It's been a decade since I released a "full length" record. The first time up, I was just learning music production. I had never recorded anything myself before (not entirely true; I had recorded a short film score ((STILL LOVER)) on a portable multi-track), and my understanding of the process was from what I gleamed from observing my friend produce my first record, which was purely an instrumental one. While I had some production credits on that, my role was in composition, instrumentation and performing, not in tracking, or any of the studio stuff associated with recording records. Up to that point, I had been in and out of bands, mostly just playing electric guitar. But the opportunity appeared because I felt like I could do it. The thought just sprang up in my head, and like the field of dreams, it had to be done.
It was an intense ordeal, since I had no clue, and was left to learn everything myself, from the ground up. But that process taught me an invaluable lessons; that if you want to do something way outside your competence, it can still be done. Dive head first, break shit, learn, and if you're still excited, do it again was the ethos. You have that bounce back energy with youth & there never is anything to lose. Time refines process, but process comes before quality even after refinement. You never really know quality (it's an intangible), but you always know process & that's easier to refine.
My time in music happened in a similar way to filmmaking. It was the start of the digitalization of media. Computers and soundcards and emulation and plugins and as important, digital aggregators where making the home recording possible, and the barriers to entry affordable. All that was left was the energy, the desire and the doing.
In 2007 I released a short instrumental record, A DAY LATE: INSTRUMENTALS FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS under my project alias at the time, SHANKS AND THE DREAMERS. My friend Ray P headed the production. He had recorded a couple of DIY albums (they still hold up) for his own projects and was a super fan of Steve Albini's style and methodology. We did the tracking in a music space (Bassland Studios) in Santa Ana California headed by OC electronic music pioneer Alex X. from the project of the same name BASSLAND (location where I shot a film called "my break ups into a million pieces"). A DAY LATE had six tracks and it took nearly 2 years to complete. Scheduling the sessions, mixing, tracking, school, work, and balancing my first love, film, expanded the production cycle way past what I had anticipated.
As a son of first-generation immigrants, my life seemed completely foreign and wayward to my parents. They had no idea where I got my interest in music, as I had never played an instrument before, except after high school, while in college, picking up my first guitar while I studied at UCLA. Though the seeds were planted much earlier, and maybe I'll write about that in a different time. In any case, all was upheaval. It's hard to transpose an understanding now, to how things were. At that time, my choices were limited, because my understanding was completely limited. So, I could only see two viable options. Go back to school, or work at a coffee shop for the rest of my life (this binary seems incredibly naive and silly, but I suppose that's how it looks for large swarms of people). There were no career aspirations in art, even though all my time was spent doing it because I was disconnected from that reality even existing. It was an impossibility. And of course, that impossibility was just an illusion. But an illusion is no different than a reality, without the tools to break through.
In any case, and to the relief & constant campaigning from my parents, I headed back to school for a graduate degree. This experience made me an advocate at dissuading most from going through the same mistake. It is part of my story, and I would not change it in any way, but when asked, I offer the truth. And that truth is that for the majority, there are much better options and routes.
And that leads me the last full-length record I did many years ago. A month after I shot my thesis project, I recorded my first full-length record under SHANKS AND THE DREAMERS (it had turned more or less into a band at this time), "MY DARLING DIA". It took a few intense months of education, assembling the tools, learning the programs, writing the songs, and tracking. And all of it was a giant fuck up for the most part. But it was the single greatest music production lesson I ever learned. It was a condensed, intense education, full of "Skin In the Game" and no help or resources other than my partner at the time (Art Toussi) and localized friends in the scene (bands) and of course, the web. To my giant relief, almost every question had an answer on some forum once you filtered through the arguments. And some of the tools I gathered for that project still sit in my studio (music hardware lasts much longer than the digital stuff). Here we were, a local two-piece band out of Orange County Californian, self-producing an entire record, sitting in one of the top NY Mastering Studios, where a single compressor cost more than the whole production & still completely clueless, but feeling accomplished & wild-eyed. Oddly enough, neither of was thought of ourselves as musicians really. We both had wholly different lives with trajections that had nothing to do with music.
Which leads me to this. My first full-length record under my project MIRS, RAINBOW SEASON is coming out later this year. While I've been recording EP's and singles for the last several years under MIRS, I had assumed that a full-length project was out of the scope, as each EP was thought of as my last time recording (interestingly, music had always been regulated as a side project until the last couple years when I dropped compartmentalizing everything). But, with time and refinement usually bring in something else. Help. And ever since CANYON, MIRS has had lots of help. So what was once a solo endeavor now has the assistance to take the means of communication into another space.
And that all changed because one thing was missing. The desire to repeat & expand the process, something that I had always wanted to do with this new project, but never allowed myself to go all the way. It was another glass ceiling. That's what they always are.
It took a long time to get to CANYON and the merging of music & film, but not surprisingly, it's just another beginning.
You can finally pick up an awesome t-shirt in many different sizes for my ongoing music project MIRS by clicking the image below (15% off for the time being). All sales feed right back into the project, so, not only a good way to support but more important, a fresh way to get outside and stunt on your neighbors. Love yall :)
Was just reflecting on the emergence of "Visual Albums" after this article was brought to my attention highlighting CANYON. Truth be told, I did not want to label CANYON as such since it comes at the heels of amazing visual releases, but i've been personally trying to put together a "visual album" since 2010, and failing to execute until CANYON.
My first attempt came at the release of my first MIRS solo EP, SPIN CYCLE. I couldn't pull resources together to execute. The second time came with the release of MEAT ON YOUR LONELY BONEZ, and again, while a treatment was prepared and some meetings arranged, we never went ahead and executed. Which, in hindsight proves valuable, since I feel those concepts lacking cohesion now. But, thats the truth with any work from the past done, or undone.
The interesting question here is how this one came about and why the other two attempts failed. Simply, we reversed the process of production. We first shot CANYON, the film, then we got to finishing the record. Of course, both these things were happening concurrently, but we got the visuals in the can in November of 2015. In fact, a couple rotting pumpkins show up on frame for the astute observer. The rest of the process took the time it takes for any project to develop, especially exasperated by the fact that career responsibilities lay elsewhere.
I'll leave you here with CANYON if you haven't seen it or are just coming across this. My recommendations include a) headphones b) some quiet downtime c) fullscreen. Also, afterwards, check out this mini doc below with the incredible artist. ALI SABET, describing the process of creating the artwork for the whole project.
This was a SABET + MIRS collaboration with its own very unique process, some of which is detailed in the video below.
This is a piece I directed for the NIMA COLLECTIVE earlier in the year. We have been experimenting with projectors quite a bit.
While doing a surface redesign of the site, I got a bit nostalgic when I ran across this item. SHANKS AND THE DREAMERS "Instrumentals for Illegal Aliens" was the first bit of music I recorded as a conceptual whole, to be shipped out into the market. I did some soundtrack work for my film STILL LOVER, but the soundtrack was never intended to stand alone. The images drove the music.
The backstory to this record is one I will always cherish because of the many physical and emotional hurdles it entailed. It took much longer than a year to complete and I had no clue of the recording process. All of it was new.
And on top of that, I was completely self taught and didn't start playing instruments till later than most. At one point in my development, I was playing guitar for about 12 hours a day. My roommate at UCLA wanted to kill me, but he had no choice but to stay out of the apartment. I also surely skipped some classes, driven by my desire to understand how this damn thing worked.
But, the recording process taught me a few lessons. One was that if you want something, you can make it happen regardless of the challenges. The other lesson was that setbacks don't mean anything in the long run. A hurdle is just a small physical barrier, or a psychological abstraction that is solvable. There will be many others to take its place along the way, but taken in small pieces, they don't amount to much. And they can almost always be defeated by ACTION.
Now, I know this isn't all that much, but for a kid who never had any musical experience, and without any knowledge of the tools of recording, I went from 0 to 1 pretty fast all because of a desire to try, learn, execute and ultimately, not give a shit of critical opinions. Because you cannot ship anything if your afraid of peoples reactions.
I'd love to hear your story. Send me message, and play this forward.
Also if you happen to need some introverted tracks to go along with your coffee, your creative work or a long drive, please pick up a digital copy of this ancient work (2007) right below:
How many times do you hear the phrase, "they don't make em like they used too"? We like what we become accustomed too.
Back in prehistoric times (everything before 1999), our cultural cycles tended to move a bit slower and our economy was largely top down. Everything sat around a bit longer on the shelf. And the farther back you go, the longer these movements sat around.
A musical movement like GRUNGE had time to birth itself, and kill itself within a relatively stable time frame. People on the fringes sowed the seeds, and as it grew larger, the corps swooped in and made it readily available to all. And in those top down days, ALL really meant ALL.
These days, cycles don't work the same way. They have two distinct patterns. One is the giant explosion (VIRAL) and the other is the STATIC but constant feed. Things tend to move extremely quickly, or, they stay extremely stable as long as the feed is consistently updated.
Viral is like a big bang moment. Out of nothing, everything. A huge burning moment of glory, but just as quickly, fading away, burdened by its inability to scale. Novelty is incredibly difficult to manufacture to a fickle audience always wanting something new. But some people learn to turn this situation into the second situation.
The STATIC feed is the other cultural movement. This one is based on confirmation bias and preferences built over time. Much of these where probably built many years ago. And sometimes, with consistency, you can turn viral into this.
The STATIC feed doesn't have to worry about capturing the entire market share. If you got a podcast, and people listen, you can keep a good portion of your audience for the long term, as long as you never neglect it. However, if you step off the throttle, the audience lost will probably never return.
STATIC is all about comfort. STATIC is the same reason people get stuck into the "they don't make em like they used too" motif. Most people just grown out of cultural items unfortunately, and are stuck with what they know.
The interesting thing is that these days, STATIC can be beneficial for a creative. If your an aging rockstar, or a TV actor long behind your sticom glory, you can actually reconnect with that same group that loved you then.. People are looking back, just as much as they are enthralled with the shiny new toy.
This would have been the absolute pinnacle of web dominance for a music act if it took place in 2006, but just short of a decade later, it's a cute footnote, and a stark reminder that absolutely NOTHING LAST'S FOREVER.
So, you might currently be having the worst days of your life, but if you stick it out, make some changes and proceed with action, it can all change. That also dictates the scary, but real fact that the reverse is also just as true.
And who knows, maybe even MYSPACE, under the best circumstances & leadership, could flip that website around to it's glory days again. Anything is possible. I mean, did you just see the updated PILLARS OF CREATION photo. Seriously, ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!
Make plans, and just as vital, roll with those waves.
I recently picked up footage from a shoot we did over a year ago. We had some hiccups immediately during post, mostly because the world we were going to build in the box was a bit too complicated and time consuming without a larger team. This was an in-house production, so we aimed high, but the cost analysis did not add up. A little after that realization we actually continued forward with some progress, but life got busy and other important priorities took over.
Now, this happens now and again. Personally, I just move forward without the burden of the past. If the ship is moving, why hit the brakes?
However, deep down, I'm often bothered by projects left to burn in their own ashes. Mostly because other people put in the time.
This is different than long term projects that are continuous and take time because of aesthetics, strategies or just out of necessities. I'm specifically talking about projects abandoned. Nine times out of ten, these are just scripts, treatments or half baked ideas that get pushed aside for newer scripts; but every once in awhile, its actually raw footage being tossed. You took the time to write something, got people together, and you shot the damn thing, and without any hesitation, you just threw it away.
But here is where everything gets tricky. We are in the throes of "content world" now. Everything counts. The golden goose, and the piles of trash. They all have utility, serving the purpose of fulfilling the highs and lows of our culture. The stream of life is not historical. The origin story is now. Do you have enough material to feed this voracious monster?
With that in mind, I just salvaged some visuals locked away in harddrive hell. Conceptually, the idea has changed, I'll be honest. But, the adjustment actually makes more sense now, since it's more in line with a certain creative process I'm dealing with, NOW.
Here is a still from the upcoming MIRS TAKE AWAY visual. The record is two years old and the footage, recently rescued from the depths of a harddrive in Burbank California, is over a year old. Who the fuck would know if I didn't say anything anyways.
This last few days I've been on one of my periodic pop culture rendezvous, where I survey a specific landscape that I feel my touch slipping away from.
This round happened to be hip-hop, it's new culture and the first wave of OG's reflecting on where the form has gone. Just a footnote before I get labeled; my youth was spent listening to rap and hip-hop and my roots are that of B-Boy. My crew, OSB used to battle at malls, schools, clubs and anywhere else little dudes could roam the streets and engage in rhythmic warfare. Violence hardly ever broke out, but occasionally a dance battle would turn into an actual battle.
This was during the second wave of breakdancing. I experienced the first wave as well, but I was too little to understand the culture. From spreading out cardboards to keeping PLEDGE in my backpack for lubricating linoleum, this was one of my true teenage passion. I'll provide visual evidence at the end. But alas, i grew out of favor with hip-hop, mostly as a result of new hobby's and experiences. Still however, I am a fan to this day.
One particular note of interest in my recent cultural prowling was promo videos featuring the new kids on the block in hip hop. This being the social media age, the youngsters are all savvy of the technology of promotion. You don't need to fork over big bucks of your advance to do elaborate music videos or smart campaigns, because in essence, you are doing it all the time. Always on twitter, always on instagram, and tumblr, the homies have some form of capture device on them at all times.
It's not hard to come by a 5d, or a Red Scarlett, or a slew of semi-professional camera's these days (and hell, what is professional anyways anymore). Everybody, including your momma has them. And shit, on a 1080 screen, an iphone is good to go. So, everybody is shooting something all the time. Now you just package that extra footage into "promo's" that end up going on youtube as a way to diversify.
The flow of content is a stream. And to not participate is death to an up and comer. In fact, it's death to everybody except a very select few who've managed to keep those giant, top down, middle of America careers of yesteryear.
One thing that struck me odd about these promos is that the subject of the piece often, if not incessantly, would be looking down at their phones. This was a very common thread. It's jarring watching videos of somebody who spends an inordinate amount of time looking down at their phones. They're not even fully present through the prism of something that is trying to capture them in the present. And this becomes self reflexive. You ask, "do I do that, because, it looks really dumb". In fact, you might. I know I'm guilty at times.
Further, the subjects would often use their phones to capture another fleeting moment through a picture (instagram) or video. Always looking at a screen, or through a screen. Contextualizing everything through pixel.s
Now, granted I was looking mostly at Hip Hop promos because that's where pop culture is now. I don't think there are 17 year old rock and roll kids getting 6 million dollar 360 deals. And they too probably spend time staring into the abyss of electronics. It's an age thing. It's a culture thing. But, my guess is that there is more to this story.
Which brings me to my theory that our phones, through technology serve some strange psychological need to stare at moving things through light, while desperately trying to hoard moments, and store them away; basically trying to capture a life that's always slipping away, ungraspable.
There is no doubt that our second life in digitalism will be our preferable choice in a very near future. It's an extremely effective opioid, creating the distance from the dirt and grime of reality. You can break up a relationship without direct conflict. You can insult someone without consequence; you can be a sexist, a misogynistic creep, all without even a cold stare from the other end. However, it comes with many consequences. Chief among them, loneliness and detachment. That might not sound so bad, but when added up, the results are terrifying.
And with all that talk; here is some breakdancing in a living room, featuring your's truly and some ol school homies.
released 04 February 2014
Produced by Amir Motlagh
Instrumentation, Programing, Vocals & Lyrics by Amir Motlagh
Samples: Love & Fashion - Paper City
Art & Max Sessions at The Matrix
Mix: Amir Motlagh
Mastering: Hans DeKline (Sound Bites Dog)
Art Direction: Amir Motlagh, Ali Sabet
Illustration: Ali Sabet
Publishing & Copyrights 2014 Amir Motlagh / ANIMALS / MIRS
The second single from the upcoming Mirs, MEAT ON YOUR LONELY BONEZ ep, will be available
on Jan 7th, 2014.
Since this is a concept EP, I struggled with the idea of letting them go as singles, but, whatever brah.
Come back in a week and pick it up at your favorite digital store. The whole EP will be available late Jan or early Feb. However, i might release another single from it, which will spread the whole item out. Yes, it is made to play in order, but, I am just one man, in a world full of men. And women are a whole lot better then men B.
Here is the cover art, done in collaboration with my man man, Ali Sabet. Check out the rest of his world here.