Thursday, June 30, 2011

Song of the Day: "The World's All Right"

I want to share with you the process of creating a song, then give you a chance to observe what happens as a band embraces it and then decides how to record it.  This post is ostensibly about the song creation stage.  The song of the day is called "The World's All Right".

In this particular song, the words came first. 

I only had one grandfather alive when I was growing up.  He passed away when I was seven years old.  Yet my memories of him are vivid, full of emotion; he and I spent a lot of time together in the early years of my life.  I loved him deeply because in retrospect he was such a sublime counterpoint, as a male role model, to my father.

My grandfather, Bill, was born in Ireland.  He fought with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) whose mission at that time was to achieve independence from England.  I have a picture of him with an IRA uniform on, and a rifle at his hip, at age 15.  He fought in the 1921-1923 period, and then suddenly had to leave Ireland for some reason.  The story behind his leaving is murky, and he never spoke of it; however the family lore suggests he left because of some dangerous act related to his IRA service which required him to leave the country immediately. 

He was known as a great horseman; in fact some of the richest men in the region were his friends due to his horsemanship, and his involvement in horse shows and fox hunting events.  He would bring me to a farm where he kept his horse, and he taught me how to ride a donkey in preparation for riding a horse.  He passed before I ever got the chance to ride a horse.  My father knew nothing of horses; his passion was team sports (the "Big 3" - football, basketball, and baseball).  Had my grandfather lived only another 5-10 years, my life would in all likelihood have been very different, and not just because of his love of horses. 

About three years back, I was at my parents' house for some party, and wandered down to the basement.  There was a tall stack of old books on a table - these were books from my grandfather's old library.  They had been sitting there since my grandmother died and we cleaned out the old house back in the mid-1990s.  I discovered to my astonishment that these were books of poetry and theology; many of them first editions, some of them signed by the author.  My parents' basement is very damp, so the books had sustained some mold and damage from moisture.  I quickly grabbed a stack of the books with the least water damage and brought them home. 

On occasion I began to peruse the books.  Old photos were stuck in the inside of the books, including old pictures of me and my brother and sister when we were very young.  One of the books I discovered was called "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone" by Robert W. Service.  It is a first edition printing, 1912, printed in Canada.  

Robert W. Service

Robert Service was an interesting cat.  A Scotsman, he became a banker like his father.  At 21 he picked up and moved to Vancouver, with dreams of becoming a cowboy.  The Canadian bank he was working for sent him to this extreme post, way up in Dawson City on the Yukon River - east of Alaska.  He lived there in a log cabin for a few years and got close to nature, while this small frontier town experienced the tail end of a gold rush.  He sat in his cabin at night, read books, and wrote poems. 

Robert Service's cabin in Dawson City (note the sod roof)
 Reading his work, I was struck by how contemporary his view of the world was.  In fact, I believe there is a lot of similarity between the society he observed in 1912 and the society now.  The whole world seems to be coiling up like a spring, waiting to pop.  Two years after the book was published, Franz Ferdinand was assassinated and World War 1 unleashed itself on the planet.  I believe there are cycles in human history, and they can repeat.  We are living in the tail end of an era that began in 1914.  All that has happened to America, Europe, and the rest of the world since then was really a result of World War 1 - America's rise, the Great Depression, World War 2, the Cold War, mass industrialization, medical and technological breakthroughs.  Now, here we are in 2011 - 100 years later.  And the world order that had been in place since 1945 is being scrambled.

Service saw the world he knew coming to an end, and a new conflict - a new order - fast approaching.  He saw that his fate was less and less in his own hands, and was being dictated by larger forces beyond his control.  Armies were being formed, weapons built,  alliances forged, swords polished up for the kill.  And he backed off from that and reconnected with what it means to be human, way up there in the Yukon. 

My grandfather carried this book in his pocket when he landed in Morocco with Patton's 7th Army, and in France with Patton's 3rd Army.  Soldiers actually did that back then.  They carried books like Kipling's "Barrack Room Ballads" and read them to each other around garrison campfires.  He carried the book to remind him not just of home - but of higher things.  The human soul is complex; interested in many things.  The Irish soul even more so. 

I found this poem and it just came to life in music for me.  When I read it, I felt it captured very much what I was feeling given the times we all are living in.  Things seem to be increasingly out of control with the economy, the weather, the decadent culture, and the disappointing behavior of those who lead us.  Some form of large-scale conflict seems inevitable; the way we live our lives is certainly changing.  With that situation as a backdrop, these verses set a tone that allows my heart to back away from despair and embrace hope in humanity - accepting that this is not the end, but a beginning.  Life is what you make of it, no matter what the outside circumstances are.  Don't lose sleep over worrying about things that are way beyond your control.  Stick it to the man by enjoying yourself! 

Additionally, to my great relief, I discovered something called "public domain."  The copyrights on Service's work expired long ago.  If something is in the public domain, that means legally you can use it for your own creative work and no one needs to be consulted, other than of course the lords of good taste.  Thus, I've decided to play the song to honor my grandfather, may he rest in eternal peace.  One day, when Lord willing God calls me to Heaven, Bill can finally teach his grandson how to ride that horse. 

I will soon post  an early version of the song once I figure out how to post MP3's on this blog.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mozart vs. Salieri

"Mozart! ... Mozart! ... I killed youuuu!"

F. Murray Abraham as Salieri
Those words, which open the movie "Amadeus", continue to haunt me.  This movie is like a black hole for an artist to enter and from which possibly never to return.  I wanted to talk about this movie's affect on me and on the way I approach my art.  

The movie won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1984.  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the greatest European artist ever to walk the earth, and he wrote divine music.  The movie has a small but excellent sample of his work which punctuates the story in sublime ways. 

The film is essentially about an Italian named Antonio Salieri, who was the court composer of Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna (perhaps the modern equivalent would be like being a movie director for Disney in LA - huge budget, large marketing apparatus, projects make money even if they suck).  Salieri admired Mozart, an Austrian, from afar for his whole life.  After he met Mozart, he became dangerously obsessed with him, sought to use his political influence to undermine him, cursed God and turned away from his faith because of him, and ultimately sought Mozart's death in a fit of jealous rage.  Yet all the while, Salieri was just smart enough to know that Mozart was a genius, and Salieri's punishment was to witness it.  

Tom Hulce as Mozart
Mozart, on the other hand, is young, undisciplined, and has no care for manners at court, or behaving politely, or any other norms of the high society of that time in the courts and salons of Europe.  He was a man who had no need to kiss ass - he just let his talent do his talking for him.  If you spend any significant time with Mozart's work, he has plenty to say.  There is one work of his - "Kyrie" from his Mass in C minor - where I can close my eyes and see the entire arc of man's life flash before my mind.  He begins the song with the pain of childbirth, leading to puberty, the joys of falling in love, the bliss of living with a woman, creating a new family, and then the long slow fade into old age and death.  I could write a whole post just on how that one piece affected my life!  Powerful stuff. 

Amadeus Directors Cut Blu ray Review

Mozart's art was daring for the time.  He took on projects no other artist could get away with, such as staging an opera in a Turkish harem, and another opera based on the book "The Marriage of Figaro" - which was at that time believed to undermine the common man's faith in monarchical rule.  With the beheadings in France a few short years away ("Let them eat cake," etc), and the rise of the United States, all the courts of Europe were sensitive to anything that would incite the populace.  Yet Mozart dared to tell the tale of Figaro through music - and got the Habsburg Emperor to pay for it!  He was thinking way ahead of his time, envisioning the future of man and culture with his work. 

Salieri?  He was the Emperor's piano teacher.  Back then, musician/composers made a living by teaching & tutoring, which Salieri did to fund his lifestyle and make connections.  He explains how, in working with the Emperor, he "corrected the royal sight-reading" and "trained the royal ear."  Then he said, "Actually, the man had no ear at all... But what did it matter?  He loved my music!!!" (With a big smile and hugging himself.)

I'd bet that 99 out of 100 people in Hollywood are just like Salieri.  People who are in show business and getting paid well for it - celebrities - are dying for praise and admiration.  It is wind in their sails, air in their lungs, cool water on their steaming hot day.  The other thing that you observe from watching is that Salieri, while a decent but unremarkable composer, is a very talented courtier.  He has the gift of gab, and he knows how to make money and influence important people.  So his power and influence has everything to do with his political skills, as opposed to his talent as a composer.  Yet he has the vanity to believe that he deserves from God the ability that God has given Mozart.  He prayed to God fervently, handed over his "chastity" to God as a young man, and in return, he expected God to give him amazing talent.  You don't make deals with God - you can only come to God on God's terms, not your own.  You make deals with the devil. 

And that is where the story really gets deep and complex.  When I watch "Amadeus" again and again, it becomes for me a reflection of the struggle between good and evil in modern man's heart.  Mozart represents God - untouchable, yet available to all; full of hope, joy, love, and playfulness; capable of surprise yet always willing to forgive if you meet him halfway.  He is the creative force in the universe.  Salieri represents the devil - full of lust for power, influence, money, acclaim.  Sensitive and vain.  Wants to destroy anything that makes him feel inferior or less adored.  Does not come close to God in the least.  He is a mere shadow - yet he is there always, tempting us with money and power, pushing us to leave our virtue and our ideals behind and turn away from God. 

A metaphor I like to ponder on, particularly when I am walking in the woods, is that a man is like a tree, while the devil is like the weeds.  The tree is born good, beautiful, strong; it provides shade, rest, comfort, and air to breathe.  It has roots deep in the ground.  Weeds seem like no match for a tree; they are ugly and twisted with shallow roots.  Yet if you walk around a forest enough, you can see places where weeds & vines grow so large that they wrap themselves around a tree and choke it, pulling it down to the ground.  If you are not careful to pull out those weeds regularly and keep the area around the tree clean, eventually the weeds will overcome the tree. 

Any artist who has been blessed with great gifts will face this crossroads at one time or another in his career.  He will have to choose whether he will take the path of Mozart or Salieri.  Now - I do not believe that this choice is between Money and No Money, or Success and No Success; to suggest that is in itself a choice.  An artist must define for himself what "Money" and "Success" means within the context of his own life.  Keep in mind as well that some of the world's greatest artists were unknown while they were alive.  If your concern is the pursuit of Truth and Beauty, then you must choose.  Will you live in the light?  Will you rest on your pillow and sleep soundly knowing that you can live with the choices you make?  I think a lot about these things... 

Mahalo ;)=~

Monday, June 27, 2011

Introducing... the members of the band: Page and Sully

Skunk Baxter is a 5-piece band, with two guitars, keys, bass, and drums.  We have one lead singer (me), the drummer can sing backup very well, and the lead guitarist can sing backup too but is quite shy about it.  Now let me introduce you to the members of the band.  In this post, you will meet Page and Sully. 

Trey from Phish

Known as "the man you should all get to know," Page is our resident keyboardist.  Page has a certain way he likes to play, and a certain style of music wherein he resides.  Page likes Phish and the Grateful Dead.  He loves that kind of scene - where the music is the gathering point for a large amount of like-minded travelers through life to come together and celebrate.  Page is a great guy to have in the band because he is our cheerleader, our biggest fan, our champion, and our historian - and that is before he even plays a note.  As a player, he lays down a foundation - an atmosphere of sound beneath the cacophony going on with the guitars & drums.  He keeps things light and calm within the band - always looking for subtle ways to keep the simmering tensions within the band at arm's length.  He has often slipped me emails with quotes from the Dalai Lama or the Bible, intended to keep me from blowing up (a valuable contribution to say the least).  Page brings the spirituality and culture of East Asia into our collective consciousness as a band - and I am very grateful for that.  Page is Fillipino, and Fillipinos are known as the greatest musicians in all East Asia. 

What he lacks in technique he more than makes up for in his emotional feel for the music.  Any doubts I ever had in the past about Page as a player have been quickly put to rest whenever we have entered the studio.  Never in my life have I witnessed a guy who totally nails a take on the first pass - every time.  It is always shocking to me how he can do that.  He is especially adept at acoustic piano, particularly in the studio, which has added that needed light touch to quite a few of our recordings.  Indeed, our most popular song to date, "Shine", the key that opened doors to all our awards and success, would not have been a hit without his acoustic piano way out in front of the recording. 

Carter Beauford from DMB
 Sully is our drummer.  He plays the drums in a way that honors his heroes - Neil Peart, Mike Portnoy, and Carter Beauford.  Imagine a combination of those three... and you pretty much get the idea.  He is an entertainer behind the kit.  He loves to interact with the crowd with his eyes, his body language, and his beats.  He spins the sticks, breaks sticks, drops them... yet manages to keep going nonetheless.  He has a very good feel for the ebb and flow of crowds during a set.  He is also very funny - no one can make me laugh like Sully can.  Much of his humor is difficult to describe in words.  You have to be there.  At practices he loves to emulate Steve Perry while Page plays the keys for "Don't Stop Believing" (imagine if you will an opera singer attempting Steve Perry...that's how he sounds... yet he refuses to do it live even though he rocks it).  He will spend 15 minutes on the mic performing fart noises with amazing dexterity.  He is the best air drummer I've ever seen.  He is also a wizard at fake karate moves, which Page, who actually knows martial arts, can hilariously diffuse in two seconds of real moves.  He has more CDs than anyone I know - there are 8,000 songs on his iPod.  That's more songs than most radio stations have.  Of the band members, he is the biggest fan of music - his CD collection alone is proof of it.  On many a tense moment in the band, it was Sully who stepped in and lightened the mood with a joke or a laugh or a smile that always seems to say "Lighten up, we're playing music and getting paid for it.  What could be better?  Pass me another Miller Lite." 

Sully knows how to rise to the occasion when needed.  The bigger the gig, the larger the crowd, the better he plays.  Now, his theatrics live, while essential to our live  performances, do not always translate well in the studio.  My greatest disagreements with him have been over having to "tone down" his dramatic fills and flights of fancy, which have been deemed by recording cognoscenti as excessive.  Many times I can recall telling him to "play for the song" as opposed to playing for himself or just fooling around.  But that style of play is an extension of who he is.  Asking him to play like Ringo or Levon is like asking Derek Jeter to be a home run hitter.  Know thyself, as the oracle says.  Sully knows who he is - as an Irishman and as a drummer - and he plays drums his way. 

Sully and I go back the longest.  We met because we sat next to each other while working as collectors at a credit card bank, one which was partly the inspiration for the writer of Fight Club, I heard.  It was both of ours' first job after college.  We spent a lot of time talking about music, and discovered we both liked DMB.  I had never met anyone who could play like Carter, and he had never met anyone who could sing & play like Dave.  So we started to jam together after work.  Next thing you know, I was the new lead singer in this band Murph and Page were in.  They kicked out their old lead singer and replaced him with me. 

Page, and Sully and me have been together the longest as a band.  When we first started out we were playing Wednesday nights for free beer ($50 tab only of course) at this pool table bar in a suburban strip mall that has had 3 different names since we started playing there.  We played covers, and I was the bass player back then.  It was about as low on the totem pole as you can go in terms of starting out as a band.  Yet we always had fun together, we found a way to agree on the music we played, and we kept plugging away at it - like the turtle racing after the hare.  Sometimes the turtle wins. 

Mahalo ;)=~

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Skunk Baxter: What it is, what it has been, what it was

How does one arrive upon a band name?  We have had the same band for nearly ten years, and at this point we are stuck with it.  If we change it now, we will have to call ourselves, "the band formerly known as Skunk Baxter".  So be careful what name you choose for your band. 

Our first name was "El Nino" which we thought would be a nifty social & environmental comment at the time.  Plus we felt it was necessary to face our fears about tropical storms in a constructive way.  But after a short while it was  Then we came up with "Solomon Grundy" which is based on the classic nursery rhyme, and it has a sort of punk quality to it.  Puts the brevity of life in its proper perspective, particularly when you are young and living in between the umbilical of a suburban cocoon and the wide world on your own for the first time.  We also knew Solomon Grundy was a villain in some old Batman comics, and we were big Kevin Smith fans and Kevin Smith was all about the comic books and their nerdy coolness.  

You're thinking, this is a band name right?  Well, turns out it already was.  We came up with it totally on our own, but unfortunately there already was a Solomon Grundy from Seattle that had some minor success with the one album they released in 1990.  So that was that. 

Anthony, our guitarist, came up with Skunk Baxter.  In the calculus of his mind, Skunk Baxter is the coolest band name ever, even better than Lars Ulrich (which admittedly is an excellent heavy metal name, while the Skunk is more up our alley).  We had heard Pearl Jam had wanted to call themselves Mookie Blaylock before they came up with Pearl Jam, so there was some sort of strange precedent for the idea.  The Skunkster was a guitarist who played with Jimi Hendrix, then Steely Dan and the Doobie Brothers.  This guy could play, and he had a cool name that each of those three bands, and the genres they practically invented, totally dug.  Our band members bring a wide variety of musical influences to the table (blues, jazz, prog, pop) and Skunk's career seemed to cover those influences pretty well as far as we were concerned.  So given all these factors, and the fact that we thought it sounded sweet to say "Now opening for Phish, SKUNK BAXTER!!!", we decided to apply that name to our collective effort. 

However, over the years we have faced many a moment where we tell people our name, and they ask "Does that mean you stink?  Heh, heh."  Or "Why do you have 'skunk' in your name?"  Or "Were you unable to get permission from Warner Brothers for Pepe Le Pew?"  Sages of the local hipster scene have sauntered up to my side and counseled, "Dude, you guys sound great, but lose the name."  Too late.  At this point, Skunk Baxter is our band name, and we are stuck together now.

Perhaps the name has held us back over the years from some sort of unspecified "glory" or "fame" but I doubt it.  Our name is our name - it is as much a part of us as our music, and the members who make up the group.  To those who say "lose the name", I say to you thanks for your advice.  Our name is our identity, and we as a band are brothers on a journey of musical discovery - all for one & one for all.  We stand by our decision. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Books In the Key of Life Series: "If You Want to Write"

AaahhhHHHH... had my first band practice in two months last night.  Skunk Baxter is back in full effect.  The old engine purred like a V-6.  Felt so GOOD to play!  The reason for the hiatus was three-fold.  First, the birth of my daughter, which was in late May.  Second, the band needed a break after about six months of pretty steady gigs - in which more and more covers were creeping into our set (more on that later).  Third - it gave me a chance to read, reflect on my daughter's birth, and write a bucket load of songs as a result. 

One of the many things I have learned from playing in this band is to not force things to happen.  You must learn to submit to the ebb and flow of life.  Sometimes it is appropriate to be patient.  You feel like you're staring at a toaster, which is not fun.  But how can you force open the petals of a flower?  You can't - you have to add water, give it some sunshine, and then wait to be struck by beauty, enlightenment, inspiration.  You have to quiet your mind, then you can be creative.  Of course reading a lot and getting two weeks of paternity leave from my day job helps too. 

Last night was exciting because I was able to introduce the guys to some of the new material.  They liked everything I played. That never happens! 

I want to talk a little bit about the creative process, as I experience it.  I am not someone who can just wake up and it's 8 o'clock and say, "OK, it's time to write a song."  I have learned over many years that you have to patiently wait for that flower to open.  Inspiration strikes anywhere.  You have to become well attuned to pick up that moment of inspiration when it appears.  And you have to spend time thinking about emotions, feelings, and thoughts that are really important to you in the meantime. 

It is really difficult to put into words.  Sometimes I write a song - three verses, chorus, and bridge with music - in 15 minutes.  That is always an amazing experience.  Sometimes I write a riff down, with parts of a chorus and verse, and come back to it a few days later to finish it off.  Sometimes I write the words first, sometimes I write the music first.  I just try to remain open to where my creativity takes me.  Reading the book "If You Want To Write" by Brenda Ueland has really helped me to understand how to release my creative energy.  She encourages you, pushes you to take chances. 

She talks about Vincent Van Gogh in multiple episodes of the book.  You know, the guy who allegedly cut his ear off to impress a prostitute?  Well as with all things surrounding creative geniuses, the story gets complicated.  But Brenda Ueland focuses on how Van Gogh thought about his creative process, and how he was afraid of his gift.  That's important - because I have often felt afraid about my gift.  In fact writing this blog frightens me - but I have vowed to plow ahead, at least for a while.  I feel inspired to do it and I have set reasonable terms for myself.  That's the kind of thing Brenda encourages creative folks to do in her book. 

I have found over time that my best work is deeply personal, based on a strong emotional feelings.  Let me put it another way.  If I want to write a song about the Civil War, I don't just read a biography of US Grant.  I have to make it personal - perhaps reflect on my grandfather's death, and how he used to tell stories about World War Two and fighting in Patton's army.  That's personal - you can talk about the fog of war, the scars you carry for life, the men left behind, etc., and then the details are mere window dressing. 

Let me put it another way for my fellow geeks out there.  No one would care at all about Star Wars (Episodes IV-VI especially) if the stories were boring and stiff and full of annoying dialogue.  It's the story that makes you care so much.  The boy who leaves home with an ascetic monk after his aunt & uncle die... the beautiful young princess in command... the cowboy pilot smuggler and his man-dog sidekick... the talking robots providing comic relief... Vader... the light and dark... etc.  The special effects only serve to enhance the actual human story.  If you spend all your creative energy dreaming up the Millennium Falcon you're missing the point.  Lucas came up with it on the fly, saying it should look like his favorite food - a hamburger.  The cockpit was an olive stuck to the hamburger with a toothpick. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the creative arts - whether your outlet is writing, painting, film, or composing music.  It's a book for anyone who is interested in tapping into their creative power.

Mahalo ;)=~ 

Monday, June 20, 2011

Who Is Your Favorite Beatle?

It's a simple question, but one that says something about your musical identity.  Who is your favorite Beatle? 

My Beatles love started when I was about 16 and my mother bought me a tape - the Red Album - which includes all Beatles hits from 1962 (Love Me Do) to 1966 (Yesterday).  I had just started driving a car - an ancient Dodge Shadow which was subsequently christened the Red Ride - and on drives to and from school I would pop in that tape.  It soon became apparent to me that I could sing along, my voice was in the range of both lead singers, and that these songs were really awesome.  Soon after that, I decided I wanted to learn how to play the guitar.  If this story sounds like a song, well, it already is.

Now, when I first started listening to the Beatles, my favorite was Paul.  He was, to my young ears, the best singer; his songs were the most catchy and uplifting; and he was a lefty like me.  So he sort of became my musical hero from say about age 16 to 24.  Now, when I was actually in a band and became cool (by association only), John cast an increasingly large shadow, until the point where it was about even.  And I think for a few months in there - particularly in the time when I was consuming large quantites of smokey smoke and whiskey (age 25-26) - John was my favorite.  However, looking back this was not a happy time in my life. 

Then there was the time when I had quit the band and willed myself to cold turkey the smoke and booze.  This was a period of depression & withdrawl.  This was my George period (age 27).  I listened to "All Things Must Pass" all the time then.  The songs were so comforting.  This was my Dark Night of the Soul stage.  I will write about the Dark Night experience later, and perhaps All Things Must Pass as well in my "Favorite Albums" series. 

Now, I'm back solidly in the Paul camp.  The reasons are different now, and I realize that this is an unpopular choice for a musician, especially one who pretends to have hipster sensibilities.  Hipsters hate Paul for much the same reason (perhaps) that they hate Dave Matthews.  He is uncool, even nerdy.  His music is shlocky and commercialistic.  His more recent material really sucks.  Etc.  Hipster critics undoubtedly have a short memory.

Well, allow me to retort.  First of all, if Paul had died in 1980 and not John, the whole Western world would worship Paul as much, if not more, than they do John now.  Think about it.  The man wrote Let It Be, Hey Jude, Yesterday, Get Back, Here There and Everywhere, and on and on. 

Secondly, and more importantly, in my own personal voyage of self-discovery I found my true self staring back at me.  I'm a dork; I'm not cool; I never would have been even close to cool if it wasn't for my band mates, and no one would have ever heard any of the songs I created in my room alone if it wasn't for those guys encouraging me to.  I would argue that the same is true for Paul.  No one would have heard of him, except maybe under the stage name Paul Ramone on a Liverpool cruise ship, had John not found him.  So the funny thing was that I ended up back where I started when I was 16 and a Beatles fan. 

Let me tell you what else I like about Paul. 

He was the best musician in the band, bar none.  As a performer and showman on stage, he was the best, unquestionably.  One of the best electric bass players ever; an innovator with the instrument.  He also played piano and guitar exceptionally.  Particularly in the early years he would often teach George how to play certain guitar licks on tracks.  He was a warhorse in the studio.  And he had an exceptional quality of voice, which has more recently been compared to the sound of an oboe, especially considering he played the bass and sang lead live (which is very difficult - I've done it so I know). 

Now you have to really dig into the Beatle books to get to the nitty-gritty of how they created their art, and amazingly Paul is there for some of the most avant-garde creations.  Sgt. Pepper as a concept was his idea.  Side B of Abbey Road was his idea.  The beginning of Strawberry Fields - with those flutey keys - that was Paul.  I could bore you with more but hopefully the point has been made. 

The simple fact is that after Brian Epstein died in August 1967, John's output fell - he disengaged bit by bit, for a variety of reasons, and it was Paul who had to do a lot of the heavy lifting creatively.  He was hanging out in London immersing himself in the avant-garde scene while John was sequestered off in his country estate, busying himself buying random British islands.  Of course John was still brilliant, and you could argue it was John who unleashed Paul upon the world.  Paul was perhaps John's greatest creation (and/or worst creation, if you asked him in 1971 - John could be a very mean guy). 

There is one more reason.  Paul was able to overcome the grief and depression of his band breaking up to find a deep and lasting connection with his partner in life, his great love Linda

Here is a guy loved by women all over the world, but despite all the temptations of fame, and at the apex of the sexual revolution, he had the intelligence and inner peace to surrender his heart to one woman.  He somehow knew after all that had happened to him that sympathy and deep personal friendship is the key for life-long happiness.  All you need is love indeed. He became a family man and raised four kids.  To me that is cool - he figured out that being responsible and caring for his wife and children was really what true love and happiness is all about.  I can relate - my wife and I got together as my band was breaking up.  So I can appreciate in some small way what that must have been like.  And giving it all to Linda is a great and challenging example for men to follow.

That being the case... I wonder what my Ringo phase will entail. 

Mahalo ;)=~

Friday, June 17, 2011

What is AlbumQuest?

My name is William Augustine Smyth.  Call me Will.  I am the lead singer in a band called Skunk Baxter.  We have been together the better part of the last ten years.  Not all of the ten; we broke up and got back together (like all great love stories, it's a long story - I'll explain later).  While we have been to a professional studio at least seven times to record, released 3 singles and 3 EPs, had seven of our songs played on FM radio, and have won awards for songwriting and performance, we have never recorded a full-length album.

I have wanted to record and release an album since I picked up a guitar. 

Now, as Page (keys) will tell you, we have recorded album-length live shows and offered them to the public; but I do not consider that an album per se.  An "album" by my definition is that amount of recorded popular music which can be fit onto a 33 1/3 rotations-per-minute long-play vinyl record.  Those old round things with round stickers in the middle, which you lay on a turntable and drop a needle on to produce noise out of speakers in a wooden box (invented in fact by Thomas Edison).  It's between 35-40 minutes worth of songs, with an "A" side and a "B" side.  Being that you have to get up and flip the disc over to hear the "B" side, you figure the "hits" will be on the "A" side and the "B" side is for more die-hard fans.  Pretty simple formula - perfect for American popular music.

My intent is to take the reader on a journey of sorts... a journey into the mind of a songwriter as he envisions his songs, arranges them, delivers them to his very diverse and very opinionated band members (i.e. they tell me when a song sucks), then gets them to learn them, like them, believe in them, and then play them out loud, then play them courageously in front of actual sentient beings, then record them really well so that the recorded sound approaches the wonderful sounds I hear in my head.  

I'm giving you, reader, unprecedented access.  Imagine if you will that you could read the personal journal of Robbie Robertson in those months while he was squatting in Big Pink messing with tape players and screen doors.  What books were there that he was thumbing through?  What conversations did he have?  Who were his musical inspirations and influences?  What artists deeply inspired him to create?  What was his motivation and intent with certain lyrics and sounds? 

Well, I'm aiming to tell you that.  Why?  Maybe because I would like to teach the younger generation of talent coming up how it's done and how to think about the creative process (it could save a considerable amount of time for you).  Maybe for music fans it will enhance their appreciation and understanding for what other, far greater artists than me go through to create the music you love.  Maybe because I think this may be my last hurrah as a performer (how long, really, do you want to be playing loud music in a bar until 2am?) and I want to document it for posterity.  Maybe it's because I think a band is way better than a solo act because you can learn a lot more by working with a team of craftsmen who are honest with each other than by yourself, alone in a studio, for hours and hours (I'm talking to you, Sufjan Stevens).  I'm examining my sub-conscious mind as I write this and there may be some other reason that is trying to win me over in my head.  But for now, I'm choosing the side of the angels - this is a noble quest and my goal(s) are honorable. 

My plan is to post at least 3 times a week for a while and see how it goes.  I've got lots of juicy topics to dive into.  Just wrote down the first 15 blog topics.  Depending on the response from you, dear reader, I'll keep going and hope you will join me and comment & share your experiences.  Hopefully it can be a learning experience for me and for you.

Mahalo ;)=~