10 years ago this month, the Gardening In a Tornado album was released. My relationship with said album has become more complicated in the ensuing years, but I can say with great certainty I did my damnedest at the time to make it the best album I possibly could. Joshua Banner and Brian Bergman engineered it, Kendall Combes mixed it, Chris Freels mastered it, and Dean Brown, Dustin Ragland, Quint Anderson, K.C. Clifford and Jason Bondy played/sang/clapped on it.
A large portion of the years between releasing Feezle Day in 2000 and starting Gardening in 2005 had seen me “wandering in the wilderness,” so to speak. The final permutation of the “original” Dr. Pants lineup had splintered at the end of 2001, and barring a rare occasion where I managed to cobble together a one-off 4 piece band, I was playing a lot of solo shows/sets. Kenneth Murray did enter the picture in 2002, though, and having at least two thirds of a band that I could mostly count on (Dean Brown lent his drumming skills whenever he was available) meant that the idea of Dr. Pants as a “band” managed to stay alive. I did a lot of soul-searching, though, uncertain as to how I might make another record, who would play on it, who would record it, how I would pay them, what songs from my growing backlog would be on it, and whether, ultimately, anyone would care. Most people I spent time with socially during those years, quite frankly, seemed uninterested in my music, to the point that (especially given my spiritual bent at that time In my life) I felt led to question if music was even something I was supposed to be doing.
Some time in 2003 or 2004, though, I was at a coffeeshop with a friend who was helping me get a resume together to think about possibly switching jobs. She was one who had dreams, and who assigned meaning to the dreams she had. And she had a dream about me making music, and said that she thought I should feel okay about making music that was different from those around me. And hearing that was a big deal to me at the time.
Subsequently, in 2004 I finished the Werks 2 album (currently available on the Weird Files Bandcamp page) and set about trying to make a new “rock” record…cobbling little piles of money together wherever I could, having extremely intermittent recording sessions at (first) Josh’s house and (second) Brian’s house. They lived across the street from each other at the time, so in some ways it was like doing the whole album at one studio. It took a looooong time to actually get it finished, but we did. True story: “Donuts” was not recorded during the sessions for the album, but was recorded on 4-track cassette at my house. It is officially the last 4-track cassette recording I ever released. To this day, there’s probably a strong argument that it doesn’t fit in with the rest of the record at all…but it was getting such a good response at the shows I was doing at the time that I knew NOT releasing it would be unwise. We were still a number of years away from the practical reality of “digital singles.” So there it sits: track 13 on Gardening In A Tornado.
I worked hard to promote the record. I put up songs anywhere and everywhere online that I could. This is ultimately what led to the album being licensed by MTV/Viacom; the music supervisor who licensed it heard the songs on Unsigned.com.
It’s still a good-sounding record. Everyone involved worked hard and put their heart into it, even if they weren’t getting paid enough. Kendall mixed in the wee hours of the morning because he could get the studio for free during that time.
And the songs? Well…I played them live a lot of times, some more than others. Some are a bit more obvious in their makeup (lyrically more than musically) for my taste sometimes these days, but in terms of what I wanted the record to be at the time, I succeeded. It’s the most straightforward record I’ve ever made in terms of songwriting and style.
Here’s the Bandcamp link. Go take a listen, especially if you’ve never heard it or haven’t heard it in a while.
Some of you may be unaware that I have been pursuing a Masters degree in Music Composition at the University of Central Oklahoma for the last two years. Finishing a Masters while teaching full time and raising two small children is not easy; it is my hope that I can complete the degree by this coming May.
I think there are a number of misconceptions floating around about what I am doing…I am NOT pursuing this degree through the Academy of Contemporary Music (UCO’s contemporary music program that I teach in). We do not offer any such thing and so that was not an option. There is really no world where the work I am doing now could be classified as “rock” or “pop” music…there are no electric guitars in it, no instruments to speak of that found their advent post-1900. No, this work I am doing now is for orchestral instruments, or piano, or classical voices.
That said, it is intended to be “modern” music…just not the kind of “modern” we make down at ACM, or that I have historically made under the name Dr. Pants.
The use of the word “classical” to describe the music that I am writing now (or to describe the music being made at the UCO School of Music in general) is really a misnomer, since the actual “classical” period only lasted for a brief time in the 1700s. It is a term of convenience…Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any other good term that is convenient at all.
Anyway, the point is that I have been keeping this music hidden away…keeping my process very private, basically only telling people when they ask. It’s not shame that has caused me to do this; I am certain of that. It’s possible that it’s a fear of others not understanding, or maybe a fear of some weird judgment, but I really don’t know. I can’t say for sure. I do know, however, that when I suddenly had the idea this week of starting to share more about it online, it is fair to say that some sort of figurative dark cloud was lifted from my consciousness.
That means you can look forward to hearing a lot more about the things I’m doing.
I don’t have any professional recordings of these pieces. Only one of them has even been performed yet in any context. I am sharing a recording of that performance here. I hope to share all the pieces I’ve composed during this process in a recital this coming spring. Work has begun on trying to put that together. It is a challenging undertaking. I need upwards of 15 different musicians who all play different instruments, and my ability to network in the UCO School of Music is extremely limited by the fact that I can only be there a few hours a week. If you have resources or are a “classical” musician of any kind and you feel you would like to offer help, please let me know.
This piece is called Celestial Event #1 and is written for piano. It took me almost an entire semester to compose. I had a lot of work to do in terms of figuring out what my process with writing this kind of thing should look like, as well as finding a world where I was integrating some of the ideas I had but also being a willing student and engaging some of the ideas my teacher wanted me to absorb. What eventually emerged is a challenging piece of music to play; Shiqi Li is the pianist here and she did an excellent job. She was brave to do the work and I truly, truly appreciate her efforts.
If you click over to YouTube you can read the program notes I wrote about the piece.
So, maybe some of you were surprised at how excited I was to complete and post a video on YouTube at the end of last week. Maybe you thought, “Yeah, but it’s not like it’s a new song or anything, it’s just a YouTube video.” That’s fine; maybe YouTube isn’t your thing, or you remember the days when musicians and rock bands only made videos that got shown on MTV, or something like that. That’s all okay.
For me these days, it’s different. Even though I am probably a good deal older than the demographic that predominantly does so, I fully engaged the culture of YouTube starting a year or two ago. I follow YouTubers who make regular videos (meaning at least one a week) and who have gotten to the point where they predominantly make their livings from YouTube (through advertising, product reviews/endorsement, etc.). Now, I’m not saying that I necessarily aspire to be one of those people, but I think firmly planting a foot in the culture of it, and embracing what it has become, is exciting. I like the idea of at least being adjacent to that culture, and so making regular videos has been a goal of mine (one which I have had to put aside several times). I am hoping I don’t have to put it aside anymore; I am going to do my best to post things regularly (at least 2-3 times a month, hopefully weekly). Some of these videos will be “episodes” of the series I’ve already established (Stories Behind the Pants, Bum & Psyche), and some will be new things. Stories Behind the Pants has a somewhat limited lifespan…I don’t want to post the story behind every song in my catalogue, and so I can really only do so many. But when that series stops, something else will begin.
As for why it’s taken me so long to get back to it…Life, man. Parenthood (now of 2 children), work, graduate school, marriage. Those are all incredibly important, and neglecting any of them for the sake of a YouTube video (when it’s NOT something I’m making any money from) seems unjustifiable. But I’m hoping I can streamline my video process in the coming months to the point where it doesn’t have to.
So that’s a little about YouTube and videos; why I want to do them, why I haven’t been. Expect more. Expect it to be a consistent element in the online world of Dr. Pants. In our new configuration (more on that soon), it CAN be more consistent with the other things I’m doing, because Dr. Pants as a thing is not as much about the façade of a 4-piece rock band anymore.
It’s about time I posted an official update in terms of what’s going on in the Pants-verse. There’s actually at least one thing that I’m NOT going to talk about in this post, because I don’t want to spoil it. I may allude to it, but you’ll have to wait for details.
This time last year, I wrote a blog post talking about how I needed a break from Dr. Pants. I said that you (the fans, family, and friends) could call it a “hiatus” if you felt you must. We played 2 shows in 2014, and at this point, it appears that is all we will play. We were petitioned by outside sources to do both of them, and we capitulated because we felt they were both good shows to do.
Earlier this fall, I had plans to do a Dr. Pants 15th anniversary celebration some time in November; this did not come to fruition for a number of reasons. There is a possibility it will still happen in the spring, but I am holding on to it loosely. I was very intent on it at one point, but I don’t feel it to be as necessary now.
A couple of weeks ago, Kenneth and I received a text from Josh Daffron saying that he was moving to Nebraska shortly after the new year and would no longer be a part of Dr. Pants. Devin Donaldson, our bass player, has been living elsewhere (first in Dallas, now in Tulsa) for about 18 months. He has joined us for gigs since he moved away, obviously, but it is not the optimum situation.
I may have said this in my post a year ago (I haven’t looked at it in a while), but the truth of the matter is that Dr. Pants has always been MY baby. It began as a way of presenting my music and songwriting to the world, and that hasn’t ever really changed. We did write the two songs on our Doctor Who-themed single as a band, but that is the one and only time. That being said, I do acknowledge the fact that without Kenneth, Devin, Josh, Dustin Ragland and Aaron Vasquez, the last six or seven years of Dr. Pants music would not have been what it was, and their talent and skill allowed me to write things for Dr. Pants that other musicians would not have been able to execute so phenomenally.
But I’ve always called the shots, for the most part, and I’ve worked my ass off. People identify and call me “Dr. Pants,” and I feel as though I have earned that. I hope to always have great people to play with if I need them; I hope to play with people like Dustin, Devin and Aaron in the future, and perhaps I will. Kenneth is still on board, officially, and in the immediate future will be a part of whatever we’re doing. But the pictures of the 4-piece Dr. Pants are going away for now, and I’m officially declaring our performance setup to be “flexible.” You may see a Dr. Pants gig that’s just me. You may see a Dr. Pants gig that’s just Kenny and me. You may see one that is me, Kenny, and some sort of percussionist. You may also see a full, 4-piece rock band Dr. Pants gig, should the need arise. But it no longer has to be one way, and this gives me an incredible sense of peace. I can relax; Dr. Pants is whatever Dr. Pants needs or wants to be in the moment. And this could lead to some wonderful things.
If you want us to come play for you, please drop an email or a tweet or an FB message. Acoustic or electric, we’ll figure it out. Maybe the option of an acoustic setup will give us more options in terms of coming and playing in your town. Maybe not, but it’s nice to think so. I always want to hear from you, and still dream of coming and performing for so many of you who have been loyal for years now.
Going to try and get some regular YouTube posting up and running again as well.
One last thing: this peace has finally allowed me to think about writing some songs again–at least, writing songs that are similar to SOME aspect of what Dr. Pants has done in the past (I have done a little writing for another project lately…one that is not Dr. Pants OR Weird Files…this is what I mentioned at the beginning of the post. More on that soon). So that’s going to happen, too. When there are some new songs to play, I’ll make sure and find a way to play them for you.
Hope everyone has an amazing Thanksgiving and a good weekend. I am thankful for so much; I’m thankful for the music, and I’m thankful for all of you.