On Wednesday, May 20th, 2020 I released an EP entitled Muscle Memory. In this post, I will discuss the history of it’s inception, as well as its musical influences and meaning.
The story of Muscle Memory begins on Christmas Day, 2017 –
My cousin Alessandra is an incredibly talented drummer, and I’ve always wanted to record music with her. After spending Christmas Day together with our families, at the end of the night we found ourselves chatting, hanging out, sharing songs, and began to talk about recording music together. I knew of a studio near me in Woodland Park, NJ called The Den and decided to reach out. In the past, I wanted to book time, but had always been somewhat trepidatious to bite the bullet, fearful and anxious on both an emotional and financial level. It’s something I had never really done before. But I knew I had these songs I really loved and thought had potential, and I wanted to give them the full studio treatment.
Everything I released as an artist prior to this point (with the exception of one or two tracks) had all been self-recorded from my very humble home recording environment, using a Macbook (with ProTools and/or Logic) and an Mbox Mini. But over the years, hardware aged and died, hard drives failed, software became outdated, and eventually I didn’t have the means to record at home anymore. And at that time, I didn’t have the money to just go out and buy more gear So with that situation in mind, and having already talked to Alessandra, I emailed The Den my most recent recorded material as a point of reference for my sound (These were my Unreleased Demos – which I had recorded in hopes of getting those songs professionally recorded with some musician friends/acquaintances of mine circa 2014-ish?, but those plans fizzled out and never came to fruition). I soon got an email back from Matt Maroulakos, and we set a meeting for the evening of Thursday, January 11th, 2018.
Around this time, I was in my last semester at Montclair State and remember driving over to the studio after work (from my on-campus IT job). The sun having gone done hours before, I remember the crisp, cold air of the night and driving 46 West to the nearby studio, the sky already blue-black and filled with stars blinded by light pollution. The meeting went well and I remember Matt showing me around the studio. We had a good conversation about my influences, the songs I was thinking about recording, and how I wanted my cousin Alessandra to get involved and drum for on the recordings for me. Afterwards, we parted ways and I recall leaving feeling really jazzed and excited about making music.
Over the next few months, it became apparent that because of my and Alessandra’s physical distance (she goes to school in Boston), along with our own busy college schedules, that it was going to be incredibly challenging, if not practically impossible, not just to meet up to record, but to also write and practice these songs. Not knowing any other drummers (and not being a drummer myself), I became focused on others things and kind of forgot all about The Den, chalking it all up to, ‘it wasn’t meant to be’.
At the end of May / beginning of June I got an email from Matt following up. Had I connected with my cousin? How were the songs coming along? I had just graduated Montclair State a few weeks prior and that summer my schedule was ridiculously loaded with me working sometimes five or six days a week. But I started to think about this. Maybe I could make this work, even if just on my days off. Even if Alessandra and I couldn’t collaborate, Matt had given me some info on his drummer friend (the great Dana LaMarca). If I could maybe get him to play on the songs, that is if my songs were good enough at all, I could still do this. I soon sent Matt a voicenote for a song called, “Gotta Get Out” and decided we’d do a one song trial-run to see how it went. We then looped in Dana on email, went back and forth with dates and musical references, and eventually settled on having our first session on Sunday, August 11th. The tracking for “Gotta Get Out” went so well, I soon decided that I wanted to do 4 more songs and self-release a 5 song EP. This is how Muscle Memory was born.
Most of the guitar you hear on Muscle Memory is Matt’s 1996 ES-135 hollowbody Gibson (which I loved playing). “Gotta Get Out” has a little bit of what I like to call my “Franken-Strat” on it (my 2003-4 Fender Squier that’s had a recent-ish setup, with a new input jack, new pickguard, and pickups installed over the years). The acoustic guitar on “Gotta Get Out” was recorded with my 2012 (?) Tanglewood Sundance (which I have now since sold). The beginning acoustic guitar on “I’m Feeling Lost” was recorded with Matt’s Takamine in the control room; I sang the first line through the talkback mic to get that distorted-ish sound. The beginning (and end) acoustic guitar parts were recorded using my Takamine (G-Series) in the space between the live room and the control room.
Bass was recorded using a natural wood, really heavy Fender P-Bass, (also Matt’s), and the primary guitars on “No Wonder She’s Alone” and “All Your Books” were played using my hella-heavy 2018 Gibson Les Paul Traditional, but which I bought for myself (on sale, baby!) over the course of recording this EP. I wanted to do some Jawbreaker-esque / “Condition Oakland”-esque spoken word stuff laid over the solo for “No Wonder She’s Alone” (I was going to use a Janeway monologue from the Star Trek: Voyager episode, “Fair Haven”), but Matt and I ultimately decided against it and I think that was the right choice. That sort of thing could still could happen in the future though, either with another song and/or another piece of dialog. I recorded all the vocals to this EP (perhaps with exception of “Gotta Get Out”) using a Shure SM7B microphone with the lights off in the live room.
We recorded the tracks in the following order: “Gotta Get Out”, “Talk Me Down”, “I’m Feeling Lost”, “All Your Books”, “No Wonder She’s Alone”. It’s amazing to me how much the structure of these songs evolved over the recording process, and how I hadn’t really finished writing the lyrics to “No Wonder” until after we recorded it. A lot of the guitar solos, fills, and bass lines I would figure out on the spot, or write at home and then bring it back for the next session. I almost recorded a song called “A Funeral March”, but decided it wouldn’t be the best fit for the record and that it was a little too rhythmically ambiguous for my first, legit studio recording (imo). Also, Dana absolutely killed it on drums. He went into recording these songs with a recorded voicenote of me singing over an acoustic guitar and nothing else, and a list of song references. That was it. We had one rehearsal for “No Wonder She’s Alone” since the transitions between the sections were a little more complicated than the other songs. Everything else was done on the spot and he basically wrote the parts your hear on the EP in the moment.
Muscle Memory was recorded over the span of a year, between August 2018 and August 2019, all on my days off from work. Matt started mixing in September, and Mike Piacentini began the mastering process soon thereafter. The album’s been done for a few months now, but I chose May 20th to release it because it is the shared birthday of my maternal grandfather and Captain Kathryn Janeway, both whom have shaped my life in a multitude of ways. But perhaps that is topic for another post. 🙂
The term “Muscle Memory” is used when describing the way our bodies and minds remember how to do something over a period time; By repeating that action over and over again, it eventually becomes so second-nature, we don’t even have to think about it anymore – We just do it, we just know how; It’s learning via repetitive motion. It’s a term I found myself saying a lot before and during the course of this recording process. Hell, I still use it now. When I think about all my musical knowledge, self-taught or otherwise, it’s all muscle memory to me.
But then while considering what to title this EP, I began to think about how muscle memory can have a negative connotation too, as in behaviors where we’re constantly unfair to ourselves (or to others). Muscle memory kind of can became this “negative mantra on loop repeatedly” (See I’m Feeling Lost!). When we do this, we risk getting stuck in mentally unhealthy thought patterns and self-sabotage; Negative behavior and negative thoughts can start to feel normal after awhile, dragging us down and effecting our mental state, making us constantly anxious and at times, depressed. If we go through the motions enough times, it can start to feel increasingly difficult to break out of these “prisons of our own design” (see No Wonder She’s Alone). These are things I have struggled with all my life.
But as the great Carl Sagan once said, “We are made of star stuff”. And if that is true, then we as human beings, whose origins start in the stars above, we must then have the power to transcend that negativity and become better somehow. If it’s already in our DNA, it must be ancient history, ancient muscle memory and maybe, just maybe, we can tap into that powerful potential and in turn overcome any trial whether emotional or physical. This is what I attempt every morning when I wake up and get out of bed. This is essentially what I would like the listener to take away from this EP.
These are songs that influenced me, whether rhythmically, sonically, or emotionally. The hyperlinked song titles lead to a Spotify playlist of the referenced tracks listed below:
- “I Could Be With Anyone” – Kevin Devine
- “Feel Like Rain” – Motion City Soundtrack
- “Nothing Left” – John-Allison Weiss
- “She Doesn’t Get It” – The Format
- “Chia-Like, I Shall Grow” – Say Anything
- “Shiksa (Girlfriend)” – Say Anything
- “American Hearts” – Piebald
- “Cemetry Gates” – The Smiths
- “The World Has Turned And Left Me Here” – Weezer
- “Kiss Me” – Sixpence None The Richer
- “Upstate Blues” – Into It. Over It.
- “You & Me & Mt. Hood” – Pet Symmetry
- “The Last Lie I Told” – Saves The Day
- “State Trooper” – Bruce Springsteen
- “Shatter Your Lungs” – The Get Up Kids
- “Capital H” – Motion City Soundtrack
- “It’s Summertime” – The Flaming Lips
- “Midnight: Carroll Street” – Into It. Over It.
- “Atoms Smash” – Weatherbox
- “Scattered” – Green Day
- “Radio Hive” – Weatherbox
- “Connecticut Steps” – Into It. Over It.
- “Kick-Flips” – Weatherbox
- “Ghost Malls” – Weatherbox
- “shoes (the sneaker song) – Oso Oso
- “Let It Happen” – Jimmy Eat World
- “Familiar Theme” – Somos
- “Revelation” -Balance And Composure
- “Permanently Lost” – Somos
- “No Eq” – Into It. Over It.
- “Third Engine” – Saves The Day
- “Wearing The Tie” – The Early November
- “Lives Of Others” – Somos
- “Bastards of Young” – The Replacements
- “Kill” – Jimmy Eat World
- “Take Our Cars Now!” – Saves The Day
- “The Shape of Love to Come” – Say Anything
- “Familiar Theme” – Somos
- “No Amount of Sound” – Into It. Over It.
- “get there (when you’re there)” Oso Oso
- “Call Off The Bells” – The Early November
I’d like to confess that lyrically, this is me at my most vulnerable. There are songs on here that still scare me a little. Aside from the overall intended message of this EP (see above re: Star Stuff), what I hope the listener can glean from listening is that they’re not alone and that it’s okay to feel hopeless and helpless and weird and in-betweenish. Making this EP was an invaluable learning process in terms of recording, writing, feeling, and emoting. I also find that these lyrics can (and will) take on new meanings, especially in how they now exist within the climate of this current pandemic-affected world we now live ourselves in.
Creating this album would not have been possible without the support of my parents and my brother John, as well as the few friends I played this for and sent this to over the course of the recording process. I am so grateful for you all. Also thank you to all the artists listed above for creating wonderful, deep, thought-provoking, and captivating music. You are all my heroes. Creating this piece of art, this document of my life has been an unforgettable experience. Thank you Matt and Dana for your talents, and also for being so incredibly patient and professional. This project would have been impossible without your help and coordination. I’m excited for the future. Thank you for bringing this baby to life.
Guitar, Bass, Vocals – Roe O’Brien
Drums – Dana LaMarca
Xylophone on “No Wonder She’s Alone” – Roe O’Brien
Tambourine on “Gotta Get Out” – Dana LaMarca
Violin on “All Your Books” – Nicole Scorsone
Produced by Matt Maroulakos and Roe O’Brien
Recorded, mixed & engineered by Matt Maroulakos at The Den Recording in Woodland Park, NJ
Additional engineering provided by Shane Furst and Dylan Saraciniello
Mastered by Mike Piacentini
Cover Art by Dominic Sylvester
All songs written by Roe O’Brien