Thursday, March 17, 2022

18 inspirations for my upcoming album and why

I finally finished up a new album recently after spending 336 days on it. That's a total of 11 months and two days from day one until it was completed. Over the course of writing and recording I finished 35 songs and the album will feature 16 of those.

Here's a list of eighteen influences for this upcoming set of songs and a brief explanation as to why I consider the band/person an inspiration. Check it out!

1. Nirvana

Starting with the most obvious. Heck, my entire last album was an admitted attempt at emulating the compositional approach of Kurt Cobain. I followed that same rubric for more than half of the songs of my upcoming album. For me, it's not only the music of Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, it's the on-stag swag of just standing there (for the most part) and playing the songs seemingly unbothered by all the chaos around you, the choice in equipment, and the fact the compositions are simple yet sophisticated in their own way. Some piano covers of Nirvana can further demonstrate this idea.


Ace Frehely was one of the main reasons why I started playing guitar in the first place. Over the past six or seven years I've started to listen to more KISS, mainly because of hearing the Melvins' cover of "Goin' Blind" back in 2014. Recently I've listened to "Hotter than Hell" and "Dressed to Kill" quite a bit. I enjoy how their success is majorly attributed to their blatant gimmick, and was interested in discovering if the music beneath was at all worth a deeper listen. Turns out most of what KISS puts out isn't that great, but there are some cool compositional approaches in songs and some great songs on "Destroyer," like "King of the Night-time World" and "Detroit Rock City." I like how stripped down the sound of "Dressed to Kill" is too. You can hear every instrument easily.

3. Niil

I found this band like millions of other unsuspecting Nirvana fans, by clicking on their YouTube video that's titled "Lost Nirvana song" or something like that. It's actually a Niil song called, "Insomnia" but it's a similar idea to what I've been doing, which is trying to write music similar to Nirvana (by way of nuts-and-bolts composition). While my stuff is more "influenced by," certain Niil songs sound like they almost could actually be Nirvana. I went on a week or two Niil scavenger hunt and found a couple of their songs worthwhile, but moreso I enjoy their approach. The instruments aren't played totally cleanly on the tracks, and there's some variety in what they do. Other good songs are  "I don't play with guns" and the first couple tracks off their more "mature" sounding album called Labryinth.

4. Tim Kasher 

Tim Kasher and Cursive were a major interest of mine back in the 2008-2011 era. He's another guy who goes on stage with a guitar and stands there and plays straightforward rock music, except he's developed his own niche of lyric-based music that forces the listener to contemplate more interpersonal-politics sort of issues. While an art-rock concept album about some ancient Greek tragedy seems literally impossible to pull off, Tim Kasher can actually do it. I listened to Domestica twice while tracking my own stuff and also listened to some tracks off of "Get Fixed" and Vitriola for some inspiration.

5. Jet Lag Gemini

This band was from the 2004-05 New Jersey music scene, except they had a totally different sound than what was primarily popular at the time. They were also immediately popular once they came out, which always makes you wonder why, and how? They played sort of pop-punk mixed with hard rock and it was all based on catchy riffs and choruses. They signed to Doghouse Records, which was the only record label's office I've ever been to in person, before it went out of business. This was about 2008 before the financial crisis and smartphones ruined life and the music business as we knew it. Their guitarist was particularly into the Van Halen stuff like lowering the ohmage or whatever Van Halen did to his amp, and "shredding" too, obviously. But I still enjoy Jet Lag Gemini and one of my frat brothers was even friends with their drummer. There's something about their music and their look. Every couple of weeks I'd watch their music video where there's a giant fire... I think it's called "Geared for Action."

6. Velvet Revolver

Back in April of this year, when I first sat down and decided I wanted to put out another album after "Can't Be Anyone but Myself" I had driven home from a place called "Mike's Diner" in Guilderland. The sun was out, it was a beautiful day. I sat down with my guitar and felt inspired by a certain sound that I couldn't quite articulate, but Velvet Revolver and their track "Fall to Pieces" definitely falls in line with what I was trying to do. The music video for that song is great, too. It provides a nice contrast between the rock star of old and the new, totally sterilized and manufactured, and dare I say, sissified stars of today.  Although I abandoned my idea of going for this type of sound after a couple months of failed attempts at it, I still hear something in the best Velvet Revolver tracks that keeps me interested.

7. Dave Grohl / Foo Fighters

When I was eleven years old, I got the "Nothing Left to Lose" CD for Christmas, or my birthday, and used to listen to it all the time. I've actually bought the thing at least twice, because I always lose it. Obviously Dave Grohl is a drum-spiration, but his vocals are overlooked too. I think a lot of the Foo Fighters stuff is a bit too "radio rock" for what I was trying to do (in fact I recently heard "My Hero" on the radio on the drive to work, and the underlying music doesn't really pull you in, though it's composed nicely), but I do occasionally refer back to Dave Grohl's self-recorded first Foo Fighters album to hear how he pieces together songs. I do enjoy their song "Low" and the music video and put on that music video every now and then. One of the songs off my upcoming album would benefit from Dave Grohl's throaty and reckless-with-abandon vocal yelling during the chorus, but unfortunately I cannot come anywhere remotely close to doing something like that.

8. The Cramps

For a brief period I thought I might be able to replicate or put my own spin on the music of the Cramps, but boy was I wrong. It's impossible to record stuff like this unless you can do the Lux Interior vocals, which I can't. Not to mention, the guitar playing from Poison Ivy Rorshach isn't that easy, either. She has a specific guitar, specific pedals, and uses her own vocabulary of chords and riffs intermixed. I think their live show from Norway is a cool example of a band that sounds good, plays relatively simple music and that's exactly what I tried to do for my upcoming album (within my own limitations). I particularly like their cover of "Rock on the Moon" from that show in Oslo, Norway. If I could pull off music like this, I might have to give up "alternative rock" all together!

9. Richie Ramone

Richie Ramone was a big inspiration for me to keep writing and recording music being that I'm officially old and over 30, believe it or not. He's even older (in his 60's?) but still has a music video that's somewhat current, and his live performance from MegaRock 2019 at the least says that an old guy can not only still play drums and perform his original songs he can also wear a leather jacket. I spent a couple weeks trying to cover a live-on-MTV version of the Ramones' "Somebody put something in my drink" and spent a couple of days on it before I gave up trying to figure out the exact measure counts.



10. Armor for Sleep

I've written about Ben Jorgenson in a previous post, and still think Armor for Sleep  were onto something when they put out "Smile for You" about 10 or 11 years before the major wave of the YouTube star even hit. The final era of the band before they broke up is still interesting to me, including their trip to LA, soundtrack inclusion for "Transformers" and then subsequent implosion and being dropped by whatever major signed them, I think SONY (Edit: It was actually Sire). There's plenty times I'm writing a song and thinking about the catchy chorus and distinctly different guitar parts type of approach you hear in a lot of Armor for Sleep songs, like the grunge guitar in "Stars in your Eyes" off Smile for Them.

11. Oasis

I was listening to tracks off of "The Masterplan" by Oasis while I was writing songs for this album. I particularly like the song where Noel Gallagher talks about how he wants to buy a Jaguar (automobile). I probably demoed somewhere around like 70 songs for this album, and a lot of the unused cuts end up turning into reverb-soaked 32-measure guitar solos as if I'm in Oasis. It's funny, because objectively some of those guitar solos actually sound good, but usually the next day I listen back and say to myself,  "Yeah.. no." But yes, I'm an Oasis fan and when in doubt I will listen to or play along to one of their songs for fun, sort of like I'm recharging my batteries.

12. Breeders

I'm almost embarrassed to admit I'm such a big fan of this band, because their singer and main songwriter is a girl. In an interesting aside, I banned myself from listening to The Breeders for the entire time I tracked "Can't be Anyone but Myself" because I didn't want my own stuff to end up sounding soft and girly by way of subconscious influence. For this upcoming album, I lifted that restriction and discovered I can actually gather some inspiration from listening to The Breeders after all, for my own stuff. Big fan of the guitar playing from all their guitarists (including the heavy, mixed-to-the-back riffs from Tanya on 'Pod') and two of their drummers: Britt Walford and Jim MacPherson." To write/lead a group for more than one album that's good like Kim Deal has done with Pod and Last Splash is impressive.

13. Marine Girls

I found this band directly through Kurt Cobain's list of 50 albums. The best thing about this group is the fact they write some pretty good songs using like two or three chords, so I was able to use that approach in coming up with my own vocal melodies. You can hear how the pivoting bass lines and simple and repetitive open-chord changes really do open up a lot of space for a vocal melody, and you don't need to over-complicate songwriting that much. Obviously Kurt Cobain appreciated this approach and used it when he covered the Vaselines and in some of his own songwriting. Not a CD I go back to often, but interesting for sure.


14. Steve Albini

When in doubt, I rely on many principles I've learned listening to Steve Albini talk about recording. Writing music can vary between difficult and "not working" to... "so easy it's like you're not even trying." Aside from that whole exercise, I still have to 1. engineer all of my own recordings 2. view myself as a performer and an engineer simultaneously, and act accordingly. It's something I've been doing for over ten years (relying on myself to record, myself) and I wouldn't have been able to excel in this process without learning from Albini's methodologies.

15. My Bloody Valentine

I listened to some of Kevin Shields' and My Bloody Valentine's music towards the end of recording the songs for this upcoming album. I like how he's passionate about Jazzmasters and playing guitar and recording himself, and his music is pretty cool, and also very varied. From "Ecastasy and Wine" which sounds like a sped-up version of the Jesus and Mary Chain, all the way to "Loveless" and "mbv" is a major progression. I also like reading about the fact his band kind of fell apart and then he started just doing everything himself. Also love a good story about a musician blowing a huge budget for an album and coming up with nothing. Shields allegedly bankrupted his former label trying to make Loveless. I can't really copy the style he does (without investing thousands into different guitars and equipment), but generally, he plays drums and guitars into recording equipment to create alternative rock, so... It's somewhat similar to what I do.

16. Dinosaur Jr.

One of my buddies likes this band and sent me a link to their first full-length album over the past year. At first I didn't like the sound at all. It kind of sounded like I was having a sideways hangover of crunchy guitars and unorganized songwriting. But, as I kept discovering more music from Dinosaur Jr. I noticed different cool stuff and found some more straight-forward music that I actually liked. At the end of the day, their music is mostly simple (i.e. 4/4) drum beats pushed to the back and up front you'll have distortion-laden guitars and songs that are primarily driven by a rhythm-guitar approach. Pretty similar to what I try to do, except I'm missing all the solos and riffs, oh and the lazy vocals are pushed up front heavily too. I was listening to Dino Jr. towards the end of the recording timeline and enjoying it. One of my upcoming songs has a part in it that I refer to as a "Dinosaur Jr." part.

17. Pentagram

Pentagram (also known as Death Row) was a hard rock band from the 70's through the 80's and 90's. I bought and listened to their CD "Relentless," while I was tracking my own stuff. I was definitely inspired by the guitarist in the band, Victor Griffin, after hearing his playing, and listening to an interview he did on a podcast where he talked about his music career. The interview is fairly long and I listened to it while driving many miles away to a 7-11 late at night. Weeks later I was experimenting with mic setup and trying to replicate the guitar sound from "Relentless." Eventually through this exercise I stumbled across a new sound that eventually led to some lyrical ideas and the writing and recording of two of the tracks off of my upcoming album/E.P..

18. Autolux

I heard this group playing on someone else's bluetooth speaker a while back, about ten years ago. I guess they're referred to as "Shoegaze" but it's kind of like a combination of Elliott Smith with some other sort of sound. When I was playing a ton of guitar back in 2015-2016 I stumbled across many new chord shapes I had never played before. During these chord revelations I definitely figured out a specific set of chords you hear a lot of in Autolux's music that goes very smoothly with a certain vocal style I can also do. I used it for a bridge of one song off my upcoming album. So while not a huge inspiration, I do still like aspects of their music and even used a similar approach for about 8 measures of my own music.

It's been a long 11-month journey. Album will be out soon! - Mike

UPDATE: The album is finally done, check it out here:

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