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Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Zebastian Visits the Next Level

Sunday I went to visit the band in the studio and Zebastian was nowhere to be found. This was of some concern because it was time to lay down guitar tracks for the album, and Zebastian is the band's guitar player. Where was he?

We searched high and low, low and high, but it was not until we found a note pinned to his jacket that we realized there was no need to worry.

True to his word, Zebastian returned shortly with some next-level shit. Believe you me, the new guitar work is beyond Advanced Russian Math.

Included below are some more photos of the rest of the night's shenanigans. Also, I've written an article about out dear friends the Adored for online magazine as they prepare to begin a UK tour supporting the Buzzcocks. Read the article here.

-Ben Lee

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Dyan's Studio Diary, Installment #3: Dyan records piano, eats doughnut; Doug Messenger is in heaven when you smile

For the past five days, I've been sitting at the bench of a beautiful baby grand piano behind nine-foot tall sound baffles (movable walls that shape the sound) in a large soundproof room. The baffles blocked my line of vision to the control room, so my headphones were my only link to my bandmates and producers. At first, it was a little strange getting used to being so isolated from everyone else. I'll spare you the details, but after hearing the conversations of five guys stuck in a small control room for long periods of time, I decided I was on the right side of the double-paned glass.

All in all, it was a pretty great experience. The most painful part was my being forced to eat a chocolate doughnut. I've always hated doughnuts and only consented to trying one because Ariel and David stopped the recording process dead in its tracks and refused to continue until I tasted what they swore up and down was the "best doughnut in the world" (something about trust and teamwork? I don't know), but if having to eat a deep-fried dessert was my worst moment of the last five days, I can't really complain.

Now that I'm done for the moment, we've moved on to recording guitars. Zebastian was in the brightest of spirits when I arrived this morning, glowing with excitement about the guitars, amps and pedals he had carefully chosen to rent. We jumped right in, and for the first time we were able to hear the drums, keys and guitar together--it was very exciting to hear.

As Zebastian was recording, Nathaniel and I were treated to another firsthand account of rock history from Doug Messenger--the wildly eccentric and brilliant owner of the studio. Doug, who was once the guitar player and arranger for Van Morrison, told us the story of the song "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm in Heaven When You Smile)."

According to Doug, Van Morrison was a somewhat impatient musician--he constantly churned out songs, and if something didn't seem to work immediately, he would simply throw it away. He presented the skeleton of "Jackie Wilson Said" to Doug and the band while in the studio. Van wasn't satisfied with how the song sounded, so he left to take a break, intending to come back and work on something else. Doug, who immediately realized the brilliance of the song, frantically told the musicians that unless they figured out a way to turn Van's rough sketch into a song, it would be lost forever. Over the next 20 minutes, Doug scrambled to arrange the guitar, bass, drums, saxes and piano into something that would convince Van of the song's merit. His telling of the story was full of suspense and pressure--there was no time for uncertainty or failure. He had to act quickly and with confidence. When Van returned, Doug presented him with a hastily thrown-together yet inspired arrangement of the song, convincing the singer to try recording a take. Doug's eyes lit up as he told us how the barely-rehearsed band put in a supernaturally great performance, at one point following Van's ad-libbed lead to continue a refrain longer than they had planned without missing a beat. After just one take, the song was done.

Nathaniel and I were astounded--had it not been for Doug, the song would have been tossed aside. An amazing song! A song that Nathaniel never fails to open every jukebox set with! And the person who basically created it was sitting next to us on the couch sipping a Diet Coke and wearing shorts.

-Dyan Valdés

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Coming Soon...

I will be visiting the band in the midst of their piano/guitar/saxophone/vocal studio sessions shortly... Stay tuned for photos!

Also, prizes from the latest contest are going out this week. Winners should expect happy surprises in their mailboxes shortly!

In the meantime, observe how much fun Dyan had signing your happy surprises:

-Ben Lee

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Sweeping Technological Advances, Ben Lee DJ Gig

Since the band has been in the studio (see Dyan's Studio Diaries), I've had a lot of time on my hands to sit down with myself and really think about things. Why, there was one just now! You know, a thing! To think about!

Check it out--how can someone actually have time on their hands? And how can one sit down with himself? Think about it... It's crazy!

Other things I'm trying to wrap my head around:

•I woke up this morning and BLOOD AMBITION 2006 had miraculously categorized and tagged every entry contained within itself and added a link in the "TBA APPROVED BROWSING" sidebar so that one may search all the entries topically. Also, a new link has appeared at the bottom of each post enabling readers to email entries to their friends! Whom do I thank? Jesus? Viggo?

•TBA loyalist and dear friend Mike Doyle has invited me to spin records Friday night at the Cassanova Lounge in San Francisco (click here for details). I'm bringing along GBOTBAAKATAFKAKB and Grandmaster Shad to make me look good. If you're in the SF Bay area, you should stop by and have a dance on us. But not on us. But maybe?

Thankfully, this much is certain... The band takes the studio again this Saturday to start laying down piano tracks for Master of Ceremonies (not the real album title), and Dyan will soon grace these pages with another installment of her brilliant Studio Diaries.

Stay tuned!

Ben Lee

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Dyan's Studio Diary, Installment #2: Zachary bangs drums; Jim Morrison is naked

Late Monday night, Zachary wrapped up his fourth and final twelve-hour drum-recording day. While Nathaniel, Zebastian and I went on leisurely walking tours of North Hollywood, our tireless bandmate banged out flawless performances hour after hour. His endurance was truly impressive--I don't know how many times I heard Ariel say "Great take, really good--now let's just do a couple more just like that, then switch the snare drum and do a few more, then we'll put tape on the cymbals and try a few like that…" When we finally finished on Monday night, we asked Zachary if he wanted to go celebrate… to which he replied, "I just want to go to sleep."

Now that the drums are done, we will be relocating to a different studio to record the rest. The new studio is between a used bookstore called the Iliad and Odyssey Video--we'll be making our record between the Iliad and the Odyssey! The studio is run by Doug Messenger,the former guitar player/arranger for Van Morrison. When we went to scope it out a couple of weeks ago, we found ourselves listening to Doug tell us wild and borderline unbelievable back-in-the-day stories for upwards of two hours. My personal favorite was his description of the meeting of the Morrisons--Van and Jim.

Apparently, Van was jealous of Jim, who he considered to be the sexier and wilder Morrison. Doug accompanied an anxious Van to a motel party on the Sunset Strip where Jim was going to be, but when they arrived, Jim was nowhere to be found. After awhile, Doug noticed some weird wasted guy crawling on all fours in and out of motel rooms--completely naked. As he started to hear "Hey Jim, put on some clothes, man…" from some of his fellow partygoers, he realized that the naked crawler was Jim Morrison. Soon afterwards, Jim crawled into the street (still naked) and was promptly arrested by a passing police officer. I wonder if Van was still jealous--is it better to be the Sexy Morrison, or the Capable of Standing Morrison? Truly a question for the ages.

Anyway, I better get to my piano… I'm up first when we pick up again on Saturday!

-Dyan Valdés

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Dyan's Studio Diary, Installment #1: Zachary bangs drums; Ariel starts brushfires

This is Dyan's first installment of BLOOD AMBITION 2006 entries from behind the studio's locked door as the Blood Arm records their second album, Master of Ceremonies (not the real title). For photos from the first studio sessions, click here.

Earlier this week, we finished up recording all of the demos for the new album. We demoed 19 songs in total, the majority of which are being recorded for the first time (we've been road-testing the new songs at our shows, so you may recognize a few of them). The days were long, but fortunately our producers Ariel and David are master storytellers--the hours just flew by. We learned of Ariel's late-night Fatburger encounter with Suge Night, David's ultra-rare opportunity to film an interview with Rick Rubin for which he forgot to record the sound (whoops!) and later replaced it with the sound from an old kung fu movie (nice save!), Ariel's brush with death by brushfire when he decided to set off fireworks between a dry field of bushes and a gas station while on tour in the Southwest with one of his bands, and David's studio time with Steve Albini who insisted that all of his workers wear pseudo-scientific jumpsuits while on the job.

We wrapped up the demos by recording vocals at Nathaniel's apartment, much more comfortable than our dingy practice space… While Nathaniel was belting out the songs in our improvised isolation booth (his bedroom), Zebastian, Zachary and I were left to our own devices in the living room. Zachary broke into a stash of whiskey to pass the time, and within minutes he was doing lounge-singer interpretations of all of the songs Nathaniel was singing in the next room – in his best Tony Bennett, Zachary swished his tumbler full of whiskey with one hand while pointing at no one in particular with his other, singing "How are all you beautiful people doing tonight?" and "You know what I'm talking about!" and "This one's for you!" to Zebastian and my endless delight. We then discovered that his rather sudden inebriation was due to his not eating dinner, so we suggested that he help himself to a snack from the kitchen. Zachary proceeded to devour a Tofutti cutie, a Fudgecicle, an Otter Pop and a handful of peanut butter cookies--dinner of champions! Fortunately, we kept our rowdy selves out of Nathaniel's way and he managed to lay down vocals for 19 demo tracks in a matter of hours.

And now the real work begins… We'll be using these demos as the foundation for the rest of the recording process. Yesterday, Zachary started laying down drum tracks at a studio called the Steakhouse (David glass-half-emptily calls it "the Mistake House" and Zebastian glass-half-fully calls it "the First Take House"), where he'll be hammering out drums for the next four days. After nearly twelve hours straight of drumming two days in a row, Zachary was still full of energy and ready to keep going…very impressive. I hope the next few weeks go as smoothly as everything has gone so far. I'll keep you posted!

-Dyan Valdés

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Rocky Beginnings, Happy Trails

I stopped by the studio this afternoon to pay the band a visit while they laid down some drum tracks for the upcoming album, Master of Ceremonies (not the real title). Zachary is the only one in the band who plays the drums, so while he was sequestered in one room, wailing away at his kit, everyone else sat behind soundproofed glass and talked shit about him.

All the negativity did not bode well for the group’s morale, and everyone was unhappy.

Then Dave, the drum engineer (pictured at top), spoke up. “Hey guys, why don’t we try focusing on the positive for a while?”
David, the co-producer (pictured second from top), thought for a second, then piped in as well. “Yeah,” he said. “Why not? I mean we’re all young, healthy, and relatively good looking.”
Ariel, the producer (third from top), nodded slowly, then gradually picked up enthusiasm. “Yeah,” he said. “YEAH!”
It wasn’t long before everyone in the two rooms was clapping and high-fiving, shouting positivities at one another.

And you know what? I think it paid off.

And our motley crew set drum tracks to tape in high spirits for the rest of the evening.

-Ben Lee

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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Contest Winners!

Congratulations to Chris Biggs, Daniela Soto, and Bonnie "Londyn" Birch, the first three BLOOD AMBITION 2006 readers to correctly place the lyrics cited in the contest as part of "I Don't Want To Get Over You," by the Magnetic Fields from the three-disc 69 Love Songs album. We will mail you the spoils of victory shortly.

Thank you to everyone who entered! There will be plenty more oppotunities to win choice TBA goodies in the future, so keep checking back!

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Kissing An Arab and An Existential Contest

Author’s note: There is a contest at the bottom, so you may want to skip all the words at the top if you don't like to read. The band is just finishing recording demos for the album, and will begin work in the studio proper on Friday. Pictures and notes will follow shortly on this blog.

In 1980, the Cure re-released their debut albumThree Imaginary Boys under a new title, Boys Don’t Cry, with their first three singles added in place of songs with names like “Meathook” and “Foxy Lady” (a cover of the Hendrix classic). “Killing an Arab” was the band’s first single. The song is based on Albert Camus’ short novel The Stranger, in which the protagonist murders an Arab—hence the Cure line, “I am the Stranger/ Killing an Arab”—and is subsequently tried in court for his misdeeds. The Stranger (a.k.a. Mr. Meursault) shocks all in attendance at his court proceedings when he blames his digression on the sun, and displays a total lack of remorse.

Meursault is Camus’ Existential Man; he believes life has no rational meaning or order, and that it is best viewed as a sequence of unrelated and empty events. The Goths (including whatever genre early Cure is classified under), inspired by Robert Smith’s interpretation of the French classic, latched onto Camus’ hero of undergraduate philosophy wholeheartedly… It went along swimmingly with dressing in black, obsessing with death, and mulling over the meaninglessness of it all. “Killing an Arab” was a hit.

This was great for Cure and Camus fans, but those pushing for racial harmony were understandably troubled by the song’s subject matter. How could a song with that title not encourage violence towards Arabs? Robert Smith railed against the single’s detractors at first, mailing out copies of the novel along with the record to radio stations, but he eventually relented. The band stopped playing the song at live shows until recently at festivals, where Smith now alters the offending lyric to “Kissing an Arab.” More importantly, however, the Cure’s career was given a huge kick-start over the controversy, and for the most part, no one was hurt in the process.

As most readers are probably well aware, Islamists are currently rioting across the Middle East in reaction to an editorial cartoon lampooning the Muslim prophet Mohammed published within a Danish newspaper. Muslims were further outraged when several European newspapers republished the riot-igniting cartoon, citing its newsworthiness as a result of the initial riots, thusly igniting more rioting. Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have subsequently withdrawn their ambassadors to Denmark and boycotted all Danish products (somehow I can’t imagine black licorice and pastries being all that popular in the Arab world to begin with—the actions are more symbolic than anything) and tensions between the nations are running high.

Am I the only one wondering why a pop band hasn’t capitalized on all of this yet? Work with me here… The Cure penned “Killing an Arab” just after the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979. Frictions between Arab and Western nations were peaking. Sure, the Cure song is about the plight of the Existential anti-hero and all that, but I’ll be damned if Robert Smith didn’t know that its literal subject matter would stoke the fires of controversy. Today’s political relations with the Middle East are just as shaky as they were in 1979, if not more so. If played correctly, a Pop Band could parlay an offensively titled song about Arabs or the Nation of Islam into International Pop Superstardom. (Of course, the lyrics of said offensively titled song, when interpreted metaphorically, must be relatively innocuous or literary.)

Future Pop Stars, here are some suggestions for song titles and thematic storylines to aid you on your way:

“Killing A Sword-Bearing, Black-Robed Arab”
-Detailing Indiana Jones’ thoughts when confronted by the imposing black-robed swordmaster while fleeing from the Nazis in Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film encounter is brief—Jones shoots him and runs—so the song could really delve into the archaeologist’s pathos behind the shooting. Could include lines like: I’m not adept at swordplay/ And I’ve no time to delay/ I’ll just shoot this sword-bearing black-robed Arab and run/ Then kill some more Hunns…

“Arabs are Killing the Doctor”
-A third-person account of Dr. Emmett Brown’s murder in the opening scenes of Back to the Future. The doctor’s assassination and Marty McFly’s terror are repeated over and over throughout the course of the song, and the narrator expresses a deep-seeded desire to go back and change things. Could employ the lines: If only you’d have covered your chest/ With a bullet-proof vest/ These Arab terrorists wouldn't have gotten you/ Oh, you genius Jewish doctors are too few...

“Teaching My Adulterous Wife to Love Again While Killing Arabs”
-A narrative sung from the point of view of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in True Lies after his adulterous wife (who he still loves) has been captured by the Crimson Jihad. The song should focus mainly on the protagonist’s pain and anguish at his wife's infidelities, and his ability to make her strip using ultra high-tech spy gear. Could include the line: It’s not revenge, baby/ This is a Jihad to renew our love…

“I, Mummy: Killing Arabs in Search of My Love”
-Sung from the point of view of Imhotep in the 1999 version of The Mummy, the narrative emotionally illuminates the undead’s desire to resurrect his lost mistress and take over the world. Could include the lines: I’m the Mummy/ Searchin’ for my honey/ Come on all you Arabs/ Get in my tummy…

Aside from a deep-seeded desire to see more Pop Stars in the world—Lord knows there are never enough—my point is, when a song is titled “Killing an Arab,” in addition to whatever figurative meaning is implied by the narrator, the song is also about killing an Arab. It will be interpreted as such. (On a side note, Camus doesn’t exactly paint a flattering portrait of the murdered Arab, either. He—like the Arabs in the action films caricatured above—is nameless and faceless, existing only as a non-white stereotype.) For every metaphor created, a literal also exists. An Artist must be willing to face the literal consequences of his metaphorical actions, be they riots and social unrest, or in Smith’s case, fame, fortune, and International acclaim.

(And if anyone ever gets rich or famous by way of any of my suggestions, I demand credit.)


Okay, the contest. The first three persons to name the band that wrote the following lyrics will win a limited edition silk-screened The Blood Arm poster autographed by the band.

I could make a career of being blue
I could dress in black and read Camus
Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth
Like I was seventeen
That would be a scream
But I don’t want to get over you

Please email your responses to by Friday, February 10 with “contest” in the subject line in order to be considered.

Good Luck!

-Ben Lee

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Advanced Russian Math

Now that we are all familiar with the brilliance of the Russian Multiplication System, it’s time we start applying it to real-life. (Fear not, dear reader, I’m not typing about word-problems or homework—G-d forbid!—I’m thinking idioms, metaphors.) Follow me here… If the Russian multiplication system is a simple, ingenious method for solving difficult, though not impossible problems, then all simple, ingenious methods for solving difficult, though not impossible problems are Russian Math!

Let us imagine, for example, that Zebastian has a church service to attend at eight in the morning, and he is expected at a party the night before. The party is sure to go all night. Conventional wisdom would dictate that the guitar player stop by the party, but leave with enough time to get home for a decent night’s sleep so he can be fully refreshed in time for morning services. However, If Zebastian were Russian Math (and he is, he is), he would bring a change of clothes with him to the party, stay out into the morning hours, and change in his car on the drive to his local house of worship.

Here it is in a sentence: That was very Russian Math of Zebastian to party with us when he had to be at church so early.

Another example, this one stolen from Grandmaster B of the Blood Arm: Jonathon Casella, a student of GBOTBA, loves the bottomless cup idea behind the all-you-can drink soft-drink bars at fast food restaurants. Unfortunately for him, the cups available for purchase at these establishments are anything but bottomless; a thirsty customer can expect to be forced to fetch her own refills as many as seven times a visit! (Persons have been known to give up after two trips to the soda fountain, crediting exhaustion.) Jonathon, however, is extremely Russian Math:

A sample sentence: Buying the KFC family-sized bucket for his soda?! Jonathon is a regular Russian Mathematician!

Here are a few more demonstrations taken from real-life scenarios. Try saying them aloud so you can really get a feel for it:

I don’t need to take a shower, I put on extra deodorant this morning… I’m Russian Math like that!

Just Russian Math-it and pull out before I get pregnant!

Cooking the meth in your bathtub instead of buying it from strangers in the street is so Russian Math of you, Dad!

You must be a Don in the Russian Mathia, baking that blueberry pie… Out of strawberries!

After my girlfriend hanged herself in rehab while I was doing eighty-seven days hard time in County Jail, it's Russian Math I survived to write this memoir!

Readers are encouraged to share any anecdotes of how this newfound appreciation for Russian Math has come in handy in the real world. Leave them in the comments section!

Ben Lee

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