Thursday, January 31, 2013

Audio Scratch Pad: My First Forays Into Multi-Track Recording

In 1998, I was living out west on below poverty wages in a house that was somewhat drafty.  And I was happy as hell.  I was a debt free singleton doing a fulfilling job in a beautiful, intriguing place.  It was a simpler time for me; a time when dial up Internet was just fine and my 1 GB Compaq Presario laptop was all the hard drive and processing power I needed.

Since I lived in relative seclusion, and since I didn't have a girlfriend and money was a little scarce (though I was never left wanting either), I had time to futz around on my laptop.  I had "n Track" on there so I began to experiment with multi track recording.  It yielded two songs - one of which is embedded here.  Bare in mind I really did this mainly to see if I could figure out the process of multi tracking.  The song was secondary, meaning it is short, uninteresting and a little sloppy.  This track features four total tracks:  rhythm guitar, bass, lead guitar, and another guitar track that mimics the bass line.  I plugged straight into the laptop - no preamp or anything.  This is why it sounds distorted/overdriven and muddy.  But I can't tell you how happy I was to pull it off, and now I can't tell you how happy I am to have found this on a CD in my basement.  I have to find the other and digitize it for posterity as well.

If you care about such things, here's the guitar I used.  The bass was my 1977 Music Man Sting Ray, aka "Sade" (because it's ssssmoooooooooovvvvvvvveeeeee), which I will be doing an entry about sometime in the near future - Imma spare you photos of it for now.

Audio Scratch Pad: "Belle Of The Ball" By The Creekdogs

I mentioned long ago that I took a crack at writing a song a day for seven days, and that it had yielded some potentially great tunes.  One of these songs was selected to go on our demo.  I live in a college town, and the words to this song were inspired by passing all of the young women making (what I imagined was) the "walk of shame" as I drove around town on any given Sunday morning.  Lyrics are by me; music by Dan and Kevin.  Take a listen and see what you think.

"Belle of the Ball"

You’ve had all your treats Now it’s time for last call Take your head off the seat And open the stall flashing lights and snagged black tights I think we agree you’re the belle of the ball Lift your hand to the rail Lean in and don’t fall We’ll Band-Aid the nail You got at the mall cigarettes and drinking bets I think we agree you’re the belle of the ball
One foot then the other Past the garden wall I’ll try not to smother If you’ll stand up tall flirtations dizzy sensations I think we agree you’re the belle of the ball
(Bridge) Open your windows look up to the blue Ignore what your voices are saying to you Admit to yourself there is so much to learn Some bridges can’t be built after they burn Open up your ears Let go of your fears You might be surprised by it all You hot messed belle of the ball

You’ve had all your treats Now it’s time for last call Take your head off the seat And open the stall flashing lights and snagged black tights I think we agree you’re the belle of the ball

Audio Scratch Pad: "Crossing The Creek" By The Creekdogs

In November 2011, Dan, Kevin and I got together and decided to update the Creekdogs demo.  Some of the gigs we do require a demo, and we've been submitting the same stuff for years now.  On this demo - which is six songs long - there's more of an emphasis on original music, which is where the band is heading more and more.  In fact, of the six songs, only one is a cover tune.  Of course, the inherent nature of demos isn't that they're perfect; they're merely to give the listener a sense of what the band is all about.  This is definitely true of this demo. But you have to listen close to hear any mistakes, and I'm pretty sure all the missteps are mine.  None the less, I'm very proud of how this demo turned out, thanks in no small part to Kevin's post production work.

At any rate, "Crossing the Creek" is the one that charms me the most.  I thought I'd showcase it here.  Enjoy!
The Creekdogs are:
Dan Lodge-Rigal:  guitar
Kevin Reynolds:  Dobro
Matt Zink:  upright bass

Monday, January 28, 2013

Off Topic: More Rules To Help Guide You Through This Confusing Life

Periodically, I like to showcase these silly little rules - I stole the idea from Esquire Magazine.  As a general rule, I try to follow these little prescriptions.  Maybe you will find them helpful too.  Other rules can be found here, here, here, and here.

121.  Even if you're not getting along, everyone needs to be at dinner.  And the radio, TV, computer and cell phone need to be off.

122.  Because kids (yes, even teens) long to make the adults in their lives happy (or at least keep the adults in their lives off their back), expectations and responsibility are the two best things you can give a kid.  But don't bother if you're not going to give them the tools necessary to meet these expectations and responsibilities.

123.  Don't make promises or swear oaths.  Just say what you're going to do and do it to the letter.

124.  Effective lies must be built on a kernel of truth.

125.  "In other words, it's a huge shit sandwich and we're all going to have to take a bite."  - Lockart, "Full Metal Jacket".  Take your bite, live with it for a moment, then move on*.  Think of the most powerful, awe inspiring person you know.  Now take comfort knowing that this is a truism for them as well.

* - Notre Dame's pounding in the national championship comes to mind as a recent shit sandwich I've had to endure.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Mr. Gaming Guitarist Eats A Cinnamon Roll From Cinnabon, Talks About Rush

Turn on the captioning for a nice littler Easter egg around the 8:04 mark.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Jon Rans: A Remembrance From Bill Zink

An important part of my coming of age happened at Muncie's legendary (and now defunct) all ages venue the "No Bar and Grill".  It was the place where I first performed in public; but more importantly, it was where I found peer acceptance and artistic stimulation.  It would be difficult to over emphasize how much it has meant to me.

I learned recently that one of the No Bar's founders/owners has passed away.  Bill has a great remembrance of Jon Rans, and I have his permission to post it here.  Enjoy.

Before the interwebs, there used to be bulletin boards (at the dawn of the interwebs, they initially referred to online message board sites as bulletin boards).  When I think of bulletin boards, I think specifically of ride board in the student union (pick yr school), with thousands of tattered flyers with tear-off phone numbers, scribbled notes, maps and pins, etc.  Those huge bulletin boards were always a nexus point, an intersection where traces of passages where left, and to where trace vortices pointed to all different points of the compass & forward and backward in time.  Those bulletin boards were coded portals to elsewhere, even if your elsewhere was as prosaic as a ride home for the break.

Lately, the bookshelf stereo in my kitchen has functioned like one of those bulletin board nexus points.  I spend a fair amount of time in my kitchen at home, and the stereo is always booming away as I work.  Stacks of CDs and cassettes have sprouted up around it, always in constant rotation, always spilling all over the place.  In early March of 2010, downloaded copies of 70's Alex Chilton albums burned to CD made it to the stack of burned CDs by the stereo, along with my cassette of an '84 show he did in Bloomington.  Then, in the midst of my Chilton binge, I received news that Chilton had died.  I got a little chill, like someone walked over my own grave . . . those CDs, that tape, became the tattered trace of someone moving on.

In December of 2010, Don Vliet, a.k.a Captain Beefheart, passed away.  Of course there was a Beefheart CD in the player when I heard, but I always have Beefheart in rotation, so I didn't make the connection there.

Last April, Paul's Boutique and a handful of Beastie Boys singles from the Check Your Head era found their way into the cassette stacks for the first time in years; and (you guessed it) Adam Yauch passed about a week later.

This past November, while doing something resembling deep cleaning on the kitchen (really all that means is that I did the windows), Latent Chaos tapes showed up in the stacks.  And then, I found out about the death of Jon Rans.

Another trace left on the board.

In a related note, Dan Willems has expressly forbid me from playing Sick City Four in the kitchen anymore.

*          *          *          *          *

We are always so quick to name ourselves, sometimes more out of a sense of preservation than anything else.  We want to identify with a group, we want the protection of a clique.  So people ask us: what are you?  And we always seem to have an answer.

I don't know how Jon answered that question, but he could have answered it many ways.  He owned a record store (Repeat Performance) and co-owned a club (along with Jeff Weiss, the No Bar and Grill) that was the center of a small but very vital Muncie scene in the 80's.  He was a booker and a promoter.  He was a drummer for garage revivalists The Mystic Groovies and Hoosier avant krautrock noise pioneers Latent Chaos.  He played drums for anyone around who needed a drummer.  He made money restoring and writing about pottery.  He was a father, husband, and probably many other things in a private live I never accessed.  He was so many different things . . . if I had to guess, his answer to the question was "Whatever the fuck I want to be", because that pretty much sums it up.

I met Jon Rans through Tony Woollard.  Tony and I were both from the Muncie area (Anderson for me, New Castle for Tony), but the Muncie scene hadn't started to bubble up when I left Anderson in '79.  Tony and I were in Bloomington and in a band together in '86, and I met Jon when we went up to play the No Bar.

The No Bar was home for a bunch of artistic misfits, and the personality of the place was largely Jon Rans's personality: a sort of base-level, no-shit attitude about doing something to escape the gray oppression of the Midwestern American landscape.  They weren't a pretentious bunch, but neither did they make the mistake of avoiding anything for fear of being called pretentious.  Eccentricity was not a lifestyle choice, but rather a response to a situation, and it was never held against anybody.  They took you as you were, not as they thought you should be.  If you were ever at the No Bar and saw (what you considered to be) an uncool or bullshit band/act up on the stage, you best keep it to yourself, because the first snide comment you dared utter, about five No Bar regulars would turn on you in unison and shout you down: "Well, at least they're up there fucking doing something.  What's your excuse?"  That was the voice of Jon Rans, no matter who was mouthing the words.  That was the ethos of the place: do something.  Take control.  Break through the oppression of the normal.  And that, too, is the legacy of Jon Rans.

There are a lot of people who figure into a musician's deal: there are the artists you idolize up from afar, the musicians you get to know and admire up close.  There are the scene masters, the people who create an atmosphere to do your thing.  There is the audience (who are treated not as "fans", but as a peer group, again per the No Bar ethos), the people around to give you feedback, the people who test your ideas.  There are the people who help you get your deal to a larger world, either by booking/managing your band or releasing your music to the world at large.  Jon Rans (again, along with Jeff Weiss) was all of these things to me.  I started out as a Latent Chaos fan when those avant-weirdos seemed distant to me, I stayed a Latent Chaos fan when I stood in an audience with a handful of people mere feet away from them.  I got to go onstage with them at the No Bar to lay down sheets of guitar noise for an unruly version of "Golden Moments", a memory I find touching to this day.  And beyond all that, there were the (all too rare!) times when Tony and I showed up at the shop, or hung out with him at Second Story at a Mystic Groovies gig, just to shoot the shit.

I'm not going to pretend that I knew Jon well, because I didn't.  That perhaps makes it all the more remarkable that I always felt like I did know him well whenever I was around him.  He was that type of guy.

I'm not going to be the one that tells you stories about Jon being in a better place, or Jon looking down beatifically upon those of us left behind.  I'm not going to tell you that Jon is still with us like some ethereal phantom that wafts in and out of the physical world.  I don't have time for such fairy tales.  But before he gets lost in the cultural detritus, before he descends into the scrap heap of history, I will tell you that he lives.  He lives in those who bought into his ethos, he lives for those who modeled parts of their lives around his example.  He lives for those of us left who refuse to knuckle under to the narratives presented to us for our lives, who continue to fly in the face of whatever odds there are to do what it is we do, to do SOMETHING.  Jon Rans lives through me, and everyone else who he touched . . . and he will continue to live at least until they pry my guitar from my cold, dead hands.  It is that defiance, in the end, that I feel I owe Jon.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Fat Friday Feature: The Violent Femmes' Brian Ritchie On "Blister In The Sun"

Every other Friday I feature a favorite bass player and/or bass part.  Today, it's Brian Ritchie's playing on "Blister In The Sun".  This post is for Terry - we were on the same page for this one.

Selecting "Blister In The Sun" as Brian Ritchie's contribution to the "Fat Friday Feature" might be a bit predictable - after all, there's plenty of great bass heavy Violent Femmes tracks to choose from - but let's face it:  for a lot of people my age, the Violent Femmes (and by extension, Ritchie's bass playing) were their gateway drug into what was known in the 1980s as "college music".  The Violent Femmes were my first exposure to the acoustic power trio as well as my first exposure to the Ernie Ball Earthwood bass.  Ritchie's playing would be fine on an electric bass, but the attack and percussive sound of the acoustic bass guitar really put his bass lines up front and in the driver's seat on each tune. His playing is a perfect balance between quirky and in the pocket; between poppy and jazzy.  If you're awe struck by "Blister In The Sun", don't stop there - keep digging into Brian Ritchie and the Violent Femmes.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Song Writing 101: Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit"

"Song Writing 101" is a semi-regular feature that showcases exemplary lyric writing.  Today it is Abel Meeropol's "Strange Fruit".

I first heard the story of "Strange Fruit" last weekend on NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday".  The story is embedded below - take a moment to listen to it.  It is beyond belief - the story is a unbelievable concoction of civil rights, Communism, the Rosenbergs, heartbreak, adoption and love.

I looked into the lyrics a bit more as well.  The technical execution is perfect, the point is unmistakable, and the emotional impact is massive.  It is a song that easily paints a vivid, graphic portrait in the listener's mind.  Although this song is new to me, I am definitely moved by it.

Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin' eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin' flesh

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

And here is the story of Abel Meeropol, the author of "Strange Fruit" - it is well worth your time to listen.