills, after all, and according to my doctor’s instructions. Sorry, crackheads. At the time, I had been talking on the phone to the woman who would later become my wife, and she and her sister Katie jokingly suggested that I should write a song about codeine. They were both studying to become Physician Assistants, so medicine was par for the course for them. I wrote this and liked the lyric “Sometimes a friend / cuts you open / so you can heal again,” but later realized I had ripped off Matmos’s album title, Chance to Cut is a Chance to Cure. Oh well. Sorry, Matmos. You’ll never hear this anyway. If you do, let me know what you think.
9. You Brighten the Room (Written 2000, Recorded 2004) – One of my friends told me this song was horribly boring,which I now find humorous. I wrote it for a girl who thought it was nice, but just wanted to be friends. I know. Tale as old as time. Song as old as rhyme. (I am going to burst out into song now.) I had also read an interview with Alan Sparhawk from Low, and he had talked about the spaces in the band’s songs, and I liked this idea. I, too, wanted to write a song where a listener could inhabit a space. “Why not take this idea literally, Chad? Write about a room! That will be so clever!” Exactly.
10. The Hiding Song/The Fourth of July (2007) – I wrote this in March of 2006 for the woman who would become my wife, and for her twin as well. Becki and I were just friends at the time, and she and Katie asked me to write them a song. When they heard it, they said “Oh, you wrote us, like, a real song.” I guess they were anticipating a fake song, whatever that is. After recording the song the day I wrote it, I recorded the sounds of the Fourth of July a year later. The cicadas were especially deafening in Lawrence that summer, and I was fascinated by how the microphone could pick up the sound of the cicadas so nearby, and the sounds of the fireworks so far away. I liked the idea of hiding somewhere between the cicadas and the exploding fireworks in the sky, and decided to pair my field recording with the song.
11. Pretty (Written 2000, Recorded 2007) – Cry me a river. Seriously. This thing is melodramatic, and it also made the girl I wrote it about “pretty” mad at me. Chalk it up to emotional immaturity and OCD. But I still think the music is pretty all the same. My attempt at a Morrissey song, as I was listening to Vauxhall and I quite obsessively at the time.
12. The Streetlamp Song (Light for a Walk in the Dark) (2004) – I was obsessed with slide guitars for awhile, and I still own a glass slide. It looks like a piece of drug paraphernalia. People would hear my slide guitar lines and remark, “Them slide guitars there sound Hawaiian, Chad! Har har har!” “No, they don’t,” was my eternal reply. “They sound like slide guitars, moron. Hawaii is really, really far away. In fact, why don’t you go there?”
13. Avenue (Champagne from the Water Mains) (Written 1998, Recorded 2007) – This is one of the earlier songs I wrote. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Starflyer 59 (most notably, their Fashion Focus LP), and also some pretty little ’50s and ’60s songs that had this certain feel to them. The recorded version rocks harder than I had originally imagined the song would, but I think my former self would approve of it all the same.
14. All Her Colors (Written 1999, Recorded 2004) – Tragicomedy collaborator Mark Thorne wrote a poem (a rare thing for him), and I liked it enough that I wanted to use it as a song lyric. The original title of the piece was “Turning Once Too Late,” but I thought that made no sense whatsoever (Sorry, Mark). I changed the title after Mark moved to Iowa to work on his PhD in Classics. We once performed this at a coffeehouse in Springfield, MO and absolutely destroyed the vocal harmonies. It is such a simple song, too, so I have no idea how we managed to botch it so badly. It was like two chefs banding together, only to find that the two of them cannot even make a proper salad without burning it.
15. Elizabeth’s Song (Written 1999, Recorded 2006) – I wrote this for a girl named Elizabeth. As you might have guessed. It was an alt-country Wilco-ish piece written before I ever heard an alt-country Wilco-ish piece. I love how it’s a love song that declares the relationship doomed during the opening stanza. I was always good at self-fulfilling prophecies before I enrolled in therapy. Poor girl. Poor me. Poor 1999. I look back on it all very fondly now, and wonder how I managed to drive so many relationships over the same, tired cliff. It was nice to find out in 2004 that my brain was legitimately broken, because I knew I did not particularly enjoy the explosion that resulted every time I drove over that cliff. It was nice to know that something else was behind it all, working me like a puppet.
16. Stretch Toward the Sun (2004) – There is another version of this song that features a chorus of sorts, rather than the instrumental breaks that fill in the gaps on this recording. I like the sunny sounds Matt Fillingham and I came up with for this recording, and I later added my own bass and percussion tracks to it to brighten things up even more. I wrote this song about myself, hoping I could somehow figure out how to get over all my weird hangups as a 2o-something freak. Thank you, Therapy. Thank you, God. Thank you, Wife. I have progressed since those days (or so I like to think).
1. I’ll Keep You in Mind (2004, Unreleased Demo) – I call this a demo because I hate the falsetto vocal part that comes in two-thirds of the way through the recording, but I suppose it’s only twice as awful as I think it is. The song is prettier than I remember it being, and I figured it was time to let it play with all of my other songs instead of keeping it locked up like a musical Kaspar Hauser. Yes, the recording is a little primitive, but it is one of the first songs I ever recorded by myself digitally, and I knew little about mixing or mastering, so cut me some slack. Buy me some slacks, too, while you’re at it. I am getting fat.
2. Memories (2003, from the In Faith EP) – One of my friends lost her dad when she was very young, and her mother gave me a series of poems she had written in the wake of his death. She commissioned me to write songs that used those poems as lyrics, and I wrote the majority of them in DADGAD tuning during the summer of 2002, which I spent in Kobryn, Belarus. I taught myself how to play the guitar in a totally different way that summer, and loved every minute of it. This is one of the resulting songs – the only one where the recording quality does not make me cringe. At the time, I had no home recording studio, so the woman who commissioned the songs hired a local studio to record me. A nice, older gentleman recorded my songs in one day, and when I asked if we could double-track my vocals he looked at me as though I’d asked him if we could record a flatulence solo as an instrumental break. He double-tracked me in the end, but he mixed the second vocal way down in the recording. Thanks, Pops.
3. My Magnetic North (2004) – I think this is the best, most heartfelt song I ever wrote. The recording is not perfect, but I think it works well enough. I had become close friends with two graduate students – Kai and Rae – who hailed from Minnesota and North Dakota, respectively. They were about to graduate and return to their native lands, and I suddenly realized we would no longer be spending hours together, watching horror films and complaining about awful student speeches from the public speaking courses we taught. I was genuinely saddened by the prospect of their departure, and could not help but write a song about them. I wrote and performed the song in DADGAD tuning. Rae had a Pedro Martinez baseball card taped to the dashboard of her car, and she said when he finally fell off, she would know it was time for her to leave Springfield.
Photo above by Jennifer Riley née Cline (L to R: Mark Thorne, CTJ, and Rebecca Fillingham née Boeckel).
4. Calendar Song (1998, from the La Femme LP) – Another song from the Catalog of Doomed Relationships. Probably the song I played the most in my college days at coffeehouses. I thought it was so clever until I heard Simon & Garfunkel’s “April Come She Will” and realized Paul Simon beat me to the punch years ago.
5. Shifting (1998, from the La Femme LP) – The darkest song I ever wrote besides “The End Was Here All Along,” which may yet someday see a proper recording and release. I know it was really dark because every girl I dated during college would hear it and say, “Uh … if uh … if we break up, um … please, uh … please don’t write a song like that. Ever. Because, um, that would just break, uh, my heart. Um, wow. That is just, like, so tragic and stuff, um.”
6. Meaning & Subtitles (2011 Remaster from All the Ghosts I Know LP) – While the lyric is pretty dreadful, I still think the song is pretty. Mark Thorne kept telling me he had come up with a lyric or a melody line or something like that for this song while he was in the shower, but he had forgotten it. Which was terribly helpful.
7. Why Can’t I Love You So? (Live) (Remaster from All the Ghosts I Know LP) – Hilariously enough, the answer to the question this song poses is, “Because you have OCD, Chad! Your brain chews girls up like tobacco and spits ’em out! Go to therapy, and you’ll never need to write another song like this one again!” Even more hilarious is the waltz time signature I wrote this in, which was a pretty obvious homage to Elliott Smith’s waltzes.
8. Winter, I Wouldn’t Know (Written 1999, Rerecorded 2006) – After hearing this, Mark Thorne said, “Rebecca and I listened to this song yesterday, and we were just like, ‘What is this about? This doesn’t make any sense at all!” I wanted to say, “But don’t you get it, man! These are deep, impressionistic lyrics! I am a genius!” In reality, it was par for the Doomed Relationship Course as usual. These are the things you think but do not say when you are 21 and full of it. Later, Rebecca would hear the Red House Painters’ song “I Hear the Rain Fall,” and say, “So that’s where you got the melody for this song from, Chad!” In other words, “You plagiarized this song, Chad! I get it now! Good job, Chad!” But I heard that Red House Painters record after I wrote this song. So Rebecca’s claim was, in fact, patently false. Still, if I ever plagiarize anyone, it would be an honor to rip off Mark Kozelek. That man is supremely gifted.
9. Summer, My Fair One (Written 1998, Rerecorded 2006) – Thirteen years after writing it, I still love this simple little song. I thought it merited recording properly in 2006, and even threw in a double-octave guitar solo as an homage to the Beatles. It was inspired by a summer romance, and I thought it would be so smart to place it sequentially on this record after the winter-themed song. Because summer comes, uh, right after, uh, winter.
10. Sweet Kisses of the Summertime (2005) – My friend and flatmate for five years, Kris Wolfe, wrote this song. I recorded it for his album, but decided I had slaved away on the production of it long enough that I needed to release a version of it that featured my own vocals as well. The glockenspiel, courtesy of Christin Green, is real. The violins, courtesy of Kevin Ellis, are real. The nighttime sounds, recorded in my own backyard, are real.
11. Summer Days (2005, from Kris Wolfe’s Debut LP) – I wrote the music for this, and Kris wrote the lyrics. The album is available as a free download here. Production-wise, I spent forever on this and had to consult with outside help on how to reduce the impact of the noise floor on the drum track. With the help of friends, I created a crowd by having a few of us whoop and holler for a minute or so, only to loop and overlap those sounds so many times that it ended up sounding like a real crowd. The spoken French at the end is a translation of the song’s chorus read aloud by my friend Johanna Speizer née Mimbs. Last but not least, I think this song should really be called “Fun with pick slides,” because they steal the show if you ask me.
12. (Be Bop) I’m Bored and Buried Alive (2005, from Kris Wolfe’s Debut LP) – I am determined to make this a notable Halloween novelty track on par with Boris Pickett’s “Monster Mash.” I have already written at length about this track here.
13. Mamagueña (2005, Unreleased Mother’s Day Flamenco Song) – The title of the track is a play on the song “Malagueña.” I wrote the lyrics myself, using what was left in my brain of the two years of Spanish I took in high school. My mom liked it. Of course, she likes most things I record, with the exception of “Henry Darger.”
14. Striking Matches on the Sky (2005, Unreleased Instrumental) – I recorded this for the Last Lonely Man soundtrack along with “You Destroy Me.” It sounds like a cheap Coldplay song without Chris Martin’s vocals. It practically begs PBS to use it as a soundtrack for a commercial for a historical program about the space program.
15. The Night (2001, Unreleased Acoustic Demo) – The And Then Came Sunday version of this song has these loud clangy ride cymbals on it that I thought sounded good at the time, but now they make me groan. Midway through the song, I miss a cymbal hit, and it becomes readily apparent that the drums should be ditched altogether. But that’s okay. There is still salvation for this song in the form of this demo version I recorded on Scott Newton’s 4-Track TASCAM recorder. I like it much better in retrospect. I still dislike the lyric. It was about a date where this girl and I held each other for a few hours, and I tried to kiss her, but she just wanted to hug. It was every bit as awkward as it sounds. Why I chose to write about it I do not know. I may as well have written about getting food stuck in my braces in 8th grade.
16. My Sweet No One (2002, from And Then Came Sunday LP) – I wrote a poem in high school and used it as the inspirational cue for this piece. Nothing like a piece of high school poetry about feeling sorry for yourself to make you sit up straight and write a song, I tell you. It’s enough to make you weep openly, isn’t it?
17. Loneliness Is a Song (2002, from And Then Came Sunday LP) – I wrote this after seeing the film High Fidelity all by myself at a theater in St. Louis on a Friday night. After typing up the notes to all these older songs, the words “by myself,” “alone,” “lonely,” and “doomed relationship” sure do come up a lot, don’t they? I was a very different person then, and I can laugh about it now. But back then I had to write songs to comfort myself when I was feeling blue. Now I just tweet my feelings and say things like, “My book is never coming out,” or “I hate my blog,” or “My art is terrible. I’m not a real artist. I just doodle.” I guess I am still the same.
18. Birds of the Morning (2005 Unreleased Demo) – Enjoy this narcolepsy-inducing bit of pop piffle. I think it’s alright, but mostly I am just amused by the swooping bird EBow parts, which I thought were brilliant when I recorded it. Lots of perfectly dreadful things were created by people who thought what they were doing was brilliant at the time. If you do not believe me, see Troll 2, and then see Best Worst Movie. Just do it.
19. Madre (Unreleased 2004 Flamenco-Flavored Mother’s Day Instrumental) – For my mom, Holly Jo Johnston.