Friday, January 21, 2011

Pixies Live

Today I bought pre-sale tickets to see the Pixies play the Doolittle show live April 22nd in Detroit and April 23rd in Milwaukee.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Heros as Real People

I have long had a chronic case of hero worship. It was bad, borderline pyschotic even I'd say, in my youth. It started as delusions about celebrities and eventually it morphed into a confusing kind of hybrid of "I love you/I worship you" with the real people in my life. I like to think that, in recent years (and I do mean recent) that I've found a balance and given up on hero worship for the most part. Which is not to say that I don't think about Kim Deal every single day...but I think I have it in a healthy perspective.

One interesting turn over the years, largely facilitated by the internet, has been that people I once considered heros have transformed into regular humans. Perhaps even regular humans with whom I have a great deal in common, and even, on occasion, actually talk to.

The first case of this I think was with Kirt Kempter. He was a folk musician who came to my little college campus and played a show one day. I think perhaps there were only a dozen or so of us in attendance. And while the music was good, it was more about my mood that day. I had dragged my head out of my books for just a brief break to go to the show, which occurred about 20 feet away from my dorm room on an outdoor patio. It was one of those life changing moments...or felt like one. My reality cracked open and I saw my dreams very, very clearly. He was a fellow who had left grad school in the sciences to pursue a life of music.

Sometimes even when we see things clearly, it takes a long time to act. I went back to my books...and on to grad school...and so on. And it wasn't until a few years ago that I got serious about music, though not so serious as he got. But the moment in time was still important. And he became a hero of mine.

Years later I decided I should look up what he was up to, and managed to track him down on the internet and to order 2 more of his albums. We actually exchanged messages directly on the matter. Not only did it turn out he was gay...but eventually he gave up music and went back to science. And he sent me the two cds with his own handwriting on the envelope. He was surprised to hear from a fan from that "other lifetime."

In the end, he was a person. He struggled just like me. And we were/are both on a journey. Journies that have been more alike on occasion than different.

More recently I looked into current doings of The Nields, who were one of my favorite little-known groups of the 90s. I guess that I hadn't been paying very close attention to them for longer than I'd realized...because there had been babies and divorces and remarriages in the interim...and the upshot seems to be that, while the two sisters of the group still do perform, the group in general is kind of defunct...and the focus is more on family than musical success these days. Right around when I stopped paying close attention, Nerissa had a book published. Like myself and John Wesley Harding (who I also recently "talked" to directly and had send me a cd in an envelope with his own hand writing)...being a fiction writer as well as musician.

I follow Nerissa on twitter these days and she linked to a recent blog post. She talks a bit about the 20th anniversary of the start of The Nields. And the story feels ordinary and familiar. I can relate. It feels like the story of a slightly more successful colleague of mine more than the story of a hero.

Here's an exerpt from the post, cause she does go on a bit sometimes:
"Speaking of Neverland, in 2011, Katryna and I will turn 20. In June 1991, we played our first show for money, billed as "The Nields." That summer we got a regular gig (at the Williams Inn in Williamstown, MA) and put together a press kit (with an article from the Berkshire Eagle by Seth Rogovoy which read, "Come see the Nields. There's never any cover.") We went to music biz seminars and learned the Golden Rule for new bands: Say Yes To Everything. We did this, and it lead to us playing in the lobby of the Bushnell Theatre in Hartford, playing to attendees of a benefit. We had the idea that we could put "Bushnell" on our resume and get lots of fans. Instead we played "Closer to Fine" at the very moment a Channel 22 News camera happened to catch us in action. We also lost the local talent show to a teenage KISS cover band.

We had a lucky break and got booked at the legendary Bottom Line, recorded our first CD (66 Hoxsey Street, now out of print and doomed to stay that way, as long as Katryna and I have any say in the matter.) We got our first radio play (on WWUH in Hartford, thanks to Ed McKeon) and the rest is history. Or geometry. Or paleontology.

The rest has been a really great 20 years.

Katryna and Patty and I met early this week to talk about details of the big celebration we plan to throw for the fans who have been coming to see us lo these many years. Though I cannot divulge much of what we discussed or they will cut off my caffeine supply, I can tell you this: it's going to be remarkable. Meaning you will remark upon the happening for years to come. It will be a happening. it will be June in Northampton, and you will be there. Need I say more? OK, I will say this: We are playing the Iron Horse on Saturday night (June 11) and we have thoughts to play one song from each year we've been together. That means, unfortunately, that we will be playing material from 66 Hoxsey Street.

We're all just moving through life. Some to more acclaim than others. But even acclaim often fades to the day to day business of life.

Kim Deal is probably sitting in Dayton, Ohio right now hanging out with her dad or sister or brother or whoever she might be dating...all of them keeping an eye out for her mother, who has Alzheimer's. Maybe she'll head over to her house to work on some riffs for new songs...or to practice some long forgotten Breeders tune for an upcoming event. Or maybe she'll go get a coffee at Starbucks and spend the afternoon cleaning out her closets or paying bills or watching tv.

Teaching Bass

I don't perform music because I like the spotlight. I perform music because I love the way it feels to PLAY music in an ensemble that is working well together. I very clearly recall being in high school and playing in my school orchestra at a concert or competition or some event and having this moment where everything came together perfectly. I wasn't thinking about the mechanics of playing the cello or really even concsiously reading the sheet music. Everyone around me was playing their part just right. And I kind of felt like I left my body and was part of something that was greater than the sum of its parts. Now...a high school orchestra rarely attains that kind of grace (normally it is quite unpleasant) but it gave me a taste of something that I've been chasing every since. The way to really get to that point is to really know what you are playing and know the ensemble around you...and that kind of excellence is only developed by pushing yourself to play in front of others. It's too easy to half ass it if you only play to the basement wall. And that's why I perform music for an drive myself and my bandmates to excellence that approaches transcendence. It's really just another fucking drug. an introvert, it's very hard for me to be the focus of attention, and so performance is hard for me at a very basic level. Beyond that, I've been surprised by a particularly annoyance of being a female-bodied person in a rock band...which is that people find this unusual and feel the need to comment on it. Women will idolize you for it and men will give you the "wow, not bad for a girl" kind of talk. Both reactions make me livid. Nevermind that being perceived as a female has its own baggage for me. But beyond that, I find it annoying that it is a topic that gets brought up at all. What difference does it make? And it also kind of discounts what you are doing..."not bad for a girl" you'd be held to a higher standard if you were male.

So last year I heard that there was a rock n roll fastasy camp being put together for girls. The same has been happening locally for mixed gender kids for several years now...but someone was going to do the same JUST for girls.

I'm no great lover of the "separate but equal" concept, but I know from experience that men and women DO tend to approach things differently often...and that they often communicate differently. Beyond that, right or wrong, lots of women DO feel intimidated by men, especially in a musical situation. And even I have felt impowered on occasion by women-only space.

What I like about the idea of a girl's rock camp is the possibility that it would spawn a new generation of women who would feel like it was ok to join a band. And that, eventually, the kind of things that get said to me at shows would be a thing of the past. It would no longer be remarkable that a women played in a rock band...even bass or drums.

I was interested in helping with the camp from the start, but I'm not a huge fan of children, so I wasn't sure how to help (I'll note here that I actually think I'm pretty good with kids). I ended up helping by carrying equipment around and selling merch. When I heard that the camp was being expanded for adults, I felt more confident in taking a bigger role, but family obligations prevented me from doing that at the inaugral camp last October. So I made a point of commiting to the February camp.

Somewhat sight unseen the camp organizers hired me to be a band coach. And now it seems that they will also need me to teach bass.

The band coach thing, while requiring a level of gregariousness which will be a challenge for me, I feel completely qualified for. I've been in lots of different kinds of ensembles and I play enough different instruments that I have a handle on this. It's all about communication and listening to each other.

Teaching bass is a little more of a challenge.

There are two defining factors in the approach I will take, though, that ease my mind somewhat. First...instrument instruction will consist of two sessions each of an hour and fifteen minutes over two days. Second...the skill levels of participants will vary wildly, but most will likely be very much beginners, perhaps having never even picked up the instrument before that weekend. Beyond that, these will be group sessions, so not a ton of time to get into detail with individuals.

I have the experience of having JUST taken a class in bass last year. That class was something of an overview...but was pretty theory heavy and kind of assumed a basic level of competency. I held my own. But more than that, I could see how much or how little an instructor can really address in a couple of hours. And I have the benefit of taking the class and having wished that it had been better organized and that there had been some print materials to take away and reflect on.

The bottom line is...there's limited amount that can be covered in the time available and the key is probably being well organized and open to the varying levels of skill and understanding of the students. Ultimately they are there to learn enough to be able to play ONE song after a few hours of instruction. This is an introduction for them both to the instrument and to playing in ensembles. Indeed TOO much information or TOO much detail would probably overwhelm them and scare them off. It's supposed to be fun and to encourage them to continue on with music.

My primary challenge is getting over my own fear of incompetence. Anytime I teach a class I'm always worried that the students are thinking that I don't know what I'm talking about and I always fear that they are right. That I'm a fraud. Really though...people are probably usually more worried about themselves. Anyone who had the skills and confidence to play in bands on their own would probably already be doing it. I have had that confidence. They will be looking up to me for doing on my own the things that they wish they could do.

In the end, I think it is going to be good for me.

Oh...and I have to remember to try to smile, or at least be friendly. Being welcoming and accepting is what this is all about. Some people might perceive my normal demeanor as off-putting. Though I think I've been a leader in these kinds of situations enough in the past that I can put on a good face for three days. It's in real life where who I am gets me in trouble.

Edit: Sudden epiphany! There are different kinds of teachers who are good for you at different points in your development. Case in drum lessons. My last instructor was more laid back, and in a way this might have meant that I didn't advance in skills as quickly as I could have. But what I needed then was reassurance and confidence building. I didn't need a drill instructor or an expert. Now...I kind of DO need an expert and someone who will really hold my feet to the fire. The people going to this camp, with few exceptions, need a cheerleader more than a drill sargent. They need basic information, reassurance and confidence-building more than detailed technique. I can be the right instructor for them at this moment in their development...even if I might not be the right instructor for them a month or a year or ten years down the road. And, as someone who is mostly self-taught and a somewhat new to bass playing, I know what it is like to be new and confused. A more advanced player might not be able to empathize and problem solve as well with a beginner.

And finally, I take reassurance in the fact that plenty of people think Kim Deal is a great bass player...even though she herself has said that she doesn't know much of anything about music theory.

A Fresh Start

I'm not sure that I intended January to be a fresh start for me, but so many things are shaping up that work, with regards to my health regime, and with music.

I've signed on to coach a band and ACTUALLY TEACH BASS at a local rock fantasy camp for adult women. More on that in another post, but I'll say that it lit a fire under me to get a better handle on the theory of the bass...which I've been meaning to do for some time now.

With drums, I feel like I'm rededicating myself. That means better mastering the songs that my bands play, but it also means getting back to basics. I restarted lessons kind of on a whim, but after just one with the new instructor, I can see a door crack open to a new reality. If I apply myself (and really just in marginal ways), with his guidance I think I can advance more quickly and more completely than I ever really thought possible.

It's hard to explain what I mean by this. But the first taste of it is that he spent about 7 minutes with me on a concept on Sunday night. Last night I sat down to review, and instead of it taking 7 minutes to get back to where I was on Sunday (or not being able to do it at all, which so often happens to me when I try to approach concepts several days after being introduced to them), it only took a moment or two. A few hours later, when asked to play the concept for the sweetie, instead of having to go through the couple of minutes of reacquaiting myself again...I sat down and played it perfectly on the first try. And it happened sort of my muscle memory...I wasn't thinking super hard about anything except how to start.

Besides signalling skill advancement potential...this really just is a huge morale boost for me. To know that if I just spend some very limited focuses time on concepts that I can master them quickly is so reassuring. It drives me to want to try the next hard thing...instead of being scared away.

I know that this feeling won't last. Life waxes and wanes. But it is good to be reminded every once in a while that hard work and focus really does pay off. Things that seem impossible rarely are if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


The following is the best free electronic notation of the samba beat that JBB taught me on Sunday that I could find...though I think we were counting it half as slow as this:

Today is technically my "off" day for playing music, but I think I'm going to put in 10 or 15 minutes on this tonight.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Dig for Fire

This song is a major pain in the ass. For some reason we don't seem to be able to communicate the timing to each other at all at the start. Every time I or the others think we've got it nailed, it's still wrong.

Here's a live version from Santiago, Chile last year. I think it is a useful video because it shows DL counting off the time and then his part...and how the others enter. It's hard to figure from studio recordings because there's no count off for when to start counting.

Lessons Version 2.0, Week 1

Met up with JBB for my first lesson. He laid out that he is a hard core technique kind of guy. He structures all of his lessons in for, say, 6 weeks, all of his students get taught the same subject (modified according to level). I was coming in on week 2 of Latin. We went over Samba. He did a really good job of building me up to it...a pattern I've struggled with. I had it going within ten minutes. He was good about details...noticing for instance that I had my heel down. He moved at a quick pace, but not too quick. Reassuring when needed...reaffirming when needed. We didn't use the entire half hour. Quality over quantity he said. That kind of sounds like a crock...but it is absolutely true that we made huge progress in about 15 minutes and that I was overwhelmed at that point. It would have been hard to absorb anything else. Which is basically what he said.

It is the style of lessons that will require me to go away and practice a concept and be able to come back and perform that concept. But he's only going to give me one concept at a time, so it won't be too much to do. There will be accountability.

It's kind of terrifying, but in a totally good way. Personality wise I thought we got along fine. He will push hard, but I think he will get results quickly from me. I think that I could really make huge advances with his guidance.

SSW, 1/8/2011, Crystal Corner Bar

I had modest dreams when I started playing in bands here in Madison. Amongst them, to play at the High Noon Saloon, the Harmony Bar, and the Crystal Corner Bar. All three have now been accomplished.

I had a head cold, but solidered on for this. Managed to pull it off decently. Used my own kit. Didn't drink any alcohol. Plenty of sleep and food. Loaded in (my black kit) from a back alley door straight to the stage at 8pm for a 10pm start. I continue to be happy with my stripped down gig kit and the hardware bag that I'm improvising with. The sound guys did some interesting (read: strange) things...asked me to play louder (I didn't)...asked Rick to use a different amp (he didn't)...and put some super weird effects on the vocals. The much storied green room wasn't anything that I'd write home about. Having a bathroom and a tv ought not to make such facilities considered top of the line IMHO. I left right after playing to continue recovering from my illness. We had a nice turnout. I don't know what the take was as I left before cash out.

My only real reflection on my playing is that 1) I don't practice these songs anymore, which is probably not good and makes them less than second nature and 2)when you are stone cold sober playing songs that aren't really that hard, your mind begins to wander and focus on strange things. The effect is hyper-consciousness...which while bad. You can't drum and think too hard about what you are doing or you will screw up. I need to work on some strategy to deal with this that doesn't involve alcohol.

Setlist (it was David Bowie/Elvis's birthday, so we pulled out Starman with a psych-out Jailhouse Rock beginning). We crammed these 15 songs into a mere 45 minutes without running over:

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thoughts On Playing Slow

So one of my bands has these "cock rock" tunes that require playing relatively slowly. When I was playing with the grunge ensemble that fell apart I had noticed that the slow songs were the hardest (stuff like Plush or Interstate Love Song by Stone Temple Pilots...or Cumbersome by Seven Mary Three). I'm finding the same thing now. Fast is hard in it's own way...but fast is kind of something you can easily build up to. Slow is tough, though.

Playing inconsistently when I play slowly is probably a huge groove killer (and what prompted the comment about playing behind the beat). It's something worth working on.

I imagine the only real way to work on this is to play with a metronome and improve my sense of internal timing at slow bpms.

Below is my first attempt at embedding an mp3 player into a blog post. Still working out the kinks. It doesn't seem to want to let me put the name of the song within the player or to allow you to fast forward or rewind. But this is the only code I could find that would allow an embedded player in Blogger. I guess Blogger isn't great for such stuff. But it works. Kinda. You might have to hit the play button twice.

This song starts fast, but at about 3:30 we switch into a slow "cock rock" bit. That's the kind of stuff I have trouble maintaining my tempo on.

Finding the Groove: Playing Behind, Ahead, On-Top

So there's these concepts of playing behind, ahead, or on-top of the beat. It has never come up in real life for me before, it's just been something I've read about in magazines. But last night someone asked me to play "behind the beat" (note to myself...this was for the second half of "Movin' On"). I guess it's time to start thinking more about this.

Here's a decent video:

Honestly, this is a very advanced concept. I'm not sure that it is necessary in the situation it was brought up to me. What I really think was happening last night was that the guitar player was rushing and that I was playing inconsistently (not staying one tempo) because I'm not used to playing slowly and because I was unfamiliar with the song. That stuff needs to get fixed first...and then...yeah...laying behind the beat would be ideal for the song in question.

I don't feel like we are rehearsing the tunes hard enough to get to that point, though. We basically play through things once...once a week. That's not rehearsing, that's playing. To get to a fine point like playing behind the beat...we need to be working take an entire 3 hour rehearsal on one song and really work it rather than just play it. Right now most all of the advancement I am making with these songs is in my private practice by myself. Working on groove in that situation (where I'm playing with a recording by myself) is tough. If we really want to groove as a band...that's a group effort. We have to know the songs stone cold like the back of our hands...and then we can work the finesse. I think musical communication is pretty strained in this situation, though, so I'm not sure how we'd get to that point. We don't all have the same language or means to communicate. So we can't just talk to each other or write something down and have it be resolved. If we aren't able to communicate musical concepts well to each other in those ways, there needs to be more room to explore and screw up together. Jam it out...change things...jam it out more...fix it...come together. For now, that isn't happening.

So I think the main thing I have to do is learn the songs inside out the best that I can under the circumstances. That's the best shot I can have at getting to a groove point. For now, I'm still just barely holding on to the basics. Groove is a good prize to keep my eye on...but I kind of have to be patient with myself and acknowledge that beyond me just needing more practice and experience...the situation isn't ideal to foster such subtleties either.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Starting Lessons Again

I took drum lessons for 76 weeks ending on August 19, 2010. Whether or not I counted weeks in which we had to skip a lesson is a little iffy...but I believe I made the decision to start lessons in December 2008 and the lessons actually started sometime in February 2009. Prior to that I had taken lessons twice before, but neither time did it last beyond a few months.

My instructor for the 76 weeks, EN, left town, ending my lessons and I decided to take some time off. I thought I'd study independently...but a couple of auditions got in the way and a subsequent award of a drum chair in a band...and ever since then I've pretty much just been trying to learn that band's catalogue. I've had a couple of false starts with "studying" on my own, but it hasn't been sticking.

This Sunday I'm starting weekly lessons with a new instructor. He's the one my last instructor recommended, and he also comes with plenty of good press. Recently he was waiting to hear on a possible grammy nomination. It didn't come through...but that's the level of player I'm dealing with.

I'm not sure what my goal will be for this round of lessons. I'm gonna wait and see where he takes me to some degree. My general goal is just to continue studying in a way that takes me beyond just learning and playing the tunes my bands play. Challenging myself with concepts that I might not explore on my own. Improving my independence. Improving my comfort with odd time signatures and styles I'm unfamiliar with. Generally improving my sense of "groove" and timing. Making things more instinctual. Improving my ability to play all major styles on the fly. And just holding me to weekly study. Being held responsible for showing up and playing at least that one day a week...and perhaps even for preparing for that time.

With instructors I find that it is really just about personal chemistry for me. I have to get along well with the person first and foremost, and feel like I can communicate with them. I want them to push me...but not too hard. And I want them to be well organized. I think I will know after one or two lessons if this instructor is a good fit. In general, I do not like taking music this chemistry piece is very important. If it is a good fit...then we'll have to see where it goes from there.


Whilst looking to verify that there is indeed no songs of the year for two years I came across this gem of a post:

Last Thursday I bought a five piece drum kit with three cymbals plus hit hats. Though I've been thinking of doing so since about 1995...and yet it still felt like an impulse buy.

They are now living in my basement along with an electric bass and electric keyboard...just waiting for a band to spring up into action."

It's worth saying that by summer there was indeed a band in that basement...and within a year I was gigging out on drums. And those drums and that bass are both getting regular exercise these days.

If you can dream it you can be just have to do it.

Song of the Year

Every year since 1985 (with the exception of 06 and 08) I have picked a "song of the year." The song is supposed to represent the coming year. Sometimes it is a pessimistic song...sometimes it is an optimistic song. Sometimes I am not even sure why I pick the song...but they almost always end year have been an excellent representation of the previous year.

I pick the song on New Year's Eve for the coming year...and it is supposed to be the first song that I hear in the New Year (and the previous year's song is supposed to be the last song that I hear in the previous year). Of course, logistically this is not always possible, but usually it is.

This year I forgot all about it until Jan 2nd. I remembered and the first song that came to mind was Divine Hammer, by The Breeders. And so it is.

1985 Kids from Fame, I Still Believe in Me
1986 Go West, Don't Look Down
1987 Outfield, Taking My Chances
1988 Police, King of Pain
1989 U2, Where the Streets Have No Name
1990 Erasure, Hideaway
1991 Aztec Camera, Stray
1992 Erasure, Home
1993 Kirt Kempter, Standing on this Bridge
1994 John Wesley Harding, End of Something
1995 Poi Dog Pondering, Postcard from a Dream
1996 Indigo Girls, Watershed
1997 Poi Dog Pondering, Complicated
1998 Michelle Shocked, The Hard Way
1999 Ani DiFranco, Fuel
2000 The Nields, Giving it Back to Susan
2001 Barenaked Ladies, Falling for the First Time
2002 The Nields, This Town is Wrong
2003 Fleetwood Mac, Landslide
2004 Barenaked Ladies, Go Home
2005 Barenaked Ladies, For You
2007 The Motor Primitives,Favorite Dream
2009 Barenaked Ladies, Testing 1, 2, 3
2010 Barenaked Ladies, Maybe You're Right
2011 The Breeders, Divine Hammer

TD, Mickey's, 12/31/2010

Stopped by practice space and played two song warm up (HSUL and one other I've forgotten, maybe Gun in Your Grave). Setup at Mickey's was quick and not very stressful. When we arrived the tables and chairs were already gone and TNAMG had already set up the drum kit.

It was tall, as expected, and I used my own cymbals, snare, snare stand, and throne. The bass drum pedal wouldn't come off the hoop, and anyway he had a small bass drum so I would have had to adjust my pedal. I stuck with his, which was different than mine, but ok. His bass drum was super loud, which was great. I think it was a vintage pearl kit, one rack tom and a floor tom. The hardware was flimsy and old. He had a crappy rug that wasn't big enough and the weave was too loose to hold things in place. I was having sliding problems. And the right crash stand kept twisting sideways. Overall, not the worst borrowing situation, but it had it's moments. Also, I couldn't get the rack or floor tom to adjust down, so I played them high, but that didn't end up being a very big deal.

I think we played well. I goofed a couple of things, but probably nothing that the audience noticed. The boys played pretty well...something weird happened on one song, but we pulled it back together. Didn't drink at all that night. Had plenty of water. Didn't get much sleep night before but was off and napped all day.

Haven't Seen You Lately
Going Down the Drain
At the Door
Better N Better
Gun in Your Grave
It's Alright
Gotta Tell U
Vac Man