Rusty Responds To Zooming In On Fractals

The Sound: I knew I would take my time with this record. I'd just upgraded Cakewalk and I was spending some time getting lots of Soundfonts to use, and my main goal was to record with the sounds as the main thing... to start with. That doesn't mean that the lyrics weren't as important this time; it means that I wanted the sound to dictate the lyrics and not the other way around, or not as mutually. So I started with the noises.

The Peeps: I originally wanted to carry on the new tradition of different Mnemonic Devicettes. Hedi Rosenberg was meant to do a song from the last album, but never did, so she wanted to do one for this one, but she moved to Texas instead. Old Devicette Nyleva Corley also moved to Texas, a popular state. I had wanted her to do a duet with my girlfriend and her old friend Liza Marshall. New girl Kim Chinquee was going to do a song too, but lack of time seemed an issue for her and the others as well. Of course, recording vocals for my songs tend to take five to twenty minutes, so it's not like an all day affair or anything. The other girl I had in mind was old girl Lori Burton, but by the time it got around to doing them, I decided I would just let Liza do them all. She was my gal after all, and I'd wanted eventually to do one just with her, so why not now? I'm glad I did. On the next album, I'll probably have like a girl a track.

The Title: I've associated both the music I listen to and the music I make with fractals: it keeps getting more and more specific, but the closer you get, it stays just as complicated; it doesn't get smaller. The title probably means some other stuff too, but that's a good enough explanation so it doesn't seem like some weird mystery. According to my science pal Kevin Young, broccoli (which is featured on the cover) is not a fractal, but what does he know? The back design and inside design certainly are, anyway. As long as I'm talking about the cover, I decided to stick a picture of Liza in there since she's the cool chick. She chose the picture. It was the first picture I saw of her when Nyleva introduced me to her via photograph in October of 1999.

The Songs: I'll do a play-by-play, just because I think I have a little something to say about each, and since Johnny Winters and I have decided to stop doing interviews for a while. I'm going to go in recording order, not the order on the album.

My Ex-Boyfriend's House: This is the only one where the lyrics came first. I set out to do a song that sounded kind of like Belle and Sebastian, or was at least a tribute. I used the name Lisa and the phrase "the state I'm in" and the bouncy rhythm. One of the first of my many misuses of words is here. "Adultery is commoner than heroine." That's my Kurt Loder/Jewel moment. She used casualty wrong, remember? Of course you do. I had written this song for Heidi Rosenberg to sing.

I Know It's Not Me: This is when I realized the album would work, doing all music first. I recorded this and had no idea how I would fit lyrics over it, and in fact for this song I decided to make the lyrics very very simple and unobtrusive so that you could pay attention to what I think is a beautiful use of voices and noise--if I do say so.

The Scientist: This is the song I wrote for Kim Chinquee. Since I ended up singing it, it's the only gender-bender on the album, unless it's a gay character, but it was really meant to be a woman scientist. This is the one I listened to most because I love the bouncy part and the choir part. I think I misused the phrase in media res here too, but it's close enough.

Lonely: At this point, I decided to make a few songs that weren't as sonically complicated, but I'd also been watching tons of Errol Morris documentaries and loved the Philip Glass music in it, so this was my tribute to him. I wasn't actually lonely when I wrote this because Liza was with me. The Bruce in the song is Bruce McCulloch. I don't quite have 500 CDs yet, but I'm very close.

Don't Go There: This is the song I wrote for Nyleva Corley to sing with Liza. The lyrics were different; it was two girls, roommates I think, bickering. Most of the lyrics are the same, but the fights over rich guys were dropped. I regret not having a catfight song and having to reduce it to a boy-girl bickering song, but it's still cute. Nyleva called it "They Might Be Giants meets Jerry Springer," which sounded good to me. The crack baby line is my favorite, as well as the Lady Godiva one.

22: Another of my less complicated songs on the album. I needed those to offset the tons of musical craziness. I found when I was choosing song order that I had far too many interesting songs and not enough offsetters, but I worked it okay, I think. I wrote this song while looking around on and reading about Arthur Lintgen and Groucho Marx.

A Mystery: Around this time, my mother wrote me email telling me she wrote a song and here it was. I made the music for it that night, using my new favorite Soundfont.

Cherries: About four months passed between that song and this one. I had slowly worked on those for three months, not that I work on songs for more than three settings at a time. That's how I work, one to three long settings with ocassional minor revisions over a period of time. When I wrote this song, I knew I was ready to wrap up this album, since it was already 2001 and I'd really wanted to release it for Christmas of 2000, keeping with my one-per-year normality of TMD albums. So I worked for a week on the next six songs and then did the vocals and post-production shortly after that. This song reminds me of Fat Boy Slim, even though I wasn't going for that. I like the Chubby Checker line; it's a joke with me and Liza about Chubby Checker milking "The Twist" for more than it's worth.

Mellotron Song: Once I know I'm going to wrap up an album, I start mapping out a song order and seeing what's left to do, what kind of song. I knew I needed an ending song and didn't have one yet, so I wrote this one. Originally, this song was meant to be about three minutes long and it would begin a linear fade as soon as it started. I thought that would be a neat idea: to have something fading as soon as it starts, like dying as soon as you're born, and it's so subtle that you don't notice it at first, and you only really realize it the longer you get to the end of the song. Unfortunately, that idea didn't really fit this song, so I redid it with the short fade in and exponential fade-out. I did keep the idea of repeating one lyric over and over. I also felt it was my obligation to play the typical "Strawberry Fields Forever" mellotron tune.

I Want You, Girl: Liza has a collection of boy band CDs that she keeps hidden from our hip friends so she won't be embarrased, but she broke them out one day in the car and we listened to 'N Sync and The Backstreet Boys and I told her I would record my version of a boy band song. Not to make fun, which is the normal thing, but to get the goodie out of it. There's something people enjoy about this kind of music, and that's what I wanted to get across, not any kind of goofy parody, even though there are obviously parodic elements since it's me after all. The original lyrics, in fact, sounded--as Liza put it when she read them--like 2Ge+her, the MTV boy band parody group, so I toned it down a bit. I also didn't go for a totally accurate representation, so I felt free to add my own weird sounds and use my deep voice as the lead. There actually are five voices in this song, true to boy band rules of five guys being in the group. (1) The lead guy (2) The higher-pitched "Girl" guy (3) The way-deep rapper (4) The "Yo" guy during the rap (5) The very faint "Oh, yeeeah" guy during the breakdown talk section.

Snowflakes: I wrote this as part of the "what's left?" mapping process. I needed an intro song as well, and decided that this soft Enya-esque tune leading into the four whaps of "Ex-Boyfriend" would do just nicely. This song was originally an introduction to this big epic song that I never felt like finishing.

David Lynch: This is also something I took from an unfinished piece I was messing with at the time. I really just wanted to get that noise in, that noise that sounded to me like the music from Fire Walk With Me.

The Gospel Truth: Liza and I had just watched O Brother, Where Art Thou? and I wanted to do my own old-timey gospel song. I was also trying to get more and more duets. I really like how equal the vocal duties were split between me and Liza. It's usually majority me. By the way, the helicoptor sound (as everyone calls it) sounded to me more like a quiet little boat on a pond (and the instrument was called "boathaus"). That's how I like to think of it, since a helicoptor makes little sense.

Final Thoughts: It will be a few months before I can listen to this album and enjoy it, since once I'm done with making it, I'm sick of it. I listened to it the night I finished with headphones, then on my stereo, then in Liza's car, then in a van with my friends in a "listening party." That's enough for now. Future plans? Mnemonic Devices-wise, I'll probably wait at least until Christmas or so before starting a new one, unless I just get in the mood. As far as Rusty Spell solo stuff goes, I'm rerecording The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs just as a monumental waste of time. I also have two plans for real albums. One of them is Plagiarism and the other is something that I will either call or that might as well be called The Legitimate Album in which I write these fairly straightforward guitar-bass-drum-vocal verse-chorus-verse songs which I hope to record with me singing and playing drums, Danny McGreger playing guitar and producing, and Tommy Burton playing bass. I'm just wanting to expand the sound away from the normal Love and Letters Studios sound, at least for an album; to make something that somewhat sounds like a radio song or whatever, something I've been trying to do for a while but just don't know how. Okay, that's it. Love to all. Rusty.

Copyright (c) Feb 2001 by The Mnemonic Devices and Love and Letters Music