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!"