Monthly Archives: April 2010
There is a little town on the banks of the Sydenham River, about halfway between Sarnia and Chatham, Ontario. It’s called Wallaceburg.
I adore the place.
I was born in London but I view Wallaceburg as my “other” hometown. My parents were born there. My grandparents spent most of their lives there. My great-grandparents were there. And as far as I’m concerned, I was born in London but I am from Wallaceburg.
Today KG and I capped a terrific week by visiting Wallaceburg, as we’d been asked to do a live, in-studio interview and performance on 99.1 CKXS FM, a radio station that did not exist the last time I was in the town (August of 2008).
We had a grand time. It was a gorgeous, sunny day. KG and I chatted the entire drive from London and completely enjoyed each other’s company. When we popped out of the car along the banks of the Sydenham River, I immediately asked for a picture.
I love the place. The moment we arrived, I could feel my family’s heartbeat. It just feels comfortable. Warm. Welcome. It feels right. I don’t know how else to describe it. For a time after my Grandpa Newkirk passed away, I’d lost that feeling. But it was back in full force today. It was as if I could hear my Grandpa’s trademark chuckle, happy that I had returned and brought friends.
KG and I had lunch at the Fiesta Restaurant and then went on walkabout. I was pleased to be able to have my picture taken by a mural of lake boat that used to sail straight up the Sydenham and into downtown Wallaceburg. And while we were at it, a woman happened by and starting asking questions of us. It turned out that she’d been in the same school as my mom and dad, only a year behind them. We chatted for about 15 minutes, right there on the street, after which she wished us her sincere best wishes and sent us on our way.
Boy, I love that place.
We also stopped by the local music store (“The Gear Box”) where KG checked out some microphones and I bought some guitar picks the likes of which I have never seen before. It’ll be neat if I come to like playing with them. Time will tell.
Back at the radio station, we did an interview where I was given the chance to talk about my family a little bit. That was fun. And then we played one of our new songs, “Do Better,” followed by my favourite song from my first EP/CD, a tune called “Glass.” That was fun too! It was the first time KG and I have “performed” since October of 2008. But it felt completely natural. We’re just getting started.
The time on the drive home flew by. Many stories were shared and many laughs were had. It was a grand time.
Earlier in the week, we’d debuted two new singles, “Hope Over Hurt” and the aforementioned “Do Better.” I am very proud of both and am entirely excited to have this train rolling along. It now seems hard to imagine that it was just last Sunday night that KG, Alyssa Sestric and I were back at Kevin’s studio, all three of us dog tired, trying to re-record a part I felt was very important for “Hope Over Hurt.” Less than three days later, the song was on the air on an FM radio station. Two days later, KG and I were there to personally see to the task.
One other thing I don’t want to forget: Green Day’s “Last of the American Girls” was the last song to play on the air before our featured spot. We joked that they were “opening” for us. But, jokes aside, I took it as a sign that I was on the right track. I love Green Day, and especially their most recent CD, “21st Century Breakdown.” The only rock band I like better is …
EXTREME! They also graced me with their new live CD “Take Us Alive” this week. The playing in their performance is absolutely out of this world. It is going to be a while before I listen to much else. That’s my band. I love Extreme! I’m so excited to have the chance to see them live again. They are my favourite band and they always will be.
I also celebrated my 36th birthday this week by playing nine holes of golf with my great good pals from CPT Entertainment. What I got for it was a terribly sore back and a terrific sense of satisfaction that I work with the best crew ever. Upon arriving home, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my three most favourite people in the world. My boys gave me some of their Pokemon cards for my birthday and were determined to have me eat some of the cake that they helped Tracey make. It was great. They are great. Life is great.
And we haven’t even put out our CD yet? Hahaha!
Hey Wallaceburg! You know what?
We will be back.
What a week. I’m whipped. And looking back in my day planner and listing out all the things I’ve tried to tackle, I can understand why.
Got my taxes finished, submitted and processed this week. I got our car e-tested and the plates renewed. I also had to turn to Tracey’s dad for help in solving a water-in-the-basement issue that had been going on for almost two weeks. He and I gobbled up an evening and part of the next morning diagnosing and fixing it. However that was only after I’d contacted the company that provides our water heater and had it replaced (which turned out not to be the issue).
That was Monday.
I won’t even get into the puzzle that exists in the land of CPT Entertainment. It’s too much to describe. It’s all good, but too much to describe. I bet I would exhaust you if I tried to explain it. So I won’t.
My role (through CPT) in assisting our partners at Delaware Speedway has also become one that I won’t bother attempting to articulate, other than to say that we are on the doorstep of another season and we are all under a crush of deadlines. It’s fun and exciting, but it’s the kind of thing where you need to stop yourself from time to time, take a deep breath, focus, re-prioritize and then cut to the heart of the matter. Fast. And then do it again. And again.
And then there is the music, which sees us creeping closer and closer to various deadlines, the latest being our promise to release the first two singles from the new CD on CKXS FM next week. Since they are featuring us in their Local Spotlight program, we have the wonderful opportunity of having our music played on an FM music station and around the world via their internet stream. It’s important to me that we take advantage of that opportunity by having some new material to share.
You might think that several months’ warning would be enough. Me too. But it never seems to matter; when I come up on a deadline, there always seems to be a scramble. Maybe that’s why I set deadlines. Anyway, the time is upon us and one way or the other, we’ll be ready
Monday morning, I asked KG (Kevin Gorman) if he’d make me a CD copy of the two songs we’re releasing next week (“Hope Over Hurt” and “Do Better”). Now, in order to understand why I asked for that, you must realize that, for the last few months, we’ve been hearing the songs in bits and pieces; a vocal line here, a piano part there. It’s been a while since we just sat back and listened, start to finish, to a couple of full songs. The parts of what I’d been hearing of each were good. And the individual performances were also pretty good. But I wanted to get a sense of how it felt as a whole, and how close (or far away) we were to being ready. So I popped by to KG’s around lunch time on Monday and collected the CD from him. I promptly put it in my car stereo and turned it up full.
Soon after that, I felt a little ill.
We’re always our own worst critics, but I felt that we were off the mark on “Hope Over Hurt.” Now, I knew that there were edits and mixing issues that we hadn’t yet attacked and would be fixed, but I was still jarred at the overall lack of “feel” in the whole thing. That was my honest impression.
“Do Better” gave me a slightly better feeling, although there were some things missing that made me a little uneasy. And I know better. I asked KG for the songs before they were done. I knew there were things missing. But I felt I needed to stand back and hear it as a whole and when I did, I thought, “Oh boy; we’ve got work left to do.”
I wonder if painters do that; just stand way back from their work and take it all in from time-to-time. KG and I do. It’s just that we’ve been so focussed on a lot of little things over the last few weeks that we haven’t stood back to hear the big picture.
After listening to “Hope Over Hurt” several times, it started to become clear to me that the song was okay, but it just needed some adjustment, sort of like a race car that’s just not tuned up quite as well as it can be. The more I listened to it, the more I felt confident about what we needed to do, and none of it was a big deal.
I texted Kev, telling him that I “Had some thoughts about ‘Hope’ and would email him later.” He said that was fine. So after dinner and after putting the kids to bed, I sat down at my computer and typed out my thoughts. In the interests of giving you the inside look on how this stuff comes together, here is exactly what I wrote to KG that night:
It’s going to look like I’m being hyper-critical. I’m not. I love both songs. Just giving you my gut feeling on a few things with each:
Hope Over Hurt
Piano – are we overdoing it? I’m wondering about something more basically “rhythmic” like what you do in “Glass.” The fills are nice but it almost seems to slow the song down. Plus, I wonder if we did less of that through the verses if, as a result, the solo would really pop more? Just a thought. This is my fault, I know. Seems you would have learned by now!
Bass – I know what you’ve got in there is just a placeholder. I think there can be more from the bass, especially in the solo, to help drive the song along.
Beginning – I’m not convinced we need the beginning to be that long. My gut says we should go back to the way we had it before and cut the intro back to half of what it is now. Start with just the guitar for 4 bars and then the piano would come in with the vocals when my voice says “pilgrims” (by the way, the opening lyric starts just a hair too late … easily fixed!)
The Ending – I’d like to hear how it sounds if you filled out the ending on the piano a little more. Sounds too sparse to me. Sorta’ my feeling about the song as a whole … needs more balls to give it that subconscious confidence right off the hop. Just a thought.
Percussion – I have an idea. Ask me tonight and we’ll see if it’d help or just make things a whole lot worse. Hahaha.
Vocals – There are a few shaky moments for my voice but we’ll just have to live with it I guess. I wonder about the descant. Part of it sounds off to me (at 2:58). Not sure if you were going to do that over or if my ears are screwy.
Too much echo/reverb on my voice. I sound way too far away. Rough mix though, I know. Just thought I’d mention it.
We need your voice in the chorus and in the “na-na-na” part to balance it out. We have to have you in there!
There is a little “pop” in the vocals after the line “permanently gratified state” (I think). I could hear it in the car but not on my computer speakers and I can’t quite place it on my iPod headphones. But in the car, it comes off as an audible “click” from an edit. Easy to miss.
Tuesday night, I returned to KG Records (albeit 2 hours late because of the basement water woes I mentioned earlier). Kev smiled and held up the paper with the email you’ve just now read. He chuckled and said, “Now, you may not remember this,” (I smile) “But just about everything you’ve mentioned here, we’ve talked about before.”
“I know,” I said.
KG smiled. “I know you know. And the good news is that I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.”
The only thing Kev talked me out of was my proposed change to the beginning. He convinced me we should leave it the way it is. I’ll be interested to know what you think of it when you finally here it.
The rest of the night, we worked on some minor editing and arrangement issues and I felt better about things when I left.
Later in the week, I saw Kevin again, along with Alyssa Sestric, a cool young lady who is lending her talents to some harmony vocals on our CD. Alyssa is a big fan of country music. As you might know, I spent over three years working with BX 93, the FM radio country music monster in this market. Weeks ago, I asked Alyssa if she’d like to go and see the station and meet some of the people that work there. It didn’t take much convincing. She was enthusiastic, to say the least. So, after clearing it with my radio pals, I met KG and Alyssa at the station Thursday afternoon, gave them the “tour” and introduced them to anyone I could find that was willing to talk to us.
Of particular interest to Alyssa was my great good pal Chris Harding, the afternoon drive host and Music Director at BX 93. I’d told Alyssa that Chris would be willing to offer her some advice and share some stories, and he did just that. Chris has a great ear for music, far more so than you’d be able to tell by simply listening the station (regardless of what you think about the song selection that actually goes to air, I can promise you that far more work goes into it than you could possibly imagine).
It was fun to watch Alyssa. She was clearly excited to be there. She listened intently to everything Chris had to say. I am very grateful to Alyssa for the time and energy she has put to what is largely my project. And I am also very grateful to Chris for being a great friend, mentor and just an overall good person. To see them together was especially gratifying to me.
We also stopped by to chat with Barry Smith, the Operations Manager. Barry is another person I hold in the highest of esteem. I will never forget that he took the time to offer me his constructive feedback about 15 years ago, even though I worked in another market (Sarnia) and for a rival broadcasting company. Little did I know that he and I would cross paths again, and that he would throw me a lifeline back in 2007 when I needed it most (but that is another story). It was fun for me to go back to him and say, “Here is a young person I believe has a lot to offer by way of talent and personality” and to see him agree and encourage Alyssa.
In any event, the whole thing was fun. It generated some positive energy, got me back to see some of my radio mates and got KG, Alyssa and I together away from the studio for the first time.
Moving on to today, I popped in to see Kev at his studio again for a couple hours and we worked out more of “Hope” and I got him to sing the parts I wanted him to do for “Do Better.” The results were great. We’ll be back at it again tomorrow. And when 99.1 CKXS FM comes a-callin’ we will be ready. Besides all that, I’m so ready to share some of this newer music, I feel about ready to bust. Today I felt like just screaming at Kev: “Just FINISH it!!” Hahaha. But of course it’s not that simple. He’s working as hard as he can and so am I.
In the rest of the world, I must admit I am a happy guy. In terms of the things that entertain me, it would seem that the stars are all lining up to put on a show just for me. I’m delighted! Earlier this week, the mail carrier brought me my copy of Craig Werth’s new CD “The Spokes Man.” It’s terrific; a gorgeous collection of songs (matter of fact it’s on right at this very minute; the song “I Had To Get Here”).
On top of that, my favourite band of all, EXTREME, is on the verge of releasing their first-ever live CD/DVD combo. I have pre-ordered it from Amazon and will try to be patient while I await its arrival. I have had a love affair with Extreme’s music in a manner than I’m not sure I can explain. Their 1992 album “III Sides to Every Story” not only changed the way I look at music, it changed the way I view the world and myself. That view still holds. There is something intangible about the combination of Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt together that hits my music nerve. I don’t know what it is. But I do know that others out there like me share the same affliction. When EXTREME’s “Take Us Alive” CD arrives at our door, we’re going to have a hard time listening to anything else for some time.
It is also not lost on me that Jimmy Buffett (another one of my absolute favourites) has released a new collection called “Encores.” I look forward to hearing it, though I’ve decided I’m going to wait to get that one until I’m really in the mood. For all I know, that’ll be tomorrow. Or maybe months from now. I don’t know. But I do love Jimmy Buffett and I look forward to hearing “Encores.”
As for this last one, you might find it funny. But I’ve always liked the rock band Jackyl. Tracey and I went to see them a few times in the early-to-mid nineties. I’ve always liked their attitude and their straight-ahead, no apologies brand of rock and roll. So when I learned that they have a new CD on the way within a couple of weeks, I was pretty happy. I bought their new single on iTunes the other day and have been pushing the limits of my car stereo with it ever since.
I am also looking forward to Carl Hiaasen’s next book and the new TV series “Caprica” (now that I’ve watched all my Battlestar Galactica DVDs). That’s all good.
Gotta’ have things to look forward to.
And I am looking forward to finally getting this CD completed, releasing it and sharing it with whoever will listen. The work doesn’t go away; it just changes from creating it to playing and promoting it.
And I wanna play.
PS – A week ago today, my ‘big’ sister Karen was born. Today, one week later, I celebrate the arrival of my baby sister Janna (or, as I know her, “J”). I am constantly inspired by both of my sisters. But what J has accomplished, I’ll never quite understand. It amazes me. Years ago, she ventured up north as north can be: to Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories. I didn’t think she’d last three months. Instead, she adapted to the climate and the culture and she has not only made it her home, she has become so involved in the community as to make a truly positive difference in the lives of many people. She has married a terrific fellow named Kurtis and I am just so proud of my sister, I can’t tell you. My lone regret is that J is as far away as she is. Of course, she could say the same thing about me. We may be a long way apart, but I love my kid sister as only a proud brother can. I love you J. Happy Birthday.
In my last journal, I mentioned that I had a story about taking pictures. I guess I’m going to tell it now.
I view promotional photos as a bit of a necessary evil with this whole process (even though “evil” is not the right word). I can get behind a microphone on the radio or jump on a stage and start talking or singing and feel completely at home. But going out in public and posing for a camera is not really my cup of tea.
Then again, I suppose should clarify: going out in public with Tracey and my two boys and snapping photos of us having fun and goofing off is most definitely my thing. For instance, I have no issue whatsoever having people stop and watch as I take a picture like this:
It bothers me not in the least to have people pointing and staring for photo poses like this either:
Nor am I phased by standing in line for the chance to have photo like this taken in front of other parents and children:
Although these photos do indicate a little bit of who I am, they don’t necessarily represent how I want my music project communicated. For instance, after working for a year on an album’s worth of heartfelt music, I don’t feel it’s in my best interests to send out a press kit headlined by a photo like this:
No, I’m afraid that won’t do. So I realized that I had to bite the bullet, leave my kids at home and go get some “grown up” looking photos taken to go along with this CD and the related promotion.
The pictures I’ve been using are about two and a half years old so it was time to do something new to have in promotion of the CD. Truth be told, I actually began thinking about this months ago, wondering where I could go and what I could do to make the photos something more than just another yokel standing by the train tracks trying to look artsy, or some goon with his guitar trying to make you think you were worth listening to more than the million others doing the exact same thing.
Naw, I thought, I couldn’t really do any of those things. I figured that if I was going to go to the trouble to do some photos, I wanted to do them in a way that meant something to me so that I would be glad to have them regardless. Thinking in that manner, I asked myself where I would like to go to have my picture taken. I wondered: What is a place that means something to me; a place that is unique, a place that reflects part of who I am, a place that reflects some of the qualities of my music and a place that is part of my hometown? The answer came to me almost instantly.
Kool’s is a restaurant / bar in downtown London that has held a special place in my heart since the early-to-mid eighties, when it advertised itself as the headquarters for Detroit Tigers fans. It seems a long time ago now, but Tigers vs. Blue Jays was actually a big deal in this town once upon a time. There was a bar on Wharncliffe Road called “Auto’s,” and it was reported to be the home of the Jays. But Kool’s was (and still is) the home of the Tigers in this town (Auto’s, by the way, is long since gone). On top of that, Kool’s has always featured an irresistible, self-deprecating sense of self worth and a hard-won collection of paraphernalia on the walls (and ceiling) in the exact spots they’ve held going on thirty years.
Years ago, when I was working for Delaware Speedway, I got to meet the owner of Kool’s, Mike Smith. We met quite by chance at a tourism-related function. To me, it was like meeting a rock star. I liked Mike straight away and sensed maybe our paths would cross again. Years later, they did just that when I was asked to fill in as on-air host on CJBK Radio. I called Mike to interview him and share stories about the Tigers. He was gracious with his time and I found that talking with him was easy and I’d have liked to have chatted with him for much longer.
Years went by and I had no reason to bother Mike. But then I got this idea that I’d go shoot some photos at Kool’s. Well, I wasn’t going to do it without his blessing so I called and left him a message. He promptly returned the call saying he was “honoured” that I would think of his place in that way and encouraged me to come by. So I told my favourite photographer (who also happens to be my mother) and we made a date.
When we got to Joe Kool’s, I told the waitress what we were up to and that Mike had given me approval to shoot some photos. I also asked for a specific table near the front door that has some great old newspaper pages on display; pages from the days when the Tigers had triumphed. The staff was very accommodating and, true to the style of the place, hardly paid us any notice when we were snapping photos.
I never imagined that we’d actually get to visit with Mike. He owns several restaurants and likely works at a satellite office. I imagine he’d have managers responsible for each place, though I can’t say for sure. I hadn’t told him when I was coming by and I didn’t expect to see him. What were the chances? Nonetheless, he was there. He stop over and visited with Mom and me and we had a great chat about the Tigers, music, business; all sorts of stuff. He was kind enough to let me take a picture with him.
I promised Mike I’d come back after the CD was done to give him a copy. Whether or not he digs the music is beside the point. The message, to me, is that it’s true that it really is the journey that matters, and my visit to Kool’s and reconnection with Mike was more proof. (As a side note, I got to telling Mike about my plans for remembering Tiger Stadium in conjunction with the song “Bagley Avenue,” which will be on the CD. He not only sounded enthusiastic, he seemed as if he might be able to point me in the right direction too. To be continued.)
It’s probably not an accident that one of my other favourite spots in London, Victoria Park, is right across Richmond Street from Joe Kool’s. Since I’ve lived in London all my life, I’ve had many happy memories from Victoria Park. I’ve been taken as a kid to see the Christmas lights with my parents, and I’ve taken my kids to do the same thing. I’ve performed in that bandshell, attended countless festivals and community events and even met one of my musical “mentors,” David Francey, for the first time in that park.
But the real reason I wanted to go back was because Victoria Park also gave me the inspiration for the song “Sunny Day in November,” which was conceived in the fall of 2008 when I sat at a picnic table, quietly eating my lunch while observing an eclectic collision of nonsensical circumstances. The story is in the liner notes of the CD and I’ll also tell it at shows, but for now I’ll just say that it was important to me to go back to that spot where the idea(s) for the song came to me. So we did.
We took a few photos in and around the park. As with Kool’s, we got some good ones and some goofy-looking ones but more than anything, we had fun being there and enjoying our time together. Photos or not, I can live with that.
It’s all part of the journey, right?
All of these things are a part of who I am. As are all the songs on the CD. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it is to see them all coming together all at once.
Back to the journey …
PS – A very Happy Birthday to my sister, Karen. She is not only my sibling, she is one of my best friends, a mentor and an inspiration. She also happens to be a gifted musician and I admit that I don’t care if I ever sell a copy of the CD as long as my sister is proud of what I’ve done. Happy Birthday Karen. I love you.
I can remember watching the Smurfs cartoon as a kid. My sisters and I would sit on the family room floor and look on as the Smurfs would go on a journey, with Papa Smurf leading the way. Every few steps, one of them would ask, “How much farther, Papa Smurf?” His answer was always, “Not far now.” It didn’t matter how many times they asked. It was always, “Not far now.”
Well, KG and I have been working on this CD going on a year.
So … how much farther, Papa Smurf?
As with just about any project, it’s getting to where I almost wish we had a little more time. I’m sure we’ll be ready, but here’s where things sit: We’ve got some mini-deadlines coming up that are kind of mile markers on the road to the CD Release. One of the most significant is our featured week on the radio and the promised release of two new singles, neither of which are complete. We are still recording backing vocals (in fact, KG dropped on me this week that he wants me to do the lead vocal for the song “South Carolina” all over again). Kev is still needing to re-do a bunch of piano work. And every song still needs to be reviewed, revised, reviewed again, revised again, mixed, mastered and then sent to the duplication house, preferably with at least a couple of weeks to spare before the release.
No problem, right?
Well, yeah, except that my body stepped into the game this week, had a little chuckle at my expense and then put me into bed for the better part of two days with some kind of wicked sore throat and debilitating flu-like fatigue.
Still, the band played on. And we will be ready.
Not far now.
Though I did not have my strongest week, KG seems to be feeling better than ever. He and Alyssa Sestric have taken the reigns of the musical momentum. Before I fell ill, I managed to be at KG Records on Monday night when Alyssa and her family were on hand. There was some fun collaboration between Alyssa, KG and me that night, particularly on the songs “No Schedule Man” and “Awake But Not Alive.” Alyssa put some harmony parts in those songs that really make them pop. It’s exciting when that happens.
On the other hand, I left Monday night’s get-together feeling as though we were still searching for the right feel on a few parts of “Hope Over Hurt.” There is one particular descant part at the end of the song that I can hear in my head but I can’t seem to figure out how to describe it to KG. The result is that we’re getting some beautiful singing on it from Alyssa, but not the feel I’m looking for. At least not yet. I am confident we’ll get it nailed down, but it’s just that there isn’t a whole lot of time left for interpretation, so I’ve become a tad more anxious about it.
It’s a good lesson: When you think you’ve described something exactly to someone, and then when you come back later to see or hear what they’ve done, you find they’ve done something completely different than what you thought they’d do. It’s not because of any maliciousness or lack of intelligence or anything like that. It’s simply because that’s how challenging communication can be and how we, as individuals, all interpret things in our own way. Effective communication is not as easy as we think it should be.
The good news is that there is always something to be gained from the experience. In my case, I find that we often arrive with ideas and concepts that are completely new to me and contribute nicely to our project. Or, I have to work a little harder to understand how I can communicate more effectively and I learn something new. And then there are times when everyone’s on the same page and yet what you try just doesn’t work.
Hence my anxiousness with a deadline approaching.
Ideally, you’d like to give a project time to go through the process. But there are times when you just can’t wait any longer; you’ve got to make a decision and go. This is why creativity chemistry is so important. KG and I have that. And I believe we can lock in and narrow our focus when we need to. We did it before, when we wanted “Song for Sean” out quickly. And we’ll do it again now.
Fast forward to the end of the week when, after having spent part of a third day in bed, I was able to pop out to KG Records a little after lunchtime and was there for about 20 minutes; long enough to hear what Kev had added to “Hope Over Hurt.” Having heard it, I’m pretty confident in saying that it’ll be one heck of a song when it’s done. KG’s got the pulse of it. We’ll be ready.
To clarify, I’ve promised CKXS FM that we’ll debut two new singles the week I’m featured on their “Local Spotlight” (April 26 – April 30). Not only will we debut the singles live over the air and around the world via the CKXS internet stream, we’ll also post the songs online and make them available for digital download at that time too.
The first two singles are going to be “Hope Over Hurt” and “Do Better.”
Ten days away.
Speaking of “Do Better,” that song is shaping up really well. When KG played it for me earlier in the week, I was so happy with how it sounded, all I could think to do was laugh. It’s a good song, and it’s therapeutic to sing and listen to. You’ll understand when you hear it. In less than two weeks.
There were some other productive things that happened this week. For one, some “Hope Over Hurt” and “No Schedule Man” merchandise arrived at my door. More on that another time.
The other thing I’d been aiming to get done were some promotional photos. And I did. But that story probably deserves its own blog. So, uh, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow.
Not far now.
I accidentally wrote some new stuff this past weekend. When I say “accidentally,” I mean that I was not in any way intending to write more music. In fact, I was hoping to have less to think about, not more. But when the ideas hit you, they hit you. I suppose I could do it Nashville-style and just sit down and try to write songs that sound like other hits. But that’s not how it works for me. How it works is that the ideas just show up and I either take the time to write them down or record them, or I don’t, in which case I lose them forever.
Through the course of completing last weekend’s errands, I had a little hook line running through my head. After I decided I liked it, I kept singing it to myself over and over and over until I got back home to sing it into my handheld recorder. I came back to it later and quickly wrote the lyrics and the rest of the melody calling the song, simply, “Sing.”
I went back to it later and tried some different transition chords, adding or taking away a seventh here or there. It still needs a little arrangement help, but I figured we’d get to that when KG and I had a chance to hash it out (which has already started to happen, but more on that in a moment).
The same day, I had the melody to an upbeat song in my mind so I hummed that into my recorder and then forgot about it. A day later, I had another hook line and lyric in my head. I recorded that and asked the Gods of music to let me be for a while, as my struggle this week has been keeping some balance in my brain!
A person that writes songs should never shun inspiration. You should take the ideas whenever they come to you. But I’m at a point where I have more to think about than I can handle. And most of it does not relate to music as much as my day-to-day responsibilities as a business owner. But the music project needs to keep its place in the overall balance of things to think about.
To that end, I entered this work week knowing I needed to get my head clear. I’ve been spending every spare minute I can find in the evenings and weekends sitting at my desk in front of this bloody computer. I’m guilty of getting out-of-balance once I sense some momentum, be it positive or negative. If I feel like things are taking a turn for the worse, I tend to feel as if I should dig in my heels and push harder to make things right again. And if I feel that I’ve hit on some positive momentum, my natural tendency is to keep pushing to try and capitalize on the positive energy to make more good things happen. I think there is a time and place for both. But there is also something to be gained by getting the heck out of the way and letting things move along themselves.
Sometimes the best thing you can do to solve a challenge is to step away from it and let the answer show itself to you. But that’s harder than it sounds. In a similar vein, it can sometimes be in your best interests to just stay the heck out of the way when things are going well. That’s also harder than it sounds. At least, it is for me.
Following last week’s session with KG and Alyssa Sestric, I was so charged up that I felt like I needed to pour on the energy. So I did. But I quickly ran out of steam, as I wasn’t giving myself a chance to rest (I don’t like sitting still. It’s a character flaw). As this past work week began, I had to promise myself to leave music out of my mind. I decided to deliberately NOT update my profiles on ReverbNation or on the Facebook fan page, MySpace, Sonicbids or on my official website. I had said last week that I would put out the CD Release show info this week and I was ready to do that. But then I realized I was the only one who really cared much about that at this point so I decided to stuff it until I felt ready. That might be this next week. It might not. I’m not sure.
I didn’t even go to the studio this past Tuesday night, which is one of our regular weekly session times. KG told me it was just as well for me to leave him alone to edit and mix. So I did. Now, what KG and I did do was go to the gym together to play a little squash and do some other exercises. It was fun and good for both of us to spend some time together away from his studio.
I did return to the studio later in the week and had a good experience. Upon arrival, I found KG with another one of his pals, Jim, who was sitting nearby while Kev edited vocal tracks from our songs. KG played back a little of the vocals on “Hope Over Hurt.” It was neat to hear, even he though he and I somehow got our wires crossed on what I was hoping for on a couple parts. But what pleased me most was what Jim said: “That kinda’ sounds like Great Big Sea.”
Well, thankya Jim. I considered that a high compliment.
Shortly thereafter, Kev asked if I would play the new song for him. So I did. Before I’d finished, Kev had moved to his grand piano to play along. When I was done, Jim smiled and said, “I really like that.” KG quipped, “This is my new favourite song.”
Well, great. So there’s more to do. But you never know. Once we finish what we started, maybe this new tune will turn into a bonus download or something like that. Or maybe it’ll be the first tune on the second record, even though we haven’t finished the first record yet.
Curiously, the lyrics to the other song snippet I wrote are built around the concept of “Idle Hands.”
It’s Good Friday.
You don’t know the half of it.
Our humble little music project took a seismic leap this week, thanks to the talent and generosity of a young lady by the name of Alyssa Sestric. Alyssa is one of the other artists who, like me, regularly works with Kevin Gorman in the interest of developing her own considerable talent and original music. She and I met by a chance encounter a few weeks ago when KG asked if I’d come out to his studio one evening to teach Alyssa a few basic guitar tricks. In the brief time I was there, I heard her sing only a little. But it was enough – combined with her personality of that of her dad (who was also there that night) – to convince me that it would be a real coup if KG and I could convince Alyssa to sing some backing vocals on our CD.
As hard as we’ve worked, there is only so much that two meatheads like KG and I can do alone. All along, we knew we were going to want a female voice for certain parts in “Hope Over Hurt” and “Kevin’s Prayer.” But after Alyssa (a student at Central Secondary School in London) showed some enthusiasm for the project, KG and I started wondering where else we could showcase her voice to the betterment of the songs. Luckily, we came up with several ideas.
Kev and I had our bi-weekly Monday night studio session earlier this week. In that time, we spent most of the time talking and reviewing what was left needing done. We also listened back to several tracks and discussed where we thought Alyssa could add to the quality of the sound. We came up with a list and I left KG with it.
The following night, I was “kicked out” of my own regular Tuesday night session, as Alyssa was kind enough to come in after dinner and work with KG on what she was to sing. Kev didn’t want me in the way, so he told me to stay home. I knew he was right, but it was hard to stay away because at that point, we didn’t know whether it was going to work with Alyssa or not. She could have decided that she didn’t like the songs, or that she didn’t want to commit the time, or it could have been that it simply wasn’t the right fit. I was curious to see how it would work out.
Wednesday morning, I sent Kev a text asking how it had gone, as I’d not heard from him the night before. His prompt reply read: “Awesome! Even better than I expected. Can’t wait for Friday!”
Oh man, I thought. I was quite looking forward to Friday myself.
So this morning (Friday), I got out to KG’s about 2 hours ahead of Alyssa and her family. That gave KG and me some time to “woodshed” a few songs and, for the first time in far too long, play a few songs together start-to-finish. We played “No Schedule Man” and “Orlando” and I believe we were goofing around with “Margaritaville” when the Sestrics arrived: Alyssa, Shelley (Alyssa’s mom) and younger sisters Courtney and Britney. It was nice to meet them all and give them a chance to discuss what we were up to and for me to see Shelley in person and get her blessing to have Alyssa involved. It was quickly clear to me that the Sestrics are my kinda people.
After chatting for a bit, KG suggested we play through some songs to let Alyssa get warmed up and for me to hear what she’d been up to. I was all for that, so I asked her what song she wanted to do first. She said, “Orlando.” Cool. Away we went.
Now, when you hear “Orlando,” you’ll understand how important the backing vocals are in that chorus, which is the real hook in the song. We got to that part and Alyssa jumped in along with KG and all of a sudden, all three of us were singing and creating a layered harmony that made my heart jump and the hair on my arms stand up. If you’ve ever been part of a musical group and project, you’ll understand what I mean. There are times (which are rare) when you hit on something and everyone in the room knows it and it’s a tremendously cool and exciting feeling.
That’s what happened today. As soon as Kev and Alyssa opened up to sing along, I kept playing but I was thinking, ‘Oh boy … we’re really on to something here.’
After “Orlando” I asked what she’d like to do next. She said, “Do Better.” Fine with me.
I started playing and got just a few lines into the song when I noticed Britney and Shelley giggling a little bit. So I looked up and said, “What – you’re laughing at me already?”
Britney said, “No. It’s just that we really like this song.”
Let me tell you friends … when you work at something in isolation for so long, it’s easy to forget why you do it. KG and I have been toiling on these tunes for so long that I’d almost forgotten that the point was to see if other people were willing to listen. So when someone comes in and tells you that they dig what you’re doing; to the extent where they giggle because they think it’s cool to see you actually play the song in front of them, you know you have something.
We have something going here. We really do. I can feel it.
I resumed playing, having forgotten what KG and I thought Alyssa might sing in that song. I got to the chorus and she and Kev opened up and I thought, ‘Oh yeah! Boy, that’s cool. People are going to like that a lot.’
And so it went.
It wasn’t much longer before we put Alyssa in the vocal booth and it was nice to hear that KG makes her do all the same stuff he makes me do. Thing is, when Alyssa sings, she sounds good. She only needs to do a take or two. Me, well … KG usually makes me do seven or eight takes before he finds something useable. Then again, I’m doing the lead vocals. It’s more to mess up. But still: I’m a partner in an event management company, not a Canadian Idol.
Everything Alyssa did sounded good. She doesn’t know this (well, I guess she will now), but when she sang, Kev and I kept looking over at each other. We didn’t say anything, but I know we were both thinking the same thing: ‘We’re on to something here. This is good stuff.’
The kicker was when both KG and Alyssa put harmony parts on the “hallelujah” part of the song “Kevin’s Prayer.” It gives me the shivers just thinking back on it. It’s very rare that you imagine something in your mind (which I did for that song about a year ago when I wrote it) and it not only turns out just like you thought it would; it turns out better. This was one of those times.
One other thing: I’m used to singing my own stuff and I’m used to KG knowing the songs. Hearing someone from “outside your circle” sing along is a different deal. When Alyssa came in and started singing words I had written and did it with enthusiasm and genuine appreciation, well, that’s a charge. It wouldn’t have mattered if it had been Oscar the Grouch singing along; it’s really neat to hear someone else singing your song back to you. I have won awards, been nominated for others, achieved in business, received many compliments for my work and even spent much of my life on the radio airwaves.
None of it compares to someone else digging a song I wrote.
I’m usually pretty modest with the things I do. And I will continue to be. But I feel pretty confident in telling you: we’ve got a heckuva collection of songs going here. Some people are really going to like it. The songs are there. If the performances live up to the potential of the songs, I’ll stand behind this collection of tunes any day. And they will. And I will.
That, my friends, is a really great feeling to have. And I have it because of my great good pal Kevin Gorman, a little hard work and a lot of patience, and (now) Alyssa’s contribution. What she’s done is give us a boost. And she’s breathed new life into the project.
What a cool thing to do for somebody, huh?
Alyssa will be performing with us at the CD release show. You’ll hear more about that next week.