Tuesday, January 29, 2008

On The Road Again. Issue #34

This Thursday I'll be out of town with TJ Sherrill for two solo acoustic dates in Coeur D'Alene and Spokane. Not the big road trip it was last Fall, but it will be great to get back to a few out of town venues where people will now know the songs after having the album for a few months. On Thursday evening (1/31), we'll be at MOONTIME CAFE in Coeur D'Alene starting at 8:30. I remember the food being really good there, and even better that they provided complimentary meals to performers. Last time I played here a little boy had his eye on my KS buttons the whole time getting closer and closer until he seemed sure I wouldn't yell at him for taking one no matter how many times I told him it was okay. I love it when little kids are in the audience because it might be the first time they have attended a musical performance of any kind and they always have the look of "what is this guy doing?" in their eyes.

I'm really excited to get back to the CATERINA WINERY on Friday night (2/1) which funny enough is exactly the same bill artist-wise as it was last time with hometown star MARK WARD closing the evening. Spokane seems to be a place where their singer songwriters get a lot of love and it showed last time we played with Mark when he brought out a lot of his faithful. It's a great venue because though it is not a huge concert hall, the audience handles themselves as if it were so with attentiveness and genuine interest in hearing new music. I also remember the lighting system being EXTREMELY HOT so MENTAL NOTE: drink lots o' water.
I hope to see folks who purchased the album last time out, and it should be a very rewarding and fun night.

A quick story I wanted to share with you about how much a little note can mean to someone...
In winter of 1999, I was in the new music listening section at Tower Records (R.I.P) when I came across a band called WOOD. The band was from England and was anything but my usual taste of music from across the pond normally in the form of loud sneering English guys whose guitars were bigger than they were. These guys were MELLOW. Singer James Maddock had one of the coolest voices that sounded like it was hooked up to a cigarette machine and a forever gargling whiskey crooning over lush acoustic based arrangements.

I don't know if it was the time or place I was in my life but the album, "Songs From Stamford Hill", quickly became one of my favorites ever and is now in my "Top 5" of all time. After having a moderate hit with the lead off track "Stay You", the band seemed to all but disappear off the face of the earth in the following couple of years. Every time I searched for a website or article on the band I could hardly find anything worthwhile reading much less news on the band. Over the years I would periodically Google the band and would be left empty handed though still loving the album. Yesterday, I tried again and managed to find a myspace page for James Maddock which included new songs of his and performance dates in what seems to be his new home base of New York. I quickly sent him a message describing how much I enjoyed and was influenced by his music over the years and that "Songs From Stamford Hill" still got a lot of mileage on the the other side of the country. Last night, I received a message back from him thanking me for writing, seeming genuinely happy that someone was still enjoying his older works, and a few words of encouragement/feedback regarding my own materal.

This made my day.

One of my ever present wishes that I hope to give to others is that my music has the chance to influence someone the way he and many others have influenced me over the years. What makes a melody stick in your head for years? What is it about a collection of songs that always makes you remember a certain time in your life with such happiness and good memories? I don't think that there's a formula, but I do think that providing that experience is what all songwriters secretly (and in my case not so secretly) strive for in the material and writing. It's all about communicating and as humans what we all want is to be heard and understood; and to hear that others feel the same.

Thanks for reading and hope to see you at the shows...



Monday, January 21, 2008

Video Killed The Radio Star... Issue #33

As I said last week, I'm working on some new songs for the next couple of shows the band and I have coming up (soon to be announced). After finishing SONGS FROM THE ORANGE ROOM, I hit a little bit of a dry spell songwriting wise as I focused mainly on the promo business at hand for the album release and all the other non-creative stuff that goes along with it. I think a lot of people feel that songwriters are always filled with ideas and a never ending conduit of musical inspiration.


I can only speak for myself when I say that I many times it's hard to find something that you want to write about, or a riff that sounds good anytime you sit down with your instrument. If someone has found a formula for that...let me know. Usually in my case I get a flood of song ideas (about 4 or so) that all may sound a little similar in some ways. After a while one starts to stick out, or maybe I'll decide they're all crap. Something cool in the past few months though I've found is at least FINISHING the ones I'm not sure about instead of cutting them off before they've been fully realized has helped with new ideas a lot. This has especially proven useful lately as I've began to write more songs for other people to record and perform. I'm not saying that attention to quality is dismissed in writing for others, but more that it gives me the chance to explore outside of my normal idea of "what I sound like" without being self-critical and I usually stumble across some fun musical surprises that otherwise may never be found.

I've included a new live video from the release show at the HIGHDIVE this week, and after talking with a local director I met at the comic shop I've decided that it's time to do a proper music video. That said, you would think that someone who spent his teens obsessively watching MTV would have lots and lots of ideas right? Well, right now that's not the case, but I'm working with a wonderful person by the name of Heather Canik to figure it out and we plan on shooting in the middle of February.

Growing up, my favorite videos were the ones that told a story all the way through the song. For some reason I always felt like Snoop Dogg and all early 90's R&B artists (here I go again) had the best story lines no matter how ridiculous they were. I'm sure I can't fit into that template (no matter how hard I try), but I think I'll take a little of what I loved about that stuff and try to make it my own. I think that the process will be really fun and I'll let you know more when I do too.

"With my mind on my money and my money on my mind..."

Have a good week,


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A New Sensation? Issue #32




Oh yeah, I should probably tell you that I went snowboarding for the first time this past weekend when my family was in town.


It was really fun and I think I'm addicted now despite ignoring my friends warnings of me being so. I hit the ground so hard one time I thought I broke all my front teeth when I face-planted coming down the bunny hill. That would not be a good thing other than my drummer Ian saying at least then I could pass for Shane McGowan of the POUGES. Gotta get a board, and gotta do it again soon...

With the family in town this past week, I really didn't make much advancement on the songwriting front that I hope to make this week and talk about in the next issue, but I was reminded of part of my musical history you may find entertaining.

It's a story not many people know, and one that usually only comes out after I've had a few beers. So, I'll have you know this...I ONCE TRIED OUT TO BE THE LEAD SINGER OF INXS.

O.k, you done laughing? Good...I'll continue my story, thank you.

It was September 2004 and my band of 13 years (Laymans Terms) had just broken up. A year and a half prior to disbanding, I really got into INXS and suggested covering a song for the next show on the calendar. We choose off "Kick", and over the next year it would become one of the highlights of the set. I would often tell the guys that the band sounded new to me (even though they are often credited as being co-architects of the 80's sound), and that I wouldn't doubt if someday they got back together to fill the musical void created by their absence.

It wasn't long after my prediction (6 months) when upon browsing the internets I found that INXS was looking for a new singer. I then saw that they were coming to Seattle's EL CORAZON club for auditions in two months which gave me about a month to prepare.

Prepare for what you ask?

Well, whenever we performed our INXS cover it freed me up on stage in a way that I had never experienced before. Having always been the lead singer that also played guitar, being JUST THE VOCALIST was a new and exciting experience that I found myself craving more and more and seeing as uncharted territory in my growth as a performer.
Combine this with my new obsession in INXS's music, and I only had one choice...


Let me preface this by saying that I had been someone that hated stuff like this; the what I thought of as an "unnatural" bringing together of musical entities through a cattle-call type atmosphere. Still, though it bothered me a little, I couldn't wait for the experience. Was the band going to be there? What were they looking for?
I didn't know, but I did spend hours watching live DVD's and listening to albums not to "be what they wanted", but more to understand more about the band I had already deemed as my new obsession months prior.

The instructions were simple, come prepared to play 3 songs with either your instrument, or recorded music to sing along to. Oh yeah, and knowing an INXS song or two wouldn't hurt. Prepared for anything, I kissed my new wifey goodbye and drove downtown on a FREEZING February morning. After parking, I realized I left my jacket at home but figured it wouldn't be a big deal since I could just go right inside. I mean would anybody really even be there?


Glazed over with a case of "what the hell?!?", I got in a line that wrapped around the building and proceeded to wait in the 35 degree weather with my guitar and a T-shirt.
Of course, I had a cast of characters around me to keep me entertained while I waited in line outside for 2 FREAKING HOURS. There was the 60-something man who had been "The Biggest INXS Fan" out of all of his friends his whole life, the young punk kid who would love to be in the band but definitely "wouldn't just do what they told him to do and sing", the goth-chick, and a guy in blue sweats who brought his ukulele to play. Frostbite scars are sexy if you didn't already know...

Once we finally got in (they were taking groups of 10), we were told to fill out an application (can't feel my fingers), and sign a discloure agreement in case our audition was shown on TV...


Once all paperwork was filled out we were taken to the stage area where a year earlier LT had rocked the house; only now it was covered with video cameras and producer types sitting behind piles of applications and monitors that were focused close-up on applicants singing on stage. Was the band here? What kind of people were trying out? That's not even worth taking up space on the internets for or wasting your time.

ANSWER: Any kind you can think of.

When I knew I was 3 spots away from trying out (oh look, there's the ukulele guy), I began frantically trying to recall my songs and lyrics when my brain thought it would be funny to hide them from me in THE WORST TIME POSSIBLE.

I gathered my thoughts when my name was called, took my guitar up and answered a few questions about where I was from and how old I was. Once I was prompted, I then started a song you now know as "Tonight" off SONGS FROM THE ORANGE ROOM.
I had just started the 2nd verse when I got a "thanks that's enough" from the producer-types, and was escorted off the stage and out the back door of the club where all the other would be INXS-ers were comparing notes on the whole experience.

I walked to my car while trying to process what had exactly happened from the point I got in line to the present. Did they like it? What the hell was the camera set up for? Disclosure agreement? The one thing that made me feel slightly better about the audition was the fact that I got to play longer than most people did. Also, while filling out paperwork in the lobby we were told that the following night we would get a callback if they were interested. Hmmmm....

As you can imagine, it was the predominant thought on my mind over the next day and a half until the night the callbacks would happen. My phone was glued to my hand when I received a call from an unknown number. The voice asked for me and told me that I was invited to come back in the morning for a "semi-final" audition.


The only bad thing was that it was @ 7:00 AM sharp, and that I needed to learn 5 INXS songs by then. Frantically I cued up the DVD and tried to sing along long into the night until it was at the point where either I knew it or I didn't.

I showed up the next morning to a room of 15 other applicants (some of who I remembered as singing REALLY well), more cameras, more producer types, but still no band.
They then went through this whole thing of how they really wanted to see what else we had to offer performing wise and that we should be proud we got called back. Me, I still had questions of what I got "called back" to...

I was the first to go, and stood on stage while they asked a little more about me again. I felt it was going fine and felt comfortable until the producers started making "Kyle" South Park jokes and I obviously wasn't getting them. They asked me if I watched the show and when I said no, looked at me in awkward silence as if I had a baby arm growing out of my head and it was waving to everybody.

As you can imagine...it got awkward.

I ran through part of "Tonight" again, and then was asked which of the 5 INXS songs I would like to start with. I was most comfortable with "Need You Tonight" from playing with LT, and the music was cued up but not in the key I was familiar singing it in. I did alright but the whole time felt like I was in the twilight zone and looking at myself from the outside. Hard to explain, fun, and uncomfortable all at the same time.

When I was done (insert scattered clapping) I was invited upstairs for a "post-performance" interview with the Producer of the how...SHOW?!? Yep, it all made sense now. I was told that this was to be an American Idol-like show in which 10 singers living under one roof would all compete for the spot as the next singer of INXS. As I walked up the stairs heading to the interview area, I felt like I had been duped more with each step. The Producer (female) sat me down tuRned on the lights, signaled the camera guy to start filming, and began what was one of the most bizarre conversations I had been involved in. She would ask the usual get to know you questions with a pleasant demeanor while being very professional. Out of nowhere, she became very intense asking me questions about my family constantly interrupting
me, and again would switch emotions unnaturally. This time she was very flirty touching my leg while asking if I was married before switching to almost being comically emotionally distressed while describing her job and the tryouts that had been going on in every city. As you can imagine...IT WAS FREAKY.

She thanked me for my time and I left very confused. A few days later, I was almost 100 percent certain that her behavior was a test to see how I would react to different emotional responses, and to make sure I wasn't a psycho (I am). Before I left the interview she also told me that they would evaluate everyone from the semi-finals before calling those that would live in the house and compete, and that those calls would be made in a few months.

Over the next few weeks I had a wide mix of emotions ranging from weirdly competitive (I wanted the spot) to slightly ashamed and disgusted (why did I do that?).
Obviously I didn't make it into the house which is a good thing 'cause I'd probably be the most boring house mate since "Andre" in REAL WORLD Season 1 (it's a long summer when you're 12).

It did however provide useful as it solidified what I felt was important to me in music and carrying your integrity through a business that would hope to destroy all that you hold inside of you if it could (just the facts ma'am). Though singing for the band would have been AMAZING, the whole house and competition reality show thing isn't my style. Also, why wasn't the band at the auditions? Too weird...

Lead singer for INXS? Not in this lifetime, but I was fortunate to get a good story and a memory that will last a long time. Also, maybe it was only for the purpose to show me that you NEVER NEVER NEVER wear sweatpants on stage. That is unless you are also playing a Ukulele. That = AWESOME.



Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Super Hero Rock. Issue #31

Over this last week I'm happy to report a breakthrough with a songwriting technique that I've been trying to make possible for about 2 years now. I've also been warned by my band that this is probably something that I shouldn't be sharing with people that like my music who might cringe at the unapologetic geekiness, but I digress...

In 2005 when I was getting through a case of writers block I started trying to think out of the box from what I normally do and wondered (why?) if anyone had ever done songs about comic book characters. I talked to my comic book advisory board (Brian at THE COMIC STOP) about the idea, and he thought it had potential but we both agreed it would have to be done a "certain way" to appeal to the Super Hero faithful. After a few failed attempts I put the idea on the back burner.

Fast forward to July of last year when I had another conversation with COMIC STOP co-owner Jim Demonakos about the idea and we brainstormed about what writing for that genre would entail. Now I'll be the first to admit that is was a pretty ridiculous concept, but I also know that for some reason it's charm has kept with me for over 2 years. The challenge was this...write songs that sound like "real songs" with "real lyrics" that the general public could relate too, but if you were a comic book fan you would realize it is specifically talking about (fill this spot in with superhero subject matter) and subsequently GEEK OUT.

Are you following me?
Basically, you can't have a chorus yelling, "SPIDERMAN! SPIDERMAN! WOLVERINE IS COOL!"


Instead, you would have to be somewhat slick about it but at the same time have it be completely obvious if you're a fan-boy. The only genre of music that has done this successfully has been rap with artists name-dropping such characters as GREEN LANTERN, DR. DOOM, and MAGNETO. The difference is that it will only happen ONCE during a song. This usually has a delivery in the vein of a lyric such as, "I'm (blank) like DAREDEVIL, (blank) like SUPERMAN", and so on...
We agreed that when the formula was achieved it would probably received on one of the two extremes: One being very loved, and the other leaving the listener questioning if they'll ever get those 3 minutes of their life back...

This is all leading to the fact that after many drafts I think I cracked the code so in the words of my little brother...WHOO HOO!
Don't worry, I haven't lost my mind or decided that this is the new path of my music (I can hear all MANGA fans breaking my CD now), but more of a side project experiment. The real test though will be to see how the listener receives it, and to create a non bias judgement, I'll probably have to sneak one into a show to see how it goes over without saying, "This is about BATMAN". Hmmmm....you've been warned.

In other news JOSHUA STEARNS, the photographer who did my press shots and album cover has been featured in INQUIRING MIND magazine for his killer photography. One of the shots we took has been featured in the article, and you can find the article by clicking HERE, entering the site, and then entering the "Archive". View Issue #7 and flip through until you find the article. Once in, you can click through the images at the bottom until you find mine. Congrats to Josh, and his team!

I hope everyone is well in the first part of 2008, and I'll leave you with a quote from my friend Jim's blog that he posted a few weeks ago...

"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself."

-Neil Gaiman

Be well,