Earthdiver – Puncture EP

The origins of this material date so far back for me into my teenage years that I don’t really know where to start in describing its timeline! I wrote and recorded the original versions of Puncture and Cross when I was about 16 years old (around the year 1999). I played and sang everything myself and programmed the drums. Almost ten years later I began working with Michael Day in Austin Texas when he joined my industrial band Bilderberg. Mike had heard me perform some of this early Earthdiver material live under its previous band name of Alternate15. Mike has stated that hearing the song Puncture is what made him want to work with me in the first place.

After Bilderberg defunct around 2008, Mike and I revisited Puncture as well as a few other songs such as Cross that I had sitting around from the Alternate15 days. Eventually we roped in Eoghan McCloskey, a guy whose name no one can quite pronounce properly and a notable Austin metal drummer for well-respected bands in the local scene such as Vex and Ruins of Honor. These two guys brought a completely new and welcomed perspective to the material I had initially written alone so many years ago.

Right around the time we were starting to get serious with the band in 2009 (but before we had a chance to play the revamped material live), I began my first touring gig as a live programmer and playback/backline tech which was to be one of a handful of events that would shape the starting point of my career.

I recall Markus Reuter meeting with us while he was visiting Austin for work with his then-prototype U8 touch guitar and recording with Pat Mastelotto on some other projects. Markus had interest in producing an Alternate15 record for us but at the time it just wasn’t feasible both financially and logistically.

I toured with Blue October for a short time, got my first break into studio work with Pat Mastelotto by playing on a few of his Steven Wilson remixes and continued to work with Mike and Eoghan on mixing many of their other projects over the next few years. Somehow the Alternate15 stuff was always on the back burner but not for lack of trying. I believe we attempted to record the full album at least three times before the most recent sessions (which were in May, 2013.. just shy of two years from the date I’m writing this up). One of the times we tracked the full album’s worth of drums, it was done with Pat Mastelotto’s Yamaha silver sparkle kit from the Sylvian/Fripp tour! And we *still* didn’t use that recording.

After several devastating events which required me to completely start all over again in my personal life across the span of about three years, I found myself living in Los Angeles in 2013. Still very good friends with Mike and Eoghan, I talked with them about finally trying to make something happen with our music. I flew to Austin during a short break of touring with Daughtry to begin what would become the actual recordings we would use for this material we’d made so many versions of and never released in the past.

Ramiro Rodriguez (who had provided the beautiful painting for the cover of Same Time Next Life and is best known for his work with Tool) had extended the generous invitation of allowing us to use more of his artwork for this album we were about to make. I began sifting through all the wonderful pieces he had on his website and I noticed a series that centered around the Native American creation myth of the earth divers: animals that traveled the depths of the prehistoric seas to bring nourishment and life up to the surface of a young planet. I found this concept to be fascinating and quite poetic. I thought Earthdiver would make a great name for this band (previously called Alternate15.. which was kinda lame). Ramiro thought it was cool and the rest of the band seemed to be alright with it after going through various iterations of jokes one might riff on the name (I’ll let you chew on that for a moment.. you might say the most obvious gag was on the tips of their tongues.. alright I’m done).

The recording sessions in Austin over that week or so in May 2013 were very productive. Pat let us borrow more of his drum gear. This time Eoghan got to play some pretty sweet Hammerax cymbals and we tried our hands at the Expanding Hands Cymbow which is of Pat’s own design along with Kevin Andrews who also manufactures Tony Levin’s Funk Fingers. There is a lot of Cymbow use in the second half of Puncture. Guitar tracking went pretty smooth with Mike though it took us both a very long time to remember how we played some of those convoluted riffs! I did some bass re-amping sessions while I was in town. I was also able to schedule some time with my friends Joseph Shuffield, Jason Elinof and Jen Mulhern who played the beautiful string arrangements that Joseph put together for several songs on the record. Jen had previously played in Alternate15 with me and was familiar with the previous versions of the songs. She provided some amazing acoustic and 6-string electric cello performances which were mostly improvised. She’s a really incredibly talented cellist.

A lot of those sessions were documented via pictures and video by our friend Cedric Theys at Mad Ducks Records in Austin. We have yet to sift through the bulk of that documentation but plan on making a lot of that stuff available once we finally put the full-length record out.

And that brings us to the Puncture EP. These two songs are just a taste of what the full album will sound like. Rather than sit on these tracks until we can get the rest fully completed, we felt like we should finally put something out and see if we can generate a little interest going into the next phases of the band.

I traveled quite a lot between the time those sessions were completed and the point when I was able to work on the final mixes for these two songs. During this traveling I was on the road touring with Daughtry. I listened to a playlist of our unfinished roughs a lot on flights. Constantly thinking about how to approach the final mixes and, on days off in hotel rooms across the US, UK, EU and Japan, doing my best to compile all the various guest performances into a master session file for each of the seven songs we had recorded. I would send revised rough mixes to Mike and Eoghan periodically throughout the year and a half since our initial sessions.

Eventually I was off the road and able to spend time putting together some respectable final mixes. During the time between the initial recording sessions in Austin and the time I was to begin working on these final mixes, I actually moved back to Austin which streamlined the ability to have Mike and Eoghan involved in the next steps in the process.  However, mixing was still much more difficult than I had anticipated. Living with the material for so long makes for very challenging strides toward some sense of objectivity. Because this was my own material, I could take all the time I wanted in re-working things over and over.. and that’s basically what I did. I ended up re-recording just about all my guitar and bass parts with my Kemper Profiling Amp (I tool which was unavailable to me at the time I made my original scratch tracks for Eoghan and Mike to play along to). Mix after mix went by for both Puncture and Cross. I thought they were done and so we went on to the mastering phase. Again, Mike and I were attempting to master our own material (which isn’t necessarily the horrible idea some engineers would lead you to believe.. but this was not only my mixes but also our own material.. this was doubly personal!) and this took a very long time. I believer we spent a full week attempting to deliver final masters to ourselves and eventually I actually even went back and started the mixes over from scratch. It just didn’t sound right.

I figured out what was wrong about my first set of final mixes and was able to make things good enough to an acceptable degree. Then I was able to create masters that all three of us could feel good about. This process alone took over a month. This was for just two songs.

There are two remixes on the EP as well. I asked my friend Nick Viola (aka Fractured Transmission) in LA if he would be interested in submitting a remix for us. I dig his work and thought he would be a good fit for the collection. I really love the juxtaposition of very rigid, cold industrial sounds with organic performances together. Nick brought those elements to the forefront on his Puncture remix. I also contributed a remix for this release. I based my remix on a very old version of Puncture I had done as a remix/variation back around 2002. The structure is based on stripping down the groove to the song’s existing bassline but with a hip hop drum beat. The chorus section is a simple reverse melody which makes for an interesting rhythmic change in my opinion. I will write more about my remix of Puncture in another blog entry.

The kind of R&D we established on the EP’s mixing and mastering processes should make for a much quicker workflow in completing the full-length record. At the time of writing, this is still on my to-do list and has not yet been given much attention. We have, however, been working on a new single which features some very special guest performances and I look forward to having that available soon.

Check out the EP here (it’s a free download!):

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