Well, you might as well know. I’m being a brave girl and actually posted ALL my recorded work from the past ten years online in one place: cristinawilliams.bandcamp.com. Since you’re one of the dear dear people who actually read my blog blatherings, you might as well know the whole enchilada. Sure, you can *cough* BUY *cough* any albums or tracks – and digital versions have a nice accessible low entry, pay-what-you-want model: minimum is 50 cents a track of $1 an album.
BUT the real story here is that I’ve posted every song of each album AND all the lyrics. This is brave (for me) because some of those songs and lyrics, especially from my first album, What Did I Do?, make me feel….kinda squirmy now. Putting your art out there is a funny enough proposition – after all, you’ve just etched a part of your soul in a way that you can’t take back. You can hide it but it’s still out there. But this was my first real recording project and frankly I had no idea what I was doing.
Now, I’m actually super proud of this album. I financed it by myself from my Silicon Alley dot com days and went whole hog: six-page professionally designed covers and liner notes, 1,000 replicated copies from a big manufacturing plant, all shrinkwrapped! I hired amazing musicians: Duke Rashkow (producer, engineer, guitarist), Dan Green (bass), Ronen Barak (drums) and superguests Julia Kent (cello), Rob Karten (keyboards), Tucson’s own Heather Hardy (violin) and a gawgeous Michael P Nordberg bass track. I even plopped money down on a PR campaign (later a bigwig at BMI laughed softly when I told him this “A PR campaign on your first self-released album? Well, that’s pretty brave.” – and yeah, I would advise against it if at all possible, it’s like inviting the press to your first dress rehearsal instead of waiting until, say, the 2nd week of performance). I stand by most of the songs today, especially Trying to Fly, Make You Happy, Don’t Worry and the title track.
But still, I squirm. Some of my squirming comes from a few odd producing decisions I made or let happen – I was enamored of albums that kept in quirky little ad hoc phrases or laughter or other cute noises that accidentally make it through the mic. But when I come across these now, I shudder ever so slightly. “I need more bass” at the end of Florida Girl – uh huh, like, who the hell cares? The song was just fine without it. There are also a few songs that just have too much going on for my taste now – too much guitar frenzy or too many layers upon layers upon layers of…stuff. This was 2001, the 90s were still fresh in our minds and multi-tracking was all the rage – you could have 32 tracks of stuff on each song if you wanted! My producer, Duke Rashkow, an incredibly talented engineer, producer and guitarist, built some amazing soundscapes from my lil ol’ girl-and-her-guitar tunes. I learned so much about recording and producing. We’d record and agonize and record some more. I spent six weeks on vocals alone! (Though at the end of that slog I was so deliriously punch drunk I started throwing my water bottle at people’s heads at the slightest provocation).
The payoffs from this process were on songs like Make You Happy that became a funhouse of sixties farfisa and gogo background vocals. Or Trying to Fly where Duke does the most beautiful understated but powerful guitar work I’ve ever heard. He coaxed and captured some of my best vocal moments to date.
But then there’s Summer Moon, which I really like and it’s really rockin’, but it’s also just weird. I use a creepy voice for the spoken word part and there’s a truly bizarre alien guitar solo that Duke created when he laid down three different tracks, wasn’t happy with any of them and then started haphazardly punching the mute buttons between them to create this freaky, spiky mosaic that couldn’t even possibly be played live (unless the guitarist had four arms instead of two). Hmm, actually I still dig the track, maybe because it’s so weird.
Naw, the one song I’d take off if I had to do it over is That’s Just Fine. It’s just weird when it had no reason to be. The lyrics are rather lovely and sensual and the music is anything but. I’d begged Duke to leave in one of those silly-unnecessary-ad-hoc lines “Ooh, that’s so weird.” I mean, it was, but it wasn’t that weird in that spot in the way one would think when you hear somebody on a record saying “Oooh that’s so weird.” Meh, it’s a bit of a mess to me now. But here’s the thing: I’ve found that listeners don’t normally agree with me on anything about my recordings and in the spirit of completeness I’ve kept it with all its jagged edges.
But still, I squirm. It’s really that my lyrics were so so sexual back then. Not that they’re not now, I just prefer to be a little more subtle, a little less obvious (or as they would say where I come from, less “vulgar”). It’s just that I was immersed in New York during that time and NYC is a damned highly sexual culture (there was even an HBO series highlighting this fact if you recall). And I started out smack dab in the middle of the dot com bubble (another story for another time) which was probably like living in the end of the Roman Empire, except with online dating and sushi. And then I started hanging out with downtown rock musicians – which was all that but grittier and less expensive. Oh I was a real 21st Century Candide (or Forrest Gump) strolling along, witnessing this strange new world with wide eyes. It was quite a show for this former Catholic school girl. I wasn’t even a prude, but I couldn’t keep up with all the shenanigans and just contented myself to watch (no, not that way – well in New York, everyone’s a voyeur at some point – everything’s just so close and folks are so uninhibited!)
Anyhoo, this all-holds-barred sexuality seeped into my songwriting – as I guess is bound to happen when you’re a writer. Ok, if you wanna know, just check out the lyrics to Good Time, Summer Moon, Swamp Thing. No, actually, don’t! Oh, alright the whole point is to be open, I guess. Excuse me while I squirm. *Squirm!* Ah, okay, I think I’ll be fine now.
Sidenote: I do want to point out that if you’re fresh from a breakup, in that really vulnerable state where you need a good cathartic bawl and to know that you’re not the only person who’s stalked your ex while pretending everything’s fine, check out I’ll Let You Go.
Looking back, it’s interesting to me to see how my philosophy of recording changed a lot after this album: I started reading Tape Op (which I highly recommend if you’re a home or small studio recorder), met Jamie, and this is my preferred process now: fast and fresh. Like cooking with farmer’s market ingredients. Don’t spend so much time on elaborate sauces and dressing, once you have some good raw ingredients (songwriting with plenty of rehearsal) it doesn’t take much more than some olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe a squeeze of lemon. Translation: lay down songs with the band live, mix it as soon as possible afterward, use as few overdubs as you can get away with. Not too much fussing about. Oh and gear doesn’t have to be expensive – though I do have a preference for vintagey tube amps. But whatever works, works. I’ll have to write a whole post about my middle child Cowards In Love which is one of my favorite albums to date and embodied these principles well.
As I look forward to my next solo album (yes, yes, I swear it’s still in the works), I’m dreaming of recording to tape, like they did in the 60′s and 70′s. I just love the extra ‘dimension’, the ‘warmth’ as sosososo many describe it. There’s just a little more space, not as much smoothness and perfection like digital recording can be. Hopefully I’ll have more news on that soon.
In the meantime, hope you enjoy checking out the earlier days of my sonic evolution. Listen, buy if it moves you – or even better, pass it along to some other unsuspecting soul. In fact, I don’t think I’ll squirm anymore if you do!