Monday, October 26, 2009
Me rocking out circa 1997. Jesse is in white behind me, and Darrell's in blue.
In 2000, I acquired a Tascam 4-Track recorder. In the past I had used the condenser mics on tape decks and karaoke machine to record my songs, and I believed that by having access to the same recording technology that the Beatles used to make "Sgt. Pepper's", I would be able to record a masterpiece.
This is what I came up with.
Most of this was recorded in the room above Darrell's parents' garage, although a few tracks were recorded in my dad's sunroom, and two more in my dad's basement. Somewhere among my possessions is the mock liner notes I had prepped for this CD, where I think I came up with a name for each recording space. So I think Darrell's house was called "Helen's Way Studio" because he lived on Helen's Way, and I called my dad's sunroom "Sunroom Studio" which at least sounds like a real studio name. Which is beside the point: I was kind of a douche.
(Click on each title to listen to the song.)
"Sulky Skirt" The song had its origin after I went to see Elliott Smith play at the Axis, which most nights operated as a dance club. There were two girls there who looked like they had come for club night, but decided to stay for the concert. They looked miserable, which isn't surprising if you're expecting to make-out with a random guy while grinding him to the beat of the extended mix of "Believe" by Cher, but instead are listening to a musician who would later kill himself by stabbing himself in the heart.
"Shade" (version 2) I did mention this was intended to be an album of love songs, right? This song might be the best example of this, except that, in an attempt to obscure any personal details, the lyrics in the verses were intentionally obscured. So if you are wondering what's going on, only I and maybe half another person know. So don't worry about it. We first recorded this song in an up-tempo version (dubbed version #1) and then later re-recorded it with my dear friend Heather on harmony vocals. I came up with the idea of adding electric piano AFTER we recorded everything else, which means that it's slightly out of tune.
"Aztec Girl"- Alright so three songs in to my great album of love songs, and I'm batting 0.333. This song is a spiritual cousin to Shade, in that it's based on a true event-the same that Shade was based on-but from a different person's perspective. This song has some of the worst puns I've ever written, and for those who have followed my writing career for a while, you know THAT IS SAYING SOMETHING.
"Safe"-This is the oldest song here. I wrote this in the fall of 1998, for a girl who really needed to be kept safe from me. I think I really wanted to go for an Elliott Smith vibe on this song, especially with the double-tracked vocals. These are some of my favorite lyrics ever, even though they do include the word 'fart.'
"Thumbelina"- I wrote this one about a girl I worked with. I suspected that she might have a crush on me, and the fact that she was 17 and I was 20 freaked me out enough that I wrote this song about an older man and a much younger woman, which is how 17-year old girls look like to 20-year old guys. This might be Darrell's favorite song of mine.
"Rainy Day"- This was intended to be a concept album, but really maybe only five of the ten songs fit. This is one of them. The lyrics obscure a real event, featuring the same cast of characters from "Shade" and "Aztec Girl" and while this song is way way too long, I like the accordion playing, and there is profundity in the refrain "Why don't you save your rain for rainy day?" that I think I might have missed way back then.
"A Little Island South of Nebraska"-This was inspired by a dream I had about a bunch of different girls I knew. I wrote about half of the song before I realized that the first line of each verse just so happened to spell out the same word. I then added a few more lines that also spelled out that same word. I think you can tell, if you read the lyrics closely, which ones are accidental and which ones are purposeful, because the accidental ones are way better. I remember adding a bass part to this song, but it must be way down in the mix, because I don't know how to mix things.
"Oubliette"- An oubliette is a medieval prison cell that only opened from above, and had round, smooth walls. So basically, once someone was dropped in, they could never get out. This song is also about a girl.
"Fred Astaire"- This song has a really beautiful melody, and pretty terrible lyrics. It also has some terrible singing. I was referencing a movie called "Funny Face" that I had never seen. My roommate owned the video, and she once suggested we watch it, but I always had something else to do. Like write songs about movies I had never seen. So I apologize to any Audrey Hepburn/Fred Astaire fans who think I've bastardized their favorite film. The "percussion" mentioned in this song is me slapping my car keys against my palm. We were like the MacGyvers of pop music.
"Zero One"-This song was the impetus for me to record an "album" because I thought the conceit in the chorus (I am the zero and you are the one) was so good, and that 2001 would be the perfect year to release that song. I think it might have been inspired by those "why-was-six-afraid-of-seven?" jokes. And I'm pretty serious. So, while this song was recorded in 2001, along with nine other songs, and we actually burned up dozens of CDs (with artwork printed on them) this "album" had pretty poor circulation. Until 2009. And while in my current relationship, it is true that if I am the zero then my fiancee is the nine, "Zero Nine" doesn't have the same ring to it. C'est la vie. Anyway, apologies for the digital distortion at the end; it's what I get for keeping my CDs loose in boxes when I move.
I hope you've enjoyed this embarrassing look into my past. It continues on tresselsound where I am now posting tracks from my 2002 CD "Songs About Girls" which I recorded live in my Dad's office two days before I left for a road trip to Virginia. Spoiler alert: I sold enough copies to put gas in my car.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
I wrote my first solo song called "She's Alive" in 1994. I wrote it on a Thursday, taught it to my friends Darrell and Brad that Saturday, and then performed it the following Tuesday night in front of 700 people at our summer camp talent show. It was the largest crowd I have ever played for. Eight years later I finished up a summer residency at a local coffee shop performing a song about how Charlie Chaplin and Adolf Hitler look alike to about 17 people. So just like the Beatles, I moved into the studio, recording songs at a pace that alternated between ferocious and moribund, and I've decided to preserve the whole catalog, the "Ryan Tressel" box set if you will, on the internet in all its glory. I'm going to start with the first recordings I did in 2001 when I traded my friend Stephanie an acoustic guitar and $75 for her Tascam 4-track recorder. The first songs that I recorded with my friend Darrell where collected onto a CD entitled "Ampersand", the opening track of which SULKY SKIRT can be listened to here .
The song had its origin after I went to see Elliott Smith play at the Axis, which most nights operated as a dance club. There were two girls there who looked like they had come for club night, but decided to stay for the concert. They looked miserable, which isn't surprising if you're expecting to make-out with a random guy while grinding him to the beat of the extended mix of "Believe" by Cher, but instead are listening to a musician who would later kill himself by stabbing himself in the heart.
Sulky Skirt, written by Ryan J. Tressel, recorded and performed by RJT and D.Morey.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Continuing with the theme of albums that made a tremendous mark on me in the fall of 1992 (my memories can now get into R-rated movies without a parent), I present perhaps the most potentially embarrassing fall fave, Rush's "Roll the Bones".
"Dreamline"- What would a roadmap to Jupiter entail? Are there a lot of landmarks between here and Jupiter? One line into this Rush album we've already hit our first stumbling block. Rush's lyrics, written by drummer Neil Peart, are actually all cribbed from the "Dune" novel series. The second verse begins with "Time is a gypsy caravan" which isn't the worst metaphor in the world, but then Geddy Lee says that he is as lonely as an eagle's cry, which is also not the worst metaphor in the world, because it is in fact the worst SIMILE in the world, being a comparison using 'like' or 'as'. Lots of seventies progressive rock bands make you think about complex math while you listen, but Rush makes you think about grammar.
"Bravado"- I imagine that my dad bought this album from the BMG music club, where you could get 12 CDs for a penny. That means that this album is only has to provide me with more than 1/12 of one cent's worth of entertainment to be worthwhile. Listening to the song "Bravado" puts that possibility in dire straits. Also, this is the second song in a row whose title appears nowhere within the lyrics themselves. It's lucky for Rush that neither of these songs became big hits, because then they'd have to do that thing where some many people think your song is called one thing that you have to reprint the album artwork with the song's title in parenthesis AFTER the mistaken title. See Green Day's "The Time of Your Life (Good Riddance)" or the Fray's "Over My Head (Cable Cars)" I appreciate your subtlety, Neal, if none of these plebs do. Still hate the song though.
"Roll the Bones"-If this song didn't exist, I don't think I would've ever listened to this album all the way through, let alone dozens of times. It is bitchin'. It starts out with kind of same lame early 90's style bass playing, but then increases in awesomeness exponentially with each passing second. Also this song is one of those songs that has a part you think is the chorus, but is in fact only the pre-chorus to an even cooler chorus, and even that is just a pre-chorus for the ultimate chorus of all time. Also, there is a rap solo in the bridge--actually two rap solos, and since nobody is credited in the liner notes, I'm going to assume it is one of the members of Rush with their voices digitally altered. Although, watching this live video, it appears I am wrong, and in fact the rapper is Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of death. Which makes sense, because the only way that you can write a song this unbelievable awesome is that you make a blood sacrifice to ancient gods. My guess at who Rush sacrificed? Their original lyricist.
"Face Up"- The problem with putting the most awesome song ever recorded on your album is that any song that you put on following it sounds like crap. Luckily, Face Up would've sounded like crap no matter where you put it. This is very strategic on Rush's part. He keeps repeating that if he could only reach the dial inside of him he would turn it up, and then turn my wild card down. I have no idea what that means, except that it sounds kind of dirty. Much has been made of Geddy Lee's lead vocals, and I've heard them compared to Jiminey Cricket, but could you imagine how differently that story would've turned out if Pinnocchio had taken the advice offered by Geddy Lee in this song instead of "When You Wish Upon A Star"? Well, actually, didn't Pinnocchio ignore Jiminey's advice and go to that gay bathhouse, Pleasure Island? So maybe if Jiminey had told him to reach the dial inside and turn it up, Pinocchio would've just gone to school and studied hard instead.
"Where's My Thing?" God, you know what I need now? Some kind of rock/funk hybrid instrumental. Oh, if we could make it some kind of progressive rock, that would be awesome. Also, how many synthesizers do you have? Bring ALL OF THEM.
"The Big Wheel"- I had actually heard this song on WBCN before, which is probably why I pick up this album to listen to instead of the best of Poco. This song doesn't have a rap solo by a dancing death god, but that's the only reason "Roll the Bones" gets a leg up. I think this record was sequenced like it was going to be listened to on a two-sided format (vinyl or cassette) and this would've opened side B. It's pretty awesome, even if it does that synthesizer/guitar effect between each verse that Pink Floyd used on every song they ever wrote after Roger Waters quit the band. Who would win in a fight, Pink Floyd Vs. Rush? While PF does have a giant inflatable pig, remember that Rush has Mictlantecuhtli. This would be a great pay-for-view event, especially since the only people who even know what pay-for-view events even are are guys in their late 40s.
"Heresy"- Any big words I know that I didn't learn from Swamp Thing comics I picked up from song titles by progressive rock bands. I remember when Nine Inch Nails came out with a song called Heresy somebody I went to high school with pronounced it as "hear-say" (which is the legal term for when you tattle on somebody) instead of "hair-a-see" (which is when you say something that contradicts the bible, a.k.a. the truth) and I just scoffed. "Clearly, you've never heard 'Roll the Bones' by Rush," I sneered, right before he kicked the shit out of me.
"Ghost of a Chance"- This is not about ghosts, despite what the title might lead you to believe. It's actually a weird minotaur like creature, with verses from a "Living Color" tribute band and chorus by Michael Bolton. It's rare to see one of these in captivity. But if you can listen to this song, try and imagine it playing at a wedding in 1992 and people with really teased out hair slow dancing to the slow parts and then awkwardly having to do some kind of white person shuffle until it slows down again.
Or just watch this:
"Neurotica"- Around this time in my life, Madonna gave up any pretense that she wasn't a sex worker, and released her album and single "Erotica" in conjunction with her book that showed her performing oral sex on Vanilla Ice, which is the worst career decision you can ever make, topping the previous record held by Vanilla Ice for his performance in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze" (which topped the previous record, which was also held by Vanilla Ice for his entire career up to that point.) So, I wouldn't do anything so crass as suggest that you listen to this song imagining the middle-aged members of Rush in various states of undress in sexually explicit positions, but I also wouldn't judge you if you did.
"You Bet Your Life"-Not when Mictlantecuhtli is on your side, I don't.
"Jack? Relax. Get busy with the facts..."
Monday, October 5, 2009
I've mentioned before the magical summer/fall of 1992, when fueled by teenage hormones I decided to listen to every record in my father's collection in an attempt to discover music. For a large part of my life prior to this, I had almost zero interest in popular music, except for an intense Weird Al period when I was in third grade and a short-lived and peer pressured interest in the rap group the Fat Boys. I suppose a really terrible graduate level thesis could be written about why certain albums spoke to me (Rush's "Roll the Bones") while others didn't (Supertramp's "Breakfast in America", but I'm not going to talk about those ones. I'm going to talk about the Chris Elliot show "Get A Life" and its soundtrack, "Green" by R.E.M.
"Get A Life" was a short-lived sitcom in which Chris Elliot played a 35-year paperboy who still lived with his parents.
(Did you catch the pedophile reference? Pretty edgy for 1991.)
Now "Green" by R.E.M. was in no way the soundtrack to "Get A Life", but the show did use the R.E.M. song "Stand" as its theme song. And here is my entrance way into the world of Mssrs. Berry, Buck, Mills, and Stipe.
"Pop Song 89"- This is one of those songs that never mentions its title in the lyrics at all. It's really less of a title than a description. Imagine how confusing bands' albums would be if they just described the song instead of naming it? How would you know which was your favorite Fray track if they were all just named "Mopey Song 07"? Or if Randy Newman albums just were listed "Ironically Racist Song" numbers 1-9? I could probably spend all day playing that game, but now the song is over. It was pretty good. Here, check it out yourself:
"Get Up"-I hope Michael Stipe isn't yelling at me to "Get Up" in some kind of political fashion, like "get up and end the invasion of Nicaragua" and is instead telling me to "get up off the couch and stop blogging about our albums and go eat one of those fancy cupcakes you have in your fridge" but I'm not sure. Oh, I thought of another one. Going to a jukebox and trying to decide if you want to hear "Song with Beautiful in the Title 2000" by U2 or "Song with Beautiful in the Title 2007" by U2.
"You Are the Everything"- That's nice of you to say, Michael. Unless you're making a comment about my weight, which wouldn't necessarily be uncalled for. Maybe I should get up more. But seriously, this is a really beautiful song. I'm pretty sure some one is playing a mandolin, presaging R.E.M.'s decision to record every song with a mandolin forever. Or just on "Losing My Religion" which I've heard so many times that it just seems like forever.
"Stand"- Sweet jesus is this song terrific. I love how anthemic it sounds, including the "straight-on-the-eighth-notes" piano hammering that happens during the chorus. Also, amazing? The wah-wah on the solo. What is more amazing than that? The lyrics, you say? I should agree. I read an interview with Michael Stipe once where he said that "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies was more culturally significant than anything by the Beatles. And if that's true (and I might not totally disagree) than that must make "Stand" by R.E.M. the most culturally significant thing since the Renaissance. I'm only half-joking. Here's a clip of Chris Elliot riding a bike to watch while you think about it.
"World Leader Pretend"- I remember being 13 and struggling to understand the grammar of this title. Shouldn't it be world leader pretends? And then what is he pretending? Or she, although in 1988 I think the only female world leader was Imelda Marcos, and I don't think this song is about her, because the lyrics do not mention shoes once. So you do the math.
"The Wrong Child"- I'll just take a minute to express how impressed I am with R.E.M. "Green" was their major label debut for Warner Brothers after making five records with independent label I.R.S. and it's so weird. There are probably lots of songs you think came from this album that didn't. "The One I Love"? "It's the End of the World as We Know It And I Feel Fine"? Both from the album before. They get signed to a multi-million dollar major label record label,and you can picture the A&R guy rubbing his hands together thinking about all the hit singles R.E.M. are going to produce and they make this weird, weird record. It's beautiful and haunting, like the song "The Wrong Child" which sounds like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, but man it's still pretty weird. The weirdest thing? The album is called "Green" but the album cover is totally orange. Did I just blow your mind? I think I did.
"Orange Crush"- This is probably the kind of song that Warners thought R.E.M. would be recording, and I like to imagine that they wrote 11 songs like this one, and then recorded a bunch of weirder songs, releasing those, but including this one, just so people knew that they could. I don't really know what this song is about, although I remember thinking that it was about Vietnam, probably because I had also just watched Apocalypse Now, and while I don't think they mention the defoliant "Agent Orange" by name in it, I made the connection none the less. Listening to it now, I can also hear helicopters in the background where you would imagine a guitar solo or something, which adds to the 'Nam effect. I would someday like to front a good rock'n'roll band, and I will have the drummer start each song with the rapid fire snare hits that Bill Berry uses throughout this song, no matter how poorly it fits with the song we're playing, or how sick the drummer or our audience gets of it. That's how rad it is.
"Turn You Inside Out"-I'm not sure if this is supposed to be a good thing to say to another person. I wonder if this is how Michael Stipe picks up guys or ladies at the bar? I don't know what I would do if somebody approached me and told me they would turn me inside out, although I might point out that it's probably pretty gross in there. I mean, the digestive system alone! Leave that stuff on the inside. Couldn't you just turn me upside down? Although that might succeed in making me turn myself inside out. How about you just buy me a drink and then tell me you like my smile?
"Hairshirt"- I have a hair shirt, if by hair-shirt you mean a hairy chest.
The first line of this song is "I am not the kind of dog who could keep you waiting for no good reason." Do dogs ever have good reasons for keeping people waiting? Isn't it usually "There was another dog butt over there" or "I'm a dog and I don't understand what you're saying, so I'm just going to keep standing here for a few more minutes until I get bored"? More mandolin, by the way. How did nobody not notice this before? People always talk about R.E.M.'s follow-up record "Out of Time" as being the one with all the mandolins, but they probably were thinking of this one. Man, it's hard to keep R.E.M. records straight. Imagine how much more difficult it would be if all the songs were just described instead of titled? Oh, wait, I already did this joke. Did I already mention that the album is called "Green" but the album cover is orange? I did. Man, it's a good thing the next song is the last song.
"I Remember California"- Which is a funny title, because have you ever tried to name all the U.S. states from memory? Because nobody ever forgets California. Or Texas. Or Florida. The weirdly shaped ones. You're more likely to forget Oklahoma. Or Missouri. Have you noticed how little I've talked about this record itself? It's because it's pretty good, although it would probably rank near the bottom of my favorite R.E.M. albums. But I really like R.E.M., much to the chagrin of my poor fiancee, so even one of their least-liked albums is still pretty good. But I'm glad this is the last song, because I've run out of funny and/or interesting things to say about this album.
Curses! An untitled, unlisted track! I know I've written about this before, but who was the first artist to include an hidden bonus track on a CD because I'd like to kick them in the face. I hate putting a CD into my itunes and it has like 47 tracks of silence before the bonus track which itself only starts after 3 minutes of tape hiss. Or when the last track on the CD is 35 minutes long because it has the really awesome last song from the album, twenty-two minutes of silence, and then a kind of lame jam type song. Sorry, I didn't realize I had all that anger in me. Although I will admit this hidden R.E.M. song is a separate track and there isn't a ridiculously long silence before it starts, and it's actually a pretty fun and cool little song, so I'll just pretend that the track information from song number 11 just fell off the back of the CD case. Which is orange, if I haven't already mentioned it.