Tuesday, March 30, 2010

why it's tough to listen to music when you're a musician

 My wife and I listening to music (dramatization)

When you love listening to music, being a musician yourself is both a blessing and a curse.

It's kind of like being married (God, that came out wrong). It makes things better for you all around; you extract "more" from everything, you don't take small things at face value, you can appreciate not only what someone's doing, but why they're doing it. Like when John Mayer makes my lunch every morning. I think I may have cross-threaded my analogy, but you get the point.

It can also make simple things, things you never used to notice, tough on you. (Insert wife using autotune joke.)

I was recently taking a walk with my wife, and I mentioned that I've lived a lot of my life "behind the curtain" --- from my recreation, to my community involvement, my cars, all the way to my job. You're more likely to find me backstage than in the audience at a church play --- you'd find me waiting in the wings, playing backup guitar for high school choirs --- at work I spend more time getting data ready and presentable for use than actually using the data for anything. Real talk: I never take my car to the shop, because I know that the guy they're going to get to fix it is A) definitely probably no smarter than I am, and B) cares less about the car.

It dawned on me, pretty suddenly, that I have a lot more time invested in getting things presentable for an audience than actually being a part of an audience.

So I don't think the same way as some folks when it comes to final products of any sort - whether it's food, cinema, automobiles, or music. I realized that there are two types of folks: audience folks and backstage folks.

  • At a nice restaurant, the audience folks think "this food tastes great!" The backstage folks think, "the cooks did a good job with this."
  • At a movie, the audience folks think, "it really sucked me in." The backstage folks think "the lead actor really executed his character well."
  • When the audience folks are thinking "this truck rides nice," the backstage folks are thinking "some enginerd nailed the spring rates."
 You know how sometimes I throw a random picture in the middle of a serious blog post?
    I don't ever really enjoy any music at face value anymore. I am dissecting guitar tone, thinking about mic placement, the subtlety (or not-so-subtlety) of compression, and things like that.

    On the downside, the overall picture, the "song as a whole" is often lost on me, or only comes to me once I listen to every "channel" of the song, beginning to end. So if I'm interested in the drums, bass, rhythm guitar, accent guitar, vocal, and vocal harmony of a song, I need to hear that song 6 times, one time focusing on each element, just observing and "seeing what I see" before I can let the whole thing play as a unit. The curse of a wannabe recordist.

     On the upside,  I can listen to something on the radio and pick out a Telecaster through a Vox amp, and think "hey, that sounds great, I might wanna try that combo," and boom - I have a new tonal idea without ever hearing or reading a single word. Or I can hear somebody use an effect in a way I've never heard it used, and I can say "damn, I oughta try that," then I'll spend a few hours in the basement turning knobs and playing around, and boom - a new song is born, just from messing around with a new setting.

    What I imagine when I pull away from a stop light. 
    This condition also affects other areas of life, as well. Having seen the inside of an engine too many times, when your average driver mashes the accelerator into the flo'board, they are probably thinking "WOOOOOOO!!!," but I am thinking about the connecting rods and rod bearings and valve springs and piston rings and how the whole thing should explode.

    It might seem contrived or unfathomable to you, but I literally cannot derive any pleasure from blasting off like a rocket in a car. I'm not thinking about what's happening, I'm thinking about everything that makes it possible. That's life behind the curtain. Anybody else live this way?


    Friday, March 12, 2010

    four year strong

    I used to fancy myself a super cool punk rocker. I mostly did this because I listened to a lot of punk music, or so I thought.

    Yes, this is actually a real picture of me. 
    I'm holding the controls for a hydraulic suspension system on a lowrider Chevy. 
    Yeah, my head exploded a little bit when I saw this picture too.

    Years later, in my infinite wisdom as a wannabe music reviewer, I realize that all the music I ever liked was pretty much straight-on POP, with a dash of punk flavor.

    Anyways, I used to wear No Fear t-shirts, which, at the time, were very X-TREME, I rode my skateboard everywhere in the neighborhood, which I now realize actually somehow takes more energy than just walking somewhere, and used to try to do sweet jumps on my BMX bike. I have a permanent scar on my belly from where I did what eyewitnesses describe as "most of a backflip" on my bike.

    This was me, trying to be a super cool punk rocker. I have recordings of me playing and singing Green Day songs, solo acoustic style, at home. Equal parts bad and hilarious.

    Well, since about 5 years ago, I have not been reppin' pop punk like I used to. I started to become embarrassed by it, because it seemed like I was "aging out" of the "scene." The funniest part about that sentence is that I actually thought I was a part of a scene. Anyhow, I started focusing on my guitar nerd roots --- Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Derek Trucks, and my own personal musical napalm, John Mayer, leaving punk, pop-punk, punk-pop, and whatever the hell else you want to call it, behind.

    Well, just today, I was cruising iTunes, to see if anything that slipped past Stereogum or Pitchfork was charting. What I found, was a cool looking album cover that linked to a band called Four Year Strong's latest release, "Enemy of the World."

    Enemy Of The World
    Pictured: A centaur with a machine gun.

    I clicked Preview All, and something wonderful happened.

    I got a twinge of that attitude I used to have - that attitude that helped me be in a good mood on a bad day, the attitude that helped me care a little less about what people were thinking, and more about what I was thinking. Now, I don't intend to wax philosophical on the psychology of punk music, but I can definitely say that there's something to it that evokes a very, very distinct response in me --- a response that I can't synthesize on my own.

    I bought the album, and I'm giving it the first spin now, so I won't review it, but I will say that if you related to anything I wrote up there, you might want to check this album out.

    Fakie backside nollie to 540 ahhhh who am I kidding,

    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    solid air

    John Martyn, live from Rockpalast in Germany, 1978.

    This is the first song I've heard in probably 5 years that made me

    Written by Martyn about the death of his friend Nick Drake.

    John Martyn is one of those musicians that makes me feel cheated that I didn't know about him before 2010. John Martyn died January 29, 2009, aged 60.

    His notorious alcoholism is said to have set a range for his performances from "absolutely terrible" to "inexplicable genius." I have done a lot of reading on John Martyn, and have heard tales from old musicians that described his state, just before a concert as "unable to form a sentence, and barely able to stand," but then he would walk out on stage and deliver a performance like the one you see above --- simply on another level.

    Eric Clapton was quoted as saying Martyn was, "so far ahead of everything, it's almost inconceivable."



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