We're still a few days away from going back into the studio to put the finishing touches on our second album, No Way In, No Way Out. That disc will be released in March. In the meantime, this week we were thrilled to find out that A Writer's Retreat from the Uncertain Vista album, is now featured on the third King Minion Music Podcast. We are so excited that the King chose our song to be showcased with tracks by such stellar bands/artists including: Georgina Taylor, Bingham Willougby, AJ Prowler, The Ostinato Brothers, Pink Side Of The Moon, The Likeness, Tym Deal and Susan Raines. Check it out and listen to amazing tunes and a very professional production: http://kingminionmusicpodcast.blogspot.com/p/episode-3.html And if you really like what you hear support the artists -- most especially us of course -- by purchasing the music. You will notice a direct link on the King Minion page to Sills and Smith, Uncertain Vista on iTunes. Our song Angry Geezer is available on the first King Minion Podcast and the lovely High Tide, also on the Uncertain Vista album, has been selected for a future edition by the King. Keep listening to the King Minion Podcast and show your support on Facebook for this initiative that presents opportunities for independent artists to be heard. The King Minion Music Podcast is being operated out of Victoria, British Columbia -- so it's proudly Canadian -- and is connected with a boutique label called V1 Music. Jeremy and I spent the week listening to the current mixes of 12 nearly completed tracks for No Way In, No Way Out. It all sounds amazing to our ears. At this stage, the album clocks in at just over 44 minutes, but the full 15 song disc will be around 55 minutes of music. In the last two weeks of this month, we will return to Jonathan's studio, Corvidae Music to complete our work on the vocals. Jonathan has to finish up the arrangements for three songs, but we are on schedule for a March release. With any luck, and providing Jonathan is OK with it, we may post a couple of tunes on the Reverb. page to give you a taste for No Way In, No Way Out before the end of February. Keep checking out our site. Jeremy and I were back at it this week rehearsing brand new material. It seems there is music always percolating and bubbling to the surface. This week we tried out One With the Season and The Arsonist. The first tune is a celebration of the beauty in nature and being one with it all and is very sweet and pretty. The Arsonist rocks really hard and is about a deeply disturbed individual who sets fires at night all around his home-town. It's got an interesting melody in the verse, bridge and chorus parts, with the latter two repeating for added effect. Jeremy played some pretty wild, trippy electric guitar as we were practicing The Arsonist. These two new songs, plus Advice Best Taken, Is It Love? and Alcohol, Swallow It Down that we introduced to the Sills and Smith repertoire just last week, will be definite keepers for that third album -- whenever we get around to recording it. Until next time...Cheers, Frank
It was a real thrill to read Jonathan's insightful contribution in our last blog. He has done an outstanding job on our second album, bringing his considerable talents as an instrumentalist and producer to bear on the material. What I love about Jonathan's work is his incredibly creative, broad palette approach to the musical arrangements. I think the songs on Uncertain Vista and especially on No Way In, No Way Out show that we can't be placed inside any kind of a musical box. There is an awful lot of genre bending and blending going on, which reflects our eclectic musical tastes. It is also indicative of our ever changing moods and sense of artistic adventure. This week Jonathan shared completed early mixes of three more songs, bringing the total number of album tracks that are nearly finished to 12. Pain, Life In Miniature and Light, the three finished this week, make my point about variety in the tunes. Life In Miniature and Light are quiet, almost pastoral folk songs -- the softer side of the new album. Pain, on the other hand, at its heaviest is a brutal, driving rocker with pounding bass and shredding electric lead guitar. It's actually the hardest we've ever pushed ourselves on a song and the closest we've come to punk/grunge rock so far. But even that tune has surprising tempo switches in the chorus, with an ethereal, pleading vocal from Jeremy. Pain and the atmospheric title track No Way In, No Way Out, seem to articulate a thread that runs through the songs on this album. Up until now, it's been hard to measure it all, but as the album is finally starting to gel from just a bunch of songs, there is a message that is pretty loud and clear. This album feels like a desperate cry from the wilderness for a kinder, gentler world. Enough said on that, I guess. It all sounds pretty cool to our ears and as Jonathan puts it so well, it seems like a natural progression from Uncertain Vista. I think the songs are uniformly strong and extremely melodic and we've really stretched the bounds this time around with longer pieces, explorations into prog/rock territory and, of course, greater use of Jeremy's magnificent voice. I do hope you folks like the album when you hear it. Anyway, we're going to be sitting with the mixes for a couple of weeks and we'll be back in the studio with Jonathan in the last two weeks of the month to finish up this recording. In the meantime, we were back at it rehearsing three brand, spanking new songs this week at Jeremy's place: Alchohol, Swallow It Down; Is It Love? and Advice Best Taken. Too bad we'll have to leave these three off the new disc, because they sound great. We tried two different versions of Alchohol, Swallow It Down, with Jeremy on electric guitar. The first was a rousing, St. Patrick's Day pub style version, which -- despite the grim lyrics -- had a celebratory tone. The second -- which I think we'll settle on eventually -- is a rootsy, weepy, dirge, on the evils of drink. Is It Love? has a kind of a Robyn Hitchcock/Soft Boys flavour to it, in terms of it's sarcasm and psycedelic tones, but it doesn't sound like any tune he's written. It was astounding with the two of us trading verses and singing the mighty, amusing chorus. The electric guitar was really chiming nicely, with some added effects from Jeremy's bag of tricks. Advice Best Taken is probably one of the more melodically interesting songs I've written and really takes advantage of our two voices and Jeremy's brilliant harmony singing. Well, it seems we've already stock-piled enough decent songs for a third album. However, we'll need to rest on our laurels -- such as they are -- and let Uncertain Vista and No Way In, No Way Out find their audiences before we record anything else. Do you think 36 songs and close to two hours of original music, released within six months is enough? The new album will be out in March. Until next time, Cheers, Frank
Well, Frank's been on my case to make a blog entry about how the recording process is going, so I guess it's time I weighed in. So far, the new album is progressing faster in all respects than Uncertain Vista went, I think because we streamlined how we do things a little better, plus my technical skills are greatly improved from last time around through continuous experimenting in the studio as well as applying stuff I learned while in Nashville last year. All in all, the new songs are awesome and I'm having a great time contributing to the creative process! This batch of songs are the strongest stuff Frank and Jeremy have written to date, more concise and melodic. The flavour of this album is a little more in the alt rock vein with a little less of the whimsical nature of Uncertain Vista, but I think there's more drama in the songs and a greater cohesive whole. Don't worry though, there are still plenty of quiet moments and acoustic textures throughout. One thing we've been trying to capitalise on which we didn't do enough of on Uncertain Vista was to showcase Jeremy's astonishing vocal talents. What Jeremy did in the brief musical interludes in Spiraling Down and Symphony of Colours really merited further exploration, so on this album we've been trying to find more places for him to stretch out with some improv vocalisation stuff. I don't want to give too much away, but in the extended middle section (in 11/8 time, no less!) of the rather Floyd-ian Would It All Be Different showcases Jeremy in a way that gives me goosebumps. We did a bunch of takes, all of them somewhat different, and now that I'm at the mix stage of the song, I found that I didn't want to throw anything away of those performances. So, I figured out a way to edit the four performances together into a sort of choral arrangement that to my ears is absolutely astonishing to hear as Jeremy progresses through a buildup of soft tones, harmonics, and throat singing to a series of whoops and cries over a pulsating drum beat that dovetails into a screaming guitar solo. For me it's about the most magical several minutes of music I've had the pleasure to work with. There are some new flavours worked into the mix besides Jeremy's vocalising. I've been working on my keyboard skills in the time since Uncertain Vista and that's led to a greater presence of Hammond organ textures on the album, a sound I dearly love because it brings so much warmth and texture without sounding cold and mechanical like a synth. We've also worked in a few time signature related things that shake up the grooves a little bit too, that's been fun to put bass and drums down with that stuff. At the time of this writing, we've got 8 songs more or less completed, and right now I'd say they all rank right up there with the very best stuff from Uncertain Vista and exceed it in many ways. Frank has grown immensely as a writer in the last few months, and I'd have to say it's been an absolute joy to work with him and Jeremy on these songs. Can't wait to get the rest of these songs done and out there in the world for you to hear! Jonathan
The rockin' Angry Geezer, from the Uncertain Vista album, is now featured on the second King Minion Music Podcast. We are so excited that the King chose our song to be showcased with tracks by other terrific bands including: The Honey Wilders, The Likeness, The OBE Show, The Pondhawks, The Terry Gilbert Project, Anton Mink, and James Ferris Group. Check it out and listen to some amazing tunes: http://kingminionmusicpodcast.blogspot.com/p/episode-2.html Two other songs from Uncertain Vista have also been chosen by King Minion to be featured in upcoming Podcasts: A Writer's Retreat and High Tide. In that case, keep listening to the King Minion Podcast and show your support on Facebook for this initiative that presents opportunities for independent artists to be heard. The King Minion Music Podcast is being operated out of Victoria, British Columbia -- so its proudly Canadian -- and is connected with a boutique label called V1 Music.
On Thursday, Jeremy and I were back at Corvidae Music for more vocal work on the new album, No Way In, No Way Out. With 14 songs recorded and the arrangements and mixes for 8 tunes nearing completion, Jonathan asked us into his studio to sing on three songs: It Doesn't Matter, Would It All Be Different? and That's Not The Reason. As I was singing from the booth and Jeremy was singing while playing his guitar in the initial recordings, most of my original vocals could be used. I'd also managed an extra couple of hours one afternoon last week in the studio to do some vocal over-dubs. However, Jeremy needed to sing his verse and chorus parts owing to guitar bleed on his vocal mic and the click track occasionally making its presence felt in the mix. As usual, Jeremy was the consummate pro. With some direction from Jonathan in the control booth, he sang his parts on the chorus of It Doesn't Matter and That's Not the Reason brilliantly. It Doesn't Matter is a dark, dark song thematically, but Jonathan has countered the subject matter with this sparkly, jaunty, shuffling, kind of sea shanty arrangement that works fabulously. Wait until you hear That's Not the Reason. It's a portentous little ditty, with a flavour of reggae to it. Weird and wonderful, with a killer chorus. Would It All Be Different? -- which Jonathan has turned into an epic sounding prog/rock piece -- required Jeremy to sing the chorus over. He was also asked to add a wordless vocalization in the song's mid-section, to accompany music starting with a plucked acoustic guitar and swirling organ and then an alternating ambient and searing electric lead by Jonathan. Man, what a performance that was. Jeremy's voice just swooped and soared, gloriously over the music. It left us sitting pretty much stunned and amazed listening in the booth. That track is going to sound so dynamic and powerful on the album. I finished off the Thursday session by doing my vocal over-dubs on the chorus of Would It All Be Different?, which repeats three times. The timing is tricky, but we got it down. On Friday, technically Day 9 in the studio, it was just Jonathan and me. I had written a new song called These Ghosts, Thursday evening. As Jeremy wasn't available, I wanted Jonathan to hear the tune while it was fresh. I think it's a beautiful song, which involves a brother and sister returning to the family home after their parents have passed away, to pack up family treasures, and to sell the house. Jonathan played an acoustic guitar and sang the song with me for about fifteen minutes or so. He really loves the song too, so that made me feel great. We recorded a guitar and voice demo, with a click track within an hour. This will be the 15th song on the album and could very well end the disc. At this stage, we're thinking that Melancholy World could be the first song as it will really start things off with a bang. Anyway, the all important task of track sequencing will be addressed in the weeks ahead. Jeremy will need to add his parts to These Ghosts. But it was a very productive week. More to report next week as we work to complete No Way In, No Way Out for a March release. Cheers, Frank
A lot of folks have told us how much they like No Safety Net. We're so pleased that song has struck a chord. As Jeremy and I were heading off to the studio to record the last two album tracks, we were diggin' The Church's album Jammed in my car. Listening, to that remarkable, rather obscure disc by my favourite Aussie band reminded me of the spark that led to No Safety Net. I was test driving the entirely instrumental Jammed on headphones for the first time last spring, having ordered the album through "Church Merch." in Australia. I was listening to the disc at full throttle, as Steve, Marty, Peter, and Tim, flailed away on their instruments, making the most glorious racket. Suddenly, I thought in the midst of the first track, entitled "The Sexual Act": Holy shit, these guys are playing with No Safety Net, No Tether.. I was so excited and inspired. Grabbed a note pad and pen on the coffee table by the couch and quickly scribbled down the rest of the words -- stream of consciousness style -- as the melody started to form in my head. It's not much of a tune, really -- kind of the closest I'll ever get to a rap. No Safety Net is a rumination on the inevitability of things in life and that, since we have virtually no control anyway, we might as well dive into the fray and face the consequences. If the song sounds great, it's owing to Jeremy's and Jonathan's amazing musicianship and the super production work of Jonathan. But there you have the genesis of a song, totally inspired by the amazingly inspiring, legendary, The Church. We managed to turn The Church album down long enough to discuss the songs that needed to be recorded in today's session with Jonathan before we arrived at Corvidae Music. On tap today were the new album's title track, No Way In, No Way Out and Pain. After the usual pre-recording tune-ups and salty humour, we were down to business quickly. Pain was first up. It's a great song, but it was a mighy pain in the ass to record with a click track. The problem is there are two distinctly different time signatures within the tune. We needed to record the guide vocals by splitting the song up. The song is tricky to sing. Jeremy did a great job on the guitar and his vocals. I think I held my own, although we'll need to go back and re-work a couple of things in the chorus parts as I sounded a little shakey as I tried to sustain the note at the end. But it was certainly good enough for Jonathan to build the arrangement. On to No Way In, No Way Out. Man; this one was tough. There was a delay on Jeremy's guitar effect and my timing on the verses was out of whack. Clearly, I had over-written a car crash scene in the second half of the song as we had extra lines in the verses. Anyway, we did a work around. Jeremy played the main riff so Jonathan could loop it and we sang to the loop. I sang the first two verses and the chorus and Jeremy did a terrific job with the last two verses and the pre-chorus leading up the final chorus, which we sang twice. Easy as pie. Yeah, right! I was concentrating so hard I thought I was going to go cross-eyed by the end of the session. And, good God that click track is an awful thing to get used to. Reminds me of the metronome from my childhood piano lessons. Of course, it's all very necessary to the process. We left Corvidae Music feeling a sense of great accomplishment, knowing that we had recorded all 14 songs for No Way In, No Way Out. And, we each had in our possession an 8 track CD with the latest mixes of songs that are nearing completion. Listening to the stuff as I type this. Man, it sounds awesome. Jonathan is a brilliant fellow. Wait until you hear this music. More news from the studio Thursday as we're back doing vocal over-dubs. Until then, Cheers, Frank
Robin Youlton, who goes by Rhesus Monkey on Reverbnation. is one of my dearest friends in music and I have never even met the man. Robin lives in England, so there are several thousand miles and there's an extremely large pond separating us. But from the instant Robin heard Sills and Smith, he became a fan of our music and was so supportive -- even when I was seriously doubting myself, Robin was in our corner. I can tell you it's quite a mutual admiration society, because this guy is incredible. Robin is a modest fellow about his own accomplishments, but he is a true genius in music and with film. And, I don't use the word "genius" lightly. As Rhesus Monkey, Robin selects significant moments in history -- often using rare, archival footage from the BBC and elsewhere -- and puts them to the most amazing music that he composes and performs. Hollywood luminaries like Steven Spielberg should be busting down Robin's door -- contracts in hand -- begging him to write the music for their films. In terms of the videos, I'd suggest starting with the mind-blowing The Visitation, a shorter piece and then moving on to more involved sonic and visual experiences from that point. Anyway, do visit Robin's page; listen, watch and learn. http://www.reverbnation.com/rhesusmonkey Cheers, Frank Here's a posting from Robin about his latest project the 14 minute, epic piece. You must experience this! The story of Berlin. Part One - Zero Hour (1945 - 1948). http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyqQaO4HzKg&feature=g-upl&context=G21b5703AUAAAAAAAAAA A city devastated by war becomes the centre piece in the Cold War between East and West. Video production and music soundtrack by Rhesus Monkey. "Das Ist Berlin" Music by Leo Leux & Mathias Perl, Lyrics by Hans Hannes & Bruno Balz.
A stop at Bridgehead coffee shop in Westboro -- a Sills and Smith favourite -- was a must before we set off to the studio this afternoon. There is nothing like fresh roasted, fair trade, organic coffee. So delicious and loaded with high octane fuel, essential for work in the studio. We headed to Jonathan's studio with Jethro Tull's amazing Heavy Horses album blasting from my car speakers. "And The Mouse Police Never Sleep" indeed! After we arrived at Corvidae Music and Jonathan ushered into us into his secret lair, we checked our music sheets for the session. We discarded a couple of tunes as ones that we'd leave off the album and decided to work on doing initial guitar and vocals work on four tunes: Saturday, Light, Open Season On Love and In Miniature. I must say everything went smoothly with the session -- all things considered. There were a few minor re-writes on the rockin', Open Season On Love when we realized one of the verses had too many words for me to wrap my tongue around to keep in time with the music. Jeremy did a wonderful job singing In Miniature and it sounded just glorious when we both sang the chorus. It's a very pretty song. Saturday and Light - which are also on the softer side -- found us sharing the verses. Those songs will be highlights of the album I'm sure for people who like our folkier side. We will need to re-record some vocal parts for these tracks and Jonathan will be building the arangements in the days ahead, but I feel like we accomplished a lot today. After a short discussion, it was unanimous that we will be recording 14 songs for this CD. This will be a long album and I hope those who hear it will think they are getting quality and quantity. While most tunes will average around three to four minutes or so, there are going to be a couple of tracks stretching to six and seven minute territory. On Monday, we do guitar and vocals work on the two remaining songs: the prog/rock piece No Way In, No Way Out and Pain. The former, which was up until recently called In Silence, will be the title track to the disc. Wait until you hear this song!! So, until next week, have a great weekend. Cheers, Frank
Thanks to our new friend Chas Cunningham of the terrific Scottish band The Skunnered, the title track from Uncertain Vista will be played on the radio in Scotland this Saturday, January 21st on the Pulse 98.4: http://www.pulseonair.co.uk/ In addition to playing with The Skunnered, Chas does music programming on Pulse 98.4 in East Renfrewshire. The Saturday Sandwich is a program that runs from 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. (which means a 6:00 a.m. start for us in Ottawa). The show is a really neat format, combining live music with Chas and various talented friends and pre-recorded songs. The land of the finest single malt whisky is home to even finer people and tremendous music.Chas has already played No Safety Net and A Writer's Retreat from our album on his show, so I guess that means he likes us. If you're not in East Renfrewshire within radio signal distance, just tune in online as we'll be doing this Saturday. Sills and Smith will be having an early breakfast with the Saturday Sandwich this weekend.
Today, was our scheduled fifth day at Corvidae Music as we work to complete our second album. But it started with a sense of trepidation and dread at what the Ottawa winter had dished out. After hearing the daunting weather forecast, I couldn't help but think of a line from Tom Waits' Diamonds on My Windshield from the brilliant Heart of Saturday Night album: "There's 50 feet of snow in the East and it was colder than a well digger's ass; colder than a well digger's ass." Still not a lot of snow for these parts, but it was damn cold at -33 with the wind chill. Luckily, things warmed -- just a touch -- as we headed off to Jonathan's studio in the late afternoon for a session of musical merriment and certain mayhem. Since I'd done extra vocal work last Thursday, it was Jeremy's turn to do the heavy lifting today, with acoustic guitar and vocals required on Radiance and Clouds. I assumed my position as "co-producer" for this session, stretched out on a rather comfy couch at the back of Jonathan's control room while Jeremy tuned up his guitar. Meanwhile, Jonathan twiddled knobs and dials, plugged and unplugged cables and cords. I have vowed to stay well away from any vital studio equipment while in session. There was a certain, unfortunate incident involving an exploding package of M@M's (manufacturing defect, I'm convinced) that occurred during an Uncertain Vista mixes listening session in the summer that could have been catastrophic. Luckily, the M@M's spilled all over Jonathan's floor, but if one or two had lodged in a pre-amp or something that might well have shut the studio down for weeks. I won't tell, for sure, if we picked all those delicious chocolate candies up and ate them, as that would be indelicate. I will say, at least from my perspective, that an M@M would need to land on a heap of steaming dung before it would be considered entirely unsalvageable. But I digress. Anyway, Jeremy did a brilliant job with the acoustic guitar on Radiance. Everything sounds so warm, particularly the way Jonathan has the guitar mics set-up in the room. There will be a lot of acoustic guitar on this album, even on the tracks that rock pretty hard. We all dearly love the texture that acoustic guitar adds to a song -- whether its a folk or an alternative rock piece. After he played guitar, Jeremy sang an extra, high vocal part on the chorus of Radiance as counter to my lower part; Jonathan plans on singing a part between the two of us. The blending of voices should be marvelous once Jonathan is through with the mix. As there was considerable set-up required initially, and levels had to be checked on the guitar, the recording of the acoustic on Clouds went much more quickly. Jeremy nailed that pretty smartly. Really thick strummy sound, that suits the song perfectly. Jonathan may add a mandolin to the mix. That would be lovely. The bass sounds so rich on both of these tracks. Jeremy sang the chorus for Clouds after adding the guitar part. I suggested a hummed part to close out the last few bars of the song, as I kept hearing it in my head with the chiming electric guitar, bass and acoustic atmospherics. In fact, I've put humming this out loud everytime I play the rough mix. Jeremy delivered the idea, in spades, with a tremendous vocalization that closes the song. It was a very successful day of recording and I did next to nothing. I'll be working harder on Thursday though when we are back at it, with a bunch of songs left to record to complete the album including: Saturday, Open Season On Love, Light, In Silence, In Miniature, Pain and Let It All Float By. We also need to go back and re-record certain vocal parts for Would It All Be Different? and It Doesn't Matter. So, there's a lot to be done but we are making steady progress in the studio and having a blast in the process. Another report will follow after Thursday's session. Until then, Cheers, Frank