After I listened to Pete Townshend’s new Audible Audiobook, Somebody Saved Me last month, I remembered that I wrote several songs back in 2012-2015 inspired by his autobiography, Who I Am. I thought it would be fun to take one that was just sitting on the hard drive for all these years, and update the lead vocal and guitar parts with the gear I’ve acquired since, for my project studio.
“Asking the Hard Questions First” grew out of a passage about the secretary to Pete’s guru:
Adi K. Irani, who had been Meher Baba’s secretary for many years, had a mischievous sense of humour, and seemed to have my measure. His catchphrase for me was apposite. ‘Peter Townshend,’ he would say whenever he saw me, arms outstretched. ‘Where are you, what are you, who are you?’
As my comic hero Spike Milligan said, the hard questions first.
I wrote the song in 2014, when I still lived in Milpitas, using Korg and Propellerhead Reason software synthesizers, Sony Acid drum loops, and a Roland-Ready Strat into my Roland VG-88 guitar modelling rig with a 12-string patch. I was trying to create the sort of synth textures that Townshend was using in the late 1970s, as well as the blend of synths and acoustic guitars on Tears for Fears’ first album.
Last month, I replaced the digital sounding VG-88 part with my Music Machine Gibson Hummingbird panned left, and my Nashville-Tuned Taylor GS Mini to create a stereo acoustic 12-string effect. I replaced the VG-88 guitar solos with my 2000 R9 Les Paul into the Strymon Iridium, and added stereo power chords on the last chorus, with my 1983 Fender R7 Strat into left channel through the Iridium, and my R9 Les Paul into the JHS Colourbox on the right. I redid the vocals, and added some Eventide H9000 effects.
Also last month, I dusted off a travelogue song I wrote that had an unusually long gestation period. Its freeform intro was recorded in my Milpitas den with some of the more exotic Kong software synth patches, and an electric sitar patch for the VG-88. Plus, a sound effects loop of a park with insects, and even more insects added via Korg M1 crickets patch. After we moved permanently to Texas the following year and my project studio was nearing completion, starting in November of 2016, this became one of the first songs I worked on in there.
I wrote the rest of the song to connect with the intro, and with all of the sitars and other exotic instruments, I wrote some Raiders of the Lost Ark/Romancing the Stone/Casablanca-type lyrics to tie-in with the music. The guitar is my 2007 Gibson Everly Brothers, one of the first acoustic guitar parts I recorded in the new studio.
In September of 2017, when I went to make a rough mix of the song, I wanted to do something besides the usual conventional fade out.
I came up with the ending of the song after watching Sweetwater’s demo of Dunlop’s recreation of the Echoplex effect, complete with self-oscillation mode, and a demo by recording engineer Larry Crane showing how he loved the effect of pulling the plug on a tape-based original Echoplex and recording it as it powers down (scroll to the 7:00 minute mark if you want to skip the preliminaries). In keeping with the travel-themed song, I thought it would be fun to cross-fade the out of control Echoplex into sound effects of a Helicopter, and recreate the plug-pulling moment by using a Tape Stop plugin on the rest of the instruments, and then have the helicopter sound effects cross-fade into the same park and crickets effects that began the song, and bring the odyssey full circle.