Saturday, February 13, 2010

I think I've moved blogs?

Hi all... I've been trying out for a month or so now for my blogging-ish outlet and have been really digging it. For my 7 followers out there, I think I've made the decision to post solely over there--check it at I've actually moved all my posts from here to there too!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Super Greg "DA NUMBER ONE"

This is still one of my favorite classic videos...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Strap On Your Boots

I sat down tonight with some free, home-alone time in which I thought I might make some good progress on some songwriting.  *fail buzzer*  This whole process continues to take me back to the old songwriting days.  In this case, I'm reexperiencing the struggle to finish something I've started, which wouldn't be so hard to struggle through if I didn't recognize that this is a theme that pervades my life.

Over the years, I've come to adopt many hobbies from being so curious about learning about so many different things.  Music was probably a first, having adopted it early on in grammar school, then sports, drawing and painting, learning languages, computer geeking, learning programming languages, to reading up on a variety of subjects of interest.  Blah.  College is where I really started to dig in to these things, and my interest in learning continued to grow.  The problem, however, that I've come to see over and over again is that instead of finishing, for example, Kierkegaard's "Fear and Loathing", I get too quickly interested in starting Tolkein's "The Two Towers", and the Kierkegaard just sits on my nightstand collecting dust.  ...and then shortly after, I choose to spend my time doing something other than finishing "The Two Towers", and then that book just sits on my nightstand collecting dust.  [continue pattern]

I've recently thought that this whole problem revolves around me not having enough time to do all these things that I want to do, but I've even more recently realized that the problem is not that I don't have the time, it's that I need to make the time.  So in the past couple of months, I've been trying to remind myself of this fact, and do something about my self-inflicted time problem. 

[enter problem as it relates to music] 
I've been taking at least one night a week and devoting it to songwriting; this has been quite fruitful, up until tonight.  I've got two songs mapped out about 3/4 of the way through, with multiple parts recorded and roughly mixed (although the mixing isn't necessary since the recordings are for composition's sake only)--two songs that I've been excited about for more than a day or two, which is rare (usually these songs fall prey to the aforementioned problem: losing interest and moving to something else).  The time I had tonight was a rare few hours that I get alone before the neighbors go to sleep, which means I can actually concentrate on playing parts and not worrying about playing too loud and pissing them off.  Awesome.  Except that only about 3 creative notes came out of my fingers all night long.

I sat down with new piece #2, which has this really simple & rhythmic piano line, with another simple bluesy/Irish guitar line over it, then some Bonhamesque drum sample (seriously, it sounds like I ripped it straight off "When the Levee Breaks"--I love it), plus some other knickknacks to spice it up.  Last session, I'd left the piece in a sort of ambiguous end where parts just sort of end here and there, but that the piece needs to keep driving and growing.  So, where better place to pick up?  I did some listening of this end part, of which I'd threw in some other samples just go get the idea out there of where I wanted to song to go, but just got annoyed at where this left the song.  So instead of fixing that, I spent my time re-recording the first guitar part, and hence blurped out those 3 creative notes of the night.  From there, I tried adding to the end (instead of pulling out the crap samples that don't really fit) and just got frustrated that I couldn't come up with anything.  At that point, it was about 9:45 and thought that I should just move on to something else, yet I didn't really have time to immerse in to another piece.

So I decided to pack up for the night.  I then again listened to the current state of the product and couldn't help but get more frustrated that I had no idea where to take this thing.  I feel like I've written myself in to a corner.  Gah.  I think the solution is to just wipe out all that excess crap that I don't like and start from scratch...?  Whatever the case, I get really disheartened when the "right" stuff just doesn't pour out.  It makes me want to just ditch it all and go pick up that Kierkegaard.  Or just go to sleep.

Let It Go
I suppose this is all part of the process, but sometimes I wish I could just birth the child, so to speak, without having to have that rise of inspiration inside.  I don't want to have to rely only on those rare times where I have time and am feeling that music inside ready to just pour itself out--those times are just way too hard to come by.

So I guess it's just one of those nights where you have to pick yourself up and know that the workbench is still laden with tools and half a product, waiting for you to come back to work and put the pieces together.  *sigh*  I guess we'll see.  It really is such a challenge for me to come back to it though.  I guess that's just what one has to do...

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The "Front Man" Complex

First off, I think I've decided that I need to dispense with comments on how I go on blog-post-hiatus.  I realize now that while I love blogging on this whole music thing, I get so caught up in life that music (and consequently this blog) gets pushed aside.  ...which is a total bummer when I stop and think about it, as refraining from music--my main creative outlet--and this blog--a catalyst for me to do music--mean I don't end up enjoying a huge part of my life that I potentially could.  And such is my personal history that carries over to other life aspects.  I digress.

In going with the theme of this blog, my catharsis here is about my recent music ventures.  I've recently been challenged with getting a new band together, which has meant coming up with new music--one thing which I've never done, and the other which I haven't done in quite a long time.  Both are causing me to think and grow, and I like it.  I'm hoping that by writing this post, I'll figure some stuff out.

The Band
So I've been getting together with a couple of buddies for some months now with the idea that we can finally do something that we've never done before and always wanted to do.  This process has been a number of things:

  1. Exciting.  The thought that I finally have a forum to explore music that I've always wanted to make is pretty darn great.
  2. Confusing.  When we initially got together, we talked about concepts and styles that we wanted to explore, and found that we were all on similar pages, but I'm finding that with the structure of practicing & writing that we've been using leaves us all over the place and essentially not having moved forward in any direction.
  3. Frustrating.  In the 2 bands that I've played in, I've basically played other people's music, leaving me to do something that I really enjoy: figure out how to make a part work within a given framework.  We're starting from scratch with this group, which means that if I'm going to contribute to the writing part of songs, I have to switch gears back to big-picture writing, which I haven't really done much of in probably 7 years.

In the past few weeks, we've talked about how we haven't made much real progress in term of "product" (finished songs), which has led to discussions about the lack of one of us possessing that "front man" personality (AKA who's gonna be the "a-hole" of the band).  We need someone to keep driving us forward.  We need someone to hold the reins and yank us back when we've spent too much time jacking around or overworking musical ideas.  We need someone to provide some structure for the music we're going to do--and that music should be within certain bounds, yet push those boundaries at the same time. 

I've been elected to be that guy.

The Writing
So what does that mean for me?  I've thought about it, and I think that means that I finally get to bring ideas to the table (and hopefully to the public) that have been looming in my head for years upon years.  And while that's exciting, that's a bit of pressure--something that when it comes to writing, for me, can have a negative impact.

When I was studying music in college, I wasn't the guy that had been playing the piano for years and years--I was just capable enough to learn college level stuff, but didn't have the experience of playing music for people.  At the time, I absolutely loved playing, but I just didn't get why I needed to share the stuff that I'd learned for a bunch of people that I didn't know (à la recitals).  It was my music.  I wanted to play it for me and only me.  And that meant practicing when no one was around; it also meant that if I was going to write my own stuff, it had to be when no one was around.  After all, I was putting my own personal emotions and thoughts and feelings in to this stuff... why should I share my musical diary with strangers?  It took me quite a few nerve-racking recitals and probably both of the 2 years that led up to my senior recital to realize that, whether I liked to admit it or not, I had some level of talent--talent that others didn't have (I say that with all possible humility)--that translated in to enjoyment and pleasure for others that only listening to music can bring.  I realized that I had the chance to stimulate other minds and hearts and should do so--I mean, where would I be without all of the music that had shaped my life?  What if aaaall of those writers and composers had selfishly kept their music for themselves?  I'd surely be a different person and I'm immensely grateful for that music that has made an impact on my life.  With as much narcisism aside as possible, I hope that I can use the gifts I've been given to do the same for others.

Cut back to the present... So I decided that in order to get this song-writing ball rolling, I needed two things: 1) time, 2) inspiration.  I realized that I've got time--I just need to organize it more efficiently.  I've recently made an attempt to apply some GTD (Getting Things Done) principles to track all of my responsibilities, blah blah blah... that's boring though, so I won't talk about that.  Let's just say that I've made some improvements there.  Now to the inspiration...

I grew up listening to "oldies", Blues, Classical music, Christian Sacred music, and a whole lot of Folk music.  I studied Classical piano in college, sang bass in the choir, and found myself highly interested in 20th Century stuff, despite the not-so-aurally pleasing result of a lot of it.  Part of this interest was founded in my frustration while taking Music Theory classes--learning formulas for music got me to realize that everything that I'd sit down to write was really just like something else that someone had already written.  The 20th Century stuff spurred me to get in to Jazz.  The choral stuff got me hooked on the phenomenal ability of big groups of voices to pull off really gnarly dissonances and make them sound, well, pretty.  When I got in to the SW industry, I got turned on to Electronic music--which spurred the idea that I had the ability to orchestrate a large number of instruments on my own; I didn't need to have an arsenal of players at my disposal to pull something off.  All of this got me thinking that if I could just put it all together, I might have the chance to come up with something "new".

Fail.  You don't write something and go, "Wow, no one's ever done this before!"  Well, OK, lots of people say that, but come on guys... We're all just building on our past--and I'm just now realizing this--not realizing like acknowledging, but realizing like accepting and taking to heart.

So in trying to do music that I've always wanted to do (putting all of my influences together) and knowing that it's not really going to be "new", I've decided that I'm going to unabashedly rip people off.  I've decided that my first rip-off goal is going to be Godspeed You Black Emperor (you choose where you want to put the "!"--they keep changing their minds on that dumb punctuation mark.  Silly Canucks.).  I've been working on a piece for a few weeks now, and am actually encouraged that I just might have something here.  On the flip side, I've also come to remember the rollercoaster ride it is in writing music: I love it, then hate it, then love it again, then get totally disinterested...

Putting It Together
I realize that I've got an opportunity and actually have some things to say musically.  Putting on this "front man" hat is going to be a new challenge for me--kinda like how it was signing up for a management job when I knew I sucked at (partially because I didn't know how, partially because I thought it was dumb) managing people in a job scenario.  I signed up because I knew it would challenge me by exposing weak areas of my personality--and while I've grown immensely, it's still doing that four years later.

Doing this front man thing, for me, will surely be an unconventional way of doing such, but if I can force myself to stick to my guns, I think I'll be really excited to be able to share some new pieces of Steve (and Chris and John) to whoever will take a listen.  Right now, I just have to force myself to put the pieces together and make it happen.  Good thing I like rollercoasters...

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Music Video That Trumps All Music Videos

I think I found my next year's Halloween outfit... Talk about inspiring...

The David Bazan House Show Was Awesome

I'm glad I have friends that have social-event awareness or I would've never heard that David Bazan was playing a really cool show tonight in Fresno--a show that I'm sure I'll remember for a long time.  It was one of those events that you wish you could replay the experience on demand time and time again.

GF and I arrived pretty much before anyone (that never happens) and found that the guys hosting the show were a few cool guys from The Aircrash (formerly Help Computer)--a band that The Nancies used to share a practice space with.  Their livingroom was certainly no bigger than the livingroom in my apartment, so fitting the limited 40 people in meant for some coziness, which actually turned out to be just fine.  Bazan showed up maybe 15 mins before the show was supposed to start and hung out with the rest of us not-so-famous peeps, which was pretty darn cool.  That totally exemplified the lack of pretentiousness that he displayed in the many dialogues with the rest of us throughout the night.

Bazan explained at one point during the show that he and his manager came up with the idea of doing these sort of "underground" shows some time ago when he realized that he just wanted to keep touring in the Fall and Spring like he'd always done; not to mention which would also help pay some bills, etc., for him and his family.  Essentially, these house shows are intended to be sans media in order to keep his label happy, but of course puts a smile on the rest of our faces.  All in all he probably played maybe 12 songs--a mixture of old Pedro the Lion stuff, old solo stuff, and stuff on his new album (due out August 25th)--but the greatest part about the whole deal was his interest in chatting with the rest of us.  He stopped every couple of songs and would ask if we had any questions or comments, which led to some really cool stories and insight in to his life.  This, coming from a guy who's songwriting is something I hold at the tip top of my list, was really pretty awesome.

At one point he said that this was one of the best times he's had in a long time playing shows--I wasn't sure if he meant this particular show or just playing these really small house venues, but either way I felt way privileged.  He said he'd definitely be coming back to Fresno after the album came out, so we'll see if that pans out, but man--what a cool guy with some really powerful things to say in his music.  I'm really hoping he does make it back here, as his music is hugely inspiring to me.  Please come back to Fresno, David Bazan!!!

I got a couple bits of songs on my iPhone--they're crap for quality, but worth listening nonetheless.  Check em (probably need to crank the volume a bit--like I said, sucky quality):

The opening 2 songs (off the new album) and "Options", off of Pedro the Lion's Control:

Friday, February 13, 2009

I'm digging this Elbow song

I dig the simple acoustic pattern, with yummy slight dissonances. His voice is great; the multi-part harmonies are tasteful. Drums are sort of Middle Eastern exotic. ...but when that bass comes in--oh man, that tone is so money! Totally one of those cases where the tone of the instrument totally makes the song for me. It really is the little things, I think...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Long Time No Show

I played my first (quasi) gig tonight (with The Rhoda Penmarks) in almost a year (since last year's Rogue Festival) and I have to say it was pretty great. No, not the music--that was probably a tad rougher on the ears than i would've liked--I mean just playing music with good friends.

I love not really ever knowing what's gonna come out of Benji's amp, and I love Chris' musicality on the drums (and other percussion!). To me, there's some of that true live-music-ness about playing with these guys--that idea that you kinda know which road you're heading down, but you're not ever really sure what anyone's going to do, yet you don't really have to worry about one of them all of a sudden punching you in the face. I think that's also something that draws me to people in general--some safe level of interesting unpredictability. Some creativity with words and thoughts and actions. It keeps life fresh.

It's taken me a long time to come to this, but I think I finally really enjoy playing with others (as opposed to tout seul in my apt). I look back at early college, when I didn't "get" why I should share MY music with anyone else, and am glad to see that I've grown out of that. I left work tonight trying to keep my head from spinning off, and left Javawava with a bit of a burden off my shoulders. I'd forgotten how cathartic playing shows can be--even if people didn't come to see my band (it was for Danielle's Art Hop show).

Friday, January 30, 2009

UNKLE - Rabbit In Your Headlights

I love this song. DJ Shadow and Thom Yorke. Sweet drums and piano. 9/8 time signature that doesn't really sound awkward. And the video just makes it that much better. Usually videos totally ruin songs for me. I still remember the day Ben Kloos showed this to me--I was blown away. I've watched this probably 100 times since and it's never gotten old. Thanks B.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Obama Likes Vinyl Too

When I saw the link to this article on Analog Apartment, I thought: "hey, neato, the president has a bunch of old records", and was intrigued by the "Secret" part in the title. I didn't expect to hear that there's an LP collection that gets handed down to each president--not one that has Ramones and Sex Pistols in the collection at least...

Check it: Obama's Secret Record Collection