Sunday, July 31, 2005

You and me and Leslie

Steven recorded harmony vocals for "Agoraphobia," "Greenback," and remixed "Lucy." The new versions of "Agoraphobia" and "Lucy" are already online: head over to the music section to download.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Mr. Sandman

Today, we're going to do a close listening to The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" (1954), one of the greatest pop songs ever.

0:00 - Handclaps
Apparently a Chordette trademark, similar handclaps open their other hit, "Lollipop." The handclaps persist throughout the first verse.

0:02 - Bom bom bom bom...
Notice how the first two "boms" are held throughout the rest of the melodic phrase. By the way, the "boms" arpeggiate the Bbmaj7 and Cm7 chords.

0:10 - Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream, etc.
Brilliantly, the keyboard picks up where the "boms" left off, doing the same arpeggio. Upright bass plays on the beat.

0:14, 0:19, 0:23 - Bom bom bom bom (at the end of each line)
These "boms" (mixed into the foreground) help move the song along. In particular, the first set of "boms" helps the keyboard cut out without sounding weird.

0:29 - Sandman, I’m so alone, etc.

0:45 - Add light, jazzy drums, like the kind that Ian likes to play

0:55 - Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream, etc.
Upright bass playing fancy jazz bass line. Saxophone licks at the end of each line (instead of the "boms")

1:23 - Please turn on your magic beam... oo-wah!
The "oo-wah" is a perhaps musical enactment of turning on a magic beam. Really. Synesthesia!

1:28 - "Boms" with different chords!

1:37 - Mr. Sandman (male voice: "Yes?") bring us a dream, etc.
Let's not rush to judgment here. It's a male voice swooping down from the sky. Does it work? Imagine the song without it. Would it still be as much of a dialogue? Does it not add another dimension to the song?

The bass is noticeably less busy in this verse.

1:46 - Give him a lonely heart like Pagliacci (sax lick)

1:51 - And lots of wavy hair like Liberace (piano glissando)
Liberace was a pianist and a popular entertainer.

1:55 - Mr Sandman, someone to hold (someone to hold)

2:03 - So please turn on your magic beam (faint keyboard)
Quoting the beginning of the song is a way to signal the end of the song, like the end of the cycle or something. Mark did this on "The Clapping Song."

2:08 - Saxophone plays low notes, further signalling the end of the song

2:17 - "Boms" end the song

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Shortwave Set

Steven: "by the way, i was listening to xfm and i heard this amazing song called 'Slingshot' from a new UK band called The Shortwave Set. it's not exactly what we should be doing, but it's the kind of experimentation that picks up where the 60s left off. here's a review from the times. too bad no one's going to hear it in the states, because you have to get it on import for $27.99."

Our in-house notation style

The Tonics are a melodic bunch, and often they come up with melodic ideas when they don't have a tape recorder or music composition books. So how do they make sure they don't forget melody lines? Steven has used the following "Notepad-friendly" notation style for vocal melodies:


The "Lucy tricked me into something" melody would be transcribed like this:

1 2 3 4 1 2 a3 4

The top row tells you the pitch, followed by which octave it's in, so you can see that the Bb is the one that's below the C, not above. The bottom row shows the rhythm. Each number is the count that the note falls on. The syncopation happens on "-to some-"----the "-to" falls on the 2nd beat, and "some-" falls on the 'and' beat of the 2nd beat (hence the "a3"). Take a look at the following diagram if you are confused:
F2      E2      D2      F2      C2      Bb1 A1          C2
Lu cy tricked me in to some thing
1 2 3 4 1 2 a 3 4
You can make the notation even shorter by stating the octave only when it changes, and deleting the "3" beat that "some" doesn't actually fall on.

1 2 3 4 1 2 a 4

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Tonics on LimeWire

I did a search for The Tonics on LimeWire (a file sharing program) and found a copy each of "Distance" and "Thank You." Both files were downloaded from (you can tell from the comments section of the mp3s). Unfortunately, doesn't give our mp3s good filenames ("01 Thank You.mp3" and "01 Distance.mp3") so it's probably hard to find in file-sharing programs, and harder still if you're trying to find it on your hard drive.

So please, as a courtesy to other people who want to download our music illegally, please rename your files to the standard "The Tonics - Distance.mp3" or "The Tonics - 01 - Distance.mp3" or something that is easily identifiable. And be sure to put our mp3s into your shared folder. Thank you.

The Tonics in the new Alan Lawrence film?

I got word from Arta that Alan Lawrence is making a new film about lovers, crime and suicide pacts, and we are to produce the soundtrack for it. We previously did the soundtrack for his still-to-be-finished short film "Graceful Accident."

There are rumors that Robert Aghassi, a former member of the band, will star in this new film. Robert, of course, sang on the ancient Sculpted Static song "Einsamkeit" and the "Hell" section of Heart of Darkness: The Rock Opera. He also wrote the unreleased "You're An S.M.F. (Latin and metal versions)" and "Check My Blood Pressure," and pioneered the Sculpted Static signature count-off, "1-2-345!"

Arta has also been in touch with trumpet player Josh Aguiar, a "true jazz soloist," whose services might come in handy for the soundtrack and other Tonics songs.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Magazine previews

Here are two screens from the upcoming Tonics website.

"So, who is Lucy?"

----Lucy is a 3.18 million year old female hominid, of the genus Australopithecus, whose skeleton was discovered on November 24, 1974 by Donald Johanson, Yves Coppens and Tim White in the Afar Depression of Ethiopia.

"What did she trick you into?"----The human condition.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Junk mail

Aristatic (our e-mail account) is the target of many direct marketing campaigns. Neon Phosphor has lately taken up the hobby of replying to such e-mails, especially ones that claim to have stumbled upon our great music, and "will you please upload it to the site I am promoting?"

Today, I got an e-mail from an A&R person from the Independent Artists Company, who claimed in his form letter that he was "a fan" of our music and that "I thought of you recently when we were trying to figure out which good acts haven't been invited yet. No, this is not random spam, I swear." Great, so I shot back an e-mail asking if he would explain how he heard about The Tonics and which songs he liked. Even if he hadn't actually heard us, I figure he'd be forced to do it now, if he wanted our business badly enough. [Later, Toby actually replied to my e-mail, saying that he'd heard about us from "a friend who listens a lot at" and that their favorite songs are "Elegy For Anne Bancroft" and "Lucy." Fair enough. We'll put something on IAC.]

Other recent unsolicited mail have included:
  • A "hot new British chill-out band" called Mooli
  • An invitation to join BandSpace
  • Frank from Hot Live Bands who's putting together a compilation CD and would like to talk to us about the possibility of having one of our tracks featured on it. Ironic, since we are anything but a hot live band at the moment.
  • Ted Beam from South Pasadena who "listened to 'Lucy' online and really liked it" and wanted to get the members of Sculpted Static (our old band) to attend his show at the Bent clothing store on Mission Street.
  • Again addressed to Sculpted Static, an invitation to join Artisterie, who are "real fans" of our work.
  • Toonopoly, a logo/sticker/site designer with "competitive prices and great ideas that will blow your mind."
  • Vince Griffin inviting us to use the full-service Sound Vision recording studio in the South Bay area
If you want to contact us, please e-mail You will get a reply.

Monday, July 25, 2005

"Which indie label would you sign up with?"

----We are already signed to the United States Postal Service. We pay them 83 cents, and they deliver the CD to one of our valued customers.

"You know, a lot of successful bands actually..."----Who says we aren't a successful band already? We have lots of great material, and more on the way. We have an EP and a half, just sitting there waiting to be snatched up. And don't forget, we have Sunny Ash, a decent full-length album from our other band. We are currently not losing money to a label. How are we not a success already? Tell me.

"Okay, but a lot of other successful bands actually play live."----A good performance can mask bad or inconsequential songwriting. Think about the last five garage bands you've seen. How many melodic hooks can you remember? How many songs fell outside of the pop/punk/garage rock genre? We don't play often, but when we do, people instantly remember something like "Lu-u-cy..."

Sunday, July 24, 2005

"Would you say your music echoes The Olivia Tremor Control and other members of the Elephant 6 collective?"

----Who the fuck are you talking about? Have you been reading Pitchfork again? Go listen to The Beatles. Early Beatles.

"I heard rumors that one of the Tonics suffers from multiple personality disorder."----Even if that were true, when has mental illness necessarily been an impediment to great art and other contributions to society?

"Brian Wilson."----What? He made Pet Sounds. Try doing that when you're sane.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

"Do you have an album?"

----Yes. In fact, we have about a few hundred in our collections. Maybe more. I don't know. They're making iPods with bigger and bigger capacities these days.

"How often do you play?"----Can you be more specific? Play on words? Play on the swing set? Play a cassette? What?

"I mean playing music together, as a band."----Yeah, once in a while, we go out for a drive around the Cube, blasting the neighborhood with loud classic rock.

"Do you write your own songs?"----Yeah, they write to me. Neon Phosphor is the only song that bothers to respond.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Non-precious Belle & Sebastian moments

Over the last nine years, Belle & Sebastian's records have become a sort of mainstay of hipsters' music collections. Soon to be replaced by The Tonics, of course. The following are B&S songs that actually rock:

"Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie" - with a fast 2/4 rhythm and surf-rock guitars, this electrifying rocker is off the 3..6..9 Seconds of Light EP.

"Stay Loose" - from Dear Catastrophe Waitress. An 70s-80s-style pop song over 6 minutes long, with synthesizer swells and harmonized guitar solos! That Pitchfork gave the album a mediocre review should be reason enough to give it a listen.

"Stop, Look And Listen" - from the I'm A Cuckoo EP. After a few minutes of some very repetitive verses, a great surf-rock instrumental kicks in out of nowhere. This instrumental was actually used as a concert opener.

"Judy Is A Dick Slap" - from the Legal Man EP, a synth-driven instrumental.

"Electric Renaissance" - from Tigermilk. Almost completely synthesized, and lots of delay on Stuart Murdoch's voice. Tigermilk, on a whole, rocks more than all their other albums.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Greatest moments in rock and roll, part 11

Vocal harmony dissection of the day: The Beach Boys - Don't Worry Baby

The chorus:
Harm1+2        Don't worry baby                       Don't worry baby
Bass Now don't now don't you wor ry baby
Lead She says don't worry baby everything

Harm1+2 Don't worry baby Don't worry baby Ooh
Bass Now don't now don't you wor ry baby Ooh
Lead will turn out all right don't worry baby Ooh
The stereo separation is: Harm1+2 (right), Bass (right), Lead (left). The coolest thing about this harmony is the bass line and how it joins the other two harmonies at the end of each line.

"Don't Worry Baby" was recorded on February 20, 1964, with lead vocals by Brian Wilson. Brian was 21 at the time, so at 22 we are already falling behind.

For years hearing it on oldies radio, I never realized it was a car song. Take a closer look at these great lyrics:
I guess I should've kept my mouth shut
When I started to brag about my car
But I can't back down now because
I pushed the other guys too far
The best part is when Brian sings about the danger of driving a race car. Life and death stuff, man:
She told me "Baby, when you race today
Just take along my love with you
And if you knew how much I loved you
Baby nothing could go wrong with you"
The odd lyrical moment comes when he suddenly has sex on his mind: "Oh what she does to me/ When she makes love to me." But it works, doesn't it? This song is a classic.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

"How would you describe the current pop music scene?"

----Imagine a swarm of airships hovering over the entire Los Angeles basin, with gigantic amps and speakers attached to their sides. Then think of the loudest, power-chord driven song blasting out of each of those speakers. Under the shadow of this massive flotilla of dirigibles, the ground starts shaking and the windows are breaking from the shock waves.

"Do you like Avril Lavigne?"----And then the air force scrambles a group of ten F-16s towards this mind-fucking spectacle. The squadron leader gets a missile lock on the closest airship, but, before he could fire, his pathetic jet fighter is blown to pieces by the sheer might of the distorted guitar solo and heavy-ass bass.

"Do you see yourself as a boy band for the 'hip'?"----The incredible sound of maximum R&B even opens up the San Andreas Fault. A fucking magnitude 10.0 earthquake rattles the City of fucking Angels. The earth moans, but it is powerless against the almighty collective power of the airborne amps, with the volume set to 12, baby.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Are you trying to be famous or something?"

----"Do or do not... there is no try," in the words of Yoda.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"What's the most difficult part of being a Tonic?"

----People mix you up with gin, vodka and god knows what else.

"Will you ever sing in a foreign language?"----As Arta revealed in an earlier exclusive interview, we were going to have Sanskrit on "Lucy," but it didn't happen. For a quick and easy way to hear our music in a foreign language, move to a non-English-speaking country and/or change your mother tongue.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

"Will you be selling band merchandise?"

----In lieu of buying Tonics merchandise, we request your money be spent on worthier causes like the revolution.

"What?"----Well, you know, we all want to change the world.

"What do you think of the Live 8 concerts?"----I don't know. If we had played "Distance," I'm not sure "When you're rich and young, shouldn't you be having fun?" is the right message to send to the masses clamoring for social change. And the line "I just can't seem to get things done" ("The Clapping Song") seems just a little pessimistic when viewed in context with the push to get the G8 nations to help the third world. And, certainly, we wouldn't want to play "Hamlet." That song would cause activists to slash their wrists instead of marching against the WTO.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

"I heard a rumor that a talking parrot will be used in one of the songs."

----That is untrue. It's actually a singing budgerigar.

"Tell me, did you have any trouble getting the bird to sing?"----It's a fucking budgerigar. Call it what it is. Yes, we needed to pitch-shift it a little, and it kept going out of sync with the backing track.

"What color is this--budgerigar?"----Why does it matter? It don't matter if you're black or white. Or, in this case, blue, green or yellow. They all chirp the same.

"So, which song does it sing on?"----You know I'm just making shit up here, right? Can we just put this to rest?

Friday, July 15, 2005

Omega point theory

According to Arta, those are three words "that may change your life," should we choose to explore its depths. Neon Phosphor is reminded of an upcoming song called "Alpha-Alpha" (formerly known as "Alpha and Omega"). In "an exclusive interview with Mark Williams" from February 21, Mark says that he is the alpha and the omega, and also the kai that binds them together. That statement was previously said by Jesus Christ in Revelation 22:13: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End," although there's not much difference between Jesus and Mark, what, with that goatee and longish hair (as pictured above).

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The future of

Taking full advantage of our stock photo gallery and lessons learned from the New York publishing elite, the next incarnation of the Tonics web site will destroy the world.

"What? Aren't you a rock band? Why do you waste your time on the web site?"----I am Neon Phosphor. I do the web site.

"Isn't that Neon Phosphor on the cover?"----No, she's the stock photo representation of Lucy. She also appears on the back of the latest EP.

"How do you expect to fill 50 pages of your Tonics magazine?"----The same way you fill a sewer. Shit your way through it.

"Penny Lane" is in my ears...

Arta: "Dude, 'Penny Lane' is the most perverted song ever. Look up 'fish and finger pie.' It's gross. I can never listen to that song again."

Other Beatles songs that Arta can never listen to again include "Don't Let Me Down" (because the bass or guitar amps cause Ringo's drums to rattle, especially at the beginning) and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" (because you can clearly hear John and George flicking their pickup switch at various places in the song). This excellent site lists more ways to ruin your Beatles listening experience.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Nothing to report today

Neon Phosphor takes a break.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Stuff your newsreader with The Tonics

On the sidebar, you'll find a link to the site feed. Imagine "An exclusive interview with The Tonics" right next to actual celebrity gossip. Yep, it could happen. Subscribe yourself today.

Our favorite poem

Ingrid Swanberg is an American poet and the editor-in-chief of ABRAXAS magazine. Here is a link to eight poems, an electronic chapbook in the Light & Dust Anthology of Poetry. What makes her so special? Well, please scroll down to her poem "the night you were born."

Monday, July 11, 2005

First day live on Blogger

"Why the switch to Blogger? What's wrong with MySpace? Now I have to update my bookmarks again!"----Say you want to find that incredibly witty thing I said sometime in January 2005. You can find that post very easily under the "Archives" section on the right-hand column. Try to do that with MySpace. I bet it loads faster, too, for those of you with a 56k connection.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Moving to Blogger soon

I am moving this blog to Google's Blogger service. It's slightly better, and without product placement. More in the coming days...

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Spotlight on Neil Diamond

While our friends at Pitchfork listen to the latest Sub Pop record with a few hundred copies in circulation, we pay tribute to one of the best selling singer/songwriters of all time: Neil Diamond, who has sold more than 120 million records worldwide.

He started his career writing hit songs for The Monkees, like "I'm a Believer." Other songs that are still playing on oldies radio include: "Cracklin' Rosie," "Solitary Man," "Sweet Caroline," and "Cherry Cherry."

On "Cracklin Rosie," he manages to stay on the same chord (D) for four whole measures of the verse, before repeating the feat with the G chord.

The Tonics sort of do that on the chorus of "The Clapping Song," but, in general, they are currently not as good as Neil Diamond.

More work on "Save the Day"

Steven removed an extra bar in the first verse, added a bass slide, and did some other miscellaneous fixes to the instrumental.

Friday, July 08, 2005

"What does Mark say at the end of 'Distance?'"

----"I buried Ian." Look in the lyrics artwork for more clues.

"There are rumors that The Tonics are switching over to jazz, and considering the addition of a jazz trumpet player. I even heard reports that Arta recorded a trumpet solo on his cell phone, for inclusion on the new album."----Those rumors are untrue and probably started by someone who's had a bit too much to drink.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Play the Tonics' slider puzzle clicking on the graphic on the front page.

Hint: solve the top two rows first before working on the bottom two.

In other news, Steven programmed the drums for "Save the Day" and mixed a new version of "Lucy Tricked Me Into Something."

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Sculpted Static flashback of the day

The Tonics have a lot of great songs that are out of print or never released. Today, we focus on "No Logo," an example of good shit that became a victim of The Tonics' own laziness.

Blog exclusive! An excerpt from "No Logo"

"No Logo" is based on Naomi Klein's book of the same name. It features lyrics like:
The field where you stand, you're making a stand--for corporate
And run with the wind, you're making a swoosh--to whore for it
"No Logo" promised to be the flagship title of summer '04. It got through the whole recording process--Ian even drummed on it. Several listeners called it an "anthem," due to the global message and the catchy, three-word mantra of a chorus.

So, what went wrong?

First, Steven and Arta didn't really think about the arrangement. The result was a really loud, really noisy song with guitars all over the place. Steven even played rhythm guitar for some reason, despite the fact that Arta could do it better. Add in some keyboard parts and harmonies, and you have a production that sounds like shit.

For a while, Elisa Morimoto (who sang on "Follow The") was slated to re-sing the lead vocal in order to avoid the awkward octave switch at the beginning of the chorus, necessary to accommodate Steven's voice. But that was cancelled when Steven and arta decided to have Elisa sing on "Pixies," another unreleased song that's practically finished.

The rest of the summer, the band tried to think of ways to arrange the song. But with a history of poor arrangements, they weren't likely to pull anything out of the bag for this one. And they didn't.

The fall came and went. When Sculpted Static reconvened in December 2004, they disbanded, and the remnants formed The Tonics. This new band preferred to deal with songs about depression, existentialism and self-deprecation, so "No Logo" (a song about branding and capitalism) suddenly had no place among the rest.

"Is rock dead?"

----Everyday in every way The Tonics are getting closer to their new album.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

"Explain the new front page."

----We all like to change our wallpapers once in a while. It's part of being human. Even our ancestor, the caveman, often scrubbed off his cave painting and replaced it with something else.

"Is that a reference to your old song 'Neanderthal?'"----No! Why does everything have to be something else?

On a random note, did you know that Anne Bancroft is sampled in the familiar remix of Los Del Rio's "Macarena?" She is heard saying "I'm not trying to seduce you" from The Graduate.

Monday, July 04, 2005

"Telegraph Avenue" the most played song at Tonics/Sculpted Static concerts. Here's the evolution of the song:

Dec. 2001 - Arta records a demo called "shmalifornia." Steven turns it into "Telegraph Avenue."
Jan. 2002 - Sculpted Static play "Telegraph Avenue" at their first concert, with Alex on backing vocals and Steven on fake drums.
Spring 2002 - They record the song.
May 2002 - "Telegraph Avenue" gets played on KALX Berkeley.
July 2002 - "Telegraph Avenue" is played in Nicole's backyard. Mark is on backing vocals, Steven plays fake bass, and Ian drums for the first time.
Fall 2002 - Steven records less British vocals. The song is rereleased.
Jan. 2003 - The song is played in Steven's garage. No backing vocals, Steven is on real bass.
July 2003 - No Future Cafe concert. Tristan sings backing vocals. Steven plays bass.
April 2005 - Berkeley concert. Mark sings backing vocals. Steven plays a keyboard solo. Other musicians are recruited from Project X. G plays bass. "Telegraph Avenue" becomes the most played Sculpted Static/Tonics song, breaking the tie with "Star Ferry" and "Agoraphobia."

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Friday, July 01, 2005

"Who is Lucy?"

----Lucy Pevensie is one of the major characters from C.S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia. According to Lewis' timeline, she was born in 1932. She is the youngest of the four Pevensie children, and the first to find the Wardrobe entrance to Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Her siblings Peter Pevensie, Susan Pevensie, and Edmund Pevensie do not believe her at first, but later they all find their way to Narnia. She again travels to Narnia with her three siblings in Prince Caspian, and with Edmund and Cousin Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy tends to be the first one to see Aslan when he appears. She symbolises the Christian expression of the natural virtues of humankind, whether manifested as "childhood innocence" or in its more mature forms as depicted in the later stories.

"You cut and pasted that, didn't you?"----Oh, fuck you.