I have this album. it’s quite nice. It’s a kind of Steampunk Opera and it tells a little story and it’s got all these instruments…. lots of instruments actually, and awesome vocals… and wow, some great orchestrations with all those great instruments. Kind of a big strength those lush orchestrations.
Well, turns out, we have a show coming up. The Director, Mark Swetz, has by sheer force of unstoppable will gotten us a space and pulled together the people, talent, money (the guy got us a bloody grant! How? Because i’m telling you, he’s like the Hulk of theater), and resoucres to put on a small stage show in the Oval Theater upstair venue, a very good place to stage a fledging production just coming out of the womb.
I get emails from people. They ask questions about the album and talk about how they envision a stage production. What they describe is usually epic. The album suggests epic. But one does not simply go from a piece of music to multi gazillion dollar budgets in huge theaters. With good reason too. One should be wary of multi gazillion dollar budgets straight out of the gate. If a show is good, if a story and music are good, they should be able to move you in small intimate theatrical dream world and then balloon upwards with a better budget. If it doesn’t work at its core, a bunch of money won’t make it great, it’ll just make it… dazzling but empty. Not that we’re against lots of money, mind you, but starting small is the option on our plate and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Which means…. all those orchestrations? Gone. I would ideally want 10 musicians to pull off the music. I do not get 10 musicians. Our budget and the space cannot fit anywhere near that number. I get four and even that is pushing it. (Small space. Workshop space).
I have to reinterpret the entire piece with four musicians. Piano, accordion, acoustic guitar and drums.
This terrifies me.
Do i doubt Mark’s ability to direct and pull this thing together? Hell no. That man could organize a choir of demons to sing Handel at XMas time. Do i doubt the performers’ ability to perform it? Hell no. We have a killer cast. Lauren Osborn could sing you into such a trance that you’d walk out off a cliff and only when she finished singiny would you pull a Wile E Coyote and realize you were actually standing in mid air. (cue dropping sound). We’ve cast an Edgar that will BLOW. YOUR. MIND. Oliver Marsh. The guy literally made my jaw drop in his audition. (I actually uttered profanity upon his completion of Bring You Down). And wait’ll you see our Narrator, Kate Young. She is other worldy. She is a living portal into another Land of shade and magic.
We’ve got puppeteers. We’ve got designer Lily Arnold. We’ve got stage manager Jennifer Harding, do i doubt them? No, Sir. For the last time: I. Do. NOT.
No. I doubt my own ability to pull off the music with a four piece. Everyone will make this little space and this little show into a magic place and time but the music will drop the ball. The music, once so good, will, in sheer torturous irony, be the factor that lame-anizes the performance. Worse, since it’s England, i won’t even be able to buy a gun to shoot myself after the unbearable shame! Is there no mercy?!?!
Thus, freaking out to high heaven, on the brink of running about like a chicken with its head cut off, i asked the acoustic guitarist to stop by for a few days to work on it with me.
MIljen Aljinovic, guitarist for the American psychedelic band Catnip Tea who happens to be around my neck of the woods for a few months popped by and we sat down to see what hope there was.
That’s when the miracle occurred.
Two songs into it, after Annabelle Raise The Dead i stopped and looked at him. “Is it just me or… is this…”
“Really good?” he answered. “Yeah.”
And the thing is, it was. It was really good. Like, shockingly good. With only piano and acoustic guitar the songs were kind of kicking butt. In fact, the very songs that i was most worried about were actually some of the best ones. (Voodoopunks utterly ruled. I swear. With only piano and guitar it was a monster. Even other people in the house commented on it. Annabelle Raises The Dead, Bonfire Of The Dolls, all problem songs turned out flawlessly.)
All of a sudden my
worry anxiety terror dissipated. Imagine with accordion and drums. This band could really rock it. Whoda thunk?
But what about all those beautiful atmospheric soundscapes? They’re gone. All that industrial percussion that defines the album? I’ll miss that most of all, but it’s gone. The orchestra? The bells? Gone. Gone. So what’s left? Why am i so excited? Have i simply lost it?
What exists instead is raw, stripped down, intimate, live passion. The quiet bits? They are so intimate, it’s like being naked with the song. When we crash together on the loud bits you can feel the wild passion erupt like fire in the room. I picture Lauren singing over certain parts and dear Gd, if you’re not moved, you’re dead.
It turned out, if you strip the music down to nothing but the raw, bare essentials, it still works. Pretty well in fact. I had no idea. But what do i know? I’m just the composer.
P.S. (okay, so maybe i’m a bit of a drama queen in this post, but as i want this blog to chronicle the entire process of creation, the anxieties and doubts should be noted too)