New Music in 2011: Mining the Good Stuff
Mid-December brought with it some time off work. For me that could only mean one thing: writing and recording.
A buddy of mine left for a semester in Mexico. Asked me to take care of his baritone ukulele, his acoustic guitar, his Beatles video and his Frank Zappa “Baby Snakes” dvd. Have you ever, in your entire life, seen anything as beautiful as Terry Bozzio going crazy on the drums while Frank conducts? I haven’t. I literally had tears in my eyes as I watched Terry go crazy… it was like he was in a trance. Just for one tiny moment, it felt like he was encapsulating the beauty of human potential. Right there. He had taken his expertise so far that he was capturing the essence of the human spirit.
My words are failing me… I’m not able to articulate that wave of emotion that came over me. All I know is that seeing him almost at the mercy of his drums was so beautiful.
It told me a thing or two. If I want to tap into my real potential as a musician, I’m going to have to be at least somewhat disciplined. One of the reasons I’m not a strong sight-reader (give me five minutes and I can figure out that first bar) is because I would rather jam. I know there are upsides to being able to improvise. I’m not knocking my talents. However, there really is no question in my mind that with more discipline and practice, I could be a much better musician. With more dedication, I could have had the nerve to join band in high school. With a little more guts, I could have pursued music as a career.
Thing is, I’m really happy in the world of education. It’s a natural fit. So maybe it’s not about the career. I dunno.
My main point here is really about mining the music within. And I can’t do that if I’m not consistent, persistent, dedicated, determined, gutsy, patient, and vulnerable.
With this in mind, I’ve finally started practicing with a metronome. I read somewhere recently that any practice without a metronome isn’t really practice at all. That hit me hard. Also, as I go back and listen to my recorded stuff with my white lab coat and stethoscope (oscilloscope?), I recognize that I can do better. I love my music. Each song really does feel like a child, like Tori Amos says. Moreso, each song takes me back in time to when I was writing it. Where was I hiking when I wrote these words? Who was dying when I came up with that chord progression? Where am I now, in relation to that time in my life?
Dave dropped off the ukulele, hung out for awhile, then drove off into the night. He’ll be in Mexico for the next three months. I pulled it out of its case and immediately fell in love. One of my sweetest fantasies has always been to lock myself in a studio for about a month with access to any and every musical instrument that I want. (The inner photo on the gatefold of Queen’s “Jazz” album? Sheer heaven!) Each time I get my hands on something new, I can’t wait to see how I might be able to incorporate it into my music.
The coolest thing about this baritone ukulele is that it doesn’t necessarily sound like a ukulele… when I recorded it, it almost sounded like another guitar. Gives a very sweet, very acoustic (nylon) and very earthy sound. And when I jump into distortion with the Mesa Boogie Mark V, it creates a contrast that I really love. Also, I’ve noticed that I don’t need the ukulele to be very forward in the mix to effectively add its flavor. I’m really enjoying the new direction that this is taking me… Dave’s ukulele is opening doors that I didn’t know even existed.
The stars were obviously in alignment, because my brother Chris sent me new lyrics the very next morning. After spending some time figuring out how to mic this ukulele, I came up with music and an arrangement that my brother and I are both very proud of. And after years of struggling with this, I’m finally beginning to learn that simpler is better. Somehow, even as I watch Terry on the drums, doing things I can’t even follow, I sense an underlying simplicity. Frank was simply Frank. Terry was simply being Terry. If I stop trying to be someone else and just let myself pour out through my music, then I’ll be able to sleep at night.
So new music is underway for 2011. Six new songs, so far. Once the laptop gets back from the shop, it may be time to work on number seven.
In the meantime, the metronome is set for 200 bpm. And miles to go before I sleep.