Tag Archives: progressive rock

“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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Kickstarting Sadness And Companionship

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http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1749889331/johnny-unicorn-exercise-album-and-subsequent-tour

I am finally finished recording my exercise album, “Sadness And Companionship.” It just needs to be put together and promoted, and that is why I’ve started a Kickstarter project. I’ve already sent out e-mails and made a number of posts on social media about it, but I think it’s time to make a blog post about it.

My goal for this album is fairly simple: to create a piece of music that can accompany an aerobic workout, but that relies on different musical tools than that which we’ve come to expect from workout music. In my own personal experience, I’ve had moments where I’ve been into techno music, but most of the time I want to listen to music that has lots of complicated parts and interesting concepts. But when I want to put on a piece of music that does a good job of keeping up with the increased heart-rate of an aerobic workout, that complicated music usually doesn’t work. The relentlessness of a techno song seems makes it perfect for exercising. But music with a lot of dynamics is not ideal. A Gentle Giant song might be very energetic, but out of nowhere it can suddenly switch to a harpsichord/recorder section, and throw off your workout completely.

So I took up the task of creating a progressive rock workout album. This way, at least one album would exist that could at once get my blood flowing non-stop for thirty minutes and keep my brain engaged in the way that I like. I think I succeeded in that. I also added a couple of remixes to the album, so it wouldn’t be so short. Those remixes are not really for exercise purposes, though.

Sadly, I have some negative associations with exercise. It all started in fifth grade soccer. That was when the other kids started actually being concerned about whether they would win or lose the next game. I enjoyed running around a field kicking a ball, observing a few rules of the game just to make it a little more challenging, but when these kids started getting competitive, it was an immediate turn off. so I quit. In sixth grade, I was forced to go to a swimming pool, where we had to get naked in front of everyone and then put on shorts that were way too short before being marched out to a pool where we were made to…I don’t even remember. I can’t remember the swimming part of those experiences, only the standing around in those ridiculous shorts. Actually, I remember diving. With eardrums like mine, going into water head-first is frightening. I don’t remember doing anything in high-school gym class, either. I remember kids coming up to me and pretending to throw basketballs at my head but at the last second catching them so they could make me flinch. Most of the time, they were never any worse than that to me. I remember being required to sign up for gym class one year, but not being allowed to sign up for art class (because I was already in band).

I’m not saying that these things bare the full responsibility for turning me sedentary. I’m just trying to give you a little background on me. Whenever I hear sports commentators or sports terminology (like “hustle up”), whenever I see a television screen with some green arena with a bunch of white lines all over it, or whenever I just look at a pair of sneakers, or the material that basketball shorts are made out of, I shudder a little. But I don’t want to be that way anymore. I want to overcome my fear of going outside in sneakers and shorts. This exercise album is part of that larger project to adopt a more active lifestyle. At this ripe old age, I’ve begun to realize just how fragile the human body is, and how important it is to keep it running smoothly for as long as possible. I’ve got a lot of stuff I want to do before Death finally closes its icy fingers around me.

Do you feel that way too? Maybe this is an album that you would like. Please pledge on my Kickstarter page. Remember, no amount is too large. And this is no donation. When you pay money, I will be doing work for you. I’ve already promised to do a whole lot of visual art so far. I’d like to write more songs for people. If you’ve ever wanted to have your own theme song, now’s the time to act. I have a less expensive “jingle” option, which means I’ll write a short radio jingle for you. It will be essentially a 10-15 second catchy melody with your name in it and brief lyrics about how great you are. You can put it at the beginning of your youtube videos or on the outgoing message of your voicemail system.

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1749889331/johnny-unicorn-exercise-album-and-subsequent-tour

Anyway, thanks for reading this. I have to go stretch now.

-John

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!

The Joint

Los Angeles, CA

I played this piano on a Phideaux recording. It has 92 keys.

The city that never awakens awakes. A dull, diffuse “pfffffff” like a series of surround-sound butterfly coughs as a million sets of eyelids separate over the course of the morning, quieting to nearly nothing after noon, and barely audible before long. It is Saturday in Los Angeles. It will not be long before those eyelids close back up.

As we, the band Phideaux, make our way, hurriedly, to the imminent concert, I glance curiously through the sun-seared passenger window at the sidewalk. The inhabitants glide, half-dazed, mouths open, toward god-knows what. Doom or glory. Perhaps glory, but more probably doom. Their feet barely lift off the ground as if they were stricken by a curse that left them extra-massive. Their eyes, like two doughnuts, glazed and empty, and unnecessary. Each citizen an island of endless potential accomplishment, there is no time for friendly greetings when passing one another. There is only time for fear, and a tired coldness, and an unconvincing performance of confidence. Glory or doom.

Of course, one could probably come up with that looking out any car window into any town if one tried hard enough. We arrive.

We step out of the vehicle and greet the rest of our party, now arriving. I am immediately struck by a frightening stillness in the room-temperature outside air. I smell nothing. There is no smog. It must have been dragged to the earth by the night’s rain. The particles resting on the ground, stunned, disarmed, dormant. Waiting. Why does fear take hold most tightly when the thing feared is asleep?

Fear aside, I have a job to do. We slowly begin to move our equipment from the vehicles and into the building, where we stack them by the wall. The bar is empty. A vision, like a flashback, but to no past I have known, floods into my mind: a handful of guests arriving, staring disinterestedly at a group of exhausted performers, applauding obligatorily in the necessary breaks between pieces of music, but mostly just talking to each other. Another vision: a sea of audience, silenced and stilled by the power of the music coming from the stage, like a non-newtonian fluid suddenly solidifying in response to a strong movement by a foreign object. The fear of the one and the hope of the other battle with one another in my mind and leave me unable to think, to move.

I am shaken from my state by the news that it is time to prepare for the performance. Time goes on ahead without looking back to check that I’m following. The equipment goes to the stage. Wires. In; out; thru. Vocals, violin, bass, sound effects, saxophone, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard stage left, keyboard stage right, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, kick, snare, snare, snare… monitors. up, please. down. a little more. just a touch. A decibel. To the green room. Who decorated this place, Stanley Kubrick? Does anyone have any water? Should we wait fifteen minutes? There’s no one out there. As scheduled? Okay. Take the stage. “The audience showed up, and right on time.” Play the show. Shaky hands. A couple of mistakes. I hope they forgot that bit. Encore? Okay. Done. Throw all the equipment in a pile and relax for a moment.

Mars Hollow takes the stage and captivates the crowd as if it were the easiest thing in the world. K2, the supergroup, perform afterward. Unfortunately, we have to leave early to load equipment for a recording session early the next morning, since people have to work on monday.

That is what happened at the Joint in Los Angeles on November sixth.  On reflection, it was worth the moments of doom for the moments of glory.

Summer’s End Progressive Rock Festival 2010

Lydney, U.K., October 8th-10th

The Phideaux all star band arrived in Bristol, UK, after four days of grueling rehearsal in the salt mines of New York City. We gathered all of our heavy objects that we brought, and took them to the vans, which carried us on the two hour journey from Bristol to Hogwarts. Once there, we disembarked the vans, said goodbye to our charming Bristolian driver (who had tried to convince us during the drive that every object in Bristol of any significance was the most famous object of that type in the world). We were booked to stay in apartments in the middle of the Whitemead forest. We were not allowed to go into the forest on account of the high concentration of wood sprites and goblins this time of year. But we were allowed to go to the festival in the nearby town of Lydney, to watch the bands perform, and see what the audience was like, and to prepare mentally for our own performance, which was to be on the last day of the festival.

We watched lots of progressive rock bands perform. There were so many that I can scarcely remember any of it. I remember a humorous performance by a band called Defenders of the Realm, which was a supergroup featuring some people I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. I remember the next day seeing the guy from Flower Kings doing guitar solos with some people from some other bands that I hadn’t heard before. Oddly, even though I listen to progressive rock, I seem to have missed a lot of bands that other progressive rock fans listen to. On the third day, there was a band that really stood out to me called Multifuse, which sounded very much like Magma, but not so much that it was distracting. In fact, the bits that didn’t sound like Magma sounded kind of like Abba, which is a combination that really suits me. Later that day, we took the stage and performed our set. I can’t even remember what we played. But I’m pretty sure we played. Then we were done, and we were exhausted and we ate some Indian food (for some unknown reason, England has a lot of good Indian food).

After that, we said “So Long” to England and took all of their chocolate and left on an airplane. Perhaps we’ll be back for a tour in the future.

-Johnny Unicorn, keyboard & saxophone, Phideaux

Phideaux Rehearsal

New York City, NY

 

Here's where he keeps us. This is the view from behind keyboard station 2.

 

We are worn from travel, our bags are heavy with electronics, and our arms feel as though they are about to be ripped from their sockets. Our feet feel like dead fish, and our legs also feel like dead fish. We drag our music equipment ten blocks and into the dark underground tunnels of New York City to board the a subway train. The platform smells a lot like the above ground part of the city: like scum and urine. On a subway platform, we wait for the train that will carry us to the rehearsal studio to rehearse the 20 minute epics that we have to play in order to still be considered a progressive rock band. The platform is bathed in a sickly yellow light, and is oddly silent. There is no facial expression in sight other than a frown. An influx of hot, stinky air hits us from deep within the subway tunnel where a distant light can be seen growing larger. A train approaches. Upon arrival, the train doors open, and we board, and sit. We spend the entire ride gazing attentively at advertisements for beer.

The trip finished, we emerge from the deep depths of the city and walk the street to the studio, which is in the heart of manhattan, an island with more buildings than people. Phideaux leads us to a room, where he locks us in for twelve hours and forces us to press buttons. We are only allowed to eat cookies from a bakery down the street, and he chooses which kind. It is pure torture.

The rehearsal is for a show at Summer’s End progressive rock festival in Lydney, England. I am doubtful that such a place exists, but I hold out hope that this strenuous and exhausting labor will, at the end, produce something that in some small way, at the very least, would help one or more people to be slightly happier, and my body will not have been broken in vain. I play keyboards and saxophone in the progressive rock band Phideaux. Thank you.