RIP Earl Scruggs

As you may have heard, we just lost a banjo legend yesterday.  Mr. Earl Scruggs was a pioneer of bluegrass music, and even has a banjo finger-picking style named after him.  Read up.

The internet is flooding with tributes, so here is one just for you.


<Insert Banjo>

I have to confess, the last time I posted music may have been a bit misleading.  Though it was still pretty rough, the first drafts recorded when writing an album are typically much worse. They’re quick, they’re dirty, and the instruments are all over the place trying to figure out what parts sound good together.

Usually when an idea comes to me, I grab the first recording device I can get my hands on and make it permanent.  There is nothing worse than forgetting an awesome riff or chord progression.  (I could probably write another three albums with all of my forgotten music…)

One such event happened the other evening, so I recorded using my laptop’s built-in microphone.  I promptly sent the file to Patrick to get his input on the 5-string banjo, and he delivered.  It’s just a repetitive guitar picking pattern and has zero metal influence, but I think it has potential.

Again, this file is not produced or mixed in any way. It’s laden with mistakes, and I’m pretty sure you can even hear cars going by in the background…  I wanted to present it to you though, because this is really what we do in the early phases.  Someday when we have a well-produced and mixed product, it will be fun to go back and listen to these shitty cuts…

Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

continue to next post

Solidifying a Storyline, Part 1

I’ve been thinking about how this story will pan out, and have bounced a few ideas back and forth with the bandmates.  We’ve decided on the following things:

  1. The main character’s name shall be Abram. We have our reasons.
  2. Abram has a wife and 2 kids. Maybe boys. Maybe who cares.
  3. Abram drinks whiskey and plays banjo all the time.

I took these details and ran with it for a while.  Stick with me folks, this is kind of out there.

Abram is a pretty average dude, with a pretty average life in good ol’ Appalachia. He loves his wife and kids dearly, but his life lacks purpose.  This all changes late one night by the fire, however, when he is visited by a mysterious apparition.

Abram is alone, drunk off his ass, and plucking away at the banjo when a man who resembles Jesus appears to him.

Hi, I’m Jesus,” he says…or something along those lines.

This man claiming to be Jesus is actually Satan, or perhaps a lesser demon of some sort. I’m not sure yet, but the point is he’s not the messiah.  Let’s call him… well, let’s just call him “Jesus” for now.

seems legit...

So “Jesus” explains that Abram’s beloved wife is carrying the antichrist in her womb, and to prevent certain apocalypse, Abram must kill her.

Naturally, Abram is quite skeptical at first, but is eventually convinced by the Devil’s cunning. Our protagonist takes one last swig of moonshine, and heads into the house to off his sleeping bride.

heeeereess Abram!

Committing this heinous deed overwhelms Abram, and he starts to lose grip on reality and morality. Completely consumed with this God-given task, he decides to kill his children as well, because they share his wife’s blood.  When in doubt, they say…

So, that’s where we are currently.

Good song material?  Well, yes, I think that’s obvious.
But is it black metal?  You tell me.

We have a man committing murder in the name of Jesus, when he’s actually doing it for Lucifer. I think there are plenty of implications here, none of which I will discuss. I’ll leave that to the audience.

continue to next post

More Talent

Good news! I’ve been scouting out friends with musical talent, and have made a few more recruits. Allow me to introduce Amanda, Drew, and Carter.

Amanda is our first female vocalist, and has experience arranging acapella music. I think she has some good ideas for the project as well, so she’ll make a valuable addition to the team!

Drew is a lifelong friend that was also in my previous band with Patrick and Jake. He’ll be able to add some guitar and vocals (he can hit a pretty awesome low scream.) It’ll be nice to be working with the old bandmates again!

I got in touch with Carter after I saw he posted the video below (relish the facial expressions.) Fiddle? Yes, please. Back in the day my band played a show or two with Carter’s band, Exclamatron, in Northern Michigan. Glad to see we’re all still going!

Check out their added bios on the Musicians Involved page.

continue to next post

First Blood

So I showed the blog to my friend Phil the other day, and this is what he had to say:

“this is interesting. but, i mean… all this theory is sorta meaningless until you start recording”

And I thought, Wow. Spot on, Phil. Spot on.

So, as it went, I decided that it was time to sit down and record my first attempt at blackgrass, or bluemetal, or… whatever we’re doing here. I strapped on my electric guitar, and plugged it into one of these:

the Line6 POD X2. it's for people who can't afford amps.

and out to a macbook with garageband.  This is not the best setup, as you will plainly hear.  The tone is awful and there are all sorts of static and crackling.  I will be looking into other options, and soon.

Anyhow, here is the progression I started with:

It’s almost kind of bluesy/jazzy, but then again, bluegrass was influenced by jazz.  There are indeed many similarities between the genres.  Please keep in mind that this is also recorded on electric guitar.  I’ll definitely be doing this on acoustic guitar when we get closer to a final version. Needless to say, it wasn’t bluegrass enough for me, so I added some ukulele.  I know, I know, that’s not bluegrass either.  However, if you play the ukulele with a pick (usually a no-no) it almost sounds like a mandolin.  I strummed away on the 2’s and 4’s, and this is what I got:

Ok…better. We’re definitely getting there, but something is missing.  The guitar and uke put out plenty of highs, but we need to balance them out with a strong low end.  Andrew is the bluegrass bass player here, but for right now, I just used a midi keyboard to play what I thought was a bluegrassy bassline.  I’m no expert, so you’ll have to let me know what you think.

The player below will take you through the three tracks in succession, which is pretty neat.  The last one has the bass line added (use headphones.)

I think that makes all the difference!  We have a full spectrum of sound and a fun little progression to work with, good deal. It clearly needs percussion too, but this recording is way off tempo and thus unusable for recording drums.

"Always use a metronome, kids!"

Anyhow, I added an intro to create some tension/build up (this may also allow for some dialogue.)  Distorted electric guitar was also necessary in the middle so we can bring in the black metal. To spice things up a bit, I also sprinkled in some uke here and there. Our new friend atleastimhousebroken mentioned on this blog that he liked the tremolo guitar in our experimental track. Just for him, I brought that back in ukulele form at minute 1:21!  Finally, I added some more uke picking at the end… I think we really need a mandolin player

Without further ado, here is the first official Blood and Banjos rough draft (whatever that means.)  My apologies for the abrupt ending…I still have to figure out where to take this song!

continue to next post

Breaking Down the Breakdown

This is bound to be a lengthy post, so let’s review.  Blood and Banjos is supposed to take this:

And somehow merge it with this:

This could be tricky…  But clearly it can’t be that far fetched!  I mean, the banjo player in the first video is way more metal than I could ever be.

Let’s analyze these videos a bit more though.  The first song is one of my favorites by The Devil Makes Three.  (Sort of a black metal name already, not bad.)  It’s very simple accompaniment: guitar, banjo, bass.  The singing is just great, and I love that male-female harmony! Instrumentation isn’t really highlighted here, as the vocals are really at the forefront.  (I’ll try to find another example where the instrumentation is the focus of the song.)  At minute 2:23 of this video, though, we hear an example of an instrumental “break” that is often found in bluegrass.  Similarly, a bluegrass “breakdown” would feature several instruments, one at a time.

Now, this breakdown is quite different than what you might expect from your everyday metal breakdown.  In fact, metal doesn’t usually incorporate breakdowns at all, and I’ve never heard a black metal breakdown. Metalcore, on the other hand, loves them.  (I tend to enjoy them, but try not to abuse them in my song writing.) While the two definitions of “breakdown” are quite different, I think what few similarities there are might present an opportunity for some interesting fusion. I envision a heavy breakdown with banjo plucking in between the chugs of electric guitar. YES.

Read this wikipedia page for a full discussion on the different types of breakdowns. “Breaks are for the drummer; breakdowns are for hands in the air.”

me (top) at a Veil of Maya show

Confused about what a typical metal[core] breakdown is? Wikipedia provides this hilarious example, but it kinda gets the idea across. Here is an example of a deathcore breakdown by Carnifex. (The title of this video just kills me…) Close your eyes and try to imagine the banjos on top of this! Beautiful, yeah? Finally, just because we’re on the topic, the first two breakdowns you hear in this video are personal favorites from Between the Buried and Me.  You can be sure I’ll use a few breakdowns, but let’s make sure that I keep them tasteful.

This is an example of abusing the breakdown…

So, back to the Taake video (the second video I posted.) It’s not necessarily your classic black metal, but it is a good example of the stark contrast between the two genres we’re working with.  Notice the ominous tones created by the dissonance, the heavy beat, and overall dark intensity. The chords are actually quite melodic in comparison to some older black metal, and the progression is more musical.  The production quality is also quite good compared to the “raw” style of some other bands. The vocals, however, are pretty much right on par with the genre. So then, where do I make the connections here? What are the common denominators with which I can work?

I don’t usually write music that is dark, and merging ominous sounds with bluegrass will most likely require a minor tonality to maintain continuity. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into minor chord progressions though, so we’ll see how flexible we can be. I’ll try to record and post something this week, and you can let me know what you think.

continue to next post

The Plot Thickens

I think it’s pertinent to share some recent conversations I’ve had with Andrew.

So far, we’ve determined that this is going to be a story album.  We’ll have a main character who lives in the backwoods Appalachian hills, but that’s not much on its own…

m: maybe the main guy’s wife becomes possessed, so he has to kill her. then murders his children just to be sure
a: and drinks moonshine
m: and plays banjo
the nearby town doesn’t understand though, and forms a lynch mob
and a glorious gory battle ensues!
a: i like it!
m: how does it end though?
a: apocalypse!!!!

Fair enough, Andrew.  Fair enough…

m: ok… i was thinking he kills everyone in town, then it ends with him making his way to the next town. but maybe his battle is joined with demons, and brings about the birth of the antichrist?
…from his dead wife!?
a: could be hard song material… but I think we can do it
gotta start somewhere
m: hm, what if at first, the guy thinks his wife is pregnant with the antichrist…but she is normal and innocent when he kills her
then later on
she comes back, and there is another duet with the undead wife?
a: i like it

Sometimes I get concerned with my weird imagination… Regardless, I think we have a bit more direction now.  I’ll get to thinking about the characters, where we want to take this story, and how we can make it more black metal. Eventually, substance and meaning might be important… but I suppose we can get to that later.

continue to next post