No Smoking Area

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National emergency update

“No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant….”

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Sun Tunnels current lineup

Seth, me, Sam. We’re playing the Timbre Room on April 14!

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Anatomy of a Song – Sun Tunnels “Talking House”

Eds. note: this post is the fourth in a series of posts about songs from my last EPOld Haunts Volume 1.

This was my favorite song on the EP I think, and I might be the only one who likes it. I have to please myself first or what’s the point, right?

 

What’s fun about this song is it’s an instrumental scrapbook of a particular time. I recall one night in 2007 or so just playing around on guitar and recording a loop, which is the first guitar you hear in the track. Then I played the lead bits, and then the fuzzy guitar where it changes and gets darker while the original loop is still playing. I don’t quite remember but I think all of the guitars came together on the same night and was just a sketch, something to be re-recorded if the music was worth pursuing.

Since then I’ve come back to it a few times thinking that yes, I like this, I should record it “for real” but never got past the original sketch because I liked the feel of it. At some point I was playing with a Moog synth and added the modulated/noisy tracks that make up the intro, and a sampled tambourine. Late last year I added bass and some found samples.

The samples are their own stories that are just fun for me.

One night when I lived in Madrona I was trying out my shortwave radio on just FM or AM, nothing special, and found an audio loop of real estate information from a nearby house. I guess that was a thing 1o years ago, to broadcast a very low-power signal with an audio message describing the house for sale and how to contact the realtor. I recorded some of it and when revisiting this song I thought to try adding it, I think it works.

I particularly like that for me it brings to mind an image of our rental house in Madrona, 2007 or 2008 or so, me in the basement at night recording the guitar loops while that house a block away was for sale. It’s very specific and I doubt both things were actually happening at the same time, but they may as well have been, and in this song now they are.

The wind chimes are also a specific Madrona memory, walking through the neighborhood with a Zoom H2 flash recorder, down the street that my father grew up on which coincidentally was a couple of blocks from where we were living and recording wind chimes. There were lots to record. I had no specific plan for them, I figured why have a flash recorder if not to do stuff like that.

I like the music of this song, how it feels as it builds up and resolves, but it’s likely I’m more biased toward it because of these personal details.

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Anatomy of a song – Sun Tunnels “I Guess Not”

Eds. note: this post is the third in a series of posts about songs from my last EP.

A theme I’m playing with in my latest EP Old Haunts Volume 1, and for that matter any other volumes I might make, is how recordings can collect pieces of sound or ideas from different places and times and then mix them together into one moment. “I Guess Not” is in some ways the newest song on the EP and in other ways not so much.

 

It began as a microcassette scratch recording of guitar and melody from May 2003. I have tons of these “proto-songs,” but since tapes are an annoying medium I didn’t listen back to most of them until months or years later while at the same time capturing them in digital form, at which point I would decide if they had anything good in them or not.

Most of these proto-songs are very bad but some will have a hook or at least something interesting going on. Among this subset most don’t become fully realized songs, but a few like “I Guess Not” do. An even smaller subset of those go on to become “real” recordings.

I started this recording in September 2008 in a practice space with drummer Terry Kyte, who was in Open Choir Fire at the time. I had sent him a demo a few days earlier, then we met up I think in their space on Capitol Hill and ran through a couple of takes with me on guitar and him on drums. His part and performance were awesome.

I think that practice space used to be here

A couple of months later my friend and erstwhile bandmate Sugar McGuinn came to my house and recorded bass on top of what Terry and I had done. He also played a few takes and was great.

Then nothing. I think in my head it had been a good attempt but not worth pursuing, either because I didn’t mic the drums well, or because I didn’t like the lyrics much, or because I didn’t get a good guitar take. So it sat on a hard drive for years and years… til last Summer, when I was looking for recordings to finish and came across it again.

At the time my wife and I had recently become a “waiting couple” for adoption, and one piece of advice we got was to find projects to work on while waiting. I picked “finish some old recordings and put out an EP as Sun Tunnels” as one project. Also I started occasionally running around Greenlake while the weather was nice, and I’d listen to mp3s of stuff while running to decide what was worth working on and what specifically needed to happen to finish each song.

“I Guess Not” needed new lyrics, a second guitar to join (and partly cover up) the one I’d recorded along with Terry (the guitar and drums bled together in the audio and so couldn’t really be separated), maybe some harmony vocals, an instrumental solo of some kind during the interlude, and better mixing.

In the end it got all of those things, as best as I could. Lyrically I kept some of the original lines from what I wrote in 2008 (or whenever it was) but bent them toward a new theme. I think the song now is about smartphones and how weirdly hypnotized we are by them in a way that might seem extremely strange to an observer from 2008. I think about it most every day on the bus how weird it is. We’re all staring at our hands.

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