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.