Yes, yes. I disappeared for a while. I do that.
On a somewhat uncharacteristic positive note, the downtime from being socially noteworthy has been spent sipping deeply from the creative pot. Well, I should say the creative pot with great enhancement by my technical aptitude (in terms of studio tech and the tools at my disposal) that's been growing with truly surprising leaps since the last time I took note.
Bear in mind that I've considered myself at the very least a reasonably skilled mixer and producer - the ever-expanding space for growth always factoring in, of course - yet by having delved deeper into the production side and poking my nose into unfamilliar territory as deep as my honker will allow, my triptych has grown in appearance, style and grandeur without me even noticing it but as an afterthought. It's been a spectacularly fruitful accidental re-enactment of one doctor Frankenstein at the office, with the fruits of my musical labor serving as willing guinea pigs for their own betterment.
I've gotten lost in the mix, bewildered by the balance and perplexed by the plug-ins - and come out twice the wiser and thrice more unbound on the other end. I've taken my sweet time twisting, squeezing and poking around with every single nook, cranny and rock's underside, finding myself both rejuvenated by new discoveries as well as validated on certain musical choices that survived scrutiny by my brand new eyes. It's certainly always the human hand that grips the strings of the heart and one should always remain mindful not to let the carousel of knob-turning take over the entire carnival, but having an expanded armory of tools as a support structure for one's artistic vision certainly has its comforting appeal. After all, this is construction of self-sufficient worlds, from song to song to song. The surrounding architecture and atmosphere are less impactful if the air tastes funny or the sound of the birds isn't in tune with the entire experience.
I feel like I'm finally coming into my own as far as a producer of my own material, not only as an over-experienced, underworked developer of Ward 13's signature soundscheme. I'm putting up flags where shortcomings are found and addressing them accordingly, rather than working around the holes in the canvas and trying to make them part of the piece. Shifting focus from polishing a collage of details to scuplting the big picture as a truly cohesive whole has been more of a technical excersise than an artistic accomplishment, and I believe my art will improve from it.
The recognition of my own progress is much akin to when I finished Ward 13's first demotape back when the new millenium was taking its first breaths. It was a first on many fronts and a feat I single-handedly pulled out of my ass without so much as a clue or treasure map to rely upon. As was the case then, I haven't felt this... educated in quite some time.
Much, if not all of this has to do with the fact that The Stranger has finally kicked into gear. It is time indeed. Time indeed.
I've placed my personal musical namesakes on the back burner countless times to accomodate other, less fulfilling projects undertaken with other individuals. Projects that, I might add, have crashed and burned mainly due to internal tension or lack of true enthusiasm - essentially, because of people. Ironic, because collaborations have never yielded the same spiritual rewards as musical journeys set forth and guided by none but my own hand. Honestly, why did I bother?
After all the band debacles and joint ventures gone awry in the last few years I've finally come to the rather joyful conclusion that I will have all other endeavors play second fiddle to my solo projects. They are now top priority. Ward 13 and The Stranger will take precedence over all collaborations I may take part in. Having sealed this deal with the man in the mirror I can say it's a pact long in the making, solidified in no small part by my growing expertise in the field of audio design. I feel more confident than ever as the holes in my game get plugged one after another and the need for others' involvement disappears deeper into the mist.
I am done with compromises and politics, musical halfways, dodging backstab attempts, ego soothing and the air hockey of manipulation. All of that has taken far too much time and energy away from what is and should always be most important - the creative work. The only partnership I have in the works is with one of my oldest friends and is a two-man operation, so I have faith it'll come to fruition without any drama whatsoever. That also means my plate is filled to the brim and I am gleefully unable to attach myself to any possible doomed voyages lurking in the annals of tomorrow.
As with Ward 13, I've come to realize The Stranger cannot exist in any other form than as a solo project. While it has clinged to life under many a name and with a myriad of people involved at any given time, the creative part has always rested almost solely upon my shoulders and the other members have disappeared no later than when they've realized this isn't just a fucking pastime hobby for me. One might muse that I've simply had bad luck or even worse taste in bandmates, but whatever the reasons, they are beside the point and off the radar from hereon.
Mixing and producing Ward 13 has always been an excursion all its own with a very different face forward than, say, any project I've been involved in that incorporates electric guitars on a heavier regimen. Whereas W13 is essentially very ascetic, bare and minimalistic, the metallic aspirations of the undersigned have always tended to strive for wallowing, surging proportions challenging even W13 on the schizophrenic front; forging the epic with the sparse and the massive with the low-key, not forgetting the hot/cold, stop/go interludes that always seem to make their way into whatever I write. As such, getting them to sound the way I've envisioned they deserve to sound has been like traversing an ocean of liquid fire surrounded by an acid moat atop a steep hill covered in ice. Yes - hard.
However, with the acceptance that The Stranger will never be a band in the traditional sense has come a new kind of confidence. From the songs and hatchlings now either finished or still gestating, I'd have to say The Stranger is some of the best material I've written. Every bit as unique as Ward 13, though I would never compare the two. Still, now re-envisioned as another kind of vessel for my vision, it has proven to be a primus motor of pure inspirational fire & lightning and an outlet I've been sorely missing. As an experimental subject in the studio lab it has offered a thorough, point-to-point learning experience equally rich in inspiration and enlightenment. If vision and technique are weapons, I'm arming myself to the teeth times two.
Understanding that I am another step toward being a truly self-reliant musician and producer is, in a word, liberating. As the appeal of being a member of the pack wanes in the face of having absolute - absolute - artistic freedom, I feel less and less melancholy about not being surrounded by a group dynamic. I feel better than in months, because I know with increasing certainty that I don't need anyone else to achieve what I'm striving for and my priorities are now fine-tuned to best serve the creative energy inside me begging to be released.
Joy in solitude. Welcome back, old friend.