Business Brunch Specials: Uranium Omelet (with GMO-Free Brown Sauce) (2015)
If you would like to compare this record with the previous one (Normalcy Bias (2013)), I would say that this one has less of a psychedelic feel, and the playing on this current record is a lot more bold.
While the previous record I intentionally held back in my soloing (there was really just one real guitar solo on the record), there's a bit more of that on this record. The experimental songs themselves are more experimental that the last one.
Lucas Lee - Arrangement/ Compositions/ Production; Guitars, Bass, Keys, Voice Over/ Background Vocals, Minor Percussion Parts, Engineering, Mixing, Liner Notes
Tobias Ralph - Drums (all except track #4)
Ronan Chris Murphy - Mastering
Diego Lopez - DDP Compilation
Shawna Armstrong (O'Totally Studio) - Cover Art
The theme of this album is about my increasing distaste of all the different personalities and characters I have been running across in my personal work life (- my day job). I was thinking about the kind of ridiculous things these people would eat and the type of marketing/messaging that appeals most to them. Uranium Omelet with the mysterious 'brown sauce' is ok, as long as it's GMO-free! Plus, it's on the business specials menu!
#1 Dr. Kunto and the Eastern Klan of Rude Irrational Imbeciles (4:55)
The doctor's name in this song actually similar to the person I'm writing about, and he does have a Ph.D, which qualifies him as a doctor. That's all I'll say here.
When communicating with Tobias, I would reference this tune as "that generic rock song", and he would know exactly what I was talking about.
The main theme actually has generic rock tune sensibilities, to illustrate that the person I'm telling the story about, is actually pretty normal on the surface. But the song has things changed things up a little to make it sound a little more interesting. The middle section is where the nastiness of the person comes out. It gets into a more hard rock/ metal type of mood. There are some Rush influences in this middle section, as well as some Steve Vai in the section where the dissonance, and a little more of the complex harmony starts to kick in. The bass parts I have came up with, are influenced by Bryan Beller's playing. For this record, I made a conscious effort in making bass parts sound more interesting than my previous work, after listening to a lot of his work. What I did in this section was my first crack at it.
#2 Ready for Revenge (1:41)
The song came about as part of a fast guitar-playing motif. Instead of having this fast guitar playing being the featured spotlight of the track, I wanted to do something a little different this time, and have it as part of the background. So I added a vocal (voice-over). The words were improvised while I was thinking of a person who has held up his anger within for decades, preparing for the ultimate revenge against everyone that has done wrong to him. He has been training for years waiting for this exact moment to unleash his powers. The song is taking place when he's talking to himself in the mirror, getting himself ready to begin action.
#3 The Evil in Sales Weasels (5:03)
There are a number of sales people that I'm not very fond of. That pretty much sums it up.
In case you're wondering, the words spoken at the end of the first section go, "So who the hell do you think you are, huh? A Super-Saiyan-Batman?". It really doesn't have any meaning. I just love DragonBallZ.
First part of the song is about the fake innocence and stupidity. It then morphs into the latter part of the song, which is about the evil personalities PLUS all the madness and stupidity. This is one of my favorite songs on the record, and I have had thoughts of making this the title track.
Think of this guy in the video, but a much, much more evil version of him:
#4 (i) Berg Droppings and Bean Counting, (ii) Karoshi (過勞死) Part 1 (4:33)
The original title for the first part of the tune was going to be "Berg Sh*t" (play on words to sound like "Bird Sh*t"). That's all I'll say, but I think the title is somewhat self explanatory. The second part of the title, Karoshi, or 過勞死 in Kanji, came from a documentary I saw about the overworking life in Japan. From Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kar%C5%8Dshi):
Karōshi (過労死), which can be translated literally as "death from overwork" in Japanese, is occupational sudden death. The major medical causes of karōshi deaths are heart attack and stroke due to stress and a starvation diet.
This is the only song on the album where Tobias did not play drums on. I did, however take cymbow (a bow used to play a cymbal) samples that Pat Mastelotto played on my last record and used them on this track, to add to the texture and general feel of the track. This is also one of the piano-oriented songs of the album, and dare I say - there might have been a little bit of Mike Keneally influence on this one in terms of the piano playing...
#5 Trip (5:41)
This song is about my work-related trips overseas. The original idea was to have some Trip-Hop influence, but ended up maintaining to be a more of a rock-oriented tune. This is also the tune that Tobias and I refer to as "The Polyrhythm Song". That's because it's the one where I was experimenting in my demos 2:3 (2 over 3) and 3:2 (3 over 2) drum patterns as well as metric modulation. (I didn't know the proper term 'metric modulation' until today - I was really just experimenting all the stuff based on ideas I've gotten from King Crimson's Indiscipline.) Of course, Tobias just made the drum parts so interesting in this song. He asked me if he could experiment with a few things, and I would usually take the parts where he was experimenting most.
#6 Be Like Mike (and Falling Short) (4:41)
This is a song that I am quite proud of. It's based on a piano improvisation that I had one night around 4am on my keyboard. The other instruments you hear are all built around the piano part.
It is my dedication to one of my musical heroes named "Mike", who also happens to be a friend of my friend Ronan Chris Murphy. When I saw Mike perform live in San Diego several years ago, it was one of those shows that has stuck with me. He was experimental, spontaneous and having so much joy just playing the instruments. It really made me re-evaluate myself and made me realize that I have lost a lot of that spontaneity in my records, which often times are essential in making things sound organic. There was no holding back in Mike's playing or second guessing in anything he did. He just PLAYED. That was it. I felt it was important for me to also not hold back and just played. That's how I used to be when I'm alone improvising on the guitar or the piano. Where did that person go?
When the song was originally sent for Tobias for drums tracking, the song was completely out of time, with tempo rubato, and time signature changes all over the place. Again, this was based on a piano improvisation and I had not made any adjustments timing-wise (for the most part), but all the other instruments were edited to be in sync with the piano. I felt that the captured performance was the one to keep, and since I also had trouble recalling exactly note-for-note what I had played in sections where the harmony was a little more complex and moving rather quickly, I just decided leave it as is. The drum parts that I got back were completely out of sync with the piano, but what Tobias played had enough information for me to know what his intent was, and was enough for me to put everything in sync with the rest of the instruments.
In the context of the album's theme - the world of business - it's about the overhyped marketing machine in professional sports, where you would constsantly find some of the most ridiculous comparisons of certain players against Michael Jordan.
#7 Trust and Betrayal (7:50)
This is a song about the complete comfort and trust you may have for someone, often times for years and decades, but all it takes is that one instance of betrayal to destroy that relationship completely.
For those who have listened to the tune, the verse of the first half of the tune, i.e.,'Trust' is 7/4, which might be less typical than the typical ballad-y type of verses. I was trying to come up with a rhythm part in the verse and it just so happened to be 7. The couple of phrases towards the end of the first half, I realized it sounded a little Joe Satriani, which was unintentional, but made me smile when listening back to it.
The second half, i.e., "betrayal", is where the fun begins. I felt like I needed to make a bass-feature part, sort of what Steven Wilson did with some of his compositions - but I wanted to obviously make my own. The question was - how can I come up with an interesting bass riff that would sound cool when soloed? The answer was trying it out on a keyboard (my first instrument which I'm still most comfortable with), and coming out with something based on the symmetric scale.
The rhythm guitar parts also came up from keyboard. (Play it first, get the parts right, and figure out how to play it on the guitar later). Some of the short riffs/ideas were parts that were came up on the spot. I might have overdubbed it several times to get the part executed just right after the initial capture.
The bass part that comes in later is inspired by some punk. I have no clue where exactly it came from, since I don't usually listen to punk and it's not a genre that I'm too familiar with. The last portions that feature Tobias' drumming playing was basically me asking Tobias to just go crazy and solo. The original idea was to have the solo fade out, but there were so many good bars of material, that I added a little bit of back-drop, like the synths at the end. It was there to help the song towards the end with a darker mood than what would have been without.
#8 Karoshi (過労死 Part 2 (2:19)
This is a continuation of the Karoshi theme from song #4, and is also a piano-oriented song. Nothing much to be said here, other than the drum parts were intended to sound a little Djembe like. What you're hearing on the record is double tracking of the drums, in parts of that "hobbit-like section".
#9 (i) Datsusara (脱サラ), (ii) Best Way to Win is Not to Play (4:17)
Datsusara was also something discussed in the documentary I saw regarding the overworking life in Japan. The term Datsusara is defined as "the act of escaping from the corporate lifestyle" (- from Wikipedia). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salaryman#Datsusara
It's about the honor and courage of leaving a bad situation. It's about leaving a negative bullying work-place environment. It's about knowing that if the sales people make their money based on contract commissions, one way of revenge is by not engaging in any new contract, such that it would cripple them financially. All you need to do is to say 'no' and not take part. The best way to win a fight is to walk away from the fight.
I took a long break after my previous record, but I had spent an intense 2 months of practicing to get my technique and chops better. I started the record on Halloween 2014, and wanted to challenge myself to see if I could do one more record before leaving my current space in San Diego, within less than a year.
The Recording Process
Electric Guitars - Shure SM7 (rather than SM57) microphone going into A Designs Pacifica. I might have used the AT4050 at some point, but it was a bit more rare on this record than previously.
Acoustic guitars - same recording chain as electric guitars, but maybe with more AT 4050 usage.
A Designs REDDI with a hint of SansAmp bass driver blended in. Sometimes I used the Xotic Effects BB Preamp (the guitar one, not the Bass model) inserted on the Sansamp parallel chain for more amp-like tones. I might have used other effects (chorus/phaser) on the combined signal path in certain sections of songs.
For more cleaner bass tones, I would use the A Designs Pacifica's instrument input instead of the REDDI.
All the piano, most of the Rhodes, and all the organ sounds originated are from the Korg SV1. Some of the synth sounds were also from the SV1.
A number of software synths were used, primarily the ones that came with the Cakewalk Sonar.
I also used one of the RedTron Mellotron plugins during the intro of "Trust and Betrayal".
I have found that mixes from my previous projects often lacked a bit of lower-mids, and probably sounded a bit bright to my tastes. This was because of the monitoring that I was using during tracking. The entry-level Mackie monitors (MR5) - while I liked the lower-mids as compared to other models in that price range, I have found that the 2-3KHz mid-range was not revealing at all. I sought out the Yamaha HS8s which are much better in that frequency, and but also made a lot of mixing decisions with the Shure SRH840 headphones.
Having said that, when it was time to check the mixes in the car, I found the 100-180 Hz range way too overpowering, something that I was a bit more revealing when I went back to the Mackies. Lesson learned - I'll need a better monitor switching work flow in my next project to be able to reach the end goal faster.
Plugins used were mostly stock plugins from the DAW, plus the free tape saturation plugin from Variety of Sound. The Distressor was used in compression, similar to my previous records. There was nothing fancy, really - just mostly volume, panning, EQ and compression. I also used harmonizers in the delay sends. Pretty standard stuff. Getting the arrangement right was the core of it all.
I know Ronan used the FluxBender, Manley VariMu on the analog chain, as well as one of the BX plugins for mid-side. I think he also used the Slate FGx. The things he was able to fix (and enhance) during mastering, with only the stereo channels were astonishing.
Album Cover Design
The cover art work was done by the very talented Shawna Armstrong (owner of Totally Studio). It's a collage-based type of design. Other than me throwing some general random ideas of what I was looking for, she just went with it and did her thing. It looks excellent in print, in a matte (non-glossy) finish - the way it folds out and all. Fantastic work indeed.