Category Archives: General

Why Radio Won’t Die

I had two shots of espresso this morning, and as a result, I had about 100 ideas all at once. One of them was that if I compromised a little bit of my physical health, it might not be a such a bad idea to make more of a habit out of caffeine (I usually only do the stuff socially). Another was that maybe it’s okay for me to blog; maybe that’s what journalism is now: millions of amateurs expressing opinions on a range of topics on a variety of weblogs, out of which only the most empathic of us can discern any kind of truth (and maybe that’s a good thing). But what I want to talk about today is the hot button issue of our time: radio.

And I’ll keep it short, because I have a short list of long things to do today.

I’ve heard people say that radio is “dying” or even that it’s “dead.” I disagree. This morning, on a car trip, I was forced into a radio-listening situation (I didn’t bring my tapes with me / yes, Micah, I used your car). At first I was lamenting the existence of the advertisements and the dj’s, and then the coffee kicked in, and I started to not have a problem with the dj’s and I started to like the advertisements (once you get past the unwieldy lyrics to the Mattress Discounters jingle, it’s pretty catchy).

When I finally settled on a station that was playing some music, I heard a song that I’d never heard before that I really enjoyed, and it had no lyrics, and the song ended, and the dj didn’t say who it was, and I’ll probably never know what that song was (or if it was indeed a song at all) or who wrote it. The feeling I got from that experience was something I hadn’t felt for over a decade, and something I didn’t realize I missed. My main complaint with radio when I was a teenager was that I didn’t get enough information about the music. I always wanted total choice in my music, and methods by which I could search for exactly what I wanted without relying on serendipity. I wanted a clear and easy system with which to manage the matching of my tastes to the art that is out there. The internet gave me that. Modern technology has made my search for art so effortless that it’s often overwhelming. What used to be an endless and agonizing pursuit for aesthetic beauty has become an endless and agonizing process of weeding out what doesn’t move me. It used to be that I would travel a tortuous road full of dead ends to find the music that I liked, and when I found it, it was like finding the hidden gold of the secret mummy. But these days I hear absolutely everything, and I have to sort through it to find what I really want to listen to (i just said the exact same thing twice in a row…pick which way you like the best and forget the other one). It used to be that when I arrived at some new music, my ears were eager and starved, but these days, when I arrive at new music, my ears are just tired. I feel bad that I don’t give artists I discover now the same treatment I would have given them if it were fifteen years ago.

So, in the hopes of improving my own experience, I’m going to make it a point to go to the radio occasionally. I don’t want to return to the past, because I like having choices. I just think that sometimes I will exercise my right to choose to not have a choice. And as long as there are a small number of people that also want to have that choice, radio will not die, it will just shrink to match the demand.

I’m sure I’m saying something that’s been said a thousand times before on other blogs. But only on my blog will you see the phrase “gold of the secret mummy.” I have been Johnny Unicorn, please remember to tip your barista.

P.S. I won’t link you to the Mattress Discounters jingle for copyright reasons, but it would be regretful if you didn’t find that song somehow and listen to it.

P.P.S. I’m not advertising for Mattress Discounters. You can count on me to be the first to promote the idea of not wasting money on mattresses. Just get a foam pad with some cloth upholstered to it, or find someone who’s getting rid of a mattress. However, I’d be inclined to change my mind if some mattress store wanted to hire me to write a jingle.

Good and Evil – volume one

I was thinking about good and evil, and this is what I came up with:

If good and evil switched, it would be weird for a couple of days, and then we would get used to it and it would be just like before, like with upside-down goggles.

Top Favorite Albums

Here are the albums that I like the most, in no particular order:

Frank Black “Teenager Of the Year” – A friend of mine in high school once said “there are two kinds of people in the world: ‘Surfer Rosa’ fans and ‘Doolittle’ fans.” I asked him “What if you like ‘Bossanova?'” He replied “then you’re just a Frank Black fan.” The Pixies is one of my favorite bands. They are gritty and raw, and their sounds are haunting, and they are completely unique. When Black Francis went solo, and changed his name, he got kind of cheesy in some ways. In the Pixies, he seemed like a scary genius, but by himself, he seemed somehow different. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was the sunglasses. Nevertheless, his second album remains one of my top favorites of all time, and while the Pixies may have written some of my favorite songs, none of their albums stick out to me as being a favorite album. “Doolittle” is very close, however. Despite being kind of cheesy, “Teenager Of the Year” is so full of kick-ass songs that it never gets boring. There is not one skippable track on the album. If I hear “Whatever Happened To Pong?” I have to stick around all the way to the end of this double album. On long drives in my silent car, I often play this album back from start to finish in my head. That’s how much I like it.

Cornelius “Point” – My good friend and colleague, Jamie Grefe, introduced this album to me in his living room when we were in college. He put it on, and I was instantly blown away. I had never heard anything like this music. After hearing this album, I understood why major seventh chords were invented.

Frank Zappa “Uncle Meat” – I was first introduced to Zappa when I was 12. The album was “Absolutely Free” and I loved it. It proved you can make a good album without practicing your instruments, and it’s complete disregard for other people’s ears made the album special to me. A couple years later, I was looking for more Zappa and I stumbled on “Uncle Meat” in the store. I really liked the album cover. I got it on tape, because it was a single tape, and the compact disc was double and cost twice as much. I’ve never heard it on vinyl. Between the three formats, I don’t think any track lists are the same. It is possible that I have never actually heard the real album. In any case, this album made me rethink everything about my life. The sounds were so beautiful and weird. And it’s the perfect combination of orchestral work, rock and roll, jazz and comedy. It never gets old. Listening to it is like drinking a glass of water: necessary.

They Might Be Giants “Lincoln” – TMBG is my favorite band, as you may have heard. This is my favorite album by them. Perhaps my favorite album of any band. If I had to bring one album to a desert island, it would be this one, so long as there was a record player (if all I could do was look at an album, it would be something with more artwork, like Jon Anderson’s ‘Olias Of Sunhillow’). 18 songs, and not one of them even hints at making me want to skip to the next track. This album also has some of my favorite lyrics ever.

Magma “M.D.K.” – My friend Alan turned me on to this band. First he lent me a cd of “M.D.K.” and I dismissed it as…i don’t know…too something. Too operatic? Then I saw the band live, and I understood. Then I relistened to the the album, and I understood. This band stands alone…sweaty, hairy and alone.

Phish “Junta” – When will you jerks stop pigeon-holing Phish as a jamband? These are four top-notch composers and players. This, my favorite of their albums contains almost entirely pre-composed material. This album goes against everything else that was happening in the eighties. It has perfectly phrased lyrics, and the singing makes me smile (probably because it sounds like they’re smiling as they sing). And the album cover is awesome. There is nothing wrong with this album. Good lyrics, musical ideas and playing.

Genesis “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway” – This one’s a bit obvious. Maybe I should take it off the list. But it’s such a cool album. Don’t take it off the list. Maybe I should…but if this comes off, “Duke” is going up, and we can’t have that. Ugh.

Frank Zappa “We’re Only In It For the Money” – First, I heard “Absolutely Free” and loved it. Then I got “Freak Out” and I loved it. Then I went for the beautiful compact disc of this album, and I loved it. Plus it had “Lumpy Gravy” on the disc as well, so bonus! And what strange production for the sixties! I wouldn’t call it one of my favorite albums of all time, but I loved it all the same. I loved the album for fifteen years, and then someone told me the story about how Zappa in the eighties hired his then current bassist and drummer to replace all the bass and drum parts on “We’re Only In It For the Money” and made it sound bad. “What do you mean, bad?” I said. My friend explained to me the exact details of the bass and drum sound that had been changed on the album. “Hey, that sounds like the CD I own!” And sure enough, I got a hold of the REAL album, and it is ten times better. Wow, what a record. One of the best things recorded, I think. Even today, I am trying to rid my memory of that monstrosity that the record store owner allowed me to buy when I was just a kid. Why didn’t he warn me? Why didn’t Zappa warn me? Why did the eighties have this horrible effect on people? In any case, the original is a beautiful album.

King Crimson “Red” – The perfect King Crimson album. Short and to the point. Simple and effective. A perfect palindromic instrumental, a slow sad song with a heavy part, a fast scary song with a slow repetitive jam, a noise piece, and a jazz rock thing with a slow part and a really fast part. Slow, fast, loud, soft, guitar, trumpet, bass, sax…it’s got all the stuff in it. I think what makes this more likeable for me than, say “Starless and Bible Black” or “Lark’s Tongues In Aspic” is that it feels more balanced. Those other two albums seem to give a little too much weight to noodling for my taste. There’s something about the simplicity of “Red” that I really like. It feels like the album transpires in a logical fashion, when the other albums seem to be a bit more random. Maybe it’s just the album title.

Brian Woodbury “Brian Woodbury and His Popular Music Group” – When I was a teenager, the guy at the record store said “You like TMBG, right? then you’ll like this.” Boy, was he right. I listened to that album for 12 years before I even found out that Brian had other albums. His other albums are amazing, but this one still sticks out in my mind. Every song is a masterpiece of wordplay and noteplay. This album is pure euphoria from beginning to end.

Van Dyke Parks “Song Cycle” – Like everyone else, I was introduced to Van Dyke through Brian Wilson’s “Smile.” It turns out that Parks is at least as good of a composer as Wilson, and this album shows him at his best. He writes orchestral pop like it’s easy. I can’t even figure out how it’s possible to achieve some of the sounds that happen on this record. And his voice is amazing. No one sings like he does. He sings just like he talks…like a smiling old man in overalls. I couldn’t even think straight at 24 and this character makes an album like this? It makes me more angry than anything.

Brian Wilson “Smile” – You’ve heard this album already, right? Of course you have. I don’t even need to include it in this list, do I?

Anekdoten “Nucleus” – Okay, so they aren’t the best lyricists. I’ll give them a pass on that because they aren’t singing in their native language and this is one of the best things I’ve ever heard come out of speakers. This is scary music. Anekdoten is almost a metal band, but they’re too cool for metal. They’re often labeled as King Crimson wannabes, and there is certainly Crimson influence, but they are doing something way different. They are ice lords. This album will make you rethink having been born, to be sure, but you will come out of it with a positive outlook on life.

Paul and Linda McCartney “Ram” – Everyone’s second least favorite Beatle, I’ve been told, but Paul is one hell of a songwriter. Good lord, I love listening to this album. And people knock Linda for her voice. Phooey! I like her voice. I prefer this album to any Beatles album, although the white album has been moving up quickly on my list and could overtake it in the next decade if I listen to it enough.

Gentle Giant “Free Hand” – Gentle Giant is, of course, one of my favorite bands, and I can never decide which of their 3rd-7th albums is my favorite. So maybe they should all be on this list, but I don’t like Gentle Giant so much as to give them a quarter of a list of my top favorite albums. I suppose “Free Hand” has a lot of memories for me…the title track, “His Last Voyage” and “Just the Same” were the first songs I ever learned on bass guitar. The album is the rockinest, also. It seems a little less self-aware than the previous few albums. In any case, they’re all good albums.

Religious statement

A personal history of my spiritual development.

When I was 2, I saw some shirts float by the window, and look in menacingly.

When I was 4, I saw Santa Claus flying across the night sky.

When I was 5, I was curious why people were so interested in the “holly bibble.”

When I was 6, I decided that the dozens of transparent blobs floating around in my eyes at all times were angels.

When I was 7, knowing that God was everywhere all at once, I wondered if he watched me when I went to the bathroom.

When I was 8, knowing that God could read my thoughts, I wondered if he would be angry at me for trying to imagine him naked.

When I was 9, I thought demons were out to get me.

When I was 10, I thought Hell was a place where you just sat in the darkness for eternity, and had no interactions with anyone or anything, and I wasn’t sure exactly who was sent there.

When I was 11, I had my first religious experience: I created music. Since then, I have not seen supernatural things as necessary for my spiritual fulfillment, or for making sense out of the universe.

I hope this doesn’t alienate some of my fans, but I thought it would put into perspective some of the themes of my current and future music.

New Album 2011!

I know what you’ve been wondering. You’ve been wondering where I have been. Why hasn’t Johnny Unicorn seen the light of day since the start of Winter? Contained in this very blog post is the answer to that question, and possibly the answers to a few more.

I have been holed up in my room (and various other rooms) writing, recording, and mixing my new album, which ended up doubling in length when I added nearly forty more minutes of music to it. I have also been struggling to create the artwork for the album. I have also been booking the two month summer tour that is going to accompany the release of this album (and the release of my savings). Although I had help from a lot of people. On the album, I had much help, including drummer Alex Hamel, who not only played a bunch of instruments, but did the sound engineering for at least one quarter of the album. I had many guest musicians, who made the album much better…there are too many to name here. They’re listed on the album, but one thing I didn’t mention is the help of my live band, Naomi Adele and Rogelio G Garcia, who provided an extended collaborative improvisation during the middle section of the song “Aware Of the Bear.” This band will hopefully make appearances on future records. The Autumn Electric‘s Michael Trew has helped me with the booking a little bit. But even with all that help, I’ve still been spending all my time working on this project.

The album, “Thinking Hard To Overcome Nervousness,” will be released, if all goes according to plan, on Tuesday, June 14th. It will become available for purchase online and at shows on my tour on the classic compact disc format. It will be presented in a gatefold lp-style cover, and served in a protective sleeve. You will not be able to stop touching the cover, and you will not be able to stop looking at the beautiful silkscreen printing on the compact disc. You had better back it up once you get it, so that when you ruin the cd forever by touching it with your oily fingers, you will at least still be able to listen to this album, which is destined to be one of the last classics before the death of art.

There are twelve songs, divided into four parts. Part one is to make you smile. Part two is to make you embarrassed. Part three is to make you angry. And part four is to make you reconsider your recent purchasing decision. You are not obligated to listen to all 78 minutes and 51 seconds of this album in one sitting. You are allowed to take breaks in between each part. But you must listen to the entirety of each of the parts – uninterrupted –  if you truly want to have the full music experience.

Thank you for your patience. The album will be released shortly.

Johnny Unicorn’s Universe!

Each day lately has been an self-imposed mountain of work…work that does not pay (at least financially, in the short-term); work to provide services that only a very few people are actually asking for…I’m really just doing all this music for myself in the end. My upcoming album is very enjoyable for me. I’m only making it so I can have it, and so I can stop working on these songs, and move on to the next thing. The extra work I’ve been doing is preparing for the tour, so I can bring this stuff to all the people who might also benefit from it. If there are only 200 people in the entire world who would like my music, I want every single one of them to have it.  It would be so easy if I could know for sure that that was the limit of my fanbase. Then I would dispense with all this work and just send them what they need directly, and then i’d go to a trade school and get a full time job. Until I know who all my fans are, I’m doing this only for the love of it.

One thing I love is performing music with a group. I had a group performing just my songs back in 2001. The group was called Hoser. That was what I had called myself for the previous ten years.  It was an eye-opening experience. Hearing songs I wrote performed by a rock band was very nice. But it wasn’t long before that band got transmutated into a completely different band, and for about three years, I was only doing collaborative work, leaving my solo project on the backburner. In 2005 I started recording my own music. I was convinced of the impossibility of forming a band to play this music, since schedules were so hard to line up, and when I found out I could perform by myself and still put on a good show (i had made previous attempts to put on one-person solo shows that were very very boring), using my recently acquired sense of showmanship, I started doing that. And except for a couple of very brief one or two show bands, that was all I did.

After a year and a half in the city of Seattle, it seemed I would be around for a while,  so I started looking for a band. I found one. On bass synthesizer is Naomi Adele.  She also performs keyboard and various other instruments in the Autumn Electric. On the drum kit is Roy Garcia, who I saw at a show sitting in with a band and said “hey, be in my band,” and it happened. He and Naomi had also worked together in the past, so I knew that there could be good communication. We have performed two shows as of this writing, and there will be more in the future. I also am on the look out for a full horn section, and another guitarist. My eventual goal is to dispense with my own instruments altogether, so I can focus on dressing up in costumes and touching audience members.

This will be a picture-free post. I have no pictures of this band yet. I know there are people who took pictures at the last show.

Anyway, that’s it. I just wanted to tell you about my new band. I’m very happy about it. This summer, I will be touring by myself, since schedules and money don’t work out for a full band tour.

Recording, rehearsing, and other things…

I have not been writing about things I’ve been doing lately. I’ve been too busy doing the things that I would have written about. There is not enough time to do everything I would like to do.

Anyway, since I last wrote, I’ve had a few shows. All of them have been good…but that is all I can remember.

Mainly I have been recording, writing and rehearsing.

Recording:
a. three Johnny Unicorn albums (Not Afraid of the Open Space, Thinking Hard to Overcome Nervousness, and Heavy Jugs to the Moon). I have added an album onto my list because I wanted to make an album that contained all the “entertaining” songs I play live, including “Bullcrap” and “Aware of the Bear.”
b. at least one Phideaux album (Snowtorch…keys and sax). I have been playing keyboard bits here and there for a couple of years on this album, and I have heard this thing progressing into a monster of a piece of music. It will be coming out soon and it is going to be mind-blowing. I’ve heard it.
c. one Horace Pickett album (accordion, sax and bass clarinet). Horace Pickett is recording their debut album, and it sounds great. I’m excited to be a part of the band. It’s one of the best bands I’ve heard.

Rehearsing:
a. Johnny Unicorn band for future shows. I’ve been rehearsing a band consisting of me on guitar and possibly keyboard, Naomi on synth (mainly synth bass) and Roy on drums. We are rehearsing at a leisurely pace and when we are ready with a full set, we will take it to the stage. It’s going to be a tight, amazing band. I’m happy to be working with these people.
b. Phideaux for Rosfest 2011. Phideaux is playing Rosfest 2011, the big progressive rock festival out in Pennsylvania, “the Progressive Rock State.”

Writing: two Johnny Unicorn albums (Distant Exile and the Neapolitan). These two albums contain essentially four songs total. These are my longest songs to date. I’ve also written a couple of jokes.

Other than that, I’ve been drinking juice.

Johnny Unicorn new thing!

I just came across an old pile of music tapes and things. I have decided that, for those who sign up on my mailing list at www.johnnyunicorn.com, I will send a link to an unreleased mp3 every couple of weeks for as long as “makes sense.”

These mp3’s are going to be unreleased recordings. That means they were not fit to be heard by human ears. For those privileged few who decide they want to get e-mails from me, there will be an unending supply of unheard recordings waiting in some of those e-mails. They will be old, dirty, badly performed songs. They will be new, polished songs from three albums in the future. They will be audio recordings of things that are not music at all. They will be demonstrations of possible songs. They will be .mid files some of the time.

If you have chosen to receive this influx of noise from my audio library, you will get a rare look into the musical mind of Johnny Unicorn. The curtain will be torn open, and you will see the inner workings of the laboratory. Mysteries will be shattered, and the ugly truth beneath the surface will be revealed, slimy, squirming, screaming, often difficult to look at; often horrifying to hear. You will hear out of tune singing, unskilled guitar playing, recording that is below substandard, words that never should have been heard.

It was only after listening to R. Stevie Moore and Ariel Pink that I decided it was okay to hear this stuff. And if you don’t like it, you can delete it from your hard drive. If you DO like it, you can send it off to a friend.

Thank you, and remember, you must go to my website to sign up for my mailing list (I can’t be bothered to figure out how to install the plug-in for wordpress at the moment).

-Johnny Unicorn

Compact Discs that I Think Sound Good

Here is a list of compact discs that I think sound really good in a decent stereo system. This is based on their recording quality as presented in a digital format. If this were a list of vinyl records, it would contain different albums, although it would probably contain some of the same. This is not a list of my favorite albums, although a few of them are my favorite albums, probably because the recording quality may have had something to do with why I liked them. There is not one album from before the 80’s. These are albums I put into a cd player to enjoy the sound quality of the recording, but not necessarily to enjoy the music. These albums just lay a nice smooth bed of sound out for me to lie on. If my least favorite band put out a record produced like any of these, I would enjoy listening to it.
Yes – 90125 (1983)
Genesis – Calling All Stations (1997)
Echolyn – Mei (2002)
Echolyn – As the World (1994)
Phil Collins – Face Value (1981)
Crash Test Dummies – God Shuffled His Feet (1993)
Beck – Sea Change (2002)
Phish – Junta (1988)
R.E.M. – Up (1998)
Tears for Fears – Songs from the Big Chair (1985)
Mr. Bungle – California (1999)
Cornelius – Point (2001)
The Pixies – Doolittle (1989)
Kenso – III (1985)
Radiohead – Kid A (2000)
Brian Wilson – Smile (2004)
The Fucking Champs – V (2002)

Website and other updates

Hello fans of ME.

I haven’t posted a blog in almost a year, and for that I sincerely apologize.

I have been in the process of moving to a new city (Seattle), and the change has made it difficult to focus on things like attempting to keep up an internet presence. But I have been working on a new website (www.johnnyunicorn.com). As of today, a lot of the links don’t work, and there’s very little content. But over the weeks, I will be adding downloadable versions of all my albums, and some unreleased material. For the downloads, all I will ask in return is for a small donation. Soon after, I will be offering actual, physical products at fixed prices. You will be able to order all of these products online directly from me, with no middle-person (except possibly Paypal).

I welcome all constructive criticism about the artwork on my website.  I also welcome all donations.

In 2010, I plan to release three albums. By April, I hope to have “Not Afraid of the Open Space” available for sale and download. By August, I hope to have “Sweet Edith Manton,” my unreleased first album. And by the end of the year, “Heavy Jugs to the Moon” will theoretically be available.

In April, presumably to “promote my new album” I plan a short West Coast tour. I would greatly appreciate any help getting shows (small or big) along the West coast. I know a lot of people in the big cities, but what I really need are some shows in the smaller towns along the way. If you know anyone from Vancouver to Tijuana who can book me a show, please contact me here or elsewhere.

Happy New Year to everybody, and let’s make 2010 the beginning of a productive decade!

Love,
Johnny Unicorn