Yellowgold

The official website showcasing the music of Yellowgold, produced by Jason Howell.

In Detail - Jewels

 "Jewels" finished Pro Tools project

"Jewels" finished Pro Tools project

Yello! And welcome to another day where I write about writing the songs on the album Fever Dreamer. Today I’m going to talk about the sixth track on the album called Jewels

This was one of those times where I didn’t have an idea for a song sitting down at the desk one night. I just had a hankerin’ to mess around. So I started messing around with alternate tunings on the guitar, and plugged my mic in with my at-this-point signature vocal chain (the spaced out one I used on almost all songs on the album) and just started messing about.

The main guitar riff for this song literally plays the same dang thing throughout the track’s entirety and was relatively easy to play while spit balling some vocal treatments in real time. On this ruff cut, you can hear my guitar strings through the vocal mic as I’m recording it all live, so you get some cool jittery delays from the strings layered on top of that actual guitar input sound. I had also done a long but relatively quick pass on lyrical structure. I wasn’t certain at this point on keeping the lyrics (which I ultimately did) but having written words on a page makes layering vocal ideas easier.

From there, it was just a matter of setting everything up from scratch and playing through to a gentle click track to keep things on tempo, and then marking within the Pro Tools session where in the track the more instrumental and loud portions come in versus the softer verse’s with the vocal treatments layered in there.

Honestly, there’s very little to say about the production of Jewels because, in the grand scheme of things, it was one of the easiest tracks to produce for the album. It fell together with minimal resistance. Almost every layer I added along the way just… worked, so there wasn’t much editing down or scratching my head. It wrote itself in a matter of less than a week and when that week was over, I had no thoughts that it ever really needed any more work. All the way down to the random strings noises at the very end. So much of it just fell into place in my multiple recording passes, it all stayed in there, and I moved on. After many tracks where I had to beat the song into the ground to complete it, Jewels was a DREAM.

Here’s the final product from the album:

Lyrics:
Jewels of carnage sparkle brightly
Neverending twist of lightning
Fighting for the ways foretold
While searching for piles of gold
Faded fight but finding nothing
Nothing matters more than now
The time that’s spent is lost somehow
As it withers away
With forces missed and astray
Mixed and scratched but never lost
The itch it swells from front to back
Always morphing from attraction
Cranium rocks will feast
A modest lack of beast
A modest lack of roasted beast

In Detail: This Road

"This Road" finished Pro Tools project

Sup. Today I’m writing about the fifth track on the Fever Dreamer album, the song called This Road.

This song dates back to before Control My Gravity. In other words, it was an idea that began well after Ever One, and before I committed to writing a new album.  So when I finally decided to focus my efforts on a new album, it was an early contender which (in my experience) often means that it never actually ends up on the album.

Screen Shot 2018-06-19 at 10.07.30 AM.png

Often, when I decide that I want to write a new album, I create a note in Evernote with some track ideas to see if I have enough to get started with. The image to the left is the early tracklist for what ended up being Fever Dreamer. The note had a completely different album name. Something Like That is a phrase I say often at the end of recording my ideas into Ever Note. It's a crutch, so it made sense to name the album after it for lack of anything better! Out of that early track list, only two songs made it to the album: Savannah Dream Song (Beautiful Day for Life) and This Road.

Anyway, long story short, This Road began as an idea that I decided to take one step beyond Ever Note. I loaded up Pro Tools in January of 2015 and laid out a very basic groundwork for the sound of the track. It’s MUCH slower than the final cut on the album.

Flash forward two years and Fever Dreamer is already well under way. By this point, I had already established that I wanted a focused and consistent sound with the tracks on the album. As such, I decided to take another stab at This Road with a more fitting, ethereal and effects driven vocal chain. I was really trying to see which direction the song SHOULD go.

I played around with a number of different tempos and over the course of 2-3 advanced attempts, landed on the faster tempo that made it to the album. By this point I figured the majority of the album was a bit drifty and slower moving, so I wanted a track to kind of break it up and move things forward a but more. I knew I wanted this track somewhere in the middle of the album to help lift up the listen so the entirety of the album wasn’t too heavy on all sides.

Its also worth noting that I started work on this track in March of 2017. This Road was the last track that I created for the album. My original intention was to release the Kickstarter for Fever Dreamer in the Summer of 2017, but for a number of reasons (this track VERY MUCH SO included), it got pushed back toward Q4. This Road took a LOT of work to get it to the point where I felt comfortable enough with it to release on the album. I stuck with it, but I almost bailed a few times.

Here's the final product from the album:

Lyrics:

You and I tonight
As restless as the night sky
Dance by fire's light
One chance to get it right
It stings our lips with selfless pride
Persist and multiply
This road
Don't forget we've been here before
This road
Here we go
Never will forget
Those knee high boots when we first met
I got no regrets
This road
Never forget we've been here before
This road
We've been here before
This road
We've been here
This road
Here we go
Always understand
Through it all we'll be best friends
And nothing ever ends
This road
Don't you know we've been here before
This road
We've been here before
This road
We've been here
This road
Don't you know we've been here before
This road
Let it go

In Detail: Big Mistake

"Big Mistake" finished Pro Tools project

Well there you are again. Hello!

Today I want to write about the fourth track on Fever Dreamer. It’s called Big Mistake.

Of all the tracks on the album, this one probably dates back the earliest. This actually began as a basic idea during the planning phase of Ever One. Back in 2012 I was in hot pursuit of the music that would end up on that album and this one began one afternoon with little more than me noodling on a piano patch in my studio. Basically I have this thing where I wish I had been traditionally trained to play piano, and I like to pretend like I can actually play sometimes. I can fake my way through it, but sometimes… SOMETIMES, I will sit down and hammer away until I can play through an entire song start to finish. It makes me feel better at it than I usually do!

So that afternoon after much noodling I landed on the basic progression that is the basis for the main chunk of the album track. I then wrote some lyrics quickly and laid down some multipart vocal harmonies over the top. I distinctly remember at the time going for a Dr. Dog or Blitzen Trapper vibe when I was messing around with that track. The piano was not recorded to a click or anything, so it was very much a live performance sort of thing.

Well, I didn’t develop the idea out further than that. Other songs made it into the Ever One process and Big Mistake just laid in my project pool, waiting for some future inspiration to wake it up again. I knew someday I’d do something with it.

Snap forward to a few years ago. I was listening to Beck’s latest album at the time Morning Phase (freaking BRILLIANT by the way) and there was something about the sound of the songs on that album that reminded me of this forgotten scratch track. One inspired evening I pulled it up to see if there was any meat on the bones. I explored that sound and realized I was getting REALLY worked up on the track. 

The big challenge was, of course, that I didn’t record this to a click or a time base whatsoever. I could go one of two routes: Manually program a drum track to the non-timed tempo of the free playing guitar and hope it sounded good (this is what I did for the track Heavy Bones on Ever One and it worked so well there.) Or I could loosely fit the piano and vocals to fit a chosen tempo that resides close enough to the original tempo that it doesn’t throw off the feel of what I already had. I actually did both! And it took a TON of time, but I ended up opting for both. Basically using the untimed version for the top before the drums ever come in, and correcting the timing on the stuff after the drums come in. It was not easy and took forever. But yet again, it was worth all that effort.

I was originally going to end the song the way the scratch track above ends… pretty plainly after the main melody is done. But I decided to see if I could do an extension to give the song a bit more dimension and I’m so happy I did. Big Mistake, to me, feels like it has a few movements, and I’m thrilled that a song that took me on such a long journey came out the way it did in the end. Very rewarding. This was definitely one of those times where the song easily wrote itself.

What’s most interesting to me now looking at the finished Pro Tools project is how basic and relatively bare bones the project is. Aside from the many vocal harmonies and layers, instrumentation is pretty singular in how it was tracked. There’s not a lot there, but to my ears, the track has enough layers to keep it interesting. I think the movement-like quality helps create an illusion that there’s more to it than there really is. At least, that’s what I like about it anyways.

Here's the final product from the album:

Lyrics:

You mistake my friends for your friends
Makes no sense
Can't you see.
You are not my friend. Not my friend.
In the end.
You'll never be.
On the bridge.
Where it's raining I can see
You mistake my path for my past.
It never lasts.
Ya gonna see.
You are not my friend. Not my friend.
In the end.
You'll never be.
On the bridge where it's raining, I can see.
On the ledge where the air becomes the sea.
When it ends you see anymore of me.
All depends if you take it seriously.

In Detail: Fever Dreamer

"Fever Dreamer" finished Pro Tools project

Oh I didn’t see you come in!

Today I want to write a bit about the how the title track from the album Fever Dreamer came together. It all started one morning as I was on my drive back to my home after dropping my daughters off at school. It was a dreary and rainy day and I was listening to NPR on the radio in all of its… rather depressing glory. (I blame 2017 more than NPR to be completely honest.)

As i drove home, the host transitioned from one segment into another. Many times, in those transitions, they’ll play a short musical interlude and this particular time, it began with low bass guitar playing a chord progression… multiple strings, very dark… the darkness actually matched the mood of the weather. For the rest of the drive, the sound of that bass morphed in my head and by the time I pulled into my driveway, I had an idea for the beginning of… something.

I ran inside, fired things up, punched out a quick drum track and then pulled out my bass guitar to play around with a few chords. It didn’t take long to land on something that caught my attention and soon after, I had a timeline with a pretty basic bass line to drop a few vocal scats over the top. Here’s the fruit from that first session, meant to be more of an exploration of what the song COULD be.

The next day I sat down and took elements and ideas from my scratchpad session from the day before and laid it out into something that began to sound a bit more formed. I latched onto the signature  vocal harmony progression, and also included what became the chorus as an idea. This draft is actually a nice bed in and of itself... I mean, it's noisy as all get out but I really like the beginning to end vibe.

After this, the song came together pretty rapidly actually. But the song is a testament to one of my favorite things when writing moody music: Dreary, rainy weather. It can put me in the mood like nothing else. I’m not sure what that says about me, but I revel in that muted darkness.

The lyrics, oh the lyrics. I'll make no bones about it: Lyrics are my achilles heel. It's almost always the most difficult part of the process for me. Do you tell a story? Do you force a rhyme? Is it just incredibly cheesy? It's so difficult. Much of the lyrics of this song were born of a method that forces me to work out of my lyrical frustrations: I simply start a timer and write anything that comes to my head in an endless stream for 10 or 15 minutes. I don't stop. My fingers keep typing, and I don't judge. Just let the words flow. I did this and in the end, had a large pool of randomness that I could then pull from and make some meaning out of it. It's really cool when this technique works as well as it did with the lyrics for Fever Dreamer. In the end, I'm quite happy with the story that's told in this song, and it's kinda crazy that it came out of a random mishmash brain dump exercise!

As for the title, the original note in Evernote has this listed as Fever Haze. But somewhere along the line, Fever Dream popped in there and I like it. Once I added the "er" I REALLY liked it.

Here's the final product from the album:

Lyrics:

Give me too much
Give me two reasons
Give me the time back
And I'll sleep longer
Give me some sheets
And a fever
Give me my life back
I'm dreamin'
Give me the time for love
Give me the time for something more
Give me the time
Nothin stands before
Takin' the drug
Takin' the power
Drinkin' the life blood
That turned sour
Deep in the dark
Away from the filter
Taking my life back
From the thunder
Give me the time for love
Give me the time for something more
Give me the time
Nothin stands before
Give me the time
Nothing less nothing more

In Detail: Only Two

"Only Two" finished Pro Tools project

Whaaaat’s happenin’.

Let’s talk about the second track on the album called Only Two. This is one of the more electronically infused productions on the album and it all went back to a feeling I had early on that I wanted to try to create an album that merged the two styles I’ve spent the most time with in recent years: My guitar oriented rock and my house and dance oriented electronic music. I created house music as Raygun from 2000-2009 and ultimately, I got totally bored with the paint by numbers approach that my production in electronic music led to. It was uninspiring to me on a creative level and ultimately I decided to retire that production shortly before we had our first daughter in 2010. Not to mention, blasting thumping dance music from the studio didn’t make a lot of sense when a baby might be upstairs trying to sleep! Let’s just say that genre ran its course with me and I was happy to move on.

But I have also been intrigued by the idea of merging the things I learned in electronic and dance music production with the progressions and sounds frequently making their way into my Yellowgold tunes. The two styles seemed like they would merge nicely, especially if I was trying for a particularly ethereal and effects laden sound. At an early point in the production of Fever Dreamer (long before I had picked that as the name), I wondered what an entire album of Raygun/Yellowgold tunes might sound like. As result, I underwent a solid 8-10 months of production that resulted in tunes that fell into that category. Only Two was the first to follow that train of thought. Two other tracks happened within that period and neither made it to the final album, at least not in those dancy forms. I promise to share those with you here at a later date so stay tuned on that!

 The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream

As for Only Two, I was initially inspired for the sound of the song after listening to one of the few new artists who’s sound inspired me to write in recent years, The War on Drugs. There is something captivating to me about their unique mix of electronic elements, traditional and catchy guitar riffs, deep delays and reverbs, and awesome vocal treatments. It all combines into a nice soupy mix of awesome to my ears.

So when I first sat down to create a new song, I had nothing concrete in mind other than “War on Drugs” as a general direction. I had been spending some time getting to know the Native Instruments virtual synth called Massive that has so much variability to it. It’s a very easy synth to get lost in and has a ton of pretty modern as well as classic patches to begin with.

I worked on a few synth loops along with the standard 4/4 kick snare hat combo and started to lay out a rough outline of a song progression to give a foundation for some off-the-cuff vocal stuff. In the first night of work, I ended up with a very basic but intriguing (to me) foundation off of which to work. Here’s that first night’s rough draft.

Over the course of the next week, I filled my Evernote scratch pad with an insane amount of ideas, permutations, vocal melodies,and ultimately lyrics to fit a vocal pattern that, at least early on, seemed to be a lock for how the song would be in its finished state. I would later completely change the vocals from the ground up, but here’s that early idea.

In the end and over time, that particular vocal delivery just got kind of boring to me. Not sure what it was exactly but I found myself losing interest in the song and after trying and trying to get it right, I finally realized that the vocals just weren’t working so I did what I often do in this instance: I deleted the vocal work up to that point and decided to approach it with fresh ears. As they say, sometimes the best way to move forward is to remove what isn’t working instead of trying and trying to fix it and make it work. I can’t stress enough how important this can be. Some of the stuff I’m most proud was born out of intense frustration and an attempt to overwork something that just wasn’t clicking. It’s when I finally let go of this idea that THIS was how it needed to be that my mind was freed to explore how it COULD be and very often, that ends up being better. If anything, it gives my mind something new, something fresh to focus on that doesn’t have all of that baggage attached to it… that new “something” revitalizes things and allows me to move forward, and better yet be INSPIRED with new ideas to bring to the table.

Anyways, that’s exactly what happened with Only Two. I’ll be honest, of all the tracks on the album, Only Two gave me the most problems. I hit so many stages throughout its production where I was nearly ready to give up on it. When that happened, I reminded myself that no idea is sacred, and I’d kill the thing that my gut told me needed to go… that freed me up to analyze it through a different lens and push through. And I’m happy I stuck to it but MAN it was a challenge. I worked on this track in a very focused way for more than a year off and on.

Near the end of the production of Only Two, I scrapped ALL of my vocals and re-recorded them with a less layered, more simplistic approach. It brought clarity to the parts and brought the sound of the song together. The result of that is what you hear on the album. And I’m happy I got it there after all that work!

Here’s the final product from the album:

Lyrics:

Here she comes to say
oh the weather's nice today
Simple storybook day
Where the world encircles and fades away
Made a choice with her voice as the dust flies through
Throws her hands in the air as she makes him choose
Here she comes today
It's love or so they say
Butterflies in disguise as she settles in
Looks around laying down as she makes him grin
Only two
Now is the right time
You're on the right side of love
So make it the right time
You're on the right side of love
Stand as one today
Connected for eternity
Only two

In Detail: Control My Gravity

"Control My Gravity" finished Pro Tools project

Hello again! Hope you are enjoying the tunes.

Today I want to talk briefly about the first track on the album, Control My Gravity. It’s kind of fitting that this is the first track on the album because its the first track that I completed (mostly) that lead me once and for all to start focusing on material for a new album.

I wrote the general idea for this song in a much different way than I normally do and it was born out of virtual reality. I’m not even shitting you.

Back in 2015, TWiT employee Jason Cleanthes got himself the Samsung Gear VR. This was right before VR began to become more of a household thing. Don’t get me wrong, VR is still very much for enthusiasts, but this was at the very beginning of the new wave of consumer VR tech. I was asked if I wanted to review the Gear VR for TWiT and I’ve always kind of had a thing for VR… for what it can become someday. Not at all certain we are there yet, but I digress.

"Strangers with Patrick Watson"

So I borrowed Jason’s Gear VR and played around with it for a while. One of the VR experiences was a video called “Strangers with Patrick Watson.” I had never heard of Patrick Watson before, but I saw that this was a 360 degree immersive video that placed you, the viewer, dead center in Patrick’s production studio as he sat at his piano and rehearsed a song. On the floor lays his dog, obviously used to this sort of crooning. I watched this video and I can’t really explain it, but I was engulfed by the song and the feeling of being in the room along with a musician who is obviously in a creative zone of his own. I could recognize in him and that inspiring moment something in myself. I’ve been there before. I’ve never sat third person and watched it quite like this, though.

The song kept running through my mind and I began to realize that what he was doing to create that sound wasn’t entirely outside of my own capability. It was his piano, his ability to play it, and his voice run through a mic that had a nice ethereal lo-fi sound. So I ran into my studio late one night, still inspired by the VR experience, loaded up a piano patch, created a simple vocal effects chain, and just started playing randomness.

This is why I love writing at night. I turn the lights way down, almost to darkness, I turn the headphones up, and I can forget that I’m in a room open to the house. In those headphones, I’m in a different world. No judgments. The isolation IS the inspiration.

With the project I had set up, I began recording my noodling and landed on a few general ideas. This is last piece of that experimentation that doesn’t sound exactly like the track on the album, but you can kind of see where it was headed.

As is often the case, I gave myself a day to let the idea stir in my brain and when I returned the following evening, I had taken that idea and transformed it into something closer to Control My Gravity. This is how it sounded at the end of day two, and you'll actually notice that a few of the elements stayed until the final version.

To be honest, the track came together rather quickly once that happened. Things fell into place. The 3/4 time signature isn’t something I do often either. And I fully admit, I’m not a very good piano performing artist, but for whatever reason that progression and my singing worked with a few hours of rehearsal and I was able to capture it and base the song around it.

You might also notice that the vocal chain on many of the songs on the album is similar. It kind of has a crackly radio spread to it, almost like I’m singing through an AM radio with some delay jitters and ethereal reverb. It all began with that patch I threw together as I set up the project for this experimentation session. It worked for Control My Gravity, and I knew I wanted the album to have a cohesive sound, so it became the chain I used on my vocals for almost all songs on the album. I would play around with them and change small elements on the other songs, but the basis of that effect is the same across most songs on the album. Hopefully that gives things some cohesion. (That was the goal, anyway!)

I can remember driving to San Francisco for Google IO back in 2015 playing this song in the car shortly after finishing it and thinking “if I can make my album sound like this sound, I will have satisfied my commitment to myself.”

Here’s the final product from the album:

Lyrics:

I'm dreaming of one
Reach out my dear
Forever to be near
The window sill
Time chasing a wild one
In salty rain
A heavenly refrain
And never seen again
You were always the one
within the night
When everything is right
And all is quiet
Faded drifting with one
And hold my hand
Intoxicate again
Relieve my whim
Control my gravity
Bestow my rhapsody
I'm breathing in wild flowers
Lay down with me my dear
Control my gravity
Bestow my rhapsody
Control my gravity
Bestow my rhapsody

Fever Dreamer is released!! (finally)

Hello everyone! After three solid years of work, I’m happy to finally release my latest Yellowgold album unto the Internet! YES THREE YEARS. Let’s just say I’ve been really busy, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

 The new album. Seriously, you should get it!

The new album. Seriously, you should get it!

I thought I’d spend some time over the course of the next week or two pulling back the curtain, so to speak, on the album: Concept and approach of the album, as well as a song by song breakdown because (as you may or may not know) each song has a story! And by that I don’t necessarily mean the story told in the lyrics (although each song has that kind of story too). But I’m sure every musician will probably agree that writing a song usually comes from SOMEWHERE and often its not at all where you might think.

To celebrate the launch of the album, though, I thought that today I’d write about the album concept as a whole, so here goes.

After finishing Ever One in 2013 and receiving such positive feedback from that, I knew that I wanted to go back to the well and hit it again. I also knew I wanted to take a bit of a break. I’ll be honest: The way I write and record can be all consuming. I can go for days or weeks doing absolutely nothing but singing voice memos into Evernote (often on a daily basis… that in itself may sound overwhelming but nowadays, it’s such a part of my routine that I’ve amassed hundreds of song ideas and its growing without effort). And then at some point, I’ll get the urge to sit down at my DAW and start playing around with ideas. If I strike on something that inspires me, it becomes an obsession that I’m chasing and that happens AROUND everything else (Full Time podcast host at TWiT, Full Time dad and husband at home). All this to say that I was a bit burnt out after Ever One, but I knew I wanted to continue working on something at some point, and while I was waiting, I was just basically dropping ideas into Evernote. OK then.

Then we bought a house. This is important for the sound of Fever Dreamer because it messed with my comfort level of production and writing.

 The recording dungeon at our rental.

The recording dungeon at our rental.

At our old rental in Petaluma, I literally had a separate (but tiny) office that I produced in. It had a door that I could close which allowed me to be less concerned about the noise I was making late at night and also let me live in the illusion of being on my own while writing, lowering inhibitions.

 Recording space in the new home

Recording space in the new home

Well, the new house that we bought DOES have a studio area… the Den where I have all my equipment, sound panels, and guitars hanging on the walls. I did my best to spruce it up and make it an inspiring environment in which to write late at night. The only problem is that the Den has no door to it. It’s open to the kitchen which is open to the stairs which is open to all three bedrooms. This means that I much more exposed while writing.

So when it came time for me to start constructing ideas for a new album, I knew I would be writing the lions share of the music late at night AROUND everything else I do in life. And writing in an exposed room meant I felt like I needed to be quieter during recording than I was at our previous home. Everything at night would need to be done with headphones and contained within the DAW. Thankfully, audio technology is awesome and allows for that. But what I realize in retrospect is that limitation pushed me towards a sound where much of the vocals on the album are whispery and breathy. Being in headphones also brings your ears a bit closer to the subtle details of a soundscape, so I tended to be a bit more experimental with effects and layering.

The other big component was that I was doing much of this writing late at night which, I’ll be honest, is probably my favorite time of the day to record. Now granted, I’m DEAD TIRED when 9pm rolls around and it would be so much easier for me to just plop down and watch Netflix, or just go to bed (give me a break. I'm what my kids would consider to be "old".) But I really had to motivate myself to turn on my DAW and just strum a few chords, or load up a drum set… anything because if I was able to push myself over that speed bump, I’d be golden and spend 2-3 hours cranking away. Sometimes much more to be honest. (many 2-3 sleep-hour nights)

And I’d say the moral of this particular part of the story is that often limitations unlock new avenues of exploration. It would be easy for me to look at the open studio space, the late at night restrictions, and the fear of waking up my family and say “well, this won’t work.” Instead, I literally set out to see WHAT album I would write within those restrictions. As a result, much of Fever Dreamer is whispy, ethereal, effects laden, and not only that, it’s the sound of the entire album. That restriction enabled me to complete a song that followed a very specific and intentional theme in the way it sounds, a first for me to be honest.

OK I’m rambling. And if it isn’t already obvious: These blog posts won’t be heavily edited. I’ll just dump this stuff out and move on cause I ain’t got time to edit. But I hope it’s informative. I REALLY love to read about how people approach their own creative processes and philosophies so I suppose I’m writing what I love to read. I hope you do to.