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.
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.