The “Controllers” are taking over the world. These evil energies slip between the third and fourth dimensions through brain-implanted chips in select humans and exploit the psychic energies and resources of the planet.
This is the reality of Greg McClellan’s childhood friend, Curt.
McClellan and Curt have been friends since they were in the seventh grade at Northshore Junior High School in 1981.
They became fast friends as they both enjoyed getting into mischief and “goofing around.”
“Curt has always been a mysterious guy, even in junior high. He’d, like, pick numbers out of my head at times and he always seemed like he had a foot behind the curtain of reality in a way. To this day, he’s still like that,” McClellan said. “He’s just been a really close friend of mine and he’s just a really genuine, sweet soul. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.”
After junior high, the two attended different high schools but always remained good friends. McClellan describes Curt as a “Shaman-esque Jim Morrison” as he would share spontaneous “beautiful” poetry during midnight walks along the Burke-Gilman Trail. McClellan would record Curt during these times as well as any time they spent together. He has nearly “days’ worth” of recordings of Curt, dating from 1981 to the mid 2000s.
One night in March 1999, Curt visited McClellan at his Kirkland home as McClellan and his band members were recording McClellan’s first album, “Listen.”
“He was just pounding on the door and asking to come in and for us to listen to him. He sat on the floor and was talking about how he had been tricked into signing papers to allow an implant to be put into his head. He said the data was going too fast, he was hearing voices, he was hearing electronic squeaks and feedback and all these sounds in his head,” McClellan said. “What was I supposed to do with that?”
Now, nearly 20 years later, McClellan did something with “that.”
Like chocolate and peanut butter
“Listen2Daze” is a 48-hour-long concept album. The 400 songs on 39 discs or “chapters” detail the story of Curt’s life, his experiences with the Controllers and mystical concepts he and McClellan have discussed over the years.
The album combines Curt’s recorded testimonies with his life’s story and his friendship with McClellan.
“Overall, it’s a study of one man’s life of how he can go from being perfectly fine with a house in Duvall to being called crazy and living on the streets of Seattle…You never know what’s around the corner,” McClellan said. “It is an autobiography, it’s a lasagna of multiple concepts that have intrigued us over the years and fused together into a larger whole.”
McClellan has been in love with music since childhood. Raised by a piano teacher mother and an avid 1950s rock-and-roll-record-collecting father, McClellan has dedicated his life to creating music. Over the years, he’s been a part of a few local bands including Spun and TRS but said his musical desires weren’t being fulfilled.
Before McClellan decided to write the concept album, he and the album’s guitar player, Bill Barkley, spent years just playing and recording music in McClellan’s garage.
“I was a single dad and was working 40 hours a week and Bill would come over at night three or four times a week for 22 straight months and we’d just let loose,” he said. “I was tired of trying to write songs for bands. We just wanted to play our music and challenge each other. So we would sit down and work out a few things and hit record and just go. It was just like dancing [as if] no one’s watching — there were no concerns that anyone was ever going to hear it. It was just us challenging each other and taking our musicianship to the furthest extremes and working in tandem.”
It was during this time that Curt was leaving a lot of voicemail messages detailing what the Controllers were doing to him. McClellan remembers the night he first came up with the idea to develop the concept album.
“I was playing back the messages on my phone while reviewing a recording Bill and I had done earlier, and it was just like chocolate and peanut butter. I thought, ‘Wow, his voice sounds so nice over the top of the music.’ He’s got this kind of whispery, mysterious voice and it was then that I decided to put the two together,” he said.
McClellan and Barkley finished recording around late 2007 and McClellan walked away from the project for a time. The immensity of the album seemed overwhelming and unachievable, but after a few years of wasting time and energy playing to empty bars, he decided to commit to making the album.
“I looked at the album again and I said, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to map this thing out and I’m going to make this.’ It was music that was never meant to be heard and it was just played in privacy, no red light fever, and then Curt’s statements of confiding in me with all these things that he described in such detail. It warranted fleshing out into a concept album,” McClellan said. “I made this thing. I don’t know what it is, but I made it as best I could.”
Music from imagination, decorated with lyrics
For the past 10 years, McClellan has been carefully weaving Curt’s voice with the music “syllable by syllable” and mastering each “chapter” to perfection. McClellan used Curt’s recorded statements as “mortar between the bricks of the songs” to develop and continue the narrative as well as give the Controllers their own voice.
“Listen2Daze” defies genre. It doesn’t adhere to any kind of specific style because it intertwines almost every style imaginable. McClellan wanted the music to support the story and give strength to every wild and diverse aspect.
There is a lot of heavy metal music on “Listen2Daze,” according to McClellan. Being an appreciator of all kinds of music, he said he dislikes how some heavy metal music makes the listener “go through crazy things like Satanism and gore.”
“I like crunchy, groovy music but I just didn’t want to go to hell for it. But that level of intensity translates nicely to the malevolent goals of the Controllers and that level of intensity is reached several times in the album,” McClellan said.
However, there are several moments throughout the album that incorporate jazz, trance, opera, chamber orchestra and practically everything else.
“Just getting to create exactly what is in my head and what Bill and I have created together is amazing,” McClellan said. “Seeing it through and finally having it exist, I’m dumbfounded.”
McClellan was able to make the album he’s always wanted to hear and he hopes listeners will appreciate the album for what it is, as something that’s never been done before.
Most musicians, according to McClellan, are in such a hurry to get music out to the public and make themselves famous that they neglect to appreciate musical creativity in its purest form.
“You know those icebreaker ships that go and break sheets of ice for miles? Most bands are in such a hurry to get material that they’ll hop into one of those icebreaking ships and go about 10 feet, break off a few chunks, bring them inside and hone them down and reduce them to powder and recreate them so that this one idea, these fresh ideas out of the creative well, are literally bleached white flour by the time they get to your ears,” he said. ”Bill and I jumped in this icebreaking ship and drove 500 miles north, breaking everything in sight and not caring about the immediate chunks. We gathered up the chunks and rather than reducing them to flour and recreate them again, we decorated them as they were. You’re hearing the music from Bill and I directly out of our imaginations, onto a recording and decorated with lyrics.”
A self-contained universe with many ties
Before McClellan chose to release the album, he used parts of it to score claymation artist Bruce Bickford’s film “Cas’l.” Bickford is most known for his claymation film, “Baby Snakes,” with Frank Zappa.
McClellan and Bickford became friends after McClellan called Bickford to tell him how much he enjoyed his work on “Baby Snakes.” As their friendship grew, Bickford agreed to design the cover art for McClellan’s first “Listen” album in 1999.
Years later, as McClellan was developing “Listen2Daze,” Bickford asked McClellan to score his upcoming claymation film, “Cas’l.” The soundtrack to “Cas’l” is chapter 35 of “Listen2Daze.” The film’s soundtrack and as chapter 35 of “Listen2Daze” serves as a “windup” for the album, according to McClellan.
“I call it the windup chapter because you’re going to hear themes from earlier in the album briefly but there will be new things done to them. There’s about 10 minutes of new material that’s not anywhere else on the album that’s recorded specifically for that. So it is a pastiche, mosaic of themes and motifs that you encounter earlier in the album,” he said. “You’ve just sat through 34 CDs and it’s good to take stock for a moment to get some themes back again and hear things in a new context in this new fantasia of arrangement. It fits wonderfully in there.”
As McClellan was developing the album and realizing it would span dozens of concepts as well as CDs, he had to carefully consider the packaging of the album.
The idea for the cover art was a gradual process of development. With so many CDs, he came up with the idea of each disc have its own slipcase. That way, they could fit together into a puzzle. Once the slipcases are arranged into the puzzle, they form the photo of the album cover. The puzzle is 10 covers wide and four high.
The photograph for the cover was taken in Bickford’s living room in the Seattle area. The image contains dozens of pairings of objects that tie into the themes of the album.
“I love visual games like Hocus Focus where you try to find the differences between two pictures. I’ve always had a knack and a liking for those sorts of games and so I started building on that idea,” he said.
The puzzle has its own significance in the story of the album as well. Once it is assembled, the individual discs also fit within the puzzle on top of the slipcases. The discs form a word, but the secret word can only be discovered from the listener following the discs in chronological order.
When it’s completed, the idea is that a kinetic circuit in the fourth dimension will close and the Controllers won’t be able to harm Curt.
“In the last song of chapter 39, you’re supposed to take the original ‘Listen’ CD from 1999, and when cued on the countdown at the end, you slam it down on the shrine and onto the little statue at the end of the album,” McClellan said. “Part of the idea of the album and of how the Controllers infiltrate our reality is…We may have created our own little universe here but it’s cohesive, it’s a self-contained universe and it ties with so many things.”
Someone listened and someone cared
More than anything, McClellan created this album to help Curt. He wanted to show Curt that someone listened.
“I want Curt to have peace, silence — no more head noise so he can enjoy the rest of his life. That was really the goal all along: To give him the happy ending he’s always wanted. He’s suffered with this for every second for almost two decades now and to hear this grand ceremony in the last song where they deactivate the implants and he’s free,” McClellan said. “I just hope, even if it doesn’t work per se, it would at least let him know that people care. That was always his biggest complaint, so I wanted to show him that, yes, someone believes you and someone cares.”
One hundred copies of “Listen2Daze” have been made. Each box set will contain all 39 discs and slipcovers as well as a booklet and an original four-inch by six-inch painting by Barkley the guitarist, who now creates paintings in a shared home with Curt in Snohomish County. White gloves will also be included with the box set. The projected release party for “Listen2Daze” is Oct. 24 at Vortex Music and Movies in Kirkland.
McClellan never meant to create what may be the world’s longest original concept album. This album was made for Curt and to let him know someone listened and someone cared.