Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Speaking of Upgrades

Oh...and I put a fresh set of strings on the acoustic bass. I got Ernie Ball Earthwoods. The thing is BRIGHT now, but that's okay because I need it to cut through unplugged.

Good Head

At the show last Thursday I noticed that my heads on the black kit are pretty pitted. The floor tom sounds pretty bad too.

So my current drum situation is that
  • The Red Pulse is at TD practice space with all Remo heads on it except for the resonant bass, which is a Pulse. The heads are old, but in good shape. All my extra hardware is there and so is all of my extra cymbals.
  • The Sonor is at my house with all Remo and the newest heads on it. I use the Sonor for personal practice, I loan it for ska practice, and I use it for TD gigs whenever possible. My best hardware and cymbals are with the Sonor.
  • The Black Pulse lives in my gig bags and I use it for SSW gigs and for any outdoor gigs. It has very old Remo batters and the stock Sonor resonants. I grab hardware and cymbals from one of the other kits when I need it.
So this week I bought a full set of Remo resonant heads and a pinstripe Remo Rock Pack of batters and a Remo Powerstroke bass resonant. Basically a complete set of everything. This cost me just about $175 online.

I'm now debating what to do with the new set...put it on the Sonor or put it on the Black Pulse. If I put it on the Sonor I'll move the Sonor heads to the Black Pulse. Not only is this twice the work, part of me wants to see what is the best case scenario for how the Black Pulse can sound. So probably I'll put everything on the Black Pulse and get new heads for the Sonor in a year or two...or maybe just replace the tom batters sometime soonish. If we ever get around to recording TD I'll certainly replace everything immediately before that.

SSW, 5/23/2013 Wisco

Crap I nearly forgot. SSW played a show. It was nearly this exact show but with a couple of adjustments to the setlist. Most of the other details were the same...except that ED brought a green bulb to plug into the audience-blinding light fixture. Other fun fact...we had not played together since that other show.

I did not drink all day. I played fine. We were fine. Maybe we should never rehearse again.

There was an enthusiastic drunk fellow who had been there a month ago and was there again. Both times not to see us...both times shit himself over our setlist...both times wanted to have a full blown conversation with us mid-show multiple times. Deja vu.

There was nearly no audience at all other than that except for KS's soon-to-be wife and Homie. Someone played a cover of a Blondie tune (Dreaming I believe it was, which JG debated with me if we'd done...yes J, I had to learn that fucking tom song) on the juke and we (5 of 6 members of Peroxide present) all rejoiced.

Setlist to come (probably not)

Monday, May 20, 2013

That Pesky Left Foot

I've been listening to the 94 Stockholm concert non-stop ever since I got it on Monday. Yesterday I drove out to Cross Plains to tend to GRC inventory and ended up listening to the concert maybe four times in a row. Aside from being amused by all the drunk KeD banter (amused only because it is ancient history now) the biggest thing I've noticed is JM's drumming.  In particular, his left foot.

My left foot (sounds like an art film) is the last thing to integrate into my drumming. I use it a tad, but not much at all. I noticed that much of the time JM is keeping time with it, often with 8th notes (but sometimes with quarter notes). This strikes me as a very jazz-oriented thing to do, which makes me wonder what his background is. (UPDATE: here's something). I sat down and gave it a shot yesterday and had better luck than I'd expected. But it is quite foreign to me.

I also noticed that he switches back and forth between on beat versus off beat snare hits much so that one might call it his style. This too I suck at.

Recording...or not...yet again

Someone donated an M audio interface to GRC and I was gonna take it for a test ride under the guise of testing it for camp but secretly cause I've wanted one forever. It turns out it is a firewire device, which I have no way to hook into. On a whim I stopped into a local music store to see if they had firewire to usb converters. They didn't, and they looked it up on the internet for me and we figured out together that you don't really want to try to convert firewire to usb for doesn't work that way (flash back to my optical to usb quest). While I was waiting for them to look stuff up, on the clearance table I found a Yamaha Audiogram3 with Cubase ai5 software for $71. It had a usb hookup and worked with my operating system. What the hell thought I?

Of course, as these things go, "plug and play" wasn't really the case. I'd hoped to set this up on my old laptop, but quickly figured out that I'm so behind on Windows updates on the thing that it crashes when you try to update or install anything. Sigh.

I successfully used up the very last bit of memory on my other laptop installing the thing. Can't quite get it to work right yet though. And the latency is horrible (you sing...and the sound returns to you half a second later). I found my project for "Do You Love Me Now" and suddenly wondered why I'd bought the thing at all...for here was a multi-tracked project in Audacity that I clearly put together WITHOUT a device at all.

That said, it would be nice to be able to record two tracks at once if I can get the thing to work and one would assume that it would be better quality (it has a pre-amp) than what I could get from my pc mic input. I also want to try using one of the mixers that GRC also recently acquired to see if I could record a live band all at once (though, of course, the tracks would not be separate, but once upon a time this worked pretty good for SPB demos).

I'm not sure if I'll play with it for a while and then return it if I can't get it to work...or rack it up to life and just let it sit in the corner and make me feel guilty and like a failure for the rest of my life.

Why is this so HARD? It's like the central ongoing pain in my ass of my musical life.

Friday, May 10, 2013

CJ, 5/8/2013 State Street

The weather was swell on Wednesday. It's been a long, rough winter. Wednesday was all sun shine and 70s/80s and glorious. Around 2:30pm or so our own private David Lovering texts our intrepid band of Pixies impostors..."rehearse outside? Ha, Ha." Figures me, well if the drummer is willing who can deny him? And so there we were three hours later caravan-ing to busk (not having even thought enough about the situation to think to carpool).  We played until about 7:45pm and mostly the set from Busking for Books. We made $13. 

I was prompted to post the following the next day in a different venue

"Observation: If you say to a crowd of people "we will play any Pixies song for you" 10% will keep walking. 85% will stare at you blankly and say "just play your best or favorite song". 4% will smile widely and say "hey" or "where is my mind" or "monkey gone to heaven". 0.99% will have an orgasm on the spot and pass out. After you revive them they'll ask you to play something off Surfer Rosa probably. 0.01% will sing along or do something else odd even though they have no idea what you are playing or possibly even where they are. (Note: Not in this list is the one person who knows you and asks for something really hard or that they know you don't really know yet just to be a dick.)"

and also this:

" CJ had a little help during our impromptu busking style rehearsal on State Street last night. A fellow joined in about 5 songs from the end. He did not know the Pixies but he sang along anyway. His rendition of Debaser sounded oddly just like this demo version, only I'm pretty sure he was saying "Da Basement" instead of "Debaser" He also, of course, asked us for money after the set was over."

Twas a fine evening outdoors and perhaps the most impromptu thing we've ever done.

I do think that all this pick holding is giving me arthritis in my thumb tho.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

TD, 5/4/2013

Second gig of the day. Benefit for WORT with Hewn and Cowboy something-or-other. I'd sobered up. Load in was 8:30pm for an 11:15pm start time.  We didn't take stage until at least 11:45pm. The whole thing was kind of a circle fuck with a serious misunderstanding about sharing gear which led to high anxiety and a seriously stripped down drum kit. I actually think I played really well. I think I was to the "fuck it I don't care" point and that actually made me play better. During "Jack" a smoke machine that I didn't know was behind me (nearly under my throne) went off. The effect was a loud swooshing noise, a flash of orange (as the smoke diffracted the "on" light) and smoke. SCARED THE SHIT OUT OF ME. I thought there was an electrical fire. Threw my gear bags across the stage so they wouldn't catch fire, jumped out of my chair and ran over to alert the sound guy. The rest of the band kept playing. Eventually I figured out what had happened and felt stupid. Oh well. It was interesting because I definitely had the thought process..."I could keep playing and see if this gets worse. No fuck that. This isn't worth getting hurt. I'm out of here."

I was in a bad mood all night. Spent most of the pre-show time in my car listening to Pema Chodron tapes and napping. I didn't want to hang out in the bar. Besides not wanting to talk to people and not wanting to be around the booze...they had these horrible disco lights on. Felt like I was gonna have a seizure.

I think that I was probably rude to several people, or they probably felt that way. I just really, really hate people coming up to me. I'm realizing that a major reason I drank (or a side effect) was that it made being around people easier. I remember I used to have a really hard time being out with the sweetie's friends or people from the Mill. Just super uncomfortable. That's how I feel at gigs. You can't really have a real conversation with anyone because it is loud and dark and most likely the other person is drunk...or they have some weird think going on about you being "the talent." I just don't like being the center of attention and I don't like small talk. I just feel I want everyone to get away from me.  It's like a nightmare. Combine that with the fact that people always want to talk to me right before or right after I play. This is when I'm moving my shit people. I can't talk to you right now. But honestly, I don't want to talk to them no matter when it is.

I'm sure people think I'm a real ass. I just don't know how else to be.

I just fine performances to be so disappointing. More and more I wonder why I do it and think about maybe not doing it anymore. There's all the moving of crap and parking and guarding your gear and worrying about your gear in the weather. Nothing ever goes the way you think it will or the way it was promised. You have to stay up really late and stand around. And the songs never sound as good as they do in practice. It's just a pile of disappointing irritation.

I'm trying to think of it as an exercise in accepting the impermanence of life and not getting attached to my own self-importance (how well I play doesn't matter). It's hard though. It's hard to go with the flow. It's hard to be in such an uncomfortable situation. But I probably need to stop trying to make myself comfortable all the time.

When I really think about it, I was happy with my playing. I had a few nice moments with AS as I re-orchestrated my parts on the weird kit. I had fun while I was playing. It was just everything before and everything after. And feeling dumb about the smoke machine. I'm making out like everything was so horrible, but it really wasn't.

I do think that, as big of a pain in the ass as it is, I should ALWAYS bring my own kit...even if I leave it in the car.

At the Door
Going Down

SVFD, 5/4/2013

We played a life celebration party for a fellow who is terminal. It was lovely. He has a great family. I wish them the best.

We played the same set as Mickey's.  I spaced out on Smiley and Rascal. This may have been due to beer, which I regret having drunk...but I think it is actually that I haven't been practicing. Anyway, other than that I played pretty well. All the hard songs I did fine. Our own personal sound engineer ran sound and that was fine. I noticed my amps was buzzing some by the end of the show. This doesn't surprise me because I pushed it on a cart across rough ground a ways and I suspect this may have loosened some screws. Fucking amp.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Surely I've posted about cymbals before. I do so today because I got in a frustrating discussion with some people the other day. It was one of those situations that, as soon as I left, I knew what I SHOULD have said...but while I was there I felt stupid and frustrated.

What cymbals should you buy?

No one can decide that for you. You have to decide for yourself based on your own limitations and preferences.

Factors to consider:
-how serious are you
Are you 12 years old and might drop this drum thing tomorrow? Are you going to college in music? Is this for your basement or shows? Invest according to your committment.

-cost and your ability to pay
Do you have trouble making rent? Than stop worrying about your cymbals. Do you make shit tons of money? Buy something nice. Think of cost over the long term too. Yes, you can buy cheap now...but will it last? Will you have to buy again soon?

My favorite compromise with respect to cost is buying used cymbals. I prefer cymbals that are "broken in" because their sound changes as they age (see below). I basically did some research, decided what I liked, thought about what I'm willing to pay, and now I keep an eye out. I basically am looking for any Sabian AA cymbal in good condition that is less than $120. This is more than half off retail in most cases. I also have a priority list...right now I'm looking for a ride first, but if a nice crash showed up cheap I'd pick it up.

There are two things to watch out for with used cymbals...keyholing and cracks. A cracked cymbal is useless. The crack will get worse. Only buy it if you know how to repair or it is dirt cheap and you are okay losing it later. I've repaired cymbals and they never sound the same. So it will likely sound like a trashy effects cymbal after you fix it rather than what it was sold to you as. Keyholing refers to the center hole distorting from a perfect circle. I think this is less of an issue, but in general to be avoided. You can prevent it in your own cymbals by always using proper sleeves and felts on your cymbal stands and by not over-tightening (or leaving too lose) your cymbals. Secure but not over tight (over tight can cause cracking too).

Used cymbals can be bought via ebay, Craigslist, or Guitar Center. The Guitar Center website lists what used items are for sale at every store.

Ah yes...will it last?  With cymbals this is really hard to know. There are cymbals that really aren't meant to be durable and there are those that are. A good cymbal can last 100 or more years. A bad one can last just one hit.  But there are cases of bad cymbals lasting and good ones not lasting. There are rules of thumb but they don't always apply. It is an item that you hit. It can break no matter how nice.

Also there are thin cymbals and thicker cymbals. If you are a hard hitter, you probably don't want to get a really thin cymbal.

-how you play (how hard and how good is your technique)
A good instructor or the internet can tell you how to properly hit a cymbal. If you can't be bothered to look into that, odds are that you are hitting the cymbals wrong and you are more likely to damage them. There's nothing wrong with that, but don't bitch if you constantly break cymbals and haven't bothered to look into this. Hitting hard isn't neccesarily bad...but how you hit (glancing blow versus hitting through cymbal...hitting on edge or center, etc) can make a difference. That also don't always have to hit hard. Personally I don't worry too much about this. I buy decent cymbals and they seem to last.

-type of music you plan to play
Every cymbal manufacturer has a website that tells you what kind of music each cymbal is meant for.  Beyond that, look into what your favorite players use (this only goes so far, cause they probably get their shit for free and may be promoting something crappy...yeah, I'm looking at you Tre and Travis...or they may promote something you can't afford). All of this is guidelines, because any cymbal can be used for any kind of music

-what sounds good to you
You can't know this without hitting lots of cymbals. Complicating this is that the way a cymbal sounds changes with age and how dirty is it and how often and in what way it has been hit. And cymbals sound different when hit in isolation than when used with the rest of your kit. So you can start by going to Guitar Center and hitting all of their cymbals, but that only takes you so far. Playing other people's kits does critically listening to recordings online. Cymbal websites often have sound samples you can compare too.  You could spend a lifetime figuring this out. Or you could figure out general principals and move forward.

A note here on dark versus bright: These are industry terms for the quality of the sound. Certain types of music historically use certain qualities of sound and I don't know the total history of that. All those rules get broken all the time too. But it is useful to know if you prefer a bright or dark tone.

I also find decay a huge factor. Cymbals, in general, annoy me. I want them to sound and then fade quickly. You may want them to ring forever. You have to figure that out yourself. Then you can use cymbal websites to find out what a certain type of cymbal does or try them in person.

Cymbals are usually made of brass or bronze and are either cut from sheets or poured into a mold. Brass is crap. Bronze is the way to go. Sheet bronze is cheaper and less durable than poured and it doesn't sound as good (in my opinion).  Really it is up to the person though, and some people may prefer the sound of sheet cymbals (or find them a reasonable compromise for their needs). Various manufacturers use various types of bronze...the main types are 8% (cheaper/worse) or 20% (more expensive/better). Again, you may like a certain alloy better even if it isn't the "best."

So what should you buy?

Here's some basic research I've done on lower end cymbals:
-Wuhan. Wuhan is known for chinese cymbals and gongs. They have a small line of other cymbals. 16” = $44 (B20 alloy). They are thin, but a higher quality alloy than other low end cymbals. I like the way they sound for some things. A good deal for the right person.
-Meinl HCS is brass
-Meinl MCS is B8 alloy (16” = $72)
-Paiste PST is brass
-Paiste PST5 (CuSn8 Bronze 16” = $89)
-Paiste PST8 (CuSn8 Bronze)
-Paiste alpha (CuSn8 Bronze 16” = $140)
-Sabian SBR is brass
-Sabian B8 (B8 alloy) (16” = $79)
-Sabian B8 Pro (B8 alloy)
-Sabian APX (B8 alloy)
-Sabian XS20 (B20 alloy), vintage bright
-Zildjian ZBT (16” = $75), sheet bronze (unclear of alloy, but it is a grade below ZHT)
-Zildjian ZHT (16” = $115), B12 sheet bronze
-Zildjian ZXT, old series made with titanium
-Zildjian Z3, a new series introduced in 2009, these are no longer listed on their website, may be discontinued. They were advertised as "Hard hitting cymbals as you know them have just changed. Now introducing the new Zildjian Z3 line with the ultimate mix of Power, Projection and Playability for your Rock." They were 20% cymbals but not sure if sheet or cast. Likely sheet.

Once you get beyond low move up to professional grade. Generally these are cast cymbals of a 20% or similiar quality. You can't go wrong with these if you have the money to buy them (look for used like I do). Each line has several models and weights (extra thin, thin, medium-thin, medium, heavy). That is all personal preference. Unfortunately it is up to personal preference. Most manufacturers also have artist lines.
-Paiste. A note that I am not a fan of Paiste cymbals and so know less about them. They have lots of lines. The two main pro lines are 2002 and Twenty. They've had lots of middle of the road lines over the years (Rude, 200 series, 300 series, 400 series, 600 series, 900 series). I just think they all sound cheap
-Sabian AA, vintage bright sound
-Sabian AAX, modern bright sound
-Sabian HH, vintage dark sound (HH stands for Hand Hammered)
-Sabina HHX, modern dark sound
-Sabian Paragon, bright (expensive)
-Sabian Vault (expensive)
-Sabian SR2, these are used floor samples of B20 cast. Can't typically find at music stores. It is kind of a grab bag
-Zildjian A, bright
-Zildjian A Custom, bright
-Zildjian fx, typically special effects cymbals
-Zildjian K, dark
-Zildjian K Custom, dark
-Zildjian K Constantinople, their top-of-the-line and most expensive cymbals
-Dream. A new player on the scene. Don't know much about them. Less available. Likely more expensive.

All manufacturers also have old models and series that aren't made any more (like Zildjian Simitar) and you run across them from time to time on the used market. A quick internet search will tell you what you are looking at (alloy & sheet/cast, etc).

The things I don't even notice

Last night when I was recording my parts for the demo I was really aware of my playing because I could hear my parts so very clearly. That's kind of un-nerving in a way, but I sound better than I thought.

Something I noticed was that I worry about the length of notes and about whether they are legato or staccato. So what? I guess I didn't know I was doing that. I never consciously tried to do that. It just happened. During the recording there was this point where I meant to play legato and instead played staccato and the engineer noticed. It happened because I got lost in the repetitive part and was hedging my bets about going to the next section. He was like "you meant those to be longer, right? I'll copy paste the first time you did it." And I was thinking...oh yeah...I DID mean those to be longer.

I remember when I started teaching bass at LRC (which I don't do anymore because it makes me paranoid that I don't know what I'm talking about) being surprised to realize that stopping the notes is as important as starting them. When a beginning bass player plays...they don't stop the notes. So they bleed over each other and create discordant sounds. I couldn't figure out why they sounded like shit and then I realized...they aren't stopping the notes. And that was the first time that I realized that I stop the notes in between...sometimes with my left hand, sometimes with my right hand...I just do it naturally without thinking about it. And that made me realize why I found it hard to play with a pick (at least one of the reasons)...cause I had lost the ability for my right hand to stop the notes (the other reasons are that I needed to practice hitting the correct string with the pick and I needed to practice general up/down coordination...all of this has gotten much better after my experience playing acoustic bass this spring with a pick).

So anyway, not only do I stop the notes without realizing I'm doing it...I stop them musically without realizing it. I let some ring and stop some short...and I'm constantly making those choices without realizing it based on what seems to fit with the music.

I often feel like a hack as a musician. I don't feel like I'm as creative or skilled or knowledgeable as other people. But every so often I realize that I have these intangible things going on. To a beginner...these would seem mysterious and impossible to pick up. And they are...because they've evolved over a lifetime of playing and studying and listening to music. That can feel both discouraging and encouraging. Discouraging because you can't rush it. Encouraging because...if you just put in the time...things do get better. They evolve. It feels like it takes forever...but then one day you wake up and finding yourself knowing instinctively to let the last note of the song ring even before you hear the engineer say "hold it out, hold it out." Yeah, I knew that.


SVFD is putting together a 3 song demo. I was against doing this when it was first proposed because I felt we were under-rehearsed...I was worried about cost...and I was worried about how long it would take. People get excited about these things but rarely are prepared for what they are gettting into.

I take back my reservations.

Last night I went and laid down my parts. One take each. In and out in 30 minutes. Were the performances perfect? No. But I imagine they'll be manipulated. I'm not a big fan of that, but in this case I suspect it will be minimal.

We've crammed in enough rehearsals and gigs since my initial misgivings, that I think this is actually the right time to be doing this now.We're getting the demo for free and the person doing it seems to know enough to do a decent job for a demo at least. If it is as efficiently done for everyone as it was for me, it will be completed very quickly.  And then we'll have something in hand to book with.

Booking...that's a whole 'nother mess. But maybe I should keep my big pessimistic mouth shut about that. These people seem to be pros.