Our web server died

We have to apologize for the current state of our website.ย  The server that our website was previously on abruptly died, taking our website down.ย  We have moved to a new web host, and hopefully weโ€™ll be able to get our site back up shortly.ย  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, why not listen to some of our music on our Bandcamp store?

See us live on Dec 29 at the Lickety Split

On Tuesday, December 29, 2009, Wrong Side of Dawn will be playing its first live show in over three years! We will be the featured artist at an open mike at acoustic venue The Lickety Split in Philadelphia, located at the corner of South St. and 4th St. (401 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147). The musicians actually start playing at the open mike around 9pm, and we’ll probably be playing sometime between 9 and 11, we’ll post an update if we find out our exact set time. We’ll be displaying our softer side, so perhaps you’ll be able to hear all of the nuances to our music that you might miss when we annihilate your eardrums at our louder concerts ๐Ÿ˜‰ Please join us! There’s no cover charge, just awesomeness. (This is a 21+ venue, our apologies to our younger fans.)

Temporary drummer fix

I’m happy to say that we’ve found a drummer who will be able to fill in at least temporarily, enabling us to book gigs without worrying about whether we’ll have a full lineup to play them. We’re still looking for a drummer who wants to be a more permanent member of the band though, so drummers please e-mail us at band@wrongsideofdawn.com or call me (Nelson) at 703-942-9378 if you’re interested in playing with us!

Recording backing vocals with Karen Rustad

Karen leans on the keysThe lovely and talented Karen Rustad has been with working closely with Wrong Side of Dawn since its formation. Karen was there at our first rehearsals, with just me and Brian before we had any other musicians to work with. Karen has repeatedly lent us her artistic skills, doing an amazing job on the cover art for our old EP and the Grinder’s Tale 3P, and she’s currently working on a draft of the cover art for the upcoming Stay Awake album. She also did all of the graphic design and most of the web design for our beautiful website. [Incidentally, she’s currently looking for work. Maybe you could help her out? ๐Ÿ˜‰ ]

In addition, Karen is a serious singer and songwriter in her own right, having sung in choirs for many years, contributed her voice to musical groups such as Tryad (you can hear her singing lead vocals on “Beauty” from their album Listen) and written and recorded several wonderful tracks on her home computer. We had good experiences with her contributing vocals and some keyboards to our previous album attempt, so it is no surprise that we brought in Karen again to help us compose and sing the backing vocals on the “Stay Awake” album.

Adapting live vocal harmonies for a studio album

Karen with guitar (no flash)Karen has been performing at open mikes etc. with me since before WSD took its first steps towards recording a studio album. One song that she sang with me was Break Free (which is an ancient song that I originally wrote when I was in high school), and she wrote her own vocal harmony part to accompany me. On our previous attempt at recording this album, Karen simply sang the exact same vocal harmony that she sang when performing as a duo with me. However, this didn’t work quite as well with a full band, because Karen sang what amounted to a vocal solo during the bridge, at the same time as Brian’s guitar solo. Having two “solos” going at once made the song sound a little busy and disorganized, although there were a few nice interactions between Karen’s singing and Brian’s lead guitar.

When we started recording Break Free again at Portrait Studios for “Stay Awake,” I asked Karen to try writing some new harmonies that would be more choral and less busy-sounding, to avoid the problem of it sounding like there were two solos at once. Karen obliged by singing two-part harmonies, using them to create chords rather than an entirely independent melody line. I think the resulting backing vocals step back during the main part of Brian’s guitar solo in the bridge and give him more space, but also sound more impressive in a Cranberries-esque fashion. Naturally this is impossible for Karen to sing live without help, but that’s what’s great about studio albums, they free you from limits such as how many people you can put on stage at once.

Auto-Tune

Another issue that we had to confront frequently when recording with Karen and mixing her parts was when and if to use Auto-Tune. This is not because Karen has bad pitch, she’s probably on key more often than I am. This is because almost all of her vocal parts are harmony parts. Brian and I could get away with being a little loose with pitch when singing by ourselves, but whenever we bust out the vocal harmonies, any sourness in pitch is immediately and painfully obvious. Although some of Karen’s parts came out fine, we ended up having to use Auto-Tune extensively in some passages. One passage in “Out of Time” couldn’t even be saved by Auto-Tune (which says bad things about my ear because it sure sounded in tune to me when she recorded it) and we ended up having to throw out her part in that section. Whenever we discovered that Brian or myself were irreparably out of tune during mixing, we could re-take that section on the spot, but Karen wasn’t around during the mixing process, so it was a case of Auto-Tune or die. If someone is doing a difficult vocal harmony (or something similar) and you can’t get them in the studio again easily to fix any problems, I recommend that you record multiple takes and save them all, just in case there are undiscovered problems with the take that you thought was perfect.

For the record, Brian and I would have preferred to not use Auto-Tune at all on this album. We generally went for a straightforward “live” sound on this album, we didn’t want to sound too heavily processed and suspiciously clean. However, there is a trade-off between the time necessary to re-record a passage and the time required to Auto-Tune it. If you’re perfectionist enough to go and fix every little note by re-recording it, you’ll be spending a lot of time in the studio, and a lot of dough (unless you own the studio). Besides, if you have to do a zillion re-takes for each section to get it right, how much more genuine is that than Auto-Tune? Aren’t you using machines to cover up your shortcomings as a musician either way? The best, most “genuine” and impressive way to avoid Auto-Tune would be to practice until your vocal cords bleed, and then sing the song perfectly, without requiring any re-takes or Auto-Tune. Sadly, we just aren’t that good yet, and reality forced our hand.

Surprise harmonies

The vocal harmonies in the chorus of The Grinder’s Tale (listen around 2:55-3:15) came as something of a surprise to all of us. In one of the last recording sessions, we entered the studio with the vague mission of “add more vocal harmonies to the album” because Mr. Gutkowski (my old Latin teacher and indie rock mentor) had said something about how great vocal harmonies separate the pros from the amateurs, and we had agreed with him wholeheartedly. Brian came up with ideas for a couple harmony parts in his car while driving to the studio, singing along to the rough mixes. Karen had a different idea, however, and that sounded good too. So we figured, why not put all of those harmony parts on the record? Karen went off into another room in the studio alone with my iPod with the broken earbuds singing and re-singing the harmony parts until they gelled, and then we recorded the 4-part harmony together.

Similarly, the harmony during the “oohs” on Last Warning was a last-minute addition (listen around 2:44-3:04). I said something like “Hey Karen, Brian sounds kind of lonely in that part, why don’t you go help him out and add a harmony part?” The toughest part was the last note of the harmony. Karen tried a couple different notes, but nothing sounded right except that 2nd we have on the record. Karen was like, “You really want it to end on that dissonant note?” And we were like, “Yep.” The suspension resolves, sort of, when the rest of the band comes in, but dissonant or not we love it to death.

Karen’s interview

N: Karen Rustad, you’ve just finished recording all of your vocals for the Stay Awake album. How does it feel?
Karen: Uhhhhhheehhhhhhhhh [Karen fakes dying]
N: Speak words, woman.
Karen: ๐Ÿ˜› Nah, it’s good. I’m glad we got it done in time – barely. I’m happy with the new harmonies we were able to add on, maybe. We’ll see… It’s something different!
N: Alright. And what was your favorite song to record?
Karen: Probably Contained. It was easy. And, sounds good as ever.
N: OK, least favorite?
Karen: Break Free took too long! Ohmigod! I think it’ll sound really cool, but it took *forever*, and I had problems with pitch, until I realized that it’s a lot easier if you only cover one ear.
N: Interesting. So just having one ear outside the headphones…
Karen: Yeah, even though you have a monitor feeding it back to you, for some reason it’s a lot easier if I hear my voice for real, rather than it being broadcast back. A lot easier for me to adjust.
N: OK! And how do you think the album is coming?
Karen: I think it’s coming really good! This is wayyy better-sounding than the previous attempt. And I expect it’s going to be really playable and I hope that it gets lots of interwebs attention ๐Ÿ˜€
N: Alright, well, thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

We need a drummer for live shows

We have successfully found a new bassist! His name is Andres and we’re very impressed with how quickly he has learned all of our songs. Unfortunately, the drummer we were going to use for live shows had to cancel on us. We don’t dare book gigs without a drummer, so it is vital that we find at least a temporary drummer ASAP. Can you help us?

If you are a drummer, and you think you could help us play at least a couple gigs per month for the next few months, we’d like to jam with you! (If we work well together, longer-term arrangements can be made.) Please live in the Philly/NJ/NYC area, we’ve been practicing in North Brunswick, NJ but we aspire to gig all over. Also please be under the age of 35, so that there isn’t too huge of an age gap (Brian and I are 25). Check out our music on this site, or on our Bandcamp store… and if you think you have the technical chops to play for us and you dig the music, just e-mail us at band@wrongsideofdawn.com or call Nelson at 703-942-9378.

The Grinder’s Tale (and my own tale as well)

grinders taleThis post is the necessary outcome of a promise I recently made to Nelson: that I would write a Wrong Side of Dawn-related post this week. More specifically, it’s a promise I made to Nelson five weeks in a row, breaking it the first four times.

Procrastination is surely one of the culprits, but it is exacerbated by trepidation toward my proposed subject: tracing the evolution of “The Grinder’s Tale.”

The song seems ripe for examination, as it is one of the centerpieces of the eventual Stay Awake album, and lends its title to our recent “3P” preview. While the timing may be right to give the tune some background, its coming-about lacks the sort of snappy, one-paragraph-or-less description that constitutes your typical songwriting legend.

I like to read song-origin stories, and perhaps that’s why I’m prone to writing them myself, even though some of my past efforts have turned out to be better insomnia cures than anything else. A lot of the famous stories seem to describe songs which emerge from the brain whole, in a single moment. It’s as though some songs were written by the hand of God at the beginning of time, then floated slowly through the universe until certain lucky mortals stumbled upon them to transcribe them into tangible form. (“Yesterday” and “Cliffs of Dover” come to mind.)

Eric Johnson
Eric Johnson

Not so, “The Grinder’s Tale.” Even under normal circumstances, I can be shockingly verbose about an extremely simple song I wrote. But I imagine that, if I really wanted to, or were under the influence of a strong sedative, I could manage to summarize the process behind a song in less than a minute. I can’t do it for this tune, except to say that the track is the product of the accidents, frustrations, failures and false starts of at least 9 different musicians over the course of 9 nine years. That, and my consistent hardheadedness throughout the entire process. I was the one who insisted on starting the whole god-forsaken project, and also the one who insisted on finishing it. I guess I can begin with that part.

See, when I took my first guitar lessons at 15, a world of music became demystified. Geez, a chord was nothin’ but a buncha’ notes. A song nothin’ but a buncha’ chords. Simply type “[song title] tab” into Google, and even an extreme novice like me could be playing right along with a radio hit in a matter of minutes. This probably contributed to a phenomenon that I’ve discussed with several people, but Adam puts it most succinctly: “In high school, I knew more people who could play this song on guitar than people who could actually play the guitar.”

Sometimes I can’t help but reach for an old clichรฉ about not seeing the forest for the trees. This was the opposite. A good song had always been a great forest to me, but I’d never really seen the individual pieces. I can’t identify a specific moment of clarity, but I eventually started to realize, “Wtf, man, it’s just some trees. Nothing special after all.”

Pete Townshend
Pete Townshend

Led Zeppelin had their “Stairway to Heaven,” the Who their “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Oasis their “Champagne Supernova,” Eric Clapton and Duane Allman their “Layla,” Don McLean his “American Pie,” Guns N’ Roses their “November Rain.” To a fan, they are demigods. To a guitarist who’s made it past the tenth lesson or so, they are a bunch of guys too arrogant and foolish to write three-minute hit singles. Their “epics” happened in front of an audience of millions. But if cockiness and foolishness is all it takes, well shit, a beginning guitarist like Brian Rose can have his own “epic” right here in his bedroom. (That sentence looked a lot less sexual in my head than it does now in print.)

Before I’d ever written a note of music, I had a silent resolution that I would someday have my own overblown epic, even if I was the only person to ever hear it. Keep this in mind. It might become significant later.

Writing for “Ohm”

At some point, I finally started trying to write material of my own, with the hopes that I, Tyler Currier, Pulsar Li, Anthony Santoro, Tom Shea, and Kunal Desai (collectively referred to as “Ohm,” by those in the know) might take to the stage with this stuff at our high school’s “Battle of the Bands.”

To be honest, I was forcing myself. Covering “Wonderwall” was so easy, and so much fun. Original material was so much goddamn work, very boring, and it never sounded any good. Other bands performed original material at the Battle of the Bands. They would rock my world with a couple masterful covers. Then the dreaded words: “OK guys, now we’re going to play you one of our originals!!!” And it would be downright unlistenable.

Though confident my “epic” would come, I was presently content just to sound good, to be fun, to be a cover band. With only a precious half-hour to do our set, why remove a Lennon/McCartney song in order to make room for an original? Their songs were better, after all. There was only one reason: the respect of other musicians. The bands with original material had it. I felt I didn’t. At least, not enough of it.

Tyler and I would work on our songs. Nobody else really had the time to spend. At first, they weren’t really our songs. I helped Tyler work on his songs, as I had yet to stumble on an idea of any worth. We agreed the songs weren’t ready yet, but they always seemed one jam session away from being finished.

Tyler and I
Tyler and I

One afternoon after school, I sat alone in my basement strumming an unplugged electric guitar. I played a 4-bar chord progression thusly: E-D7-A-E. I liked the sound, and with a couple hammer-ons and strumming flourishes, I convinced myself that I was playing something completely original and utterly wonderful. I ran upstairs to present the discovery to my family. “Listen to this! It sounds like the beginning of a song!

Untrained ears hear very few sounds that they consider special. If you can figure out what does sound special to the untrained ear, I guarantee you will be the eternal king of the music business and a multi-billionaire. A well-trained ear, after all its experience, is similarly hard to impress. Only novices (I’m not the only one to make the mistake), somewhere in the gray area between trained and untrained, can convince themselves that there is novelty in their own wholly unoriginal shit.

Therefore, I was the only person I impressed. I got some white-lie compliments from my mom. My dad and one of my siblings (I forget which), decided it was best to keep their eyes on the television and pretend they’d never noticed me coming upstairs. Defeated, I disappeared back into the basement.

By the time I got home from school the next day, my ignorant bliss had stubbornly grown back. I think I already mentioned that stubbornness is a big theme here. I had the beginnings of a killer song on my hands. It’s hotness was not perceptible to anyone else, but that wasn’t about to change my mind.

By now, you’ve figured out that I’ve got one piece of “The Grinder’s Tale” in place. And you are 100% wrong. I’ve actually just started to write “Last Warning.” And let this be a last warning to you: this really is a long story. [As a footnote, “Last Warning” sounds way different these days.]

We return to find our hero sitting in his bedroom, thoroughly convinced that his three-chord song is actually a smash hit. “Well, now that I’m just days away from finishing this classic high-energy rocker, I’m going to need a slow song, too.” Thus, “Last Warning” gives rise to “The Grinder’s Tale” as its necessary antithesis.

And I grabbed my guitar. The steps seemed clear. I had a rocker. Today, I would do slow and pretty. By the end of the week, I’d have two songs which I could present to the band as fait accompli. We’d take the stage at the Battle of the Bands, and somewhere in between “White Room” and “Baba O’Riley,” I’d say the magic words: “OK guys, now we’re going to play you one of our originals!!!” Obviously, this sentence would make everybody very sad. But I’d be a real musician after that. I probably imagined that Tyler and I would have to report to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get our pictures taken and printed on our very own Musician/Overall-Cool-Guy licenses.

Back on planet Earth, I still needed that ballad. And a ballad (something of a misuse of the term) had to be pretty. So, what’s pretty?

The beginning of “Boys of Summer” is pretty, with its never-ending keyboard melody: down a half step, then down another major third from there. The bass line moves underneath it, but this top part stays the same.

The beginning of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is pretty, as Slash plays an arpeggio that always ends with the same melody: down a half step, then down another major third from there. The bass note moves, but this top part never changes.

Slash
Slash

Young Brian realizes that maybe this whole songwriting thing isn’t so tough after all, and writes a simple arpeggio ending with a melody that goes down a half step, then down another major third from there. But I decided to do Slash and Don one better: instead of just changing the bass note, I would change position on the guitar and do the whole darn thing over again a few frets lower. There! I’ve improved the formula! I made it more complicated!

The Brian Rose who began writing “The Grinder’s Tale” in 2001 had a very different attitude than the guy who ultimately worked on the 2009 version. High-school-Brian considered musical complexity to be an end in itself. Unemployed-graduate-degree-Brian considers elegance a virtue, and complexity a necessary evil. High-school-Brian’s only saving grace was that he was so stupid, he successfully convinced himself that his simple (and therefore, good) riffs were actually very complicated.

I needed a chord progression. My riff was a G arpeggio. I decided the first chord would be, you guessed it, a G. This song is almost done! Two complete songs, very soon! A fast song and a slow song! (Play the current “Grinder’s Tale” recording from 6:02 to 6:11. Listen to just the guitar, and you’ll hear the entirety of what I wrote that day.)

But there was no melody. And no lyrics. I tried, but I knew I was failing. It became almost a daily routine: Write lyrics on loose leaf paper. Put paper in desk. Open desk 24 hours later and read lyrics. Vomit just a little bit in my mouth. Decide the song will have to be about a completely different subject matter. Get new sheet of loose leaf.

The material was never presented to the band. Weeks and months passed. We went on at the high school “Band-fest” (castrated of its “battle” element in order to avoid controversy) without Tom (family vacation?), and without Anthony (little brother Steve subbing for him on drums). The crowd enjoyed a fun set consisting entirely of well-known classic rock standards.

Tyler and I met for a jam session at the beginning of summer. I played my riff, which was masquerading under some title or another at the time. Before I could explain the chords, Tyler took to the bass strings and started playing along: an “e” … “d” … “c” … “a.”

“What was the bass line you wanted?”

“Uh… I think your bass line is probably better.”

I was learning a lesson that surprisingly few rock writers ever learn. You see, even in pop music, the bass is the boss. It doesn’t matter if everybody else plays exactly the same thing. Change the bass note, change everything. It’s like uprooting a house right down to its foundation, then reinserting it, whole, right into a completely different neighborhood.

We sounded good. Sometimes I try to forget what the song sounds like, and listen to the opening riff with the same ears I did then. But I can’t. I have expectations. I know what’s coming. Those harmonies will never again give my brain the shock of energy that I unexpectedly felt on that first day.

I was satisfied, but Tyler kept going, jumping octaves and throwing in embellishments.

Flea
Flea

“You can’t do that Red Hot Chili Pepper stuff in this song. It’s supposed to be a slow song!

After listening a bit, I was converted. Tyler and I set about saving the idea to my 4-track tape recorder. Tyler played the bass riff repeatedly until he got tired of it. Then I overdubbed the guitar riff a few times, transitioning into an improvised solo. At the point where the solo began, there were 20 bars of Tyler left. When the bass stopped, I stopped. That’s really the only reason why, even now, the song’s main guitar solo is 20 bars long. (The equivalent section now runs from 0:40 to 2:00 of “The Grinder’s Tale.”)

Later, I was alone again with the 4-track. In a moment of insanity, I thought: The riff sounds good with my my chord progression on guitar. It sounds good with Tyler’s bass line. Maybe it would sound good with… both! I overdubbed my old progression. The result was actually less cacophonous than you might think, as the two progressions are actually quite close. But even I knew this sounded like gobblety-gook on the playback. I’d have to keep the two progressions in peaceful separation. The old progression as verse, new one as chorus. This was the high water mark of my “complicated equals good” attitude.

Swarthmore years

That’s pretty much all I had before I went to college and met Nelson. Nelson also fancied himself a songwriter, but he had actually finished one song. “Break Free” used some interesting rhythm guitar techniques, and was meticulously structured at 3 minutes long. And it was exactly what songwriting is supposed to be: the product of bad experiences, yet bouncy and fun nonetheless.

Nelson and I
Nelson and I

I discussed a lot of song ideas with Nelson, including my recent jam with Tyler. I mentioned to Nelson that I might want to switch my main guitar riff over to the piano. (The music building at Swarthmore is filled with piano practice rooms. Not really knowing how to play the piano, one day I had sat down and plinked out the first thing I could think of. I tried to make out the guitar riff in my right hand while playing the bass notes for Tyler’s harmony in the left hand. I wasn’t much of a pianist, but what the hell, it sounded nice.)

Appears to be the model I have
Appears to be the model I have

Nelson disagreed. “That part sounds like it’s written for guitar. If you want to write something for piano, write it like you’re writing for the piano!” Nelson set about adapting the song to be more piano-driven, including a rapid-fire 16th note version of the 8th note guitar riff. It was so fast as to be almost atmospheric, rather than a proper melody. Nelson and I recorded a demo on his 8-track digital recorder (so much easier than the 4-track tape!).

The song sat in this condition for about 3 years. Many of my musical ideas during that time were briefly considered as new sections to the old tune. It’s 6:45 length stretched out to as much as 10 minutes as I hoped to increase its “epic” scope. But the new sections were always scrapped in the end, except one, which became the first 22 seconds of the current “Grinder’s Tale.”

Still, my biggest problem was yet to be solved. No lyrics. Ideas continued to be written down and scrapped. I had moved from loose leaf over to .doc files. In three years, the only set of words I saw fit to keep was “Where Is Bobby McGee?”

A bunch of things happened in my senior year, though:house_md_ver3

  • I made a few of the first truly stupid decisions of my life. Way worse than trying to play different chord progressions at the same time. This caused me to jot down a short line, in my ever-growing Word-.doc cache, about logic and emotions leading people to opposite conclusions. It’s now the chorus of “The Grinder’s Tale.” (“What you believe is not the same as what you know.”)
  • I started watching an excellent TV show called House M.D., about a character who suppresses his emotions and focuses on logic in search of the correct decision. He also has a never-ending supply of sarcastic insults for people who can’t do the same.
  • I saw Ben Folds live, after which I had an epiphany about what good lyrics really are.
  • And of course, there was Jeff Billion. Billion taught me how to play poker, and very nearly convinced me to move out to Las Vegas with him and give pro playing a try. I declined, but my fascination with the game continues to this day.

I wound up with a handful of lines that combined to make a song called “The Grinder’s Tale.” Here’s what I like about these lyrics: there are multiple ways to hear each line, based on whether or not you choose to take it as poker jargon. Just to give an example…

Term: “draw me out”
Poker definition: “draw out” refers to the worse hand catching a lucky card, thereby becoming the better hand.
Regular English definition: in its non-technical use, to “draw someone out” might mean to lure someone “out of their shell,” or make them reveal some sort of secret.

The song has nothing to do with Michael Mizrachi. Despite his nickname, the dude is just plain too good to be considered a "grinder" in the purest sense of the term.
The song has nothing to do with Michael Mizrachi. Despite his nickname, the dude is just plain too good to be considered a "grinder" in the purest sense of the term.

And then there’s the title itself, “The Grinder’s Tale.” In poker, a grinder is a moderately skilled professional who is just good enough to grind out a living against the low-stakes no0bs. But even in a non-poker sense, words like “grind” or “grinding out a living” are very rich terms. They suggest a mode of living that is simultaneously masculine and powerless at the same time.

And so the thing was finally written, I guess. A good four or five years overdue.

Wrong Side of Dawn

Nelson and I first tried to pull off some of our songs with a full band in 2007, but we were grossly ill-prepared. Being the only person who had memorized the unwieldy structure of “The Grinder’s Tale,” I attempted to conduct Nelson (guitar), Andrew (bass) and Greg (drums) through the song’s rhythm tracks. Those sessions eventually became our EP, but “The Grinder’s Tale” had not gone well, and was the first track to be abandoned.

Greg Albright played on our EP... with a much larger kit than this.
Greg Albright played on our EP... with a much larger kit than this.

The track was revived for our next attempt at a full LP this past December. This included my reunion with Anthony Santoro. When I wrote the first notes of this tune in high school, I imagined Santoro, an Ohm member, would be the man to drum on it. I was happy to bring him back in. It almost seemed like I hadn’t strayed too far from my original goal, after all.

Anthony Santoro
Anthony Santoro

In rehearsals, I tried to explain the sort of drums that I pictured for “The Grinder’s Tale.” I handed my iPod to Anthony and had him listen to “Orange Crush” as a reference. It was the first thing that came to my mind only because I had recently pretended to play its drums myself, via Rock Band. Part way into rehearsing the song, Santoro decided he was feeling something a little bit more “Carter Beauford” in this tune. And so the drum part came to be.

After Santoro laid his drum track, Andrew Angelin came into the studio next. Though wildly creative with many of his bass tracks (see “Last Warning” or the intro to “Crossing the Bar”), Andrew was at his most deferential on “The Grinder’s Tale.” The old ideas (Tyler’s and mine) survived the session.

Andrew during the EP sessions.
Andrew during the EP sessions.

Gray Reinhard added the piano/organ tracks. His opening solo is the first highlight you’ll hear in the song. Between takes, Gray would play the song’s progressions and improvise to himself. “There’s not much going on towards the end,” I said. “Why not throw some of those melodies in there?” (See “The Grinder’s Tale,” 6:02 to 6:39). On the way home from the studio, I listened to that part over and over. Damn, if this wasn’t the final slap in the face. Almost nine years of trying to make this joke work, and Gray nails its punchline as an ad-lib!

Gray
Gray

Nelson still saw changes to be made. I recorded the guitar solo as a verbatim copy of the improv I did with Tyler back in high school. Nelson disapproved. “You said you liked more emotive guitar solos. Can’t you play something more emotive?” I did a retake with a simpler, more gut-level attitude. Now Nelson approved, but needed one more change. Sensing a “Hotel California” feel at the end of the solo, he suggested it be harmonized with another guitar track. And it was done.

Nelson also thought the album, as a whole, needed more background vocals. “Good background vocals separate the professionals from the amateurs,” says Nelson. Combining ideas from Karen Rustad and I, we found a way for all three of us to sing the chorus.

Karen
Karen

Still, there was one suggestion I could not abide. Having played our rough mix for some friends with more pop-music sensibilities, Nelson returned the news that “The Grinder’s Tale” should be edited from 7 minutes down to 4 minutes.

I should have understood. I was no longer the stupid kid who wanted everything to be more complicated than necessary. In fact, I was in the middle of reading Jimmy Webb’s Tunesmith, and realizing that something like his concise “Wichita Lineman” might actually be a greater songwriting accomplishment than the sprawling and incoherent “Stairway to Heaven.” I might have understandably relented.

From somewhere in the back of my brain, a 16 year old kid came forward and said he was putting his foot down. Screw brevity and economy. The new 2009 Brian Rose might be OK with that shit, but goddammit, this kid had been waiting 9 years for his 7-minute epic. And I’ll be damned if he’s gonna give it up now.
brian guitar

Recording electric guitar with Brian Rose

In our efforts to bring back the best features of classic rock, Brian’s lead guitar has been our secret weapon. We think that the emotive, virtuoso guitar solo is an important part of rock music that has been neglected for far too long, and we’re trying to fix that. Brian is a bit of a perfectionist, and that can be frustrating when we are paying for studio time by the hour, but his attention to detail really shines through on this album in every note the lead guitar plays. Sharing the studio with him has been a joy, an honor, and a learning experience.

Choosing an electric guitar

"Slash" guitar w/ flashBrian used three electric guitars on this album: a “Slash” Les Paul, an American Stratocaster, and a Mexican Stratocaster.

The “Slash” Les Paul has a very raw, hot, unforgiving sound. Brian used it for the lead parts on Out of Time, Running Scared, Flight III, and Last Warning (you can hear semi-final versions of those songs from The Grinder’s Tale 3P right now!). I was a bit surprised that we didn’t use the “Slash” Les Paul more, it can sound really mean when you play it right and I was very impressed by it in rehearsal. It turned out, however, that we didn’t want the lead guitar to sound quite so mean and in your face all the time. If we didn’t want a guitar part to cut right through the music and slice open your eardrums, we had to pick a different guitar instead of the “Slash” guitar, because that guitar really demands attention.

Brian experiments with effects pedalsThe American Stratocaster is the smoothest-sounding of the three guitars, but it still has a thin, jazzy sound. It is very versatile, you can make a very wide range of different tones depending on which pickups you select or pedals you use. We used it for the lead guitar part on The Grinder’s Tale, Flight II, My Private Asylum, Break Free, and Contained.

(If I recall correctly, the picture to the right also features Brian experimenting with his effects pedals in order to get the several layers of feedback right that appear at the very end of Out of Time. We left the door to the amp closet open so that the guitar would feedback, and we played with delay pedals that gave us some rhythmic patterns, as well as producing some bizarre results that reminded me of the Forbidden Planet soundtrack. This was one of the few times we used multiple pedals, as Iโ€™ll discuss later.)

Mexican Strat w/ flash
Finally, we used an inexpensive Mexican Stratocaster for rhythm guitar. (We didnโ€™t use it for lead guitar at all.) Brian likes it for rhythm because it has a little bit of a wobbly, unstable sound that gives more flavor to the rhythm parts. We used it for the rhythm on Last Warning, Running Scared, and the electric guitar at the end of Bobby McGee.

Pedals, or lack thereof

Brian's effects pedals Back in the day when we were in Nuzzo’s basement studio recording our old EP, Brian used to use lots of pedals at once in his pursuit of the ultimate electric guitar sound. The photo to the left shows a typical pedal setup from the Nuzzo sessions. We’ve learned since then that sometimes less is more. If you have a good guitar and a good amp+preamp, and you’ve got a good sound, throwing lots of pedals on top of that will just screw it up. On the “Stay Awake” album, Brian mostly used only one pedal, a distortion pedal. We’re keeping it simple and raw.

The “Out of Time” solo

The guitar solo that closes “Out of Time” just might be the crowning moment of awesome for this album. It’s the solo that made me say “we need to get this into Rock Band” (stay tuned for more on that). The interesting thing to me is that the most emotionally powerful part of the solo, the climactic 20 seconds, is the only part that is simple enough for me to play (although Brian plays it much better, of course). Van Halen-esque theatrics are impressive, but sometimes what you need for a great solo is to play just a couple notes very passionately, and I think that’s what Brian did. Which is not to say that Brian doesn’t also have amazing technique.

One technique that Brian used in this solo that I had never seen before is a pinch harmonic or a “squealie”. Pinch harmonics are quite common in heavy metal and ZZ Top songs, all heavy metal solos are full of pinch harmonics, but I don’t listen to heavy metal much. Neither does Brian, I understand, but he learned the technique from his friend Christan who is into heavy metal giutar. To play a pinch harmonic you pluck the string with a pick, and then immediately after you hit it you barely scrape the string with your thumb. Thumb it too hard and you kill the note, thumb it too lightly and it doesn’t have the desired effect. You’ll be able to hear a pinch harmonic in “Out of Time” at around 3:27, it’s the 3rd note that Brian plays after the background vocals come in, and it is an extremely distinctive sound. I can’t wait for you to hear it ๐Ÿ™‚

Brian’s interview

N: You’ve just finished a long day of recording electric guitars, how are you feeling?
B: I’m feeling tired, I’ve been tired for a like few hours now. I’m definitely like several hours, um, steps behind where I should be going to sleep…
N: That’s what our band is about, right?
B: Actually yeah, that’s right, I kind of forgot about that part, the whole Wrong Side of Dawn thing… I mean, I would be staying up until morning if that were true.
N: That’s true, thank god we are not there yet.
B: Yeah, I mean, I feel really good with what I recorded, I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t get through every single song today. But that might have been a little overambitious.
N: What was the favorite thing you recorded today?
B: Definitely the ending solo for Out of Time. We spent a lot of time on the feedback afterwards, which actually I think we need to kind of hold back on that with the mixing so that it doesn’t overshadow the song or anything like that. It’s supposed to be that it comes in for 10 seconds and then goes away. The actual solo itself, I was really glad how that went. I basically got it in one take, had to punch in just a couple of parts. I’m really glad I got the “Slash” Les Paul, it worked really well for that solo. I think it sounds really intense, and once we get other things like the vocal harmonies and stuff in there, that’s going to be a good climax to that song. I’ve definitely really been looking forward to that particular one minute of this album, and it’s gone well so far.
N: What was your least favorite thing about today?
B: Definitely Vulture [now called My Private Asylum], it’s weird how pretty much the solos were the easiest thing to record. It’s something like Vulture that doesn’t have any solos that needs to be exactly right. Definitely the solos were, ironically enough, the easiest thing to do, everything else is hard.
N: How do you think the album is coming along?
B: I think it’s coming along really good. I really feel like these songs are better than good. It’s disappointing when I show people what I’m writing and they say it’s good. People always say it’s good, and it really frustrates me. Your 3rd grade class project that you did the night before is good. I really think our songs are better than good…. so I sometimes wonder if I’m like the only real believer in some of these songs, but I think they’re going really well. Better than well.

We need a new bassist

We are sad to announce that the extremely talented Andrew Angelin, who has played bass on everything that we’ve recorded up to this point, is moving to Florida and will be unable to provide us with wicked bass grooves in the future. This leaves us in dire need of a new bass player who can play live shows with us to support the album when it comes out, and perhaps help us record our next album.

Do you have the technical chops to play Andrew’s basslines? Do you use slap bass, harmonics, bass chords and other fancy techniques when you play bass? Do you have the killer rock instincts necessary to perform with Wrong Side of Dawn? If you think you do, and you want to play bass for us, then send us an e-mail at band@wrongsideofdawn.com and we’ll be in touch!

Please be under 35 years of age (otherwise our age gap may be too weird) and please live somewhere in the Philadelphia-NJ-NYC area. We think our headquarters for the near future will be in Philadelphia, but it’s up in the air at this time.

You can download our songs for free

I just want to make it clear that since “The Grinder’s Tale” 3P is “pay what you want”, you really can choose whatever price you want, including zero. Naturally we hope that if you like our music you’ll help support our efforts to finish our full-length album and play some live shows, and that’s why the recommended price is $3. Our top priority, however, is making sure that everyone can hear our music. If you’re broke and you just want to hear some awesome tunes from Wrong Side of Dawn on your iPod whenever you need a pick-me-up, go download them from our Bandcamp store and don’t worry about the money.

If you do decide to download our 3P for free, our site asks you for your e-mail address. We will not give or sell your e-mail address to third parties. We will only use it to let you know about future Wrong Side of Dawn releases, and possibly live shows. You’ll hear from us maybe once a month (maybe even less frequently), we promise not to spam you. We just think that your e-mail address is a decent trade for some free music ๐Ÿ™‚ When you enter in your e-mail address, a download code will be e-mailed to you and you’ll be able to download whatever songs you asked for, in whatever quality/format you want.

I hope this clears up any confusion, and I hope you enjoy our music! Stay tuned for the release of our full-length album “Stay Awake” sometime this fall.

New release! “The Grinder’s Tale” 3P

We’ve been making slow but steady progress on our upcoming full-length studio album, “Stay Awake,” and we’re excited about how great the songs have been coming out. We’ve been sad, however, that our fans haven’t been able to hear the new tracks, which are so much better than our old basement recordings. That ends now! Today we announce the official release of “The Grinder’s Tale” 3P.

Cover art for “The Grinder’s Tale” 3P

[UPDATE: The full-length album is now out, so we have taken down the 3P. The 3 songs on the 3P can now be found on the Stay Awake album]

“What is a 3P?” you may ask. Well, it’s longer than a single, which is usually two songs, and it’s shorter than an EP, which is usually 4-5 songs. We understand that it is the hip new way to release music — the recently released book The New Rockstar Philosophy dedicates an entire chapter to the concept — and it fits in well with the fast pace of the modern internet-driven music industry. “Release early, release often” is the mantra, and that’s one bandwagon I’m happy to jump on because it means our fans get to hear awesome new music sooner rather than later. I’ll be honest, the three songs that we chose to release simply happen to be the songs that are the closest to being finished with the whole recording and mixing process. )The other 9 songs on the “Stay Awake” album still need some tweaking before we’ll be ready to release them.) I think you’ll find they fit extremely well together, however, and I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as we do.

If you like the songs, please buy them, we are offering them under a “pay what you want” program on our Bandcamp store with a suggested price of $3. All profits go towards making the upcoming “Stay Awake” album awesome and fronting the costs for live shows to support the album. If you choose to buy the old EP at a live show or from CD Baby, we’ll throw in a download code for “The Grinder’s Tale” 3P for free!

We’ll be blogging more in the days to come about the 3 songs on the 3P: Flight III, The Grinder’s Tale, and Last Warning. In the meantime, just relax and enjoy the tunes ๐Ÿ™‚