Freebie Throwndown #1

Every so often when I’m attending a festival, some dude sees my media pass and presses a free CD into my hands. Since these people obviously want a review, (and since I usually have a long drive home) they’re gonna get what they asked for. No bullshit, no sugarcoating, no punches pulled.

Round One:
At Times of Madness
S/T
Self-Released
Canada
2009

Spazzy songwriting. Whiney ex-boyfriend clean singing/talking. Fred Durst apologetics. We listened to this CD on the way home from Armstrong Metalfest and my buddy Mike looked at the tracklist and asked incredulously but I’ll say diplomatically, “they made eleven of these?” This album is pretty edgy; I’m glad the band had the presence of mind to slap a Parental Advisory logo on the cover. Vocalist Josh Pym sounds like he’s got serious issues on his mind. Either that, or his V-neck is too tight. The band thanks “God” but I’m pretty sure that if there was a god, he would have smote these kids with a hail of Manowar records before they ever hit the studio. Real talk: Everything about this release is fucking atrocious. The only mitigating factor would be the inclusion of titties on the inside cover, so at least I had something to jerk off to while I was listening to this garbage.

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When should you book your band’s CD release party?

I’ve heard so many horror stories about this and I simply can’t keep quiet about it any more.

Envision a situation: Your band has been hard at work for the past 10 months in your buddy’s basement studio, chipping away at a full length record in your spare time between work, family, commitments and of course other band related stuff like gigging and touring. Now, the fruits of your labour are ready to be unveiled. You book your CD release party at a popular club two months from today. Great! All you have to do now is get the mixing, mastering, artwork, layout, pressing, artwork for line up merchandise to match and print T-shirts, stickers, patches, hoodies and posters and of course all the press and promotion lined up. Oh yeah, you should sneak a photo shoot in there while you’re at it.

HOLD IT.

Something’s wrong. Let’s break this down a bit here.

Recording (almost a year) > Booking release show (2 months from now) > Mixing > Mastering > Artwork > Photos > Layout > Pressing > Merchandising > Press release > Other promotion > Success!

If you don’t see the severe error of this situation, you are fucked.

Truly, hopelessly fucked.

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Your fuckedness is written in the stars, bro.

If your band has fucked around spending the better part of A YEAR recording your album, what makes you think you’re in any shape to slap a sudden 2 month deadline on the remaining EIGHT STEPS (if not more) and get away scott-free? And why do we want to get away “Scott-free” anyways? Scott’s fucking awesome. But I digress.

BOOK YOUR CD RELEASE PARTY WHEN THE DISKS ARE IN YOUR HANDS.

Think about all the things that could go wrong in this process:
– Mixing guy’s studio burns down
– Artwork gets lost in the mail
– Layout designer goes on vacation right when you need crucial changes made
– Pressing companies booked SOLID
– CDs shipped to the wrong address
– Shirts printed with missing colours
– People in the press/media can’t get their interview schedules to match with yours
– Drummer too lazy to write thank-you list
– Mastering engineer has a mental breakdown and is impossible to reach for 3 weeks
– Photographer’s camera is seized for evidence in drug bust
– ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE
– Pet orangutang eats your hard drive before you can e-mail files to the pressing plant (why the fuck did you buy an orangutang anyway?)

These are just a handful of examples. You thought organizing a 5-piece band was tough? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Most albums and physical releases go through the hands of like TEN other people before they see the light of day.

When you’re dealing with this many people, shit goes awry. Life happens.

I’ve talked to at least three different bands in my city about pressing woes this year. Something happens down the pipeline (usually in the artwork/layout phase) and now they’ve got two weeks to get the CD in their hands, or they’re playing a CD release gig without the goddamned CDs. This means you’ll have to pay OUT THE ASS to get your disks ready on a rush schedule.

All this shit results in more stress, lower quality output (rushed artwork, etc), and more money spent.

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Get serious, people. Plan properly. FINISH. YOUR. SHIT.

I realize that this sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. If your band takes that long to record an album, then you’re not ready to put the timer on like that. You’re not serious enough yet. I get it, you’re a serious musician. But you’ve got kids to feed, a wife/husband to please, a car to get fixed, beers to drink and a World Cup to watch… life’s tough, right?

I hate to break it to you, but being in a proper, professional band means making sacrifices, difficult choices and looking at your priorities. If you want to record your album, then fucking record your album. Save up money. Fundraise. Book a decent studio and use some vacation time (if you’re fortunate enough to be in a situation where you GET vacation time) to lay down your parts. Oh yeah, let’s not forget REHEARSING so you can go in, track your shit in a timely fashion and get out.

If you go through two birthdays to record your album, then you aren’t all that serious. Sure, you take your music seriously and your art seriously, but you don’t take the vehicle off being in a band seriously. It’s just a hobby.

There’s nothing wrong with that.

But just accept it, and stop fucking yourself over with stupid decisions, okay?

Let me leave you with some tips on how to avoid these nightmare situations. They should be fucking obvious, but clearly they’re not.

– Book your CD release show WHEN THE CDs ARE IN YOUR HANDS. You waited a year (or longer) to finish recording, what’s another one or two months for the gig? More time to rehearse!

– Take care of artwork, layout, merchandising and as much of that other shit as you can while the recording is taking place. Streamline. Most of this other is simply a matter of sending e-mails and brainstorming ideas. It’s not hard.

– Delegate tasks. If one member is a good talker, get him/her to deal with press and PR. Find your band’s strengths aside from music. Works best when your members are no unreliable dildos.

– Have (reliable) band members who can do shit for the band. IE, your bassist has a degree in fine art. Maybe she can direct the art for your release while everyone else is recording their parts. Your singer is a photoshop whiz, let him put together the layout. Your drummer works for a screen printing shop. Whatever.

– Make a plan! Spreadsheets, schedules, calendars!

– Stick to your god damned plan

Good luck.

“You have HOW many cassettes?”

So today, Sunday, my only day off, I spent my time organizing my cassette collection. Yeah, tapes. With, like, music on them. I organized them alphabetically and then priced them out based on condition and rarity. ‘Cause that’s how I roll. I think I have close to 300 right now. One for every Spartan at Thermopylae, baby.

This is some of them

These are some of them

I love tapes. Just love ’em to goddamn death. I know they are flawed; I’m all too familiar with the ear-raking screams, the background hiss and purr, the terror of prying them apart to put the pads or the tape itself back into place (about as stressful as open-heart surgery). My Dio Last in Line cassette modulates in and out of key every 11 seconds due to the back-breaking strain I’ve put it through since I purchased it from some backwater record shop in Red Deer, AB.

Despite all this, I’ve found myself drawn to tapes, ever since I was a little guy. I’m now in my mid-20’s. I like looking at them. There’s something occult about them. I treat tapes the same way I’d treat the emerald tablets of Atlantean gods placed under my care. The shape of them, the size. The holes. I want to do terrible things to cassette holes. When I hunt through flea markets for new tape acquisitions, I feel like I’m Indiana Jones or El Borak, stalking through temples older than the seas in search of antediluvian artifacts. When I find a cassette from my want list, I get a chill when I slide it into my tape deck for the first time.

The other thing I love about tapes is the sheer DIY, underground quality of them. When I go see a band play live and they put their album or demo out on tape format, I buy it even if I hated their music. There’s this vibrant, raw energy that surrounds these dinky little chunks of plastic. I think this stems from the fact that recording music on tape represented a sort of paradigm shift in the music business, where all of a sudden, you didn’t have to be independently wealthy (or injured in a car accident) in order to afford to record your album. With the advent of tapes came the advent of home recording and the do-it-yourself mentality running in the veins of the punk and heavy metal movements. Vinyl records were the goal, the big leagues, the ivory towers, and tapes represented the stepping stones to get there.

I also love tapes because of the material you tend to find on them. Many bands released their full-length albums on tape format, but eldritch demos and obscure live performances are my bread and butter. I love listening to a recording and feeling as though the band is right there in front of me. The sound from the amplifiers is blowing my hair back and I’m surrounded by other crazy rockers in club where there’s sweat practically dripping from the walls. The drums sound like they were recorded in the bat cave and the singer’s mic punctuates the riffs with keens of feedback.

Ugh. It just rocks my world.

So anyways, that’s what I did with my Sunday Funday. I’m a goddamned nerd.

Be Water, my Friend

One Sunday June 1st, my piano students had their summer recitals.

I’ve been teaching for five years now and we do our recitals twice a year. However, this time was special because at the end of the summer, I’ll be leaving dirty ol’ Edmonton behind and shacking up in Vancouver to finish my degree. It was the last recital I’d ever get to do with these kids. Some of them have been taking lessons with me since day one, some of them since month one. Some of them have only been with me for a few months, and it was their first recital ever. Some of them aced their pieces, others had trouble. Some were playing “Turkish March” and “Maple Leaf Rag”, others were playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Hot Cross Buns”.

I was so proud of every single one of them.

It’s not easy to get up onstage in front of your family and peers and a pile of strangers you’ve never seen before in your life. We had a pretty good crowd, probably around 100 people. For many kids, going up and playing in front of other piano players who might be better than them is terrifying. So regardless of “how well” they played, my heart leaped for joy and I had a big shit-eating grin plastered on my mug as soon as they ascended the stage and planted their buns on that piano bench. I tell all my students that being a little nervous isn’t a bad thing, because it means you really want to do a good job. Nerves should be the sparks to your passion-gasoline, or some bullshit.

After the performances I was asked to say a few words to the crowd. A sort of “sending-off” for everyone, even though I’m still going to be teaching until the end of August. So I went up, cracked a few goofy jokes, told everyone how hard the students had worked and how much courage it took to get up there and jam. I think I might’ve actually said “The piano bench is like a trench, man” and somehow I got a laugh. I’m an idiot, but for some reason, it works.

Partway through my little spiel, I noticed something is wrong. One of the ladies in the front row, Nicholas’s mother looks very confused. I’ve never made a speech at previous recitals. What’s the deal? When I mention my move to Vancouver, she burst into tears and had to leave the studio. I saw Nicholas in the crowd and gave him a Look. He mouthed “oh, crap.” He’d forgotten to tell his mom that I was moving away. I’d told him and his dad, but the news hadn’t reached his mom for some reason. Nicholas and I have been working together for four years now, since he was barely taller than my knees. We get along really well and his parents told me that having a young adult influence in his life has done wonders for his social anxiety and self-esteem. Nicholas is into Lord of the Rings, Batman, Elder Scrolls and Black Sabbath so he’s like the little brother I wish I had sometimes.

Anyways, the incident got me thinking a little bit. About my roles as a teacher and the impact that I might have on some of these kids, and in turn, on the parents as well.

I fucking love teaching piano. I love working with kids on a one-on-one level. I love seeing the light bulbs go blinkity-blink in a student’s eyes when a difficult concept comes to life in their mind and fingers. It’s a rush, and it’s stronger and more rewarding than any drug. I work six days a week in my studio, but I don’t even call it “work”. when about it to people. I mean, I sit on my arse and help young people make music and their parents give me money, are you even kidding me right now? Awesomeness. And yet, I’m a total idiot goofball dorkus-malorkus duncykins in the studio. When I’m not teaching kids how to play their major scales and “Let it Go”, I’m quoting Bruce Lee and telling kids to think about dead spiders when they curl their fingers and making fart jokes (usually following an actual fart, I swear to Oden it ain’t me, most of the time) and yet, moms are bursting into torrents of grief in public because I’m leaving? Man. That’s a kick in the big ol’ heart-of-hearts-of-fockin’HEARTS, dude.

I’m gonna miss these kids. Every single one of them.

Even little Marty who (for real) punched me in the dick last month.

That little bastard rocked the shit out of a Bach minuet on Sunday.

Anyways, that’s all I got. Teaching rules, kids are fun, I’m an idiot who worships Bruce Lee and Tony Iommi. I’ll leave you all with one of my favorite quotes that I use on all my students. It’s great for all aspects of life, not just kicking ass or playing Beethoven Sonatas.

“You must be formless, shapeless. Like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. When you put water into a teacup, it becomes the teapot. Water can flow, or drip, or creep, and crash. Be water, my friend.”

 

‘Til next time, Dragons.

Video

Throwback Thursday: Tygers of Pan Tang

You think you know how to rock? You don’t. You think you know how to roll? Get bent.

Sit down and strap in, ’cause John Sykes [Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake] wants to give you a lesson in riffcraft. This is NWOBHM from the glorious early 80’s when “Heavy Metal” was barely a squabbling toddler raised by an abusive Ritchie Blackmore and “Hard Rock” was something more substantial than an empty Black Sabbath shirt and an Orange amp.

Everything about this album rules. Extra Penbanger points for horizontal-striped blue/white t-shirts, burning solos, hip-swangin’ vocals and some serious wink-wink-nudge-nudge action to Michael Moorcock.

“If you mess around with fi-yah, you’re gonna getcherself burned”

Music School

Practice Room 3B

Nothing ever sounded right these days. He ran his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar; his Les Paul with the battered red finish and ebony fretboard. It’d been with him since his seventh birthday. A gift from a wealthy uncle.

His buddy Dan once said that you start by ripping other players off until you can’t anymore. You get to that one lick you can’t learn, that one tiny latitude of skill you can’t pinpoint, that one insurmountable wall you can’t climb or demolish. You’ll say “fuck it” and you’ll come up with something new. You invent your own voice from your own limits.

Dan had called it “finding the truth within your lies”, or some bullshit.

Someone – a girl, strummed soupy chords and crooned in the room next door. He could hear her faintly through the walls, a voice like thick smoke. She didn’t sound quite like anyone else. The young man scowled.

How did it happen? Those notes, the arrangement, that sound?

Were they buried inside her all the time?

He put his guitar down and let her playing seep through the walls around him.

What lies did she have to tell before she found her own truth?