Continuing this little journey into my musical past, this segment will focus on my first forays into writing and recording vocal music, an early stab at a concept album, and some of the assumptions, illusions, and misplaced hopes that developed along the way.
I had this grand idea, sometime around the end of 1988, that I should do a concept album. I was (and still am) a huge fan of the old Genesis classics – songs like “Watcher of the Skies” and “Fountain of Salmacis” – and it seemed like making the leap from writing strictly instrumental songs to incorporating some lyrics shouldn’t be all that difficult. Whether or not that was an accurate or advisable assumption, off I went to compose my little would-be fantasy epic, drawing upon every possible musical influence and convention I had collected along the way. It ended up being far more pop/rock oriented than anything progressive and leaned rather heavily on the noisy, industrial stylings of another one of my favorite bands at the time, Depeche Mode. The lyrics were…well, I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, being a first-time lyricist and all, but once again, I have to laugh at some of the assumptions I was making. Here’s an excerpt from the album’s title track, Into the Dungeon:
“Descend into the dungeon, Brave the depths below. Magic lies within this place, So enter the unknown.”
Now if you happen to be a gamer, familiar with the fact that the word “dungeon” is often used to simply mean “gaming environment” (or more specifically, an underground, labyrinthine construct that typically includes hostile creatures, puzzle-like challenges, and hidden treasure, among other things), this might not seem so odd. But anyone who doesn’t know that would probably take the word to mean “a medieval prison,” which hardly seems like the kind of place one would want to “brave the depths” of, the existence of magic notwithstanding!
I had practically no experience as a singer at this point, nor the natural talent to overcome that deficit, so I quickly turned to some of my musician friends to see if any of them might be willing and able to assist. After coming up empty and being faced with the prospect of having to scrap the project, I chose to simply record the vocals myself. I will allow myself credit for two things here: one, I actually did finish writing and recording the album, and; two, I had the good sense to leave it at that and move on with life. I’m happy that I did it, as it set some of the groundwork for things to come, but I’m also happy that I didn’t get completely blinded by the kind of logic-defying fervor that can sometimes set in when one is particularly passionate or excited about an idea. That strain of blindness would afflict me soon enough.
Back within the realms of instrumental music, I had put together a three-song demo consisting of two tracks from my Images of Autumn EP, along with the song I won honorable mention for serving as the lead-off track. After sending this to a number of record companies without result, I decided that maybe a stronger opening track was needed. “Automotive” was the result: a funk and jazz inspired little number that featured some moderately involved piano work throughout as well as a nice little brass riff at the end. Still, rejection letters were all I got back, if anything, from my ever-dwindling list of New Age record labels.
Following my experiment with Into the Dungeon, I started giving more thought to the fact that vocal music , by its very nature, could allow me to express myself in ways that instrumental music simply could not. Conveying the specific events of a story, for example, would be rather difficult without using words. While I might be able to establish an overall mood, or suggest certain things like anticipation, anger, or fear, portraying myself as being afraid of a specific something required lyrics. As I looked at where I was with my instrumental work, how far I felt I could go with it, and where I saw the greatest possibility for truly creating a career in music, the answer seemed incredibly obvious: start working on becoming a better lyricist and get my singing voice up to spec.
Next time: missed signposts and twisting pathways. Drawing meaning and wisdom from everything that happened so far.