NO BAND, BUT PLENTY OF WORK!

Twang

Twang

I WAS TRYING TO put together a new CD, and I thought it might be interesting to do some posting around the lyrics and both the process of writing them and putting together the Album.  I’m still trying…

The Album itself has gone through a whole bunch of permutations.  First, it was titled, “Vinegar Pie,” because it was named after a song that is in the collection.  Also, the collection was only nine songs.  I had been asked to write songs to support a one person, three act play by the same name.  I wrote the nine songs as a kind of dialogue with the various acts and their themes.  They were performed before, between, and at the end of the acts.  I thought the whole play was kind of a moment of genius on the part of the playwright, but the feeling apparently was not reciprocated and I was fired.  Stuff happens! I mean, I don’t like rejection any better that anyone else, and it hurt and I was pissed, but I got over it and moved on.  What I got out of the deal were nine really good songs.

As I wrote above, I had produced (sort of) the nine songs and put them onto a CD titled “Vinegar Pie.”  However, with the firing event, I decided to re-release the songs with an additional three and re-title the collection, “The Quilter.”  And that’s what I did.

Recently I realized that all my earlier releases were in desperate need of some tweaking and refining.  I bought a mastering program called OZONE, that works really well.  I set about re-mastering my CDs.  To say re-mastering is actually a joke because they were not mastered in the first place.  OXONE really made a big difference in the overall sound of my first project, “Preachin’ to the Choir,” which, when re-mastered I actually put out on CD Baby.

After I was finished with “Preachin’ to the Choir,”  I turned to “The Quilter,” and to my dismay, I discovered that my recordings were atrocious.  YIKES!!!  I am now re-recording the songs and getting them “right.”  The good thing about learning to really hear, is that you can hear what you do as it really is.  That is also the bad thing about really learning to hear.

In the process of re-recording, I decided to add four more songs to the collection.  While you might think that this is over kill, I might say in my defense that many of my songs are only around two to two and a half minutes in length.  Also, I am in favor of the idea of giving my fans more bang for their buck/

The Title will be, “On My Mind,” but don’t hold your breath for it.  It seems that other projects keep jumping up and getting in the way.  Earlier, I wrote about the project for the Medical Marijuana musical, and just last week I was approached to write for another musical.  So while I have “On My Mind,” on my mind, right now, that’s all it is…  Do not read this as a complaint!

By the way, please, when you read this, if you have something to say to me, post it on this site by pushing the  “Comments” button.  Thanks for that!  I will respond.

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WORKING WITHOUT A BAND

Hilary at Barley & Hops

Hilary at Barley & Hops

I have been asked to comment on performing without a band. Alice Groves asked, “I would be interested in hearing more about your quest to perform without a band. The only alternative is recorded music.” Richard McLaghlin responded to her by stating, “Actually, you could just pick up a guitar and engage the audience. Of course the pop musicosphere is so addicted to production values, songs layered like some bizarre, sonic gateau, and the auto-tuned chorus of backup singers and doubled voices that they just would not know what to make of it all.”

I do not believe that recorded music is the only alternative.  There are many alternatives.  I have been performing, at some capacity or another since 1970.  I have played solo and with bands and with a combination that includes recorded sounds, and live instruments, as well other singers.  I like bands and combos for the complexity they add to the music, but I do enjoy the solo performance.

I think it takes a lot more expertise and confidence when one plays as a solo act, there is only myself to blame my mistakes on.  Rhythm and tempo are harder to lock in, and it takes a whole bunch more raw energy to engage the audience.  It can not only be achieved, but done really well.  Convincing club owners that your solo act is as viable as a band performance is the trickiest.

Also, please understand the context in which I am working.  I am spending much of my time producing for my upcoming CD, “Living the Green Life,” and do not have the time to spend on working with a band.  Yet I need to keep sharp for the times I gig on large stages or play with other musicians.  I am performing regularly and weekly as a solo act so I don’t lose my skill level while stuck in the studio.

It becomes harder to book gigs as a single act.  Clubs and bars seem to want a wall of noise against which to balance alcohol sales and an experience of excitement from and for their customers.  I look for venues that are interested in a different type of action.  I am interested in building a rapport with the crowd–talking, joking between songs and answering questions in the middle of a song.  I like to make them laugh, and to feel as if their experience of my act were somehow part of the performance.  So, I need the intimacy of a small venue. At this time in my career I am not looking for stardom or fame, but I am looking for ways to give myself and an audience maximum enjoyment from a performance.

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

More Pedals and Swirly Fuzzy Stuff

My performance is itself both simple and complex.  It is me and one of my Martins.  I like the Martin guitar tonal signature better than any other acoustic guitar.  I have an 2000 HD-28-V, and a 1959 00-18.  They each have distinct sounds, but both have a playability that works for me.  I also like my G5120 Gretsch a whole bunch.  It has a scale similar to the Martins so there is no muscle memory confusion when I switch back and forth.  To all this I add a pedal board that gives me options galore.

My music is a combination of Country, Folk Rock, Rockabilly, Honky-Tonk, Country Jazz, and Country Pop-esque.  It ranges from edgy to not-so-edgy to sort-of-soft.  They are my own songs because I like my writing best.  I work with just one of the Martins for the most part, but also I use a Boss Looper for songs that are more complex and need other instrumentation behind some of the simple lead guitar work I do with the Gretsch.

I use the Boss Looper as a devise to hold material I have loaded off my Tascam 24-Track recording device.  I work out my arrangements on the Tascam before I load them into the looper.  I play keyboard (an older Korg Triton), lap steel, mandolin, banjo, auto harp besides guitar, so I can fill up some of the songs with complex layers of sounds that add to my vocals and lead work.  I only do this on a few songs.  My main form of presentation is acoustic guitar and harmonica.

What continually blows me away, is the diverse age groups that seem to like what I do.  I have people from their 20s into their 80s respond to what I do.  I think that Rock ‘N’ Roll has been around long enough and is well enough established to have become the new standards for enough generations to be accepted by most individuals.  Yes, there are the musically ignorant and stilted who only recognize what they listen to as the REAL music and refer to all the other genres as crap.  And they do leave the second they hear a little twang,  but the majority show nothing but respect for my performance.

Thanks, readers, for reading, and please feel free to comment and ask questions in the “Comments” section of this post.  Hilary

Hilary Writes a Soundtrack for a Musical — Part 1

A Musical About Medical Marijuana.

A Musical About Medical Marijuana.

I have sure had a number of things on my mind.  I am figuring out how to perform without a band, and still keep it interesting.  More on that later.  Also, I have been working on a musical.  I am trying to produce my songs so a playwright can write a script for a Broadway Musical.  I am just so far out of my league that I am running in circles and snapping at my tail.

I am working with Coni Congoli Koepfinger who is Associate Director, and Playwright-In-Residence at the Spiral Theatre Studio, New York, who has written over forty plays of which over fourteen have been published.  She holds an MA in Literary and Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University.  She is very prolific and talented, and a little scary when I realize that it is my work she is scrutinizing.  So far it is going very well.  To find out more about her check out http://www.doollee.com/PlaywrightsC/ciongoli-koepfinger-coni.html.

She is an amazing writer, and she has a team working with her with a vast array of experience.  The Spiral Theatre Studio is the brainchild of Paula J. Riley who is rebirthing the Legacey of her mentor, Iza Itkin, and it is a phenomenal concept in and of itself, and if you are interested in more information about it, I suggest you check out  http://www.thespiraltheatrestudio.com/ or http://thespiraltheatrestudio.blogspot.com/ to find out more.

The play, Livin’ the Green Life,” is based on a collection of songs I wrote about four years ago depicting the development of the Medical Marijuana Movement.  The songs begin with the bad old days and dark beginnings, and proceed to the Movement it has now become.  My lyrics tell stories about fear, death, paranoia, hope, family systems, and the everyday people caught up in the overarching story that is Marijuana.

My idea, originally, was to write my songs and give them to a producer who would then, using studio musicians, develop them into finished, mastered, songs that could be used for a soundtrack.  My problem became clear as I attempted to find producers who could do this.  I soon discovered that they did not have my particular and peculiar vision for how the songs should be produced.  YIKES!!!

What I had produced as rough sketches, were just that, rough sketches.  I then needed finished, studio produced, mixed and mastered songs that were complete.  I had to learn how to do all that.  AND that my friends is what this last year has been about—learning how.  Not an easy task, this learning thing, but doable and fun.

I have had to find musicians to play on my songs.  I have limited expertise, musically, and need lead guitar players, sitar players, to lay in the tracks for my songs.  Finding them has been a trial, but that is getting done.

I have learned that it is I who must decide on what songs to use and how to order them.  I had thought that some genius producer would jump in and wave a magic want and get that done in a flash.  I am working on the ordering of the story songs to fit an overall movement on meaning as stories within the story.

More on my progress at a later date, but know that I have committed to completion by the end of May or June.  I have a series of important meetings from July through the end of Trout season with a number of important rainbow trout, and I do not want to miss out on those stream-side sessions.   So onward, forward, charge—tie those flies!

News Flash

News? Well I am working–actually working on producing a new CD, and the project is bigger than I am. I will go into the whole thing in more detail in another post, but suffice it to say that I am madly trying to learn stuff that I need to know in order to get to the next level–whatever that is. What I am trying to do in this posting is to just get a post done.

Borderlands of Hell --

Borderlands of Hell —

With the help of Rob Fisher, I released the “Borderlands of Hell CD” on CD Baby last year. and it sounds really great! Now I am learning to produce my own CDs–very exciting More to come

I TAKE TIME OUT FROM MUSIC FOR FLY FISHING

Flies Ready For The Stream

Way over due for a posting.  I’ve had my nose way into my recording and writing.  Lots to do and only me to do it.  Actually that’s not too bad.  I finished a song for Mike Oak that he and Sky Saxon of The Seeds started just before Sky died.  Mike liked it which made me very happy.  I am trying to record another CD and getting some merch ready to sell at shows.  However, last week and this I decided to put in some time fly fishing on the Russian River which runs past my house.  The following is a reflection that came to me as I fished in fog and sun for six days.

Today I spent the day on the Russian River with a bamboo fly rod. The water moved past me without hurry, but with the expectation of meeting the sea. There were fish in the stream, and I hooked five. I catch and release, so they went back in. In the morning the sun was cloaked in fog and the fog followed the ebb and flow of the river. Around 11:00am the sun made its presence fully known.

There is a rhythm in the life and lives around this river. There is a movement in the fish community that follows the hatching mayflies and caddis flies that themselves are living and dying according to rhythms of temperature. There are small birds who, like the fish, have lives subject to the water. Heron and egret hunt their respective prey, and vultures lurk for remnants.

Into this mix I intrude with a fly rod and line. Or do I? Is this an intrusion, or is it more of a taking my place within the riparian cycles of stream and shore? I know that when I take the time to be present here, I feel a security of fitting in with the living and dying of those around me.

The rod and the line are worked by arm, elbow, and shoulder, and done properly the fly at the end of the line presents as a real insect, and fools the fish momentarily–sometimes just long enough to place the hook in its lip. A struggle occurs in which my finesse and the instinct of the fish combat for catch and for freedom. Sometimes I win. Most times the fish is victorious.

There are endless lessons for me in this exercise, that apply to all aspects of my life. I learn on this river, and on all rivers I have fished. While there are many lessons, the key lesson I have learned, and continue to learn, is my place in the order of things. And, there is both comfort and discomfort in the lesson. I learn that I am not actually at the top of the food chain, for there is truly no hierarchy. I learn that rather that being a food chain, it is a chain of life, linked into a circlet. I am not apart, but part of. Each creature’s struggle is my struggle. All death is my death. I have learned on the rivers I fish that at the heart, there is no place, exempt from the beauty and from the violence and the joy and the struggle that is life.

Let Me Be Honest, Here…

I need to say this loud and clear:  I am not really a musician; I am a songwriter who also plays music.  I’d like to be a real musician.  I’d like to actually play with ease and courage and panache.  I am actually best on the harmonica.  Second best on guitar.  Third best on keyboard.  Worst best on bass, mandolin, lap steel.  I am also too poor to pay real musicians to back me up on my demos, so I am stuck with doing them myself.

I just keep on hoping and dreaming that somewhere I will be heard by someone who doesn’t need all the bells and whistles to recognize a song they can use.  If that happened, then I might be able to afford to hire actual studio musicians.  This may sound like a big complain/whine session, but it isn’t.  I’m just stating the facts.

I can lay in my tracks with each instrument–over and over until I get them right.  With the bass, it takes maybe a day or more to get something in there that I like.  Harmonica and rhythm guitar usually are one take each.  The rest just take redoing over and over and over.  Actually, it’s kind of fun.  I am learning as I go, and I really like learning.  I would never stand up on stage and try to fake it with a bass or steel or mandolin or keyboard, but I am getting by in the studio.

I have discovered that I like my bass playing best.  Every bass player I have worked who is pro or semi pro, is just too busy for my needs.  They seem to be embarrassed with being heard playing as simple as I need them to play.  Simple is the operative word in my studio. My ear likes what I hear from my recordings, so for me, I suppose I am doing OK–so far.  I haven’t released any of my new material that I am on, but I will.

I have just recorded fifteen songs with just me, guitar, and harp.  I will polish them up until they shine and then release it.  This is a truly homespun sound I am going after.  I just released a CD titled, “Preachin’ To The Choir” on CD Baby, http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/hilarymarcdkx, that is as rough sounding as the material on it.  The one I am working on now has a working title of, “On My Mind,” and is down home, country, mashed potatoes and gravy, sentimental, and very simple.  I am starting to get happy with what I am doing on it.  My harmonica is sounding just right for it, my guitar  is simple, and my voice, never my best resource, sounds better than adequate.

I am buying books and studying up on the progressions and forms of chords for various instruments I am using.  And, yes, it is hard work, and at times tedious, but It is good work, and it is satisfying.

So, I began this little essay by stating that I was not a musician, and in closing I need to qualify that statement.  I have a personal vision of what a musician is:  A musician can play just about anything in terms of style and beat and genre that comes to them; a musician also can play lead; a musician can also sit in cold and jam his or her heart out; and a musician is also expert with their instrument.  I have none of these qualifications.

Before you, my reader or fan, comes to my rescue and tells me, as so many have done in the past that if I can write songs and then get up and accompany myself in public and hold an audience, then I must be a musician, let me say that while I can do this, all that means is that I am a good performer.  I am a good performer and a good songwriter.  I can hold an audience and get them all fired up, but I do this with my attitude, stage presence, and personality, not with my expert hot licks on my instruments.

I am not apologizing for what I do.  What I do I do well–really well.  I just am not an expert with my instruments.  That’s all.  I wish I were, but I am not.  I am, however, learning to be, an expert, when I do that, then I’ll stand up when someone asks if there is a musician in the house.

WORKING, WORKING, WORKING!!!

Tool of the Trade

Last post was about learning to listen.  The time spent between that post and this post has been spent doing just that—learning to listen.

EARS TO THE SPEAKERS, so to speak.

I bought a program called Ozone that offers both preset and manual mastering.  I know that for the hard-assed mastering professionals that this is the absolute worst choice I could have made, and that if I was serious about my music, I would pay the thousands of bucks they want to charge me, and get it done right.  Oh well…

It is not easy doing your own mixing or mastering.  I’d listen to the way it came over the monitoring speakers as I was mixing each track–over and over until I thought I had a mix that worked.  Then I would take the song into the house and listen to it on my house system.  I would do that over and over as well.

There is a place where I heard enough.  At that point I had listened to it on my $30 CD player, a pair of cheap ear phones, my home system, my huge PA speakers, a standard studio monitor speaker system.  There is a point where if you work with it any more it gets worse.

I had actually already reached that point a couple of weeks prior.  I loved how it sounded in my studio and on my car stereo.  So I took the “finished” CD into the house to listen to it and by the time I was half-way through it, I was ready to do murder.  Jeeze, there was a high-pitched jangling sound that, after a few cuts, was just crazy-making.  I went back and discovered it was a preset that had reverb in it.  I also discovered that if I wanted reverb, I could put it into the tracks from Sonar and it was fine, but from Ozone, and bluck!  Lesson learned!

Next on the learning curve highway, was getting it onto CD Baby.  WOW, what a trip!  I think my next post will be about that ordeal.