Friday, July 23, 2021
When I was a graduate student, the only way that I could make sure that I got everything done was to compartmentalize my time. I concede that a smart phone may have helped, but it's debatable. 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. 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. You would be amazed how much of that stuff can be reduced to three or four words in a margin and still make the same exact point.
As you may have gathered, most days of the week, I was pretty busy--and I didn't even tell you that most of these courses required that I write two thirty-page papers each, which required research, outlining, thinking through, revising, etc. They also had to be good.
What about Saturdays and Sundays, you ask? That was when I wrote lesson plans and graded papers. Not all day, necessarily, but at least part of it. Sometimes, I also had some more 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. 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.
You see, 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 again 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.
Thursday, July 22, 2021
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.
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
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 go to 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.
I have absolutely no control over any of that stuff, nor do I earn much 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 three sandwiches.
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?"
Friday, July 9, 2021
Here is a bonus morsel of life advice on this Friday evening: Don't ever walk away from a bread mixer on the counter that is set to high speed. As an extra bonus fun fact: that is where the name of my album Mechanical Bull came from. True story.
I was in the adjacent room, trying to think of an album title, when our bread mixer rocked itself off the counter like a mechanical bull that wasn't bolted down. While we did lose a kitchen appliance that day, at least I got an album title out of it, so it wasn't a complete loss. Incidentally, the album also kind of rocks, but it's far less likely to leap from your countertop when your back is turned.
With those final, self-destructive actions of our stand mixer, I may have perceived some bullshittery in the fact that this thing wasn't weighted properly to not jump all over the place--as in mechanical bull(shit). Yes, I like to put layers of meaning into things, even if it's just an inside joke to myself--or in this case, two. There are other layers to it as well. Even my dissertation/first book (the paperback version of which happens to be on sale now) contains some scarcely hidden jokes.
I mention this in part because I am presently making dough for calzones. It's kind of the same idea, in that once that dough starts getting slap happy, look out. It's set to medium speed right now, and I'm listening very closely with my left ear. Earlier, when I was doing the responsible thing and standing over it (i.e. following said life advice, as mentioned prior), I realized that kitchen cabinets make excellent hand drums.
While the words "What the fuck?" were no doubt muttered by at least one of our neighbors, I was rocking out along with the tempo of the mixer, slapping my hands on particleboard cabinets... and I realized that it had a certain kind of sound that I wished I could get out of my cajones. (By that, I mean the two box drums that I built, obviously.)
So next time you're in your kitchen, ideally with three or four other people who can keep a steady beat, you should give it a try. It's kind of like a drum circle, but without having to invite a bunch of hippies into your kitchen. I only say that because you know that there's at least one person in there who's going to throw it all off. Besides, you don't want your whole kitchen smelling like patchouli oil, not unless you want everything that you make in there to taste a little bit like naugahyde.
(Incidentally, I have been waiting years for an occasion to use the word naugahyde without forcing it, so I'm feeling pretty accomplished right now. For what it's worth, I also have a song for which the lyric writing process began with me challenging myself to rhyme with the word schadenfreude. Once I had it, I built the rest of the song around that.)
Happy Friday to all of my listeners, fans, and random stumblers upon this site. Welcome to what I do.
Today's tracks that I would like to share with you are both good end-of-the-week songs.
The first comes from my latest album, Petrichor. It is called The Regular. It's a bar song. I conceptualized it as blaring out of a jukebox in a crowded pub, so feel free to turn it up.
The second comes from Embers, which is the album that I released in January. It's called Original Miles, and it's about how people are kind of like used cars.
As of today, it just crossed the threshold of 50,000 streams on Spotify. That amazes me.
Thank you to everyone who listens to and shares my music. I couldn't do this without you.
Wednesday, July 7, 2021
Before the pandemic, I typically performed about once a month, give or take, except when it was below 20°F. That is my unofficial cut-off temperature for riding my bike. Outside of that, unless it's pouring out or I'm getting groceries or something, I try not to drive anywhere that is less than three miles away.
I am a man of principle, and these are some of the principles to which I abide. I also have not eaten at a McDonalds in over twenty years (excluding one in Ukraine about ten years ago, which was not by choice), nor have I ever owned a smart phone.
Incidentally, when we went to Ukraine, I was on the steps of Odessa with both a stroller and a video camera, and I did not recreate the famous scene from the Eisenstein movie that everybody has to watch in film school. This ranks among my only regrets in life.
Regarding performances, when I did play out, it was usually on a Wednesday, as that was when a local pub hosted an open mic night. On such occasions, I usually did a half hour set, which works out to roughly seven songs.
Minus the audience (and shoes), these are the songs that I practiced in my sunroom this evening. I played the first four on my semi-hollowbody guitar through a battery-powered amp that clips onto my belt, and then I played the other three on piano.
Still Life (This one links to an unplugged version of it that I recorded a few years ago.)
Put these songs on a playlist on your streaming service of choice, and it will almost be like you were right there in my sunroom with me. You know, except for the part where I dropped my pick or the other part where I had to tune my guitar. Oh, and the recorded songs all have other instruments.
Other than that, it's pretty much the exact same thing.
I might play an encore in a little bit on acoustic guitar. It's raining and the air is rich with the smell of petrichor (which happens to be the name of my latest album).
I hope to get back to playing actual live shows at some point, too. I kind of miss the sweet validation of applause. As a writer, a scholar, a parent, and a teacher, instant gratification can be rather hard to come by, which also no doubt factors into why I like to cook.
Thank you for listening to my music and checking out my blog. If you like what I'm doing, please share it.
Music is love. Love is music.
Monday, July 5, 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.
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 just released a few weeks ago. 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.
Sunday, July 4, 2021
I know. There's only one "I" in independence, which makes sense.
But what better way to celebrate our nation's independence than with some truly independent music that was created with zero corporate influence? (For your added enjoyment and elucidation, the embedded links in this paragraph all go to articles that I wrote about four years ago.)
This is about as indie as you can get. No joke. (This one links to a video of me in my second ever attempt at stand-up comedy. It's not terrible.)
Here are two songs from prior albums, both of which are meant to be played loudly.
The first is called Be Civilized, from my 2019 album Better Days. This song is a friendly reminder that we're all in this together (so don't be a jerk).
The other is called Modern Inconveniences, from my 2017 album Good Night, Fahrenheit. It is my only song to feature an allusion to the seminal work of a twentieth century French philosopher. You get five bonus points if you can spot it, which unfortunately does nothing to pay off your student loans. (Sorry. It's a shitty system.)
(I am acutely aware that this blog post has more parentheses than a compilation album of hair rock ballads from the 1980s.)
Thank you for celebrating independent rock.
Saturday, July 3, 2021
In case you've ever wondered what the cover images are on each of my albums, here you go, coming to you directly from an inside source:
Petrichor (2021) - the inside of Jamie's pocket. This was an accidental photo that I digitally manipulated in an attempt to make it look like an abstract oil painting. Personally, I rather like it, plus it seemed to fit the vibe of the album. That's more or less my criteria when designing cover art.
Embers (2021) - the image was taken by NASA, as I do not own a high-powered orbital telescope. I cropped it and adjusted the colors, thereby offering my artistic interpretation of the image. It's a nebula, which is kind of like embers in space. It denotes both a tumultuous ending and a beautiful beginning.
You may have noticed that this is my only album that does not have my name or the title on the cover. This is because I am not so full of myself as to project these words upon a starlit sky. Not once have I ever looked up at the vast depths of space and said, "You know what this needs? My name in letters that extend for light years."
Better Days (2019) - the back of my son's head at the Chicago Art Institute. Jamie took this photo (on purpose). For a while, we both took credit, but I eventually conceded, as I think it just looked like a picture that I wished I had taken, and we shared a camera at the time.
I've always thought that it looked like an album cover, even well before I was producing my own music. I love the composition and color balance. It's like if U2's Boy was made by the Beastie Boys.
Good Night, Fahrenheit (2017) - a sunrise in Micronesia, as seen from the top of a very steep hill. I know, based on the album title, you probably expected it to be a sunset. You can still pretend. That's what I do.
Mechanical Bull (2017) - a ferris wheel at a fully operational amusement park in the Republic of Moldova. I did not ride it, but I found it to be aesthetically interesting, like stepping back in time to whenever this thing was most recently inspected by the proper authorities. I'm guessing 1982-ish.
Weather Patterns (2017) - the view from the ground looking up, witnessing a garden hose spray water over me and beneath a couple of trees. Now that I say that, it's probably obvious, but I'd be curious how many people would have guessed it.
Part of the fun in being 100% responsible for an album is getting to design the cover art. Of course, I also play every instrument and wrote every track, each of which I also recorded and produced myself in the open room of our house that doubles as an office space and triples as a media room. As far as I'm concerned, that's about as indie and underground as a musician can get. Frankly, it's kind of amazing that you've even heard of me. Good for you. You probably didn't even know that you were that hip.
Please keep in mind that as a one-man-band, I am also a one-man publicity and marketing team (who rarely uses social media, choosing instead to communicate with listeners by way of this blog). I very much need your help in reaching a broader audience. To that end, please share my songs with anyone you know who is roughly as cool as you are and ask them to do the same. This is how it spreads, and I cannot do it without you.
Over the past four years, I have released six full-length (self-produced) studio albums. This puts me in the same company with The Doors, Dire Straits, and Credence Clearwater Revival, to name a few, as these bands have also released six studio albums. One more and I'll catch up with the Pixies and Oasis.
Now if I can just get more people to listen...
You can hear my latest album, Petrichor (2021), wherever you get your music. You can also stream it through the embedded link below:
If you like what I'm doing, please share it and add my songs to your playlists wherever you get your music. Thank you for supporting independent art.
Thursday, July 1, 2021
I only started using a capo on a regular basis about ten years ago, when we 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. 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 day, the temperature would reach 86°F or so, and at night, it would get down to about 72°F. Sunrise and sunset were at the same time all year. What does this have to do with a capo, you ask?
The only guitar that I brought with me to Micronesia was my acoustic/electric. Between the heat and the humidity, the environment 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. This was also around the time that I realized that I did not have 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, as well as the string buzz that I was getting on the first few frets, I started using a capo. Prior to this, it mostly just took up space in my guitar case.
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 our back porch when we 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. Playing guitar behind the house was just something to do. For what it's worth, we did not have a television, there were no cell phone towers in the entire archipelago, and the internet service was terrible, so we did a lot of sitting outside. I kind of miss it sometimes.
After living in Micronesia for about a year, we came back to the US. By that point, the pickguard on my guitar had almost completely slid off. 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, and it has probably traveled more miles than a lot of people.
I have officially designated it to be my adventure guitar. 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.