Sunday, May 29, 2005

This One Goes to 22

So far, so good this weekend, with two extremely productive studio sessions on Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night Dave and I worked on the lead vocals for the song Bombs Away. I kind of suspected Bombs would be tough. I had the most trouble with the guitars for this song, and Aoife had a bit of a time with the violins.

It's not that the song's hard technically... it's that it's a different sort of song than we usually write. It's very poppy and bouncy, very clean... so it demands something a little different. I warmed up by running through the song a bunch of times, and then we got to working segment by segment. The first verse was a real trial. The melody starts in a lower register, but since it's the first line/verse of an uptempo pop tune, it needs to have a lot of energy. And I find I have trouble bringing energy to lower notes and wind up oversinging a lot.

So I tried. And tried. And tried. And tried. (Repeat 18 more times)

And finally got the first two lines on... take 22. Yeah. Take 22. I'm a real pro. The funny part is that I proceeded to nail the bridge, which has something like 10 lines of singing, on take 1.

Take 22 and take 1. I guess the bottom line is that we got where we wanted and it doesn't matter how you get there as long as it's good.

I would love to be a fly on the wall in Bono's vocal sessions, or Chris Martin's or Chris Cornell's. I wonder how those guys work.

BOMBS AWAY Put it all out there to see what I could see Closed the door on all the midnight tragedy Under the skies the city's eyes are watching Watching as we fade away Maybe the dream has run its course Maybe the river returned to the source Under the trees the mercury is falling How the summers fade away Fade away Fade away Bridge: So you're just time bomb Ticking night and day, night and day Suddenly the time's gone And it's bombs away Under the trees the mercury is falling How the summers fade away

Bombs is about time passing and how it affects your dreams. Time and dreams are both lyrical obsessions/crutches of mine, but there's something so elemental about them... especially for aspiring musicians. I have a real love/hate relationship with this song, but it turned out really well... it's a pop tune but it's savvy, and the arrangement was a group effort.

Saturday I taught and then headed back down to the studio. We worked on the song The Soft Drown. The Soft Drown was the last song written for the record, and as such had the least work done on the arrangement. To boot, we've never really been able to play this song very well live. Is it because the song isn't that good? (In best Corky St. Clair voice) Maybe.

But also, I think we have a tendency to overplay and the song is really a straight-ahead rocker that thrives on minimal, powerful playing. The basic tracks for it are good though, and I knew it would demand a really strong lead vocal to make it work. After warming up, we started working, and immediately Dave decided I needed to Joe Cocker it for the verses. Just let it all hang out, gravel-voiced, almost yelling.

We got some really good takes down. Character, energy, and a lot of grit. I'm learning something new about my vocal capacity every time we record and with The Soft Drown, I learned how to let go and just emote. Very cool. The choruses took awhile, but we built them up using harmonies, layering and call and response. Again, there's nothing like it yet on the album. The last chorus was a great example of how a producer can make a tune. I had some ideas about background vocals, and Dave took them and refined them and we just sweated it out idea by idea, line by line, until we had something incredibly cool.

THE SOFT DROWN It's all Almost over now The stars are in the sky And they're never coming down And why We keep asking why Why we take up arms and fight Against the dying light Chorus: It's taking It's taking now It's taking The soft drown 2X And hope Rides a dark horse While a white one pulls the sun Across the fallen sky Awoke At 4 a.m. And tried to find the answer as The world began to end Chorus The flame Is finally low In a moment we'll be left With nothing left to show For love For opening our eyes For wanting nothing more than to be Buried with a smile Chorus (x2)

The Soft Drown is about life stealthily overtaking you, almost without you noticing it. Man, I'm depressing. I really like these lyrics. They're a little dramatic, but I love the imagery and the sentiment. And I think the line "Wanting nothing more than to be buried with a smile," with its dual connotations, is a pretty tight bit of songwriting.


I think I just pulled by elbow patting myself on the back.


Friday, May 27, 2005


Well, it's nearly the weekend. And the fact that I've got so much going on this weekend makes me wish I would have gone to sleep early last night instead of hanging out in our backyard until 2:00 in the morning and then getting up at 7:00 to go to work.

Oh well.

Tonight it's into the studio for some vocals. Tomorrow's a (supposedly) full day of teaching followed by another studio session. Sunday's a wedding and reception. Monday is a low key graduation party for my sister's boyfriend. That equals: lots of eating and drinking, not much sleeping. I do feel pretty well-rested all things considered, and the week off from rehearsal has been great for my voice. It feels strong and recovered from last weekend's rehearsal, show and recording.

Hopefully tonight and tomorrow will go smoothly and I'll be within spitting distance of finishing the lead vocal tracks. I woke up this morning intending to write some stuff on politics, but I don't think I have the energy or patience, so that'll have to wait.

Wow: least-interesting-blog-entry-ever. And that's saying something.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

So You Wanna be a Rock Star?

It's been a slow week in these parts... and it's come at a good time. There's a lot of stuff coming up, from recording to shows to weddings... nice to get a little break.

The down-time gave me a chance to read So You Wanna Be a Rock Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life by Jacob "Jake" Slichter. Jake was the drummer for the band Semisonic.

I was never a huge fan of Semisonic. I thought Closing Time was a good song, but it got beaten to death. I actually liked the song "All About Chemistry" (off of the album Chemistry) better. The book is a memoir of the rise and fall of Semisonic, from being courted by major labels, through going platinum (1 million albums sold), through having their third album bomb and going on hiatus.

Along the way, there are great (read: horrifying) stories about the excesses of the music industry, about dealing with newfound fame, and about reconciling the idealism of rock and roll with the realities of business. All of it is written in a great conversational style and should be required reading for anyone busting their ass as a musician as well as anybone who wants to understand that it's usually the musician who gets the "business" part of the "music business."


Monday, May 23, 2005

Sampler? I hardly know her

This weekend had a bit of everything... Friday night we had a good long rehearsal in advance of our Saturday night outdoor festival show. We had an hour and a half to fill, so we pulled out of couple of old tunes we hadn't played since... the last outdoor festival we played. It was actually pretty fun to play these songs after the time off from them.

Saturday, I taught all day and then we went right to our show. The festival was small and was a benefit for a grade school in the Lincoln Park neighborhood. It turned out to be a great gig. The sound was amazing. We played nearly non-stop for an hour and half, I took a turn in the middle playing two solo tunes while the band used the bathroom, and we even made up a song as a band on the spot during an extended jam. We were loose, and although there weren't a lot of people there, we got rid of a ton of CDs, so many that we're running dangerously low on our second pressing of the EP and will have to order a third pressing of 1000 immediately to make sure we have some for the summer.

After the gig, we all went back to our magical Grecian backyard, drank beer, and ate pizza. And had a good fire in the firepit. Good times. Some of our tenants' friends stopped by, and suddenly it was 3:00 am.

Sunday morning, I headed into the studio for an early session. I was a bit worried because I'd sung so much on Friday and Saturday and stayed up so late... but the song we worked on, Seraphim Do Mar, called for a weary sounding voice, so it worked out well. It's actually some of my favorite singing I've ever done, really relaxed, really gritty, really genuine.

Seraphim is the last song on the album. It's different from anything else we've done. The guitar sound is... as heavy as it gets. For a lot of it, there are something like 16 guitar tracks (part of it has almost 30!), all layered and textured. It sounds like Smashing Pumpkins, but wider and warmer. And there's an apocalyptic ending that is nearly A Day in the Life-esque. A really cool way to end the album. 

SERAPHIM DO MAR Angels of the dirt We ask of you Go and get your kin They'll know where to begin Rise up, fall down Rise up, fall down Angels of the sea Take these sunken dreams Raise them to the sky So maybe can I Rise up, fall down Rise up, fall down What's left when it's all gone?

The melody is very much like a nursery rhyme, as are the lyrics. What's the song about? I'm not sure. The title is a pun, sort of. And the imagery is meant to evoke Atlantis, a group of angels lifting it up from underwater, and, well, "what's left when it's all gone."

I guess. After recording, I headed up to Deerfield to attend the Village Music School Spring concert. I had two students performing and they did great. One performed "More Than a Feeling" by Boston. And it killed. And the other performed Little Peter Cottontail, accompanied by me.

It was great to see them both succeed and to talk to their parents about how much they enjoy guitar. I guess I must be doing something right.

Or at least not wrong.


Vegas, baby

Before getting to my somewhat eventful weekend that involved sitting around in our new backyard as much as possible, I should throw down a few words about my set-up trip to Las Vegas.

Barret and I got out of Chicago on Sunday night pretty late, but because of the time change we landed in Vegas around 11:00 pm. After a snafu at the rental car company (no cars!), we proceeded to our hotel, The Golden Nugget, which is in the older part of the city (Sinatra-town) on Freemont Street. I guess this hotel used to be a bit run down, but a few years ago casino tycoon Steve Wynn (his new casino cost $2.8 billion and has something like 4000 rooms!) took over the Golden Nugget and revamped it. It's a nice blend of affordability and typical Vegas luxury-kitsch. desperate for a drink, Barret and I hit the casino and I immediately won $75 playing video poker. This was a curse in disguise because it fooled me into thinking my entire trip would be filled with gambling successes.

Vegas preys on fools like me.

Barret then pulled a Hunter S. Thompson and ordered us shrimp cocktail from room service and we passed out. In the morning (Monday), Barret headed over to Foothill High School in Henderson to work with some of the drummers in their jazz band. I adjourned to the casino and began a steady descent into gambling hell with Guiness as my Virgil. Barret joined me in the casino in the early afternoon, and we wandered the Freemont strip for a bit, checking out other casinos, grazing on a buffet, and just generally pumping $20 bills into various machines in the hope that we might hit it big. 

We didn't.

Suddenly, it was dinner time. We met Travis (the band director at Foothill) and his wife Pam for dinner near The Golden Nugget. Travis and Pam are really wonderful people and we had a great time talking music, eating wings, and consuming cocktails. After dinner, we hit Freemont Street just in time to witness the hourly laser light 'n' music presentation on the mile long canopy which hangs a hundred feet the street. Complete with Styx, gambling, cars, boobs, and American flags... unbelievable.

Barret said he thought I was going to fall down I was laughing so hard. It reminded me of yet another reason I don't get the current Republican Party: the constituency that votes national GOP candidates into office is made up of libertarians who want the "hoi polloi" to have what they want (gambling, boobs, drugs, etc.) unfettered by government regulation and also cultural conservatives who are consistently shocked and offended by what the "hoi polloi" want (gambling, boobs, drugs, etc.) and think the government should use the Christian religion to regulate these vices out of existence. Getting those two groups of people to vote the same way is truly something amazing, and by amazing I mean horrible.

Enough of that. Back to Vegas.

After Travis and Pam went home, Barret and I kicked it up a notch. We must have been a sight, two musician types, long hair, tattoos, beards, wandering the street howling like monkeys with fruity drinks in giant phallus shaped containers... Hunter would have been proud. People were actually parting like the Red Sea to let us through.

Needless to say, Tuesday morning was painful. We had to be at Foothill at 9:00 am to work with the jazz band, and then I was slated to perform the Odyssey at 10:00 am. Luckily, Barret had ordered room service, and they arrived around 7:30 am with eggs, pancakes, coffee, and all the fixings.

We made it out to Foothill in time. After the jazz band rehearsed, the auditorium began filling up with kids and I performed the Odyssey to an audience of about 250. It went really well. After that, it was back to The Golden Nugget. Barret napped, I hit the pool and the spa and tried to avoid gambling. 

Feeling refreshed, we headed back out to Henderson for the Foothill Spring Band Concert. It was really cool to see Travis in action. He conducted four different ensembles and the kids seemed completely locked in to what he was doing. Barret and I sat in on a funk tune with the jazz band, and it went really well. After the concert, we went out for dinner with Travis and came back into the city for a drink. We hit the Voodoo Lounge at The Rio which is a bar on the 51st story of the hotel that affords a beautiful view of the entire strip.

After that, I had to go to bed. I was beat. I knew I was hurting when the elevator man at The Golden Nugget (who looked like Martin Landau) eyed me up and down and said "Boy, you look tired." When a guy who works the overnight shift in a casino tells you you look tired, it's time to go to bed.

Barret and Travis stayed out late, and Travis won $250 playing video poker. Figures. Wednesday was a day of travel... returning the rental car, getting to the airport, etc. Not to mention that America Worst (er, West) airlines managed to screw up our flight on both ends, resulting in 2 hours of delay.

When you lose two hours with the time change, that sucks even more. So ended our Vegas trip. If "What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas," then "What Happened in Vegas" was my money, because it sure as heck stayed there.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Taping Posted by Hello

The yard Posted by Hello

While I Was Out

Okay, I'll be honest. I thought my evening tonight would consist of eating some feta-stuffed-chicken, watching Alias, and maybe writing a Hunter S. Thompson-esque blog entry about my last three days in Las Vegas.

Instead, I arrived home after a full day of delayed-airline travel to find... that my incredible wife had perpetrated a scheme so devious, so complete, so utterly improbable, that in 4 to 6 weeks you will be able to see me express my genuine disbelief of her craftiness on an episode of the TV show While You Were Out.

Let me explain.

While You Were Out is a show on the cable channel TLC. It generally involves a spouse tricking their significant other into going out of town for a few days. While this person is "out" so to speak, a room or area of the couple's house is fully redesigned and remodeled and they return home to video cameras and a TV crew which films the reaction and surprise.

Well... it turns out that my trip to Vegas (which will be chronicled later this week) was moved up from this fall in order to serve as cover for WYWO to come to our house and completely redo our backyard. And when I walked into the backyard this evening after an impossibly difficult day of travel, I was greeted by a camera crew, 20 of my closest family and friends, and a design crew from WYWO including Evan, Leslie, and Andrew. These folks, along with Gina, our tenants Dave and Terri, and some other helpful people, spent the last three days taking our backyard from a sad, dog-poo laden wasteland, to an amazing Greek themed paradise, which contains a huge wooden deck, a fire pit, a stone patio, and poo-barrier zone (also referred to as Poland), and a much diminished dog run for... well, you guessed it, poo.

There's also some incredible furniture and a ton of amazing landscaping and plants. The only thing that's missing is Greek serving boys. To quote Dave Barry, "I'm not making this up." So I walked into our backyard, and they immediately filmed my reaction and put me through the "reality TV wringer" and the episode is supposed to air in the next 4 to 6 weeks.

Apparently Gina has been coordinating this for the last 6 weeks, and almost every friend and family member I have in the Chicagoland area has been in on the conspiracy. For once, I'm speechless. Stunned. Nothing else to say.

Except: the party's at our house for the summer. And stay tuned for more info on when you'll get to see me look completely baffled on TV.


Friday, May 13, 2005


Hendrix Posted by Hello
Speaking of anniversaries... it's right around the fourth anniversary of when I adopted the little furry guy in the picture above.

I can't believe it was 2001... he came along at such an important and turbulent time for me and has been a constant companion. Right after I got Hendrix I went through some tough things... Gina and I split for a while, my old band, Blue New World, kind of imploded, in the process depriving me of a good friend.

I wasn't working very much.

Overall, I wasn't in a good place and I was dealing with my problems by developing some pretty unhealthy habits. But having Hendrix was just enough responsibility to keep me honest. No matter where I was, what I was doing, what state I was in, I had to get home and take care of him. And that was just enough to keep me out of some bad situations and to keep me from doing some serious damage to myself.

Not to mention how many friends I made through running Hendrix at the dog park in my old neighborhood. I used to run him every day at 5:00 pm, sometimes for up to two hours, just standing around watching dogs play and talking. Almost therapeutic.

So... yes: I'm kind of crazy about the little guy. He is just full of unconditional love.

Well, as long as I feed him.



Still feeling under the weather today. Got a lot of sleep, but had to go to work, which cuts into recovery.

Have to teach tomorrow too, with 14 (gulp) students on the docket as of this afternoon.

And then Sunday I'll try to do some singing in the studio and fly out to Vegas in the evening.

I guess things could be worse. In band related news, we've been invited to play at Milwaukee's huge summer music festival, Summerfest. Good stuff. Not sure about which stage, but it looks like we'll be playing on Sunday, July 10, in the later afternoon.

As I mentioned, Sunday will be the two year anniversary of BRB's gig, so going from a Thursday night at Double Door to Summerfest in two years feels pretty good.

A lot of work still left to be done, but still... good times.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Thursday Bloody Thursday

Well, just got back from the doctor who took a look at me and prescribed... sleep.

Great. That's great. I guess I've got a virus and we all know the only thing you can do for a virus is drink water and rest.

And this with a huge week of travel and performing coming up.

Just my luck.

So I've decided it would be prudent to cancel my students for today and take the time to actually follow the doctor's orders.

I really hope I feel well enough to get into the studio once this weekend and keep the momentum going.

We had a band meeting last night to go over some great photos my friend AJ took of us at House of Blues. Some really cool stuff there. We also met with a guy named Zoran who is going to do some more pictures for us. Really cool guy. He spent last week shooting Wilco at their run of concerts at the Vic, and is working on a collection of photos for a book about the Irish band The Frames.

Seems like he'll be great to work with. So now it's off to sleep and drink water. Or maybe drink and sleep water. Whatever works.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Rollin' to rock

Saturday we played a show at Mississippi Nights in sunny St. Louis.

Traveling with a band, by nature, is always a bit of a trial. You bust your ass to get where you're playing and then for your trouble you get 45 minutes to play music. Then you have to come home. It's exhausting and trying, but ultimately rewarding. Although our load-in in St. Louis wasn't until 6:30 pm, Barret picked me up at 10:00 am. We drove to an Avis downtown to pick up our rented minivan. The woman at the counter seemed baffled because they had no minivan for me, even though I had a piece of paper confirming my reservation.

They offered us a Ford Explorer. Which wasn't going to work.

Luckily, the manager stepped in and drove to another location to get us our promised van. And when he pulled up... he pulled up in a Ford Freestar. This please me greatly. Last summer, we rented a Ford Freestar for our mini-tour, and it suited us perfectly. I was worried we might get stuck with a Ford Windstar, which would have been less agreeable because, well, in the immortal words of Dr. Jeffery M. Bella, "It's better to break Free than to break Wind."

Not only was it a Ford Freestar, it was a 2005 with just 25 miles on it. So we were set. I popped up north to get Jeff and his gear, and we met Barret and Aoife at our rehearsal space, where we (well, Barret) packed all our gear in the Freestar. We hit the road at the drop of noon, as planned (by Barret). The ride to St. Louis down Interstate 55 (the so called Double Nickel) is one of the most boring drives you'll ever take.

Of the 300 miles from our rehearsal space to the club, roughly 290 of them are spent on 55. Which is good for making time, good for looking at flat, flat, farmland, good for boredom. Luckily, BRB is a constant laugh and there was much to be amused by in the way of conversation. We stopped in Springfield for lunch and I resisted the urge to have a Horseshoe, which is apparently some sort of bread, meat, cheese, gravy concoction that is particular to our state capitol.

Then it was back on the road. We hit St. Louis around 5:30, an hour early, and found the club with little problem. Mississippi Nights is a truly great club, right on the river. It looks and feels kind of like Double Door, but has the capacity of Metro. We came in during the headliner's sound check and got our gear inside.

The headliner was local Javier Mendoza, who was extremely cool, as was the rest of his band. Actually, everyone at the club was cool, especially the sound guy, who went out of his way to help clear up a miscommunication about our starting time.

At about 6:30, we got a sound check and then had an hour and half to kill before we played. Doc slept in the van, Barret had a beer, and Aoife and I took a walk to check out the gambling boats. At 8:30, we took the stage and played a sloppy but energetic 45 minute set. The crowd started out small, but built throughout our set, and there were a good number of people there by the time we finished, most of whom seemed into it.

We were loose onstage and had a good rapor with the audience. Afterwards, we handed out about 60 CDs, and although we were giving them away, a bunch of people insisted on paying us for them, which was nice. The cool thing about playing out of town shows for me is that you know the audience has never heard you before. Sure, you've played these songs 200 times each, but these people are hearing them for the first time, so you had better make them good. That adds an element of newness that really helps the energy.

So after our set, we packed up and loaded out down some precarious back stairs. The band after us was okay. A little bit poppy (ala Maroon 5) for my tastes but still very good at what they did. We chatted with the crowd, talked to the Javier Mendoza band for a bit, and then got in the van around 10:30 pm. 

Here's where things get rough. We decided to drive back to Chicago so we could get the van back in the morning, save on a hotel, and because we all had things to do for Mother's Day. Now, I was the only person legally permitted to drive the minivan because it was rented in my name and to save money we didn't add another driver. I had no problem with letting Barret drive for a bit if I got tired, but I figured I'd at least start out driving and see how far I could get.

So we started rolling north and I just kept driving. And driving. And we stopped for food. And I drove. And we stopped for gas. And I drove. Suddenly it was about 2:00 am, Barret had fallen asleep and I was still driving, about an hour from Chicago.

So I pushed through and made it all the way back.

Two moments that stick out: 1) about 45 minutes from Chicago a deer ran across the road about 400 feet in front of the car. Not good. 2) Just as the Chicago skyline came into view, Once in a Lifetime by Talking Heads came on the radio.

Which gave me that last burst of energy to get us into the city, unload our gear, and get back to my house at 4:00 am.

 So... the totals:

Miles driven: 600

Hours driven: 9.5

Minutes playing music: 45

CDs given away to future fans: 60

Money made: $0 (we broke exactly even on the trip)

The chance to do what you love: priceless


Monday, May 09, 2005

god bless my wife

Well, it's Monday again.

And I'm still recovering (or is it reeling?) from an eventful weekend. The events of Friday night deserve their own entry here so...

Friday night I adjourned to the studio and cut the vocals for the song The Darkness. Dave and I wound up double-tracking all the lead vocals and it sounded good. I'm not usually a fan of the doubled-vocal sound, but is seemed right for this tune. It's slated to be the 3rd song on the album in our tentative sequence.

THE DARKNESS All the passing days weigh upon the sun And tomorrow's promises are loaded like a gun You know she's crawling on an island, between the wind and rain Crawling as I'm falling in the darkness that remains Chorus: She sees beauty, all I see is lines She feels love but all I feel is time The light starts to fail as we open seam by seam But that's alright with me That's alright with me Who knew this masquerade would hang around so long Five years gone away, singing broken songs You know she's lighting up a candle in the corners of the rain Lighting as I'm fighting in the darkness that remains Chorus Solo Chorus

The Darkness is a pretty straightforward tune about big dreams and time. It's also about people in your life who help you stay away from trouble and keep you positive, who help balance out your negativity.

The person in my life who plays this role is my wife Gina, so it seems apropos that I should tell the story of what happened on Friday night after I finished up in the studio. Gina was out at a work-related party, so I decided to head home and get some sleep in preparation for BRB's trip to St. Louis on Saturday (which will get it's own entry). I was sitting in my underwear, watching basketball, and eating ice cream at about midnight when my phone rang. I missed the call, saw it was Gina, and checked my message.

The message was garbled by poor reception. I deleted it. Minutes later, my phone rang again and I got to it. It was Gina again and she sounded like she was hyperventilating. As it turns out, she was having a drink at the Penisula Hotel, a swanky joint just off Michigan Ave. As she walked through the lobby/bar she noticed Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, sitting there. Coldplay played a show at Metro on Friday, which was probably the hottest ticket among many hot tickets of the weekend.

What did she do? She marched right up to Mr. Martin, knelt beside his chair, and said "Chris Martin? I'm a big fan. You stole my husband's gig." We've got this joke that Chris Martin stole my gig because he majored in Classics or Classical Humanities in college, just like I did. And became one of the biggest rockstars in the world, just like... uh... nevermind. 

Apparently, this approach caught Chris Martin off-guard. However, he was taken enough with Gina to talk to her for about 20 minutes about Burn Rome Burn and my Odyssey. That garbled voice mail? Chris Martin saying something like (in best British accent) "Hi Joe, this is Chris Martin from Coldplay. Your lovely wife has told me all about your band Burn Rome Burn, which is a fantastic name. Etc. Etc. Etc." So Gina calls me back and says "Get down here and bring your CD."

I get dressed, hop in the car and speed downtown, arriving at the hotel 5 minutes after Chris Martin has gone to his room after telling Gina to leave him a Burn Rome Burn CD at the desk. Which we do. I even got third party confirmation of the whole event from Gina's friend Jenni who saw and heard it all go down. I do hope the BRB EP made it into his hands. The first song on the EP, Wait, employs an rhythmic homage (read: rip-off) of the Coldplay song Clocks. I actually left him two copies of the CD.

I read in the paper today that Coldplay hung around Chicago to hit the U2 show on Sunday, and then were guests of Bono backstage. So I'm guessing that Chris passed Bono a Burn Rome Burn EP and they had fish 'n chips while listening to it.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Odd, is he?

Where the hell did this week go?

It's Friday, and I have no idea how I got here. Before you jump to any conclusions, this disorientation is not due to the consumption of large amounts of alcohol. If only I were so lucky. It is due to the fact that this has been one of the busiest most eventful weeks of playing music I've had in a while.

As a side note, it's amazing how a week like this one can energize you, even if you're sleeping a lot less and putting out more effort. Just that psychological boost that comes from doing something you love and seeing the rewards of persistence.

To sum it up:

Tuesday: Did two performances of The Odyssey at Perspectives, a Charter School near Chinatown. The principal and founder of this school is a friend from the dog park where I used to run Hendrix when I lived in Edgewater. I did The Odyssey there last year about this time, and they were nice enough to ask me back for two shows this year.

A couple of cool things about Tuesday:

1) Last year when I played, the school was located in one of those "port-O-schools." Not too nice. This year, they've moved into a beautiful newly constructed school building. Very nice.

2) The teacher I worked with on this (same teacher as last year) had built a lesson plan around my performance.

3) The kids were great. Perspectives is mostly minority (is that an oxymoron or what?), and it was cool to see how they related to me and my music. Very into it, as respectful as any high school audience, and really asked great questions. Going into last year, I wasn't sure if it would connect with them, but this year sealed the fact that it did. It was excellent.

Additionally, I found out Tuesday that Barret and I are getting flown out to Las Vegas in a week for a four day, three night run of performances in Vegas-area high schools. I'll be doing three performances of The Odyssey, and Barret will be doing drum clinics. Flight, room, board, and a per performance fee. One performance (that's one hour) a day, and three nights free in Vegas.

I'm still rubbing my eyes. Barret's done a bunch of drum clinics at UNLV and has gotten to know a some music-types in the Vegas-area, several of whom work in the high school district as music teachers and band directors. A couple of them came to a show of ours at Double Door in December, and apparently the idea of The Odyssey stuck with them. So they're going to bring me out to do it.

The cool thing is, is that there are 40 high schools in the Vegas school system, so if it goes well this year, I might be able to do a longer run next year, with more performances.

Back to Tuesday...

So after a full slate of students (12 in a row!) at Village and a band practice and a trip to Double Door to see a band (detailed below), it was on to...

Wednesday: Burn Rome Burn is playing in St. Louis Saturday night. Seeing as it's our first gig in St. Louis, I figured we were playing a dump, some small club, maybe called The Barking Toad or something. Which would have been just fine with me. Wednesday, I found out we're playing Mississippi Nights, which appears to be a club the caliber of Metro/House of Blues. Wow. That kicks ass.

Additionally, we got a nice review on Now, I'm a firm believer that for a band at our level, there's no such thing as bad press. Hell, in our first article in UR Magazine they compared us to... the Gin Blossoms. Excuse me? The GBs had to stop playing concerts under that name because people would show up just to throw garbage at them.


Anyway, I like what the guy in the review has to say. You can tell he listened to the CD a few times, listened to the lyrics, and makes some pretty insightful, legitimate comments, both positive and critical. And the line "The band Burn Rome Burn has a unique sound, a feat not found often in the rock world" is worth the price of admission. That pretty much says it all to me. It's also gratifying because a hallmark of this band has been conscious decisions about shaping "our sound." No matter what kind of song I bring in, I know by the time we're done with it, it'll sound like Burn Rome Burn.

I remember specific conversations with Barret and Aoife, the leftovers from Blue New World, about how we felt BNW was too scattershot, not focused enough, and how our new project would have a coherent "sound." We didn't want to limit ourselves, we just wanted to figure out what we sounded like and go from there. And it looks like it's happening.

We had two rehearsals, Tuesday and Wednesday, and things are sounding really good. Also, Doc has done some really kick ass mock mixes of some of the completed album tracks... experimenting with his audio software, adding sound effects, trying mixing ideas, and even on his limited set up things are sounding massive. Just great. I can't imagine what it's going to sound like when Dave mixes it. And we have it professionally mastered.

After rehearsal on Tuesday (I'm backtracking now), Barret, Doc and I went to check out a band at Double Door... one of the drum teachers at Village is playing with a band that was having their first show at Double Door. The band played pretty well for a first show. Obviously they were all pretty good musicians. It brought me back to BRB's first show, which was also at Double Door, almost exactly two years ago. Good times. Look for a sappy nostalgic band anniversary-related post next week.

Wednesday I also taught a private lesson in the city (see why I haven't been blogging?) and had a funny "dickhead rockstar" moment involving my arch nemesis, Guitar Center. I dropped $100 on two Mogami brand guitar cables just before our House of Blues show in April. These were to be the guitar cables to end all guitar cables, as they came with a lifetime warrant, a hefty price tag, and a ringing endorsement from the guy behind the counter at GC.

Well, at HOB, one of them went in and out on me during the set when I stepped on it. You pay $50 for a guitar cable, you should be able to step on it. I was not happy. I decided I would just return them, get the cash back, and go back to my crappy $10 cables. So I walked into GC on Wednesday night, one day before my 30 day "return for cash" grace period ended. Additionally, the cables were knotted hopelessly together as I had just bunched them up in frustration after the show and left them in a bag. Also, I had grabbed the wrong receipt from home, so I had no proof of purchase.

And for those of you who have never been to Guitar Center... it can be a nightmare. Radio blasting, video blasting, people playing Smoke on the Water in 15 different keys at top volume through amps large enough to cover the Tweeter Music Theater.


So my exchange with the sales guy goes thusly:

Me: (throwing tangled cables on counter): I'd like to return these cables for cash and I don't have my receipt.

SG: Okay.

Me: They shorted out on me.

SG: ...

Me: Both of them.


Me: Onstage.

SG: ...

Me: (deliberately, staring directly in SG's eyes) at House of Blues.

Yeah, I'm a dick. It was funny watching the reaction. After that, I seemed to get a lot of attention. Actually, the guy (Brian I believe?) was really nice and cool about it, more so than a lot of GC employees who are trying to sell you a $59 guitar for $359 (marked down from $559) so they can eat.

Thursday: Welcome to the newest sport, Extreme Home Lawn Care. That's right kids. I spent three hours going to Home Depot, cutting our grass (front and back), seeding the backyard, putting up a fence to keep the dogs off the grass seed, and spraying fertilizer/weed control on the front lawn. It sort of sucked. I wonder if Jeff Tweedy takes care of his lawn? Billy Corgan?

Actually, it was okay because a) it was beautiful outside and b) it gave me some ideas of further improvements that might make our "big by Chicago standards" backyard into a really cool place to hang out during the summer.

Then, energized by the weather and high on fumes from the fertilizer, I jogged the two miles to my gym, worked out, and jogged back. After that, it was off to teach at Village and then to a private lesson and home. Whew. So on to...

Friday: Well... shit. I've spent the whole morning putting this together while neglecting to mountain of papers on my desk.



Monday, May 02, 2005

I got the bear!

Had a really good session recording vocals yesterday.

Got two songs done in one day for the first time, and they were songs I figured would be pretty tough. The first song, Revenant, has developed into a big rock tune, with huge guitars, nice textures from the violins, and a driving rhythm section. It's also got an extended guitar solo at the end that I really enjoy. I thought it was important to have strong, energetic, well-sung vocals on this type of tune, so we started off by running through it a few times to warm up. After 3 times through, we got down to piecing it together verse by verse, chorus by chorus. Something was weird in my headphones, and I thought we were getting dangerously close to having another unproductive day, especially because I was struggling with the bridge of the song, which is the emotional climax and really deserves a special vocal take. 

Right as I was about to get really frustrated and take a break, I took one final shot and got it all in one continuous take. Very cool. Sensing the tide had turned, Dave and I immediately took another hack at Fallout Grace, my arch nemesis from last Thursday.

I managed to knock the first verse and chorus out in one take with what might turn out to be some of my favorite singing ever. Really delicate, deeply felt, and perfectly flawed. The rest of tune came surprisingly quickly. I could feel that my voice was in the perfect place for this song, and what we wound up with is something really really special.

It was interesting doing these particular two tunes on one day.

Revenant is a tune from early to middle 2004. I got the name from the elevator in the Prudential Building. Actually, from a videoscreen in the elevator in the Prudential Building. They installed these videoscreens a few years back. Apparently, people just can't be unstimulated for the 30 seconds it takes to ride the elevator, so now we get news, weather, sports, and the occasional "Word of The Day." One of these words was Revenant, which means "one that returns after death or a long absence." I had never heard this word before, but I really liked the way it sounded and what it meant.

So it became the following song:

REVENANT I wish I had a sea to sink into Pressed in the water's silver depths I'd spend the day in the ocean blue And watch over you while you slept But now I'm stuck here in the concrete Miles and miles from the coast You can't touch what you can't see And I'm left holding a ghost Isn't this the end? I thought this was the end I've broken all the mirrors but you keep coming back again Coming back again It's only rain, they're only tears The burning days fall into years I sit and wait for the spirits to appear The time is drawing near But isn't this the end I thought this was the end I've broken all the mirrors but you keep coming back again I keep opening the door You keep opening my eyes To what I haven't felt before I'm asking for some time I'm asking for a sign It's only time after all It's only time after all

There are a lot of my crutches (water, time, etc.) in these lyrics, but I still like them a lot. They have a sense of yearning that really conveys how I was feeling when I wrote them. They're direct, but still fairly poetic.

The song Fallout Grace, on the other hand, is kind of a mystery to me. It was one of the last written for the album. I know what moments inspired the song, but I'm not completely sure what it's about. Which is okay, because I feel like part of what's great about the vocals we got recorded is that they capture some of that uncertainty, some of that process of me figuring out what I'm singing about, what the song means.

Which is ongoing.

This song has kind of taken on the role of "everybody's favorite" for the last few shows, and we've been closing with it. And the recording is really powerful. All the playing and the arrangement are just completely dedicated to the song, and it builds perfectly from a whisper to a storm. It's like a three minute epic.

FALLOUT GRACE On the edge of town The planes fly overhead There's no one around The sky is burning red Don't go, don't go Beneath the fossil light The radio bleeds clear The sound of growing night The heartache reminds us that we're here Don't go, don't go It seems like fallout grace From this beautiful mistake And from this beautiful mistake comes... The one... Comes... That moment on the road When we let the darkness sing And then turn down the sound And see what the silence brings Don't go, don't go Don't go, don't go


There's sad... and there's SAD

Pretty good weekend in these parts.

Friday night, I went to the newly remodeled Cubby Bear to see a few bands, one of which was Stylus, who kicked their usual amount of ass. They played a cool new tune, too. The new Cubby Bear is a vast improvement over the old set up. The music room used to resemble a frat house with a stage tucked in the corner. Smelled like one too. The new room has the stage as the centerpiece, and once they iron out some sound issues, it has the potential to be a really nice place to play and hear music.

Saturday night, Gina surprised me with reservations at Carmichael's Steak House on Monroe. Our friend (and tenant) Dave is the manager of this fine establishment, and he took great care of us as we devoured an amazing meal (crab cakes, steaks, sides, dessert, drinks) and sat at the bar for a good three hours. I think I ate over a pound of filet mignon. Good times.

Sunday was spent being productive in the studio, which I'll write about a bit later. However, the weekend was tainted by a sad, sad occurance Saturday morning. Now I know there is much tragedy in the world. Famine, disease, war, genocide... and that's just in Africa. But as I was channel surfing Saturday morning, I saw what I think might be the saddest thing I've ever seen.

I should preface this by saying that as a rule I don't enjoy reality TV. However, there are two exceptions.

The first is the show Cheaters, in which cheating spouses and significant others are videotaped in their lascivous acts and then confronted in public, in front of cameras. If you haven't seen this show, well... you're missing something. Something really, really funny.

The second reality show I find myself watching is The Surreal Life. The premise of this series is as follows: take a handful of D-Level celebrities desperate for a paycheck, put them in a house together, add alcohol, and manipulate their emotions with bizarre tasks. I got roped into watching this show during its second season, when the housemates included Erik "Ponch" Estrada, Rob "Vanilla Ice" Van Winkle, Ron "..." Jeremy, and Tammy Faye Baker (n/k/a T.F. Messner).

The current season features the likes of former pro-wrestler/current crackhead Chyna, talentless rapper Da Brat, Christopher "Peter Brady" Knight, and, most importantly, Verne Troyer, a/k/a Mini-Me from the Austin Powers' movies.

Now... far be it from me to make fun of a midget. Okay, that's a lie. I make fun of everybody. If karma is real, I shudder to think how my kids are going to turn out.

But... as I was channel surfing I happened upon an episode of The Surreal Life I hadn't seen. Throughout this season, Verne Troyer has provided the show's funniest and saddest moments among many funny and sad moments. The camping episode which featured his mortal fear of being eaten by a bear was simultaneously hilarious and disturbing.

However, the episode I happened into on Saturday morning took it to a whole new level. I tuned in in the middle of the episode, so I missed some of the context, but I did figure out that Verne Troyer had gotten completely smashed.


In addition, he was riding his little scooter around his room. So you've got a drunk midget riding a scooter.

Did I mention he was naked?

Okay, a drunk, naked midget riding a motorized scooter. How can it get worse, you ask?

Well, let's just say that said drunk naked midget also begins... micturating on himself while sitting on said scooter.

So there you have it: the saddest thing in the world.

A drunk naked midget sitting on a scooter peeing on himself.

You ain't got nothing on that Darfur.