Spirit Phone: Commentary

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Spirit Phone: Commentary
Spirit Phone.jpg
Artist Lemon Demon
Released 2018
Written by Neil Cicierega
Appears on Spirit Phone
Sung by Neil Cicierega
Duration 1:00:17
Genre Commentary
Language English

This page is a transcript of the commentary included in the download of or bonus disc enhanced content of Spirit Phone. The runtime for the commentary for this album is 1 hour and 17 seconds.


Hey buddies! Uh, Neil Cicierega here, I am Lemon Demon, the musician who made Spirit Phone, this album. This is a commentary track for an album, which is weird. It's hard to talk and listen at the same time so, after a few failed attempts I ended up uh, writing a lot of notes. So, sometimes if I sound like I know what I'm saying, it's because I'm reading from a script. And other times, uh, I will sound, uh, like, you know, what's the word-- bad.

So, Spirit Phone began as soon as my last album View-Monster came out which was 2008. And it came out 2016. I still put out music in the intervening years but they were just short EPs and sample-based mashup albums, this was a long-in-the-works return to a full-length original music album. And there were multiple times when I thought I had this thing in the bag, and I was telling people "Yeah, it's gonna come out this year!" "It's gonna come out next year!" "It's almost done!" And you know, all these tracks were almost, quote-on-quote 90% done no matter how much I messed with them. But eventually, I figured it out.

Lifetime Achievement Award

So, to rewind a bit, this album starts off with some white noise, some soft white noise, spooky sounds, and then the music begins. The white noise returns throughout the album a few times, what does it mean? It's a ghost. That's what it means.

This track is called Lifetime Acheivement Award. I picked that title late in production, I didn't feel like any of the lines from the actual chorus of the song worked as a title, uh, some early versions I think were named "Experiments in the Revival" which is a reference to Experiments in the Revival of Organisms, a 1940's Soviet medical film where they supposedly kept a severed dog's head alive with science. I've never actually watched this clip 'cause it just sounds really disturbing, although it's possibly fake, but I'm glad I didn't go with that title because, it's maybe too freaky a reference right out of the gate. Nonetheless, I got this whole song about creepy scientists reviving dead musicians, reviving them straight into new contracts like performing animals.

This song idea goes back to 2012, when there was that whole, I guess scandal about the hologram version of 2pac. Remember that? I barely remember that. But, anyway, the early 2010's is where this song was born. And the references to Michael Jackson's death and to Katy Perry sort of dated, but not too badly, 'cause Katy Perry's still doing her thing and Michael Jackson's still dead!

The chorus uses, in addition to me screaming, a computer... voice? It's actually, not a- not a real one, but it's an emulated Atari speech synthesis, uh, program, and those things are so bad at pronouncing things I had to break up the words into individual syllables just so it wouldn't be "cem-ah-ter-y" instead of cemetery.

Uh, an earlier version of this song was a totally different recording that I, I just worked on it too long and it just started to sound bad to me so I scrapped almost everything and I recreated it from scratch. And I listened to it recently and, this always happens, but I was like "oh, this is kinda better in some ways" and that's just, egh, really aggravating. But that version was missing a few important chunks I think and starting over made it easier to kinda insert, uh, a few extra bars here and there to spread out the lyrics a little bit, and this, uh, pretty cool keybaord solo wasn't in that version, so it was worth it, I think. But of course all my friends who I would send early versions of this song to, uh, when they heard the, the new version they did not like it as much. That always seems to happen. In fact, it happened, uh, publicly 'cause I put out an early version of Reaganomics, later on this album, and people got used to listening to that version, and then I changed a bunch of stuff, and a lot of people did not like it as much. Now, one solution to this is for me not to take 8 years to make an album, and uh, don't feel guilty about not putting out enough content and end up releasing songs early and in an unfinished state so people can just know that I'm not dead, and I'm actually working on music, but now I'm not even talking about this song, so let me, let me stop myself right there. Actually, the only note that I missed is, uh, earlier, when I said, uh, "you're unnatural, babe," which is a pun on "you're a natural" / "you're unnatural." Originally, that was just "you're unstoppable, babe." So, I got a bad pun in there, that's one thing I improved over the original, cool.

Most of my songs there's just one tempo that's locked in, but, uh, for this I tried to add little moments where it slows down or give a drum fill a little room to breathe, and that helps it make it feel like a more alive song. So, this part is, it's my voice going through a really deep synthesizer-vocoder effect, and I am paraphrasing the disclaimer that shows up at the beginning of the, uh, the video for Thriller, where Michael Jackson, I guess, um, had a crisis of conscience and uh, just had to make sure that everyone knows that, err, he's not a practitioner of magic or whatever, so, uh, I just took that phrase 'cause it's pretty well worded, and I kinda turned it into a pledge of allegiance type call-and-response thing with some robots. And for some reason with the robot voice, the word 'record' sounded not robotic, I had to say record, recooooord.

Touch-Tone Telephone

Making this little acapella intro involved, like, four or five different vocal tracks, and, some of them are doing you know, like, the main chords-- ba-ba-ba-ba-ba, and then there's one track that's doing all the, uh, in-between notes, and that one sounds really funny on it's own, it's just me going bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah. I've got a fake string quartet going in this song, that uh, to my ears sounds pretty good. I've always found that strings are one of the hardest instruments to make sound realistic with just a computer, but I found a pretty good sound library that is sadly discontinued now.

So, this song is about a dedicated caller into a radio show who has it all. figured. out. and he just needs to explain it to someone, and even just knowing how he’s going to sound to other people is giving him all this anxiety and it’s coming out before he can even say what he wants so say. In fact, it never comes out. So, this song is just a big rant of preemptive defensiveness and saying you’re going to do something without ever doing it. And I, I name-drop Robert Stack and Leonard Nimoy who, uh, hosted, respectively Unsolved Mysteries, and In Search of... which were both shows that uh, dealt with bizzarre and often paranormal stories and tales, uh, and I actually loved to read about UFOs and Paranormal stuff even though I'm not a real believer, when I was a kid it was a fun thing to, to uh, to stretch my imagination with I guess.

Uh, on my patreon I posted an early, early ancestor of this song called Ivanushka which was uh, based on uh, the movie Jack Frost which was a Mystery Science Theater episode, and that song had a lot of different sounding parts, but one of them was the uh, basically the chorus of this song, only I was singing about Father Mushroom and Ivanushka. And that happens all the time in my process. I will find melodies in songs- unfinished songs from years and years ago, and since they’re mine and I’ve never done anything with them, I’m free to basically plagiarize myself. And a lot of the time these melodies will just kinda stay in my head for years and that’s how they’ll end up getting reused. I’ll be going through old files and then I’ll realize, "Oh I actually did record this melody a long time ago and I totally forgot,” but the flip-side of that is discovering something like that can be a little depressing cause it reminds me, “Oh man I… take so long to finish music.”

Writing this little rap here was great because I got to use a lot of little um… just like phrases and stems that I had written in a big text file I always wanted to use. Like the word UFOlogy, [in time with the lyrics] or name dropping Ancient Aliens. I actually just paused and checked my old lyrics.txt file and, yeah, I totally wrote: species of big cat, I am Robert Stack, UFOlogy, Demonology, all like in this little paragraph. So I guess that’s where this song came from. And the Super Sargasso Sea that I mention was a sort of thought experiment by Charles Fort, who was a very interesting early cataloger of (catalogist? of) the paranormal or seemingly impossible stories. Look him up!

This song always makes me think of, once when I was a kid, me and my dad were just messing around with a touch-tone telephone and trying to play music on it, and I think we were trying to play Shave & a Haircut and we must have played the first 3 notes and then hung up, and those first 3 notes just happened to be 911 because a cop showed up at our door a little while later saying like, “Hey… we got a call and someone just hung up.” So I imagine my dad probably tried to explain what happened and the cop must have been just like, “Uh… ok… please don’t do that.” As this album was starting to come together and I was starting to get excited and see it as not just a collection of songs but it’s an experience, man, I started extending the outros for songs and making these kind-of swirling, synthesizer, soundscapes, and I had to shorten this one because it was just... too much. But I’ve always really liked the effect of a song kinda decompressing and getting you ready for the next track and not knowing exactly where the cut-off point is.

Cabinet Man

So this is Cabinet Man, an upbeat song about a supernatural serial killer. This is supposed to be the kind of ludicrous story that would show up in an old horror anthology, like Creepshow, with lots of creative gore and vivid lights.

I don’t really remember what inspired me to write this kind of story…? There is the urban legend of Polybius, a weird 80s arcade game that made people sick, and lose their minds, and die- but, the body horror element where a guy somehow medically transplants all his systems into a video game cabinet… not sure what I was doing when I came up with that one.

There is real guitar in this, but the underlying rhythm guitar is fake because I tried playing it myself and I got really bad hand cramps trying to keep up that rhythm. There’s also backup vocals that are filtered through a plug-in called Bitspeek, which makes vocals sound like a speak-and-spell. I also used it on Melt Everyone, from Mouth Sounds, on Rob Thomas’s voice from the song Smooth. I’ve also got a lot of really fast high-hat hits here, which I definitely did not play IRL.

A lot of these songs use little synth instruments that have a random element to them. They’ll play, you know, a note an octave up or an octave down in a total random fashion and that is built into the plug-in. That's not how I’m playing it. Which is good, it adds some variety to the sound, but... the draw-back is every single time I play the song it sounds a little bit different. And that’s true any time I export the song as well. If I ever needed to go back and, you know, remix or re-construct the song from the original files it would end up having a lot of little variations from the original.

One of the bonus tracks on Spirit Phone is like a more chill version of this song from 2009. It doesn’t have any lyrics, it was long before I thought of putting body parts in a video game cabinet. I remember some early lyrics being about a seesaw…? I guess my content has changed a bit over the years.

I reversed the drums in this part which is something I forgot you could do. I’m glad I did it.

And of course you can’t be a monster arcade cabinet without immediately having to reckon with becoming obsolete in the face of home consoles and portable consoles. This guy is pretty much doomed to just be thrown away or end up living in some enthusiast’s collection… maybe be in like a… movie theater lobby.

When I played this song live years ago I made a backup video- or like a backing projected video that was clips from an 80s anthology movie about an evil arcade game called the Bishop of Battle I think…? It’s from a movie called Nightmares with Emilio Estevez. It had a lot of cool visuals; lots of 80s, 3D, wire frame stuff coming out of a screen and shooting lasers.

This is another song where none of the actual words in the lyrics grabbed me as title material, so I guess I just came up with Cabinet Man cause it sounds kinda spooky. Also there’s two other tracks with "man" in the title, and I guess that’s just a subtle way of… unifying... not really. What am I talking about?

Ooh, this part sounds pretty cool right? This was pretty high on my vocal register, I just kinda had to yell it and overlay multiple tracks to make it sound okay. It sounds okay.

No Eyed Girl

After I came up with the order for the songs on the album I ended up having to go in and alter the intros and outros of the songs to make them fit together in a cool way. So like, this song was done and it came in with the little soft strum guitar, and I ended up isolating a synth from later in the song and putting it right in the beginning with some nice echos to make it a more smooth transition into this song. And also to make sure that there’s- you know, there’s occasionally more than… 5 seconds when I’m not singing in the album?

So this song- I had this melody, which was always meant to sound very doo-wop inspired and kinda sad, but when I realized I don’t have the vocal chops of old doo-wop singers I somehow got the idea to just cheat with vocoder effects. So, I have my actual voice on the lead vocals plus like 4 or 5 backup vocals put through vocoders. And, you know, these are plug-in vocoders not actual physical devices that I own. So, there’s those tracks plus all these synthesizer tracks that are pushing the melodies through onto those vocals, and if I took those synths out there could be a version of this song with all natural voices but it would sound… awful because I wasn’t very concerned with hitting notes- the synths were doing that work.

The lyrics are another hypothetical sci-fi short story. Just an intro-dimensional love story with really bad repercussions; the sort of thing that people were worried the Super Hadron Collider would unleash on the world. This all blossomed from the title, just a dumb pun on Brown Eyed Girl. You know, just like the weirdness of eye color in love songs, cause eyes are like the window to the soul that we fall in love with, put them on a pedestal, but they’re really just another body part at the end of the day. I don’t know. I like eyes and all, but they’re just the window to… the eyes.

Earlier on I had more realistic drums on this version of the song but for some reason they just weren’t sounding right, and I don’t know why I decided to add kind of these 90’s sampled new jack swing big drums, but I think it worked. Recording really quiet parts with vocals is tough because I have never had any kind of isolated sound booths… I’ve never even tried, really... sometimes I’ll throw a blanket over my computer, so recording something like that was kinda tough. I’d have to get pretty close to the mic, and cut off any room noise at the end of a word, stuff like that.

And this breakdown section was kind of an interesting thing to produce, because- I guess I just started with just the synths playing kind of like, you know, solid tones with no real volume variation. Then I sat down with a microphone and basically just recorded myself humming into the microphone to add some intonation to the synths. So for like the bass I wouldn’t be worrying about the note I would just be going, buuUUUUm, woOOOOAAAAooow, and then, you know, once I put it all together I had the right notes at the right volumes and it all sounded pretty cool.

I guess this one has a happy ending, sorta, like as a romance.

When He Died

So this is another kind of “Doo-wop with a weird twist” type of song. It uses that classic 4-chord 50s progression, I believe it’s called. But it switches between Lydian and Diatonic scales for the first two and the last two chords of that progression, and what that means is that there’s literally like one note that is off from what you’d expect from this kind of song. You can’t hear it on my vocals but it’s in some of the backup instruments and the guitar solo that comes later.

Everyone always compares this glockenspiel part to the theme from Rugrats and I disagree, it’s clearly supposed to evoke Take Me There by Blackstreet.[1] Totally different song.

You can hear some flourishes from this janky little toy wooden harp that’s like, tuned beyond saving. You can hear it in its full glory whenever Snape appears in the Potter Puppet Pals Halloween Special that I made some years back. I definitely have a habit of finding and collecting weird little instruments like that and forgetting to use them or just not finding a place to use them, so I’m glad when I can use a messed up harp in a song *chuckles*.

KEY CHANGE CHORUS! That’s a cheap but effective trick in songwriting. I really like the pitched up la-la-las in the right channel, they sound like cartoon cats.

Does anyone remember like statues that cried blood…? That was a thing…? I think I probably saw it in an episode of Sightings... maybe on the Sci-Fi channel.[2]

When I was working on this song They Might Be Giants came out with a song called When Will You Die, and I was briefly worried that they would be too similar, but thankfully they’re very different. But I do highly recommend that song, for the record. It’s a good one.

And that harp is now replaced by a harmonica! Because that’s another instrument I just had laying around and didn’t really know how to play it correctly, so, just wanted to get it in there… justify owning a… harmonica.

So, the OKeh Laughing Record was a 1920s novelty record that was just some people laughing together. The idea was that laughing is infectious, so this record should sell like hotcakes! And it did, it was a huge hit. But when I listened to it I thought it was the scariest thing I’ve ever heard, and it’s public domain, so I got to scratch my sampling itch on this album. By the way, if you have the vinyl version of this album, I definitely recommend after the 3rd side is done playing… just let it keep playing… and there should be a little surprise there, in the center of the disc.

And, by the way, people seem to have trouble interpreting this song, but it’s really- it’s just a litany of creepy, mysterious things being discovered about someone who’s died. You hear about stuff like this every now and then, but I like that this one guy really outdid everyone, and he made sure to leave a real mystery behind. So that’s the concept of the song, just a guy who’s death raised far, far, far more questions than it could ever answer.

Ah, I really hit that note there. I’m pretty happy with my vocals on this track. I feel like the melody of this song is pretty up and down, probably one of the harder ones to do. That being said there’s a lot of little notes that I would love to go in and do better, or they just sound off now. But I guess that means I’m improving? That I can hear those imperfections. I know when I was younger, I couldn’t. I didn’t think I was good, but I just couldn’t tell I was specifically really bad. And if you listen closely, there’s like a little heartbeat kick drum here…

My favorite vocal track happens during this part, and it’s when it’s like half faded out, but it’s the- this part, the woah-woah-woah harmony. That’s me acknowledging that adding a ton of reverb smooths things out. And to transition into When He Died, which is more of an explicitly horror-themed song, I recorded these janky synths to an actual cassette tape and I played them back through this vintage RadioShack battery-operated cassette player. And if you pick it up and you shake it, it sounds very warble-y and very spooky. I highly recommend listening to all music in this way.

Sweet Bod

So this is Sweet Bod. It’s weird subject matter, even for me. I had to run this song by my loved ones, and I got a lot of “Uh… I don’t know man…” responses. But it’s inspired by the Mellified Man, a legend that spans multiple cultures, (but it probably never happened) in where an old guy would willingly eat nothing but honey until he died so that he could be buried in a coffin of yet more honey and after 100 years… he would just kinda turn into a confection with incredible healing properties. It’s sort of like being an organ donor. It’s a nice thought, anyway. But my idea was, how do you pitch that to someone? Like, “Hey uh… so I have this theory… do you like honey?” Somehow this lyrical concept got paired with a jam that I was working on, and something about setting it to music just made it take on an unintentionally perverse tone? So instead of scrapping the song I thought, well what if the singer just tries to clarify: it’s not a sex thing… but good god that only makes it worse. I guess that’s probably why it’s only a legend and it never actually really happened- it just skeeved people out too much. But in the end I liked having a funk song that required too much explanation and defensiveness, cause I think singing about someone else’s body is weird and commodifing, as it is. So it was a natural fit, I thought.

One of the bonus tracks is a demo for this song, and it’s just an earlier version of the song with the same lyrics but a harder synth sound. It was just too fast and hard to listen to. I like the big synth breakdown in the middle of it, but that just didn’t translate to the new funk direction so… it’s pretty different. And to go back further, before it had any music, the lyrics were originally tied into the Boston Molasses Flood of 1919 which actually killed a bunch of people- and the premise would have been about how on the 100 year anniversary of that, these jars of sweet liquid cure-all would start turning up, being sold on the streets of Boston, but real people died in that tragedy… and I felt like the one weird legend was enough for a song.

And the guitar solo here is the only guest spot on the album, and it’s Dave Kitsburg, a really gifted player, who’s uh- he’s done live shows with me. And, I’ve got that same Bitspeek plug-in running on the guitar and a few of the other synths on this song. My overall direction was to try and make it sound like there was this real, vintage funk song kind of buried under modern and unique sounds.

Some of the backup vocals are pitched up a bit to sound like I have both male and female singers, but nope! It’s just me :).

And YES! I finally got to use the word “panacea” in a song. And those high-pitched cowbells which I’ve always loved… I love that kinda shit like those little uh, those little tiny tom drums… that stuff’s good. And there’s some uh like chopping up of the song here that I added pretty much at the last minute like in the mixing-mastering stage. Swₑᵉt bod.

Eighth Wonder

So this is Eighth Wonder. This is the oldest track on the album. It was originally released in 2009, but it’s held up pretty well and it fits the Spirit Phone theme and it never got an official release so… into the album it went. And, I didn’t really change much about it. I added a little bit of flanger to this intro and, y’know, tweaked the EQ and the mixing and all that stuff, but it's pretty much the same track I released back in 2009. There was actually this like… extended fiddle solo outro that I chopped off- at least for the music video, which is where most people heard it. So, that part’s kinda discontinued, I guess.

But most of the lyrics come from quotes from this old ghost story (or poltergeist maybe? or just a talking animal). It was reported by a young girl and her family on the Isle of Man in I think the 1930s, so look up Gef the Mongoose. G-E-F. This story stuck out to me because he is so childish, and quotable, and talkative for a ghost. He’s cracking jokes, and he’s insulting people, and making outlandish claims… but he’s totally hidden and nobody can really see him. They catch glimpses of a mongoose sometimes, but they don’t really see this talking character. And if you read some of the original reporting on him he has such a memorable presence without ever coming out into the open, he’s just a voice in the wall. I fell in love with this story because- well like with a lot of paranormal stories and ghost stories the people involved swear up and down pretty convincingly that it really happened, but what makes it different is- it’s the kind of story a little kid would tell, not understanding that it’s not a believable lie. But, it’s told in a believable way so it has the effect of not just challenging what you think the rules of the universe are but... challenging that there are any rules. So, letting yourself get drawn into the story is in a way creepier than a story that is more quote-unquote “plausible.”

I got some real bass in this song, which I don’t often do.

I remember recording this in the basement of my family’s house, and it was probably one of the last songs I made there before I moved to the city. And I shot the music video in my family’s yard, in the woods that I grew up near, and this old shack that’s on our property line… so this song has a real “end of an era” feel to me. I think I made this song around the same time as Redesign Your Logo, and they’re both the start of a lot of samples and sounds that I continue to use up until today, really. The drum sounds, the strings, the imitation analog synths… as well as trying a little bit harder on my vocals. So, it’s like I tapped into something pretty good with this song- it just ended up sounding a lot better than anything else I was doing at the time. And I’m realizing now, if I hadn’t made this song, or if it had just turned out totally differently… there are a lot of things I wouldn’t have even tried in music for the next few years because it was just a confidence booster to have accidentally made a song that sounds like a real song. So that’s Eighth Wonder.

This ending was a new composition for the album, it took a lot of effort not to make it it’s own track. I went overboard with splitting my last album, View-Monster, into like 32 different tracks including all the transitions so… I really had to keep myself in check this time, no superfluous concept tracks or anything. And, I wrote this little melody just to modulate the last song’s ending chord into something that matches the next song’s intro chord- but it actually ended up being one of my favorite moments on the album. It sounds kinda like a… creepy, soft lullaby with a vacuum cleaner going in the other room.

Ancient Aliens

This intro part is me playing the organ patch on an old Casio keyboard that I found at a thrift store and singing along. I added like one extra vocal track but the first vocal and the organ are performed together in one recording. Which isn't that interesting, but it’s something that I don’t usually do- I don’t usually sing and play an instrument at the same time.

I think recording just by myself, at home, without no need to book studio time is totally a double-edge sword because on one hand I end up dragging out the process of making a song for way, way too long and I haven’t honed the skills of just getting in there and recording what you need to do and getting out- but on the other hand it’s a lot more flexible and creative ideas don’t have to stop just because I’m in the middle of recording. I can always just stop singing and get back to work on the instruments or add more tracks and develop a harmony or something that would be impossible or just a big headache if you were booking studio time- or working with someone else and having to respect their schedule.

This song is a good example of one that went through a lot of revisions and rethinkings and… originally it was a really relentless constant drum beat kinda song. And I did stuff, like I added this “No stars…” part that’s an extra two beats that weren’t there originally. And I stripped it down mostly to just kick and snare in the drums and I tried to add more stop-and-go variation in this song- and you’ll notice that’s a recurring theme with the edits that I ended up making to these songs. And even still, one of the main criticisms I get for this album is that it just has too much energy that lasts for way too long. Which, ok, just- y’know, just don’t listen to it all at once I guess.

Man I- I can’t believe I did these falsetto notes here. It sounds ok though.

So, this song is from the point of view of a caveman who’s meeting an alien and he just knows that it’s wrong and he can’t deal with it…? And I guess the alien is stranded or in need of help in some way and the caveman just refuses to help because he gets a primal reaction from meeting someone not of the Earth. Of course in reality cave-people were probably freaked out all the time by totally natural things too.

I like the random square notes that are playing in this part. Almost all the synths in my songs these days are from a plugin called Synth One, which is very popular and free. And it’s just a good all-around synth; it can do a little bit of everything. And I’m happy to say that, finally, I pretty much know what all of the knobs do. I can make my own custom patches or emulate synths I’ve heard in other songs… and when I was younger that stuff was just black magic to me and I had no idea how any of it did… and it looked suspiciously like math so I didn’t really try.

One thing I miss is my parents had this really old, early 80s monophonic synthesizer and I used to plug it in and mess with it and have no idea what I was doing but… there’s something really satisfying about physically turning a knob and seeing a light blink faster or slower and hearing the sound transform. But it would drive me nuts trying to record like that because- I always wanna tweak everything at every stage of production and having to decide how somethings gonna sound, and then record it, and then be stuck with that, is not my idea of a good time.

Case in point- I got another one of these swirly, synth-y outros going here and… the synthesizer here required a lot of finagling, and going back and forth and making it softer or adding more of a gliding portamento between the notes… and there’s 3 different synthesizers playing right now and they all needed that kinda flexibility to get this sound.

Soft Fuzzy Man

This song is called Soft Fuzzy Man, and that’s something that me and my wife now call our cat.

Originally the opening line was, “Hello Sally, hello Suzy, let me float your way and introduce me,” which was probably too awkward and torture to rhyme even for me.

An early, early version of this song also had the “Don’t worry, Bill Murray,” rhyme couplet that I used on 123456 Pokemon I think in like 2008…? I think that was just temporary lyrics that I ended up recycling, but yeah that means that the melody and bassline for this are even older than 2008. Might have been like Dinosaurchestra era- like 2006 or something.

This is me playing guitar badly but I’m using that Bitspeek plug-in again. It’s very unique sounding, it’s kinda like a kazoo.

This song is about a cloud man, or a ghost, or maybe just a metaphor for someone who thinks that being a total mystery makes him attractive. And… I do the thing that I usually do and I figure out an underlying metaphor and that’s good enough and now I can move on and just have fun with the literal side of the lyrics. So, there’s something about male unrelatability in there, but mostly it’s just a cloud man song.

The drums in this song are just like a bunch of really compressed claps and cowbells that are being wildly tuned up and down.

I always feel like the bridge is a good place to attempt to humanize a weird character that I’m singing about, like, yeah jokes, jokes, jokes but no I’m serious, ok back to jokes.

I think rhyming the word nervous with surface is… within the acceptable range of rhymes.

In an early version of this song I had the line change each time so I’d say, “What you girls really need’s a nebulous man,” or “A fragmental man,” and I kinda miss those lines cause fragmental is a good word.

“Makes you see spots” is a line change, I had something about seeping through the vents before…? Either way, he’s some kind of poisonous gas, maybe.

I think I specified that he’s hitting on a whole group of women at once to try and undercut the creepiness of this noxious, pervasive character. That’s still the point but at least he’s outnumbered.

The final thing I did is this little vocal thing here. Reminds me of Cornelius.

As Your Father I Expressly Forbid It

As Your Father I Expressly Forbid It. I liked doing such a simple bass and guitar riff- there’s still some good chord changes in this song but they’re all lumped together in one part of the verse. Then it comes back to that riff for the chorus, just louder. It’s actually so simple I’m curious if this [mimics the riff] thing has been done before. If anyone has found a prior use please let me know.

This is yet another unpleasant character but uh- I liked doing this cartoon-ish, strict dad cause it let me yell most of the lyrics instead of sing, cause all I really wanted to do was say things like “DON’T TALK ABOUT THE INTERNET,” in an unhinged manner.

So this title is in the present tense, and I went back and forth a couple times thinking like, “Uh… am I using the word expressly correctly? Does it matter?” It just feels like something that you’ve heard a dad say in a movie at some point, but I don’t think it is. It made me think of King Triton from The Little Mermaid, and I’ll talk about him in a second.

I just wanna say that… I really like my dad, and we get along very well and he was never ever like the dad in this song- this nightmare dad is just a character. And I also, I think, would try very hard not to be this dad. The lack of trust and friendship on display here is very sad. He does apologize for yelling, but he is just yelling for the whole song and then he threatens to yell some more. I think this dad only has this one move. Or maybe he doesn’t even really yell at his kid and this song is just like an internal monologue and he has to lock himself in his bedroom and just scream it out with his guitar. That’s a better idea.

So, this breakdown was originally going to be me quoting King Triton's various scoldings of Ariel and I guess it was too weird, so I turned those lines into a bass solo so they’re still there, in a way. He’s a human. You’re a mermaid.

I did this song live and I used a backing video that was just a really cheap slideshow of any pop culture dad I could think of, so it was like, Archie Bunker, and Nigel Thornberry, and Goofy, and Jack Torrance, and Major Dad, Papa Smurf… and I made sure to get my own dad in there too.

But yeah, this is the ultimate anthem for dads and they should play it for father-daughter dances at weddings instead of that fucking John Mayer song.

I Earn My Life

This effect is called a ring modulator, and I’m applying it to the synth that runs through the song here. There’s this sort of gritty sign wave playing randomized notes throughout the song and whenever the guitar is strummed it fades out for a second. That’s called side-chain compression, folks.

This is I Earn My Life, by the way. It’s a rare song that had lyrics that were written before the music, and I mean that’s not rare but for me it is. And, it was always supposed to come right after As Your Father- I think this song was born in the lyrics text file for that song, and it was always going to be a more intimate take on the same overkill dad. It’s all the mantras he repeats to himself to remind himself why he’s such an asshole. He doesn’t know how not to be afraid so he channels it into unpleasant behavior and decides it’s a virtue. So there’s a sympathetic guy here, but he’s buried under some really difficult layers. These songs are not inspired by anyone that I really know, they’re just imagining someone who’s ruled by emotions that everyone gets to some degree but which seem to be amplified, sometimes, by parenthood.

And then you just got your classic death stuff here, and it’s funny because characters in songs should not be worried about death. I should. You should. But fictional characters… need to lighten up a little bit.

Cool thing about this song is there’s only like 2 words that rhyme with life, and everyone knows that, so they’re willing to cut me some slack if I rhyme it with like survive.

This flute solo is actually like a grade-school recorder, and I recorded it in little bits and I spliced them all together. So, if you had a mental image of me like- totally jamming away on a flute- that’s a false image, sorry. What you want to imagine is me sitting in a chair with a wooden recorder hitting R on my keyboard, playing two notes, hitting space bar, rewinding a couple seconds, listening to it, hitting CTRL+Z cause it didn’t sound good, recording it again, then moving onto the next two notes. What I do is very glamorous. Extremely rock & roll.

Despite this being the most serious track on the album I guess, still- musically it’s like a total grab-bag. I got like 8-bit percussion and… organs, and horns, and all sorts of craziness. This could totally be another song about crayons if I wanted to but- why can’t we throw a party in honor of the crushing weight of responsibility?

Making this music involves a lot of me sitting on my butt, not interacting with other people, and I overcompensate for that (and I’m ok with this) by making every song dance-able, on some level.


This song is called Reaganomics. This is Ronald Reagan speaking. I took one of his famous quotes and I edited it to be more nonsensical. Although, it was pretty nonsensical to start with.

This is a trick that I should really do more often where it’s- you have a different part at the beginning that comes back later as the bridge. I always feel a sense of intent when that happens.

So this song is mostly in 6/4 time, which is not the weirdest time signature, but for some reason it’s not very common. The vast majority of pop music is in 4/4…? And, whenever someone wants to be different, or difficult, they usually pick a weird odd number to time signature. The problem with doing that is, the inevitable “This sounds like Rush,” comment.[3] But, 6/4 feels natural to me: it’s 4 beats, then 2 beats, and repeat. And speaking of being difficult, this song has backup vocals that are singing different lines over the main vocals, so if you want to sing along you really have to pick one or the other. And then the chorus is back to 4/4 time.

This is definitely one of those songs where I was thinking of an interesting sounding word, Reaganomics, and I had checked to see if any other songs had been written with that as a title, and I saw that it was up for grabs and I just went for it. There’s a band by that name who do 80s covers, but I figured that was different enough. But actually, I was wrong! There was another song, at least one other song, called Reaganomics and it’s from the year 1985 by D.R.I., a thrash metal band, and it’s 42 seconds long. I just listened to it- the lyrics are like, “Reaganomics killing me, Reaganomics killing you.” I have to hand it to those boys, their song is more to-the-point than mine.

I consider Reagan a pretty bad president, though I wasn’t conscious then. This was written before Trump, and I was fascinated that an actor became president, and that he was canonized and that everyone just takes it for granted now. Of course he did serve as a governor… and it doesn’t seem as crazy now but… I was looking at all these old pictures of Reagan dressed all slickly in his suits, and I felt that amping up the superficial charm to sell people on something that doesn’t really make sense works all too well in a pop song. You just have to say “baby” a lot, and make endless promises cause the song ends in 3 minutes. And it was astounding to me to realize how stepping into the role of a snake oil salesman bent on deceiving the listener- how easy that made it to write a passable pop song. And now anytime I hear a song when some guy is reaching out his hand and asking you to trust him in his heart I just wonder… What scam he’s running? You know like that song Magic Carpet Ride, I’m thinking Steppenwolf doesn’t really have a magic carpet… You know, I’m thinking Kokomo is not a real place, so what are the Beach Boys trying to pull? Is it a tax thing?

Man-Made Object

You can hear a bit of that white noise here. I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s still a ghost.

There’s a lot of 80s influence on this album, but I put this and Reaganomics together because they share a certain power suit- megalomania quality. And I liked that I managed to make this sound like music from a deteriorating corporate training tape. It’s like… kind of optimistic but in a cold, survival of the fittest kind of way.

This melody and chord progression were something that I used to just play on the piano all the time. There are tunes that develop from just humming a melody or... placing notes manually with the mouse cursor, and there are songs that I play on the piano that won’t get recorded at all- for years they just kind of live within that piano realm. I really hit the top of my vocal range for this song, but I had no choice. Sometimes music just sounds right and transposing it down or up to fit my vocal range messes with it- suddenly I’ve just got notes that are too low and they don’t sound good. And, I’ve already got the melody planned out, and I’m not gonna change the notes just because I can barely hit them. So I just kinda forge ahead and if I can’t hit the note I can try again tomorrow. And very gradually, over the years, I have actually been able to extend my upper range a little bit. It doesn’t always sound great, but I can do it.

This song makes me think of if Bruce Wayne’s parents never died, and he didn’t care about crime, but he still had all that dark energy in him. He’d just- spend all night staring out the window envisioning skyscrapers he could be building.

I’m glad I put some special synths from my childhood here. You can hear some MS-DOS style ad-lib instruments mixed in.

This would be a good song to put on while you're playing Sim Tower, I think. Or if you’re playing Sim Ant, you can play the next track.

A lot of my songs are inspired by Wikipedia articles; I’ll just go down a Wikipedia hole and find something that makes me want to write a song about it. And this one was a page called, “List of visionary tall buildings and structures,” and it’s just a list arranged by height of hypothetical- or planned- or designed but possibly unbuildable mega-structures. A lot of them are these like- insane insanely huge pyramids that like a million people could live in, and they’re all way, way, way taller than the actual tallest building that exists. So, those always make me think about how incredible or incredibly dangerous it would be if one of them actually existed.

And the phrase man-made object is a qualifier that I sometimes have to put in when I’m wondering, “What’s the oldest thing- what’s the biggest thing,” when really the question I’m asking is, “What’s the biggest thing that we have done, as a species.” And for something to hold that kind of record, someone needs to have envisioned it that way.

This is just my voice and the bell digitally stretched out.

Spiral of Ants

And, actually, I just realized that I used a really similar sounding bell at the end of the last track as the intro of this one. That was unintentional. One of the last things I added to this track was these old stock thunder sound effects. I guess they punctuate the secondary metaphor of this song of weather and hurricanes. But mostly I just- I liked how they sounded.

The chord progression for this song comes from a- like an instrumental track that I made years ago that also had the chords for No Eyed Girl kind of as part of the same song, and they ended up getting split into two different tracks years later [listen]. And… I think I posted that a while ago, on Twitter, if you’re trying to find it.

I think the high tinkly piano is probably inspired by the original Sesame Street theme. I always liked how that sounded. You can’t play the top of the piano and take yourself seriously. That’s the baby part of the piano.

So, ant mills, or ant death spirals, are this phenomenon where ants get into a feedback loop with each other's pheromones and they start walking around in a circle- or a spiral- endlessly. Until they all die of exhaustion. I knew this would be a potent metaphor and all I had to do was carefully write around it without giving up that I don’t know what I’m doing. I can tell you some things about bugs and if you like music and have an imagination, hopefully, it will become a meaningful song on delivery. Or, if you’re like me, you just listen to songs without consciously parsing the lyrics, sort of in one ear and out the other, and the vocals are just another instrument. That’s how I listen to music, I go years without knowing what a song is actually about. And I’d have a much easier time writing songs if everyone was like that, but some of you are those maniacs who instantly focus in on understanding the lyrics and you know right away if it’s a good song or just a good sounding song. And I live in fear of you people. Please, just let me sing about bugs. Bugs that don’t matter… that’s all I wanna do. I mean it’s very satisfying to successfully make a song that feels a little more substantial through the use of words and, you know, emotionally evocative… singing. It just takes way longer to do that…

Anyways, this is the last track on Spirit Phone, the proper album.

Bonus Tracks

There’s a bunch of bonus tracks that uh- I don’t have a ton to talk about them…? So I’m just gonna summarize them real quickly- starting now. *clears throat*

Crisis Actors

Crisis Actors is about the shitty, shitty theory that Alex Jones-types put forth that victims of certain politically inconvenient tragedies are just paid actors and the whole thing’s a sham to push public opinion or- whatever. This track was almost a proper track on Spirit Phone but I was running out of room. It also quotes the cool banner that lands on the t-rex at the end of Jurassic Park.

Redesign Your Logo is an older song full of meaningless six syllable phrases evoking bunk marketing jargon. There was a pdf file floating around describing the total moon logic that was justifying Pepsi's logo redesign. It may have been a hoax document but either way, some firm got paid a ton of money for that awful logo. You know the one.

Pizza Heroes

Pizza Heroes. My sister Emmy was kicking around this idea for a cartoon about a pizza delivery team who, uh, could travel extremely fast to anywhere in the world, so I wrote this about that hypothetical cartoon.

You're at the Party

You’re at the Party is a track that I never quite finished to my liking. It’s about a sick person who’s trying to sleep while a noisy party happens next door, and it gradually overtakes him and invades his nightmares- or are they nightmares…? I don’t know, it’s ambiguous.

Angry People

Angry People is this intense techno song about how, I guess, hate sex leads to evil babies…? and everyone’s angry and trying to lead normal lives without ever not being angry and they turn into wolves and tigers and stuff.

Geocities & Angelfire

Geocities and Angelfire are two instrumental songs. They’re just… fun. Geocities has an edited sample at the end of the Voder, an early spea- [stutters and messes up] speech synthesis machine that kinda worked like a reverse stenography keyboard.


Gravitron is a demo I wrote as an ultimately unused theme song for the show Gravity Falls back when it’s creator, Alex Hirsch, was preparing his pitch. I wasn’t sure what the vibe of the show was going to be exactly so I wrote a couple themes covering the spectrum. This is the one I wrote inspired by the creepy, weird, vintage inspiration material that he had collected. The other theme I wrote had lyrics, but it’s not a bonus track on this album but…

Moon's Request

Moon’s Request is a remix of one line that I sung from that song, and I remember making this remix to try and break my writer’s block while coming up with themes for this show.

Sweet Bod (Demo)

The Sweet Bod demo, I talked about that already...

Cat Hacks

Cat Hacks is a crazy sounding instrumental. It was supposed to have lyrics, sort of…? Just a list of hacks for your cat such as: tape a marker to your cat (DIY GPS tracker), stack multiple cats for that extra vertical cat value, make a sincere attempt for once in your life at empathizing with other people… and your cat.

Cabinet Man (Demo)

Cabinet Man demo, I talked a little bit about that already…

Kubrick and the Beast

Kubrick and the Beast was supposed to be the opening track for Spirit Phone at one point, but the album’s tone ended up going in another direction… and I had to break it to myself gently.


And that’s, ultimately, what this album was about. I think it’s got a certain tone- despite using multiple genres. But these songs were written separately over multiple years spanning a lot of changes in my life, and with that in mind, of course there’s no singular theme that ties them all together, but I did luck out and they all kinda fit within three or four categories, I guess. And they gel in a way that, hopefully, kinda justifies it being such a long album. And if you’re listening to this I guess you liked it enough to listen to me talk about it for this long, and I’m extremely lucky and grateful that there are people like you who listened to this album and… actually felt something. Even after putting out music for 2/3s of my life… that’s still a really magical feeling so thank you, thank you, thank you.


  1. Take Me There by Blackstreet is a song that contains interpolations of the Rugrats theme.
  2. When He Died is actually the second Lemon Demon song to mention statues crying blood, the first being Subtle Oddities.
  3. In the Damn Skippy commentary, Neil mentions how someone told him his song Subtle Oddities sounds like Rush because of it's odd time signature. Guess he's still stuck up about that.