Sunday, 21 July 2013

When Bands Fall Apart (Not Us!)

I wouldn't say that I'm normally given to sentimentality, much less seriousness. However, I thought I'd write the next few posts about the life and death of bands, particularly for young musicians out there who are starting out. We caught up with a young guy at a gig at Rooty Hill Anglican who had just started playing drums in a band, and in the following weeks of interacting over Facebook his honesty about the challenges he was facing mirrored a lot of my own experiences over the years.

Rather than starting with the life of a band, I thought I'd start by writing about the hardest part- the demise of a band.

Bands are by their very nature a challenge. Often the most productive musical or creative partnerships implode on themselves because the ability to express emotion on an instrument tends to also come with an inclination to look at the world a different way, and four or five people looking at the world a different way is often going to be a challenge.
On top of this, you have the issue of proximity- if you are making and recording music, you're going to be with each other for long, tense and frustrating stretches- and handling that on its own can be a problem. This is compounded by differing backgrounds and expectations, where one person's "direct approach" is another person's "super-critical douche bag" and so on.
Then, finally, you've got the issue of vision- if the band doesn't know what it's about, then everyone comes in with a different expectation of how or why things are done. Even if everyone agrees on something initially, that doesn't actually mean everyone understands it on the same level.

I was in my first band when I was 19 (1999). We were called "Tatterdemalion". I was playing keys and a friend from high school was on electric guitar- in the beginning, that was it. It was the super-early days of home recording and a world of possibilities was opening up, before the rise of the iPod and so on. His guitar pedal had a drum loop built in and my piano could go down low enough that we didn't need a bassist. Eventually, my brother bought a drum kit and joined the band the year after.
I'm 32 presently so that was certainly a while ago. Looking back, it was a truly special time- things seemed limitless. We had a thing called time which, as a dad and a full-time employee, I have scant amounts of now. The  musical landscape was shifting and we had a unique sound and a great way of melding the instruments that allowed them to be complimentary. We recorded random demos and played with loops (before that was "in") and wrote a ton of material.
There were some cracks, however. I had a very liberal interpretation of the word "time" and "punctuality". Give or take 30 or 45 minutes was about the norm. This meant the guitarist felt I didn't care about rehearsing.
The guitarist was not given to showing appreciation in the same way I was- if someone did a favour, then that favour was accepted. It was not necessarily met with thanks or gratitude beyond "oh, cheers". This became something of an issue when I was buying all the equipment.

We skirted around these issues for 2-odd years. Then my brother decided to move to Armidale for uni, and the guitarist and I got talking, then some of these things started to come out, and then we were decompressing two years of not saying anything by yelling at each other.

We'd spent those two years creating a sound, something unique and different. We'd built up fans and contacts and met other bands and were finally doing regular-ish shows. And then in a moment, it was all gone.

I wasn't prepared for how hard it was to deal with initially. I had been fortunate in that the first person I'd started making music with gelled musically with me. I did not know how rare that was at the time.

We went and did other things. Started a venue together called The Attic, which was heaps of fun. Stayed in vague contact- friendly, but it was never the same as it had been.

Over the subsequent years, I started a number of other projects. They were fun, sure. I played with a lot of musicians and it meant I had to learn to adapt to different styles and certainly pushed me. My brother moved back home and was not doing so well after a death in the family; I asked a very good drummer who was a friend to leave the band so that I could give my brother something to do and catch up more often, and even that was really hard. I was fortunate that he was understanding of the situation and took it well, but I could tell it upset him.

Eventually I resigned myself to writing music for my own enjoyment and forgetting the idea of gigging and sharing music in the way I had before. I had two small kids and a wife and after finishing a job which had taxed me creatively to a huge degree, I was prepared to let things go. All up it was not until 2009 that I met Tristan at a church thing.

He was playing in an act called Eye Opener and the drummer asked if I played keys at all-I said that I did. Rehearsals were a few blocks from my house and I figured I could spare the time. I was tentative- in fact, somewhat timid- fully prepared for it to be another one-off experience or an odd stand-in-where-necessary kind of thing. We didn't really gel well at first, and piano is a hard instrument to fit into an existing band.
Then got to one of Tristan's songs called "Undone" and something just clicked. We all surfaced at the end of the song, having been lost in musical revelry that somehow we'd all just "gotten", and that feeling was back- the feeling of something new, something special, something that was going to work. We were putting something out there that hadn't been heard before, and Tristan, who by his nature is incredibly encouraging, had a plethora of material already and made me feel super welcome.

It took quite some time for me to have the confidence to show them some of my songs, and again here, Tristan's encouragement made a huge difference. All of a sudden, we had a set, we had a band, and before we knew it, we had a gig.

The gig was a kind of local band competition and we got up on stage and it went off. That feeling of electricity and musical connection jumped out and it was the beginning of something great. Right?

Well, sadly, no. After a year, it had become clear that Eye Opener was starting to have its own problems. Our drummer had become increasingly erratic; he'd gone back to uni to start a second degree and it had taken him into a new group of friends. Rehearsals were missed or he was hung over, or he hadn't slept and had then drunk a large number of energy drinks and halfway through songs a cowbell would be grabbed and the whole thing would be lost.

I was adrift at this point, staring over the precipice I knew we had to step but unwilling to do so. I couldn't believe we had come back to this point after all the years in between; finally, the right musical connection had been made and now it was all falling over? Unacceptable.

Tristan took it harder than me. I had at least had the Tatterdemalion experience, and been through the six or seven side projects which I'd abandoned but never really taken seriously. For Ted, who'd been a solo act, this was the first time he'd had a full act to work with and the loss of the hope that had been there hit him hard. We talked for ages and reached the conclusion that we couldn't just drop the drummer, who had helped start the band, and keep Eye Opener going. We'd have to drop the whole thing.

We sat down and all talked- set things out, divided up the money we'd made, and went our separate ways.

Except that we didn't. Ted and I kept playing and he brought around another drummer from his church, Pat. Micky, who had been bassist for Eye Opener, was bored and decided to jam one day with the three of us, and it was golden. Marty, who had come in for a couple of Eye Opener practices towards the end and had done a couple of gigs, was keen to join the new entity.

And so Redwoods was started. The sound was slightly different, and as things clicked, we had a creative burst; I wrote about 20 songs in the space of 6 months, working on many of them with Tristan, and he likewise wrote a whole bunch. But to the drummer from Eye Opener, it looked like we'd said we were breaking up Eye Opener just so we didn't kick him out, and re-formed. That was hard, and there was understandably a lot of anger.

So here we are now, almost 2 years on. Thus far, things are still continuing well for Redwoods. But if you're out there and thinking of starting or joining a band, here are some tops that I hope will be useful.

Reuben's Amazingly Useful Band Tips
1) The band will cost you more money than you will ever make out of it. Understand that straight up.
2) Talk openly about what you expect in relation to rehearsals and gigs. Are people wanting to just have a relaxing muck-around or a really serious practice? Is 5 or 10 minutes late to start or finish going to cause big problems?
3) Band finances are a problem. If you put money in, make sure it's money you can afford to lose. Don't buy "band equipment" because then if you break up, no-one knows who it should belong to. If you are expecting to get money back (eg. you pay for CD production or something) then it needs to be something the whole band is clear about beforehand.
4) You're unlikely to hit the big-time. This is not to be negative, but a lot of bands find mediocrity hard and keep using phrases like "when we're famous". Instead, I suggest focusing on enjoyment- if you love what you play and who you play with, then you're likely to have a better sound, which will give you a better shot at fame.
5) Talk about expectations of time availability. How often is too often for gigs? And rehearsals? Being young and single is one thing, but when someone's in a steady relationship, staying out all Friday and sleeping all Saturday gets pretty thin pretty quickly. Keep talking to accommodate each other.
6) Finally, know what your band is about. Be clear on what the reason is that you make music. This will hopefully in keep some borders so you have an idea when things are going off track. You can always re-assess and change, but knowing- and dealing with- changes in direction can save at least a friendship, if not a band.

The hardest part about any band breakup is that friendships rarely survive. So my single greatest tip is this: prioritise friendships and don't let pride or ego get in the way. Sometimes, we need to admit that we just aren't good enough, or that what we want isn't in line with what others want. Other musical opportunities will come in the future; friendships, however, are hard to replace.

Hope this is useful to you out there!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Strands goes live and we speak to Chel from the Australian Alopecia Aerata Foundation

So, it's been a while. I admit it; I've been slack. This year feels like it's gotten away from me somehow, and now it's almost halfway through. Mind-boggling.

What's even more mind-boggling is that All Of The Strands is now finally completed and ready for download! This was a project which required a lot more time and attention than I had originally assumed, and it's times like this I am glad that it was mostly not my time, but Pat's, because of his dual curse of amazing love of audio production and crazy perfectionist streak.

If you aren't aware of where this started, you can read these two posts. Rarely do projects come along that strike me so personally, and the odd thing about it is that I didn't even know anyone with alopecia aerata before I came across the Turning Heads project from Helen Beasley and Lina Hayes. I do love the power of images- that a couple of photos could create such a strong emotion as to elicit an emotional and creative response (courtesy of Lina's amazing photography and Helen's vivid art). Strands, in particular, was influenced by two images which were juxtapositions: the picture of little Violet, with her doll and its raggedy hair, and Stacy in the autumn leaves, which took the condition and instead turned it in an opportunity for even more vibrancy and life than a head with hair could manage. It kind of said "the hair's just a distraction from me" and I liked that.

Violet and her doll- photograph courtesy of Lina Hayes

Stacy in the leaves- Photograph courtesy of Lina Hays

It came down to a toss-up between the two and votes were split evenly, both amongst the band and the Alopecia Aerata Foundation. Then Stacy beat me at Words With Friends and it became clear that only Violet could be the winner. Also, the sheer amount of colour made hers hard to read. Really, just the last one. I'm not bitter about losing. Or am I?
Sorry, Stacy. It was totally close though. If the text didn't look like it was saying "Ali Of The Strands" it'd have been a dead heat. Or a famous boxer.

So Strands is now live. And any money you give to the track will be given straight to the Alopecia Aerata Foundation.
You heard me. All of it. It's digital so it's cost us nothing but time to produce, and given there's just about no funding for research going into this condition, it's a small way we can help.

Now, I'm not deluded. This isn't going to have a million downloads and fund a cure, as amazing as that would be. But it's a way of starting, at least, and I invite you to join us. You get a song that I think is pretty. They get some cash to keep doing what they do. It's win/win! You can even pick how much to pay. You can buy one for a friend. Or many friends. Or you can share a link, or tweet, or something else internet-based.

With that being said, the purpose of the song is not to apply only to sufferers of alopecia aerata. Rather, its intention is to serve as a reminder that there are things upon which we place value disproportionate to their worth, where the critical areas of importance- our very character- are often ignored at a superficial glance. Sometimes it's important to be reminded to go back and look again, however harrowing it will be to admit that the first glance was superficial.

As a Christian, this reminded me of 1 Samuel 16:7- "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature... man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." A reminder of my own inclination to make snap judgements, amongst other things. That someone with alopecia would ask "Will I ever be loved" caught me; for surely, someone could see that same spark and vibrancy captured in these photos with or without hair, right?

I reached out to Chel Campbell, the President of the Australian Alopecia Aerata Foundation, to get a bit more of an insight into who they are, what they do, and why what they do is important.

Hi, Chel. How did the AAAF start, and what is your role?
The AAAF was started on the 1st January 2010, to be the national body within Australia. My roles is the President.

What sorts of things to people find hardest about having Alopecia Aerata?
That depends on the age of the person and the age the person first experiences hair loss. But I would say the most common answer is: people always staring, having to explain that you're not sick (ie. don't have cancer), closely followed by acceptance of their self image, the not knowing if your hair will ever grow back, and the fact that no-one can give you an answer as to why it happens.

The most common questions into the foundation: will my hair ever grow back? Will I get a job? Will I ever be loved? Will I ever be me again?

What is the purpose of the Foundation?
Our goals are to support existing support groups, provide funding into emotional and medical research and promote awareness of the disease.

How can people help?
Help can come on many forms. You can attend any of our events to show support. You can donate money or hair. We run a Donate Hair program, where we request natural hair of 30cm in length or greater to be donated. We sell this hair to wig makers and all money made goes back into our Wigs For Kids program. This program offers the information required to make an informed decision if getting a wig is right for that child, and then what sort of wig. The greatest support comes by spreading the word. Understanding what Alopecia Aerata is, and discussing this with your peers, may just remove the questions and curiosity surround the disease that can make it so difficult for people with the disease.

Redwoods will be hosting an evening of music soon, with some of our favourite bands, as a fundraiser. More information will be coming, but we would love you to join us if you agree that there is value- and love- that does not require a given requisite appearance, but looks at the heart. I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Redwoods Christmas Special

So I was going to do this post about All Of The Strands and some amazing work the Alopecia Aerata foundation was doing along with their super rad Christmas Cards. But then I realised that you couldn’t buy their Christmas cards in time anyway now because I forgot to post this sooner. So, an update on that and a rad interview with Chel, the amazing and inimitable champion who heads it up, will be coming once we have guitar recorded and a proper update on the release of the song. Expect it in January. Honestly, this time. Probably.

For those of you wondering where it’s up to, we’ve tracked all the instruments except for electric guitar. Drums need mixing and there’s a few vocal takes still to go, but it’s shaping up nicely.

We did also record a demo for a song called Silent Nights and Little Towns. It’s a song reflecting on how the amazing Christmas story has become so du jour and familiar that it actually doesn’t seem amazing; the sheer logistics of announcing the arrival of The King of Kings from celestial phenomenon to stopping an impending divorce to getting the right people together in the right place for the humblest entry imaginable. 

I personally have a bit of a bug-bear with Christmas Carols, especially ones about Santa and my most-hated song, Rocking Around The Christmas Tree. Musically, they’re all the same and I have to play them every year which frustrates me. But it takes a world of laughable fantasy and tries to put it on the same level as an event which changed the course of history. To sell cola, of all things. 

I could go on about this. Instead, here’s a stupid poem I wrote.

Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house,
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
Well maybe a mouse, for I didn’t see
What they might have been doing. I know. Silly me.
Perhaps the mice stirred, which may have seemed shocking,
But mice aren’t well-known for hanging up stockings,
And since they’ve no part in the rest of this tale,
I’ll say they were still, and call it a fail.

Anyway, so, as I said once before,
There was no sound of footsteps heading out on the floor,
(except perhaps tiny mammals, quite possibly mice,
I still can’t believe that I’m saying this twice,
Let’s be clear: in this tale, the mice had been fat,
And didn’t move because they’d been et by the cat.)
When Santa arrived with a bag full of cheer,
A bottle of schnapps, and a half keg of beer,
A hip-flask (was labelled “100% proof!”)
And crash-landed everything right through the roof.

The jolly fat man stumbled into our room
With his merry voice raised in obtuse Christmas tune:
“On Donner! On Dancer! On Prancer! Hey, miss-
Come sit down with Santa and give us a kiss!”
My wife, stupefied, arose with some flair
And pummeled poor Santa with the edge of a chair.
“This’ll teach you to break into our house!” she cried,
“If they give you the Chair, I’ll be happy you fried!”

Santa tried to raise his hand to object,
But by that stage, she’d gotten a hold of his neck,
An arm-bar, then choke hold, he was trying to tap,
She suplexed him right through the air on his back,
He lay down there prone, a-twitching and moaning,
While my wife at that moment the coppers was phoning,
“Come and help me!” she cried, “a fat man broke in!”
“You’re kidding,” I yelled, “the cops should help him.”

Poor Santa lay bleeding and trying to stand,
But my wife wore stilettos, and stepped on his hand,
“Come Rudolph! Come Blitzen! Come Dancer!” she screamed,
“Get your own on the Fat Man, he’s gonna get creamed.
The sound of hoofs running, as the door opened wide,
And a half-dozen reindeer were stepping inside.
One walked up to Santa, looked him straight in the eyes,
Then lashed out and kicked him right between his thighs,
He objected, and called out, “I looked after you, right?”
“You jerk, you flew us right round the world in one night!

Even QANTAS have better conditions!” they yelled,
“And we’re the ones who you’re making compelled;
Lift your own stupid sack!” as a hoof hit his ear, 
And now let me try to be perfectly clear,
It was seven on one! How could I intervene?
So Santa got beaten and I got away clean.

As the medics took him away on a stretcher,
I went in to check on young Jack and Fletcher,
Asleep with an air of child-like reassurance
Having missed out entirely their mother’s performance,
What would happen when they both got up in the morning?
No presents? No reindeer? No elves and no warning?
How could I look into those poor little faces,
And try to keep covered the blood-spattered places?
Their stockings were empty, so I figured instead
I’d just put in $50, and went back to bed. 

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Where have we been?

So I haven't posted in a while. It's my fault.

We've been on the cusp of having exciting news about the Turning Heads project and All Of The Strands, but not quite there.

I was able to interview the lovely Chel from the Australian Alopecia Aerata Foundation and my next post, later this week, will be about that.

But, in the mean time, what have Redwoods been up to?

1) Doing lots of gigs- thanks to everyone who came out to see us!
2) We have been workshopping some cool new songs- keep an eye out soon to hear Beginning At The End, Part Of Me, Headline To The World, This Is Home, The Fallen And The Broken, This Life, and Little Steps. We're really proud of these songs, they represent a range of different styles and hopefully tell some interesting stories.
3) We're about to start recording again! I don't know if it's going to be another EP, or an album, or what; we're going to muck around with some ideas and see where it takes us!
4) We've tracked drums for All Of The Strands and will begin the next few instruments over the coming weeks. I'm just waiting for some new microphones after my big condensor died.
5) We've met a bunch of really amazing people in the past few months. The folks from White With One, who play an interesting folky whimsical style of music; Redruth, who have one of the best thought-out sounds for a rock/electronica blend that I've ever heard; Stacy, Lina, Chel and Helen from the Turning Heads project, and a bunch of fine folks from SUFM. I can't tell you how exciting it's been

We have another EP in the works call The Cowboy Special, which will have a limited release soon.

But I realised that we only really started Redwoods last year in late September, and the band line-up was only settled in October. In less than a year, we've written close to 30 songs, played a bunch of great gigs, and met some absolutely quality individuals. Personally, the opportunity to create stories and express them musically with a group of my closest friends has been a gift that has unquantifiable value. Finding people who have connected in any way with those stories has been equally phenomenal.

So to all of you out there who have listened to us, and liked our pages, and come to our gigs, allow me to thank you from the bottom of my heart for an amazing year.

Finally, our next big public gig is coming up in October in Ropes Crossing for the BluRopes festival. It's free, is a mad day out, and we'd love to see a bunch of you there to celebrate this humungous year with us. I will bring baked goodies to share, so come and see us afterwards, we can't wait!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Cowboy Special

I really, really want to do an update on All Of The Strands as well as something cool and amazing about the Turning Heads project, but wheels are turning and I don't want to post anything further until there's something more concrete to share.

So instead, I thought I'd begin a series giving some background to the songs we write. This one is about Tombstone, but I'm calling it:

The Cowboy Special
So one day, back when we had a band called Eye Opener, Tristan and I had a day off work and he came over to my place to hang. My wife and I were renting in St Marys (that’s a suburb in Australia for those of you who don’t know, and are wondering just how big Mary would be to have a house on her to rent) and our house was situated rather handily right on a main road that led to the industrial area. Compression braking trucks all night long. It was, however, incredibly convenient if you had a particular wish to be run over by 20 tons of haulage soaked in caffeine tablets and methamphetamine. 

We had the “office” (a loose term for the room with the computer, piano, all the boxes we still hadn’t unpacked from the last 2 moves, and any other junk I’d accumulated) right near the road, and Tristan and I were sitting on the piano stool and office chair tossing ideas around for songs while the trucks roared past. By “tossing” I mean “screaming over the sound of the traffic.”

Eye Opener was Tristan’s baby, really. People who don’t really know me are surprised by this fact, but I’m actually incredibly shy and enormously reticent to share something I’ve written unless someone else likes it, so I’d played music with him for almost a year before I even ventured a song forward. Being the kind of bloke he is, he was of course insanely supportive and encouraging and demanded I write more, and to remember that it was initially his project and his material, it showed an enormous lack of ego, which is also rare in the musical world.

Now, songwriting, as a collaborative process, is kind of like parliament. If you’ve got two sides who both represent the “people”, and both sides are politicians, the same as the other, you’d assume that at some point there would be both consensus and progress, but instead they sit and bitch about the other side, make snarky comments, and then go home not talking to each other. The same is true with musicians. You might be lucky enough to find guys who get your music and can build on it, and even that is rare, but when writing,  you’re trying to come up with two elements, a musical concept that conveys something, and then lyrics that the musical concept enhances. 
Trying to write lyrics with someone in that context means getting someone into the headspace where the music was composed and to understand both the emotion and the intent, and that’s nearly impossible.

Well, Tristan was the one person I’d played with who totally got it every time. So we were sitting down, two guitars out, and I was mucking around with a little guitar line on his guitar to see how it felt to play.

“You know what that sounds like?” he said.
“Like a Western movie or something?” I replied.
Totally. We should write some lyrics!”
“About a cowboy?”
“Riding to a town called Tombstone!”
“Oooooh, gold! And if it’s Tombstone, we could make it a twist ending, where he was dead all along!”
“And when he gets to the town, they’re all waiting for him, because they’re all dead too but he doesn’t understand what’s happening!”
“And it’s never night!”
“We have to fit the word ‘tumbleweed’ in there somewhere. And ‘sunset ride’ because that’s the last ride a cowboy does before he dies!”
“Oh, gold! Ok, so we’ll start with ‘been riding these hills...’”
“Gun by my side?”
“Nice. ‘Remembering days / when better men died’? Because it could be during the civil war or something?”
“And he’s died in a battle? Awesome. Now, ‘Just me alone, here on the plains’?”
“Nice, empty desert feel. ‘Looking for a small town / where someone knows my name’?”
“Done! Now, what do you reckon we have a line that sort of repeats as a consistent theme about Tombstone each time?”
“Oooooooh, you’re on fire. ‘In the distance, I see a Tombstone’?”
“‘And the names they had were their own!’ Like, it’s outside the town and the name of the residents is on there ‘cos they’re all dead? But he doesn’t get it yet?”
“HA! Ok, second verse! ‘Their empty streets’...”
“‘Reminders of home.’”
“‘I see tumbleweeds...’”
“Ha! You fit it in! ‘And they set the tone.’”
“‘The sun, it beats down,’”
“‘I’m burnt by the light,’”
“‘I long for the cool’... we need to get him wondering why it’s always sunny and hot.”
“‘Has it ever been night?’”
“Ok, so now he’s in the town and needs to catch on. ‘The town, its name was Tombstone...’”
“‘And it seemed I was well known?’”
“Nice! Two verses down! Third verse! How about the town people come out and surround him and, like, welcome him but it kind of creeps him out?”
“Genius! ‘Faces appeared, the dust stung my eyes,’”
“‘I said I’m just here for some supplies’?”
“Cool! ‘They said to me, son, I do believe,’”
“‘That once you’re here, you’ll find you never leave?’”
“Perfect! Now the twist! ‘Then I turned, and saw a tombstone...’”
“‘And the name inscribed was my own!’”
“Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiick! Ok, then we can drop it down for the final verse. Like his warning to other cowboys or something.”
“Yeah, but he’s dead. Maybe he can join the town and welcome the new people or something.”
“‘So if you ride / alone on the plains,’”
“‘If you see Tombstone, remember the name,’”
“‘It’ll welcome you in, don’t try and hide’,”
“‘For this will be your sunset ride!’ We found a spot for it!’”
“Awesome! Let’s sort of repeat the first chorus line now.”
“But, instead of ‘their own’, we can put ‘our own’ because he’s now a part of it.”
“Perfect! ‘In the distance, you’ll see a tombstone, and the names inscribed are our own.’”
“Done! How long did that take?”
“Ten minutes.”

As I said, songwriting is all about emotional content and connection. Except when it’s about a stupid idea you both build on.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

All Of The Strands

Well, a huge thanks to all of the people who read the last blog post about the Turning Heads project. This week has been pretty amazing actually.

The week itself has been an amazing story which could be classed as coincidence or destiny, but I'm breaking this into two sections for those who have asked me about the process of recording and songwriting, and those who want to hear the amazing story of this week's meetings with some extraordinary women from the Alopecia Foundation and beyond. Sorry if it's a bit long as a result.

It's rough but it gives a good idea of where the song will eventually go. Real, organic drums are always livelier and give a lot more energy to a song, and I am looking forward to doing the actual recording in July-ish. In the meantime, the song can be played by clicking the player below, if the embed code works:

We really hope you enjoy and are encouraged by the demo.

Recording on Saturday
All Of The Strands was written to try to achieve two goals. The first was to try to capture, in the chorus, the joy I saw in Lina's photos; to write something affirming to these women to make them see the beauty I saw. The second goal was to reflect upon how we measure things as humans, as I thought about my own kids and the various judgements they will no doubt face at some point.

So, I was hoping Marty or Micky might have been available to record the demo version of the song, but Micky's tyre was flat and Marty had open houses to get to and Pat was in Korea. Often when I write a new song, I'll record a demo in Garage Band using loops and playing a bunch of the instruments to get some ideas, so this wasn't unusual. Marty, Micky and Pat are exceptional musicians and much better on their instruments then I am, but demos often create a good springboard for when the band actually plays through a song together later and if you have the facility to do it, it's a process I highly recommend. So Ted came over and we got to work.

I hadn't slept much the night before and was a bit sloppy. My piano playing was all over the shop. We finally managed to get a passable piano take but the instrumental part was a bit sloppy. I thought I'd come back to it later, and moved on.

Recording in my garage gym, which also feels like a Chinese laundry due to the recent weather.

Next we did some electric guitar lines. My plan had been to take piano out of the choruses to try to create a more significant distinction in the lyrics, which are affirming, compared to the verses which are more reflective/contemplative. I had been listening to Switchfoot's Dare You To Move and really liked the long single hard guitar strums, so tried that in the chorus, but it sounded messy and ugly. Tristan decided to try running an acoustic guitar keeping simple, quick rhythm and it sounded really nice. I resolved to use high guitar lines with a delay on them, because the acoustic guitar would fill out the sound of the chords and I wouldn't need to play the chords strongly on the electric, but rather let the notes themselves ring and try to bring a sense of the joy that the original photos captured.

Working on strumming in Drop D. Wasn't a winner, and went with a new line you can now hear.

Ted's genius idea to use Mr. Maton and fill out the chorus chords. If you write, try to write with someone who gets you musically, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

With Micky away, I pulled out my bass to get a placeholder down. This is probably my second-weakest instrument and the bass itself has been playing up but I haven't had time to get it fixed. This led to some very frustrating takes and in the end I decided to keep the bass line simple so Micky could work his magic on it when we begin rehearsing it. I opted for long sustained notes in the verse and a steadier rhythm with some long slides in the chorus, although I find myself thinking that I should have played the chorus notes an octave lower at the end of the choruses.

It's actually a nice bass, but having some... issues. Given it hasn't been serviced in 5 years, that would explain it.

Finally, it was time to get Ted up to the vocal booth. Which is actually a squat machine. We found, when working on Hoping For Jupiter, that we could get almost vocal-booth quality with a decent condensor surrounded by a heavy doona to help absorb the sound and avoid the reverb that the garage lends itself to. Often we'll spend time balancing the sound out first, but in this case due to time and the demo nature of the song, we whacked it all together and just went with what we had.

Now to the tale of the last week:

The Amazing Tale of Providence

First off, last Saturday Tristan and I recorded All Of The Stands on iPhone between the piano and me. I sent this to Lina, who in her usual amazing way sent it on to a bunch of people. First was Helen, who then found me on Facebook and added me as a friend.
If you weren't aware, Helen Beasley is the amazing artist who conceived the project. Helen used to be a bread scientist (I asked her if it was because she kneaded the dough; for some reason, she didn't laugh), who worked with a lovely lady I used to go to church with back when I was in Five Dock, Jill Chambers. So all of a sudden there was a multiple connection thing.

Helen's story of how she started face/head/any body part painting full time is quite amazing but since I haven't checked with her, I won't share it here at this point in time. However, I will say that her original plan with the head art was to do it with the cancer council or something similar, but they were uncertain about the idea. She met Chel from the Australia Alopecia Aerata Foundation, who was totally super keen on the idea, then asked at a photography store, who referred her on to Lina.

So Helen sent the terrible recording to Chel, and gave Chel my contact details. I had an idea that it'd be mad to get a female alopecia lady singing on the track, although not entirely sure where/how. I first asked Stacy, who was the woman in the photo with the flower on her head (and the first person in the project), whether or not she could sing but she said that no, she was restricted to singing in showers and it's not a good idea to put good condensor microphones into showers, even in the name of art.

Anyway, Helen asked Chel if she knew anyone, and Chel was all, "I know this lady called Lisa who has a big, big voice."

So then I wound up SMS-ing Lisa and she was keen, though unavailable this weekend (springing recording on someone 16 hours before actually recording was always going to be a tall order), and so now at some point we'll get a huge duet thing happening.


Chel was amazingly encouraging, given that all she had was a sub-par iPhone track that is hard to get distinct vocals out of. There was a video they were working on raising awareness for alopecia sufferers and she asked if we'd be OK if the final track was possibly used in the video. Flabbergasted, we said of course we would be; it may or may not happen, depending on the music's vibe compared to the video's intent, but it was mind-blowing to get such a positive response from someone doing such impressive work as Chel. 

Moreover, I guess, what amazed me was that somehow the song's message had actually touched some people, hopefully in the same was I was touched by the Turning Heads project and photos. Any artist in any field aims for connection between the inspiring subject matter and the recipient, and to know this made any difference at all to these incredible women who were either dealing with the challenges of the disease or supporting and advocating for those same people was humbling beyond measure. I spent a couple of days just grinning, to be honest. Tristan and I had a lot of moments calling each other saying "DUDE! Did you see that post that this lady put up? I know, right?" and things of similar ilk.

I'd like to finish this post by thanking Lina Hayes, Helen Beasley, Stacy Richardson, Chel (I'm sorry, I forgot your surname) and Lisa for their amazingness this week and for being willing to accept a poor offering from an obscure Western Sydney band inspired by the fantastic work of your projects and organisations. It drove me to understand more deeply what God says in 1 Samuel 16:7- "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
It's from this part that I derived the chorus chords "for we are judged by our hearts, not the sum of our parts."

I hope that somehow this song makes some of these sufferers understand this in some way shape or form: they are uniquely beautiful and valuable beyond measure, far beyond what we see on the outside. Thank you for your very existence, because without it, I fear I would not have gotten a glimpse of the truth of those verses. Your life, love and vibrance have had a profound impact on me, and I can only hope that in some small way this helps to do the same to others. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pat's Korean Diary

Pat recently went on a work trip to Korea. I asked him to provide an insight intro world travel (since I doubt very much we'll ever get to do a world tour. Or even a nation-wide tour. State tour. Heck, we haven't even done a Western Sydney tour!) and he kindly agreed. Without further ado, here is:

Pat's Guide To International Travel- Korea

Day 1
Climbed aboard the plane and took my seat. Work hasn’t upgraded me to first class yet, so I used one of their phones to hack the plane’s internal database and give myself an upgrade. I also increased the plane’s engine efficiency by like, 75%, and mixed four songs and a martini. First class was next level, they even served kimchee. I heard that on the way back a return flight to Australia was forced to divert over Singapore due to engine overheating but I’m sure that’s a coincidence, legit.

This guy apparently tried to sneak fruit past customs, and they cut both his arms off.

Day 2
Arrived at Incheon airport. It is connected to land by one of the world’s largest suspension bridges. It is not widely known but the bridge was built not to cut the commute time to the airport, but because the Domino’s Pizza was on the other side of the bridge and the President was tired of his Kimchee Hawaiian/Meatlover half-halfs arriving soggy. At a cost of a mere $4b, I have to say it was a wise investment, legit.

Pizza to your door in under 35 minutes. Talk about next level!

Day 3
We had an intense series of training sessions on new products and it went later than expected. The local staff were complaining because the country’s normal terabit connection was only running at, like, 750gbps. The catering never showed up and we were forced to hijack passing McDonald’s deliveries. The drivers are in the boxes of the new 80” 3D plasmas, they get a free trip to Uraguay out of it. On the up side, we halved our catering budget, legit.

No, officer, I assure you those delivery bikes are not related to us.

Day 4
Looking forward to having a day off tomorrow. I have had nothing but kimchee for four meals a day and my room is smelling quite lived-in. Even the McDonald’s meals were the McKim, which was a kimchee patty with kimchee.
I am keen to see the Mega Bass Ball Exhibit. People think it’s modern art, but it’s actually a series of carefully crafted and balanced subwoofers used for public performance, low-scale demolition and mob control. At a recent protest it was reported that they played the Brown Note and 10,000 people had to change their underwear. It was next level. Legit.

Next level crowd control. They turned it up and my heart rhythm got confused, legit.

Day 5
These surnames are beginning to confuse me. I thought someone asked “You wanna come to the park” but in fact they were calling out to “Yu, Wan, Kim, and Park”. I went anyway, and made some great new friends. We went out for kimchee for dinner and over a tobacco burger (those things are like next level addictive) they told me one of them had a serious criminal record. I asked them which one and they said “the guy with the black hair and brown eyes.” I think I’ll stay away from him, legit.

One of us has a criminal record. I knew it wasn't me!
Oh, those tasty tobacco onions. Makes me want to buy Tomacco, the Simpsons hybrid!

Day 6
Time to head home. I gave the company a way to save eight million dollars a year and they promised me a pay rise of like, seventy-five dollars a week. That is next level and I’m assured that the offer is, like, legit. If I hurry, maybe I can make it back in time for band practice.
I got to the airport and couldn't find my terminal. The help desk staff said it was next level, I said that may be the case but I can't find Terminal 53. The kept repeating that it was next level, and I admired their pride in the quality of the terminal but eventually it sounded like a loop so I left and found it one floor up. Legit.