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Lyrical Genius, Part I – Kevin Gilbert

It’s a shame, but it seems to me that a lot of songwriters don’t really work as hard on their lyrics as they do their music. Granted, there are exceptions, but so much of – particularly popular – music is made up of utter dreck, lyrically speaking. (Of course, a lot of the music blows, too.)

Even most of the words that are well-written are pretty lacking; they don’t really mean anything.

So I present the first in a series on songwriters that I feel deserve mention for the profundity that they display in their lyrical output. Enjoy!


Here’s a guy who was troubled, for sure. And like many troubled, somewhat misunderstood artists, he was taken from us far too soon. But most of what he left behind was so deep, so powerful… his influence on me, my songwriting, my lyrics – it simply cannot be overstated. He is, for all intents and purposes, my musical hero. His music was original, yet hooky. His engineering and production skills were legendary among his peers. But I’m especially drawn to what he said.

His lyrics could be pensive, powerful, snarky, optomistic, intellectual, sarcastic, honest, simple, and profound – often all in the same song. There is so much to be read between the often simple lines of prose; you can tell he was well-read. He was a master of allusion, wordplay and clever puns.

Here, a few of my favorite stanzas.

from Goodness Gracious (from “Thud”)

Goodness Gracious my generation’s lost
They burned down all our bridges
before we had a chance to cross
Is it the winter of our discontent or just an early frost?

Goodness Gracious of apathy I sing
The baby boomers had it all and wasted everything
Now recess is almost over
and they won’t get off the swing

Goodness Gracious we came in at the end
No sex that isn’t dangerous, no money left to spend
We’re the cleanup crew for parties
we were too young to attend
Goodness Gracious me.

from Waiting (from “Thud”)

I’m waiting in the shadows with a chain around my wrist
I’m waiting with my best friend held firmly in my fist
I’m waiting for my heroes to tell me what to dream
I’m waiting for my neighbors to tell me what’s obscene
I’m waiting for the apple, I’m waiting for the fall
I’m waiting for a renaissance to electrify us all

from City Of The Sun (from “The Shaming of the True”)

The attendant at the Texaco saw the guitar case in my back seat
and decided to impart his tragic tale
He said: “I used to play in a band like you,
we even made a record too”
and sang a bar that hardly rang a bell
Now I’m not one to make a lot
of omens and premonitions and fleeting thoughts
but I must admit that I tried to avoid his stare
‘Cause I didn’t want to see him see himself in me
with the look of an extinguished flame that might be lurking there

Kevin Gilbert was a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, singer and audio engineer/producer. He was one of the founding members of the “Tuesday Music Club” which was the foundation for Sheryl Crow’s breakout record “Tuesday Night Music Club” which won accolades and awards (though Kevin saw little positive effect of Sheryl’s ascent to fame). He also worked with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Keith Emerson, Spock’s Beard, Jonatha Brooke, and many others. His solo release “Thud” is an amazing album even today (having been released over a decade ago) and his posthumously released rock opera “The Shaming of the True” is an under-recognized masterpiece. I urge you to check out his work. Now.

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The Circuit-Bent DS-1 – a Video!

So, I put together a quick video of the Bent DS-1 in action. Sorry that my guitar playing is lame, and also that the sound quality (using my camera’s onboard mic) could be better. Next time I’ll try using an outboard mic, maybe even run through some of the studio equipment. But you get the basic effect.

The guitar being used is my FrankenStrat (the subject of an upcoming post) and I mostly play in the neck position.

Check it out, see what you think!

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My Introduction to Circuit Bending

So, if you’ve never come across the term, “Circuit Bending” is a sort of underground craze. Basically, it’s creatively short-circuiting otherwise perfectly good electronic equipment, with the goal of creating new, sometimes strange, often other-worldly sounds with it. A very commonly “bent” device is the classic “Speak and Spell” toy (and its variants, like the “Speak and Math”, etc.) – when you open one up and bridge certain points on the circuit board, you can speed up, slow down, pitch-shift, and otherwise mangle the voices that it creates, often to quite interesting and spooky effect.

So… why the heck would you do this? Well, a lot of “noise-based,” soundscape and other “aliatory” music-makers think of these sort of sound makers as a goldmine for creating unusual sonic surprises in their music. And, if you’re into experimenting and creating something new, it’s really kind of fun! Plus, you can buy loads of “toys” to “break” on a pretty low budget.

DISCLAIMER: If you try any of this yourself, please limit yourself to BATTERY-POWERED devices only. Short-circuiting the wrong points on AC-powered electronic devices can KILL you.

So, my first project, seen above and below, was a practical one for me, since I’m a more conventional player rather than a soundscape artist. I picked up a lightly used Boss DS-1 Distortion pedal for $30, opened her up, and starting playing with different connections on the circuit board. I found several points of interest (thanks to some help on the web of those who’ve bent this pedal themselves) and thereby made a common distortion pedal into something unique and interesting.
You can see the switches and buttons I installed into the sides of the pedal; they activate the short-circuits (and, of course, turn them off for normal use). Another way to modify circuits(rather than a simple on/off switch) includes using potentiometers to vary the amount of current flowing to the short, which thereby varies the alteration. Even more interesting, some folks use light-sensing variable resistors; by changing the amount of light entering the light sensor, it changes the sound – cool! Body contacts, to allow your touch to modify the short, is another method commonly used. For my first project, though, I thought it prudent to keep it simple, so I stuck to switches.
So there are four different mods, which are turned on and off using the metal switches. I then further modified two of them with the red buttons; by pushing in the button, it puts a tone cap inline in the short-circuit, which modifies the pitch that is added/generated by the short-circuit. Playing with the existing knobs also modifies the bend.
All in all, I just wanted to get into circuit bending with a minimum of difficulty and a high level of success (meaning: I didn’t want to “kill” the pedal, and wanted to have something I could actually use when I finished.) I did exactly that; I now have a “new” pedal which can make unique and unusual (but useful) sounds, and I did it myself for under $50.

It’s cool stuff!
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Re-living the past, bassically…

In 1987, for my birthday, my parents bought me my very first bass guitar. That instrument was a “Rock Bass” from Epiphone/Gibson, a basic, passive model with a J-J pickup configuration. It was a great “starter” bass for the time; made in Korea, back when there wasn’t anything worth owning coming out of China – it was solid, well-appointed, good-sounding and even kinda cool looking (pointy headstocks were all the rage in the late 80’s.)

That bass carried me through my early years as a player; it was my main bass for Outcry, my first “real” band that played “real” gigs (only two of them, but we rocked out both times!) When I co-formed Ransomed Soul with my friend Scott in 1990, that was the bass I was playing. It saw lots of action at lots of seedy bars (can I get a shout-out for Bonnie’s Roxx?) and sounded really good.

When I cobbled together the scratch, I upgraded the pickups to an EMG JJ set. When we recorded our debut album(s), I ran the bass right into the mixing console with no additional preamping or other toys – and the bass really sounds tight on those recordings. And it played really well.

As the years went on, 5-string basses became more popular, and I eventually found one that worked really well for me and started using that as my main bass, which relegated the Epi to backup duty. Once Ransomed Soul broke up, she mostly gathered dust. When (with Scott, again) I co-founded Second Story in 1996, it was playing my new SIX-string bass. Knowing that there was little to no chance that I’d be using the four string for any of the Second Story material, and needing the duckets for other musical gear (a future post will detail my INSANE Second Story rig), I sold “Heather” (yes, she had a name) to my co-worker and friend – and aspiring musician – Tom. A few months later, I was transferred to a new store, and I lost touch with Tom, the bass, and eventually, that job.

I’ve recently been feeling a bit nostalgic for old musical toys, and I don’t really have a way to get in touch with Tom – so, I’ve been trolling eBay for similar basses to the old girl – and a little over a week ago, I found one: Epiphone Rock Bass, late 80’s vintage, black hardware (rare) on black bass, rosewood fingerboard, JJ pickup setup… in good, played but not abused condition. The bass is virtually identical, and even came with the original case. So, I snagged it.

Because I’m a total freak, I also snagged a set of EMG old-model JJ pickups on eBay for cheap – used, but not abused. I figure that a little soldering will get me an almost exact duplicate of my original bass – all I need now is a set of black Dunlop Straploks and a purple strap…

So I’m really digging re-living the past – the bass will mostly live on the wall in my home studio, and maybe get pulled out for the occasional studio track. But it’s cool that I was able to find it.

It’s sometimes nice to go home again.

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An introduction

So here I go, I guess it’s time to start blogging. All the cool kids are doing it, so maybe I should too. I’ve always been a sucker for peer pressure.

Seriously, though – here’s the gist of it; lots of musicians are on the web, hawking their band, selling their album, talking about gear, etc. So I thought that this would be a nice way for me to do that and more – share experiences with musical oddities like modifying guitars (I do that a lot), circuit-bending (I just started playing with that), and creating insane guitar or bass rigs with all sorts of bells and whistles (I’ve done that for myself as well as helped others with it). So I’ll be talking about a lot of that sort of stuff as it occurs to me to do so. I’ll probably ramble on about old musical projects, neat toys, long lost instruments I never should have sold, etc. Hope that interests you.

Who I am is a lifelong musician; son of a vocal/general music teacher (Mom) and a former music major/club musician/music store owner – and now, boss (Dad). My primary instruments are voice and bass (bass guitar and upright bass), but I’m a multi-instrumentalist and therefore own a large collection of other stuff – keyboards, drums, guitars, mandolins, didgeridoos, trumpets, and much more. I have my own studio, which I call Digital Din; my training is purely “on-the-job” as far as engineering goes, but last November my group Din Within released our debut album; it’s an album that (with writing partner Josh’s help) I recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered myself. Of course, I was also responsible for much of the performance. It’s done quite well worldwide; it’s available for sale at Amazon.com, CDBaby.com, iTunes, Napster, and many more (check out the Digital Din Homepage for a list of many of the retailers at which it can be purchased.)

So that’s about it for now. I think my first post of real content will probably be about my “new” bass – actually a 4-banger from the 80’s that I bought to recreate my first bass – one I wish I still had (for sentimental reasons only) but don’t because I sold it to a former co-worker (Tom Wetzel – you still have my bass, man?)

Anyway, tune in soon for that post. Thanks for reading!

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