You've Got eWhale!

This week I released the tune "You've Got eWhale."  This song represents a lot to me so I'm gonna sit down here and blog about it.

The first part of the song I wrote was the bass solo at the end.  I wrote it in 1996 or 97 while learning to play bass for the Salem High Jazz band.  The whole riff is on the G string and utilizes a frantic "down / pull-off / up" picking pattern.  I would play it in a loop while warming up for class, occasionally a little too loud, sorry Mr. Reaser!

I never thought it was strong enough for it's own song so I slept on it for a while.  For about 15 years to be exact.  Meanwhile, I moved to Richmond in 2001 and started writing my 2nd solo album, Leaving and Returning.  It's last song is a weird acoustic tune called "Haunt," which depicts a stuck-in-the-rut relationship through a simple 3-chord sequence.  After I moved to Texas and put that album out, I thought I would re-work "Haunt" for a full band.  Unfortunately I never put that band together, and as my sideman career took off the Leaving & Returning album faded into a line on my bio.

Sometime around 2012, that simple little chord sequence wormed its way back into my dreams.  E B A.  A B E.  repeat and ad lib.  I started noodling around with it on the guitar again.  To change it up I just held out the B chord.  Suddenly the song had two sections and started to take form.  I realized that old bass solo would fit at the end.  I did a little creative modulating and the whole thing just took shape.

At the same time, I was dreaming up the idea of JJ vs the Digital Whale.  I had several goals:  I wanted to do a new solo album.  I wanted it to be in the style of a 1970's classic rock concept album.  I wanted it to have a story, not just a theme like Leaving and Returning.   I wanted to make the process part of the story:  I was finding all these old bits of music in my dreams, and trying to tell the story of how they all got there.  At some point I realized I was going to a very isolated place for my source material.  Why not look for a story that could be updated with my own experiences?  I think I read somewhere that good artists do that. :) 

One day at my preschool job, I imagined I was Jonah for about 5 minutes.  I saw a picture in a kids book of a whale and asked myself, how would I feel if I was Jonah, sitting there in the belly of that whale?  Within a day or two the rough ideas for "I Know A Guy," "You've Got eWhale," "Nothing Nowhere NoOne Blues," and "Sunbound" were arranging themselves in my mind.

For me composing music is a profoundly spiritual experience.  It requires tapping into knowledge, even wisdom, from the collective consciousness.  Then bringing that knowledge or wisdom into a fixed form so you can copyright it, put it on the internet, have a music career and stay alive.  Wow.  On a physical level it's making something from nothing.  But spiritually it's just like dipping your tiny cup into an endless ocean.

When music comes into my conscious mind, I give thanks to a higher power.  As long as I do that, it's amazing, all the music just arranges itself in my head.  I'll wake up from dreaming it and just have to remember it (and I'm getting batter at that).  I definitely feel that most of "my" best ideas are the ones that come from somewhere else.  Somewhere bigger, more connected, less physical. 

After being in that spiritual state it can be scary coming back into the "real world" where you have to promote yourself on Twitter and read about horrible things on the news and make pleasant conversation at dinner.  I wanted to really show that with this piece of music.  I realized that the Jonah story appears in Christian, Jewish and Islamic culture.  That really sealed the deal.  I realized that by using the internet to market this thing I could actually reach people in different cultures.  I had a vision of a music fan in Iraq or Pakistan coming across my album online.  In my mind at least, this album could really say something to them from across cultural lines.  Maybe even connect us across those lines.  Questlove was blogging last week about how musicians need to do stuff like this so I hope he finds out about JJ at some point.

These are some of the people close to me who helped make this new song happen:

Shea Broussard, my amazing wife, encouraged me to do the album.  She also played her cool goat hooves on "You've Got eWhale."

Sonny Ratcliff gave me an Mbox for a wedding gift.  I spent about 2 years recording covers and learning protools before starting the first demo of You Got eWhale.  None of the new album would've been possible without Sonny.

I met Scott Solter around the time I was starting to record JJ demos.  He asked me to assist a session at Kudzu ranch (a recording studio in NC) once.  I spent a day watching him wrestle vintage technology, getting amazing sounds at the end but going through an ordeal to get there.  Musicians are constantly battling gear that is designed to be replaced.  We've had a lot of good conversations on this topic, and Scott has influenced the album in more ways than he knows.  This summer Scott recorded the vibraphone, bass and guitar overdubs for "You've Got eWhale," and a few months later mixed the track down to 1/2" tape. 

Joe Perry of Aerosmith once had a custom Strat-style guitar made.  When he saw the off-green finish, he decided not to buy it.  His loss was Scott Solter's gain, because Scott ended up buying it.  Scott's gain was also my gain because the big guitar solo on "You've Got eWhale" was played on the Joe Perry-rejected guitar.  We're not really that close but I still want to thank you, Joe!

Allen Palmer recorded the Drum Set, Piano and B3 at Soundpure Studios in Durham.  Allen assisted on Curtis Eller's sessions and was great to work with.  Soundpure can be super intimidating unless you have Allen there pushing buttons and twisting knobs.

William Dawson has been involved with Curtis Eller's American Circus and our circle of friends for about a year.  William is an amazing multi-instrumentalist.  He played the trombone part you'll hear under the Farfisa solo.  He also introduced me to:

David Asbill Anderson, keyboard tech extraordinaire, who fixed up the B3 at Soundpure, as well as my Farfisa.  Its safe to say there would be a lot of unintentional noise on my keyboard tracks if not for David.

The sound of "You've Got eWhale" is supposed to represent the Whale of technology that engulfs us all in the modern day.  Listen to it on headphones, imagining that all those buttons and knobs, and TV screens and cell phones, and synthesizers and GPS systems, and PS4s and Xboxes and LCDs, they're all around you, squeezing you a little tighter each day, isolating you even while you're trying to text your girlfriend and order a pizza.   Listen to it and imagine that you're JJ for a minute.  He's really not very different from you.


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