About Jon Chaisson

Writer, obsessed music listener and collector, okay bassist and guitarist, hoopy frood. Questionable logical circuits, but he gets by.

I used to write songs…?

cat piano

I should remember how this one goes…G, G, G…something something?

When I was a teenager and still figuring out how to write fiction, I was also writing all kinds of lyrics.  My lyrics and poetry were interchangeable at the time, especially around 1988 onward, because I was essentially trying to mimic my favorite alternative rock songwriters of the time: Robert Smith, Morrissey and Marr, Andrew Eldritch, Martin Gore, Colin Newman and Graham Lewis, and so on.

A lot of the songs were rather simple but fun, influenced by the sounds I was hearing on college radio at the time.  I even had a band back then — my buddies Chris and Nathan got together occasionally as The Flying Bohemians.   Some of them are kind of embarrassing to listen to now, but some of them I’m still kind of impressed with.  My songwriting improved considerably once I headed off to college, and for a few years, up until about 1994, I had a handful of pretty cool songs I was proud of.  Unfortunately I had absolutely no way to lay them down other than as acoustic demos on my boombox, so they didn’t sound nearly as good on tape as they did in my head.

For a good few years afterwards my songwriting kind of dried up, for various reasons.  A lot of mental and emotional baggage I had to sort through, where the writing became less lyrical and became more poetic.  It wasn’t until around 2001 that when I started jamming again with Bruce and Eric, my friends from my candle job.  I kicked out maybe a dozen new songs that were even better.

Then…nothing?

I think the last true song that I’ve written was less a complete track than a possible idea that I could eventually stitch together one of these days — and an instrumental at that, based on a sample I made of the rhythmic click-clack, click-clack of the District Line as it left Earls Court station in London.  I’ve been too busy with my self-publishing career to take my songwriting seriously.

That’s not to say I haven’t completely given it up.  Over the course of the year I’ve been making it a point to pick up one of my guitars and just noodle around on it a little bit, even if it is to learn the chords to a pop song.  And if I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll use my phone and record a few minutes of a riff that I’ve come up with.  [For the record, the software I’m using is the free version of Hi-Q mp3 Voice Recorder.  It’s lo-fi, but it does a fine job of picking up sounds, even if they’re unplugged.]

What I’d love to do is get back into the habit of writing songs again.  I remember how to do it, and I know enough not to try to pump a well that’s long past dry, so to speak — I’m no longer trying to write out my direst emotions into a Cure pastiche like I used to.  And I really don’t want to write message songs or protest songs, either.

I think what I need to do is remember how to latch onto a melody.  I mean latch onto it, play a riff and think ‘yeah, I can do something with this.’  That’s how I write my novels now; it only goes to show that my writing process would evolve accordingly.  I latch onto musical phrases all the time when I’m listening to whatever I’m listening to.  Thing is, I haven’t been acting on it.  Like I said — my writing career kind of took precedence for a good number of years there, so I didn’t have the time or the spoons to do it then.

I’m thinking that’ll be one of my possible resolutions for 2018; to remember how to write songs, and see if I can lay a few of them down.

Coming Soon: The Best of 2017

radiohead lift

Thom Yorke is waiting anxiously for my end of year lists

Yep, it’s that time of the year again, where I’m juggling the Day Job, Christmas present purchasing (and wrapping, and mailing), whatever writing project I happen to be working on, posting my year-end review at the writing blog, creating my Best of Year compilation, and posting my Best of Year lists here.

As usual, I’ll hold up until the last week or so of this month before I post those last two, because I like giving December releases a chance at impressing me.  (Like the new U2 album, for instance.)  I will say 2017 has been quite an interesting year musically; it seemed like Nearly Every Single Band Jonc Loves put out an album this year!  And lots of solid career retrospectives.  There were also a lot of new finds that blew my mind as well.  I’m not sure if I can call it a banner year, but it certainly was quite enjoyable tunage-wise.

If anything, listening to music was definitely a highly-welcomed and much-needed escape from the ups and downs of Real Life.  And I’m pretty sure you know what my biggest headache was; the Day Job was the least of my stresses.  I won’t say I’m a pessimist in general, though I know all too often I let myself fall down that rabbit hole.  I kept a distant eye on what was going on, and I had my tunes to keep me sane and slightly distracted so I could stay positive.  And for that I’m eternally grateful.

More to come!

Recent Purchases, November Edition

A slightly shorter list this month, but running the gamut between soft, loud, delicate and noisy. November had quite the eclectic mix!

Lost Horizons, Ojalá, released 3 November. Simon Raymonde from Cocteau Twins, and Richie Thomas from Dif Juz? What’s not to love? A laid back, sort of jazzy album that’s a relaxing treat.

Bibio, Phantom Brickworks, released 3 November. Even more relaxing than the above album, this one’s filled with lovely meandering instrumentals and makes a fine writing soundtrack.

Sleigh Bells, Kid Kruschev EP, released 10 November. A usually-loud band surprises us with a mid-tempo, sometimes even quiet mini-set that’s just as excellent as their ear-bleeding noise.

Seal, Standards, released 10 November. I got a chance to see him play tracks from this album with the San Francisco Symphony a few nights ago, and it was absolutely fantastic. He really nailed the Sinatra/Rat Pack vibe on this album. I particularly love this track, as it really reminds me of The Wrecking Crew.

Morrissey, Low in High School, released 17 November. Questionable commentary, wonky politics and untrustworthy touring aside, I’m still a fan of Moz’s music, and I think this is probably his strongest album in quite some time. A lot of his previous records were good but not memorable, but this one’s got a goodly amount of keepers.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Wembley Or Bust, released 17 November. I totally admit I’ve been obsessing over this album lately! Yeah, I’m almost 47 and this is the music of my youth. It’s an excellent live mix of classics (and “When I Was a Boy” from 2015’s Alone in the Universe) and a hell of a fun listen.

Elbow, Best of, released 24 November. Go buy this already! One of my favorite bands of the new millennium. Absolutely stellar songwriting with gorgeous melodies and amazing vocals.  I don’t obsess over this band so much as I let their music pull me in and take me places.  I love it when a band can do that.

Bjork, Utopia, released 24 November. Weirdly beautiful as always, Bjork’s new album is once again less about the melodies and more about the sensation of its sound. Delicate and fragile, but always great.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds,Who Built the Moon, released 24 November. The Other Gallagher Brother (the one wot wrote nearly all the Oasis songs) puts out an off-kilter yet surprisingly strong album that’s quite different from his previous two.

**

One more month of new releases to go!

Tis the Season

nichijou santa

I’ll totally admit to having a soft spot for Christmas music, whether it’s pop, alternative, or classical.  Even during my retail and warehouse years, and especially during the HMV years.  I never quite got all that cynical when it came to hearing holiday music.  On the contrary, it usually gets me in a good mood, even when the streets and the malls are packed with far too many people.

Wishing all and sundry the best of the holiday season! Thanks for sticking around Walk in Silence all this time! 🙂

Meanwhile, 1985

Personal:  Eighth grade into ninth grade, going from Junior High to High School.  A long-awaited, much-needed change of pace, setting, and mood.  After nearly fucking up my educational track by getting an F — in English, of all things, thanks to boredom, inattention and distraction — I get my shit together and become a middling student for the rest of my school years. Not nearly as inept socially as I was in junior high; I embrace the fact that I’m a nerd and a weirdo.

Writing:  Headlong into the Infamous War Novel project.  Still finding my way through it, with multiple false starts, outtakes, and notebooks.  Somewhere along the line I come up with the brilliant idea of creating an outline via a set list of music, and it all starts coming together.  Eventually I’ll start a draft that will take me about two years to finish, in between music listening, homework and social life.  A few unrelated snippets written at this time that don’t really go anywhere.

Music:  Listening to a lot of Top 40 countdowns on the weekends while listening to rock radio during the week.  Music collection still small but expanding thanks to used record stores and trips to the mall.  Creating mixtapes from stuff off the radio in high gear now.  I start cataloging these mixtapes on a steno pad.  [Decades later I use this same list to recreate the mixtapes on mp3.]  Probably one of my favorite eras of pop music in the 80s…a lot of really great stuff came out between 1985 and 1986.

Getting in Tune

self-tuning guitar

I could totally use one of these, tbh.

The downside to owning guitars, especially in places where the weather has notable temperature and humidity changes, is that they can go quite out of tune very quickly. Every six months or so I need to retune them.  And I’ve been playing them for long enough that I can tell when they’re just a bit off.  It’s not fun when you’re strumming a few chords and that one string is painfully flat.

One of the other downsides is having to restring them now and again.  I’ll be honest, I don’t restring nearly as often as I should.  I haven’t restrung my acoustic bass probably since I bought the thing, so the strings had lost their sheen as well as their resonance quite some time ago.  I spent Sunday putting new ones on it, and let me tell you, it’s one hell of an awkward process.  I’m used to restringing my electrics, which are easy to do.  Acoustics are a bit tougher, because you’re not only working around a bigger body while you’re winding the string around the tuning peg mechanism, but you’re feeding the other end through a hole in the bridge and holding it there with a plastic peg that you hope won’t come flying out into your eye.

Anyway…once the new strings are on and secured, there’s the few weeks where the guitar sounds all too trebley and twangy.  Or worse, when you’re in the middle of playing and the string slips just a little bit from its tuning peg or its bridge, and you jump back in case that G ends up flying loose and lacerating you.

But once everything settles and you get used to it all, everything is just fine.