In the middle of a hard look inside, punctuated by tears, a friend asked me for ten albums that mean the most to me. She said that she wanted to learn something about my soul.
Today I am proud to release and liberate ZACHARY IS GARBAGE, a live recording by The Masses. The Masses played a rock show from which this recording was made on May 29, 2004.
I'm happy to report that our new album, "HEARTSPACE TIMEPIECE", recorded in Michigan over the past year and funded by our fans, is in the final tracking & mixing stages.
I was born not long after John died. So, in my waking life, John had always hovered beyond mortal flesh, mystical, prophetic, too good for this world. Only Paul’s imaginary end could make me understand the scope and depth of the Beatles’ weird mastery of the times, and the threats they posed to the less masterful among us.
Everything changed for me after I absorbed the Beatle death rumor as a twelve-year-old; I didn't understand that (almost) no one ever took the rumor seriously. I was literal-minded and more than a little in love. I was so sensitive, I became insensitive. I was vulnerable to everything ever said about the Beatles and Paul, and to everything made by them.
Listening to the White Album with headphones on, lying on the floor of my room; six songs in, I wanted no more. Burying the CD in the back of my pile forever, I decided that for me this album could not exist.
I wanted a love, and a collection of songs, that was straightforward and comprehensible. It scared me that the White Album had two names - an official name, and an "insider" name. Even the mere titles of the songs on the White Album scared me. When they weren’t more sexual than I was ready for the Beatles to be (“Sexy Sadie”, “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road”, “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”), they were menacing (“Happiness is a Warm Gun”), especially when they were intentionally ridiculous or childlike (“Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”, “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill”, "Wild Honey Pie") or about mysterious girls with matronly names (“Dear Prudence”, “Martha My Dear”).
To my overloaded, obsessed teenage senses, all of these songs seemed designed to bewilder and threaten me, rather than to inspire the kind of yearning that felt wild but was under my control.
I wanted the Beatles to sing about girls they lusted after from afar, as I lusted after them from a safe distance of fifty years. The White Album did not deliver this.The album's performances were evasive, ironic, impersonal, haunted. I didn’t know why George was singing so fairy-like about “Piggies” and their “piggie wives”, and then wanting to deal them all a “damn good whacking,” or why Paul was putting on that gruff voice in “Back in the U.S.S.R.” (I first thought Ringo sang that song; when I learned it was Paul, I was horrified). "Long Long Long" for a time broke me down completely.
The whole album smelled of musical nihilism, and death, and it crushed me. It felt like a betrayal. The band even made a whole collage of themselves and yet didn't show themselves as I wanted them -- heads connected to bodies, clear eyes, clear intentions.
Is the change that the White Album represented in 1968 one reason that some people needed Paul—always the cutest, the most deferential and charming Beatle—dead!? Probably not, but it killed my illusions about them, and revealed the hard limits of my own sexual and artistic maturity as a precocious teenager. It is an album I had to catch up to for years.
Today, from a place where life and death have changed me in equal measure, the White Album is my favorite Beatles album. The Beatles make their daring, ecstatic music conjure both life and its opposite in these songs. All the monkeys and matrons and piggies and pistols are a part of this chaotic yet comprehensive vision from the top. I believe that only a band as famous as the Beatles, in the extremely specific and unprecedented way that the Beatles were famous, could have recorded an album that reflected back on their audience the madness the band had singularly inspired. Moreover, I believe that Beatle record burnings and "Paul is Dead" were both extensions of Beatlemania, its B-side. The music of the White Album is (in part) a response to the sex-danger-death-tinged craziness, the mass swallowing-up the Beatles had been through. So all speculative critic and fan talk of condensing the White Album into one "organized" record strikes me as completely ridiculous, a missing of the point as extreme as my own first terror.
And of all their recordings, the White Album is the one that makes me remember the unending kinship Paul and I still share. We’ve both survived morbid madness, and the death of our old sweet selves.
"Turn Me On Dead Man": Part 1, Part 2, & Part 3.
Note: This is Part 3 in a four-part series on youth, the Beatles, and Paul Is Dead. Read Part 1, Part 2, & Part 4 for the complete picture.
In the winter weeks leading up to the orchestra concert in the middle school gym I spent much of my time staring at the guys I'd learned were the minds behind my mimeographed "Beatles Medley". In these staring sessions, I felt my innocence begin to flicker. My dad had lent me his Beatles LPs, and I examined them like diamonds as I listened to Beatles music on CDs in my bedroom boombox. I liked the way it felt to listen to the Beatles, to stare at their pictures, and to read their record album art as if they were picture books, all at the same time. This lo-fi multimedia combination thrilled me; it was like having four foreign boys up in my room.
Soon I was seeking these boys everywhere.
My dad was happy I had taken an interest in a band he had always loved. He took me to the library so I could learn more about these guys I said I cared about as music-historical subjects.
I loved these contemplative library trips, the quiet hours flipping through oversized rock photo books in the music section while Dad wandered around, in paradise. We always came back from the library happier and closer, bags heavy with old books.
And yet. I didn’t want to talk to my dad about Paul, whom he had so recently (and so innocently) offered into my life; I wanted to look at Paul and talk to Paul, and ask Paul questions, and have Paul get to know me, too. I studied the album covers (front and back) of Revolver and played the record loud in my bedroom and sketched over the lines of Paul’s eyelids and lips with my gaze.
I felt like I was growing up, but in retrospect I see this extended encounter with Paul’s face as the final act of my childhood. I hadn’t yet learned the new, overwhelming, and sometimes frightening truths Paul’s face could suggest, the places it could lead me.
Paul's face led me to The Beatles beyond the Medley, and The Beatles opened the world for me. The whole onslaught of Beatles music, images, and lore I began to discover invited me to distinguish between old and new, before and after, tame and risky, in everything around me. I read the same semi-salacious Beatles biographies over and over, devouring and in the process destroying paperback bindings.
And after they’d moved me to seek passionately and dig deeply, the Beatles began teaching me about places and concepts I’d never heard of: Albums and album covers. Different kinds of guitars. Haircuts, Fashion, and Androgyny. Movies: How and Why They're Made. The Second World War. The Difference Between England and America. And India. Rhythm and Blues. What MBE and LSD stand for. Groupies. Puns. Moog synthesizers. Sexual frenzy and its direct and indirect expression. Implications of facial hair. The piccolo trumpet. What not to say about Jesus Christ. Vietnam. Hippies. Implications of glasses. Experimental art in New York in the 1960s (thanks, Yoko).
At some point it hit me that using one’s imagination could mean more than pretending or casting oneself off into fantasies. It could also mean creating new art, and the possibility of communing with people you’d never met before through art, across all space and time.
Still, the Paul Is Dead rumor almost killed all my enthusiasm about the Beatles. I learned about Paul’s “death” and the surviving Beatles’ “cover-up” plot in some unauthorized account from the public library, and at twelve I was too young or too dumb not to believe it could be true. My connection to the Beatles then short-circuited as the currents of death, deception, and cynicism in their story overwhelmed and terrified me.
(Much later, I understood that these currents had always been present in the Beatles' story, whether or not Paul lived, and that seemed right to me.)
Facts of sudden mortality were all over my family history, so the thought of death had always unhinged me as a kid, and left me with questions that were not only unanswerable but unmentionable for the unbearable grief they raised.
At age twelve, the Beatles and their music had helped me overcome some of my childhood fears by proposing exciting risks that couldn’t kill: If I Fell. Please Please Me. Close Your Eyes and I’ll Kiss You. If There's Anything That You Want. I Want to Hold Your Hand. Anytime At All. Tell Me That You Want the Kind of Things that Money Just Can’t Buy. Don’t Make it Bad.
Then, in just six or so pages of disputed lies, Paul Is Dead brought Death into the only deathless world I knew.
Continue to Part 4.
Note: This post is Part 2 in an ongoing series on youth, the Beatles, and "Paul is Dead". Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here.
A forgotten DJ at a Michigan college radio station started the "Paul is Dead" rumor in 1969, claiming the clues were obvious and everywhere. Paul had died in a car crash sometime in 1966, and the band had replaced him with a faker (Don Draper style). Crushed by guilt (?), the Beatles had been broadcasting crucial facts about Paul's demise obliquely, in the details of their album art and in their music.
There were skulls all over the back of Abbey Road. The license plate on that shaded car beyond the crosswalk read "28IF" - because Paul would have been 28 years old IF he had lived! Most provocatively, the death-pushers held that the record cover's iconic procession was Paul's funeral march. The cute one is now the barefoot corpse, eyes closed and out of step with the others. John is the pallbearer in white, Ringo the priest (???) in funeral garb, and George in blue jeans, the gravedigger. It was all so obvious.
The roll of evidence went on and on and on. That mystery hand over "Paul's" head on the front cover of Sgt. Pepper spelled death in unspecified "Native American religions" (so did walruses!). Turn me on, Dead Man, mumbled John, always the group’s spokesman and prophet, if you played “Revolution 9” backwards and didn’t chicken out. I buried Paul he pronounced at the end of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” deathly wild flutes surely mocking somebody (me?) and drowning out his drawl.
And don’t even ask why Paul gazed away on the cover of Revolver.
I learned there was a phone number you could call to learn all about the gory mess Paul had left us. No area code was specified, but the key digits were 531-7438, which was what “B E A T L E S,” drawn out in tacky yellow stars, looked like if you held the cover of Magical Mystery Tour up to a mirror. And there are those deathly jazz hands again.
In 1969, The Death Instinct that has always been a part of rock music went wild over Paul is Dead. Girls mourned Paul with tears as thunderous as those they’d freed five years earlier, as they’d feigned their first orgasms from the bleachers while Paul waved and perspired onstage.
Hippies, college students, and nerds loved the creepiness and call to obsession that Paul is Dead inspired. Publishers cashed in with books that spelled out the conspiracy to a slightly titillated world. Older siblings freaked out younger ones.
Hokey as it all seems now, I’m surprised the rumor and its short-lived heyday haven’t generated more inquiry and disturbance. Paul is Dead is surely the Shakespeare Didn’t Write the Plays of its time, a belief that creative production so worthy, so popular and profitable, so consistently inventive in such a compressed time frame, could never on earth be the work of any— even four! — working mortals.
As much as Romance and History, Tragedy suited the Beatles, someone had reckoned.
Like Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper and Richie Valens and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, the Beatles became a chapter in rock's catalog of tragic heroism long before they should have. But in 1969, the Beatles’ planes hadn’t crashed in an Iowa field. The Beatles were simply so vital, and so scary, that someone needed them false, needed them undermined, needed them tacky, needed them dead.
Ironically, Paul is Dead taught me at a young age to scan texts, songs, and images critically, but it was a sham education. At twelve I was learning to criticize appearances in the service of finding the most far-fetched, gruesome and perverse meanings imaginable. I suppose I can look back and see that Paul is Dead was, for me, in the end a good lesson about the seductive lure of sensational theories, leaps of logic, mass assumptions and overdetermined outcomes, and for leading me past it to the scientific method, but back then it just hurt.
Continue to Part 3 here.
Note: This blog post is the first in a four-part series. In this post and those to follow, Alejandra will explore her relationship to the Beatles when she was a young girl. The emphasis will be on her fixation with Paul McCartney and the "Paul is Dead" myth.
Pushing back the plastic disc beneath an obstinate needle, I nearly broke my father’s record player during the dark winter of 1994.
Compelled by rumors of Paul McCartney's death, I was trying to play a Beatles record backwards. I had only just learned how to play it at all.
I was sheltered and twelve, I didn't know anything about anything, yet I was trying to uncover the buried truth about an extremely famous man John Lennon might have buried. I wanted to show myself and the world what the world couldn't keep from me anymore.
Dad would have made me pay had any fragile turntable piece cracked off or scrawled new grooves across the vinyl, but I spared us all the pain; I stopped the second I heard the first startlingly wrong swooping sound of backwards-needle-on-song. I wouldn’t resist the LP’s motion with any real force from my thumb. At the first sign of weirdness, I stopped the spinning blackness in its tracks.
This sequence, and my choice to remain in the dark about Paul McCartney’s fate, comes back to me sometimes when I hear myself lie. In these painful moments of risk and scramble, lunging for credibility and then retreating, full of doubt, back to my secret self, I'm wishing out loud for a truth that never was. And in both cases (backwards record playing and telling lies), I wonder: why have I found myself in this situation in the first place?
And like every botched attempt to spin a better reality out of thin air, my failure to face the facts of death at the turntable was self-serving: if the record wouldn't play backwards on its own, spun by the sheer force of the confessions it carried and suppressed, then I could keep believing in Paul, in gorgeous innocence and transparent truths.
I was a lonely sixth grader in a Maine city. The orchestra I played with on Wednesday afternoons in the middle school basement was handed out a “Beatles Medley” to perform at a concert for our classmates and parents. When my father heard me practicing passable strokes of “Eleanor Rigby” on my violin at home, he’d showed me his old Revolver and said something to me about the four young men presented as out-of-focus photos and eerie line drawings on the cover.
But even recalling this life-changing moment, I don’t remember my dad's voice or his words. All I remember was how beautiful Paul appeared as an arrangement of black and white lines.
Unlike the other Beatles' faces, which resembled hollow death masks with live eyeballs, Paul’s face looked warm and human, even as he looked away.
I forgot all about my father at that moment and let my imagination go. I lingered on Paul’s features and felt a strange independence surge through me. I relaxed, held the album out like a doctor with a newborn, and focused my eyes. I asked my father if I could take the record to my room, and he said bring it back.
Continue to Part 2 of this series here. Part 3 is here. Part 4 is here.
Now we've landed in mid-June 2013. I’m taking stock of the half-year that is here.
Personally and musically, 2013 has been exhilarating and deflating for me, over and over again. Often, the rush of joy and the twist of sadness cannot be separated.
My family is in the middle of an all-hands effort in Washington D.C. that has kept me occupied and fulfilled here most weeks. A fantastic band in which I'm playing the best music of my life actually exists … in Michigan.
This supercharged muddle of feeling, the sudden inspiration and bursts of concentration it entails, is ok with me. I’m grateful to be working in this band; I'm grateful for everything in life.
Slowly and mainly remotely, this band will overflow with ideas and new songs. I can't believe the things we're pulling off and the things we're knocking down. The album that will be born of this crazy half-year-plus many months on runways and highways is going to be an astonishing reward.
This band, this music, and this family all together drive my thoughts, waking or sleeping. They all break my heart and challenge me and satisfy me beyond anything I have experienced in any half-year ever before.
(And through all of this mixed-up chemical rush, my love, my husband, adds a shot of tortured ecstasy. We are more together and more in love than ever before, but we are rarely able to be in the same place at the same time.)
What a funny, twisted, untamed world.
And speaking of extreme upheaval: for many of my closest friends, 2013 has been a year of either great joy or great awfulness. I have two 25-year old friends about to get married. They have been together since high school. I have known the groom since he was born. I am so happy for them; their wedding is an occasion of the greatest happiness. I have other friends who have just had a truly beautiful and amazing baby boy. They adore him. It always shows, and the feeling catches on so easily.
Then I have friends getting divorced in the worst possible way after 20 years and two children together. I have friends losing jobs, losing love, and selling childhood homes. Things we all thought forever are breaking down and dissolving.
I don’t have a specific wish for the rest of 2013. I do want everyone’s lives to calm down and fall into place, to establish a pattern of quiet satisfactions and regular, if unforeseeable, thrills.
My Best Moments of 2013, so far:
1) Spending time with my mom in any form – watching movies (some really great ones, including “25th Hour”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and “The Wire”), reading together, joking, expressing ourselves simply and honestly, remembering things together that we wouldn’t remember apart.
2) Making my dog come to me by kneeling to her level and meeting her eye.
3) Watching the new “Great Gatsby” movie in the theater. Re-reading the book.
4) Writing a song in one beloved bandmate’s house in the afternoon, recording it with another in the evening.
5) Walking in nature with my husband. Talking about trees, comparing branches, hearing and finding birds, looking through forests, not leaving a trace.
6) New music from Kanye West, Vampire Weekend, and the Strokes.
7) Old music from Burt Bacharach.
8) The podcasts at Maximumfun.org. Especially "Throwing Shade" and "One Bad Mother". I am in awe of the model of this great company and the wonderful content they produce. MaxFun shows have given me much comfort and relief in hard times.
9) Beautiful days, including rainy ones.
10) The best NBA Finals in the last ten years. LeBron James, our national wonder.
How has 2013 treated you so far?
I've been attracted to the Proust Questionnaire since I first encountered it in the back pages of an old Vanity Fair.
Legend is that Marcel Proust used to ask these questions of his guests at social occasions as a probing ice-breaker. The questions are clearly intended to make the responder reflect before answering.
I first answered the questionnaire with three friends last summer. I have not revisited what I said then, but I am certain that my answers today have changed dramatically since that time.
I answered each question honestly. If you would like to fill out your own Proust Questionnaire and post it in the comments box, I will read your answers with interest and pleasure.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Lying in bed with my husband and my dog.
What is your greatest fear?
That I will be afraid to tell people how much I love and appreciate them.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I don’t identify with any historical figure. I sometimes identify with sentences composed by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Charles Dickens, James Joyce, and Philip Larkin.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My impatience, my blinders
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
A lack of empathy, flexibility, or imagination
What is your greatest extravagance?
I spend money on my dog
What is your favorite journey?
Up the stairs of the house and into my mom's room
On what occasion do you lie?
To be nice, to stop a line of thought
What do you dislike most about your appearance?
I like my appearance.
What is your motto?
"Life is very short and there's no time for fussing and fighting my friend."
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My parents, my sister, my husband, animals, nature, and music.
When and where were you happiest?
Which talent would you most like to have?
What is your most marked characteristic?
My laughter and sing-song voice
What is your current state of mind?
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would be more patient and understanding of other people, in a way that would allow me to be more direct with people. I always want to communicate more clearly and helpfully than emotion currently allows.
If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?
That my parents would live to meet their grandchildren.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The bands I've played in and the music we've created together.
And rescuing my dog, Cocoa.
Where would you like to live?
New York City, Michigan, or Maine
What is your favorite occupation?
What is the quality you most like in a man?
What is the quality you most like in a woman?
What do you most value in your friends?
Who are your heroes in real life?
My father, my mother, my sister. Also: teachers, doctors and nurses, firefighters, public defenders, artists, community leaders, volunteers, working people, scientists, journalists, public servants, librarians. As I get older I idolize fewer people but I revere so many more.
What are your favorite names?
John, Jack, James
Everybody in my band is named either Alejandra or James. James is also for Henry James, the King James Bible, James Joyce, and LeBron James.
How would you like to die?
When I am old, in my own home, surrounded by love.
Today's blog post is a three-part meditation on the purpose and effect of music reviews.
Today there are more sites dedicated to music reviews than ever before. We'll consider music reviews from the perspective of a reviewed musician (Alejandra), a music writer and social media expert (Steve Birkett), and a blogger, zine-ster, and musician (Eleanor Whitney).
Music Reviews: Alejandra's Perspective
I like my music. That’s why I release it: I believe my songs can make people happy.
I welcome reviews of my band’s concerts and recordings. Not only because music is meant to circulate the world, but also because it’s a rare chance for me to hear what people think and feel about my work. It's rare that I hear people express their raw responses using words, rather than applause, heckles, yelps or hips - even if hips don’t lie (and I believe they don't).
I like to hear what people think and feel about my music because it is inevitably different than what I think and feel.
For me, the best reviews of my music— or anyone’s music – go far beyond the evaluative – the best reviewers connect their deep and tangled experiences in life and music with what they hear. Their reviews are personal; but in their writing the deeply personal (even the subconscious) is shaped into something clear, coherent, and communicable.
I think the best reviews make sense and stir up feelings even in readers who never plan to hear the music under review.
Therefore, my favorite reviews of my own music are not those that simply gush with positivity, but rather those that display a thoughtful approach to sound, a memorable readability, and an angle on the songs that I hadn’t considered before, or hadn’t considered enough.
Even a line in review that truly boggles me and seems to have been written about another artist or song is (one hopes) a true statement and enlightens me about the real-world reverberations made by my music.
How I am supposed to know what I "evoke" or "communicate"? My own ideas about such things aren't relevant. It's all about the listener. Only a reviewer can tell me something about what some listeners may think, feel, put together, reject, and remember when they hear my songs.
Music reviews don't play a direct role in my music-making. Still, the most effective and honest reviews give me a convincing push as I move forward in music. But they are not written for me. The best reviews stand on their own, and like a song, are intended to stand for years beyond their creation.
Postscript: I put all my "good" reviews in the "Press" and "More Press" sections of this website. You can check them out if you're interested.
Below are a few reviews of a mixed nature. All of the contained interesting information that was new to me. That's really all I can ask for in a review, beyond stylish prose (a welcome bonus):
Post-Post-Script: Not all "good" reviews are created equal.
And this is the kind of good review I like to get:
the various speeds at which this album drives, showcasing all the cautious optimism and fragile emotion that continue to appear across the album. One of the more skillful aspects of the songwriting - and one that is apparent after only a couple of spins - is the ability to fuse the two somewhat contrasting sentiments together as though it were the only natural way to approach the subject of loving relationships.
This review appeared in the NYC-based music blog Heavier-Than-Air in 2009 when I released "Nothing Out Loud". After it appeared I became good friends with its author, Steve Birkett. Steve continues to write about music, now from the music and social media marketing side, for his excellent blog Above the Static.
Music Reviews: Steve's Perspective
“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture”, or so the (possibly apocryphal) quote goes.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen enough evocative structures to believe that some interpretive dance types somewhere would be moved to create a piece about them.
Similarly, plenty of music moves those of us who lack the same creative ability, to wax eloquent about it in the form of prose.
Although music reviews are inherently secondary to the songs they attempt to address, they do serve a purpose. Scratch that... they can serve a purpose, when crafted well.
Music reviews attempt to express that intangible quality of the music in some descriptive form. They can open up dialogue around songs, helping listeners delve deeper into the nooks and crannies, releasing a better understanding of why they themselves enjoy it.
Music is perceived uniquely by each individual, yet still seeks to be understood in groups and discussion. Those who put descriptions to the sounds seek to bridge that gap for everyone else.
John Lennon once answered (much loved British DJ) John Peel’s question as to why he read Beatles reviews as succinctly as you’d expect: “I want to find out what our songs are about”. Even digested with a liberal dose of wry Scouse wit, there’s a truth there as to why listeners continue to be drawn to this ostensibly most futile of exercises.
Eleanor Whitney plays guitar and sings in the NYC indie rock band Corita. She is also a contributing music writer for Boxx Music Magazine and other publications. She blogs regularly at Killerfemme. Her new book, Grow: How to Take Your Do It Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job will be released by Cantakerous Titles on June 1, 2013. Eleanor wrote a review of Alejandra's album Nothing Out Loud that appeared in Feminist Review in 2009 (see the "Press" section of this site for an excerpt").
Eleanor's Perspective: Why write about music?
At first I thought, “Why not?” I love music: I’ve listened to it and played it my whole life and music has inspired and informed everything from my decisions to move to Portland, Oregon and New York City, my feminist consciousness, to my knowledge of French slang. I love to write, so writing about music has seemed like a natural evolution to my music fandom and musical pursuits. I would also argue I am a far better writer than musician.
My music writing has slowed down a little bit as I prepare to release my first book, but I love writing about music because the writing process encourages me to really listen.
It’s not enough decide to like something, or not, but I have to back it up with examples of what I am hearing, what it reminds me of, and what that music does for me. It also gives me a chance to listen to music I wouldn’t otherwise consider, whether it’s underground electronic music from Detroit or obscure chillwave from Portland, Oregon.
Writing about music encourages me to scrutinize, critique and question my tastes as well as the music that I am listening to. It also makes me a more scrupulous musician. When I’m thinking about a songs structure or performance I can take a step back from my own creative process and really think about what the song could sound like to the outside listener. I’d like to think that this makes my band Corita’s music more inviting for our listeners, but of course, I’ll let other critics be the judge.
Now is the winter of our disco tent. We have stepped off the stage for a time, but we have not gone quiet.
These January days, the band is in the studio working on tracking and production of our new record, Alejandra O'Leary and the Champions of the West.
The record right now is nine new tunes in play. The band's performances in the studio have been explosive, inspired, surprising, breathtaking. I have had my breath taken away in the studio this season. And not only by the cold waves of a Michigan winter.
Sometimes, hearing our new song played back after a long night of recording is a beautiful and strange stunner, a sensation that something beautiful and unexpected is happening in the world that I had never conceived of before. It is not unlike the experience of seeing an iguana launch itself into an empty pool and start to swim:
The first single we finished, "Beat Ohio", was released on our Bandcamp page. You can hear it there and download it for free. We encourage you to do so and to share it with your friends and loved ones. I recently discussed the origins of the song over at Boxx Music Magazine.
"The entire atmosphere surrounding the new record is a high point of my musical life," I also said.
I didn't lie. Our next new single, "Mine That Groove" comes out on Valentine's Day. We've been playing the song for awhile now. It is verve on a stick and makes us all fall down blissed when we play live. I think you'll find that onrush of electricity and rock elixir has translated onto the record.
"Mine That Groove" is a song about getting deep into a groove with another person, to the point where you begin to create something without even being aware that you are creating.
Being in the studio feels like that a lot of the time lately.
The band will recommence touring and live shows this summer, playing the new songs from the new album for our fans everywhere.
Thanks for sticking with us.
- Alejandra O'Leary and the Champions of the West
p.s. If you want a band t-shirt, leave us a message on our Facebook page.
Rock n' roll people:
I'm happy to share our crowd-shot video for "K.Y.O." with you. This little romp of moving images takes you through the last two years of the band's life touring in Michigan. You will see footage of us going crazy at live shows, recording, rehearsing, and hanging. I can honestly say that every activity you see in this video is one of my favorite things to do in the whole world. It can be a little infectious.
I love this video because it reminds me of ALL the people - band members, fans, friends, event organizers, passers-by, venue operators, and communities - that a live band needs to thrive. We met so many good people at so many places around Michigan, and relied on our fans everywhere for support on our projects, too. But this one is all for Michigan.
"K.Y.O." - Alejandra O'Leary Rock n' Roll Band from alejandra o'leary on Vimeo.
You will see our record release party at Crazy Wisdom in Downtown Ann Arbor, you will see us on stage at the Blind Pig just a few blocks away, and you will see us at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, the Cow Pie Music Festival, and the International Pop Overthrow Festival. We recorded the video's soundtrack live at Groovebox Studios in Detroit, and you will see us there, too.
The video reminds me how live music connects people to each other and to places, seasons, and times. It also brings home the importance of the audience. Live music everywhere needs fans and night explorers to transform ordinary instances, to charge them with energy, mystery, and pop.
The band's Michigan music fans will surely be able to recognize a few of the stages flashing by here. Fans outside of Michigan will surely have to sit back and enjoy the show.
Moving on from a place you love is the worst.
Last week, Jack and I got rid of stuff. It seemed natural to ditch our CD cases before moving across the country. We slipped four hundred CDs into plastic books and stacked all the cracked and smudged cases into high towers in the recycling bin. Later, my sister asked me , "Why didn't you just media mail them?" I didn't know the answer, but I knew that it made no sense to own lot of CDs with the original cases and art anymore. What happened?!
I can’t think of a THING in life it would devastate me to lose. But if I have an attachment to anyTHINGs, it is to those CD cases (and the collateral damage that was most of the back cover art). More than any other visual, my eyes love album art and lists of song titles. The discs feel naked and incomplete without the art and those evocative lists of weird words. And yet...I did not feel compelled to keep them.
I am a child of the 1990s. So much of my life has been spent running my fingers all over plastic CD cases, inhaling that deliciously toxic "new CD smell", cracking CD cases in cars and backpacks, reading album credits, clacking through CDs in store racks and analyzing fonts, track orders, band acknowledgments, and mysterious and cool images on little (though now they seem luxuriously large) square covers. Remember when CD racks at stores looked like apple carts piled high with fresh crispiness?
It was sad to lose all of those CD cases. And yet, I couldn't keep them.
The death of the CD must have happened during the last three years. This has all happened to me before. Three years ago, as we prepared to move to Michigan from New York, I carried my first four hundred CDs over the Williamsburg Bridge to sell them to a kindered spirit from Craig's List. The only thing that made the trek emotionally ok was that there was a fellow CD geek waiting on the other side of the bridge. I knew he would cherish my collection.
Getting rid of those CDs felt good, but the fire sale unmoored me from a period of music discovery, fascination, and obsession that ended when I gave it all to the bridge guy.
I think CDs might be over, too. Last week's dumped CD cases were deep emblems for me because they were so heavy with the pleasures of the past. But I have stopped buying CDs. It didn’t happen consciously, but my habits and obsessions have changed. Getting rid of all those cases was an acknowledgment of that change - I’m not planning on displaying my CD collection in any future room. Maybe one day, CDs will be "cool" relics again, like record collections are now. What did you do with all your CDs?
Does anybody want CDs anymore? From what I gather from friends, family, and fans, no one wants another music-carrying THING (at least a THING with credits and art and thank yous). This CD stuff is hard to think about as the band and I record our new album. Will it ever be a CD? Will people only listen to it on their computers? Will that be a huge bummer, and negate the entire studio process?
Are CDs over? Do you care?
And if our little plastic friends ARE done for, what are we going to do with all of the old ones, and with all those jewel cases that once seemed so sexy on store racks? Recycling CDs and their cases is an eco-nightmare. Jack and I took ours to Best Buy's recycling center. Who knows if they'll make it into new plastics.
Musical discovery and its thrills aren't over for me. But it all happens now in private. CDs made something public of process, at least for this one-time teenage dreamer.
Hello from Deep Summer
The band has been in a whirlwind, pulled in many directions, a five-headed rock n’ roll zephyr. But we are always pulled into each other by music. Here’s a full update on our summer activities, concerts, and plans.
Right now we are busy preparing for our appearance at Top of the Park on Friday, June 29, at 6 p.m. This performance will be extremely unique– the band will be playing in a format we’ve never showcased before. T.O.P. is always a party among the trees. We look forward to partying with you!
We will be in and out of the recording studio all summer. The new songs are mostly top secret and wow just wait till you hear them…
Other music news: on July 13 we play at high noon for the downtown wandering crowd as part of the AnnArbor.com Summer Concert Series.
On July 14, we return to Crazy Wisdom for a free rock n’ roll show at our favorite downtown hangout.
On July 20, we're looking forward to opening for our friends Blue Pontiac at their long-awaited record release party forGone. The show will be a doozy, and it will be at the New Dodge Lounge in Hamtramck, Michigan. Graham Cassano, Blue Pontiac's stellar songwriter, wrote thoughtfully about the new record for this very blog. On August 11, we head to Alaska, Michigan toplay the Cow Pie Music Festival – a huge event that promises to be another nonstop rock n’ roll party.
We can’t wait.
Alejandra and the Band
Alejandra O'Leary Rock n' Roll Band recently welcomed a new member, bassist & multi-instrumentalist Tom Bellinson, into the rock n' roll fold. Check out Tom's musical bio here.
Tom's first performance with Alejandra will be Friday, June 29, at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival.
Here, Tom discusses the music that's currently shaking him up (the good way).
When new friends stop by my house, I always ask them what kind of music they like. I ask this not because I intend to play the bands they mention, but because I intend to play them something they’ve never heard before that I think they’ll like. There’s nothing like the joy of watching someone hear new music that they love – except maybe the joy of hearing new music I love. I’m always on the prowl for new or old bands that I’ve never heard of before.
There are so many ways to find good music now that I have an endless stream of new artists crossing my path. To me, good music must have some rhythmic and/or harmonic complexity and a good melody. With constraints lie that, no genre is ruled out.
Some recent discoveries:
Street Signs By Ozomatli (Latin Street Music?)
Themata By Karnivool (Prog Rock)
Ellipse By Imogen Heap (Pop)
Everlasting Party By Hear Come The Mummies (Funk)
If you go to your favorite streaming site (mine is Grooveshark.com) and listen to these albums, you may not find too many similarities. But, if you do, you will be one step closer to playing me something new that I like when I come to your house.
I'm thrilled to present a new blog post from Graham Cassano. Graham writes songs for Blue Pontiac, one of my very favorite bands in the state of Michigan. It was an honor for me to sing on Graham's song, "Train Wreck", which appears on Blue Pontiac’s new record, Gone.
Gone will be released on July 20, 2012.
“Sandman/Never in the Mood,” the first single from Gone, as well as tour information, can be found and experienced on Blue Pontiac's official website.
A direct link to the new single is available streaming and for name-your-price at Bandcamp.
I could not recommend to you more strongly a visit to this site and a listen to this music! It's imaginative, evocative American music that anyone can understand and love. The music, words, and performances are richly original, universal, joyous and real.
Blue Pontiac will be playing many shows this summer to promote Gone, including Sunday, May 13 (Mother's Day) at PJ's Lager House in Detroit.
What is gone? Gone is a pair of tight blue jeans, with pink pedal pushers sliding down the street. Gone is Ricky Nelson singing “Hello Mary Lou” while James Burton lights his guitar strings on fire.
In 1955, Elvis was gone, real gone. Now he’s just gone. Wanda Jackson is still around, and she’s still real gone. Gone is the endless highway, leaving every bad scene for something new.
Baby, I love you but I’m gone. Gone is standing by a new dug grave. Gone is almost always blue.
When I wrote the songs that would become Blue Pontiac’s new record, Gone, I wasn’t thinking of Nebraska. But I guess there’s no escaping it. I don’t mean Nebraska the state; I mean Nebraska the state of mind, Nebraska the Springsteen record from all those years ago.
Like Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks, Nebraska leaves its mark on the listener who has ears for it. The songs speak to one another. The narrative weaves in and out, between the lines, behind them; and for every story that’s being told, so much is left unsaid.
Don’t take comparison for the literal. Gone doesn’t emulate Springsteen’s style and stress and strut. But Gone leaves things unsaid. And the songs speak to each other. I didn’t mean that to happen, but it did. Words, images, sometimes an occasional line, move from one tune to another, intersecting, overlapping, echoing, and so reinforcing or contradicting, as the case demands. Maybe there’s monotony in theme. But every song asks the same question: What does it mean to be gone?
This is the question that always drew me to my records. Those terrifying traces from so long ago, the Carter family singing about a motherless child, or Son House all scratchy and hoarse, hardly audible, but with a howl that cuts through the years.
What Gone was meant to be and what it became in the studio are two different things. With the songs, I was reaching for a history of American music. Or, probably better, a survey of my record collection. I threw what I loved together but something else came out. The recipe was the blues and Hank Williams, and stirred up with some Loretta Lynn, Lester Young, Billie Holiday, filtered through rockabilly, Dylan, the Velvet Underground… But Gone doesn’t sound like the blues, or swing, or country, or even Lou Reed (though sometimes it reminds me of Transformer).
Blue Pontiac performing Gone at Tracey's Corner Cafe, Warren, Michigan
From left: Graham Cassano, Ros Hartigan, Mike Kenyon
The last filter makes the difference, life and death here and now. Gone became a thing sui generis, more than the sum of what made it, more than my memories, and more than me, with my pen and my words and my guitar.
Blue Pontiac's Ros Hartigan recording Gone.
We were recording for two years. And while the record may have a few sad songs, making those songs come alive was a joy. We first thought it was done in March of ’11. But all we had was a skeleton. It took our friends to flesh it out. Musicians like Greg Svetz and Jim Berger flew across country, to our little studio in Pontiac, Michigan, just to play these tunes. And in the summer of 2011, we packed up our instruments, a 16 track digital recorder, and headed East, where we laid tracks with Stacy Phillips and Jesse Hameen. Finally, we asked friends closer to home to put the final touches on the tunes, Michiganders like Alejandra O’Leary, Mary Cotter, Dan Kennedy, and Joe Nabozny.
As for the result, what does it matter what I say? The best words I’ve heard come from a friend. She told me, “It sounds both lush and raw. It’s hard to explain.” If Gone leaves you with a little of this mystery, we’ve done our job.
Blue Pontiac playing 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' at Lakeside Lounge, New York City, March 2011,
w/ friends Chris Erikson, Osei Essed, Dan Kennedy, and Jim Berger. Lakeside Lounge is gone.
Here we were in March:
Now it's May. The band has been very busy, but not playing shows.
No, we haven't ONLY been goofing off as the weather turns warm.
We've been hunkering down over a disc crammed with new songs, and turning them into expansive musical pieces for the new album. By the way...THANK YOU to all of our Kickstarter backers - because of you, our new album is in the cooker! It's heating up and burning our fingers and marking our hearts.
Approaching new songs before taking them into the studio is sometimes daunting, like going on a blind date. The band's job is to take the often skeletal traces of a melody on a demo track and turn it into rock n' roll music. We've been losing ourselves in the process. It hypnotizes us.
So that's where we've been for the last couple of months. Mostly in living rooms, then in soundproof rooms.
On May, 4, however, I returned to Jackson, Michigan, for a full day of live music. Believe it or not, the super cool and independent Jackson Coffee Company is one of the most competitive, hardest-to-book gigs in the state! Artists must book to play there up to a year in advance. And it's no wonder it's so tough to get a date there: it's a great gig. We loved playing there last summer.
So, nearly a year after that first happy show, I headed back to Jackson with a bagful of new tunes and ideas. In the afternoon, I appeared on the Bart Hawley Show again, where I played two new songs that will appear on the new record: "Burn Me Up" & "All to Myself." Bart and Karen and their staff welcomed me back enthusiastically and it was tons of fun just to be there and watch the show unfold. And the vibe was so hot that playing the songs in front of the cameras and crew was almost like playing for a rock n' roll crowd.
Jackson TV is really one of the coolest community resources I've ever witnessed. Every community should have a Bart Hawley Show. Bart interviewed me and I got to talk about the sold-out Beatles show we put on at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor back in March, too!
After the TV taping, I ate a delicious sandwich at the Pickle Barrel next door to the studio. I remembered that one of my favorite things about playing shows outside of Ann Arbor is getting to meet new people and wander down new streets. I visited Jackson's historic Michigan Theater and now know its downtown as well as I know myself. A few people approached me when they saw my guitar case and asked about my music. And they came out to the concert at Jackson Coffee Company later that evening.
The show was a gas as they always are at Jackson Coffee Company. Brian Surgener and his crew do a wonderful job of bringing in and promoting talent from all over Michigan as well as from out of state. The crowd was attentive, appreciative and CD-hungry, and the sound was beautiful.
The wonderful Jackson-based photographer and graphic designer Natalie Jones was there too, and she shot me and wrote about it.
Playing live for a receptive crowd is an experience I take for granted sometimes, but I shouldn't. It's very rare, and a feeling I will chase throughout my life.
Now back to hanging out with demo discs and Oberon for awhile.
I only really know how to write about one thing. There’s only one thing I really know how to do that’s a weird thing that not a lot of people know how to do.
I write about a song or a song-and-a-half each week. I’ve been at this routine for about four years. Some of these songs make it onto my albums, some make it into my live show. Most don’t make it past the grey pocket-size four-track machine that houses all the songs I get.
For me, writing, editing, and working at songs is something less regimented than a job but more regular than a habit. It’s like eating a meal every five hours – it just happens. And when it happens, when I feel like I need it, it’s something I have to attend to.
I think this song-work is analogous to what going running or working out means to many people. I can grow grumpy, restless, confused, and even depressed if I don’t put in my time playing piano, strumming my guitar, combing through notes, and organizing ideas.
My entire life is set up to accommodate this daily, this weekly need to produce new songs. The songs flow with steadiness (though rarely complete in one go) and I harness the incoming waves of music with excitement and, sometimes, a little bit of fear.
At times I feel afraid of working on new songs, because the feelings that bring the songs in can be intense. For me, these feelings are usually related to the feeling of flowing music, and how exhilarating and a little scary it feels to hear it inside my head and then find it on the piano and in my voice. It can be a very powerful current.
The band is now in the studio recording our new album. All of the songs we need are written, and we will have to make some choices among them. I still write all the time because I can’t stop and I don’t want to stop and I won’t stop.
The South by Southwest (SXSW) music conference-cum-spring break for artists is a many-headed beast nowadays, with both a film element and a sprawling tech/interactive segment tacked on to what has, in the past, been THE place to break out as a young artist seeking that next big boost around the hype cycle.
Austin now holds allure for a much wider demographic of fans than ever before, which has caused many to pause for thought and wonder what effect this has on its roots as an indie-musical taste maker.
On the one hand, the audiences are potentially bigger than ever, which should be great for musicians. But the conference has continued to attract bigger names, more sprawling branding, and taken some of the press coverage away from the final week, when the music is supposed to take center stage.
In 2012, what is SXSW and who is it for?
Years Gone By
The platform from which the likes of Arcade Fire and MGMT launched their successes is now more akin to a series of ladders, with thousands of musicians scrabbling over one another to reach a limited height. And though they may make it up and be more visible than the masses than before, there are fewer eyes and ears paying attention to give them that net a crucial boost up. These eyes and ears have been side tracked by an increasing number of established artists taking the spotlight (Jay-Z, Billy Corgan, and Bruce Springsteen all turned up in various guises this year). There is also a general lack of investment in new talent which currently plagues an industry still dipping its toes into new business models... and relying on the same old established names to milk their older fans of all remaining record spending.
None of which means that SXSW is a waste of time for artists and fans. On the contrary, the excitement generated by performances in such a hectic, compact environment is palpable even from a distance, the web now connecting all of us envious onlookers to the madness is some limited sense, from full NPR-streamed sets to ongoing Twitter buzz. But the capacity for SXSW to be the ultimate springboard to a career is now all but gone. As an artist, you can be there for the playing, partying, and potential to network, but if you're looking for the fast track, you've missed that train by several years.
Just reading through the post-conference dissections is enough to establish the limited chance of being plucked from obscurity in Austin. Of 2,000+ bands that played across 5 days, few have consistently been mentioned in the major music punditry reports.
The core challenge for musicians today lies not in garnering attention for attention's sake, but rather in finding a kind of attention that fits an overall career plan. By way of example, a band with songs well suited to placement in advertisements may well gain the best exposure at the interactive portion of SXSW, when more marketers and large organizations are pounding the Austin pavement. Artists trying to build a reliable regional following, however, will be better off investing the money into the gas tank and getting out on the road to more local crowds.
A Matter of Priorities
SXSW is undoubtedly a fun event for anyone connected to music, one that both fans and artists should probably attend at least once, for the experience. But its time as the mecca for musicians to fully break out appears to be over, washed away in a swirling tide of morphing busines models and the sheer scale of expansion.
While the conference as a whole appeals to a wider audience each year, paradoxically it offers artists less and less, as music becomes just another diversion in a sea of entertainment.
No consistent names emerged in the bevy of ground reports from SXSW this year. No act that hadn't been on the loose lips of music writers stormed the event to take us by surprise. No artist so dominated the Austin stages that they could wrench the headlines from Jay Z's intro, Bruce Springsteen's outro, or even Billy Corgan's whinging. Instead, we have a wide base of talented bands running over a few more columns in the usual haunts of Pitchfork, Spin, Brooklyn Vegan, and the like.
Worth thousands of miles travel, to play to a small room of industry folks and a handful of fans?
Unlikely, unless they have a very specific strategy of who they need to connect with and when/ how they'll do it.
Exceptions Prove the Rule
With all that said and in a foolish attempt to destroy my own hypothesis, I'd like to recommend you listen to Polica, one of the more special sounds that emerged from my trawling the various show reports. They have an unsettling sound; one that evokes numerous artists and decades, yet lingers too long on none.
Elsewhere, The Alabama Shakes continued the ascent that they began last summer and that gave CMJ attendees something to chew on last October. With an album due out this summer and a packed out show streamed live by NPR, they should have been the poster band for '2012 Breakout!' features. Yet you'll find more column inches devoted to the presence of a returning Fiona Apple, or that ubiquitous Springsteen keynote, than you will of these soulful, impassioned newcomers. Again, what once would have been a sheer dose of adrenaline into the heart of a young band's career, has become a half can of energy drink, supped tentatively and saved for later.
Everything else is subject to fragmented perspective. The winds in Austin are blowing ever larger tumbleweeds across a media desert, dry and dehydrated, with the oasis-like promises of pre-SXSW 'bands to watch' lists disappearing as the sheer enormity of digesting the many thousand performances dawns.
Which is exactly why we need to look beyond SXSW as our yearly music broker. North by Northeast or All Tomorrow's Parties, anyone?
Today it’s my pleasure to present a blog post penned by traveling writer and rocker Eleanor Whitney.
Eleanor hails from Maine and writes, cooks, and plays music in the shoegaze indie rock band Corita in Brooklyn, New York. She also likes geeking out about arts policy, funding and education and is writing a book entitled "Grow: Take Your Do-It-Yourself Project and Passion to the Next Level and Quit Your Job". You can follow her adventures on her blog Killerfemme.
Eleanor Whitney (second from left) and the SXSW panel
This year, along with thousands of other intrepid musicians, music fans, and industry insiders, I packed my bags and headed to Austin, Texas for South by Southwest, a little media and music festival you may have heard of.
While I usually avoid events that draw large crowds, I felt like I had to experience South by Southwest at least once in my life. Thankfully, due to some intense advance planning, my South by Southwest badge, which granted access to showcases and the conference, was free because I spoke on a panel about Crowd funding, social media and fund raising for musicians [event audio here]. In addition, my lady-powered indie rock band Corita picked up two unofficial shows, one as part of the Austin Girls Rock Camp party and one at Waterloo Cycles. All this meant I got to experience the professional intensity of the conference and the frenetic energy and inspiration that comes with the unofficial events that take place in every part of Austin when SXSW rolls around.
Corita performing in Waterloo Cycle's parking lot
My favorite part of SXSW wasn’t the new bands that I discovered, or even the gallons of free beer that seemed to be available almost everywhere, but the insights I gathered about building your career as a musician that conference panelists shared. Before we get down to business about that, the one musical piece of news I will share with you from SXSW is that fuzzy, reverbed out garage rock is back, which will hopefully save us from all those sensitive guys with beards and acoustic instruments that critics seem to love these days.
I come from a do-it-yourself and nonprofit arts background and I was not sure if SXSW would present information relevant to me as a DIY musician and someone who supports artists growing in their careers. Admittedly, I was even a little nervous to be on a panel with some “industry” heavy weights and was unsure what I would have to contribute to the conversation.
David Gedge of the Wedding Present at the Brooklyn Vegan day party
However, what I found is that “industry” and do-it-yourself are not so far apart, especially these days when huge changes are afoot in all aspects of the music industry. I found that the insights that folks in the for-profit areas of music shared were very similar to the kind of challenges, frustrations and opportunities I help the artists I work with navigate everyday.
I wanted to share some of the big ideas I walked away from SXSW that I will share with “my” artists and also work harder to put into practice with my band Corita. So here are my big takeaways from SXSW:
1) Take initiative.
Having a do-it-yourself ethic and approach can open up great opportunities. These days labels, managers and PR agents are looking for bands and musicians who are willing to make the effort to build their fan base. That means that you can’t sit around and wait until someone discovers you. You have to start blogging, tweeting, and regularly updating your Facebook page, as well as getting your music onto social networking sites like Reverbnation and Soundcloud to help build your fanbase and keep in touch with those who are already fans. Knowing that we were going to SXSW lit a fire under my band from a social networking perspective. We joined Twitter (you can follow us @CoritaNYC), and added our music to those aforementioned sites, as well as updated our Bandcamp, Last.fm and Myspace pages. We knew people who we had never met would be looking at our online presence and we wanted to make sure we were easy to find and they could hear our music, get a sense of who we are as a band, and have a way to keep in touch after SXSW.
2) Do It Yourself
The DIY approach also applies to paying for your projects. Crowd funding, through sites like RocketHub, Indie GoGo, and Kickstarter, have certainly caught on big-time with musicians. While I could spend many blog posts talking about crowd funding, if you figure out a realistic amount of money to raise through sites like these, they can provide a great jumping-off point to pay for recording, album production, or a tour, as long as you give you fans a compelling reason to support you. Kevin Bruener, the head of marketing at CD Baby, who spoke on my panel discussed how one of his bandmates feared that doing a crowd funding campaign was akin to begging for money. Artists express similar concerns to me everyday when we talk about fundraising. However, the best thing about crowdfunding is it actually a way to get your fans involved with a project beyond just contributing money. They have an investment in your work and they get something in return, like a CD or a personalized, meaningful piece of band merchandise, as a thank you for getting involved.
3) Follow-through is important.
Try to do one little thing for your band or project everyday. It doesn’t have to be much, but all that little effort adds up. Billy Zero, of Zero Management, said that he often offers bands simple steps they can take to boost their fan base and build their brand. He mentioned that rarely do bands follow through and implement the advice or steps he recommends. So forgo that TV show or video game and instead send that tweet, seek out that new band, reach out to that club, design that badge, and have band practice!
4) E-mail Isn't Dead
In this world of social media, e-mail newsletters are still a key way to keep up with your audience. This came up in the panel I was talking on and several of my co-presenters (who email newsletters I receive and read, by the way) said it was absolutely key. Start sending out a regular newsletter, perhaps monthly or bi-monthly. If you don’t have one yet organize your contacts into one and add to them by collecting addresses at shows. Give out “exclusive” content to your subscribers and let your fans know you appreciate them and thank them for being there. Here’s where I’ll admit that I don’t have an email newsletter for any of the projects that I do. This is a real problem because every time my band plays a show I need to go through a list of people in my head who live in New York City and invite them. It’s inefficient, people get left off the list, and how many times has someone asked me, “Let me know when your band is playing!” and I forget to tell them?
5) Target your booking outreach.
Club bookers at respectable venues that care about musicians carefully select their lineup based on a coherent vision. You need to demonstrate to them how your music fits into what they are presenting. Reach out politely and also go to events at that club and integrate yourself into the local or regional scene you admire. Do you see a lineup your band would fit into perfectly? Offer to open. These tips were shared on a panel of talent buyers and managers from some of my favorite clubs in the country: Cakeshop in NYC, the Hideout in Chicago, the 40 Watt in Athens, Georgia, the Mohawk in Austin and the former manager of the famous Brownies in NYC. It was nice to hear the club owners’ perspective, since I am always on the side of asking clubs to book my band. I realized that if I approach them more like curators (I know that word is overused, but I work in the art world) maybe I’ll have a better chance of landing a show on a bill I want to be on at a club I feel honored to play at.
This is my distillation of three days running around to as many panels as I could. Perhaps it seems anti-climactic to spend the illustrious “South by” inside a sterile conference center, but I found that hearing from and talking to industry experts motivated me to reflect upon where I’m on the right track and where I can do better with my music. Maybe you think, “But I am already doing these things!” However, every panel I went to emphasized the bigger picture and the long haul for building a fan base for a band and a life in music.
Rocio Pena, from Chile, plays an official showcase at the Steven F. Austin bar
I think something great about South by Southwest was that it encouraged me to take what I’m doing with my band to the next level, even if that means just being a little more consistent with our outreach, promotion and fan base building. Step 1: start an email newsletter.
Going to South by also resonated with me on an emotional level because it was a key bonding moment for my band. It was our first time playing outside of New York City and taking that trip together helped us understand who we are and why we play together. In Austin we spent a lot of time hanging around (and playing in) the Waterloo Cycles and Trailer Space records parking lots, sampling breakfast tacos, meeting bands from all over the country, getting odd sunburns, and feeling like we did when we were in our teens and twenties doing the exact same thing. Being there together was a reminder about why we have chosen the lives that we have. While some might call it hipster spring break, I call it reconnecting with a rock and roll lifestyle that’s about friendship, fun and sharing what you love.
Torches in Trees performing in Waterloo Cycle's parking lot
One other parting thought from South by Southwest, which you could call my South by Soapbox: I saw that there are women everywhere in the music industry. Women are managers, booking agents, club owners, PR agents, not to mention musicians, photographers and journalists. So I ask myself, “Why does sexism in the industry persist? Why is our image of ‘women in rock’ still so limited?” There’s really no excuse for this, besides sexism in society at large, so I think if we keep chipping away at that, we’ll be seeing more gender equality in rock and roll too.
Have you been to SXSW?
If so, what have been your big takeaways? What are your favorite memories and impressions?
If you haven’t been, what are the steps you will take to take your band to the next level? What inspires you to do so?
The Masses rock Toad’s Place, New Haven, Connecticut, 2004. From left: Tam Rankin, Alejandra O’Leary, Sachin Rhamabadran, Joe Magar. Geoff Robson is hidden in the shadows.
The Masses rock Toad’s Place, New Haven, Connecticut, 2004.
From left: Tam Rankin, Alejandra O’Leary, Sachin Rhamabadran, Joe Magar.
Geoff Robson is hidden in the shadows.
I received a surprising and exciting e-mail message from my friend Sachin Ramabhadran the other day. Sachin sent me this newly minted recording of “Triggerfinger”, a super cool pop-rock song written by Tam Rankin, Marvin Astorga, and me. We wrote this song in 2004, shortly before Marvin and I graduated from college.
Marvin came up with the idea for the tune, and some of the first lines for the verses. Then Tam and Marvin and I hammered it out together, and then with the band, until the song rocked in every sense. “Triggerfinger” was one of our favorite songs to play live because of its pounding drums, its extended instrumental soundscapes and its opportunities for falsetto pleading.
Our band, The Masses, never got a chance to record “Triggerfinger” in the studio, but several members of the band (Tam Rankin, Joe Magar, and Sachin, along with singer Kathryn Aaron) recently broke all the laws of time and space and made a killer record of the tune, sending it back and forth between music studios in Portland, Oregon and Hamden, Connecticut.
You can hear “Triggerfinger” (and comment on it) it here:
Triggerfinger (The Masses) by Hemetrix
Kathryn Aaron - vocals
Tam Rankin - guitars and organ
Joe Magar - bass
Sachin Ramabhadran - drums
Recorded & mixed and produced by Sachin Ramabhadran
Co-produced by Tam Rankin
From a 2004 press release about the Masses:
The Masses have been called "New Haven's starriest rockers" by Artspace Soundworks, "local pop superstars" by Cafe Nine, "outrageous, rockin' Yalies...punky harmonizin' twang-tinged rockers" by the New Haven Advocate and "a much-needed emergence...capable of greatness" by the Yale Herald.
the masses' frontwoman, alejandra o'leary, sets piercing images of love and heartbreak against complicated textures created by joe magar (bass), sachin rhamabadran (drums), tam rankin (guitar) and geoff robson (keyboard).
the masses add adventurous melodies and post-rock noise to their pop sensibilities. the masses bring the music to the people.
Today's guest post in the 'Hear It Now' series comes from Jamie, a.k.a. A Bashful Harvestman.
Dive into this deep, delicious piece and visit his own written world at Juggernautishly to read more...
" ‘Whenever I put the headset on now,’ he'd continued, ‘I really do understand what I find there. When those kids sing about “She loves you,” yeah well, you know, she does, she's any number of people, all over the world, back through time, different colors, sizes, ages, shapes, distances from death, but she loves. And the ‘you’ is everybody. And herself. Oedipa, the human voice, you know, it's a flipping miracle.’ His eyes brimming, reflecting the color of beer.
‘Baby,’ she said, helpless, knowing of nothing she could do for this, and afraid for him.
He put a little clear plastic bottle on the table between them. She stared at the pills in it, and then understood. ‘That's LSD?’ she said.”
--Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
Sean Lennon singing in front of John Lennon and Yoko Ono: “Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love. [Laughs] Do you need anybody? I need somebody to love. [Laughs] That's my favorite song."
John: "Very good."
Sean: "Who was singing `I need somebody to love'? You?"
John: “Ringo, but Paul and I are singing with him.”
Ono: “What's the song called?”
John: [Trying to recall] “What would you…um, um…”
Sean: "What would..."
John: “…you think about…what's it called? I forgot what it's called.”
Sean: “What would you think if I sang in a song?”
John: “Sang out of tune. [Pause] Oh, ‘A Little Help From My Friends’--that's what it's called.”
--from the documentary LennonNYC (2010)
In 1970, David Bowie released a song called “The Man Who Sold The World” (lyrics) and I’ve been trying to figure out what it means.
One reading is that the song presages the backlash and decline of the 1970s; that the narrator/man has already sold out, but has probably repressed it and is in denial about it.
You can also read the protagonist as saying he never sold out. He could be highlighting the importance of maintaining effort in the face of difficulty; of incubating ideas in the face of reactionism, stagnation, and hebetude. It’s a fractured self for the coming Age of Fracture, signaling that we were in for a tough slog and occupying a liminal spacetime somewhere between a contested dream and a negotiated nightmare. It’s a metaphor for a purgatory and an open asylum; for a bomb shelter; for an inability to learn from the past; for the illusion of control; for the refusal to listen to the music and moment of the rights protests of the 1960s. One can also see a certain lightness here; a jocularity; a diffusing of the social tension surrounding such fraught things. At his comprehensive Bowie blog, Chris O’Leary finds other meanings and themes worth considering.
Among the markers by the end of the decade of a meaner, harsher, and uglier society marked by less fairness and more inequality was the youth suicide rate passing the rate for all ages, which happened in 1978, the youth suicide rate being a sensitive barometer for a how a society is doing. That same year, Bowie said in an interview:
“You can see why I’m this way. It’s a product of those things happening out through there. What’s going on in the world? Pontifications I’d be pleased to make, but they hold so little validity. I’d rather blend them into a character. When I don’t have a character to play with, I stand in total ignorance of what’s happening around me. But not long ago my characters turned on me. It’s no small wonder that I thought I had done my sanity irreparable harm.”
The next year, Peter Sellers’ Being There suggested that we weren’t there and probably wouldn’t be for at least a while.
Nineteen seventy was the same year the Beatles broke up and started to fight with each other. After the band spoke with relative brightness to the possibilities of the 1960s, McCartney stayed on stage and became the Baby-Boomer Beatle; Harrison turned East and tried to maintain his own high standards; Ringo tried to stay relevant and remain a constant, proving endearing in the process. Lennon got frustrated, battled his own personal demons, had some househusband years, and wrote songs that were more personal and meditative.
Here’s Lennon talking about the Double Fantasy album:
“I am not aiming at 16-year-olds. If they can dig it, please dig it; but when I was singing and writing this and working with it, I was visualizing all the people of my age group, being in their 30s and 40s now--just like me--and having wives and children and having gone through everything together and singing to them. I hope the young kids like it as well, but I'm really talking to the people that grew up with me, and saying: ‘Here I am now. How are you? How's your relationship going? Did you get through it all?’"
Lennon was shot in 1980 by a man with frustrated narcissistic tendencies and we began an Altered States decade during which a culture of narcissism and other patterns of decline became locked in. In the middle of the decade, that rangy, merry prankster of an adolescent, the cultural touchstone Ferris Bueller, captured the inward turn that had taken place by repeating Lennon’s "I don’t believe in Beatles; I just believe in me." In one recent telling, Bueller never actually escapes the suburbs and instead gets bloated and domesticated there, grossly contributing to global warming with his SUV-driving.
We should avoid here a narrative of pure fracture and declension, since people did their utmost to keep things from getting worse and did establish bulwarks. Yet action was circumscribed, as reflected unwittingly in the Ayn Randian Rush’s “Tom Sawyer” (1981), which talks about the protagonist “Riding out the day’s events,” which is to say, just maintaining or merely surviving, rather than achieving progress or making improvements. Like libertarians and conservatives today, the song misdiagnoses what ails the body politic and mischannels frustration. Providing hope is the fact that if you describe what a law or policy actually is, and detail its likely effects and consequences, you get consistent majorities across a range of issues that take left-of-center, public-interest positions.
The Altered States period was followed by a still-ongoing period of Surreal Mental States, which included the realization by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama of the New Democratic agenda initiated by Jimmy Carter. Today, the culture is soaked in nostalgia and steeped in apocalyptic themes, reflections of our present deep dissatisfactions and unresolved anxieties.
During this period, Nirvana did a cover of “The Man Who Sold the World” on MTV Unplugged, and Bowie did the song in 2000 at the Beeb, this time prophesying the Bush years.
In Martin Scorcese’s documentary “Public Speaking”, Fran Lebowitz says the following:
“I believe that [the culture being soaked in nostalgia] must be caused by people my age. I mean, that cannot be caused by 17-year-olds. I mean, whosever in charge, whosever driving, they're the one who has the accident. ... There's an endless recycling of the culture of the last thirty years that is really death-dealing, you know. I think it's just horrible, really awful, you know, and that is a sort of change I would like to see. I think, that is a job of people who are young. That's your job: do something new."
Perhaps easy to say for a baby-boomer, but at least she has the accident report right.
Here’s Lennon again, speaking about his late 1970s self:
“So okay, now we've got a good rhythm going. We can roll a little more relaxed--let's not turn into ‘I Am The Walrus’--it's somewhere in between ‘I Am the Walrus’ and I am [unintelligible] Imagine. So it has to be a little laid back because he's watching the wheels, he's not actually driving the damn truck."
I would like to think that there are productive purposes of nostalgia. It can feel like a salve, and its visions can feel like fever dreams working to expurgate and exorcise.
In politically demobilized environments, art is more easily appropriated, ignored, or otherwise rendered less meaningful or impactful. This places categorically undue burdens on the artist and the activist. So collective action is the thing, even if the meaning-making is generally hard and only comes through on the back end.
The music review genre is great because it features the liberal use of adjectives like chugging and juddering. The adjective I'd use for today is sputtering. Those undue burdens on the artist and activist include creating a sense of place and a renewed sense of purpose; of going once more into the fire even if we've already lost; of continuing to reach through to the other side even if we're already dead.
So let’s stay calm and carry on, and we’ll see you next time.
--A Bashful Harvestman
...and a sing along....
The answers to our Beatlemania questions keep coming thick and fast ! This time out we have a special special guest, in the controversial form of Jacob Sayraff (picture, far right) of Ann Arbor swag rockers, The Greatest Hits.
Read the inspired answers to our Fab Four question set below, then click on over to the band's Facebook page to let Jacob know what you think.
Q: Favorite Beatle & why?
A: John Lennon. He had #too much swag for the UK.
Q: Favorite Beatles Song?
A: 'Octopus's Garden' (it makes me want to snuggle Ringo),
Q: Least Favorite Beatles Song?
A: George's Eastern Songs; they sounded like a bunch of white guys celebrating Diwali.
Q: Favorite Beatles hair era?
A: Uglier the better.
Q: Favorite Beatles fashion statement?
A: When the Red Hot Chili Peppers put socks on their junk (Beatles had whack ass style).
Q: Favorite SOLO Beatles song?
A: Sweet vs. Savory - 'Michelle' vs. 'Hey Bulldog'
Q: Favorite cover version of a Beatles song?
A: The Greatest Hits' version of 'Twist and Shout'.
Q: True or False: The White Album should have been condensed into a single record. Defend your answer.
A: Whatever it takes to make money baby, please believe me!
Q: Character in a Beatles song you'd least like to meet in a dark alley after midnight:
A: Uncle Albert. My uncle Albert is in prison for some terrrible reasons.Q: Character in a Beatles song you'd least like to meet in a dark alley after midnight?
Q: Sexiest character in a Beatles song?
A: Mother Nature's Son. I'm not gay, but I'd still flirt with him.
Q: Who is the fifth Beatle?
A: Billy Preston, because "nothing from nothing makes nothing".
Q: Who was the walrus?
A: Who was Rosebud? [They're probably the same guy. That's Hollywood for ya.]
Q: Favorite Paul is Dead theory?
A: Being a vegetarian did him in.
Q: Which Beatle got the most play?
A: Easy, Ringo Starr. The mofo is still laying pipe to this very day.
Thanks again to Jacob (especially from Ringo, we imagine).
You can catch both The Greatest Hits and the Alejandra O'Leary Rock n' Roll Band experience at the upcoming Beatles Tribute show at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, on Saturday 3rd March. RSVP here for more information.
On to the third installment of our build up to the big Beatles show next month at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor (Facebook It!), with another Fab Four Q&A session. This time, guitarist Jamie Church takes the hot seat.
Favorite Beatle: John, the original rock n roller, wise-ass, experimentalist, helpless romantic, felon, moody, wrench in the monkey. John wrote some amazing and beautiful songs that rivaled or were just better than Paul's.
Paul was a better, stronger writer overall, but without John's balls-out talent and drive he wouldn't have been challenged to do half the cool shit he did. Literally half of Paul's greatness was inspired through admiration or competition, by John's natural swagger and ability. Do I love all things Lennon? Not by a long shot. It's a chicken and egg thing for sure but I choose the eggman.
Favorite Beatles Song: Not a chance.
Least Favorite Beatles Song: Only A Northern Song [from the Yellow Submarine soundtrack].
[Editor's note: This is the only known song in recorded history that continuously draws attention to its own out-of-tuneness.]
Favorite SOLO Beatles song: Jealous Guy [from Lennon's Imagine].
Favorite Cover Version of a Beatles Song: She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, as performed by Joe Cocker. I know it's popular but it kicks ass.
Favorite Beatles hair era: Sgt. Pepper.
Favorite Beatles fashion statement: I love the early grey suits with the medium mops. I also love the [Let It Be] Rooftop look: hair and fur.
True or False: The White Album should have been condensed into a single record. False- as a musician and a fan I love the depth and perspective. Nothing is gained from putting out a perfect record at that moment in time for them. It's a great snapshot (even the production) and I'd miss those tunes if they were taken away. I don't think I've listened to Revolution 9 all the way through since 1983 but I'm still glad it exists.
Character in a Beatles song you'd least like to meet in a dark alley after midnight: Whoever John's describing in Come Together.
Sexiest character in a Beatles song: Um...Sadie? She was sexy, it's a documented fact.
Favorite Paul is Dead theory: Actually I don't remember many...I just think of the black flower and the barefoot walk across Abbey Road and playing something backwards...
Who is the fifth Beatle? Well George Martin deserves this in general but later on, band wise, Billy Preston was. Part of his talent though was doing a ton of blow and running laps around the stage...a talent the non-performing Beatles couldn't use during that period. Poor Billy. Poor Beatles.
Who was the walrus? The Walrus was Paul.
Why couldn't you say more about George and Ringo? I can, George was great and deserves all the books and documentary(s). I love the majority of his song contributions and guitar parts. I wish I could pick his all of harmonies out but he sounds so much like John...dang.
I like the Ringo vocal songs, I do. I like Ringo's falling up the stairs fills and all of his signature beats, even if Paul told him exactly what to play it still felt like Ringo.
I guess if I had to pose a real question it would be:
The Beatles: 20th Century Pop Phenomenon or timeless?
Can you answer Jamie's question? How about the others? We want to hear your opinions on all things Beatles, both here in the comments and over on Facebook. Speak your brains!
Continuing our build up to the big Beatles show next month at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor (Facebook It!), the next installment of the Fab Four Q&A sessions features Rock n' Roll Band tub thumper John Grandstaff.
Check out his thoughts on all things John, Paul, George, and Ringo below, then compare with Jimmy Sindelar's answers from last week.
Favorite Beatle: I would usually have said George because he was understated. Now I’d say Paul because I saw him in concert this past summer and it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. I’m pretty shallow that way.
Favorite Beatles album: Let It Be, with Revolver running an extremely close second.
Favorite Beatles Song: My son always asks me this and I can never pick one song. “And Your Bird Can Sing” ranks pretty high. My wife and I had “Here, There and Everywhere” for our wedding bride & groom dance, so I suppose that’s got to count for something.
Least Favorite Beatles Song: Not sure, but it’s probably something by Lennon from the White Album.
Favorite Solo Beatles song: The best I can do is my favorite album by a Beatle as a solo artist, and that would most definitely be Paul’s Band on the Run. Favorite cover version of a Beatles song: I like Kenny Rankin’s cover of “Blackbird”.
Favorite Beatles hair era: How many eras were there? I know I’m gonna sound like my mom here, but as long as they washed it, it was fine with me.
Favorite Beatles fashion statement: If we’re talking about clothes, see previous answer.
True or False? The White Album should have been condensed into a single record: I’ll say false, because I firmly believe in the album concept, and that means taking the bad with the good. Having said that, I have a single album version as a playlist on my iPod. I would have said true when it first came out, because I never even listened to disc 2 except “Birthday” and “Revolution 1”, and I usually couldn’t get much past “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” on disc 1 before I’d have to pick up the needle and bring it to rest on “Bungalow Bill” or flip it over to hear “Rocky Racoon”. The White Album was pretty jarring and discordant (and in other places just plain boring; “I’m So Tired” just made me tired) to an 11-yr. old who’d been listening to the Beatles for 5 years straight.
Character in a Beatles song you'd least like to meet in a dark alley after midnight: Maxwell, obviously. He’s one arbitrarily murderous sonofabitch.
Sexiest character in a Beatles song: Sadie’s clearly sexy, but I’d love lovely Rita and polythene Pam for a randy threesome!
Favorite 'Paul is Dead' theory: I didn’t hear too many theories other than the stuff tied to the Sgt. Pepper album cover (i.e., his back is turned in one shot and he’s wearing a badge with the letters “O.P.D.” in another). I never had much patience with conspiracy gossip in the entertainment industry. Shut up and play.
Who is the fifth Beatle? Billy Preston? Eric Clapton? Yoko? Who cares? I don’t care who numbers 6 through 10 are either. The more the merrier - just shut up and play!
Who was the walrus? Paul – I thought “Glass Onion” was pretty clear about this.
Thanks to John for his thoughts. Stay tuned for more during our unofficial month of Beatlemania!
In anticipation of the Rock n' Roll Band's next show, a celebration of The Beatles at Ann Arbor's Blind Pig on Saturday March 3rd (Facebook Event), we'll be checking in with the band, friends, and more, grilling them about everything Fab Four.
To start a fresh month, we have a fresh band member! Jimmy Sindelar is the band's hot new guitarist, bringing an extra dimension to the finely tuned rock n' roll machine.
Here's what Jimmy had to say about Merseyside's finest:
Favorite Beatle: Paul, because he has the best "rock" voice and I envy his talent on a daily basis. Also, look at his solo work and his drive to tour/write after the Beatles split.
Favorite Song: She Came in Through the Bathroom Window
Least Favorite Song: Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (sorry to John G.)
Favorite Solo Beatles Song: No Words (from Paul's Band on the Run)
Favorite Beatles Hair: Sgt. Pepper's (facial hair included)
Favorite Beatles Fashion Statement: Tie between gray suit without shoes and full on denim.
Should the White Album have been condensed?: Yeah, some of it was truly filler, no doubt. Purists will hate it, but I say cut out aforementioned "Ob-La," "Wild Honey Pie," "Don't Pass Me By," "Rev. 9," and "Good Night." I wouldn't miss them.
Beatles Song Character To Avoid in an Alleyway: Polythene Pam, hands down.
Sexiest Beatles Song Character: I feel like this is entrapment. Sadie.
Favorite Paul is Dead Theory: I would have to say the one implying that the Beatles all felt intense regret about hiding Paul's death for the sake of their record sales, so instead found an outlet for their grief by hiding clues in album artwork.
Fifth Beatle: Without a doubt Billy Preston. Rumor has it that, given a different racial climate, he would have been inducted happily into the ranks.
Who was the Walrus: The Eggman IS the Walrus. Just as We are the Universe. Think about it.
Most Overused Beatles Chord? B7. Love it.
And stay tuned everyone for more Q&A action this Friday. In the meantime, let's hear YOUR answers to these questions and more, either in the comments below or over on Facebook.
Today the blog is thrilled to present to you, the musical selections and musings of The Afternoon Round...
And now, brace your ears for the songs that should rock your brain into bliss this weekend, if the Afternoon Round has anything to say about it.
2. Sloan - The Double Cross - "Unkind"
What Ian says about the music:
Sloan's new record is pop-rock for grown-ups. Wilco is the best rock band recording today and The Whole Love lives up to that title.
1. Wilco - The Whole Love - "Art of Almost"
2. Coldplay - Mylo Xyloto - "Paradise"
What Martin Says about the music:
Coldplay's Paradise: I particularly love this song because of the way it keeps with simplicity yet has that anthemic feel with very powerful, moving, and tastefully donRick Coughline effects and guitar solos.
Wilco's Art of Almost:I enjoy this track for completely opposite reasons. The ability to expand your mind and make you really listen to what's going on is what makes this song to great.
The complexity, noise, and chaos is all tied together with underlying rhythms and melodies. I also love the use of random sounds, effects, computer generated blasts of chaos, and synth-hooks. Wilco hits you with all of this then brings in clean acoustic guitar and strings in a very interesting and effective way all while wrapping up the tune with a sweet rock-out session. This is a cut that you can listen to over and over and find something new, something I feel a lot of newer artists rarely do anymore.
1. Wilco - The Whole Love - "Art of Almost"
(See video above)
2. Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin' - "Just Don't"
3. The Milk Carton Kids - Prologue - "Michigan"
What Rick says about the music:
As you can see, we all chose Wilco's new record as our number one. We aspire to make music this good. As soon as I put the album in for the first time and heard the opening track, I was hooked and surprised. The intro synth lines, the dynamic fade to Tweedy's well worn rasp, and the band eventually leading into a full bore rock freak out that brings the song in at just over 7 minutes. Not known for being a jam band, this is the closest they get, and it's bad ass. Take that Phish.
Raphael Saadiq, one of the founding members of (are you ready for this?) Tony! Toni! Tone! Remember them? Well, Saadiq's latest album is amazing. It's old school, it's new school. It's the best new R&B album I've heard in years and I mean years. It has Motown, Chess Records, gritty guitars, psychedelic funk, and a whole mess of ear candy. I simply cannot get enough of it. If I have to pick one track (and believe me, they are all good) it would be Just Don't.
The Milk Carton Kids was a random suggestion from a friend and it was instantly part of my rotation. Two guitars and two voices create absolute magic on this album and the Michigan track is only the beginning. The good news? These guys are touring AND giving their album away for free as a download on their website. Get it!
Today's Hear It Now installment is an end-of-2011 rundown from Steve Birkett.
Steve is a friend of the band and the brains behind Above the Static, a cutting-edge service linking creators and new media. Steve one of the most dedicated music fans I've ever met; he blogs about his finds here. Strikingly, Steve's constant quest for radical tunes is as infectious as it is catalyzing. I'm certain you'll enjoy hearing his picks of the year.
2011 was an odd year for me, musically-speaking; all over the map in terms of both what I've listened to and the channels through which I've chosen to listen. From unexplored golden oldies to confounding new cuts, vintage vinyl to mobile music, it certainly felt like a watershed year for the music industry.
Regardless of source, however, it's the music you're here for and there has certainly been some gold for me to share. How about these nuggets...
Jackson Browne - The Pretender
Some records were purely intended to be heard on wax. This is definitely one of them. Picking it up from Vermont's Burlington Records on a summer road trip was one of those superb snags at just $4 used. The title track closes out the album beautifully, expressing both the magnificence and mundane of daily life through lyrics that resonate just as much today as they must have done in the mid 70's. There's so much more to dive into from this iconic songwriter but this feels like just the place to start.
ANR - Stay Kids
At the other end of the spectrum, Florida's ANR delivered a vibrant contemporary listen on their debut release. Revelling around the concept of recapturing the joys of youth, it's an oasis of optimistic expression at a time of intolerant division and jaded perspectives. Let's hope their particular brand of hope wins the day in the end.
Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation
I know we're all tired of nonchalant, lo-fi indie recorded in some kid's bedroom, but when it's as gut wrenching and sublimely crafted as 'The Year of Hibernation', there's time for a secong look. Or a first listen. Witness the glorious climax of the video above for 'Montana' or the wistful nostalgia of '17' for immediate conversion.
There's something in the water over there in Boise, Idaho; this gem following hot on the heels of 2010's elegant Solomon's Hollow release and the singles from Fairweather Academy last year. Keep your eye on those Barnowl Records chaps in 2012.
Unearthed through a combination of Turntable.fm and Spotify, I find it bizarre that I never really clocked these eclectic Brummies before. The untimely death of singer Trish Keenan thrust them back into the indie community's consciousness in that morose manner that so often manisfests itself, providing some very eerie first listens through their material. Lying somewhere between the more left leaning lands of Britpop and the spacey tones of electronica, there's a great depth to their sound that will unfortunately make no further strides forward.
Furious outbursts against my obscenely lame taste in music?
That's what the comments section and Alejandra's Facebook page are there for folks! Here's to another 12 months of magnificent musical discovery.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
12 Most Surprising Places for Artists to Find Inspiration
1. Reality television
3. The way people talk standing in line and/or on their cellphones
6. Foreign languages
10. How-to guides
12. Your ever-changing self
In the latest installment of the blog, Alejandra O'Leary Rock n' Roll Band multi-instrumentalist Jamie Church shares the music to which he is currently listening with enthusiasm:
A couple favorites from now and then:
I'm also enjoying the latest album, "False Priest", including this track:
I'm loving the new one,"Bad As Me":
Raised Right Men
"The Whole Love"- Art of Almost
Awesome studio track but here's their live version on Letterman
Bunch of great tunes on here but I've been in the mood for this fun one lately
I cannot explain the punishment I've endured for thumbing my nose at this guy for 25 years. Just typing these song titles endangers my subconscious...
I'll Never Be Anybody's Hero Now http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_udTsH8WEDU
The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nAMFWDuDEI
Just saying he writes and sings a good song and sometimes one might get stuck in someones head, that's all...
The Greatest Hits
These local "kids" are entertaining as hell. I've been playing their free cd in my car for a couple months. I wish there were more YouTube tunes out there to demonstrate. I liken them to Dan Hicks and The Hot Licks a bit
Mark & Mehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqw0g0GKf8Q&feature=related
Want to submit some of your favorite current listens to be featured on the blog?
Go ahead and share away on our Facebook page to get things rolling!
Last weekend marked the end of an era, specifically, the age of Broken Mirror Baby Tour 2011.
Chicago was excellent. The first night I swung into town, picked up a couple of fans, and swooped through Hyde Park and onto I-55, our sights fixed on Gallery 200 in West Chicago.
I crashed in Ukranian Village with my dear friends Jared and Torrey. At dinner that night, we discussed Morrissey’s bravado, Billy Joel’s singularity, and The Beatles’ best album (Jared: “A Hard Day’s Night”, Torrey: “Revolver”, Alejandra: “The Beatles” a.k.a. the White Album). I drank a Michigan beer.
I really miss Michigan when I go away. I have always loved Chicago (ever since I first read Saul Bellow’s “The Adventure of Augie March” and saw a Liam-less Oasis there in 1996!) Now that I know its peculiarities (rather than just being dwarfed and awed by it) I like it even more. Still, as soon as I was crossing back into Michigan, I relaxed. I looked at cows and snow-covered pastures and breathed. I love this freaking state.
But back to Chicago!
Rehearsals continue to go well, with many musical surprises brewing and a NEW band member joining us on guitar. Jimmy Sindelar is an outstanding musician with chops, work ethic, and rock n’ roll instincts. He and Jamie sound fantastic together and I look forward to sharing the new work we all make with you in 2012.
This is a favorites piece originally written for The Onion / A.V. Club in Ann Arbor, who recently featured one of the new videos.
(On that note, check out all the updated footage in the Video section!)
Hole, Celebrity Skin esp. “Hit So Hard”
I remember being seasick on a boat in Brazil and listening to Live Through This through headphones to steady myself. Courtney Love’s emotive and mysterious singing worked as an anchor. That album has always been one of my favorites, and a testament to the enduring superiority of the album as a form.
I don’t believe in dividing rock singers into categories based on gender, and I think that Courtney Love is one of the best rock singers out there – she’s as good as Mick Jagger, John Lennon, Jarvis Cocker, you name him.
Celebrity Skin is another great front-to-back album lover’s album. Again it showcases Courtney Love’s vocal power and inventiveness as an interpreter of her own material. Some heard Celebrity Skin as a big musical departure for Hole, but I’m not buying that. The newer material is different than Live Through This, neither better nor worse. The melodies are just as intriguing, the songs just as hip-shaking and bone-rattling, the words just as perfect for the songs.
The track I keep returning to is “Hit So Hard”.
Hole was always the master of all bands at grunge lyrics, if you ask me. No one quite got the evocative, darkly sensual, and seemingly random imagery quite as right as they did. “Hit So Hard” is no exception to this rule: “My sweet tooth has burned a hole,” and “my sweet candy…melts in my mouth till he’s nothing at all,” she says. The song is dreamy and beautiful.
Feist, “How Come You Never Go There?”
Leslie Feist is a powerful vocalist in a very different way than Courtney Love is. Feist wrests so much mileage not only from the notes she sings, but also from the physical movement of her vocal cords, mouth, and lips between notes. Just listen to her form words in song – it’s as physicalized an act as a drum solo.
Her lyrics are imagistic, but pointed. I love how she often uses musical images (cymbals, kick drums) to conjure emotional states.
I like how her music has immediate appeal, yet remains impossible to categorize. It’s simple and complex, classic and cutting-edge, all at once. There is something sophisticated, almost Burt Bacharach-y about her songs and arrangements, but they are sharply modern and sometimes dissonant, too. Her sparse and slippery guitar playing adds as much to her sound as her lyrics about conflict and indecision in relationships.
I admired her life-affirming first album, The Reminder, very much and I think that her new album, Metals, might be even better. She’s the kind of artist that requires time to absorb, and it’s all time well spent.
Live performance of “How Come You Never Go There?”:
Morrissey – “Satan Rejected My Soul”
Morrissey writes songs that sound at once highly thoughtfully conceptual and utterly effortless. He can take an old idea, spin it into an original statement, and make a far-reaching song out of it all by simply repeating and riffing on vocal lines and rollicking arrangements.
Much as Babe Ruth doubled as a blow-you-back pitcher and the greatest slugger of his time (perhaps any time), Morrissey has long been one of my favorite songwriters and one of the most startling pure musical phenoms I have heard.
"The Habit" was born on another deep winter's day in Michigan.
I got lucky with this one. It came in one stroke.
It was a very easy song to put together because it was all there from the first. The final version has a Bruce Springsteen shadow to it, but I think this demo version was purely influenced by what was going on around me at the time: the snow, the setting sun, and my thoughts about my own life.
The Habit (demo, winter 2011) by alejandraoleary
As always, your thoughts and opinions on the song are very welcome and encouraged! You can comment on the Soundcloud track itself, or directly on the blog or Facebook.
What do you think?
Our fans are a far-flung lot and our band is very young.
Although some of you may have seen us play live as individuals or in different bands, not all have had the chance to see us play a show as this band. We toured Michigan this summer, but we know that our fans live everywhere. So when GBS Detroit approached us with the opportunity to record a live E.P., we were intrigued by the (weird!) idea and all its possibilities.
As fans of "Let It Be" and GBS' quest to record and promote local artists playing live, we were all in.
'When Will They Learn?' performed live at GBS Detroit
With the support of our fans (via Kickstarter), we got our green light.
We rode the hand-operated elevator of the Russell Industrial Center up to candy-colored Groovebox Studios on Oct. 6, 2011. We played for a tightly packed room full of fans and supporters, all buoyed by the power of live and raw rock music, Michigan craft beers, and Faygo.
GBS is committed to the "one band, one room, one take" philosophy and we hope you can hear the challenge, electricity, nerves, excitement, and spirit of this philosophy in the recordings.
You can download the EP here on Bandcamp from today. Please let us know what you think! And if you like what you hear, kick it up a notch and come see us play live on future tours! We're taking this show on the road again in 2012...
November days in Michigan, you can’t help getting distracted by the scene out the window.
Something’s always blowing through your frame or standing strikingly bare. You might walk by a stretched sunset behind silhouettes of branches. The wind grows loud under your hat and the leaves fall quietly by the thousands.
The season just turned again.
Please enjoy this audio-visual postcard from Michigan in autumn.
Wish you were here!
Seasons Change: Fall in Michigan from alejandra o'leary on Vimeo.
Deep layers of orange and dark brown leaves make it impossible to keep quiet as you tromp through. This loud-and-soft season reminds me that everything, and everyone, is changing.
Predictably as the leaves flare and float downward, we change from year to year. Each of us is the only person in the world with access to this record of inner change. We should each do something that feels natural to mark it. The constant change we undergo is rarely conventionally pretty or easy to flow with. The chilly winds and early darkness startle me each year. Still, the fall is something to marvel at and to revel in.
The dark times and bright breakable leaves also remind me of the commitment I feel to the people and passions I love. As dramatic as the changes in the landscape may look here in Michigan, something fundamental is supporting the cycle. The earth isn’t freaking out because a new season has started. We shouldn’t be scared of or, conversely, too proud of, our changes.Change is natural. Change is what is supposed to happen.
Photo via jacalynsnana
I hang out with a nine-year-old boy who says to me:
“We are all time travellers and we all have time machines. Know why?
Because, every second, we’re all traveling through time.”
This is the second in a series of posts looking at early demo material of subsequently released songs. You can check out the first in this series which looked at the demo of 'Rally' here.
Here is the original demo for “Horses”:
Horses (original demo, winter 2010) by alejandraoleary
I recorded this in my home office in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a freezing, snowed-in day. I used a four-track recorder with a built-in microphone.
The demo is basically a lo-fi sketch of what we ended up doing in the studio for the “Broken Mirror Baby” sessions. The one major change we added to the studio version was a thick swath of harmonies.
Please leave your comments by clicking on the bottom of the track at whatever point in the song moves you to action!
It is so hard to describe where songs come from or how they happen.
People are always curious to ask me about it, so (inspired by Doug Kwartler’s post last week), I thought that the best way to give you a peek into how I put songs together is to share some of my demos with you.
You can compare the demo to the finished version of the song and see how the song was transformed between my little studio (and four-track recorder) and Doug’s Hollow Body Studios.
Rally Demo (October 2008) by alejandraoleary
>> Listen to the final studio version on the Music page <<
You can also purchase the song on Amazon and iTunes
A little background: Doug Kwartler and I began working on the Nothing Out Loud album in September 2008.
Here’s the way Doug and I usually worked on the Nothing Out Loud tracks: I would send him a rough idea for a song -- this demo.
Listening to the demo and playing the song for a couple of weeks after making the demo would give me ideas about the direction the final recording could take, which Doug and I would discuss at length.
Because Doug lived in Long Island and I was in Manhattan, we had to work the arrangement out over the phone. Sometimes we’d discuss influences but mostly we’d discuss what kind of sounds were exciting to us and things we wanted to try out in the studio.
Once we’d established the right tempo for the song, I’d send him an isolated vocal track and he would prepare to put a drum track on it.
Drums are one of the most difficult aspects of any recording, but especially recording remotely, and they were ESPECIALLY difficult on this tune (you’ll notice there are no drums on the demo).
Doug is a fantastic rock drummer and I always had HIGHLY specific and complicated drum ideas. This song in particular turned into a drum BEAST (just listen to how many drum things are going on in the final recording, particularly in the second verse). The fact that Doug was able to execute such complicated and non-technical directions (including me beatboxing over the phone) speaks volumes about his musical acumen.
Bass, guitar tracking, backing vocals, keyboards and other effects came next, once we’d decided on the general “feel” of the tune and what it is trying to convey musically (in this case, the song turned into a Beach Boys and Ronnettes inflected wistful, frustrated hard rock tune). Lead vocal tracking comes last.
Nothing Out Loud was released in September 2009. You can purchase the album on CD Baby for a special low price of $5.99.
Now here's the funnest part: If you have or sign up for Soundcloud (free and easy, of course) you can leave comments right in the track (at any minute or second that strikes you) by clicking on the blue bar below it.
I’d LOVE to read your comments and answer your questions about this song, or demos, or recording generally. So don’t be shy; get involved and help make this a fan built blog post.
Also – there’s more where that came from.
It's been a little while since Cocoa got in front of the webcam to deliver an update, so here we go!
The month following the release of "Broken Mirror Baby" - check out the new Booty section of the site, if you haven't picked it up yet! - was a busy one, with tour dates, TV, radio, and unfortunately curtailed by sickness.
The positive words continue to roll in and big thanks to everyone who has taken the time to listen to and reflect upon the album. "Broken Mirror Baby" can now be purchased on iTunes, in addition to CD Baby and Amazon MP3. You can also pick up the CD at the 'Friends With Benefits' low price of $8 (inc. shipping) - just become a fan on Facebook or follow on Twitter and grab your copy direct via Pay Pal!
Our Kickstarter project with GBS Detroit was another huge success, with the recording of the 5-track EP completed earlier this month. Thanks to all who pledged, keep an eye out for your rewards coming soon!
Lots more to come before the year is out, so keep checking back. Always great to see you!
Selections of praise for "Broken Mirror Baby":
"...takes full advantage of her expanded sound with a set of energetic, edgy pop rockers."
"...swathed in charming tone and delicious pop melodies."
"...lives up to [the] description of 'popalicous'. Tasty indeed."
Alejandra recently recorded a radio show with Doug Kwartler for the Hollow Body Studios Radio Music Show (Wednesdays, 10-11pm on 1330wrca.com and 1330 AM in Boston).
Doug (right) was the producer and key driver of the sound on "Broken Mirror Baby", so it's always exciting to hear his thoughts.
Here he offers some reflections on the recording process and album itself. We'll have the full show MP3 hosted on the site, complete with all the songs from the album, in the coming days but you can hear the whole show here in the meantime.
I met A.O. about 2 or 3 years ago. I was living in NY and I was looking for artists to work with. While placing an ad on Craigslist I stumbled onto her ad, looking for a producer. We emailed and then she sent me a demo or two. I remember sitting in my tiny kitchen in Floral Park, NY, listening to one or two of her songs. I was immediately taken by her lyrics. She wrote with an honesty, insight and edge that is so lacking in today's sea of music mediocrity. While her songs are sometimes fun and "light," there's also a scary intensity and frustration that lives just under the surface.
We did our first record together in my tiny studio in the basement of that very apartment. A.O. would send me demo's some fleshed out with her ideas and some more sparse. Even though her demos were recorded on a cheap 4 track digital recorder through a tiny microphone, I always thought her demos were great. The vocal takes were haunting and honest. In fact, for one of the songs on her first record, I convinced A.O. that we should use the demo vocal track and we did.
The second record presented new logistical challenges for us. A.O. had moved to Michigan. I was coming up with schemes on how she could record quality vocal takes, and send them to me. Turns out A.O. would come to Boston from Michigan a couple of times to track the vocals and some other instrumentation. Otherwise, we worked pretty much the same way.
Besides being a stellar songwriter, AO is also one of the kindest people you could meet. This doesn't mean she's a push-over. She will definitely tell you what she thinks something should sound like. She is also only the second person ever to write a song with me (although she won't take credit for it). AO helped me a lot with the lyrics on one of my new songs which will be on my next record.
I encourage you all to take a listen to the show. I think there are some valuable things to hear. Alejandra's first record "Nothing Out Loud" was a fairly bold, highly produced & arranged affair. For "Broken Mirror Baby", she wanted it to sound even bigger. So collectively we went for it. Bigger vocals, more guitar, bigger drums, more synth and more layers in general. Knowing A.O. we'll continue the push the boundaries on the next one.
The Hollow Body Studios Radio Music Show broadcasts Wednesday nights at 10pm EST on WRCA, 1330AM in Boston and http://www.1330wrca.com/streamer worldwide.
Thanks for reading.
THE GOOD GIG: MICHIGAN 2011 EDITION
I love and live in Michigan. So I want to extend my discussion of good gigs and bad gigs to the Michigan landscape. The band and I recently finished a tour of the southern part of the state, so I have some recent impressions to share.
In the interest of staying positive, I’m not going to name names on the bad gigs. But I will begin our discussion with them. People who weren’t there seem to find these stories extremely entertaining.
The worst gig of the tour is easy to remember. Here are some of the low-lights:
- The booker forgot who he had booked, so there was an awkward pile-up of too many bands, none of them expecting to see one another. We ended up starting 90 minutes later than expected, which annoyed the people who had come to see us and weren’t told there were other bands on the bill.
- It goes without saying that the bands had nothing in common and did not attract fans who stuck around for the other bands.
- The manager left the venue in charge of ONE staff member who was expected to serve food and drinks and run sound. We all felt bad for him as he ran between the long lines at the bar and the malfunctioning soundboard.
- Yup, the sound system was terrible.
- There was a major art fair in town at the time – awesome! But the venue did NO promotion of the show whatsoever and didn’t attempt to connect the show to the art fair in any way. (In our own promo, we did a cross-promotion with one of the artists at the show.)
- The gig didn’t pay a cent. There was no reason to pay, as the venue had invested less than nothing in creating a cool evening for the audience.
To me, this was the ultimate example of the “venue doesn’t give a shit” gig. We brought out people and retained some people who were there. But it didn’t matter how many people we did or didn’t bring out. It didn’t matter what we were doing there at all. And we will never play this venue again or recommend that anyone we know play it or attend a show there.
A gig that was less dramatically bad, but still a bummer, involved a sound guy who charged the band $35 for his services of going outside and leaving the soundboard during our set and the sets of the other bands (our buddy bands). To cover this cost, the venue told us we had to charge a $5 cover, which turned away many people who wandered into the band room to see what was going on.
There are an infinite number of things you can do better than you did when you do nothing. If the venue had simply paid each band $15, had the bands run their own sound, and let people in for free, they would have sold a lot more drinks and kept people interested in staying. Or they could have promoted the show and come up with some kind of drink deal to go with the cover.
This bummer gig was also concurrent with a local art fair, but the venue did none of its own promotion. There was no need to – they weren’t paying the bands, so there were no consequences to anything they did or didn’t do with regard to the music. To make matters worse, the bands had to play by the venue’s rules and pay their surprise sound guy, even though the venue put no effort into making the gig any good for audiences. They must have seen the sound guy as their stab at an effort. But, reflecting the attitude of his employers (and the vibe in the three-quarters-empty room) the sound guy didn’t give a shit.
There are many ways in which a gig can be bad. But all bad gigs leave the same bad taste and feeling of dissatisfaction with just about everybody involved.
I had three favorite gigs on our Fall 2011 tour:
Jackson Coffee Company was a classic good gig. Brian, who runs the company, hooked us up with the TV performance on JTV that made a difference in bringing people out to the show. You can tell from the company’s website that they care about music and about promoting the artists who come through the venue, and that they are trying to build something lasting and special.
Jackson Coffee Company also pays its artists a nominal fee, which is consistent with everything else about the place: they care, and they think long-term. They are built to last. Every band I know that has played there wants to return and play there again. In the long run, this means that Jackson Coffee Company can be selective about who it books, ensuring a consistently good product for its customers. A couple of audience members who bought CDs and chatted with us after the show told us they always come by the shop on Friday nights to see who’s playing.
Bands can also recommend their gigs at Jackson Coffee Company to their fans with honest enthusiasm. I can tell you now that it is one of the best gigs I’ve played in Michigan, and if we play there again, you should come. You will enjoy your evening.
Another good gig, even with the long drive from Ann Arbor, is any concert produced by Hugo Claudin in Grand Rapids.
Hugo is a visual artist and musician who runs the art and performance space Mexicains Sans Frontieres in downtown Grand Rapids. Hugo is building a community around art and artists. He promotes the shows he puts on and does everything he (and his eager community of friends and supporters) can do to provide a memorable experience for audiences and artists alike. The shows at MSF attract legendary touring artists across genres and audiences that expect a high quality product. It’s exciting and daunting to a part of an atmosphere like that. In fact, it’s awesome.
Maybe the best show of the tour in terms of venue, artist, and audience colliding perfectly was our CD Release Party for “Broken Mirror Baby” at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room in downtown Ann Arbor.
We always love playing at Crazy Wisdom. They are just so, so pro. Susie Keat, who runs the music there, runs a tight ship, and everyone benefits. Susie promotes all the bands before, during, and after (!!!) the shows and plays the role of emcee. at the performance. It made me so happy that Susie used the moments when she was introducing or re-introducing us to promote bands who would be coming through later in the month. Audiences feel engaged by Susie’s warm enthusiasm, and that’s why there are always good crowds there.
Crazy Wisdom also books bands intelligently: they give more seasoned bands Fridays and Saturday nights, and reserve Thursday nights for up-and-comers. Also, all the shows are free. Crazy Wisdom is able to pay its musicians a small stipend because the free, high-quality shows attract people who stay for the whole night, buy food and drinks, and return consistently. The tip jar is always full at Crazy Wisdom because the audience is used to being enthused and to really listening when they are in that light-filled room.
As a result of Susie’s efforts and the dedication of the fan base, the shows at Crazy Wisdom run extremely smoothly and the bands and the audiences leave inspired and fulfilled.
THE ROAD TO GOOD GIGS
Both artists and fans have an opportunity to improve the way music is viewed and valued by the venues that house it. Booking well-rounded line-ups that encourage the audience to spend more time at the show, eating, drinking, and listening to more bands, equates to a lot more benefits for just a little more effort from each party involved.
What do you think?
What do we need to change to get back on the road to the good gig?
What makes a concert experience memorable and awesome?
A good gig doesn’t have the feel of a “gig” – an obligation – and it doesn’t have the feel of an advertisement for the band. It has the feel of a collective happening.
Think about the best concerts you’ve been to. The best concerts make the audiences want to never leave the venue, make them want to linger in an intense and unique atmosphere that they’ve helped to create.
Audiences leave good gigs feeling lifted, inspired, rocked. They don’t feel like they’ve done anyone a favor – they feel like they’ve been a part of a rare experience.
From years of experience playing gigs (good, bad, and so-so), the truest thing I can say is that a good gig is a collaboration between the venue, the artists, and the audience. All three parties – venue, artist, and audience – need to be respected and involved for a gig to turn into a happening.
Artists of course need to put on the best show they can wring from their souls. In my last blog post, I wrote about how crucial it is for artists to always be professional and rock out to the max no matter what the circumstances of the gig. I also encouraged artists not to play for free, because unpaid gigs tend to be “bad” gigs.
Allow me to explain a bit further here the dynamics of a bad gig versus a good gig. While it is true that there is a correlation between “good” gigs and the artist getting paid, paid gigs can be “bad” gigs, and some unpaid or tip gigs are “good” gigs.
At good gigs:
- - The venue cares about the audience’s experience.
- - The venue puts together bills that make sense and will encourage audiences to stick around for ALL the bands.
- - The sound is great. If present, the engineer is compensated well and invested in making bands sound the best they can.
- - The audience gets great value, buys more from the venue and tips the artists more.
- - A win-win-win scenario emerges, as the venue’s reputation as a “hot” place for cohesive live music is enhanced.
Let’s look at some of these qualities in more detail.
THE VENUE’S ROLE
How fun is it when you go see one band, and discover more bands you love at the show? It’s like you’ve been given a gift by the venue, and you will always think well of that venue when you listen to those bands and remember that gig. It increases the result that you will return to that venue for a night of music. Good gigs are thoughtfully put together to maximize the potential for this result for fans.
One way that a venue can help to lay the foundation for a good gig is to know something about the bands that are playing and put together awesome line-ups that make sense.
When I lived in New Haven, Connecticut, I always found it strange how the then-booker at Toad’s Place – the most coveted gig in town – did not care about putting a good bill together. So my pop-rock band, The Masses, would find ourselves on Friday night bills with rap-metal acts and jam bands. I have no problem with multi-genre bills, they can be great when they are coordinated efforts, but these bills were the opposite of coordinated.
We would try to get to know the other bands’ music so we could tell our fans about the full evening’s bill, but it was always a rushed and somewhat superficial effort. Sometimes the booker wouldn’t even tell us who was on the bill and we’d have to find out from looking at the listings in the newspaper. Sometimes we weren’t fans of the other bands’ music, and had no reason to imagine they’d be fans of ours.
In short, throwing together random bands on a bill is not conducive to good cross-promotion among the bands and their fans. It would have been better to trust the bands to put together the evening’s line-up. For Toad’s, the draw of a show with, say, the rap-metal band and some of their buddy bands may not have been as big (initially) as the random band line-up, but the gig would have been hotter and more memorable, the bands could more effectively cross-promote, and fans of the bands would have a reason to become invested in the venue and its efforts.
Random bills are bad for bands trying to establish an honest relationship with their fans – and for the fans who expect to be entertained. I love being able to promote bands I think are legitimately awesome to my fans, and it feels dishonest to promote bands that have just been randomly assigned to a bill we’re on.
Gigs at Toad’s place were pretty fun – the sound system there was amazing, and the room was big and welcoming – but they could have been so much better. They could have been magical.
WHY RANDOM BAND EVENINGS ARE BAD GIGS
What would happen at Toad’s in New Haven is: the funk band would play, and their fans would love it. Then we would play, and their fans would leave, our fans would come to the front of the stage, and they would rock out to us. Then our fans would scatter while the rap-metal band would played to their fans.
The funny thing about these gigs is that, from the venue’s standpoint, and even from the bands’ standpoint, they were “successful” nights. All the bands drew crowds and all the bands made money.
But the venue’s un-thoughtful approach to booking had made the night 2/3 no fun for the audiences. And the audiences didn’t appreciate this. They paid no attention when “their” band wasn’t playing. They knew what was up. The whole night felt disjointed and unsatisfying for them, and by extension, for the bands, who felt like they had just performed for their patiently waiting parents at the school talent show. The cameras and the claps came out for them, but the night had not had a coherent energy or feeling of artistic purpose.
Gigs like the nights we played at Toad’s make the audience impatient to return to their lives after “their” band (kindergarten child actor) had played, and don’t reward them for sticking around. The fans of each band at Toad’s that night didn’t just “drop in” on Toad’s to see what else was happening on any given night. They came to see their bands and to get out.
So the venue has a significant primary role to play in making gigs good, and hooking audiences to return. Venues are like bands: they can cultivate a dedicate fan base with effort. The best venues, the ones that consistently host the highest percentage of win-win-win good gigs, create this relationship with patrons.
AND HOW DO THE GOOD GIGS DIFFER?
In New York, I always loved playing at the Sidewalk Café in Manhattan and the Trash Bar in Brooklyn. Both of these venues made the audience experience a priority in different ways.
At the Sidewalk, each gig is hosted by an “MC” who introduces the acts, talks up all the acts at intermission and encourages the audience to tip and to stick around. Guess what? The audience loves this, and tips and sticks around (and orders more food & drinks). The night feels coherent and thoughtful. The venue makes money and people come back. The musicians rise to the occasion and bring their A game for every show at the Sidewalk. Everyone wins.
At the Trash Bar, the five buck cover charge for all bands includes a very fan-friendly concept: an open beer bar! Believe me, this fact alone brought out ALL of fans to our shows at the Trash Bar. So the bar makes money, the band makes money, and the fans have a great time and stick around for all the other bands and keep drinking. Win-win-win.
At gigs I would classify as “bad”, a venue with the same capacity & sound system as the Trash Bar would rather collect the five dollar cover and charge for drinks. Do they make more money than the Trash Bar? Maybe. Maybe not.
Does the audience feel motivated to come out for every show they’re invited to? To stay and check out bands beyond “their” band? To return? What’s the vibe like in the room? How many people are there? How do the bands feel? Will they want to hold their next show or tour kick-off or CD release party there?
I think you can guess my answer to these questions. Gigs at the Trash Bar always felt like a happening. The audience felt involved, included, respected, happy. The bands loved having all the extra people there, encouraged by the open bar. Fans stuck around for other bands. The room was always full.
At places that don’t look at shows as potential happenings, but more like elementary school talent shows, with each act doing its own thing and playing only to its own fans, the room is rarely full and the vibe is never as hot.
As a music fan, I only want to pony up to see live music at places that care. I only want to play at places that give me an incentive beyond money to really rile up my fans and bring them out (awesome room! Open bar! Super cool venue!). I don’t want to invite my fans to a “bad” gig.
In conclusion, reviewing all the gigs I’ve played and writing this post has made me realize that my “don’t play for free” blog post may have missed the point.
The reason I don’t want to play for free is because I want to play at venues that care about maximizing the audience’s experience. And the venues that care seem to be the ones that always find a little bit of money to pay musicians. This is no coincidence.
Today’s blog post by Steve Birkett looks at the phenomenon of crowd funding and examines some of the ways that artists and musicians use social media to involve their fans in the crucial act of fundraising for creative projects.
Steve runs Above the Static, a New York City-based company that advises artists on how to use new media channels to build meaningful connections with fans all over the world. Ever since I began working with Steve (shortly before the release of 'Broken Mirror Baby'), I have been delighted as many of my far-flung fans have become constant friends through social media networks.
These connections are meaningful to me – they may have formed online, but that doesn’t make them hollow or unreliable – the case is just the opposite. In fact, many of my coolest and most dedicated fans discovered my music through social media sites like Last.fm and Twitter.
Steve is an expert on the online potential for connections between artists and fans, and a voracious student of new media. I have learned so much from him, and my experience of online life has become richer since we’ve been working together. It’s rare to meet someone so passionate about building real human connections online, and who approaches the (sometimes frustrating!) moving target of social media with the patience and creativity of an artist.
If you have been following the band (on social networks or on the road), you know that we recently raised $1000 through Kickstarter to fund our next project (read more here): a live E.P. and video recorded at GBS Studios in Detroit. Before planning this project, none of us in the band had ever used Kickstarter or thought about crowd sourcing as a way of launching projects.
Take it away, Steve...
Over the last five years, or thereabouts, it has dawned on musicians that career progression is, more than ever before, down to their efforts alone. Major record labels stopped investing significantly in artist development not long after Napster made such a permanent impact on their industry, leaving only boot strapped independent labels and the artists themselves to figure out a way to make music as much their livelihood as it is their passion.
Against this potentially grim backdrop, an effect equally liberating and daunting has emerged: musicians now have the means to make it on their own.
NO MIDDLE MEN
Artists can now connect directly with fans. Though this could happen on a local, sometimes national, level in the past, distance is no longer a factor. MP3's can be dowloaded anywhere, social networks bridge the communication gap, and online transactions allow any committed fan to support their favorite artists financially.
With commitment, a willingness to experiment, and a little bit of new media savvy, musicians can cut out the middle person, on whom they've previously been so dependent. Direct-to-fan offers a more intimate connection for both fan and musician, as Alejandra has so enthusiastically discussed in her insightful blog pieces. As fans, we feel a greater affinity towards the artists we listen to; a better understanding of the passions and personality that they pour into their music.
Put simply, without a middle agent acting as a boundary, fans have a deeper relationship with musicians.
FROM FANS TO PATRONS
A spin-off of this depth is a desire to support the music we love more directly. As some or all of that music is often provided free nowadays, other forms of support are emerging to fill the vacuum of purchasing music. Live shows and merchandise are direct replacements. One of the more intriguing alternatives, though, is that of crowd funding.
In a return to (very) traditional methods of supporting music, fans are increasingly taking on a 'patronage' role, whereby they act almost as sponsors for specific musical projects. In Alejandra's case, this means recording a new 5-track EP with the support of GBS Detroit's innovative studio funding program. For others it can mean being able to record a video. Looking more broadly, it can even galvanize an entire creative community to pledge tens of thousands for a new art space.
In each case, fans gather together around a common goal that contributes to not only a specific project, but the overall development of their favorite musicians. They participate in the success with the artists and feel the same pride in the achievements. In itself, the patronage becomes a part of the creative process. In addition, rewards selected by the creators are redeemed by the fans, taking the support of the fan beyond simple charity.
When it resonates with fans, crowd funding is a win-win model.
WHERE TO START
The most well known crowd funding site for artists is Kickstarter.
With a relatively simple interface, it's easy to get started for both artists and 'project backers', as those who donate are known on the site. All projects require a video to explain the goals and any other important details, which gives the creators a better chance to communicate their passion - and perhaps the rewards - to potential backers. The flexible system and secure payments system through Amazon make Kickstarter a sensible choice for any first time crowd funding efforts.
Tips to bear in mind?
- - Keep your target amount significant, but realistic. Outlandish targets will look like opportunism, rather than artistic vision.
- - Offer interesting rewards at various $ amounts. Keep a low and affordable amount for those that simply want to chip in, but also accept larger amounts for exciting rewards.
- - Update your backers and potential backers at key stages of the project funding, thanking the former and encouraging the latter to get involved. Oh, and always remind them of the closing date!
- - As with any fund raising project, share the request widely - social media/websites/beyond - and don't be afraid to ask your most passionate supporters to do the same.
- - Remind folks that every little helps and that you appreciate every contribution.
There are other options for crowd funding, of course, and you may wish to research more deeply if you have specific requirements for your own particular project. As a starting point, sites like IndieGoGo and RocketHub offer similar platforms to that of Kickstarter.
You could even look at creating your own platform, via a combination of your website, YouTube, and PayPal integration, but that would require more thought, work, and probably another blog post!
Above all else, remember that this is an opportunity to connect more closely with your fans, around a creative project that need not be limited by traditional restrictions. You can aim to raise as much (or as little) as you think achievable, and the more exciting and innovative the project, the more you will be likely to inspire a crowd to fund it.
Last time out, I wrote about our recent tour of Michigan; the venues, musicians, and people that made the experience. For this second installment, I wanted to share some lessons I've taken from the road.
Here are my reflections, offered humbly, to all independent musicians and bands preparing to launch a month long (or even shorter) tour:
1. Limit driving time. Put on a blitz of shows within as tight an area as possible, or move from show to show in relatively small (say, hour-long) stretches of driving.
I know what you’re thinking: “This goes against conventional wisdom!”. But trust me, it’s way better to keep your radius reigned in. Think of each few days of your tour as a little circle, and try to squeeze as many shows into that circle as possible. Who likes being in the car all the time? I feel and perform better when I haven’t had to sit in one place for hours before a show and then quickly learn the ropes of a new place.
This doesn’t mean you can’t explore new places and stretch yourself – it just means, for us, that each time we play Grand Rapids, we also play Kalamazoo. Otherwise we are wasting time and gas driving across the state. No matter how stellar a show we play, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by not sticking around the area a little bit longer. Limiting your tour radius also means you can plaster the town you’re playing with posters a few days before the show.
Most importantly, fans who are excited that they caught your show will be happy if you stick around the area so they can catch you again. I know from my own experience that seeing a great band put on a fantastic high-energy show is like a drug. I want to know when I can get more. I want to be a part of their traveling family! I don’t want them far.
After every show, fans ask me “When will you be in the area again?” I like to be able to tell them “Soon!” or even “In two nights, we’ll be at the next town over!” Asking fans to make this small drive to see you can lead to a rite-of-passage into hardcore fandom for them, too. In touring, fandom, and life: it’s the small sacrifices that add up.
2. If anyone associated with booking the show comes across to you as unpleasant, chronically unresponsive, or crazy, don’t take the show.
It’s not a professional venue. Not worth it.
3. Talk to your fans, old and new.
The people who came to see you play, or wandered into your set and then stayed for the whole thing, are interesting people. Ask what brought them out, what made them stay, and what their plans are. Become a fan of theirs and they’ll become a fan of yours.
4. Only book places where your fans can come – OR that have a good regular crowd.
If you’re considering playing a show somewhere where none (or very few) of your fans will make the drive and that has an uncertain built-in draw, err on the side of not taking the show. Even though you will still meet cool and interesting people, playing to a near-empty room is not a fun experience.
5. That said, if you find yourself playing to an empty (or might as well be empty) room, make the best of it.
Put on a killer show for the people who are there. They will appreciate it, and you will become a better performer by being a professional, every night, every show. Even when shows are relatively packed, I pretend that I’m playing at the Super Bowl. Multiply your audience by 1000 and entertain THAT crowd.
6. Don’t play shows for free. This is my new mantra.
I know it sounds a little pie-in-the-sky, especially in a place as hard as Michigan. But I think it’s important.
This whole can of worms is something I’ve been thinking about for a pretty long time. My musician friend David Nefesh sparked a discussion about this online and since then (concurrent with being on tour) I’ve been thinking about it even more.
I think that if musicians refuse to play for free, it will make the overall musician, venue, AND audience experience better. Venues won’t take musicians for granted, and they will have to take more time listening to acts before they book them, and thinking about WHY they have music at their venue in the first place. They will have to care. And the result can only be a good thing for audiences.
Musicians should be part of the economies of places that book live music. They should be treated more or less like any other worker at the venue. If this calculation doesn’t work for the venue, then the venue shouldn’t have music at all. What’s the point?
I’m not asking for a ton of money here (I’m talking like $100 per two-hour show for a four-piece band), and it’s not because I want the money to spend on anything. What I do want is a sign that music matters (again, why have it at your venue if you don’t care?), and that musicians are not going to do their work for free.
For this plan to work, all musicians have to stick to it. And when we all want to get out there and share our art and our energy and put on tours and make connections with people, this is the hard part.
Let’s keep this discussion alive. Looking forward to your comments.
I write you from the cozy confines of my couch, where I have been stationed for the last several hours in a haze. All across the couch are scattered the jackets and sweatshirts (Go Lions!) I’ve worn (and sat on) over the past weeks, a couple of paperback book pitched like tents to hold a place, and a sleeping chihuahua. We have a lot of catching up to do.
On Sept. 9, I went to Jackson ahead of the guys to appear on the Bart Hawley Show on JTV. This was my first live TV appearance (more on that here). It was a strange and really fun time. TV land is alternate reality central. I loved the studio and the warm little world it creates. It’s kind of like being in a dollhouse, where you’re the doll. I wore my sunglasses because the lights were so blazing in there.
I walked in as a couple of nice cops Bart had just been interviewing were on their way out. They smiled and said "Hi." Everyone at JTV was so professional, friendly, awesome. Special thanks to Kurt Baringer for running the sound on my performance, to Patrick Doyle for getting me prepped, and to Karen Hawley for coordinating the my appearance on the show. I am in awe of their deep and easy sense of community and the work that goes into putting together a daily hyper-local TV program. I feel inspired by their operation. I wish we had something so cool here in Ann Arbor.
Also thanks to my buddy band Blue Pontiac, for telling me all about the TV experience beforehand! They have a piping hot new record coming out soon, keep an eye on them…
That same evening, following a kick-ass haircut (for me) from my man Orlando at Salon Breathe & Spa across the street, the band played the Jackson Coffee Company, a super cool two-tiered venue.
Some nice folks came out to soak up the songs and Natalie Jones, a fabulous photographer from Jackson, snapped action pictures of the band performing. Natalie has taken pictures of me before and I really dig her unique style and framer’s eye. Her colors are bright and vivid and her shots capture moments of hot meaning and excitable peace. Natalie is also just a super cool person, not to mention an animal rescuer and roller derby rock star. As a chronicler of moments, she puts you right at ease. If you live in Michigan and need professional or personal photos taken, Natalie’s your photographer.
The next day was just packed. We met up at Groovebox Studios in the afternoon. GBS is located in a gigantic industrial warehouse in downtown Detroit. The warehouse used to house auto parts manufacturers. We rode up to the studio in a hand-cranked freight elevator. Today, it is full of artists and musicians working on new and exciting creative projects. For fans outside Michigan: when you read stories about Detroit’s new energy, and the city coming back to life with artists moving downtown, GBS is the kind of place you’re reading about.
We met with Shawn Neal, who directed our Monkees-esque promo video, and Douglas Akers, who shot it. Shawn and Doug have brought their talents and their vision to GBS because they want to help musicians accomplish things in a new world. The music industry is totally different than it once was and the people who run GBS are looking to impart a new vision of what’s possible to independent musicians in Detroit.
If you follow the band and this blog, you’ve already seen our Kickstarter video for GBS and our update video (view it here). I’m excited and proud to say that because of our fans we hit and surpassed our fundraising goal for our next recording and video project at GBS. We’re pushing on for another week…please give if you can: $5 gets you a download of the recording we make, and $50 gets you an ultra-hip band t-shirt from American Apparel (made in the U.S.A.)!
I’m so amazed that we’ve been able to raise the funds to make this project happen in just over a week and I’m so grateful to our fans for making this dream recording session possible. Kickstarter has opened my eyes to so many wonderful (like, literally, wonder-full) projects that people are doing all over the world and I’m excited to keep on top of all the cool ideas that come through.
We played at AJ’s Music Café in Ferndale the following Friday night. This concert coincided with the Ferndale DIY Art Fair, so we partnered up and did some cross-promo with Honey and Fig Studios. Kristen and Honey & Fig makes handmade cards, some of which have a Michigan theme. I am a big fan of handmade anything, and also of real cards that you can send in the mail. But I actually think Kristen’s stuff is great.
Then I got sick.
This was and is a big bummer. I got strep throat and we had to cancel the last two shows of the tour, including an opening slot for a big act in Pontiac and a really fun night with great bands The Greatest Hits, Flypaper, and David Nefesh in Plymouth. I am hoping that I’ll feel well enough to go and see all three bands on Friday night, because that would really lift my spirits, if not my strep throat.
So that’s what happened on tour this fall. It was an adventure and a challenge and a gas. I learned how to be a better musician, band leader, and performer and I had a great time sharing our music with audiences across the state. Some of those lessons will be the subject of the next blog post, which you won't want to miss (especially the musicians reading).
Finally, my big hope is that “what happens on tour DOES NOT stay on tour” this time around. I want the connections that we made at all of these shows to continue and to grow; for people who became fans when they saw us to keep up with our new music, our Facebook page, and our future tours. Let's stay in touch.
Questions have been flooding in at shows and online. You need answers...time to give the people what they want!
Q. What was the inspiration for the cover art for “Broken Mirror Baby”?
A: You will have to ask Mary Banas.
Mary is my friend who designed and made all the art for “Broken Mirror Baby”. Mary and I used to work together at a magazine together years ago. I always liked her style. I even remember the beautiful yellow poster she submitted when she was applying for the job that brought us together.
Mary now works in San Francisco. She had been making collages recently and asked me if I was interested in having a collage for the cover. As soon as she showed me some of her recent work, I was totally into it. I think our styles (musical & visual) complement each other well. The album cover makes me think of a bird’s eye view of a recording studio.
Q. How do you pronounce your first name?
Q. Do you write the music or the words first?
A. I write them at the same time. Sometimes, I’ll hear something on TV or hear someone say something in passing that I’ll jot down to use later. That’s where “@ the Club” came from – it was something Sammi Sweetheart said on Jersey Shore. “Don’t be sorry now. You should have been sorry at the club” – to me, that statement hit on something deep about the way time gets distorted in love and lust. And about the inevitability of regret in love. But, for me, words can’t really go anywhere until they have a musical push. The two parts of the song have to come from the same place.
Q. What would you like to change about yourself? About the world?
A. Personally, I would like to be better at relinquishing control. For the world, I would like for all of us to be more conscious of protecting the environment and thinking about what the natural world will be like when we are gone.
Q. What do you like to do when you’re not playing music?
A. I like to read. Lately I’ve been going (slowly) through Jane Austen and Henry James. I like to find out lots about the lives of artists I admire. I like to ogle my dog and wonder how such a creature got here. I like to play on the Internet. But I really do love to play music more than anything. And it’s the thing I need to do the most to get better.
Q. Do you like enjoying playing more solo or with your band?
A. They are totally different experiences. It almost feels like, for every song, I get two songs for the price of one – the electric version and the acoustic one. Anytime you make a connection with an audience, that’s the best experience. All things being equal, though, the full band experience and group connection take my heart every time. Artistic collaboration is a near-religious experience for me. I like blending with people while doing my thing on stage or in the studio. Moment for moment, that’s a tough situation to top.
And we want more! Submit your question for Alejandra and/or the band, to be featured on the next question time.
Or tweet your questions to @alejandraoleary with the tag: #alequestions
Continuing the video action from the Rock n' Roll Band's breathless tour of Michigan, Alejandra took time out ahead of the Lighthouse Coffee show last Friday, to appear on Jackson TV's renowned Bart Hawley Show, armed only with her trusty acoustic guitar and shades that prompted her Mom to remark: "Who do you think you are, Jack Nicholson?!"
Like the Letterman of Jackson, Michigan, Bart Hawley has been bringing entertainers to the airwaves of JTV for over a decade now. Ale was proud to perform a brand new track from 'Broken Mirror Baby', the nostalgic 'On Your Dime', and shot the breeze with Bart about her sound, influences, and how life in Michigan compares to being a musician in New York City.
The show was a blast, as this clipped version with some interview highlights and the performance of 'On Your Dime' clearly demonstrates.
To watch the more of Bart's show, check out the JTV website.
To grab the new songs for yourself, click on over to the order page.
Big huge thanks to everybody who has signed up to become a Friend with Benefits over the last couple of weeks. Our lives now revolve around trips to the Ann Arbor post office, and we love it. Did you know they have cool new “Be Green” stamps? Did you know it takes only a week for a CD to fly from Michigan to Ireland? Did you know how to spell “Schenectady”? Did you know it often makes sense to bring your own pen? Did you know if you ask to “borrow” some scotch tape someone will inevitably find this statement hilarious?
You heard it here first.
The band appreciates your support and we hope that you will appreciate the hot-off-the-press new album, Broken Mirror Baby. Rock on, milk-and-cookie army.
Today I’ve got a tour report and my first video blog (vlog!) for you. The vlog was made in my studio in Ann Arbor. If you press play, you’ll hear (and see formed before your eyes!) some of my thoughts on the upcoming tour and a surprise song.
Bonus content: a cameo from Cocoa the chihuahua:
To the tour report!:
We played under the stars and way past curfew in Grand Rapids, Michigan on August 26. Hugo Claudin, an artist and community organizer in GR, invited us back to play at the Pekich Park concert series. We played in front of a huge mural and shot some video and still footage from down among the flowers. We look crazy in this footage, but we sound like electric angels.
It was a hard rockin’ and hard edged show. Throughout the concert, John and his drums sat up on a riser that threated to levitate and float out over the crowd as a spontaneous drum solo erupted (this did not happen). And what a crowd! All show long, at least one fan was constantly dancing and fist-pumping up in our faces. We prevailed, managing to sweat out an entire set, in the face of this enthusiastic distraction. Post-concert, one fan approached Alejandra and told her that she “must have known my ex-girlfriend to write all those songs!" Uh oh. All was well when he decided to take home a copy of 'Nothing Out Loud' to further investigate this uncanny connection. All told, many happy Grand Rapidians slunk into the sunset with shrink-wrapped Nothings tucked under arm, distracted and texting “late to bed 2nite”.
The following evening we brought our rock to the otherwise tranquil Lighthouse Coffee Company in Milan. We love playing at this venue, which not only feels like a boat inside, but serves the best thick milkshakes and whoopee pies in Michigan. Jamie brought along several teenaged tastemakers to assess our hipness (conclusion: we are a little bit hip). We debuted two new songs and one new amp (Jamie’s beauty) at this performance, including our take-no-prisoners take on the Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone”. Alejandra’s favorite line from this song is “the clothes you’re wearing girl are causing public scenes” because she relates to it.
In addition to pumping the rock at low-register beats, Jeremy printed up a stack of band photos that satisfied rock n’ roll fans took home to admire while they learn all the words to their new Broken Mirror Babys.
We got a little over-excited by the crowd at this show and broke the new CDs out early. If this information makes you jealous, we hope you will consider a pre-order.
Tonight we play at the Berkley Front with Elle Sawa and the Greatest Hits. Saturday night we release the CD to the wild hoards at Crazy Wisdom Tea Room, and Sunday we crack the Rust Belt Market in Ferndale.
There’s a lot more tour where that came from. Check the concerts page and come out to say hello!
Life is hard and so many things disappoint and disturb. If you can find people you love, build bonds over time and enjoy meaningful work, so much of the thing becomes just a little sweeter.
For me, playing in rock bands has been a life-changing and life-saving experience. I need to be in bands the way other people I’ve known need to be in relationships, or need to exercise every day, or need to have children. When I’m not in a band, I feel restless and uneasy. Something is missing and I wander around lost until I can get it together.
Being in a band that’s not working can also induce this sinking feeling. In the past,I’ve sometimes felt so desperate for a band, I’ve rushed into something that isn’t meant to be. You know it pretty quickly. I think one of the worst things about these no-go bands is the premonition they give me that I’ll soon be bandless again.
By contrast, when I’m lucky enough to be in a band that really clicks and makes strides, everything feels a little lighter and more purposeful. It’s like being in love. It’s hard to explain.
I think the only way to understand the feeling is to see a “clicking” band play, and to share in the excitement and deathless energy of the music and the bond. That’s what those things exist for, after all – to be shared. You know this feeling if you’ve ever seen a band live and felt instantly a little lifted.
Being in a band doesn’t always feel transcendent, of course. In fact, most of it feels like work, with all its frustrations and drudgery. Bandship involves rehearsing and touring, and these duties can be thankless. They involve compromise, patience, monotony, expense, lots of time, lots of waiting around, and lots of driving. And when you’re on tour you are always looking for a bathroom. It doesn’t need to be a clean one.
So why do it? Why put in time and money into a project that often throws you face to face with grumpy sound techs, unexpected costs, shitty club sound systems, and smelly green rooms? Why drive for three hours to play for 50 minutes to an out-of-town audience that might be best described as happy stragglers?
Because they’re dancing. Because they’re into it. Because that feeling of sharing music and energy with other people is so intense and so lightweight and so beautiful. Because you’re sharing not only with an audience but with bandmates, and every night is a kind of improvisation. Because I simply can’t think of anything else I should be doing or would rather do.
I’m fortunate to be in a fantastic band right now, a real winner.
The band features Jamie Church on guitar and mandolin, Jeremy Frey on bass, and John Grandstaff on drums. Everyone is also on vocals, and this is part of what makes the band so awesome. Everyone is not only doing their thing instrumentally, but also vocally.
I can’t tell you how much fun this is, or how cool it sounds. You’re just going to have to come out and see for yourself.
It takes a village to raise a rock record.
I like to plunk down in a room in a house, or a bench in a park, or a carpet on the floor, and write a song. I like peace and quiet, balconies and sea views, reading with dogs, rambling through wilderness, and drifting in thought.
But I also like football and dancing. I like ensemble movies. I like bands. I like the rush of a team challenge, and rock n' roll is most definitely a team sport.
There's a lot to say for spending uninterrupted hours with the right people.
If I've learned nothing else from the Beatles, it's something about the final mark of a band being much, much greater than the individuals in the studio or on the stage. It's about alchemy. The Beatles weren't a supergroup; they were a rock n' roll band.
It can be difficult to find the right people to make a rock n' roll dream come true. But when you find those people, all bets are off. All previous expectations can fly right out the window. As the Strokes sang in some song "The sky's not the limit and you're never gonna guess what is".
Meeting Doug Kwartler and beginning to work with him at Hollow Body Studios (first in New York, then in Boston) was one of those "everything out the window now" experiences for me. Doug made me rethink what was possible in the studio, and the new vista of possibilities that Doug's skills as a musician and producer opened for me influenced the kind of songs I write. Soon after meeting Doug, I began to write more adventurous songs. I began to imagine new kinds of songs and arrangements, now that everything was possible.
Doug's presence in the studio is an asset for any musician, but I think we make a special team. He is a great listener, both to people and to music. He listens deeply. He is infinitely patient in the studio. If I want more reverb on the third vocal, I get more reverb on the third vocal. More delay on the second guitar? Done. A twelfth take of four words in the last chorus? What could be more natural?
And Doug can translate any musical idea into recorded reality.
If I tell him that my vision for a song is "Billy Joel on the moon" or "David Bowie goes to the DMV", he at least pretends to understand what I'm getting at while cooking up something totally awesome I would never have anticipated, but that feels exactly like what I was describing. I am lucky to have found him, to have made two super cool records with him, and to have the opportunity to head into the studio this winter to work on the third.
Notes about Alejandra from Doug Kwartler:
First met at: Starbucks near Penn Station, NYC.
Why: I saw her ad on Craigslist looking for producer
First impression: Looked like she was from NYC. (Even though she only kinda was.)
First song recorded: "Connect With Me" (which made it to the second record, "Broken Mirror Baby") Loved the song immediately. Used some different recording techniques - going for close mic'd (drum) John Lennon type of sound. Extra warm.
First bit of anxiety: Playing song back for her after I worked on it.
Most aggrevating: WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY too self-critical!!!
Best quality: One of the kindest and probably the least "full-of-herself" person I've ever met.
Best musical / songwriting qualities: Her way with words, her never ending desire to have fun, her drive and ability to push the boundaries which keeps me honest in the studio.
Random thought: She doesn't think her songs are about her, but I think they are and she just doesn't know it.
Random thought #2: I am so glad Alejandra and I have worked together on two CDs together. I've learned a lot from her and am flattered that she picked me to make such cool music with. She deserves the highest form of success for so many reasons.
Visit www.hollowbodystudios.com for more information about Doug's awesome facility and other artists who have recorded with Doug.
Doug produced "Broken Mirror Baby", due out September 3rd in the US (and available for pre-order NOW!)
The CDs arrived and now I've got "Broken Mirror Baby"s spilling out the door. These babies are ready to make their way into the wild world.
To celebrate this summer arrival, I'm unveiling the full track listing and the back cover art today.
"Broken Mirror Baby"'s art and design were created by Mary Banas. Mary is a fantastically talented graphic artist and you can see more of her work here.
There are lots of secrets to divulge about "Broken Mirror Baby", from the influences that went into it to the songs that came out of it. In the weeks leading up to the album release on September 3rd (party at Crazy Wisdom in Ann Arbor that night!), I'll focus on the ideas that went into the individual songs, as I did with "Horses" last week. In the meantime, here are some brief thoughts on each track, in order of appearance:
- @ the Club – This song was inspired by something Sammi said about Ronnie on “Jersey Shore”. I was also thinking about all the pop songs out there that explore the metaphysical state of being “in the club”. I wanted to see if I could do something with that trope in my own style. The production was inspired by ABBA, and the guitar solo was influenced by Clarence Clemons’ saxophone solos.
- K.Y.O. – Stands for “Knock Yourself Out”. The title is a little bit of a tribute to Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” The song is musically influenced by the harder edges of Springsteen. The first one I wrote specifically for this album. The first lines “I’ve come so far but I’ve go nowhere/and I’ve got nowhere to go/All my friends have scattered and scared/away the wayward souls” are some of my favorites on the album, and certainly some of the most personal.
- When Will They Learn? – The production was influenced by Hanson/Dust Brothers, especially MMMBOP. Like many of my songs, this song tells a story about a relationship between two people. You have to figure out the subtext. Musically and lyrically one of my favorites on the album.
- On Your Dime – An older song that I wrote when I lived in New York. It’s about the memory of a relationship that was powerful enough to seem like an era. And lots of road trips. As you might guess from the title, someof this song is about the intersection of love and money. Another one of my favorite lines on the album comes from this song: “All people do is touch and go.”
- Connect with Me – Another New York era song. A torch song. The production is influenced by John Lennon. The title obviously could go many ways. Would be perfect for a cellphone ad or something.
- Broken Mirror Baby – This song is the first single and the title track. I was dreaming up a person who would be the living embodiment of bad luck and “bad news”. Someone for whom nothing ever goes right, but who isn’t doing anything to turn it around, either. Someone angry. I think the track has an anger to it that I don’t often tap into. The production is influenced by Blur.
- Horses – I am very proud of the production we achieved on this tune. It’s dreamy, yet pointed. I think this is a very original track and many people have told me it’s their favorite on the album.
- The Habit – The last song I wrote for this album, fittingly the last (and most epic) track. A song about someone with a bad habit. It could be a drug habit, but it could also be a bad habit of mind. My voice is triple-tracked throughout the song to lend an angelic quality to an otherwise rockin’ tune.
You can download two of the tracks now on the Music page, as well as checking out the album sampler over on Bandcamp.
Stay tuned for "Broken Mirror Baby" pre-order information later this week!
“Broken Mirror Baby” started in a little room in Michigan with the song “Horses”.
** New track "Horses" is now available as a limited time FREE download in the Music section **
I had been listening to a lot of ABBA and I wanted to try to write a song like one of theirs – with all the harmonic unpredictability and depth, all expressed in a manner at once upfront and somewhat out of left field.
Within their ambitious musical creations, I have always been fascinated with ABBA’s relationship to the English language. Of course Bjorn Ulvaeus was the main lyricist in the group and he knows English well. But after finishing a song, he had to hand it over to two singers (Agnetha and Annie-Fried) who were less than fluent – the result is a kind of stiltedness that manages to be really emotional because of the strength and conviction of the singing and the propulsiveness and melodic surehandedness of the tunes.
Although English is my first language, I don’t take it for granted. I always feel very aware that I am singing in one (strange) language of many. Words interest me for the way they sound as much as for what they mean.
So “Horses” was the first song I wrote for the album and it set a tone for the whole collection. You can definitely hear the influence of ABBA’s songcraft and production in the song, so I was happy about that. In the studio, Doug and I added lots of cool vocal harmonies and a very 70s guitar double guitar solo. But I don’t think that "Horses" sounds retro at all. And the themes – problems with communication, romantic stalemates – are all mine.
Doug Kwartler and I worked on the production together remotely for the first time. It was an interesting process. I sent him my demo of the song with drum machine, synthesizer and piano, and then he laid down the drums and bass at Hollow Body Studios at its new location in Boston. He sent it back to me with my demo vocal overlaid so I could hear how it was coming along, and we added more elements on my first trip to Boston to work on the new album.
The finished song is slower than I had originally imagined it would be, but it's exactly right.
“Broken Mirror Baby”
I write very simple songs and then enjoy fleshing out hidden complications in performance and production. "Broken Mirror Baby" is a big performance for your ears. I hope that people experience it with the same thrill of discovery and jolt of life that they might feel at a rock concert in the summertime.
When Doug Kwartler and I were working on “Nothing Out Loud” at Hollow Body Studios in New York, I got instantly inspired by a track we did called “People Like Me”. I was playing lots of acoustic shows around New York City at this time, and I was getting used to being a solo performer and chanteuse. I hadn’t played deeply in the studio to create the sound of my dreams. Until we did this song.
Recording “People Like Me” changed my whole approach – it began as a solo acoustic song but in the studio we transformed it into something multi-layered and epic. I discovered I like to use musical instruments to create operatic emotional scenes, and that I liked using my voice as a musical instrument. Everything changed after that track.
I took the same approach to the songs on “Broken Mirror Baby”. I wrote the whole album for a band. Even though the band you hear on the record is just Doug and me, it’s still a band, and the songs are still band songs. You can really hear the band vibe on some of the tunes - on all of them, put particularly on "Knock Yourself Out", "When Will They Learn?", "Connect with Me", "Broken Mirror Baby" and "The Habit". Doug's bass and drums drive these songs and propel the performances upward and out.
It was fun to think about songs as pieces that get created in the studio rather than in my bedroom. While I still love four-track recording and spare creations, and I still play acoustic shows all the time, I fell in love with building songs from the ground up in the recording studio.
I hope you can hear the love as you listen to "Broken Mirror Baby". The songs are as they were meant to be: fully sprung.