Vanity Project – Track By Track

Here’s a little background detail and making of for each of the tracks in Vanity Project

NO REGRET

When I started to think about how I was going to film Vanity Project, I knew I needed an opening shot that would establish the idea of getting onto the A38. I planned that the film would be made up of 10 second clips, but I knew that the first shot was going to be a bit longer, and that the title card should appear after this shot. The shot itself was easy enough, taken on the Mannamead roundabout in Plymouth heading west onto the A38 on a sunny morning.

I knew I was going to need some kind of introduction music or fanfare, but I didn’t know what would work. No Regrets happened by accident. I was driving to Exeter one night for an open mic and I was listening in the car to a cd I’d burnt of some of my favourite songs. I was listening to Regret by New Order, but it kept skipping, and so I flipped to the next track. As I did this, something I’d never seen my car cd player do before happened. With skipping and repeating, the track started playing backwards. I quickly pulled in to a supermarket car park to see if it would do it again and it did, so I recorded a couple of minutes of the noise on my phone. A week or so later, I chose 5 or 6 loops from what I’d recorded and it came together.

I like the name No Regrets. It is partly an acknowledgement of where the track came from, but it also reflects the defiant side of Vanity Project.

COLD CALLING

One of the foundations of Vanity Project is the idea that nobody needs this project but me, but I needed a lot. I showed my son The Muppet Movie recently and I’d forgotten about this scene.

Vanity Project is in many ways a promise I made to me.

So why publish? Because publicity is a core discipline of writing for me. Public/ity, as in the act of acting in public, regardless of how many people pay attention.

By choice, I don’t slam, I self-publish. I don’t do poetry competitions, I do open-mics. I’m conscious that this is a way that I hope to flow with, rather than stand out from, the oncoming tide of writers and performers. Cold Calling works on a metaphor that open-mic poetry is a little like telesales. You break in on someone’s life for a few minutes, call out of the blue, and try to pitch something precious. You dial and you hope they’ll be polite but the audience is in charge. They can hang up at any time.

And that’s just the way…

SILHOUETTE COVE

This piece started with an optical illusion. I was driving to work on the A38 in February 2015. Dawn hadn’t broken. There were these shadow clouds silhouetted against deep blue. The clouds traced the shape of an imaginary coastline. Instead of driving a dual carriageway on a slight upward incline, I saw that I was on top of a hill, somewhere in the south hams, heading down towards a secluded beach.

As I wrote the poem, I just thought Silhouette Cove was this imaginary setting where I could set some symbolic action. It was only at the start of this year that it occurred to me that this illusion could be taken as a metaphor for a world turned upside down.

FRIDAY

Any workplace has gaps between what is promised and what you experience. Once upon a time when I was a teacher, I experienced a dignity gap. The dignity gap is measured in the light years between the promise of devoting your life to inspiring and challenging young minds and the reality of dying inside because a bunch of fifteen year olds keep making fun of your sideburns.

With my job now, the gap is measured in Fridays. The promise of Friday is an essential part of the workday week, for Friday represents getting through, a night out and a lay in, reconnection to the life that you come to work for. TGI Friday. But for me, there has sometimes been a gap. Friday’s energy and grace got used up on Thursday. Friday ran out before it got started. You feel bad because you’re too tired to feel good. In the gap, it all feels empty.

The local radio station don’t make it any easier. They call it feel good Friday, then they carry on with exactly the same playlist they played all week, every week. But sometimes, something else happens. Around 11:15 on a Friday morning, they play a sad song, something like ‘Piano Man’ by Billy Joel or ‘The Boxer’ by Simon and Garfunkel. For a moment, you feel known, identified, accepted. For a moment, the radio stops telling you to feel good and lets you feel understood.

Then they play Charlie Puth again.

EMBRACE THE GLUT

When I was about 13, I got a second hand skateboard. I thought skating was cool until the first time I properly fell off it and left myself with a scar and my mum told me I had to wear knee pads and arm pads if I wanted to skate and I knew deep down that was not cool.

When I had more TV channels, I used to love watching the X Games. I got a thrill out of seeing Pierre Luc Gagnon and Bob Burnquist riding the halfpipes, brave and intense and balletic.

As I watched these competitions, somehow, I became aware of the idea of street skaters. That there were people out there who were as good, perhaps better than the professionals, but who stayed home, and did it for the love. These were underground, unsponsored figures. No names who might pop up on a video or a magazine, before disappearing again into the melee of the local skatepark or some parking lot where they could practice a technical trick.

This feels like something to embrace.

EATING AN ELEPHANT

This was the track that I discovered how to work a vocoder on. Instantly, one of the challenges for the rest of the project was not to overuse the vocoder. I think in the end, this track, Hi Vis Ghosts (the drums) and Home 2 (the waves) were vocodered. There might be more I’ve forgotten about.

One of the challenges of making the project that I knew I was going to face beforehand was that to make it work, I was going to have to work backwards. Usually, recording happens with the instruments being built up and then the vocals being added on top. Because all I really had was the acapella melody lines for the songs, I started with the vocals and added instruments with FL Studio 12 that matched.

At one point, I was hoping for a more orchestral, opulent feel for the songs, but that proved impractical. I was also conscious of not wanting to use midi for instruments that didn’t sound right. On a previous project, I had tried to make a saxophone solo that ended up sounding like a honking car horn. This meant that I gravitated towards sounds which were more obviously synthetic, giving Vanity Project its early 80s feel.

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