Friday, September 3, 2021
This is the only kind of advertisement that you'll ever see on this site.
I just noticed that the paperback edition of my book happens to be on sale right now on everybody's favorite internet retail monopoly. Part of the proceeds will help an absurdly wealthy supervillain take joyrides in space.
In any case, if you ever thought about checking it out, this is the cheapest I've ever seen any version of my book sell for--and it's about $150 cheaper than the hardcover edition, which works out to almost a dollar per page. In contrast, the paperback version is currently selling for about $13.
I have absolutely no control over any of that stuff, nor do I earn much of anything from each sale. I simply want people to appreciate my work and share it with others. Besides, this is some grade-A knowledge here, going for the bargain price of about two sandwiches.
Monday, August 30, 2021
If there is a secret to my sound as a musician, it's that I tune my instruments to A=432 hz. Even my piano is tuned this way, which was quite an undertaking. Mostly, I think that 432 hz (sometimes referred to as "scientific pitch") just sounds better. I also find that it's easier to sing along with, plus it seems to align better with the ambient noises all around me: birds, crickets, rain, passing cars, etc. Considering that most of the time when I play music, I am not plugged in, these ambient sounds tend to come through more than perhaps they would otherwise.
However, my first three albums: Weather Patterns, Mechanical Bull, and Good Night, Fahrenheit (all released in June 2017) each contain multiple tracks that feature a glockenspiel in the background. As I could not tune this instrument to 432 hz, I ended up tuning everything else to the standard 440 ("concert pitch") to match it. Even though the glockenspiel is not in all of the songs, for the sake of continuity, every instrument on these albums is tuned as if it was.
Conversely, on my three more recent albums: Better Days (2019), Embers (2021), and Petrichor (2021), everything is tuned to A=432 hz. This rendered the pitch correction in GarageBand virtually useless, but I was able to figure out a workaround that I used on some of the backing vocal tracks. Whenever I perform live, even though I often play tracks from my first three albums, my instruments are always in scientific tuning.
There is a lot of debate about whether or not -8 hz really makes a difference. Personally, I think that it's subtle, but to my ear, it does sound better than concert tuning. As a one-man-band, since I don't have to worry about making sure that my bandmates are all in tune with me, I just do what sounds good to me. That more or less describes my general approach to songwriting as well.
Saturday, August 28, 2021
The other day, I went to practice a song of mine that I had not played in a while, and I had to stop for a minute to remember how to form one of the chords in the chorus. In my own defense, it happens to be a chord that I have never used in any context outside of this particular song. For all intents and purposes, I invented the damn thing. Still, this was enough to make me think that maybe it was time to write some of this stuff out, if only so that this doesn't happen again.
To that end, yesterday, I went through and added a bunch of handwritten notes to my songbook, which comprises about seventeen thousand words in sixty-four songs (not counting the one instrumental track). Remembering how to play all of them without forgetting any of the words or music can be a bit of a challenge, but I also think that it's a good exercise in terms of keeping my brain ninja sharp.
I wrote, recorded and produced Embers and Petrichor (both 2021) during the pandemic and have never played any of these songs before a live audience. I do practice them, of course, but often, when I am rehearsing, there are only about twenty or so songs that regularly find their way onto my setlists. Basically, I have certain songs that I tend to go back to every other day, whereas the remaining 2/3 of my catalog gets left out by virtue of the fact that I cannot practice for six hours every day. My fingertips and vocal cords would likely not allow it, plus I have other things to do.
Today, I would like to share with you some of those songs that I tend to forget about. I don't mean to imply that they are bad or anything, just that they rarely find their way onto my setlists, whether I am rehearsing or performing. These are actually some of my favorite songs that I have written, even if I don't play them nearly as much as some of the others. They were also the songs that tripped me up a little when I was going through my full catalog of music yesterday, precisely because I don't practice them as often. Many required that I scribble some additional notes in my songbook.
By notes, I mean descriptions and diagrams of how to play the chords and riffs. I am self-taught. As such, my ability to read and write musical notation is pretty horrible, and my limited knowledge of music theory often functions more as an afterthought. It takes me a minute to figure out what key a song that I wrote is in, because when I wrote it, I wasn't thinking about that. In fact, I wasn't really thinking at all. I was just playing music.
Three of today's songs happen to be the closing tracks on their respective albums.
First, we have Life/Time, from my 2017 album Good Night Fahrenheit. It's about how sometimes things only make sense years later in retrospect. This is the one with the strange chord that I have only ever played in this song, which I had written down as "Weird D." I have since drawn a picture of the fingering for my own reference.
It takes a lifetime to get it right
And only sometimes do we find out why
It takes a lifetime, takes a lifetime...
The next song that I would like to share with you today comes from my 2021 album Embers. This one really isn't all that complicated, although it does have some unusual chords whose names I do not know. It's called Mixtape, and it's about expressing yourself through someone else's art. The bassline comes to you by way of a Telecaster that I ran through an octave pedal, as I found that I can play it much faster that way.
I made a mixtape on my radio
It can be your soundtrack wherever you go
I hope these songs will remind you of me
The good times we've had and those yet to be
Please take this mixtape when you go...
The third song for today is called Go It Alone, from my 2019 album Better Days. This song is about companionship, and how sharing our experiences can make life's journey far more enjoyable. For whatever reason, I think that I have only played this song in front of an audience once ever. It also contains a chord that is unique to this song, at least as far as my repertoire is concerned. I have no idea what this one is called either, but I drew myself a decent diagram.
I will take you home, take you home
So you don't have to go it alone
I will take you where you want to go
So we don't have to go it alone...
Finally, I would like to share with you the closing track from Petrichor (2021), called Wasted. This song is about addiction, and the lives that it leaves in ruin. It's one of those songs that is very difficult to recreate as a solo artist on acoustic guitar, as the composition is built upon several different riffs working together (which may be the influence of The Cure shining through). In other words, to play this one live, I almost need a band of supporting musicians to help with the instrumentation. I may indeed pursue such a thing at some point, but at the moment, pretty much the only way to hear any of these songs is by listening to the self-produced studio version. This might be my favorite ending to a song/album that I have produced.
It's not what you anticipated
I know it's always complicated
But everyone would be so devastated
Another day, another night, another life is wasted...
Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. If you like what I'm doing, please share it. As always, thank you for supporting independent art.
Friday, August 27, 2021
[Happy Friday. Here are a couple more reposted articles. Enjoy.]
When I was a graduate student, the only way that I could make sure that I got everything done was to compartmentalize my time. Monday through Thursday, on two of those days, I taught during the day, and on the other two, I was in a graduate seminar, just as I was for one or two evenings every week during the school year. For about seven years, this was more or less my life.
Throughout both my MA and PhD program, I had to read a book per week for just about every one of my classes. This wasn't usually fun reading, either. It was dense academic prose, where I had to translate everything into common parlance, writing in the margins of the book with a mechanical pencil just to make sense of it. You might be amazed at how much can be reduced to three or four words on the side the page and still make the same exact point.
As you may have gathered, most days of the week, I was pretty busy. In addition to the reading, almost every one of these courses required that I write two thirty-page papers each, which involved research, outlining, thinking through, revising, etc. They also had to be good. One time, my computer died about a week before one of these papers was due, and that one week probably aged me by a year or two. I have since learned to back up my work on a regular basis.
I kept Saturdays and Sundays reserved for writing lesson plans and grading papers. Not all day, necessarily, but at least part of it. Sometimes, I also had some reading to catch up on, more words to scribble in the margins. I was paying for this education, so I wasn't going to not read the books. Six days a week, whenever the house was reasonably quiet, I was either reading or writing. That left me with Fridays.
Every major religion has a day of rest, so I figured that even grad students deserve that. Friday was my recharge day, which I did by playing music. See? You were thinking that I was accidentally posting this to the wrong blog, didn't you? Nope. It's about music, after all.
As referenced in another autobiographical article that I recently reposted, it was on these Fridays that I wrote music with a friend and jammed with him on the porch or in the dining room. After he moved to California, I continued the tradition, and pretty soon, these were my songwriting days. I'd throw riffs together that I had come up with years apart and on opposite sides of the planet, and I would craft them into songs, one at a time. Plus I kept coming up with more. Once I got into it, it became a lot of fun.
A musician has to practice, so I figured that I might as well practice songs that I wrote. Before I knew it, I had a shitload of songs. I'm not sure what that converts to in metric.
My Friday tradition led to the creation of all three of the albums that I released in 2017:
Over the course of about two years, I wrote thirty-three songs (plus a couple of throwaways that may resurface someday). I also wrote a dissertation, which later became a book... and they say that if you play my music backwards, you can even hear me typing.
I recognize that a lot of these songs could probably be re-done by other artists and sound a hell of a lot better, but I was just learning how to make an album as I went along. I still do, in fact. Either way, prior to my Friday sessions, these songs did not exist, and one is infinitely more than zero. Always remember that.
Thanks for listening. Happy Friday. Enjoy it. It's yours.
Once again, today's songs that I would like to share with you are united by a common theme. It seems like just about every songwriter has a repertoire of break-up songs. Here are a few of mine.
The first one is called Petals in the Grass. It comes from my latest album, Petrichor (2021). The chorus goes like this:
All these petals in the grass
Can't answer the question that I asked
Does she love me? Does she love me not?
If she doesn't love me, then what else have I got?
It used to be a daisy, I'm going crazy
Somebody save me before I stop
I was a fool for you
And everything you do
You had me under your spell
And I couldn't tell heaven from hell(o)
Everything looks different
From behind closed eyes
There is no innocence
In a lie that's in your mind
That is all for now. Thanks for listening.
Thursday, August 26, 2021
[Lately, I've been reposting old articles that I have polished up a bit, as I am actively engaged in other projects. This is one of my longer posts, an autobiographical tale of a musician-in-progress. There may be something to glean from it, but I might be too close to the material to know for sure. In any case, thank you for reading. If you like my work, please share it with others.]
For most of the time that I have been playing music, I was not writing lyrics. My first band was a two-piece instrumental noise group in Grand Rapids, Michigan where we both played electric guitar. We were loud. Our album/set consisted of three acts, the second of which could be best described as structured chaos. I ran an AM radio through an effects processor and incorporated the mostly indistinghishable voices of talking heads into the music. It was very avant garde. Alas, the world may not have been ready for it.
Around this time, I also jammed with a lot of different people who played a lot of different styles of music. Most of these musicians were far better than I, but I learned to keep up and found this to be an effective way to learn an instrument. As they say, I faked it until I made it. Jam sessions generally took place in basements or on front porches. Back then, just as today, I played almost entirely by ear.
When my friends and I played acoustic cover songs on the porch, I learned that singing in the periphery of passersby is a good first step in overcoming stagefright. Nobody ever yelled at us, anyway, at least not what we could hear. In the winters, when it was too cold for front porches and Michigan basements, I wrote a lot of instrumental music and got my first real taste of multi-track digital recording. I later wrote a song about all of this that condenses it into one summer.
Then I moved to Chicago, where I started writing lyrics and playing acoustic guitar in front of small audiences. On Tuesdays, I often performed at open mic night at a predominantly lesbian bar down the street from where I lived. It was always a good crowd, especially considering how bad I probably was at the time. It took practice for me to gain some level of comfort at being the center of attention in a crowded room, but the audience at this place was always welcoming and receptive, despite my awkwardness behind the microphone. There was also an Irish-style dive bar on the west side that I performed at sometimes, where the patrons were quite kind to me as well. The later I went on stage, the better my set was usually received. Guinness: it's what's for dinner.
When I graduated from film school, I moved to Los Angeles, where I played in a three-piece band while trying to gain some semblance of success in the motion picture industry. I played electric guitar, while the singer/lyricist also played harmonium, and we had a creative drummer who could pound a steady beat out of a suitcase or just about anything else. We played a few small shows here and there, but mostly, we made the apartment building where we all lived on different floors sound like music on a fairly regular basis. The tenants were all artists of various persuasions, so nobody ever seemed to mind. When we played shows, I mostly kept to the background, focusing on the notes that I produced with my Stratocaster.
I also wrote about a dozen acoustic songs with lyrics while I lived in LA, which I occasionally performed as a solo artist. I do not remember how to play any of them, as the songs were pretty forgettable. In my experience, open mics in Los Angeles are kind of weird. There are so many people who desperately want the exposure, thinking there might be a talent scout or whatever in the audience. Plus, of course, there is no shortage of exceptionally skilled musicians in the greater Los Angeles area. As a result, performers often had to sign up a week in advance and were usually limited to sets consisting of a single song each--so it had to be good, especially if they ever wanted to perform there again. It was a good exercise in working under pressure.
After I left LA, I got involved in a lot of other things. I directed a no-budget feature-length documentary. I started a family. I went to grad school--twice, in fact. We lived overseas for a couple of years on opposite ends of the world, where I continued to play guitar but seldom performed. When not pursuing advanced degrees, I usually wrote one or two screenplays per year, which more or less satisfied my creative itch when it came to wordsmithing. Songwriting fell to the wayside.
While I was working on my MA and my PhD, though, I didn't have time for any big creative projects, so I tried to at least keep Fridays open as my music days. It was part of an overall strategy to compartmentalize the various facets of my life, which was rather hectic at the time. Every other day of the week, I was either reading dense academic literature, writing lengthy analytical papers with subtitles introduced by colons, making lesson plans for my students, or grading their weekly homework. Plus, as you may know, having a family requires a certain degree of time and energy as well, and as they say, kids are only young once. It was a lot to balance out. Whenever the house was quiet, I was usually reading.
For a while during my time in the doctoral program, a friend of mine and I got together once or twice a week to play acoustic guitar on my front porch. After a couple months of jamming and playing songs written by other people, we decided that we might as well come up with some original stuff. I wrote most of the music and he wrote the lyrics, which he would then sing. Once we had a reasonable setlist, we played at a couple of local venues regularly and continued to rock out on my porch every Friday, as well as an occasional Wednesday if the weather was decent.
We wrote about six or seven songs together. Then he graduated, got married, and moved to California. I'm sure there's a song in there somewhere, if John Mellencamp hasn't already written it. Meanwhile, I continued to perform as a solo artist while I finished up my PhD, usually about once a month, except when it was too cold to ride my bike. For a while there, my sets were made up entirely of cover songs.
After about a year or so of this, I started to get a little sick of playing other people's music, so I went back to writing songs, but with my own lyrics this time. At this point, I had also begun working on my dissertation, and making music provided a good balance to what I would consider to be the exact opposite kind of writing. One has to be vague enough to be emotionally relatable, while the other has to be supported by factual evidence and laser-focused in terms of spefificity.
When I resumed songwriting in late 2015, it had been over ten years since I had crafted a song for myself to sing. I think the first one out of the floodgate was Gravel Roads, on my 2017 album Weather Patterns. This song still makes almost every setlist, whether I'm performing or practicing. It's quite fun to play and an excellent way to warm up.
This may not come as a surprise to anyone, but I've never really thought of myself as a singer. In the back of my mind, I've always figured that if Bob Dylan can do it, then anybody can. Seriously. I enjoy writing lyrics and expressing those words with my own musical accompaniment, and so I sing. It's that simple. I would even say that I like songwriting more than performing, as weird as that probably sounds. I attribute this to my INFJ personality type. Art above ego.
This is not to say that I haven't grown to rather enjoy the immediate gratification that one gets from playing a song in front of people who seem to genuinely appreciate it. Over the years, I think my voice has gotten a little bit better, too, but only because I practice just about every day. At this point, I can sing all of my own songs spot on, which is all I really care about. If people don't like the untrained timbre of my voice, I'm ok with that.
I do still play cover songs from time to time, but usually just on piano. When I rehearse, if I'm not making stuff up as I go, then I'm most likely playing my own songs that I have already written. Sometimes I like to mix it up and use different instruments than those which I originally wrote these songs on, if only as a fun mental exercise. For what it's worth, Dandelion Wine (If Only...) sounds pretty cool on piano, even though there isn't any keyboard at all in the recording of it.
Not that I need to justify why I write lyrics, but I thought that I would walk you down the path that took me here. I have been playing music for many years, but for most of that time, the only writing that I did involved other projects that had nothing to do with music. At various points in my life, I have come back to writing my own songs and lyrics, most recently about five and a half years ago, when I asked myself, "Why not?" and couldn't come up with a reasonable answer.
Since then, I have released six albums of original music: sixty-four complete songs with lyrics, plus one instrumental track. Once the floodgates were open, I discovered a whole reservoir of material that I had accumulated from years of practicing, while inspiration continues to abound. The flow has been more or less steady ever since, and I find that singing my own songs is a rewarding exercise for the body, mind and soul.
Thanks for listening to my music and reading my blog. If you dig what I'm doing, please share it. Thank you for supporting independent art.
Wednesday, August 25, 2021
I only started using a capo on a regular basis about ten years ago, when I lived on a small tropical island that gets among the most rainfall of anywhere on earth. Rarely did a day pass without a tremendous downpour, after which the air became steamy as the equatorial sun pulled the moisture back up to the clouds. Rinse and repeat.
Most of the time, I couldn't tell if I was sweating or if the air was just sticking to me, but it was probably both. In the afternoon, the temperature would reach 86°F or so, and at night, it got down to about 72°F. Sunrise and sunset were at the same time all year.
Rats played the roles of squirrels as they scurried along the power lines, while smiling geckos scouted for ants from the living room walls. The steering wheel of my car was on the right side, which is also the side of the road that they drive on. Cheese was virtually nonexistent, but the fresh fish was incredible.
What does this have to do with a capo, you ask?
The only guitar that I brought to Micronesia was my acoustic/electric. It was all that I could carry on an airplane. I quickly learned that between the heat and the humidity, the climate in this place is not kind to musical instruments. Guitar strings corroded within a day or two, and the fretboard absorbed a lot of moisture from the air. Within a few months, the neck had started to noticeably bow.
I did not think to bring a truss rod wrench, nor did I really want to make any major adjustments to my guitar in this environment--so to compensate for the intonation being off, I started using a capo. Prior to this, it mostly just took up space in my guitar case, along with an old sock, a string winder and a bottle slide.
Many of the songs that would later find their way onto my albums, particularly those that use a capo, started as riffs and chord progressions that I played on the back porch during the year that I lived on the island of Pohnpei. Examples include:
I'm sure there were others, but you get the idea. In most cases, it would be another six to ten years before I turned any of these "practice riffs" into fully realized songs. At the time, I wasn't really thinking about writing music. With no cell phones or televisions, where the electricity came by way of enormous diesel generators, playing guitar behind the house was just something to do. I kind of miss it sometimes.
By the time I left Micronesia, the pickguard on my guitar had almost completely slid off. Upon returning to the US, I had to take it off the rest of the way and then glue it back on, as well as make some significant adjustments with the truss rod. That said, I'm happy to report that the guitar still works perfectly fine. It is adventure-seasoned and well-traveled. I still use a capo quite a bit in my songwriting, too.
I guess if there's a point to any of this, it's that when I changed how I approached the instrument in order to adapt to this different environment, I came up with a bunch of stuff that sounded cool to me, which later became songs.
Change in Environment-> Learning to Adapt -> Finding Inspiration in the Unfamiliar -> Writing Lyrics to Fit the Music
Thus a song is born.
Tuesday, August 24, 2021
A friend of mine with an old car once told me that it had 4-60 AC. When I asked what that meant, he said that if he drove 60 mph with all four windows down, then this was the closest that his car had to actual functioning air conditioning. Hence 4-60 AC.
Not to be confused with blinker fluid, which needs to be changed every five years or fifty thousand miles, whichever comes first.
Today's songs that I would like to share with you are both good for playing loudly with the windows down. I have tested this myself and can confirm. That said, I should also note that the first of these songs made me inadvertently drive faster when I turned it up.
This was one of (if not the) first songs that I wrote when I picked up solo songwriting again about five and a half years ago. It's still one of my favorite songs to play. It's called Gravel Roads, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. It's about the unexpected places that life takes us and the winding, often bumpy roads that take us there. [In reference to the article above, this song also features a progression that was born in Micronesia.]
The chorus goes like this:
Where do we go from here?
It could be anywhere
We don't know where we're going
Until we get there
The other of today's songs comes from Petrichor, the album that I released in June. It's called Dandelion Wine (If Only...). Ever since a couple months ago when I wrote it, it has become one of my favorite songs that I have written. Crank it up with your windows down and see if you agree.
If you want to sing along with the chorus, it goes like this:
Planted like a wallflower
Sipping dandelion wine
Daydreaming about tomorrow
When everything is fine
If only in my mind
As a bonus track, I'll share one more for today. This song is also from Weather Patterns. It's called Meand'er (and here is a live unplugged video of it). This one actually is about going for a drive with the windows down, so it made sense to include it here, even though it is the only of sixty-five songs that I have released over the past four years that does not have a drum track. As such, it may not rock quite as much as the other two. In other words, you might have to roll your windows up.
Thanks for listening. If you like what I'm doing, please share it with others.
Also, there's no such thing as blinker fluid.
Monday, August 23, 2021
I'm going to let you in on a secret. My songs aren't about me. Not really. I mean, they all draw from my own experiences, but the songs come from somewhere else. It's kind of like a broadcast signal, where my role might be compared to an antenna or a satellite dish with the ambition to be a lightning rod.
To me, music is one of the many forms that creative writing can take. Some ideas are better suited to screenplays, books or recipes, etc., but it all comes from the same place, and that place is a hell of a lot bigger than me. I can only take so much of the credit for anything that I create. When I'm in writing mode, the ideas seem to flow through me. It is a meditative state, where riffs, lyrics, and ideas materialize as if out of the ether. I just record them and scribble a lot of notes to myself. On some level, I just have to trust myself to know what I am doing.
Practice builds skill, which builds confidence. Paradoxically, superceding one's ego requires a certain degree of belief in yourself. If there is a trick to tightrope walking, that would probably be it. That and balance, which is the thing that binds the universe.
That isn't to say that there isn't conscious work involved in the writing process, but this usually comes before and after as opposed to during. Assembling riffs and chord progressions into a song requires a little bit of math. I know the basic shape and feel of the song before I start writing the lyrics, but then I try to let the song essentially tell me what it's about.
The first line that pops into my head is seldom the first lyric of the song, and there is often a lot of rearranging and polishing that take place after a song has begun to reveal itself to me. I do not want to underemphasize the importance of revision. However, in the actual moment of writing, I find that I work best if I don't overthink it. That's what editing is for.
It took a long time before I could separate myself from my writing. By that, I mean that it took many years of calling myself a writer before I could take criticism of my work without taking it personally. In the eyes of my insecure ego, where my identity was wrapped up in this thing that I made, the screenplay or song or whatever was my baby, and I didn't want to hear anybody tell me that it was ugly, even if it was in fact a hideous beast.
The thing is, I have come to recognize that creativity is not so much an intellectual endeavor as it is a basic receptivity to good ideas. Wherever they come from is almost beside the point, but those that truly resonate seem to come from something much bigger than the self, which is precisely how they can connect with so many people. Work out the basic idea, then shut off the compulsive editor and see what happens. If it sucks, don't worry about it, because it just means you recognize that you still have a lot more to learn. The biggest fools are those who think they know everything.
As an English teacher and a student of life, I have to remind everyone that whatever it is that you are writing, it does usually help to plan it first, if only to give yourself a map to where you're going. I can say from experience that my first novel wandered off into something completely different about a hundred pages in, such that the beginning would have needed major revision just to make sense out of where it was going, which I still wasn't sure about. I have also written some terrible screenplays using the seat-of-my-pants method. I find that it's far more suited to shorter forms, like blog posts, poems, and occasionally songs.
I also believe that revision is one of the things that makes writing a far more effective means of communication than speaking. When writing, you have the chance to do it over and polish it until it's exactly what you want to say (or you hit the deadline, whichever comes first). In conversation, we are not so fortunate. We all say stupid things sometimes. There is a reason why speeches are written and not improvised, and improv theatre is more about a quickness of wit rather than the quality of the material. I think that even my friends who do improv would attest to that. Then again, as I writer, perhaps I always took improv personally. There's that ego again.
No matter what I write, that is all it is. It is a thing that exists separately from me. You don't have to like it. I hope you do, because the whole point of communication is to convey meaning to others, plus I've probably spent a considerable amount of time editing it--but hey, if it's not your thing, I don't take it personally. Maybe it's for somebody else. I say this as someone who has told jokes in stand-up comedy sets that fell flat and performed music on stage while a contingent of the bar patrons only cheered when their team scored a point on the muted televisions. It also took me a while before I had control over my stagefright instead of the other way around. The key is in separating art from ego. A little bit of punk rock won't hurt you, either.
Don't get me wrong. I like to take credit for the work that I put into a project, as well as the countless other projects that preceded it, through which I gained the skill necessary to complete the task at hand. I know how hard I work, and I am proud of that. I also recognize that perfection is an unrealistic ideal, so I just do the best I can, which gets better the more I do it. This is true with any form of writing, as well as most things, really. No matter what it is, if you do the same thing every day, chances are that you're probably going to get better at it.
This is what it means to fashion oneself into a receptive antenna. It takes practice and dedication to one's craft, and the broadcast signals will probably never come through a hundred percent, but I tend to think that the best artists are those who can see beyond the inherently limited perspective of their own egos. It is something to aspire to, anyway.
It is your ego that compares you with others. It is your ego that takes it personally if someone doesn't like your work. It is who you allow yourself to become that determines how receptive you are to big ideas, as well as what you can do with them. I tend to believe that everyone is capable of genius, because it is not something to possess so much as it is something to channel. If the signal isn't coming through as we'd like it to, perhaps we need to dial in a different frequency.
Friday, August 20, 2021
Happy Friday to my fans, listeners, and random stumblers upon this site. Welcome to the thing that I do when I'm not doing other stuff.
Today's songs that I would like to share with you all come from Embers, which I released in January of this year. While Original Miles remains by far my most streamed song on Spotify, these are some other tracks from this album that you might also like:
Mixtape. This song is about the delicate art of making a mixtape.
Tunnel Vision (Out of Habit) This song is about why it is important to get news from multiple sources.
Going Nowhere. This song is about growing up in a small town.
We Are All That We Need. This song is about companionship.
Thanks for listening. Be sure to exercise your mind, body and soul, today and every day. If available where you live, I also recommend some fresh air and sunshine. When out in nature or anywhere else, remember that we are all just expressions of life, all of which serve an important function and are products of the same incredible universe.
Wednesday, August 18, 2021
Today's songs that I would like to share with you come from my "casual swearing" collection, where each of these tracks was labeled explicit on Spotify and Apple Music, often because of a single swear word that I wrote into a verse for emphasis. This might be the only context in which my music could be categorized with the work of 2 Live Crew.
It's called artistic license, damn it. Yeah, that's right. I said damn. Take that, the man.
These songs also all happen to come from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. I won't include embedded links to the lyrics of each song this time. I'll let you see if you can find the naughty words all by yourself. I guess the main thing is to not let them corrupt you.
The first track is called Life Preserver. It is about always wanting to save the people you love. I've said this before, but this is probably my best example of "dad rock," and I think that this opinion is supported by both the rockin' guitar solo and by my purposeful wielding of the F-bomb in the last verse.
Track number two is called Carry On. It's about getting through it, whatever it may be.
The third track that I am sharing with you today is called Modern Inconveniences. It's about bullshit; I'll let you unpack it from there. In addition to spotting the only swear word in this song (but not this article), you get a bonus point if you can find the allusion to the work of French philospher Guy Debord.
As a bonus track (with bonus cuss words), here's a song called Begin. It's the last track on Weather Patterns, which I also released in 2017. I often like to close sets with this song, in part because I like the idea of ending with a song called Begin, but also because the last line gives the audience something to chew on as I exit the stage.
Enjoy the music. Share it with your friends and add it your playlists if you dig what I'm doing. As always, thank you for supporting independent art.
Friday, August 13, 2021
Happy Friday, everyone. I've been doing exhausting physical labor in the sun for much of the day, so I'll keep this brief. In fact, I was actually thinking that you should just scroll down toward the bottom of the page, where you'll find links to all of my previous posts. I've written 170 of them. This makes 171. There's bound to be something interesting in there.
I have other blogs as well. The links to a few of them are in the left column near the top of the page. Thanks for reading my work and listening to my music. You are the reason I do it. Well, that and my innate compulsion to create.
Thursday, August 12, 2021
When I first record a song, I sometimes leave room in there for a lead guitar part. However, by the time the song is done, I have usually cut that part completely. More often than not, after listening to a song repeatedly during the mixing process, the lead part starts to seem a bit gratuitous. Here are three songs where that was not the case, so I left it in.
First, we have Life Preserver, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. This is probably my favorite lead part in any of my songs. I remember that it took three takes before I had one that I liked, and that was the one that I stuck with. This song is about wanting to save the people we love. If this isn't "dad rock," then I don't know what is. (About two minutes in is where I tear shit up.)
Next, we have Parallel Lines, from Embers, which I released in January of this year. This is one of those songs that started as a banjo riff, and then I added other layers to it until it became a song. It's about sharing the experiences that comprise a life. (The lead guitar part comes a little over two and a half minutes in.)
Finally, here is Plastic Flowers, from Petrichor, which I just released in June of this year. This song is about reimagining the American Dream to adapt to a changing cultural context, just like we always have. In fact, this is exactly what makes it so resilient. (The lead part comes in just past the three minute mark.)
Thank you for listening and for supporting independent art.
Tuesday, August 10, 2021
Today's songs that I would like to share with you are all about big picture kind of stuff. Think of it as philosophy with rhyming words and musical accompaniment. As you can see, that PhD of mine is paying for itself already.
These songs were all among the first that I recorded when I started producing my own music about four and a half years ago. As such, the learning curve in my work may be rather apparent. I've had to figure a lot of this stuff out as I go, so I tend to think that my newer albums, like Embers and Petrichor (both released this year) have significantly better production value than the songs that I am sharing with you today. Nonetheless, I hope you will agree that the songs themselves are good, as are the ideas behind them.
The first of today's songs is called Particle, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. This song is about contextualizing our place in a very big universe. It is inspired by looking at the nighttime sky with the understanding that just about any one of those stars could host a planet on which some intelligent being is looking up at their own sky and feeling all alone in the unfathomable emptiness of space.
When I look up at the stars
So far away
God, I feel so small
Who am I, anyway?
Just a particle of light
In the sky tonight
Is that a shooting star
Or a satellite?
The second song that I would like to share with you today is called Cold Blooded, from Good Night, Fahrenheit, which I also released in 2017. This song is about how human beings are fundamentally social animals, and that sustained connection and regular interaction with one another are basic human needs. It's up to us to keep each other warm.
We are cold blooded
Holding onto each other
We are cold blooded...
Track three of today's selections is called Still Life, which also comes from Weather Patterns. This song is about recognizing how big and diverse the world actually is. Even our own little planet is so large that a person could never possibly see it all, so perhaps the best we can do is to share our experiences with one another through artistic expression.
We're just living in a still life
We waste away our days and dream away our nights
There's got to be something better than this
But what we've never seen, we can never miss
Thanks for listening. I hope that every decision that you make today comes not from your ego, but from a place of love, as our choices are the closest thing we have to any real sense of control over our destinies. Beyond that, we are little more than reactive particles floating around in an incomprehensibly vast universe.
Friday, August 6, 2021
Happy Friday to my fans, listeners and people who have never heard of me but somehow landed upon this site. Welcome to what I do. I hope you dig it.
Today's songs that I would like to share with you are all tracks that I practice regularly but have never performed live. They all come from the two albums that I released in the first half of this year, both of which I wrote during quarantine. For what it's worth, I also wrote a novel in that period, which I am presently revising.
Welcome Back, Jack Kerouac comes from Embers, released in January. It's about the role of improvisation and experimentation in art. Fitting with this theme, I wrote the lyrics in a stream-of-consciousness and recorded the lead guitar track in one take. The entire process of writing and recording this song took about a half hour... which is fast, even for me. In all honesty, I didn't really like this song when I first wrote it (probably because I scribed it so quickly), but it has since grown on me considerably.
Where have you been?
Were you on the road again?
Say hello to Carlo, Moriarty and Old Bull Lee
We're still looking for the beat
Next, from Petrichor, which I released in June, we have Dandelion Wine (If Only...). This might be my favorite song of mine at the moment, which changes fairly often as certain songs work their way in and out of my regular rotation. This song is fun to play on both guitar and piano. I'm kind of proud of the rhyme scheme in this one, too. It's about making the most of what you have, which more or less describes my entire creative process when it comes to making music (and movies, for that matter).
Planted like a wallflower
Sipping dandelion wine
Daydreaming about tomorrow
When everything is fine
If only in my mind
Here's another one from Embers. To date, Original Miles is by far my most played song on Spotify, with over 50,000 streams and counting. This one is also fun to play on both piano and guitar, although the DIY-studio version is pretty much all electric piano and upright bass (which was also played on a keyboard for this one), with no guitar whatsoever. This song is about loving each other despite our inevitable imperfections.
These are all original miles
Some city, mostly highway
You could even say
I've been around a while
Finally, here's one more track from Petrichor. It's called Holiday. I have yet to work out a guitar arrangement for this song, but if I'm sitting down at a piano, then there's a pretty good chance that I'll play this one at some point or another. The chorus is particularly fun. It's basically about going stir crazy, which, after over a year of quarantine, is probably something that a lot of people can relate to. I also happen to like the way that the drums turned out in this song.
Let's take a holiday
Pack your bags, we'll leave today
Don't know how long we'll stay
But I've got to get away, got to get away, get away
Got to get away, got to get away, get away now!
That is all for now. Thanks for listening and for checking out my blog. You rock.
If you like my music, please share it, add it to your playlists, and follow me wherever you listen. This is how my songs find their way onto automatically generated playlists and online radio stations. As a one-man-band, I need and appreciate your help in reaching a broader audience.
Thank you for supporting art that is not corporately sponsored.
Friday, July 30, 2021
I tend to think that most of my songs that I've written in the past five years can fit into one of two categories. Basically, my catalog of original music comprises pretty songs and songs that rock (plus a few miscellaneous tracks that I wrote on banjo). Today's selections all come from the rockin' category.
The first of these songs comes from Embers (2021). It's called Living in Oblivion. This song is about how passive consumption of media can perpetuate ignorance, confusion and false idolatry, and that critical thinking is a vital component of an active and robust citizenry. One must employ a certain degree of logic when it comes to choosing what to believe, to know the difference between a fact and a feeling.
Song number two comes from Petrichor (2021). It's called Rat Race. It's about dedicating a life to making money for someone else without any inherent meaning in itself, or it's about rats in a maze. Either way. The bassline in this one kind of rocks. It's fun to play, anyway.
The third song that I would like to share with you today is called Modern Inconveniences, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. The background in this one is a chaotic wall of sound, which seemed appropriate for the subject matter. It's about the technological distractions that come between us, and how the products that we consume end up consuming us.
Finally, here is Be Civilized, from my 2019 album Better Days. It's about how when human beings work together toward common goals, then everyone benefits. It other words, civilization is a good thing, so don't be a jerk.
Happy Friday. Thanks for checking out my blog and listening to my music. Feel free to crank it up. These songs in particular were designed with that purpose in mind.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
I've been polishing the novel that I wrote last year. I'm happy to say that it holds up. It had been a while since I had even looked at it, but I think that time has granted me the benefit of at least some objectivity.
My novel is a snapshot of a nation in a moment of crisis. It's called Pulse--available someday from booksellers worldwide.
Over the past few days, I have been able to trim quite a few adverbs, adjectives and clauses, while also sprinkling in some more jokes here and there. Objectively speaking, I rather like it. At the rate I'm going, I should have a new draft in another week or two.
If I can't find a publisher for my book, I might just publish it myself, which would kind of fit with just about everything else that I do. On the other hand, I do want it to reach as many people as possible.
As always, thank you for supporting independent art. If you like what I'm doing, please share it.
Monday, July 19, 2021
Today's songs that I would like to share with you are all linked by a common theme. Click on the song names below to listen to them on Spotify, or click on the embedded links to play them on YouTube. The album titles will take you to Apple Music, while the lyric excerpts will take you to that song's lyric page. If you use a different streaming service, you should be able to find these songs on there as well.
This first one is the opening track on my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It is basically about how we have a tendency to make things more complicated than they need to be. It's called Simple.
Song number two of today's selections is the closing track on one of the two full-length albums that I released in the first half of 2021. The album is called Embers, and the song is We Are All That We Need. It, too, is a reminder that the quest for happiness need not be overly complicated. In fact, sometimes all we really need is one other person with whom to share the experiences that make up a life.
Like the water we drink
And the air that we breathe
I do believe
We are all that
We are all that
The last song for today comes from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. It is the only one of the sixty-five songs that I have recorded in the past four and a half years that does not contain a drum track. The song is called Meand'er, and it's about the simple pleasure of going for a drive with someone you love, where the journey and the companionship are far more important than the destination.
Me and her meandering
Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. If you like what I'm doing, please share it with others.
Thursday, July 15, 2021
One year ago today, my dad died unexpectedly. With that in mind, I would like to dedicate all of today's songs to his memory. (Click on the song titles to take you to Spotify, or click on the album titles to take you to Apple Music; the embedded links go to YouTube, while lyric excerpts will take you to that song's lyric page. Please note that if you use a different streaming service, you should be able to find these songs on there as well.)
The first one comes from my latest album, Petrichor (2021). Haunted is about the memories left behind when a person is gone. More specifically, it's about going to the house that I grew up in, where there are all of these things that my dad built, even though he's no longer there. "This old house is feeling haunted... by the ghosts of memory."
The second song is called Original Miles, from Embers (2021), which is the album that I released in January. I'm pretty sure that my dad would have liked this song, if only because it seems like the kind of thing that could play between the segments on the NPR show Car Talk. It's about how people are like used cars in that you almost have to expect some imperfections... and that new car scent air freshener isn't really fooling anybody. "These are all original miles... some city, mostly highway."
The third song comes from Good Night, Fahrenheit (2017), which obviously, I wrote before my dad died, but I think that it works almost eerily well. It's called Don't Forget Who You Are. This song is about how the people who helped us become who we are are always with us, along with all of the things that we wished we could tell them but can't. "Don't forget who you are... is unforgettable to me."
Finally, here's a song called Carry On, which also comes from my album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's about getting through it, whatever it happens to be. This past year has been pretty terrible for a lot of us, but I try to maintain a certain degree of optimism for the future. "Make love, make believe, and carry on..."
Thanks for listening to my music and checking out my blog. Life is precious, whether your own or someone else's, so try not to ever take it for granted. I hope you'll love the people you're with, including yourself. The party wouldn't be the same without you.
Monday, July 12, 2021
Saturday, July 10, 2021
I just watched a documentary about Oasis and the making of their album (What's the Story) Morning Glory, which, by the way, absolutely holds up. It is a great album, apparently recorded in ten days, during which Noel Gallagher also wrote about half of the songs.
I happen to think that he is one of the best songwriters of the past thirty years. As such, it was kind of funny to hear him talk about how most of his songs are directly inspired by the works of other artists.
Of course, I tend to think that this is what a great artist does. They take the familiar and make it their own. Noel Gallagher took a handful of chords and forged them into masterpieces. Truly. Whether you like him or not, the guy knows how to craft a song.
I'm sure that this isn't a popular opinion, but while I can name five or six great Beatles songs (and my parents played them all the time when I was a kid, so I am perhaps overly familiar with their work), I could easily come up with a dozen Oasis songs that are just as good as any of them.
Yellow Submarine? Give me a break. I Want to Hold Your Hand? The main contribution of the Beatles to the genealogy of popular music was that they appropriated black music and watered it down for white suburbanites in the 1960s. This was back when they had matching haircuts and were playing with their instruments way up on their chests.
Later on, their more experimental stuff was directly inspired by Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd, who once melted a bunch of quaaludes on his head under the stage lights and then went on to play the same note for pretty much the rest of the set. Not long after that, David Gilmour officially replaced him as the lead singer/guitarist, which steadily changed the direction of the band, as he brought his own influences into the mix.
I mean no disrespect to the Beatles, as they too did what great artists do. For that matter, Pink Floyd even gets its name from two blues musicians who inspired Syd Barrett. As artists, they all offered their own distinct contributions to an ongoing conversation about what it means to be human. This is why arts are sometimes referred to as the humanities (and why they're so important to civilization).
In my opinion, the one thing that we each have that is ours and ours alone is the perspective through which we see the world. An artist shows us what we thought we already knew, but from a perspective that is unfamiliar. Otherwise it is a cliche, and we can all do better than that. Everyone has a unique perspective, and therefore everyone has it in them to be an artist. They just need to master a skill through which to properly express it.
When people who have never heard my music ask me what it sounds like, I never know what to say. Every once in a while, somebody will point out that a song of mine sounds like it could have been written by some other band that we both know, at which point I can sometimes hear it, at least a little bit.
For example, I've been told that Be Civilized could just as easily be a Pearl Jam song, or that the Weezer influence comes through pretty clearly in Make Some Noise! (Summer of '99), the title of which is a deliberate reference to a Bryan Adams song, or that my quiet/loud/quiet dynamic that I've got in a lot of my songs is a nod to the Pixies.
I don't dispute any of this. I'm sure that a person could go through all of my songs and link them up with artists that may have inspired each track. Then maybe I'd know what to tell people when they ask me who I sound like. I'm sure there's some Oasis in there, too.
To quote Noel Gallagher, "Well, there are only twelve notes, aren't there?"