To tell the story of how Brave Machine came to be, I must first take you back in time to the year 2003. To a time when I was not long removed from my time at Visible Music College and was the bass/ 2nd acoustic guitar player (depending on each week’s song selection) in my church’s worship team. Going all the way back to 2003 might seem a little far for a band that released a debut album in 2021 but it does bear some relevance with a couple of the songs on the album. Those connections will be discussed in the individual song explanations.
A couple kids in high school at the church were in a band with one of their school friends and they approached me about recording and producing an album for them. I, being fresh out of music college as previously indicated and being the only person they knew with recording equipment, readily agreed in spite of having zero experience producing a band. What could possibly go wrong?
They recorded a 4 song EP at my house and it was…not great. It turns out that I’m not very good at mixing songs. But at the time we all thought the end result was pretty great. Fast forward a bit and those two kids from church, Joe Wenger and Matt Nye, asked me to join the band. I turned them down. Mainly because I was pretty insistent at the time that any project I was personally involved in be a Christian one. I don’t recall how much time passed but eventually they replaced their drummer with another high schooler from church named Nathaniel Martin and convinced me to join.
We named our newly formed band CrewmanNumber7. No spaces or anything. It was written just like that. Not the smartest move. The name was based on minor Star Trek characters that were never given names and were likely to die during the episode. It also came from a song I started writing but never finished and….it was my AIM screen name. The make up of the band was myself (vocals, guitar), Joe Wenger (vocals, guitar), Matt Nye (bass), and Nathaniel Martin (drums).
After some time writing songs and incorporating some songs from their previous band, Fiasco, we set about recording in my house again. The quality was pretty much the same as the aptly named Fiasco EP but in 2004-2005 having any kind of recordings up on MySpace was essential to getting booked for shows. In addition to shows, MySpace was great for making industry connections. Barry Blair, formerly of Audio Adrenaline and the producer on Bleach’s first two albums heard our songs and reached out about having us come to Tennessee to record an album with him.
As someone who is still a big fan of Barry’s guitar work on Audio Adrenaline’s Bloom album, the idea of having him Produce our album was amazing…if only we could come up with $3,000 for him to do it. Now, it would be nice to think that Barry heard our awful sounding recordings on MySpace, recognized some diamonds in the rough, and just HAD to record our band at his studio. But I think the reality is that he was in between bigger projects and needed to make some money. I don’t say that to be disparaging of Barry in any way. We’ve all got bills to pay. Even so, the idea was exciting but seemed dead on arrival. We were a nobody band made up of a guy who had just gotten married and 3 others that had just graduated high school. We didn’t have anything close to $3,000. Thankfully, Nathaniel’s parents did and offered to fund the album. So off we went to Tennessee to record a 5 song EP.
That week spent with Barry Blair in his studio was one of the most educational experiences in my musical journey. I’ll always treasure that. We came out of there with a professional sounding album and songs that Barry helped us polish into something better than they were when we showed up. He really pushed us each individually to be at our very best.
Being one of the only local bands with a professionally produced album was a big deal when it came to getting booked for shows and funding the band. But sometimes things just aren’t meant to be.
A few short months later Matt and Nathaniel left for college and CrewmanNumber7 came to a stand still. The following summer those guys were back from school but the momentum we had the previous year was gone and I decided to call it quits. It is one of those moments I wish I could take back. At the time I felt like there wasn’t a future in a band that lost half its members for 9 months every year and I was pretty serious about wanting to pursue music professionally. So I left and CrewmanNumber7 ended shortly after. I wish I had just focused on having fun and not taken the band so seriously but you can’t undo the past.The Early day of What Became Brave Machine
The Early Days of What Became Brave Machine
Fast forward to 2016 and Joe and I had kept in touch in the intervening years but lived over an hour apart at that point. Even so, we decided to start a new music project together. It was exciting. While we had each done a little bit with solo music projects in recent years, this would be a true collaborative project. In my mind, this was sort of like CrewmanNumber7 2.0 as he and I had been the primary songwriters in that band. I started writing pop punk songs and did some early demo tracking at Joe’s house in early 2017.
Now this is the part where I tell you the story of how a 7 song album took nearly 5 years to finish!
We put a lot of work into the foundations of the album through 2017 but then things changed in 2018. Joe was moving and changing churches and of course we both have wives and children and so free time can be tough to come by sometimes. Joe decided to pull out of being a full participant in the project. It just wasn’t his main priority. Which is totally fine, we’ve all got responsibilities to take care of and for him, those things needed to come first. For me though, it kind of threw me for a loop. I viewed this project as a band effort, not a Tim solo effort. When you write songs, you write them with a certain style and musical line up in mind. And now that had changed. And so Brave Machine (not yet named that) came to stand still for awhile while I tried to figure out a new direction.
I should note that also at this time, my family and I were in the middle of moving houses which involved completely renovating our new house. Not exactly a recipe for a lot of creative free time! I should also mention that Joe didn’t disappear from the project entirely. He still contributed to some of the song writing and recorded backing vocals on some of the songs.
This is where there was a definite shift in the music production on the album. I switched gears from straight up pop punk (which felt like a band effort) to more synth heavy sounds that felt more appropriate for a solo effort.
I finished up the new house at the end of 2018 and would have been ready to get back to recording except that I managed to give myself tennis-elbow in both arms and couldn’t play guitar for 6 months! Then, late in 2019 I developed an auto-immune disease and couldn’t sing for another 6 months! In 2020 I was the worship leader at Central PA Cowboy Church and in the second half of the year I started to experience debilitating pain in my hands that turned out to be arthritis and, you guessed it, I went another 6 months unable to play guitar!
Work was still progressing on the album during this time but it was of course slow going. Finally in the fall 2021, five years after we started, the album was finished! And then my health really fell apart…but that’s a story for another time. If there’s a lesson to take away from all of this is that God’s plans are often very different from our own and sometimes we can make an idol out of our own ambitions.
Over the next several days I’ll be sharing the stories behind each song on the album. Hope you come back to read them! Thanks for sticking with me this long.
Captain Cake Punch wasn’t the first song released for the debut Brave Machine album but it was the first song I started writing specifically for it. The idea actually predates the band by a couple of years. The chorus melody and lyrics just kind of popped into my head one day as I was thinking about this absurd super hero whose only “power” was that he punched cakes. And that’s where it stayed. I don’t think I even wrote the idea down as I normally do with song ideas so they aren’t forgotten.
Every now and then I’d just start singing this little fragment of a song but never developed it. It wasn’t until I had approached Joe Wenger about forming a band again that I took the time to really develop the idea of Captain Cake Punch into a full song. Very quickly I made the song into kind of a story of who Captain Cake Punch is and how he helps people.
So the verses focus on the plight of an unnamed character who is stuck going to a child’s birthday party that he would rather not be at. Thankfully, Captain Cake Punch is just a call away to help him out.
The bridge lyrics give more of a full backstory of how Captain Cake Punch became what he is today. As if the concept of the song isn’t ridiculous enough, I think his origin story really takes it up a notch.
Born the son of a baker and a Quaker
A curious mix of pacifism and pastry
One day something changed
You might say he’s deranged
But ruining parties is his passion
In cake punching fashion
So if you need a way out
I need a way out
But your wife said NO!
The initial demo recording was actually done in Joe’s basement. Nearly all of the recording for this album was done at my house but our first day of tracking demos was done at his house. That was all the way back in 2016. If that seems like a really long time ago for an album that came out in 2021, that’s because it is. If you’d like to get a better understanding of some of the why behind how long ago it was, you can read the Brave Machine history post here. Most everything we did that day was eventually re-recorded with the exception of Joe’s vocals.
Sometimes when you write songs and then begin the process of recording them, you realize that something isn’t quite right with the instrumentation, the melody, the tempo, or whatever. As you’ll see with some of the later song stories for this album, that was the case for a number of songs. Not so much for Captain Cake Punch though. The chorus never changed from that idea in my head all those years ago. Some of the rhythms on the verses changed and I added a couple synths but the overall melody and feel of the verses stayed the same. The one area that saw some dramatic difference was the bridge. I was very conscious of not wanting the song to feel very one note musically and so I went for a ska-esque feel on the bridge. When I was a teenager I listened to Five Iron Frenzy all the time and musically the bridge felt like it could have been on one of their albums. I think it lost a bit of that Five Iron feel as production progressed though. That this is lyrically the least-serious song on the album also makes it a great choice for a small homage to Five Iron Frenzy’s early work when they were still having fun on their albums.
The last big production choice I made for Captain Cake Punch was to have Spencer Martin re-record the guitars. I had hired him to redo the guitars on All Hail the Experts previously (for reasons you can read about in that song explanation) and it just felt like the right choice to have him on this track as well and I think he did a great job tightening up the guitars.
Harvey Marples did a great job mixing Captain Cake Punch and several other songs on this album.
I hope you enjoyed this little backstory of how Captain Cake Punch came to be. Thanks for reading!
When I first had the idea for All Hail The experts, it was before the COVID-19 pandemic even began. Thankfully, people pretending to be experts on any number of topics on social media is an evergreen topic! The song started out as just a chorus which had kind of this odd cadence to it. I’ve posted an early demo recording for you to hear. I shared it with a couple of friends and they thought there was something there too so I got kind of excited about it and started to develop the song into a more complete thought.
Over the next several months I wrote the verses then and had music that I liked for those as well but what I ran into was that the music for the chorus and the music for the verses just did not feel right together at all. And I liked both of them. Joe Wenger was over at my place to work on some recordings one day, and we spent over an hour just trying to rewrite the music for the verses to fit what I had for the chorus. And we really didn’t make much progress. So All Hail The Experts sat unfinished for months until one day I decided to try to rewrite the music for the chorus instead even though I had originally really liked what I had. The resulting chorus in my own opinion is musically one of the best choruses I have ever written. I just love it. And it matched with the verses perfectly and totally changed the dynamic of the song. When it came time to write the bridge again I rewrote the music entirely because it was OK but it didn’t really fit the way I liked so what I ended up doing was basically just copying the music for the choruses but taking out the electric guitars adding an acoustic guitar and slowing the tempo down pretty significantly. This gave it a completely different feel and made the song feel like it had a lot of energy coming back into the final course then.
Lyrically the bridge also went through some changes. I originally had some lines on the North Korean part referencing Dennis Rodman and used then President Trump’s nickname for North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un calling him “Rocket Man.” What concerned me with these lines was that the Dennis Rodman reference would probably be lost on a lot of younger folks and certainly listeners not from the United States. And I also felt like the Rocketman reference would be easily lost to time especially if President Trump went on to lose the election which of course then he did. So I’m glad I made those changes. I think the original lines were probably a little bit funnier, but it is what it is. I think the end result will stand up to time a little bit better than what I originally had.
The other concerns I had with lyrics on the bridge were the opening lines about Mexico because everywhere else in the song I reference a country that we are farcically blaming our problems on but with Mexico I actually say Mexicans in the song and of course I’m talking sarcastically there again but I didn’t want anybody to misconstrue my meaning. I also made a very poor attempt at singing in Spanish. Eventually though I left those lines the way they were and I felt like it worked OK. My hope being that the tenor of the rest of the song would get the point across how I intended.
As I said previously, this song was written before the pandemic which of course also means it was written before Russia invaded Ukraine in February of 2022 and I want to make very clear in case it gets forgotten in time that when I sarcastically reference in the chorus that we are going to blame our problems on Russia and it’s a brilliant scheme, that of course I was not talking about their actual invasion of Ukraine. Russia has been used as a bogeyman by American politicians for decades for whatever domestic issue they currently want to distract from or just need someone to blame on. A prime example that is happening concurrently with the invasion of Ukraine is our government blaming inflation on that invasion. The inflation that was already happening well before Russia even built up troops along Ukraine’s border. And of course any thinking person knows that inflation was caused by rampant government spending of money that we don’t have.
The production of this song kind of took an unexpected turn. At the time when I was trying to finish up work on it, I knew that the guitars were really sloppy and needed to be redone and normally I would’ve just done that myself. I was suffering from a lot of arthritis pain in my picking hand and I couldn’t play even one song. I knew that the work needed done, but I also knew that I was not the one to do it and I ended up hiring someone from South Africa over the Internet to redo most of the guitars in the song. The end result was honestly better than what I could’ve done. I don’t regret the decision one bit. Most professional music you hear has had some studio musicians play some parts of the music on an album. So this was just me doing the same thing.
All Hail The Experts has been received well I think by fans. Amusingly, one of the countries that has played it the most other than the United States is Russia. I’m not really sure what that is about but somebody in Moscow likes it.
We were just kids is one part love letter to the church that grew up in and one part critique of that church and the American church in general. The first verse details some of what I experienced playing on the worship team at this church. The sound guys would keep my bass guitar turned down so low that you could not even hear me. And of course, playing worship music is not about being seen and heard as a means of drawing attention to yourself, but your instrument should at least be turned on. I developed a technique in those days of keeping my bass guitar turned most the way down so the sound guys would set the sound and then when the church service was actually taking place I would turn the volume knob back up so you could actually hear me a little bit. The second verse makes reference to a time when I got into a bit of a scuffle with the pastor’s kid. I don’t even remember what it was about but an older boy joined in on the side of the pastor’s kid who was younger than me. Amusingly, much later in life that pastor’s kid became a preacher himself and unfriended me on Facebook when I gently and privately called him out for plagiarism.
Musically, We Were Just Kids started out a little more raw and with a punk feel but somewhere along the line I kind of smoothed out those rougher edges and gave it more of a pop anthem sound. I like them both but part of me wishes I had stuck with more of that punk sound. I do like what the song turned out to be in the end though.
Joe Wenger did some background vocals on this one. I confess that I do not remember the name of the guy that mixed it. I hired him over the Internet and as sometimes happens in those cases even if someone presents themselves as being able to produce professional results, that’s not always the case. The end result was a mix I think sounds pretty good but it took a long time to get it there. There was a lot of back-and-forth between myself and that person. I have no hard feelings toward them but I also am not going to seek them out to work with them again. Again that’s just what it’s like when you hire people that you don’t personally know over the Internet to do a job, you hope for the best.
Unlike many of the other songs on this album, We Were Just Kids didn’t really go through too many changes musically or lyrically aside from the aforementioned popification of it.
The central theme of the song is about longing for true religion, a true pursuit of godliness and a rejection of church politics and the glitz and glam of mega churches. A rejection of church vision being dictated by business metrics. At a time when we see young people rejecting organized religion more and more I don’t see that the answer is to keep ramping up the entertainment aspect of your Sunday morning gatherings. Such things are shallow and without lasting impact often.
There are times when you start to record a song in the studio and it just comes together in a way that you know you’ve got something special. That was the case with You Are Loved. A song that originally was not intended to be on this album, it had a singer songwriter vibe to it with just acoustic guitar and vocals. But I felt like it was a strong song that deserved to be on here.
So when I began recording it I started playing around with all these different sounds and this is a very guitar driven album, but for this song most of the guitars here are actually synth sounds. The main guitar riff on the verses is actually a midi harp instrument that I manipulated into something that I really liked in the end.
You Are Loved is a song I wrote a number of years ago about somebody that didn’t feel loved. I wanted to write a song that just expressed how much love there was actually for them. That God loves them and all of us beyond what we could ever know.
As I was going through the production process I felt like it needed a second vocal from someone else. Originally Joe Wenger, who helped out on several other songs on this album, was scheduled to come over to work on some extra vocals with me. But it didn’t work out and in the end I just started feeling more and more like I needed a female vocal. At the time, I didn’t know any female vocalists locally that would be a good fit for the song, and as I’ve done with a couple other parts of the album I considered hiring just a random person on a website called Fiverr to do it. And that probably would’ve turned out just fine. But I thought I probably could find someone else among the alumni from visible music college where I had attended many years earlier. So I asked in the alumni group on Facebook if anybody would be interested and someone suggested Eric Chambers. She responded and we connected via email. I listened to her music on Spotify and thought it was great and that she’d be a good fit. I didn’t know that she would be a good fit though. I had never worked with a vocalist on one of my songs that I didn’t know personally and I really hadn’t had an opportunity to record a female vocalist before. So I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but I figured it was worth a try to see what Erica would come up with.
So after a few email exchanges and a couple months went by when I was finishing up some work on it, I finally sent Erica the song for her to contribute vocals to. When she sent me her sound files back I was just totally blown away. I had asked her to sing lead on the second verse and do background vocals and harmony parts on the choruses but I didn’t give her direct input on exactly what that should sound like on the choruses. What she sent me back was just amazing. It changed the song and made it something more than it otherwise would’ve been and I couldn’t have been more happy.
I always like to look back and see how a song changed through the production process. As I stated earlier You Are Loved originally started as a singer-songwriter song. Musically I ended up with a different feel for the song but the chord progression didn’t change at all. It’s a very simple chord progression. Just 2 chords on the verse, variations of those 2 chords on the chorus and then the bridge has a few other chords. I did make some small changes to my melody parts on the chorus. Something I often find with my songs is that I might play the song for years and think it sounds great, that is until I record it. Then I find that there’s some issues with the melody that aren’t quite as they should be. So other than changing a couple of the melody lines on the chorus and how I sang them, not much really changed on this song in terms of its structure. This is another song mixed by Harvey Marples. He did a great job on this one, as he did on the others. You Are Loved is the most straight up pop song on this album and really reflects the direction shift that I was going through in the process of making the album.
Of all the songs on the Brave Machine album, You Are Loved has gotten the most love (pun intended). It has regularly been played on Some Kind of Rock Show on WJTL Radio13.fm, Home.fm, TheBlast.fm and others that I am not even aware of. In my story of the history of Brave Machine, I mentioned some health issues that delayed finishing this album. One such major issue occurred just as the album was being released in 2021 and when I thought I’d be spending time promoting it, I was instead too ill to do much of anything for several months. To say that it was a let down would be an understatement. In the fast moving world of music releases, I felt like I had missed my window. Five years of effort and I didn’t have the energy to tell people about it.
Then something strange happened at the beginning of summer of 2022. You Are Loved showed up on the Christian radio charts in the Rhythmic category. I didn’t even know what stations were playing it at that time. It didn’t just show up but over the next weeks and months it climbed those charts. As of the time I am writing this, You Are Loved currently sits at #3. I’m totally blown away by this. A year after release and the song is getting played by radio stations that I’m not even aware of. I can’t express how grateful I am to those stations for believing in my little song. And to God for showing me that things aren’t always over even when they appear to be.
Imagine if you will, being 19 years old and having recently graduated from high school. A Christian high school and having grown up going to church two or three times a week and being from a Christian home. And now you find yourself at a secular college surrounded by folks whose beliefs are far different from your own. In classes where traditional Christian beliefs are routinely disregarded and mocked. How might you respond? That is the situation I had found myself in.
My first semester at college was pretty normal I suppose. But in my second semester I had professors that were openly hostile towards Christianity. And me being totally new to that sort of environment it was difficult to deal with. But it was out of that time in my life that I wrote the words that became the chorus of Paths Unseen. Once I had written them it felt like a burden had been lifted. Like I was just free to be myself and I didn’t care at all what other students or professors thought of me. By that time I had already decided to leave the college and I almost regretted it then because I felt more free and I was having more fun than I had at any point up till then attending there.
Several years later when my band CrewmanNumber7 was playing a lot of shows and had just recorded our album, I wrote what would become the verses of Paths Unseen and the music for it. The band played it at pretty much every show but we never got a chance to record it before we broke up. So fast forward more than 10 years after that and I still believed in the song and wanted to record it for the Brave Machine album. I rewrote some of the lyrics on the verses and added some additional lines to them. I also wrote a second bridge and new ending to the song. Paths Unseen is about surrendering my will to God’s and living the life He has called me to even in difficult environments.
Past Unseen wasn’t the first song I got started on when recording this album but it was one of the first ones that I had finished up most of the work on. Joe Wenger contributed some background vocals and he had recorded some of the guitars on the original demo, but I’m not sure any of those guitar tracks survived the full production process. Harvey Marples mixed this one as he did with several others on the album.
When I look back at a lot of my older songs, not all of them stand up too well today. Some of them are very cheesy and I wouldn’t want anyone to hear them. Some of them I think I still think are great and I would like to get them recorded at some point. And that was the case with Paths Unseen and I’m glad that I was able to get it onto this album.
Flirting with Disaster is one of the stranger songs on this album. It isn’t my favorite but it is one of my favorite stories of the progression of a song from how it begins to where it ends up.
Flirting with Disaster began life as a very generic sounding pop punk song. The lyrics were about a guy meeting a woman at a bar contemplating infidelity. And how that action would be a disaster for his life, for himself, for his wife, and his kids. I sent the original demo to a friend who rightly commented on how generic the song was musically and lyrically. He was completely right.
The first thing that I rewrote were the lyrics. I changed it from a guy sitting in a bar to a guy going into a comic bookstore that is being destroyed by a super villain named Disaster. I changed it from some generic lyrical set up to something that is at least a little bit unique. But I still wanted to keep the idea of Flirting with Disaster as something of an allegory. So that when someone might hear the song that phrase ‘flirting with disaster, you should know better’ might trigger a thought to not do whatever the potentially disastrous action is that they are contemplating doing. Originally as part of this rewrite I had a whole ending to the story at the end of the song that really went into the detail of the fight between Disaster and the occupants of the comic bookstore. As a storyteller, I liked it. I like resolving stories. The couple people I showed this version to though didn’t like it at all. So against what I wanted to do, I trusted their judgment and cut those lyrics out.
The next thing I needed to change was the music. The rewrite of Flirting with Disaster came at a time when Joe Wanger had pulled out of being directly involved in the project and moved into more of a support role. So what I had originally conceived in my mind as a pop punk project that was sort of a continuation of the band he and I had been in together many years earlier, now was mostly a solo project. This kind of threw me for a loop and I didn’t feel like the pop punk style was necessarily where I wanted to hang out with most of the songs. So there was actually a lot of time that passed where I kind of felt stuck and not sure what to do with the project in general and with this song specifically. One day while driving in my car I had a bit of a revelation about the band Weezer. Specifically how a lot of their songwriting and chord progressions, especially on their early work, were chord progressions and melodic choices that I wouldn’t necessarily make as a songwriter. So when I got home, I sat down with the song and just kept plugging different chords into the verses, and seeing what I could make of it. Seeing how different chords would affect my melody choices and the cadence of the melody on the verses. What came out of that was something unique to my songwriting and unique on this album. Flirting with Disaster doesn’t sound like something I would normally write and that’s why I still really like it even though as I mentioned earlier it’s not my favorite song on the album. It’s also funny that the song sounds nothing like a Weezer song but just thinking about how Weezer wrote a lot of their songs in the early days influenced my choices of rewriting this song and making it into something completely different.
This was also when synths started playing a bigger role in the album. With Joe choosing to be less involved in the project I needed to rethink some of my approach and to my mind synthesizers worked better as a mostly solo project as compared to a band project.
I think this is one of only a few songs on the album that I did not have anybody contribute any instruments or background vocals to. It was however mixed by my good friend Duane Mays. He’s had a habit over the years of making some of my songs better than they otherwise would be. The music on the song Plutonium Girl from my previous band CrewmanNumber7 was co-written by Duane.
I have some bad news. I’m not going to tell you the meaning behind this song. I normally love talking about the inspiration behind my songs but in this case, I’m going to leave it open to interpretation. There’s just too much emotion built into these lyrics to have the meaning of the song be defined by my vision of it only.
I’d love to talk about the music though! Dark Planet began life as an acoustic guitar driven singer-songwriter song. In fact, I never intended for it to be on this album. When I started shifting the direction of the album in a different musical path however, Dark Planet kept coming up as one I wanted to do. I just really believed in this song.
The instrumentation on Dark Planet starts out with many layers of synths and then brings in some electric guitars on the chorus. My friend Alan Romberger who is something of a metal guitarist by nature contributed guitar tracks on the second verse and ensuing choruses. It was fun having him play on the song because his style is very different from my own.
The instrumental bridge on Dark Planet is one of my favorite musical moments on the album. I’m not much of a piano player but I think this turned out really well. As a whole though, I’m not sure this song will ever be anyone’s favorite. One reviewer said it was “too experimental” for their tastes :). I’m not sure I’d call the song experimental but I understand that there’s probably a very specific audience that will appreciate it. And that’s okay! Not every song is meant to be a fan favorite. Hopefully it means something to someone though. I know it does for me.
I actually released Dark Planet as a single a couple months before the album and the single had one of the coolest album covers I’ve ever done. I almost didn’t release it as a single just so I could use the cover for the main album but I didn’t feel like Dark Planet was representative of the overall sound on the album though so I eventually decided against it.
Joe Crow mixed this song and as mentioned earlier, Alan Romberger contributed some of the guitar tracks.