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Where's My Orchestra?
By Michael Askounes - 03/11/2004 - 04:41 PM EST

They lurk deep within me, and come out to play while I'm working... driving... resting. They are the sonic daydreams. The unwritten songs. The unsung melodies and unplayed notes. And when my mind begins to write these songs, it is as if I am Mozart for a few minutes - a touch of strings here, key changes, beautiful harmonies. All those things fall into place in the songs that reside in my mind...

But all those things fall apart when I try to recreate those songs in the studio to share with others. My voice cannot hit the notes that the singer in my head hits. My fingers are not as fast as my imagination. I simply am no match for... myself...

It's frustrating, because I KNOW deep down if I could just make the songs sound like they do when I'm lying in bed at night, people would love them. But it seems every note I try and transfer from brain to instrument takes away just a little bit of the magic away from the original daydream. And in the end, the demo that I create winds up being just a shadow of itself - a idea tainted by its own master.

My mind doesn't know when to stop, and it can leave me in the dust at times. It commands me to write lyrics, arrange them into large suites of music - 15, 20 minutes long. And I do it. It comes up with little bits of music, or ideas for motifs, or exotic time signatures, so I walk down to my studio and do as the muse bids. It creates and creates and creates with reckless abandon, as if it is cleaning out its closets of every musical idea that had been pent up during all these years. And I obey like an automaton... with no regard for reason.

But I don't have time like the musician inside does. I have a family and a full time job. I have responsibilities that my internal composer does not, and - in reverse - it has abilities that I do not. I cannot recreate its creations. So I wind up with bits and pieces of musical ideas strewn across my hard drive... but not the talent to sew them together.

My dream was (and still is) to do an old-fashioned "concept" piece... the kind that critics label “pretentious” because it forces them to think beyond the four minute verse-chorus-verse cookie-cutter idea of music. I wanted to write about the last few tumultuous years in my life, but do so in a way that people other than me could relate. I couldn’t care less if I could sell it to a publisher, or if people in Nashville or L.A. would like it. I’m not interested in writing for money, I’m writing because of the pressure I feel from within. I want to create my music because it simply demands to be created.

So I conceptualized an entire CD that would be one song - one story - with several different movements. I have near-final lyrics for all these movements, and I've arranged them into the proper order for the story. I've also put spots for instrumental movements that will propel the story forward without words. I've got little bits of music for all these movements and even musical motifs that will pop up in different spots across the disc.

But, as I said before, my mind has more talent and free time than I do. And I've found myself both overwhelmed by the to-do list these sonic daydreams create. And I freeze up whenever I go to physically work on the project - a project that means more to me than just about anything else in my life - because it just seems so overwhelming... so unattainable. For some odd reason, I am struck with a sort of primal fear when I think about moving forward. And then all the questions flood forth…

Can I do this? Where will I find a singer? Will they be able to convey the emotion I want? Can I mix it myself? Can I play the guitar well enough? The drums? Should I bring in another musician? Will they respect my vision, or try and kidnap my baby? Will anyone see merit in this? Will they understand what I’m trying to say?

(sigh) Where's my orchestra?


OK… now it’s time for “Nook Tunes” – the part of the column where I suggest some discs that I think are “must haves” for rock and rollers like myself. Please feel free to share any additions to this list you’d like to share over on the “Newbie’s Nook” section of the message boards. Today I’m going to pay tribute to a couple incredible singer/songwriter types that don’t get the credit they deserve, IMHO.

Matthew Sweet – “Altered Beast”
This – my friends – is my favorite rock disc of the 90’s. It’s Sweet’s follow-up to the excellent “Girlfriend”, and it surpasses its predecessor in every way imaginable. The songwriting is hard-edged in some places (like the rip-roaring opener “Dinosaur Act”), heart-breakingly beautiful in other places (“Evergreen”), and catchy as all hell to boot (“Time Capsule”).

Matthew Sweet is a master songwriter, and this is his master piece. He combines original chord structures with some of the best harmonies you’ll hear this side of the Beach Boys. And for us guitarist, he scores a coup here by recruiting Richard Lloyd (Television) and Robert Quine (Voidoids) for 6-string duties. While the guitar soloing that constantly peppers almost every song on the disc can at first seem annoying, which each successive listen you can hear how the perpetual soloing is indeed necessary for the feel of the album.

This is truly a treasure of songwriting, and I’d strongly suggest any fan of the singer/songwriter genre pick it up.

Crowded House – “Together Alone”
New Zealand’s Crowded House is considered by many in America as a one-hit wonder, which is unfortunate view because anyone familiar with the band leader Neil Finn’s work knows that he is probably the most talented pop songwriter since Paul McCartney. His knack for hooks is just about unparalleled, and you’ll find yourself singing his melodies in your head long after you’ve pulled the disc from your player.

Together Alone was the swan song of the band – their last studio effort – and is, IMHO, their best. If you like dreamy melodies and goose-bump inducing harmonies, look no further – brilliant songs such as “Catherine Wheels”, “Pineapple Head”, “Private Universe” and “Kare Kare” are so beautiful that one is almost transported away while listening to them. I just can’t imagine anyone hearing these gems and not coming away amazed that this album didn’t sell a jillion copies…

If you do nothing else this weekend, at least try to find a copy of the song “Catherine Wheels” somewhere – I’ll give a Nook Guarantee that you’ll come away impressed.

Anyway, that’s all from me. Thanks for reading the column and please feel free to contact me at or by stopping by “The Newbie’s Nook” section over on the message boards.

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