Bedroom Sessions

Bedroom Sessions is a collection of songs recorded (strangely enough) from my bedroom. It has these great plaster walls the lend to some natural echo and the lighting just looks kind of cool. I’ve enjoyed the progress from the first video and will continue to add new episodes here as I record them. You can also go straight to my YouTube channel for the complete playlist.


BS009: “Needing/Getting” and “Want And Able” OKGo and Jack White Covers

I’ve had the idea to play these two songs back to back for a while, but I’m just now getting around to it. If “Needing/Getting” isn’t the flip side of “Want and Able” then they are at least facets on the same gömböc.

I’d like to be more zen and want fewer things. By and large, I don’t feel like I want as much in terms of material possessions. I want more time away from work and the means to do more things creatively. I had originally hoped to get around to recording these songs prior to the New Year, but being busy at work has made less time for me to do the things I want at home.

For some reason I feel like I should be getting all philosophical here, but I’ll let the performance speak for itself. True to the rest of the Bedroom Sessions videos, this hasn’t been super rehearsed and I’ve made a few edits to polish up the performance.

Is this the last of the Bedroom Sessions? I’m not sure. It feels like a natural end, but given that I’m naming this Episode 9, maybe I’ll come up with a tenth one to round out the series.


BS008: “Butterfly” Weezer Cover

December 7, 2020: Today I was talking to my sister, Heather, and I said I don’t know why I’m bothering to record all these dumb videos.

“Because you enjoy doing it?”

No. Not always.

“Because sometimes you enjoy it and you have to keep at it to stay in practice?”

Meh. Maybe?

It all kind of started as something to do when the lockdown started. It was a way to stay busy. Maybe I feel like if I can entertain people a little that I have an obligation to do so? Maybe I feel like people will like me more if I put on a good enough show? Sometimes I feel like playing music helps me keep my emotions in check, but why do I have to share it? Is there something cathartic about leaving something on the stage? I don’t feel like I’m one who requires a lot of attention from other people, but I do like knowing that some amount of people have enjoyed these videos. Anyway, I kind of hate to do two sad songs in a row, but this one is in the can from Sunday. There is a piece of phlegm in my lungs that is making it difficult to record a happier song today, plus I have to go in to work early (and I have not slept enough).


BS007: “Blank” The Smashing Pumpkins Cover

December 6, 2020: Friday I tried to exorcise my demons by playing happy music, getting things done around the house, and generally being productive and doing things I enjoy. And it worked. For a little while. As I practiced a few songs on Saturday I wasn’t sure what song(s) I would try to record today. Today ended up being a day for sad bastard songs.

This is one I learned several years ago. At the height of my open mic days in the early 2000s, Billy Corgan was still a popular local figure here in the greater Chicagoland area. Everyone once in a while some smartass would request a Pumpkins song due to the similarly in our haircuts. I always wanted that to happen so that I could start playing this song. It’s a B-side on the “Tonight, Tonight” single and only the most diehard Pumpkins fans are likely to know it. And that’s kind of why I don’t feel too badly about including a second Pumpkins song in this collection of recordings.

I tried something different with the mix this time around and included some of the audio that the camera picked up. It gives an interesting effect.

Apologies to Scott Lucas for wearing a Local H t-shirt while I cover The Smashing Pumpkins (I don’t believe he is a fan).


BS006: “My Arm” Original Song by John Everett Morton

December 4, 2020: It’s Friday morning and I am in a no good rotten mood. Most of it is stress. Stress at work. Stress with people. Stress about the future and the present. There hasn’t been a day in the last two weeks that I got through without my left eye twitching. There’s probably some amount of people that I could call/text/e-mail and whine to, but none of them have any more answers than I do.

So today I am attempting to practice something called Opposite Action. As I understand it, it means you engage in activities that are contrary to the feelings you’re having. So while my instinct today was to cover a dreary song by Car Seat Headrest, I’m instead playing this original tune that I was pretty excited to write this fall. This acoustic version is maybe less upbeat than the previous video version and it is also down a full step, but to me it is still a happy song even if it does express some amount longing.

After this I’m going to try to put on some happy music, clean the house a bit, and maybe this afternoon I’ll pay a man to install another shiny piece of metal in my face. No sad songs. No drugs or alcohol. No naps when I don’t really need a nap. Wish me luck.

*For the first time in these Bedroom Sessions I made an awkward edit in this song to improve the flow. You’ll see it if you look carefully.

Edit: You can also see the original version here.


BS005: “Boy’s Best Friend” White Stripes Cover

December 3, 2020: And I’m back with Episode 5. Of all the songs I’ve covered so far, this is maybe the one that deviates the least from the original. There’s no piano, I didn’t tune my guitar to open D, and I’m not using a slide, but maybe someday.

Also, I must confess that I used a heavier hand in making the mix to kind of help some of the dynamic shortcomings in the performance. This doesn’t help that my guitar doesn’t terribly like Drop D tuning, but The White Stripes were never about being perfectly in tune. This definitely falls under the wabi-sabi category.

There aren’t many words to this song and it’s not very long, but I love it so much that I was singing along to it as I was editing the video. It was inevitable that I was going to cover a White Stripes song, but I’m a little surprised it was this one. I’m also surprised how seldom it occurs to me to play it. I forget it is in the repertoire because I assume everyone wants to hear “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” instead.


BS004: “Creep” Radiohead Cover

December 1, 2020: NSFW F-bomb version, with apologies to my grandmothers and my sister’s impressionable children.

I don’t mind being a weirdo, in fact, most days I’m kind of proud to be a weirdo. However, I don’t much care for feeling like a creep. Most of the time I know better and I know that the people who really know me also know better. And yet there have been a number of times this year where I have been made to feel like a creep. Much of it is the fault of my perspective. Is perspective the word? Or maybe letting others’ perspective reflect back at me? Continuing…

This 90s hit never got too stale for me and when I’m having one of those failure kind of days, it feels good to spend five minutes belting this out. The trick is to not spend too long dwelling on that feeling and move on.

This was recorded November 28, 2020 along with the first three songs of these sessions I have shared. I was going to save it for later, but I don’t have another ready and this takes the pressure off me this morning. Maybe this is as far as these sessions will go, but I hope not. The look is interesting to me.

Anyway, last night was one of those no good failure kind of nights that made me come home and wonder how I’ve let my life get this way. So here’s “Creep”. I’ll try and get my sulking done within the hour.


BS003: “Intro/Stop Sign”: Original Songs by John Everett Morton

November 30, 2020: “Intro/Stop Sign.” This pair of original songs is how I very often kickoff a setlist for a live gig. Although they were written months apart, they just seemed to go well together and “Intro” is short enough that it seems odd to shoehorn in between any other two songs. If I were recording an album, these would be the first two tracks. Am I recording an album? No. Not yet.


BS002: “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” Wilco Cover

November 29, 2020: Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” is the song I’ve covered for the second mic’ed up tune of the Bedroom Sessions. The studio version that leads off the 2002 album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, is so layered with instruments that it borders on cacophony. Beneath those layers are just three little chords. I’ve delighted in belting this out at a number of house parties and open mics. If I opt not to include it in a set, it is likely because I’ve chosen another wonderful Wilco tune.


BS001: “Thirty-Three” The Smashing Pumpkins Cover

November 28, 2020: The first of my mic’ed up Bedroom Sessions songs. A couple of my friends, and I’m sure some of you, are going through some hard times and this feels like a “hard times” song to me.

Notes on a couple of my favorite lyrics: “Deep in thought I forgive everyone” – I feel like that is important to remember whether you need to be forgiven or do some forgiving.

“And for a moment I lose myself wrapped up in the pleasures of the world.” – The moments are fleeting and who knows how many you’ll get, so enjoy them while you can.

I tweak the mix a bit, but there’s no pitch correction or anything like that. These Bedroom Sessions songs will be imperfect, but honest.


BS000: “Waltz #2 (XO)” Elliott Smith Cover

This video is more like “proof of concept”. Shown mostly for posterity, it’s the precursor to the Bedroom Sessions recordings. No audio mixing or video editing. Shot with my Moto G Stylus phone in my bedroom.

Edit: Not enough practicing beforehand, either.

Zenith Camera Silkscreen Print

In April 2016 I produced this 2-color print of a Zenith 3M Russian 35mm camera. I bought the camera from a store in Ukraine because I thought it looked interesting and I might end up getting into some old school analog photography. As if I had time for another creative pursuit.

The finished print before signing and numbering.

The Zenith Camera print is one of few prints I have done using a photograph as the basis for the print. The Silo also used a photographic reference for making the films, but the films were all hand inked. The films for the Zenith Camera were modified digitally in the computer and printed. But just as much work went into staging the photograph.

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Printable Notebook Rulings

While Vari-Dot is the only truly original notebook ruling that I have developed to date, I have put together some other rulings available for download and personal use.

Here they are:

Why Download Notebook Rulings?

Basic lined paper doesn’t cost so much, but if you’ve ever had to shop for graph paper or other specialty paper, you know it can get expensive quickly. These PDFs allow you to try a new ruling by printing just a few sheets at home. If you use a economical inkjet printer, you may well be able to print these notebook rulings more affordably than you can buy them. I accomplish this by using refillable ink cartridges.

The Guitar Chord/Tab ruling at work for a song that I am learning to play
The Guitar Chord/Tab ruling at work for a song that I am learning to play

Extra Special Notebook Rulings

  • Vari-Dot: The only ruling of my own design, I’ve already written about it at some length here. The original goal was for design work, but it can be used for regular old writing and for anything for which regular grid paper can be used.
  • Guitar Tab/Chord: For guitar players trying to write or learn a song. Version 1 has space for a line a lyrics under the guitar tab. Version 2 has space for two lines of lyrics under each set of guitar tab. Both have empty chord diagrams up at the top and a line for the song name. The Guitar Tab without chords has a dashed line between the guitar tab sections also for lyrics. All versions are (hopefully) in a gray dark enough to see, but light enough that pencil on top of it shows clearly.
  • Seyès: The notebook ruling unique to France, named for the Parisian librarian who invented it. I prefer the Extra Light version. Both feature a red margin for good measure.

What’s Next?

As time permits some rulings may become available in larger or different sizes. I’ve already considered notebook rulings for practicing kanji and Russian cursive. Currently all the rulings have the Neat & Keen logo and website address in small print on the bottom of the page. In the future I may have premium “unbranded” versions available for a small fee. I’ve also flirted with the idea of customized stationery and letterhead in both a digital and physical format.

Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to stay updated when new rulings and other things happen on this site.

Handmade Notebooks

More hand sewn notebooks with screen printed covers

After the my initial development of Vari-Dot ruling, I looked into having notebooks produced for sale. Many papers were tested. I reached out to binders and printers for quotes on getting various forms of notebooks produced. The prospect of spending $5000 or more on notebooks in this age of tablets and smartwatches was daunting. Instead I turned to prototyping small batch handmade notebooks.

I went on to purchase some modest supplies to craft the books myself. I have sold a few and given many away. Most have been prototypes, but I still kind of dream of producing a line of consistent handmade notebooks with quality heavy paper.

Operator Notebooks

While I was brainstorming ideas for a line of notebooks, the name Operator is the one that stuck out the most. We all operate something whether it is a motor vehicle, buttons in an elevator, or electric hairdryer.

A logo design for a possible run of Operator notebooks.

One of my favorite logo designs features a spoke wheel on a faux marbled pattern that hearkens back to the classic composition notebook. The wheel has a classic 36-spoke design, but erroneously (and intentionally) features an extra 37th spoke. (I turned 37 the year I was working on this project and I’m also fond of prime numbers.)

Operator jam page from my own Vari-Dot notebook

Obstacles

Dozens of mock ups have been done. Part of what has held me back from producing notebooks in this style is that it is challenging with my modest tools to trim books that are the same size and consistently square. The idea that someone might purchase two books that would sit next to each other on a shelf where one is a millimeter taller than the other does not sit well with me..

Furthermore, the amount of time that goes into putting together a handmade notebook is substantial. In order to bring that time down, I have some jigs and fixtures in mind. I still won’t be able to compete on price with notebook makers that churn out millions of books from factories overseas, but I can offer something unique and niche to discriminating stationery nerds like myself.

Why Notebooks?

Personally, I just like the feel of a good pen or pencil scribbling across a quality sheet of paper. However, beyond the aesthetics or tactile sensation, studies show that writing and taking notes by hand promote a better kind of learning.

Vari-Dot Ruling

Early Vari-Dot design from 2017
Early Vari-Dot design from 2017

In the fall of 2017 I began to research an alternative notebook ruling for designers. I gave it the name Vari-Dot because it consists of dots varying in size and shape. This Vari-Dot ruling has been used in some handmade notebooks and from time to time. It has also been available as a download and printed stationery form.

What’s In A Ruling?

Different rulings. Clockwise from upper left: Graph/grid, dot grid, reticle, and Seyes

The most common rulings we see in the US are simple blue lined notebook paper found in wide and college rule. However, stationery nerds like myself know there are a wide variety of options for writing, drawing, and designing. The examples above are all still based on a pretty basic vertical or horizontal purpose. There are logarithmic rulings for graphs and isometric rulings for designing things in a sort of topographical 3D space.

Vari-dot is a hybrid ruling I developed for the purpose of layout design where the harsh lines of a grid ruling are too intrusive, but the sparse dots of dot-grid are not quite enough. It looks like this:

6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil
6mm Vari-Dot ruling with the different dots circled in pencil

Why Vari-Dot?

The goal was that when working from a distance the dots would be small enough and light enough that they would blend into the background. When working closer to the paper, they become useful guides for designing things to scale. Each kind of dot (corner, side, center) is slightly different in size. The color of dot I most prefer has a CMYK value of 15, 15, 15, 0, but I have printed it as dark as 19, 19, 19, 0. [CMYK stands for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black/keyline.]

Some versions of Vari-Dot have square and triangle shaped dots along the perimeter of the page. These marks denote where quarter, third, and halfway marks fall on the page. Earliest versions of the Vari-Dot ruling were spaced at a quarter inch (5.35mm), but more recently I have found that 6mm is more comfortable to work with.

Vari-Dot is just one of the rulings that has been offered in my handmade notebooks. In the future there will be downloads available for those who wish to try it for themselves.

Custom Built Sofa

Preliminary design for a mid century modern inspired box sofa
Mid-centruy modern inspired custom built sofa design

Earlier this year I made a joke that I “wasn’t good enough” for a full size sofa (as I currently have a modest loveseat). I could go out and buy one tomorrow, but all the sofas in my budget are “just okay.” And who can afford a custom built sofa? From time to time I have searched “DIY Sofa” with mixed results.

Then I found something promising.

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“DLZ” – TV On The Radio Cover

Cover of “DLZ” by TV On The Radio

“DLZ” is a song by the band TV On The Radio. It appears on their third album, Dear Science and was written by Tunde Adebimpe. I don’t own any rights to this song. Go buy some merch from the band.

Originally uploaded to YouTube on March 6, 2018. Watch a version with out embedded ads over at Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/139635786084557/videos/1541251109256344/

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Unintended Hiatus

It’s 4p.m. on Monday afternoon. I have to be at my regular job in four hours for a 10-hour shift, but I’ve been wrestling with some things and I’m going to sort out a couple thoughts regarding this side hustle of mine.

A week or two ago I started writing this. I’ve been getting e-mails about my Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificate needing renewing. It will only be $10 or so, but it was a reminder of how much I have neglected Neat & Keen this year and the question is: What do I want to accomplish here?

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