Friday, June 30, 2006

"I'm a big nerd and I want to know about works in progress."

----The following is a list of 23 original songs that may appear on future Tonics releases.

  • "Down Below" - a relatively slow song with an octave harmony
  • "Our House" - a vintage guitar-driven song, currently in an advanced stage of production
  • "Atlantis" - according to the writer, it's "somewhere between an elliott smith and a don mcclean impression"
  • "Atoday" - a slow 6/8 song, also known as "Hifi"
  • "Future Four Four" - another song with a guitar hook
  • "How To Win" - features a whistling section. Was rehearsed briefly during the last spring break
  • "Savage" - a waltz with lots of echo and lead electric guitar
  • "Alpha And Omega" - apparently abandoned despite being a contender for the Get Things Done album
  • "My One Sweet Love" - a quiet organ-driven song
  • "Lisa" - a vintage dance pop song, recently Spectorized but remains unreleased
  • "Radio" - a piano-based song dating back to 2003
  • "Nothing Matters At All" - a mid-tempo pop song with a catchy chorus
  • "If You Want To Feel Young" - a multi-movement song
  • "Laetitia" - the sequel to "Lucy Tricked Me..." according to the songwriter
  • "Crowds Of Nervous People" - a piano-based Get Things Done reject
  • "Amaj7" - briefly rehearsed by the band before being abandoned for "not sounding enough like a Tonics song." Some of the melody was written by Mark during the 2003 Davis summit.
  • "Stair" - a song most notable for its non-recurring introduction
  • "This Is The Last Day Of Your Life On Earth" - a pop song almost completely written by Arta, with slight modifications by Steven, and later reworked by Mark
  • "You're Only Human (Do You Know What You're Doing)" - left off Get Things Done despite receiving a new lead vocal track in 2005
  • "The Country Song" - this love song for Princess Diana was shelved halfway through serious production
  • "Surf Rock" - a surf rock instrumental
  • "The Waltz" - a bizarre instrumental, the completed master remains unreleased
  • "Someday" - a faster pop song written by our new bassist Spencer

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"Is rock dead or something?"

----Rock is something, and Lucy tricked us into it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

"We haven't heard any news for weeks. Can you give me an update?"

----Sure, you may download the latest Windows service pack here.

"No, I mean, any news from the band?"----Yeah, they just released a new box set. From Bacon Fat to Judgement Day is the name of an 8-CD retrospective of the band Levon and the Hawks, the group that morphed into The Band in 1968. It was released in 2006 by Canadian Other Peoples Music label. It includes previously unheard historic studio and archival live recordings, rare singles, extensive liner notes, interviews, and photos.

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Is there any truth to the rumor that the Tonics are throwing in the towel?"

----What kind of an idiotic inquiry is that? The Tonics do not feel it necessary to disclose their bathing/drying/beach-going habits. Talk about invasion of privacy when you're in the show business.

"Show business? Are you guys planning to write a musical, or an opera?"----Yes. It's called Il Paparazzi Intrusivo Dovrebbe Appendersi, or The Meddling Paparazzi Should Hang.

"Really? In how many acts?"----Two. The first act is to fit a noose around your neck, and the second is to release the trapdoor.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Friday, June 23, 2006

"Hare Krishna, Sandinista? What does that mean?"

----Why do I always have to do the Wiki research for you?

The Hare Krishna mantra, also referred to as the Maha Mantra ("Great Mantra"), is a sixteen-word Vaishnava mantra, outside of India notably popularized by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (popularly known as 'the Hare Krishnas').

The Sandinista National Liberation Front (Spanish: Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional) is a Nicaraguan leftist political party that was swept to power in 1979 in a popular revolution that overthrew the Somoza dictatorship. Following their seizure of power the Sandinistas ruled Nicaragua for roughly 12 years from 1979 to 1990. Their organization is generally referred to by the initials FSLN and its members are called, in both English and Spanish, Sandinistas. The Opposition to the Somoza government began with the anti-imperialist imperatives of Augusto C. Sandino, decades prior to the Nicaraguan Revolution.

I think the connection is rather obvious.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

"There's a rumor going around..."

---- No, it's the flu that's going around.

Monday, June 19, 2006

"Is it true that the Tonics are back in the studio?"

----Partially true. Only Alek is in the studio, drawing an office building on his drafting table.

"Did you know that tonic water contains quinine, which is flourescent? I read it on Wikipedia."----That's why I am Neon Phosphor.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

"Are you making a new album?"

----No, I'm writing a new blog post.

"Readers have complained of a marked decline in the quality of this blog since Get Things Done was released. Can you respond to that?"----Let's not blame it on Mark. I'd say it's a neoned decline in quality.

"Any chance the web site will be updated?"----Yes. The chance is slim to nil. Or fat.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Unsolicited mail of the day

We are always proud of the fact that we get customized spam---that is, instead of generic shit like Cialis or home mortgages, we get music shit like "join our mp3 site" or "enter this talent contest." Today, we have someone offering photography services:
Hi there it's Lux. If your band is looking to shoot a MUSIC VIDEO, I'm your man. I have a very professional and award winning portfolio. I work with all budgets, let's talk about it.

Also, I shoot band photos for posters and album cover.

you can check out my website

and Stills at



Tuesday, June 13, 2006

"I heard this extraordinary rumour..."

----What are you, British or something?

"Let me finish. I heard a rumour that the Tonics are supporting Radiohead on their North American tour."----Correct. They have our moral support. And we want everyone to know that our moral support is much more interesting than Deerhoof, who are opening for Radiohead at their California shows.

"That doesn't even make sense."----It makes more sense than ∂∑∑®høøƒ lø√∑∫ M∑! I would call for their heads on a stick for their abuse of Unicode, if they weren't already signed to Kill Rock Stars.

"That almost makes sense, but it doesn't when you think about it."----Go read some Pitchfork if you want to think. Fucker.

Monday, June 12, 2006

"Can we get back to classic Neon Phosphor?"

----No. That would be pastiche.

"But you're doing it now."----Doing what now?

"The snappy answers to stupid questions bit."----Yeah, I guess they were pretty biting.

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 11

Below is a challenge to musicians everywhere to produce a pure wall-of-sound record based on the following rules:

1. Recording shall take place in a kind of environment familiar to listeners and musicians. For instance, houses, offices, markets, gyms and malls. An effort should be made not to record in sonically-treated spaces such as echo chambers and studios with foam-padded walls.

2. Upon public release, the recording shall include documentation to show where the recording was made and where all the musicians sat or stood.

3. Only one mic shall be used to record the master. Additional mics are permitted only for the purpose of monitoring.

4. Monitor speakers are not allowed. Musicians being recorded may only use headphones for the purpose of hearing themselves and the other musicians clearly.

5. No instrument shall be amplified, except for instruments that require amplification, such as the electric guitar and keyboard. These instruments must be connected to their own amps (one amp per instrument) and must not be connected directly into the sound board. The volume on the amps will be set to the minimum required to obtain the desired tone.

6. No singer shall be individually mic'd, except for monitoring reasons. All singers (along with everything else) will be recorded through the one master mic. No pitch correction or special effect will be added to the vocals.

7. Any equalization adjustments shall be done on the actual instruments and amplifiers, not on the soundboard. Unamplified musicians can move around the room to achieve a desired EQ in the final mix.

8. The use of screens to reduce volume is discouraged. Volume reduction should be done by moving the musicians farther from the master mic.

9. If a singer is playing an unamplified instrument such as the piano or acoustic guitar, and the master mic cannot be placed in a way that properly balances the vocals and instrument, it is up to the singer to maintain a proper volume of the instrument by playing technique alone.

10. If a singer is playing an amplified instrument, the amplifier will be moved away from the singer as appropriate.

In researching this section, I discovered that Scottish pop band Aberfeldy has already done this. ( But I'm still interested to see if it can be done on a massive scale in order to maximize the depth of the record.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 10

Arta responds to Part 8:
See, I totally agree with you here, when you say that "The Tonics are all producers." I think that's the approach you should have taken all along, but last time it really did seem that you were demarcating a division of labor between "musician" and "producer." If we realize that "musician" and "producer" are really just two hats worn by "artists," then we can go somewhere. But my problem with Spector is that I really don't think he saw it that way. He employed legions of session musicians and used a really rigid formula for his arrangements, making them pretty boring, upon repeated listening, to my ears. His whole approach is antithetical to the making of a flexible creative process between equals. You should really give more credence to the negative accounts of artists who actually worked with the guy -- a lot of people seem to think he was an anti-social, egotistical dictator.

If he was just composing music, that would be fine. As you note, a composer lives a solitary existence and has a lot of freedom to create his individual world. But a conductor, or a musician, or a producer, needs to be a social creature that understands consensus, flexibility, revision, and criticism. And I am convinced that Spector did not. He worked fine with artists who were willing to completely defer to him, like the girl groups composed of naive 18 year olds, but older artists (who actually composed their own music) and had a sense of pride in their work tended to hate Spector's egotism and arrogance. Anyway, I don't doubt that he was a smart guy. But I reject him as an object of adulation, and I think you could be a bit more critical in your analysis of him too. This all reminds me a bit too much of the "Clapton is God" stuff of the Cream era.

I think studying wall of sound or any other production technique is valuable to an artist, but only if we approach it with open eyes and an objective stance. Saying the wall of sound is the "best" way for a band to realize its musical potential seems like an obviously false statement to me, just like it would be silly for me to say that "impressionism" is the best way for a painter to realize her best artistic potential. Phil Spector and the wall of sound don't need apologists, in other words, the body of work can defend itself. A good analysis shouldn't be a defense, and it should take criticism into account.

And dude, be honest with me, don't you think the paragraph below sounds a bit authoritarian?

"You are in control of your musicians. If your musicians want to go and create their own records so that they would individually sound the way they want, they can do so. But right now they are working for the collective good, the wall-of-sound, and you are the organizer of this project."

That's what kind of pissed me off, because if anyone in our band had ever acted like that, the rest of us would have whooped him upside the head. And it really didn't seem like you were talking about a metaphorical "spirit of production" guiding the band, it seemed like a pretty literal endorsement of the Spector approach: one man, the Producer, is in charge of the Collective Good (the Wall of Sound) and makes decisions for the whole, free from criticism. If the people in the band aren't cool with that, they can get lost. Doesn't that sound a little USSR?
Phil Spector's nasty business practices, which included depriving many of his musicians a fair share of the royalties, are acknowledged and condemned by this writer. It is a challenge to this writer to study and recommend a production method invented by a man seen by many people as unethical.

Perhaps the next version of this essay should focus less on the production methods and more on the finished product, i.e. the wall-of-sound.

As far as I know, there has not previously been an attempt to describe the wall-of-sound in a way that would be useful to today's musicians who are trying to emulate the sound. This essay, however, has not been exactly neutral, and has been crafted hastily and sometimes recklessly.

It was important for me to get the words out there, in order to get feedback and identify the parts that need revision. There will be a much-improved second draft.

In Part 11, I will conclude this essay by proposing a recording setup that should produce the wall-of-sound.

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 9

Last time, I promised that we would examine some post-1960s records. Well, I lied. This chapter will be dedicated to a wall-of-sound producer we have not yet introduced: Andrew Loog Oldham.

Oldham is best known for being the Rolling Stones' producer in the mid-1960s. It was he that insisted on the Stones taking a bad-boy image, as a counterpoint to the clean-cut Beatles. And it was Oldham who produced most of the early Rolling Stones' songs with the wall-of-sound.

Why has this essay ignored his important work until now? I don't know, and I think I need to correct this in the next revision.

Anyway, Oldham was a big fan of Phil Spector. So much, in fact, that he once took out an ad in the British music paper Melody Maker that read:
This advert is not for commercial gain, it is taken as something that must be said about the great new PHIL SPECTOR record, THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS singing 'YOU'VE LOST THAT LOVIN' FEELIN''. Already in the American top ten, this is Spector's greatest production, the last word in tomorrow's sound, today, exposing the overall mediocrity of the music industry.
From 1964 to 1966, most, if not all, of the Rolling Stones records featured all the necessary elements of the wall-of-sound. Everything in mono. Guitars and drums mixed with a bit of reverb. Mick Jagger mixed up front. Harmonies further back. And tambourine, handclaps and other percussion.

These songs include "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," "The Last Time," "As Tears Go By," "Time Is On My Side," "19th Nervous Breakdown," and "Get Off My Cloud." The compilation album, Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass), is a good place to find many of these songs.

People don't usually consider these songs to be wall-of-sound, because there's no layering of instruments. But they have that depth that is so reminiscent of the Ronettes and the Beach Boys, and is lacking in the productions of the Beatles. It's all in the mixing.

Incidentally, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" was #2 in a Rolling Stone magazine's top 500 greatest songs list. It should be noted that two other wall-of-sound productions ("Imagine" and "Good Vibrations") also made the top 6.

Is the wall-of-sound a reason why the Rolling Stones had such an enormous effect in America, on par with the Beatles, despite having little sex appeal?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 8

At this point, Arta raises an worthy objection to Part 7. It is reproduced below.
I disagree with your fundamental assumption that music production has to be a hierarchical and authoritarian project. The "conductor" of an orchestra provides a beat and helps each of the hundred instrumentalists stay in sync with the whole -- he doesn't "ignore" anyone's will or act as a veto. Does a string quartet have a conductor? Why does the producer have to "ignore" the wishes of the bandmembers -- why create that kind of dichotomy in the first place, a rigid binary between "band member" and "producer"? That might be the way Phil Spector operated, (the man was also fond of pointing guns at his musicians) but plenty of bands have been able to have a cooperative, egalitarian artistic process. You might think that Radiohead started to sound shit when their producer started to let them have free rein, but I think they actually started to suck when Thom Yorke essentially became the band leader and yeah, producer - the one who was free to ignore the rest of the band, make final decisions, and be unaccountable.

In other words, why should people run their bands in a way that you and I find repugnant when applied to the organization of larger institutions (such as the state)?
When I said conductor, maybe I should have said composer. In classical music, all the parts are written out and all the instruments pre-assigned. The individual members of an orchestra cannot do much else but to play their assigned parts, with very limited space for interpretation. But this is quite acceptable to many musicians, and their work is rewarded by creating a beautiful, massive sound with the rest of the hundred-odd instrumentalists. There are those whose art is simply to play their own instruments at a high level, and they possess neither the inclination nor the ability to create music from scratch. For the record, a conductor does more than just provide the beat; he or she is there to direct the volume changes and provide a visual cue of the level of energy required at any given point in the music.

This essay seeks to recognize the rock producer as an artist, and to empower the producer with the privileges of the classical composer and conductor.

A producer should not ignore all the comments from his musicians. In the last section, I was only giving specific types of suggestions (mostly regarding the mixing) that are likely to be rejected for the sake of the wall-of-sound. If it came across as something else, then I shall revise my wording.

Like some medicines, the wall-of-sound is not for everybody. I would hate for producers to work with musicians who are adamantly opposed to the wall-of-sound even after the philosophy is explained to them. But admirers of the wall-of-sound have included the likes of John Lennon and Brian Wilson. Clearly, it is something worth studying, worth applying.

Let's continue with Arta's comment.
We've always been a completely egalitarian institution. We do all our own recording, producing, mixing, mastering. It's not a perfect process, we revise and redo things a ton of times until everyone's happy, but isn't that sort of consensus-driven system a hell of a lot better than having some outside producer who dictates to us?
As Arta correctly notes, The Tonics are an egalitarian institution, and it works because each of them understands where they should fit in the mix. In fact, they don't always agree with where they should fit in the mix, but they all recognize that it's an important enough question to consider. None of the Tonics are extraordinary players of their musical instruments, but they play the instrument of production that is rarely played by other bands. They are all producers.

I am writing this essay in the hope that entire bands will get behind a production philosophy and work towards it without having to use an outside producer. I want to show that production is just as important to a record as songwriting. I want to show that pages upon pages can be written about production from an artistic viewpoint. It doesn't have to be wall-of-sound, even though this author believes it to be a most effective production method. You have to figure out which philosophy right for yourself. Alas, many bands don't even take this first step. Many bands walk into a studio, perform, and walk out and leave the engineers to mix. The Tonics don't do this. They would rather spend weeks in postproduction.

But enough about us. In the next section, we will continue reinforcing the wall-of-sound concept by considering if/how some post-1960s records measure up to our definition of the wall-of-sound.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The Wall-of-Sound Explained: Part 7

When you're a producer, you hear a lot of demands from your various musicians. They sound something like this:

Drummer: "I want every piece of my drumset to be distinguishable in the mix, so people don't miss the cool patterns I'm doing."
Electric guitarist: "I didn't buy my $2200 Les Paul Standard for nothing. The world needs to hear my awesome tone."
Acoustic guitarist: "Can I get the vintage Martin sound on this record? I did spend $2400 on this guitar."
Bass guitarist: "Don't make me sound muddy, especially on the part where I'm soloing"
Vocalist: "I hate my voice. Let's put double-tracking, delay and reverb on it."
Arta: "Where's my pick?"

A good wall-of-sound producer will ignore all of these comments. You cannot make everyone sound the way they want, if you expect to create the kind of depth required by the wall-of-sound.

Think of yourself as the conductor of an orchestra. You are in control of your musicians. If your musicians want to go and create their own records so that they would individually sound the way they want, they can do so. But right now they are working for the collective good, the wall-of-sound, and you are the organizer of this project.

I make these points because musicians who do not appreciate the wall-of-sound will certainly not appreciate having his or her instrument buried under layers of echo and reverb, and also because the most common kind of the wall-of-sound has multiple instruments playing the same melody to create a new, bigger sound. This is a trick employed by both Phil Spector and Brian Wilson to create the most monumental hits.

The more instruments you hear playing a melody, the more powerful the melody sounds. Having more instruments also creates more depth to the song, because following the rule in Part 5, you would have to move the instruments farther away from the listener in order to hear the lead singer.

Here are some examples of this technique:

Bass with piano: The Ronettes - "Sleigh Ride"
Lead vocals with oboe: The Beach Boys - "I'm Waiting For The Day"
Electric guitar with piano: The Beach Boys - "California Girls"
Glockenspiel with flute: The Beach Boys - "Sloop John B"
Piano and piano an octave up: The Ronettes - "Baby, I Love You"
Electric guitar and electric guitar an octave up: The Crystals - "Then He Kissed Me"

Remember, even if you have a room full of instruments, it is not wall-of-sound unless you apply the appropriate amount of echo and reverb to all the instruments, as described in Part 5. And remember, too, you don't always need to have a room full of instruments for the song to be wall-of-sound. Think about the sparse instrumentation on "Instant Karma." Or the opening bars of "Imagine," where the piano echoes are sufficient to create a deep sound.