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 But over the years, hardware aged and died, hard drives failed, software became outdated, and eventually I didn’t have the means to record at home anymore.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
Look who’s back on the blogosphere! (A.K.A. Me)
After returning from a two-week long family vacation to Virginia last month, I immediately bought the domain to ‘roeknowsbest.com’. I’m not entirely sure why, but it was one of the first things I did. I felt frantic, anxious, and disorganized when I came home. Something about reality hitting you after a vacation – and two weeks can sometimes seem like two months. Yikes! Time!
So I bought the damn thing, perhaps in an attempt to control a small part of my life, the other part being 99% destined to Fate by way of Serendipity somehow…I don’t know, I’m still figuring it all out.
So within the past two years, I haven’t posted anything (aside from a short poem) on Roe Knows Best since my Nonna’s death, which occurred literally two years ago today.
Needless to say, I really didn’t feel like writing anymore after that.
Also since her passing, everything I’ve attempted to bake or cook has been an absolute disaster; My heart’s not in it anymore. It doesn’t bring me the joy it used to.
But I don’t know…My mind whirrs and stirs and sings sometimes and I got the feel-good notion that, “Hey, maybe I should start up that blog again!”. It felt good to think the thought and imagine things to write about and laugh about and share with you all.
And today, being the two-year anniversary, seemed fitting.
Honestly, I think a large part of rebooting Roe Knows Best had to do with reading Wil Wheaton’s Just A Geek a few months ago. It just inspired me so much to get out there and do the thing. As my first real celebrity crush and I being a major Trek nerd, Wil Wheaton pulls a lot of weight with me. The book really hit me harder than I thought it would; I related to it on an astonishing level. And it’s so funny/interesting because when I was a tween and early teen (’02-’05), I would go to wilwheaton.net on a regular basis, reading his blog. Until I read the book, I forgot all about those years; Those years you had to seek out your websites and your fandoms – Before news feeds and social media! I even recall reading the first chapter or so of Just A Geek from his site. (Also in the acknowledgements at the end he says he listened to The Get Up Kids and Saves The Day while writing/editing the book?! How freakin’ cool is that?!) It’s definitely a book that’s changed my life.
So some other things going on…
- I’m aiming to graduate with a second Bachelor’s degree in May 2018. Internships and job interviews still make me nervous as hell though. Every day is a balancing act between cynicism and optimism.
- I’m currently (and happily) employed.
- I’ve met so many cool people within the past two years, it’s frankly unbelievable to me.
- More or less, I feel like I’m in a pretty good mental space. Granted, I always guilt-trip myself for still living at home and not having life figured out at 26, but I mostly try not to entertain the thought or when I do, give the ol’ middle finger to voice in my brain that guilt-trips me out. (Also my parents have been extremely kind, sweet, understanding, and supportive and seem to be very much against my self-guilt tripping)
- I’ve been reading A LOT more. WOW. Check me out on goodreads.
- I recently got into and finished all of Gilmore Girls – DEAR.LORD. everyday I wake up with an explosion of feels regarding this series. Will someone please sit down and talk with me about the Gilmore greatness?!
- I also wrote a pretty dope paper on Captain Janeway last year and presented it TWICE (once at the NJCA conference and the other time at the Montclair State University Student Symposium), so I now consider myself to be a Janeway authority. When am I meeting Kate Mulgrew? For real though – It is one of the best papers I’ve ever written and I am incredibly proud of it. Hell, if you wanna read it, I’ll send it to ya!
Some goals I’d like to achieve with this BLOG REBOOT (#RoeKnowsBest2020):
- Sharing songs/playlists/albums I’m currently into (in hopes that you’ll check them out too).
- Sharing feelings and, perhaps at times, things I’m going through, openly and honestly. Mental health has become increasingly important to me as I’ve gotten older (especially after my own minor mental breakdown after the presidential election) and I think the best way to overcome certain obstacles is to ultimately know that we’re not alone. And if you’re reading this, I want you to know that you’re not alone. If you know me, you know I usually project myself to the outside world as a positive, happy-go-lucky person and I am. But I’m also undeniably human and I experience an array of emotions including but not limited to intense doubt, anxiety, and at times depression. Life is freakin’ hard, but it is also pretty amazing and incredible and I think it’s worth seeing through.
- I’m still writing songs, but home recording became so damn exhausting and Pro Tools is expensive. (Additionally, everyday I send up a prayer up to Baby Jesus that my 2009 Macbook (that definitely needs a new battery and hard drive and that I’m more than qualified to install/replace but it’s falling apart physically, so it’s like why bother?) doesn’t die on me. I’m afraid to install a document on this thing, nevermind a full-fledged DAW. Also, it only has 4 GB of RAM; It’s a miracle I recorded anything at all on it. But really, I’m just waiting for the thing to die. It’s a mess. But with that said – I’d really like to start recording more videos of me performing songs again, whether they be originals or covers. If anyone has a local studio hook up, let me know! I’m definitely overdue to record a song in a professional space.
- Engaging you all as readers/friends/fans/fam. If you’ve made it this far down the post, you are so great. Thank you. One of the coolest things in life is communicating and connecting and again – affirming that we are not alone; Community and acceptance and validation are so important (at least to me!). Feel free to join my email list, which you should be able to do so on the upper-right hand side of the page. That way you’ll get a email every time I post something new. 🙂
Visually the blog is in pretty terrible shape. I plan to change up the theme, fix up the menu, rewrite my About page, I don’t know…that’s all I can really think of for now. Any suggestions to spruce up the page? Let me know! I wanna make it pretty/visually appealing.
Thank you all again SO MUCH for tuning in.
Here’s to creating more RKB content for you to enjoy!
I’m putting on my thinking cap…and ONWARD!
When I first changed the spelling of my nickname from “Ro” to “Roe”, there was a legitimate reason behind it.
Though somewhat silly, I felt like “Ro” was too naked. There wasn’t enough there. Aesthetically, there weren’t enough letters. It wasn’t balanced enough for me. That’s why I added the “E” at the end.
This was middle school decision. But also helped make my signature much more original – and fun!
All my life I’ve been “Roe” when performing solo because it’s my name, it’s who I am…and always have been. But similar to the middle school decision I made, it’s never seemed like enough. I’ve always felt like there should be more there.
When I started this blog in the summer of 2013, it was for reasons stated on my About page but also so that in time I could hopefully become an authority on something, even if it was on my own life and experiences. I’ve been taught, that in this Internet-swamped day and age, that is an important concept to comprehend in order to get through a lot of the white noise out there. Roe Knows Best seemed like an appropriate title to achieve that, at least superficially.
I’m trying to plan big and legitimate things regarding my music career (or lack thereof – har, har, har!), and one day I’d like to be able to perform my songs with a band, not just solo, and would like to have an all-encompassing title in order to do that. So in a similar fashion of Into It. Over It., I’ve decided to change the name of all my musical projects henceforth to Roe Knows Best. And in time, I hope to have this blog serve as the main hub and website for all future music endeavors.
And that ends my minor PSA. Thanks, everyone! Stay tuned for more music.