Magical (Musical) Mystery Tour: Part Six

I know it’s been a while since we’ve boarded the bus for our Magical (Musical) Mystery Tour through my musical non-career, so let’s recap: We started with the origins of my interest in music and one of my first bands, moved on to mentally challenged shenanigans, looked behind the scenes at the life and death of Rahne, learned the secrets of the Still Hour Productions collective, and got spooky during my stint with local goth pioneers Morgana Athena. This time around, I’m going to pull back the veil on what the hell I was doing in between all these projects, from recording material that never left the living room to planning a Rahne comeback that never happened.

I mentioned briefly last time that after Rahne’s breakup in April 1997 and before joining Morgana Athena in the fall of that year, I was doing a lot of recording and writing in different styles. When Rahne was still going strong, I was already moving away from the goth-punk stuff, exploring more pop, funk and contemporary electronic sounds. But all the while, I was going even further into different musical realms on the side, recording a lot of jazz-influenced stuff that would never work for Rahne. When the band broke up, it was really just a natural progression for me.

There was also an upheaval in my personal life at the time, because shortly after Rahne dissolved, so did the relationship with my girlfriend at the time (I wasn’t the most fun to be around back in the day), and I moved out of her apartment and into my own place … for the first time ever. With no roommates and few distractions or obligations outside of my 9-to-5 job (I don’t think I even had a car), I had plenty of time to focus on creating music. Well, and on IRC chat, but that’s a story for another time. I bought a new keyboard (to complement my existing one), a new Mac (again, doubling my computing power) and spent many long days and late nights just being productive as hell.

Aside from an attempt to bring my jazz-pop compositions to life with a real, live jazz band (we had one unsuccessful jam), my main focus at the time was the new musical identity of The Dawn. While on paper, this wasn’t much different than Rahne (me writing, recording and playing everything in the studio), the tone of the music was quite different. I was done writing angry young man songs about racism, oppression and sadness. I was more focused on creating dynamic soundscapes, with lyrics coming secondary, and style or genre not being a restriction. Though my output was not as prolific as the period writing for Rahne, The Dawn produced some interesting recordings.

The first was a cassette E.P. called “Welcome 2 … The Dawn.” Yes, the Prince influence was there aesthetically, if not musically. The five songs ran the gamut, mashing up my musical interests, from the trip-hop-leaning, spoken word lead track, “Substance,” to the 10-minute, fully improvised, free-noise-jazz experiment “Blue in the Key of What,” anchored by a sample of Miles Davis’ “So What.” Hell, there was even a ballad, improbably named “Wham-Bam,” again, with improvised lyrics. Made available for order online and in one or two Vegas record stores, I think only five people have ever heard the songs from this tape. I’ve uploaded “Substance” for your listening pleasure.

After joining Morgana Athena as its guitarist, it didn’t take me long before I was also the acting manager/publicist/producer as well. After we moved into a shared rehearsal space with that jazz combo I mentioned earlier, I also moved my studio equipment into there, something also precipitated by getting back together — and moving in — with my ex-girlfriend (and future ex-wife). Though I obviously spent a lot of time working on Morgana-related stuff, I also continued writing and recording material for The Dawn, though at a stilted pace, as I was cramming what used to be nearly limitless time for such things into just a few hours a week spent at the studio between work, gigs and personal life stuff. Plus, I was running all my extracurricular activity from the studio, which included (this will come as a shock) a publishing company, record label and graphic design business.

Regardless, I managed to squeeze out another commercial release by The Dawn, a maxi-single called “Transcension.” I was really on this spiritual kick at the time, sort of the opposite of Rahne’s “there is no god” hard-line stance. It kind of started with “Welcome 2…,” with its breaking dawn cover imagery, but came to full bloom on “Transcension,” a blazing, big-beat exercise that might be one of the best things I’ve ever recorded, combining samples and live performance with multi-textural vocals (listen to it here). The lyrics basically denounce my previous blasphemous ways and declare, “I know I’ll never die because I’m learning how to fly,” a reference to my SOUL, y’all. The weird thing is, it’s not like I found Jesus or anything. It’s just, um, where my head was, I guess. This was probably about the same time as I got one of my first tattoos, which contains an allusion to Christ’s second coming or whatever.

The second song on that CD was a track called “Valley of Locusts,” literally written within a valley of locusts. Back in ’98, there was a weird mini-infestation of locusts (OK, maybe they were cicadas) in Las Vegas. At one point, they clogged some streets so much, you could not take a step without stepping on one. I was walking to the studio one day through this field of locusts, thinking about all the end-of-millennium stuff, and the lyrics just came to my head, which I then recorded with a slow, heavy drum beat, lingering bass line and dynamic guitars. And then, for some reason, I decided the already five-minute track needed a seven-minute techno-dance remix. So, here’s that. Lyrics complete with references to souls living forever, Nazareth (not the band) and other quasi-Biblical imagery. The “Transcension” single probably sold even fewer copies than “Welcome 2…,” so I doubt anyone has ever heard this stuff.

By the end of 1998, Morgana had broken up, my studio was dismantled, and I was rapidly on my way to being married … at 22. While I didn’t give up on music entirely, my new life left little room for it, literally, because there wasn’t a practical way to have a dedicated studio space in our cramped apartment with roommates. Eventually, we moved into an apartment with an extra bedroom that I tricked out as a wicked home office/studio, similar to what I have now (minus a full band’s worth of equipment). It afforded me the ability to not only increase my freelance design and writing projects (at this point, I was running multiple websites as well as a new multimedia production business called “The Studio,” doing CD mastering/duplication, graphic design & production, etc.), but also to start writing and recording music again in earnest.

For the most part, The Dawn was dead. I recorded a few more songs with the intention of putting out another single or EP — I have a fully-packaged CD single around my house somewhere — but it never left the bedroom. The music had evolved further (as had the technology with which to record it). I was doing a lot of sample and beat manipulation and very little actual playing. It was interesting, but never went anywhere.

Some of those tracks were held over for an idea I’d fomented, a Rahne concept album called “God, Sex and the Power to Fall.” It would have been a genre-spanning album of epic proportions … if I ever finished it. I’m pretty sure I did the package design (complete with full track listing) before even recording anything. Very few finished tracks exist from that period, at least that I can find. Mind you, I have books full of poorly labeled CD-Rs from that period, so there might be more out there than I realize. But all I know is I was vaguely falling under the sway of the pop music of the time — Backstreet Boys, Ricky Martin, etc. — and one of the demos for GS&TPTF includes a pretty terrible multi-part vocal harmony by yours truly.

After that, I spent the rest of the early-2000s diddling around, just experimenting with different styles and sounds: hip-hop, world, dance, pop and, oh yeah, lilting guitar ballads. Tia (my then-wife) and I tried starting a band together, writing a few songs and coming up with a name (“Hesperia”), but it didn’t get very far. We had, um, issues collaborating, which probably explains the eventual divorce thing (it all worked out in the end), but oddly enough, the ONLY TIME I have played the main stage at the House of Blues Las Vegas was during our brief collaboration, playing a few songs (just me on guitar and Tia on vocals) for a friend’s benefit show. One was a cover of PJ Harvey’s “C’mon Billy,” and the other was (I think) an original we wrote, but don’t ask me what it was called or how it went. We never recorded anything.

Despite all that, weirdly, the one thing that enabled my musical revival in the late-2000s was an anniversary present from Tia: A Ludwig five-piece drum set. Yes, the same, sparkly silver one I play to this day. She knew I had a hard-on for the drums, but I hadn’t been able to play them much since Morgana broke up (I used to come to rehearsals early just to get in jam time on the skins), aside from occasional djembe jamming at drum circles (don’t ask). We bought a house, which meant I not only had room for them, but a cushion of space between neighbors to enable hitting them loudly. I spent as much time as I could practicing, just plugging headphones into a CD player and teaching myself as I played along. And yes, kids, that’s why I am such a terrible drummer still. Never learned to play properly.

Which brings us to … the end of this overly long chapter. Next time, with my new drum skills and sudden bachelorhood, we look at how I wasted little time getting right back on the band horse … even if that horse never left the stable.

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