Category Archives: Recording

This category is for the various recordings that Johnny Unicorn appears on or makes.

“Angels In the Oort Cloud” – a new album by Johnny Unicorn

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If you’re reading this before August 20th, please watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQT1FTmI7T0

And purchase the album here: https://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/angels-in-the-oort-cloud

A history of “Angels In the Oort Cloud”

Recording began on a hot Summer day in 2012 at Alex Hamel’s house in Grand Rapids, MI. I arranged for Alex, Jason Campbell (on drums), and myself to spend a day recording drum tracks for four songs that never made it onto Sweet Edith Manton (due to their original lyrics not being so good), and a series of drum improvisations that I would later compile into one song. That day, at least two of us were sick (I can’t remember which two). Alex’s studio wasn’t complete yet, so we had to record in a cramped living room. It took forever to set up, because we were moving very slowly, plus we had to stop frequently to pour more orange juice. After a brief period of reminding Jason how the songs went, we recorded the songs. When we finished with the songs, we had approximately forty-five minutes left to record as much improvised material as possible. Alex and I played bass and guitar respectively as a way to direct the improvisations musically. When we were done I went back to Seattle.

“Angels” – I took the improvised drum tracks, erased the scratch bass and guitar tracks, and took what I considered to be the best parts, and arranged them in as musical a way as possible, overdubbing new guitar and bass as I did it. Lyrics were written and rewritten, sung and resung multiple times. Naomi, Eric, Max and Ashley were added to the mix, and then it became the song as you hear it. The lyrics are vaguely about a space battle between humans and a very mean god, because why not?

“Creation” – This song was originally called “Art.” When I wrote this song in 2001, the melody was the same as the guitar part, and the lyrics were terrible. I changed the melody to something a little more melodious, and fashioned the lyrics to be an epilogue of “Angels.”

“LCD” – This lyrics to this song used to be a meaningless collection of nonsequitors and awful rhymes. I reconfigured them to be about angels watching you through your computer screen. Creepy, eh? The idea of an all-knowing deity has always creeped me out a bit, hence, this song.

“Nebraska” – This song is even older (written in 1998). I reformed the melody, and changed the lyrics, but kept the title. The song was originally about a trip I went on as a teenager, during which I attended a dance and slow-danced with someone from Nebraska. I wanted to keep the chorus, but change the content of the lyrics so that it was about angels. It was a bit of a stretch, but I have no problem with it, and neither should you.

“Floaters” – Here is another repurposed song. I wrote this in 1998 also, but didn’t like the lyrics. So it’s about angels now. This time the angels are coming down to kill the protagonist, who then becomes an angel. When I was a child, I used to think my eye floaters were angels (and not because anyone told me that, I just assumed it was true). When rewriting the song, I imagined seeing floating beings off in the distance and being attacked by one of them. It’s a horrifying thought. Hopefully that translates in the song. You can find video of me playing this song with my old band before I was Johnny Unicorn and before it was rewritten.

“Inertia” – This is yet another song from 1998. The lyrics were only slightly changed, but a long instrumental section was added to the middle. I went to the local music store to rent tubular bells and marimba for this piece.

I could not have done this album without the musicians involved: Jason, Naomi, Max, Eric, and Ashley
or the sound people: Alex and Jesse
or the people I borrowed / rented instruments from: Kennelly Keys, Phideaux Xavier, Jeff Watkins, Jesse Mercury
or the people whose musical ideas found their way inevitably onto the recording: all the musicians on the recording, Michael Bouman, and Jamie Grefe
Also, thanks to Chris Barrios for adding input to the live versions of two of the songs.
if I don’t stop now, I’ll just end up thanking everyone, since everything is connected and we are all one.

I spent a lot of time not making income in order to complete this album, so if you like it, consider purchasing it now. Do it before August 20th and an image of your countenance will be indelibly printed on the inner jacket of the CD package:
https://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/angels-in-the-oort-cloud

Add an extra $10 and I’ll sing your name!

Thanks for paying attention to me,
Johnny Unicorn

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128 Thoughts On the Big Football Game

First of all, here’s a link to my latest release, a completely free-to-download 128 song EP:

http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

You may be asking yourself why someone like me, a person dedicated to a life of non-competition, would write a set of 128 songs based on the names of a bunch of people who play a competitive sport I don’t particularly care for. I’ve been asking myself that very question throughout the 5 days I’ve been working on this project. As far as I can tell, the story began just this month, in Seattle, where I live:

1. I found out that one of my favorite Seattle songwriters, Julia Massey, released an album of short, hastily recorded pieces (http://juliamassey.bandcamp.com/album/songs-from-the-nook). I liked the concept very much (and I liked when They Might Be Giants did it on multiple albums), and I wanted to do one of my own.

2. My friend linked me to an article about a guy who makes his living writing dozens of songs a day that are all terrible but there are so many of them that he’s able to survive off the small amount of dollars per song he gets from people craving a moment of novelty. I didn’t like where he was going with what music of his I heard, but it got me thinking about ways I could have a creative outlet without getting bogged down in details. I keep a very large amount of stray ideas in my mind because I have nowhere to put them. If I could just make them public in a perhaps unfinished state, maybe someone would find some use in them, but I could rest assured knowing that there would be no risk of losing the idea, and one day I could come back to it and use it for something else. And I mean “rest assured” literally: unproduced creative work actually keeps me up at night.

3. There’s a lot of talk in Seattle about football this month, for some reason. Everyone’s looking forward to this Big Game and I didn’t understand why. My whole life, I’ve been averse to the idea of engaging in crowd participation. With sports especially it’s like some cult-switch gets turned on in a surprising number of people. It seems to me that even the most avid Phish fan would have a hard time keeping up with the average football fan in terms of dedication. I don’t know what it is. Maybe the pure agression sets off some sort of primal instinct in a lot of people. For me, the main feeling I get when I am surrounded by any group of people who are all looking in the same direction and chanting is ANXIETY. I suppose that’s MY primal instinct welling up inside of me. In the back of my mind, I’m always thinking “what if I decide I want to support the OTHER team instead? Will all these people kill me?” Obviously, I don’t literally think football fans will murder me, but maybe my body does. As a result, I have always avoided football, and every other sport. (Also, I only reluctantly go to concerts, and I avoid protests at all costs, even if I think I’m on their side). But this year, I’ve been looking at my life and trying to get rid of bad habits — in particular the habit disliking things just because I don’t understand them — and when I made a snarky comment about not liking football, my sister pointed out my hypocrisy. And when she calls me out on something I take it very seriously. It was then that I decided I should watch the game.

That doesn’t mean I have to root for the home team. Usually in a skill-based situation, I’m rooting for whoever is in the process of trying to achieve an immediate goal. When everyone does well, it makes for a better experience in my opinion.
And it doesn’t mean I have to drink beer and hoot and holler with everyone. I could engage in the experience of a football game in a way that was more comfortable for me. I can expand my horizons without going so far out of my comfort zone that I become anxious. My hope is that I’ll become interested in the sport, because it can’t hurt to add something to the list of things I like and cross something off the list of things I don’t.

So I decided to live-Tweet the event. And if you’re reading this before The Event, it happens on February 2nd, 2014 1:00pm PST (I plan to Tweet the pregame all the way to the very end of The Event).

When I mentioned outloud that I would be live-Tweeting the game, Naomi’s mother suggested jokingly that I record songs about all the players. We all had a good laugh.

The next day, I started recording 128 songs. Less than a week later, I completed them, just in time for the game.

Here’s that link again:
http://johnnyunicorn.bandcamp.com/album/big-game-2014-128-song-ep

So when you’re at the Big Game party, do yourself a favor and open up a tab with my EP and another tab with your Twitter feed. Whenever some player does something worth calling attention to, play their jingle. It is guaranteed to liven up your game celebrations. And if you aren’t a sports person, listen to the songs anyway. I’m proud of a few of those pieces of music, and you might like them too.

So join me as I join my friends and family to see what it is they do on this mysterious holiday, and let’s root for the ultimate home-team: Team Everybody!

A new album approaches rapidly

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First, open this song in a new tab and listen to it while you read:

http://soundcloud.com/johnnyunicorn/sadness-companionship-remix

I know I haven’t finished giving you a day by day account of my last tour (way back in February), which is one of the reasons I keep neglecting to blog. But that has long past, and though I cannot remember the events with enough clarity to describe them to you in detail here anymore, I can assure you, that second week was amazing. I’m sure a lot of stuff happened…I recall a lot of driving around at night and a lot of unhealthy eating that was sure to stop after returning home. I remember lots of colors…but the color blue not so much, despite the fact that, to replace the paisley pants a fan bought off me in the parking lot out side the Ruby Room in San Diego, I bought a pair of blue sky-pants. I think it was because of all the warm lighting. Also, most of the colors I remember were dark, even though we slept through most of the nights. I remember wishing the vehicle were roomier. I remember in L.A. the drums fell apart, but we kept playing while my friend Chris, another drummer, saved the kit. I remember a really cool jazz rock band.

I hope that satisfies any curiosity that someone might have.

Now, if I’m right, you’ve arrived at the keyboard solo (and of course, if I’m wrong, you haven’t). This remix you’re listening to was designed with a dual-purpose. Since the album I’m releasing is a thirty minute aerobic exercise album, I thought it would be nice to include some more material, for the sake of having more material (I may have felt less inclined to do this if my last album weren’t nearly 80 minutes long). The second purpose is because the “exercise album” constraint I gave myself didn’t allow me to explore certain musical elements I otherwise would have. Plus, I just really like doing remixes. I never do it because I never prioritize it. But it’s fun. If you are a musician and you have any raw tracks you’d like to send me, I’ll do a remix.

The only thing in this recording that’s the same as the album is the vocal track (which has been severely cut-up). Everything else was put together step by step, using bits of the vocal track and trying out different basslines and drum beats underneath it, until a basic song was constructed, and then I went back and added synthesizers and guitar.

I’m aiming to release the album before the end of the year. The album is entitled “Sadness And Companionship.” It has two songs: “Sadness” and “Companionship,” each a little under fifteen minutes long. The compact disc and downloadable release will contain the two remixes. I am also working out details of a cassette release (which was the reason I did this project in the first place).

So, enjoy this remix, and please imagine what the album might sound like. Thanks!

Phideaux Rehearsal/Recording

Pasadena, CA

Here's what it's like when Val's vocals get recorded.

I took a break from touring back to my home of Seattle to go to the beautiful Pasadena, CA to do some work rehearsing with Phideaux.

I play keyboards and saxophone for Phideaux‘s band, which only does an average of one show per year. We are all spread so far across the country that the only way we can rehearse is to all fly in for a three day weekend of 12 hour days every once in a while. This was our last weekend before we start to prepare for our show at the Summer’s End progressive rock festival in Lydney, Gloucestershire, England on October 8th.

We also presumably finished up recording for Phideaux’s next album, “Snowtorch.” Hopefully this album will be released this year and I can finally hear it.

Only a few more days of tour and then I’m going to have to relax a bit in Jolly Old Seattle.

New album coming soon!

I have been locked in my room finishing my album and preparing to tour.

The album, “Sweet Edith Manton,” is in the hands of the manufacturers right now, and very soon it will be an actual compact disc package. It’s difficult to even think clearly about it at this point. Since I finished it, I have been doing everything I can to not think about that music. I’ve got two more albums to finish, and another two in the queue to start working on afterward. I sure hope some people like this music.

I’m touring out to Michigan from Seattle by myself, and then from Michigan to the West coast and back with the End Times Orchestra in August. After that, I will tour some more by myself, and in October, I’m going to England to perform at the Summer’s End progressive rock festival with Phideaux.

Then, I will be back in Seattle, worn out, older, and ready to start frantically trying to finish “Not Afraid of the Open Space,” a combination of heartfelt chamber folk and epic rock and roll. There are three songs on that album. The first two I have almost entirely completed. I just need to replace a few things, and add some tiny things here and there…a couple of sparkles, and twinkles. The third song needs a lot of work. Right now, it’s a 17 minute piano piece, but it’s supposed to have a lot of other instruments. I’ve begun adding horns, and I’m going to add a rock band. It’s going to be a good album.

Anyway, look for “Sweet Edith Manton.” I probably won’t be able to get it out before I leave for tour, so if you’re seeing me in June and July, you’ll have to wait. I’ll probably have it by the time I tour with ETO in August.

That’s what I’m up to.

Stay tuned for tour updates.

Christmastime is Now

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You will be pleased to know that I have recorded a new Christmas song for the GTG Christmas album.

It is also available for free on my myspace page and at www.archive.org.

Tell your friends about the song, and look for the upcoming compilation album that has all kinds of wacky Christmas tunes from Michigan artists! Listen to it during the Christmas season and any other season, because Christmastime is now!