Friday, February 26, 2021

Life/Time

This song is called Life/Time. It's the last track on my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's about how sometimes it can take years or even decades to understand why things work out the way that they do, if ever.

    It takes a lifetime
    To get it right
    And only sometimes
    Do we find out why...

It's amazing how even seemingly insignificant episodes in our lives can turn out to be remarkably consequential, even though it may take a very long time for the effects of these moments to manifest.


If I may offer a brief anecdote to support my point: one time, many years ago, when I lived in Los Angeles, I used an ATM in a gas station and withdrew my last twenty dollars that was in that account. I was very poor and struggling at the time. Unbeknownst to me, with the surcharge, the withdrawl exceeded the available balance by fifty cents. It also took me about a week and a half before I realized that the bank was charging me twenty dollars a day as an overdraft penalty. By the time I even found out about it, the amount that I "owed" was somewhere in the neighborhood of $180. I complained to someone at the bank, but they refused to do anything about it. I, in turn, refused to pay it. It was not only a matter of principle, but I also simply could not afford it. After all, if I had money in the first place, then I wouldn't have been in this situation.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't think much of it until three or four years later, when my newlywed spouse and I were looking for apartments in Chicago. When we found one that we liked, the landlord ran the credit check, and this $180 unpaid balance to a bank in California showed up. As a result, we didn't get the apartment, and we ended up not moving to Chicago -- all because of a hidden surcharge at an ATM from several years back. When this all happened, it seemed incredibly unfair, as though the universe was out to get me or something. However, years later, in some respects, I realize that it might have actually worked out better that we didn't move to Chicago back then. There are certain other things that would not have played out the way that they did had we taken that route. Life works out the way that it does, and until somebody invents a time machine, then it seems that there's not a whole lot we can do but accept that. This is why it is pointless to regret much of anything.  

Part of me likes to believe that everything happens for some kind of a reason -- but that doesn't necessarily mean that we'll ever understand what that reason is. That's kind of the underlying point of this song. Sometimes things only make sense when you zoom out and look at the big picture, but often when these events first occur, we're too close to the matter to effectively do so. Only with time and wisdom do we gain perspective.

Happy Friday. I encourage anyone who reads this to do some small gesture for someone today that comes from a place of love and kindness, because sometimes even our smallest actions can have enormous consequences. Please remember that this can be a good thing, too. Sometimes a simple act of kindness can change a person's entire life for the better. 

    Today is going to be the day
    That everything changes...

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Quicksand

Today's song that I would like to share with you is called Quicksand, taken from my newest album Embers (2021). It's about depression, and how it's something that we all fundamentally experience alone, which only makes it more difficult to endure.

    I don't expect you to understand
    How it feels to be swimming in quicksand

The underlying message is this: no matter how bad things may seem at a particular moment, whatever it is, eventually it will get better. Everybody's life sucks at one point or another, but then, before you know it, things aren't quite so shitty anymore. Sometimes you have to be patient with yourself, though, as to struggle against the quicksand can prove to be self-defeating. You also have to be careful not to pull other people in there with you.

This is the only full song that I've ever written on baritone guitar. To be perfectly honest, I'm not thrilled with the way that the vocals came out on this one, but I think it's about the best I could do with what I've got. Part of it was not knowing how to mix the various tracks properly, as it's got a lot more low end on here than I do on most of my songs and not much to fill in the upper part of the sound spectrum. One of the pros and cons of DIY recording is that I tend to learn by doing.

Continuing with a certain theme, today's B-track is called Don't Forget Who You Are, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's about the things we wish we could say to the people that we'll probably never see again, and about how old friends are always with us, because they helped shape the people that we become. This also happens to be one of my favorite songs to perform live.

    Don't forget who you are... is unforgettable to me

Enjoy. Share. Love. Smile. 

    Share your mind, share your heart
    and let yourself be free
    Because only you know who you are
    And all the possibilities...



Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Songs about Places

Today's selection comes from my newest album, Embers (2021). Going Nowhere is about growing up in a small town without hardly experiencing the world beyond. It's based on a true story. 

    This is a place without a postcard 
    A speck on the map if you look hard
    A church and a bar and a hundred used cars
    All parked in the front yard

The B-side of today's single comes from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. Still Life is basically the sequel to the song above, even though I wrote this one first. It's about recognizing just how big, beautiful and diverse the world really is. This song is also based on a true story.

    There's got to be something better than this
    But what we've never seen, we can never miss

Enjoy. Share. Be well.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Fever Dream

Today's song that I would like to share is called Fever Dream. It is the opening track on my 2019 album Better Days. It's basically about what has been termed "late capitalism" in academic circles, and how the things that we consume end up consuming us. 

The chorus goes like this:

    But this fever dream's not what it seems
    The sweat stings your eyes
    Can't you see? It's temporary
    How these things consume our lives... 

As a bonus track, here's my song Modern Inconveniences, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. This song follows a similar theme, and it also contains a reference to one of my favorite pieces of academic literature: a book called The Society of the Spectacle, written in 1967 by a French philosopher named Guy Debord.

    These modern inconveniences are really nothing new
    The spectacle society distracts you from the truth


Enjoy. Share. Add to your playlists. Spread the word. 



Thank you for supporting independent art.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Living in Oblivion

According to Spotify, this is my most streamed song in the past month. It's called Living in Oblivion, from my latest album, Embers. It's about how democracy requires a certain degree of civic literacy in order to properly function. Basically, if someone is oblivious to objective reality, then they cannot make informed decisions.

I wrote this riff about eight years ago, while practicing on my back porch when I lived on a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's good to finally put it to use. 

Please note that when I say "We need a revolution," I don't mean it in a militaristic sense at all. I mean that we need to fundamentally redesign our public institutions for the benefit of our fellow human beings. We are all in this together.

Speaking of which, here's another song that follows a similar theme. It's called Now or Forever? and it comes from my 2017 album Mechanical Bull



Fun fact: On the album version of this song, I'm playing two similar but separate lead guitar parts throughout the song with one balanced to the right and the other to the left. 

Enjoy. Share. Stay cool always. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Dad Rock

If this isn't "dad rock," then I don't know what is. This song comes from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. (In case you're curious, the picture on the album cover is of a sunset in Micronesia, taken from the top of a very steep hill.)

I wrote this song with the idea that it could be something that my own kids could listen to when they've all grown up and are somewhere out in the world being adults. To be perfectly honest, it is the only song that ever made me cry while I was writing it.  

It's called Life Preserver, and it's about always wanting to save the people you love. Click here for the lyrics.


As I was piecing this song together, I thought that the rhythm guitar part sounded like stormy ocean waves, so I basically built everything else around that. I remember the first line that I wrote was actually the one that got it an explicit rating (although I swear for emphasis, not mere profanity): 

    You don't fuck around with forever

If you can think of a more succinct way to say that, then by all means, write a song

This song contains what is probably my proudest guitar solo... which is only in there because I added too many measures at that section of the song and chose to put in a lead part instead of cut it. I'm also proud of it because this was only my third take of improvisation over the whole track. I recorded a few more versions after that, but they weren't as good. And that's my Telecaster on the neck pickup, if you happen to care about that kind of stuff. I love that sweet, glassy tone -- and I used to think that I'd never be somebody who plays a Telecaster, either. 

Enjoy the music. Share it and add it to your playlists if you like it. (That's how these companies know to put my music into their automated mixes, which means that my songs reach more people.)

And remember: whether you know it or not, there is a very good chance that somebody out there loves you... someone who would always be willing to send you a life preserver if only you would reach out and take it. 
    
    Put it on, kid... you deserve it

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Parentheticals

This song is based on a true story. It is about the summer of power chords. It comes from my 2019 album, Better Days. Click here to play it on Spotify.

One of the first things that I ever learned on guitar was the mighty power chord (root/fifth/octave), but one day it occurred to me that I had never actually written a song composed entirely of them. For more information, please see: Nirvana, The Ramones, Green Day, etc. If you're just learning guitar, they are indeed a fun place to start.

As a teacher, albeit primarily in English and Film Studies, sometimes I find that it can be useful to give myself assignments. In this case, the exercise was to write a song using nothing but power chords. The lyrics that I ended up writing are basically about the joy and the thrill of rocking out in basements and on porches with friends, as well as an ode to one summer in particular. 


Unlike Bryan Adams, I draw from my own experience here. He was only eight in the summer of 1969. I'm just saying. In fairness, though, I will note that I never actually "bought an old distortion pedal from a guy who used to play heavy metal." I just liked the rhyme.  

The chorus goes like this:

    I played these chords until my fingers hurt
    Screamed at the top of my lungs without saying a word
    Banging on an electric guitar
    I don't need to be a superstar
    All going supernova
    It only goes to show that
    No one will ever hear your voice
    Unless you learn to make some noise! 

This is the first of two songs so far that I have written with parentheses in the title, although I feel like if I ever have a Greatest Hits album, I'm going to need at least a few more. My other somg with a parenthetical title is called Tunnel Vision (Out of Habit), taken from my newest album, Embers (2021). It's about the value of critical thinking.  

Crank it up. Make some noise! 


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Songs for Lovers

Since today is Valentine's Day, I thought I'd post a couple of apolitical love songs from my newest album, Embers (2021).

This one is a song called Mixtape. It's about expressing yourself through someone else's words and the delicate art of making a perfect music compilation. 

    "I made a mixtape on my radio... it can be your soundtrack wherever you go..."

The other is called We Are All That We Need. It's my quarantine anthem.     

    "We are all that we need... like the water we drink and the air that we breathe..."

Enjoy the music. Stay safe. Love the ones that you're with, even if it's just you. 

    "...and all we are is beautiful"

Thank you for supporting independent art. 


Saturday, February 13, 2021

Shine...

Here is another song from my back catalog. Taken from my 2017 album Mechanical Bull, this one is called Shine...

I wrote it about Bernie Sanders's candidacy in 2016, but I think that it works for our present moment in history as well. It's about making important choices based on what is good for everyone who might be affected by that decision.

"Don't let them make up your mind... this could be our time to shine like the stars in the sky."

Just for fun, see if you can spot the swear word that got this song an explicit rating.

The album cover is a picture that I took of an operational Ferris Wheel in a former Soviet Republic. For a bonus point, try to guess which one.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Artistry is a Work-in-Progress

In 2017, I simultaneously released three albums of original music. It was a collection of thirty-three songs that I had written over the previous two years, during which time I was also working on my dissertation and then adapting it into a book. Whenever I needed to take a break from academic writing, I would pick up a guitar and work on songs. Once I was in the editing stage of the book, I started recording the music. 

Whereas in scholarship, I try to be as specific and succinct as possible, when writing a song, I tend to paint in much broader strokes. With that in mind, I think that having a well-honed balance between these two rather immense projects allowed me to be more productive with both without getting burnt out on either.  

For all intents and purposes, Weather Patterns was the first of these albums that I wrote, then Mechanical Bull, and then Good Night, Fahrenheit. All three of them were recorded in the first half of 2017 and then released in June of that year. A savvy listener might be able to hear the steady improvement of my mixing and mastering skills on them if listened to in that order, as well as on my two subsequent albums: Better Days and Embers. I'll be the first to admit that my abilities as a DIY artist are a constant work-in-progress

That said, I hope you can appreciate the songwriting on my earlier work, even with the somewhat limited production value. In my experience, I often find that the best way to grow as an artist is to create. 


Be Civilized

Here is another song that I thought I would share. It's called Be Civilized, and it's about how civility is a requisite to civilizaztion. To date, it is my most streamed track on Spotify, taken from my 2019 album Better Days.

   "I hope you realize... what it means to be civilized"

Enjoy. As always, if you like my music, please share it and add it to your playlists. If you want to listen to it at your leisure, you can always buy it, too. 

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

 

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Panic Attack

Here is another song from one of my previous albums that seems appropriate for the times we're living in. It's called Panic Attack, taken from my 2017 album Mechanical Bull

The chorus goes like this:

   No one knows what's supposed to happen next
   So we just keep our fingers crossed
   And keep hoping for the best
   But I know if we unite
   Then together we can fight
   Everything we know is wrong
   We don't have to play along anymore 

I think we all know that what happened on January 6 at the US Capitol was fundamentally wrong. The question that remains is whether or not Republicans in the Senate will be guided by a sense of ethics and empathy or by cold political calculations. Sadly, I think I probably do know what happens next, and it doesn't involve most of these Republicans suddenly growing a conscience. 


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Protest Songs in Support of Democracy and Justice

Click here to listen to my song Gravity from my 2019 album Better Days on Spotify. As Drumpf's second impeachment gets underway, it seemed appropriate. Call it wishful thinking. It's still one of my favorite songs to play. 

"They are going down... like gravity."

While I'm at it, here is another track from that same album. This one is called Entropy. It follows a similar theme. I wrote it when the Mueller investigation was still in progress -- more wishful thinking on my part, I suppose.

"The 'president' is a criminal, but it's just business as usual..."

Just for fun, here is one more, a track called The Flat Earth, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's about the sad triumph of ignorance. I wrote it in November 2016. You can do the math.

"The world is changing in strange ways... it's getting stranger every day." 

When I wrote that song, I had no idea. You can find other protest songs among my work as well. These just seemed the most pertinent for the events that are set to transpire this week in the US Senate. 

Enjoy the music. May justice prevail. 

Monday, February 8, 2021

Original Miles

This is the first track off my newest album, Embers. It's about the imperfections that both manifest and are revealed over time, kind of like when a person buys a used car. As far as metaphors go, it's pretty straightforward.

You can stream it on Spotify here. The chorus on this one is particularly fun to sing: "Some city, mostly highway..." It's hard not to smile on that line. If you want to sing along, you can find the lyrics here

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Paradigm Shift

The music industry has been changing for years, but I think that the pandemic is bringing it to a breaking point. Like so many of our public institutions, it seems that it has reached a point where it no longer works and must be fundametally rebuilt in a way that makes sense in the present environment. (I'm looking at you, Electoral College.)

If an artist cannot afford to make art, then the art can never be. That's a pretty straighforward equation -- and it is exceedingly difficult for a musician to make a living today. Most of us require other sources of income in order to survive. This is a basic fact of life for a vast majority of artists in any medium. It's also why so many drummers sell weed on the side. In years past, at least there were live shows, which doubled as opportunities to sell merchandise, because that was the about only place where musicians made anything. Record companies, of course, have been screwing over bands for decades.  

As long as I'm on the topic of getting screwed by corporations, while I recognize that digital streaming services are great in terms of making music accessible to a wider and more diverse audience, they don't pay shit. The actual numbers vary per service and even within the same company, and they never tell you why exactly, but on average, it usually takes about six of my songs to be streamed before I make a penny. Every now and then, I get these micro-invoices that tell me how much I got paid for a song on YouTube or Apple Music or whatever, and a lot of times, they show up as $0.00. Only when I click on it can I see that they were just rounding off. The actual figure is more like $0.0018. Thanks Apple! 

As of this writing, my songs have streamed over 24,000 times on Spotify alone, which might sound impressive... until you actually do the math. When you consider how many hours of work I have into all of this, it doesn't exactly even out. The thing is, from what I understand, the notion of being paid fractions of a cent for our creative work is true no matter who you are. Artists whose songs have streamed millions of times are getting paid roughly the same amount, just in much higher volumes. Enough streams and it starts to add up. Nonetheless, when it comes down to it, these artists are getting screwed over just as much as I am. 

Meanwhile, if I want to listen to my own music on one of these services, I have sit through a commercial every few songs. I'm guessing the advertisers paid more than 1/6 of a cent for that spot. If that sounded cynical, it's because it was meant to.  

The system as it currently exists is unsustainable, which leads me to think that something will have to change if human beings shall continue to want music in their lives. Since I don't see that changing anytime soon, then it seems that something else is going to have to give. I hope that it is the musicians and the consumers of music who decide what this industry looks like when the dust finally settles. 

If you want to support a musician or a band you like, buy their stuff -- directly from them, if at all possible. Their drummer could probably also sell you some weed, too, if you're interested, but that's a whole other thing.  

Monday, February 1, 2021

DIY

The term "Do-It-Yourself" may seem pretty self-explanatory, but I want to talk a little bit about what that entails when it comes to making music. 

Basically, unlike most music that you hear, which is very much a collaborative art, what I do is singular. I write the music and lyrics to all of my songs. When it comes time to record them, I not only do the recording myself, but I also play all of the instruments. With the drums, while I do have a drum kit in the basement, I find that I get a cleaner sound using sequencing software, and it's a lot easier to work with in the mixing stage -- which, incidentally, is also my responsibility, as is the mastering. 

On the other side of the equation, I get to decide which songs make it to the album and what order they appear in. I decide what the cover art looks like. In most cases, I even took the photograph from which I made the album cover. I decide where it streams, where it sells and for how much. Basically, I have complete control over every aspect of my music. Every decision that brought it into existence was made entirely by me. Another bonus is that if I want to record a guitar track at 11:30 pm on a Tuesday, that's my prerogative. I can even re-record it a hundred times if I want to, and it doesn't cost me anything because I'm not paying for studio time.

The downside of this is that my nine-year-old laptop and my hundred dollar microphone in an open room of my house aren't exactly capable of capturing high-fidelity sound in the way that a professional studio setup can, but I do what I can with what I've got. I am also not nearly as good of a bassist as someone who plays that as their main instrument, for example. For that matter, I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who could play all of these instruments far better than I can, just like how someone who is trained in sound engineering could do a much better job than I can in terms of production value, even with the limited equipment that I have at my disposal. That said, if I could afford better equipment, I would, and over the years, piece-by-piece, I have upgraded a lot of my gear. Still, I feel like the somewhat raw aesthetic of my music kind of fits with what I'm trying to do, at least with these past five six albums. They each bear my name beside the title because every single part of it came from me.   

For what it's worth, I have played in numerous bands in the past and have spent time in recording studios before. While I do very much enjoy working with other artists and technicians, on some level, that's not really the point of what I'm doing here. My five six solo albums, all self-produced, are me saying: here's this thing that I created. It's like an art project. I hope you like it, because frankly, it's about the best I can do with what I've got. If not, I might ask how many albums you have made in the past four years.

To be perfectly honest, I would probably love it if other musicians took my music further (as long as I still got proper credit for the songs, of course). As a musician, I am kind of a peculiar sort. I like writing and practicing music more than I enjoy performing it, and I do what I do purely for the love of my craft. That, and I couldn't imagine not playing music -- and I figure that if I'm going to play music, I might as well write my own. Taking that rationale one step further, since songwriting is something that I have a strange knack for, then I feel like it would be kind of waste not to use it. 

In a nutshell, I write music because it is something I love to do and that I want to share, plus I happen to have an unusual collection of skills that allows me to produce this stuff all by myself. I write songs that don't yet exist but seem like they should. Sometimes it feels like I'm just pulling them out of the ether. In that sense, I am merely the vessel for transforming them into something tangible. As a DIY musician, I then take these songs as far as I can within my relatively limited means, which to me, is still infinitely better than when they did not yet exist. One is infinitely more than zero.  

Still, I must say, there's no reason why my process for making music can't be something closer to what we consider normal. After all, there are lots of other people out there doing what I do as well, and while we may not be able to get that polished radio-friendly sound that you're so used to hearing, this is a far more direct conduit between artist and audience, and I think that there's something to be said for that.