Thursday, October 31, 2013

RIP Lou Reed

I've always found it hilarious that, while I can take or leave Lou Reed (except "Walk on the Wild Side" - EVERYBODY loves that song), I believe the first album (cassette, really) I bought with my own money was his 1989 New York album.

Which, now that I type that, makes it absolutely impossible that it was the first album I bought. It was my Senior year of high school. By that point, I'd been heavily into The Beatles, and had sought out that entire catalog, at the very least. I guess I should look at it as my first "what the hell is this?" purchase. Funny how the mind makes that into a much larger deal.

Lou Reed was not mainstream, no matter how often classic rock radio plays "Walk on the Wild Side." He lived in a shadowy world that was near the mainstream, but refused to play to it's rules. Obscure and challenging seemed to be built into the man's DNA. I was always sort of flabbergasted by the mainstream critical reaction to Lulu, for example, because it really does feel part-and-parcel of the Reed catalog. It's obscure, only flirts with melody, and generally challenging to the listener. The metal community was never going to get it, that was a given, determined to judge it as a Metallica album, when it was absolutely not.

But I digress.

After hearing of Reed's passing, I flashed immediately to the point where I could honestly say I LOVED the man's music, and that was New York.

Honestly, I'm not enough of a scholar of Reed's work to really put the album into any sort of
perspective, but I can describe the experience I had with it. The memory I have is being on some sort of trip with my parents, one of those long road trips where were were going somewhere, and the destination seemed to never get any closer. It just felt like unending hours in an uncomfortable back seat of a car (I had hit 6'3" by the time), with small towns a farmland going by.

But I had my Walkman, and a few tapes. I had New York, and I found myself listening to it over and over again. I was particularly taken with track 3, "Dirty Blvd," but the whole album, with it's dour sense of America and rampant pessimism, was compelling in ways that were brand new to me. Music was about melody and catchy hooks, for me. Still is, honestly, but Reed, with his almost-monotone delivery, evoked something that other music had not. Something that felt utterly unpolished, and utterly real. He was evoking his New York, and it was pretty alien to a kid from Colorado.

Plus, he swore a lot. That was cool, and it didn't feel like shock tactic, like the rap and hair metal bands were doing. This felt like a glimpse into Reed's world, where saying, "stick a fork in their ass and turn 'em over, they're done" was just how one expressed themselves. It was poetry, and I think my immediate and unceasing love for David Mamet probably had it's seeds there, as well.

It was also probably the first overtly political album I owned. With pointed comments about "the statue of bigotry," the plight of Native Americans and the natural world. The Beatles dealt in hopes, "all you need is love," Reed talked about the way things really were, and how frightfully shitty that is.

No, I can't say that I'm a "Lou Reed fan," but I am a fan of New York, and it opened music up, for me, in a big way.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

It Stands to Reason

Don't let the fact I'm back in reharsal make you think the Hayoth sessions are on a back-burner, or anything.

Track number seven, "Reason," is in progress. Drum and bass parts are recorded. Really, super happy with the drum part, actually. It took some work to get a good take, but I love the way it moves and plays counterpoint to the guitar and bass parts. The bass part, as well, is sounding good, but I think it's going to change what I'm playing guitar-wise. Which is really no big deal, since I discard the scratch track at this point, anyway.

The song has evolved, as it was one of the tracks that I worked on with Paul and Morgan last year. The idea at that point was to give it some swing and a bit of funk. I don't know if we hit that, but, honestly, I'm not enough of a drummer to get EXACTLY what I was originally going for anyway with the sessions now. "Reason" has become more of a straight ahead rocker. Which is fine.

It's one of the most exciting things that's come out of doing the drumming myself, and not being slaved to the machine. I really do feel like each track has an identity at this point. They feel part-and-parcel of a whole, but also individual facets of that whole.

Obviously, "The Rain Came Down" and "Cliffs of Moher" are distinctive for being primarily acoustic. "Rain" is in the ballad realm, and "Moher," to my ears, has just the right touch of folk song to it. "Deliverance" has a bit of backwoods flavor, I think, which fits with the lyrical inspiration (the film). "Dark Water" tends toward a blues-based ballad, and "MonkeySex" straight-ahead rock. "Haunting" is a full-out 12-bar blues structure, very simple, but with a kick. They all feel part of the whole, as I said, I'm talking about stylistic shadings, rather than swinging violently around the spectrum.

It's exciting. I'm feeling very confident, and and I'm tending not to second-guess everything to death. Decisions are becoming easier. For example, I have pretty much decided that after Track number eight "Getting Dollars Back," I am done with formal recording. I have one more track floating around that's evolving, but these eight tracks represent the best of what I have right now. They're the strong material available, and anything else would involve some scrambling.

So, the project will consist of eight tracks. I always shoot for twelve, but I'd rather just have eight solid songs. I could come up with four more, but why not just make them the first four of the second disk?

"Rain" and "Moher" are DONE. I cannot imagine any amount of tinkering I could do would improve what's there. As is "MonkeySex." That track represents what I am aiming for when I begin final mixes on the rest of the "full band" tracks. The drums are there, but not overwhelming, the bass is present, but not obtrusive. The vocals have just the right amount of processing to my ears. The trick is to re-mix the other five track to find that sweet spot. Probably re-record some vocals.

Still, I should have all of December for that, and I'll make my self-imposed deadline. Then, I can go into 2014 focused on the acting job I spoke about yesterday, and write until next summer. Then I can start over again.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Onward and Upward

Happenings in the theatre realm.

Last night marked the first rehearsal for Shadow Over Innsmouth, with WildClaw Theatre. I'm feeling pretty good about this project, seems like a decent group of folks. I've got a number of good character parts to chew into, in a horror story, which is always fun.

The director is Shade Murray, whom I worked with on The Petrified Forrest at Strawdog last year, and the adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft novella is by Scott T. Barsotti, who wrote the lovely Your Teacher is Out Today, that I was lucky enough to be involved with during this last Summer's Leapfest X for Stage Left.

I also got word that I've been cast in a really, really exciting project for next year. I haven't got the high sign to reveal all the details, as yet, but I am beside myself with glee. When I revisited the script to prepare for the audition, it spoke to me immediately. The show, the role, I can only call a gift. A pure, true, and exciting gift. I am so looking forward to getting to work on it. I'll let you, my loyal readers, in on the details as soon as I get the go-ahead.

Honestly, I'm really thankful for these projects, because I feel like they've re-invigorated my enthusiasm for acting. Something that's been taking a beating in recent months.  This "mystery" project for next year, in, so exciting.

However, I have decided it was time to move on in certain areas. I have resigned from the ensemble of Stage Left Theatre. I still have much love for many of the fine people there, wish them well, as I hope they do for me, and will offer my support to them when they need it. That said, I felt it was time to move on, for my own good and well-being.

Time for a new chapter.

How Could I Not?

More Here

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

2014 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominations

So, the always-controversial process begins anew....

The nominees are:

Hall & Oates
Linda Ronstadt
Peter Gabriel
Cat Stevens
LL Cool J
The Replacements
Paul Butterfield Blues Band

Deep Purple
The Meters
Link Wray
The Zombies

So, sixteen acts that will be whittled down to...some number. The last few years have seen seven to twelve.

Nirvana is a sure bet. There's just simply no way they don't get in. It's also no surprise to me that they're virtually tied with Kiss on the Hall of Fame's fan poll. Based on that, I'm going to take a stab in the dark and say that Kiss gets in, too. I'll also guess that The Zombies will get the nod, as they are truly a well-respected, classic act. Same goes for Link Wray.

I think Peter Gabriel has to wait, Genesis was just inducted in 2010.

Can you believe Chic has been nominated SEVEN times, and not gotten in?

 Of course, this is going to drive another round of "what is, or isn't 'rock and roll" bitching from the unwashed masses. Chic is a disco band, for God's sake! Lina Ronstadt!?! N.W.A!?!?!

So annoying. So narrow-minded. I'll say, as I've said before, When Little Richard stared playing "Good Golly Miss Molly" the idea was to get folks to dance. "Rock and roll" evolved from that time, and splintered into different forms. If you want to eliminate "pop" music, The Beatles become questionable. If you want to cut out folk, Dylan becomes a question. In my opinion, both of those artists absolutely belong in the Hall of Fame. As do those forms, because they're all part of the tapestry that is "rock." Rock is about rhythm and rebellion, so rap and R&B fit. Elvis had strong country influences, do we ignore that because we only want loud guitars and drums?

Lots of different music "fits," in it's own way.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Haunted to Haunting

After some thought, I've revised "Haunted." I re-recorded at a faster tempo, and it all went very smoothly, I also reverted to the original title, "Haunting." It was always a short track, but now it's really short. Not even reaching 3 minutes.

I am pretty happy with it. I actually love the lyrics, some of the best I've written, I think. I may need to take another run at the vocal track, but I think that's gonna wait until right before I finish everything up. I'm feeling a sense of forward momentum now, and I don't want to lose it.

To that; "Reason" is on deck, I've been playing around with the progression and riff, worked out a bridge, and am generally ready to start working toward putting down the basic guitar track. This is usually a fair arduous process, because I don't like to piecemeal the basic track. I like the backbone guitar part to be a single flow. Now, with me, usually this track gets wiped, anyway, but jitters and starts tend to make the drum track difficult. You can make smooth, but it's also just a guide track for the drums and bass. Who wants to work that hard.

Although, I've been experimenting with building tracks out of separate recordings. "Haunting" has a drum track built out of two takes, with the bridge, key change section having a beat I was finding difficult to switch to on the fly, and it sounds good. Now, after "Reason," my plan is to move on to "Getting Dollars Back," and that basic guitar track I am anticipating to be an amalgamation of several takes. My hope is for that track to move around a bit, style-wise.

Work is progressing. I feel good about it. With Rehearsal for Shadow Over Innsmouth starting up next week, I'm hoping to at least get a good chunk of "Reason" completed this weekend.

Sometimes, You Just Need a Little Something...

To make you happy.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Stuck In My Head: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Possibly my favorite Metallica track.

For Whom the Bell Tolls
by Metallica

Make his fight on the hill in the early day
Constant chill deep inside
Shouting gun, on they run through the endless grey
On they fight, for the right, yes but who's to say?
For a hill men would kill why? They do not know
Stiffened wounds test their pride
Men of five, still alive through the raging glow
Gone insane from this pain that they surely know

For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on
For whom the bell tolls

Take a look to the sky just before you die
It is the last time you will
Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky
Shattered goal fills his soul with a ruthless cry
Stranger now, are his eyes, to this mystery
He hears the silence so loud
Crack of dawn, all is gone except the will to be
Now they will see what will be, blinded eyes to see

For whom the bell tolls
Time marches on
For whom the bell tolls

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Metallica: Through the Never

I think Metallica takes WAY too much crap.

I certainly don't love everything they do, and, yes, they're thirty years, and multiple millions of dollars, from the greasy-faced kids that cranked out Kill 'Em All in 1983. You can read multiple online rants about how they've lost the "fire" that drove their early work. That's probably true, but, folks, you can't be 20 years old forever, and if you try to, you end up a giant act of fakery like David Lee Roth.

The trick is to find a new kind of fire.

They aren't those kids, nor should they be. Too many years, deaths, arguments and dollars have passed. One can mock and criticize them for standing up to illegal downloading, making a documentary about their group therapy sessions, the resulting chaotic, ugly album, or creating art-house rock with Lou Reed. To be clear, much of the criticism would have valid points, but I would also ask how many major, world-renowned music acts would do those things? Would take those risks? Very, very few, and frankly, the vehemence and unreasonable nature of the criticism the band has endured probably has more to do with fans who can't get past not being who they were in 1983, rather than a band who's run out of ideas.

I am nowhere near the rabid fan I was for many years, but I will always be interested in what Hetfield, Ulrich, Hammett and Trujillo do. They've given me enough enjoyment, excitement, and straight-ahead anger management that I figure I owe it to them to give a fair listen to what's turning them on, rather than just demanding they hew to my vision of what "Metallica" should be.

I don't have to like everything, and I haven't, but I get it. I get the desire to create, and not be placed in a box, forbidden from exploring anything outside of a rigid fan's desire.

So, Metallica put up a bunch of their own money, and made a movie. Metallica: Through the Never. It's been playing in IMAX 3D at select locations, and will go wide tomorrow, October 4th. I managed to make it to the Navy Pier IMAX last night to check it out (frankly, I didn't know it was playing there until Monday - somebody at Navy Pier needs to get their stuff on Fandango, something).

For the most part, Through the Never is a pretty straight-ahead concert film. There is a "narrative," of sorts that plays out as the concert goes on. With Dane DeHann playing Trip, a Metallica roadie sent into a nightmare city of revolution and violence to procure, and return, a special item needed by the band. Really, this whole element of the film is complete hooey, and I mean that not as a criticism.

The band didn't want to just do a concert film, citing Led Zeppelin's The Song Remains the Same, with it's fantasy sequences starring each member of the band. Metallica, probably wisely, based on the Zeppelin example, felt they should not be directly part of these sequences. Trip travels through a series of surreal episodes tied to each song the band plays, as well as the concert staging, giving the entire enterprise the feel of a giant music video. Sometimes this works perfectly, the sequence around Cyanide, from 2008's Death Magnetic, is legitimately creepy and disturbing, not just for the surreal landscape of hanging bodies Trip walks through, but the video imagery of people finding themselves sealed alive into coffins that surrounds the band as they play.

It's these moments when the narrative really works, even if it makes not a lick of sense. Trip's journey is illogical, with the character apparently dying at least twice during the film. However, Director Nimrod Antal effectively sets up the entire world he's operating in as wildly dreamlike and surreal, even before Trip leaves the arena. The introduction of each band member, as Trip first sees them, play as weird jokes (My favorite being Hammett conferring with a tech about a damaged guitar that is gushing blood).

So, yeah the entire narrative is silly and rife with heavy metal horror movie cliche'. Never bothered me, because the film knows what it is up to. It's more than happy to poke fun, as with the "first in, last out" screaming uber-fan who opens the film. When the film, and filmmakers know that this is all sizzle for the steak, I can roll with that.

Because the steak is so good. Antal's cameras are everywhere in the arena as the band plays. At several points you see the crews dodging flashpots, and band members, on the stage to get up close. When the advertising says that you'll best seat in the house, it's not hyperbole, the cameras are literally inches from the band members, and the audience.

It's also a really effective use of both the IMAX format, and 3D. As with most of my favorite 3D films, the effect isn't Count Floyd poking something at you moaning, "sacry, scary," but a sense of depth and actually being in the arena. Frankly having a wall of people behind the band in nearly every shot really helps. Not to mention that the IMAX format makes all those people, and the silly things people do at concerts, very, very clear.

The spectacle of the whole thing is also tied to the truly amazing stage set the band had constructed for these shows. Featuring props and gimmicks from throughout their career. It was kind of amusing to see things like "Doris" the lady justice statue from the ...And Justice For All tour constructed and destroyed just like the old days. Each new prop and bit brought back memories for me.

As pure spectacle, the film is well worth the money. If you want to hear the band sound spectacular in full surround sound, it's worth the money.

It's worth the money.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

"Haunted" Comes Together and Other Stuff

Hello, peeps!!

I'm back with another music project update. I managed to complete recording on "Haunted" Saturday, mixed a bit, then re-recorded the bass part (which I'd screwed up) on Sunday. I also re-did the vocal track on Sunday, and I'm pretty happy with it.

I just need to finish mixing, and master it, and track 6 will be complete. I believe I'm still on track to complete this project for the end of the year. I'm facing down the reality that I probably won't make 12 tracks, but 10 will probably be fine.

I've been listening to the completed work on a pretty regular basis, and, aside from the couple of tracks I really want to re-mix, as I've written about before, I really think, moving forward, I need to pick up the tempo. I'm realizing that the tracks I've finished are generally falling into a 95 to 105 BPM range, and, while I think they work individually, I wonder if it won't feel like a lot of sluggish tracks. I mean, one of my inspirations on this group of songs was Kyuss, and the "stoner metal" genre, but I don't want things to feel like a slog. I'm going to make a concerted effort to drop in some quicker tracks.

Still, that aside, I am feeling good about my work. I think that my drumming is...evolving, but serviceable. I actually get excited about how my next set of tracks will sound, having the benefit of a few months of just messing around with the kit, rather than trying to figure out how to solve the current problem...i.e. how to play under this riff and progression I'm working on RIGHT NOW. Although, that said...I have found that I respond well to diving into the deep end of the pool, and struggling my way out. I actually find it...well I find it deeply frustrating, at times, but then something will click, and I start to put things together. Then, damn it's rewarding.

Usually this comes at the point where I say to myself, "the simplest way to do it would be..." I stop trying to be complicated for the sake of being impressive. I just play, and maybe I can't drum as good as a real drummer, but it's me. I've been re-listening to the completed tracks, taking notes, thinking and considering what can be re-done, made better, and I can't help it. It's so cool to know that I played all of it. Everything I'm listening to is ME. Maybe it's not the greatest song in the world, the greatest singing, the greatest playing, but it's me, top to bottom.

I know how Prince must feel. Without that massive talent, and massive crazy.

In other news, saw Ron Howard's new film, Rush, last night, and really just flat-out adored it. I've always respected Howard's way of adapting his style to each project he shoots. I think it helps him get out of the way of the characters and story. That's an important point with this film.

It's being sold as a sort of adrenalin-rush racing film, and I wouldn't call it that, at all. It's a character study of two men who were locked in a Formula One racing rivalry in the mid-70's. James Hunt (Chis Hemsworth) and Nikki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl - who is, flat-out, Oscar worthy), if the film is to be believed, had a deeply intertwined and compelling relationship. Lauda served as a consultant on the film, yet he is portrayed in a fairly harsh light, so...I feel the ring of at least emotional truth here.

Rush excels showing the contrasting personalities of these two men, Lauda calculating and obsessed with planning, Hunt a fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants playboy and risk-taker. Both actors just shine, Hemsworth pays off all the attention from his portrayals of "Marvel's Thor," and is effortlessly charming. He may have already been proclaimed a "movie star," but this film fully shows how big a star he could be. Bruhl, on the other side, is just awesome. Catching a character driven by precision and ego, and putting that into seemingly every choice he makes during the running time. Both are vastly entertaining, and neither is a "villain."

Much like Warrior, a mixed martial arts film I truly wish had reached a wider audience, the racing scenes are used primarily to illuminate the characters. They're exciting and powerful, with a couple of really horrifying crashes, but Howard and screenwriter Peter Morgan (Frost/Nixon, The Queen, The Audience) continually bring the focus back to the characters. Who will win is important not because the story hinges on it, but because the characters have hinged their lives on it. It becomes apparent that, in racing each other, they're really battling with themselves.

There is a bit of a misstep in the coda, where a voice-over basically just spells out a relationship that was completely obvious from the performances and the film, itself. It's unneeded, and the information imparted about the men's later lives would be just as effective in a title card. The brief use of actual footage and pictures of the two men, the sort of thing that just made me livid in What's Love Got to Do With It?, for example, didn't really irk me here. In fact, I was sort of excited to see what Lauda actually looked like.

Bottom line, it's a terrific film that transcends being a "racing movie." I'd call it my favorite film of the year, so far, bearing in mind that Gravity comes out next week. Highly, highly recommended.

Yesterday also marked a release long hoped for by Rush (the band, I'm talking about now) fans.  A remixed/remastered version of their 2002 album, Vapor Trails, that marked the groups return after a long hiatus, due to personal tragedies for drummer and lyricist Neil Peart. The album has always been considered a victim of the "loudness war," where tracks were compressed heavily, so that the overall volume could be increased. Mainly because it allows tracks to sound louder on iPods and other portable devices. This results in distortion and lack of dynamic range.

...Another thing to lay at the feet of the "digital revolution."

Anyway, both the band, and fans, have long been critical of the original production, credited to Rush and Paul Northfeld, for the muddy quality and distortion. This has been a controversial issue for the Rush community for many years, the album is loved for being the signal that the band would not break up after Peart's difficulties, as well as being the first Rush album since 1975's Caress of Steel to not feature any keyboard or synthesizer parts. Yet also viewed as flawed because of the production.

For myself, I actually love the album as it was. I'm not militant about it, but I did. Yes, it felt muddy and raw, but the lyrical content, touching on Peart's pain as it does, did as well. It felt set apart from that rest of the catalog, and that felt right because of all that had happened. It sounded, to me, like a Rush that was healing, but still felt raw and wounded.

...and I REALLY like the songs.

I'm also very pro allowing artists to revisit their works. I support it, as long as the original is available to me, and I do still have my original Vapor Trails. This is why I don't get in a twist about the Star Wars Special Editions.

I've listened to the remix a few times. It's good. I like it. It sounds a lot more like the rest of the Rush catalog, and I admit there are sonic elements I've never heard before. In particular, a guitar solo on Ceiling Unlimited was either inaudible before, or the sonic qualities popped so much better that it felt like a new element. However, I just can't call the album a "revelation," as some have. It sounds like Vapor Trails, the songs are still great, and they're played extremely well. There's some new bells and whistles, but the heart of the thing is the same.

Which, honestly, strikes me as a good thing.