Mike Keneally’s Scambot 2 song diary, Side Two!

Scambot 2 2cd set
Hello all – I’m back on the bus, right now in the midst of an 18-hour drive to Gijon, Spain, on the heels of four G3 performances in Italy featuring Satriani, Vai and the Aristocrats. There are eight more shows on this tour, including another three G3 bills in Germany. This is continuing to be a very enjoyable European adventure indeed. The camaraderie is slamming (I wonder if anyone has ever utilized that phrase before) and the music and audiences every night are a thrill. Is my favorite part of the tour curling up in the bus bunk at night, strapping on the headphones and hitting “shuffle” on my seven-hour playlist of Radiohead B-sides and non-album tracks? Well, it might be tied for first.

As I mentioned last time, I’m going to take a look at the virtual “side two” of Scambot 2 [now available for exclusive pre-order] – “Clipper,” “Forget About It,” “Pretzels” and “Buzz.” The prog side. A 14-minute side, for maximum fidelity should it ever hit vinyl (just like side two of English Settlement if I remember correctly).

Clipper

Scambot 2Why is “Clipper” called “Clipper”? Well, a lot of the songs were named before they had lyrics – when we’d start a new session, Mike Harris would ask me what the song was called, and very often there would be no name for it so I’d have to make one up on the spot. In this case I was thinking nautical, because I knew the Quiet Children were going to be in their yacht in this song, and the word “Clipper” came to me as a good working title, but one I expected to change somewhere down the line. Which of course hardly ever happens – nine times out of ten, working titles stick to a song and refuse to be displaced. This song is simply “Clipper” whether it makes sense or not.

(Actually, I later made “Clipper” the name of Campland Standish‘s engineer on his radio show…for the little excerpt from the Standish show heard in this song, I originally recorded a bit more material, and the part right after Campland says “It’s a Monday” had him saying “Clipper, can you turn up my headphones please?”

But when I played a rough mix of this song for Sarah Crochet, she suggested that it would be better to cut the radio show right after “It’s a Monday,” which worked hugely better with the music in that spot, and also conveyed more than enough of the vibe of the radio show without overegging the pudding, as people who say things like that would say. Sarah was outlandishly helpful to me all the way down the line in suggesting things to improve the mixes as they were in progress, as well as the final sequence of songs, which I’d probably still be trying to figure out now if it weren’t for her help. I’m especially grateful to her in the case of “It’s a Monday,” which delighted Bryan Beller to no end first time he heard it and resulted in “It’s a Monday” becoming a running gag between us for a few weeks.)

Doug Lunn and Gregg Bendian played the bass and drums for “Clipper,” recorded at Chatfield Manor. We were rehearsing at Scott’s for some Southern California Keneally/Bendian/Lunn dates, and I took the opportunity to record them for this song (as well as “Pretzels” and “Scores Of People”). I’m terribly glad to have Doug’s unique fretless bass tone on one of my records again for the first time since Boil That Dust Speck. And it’s a real privilege to hear Gregg’s compositional approach to drums and percussion applied to my music. This song has a very episodic feel, moving through wildly varied landscapes, and I knew these two were the ones to help me construct the skeleton for it.

Another important building block for this song and album were the two days Mike Harris and I spent at the studio of Jeff Berkley, brilliant San Diego guitarist/percussionist, taking advantage of his boundless collection of guitars and amplifiers. I’m the worst interview subject in the world for guitar magazines because I can never remember what gear I used for what songs, and that’s amplified (so to speak) ten-fold in the case of this record, because I was picking up different instruments all over the place and recording bits with them, and all details would be wiped from my memory as I moved on to the next thing. But I do clearly recall using Jeff’s six-string banjo (tuned like a guitar) for this particular song. It was a texture I’ve long wanted to get on one of my records.

I was very happy to get my daughter Jesse singing on this tune; in particular the sound of her crystal-clear voice, layered into a choir and delivering the line “You suck,” is very pleasing.

The outro has a vibe that Scott Chatfield had previously mentioned to me as being hypnotic and worthy of preserving in its pure form (when I was wondering if it needed additional melodies, vocals, a solo or something), and I wasn’t sure whether or not I should fade it out or let it continue to hypnotize until it stopped cold, but ultimately it worked best for me in the context of the record to have it fade away. And then J.D. Mack asked on Facebook if this is the first song on one of my records to actually fade to complete silence. Wow, is it? I can’t think of another one. That’s kind of amazing to me. (The original “Egg Zooming” mix comes close but doesn’t get all the way there.) Only took me 23 years to have a good old-fashioned fade-out.

Forget About It

“Forget About It” is the sort of thing which feels so peculiar to me, makes me practically wonder if it’s irresponsible to do, it’s so idiosyncratic and odd (other songs in this category include “Eno And The Actor” and “I Guess I’ll Peanut”), but it makes me so happy to hear. I love Evan Francis‘ saxes and flutes on this, which I recorded in the back room of the condo Sarah and I used to live in. Evan couldn’t play too loudly because we didn’t want to freak out the neighbors too badly, and I really enjoy the subdued tone of his playing here. My friend, the brilliant keyboardist/composer Matt Mitchell, says he hears something of the Uncle Meat album in the brief use of harpsichord on this track. Not intentional, but yep, can’t deny the influence – I adore the way keyboards and woodwinds were arranged on UM and I imagine there are a lot of accidental echoes of it in my stuff through the years.

Pretzels

“Pretzels” (and the following track “Buzz”) are where the Gentle Giant influence comes on strong in this album, possibly stronger than they ever have before in my stuff. On “Pretzels” it’s in the main vocal melody and timbre, which absolutely nod towards Kerry Minnear, and on “Buzz” it’s in the interlocking architecture of the instruments in the verses and the use of clavinet. It would be impossible to overstate how much I respect Kerry Minnear’s work, and how much I love the music that he and Gentle Giant created.

“Pretzels” probably went through more re-workings and remixes than any other song on the album. At one point it had an entirely different lyric and vocal melody, and large swaths of additional background vocals. But it’s such an intricate piece and I needed to not layer on so much stuff; I had to keep reminding myself of my stated desire to have this album be less dense and demandingly abstract than Scambot 1 was. Scott Chatfield mentioned to me, while he was listening to the album come together in his home, that he really couldn’t see that this album was any less crazy and jam-packed with information than the first one had been, and I vowed internally to keep an eye on that while working through all these ideas and textures that were driving me forward. Once I stripped away the original lyrics and melody for “Pretzels” and went with a new melody that simply echoed already existing aspects of the layered piano parts underneath, it smoothed out the song a lot.

Of course I made things tough by needing to hear a guitar solo over the middle section of this tune, which is a crazy tower built out of multiple guitar, keyboard and vocal overdubs. Again I can’t overstate the amazing work Mike Harris has done with the mixes on this album. He made it all work together beautifully and the final mix is pure honey to my ears.

You can hear “Pretzels” starting to come together in its very early stages in this “making-of” video we posted a couple of years ago.

Buzz

“Buzz” was the song that resulted in the most traumatic crisis of confidence during the making of the album. I was listening to a VERY early rough mix of the song while driving home from working on it, basically consisting of nothing but clavinet and click track, and became convinced that there was nothing of value in it, and that possibly the whole album was equally valueless. This is what you call poor perspective: I was just overworked and needed a few days off. Now I get a huge kick out of the groove of this song, and it’s one I especially gravitate toward for headphone listening. Pete Griffin and Kris Myers sound especially huge on it. Kris does magical things on the drums on this song; subtle but so satisfying. I presented him with my fake drum tracks (drum patches played manually on a keyboard) as guides for the tracks he recorded on his own in Chicago, and gave him carte blanche to go off and try whatever he liked, but his general approach was to stick pretty close to what I had done on the demos rhythmically, but obviously make them sound like a real drummer, with soul and grit and a million beautiful embellishments. I could listen to just the drums on this song and have a fine old time forever.

The music underneath the part that goes “Who are you wearing? Who are you wearing?” was actually the first music written for this song, but I knew as I was writing it that it wasn’t meant to be the beginning of “Buzz.” I recorded it with Mike Harris then had him put it aside as we worked on the rest of the piece, while I continually wondered where that initial chunk was eventually going to fit in. I remember the feeling when I finally got to the part of the song where I thought that section would work, and I asked Mike to drop it back in – ahhhh. Listening to that fitting together was a highlight of the album-making process for me, like pushing in the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

NOTE! AN IMPORTANT NOTE!

InklingThis won’t be relevant until you actually get the physical 2-CD set containing the booklet for the Inkling album, but I need to start atoning and spreading the word about this now: there’s a song on Inkling called “Cram” which I am REALLY happy with, and which found its way on and off the main Scambot 2 listing multiple times until I finally decided that the main album flowed better without it. “Cram” is now a major highlight of Inkling, and it arose out of a session with Rick Musallam and Kris Myers which also resulted in the song “Roll” on Scambot 2 (which I’ll get to in the next Keneallist).

Anyway, I’m mentioning this because I’ve just realized that I forgot to list Rick Musallam in the credits for “Cram” in the Inkling booklet, which is already printed. Arrrrrgggghhh. This is really galling…I spent hours proofreading these things and yet it repeatedly eluded me. It’s just a dumb oversight from my original Word document, and it’s especially upsetting because Rick played so beautifully on the track. I will continue to beat myself up in public over this because I really want people to know Rick is on “Cram.” Heartfelt apologies to Rick, and to all of you, because this is going to get tiresome, I know it.

The exclusive Scambot 2 Exowax Pre-Order

Again, in case you haven’t already received this memo: we’re currently taking pre-orders for the 2-CD Scambot 2 signed, limited edition of 2000. These will be shipped in late July (at this writing there are eight more shows on this Satriani European tour; then I’ll come home, rest for a moment, and get to signing the CD-sets, which have just been shipped to Scott’s place). The double-CD set consists of the Scambot 2 album (65 minutes of music) and the Inkling album (48 minutes of music) in a handsome digi-pak with two booklets. You’ll get an immediate download of Scambot 2 as soon as you pre-order. (You’ll have to wait until your CD set arrives to hear Inkling, which incidentally features Rick Musallam on the song “Cram.”)

Scambot 2 itself will be available as a single-album paid download in late July. (Inkling won’t be available as a download – it’s only available as part of the 2-CD set.)

For the moment, the music is only available through Exowax. It will go into wider release through other distributors and retailers starting September 9.

More soon – thank you everyone!
Mike


Scambot 2SCAMBOT 2

1. In The Trees (10:28)
2. Roots Twist (3:02)
3. Sam (3:20)
4. Clipper (4:36)
5. Forget About It (0:46)
6. Pretzels (4:25)
7. Buzz (4:32)
8. Race The Stars (3:44)
9. O (1:26)
10. Roll (6:23)
11. Constructed (3:46)
12. Freezer Burn (5:23)
13. Scores of People (5:22)
14. Cold Hands Gnat (4:00)
15. Proceed (3:19)


InklingINKLING (More from the Scambot 2 Sessions)

1. Presence (0:48)
2. Scambot (2:17)
3. Boghe (4:01)
4. Sickness (2:01)
5. The Coma (2:11)
6. I Named You (0:45)
7. Falafel (1:29)
8. O Elastic Love! (1:23)
9. Cram (8:10)
10. Mystery Song (0:04)
11. E (0:37)
12. The Scorpions (5:32)
13. Skating Backwards (2:15)
14. Tom (7:01)
15. Mayday! (1:25)
16. Lovesong (1:27)
17. Back It Up (2:54)
18. Inkling (1:37)
19. Uncompressed Rag (2:04)

Mike Reveals Scambot 2 Song Secrets!

Hey Ms. and Mr. Everyone!

Hello from my bunk in a bus on its way from Copenhagen to Oslo…

I’m very grateful for the first wave of listener response to Scambot 2, which has been heartwarming; really gratifying reactions from the people who’ve heard the advance download they got after ordering the 2-CD special edition.

Thank you to all of you who’ve had good words about the album so far!

I want to shine some light on Mike Harris, who engineered the majority of the recordings and who mixed all the songs on both Scambot 2 and Inkling. He really demonstrated angelic patience while I worked on multiple versions of some tracks, got microscopically obsessed with mix details, and re-recorded vocals after re-writing lyrics. Mike achieved a really warm sound, and the many layers don’t overwhelm the ear – I’ve never enjoyed the sound of any of my albums as much as I enjoy this. And more light must shine on Scott Chatfield, who supported the entire undertaking in every way, with great patience and understanding as the songs took shape in his home, over a very lengthy gestation period.

I’m going to deal with the songs on Scambot 2 in order, over the next few Keneallists…

In the Trees

The first song is “In The Trees,” which is the craziest song on the album – it was intentional, from a narrative/musical perspective, to start the album at maximum density and then gradually let more oxygen into the sound as the album progresses.

The skeleton of “In The Trees” is the main rhythm guitar part, played on a Fender Baritone. The opening melody came to me while standing next to a row of shopping carts in a soul-deadening department store, and I stood singing it into my phone whilst my girlfriend patiently waited for me to grab a cart and start shopping for sundries.

Months later I woke up too early with ideas for the next lick to follow that opening line. I snuck out to the living room with the guitar and phone and ended up recording something like 20 little instrumental segments, which I later took into the studio with Mike Harris and formed into the basis of the whole ten-and-a-half-minute epic.

My daughter Jesse and Ben Thomas helped me out vocally on this one, the one song on the album which is most explicit about vocalizing the different characters. I didn’t want to have each song sound as though it was sung by the different characters (that would be more of a “rock opera” album than I cared to make) but for the dramatic, over-the-top nature of this song, it made sense.

Kris Myers recorded the drums for this song, as well as “Sam,” “Buzz,” “Constructed” and “Freezer Burn” (PLUS “Falafel,” “Tom” and “Back It Up!” off of Inkling, the second album in the 2-CD special edition) in one single-day marathon recording session at Transient Sound in Chicago. Truly a super-human feat of endurance and skill. We recorded Pete Griffin‘s bass in his bedroom. This album encompassed a lot of locations and times and it was some work making it all sound cohesive – the Mike Harris magic at work.

Roots Twist

“Roots Twist” is one you might remember from a video we posted over two years ago of us recording the vocal parts in the living room. It sounded cool then, but really bloomed into awesomeness for me once we recorded Bryan Beller‘s bass and Joe Travers‘ drums for it last year. The rhythm section KILLS on this song. If we were releasing singles from the album, this would be the first one.

This one was also built from the guitar part up, and I wrote the part standing next to Mike Harris in the studio, section by section. I knew that I needed a song that felt like this one, but didn’t know yet what the actual notes would be – it was fun coming up with the parts on the spot and having Mike H. capture them for me, listening back and deciding what the next part should sound like, and by the time I was done composing the structure, the main rhythm guitar part was already recorded. It’s a fun way to write, and one that I employed for many songs on this album.

Sam

“Sam,” on the other hand, was a fully composed piece prior to me bringing it into the studio, and it was based on a guitar chord shape I’d never happened upon before (if you’ll permit me to get tech for a sec, it involves playing a triad with the 5th note of the scale on the fifth string, the 3rd on the third string, and the 1st on the first string – i.e., the first chord of the song, G major, has the D on the 5th fret of the A string, the B on the 4th fret of the G string, and the G on the third fret of the high E). That was a starting point, and then finding a second different but complementary chord shape, and moving that around the neck, very quickly gave me a chord progression I found really complete-sounding and pleasing, and somehow wistful enough to support a lyric about Ophunji actually displaying evidence of humanity (so to speak).

The guitar part in the chorus is obviously me channeling my inner Neil Young. And the guitar solo is a bit of a Coltrane injection, so if you recall the song “Wooden Smoke” which alludes to both of those titans, this song is kind of a musical reference back to that. I think Kris Myers initially thought I was insane when he heard how I chose to layer two different drum takes in the guitar solo in order to achieve a seriously undulating rhythmic ebb and flow for the guitar solo to float over, but over time he began to understand the method in my madness (I think. I hope).

Next Keneallist I’ll deal with “side two” (speaking of which – when we asked you to take that survey about formats a while back, very few of you showed a specific interest in vinyl for this release, so initially at least, we’re not doing vinyl. If the album seems to catch on with people in its 2-CD and download formats, we may revisit the idea of vinyl. We do really love vinyl and still have fantasies of releasing my music that way, but we’ve got to be sensible about it).

In closing I want to say a couple of things about the artwork – first off, the Scambot figurine on the cover was constructed by Dane Runyon, a musician/composer of wond’rous gifts whose debut album Looking Below () I produced. He gifted me figurines of Scambot and Ophunji. Scott photographed the Scambot figurine in the kitchen, and then Atticus Wolrab placed it, through the magic of art, into its present fantasy environment. Many thanks to you, Dane, for your gift, and for your contribution to what is my favorite album cover of any we’ve released.

And re: Atticus, who refuses to take art credits on my albums anymore, for reasons; he can’t stop me from talking about him here. He’s once again done stellar work with this album. And in addition to all the design work and his manipulation of my goofy drawings in the booklet, he also did the drawing which occupies page two of the digital booklet, a radical reimagining of my characters in an explosion of Aoxomoxoa-tude. I love it, and need to thank him openly for it whether he likes it or not.

Enough words for now? Sure!

The exclusive Scambot 2 Exowax Pre-Order

But once again to recap, for those who haven’t ordered the album – we’re currently taking pre-orders for the 2-CD Scambot 2 signed, limited edition of 2000. These will be shipped in late July (after I get back from this Satriani European tour and can actually sign the ding-dang things). They consist of the Scambot 2 album (65 minutes of music) and the Inkling album (48 minutes of music) in a handsome digi-pak with two booklets. You’ll get an immediate download of Scambot 2 as soon as you pre-order. (You’ll have to wait until your CD set arrives to hear Inkling.)

Scambot 2 itself will be available as a single-album paid download in late July. (Inkling won’t be available as a download – it’s only available as part of the 2-CD set.)

For the moment, the music is only available through Exowax. It will go into wider release through other distributors and retailers starting September 9.

Thanks all d:9)

Mike


SCAMBOT 2

1. In The Trees (10:28)
2. Roots Twist (3:02)
3. Sam (3:20)
4. Clipper (4:36)
5. Forget About It (0:46)
6. Pretzels (4:25)
7. Buzz (4:32)
8. Race The Stars (3:44)
9. O (1:26)
10. Roll (6:23)
11. Constructed (3:46)
12. Freezer Burn (5:23)
13. Scores of People (5:22)
14. Cold Hands Gnat (4:00)
15. Proceed (3:19)

 

INKLING (More from the Scambot 2 Sessions)

1. Presence (0:48)
2. Scambot (2:17)
3. Boghe (4:01)
4. Sickness (2:01)
5. The Coma (2:11)
6. I Named You (0:45)
7. Falafel (1:29)
8. O Elastic Love! (1:23)
9. Cram (8:10)
10. Mystery Song (0:04)
11. E (0:37)
12. The Scorpions (5:32)
13. Skating Backwards (2:15)
14. Tom (7:01)
15. Mayday! (1:25)
16. Lovesong (1:27)
17. Back It Up (2:54)
18. Inkling (1:37)
19. Uncompressed Rag (2:04)

Exclusive Scambot 2 pre-orders start now!

Kind folk! Hi! Hear ye!

The time has come, friends…we are now grinningly accepting pre-orders for the 2-CD special edition of Scambot 2.

Yes!

17 years in the making (I’m serious!), this signed, numbered limited edition of 2000 features two distinct albums for your ears.

Disc 1 is Scambot 2 proper, consisting of the following:

Exclusive Scambot 2 pre-orders start now!SCAMBOT 2
1. In The Trees (10:28)
2. Roots Twist (3:02)
3. Sam (3:20)
4. Clipper (4:36)
5. Forget About It (0:46)
6. Pretzels (4:25)
7. Buzz (4:32)
8. Race The Stars (3:44)
9. O (1:26)
10. Roll (6:23)
11. Constructed (3:46)
12. Freezer Burn (5:23)
13. Scores of People (5:22)
14. Cold Hands Gnat (4:00)
15. Proceed (3:19)

Disc 2 is a whole other freaking album, called Inkling (More From The Scambot 2 Sessions). It contains these things:

INKLING (More from the Scambot 2 Sessions)Exclusive Scambot 2 pre-orders start now!
1. Presence (0:48)
2. Scambot (2:17)
3. Boghe (4:01)
4. Sickness (2:01)
5. The Coma (2:11)
6. I Named You (0:45)
7. Falafel (1:29)
8. O Elastic Love! (1:23)
9. Cram (8:10)
10. Mystery Song (0:04)
11. E (0:37)
12. The Scorpions (5:32)
13. Skating Backwards (2:15)
14. Tom (7:01)
15. Mayday! (1:25)
16. Lovesong (1:27)
17. Back It Up (2:54)
18. Inkling (1:37)
19. Uncompressed Rag (2:04)

One hour and 53 minutes of music altogether.

Both albums are handsomely contained within a frequently blue package, with many absurd drawings and a lengthy story continuing the epic tale of Scambot and the other humans, animals and deities in his life. There’s a 24-page booklet for Scambot 2, and an additional 8-page booklet for Inkling, both nestled within the attractive digipak.

Exowax will begin shipping the CDs in late July. But once your pre-order is processed, you will receive an advance download of Scambot 2 proper, to begin listening to at any moment you care to begin listening to it. No waiting for you, intrepid pre-orderer!

(For any non-physical-product people out there, Scambot 2 proper will also be available as a purchasable single-album download, with digital booklet, in late July. Inkling [More From The Scambot 2 Sessions] will not be available for download though – this album is exclusively available only as Disc 2 of the 2-CD edition.)

How to describe the music? Well, Scambot 1 was a dense, mostly instrumental and pretty darn abstract listen, so Scambot 2 may take you by surprise with its more melodic and accessible (for me, anyway) nature. I really wanted to write a bunch of songs, as opposed to compose a bunch of pieces, and that’s what happened. From the multi-movement epic “In The Trees” to the rocking “Roots Twist” and “Roll” to the lilting “Sam” to the twangy “Constructed” to the proggity “Buzz” and “Clipper” to the… well I’ll stop describing the songs, you’ll hear them soon enough I hope.

Most of the more abstract instrumental music we worked on during this time has gone into Inkling, which really hangs together as an album in its own right, and also contains a few conventionally melodic songs alongside blazing madness and crazy space music and pseudo-ragtime and other things.

If I may so say, I am really freaking happy with both of these albums. Happy enough to italicize!

Scambot 2 has been a long time coming. We’re grateful indeed for your patience, and we hope that you’ll find your patience rewarded by this music.

And now, in the words of TV’s Richard Deacon, sit back, relax, and pre-order Scambot 2 now!

Thank you – we very much dig you –
Mike

Scambot 2