About Diamonds & Donuts (2020):
A proxy for an anonymous benefactor approached me with “an incredible proposition.” The person she worked for, she said, was a fan of the Say Hi catalog and thought I might be able to help in an important psychological matter. “I’m listening,” I replied. The gist of it was that she wanted to commission a series of psychological focus-group experiments that would eventually map and quantify (via synth-pop song) very precise observations about human nature and emotion. No expense would be spared, she said, and I would have access to state of the art facilities, patent-pending technology and a staff of experts in a broad range of scientific specialties. As intrigued as I was, I suggested to the proxy that this might be beyond the scope of my expertise. “Besides,” I added, “certainly there’s a better way to spend the money?” The proxy just shook her head, flatly. In the end, we conducted thirteen experiments over the course of thirteen months, a thing that numerologically fits very well with the fact that this is the thirteenth Say Hi record. Each data-set provided a compelling outline on which to base the lyrical content for thirteen songs, and much of the raw, scientific data was used to mathematically craft the synthesizer sounds and drum-computer rhythms you hear encapsulated within. Oh, and, in case it’s not obvious, the (A) DIAMOND and the (B) DONUT were the two objects found to be most motivational for coaxing honest responses from the focus-group participants. If you’d like to read more about the nitty-gritty of each experiment, I will be posting a new song and details about its corresponding study each week [here]. Here are some of details that have already been revealed:
A MACBOOK PRO TO A NINETIES DELL
It was determined, after some regretfully humorous gaffes, that two articulate individuals locked in anechoic (soundless), stone-walled and windowless chambers could communicate their true emotional states to each other with the same effectiveness as if they were standing face to face. That is to say they COULDN’T. In either scenario. A number of modern, advanced brain-wave-reading, lie-detecting devices were employed, and the outcome proved 100% uniform for all six hundred participants. It wasn’t all bad news though, as my position as chief psychology officer (CPO) afforded me the opportunity to keep certain individuals contained permanently. I’m happy to report that that means that deep beneath the testing site right now are a few dishonest U.S. Senators, the VP of a ‘New Media’ company who insists that ‘Creators’ have very little value in the overall scheme of things, and Ed, the shifty head of the Financing department at a local Subaru dealership. Oops. I guess you should have taken out an extended warranty on freedom, Ed. (LISTEN)
NON-LINEAR TIME VS. MISSHAPEN SPACE
By the time the second psychological study was set to begin, the lab looked like a 1950’s science fiction movie set: wired-electro suction cups, stainless steel and person-sized cylinders filled with neon, Gatorade-colored liquid. We had brainstormed about what it would be like if our lives were not constrained by the linearity of time, but I had no idea we’d be able to actualize such a grotesquely accurate set of tools to pursue our quest for some answers. Could we actually facilitate time travel? We were about to find out. I volunteered to be the first test subject, to test the waters of time and space (as it were) before subjecting the other focus-group participants to any dangers or gremlins in the machine. I surrendered and immersed myself in the weird liquid. A month later, we had found what we were looking for (for the most part) and all of us seemed to agree that the value of the knowledge was more important than the ripples we left behind (surely they had snowballed into something that has altered the fabric of our previously untampered-with existence). Regardless, you can’t always know if and how that stuff rears its ugly head without an omniscient third person narrator. Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy the song, I’m off to go read my Grays Sports Almanac before my siblings and I disappear from this photograph. Just kidding: Back To The Future is fiction and Diamonds & Donuts is real. (LISTEN)
The third experiment of the Diamonds & Donuts sessions was nicknamed “Obsidian” after the volcanic glass that forms when lava cools incredibly fast. A set of 800 focus-group participants were chosen specifically for either their extrovert-ness (and large S-Media friend count or YouTube follow-ship) or for their obvious introvert-ness (those consistently misunderstood by the world). As soon as the subjects entered the lab building and signed the waivers, their phones were taken and they were shuttled away and locked in 800 fabricated “Log Cabins In The Wilderness,” which created the exact experience and sensation of winter hermitage in the middle of a desolate forest. Rations and water were provided, but conspicuously absent was any sort of entertainment, of both the digital or analog variety. There was some debate, prior to the experiment, about whether or not a few paperback novels (perhaps some Murakami?) should be provided, but ultimately it was decided that the study would yield better results if the participants were forced to entertain themselves ‘internally’ (i.e. via imagination alone). We spent 30 days observing each subject via hidden cameras and microphones, and tracking their ‘insanity level’ though a mix of infra-red sensors and pupil-focused artificial intelligence. Of particular note was the fact that, upon being released after the 30 days, exactly 200 of the subjects immediately asked for a pen and paper to write down their creative epiphanies, exactly 200 immediately began running for public office, exactly 200 emerged and immediately (and without comment) punched one of the lab staff in the face and exactly 200 emerged with both their eyes glazed over black and shiny (like obsidian), muttering some kind of gibberish about a mysterious ‘dark lord.’ All in all, I think it was a success! (LISTEN)
WINDSOR KNOTS AND RUFFLES
Sickness bags were strategically placed around the conference room for the fourth Diamonds & Donuts psychological study. See, this one focused on ‘nostalgia,’ and so the bags were for the benefit of both those that found the concept cheesy, as well as those that became physically ill when delving too far into their childhoods. A polite drawing of a cartoonish ‘cloud’ character (with green cheeks and a pillowy hand over his mouth) was offset-printed on the back of the bags, giving them (the bags) a friendly disposition. This was all an effort pushed hard through by the Psychological Janitorial Union, whose members were tired of cleaning up the inevitable vomit produced any time the official title of a study contained the word ‘nostalgia.’ I don’t blame them, really. Regardless, the results of this one were pretty conclusive. The phrase “I’m Happy, But I Miss You” was proven to be the most NOSTALGIC sentence to ever exist, across 98.9% of all known languages, historical and otherwise … I suppose it’s because it evokes guilt, regret, happiness, sadness and contentment all at once. I ran this particular study myself, without the two-way mirrors, because I’ve always had a complicated relationship with nostalgia as well, and, by the end of the month, while I did weep rivers, I’m happy to say I didn’t have to partake in Mr. Cloud Bag at all. (LISTEN)
The premise of this one was simple. A single mobile application was installed on otherwise wiped-clean hand-computers, so that the participants were forced to launch it every time they unlocked the phones. So, like, there wasn’t even Safari or that useless Stocks app. I know ‘forced’ is a strong term to use and, to be fair, they all had the option to NOT unlock the hand-computers at all, but none of the 980 participants chose to exercise that freedom. Anyway, the gist was this: each subject was shown the same rotating twenty pictures of people they knew in real life. Then, regardless of how they felt about the person or that particular picture, they were told to click a ‘heart’ icon that appeared beneath the photo. When they did, their own tally of ‘hearts,’ appearing at the top of the screen increased by one. It was pretty simple and pretty boring when you observed the subjects, analytically, for the first few minutes. HOWEVER, at some point around minute 3 or 4, an amazing thing happened. It was like watching an elegant, complex game of Patty Cake that started slow, but ramped up to warp speed in no time. Time and space would disappear and it became impossible to distract the subjects from hitting those hearts as fast as possible (all the while making sure their own heart count was going up as well). Famous musicians were brought it to perform their hit songs, celebrity chefs would prepare their most iconic savory dishes and lost ancestors were summoned from the dead to converse one last time. But still, nothing could get the clickers to stop and look up from the hand-computers. Perhaps the most interesting thing was that, once the phones were taken away, the real-life versions of the persons in the pictures were brought in, wearing slightly different clothes, and 0 of the 980 participants (a) were able to recognize them and (b) had any interest at all in having a real-life conversation. I suppose you could take this one as an omen for things to come, but, fortunately, the world would have to become a pretty messed up place for something like this to happen outside of the lab. (LISTEN)
CONFETTI XEROX (LET'S GO TEAM)
I will admit, it was hard to make it through study number six of the Diamonds & Donuts experiments without laughing. I knew I needed to be objective, but my interviewees in this one kept regurgitating the same scripted talking points, verbatim. The lies, told by what would otherwise be normal, attractive looking people, made them look cartoonishly deformed. Some of the other psychologists assured me that I wasn’t going crazy, that what I was observing was real. “The Pinocchio Effect,” they said it was called, and it was a thing that happened quite frequently in the psych world. Fortunately, the absurdity of it all ended up making for good lyrical fodder, and I was able to cast these misshapen, opposition party liars as an evil, visiting sports team. Naturally, that makes us the winning home team and I like to think that, come next November (once our ballots are in), all of us will cue our turntables right up to the start of this ragtag, synthesizer-punk rager, hold our fists in the air and shout along at the top of our lungs: “Let’s Go Team, Get ‘Em!” (LISTEN)
You’ve heard of WEREWOLVES, sure. But ever heard of WERETIGERS and WEREUNICORNS? What if I were to tell you that (a) not only do they exist, but that (b) they often exist as one and the same? It was a highlight for me to meet such a creature during one of the psychological studies that would eventually become the Diamonds & Donuts record. As you would expect, the rarity of the breed would make her quite the celebrity. Still, over the course of a number of candid interviews, I was able to learn quite a bit about what it was like for her to navigate the vultures that circle when that level of fame exists. When we first met, I thought that this experiment’s song might end up using some sweeping, reverbed string sections to approximate Gertrude’s majestic nature (she asked that we use a different name to protect her anonymity), but after several meetings, it was clear that her essence begged for some funky duck-synths and crispy drumcomputers instead. With her permission, the song’s lyrics lay out a set of instructions for future TIGER UNICORNS to use while refining their abilities and embracing their majesty. If any of you are out there, and find these instructions helpful, would love to hear from you in the comments sections … And feel free to tag any of your TIGER UNICORN friends! (LISTEN)
HAPPY AS A CLAM
It was not surprising to learn (while conducting the eighth psychology experiment of the Diamonds & Donuts sessions) that what people want, TRULY want, is a clear set of itemized instructions for happiness. It came up time and time again when we spoke to the focus group subjects or studied their hypnotic-induced unconscious ramblings. As unrealistic as it sounded, deep down I wished I could provide them with those instructions. They deserved it. All of them. But as much as I liked to throw pennies at the mall-pond, wishing for a set of superpowers that meant I could help them be happy, all I could do was dream up this song, in which happiness is just a signature away. As always, it’s hard to know what Faustian ramifications lay at the other end of the contract, but that’s something for a different song, some other day. (LISTEN)
JUPITER DEATH BUNNIES
There really isn’t a way to articulate the essence of what, exactly, Jupiter Death Bunnies are without referring to them as a more sinister version of the Keebler elves. The missing sock, the I-could-have-sworn-I-turned-off-the-TV return home, the impersonator-Twitter account revealing embarrassing secrets: ALL THEM. [Tiny evil voices laugh, mockingly]. It wasn’t until the completion of one of the more interesting psych experiments of the Diamonds & Donuts sessions (Number 9? Number 9.) that I finally understood that these shapeshifting tricksters had been responsible for much of the inconvenience I have experienced in life. The study provided participants with microscopic take-home surveillance bugs that stealthily burrow into clothing, and were instructed to go about their normal business. In the end, terabytes of footage was captured of the creatures just, well, messing things up. This song is their story. (LISTEN)
AND THEN SOME MINIATURE GOLFING
It was determined, after countless Diamonds & Donuts interviews and hours of electrode-assisted study, that the saddest experience achievable by a human being is to be jolted awake from the false belief that you’ve truly found your soulmate. Recognizing and accepting loneliness is one thing, but being slapped in the face by it is something entirely different. It’s exactly for this reason that I chose this as the opening track of the new record. They say that “to step willingly into the pit of despair and sleep fetus-like on its soft floor” is the only proper ritual that can truly prepare the listener for the psychological peaks and valleys a Say Hi record will locomotive you through. And so, I tried to make my singing extra world-weary and the synthscape extra psychedelic as the song’s narrator tells the tragic story of a poor soul who discovers he’s living in the friendzone. (LISTEN)
BALLERINA, BALLERINA, BALLERINA
The eleventh psychology experiment for the Diamonds & Donuts sessions was a doozy. I hadn’t expected all of the focus group Ballerinas to show up in their full Ballerina gear. And yet, there I was, in my white doctor’s coat, sitting across from what would end up being a total of 128 pairs of ribbon-ed pointe shoes. In a sense, this made the work easier, as the study involved a scientifically-refined version of the Aura Photography that was popular these days with all the ‘cools’ that had migrated to the Pacific Northwest over the past decade. Regardless of the science, the dozens of portraits of ballerinas spanning every vintage, race, gender and pedigree made for a good art exhibit, but the true purpose was to determine whether or not stripping the bias of age and historical critique (examining only the aura) affected the ability of each ballerina to achieve the perfect weightless, birdlike dance (ballerinas, it turns out, are like certain quantum particles in the way that they perform differently under observation). The results were inconclusive, but the emotional mindset necessary to attempt to conquer the challenge ended up being the thing that could translate to song, which I am eternally grateful for. (LISTEN)
GREY AS A GHOST
Not many people realize that the oft-cited film about dead people not knowing they are dead is actually based on a true phenomenon. It’s just that the technology to prove this fact hadn’t been available until I was commissioned last year to conduct a series of psychology experiments about the essence of human nature (the Diamonds & Donuts experiments). The wealthy benefactor that funded the collection of studies really spared no expense. And so, we were able to 3D print “ghost translator” devices capable of (a) indicating when a ghost was in the room, and (b) providing two-way communication between the living and the dead. “This isn’t your grandma’s Ouija!,” I liked to joke with the other technicians. In the end, the results were pretty typical: regret, shock, disbelief and the amazement at being able to see through one’s own skin and bones. Nevertheless, I like to think that an explanation of the phenomenon (via song) might allow future ghosts to transition easier. (LISTEN)
HEAVY METAL AND VIDEO GAMES
The truth is, my knowledge about video games ends with the original Nintendo system. Duck Hunt and the original Super Mario, etc. And even so, I normally prefer a sit-down Ms. Pacman or Galaga like you used to find at the local pizza joint. Furthermore, you might not believe it (considering the sound of my catalog of introvert indie-pop), but I actually don’t know much about Heavy Metal either, beyond the Black Sabbath variety. Still, that had little bearing when it came to conducting a psychological study about how certain hobbies can PERFECTLY distract people from the cesspool that is modern existence. It turns out that the combination of a handheld video game (with technology from any iteration of the Moore’s law timeline) AND loud Heavy Metal piped through personal headphones is, hands down, the best way to achieve 100% escapism. It’s thus that I decided to celebrate that idea with a nice stripped-down, synth-folk ditty. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it helps you escape the cesspool for a moment too. (LISTEN)
About Caterpillar Centipede (2018):
A centaur named David Bowie came to me in a dream. “I like the Werewolf Diskdrive record,” he said, “but the world isn’t quite ready for it.” He was talking about the experimental art project and sci-fi rap album that I’d introduced last year, following the retirement of Say Hi. The centaur looked and sounded like Bowie, so I was listening. “The thing is,” he continued, “the universe needs something different right now.” I could tell, before he even said it, that he was going to try to convince me to revive Say Hi. I stared pensively into the dream-state distance, contemplating the details necessary to make that revival happen. “You certain about this?” I finally asked. “Yep,” the magical creature declared, “just be sure you call the new record Caterpillar Centipede, because it needs to worm its way into their hearts in whatever way possible.”
This was an unexpected dream, for sure, and it was hard to tell if the visitor was an actual ghost or a subconscious manifestation of my deepest desires. Regardless, I thought about all of the emotional interactions I’d had with Say Hi fans since the announcement of retirement and a deep sense of nostalgia crept in. Perhaps centaur David Bowie was right, I thought. And while I was hesitant to backtrack on a decision I’d made with such finality, a fervent and weeklong pace around the living room, fueled by too many cups of black coffee, eventually resulted in my made-up mind.
As farfetched as all of this sounds, I felt a great sense of urgency now that my dream-self and I were on the same page. Granted, I had to scrap a notebook full of new Werewolf Diskdrive ideas, but everything felt right as soon as I strummed a few cowboy chords on my acoustic guitar. The gap between ‘feeling right’ and actually deciphering what the ghost had meant about the ‘universe’s needs’ was a big one, of course, but I knew I’d get there eventually. I was, at least, sure that it didn’t need a third concept album about vampires. Not yet anyway. And the same could probably be said about the lighthearted songs about robots, butts and hamburgers I always defer to when I first think about writing a record.
The centaur never came back, but my dreams after that were guided by friendly, almost cartoonish caterpillars and centipedes beckoning me through old, abandoned mansions or twilight-lit woods. “Here,” they would say, as we entered a hidden room or clearing in the trees, “remember this one?” An old film strip projector would be playing back a particularly poignant or manic memory from the last fifteen years of my life, memories I’d always wanted to turn into songs but never did, for fear that they were too personal.
In the end, I took the hint. Those memory projections paved the way for the ten songs that make up the album. I took care to make the arrangements, melodies and production as catchy and urgent-sounding as I could, keeping in mind that a return-to-form, classic sounding Say Hi record was my way of both quenching my inner monologue and giving back to all the loving people who had been so supportive when I thought Say Hi was done for good. It took me a while to get there but I’m glad I did. Thank you very much for listening, I appreciate it.