5 Years of RPM – A Review
It’s done. I’ve just completed the RPM Challenge for another year…that’s “35 minutes of recorded music or 10 songs during the month of February”. This year’s entry, entitled ‘Hector & the Hellcat’ makes five times I’ve done this exercise recording under the band name ‘Alive Underground’. I started back in 2008 with ‘Migration Song’, followed with ‘Still Kickin’ in 2009, ‘Cowtown Blues’ in 2011 and 2014’s ‘No Time (for Dreams)’.
‘Migration Song’ was a compilation of songs I’d been writing over several years beating the shipbuilding trail around North America; songs that gradually impressed upon me that I really enjoy turning a phrase. It’s something I’ve done my whole life kind of without even realizing it; muttering lyrics that came to me as I was doing other things. Every now and then a particular line would move me to jot it down. As time went by (as, thankfully it still does, I had a growing file of ‘Snippets’, as thankfully I still do) phrases & ideas became songs.
The subject matter of my writing has always been my experiences, my stories, my way of dealing with life and all its ups and downs. ‘Migration Song’ captures some of my first experiments in writing from the heart, from the first song I wrote specifically to learn a few guitar chords (‘Holes’ took about 25 or so years to get the last verse) to one I wrote entirely on the day that Dermot O’Reilly died (‘Old Irish Wake’).
That album was my first real experience recording my voice. I’ve never been entirely comfortable with how I sound on recordings but I’ve come to accept it. My friends tell me that really is how I sound so I suppose I’ve got to live with it! Suffice to say that I am no songbird. Nor, even after many years banging away on guitars, have I become a musician by ‘musician’ standards. Another thing I’ve come to accept. However, the snippets still keep coming so on I go. I couldn’t stop them if I tried.
‘Still Kickin’ came about from my having realized the world didn’t end as a result of my taking part in the Challenge the previous year so I included songs that I’d been working on (‘Outside, Looking In’, ‘Picture Me on a Highway’) plus a jumble of jams and things, singing lyrics direct from the Snippets pages freestyle and the appearance of my [then] young children having fun with microphones and instruments.
‘Cowtown Blues’ evolved at a low time in life. I was away working a contract in Calgary when my marriage fell apart and I was standing at an emotional crossroads. I was missing my children and pondering what was to come. I’m glad to say that my life has improved greatly since that time and although the album is probably the darkest I’ve done, It also has a couple of my favourite songs included on it (‘Train I Ride’, ‘The Wind’). Another item of note is that this album is when I got a little more focused on music production and bought a copy of Studio One DAW software. From here on there’s been a steep learning curve in the use of plugins and effects. The evidence of experimentation and my acceptance that this songwriting hobby is now becoming a calling of sorts is exhibited in all that comes afterwards. So far I’m not very good at the art of Recording Engineering but I take some pride in that I’m learning and that from every disaster there’s a lesson I’m taking away.
‘No Time (for Dreams)’ is a continuation in experimentation but I’m noticing a theme coming about in my writing; the rise of songs around a concept. I envisioned how the cultures of the indigenous peoples of Labrador (where I grew up) may have mixed with the settlers of European decent (‘Naskapi Dream’, ‘All the way to Sept Isles’). Also on ‘No Time…’ is a kind of anthem to live by (‘Something on my Mind’) and a straight ahead Blues number (‘Buy Them Just to Drive Them’) although that one doesn’t feel finished yet…not happy with the last verse. There’s the first introduction of the ‘Hellcat’ on this album as well, in ‘Watcha’ Gonna Do Boy?’. This one came about from trying out some of the drum loops on the DAW.
‘Hector and the Hellcat’, this year’s effort sees more theme oriented writing in ‘Eric’s Theme’, an uncompleted song that I’m working into a reoccurance where Eric represents the settler to the new world from the West Country of England. This mirrors my own family history as my early relative moved from there to Trinity in the 1700’s. I see ‘Eric’ popping up over time/history as a sort of ghost commentator in the story of Newfoundland & Labrador’s populating…in songs still incubating! This album is also the official debut of the Hellcat as a songwriter with ‘Who Said?’, a soft contemplative story of love not working out. ‘Leaving the Lovely Young Ladies’ is probably my best song yet in my mind. It’s the story of William, a boy coming of age joins the Blue Puttees and goes overseas to fight in the Great War. This is woven into a tale including the Canadian Fighting Forces as well, a tip of my hat to those who protect us. The cause of our veterans then and now is incredibly important to my psyche and cannot be understated. Although I’ve not been in the Forces I have met many that I call ‘friends’ as a result of personal experiences and my time in military shipyards and design offices.
So…this has been a little long winded but I think a good summary of the results of having the gumption to accept the RPM Challenge. It has helped me focus, gain confidence and grow as an artist. I’m now working on songs, new and old in an effort to assemble a ‘real’ album of original works to offer up for public consumption. I will continue to write, sing, paint and draw as I have always done. Hopefully meeting more talented people, telling stories, having a laugh and ultimately enjoying life as long as I have left, and as always, keep moving…it’s harder to hit a moving target!
Snowden March 2015.