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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Madeleine Brand Show for December 24, 2010

89.3 KPCC | Southern California Public Radio

Spending a year with The Smiths

Radio piece by Sanden Totten

New Year's resolutions are often made and often broken. But Janice Whaley took hers very seriously. She decided to record an acapella version of every song written by the British pop band, The Smiths.

(drum roll....)

Janice Whaley.

By the power invested in me as Chief Mozipediac it is my great pleasure to anoint you before the all-seeing eye of the cosmos and everyone in it as, officially, now and forever...


-Simon Goddard

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Where to begin...

This year has been staggering.

I sang for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week, every other week. 50 hours times 26 weeks is 1300 hours spent on The Smiths Project in one year. If nothing else, I have earned myself the award for the most time spent voluntarily sitting in a closet. Who knows, I may even have beaten some world record for the most a cappella songs recorded in one year? The only person to cover an entire catalog of music in one year? I'll have to see if Guinness World Book of Records has a category for me. But here's one thing I know for sure: I am the luckiest girl in the world.

It was exactly this time last year that I decided to stop being miserable and get back into doing the things that made me happy. I wanted to sing, and sing I did- in a much bigger way than i could have ever imagined. I could not have anticipated any of the events of this year. My lofty goal was to sing a single vocal track of each song, blog about it, and hope that someone would sample my voice into one of their songs. That was it.

This year has constantly reinforced a simple yet profound concept for me. Do what you love, and something good will come from it. Try it! I absolutely guarantee it's true. Even if it's just the personal satisfaction of doing something that matters to you, it's important to do it- and the best part is, your happiness will be automagically contagious to those around you.

It will say though, it was a challenging year. I noticed that my brain would play tricks on me a lot. For example, I would spend all day getting a song just the way I wanted it, one hour later I would completely forget that I did it, and then I was back to worrying, "what the hell am I going to do to make this song sound good?!?!?" Many times I'd open a song file and be completely surprised by what it sounded like as if I'd never heard it before. I'm sure that has NOTHING to do with the insanely fast pace at which I was working or the fact that I was generally always rotating between 10 songs in progress. There was no time to reflect or even bother to remember. Just keep going! After I posted a song, I would hi-light it yellow on my list and it would immediately be gone from my thoughts. As long as I saw the list becoming more yellow, I knew I was getting there. I put a completion date by every song and stuck to it. The pressure to complete this was self-inflicted torture at times (my eye is STILL twitching- it's been months!!) but there was no way I was going to give this story a sad ending. My Julie/Julia project would end on a good note and maybe, just maybe, members of The Smiths would put their own twist on it by NOT HATING IT, unlike Julia Child.

One thing that I'm very proud of is that my son doesn't even know this happened. Nearly all of this project took place while he was at school or sleeping. This meant that I haven't gotten much sleep or anything else done at all this year, but I wasn't an absent mom. Also, when my family is home, we're making dinner, playing, getting ready for bed, etc. so playing the music for him was furthest from my mind. But now my son listens to the music while commuting home from school with his dad, and he asks to sit in the studio and listen with headphones on. One night, I was putting him to bed and he was nearly out- then suddenly he turned to me and said, "Mom, I love your musics so much!" and he gave me a big hug. That meant more to me than any living thing on earth.

Many people have asked if any members of The Smiths have contacted me and the answer is no. During the project, I dreaded it for fear of having to complete the rest of the songs knowing exactly what they thought of it. YIKES. But now, contact from them would be icing on the cake. Whether or not I hear from them, I'm very proud of how the project turned out. It was amazing to get deep inside the music and get to know it from the inside out. I have even more respect for the music now than I did to begin with (and I started with A LOT). I'm in awe of Johnny Marr's masterful guitar playing at such a young age, his songwriting, the way he layers guitars, weaves melodies and harmonies together... Add to that Morrissey's lyrics and voice! Singing the music was emotional journey into the outskirts of Morrissey's mind. Plus, his vocal melodies are genius. Think about the background music without his voice- could you have come up with that melody to put over that? The music and lyrics are in absolute harmony. The Smiths are a magic moment in time. Their songs have saved and changed my life time and time again. I am forever grateful.

People are asking what I'm going to do next. First off, I'm going to enjoy the holidays as this is my first real break from the million little deadlines I have been under this year. But, next year's plans are taking shape. First, I'm going to be collaborating with Curt Smith from Tears for Fears. How awesome is THAT!!! Next up is an album of my own original material. I've had many songs kicking around in my head for years and it's time I release them into the internet-ether. Intethernet? (ethernet is already taken). I also plan to do many collaborations with people I have met online this year. In 4 months, my unemployment will run out and I'll have to get a day job but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. In the mean time, I'm going to cram as much music into the next 4 months before my music time is reduced. And you know I'm capable of getting a lot done.

The other thing I'll be working on is getting a 6-CD box set of the project made. Many people have been asking about it and how they can help. I have set up a Kickstart page to raise funds and make this a reality. One of the reasons this is is costly is because I need to purchase the bulk physical distribution rights to 71 cover songs. But I must do this the right way and make sure that The Smiths get their rightful royalties. The last thing I want to do is upset the people who have brought me so much joy. And they deserve every penny of those royalties.

I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for believing in me and cheering me on. There were many times I thought I really might not complete the music in time. Between the spectacular computer crashes, being laid off, owning a 4 year old and a family, and the often horrible 1st, 2nd, & 3rd versions of a song before I found a style I liked, I really was not sure I could do it. You guys kept me going. Every day people send me emails, facebook messages, tweets, comments on blogs... it was really overwhelming at times. People poured their hearts out about what The Smiths mean to them. One man said The Smiths saved him from killing himself a long time ago and more recently, my versions did the same. I don't feel worthy of the praise I received but I appreciate how profoundly music can change us. I personally believe that music is a form of therapy and healing. It can reach us and connect us in a way that nothing else can. Music is a time machine that transports us directly to the core of a time or feeling or place and allows us the gift of being able to relive that moment. This music has connected me to all of you and I am deeply honored to be a part of your lives and grateful that you have come into mine. We will always be connected through this music. I honestly expected a lot of fan resistance once the word got out about these covers but I was very surprised to be welcomed with open arms. People misread Smiths fans the same way people misread Morrissey and his lyrics. We're not all miserable saps! We openly relate to and express emotions that others would rather suppress BUT from this comes a lot of joy and humor. In my opinion, Morrissey's lyrics are witty and hilarious. Smiths fans are some of the funniest people on the planet. I've laughed SO MUCH this year from all of your comments, it's unreal.

I can't thank you enough. Anything I have given you this year is nothing compared to what you have given me. You didn't just watch my life change, you are the reason my life has changed.

Now it is time for me to sing my changed life!

A Tour of the "Studio"

The room is has become a dumping ground for random crap the last few weeks but, here it is: The place I recorded all the Smiths Projects songs.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I Keep Mine Hidden

for @ThomasLennon

Free download here

This is the very last original song The Smiths wrote and recorded together. I've always thought it to be too simplistic... like it wasn't really done. If they had continued to work together or had been in a better state of mine at the time, I think the song may have turned out different. At least, more developed. I decided it was my goal to make this song as polished as the rest of their songs and maybe give it a little bit more of the justice it deserved.


The only problem is that I can't whistle. I know, I know. I should just sit down and learn how to do it. But, this was a good opportunity to ask someone who DOES know how to whistle, the very person who found me and first let the world know about me. The fabulous, the funny, the wonderful Thomas Lennon. Besides, it's fitting to end the project with the same person who helped start it to begin with.

A few months ago, I asked Tom if he would be my stunt whistler and he responded, "Of course!" literally seconds later. Then he did a dry run over the phone and and I said, "yeah, like da ta da do ta do" (since I can't whistle!) and he whistled back, "Like this?" I said, "Yeah! do ta doo doooooo" and he whistled it back again to verify. After I got off the phone with him, I realized that was probably the best phone dialogue ever. In all the history of mankind.

Thank you, Tom!!! You really helped make this a year I will never forget.

Thomas Lennon and Janice Whaley, recording a jam session in May 2010.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy birthday to Simon Goddard!! xoxo Janice

I Won't Share You

Free download here

We have arrived at the last song on the Strangeways album. Months ago, I could not even comprehend getting to this point- and now that I'm here, I don't even know what to say. This week I announced that I have completed the whole Smiths Project but the actual day I finished was not all that eventful. After I mixed down the last song, I got up and washed dishes. I had to clean the house for my son's 4th birthday party and didn't have time to pause for reflection.

This past Sunday was a different story. I received so many wonderful comments, words of congratulations and thanks- and it finally hit me. I DID IT. I burst into tears and hugged my man and my son. I'm so relieved to be done, proud that I actually did it, and also a little sad that this journey has come to an end.

But, you haven't heard the last of me. You will soon hear my collaboration with Curt Smith, lead singer of Tears for Fears. I will be doing some internet collaborations with several of the wonderful and talented people I have met online this year. I'm also going to record a CD of original songs that have been floating around in my head for years.

You have all been the most amazing cheerleaders, supporters, and friends. I will not share you!

And now....

With the drive and ambition, the zeal I feel, this is my time.


I am dedicating this song to my love, Josh Cadwising. He is the one who suggested I do the whole project in a layered vocal style like I had done only two times before. He is full of good ideas! Many of the images you've seen on this blog were his photographs. I'm in awe of his creativity and the way he views the world. Josh, thank you for listening to me babble about music all year and putting up with an often-stressed-out me. I love you.
Josh and our son Jaden. The two people who matter most to me.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Death at One's Elbow

Free Download here

I took this song in a dark direction. I think it was all that Dexter I watched around the time I was recording it combined with the bloody lyrics...

I'm dedicating this to my brother who has watched me dream of being a musician my whole life. He sat through many a high school concert, parades in 100 degree heat to see me march by in my dorky band uniform, he saw me spend most of my teenage years glued to the piano, he watched me record my first multi-track recording. He's always been there to cheer me on. I love you, bro!!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Today's Big Announcement!

Here's my guest spot on Breakfast with The Smiths radio today on Indie 103.1 with Jose Maldonado, April Richardson, and Romeogirl

I miscounted when I said there are 74 tracks. I have 71 tracks plus, an alternate live-loop version of Handsome Devil. There are also four songs with Thomas Lennon (Lt. Dangle from Reno 911) and four with Jose Maldonado, the lead singer of Sweet and Tender Hooligans tribute band. There *would have been* 74 tracks if I had also done the songs THEY covered, which I decided not to do. A cover of a cover... But I still might some day.


Friday, December 17, 2010

Paint a Vulgar Picture

For @bagstranded

Free Download Here until it reaches the download limit.

I went the way of the Bjork on this one for sure. Not intentionally, at first... but once I heard the way it was headed, I just went with it. She has been one of my music heroes since I first heard the Sugarcubes in 7th grade. It was inevitable that some of her influence would show up in my music eventually...

When I want to dedicate a song to someone, I write their name next to the track on my (almost completely hi-lighted in yellow!) master list. One day Cameron Smith, who has followed me from the very beginning, asked me how much he should donate to get me to dedicate Paint a Vulgar Picture to him. I looked at my list and saw no name next to the song and said, "Done, it's yours. No donations necessary, your support and encouragement is payment enough!"

It has been a pleasure to get to know him this year. He's one of those twitter guys that makes me smile every day with quirky tweets and his blog Bag Stranded is also hilarious. Please check him out!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unhappy Birthday

Download for free here

Not sure exactly when my version was taken over by the 1980s but it seems to work so I kept it. At this point in the project, my hard drive was full and I was hoping to just finish this song before doing another backup. Bad idea! Somehow, all the bass and drums had disappeared the next day so I had to re-do them. The snare drum was not easy. I don't have sequencers or fancy gear, so every snare you hear is copied and pasted to form the rhythm patterns manually and then volume is added to each hit to give it depth, otherwise it would sound like a machine gun. Seven years of playing snare in marching bands will make you picky about such things.

My dear loyal supporter, Peter Finan aka Uncle Skinny, you've been looking forward to this one for a while so I'm dedicating it to you!

Here is Peter- with the most amazing knitted Smiths replicas.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me

Free download here until it reaches the download limit.

It is a miracle that I finished this song. Between the complexity of my arrangement and the four hundred billion computer crashes, it marks the single most stressful moments in this entire project. I was literally in tears this week thinking I would have to start over from scratch. It turns out, there was a corrupt cross-fade in the mix. After an entire frustrating day of transferring everything into a new session, I was finally able to mix it down.

And there was much rejoicing. (yay)

Mixing was also tough. There were so many elements that I wanted to get just right: vocals that mimic the physical action of playing a piano at the beginning, samples from some of my favorite movies (anyone guess what they are?) and most importantly, it needed to be BIG- a Pink Floyd rock anthem of vocals, if you will. This song also has my highest vocals in the project. I often use the computer to lower my voice by an octave, but raising the pitch is a one-way ticket to Chipmunksylvania. You just have to sing it. At the end of the song, the high note is a D, two octaves above middle C.

From the very beginning, I knew I wanted to dedicate the song to a particular woman who is a big inspiration to me. I am eternally in awe of her vocals and the way she doesn't just wear her heart on her sleeve, she rips open her chest to let you see where her heart lives. Morrissey and David Bowie have both requested to work with her. She speaks her mind, she's bold, witty, inventive, an amazing clothing designer, and to my delight, a wonderfully sweet human being as well. It has been a pleasure to get to know her through my project.

Miss Kristeen Young, this song is for you.

Kristeen Young with the one and only Morrissey

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stop Me If You Think You've Heard This One Before

For @colestratton

Download it free here.

This song is for Cole Stratton, who was quite literally the very first person I met when I moved to San Francisco in 1995. A day after I moved in, I went across the street to the video store and rented some movies. I came from a small desert town that had nothing in the way of good movie rentals... and I was really into movies. I had to special order and wait two weeks for Fire Walk With Me because I wanted to see it SO BAD. So, here I am in SF with a video store across the street and I was excited. I walked in and a guy behind the counter (Cole) said hi. I looked around like a kid in a candy store. This place was organized by director! There were obscure releases! A "Top 100 Movies of All Time" section! Employee suggestions! A HAND-DRAWN WHITEBOARD WITH UPCOMING RELEASES AND FANTASTIC ART RELATING TO EACH MOVIE! Clearly some movie nerds worked here. I may have well just won the lottery.

So needless to say, I was in there all the time and got to know this Cole guy behind the counter. He was responsible for the whiteboard. He had the BEST movie suggestions. I really tried to stump him a few times but he had a movie for any situation. Once I walked in the the video store with two Japanese exchange students and asked, "OK Cole, what would you recommend for one person who speaks English and two people who don't???" Without batting an eyelash, he said, "Mel Brooks Silent Movie." He was right. It was the perfect movie.

We lived in the same neighborhood, went to the same school, often ran into each other at movies and concerts. At some point, he invited me to see his sketch comedy group called Small Chicken. And that's when I realized holy crap, this guy is FUNNY. I've been a fan ever since. When he started a new sketch group with Janet Varney and David Owen (Dave also worked at the video store!), I designed their website. The design was basic and probably super cheezy, but I had high hopes for those guys and wanted to help any way I could. It wasn't long after that those crazy kids started the SF Sketch Fest which is now a premiere sketch comedy event pulling in amazing comics from all over the United States.

For example, how many awesome people can you fit into one photo? Front row: David Owen, Cole Stratton, Thomas Lennon. Middle row: Kerri Kenney-Silver, Jo Lo Truglio, Michael Patric Jann, Janet Varney, Michael Ian Black. Back row: Janeane Garofalo, David Wain, Robert Ben Garant, Tod Holoubekd, Kevin Allison, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter

He is a true talent and it has been a joy to watch him come up in the world- from the humble sketch shows performed in the college dorms, to tv, movies, comedy festivals and now his new Pop My Culture Podcast with Vanessa Ragland. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you don't know who Cole is, you do now. Check out the podcast and if you get the chance, go see one of his shows. You will not be disappointed!

Cole, thank you for years of friendship and laughter. Plus you are the only guy I know who is as excited about acapella covers as I am. (ahem)

Cole Stratton and Vanessa Ragland (and Cole and Vanessa and Cole and Cole...)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Girlfriend in a Coma

Dedicated to James Roday

I moved to San Francisco in 1995 with a 20 year old's dream of starting a rock band. Through, I located a drummer (who was also a stripper- smokin' hot but she couldn't keep a steady beat), an Irish guy who liked my music but really wanted to do his own "better ideas," and a bass player who just wanted to silkscreen some original band t-shirts. We never played anywhere besides a liquor store basement on Mission Street.

After my Christmas jobs at the mall ended, the guitarist told me he had started temping downtown and so he got me an interview. I had NO office skills, never used a computer, and flat out lied in the interview about being able to type. Before they could test my skills, they got an urgent request for someone to stuff envelopes so I volunteered. A few hours later I was working in downtown San Francisco in an office with a sleezy guy who chased cable cars on his lunch for exercise. The company asked me to do some data entry so I stayed on and quickly taught myself to type by signing up for Yahoo mail and emailing friends.

My next assignment was a receptionist at video game company downtown. I was seriously obsessed with the band The Sundays so I spent most of my time emailing friends on the fan mailing list. We came up with a plan to make our own tribute cd which was really exciting to me since none of my music had made it past my friend's ears. This was going to be a doorway to a music career! So the guitarist and I recorded a song together and I also did one on my own- just me and a piano. On Earth was my first cover song ever. We sent in our submissions on a high quality VCR tape. Someone from the group mastered all the submissions, the person who had a home color printer (ohhh, FANCY!!) printed out the inserts and someone else put it all together and sent them out to everyone. It was a real passion project considering this was well before the world of mp3s and affordable digital recording equipment.

This was my contribution:

The cd actually earned me some fans and for a while I had people following my progress asking what I was going to do next. The fact was, I just didn't know how to proceed. I did some music for myself, put a few tracks online in fabulous Real Audio (remember that?!?!), and it all went nowhere. Over the years, life happened- work, school, social life, boyfriend, and then my first child. I wrote about ten songs in ten years.

Flash forward to 2009, two good friends died 5 weeks apart in unrelated incidents and I was devastated. I thought about their lives and what they had left behind for us. I thought about my friend Nancy who always said, "Do what you love and some day there will be a job in that for you." Even though she wouldn't be around to see it, I finally decided to take her up on that offer. I was going to spend all of 2010 singing.

*scene change*

James Roday, star of USA Network's Psych and a loyal Smiths fan, heard from his makeup artist about The Guardian article on The Smiths Project (incidentally, the exact same day i lost my job). He said something like, "Oh my god, I know her!" and immediately contacted me. You see, way back in the day, he had a band who contributed a song to a little internet tribute cd for The Sundays. The world truly is, as he put it, "smaller than a baby porcupine." But I would have never known that was him all those years ago because that was in an internet land before time- before user icons and pictures and Faceplacing and U-Booking.

This year, James worked with Tears For Fears' lead singer Curt Smith on Psych, so he told Curt about me and we've since met in person to discuss possible future collaborations. Curt is an amazing musician and I never thought my music would reach his ears. I feel like I'm living in a dream. If anyone had told me that ANY part of this story would happen, I would not have believed it. It seems that Sundays cover still might be a door leading to a music career...

I'm so glad I held my ground to submit my On Earth cover even though the guitarist didn't want me to (since it didn't include him). I'm proud that I decided to stop giving up on myself, and I'm eternally grateful to James for remembering me all those years. As it turns out, he had more faith in me than I did this whole time.

So James, since Girlfriend in a Coma is your karaoke go-to, this one is for you. Your support means the world to me and I can't thank you enough.

Oh- and in true Psych style, there are a few things hidden in the song.

Can he solve the mystery?

James Roday and Dule Hill singing with Curt smith.