This past February, award-winning St. John’s writer Chad Pelley put down his pen, picked up his guitar and recorded one of my favourite RPM albums of the season. Since then he has rerecorded a handful of those songs along with some new additions and released it just days ago under the clever title I’m All Yours and You’re Half Mine. I recently asked Chad about the project.
This originally started off as an RPM album. What motivated you to re-record it with new songs?
Yeah, five or six of these songs were new takes on stuff from my RPM, though that’s coincidental. I write about 40 songs a year, but never get around to recording them, because what a slog that is! This August, I got it in my head to record a concept album of “Boy Meets Girl Who Already Has a Boy”. Thanks to the RPM, I had the guts of 5 songs that would fit that concept. Theme aside, I also wanted to record an album that spanned many genres, so each track feels distinct from the next, and some of my RPM songs were like nothing I’d ever written, so I revisited them, and beefed them up to round out the album.
As you’ve mentioned, you’re relatively new to the recording process. How did it go this time around? What did you learn from RPM that you applied this time around?
My RPM album was written and recorded in 20 days, and the sound quality was junk, so I started reading up on why. I spent a few weeks learning how to make home demos sound okay…panning, EQ Carving, putting compression on drums, magic stuff like that. Mainly, I realized songs are built. You lay down the rhythm, bass, and drums, and then find ways to fill holes in the song, with lead guitar, maybe a shaker, something, anything. On “The Dog-eared Years, I use a broken toy banjo. Another important thing is what I think is called “sweetening the mix,” by doing something different in the second verse and chorus, to keep the song building. I’ve picked up some hot tips for a shaky singing voice too, like doubling your vocals. It makes me sound like a robot, but robots are more interesting than poor singers. I also spent the fall asking Bryan Power technical questions and he not once told me to leave him alone. Nice guy.
As an actual writer of prose, do you find that you tend to write your lyrics first and then write the music around that?
No, it always starts with the acoustic guitar. I used to have a hard time singing and playing at the same time, so my vocals tend to flow with the strumming pattern, and that dictates the rhythm and cadence of how the lyrics will flow. I’ll start singing random gibberish…seriously, until a line strikes me as something I can build the rest of the verse, or chorus, or bridge around. The funny part is how quickly the rest of the lyrics come to me once I get that one line. I write a novel and slave over every paragraph. I mean I rewrite every paragraph fifty times, over the course of a year but my lyrics happen very fast and organically, as a rule. That said, it’s then a matter of syllable math…the word you really wanna say will never fit in time to the music. That’s very frustrating for a writer to have to use a lesser word.
I know I’ve told you this before but listening to your songs I’m reminded of artists like Eels, Beck and Hayden. Are any of those influences of yours?
I smile pretty big when you say that, because I grew up on Hayden and Beck, and later, a girlfriend introduced me to Eels, and it was all I cared about forever. Beck’s musical diversity is unmatched by anyone, and making a discography that’s all over the place only makes sense to me. When all your songs sound the same, they blur into each other until even the good ones are washed out by that. The apex of musicianship is sounding like your own person. Respecting that, at a young age, stuck.
And Hayden…Hayden’s first 5 records were what got me away from the kind of music I played in the 90’s to the folkier singer-songwriter stuff I’ve been into ever since. He did that, alone. His first two records were extremely passionate, sincere, and affecting, yet flawed in an endearing way. These days, most people would plug their ears at a song like “Skates,” but I was floored, and in awe of how big one man with a guitar could make a song feel. “When This is Over,” to this day, rattles me more than anything I’ve ever heard, yet you play it for the kids these days and they’ll say he can’t sing. To me, he meant your voice is just another instrument in the band and it needn’t be the best one. You can’t miss his voice. I’d take that over all the so-good-its-indistinct vocals on the radio these days. Hayden has since progressed to have a polished and refined sound, and singing voice. But it’s those early albums I’ll never forget.
Were there any other albums or bands that particularly inspired you while making this album?
I haven’t been influenced by anybody since the early 2000s, when I was Hayden’s biggest fan. Except maybe Ryan Adam’s Heartbreaker when it came out, because every song should feel as authentic and playlistable as “Come Pick Me Up.” But any musical imprinting on me happened in the 90’s. Music had never been better. Before or since.
Any plans to release physical copies of the record or play a live show in the future?
I dunno…putting free albums up on Bandcamp gives people the choice of listening to what I consider one of my hobbies, and what I don’t assume anyone wants to hear, and doesn’t force it on them the way a show does. I’m a closet musician and I don’t take it seriously, and I acknowledge its flaws, and that combo means I could never expect to sell albums, or, have a few musicians to get on stage and back my songs for me. And I can’t see myself playing alone because you can’t double your vocals live, or do a second take. Maybe with a strong female vocalist, whose mic is up higher than mine? I wouldn’t not do it, but have no plans to, until the day I mysteriously wake up with Otis Redding’s voice. So, not for my own stuff anyway, but as a part of a band, I’ve been missing that. I haven’t played a show since the heyday of The Edge and Calios. I’ve been talking more and more frequently with some people about starting something, but what that something is would be a very different incarnation than my own stuff.
Check out Chad Pelley’s, I’m All Yours and You’re Half Mine at the link below.