Monday, September 24, 2012

Who Am I?

In December 2005 I bought a drum kit. It was something I'd thought of doing for a long time, but in the end it was a total impulse purchase. And somehow it led to me really wanting to be a drummer. Somewhere in this monster of a blog I probably could pinpoint kind of when I got serious about that, but I imagine it was in fall of 2008 or so.

On an equal whim, I decided to start playing bass...several times. Once in about 1994...once in about 2003...and again in late 2009/early 2010. In fact, I think I got the idea to start playing bass again in late December 2009...perhaps even 4 years to the day after buying that drum kit.

Since spring 2010 I've been doing a balancing act between drums and bass, but I've still been thinking of myself as a drummer who goofs around with bass. I realized kind of suddenly this weekend that I may now be thinking of myself as a bass player who goofs around with drums. It snuck up on me.

Bass has always been easier for me, perhaps because I have some background in cello and guitar. Drums, on the other hand, have always been hard. It is my tendancy to discount things that come easily to me...but maybe that's the wrong way to think about life.

This spring I took an on-line class in drums. It was supposed to be the beginning of me "getting really serious" (again). Instead it kind of demoralized me. I don't have to look much earlier than that to see a time that I started drum lessons that was supposed to be the beginning of me "getting really serious" (again). Instead THAT kind of demoralized me. In both cases I was working really hard and getting nothing but pain in return. And there are many more examples.

Conversely, in recent months I feel like by just putting a tiny bit of effort into the bass I've made huge improvements. And it is still fun. And I now play bass in 3 bands and drums in 2. That's a new was 2 drum bands to 1 bass band for a good long while.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not quitting the drums. I still love playing them. And I do think that I'm getting better at them...slowly but surely. But there's something about the bass that feels like fits. With drums I feel like I'm swimming upstream and against all odds and logic. With bass I feel home.

And I've spent my whole life looking for a musical home.

TD, Frequency 9/22/2012 & Mirimar Theatre 9/23/2012

Settle in kids, it is time again for a tale of two gigs. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

On Saturday night we opened for Mr. Fist and Kill Junior at The Frequency. We played great. I played great. The new drums sounded awesome through the sound system. The crowd loved it. We made $110. I had like 5 drinks but shoulda had none...but it didn't hurt my playing. All was well and glorious.

On Sunday we drove to Milwaukee for the Gorilla Battle of the Bands at the Mirimar Theatre. I knew the moment I was asked to play this show that it would be a total cluster fuck and it delivered. To their credit, the venue kept things rolling and on schedule mostly (despite the fact that venue was under new ownership and only honoring an existing committment and didn't want to put on the show)...but not much else positive can be said. Mis-communication at so many levels. No promotional posters up at venue. Link on website to event broken. No audience. Hauling my shit all over god's creation. Hurry up! Now hurry up and wait! Go don't go here...go there. We sounded like shit. I played ok but not great. I had 3 drinks out of sheer boredom and frustration. A real shitter of a day. I'm exhausted.

Let this be a lesson to you. Hear me future self...never ever ever ever agree to do a battle of the bands show again. If you have to presell tickets to something...walk away. If there is more than 5 bands on a bill...walk away. If a promotion company of any type is involved...with few exceptions walk away. Walk away. Just...don't even think about it...walk. WALK.

Setlist Sat:
Sent It
At the Door
Bodies A Burnin
Better N Better
Gun in Your Grave
Fire Burns
Gotta Tell U

Setlist Sun:
Sent It
Bodies A Burnin
Better N Better
Gun in Your Grave

Friday, September 21, 2012

SSW, HNS, 9/20/2012

We played the patio at HNS for happy hour. Cement Pond opened. Later on, the Melvins played inside. There was an article in the paper and everything.

We had the grumpiest of the HN sound guys, but he was better this time, maybe because I had a Sonor kit instead of a Gretsch. Still when I approached him to tell him what our setup was and that I needed a drum vocal mic and RS needed a mic for his small amp he said "Where do you think you are?" like I thought I was the queen or was asking too much. It is hard for me to tell if this is just his sense of humor or what. After the show he informed us that our vocals were clipping throughout. Again I ask...why wouldn't you tell us this as soon as you noticed it so we could correct instead of waiting until afterwards and complaining. I don't get it.

For the record and future reference, the patio PA is 6 channels with no monitors. Normally they'd be able to handle us having 6 mics, but the Melvins had commondeered most of the sound equipment. We were perhaps a little loud as Cathy could hear us from her house. I could hear nothing but my drums and KS's bass...I couldn't hear any vocals...which led me to lose my place a few times, but not badly. Dropped three sticks on I've Been So Mad...not sure why.

The show went ok. I played pretty well. JG and RS couldn't hear their guitars at all which was a factor. We aren't show ready with Mr DNA and I've Been So Mad...both have complicated counting patterns and we just aren't getting them naturally. We should practice them or jettison. I got 2 tacos from Brass Ring for dinner. I had 3 beers before the show, 1 during, and 3 after. And about 4 or 5 waters. I had not intended to drink at all...but I got bored waiting for people to show up and then one thing led to another. But I didn't get drunk at all. For future reference I got there at 4:45pm to set up drums for a 6pm show. The sound guy and opening band did not arrive until around 5:30pm. So don't rush next time.

My kit sounded great and I got several compliments on it from multiple people...including from Cement Pond's drummer, who is a minor local celebrity (formerly of Killdozer) and who said it was nicer than any kit he has ever owned. Someone else asked me if I paid thousands for it...nope...$450 with cases.

It was just a little chilly, but pleasant out. There was a small but serviceable crowd. The Melvins ran people outside during their sound check, so that probably helped us...that and it being the last week of summer.

Amusing side observation: I got there early so I got to see the Melvins load in. They arrived in a Sprinter van and unloaded all of their own stuff. I think it was just the 3 of them plus a merch guy. There might have been one other person, I'm not sure. is just interesting to witness the evolution/devolution of rock stars.  I mentioned this to JG and he said "see we really are all in this together." I'm not sure that's true...but what IS true is that there's less distance between seasoned pros with a following and new upstart bands than ever before.  And any upstart band that wants to really just needs to get dedicated...put in the time.  That means time booking, time promoting, and time touring.

And there's the rub. I think I'd be willing to put in the time, but I have a feeling that most folks that I play with are in a weekend warrior situation...they are more than willing to put in the time playing and perfecting the music...but putting the time in on the business and travel end just isn't either what they want to do or are able to do because of other obligations. In the end I'm probably ok with that...I'm not going to push for it...because I think it is a zero sum gain.  "Making it big" is an illusion these days. All anyone can hope for is to make a living...and probably a slim living at that. This has probably always really been the case...but there used to be that "get signed and make it big" dream. That's gone. You make your own way. It was true then even if the dream was out there...but now it is REALLY true. Cause in the end you could be the Melvins or KeD...but you are still getting in a van, driving around, carrying your shit around, and getting paid probably badly.  All the same...I would like to do a tour...even just for a week...just once to see what it is like.


1. Boscobel
2. Teenaged Kicks
3. We Are the One
4. Political Song
5. One Track Mind
6. Helicopter
7. No Lip
8. Mr DNA
9. Dance 4X
10. Hate and War
11. I Hate the Rich
12. New Rose
13. Too Drunk
14. I Am a Cliché
15. You Drive Me Ape
16. Suspect Device
17. I’ve Been So Mad Lately
18. Fucked Up & Wasted

Thursday, September 20, 2012

"The" Bass

A note here that Kim Deal's Doolittle bass is probably made in Japan and based in part on Pino Palladino's bass, which was an original '62 P bass in Fiesta Red with a tortoise shell pick guard. I've seen some indication that all late 80s '62 reissue P basses were made in Japan. The Japanese instruments of this era are well regarded as quality playing instruments. I can't be for sure, but I'd bet that hers is a 1987 Fender '62 Reissue made in Japan in Fiesta Red with dark fingerboard. It probably came with a white pick-guard that she seems to have subsequently replaced with a silver one. It also probably came with a little black finger rest, that she's since removed. (see video for Here Comes Your Man for likely original below). Doolittle began recording on October 31, it is possible that it is a 1988 model, but it seems that 1988 and 1989 models might not exist...1987s seem more common. I suppose it could have been a 1986 too. I'm shooting at 1987 though.

This article is a great resource.

"Accordingly, Fender Japan was established in March 1982 and began building quality Fender instruments while U.S production was reorganized. One of the earliest results was the Vintage Reissue series, a high-quality new family that featured two well-built and largely historically accurate Precision Bass models, the ’57 Precision Bass and the ’62 Precision Bass. These Japanese-built Vintage Series instruments were soon introduced into the European market under the Squier name.

The short-lived Elite Precision Bass appeared in 1983 in several configurations with special electronics and hardware, but the concept lasted barely a year.
The first sign of recovery for Fender itself, on the other hand, came in 1984, when CBS decided to sell off all its non-broadcast-related holdings. Fender was on the block, and Schultz, backed by a group of investors he enlisted, bought the company he’d presided over since 1981 in a sale that was completed in March 1985, ending 20 years of CBS rule.

Owning very little in the way of resources—only the name, distribution and some leftover inventory and machinery (no U.S. factory)—Schultz set about rebuilding and revitalizing Fender. While Fender Japan now became the world’s main producer of Fender instruments, Schultz and his staff established headquarters for the newly renamed Fender Musical Instruments Corporation in Brea, Calif., and acquired a 14,000-square-foot factory in Corona, Calif., in October 1985.

It is at this point that the modern-era history of the Precision Bass truly begins.

With that new mid-’80s beginning under Bill Schultz, Fender started by concentrating on quality rather than quantity, beginning with a small number of vintage reissue instruments and redesigned back-to-basics modern guitars and basses dubbed American Standard models. Production began in Corona in 1987 of the first new U.S.-built models, the American Standard Precision and the Precision Bass Plus; the latter of which featured a 22-fret neck (up from the traditional 20), Lace Sensor active pickups with series/parallel switching and an elongated upper horn for improved balance (this last imparted a noticeably odd look to the instrument, but nonetheless remained in place until the model was discontinued in 1993).

Also in 1987, the Fender Custom Shop was established, with one of its very first creations (work order No. 0003) being a 1962 “Mary Kay”-style Precision Bass with an ash body and gold hardware; the instrument was logged in on May 15 of that year and logged out just under a month later, on June 22. From that point onward, the Custom Shop would repeatedly elevate the Precision Bass from workhorse to work of art."

These instruments, especially in this color, seem relatively rare, and can cost up to $5,000...but deals are to be found. I'm kicking myself a bit because an 87 was on Craig's List recently, though in Candy Apple Red, for $450. Candy Apple Red seems much more common.

Here's some gold...a 1987 MIJ Fender catalog. There's a picture of a '62 reissue in Candy Apple Red with light fingerboard.

And the "no harm no foul" catagory...I could just make my own using this paint for $19 and these pickups for $90. I have a Lotus P style bass with a dark finger board...

Slap Bass

I don't really like slap bass and don't care to play it. But I have to learn a little for this song. This guy does a decent job of showing how it is done. Slap  part starts at 1:25

Friday, September 14, 2012

Pro vs Weekend Warrior

So I don't know if it is my own low self-esteem or a legitimate view of reality...but despite the fact that I am currently in 6 bands, play out regularly, and do occasionally get paid for it...I don't feel like I am perceived by myself or others as a professional musician.

It isn't the fact of having a day job, I know lots of people who are considered pro who have a day job. It's something else. Level of talent? Well maybe, but I know people who aren't as talented as me who pass for pros. Number of shows played? Nope, cause I know folks who never play shows and still get billed pro. So what IS it?

I think part of it may have to do with my role. I am a support player, not a front person. And somehow, unless you are a session musician, this role gets less credit in the world. And I'm not sure why this is.

I was thinking today about all the local star musicians that I know. Most of them play in ONE band. Most of them are singer-songwriters. And they tend to play the same set over and over. There are exceptions...the folks who play in dozens of bands...but they are in a different kind of category (like a session player). Anyway, I guess I don't see the challenge in playing one set over and over...or the interest. Blah. I couldn't do it. But for sure that makes what you are marketing pretty simple. You get to reinforce over and over. The product is defined and so easy to consume.

I'm not sure my point. I'm not bad mouthing anybody else. I just want to end the personal sense that I'm playing on the B team. I'm doing all I can to improve the skill side of that...but in the end it may be more about perception than reality. And I'm never going to be the person who promotes an image...and the fellow musicians that I seem to gravitate towards aren't either. So I guess we're never going to get anywhere.

Monday, September 10, 2012

SSW, Mr Roberts, 9/6/2012

A last minute add-on with some guy names Tim B and the Cutouts. We played second. Mr. Roberts had a new PA that wasn't set up right and it took us half the show to resolve in any kind of way. It was my first show with the new kit, which is heavier and has more components than I'm used to having to set up, which is a bummer. But it sounds good. I couldn't really hear the kick drum...but I don't know if this is because of the way I had it muffled or because the sound in general was all fucked up. It is possible that the maple doesn't cut through as much...more low end, less cut. I skipped using the bags and all was well, really only need to be careful of the bass drum hoops, which could get scratched from laying on ground (especially concrete).

I played ok. I had things set up a bit wrong so kept catching stick on underside of cymbals and had to crank my arm weird to hit the ride, but I worked it out as the set went along. We probably weren't ready to play I've Been So Mad and Mr DNA out, but we made it through. I had one beer right before going on and that's all. The guy in the Cutouts managed to break the two lowest bass strings on a single song...that was something new. Don't know if or how much we were paid.

14. I AM A cliché
17. FUCKED UP AND WASTED (cut for time)
18. MR. DNA

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Guitar Zero

I don't read books much at all really, but I picked up Guitar Zero by Gary Marcus at the local independent feminist bookstore as a way to support them. I'm a quarter way through in no time. I like it, he has a nice writing style. And it combines my two favorite things, science and adult music education.

It makes me realize that, though I feel like I'm beginning my musical journey in mid-life, that's really a lie. I started early...not as early as some or as formally...but I was noodling on the chord organ for sure by age 8. took up cello at age 11 and taught myself open guitar chords shortly thereafter. I didn't really practice much...but I was in the ballpark. I under estimate the value of learning to read form guitar chords...of playing in ensembles.  For the first several years that I played bass (2003-2009) I transposed everything from cello pretty much in my head in a kind of instantaneous process. I thought of things would be HERE on cello and bass is different from cello in THIS it must be HERE on bass. Now, after having played the bass on a weekly or even daily basis since January 2010...I don't think that way any more. Now the bass is the bass and if I think about it in relationship to anything at all it is in relationship to guitar. But even though it is different...cello was a great introduction to electric bass. The note spacings are nearly identical.

I struggle with music theory and get discouraged by it. It is so vast and every time I think that I understand a "rule" there seems to pop up dozens of exceptions to that rule that I don't understand.  I'm finally STARTING to understand major and minor scales...and western chord progressions in those scales. But it is still terrifying and makes me feel dumb most of the time. Like everyone else gets it and I don't. But the truth is that I get more than I give myself credit for.

In the book the author talks about the "12 against 7" issue...which I'd never thought about. There are 12 notes in a chromatic scale...but only 7 lettered notes. The rest are flats/sharps. And for what seems like no reason at all there's no flats/sharps between B and C and between E and F (except when there is...but that's a load of exceptions that would make my mind explode). I've always taken this on faith and it never bothered me really. I knew it instinctually from playing chord organ (keyboard)...but explicitely from cello. But for a very, very beginner...this must seem insane.  So I'm a leg up.  Perhaps I know just enough to be boxed in...just enough to get myself in trouble.

I'm trying not to think so much about theory these days in a way...and in a way I'm thinking about it more than ever. I feel like I have to side glance at it...not make eye contact...not look full on. Catch it by mistake. Key for me these days is relative intervals...and internalizing them. I get surprised every day by notes falling in places I hadn't noticed before.

With drums, the author states something oddly reassuring (and maddening)...that 4 way independence may be amongst the hardest of human accomplishments. He also states that independence may be an illusion of sorts....more an inverse dependence than true independence. Teaching our limbs to move opposite in patterns...but not truly independently. the land of ego that is's nice to hear straight science from someone who deperately wants to play and wants to understand how that happens. And it is nice to know that you can teach an old dog new just might take more steps and repetition.

I still say that every child should be forced to play piano or guitar from a very young age. Then, around age 12, they should be released from that instrument to play anything that they want. There is a danger of running them off from music entirely...but the potential benefits seem so great. Maybe those who start late aren't a lost cause...but I for one am glad that I'm not starting from zero.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CJ, Mickey's, 8/31/2012

We played a 40 song (ended up being 39 actually) show at Mickey's. Wife (metal) opened. We played 5 new songs: Hangwire, Winterlong, Lovely Day, Build High, Dance the Manta Ray. The new songs went over well except Dance MR, which seemed to clear the room. Slow = bad.

Things started well. Good crowd. But something wasn't right with the PA and we didn't figure out until set break that the right speaker wasn't on. So RS and I strained our voices in the first set and the vocals were too quiet and were distorted. I don't know if that's why, but the place cleared out for the second set.

I had one beer before, two during (one per set), and one after the show. And plenty of water. Ate a good meal. Had good sleep.

I played well aside from the strange PA situation messing with my vocals. Once the PA got fixed I felt really good about my vocals. There were some mistakes here and there but they mostly weren't mine. The show went off fairly well except for the technical problem and the audience leaving.  We moved the bench over so that I could put my bass amp up against the wall behind me and I was able to fit in sort of to the side of the PA speaker and I didn't have the troubles with feedback that I've had in the past.

A note too that CT had an excellent Vamos particular the spring crash from dropping the amp was possibly the most awesome he's ever hit.

Setlist (note that we skipped Rock Music at start of 2nd set because Rick's voice was bugging him)

1st set
Broken Face
I'm Amazed
Build High
Blown Away
In Heaven
Wave UK

2nd set
Rock Music (skipped)
Lovely Day
I've Been Tired
La La Love
Here Comes
Manta Ray
Dance the Manta Ray
Bird Dream
Where Is My Mind