In one of his movies, Woody Allen coined the term “Heaviosity” and that’s the best way I can describe The Red Book’s project Sleeping Is Living.
The Red Book is New Orleans guitarist Dan Schubarth with guest drummers Andi Preen (live kit) and Darryl DiMaggio (mostly digital). Schubarth’s new release Sleeping Is Living is a mammoth double album-length download that’s mostly Les Paul guitar through various stomp boxes with a fat, heavy tone and miles of sustain. I was intrigued by this album because I’ve recently done a similar project: recording my amp speaker with a Shure SM-57, adding bass tracks directly into the board, and finishing with a mix of live and digital drums. However, Schubarth out-heavies me by several tons, and I bow at the feet of this monstrous set.
Schubarth describes his 90-minute masterwork as “guitar-heavy modern psych rock with some prog tendencies that will take you into, through and out the other side of its sonic dreamscape.” Aside from guitar, Schubarth also produces, plays bass and sings. Though his vocals barely peek through his torrential wall of sound, he’s not a bad prog rock singer.
Schubarth’s musical background began in Hollywood, California as the guitarist for the indie band Loungefly in the early ’90s; he then studied music composition at the University of New Orleans (perhaps why many of these tracks feel “composed” on the fly). Schubarth joined Testaverde as their second guitarist in 2012, and Sleeping Is Living is his first solo project. “I like the cool and noisy sounds that can come from an extremely overdriven tube amp and distorted guitar,” he says, “and you may notice that in many places I did not remove extraneous sounds such as string slides, amp hum and feedback, but rather chose to use those sounds stylistically.” Schubarth recorded, mixed and mastered the album himself in his New Orleans living room studio (which he calls Prima Materia) between April 2017 and November 2020 using Ableton Live 9 and Isotope Ozone 8.
“Virtual Circle” wastes no time getting into the noisiest settings on Schubarth’s Marshall stack as a sort of Static Overture. The basic riff here is catchy in a bemused Zappa-like way, with heavy metal style vocals: “They are a hologram, making a hologram / Their new hologram will make another hologram / which made another hologram, that made them as a hologram / Building themselves.” Okay, so the lyrics are not really the point. Schubarth takes short breaks for impressive Brian May-like guitar orchestrations, especially toward the end.
“InsideOutside” gets us into dark prog territory worthy of Van Der Graaf Generator or Gong guitarist Steve Hillage. Here, as most everywhere, Schubarth’s control of his wailing axe is impressive, as sheer volume can overwhelm even the hardiest of home recordists. The tonal sustain here is truly melodic and symphonic, taking the full twelve minutes to build. The changes this track goes through are nearly impossible to explicate, but it smoothly moves from major to minor, prog to metal to jazz without a second thought. Schubarth’s first solos pop up at around five minutes, absolutely killer and fully supported by Andi Preen’s live drum kit. The echoey indistinct vocals are from a poem by William Blake. More choral guitar and choir-like voices end the track.
“T minus 1” is a HUGE slab of a metal guitar riffage that threatens to obliterate the universe, backed by Schubarth’s own drum programming. Slow, lumbering and angry.
“The Gateway / Enchanted Lands” is a 17-plus minute prog metal epic with the welcome return of Preen’s live drums. Schubarth’s riffs are sharp, jagged and right on the verge of disintegration. He also does some cool production tricks, having his guitar jump around the stereo field and suddenly become a totally different sound. Some of this stuff plays a bit harsh in headphones but blasting it through speakers is a thing of joy. Though I’ve used the term “symphonic” Schubarth does not really start with a theme and then introduce variations; it’s more like he creates a sonic world where different themes fade in and out at will, and everything hangs together despite all odds. Again like Queen’s Brian May, this track has an early section with a decidedly Middle Eastern flavor, followed by some incredible bone-like percussion. The sheer bulk of melodic invention here kept my jaw permanently hanging open. At 13 minutes there’s an incredible unison-note break that’s worthy of a movie score. Near the conclusion an affable theme emerges that could have been its very own song. By the very end I’m reminded of the longer jams by Neil Young and Crazy Horse, but with 100 times more intensity.
“Behind The Stars” feels like a more traditional, Metallica-style speed jaunt, but with inventive, ringing chords. There’s lyrics here but frankly there’s not really room for vocals. The middle section contains some heartbreakingly beautiful guitar harmonies. A desperate A & R guy might pick this more accessible track to push the album (after pumping up the vocals, of course!).
“Other Worlds” starts as a heavy sustained-note overture, moving into an elliptical, outer-worldly main theme played by what sounds like hundreds of guitars, while still leaving plenty of sonic space for Preen to beat the skins. The heaviness quotient increases by tons toward the end, while still retaining inventive melodies. “The Visitor” is a vocal-heavy tune with frantic lead guitar voicings; a highly unusual track that took me a little longer to warm up to.
“Inner Limits” is the final track, and it’s a freaking epic, clocking in at 20:03! Full disclosure: I heard this song on the freeway, and the further I drove, the more I hoped it would never end… and I almost got my wish! It opens with more opaque Red Book melodies with several fuzzy guitar tracks gently vying for attention. As we progress, Schubarth’s lead harmonies become more daring and dissonant, while remaining way cool. At five minutes there’s a distinct Steve Hackett section, who’s also been known to send his solos out on a limb. Spaced-out chorale vocals appear, but you’ll need to check the lyric sheet to understand them. Here again, I find Schubarth’s song structures to have no discernible through-line, but damned if they don’t work anyway. The center holds, even while slowly morphing over the span of 20 crunch-filled minutes. As we near the conclusion, the final four minutes nearly gave me chills.
I’m a sucker for music epics, even ones that don’t always work. For me, this album is one for the ages, both for the hubris of Schubarth’s idea and his totally unique execution.
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