There was something strange about 2020, but I can’t put my finger on it. However, one way in which this year was normal was that I made a bunch more music! Oh you are so very welcome.
Daytime Drama Themes
My first release of the year in January is a freaky jazz/prog album built on several of my favorite instrumental electronic compositions I have created over the years. A recording session with David Hobizal (drums) and Chico Jones (drum recording) in 2018 created the sonic foundation upon which I had enormous fun playing with a combination of synthesizers, guitars, bass, and non-standard percussion. The ultimate idea of this potpourri of bizarre blend of jazz, rock, funk, and prog was to turn into a fantasy soundtrack to various soap operas that don’t exist. Checked the other day, and these shows still don’t exist. But there’s time.
Earth’s Majestic Wetness
This is the more austere cinematic surf-rock sibling to Daytime Drama Themes with Eoghan McCloskey on drums (recorded by Michael Day and Adrian Benavides at AMP studios) in 2018 as well. These 2 albums were originally going to be one album (and one of the Eoghan songs did end up on Daytime Drama Themes), but I felt it would be more artistically and logistically logical to split them up. The most direct inspiration for this group of songs was the Austin band The Baffles. They know how to make a rock band play orchestral music and sound as though it was meant to be rock in the first place. In fact, I used the exact same Baritone guitar that Greg Yancey used to play with that band! John Aymong, my bandmate in Dream Eater did the spectacular cover image to match the hydrological song titles.
Sgt Paneer’s Amphibious Mechanical Adventure
Most of my projects involve some element of hard work, but this one was just all fun fun fun. This was an ICS project gone haywire (ICS = Immersion Composer Society, the album-in-a-day group I’ve been involved with since 2004). I just wanted to make another all-electronic album in one day. And I do what I want, so that’s what this is. Of course, I made some adjustments in the weeks after that one day writing session, but the original compositions really didn’t change significantly. No loops. I tried perform everything on a keyboard with my human fingers and compose as though for a small rock/jazz combo or small chamber orchestra. I could do this all day, every day, and if 100,000 people buy this for $1, I totally will.
Opposite Day 14 mics 0 Plans V2 Recorded with Eoghan McCloskey on Drums
Like so many new 2020 traditions, Opposite Day played the release-the-old-recording catch-up game. This one is from a 2017 show when Eoghan was in the band. The first volume came out great, and I had just never got around to releasing this one we played a couple months later (at the time we were focused booking the tour and finish the EP). A bit more off the rails than V1, and packed to the gills with exciting free-rock meta-jazz, we knew that Spring 2020 was the right time for this lunacy. Album cover by John Aymong.
Opposite Day 14 mics 0 Plans V3 Recorded with Cameron Page on Drums
This one night in the beforetimes (February 2020) was a wonderful experience that has only grown more glorious in retrospect. Greg Yancey and I both have played with Cameron Page in other settings (Lick Lick, Big Britches, and my solo albums), so after a couple months of getting creatively connected to Cameron in an Opposite Day setting, we booked a show a the legendary Carousel Lounge and decided to make it a live recording. What came out was this crazy all-improvised set which both stands alone as sonic journey and also has served as fodder for new Opposite Day songs, and/or our darkest nightmares. Greg did an amazing job of recording everything (and even programming a random movie quote mashup-robot as our guest vocalist), the audience was plugged-in, and John Aymong did another nutso album cover which came out of his brain.
SPAMB! – Hors D’Oevres
Aaron Parks, the new drummer of Stop Motion Orchestra, Mohadev (the guitarist) and myself (bass) basically put together a rump-version of SMO for this show to share the night with Opposite Day at the February show. Mohadev wrote some simple frameworks of 4 new songs which we played interspersed with stripped-down versions of SMO songs. Greg had already set up the recording rig for the Opposite Day set so we recorded this too. Since the vibe was right and the recording sounded warm and clear and lively, we decided to release the non-SMO songs as a new band: SPAMB! Which is an anagram of our initials plus an exclamation point (which stands for SHRED!). More to come.
Stop Motion Orchestra – Hydnora
This is the 3rd release of Stop Motion Orchestra, and the second one I played bass on. It has one super long song, one of Mohadev’s best compositions: “Blue Fog” (Aaron Parks’ debut recording), plus a cover tune recorded earlier with Charlie Duncan on drums and Leila Henley just ripping it up on both vocals and sax. But my favorite is the 3rd track “Spaghettification” which is indisputably the pinnacle of human achievement in any realm of art, science, or galaxy-spanning statecraft.
Peak non-album-making music experiences of 2020:
Pre-pandemic Dream Eater shows. Rocking out in person is sweeter in the memories for its subsequent absence. We got in some serious rocking done before the pandemic lockdowns and I am very glad for this, for it has sustained me during long periods of way-too-little-serious-rocking.
Solo acoustic shows. In June I learned and arranged 10 classic covers including Stevie Wonder and Edith Piaf on a banjitar, and my interpretation of Ahmad Zahir, the “Afghan Elvis”. Then, in August I was invited to perform the maiden voyage of the Bloomhouse Live series, a house concert venue/vacation rental in west Austin owned by my friend and boss Dave Claunch (thanks Dave!). Andy Nolte and Star Material provided great inspiration. Check out their live streams.
Stop Motion Orchestra videos. We did 2 “live” streams. Actually both were pre-recorded, one all remote included a clay-mation film my wife Laura DeGrush created with my help, and another one outdoors together (which I can’t find a video of, might be behind a paywall).
Opposite Day remote composition rehearsals. We’ve been writing the next album with Cameron and trading videos of each other playing along to backing tracks. Three completed new-song videos so far. You can watch them on Facebook or if the audio doesn’t synch, a couple are on Youtube.
Egg Helmet Ensemble. Mohadev put together 5 compositions for 11 players (who all pre-recorded separately), culminating in 30 minutes of bonkers prog-chamber jazz wrapped in ambient pleasantness. It was a “live” stream on December 20. If you missed it, tough cookies. It was a one-time thing.
NEXT: The year of music I loved. Local, metal, random. Lace up your ear-boots, and clean out your mind portals for a forceful squirt of additional non-Sam musical brilliance.