Tag Archives: band

20 Years of Wonder (Part 2)

 

As I started recording the guitars for Wonder, it became apparent that I was going to have to work pretty hard to get sounds worthy of sharing with the world.

My studio space was a cinder block 6′x11′ coal room with a low ceiling (6½’?). I hot-glued egg cartons and foam all over the walls and ceilings to try to tame the sound, but it was still pretty bad. My twin daughters were just over a year old, so making loud noises in the basement was only allowable in short bursts. I often re-recorded parts multiple times, once I heard what horrible sounds I had captured.

Back then, I had no real studio gear; just a tape machine, a small Mackie mixer, and a couple of microphones my band used when we performed live. I didn’t even have speakers yet, to listen to my recordings! So I just patched my mixer into the auxiliary inputs of a portable stereo I had gotten on my 16th or 17th birthday. That was my “studio.”

This is the very 1202 I used.

So I dug in. If I was recording a single-note passage, I would try to use a big round tone, and get a roomy sound. If I was playing chords, I would get the microphones closer, and try to catch more articulation. It was mostly mad science or shamanism; lots of trial and error, wishes for good fortune, and frequent disappointments.

How could I decide what to play? Perhaps fortuitously, my car stereo was broken, and all I could listen to was the radio. Based on what I was hearing, I felt that too many female artists kept their guitarists on pretty short leashes. In the name of keeping the vocal out in the forefront, their music seemed forgettable. Why listen to the singer, if the music is forgettable? So I mentally made a graph that looked like this:

SAFE <——– | ——–> WEIRD

I figured that if I landed in the exact middle that was one step too close to “safe.” So I tried to add something to each song that would add a little more weirdness.

I remember that I wanted to steer attention away from the repetitive, basic chords of “Piece Of Soul,” so I composed a melody that moved dramatically like an old church hymn (at least that’s the idea that drove it). So I reached for my Ebow to play the passage, and that became the hook.

Keep in mind, no one had any expectations for Wonder. We were all doing a favor for a young girl we knew in different degrees. Katie and I had met, but she was the little sister of a guy with whom I was casual friends. No one was spending any real money on studios, or talking about production. They handed me a tape with some blank tracks and gave me carte blanche. I don’t claim that all my ideas were good, or that we made a tremendous record, or that I somehow “saved” it… but something definitely clicked in to place, and people connected with it.

My work on the album concluded shortly after Halloween, and November became a blur of activity. The tapes were handed off, the songs were mixed hastily and mastered a few days after my final recording. The first sonic draft of the album was a mess. It was distorted. So they re-mastered it.

We musicians all gathered in a photography studio in downtown Cincinnati for a photo shoot, and posed like rock stars. I had a flannel shirt and a goatee. We looked like this.

The print material was sent off to be made, and the first visual draft was a mess. Instead of a high-contrast black & white image, Katie was gray. So they had it reprinted. I kept my gray copy. I imagine it’s pretty rare.

Good thing we hurried. Right?

A CD-release party / concert was planned for mid-December, at York Street Café in Newport, KY. I had played there quite a bit with my other band, so I was glad to be on familiar turf.
Image result for york st cafe

This is the York St. Café. It used to be red. I’m not sure if it’s faded or just painted pink. Those second-floor windows behind the tree are the back of the stage.

A blizzard hit. We performed anyway. There was a surprisingly large crowd. Regardless, it didn’t feel like a big enough event, so we planned another CD-release for a week or two later. Another blizzard hit. Once again, we performed anyway; and once again, there was a surprisingly large crowd. And once again, it seemed like we needed one more chance to get it right. So we performed a THIRD CD-release in early January 1999.

Within weeks, we were winning awards, and being praised in the press. Other guitarists were trying to copy my gear and talk Katie into letting them replace me. People were pulling me aside to let me know how much they noticed how my guitar brought her songs to life. I felt like my life’s ambitions were finally coming together. The CD was selling out everywhere we put it, and my middle-school aged guitar students thought I was a celebrity. I was now in one of the top acts in town. In 1999, we won multiple entertainment awards, performed at the prestigious Aronoff Center, had our work featured on Dawson’s Creek, and were on the radio pretty often. I had arrived.

All of this, as I have clearly described, happened with very humble beginnings; basement recordings, “consumer-level” equipment, and low expectations. I’m not calling this anything like a recipe for success (in fact, mostly I insist on the opposite approach), but I can’t deny that something special happened. At the very least, I developed a style of playing guitar that set a standard for ambient-organic pop music in the area. I got to take that into the modern church arena, and it seems like some variation of that has now spread worldwide (you’re welcome, and/or I’m sorry).

Perhaps the saddest part about Wonder is that its original tapes were destroyed. ADAT tapes back then were about $10 each, and it took three 8-track tapes to make a 24-track recording. So usually, one would spend $100 on a ten-pack of ADAT tapes, and call that a normal production cost (compared to old reel-to-reel tapes, this was very inexpensive).

There was some dispute about media cost, and before I knew about it, one of the producers chose to erase the tapes and recycle them to use on some other project. I was speechless. I would have gladly paid $100 to keep those tapes around. I sure wish I could hear those original recordings again, correct some errors, re-mix and re-master the album.

Wishing doesn’t change much. But gratitude helps remind me of the best parts.

Every Spring, I’m reminded of having recorded a couple of songs for Wonder, meeting everyone downtown for Taste of Cincinnati, and playing together for the first time. I’m grateful to have gotten in on the ground floor, and to have seen it through to its end.

Every Summer, I’m reminded of our live performances at places like York St Café in Newport, KY, where the room was so packed that no one could move; where people would pay each other $20 to get a spot in front of the stage; where the heat and humidity caused water to run down the walls, and I would get a Mickey Mouse shaped sweat-print on my shirt. I’m grateful to have played for ravenous attentive crowds.

Every Autumn, I am reminded of that exciting time when a young Dave was desperately hoping to make a good impression on a larger music world with the recording of Wonder. I’m proud of the minor-league success it achieved, and grateful for the odd circumstances by which it came to me.

Every Winter, as we slide into December, I’m reminded of the excitement of traveling to New York as a seasoned band at the peak of our powers and the height of our camaraderie. I’m grateful for the deep love and friendship, and the beautiful music.

And so, twenty years after Wonder, and ten years after Katie’s passing, I’m grateful for all of it.

 

20 Years of Wonder (Part 1)

Here’s what I remember… or what I think I remember.

In the Spring of 1998, I agreed to record guitar tracks for Katie Reider’s budding new album, “Wonder.” I was given maybe three songs to work on, and turned those out in about a week, casually, around my work schedule.

Summer happened, and no more progress was made on the record. I waited, but there was no deadline that I knew of, no money being talked about (I had agreed to record it as a favor), and so I didn’t press. In the meantime, I had named my little dank studio space, “The Coal Room,” and printed out track sheets to document my progress on assorted projects. I kept these in manila envelopes next to their respective studio tapes. That was how studios worked in the late 90′s, friends.

What of the 90′s studio technology? Well, I had an Alesis ADAT tape machine. It recorded 8 tracks of digital audio onto a Super VHS cassette. Yes, really. And they were modular, so you could link multiple machines together.

As was common practice with such gear, I was given a tape with a reduction mix of Katie’s scratch guitar & vocal, along with Josh’s drums. I had seven remaining tracks, so I put ideas onto each one. I made a point to put one stereo guitar-part (two tracks) on each song. I deliberately got slightly weirder than seemed appropriate, and I figured they would use what they liked, and dump the rest. They kept almost everything.

The MIDDLE of October arrived. Frantic, my old friends Josh and Tyler called me in a tizzy, desperate to see if I could hastily bang-out the remainder of an album’s worth of original guitar music in a few days. I agreed. They were mixing the first three songs when they handed the next tape over to me.

Three or four of the next songs were on that ADAT tape. I recorded those as they mixed the first three. Then I met Tyler in my employer’s parking lot one afternoon, and handed him the tape I had finished the previous night. He handed me the next one to start on. I think he was awake for three or four straight days. I imagine this was what he felt like.


I finished the next two or three songs that night and perhaps the next day. It must have been a Saturday. Or maybe I took a day off or something. Anyway, they were literally mixing songs 4,5 & 6 while I was recording 7,8 & (Row) 9. 

I remember Annette calling to me that it was time to take my little twin daughters out for their first Halloween Trick-Or-Treat. I was wrestling my way through one of the songs. I think it was “Show Your Love.” That would make sense, if it was one of the last ones.

At the time, I had no idea that I was going to end up in the band, nor did I know if the band was going to have a name. Assuming no one would ever see or care what these sheets said, I made up funny (to me) names for th band on each song.

I found the old track sheets a few years ago, in a stack of old music paperwork, and scanned them in. If you’re interested, you can take a look at what I was calling those parts as I was thinking them up.






If this sort of thing interests you, feel free to ask me what any of this stuff means.

It occurs to me that these track sheets are in perfect time sequence to all be on a single tape.  I wonder (pun intended) if they gave the tape back to me to work on. Maybe they added more stuff to it between Spring and October.

In any case…

Conspicuously absent are the track sheets for “Show Your Love” and “Shaken” (maybe I handed them off along with the tape, for the mixing process). Those were both difficult songs. I wanted to use a wah pedal on “Show Your Love,” but mine was broken, no one I knew had one to lend, and there weren’t any stores around for me to get one quickly. So I used an envelope filter, which does something similar, but automatically.
Image result for dod envelope filter fx25

I didn’t like it, and ended up changing how I played the song live. Much of my challenge was to keep the song from sounding like “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“Shaken” stumped me. I didn’t know Katie at all, and so I sent her a very hesitant and polite inquiry, asking if she could tell me about the feelings behind the song. I didn’t want to pry into anything too personal, but I had no musical ideas (which is unusual for me). She responded quite graciously by saying that she had been left feeling “sour” in the wake of a failed relationship. I really seized onto that word: SOUR. And so I becan constructing the arrangement of “Shaken” with lots of dissonance and tension and chaos.

I remember that I discovered a really cool tone by putting a microphone on the BACK on this old amplifier I had (which has now been broken since 2004). I recorded a bunch of parts for “Shaken” with that sound, and when I was finished, they all jumbled together into this sonic mess. The clock was ticking, and I couldn’t re-record. So I used my SansAmp pedal, and bounced some of the guitar-tracks through it, and re-recorded that changed tone. It worked!

Next: What the recording process looked like. Stay tuned!

I wish I’d had a camera

 

What follows is a true story.

In 2002ish, I was in a band called Gwendolyn Speaks, with some friends who were superb musicians and singers. We were booked to play the Columbus Arts Festival that summer.

Festival performances are a mixed bag. Organizers want live music all day long, but most people are only interested in seeing live music starting approximately at sunset, when the stage lights are on, and the alcohol is starting to flow. As the bigger names get the later slots, this means that you have to be pretty well known to play an evening set. Otherwise, your crowd looks like this:

Woot!

Well, Gwendolyn Speaks was not a big name in Cincinnati, much less in Columbus, so our set time was something like 1pm on a Sunday. Predictably, the area in front of the stage was pretty empty. There was a steady stream of, say, moms with kids, who would stroll by, listen for a few minutes, and then move on. But there were two guys who “looked like musicians,” sitting and watching our set. One was in black jeans, a black sleeveless shirt and black skullcap. The other had a Hawaiian shirt and very tall hair. I figured maybe they were playing on the same stage later.

On that same date, there was a guitar show scheduled on the opposite side of Columbus (these happen twice a year). Now, knowing that not many people were going to be present at our show, I was mostly hoping to finish the set and leave quickly, so I could find a cool bargain at that show.

It was also at this time that I was using a pretty complicated rig, though I may have been actively simplifyng it. In any case, I was almost certainly using two UK-made Vox AC15 amplifiers, running in stereo.

Image result for 2 vox ac15

[Two things: (1.) I believe I may have been a front-runner in the Cincinnati area for using AC15's. They weren't being used by many people. Then I got mine, and suddenly everyone started getting them. (2.) Yes, I know these aren't AC15's. ]

At the conclusion of our set, I went straight to work, tearing-down my gear, and loading it out to my car, which was conveniently parked right near the stage. As I was heading back to the stage for another armload of gear, our bassist said something like “Billy Bob Thornton is over there, and he wants to meet you.” I laughed, because, come to think of it, the guy in black DID look a lot like BBT. It was a good joke from Pete the Bassist, who was usually clever and understated like that. So I walked up to the stage front to meet the guy.

It was actually Billy Bob Thornton. The actor. The real guy.

I shook his hand and said hello. He had a tattoo on his right bicep that said “Angelina.” As you may remember, he and Angelina Jolie were married there for a bit. This meeting was like a month before they split up.

Anyway, turns ut that BBT is a musician (a drummer – make your own jokes), and he and his band were actually performing later, though on a different stage.

If you were a man, it was easy to watch a Gwendolyn Speaks set, because our two lady singers, Tara and Carrie, were quite lovely. And Pete and Scott and I were all music geeks, so we tended to infuse the catchy pop songs with some nice flourishes.

So, not surprisingly, BBT loved the show, and he and his guitarist (Hawaiian shirt guy) said they loved my tone and playing, and wanted to ask some questions about what I used. So, long before there were YouTube videos and guitar sites devoted to this sort of thing, I gave a “Rig Rundown” to Billy Bob Thornton and his guitarist.
Image result for billy bob thornton band[Note the amplifiers behind these guys]

After a pleasant chat, we all went our separate ways. I headed off to the guitar show, where nothing memorable happened. For the remainder of the day, several of us just called each other and screamed into the phone; “Aaaagh! Billy Bob Thornton! Aaaagh!

“Aaaagh!”

This was back when cell phones did NOT come with cameras. So of course no one took pictures. Who takes pictures at a Sunday afternoon gig? Well, the next day, I stopped at a gas station and bought a disposable camera to keep in the car, just in case. For you youngsters, a disposable camera cost a few dollars. You would take a bunch of pictures with it, then take the whole camera in to a place (say, a pharmacy or grocery store) to get the pictures developed. They would discard or recycle the camera, and you would get your pictures. I am surprised to learn that they are still around.

Also at this time, my wife had a tendency to steal whatever camera I owned, take photos with it, use up all the film, and then lose/ruin/misplace the camera. So a disposable camera seemed like a great idea for me. I kept one in my car until she found it, stole it, took a bunch of photos, and left me with no camera. This happened several times.

Thus, despite my best efforts, here’s another “big fish” story:

A year or two later I would find myself on stage with The Pointer Sisters.

Image result for the pointer sisters

Yes, really.
Of course I had no camera. Of course.

 

Being an Inspired Guitarist in the Modern Church

This one may touch a nerve, so I apologize in advance.

Let me first say that it’s my great honor to have played with some of the area’s finest musicians in several of the region’s largest houses of worship. I don’t mean that they’re “good for church players.” I mean that they’re considered GREAT by anyone who hears them anywhere.

Therefore, it grieves me that since I’ve gotten to be among such fine players, as a rule, christian/worship music is so derivative and unremarkable. Certainly, it is  expertly produced, copying all the most successful current formulas, but it covers no new ground. Now it’s considered provocative or edgy only if someone writes a phrase like “wet sloppy kiss.” I neither want to know the artist nor hear the song. Don’t tell me. Just. No.

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I’m not convinced that these people know what deep, real songwriting entails. It can’t just be something quickly scribbled out in response to s brief emotional surge (though I concede that could legitimately happen occasionally). If the net result is a lyric that rhymes “praise” with “days” again, it might be time for a new writing scenario.

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I’m not sure what chord he thinks he’s playing. 

Check out this example: Regardless of your opinions on the band or the song, Led Zeppelin spent THREE YEARS writing Kashmir. First, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant traveled through the East, absorbing music and culture. Afterward, Page began writing a part he found interesting. The band began working on it together after he brought the idea in. Three years after the writing started, they completed what is generally considered their finest work. Here’s a more detailed account from Wikipedia:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kashmir_(song)

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Here’s another one:  Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was an idea being kicked around for a while. There is some indication that Freddie Mercury had been writing parts of it as early as the late sixties. When the song was released in 1975, they had spent three straight weeks RECORDING it (after the writing process was finished). From Wikipedia – “May, Mercury and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day. [emphasis mine] The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs.” Read up on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohemian_Rhapsody

Image result

 

Let’s be honest. Christian/worship songwriters are clearly not investing this amount of time or attention, at least in the music-composition… OK, and yeah, probably not the lyrics either. The genre seems desperate to make the smallest possible changes to its formulas, and it shows. There are no innovations or departures, only safe repetitions, tendered over and over again.

So how can this subset of the music industry move into a new era of creative growth? I think the MUSIC ITSELF has to be inspired. When you hear Kashmir, the music speaks volumes before Plant sings a syllable. It took a long time of trial and error to arrive on the sounds that were being used, and the parts each instrument played. This is what christian/worship music needs to do- something new, inspired and different… something AUTHENTIC.

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An artist friend of mine attempted to pay me a compliment a couple of years ago. He said, “There’s something so worshipful about the way you play guitar.” What he tried to convey in that statement was that there was a distinct mood that was being created, and that it ushered him in to a place of deeper spiritual communion. Well, that’s exactly what I have tried to do all the time, no matter where I played (most of which was outside of the church). Success! As an artist, I want to move people emotionally/spiritually. If I’m not playing something that inspires ME, how can I expect to inspire others. That’s MY authenticity, for good or bad. It can’t just be default chords and the coolest effects. The actual phrases that I’m playing need to be saying something.

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I include this picture only because it’s awesome and hilarious.

I approach what I do with great care, and a thousand questions, like… What sound am I going to make? Which guitar does it best? Which pickup? What notes/chords/fragments/phrases? Is it better to play the notes low on the neck, on the higher strings, or high on the neck on the lower strings? Will I use a different type of pick for this song? Slide? Ebow? What effects? Should I play more in concert with the song’s mood or should I add contrast?

Then I’m interested in seeing how I can get the rest of the band to interact with that.

Caution: Not everyone is ready to make changes.  Worship leaders, in particular, are usually successful by perpetuating the status quo, so they have no pressing need to change their game (understandable). In my modest experience, they tend to be resistant to ideas that don’t originate with themselves or other worship leaders. If you press, you might find yourself sitting at home on Sundays.

Image result for singer spotlight

“Look, they really just want to hear me doing the same thing I did last week.”

If you’re a guitarist (or any musician) playing in a modern church, what can you do to drive your music team into a new place of authentic expression? Do you just copy the trends because the trends are what your bandmates expect to hear? Or do you reach for something beyond the music; something you hear in your heart/mind that you’re inspired to find on your fretboard (or equivalent)?  I will always try to bring the full measure of my influences and inspiration to my playing, either inside or outside the church. What about you?

Sound off.

How To Do Everything Wrong, And End Up With An Embarrassing Album

The year was 1994… 

I had started a band with a drummer and bassist, assembling an original song list that sounded like it would fit in the Grunge universe, but also allowed us to play some more complex stuff. We were already doomed to fail.

Our drummer, who had a great aesthetic sense, was a teenager with a skinny teen boy’s body, and had little stamina behind the kit to play long and hard. Our bassist was a singing guitarist who picked up the bass to start a band with me, and he played bass like a guitarist. I was a know-it-all lead guitarist, determined that we could change everyone’s mind in Cincinnati about what they wanted to hear.

Grunge? Really? Who listens to THAT? We’ll do BETTER stuff.

These guys are hacks, and they’ll never be successful.

The fact that we had lasted for six months was, in itself, a triumph. But we were getting antsy. We wanted to gig. We wanted an album. We wanted to sell an album at our gigs.

In 1994, the home recording market had been exploding for a couple of years with the release of Alesis’ ADAT 8-track modular digital recorder. It used super VHS tapes, and multiple ADATs could by connected together to make more simultaneous tracks available. Link two ADATs, and you had a 16-track system. Link three, and you have 24 tracks. Well, I had an ADAT, and a friend had one too. So we had the capacity to make something like an album.

The Alesis ADAT: Finally, home studio recording can sound like the pros, when it isn’t eating your tapes.

What we did NOT have was a good recording location, or sufficient microphones.

With polite inquiries, my bandmates and I got the OK to use a church sanctuary late one night. We set up our gear, and hastily recorded ourselves playing all our songs to get the drums on tape. We knew we could overdub everything else later. Our engineer friend cobbled together some sort of method to get signal on to tape, and give us a stage monitor.

So far, here are the ways we had already failed:

  1. We recorded before we were ready, because we were impatient.
  2. We recorded hastily.
  3. We planned to overdub, and made no effort to get good bass, guitar or vocal performances on tape.
  4. Our recording system was cobbled together. No headphones!

 

We used a click for tempo, and played it through our stage monitor. The click bled into the drum kit’s overhead microphone. That wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but our young drummer tended to get nervous, and fall out of time.

When I got everything back to my townhouse, I heard all the flaws in playback. Being the persistent sort, I took it as a challenge to make it all work. I spent a lot of time processing the bad drum tracks, and then tried to add my guitars in such a way as to make the drum recording work.

Here are some more ways we failed:

  1. We kept on trying to polish a turd, instead of starting over and doing it right.
  2. We used substandard gear.

 

In the midst of this, we became self-conscious. Our sound was rather heavier than what our friends listened to, and we started trying to get them to like us by writing things that were a little lighter.

At about this time, I sent a demo in to a regional indie label, and got a polite rejection letter that read, “We think your sound is a bit too avant-garde, and we’re looking for something more like the next Hootie And The Blowfish.” I sure wish I had kept that letter. In any case, I sat right down and wrote something a little Hootie-flavored. Our sound was already evolving, and we reasoned that a couple Hootie-like songs mixed in with our King’s X / Soundgarden heavy stuff would make us more widely appreciated.

More things we did wrong:

  1. Tried to please everyone.
  2. Changed our sound.
  3. Handled rejection poorly.

Still, what made perfect sense was to keep pounding away on a poorly-conceived album. On every work lunch-break, I raced over to my recording rig to sing a little, or get some guitars recorded. I overdid everything. Right in the middle of all of this, our bassist moved back home to Indiana. This only lasted a few months, but it put an end to our gigging and rehearsing. In the meantime, I finished the album (mostly just to prove I could). This seemed noble.

 

I mixed the finished album at a friend’s studio, and started working on the visual components. CD’s were the standard, but a lot of bands still trafficked in cassettes. I could see no way to afford a CD project, so I had the album mastered to a DAT, and had a small run of cassette copies made. Then (and remember this is the 1990′s) I poured money into a good tape deck, a laser printer, card stock, cassette labels and cases. I spent a ton of time learning to design logos. I printed out the adhesive labels and inserts for the cassettes, and made a few every day. Our bassist moved back to town ,and we got right back to the business of making music. He hadn’t really played bass since he moved, but that didn’t stop us from recording.

When the album was finished, here’s what we had:

  1. Bad performances,
  2. Poor recordings,
  3. Time spent trying to fix things that should have been scrapped.
  4. A homemade cassette album that featured…
  5. Songs that didn’t belong together.
  6. Money thrown away on supplies and equipment.

All you have to do to end up with a similarly inferior product is to copy any of this process.

Twenty-some years later, the home recording universe is a different place. Any crap performance can be edited, and almost any bad sound can be processed into something listenable. But is that what you want? A fake representation of your abilities? To me it’s like a toupee. It isn’t real hair. You didn’t grow it, and you’re trying to fool people into thinking it’s the real you.

If your bandmates can’t perform well on their instruments, just don’t even start. Take the time to get it right. Break rehearsals down, and take turns listening to how everyone plays. When it’s tight and accurate, THEN you’re ready to start the rest. Take the time. Earn it. Somewhere down the road (sooner than you think), you’ll be listening back and wondering about your time and energy spent. Don’t you want to be proud of it?

To illustrate my folly, I’ve made the whole album available online, here: http://davideberhardt.com/html/trosa.htm

Fiat Lux – The Return of St. Andrew

There are some back-stories and related details. Enjoy the spectacle. Learn from my folly!

I invite your comments, related tales, and questions. Bring ‘em.