This page is organized in reverse chronological order. There's material going back to 1992; I haven't found any tapes older than that. In many cases, you'll find a "demo", or several demos, recorded at various points in time, and atop those a "fully produced official version" in the form of a track performed/recorded by The Cardboard City, the band that a couple friends and I formed in 2013. Working with the band has been a great experience. Usually I record (or dig up) a demo, share it with them, and then we set to work turning it into something that we can all play. Many times the songs go through significant evolution: I get motivated to fix some words, or write new parts; the other members of the band have ideas about how to structure it, tempo changes, rhythmic improvements, and various other "arrangement"-type things. It's really rewarding and fun, and it makes sense to me to present the songs in their various stages of evolution here. I hope you find it interesting too.
This is written in pretty plain language, I guess, with plain chords and an oily serving of plain old pathos.
Everything takes forever, more or less by definition. Get it? ... Yeah, me neither.
The demo is a bit slow; the live recording above (from Wild At Heart in Berlin, Summer 2016) is a bit fast, and a bit sloppy. I think by the time we record this "officially" the words and the pacing will be ironed out.
I wrote the main tune, and the first one-and-a-half verses of this song, sometime in 1998. I recorded it onto my answering machine. Wish I still had that tape. There's a story behind it that isn't really worth telling. Anyway, it always bugged me that I wasn't able to finish this. So I finally sat down, 17 years later, and did just that. The live recording here is the first-ever live performance — Micha trades in her bass for a tambourine on this song.
There's a silly joke here, which you'll surely get if you're a consumer of pop culture. Or you won't. And I'll see if I can resist spilling the beans. As we've worked on it in the band, it's taken a quite more energetic form than this rather sedate (and abruptly ending) demo. Stay tuned.
This song recalls various moments from long ago, and long-running problems, and fantasies of, I guess, escape. Originally it was two songs, which I suppose is fairly obvious. We've performed this live twice so far.
Who is Mister Parentheses? Nobody knows, least of all me. The song asks, though I'm not sure it matters. To be certain, this name did first appear when I applied it, in a state of heightened happiness, to a friend who seemed to be doing an amazing job of tracking all the subtopics that our rambling conversation was branching off into — he led us straight back up the ladder and recovered the original subject: truly an art, or at least a valuable skill. But this song isn't about him. I doubt it's about anyone — or could it be about you????
I think I amused myself long ago by writing this in a notebook, but I didn't know what to do with it:
The table is there
to stand on you like a floor
I mean, what can you do with that? This is the sort of thing that makes me laugh, but does it make a song? Well, you decide. We've played this live a couple of times. But it was only when we were about to play it again at Horns & Hooves in Berlin in April 2016, and I was expressing such fatigue with the song, that Hank (the drummer for The Cardboard City) had the genius idea to do just one verse. That's what you hear in the live recording above. It tickled me immensely. All that drama, in such a short span. Kinda punk, right?
One day a friend showed up with a bruise. There was a story behind the bruise — nothing sinister, some good fun. And I thought, "Hey, that's a beautiful bruise!" Didn't mention that to the friend. Wrote a bunch of words, which didn't have anything to do with the friend. The words are pretty bleak. This is one of those songs I haven't fully unpacked yet for myself: by the time I do, I may be shocked at what I've shared, but I'm kinda used to that by now. Anyway, friend plays the bass in the band, likes this song least of all our songs. This gives me silent amusement, which I haven't shared. Until now. :-)
The live version is a lovely, more fully opened blossom, but the demo still has things I like — the fake banjo, the timpani, the coughing. When played live, the "banjo" becomes a "harpsichord", and the line played by the piano is beautifully done by Micha Bürgle on the bass. There's no timpani, but Henrik Lafrenz does some far more interesting stuff on the drums. My voice on that hot evening at Arcanoa in Berlin was already pretty ragged, so I guess that'll do for the coughing part.
This still doesn't have its own "official" version, though the recording here is something more than a demo. When we play it live, as in the recording above from Arcanoa in July 2015, there are aptly melodramatic drums and an aptly melodramatic bass. This song means, or at least meant, something to somebody so-und-so, who knows who they are.
This song was collaboratively composed on Facebook! It started innocently enough; I posted a status update saying "The child has returned; the child is in bed." And then, "The street is asleep; [something that rhymes with bed]." To which a friend responded rather cheekily, but then suddenly other people popped up and took the challenge: "the stoplights are all red", wrote Clifford Meece. Over the next hour, Cliff and I and Sam Finocchio — all in different countries, by the way — bounced lines back and forth, with occasional interjections by Kim Potowski. It was huge fun. I took the text, made some tweaks here and there, and recorded the demo above. The epic post is visible on Facebook.
We haven't made an "official" recording of this yet, but I really like the live rendition from our show at Kugelbahn in Berlin, above.
Okay, clearly this song is a story. Of some kind. Where the elements keep getting mixed up, and the perspective too, and although there's the shape of something that has a moral, or a point of some kind, there really isn't one. I'm not sure if this started from a desire to sing "La la la, life is completely fucking fine", but that was certainly a highlight for me. I think I also had in mind a desire to use a lot of different chords, which I succeeded in somewhat (though they're all simple major, minor, 7th things — I'm just not that fancy), and that has bedeviled me ever since, as I can't seem to memorize the whole sequence for playing live.
I'm really happy with some important improvements that Henrik Lafrenz made in the rendition we do as The Cardboard City, especially the slight slowdown in tempo on the first two choruses. It's kind of fun playing this live, though I've never figured out whether anyone finds it funny, or pointless, or what. I suppose both would be good.
This has become sort of a staple of our performances. The "official" version above is track 7 on Heavy Paper. It's not a particularly friendly song, but it has a really individual character for me — kind of a combination of scrapbook of pseudo-memories and cutouts from mythology picturebooks. The piano figure that starts and ends the song has something to do with Stephen Foster.
I really love the guitar and organ figures that Hank added in the produced version.
I'm not really happy with this song. I published the demo on Soundcloud, then pulled it after a few days. I like a lot of things about the sound, the words, the chord progression...but it's also chock-full of really embarrassing banalities ("suck it up and integrate your failings"?!? "find me on the night side when I give rein to my need"?!? Jeez!) that need to be repaired before it gets "official" status, or is something we could play in the band. Lucky you, though, you get to experience this in all its awkwardness, at least until you hit stop.
Funnily enough, this got a huge amount of play during its brief stint on Soundcloud — unbeknownst to me, Drake has a song of the same name. Ha.
The two demos above, from two successive days, are pretty damned different. I liked something about the insistent "horn" sounds in the first attempt (May 11), but there was something too high energy about the whole thing. So the recording from the next day takes the voice down an octave, obviously, stripping away all the "grand" reverb effects, and replaces the rather mechanical instrumentation with a more hesitant, organic guitar sound, which is eventually joined, carefully, by some additional instruments. And then, of course, there's the second voice coming in in the middle of the third verse — an effect that was brought to a much more beautiful, complete performance by Micha Bürgle in the fully produced version, above, that constitutes the penultimate track on Heavy Paper. I'm grateful to a collaborator who will remain nameless for a few key adjustments to words in a few places.
This song has probably gone through the most radical transformation from the original March 2013 recording to the version that The Cardboard City played live for a while, and that we recorded for track 2 of Heavy Paper. Of course the drum machine / kalimba backing beat is gone, but many words are changed, and there's a whole new "C" part of the song that comes in a few times (my bandmates call it "the jazz part"). For our show at Wild At Heart in Berlin in Summer 2016, we slowed it down — that's the middle recording above.
This song started out in a very dark, very hot, very small hotel room in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The power was out and it was too hot to sleep. By the light of a candle, I scribbled down a bunch of words — some worth keeping, plenty not. Here's a rejected verse:
Spiders in the parlor
Flies in the pan
Despair for dinner
The shit hits the fan
Somebody told me
an evil story
my ticket to glory
I trust you'll agree that was best left out.
The "definitive recording" of this is the first track on Heavy Paper. In the notebook where this originated, it was initially titled, or at least began, "Eight months could be the whole world", and there were three verses, rather than "just" two (which I suppose would have stretched the song out to nearly ten minutes). Each verse is a page, and when setting it to music, it became clear pretty early on that a verse would be a long line from beginning to end. I have little recordings working out the melody and chords together — the "piano demo" above is a rough complete run-through. Once the whole line was worked out, the second and third verses had to be readjusted to fit, and I ended up merging/rewriting them into a single second verse (thankfully, perhaps).
This was written in February 2013 in Thailand. I suppose the subject matter is fairly obvious. I won't identify my co-singer here, to avoid embarrassing him (those who know him will recognize his voice). It could be fun to turn this into a "real" song sometime, though I think even in this minimal version it has some charm.
This is the song that started The Cardboard City. The fully produced version of this is track 5 on our album Heavy Paper. The demo recording here is what a friend heard and then recommended that I find some people to start a band with. The rest is history (for us, anyway).
"Tie" is a typical mixture of truth and lies, romanticism and reality. It's never gone beyond being this little demo. I haven't found a way to play it with the band, and at this point I'm not sure that I'd want to.
The lyrics for this are much older, going back to (I think) 1995 or so. I dug them up from an old notebook, finished them off, and here's the result. If some of the words embarrass you, that's your problem, not mine.
This song comes from 1996 or '97, but I can't locate the original recording. I think that's why I re-recorded the demo in 2012, so the band could play it. I don't really like some of the phrases here; I've tightened up the words since then. We've played it live a few times, and we're talking about making a music video of it. The produced version above is track 3 on Heavy Paper.
These are pretty ridiculous. But I'm being completist here. These are three songs I wrote for the German course I took in Berlin. I spent about a year attending class four hours a day, four days a week, with a really fun group of people from all over the world. These little recordings were my way of bringing some more levity to a situation that was already quite enjoyable, if intense.
The first, "Fatal denken" ("Fatal thinking") is in honor of a saying that my German teacher had: "Englisch denken ist fatal" — i.e., "English thinking is fatal" — where "English" could be substituted with "Spanish", "Turkish", "Indonesian", "Italian", etc. This was what he would say when identifying mistakes that one of us in the class would make due to a misapplication of grammatical rules or other patterns from our native languages. We all thought it was very funny — the saying, I mean — and I will say that my musical homage gave us a few chuckles. My pronunciation here is horrible, though of course you'll only know that if you speak German.
The second song, "Die Pause" ("Break time"), is in honor of the teacher's irritation at people who would come back late from the 15-minute break. Hilarious, right?
The third masterpiece, "Alarm", features the actual sound of the alarm that would go off when a fire door was accidentally opened in the John Lennon Gymnasium, where our German classes were held. This (understandably) provoked the ire of the Hausmeister (the building supervisor). Unfortunately for him, we all found his manner of expressing his anger kind of funny, and so this mockery of the severity of the situation is the result. Our German teacher carefully shut all the doors and windows of the classroom before allowing me to play this one.
The original rendition of this obviously had ambitions to be a Velvet-Underground-esque assault. But it's terribly overcrowded — and my brilliant idea to record two vocal tracks that slowly slip out of sync with one another just blurs things even more — so when I proposed it as a band song it needed a remix, which is available above. We eventually recorded this for Heavy Paper, where it appears as track 4. We've also performed it live a few times, and the first such performance is also available above, as it seems to be getting some fun audience reactions (and differs yet again from the other versions).
This song has had quite a life. The original recording is on a cassette tape labeled 4/25/93. It's preceded by a short complaint of a song called "When I Wake Up", and followed by a rambling sound piece called "Petrified Universe". It was a lot of fun to bring this to the band and work it into the produced version above (track 8 on Heavy Paper). It also gets a few chuckles when played live. Sometimes people even howl along, which is touching.
This is my little Bob Dylan epic. I originally wrote and recorded it in 1992 (!), as a contribution to a course called "The History of Rock and Roll" in Music Program Zero at Bard College. I put it on what I guess constitutes my first "album", which was entitled Sticky E Hiss Jamboree (heh heh). I was always hoping to render it better, and in 2006 I tried a few times — the best result is also above. Finally, when we formed The Cardboard City, this became one of our staples. The fully produced version, which is the final track on Heavy Paper, is above.