Sunday, December 21, 2008

All done.

DONE. All done. The record is now at the factory being duplicated...I will have copies for sale at the release show at The Burren in Somerville, MA on January 25, 2009. Soon after that copies will be available online in both digital and CD formats.

Phew. It's been a wild ride! I don't have much else to say right now...while it may be a violation of blogging etiquette, I just don't have much more to say about this project. It now goes out into the world, and will be there for your consideration. I hope you like it.

More news and info will be forthcoming concerning the release show and purchasing information. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Burren
247 Elm St. (Davis Square)
Somerville, MA

Please join us for the release show for my solo album "Seven Years Now"! There will be a guest set from Mr. Dan Blakeslee, and other special guests...

More info coming soon! Save the date!!!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

whales & angels

About half of the record has been mixed so this rate I should have a finished product by December. After it gets mixed, I need to finalize the artwork and send it off to get pressed (i.e., mass-produced). So, optimistically I should be able to do this before Christmas. Also, plans are in the works for a release show early next year. But I will announce those details as they become available.

Tom Eaton has an interesting computer program to clean-up vocal issues. Apparently, whenever I (or anyone, I guess) pronounce the letter "p" into a microphone it has a jarring result. Too much percussive content in the sound. It pops. So Tom has a program that he uses to clean these things up...file it under "studio magic."

The program is called Izotrope RX and it basically presents a graphic representation of every sound frequency inside a given vocalization. For example, if I sing the word "you" the program shows a variety of different sounds as individual frequencies that all go together to make the complete sound. This completely blew my mind. I had no idea there there were that many mini-sounds within a simple vocal sound. And, what's crazier is that you can hear the component sounds played separately! So, each frequency can be isolated and heard on its own. This also blew my mind! Within a simple sung word were so many different sounds: some lower frequencies sounded like whales, some higher frequencies sounded like angels, and other deeper frequencies sounded like evil noises emitted from a dark subterranean source. I could not wrap my brain around the fact that they all run together to make a sung word.

I asked Tom if we could break down the frequencies even further...get even more mini-sounds, perhaps components of the frequencies themselves. I was met with a blank look. We were at the edge of science, and being the naive person I am, I did not realize there was not a deeper level to access. You may say I am a dreamer, but I am not the only one. Seriously, someday they will break down audible frequencies and unlock smaller component parts. Nano-sounds. Or something like that...

So the mixing is ongoing, and updates on album progress should be coming soon! Stay tuned for information on the official release show and the possibility of getting a copy of the album before the show!

Friday, September 19, 2008

into the mix...

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! It faintly yet confidently glimmers in the darkness. In other words, it shouldn't be too much longer until this project is ready for the streets. The rough mixes are done! Now we roll up the sleeves and get to work making one last analysis before the mixing begins. From my perspective, I am only listening for glaring mistakes and/or slight edits...the basic picture is firmly in place. And I think it sounds pretty damn good. Here is the track listing (song order subject to change):

1. Seven Years Now
2. Full Speed Ahead
3. Atlantic Street
4. Rest Here Easy
5. Paper Man
6. The Last Thing
7. Dreamin' Ghosts
8. Bound to Go
9. Diamond Highway
10. Rocketship
11. Every Stone
12. Walkin' (to wake)
13. Riddle In My Suitcase
14. Empire

You might recognize some of these songs, some might be a bit unfamiliar...I am not sure how it happened, but the songs left standing seem to work well together. There is a lot of reflection and interrogation, image and fragment, and a respect for the past overtaken by a hunger for the future. And some hoots and hollers. Barbaric yawps and rough, cursory attempts at knowledge. The whole shebang. A taste of everything I can muster at this point.

Last session saw a bit of backup singing. I had the pleasure of adding the lovely voices of Dan Blakeslee, Mike Null, Sara Colb, and Daniella Colb to the songs Every Stone and Diamond Highway. It was a lot of fun, and the vibe during the recording was casual and fun. Sara came up with a great call/response part for Diamond Highway that seems like it came straight out of an old Appalachian aesthetic! Very June Carter. Cool stuff. Dan Blakeslee brought his great vocal talent and his amazing energy. If you are not familiar with Dan's music, I suggest you check him out. You will not be disappointed. There are few songwriters and performers of his caliber playing out there on the scene. Here are some photos courtesy of Tom Eaton's cell phone:

From left to right, that's Dan Blakeslee, Daniella Colb, Mike Null, Sara Colb, and myself.

I will be sure to send an update on how the mixing process is going. Right now, the album could be done and available by mid-December with an official release party/show happening sometime in January. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: I posted a couple of rough mixes on my MySpace site. Shhhhhhh....don't tell's a secret. (ha ha)

Monday, August 11, 2008

drums on the other side of the speaker

Tom Waits did it to me again. A few years ago, I was casually listening to the song "Jockey Full of Bourbon" off Rain Dogs (one of my favorite albums). And this drum sound, something like a large frying pan being hit with a steel rod, just popped out of the mix and landed in my room somewhere. What I mean is, it sounded like it was not coming from the speaker, but maybe something had fallen off my shelf...or a chair fell over...or a smoke detector fell from the ceiling...anyway, I jumped. It was odd. Music is supposed to stay inside the speaker and when it does not abide by that standard, things get weird.

So it happened again. This time I am listening to Tom Waits sing "November" off The Black Rider album. And, towards the end, BANG. There it is again. A bit more wooden sounding this time. But I was totally caught off guard. Looked over my shoulder. BANG. There it was again. This time I was at I had to maintain composure. God forbid the guy in the next cubicle thinks I am...well...hearing things. Fear not, kind reader, I kept it together.

Speaking of arbitrary divisions, I initially thought all the tunes on my record would be clearly either band tunes, or not band tunes. Which basically means there is a drum set or not in the mix. This is still basically the case, but almost all of the songs now have many instruments on them, making for a much fuller sound. So this dichotomy is much less apparent, to my ear anyway. It is totally exciting! So many great players have come in and made so many great sounds! The instrumentation includes bass, cello, fiddle, banjo, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, mandolin, steel guitar, lap steel guitar, accordion, pump organ, electric piano, electric guitar, an assortment of percussive sounds, and of course...a drum set....well you get the picture. Songs are blooming like wildflowers. I feel like a kid in a toy store the day before Christmas!

In sum, we are almost done with the basic tracking. A couple of vocal things, a guitar part, some edits, and then WHAM we are into the mixing phase. Where we assemble the chaos. Parse the exuberance. Organize the sounds into one big beautiful Whole. While I can't promise drum sounds that will pop out of the speaker, I think it is going to sound great! Stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

rhythm to the rhythm!

The work continues...hopefully things are on track for an autumn release. Leaves will fall from the trees, and albums will fall from the sky! Ha ha. Anyway, last session saw the recording of a horn section for one of the tunes. I had little, ok make that NO experience recording with horns before this. But one tune in particular had been quietly whispering to me all along that it wanted some hot, horn(y) action. [sorry, i could not resist...] In particular, the trombone was standing out in my head as fantastic idea.

I had little in the way of direction for the horn players as they arrived, all I could muster was "Think jazz funeral!" I wanted a kind of rollicking, free-wheeling melee of joy. A street carnival blasting wild in the face of death. Or something... [ahem]... Anyway, the guys (Paul Ahlstrand, Scott Aruda, John Aruda, and Jeff Galindo) laid down some sweet sounds...and I think we have something really cool on our hands.

One thing I noticed about recording horns. It is such a quick-paced, fragmented affair! They run through one line, stop, go back, hit one note, stop, play the next line, stop, play half the next line, stop...well, hopefully you get the picture. And there was this crazy synchronicity with Tom [one o' the producers, on the board] as he clicked on the track, deleted the bad note, cued them up again, hand signals back and forth, back and was kinda like if you had never seen baseball before, and you were perplexed as the catcher was giving hand signals. And you missed the beginning of the pitcher's wind-up. And then your eyes race to catch the ball as it hurtles towards the plate...I felt unaccustomed to the pace of the action. The rhythm of the process. For me, recording a vocal part or a guitar part, it's been more of a "big picture" situation...where I try to avoid going back and re-doing. I try to get it all at once. To find the vibe or the energy or the feeling and not let it go until I am done. I suppose the horn players and Tom were doing the same thing, but the process was so very different in its choppy, stop n' go kinda way. But that is how it is done, that is how things work among the horns. And I think I got my jazz funeral after all!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

falling in love with a pump organ

Last Saturday's session was notable, mainly for the fact that I think I have finished (knock wood) my vocal tracks on all tunes. I will be paying careful attention to each playback to any possible vocal issues I overlooked, but it is safe to assume that this part of the process is finished. No big deal, I don't fancy myself much of a fact if I did not write songs I am not sure I would have even attempted singing in the first place. (OK...there was that appearance in the musical Bye-Bye Birdie in the seventh grade, but I digress...) It is enough for me to have communicated the song the best I can and to leave it at that. I want to get better as a singer but when you boil it down I think the recording process is about capturing things that have already happened.

When I initially came to the conclusion that I needed to start recording a bunch of my tunes, I thought that there would automatically be three distinct projects/directions I would go in: an album of singer/songwriter (rootsy, folky) stuff, a hard rockin' in-your-face up-tempo garage rock-fest of an album, and finally, a more experimental ambient and quirky project. This just seemed to result from the fact that I have a bunch of material that seems to want to divide itself into these categories. I hear things in my head. And to borrow from Sesame Street, sometimes "one of these things is not like the other." Sometimes I think certain songs could never be on the same recording...and while this might be correct I also need to keep challenging my assumptions about what belongs and why.

Which brings me to my point: I am falling in love with the pump organ. It is a mournful, quietly desperate, aching carnival sound that I have grown to love through many songs, especially on numerous Tom Waits recordings. While I heard this in my head, I was unsure if this sound would "belong" on the current project. But all is fair in love and war, and so I hope to use the pump organ wherever possible on this project. It is going to add a lot to many of the songs, especially those recorded without drums (i.e., 9 of 15 tracks) suffices to say that the easy divisions in my head of what is appropriate sometimes blur...and blur they should...that is how we make new colors.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

and the band played on...

Last weekend we assembled a session band and got some really good takes of six tunes. Joining us on the session was a group of really talented local musicians. On drums we had the amazing Andy Plaisted, known for his work playing with the likes of Tim Gearan and Dennis Brennan (FYI the latest Tim Gearan album "No Remedy" (w/Andy on drums) is unbelievably great!). Andy brought a solid steady groove to each of the tunes, and contributed many valuable ideas as we arranged the songs. On bass we had Tom Bianchi, local musician and entertainer extraordinaire. Currently playing locally both solo and in the duo Vagabond Van, Tom brought a variety of sweet bass sounds to the tunes (both electric and upright) and had some great ideas to tease the best out of each song. It was also a pleasure to have Tom on the record because it is through his excellent weekly open mic at Lizard Lounge that I have gained a lot of great experience and had the chance to try out many of these songs, as well as meet a ton of really talented songwriters and performers. On keyboards we were grateful to have Paul Schultheis, known for his work playing with Superhoney and more recently, Club D'Elf. Paul has a knack for digging inside each groove and painting beautiful colors with every stroke of the keys. Strangely enough, it was Paul who played on The Jody Grind's album as well, so when his name came up I knew from experience we would be lucky to have him play with us. Finally, Mike Null, while primarily in the role of co-producer on this project, laid down some smooth guitar lines on most of the tunes. When not producing or teaching, Mike is busy playing with many great local musicians including the legendary Toni Lynn Washington.

All told, we cut six tunes: Atlantic Street, Paper Man, Dreamin' Ghosts (Ocean Song), Riddle In My Suitcase, Diamond Highway, and Every Stone. The rough tracks sound really good, much better than I anticipated (i.e., much better than they ever sounded in my head)! I am very excited to finish the vocal tracks on them, and get them ready for your ears. It was a privilege and an honor to have such great talent in the studio helping me bring these songs to life. These last sessions will surely go a long way in (hopefully) making this project a worthwhile success.

Monday, April 7, 2008

a few words concerning Leonard Cohen

There are a few songwriters who really seem to stay with me as I get older, both as a source of inspiration and as source of continual fascination. Leonard Cohen is one of those. He came to songwriting as an established poet, and it was Bob Dylan's success that convinced him that there was room for poetry in popular music. The songwriters who drift between the roles of poet and songwriter have always been the ones that draw me in the most. On this current project, I have tried to put together a track list that highlights some of my tunes with the biggest aspirations, poetically speaking. Whether they succeed or fail is for the listener to decide. As Cohen himself often says: "poetry is a verdict."

Recently, I have been working on a cover version of Cohen's "Hallelujah." I tend to avoid covering really popular songs, because I find it difficult to find a new way to sing them...when so many different voices have already mined every aspect and turned over every possibility in a given song, it gets harder and harder to bring something new to the table. The more popular a song is, it seems to me to be harder to find a "way in" to the song as performer...maybe that means I am not much of a performer, I dunno... Anyway, many people are familiar with Jeff Buckley's cover of "Hallelujah": in terms of cover versions Buckley basically hit a home run. He took the implicit melodic dynamics in Cohen's version and took them into the outer reaches of music-space. In other words, his version drips with intense emotion and unbridled passion. I have long avoided approaching this song because I know I could never sing like that, and I did not see another way "in" to the song...until now...basically I am mellowing out the tune a little, strumming it a bit like Bob Marley might (or maybe like Daniel Johnston playing his song "True Love Will Find You In The End"), sort of a bouncy rhythm that takes the drama meter down a bit. Mellowing it out a bit allows me (and the audience) to focus on the lyrics more, and oh what beautiful lyrics. Here is Leonard performing the song:

Leonard almost speaks the words, and all of that melodic potential bristles just beneath the surface of his voice. That is probably a big reason performers like to cover him so much: the original versions suggest so many possibilities regarding how to emphasize/rework/stretch out, etc. the melodies in the song.

Anyway, recording of my solo album has been a little delayed recently, but we will be back on track in a couple of weeks. I am excited and hopeful to move onward with the process, and optimistic that more album-oriented updates here will follow very soon. Enjoy the beginning of Spring!

P.S. For you Cohen fans, he is actually touring this year (!)...more info can be found here.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

eight songs in

Yesterday, after an evening spent whooping it up at an "Anti-Valentine's Day" party, it was back to Newburyport for more vocal tracking. Fatigue and hangover were weighing on my head, but let's just say that I have learned to love a challenge, no matter what form in which it appears...on the plus side I managed to get the vocal/guitar track for a new tune that has proven to be more difficult for me than other tunes. Called "walking (to wake)" it was one of those tunes that, when I first heard it in my head, it had a couple of vocal parts where I said to myself "NO WAY you can sing that...give it up...". Usually, I would resign such song ideas to a mental box called "Come Back and Sing Me When You Learn How To Sing" but I got stubborn this time. Actually, went out and took a [dramatic pause...] voice lesson...yeah...weird... And then I relentlessly practiced the tune (and the voice lesson) for a couple of weeks until I began to hit the notes I had in my head.

Kudos to Mike Null for spontaneously composing an instrumental bridge for the tune, too. It will definitely add to the ambient impact of the song. You can read more about that on his blog.

So I got that tune down, plus two others. Then, the voice began to fall apart (after 4 hours I will quickly add...) Compared to the previous session, I will admit that a night of celebration can lead to a day-after of lessened productivity...but we are making good progress nonetheless. This project can loosely be divided into two parts: solo songs and band songs. [Note to Reader: "band" songs do not necessarily mean songs from The Jody Grind's (un-recorded) fact almost all of them are not Grind merely means there might be some percussion in the mix, which changes the whole dymanic...] The solo songs all now have vocal tracks, and now they will be put through the ringer of sonic wizardry courtesy of Tom Eaton and Mike. Textures, ambience, and the occasional fiddle or accordion will round out the sounds...I can't wait to get started on that part of the process! I feel like a kid in candy store! Let me revise that: I feel like a kid WITH NO FOOD ALLERGIES in a candy store...

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

First Day In The Studio!

Wow. It has been a long crazy trip to this current predicament...but I don't want to focus on the past, I want to look with diamond-like focus on The Present. Last Saturday, February 9, marked my first day in the studio, beginning the actual tracking for my first "solo" album. Five basic vocal tracks were completed, along with some acoustic guitar backing, laying down the groundwork for a good chunk of the album.

For those of you who don't know, I was devoted as a songwriter to my first band, The Jody Grind, for many years since I (along with Mike Null and Sara Colb) founded the band back in 2002. But for the past 6-7 years, I have also been writing material that did not really fit into the band mold very well...where The Grind was more uptempo and jam-band-esque, many of my songs were downtempo and melancholy, lonely, shy, quiet, the kinds of songs that remind one of late nights, midnight musings, lost chances, squandered opportunities, quiet reflections on a dead rat in an alley, its corpse grinning back at you with gruesome confidence...

[Note to Reader: I have never actually written a song about a dead rat in an alley...]

Seriously though, I came to this project with 23 songs in consideration. Songs are like children. Some know exactly what they are and they develop quickly and BANG! off into the world they GO. You see them go and you feel like the proud parent. Other songs seem to take more time to coalesce, to "get their shit together" so to speak...but as years pass the ones that remain standing still plead to be recognized, to be released, to be let loose into the wide universe. So most of the songs being recorded now are of this latter variety, and I have also thrown in a couple of new ones just to keep it interesting. It is going to be a wild ride!

Recording is taking place at Tom Eaton's studio in Newburyport, MA. My initial impressions of Tom and the studio are that I could not have picked a better place to do this project. Tom seems to already intuitively understand what I am looking for in the songs so far, and he brings to the table many impressive skills as an engineer and as an architect of recorded sound. Overall, the record is being co-produced by Tom and Mike Null. I have been friends with Mike Null for many years, and we have a particular musical chemistry that cannot be easily found. His contributions to the project have already been indispensable. I very much look forward to the next session (this coming Saturday, to be exact)!

However, I forgot how challenging recording can be...I was very excited to finally get the ball rolling after many weeks of pre-production (where we whittled down the 23 tunes to 18) and when I finally found myself in the booth with four microphones pointed at me, I remembered how recording can also be quite a test for your head. Your state of mind becomes dramatically affected by the process and you really need to dig deep within your head/heart and focus on what you are doing, lest the anxieties and unwelcome analyses gain ground and wreak havoc. Recording in some sense is like bringing forward a jar of beautiful, multi-colored beetles that you found in the forest. You bring them to the studio and one by one they are removed from the jar. A pointed nail is riven through their backside and they are placed, in the final squirms of near-death struggle, under a glass case. The glass case is then locked and you are handed back the now-preserved specimen. You know that this is for the best, because now more people will be able to experience the beetle in its present state. Research can now be done, students on various field trips can now walk by and gape in total safety at the dead insect, progress can be made on how we relate to this multi-colored phenomenon of the forest. And who knows...we might actually learn something about our world (or even ourselves) as a result of studying these dead insects! But you (as beetle collector) know that now there is no going back, and that something has fundamentally changed. The beetle no longer belongs to you (not that it ever really did for that matter) now belongs to anyone who happens to walk by and glance through the glass enclosure.

You might think the beetles in the previous analogy are songs...this is partially true. But the metaphor can be extended in that each beetle represents each detail of every song: every phrase and the way it is delivered, the way words fall over the chord changes at the exact moment of recording, the precise strum of the guitar at each moment, the random extra note that all of the sudden appears, etc., etc.

Recording pressures aside, I am excited and optimistic about this project! Together with Mike and Tom, I think we are going to have a great time making this record. Once finished, I hope it will be a collection of songs that walk confidently and gracefully into the big blue world.