March 16, 2014

Regolith A1E3: Reuben Bettsak Presents Emerald Comets' Inside Dream Room

Regolith A1E3: Reuben Bettsak Presents Emerald Comets' Inside Dream Room

What you did in the last 30 days: watched "True Detective;" posted several status updates about "True Detective;" feigned interest in international sport and/or affairs; listlessly commuted to that thing you hate; re-committed yourself to Cheez Doodles; listened to that St. Vincent record a bunch; laundry. What Reuben Bettsak did in the last 30 days: his band Guillermo Sexo was selected to perform on the first night of this year's 35th anniversary iteration of Boston's venerable Rock 'n' Roll Rumble; he wrote and recorded 15 songs; caught a cold -- wait, wait, what was that last thing? Yeah, while you were doing whatever, Mr. Bettsak was creating an alternate reality in a spare bedroom, from which he wrote an entire new record. He is ascribing the new set, titled Inside Dream Room, to his Emerald Comets project; the album is the product of his 30 days of work under the auspices of Clicky Clicky's new Regolith series. It's a spectral, sedate, otherworldy collection, one we've streamed a half-dozen times already, as it seems particularly complementary to a Sunday. It sounds like his work, of course, but it also sounds like post-Barrett, pre-Dark Side Floyd, The Album Leaf and a number of other things. Read Reuben's thoughts about the set and the creation thereof below, where you can also hear the record, which, of course, we are thrilled to share with you. Dig all the way to the bottom, and you just might find some clues about the identity of the next Regolith artist-in-his-or-her-own-residence, too. Get into it.
Clicky Clicky Music Blog: How did it go? Do you consider the results a personal success? A failure?

Reuben Bettsak: I'm very happy with the results! I was able to create a lot of songs that I really dig, and these songs created an album. I didn't know that would be the case when I started Regolith. I do think these songs work together both musically, and lyrically. Another great bonus was delving into some sounds and recording techniques that are new for me. For example, I used a guitar slide a bunch, and learned how to play better with a slide... and there's the space blues sort of thing happening on a lot of the tracks.

CC: What were the biggest challenges and frustrations?

RB: The 30-day time limit is tricky because it's not like I had 30 full days of recording time. I realistically recorded material in maybe 15 of the 30 days, and since I have a full time job, bands and life stuff, I was recording in two-hour periods here and there... It didn't prevent me from creating songs, but spending more time on mixing would have been cool.

Another challenge, at first, was figuring out what the songs would be like... I went into this with a completely open slate. I didn't bring any old riffs into it. I rarely have a problem writing songs, but I was recording in our very plain guest bedroom, and it wasn't very inspiring. This is why I drew inspiration from an idea of being inside a dream room. I pretended to be in a supernatural room, in a dream world of sorts. I knew I wanted the stuff to be somewhat different than other songs I've done... Luckily, the music and the lyrics just occurred in a very natural manner. It's one of the most meditative writing experiences I've ever had.

The other challenge was that halfway through the project, I got a bad cold. On those songs, I had to put a lot of effects on my voice to get through it. I'd keep pushing my voice, although I was losing it. But that was only for like three of the songs, and kinda gives some of those songs an intimate vibe.

CC: How were you able to work around these challenges?

RB: Something about this process really allowed me to delve into subjects and symbols that appear on various songs. I didn't intend to do a concept album, but these songs are tied together, and that really helped with the process of creating the album. I totally agree with the concept that creating art/music is therapeutic, and this process was very much like that... being in an isolated dream room.

CC: Did you find that your approach to writing and recording for this project changed over the course of the 30 days, or did you begin by finding an approach that worked (time-wise), and apply that to every idea thereafter?

RB: Good question... In regards to writing, it was always like "lay a guitar or drum machine," and build from there. I totally have to go back and re-learn these songs because I literally played the riffs or parts once when recording. So the writing approach stayed the same in that regard, but I did realize after a few songs that laying down a drum machine pattern made things way more tight. I guess I could have done a click track for the songs I started with guitar, but I didn't. Repetition and short song structures are definitely your friend when doing this type of project.

CC: What song do you think came out the best?

RB: Recording-wise, I think "Collapse Against the Sound" is one of the best-sounding songs. My favorite songs are probably "Unsleeping Eye," "Stolen Kisses," "Revolutionary Earthworms" and "Lost In Our Place."

CC: What song(s) do you wish you'd had more time to work on? Do you see yourself re-doing any songs in the future, in any of your bands?

RB: "Dreams of Oblivion" has so much potential. I do like this version, but some of the more catchy punkish songs like "Dreams of Oblivion" and "Manic Dreams" would be ideal with real drums. I'm really digging on the vibe of this album and the songs. These songs would not have been created without this process, and I'm so happy that they now exist. I also LOVE the lo-fi vibe.

For sure a lot these songs will be part of the Guillermo Sexo or Emerald Comets repertoire in the near future. I'm actually toying with the idea of having Guillermo Sexo re-imagine the album by recording it in a studio. I think there would be some other songs, or maybe it would be shorter, plus Noell would sing some of the stuff. Who knows if this will happen, but either way, songs like "Stolen Kisses (Visit the Archives)," "Wide Awake in Someone Else's Universe," and a few others would also sound cool if re-imagined by a band in a studio.

CC: We saw you mention the possibility of playing some of these new songs live soon. When and where are you going to be playing?

RB: Yeah! I'm playing an Emerald Comets solo show on March 26th at O'Brien's, and will play a couple of the songs from Inside Dream Room for sure. I just have to re-learn how to play them, and figure out how to perform them live.

CC: Are there any songs you did for this project that you couldn't re-create live?

RB: "Paper Tiger" and "Lost Pieces" would be nearly impossible. Some of the others would be doable as a full band with more than one guitar. Doing the songs "Inside Dream Room," "Bittersweet," or "Collapse Against the Sound" solo would be tough.

CC: If there was one person or piece of equipment you could have brought in for the project, who or what would that have been?

RB: Real drums would have been cool. Also, having a bass player like Bo (Barringer, of Future Carnivores) or Elliott would have been cool. I almost borrowed a bass and used it on some of the songs. It could have been cool, but given the time limit, I went without bass. I did manage to get some decent bass-type parts on my guitar or on the Nord lead keyboard.

CC: Did you learn anything about how you write and record music? What specific or quantifiable lesson, if any, did you learn that will help you in the future?

RB: I'm definitely getting better at recording, and the best thing is being able to get sounds that you imagine in your head into the recordings. I've always loved working quickly, and on the fly, but this definitely re-affirmed that working quickly without over-thinking or overanalyzing can yield some very rewarding results, and possibly some of the best songs written are written in this manner.

CC: If you could travel into the future and speak with the next Regolith participant, what one piece of advice would you give them?

RB: 1. Plan how you will record the songs, but do not worry or think about what you will be writing, or what it will sound like.
2. Short songs and repetition are your friends.
3. Make a decision ahead of time. Recording precision vs. quality of "song crafting," and the amount of material you want to produce. There has to be some sacrifice there.
4. Experimenting can be very rewarding.
5. Trying new things, like new ways of singing, or using a guitar slide, or something you don't usually use, can also be rewarding. I approached it as if it was a completely different band.
6. Have fun!

Thanks so much L. Tiburon and Jay and Clicky Clicky for inviting me to do this. It has been such a rewarding experience.
And there you have it, folks, Regolith Artist 1, Reuben Bettsak, is in the can. Stream all of the new music via the embed below, or click here to visit the brand new Clicky Clicky Music Bandcamp to stream the whole kaboodle there. Bookmark that page, too, because that is where we'll be posting all future Regolith music from here on out. Speaking of which, how about three clues as to the identity of the next Regolith artist-in-residence? 1. 2. 3. You'll be hearing more about that very soon. -- L. Tiburon Pacifico

Related Coverage:
Regolith A1E2: Reuben Bettsak Writing Songs Under The Gun
Regolith A1E1: Reuben Bettsak Is A Songwriter
Premiere: Emerald Comets | Emerald Comets EP
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Dark Spring
Today's Hotness: Future Carnivores
Clicky Clicky Music Presents... N O F U C K I N G W H E R E : 11 Boston Bands Perform Ride's Classic 1990 Album
Review: Future Carnivores | Future Carnivores
Review: Guillermo Sexo | Secret Wild

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