I’m a junior in high school. My father, a professional musician, has brought home a drum kit, an electric piano, and an electric guitar and practice amp to see if his sons might be interested in any of it. We were.
My dad may have regretted bringing all of that home, and ultimately nothing came of it (because my parents were too nice to push us to the point where we might have done something), but we definitely had some fun jamming. My brother, Eric, still plays the piano part from one of those jams/songs every time we sit down at the piano.
- No Molesté Ray Toler 4:20
We’re in the middle of 80s music, awash in synthesizers, and I am fascinated with them. I knew almost nothing about them, but I loved them all the same. And every time I went to the Radio Shack in town, they had this little synthesizer on display. It was a little over two octaves and had some knobs and toggles… I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’d always beg a pair of headphones from the clerk and noodle on it for a length of time somewhere between “not long enough” and “the clerk is glaring at me.”
I now know that the synthesizer was a Realistic Concertmate MG-1. But before you discount it, thinking it just some low-budget Radio Shack project kit synthesizer, this thing was made by Moog. Yes, that Moog. The same Moog that fueled the funk, that started Wendy Carlos on her way, that was in the kit of every prog rock and synthpop band that could afford one. That Moog.
There was this guy at school, Brian Haught. He was a band geek, and I think I remember him having red hair. He and I were casual acquaintances, not unfriendly, we just kind of moved in different circles. But one day he told me he had a synthesizer and asked if I wanted to come over some time. I did. I definitely did. I vaguely remember that he had some other gear, but all I could see was that synthesizer. I don’t remember the jam, if there was one, but I do remember that synth.
Sitting down at the DAW, I decided to start with software. Scanning over the various plugins, I’m putting a little emphasis on things I haven’t used on a track yet, mostly holiday sales pickups. Then I see it. The Cherry Audio Surrealistic MG-1 Plus. Plus! TO THE MAX!
I’m not sure I’ve even opened this one yet, but as soon as the GUI popped up, I was whisked through that laser-light time tunnel from the movie The Final Countdown to Brian Haught’s house. And it was time to jam.
At first, I didn’t even see the presets menu, I just started dialing in sounds, just like I would have in 1984. I found a fun wah-wah sound, and quickly recorded it. Then I went to find some drums. I first went to XO, and found a pretty cool loop. Ok, let’s get that in now. Not bad. But not entirely right either. I need a real drummer and real drums. Surely I have some of that somewhere…
Superior Drummer 3 is probably the current high-water mark for acoustic drum libraries and programming, but I keep waiting for it to go on sale and it keeps waiting for me to break down and buy it at full price. What it doesn’t know, though, and what I haven’t told anyone, is that I was actually one of the winners in Spitfire Audio’s Black Friday Tombola drawing. That was a good day. One of the libraries that was included in my prize is a drum loop library called The Grange. It features three drummers you might have heard of, Roger Taylor (Queen), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and Andy Gangadeen (Massive Attack), all playing in the living room of Headley Grange in the UK.
You may not have heard of Headley Grange, but you have definitely heard Headley Grange. It’s a nice British house where this band called Led Zeppelin did a lot of recording, including the iconic drums from “When the Levee Breaks.” Yeah, that’s Headley Grange.
Happy Valentine’s Day
Not a whole lot to say about this one. It was a fast-and-furious approach. The fact that it took several hours to record is only because I spent 90% of the time just playing and jamming. This is a stellar example of a track that I would put together, play with for an evening, then delete. Until, that is, I struck a bargain with Mary in 1997 or 1998.
We were in a small apartment in Santa Clara, CA. Two bedrooms, two baths. $3,000 a month. Silicon Valley, you suck. My studio was the smaller bedroom, a 10 x 10 box, right next to the living room and the TV. Mary and I were only about three years into our marriage and still working out the rules and routines that couples end up drafting.
One particular evening, I was deep into song writing when Mary opened the door, asked me a question, then another, then we started talking, and I completely lost whatever it was that had been in my head, leading to one of my temper tantrums (see yesterday’s entry for more on this phenomenon). I was angry because the door was shut and she just barged in and completely derailed my creativity. At some point, she noted that it didn’t really matter anyway. That’s uncharacteristically blunt and mean for Mary, but she was justified.
There had been multiple times when she would ask me to bring up the project that I’d been working on the night before because she liked it and was still humming it. And I couldn’t because, as you have no doubt guessed, I didn’t save it. I didn’t value my work, didn’t understand that my skills and talents aren’t as common as I thought. That would take years more to comprehend.
The resolution to our disagreement was a bargain. Mary would now agree to honor the following code: If the door is open, come on in. If the door is shut, I’m working and trying not to bother you, but come in if you like. If the door is shut and the white “Do not disturb” hang tag I stole from a hotel is on the knob, I am working, and would prefer not to be interrupted, but come in if you really need to. And if the door is shut with a red “Do not disturb” hang tag on the knob, open this door only if you are in urgent need of medical attention or are willing to risk the inevitable tantrum that will ensue.
My part of the bargain: I save everything I do.
Now, if you know Mary, her wanting me to keep everything is out of character. This is the woman who loves to delete email, who laughed at me for keeping historical phone bills. All the bills for that matter. And she’s right, I probably don’t need them. But what if I did…
Anyway, back to 2022. This track was to be my Valentine’s song for Mary, because it is a celebration of that agreement. It is a recording that serves no purpose other than me having fun jamming for an evening. That and getting another Song-A-Day track posted. And as it turns out, she really liked it. So Mary got two Valentine’s songs this year. Miracles never cease.
Composition and Production
Not a ton to say about this one. After finding the right drums (Chad Smith), I just walked up the keyboard, playing four bars on each key, then looped that out for several minutes. I already had the beginnings of a progression on the MG-1, and already had all of those high school jam sessions in my mental movie, so decided to use that as my guide: my brothers and me, with a few friends, jamming up in my room. Except that Chad Smith was one of my friends.
At this point, the fact that I hadn’t tried to find the “right” loop for each moment in the arrangement (Fill? Straight? Fancy? Simple?) actually ended up making this more authentic because Chad’s doing whatever the hell he wants to, just like most high school age kids in a garage band.
The bass player, though, the bass player just got a fuzz pedal and is dying to use it. So he does. And there’s that suitcase Rhodes, with tremolo and mics on front and back of the amp to get that panning effect. And the MG-1 of course. There would have been a guitarist, but he had to go with his family to Atlanta for the weekend to visit relatives, so this other friend came over with his old synth that sounds just like my Kraftwerk casette! Ok, and this time traveler from the 21st century popped by with this weird sound that he called “trap” or something like that but none of us are sure he belongs here. The sound is kind of cool, though.
Seriously – this track is drums, bass, electric piano, three synths. Simple.
I do like the interplay between the electronic and live drum loops, especially the huge “smack” clap and the reverse wooosssSSSHHT!, to say nothing of Chad’s crazy off-beat crashes.
There wasn’t a lot of going back and overdubbing or fixing. It’s sloppy and fun. I’d probably go see this band at the local bar.
Well… there is one more thing to say about this. I was enjoying all of this, but thinking that there was no way I wanted to listen to it for very long. It’s set to 11 and never goes anywhere. I had originally planned to fade it out around the two minute mark, having made my point, but then heard that the drums were landing in a slightly more sedate pattern around that point, and that’s when I had the idea to have it all drop down and give the electric piano a little solo time.
I’m not a very good soloist, so this was more of a practice session than anything. I’m still learning this style of playing, and I’m happier with this one than I have been with past efforts. Also, that lead line melody that plays during the turnarounds… well, I’m not 100% sure I didn’t steal that from Kraftwerk. Maybe Europe Endless? Something from that album anyway. And if I didn’t steal it from them, then they really should have written it because it’s a pretty Kraftwerk melody.
I won’t be revisiting this one, but I do like it, and I’ll be doing more of these jams after Song-A-Day. They’re a great way to practice and have fun doing it.
Also, you now know what the title is about:
“No molesté. That means, ‘do not disturb.’”— Mary Toler
- Drums: XO, The Grange
- Bass: Trilian
- Synths: Cherry Audio Surrealistic MG-1 Plus, Omnisphere
Image Credit: Quinn Dombrowski