Creativity in Constraints

In the eight months since my last blog entry, there's been a lot of Hi Crime related events I should have been writing about. Let's catch up then, shall we?

Hi Crime in its natural state can be a slow moving animal. It took a while to write, record & mix the songs on our first EP in a way we were satisfied with. To offset that slow process, we find it helpful to set hard deadlines that motivate us to work harder and spend our time more efficiently. When we performed on Art Zone with Nancy Guppy last year, we had promised in advance to perform our new song, "Japan", and make that song available as a studio recording the date it aired. Well, we taped our performance two weeks before airing, and didn't have the studio recording ready yet. Like kids in school waiting to do their paper until the night before it's due, we finished mixing the song, photographing the single cover, and editing it all together the morning of our broadcast date. To be clear, we weren’t procrastinating. We were trying to perfect it and were running out of time, FAST! Had we not had the stress of that hard deadline, I'm sure it would have taken many more weeks for us to reach that finish point we were forced into. What often happens though, is the longer you work on something trying to perfect it, you second guess and stray from the original idea. The new changes made weaken everything you’ve done up to that point, because they don’t reflect your original intent, the new ideas inherently represent uncertainty. Deadlines are a very helpful constraint that ultimately help us get the results we want, because they trap you into making what you have work. Epiphanies emerge that wouldn’t have if you didn’t have to critically examine all aspects of the work. When you have endless time and options, that creativity is hindered. You can't think outside the box when the box isn’t there.

We took a similar approach with finishing our album The Kids Still Got It. To inspire and motivate ourselves, we booked our album release show a few weeks before we even began recording. Pressures on.

We had every limitation imaginable going into the process of creating this album. Time is a constraint (self-imposed in this case). Money is a constraint (always). Even talent and knowledge were limitations we found ourselves against. We had to cut songs we loved because we didn't know how to capture the right energy and vibe in the studio. Some songs were intended to have additional orchestra and horn arrangements, and while we got some of that on "Fallacies", we just didn't know how to properly do that across all the tracks, so we experimented in other ways, notably on synths and keyboards. None of us are great at keys, so trying to bang out cool intricate chords, melodies, and rhythms on keys wasn't really gonna be that easy from us. But with our limited synth skills, we were able to record multiple simple patterns and combine those into beautiful, chaotic, and hopefully unique sounding collages.

Just listen to all of the isolated synth tracks on 'Wait" attached below, and you'll see what I mean. Things aren't always in time, and it gets messy very fast, but I think it’s more interesting to listen to than if we played a typical synthesizer part. Or maybe we’re making excuses for lacking musicianship, I dunno. You be the judge.

Back to that looming deadline for our album release show: Things got ambitious in the studio very quickly. We kept experimenting with new arrangements, more vocal harmonies, and anything we could think to add to these songs. The songs got so big it became clear we couldn't mix this ourselves and keep the sound fidelity where we want it to be. Just four weeks from our deadline we didn't have a mixer hired, and we were still writing and recording parts for the album. Two weeks before the release date we wrote and recorded the final lyrics for "Channel Surfing". Amazingly, we found the great talents of mixing engineer Luke Vander Pol, and mastering engineer Matt Ogaz who were able to clean up our studio experimentation into the perfect recordings we wanted in the time frame, and just two days before the release date we had the physical CD's packaged and ready to go. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.

The stress we carried near the end was significant. But this was positive stress. We had to get face to face with every weakness we encountered, and discover a method to subvert those problems. We learned a tremendous amount from this process that will inform us as we create more new music, and though it was taxing, it was incredibly rewarding and I can’t wait to do it again.

- Mitch
Hi Crime