Horny Goat Weed

As the mtlx stuff has turned from a fake album to a legit ARG, and really, as I come out of a year’s worth of autistic navelgazing, I start to look back at my “proper” music, my aphrodisiac project, and where exactly I’m going with it. Believe it or not, Various Murky Basements was not my first EP, but rather, my second. And not only had I not let anyone else hear the first for about four years of its existence (totally accidentally), but until tonight, I didn’t even have a mixdown of it, only the project files.

Here Come Monsters

So one quick, basic mastering job and a CD-R copy burned for safekeeping later, and I’m feeling rambly. For the hell of it and for posterity’s sake, here’s a rundown of my first real experience writing an “album”.

I wasn’t in a great place in June 2015. My new friend Brianna, in about a year’s time, had shown me what helplessness felt like, what frustration felt like, and suddenly, what insecurity had felt like. She never was the most encouraging type, and despite being a fairly decent writer on her own, she never seemed to see much of it in me. Least, if she did, she never let on. I was always trying to gain her approval in some form or fashion. I looked up to her, for a sign I was doing the writing thing right. That bit me in the ass big time.

After a not-so-great stint writing original work, I followed in her footsteps as a…twentysomething fanfic author (it’s not impressive, but I was 15, what do you expect?) with some stabs at (yes) Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fanfic. I wrote a bit, felt good about it for a brief moment…and suddenly realized I had no clue what I was doing. That doubtful sting had gotten me for the first time. I felt as though someone I looked up to and expected to tell me when I was doing wrong let me fall blissfully on my own sword.

19:33 [pacguy19] i'm hesitant to go back into writing
19:34 [Chocoportals] ?
19:34 [pacguy19] like
19:35 [pacguy19] i stopped gilbert because it was turning out badly
19:35 [pacguy19] i have plenty of ideas
19:35 [pacguy19] plenty of direction
19:35 [pacguy19] but i just can't start it
19:35 [pacguy19] plus i still have that odd bias where it's only fanfic so
19:44 [Chocoportals] i found a witch's hut, should i look inside?

It took two months and me pushing her to get any feedback whatsoever on it. By that time, I was just in a pit. I don’t even remember why I put so much weight on it. I guess I figured I’d never do anything good creatively if I couldn’t get something as lowly as fanfiction going. I spent that entire summer up every night, eating whole bags of chips at 4 in the morning in my older sister’s living room and listening to Silversun Pickups and grappling with unchecked insecurity and being stuck in my own head. The ridiculousness isn’t lost on me, and hormones probably played a bigger role than I realize, but either way, it stung at the time.

Somewhere in all that summer haze, while I was still trying to get better at writing and nurse the raging teenage hormones, I decided to take a proper stab at writing my own music. I remember trying once before, back in middle school, but after a song (I think literally one song), I got bored and gave up.

I didn’t have much when I started. I had a sound in my head I wanted captured. The sound of a raw-but-poppy war between a drummer and a drum machine and basses and guitars around them. (I’d later discover the Folk Implosion had done this twenty years prior, but I love the Folk Implosion, so that’s okay.) I had no instruments, nor could I play any (other than drums of course), but I had GarageBand.

At the time, I was listening to a lot of Big Black, especially the Lungs EP, and I figured if I could get close to Steve Albini’s little home-recorded skeletal thing, it would be good enough. The plan was to produce a demo and get the sound out with what I had and I’d use that to get kids at school to join in as a proper band. (Yes, I expected zoomers in 2015 to be in an alt rock band from the 90s.)

The project name? aphrodisiac. Yes, lowercase. One, because of a fake album cover I made when I was shitposting (sadly lost to time, but it looked cool). Two, because “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll”. And three, because “no one” had taken it (boy, ain’t that a :sylvana:).

GarageBand had gotten a lot better since 09, which was the first version I used. The drumkits, surprisingly, sounded like drums this time, and there were plenty of synths to experiment with and smart controls and effect chains for every last one of them. The whole thing felt powerful, and despite my absolute lack of live instrumentation, I got good at it, just drawing out melodies with the piano roll and experimenting. And I found it fun too! I’d be watching something in the living room (because my room didn’t have a TV) and during commercials, I’d wander back into my room, write a bit of a song, and wander back out. Easy breezy.

I even had GarageBand for iOS, which is very much a toy, but a toy I enjoyed fiddling with in study halls and things and seeing what I could come up with. Not a lot was the answer, but I did get at least one track out of the experience, “Didanosine”.

Structurally, most of my tracks followed the same basic premise of a neat-sounding loop or “riff” that I’d then loop out to the point of wearing out, writing an A section, a B section, and then finagle it from there. Sometimes, I’d sample some weird YouTube video or a random Vocaroo link I found and use it as audio verite and flavor. Sonically, I hadn’t figured out very many tricks or even EQ, really, but things were shifting. Even as I continued to have anxiety over writing, music was my escape. I had nerves about it too (mostly in the form of my voice, which is why aphrodisiac became an instrumental project), but mostly, it was fun.

By November 2015, I’d finished a bunch of tracks I could finally sort from and compile for my demo. The very first song I’ve ever written, “Caleb”, was to be the opener. The sound I had in my head was exemplified; a ticking drum machine paired up with a fanciful, fleet-footed “drummer” (one of GarageBand’s accompanying software drummers), a chromatic little bassline for melody, and a rumbling, crescendoing synth. It was a simple track, inspired by The Dandy Warhols’ “Burned” but without all the stuff that makes that track sound like that track. I liked it. I still do.

I found a picture of a bubble-tipped sea anemone, made the album cover a little homage to Lungs, and named it Here Come Monsters. It sounded cool and I thought it fit the coral. I planned to release it November 18th, 2015.

Lungs and Here Come Monsters next to one another
Kinda obvious side-by-side, isn’t it?

Here Come Monsters was never released, ultimately. I remember going to one of my more musically-inclined friends (the school bassist, really) and playing him bits to get his approval. One such track was an early version of “Mind Left for Seattle”, which would later be reused for Various Murky Basements. He wasn’t super impressed by it, to tell the truth. “It’s very dry.” “I wouldn’t have resolved on that note.”

Not quite dissuaded but also not quite confident in my little demo’s viability anymore, I decided to rework it. I’ll retell the story of Various Murky Basements another time. For now, I leave you with Here Come Monsters, the EP I never released. Honestly, listening to it again after all this time is kinda neat. It’s rudimentary, but not totally meritless. I definitely needed more time to incubate musically, but I was on the right track and I knew it. Instruments were on the horizon. The real first EP would be powerful.

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