In my vast back catalog of loner rock, 2006's "Indiscreet Where You Live" is the loneriest. Or at least the epicenter of my lonerhood. There's a backstory here that could stretch for paragraphs in every direction. Where to begin?
The roots of IWYL, stretch clear back to 1995, when, out of desperation and lack of musical equipment—long since pawned—I used a '78 Yamaha twelve string accoustic as both drum and bass, and my beloved Eko '68 hollow body to form the bare bones arrangement of two 6 song concept albums I was recording on a 4 track Tascam cassette microstudio.
The first album was called "20 Golden Greats," and it was an EP of original cover tunes. "Original cover tunes" was my answer to the fear that no one wanted to hear my originals, so I'd take a cover tune—one I was particularly sick of, say Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are"—and re-write the melody completely, to see if I could make a new song that was enjoyable. It's hard to say how successful that idea could be. In terms of feedback, all I'd heard at the time was, "I like the tunes, but the cover lyrics aren't as good as your full original songs," which I rejected out of hand and self-hatred. Instead, I figured the concept was flawed due to cognizant dissonance: in hearing the old familiar lyrics of the hit, one's head still played the original melody and time signature atop the new melody and time signature I'd written. Not pleasant.
The second album, "Indiscreet Where You Live,"—a play on "On the Street Where You Live" from "My Fair Lady," for you youngsters—was six original tunes. I think I imagined self-releasing both EPs at the same time, or shopping them both for a record deal or whatever it was I imagined doing in that pre-internet stone age.
After the recording was done, I was astonished to find these 12 songs to be the most original work I'd ever created. In terms of playing and arranging, just stunning. My voice, though...? Not good, but whatever. In those days, I just hadn't figured out how to sing rightly. But all in all, I was very proud of the project. A first dawning of artistic self-acceptance for me.
Life moved on, and I shelved it all, which is standard MO for me.
Fast-forward to 2005. "The vonHummer Hour"—in reruns since 2004—had built me a sizable cult following in Portland and I felt it was high time to release an album of new material and see if anyone would buy it. (As usual, I was asking the wrong question. The right question was, "Would I ever actually sell it?" Answer: "No." But I digress.)
In early summer of 2005, I shaped together a collection of 25 new-to-partly-used songs, very rough demos—just to establish the tunes—which I called "The Comstock Lode"—thinking that I would cull the new album from amongst their richness. And I meant to, I really did. But for some odd reason, I felt like I had an orphan left behind me, crying for recognition...The "Indiscreet" tapes.
I thought, "Wait...Before I move into the brave new era of new songs, let me clear the past of a grave wrong. To heal myself of the fatal habit of always producing and never releasing, I shall re-master the old tapes of 'IWYL' and '20 Golden Greats,' but with my new fabulous vocals. It'll be quick and easy..."
For that kind of remastering, however, I knew I'd need something closer to an actual studio, something far beyond the Tascam 420 that I'd upgraded to (still a cassette 4 track.)
Luckily, (for me, anyhow) at about that time I'd made the acquaintance of a fan with just such a setup in his basement: Steve Poole. He offered to let me upload the old instrumentals and record the new vocals and to mix it all. Still believing myself that I actually would take this cow to market, I think I even offered him a cut of the profits.
There was the small matter of the "original covers" that made up half of the album—the "20 Golden Greats" half. Rather than wrangle with copyright issues of derivative works and such, I scrapped the cover lyrics and wrote new lyrics for those tunes. Felt a little strange at first—not using the original unoriginal lyrics in lieu of original unoriginal lyrics—but I persevered and in a few weeks it was done.
Realizing I would have to tour behind this album, and that I hadn't played any of these songs in ten years, I set about the triviality of re-learning them. This would be a big problem, however.
The arrangements recorded were for a three piece, but in present day, I was a one piece. By the time I had it all down, I realized that, live, the songs would sound nothing like the album. It didn't feel right to me to promote an album by playing live that I couldn't rightly reproduce. And worse: I liked my new solo arrangements better than the originals.
A new realization had dawned on me: I was a better player and arranger now. And in the light of this new dawn I took a look around at the contents of my head to see that, whenever I sat down to record a song, that I typically envisioned full arrangements: strings I should add, or Harlem choirs in the background. But I never did recognize my own particular beauty of just my voice and my guitar. I mean I didn't recognize it like some people don't recognize the existence of Bigfoot or UFOs or the that the Moon landings were faked.
Dropping the original Indiscreet session—and Steve and all his hard work on it for which I still feel massively guilty today—like a cold potato, I instead self-recorded the new arrangements of those old new songs (confusing, no?) live in the studio, no overdubs.
I can't tell you how special it was for me. Like falling in love. At last I was able to hear what was beautiful in the music I make. Roundabout then—late Fall of 2005, I was still living with Ann Hammer,—with whom I'd co-produced the tv series—but the year before she'd bought a house in Portland's Cully neighborhood. I spent a couple of weeks recording in the low-ceiling upstairs which had become my defacto studio space, recording, just me and her cat, Pete, who watched intently. (That same little blue cat seen on the tv show, here and there, and heard here and there in the backgrounds of a few of the songs.) This was the first album I on which I used the new Hofner copy bass. I mic'ed the strings for one side and plugged in for the other side.
Finished and mixed, I was greatly enthused. At last I had an album I could promote with no qualms. This time, I was gonna take my product to market and nothing would stop me. I scheduled a record release party in February of 2006 at a record store in Vancouver, Real Deal Records. Things were looking up.
Then I got a call from L.A. The ex. Our son had been kicked out of L.A. school system and he was coming up to live with me now. And that was "game over" for the promotion of "Indiscreet Where You Live." I didn't know it at the time, but it was. Full-time parenting—or at least as close as I could ever get to it—threw a massive monkey wrench into my artistic ambitions from which I'm only now, in 2010, recovering.
I remember getting my first radio interview ever, while trying to promote IWYL. Local show. He called me as I sat in the middle school office where I was trying to get Little vonHummer Jr., II. registered. I think that was Ezra "Ace" Careff, and he asked me, "So what's this album about?" I said, "It's about 37 minutes." That was the best I could come up with, waiting on the Principal.
I think I made about 200 copies of that CD and all but two are gone now. Most were sold. Many given away. It's a favorite album of mine, but as it never was featured on the tv series, I think it hasn't gotten it's full due. I do hear from fans that love "Indiscreet Where You Live" from time to time, though. This was the work where I finally reached a genuine appreciation of what I do, where I felt like I was finally "in the neighborhood."
I guess I should add a bit about the cover art. That's me, knee deep in the murky pond at Laurelhurst Park in Portland. Ann Hammer took the photos. It was a recreation of an album cover we'd done for my first Portland-era solo album, "That Which Does Not Smash" in 2000. The hat in the water was kind of an in-joke. On a blustery day in 1999 in Wilsonville, my Pendleton had blown off my head into a pond I was walking by. There it floated among the ducks and lilies, my hat, and, judging the water to be only a foot or so deep, I stepped offshore to get it. To my dismay, the water was waist deep. Not gradually waist-deep, but suddenly waist-deep. And cold.
released February 25, 2006
Bass, vocals, engineering, mixing, songwritering: vonHummer. No overdubs, honest. Meows: Pete the cat. Photos: Ann Hammer. Cover design: Clark Kent.