And so, as we roll into the fiery heart of summer, we have our proof of concept. I am no longer an aspirant; I am now the singer in a shit-hot rock ‘n’ roll band — and soon to be, under the terms of my joining, the singer-songwriter. Which means I’ve got to get my songs out to my compadres.
Now, writing the songs is one thing. Communicating them to a band, though, is quite another. We believe in doing our homework before we go down the basement stairs — in knowing our individual parts beforehand and using our time together to assemble the pieces and adjust the fit. So it seems to me an unconscionable waste of time to play solo acoustic and hash out basslines and accompaniment as we go — primarily because I tend to compose for a band anyway; for every song, I have at least a rough idea for an arrangement. And because the Roscoe’s Basement method is to learn songs from recordings, I need to produce some recordings.
Easier said than done. I don’t have any of the standard equipment to do the job — no GarageBand, no ProTools, no modeling amps, not USB microphone interface. All I have is a couple of guitars and a laptop. I’ve got some open-source audio editing software — the product I use to assemble my famous mixtapes, in fact — so I can multitrack, at least in theory. But I have no way to input instruments or vocals, except for the cruddy, pinhole-sized condenser mic built into the laptop.
To call my first experiment “crude” is exceedingly generous. I manage to successfully record a couple of acoustic guitar parts and a vocal, but the layers of room noise and bleed — I don’t even a decent pair of headphones, so I record wearing leaky earbuds — make it murky, nearly unlistenable.
Home demo for “Purple Jesus.” Two nylon-string guitars, voice, harmonica, words and music by Jack Feerick. Recorded June 2016.
Two things soon happen to marginally improve my demos. First, I start making drum tracks — looping sections from CD rips — and quickly amass a collection of professionally recorded beats. Given that I cannot actually play a drumkit, this makes it dramatically easier to communicate the proper “feel” to the rhythm section. Secondly, I realize that my bass amp has a headphone output that I can run to the laptop’s mic input. Using my Peavey as a preamp, I can record guitar and bass parts direct to hard disk.
It’s a kludgey system. There’s a delay between playing the note and hearing it in my phones, so I turn off the pass-through function — meaning that I cannot hear the amp signal at all as I record. I’m effectively playing along with the recorded track on an unplugged instrument.
But it works, kind of. The incoming signal is clippy — fuzzed-up and weedy; it takes extensive EQ, compression, and reverb in the mixing process to get anything like a beefy guitar tone; and I still have to do all my vocals with the built in condenser mic. The important thing, though, is that I can suddenly make demos that make sense to somebody’s ears besides mine — coherent multitrack recordings with backing vocals, real bass and drums, even placeholder guitar solos.
I am instantly drunk with power.
I immediately determine to show the band everything I’ve got, whether they want it or not. In the cool quiet of my own basement, I go into a frenzy of writing and recording. Arrangements — some of which have been living in my head for years — spill out with blazing speed. I nail most parts in one or two takes. The first song I record with the new method is “Jack o’ Diamonds,” which I figure is a sure shot for the set list.
The songs are coming so quickly that I institute what I jokingly call my “Song O’ The Week Club.” Every Monday in July and into August, I upload a new demo to the band’s shared Google drive, along with tabs for crucial licks. As we continue to rehearse over the summer, I make it a point to never ask what people think of the week’s song; if they like it, I figure they’ll let me know without being prompted.
Honestly I’m having too much fun to care, making my little songs in my little studio. High on adrenaline and punk, I dash off a thrash number inspired by a goofy picture making the rounds on Twitter.
Home demo for “Meat Clown.” Drum sample, three electric guitars, bass, voices, words and music by Jack Feerick; recorded August 2016.
There is one song for which I have high hopes, though — my hidden ace, an older song that I still reckon is the best thing I’ve ever written. The Richard Thompson influence is perhaps a trifle too apparent, but I like the atmosphere — and it would be a great showcase for Mike’s guitar. If I were an A&R executive, I’d pick this one as the hit single.
Home demo for “After the Axe Has Fallen.” Drum sample, two electric guitars, electroacoustic guitar, bass, percussion, voices, words and music by Jack Feerick; recorded June 2016, additional recording May 2017.
But there’s a reason artists don’t act as their own A&R guys. There’s no enthusiasm for “Jack o’ Diamonds,” which is deemed “too country-western” for our set. “Meat Clown” gets a chuckle, but no one wants to play it for real. “After the Axe” lands with barely a splash. Another of my picks to click, a Stonesy stomper called “Blues for the Black and Tan,” is never mentioned at all; it’s as if my bandmates have agreed to pretend it never happened.
There is one song of mine, though, for which they go ga-ga. They hear something in it.
Studio demo of “Purple Jesus,” performed and arranged by Roscoe’s Basement. Jack Feerick – lead and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, agogo; Deanna Finn – backing vocals; Tom Finn – drums; Craig Hanson – bass guitar, backing vocals; Mike Mann – electric guitars, slide guitar; Chuck Romano – electric guitar; with Debbie Stiker-Mann, backing vocals. Engineered and mixed by Joe Nauert at Finger Lakes Community College Studio 1, November 2016.
And, well, I guess they’re right.
Next month: Surprise, Surprise