Geoff Geis

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New free EP: “Diva” available now

Click here to download my new covers EP, Diva.

For me, 2011 was transformational. Since about 2004, I had been a guitarist and songwriter in bands — but both Pizza! and Big Whup dissolved this year. Until that happened, I had two songwriting modes: I could put songs together on an acoustic guitar, or I could contribute parts to collaborative pieces with other musicians. Both Pizza! and Big Whup were group efforts, and I’d prioritized writing with those groups over making anything on my own. This year, I decided to move in a new direction.

I got some technology, I collected instruments, and I started writing and producing songs on my own. I de-emphasized guitar and concentrated my attention towards the elements that I’d previously left to others, including beats, bass, and synth melodies. To practice production, I made some fun new albums with friends: Into the Forest with Magii was released in March, and Nima and Geoff (featuring So Many Wizards’ Nima Kazerouni) made an EP to release next year. Through these efforts, my process was upended. It was a very prolific time.

Princess, my solo debut, chronicles the earliest fruits of my labors. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of ideas and moods — some of them fresh, some of them rebuilt from the past, some of them improvised, and some of them orchestrated. I made and released Princess, above all, to prove to myself that I could do it. I gained a lot of experience while doing it, and I’m already hard at work on a follow-up that capitalizes on everything that I’ve learned.

This EP, however, is not that follow-up.

Instead, Diva rounds out 2011 with a some fun while paying homage to a handful of artists that have greatly influenced me. Throughout the year, I’ve been recording cover songs as well as originals. Covering this music has taught me a good deal about song craft and has given me many opportunities to experiment with technique and delivery. Diva is a collection of my four favorite covers from this year, including versions of tracks originally by Mariah Carey, Dusty Springfield, La Roux, and R.E.M.

Click here to download the EP in its entirety.

The lead track is my take on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” When I made it this May, I was aiming to win the award for “creepiest song of the holiday season” with de-tuned pianos, off-kilter harmonies, and vocal effects meant to evoke a bad psychedelic trip. Unfortunately, Mariah decided to win that award herself by re-recording the very same song with Justin Bieber. Hopefully this is a strong contender for second place.

“I Only Wanna Be with You” is a duet with Michael Nhat. Michael Nhat is one of the most iconoclastic performers in Los Angeles, and also one of the best. He came over one day this summer and we covered this Dusty Springfield classic. We also started work on a Boys II Men and Brandy cover, but that’s fallen by the wayside (that’s my fault — sorry Michael).

La Roux‘s debut album is one of the almost I’ve most loved over the past couple of years. “Bulletproof” isn’t necessarily my favorite song on the album, but of course it’s the one that attracted me in the first place. I used an Omnichord as the basis of this downbeat, calypso-inspired version. Dalton Blanco (Sexting, Skull Tape, Robin Williams on Fire) provides some extra hard beats, and Big Whup’s Jenna Eyrich wrote the bassline. I think  this has already been covered by a lot of other bands. Oops.

The best recording on the EP, in my opinion, is my interpretation of R.E.M.’s “Tongue.” This was a cool experiment because it was the first time that I used a sample in a song. I built it using a loop I made from Mike Mills’ original piano line. When I was a teenager, R.E.M. was the most important band to me. They impacted both my taste and my worldview, and their demise inspired a lot of nostalgia and rumination. I finished this recording in September, immediately after they made the announcement that they had disbanded.

Filed under: geoff geis, mp3, vanity projects, Wonderful Christmas Music, , , , , , , , , , , ,

FAST RAM, or “Ram” on 45

Download the mp3 – Paul and Linda McCartney: “Ram” on 45, Side A

A little over a year ago, the blog Aquarium Drunkard released a record called Ram On LA, a “Los Angeles Music Sampler” that featured bands like Earlimart, the Parson Redheads, and Le Switch covering tracks from Paul and Linda McCartney’s 1971 album Ram. I originally heard about the record from my neighbor Scott, and I appreciate the concept for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that Paul is my favorite member of the Beatles, but I don’t think he normally gets the respect he deserves. Thus, I’m glad to see him get a tribute. The other reason I’m down with record is that Ram (at least side A) is one of my favorite albums. It’s cool to realize that I, in my taste at least, keep such illustrious company!

Yet, while Ram is one of my favorite albums, I absolutely never listen to the record as originally intended. I got the mp3s of it once, and I tried to jam to them in the car. I hated them, though – they seemed so listless and lacking in energy.

See, my Ram isn’t like that.

I bought the record in the mid 2000s at Amoeba for a dollar. It was during a phase in my life wherein I bought a whole lot of records at Amoeba for a dollar and didn’t necessarily listen to them until months after the purchase. Ram was one of those records that I bought and shelved for some potential later date.

At the time I was living in a very full house with Pizza!, and we shared vinyl. While I apparently was only nominally interested in Ram, Alex found it on the shelf and decided to give it a spin. The turntable was on 45 when he did, and for some reason he didn’t notice. He accidentally played the record at the faster speed – and loved it!

After falling in love with the fast version of Ram, Alex played it for us. We all agreed that it was incredible. I, personally, was hooked.

I’ve listened to Ram on 45 a whole lot, but I’ve barely listened to it on 33. And while my initial love affair with it was a few years ago, I’ve gotten back into it pretty hard lately. Coincidentally, the other day it was the topic of conversation at a party; fortunately it was a party with a turntable and a copy of Ram. My friend Kyle S said that he had a natural aversion to things that sounded “chipmunky” because of some bad experiences with Christmas records when he was a kid. My buddy Dan C proposed that people in the era of Ram were so drugged-out that slow music appealed to them more, and he used Paul’s own “Helter Skelter” as an example. Both of them really dug Ram when it was played fast. Kyle even said that he wasn’t that interested in listening to the record at 33. I nodded my head to that. Ram on 33 sucks compared to Ram on 45!

Increasing the speed on Ram does, I must admit, “chipmunk” it. But what’s lost in low-end is more than compensated for by the gain in sheer passion, danceability, and drive. Paul and Linda made the record while on vacation on a farm in Scotland, and unsurprisingly it’s a bit sluggish in execution. Perhaps because of that, speeding it up by a few revolutions per minute really doesn’t make it that fast – especially not for me, as a listener almost forty years later with new context and ears for punk rock. The extra kick makes the songs more compelling, I think. There’s an added element of joy in songs like “Dear Boy” (which isn’t particularly happy at all when played at its original speed) and “Smile Away” (a song that is totally, completely, painfully, appallingly, and miserably boring on 33 but has a peculiar and jovial spring in its step on 45).

“Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” is truly and delightfully weird in any incarnation, and it’s even more delightful and weird on 45.

Anyway – after talking about Fast Ram at that party, I decided that I wanted to digitize it. I didn’t want to just listen to it at home, because I love it so much. And after digitizing it, I figured it was a good idea to share it – so here it is.

This is just Side A. I didn’t have time to do Side B, but I’ll do it in a few days if people are interested (NOTE: Side B was uploaded on May 14 and is available here). Honestly, I haven’t listened to Side B that much. But Side A is pretty much my favorite Beatles record… so there you go.

Paul and Linda McCartney: “Ram” on 45 – Side A

Buy the original version of Ram.

Filed under: Art, Esoteria, Features, Human Interest, mp3, Wonderful Christmas Music, , , , , ,

Wonderful Christmas Music: Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Normally I don’t like secular Christmas songs. “Jingle Bell Rock” sucks. Songs like that just don’t take the holiday seriously, and are lame because they’re just dumb rock songs and don’t particularly have anything to do with Christmas. Real Christmas carols have a unique feeling to them.

There are exceptions, of course, to this rule. Generally, the exceptions go like this: if you’re an artist I like, then it’s okay if you have a stupid secular Christmas song! I’ve already mentioned that I love Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.”

Another song I really like comes from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: “Christmas All Over Again.” It’s such a fun song, and I realize that my love of it contradicts my earlier statement because it’s totally just a dumb rock song with Christmas lyrics and some sleighbells. But the sleighbells really compliment Tom’s style, which has always been influenced by the Byrds and gets even janglier with the ruckus coming out of the bells. The grandiosity of Jeff Lynne’s production is also appropriate – this song has the “bigness” that a Christmas song ought to have. There are some very fancy Traveling Wilburys-style vocal harmonies that sound much more thought out than the stuff that some bands crap out in a couple of hours and call “Christmas songs.”

The lyrics are funny. He talks about not wanting to kiss relatives, but he does it in that same rebellious Florida redneck tone that snarled like this back in the 1970s. Well, maybe it’s a little toned down, but it’s still cool. At the end of the song, he asks Santa for some cool instruments.

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A Fresh Aire Christmas

The next installment in my “Wonderful Christmas Music” section is A Fresh Aire Christmas, released in 1988 by synthesizer guru Chip Davis (better know by the name Mannheim Steamroller). Click here to listen to the entirety of the album on Lala.

My parents are way into Mannheim Steamroller, and growing up as a grunge-obsessed teenager in the 1990s I was very clear with them that i did *not* like this “new age crap.” As I got older though, it turned out that the Steamroller is pretty awesome. This music is like a sparkly Walter/Wendy Carlos, except the arrangements of classic pieces are a bit more adventurous. I realize now that I didn’t actually dislike the Steamroller – I simply disliked riding in the backseat of my parents’ station wagon while they drove around the neighborhoods of Huntsville, Alabama, looking at a thousand stupidly ornate light displays in the yards of random homeowners who have nothing better to spend their money on than waving Santas and blinking strings of light. The soundtrack to these miserable excursions was, year-after-year and without fail, A Fresh Aire Christmas.

The album suffered, thus, as a result of bad associations.

Oh, but it’s gorgeous. “Hark! the Herald Trumpets Sing” is classic Steamroller, augmenting the well-worn Christmas classic with these extraordinary synthesized horn runs that give the song this whole “bumpy ride on Santa’s sleigh” feel.  Another jam from this record is the version of “Carol of the Bells.” Often performed very quietly with voices, Davis’s version of the song is an outright rocker, complete with a techno-remix breakdown part. Like in “Hark! the Herald Trumpets Sing,” the Steamroller adds some really fleshy and driving sections to the song that don’t exist in the original, propelling it to otherworldly status. “Carol of the Bells” has always been an interesting Christmas song to me because of it’s outright eeriness – despite being a Christmas hymn, the chords give it a timbre that is not necessarily cheery (the only other hymn I can immediately think of that has the same character is the relatively obscure Basque hymn “Gabriel’s Message,” which I’ve never heard outside of my home church). The Steamroller version of this song takes that eeriness to an extreme that could even be described as a bit menacing and antagonistic, with odd vocal manipulations that sound a little bit science-fiction. An interesting place to take a Christmas song.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Still, Still, Still,” traditionally one of the quietest Christmas hymns and one that Davis chooses to keep quiet on this recording. It’s my favorite version of the song.

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Christmas Sing-Along with Mitch

I am an unabashed lover of Christmas. It is my favorite time of year, and the main reason is the music. I used to work at a Quizno’s sub in Huntsville, Alabama, and one time I made my boss very very angry because I played the company’s Christmas mix in the store during the month of July. He got so mad that he actually broke the CD with his bare hands (dude had a temper problem – and was also a racist, but that’s a different point). I wasn’t trying to be funny or anything, though. I just wanted to hear Mariah.

Ahhh but I digress. The whole reason for giving that story was to segue into this: the first feature in an ongoing feature called “Wonderful Christmas Music.” I realize that it’s very topical right now because it’s December and all, but I intend it to be ongoing. There’s a lot of material to cover.

There’s no better place to start than with Mitch Miller and the Gang. Their album, Christmas Sing Along with Mitch, is certainly my favorite Christmas album of all time. You can listen to it for free on Lala.com.

For those not “in the know,” Mitch Miller was a giant of popular music during the forties, fifties, and sixties. I was listening to KPCC the other day, and someone said that Miller was a better conductor of George Gershwin’s music than anyone else. He was also a king-maker at Columbia Records, and was instrumental in signing Bob Dylan to the label.

He was nationally famous, however, for an NBC television series called “Sing Along with Mitch” – a show that would probably never be made in today’s market, alas. Here’s a little taste of the show, although it’s unfortunately not from a Christmas-themed episode. Watching it really makes me nostalgic for my childhood as a member of the “moral majority” in 1960s  suburbia:

Anyway, Mitch and the Gang broadcast stuff like that every week between 1961-66, and they produced many LPs of “Sing Along” hits to accompany the show. Christmas Sing Along with Mitch is one of those records, and it appropriately comes with a long list of lyrics so that you can sit around the hi-fi system and join in the fun.

Christmas Sing Along is a lot more minimal than the song in the video I just posted, and the minimalism blesses the album with  a somber and poignant tone. Every carol is stripped-down to its most basic element – “Joy to the World” starts with handbells, for example, but those quickly go away as the song becomes acapella. Most of the record proceeds sans-instrumentation, with only the gorgeous tone of the gang’s vocal harmonies and an occasional harp strum.

Adding to the somberness of the album is the fact that is completely religious in nature – it includes none of those horrible cheery secular Bing Crosby-style Christmas pop songs that were popular at the time and unfortunately remain so (“Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “White Christmas,” yuckkkk!). These are all traditional hymns and carols, and they are all enunciated with the type of reverence that would expect at church – very sober, very down-tempo. Its beauty is hypnotic.

The highlight of the collection is “Silent Night”, their rendition of which is my favorite of all time (and since “Silent Night” is one of my top two Christmas songs  – tied with “Go Tell it on the Mountain” – that’s saying a lot).

Filed under: Wonderful Christmas Music, , , , , , ,

About


I'm a musician and writer from Los Angeles. When I feel motivated, I use this website to share my creative output and give my thoughts on the world around me.

Vanity Projects

I release cassettes and zines under the Vanity Projects label; I've done things by myself and also things by friends. Visit Vanity Projects on Tumblr.

@GeoffGeis on Twitter

Music

This is Soft Sailors! We're a new band from Los Angeles. We don't have any upcoming shows scheduled, but you can hear us online:

Also, here are some solo songs I've uploaded recently to Soundcloud. I'm playing solo July 19th at the Pickle Factory at 647 Lamar Street in Los Angeles and September 1st at Los Globos in LA for a KCHUNG benefit.

In 2011, I released my first solo album, Princess. You can listen to it and download it on Bandcamp:

From 2005 until 2011, I was in the band Pizza! This is our album We Come From the Swamp:

From 2008-2010, I was in the band Big Whup. Here's one of our songs that I sang, called "Cover My Eyes:"

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