Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bottom-end Has Moved!

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

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

See you soon!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sellaband's Gisel de Marco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Begging in the U.S.A.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beggars...I've had it!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Notes From RixMix...Markus, Meet Don

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 12, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 24, 2008

ConFused5 at Sonic Flow Studio...Continued

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 17, 2008

ConFused5 at Sonic Flow Studio

After a strong rehearsal week, ConFused5 and I moved into Sonic Flow Studio and settled in to cut the basic rhythm tracks for their new album. Sonic Flow is a studio after my own heart. Wolfgang and Max have built a great sounding room and have stocked it with great equipment. The studio records on either Protools HD or Logic and there is no shortage of great microphones, pre-amps or good vibes. But what I found particularly interesting was the vintage vacuum cleaner collection. I have no clue what they sound like, but they sure look cool.

Markus and Alex have brought Marshall and Orange guitar amps in addition to the Tube Thomsen combo that Markus uses live. The studio has a really nice sounding Vox AC30 and a few nice Fender combos so tracking guitars will be more than fun. The only limitation we have here is that there are only sixteen input channels but that isn't any different than recording in the average analog studio of twenty years ago. With a little thought and creativity we were able to set up the studio to record the entire rhythm section: bass, drums, two guitars and guide piano, in the same room at the same time.

And so, as Captain Beefheart once said, "the fun begun." I had hoped to record at least two tracks per day and optimistically thought we might have a few days where we would catch three. Man, was I ever wrong. All the band needed was a few run throughs of each song and damned if they didn't start nailing track after track. On the first day we finished the basics on four songs and by 6:00 pm of day two...that's 18:00 in Austria, probably because of the weak dollar exchange rate, we had all ten tracks finished and ready for overdubs. As always, I let the band choose one track to record over again just because bands usually get cocky at about this time and think they have a better one left in them. And as usual...I was right and they were wrong. The first take of "Why Me" was loaded with energy and vibe and that's the one I'll keep. But what the hell, we had time to spare, and who wants to quit playing in the studio anyway?

Because the section was working so efficiently, I decided to grab a lot of rhythm guitar doubles immediately upon deciding that the take was a keeper. When playing live, Alex uses an Ibanez chorus stomp box and he asked me if we would be using it in the recording process. I answered that yes, probably...because the door lock in the toilet was broken and this little baby would be useful in holding the door closed. Then I showed Alex my very favorite chorus device.

My favorite chorus has two versions. If the tracking guitar is a Les Paul, I like to double the part with a Stratocaster through an AC30. If the tracking Guitar was a Strat, then I'll double the part with either a Les Paul or a Gibson ES something or other...335, 345 or 355. Since we had Markus' 345 at hand, my favorite chorus in this case consisted of the Vox AC30, Alex's Les Paul Custom, Markus' ES345 and my Knopfler signature Stratocaster. Yeah, it may not be as portable a chorus device as the Ibanez, but it sounds pretty goddamned good. And to tell the truth, I don't think I would use any of the components of my chorus to hold the toilet door shut, so I think we made the best use of the materials we had available.

On day three Herbert and I began to work on keyboard overdubs. Herbert is great to work with. In addition to being a very well trained musician, he has a great instinct for musical ideas and best of all, he has an open mind and is not averse to trying different voicings or rhythmic motifs in order to create the proper soundscapes with which to feature the melodies and lyrics of these songs. We have a deep love for classical music in common and musical ideas fly back and forth in three languages. Between Herbert's German, my English, both of our efforts at speaking each other's language and the language of music, I suppose that totals up to 3.5 languages...but the music is coming together really well and we are having loads of fun.

Meanwhile, because Markus has nothing to do at the moment, he has been doing what he has an absolute genius for, and that is dragging the media out to the countryside and generating interest in this band and in the Sellaband platform. By the time this album is released in July, Markus will have made sure that the very cows grazing on the nearby alps will have heard of it and want a copy of their own. So far we've done at least one interview or media event per day in the studio and tomorrow will be no different...which reminds me...shit! I gotta shave and wear clean socks tomorrow. Ah well, a small price to pay.

Tomorrow we continue with keyboards and then it will be time to record guitar overdubs with Markus. I wonder how many interviews he'll schedule when it's his turn in the box...

Thursday, March 13, 2008


We are ready to go into the recording studio! It has been a full work week for ConFused5. Actually it has been two work weeks in one for the guys in the band. All the guys work for a living so rehearsing every available minute has meant that they have been working two jobs this week. I don't know how much their straight jobs take out of them, but I've been working them pretty hard and I think that we will peak at the right time to record a good solid album.

As I've written before, ConFused5 is a collaboration of diverse characters. Herbert is a full time music instructor and a consummate musician of the highest order. He has a great deal of experience in writing and arranging, plays keyboard and wind instruments and is a fine, classically trained tenor about town. And if you know anything at all about Salzburg, being a tenor in this town is no joke. His musical vocabulary is extensive and I get a kick out of him throwing out classical bits and pieces between C5 songs.

On bass and vocals, Kurt is the guy out in front. Kurt has been all over the world as a multi-instrumentalist and is laying down the fat-ass bottom end as well as sharing lead vocal responsibilities with Herbert. C5 is fortunate to have two excellent singers who have very different singing styles and yet blend really well when they sing together. As a bassist, Kurt is my kind of guy. He lays it down big, fat and with intensity. Bass is not an easy gig and he really does a great job of grooving with the kick and catching guitar figures.

Alex doesn't say much, at least I thought so until I stood in front of his amp and paid some attention. On a live gig, Alex may use 3 or 4 different sounds per song because he covers so many bases. One of the fun things for us will be to let him record what he plays live in layers of tracks so that all those great parts are there all the time. He is considered the rhythm guitar player in C5 but his contribution goes much further than what the title would imply.

On drums we have Beda, a professional percussionist, educator and clinician. Beda was a recent addition to C5 and the groove factor certainly went up a few notches when he came on board. He has chops oozing out of every pore and he'll hit anything you put in front of him. But in addition to being a bad-ass drummer, Beda is a fine musician with a great ear, large vocabulary and what's at the top of any producer's wish list, an open mind. When you think about it, drummers get paid to hit things...and sometimes they can be real pricks...not a great combination and perhaps a great subject of a future blog entry. But drummers who are also open-minded musicians are very valuable to a project like this and the recording sessions should be a ton of fun.

On lead guitar, and the guy who's driving this bus down the autobahn is my good friend Markus. Now, Markus is an interesting guy. He works his ass off in the office all day and all he wants to do is play in a rock band. He's also a connoisseur of fine guitars so we have a lot in common in that regard. His efforts in generating the $50,000 Sellaband budget have made him somewhat of a statesman on the website and when we're not actually working on music we are usually discussing either great guitars or the strategies that made this project possible. Add his ironic sense of humor to the mix and you can be sure that none of our rehearsals have had a dull moment.

Tomorrow we move the drums into Sonic Flow studio and we will begin recording the basic rhythm tracks on Saturday. Because this is rock music and the feel is so intrinsic to the style, I want to make every effort to record the tracks with the guys all in the same room. There will be some isolation issues to work out but the final product will be better for our efforts. The keyboard tracks will probably be guide tracks and we will do the final tracks as overdubs after finding just the right sounds. But I want as many of the guitars to go down with the drums and bass as possible in order to capture strong band performances. Once the tracks are feeling good, I'm sure we will do some doubling of the fat guitar parts. The solos and vocals will go down last and I'm hoping that tracking with the full band will render some inspiring foundations on which to build the songs.

So, to the studio we go. In a few days we will find out just how valuable pre-production rehearsals really can be. When getting a band ready to record, I tend to think of things in terms of a sports team. You can win a ton of games all season long, but if you're blown out by the time the playoffs come around, the whole season was a waste of time. Our playoffs start on Saturday and I think that we are peaking at just the right time. The guys are loose and having fun...and that's how you make good music.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Next Case! ConFused5

As the night court judge said, slamming the bench with his gavel, "Next case!" I've been in Salzburg for six days recuperating from the whirlwind SolidTube project and am now in the Midst of ConFused5 country. During the week I had the pleasure of meeting with Markus, his lovely wife Joanna as well as Herbert and Regina. We have met over bier, wine, leberkäse, cheese and pizza, always discussing what all of us have closest to our hearts at the moment, the album which we are about to record for Sellaband. Last night was our first official rehearsal with the full band. There is plenty to write about, but behind every band is a story and the history behind ConFused5 is worth telling.

ConFused5's band roster is as diverse as it least here in Salzburg. The band consists of bandleader and lead guitarist Markus Melms, currently a successful business professional, Herbert Hopfgartner, a graduate of the legendary Mozarteum and career music professor on lead vocals, keyboards and wind instruments, Alex Kranebetter also a business professional on guitar and vocals, Kust Breider, banker and veteran performer on bass and lead vocals and veteran professional drummer Peter "Beda" Bachmeyer. Herbert's lovely wife, Regina, a professor of vocal pedagogy at the Mozarteum can be considered as a quasi band member as she will contribute vocals to the album and has written the texts for the songs that we will be recording.

In communicating with markus by Skype and email over the course of the months we have been planning this project, I have heard bits and pieces of how this diverse group of musicians and lovers of music came together to create ConFused5. But it was over a glass of red at Herbert and Regina's that I finally was able to piece together their story. Elements of The Blues Brothers and Sgt. Pepper run through the tale but it is pure ConFused5 from cover to cover.

Twenty years ago, Markus, Herbert and Alex formed a rock band while in school. They played school parties and local gatherings and, with long hair and wearing the fashions of those times, they dreamed of one day recording a proper album and playing the kind of concerts where someone else carried their equipment from the car to the stage. As happens with most teenage bands, the years and economics conspired to eventually bring an end to their efforts but in the case of at least one of the band members, the dream to one day record an album burned brightly deep inside his psyche.

Cut to about twenty years later. Markus, Herbert and Alex had "shed the things of childhood" as the saying goes, and gone their separate ways. For his fortieth birthday party, Markus, as always scheming to squeeze the last drop of fun from any situation, decided that the best way to celebrate would be to get up on a stage again and have a go at playing in a rock band. Can you say, "Hey man, Let's put the band back together!" Phone calls were made, emails were sent, the Rock House was reserved and there stood Markus Melms leading his old bandmates for an evening of their favorite cover songs as well as a few of the original compositions which will be recorded on this album for the very first time.

Music being the addictive drug that it is, the occasion, rather than satisfy a need, only caused the trio to want more. And so there developed a new band out of the old. Markus, Herbert and Regina started to get together over wine and cheese(sorry, this is no longer a lava lamp crowd) to play music. Eventually, new songs came to be composed by the boys and Regina was asked to supply lyrics. All that was missing was an audience and a reason to perform. And then along came Sellaband.

As Markus tells the story, I had apparently responded to another Sellaband artist in an Austrian dialect that sounded familiar to him. He sent a message to my Sellaband profile asking just exactly where I was from. I went to the ConFused5 profile, listened and liked the music, and found that we share the same roots. Eventually I learned that Markus and I were actually born in the same hospital! Naturally we began to exchange messages and communicated almost daily from that point. And now, by the grace of the almighty internet and because of our shared interest in making dreams come true, no matter how old and dusty they become, I find myself here in Salzburg making music with people I didn't know until a short time ago but who have become and I'm sure will remain fast friends.

So, it's off to rehearsal after which I'm sure I'll hear words that have become music to my ears, "Oiso, trink'n ma no' an?"

Saturday, March 08, 2008

SolidTube...Bringing it Home

Feb. 25. What an evening! As I had described in the previous post, we had a nice group of fans and believers come to Wild One Music last night to join SolidTube in singing the final chorus of one of their songs.

The most I had hoped for was to show appreciation to the folks who have made all of this possible and maybe to add some ambience to the track. As it turned out, the group of believers stood around the microphone and created a chorus of such great feeling and vibe that I'm forced to include them in the final recording.

Feb. 29. Last night was our last day or recording at Wild One Music studio. As always, for me at least, reaching this point in a project has a bittersweet taste. The whole gang was at the studio at some point yesterday in case we needed to pick up any loose ends. There were only some guitar, harp and backup vocals to record but I really wanted everyone to come by so that I could shake their hands, look them in the eyes and sincerely thank them for their hard work and great attitudes. And I wanted them to hear this from me in the studio where it all happened.

While finishing the recording phase of a project is reason to celebrate, it also marks the end of our time together, and this leaves all of us with a touch of sadness. We have attempted to record the tracks as a team and as this is the first professional recording experience for some, I have avoided shortcuts and have taken the long way around (as long as the budget allowed) so that everyone walks away from the studio with more than they came with. I think we accomplished what we set out to do and feel as though we've crammed ten years into the month of February.

Today I will review the tracks one last time, make work mixes of everything, and then organize the material for mixing purposes. I'll be in Salzburg recording with ConFused5 during March so I won't see the SolidTube tracks until April. When I open the sessions in Protools, I only want to see the material I will be mixing. The entire session material will also be available of course. But as we have a deadline of May 1st, I need to streamline the process of elimination as much as possible.

One person that has become indispensable to this project is Jakob Grabmayr. The staff at Wild One consists of Jakob and his assistant, Frank Pitters and I hope that both of these guys realize how much I appreciate their hard work and the extent to which they have become an important part of the SolidTube family. Many times I've gone to work in a studio, done what was needed and walked away without anyone really giving a good personal shit about each other. Business is business and as long as everyone gets paid and the project gets done there's no need to make new friends or even know the first thing about the staff and vice-versa. I can say in all candor that this project was NOT strictly business as usual.

Jakob has built Wild One over the course of fifteen years and his technical knowledge in combination with his personal pride and attention to every detail has provided us with the perfect environment to commit this music and the band's personality to every cut on the album. Having been a musician himself, Jakob clearly understands the importance of creating not only a great recording environment, but also addressing the needs of the typical musician when waiting around in the hours between takes. The studio lounge had everything the bandmembers needed to make the time pass pleasantly. I have only two suggestions and I think it will be perfect. One, I would get a set of rubber coffee cups and hide the silverware in a safe place. Some of the guys were new to these things and came close to hurting themselves. Two, A strong door made of bars would be great. Then I could talk to the band without risking one of them running away...there are cats in the area and we had a few complaints from neighbors claiming their pets had been traumatized. Nothing was ever proven, but a good strong set of bars on the door would force the area animal lovers to point their accusing fingers elsewhere. Oh, and I guess there's a third thing. Hanging a tire in the courtyard would be good. It turns out that my guys like to swing on things...sorry about the lamps in the hallway, I guess they weren't as strong as they looked.

So...this will mark the last entry of the SolidTube studio blog. There will be much more to write in the coming months as the project reaches completion. But until then stay tuned for the adventures of Confused5 scheduled to begin on March 7th in Salzburg. And to everyone from Mandana, Mike, the band, the management, the studio and especially each and everyone who believes in this recording...well, the words to express what I really feel haven't been invented, so I can only extend my most heartfelt THANK YOU.

Friday, March 07, 2008

SolidTube at Wild One Continued

Feb.17. After three full days in the studio we have basic tracks on six songs. The most interesting thing for me has been that we have worked our asses off, been stuck in close quarters, could most probably identify each other blindfolded by smell, and still have yet to experience the least bit of friction. Something is definitely wrong here. I'm not used to working like this.

As I've said before, we are trying to record the rhythm tracks as live as possible. Because SolidTube performs a lot of their gigs as a trio, some of the songs derive their feel from Mike's acoustic guitar. Translating that feel to a full rhythm section is intrinsic to retaining the original intent of these songs. In order to keep the band members in one room, I've decided to record acoustic tracks with the onboard pickups that work so well on live gigs and sound equally like shit in the studio. The object is to capture the feel, not necessarily the perfect sound. After we have a great feeling track, we record electric guitars and then we will replace the acoustic guitar tracks with proper microphones. So far this strategy, although requiring an extra step, has been very successful.

Paulie recorded what I believe to be his first fretless bass track today and simply gutted the part. We cut the track with his Fender 5-sting and I just felt that something was missing. He played the part perfectly, but the song was begging for a mysterious sense of urgency so I asked him if he would care to take another stab at it with my fretless. Well, sometimes making things hard on yourself can pull a great performance out of you. I don't know if it was the concentration required to keep that bass in tune or just the unfamiliarity of the instrument in general, but the entire band was speechless after the playback. It wasn't the part he played, but the intent behind it that put the whole track into focus.

We rounded out the evening by setting up the seventh track which I hope to have in the can before 2:00 PM tomorrow. Tuesday the 19th should be our last tracking day after which we will set up the studio for guitar overdubs. I plan to set up and mic at least five different amp rigs for solos and doubling chorus/bridge sections. At the same time, we will set up the room to replace the acoustic guitar parts that were tracked with the drums. The guys are very well rehearsed so we hope to give Mandana some inspiring tracks to sing over.

One culinary note, the goulash at the little joint around the corner kicks ass. I've had it three out of the four days we've been in the studio...and I don't care what the band says, I'll probably eat it everyday we are recording.

Feb. 22. Today is the day. At 4:00 PM, okay, 16:00 for the continentals, we will begin recording lead vocals. And anyone who knows Mandana's voice will realize how important this next phase of recording is to the project. To review our status so far, all ten tracks have been recorded by the full band. We have completed recording all acoustic guitar tracks and are well on our way with the electric guitar solos. The band has done a great job and I feel that we have accomplished more than we could have imagined at the outset.

One of the important aspects of making studio recordings is trying to capture the feeling of the original demos. When all the tools of the trade come into play it can be easy to get lost in the "fun factor" of technology and lose sight of what made the songs charming in their original form. We've worked very diligently at not over-thinking. In some cases we've recorded a track and, finding something amiss, stripped it down to the way Mike and Mandana first wrote the song, explored the motives behind the lyrics, listened to the interplay between the voice and acoustic guitar in the demos, and then took a step back to see where we may have missed the boat. When Mandana takes her position at the microphone today I think that she will be inspired by the tracks that the band has recorded but will also be well inside the comfort zone of the original demos.

The first task at hand today will be electric guitar overdubs at noon. On a side note: as concerns the whole time thing...I have finally realized that no matter how impressive 4:00 PM looks in a 16:00 smoking jacket, the time is the same. An hour is an hour. Pity, It would be nice if the hours went by as slowly as their inflated numbers would seem to indicate, something on the order of the 7 to 1 dog year ratio would be nice.

Feb. 23. Yesterday's vocal sessions with Mandana...I don't want to give up too much, but I will say that she is one of the easiest singers I've worked with. After trying a few microphones we decided that the Tube from AKG really fell in love with her voice. I think it would be hard to find a bad Mic for her, But the AKG really seems to capture the vocal nuances and, more importantly, the emotional aspect of her performance.

Mandana does two things which are of great value. She makes written notations on the lyric sheet, and she remembers what those notations mean. So many singers and musicians fail to take notes and this can cost valuable studio time. Sometimes the difference between a decent track and an amazingly never-to-be-repeated performance can come down to a few pencil marks on a piece of paper. Every take we recorded was an improvement on the one before because Mandana was able to execute the changes according to the written notations on her lyric sheet. As far as I'm concerned, two of the most valuable tools a musician can bring to the studio are a pencil and a good memory.

Earlier in the day we recorded an electric guitar track with Mike. After all the fun of tracking with the band, Mike and I settled in to create a part where there had been none. I have to thank Mike for his patience and positive attitude because this sort of work can sometimes be nerve-wracking. After tweaking knobs we found the sound we were after and dug in. We took a few passes at the entire song first just to throw ideas and feels out there. And then we began to assemble the part by section. Sometimes we punched in for only a note, just to get the idea solidified exactly the way we wanted it. The result was a really swinging part full of character and was perfect for the song. But Mike, being the balls to the wall guy that he is, wasn't satisfied. I know that I had the part I needed but, this being Mike's song I agreed that we should take the time to see if he could beat what he had just played. So, after a short break to clear the old noggin, he listened to the part from front to back one more time and took one pass...and there it was, the same notes, same phrases, same sound. But this time performed with an intensity that the pieced-together version would never have.

Today we will continue with vocals. SolidTube had a gig last night so I hope that everyone slept well and can bring their best to the studio. I'll know in a few hours.

Feb. 24. Today brings another exciting day for the SolidTube gang. Early on in my discussions with Docnik about the production, I thought that it might be fun to include the local Viennese ST believers in a more substantial way. In listening to the demo version of "Sunny Day" I had the idea that bringing a group into the recording studio to sing along with Mandana and the guys would serve as a proper "Thank You" to the folks who have made all of this possible. Since it will be impossible to put headphones on as many people as we expect, and as I don't want the track to bleed into the "believer's chorus", I will have Mike play his acoustic guitar and Mandana sing. Both of them will be listening to the track on headphones and hopefully this system will allow us to record the believers in time to the music. It will either work or it won't...but we have plenty of bubbly in the fridge to lubricate the effort so either way it should be fun.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

SolidTube at Wild One Music

Feb.15. Ah, as I write this, I'm looking out the window and see the first Austrian snowfall since my arrival. Yesterdau ehj sdh iutet ...oh, sorry, I should know better than to type while looking outside! Let me start over...Yesterday was our first day at Wild One Music studio. On my calendar I had predicted the following schedule:

11:00 AM Arrive at Studio for load in. Set up drums.
12.00 Noon Set up drum microphones and line check.
2:00 PM Set up guitar amps for basic tracks.
4:00 PM Begin playing first track(Know Me) Address/correct/adjust any technical issues.
5:00 PM Dinner break(get the band out of the studio)
6:00 PM Begin running "Know Me"
8:00 PM Go Home after hopefully accomplishing all of the above.

How did we do? Well, because this band is very excited to be making their first studio album, and because they harbor mixed feelings as to wether I am a maniac or not, the studio arrival was on time. We have really tweaked the budget to insure ample studio time, but the concept of "roadies" is still in the future. Julio the drummer chipped in by lugging a guitar cable down the stairs to the studio but I thought he got the better end of the deal when I saw Mandana dragging his bass drum case out of the van.

Actually, we met every time deadline. The day went like clockwork...Cuckoo clock that is. We accomplished everything we needed to and by the schedule I had set for us, but not without the cuckoo popping out occasionally to remind us that shit happens...and often. Different snare drums, different mics, bad cables...and the biggest problem, no milk for the coffee!

Jakob the guitarist( newly renamed Chi-Chi) is now officially a rock recording musician. He reached a personal goal by dusting a sweet old Vox AC30. I don't know why I should have been surprised. The amp was sounding absolutely fabulous...and in my experience, that is usually when they give up the ghost. So we went to plan B and set up his Orange head with one of the studio's vintage Marshall 4x12 speaker cabinets, a sweet basketweave loaded with vintage Celestion greenbacks. The Vox is now at the dentist's having a tooth filled and we'll have another stab at finishing it off when we do overdubs.

Mike is playing through his Fender Hot Rod Deluxe. The studio has a great set up that allows us to run the speaker output of the amp to an isolated cabinet. This cuts down the sound level in the room and the entire rhythm section can record together in the same proximity as rehearsals.

The bass will be recorded directly to Protools through an Avalon pre-amp. Paulie got out his great sounding Fender and tested the system. After all of the basic tracks are cut we will run the recorded bass tracks back through a live amp and add that to the mix for space and dimension. Paulie and I will be sharing the bass chair and I've brought a few of my babies along to give some variety to the bottom end. The '66 Höfner Violin bass will rear it's head on two songs and there will be some subtle fretless here and there. I was really happily surprised when I put the fretless Jazz in Paulie's hands. Every once in a while two things collide to make magic and from the first note I knew that Paulie is a natural on fretless.

So, today we will start recording in earnest. This band has never heard themselves in the laboratory conditions of a recording studio. I am looking forward to scanning their faces when they hear how good they really can be.

Feb. 16. Actually, late night between the 15th and 16th. Today was a gas. The band has made Wild One their home away from home and the recording is proceeding to plan. Everyone is relaxed, Chi-Chi(Jakob) has been unable to blow up any more amps, Julio, although playing his ass off, is intriguing all of us with a brand of English of which I am unfamiliar, Paulie is getting his ass hammered between takes by Mandana at the fussball table and Mike's only question is "When do we go eat?"

Wild One Music
is in what I would consider a pretty cool part of the city. Plenty of shops, restaurants and other assorted businesses within walking distance. Among the afore-mentioned "assorted businesses" is an emporium of, well, let's just call their product "personal stress relief and pleasure management services." There is a sort of "menu" posted that looks interesting but the dollar exchange being what it is, I'm opting for goulash and beer across the street. Pity though, a place like that would be handy if we had an infestation of label executives to get rid of.

Tomorrow we will track two more songs and prepare a third in the evening. At this pace we will track the album in five days, have plenty of time for Mandana to deliver killer vocal performances, and the guys will get to set up a nice assortment of guitar amps for overdubs. Ah, it's a rough life, but somebody's gotta live it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SolidTube Pre-Production

Feb. 4th. The first full band rehearsal went very well. Since this was my first face to face meeting with the rhythm section, we did a short "let's find out something about everyone" session before hitting the first downbeat. The combined age of the drummer and bassist is less than one of my basses, and I'm sure that I have at least one pair of shoes older than the guitarist, so getting in touch with what makes these guys tick seemed a good way to start.

It can be a mixed blessing to work with young musicians. But this group really "wants it" and their enthusiasm and open-minded attitudes more than compensate for any lack of...let's call it, "vintage vocabulary." As a group, they have much to learn. But those things that must come naturally are abundant. So we embarked on a journey of discovery. We have two weeks to become a band with a twenty year history. The first session put us well past the third year.

All of the band members are excellent musicians and very capable. The key concept for them to master is how to combine their talents to create a group identity or signature sound that is beyond what any individual member would have previously conceptualized. The process is simple, really. We just take the song, throw it in a pile on the floor and start picking out the bits that aren't absolutely necessary. So, we have another pile of drum fills, bass licks, turnarounds and so on that we can either discard, recycle or file away for future reference. What is left is usually a lean, groovin' little track devoid of all the extras that frequently obfuscate a good song.

Today will be rehearsal number two. Let's see if we can get a few more years under our belts.

Feb. 7th. As you may know, SolidTube's Bass player, Paulie, had an engagement he could not get out of so I will be stepping in to sub for him tomorrow night at the Vienna Calling show. Today's rehearsal schedule consisted of getting me into the mix of these great songs and I'm really looking forward to seeing what this band does after the hard work that they have put in this week.

I can say in all honesty that I've seen few musicians demonstrate the dedication, concentration and perspiration that the members of SolidTube have this week. They are hell-bent on taking their music to the next level and have been a dream to work with. The rhythm section is made up of Jakob, Paulie and Julian(recently dubbed Julio), Guitar, bass and drums. All three are excellent musicians and have way more chops than this style of music requires. And this is where we have experienced the greatest degree of growth as a band.

These guys are really into jazz and are well-studied. Now, many quasi-jazzers would tend to look down on music that doesn't allow for extended chord voicings, poly-rhythmic beat patterns or two handed tapping bass parts. It can be a nightmare to get a jazz musician to just play a goddamned triad or a simple dotted quarter, eighth note kick drum pattern. But these guys, as easily as they could launch into "Donna Lee" at 208 have accepted the concept of playing simple parts as if this were the hardest thing in the world to do. This is where the magic of a track will be found. It's not just playing simple...It's playing simple and MEANING IT. I think that their audience tomorrow night will know that they mean it.

As far as Mandana, Mike and Gerry, what can I say? After the many years that we rehearsed together this week, we have become true brothers(and sister) in arms. It's been a long time since I've worked with people who have such a love for their art and have remained un-jaded. The band and I have been working, eating, joking and conceptualizing together now for only four days, but it truly is beginning to feel as if they are working on their second or third album. The effort has been amazing. We start on time, end late and no-one is in a hurry to leave. Reminds me of what band practice was like before money entered the picture.

Well, Vienna Calling tomorrow, a much deserved day off and we dive into a solid week of preparation before moving the circus into Wild One Music studio.

Feb. 10th. The band has taken two days off to digest our intensive week of rehearsals, recover from the adrenalin rush of Vienna Calling, and to make final preparations for the studio. The initial rehearsals served as an aging process and were quite successful. The next three days will be spent concentrating on basic rhythm tracks. We will spend fourteen days in the studio and in order to walk out of Wild One Music with ten solid tracks in hand we must work very efficiently.

The first day will be a load-in and set up day. We have been very fortunate to have Mike's house available for rehearsals and I want the band to feel every bit "at home" in the studio as we have felt during rehearsals. Recording environments can sometimes feel restrictive for a new band so a lot thought went into our choice of studios. After looking at pictures, videos and equipment lists of the available facilities, I chose to go with my gut instinct. I listened to the mp3 samples of all of the short list choices and felt that the tracks put up by Wild One somehow "felt" comfortable. All things being nearly equal, the vibe was, in this case, the tipping point for me. Jakob Grabmayr, the studio Mgr. at Wild One seems like another kindred spirit. The studio has all the hardware we will need and a massive protools setup. The microphone collection and arsenal of pre-amps will provide all the colors required to make a very interesting album.

And so, tomorrow we hit the rehearsal studio(Mike's living room) at noon. By Thursday we need to be a lean, mean tracking machine. If the experience of the past week is any indication, I have no doubt we can pull it off.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Delays!...or, Good Things are Worth the Wait

My family immigrated to the United States when I was three years old and the trip took twelve days. My latest trip to Austria took much less time but felt every bit as taxing on the nerves. It started out beautifully. I was able to secure an aisle seat in the exit row and settled down to what I thought would be a nice nap for the twelve hour flight into London's Heathrow airport. Ah, lucky me, my neighbor was a nervous twit who had never flown across water. Every noise, every vibration was cause for a new panic attack. I found myself constantly having to remove my headphones to respond to her inane questions. So, deprived of a good night's sleep, I made it my duty to torment the girl. Every time I noticed her start to relax, I grabbed the adjoining armrest and said something like,"Did you hear that?" or, "Did you feel something strange...what was that?" Turnabout is fair play after all. And the loss of my nap cost her at least five years in terms of roasted nerve endings.

The kicker was the speedy lay-over at Heathrow. I had never passed through security and from one terminal to the next with such speed...only to be advised at the next gate that my Vienna flight had been cancelled! I was quickly and cheerfully assigned a seat on the very next flight, but when I asked which gate I should go to, the well-mannered British Airways representative let me know that the gate would be announced one hour before boarding. And so I made it a point to stay awake, and also within sight of the departure monitor. I could have taken the nap I missed on the first flight because I stared at that monitor for a full seven hours before the departure information was posted. I did have a chance to inspect the fine products available in EVERY GODDAMNED SHOP in terminal least five times! I realized that I was being looked at askance, for those unfamiliar with the term, it is the way in which one is viewed when a misdemeanor is thought to be imminent.

I finally landed in Vienna at midnight, local time. As I was meant to land at 17:20 (I know, it looks imposing, but it's just the European way of making 5:20 look important) I was certain that there would be no-one to meet me. Ah, but all travail is rewarded when one is patient. In the time I was delayed at London, Mike Pobisch, Solidtube's guitarist and songwriter had, upon being informed of the flight cancellation, left the terminal, done a gig in the center of the city, and returned to collect my tired ass. It turns out that Mike has a great command of English, but I'm certain that I was responsible for helping him add a few choice expletives to his arsenal.

So...twenty-four hours en-route and finally in Vienna. What to do, what to do? Drop off Luggage? Get a much-needed shower? Eat? Sleep? HAH!! In Mike I have found a kindred spirit. We are not men to trifle with such things as food, rest or hygiene. From the airport we went immediately to the Casablanca club located in an area of Vienna known as the Bermuda Triangle and the site of many Solidtube gigs. The place is about the size of three of my shoes and it was fortunate that I was wearing only two, otherwise some of the guests would have been forced out the front door.

As it was, I had the time of my life. Mike was a great host and kept one of my hands filled with a large "bierkrug" while the other was occupied shaking hands. We closed the place and I finally hit the manger as the sun was rising.

What I thought would be a restful first day in Vienna was really a continuation of apparently unfinished celebrations. I met with Mike and Mandana in the early afternoon to begin discussions about the way we will be proceeding with the recordings. In the early evening we stopped in at Replugged, the site of the Vienna Calling show to look the place over and speak with the sound crew. Mike then dropped me off at the Postsporthalle so I could meet my son Pete and his wife Sheryl who had just resumed playing with the Flying Foxes basketball team after having her first child. We had a great family reunion and Mike picked me up at 11;00 PM...I mean 23:00. Did we go home? Hah!

Mike had some friends in the car and minutes later I found myself at a club full of carousers. One thing obviously led to another and before the night was over it was round two at the Casablanca. By this time I had no clue what time it was or what day it was for that matter. And I didn't care. All I knew was that the clocks here start over after they go past 24:00 and wherever we were, we were back in single digits...and I was having a great time.

Next post I will have visited Wild One Music studio and will also have had the first full band rehearsal. If Mike and Mandana are any indication, I'm sure the rehearsals will be everything I could hope for musically and a ton of fun as well. But for now, forgive me...the sandman is calling, and this time he won't be denied.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Trouble Starts on Thursday!

Thursday, January 31, 2008. That's the day I'll be landing on the shores of Vienna to begin the process of recording an album with SolidTube, the first Austrian band to reach the $50,000 mark on Sellaband. Okay, so Vienna doesn't have a "shore" in the strictest sense of the word, but the city does straddle the Blue Danube and that's good enough for me to stretch the analogy by a few miles. This is the first installment of a series of blog entries which will document the rehearsals for the recording, the "Vienna Calling" concert on February 8th and the sessions which will be held at Wild One Music, a recording studio just outside of the heart of Vienna.

But before I get too far into the SolidTube sessions, I think I should flash back to how all of this came about. It was recently announced that I would also be producing an album for another Sellaband artist. Although ConFused5 will be the second Austrian band to reach the $50,000 mark on Sellaband, the leader of the band, Markus Melms was the first artist to contact me upon joining the site and was instrumental in my involvement with Sellaband in general and these two groups in particular. I would be remiss in proceeding with an account of the impending shenanigans without writing a few words about how Markus' dedication to the success of his band has fueled the building interest of the Sellaband community in not only SolidTube and ConFused5, but also in two other Viennese bands, Kontrust and Rooga, both of which will be featured on the program February 8th.

This is clearly a case of "be careful what you wish just might happen." In May of 2007, I was on holiday in Austria and as I strolled through the streets of Vienna, Graz and Salzburg, I found myself daydreaming of the possibility of returning to the country of my birth for an extended time. I knew that there must be a way that I could make some sort of living, but how? All I know how to do is make music and Austria has no shortage of my breed. So I returned home with the fantasy buried deeply in my psyche. I knew nothing about Sellaband and went about my business in Southern California.

It was at this point that my dear friend Lucia Iman began her Sellaband journey. During one of her voice lessons she asked me to accompany her for the Sellaband London Calling concert as her bassist. Well, a gig being a gig, I found myself in the sweatbox that was the Gibson Guitar Studio. To make a long story short, she made a very successful appearance and when we returned to LA I decided to support her quest by buying a part toward her album. I also wrote a few amusing blog entries about the trip and was very surprised to begin receiving messages on my Sellaband profile page from artists I found to be quite interesting. The very first was from someone calling himself "Markus from ConFused5" and the second came from "Docnik" who turned out to be SolidTube's manager.

As Markus was writing from my hometown of Salzburg, I was immediately curious to hear about the music scene in the old 'hood." When I saw the name Docnik on the second message, I thought at first that this was someone having a chuckle at my A.K.A. "Peatnik" which is a wordplay on the names of my boys, Pete and Nick. Out of curiosity, I responded to both messages and so began two online friendships that are soon to become what we all hope to be fruitful collaborations for all involved.

Both ConFused5 and SolidTube were virtually unknown bands on the Sellaband artist roster six months ago. They were working under the radar of the more prominent bands and being on page one seemed a distant goal. Our dialogs became more than the typical, "Come listen to us and buy some parts" spiel, and it wasn't long before I knew that both of these bands were very serious about making it on Sellaband, but at a loss as to how they could break out of a country with a population smaller than Los Angeles county. After exchanging ideas and strategies for possible ways to increase exposure on the Sellaband platform, Markus decided to organize what would become a very successful Sellaband event in Salzburg featuring both ConFused5 and Solidtube, and supported by additional Sellaband artists, Lorraine Jones and Pieps. The "Roll Over Austria" concert proved to benefit all the artists who took part. SolidTube's fans from Vienna, the Salzburg crowd, and the die-hard Sellabanders who made the trip from all over Europe combined to offer the artists international exposure and the prominence of serious contenders in the Sellaband community.

The success of the concert and the ensuing flurry of investment activity inspired these bands to hone their networking and promotional skills. My morning coffee ritual now included looking over the charts to see how many parts had been added to both band's accounts, and sending congratulatory messages at every milestone. Before long, Markus approached me about the possibility of producing the ConFused5 album when the time came. And, as SolidTube reached top 5 status, Docnik made the same overture. In my Bottom-End reviews of both of these bands, I had said that, with the right production team in place, both were capable of turning out albums that could do very well. Little did I think as I wrote those reviews that I would be involved in these productions.

And now, three days before I get on a plane to Vienna, the realization of my summer daydream is just on the other side of the luggage carousel at Schwechat Airport. Ah, this will be fun! February in Vienna with the glorious voice of Mandana. And then off to Sonic Flow Studio in Salzburg where ConFused5 will record their project. Who says that dreams can't come true?

Incidentally, I'll be joining Solidtube onstage as their temporary bass player on the 8th at Replugged in the 7th district of Vienna. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and say "Servus." In the meantime, stay tuned to the Bottom-End for a running account of the sessions. Auf Wiedersehen!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"Gimme an Asshole Who Can Play!"

That is a direct quote from Monty Budwig. I had been studying string bass with the veteran west coast bassist for a few months and the lessons had become more like rap sessions on a variety of subjects, some of them musical. On one occasion I walked in on Monty and trumpeter Jack Sheldon debating the financial merits of opening a repair shop for "love toys." I couldn't help myself from observing that they both had a few screws loose and the "lesson" degenerated into a discussion concerning the many character flaws integral to the making of most great musicians.

The name of a famous bassist came up and we were unanimous in our opinion that this guy would not be our first choice as a next door neighbor. We agreed however, that this musician could be depended on to light it up when the record button was pushed. To paraphrase Monty, "When you got a roomful of guys making double scale, a producer breathing down your neck and the clock is ticking...gimme an asshole who can play!"

Most of my close friends and acquaintances are either athletes or musicians and I can say with authority that of those who excel in either endeavor, few, if any have both oars in the water at the same time. Their infirmities range from engaging in mild superstitious rituals to experiencing out and out psychotic episodes. Off beat and idiosyncratic behaviors are the order of the day and that which would be considered utterly unacceptable in civilian circles barely raises an eyebrow within the safety of the rehearsal hall or studio.

The fascination the general public holds for artistic individuals is intriguing and paradoxical. We are expected to be different, entertaining, funny, brilliant and maybe a little nuts. And yet when one of our guild fucks up and is caught in compromising circumstances the general public points an accusing finger and claims to have known that this individual was a jerk all along.

There is one generalization made about musicians that couldn't be more innaccurate and this is the notion that we are lazy. A recent post in the Sellaband forum described most musicians as lazy and characterized them as not having the skill set to deal properly with business. These are two completely unrelated subjects. It is true that in many cases those in the arts are sheep in the fleecing line of the less than reputable music business sheering machine. But that has more to do with artistic preoccupation and focus than it has with laziness. That artistic people are inept to a fault when it comes to the mundane is nothing new. But laziness is not conducive to artistic endeavor and I have yet to meet the accomplished artist who hasn't invested the time and effort required to excel.

For some reason, civilians think of musicians as organ grinder monkeys who should be ready to perform in the most casual of circumstances in exchange for a handful of peanuts. I was at a holiday party recently and there occurred the obligatory karaoke plague. I had been introduced into my immediate circle as a musician and voice teacher. One of my fellow party-goers was a well dressed professional type and he challenged me rather obnoxiously to sing, "Well c'mon now, you're a pro. Why don't you get up there and show us how it's done." I asked him what his profession was and upon learning that he was a dentist I suggested that I drop around his office in the morning to see about a loose crown that had been troubling me. I told him that I had spent as many if not more years learning my trade than he had, am really good at what I do and would be interested in singing for him in equal trade for dental work. He walked away muttering something about lazy smart-assed musicians and I don't think I'll be able to close the deal. Well, I am, after all, inept at business...but never lazy.

But getting back to the quote, II suppose that the "asshole ratio" among working musicians is on par with the general population. There is however, a big difference in the dynamics of what can be called the "asshole effect" when it comes to cooperation in music in comparison with civilian endeavors. The typical asshole in business is an asshole through and through with no redeeming qualities. This breed is not loathe to sabotage the efforts of co-workers in advancing his personal agenda. The civilian asshole's...assholitude isn't dependent upon a degree of excellence or even accomplishment. Assholes in the mundane pursuits exist at every level and can be counted on to rain on the least significant parade.

Assholes among musicians are more made than born. This is because it is decidedly difficult to rise through the ranks as a born asshole unless under effective camouflage. Only after proving himself can the born asshole be true to his nature, and even then he will have all the made assholes to contend with. But here is the big difference...even the biggest asshole will give a producer his best efforts. An asshole in the rhythm section would never say to himself, "Hmm, how can I fuck this up and make everyone look bad." Assholes who are also shitty musicians don't last long in the business. Assholes among veteran musicians might be the last choice for a cocktail party, but they didn't get to be assholes by not bringing the real deal to every gig. Indeed, being the very best at their art only increases the AQ, or Asshole Quotient.

So, when the clock is ticking away the recording budget, you can forget nice guy Johnny who'll bring coffee and donuts to the studio and get the feel after four or five takes. In the words of the great Monty Budwig, "Gimme an asshole who can play!"