It’s a process, right?

Ah the studio. The tape doesn't lie.

Ah the studio. The tape doesn’t lie.

I hate that. It’s a process. Trust the process. Don’t hurry.

Heck with that!

Unfortunately, when someone tells you that, they’re probably right. It is a process. Being in a rush probably won’t help. Won’t make it better. Won’t make it what you want it to be. And that’s true in so many realms, not just the creative. I lived in Western Colorado for quite a few years, and ran into a fair number of cowboy types along the way. I accumulated this cowboyism from one of them:

The only way to drive cows fast is to drive ‘em slow.

It’s easy to say that. Tougher to hear. I’ve been working on a record project for about four months now. Wish it were going faster, but it’s not. But it is going. We have most of the instrumentation done for six track. And they sound really good (scroll to the bottom to hear two quick clips). Might get the instrumentation for two more done this month or next, then hopefully vocals by the end of December.

Not the schedule I was hoping for, but this is what you get when you do it piecemeal.

Mystery harmonica player in the studio. You want to know who it is- wait to buy the record.

Mystery harmonica player in the studio. You want to know who it is? Wait to buy the record.

Along the way I’ve gotten to play with some really awesome folks, and I am learning a whole bunch about this process, so that’s really cool. And it isn’t like I have a record label breathing down my neck or anything.

So one bit at a time. And it’s a process. Damn it.

I’m playing at The Stone Cup here in Lyons on Dec. 7 from 10 to noon or whenever we feel done, which is usually about 1pm.  A friend pointed out that it is Pear Harbor Day that Sunday and did I have a song for that. Good thought. We’ll have to work on that.

Then I’m excited to be playing at The Rock Inn in Estes Park on January 3 from 6-9. It’s a really great place up by the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. Great food and drinks after a day in the out-of-doors. It will be a great start to 2015! Hope to see you there. Keep checking here for new show dates and times.

This is a quick bit of a song called “This Road Leads to You.” Loooooove that steel player.

Here’s more of a rocker. It’s called “Gotta Fool The Devil.” It’s gonna be fun when we’re finished. I promise.

Maybe I’ll see you out there somewhere.

One Year Ago…

There was more river than we had ever seen…

We were an island…and so was almost everyone we know…

Many of our friends had their lives changed forever…

Our house was full…

The streets were empty…

Neighbor helped neighbor as best they could…

We watched friend’s houses go downstream…

We cried…

 

We ar embarking the anniversary of the flooding this weekend in Lyons. It’s a very mixed thing. I feel happy to be here, happy to be a part of this town, sad for so many friends whose lives have been, and are still, so disrupted. Sad for all those who aren’t home yet. Sad when I see the scars that are still there. Glad that I’m here, that I know more people than I did.

It’s a strange thing, to mark an anniversary like this.

Posts from a year ago here and here.

Seriously, what more do you need…

Peter Himmelman leading a conga line at Folks Festival last week should cover it.

A quick aside, I didn’t know Himmelman at all until this weekend, but then I looked him up (because his set was awesome, seriously). He played in two bands I saw back in high school in Minneapolis in the ’80’s- Shangoya, sort of a funk reggae thing, and Sussman Lawrence, a straight up rock band. I didn’t join any sessions which him at song school, and now I’m sorta bummed about that, a mistake I won’t make again.  Funny how everything comes in a circle. And apparently the circle always passes through Minneapolis.

Wednesday the 20th at 7:30 at Oskar Blues. 45 minute set.

Sunday the 24th at 10am at the Stone Cup. Two solid hours of songs.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

 

 

Songschool and Folks Fest

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It was a strange week for me at Song School. My work life intruded much more than I would normally like.

But, it ended with a bang.

Thanks to Mojo Medicine Show- MD on harp, Dan on percussion, Jim on the resonator, Christine on bass, and Julia helping with the vocals.

Dispatch rocking the main stage in Lyons.

Dispatch rocking the main stage in Lyons.

And now it’s Folks Festival weekend- one of my favorite times of year. Dispatch rocked it last night. Later today John Fullbright, Josh Ritter, and Brandi Carlile. You can’t get better than that.

Just a reminder- I’m playing a set at Oskar Blues in Lyons at 7:30 on Wednesday the 20th, and playing from 10am-12pm at the Stone Cup in Lyons on Sunday the 24th. I’ll look forward to seeing you then!

 

Song School, and Beyond! (gigs and rambling)

Ahh, that time of year when the tribe gathers in Lyons to conduct strange rituals in tents and stay up all night playing songs. Yup. Song school. This is my third year at Song School, and unfortunately my time at grownup camp this year has been cut short by the demands of my grownup job, which sucks but is the nature of grownup life sometimes (the cruel irony of having a day job is that I have money, but no time- if I quit, I’ll have time, but no money).

A bit of songwriting at Song School

A bit of songwriting at Song School

Still, it’s fun to connect with some people I have known, get to know some new people, learn some things about being a songwriter and celebrate the creative life. The main benefit of Song School is really having a sense of camaraderie with similar artistic people- yes, we all feel inadequate sometimes, yes we all worry about what we are doing more than is warranted. Yes, this can make you a bit crazy. There is a certain relief in knowing you are not alone in a pursuit that the civilian world doesn’t really understand.

It’s also great to see Planet Bluegrass, the home of song school, looking so great. The folks there have done an amazing job putting it all back together better than it was originally. Several of us have commented that last August we had no idea what was coming only three weeks after song school. Still, my town has a long way to go, but the signs of healing are welcome. And music festivals and song school are a big part of that.

After the festival I’ll put some more attention to the record that is in progress. We got all the base tracks done this summer, so in the fall we’ll work on extra instrumentation and then vocals. I’m hoping to be done by the end of October, with a release in November or December. But then I hope a lot of things.

Upcoming Gigs:

Wednesday August 20 I’m playing the opening set of a two act night at Oskar Blues. They are starting a new ‘Lyons Local’ night and I am pinch-hitting for a friend who had to drop out. It should be a really great night and my first ‘official’ gig at Oskar Blues. I’ll play a 45 minute set at 7:30 or so.

Sunday August 24 I’m at The Stone Cup from 10am-12pm. I’ll be outside in all but the WORST of weather. Their food is great and the coffee is better. Enjoy you Sunday on “Lyons’ Front Porch’ and I’ll sing you some songs.

Stay tuned for more updates…and sign up for my mailing list (big red box to the right) for more direct info.

GearGasm: Fun With Amps

During preproduction for this record I’m working on, I was in my office/disaster area with the producer person I’m working with and got to explaining one of my amps to him. He muttered “you *&@#$% guitar players.” Not the first time I’ve heard that.

As Ray Wylie Hubbard says, “Show business is a tough business, but if you’ve got good tone it’ll get you through the gig.” Most guitar players live by that, but the search for tone is an elusive pursuit. My voice is just my voice- I can take lessons, practice, stretch my abilities a bit, but at the end of the day, I’m still gonna be a baritone, and I’m never gonna sing like Ray Charles, or even Ray Wylie Hubbard. The way my voice sounds is a gift (or curse) of the spirits, and it is what it is. I work within it.

The guitar on the other hand, is something else. I can shape that tone. I can pick up a different guitar. Or, more to the point, I can mess with the amp (if we are taking electric, if we aren’t, then I’m playing my Gibson SJ and that’s just the deal). And I do mess with amps. A lot (see here for example). Which I find is endemic to guitar players. There are so many variables to choose from. Size, watts, speakers, tubes (not whether to have tubes, ’cause if it isn’t a tube amp I’m not really interested, but which tubes and how configured).

Then there’s the question of what is the amp for? My gigging amp is a Fender Deville 2×12. Overkill, perhaps, but it sounds so good. I practice on a Fender SuperChamp XD (weighs 35 pounds less than the Deville, see where I’m going with that?) I’ve owned Marshall and Vox amps as well. And then there are pedals…lots of pedals. Lots and lots of pedals. You get the idea.

So I’m surfing ebay the other day, like you do, and up pops this Fender Pro Jr. The Pro Jr. is all tube, 15 watts, 10 inch speaker, very minimalist. Like, only two knobs- volume and tone. Philosophically you have to love that. Because that’s all there is, volume and tone. The guy selling it had tricked it out in the way only a geeky guitar player can- new speaker (same as project above- Eminence Patriot Rajin’ Cajun), matched tube set, with the tubes rebaised, serious guitar geek stuff. AND he was including the original speaker and the original tubes (that’s more stuff to mess with). He was selling it because it was still too loud, even with the rebiased tubes. Not sure what THAT’S about, but your ‘too loud’ is right up my alley (and my standard for loud is, well, let’s just say ‘different.’ I’m from Minneapolis. I grew up listening to the Replacements and Husker Du play live. That’s loud.)

Sweet new minimalist rig.

Sweet new minimalist rig.

These little amps are great for recording (because you can overdrive them at lower volumes-lower being NOT ‘extinction of the dinosaurs’ volume), and while the SuperChamp has been an excellent practice amp, it isn’t  a true tube amp (the signal is always going through the DSP circuit, so even though it has tubes, there is no time when the tubes are the only thing in the sound). So you just can’t leave that Pro Jr sitting there, amIright? Nope, you can’t.

AAAAWWWWEEEESSSSOOOMMMMEEE.

Yes, that’s how it sounds. Freakin’ great. And only two knobs, so not a lot of thinking going on here (better for me). I did get a Boss ’63 Fender Reverb pedal to join it, since the amp has no reverb. Sweet little combo. Great break up when you turn the tone knob all the way. Sounds great with the Tele and with the LP. I’m probably going to give this amp a drive in the studio next week and see how it sounds when we do some overdubs on some songs- I’ll let you know how that goes!

Neal Casal, Jason Isbell and Jesse Aycock throw down together. Isbell's Sommatone is right behind Aycock.

Neal Casal, Jason Isbell and Jesse Aycock throw down together. Isbell’s Sommatone is right behind Aycock.

Stay tuned for future guitar geekery- I was at the Jason Isbell shows with Hard Working Americans last week (picture above), and as they were rolling Isbell’s Sommatone Roaring 40 offstage I noticed that the cabinet had an Eminence Red Coat and a Patriot in it. Hmmmmmm…my Fender Deville 2×12 has two Red Coat Wizards, wonder what would happened if I swapped one of them out for a Patriot?

Amp seeking new speaker-must be hot.

Amp seeking new speaker-must be hot.

I’m probably going to have to find that out.

Off the High Dive…

And into the deep end.

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You know what that picture above means I think. This week I took a pretty big plunge- for me anyway. It’s one thing to be making music in your basement, maybe even recording it and sticking it on the internet somewhere like Soundcloud, maybe even playing out some, or playing in a band.

Making a record feels like a whole other level of something. But really cool.

We spent two days tracking the core of six songs this week. Drums (Brian McRae), bass (Brian Schey- also producer person), acoustic guitar (me) and lead guitar (Arthur Lee Land). To get six songs done in two days was pretty busy, but really fun and interesting. Working with three musicians that good was also really fun, but intimidating as hell. We had made charts in advance, and recorded a guide vocal for each song, and that’s really all these guys needed. We talked about the vibe of the song, went over the form, I played a bit just to give them the feel.

Brian's megadrum kit.

Brian’s megadrum kit.

Then we jumped.

But with guys this good, even the first pass sounded great. So by the time we had six takes or so, it sounded better (to the point that it was literally painful for me to listen to the guide vocal- I’ll be really thankful to record those over again).

It was also great to work with a bunch of guys this nice and humble about how awesome they really are. I felt pretty outgunned as a musician, which was balanced by the fact that I wrote the songs, so when it sounded good, at least I had that. Of course, another great luxury is to do all of this about two minutes from my house- which is part of the joy of living in Lyons, CO.

Studio dog.

Studio dog.

This is, of course, just the start of the process. Later this week Brian (producer person) and I will start wading through all the takes and figuring out which are the best, which need to go, which parts should be swapped. All that stuff. And we still have some instrument parts to record- pedal steel will come later and potentially some keyboard parts. Then there’s the part where I try to sing at the same level at which these guys play. Yeah, we’ll see about that when the time comes.

Giant, funky kick drum. Sounds way cool.

Giant, funky kick drum. Sounds way cool.

In the meantime, this is really fun and really cool and really exciting. And I’m still managing to write a few new songs in the middle of all that, and play a few shows. Updates for solo shows here, for shows with Malibu Drive here.

Rock on.

Rock on.

Stay tuned as the process unfolds. I’m hoping for an early fall release of this project.

Process, what process? Birthing a song.

Someone asked me a while back, “what’s your songwriting process?” I think I mumbled, ‘uh, I dunno, I write stuff and sometimes it rhymes, and sometimes I figure out how to play guitar to it.’ Which sounds like the kind of thing Ray Wylie Hubbard would say (which secretly is exactly what I’m trying to do, ’cause if I could sound like him, man that would be cool). I wasn’t just making that up either. It’s not a bad description of what I do sometimes. Most of the time, for me, what works is to start with a line or two. Often it will be rattling around in my head, but sometimes it comes other ways.

Sometimes someone just hands me something and it works. Recently, the bass player in Malibu Drive (click for gigs and such) Jim O., who works construction when he isn’t playing bass, came to rehearsal and told us this story. He was working on an overhaul of a grain elevator in our area, and as he was stripping old tin siding off one of the buildings, he found a name carved into the wood underneath. The tin had been on the wood for at least a hundred years, but the wood itself was older. Jim said, “man, this name is just too good. One of you has to write a song about this.” The name they found on the wood was ‘Kentucky Slim.’ Which really is begging to be put in a song.

The problem is that the name is all we have, and normally I start with a sense of story, or an idea of some lines. In this case all I had was a name. But a good name for sure. So that rattled around in my head for a week or so, and I worked on other things (one trick is to always write something, even if it’s just noodling around with some lines- work breeds work).

Eventually the name was too much and I just started messing with some thoughts. Looking back, the challenge was to write a song about someone that I didn’t know anything about, and wouldn’t ever know. In fact what was interesting about Kentucky Slim was that we don’t know who he was. And, because I’m me, Kentucky Slim is going to just bore the crap out of me if he’s a happy guy who spent his quiet, stable life loading grain. So I started with the idea that maybe he rode the train (the grain elevator has an old railroad siding). Plus, his name wasn’t “Colorado” Slim, so he doesn’t sound local.

Kentucky Slim jumped a Westbound train

Running from a life of sin.

Cool. West bound trains are always better, at least in this country, and nobody hops a train because things are going well. Not in my songs anyway. Now we need some rhyme (explanation of why we need rhyme to follow).

With only a bag of secret pain

And many a scar on his fragile skin.

The guys gotta have a bag, right? And scars are cool. So he should have some. Notice I’m just making crap up here? Notice the total lack of vision or clear goal for the song? One of the things I love about working in rhyme and meter is it forces the logical part of my head to concern itself with something other than editing my ideas. I’m busy trying to make the rhyme and line length come out, so I’m not thinking ‘god, you just wrote the dumbest line ever in the history of man and you should burn this paper and all your crayons too, and take vow never to write ever again.’ I’m just trying to find form and rhyme, so then I’m free to write, instead of thinking too hard about meaning, which has never helped me much.

He spent a night beside the track

At a siding where they loaded grain.

Carved his name on the wall out back,

Then he headed West again.

I’ve now expended the entirety of facts I had to work with here.  Since I’m feeling ‘inspired’ (which as Todd Snider points out is ‘the word they use when you’re making shit up’), I don’t care. If I need more facts, I’ll make them up. And I have a verse structure going, with a sort of double verse thing completed already. But if the whole song is this form it will get boring I think (especially since this is probably going to be a song about not knowing who the hell this guy is), so maybe we need a shift, and one that bumps up a little musically (notice nothing I’ve done is musical yet, although there is a sense of rhythm inherent in the lines). Also, I always remember the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers rule of songwriting: “baby don’t bore us, get to the chorus.” So I think I’ll try something that will be a chorus.

Kentucky Slim, Kentucky Slim, 

Where you going boy, where you been.

This is a race that you can’t win.

Kentucky Slim, Kentucky Slim.

One of the best things about songwriting is repetition. I like it because you can say the same thing over and over and sound really good, which doesn’t work very well in the rest of my life. Then I picked up a guitar and tried singing it. I was trying to stay away from starting with a G or D, which I do a lot. So I went with an Em, then just tried to keep it going. It seemed like a train beat would be appropriate, so that’s how I was strumming as I searched for chords that supported how I was singing the lines. The chorus needed to jump up a bit, so I went to a C. Not sure I like that, but for the moment it is working and I haven’t found anything better. I’m not sure I’d call what I do ‘composing,’ but I am searching for a melody line to sing, and once I have it down I try to replicate it in the following verses.

Here’s the Soundcloud link to the verse and chorus above. Where would you go next with this song (or where do you think it’s going)?

So there you go. The start of a song. It needs more (I’ve since finished it), but that’s how I got going. While I was messing with lyrics I did keep writing lists of rhyming words, which I do a lot. I don’t know how many I used, but the act of making the list seems to help. And as I write I’m looking for a structure, because until I’m as good at this as Jackson Browne, my verses need to be about the same (he does have a verse structure in that song, it just doesn’t feel that way, which is why he’s so freakin’ good).

I have been reading Jimmy Webb’s book Tunesmith. If you want a killer book about songwriting, it’s great (very technical, but really good). But mostly it’s making art by braille. Which is to say, I have no idea what I’m doing until I’m done.

Note: I did google ‘Kentucky Slim,’ -there’s a band on the west coast, someone on the east coast using the name (Kentucky Slim Sterling), and coolest of all, a bass player with Earl Scruggs and Lester Flat in the 1950’s went by ‘Kentucky Slim.’ The name found on the side of the grain elevator is at least 100 year old, so no chance it’s connected to any of that. But I’m not surprised to find it elsewhere.

Playin’ on the Patio!

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This Sunday (June 1) I’ll be at The Fork in Lyons again. Weather allowances aside, we’ll be out on the back patio. My friend Brian will be joining in on dobro, and we might even have  a new song or two. Of course we’ll have the staples: songs about tragedy and death (how fun) and a few songs about rivers and flooding. Amazing food, great scenery, cool people, some songs. What more could you want? Hope to see you there.

Playin’ Around

Gig Poster SC 5-18

Some shows on the way people. This week I’m playing Sunday (5/18) at The Stone Cup here in Lyons from 11am-1pm. If I’m lucky, my friend Brian will be joining me on dobro. They have great food, excellent coffee, and a bit of the ‘hair of the dog that bit ya’ if your Saturday night was was rough.

If you’re living something down we’ll do some songs about people who’ve done worse, if you’re feeling righteous you can enjoy the smug satisfaction of hearing stories of those who aren’t. And yes, I’ll do a song or two about rivers and floods. Hope to see you there.