"11:11": Part 11: The Final Chapter
So, TAH DAH!!! Today is the day that I can finally talk about the new record.
And it’s up on iTunes!!
Now, I’ll step back into my storytelling/MC role, and give an elongated introduction for this project, just as I have done for all the albums in this blog series.
So as the drum roll starts to play its final few bars…
After “Lentic” had been out for a year, I started to write again with my guitar and really wanted to go back out on the road. I approached Cheryl Reid about doing a duo tour with me that fall and we set off for a string of shows that took us throughout the Midwest and Central US states. At this point, I was experimenting with the house concert model and loving it. I also really loved the low-pressure energy of touring with just one other person. We had a great time.
What’s more, I had to pay back the debts incurred from the Australia tour (Jan 2010) and I simply wasn’t willing to continually put my business and myself in the red. I realized that I could perform several of the “Lentic” songs without a full band (several were impossible, but no biggie) and then, by adding some of my older material alongside some of my brand new material, the show was more than complete. Besides, it was fun to play some of the older material again after two years of not playing it!
I billed all of those shows as “Ember Swift” shows. The re-branding as a “Lentic” show hadn’t really worked. So, I didn’t force it. After all, I was myself. I am myself. And, as I mentioned, “Lentic” was more me than any other project had been to date. Reclaiming my given name and billing myself as myself just makes sense!
Also, in the spring of 2010, I finally met the right players in Beijing and we formed a band. The band features Zac Courtney of Australia on drums, Paplus Ntahombaye of Burundi on bass and Wang Ya Qi 王雅琪 of China on erhu. I took up the guitar and vocals, of course. We are a band representing four different countries but we all live in Beijing and are planning to stay. That summer, we had a great time performing in Beijing (and picking up some prominent festivals around the country as well!) and I was feeling like I was finally getting my feet in the music scene in China.
And this band was called Ember Swift or 子玉 (which is my Chinese name). Why fix what isn’t broken?
Because I had waited long enough to have a grasp on the Chinese language and culture before stepping back on stage in China, the shows were actually going well and I was connecting with the audience. When I first came to China in 2007, I did a few solo shows and had a good time, but I couldn’t communicate with the audience in Chinese and I found that my impact was invariably limited as a result. On the contrary, the new music that I created with my new band here in Beijing featured songs that had dual language versions. I sang primarily in Chinese in China and I planned to continue to sing primarily in English in North America. This approach was working.
So, when I came back to North America in the fall of 2010, I was full of new inspiration and confidence. This also helped to make the duo touring that fall more exciting, as well, and carried me into 2011 with new dreams for a new record.
Back in Beijing in early 2011, I started speaking to the band about recording our new songs. Everyone was really excited and my partner, Guo Jian, helped me to hook up with a good studio at a really reasonable rate. We scheduled a spring session and got to work shortly after China’s spring festival (or Chinese New Year) with three weeks of intensive rehearsals.
I approached Tim Rideout about producing this record again and he was on board. He was present for all of our pre-production sessions via Skype and gave us some great feedback about the arrangements. As always, I trust his opinions and perspective implicitly and he really helped us dramatically improve all of the songs.
We recorded over a ten-day period in the Hou Hai (pronounced: hoe high) region of Beijing in a cozy little studio where Guo Jian’s band, Long Shen Dao, had done their tracking back in the summer of 2009. I was familiar with the space and felt confident that the engineer there could help us get the sounds we needed for the record. Ying Peng (his name) didn’t let us down. Even though Ying Peng had a really hard time getting to work for 1 or 2 in the afternoon (seriously, he drinks a lot and preferred to start work at 3 or 4pm!), he still got the job done and charged us a really reasonable daily rate, as well.
In the end, Tim wasn’t able to take on the mixing and full production side of this project due to his crazy schedule. (He was incredibly gracious to help with authoring the CD, post mastering, however! Thanks, Tim!) In fact, after a lot of back and forth with a second production team here in Beijing, I eventually took it on. I rediscovered my skills as a producer and, it turns out, I’ve learned a lot by watching producers like Graham and Tim! I’m really proud of this record and my role in the production of it. I think it sounds great and all of the extra additions really added but didn’t cloud the original band’s vibe.
Additional musicians who aren’t in the band included Dana Baitz of Toronto on keys for “Wash Water” and “Swallow.” Once again, Dana’s touch was just what the songs needed. Also, Zang Hong Fei 臧红飞 and Niu Mu 牛牧 on keys and atmospheric sounds in “Blinding Light.” Niu Mu 牛牧 was also the rapper on “Laowai.” Both of these guys are members of my partner’s band, Long Shen Dao（龙神道).
The real magic in this project, however, sits with the Ambassadors. This is the first “fan funded” project that I have ever made. In December of 2010, I sent an email off to fans and asked them if they’d be interested in pre-purchasing a copy of the album to help support its production. This single question created a cascade of support from all over the world. Modelled after Community Supported Agriculture (see this blog), I made the case for supporting the artist in order to reap the harvest of the art. I also used the expression “Musical Barn Raising” and asked people if they’d be wiling to “help raise a beam.” In the end, there are nearly 200 Ambassadors who contributed to the production of “11:11,” all at various levels. I am forever grateful to every one of you.
I also had a lot of fun with the personal contact I had with this small group. I sent out separate updates to the Ambassadors with more of the back story, offered unreleased live video, sneak previews of the recording and/or possible inclusions on the album, etc. Right now, we’re also in the process of building an Ambassador-only portal on my website. Others will have the opportunity to become Ambassadors after the fact, as well, to secure access and help the music continue. Basically, it’s like a ‘members only’ region of my webpage and it’s the least I can do to continually offer separate insights, downloads, video blogging, etc. to a group of people whose generosity enabled this project to exist in the first place.
Throughout this process, too, I got to know so many of you in such a more intimate way, that I feel you’re more like friends than fans. Thank you for that. It means the world to me.
One of the Ambassadors was involved in the making of the record in an even fuller way: Richard Armer-Petrie. He was the producer of “Pek,” and he took our band’s recordings and added some electronic elements. Richard took the song up a notch into the atmospheric, alive, exciting production that it is now. It’s my absolute favourite rendition of the song and I am so grateful that he wanted to work on it. Richard also refused to be employed to do this task, despite my desire to compensate him, and I am still so moved by his generosity and kindness. It was not only his time and energy; he gave of his talent. And, the record is better off for it!
Again, in the design of this record, I worked with Suzy Malik. Suzy was also an Ambassador for the project and I was so touched when I saw the notification email for her pre-purchase roll through my inbox as well. After so many years of loaning her skills or working for less than her market value, she was still willing to help this record get off the ground!
When I approached her about doing the design, I told her that I really wanted to include one of her illustrations and so I asked her if she would create something that included a retro digital alarm clock and perhaps work off of one of the photos from my 11:11 photo shoot.
Her first concept blew me away. She had landed on it immediately. I used it for the cover of both CDs (see top of this post).
I also wanted to do different packages this time, but instead of creating separate units like I had with Lentic, I created a way to package the dual language CDs together into a “box set” (pictured left) that also included a full lyric booklet and a fabric patch with the “11:11” logo. Then, I made the CDs available separately in just a simple slip case for those who were just interested in purchasing the language version that they could understand. Having the option seemed to really suit people and I’ve found that I’ve sold almost an equal number of singles to box sets.
That being said, since I sell the language versions separately, I also wanted to make them representative of the live shows in their respective geographic areas. It’s for that reason that I included two Chinese songs on the English version. One was written for foreigners in Beijing in very simple Chinese, and so most of my non-Chinese fans in Beijing want to own this song! The other, “Jiayou,” is a song that I’ve been performing in North America to positive reviews. I wanted to make sure that English speakers at least got a taste of some of the Chinese songs, without overwhelming them with a whole record’s worth! Likewise, on the Chinese version, I included a popular English song that my Chinese fans enjoy, “Out of Air,” the cover of Jolie Rickman‘s song in a gypsy-jazz style. Since I play that song (in English) when I’m in China, it made sense to include it on the Chinese side.
Furthermore, I ordered the tracks differently. Again, this is because the audiences are different. Certain songs are more popular in North America and certain songs are more popular in China. It’s about cultural difference, tastes, and lyrical content. So far, the feedback about the order has been really positive from both sides. Seems that I narrowed in on which songs people wanted to hear right away. I guess 11 albums will give a person enough experience to determine song order with fairly good accuracy rates!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inclusion of my Grandmother’s songs on this record: “I Wish I May” and “I’ve Fallen In Love With You.” Equally popular on both sides of the world, these two songs provide the jazz component of the release. These are two of only three songs that my Grandmother wrote in her life (she’s 93 this month!) and I’m so thrilled to have finally recorded them professionally on her behalf. She never did anything with them and, even though she doesn’t love the arrangements (she is, after all, a strong woman in a line of strong women who has her strong opinions!), she is happy and touched that I recorded her music.
We released the record at a local venue here in Beijing called “Dos Kolegas” or 两个好朋友. The show was fun and alive and lots of people came. My drummer, Zac, created this promotional video (also posted at the bottom of this blog) for one of our songs that is only in Chinese. It’s a famous line by a contemporary Chinese comic and I’ve always liked the “street cred” it’s given me to insert it into conversation! When we sing it here, people laugh and sing along. This video was circulated thousands of times through the Chinese Twitter equivalent: Weibo.
Actually, the recording of the record was the last thing that I did before I got pregnant. All of the production and post-production happened while “Little Spark” was first taking up residence in my belly. Even the photos for the album are from when I was already 14 weeks along. At the release party, I was already six months along and definitely showing a little Humpty Dumpty bump. I then went on tour in North America to release the record (sadly, without the Beijing band, but I toured in duo format with US-based artist Kelly Zullo) and progressed in my pregnancy all the way to 7.5 months before heading back to Beijing, exhausted and much more egg-shaped than before I had left.
And now, here I sit, with an album that is launched into the world—a new baby—and another on the way in January.
I named the record “11:11” for several reasons, but here are the main ones:
- It’s my 11th record.
- It’s 2011.
- There’s a twin element in 11:11 – mirror images – which is modeled by the twin language versions in the dual discs available.
- I’ve been noticing “11:11” on clocks for years and it feels lucky, wishful, auspicious, just like this album feels.
- 11:11 is also the symbol for “twin spirits” and I think of my partnership in this light. It feels like everything in my life is exactly how it’s supposed to be. I think this record is exactly how it’s supposed to sound too. It feels right.
- 11, in numerology is considered a “Master Number.” If it comes up, it’s the single most important number in one’s chart. Colours associated with this number include green and jade is one of its gemstones. My Chinese name includes the name Jade (子玉：the second of the characters). I liked the symmetry.
I wrote a few days ago that “The Dirty Pulse” felt like a peak in my career. I realize now it was the culmination of musical collaboration with Lyndell Montgomery and our years as a trio. It was its own peak, like the pinnacle of an era.
This album, however, feels like a different kind of peak; it feels like my personal peak. I’m not saying that I’ll never make another record or that every record after this will go downhill (!), but I am saying that, once again, I feel a sense of peace when I look at this CD in my hand. I know it’s good enough and representative enough. If it’s the last album I ever make, I’ll be content with what I’ve put out into the world. That contentment is golden. It’s the ultimate feeling.
But, then again, in a year or more, I may have a whole boatload of new material to record and then, who knows, maybe it will be time to make another CD?! Until then, I’ll concentrate on becoming a Mom for the first time and welcoming a new kind of baby into my world.
This human baby will arrive in the already infamous year 2012. It will be my 12th baby, in a way! So, everything is all aligned.
Numerology at its finest.
Thank you so much for reading these blogs and taking part in the literary “drum roll” to advance the release of my “11:11” album. Knowing that you’re enjoying them has kept me at the task despite the sheer volume of writing that has been required. Thank you for your comments and your engagement, too. Reading your responses makes all the difference. It’s the fuel! It keeps me knowing that you’re out there and that you’re the ones who support independent artists.
For Your Support.
For Your Friendship.
For Your Belief.