The songs on this compilation were recorded over a nine year span, but counting time for writing and revision, it really covers a period more like 20 years. Everything represented here comes from commercially unreleased albums.
This material was originally distributed on cassette; played on college radio stations around the US, played in vans and on boom boxes, on walkmans and cheap stereos. I was sometimes surprised at how well these tapes made the rounds, as when a young women I'd never met sent me a fan letter from a mental hospital in northern California. And at other times I felt like I was the only person listening to them.
I have always made music that I would want to listen to, whether or not it was in fashion. I still believe this: make honest music first, make your sales plans after.
from Night Circus:
Night Circus is a concept album about the end of civilization being brought about by angry spirits. They give a young man strong powers and manipulate him into using those to wipe out most of the world. He is then kept alive indefinitely to wander the earth and destroy any corrupt "infestations" of humanity that are deemed too poisonous to continue existing.
Written between August 1980 and August 1985; recorded May 1984- August 1985; mixed June 1-4, 1987.
As The Sky Turns To Fire (sound clip)
G.S.: drums, organ, guitar. Recorded (approximately) early 1985 by Kenny Ryman at Humphrey's in Van Nuys (drums) and at Kenny's home studio in Canoga Park (remainder). Written June, 1980.
More accurately this is "part two", since the song really begins with a sound collage which is almost the same length as the tune itself. That was trimmed here so that the music could properly jump down your throat.
Before Night Circus was a concept piece, it was a band idea, and this was the planned opening number. Compositionally it was very influenced by the late Vincent Crane, who the album is dedicated to (along with Kenny, who made it possible).
Cold Sky (sound clip)
G.S.: vocals, guitar, drums, 8-string bass. Recording info same as "As The Sky". Lyrics written fall, 1982, music written fall, 1984.
This was originally conceived as an opening tune for my first band, Watcher, shortly before we broke up. At that time I was about half way through writing Night Circus and had hoped the band would do it. The lyrics are not personal. They were an attempt to write something darkly existential, like "After All" off Bowie's "Man Who Sold The World". The middle section ("joined forces and built our power", etc.) was written later on (though well before the song was recorded) and inserted to make the song fit the story line. In '87, two years after completion of the tracks, I rewrote that section's lyrics with the intention of re-recording them before mixdown (which had been put off until then). Unfortunately because of track distribution this was impossible without having to re-record other tracks as well, so I had to let it go.
I think this was done at all the same sessions as "As The Sky" too. They both feature the same guitar, a JC Penny Effector with built in push-button effects. (The only other time this was used was on the Paper Bag song "Ambient Languages".) The switch from clean to distorted was all done with the guitar, no pedals- so, with my hands, while playing.
Eventually I did have a band called Cold Sky- but we never played this song!
Night Circus pt. 2 (sound clip)
G.S.: guitars, drums, vocals. Recording info as above. Lyrics written 8/12/80. Music written early 1981.
This is the only song we did where we recorded the drums last. We learned our lesson fast. After five complete takes (and many incomplete ones) we got this one. A friend of mine who had been watching the recording urged me to do one more after #4 just for the hell of it and go really crazy on it, not hold back at all- that ended up being the final version.
The guitar sound used here got to be a trademark for me. It was a combination of effects and tone I hadn't tried before and that first time I dialed it in, it put me right back into a dream I'd had many months before. This sound had been in it. I'd forgotten it and the dream until these tones brought it to mind again. The sound seemed very personal and charged and I've been using it ever since.
The lyrics were some of my earliest; if I recall, Night Circus was my third poem. At the time I couldn't play a melodic instrument at all. But it was only a few months later that I got my first guitar.
When it came time to mix this down, I discovered that one of the vocal tracks had somehow faded very badly and the only way to salvage the song was to re-record that- while mixing down! I had no help and so had to do both at once. The first time I attempted this, my microphone cut out on me during a take. I spent the next hour trying to fix an intermittent short. I got it working again and recorded the existing version. Despite being 100% pleased with the performance, that's not something I would ever want to do again.
Introduction (sound clip)
G.S.: two guitar tracks. Recorded at Kenny's, late '84. Written probably late '83, from themes developed fall 1980.
A statement of theme, an overture. This begins Night Circus but would have been out of place beginning this compilation. The 2nd guitar is played in the bass register and was added as a very fortunate afterthought, it hadn't been planned but just seemed like a good idea when it came time to record. This was the 2nd take. The first take featured a slap-back tape effect, which turned the melody to mush. It was scrapped for a cleaner approach.
The main guitar sound, which I think is similar to mellotron strings, is also something of a trademark for me and can be heard elsewhere on this compilation. This is a piece I still play live.
from A Man Who Was Here:
This is the only one of my albums to have been recorded in a regular studio. I took my tax return and went in to attempt to record a full album myself- not even any roadies- in two 10 hour sessions. Even though I was recording Night Circus at the time, this was the one I was banking on to get picked up by a label. It had more commercial elements and, I assumed, better sound quality. But it was out of step with the times, which seemed to demand either Glam Metal or New Wave. This was neither. My goal was to make the kind of record that could comfortably have been put out between 1968 and 1973. While the rest of the world was waiting to rediscover its enthusiasm for that type of music, I'd never let go of it, and it was my belief that there were others out there starved for something like this. Still, there were elements of a more contemporary sound, as "So Far" shows. Then, as now, I saw no reason for a wide range of styles and approaches to be bad news. A&R folks of the day apparently did not agree, and the tape was consigned to Indie land.
Recorded on April 21st and 22nd, 1985 by Chris Wooley at Clean Machine Studios, Canoga Park. Mixed once in '85 by myself and some guy whose name I forget (I was charged for time I couldn't use and it seems to have impaired my memory), then re-mixed in '87 by GS (these are the versions you will hear).
If I Die Tomorrow (sound clip)
G.S.: guitars, drums, 8-string bass, vocals. Music and lyrics written fall, 1982.
I wrote the lyrics in a fit of depression one morning and nearly threw them out the next day, but decided they'd make good lyrics for a blues. The music was written after and was directly inspired by the lyrics- chords to fit the feel. It came together in a couple hours. The lead guitar running through this version was just something that happened in the studio, and was completely improvised.
So Far (sound clip)
G.S.: guitar, drums, 8-string bass, vocals. Music and lyrics 1984.
A political pop tune that takes no sides and spares no one, the narrator included. (Incidentally the narrator is not intended to be me; as with many of my songs, he is a character.) The lyrics actually were written to fit the music this time- usually it works the other way around for me.
King Of Illusion (edit) (sound clip)
G.S.: guitar, drums, 8-string bass, vocals. Lyrics 11/13/81; music mid-to-late 11/81.
This was intended to start off side 2- vinyl was still the standard. The album was arranged so that side one was all shorter tunes, and side two featured 3 longer songs with extended solos. King of Illusion featured a jam and a drum solo, not included here; this edit features only the main body of the song, which is just under 2 minutes and I believe stands up just fine on its own. I like to think of it as a really wild AM radio single in some alternate universe.
If I remember correctly the lyrics were written first and very shortly after that I came up with the music. The manic drum beat, kind of like Love's "7 and 7 Is" played in 7, came into my head at a bus bench one afternoon and I played it very hard with my fists on the wood 'til the bus came. The melody arrived before the bus did and by nightfall the song concept/arrangement had developed. At that time I thought I'd make it the title track of an album, and it would take up side 2. The picture on the song's page was originally intended as the album cover and this image (photo tinted dark purple w/yellow highlights) was also designed, in my head, that day, based on a b&w image in one of my textbooks. I later abandoned that and tried to work the song into Night Circus, but eventually it ended up on A Man Who Was Here, though in a much shorter version.
There are a few versions of this in existence- several mixes or edits of this performance and another totally different recording produced by KennyRyman for the Night Circus sessions. There are live versions recorded with the band Cold Sky. All of them differ pretty significantly from how the song was originally conceived, especially in the longer sections (not heard here). I have yet to record a version I am fully satisfied with. There are two more variations on this I'd like to try, so don't be surprised if they pop up one day.
A Man Who Was Here (sound clip)
G.S.: vocals, guitar, 8-string bass, drums, organ. Music and lyrics March 1985.
This was written just prior to going into the studio. The riff it is based on suddenly came out during a rotation at a Paper Bag rehearsal, and I decided to turn it into a song.
from Experimental Guitar:
Chronologically, this one could have been placed elsewhere, since it covers material from almost as wide a time range as this compilation; but the majority of work on it comes from February 1986, shortly after buying a 4-track cassette recorder. In a way, this material was a reaction to the failure of "A Man Who Was Here" to catch any interest. I went as far away from conventional song structure as I could, and decided to make another kind of music I loved to listen to- experimental/avante garde. I knew the guitar was a great tool for this and I'd always meant to do something along those lines, almost from the time I'd started playing.
The compilation called "Experimental Guitar Sampler" didn't come about until March of 2000. I was doing a solo show of experimental guitar and was convinced by those around me that I ought to have something to sell at the event, even if it was "just a tape". So I took pieces recorded between 1982 and 1999, made a master, a cover, and a new collection was born. Some of these pieces have been remastered and are now available on "The Fourth Of The Three".
Discharge (edit) (sound clip)
G.S.: guitars. Multitrack improvisation to tape February 1986.
This is a very small excerpt (compared to the full piece which is around 16 minutes), but I think it gets the point across. It's a bit like a science fiction soundtrack. Some research may reveal the exact recording date for this and the other pieces from this time period- I think all of it was done in a single afternoon.
From Water From The Moon:
I was going through a rough time when most of this was written, and my dreams were very vivid. The lyrics were primarily based on them, and I wanted the music to reflect that. In imagining what I should shoot for before recording started, I thought of what to some might seem 3 very incongruous influences: the Syd Barrett solo records, the Bee Gees "First" and "Horizontal" albums, and the third Peter Gabriel record. All of them seemed to me to have a kind of quiet, weird, haunted quality, and that's what I wanted for this; unexpected access to some private world. The end result is often a lot more dark-edged and sinister than these influences, with the possible exception of Gabriel, might at first suggest.
I couldn't use my drum kit because of the circumstances of recording- I couldn't get loud. I figured there were a lot of types of music to try that didn't involve drums- acoustic music, electronic music. So I went with electric and acoustic percussion instead. I was very interested in doing some more stripped-down sounding pieces, especially based around acoustic guitar.
Lyrically, this one's a personal landmark. Something must have clicked because I found my voice as a writer- I was no longer swimming in my influences and experimenting with popular styles. Following on my disillusion with shopping around "A Man Who Was Here" and the fact that Paper Bag was beginning to get successful- we got signed to SST, for example- I decided I didn't have to worry quite so much about accessibility. I really thought SST would pick it up. In retrospect of course it's a good thing they didn't.
Recorded 12/86 - 3/87 at Phantom Airship 1. The music was all written in the same period; a lot of the lyrics precede it and some go as far back as late '84. (The oldest one of them is the title track. Confused Celine Dion fans please take note. This is not a cover tune.)
Nothing In The Dark (That's Not There In The Light) (sound clip)
G.S.: acoustic and electric guitars, vocals. Lyrics 2/19/87; music 2/19-20/87 (recorded 2/20).
The lyrics came first and the music followed the next day. The song was inspired by an argument with a close friend who tried to get me involved in some New Age rap group that sounded suspiciously like a pyramid-type scam (which I suppose is appropriate!). This led to an argument concerning negative and positive outlooks on the world. Guess which one I was accused of having? The music reflects my interest in blending acoustic and electric guitar textures, and a wish to experiment with a more folk-oriented style.
The Taker (sound clip)
G.S.: electric guitar, electronic drums, bass, vocals. Lyrics and music 3/4-6/87.
This was the last thing recorded for this project, and came about under very unusual circumstances. On the night of 3/4/87 I had just finished recording "I Was Back In School Again", and was experimenting with tunings and different effects combinations when I suddenly found my mind inundated with what seemed like input from a malevolent intelligence, along the lines of, say, Richard Ramirez (the Night Stalker, a serial killer who terrorized L.A. with random killings). A lot of really horrible imagery went through my head. It's difficult to describe but it was the mental equivalent of suddenly being thrown in a tiny room with such a person. It was very frightening, seemed totally real and was so intense that it felt as if I was overloading, and I managed to get the guitar off and crawl onto the bed before passing out for about a half hour. What caused this? I don't know. At the time, it felt like the process of finding the tuning and experimenting with the sounds from the pedalboard put me into an altered state of consciousness, opened a channel in my head, and that's what came through. Whether this was an actual person, an element of my unconscious, or some discarnate force, it's impossible to say. But it was real enough that I worried about keeping the tuning I'd found- fearing that it would somehow attract this maniac to me like a homing signal. I stuck the guitar in the case and decided to wait until morning to decide.
By the next day, the tuning seemed harmless, but I really liked the sound of it. I played it for a couple of people and it had no adverse effect on them. So I decided to use it and to write a song based on the experience. The harmonics that had seemed to trigger everything that night are what start the piece off; the effects settings were left untouched between the incident and the recording, so this is exact.
The lyrics are from the point of view of whatever it was that passed through my consciousness. The idea was not to create sympathy but fright and repulsion, and to examine the character in a wider social context.
I Was Back In School Again (sound clip)
G.S.: acoustic/electric/slide guitars, vocals. Lyrics written 6/24/86; music written early 1987. Recorded 3/4/87.
For years after graduation, around June or September I would have dreams of being back in school. (They came at other times too but those were the busy seasons.) Americans spend 12 to 14 years getting used to arranging our lives around a schedule and then suddenly one day everything changes. I didn't like school and couldn't wait to get out; but when it was gone a whole way of life ended, and there was something very haunting about that. I'm sure many people think about the way things could have been, or should have been; about what was better in those younger days vs. entering the workplace; about what was worse. A few months before recording this- when many of the lyrics for the album were being written (as poems)- I had another of these dreams. This was a strong one and I took the opportunity of getting it fixed to paper as quickly as I could after waking up.
As for the music, I wanted to create a quiet, haunting atmosphere like the one in the dream. It's a slow build, but hopefully you will find your patience is rewarded.
Water From The Moon (sound clip)
G.S.: keyboard, electronic percussion, guitar, vocal. Recorded December 1986 (probably early in the month). Music written during recording (mostly improvised); lyrics written 12/30/84.
This was one of the earliest songs recorded for the album, done at the end of the first session. The instrumental tracks were improvised, with the original intention being to read the lyrics over the music. But I found that the key was constant enough for me to also improvise a vocal melody. This was later refined when the band Cold Sky did a version and I created a set arrangement for it. The original has a rawness all its own which I am fond of. "Water from the moon" is a southeast Asian expression meaning essentially "to ask for the impossible".
From Darkland Express:
Darkland Express is a continuation and expansion of concepts explored earlier on "Water From The Moon". Old songs are mixed with new songs but none were previously recorded. Some of the material goes back to before I played an instrument. Many of the songs were based on dreams and share a common theme, the dark and repressive side of modern life; about being trapped in it, what it does to people , and their attempts to escape it.
This is probably the most complete and ambitious of the solo albums. It covers a lot of styles. Also, I was a more experienced arranger by the time I did this and I believe it shows.
This was the hardest album to choose songs from because there were so many I wanted to put on.
Recorded 6/91-3/93 at Phantom Airship II and III, and at McKeever Manor and the Dogpit with the Airship Mobile. Some vocals re-recorded at Phantom Airship IV, along with one additional track ("Apartments- instrumental").
Honor (sound clip)
G.S.: 12-string electric guitar, bass, drums, vocal. Recorded early 10/92. Lyrics and music written 10/85.
The lyrics are about the idea that there is true honor in having a sense of worth and purpose not dictated strictly by social expectations.
There are more mixes and versions of this song than anything else I've done. This was the 2nd recording of it for the Darkland sessions (the first one going back to the original sessions in 6/91). I did it live on KXLU in '86. This version has vocals which were redone in '96. They were done live through a reverb unit that allowed me to sweep in the effect with a pedal while I sang- so the "big voice" stuff is part of the performance.
Motifs (sound clip)
G.S.: guitars, vocals, slit drum, tambourine. Recorded 6/26/91. Lyrics 6/12/91, music 6/25/91.
The lyrics were written in the middle of the night after yet another bad experience (in a very long chain of them) with a woman who inspired so many of my other songs the same way. It caused me to doubt not just my time spent on her but my time spent on just about everything else, including my music and drawing breath. To continue or to move on? Where to draw the lines in one's life? Very old questions, and finding answers- literal or metaphorical - is never easy, with no guarantees.
The music was a challenge because the rhyme scheme of the poem is weird. I was stumped for a while until I thought, "How would Peter Hammill do it?" Suddenly I had a starting point for an approach, and the song was written in an hour or two.
The Time To Be (sound clip)
G.S.: vocals, guitars, electronic percussion. Lyrics 2/89. Music 6/1-2/91. Recorded 6/1-2/91.
This was the first thing recorded for the album. The music was inspired by some early John Mayall, Phil Manzanera, Eno, Spanky and Our Gang, etc. This is also the last song to use the Casio electronic percussion pads which are used all over "Water From The Moon". It is undoubtedly the lightest thing on this compilation and possibly the lightest thing I've done. And yet....
The lyrics are about how doing something as simple as sitting outside on a nice day can give you an idea about what's gone wrong with the world- the very lack of such simple time to just "be". The viewpoint offers a revalation, but not necessarily any concrete answers. The hard part still remains to be done.
Demolished (sound clip)
G.S.: vocals, guitars, bass, drums. Lyrics 10/25/91 by Terry Ann Daugherty. Music written and recorded probably around 10/31/91.
This was originally recorded for the soundtrack to Terry Ann's short film, "A Real Human Being". I had already agreed to do it when she sent me the lyrics. I'd never collaborated with someone in that way before and wasn't sure how well I'd do. But I took to the lyrics immediately and once the writing commenced, the song became very personal. When I was putting Darkland together into a finished form, it fit so well I had to include it.
What Gives You The Right (sound clip)
G.S.: vocal, guitars, bass, drums. Lyrics and music written January 1980. Recorded 3/18/93.
This is the first complete song I ever "wrote"- it felt more like I channeled it. In early 1980, I didn't think I could write poems or song lyrics (despite one short poem written 4 years earlier). I wasn't really sure I could write songs. Then one day I woke up from a nap with this song in my head, with melody, lyrics, and solo concept fully intact. Greg Lake was singing it. I wrote down the lyrics and held the melody and arrangement in my head, memorizing it. Once the barrier had been crossed I found I had no more trouble writing music and lyrics.
This version is very close to what I'd heard in my head. The vocals should have been higher. I tried it in a higher key but then the rest of the music didn't sound right- perhaps Lake would have sounded higher in this key! The piercing high notes that end the solo were the only ones planned from the beginning, the rest is improvised.