“Indecisiv” completes the shortest full length album I’ve done, clocking in at 6 songs less than the previous album and 4 less than the one before that. Ironically, I’ve always wanted to do a double album (pointless now in the era of the digitally released single) and for a while “Ashes, Embers and Old Flames” was going to be that. I wrote and recorded 20 songs for the affair, but as 2012 threatened to become 2013 I decided to stop at ten tracks and save the other ten for the next album.
One of the things I miss about putting albums on CD was the challenge of song sequencing—pacing the experience. On my first album I agonized over how best to present the songs, trying multiple play orders and wondering if I had chosen the best collection of songs for that disc. A lot goes into perfecting the presentation; you need to have an overarching direction (high energy with a dip in the middle back to a big finish, or maybe start slower, pick it up at random times and end softly) then the songs need to flow one to the other with natural sounding tempo, key and mood changes (criteria you don’t really consider during the writing phase when you’re just trying to write songs that don’t suck).
Then you have to make sure the album isn’t too long. As a writer, I always wanted to pack as much material into one collection as possible, but a few years ago I realized that as a listener, I’ve heard enough from a band or artist at 10 songs. It only takes 8-10 songs to wash the dishes or get ready in the bathroom, and those three or four tracks at the end often go unheard. So, here’s my first ten-song album, not short due to lack of material, but short to keep you interested for half an hour. I released the songs in no particular order, choosing candidates based on how much work each needed to be finished and how much time in a week I had to mix it (the most tedious aspect of the recording process). So now the next album is close to finished (Bonus!) and YOU, dear listener, can live the adventure of finding the best order to play the songs on your digital device.
Hope you like these tunes, hope you download them and show them to your friends on a Friday night drive into the city, and hope they make you feel good. Thanks for listening and reading!
Mike Hasler December 21, 2012
When I first started in music, I resented that some people, like myself (song writer, vocalist, arranger, frontman, entrepreneur) seemingly had to work harder than those people who only sang, played no instrument, had their songs written for them and had the business side of the industry handled for them by a dedicated and focused team. I wrote “Jet Setting Queen” in 1999, and back then, my inspiration for the lyric was a teenaged Britney Spears. Manufactured stars were the order of the day, and the new era of singles over albums, Producer-as-star, and audience/artist short term relationships was swiftly replacing the old system of like minded young men banding together in pursuit of common musical goals, to the exclusion of all else in life. I’ll never know how, but thirteen years later Britney is still in the public eye, so I must have misdiagnosed her lack of whatever it is she has. Still, the sentiment—and criticism—in the words rings true with many of our current stars, and it is probably wishful thinking that the old fashioned days of the industry—when hard work and a following could get you a shot at stardom, or better, career longevity— will ever come back. And we will seemingly—now more than ever before—always have the one hit wonders with us.
“Jet Setting Queen” has been in the JS repertoire forever, but was never put to album because I was saving it for the right one. It fits on “Ashes, Embers and Old Flames” in all three categories of the title: Ashes, because at the time of writing this I dreamed of being a star in the industry much the same way our title character is in this song, Embers, because the lyric still proves true today whenever the industry plucks a pretty girl out of the local field and markets her into a global sensation, and Old Flames because it’s a rock song and, despite having grown in my appreciation of many genres and forms since writing this song, my first love will always be rock and roll, and that’s a nice place to revisit once in awhile.
It may seem like cheap and shameless promotion, but I LOVE THIS TRACK! Since I released it I've had it on endless repeat, not something I do for my own music often, especially after having heard it a hundred times through the writing, recording, editing and mixing stages, but the groove is relentless and unforgiving. The song was sitting on my hard drive with all tracks recorded except the finished vocal, then when it came time to lay that down, I got Laryngitis that week. I thought, "this could be cool" and tried to sing it with no voice. The result is a fresh approach guaranteed to scare your younger siblings, and the track reminds me of something The Rolling Stones would do. Lyrically, we've all had that person or thing that wasn't good for us but had some kind of magnetism that kept drawing us back, despite our best intentions to the opposite.
John Lennon wrote, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." The summer didn't go exactly as planned, but we're back with the next track on "Ashes, Embers, and Old Flames," an R and B groove monster called "Do with You (What am I going to)."
A classy and elegant friend of my wife and mine holds a high position in her company, is a professional and is so skilled at what she does.....so when she was at a jackson soulfire concert and a dance party broke out, I was pretty much shocked to see her absolutely cut loose and do more damage to the dancefloor than everybody else combined. I'll never forget how impressed I was with her confidence and the way she was able to throw off any inhibitions to fully saturate herself in the fun moment, and now you'll never forget because I wrote a song about it.
For someone who would become a career musician, it's strange to think I didn't like music until I was sixteen. Through thin walls I would hear my sister blasting Madonna, Phil Collins, Depeche Mode, 2 Unlimited and MC Hammer and wonder why everybody but me liked music so much. My first CD, which I bought for some reason before even owning a CD player, was the orchestral score to "Return of the Jedi," some movie about giant slugs and laser swords. And little bears. Having an active imagination, I would often draw or write with movie soundtracks playing in the back, but then came the day (later my friends and I would come to realize this day is a rite of passage for all teenage boys) that I discovered my uncle's record collection in his storage room and, specifically, pulled out the first 5 records from a band called Led Zeppelin. The German blimp "The Hindenburg," ablaze and crashing into a tower, was an arresting image, and from the first vinyl cracks of "Good Times, Bad Times" right into the haunting and compelling acoustic picking of "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" to the simple-yet commanding 4 semi-tone drop riff of "Dazed and Confused" with it's screaming fast solo section, to one of the first punk songs ever written, "Communication Breakdown" complete with guitar solo I could only fantasize about being able to play at the time, to the heavy swing and incredible drum march of "How Many More Times," that first disc spun an immediate fan for life. The next album, with the unbelievably creative title of "Led Zeppelin 2,"is my favorite album from the band and one of my all time adored collection of songs. Jimmy Page taught me to play guitar and John Paul Jones taught me what could be done on a bass. If you're a fan of Zep, you'll hear those influences in this new JS track, "Résumé for Love." For a while I considered not releasing it because it is so much like something they would do, but then I decided it is a musical tribute to one of the two groups that got me into music in the first place. Enjoy it for that (and for the creative vocal parts in the second chorus that I'm proud of...) This song's dedicated to Erik and Dan, my former JS band mates; we often spoke of Led Zeppelin as a mutual influence when arranging songs, and more importantly, the group who wrote the textbook on rock helped write a part of our friendships too.
After ten years of marriage, I could still use more practice at being a better husband. Mixing this song all week, I started to take my own advice and do more for my hard-working wife. Guys, it works! Suddenly the sweetness comes back into their voice and they start bringing you coffee again!
I feel like this is the best song I've written. While there are other JS songs that can stand with it in terms of depth and beauty, ("Don't Say Goodbye," "Child of the King," "Regret,") "Memory Box" has an effortless melody, sweet variance in the chord progression (the verse has 3 chords in it I don't know the names of but the chorus has some of the oldest chord tricks in the book [C to G, anyone?] and the words are honest, speaking of love in terms of friendship only. In songwriting, my good, good friend Erik Johnson and I have influenced each other in distinct ways; I've encouraged him to consider different musical directions (like using the trick of writing an entirely separate chord progression for the bed of a solo, a feature this song happens to have) and he's inspired me to be more honest and introspective with my lyrics. Like many of the songs on "Ashes, Embers, and Old Flames," I had the music ready for "Memory Box" long before I had any idea what I was going to sing about. It was only when I reconnected on Facebook with a friend who had been very close in childhood that I felt truly inspired to write about love and the passage of time and how ancient feelings can stay with us forever. The song asks, "Was there more/less there than what we thought, were we too young to really understand our feelings or were they perfect because they were innocent and pure. How does what we carry with us our whole lives shape us in the present?
This week's release showcases my main musical goal with JS; give the groove of a Funk song the production of a Pop song and don't forget your Rock roots. Lyrically, this song is about the singer Rihanna. I used to be a big fan of hers, but on her "Good Girl Gone Bad" album you could see her taking the dare so many other female singers before her have--using sex appeal as marketing tool. Before, it felt like when she flirted with immoral lyrical themes it was because songwriters were making her sing that material. After the horrible incident where singer Chris Brown beat her, she seemed to own the words. We were horrified to hear what Brown did to her; beating her while driving. Can you imagine being that poor girl, getting punched with no way to escape and nowhere to move, only her forearms and maybe her left leg to use as shielding? In the aftermath, a different woman emerged; once beautiful, she became a mascara-stained clown, hardened, and her lyrics (like in the song "S and M") turned downright vulgar. I can't listen to her anymore, but this song is written about her. (At the time I wrote the lyrics, Rihanna had "We Found Love" on the radio, and the first line is "Yellow Diamonds in the sun..." In this new JS song I mean that word picture as a lower quality version of the white diamond she used to be, and hopefully, will be again.
When a close friend heard the new Jackson Soulfire album was entitled "Ashes, Embers and Old Flames" she asked if the whole thing was going to be about ex-girlfriends. Um, no. I've been happily married for 10 years, so writing an album like that would be inappropriate, but, apart from a couple of songs based on people from the past, the title is meant to encompass any woman I’ve known who has affected me in some way or whom I've heard something about that touched me. Too, the title is meant to stretch beyond the obvious into the realm of other passions life gives and takes from us, like hopes, dreams and ambitions; at age 34, some of the things I once held so dear to are old, some are dead, and some are still smouldering, just waiting for re-ignition.
So there are songs written about my wife, there are songs written about women who are now other men's wives, there’s a song written about a close childhood friend I reconnected with decades later via Facebook, and there are songs about celebrities like Rihanna (after Chris Brown beat her) or Britney Spears, who epitomizes the power of the American Marketing Machine.
The lead off single is called “Down to the Dirty” and it’s written about one of my strongest relationship dislikes; when you get into an argument and it takes so much time and wasted energy to navigate the superficial points to get to the root of the matter. The song says, “Bring the truth out first and save us the dance.”