Planet Ocean, tepees, etc
Hi, my love.
Wild day here in Hamsterdance. The big news is that this morning I was a little sad and José quietly pointed out that Snorremans, our beloved cat frond who you have read about in previous ttalks, actually lives in a house.
(He is not, in fact, an absurdly friendly garbage eating vagabond of these mean amsterdamian streets.)
(He is, in fact, a truly fancy boy.)
Yes, there he was this morning in a window right across the street. Sitting, in all of his regal cat-mustached excellence, atop a pile of books in the most luxurious Dutch reading room I’ve ever seen.
Snorremans inspired us to get out there and be non-garbage eating friendly beings ourselves. Two of our friends had a negative reaction to the booster shot, so we started the day delivering mint pea soup (josé’s absolute genius creation), orange juice and challah to them. This was all fine and good, but in true Dutch fashion the weather just couldn’t get it together.
One minute Amsterdam was a picture postcard version of itself.
The next minute brought such vicious rain, snow or hail that there were no photos to really do it justice and only awnings to hide under while uncontrollably laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Many of the minutes the sky was both sunny and absurdly rainy. José always reminds me that in Japan this weather phenomenon is called a fox’s wedding, which, like most Japanese phrases, is the sweetest thing on planet earth.
And boy oh boy is Amsterdam big on fox’s weddings. Have your umbrella on hand, because I don’t care how sunny you might think it looks: The foxes are headed for matrimony.
(I mean do you, Amsterdam.)
(I relate so strongly to this mood swing-y weather you’re having.)
(I bet you wish you weren’t locked down, too.)
But here we are. In another year of locked down Holland. Home now, in a lull after our weekly call with my stepdaughter. The house is an absolute mess because the song we discussed last week is still in flux (sorry, jj!). I’m much closer than last week, but the final lines are eluding me.
To solve this I looked, of course, to 7th grade. Because that’s what one does.
(Walk with me for a bit.)
In 7th grade my school had a grade wide scholastic … event called Planet Ocean.
(Event is the correct word.)
Planet Ocean was, other than my first pair of epic low rise early 2000s flares, the highlight of middle school. I don’t have too many memories about it other than the fact that the whole school became ocean obsessed for a couple of months. The 12 year olds were suddenly the stars of that tiny building, and you got a chance to show off in a way that little suburban me craved.
(There weren’t stages for me yet.)
(My only shot at singing was a school rendition of Fiddler on the Roof where I was cast as, no lie, “Jewish Mama #5” and promptly quit because principles, you know?! [Far from the home I love or NOTHING])
So I was ready to fucking flex while talking about sea anemones and clownfish.
Planet Ocean involved six months of research and two full scale presentations for both our science and English class. The pinnacle final was a visual representation and research paper.
I began to learn everything there was to know about sea anemones and clownfish. I learned about sessile behavior. I learned about symbiotic relationships. I left little Hastings on Hudson and went to the fracking Bryant Park NYC library to get higher level research. I used all of my 12 year old energy as if I were the world’s tiniest, awkwardest, braces clad microbiologist.
I had the visual presentation down (sea anemones kind of do the work for you there). But when it came to the paper, I was still stuck.
Oh god, my love. Little over dramatic 12 year old me felt every bit of the exhaustion that comes in that stage. Due to the double assignment I wasn’t just a failed braces clad microbiologist, I was also a failed braces clad writer, a hormone fueled tragedy I simply couldn’t abide. It felt, to be honest, not unlike this song does 20 years later: I was majorly hitting a wall well before I knew what that was.
I had already suffered the brutal humiliation of Jewish Mama #5.
I was not going to fuck up my Planet Ocean moment.
So measures were taken. I don’t know if it was my dad’s idea or mine (likely his), but at some point an enormous sheet of paper appeared. I printed out what I had of the Planet Ocean paper, cut out every sentence individually, and put each of them on velcro. It was extra, but led to a brilliant aha moment: In that process of visualization, of being able to move the sentences tactically, the whole paper opened up to me.
Success! Let the records show that I was the only kid in 7th grade that year that got an A+ in both the science and the English parts of the assignment.
(Smug, I know.)
(About middle school, no less!)
But you have to understand that I was just a truly bad kid. I was always in trouble, always in the principle’s office, always trying to wriggle my way out of something. So the little wins, the handful of teachers who actually gave a fuck about me, are few, far between and sacred.
And when, this week, the song we discussed still wasn’t working, some 7th grade part of me knew it was time to get cracking.
On an extremely large piece of paper.
Amsterdam is completely locked down right now, and I have to hand it to the Dutch -I’ve seen coronavirus response in 15 countries and nobody really locks down the way the Dutch do. Every single store except for banks and grocery stores is closed, and thus getting my large paper becomes much more difficult than it already would be as an expat in a foreign city.
Enter Vlieger Paper, my favorite store around. We called and found out that it would take longer, but you could come to the front entrance of Vlieger, describe to the man in front what you wanted, and just … see what happened.
So we braved the line.
We waited in temperate Dutch weather (Fox weddings or not I will never stop loving you, Holland, for your 50 degree “winters”)
And eventually got to the front, where the guy did indeed come to the door and oblige when asked for “the largest piece of paper you have, and some sort of restickable tape.”
Success, my love.
We got home and I made quick work. I have to say, for the absolute picture of adult ADHD that I am and all the chaos it brings, I am very grateful for the hyperfocus symptom at moments.
At some point bobi José brought snacks and I started to move the new lyrics to the keyboard.
Planet Ocean 2.0.
The board was enormously helpful (thanks, dad or past me!) and got the song almost there. Those sentences we talked about last week, the ones I won’t let through until they are the exact right ones, were so much easier to construct and finesse when they could be moved.
A breath of fresh air, to be sure. But the chorus has still been driving me up the walls all week. I ended up giving up at some point and thankfully my bobi was there to hilariously capture it.
Since then I’ve been chiseling away a sentence at a time and repeatedly melting down, equally dramatically every time. I’ve been moody like the Dutch weather, yelling, probably scaring my neighbors, breaking down in teensy and/or large fox wedding bouts of tears and triumphs.
But I haven’t given up. I’m still on it and even turned to my instagram, getting about a hundred absolutely beautiful suggestions, many of whom inspired me and brought me closer to the finish line.
I know that by tomorrow I’ll have this song done. And that’s really great news, because we finally, finally have our home recording studio set up.
Truly truly truly excellent. First let’s talk equipment: Our studio got a major upgrade this month, in the form of an apollo twin x. Without getting too technical with you, let’s just say: I’ve been producing and recording my vocals into the equivalent of a nice, trusty, volvo.
Then JJ said, “Perhaps we should invest in a Mercedes for our studio.”
We bought it while in New York, and here are two angles of our absolute elation upon its entrance into our lives.
With the beauteous interface in the home, it was time to connect and see how it worked. As Sennheiser artists we thankfully have the stunning Neumann TLM103 on hand, and now that we have the Apollo, I’m essentially recording with the same equipment the real deal studio used on my first album, “I Am Here.”
Just one major deal difference: Equipment or not, our beauteous little Amsterdamian nest is … very much not a studio.
This is fine when it comes to guitars, keys, synths, things that can go into the interface directly. But in order to record vocals you need quite a bit of isolation. In most studios this comes in the form of a vocal booth, often soundproofed with glorious foam walls.
In our first iteration of a Washington Heights home studio, we realized that our daughter’s toy tepee was, hilariously, a pretty solid sound dupe for an isolation booth. This initially was a joke, but when we sent the tepee vocals over to our co-producer, he enthusiastically co-signed.
And that, my love, is how we learned that a kid’s tepee is actually a glorious thing to have on hand. We bought a new one here in Amsterdam this week, and the results have been equally excellent.
Bonus points: It is very cozy to lie down in when I have my intermittent meltdowns!
We’re so close.
The song’s lyrics are almost done.
The vocal tepee is set up.
Tomorrow I’ll bake a sour cherry pie for my bbs at the cafe down the street (word travels fast when you’re a pie deliverer!)
And then I’ll get to work on recording the final vocals.
One step closer to this album being in your hands and ears, and nothing could make me happier than typing that sentence out.
(Not even a double A+.)
Thank you for helping me through it all, for sending encouragement and for being…
(Who, who, who decided to put a horse in this video?!)
In any event. You truly are Tina Turner level simply the best. More next week.
With infinite love,