Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trowar Report: Get Your Motor Running

I'll be jetting off next week for 3 gigs in the Redmond, Washington area.  My plane departs at 5:15 AM; I should land in Seattle at 10 AM local time.  From the airport, I'm pretty sure I'll be going straight into rehearsals at Trowar HQ.  I've got a shit load of work to do.  Again, I find I have to basically relearn the songs, partly because I have a shitty practice ethic and partly because I was super focused on "Big River".  Regardless, I find that worrying doesn't really do me any good, so I'm trying to keep my chin up and nose to the grindstone and all that.

Asking questions also doesn't help a whole lot either.  I'm again plunging into something I don't know much about.  Perhaps it is more accurate to say I don't know a lot of the particulars, but what difference does it make?  Asking questions only makes me worry more.  So I'm bracing myself for a lot of hard work and achy fingers.  As for your fingers, keep them crossed that these gigs will kick much ass.  Our last gig was a strong one; I'm optimistic that these will be even better.  Fred and Chris bought me an Ampeg amp - the thing is as tall as I am.  I'm looking forward to putting it through it's paces.

Here is the promo for one the gigs.  This one is at a Harley dealership; the other two are at some unknown (unknown to me I mean) rock clubs in Seattle.  This promo cracks me up for some reason.  I guess mainly because the Trowar track they use in the background was meant to be a rough track.  It doesn't have the polish you can expect from a Trowar production.  Works for this promo though.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Fat Friday Feature DOUBLE SHOT: Paul Socolow And Ali Friend

Regular readers (if there are any) know that on Fridays, I feature a great bass part/bassist - it's the Fat Friday Feature.

It's a holiday weekend y'all.  Here are two upbeat songs for you to get things going right - one on upright, and one on electric.

I really love the aggressive play of both the drummer and bassist Paul Socolow on David Byrne's "Angels".  This song gets me pumped up every time I hear it.

And here is Ali Friend on Beth Orton's "Someone's Daughter", a song I've written about before.  It's a great one thanks in no small part to the Friend's perky bass line.  It's a song that I can listen to repeatedly and in a row.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Stagg EUB Is A Let Down

I think I alluded to the fact that I'd be buying an electric upright bass (EUB) with the money I made from "Big River".  I elected to pick up a Stagg EUB as it was affordable and I liked what I read and heard from various online reviews and videos.  I think my expectations were realistic - that it would not be the best bass on the market; I knew the workmanship would not be world class.  But it would have a great sound for playing through an amp and would be ideal for practicing with an iPod when the kids were asleep.  I also knew that there wouldn't be some of the nice touches that I would've liked (for example, scooped out on the underneath side of the fingerboard), but I was okay with that. It arrived yesterday and here's the breakdown.

The Good:

  • It is a beautiful instrument.  I got the honey finish, and it looks great.
  • The portability is awesome.  When it's in the gig bag, it's basically no larger than a small set of snow skis.  Putting it on my back and walking around was very comfortable.  I had visions of taking this thing with me everywhere.
  • The removable arms that you screw on either side (meant to mimic the shoulders of an upright bass for comfort and finger position purposes) were surprisingly comfortable and functional.  They didn't thread in as easily as I'd like, but no big deal.
  • The adjustable bridge had a great range of motion, meaning I was able to drop the action a ton without creating buzzing on the neck.
  • Loved - LOVED -the dot inlays on the side of the fingerboard.  Wish my Englehardt had this.  (As it is, it has marks that I made with model paint.)
The Meh:
  • The neck profile/shape was huge.  I don't personally prefer it, but it's a pretty common shape on upright basses so I knew I'd get used to it.  I also figure (perhaps incorrectly?) that this makes the neck quite a bit sturdier.
The Bad:
  • Couldn't get a good sense of how it sounded through head phones because it shipped with a half dead battery.  This causes distortion to the sound.
  • I could not figure out how to get the D note to stop buzzing on the A string.
  • Grooves cut into the bridge to accommodate the strings seemed huge and unnecessary.
  • I did run it through the amp and was underwhelmed with the thin sound, even with the bass cranked up on the bass itself.  (To get a true sense of the bass's voice, I "flat lined" the bass/mid/treble on my amp.  That is, I put all three controls at what amounts to "5".)  It lacked the same growl as the clips I heard of it on line.
  • The deal breaker:  The tuning peg on the A string slipped when under tension.  The gears didn't properly mesh and the metal coating began flaking off.
The Verdict:
It's going back for a full refund.  It's a bit of a drag not to have something I viewed as an important tool for gigs and practices, but I'm not as disappointed as I thought I'd be.  That is, I won't be disappointed once the charge on my credit card is refunded.  At some point down the road, maybe I'll be able to get a great bass like a Merchant bass, a Silent Bass, or an Eminence upright.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Big River" Photo Dump

"Big River" closed last Sunday evening.  By all measures, the show was a huge success.  It was a very intense and fully immersive experience for me; one that made me a better player and band mate.  I've been dealing a little with the post show depression.  Although I still have plenty of musical projects going on, it's strange to not have a specific, premapped musical direction.  Still, I've found that the best way to get over it is to keep my eyes forward, plunging ahead as best I can.  Monday evening I got rid of all my sheet music and the audio files will be deleted from my computer.  When the purging is done, I'll have a journal entry, a play bill and ticket stub to show for it.  I will have mentally and spiritually reset by the the end of the week - indeed, I feel pretty good about things already.  It's nice to have the memories from the show; not as nice to live with the vestiges of the past that will only bring me down, you know?

I thought I'd post some photos I snapped with my cell phone.  These were rehearsals before it opened.  You can tell these are rehearsal shots because the full band is not there, the set was incomplete (note that there are no black skirts around the stage to hide the gear under the stage) and the actors are not in costume.  Still, it might give some of you a sense of what the show looked like.
The actors' wireless mics, lined up and ready to go.

The stage was raked (that is, slanted like a ramp)
and had 2 or 3 "sleds" that came in and out
depending upon the action in the play.

The cabin.  A few times, Huck Finn had to
climb up there and dance and do songs
on the roof.
It is much higher than it looks.

Testing the light schemes.

Music director and Creekdog Dan Lodge-Rigal.
There is no one who is easier to work with.
It is totally ego free jamming with him.

Bessie in the faux moonlight.

The view from my area.  I stood for about 95%
of all the shows.  It got pretty taxing after
awhile.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Understated Beauty Of Bill Evans

This is hitting the spot right now.  It is simple and elegant.  So, so nice.  I like I have to settle myself down before I can settle into the music itself.

Original Music: Caleb Weintraub

I was recently approached to be a "Music Supervisor" for a locally produced horror movie that will be premiering in July.  (Trailer is here.)  All this means is that I'm to search out local bands whose music might work on this movie's soundtrack.  This is actually a bit more difficult than you might expect for several reasons, the main one being it's hard to find local bands that would have the correct sound for this movie.  The thought occurred to me that it might be more fun just to start creating music for the movie myself.  I approached my neighbor Caleb Weintraub to gauge his interest in contributing music, and he was into the idea.  So we sat and watched a rough cut of the movie and talked a lot about it.

Our goal is to create a number of songs for the director to choose from, knowing that he could potentially reject all of them.  I created a very short acapella song, but it stinks and is not worth posting.

Caleb's first try is the exact opposite.  Take a listen.  For optimal creepiness, use headphones.

Although it's not up to me, I think this song is perfect for multiple parts in the movie.  Whether or not it ends up being used in the movie, I think this song is amazing.  Here are Caleb's notes on the track:
I was thinking a little more about that suggestion we might make about giving main characters their own music - - so that each time they come in or a few beats before they appear we get an aural whiff of them... ... and maybe blending them a bit here and there -- especially when the younger brother starts getting influenced by the older brother - anyway here is a stab at a kind of sound sketch i put together thinking of the older brother.. - - it is all based on the same three notes but i tossed it around to see what would happen -- could also  have some totally stripped down versions with the notes on chimes and bowed detuned bass ...and samples from houseware, engines and the computer-turning on noises you mentioned .. .plus here and there some distant coughs or moans barely on the level of being audible..  maybe also some snippets of the brother's dialogue relating to his philosophy that could be spliced in... - 

We're going to keep plugging away on this project.  If there's anything worth posting here, I'll put it up.  I think this one is really great though. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Fat Friday Feature: Unknown Bassist On Felix Da Housecat's "What Does It Feel Like?"

Every Friday, it is tradition at this blog to showcase a bass player/bass part that I love.  Today, it's the bass part from Felix Da Housecat's "What Does It Feel Like?"

While the visuals on this particular user-made video make me want to jam ice picks into my eyes, the song and bass part are great.  I love the meaty tone (for some reason I always imagine this part being played on an old Fender Mustang bass.  I don't know why.)  and repetitiveness of the lick - it sounds phenomenal, so why embellish it?  I don't know anything about who is playing it.  I'm guessing it's either some poor studio dude or a sampled line lifted from a different song.  Either way, it's a little new wave and a little dance club, but 100% fun.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Off Topic: Blog Roll

For what it's worth, here's the crap I read online.

There are several other blogs that I check in on a regular basis; I just don't subscribe to them.  As you can see, the majority of my blog reading isn't intellectually challenging at all - just the way I like it.  Feel free to share some of your favorite blogs.

I'd also take recommendations for cool blogs, particularly on the topics of tattoos, US History, and coffee.


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Gig Report: "Big River"

I've not written much about my involvement with the "Big River" production.  We're halfway through the run, so it's time for an overdue update.

The process, as expected, has been pretty grueling.  I've been playing/practicing my ass off.  We started learning the songs in mid-April.  That's twenty songs and pages of scene/transition music.  As the May 10th opening date drew near, the rehearsals became longer, more frequent and intense.  I was (and am) waking, going through the day, then going to bed with these songs looping through my head - it has been a completely immersive experience.

Probably the worst thing about intense experiences like this is that my musical weaknesses and insecurities come to the surface like bloody, festering sores.  I'm talking specifically about my lack of a formal background in both theory and reading music.  The musical director (fellow Creekdog and all around hero Dan Lodge-Rigal) had to come up with some pretty interesting transcription techniques to get me on board for the tunes.  It has worked, but I hate the idea that he had to come up with such an elaborate work around for me. It was embarrassing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which I discovered how hard it is for me to play my upright without looking at my hands.  

When I couldn't get the songs, I was pretty abrasive in practices.  I'd take the tone of a petulant child:  I didn't want to read any more charts or transcriptions; I just wanted someone to show me how to do it.  It wasn't pretty.

Somehow I've made it through and the show is very, very tight.  I know it's tight because any criticisms I have of my playing would definitely splitting hairs - there is nothing perceptible to anyone but me.  My playing on upright is better than it has ever been.  It's been fun as hell playing with other musicians who are, quite frankly, infinitely better than I am.  It forces me to try and play better.  This experience has been exactly what I had hoped:  challenging, frustrating, and ultimately full filling.  I really need to figure out a way to keep the momentum going once this show ends.  This show has also yielded some material rewards as I've finally been able to score a decent electric upright (more on that after it arrives and I've had some time to try it out).

Of course, much, much thanks to Mary Beth and the kids for allowing me to do this.  I've been away A LOT.  MB has been a single parents since before the show opened.  I'm indebted to her for that.  And if you haven't seen the show, come on out and see it.  There are 7 more shows coming up.  It truly is a great show.  But in the immortal words of Levar Burton, you don't have to take my word for it.*

Here's an older link with some video.

* - Would've liked to link to actual reviews here, but the goddamn Herald-Times still has a pay wall.  Annoying.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Creepiest Music Video You Will Ever See


Fat Friday Feature: John Paul Jones On Led Zeppelin's "Carousalambra"

It's Friday - time to feature a great bass player and/or bass part.  Today, it's Led Zeppelin's "Carouselambra".

Led Zeppelin wouldn't be the first band you'd think of when you wanted to "get your groove on" (as the kids no longer say).  You hear a great Led Zeppelin tune and you might stomp your foot, pound your fist and spin around a bit, but you probably wouldn't actually dance to it.  (And least, that's not dancing to folks who aren't Zeppelin fans.)  There's a reason there are no dance remixes of Zeppelin tunes - they're a band that bludgeons you with power.

Similarly, "funky" isn't a word that's often used to describe Led Zeppelin.  And yet, "Carouselambra" has a certain kind of funk to it thanks to John Paul Jones' basswork on this tune.  Of all of their songs, I'd say this is the one that will get non-Zep Heads off their butts and moving.  Dig it.

Friday, May 4, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: MCA Has Died

Adam Yauch has died of cancer.  This is a pretty serious bummer for me.  Ever since "Paul's Boutique", the Beastie Boys have been in regular rotation in my life.  I've written a tad about Yauch and the B-Boys at this blog in the past, but the frequency of those posts don't even come close the representing how much I dig them. I will really miss him and what he contributed to the Beastie Boys.  Let's just say it:  there is no Beastie Boys now (note the eerie first line in "related post #2).  Serious drag.  Not much more to say.

Related post #1.
Related post #2.

Fat Friday Feature: Willie Dixon On "Bassology" (Or How A FFF Started On Lee Rocker And Ended Up On Willie Dixon)

(It's Friday, Friday - that means it's time to feature a bass part/player that kick much ass.)

This morning, I had settled on doing an entry about Lee Rocker.  Lee's fame comes primarily from his work as the bassist for the Stray Cats, but he also has some pretty solid solo work that seems to be his primary focus right now.  I heard the album "Built For Speed" when it came out in 1981 and liked it - I was really crazy about "Rock This Town" - though I couldn't relate to a lot of the lyrical content of the tunes.  Nonetheless, "Built For Speed" put rockabilly - and by extension, roots music and upright bass - onto my very narrow musical radar. 

Truth to be told, Lee Rocker's playing never blew me away.  Don't get me wrong - it's perfect for Stray Cats and it's much better than I can play.  The biggest debt I have to Lee Rocker was that he was my gateway to the rockabilly slap method.  In my mind, that's plenty to merit a Fat Friday Feature for the man.

In the process of looking for a suitable You Tube clip of Lee Rocker, I found this, in which he mentions Willie Dixon.  That's when good ol' Lee Rocker again became the gateway to a different player.  (Poor Lee Rocker!)  Willie Dixon, some would say, was the guy who invented slap bass.  If he didn't, he sure as hell was an early master and pioneer of it's use.  Of course, Willie Dixon was known for writing some of the greatest blues tunes of all time as well.  But check out his slap skillz below - fucking.  Awesome.  There is not a better way to spend your Friday, Friday - so get partyin' partyin' (yeah!) with Willie Dixon.  Oh check out this clip too - the playing is still amazing, but I actually like this tune as a whole even more than "Bassology".