Tag Archives: creative

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.
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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.
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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!

Rejuvenation

My family has had a small cabin in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania (in the Poconos) for decades. It may be my favorite place on Earth.
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Last week at this time, I was preparing to return home from there, During the last day or two, the rain decided to assert its dominance. On the cabin porch, surrounded by mountain rain in the trees, and with a rushing creek 100 feet away, I started working on a chord-melody version of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”
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It sounded like this:

Time in the woods, breathing clean air, and not having to deal with the assorted nonsense of city life reminded me of two very important things:

(1.) I definitely need to take more time off. I don’t mean the lazy disengaged sloth that passes for breaks. I mean regular planned breaks from routine. Nature, preferably, should be involved.
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(2.) If I’m not ACTIVELY creative, I’m like a plant withering from lack of water or sunlight. Sadly, my job, which used to be actively creative (I was a music director) is now merely passively creative. I lead the creative process of other people who ARE actively creative.

If I was older, bald, and surrounded by the most diverse-imaginable team, my time at work might look like this:
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So there’s this illusion that since I’m “working creatively,” I’m creating. Not really. It’s a fine point, but any artist who’s ever been promoted out of actively creating knows that there’s no substitute for making your own things.

Reflecting back on June and July, there’s some sense of  creative accomplishment. I finally recorded Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” in memory of my friend Katie (though I have always wanted to play it). I recorded guitar and background vocal tracks for my friend Todd Gilbert’s new album “Guiding Light” (dropping July 31). And The Mood Rings (my acoustic duo) continues to play cover songs in local watering holes.
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But the most profound moment for me was when my fingers, on the fretboard of that guitar, started working out the melody and accompaniment of “I Can See Clearly Now.” Suddenly, while showering, or driving through the Pennsylvania and Ohio countrysides, the little poet who lives in my brain started calling out lyric ideas. He’s been quiet for a while. Rest and reflection seems to have woken him up. He’s downright chattery now.
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Five years ago, before taking that music director job, I was deeply enmeshed in working on acoustic chord melody arrangements. I was also writing and recording a solo album. These things are innate and important to who I am. Every day, I yearn to be creating music while I’m enmeshed in the blah-blah-blah (which disguises itself as important creative processes). I wilt a little more, and just let it slide along. Clearly, the disciplines of active rest and active creativity are important.

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I don’t have an answer to the dilemma today, other than to make the time to do the stuff. All I can tell you is that I’m driven to do the stuff… ACTIVELY.

What do you do to rejuvenate? Do you need creative rejuvenation? If so, What do you do to get that?

Ten Years Gone

Twenty years and a few months ago, some friends of mine asked if I might record some guitar tracks for a young girl named Katie Reider. She had about an album’s worth of material, and with their help, they gotten it to where it was a few electric guitars away from sounding like a real record. Well, I added those very guitars, and that record ended up being called Wonder.

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In just a few actual evenings (which were spread-out over the course of several months), I managed to record eight of Wonder’s ten songs. I never expected anything to happen with it, really. I thought, maybe, in a year or so, she might have sold enough CD’s that, if all went well, I might get $100.

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The album was a local smash. We won a bunch of awards, we were on the radio, and in the papers. My guitar students thought I was famous. Overnight, I became the guitarist in one of the most popular bands in town. I had arrived. Image result for yatta

 

There were highs and lows, but in fairly short order, I was the only original band member. Katie and I had no choice. We became the best of friends, confidants, and musical partners. The next couple of years were great. In 2006 everything suddenly caught fire. I was convinced we were just a few yards from the proverbial touchdown. Then she got a toothache.

Only, it wasn’t a toothache.

It was a horrible monster, and it destroyed my friend.

 

My first gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 1998. My last gig with Katie was at Taste Of Cincinnati in 2007. The next year, she was gone. That was July 14, 2008; ten years ago.  This was how she looked at our last show together.Image result for katie reider wonder

When 2018 started, I was aware that the ten year echo of her passing was coming. Led Zeppelin’s “Ten Years Gone” has always been one of my favorite songs, and I thought it would be a fitting tribute. Robert Plant wrote it about an old girlfriend, so it doesn’t quite fit, but the music captures the feelings, I think, of a yearning for a time in the past with someone dear. Also, no one knows this (until now). When I was recording Wonder, I felt a tremendous pressure to accomplish something special. When in doubt, I would ask myself, “WWJPD” (What Would Jimmy Page Do)?

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“Ten Years Gone” is a fantastic anthem. One of my favorite discoveries about it, once I dissected the guitar parts, is that, apparently, I record layered guitars rather a lot like Jimmy Page did on this song.

Fitting, right?

Anyway, I know Katie would love it, because she loved the music I made. This is for Katie. But also for me.

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Ankles, Aikido, and Amplification

So I had this lingering sore foot/ankle/leg thing…
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On March 9, a doctor cut into my ankle to repair what had turned out to be a pretty major injury. I spent a month (March-April) with no weight on my left foot, then started hobbling a bit. I’m now walking normally, mostly.  With the help of my physical therapist (a friend since 7th grade), that ankle getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. All of this is good… actually it’s better than normal, and I’m grateful. I now have an awesomely gross scar to horrify the squeamish.
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As a result of my ankle injury, I had become progressively less active, and not able to spend much time out and about with my family. I gained weight from being sedentary. Honestly, I gave up on taking care of myself. That has all changed. My diet is better. I’m sleeping normal hours. Last week, I even walked the dogs with my sweet little wife, twice. Life feels like “normal” is within sight.
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Wait, there’s more…

One of my great loves, aside from music, is the traditional martial arts of Japan. I’ve been an eager student of Aikido since I was 21, and started Iaido back in 2004ish. After my injury (which had nothing to do with martial arts), the first thing I had to stop doing was all the lateral movement in Aikido. Iaido stopped a few months later.

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This past week, I not only did some Aikido training, but I did a small demonstration of Aikido within a broader presentation at the church where I work. So not only am I physically active again, I was able to bring a thing I love into the job I do. The last time I did anything like that was back when I was still directing music there. I had to let the music role go, when I moved in to my creative “Production Director” job, last year.
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Well, one of the things about musicians is that, in the summer, they want to play all these festivals. I suppose the money is good (back when I did it, the money wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the heat and hassle). Anyway, because of that, there’s a need for a substitute guitarist. So I will be subbing in on guitar in a week-and-a-half.
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That’s June 9. Also on June 9, there’s a big event at the Aikido dojo. Also-also, my acoustic duo has a gig that night. I may have over-committed.
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So… as it pertains to June 9, I might be going too fast. But after a year-and-a-half of slow motion, I gotta believe this is all understandable.

Have you ever been sidelined for an illness or injury, and had to wait it out? How did you cope during the interim? Have you ever been sidelined because of a role-change, and had to watch others do what you started? What was that like? Finally, have you ever overcompensated by over-committing? What safeguards did you put in place to prevent it from happening again?

Sprich, mein volk!

The goings-on of May

There are several creative-type things I like to do.

It may have come up in conversation that I play guitar a little.

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I’m hilarious, aren’t I?

I also sing a little, write songs, record & music. I’m a decent audio engineer and editor too. Sometimes I do voice-over work, or commercial production. In the past, I have done some acting on stage and screen. I tinker, a tiny bit, with video and graphic design/presentation. I write, and I think I have two novels in me, but I’m reluctant to put any energy toward them.

So when I write, it’s usually in blog form, which takes us to this writ.
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Being a classic ADHD (not so much the H part) sufferer, it’s difficult to focus on something unless I can HYPERFOCUS. Get me working on any of these creative exercises, and I can lose a whole day.

At the end of 2017, I shared a fairly large pile of recordings with the world, which I put on my website, and called “The Sincerest Form of Flattery, Vol.1” These are just cover songs I recorded for fun, to share with friends. Obviously, the name implies that there are more to come, and I truly intend to do so.

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Ouch. Yeah.

Realistically, it’s May now, and I haven’t put much energy towards those new songs yet. Getting back into creative music mode in the studio has been a hard engine to start. I’ll blame ankle-surgery, but there has been a fair amount of binge-watching Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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So whilst I’ve been putzing around…

A friend of mine who lives afar had mentioned several times in the past, that it would be fun to work on a music project together. Well, he popped the question, and I accepted. So, even though this is a very busy (and tired) time, I forced myself to sit down and ride the music wave last night. The hardest part is swimming out into the proverbial ocean. So I swam, and I listened, and I thought a slide guitar might be a nice interpretation.

Two and a half hours later, I came up from the depths, to get a breath of air.

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Whoa.

It’s fun to be back in the saddle, making music for someone -even if it’s just one song- again. How nice to shake some of the rust off of my modest (at best) slide guitar skills! Of course I used my Telecaster. Of course I did! Well, the intonation on it is all out of sorts, the strings are old, the volume pot is busted, and the whole damn guitar is noisy. Of course I used it anyway.

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I finished a basic rhythm track (which may have been unnecessary) and a slide solo, and threw some ad-lib slide parts here and there. I will probably do some better ad-libs later. Then I get to do some studio singing, which I haven’t done in like six months.

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On the periphery of all of this, I’m now performing somewhat regularly in an acoustic duo called The Mood Rings. We keep getting gigs offered to us, and having great ease booking new ones.

A few years ago, I was frantically busy with music stuff just to keep my name recognizeable, and my income steady. Now I get to do it for fun and inspiration.

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I wouldn’t change a thing… except that I’d like to be performing with an electric guitar a little more.

We’ll see what the next half of the year brings.

What’s your creative outlet? Do you do it because you love it, or because it’s an obligation?  If you could do something else, what would it be? Do you create because you love creating, or because you want recognition/fame/money? ‘Fess up.

Small Steps, Stomps, and Stages

Greetings, Friends.

It’s been a bit since my last writ,
And I’m glad to be a-typing.
See, I hurt my ankle (tendons mangled!),
So to work I’ve been a-Skype-ing.

Yeah, I haven’t done much lately. I injured my ankle a while ago, and was foolish to think it would just get better on its own. Finally, at the recommendation of a trusted teacher, I visited his favorite podiatrist. Ill at ease about the whole thing, I expected a protracted process of “Hmmm… yeah, not sure what’s going on here. Let’s try anti-inflammatories and rest, and you pay me an exorbitant office visit fee… and see me again in 2 weeks.”

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Well, he walked into the room, and within seconds, knew from the angle of my foot, and the description of the injury, EXACTLY what had happened. To be sure, he ordered an MRI for me (my first!). He was right. It’s busted. Course of treatment: surgery. Heal with STEEL!!

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So several stitches, a couple of screws, and 24 staples later, my ankle is fixed, but it will be recovering for many more weeks. That hasn’t stopped the kid from trying out new gear, no, certainly not.

Prior to surgery, I knew I’d need motivation to get me moving and being productive again, so I ordered an ELEVEN Rack (without Pro Tools, because I’m an individual) to get me excited about recording guitars WITHOUT amps for a good long time (Can’t lift an amp on crutches!). It arrived fasted than expected, giving me about a day and a half to play with it. I still don’t really know how it works.

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I just started moving around again, and have recorded a few tracks with it. I will share some serious insights, once I get more familiar with it.

Not long afterwards, I went crazy and ordered the Superego+ pedal from Sweetwater. It arrived 30 hours later. I’m using it with my acoustic duo.

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Oh yeah, by the way, I’m now in an acoustic duo. We call ourselves The Mood Rings (this was a band name I was using back in the early 2000′s), and we have played one whole gig so far. It was so well received that we got two more gigs out of it, that same night.

As a result, we have a gig this Saturday night. I will still be one-footed, so my buddy Andy has to carry all the gear. I can’t believe he agreed to it.

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THE SINCEREST FORM OF FLATTERY

Many years ago, I cobbled a makeshift studio space together in the old coal room in my first house’s basement. It was a 6′x11′ room, scarcely larger than a closet, with only an approximately 6½-foot high ceiling. Some of the earliest professional work I did down there was with a “boom box” as my studio monitors. True story.

It looked like this:

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At some point, Cream’s White Room got stuck in my head. So I started a demo recording of it. I have no idea what ever became of the project. Yes, I definitely remember programming it, recording parts of it, and even dumping some rough mix onto a cassette, along with what were some new (back then) original songs. It just didn’t survive.

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A few years later, I made a huge gear-upgrade purchase, and to test out my new gear, I created a few percussion loops, and recorded myself singing Van Morrison’s Moondance with some simple instrumentation. I had gotten the idea from hearing a much better singer do a much cooler version. Little did I know, but I had just snagged myself on a hook that would sink insidiously deeply into my psyche.

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Fast forward a bunch of years. In the interim, I have recorded hundreds of songs for different clients, and dozens of my own songs as well, not to mention different commercial projects, voice-overs, etc.

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I got this regular live gig, which I ended up really hating (it paid well). After a few cancellations, I had all this pent-up creative energy. So I solicited my Facebook friends for requests, and began recording cover songs with only one microphone, acoustic guitars and hand percussion.

It was more fun than I had thought possible.

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A few of those songs, over time, grew up into larger productions. Eventually, I just started tackling big cover song productions of songs that “clicked.” I can’t describe what made a song click. It just did. Somehow I knew I could do it. In other cases, there were requests that I fulfilled for other people.

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Anyway, after collecting these finished works for a while, it appears that I have a batch, a volume. Call it “Volume One.” There are certainly more in the pipeline.

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They won’t be ready for a while. In the meantime, enjoy what I’ve done so far, HERE

http://davideberhardt.com/html/sincerest.htm

 

Breaking With Conventions

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We can call this the “Probable Last Blog of 2017.”

I used to get very serious around this time of year. Some of that was stress or cynicism, maybe part of a youthful desperation to be cool. That’s all long past. Now I simply enjoy the opportunities for merriment and lightness. So if you’re looking for something deep and/or meaningful. it ain’t here. :)

So…

Lately I have been busily replicating or re-inventing cover songs (the choice of song is pretty random). I enjoy the challenge of trying to exactly replicate an arrangement; finding the right sounds, playing the right notes, etc.

Changing a song is easier in some ways, since matching the original is already an ethic that has been discarded. However, changing a well-known song is a huge risk. Well, I like risks.  In fact, here I am with my brown pompadour and matching tie/pants emsemble, cheerfully hastening toward risk.

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As Christmas careens recklessly around the corner from Thanksgiving and heads straight at us like a windshield towards a bug, I start thinking about working on Christmas music. This of course, is way too late to achieve results.

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So I started earlier this year. Actually, I started LAST YEAR, and just casually refined and finished them this year.

The first is “Away In A Manger,” which was recently described to me as a boring carol that could never be redeemed. The next is “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Over the years I have voiced my low opinion of turning hymns and Christmas carols into ROCK SONGS. So you may hereby enjoy my admitted hypocrisy.

This is approximately how I looked while recording, except that I have way better guitars, a taller tree, and my recording space may never be this tidy.
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For “Away In A Manger,” I wrote a chanting sort of chorus to break up the cloying verses. I had hoped that my church’s creative team might like to see the band work this up, but they just sorta sat there looking uncomfortable.

Me: “Hey guys, I worked up a rockin’ version of ‘Away In A Manger.’ I think the band could do it. What do you think?”

Them: …

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Had I known they were going to balk, I might have done it in a higher key (the music director is a baritone). That said, the guitar riff works a whole lot better in this key. Maybe it’s just not that good. In any case…
Here’s “Away In A Manger.”

Moving forward…

“Children Go Where I Send Thee” presented some challenges. First of all, it goes on FOREVER. So I abbreviated it, added a modulation, a Pink Floyd flavored guitar solo, some Queen-flavored harmonies, and threw in a little joke as the numbers count down. Enjoy the hilarious levity.

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Here’s “Children Go Where I Send Thee”

 

How do you break out of creative conventions? What do you think of my silly little Christmas experiments? How do you creatively cope with the assorted holiday vibes? Feel free to share your thoughts.
~See you in 2018~

 

Dangerous Defaults, and The Great Christian Pedalboard Escalations of the 21st Century.

In the early 2000′s, I was gigging regularly in three bands as a sideman, fronting my OWN band, and playing every weekend in a megachurch to around 5000 people.

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In an attempt to get the most sounds possible (remember- I had around 5 steady gigs), I had ended up with a gigantic pedalboard holding 13 stompboxes, controller switches and pedals, and a MIDI controller. These then went into six rack-mounted effects processors, and ran stereo into a pair of UK-made Vox AC-15 amplifers.

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I was constantly unhappy.

Something always needed adjustment, and it was never right. My cable costs alone were astronomical. It took a full hour to break it down and load it into my car, and another hour to set it up.

I had an epiphany about it and simplified my whole rig down to a pedalboard with about 9 pedals; no rack gear and only one amp. At the time, my final pedalboard (NINE PEDALS!?) still seemed pretty big. By today’s standards, it’s quaint.

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Fifteen years later, I’ve earned a modest reputation as a guitarist, etc. I was lucky to be associated with great artists who got (deserved) attention, and I happened to have played in several of the largest houses of worship in the area, right as each of their respective music ministries was really hitting its stride (I like to think I was partially responsible for that).

Today, what has really come to surprise me is how much MONEY is being spent by church guitarists on gear. Sweet Christmas, the pedalboards make mine look cheap, old, tragic and small!
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One of the conditions I have come to recognize about myself is that, after a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns with music equipment. In fact I think it actually becomes subtractive. Even as a pro guitarist, there is a limit to the number of guitars I can own before they become burdensome (seems to be around 15 for me). After that, I literally use them less; grabbing the nearest one because it’s convenient. It becomes a default. A DEFAULT.

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The same goes for effects. The more I have, the less I explore and experiment. I settled on a “meat & potatoes” approach to my gear at some point, where I wanted the basic tools to allow me to express my PLAYING. What I’m observing now is an approach by which church guitarists are using expensive guitar rigs so that their playing expresses their effects. They have all kinds of novel noises, but no strong guitar presence.

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24 strings plus glorious mustache = strong presence.

Not too long ago, a famous worship band went on tour. They appeared on some daytime talk-shows here in the USA, and then performed in Israel by the Sea of Galilee, all looking very sincere (so much gravitas). The daytime TV performances were of particular interest to me, as I could see the musicians doing their jobs. I saw two gigantic pedalboards with complex lights. What I heard was, chords, chords, two-note thing, chords. Ugh. It takes TWO of you to accomplish so little?

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Recently, I joined Instagram. Mostly I’ve been photographing my guitars, and gathering guitar-related followers. A few of these are church guys. One proudly displayed his latest pedalboard layout in a photo. It has to have $2500 worth of equipment on it. Maybe he’s gigging all over the place, but that’s not the impression I got.
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My amazingly creative Instagram handle is “david_eberhardt” if you’re interested in finding/following me.

The point of all this is not the excess of equipment. It’s the related dearth of sonic imagination.
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There’s some sort of trade-off. I don’t know where it happens, but this idea has been driving me for some time. I’m convinced that the more options we have, the less creative we become. Hollywood’s preference for CGI spectacle over plot or character development is a good indicator of this.

When I had comparably very little equipment in my freshly-started home studio, I produced some of my best work. It won awards. It got me on the radio. People started following me. Back then I was doing everything I possibly could to discover sounds and fit musical phrases in to songs.

A few years later, I had too much gear, and I felt like I was chasing after the music instead of having it roll out of me naturally. I was basically throwing gadgets at the problem, instead of looking inside myself for the solution. Somewhere in the process, I also discovered DEFAULT.

Maybe that’s why modern worship music seems so artistically bankrupt. There are fewer deep introspective musical approaches, but plenty of products marketed as solutions. There is plenty of technology, but not much technique. There is not enough artistic desperation, but plenty of default.

Years ago, I heard the story of how Peter Gabriel famously took all the cymbals from the drum kit to force Genesis to start playing differently. It inspired me to force periodic challenges upon myself. I tend to prefer playing a Fender guitar (I have perhaps too many of these), so every January, I force myself to play my Gibson Les Paul as much as possible until the weather looks like Spring. This month, I forced myself back to my classical guitar to learn a piece I’ve been meaning to learn since I was in high school. I’m planning to start practicing acoustic guitar chord-melody pieces again shortly.
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A lot of it boils down to starting over, from scratch, to get away from the defaults.

Some years ago, I decided to explore a new sound with my bandmates. We were a mostly heavy rock band that was venturing into art-pop. I came upon this idea that if I tried a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage against my drummer’s African hand percussion, we might discover something interesting. We did. Adding a little electric guitar ambience gave it a great mood, and we discovered something that became very successful in the work we did together and separately in several bands/projects in our area for quite some time.  That song was “Our Yesterdays,” which you can hear, HERE: https://youtu.be/L1Yd69PRQSY

How do you avoid defaults? What challenges do you put in front of yourself to keep you growing as a musician and an artist? Are there any disciplines you employ? What about equipment? Do you have stuff you could get rid of? On what merits do you keep or unload gear? What do you do to find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shout ‘em out!