The 9th circle of Self-Indulgence: The Solo Album

So I’m releasing a solo album…

That sentence rarely leads to anything good, right? Usually it’s a sign of band turmoil, a frontman looking to leave the rest of the band behind, or it’s a vehicle for unwanted experimental / self-indulgent / sub-standard material that the rest of the band has rejected. I’m not sure these concerns apply here since my solo album is nothing like any of my other projects, because it has nothing to do with metal or any other kind of extreme / heavy music whatsoever.

The album is called Last Son of Krypton, and I somehow managed to talk Relapse into promoting and distributing the album digitally, while I’m pressing a small run of digipak CDs. To get the necessary shameless plugs out of the way – you can order the digipak here, and check out the album on bandcamp, Youtube, or stream it via the usual suspects. It’s essentially a film score without a film. Or an album of cinematic music that tells a story without words or images. I wrote the album throughout 2020, when I desperately needed an antidote to the year’s omnipresent doom-and-gloom, so the story it tells is unabashedly and un-ironically positive – Superman’s arrival on earth, his coming of age, and him confronting and ultimately defeating Brainiac. . Why Superman? Why film music? Why now?

Anyone who knows me even a little knows that before heavy music, my first obsession was what’s now referred to as “geek culture.” I was a comic book / sci-fi / horror / mythology kid growing up and I devoured Marvel and DC books throughout the entire 1980s (my first comic book was Amazing Spider-Man #208, Fusion, the Twin Terror, which hit shelves in the fall of 1980, and by 1990 I was reading dozens of titles every month). So as you might imagine, I’ve spent a lot of time and money over the past several years consuming the virtually limitless glut of Comic-book-based media. I remember wrapping up our 2012 tour supporting Cannibal Corpse, and there was a big party on their bus after the last show – I skipped the party because that day, Avengers came out and there was no way I was missing opening night. I’ve fallen behind on all other movies and books because there is just so much comic-book content being released on a constant basis and I’m loving it.

Portrait of the artist as a young man, or something like that.

For years, I had been in the habit of transcribing melodies that came to me and they kept getting more and more elaborate. By the time we finished Death Revenge, I was working with my old pal Matt Widener (ex-Exhumed, Cretin, The County Medical Examiners, Citizen) to build these themes into fully realized orchestral pieces. I was fascinated by how he arranged my ideas and turned them into something listenable and I’m really proud of those parts of the record. I came up with what ended up being the main theme for my Last Son of Krypton record on a flight to visit my mom in South Carolina a couple of years ago following a conversation Ross (Sewage, Exhumed basscyst / vocalist and fellow comic-book guy) and I had about how we wished current superhero soundtracks were more optimistic sounding. I didn’t think much about it, because, after working with Widener, I realized that it would take some serious time and money to produce tracks of that quality on my own – I’d need my own studio for sure.

Fast-forward to the Spring of 2019, and there we were – building our own studio to record Horror. Now I would have full-time access to recording technology and, unbeknownst to all of us at the time, I would soon have a lot of time off the road. Like… waaaaaay too much time. For a while now, I’ve been the only person in my bands that even lives in the San Luis Obispo area, so I was not only unable to tour and perform during the worst of the pandemic, I wasn’t even able to get together and rehearse and write with the band. They kept saying “take advantage of this downtime to learn a new skill,” and I figured this would be the time to really start developing some of the themes and melodies I had written. I even started writing for a film, but that ended up falling through (which was probably for the best, in hindsight) but I found that the more I worked on this kind of music, the more interested I got. I had’t felt this energized to learn and immerse myself in a new musical project since the early days of Exhumed, when Death Metal and Grindcore occupied about 75% of my waking thoughts.

I had no idea the rabbit-hole I was plunging into as I had to learn a vast amount of new music theory (now I can throw around terms like pan-diatonicism, and voice-leading), figure out the sounds and functions of an entirely new set of musical tools (woodwinds, strings, brass, percussion, synthesizers, et al) and also learn the production and mixing techniques required to produce a digital score. I ended up writing this album three times, because every few months I had learned enough to completely change my perspective on what I’d been working on. So to say that this album is a passion project or a labor of love is trite, but in this case – utterly accurate.

Some of my earliest musical memories have to do with film music – I was fortunate enough to be a kid when John Williams was cranking out the scores for Superman II, Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Empire Strikes Back, and the main melody of Chariots of Fire by Vangelis has been stuck in my head since 1981. If you pay any attention to my blog or the noise I make online at all, you may know I recently published my first short story last year in an anthology called Horrorama, so crafting music that tells a story combines two things I love. 2020 was a dark year, and I needed something positive during that time, so that’s what I endeavored to create with this record. Of course there’s villainy and conflict, but to counter all the cynicism, mistrust and anger surrounding last year, I needed a story with a happy ending. So, I wrote my own.

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