Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Thank you

This past week, I've had a major uptick in Spotify streams, particularly of my song Black Ribbon Day, from my latest album, Embers (2021). Even though I just wrote in a recent post about how I don't really promote any particular singles, it appears as though listeners like you may have essentially done so on my behalf. Further, it seems that I am also rising in the singer/songwriter charts on ReverbNation. This is all very cool. I appreciate everyone who helped to make this happen and continues to do so. 

Thank you to all of my listeners and fans for supporting music that isn't corporately owned

You really can't get much indie-er or deeper underground than this, and discerning connoisseurs like you are vital to shining a sustained light on my work. I don't know how you found my music, exactly, but I'm very glad that you did. You must have cool friends. We should all hang out sometime.

If you like my songs, please share them with your other cool friends, add them to your playlists and follow me on Spotify (and other media platforms). This is how it spreads, and it all starts with you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for the support that is so crucial for an independent artist to thrive in today's music industry. No joke

............................................

Today's track that I'd like to share happens to be my number one streamed song on Apple Music, where, incidentally, you can also find a digital version of my first book. How's that for shameless self-promotion with a twist? This song was among the very first that I recorded, produced and mastered as a solo artist. (Unfortunately, I think this comes through somewhat in the production value, so please be forgiving.) It's called Baby Blue, from my 2017 album Weather Patterns

Fun fact: the writing of this song began with me lamenting about a light blue shirt of mine that my wife accidentally ruined by means of an act of kindness. By the time I finished crafting the tune, it had become a story of love lost. I've always imagined the video for this song as a slow dance in a high school gymansium, if you want to ride along in my mind with me. You can see me perform an unplugged version of it below:


Thank you again for supporting independent art. You're the real rock stars; I'm just a guy who plays music.



Sunday, March 28, 2021

Punk Rocker Tricks

I've always approached music with somewhat of a punk attitude, if only out of necessity. By that, I mean that I see music as a dynamic mode of creative expression, and I've always felt that the sentiment behind it means a hell of a lot more than how polished the final product may be. In the past, I have taken this same approach to documentary filmmaking as well. I believe that to create something, even if it isn't perfect, is infinitely better than making nothing at all. One is infinitely more than zero. 

When it comes to making music on cheap gear, here's what I've got for you:

Tip #1: Replace the stock hardware.


The most expensive guitar that I own cost about $450 new. It was a Christmas present from my spouse. That said, I did pimp it out almost immediately upon receiving it. In fact, with nearly all of my guitars (which isn't very many), I have replaced the pickups and the tuners, and in some cases, the switches and potentiometers (volume and tone controls) as well. 

The way I see it, the most important thing is to have an instrument that stays in tune. After all, if it doesn't, then it really doesn't matter how well you play it, because it will always sound like an instrument that only produces sour notes, mocking even the most meager attempts at virtuosity. Even Moonlight Sonata would sound like two cats fucking.

After the tuners, the second most important thing is replacing the pickups, as that can make a huge difference in shaping the overall sound. Stock pickups usually suck, and using a soldering iron isn't very difficult. Just don't breathe in the fumes when you're doing it and be sure to unplug it when you're done. (That's the dad in me talking.) I'm sure there are videos out there to walk you through the process.

I paid $220 for my Telecaster, used. That was about four or five years ago. It's Mexican-made, as are most of my Fenders. The thing is, when you switch out the electronics, all of a sudden a relatively cheap guitar sounds like one that cost a lot more. Seriously. I think the cost-to-quality ratio plateaus at a certain point when it comes to guitars. 

That is to say that a $300 guitar may indeed be twice as good as a $150 instrument, but never in my life have I played a $2,100 guitar that sounded seven times better than the $300 one. I have, however, played a $300 instrument only needed a few modifications to make it sound just as good as one that cost five times as much. In fact, I play an instrument like that every day. 

Tip #2: Thicker strings will make your pickups sound better.


I have found that I can get a much fuller and richer sound if I use thicker strings. They also stay in tune better, because they don't stretch as much under the tension. Personally, I always pull on the strings after I put them all on, just to try to get some of that initial stretch out of the way. It's also a good way to make sure everything is secure before you start tightening it down. 

Thicker strings will toughen up your fingers, too. They may not be the best for beginners, but once you've got decent calluses and finger strength, consider upgrading. You might be surprised how much bigger it sounds. Much like replacing your pickups, thicker strings give your amp and your effects pedals more defined vibrations/signals to work with, which is usually a good thing.

I should note, though, that if you are changing to heavier gauge strings, it can affect the action, since it's putting more tension on the neck. To accommodate for this, you can adjust your truss rod. Again, you might want to watch a video to feel more comfortable with what you're doing. The basic rule is: don't turn it too far too fast, and I highly recommend doing it when the strings are off the guitar. Let the neck ease into the adjustments by doing them in increments of about a quarter turn. If it's still not quite right when you string it back up, you can always make some more adjustments next time you change the strings. 

Tip #3: Stop buying new bass strings.


If you happen to play bass, you know that the strings are kind of expensive. They also hardly ever break, and if they do, then congratulations, you may already be a punk rocker. Breaking bass strings is hardcore. 

A long time ago, a good friend of mine told me that if you take the strings off and put them in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes and then put them back on, they will be as good as new. This really does work. I have gone years without actually changing the strings on my bass just by boiling them every once in a while. Just make sure they're dry before you put them back on. Water and frat dudes are a string instrument's worst enemies. 

Tip #4: Clean your guitar strings and you won't have to change them as often.


I'm happy to report that there's a similar trick when it comes to guitar strings. Although taking them off and putting them back on is nearly impossible (and would probably weaken them considerably even if you could), what I usually do is take a paper towel, fold it up and spray it with a little bit of WD-40, and then I put the towel under the strings so that the oily side is facing up. I'll go up and down the strings a few times, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of crud this takes off, a nasty combination of corrosion and finger gunk (and it's not like my hands are dirty when I play, either). Generally speaking, the more humid it is, the more often I have to do this.

I should offer the disclaimer that I have never heard or read of anyone recommending the WD-40 method before, but I can attest that I do this on my guitars on a pretty regular basis and have never had any problems. If anything, I think that the oil actually helps seal the wood on the fretboard (the WD does stand for water deterrent, after all). 

Then again, as mentioned above, it's not like I'm playing a $2,000 guitar or anything. I wouldn't recommend doing this on coated strings, either, because it would probably take the coating off -- but I have been doing this for years, such that most of the time when I change strings, it's only because I broke one of them (which doesn't happen as often now that I use thicker strings). Clean them up every week or two and they continually sound almost as good as new.  

Tip #5: Learn the lighter trick.


As long as you're fixing to be a punk rocker, at some point, it might be a good idea to learn how to open a beer bottle with a disposable lighter, too. Otherwise, I'm not sure that you can actually call yourself a punk. It's one of those technicalities. As for how to do it, it's essentially about creating a lever with the lighter by using your bent thumb as the fulcrum. Then you pop it off with the bottom edge of the lighter. Oh, and try not to crack it in the process, especically if it's someone else's lighter. You lose a few punk points for that.

Tip #6: Treat your instruments well. 


One last tip for today, which I admit is slightly less punk, though more closely related to maintaining decent instruments: if you want to clean up the fretboard, use 0000 grade steel wool (I'm pretty sure that's the "softest" that you can get). Once you've scuffed up the whole fretboard, wipe it down with a damp towel, but then dry it immediately afterward. 

Always remember that one of the worst things for a guitar is for there to be any absorbable water on the fretboard, as this will warp it, rendering the instrument utterly useless. Second to this, as alluded to earlier, is to let it fall into the hands of someone who intends to use this instrument for evil purposes, like Jimmy Buffett songs. 

When it's completely dry, rub it down with some lemon oil. Wipe away any excess. It might even look like brand new when you're done. You'd be amazed. Granted, like I said, I don't know how punk rock it is to have a clean, new-looking instrument, but personally, this is something I do to my guitars about once a year or so. It probably helps to take off any remaining residue from the WD-40, too. 




Friday, March 26, 2021

The Algorithm

I made three playlists on Spotify today. The first is composed of songs of mine that are political in nature, the second are what I would (and did) call my pretty songs, and the third is a setlist of stuff that I practicted yesterday on acoustic guitar and piano in my sunroom. The neighbors have yet to applaud. 

Enjoy. Please follow these playlists and share them. That's how my music finds its way into the algorithm... which sounds like it could be the name of a live music venue in Germany. Of course, I think it would have to be spelled Algorhythm.

I'd go there. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Bronze Medal

My songs Original Miles and Black Ribbon Day have gotten an astounding number of streams on Spotify recently. Thanks to all of you for listening to and sharing my music. This is how it happens. Your enthusiasm is contagious (in a good way). 

On a sidenote, I thought it was funny that while these two songs are steadily inching their way toward the stratosphere, at a very distant third is another song from Embers (2021), which happens to be called Going Nowhere. It was meant to be a title, not a prophecy. 


Thanks for listening. If you dig what I'm doing, please share it with others, add it to your playlists and follow me wherever you can find my songs. 

You are beautiful.  

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Singular

As you may have noticed, I don't really think of my music in terms of singles. Whenever I feel like sharing a song, I write a blog post about it. This is more or less how I might introduce it to an audience -- but I don't continually promote any one song over the rest any more than I would play the same song repeatedly in a live set. 

"Thanks. You're a great crowd. Now who wants to hear Gravel Roads for the eighth consecutive time?" 

While I do enjoy playing that song, it is merely a singular component of a broader setlist.

I want people to like whatever they like, so I leave it to my listeners to decide if any one song is going to rise above the rest. I'm not going to tell you which songs should be popular. 

If you like a song that I wrote, first of all, thank you. Second, please share it with someone else who you think may like it as well. Spread the word. Be a tastemaker. If enough people do that, then it's kind of like promoting a single, except it comes from the ground up. 

Part of being a one-man band means that I am also a one-man public relations and marketing team. That is to say that I don't really have the time, resources or wherewithal to promote my work much further than this blog. This is where I need your help. 

(Incidentally, I have been waiting years for a valid reason to use the word "wherewithal" in a sentence, so thanks again.)

If you enjoy any of the fifty-four tracks from any of my five self-produced albums, please share them with others. That's why I wrote them. Music is meant to be shared.

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Perhaps another reason that I don't really think of my own songs in terms of singles is because I am such a strong proponent of the album as an artform. That's how I tend to conceptualize music. The order of the tracks, the lyrical and sonic content of those songs, the cover art, etc. It all contributes to an album, which in my my mind, serves to tell a broader story than what is articulated by any one individual track.

Although I did write a song completely out of the blue last week, I will almost certainly re-record it when it comes time to put it on an album, once I get a better sense of the other tracks that will be accompanying it. That's just how I roll. 

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With all of that stuff in mind, today's song that I would like to share with you is called Mixtape. It comes from my latest album, Embers (2021). I've posted about this one before, but since it fits with everything else that I was just talking about, it makes sense to include it here. Basically, I sing about how each song is important as a distinct contribution to the compilation as a whole, but that in many ways, the true artform is the collection of songs and the manner in which they are assembled (almost like people and civilization, right?).
    
    When you listen to these songs in order
    Eleven on side A, ten on B
    I hope it tells a bigger story
    Of what you mean to me

Fun fact: the bassline is me playing my Telecaster through an octave pedal. That's probably the only way that I can play bass that fast. 

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The B-side of today's "single" comes from the same album, a track called Welcome Back, Jack Kerouac. It's about improvisation and experimentation, and how art can connect us to something bigger than ourselves.

    And who wants this spontaneous prose?
    Nobody knows where it goes
    Our bloodied lips and acid trips
    We think we drink therefore we are
    Connected to the universe
    It could be worse...

I hope that you enjoy my music. If so, please share it with someone else who is roughly as cool as you are, if you can even find somebody like that. Thanks to both of you for supporting independent art. You rock.

How to Write a Song in Ten Steps

This was something that I wrote on one of my other blogs a couple of months ago, but since it's all about songwriting, I thought I'd share it here, too. 

For anyone out there who may find this information interesting and/or useful, I have outlined below my usual ten-step process for writing a song. I share this not only as a potential insight into the mechanics of creativity, but also with the hope that you might employ this approach in your own songwriting. 

We will always need people to write songs that can move us in one way or another, and to promote positive change in our communities and throughout the world. Why not you? 
 

1. Practice. 

Whoever said that practice makes perfect lied. Practice makes better. But there's more to it than that. When I practice, I'm constantly looking for interesting chord progressions, riffs and rhythms. When I find them, more often than not, that's what I end up practicing. Most of the time, I also record them with a handheld device for my own reference. Loop pedals can also be incredibly helpful here. The way I see it, a musician has to practice, so why not work on your own stuff when you do? The more I practice, the more of these "song parts" I accumulate, which I file away for later use. There have been riffs that have sat in my back pocket for months or even years before I did anything with them. That's just how it is sometimes. (It's also how I wrote three albums in 2017. I already had most of the pieces from years of rehearsal material; it was just a matter of putting them together in ways that made sense. For more on this, see steps 2-10 below.)


2. Build a song from spare parts. 

As I continue to practice, over time, these various parts start intermingling and coalescing into songs. Hey... this riff fits with this progression. This part can be played in the same key as that other thing I was playing, etc. That said, as a self-taught musician, I should note (pun intended) that I seldom know what key I'm playing in. I usually have to work it out afterward -- but my ear knows what fits together and what doesn't. I suspect that yours will, too. Keep in mind that most pop/rock songs, when it comes down to it, are often composed of maybe five or six chords at most. That's it. It's how you play them that matters. Knowing that, in my own songwriting, once I've got enough chords or whatever to form a verse part and a chorus part, then I've got the basic components of the song, at which point I can safely move on to the next step.  


3. Let the music tell me what kind of song it is. 

Once I've got that basic song structure of a verse and a chorus (and every once in a while a bridge), then I play it over and over, trying to listen objectively in order to determine what kind of song it is. Is this a love song? A protest song? A song about road trips? Old friends? Independence movements in former Soviet Republics? What emotions does it evoke? Figuring this out gives me somewhat of an idea in terms of where to look when it comes to writing lyrics, but I always start with the music and then write the lyrics. To me, the notion of doing it the other way around would be like starting with the paint before you even have the canvas set up. Besides, lyrics without any music is called a poem, and while these two forms are closely related, I find that they are generally not interchangeable. I tend to believe that the lyrics should be an integral component of the song, complementary to everything else. 


4. Start with the vowels. 

It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that all we really sing are the vowels. Consonants may be used to add emphasis on a beat, but the notes are all vowels. So when I go to write lyrics, I start with the vowel sounds. As I'm playing these chord progressions/riffs/song skeletons mentioned above, I audition various vocal melodies, exclusively through the use of vowel sounds -- lots of oohs and aahs amd eees, etc. Over time and with repetition, certain vocal melodies will stick. I find that whistling to myself can also be useful at this stage, as good vocal melodies tend to be inherently whistlable.


5. Words will eventually emerge. 

As I sing these vowel sounds, the vocal patterns will inevitably make me think of certain words. "Ah-oh" may mutate into "alone," for example. I write these words down, always on the lookout for certain words or phrases that I think might fit with the mood of the song. Generally speaking, I find that it's easier to start with the chorus, since that should be the biggest part of the song. When I sing the vowels of chorus, I write down approximately how many syllables I need and what vowel sounds fit most naturally in whatever vocal melody that I found myself going back to. When figuring out the rhyme scheme, it's worth remembering once again that the only parts that really need to rhyme are those vowel sounds. Anything else is just a bonus. It's also good to be aware that plosive sounds (like "b" and "p") should probably land on the beats whenever possible.  


6. Build the song around the chorus. 

Once I've got the nuts and bolts of the chorus figured out, then it's a matter of writing verses that logically lead to the repetition of these lyrics that essentially form the gravitational center of the song. When writing the verses, I use that same method of starting with vowels and counting out the syllables on my fingers. 


7. Use the first verse to establish the pattern

Music (much like comedy, metaphor, etc.) is fundamentally about establishing patterns and then disrupting those patterns in interesting ways. So once I've got the syllable count and rhyme pattern of the first verse figured out, I use that as a template for the other verses. The first verse is always the hardest to write, even if it ends up being moved over to the third verse by the time I'm done. If the song seems like it's getting too repetitive, to the point where it starts to feel predictable, then I might add a bridge and/or an instrumental break to disrupt the pattern.


8. Continue to refine the lyrics. 

First drafts are seldom the best versions of anything. That's just as true with lyrics as it is with research papers. Personally, I find that first drafts are less intimidating if I just keep in mind that I can (and probably should/will) go back and revise my work. Does the song have a POV? Does it tell a story? Are there words that stand out like speed bumps when I sing them? The more objective I can be at this point, the better. I believe that it's crucial for an artist to be able to separate art from ego, and this isn't always easy. Sometimes I have to walk away from it for a few days and then come back to it with a fresh perspective. In the meantime, I might work on a different song, or some other project altogether.


9. Own the song

Once I've written a song, I usually play it over and over until I know the lyrics without having to look at a piece of paper or stop and think about it while I'm playing. If I can then play the same song on a different instrument, then hot damn. That's usually a pretty good sign that it officially works as a song and that I know it well enough to record it for real and/or perform the song in front of an audience. 


10.  Fill out the sound spectrum with other instruments

If you play in a band, this is where your bandmates can come in. In my case, however, since my last five albums have just been me, I record the basic chord progresson or riff or whatever the song is built around and then listen to see where it needs more. It's like cooking and figuring out which ingredients you need to make the dish shine and be properly balanced -- and I like to taste it as I go. If it needs more upper-mid range, then maybe it's time to bust out the banjo or the glockenspiel. As indicated in Step 7, I'm not above throwing in a guitar solo here and there, either. Usually at the end of the recording process, I then go back and re-record that original part that the song was built around. I generally do the same with the drum tracks. 



At the end of all of that, I will have created something that did not exist before and that can now be shared with others. Through the use of digital platforms that did not exist even ten or fifteen years ago, I can now reach audiences that I never could have imagined before. While it's arguably harder than ever to make a living as a musician, it keeps getting easier for independently produced music to reach a broader and more diverse audience. 

Follow these ten steps, and you can do it, too.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Peaceful Revolution

According to Spotify, my number one streaming song at the moment is Black Ribbon Day, from my recent album, Embers (2021). I've posted about it on here before, but this song is about the day that the people of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia symbollically declared their independence from the Soviet Union by holding hands between their capital cities. I thought that it was a beautiful story that I wanted to share, so I wrote a song about it. 

    Peacefully united, have you heard?
    We cannot be divided and conquered
    Or whatever, any longer
    Because together, we are stronger
    On Black Ribbon Day
    
As a bonus track, here's my song Imperfect Creatures, from my 2019 album Better Days. It's about being the best people we can be, while also recognizing that nobody's perfect. 

    So much wasted time
    Trying to turn a dollar on a dime...


(Sorry for the bad lighting. I guess that's the thing about filming these myself...)

Enjoy. Share. Be kind. Be brave. 


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Songs about Road Trips

Today's song that I would like to share is called Gravel Roads. It comes from my 2017 album Weather Patterns. It is about the winding road of life and the unexpected places that it sometimes takes us. 

This happens to be one of my favorite songs to play. 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...


As a bonus track, here's another song about going for a drive with somebody you love. It's called Meand'er, and it comes from the same album. Fun fact: it is the song on any of my five self-produced solo albums that doesn't have a percussion track.

    Me and her meandering
    We're not lost... 


Enjoy. Share. Be safe. 

Long live the great American road trip. 

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Regular

I spent much of today and yesterday mastering that song I wrote earlier in the week. As part of the process, I uploaded multiple versions to my ReverbNation page, but I think I've finally settled on a version that I'm happy with for now. You can listen to it at the embedded link below:


Here are the lyrics, if you want to sing along (it seems like the type of song that welcomes audience participation, even if only in the privacy of your own home):

Walk in the door
Feels like I've been here before
Some kind of deja-vu
But I feel fairly certain 
That I'd remember you
We're just sitting alone
It seems like everybody's
Staring at their phones
It's hard to see beyond yourself
But look at me
I'm just looking at everybody else

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

Turn the jukebox on
Play all my favorite songs
And when you're sitting next to me
I'll try not to sing 
All the melodies out of key
With just a little help from my friends
I take my seat down at the end
I know the servers all by name
Even though their schedules
Aren't always the same

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

[This is the part where I wrestle a wicked lead riff on my Telecaster. Buckle up.]

I am the regular
Just an ordinary guy
Wasting my time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...

Turn on the ugly lights 
I guess it must be getting to be
That time of night
Everyone's putting on their coats
While the bartenders
Are calling up a toast
To all the regulars at the bar
Hope you don't have to go too far
Someone can always call you a ride
We'll see you back here
Again tomorrow night

We are the regulars
Buzzing like barflies 
Wasting our time
Got nowhere else to be
I just stopped in to see
If I could get my usual, oh, oh...
My usual, oh, oh...
My usual

(© 2021 Zach Sands, PhD)

Enjoy responsibly. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Orphan Song

Don't worry. This isn't a song about orphans. It's a song that is tentatively without an album. It's the one that I wrote about in my last post, the one with the catchy hook that I couldn't get out of my head. You win, song. I recorded it yesterday and then re-recorded it today and added all of the other tracks. 

It's called The Regular. It's about that guy at the end of the bar. You know the one. 

Basically, I wrote a bar song, even though it's been over a year since I've set foot in a bar. 

I intend to get back to work on other stuff just as soon as I can get this song out of my head. The recording process is like an exorcism in that sense. Hopefully this isn't like Song #2 by Blur. That goddamn song has been bouncing around in there for twenty years, thank you very much. 

Enjoy the song. Thanks for listening. I hope you dig it. 

Ether-Net

The other day, I was practicing guitar, and I came up with a chord progression that I rather liked. This kind of thing happens fairly often. What was unique about this particular occasion is that as I was playing it, I started singing the chorus along with it, as if I was just snatching it out of the ether with a butterfly net. After that, I sat down and wrote three verses to it, one right after the other. The whole process took about ten or fifteen minutes. In many ways, it felt more like I was transcribing this song than writing it.  

I'm presently about halfway into an original feature-length screenplay that I intend to have completed by the end of next month. As such, I did not plan on writing any more music for a while, especially considering that I just came out with a new album in January of this year. However, ever since that day that I plucked this fully ripened song from the universe, it has been stuck in my head. Multiple times this week, I have awakened to the chorus playing in the soundtrack of my sleep. 

Deciding that I shouldn't (and on some level, couldn't) ignore this any longer, I recorded a basic version of the song yesterday evening. I'll probably add a few tracks to it today. After that, I'm not really sure what to do with it, other than essentially set it aside until I've got about nine or ten more songs to go with it and can release it as another album. 

I don't usually write just one song and then go back to what I was doing before. Ordinarily, I work on other projects most of the year. When I need to take a break from writing or grading papers, I practice an instrument. As I rehearse, I come up with riffs and chord progressions that I like, and then once I've got about a dozen or so "song skeletons" saved up, I start writing lyrics to all of them. Each album usually has its own corresponding notebook. This is when I essentially switch into music-making mode for a period of time, during which songwriting becomes my primary creative outlet.  

That said, in addition to the peculiar way this song came to me, as well as its unusual timing, one of the other things that I think is particularly odd about all of this is that it's not really the type of song that I usually write. Not that I necessarily have any one genre of music that I adhere to, per se, but if I heard this song and didn't know better, I probably wouldn't think it was me. I conceptualized this song as something a person might hear coming out of a jukebox in a crowded bar, which isn't really my scene, even before the pandemic. It's called The Regular, and it's about That Guy who sits down at the end, the one who is always there. Every bar that I've ever been to has at least one of these guys, so it seems like it's probably a fairly universal thing. 

If I end up posting the demo version of my new song somewhere, I will include a link on this blog. [See above for more information.] 

Since this song isn't quite ready to share just yet, here's a song from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit called Carry On. (I didn't think I had a favorite album of my own work, but this seems to be the one I share the most songs from.) This track started with a piano riff, along with me thinking that there should be a song with that title. 

Thank you for supporting independent art. 

Happy Friday. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Songs About Being Better

Today's song that I would like to share with you is called Antidote. It comes from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit, and it is basically about forgiveness: the antidote to hate. 

Hatred destroys from the inside out. If we don't let go of these negative emotions, it's almost like whoever inflicted the pain in the first place is still wielding power over us. Chances are, either that person has since grown into a better human being or that person is still an asshole. If it's the latter, then I like to think that it will catch up to him or her eventually without our having to harbor the immense burden of hate. Either way, that shit's on them, and they can keep it.

The chorus goes like this: 

    Don't hold this hate in your heart
    Your anger is not who you are
    Let it all go and I know you'll go far
    Don't hold this hate in your heart...

The title comes from the last line of the pre-chorus, which was only added to the song after I had recorded everything else. It felt like it was missing something, including a decent title. I think the working title at the time was Poison Control or something similarly stupid. (Yes, it was almost one of those pretentious songs in which the title doesn't appear anywhere in the lyrics. Can you imagine?) 

Here's a trippy version of me playing it on acoustic guitar in my sunroom (I recorded it from a stationary position, which got a little boring to watch, so I added a stabilizer effect, which tried to compensate for my movement as I played):


It's almost like the room is moving with the music. I hope nobody got seasick.

As a bonus track, here's a song called Extra>ordinary (although on digital platforms, it's never written that way, as the "greater than" symbol causes problems with the various interfaces). It comes from my 2019 album Better Days

One day, I was in my kitchen, singing what I knew of that one Journey song about the small town girl living in a lonely world, etc. As I was almost certainly screwing up the words, it occurred to me that this could be considered a whole sub-genre of song -- but in most of them, the female protagonist seems to have no agency over the circumstances that she finds herself in, and nothing good ever happens to her when she goes away to the big city. These songs are almost always cautionary tales about the perils of female ambition.   

With that in mind, I sat down and wrote my own version of this type of song as seen through what might be considered a feminist lens (link goes to an online course that I taught about Film, Comedy and Cultural Theory). 
    
    She grew up in the suburbs where time stands still
    Where the scene doesn't ever change
    And seems like it never will...   

Enjoy. Share. Love. 

Be honest. Be kind. Be fair.

Treat others as they want to be treated. 

Sunday, March 7, 2021

Imagination Time

You're going to have to imagine the music video for this one along with me, as the video of which I speak does not yet exist. This is what you call no-budget filmmaking. That said, if I had a budget and a crew and all of that, then this is what the music video to my song Original Miles would look like:

The images are all in black and white, with lots of deep greys. Fade in to a basketball court on cracked, unmarked concrete in a dilapidated city park on a sunny day. The net is a rusted-out chain. The hoop looks like it has been rebuilt and reinforced after many years of abuse. Four guys take the court, although at this point, we only see their backs. All action in this location is slowed down by about twenty percent for dramatic effect. 

The vocals commence, delivered by a middle-aged guy who looks relatively young for his age (and remarkably similar to the gentleman pictured on this website). He dribbles a scuffed-up basketball in perfect time with the bouncing beat while he mouths the words. He plays Twenty-One against three guys who are quite a bit younger than him, possibly his bandmates. Despite their apparent overconfidence, he holds his own against these guys. He doesn't make all of his shots, but he does make most of them. The other players are surprised. They had underestimated him.

The pretty lady on the otherwise empty sideline bench is impressed by his athletic prowess. The two of them appear to be together. She applauds with her hands raised and then blows him a kiss. Momentarily distracted, he gets knocked over as he takes a jump-shot. The guy who ran into him helps him back up. It's a friendly game, albeit competitive. Meanwhile, the ball rolls around the edge of the rim a few times before eventually falling through the hoop and chain, at which point we launch into the pre-chorus: 

   I don't come with a warranty
  Or a money-back guarantee...

Now we're in a classic American muscle car from the late sixties on an empty highway -- a Mustang or a Chevelle, something like that. Still in black and white, scenes in this location play at regular speed as the dashed white line of the divided highway race by. The man drives and the lady from the sideline rides shotgun. He turns up the radio as if to sing along. She has her hand out the window, surfing the breeze.

When the chorus concludes, we're back on the basketball court, where he makes his first free throw and then misses the second. The chain rattles as the ball deflects back toward the sea of outstretched arms. We're now in the second verse. The game carries on. He continues to mouth the lyrics as he plays. Their competition intensifies, and he is now making far fewer of his shots. Toward the end of the second verse, the man gets an accidental elbow to the ribs, which forces the game into a time out. As he approaches the woman at the sideline, the song enters the second pre-chorus.

For this part of the song, we're in the car again, but this time we're in a big city, and the man and woman have traded seats. Even though it's still his voice, she mouths the chorus as if she is now the one singing along with the radio. He looks up and out his window at the tall buildings as they pass.

We return to the basketball court for the third verse. The main character is back in the game. After a few more setbacks, he gets his second wind. He smiles at the lady on the sideline, then he makes the shot. He goes on to make the first free throw as well. With a series of basic hand gestures that anyone can understand, the guy indicates that he's only one point away from reaching twenty-one. The other players can't seem to believe it. He leans back and shoots the ball, sending it spinning through the open air in a perfect arc toward the basket...

Now in the third chorus, we return once again to the car. They are somewhere with mountains, trees and other picturesque scenery. The guy is driving and the woman is in the passenger's seat. They both mouth the words while reaching across the center seat for the other's hand until their fingers are intertwined. On the very last line of the song, we return to the basketball court, where he sinks the free throw in perfect time with the final crash cymbol. Cha-ching. Fade to black. 

Thank you for joining me inside of my head. I hope you liked the view. 

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Eponymous

Of the five solo albums that I've written and produced over the past four years, only two of them take their names from songs on that album. Those songs/albums are Better Days (2019) and Weather Patterns (2017). They also happen to follow a similar theme. I wrote Better Days about a year before the pandemic hit, but it certainly applies to our current moment as well. 

    We're just waiting on better days
    Something we can celebrate
    Tomorrow always comes too late...

This song is basically about being patient and waiting out a situation until it improves, but in the meantime, we should work even harder to make each other and ourselves happy. I wrote it about living through the sad, destructive and toxic era of Drumpf, the after-effects of which we continune to endure.... but at least we can smile knowing that better days are still ahead.   

Weather Patterns comes from my "Thanks a lot, Baby Boomers!" (/s) collection. The lyrics are about being politically informed and engaged for the sake of affecting positive change for the people who need it the most. In other words, while we wait for things to get better, we should each do what we can to improve the situation ourselves through the various mechanisms of a democratic government. 

    When the times are getting tough
    The have-nots have had enough
    Nothing trickles down from above
    I think it's time we called their bluff... 



Enjoy. Share. Sing along if you feel so inclined. And be sure to vote at every opportunity.


Monday, March 1, 2021

To Be Human/To Be Yourself

Today's song that I would like to share comes from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It's called Fireflies, and it's essentially about the beauty of being yourself. 
    
    Let your spirit glow
    And let your brilliance shine
    Like fireflies in the night...

As an added bonus, here's a slightly psychadelic video that I made of an unplugged acoustic performance of this song in my sunroom a couple of years ago:

 


And as an added-added bonus, here's a song from my newest album, Embers (2021) called Welcome Back, Jack Kerouac. Tht title comes from a subsection of a paper that I wrote in grad school. The song is essentially about humanism and the role of improvisation in art. In alignment with this underlying theme, I wrote the lyrics in a stream of consciousness. In fact, I scribed this song so quickly that I wasn't even sure if I liked it at first... but it has since grown on me considerably. I hope you like it as well. 

    And who wants this spontaneous prose?
    Nobody knows where it goes
    Our bloodied lips and acid trips
    We think, we drink, therefore we are
    Connected to the universe
    It could be worse...

Enjoy the music. Please share it and add it to your playlists if you like it. As always, thank you for supporting independent art.