Here’s the text of my latest newsletter, with the fanpage password redacted. You need to sign up for that.
It’s just under two months since Fit The Fourth was released. Good things have happened since including:
1. Prog Mag Review
I’m a ‘batty steampunk wizard’ apparently. I quite like that. More info here.
2. Launch gig!
I played an acoustic launch gig. It was great fun, none of the audience threw anything, and the support set from fellow Bad Elephant Jon Hunt was great.
Over on the fan page I’ve put up a zip file with recordings of most of my set from that night. You can download and hear far, far too many songs about Seven Bells John. Including a one man version of Seven Bells Redeemed. Not quite sure how I pulled that off.
I’ve also put up lyrics from recent releases as some people who bought CDs at gigs might never have seen the digital only lyrics sheets.
The password for the fanpage is [REDACTED]. Here’s the link.
Oooh, shall we have a competition? If you want a free CD (don’t tell David from Bad Elephant Music!) reply to this email with an explanation of what the new password is about. No using google, that’s cheating! I’ll pull a winner out of my hat. Deadline is Weds 5th August.
Thanks for listening you mad, lovely people. See below for gigs and other stuff.
August 8th – House Concert
August 22nd -The 5th Surrey Steampunk Convivial Link
Elsewhere – There should be gigs in other parts of the country later in year. Stay tuned!
So yesterday I launched my album Fit the Fourth by putting some people into a little Chapel in Bethnal Green and singing songs at them.
There’s a list of things that have gone wrong with acoustic gigs that I was keen to avoid: dodgy sound, no seating, a dodgy or random set of acts, a lack of coherence to the night, silly ticket prices.
None of these things went wrong yesterday. The sound was good, the venue was different and had seats in it, it makes total sense to have Jon Hunt and myself on the same bill, there was no money involved (apart from the sound guy’s well-earned fee and the CDs people purchased). It was a proper little show and it worked.
I’m very glad it did because it’s the first time I’ve organised a gig.
That’s not entirely true, I’ve organised many a school concert. Trying to organise forty or fifty teenagers in various different acts and sort out sound, lighting and stage management with too few staff is considerably more stressful than this was.
It is the first time I’ve organised a gig of my own music, to launch an album that’s out on an actual label (well, Bad Elephant Music). It’s the first time I’ve been top of a bill and certainly the most people ever to turn up to see me play who didn’t have to because they were my friends and family.
It’s the first time I’ve played 45 minutes of music where almost every single song was about the same character. It was the first time I’ve attempted to play a one-man version of one of my 20 minute songs that was never intended to be performed in that fashion (I think it worked!).
It was, in short, a bloody good night and I am very happy with it.
There will be recordings in a few days. You have been warned.
PS. I love that the picture above makes it look more like a lecture that happened to include a guitar.
Jordan Brown, bassist extraordinaire for the the band The Rube Goldberg Machine played bass on a couple of tracks from my new album. Here’a blog post he wrote about the experience.
The world of prog music is an interesting ecosystem.
By definition progressive rock grants total freedom to the musicians to create (hopefully) interesting musical concoctions aimed at stimulating the cochleas and subsequently the synapses of the listener For my tastes a lot of stuff out there is a bit too abstract, formulaic or cringe – worthy. Or a combination of the three.
Tom is a very interesting artist. It seems to me that he has a very developed vision of who he is as a musician: A sci-fi storyteller with a penchant for odd time signatures and soundscapes.
Those of you who are not in the know might be already rolling their eyes – what pretentiousness!
To those people I say Mr. Slatter pulls it off like a boss and then some.
He can write great melodies, has a fine ear for arrangement, knows how to employ the principles of functional harmony (gasp!) and can capture the imagination of us prog – heads and geeks with his words.
Dude’s tres cool. The only way he could be any cooler would be if he wrote a concept album about William Adama riding a Shai – Hulud to Rapture. If you got all three references you need to get out more.
When I’ve heard he was recording his new album “Fit The Fourth” I contacted him on Facebook and asked if he could please consider having me as a guest on his album; he gracefully accepted and sent me the demos of “Some Of The Creatures Have Broken The Locks On The Door To Lab 558” (the title is so long that Bandcamp charges him double) and “Far From The Shore”. He also sent me some instructions that I can’t help but quote:
“Lab 558: This one’s a straight rocker for the most part, but have fun with it and don’t feel confined to root notes except in the middle 4/4 chorus where it probably needs ’em. That counter melody in the intro that I currently have on electric guitar might work on higher register bass. There’s also room for twiddliness on the melodic figure that precedes the drums coming in. The middle section (That’s why the sky’s falling down’) can also be more free”
“Far from the Shore: Imagine that you are adrift on the salt baked remains of what used to be your ship. The last fresh water ran out days ago and there’s no land in site. You started hallucinating at some point in the last few hours. The sun has beaten and burned away what’s left of your reason, but you’re happy because you know at some point soon you will slip beneath the waves and breathe through the new gills you have grown”
Now that’s the kinda stuff that really gets me going.
True artists don’t waste any time with technicalities. They want emotion and it was my plan to provide meister Slatter with some bass action he’d be proud to hear on his songs.
For all you audio nerds out there: I recorded my basses through my trusty NEVE 1076 straight into my Focusrite Forte and did all the editing in Studio One V2. If memory doesn’t fail me I also provided a parallel distorted track made with Guitar Rig.
So I receive the bassless demos and think: “Now what?”
Things look nebulous from here. Not the songs, there is enough there to have a clear idea of all the movements and parts in the composition.
As a guest bassist, my main aim is to enhance what’s there and make sure I don’t play against anything else. Writing a bassline at this stage of the production is like a game of chess. Most of the stuff is already there, so you kinda know the coordinates, but it’s possible that some of the stuff in there could be a place-holder that will be re recorded differently.
It’s also probable that parts of the arrangements will be developed texturally (spoiler alert – they did), the only thing is I don’t know how.
That’s where you start projecting in the future. Bass frequencies carry a lot of weight both from the sonic side of things and the harmonic too. If I play something that implies a different chord, I will ruin the harmonic motion that Tom expects; that could be a calculated risk, but it’s the first time we work together and I have to play nice.
If I play too much it’ll sound a mess. If I play too little I fail to meet the guidelines dictated by the XIX century book “De Res Progressivae” by R. Wakemanious.
This prog, for Chris’ sake. Chris is Chris Squire BTW.
I decide to follow my instinct. I shall remain glued to the drum pattern when Tom sings and alternate between counterpoint and unison with some of the lead voices during the instrumental parts, while remaining reasonably solid. May Geddy Lee smile on me.
For this tale of things gone incredibly wrong in an underground scientific facility, I decided to play my fretless, because, why not? It worked for Mick Karn and Colin Edwin. I too want to join the club. Being a rocky, groovy tune, the key there is being tight; there is a lot of back and forth between legato and staccato. The guitars have hidden motions that derail ever so slightly form the drum pattern – how cool! I shall underline that. Oh also let me say with a bit of pride that I don’t time quantize my takes. What’s in there is what came out of my fingers. The unison at 4:05 took me a bit to learn and play but I think it sounds really cool.
In the coda there is a little fretless melody that makes texture with the reverse guitars. The inspiration for it is worth a mention.
I was wrapping up the recording when I had this sudden realization: probably the creatures were subjected to unethical experiments – that’s my animal right advocacy talking to my subconscious right there. Probably somewhere in the devastation of the uprising of the creatures there was a young one, scared to death and suffering. That was the inspiration for my part in the coda.
I also must admit that the young creature in my head looked suspiciously similar to Stitch from Lilo & Stitch. I am a weakling and I’d probably be one of the first to die in the event of a monster invasion.
FAR FROM THE SHORE
A delightful story that seems to have stemmed from the pen of the best Lovecraft.
For this one I broke out my beloved Daphne, a P – bass / Music man crossover handbuilt by Rufini guitars. My soul mate, the apple of my eye, the cream in my coffee. Well, you got the point.
Recording this one took some time, it’s a multi part juggernaut that required different approaches. One of my favourite things is the metric modulation in the chorus where the pulse shifts from a 3 / 4 to a full on 12 / 8. That’s the good stuff in my book.
The verses are where I chose to be less conservative and basically barge my way in, playing the answering lines after the vocals. I thought if he didn’t like them I can still re record a tamer part. Looks like Meister Slatter loved them,tho, because there they are!
As a parting gift I decided to play double stops in the coda of the tune which blended nicely with the guitar voicing, giving the impression of a single big string instrument.
Thank you all for reading and thank you Tom for letting me be a part of your wonderful music; I surely enjoyed myself and I hope I did your songs justice.
How best to conceive of the structure of a piece with no verse or chorus? It depends on the piece but in the case of Beyond Astronomy’s Reach by Emmett Elvin, I would suggest you imagine this:
There are two ostinatos. One is in 7/4 and centred around a descending F minor patern, the other is in D and in 6/4. The first is an anticipatory shade of light blue, the uneven rhythm making us feel unsettled. The second is a menacing angry red storm of building tension.
Two colours: 7/4 blue and 6/4 red. This piece moves between those two colours, using deft and insightful instrumental choices to pick out the textures and gestures within the broader swathes of colour.
We start with a drum beat in seven, with the rhythmic drive coming more from the cymbals, jazz fashion, than it does from kick and snare.
A loop of piano and wind gives us that descending F minor pattern, building up over a F note drone the crescendos deliciously into the first rendition of our 6/4 ostinato. And it it is a thing of beauty. Honking brass and wind stab out the bass line while everything else builds up a layer of chords that reach a massive crescendo before giving way again to light blue 7/4 again.
Here the ostinato is joined by some lovely melodic F minor stuff before we get a second verse of the 6/4 ostinato. This time the main rhythmic material is provided by the acoustic guitar with the same chords building up around it. The drums take a short break, as do the stabbing bass instruments from the last time we heard this melody. The drumming here is ace.
Bass comes back in and we get a lovely electric guitar solo over the same backing. The guitar solo gives way to an equally good piano melody as the backing loops again towards the final tight, stabbed ending.
There are lots of pieces based around ostinatos. Beyond Astronomy’s Reach felt ever so slightly reminiscent of Mars of Holst’s The Planets, not because they share any material but because they both contain a rhythmic ostinato around which massive, menacing chords are built.
Bloody Marvels is a bloody marvellous album and this piece is ace.
Fit the Fourth is, according to Prog Rock Magazine, ‘a bit like Oliver Twist reimagined by a batty steampunk wizard’.
I’m quite happy with that quote. Here’s a link to the whole review. You need to sign up to read it, but that’s free. I’m well chuffed to be reviewed in such an esteemed publication.