Some musicians get into the game for the instant gratification of sex, drugs, and money. The RPM Challenge is clearly not for those kind of musicians. You actually have to love doing the work so much that you are willing to record a whole album from start to finish, in some cases even write the whole thing from scratch, and design an album cover to boot. And the rewards -- aside from bragging rights and having another 38 minutes of new material to gig with -- are virtually nil. You get to post your album on the RPM website and maybe get your song played on NPR some remote Sunday afternoon when no one's listening. There is no iPad giveaway. No one signs you. No Clive Davis will come to your door.
And yet some are simply up for the challenge of coming up with the goods, driving songwriters to punish their bodies and minds by doing this year after year. This year 1,600 Bands worldwide signed up for it. Some will have their hard drives crash on them; Some get writer's block and turn in a steamy pile of shit. Most will actually finish.
Out of those 1,600, five bands (and yours truly) are representing for Maricopa County and we catch up with them at the midway mark and chart their progress find out what painful lesson they've learned, because there's at least one or two every year.
The Feisty Felines
Andrew Jemsek (Drunk and Horny, Sunorus) and his brother Tristan (Dogbreth) are doing their first challenge this year. They are living dangerously, doing the Challenge from complete and utter scratch.
Progress: Andrew: "It's good so far. I have 7 out of 10 songs written and ready to get tracks put down. Nothing has gotten recorded yet, but we are on track for when I get back into town (going to Portland tomorrow till the 15th)." Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: For me it's that the more deliberately I try to branch off from what I'm doing, the more I go back to doing things I used to do, such as old timey/Tin Pan Alley type music. But I guess there's really nothing wrong with that, as long as it's from the heart. I just hope I'm at least getting better at it."
Still known to many as the fury-filled lead singer of the Smoky Mountain Skullbusters, Mike has been doing solo acoustic shows for years and now wants to do an acoustic album.
Progress: "I have written all the lyrics for 9 songs including one previously unfinished song. Securing a local studio for next week looks like I may end up doing acoustic and vocals only."
Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: "It always slows me down if I don't have my lyrical material complete. As simple as my lyrics are it is very frustrating to lack a part when you need it. I usually complete them and then change them if something better pops up, that way there are no gaps."
Eli Tannix is the brainchild of Dan Stone, who'll you'll know from all his coaching efforts in BroLoaf and Matt Strangwayes of Greenhaven. But this entry will be Stone's record, an all-star effort with appearances by Danny Marianino of North Side Kings, Todd the Bod- Geetar from BroLoad and Jay Hofer of Greenhaven. "Tannix is a creation of Matt and I. He embodies all that is cooler than thou in music, a rampant [force], who according to legend, has recorded hundreds of albums with various bands and bizarre artists. This should make me able to have a complete free form recording session. The album is intended to be Volume 17 of his greatest lost hits."
Progress: "Over the weekend I laid down most of the drum tracks for the record. I have got four drum tracks finalized and ready for the next stage of bass. Danny M came over Sunday and we wrote another song. The originally nebulous idea of who will play what has solidified as well. Danny and Todd will be switching off on guitars, with Jay Hofer coming in later to add some solos and other touch-ups. I am taking the bass role on if not all then the majority of the tracks. A drum machine will be handling the drums, so in the spirit of Big Black's drummer "Roland," our drum machine will go by the name "Steady" Freddie Dims. (a role to be handled live by Matt).
Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: "None so far. It's looking like with this lineup its going to be pretty tough for it not to be a heavy album. But with a Hammond distorted organ added to the hardcore sound (also played very simply by myself)."
This Phoenix synth duo of Darrin Robertson and Jimmy Saccoman, are Challenge veterans, having completed it every year for the past five years. Last year's effort will be hard to beat. Pull Slowly and Die came with a spot-on Velvet Underground & Nico parody cover and what could be the most instructional masturbation song ever, "Love is at Hand." But Robertson is confident lightning will strike again. "Our concept this year... the album title is Sha-Pink: Thriller --we're going to steal every song title from Michael Jackson's Number One Hits."
Progress: Darrin: "Jim and I have emailed each other a few pieces each...drum pattern, no more than three bass patterns, and arranged. All electronic. Then we're going to spend the rest of the month layering." Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: Jim warns our newcomer Challengers of the personal toll: " I can attest firsthand to the personal damage the Challenge can wreak. "It ended a relationship; it was a contributing factor for sure. Working for 24 hours, listening to the same CD over and over, really low in the car, I couldn't think of anything else."
Jim Qubiq Saccoman
Every year Jim of Sha-Pink also does a solo effort under the name QUBIQ like CUBIC, but with a Q. Jim is a sought-after remixer who's done post-op work on dance records by Bronski Beat, Heaven 17, Zhana and Go Go Boys. In 2002, he was a finalist in Acidplanet.com's Madonna "Music" remix contest and in 2011 he won the grand prize in Masterbeat/EMI's Kylie Minogue "All the Lovers" remix. He even has a remix of Tony Orlando's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" featuring Young MC on iTunes.
Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: "Inspiration sometimes refuses to come until you've given up and admitted that you lack it. I'd posted yesterday on the forums that I'd been totally uninspired so far, and within half an hour I'd written a really solid instrumental."
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This is my third challenge. Last year I did a 24-song various artists album called 24 Originals Happening Now, a sprawling set in which I tried to write the best song I could in every style imaginable from Motown to freakbeat to glittercrash, each as a different made up artist. I even did low rent videos for all 24 which you can see on my YouTube Channel (serenedominic1). This year I'm going to do a concise 12-song album called Winter Trance Party. Unlike previous years where I just make music that unintentionally irritates some people, this year I want to make music specifically designed to annoy people. Could have the reverse effect of making me famous so we'll see! Progress: I've tracked 15-songs in various stages of completion including one song which starts off as a nice ballad then descends into two and a half minutes of hell. I can't decide whether I should trim it, since two and a half minutes of hell is a lot more hellish than one and a half. Painful Lesson Learned Thus Far: There are always one or two songs that are runts of the litter, take up way too much time to make sound decent and yield the least pleasing results but you have to go through them because that's how you come up with great last minute songs, more out of sheer boredom and anger than anything else. And I've relearned that I still can't program a beat to save my life.