This is the opening track on Transmission: One. While most people would assume that I would title a song "Lush" as a reference to a drunk, here it is really meant as a descriptive, to illustrate the fertile landscape in which this epic adventure takes place (abundant, dense, green, verdant, luxurious, opulent, overgrown... you get the picture)... but since we're talking about tropical cities, dangerous women, and bad decisions, I'm sure there is alcohol involved somwhere, so you can view it either way you'd like. Shaken, not stirred. Or the other way around.
This song is has been on and off the drawing board for maybe ten years until finally taking flight and leaving it for good when I made this record. Originally when I set out to make a full length recording (roughly 4 years ago, as I write this now in 2016), I had a completely different idea in mind. I had a large batch of songs, and intended to put them all on one record, that was to be called Ultrafauna. After recording got under way, I began to realize that one group of songs sounded like they fit together in a separate album, and the remaining songs worked better together without the others. This song was the catalyst for the different direction I took. I want to give a little background to the origin of this record now, in this post, to start things off. And since this song had some influence into the direction of the record, I feel it is pertinent to go back a ways and give a little back story. Incidentally, the original record, Ultrafauna, which consists of the remaining songs (plus a few more) is still in the works and I am going to resume recording in the next year or so.
From about 2003-2006 I was in a band called Maximum Angel. I formed this band with my friend Scott Wardell (on guitar), his brother James Wardell (on drums) and Jason DeCaestecker (on guitar). I took the name from a phrase used by Hunter S. Thompson in his book Hell's Angels, describing the leader of the notorious motorcycle gang's present chapter. It was a random term I happened upon, but I loved it because it had such an 80's metal band sound... and we were definitely not metal. We just wanted to ascribe that metal attitude to music that was not often associated with attitude. We were trying to mix this attitude with jazz chords, pop sensibility, and musical ingenuity.
This band my first real endeavor to create and promote music that I had written, and an experience that changed the way I wrote music. I had a lot of support from these guys for my songs, and they in turn, helped me incorporate a little more aggression, or attack, into the performance and writing. I learned a lot from them. But we wrote together too. We had great ideas, and recorded many of them. Long-story-short, we never really fully got off the ground. We never even found a permanent bass player... I played mostly keys, sometimes bass, sometimes guitar… but I would often play the bass on the Fender Rhodes. Scott and James's neighbor Rico Rivera soon joined us on percussion. It was close enough, we were a band. We recorded one EP called Expose For The Shadows, which really turned out great, and we were extremely proud of. After finishing the record we played a few random gigs... one gig was playing as an opening "act" for a reading/Q&A for author James Patterson to some high school kids in NYC. We got this gig in a fluke sort of way, all based on the similarity of our name, Maximum Angel, and his book series Maximum Ride. He happened to have just written and published a recent addition to the series called "The Angel Experiment" … and due to a random internet search, our Myspace page came up (or I think Scott searched our name, and the book came up...?) either way, Scott somehow got in touch with his PR person, and arranged the gig... weirdest gig I ever played, but it was a great time... great story, but I'm getting off track... Anyway, after a while we recorded a few more songs, but things got complicated. I wanted to devote more time to the band, Scott and James got busier with their family business, this/that/the other thing, Jimmy-Quit-Jody-Got-Married-kinda-thing... and as is the fate of many a band, the band took a break, never to really re-form. I was upset at the time, but I still love these guys like brothers.
In the last year of this project, I had come up with two ideas called "Lush" and "The Martini Shot". I had planned them to be a dual song/segue kind of composition. By the time we called it quits, "Lush" was just barely arranged, an embryo, relative to it's structure now, but the basic feel was there. "The Martini Shot" was a little more fleshed out. James helped me write it and give it form, and we spent a lot of time getting the specifics of the arrangement down. James came up with some incredibly cool rhythm patterns for both songs. We recorded a basic demo, which, thank God, I still have. Then... the permanent hiatus... Over the following years I would sit behind the piano and mess around with the two songs, gradually adding more and chiseling away at "Lush". It was a good idea that had never really reached it's creative apex and I did not want to let it wither away or be forgotten, like a thousand other ideas I've come up with in the past.
Now, fast forward to seven years later. I had made up my mind to make a record of a batch of songs that I had been writing, isolated in my cozy, but somewhat dangerous apartment rental in downtown Wilmington, DE. The songs had been piling up and I needed to commit them to a more visceral media then my own brain, which was running out of RAM. I contacted my friend Jake Morelli, longtime friend and killer musician who had just set up a loft studio in Philadelphia. He agreed to help me out and I started going up there to record. We spent a few months getting up once or twice a week, recording the first batch of songs.
I soon realized that I had a lot of songs and lots of work to do, and I just couldn't afford the studio time and the drive up to Philly. So, I "borrowed" a copy of Logic Pro from him and got to work learning it, intending to work from home, and this is exactly what I did for the following four years. As I was plugging away, I decided that, while I was working on this apparent opus of a record, that I may as well attend to some unfinished business and try and record "Lush" and "Martini Shot". I mean if I was cleaning out the attic, so to speak, these were the earliest unfinished pieces and the most regrettable to have not finished. I had been working the parts out piece by piece here and there over the years in free time, and I pretty much had the music written out in my head, I figured it was the right time to do it... not to mention they would require the least amount of writing and arranging.
I took a vacation one summer and headed down to my parent's beach house, which they generously vacated for a week to give me some work-space. While there, I began to put lay down the basic tracks. I started from the top, recording the keys, which is the instrument the song was written on. After I had the basic layout down, I wanted to go right for the drums. The keyboard part had a bass line, and chord structure. Everything else after the drums was more or less decoration, so this was the natural next step. I listened to our old demo and tried to figure out how to capture what we had before. The original recording wouldn't help, outside of a reference. It was out of tune, the tempo kept speeding and slowing, and I only had the mix anyway, not the individual tracks. The original tracks, for one reason or another, were irretrievable… buried or erased in an older computer years ago. The verses had changed in time-signature, so the work we did for those parts was out-of-date and I would have to think of something new. The chorus was the same, all around, so I wanted to keep that feel, if I could. The drumbeat that James had written long ago for these parts... man, it was so killer… and really such a unique idea for the beat, something I never heard before or would have thought of… well, I couldn't just start over. I mean, he really nailed them, and did so in the most creative way possible. I couldn't let it go. To get him to recreate them would be a logistical hurdle, at best, probably needing weeks and weeks of rehearsal, and studio time, so all in all it wouldn't be able to happen for probably months, if he was even willing and/or able. Even if he were right there with me at the time, I had no kit or equipment to record (or re-record) a proper drum track. I needed results now. So I had to figure out a way to get those drum patterns, basically that specific performance, into a new and digital format.
I decided to try and use the midi drum sequencer in Logic Pro (Ultrabeat, for the tech geeks). I figured I'd give it a whirl. First I started with the verses, which were a new and different approach from the original composition on the demo. This was good practice, and got me very familiar with the program. I managed to figure it out after a long time of trial and error, but it turned out to be really cool, sounding better than I expected… and surprisingly easy, relatively speaking. Maybe even kinda fun. I crafted the rhythm for the intro and verses, things were sounding really, really cool! Then I got to the choruses… These were the parts that I really wanted the good stuff that James had come up with years ago. This is where I had to get a little creative, and set down to do some very meticulous operating.
What I decided to do, after many attempts at other methods, was to import the demo to the session, and just try and match the beat with the corresponding midi-drums, beat for beat, hit for hit, note for note, by ear and by analyzing the sound-waves. There was some interpretation, of course... and I added fills and some ideas of my own as I heard them. This was very painstaking work and it took a while, but it worked out well... I managed to capture James's ideas, this one-of-a-kind rhythm, really harness it into something I could work with. I was actually surprised by how well it turned out and that it was able to keep the feel of what he was doing, even if it was just a hair more regimented in tempo, and "on the grid". Even though it wasn't technically James's performance on the track, it really was close to it, note-wise, and he essentially wrote those parts so I gave him a writing credit on both of the songs.
(I applied this process to "Martini Shot" as well. James's performance and input was an integral part of this song in particular, when we wrote so many years ago. More on this in the story about "Martini Shot", but man… another really awesome, un-orthodox approach to the beat the song required, and it's arrangement, which he had a lot to do with).
So after a few months of putting all of this work into both "Lush" and "Martini Shot", and things sounding great, I suddenly had these two old songs, now dusted off, re-worked, and getting ready to be polished and displayed. They weren't finished yet, but the groundwork had been laid, the experiment successful... and too exciting to not include in anything I would put out next. The only problem was that they seemed a bit out of place, or they seemed to disrupt a delicate balance, both in terms of theme and sonic texture. I took a step back and looked at the songs I had planned for the Ultrafauna album. When I would throw these two songs into the mix, I began to see the idea cell slowly split into two separate organisms. About half of the songs already in production suddenly seemed to gravitate to "Lush" and "Martini Shot", thes songs leaning towards a more "tropical" theme and feel ... jazz-fusion, reggae and world music. The other batch of songs had an entirely different feel and concept, more rock, rural and acoustic. So now, I was looking at two sets of songs that seemed to be asking to be on two separate albums. It made sense, and felt right, so I obliged them. Now, with two records on the horizon, I also began to see an even longer road ahead, one I'm still traveling and more than willing to take. Nevertheless, I was getting excited about it, watching this thing expand inside it's own universe... but soon realized that, to be realistic, I would have to focus on one record at a time. And since I was on a roll with these two old/new songs, and since it was summer at the time (a much more ideal season to write music that was jazzy and tropical), I decided to leave Ultrafauna for another time in the future, and focus on (what would become) Transmission: One.
So, that's how it started, and how it catalyzed this album's creation.
Now, if you will, I want to get back to the song "Lush" itself:
So fast forward once again to a few years later… Keys, drums, bass synths, a kalimba or marimba type sound to bring a tropical feel, a haunting shimmering guitar for atmosphere, and crystalline synth sounds that resonated somewhere between a futuristic sci-fi backdrop ala Vangelis's Blade Runner and the heavy sexuality of the "Between The Sheets" (Isley Brothers) outro... Or perhaps a Brian DePalma movie, (like these Body Double and Scarface numbers)... or John Carpenter (Like this one!). The bass line and keyboards chord structure was deep cut jazz fusion and R&B. Tribal and/or tropical undertones being drawn out with the percussion and marimba… These were the sonic inspirations for this dreamscape I was hearing. The music was growing taller and thicker, and the humidity was rising. With the instrumentation close to being complete, I now needed vocals… more importantly a story, a theme. As I had been tinkering with it over the years, and while I had been recording it now, I had a vague idea of what it was going to be about. I saw images in my mind of a tropical background, jungles, fire, strange lights over the water... an opulent futuristic city surrounded by the depth of a jungle abyss and it's dark secrets... a beautiful woman, a secret meeting, a passionate affair, a rainstorm, an element of danger…. but what it all meant was a mystery. I wasn't sure how to frame it.
I already had the chorus kinda figured out:
"And she cools me down… A blessing of rain in the swelter… And she breaks me down, and leads me to solace and shelter".
So this was obviously going to be some sort of song about a woman, or "romance", for lack of a better word... but it wasn't going to be what you may call a love song… considering the words I had written, and the dark, brooding instrumentation and mood, it was going to be a little more complicated than that. There was no personal interest, no auto-biographical influence here… no woman in particular in mind, and I had no current reason at the time to write such a song, but I liked the idea and the words so far. They weren't going anywhere.
And so with these strange and varied settings and these images floating within the sounds I was hearing, I was poised to map out a story of desire and intrigue, to inhabit this world. I imagined the old film-noir pictures, with the femme fatales, and sometimes exotic locations (Key Largo). A few other movies came to mind: the 80's drama/thriller Against All Odds; the classic From Here To Eternity; and the recent movie adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson's book The Rum Diary. All of these movies revolved around love affairs with women married to (or otherwise involved with) abusive and dangerous and/or powerful men, and all taking place in tropical locations. I shook the prverbial Magic-8-Ball, and these stories and movies started to float to the window. "Ok," I thought, "this is interesting... We're in the door, we're on a path... This could be cool. Not your usual love song. That's good...."
And so I imagined:
So there we are, watching from afar, high above this tropical island paradise, maybe sometime in a fictional future, or an alternate dimension. A beautiful, but dark and dangerous place. An opulent city of architectural perfection nestled in a lush wilderness of ancient myths, dark rainforests, obscured secrets and mysterious ruins. City of the future, like a gem on display on a pillow of raw, violent natural history. And in this city we have our protagonist. Maybe he is there for professional reasons, maybe vacation. He is a writer, a journalist perhaps, or some underworld rookie on some errand to test his mettle and claiber... or maybe a future version of Dr. Jones, there to seek artifacts in the ruins of what may once have been called Rio or Cancun or some other place that has long since been destroyed and covered by the earth. We don't know yet, we may never know. It is silent except for the music and the few clues it leaves us. But here he is, and we seem to have joined him while having some sort of internal conflict. He is at a bar, drinking alone and obviously distressed.There is a woman close, both with him and not with him, they are connected, but they can't be with one another at this point of the story. He is not sure if he has found some kind of love or written his own destruction. This is an affair, a tryst, a secret rendezvous, a tempting of fate. There is something fulfilling, deeply spiritual and impossible to turn away from, something which answers something so deep inside him that he never knew he was asking for it. He did not expect to find it at all, let alone here, for what ever reason he found himself there. Their attraction seemed archetypal, as if it felt like the word "destiny" might for the first time pass his cynical firewall, and through his lips, still wet with her kiss... or this nagging idea of a parallel world where they once knew each other in another life, even though he didn't believe in that particular line of thinking...Yes, the life-force within this situation is impossible to ignore, it's benefit couldn't possibly be outweighed by the gnarly downside it could bring, at least if one were to only factor in physical pleasure and raw emotion... but something's not right and not so perfect about it, despite this feeling that it should be. The mood is ominous so the attraction is definitely dangerous, that's for sure. Time for a flashback:
Somewhere in the timeline before we began our surveillance and correspondence, without warning he meets this woman, maybe in passing, some off-hand remark at a bar, an object secretly passed off, and situation deftly avoided with his help... and maybe he saved her from something he had no idea was happening. We see the man she is with, the shadowy underworld that surrounds him, and the violence and jealousy in his every movement. Briefly, but enough to convey the danger that she needs to escape from. And so however the circumstances, they meet and the attraction is strong, despite his suspicions and misgivings... and the emotions hits like a wave, a tsunami, a monsoon… or an invasion… military or alien… either would be just as foreign and unknown, coming in from over the water to take siege of this internal island paradise and change the scenery forever. Maybe this wave or invasion is the equal parts passion for the woman and excitement of the rendezvous and the looming fear of it's potential consequences. Their trysts is fraught with peril. If the people she was with, the man she was married to, the organization she worked for found out, things would be unpleasant. Getting caught would be a fatal mistake, but what they feel is too important to let go, and they must find a way out, a way to make it work. They keep their secret, meeting in hidden jungle hideaways and huts, houses in trees, beneath the moon, their only witness, in the mazes of ancient ruins. But ultimately they fear the consequences or realize that this paradise will not be there for much longer. Paradise between them and the paradise that surrounds them. But still, there is more. She has been discovered a piece of information, a warning of danger ahead for this paradise they are stuck in. Something is going down. Something much larger than the danger their romance has put them in. And our protagonist is desperately trying to relay this information to someone on the outside, and is getting confused, drunk with life, unable to tear himself away from this attraction, even to save himself. Maybe they can save it. Maybe nothing can be saved and the best recourse would be to enjoy the last few moments. Maybe this is the final countdown to something beyond their control. This was now more than just a dangerous place. Events conspire against them and against time itself. They are being hunted now. Drastic measures must be taken.
… And this is how we leave it, unresolved. Maybe they ran, escaping into the unknown, any danger out there better than the one they knew? Maybe they destroyed their underworld foe and saved this place from destruction, this city and garden that they may now call home? What was this event or danger that our protagonist was trying to warn us of? Was his judgement clouded, was it paranoia?... or was this the only path he knew how to take? Perhaps there was an actual invasion of the island, (military, or alien, depending if you wanted to go sci-fi or film-noir), to strengthen the metaphor, and introduce an outside influence that changed everything… This all remains a mystery to me for now. Just one part of an anthology...
Maybe a time-traveling party yacht pulled into the harbor and they stowed away to their next adventure (see Ibiza) or maybe communication with extraterrestrial life forms was achieved and the world as we knew it changed and they were there to see it (Transmission: One). Perhaps the island ruins transformed them to their totem animals, to disappear entirely, fade into the jungle landscape, or confront their enemy with beastly vengeance (Burning Off The Wolf). I think the question should remain open. Don't you? And so it shall...
If you choose to continue with our adventure, please page down and click "next"…