"Somaphone 2: Grammar Sings the Classics; Or, Everything You Hear Here Is Me Beatboxing & Singing"
|Buy album on iTunes // Watch album on YouTube // Download album of MP3s
11. I Can't Go For That
12. Right Down the Line
13. Don't Worry Baby
14. Remember (Walking In the Sand)
15. I Can't Wait
16. Hey Love
17. I Only Have Eyes For You
18. Lonely Teardrops
19. Goodnight My Love
10. Do You Want to Know a Secret?
11. (You Left Me) Just When I Needed You Most
More About This Album:
I clearly remember when the idea for this album occurred to me: I was chilling in my man Kendall's mom's hot tub in Ravenna in Seattle, WA, with some friends and it just came to me: I need to record covers of some of my favorite pop songs where I recreate every piece of instrumentation with my voice! It was a very happy thought, a very happy moment, and the result is a very happy album (in my opinion.) It pretty much turned out exactly as I'd hoped: a dope melange of hip hop / non-corny a cappella / pop.
It took me about 2 years to create this album from start to finish.
There are a lot of doubters, so just to be absolutely, explicitly, unequivocal: Everything you hear on all of these songs (except, as noted in the title, the sound effects on track 4) was made by my voice.
The process was this: Listen to the original song about a billion times, perhaps get vocal part transcriptions from my old choir director Joe Crnko, perhaps get the guitar/piano/voice sheet music from the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, study all materials. Then, I would slowly build the song up bit by bit.
The first step is to figure out the proper tempo. Being that many of the originals of these songs have naturally variable tempos (due to the fact of them having been played by humans on live instruments) it is a somewhat tricky process to pick the right tempo. The body of the song dictates its own speed which remains more of less the same throughout, but there is always a compromise involving the areas of the song that deviate (in either direction) from this homebase; the question is, Is it more appropriate in this case to have the slower bits be faster than usual or the faster ones slower than usual? It was most notable at the ends of these songs where there is often a ritard to enhance a dramatic emotion. Surprisingly, tho, it was more possible than I thought it would be to get across the effect of the ritard while hewing closely to the rigid tempo (there is something to be said here about creating the effect of swinging hard by swinging soft, of being late by being right on time, etc.) The reason the tempo was kept rigid was to allow DJs to easily mix the songs in with electronic forms of music (specifically, hiphop.) Picking the tempo normally consisted of listening to a click track at a specific tempo and attempting to sing or beatbox different parts of the songs along in time with it to see how it felt, making minor adjustments as needed and repeating the process. It was not at all unusual to end up with fractional or decimal tempos (eg 69.25 or 106.33 etc.)
Once the tempo was chosen, I could start laying down the tracks. I always began with the beat. This being my first album of this type, I was learning a lot while going along. For example, I often recorded tracks "blind" (a technique I picked up while making "somaphone: meditations") on this album (specifically on "Right Down the Line", the first one I made) meaning that I would record a track without listening to any of the other tracks to get my bearings with tempo, tone (feeling) or pitch. Naturally, however, I did listen to the metronomic click track. I also often recorded takes which were the length of the entire song, especially with drums. As the recording of the album progressed, I learned that, tho I could do the takes blind, there was a benefit to playing a keyboard that I could hear in my ear while recording. Also, while I could do multiple 3.5 minute takes of the same drum part, there was a benefit to just doing one verse and chous of it and then copying and pasting the parts I wanted to have repeated. The one thing I wouldn't do a lot of is edit the takes overly much, or in any serious way sonically enhance them. I was still trying to make a point with this album about my natural musical prowess and abilities. By the time I tried to make a second album of this type (Somaphone 4: Heartbreak) I used the keyboard all the time to aid intonation and pretty much always cut and paste a lot of bits to save time, tho I still didn't do sonic enhancement / editing to the takes.
After the beat always came the bass parts, and then I'd lay down the treble parts. Then the background singing and, finally, the lead vocals.
Part of what makes this album sound so rich and full despite the fact that all you're hearing is my voice is the fact that I doubled (recorded a second take of) every take of every instrument. Not only did this bolster the weak parts of the takes and enhance the strong ones, it had the effect of minimizing the parts of the takes where I went astray aesthetically or artistically and accreting those where I felt I did something cool. It was kind of like the "sum over path" or "best of all worlds" approach to recording, and I feel it successfully had the effect of fleshing out the sound of the instruments. I also doubled every backup vocal take and almost every lead vocal take for the same reasons and to the same effect. Partly, this was done to minimize my natural aversion to vocals recording. I find recording vocals to be extremely nerve-wracking because (I realized recently) the implication is that, since the process of recording allows one theoretically to get the "perfect take" down on tape, what the user is hearing when they're listening to a recording of a singer is, from that singer's perspective, a perfect take (I refer to this as the "online dating profile picture phenomenon" if you can can catch my drift.) I find the pressure to record the "perfect take" to be unbearable. Attempting to get over the fear of this pressure has been extremely cathartic.
Not sure what else to say about this album except that it is awesome and I love it and it has sold really well, and garnered me a lot of praise. Kinda sad to me, since I spent most of my life wanting to be recognized for pure hiphop, but oh well... I'm not dead yet.
I suppose I could tell you the process of figuring out how to pay royalties for using these songs through Harry Fox, since that's kind of interesting, but I'd rather not. The short answer is: Yes, I do have to pay people to use these songs (specifically, the people who wrote the songs.) The "statutory rate", as it's called, was mandated by the Supreme Court, is set by Congress, and is currently in the neighborhood of 9¢ per downloaded copy per song for songs lasting less than 5 minutes. All royalties are submitted to Harry Fox for processing.
I suppose I could tell you about how, in a fit of blind optimism, I had 500 copies of this album pressed up on vinyl, ended up only selling 15 of them (it's an arduous process to sell vinyl these days) and gave the rest away in a fit of depression in the middle of Times Square after I became tired of them clogging up my tiny NYC studio apartment.
I suppose I could tell you about how a young, up-and-coming film director from LA named Brian Crano found this album online and secured my permission to use one of its tracks in his super cool short film "Rubberheart" but I just did and there's nothing more to say on that.
I recorded all of these tracks on a Macintosh running MOTU's Digital Performer first in my guestroom at my friend's Sam & Barbara Abrams's home in Rochester, NY, then later in my own room at my ex-girlfriend Aitlincay Osenray's (she doesn't want to be Googlable) grandparents' former residence on the Upper East Side of Manhattan between Thanksgiving 2002 and late 2003 / early 2004. I mixed the album. Paul Gold mastered the album at his studio at Brooklynphono. I made the cover art. Photos by Aitlincay Osenray.