Winds of Change

From the Alleged Artist, Wednesday Edition:

So I had previously noted that Tastiera touches on a wide range of topics beyond the usual “matters of the heart” stuff, and then I’ve proceeded to present three straight songs about “matters of the heart” stuff. I promise the next entry will indeed be quite different.

In the mean time, after the release of “The Full Spectrum”, I went through a whirlwind relationship that ended in my first major heartbreak. There were more to come of course, leading eventually across space and time to my happiest of happy places today. But the ups and downs of late 1988 basically became the basis for the first half of the next Tastiera album, “Pink Noise”, released in February 1989.

Those few “in the know” about Tastiera back then probably think I’m going to post a song called “Eighty-eight Keys”. But in my opinion, that was neither the best nor the most poignant of the songs here, and it was also frankly rather groveling. Instead, I present to you an ode to the right to be sad for a little while: “Blue Zephyr”.

Composed when I was 19, this is one of the more raw emotional songs I’ve done, and for that reason it means a little extra to me. The distinctive bass drum and synth bass sequence are also departures from what I’ve generally done with Tastiera, so that was kind of a cool approach to explore. And I brought back the Casio CZ-101 for one last spin to round out the instrumental sounds on “Pink Noise” in general, including the “lead guitar” sound on “Blue Zephyr”. For the remix and remaster, I was able to successfully apply Izotope’s RX10 noise reduction plug-in (forgot to mention that actually worked on “Carousel” as well), combined with the UVR vocal isolation tool to give that part of the track some better EQ.

Velvet Cockroach did some evolving on the way to becoming Tastiera, but largely from a technical and lyrical standpoint. From “Pink Noise” onward, Tastiera evolved with me.

Keyboards

More from the Alleged Artist:

I have always felt that the piano was the easiest musical instrument to play, because all of the possible notes are sitting there right in front of you, and you can’t accidentally play something that’s in between two notes like you can on so many other instruments. You still have to keep it tuned of course, but it’s not going to require adjustments anywhere near as often as a guitar. And you still have to practice of course, but again, you can look at the notes on the page and the notes on the piano, and eventually you’ll get pretty good at it.

As discussed previously, I was introduced to keyboards at a pretty young age:

So the piano was a natural next step (thanks again Mom and Dad), as were the series of keyboard synths that came after. One of those was the Casio CZ-101. Mini-sized keys but somewhat programmable – I first used it on the “Beyond Words” instrumental album in 1987, and kept using it all the way through the “Infinite Regression” algorithm in 1991. The simulated instruments weren’t necessarily all that more realistic than what I had from the earlier Casio, but they were fuller and brought a unique new sound. The “power guitar” synth sound on “Echo of the Rockies” came from the CZ-101. That was a go-to sound on most Tastiera songs during that time period. In fact, to avoid having to bounce recordings multiple times, I would often play one instrument on a given keyboard and then switch patches to the “power guitar” in real time – a transition you can hear multiple times on just about every song back then.

In mid 1988, my friend Matt fairly asked for me to give his Yamaha keyboard back after borrowing it for almost a year. That was also the summer where I decided to switch my main focus moving forward from Velvet Cockroach to Tastiera. The second half of “A Velvet Cockroach Christmas” was completed in December 1988, officially ending the Velvet Cockroach era (never to return?….). Meanwhile, Tastiera ramped up, and in September of 1988, “The Full Spectrum” was recorded entirely with the CZ-101 and the Roland TR-505 drum machine.

Tastiera songs have always stretched across a broad range of topics beyond the usual good and bad experiences with love. My favorite band growing up was Rush, and they took a similar approach, so that probably had some influence on me. I also frankly didn’t get a whole lot of experience with love or even dating back then, so anytime I did touch on that subject, it would be more in general terms, and poorly informed. In the summer of 1988, I wrote some lyrics to a song called “Carousel” along those lines, and one of my friends who *did* have more experience with the whole love and dating thing thought it was really good. Hopefully the music did it justice:

I usually tended to put the songs I thought would be the best up front on my albums – no big industry secret there, but it did make more difference back when cassette tapes were a primary medium. “Carousel” was a “deep cut” in that sense, but it probably is my favorite song from that album today. I feel like the synth brass sound captures the imagery I was looking for. For this updated version, I used UVR to isolate the vocals and given them a little better EQ for clarity. I also edited one note where I was originally a little more off-key. It’s ridiculous what one can do with sound editing these days, although the technology that can make me a really good singer is still in the future somewhere. But trust me, most of the song has been left alone otherwise – not bad for what was basically still a toy keyboard recorded 36 years ago.

Transition

From the Alleged Artist:

After “End of the Line” in early 1984, Velvet Cockroach began exploring all kinds of different ways to improve its sound, probably devoting more effort to that than to the actual music itself. I was able to crank out over a hundred songs over the course of just a few years, overwhelmingly with silly and uncomplicated lyrics. In the summer of 1986, I generated four albums in four months. This should give you some idea how saturated my social calendar was. While some of my friends were undoubtedly experimenting with mind-altering substances, I was experimenting with different keyboards, different boom boxes for bouncing tracks, different microphones and contraptions for creating the illusion of reverb, and eventually even a couple of dedicated drum machines. There was a lot more failure than success in finding a sound I liked. Along the way, my life changed irreversibly in early 1987. My father passed away far too young, leaving my mom and me reeling for quite some time. I graduated high school that spring, and got to play a song I wrote for my graduating class at the rehearsal. One of my teachers, Sharon Babb, had a truck with two pianos rolled onto the football field so my friend Tony and I could play it. As one classmate noted, “don’t quit your day job.”

As I restarted life a bit with college, living close enough that I could stay at home with mom for a few more years, I began to lean on music more than ever as an emotional release, and in so doing realized I wanted to get a bit more serious than Velvet Cockroach had been to that point. I even decided for a short while to just do instrumental work, so I put together an album called “Beyond Words”, under the new name of “Tastiera”. What is “Tastiera”? I had a little music dictionary, which I believe my piano teacher had originally given me, and one day I fumbled across a page that told me “tastiera” is Italian for “keyboard”. Coincidentally, in the summer of 1987, I had a job at an IBM warehouse processing returns, and sure enough the boxes with keyboards in them had the word in several languages, “tastiera” included. The little dictionary was right! I really liked the way “Beyond Words” turned out, but somehow I managed to lose the original tape, which I regret to this day. I did remember enough from a few of the songs that they became the basis for future Tastiera songs many years later, and in fact one of those is on “Origin Story Volume 2”.

In the fall of 1987, I switched back to Velvet Cockroach, and generated three more albums plus the first half of “A Velvet Cockroach Christmas”. Earlier that year, I had used my savings to buy a Roland TR-505 drum machine, which would remain through the rest of the songs you’ll hear on “Origin Story Volume 1”. Couple that with a Yamaha keyboard I borrowed from my friend Matt, and a really cool effects box I borrowed from my friend Eric, and I went to town on the new experimentation. The pinnacle all of that is embodied in the last non-holiday-related Velvet Cockroach album, “Is Anyone Listening?”, from the spring of 1988. “Echo of the Rockies” was the lead track:

Echo of the Rockies, originally recorded in early 1988, remastered in 2024.

There is way too much delay on the vocals, but somehow it fits with the delay on some of the instrumentation, the completely out-of-place sitar, and the overly punchy drums. There are two drawn-out vocal notes where I cranked the delay to maximum during the note, e.g., “don’t cry” before the final chorus sequence. This was a stretch of albums where I was woefully limited on the microphones and effects I could afford, so the vocals had a really muffled feel to them overall. I tried using the tools I talked about in the last post to isolate and improve the EQ on the vocals, but it just introduced too many artifacts, probably due in large part to my original overuse of the delay effect. So other than Logic’s Mastering Assistant/EQ and Audacity compression, you’re hearing something pretty close to the original on this one.

A toast, to Velvet Cockroach. <clink!>

How it All Began

The Alleged Artist, in a manner inconsistent with everything else he does, has been hard at work lately. From the sounds and odors emanating from within the studio in which we have locked him, we estimate the new album “13” will be completed around the end of May. And yes, that’s this year.

In the mean time, we have decided to package up twenty of the best (a relative term) songs ever composed and recorded by the Alleged Artist, fully remastered and in many cases somewhat remixed. These represent the most faithful rendition of the evolution of Tastiera prior to the album “Stratospheric” in 2007. We have encapsulated them into a two volume set entitled “Origin Story”, with cover art pulled from Pixabay (please note the credit in the caption): the “Pillars of Creation” in the Eagle Nebula.

Image by SAIF 4 from Pixabay

We will be posting roughly one song per day from “Origin Story”; you can find each one on the “Listen” page. We have also asked the Alleged Artist for his thoughts on each song, which you can find as new posts here.

Enjoy! Or at least, don’t let it ruin your day. And now to the Alleged Artist…

About a month after the last post on this site, my beloved mother passed away, almost reaching the age of 93. My equally beloved father passed away back in 1987, 3 days before my 18th birthday. So the last handful of months have been the first ones in my life without either one of them physically here in this world. The reason I’m leading with this is that I might never have gotten into music without their encouragement, dating all the way back to the photo on the “About” page. My parents bought me an upright piano at the age of 7, and 10 years of lessons from my amazing teacher, Gail Clark. At some point a few years into that stretch, I started composing my own music, albeit incredibly simple-minded.

In 1982, we went on one of our road trips to San Francisco to visit my mom’s relatives, and my cousin had a little Casio keyboard, which I spent most of my free time playing while we were there. My mom saw how much I liked it, so she surprised me with my own Casio for my next birthday in 1983. It didn’t take long before I started building my own recording studio, which consisted of the Casio, an old microphone probably designed for dictating notes, and an evolving series of cassette tape players and recorders. I searched the non-Internet world for ideas for a name, and decided “Cockroach” would be in it, since cockroaches were likely to survive the nuclear war that everybody assumed was right around the corner. I appended “Velvet” merely because I liked how it sounded, and Velvet Cockroach was born.

From 1983 to 1988, there were over a dozen Velvet Cockroach albums, with a cult following of maybe a dozen people. There was even “A Velvet Cockroach Christmas”, which may or may not find its way to this website someday. I still have most of the music on cassette tapes, including the album “End of the Line” from the beginning of 1984, when I was 14 years old. One of the songs on that album was “Total Lobotomy”, and there couldn’t be a better example of the maturity and intellectual complexity of Velvet Cockroach’s early years. Centered around Casio’s “Tango” theme, the song is fairly self-explanatory, and too long by approximately its length. But this is how Tastiera came to be, so there is no other reasonable choice for track 1 of “Origin Story”:

Total Lobotomy (originally recorded in 1984, remixed and remastered in 2004)

“Origin Story” tries to preserve most of these songs in their original form as best possible, making minor tweaks where necessary to make it all flow. One thing that was incredibly prominent in 1980’s Velvet Cockroach and Tastiera was tape hiss. I experimented with various ways to deal with that back then, including of course (for those who remember) Dolby noise reduction, but I felt like it did more harm than good. The modern tools at my disposal blow me away by comparison. My software of choice these days is Apple’s Logic Pro, augmented by Izotope’s Music Production Suite. The latter includes a very good hiss removal plug-in, but even it couldn’t do more good than harm on the first couple of “Origin Story” songs, including “Total Lobotomy”.

Another tool I have found extremely useful during the production of “Origin Story” is the Ultimate Vocal Remover, which does a really incredible job of separating vocals from instruments in audio files. The original “Total Lobotomy” had nothing even close to any kind of effects on the vocals, but with the tools available today, I was able to isolate the vocals, improve their EQ a little, and add a simple delay effect. Logic’s Mastering Assistant and Linear Phase EQ got me into the “Red Zone”, and some hard compression using Audacity got it past the goal line. Welp, that’s all for now, until the next song, which I hear I have to talk about tomorrow apparently.

Enjoy the Silence

Greetings. We here at Tastiera Steak Sauce and Towing, in between devising ways to defeat our chief competitor A1, have been prodding the Alleged Artist for some time now to give us any slightest bit of a hint on when we might see more product generated by his increasingly unprolific musical mind.

Well, earlier this morning, we might have heard some sort of murmur or squeak from the other side of his locked-from-the-other-side door. Or we may have heard the neighbor’s bidet. Either way we take this as a sign that something truly unremarkable may be on its way. We will keep you posted if course, but according to the distribution of grounds at the bottom of our coffee, the new album “13” is still in the works, and a sort of “least not greatest hits” collection may follow at some point.

In the mean time, please enjoy imagining Jeopardy music (we can’t post it here or we’ll get sued again).

Best regards, The Management

Atmosphere and Powers of Ten

In 2005, Tastiera released “A Little to the Left”, and a friend at the time commented on the production quality of a few key songs being surprisingly good. He also contrasted it with a few other songs that were unsurprisingly not good. So the Alleged Artist made a commitment from that point forward not to cut any more corners just to get something out the door. That meant subsequent albums took a bit more time to produce, but the Alleged Artist still managed to crank out two in the next three years: “Stratospheric” in 2007 and “Decades” in 2008. The complete collection from each is now available on the Listen Page, and now you can judge the production quality for yourself. Only positive feedback accepted. There, that should keep the comment section quiet.

There Were Dragons

Well.

It’s been an even longer time since the last post than it was since the post before that. I think I got that sentence right.

Anyhoo, obviously a few things got in the way of the new album, this blog, and the Broncos’ return to glory. Can’t do much about the last one, but this is an attempt to infuse Tastiera with new momentum as we approach 2023.

In the last post, we completed the online repository of “Plato’s Fun Factory”, the last complete album by the Alleged Artist. So why not start this very next post, mere tens of months later, with the one before that?  And so, without further fanfare, please check out the full list of songs from “Hear Bead Rag Guns” on the “Listen” page.

Seven of these songs had already been up for quite some time, so we won’t belabor their stories here (although maybe we’ll talk about one or two in future posts). The three new ones each have an interesting tint though:

  1. “In Our Own Image” can probably best be viewed as the prequel to “God’s Eyes” on “Plato’s Fun Factory”.
  2. “63 Seconds of Zen” didn’t have a name until the song itself was complete, so the Alleged Artist knew how many seconds the “zen” part in the middle lasted.
  3. And “Bubbles” is probably the most poignant in the here and now. The Alleged Artist had both a fantastically memorable and emotional sine wave of a year in 2022, and in the days leading into 2023 has gained a newfound appreciation for the sanctity and fragility of life, which is what “Bubbles” is all about. We now can’t wait to see what comes out of that crazy mind in 2023 and beyond.

Speaking of which, we expect to be generating more activity on this blog in the coming days, weeks, and months, as “13” is finally completed. Stay tuned!

Fun with Dodecahedrons

It’s been a long hiatus since our last post. We’d love to blame the pandemic, but that should have made it easier to post something, not harder. So yeah, basically we just suck.

Nevertheless, here we are, and we are excited to announce the full posting of Tastiera’s last album, Plato Fun Factory, to the website! You can find the songs on the “Listen” page.

The interesting shape in the album cover art is a dodecahedron – one of the five Platonic solids, which represent ideal form in the universe. For more details, please catch yourself up on Plato’s blog (which is admittedly getting kind of stale).

This album came together during a transformative time in the Alleged Artist’s life. The transition is best summed up in the opening track, “Never Know”. Three of the next four tracks get political (“Sold Out”, “Partisan Me”, and “Dusk to Dawn”), with a love song in the middle (“Joyride”, now one of the Alleged Artist’s personal faves). The remainder of the album goes into reflection (“Walk in the Park”), silly fun (“Afrodite”), the Alleged Artist’s late brother (“King of Reseda”), faith and love (“God’s Eyes”), and an over the top techno-pop tribute to Carl Sagan (“Starstuff”).

In other words, this album jumps all over the place, which is what any Tastiera aficionado should have come to expect by now. Enjoy!

13, Song #2: This Here Now

When Tastiera started in 1988, the Alleged Artist was able to bang out an album every year, primarily because he had no life and was therefore home most of the time. Now he has a very full life, but he’s home most of the time because of a stupid virus.

A huge part of his very full life is his wife, and being around her more lately has apparently also made him appreciate her even more. Hence the newest song from Tastiera: This Here Now. Cherish the moment, friends.

LYRICS

Thirty-some years ago
Who could have known
That I would see your face whenever
I pick up my phone

Thirty less years ago
I was alone and okay
Now I want to see your face
For the rest of my days

And this here now is all I need

We are gonna fly
Never gonna die

Twenty-some weeks ago
Who could have guessed
That all of humanity
Would be put to this test

Twenty less weeks ago
We still don’t know what to do
But wherever we go from here
I’m happy to go there with you

So much at stake today
And we’ll do our part
There’s nothing I cannot do
With you in my heart

And this here now is all I need

We are gonna fly
Never gonna die
Put your hand in mine
Let’s see what we can find

We are gonna fly
Never gonna die
We are gonna fly
Never gonna die

We are gonna fly
Never gonna die
We are gonna fly
Never gonna die

Recap of the Recap of the Recap

In 2017, celebrating its 30th year of cacophony, Tastiera started a 30-week recap of its musical history with a different song posted each week. You can see those posts on the Tastiera Facebook page. The journey was completed and itself recapped in 2018. So this is a recap of the recap of the recap.

With the exception of one Tastiera song that didn’t go into an album and a few more songs from Tastiera’s alter-ego Velvet Cockroach (both categories to be addressed in a future post here), all of the “Tastiera Turns 30” songs have now been posted to the “Listen” page of this site.

Keep calm and warble on.

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