Playing live on the radio was always a goal of mine and I am lucky to have done so a number of times. There is some great college radio in Massachusetts too. WMFO is the station of Tufts University in Medford MA and it is a truly great station. They are one of the few free-form stations left in the country. This was the 4th visit I'd made to their landmark local music show, On the Town. The band was very happy to have Joel Simches engineer the show - Joel has been a long time supporter of my music, so I knew he would make it sound sweet. Plus, he is an all around good guy. So all of the stars were in line for a great show but I have to say, I missed the mark for most of it. I don't know what it was - but I felt WAY OFF for this performance.

Sorry to say that most of you will never hear the proof of how wrong it went. Just trust me.

The good news is the sound was terrific, as is evidenced by this recording of this song off of the Inventory record.



Djim Reynolds and I worked on and completed an album for the 2007 RPM Challenge. Challenge was to make a record in 1 month, February 2007. We did it as Thee Elementals and called the album, The Slippery Slope. The surprise to me is that it so completely stuck in my head. It was exciting and enjoyable in a way that felt different from what we had done before. We will be releasing some version of the record at some point in some form of some future. But what I want to share with you now is two songs from the record as it exists today.

Renewal By Razor:
What do you do when you need a fresh start? Shave your face man, that might do it.

Sometimes you feel like showering the lawn with gas just to see if anything can grow. And if anything can grow, what sort of poisonous weed will it be?


Jason Anderson

Good friend Jason Anderson has been playing bass in the Underpainting as available for a few years now. He does it with a perfect sense of the song and, like all of my mates, really cares for my compositions. Many things have and could be said about him but I think the best word right now is AWESOME. This year brought so much new Jason Anderson music. The most recent being the LP on K Records called the Hopeful and the Unafraid. His music is true and honest. Sneak out your bedroom window to pick flowers and sell them by the subway to get this record.

Also he is on tour RIGHT NOW with Jim and Gregg backing him up and Harry and the Potters on the bill too(!):

Jul 16 2008 8:00P
The Glass House w/HATP Pomona, California
Jul 17 2008 8:00P
The Troubadour w/HATP Los Angeles, California
Jul 18 2008 8:00P
The Bottom of the Hill w/HATP San Francisco, California
Jul 19 2008 8:00P
The Bottom of the Hill w/HATP San Francisco, California
Jul 20 2008 8:00P
Jul 21 2008 8:00P
Wonder Ballroom w/HATP Portland, Oregon
Jul 22 2008 7:00P
The Capitol Theater w/HATP Olympia, Washington
Jul 23 2008 8:00P
Neumo’s w/HATP Seattle, Washington
Jul 24 2008 6:00P
Ukraine Hall w/HATP Vancouver, BC
Jul 25 2008 7:30P
South Main St. Block Party Pendleton, Oregon
Jul 26 2008 8:00P
Kilby Court w/HATP Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 27 2008 8:00P
If you've not seen the live scene, you must. If you have, you know.


Gregg Porter

In keeping with the new releases of band mates, I present you with word of the release of a wonderful (some even call staggeringly beautiful) EP from my good friend and Underpainting drummer, Gregg Porter. Less of the country of his former band Milkweed that I wrote about yesterday and more of the abstract awe of another of his bands Hotel Alexis. This EP is just bubbling with special moments and full of a cast of talented help. I am proud to have been a part of this recording. It is available for way cheap money from CD Baby:

Gregg Porter - Final, Final EP

Buy them all and hand them out at the airport for people to calm their fear of flying.



I met my bandmates Jim Reynolds and Gregg Porter back in 1993. It is rather unclear to me but I think they went to the same college as I did. Whatever their scene was, I knew they were very very cool. They introduced me to Lou Barlow's lesser known (at the time) side project called Sentridoh - yes, very very cool. They gradually disappeared from the crowd of college but I still knew of them. It was probably 3 or 4 years later that I saw Jim again and with a crazy mountain man beard. He told me he just got back from Oregon and that he was playing the banjo. Jim was the first peer of mine to play the banjo. Over the years I would run into Jim and Gregg or just Jim in the weirdest, most random places. I always hoped one day I could play in a band with them. In fact, I even had an imaginary country band dreamed up called the Rifles and they were part of the imaginary line-up.

One thing I was hearing around 1997 was about their band Milkweed. They made quite an impression on many with their drinking, drugging, stumbling country/folk/old time music. So Milkweed put out three CDs and their most recent one is thankfully now available. It is a lovely lump of country chamber folk-grass. I think maybe you should take a listen and scoop one up.

MILKWEED - Further to Fall

I consider myself very luck to have the good fortune to call these guys my friends and be able to play music with them. Cheers to Milkweed.



When you get through with something you make a judgment in your own head. How did I do? How will it be perceived? How do I feel about it? This song is my definition of striving. We as people can ALWAYS do better and that sentiment is particularly prescient as commentary to this song. There are some sweet spots but overall I could have done it better. But then again, let's follow this to the chorus:

I don't need this any more
The sun that tans the skin
the bark that's broken in
No I don't need them any more.

These are the things I rely on:

My critical voice -ENOUGH!
My hindsight - ENOUGH!
My consistency - ENOUGH!
My aesthetic - ENOUGH!

I don't need them any more.

Production note: I sent this to DMC to listen to via email back when it was being worked on. He commented on it saying he liked the demo - I explained it was not a demo. Maybe I should have taken that comment more seriously. I think there are time when the demo approach works for the finished product: rambling notes (jazz notes as DMC calls them), distant misspoken lyrics, erased and replaced anything - I don't know for certain it does here.


Ummm, Almost Over

I guess this is close to my day of reckoning with this project. I have one more song left to post. Sure there are tons of unheard bonus tracks, live recordings, and other miscellany - but there is one more "released" song left to go. The Underpainting will make it here as soon as the next record is released (recorded too).

This leaves me with the question of: then what? Is the unreleased stuff of interest? Should I quit while I am ahead (behind)?

Any thoughts?




What am I against?

Well, what have you got?

The template for my human condition. Rally against, ponder, break free, forget. I am deliberate in my absorption of that condition - trying to feel each pinch and twinge it offers. These terms are to be abided! This is a fault that came up in college though. My friend and professor Ethan warned me about making all of my "art" a reaction against something (or somebody) outside of me. He was right. That is a narrow way to experience the world. Years later, another very wise man had another word for me. This was about that deliberate condition: you have to experience the gritty lows to experience the soaring heights. So I try not to react and I try to accept and take it all as it comes. Here come dusty roads...

When I took a chance,
I ended up on top.
Went from a saunter,
to a trot



First put the core of this down after seeing a show of some particularly free folkie stuff. i don't recall who it was, but I do recall thinking I wanted to write something less straight forward folkie and more abstract after I saw that show. But this idea and this expression was a long time coming:

You can blur your worries
into climbing vines
it's only in your mind

Yeah, that's where this gets heavy.

Production note:
Jim Reynolds slide guitar was so real and gritty - perfect. We had recorded this song before. We'd played it live. We'd played it slow. We'd played it fast but never before did we get it down like this. The doubled vocals are a warm oven. So to me this is the definitive version of the song.



I was pondering the idea of divorce. Not the standard association with the word that we (unfortunately) have, but a different meaning - to remove yourself from, maybe even by force. Two alternate titles come back to me: Divorced Thought and Logic Divorced.

Was the break-up with my thoughts mutual? Or was there a disagreement that swelled and bred resentment forcing my thoughts to pack their bags. A third scenario, though unlikely, was that I became disillusioned with the relationship with my thoughts and kicked them to the curb.

I'm sorry I thought it, I divorced the logic
a portrait of ideas that fail
Wheel that did not touch the rail



I just found another word for nothing left to lose...

What was I thinking ripping off the lyrical structure of "Me and Bobby McGee"? Could I really be so inspired by that insipid & used song? Can't say. But sometimes I get struck by a concept and I must pursue it till the end.

That is odd - I would like to define what prompts me to write one idea down, plan it out and stamp it a "song", while another (and maybe more viable) idea gets juggled around the brain a bit and eventually gets forgotten. NOWHERE and its loose Kristofersonian ramblings made it; stamp it done.

Windshield wipers shoving rain, I think they've had enough...

Cheers x 1,00,000,000 to Rich for the brillaint harmonica part - a great idea.


Folk Me, Laztana

Around the time "A Sweet Science" was released I got an very nice email from the proprietor of the Spanish micro-label Moonpalace Records. He asked if he could do some CD "distribution" locally. He'd send it to zines (online and print) and make the CD available for sale on his website. I loved this idea and really there was nothing to lose except a few copies of a CD and postage. The worst case scenario would have been there was some con-man taking advantage of an unknown indie-folk artist by using a micro-label as a front - what are the chances of that. He got some great reviews published (and translated them) and I got to further my unknown music in a way that really interested me (in another country!). Our relationship continued through out the years. We'd talked about doing a true Moonpalace release and finally in 2006 the concept came to fruition as "Folk Me, Laztana (a split CD)".

His idea was brilliant. Split the disc with a Spanish songwriter who sings in Basque - Joseba Irazoki. 5 songs me, 5 songs he.

My concept was simple: guitar, piano, vocals. This was the first time I recorded with my friend Rich Brouillet. We did not actually record this in the same room or even the same city. We rehearsed at his house, I went home and recorded the basic tracks and then sent him a disc of the files. He recorded the piano (look at the site banner on the top of the page for the guts of his piano) on his own time and them sent me a disc of the files. I LOVE THIS WAY OF WORKING. Jim Reynolds did much of the engineering and brought some fancy equipment over to my basement - he lent his trained ear to all aspects of the mixing too as well a some slide guitar on one track. Where would I be without this web of friends***....

The songs are a mix of older compositions that never made it to tape and a couple new songs that were hot of my mental press. It was released in 2006 in a limited edition of 100 and sold out after a half a year or so (mostly due to the show schedule of Joseba, to be honest...). This was a great experience and so unique - a proud moment. Oh yes, and Laztana means "my dear" in Basque. Folk Me, My Dear.

(if you've got it, see "Delving Inward with Brian Roff" for where I'd be.)



Things will be revving up again here soon. We'll get into the 2006 Spain-only release "Folk Me, Laztana (a split CD)". Adjusting to the adjustment has left me with less than a little time for now but I have not forgotten my little ones to share with all of you.

Until then, here is a great resume Muxtape from friend and collaborator, David Michael Curry (DMC).

Empty House Co-Operative Muxtape


I Just Wasted My Dream - BONUS TRACK

Written from the perspective of a man whose dream was murdered while it was walking alone on a quiet street through a bad neighborhood. It wasn't me, but I feel bad for the guy.

Some great keyboard nonsense in this song. Note to self: Need more of that in the future.




a self indulgent collection, let me know what you think.


Stop Drop Enroll - BONUS TRACK

The title is a rather obvious play on the fire safety campaign, "STOP DROP AND ROLL". Commuting on the train to and from Boston did some odd things to my lyrical content and inspiration pool. But this song keeps my interest 6 years later. It has some of my favorite images and maybe even some of my proudest moments. Why would I keep it s secret until now then? In particular I am fond of the triumphant last line of the second verse:

I'll get up on the table

Getting a new perspective sometimes can make all the difference.


There is No Free Lunch - BONUS TRACK

So true!

There is no free lunch
in this world of prompts
so erase that thought from your book

Written and recorded around the time of the Errors Intact EP. Full of Roland Juno and some scrappy guitar work. I was surely influenced by Andy Cohen on those guitar solos. He believed the emotive guitar solo was not dead, he may still believe that.


Thanks for the Stammering - BONUS TRACK

The banjo was a Sovereign 4 string. I was working on weekends for an ephemera collector. On of his obsessions was Hawaiiana. He would go to auctions throughout the week prior and I would clear out his car. Posters, books, coins, stamps, radios - things some would call junk but to me it was inspiring. They said he never lost a bid at auctions but that did not mean he was always right on target. One Sunday I was clearing out the car and found the Sovereign and asked what the story was. Story was short - for some reason he thought banjos were Hawaiian. Once he discovered that was not the case, he let me have it. Years later, after I had upgraded to a Goodtime, I sold it to Paul from Sunburned.

I just rediscovered this song while digging through some other unreleased songs. The equivalent of a hidden bonus track for me. It is curious to me how as a songwriter, I can put so much into the writing, performing, and recording of a song (relative of course) and then is vanishes from my mind. But as soon as I heard the first notes of this, the whole thing rushed back from that dusty corner of my brain. But don't ask me to perform it for you....


Pour the Batter

A lot has happened here since my last post. I am a now father of a beautiful baby girl, with the initials F.A.R.

So, Pour the Batter is a great way to signify this glorious event. My wife was always confounded by this song. She has said to me on numerous occasions, I can't believe you made this song. And that sums up perfectly how I feel about the birth of my daughter: I can't believe we made that baby girl.

(up next are some more bonus tracks and then on to the 2006 split CD, "Folk Me, Laztana")


This Thick World

Previously I wrote about this song HERE when it was on the Error Intact EP. But now it comes out less drowsy bedroom pop and more properly realized mope-soul.

So maybe that is why it feels a little more desperate. The walking bass and the weary viola talk to me saying, "yeah but" and "what about". I am glad we did it again even though some of my lyrical twist s are less than direct:

Hawaii is an island
No man is a shed
sloppy and soaked
I've bitten my bread

I was thinking about the phrase, "You've made your bed, now lay in it". And I thought that biting your bread was an equally understandable metaphor - You've bitten your bread, now swallow it. Again, phrase coinage rears its confusing head.


I Fell at the Opera

On family reunion trip to the Catskills in 2004 I went horse back riding for the first (and last) time. After about 10 minutes of vague "lessons", I was suddenly on top of a 8 foot tall monster of a horse. Totally gripped by fear, I tried to concentrate on keeping off the ground and keeping this animal calm. Through the tree-lined paths I am sure I saw a brown bear stalking a doe. Perhaps this was an odd fear induced hallucination.

I can train a bear
to follow behind

a doe, a doe, a doe

The idea of falling at the opera, tripping up when you are supposed to be staying cool is interesting. I suppose there is always worry that when I am expected to be a certain way, the real me won't be able to be held back - the guy who slips on the ice at the opera.

Production notes:
Jim once again scores with a smart banjo line throughout, plus the unleashed end romp. Casey Dienel plays her piano with a soft touch that leads in to a playful blooming at the end. Gregg Porter's drum are sure fire - get how he smacks one beat down in the middle of silence in the last break before the end glory. Classic.


Drank the Lake

I did what I shouldn't have done
When I touched the sun

Kind of like Pandora's box. Sometimes we all do things even though you know they'll turn out bad - but you cannot resist. The sun looks harmless enough. I was trying to push away from purely self referential songwriting. At some point I began thinking of more universal ideas that would speak less abstractly to listeners. I think this is on that path - less "woe is me" and more "woe is we".

I can't help but hear a major Alejandro Escovedo influence on this one. The band was enjoying playing the songs in a louder way and this track is just meant for the full band treatment. David's rolling viola is actually two simultaneous tracks thanks to Jim's brilliant mixing concept. And Jim's solo is a tasteful burner. Anyway I had been listening to a bunch of Alejandro's stuff around the time of this songs emergence and this is like BMR/Deer by way of Alejandro and the Stones.


Unfantastic Few

There is a chance this could all be too much. There is also a chance that this "honest" world I am writing in and around is all artifice. Thing is, I am so wrapped up in it that I can't tell the difference any more. I had this thought last night at the show at the Red Door. Perhaps because it was such a great and attentive audience. Thoughtfully listening to my words. I was totally in a fog also but maybe that was impending fatherhood or maybe I was just too high on caffeine. Nevertheless, I had this thought that my songs are all about the same thing and they are altogether too serious - as I was playing this was going on (never a good idea to be thinking about other things while performing) in my head. A few people afterwards told me the set was beautiful and then I understood this is going just right.

Went from 10 to tense in an instant when
I was 12 I wasn't well
Drink a cup full of grounds and dust
and think of just how you felt

Not much more I can say about this then.


This Yellowed Yield

This is a true story - the first lines:

It makes you realize you're alive
you wash your face with your glasses on

This fascinated me when it happened. There is an understanding you get by doing something so utterly absurd. So that is when this song began. The "yellowed yield" being the yield like that of a dying garden (see "Up Twice" and the line "the garden has hardened" for reference). There is hope when you step in a puddle sometimes, just as there is hope when your garden turns the corner into winter. In fact, I was just listening to Tom Waits, the Black Rider and the line in the song "That's the Way", where he lazily and barely sings "that's the way the potato mashes" - this is where I am coming from. It may take the will of 1,000 owls, but we all get by and sometimes we try and sometimes we just barely survive.


Winter Will

I'll smear his name, while you defend
A season that's indecent

I am always writing about the seasons. Their inevitability prompts comfort and dread. If you met winter at a party, you might not want to talk to it. You'd think to yourself, "what a prick, this winter is". New England winters are mountains to scale and they make my mind into a precarious avalanche looming over an unsuspecting hiker.

Production notes:
This was written for a Christmas/Winter compilation that Jon Solomon meant to put out in, I don't know, 2000 or so., but never did - too bad. I don't know if he accepted it or not, but I sure enjoyed writing it. It was another chilly song written in stifling attic apartment heat. Djim played a charming banjo part on this and I played his classical guitar in a most unclassical way. There are at least 3 other versions of this song around my house - I will try to dig those out for comparison.


Some Business & An Interuption

Here is a note on the set-up of this blog. My concept is that I will not post for download whatever my newest release is. In this case it is my bands S/T 2007 Cd, The Underpainting. Which is still available in its limited edition from Catbird Records. The packaging has wonderful art by Matthew Feyld and is hand printed by Ryan Catbird. I highly recommend buying the limited edition stuff...they are special pieces of hand done art. I mean downloads are great and all but hard to hold in your hand.

So this brings me to the survey of sorts. I am planning on releasing a limited edition CD this year (maybe a full length, maybe an EP, maybe on my own, maybe with a label) and am trying to gauge interest in beautiful limited edition releases. Looking for an e-show of hands here. Please drop me a line (bmr (( @ )) brianmichaelroff.com) or leave a comment, anonymous is ok if you must, and let me know. The good news is when I put this thing out it will unleash the Underpainting as a free download, so a ton of interest will certainly light a fire under me.


For Pledges

The promises we make ourselves which we know we can't keep. The flimsy pledges we vow to abide by but only until faced with the overwhelming criss-crossing of circumstance. So my behavior may seem a little odd sometimes - it is because I go through phases and I burn through pledges. When I listen to this song I have to laugh at how much I say and how little I flesh out.

If I explain this pledge
then they're other things that need explaining too
For pledges - superficial
draw parallels you wish you never drew

I can't get into it, really. But believe me, it is not as sexy as I am making it out to be.


I Would Work If I Could

I would work if I could
Just too low to do anything good

Let me lay this down for you all. WORK is not what most consider to be work - i.e. the daily grind, the rat race, 9-5, etc... Work here is my life's work, what you hear and what you see. Work like Warhol through Lou Reed and John Cale.

Man I was down when I wrote this. I was also highly influenced by some Queens of the Stone Age bouncy rock song, believe it or not. But at first this was a banjo song and it mutated into this sort of quasi Beatles pop number. Anyway, I really could not do any work for a while around this time. As loved ones would be quick to point out, my "a while" is all in my head. So the perception of lack of work may not be consistent with the actual output - but I always live in my perceptions.

Listen for the fragile toy-like piano part for some joy.

(NOTE: my web host has said they'll be down all weekend, so the songs may be unavailable for a bit - please be patient with them. From their bulk email it sounds like it will really be worth it....not really.)


Inventory (CD 2005)

After the success of In the Analog Woods, the label and I decided to make a full go of the next CD. Still a limited edition, but larger - 1000. I hesitate to get into this too much because the lack of support for this record was painful and especially since this was, up to that point, my proudest musical moment. So let's just leave it at, some shit did not get done and as a result, too few people heard this CD - a shame.

But this disc is really special for me. This was the first time I recorded with a full band since 1998. And this crew, for the most part, is still with me today. David Curry on viola, Djim Reynolds on Guitar, Gregg Porter on drums and Casey Dienel on Piano. Casey was just a studio player, but the rest came out to shows and did their thing.

I hear growth here. Focus of intent and intentional writing. Djim recorded it and got such unique sounds. Most of the vocals were recorded in a rarely used wood sauna. There is a lot of wood on these tapes. And animals - deer emerged and receded while we rehearsed as did the turkeys. It feels like this record took two years in the making but I think it was due to some false starts and some learning and some rethinking. There are places we get to here that we will pass on subsequent records and we smile as we accelerate past.


Torn Green Velvet Eyes - BONUS TRACK

This is a cover of a Magnetic Fields song I did for a tribute compilation published by Slight Record, which is an imprint of the webzine Slightly Confusing to a Stranger. Due to some legal complications this was never released as a CD, only as free downloads. I don't think these are available anywhere anymore, which is too bad. Of note here is the fake mellotron plug-in which creates a warbley, seasick drone. I think Djim mixed this with me, but I can't be sure.

Funny thing about covers, I never recall how to play other peoples songs so it takes a ton of effort to record a cover. I decided I am lucky to remember how to play my own songs. So don't try yelling out for this one at my next show (April 7th at the Red Door in Portsmouth, NH) is all I am saying.


As it Turns Out - BONUS TRACK

How do you explain fear?

There is a fair amount of dread that I view some of my songs with. This is something I never knew until embarking on this blog project. To me this is so definite, so specific. Maybe to the listener that comes through all wrapped up in tin and rust. But maybe this is just for me. In general, I don't know why I write songs, it is a compulsion. But when I listen to this one I know just why I wrote it and it is still raw. I came up with this phrase once to describe what I do for some press papers: ABSTRACT PRECISION. As it turns out, it may only be precise to my brain.

Production notes:
Another stellar slide guitar performance from Jim. Recorded at the Estate by Jim during the never-ending Inventory sessions or before them, who knows. This was put out on one of the magnificent Ball of Wax compilations, what great things those are. Buy some.



Carole King wrote this one and I tried my best. Jim and I recorded it and he played slide guitar on too. I must have a high opinion of myself to even attempt one of her songs. You be the judge of the result in the comments please. Myself, I like this weird version, my apologies to Ms. King of course.

This was part of a limited edition compilation for the label I used to be on (before they went under).

Gradually I am working my way up to starting to post songs from my 2005 CD, Inventory. Why am I stalling? No clue. This better be worth the wait Roff.


The Best is Yet to Come - BONUS TRACK

From concept to completion, I've got to know
How the west was won and why the east let go.

Before the record Inventory was released, I had this hot idea to do a little radio "teaser". The first two tracks were right off of the record and then there was this song. This was recorded live on WMBR's classic local music show, The Pipeline in 2002 (engineered by the one and only Ramsey Tantawi). This was a super-group of some sort. A rare combo in its entirety. Jim Reynolds on banjo, David Michael Curry on viola, Gregg Porter on drums, and TW Walsh on piano and bass. This lineup was always one of my favorites because these are such intuitive musicians who can do anything at the suggestion. They really care about the songs and serve them well and that is a rare thing. This is the definitive version of this rambling number. There are bouts of atonality that are just perfect to me - everyone finding their way and it is all good.

Give it (why?) back to me
What a mild discovery
call it what it is, it is ornamental

Also of note, is that I think this is the first public performance under the moniker, Brian Michael Roff and the Deer. And for what it is worth, the radio teaser idea kind of fell flat on its face.


Often I Am Thought to Be Full of Beans - BONUS TRACK

Here we have a W/# bonus "cut". From around 2003? I will admit I love the building repetition of this song. In fact, throughout my music, I have had a love for repetition and layering new sounds with each repeat. It seems that when I do that, the lyrics tend to be more skewed and less overtly personal, but still some truth sneaks by:

You might think, what a miserable fuck
and you would be right, just as right as a Captain
is alone at sea, spies land from the galley
gets held in an alley
your suspicions were right

OK...so the part about being a lonely captain coming to shore and being "held" in an alley is totally not true. I am sure this happens regularly in the port towns and cities of this state, but not to me.

As for the cursing, I don't do that too often, but I do it when it is appropriate. I mean I am no Liz Phair, but I occasionally sing the foul. Sometimes it is the only thing to get the point across.


Make It a Dime

A song of doubt and lack of confidence. Every time I would move, this would happen:

Two, four, six, ten
it's Brian's back again

The pain in this is so true. Originally titled "Worst Things First" but I thought better of using such a turn of phrase for the title, lest I appear to proud of my cleverness.

When you don't know what you're doing
Things seem much worse
The only way to do it
Is to put worst things first

(Coming up next, some stray tracks and the lead in to the 2005 landmark (for the band and I), Inventory, a "radio and friends of BMR only release" called Pre-Inventory...oh my I am clever.)


In and Of Itself

Not a fan of this phrase. I will say nothing, stare blankly, pick my teeth or just walk away - rather than say it.

In and of itself, means: NO MEANING

What I do like is how just writing this song turned this into a pet peeve. It was not a big deal before, but after writing it...well I had to stick my poetic guns. So big joke is that "In and Of Itself" the song means no meaning. There are specks of truth in here though, which are to small in size but too large in consequence to go into.

Can I help you Brian Michael?
I reply, as if insightful, "In and of itself!"


Rocks and Minerals

This is kind of confusing. In a couple of days I will post the song "Make it a Dime". The chorus of this song was taken from one of the original choruses of that song. The weird thing (to me), is that this chorus was actually only one of the choruses being sung during the original chorus of that song...I mean there were two being sung at once. Oh wait, it get's weirder. Turns out there is actually no chorus at all on the "Make it a Dime" that wound up on this record!

I found this one lying covered in static and hiss on a tape full of mostly throw away song sketches that I recorded on a little Realistic hand-held tape recorder. I recorded that sketch before the war in Iraq started, so the line referring to the military was proven particularly prescient by the time I got around to recording it for real. Sometimes there is gold on those type of tapes. Sometimes there is just an embarrassing plastic bottle of glitter.

This song wound up being a band and crowd favorite. Crowds (I use the term very loosely - as there are rarely true "crowds" at my shows) respond to the end:

Shrug your shoulders, you're inside
Shrug your shoulders, it's applied
Oh! The balance there has been
Old embarrassments begin
Feeling like rock and minerals


The New Me

When I was 17 my friends all started getting cars. This one kid, John, got a vintage VW Beetle. At that age, it is all about pushing limits and trying to find out where your boundaries are. It is an awkward way to live. And at this time you can also set a lifelong course. Will I be the type who seeks out truth and information, even if it does not bring joy? So one night, I pushed the limits on that VW Beetle, riding on the rails while John drove around in circles, in the parking lot of a closed McDonald's. John shifted gears, my hand slipped and off I tumbled. My head could have been under that narrow tire - but I just ended up with a torn up right arm.

Want something that instantly forgives,
Not a mark on my arm, a fading scar...

Blissful ignorance ceased at that moment.



I wrote this during a time when I was listening to a lot of Phil Ochs. I'd never written a song with a sing-a-long chorus before and that was the idea for this one. A protest song like "I Ain't Marching Anymore" has so much power to rally. I may have said it before but I will say it again, I am no activist folkie. What came out here turns out to be nothing like what inspired me, but isn't that better? So the emergency is, as expected, inside me. The rest is another tale of sour characters and places, mostly invented and revolving around the fictitious Camp Benjamin Franklin. Where we cursed Thomas Edison for his light bulbs that chase away the animals and worse yet reminds us where we are.

Initially the lyric was something where I took far too much poetic license:

Edison, invents light. Thomas E. wasn't right

Yikes! I am glad I did not keep that line. But really, when I first wrote this the lyrics to the verses were less important than the "emergency" chorus. But as it was reworked for this release the verses got less frivolous, and the whole feel gets a little more cryptic.

Now I'm not counting your fortune, but I saw your money clip through your pants.
Those rooks were taking Liberty out for a dance - and swing she did.

Admittedly, by the time this song was recorded, I was under the influence of M. Ward, which is clearly evident to my ears.


The Neverending Cause of Everything

I want to make an honest sound
I want the sound to be the truth
I want the truth a sudden sense
Like nothing sensible before it

This is kind of like my anthem. This wraps me up in a fit bag. Not sure if I always achieve this but it is always in my head - make it honest and true. I think the truth when expressed right can hit and hurt. But when you fall over, there is realization.

The gift of an accordion from Tim was obviously a big influence on this recording - if he had only gifted me lessons.....


In the Analog Woods (2004 CD-EP)

I lived in the analog woods. Well actually, among the analog trees. The original name of this was "In the Analog Trees", but then I found some references that made me believe that tape traders and jam bands already took possession of that term (although now it is strangely absent from Google). Anyway, I wound up liking the name I chose better. The idea of this EP was to dust off some old tracks I had written but never recorded a good version of (if at all). I was longing for the days of the Tascam 4-track aesthetic, loose and more restrictive and a grittier sound than I was getting using digital recording. So I got to work, in the analog woods, in a minor studio in the attic of an 18th century ice house turned gardeners cottage I had the honor of living in.

There were also some rules I came up with. Conceptual art had been a pursuit of mine since I first heard about it at art school and specifically using a system to create art by faithfully adhering to rules, regardless of outcome. Now my rules were pretty loose for this project but I still felt obliged to abide by them.

Rule 1: Use only 4 tracks
Rule 2: Use only acoustic instruments
Rule 3: Use any combination of banjo, acoustic guitar, accordion, and voice

For better or worse, that was how it went. I also had goals. I did not want to self release this one. I saw this label Keep Recordings (now defunct...I don't think I had anything to do with that) that was doing great limited edition discs with excellent packaging. We chatted, we agreed to the release in an edition of 100. And what do you know, it sold out! What an exciting time for BMR.


The Sweet Science - BONUS TRACK

Don't let this song fool you, I don't know anything about boxing, AKA "The Sweet Science". But this song was the kernel that led to naming a record "A Sweet Science". Perhaps it was an understanding that the concept of me singing about boxing was absurd, I mean COMPLETELY unbelievable, that led me to leave this one off the record. There is some pretty funny stuff going on here and it has only ever been heard by friends and family.

By the way, greetings to all elbow.ws referrals, a pleasure to have you poking around.

Please let me know your enjoying this pursuit and leave me some notes. As the songs get more recent, I am finding it harder to get to the bottom of them. That is weird to me.


Thistle Occupation Blues

Wrapping up the album we have a song that was originally titled "This Old Occupation Blues". I thought it sounded sexier with "thistle" to further abstract name. The song is pretty abstract too. Just a collection of snippets and a drawers full of lost bits. There was triumph in the completion of this record and it is felt in the way it closes. Eventually layers are added to make thickness. A haze of sound. Tim went all out smashing the cymbals. I wanted a marching band, a crazed trumpeter and a man on stilts - they never showed up. What we wound up with was a fine replacement.

The sky is bare
The birds won't scare
The blankest stare

(blog note: up next we have a heretofore unheard bonus song. It is the song about my thin knowledge of boxing, called "The Sweet Science". Then we get to the EP, In the Analog Woods.)


Magazine Memories

I took a taste of it, now there is nothing left
I took a taste, should have been called my theft

Loosely, just loosely about the death of Jeff Buckley. More tightly about indecision and regretful choices. I loved the idea of a group of friends at the movies shouting out at the screen. Not to be rude but just to express what cannot be expressed any other way. There is a youthful shine to that image. Somehow it makes me thing of being eighteen and leaving the theater with my friends after watching Val Kilmer play Jim Morrison. It was raining, we were eighteen, we ran around the parking lot like madmen.



Resting on a neighbors lawn, these lessons just go on and on...

One of the reviews for A Sweet Science basically told be to lighten up. You know, throw some humor in here and there. In my imagined response to that review, I wrote to the author, "This is real & life is not funny." What I took from that review was that sometimes people don't want to listen to the truth, sometimes it can be painful. And in the end, who cares.

At first, this song was a country waltz. But when it came time to record, the presence of David Curry and his viola suggested doing it spare. To me it made for a more powerful read in the end. I do believe we recorded it live. It is stark and I am glad for it.


I Thought the Swans Were Fake

(First, a welcome to Said the Gramophone readers. There is lots of music in the archive, so please stay a while.)

On my way to and from work, I used to walk through the Boston Public Gardens. There was plenty of inspiration to be had there. At dusk you could see the rats scurry down the walk in front of you like filthy shadows. In the morning there would be Asian men doing tai chi in the new sun and homeless men stashing their blankets in the trees. Of course, come Spring, there were the swan boats. There were real swans too and from far away they looked like they were molded out of plastic.

This feels like a love song to me and it might be the closest thing I have to one. It is certainly one of kind tolerance for imperfect me:

I am my father's son, I like a beer when I'm thirsty
You put up with the worst me

Sonically this song is somewhat inspired by the Velvet Underground - but man is it slow. The vocals are right in your ear and they let you in on something. The bleating sax lines were breathed by Michael K. He did about 30 minutes of improv and Tim recorded it. A month later we cut it down and rearranged it to fit into the parts you hear. He did not know it, but he played just the right thing. This is one of my favorite bits on the record.


A Trackless Trolley

Phrase coinage has always been an interest of mine. The first time I heard the term trackless trolley I needed it. In the Boston area, a few towns still run trackless trolleys. They run on the road with an extended arm connecting to the electric lines above. They make sparking sounds, and make the streets feel like old time Boston. I never heard of these units being referred to as trackless trolleys until I started commuting to Boston every day for work.

And that is where we pick up this story. On the subway - the T. Each day was unique but exactly identical. In the AM it smelled of shampoo, fresh toothpaste and urban muck. In the evening, the fragrance was less separate and more of a homogenization of every riders travels.

These streets always look the same
Watch the puddles drain

Production note: Tim did an amazing job on the recording and of banging those drums wildly during the instrumental break. Also David Curry astounded me with his churning viola solo.

p.s. On the topic of coined phrases. A Trackless trolley is not in usage anywhere but in my mind. However, I must confess that now and then I use this term, as if it is in popular usage. In fact, I used it at work recently in conversation with my boss. It just slipped out and for a moment I did not know if I made up that usage or if it was a known term. My boss did not seem visibly confused. I can only hope from the context, he got the meaning and will be inserting it into his own lexicon of euphemisms.


Under My Belt

...but what I have, is something I can't grasp.

A dreary lament which fumbles into thanks-giving. I get caught up sometimes. I guess we all do; but I get caught up in the negative (in case you haven't noticed) and this is me remembering that it is not what you don't have but what you've got that gets you through the day. The twist here is that I know I've got something but I have no handle on what it truly is or what it means. But it does not mean I am not thankful.


Automatic Action

This is the worst vacation ever...

I mistakingly called Beach Street Blues the oldest song on this album. I just now remembered that Automatic Action is. I dug this one up, out of an old sketch book from college. Must have been in 1997, when I was living in a small second floor apartment in a sleepy tourist town. In the Winter I could see the ocean from the front window, I loved that. I think there is a lot of that town in this song. Things went sour for me up in that apartment and there is veiled truth in here. There is also years worth of personal observations: a good friend riding the bus to San Diego, drunk college associates, getting my long hair cut short, closing my eyes to suffer through another migraine. But in the end is the realization that just because you live in a tourist town it does not mean you are a tourist.


Beach Street Blues

Back on Beach Street, this is too real. No more man, the Beach Street Blues

This is a tough one. I had just heard that a childhood friend of mine, one who lived three streets away from where I grew up, crashed his motorcycle into a tree and died. Trying to come to terms with his death sprouted this song. What is the difference? Sixty or ten times six. Another way to say the same thing: dead is dead.

As time went on I separated that event from the song. Not too hard to do, the street name is wrong, the facts are so abstract, no names are mentioned. So now, it is actually painful to re-associate the two. How I wish I didn't.

Production notes: TW plays keyboards on this. We had a blast getting sounds right for his parts. I programmed Dr. Rhythm for the "drums" on the full track, which was the first and last time I would do that. Also of note is that this is the oldest song on the record. The basics were recorded at the same time that This Thick World was done, in the ever fruitful attic apartment.


Do Not Own It

There are things in the world that you should not own. Then there are things you wish you did not. This type of owning was something I never had a concept of until working a real job. One day, I heard someone say they owned an issue. I liked that - it sounded strong. That declaration held power. This is useful to me outside of work. I started thinking maybe you want to own, but you can't. Yes, there are the material objects that might be financially unattainable, but what about the more abstract things that will remain out of reach. In many ways we are born into what we become, for better or worse. So there are feelings you rent - you try them out. There are situations you never own, so you never turn down that street. I called them out into the daylight to make it feel small. I yelled out their name to let them know I was on to them. It did not make me feel any better.

I do not own this ball of wire, I just held it for a while

TW played "piano" on this and I also recall sitting on a guest bed trying to figure out a bass part for this. It was a little brainstorming session that yielded a really special bass line. Moments like that make "A Sweet Science" unique in my memory.


A Sweet Science (2003 CD)

In many ways this is where it all began again. Prior to this record, I had little idea of what the intent of my music was. I started to think about recordings differently with this one and wanted to make a complete work. The songs as they were recorded were just a part of the life of the song. So with that, I was free to put songs down in whatever way felt right at the time and there was no longer the concept of the "definitive" version. That all seems so arty and pretentious, doesn't it?

Much of the recording was done with Tim at The Seventh Bend, our friend Jason's garage studio. Tim got great sounds on this. At some point in the process, he started a partnership with Darron Burke and they co-ran Makeshift Studio for a while in Jamaica Plain. So some work was done there too, I think just mastering and maybe some minor tracking. I just remember the record taking a really long time to finish - way too long. it was all my fault I am sure.

This record marks the BMR debut of viola player David Michael Curry. Then a dark stranger and now a great friend. Also on this disc is the off-kilter sax moaning of the a long time friend, the imitable Michael K.

For the cover art, I called on my friends at Montserrat College of Art to help me out with their letter press. We did an edition of 100 of the piece you see below. This was a blowout print session with good friends, much fun.

Since the first edition ran out rather quick, I put together a second edition which was unlimited. Well, it was limited to the amount of sticker stock in the world.

So it is, A Sweet Science. I think on it fondly and alarmingly. Please chime in with your thoughts, I know you are out there.


Blue Math

Blue math is hazy reasoning, cloudy logic, skewed judgment, and impossible results. You know you can get through the ill of concept, I mean, you do it all the time. Most of us live blue math by default. This world breeds it and let's us take the lead in parsing and decoding it. So you try to work around the math, work with it and for it. Math seems nice sometimes. (You got the answer you expected!) It can be social - you CAN take math out to a party and not be embarrassed. At any second though, it can turn BLUE.

So, this can be your theme also:

Some holes in the system, let worms peek through - true.


Attic Apartment Fever

Now the situation gets more severe. There are warbling insects - rods even, flying about. We are under a reinforced glass skylight, in the attic of an antique colonial and the trees are above. Summertime in an attic apartment is really special. Stifling inhuman heat. The air here is thick and smells like old wood and horse hair insulation. You can try to stay away from things that want inside your head, but when you have the fever, you've got to be strong to succeed.

And a bird flew so high, it became a plane


Tune That Computer

The cut out bin is where over the years I have bought many excellent gems. One time when I was a kid I dug through the cut out cassette bin at a music store on the Jersey Shore and picked up this tape. I did not know who Robyn Hitchcock was and I really did not like what I heard but I kept listening. I was only 15 and I believed in the cut out bin.

Forward to another odd find from a cut out bin: Taking Tiger Mountain (by strategy). By this time, I was in college but still scouring the depths of those bins. This time I was working at a record store, so the search was long and lazy but no less fruitful for its lack of urgency. There is a song on here called, Third Uncle, a hyper tongue twister of a song. It is relentless. I wanted some of that for Tune That Computer.

I also really liked that visual - tuning a computer like you would a guitar. Blowing in a pitch pipe to figure out where the problem on your tower lays. Twisting some hardware until the screen stops flickering.

These lyrics are meant to baffle and you don't have to listen too closely to hear them twist my tongue. 6 years later they still baffle me.


Yes, I Was Nervous Then

A song about nerves. How to calm them and how to realize they are on edge. There is truth on the line:

Suddenly I remember why I'm worried, isn't that the worst thing in the world?

I hate that feeling. As someone who spends much of their time worrying about possible resolutions to potential concerns, I know this state. I can thank my brain for always looking for the surprise.

Musically, I was going for a Dr. Dre piano part. In reality it sounds way too ill (ill as in unwell, not as in phat) to ever make the cut anywhere near a Dre track.


I Have It

I have it!
I mean, I've had it
and I need some advice.
Get branded, get stranded.
Please advise, you advise.

You may be thinking, "Why start an all electronic EP with an acapella chant?" Come on folks, don't be so uptight.


W/# - A W/# Situation

I've lost track of whether this EP diversion came before or after "A Sweet Science". My sense is they were hatched simultaneously on parallel tracks in different dimensions. W/# (with number) was a needed distraction in a time of personal difficulty. For this, I wanted some rules to follow and for a variety of reasons, I decided that my pseudo side project would have no acoustic instruments. It would be all electronic, except for vocals. Limited to an edition of 30, I cut out war images from an old WWII picture book for the cover and used some custom rubbers stamps for the liner.

When I sent this out for review, I did not put my name under writing credits, but I did give myself mixing and recording credit. I was thinking of David Bowie and Arnold Corns, except I was Bowie and Freddie Burretti. Only in my mind did/does this make sense.

No guitar was freeing to me. I could really screw with my aesthetic and bring out some weird shit. The result is an odd mix of bleak and playful.


The Insignificant Marine

If it was up to me, I'd be simple...

Winter has a way of putting me in my place. I won't go as far to say I dread it, but I will say that I need to set a goal at the end of it in order to get out of bed sometimes. When I wrote this song, I had no idea how bad it could get. Wrestling with questions of destiny and pondering whether or not you are living up to expectations are concerns best left to the cheerier months.

Springtime and identity crisis? I can take it.

Winter and introspection? That is one slick road to steer.

(coming up next, a trip into my electronic alter ego, W/#, with the 2002 EP, "A W/# Number Situation".)


We Looking Forward

I think I sang this song into a paper towel tube. I wanted an extra layer between me and what i was trying to say. Attempted to confuse with my tube voice and my cranky banjo. Remember from the last record, I wrote, "I've got nothing on my mind"? Well on this one, in fact on this whole EP, you can hear, that times have changed.

This is a hopeful sob story. Looking forward and ahead can wear a man out.

Black cat's, proving that, nothing comes expected


Pull the Plastic Back

Your eyes are closed. Your clothes are damp. Your chest is tight. Then everything changes - the fog has been lifted, the plastic has been pulled back. First thing to do is to sharpen that dull blade or you will never be able to hunt down your next meal. There is a feeling in your lungs - a flutter. It reminds you of excitement or anticipation, you learn to cradle that feeling and love it.

The truer the track, makes easy breathing, la la la life that you have.


This Thick World

I'd like you to meet Dr. Rhythm - a good and reliable "drummer". He is playing on this track and he keeps a tight beat.

Here we have a lament of responsibility, a step into adulthood:

Broken banal, I pick up the bread, I butter the bread

I did not know what I was talking about. In fact I sound a bit drunk, but I know I was not, since recording and drinking have never been an easy mix for me. I don't want to appear down on this one but the song was better served when it was re-recorded on Inventory, my 2005 CD. Listening now this song seems like a demo of a demo - but I will just call it charming and an interesting artifact. There is a bass in the mix by the way, but I can't hear it.

Any thoughts out there from the internet kingdom?


The Way Things Work

I don't mean to be a jerk, it's just the way things work*

Leading off the EP is a song named after the last album. This is another one of those things musicians do: name songs after past works. Self-referential and totally an inside thing, but I love that.

This is a blunt song. Blunt in lyrics* and in performance. Groggy guitar lumbers along lower than is comfortable. I was trying out the cracking voice, the voice on the edge of an outburst. I think Tim Rutili of Califone was an inspiration here - with his croaking vocal delivery. In fact I was lucky enough to be one of 3 people at a criminally ill attended Califone show in Cambridge MA shortly after I put this one out. I gave the man a copy of it and my mind raced with possibilities: Would he discover me? Would he sign me to his label? Would he cover one of my songs? Well as it turned out, he did not get back to me about it.

Anyway, back to the song - no matter how primed and in shape my fingers are, they always hurt after playing this one. I get creased fingertips from sliding up and down the neck.

Looking back, on the year that I've had, you'd think I would learn more...

That is some truth, every single year.


Errors Intact (CDR-EP 2001)

Shortly after the release of The Way Things Work, I started recording Errors Intact. In the one-sheet that I included with this one, I called it an EP that was intended to bridge the gap between The Way Things Work and A Sweet Science (the next CD). I don't know how I was going to bridge a gap when I did not even know what bordered that gap, but that was my line. More to the point though, this EP marked a real shift from everything I did prior. There is palpable tension on this. In performance and in content, I was pushing myself. Searching and sulking, my voice cracked and creaked and the instruments lumbered behind.

The name, Errors Intact, is part of a broader artistic philosophy and obsession. Scratchy marks, bad recordings, shoddy paint jobs, free association, old paper clips. I like to imagine everything I do as written down in the back of an old volume of ornithological prints, on the blank yellowed pages. Errors are the truth.

The whole thing was recorded in an attic apartment, under a reinforced glass skylight. My friend and former band-mate Jason Cammarata mixed it with me in his dining room and did it with simplicity and charm. The packaging was more Kraft brown, but this time it was in a limted edition of 50. 25 were designed and assembled by me and 25 were designed and assembled by the Automatic Expansion Project, now known as {HEXIT}.

Are We On Target?

Good people,
The first record has been completely posted and simmered. I know there are lots of you listening now. Please don't be shy - pipe up and give me a shout. This is the internet after all.

More in a minute...




Like Bones Underneath

The peppiest and happiest track closes the record on a high (and somewhat confusing) note.

The keyboard makes this one. My Mom's Roland Juno really dresses it up right. I had been listening to a fair amount of the then current Stereolab record, "cobra and phases group play voltage in the milky night", and I wanted blips and beeps. In keeping with my (until now) unspoken tradition, I did it in one take. Why do I do that? Two reasons - I like the spontaneity of 1st takes and I don't have the patience to do multiple takes.

The song is a ride...a driving song. I imagined a good day and what might happen in a surreal display of happiness. Headlights would blink at me to say hello and my teeth would crack from the excitement.

No umbrella over my hat. No, there's nothing like that.


Mill Street Formal

Conceptualized while painting bunnies, next to a large warehouse window and a very timely train. This is one of my fluffier numbers, but not without some interesting tidbits.

I sing:

"Republicans are loyal, their character is central."

This is in direct response to the news of the day - Clinton's impeachment hearings. How well does sarcasm play in song? I always wondered that. I also wondered at the time if this marked a new phase of political songwriting for me. (Look out Phil Ochs!) Luckily for all of us, it never took hold.

I pictured the Mill Street Formal as some sort of social event.

Girl 1: "Has anyone asked you to the Mill Street Formal yet?"
Girl 2: "um...yeh...Brian Michael Roff did"
Girl 1: "He asked you also? What did you say?"
Girl 2: "I told him to go to hell!"
Girl 1: "Hey! You stole my line!"


Lost Wages (in A)

"I became untrue, this had nothing to do with you."

I was sitting on a tremulous bench in the spare but useful center of West Concord MA, when this song hatched. I was wondering - did Leonard Cohen's characters emerge from real life acquaintances or were they studies in types? Well, I was not really wondering that at the time - I am wondering that now as I listen back to this number. This is a fantasy character study I suppose. A seedy man trying to cover up his philandering. But really this has nothing to do with me, except:

I never met this guy otherwise.

Also, let me address the parenthetic title - (in A). When I decided to add that to the song title, I showed it to Tim and he said, "How pretentious". I defied his critique and went with it. I always loved the right of bands to do meaningless or even pretentious things in song/album titles. They earn that right by putting out a record. But in the interest of full disclosure, I have no idea if this song is in "A". I never could retain such music theory details - I just wanted to rock.