Factory Seconds

I released my latest EP on Wednesday. It’s kind of a mixed bag of tunes, but I think they hang together pretty well.

The EP is called Factory Seconds. I was thinking of Andy Warhol when the title came to me. I was also thinking about how I often check out factory seconds and B-stock when I’m looking for musical equipment. Usually it’s just a little blemish or a crack in the finish that knocks a few dollars off the price of a guitar. My favorite guitar, for example is a Gretsch Streamliner with a crack in the finish. The guitar plays great and stays in tune better than any of my other guitars. But because of that crack, I paid a lot less than the suggested regular retail price.

Along similar lines, I’ll be the first to admit that one of the things that lends a bit of charm — and, one might argue, humanity — to my songs is that they’re all imperfect in one way or another. For one thing, I’m no Caruso, but to quote a review of my song “George Around the Corner” by the (quite excellent) music blogger Jeff Archuleta, “He doesn’t have a powerful singing voice, but he more than makes up for it with a quirky, endearing vocal delivery that never fails to put a huge smile on my face.” 

So I thought I’d play on the idea of factory seconds and offer four songs on an EP for what’s usually the price of two and give folks the same kind of deal I got on my guitar. Plus I added a couple of bonus tracks to the mix to sweeten the deal.

The first song on the EP is called “The Way We Walk.” If there’s a unifying theme to be found on Factory Seconds — and, to be honest, most of the songs I write — it’s expressed in this one. We’re all outsiders in one way or another, and if we’re lucky, we’re cool with it. The hook is admittedly — is “solipsistic” the word I’m looking for? I mean, what does “We walk the way we walk, it’s the way we walk” even mean? The words just came out of mouth when I sat down in front of my microphone and started singing to a drum beat that I had recorded.

The obviously rejoinder for the next line was to replace “walk” with “talk,” and that got me thinking about where I live. Ever since Mare of Easttown (and probably long before it), the peculiarities of the Delaware County accent have been getting a bit of attention. All in good fun, of course, and I, for one, take it as a point of pride. But the funny thing about accents is that no one really notices they have one until someone from “outside” points it out. Which, I suppose, is the idea at the heart of saying “we talk the way we talk, it’s the way we talk.” There’s nothing weird about it to us Delco natives. That’s just how it is.

Of course, there’s also a bit of an edge to the song as well. The first verse lets you know something is amiss: “You and I both know the lies they tell about our kind: The only good one is a dead one, and the dead ones just aren’t trying.” I actually wrote that long before the song’s hook came to me — probably a bout a year ago or more.

But once I started figuring out what the hook was trying to tell me, that verse fit nicely with the theme and the idea that arbitrary social markers like an accent can sometimes make a huge difference in one’s life, signaling as they do all kinds of insider vs. outsider distinctions. More than once I’ve said something in my Delco accent only to realize that I’m suddenly the weirdo in the conversation as a result.

Which is usually fine by me, largely because being an outsider to one group also means being an insider in another. And that’s why the rest of the verses are, to some extent, about finding comfort even in the fact that “the way we walk” and the “the way we talk” sets us apart from the mainstream. Even if the way we talk is a dead-end street, it takes us where we want to go.

Also worth noting, the “This is the glue…” lyrics in the bridge came to me while I was out walking my dog. It’s rare for me to sit down and write an entire song in one sitting. Mainly, I just jot things down in a little notebook throughout the year and then try to piece the scraps together whenever I feel like I want to develop them into a song.

The same is true of “All the Hairy Boys,” which I see as a companion piece to “The Way We Walk,” though I originally wrote it as a response to the first song I released under my own name, “Before the Boys.” The original idea of “Before the Boys” was to look at the kinds of pressures that society puts on young girls to behave in a certain way, and “All the Hairy Boys” was initially an attempt to do the same with boys — or boys of a certain era, anyway.

In the song, they’re teenagers in muscle cars, revving their engines and play their music as loud as they can because it’s the only way to let the world know they exist. Of course, they’re teens, so they don’t realize they’re just coming off as jerks. Eventually, one hopes, they’ll grow up and figure out some other way to express themselves constructively, but until then, it’s all about being loud and rude to mask their insecurity. Which, as you might guess, is a version of what’s going on in “The Way We Walk.”

With “Before the Weatherman,” I got a little meta. Once again, the phrase “before the weatherman” came to me when I was out walking my dog, and I started building a song around the idea of a precocious or pretentious teen trying to sound wise and philosophical by making claims about what life used to be like “in olden times.”

The problem is that there’s nothing in the song itself to indicate that I’m in “character” while I’m singing, other than the fact that I’m singing in a voice I don’t usually use — my faux Michael McDonald Steely Dan voice. It’s like I’m trying to embody some teen who wants to sound older and wiser and therefore someone other than who he is by singing in the voice of someone other than who I am. The more I explain it the less sense it makes.

Anyway, the basic idea this kid is trying to convey is that people used to live much more engaging lives in the past than they do now, largely because their lives weren’t mediated by technology — like weather reports or the “tiny screens” that appear in verse three.

The original version of this song ran a lot longer.Once I started recording it, I realized that it was going to be nearly six minutes long — or longer. And though a six-minute meditation on the decline of interpersonal relationships at the hands of technology as told from the point of view of a pretentious teenager struck me as incredibly funny, I also felt like the joke might wear a little thin after a few listens. So, in the words of Billy Joel, I cut it down to 3:05. Or 3:20, as the case may be.

In case you’re curious, here are a couple of the verses I cut:

Vandals on the edge of town
Sharpening their axes
Made us wonder why the hell we
Paid so much in taxes.

The walls of stone we built could
Barely keep the bears out,
Let alone the savage scent of
Simmering sauerkraut.

Maybe it helps to know that the Vandals were a Germanic tribe that sacked Rome in the year 455? It’s the kind of thing I imagine the teenaged narrator of the song would know, anyway. And think was incredibly poignant. But as far as the song goes, it was incredibly unwieldy. In any case, some boys rev their engines while others try to sound smarter and wiser than they are. I imagine you can guess which category I fell into as a young man.

In terms of recording the song, I was lucky to have my friend and fellow Star Crumble Brian Lambert offer to add some backing vocals on “Before the Weatherman” and also to provide a brief spoken-word interlude in place of my guitar solo on what I’m releasing one of the bonus tracks on the EP. I’m calling it the “Bespoke Version” because it’s both bespoke in the “custom made” or unique sense but also because Brian is speaking on it.

If the first three songs of the EP are about young people who feel like outsiders trying to figure out where they fit into the world around them, the final song is about stepping out of the world for a quiet night at home with a hot cup of tea. And an interloping shape-shifting Pagan goddess named Bertha. Technically, it should probably be “Bertha with a Swan’s Foot” or “Bertha with a Big Foot,” but I liked the image that “Bertha with a Crooked Foot” conjured.

The “rewarder of the generous, and the punisher of the bad, particularly lying children” (so says Wikipedia), Bertha (or Perchta as she’s known in German) is a mythical figure who sometimes takes the shape of a beautiful woman and sometimes takes the shape of a beast. In this version of the myth, I imagine her being transported to the 21st century and, with some degree of amusement, trying to figure out what people are doing with their lives while the narrator of the song is himself trying to figure out what he’s doing with his.

In some ways, I suppose, Bertha is herself an outsider looking in. But since she’s a divine entity, she’s pretty okay with being an outsider and just views the ridiculous pursuits of contemporary humans as fascinating albeit silly curiosities.

It took me a little while to figure out how “Bertha with a Crooked Foot” should sound, and the lyrics evolved subtly as I continued to work on it. You can hear some of the differences in the early sketch of the song that I’ve included as the second bonus track on the EP. It’s just me working out the first verse and the chorus on a wobbly piano with clacky-sounding keys.

Altogether, I had a lot of fun recording Factory Seconds. It’s a weird little EP, but I’ve always said that weird is good. It beats the heck out of ordinary, anyway, and in the final analysis is probably what makes life worth living. We’re all weird in one way or another, and if I can celebrate that weirdness in music, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

Existential Concerns: An Interview with the MAW Experiment

The MAW Experiment is a Singer, songwriter, electronic music producer from London, with music spanning a wide range of genres including electronica, indie, pop, ambient and soundtrack-like soundscapes. He first appeared on my radar when I was participating as a judge in last year’s Lights and Lines Album Writing Contest. At the time, I was immediately struck by the production value on the tracks I was hearing—incredibly sharp synth pop with strong beats and thoughtful lyrics. It was no wonder, then, that the MAW Experiment was awarded the label’s “One to Watch” prize at the conclusion of the contest for tracks that ultimately became the album titled Idiolect. More recently, the MAW Experiment has released an EP titled Behind Every Silhouette, so I thought it might be a good time to catch up…

I see that the songwriting and production credits on your tracks list “M. Wilkins.” Is it safe to assume that’s the “M” and “W” in “MAW”? 

You assume correctly. 

Are you okay with sharing what the “M” and “A” stand for?

So, MAW is simply my initials. I’d played around with various names and ideas but nothing seemed to stick and I had never wanted to use my own name as an artist. I played around with just MAW for a little while but once it became clear to me what I was going to try and do, the experiment part seemed to fit nicely.

Which leaves us with “Experiment.” I’m curious as to whether it refers solely to your music or if it might speak to existential concerns. Is your life itself the experiment? 

I go through existential concerns almost on a weekly basis. But musically, it has another fairly simple explanation. 

I’d written music on guitar, mostly acoustic, for a number of years and initially that was fun, playing gigs, creating these 2-3 min indie folk songs but the truth is I hadn’t released music in that style of even played live for about 2 years going into that first COVID lockdown. 

I work in healthcare so I knew the pandemic wasn’t going away quickly and I made a decision to just try and fill some of the blank spaces in time with doing something creative. I’d used garage band a few times, but I’d never played keys, never arranged all the layers of a song – drums, bass, lead etc. – never mixed or mastered anything and when I started playing around it was purely for my own curiosity – what MIGHT it sound like – and my set up was a Mac and me so I had no equipment. I

So, the whole thing was an experiment from the very start and in truth it could have very quickly been binned because even though I had a few ideas floating around, they were frankly, a bit shit, and after a few months I had nothing worthy of releasing or even playing loud in my own flat!

And then I randomly suggested to a friend, Joff from Cross Wires that I remix a track from their album. And I had never remixed anything before, but I fancied giving a go and it was actually the best thing I could have done. I turned this 3 min indie punk tune into a sprawling, loud, big beat basted child of the chemical brothers that ebbed and flowed for something like 7 minutes. It got played on a National radio station in the UK and it was really well received – but more importantly for me, it taught me what I needed to know about the process and the approach I needed to start taking and that just took the shackles off. 

In the next 3 weeks I wrote 14 songs, 10 of which would become the first album ‘The Slow Burn’ – but that whole album, and everything since probably doesn’t happen without that remix and the guys at Cross Wires being so accommodating with how I ripped up their song!

Focusing on the music, what makes it an experiment as opposed to a project, for example?

Experimentation is the project. 

There are no rules, it’s an open playing field and whatever happens, happens. 

I know some people like a project and say it’s going to ‘ABC’ – but that’s somewhat restrictive in the way I want to work. I like the idea of throwing the cards up in the air and where they fall is good enough. I never sit down and thing ‘today, today I will write a synth pop song’ or a dance track or whatever it is, on any given day a song might be all of those things and none of those things. 

My influences are so varied, that I want to be able to feel the freedom to not be defined by a genre or sound. I have no preconceptions about what i do is or isn’t . 

Even with the album writing club, I didn’t really have a plan it just took its own shape and form and ended up being something I was pretty pleased with.

During the Lights and Lines album-writing contest, I recall you mentioning that much of the music you had previously written was instrumental but that you wanted to start writing lyrics. How has that element of the experiment been going for you?  

When I started, the idea for me was to not sing on anything, I wanted to just make music, and frankly, I didn’t have a lot to say or maybe it was a case of I didn’t know how to say it. 

But I had written songs with lyrics and vocals previously, and over time as I found my feet sound wise it became more natural to want to sing and add vocals to the tracks even though it also meant learning a new way of singing because the style of music required me to sing differently to when I sang holding a guitar on stage and so that was fun finding my voice in that way again.

‘idiolect’ – the album I made for the Lights and Lines contest – that album title actually means ‘The speech habits peculiar to a particular person’ and because it was the first thing I had put my voice to in years, the title felt appropriate. 

Now that I’m writing ‘songs’ again its working out nicely – it doesn’t mean every track gets lyrics or a vocal but its more options on the table to be creative which can only be a good thing.

One of the songs that really endeared your music to me was “Home,” particularly the line about home-made Star Wars toys. Can you talk a little bit about the memory that inspired that line?

I’m glad that song connected. It’s one of my favourites from that album. 

So, growing up in the 80’s we were a family from a very working-class town and we were lucky that our parents worked so hard to give us everything we could have ever wanted – even though I’d say we had less than a lot of other kids. 

One thing we couldn’t get because they were never available or on sale in this country were certain Star Wars toys; we owned X-Wings and a Millennium Falcon etc but we didn’t have Y-Wing or any of those things and so, my dad just made them.

Out of wood, plastic, mental. painted them. it was just my dad in his element. Using his hands, building something out of the spare materials he had in his shed. So that was the memory that inspired that line. The number 76 is referenced in that song too as it was our front door number. 

How do you think growing up in that era influenced your music?

I’m not sure it’s had a direct influence really, there were some great bands and some great songs in that period, but I wasn’t a teenager until 1990 and so the 90’s really shaped a lot of my musical taste but as you get older I think you realise just how good some of the stuff in the 80’s was – its a decade that seems to get a bit of negativity aimed toward it, but you can’t argue with the likes of Tears For Fears, Talk Talk, The Smiths, REM, New order, The Cure, Eurythmics, Sonic Youth, Prince etc 

I also recall that you talked a bit about adopting “healing” as the theme of Idiolect. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I lost both or my parents to rare cancers in the space of 5 years. 

I’d written one song on an acoustic guitars called ‘Muddy Waters’ after my dad passed – which is about drinking Ales with my dad – but I just never gone to that place in my music and so when I started writing those songs for the album writing club, 3 of the first 4 were all centred on memories connected to that loss and I realised that just putting these words in paper and recording these vocals was an act of healing that it was healing me and allowing me to express feelings and thoughts that I guess I’d kept inside for a long time. 

I wrote ‘I Can’t Lie’ about my sister , the line ‘I can’t lie I will always want to try and call you’ was about how she would talk to my mum on the phone every night and there had been this enormous hole in her world since mum died and I wanted to write something that said  ‘I see that, I hear you, I am here’ and I wanted to share the healing – if at all possible. 

Every track on that album is directly related to a feeling and a memory that i hadn’t truly shared or talked about before. So that record was really therapeutic for me. And those songs could have been depressing as hell but I think sonically they are full of hope and light and that was an important part of that experience. To not get trapped in the darkness. 

What theme or themes are you working with on the new EP?

Honestly, there isn’t really a theme, other than the approach was to make happy sounding songs, they are quite 80’s sounding actually, but I just think it’s an EP of 4 fun tracks. 

Any other projects on the horizon? 

I have another 4 track EP on the way in a few weeks called ‘In The Dead Of Night’ which I think is pretty good – its sonically very different to ‘Behind Every Silhouette’…I’m really pleased with it and I’m also finishing up a new album which will be the follow up proper to ‘Idiolect’ – that will most likely be sometime in May. 

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me! 

Everybody’s In a Big Hurry to Get Nowhere: A Conversation with Tim Cameron of Cameronoise

Tim Cameron has been aspiring to make noise since receiving a Beatles album at the age of four. Hence, it only makes sense that he should adopt a portmanteau of his surname plus “noise” in his stage name, Cameronoise. His latest album, the self-produced Racing to the Next Red Light offers a collection of six instrumental tracks influence by the styles of his classic rock favorites: the Beatles, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Booker T. and the MGs, to name just a few.

When did you have the epiphany to join your name with “noise”?

I’ve had the name in the back of my mind for a while, I think I got the idea from George Harrison’s publishing being under the name Harrisongs. I liked that wordplay when I first read that as a kid, so I came up with my own version.

Your new album is called Racing to the Next Red Light. What does it mean to you, and how does it relate to the music on the album?

I got the idea from observing the traffic around my neighbourhood. There’s a school crosswalk near my place, and just a block beyond that is a major intersection, which is always backed up in the mornings at rush hour. I’ve seen so many impatient drivers tear through the crosswalk only to be caught a few seconds later at the red light, so the phrase came to me from that. Everybody’s in a big hurry to get nowhere. As to how it relates to the album, there wasn’t any intentional connection, although maybe I’ll realize there was a subconscious connection later. For now it’s just a catchy phrase, and people have told me similar traffic madness stories about their own neighbourhoods after hearing the title.

How do you come up with titles for instrumentals? What’s the relationship between the music and the name you attach to it?

Some of the Cameronoise songs are re-workings of songs from my singer-songwriter days (as T.C. Folkpunk), so I kept the titles of those for anybody who’s followed me all this time. Other songs that are just melodies that never had lyrics are fair game as far as their titles. There’s an instrumental band called Atomic 7 (which grew out of Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet) and they’ve always had such great memorable titles for their songs. ‘You Ain’t Having Fun ’Til You’re Dialling 9-1-1’, or ‘Seven Stranded Castanets’. I have a notebook filled with similar goofy little turns of phrase, so I’ll refer to that when I need a title.

There’s definitely a classic rock sound to your music. What draws you to that style?

It’s not really intentional, I think it’s just what I heard a lot growing up, so it just gets repackaged when I work on a track. The whole “big plan” behind Cameronoise is that it’ll eventually cover all sorts of styles, just whatever I feel like at the time. Prepare yourselves for the birth of “Synth-Polka”!

Your music was featured in the Canadian indie film Love in the Sixth. How did that come about?

I was invited to a party on Easter weekend in 2014, a week before I was going in to the studio to record one of my Folkpunk albums. While I was there I bumped into another songwriting friend who had her guitar out, and she was also heading into the studio with a bunch of new tunes. So we passed her guitar back and forth playing our new songs to each other, and after we’d finished a woman (Jude Klassen, who I’d met earlier that evening) came up to me and said she loved my originals and wondered if I’d be interested in writing for a film she was going to start shooting in a couple of months. I jumped at the chance, of course. It played a few festivals, ended up on Amazon Prime, and Jude’s made another film since then, ‘Stupid For You’, which I also wrote a ton of music for.

You also acted in that film?

Well, I stood in front of a camera and said things that I’d memorized from a script, whether I was good enough to call it acting is another matter…

But yeah, Jude needed somebody to play one of the main characters, so I auditioned and got the part. And when I say auditioned, I mean she said “Can you act?” and I said “I think so”.

You played at the famous Cavern Club in Liverpool in 2010. Can you talk a little bit about that experience? Or a lot, as I imagine there’s plenty to say about it!

That was mind blowing, to be standing on sacred ground with my guitar plugged in. The sound man, Jim, had been to Toronto a few times with a band that he was managing, so we had a whole bunch of Toronto friends in common, which was weird. I spent a couple of days walking around Liverpool and seeing landmarks that I’d heard of in biographies about the Beatles. Lime Street Station, the Adelphi Hotel, The Grapes pub… I was there for the International Pop Overthrow festival, which featured a mix of international and local acts, and the Liverpool bands were just incredible! There was a vague air of “This is Liverpool, our lads The Beatles invented powerpop and we’re defending the title” coming from those bands. Definitely something in the water there. Speaking of water, my hotel room was on the first floor and looked out at the Mersey, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I think  expected the river to be full of ships and to be a lot more active, so I spent the first couple of days thinking it was just some anonymous canal.

Your music was also featured in a German high school curriculum in 2007. How was it used? And did you get a chance to interact with the class at all?

I’d written a song called ‘American Dream’ which looked at our neighbours to the south through a Canadian perspective. It was fairly punked up, almost a companion piece to The Clash’s ‘I’m So Bored With The USA’. Somehow a high school teacher in Bonn, Germany found the song and emailed me to ask if she could use it as part of their studies on how American culture influenced the outside world. About two days before she contacted me, I’d become a daddy for the first time, so my world was completely upside down. I quickly emailed her back giving permission, but never found out too much more about the class. I did see a spike in sales of the song on the iTunes Europe store though, so I guess somebody liked it.

You produce your own music. Has this always been the case? How did you get into production?

It’s almost always been the case, yeah. I only got into production incrementally by default, first by recording little projects at home by myself on one of those old cassette 4-track machines, and then dubbing off a few copies for friends. Then going to a small studio in a friend’s living room with slightly better gear, and having 300 copies of that manufactured. And then a bigger studio, and more copies manufactured. Now I’m back to recording at home and not manufacturing anything, all of the releases are digital downloads only, so I’ve come full circle. I’ve worked with a couple of producers, but the results were mixed (no pun intended), so I tend to do it all myself, albeit with an occasional bit of inspiration from books or documentaries about famous recordings or studios that I stumble across.

Are all of the instruments live, or do you program some of them?

It’s a bit of both. Guitars, bass, harmonica and a lot of percussion things are live. The drum tracks are built up from scratch in the computer, partly because when it comes to playing drums, I’m mediocre, and mostly because I’m in an apartment. The keyboards are half-and-half, I play along with the bed tracks, but have to do a lot of editing because I’m pretty “meh” at playing keys too. Remember, I was a guitar toting singer-songwriter for years, that’s my excuse!

Do you have a particular approach to production?

I sort of went into the first Cameronoise album blindfolded and stumbling, but I’m starting to develop a bit of a production line mentality. I’m my own Berry Gordy! I try to put something a bit unique onto each song, like a trumpet riff or a weird jangly guitar in the background, so each song has some little sonic fingerprint to set it apart from the others on the album. I’m so amazed at what George Martin was able to accomplish with just four tracks that I kinda treat my software as if it has similar limitations built in, and I’m not allowed to fill a hundred tracks just because I can.

What’ on the horizon?

I’ve already started recording tracks for the next album, which I hope will be ready for release this July. So far I’m sticking with my plan to release a six song mini-album every six months. I sort of think of it as if I’m releasing side one in January, and side two in July.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!

Thank you, Marc! I’m really glad we got a chance to do this.