The best thing about working at Automattic is probably all the brilliant people, and the second best thing is easily the before-it-was-cool distributed culture, but a three month paid sabbatical after five years of service is obviously in the top three best things.
So here we are — I passed the five-year mark in November, and months before then, I decided how I wanted to spend a good chunk of my time off, which starts the first Monday in March of this year.
I’m going to make an album.
Of original music.
Remember that time, in 2021, when I recorded a song every day of the year, and they were all covers?
I learned some things about producing songs that year, but I also kinda refused to learn too much, in the spirit of being kinda lo-fi and cheap about it — or I simply couldn’t, because the pace of doing a song a day was a little silly. I learned no things about writing songs, which I haven’t really done since I was a teenager, and even then, I knew absolutely nothing that my guitar teacher didn’t teach me.
When I decided to do this, sometime last year, it was in part a reaction to that year of playing every day — and then decidedly NOT playing every day after the calendar flipped over to 2022. It was also because I’d started listening to the Questlove Supreme podcast while cooking and puttering around the house at times. If you’ve never listened to it, I highly recommend digging through the archives and finding all your favorites — or the people who made your favorites, played on your favorites, got sampled by your favorites (or vice versa), etc.
Anyway, listening to people talk about music production and songwriting and what made that horn stab and whose drums are on that sample and where did you find that record and do you still have that recording… it all made me want to go make something new myself.
But what kind of music did I want to make? Well, last time I bought a bunch of musical gear, it was because I had gone a good solid 15-20 years without an electric guitar and I wanted to sound like Pavement, so I bought stuff that kinda helped me sound like I was trying to sound like Pavement.
This time, I want to sound like the 1990s indie rock I love most — Stereolab, Tortoise, Pram, and other old and new synthesizer and organ and electronic-flavored music with lots of analog warmth and color. So I made a spreadsheet and shopped around for months, and then started slowly acquiring a few bits of gear.
I need to work on making this space a little more photogenic. What’s not in the picture: A bunch of computer stuff, including software that’s better than Garage Band.
Finding a community to learn about music production and share my initial, swirling, reverb-heavy jawns has been interesting. Reddit exists. There’s lots of good content, gear, and tutorials that I’m finding on Instagram. Everything is on YouTube.
But (back to the part about work), this has also given me a great reason to use Tumblr.
So I’ve been writing (MUCH SHORTER POSTS) about this journey over there.
Yes, you should follow me on Tumblr.
I’m calling the project “Breakage” because reasons, and it definitely doesn’t exist yet, but I have some bits written, and some other song parts kinda stubbed out… and then, of course, when the calendar did its flippy thing to 2023, I started seeing stuff on Reddit and Tumblr and Instagram tagged #jamuary which is so darn wholesome, I had to participate.
You can listen to all of my Jamuary recordings over there on Tumblr, but here are a few favorites. I did not do a “jam” a day, it was more like “a song part that I might use later or not as I try and figure out how to do something” whenever I had the time. Just now looking at the Tumblr tag page, I realize I recorded 12 things! Not bad.
Jan. 29: More Kalimbabell
I went on a Pram bender the last few days of the month.
Jan. 26: Lapse
Sometimes if the mp3 file was more than 10MB, it wouldn’t fit in Tumblr’s audio upload limit, so I made a little video and used YouTube.
Jan. 19: Ocean Floor
OK, maybe the Pram bender started earlier than I remembered? I didn’t do too many vocals in these 12 recordings, but I did a few to try out some lyrics, play with vocoders, and try to, uh, learn more about the pitch correction tools I have in hand so far and how to use them. To correct. My pitch. Did I mention I want to take singing lessons during my sabbatical?
Jan. 17: Technological Society
In the pic above of my little musical workspace, there’s a silver case that has a little Teenage Engineering PO-33 (aka KO-33) sampler in it, and I’m still kinda feeling around the edges of it, but on this day, I looked down at a bookshelf, saw Jacques Ellul, and went off. Definitely my favorite video of the project, using all public domain stuff.
I’ll stop there.
When the clock strikes sabbatical, I have more than this music project to do — there are road trips to plan, and there are house projects, and dinners to cook, and dogs to walk, and the inevitable march of soccer tournaments. But, I’ll keep talking about the music stuff over on Tumblr, mostly.