Category: Uncategorized

On Bey’s Lemonade

It’s been one week since I watched Lemonade. I haven’t read very much about it. I haven’t kept up with any sort of dialog. I even missed the NPR report about it. Nonetheless, here is my honest visceral reaction to it.

It was great. It was visually stunning and sonically compelling. I left the experience of watching it highly impressed and positively affected.

Perhaps the thing I felt most drawn to in the film was its southern rural imagery. As a first-generation southerner who has since left the south, I get nostalgic about southern imagery from time-to-time. Living in an extremely dry climate, I daydream of my youth spent in moisture. It’s an entirely different feel to living that’s hard to explain. When there’s moisture everywhere, things look and sound different — dark is darker, heavy is heavier, and deep is deeper. How light and sound cut through this part of the world is totally different from where I live now. These sorts of things affect how you live and how you shape your days.

Lemonade is filled with images that conjured up these memories for me. I got transplanted momentarily to a wetter place. Glass always has condensation. Walls feel softer. The earth always gives a little with each step you take on it.

I make no claims of understanding Lemonade. I have no insight into its purpose nor its intent apart from being a really innovative way to promote a new record. To be completely honest, I was not a fan of her work prior to this one. That being said, Lemonade did make me think about the things I tried to describe above, and for that I’m grateful to have had that experience of seeing it.

We Live in Exciting Times

I sometimes wish I was a different guitar player.

There are so many amazing pedals out there nowadays. We really are at some kind of pedal renaissance right now. People are making all kinds of amazing pedals that I never thought I’d see. It kind of makes me wish I was more into complex signal chains with tap tempos, expression pedals, etc. But to be honest, I have no idea how to deal with those things.

I went through my Radiohead phase. I’m happy to report that I’m over it. I got into Wilco for a girl (true story). That was when Summerteeth was current. I got out. I walked away. As a result of all of this, I bought a few strange pedals that I thought would give me “art” cred.  I still have them. They sit on a shelf waiting for me to change.

Nonetheless, I find myself drawn into all of the demonstration videos about the latest pedal and how to arrange them in a signal chain. For example, I spent some quality time watching the Jason Isbell Rig Rundown. Side note: it made me very happy to learn he got gigs just because he has a Coodercaster. I have one, too! Anyone need me to show up and look awesome for your gig? Email me! At the same time, all of those pedals he uses are overwhelming. His controller is crazy.

I’ve been conflicted. Lately, I don’t find a lot of time to play as much as I’d like. So checking out the latest pedal trending is a relatively easy thing to do, especially when I’m procrastinating at work. I subscribe to several pedal-based Instagram handles. It lets me see all of the amazing stuff coming out these days. But when it’s time to think about what I’d do with the latest and greatest thing, I get completely confused. Do you overdrive a compressed signal or add a delay before an overdrive? I have no idea. I do know that the real answer is that you’re supposed to experiment around, but I don’t have the patience for that sort of thing. I just want to sound awesome and I want to look awesome, but I don’t want people to see how hard I am working to sound and look awesome.

The dangerous thing is that I have a job that pays pretty well. I can buy pedals now, so I have. Let me know unveil my new pedalboard.

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My latest pedal board setup.

It’s a Pedaltrain Metro 16 pedalboard. I posted a first draft of this pedalboard setup a while back on my facebook page, but I spent this past weekend revising it. Basically, I had to include a few old and new items, so I rearranged and rewired things. To satisfy all of you gear nerds out there, here is the signal path.

  • Korg Pitchblack Chromatic Pedal (tuner)
  • JHS Pulp ‘n Peel (compressor)
  • Mojo Hand FX Superlative (overdrive)
  • Behringer UV 300 (vibrato)
  • Catilinbread Adineko (oilcan delay)
  • Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain (oilcan delay)
  • Keeley Magnetic Echo (tape dely)

The compressor is always on. It’s got a very nice blend knob which is handy when I’m switching between different guitars. The Superlative models an overdriven small amp really well. Since I play relatively small amps, it allows me to keep the amp at the sweet spot just before breaking. Those pedals are mounted on the top of the pedalboard since I’ll never be punching them on or off very much.

As you can probably tell, I’m trying to figure out delay. It’s not so intuitive for me. The Adineko is set to be very sloshy, viscous, and uneven as an oilcan delay should be, but it’s not set to be a long delay. The Black Fountain is set to a lower viscosity, but with a longer tail. The tape delay is set to be a slapback. They’re all rather crazy delay pedals on their own. I’m hoping to figure them out even more with this new setup.

For me, the main revision to this board is the inclusion of the Behringer. I really love this pedal. It’s cheap and it gives me the Boss VB-2 vibrato without having to pay for a Boss VB-2 (as much as I’d like to have one). Ever since I learned that Big Al uses a Boss VB-2 that he bought at Real Guitars in San Francisco, I feel validated in wanting a vibrato pedal in my pedalboard. Most rececntly, I was checking out Taylor Goldsmith’s pedalboard and I saw a VB-2 prominently sitting there.

I’m pretty happy with my setup now. I can’t think of anything else I want although I’m sure you could show me something to make me take that back. So I guess that means I have to refocus back on my playing. Good. I was getting scared that I’d never get out of this whole pedal craze. It’s too much for me to handle.

Back to work again

Moving has always been traumatizing for me. I dislike it greatly. Ask anyone who has had to watch me move and they’ll confirm that I’m not very good at it. I hate how it forces me to reflect on my life as manifested by my goods and objects. There’s a reason I put something in a box in my closet. It’s because I didn’t want to deal with it then. To have to deal with it now is worse. That being said, I have moved my studio space recently.

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My new studio space is a work in progress. The vacuum is for cleaning the floor. I’m not going for that “Phish sound.”

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Getting the new space set up is fun, but I’m ready to get back to work!

Having this new space to work has taken some time to get built, but it’s finally done. It’s a finished garage space. It’s a big and open room, so that’s very nice. There’s a “lounge” area with a couch and TV. The rest of the space is dedicated to creative things (no bathroom, so not that kind of creativity). Now come the hard parts. First, I have to set it up to allow for creativity to happen easily. Then, I have to get myself in a state of mind to be creative. That last one can be difficult for me.

I’ve come to realize that when it comes to working on something, I really need to free myself, at least momentarily, from distractions and obligations. I can’t think about finances. I can’t think about my work to-do-list. I can’t think about dirty dishes. I really need to be able to free up my mind to get to the point where I can create things. This might sound obvious and dumb, but at the same time, I’m sure you can sympathize with how difficult setting up moments like these can be. There’s always something else that you should be doing, which usually means something done for someone else’s needs. One email or text can ruin a moment that took all day to set up for yourself. Being brought up to be obedient and think about others before me, I sometimes find it selfish and self-indulgent to carve out time for myself. At the same time, if I don’t, I’m rather pissy and unpleasant.

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The new workdesk has plenty of room for various cables to interface in and out of the rig.

Let’s talk about the room now. I’ve been worried about the really live reverberation in the room. It’s hard to tell how things are going to sound in an empty room. Plus, I can hear some street noise. But now that most of the furniture is in the room, that echo has been tamed a bit. I set up my pro tools rig and started to record some parts for a new song I wrote a while back. I watched a few instructional videos a few days ago about how to mic drums, so I tried a new approach involving a stereo mic setup over the kit. I only have a draft of the song recorded, but the drums sound pretty good! I recently picked up a modified Gibson Falcon GA-19RVT which sounds fantastic with several of my guitars, especially the Reubencaster. The song I’m working on is a slide-based song, so I played the Reubencaster into that amp with some delay and it worked out great on the track. Now, I just have to shape up the lyrics and turn it into a real song. My first effort in my new music room. Here’s to hoping that it turns into something.

There remains a bunch of things to be done for the room. I need to continue to organize stuff. I managed to organize my CDs, which is no small task, but I have books, cables, and all sorts of other stuff I have to figure out where to place. This will probably take a decent amount of time since I have a bunch of other stuff in the queue. Still, it seems like the space works. I just need to carve out the time to work in it.

“All art is, is just stealing. And all love is, is just dealing.”

I’m writing songs again. It’s been good to dust off my chops, and to focus on songwriting. Of course this is perfectly timed with the beginning of the school year which means my time is even less mine. I always struggle this time of  year with my obligations and responsibilities. But perhaps I need that sort of situation to force me to value the time I do have to myself to work on things like songwriting? Probably.

I’m not thinking too hard about what I’ve been writing beyond the particular song. I don’t have any concept in mind although I’ve certainly toyed with a few ideas. One was to try and write a New Orleans style dance record. Another was to write several songs that The Love Boat band could have played back in the day. Neither of those ideas have stuck. Instead, I’m just writing to write, and that feels pretty good. Maybe after writing a few more, I’ll see what’s forming. Of course, now that I’m writing about what I’ve been writing here, I’m starting to think more about what I have, but I’m going to try and resist.

As a self-diagnosed workaholic, I used to put all my time and effort into my academic career. You wouldn’t necessarily associate what I do for work with being creative at first, but it used to be a very creative activity for me. I would work on thinking about new approaches to solve problems, novel methods of implementing these ideas, propose them to others to try to gain acceptance, and eventually convince others that my ideas were reasonable and useful. There’s also a deep set of aesthetic principles involved in developing new theories. It’s true. Some theories are prettier than others. I don’t really have the pepper in my step that I once had. Maybe that’s because I’ve been doing this for so long, I’ve lost the buzz. Don’t get me wrong. It’s a good life. I like thinking about what I think about. I’m still motivated to do it, and I think I have some interesting things going on, but it just doesn’t excite me like it used to.

Nowadays, I feel more compelled to focus my creative energy on songwriting. I’m still having my honeymoon with songwriting and making records. I’m excited by it and by seeing what I can do here. I want to see how far I can push myself. Have I ever written a good song? If so, could I write several good songs? What would that mean? What would I do with myself I were to establish that? There’s a healthy anxiety for me about these things. I’m motivated by that.

I realize that this post is rather ego-centric and introspective. You’re probably needing a picture of some sort. And it’s been a while since I’ve talked about food, so here’s a picture of some pork chops that I had for dinner last night at Wool Growers, a French Basque restaurant in Los Banos. Although I’ve lived in Merced for nearly ten years now, this was my first time here. Everything I’ve heard was true. It was a tremendous amount of very good food. Let it be known that when I have a cheat day, I make it count.

Pork chops (no applesauce, thank goodness) at Wool Growers.

If I have the good fortune to make another record, I’ve started envisioning it with less songs that my previous two (the first one has 13 and the second one has 14). Ten seems like an appropriate number. Since the release of Fifty Shades of Yellow, I’ve managed to write four fully-formed songs and some little bits here and there. If these were good songs that worked well together, that would be approximately 40% of a new record! Of course these sorts of numbers are arbitrary. Thinking about this sort of stuff is just a way for me to manage expectations until I have the next batch of songs.

I posted a video of me doing one of my new songs called “The Lesson” on YouTube. I was pretty hesitant to do it. I have been worried about self-promotion and getting a video presence out there, but now that I’ve done it, I don’t care that much. I guess it’s analogous to when I first started using facebook. I used to worry about who would see this or that. Now, I don’t care. It’s there. It might be embarrassing, but I find that after the initial shock, having it there helps me diffuse any embarrassment I had about it in the first place. Plus, I get to obsess over how many hits it has had!

Now about this post’s title. It’s a lyric from a song I wrote yesterday tentatively titled, “Shoulder the Pain.” I got the idea for this song from a magazine interview with Marc Maron that I read on a plane. I noted it as a memo on my phone. In the interview, he was saying some typical Maron stuff, but seeing it on the written page affected me differently. I was able to read it from a third-person perspective (rather than have him talk at me in his WTF podcast). From that perspective, I was able to distance myself from his words. I cannot articulate exactly what the difference was, but my reaction was “Wow. Really?” Anyway, he didn’t say “All art is, is just stealing. All love is, is just dealing.” I wrote that. In case you’re worried, I don’t believe that to be true. Well, I don’t believe that to be entirely true.

One and a half guitars

This past week was a busy one for me. I headed down to LA on Friday to celebrate my friends getting married. Just as I pulled into LA, I managed to stop by Old Style Guitars for a short visit. I saw a posting on facebook a while back of this Airline amp that just called to me. It was a bit expensive and I hadn’t been able to come down to try it down until this day. Well, I tried it out and it was amazing!

Meet my new Airline!

Meet my new Airline! Don’t be jealous M8. I still love you, too.

The tremelo (which is what I cared about most) was deep and thick. The surprise is the reverb. The spring is encased in this cardboard box and sounds crappy in the grooviest way. It’s like a slapback delay/reverb in that it has this harsh first reaction which then smooths out. If I can figure out how to play it right, I bet it will be super cool and give an unfamiliar nuance to a tone.

After trading a flurry of texts with Jason about the amp, I decided to get it. The key point is that I will never regret owning this amp. It’s true. I won’t. I’m going to enjoy learning how to use it. It’s the only amp of mine right now with 2 x 10″ speakers which I always thought was the right combo setup. I can already tell that they make a big difference. The low end feels great. The highs are clear without being too sparkly.

After making this profound purchase, I had a great time celebrating with my friends in downtown LA. The next morning, I went with some friends down to San Diego to surprise one of my oldest friends for his birthday. That was a great day and I was really happy that I could make it down for that.

After a relatively painless drive back from San Diego to LA, I then made the drive back to Merced. That was relatively painless. I listened to a really cool podcast interview with Johnny Marr which I found to be really insightful. Then I listened to another one with Allen Toussaint which was killer, especially since I’m spending a lot of time these days listening to old Lee Dorsey records.

The very next morning, I packed the car with two of my acoustics and set out for San Francisco. I got called by JJ at Decibelle for a session with Rachel Garlin. The band consisted of me on acoustic guitar, John-Paul McLean on bass, Rusty Miller on keys and electric guitar, and Michael Urbano on drums. Rachel played and sang on each song. It was pretty great band to play with. Everyone was really nice and supportive. Everyone but me ordered Hunan fish at lunch. I was the outcast.

To be honest, I didn’t know about Rachel or her music until this session. I had just received a few demos by email and that was my introduction to her. I like her songs a lot. The more time I have spent with them, the more I like them. Plus, getting to know her was also quite cool. She brought cuties and mambas to the session. Killer!

Tracking with Rachel Garlin at Decibelle. Rusty is in the back on the wurlitzer.

Rachel has a really earnest voice. She doesn’t sing in ALL CAPS. Her guitar playing is really good. She fingerpicks very well. In fact, her solid playing was the reason for the key challenge I faced in the session which I’ll talk about in just a minute. With respect to her songs, they are structured quite differently from how I structure songs. I had a hard time following some of her changes since they are moves I hadn’t made before. They’re subtle things: holding a chord a little longer here, changing it there, but if it’s out of your normal routine, it can really mess with your head. Working on this session has caused me to think about getting out of routines I have in my own songwriting. That’s definitely an enormous positive experience to come out of doing this session.

For each of the songs, Rachel played acoustic guitar and sang. Like I said before, she plays very well. For some of the songs, her acoustic guitar part is the foundation. So, for me, the key challenge in this session was figuring out what the heck to do. The question becomes, how do you play an acoustic guitar part that compliments a solid acoustic guitar foundation, but doesn’t add anything more to busy-up the song? For the recent Scott Gagner session I played, there were a couple of songs with a strong foundation of acoustic guitar that Scott played. For those songs, I was playing electric guitar, so I could mimic the kind of atmospheric parts that Bill Frisell did on Shawn Colvin’s last record, for example. I was rather pleased with myself about how those turned out. But for this session, I was playing acoustic guitar and those kinds of parts don’t work on acoustic. They sound trite, and don’t serve the songs. Anyway, I figured out some parts, and I think they came out okay. I must have played alright because Rachel asked me to come back and work on a few more songs with her. I gladly accepted since I was enjoying it and learning so much.

For the next sessions, it was just Rachel and me playing. I think it was the very first song we did where she Travis-picked while she sang. Her Travis-picking is rock solid, so this challenge became even more acute. With some anxiety and panic, I asked JJ and Rachel for advice on what to do. I think it was JJ who first said something like, “pick along with Rachel, but not as much” or something like that. After that, Rachel and I played along a bit together to try and work out parts. When we were listening to playbacks, Rachel and I kind of agreed that it sounded almost like one guitar, but a little bit more. That’s how Rachel and I coined the term “one and a half guitars” for the sound.

Travis-picking is based on an alternating bass line in quarter notes. With one and a half guitars, the idea is to play a sparse arpeggio of a different inversion of the chord in a time that weaves in and out of the alternating bass line. The nice thing about this is it can respond to and compliment the vocal melody naturally, which should set the rhythm of the part. Now, all of this technical speak is a posteriori based on my faulty memory of the situation. I wonder how well the tracks actually sound and how successful the approach worked. At any rate, I’m planning to spend some time trying to work out this approach to a guitar part since I think it could be really handy. So thanks to Rachel Garlin for inviting me to play on her records. I learned a lot and we managed to invent one and half guitars!