New music project announcement! As of May 2023, I began recording demos for my next solo EP, to be titled “Lost Songs for Lost Singers” and to be released…sometime tbd later this year (but it will be this year!). Since I always need projects to do, and usually like to switch up the kinds of projects I do to stay inspired, I’ve paused work on a potential second Nua Gazetteer in favor of making new music. However, Nua’s still part of this project—because these are all songs “written” by my beloved D&D bard character. I can totally explain why, but let’s do some background first.

I’ve been thinking about doing this project ever since acquiring my custom mandocello in late 2020—specifically as a new way of getting inspired when songwriting. That doesn’t mean I’ve actually learned to play the thing very well, but even a simple tuning change (the mando strings are C-G-D-A, doubled, instead of my bass guitar’s E-A-D-G) has helped me create riffs and tunes in keys I wouldn’t have done on the bass. Speaking of bass, that was one of my project parameters, too—for the sake of novelty and variety, there’s no bass guitar on these recordings.

The Recordings

So far, I’ve got four backing tracks (of a planned seven) “completed,” which in this case means unmixed, unmastered, and (as of yet) without vocals. The instrumentation is spare (only mandocello and various hand percussion like shakers, sleigh bells, and tambourine), but that’s deceptive in terms of how recording has actually happened. Since the mandocello strings are doubled (and huge), they’re still kinda shredding my fingers when I play chords or even riffs—so none of these tracks are actual performances. They’re all pieced together from separate takes of separate bits. This EP will definitely be an achievement of editing, perhaps even more so than “Shipping” from 2020 or “Rotten Miracles” from 2015.

Like most of my previous songwriting, the arrangements and compositions aren’t complicated, and all seven tunes began with lyrics. I finished the first four—one lyric each month—from January through April 2023, and then three more from June through August. While writing was still a challenge akin to solving a puzzle or tinkering until a lyric (or line, or meter, or even individual word) is “just right,” writing these seven lyrics was unlike most of my other past lyrics in that none of them were stressful or cathartic or draining. None of these are Big Emotional Statements. At least not personally. Sort of.

The Lost Singer

To explain that, I’ll have to get in to the EP’s “concept” (because yes, EPs can totally have concepts). It’s not coincidental that the mandocello and “D&D bard stuff” is involved. See, before and during quarantine in 2020, my brother launched his homebrew D&D campaign, in which I played a bard named Cannor Coth, the Lost Singer (Google Translate told me “canwr coll” is “lost singer” in Welsh so I ran with it). He’s an unreliable narrator based on a mishmash of people both real and fictional, but of course he’s also a bit of me as well (albeit more well-traveled and with a full head of hair). Every D&D player does this with their characters, because that makes them easier to play, but it’s not coincidental that I enjoy playing a pretentious, self-centered performer who’s not as awesome as he thinks he is.

When I started my own “Nua” campaign later in 2020, Cannor was the NPC role I assumed as game-master—he’s a font of world lore, information, and contacts to help my players get started in a totally unfamiliar homebrew world. That world soon became big enough to fill a whole gazetteer, but with only a little of Cannor’s backstory affecting the game story’s plot. That was all well and good—my players’ characters were the heroes, so their stories mattered most and Cannor eventually (and rightly) faded into the background. However, he’s got a story too, and instead of spinning up an epic fantasy novel trilogy or whatever, I decided to do it in seven songs—because he’s a bard, and catchy tunes of tall tales carry just as much weight as other ways of storytelling.

The Lost Songs

That’s the roundabout way of (kinda) explaining the “Lost Songs for Lost Singers” title. The seven songs correspond to significant events and Nua world locations in his story: the “beginning, middle, and end” (tracks 1, 4, and 7) as well as cardinal directions (because of course I’ve gotta have map stuff involved) of “west, south, east, and north” (tracks 2, 3, 5, and 6). In order, the songs are: “Mark My Words” (a breezy, racing, major-key strummer), “Hindsight” (a sort-of bhangra-blues stomper), “Time in the Sun” (a bit of sun-sprinkled bossa-nova noir) “Equipoise” (a short-and-sweet swinger), “Hostage to Fortune” (a C-minor 6/8 riff-monster), “Exile’s End” (a mellower piece still in development), and “Under Heaven, Over Hell” (a murder-ballad/carnival-style waltz).

I’ve actually tried to not mire the lyrics too much in (what will be for most listeners) an impenetrable fantasy-world mostly in my own mind, so there aren’t many explicit connections between the tunes and the bard himself. They’re my songs and I’m gonna sing them, of course. But the idea here is that he could conceivably do that too, because (conveniently!) like me, Cannor’s also an over-ambitious amateur who wasn’t a good enough player to cover other people’s songs, so he created his own. Both of us have predictably since been condemned to gig-less obscurity, but that’s fine. We both hate booking shows. But for those listeners who might enjoy such tales, fear not: Cannor has convinced one of his pals, Ruy (a cartographer who I play in a different campaign), to write substantial liner notes.

Album Covers and Magic Numbers

This has gone long for a simple project announcement, so I’ll wrap it up with a few notes about superficial stuff. First: artwork! Many of the other music projects I’ve created or been part of have been partially inspired by the album covers I’ve designed for them. Invariably these concepts always juice further creativity and often give me the extra mental push to see the project through to completion. That’s always been the case with my solo stuff, and the “Lost Songs” art is no different. The cover boy is Cannor himself, and the inner pages will probably show several of the other characters in his story—all created and retouched by me in 2022 and 2023. Plenty of maps will help illustrate the locations too.

Finally, the silly reason I’ve got a “before the end of 2023” release deadline for this project involves two reductive but fun numbers games. Check this out: if I include my two “Low Tide” releases, my non-band solo releases have happened in 1999, 2008, 2015, and 2020—that’s a descending year span of 9, then 7, and then 5. A 2023 release for this new project would continue the pattern to 3. And then there’s this nugget: between my two “Low Tide” releases there are 21 songs (5 and 16 respectively). My 3 solo EPs will all have 7 songs each, which also totals 21. 21 plus 21 is 42, which as any sci-fi/fantasy nerd knows, is the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

So I’ve really gotta finish and release this stuff before the end of the year! Stay tuned for updates via the @mybandrockspod Instagram feed.