Friday, December 07, 2007

Sellaband's The Arrangements

Call me a hopeless romantic, but I'm a sucker for the real shit. I don't eat fast food and I don't wear underwear unless it's 100% cotton. Aluminum baseball bats may save trees, but it's the vintage crack of wood against horsehide that genuinely punctuates a game of baseball. And gravity notwithstanding, two pounds of silicone "seduceth not" as it says in the bible...somewhere.

When it comes to music, it can be difficult to tell the real shit from the just plain shit. Pop music many times takes on the characteristics of self promoting shit of the bull variety and the difference between commercial ad jingles and the programming that interrupts them is getting harder to discern everyday. Where once the radio airwaves carried messages of love, hate, protest or angst, we're now bombarded with things that have all the outward appearances of pop music but the message has become "Buy me, I rhyme" or "Buy me, I look just like a rock star." Songs have become the toy you get with the happy meal and content has taken a back seat to the slick hardware that delivers it. A copy of Masterwriter software and whatever recording program comes free with a hundred dollar interface seems to be all that's needed to create something that will pass for a pop song. Me? I still prefer the real shit.

Sometimes things find you in mysterious ways, Like when you're stumbling around looking for the phone in the dark and smash the long lost television remote under your shoe. This morning, while searching the Sellaband forum for a topic to which I had planned the perfect response, I happened upon a video by an Irish band called The Arrangements. The song is called "Mr Frazier" and contains no additives or silicone...it, and they, are the real shit.

Without a clue as to how this track was recorded I will go out on a limb and say that it drips with authenticity. The soundscape is simple, uncluttered with processing toys, and to the point. There is not a hint of over-sanitization in this production and I get the feeling that issues like noises or buzzes were dealt with the old fashioned way of playing louder than the problem. The listener is placed square into the band mix and from this vantage point he can almost feel the movement of the kick drum head and smell dust burning on the amp tubes.

The rhythm section of this band plays exceptionally well together not only musically but sonically. Whether through instinct or well-laid plan, The Arrangements sound and feel like a band with like-minded ideals and whatever influences the individual band members have brought to the mix have been allowed to ferment into something greater and more interesting than the parts.

The kick drum and bass are big, fat, accurately played, and groove hard. Consequently the guitars are left with breathing room and the track is tight in its looseness. There is also a sense of size that frequently is missing from recordings. "Mr. Frazier" has punch even when heard through headphones at low volume, a listening method that can geld many recordings that sound great when played loud.

"Mr. Frazier" is well written and the vocals are performed with the conviction and irreverence that mark the difference between pop/rock and sugar-coated pre-fab pop recordings. Minor third and perfect fourth voicings in the background vocals serve to give them a prominent place in the mix without being trite.

Although they don't sound the part, The Arrangements are a relatively new band having formed in spring of 2006. If they can stay the course and persevere in the highly competitive genre they've chosen, it would seem that a bright future lies ahead. And if "Mr. Frazier" is any indication of what is still to come, all of us who prefer the real shit are in for a truck load.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Sellaband's MoRRis...Making It Sound Easy

My son was about seven when he began to show an interest in basketball. This was the golden age of the Los Angeles Lakers and kids patterned themselves after Magic, Kareem and Worthy. If you were white, you were automatically called Larry or Rambis. Seven and eight-year-old kids, identifying with their heroes, called themselves point guards, shooting guards, small forwards and power forwards before they had acquired the basic fundamental skills needed to simply become "basketball players." As my son grew (he is now 6'9" and in his seventh year as a pro in the European leagues) he accepted the importance of learning everyone's role on a basketball team. Instead of limiting himself to one position, he acquired, through hard work, the skills and knowledge of the entire game.

And what could this possibly have to do with music? Tonight I had the pleasure of listening to the music of a Danish artist known as MoRRis. And if MoRRis and his fine group of musicians were a basketball team, it would be poetry in motion. Everything about this artist's music betrays years of experience, diligent practice, volumes of knowledge and tremendous skill. And, as is the case with most highly skilled performers, be it sports or music, the end product seems to be delivered effortlessly, with an abandon that can only come with true mastery of the art.

Before I attempt to describe MoRRis' voice, I'd like to say a few words about the instrumental tracks presented on their Sellaband profile. Young musicians, through the exuberance of youthful peer pressure, frequently categorize themselves prematurely before learning the fundamental skills involved with being well-rounded musicians in much the same way as my son's young playmates did. I know this because I did it myself. After being the world's greatest rock bass player, I became the funkiest dog on the block. Eventually, I ended up thinking I could play jazz until my first string bass lesson with the late great Monty Budwig delivered a well placed kick in the nuts to my ego.

Every wannabe jazzer thinks he knows what the concept of swing is all about. It's easy, instead of straight eighth notes, you lope along in either a dotted-eighth/sixteenth feel or a triplet...or someplace in between the two. Soloing is easy too, just blow chord outlines and scales as fast as you can in a dah du dah du dah du rhythm. The only people that won't be fooled are the ones that, like me, didn't know what the fuck was really supposed to be happening. Monty changed all of that and slowly I began to understand why the best studio musicians were usually great jazz players. Take the great Motown musicians for example. The dominant character of their recordings is feel. Every song they recorded, no matter what the style or genre had great feel. And without the rock solid jazz background common to all those musicians, those recordings would never have felt the way they did then and still do to this day.

MoRRis' recordings feel amazing. One of the high points for me is the piano solo of "When You Go." The two-beat feel of the song would be the perfect vehicle for the usual boring "swinging" solo, but instead, the solo plays straight eighths against the swinging track. The result is a short, sweet interlude with just enough jagged edges to reflect the serious nature of the song's meaning. It's only ten bars, but it tells a story.

Each of the three tracks are played masterfully and unselfishly by musicians who are obviously enjoying themselves and in no hurry to get to the end of the song. The resonator guitar on "For Sale" doesn't dominate the track but is conspicuous for its beauty of tone and choice of notes. Everything this band plays is understated and elegantly executed. As I listened for details I found myself caught up in the creamy feel and the songs would come to an end before I could remember what details I may have been listening for.

Readers of this blog will know that I have taught, coached and worked with singers at every conceivable level for thirty years. I've worked with phenomenal voices that had no heart, average voices that sang their asses off, and everything in between. I take particular pleasure in writing this review because it affords me the opportunity of listening to something very unique. Once in a blue moon, a beautiful instrument is married to meticulous technique and MoRRis is just such an individual. He sings as if he is not singing at all and that is where the magic lies. His delivery is natural to the point that the listener is seduced into feeling that he is singing the song himself. Although this may seem effortless, it is no accident. From a technical standpoint, MoRRis has mastered the fine art of letting the song do the singing for him. Anyone who thinks this is easy is probably not a singer.

One aspect of MoRRis' delivery I find particularly engaging is his sense of time. As stated regarding the band, MoRRis sings these songs spaciously without a hint of urgency. It is as if he wants the song to last forever. His phrasing, while deep in the pocket of the track, is dictated more by the meaning of the lyrics than the position of the kick drum. MoRRis has a youthful sounding voice but uses it with the wisdom of a seasoned veteran.

What really sets MoRRis apart from the crowd though, is the pure beauty of his tone. He could probably sing the telephone directory and elicit an emotional response from an audience. The fact that he is singing beautiful songs to beautiful accompaniments takes the whole package to a higher level.

Sadly, Denmark is a bit of a drive from Los Angeles so I won't be seeing MoRRis play live anytime soon. But next time I go to the gym to shoot baskets, I'll have MoRRis on the headphones. Then I'll think of my son, the hard work that made him the player he is today, and the hard work that makes music like MoRRis' sound so easy.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Creating a Fan Base

I read a post on the Sellaband forum recently in which an aspiring artist asked for advice in ways to increase their fan base, specifically, how to increase attendance at live gigs. The Sellaband community, always eager to contribute to the success of its own, responded with suggestions ranging from traditional methods of sending flyers and posting placards to employing the internet in reaching the eyes and ears of prospective fans.

One very simple method of increasing the fan base was conspicuous by its absence from the discussion however. But first a word about the environment in which aspiring artists find themselves today.

There have been many changes in the dynamics between artist and audience with the advent of inexpensive digital recording methods. The line between audience and artist has become blurred by the ability of non-musicians or amateurs of limited experience to create sound recordings which, in the ears of the creator, have the characteristics of actual music. User-friendly multi-track sequencing and massive loop libraries have created a cottage music industry wherein musical chops have been replaced by mouse technique and terms like "cut and paste" make studying counterpoint...well, pointless.

I find it of interest that the number and variety of live music venues has decreased in correspondence with the explosion of massive musical equipment outlets. There are more tools for the making of music and less places to use them every day. Professional recording studios are dying faster than family run restaurants. If one were to look at this trend with a pessimistic eye, embarking on a career in music would seem like a foolish ambition indeed.

Yes, everything has changed, and yet, nothing has really changed at all. The environment has generated a flood of uninspired creativity in all things. We eat food that isn't food, we watch reality television that isn't real and we listen to music that isn't really music every day. But somewhere, a chef is preparing a work of culinary art and and a writer is creating drama from his heart. Optimism dictates that the same holds true for the art of music and that quality will not succumb to compositional methods defined as being "user-friendly."

How does this apply to the question of increasing a fan base? I would suggest that people go to concerts when there is something to go for. That "something" must consist of an experience that they cannot provide for themselves. If an aspiring artist wants an audience, he must set the table and provide a real meal. It isn't a question of getting people to the gig. What is missing in so many live shows is the X-factor...which I define as "Being so goddamned good that they can't stay away." That which an artist provides for his audience must be better than whatever is on television that evening.

There has always been a sense of entitlement in the ranks of the less experienced. It is usually only after years of struggle that experienced artists can appreciate their own responsibility in providing a product that justifies a lasting relationship with their fan base. Many musical acts have "all the tricks of the trade...but no trade" as the old saying goes. Modern methods make recording a great sounding demo almost effortless. When an artist appears on the live stage however, the audience should not be expected to accept any less than that which he hears on a recording. Indeed, the experience should be enhanced by the immediacy of live performance...the "X-factor."

Recordings and live performances have a unique relationship in that each generates interest in the other. Good recordings will move listeners to want to witness the artist perform live, and great live performances will move an audience to buy the recordings which bring back the experience. An artist can insure that his recorded music finds an audience by making the very best recordings possible. And the simplest way an artist can increase his live audience is by shouldering the responsibility of being so goddamned good that they can't find it in themselves to stay away.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Sheet Metal...Now That's a Friggin' Band Name!

I was thirteen when, having made the conscious decision to waste away my life in acts of dissipation and iniquity, I joined forces with the neighborhood do-nothings and formed my first band. This was just after guitar amps were being converted from whale oil to electricity as their power source and, ignorant of the idea that we were supposed to actually learn how to play instruments, we convened in the garage for the first order of business, the naming of the band.

The bands we admired had colorfully descriptive names which we were certain had been chosen after long deliberation and under the influence of powerfully psychotropic substances. Names like "Iron Butterfly"," Moby Grape" and "Strawberry Alarm Clock" were at the top of our list...but sadly, these were taken. This was serious business. A band name would carry the weight of conveying our intentions on its shoulders and wasn't to be taken lightly. After long deliberations, two fist fights, a break-up and ensuing band reunion, we decided upon "The Blue Bathtub"...All of us agreed that these three words would very clearly state our position to the throngs of rabid fans we envisioned carrying us on their shoulders to the promised land of fame and fortune.

In retrospect, I can state that I was over-ruled on that day so long ago. I lobbied long and hard for something on the order of "Sheet Metal" but lost my bid. Ah...what could have been. I was quite disturbed to find that a group of Londoners has stolen the name and the thirty years between events does nothing to alleviate the sting of having one's idea pick-pocketed for the benefit of another. "The Blue Bathtub" was good enough I suppose, But "Sheet Metal" has a ring to it that is unmistakable.

But this isn't about thirty years of pain, this is about focusing attention on an excellent London band with a name that describes what they do and how they do it in a most graphic way. Sheet Metal plays a brand of guitar-driven rock music with the classic attitude best described as "We don't give a shit!" And I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. They play with precision and chops, write serious songs laced with humor, and in the spirit of the original renegade motivations behind the development of rock and roll, do it with a strut that says quite clearly, "This is what we think...and like it or not, we don't give a shit."

Guitarists Dollop and Grim (I sincerely hope that these are noms de guerre) have a lot of bases covered. Everything they play has balls...there is no polite way to describe the relentless attitude behind their chunky downstroke rhythm tracks. And while there is the occasional excursion into guitar-hero pyrotechnics, their command of harmony leads is exceptional and gives the impression of being a single, massive and toothy saurian guitar stopping just short of biting off the listener's ear lobes. Bassist Chinch plays the middleman, laying big fat notes under the guitars while reinforcing the excellent feel of drummer Pel. As a rhythm section, the band has no soft spots and it is obvious that the players bring out the best in each other.

One area where metal bands tend to show weakness is in the vocal department. Frequently, one can't hear the words, or when the words are audible, they, and/or the sounds made by the singer are regrettable. Metal songs are sometimes overly serious or pedantic, and many times performed in keys so high as to require the singer to pull one nut down into his boot. The front man of Sheet Metal, going by the name of Dreb, sings man songs in a man's voice. As a result, the lyrics are easy to understand and the attitude of delivery has the impact of a well placed fist rather than the whiny handbag smack of so many scarf-wearing screamers.

"Twenty to Life" and "My Name is the Law" are good representations of what this band is about. But of the three songs posted on Sheet Metal's Sellaband profile, "Searching For a Hero" really gave me an image of what fun it must be to play in this band. Imagine a punk metal band falling out of the rafters and landing squarely in the midst of a stage production of "Pirates of Penzance" and you get the idea. The nose-thumbing music hall humor is delivered with the ferociousness of the Ramones and the combination is irresistible.

This is a very good band with all the earmarks of experience. With their blend of meaningful lyrics, aggressively played but comprehensible parts and the uncompromising attitude of pranking teen-agers, there is a lot to love about Sheet Metal. Listening to three songs makes me want to hear much more from this band.

If you are in the United Kingdom, fall by a place called The Peel in Kingston on November 29th and see Sheet Metal live. You won't regret it...Sheet Metal is better than The Blue Bathtub ever was.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Vintage in the Making...Sellaband's Rooga

Pop music has taken on many faces since February 9th, 1964 when the Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their performances on national television ushered in the age of the pop-rock act as a self-contained unit. I remember watching the show and realizing how different this was from all that had come before. This wasn't Elvis gyrating to the rhythm of an anonymous rhythm section. And only the most die-hard fans know the names of Buddy Holly's Crickets. Yes, this was different. And so powerful has been their influence that now, forty-three years later, popular music is still dominated by the image of the self-contained band.

American pop-culture of the fifties was considered by young musicians in England to be "the shit" and when the music came back to America as the English Invasion, American teenagers returned the compliment, adopting the hairstyles and clothing of this fresh new movement. In the ensuing years, pop music has gone international with influences from every corner of the world adding to the mix.

Rooga is a young Viennese band that drips from the massive distillery of pop-rock music with a fresh combination of influences. The self-described "Funky nu-rock" quartet are an unexpected product of Vienna, a city built on international influences but known for music of a more academic flavor.

Rooga's line up is nothing new, a guitar/bass/drums power trio fronted by the very able voice of Kati. What's new about Rooga is the maturity of the arrangements. In a larger ensemble, there is room to hide. A mediocre rhythm section can be compensated for by flashy solos, or lack of solo skills can be balanced with group vocals. A power trio must stand on its own three legs and if one leg is shorter than the others, the vocalist will be constantly shifting weight to stay balanced.

The three musicians in Rooga shoulder the load with equal doses of power, chops and commitment to the ensemble. Drummer Klaus, Bassist Victor and Guitarist Alex are like a matched set of thoroughbreds. Any weakness or strength is unapparent as they charge confidently through their sometimes ambitiously challenging arrangements.

One of the attractions of a small ensemble is the transparency of the soundscape. As stated, there is no place for a weak link in a trio. Rooga's sound is clean and accurate while maintaining an aggressive attitude. The benefit of clean, accurately played arrangements are twofold. First of all, as a musician, it's really fun to play louder than possible in a larger group. The second aspect is what I call the "ghost by-product." When a small ensemble plays with a great degree of accuracy, the frequencies tend to have more room to mingle and merge into parts that are heard but not played by any one instrument. This phenomenon is strictly subjective and each listener will perceive these ghost by-products differently. In the early days of acoustic recording, large orchestras playing into the horn of the Victor Talking Machine's recording equipment sounded thin and tinny whereas recordings of smaller jazz and dance bands had a fuller, more dynamic sound. The musicians in Rooga hold down their share of the frequencies in a way that allows the final result to sound bigger than the individual parts would indicate.

As the focal point of the band, Kati is well on her way to carving out an identity. There are many influences apparent in her phrasing and delivery, but she gives the listener a strong dose of individuality as well. She more than holds her own on a stage dripping with testosterone and counters the band's aggressive output punch for punch.

Rooga is well on their way, but to say they are complete would be premature. They have so many of the technical aspects firmly in place, but their next phase of growth will surely be in the area of feel. The music feels good, but with seasoning and experience it will grow to feel great. This isn't a matter of education, chops or intent. The intent to be amazing is clearly present in Rooga's music, If maturity and experience were plug-ins, we would be cheated out of the pleasure of watching a band like Rooga grow into the monsterhood that may well be their destiny.

Fresh moonshine will get you drunk alright. But it only gets to be Jack Daniel's by hanging around in the barrel for a while. I'm eager to hear the result of Rooga's next foray into the studio. This is a band made up of all the right ingredients and with time in the barrel will certainly be comparable to the finest liqueur Vienna has to offer.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Timing is Everything...Trail's new "City"

Timing is everything. In music, it can mean the difference between a mediocre performance or a moment in time that infects the memory of the listener for years. In the business of music, a shrewd sense of timing can make or break a career. There is a band on the Sellaband web site that has displayed a very acute sense of timing in both regards.

I reviewed Trail early last summer and the only issues I felt justified in raising at that time had to do with sound quality. As to the quality of the playing and more importantly, the songs, I had only complimentary words for this group's offerings. Rather than repeat myself, you can read the review here.

In the time since that review, Trail has been working hard toward their goal of becoming a viable recording act. Recently, they have posted a new version of their song "City" on their profile page and I was very curious if the new version would be an improvement over the recording I had originally reviewed. To put my reaction in one sentence: Trail, you are clever, clever lads.

The "hit potential" of any given recording can many times be measured on a timeline. Success can depend on what happens in the ten seconds after pushing "play." This is the first example of Trail's impeccable sense of timing. From the first note of "City" I wanted to hear more. And when the guitar kicked in at six seconds in, I was sold. Trail has gone to some expense in producing this song to professional standards. The effort, as well as the expense, shows.

I know that there was some concern about sacrificing the vibe of the original demo when putting the song under the surgeon's knife in a professional studio environment. "City" proves that this doesn't have to be the case. The recording is a perfect example of how not to fuck up a great performance. The ambience of the recording is intimate, with a warm presence that gives the listener a seat in the room as it all goes down. The drum sounds are pure and don't suffer from the over-processing that so tempts the home recording engineer/producer. The bass and drum balance is the perfect foundation for the guitar sounds that first drew me to listen to this band. The dynamics of the solo section show a mature sense of restraint without which the impact of the second section would be lost. And throughout the song, as exciting as the instrumental mix is, the vocal is never crowded into a corner but soars right up the middle with plenty of space to breathe. "City" sounds like an ass-kicking rock recording...period.

As to the performance, Trail's sense of timing once again looms large. These guys play simple, hard and, most importantly, together. You can eq the bottom end of a recording to death, but if the information isn't there, you're just pissing in the wind. The bottom end of "City" is rich, round and has impact because it was played that way...with balls. There is also that elusive feel that musicians describe as "swing" oozing in the cracks between all the parts. If it were possible to improve on the feel of the demo, Trail has done exactly that. "City" feels like an ass-kicking rock recording...period.

Now, as to the shrewdness of Trail's timing in a business sense, this new version will kill more than its share of birds with one stone. Posting songs on Sellaband is a matter of proving potential. Certainly, the songs previously presented have indicated that Trail has what it takes to make a great album, given the budget to avail themselves of the proper tools, facilities and expertise. This new version of "City" positively proves the point. And Trail's timing is spot on. The band is very near to reaching the halfway point in their quest toward the 50 Thousand dollar recording budget proscribed by Sellaband. Coming at the halfway point, this recording should prove to Trail's existing believers that they do indeed have a winner. I predict that new investment in Trail is imminent and forthcoming as well.

I try to call them like I see/hear them and I thought a lot of this band when I first heard the demos. Now I'm looking forward to a full album of top flight songs from these guys. If "City" is any indication, I know I won't be disappointed. Trail is an ass-kicking rock band...period

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Vintage Myth

"Hello, my name is Pete and I'm a guitar-a-holic." Every time I get my hands on a beautiful guitar or bass I imagine myself saying those words as I introduce myself to a roomful of like-minded addicts in some sort of twelve-step program for gear junkies. My addiction goes back to about age 3 or 4. My dad had a Sears Silvertone acoustic guitar and I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever made by the hand of man. And when the guitar was put away, I would stretch rubber bands across a cigar box and pretend that I was making music. And from that time to this very moment, I have led the life of a sex-addict working as an oil boy on a photo shoot for sunscreen products. For most of my life, I have been surrounded by beautiful instruments.

During my years at Shangri La, I had the opportunity to have some of the finest instruments in my hands on a daily basis. The studio owner had very wisely invested in a marvelous collection of vintage guitars and basses and I looked at that collection as my personal Golden Gate Bridge. Because the bridge is so massive, it is under constant maintenance. As soon as the crews finish repainting at one end, they go back and start all over again. Every one of those instruments was in perfect working order because a part of everyday was devoted to cleaning, restringing, intonating and making minor repairs. Every day was an orgy.

I learned a great deal about vintage instruments...how to date them accurately, the desirability factor of various makes, models and years...all the usual bullshit that fills the air at vintage guitar shows. But the most important thing I learned is that there are great guitars that can be had for the price of a good flight case...and there are priceless guitars that can be real dogs. A vintage guitar can be worth a boatload of cash to a collector, but that doesn't necessarily make it a great musical instrument. The guitars I'm going to concentrate on here are solid body electrics. Jazz guitars, flat top acoustics and semi-hollow body guitars are an entirely different matter.

As a player, I don't get overly excited about words like "dead mint", "ten out of ten" or "complete with original hang tags." Great guitars have usually been played...a lot. I've handled some guitars of museum quality that were dogs the day they came out of the factory. There is a mythical reverence for the hand work that went into the construction of Fender guitars and basses of the 50's. The fact is that those instruments were built to be affordable. Anything done by hand was done so because machines were either too expensive or had yet to be developed. One characteristic of hand work that escapes logical consideration is the variable level of quality control. The Fender factory of the 50's shouldn't be equated with a one-off boutique lutherie. These guitars were not hand carved by master craftsmen, they were assembled from pre-fabricated parts. And every once in a while, the perfect neck would find the perfect body and a fantastic guitar would be born. Many times those few great guitars would end up in the hands of great players.

This was In the days before musicians found it impossible to play a show without ten guitars on stage. Guitars and cases were thrown into car trunks, pick-up trucks and luggage bins with little regard for the cosmetically-obsessed collector of the future. There are plenty of stories of the "Holy Grail" being found tucked under a bed for 30 years in its original case complete with tags. Some of those guitars might turn out to be really great instruments. But maybe they were tossed under the bed because they didn't sound good or played like shit. The sad fact is that once those guitars are found, they rarely get the chance to prove themselves because the inflated price of "dead mint" vintage guitars almost insures that they will end up as trophies hanging some doctor's or lawyer's wall.

Yes, vintage guitars are wonderful artifacts of a magical era in pop music. But when it comes to solid body guitars built on an assembly line, it isn't unusual to play ten vintage beauties before finding an instrument that is everything it should be. The fact is that there are only so many old guitars. They don't build '54 Strats anymore. I've played four 1954 Stratocasters. Two were dogs, one was pretty nice and one was an exceptional guitar. Hint, the winner did not have the original tags. I've also been intimate with a half-dozen "Black-guard" Telecasters ranging from unbelievably mint to something that looked like it was dragged behind a tractor from gig to gig. The mint ones were stiff and unresponsive, which is probably why they were still mint. The old beater was probably one of the three best guitars I've ever played.

Because there are so few old guitars left, guitar manufacturers are now marketing replicas of some of the more desirable models at what I consider absurd prices. I actually bought a masterbuilt '54 Stratocaster myself. But I had to look through fourteen of them before I found one that was exceptional. Yes, they're pretty, but what makes them worth the price? They're still made out of wood and have a bit of hardware screwed on. If the "way they used to make 'em" is so special, why don't they make 'em like that now? well, I got news, They do. And I think that the standards of today's assembly line built instruments are far superior to what was being done in the "old days." The Fender "Hwy 1" guitars and basses are much better that the shit they were cranking out in the 70's...at a fraction of the cost. ( I just checked E-bay...there is an early 70's precision bass listed at $2900.00! Insane)

The bottom line is that I don't get too excited about ultra clean vintage instruments anymore. I say let the collectors shell out the bucks and hang them on their walls. There is no shortage of great playing, great sounding guitars out there. Go to a guitar shop, put on a blindfold and play twenty or thirty guitars. You might surprise yourself.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Evolution Redux or Alternative History

This is a continuation of my post Revolution vs Evolution and is written as my extended response to some of the more pessimistic entries being posted on the Sellaband forum.

Scene I:

It is a warm and balmy day as three small ships bob aimlessly in the still, windless expanse of the uncharted sea. There is a meeting in the captain's quarters and three of the crewmen express that, being lost, hungry and nearly out of water, the crew would respectfully request the captain to consider turning around so they could be home in time for the opening of the bullfight season.

"You see Chris," the first mate says, " it's like this, it was great getting out of prison to go on this cruise and everything, but the guys are saying, and we think you'll agree, that it's starting to get a bit boring out here. And we really don't know what we're looking for anyway, do we?"

"You know what?" Christopher Columbus answers, " You're right! And for all we know those islands over there may be loaded with savages. Screw it. Let's beat it back to Spain!"

Scene II:

A reptile finds himself at the edge of a swamp. He has never been here before, but the surroundings seem strangely familiar. As he nears the water, he sees what he takes to be his own reflection but recoils in surprise as the face in the water rises out of the surface and speaks to him. "Jesus Ralph! What are you doing out of the water? And what the hell happened to your damn dorsal fin?" the face booms out at him.

"Who's Ralph? and what the hell is a dorsal fin?" the reptile answers.

"Oh, sorry man, I thought you were my pal Ralph...damn, except for those fucked-up fins and no dorsal fin, you're a dead ringer. What's a dorsal fin?" The fish spun out of the water to show off his fin, "This thing...on my back...I use it to swim straight. Where's yours?"

"These aren't fins you dumb-ass fish. They're claws. I use them to dig up turtle eggs and to crawl around with. And I don't need a dorsal fin, I don't swim that much anyway." And the reptile went on his way, wondering why the face in the water should ring such a familiar bell.

Christopher Columbus didn't set out to discover America, but America was discovered and colonized just the same. His voyage had an immense impact on history. But the truth is that, at the time the events transpired, he was completely ignorant of where he was. He only hoped to find enough good stuff to bring back to Spain so Isabella would let him keep his head.

The Swamp lizard had no way of knowing that he had met his cousin 37 times removed, just as he couldn't possibly know that millions of years later, his egg-digging claws would develop the skills needed to type entries on the Sellaband Forum.

There are two characteristics of the evolutionary process which are difficult for us to accept. First, evolution, being relentless and inexorable, is not a speedy proposition. It takes time. We can see the evidence of evolutionary changes only in the rear-view mirror. Second, because of the time element, those beings closest to evolutionary adaptations...the evolving, let's call them, have the least advantageous viewpoint from which to judge or control the nature of the process. Evolution exists with or without our approval or emotional involvement.

Evolution happens as a result of changing conditions. Let's consider the music industry for example. The industry is experiencing a massive upheaval in how musical products are created as well as how these products are distributed and marketed. Even sacrosanct concepts such as ownership and rights of usage are fighting to survive in the ever-changing technology-driven environment. It is especially interesting to note that these technological advances were not instigated by the needs of the music industry at all but are the fallout, leftovers and byproducts of a human race busily inventing more efficient methods of "thinning the herd." Such are the mysteries of evolution.

What reasonably logical mind could have foreseen wireless communication across the globe from the vantage point of fifty short years ago? Neither the changes in our environment, nor the adaptations accomplished for continued survival are the fruits of careful consideration. George Crum did not set out to invent potato chips. He intentionally overcooked an order of potatoes to make a point to a complaining diner. The greasy fingers of his injured pride now span the globe.

As to the evolution of the music industry, I choose to be optimistic although I realize that my optimism is not a driving force. Environmental changes are not driven by emotion. Who can say what the future will bring. Sellaband is a means, not an end. In a hundred years, a ten dollar part in Sellaband may buy something totally different. Compact discs and downloads will be a thing of the past. Perhaps we will be investing in suppositories that, upon insertion, will secrete a consciousness expanding substance that turns us into the very artist we are supporting. Who knows...but I am optimistic.

Had Columbus indeed turned around before landing on the shores of the West Indies, the new world would not have remained unexplored much longer. Just as we don't know how many skeletal astronauts are piloting failed missions, who can know the names of those who preceeded Columbus and failed? Who knows how many species of swamp lizard starved to death because the operations manual for their egg-digging claws was yet to be printed? But if I were a swamp lizard using my claws to dig up breakfast, I would hope to be optimistically looking forward to a time when my progeny would wield the power of a laptop to make their opinions known.

I'm glad that Columbus, confused as he was, didn't turn around. I'm glad that George Crum got pissed off and sent a plate of overcooked potatoes to the table. I'm glad that the military-driven technology of mass-murder gave birth to the way we now listen to music. And I'm glad that Sellaband exists as an element in the evolution of the music industry.

But what I'm really gladdest about though...is that I don't have a dorsal fin!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Franz Schubert...The Lost Week

Since the time I first became aware of music, long ago in early childhood, I have had an abiding interest in music history, particularly the lives of the great composers who lived and worked in Vienna. I find it fascinating to look further than the dry biographical texts of my college days and examine more closely the daily experiences that inspired Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and so many others to the sublime heights of creativity attained in that city during the golden era of the Hapsburg empire. These were, after all, living, breathing musicians with all the passions, weaknesses and quirkiness prevalent in their heirs of today's music world.

My music history professor at school was an avid disciple of Mozart and we debated many hours over Wofgang's alleged superiority over my hero, Franz Schubert. I had read every word I could find about my favorite composer, and had an intimate knowledge of his letters, notes to friends, personal diaries and even knew the details of his laundry and shopping lists. I felt that I knew, as well as could be known from a distance of 150 years, enough about Schubert to have a keen appreciation for that which made him the composer he was.

When my grandfather passed away in 1974, I received a package from Salzburg containing various personal effects which my grandmother sent according to his last wishes. At the bottom of the box there was my grandfather's handwritten journal describing his adventures as a submariner during the first World War. I carefully pulled back the cover to reveal a note in his handwriting that could not have been older than a month. Translated, it said, "My dear grandson Peter, knowing your passion for stories about your favorite composer, Franz Schubert, I am leaving you something very special which has been in our family since his death in 1828. You may know that he passed from this life in the house at nr. 6 Kettenbr├╝ckengasse where my own grandfather was employed as a house servant. On these few scraps of paper are written in the maestro's own hand the facts concerning his absence from Vienna for seven days during the late summer of 1822. You may remember from your studies that Schubert was not a famous man during his short life, and his disappearance was noteworthy only within the small circle of his friends. This cherished momento from the hand of the master I leave to you upon my passing from this life."

Eureka!! Imagine how my heart jumped as I held in my humble hand that which Franz Schubert had held in his own a short 150 years before. Here, translated for the very first time is the document describing seven lost days in the brief life of the great composer:

Ach, Saturday! Today I will not write music. I feel lazy and I think that the best thing is to go for a long walk in the woods. But better that I take paper in my pocket, the symphony must be finished and maybe I will get some ideas from the songbirds...

(Later that night) What a very strange day it has been. I thought that I had walked every path in these woods, but an hour after I passed the Heuriger (Viennese wine garden) I felt that this was a different forest altogether. I did not see the usual landmarks. Where was Hofstetter's hunting shack? The giant Castanian tree that fell in last year's storm was gone. But the sun was still high in the sky and the birds were singing so there was no reason to be worried. I kept wandering in my beloved woods, thinking, always thinking...mein Gott, but the symphony just won't let itself be finished! But now it is dusk and I am very tired. Tired and hungry. I think I will rest for a moment and then try to find my way home. The moon will be almost full and I will surely find the way.

(Sunday Night) I had the strangest dream...and as I awaken it is again dark! Have I slept under this tree all day? It cannot be. But I am no longer tired and my hunger is gone. Ah, the dream...I heard the most interesting music, primitive but yet very soothing to the spirit. It came from the very depths of the forest, from a place I do not know. I dreamed that I followed the sound as a spaniel follows his nose to the back door of Hirschpichler's butcher shop. The strange music drew me deeper and deeper into the forest until I saw a house...well, it looked like a house, but it was built very low to the ground. It was made of a strange material, long tube-like pieces tied together. And the roof was made of long yellow grass-like branches. There were no doors or windows, only the holes where such things should be. And as I looked down I noticed that the forest floor was no longer covered with the dark green moss but that I was now walking on clean white sand! But what was this music? There was a guitar playing only simple chords on the second and fourth beat of each measure. And a low drum on the downbeat with some sort of percussion on every off beat. Nothing sophisticated at all, but the repetition was hypnotic and if I wasn't dreaming, I think that I would have gone to sleep. And go to sleep I surely did because now it is almost morning and the nearly full moon is sinking to the west. Ach, I should have stayed in my room to work on the symphony!

(Sometime Tuesday) The mystery is still a mystery and I am still hopelessly lost but at least I am with friends. Yesterday I was awakened by the same haunting rhythm of this strange new music. I approached the grass covered house and looking in the door, I pulled myself back in terror. Inside there was what appeared to be at least 5 or 6 people, men women and children...but like nothing I had ever seen in Vienna. They were barefoot and dressed in very bright colored clothing. The women had multicolored head coverings and the men...mein Gott, the men had hair and beards nearly to the waist that looked like sheep's wool. And all of them had skin the color of a Sacher torte! I had never seen beings like this but as I recoiled from the door I felt a hand on my shoulder and a voice, "Ja Mann! Come in and Jam a while mann!" The hand was attached to a giant of a man who's shining black eyes looked out of a deeply lined brown face. His deep voice asked, "What is your name, Mann?" I answered, almost shaking out of my clothes, "My name is not Mann, It is Franz." "France!" he thundered. "This is not France, Mann. I don't know where this is, but this is definitely not France! If it is France you are looking for, then you are even more lost than we are." At this the entire population of the house broke into laughter repeating that this was not France at all.

When I saw that they meant me no harm, I found my voice enough to explain that yes, I was indeed very lost, tired and hungry, that my name was Franz, not France, and that I had been wandering in what I thought was a familiar forest in search of the final chords for my Symphony. "Ah, you are a music man, Mann!" "Yes, but why do you still call me Mann, my name is Franz." "We call every man Mann, but we spell it M-O-N, Mon. You...we will call you France, mon. Because you are lost like us and also like us you are a music mon." They went on to explain that they were the last of a lost tribe of Israel and had been wandering the earth looking for their rightful homeland. I was made to feel completely at home among these lost wanderers. They gave me food and drink and when I confessed that I played the guitar, I was not left in peace until I played one of my Lieder for them.

Later that night I sat on a log in the clearing wondering if this was still a dream and if, when I finally woke up, I would find my way home. Bruddah John, as the leader of this band of fellow wanderers was called, came to sit with me. As I looked up at the now full moon, he asked, "Do you want to go there mon?" "Where?" I asked. "Up there mon...to the moon." And with that he passed a long sweet-smelling cigar into my hands. "Take a taste of that mon, and you will be there, on that moon. And then you can look back at us down here. Maybe then mon, you will find your way." I had smoked the last of my pipe tobacco and was craving a smoke so I accepted the cigar and took a long draw... Now it is Tuesday and If I am still dreaming, I am tired and must sleep.

(At this point in the manuscript the writing becomes unintelligible but for a few musical scribblings, symbols outlining what appear to be rhythmic motifs, drawings of the moon in its various phases, and a recipe for mojitos. On the next page Schubert continues...)

Ach Gott im Himmel! If I am not still in a dream and if I have counted the days correctly, it is Saturday and somehow I must either find my way home or wake up! It won't do to miss church again. My new friends and benefactors have taken me in and shared everything with me. Their food is delicious although spicier than even the sharpest goulash. Their tobacco is most interesting however. I find that I cannot smoke an entire cigar or "Spliff" as they call them. After one or two draws, I must lie down while the most curious thoughts fill my head. I feel as if I can create any music in my head but in the end find myself wanting only to eat and play repetitive patterns on the guitar. Bruddah John and I played music for hours while the children clapped on two and four of every measure and the women tapped their cooking pans with wooden spoons. This music has such a charm, I must write something in this style one day. One thing is very certain...I have no more heart to finish the verdammpt symphony. I think that I will just give the first two movements to that idiot H├╝ttenbrenner in Graz. I'm through with it. They can call it the "Unfinished Symphony" for all I care.

I found that Brudda John's family is even more lost than I am. They are searching for an Island they called Jahmekka. I told them that there were, to my knowledge, no islands anywhere near Vienna, as the city is situated far from any sea where such an island might be found. I made the promise that upon my return home, I would look at any maps that could be found in Father's school house and would return with any information that may prove helpful to these kind people in finding this Jahmekka. But now, Bruddah has held a hot coal to a spliff and...

Here the narrative abruptly ends. Was it a dream? or did Franz Schubert really happen upon a band of future Rastafarians in the depths of the Vienna woods? And do these scraps of writing finally explain why the "Unfinished" is...well, unfinished? I read and reread the handwritten notes repeatedly searching between the lines for more insight into the mind of this great composer. But the true treasure was to be found in what I had dismissed as illegible scribbling. As I stared at the markings a composition began to take shape. Here it was, the original manuscript sketch for one of Schubert's finest songs, "To The Moon." It was all here, the melody and the chords were outlined in a rudimentary way. But there was more. There was a bass line written out and rhythmic patterns were outlined that are unmistakably similar to the music of Jamaica. You can hear the original version of this song, arranged according to notes written in Schubert's own hand by looking at the Sellaband profile of a great band from Austria called ConFused5.

Who could have guessed that a Viennese composer, the immense output of whose short career would not be recognized until after his death, would become the father of Reggae?

Sadly, three years ago, the "Lost Week" manuscript was lost during an unfortunate accident while mixing a pitcher of mojitos. But I can swear that all of the details set forth above are true...well, most of them.

...Some of them...O.K, well... my grandfather DID send me a box of stuff!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Words, or Music? Anyone...

This from the Sellaband forum, "What's more important: music or lyrics?" An interesting question, especially as it comes from a very talented artist and songwriter, Francis Rodino. As it stands, the question is open for discussion from the listener's point of view as well as that of the songwriter. An attempt to discuss the methodologies and philosophies of songwriting in all its various genre is far beyond the scope of a blog entry, so let's assume that Francis is asking the question in reference to songs that fall into the vast category of popular (read commercial) music. I choose to look at this from the songwriter's angle because any songwriter seeking an audience must have the listener in mind during the writing process.

The question I'd like to discuss is, what is it that elevates a song to the status of being considered a "great" song? Is it the lyric? Is it a melody that burrows its way into your consciousness? Or is it the artistic result of finely tuned collaboration between music and the written word, both of which exist as art-forms in their own right?

Historically, the word "song" has been used to define a rich body of literary work. There is "The Song of Solomon" in the old testament and the songs that make up a large part of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Elements of both having been set to music, they exist nonetheless as songs in their original written form.

In medieval Europe, traveling minstrels wrote songs or "Ballades" using legends, heroic stories and folklore as their texts. Many of these melodies passed from generation to generation and found their way into early church music with the idea that the melodies would make attendance more attractive to the local peasantry familiar with these songs.

The "Art Song" or Lied became popular as a method of setting literary poems to music in the local language of the intended audience. This style reached it's peak with Schumann and Schubert and great care was taken to craft music which captured the intent and emotion of the poetry. The best composers had a strong understanding of the human voice and composed melodies which gave the singer every opportunity to deliver the lyric most effectively. Composers carefully considered which vowels were to be sung in which range in order to provide the best possible marriage between words and music. These songs were meant for performance in intimate settings and were usually accompanied only by piano so the voice could be not only heard but understood.

With the advent of the Musical Theater as an option to Grand Opera, we see the birth of the popular song. As recording and broadcast technologies became more sophisticated, these songs became the core of what we call "Standard Tunes" and were recorded in every conceivable style and whistled at every bus stop. Most of these songs were originally written by lyricists and set to music by composers. This, in large part, continued until the emergence of the "artist as songwriter" concept developed in country and rock music, Hank Williams and The Beatles being prominent examples.

Looking back over the history and development of the song as an independent form, the interconnectivity of words and music is profound. Instrumental music has its forms and the spoken word exists independent of musical accompaniment. Some listeners may be entranced by a gripping melody and others by the story or message of a meaningful lyric. But for a song to be a song, it seems that both elements must conspire to create art on a level neither can attain independently.

So now, enough with the history lesson. What is it that makes a song so compelling as to be considered great? The major property of great art in any medium is its ability to transcend. Great songs transcend time in that they remain relevant. The music and the message maintain a vitality regardless of styles, fads or current events. Great songs allow each listener their own personal interpretation. John Lennon's "Imagine" is the type of song that spells out a concept without being overly specific. Each listener is allowed to go on imagining his own personal idea of perfection long after the song has ended. Or, As Francis very aptly writes:

"Sometimes I just try to stress some "keywords" and basic human feelings and emotions. I remain vague on purpose, so that people can draw up their own conclusion of what the song means, which can be different for everybody, based on their own life experience."

The other area which a truly great song transcends is that of performance. It's been said about Motown songs that you could have had Bozo the Clown singing those songs, they would have been hits anyway. And as Dennis St. John liked to say, "A hit song is a hit song...period." I remember when "That's What Friends are For" was released. Because Stevie Wonder and Elton John sang on the 1985 release, it was widely thought that the song had been written by one or both of them. The record sung, by Stevie, Sir Elton, Gladys Knight and Dionne Warwick went on to be a billboard #1 hit. Most people didn't know that the song was recorded in its original rock version by Rod Stewart three years earlier. And the punch-line is that the music was composed by Burt Bacharach and the lyrics written by Carole Bayer Sager. Small wonder that it was a hit.

Some years ago, I subbed for a friend and played bass on a couple of gigs with the great songwriter Paul Williams. Being the cocky bastard that I was at that time, I didn't crack the book open until the downbeat of the show. How hard could it be, right? As I played that show down, I was floored by how many great songs Paul had written. Songs for so many great artists. But the one thing that struck me the most was this. Paul is a great guy, but he's far from being a great singer. Sorry Paul, you know you're no Teddy Pendergrass, right? But in spite of his voice, every one of those songs touched that audience. They were great songs that transcended time and performance.

Francis Rodino asks a very pertinent question, "What's more important, music or lyrics?" I think that Francis already knows the answer. And I hope that in twenty years time he can look back at having pulled off a few great songs.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Nothing Up My Sleeves!

This is from the Sellaband forum posted under the thread, "What's the secret?" Posted by
Lush Progress a new band to Sellaband.

"I've spent a couple days browsing through the site, and it seems that there is a very small, elite group of bands on SAB that do very well. I'd guess maybe 10%.
So, what separates those bands from the other 90%? What is their secret? Maybe the better question would be: What are believers looking for when they invest in a band?"

As any expert in prestidigitation would say, as he rolls up the sleeves of his red brocade tuxedo, "Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. Nothing up my sleeve!" There is no secret. The harder you work, the luckier you get. And when it comes to making a dent in the wall that is the business of selling music, Lotsa Luck! The 90/10 ratio given in the above post are liberally skewed in favor of success. I'm certain that the actual failure to success ratio across the board is much steeper.

But to address the question, why do some artists succeed and others fail? Let's make a list of some fairly obvious reasons:

1. First and foremost, as my sweet old granny liked to say, "If it's so fucking easy, anybody could do it!" (She was a real inspiration and had a wonderful way with words.)

2. Some artists/music happen to touch a wider audience. This has fuck-all to do with quality. Selling music is a business. Tofu is a higher quality food source than Sir Barf-a-lot Breakfast Krispies, but you don't get a toy so we all know who gets your dollar.

3. And then, there is the issue of quality. Some people are simply better than others. When we pay money to see anything...music, movies, sports, we want to see something at a higher level than that which we can do ourselves. To be worth the price of admission, something had better be special. This is a concept that is getting more difficult to grasp in a society that wants to ban any form of reward for excellence. There are school districts that have eliminated competitive activities like "dodge-ball" and "tag" from physical education classes citing that weaker students may develop esteem issues when they lose against more aggressive or athletic students. After twelve years of having their mediocrity rewarded it is no small wonder that an entire generation finds it hard to excel in the real world, which is for all intents and purposes divided into two classes...ass kickers and ass kickees. Now that is not to say that all the ass kickers always win all of the time. But those who find their asses constantly on the end of a foot don't have a chance.

In the early eighties (Aw shit...another one of Pete's dumb-ass stories) I was in a band called Target. Don't even bother googling...we were ass kickers but got our asses soundly kicked by the pros. We had it all going for us. We had at least five songs that were hit material. The main writer had a voice that was unforgettable and a style that had star quality written all over it. Every musician in the band was top notch, sang well and looked the part. We simply had no weak spots.

Wally Holmes, the producer of "Rock the Boat" by the Hughes Corporation was mentoring us in our quest to be the next great thing. He said one thing that has stayed with me through the years. We were having a hot dog at Pink's in Hollywood when he noticed my eyes following a big silver Benz driving past. "Do you want to drive a car like that?" he asked. I nodded, and he said, " All you have to do is work your ass off. There are 24 hours in a day. Most people work for eight and sleep for eight. It's what you do with the remaining eight hours that will make the difference. You can go to the movies, watch sports or just hang out. But just remember that when you go to a movie or see a concert or even watch TV, you'll be paying to see the people who use those eight hours to kick some ass...and they're the ones who drive those big silver cars."

We had spent two years talking our way into enough after-hours studio time to record some impressive demos. It was time to do a showcase for a heavyweight record producer who only wanted to see us in front of an audience before signing us to a lucrative deal. So here we were, the featured band on a Saturday night in a club then called "At My Place" (now the Temple Bar in Santa Monica). And boy did we wow the audience. It was a show not soon to be forgotten. Seems that our songbird suffered from an over-abundant dose of self-prescribed "external courage"...got reeling drunk on red wine. We kicked off the first tune of the set, he stepped to the mic and promptly puked on his shoes and into the drinks of the first row of tables. After the initial impact of the scene had subsided, I looked up in time to see our recording career walk muttering out the back door and drive off...probably in a big silver Benz. GAME OVER.

The lessons I learned from being in that band were these...If you aren't ready to work hard, forget it. If you don't have a hit song, forget it. If you go to bed at night thinking that you practiced enough, forget it. If you play your music for people and they don't go nuts, forget it. If you have to hand out a pamphlet with your cd explaining why the sitar part zooms across the stereo mix, forget it. If you think that being a recalcitrant asshole makes you "special", forget it. And if you spew your courage all over your shoes at the first sign of pressure...really forget it. None of these things will necessarily prevent you from being a great musician. But any one of these "Ifs" can throw a wrench into the prospect of being commercially successful.

There is one more point I want to make about the last part of the posted question,
"Maybe the better question would be: What are believers looking for when they invest in a band?"

This may not be directly related to the question, but it's an observation nonetheless. I've noticed two distinct approaches in developing artist/believer relationships within the Sellaband community. There is the artist who arrives as a dinner guest with flowers for the lady of the house, a nice bottle of wine or perhaps a special dessert...and asks what else he can do as he clears the dishes from the table. And then there is the artist who arrives late, complains that the broccoli is overcooked, takes a piece of cake to go, then walks off with half the silverware.

To be successful in the business of selling, and in music it is yourself that is for sale, people have to like what they are buying. Nobody purposely pays for something they don't want. The more successful artists on Sellaband are those that bring something to the table...something more than just the music. It is a mistake to come to Sellaband empty-handed and expect financial support from the existing financial base. For the system itself to be viable, artists must bring along a "primer coat" of belief. Otherwise the current believers will be counting the forks and spoons.

So...I guess the secret is out...nothing up my sleeves! Here's wishing Lush Progress all the success that hard work can bring.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Great Demo! Now Why Does My Master Feel Like Shit?

I was going back and forth with my friend Pieps today via email and he brought up a great subject. I started to discuss what I felt but as I have only so many keystrokes in me, I chose to save them for this entry.

I've said a lot in this blog about broadcast standards and recording techniques, how to mix a demo to portray a song effectively and the benefits of professional recording when attempting to actually sell music. But Pieps raised an extremely valid point that I have failed to discuss. This concerns the "spirit" of musical creation as opposed to the technical aspects of recording.

When it comes to recording the art of music, one size does not fit all. Carnegie Hall is regarded by many to be a nearly perfect acoustic environment. But would you really want to see Rammstein perform there? Sometimes a bedroom recording rig is the perfect environment to create an ethereal sound collage not requiring an acoustic environment. Or, in the case of a young bunch of musicians playing their hearts out and recording their inspirations on a laptop, will a professional recording environment improve the spirit and intense vibe of their efforts.

So what's more important, ass-kicking feel, vibe and honesty, or a proper equalization curve? Well, I want it all...all the time. But I have to side with Pieps' opinion that properly recorded crap is still crap...and that there is a huge amount of great music out there that bears listening because of what it is, not how it is recorded.

And this brings me to the title of this entry. What the hell are you supposed to do when you record a demo dripping with vibe...and you take the song into the studio only to find that the "moment" will never allow itself to be recreated? This is absolutely the most frustrating experience an artist can have when working on a record. When you're watching the clock, paying triple-scale musicians and have some idiot suit breathing down your neck it can make delivering pizzas seem like a viable option.

When we were recording the "Windows" album with Beej Chaney, we ran into that situation a lot. Beej recorded his song ideas on cassettes. He would make up a kooky drum loop, play his jagged style of guitar and sing the song at the same time. Now this guy only had one way of doing things. It didn't matter if he was playing to a cassette, 2 inch tape or 50,000 people, he made his music with every cell of his body. The cassette demos were technically horrible, but there was an honesty, feel and vibe that would prove to be difficult to capture in the studio. Luckily, he owned the studio and we did settle into a work routine that allowed us to come damned close.

We decided to track only one song a day. We would convene at about 2:00 pm, shoot the shit and hang out for about an hour with the demo playing in the control room. Then we'd drift into the studio, pick up our instruments while still visiting and absent-mindedly start noodling along with the demo which was still looping over the speakers. Gradually, the feel of the demo would start to infect everyone in the room because each of us was playing along with the wacky little drum loop and all the other idiosyncrasies on the cassette. After about 2 hours of jamming with each other along with the cassette, things would start to bubble along. Then we would take a dinner break, come back to the studio where the guitar player would make a round of ridiculously strong cappuccinos, and hang out at the back door smoking cigars and farting til about 8:30 or so. We'd go in, tune up, mount up and push record. Many times the first take would be the track but we always did at least three just because it was fun.

It sounds like we were just fucking around, doesn't it? Actually a lot of thought went into the process. Any of us could walk in, play whatever was on the music stand, collect a check and be home in time for American Idol. But the idea was for all of us to become Beej, to play our parts as if he were playing them. In the end, we were fairly successful in capturing the vibe of eighth-graders with studio chops. But I did get spoiled and that's why I say that I want it all...vibe and quality.

There was another instance at Shangri La in which the compromise between capturing a vibe and recording properly became a hands down decision to opt for the vibe. John Hanlon was producing Belgian artist Admiral Freebee's album "Songs." We had the grand piano mic'd up for a ballad. While we took a break, the Admiral went across the room to the old upright and started to play through the song. As he noodled, he started to sing the song to himself and also to play the harmonica which he still had on his neck holder from a previous track. Suddenly, John reached over and put the tape machine into record. I told him that the upright wasn't mic'd but he said, "Listen to that man, he'll never sing it like that again!" It didn't seem to matter that the upright and the vocal were all being recorded through microphones that were about twenty feet away from where they should have been. After the song was over, the Admiral pushed back the stool and walked down the hall to the control room, opening and closing doors as he went. John caught it all on tape and that's the last track on the album. We could have worked that song for the next two days, but we never would have caught that moment again.

Yes, there is a lot of great sounding, technically correct crap out there. Some music doesn't warrant the ridiculous piles of money and resources thrown at it. But that's the nature of the business sometimes. Wouldn't it be great to be a fly on the wall when a bedroom recording genius kicks one through the goal posts? Better yet, wouldn't it be great to be a fly on the wall with a nice pair of C-12s so the moment is recorded properly? I can't help it...I want it all. Thanks Pieps, you always make me think.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

We've Run Out Of Dilithium Crystal!!

I had planned to take some time off from writing Sellaband articles for a while. I had the distinct feeling that this blog was being perceived as having official ties to the organization, or that I was in some way attempting to endear myself by writing articles which cast too positive a light on a music marketing system still involved in working out its organizational kinks.

Well...FUCK THAT! I write what I write and tonight It's going to be about Sellaband. And if you don't want to read another review here's a link to some fart noises. Have a ball!

Now, before I get to the artist of the evening, let me explain that my personal tastes read like the menu at Jerry's Famous Deli. I started as an eighth grade garage musician, studied ethnic music at the East West Center in Honolulu, Renaissance music in Vienna, Jazz with Monty Budwig, blah blah blah. My first love is the music of Brahms, and I'm a Motown freak. I've been around great singers, musicians and songwriters for thirty years.

I enjoy music from the inside out and it is from this vantage point that my observations are made. My opinion is no more valid than the guy living in the dumpster behind the supermarket nor less valid than the Pope's. I prefer to write about things I like and leave the negative comments to the pros. And when I write my impressions of an artist's work, I mean every word.

Tonight's guest of honor is a most interesting artist working in Portugal who goes by the name of The Average Person. TAP is not a writer of pop songs but rather a serious composer who demands full attention of the listener. A receptive mind and disregard for the usual genrephobic comparisons, difficult for genuine "average" persons, are essential listening tools if one is to appreciate the striking soundscapes created by this artist. This is indeed music at another level and some listeners may require program notes when attempting to make their way from one end of a track to the other. I don't see that as being a detriment, as program notes are quite common in the opera house or concert hall and this music would most definitely feel at home in such a venue.

The song "Fugitive" unfolds in a most visual way. My first impression was the memory of walking down the hallway of the practice room wing at college. On a busy day, every step would be a fresh turn of the musical kaleidoscope as you walked past the rooms of practicing students. But within seconds, the image changed. I almost smelled cigar smoke and felt as though I were listening to the last few moments of finger loosening before the tango ensemble counted off the first song of the evening. But the "uno, due, tre..." is not forthcoming. Suddenly I realize that The Average Person has caused me to" feel" more in ten seconds than most music can squeeze out of me with repeated listenings.

The Average Person demonstrates a high level of accomplishment in putting his visions to sound. His work is a collage of traditional orchestral instruments very skillfully punctuated by seemingly arrhythmic percussion motifs. He uses the human voice, in this case, that of the extremely talented and flexible Chris Tanzi, as another instrument which just happens to have the power of words in its musical vocabulary. The result is 3 minutes and 55 seconds of raw, gut-wrenching emotion that may be uncomfortable, and may be difficult to digest for some. But the listener free of prejudicial expectations will experience a remarkable journey into the depths of a most creative musical mind.

The Average Person's three tracks on Sellaband are collaborations with vocal artists also on the Sellabend roster. There is the above mentioned "Fugitive" featuring Chris Tanzi, "Drift Away" with Outrance singing a vocal track that could hold its own with Peter Pears, and "Only If" with the voice of conscience hauntingly performed by Kane Sol. Three pieces that provide very distinct images but with the soul of a distinctly unaverage person woven throughout.

Whenever I listen to an artist, I can't help but wonder what influences may have served to hammer a style out of the original raw materials. In the case of The Average Person, the music itself holds the answer. One dark, moonless night, his craft took a wrong turn and crash-landed into an abandoned warehouse full of musical instruments. Thinking the instruments and electronic recording devices may be helpful in repairing his craft, The Average Person tinkered away but to no avail...at least as far as repairs to the saucer were concerned. What we hear are the results of that tinkering. This guy is not from here, he just ran out of dilithium crystal. But he's here now and that's all that counts.

I have to be honest, I had a hard time starting to listen to The Average Person...but now I find it much harder to stop.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

"One of Us...Or One of Them..."

There are times when being good at something can be a real pain in the ass! One of the really dumb-ass things I'm pretty good at is being big. Now there is something to be proud of, isn't it? I had to really hit the books for that one.

During the second half of the eighties, I graduated from "bass player" to "musical director" for a national act and I'm certain that the gig fell into my lap because of my size. Our drummer was a big, burly guy who wasn't to be fucked with. Added to his less than sunny disposition was the very fact that he hit things for a living. Quite simply put, the artist was scared to death of him...and the drummer knew it and used this to his advantage. I know that I was given the job just in case this guy would ever need to be fired. Well... fuck it. A raise is a raise, right?

All I ever really wanted to do was play bass, keep my head at a reasonable cruising altitude, and learn to fall out of limos without spilling my drink. But somehow, here I was again, writing arrangements, running rehearsals and sweating bullets while trying to get my band through customs.

Our operation ran on the streamlined plan. All the musicians sang and the keyboard player had a lot of string and horn parts to cover. But at a certain point, I was able to talk the artist into spending some of the substantial money he was making on a horn section. We had three weeks off and I made the calls, hired the players, wrote the charts and booked the rehearsal hall for a week. After the break we were to leave on a four week stretch of dates, following Michael Macdonald into a San Diego Venue and ending with a week in the Caribbean. My guys were going to make some good dough and fill the dead time with decent rehearsal money.

I learned a lot during rehearsals...about sequencers. I was always amazed at how Tim, our keyboardist, could cover all of the horn and string cues and still be the consummate showman. Turns out that he had most of the parts sequenced to trigger off single keys. Now that we had the horns in place, all he had to do was play the piano and organ parts and a few string pads. The only problem was that his set up had become so complicated and the choreography of his deception so intricate that he no longer knew the goddamn songs. What he had accomplished was cool if he were doing a nightclub act, but the artist found it unacceptable for the concert stage. (Little did we know how prophetic Tim's system would prove to be).

Tim had recently hooked up with some very notable songwriters and had been doing the odd writing sessions while we were off the road. At the first rehearsal, Tim strolled in two hours late with the excuse that his morning session with so-and-so had gone over. We waited while he set up his keyboard rig and started rehearsal a full three hours late. Afterwards, I had a word with him and he assured me that it wouldn't happen again. The next day, same trip...only worse. Tim was an amazing musician who had actually played with Freddie Hubbard as a teen-ager. We were playing songs that were hit records and the parts needed to be played accurately. But this was boring for him so rather than memorize the correct parts, Tim improvised. It was really hip shit too, but way too hip for the gig. Imagine Thelonious Monk sitting in with Roy Orbison and you get the idea.

Now, Tim was one of my closest friends. I hired him the moment he moved to LA and let him stay at my apartment, so we were close. But he was keeping me from effectively doing the job I was paid to do. So I had more words. I told him that the five hours we had lost waiting for him, when multiplied by the seven other musicians, represented thirty-five man-hours that I, through lack of leadership, had cost my artist. I told him that if he was planning to be late again, that I would like to borrow his phone book so I could get a good replacement.

When Tim wasn't there at the start of the third day's rehearsal, I made a phone call to another old mate who was dying for the gig. He met with me at the artist's home that evening but not before buying the records and learning the songs cold. That night I had to drop the hammer on Tim. It went something like this:

"What time is rehearsal tomorrow?"
"Same."
"I might be late."
"No Problem. Don't bother."
"You don't need me? You working on horns?"
"Nah, the whole band, but I'll need the time to teach the new keyboard player the vocal parts."
"Yeah, right."
"No bullshit man, here's two week's pay. You're off the band. Sorry."
"You can't do that man, we're leaving in three days for a month of gigs!"
"Already did it... and we're still leaving in two days."
"You'll never find a guy that fast and he'll never learn the show!"
"Found him...and he knows it already."
"I thought we were friends man!"
"We are."
"What do you mean man? You can't fire a friend!"

And this is where I lost it. I let him know that from my perspective, he had used our friendship in a way that made me look like an idiot to my artist. If we were such good friends, why would he force the issue and cause me to do less than the best job I was able to do? As far as I was concerned, we could be the best of friends, but the business between us had come to an end.

As with all shitty situations, I try to glean through the rubble for something positive. I'll never forget his last words to me as he left the apartment to stay with his girlfriend. "Well man," he said, "you're either one of us or one of them." I know how he meant it and I know that he was throwing a cheap shot and refusing to shoulder the responsibility of fucking up. But the statement itself has stayed with me since that time. If "one of us" represents the guys in the trenches and "one of them" stands for the guys standing over them with the lash of authority, I'd rather think of myself as "one of us."

I've always prided myself on having a thick skin, getting the job done, being a good man in a storm, making the tough decisions...fuck that. Being in charge is just the seat closest to the door. I play what I want, write what I want and say what I want to whoever I want. I'd rather stick around for a while, sleep good, have some laughs and be the last guy to the airport for a change. I'm done being "one of them."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Wake Up and Smell the Music!

I feel a rant coming on...yep, a wicked rant is threatening to burst the old medulla oblongata and I better puke it out before some brain shrapnel shatters the window and knocks the paperboy off of his bike! This goes out to all the aspiring artists out there in cyberland who think that a self-produced gar(b)ageband recording will get their picture on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. Take the needle out! It's probably not gonna happen.

Sellaband is a fantastic idea...raise $50K and make a professional level recording of your songs. The concept is eloquent in its simplicity. The plan is obviously aimed at artists who: 1. Do not have the financial backing of a major label (unsigned), 2. Desire to maintain artistic control in a business where financial investment is frequently infected with "a great idea for the chorus." and 3. Artists in a genre not necessarily in the cross-hairs of the mainstream music buying constituency. Sellaband, like the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, says to throngs of independent artists and those who believe in those artists, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free." (free of the fetid stench surrounding the recycling dump that the music industry has allowed itself to become)

Think of it... artists can post representative examples of their music on the web, the public invests in the artist based upon belief in the artist's potential to make professional recordings, and, with patience and hard work, a high quality version of the artist's vision may see the light of day. Elegant and functional as an iPod. But, humans being human, even something this uncomplicated can get bogged down in a morass of "what ifs."

It's getting difficult to go into the supermarket without being accosted by chiselers. My favorite is the teen-aged candy salesman who offers overpriced boxes of four-year-old peanut brittle remnants. I have actually offered to buy the entire inventory on condition that the miscreant eat the crap while I watch, and not puke for at least thirty minutes...no takers yet. Then I ask, "Who gets the cash?" "Well, If I sell enough candy, I can go to summer camp and don't have to get involved with gangs." Oh... I get it. This kid's proclivity for gang affiliation can only be curtailed by sacrificing my teeth to a five dollar handful of candy factory scraps swept up by the late shift. "What are you, on glue?" I ask, "So If you don't go to camp, you'll join a gang?" And he answers, "Well, I don't want to...but..."

At that point, I become the kid's worst nightmare and give him some fatherly advice. I point to the newspaper dispenser next to the supermarket entryway. "See those?" I ask, pointing at the papers. "See all that black stuff on the paper? Those are words, and if you take your young ass to school you can learn how they work...they mean things. When you learn how to read, you can go to the laundromat and find a newspaper for free. Look at the biggest part with all the small words on it. That is called the classified ads. It is rammed full of something called 'JOBS'. Go and get one. As long as they still print that part of the paper, it means that there are more jobs than there are crap-candy salesmen trying to scare me with some bullshit about staying out of gangs...lazy bastard!"

You see, the kid is a liar. He wants me to give him five dollars for a box of crap that claims to be fresh from Auntie Helga's candy kitchen on the premise that this transaction will have a positive effect on his future. A gross misrepresentation of the product followed by a gross misrepresentation of the business plan. Bullshit on top of bullshit.

Here is my interpretation of the Sellaband transaction. I listen to an mp3 demo, decide that there is potential, buy a share at ten bucks, the artist goes on to raise fifty grand, and makes a professional recording of the music I believed in by virtue of the mp3. If, after reaching the $50K mark, the artists decides that he wants to spend the budget on promoting the original demo versions, or on touring so that he can sell his demos side-stage, I have to feel that I've been lied to. I didn't invest in a box of crap to send a kid to summer camp. If an artist were to say out front, "Look, I've already made my recordings and I just want the money to buy a van so I can drive along the highway and sell my peanut brittle at rest stops," well, then I have the choice to invest in a van for this artist or a recording for another. I've written about the value of a professional studio experience before, but my position also concerns the very integrity of the business transaction between artist and believer.

There is a link on the Sellaband site to the Sellaband Club area where one will find various playlists compiled by members of the community. One of my favorites is called "Songs with Hit Potential." Notice the wording? It doesn't say "Recordings", it says "Songs." I interpret this to mean that the compiler of this playlist feels that the songs on this list could be made into hit records. If the recordings were radio ready, they might be hit records now. But they aren't. The idea of spending $50K trying to get an mp3 on the radio is absurd. Without a top-notch recording, promotion is a moot point.

As always, I will accompany this rant with a discalaimer. Yes, There are artists capable of producing their own music. and yes, I may be as full of shit as the next guy. But if you are a highly talented and creative musical artist with limited experience, limited funds, and limited knowledge of the many ways to completely fuck yourself in this business...AND you have Sellaband staring you in the face with the perfect plan...Wake up and smell the music.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

"You Never Know..."

"...where the hits are gonna come from." These are words of wisdom from studio legend, and I'm proud to say my friend, Dennis St. John. Listening to the music of Sellaband artist Mark Supsic this evening, I remembered some of the great conversations Dennis and I had while sitting at the old API desk in Shangri La. I'll get back to Marc, but first a few words about Dennis.

You may not know his name, but unless cultural or religious constraints have prevented you from listening to the radio during the time that rock, pop and soul records have been invented, you know Dennis' work. Dennis cut his studio teeth playing with artists like Otis Redding, The Classics IV (who can forget "Spooky") and The Boxtops. He was responsible for making "Let Your Love Flow" a hit for the Bellamy Brothers and was at his peak as Musical director for Neil Diamond, producing "The Jazz Singer" and appearing with Neil in the Band's "Last Waltz."

The two Dennis stories that Marc's music reminded me of are these. After the Boxtops' "Give Me a Ticket For an Airplane" had gone to number one in the billboard charts, Dennis was having coffee with songwriter Spooner Oldham. They had an interesting problem on their hands. A number one hit single...and nothing to follow it up with. It seemed that Spooner's well was dry and the chance to capitalize on the record's success would pass them by. Spooner looked at Dennis over the rim of his cup and lamented," Yeah man, Ain't that a bitch...makes me want to cry like a baby!" Dennis looked at Spooner, Spooner looked at Dennis and they both saw lightbulbs! They hurried back to the studio and "Cry Like a Baby" became the next hit from The Boxtops.

It was from Dennis that I adopted the mantra, "Without a hit song, you don't have a record." And Dennis knew hit songs, after all, he played on literally thousands of chart recordings. While Dennis headed Neil's publishing company, he held what he called "Demo day." Once a week, he had a rhythm section set up and anyone in the company, from the mail boy on up, could bring in songs. A few hit songs were discovered in that way, hence the title to this entry.

Sellaband's Marc Supsic has a lot going for him. He sings what he writes with sensitivity and expression. He is an accomplished guitarist and all around musician, playing all the instruments on his recordings, and he has a gift for writing fresh, catchy instrumental hooks. The three songs on Marc's profile page represent three distinct approaches but there is a definite thread representative of Marc's personality connecting the songs.

I couldn't decide if "Lonely One" was Country-Rock or Rock-Country. Marc plays excellent slide guitar on the track and the vocal melody has a bit of Neil Diamond behind it. A really nice bit of songwriting in a neo-Nashville/Americana sort of way. Up until the entrance of the drums, "Invisible" evokes the qualities that made Cat Stevens' records so charming. Again, a very well written song. My favorite of the three is the last. "The Universe is Burning" is catchy without being trite, and again, Marc's excellent musical skills are evident in every track.

I do have a few kind words to say about some of the choices made in the production of these tracks, but knowing that Marc is a virtual one-man band, I hope that my criticism will be taken in the intended spirit. Besides, I could be just as full of shit as the next guy, but I think that Marc is really close to the mark in a lot of departments. One immediate observation is in regard to the vocals. Marc is a very skillful singer with a wide range of dynamics, but I find myself wanting to hear him cut loose. The way he whispers the verse of "Universe" is very effective but when the track opens up on the 'B' section the urgency isn't met by the vocal. It's nice...but it could be great.

"Invisible" is compelling from the start. As the instruments enter, each adds a new flavor and tension. And each instrument has importance with relation to the vocal message...except the drums. The song is sensitive and charming and I think the layered guitars and strings are brilliant on their own. I wonder if Marc has ever mixed the song without drums. I think the track would be mesmerizing.

The only other comment I have will be a moot point after Marc reaches his recording budget goal and walks into the studio. These songs have a size and spaciousness that are very difficult to achieve in a home recording environment with one guy wearing all the hats. Marc Supsic is an excellent songwriter and an accomplished musician. The songs he has posted on his Sellaband profile display precisely the kind of potential for development that Sellaband's system of crowd-funding is designed to nurture.

I look forward to this artist catching the eyes and ears of the Sellaband community and having the opportunity of making a first class album of his songs. As Dennis St. John so wisely said, "You never know where the hits are gonna come from."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Trading Fours With Foreigners

I just finished recording in what could be the largest recording studio in the world. I've worked in a lot of studios, some bigger than others. But this one takes the cake. The guitar room is in Groningen, The Netherlands, the vocal booth is in Basel, Switzerland, the room we used to record bass is here in California and the programming/production suite is in Veendam, also in The Netherlands.

It's a cool studio though...each room has its own kitchen and bathroom, I had no problem finding a parking spot, and my equipment was already set up and waiting for me. The only thing missing was the hang. Because we were all at extremely distant corners of the studio, we never really got to hang out. Such a pity...the band seems like a nice bunch of people.

It all began about two weeks ago. I was going back and forth on the Sellaband forum with a guitar player/songwriter from the Netherlands by the name of Pieps. I can't remember what the discussion was about or if we agreed or not on the point of the thread. But Pieps and I ended up in a corner of the virtual broo-haha talking porn...guitar porn that is. Pieps and I found that we share a passion. I think my pal Jamie Shane put it best when he said, "I like skinny women... and big fat guitars." After looking and listening to what Pieps was all about on his Sellaband profile page, I found that he kept a harem of his own and he knew how to bring 'em to their knees.

At some point, I told Pieps that it would be fun to jam together but with the price of gas, I couldn't justify driving all the way to Holland. About five minutes later I had a guitar track in my in-box along with an invitation from Pieps to lay one down. The track was to be a song which Pieps was writing with another Sellaband artist, Alexia Gardner. I visited Alexia's page to see what I might be letting myself in for. And after changing my underpants, I went immediately to work on the track.

Alexia has one of those voices that appear rarely in the life of a bass player. I have a dear friend named Angela Carole Brown who is just that type of talent. The times that I've had the good fortune to play behind Angela, I spent most of the evening trying to lift my jaw up off of my shoes...she is just that freaking good. I have yet to meet Alexia in person, but once I heard her sing, well, don't tell her this, but I'd pay to lob some big fat low stuff under that voice. I mean, putting some bass under Pieps' fat-ass guitars was already going to be as much fun as I thought legal. But the two of them? Now you're talkin' my language!

I imported Pieps' guitar mix into a Cubase4 project and, listening to the track, started the process of deciding which bass to play. I had just played a blues gig on the '64 Fender Jazz so it was first up. I went directly to the computer through a Millenia TD-1 mic-pre/direct box. This thing is probably the most transparent DI I've ever heard and is always my first choice. The old Jazz practically plays itself, I just have to make sure my fingers are in the right place at the right time. I had no clue what the vocal melody was going to be, so I had fun playing as many notes as I could all over the track as I tried to come up with something complementary to Pieps' well-executed guitar parts.

Hmm, I thought, I think I'll play a mellow thumb-slap part. So I switched to the Zebra-wood monster 5-string and had at it for a while. I came up with plenty of sophisticated jazz-funk riffs that were very clever...and had nothing to do with the tune. I decided to go back to Alexia's profile and see if I could get some direction from just the sound of her voice. Hearing her voice is like looking up and down an empty elevator shaft. Her voice is spacious and no matter where she takes a line, you always know that there is plenty more where that came from.

And that is when my part started to gel. I threw cleverness and the two basses out the window and started over. My part would have to be the glue between what Pieps had already played and what Alexia had yet to write. I plugged in the trusty fretless Gibson Ripper and attempting to channel what would become the melody, I closed my eyes and pushed "record."

After I sent the track back to Pieps, he sent the track to Alexia who then recorded her vocal track in Basel, Switzerland. At this point, I finally didn't meet the rest of the band, Pieps' brother Joris, whose name I know through having reviewed his band, Radio Orange, yet another group on the Sellaband artist roster. I finally saw a picture of Joris on his profile page and he didn't look anything like I had imagined. Listening to his programming and mixing work, I would have thought him to have ears the size of trash can lids. What Joris brought to the table was musically very sophisticated but sensitive and humble. Alexia's lyrics and that juicy, gooey voice had all the room they needed. Wearing the track like a floor-length mink coat, Alexia seduces each listener into a private corner to tell her little story.

The song, "Why Don't You". is now getting the attention it deserves. It was great fun and I've never not played with better musicians I haven't met. Thank you Pieps, Alexia and Joris. The bottom line from the Bottom-end is that I can't wait to do more of the same...but it would be nice to hang out with the band at the espresso machine in the studio lounge some time.