Ship's Log

The stuff 

In an age of consumer electronics, it's easy as a musician to get deep into toys. L E hasn't changed much in terms of the tools she uses to record and perform, but Eric can't stop fiddling around. Nonetheless, we have settled lately on a few essential things we use to create music. If you're a music maker, ask us anything, and do please share your toy likes and dislikes, too.

L E loves her Roland JD-Xi synth. It makes digital and analog sounds and it's easy to recall presets. It's covered in labels and notes and stickers and dust, but never fails. The thing does have a mic input to use as a vocoder, which she tried once, and a sequencer too, but she's never played with that much.

She's on her second TC Helicon live vocal processor. An earlier one had a tendency to be very sensitive to levels and required a lot of scrolling to change presets. The new one is a VoiceLive Touch, and it sits on her mic stand, so she can recall nine presets instantly. Each has a different combination of delay, reverb, and harmonies, plus a "megaphone" setting for a couple songs. We call it "The box of magic."

Eric likes to buy, repair, trade, and sell guitars. But while most of them come and go, a few are standbys. On Mind Grafitti, every acoustic guitar track was done on a circa 1935 Biltmore archtop. It's loud and has a unique, bluesy tone that really cuts through.

For electric guitars, all but one of the songs on the album were recorded on an all-mahogany Tom Anderson guitar with "noiseless" pickups that are supposed to resemble classic P90 pickups. The exception was High Above it All, which was recorded on a cheap Squier Strat from a flea market. Lately though, he's settled on an a second Tom Anderson, one that is loosely like a Fender Stratocaster but more modern: it somehow stays in tune no matter how hard it's played, and can sound sweet or raunchy.

After using a handmade tube (valve) amp and a lot of pedals for years, Eric recently switched over to another modern "box of magic" and sold his old gear. He's now using a Fractal Audio AX8 processor, thanks largely to haring and meeting the band Failure a couple years ago. It's easy to carry, easy to use, and can create thousands of combinations of amp and effect sounds. He only uses four sounds, though.

It's world premiere night 

That sounds more important than it is. Still, it's technically correct. Tonight we'll try out the Premiere feature on YouTube, so we can chat with a few people who want to see the video of Face Off, the first song on the new album.

While we are happy with the video, and had a lot of fun making it, it's talking to people who like the music that is exciting. Long ago, we went to Iceland. Eric was playing a couple of solo gigs there, and among many remarkable things about Reykjavik was the sense of community amongst artists. It seemed that everyone painted, or made music, or acted, or sculpted, or wrote, or somehow did something to express themselves, and the city is small enough that people were at once creators and audiences. The boundaries between people were fluid, so that rather than being an X Factor sort of "mighty entertainer spews glorious sounds to adoring masses" feel, it was a communal appreciation of creativity.

That's a fancy way of saying we're happy to share what we make, and we want to see, hear, and experience what others make. Share!

Video time 

The CDs have been pressed. The digital distribution has been arranged. The publicist has her schedule. Now comes the part that swings wildly from fun to misery: making the first video.

You know how you hate hearing your voice recorded? Now imagine hearing it as you see your face - which seems suddenly to be composed primarily of pores and zits - making absurd faces along with your voice. Frame by frame, scrubbing back and forth to get each cut exactly right. But that only happens after searching your closet, and then a few thrift stores, for exactly the right clothes to convey effortless cool. 

Lighting your face and clothing is an even bigger challenge, especially when you're a largely self-contained duo on a tight budget. Borrow some modeling lights and string together a motley team of desk lamps and flashlights though, and you ultimately end up with something interesting despite - or because of - your limited resources.

Cue the music and start shooting, using your phone, your DSLR, or even that weird old Kodak HD camera from the early 00s. Find a happy accident and do a few takes, and the video begins to tell its own story, in a way you hadn't quite expected. What was once a disaster is now a challenge, and then soon it's fun.

Editing, you see the story become more concise, and another happy accident or two finds you playing and replaying something that...well, no one will mistake it for Spike Jonez, but these images support the music. You won't be ashamed to share this.

It's video time.

A new voice 

In the spring, Eric got pneumonia and months later his voice is permanently changed. More soulful. More gritty. More difficult to hear in crowded rooms. We have included a song on the new album to showcase his new sound. This means that Eric got to do the lead vocals on the title track, Mind Grafitti.