Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bottom-end Has Moved!

Bottom-end has moved to a new location. I have merged and this blog on a single site. There is a new look and many improvements in functionality. At the new digs you can find articles by category or use the search function to look for articles by key words.

The new site is much easier on the old eyeballs and will include sound samples along with my usual rants and raves. This address will still serve as an archive but all the articles will also be available at the new place. Come on over and check it out. And don't forget to bookmark my new home. You can go to or you can simply click Here.

See you soon!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sellaband's Gisel de Marco

The fourth of July is a big day in the United States. For most Americans it is a day of hot dogs, apple pie, homemade ice cream, outdoor band concerts and fireworks. There are also a few people who recognize the day as commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence and signaling the birth of a nation.

This year the fourth of July will be cause for celebration of another sort in one of the great music capitals of the world. ConFused5, the popular Retro-Rock band from Salzburg, Austria will be headlining at the Rockhouse to celebrate the release of their new album "Out Of Confusion" on the internet-based record label Sellaband. Taking on the role of impresario, bandleader Markus Melms has scheduled a night to remember. On the bill will be the sensational young Dutch band So What and from Argentina, the very talented Gisel de Marco accompanied on guitar by my good friend Pieter Vos, aka Pieps.

Local boys ConFused5 always put on a memorable show but this lineup offers a wide variety of music and is Markus' way of thanking the Sellaband community for the support which made the new album a reality. So What has already raised their $50,000 recording budget and is now interviewing producers for their turn in the studio. Gisel de Marco is well on her way to the same goal and this concert could be the shot in the arm that puts her closer to her final countdown.

So who is Gisel de Marco? The tracks offered on her Sellaband profile reveal a pure voice of rich clarity and dazzling technique. The ambitious productions are still of decidedly demo quality but Gisel sings as if she is in the big room at the old A&M studios. Gisel has a mature sense of dynamics well beyond her years. Her performance on "I Wish I could Fly" demonstrates a flare for the dramatic and shows great potential for what will happen when she has the opportunity to sing on a full-blown studio production.

"I Found You" shows another side of this young singer. The vocal is engagingly performed and, as with the previous track, one could imagine Gisel really letting out all the stops. There is something a bit measured about this track but again, the potential is hugely apparent. There is real character and honesty in her voice on "All The Way." "Roma" is yet another side of Gisel. The vulnerability of this track is haunting and touches the listener in a very personal way without being contrived or disingenuous.

The last track on her Profile is an excellent collaboration with fellow Sellaband artist
Marc Supsic. Hats off to Marc for creating a beautiful soundscape to showcase Gisel's talent. A very musical effort on both their parts. Marc's tasteful writing takes Gisel in more of an alternative direction and the result opens up even more possibilities for her future endeavors.

Gisel has that special ability to make a performance exciting without resorting to kitschy pyrotechnics or simply belting at the top of her lungs. If she continues to develop along the same lines her style and technique certainly offer the possibility of a long creative career. Her command of American pop diction is very natural and she does a great job of camouflaging how difficult these songs really are to sing. One of the keys to understanding how good she can be is the quality of her background vocal parts. Most professional background singers are highly skilled and technically more advanced than the artists they sing behind. Gisel proves beyond a doubt that she can do it all.

So...who is Gisel de Marco? The tracks on her Sellaband profile show a wide range of potential directions for a young singer at this stage of development. There are traces of many influences including Celine Dion and even the renowned vocal chameleon, Marnie Nixon. $50,000 will give her the opportunity to look inside herself and, with a good production team to guide her, she will surely reveal the genuine artist inside.

If you are in the Salzburg area on the fourth of July, do yourself a big favor. ConFused5 will rock the Rockhouse with their new album and So What will give a preview of what we can expect from their own upcoming album. But come early and get a good seat. Gisel de Marco, accompanied by Pieps, will be opening the evenings festivities and she is not to be missed.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Begging in the U.S.A.

I'VE HAD IT! I've had it up to here with beggars. My compassion has finally withered until there is nothing left but a parched and twisted vine, its roots seeking sustenance in the cracking clay that was once fertile ground for an occasional "got any spare change?"

The beggars I'm talking about aren't the rag-clad human lumps who raise a disfigured hand in supplication at the village gates. No, the beggars that have put me over the edge work at what has become the modern version of the village. Every major supermarket is flanked by card shops, fast food outlets and the inevitable designer coffee dispensing clip joints. There was a time when one would go to the market, shop for weekly groceries and head for home. But now there are things to do, places to hang out. The shopping center has become the cultural equivalent of the ancient Greek agora...a meeting place. And the art of institutionalized begging has been refined to take advantage of the crowd gathered for no other purpose than to waste a little time and spend a little money.

Upon entering the modern marketplace it's not uncommon to to be immediately approached by the old school panhandler. Their approach hasn't changed much over the years. The real pros have upped the ante from asking for extra change to asking for a dollar and sometimes have the balls to wear better sneakers than their prey. Then there is the rented kid gambit. A doe-eyed woman roams the parking lot holding an infant of spurious origin and begs for everything from money for milk to gas money for the old Datsun crap wagon that sits steaming at the far end of the parking lot.

The latest scam is run by the ostensibly underpaid coffee jockeys who look you square in the eye as the translate your order of a "medium coffee" into Italian gibberish without cracking a smile. On the counter is a cup marked "TIPS." What it really says is "We don't get paid enough to pass a cup of coffee across the counter to you, but it's air-conditioned in here and we don't really know how to do anything else so can we have some of your 'extra' money?" Personally, drinking over-priced coffee with designer names from a paper cup goes against my grain and paying a guilt fee to a pimple-faced snot-nosed kid for pouring it adds insult to acidosis. I bought a nice espresso machine and at three bucks a day it will pay for itself in no time.

But the fun really starts when you hit the main attraction, the supermarket itself. Getting in the door is an exercise in avoiding eye contact with representatives of Greenpeace, Little League fund raisers, Girl Scout cookie hucksters and the guy who asks for a moment of my time to explain how horseback riding excursions for "teens at risk" will lower the odds of my car being stripped in the parking lot by youthful offenders pining for the smell of leather on sweating horseflesh. Jesus, it's like you have to run the beggars gauntlet just to get in the store.

With the price of energy going through the roof, it follows that the prices of everything in the store have risen proportionately. Everything has to be delivered by internal combustion engines and, once on the shelves, must be cooled or heated accordingly. I can almost feel the magnetic pull on my wallet as I walk up and down the aisles. Back in school I worked at a supermarket and was struck with a combination of disgust and pity whenever the local bums came in to buy crackers and canned cat food with their nickels and dimes. With a box of saltines at over three dollars and cat food out of reach it is no wonder these guys are asking for paper money in the parking lot.

The killer-diller of the day however, is reserved for the check-out counter. After dodging all the money-grabbers going in and choosing which groceries will look the biggest in the basket without having to take out a bank loan, the checkout clerk has the unmitigated balls to ask if I would be interested in donating something to prostrate cancer! That's not even grammatical begging! I mean, why can't she say " Would you like to donate something toward finding a cure for prostrate cancer?" Nope. It's just "Do you want to give something to prostate cancer?" with a finger pointing at the empty clear plastic cup next to the credit card reader. My first instinct was to pee in the cup.

After assuring the grocery bagger that yes, I could manage to carry my box of saltines and can of tuna livers out of the store under my own steam I am assailed by a last ditch effort to separate me from the last of my "extra" change. At the front of the store next to the managers station is a makeshift jail cell. Employees of the store take turns standing inside the bars and, with a hangdog expression, ask me if I could donate something to get him out of jail...all in the name of some goddamned charity or other.

Now, I can dig the motives of good people trying to raise money for a good cause. But Jesus Henry Christ! I'm paying more for less groceries everyday...and a portion of what I pay for those groceries is providing the hourly wage of a store employee pacing in a makeshift jail like a caged idiot and begging customers for money! I've had it! From now on I'll buy my produce at the farmers market, my meat at the discount supermarket on the other side of town where a chic overpriced coffee place would be laughed out of the parking lot, and my toilet paper and soap at some other goddamned place. I refuse to be guilted out of whatever I have left after battling the beggars just to get into the damned store, and then battling the beggars who I am paying with my grocery money to get back out again.

Beggars...I've had it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Notes From RixMix...Markus, Meet Don

Goddamn! It has been a busy spring for me and I finally have some time to write. Many great stories, thousands of miles traveled and two fun projects signed, sealed and delivered. I've just delivered the masters for the ConFused5 album "Out of Confusion" which Ron Hitchcock and I mixed at RixMix here in the LA area. Man, what a great room. The place belongs to our pal Rick Ruggieri, a phenomenal studio designer and a fine engineer as well. As a matter of fact, Rick's latest Grammy award arrived during the time we were working. He placed it on a pedestal between the Mastering Lab monitors so we had to stare at the damn thing 12 to 15 hours at a stretch. I'm really happy for him, but that was just too cruel.

Working in Rick's room was a godsend for us. First of all, he doesn't let a lot of projects in to begin with because it means that either he can't work, or he has to go rent another room somewhere else. Secondly, he designed and hand built the place...and any studio that Rick has a hand in is always dead-nuts on the money when it comes to mixing accuracy. What you hear is exactly what you recorded and there is not a decibel of bullshit in the room. I know that when I take a mix out of RixMix there simply will be no surprises. Plenty of rooms can make a mix sound amazing, great bottom end...sizzling highs etc. But when you take the project for mastering you realize you've been fooling yourself. Ron and I were confident that whatever we took out of the place was accurate and exactly how we intended it to sound prior to putting the final mastering touches on.

Another point in the room's favor is that, being a relatively private facility, there is not the usual parade of clowns walking through the control room to tell you how they would have dialed in the Fairchild or panned the vocals. Although Rick made himself available whenever we had need of his expertise, Ron and I could work in peace and give the sessions our full concentration. Ron had his granola bars, I had my new espresso machine and we just hunkered down and got to it.

We did have one visit with a notable musician that turned out to be fruitful. Ron has a boutique record label of his own and one of his artists is the well-known jazz guitarist Don Peak. For the unaware, Don gained notoriety as the guitarist with the Everly Brothers and now composes TV scores as well as continuing to play his ass off. Don had some business with Ron so we took a short break and visited a while. As Don was telling us how little time he had and how he had to rush off he made the oldest mistake in the book. He asked us to play him a bit of what we were working on. Everyone knows that this always results in at least an hour's worth of "dig, check this out...what do you think of this?" And whatever Don was in a rush to do went right out the window.

We had just been working on a ConFused5 song that had gone through some heavy changes during the recording process in Austria. The vocal had been transposed down an octave ala Henri Salvador, and the rock band that played the rest of the album had been replaced by a well-worn New Orleans jazz/blues combo. was still the same guys, just a completely different approach. At that moment we were listening to the guitar solo which had originally been played with a solidbody PRS and a high gain boutique amp. The band's guitarist, Markus Melms had acquired a lovely vintage ES345 recently and I had been dying to prove to him what a fantastic guitar it was. I plugged the beautiful thing into an old Fender Twin Reverb amp and we proceeded to spend the better part of a day creating a whole new vibe for the solo.

As we played the take for Don he looked up and said, "I thought you said you were doing a rock album... this is really interesting." And I have to say it really is...interesting. Playing a substantial guitar like the 345 through a clean vintage amp was something Markus had probably not done in a good long while. A rig like that doesn't play itself, you have to pull the music out with your bare hands. But once we got into it, Markus really put together a nice solo. It had interesting content, beautiful tone and most importantly, it was played with conviction. This is what caught Don's ear...and he spent the next 20 minutes or so showing us what effects and equalization he would use on the track. You see, when you get a performance like that on a recording, you want to make damned sure that the intentions of the player reach through the speakers and tap you on the shoulder as if to say, "Hey man, lend me an ear, I've got a story to tell you."

So Markus, meet Don. If you don't like the sound of your solo, it's all his fault. If you dig it, just remember, it was all my idea in the first place. The public can decide what they think when "Out Of Confusion" is released on the Sellaband label on July 4th.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Angela Carole Brown...a Pro By Any Other Name...

Yesterday I had the pleasure of recording one of my all-time favorite singers. I'm finishing up the SolidTube tracks and we will begin mixing the album in a few days. While in Vienna, I had Mandana sketch out the background vocals but another voice will really add some meat to the tracks. And I know of no meatier voice than the one that lives inside Angela Carole Brown.

I met Angie many years ago at a cabaret in Los Angeles. Steve Haberman, Jim DiJulio Jr. and I were the house trio and one night Angie turned up with a pile of charts. We played a set behind her that night and from the first note, I knew that I was hearing something special. Angela's rich voice oozes effortlessly and makes its way to the listener's ear on waves of pure and honest emotion. I know, I know...the last sentence sounds a bit over the top, but if you go to her website and check out the video of "Slow Club" you will understand my lack of adequately descriptive vocabulary. So rather than try to put her abilities into words, give her a listen and see if you can come up with something better.

The first time I heard Mandana sing, I thought of Angela's voice. They both have a rich and sonorous low range...this is a gift and cannot be taught any more than you can teach a young athlete to be taller. Stronger? Yes, but size is a natural attribute and both Angela and Mandana have big natural voices.

I had hoped to do the background voices for the SolidTube album with the guys in the band in combination with Mandana, and some of these tracks may ultimately find their way onto the album. But when we cut the guide tracks for a song called "Home" I knew that there was only one direction to go. I emailed Angela from Wild One Studio and begged.

One look at Angela's website and it will be obvious why I begged...Angela is definitely not your average background singer. She is a published novelist, a composer and arranger, has produced her own albums and is a must see at her jazz gigs in the more popular LA nightclubs. But, she has always graciously stepped into the breech for me when I have needed her no matter what the gig.

Working with Angela is the ultimate experience in professionalism. She will stand in front of the mic and work all day to give you just exactly what the track needs. If you need ideas...she has a pocketful. But she's just as ready to duplicate whatever parts are needed. Want vibrato?...sure. Straight tone?,,,no problem. Double the track and sound like someone else?...yep. Angela has all the tools of the trade and then some. And she is so good at what she does that ego never enters the room.

Doing vocals with Angela is a little like doing a photo shoot with an experienced model. All you have to do is say a few words, point and shoot. She makes subtle adjustments so fast that you just need to keep the machine in record and catch each take. We did five songs in two hours and I never felt like we were working too fast. It's just that every frigging take is a keeper. Normally, there are takes that are better than others, but when she is at the mic, there just isn't a lot that isn't usable.

I'm really looking forward to mixing this album and am so proud to have been able to include Angela's talent. I only wish that the SolidTube gang could have watched her work on their tracks. I know that her level of expertise and professionalism would have been an inspiration for them.

If all goes according to plan, the SolidTube album will be available in late May. I hope that you like it...I already do. And I'm a hard sell.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

ConFused5...FUCK! I Don't Want It To Be Over

FUCK!...always wanted to start a blog like that. The universal plosive monosyllabic attention getter...and a word with deep hidden meaning. But I digress. What I meant to say was, Fuck, I really don't want this to be over. Went in to Sonic Flow Studio and ran up some work mixes and suddenly it began to sink in that the recording sessions for ConFused5 are history. As Sammie Davis Jr. might have said, "I dig this not, man." I haven't had this good a time since...well, since last month in Vienna as a matter of fact. So I guess I should stop whining.

Recording with ConFused5 drove home something that came to light as I was working with SolidTube last month and was also the theme of my article in yesterday's Sellaband Tribune. The greatest single product that this new thing we call Sellaband can offer the artists on their roster is genuine artist development. If the truth be told, the recording budget does not allow for an all out recording/mixing/mastering package without some huge favors and vigilance on the part of a project manager. But it is sufficient for a band to get a good taste of what studio recording can be. Yeah, yeah. Of course you can make an album for the price of a happy meal with your godamned laptop. But that ain't studio recording with a full band, pro engineers, pro gear and an eye looking in from the outside to help get the most out of yourself.

This album will be really good because the guys in the band allowed me to look deeper into their music than they themselves may have. They also, to their credit, are good enough musicians that they can try different approaches without losing their identity. Musicians can be stubborn and inflexible but I find that this usually stems from insecurity...perhaps they don't have the chops and are afraid to admit it. Or their egos won't allow them to see things from alternative angles. This was not the case with ConFused5. Their attitude was, "We've demo'd the songs, and this is as far as we could take it. Now it's your turn."

As someone who believes in artist development, I believe some of the best work toward a record will happen in a rehearsal room. We tore these songs to pieces and the guys themselves discovered how to put them back together in a way that every part and every note became intrinsic to the track. Time was short, but I wanted the band to really believe in themselves. And that meant that they had to relearn the motivating force behind their parts. These are seasoned guys, but they had to turn off the automatic pilot and fly the plane without instruments so to speak. It was amazing. As the parts became simpler, they began to play with real conviction. And suddenly the vocal melodies started to leap out of the tracks.

The other area where the band really grew was in taking a very organized approach to orchestrating the songs. Once the rhythm section was cleaned out, the parts, though simplified, had greater impact and we discovered that there was now much more room for the keyboards and single line guitar parts that give these songs so much character. Markus and Alex play great harmonic single line parts together and featuring them in a mix can be difficult unless there is room. Many times a band can slip into the habit of playing over other parts which are in the same frequency range. It's good to adopt the philosophy of Willie Keeler. He was a baseball player known for his ability to get a base hit whenever he needed one. When asked how he did this he replied, " I just keep my eyes open and hit em where they ain't." Keeping this in mind will definitely make you a more valuable musician in a group setting.

Recording guitar solos with Markus was great fun. We really got into the rhythmic aspects of soloing and with the rhythm tracks as simple and forceful as they were, he found that he had so much more room inside the tracks to really express himself. Beda and Kurt had provided a great bottom end on which to build. The solos in this music are mostly composed more than improvised so it took a while for Markus to relax into the groove these guys laid out for him. But once he let go of the old habits the shit started to catch fire.

I'm so proud of all these guys. They really stretched their musical horizons and played some great music. And it could only happen because they weren't afraid to change. That is the key to developing as a band. You just have to be willing to try other things and to keep an open mind. There are no limits to what you can pull out of yourself if you are willing to say, "Fuck it...I want to be better today than I was yesterday." Not every musician has that kind of courage.

Well, tonight the band and I got together for a farewell dinner. I had so much fun here and hate to leave this town. But, as much as we've grown together as a production team, I think that if I push the talk back button one more time and say "Perfect...except..." they'll be packing my bags for me. I also should send a big shout of thanks out to Wolfgang, Max and Spanky at Sonic Flow Studio. They were all great guys to work with and really know what they are doing...when they're not mounting vacuum cleaners and meat grinders on the wall. Spanky's name is actually Harry but Spanky is his new nom de guerre...I'm hoping it sticks.

So...onward and upward! Tomorrow it's back to Vienna for a quick beer before flying home. Thanks Markus and ConFused5, it's been a slice.

Monday, March 24, 2008

ConFused5 at Sonic Flow Studio...Continued

As I said in my last entry, the guys at Sonic Flow Studio have built a very cool recording environment. The room is large and they have plenty of large studio gobos. These are move-able walls which are used to create isolated areas in the studio. With these we were able to isolate the guitar amps from the drum microphones. They are also handy in creating a vocal booth or for changing the acoustic characteristics of the room itself. Another thing I might have missed if I hadn't taken a good look around is their extensive collection of table-top meat grinders. These are strictly old-school and are of the hand crank variety. Yes, Wolfgang and Max are have an interesting eye for visual design. There are about fifty of these beauties mounted just inside the studio entrance and what says "Rock'n'Roll" better than a platoon of meat grinders standing at attention at the gates of the tabernacle?

Markus has done an amazing job of getting the media to come out for pictures, articles, video footage and interviews. The question I enjoy answering most is "What kind of projects do you enjoy the most?" My immediate answer is always a very diplomatic, "This one!"
But my serious answer is that I really enjoy working with musicians, singers and bands who may not have had the opportunity to work in a real recording environment with an outside production influence before. Working in a professional studio with ample time to explore and develop has a way of refining the musicianship of any musician. And with the right production team a band that is ready, willing and open-minded will grow by leaps and bounds.

Many musicians with limited recording experience tend to think in terms of what their heroes might play in a given situation. All of us are influenced by what we listen to and love. But when the opportunity to make a recording presents itself, the most important thing for me is to dig deep into a musician and find out what he has to say...and then to pull that statement out of him in his own words so to speak. I've done plenty of sessions as a bassist where I've been asked to "do that Jaco thing" or "give me a Larry Graham type of slap thing." But when I'm trying to interpret what an original artist has inside of him, I simply won't stop until the musician himself can listen to the track and say, "oh...yeah, that's what I always wanted to say, I just never knew that I knew how to do that." That moment of realization is the big payoff as far as I'm concerned. If a song sells or not is often a matter of opinion and luck, but if a musician can let himself be taken to that moment he knows he is capable of more than he had dreamed of, then he can listen to the music for the rest of his life with a clear conscience.

ConFused5 is made up of excellent musicians from top to bottom. They are very capable on a technical level but have never had the chance to have an outsider look at their music under a microscope. Fortunately they are also mature grownups and have relatively open minds so we have been able to experiment quite a bit during the overdub sessions. If a musician doesn't have the chops to try different things, well, then you're dead in the water. But in every case, I think we've been able to get to the deepest recesses of the musician's original intent and the recordings will reflect a genuine musical honesty.

Today we will finish off the last of the vocals and I'll go into Sonic Flow to run up work mixes tomorrow. Man, I hate it when things start to come to a close.