Track By Track : MFTJ - My Mom�s Getting A Horse

By John A. Wilcox

Album #2 already! Wow! Mike Keneally has quite a bit to say about it, so I'm shuttin' up!!

Track 1: What Wally Thinks
MK: The opening seconds of this song (and thus the opening seconds of the album) pretty much explode out of the gate. Makes me want to crank the volume. As soon as the guitar enters, things get harmonically very abstract. I like that � it doesn�t waste time, it gets oblique right away. I�m grateful for Scott Schorr�s instincts as an arranger - he isn�t at all afraid to get instantly weird with the way he structures the tunes. The way this music is created, our methodology as a �band,� is already pretty weird to start with.

(The process for this album was essentially the same as the first MFTJ album:

1) Scott creates rhythm tracks, using drums, percussion, bass, keys and programming, and then sends me those rhythm tracks so that I can --
2) improvise over them using various instruments (mostly guitar and keys, but bass as well, and sometimes other stuff). Then I --
3) send those tracks to Scott and then he --
4) creates a song structure using this first round of my improv tracks � isolating little bits of my playing and digitally manipulating them and turning them into melodies, repeated sections, textures, hooks, sound effects, solos etc. Then he --
5) sends THAT mix to me, usually along with some specific requests for the kind of instruments he�d like me to use and the sort of vibe he thinks the song needs, and I-- 6) do one final round of overdubs, based on Scott�s requests, and he --
7) incorporates my second round of overdubs into the mix, using the same method as before (isolating little bits of my playing and digitally manipulating them and turning them into melodies etc. etc.) and then together we finally --
8) knock the song into its final form, discussing all aspects of it back and forth over email, as Scott creates a rough pre-mix assemblage of the tune - and after we�re both happy with the structure of the song in it�s pre-mixed state, Scott �
9) sends it to engineer Chris Albers to do the mixing, and Chris �
10) sends his mix-in-progress to Scott, who checks it out and then �
11) sends the mix-in-progress to me to make notes and suggestions on, and this goes on back-and-forth for awhile and until finally �
12) Chris completes the mix to all of our satisfaction.
Repeat for each song on the album.)

Anyway, back to What Wally I love the groove that hits around 2:35. I think I�m playing bass there. (I could check my own multi-tracks to find out if it�s me, and maybe I will later, but probably not. It�s fun not knowing.) This dissociated feeling for me � listening to music I had a part in making, but not being certain how much of it is actually me � is slightly alarming. but very pleasurable too. It�s sort of a dream state that this music places me in. Very nice really. I think this tune is a great opener. For anyone who�s familiar with the first album we did, I hope this song will indicate a few things on first listen � to me this new music feels of a piece with the first album, but I think sonically and musically it�s an evolution � it reaches both higher and deeper at the same time.

Track 2: I Remember When Candy Bars Were A Nickel
MK:The opening guitar riff is not entirely dissimilar to five-five-FIVE by Frank Zappa, but it was not intentional. When Scott chose it to be the opening motif for this song I asked myself �is this TOO much like five-five-FIVE?� But then I decided it�s not. It�s not!

And then of course there�s marimbas around 30 seconds in (or, at least, my KORG Karma�s version of a marimba sound) and I�ve got to admit, yeah the Zappa influence is not exactly missing from this song. But what am I gonna do? I love Frank, I can�t make him stop having an influence on me, just like I can�t stop Coltrane or Miles or They Might Be Giants or Joni Mitchell or Jeff Beck or Todd Rundgren or The Residents or Nilsson, or whoever the hell, stop having an influence on me. They�re just all in there.

There�s some proggy stuff in this tune, the harmonized lick at 2:34 has the influence of all sorts of my prog faves in there. I�m hearing some Gentle Giant, a little Tull, a little Genesis-ishness maybe � it sounds a little like Hackett and Banks playing harmonized lines together in the Foxtrot/Selling England days, a little bit Giant Hogweed-ish.

The piano lick that pops in at 2:55 reminds me of Coldplay, who I haven�t spent much time listening to (on Dave Gregory�s recommendation I checked out the debut album when it was still new, and thought it was pretty damn cool, and I haven�t heard any of their full albums since then, just individual songs that never really grabbed me � I�m sure I�m missing something), and I remember the moment that lick fell out of my hand while I was improvising and thinking, that�s definitely the right thing to play and it kind of sounds like Coldplay � what, am I not gonna play it for that reason? It�s the right thing to play, so keep playing it, dude. And then when I heard later that Scott had chosen to include it in his final arrangement of the song, it was a validating thing � yeah, I guess it was the right thing to play. Or maybe Scott is just a tremendous Coldplay fan.

I do some tapping on the guitar neck in this song. It�s not a technique I use often, but it was the only way I could get to that sequence of notes I was hearing in my head. I liked the shape of it and decided to harmonize it with another tapped guitar - the idea of two guitars traversing that curlicued shape in close harmony was something I wanted to hear. You can hear the two guitars in harmony at 3:23, and see a bit of me recording the upper harmony part (along with a bunch of the other bits) in this video.

Track 3: Soft Teeth
MK: I love the opening texture of this song. It�s one of my favorite parts of the album. That whole keyboard texture is Scott�s doing, it was built into the original rhythm track Scott sent me, and it�s beautiful writing. And then the main melodic motif that hits at 0:32, that very languorous and melancholic singing melody, that�s Scott on synth, and that was also a part of the song before I ever got my mitts on it. A really beautiful, simple, perfect part, just the right notes. Great writing from Scott.

At one point Scott was wondering if the album needed this song or if it would be better as a ten-song album, and I rallied behind its inclusion. The feel of the whole song really grabs me, and I believe it enhances the whole album greatly. I love listening to it, it makes me feel good and calm. I�m grateful that Scott agreed with me after I clamored on its behalf.

I play the xaphoon on this song � a/k/a �the pocket sax� (for anyone curious, it�s this model: ). It�s mainly in the first minute of the track, with a few other little appearances throughout � there�s an especially melancholy little utterance at 2:00. It�s not very loud in the mix, but it�s a sound that�s got breath in it.

I got it as a Christmas present a couple of years ago and I love it. I used it on the Bizarre World Of Frank Zappa tour on the piece Farther O�Blivion, and also live with Devin Townsend on the song Borderlands, where it was briefly used to provide a quick burst of chaos. On the Zappa tour I attempted to play abstract improvised music on it, which, given my poor technique, was a challenge � I didn�t want it to be funny, I wanted to play interesting music despite my lack of technique. It�s attempting the sort of thing that Brian Jones did in the Stones: pick up any instrument, and make some kind of music on it. On this song, I was cognizant that the texture of the album is overwhelmingly electric/electronic, and it seemed like this particular song could use something more organic, something containing a human�s breath. Even so, the final sound you hear was not entirely 100% certified human - my intonation on the instrument is abysmal, so I used digital tuning in tasteful amounts in order to make it sound pleasing. I�m not trying to make music to bum you out, and trust me, what the un-tuned xaphoon was doing to the song was nothing the song deserved to have happen to it.

Track 4: National Milk Day
MK: Ah man, Doug Lunn�s fretless bass. Doug was the original bassist in my band Beer For Dolphins and did a lot of amazing fretless playing on my first two albums, hat. and Boil That Dust Speck. He is a huge influence in my life who taught me so much about music, and we had tremendous adventures together � I love him. He passed away a few years ago, and his wife Vida and their daughter Dani bequeathed his fretless bass to me as caretaker, the same bass he played on my albums and thousands of other shows and albums and projects. It�s probably the most precious inanimate object in my home now. It means a lot to me to be able to play it. This song wouldn�t have the vibe it has without it.

My Mom�s Getting A Horse is the first album I did, in its entirety, in the home studio I built last year, shortly after the pandemic sent the Devin Townsend band home from the road in mid-March 2020, and ended basically every touring musician�s live career for the time being. It had been a good eight years or so since I had any kind of a working home studio, and a quick look at my bank account after coming home showed that it was necessary to devise a new way to try an earn a living from my home. A GoFundMe campaign allowed for the creation of the studio, for which I�m humbly and profoundly grateful, and I�ve been going non-stop ever since - mostly working on other peoples� album projects, but also finishing up a solo album that I�ve been working on for years now (and which will be out later this year). The first tunes I worked on after I got the studio operational were for the solo album, which were primarily songs that had already been started at other studios - but My Mom�s Getting A Horse was the first album I did all my stuff on, from start to finish, here at home.

When I listen to National Milk Day, and particularly the fretless bass track, I can really feel the way it felt in this studio back in those earlier days of the pandemic. I was still reeling, not at all used to the new way of life yet, the feeling of being locked down at home, everything about life shifting day to day, insane things going on - all the stuff that was probably leaving most people seriously punchdrunk and dazed all the time � I was in that state fairly constantly while I was recording my stuff for this album. When I watch myself talking in the making-of videos which Scott has edited together to promote this album, I think I look like a prisoner. (I�m more used to it now I think. Being at home all the time is no longer some sort a trial for me - I really like it here. But I recognize how lucky I am to be able to stay at home doing music and make enough of a living to survive � I feel powerful gratitude for that.)

The weird keyboard chords at 1:10 really sound like pandemic music to me, they sound the way I was feeling while playing them. Dazed and a bit lost. The piano lick that hits at 2:18, I remember precisely where I was standing in the room when I heard that lick in my head and I ran to the keyboard to figure it out before I forgot it, the left-hand stuff especially � when you get a full two-handed part that arrives in your head at once, you really need to step lightly and make sure you don�t play too many wrong notes while you�re in the trying-to-figure-it-out stage, �cause you can very easily chase the whole thing right out of your head. It�s a delicate procedure.

Oh wow, the synth texture from 3:15 to 3:25 really reminds me of Mark Knopfler�s soundtrack to the movie Local Hero, which is one of my favorite soundtracks. I wonder how much of that texture is me and how much is Scott? Like I say, I could go back into my copy of the multi-tracks, they�re still here in the computer, and check it out, but who has time, I�m trying to get this freaking track-by-track thing written and get back to recording all this stuff I need to record right now. My point is, I love the little episode from 3:15 to the end of the song, it�s another of my favorite bits on the album, and I�m gonna sit here silently for a moment and celebrate that fact. OK, moving on.

Such a strange progression of events in the last part of the song.

3:50 to 3:59 is compositionally one of my favorite bits on the album. Just a strange, composer-ly little moment � I like the keyboard chords that Scott chose to include here. It was a herculean task for him to dig through the HOURS of improvised tracks I sent Scott and isolate the moments that worked for the song. I appreciate his choices, a lot. Like that insane keyboard lick at 4:11, just something that I did in the middle of an improv, which Scott then grabbed and turned into a repeating lick that sounds like a psychotic computer fantasizing about turning into a player piano.

My favorite guitar moment on this song is the tortured stuff that happens at 4:00. That�s me trying to be Robert Fripp on David Bowie�s Fashion. Have you heard that song lately? And the stuff Fripp does on it? It�s fucking unbelievable. Listen to it on headphones right now.

Track 5: Lucy Has The Grip Of A Crop Duster
MK: Scott Schorr on song titles, ladies and gentlemen. The linguistic aspect of the MFTJ project � all the song and album titles � as well as all the video presentations we post online to support the album � are entirely the work of Scott. His sensibility really defines the personality of MFTJ in many ways, which suits me since I�ve got my solo albums to help me process all of my own personal neuroses and obsessions. It�s very interesting for me to place my playing, and musical instincts, in the service of a project where the overriding conceptual thrust is being largely determined by someone else. It�s healthy exercise for me, and it results in music completely unlike that which I release on my solo albums.

This is one of my favorite Scott Schorr rhythm tracks. I can sense my delight with it as I listen to it now, in all the little keyboard bits decorating the beginning of the song � I can tell that I really enjoyed jamming keyboards over this groove. I can hear me having a good time with the bass part as well � this song just hit a particular kind of joy-place for me.

Ah man. I love Scott�s editing in this tune. All the little licks he chose to include just make me smile. He makes it sound like I have better instincts as an improviser than I actually do! This song, at the moment, is feeling to me like my love letter to the electric piano. I love playing the electric piano. There�s some Miles Davis Filles De Kilimanjaro vibe in some of the passages here.

But then I also just like the way that repeated distorted guitar chord at 2:18 and 3:03 sounds. Oh and the psychotic sounding shit at 3:18 that pretty much feels like The Residents - what the hell is THAT sound - followed by the jazz piano chords at 3:25. And then a totally delicate little acoustic outro � the choice of chords here is really wonderfully done, for which I tend to credit Scott�s selection process more than the actual things I�m playing. He really created something special here. From his own rhythmic foundation, and using pieces of my extemporaneous performances as melodic filligree, he�s alchemized an organism that really has a sense of life to it.

Track 6: Hammy Crotchpong
MK: This song had a very different gestation period from anything else on the record. Scott went through his standard process in creating a song form for it, but he himself wasn�t that jazzed about what he was coming up with. He suggested we might abandon the piece, but I thought there was something there, and offered to do an edit on it myself.

As a result of co-arranging the piece, I imposed a lot more actual compositional/structural input on it compared to the tracks. I edited my own improvised stuff for a change, and also imposed some newly composed guitar melodies, and � for the only time so far on an MFTJ song � did some vocal tracks, which I then heavily manipulated. At that point it started sounding a lot like a Keneally song.

I then sent my work on the tune to Scott, and he completely rearranged my rearrangement, so that it became MFTJ music again. It�s a very different sort of collaboration, and I can hear that it has a different flavor from the rest of the album, but because Scott was the last guy to wield the editing scalpel on it, it is still undeniably MFTJ music. I like the fact that there�s vocals on this song for the same reason I like the xaphoon on Soft Teeth � the injection of real breath in the midst of all the digital/electric/electronic texture comes as a welcome contrast, a good hit of sonic variety and an important dose of humanity.

I liked playing the bass on this one. I used my thumb, which I don�t do much. I�m real untrained as a bassist so I appreciate those moments where it sounds like I know what�s up.

I�m so happy that Scott chose to include the piano chords that start at 0:35. It�s such psycho stuff.

The guitar line at 1:35 is me playing spy music.

Track 7: Who Grooms Your Fur
MK: The texture at the beginning of this song practically defines MFTJ music to me.

Then that groove kicks in and it makes me really look forward to a day in the future where I can safely be inside of a club full of people dancing to something. I would love it if it were this song they were dancing to, but it doesn�t need to be. Would be cool though.

The jazz flute melody interlude that hits at 1:24 really makes me smile. Feels like I�m watching an episode of The Mod Squad or some other pseudo-hip early �70s TV detective action.

Jeez, that bubbling drum and bass business at 2:12 really makes me happy. Is that me on bass? Color me surprised. And Scott is killing it with the drumming here. It sounds to me like a combination of programmed and played drum stuff, at least three different percussive happenings layered together. I could just ask Scott, but I like some of this stuff remaining a mystery to me. I don�t understand everything about Scott�s production methods, and I enjoy that. But man, I�d happily take a four-minute remix of those seven seconds of music between 2:12 and 2:19 of this song.

At 2:20 there�s the re-introduction of the first motif from the beginning of the song, but this time accompanied by an almost march-like drum groove from Scott � this part has a strangely triumphant feel for me, and on this particular listening, anyway, it�s hitting me as an emotional high point of the album so far, a real moment of arrival. That�s a personal response, and I can�t say that it�s ever anything Scott and I discussed � although we certainly had diligent discussions about running order. I love where we landed with the running order, the song sequence completely works for me.

Oh, OK, and now this I love: it�s easy for me to think that the song is ending with the previous section but then this bass line/chiming guitar thing that starts at 2:51 and continues until it fades away around 3:38-ish? That�s THE music from this album that sometimes haunts me as I�m trying to get to sleep. Just about every album I work on has one passage of music that just clings to me more than any of the other passages, and for this album it�s this one. It haunts me, but in a way I love. Utterly bizarre bass line.

And THEN it�s easy for me to think that section really is the last one, but at 3:38-ish it melts very smoothly into that closing jazz bit, which again is Scott using little shrapnel fragments of my playing to create some real composition. I love the pure music of the whole ending section. Again, beautiful writing by Scott Schorr, constructed entirely out of bits of my playing � a completely surreal experience for me, for which I�m so grateful, it�s difficult to describe the impact it has on me to hear it.

Track 8: Peeping Raccoon
MK: Nice and slamming at the outset. That piano/drum combination gets me. At first it feels like a pretty basic straight-ahead tune, but then at 0:35 it introduces new intervals in the melody line and it starts heading more into a peculiar, MFTJish headspace. The weird keyboard lines at 1:02 nestle it into that space even more. The sound in that section is a clavinet patch on the KORG SV1 with the automatic wah engaged. I like that sound, I use it when improvising live pretty regularly and I used it on the first MFTJ album as well.

The modulation to the IV chord at 1:18 is such a cheerful musical choice right there. It always takes me slightly by surprise and makes me grin big.

There�s a very Bill Frisell-influenced guitar episode after that. I love his playing and what he�s contributed to the guitar lexicon, he�s such a singular voice in music.

Everything from 2:45 to the end of this song is what I love most about MFTJ music, and I can�t put into words what that thing is, but it�s stuff that makes me feel unlike any other music I hear. There�s a lot of music I haven�t heard, I grant you. And actually the background loop of this ending section has something in common with Pete Townshend�s early �70s synthesizer music, but the texture resulting from the recipe of that loop, plus the Frisell-ian guitar-swells, plus the keyboard honks which remind me of Stewart Copeland�s soundtrack to Rumble Fish � bringing all three of those touchstones together results in something that only sounds like MFTJ to me.

Track 9: Shoe Trade Gone Bad
MK: The beginning of this reminds me of I Robot-era Alan Parsons producing the theme to the TV series Ironside. I sort of wrote an actual melody to this one, it starts at 0:57. I remember actually writing it and not just improvising it. I have a vague recollection that it arrived while I was walking outside, briefly. I go outside so rarely nowadays that the times I do are pretty memorable.

This tune has a lot of keyboard bits which are relevant to the quality of my life, in that I really enjoy hearing them. I am also a friend of the bassline that starts at 2:37 and the manner in which the clavinet interacts with it.

But the truly saintly territory is when the BIG groove hits at 2:58, which is Scott Schorr�s Bonham moment - this is the catalyzing moment of this song for me. I would accept a five-minute edit of just this Bonham section � it only lasts for a few seconds presently. This music is ripe for remixing, I think.

The chord progression that starts at 3:33 sure sounds like something I composed and practiced, but I don�t specifically remember writing it � it might have just been a very lucky moment I had during an improvisation, which Scott was tuned-in enough to preserve. It�s a nice progression that I�m sure I wouldn�t have come up with on my own. This is what Scott�s methodology pulls out of me � I wouldn�t have written or played this stuff otherwise, and it makes me feel like I�m learning something about myself when I hear it back. This music feels like it�s therapeutic for me. I hope other listeners can feel some of those same effects, even though they�re not approaching it from the same angle I do.

Track 10: Donner Party Highlights
MK: Another slammy groove at the top. One of Scott�s slammier ones I�d say. I like the electric piano chords in the verse section. I�m getting flashbacks to hearing Boz Scaggs sitting in the back of the bus headed to high school in the �70s.

This song makes me pump my head like a demented cockatiel.

Can I just say that people should really listen to this stuff with headphones, if they�re not actually dancing or doing dishes or having sex or driving their car to it? To me, at least, a great deal of the pleasure attached to all these sounds is how liberally they�re sprinkled around the stereo spectrum. Anyone who�s not availing themselves of that aspect of the sonic experience is just not availing themselves of that aspect of the sonic experience.

This song kinda feels like a single to me. Oh and, once again, powerful song title there, Mr. Schorr. As if it were ripped from today�s headlines, what with the Armie Hammer allegations and everything.

I think this music is so fun to listen to. It would be great if we could do a surround mix on this stuff someday. There�s a low-bubbling clamor from some quarters online for a physical release of our music, rather than just Bandcamp downloads. Thus far we haven�t been able to justify the expense. But it�s on our minds and on the discussion docket fairly constantly. Hope exists within us that we can do physical at some point. It would help if the music caught fire a little bit somehow, like if someone decides to include some of it in a soundtrack to a film or program of some kind and it garners some attention that way. I think a lot of this music is vastly picturesque, and could be highly valuable to someone�s visual enterprise. Y�hearin� me Paul Thomas Anderson?! There�s more to art than Jonny Greenwood! (Whom I love, of course.)

Track 11: My Mom�s Getting A Horse
MK: Wow, you know, this might be my favorite song on the album? (Lucy Has The Grip Of A Crop-Duster gives it a run for its money though.) My attention really snaps to attention when this song kicks off.

There�s something especially essential-sounding to me about this one, or maybe �inevitable� is a better word. Some songs just sound like they�ve always been there, even if they don�t sound like any other song in particular. When this one floats by in my headphones I feel that I�m in comfortable and familiar territory, but still new-enough-feeling to keep my brain on its toes. I await each successive mini-episode in this song with curiosity and interest � I�m still far from having these arrangements memorized when I listen to them, this album still presents itself to me as new music every time I hear it.

After I�d sent him my first round of improvs on this one, Scott assembled the skeleton for the song, and then specifically requested some slide guitar. I�ve devoted a really small amount of my life to playing slide guitar. It�s a lifestyle as much as it is a musical style � if you haven�t really gotten down in the trenches with it the way someone like Sonny Landreth or Dave Tronzo has, there�s a real good chance it�s just gonna suuuu-uck. So I knew my only hope was to come up with a written melody and try to capture a nice performance of it, rather than just wade in a-riffin�. The melody hits at 2:48 into the track � it�s probably my favorite guitar sound on the record, so it�s nice that it arrives at such a climactic moment in the album. It has a lot more in common with Steve Howe�s pedal steel playing, or David Gilmour sitting on the dusty ground in Pompeii, than it does with anyone�s normal slide playing. It may also have a flavor of All Things Must Pass, although the intonation is not as assured as George�s was. (Man I love Harrison�s slide playing. It�s proof of some sort of divine presence in the cosmos. That�s the sort of thing I�m hoping to achieve with my slide playing, and I make no claims to having achieved it on this recording. It�s just that that�s what was bopping around in my head while I was attempting it.)

Regarding everything you hear on this song from 3:37 to the end of the track (and thus the end of the album), I�m convinced that if everyone had this music playing for 20 to 30 minutes non-stop when they wake up every morning, we would have world peace. (Maybe not convinced, okay. But it�s worth a try.)


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