2016: A Daspetey Year in Review

This year will go down in the history books as one of the stinkiest. We lost so many incredible influential artists; people that had shaped so many of our childhoods. There was a lot of bad crap that 2016 dumped on us. But there was also a lot of good.

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Stuff that I consumed:

Top 5 Movies of 2016

1. Arrival
2. Moana
3. Rogue one
4. Captain America: Civil War
5. The Jungle Book

It was generally a great year for movies. There are a bunch that didn't make my tiny list. And the ones that did make it are varied in style and execution. And I loved them all.

Top 5 Television Shows that I discovered this year

1. Westworld
2. Game of Thrones
3. Glitch
4. Stranger Things
5. The Leftovers

Television continually surprises me. Amazon and Netflix are helping to raise the bar of quality. I didn't even have room to list Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. I had known that I would love Game of Thrones for a while, but I kept putting it off. Finally, I got HBO in order to watch Westworld, and found myself fitting six seasons of Game of Thrones in between.

Top 5 Albums that I discovered this year

1. Elements by Kina Grannis
2. The Clearing by Bowerbirds
3. A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
4. Blackstar by David Bowie
5. Blue by Morgan James (Joni Mitchell cover album)

Again, not all of these albums came out this year, but these are the ones that I happened to discover this year. Truly beautiful music. I love that new artists and music continually come out, but there's always an amazing rabbit hole of past music to be unearthed.

Games

1. Skyrim
2. Fallout Shelter
3. Batman Arkham VR
4. Eagle Flight VR
5. Codenames

While not technically a 2016 game, Skyrim got remastered this year. As one of my favorite games of all time, it was an easy decision to pre-order and ultimately devote another 200+ hours to it. I love last year's Fallout 4 as well and I recently found an iOS version called Fallout Shelter. It's become my go-to game while waiting in line at the post office.

I'm super excited for what VR games continue to come out for the PS4. The ones I've played this year feel like tech demos. But Batman and Eagle Flight stood out as unique and enjoyable full experiences. While Codenames isn't a videogame, I listed it here because it's one of my new favorite boardgames.

Gadgets and toys

1. Hover camera
2. Celestron microscope
3. GoPro hero 5
4. iPhone 7 plus
5. PSVR

This has been a great year for gadgets. The dual camera made the iPhone 7 plus a tremendous tool for creating content. I've had a lot of fun exploring the hidden microscopic world around my apartment with my new Celestron microscope. The GoPro Hero 5 is the best GoPro by far. It's voice activated, 4k, and waterproof without a case. It has single button operation which makes catching moments effortless.

Two things that almost made the list for this year were the GoPro Karma drone, and the DJI Mavik drone. The Karma got recalled, and the Mavik isn't available to order until late January. So I suspect that those two will make next year's list.

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Stuff that I made

Music

I think of all the stuff I made this year, I'm proudest of my debut solo album, Diamondhead. It was a project I started last year on a trip to Hawaii. While on the island, I wrote and demoed five songs from my hotel room. Later when I got back home to Vegas, I enlisted my friend Bill Zappia to produce the tracks properly. Along the way, we wrote a sixth track together. It took many months longer than either of us expected, but by September, my first solo album was released.

During the early months of the year I also finished writing and demoing my next two albums, Forest and Budapest, both of which I'm hoping to record and release in 2017. I've got a lot of music planned for the next few years, and I'm really quite excited about all of it. But Diamondhead is special to me for being the first project in this new phase of my life.

Art

I made a ton of artwork related to the album, Diamondhead. In fact most of the art I made this year is tied to Diamondhead in some way. But I did manage to make a bunch of new zombie pieces. I also explored some new styles that I hope to continue exploring in the new year.

Video

I started off the year making a few vlogs that I hoped would become an ongoing series. But in my classic sprint-then-abandon style, I slowed way down. I have a bunch that I filmed, that I still have to edit. And I've been filming bits of new ones. I made a lyric video for the first track on Diamondhead, Back To You. I also made a ton of experimental pieces in Blender and After Effects, a lot of which I've yet to post. I learned a lot by messing around with both of those programs.

I finally relaunched my own website, daspetey.com, to be a better hub for all the things I make. There's a bunch of art and music up there now, and I hope to continually add to it. I'm also excited about blogging and vlogging more frequently.

 

2017: The shape of things to come

I have a tendency to get down on myself whenever I drop the ball on something. I get sad at my inability to be consistent. But I've realized recently that nothing good comes from that kind of negativity. I'd still drop the ball, but now I'd be hindered by the negative energy. That's no way to make progress. So I've decided to not do that anymore.

2017 will be a year of creating new habits. Small ones. Sustainable ones. Habits that encourage positivity and celebration. There's a lot I want to do next year, and I don't want to get in my own way.

Making the Back to You Lyric Video

I’ve made a few dozen lyric videos over the years. Some for No More Kings, some for Neil's other project Dirt Poor Robins. Some were freelance projects for other bands. But this is my first one for my solo project. This was the first one that no one would have to sign off on. This was just for me.

I usually approach lyric videos thinking of the overall mood. And even further I try to decide on a color scheme early on. Then I consider the energy. Is the piece moody and cinematic? Is it fast and kinetic?

For Back to You, I wanted to reference the night skyline of Honolulu. Each night I would sit on the balcony and stare out over the ocean. The other hotels along the beach created an interesting pattern of lit windows. Through my camera they made a beautiful de-focused bokeh effect. I’ve always been a sucker for that look. There were interesting color variations in the lights. Ambers and greens. Pale yellows. Distant reds of brake lights.

So the main look of the video was based on some night footage I took. I spent a lot of time recreating that look in After Effects. I wanted to be able to move around through that world in ways that I couldn't from my balcony.

I tried a few things that didn't quite work out how I intended. I printed out some frames of a night timelapse I filmed. Then I wet the paper and scanned them back in. It created an interesting jitter, but it wasn't quite what I was going for.

City timelapse printed, wet and re-scanned.

City timelapse printed, wet and re-scanned.

Then I tried stacking repeated layers of the footage and offsetting their position in z-space, to give a sense of depth and parallax motion. That worked pretty well. But still not exactly what I had envisioned.

That's half the battle for me when I work on creative things. There's always a balance between being an architect and a gardener. The architect sees the project in his head, and spends his time arranging the pieces to match that image. The gardener plants seeds of ideas all over and then tends them, pruning the bad ones and cultivating the good ones. I’ve always been more of a gardener with art and music. And sometimes that's at odds when I have a specific image or idea I’m trying to capture.

So this project, like so many projects, was a back and forth between having an idea that I wanted to realize, and giving myself time and permission to play and experiment. And I think I’m getting better at balancing that stuff.

Once I had a couple different shots to choose from, I started creating new shots faking motion from still images. For these I took images I had shot on my Canon Rebel t3i and applied some turbulence in After Effects. Then I added a camera lens blur on top. An interesting thing happened with the combination of those effects. The camera lens blur created bokeh based on the light spots in the still, but when the image warped and moved, so did the appearance and placement of the bokeh. This was exactly what I was hoping for.

Next time I’ll talk a little bit about my favorite shots from the video and how I made them.

500 CDs on my floor

Yesterday I received my order of CDs from the printer. All 500 of them. And they look gorgeous! I'm so happy with them! I've always had a small obsession with seeing my artwork in print, especially in multiple quantities. I'm not sure why. And this was no exception. The colors turned out beautifully bright and vibrant. And they all came in fun little plastic sheaths. Super fun. It actually makes me excited to record another album right away!
 

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diamondhead tracklisting and a new blip

I finalized the tracklisting for Diamondhead a little while ago. So I thought I'd share it here. Even though the songs aren't 100% finished, it's fun for me to view this EP as a finished project. That's one of the reasons I like to mockup the artwork early, and play with versions of the track order.
 

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Along those same lines I've been working on little video Blips for the album. They've been super fun to play with. It's tricky, because while Bill is working on the music production and arranging, I only have my rough demos to work from. I'm looking forward to when the album is closer to being finished and I can make more blips from the final audio.
 

Printing out books of notes

In the book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron talks about getting three pages of writing done as soon as you wake up. She calls these "morning pages". I've never been confused for being a morning person, so I do my daily writing at odd times, usually at 2am. But nonetheless, a routine of writing three pages of free-form text is a great habit.

Recently, I've started collecting my daily writings into books, separated by year. I then print them out using various print-on-demand services. When they arrive in the mail, I am gleeful. There's something really magical about getting a book in the mail, and it's full of words that you wrote. But then, I've always loved seeing my stuff in print, whether it's artwork, text, or even a manufactured CD digi-pack of my music.

But the real benefit of this process, for me, is what I can do next. Having a printed book allows me to review old ideas, categorize, rank and sort them into useful bits. I can highlight or underline. I can make new notes on the old notes. It's somehow easier to work through all this stuff in a book than it is as pixels on my screen.

I talk a little more about this in today's vlog.

If you haven't tired it, I encourage you to. Here are some resources below, that I use:

  • 750words.com: an online version of morning pages. it even tracks your streaks!
  • Lulu.com: a solid print-on-demand service, especially or books of text.

Diamondhead Blips begin

Years ago Radiohead released a bunch of super cool video Blips for their album Kid A. I immediately fell in love with the idea of these tiny music video clips and thought "someday, I want to make a bunch of these." For some reason, I never got around to doing that for No More Kings (I have a bunch of unfinished ones on my old hard-drive). So now that I'm about to release my first solo album, I decided to make a bunch of them.

As my friend Bill Zappia is furiously working on arrangements and production for the album, I decided to use bits of my demos as the soundclips for my first few blips. I'm hoping to switch over to using the final audio once I get that from Bill, but for now I actually like using this early stuff.

 

Diamondhead

I announced my new solo album today! It will be my first solo album, and it's called Diamondhead. It's a six-song EP that I wrote while in my hotel room on a trip to Hawaii. I'm really very excited to release it and find out what people think of it!

I sketched quite a bit while I was there, and I filmed a ton. As I've been working on the album more aggressively these past few weeks, I've been drawing more. I've been peeking through the footage I shot to find interesting Hawaii stuff to draw. I did this watercolor and pen and ink drawing of the Diamondhead crater itself. I'm thinking of using it for the album cover, and then maybe the long version for the wraparound digipack.
 

I've still got a ton of work left to do before the album is ready to go, but I'm super excited about it all. It will be my first solo album. It's quite different from anything I've done with No More Kings. It's a lot moodier and more electronic. There's some dance stuff, there's some introspective stuff. There's even an instrumental track, which I'm sure is surprising to a lot of people since I'm primarily a vocalist.

All in all, I can't wait to be able to share more of it.

A couple covers

For some reason I've had Katy Perry's Dark Horse stuck in my head for a few days now. So I decided to cover it. I thought it'd be fun to slow it down and make it a bit moodier. I think I might do the full song at some point. Maybe when I'm ready to record my first full cover album.

A while ago, I got a new plugin from Tim Exile called Flesh. It's a ridiculously cool plugin, and as I was playing with it I accidentally covered Ben Folds Five!
 

I've done a bunch of covers over the past few years. When I'm ready to make a full-on cover album, I'm sure a bunch of these will end up on it. Check you my YouTube playlist of all my covers so far.
 

the importance of changing location

today i reinforced some discoveries i made years ago about myself. if i am blocked on a project, it's a good idea to start something else. either a new project, or just a small unrelated creative activity. i think that's why i started making break glass lists. things to do in case of a creative emergency.

the other thing was the importance of changing location. i often have a problem of not feeling in the mood to work on something. sometimes grabbing my ipad and going to a burger place can help.


i think a lot of people buy into the myth of inspiration. and few know the truth of simply getting to work. when inspiration does strike, it can be very cool, and it's important to be able to act on it right away, with no barriers. but for the rest of the time, we simply have to work on something.

so these are the things i was reminded of today: the myth of inspiration. the importance of changing location and the benefits of starting something else.