I’m Not Really In The Christmas Mood This Year

I'm Not Really In The Christmas Mood This Year - A Foxtails Brigade cover by Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction feat. Dave Leon.

This year’s Christmas single is now available! 

It’s a departure from my regular groove.  But if I have to listen to Xmas music it better be really funny or a total bummer.  And this one is definitely the latter.

This beautiful depressing piece of holiday cheer(?) by Foxtails Brigade is about losing the Xmas spirit because you’ve gone through all the little rituals so many times they start to lose their meaning.  If they even had any meaning in the first place.

But why this?  Why now?  Why Dave?

Dave Leon and I have been friends since high school.  If you know my backstory you know that I started playing the flute at age 8 because my mom told me I’d always been the only boy in the flute section.  Which I was.  But I never dated another flautist.  I did however meet one of my best friends sitting in the section next to me playing clarinet.  Dave Leon.

We made plans for a band called Nude Tubas that never came to fruition.  We wrote and recorded some really really bizarre/terrible/goofy music (along with my younger brother Ryan) under the name Dissonant Devastation (or something like that).   And yes the “or something like that” was an official part of the name.

Lucky for you that music was never released publicly.  

We’ve tried a couple other little things over the years but never got them off the ground because our schedules are both so busy.  Dave is a fantastic actor and song & dance man in the theater world.  Here’s a photo we took while he was performing Trekkie Monster in a production of Avenue Q a few years back.

Trekkie Monster, Phil Johnson, and Dave  Leon after a production of Avenue Q.

So when Dave asked me to record a backing track of this Foxtails Brigade song for him to sing at an event I thought we should take the opportunity to release it.  All while accidentally exposing the mushy side of our musical tastes.  

Give it a listen and enjoy I’m Not Really In The Christmas Mood This Year.

Sweat Pants

Sweat Pants by Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction

Sweat Pants is now available on all music streaming and download sites!

Let me take you through a little history of this new song “Sweat Pants”… You may have first heard it in a short video during the 30 Second Song Project.

The next version you heard was probably the studio acoustic version from the Itty Bitty Ditty Committee album. 

And now you’ve got the full length, fully ridiculous, fully over the top studio recording!

While I was working on the arrangement for the song Eddie Van Halen passed away.  Since I already had a David Lee Roth type character in mind for the lead vocal I thought “What if I did this like a lost Van Halen track?”

The odd part being that I was never a big Van Halen guy.  Appreciated them, sure.  I’m a Dave over Sammy fan just for the fun factor even though Sammy’s the better singer.  And I always knew Ed was one of the greatest guitarists ever. 

But for some reason they never hit the top of my pops.  I think I owned OU812 when I was a kid.  Everything else I’d heard on the radio.  Which, of course, is still a ton of songs.  

So in setting off to do this Van Halen pastiche I had to dive into their catalog and the playing styles of each guy.  I settled into some of the early Panama/Jump stuff as a template.  Unchained was my main reference as that’s always been one of my favorites by them.

I dialed up a nice 5150 tone in Guitar Rig and jumped into working through Eddie’s guitar parts in those tunes to see how he constructs his stuff.  So much going on in there!  Being in a quartet like that means the guitarist has to cover a lot of sonic space.  And Eddie’s parts would deftly weave beefy riffs with little fiddly fill in bits between the vocal lines.  Lots of cool little harmonics, whammy bar dives, and little decorations.  

It’s common to double guitar tracks to build up some thickness on a recording.  Ed’s playing style is so loose that I was cringing at the idea of have to try and double it.  Fortunately a quick Google search told that he felt the same way and never doubled his parts.  Yay!

What we did do is use the same panning trick the used for Ed’s guitar on the early stuff. The guitar is almost all in the left channel and the right channel is just the reverb part of it to fill out the stereo spectrum.

I really put my hands through the ringer on this one.  I couldn’t do it without some of the fingertap stuff Ed was known for.  The main riff has tap parts and the solo has some bent taps at the beginning.  Besides all the play throughs to work out the parts I recorded probably a dozen takes before I got something I liked.  My fingertips hurt for about a week after I got it done.

Then I dived into Alex Van Halen’s drum work.  I’m a way less sophisticated drummer than I am a guitarist.  But I managed to pick up some of his trademarks.  He liked a 4-on-the-floor kick and 16ths on the hi-hats in places I wouldn’t have thought to use them.  

Michael Anthony was always known for that good 8th note chug on the bass.  Simple, but effective.  My only question was whether he used a pick or fingers.  Watch some video, did some searching, and got the answer “Sometimes”.  Ok, then.  I used fingers.

Those Michael Anthony backing vocals were more important to me.  And it was fun to dig into those high harmonies that are loose but still hit close to the right notes.

On the lead vocal I didn’t go full Roth.  He’s got a cleaner tone than I generally do on a track like this.  And when I tried it clean I didn’t really like the result.  So I gritted it up a bit in my style.  But I had to do the whole stilted, overacted talking part in the middle.  Which of course features a guest appearance by a formerly famous 70’s soul singer.

One interesting video I saw was this one where they guy quantized an old Van Halen track.  Most modern music is really locked to a grid.  The beats don’t come early or late.  But Van Halen played without a click track in the studio so their sense of time is very loose.  And it turns out it’s not nearly as good if it’s quantized.

So when I sent the tracks off to my mix engineer, Federico (who loves a good quantization) I said, “Don’t quantize anything!”  And he restrained himself to keep the track loosey goosey.  

And that’s how we got to the final track.  You can click this link to hear it on your favorite streaming service.
Or if you’d like to pop for 99 cents to own it forever and ever you can download it from BandCamp.  

A Puggle Named Fred

“A Puggle Named Fred” is now available on all streaming and download platforms!

Intimate relationships are messy.  You get to be your true self and that’s not always the prettiest version of you.

And while that sounds a little sappy, there’s plenty of drugs, alcohol, and sex in this song.  

This one originally came together during the 30 Second Song Project.  I started with the line “I’m no wizard but I’ll be your muggle” because my girlfriend was in the midst of reading all the Harry Potter books at the time.  

From there I just kept playing with the “uggle” rhyme until a story started to pop out.  Unlike many of my other songs, the lyrics came pretty quick on this one. 

I had planned it for one of the short songs albums.  Either The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee (also available now) or the next one I’ll be doing later this year. 

But as I started to play with the little musical refrain I realized I had a full song on my hands.  A bit of a mandolin solo and it was good to go.  I say that like I didn’t destroy my fingertips doing a zillion takes of that mandolin solo.

Fun note: This song is only the 2nd time I’ve played flute on a recording.  The other is “Kissing In The Rain” which will be getting a new release with a new mix and master in a couple months.  Stay tuned for that.

Meanwhile, give a listen to A Puggle Named Fred.  Available on your favorite streaming site or feel free to buy it at Bandcamp through the player below.

Hallelujah?

Hallelujah

My Hallelujah parody is out today!  (Everywhere but Spotify for some reason.  I’m working on that.)

Listen on your preferred service at https://link.roadsideattraction.com/hallelujah

But why would I write a parody?  I never done one before.  So why this song?

There’s a book by Alan Light called “The Holy Or The Broken” (Amazon link) all about the history of the song Hallelujah from Leonard Cohen to Jeff Buckley to the song’s place in pop culture as an oft-misunderstood American standard.

At the end of the book the author says “But I’ve never heard a really good parody of it.” Something that went beyond just changing the words but actually makes fun of the song itself.

“Challenge accepted,” said I.  And then set out to use the song’s own lyrics against it to make fun of it’s overuse in pop culture.

At times when I’ve played this song people have gotten on my case for defiling a “sacred” piece of music.  And yes, those are usually white Christian people who assume this is a Christian song because it uses religious imagery.  

However just a little bit of thinking will tell you that Leonard COHEN was probably not Christian.  He was Jewish in fact.  And this isn’t a sacred religious song.  It’s a song about sexual obsession in which he uses religious imagery to portray the depth and intensity of those feelings.  Those super religious people, ironically, should find this song to be sacrilegious.  

But that shows you the power of a well-hewn chord progression and a strong melody.  It is an absolutely brilliant song.  The original Leonard Cohen version isn’t the vocal showcase that we expect it to be now.  Because it’s Leonard Cohen.  

I based mine on Jeff Buckley’s spectacular version which is the what more people are familiar with.  The guitar playing on this track is beyond beautiful.  So intricate and tightly entwined with the vocal.  Except he uses a capo.  Capos are cheating and I stand by that. 😉

For my version, I didn’t copy Jeff Buckley’s guitar parts.  Instead I played through a transcription of his a few times and used similar ideas but with my own style applied to them.  So it’s definitely my interpretation of that style without being the same.  And I didn’t do the extended introduction because “Get to the jokes, Funny Boy,” right?

Here’s Jeff Buckley’s version.  Seriously, listen to the guitar parts.

I did leave out an extra verse that I’d written because the song was already hitting the 4 minute range and I didn’t want to add a bunch of extra time on.

But here for your reading pleasure is that extra verse.  

We’ve definitely been here before

With an ogre pacing on his floor

And school kids leaving out words that arouse ya

I’ve seen your Idols singing grand

But mostly though they’re pretty bland

It’s a limp and it’s a flaccid Hallelujah

 

Hallelujah

Shmallelujah

Sock it to ya

Ha ha fooo oooled ya

But what about that Rufus Wainwright version from Shrek?  That gets a big ‘ol “Meh” from me.  It sounds like he phoned in the performance.  Nothing intriguing about the piano part.  It’s a little too fast.  It sounds like a very average cover of the song that he got a paycheck for.  And now that he’s kind of known for it I imagine he puts a little more into the performances of it.  But his original track doesn’t do anything for me.

So I hope you enjoy my version of it with some lighthearted skewering of it’s place in pop culture.  

And no, Alan Light never responded when I sent it to him.  So there ya go.

I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man (Prince cover) Out Now!

I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man cover

Yes, a rare earnest musical moment from me. 🙂

Out today – My version of Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”.  You can listen to it on your favorite audio streamer.

If you’ve ever listened to me talk about music for more than two minutes then you know I’m a HUGE Prince fan.  And I absolutely love his original version of this song from the Sign O’The Times album (which happens to be the album that triggered my Prince addiction.)

But the lyrics are so sad and I always wanted to hear him to a downtempo version that matched the sentiment.  So I had to do my own.

This is actually a bit of a vault track. Though my vault is way smaller than Prince’s.  I recorded this song in 2006 and it was out for a bit.  However the licensing hadn’t been done right so I pulled it down.  Now it’s all legit.  And this let me go back in for a light remastering too.

While I’ve been doing this song on my Tuesday Livestream show… every Tuesday at 12:30pm PT on Facebook and Instagram… I hadn’t played it in years.  Doesn’t usually fit the vibe of my comedy club shows.

My most prominent memory of performing the song was a gig I did for an art car event at the San Jose Museum of Art years ago.  Sounds relatively cool. What a shit gig.

I was playing on the front steps of the museum… unamplified.  Like a damn busker. In case you were wondering why I can’t stop slamming my voice into the mic and annoying soundmen in the process, I used to do a lot of these unamplified outdoor gigs.  

There were a ton of people around checking out the art cars, mostly ignoring me.  Then I did this song and the crowd paused, quieted, listened.  It was the first thing that got their attention.

And while I enjoyed that they were actually paying attention, I spent the whole song thinking “Oh sure… You’ll pay attention to the one song you already know.”

The power of a good cover, I guess.

Give it a listen and save it to your listening library. Then every so often you can go “Huh, this is weird.”

Looking for more of my releases? Check out the Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction store!