Tag Archives: Japan

Q&A about “dots and dashes”

1) How did this album come about?
Like many independent musicians, I’ve been at this for awhile, saving, investing in new gear as I’ve been able, and writing/recording whenever the opportunity arises. In this case, I knew I had some vacation time coming up, and I just cleared my calendar, put my head down, and put in the hours in the studio. Got up early, made coffee, and went in to see what the writing/recording gods had in store. For me, no matter how exhausting, challenging, and sometimes frustrating the creative process can be, it’s always worth it in the end.

2) Tell us about your gear.
I run a PRS Custom 24 through a Mesa Boogie Mark V combo. The PRS is stock, except for the addition of a Tremol-No system I had installed, because I really wish it was a hardtail. But other than that, I love my PRS. It’s a ’96, and it plays like a dream. I also have an original CA (Composite Acoustics) Guitars “Legend” acoustic, from before the company was bought by Peavey.

My preamp is a FocusRite Saffire Pro 40, and I’m running Logic. I’ve basically been doing what I can to copy my heroes… Jim Matheos and Kevin Moore are two musicians I really look up to, so I’ve taken bits and pieces from their studios and gone with that. I’m very happy with the results.

3) I understand you got an endorsement deal with CA Guitars for the Legend?
Yes, that’s true. I was doing some work with Lance Keltner at his studio in Austin back in the early 90’s. He was on the phone with the guys from CA Guitars that particular morning, so I had to wait awhile. Of course, there I was, sitting in the studio of one of my heroes, playing his acoustic while he was in the other room. I was happy as could be. I would have gladly sat there all day.

I guess he was impressed that I didn’t cop an attitude… but honestly, how could I have? I was grinning from ear to ear, looking around, taking mental notes, and just trying to soak in the whole vibe while it lasted. He was incredibly down to earth, friendly, and patient. One thing led to another, and the CA Guitars folks were interested in supporting the arts-based diversity work I was doing at the time.

4) Let’s talk about the album. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09… what inspired that, and what was your writing process for that song?
Well, I never actually planned to write a song that was so long. It just sort of unfolded. I guess I had a lot of pent-up creative energy, and I’ve just been bursting at the seams for the chance to have the time and space to focus completely on writing and recording.

This particular song just kept happening in little sections. I was sitting on the couch with my acoustic and a little hand-held digital voice recorder, capturing ideas. The night before, while walking into the dining room to eat supper, I had a brainstorm, and I told my wife I’d be just a few minutes while I jotted down some ideas. Next thing I knew, I’d written all the lyrics to “dots and dashes”, and it was an hour later. Thankfully, as a musician herself, she’s very understanding. She knows what it’s like when inspiration strikes.

So I was reading through the lyrics and just goofing around with different ideas and recording them in little bits and pieces as they came out. I would read a phrase from the lyrics and matching music would present itself. Later, I pieced it all together, recording it in sections since the instrumentation was so different between certain sections.

5) That song alone jumps from genre to genre, and everything from blues rock to prog metal to jazz is found on this album. When people ask you what genre of music you play, what do you tell them?

I’ve given up trying to fit myself into a box. When I first got some decent recording equipment and started getting serious about writing and recording, I was just in heaven, exploring all kinds of sounds and not worrying about genres or marketing or anything. Then, as I started to get a few albums done, I heard people tell me that in order to market myself properly, I had to have a target audience, choose a genre and stick with it, etc. And I tried to do that. But as time went on, I felt like I was trying to squeeze myself into a smaller and smaller box.

Finally, with this album, I just decided to forget all that and go back to what I love doing, which is writing and recording and exploring the endless world of sound. That’s why you’ll find so many different styles of music on this album. Things have come full circle, and I’m digging deep and setting aside the inner critic that likes to say, “Uh oh, you shouldn’t do that… it won’t be well received.” Maybe not. But I’m happy.

The biggest catch-22 I’ve run into is figuring out who I’m writing for. I’ve heard musicians getting criticized for being self-indulgent in their writing, like having obscure lyrics, or stories that aren’t readily understood by everyone. Steely Dan, one of my favorite bands, is a great example. On the other hand, you can write something very accessible and that can be seen as pandering to your audience. After awhile, I finally realized that no matter WHAT I did, there was no way to please everyone. So now I write what I love and roll with it.

6) I see that some of the songs on this album are brand new, and others are from 2004. How did that come about?
I have quite a back log of songs I’ve written over the past decade, but back then my equipment was comparatively crude, and the recordings I have from back then reflect that. Initially when I started this album, I set out to write new material and only record that. Then a dear friend happened to ask me about re-recording an old song from back in the day that he loved. I decided to go for it, just to see how it would sound, and I was really pleased with how it turned out. At that point I realized that I have a lot of really good songs that could finally receive the proper treatment they’ve deserved all this time. Bringing those songs back to life has been enormously rewarding.

7) Do you have fun recording?
Like Jim Matheos said in a recent interview, “‘fun’ is a strong word.” Writing and recording can be a very rewarding and satisfying journey, but it’s certainly not without its frustrations. Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever made has been the result of days, weeks, sometimes months of effort to get things just right.

8) How long does it take you to record a song, once it’s written?
I’ve been following this pretty closely over the past six years, and the average for me is about two hours worth of recording time for each minute of music. The song “dots and dashes” is 16:09, and I can tell you that, yes, it did, quite literally, take me 32 to 35 hours to record and mix that song. Basically, four or five days straight of nothing but working on that song, for 8-10 hours at a time. Draining, but very satisfying in the end.

9) What is your dream?
I’m living my dream. I’m writing and recording my own music, on my own terms. I’m surrounded by people I love, I have food, clothing, and shelter… I have everything I need. Compared to so many people in the world who struggle just to eat every day, I’m the richest man in the world.

10) Any advice for musicians just getting started, or looking for their “big break”?
Just do what you love, and do it for the joy of it. Another one of my heroes, producer Ken Scott, says that if you do it for the money and you don’t get the money, you’ll be unhappy. But if you love what you’re doing, you’ll be happy either way. I agree with him. Whether I’m cutting a guitar solo or cutting the grass, if I’m doing it for the joy of it, then I’ve already won.

Check out “dots and dashes” and all of Tim’s music for free at www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com


Leave a comment

Filed under Living a joyful life, Writing & recording original music

News from Japan


to me

show details 12:35 AM (16 hours ago)

Dear Tim Birchard

Thank you for your warm letter.
My son is pleased to see your Kanji(ともだち)
Our family is doing OK so far.

Now we are having a hard time to face the earthquake.
I have an experiance of TVreport at Kobe(Eearthquake)16years ago.
It was like a hell.

This time,it seems more terrible.
We hope the situation will improve.

Keep in touch!
Your friend Tsuyoshi

Leave a comment

Filed under Living a joyful life

Jamming at Hariraya Tea House, Takamatsu City, Japan

Just a quick clip:


Leave a comment

Filed under Writing & recording original music

How we can help Japan (right here, right now)

I have dear friends with deep wisdom and compassion.

In the spirit of reiki, quantum physics, and love, we see just what power we have at hand.
Hello Friends,
Most of you are familiar with Dr. Masaru Emoto’s books Messages from Water.  For those who aren’t, they are collections of photos of water crystals, and are truly amazing to see.  Dr. Emoto discovered that when the water is exposed to different environments, words, thoughts and intentions/prayers, the actual structure of the water changes.  We see beautiful shapes appear (and, I imagine, great healing) when the water is infused with positivity!
With Love,
Dr. Emoto’s Request for Assisting Japan:

Below is a special message from renowned Japanese Scientist who brought attention to the power of thought/prayer on water crystals. He has a special request for assistance
tomorrow noon…

To All People Around the World,

Please send your prayers of love and gratitude to water at the nuclear plants in Fukushima, Japan!

By the massive earthquakes of Magnitude 9 and surreal massive tsunamis, more than 10,000 people are still missing…even now… It has been 16 days already since
the disaster happened. What makes it worse is that water at the reactors of Fukushima Nuclear Plants started to leak, and it’s contaminating the ocean, air and water
molecules of the surrounding areas.

Human wisdom has not been able to do much to solve the problem, but we are only trying to cool down the anger of radioactive materials in the reactors by discharging water to them.

Is there really nothing else to do?

I think there is. During over twenty year research of hado measuring and water crystal photographic technology, I have been witnessing that water can turn positive when
it receives pure vibration of human prayer no matter how far away it is.

Energy formula of Albert Einstein, E=MC2 really means that Energy = number of people and the square of people’s consciousness.

Now is the time to understand the true meaning. Let us all join the prayer ceremony as fellow citizens of the planet earth.

I would like to ask all people, not just in Japan, but all around the world to please he lp us to find a way out the crisis of this planet.

“Let’s send our thoughts of love and gratitude to all water in the nuclear plants in Fukushima”

Day and Time:
March 31st, 2011 (Thursday)
12:00 noon in each time zone

Please say the following phrase:
“The water of Fukushima Nuclear Plant, we are sorry to make you suffer.  Please forgive us.  We thank you, and we love you.”  Please say it aloud or in your mind.

Repeat it three times as you put your hands together in
a prayer position.
Please offer your sincere prayer

Thank you!


“The measure of Love is to love without measure.” St. Augustine


Leave a comment

Filed under About

News from Japan

My friend Tsuyoshi is a Japanese journalist who works at a major tv station in south central Japan.

He says….



to me

show details 12:35 AM (16 hours ago)

Dear Tim Birchard

Thank you for your warm letter.
My son is pleased to see your Kanji(ともだち)
Our family is doing OK so far.

Now we are having a hard time to face the earthquake.
I have an experiance of TVreport at Kobe(Eearthquake)16years ago.
It was like a hell.

This time,it seems more terrible.
We hope the situation will improve.

Keep in touch!
Your friend Tsuyoshi

Leave a comment

Filed under About

Kagawa, I miss you!

Lately I have been missing my friends who live in towns around Kagawa Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku, Japan. I feel homesick for their company.

My big brother (Onii-san) Shinpei and his family, who adopted me and showed me practically all of Shikoku. Took me to the doctor when I was sick. Let me stay at his house. Invited me to meet his extended family. Had Cheryl and me over for New Year’s Eve dinner. (Thank you for your letter! I’m writing back to you soon!) My buddy Nacho, who helps me with my Spanish (and whom I’m begging to give us a tour of his home town in Spain!) Akira-san, my guitar partner who studied flamenco in Spain.

Aji no Tokeidai restaurant. Photo by Matt Anderson.

Yokoi-san, with his love for collecting coins. Yoshida-san, the journalist, who was always very interesting to chat with. Shintani-san and his beautiful family. “Keith-san” and his wife, whose classical piano skills brought me to tears. Jeremy-san, who knows the inside scoop. Rika-san, who spoke English with a British accent. (Extra special thanks to the ever-patient Aino-san, who helped me navigate the unfamiliar world of working in Japan as a gaijin. I regret that I was not more gracious in expressing my depth of gratitude!) And many more friends who showed me around (kaiten sushi, pokka-pokka onsen, karaoke…) and showed true generosity. Too many to name here!

It’s not that I think everything about Japan is perfect. Just like any town in any country, there will be people with whom I may connect, and people with whom I may not.

Aji no Tokeidai ramen. Photo by Matt Anderson.

Fortunately, I met a tremendous amount of kind people who have become lifelong friends. I’m truly blessed.

During my breaks between teaching classes, I used to wander around the hills of Yashima. I would get lost in the little neighborhoods, marveling at the houses, the cemeteries, the sushi shops.

Photo by Jeremy Booth

I could ride my bike for ten minutes and go from busy intersections (Kentucky Fried Chicken) to being in the middle of the country.

I’d lie down on a bench behind my favorite shrine and take a nap after eating a giant bowl of ramen (499 yen) at Aji no Tokeidai. (I never made it to Sapporo to visit their flagship ‘clocktower’ ramen shop, but somehow I don’t mind; I was too busy frequenting their Yashima branch.)

Gig at Hariraya Tea House, Takamatsu, Kagawa

Last year I wrote a song about Kagawa… specifically, the bicycle ride from Takamatsu to Yashima. (Or, more precisely, the Saturday evening ride back.)

You can listen to this song by clicking here: Like I Could Ride Forever.

You can listen to the entire album (Call It Blue) for free at  www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com. I love this song, because it takes me back to that very evening… I feel like I’m transported through time and space. Here are the lyrics:

Like I Could Ride Forever

Rain blowing sideways on this icy night
I’ve got miles to go
Headwind’s coming off the Seto Sea to my left
I’m drenched, head-to-toe

Almost feel like I don’t want to stop, like I could ride forever

Yashima beach

Almost feel like I may never stop, I think I’ll ride forever

Tiny little cars all racing by
We’re all out to win
Pedals pushing forward on the slick black road
Sudden stillness within

Almost feel like I don’t want to stop, like I could ride forever
Almost feel like I may never stop, I think I’ll ride forever

Take me back, take me back… Take me back to Yashima
Take me back, take me back… Take me back to Yashima

Lights flashing, Saturday night

Sea glass from Yashima beach, the day Shinpei and his family took me fishing

Locals looking for fun
Not another bicycle in sight
Looks like I’m the only one

Home’s just up ahead
The thought runs through my head…

Almost feel like I don’t want to stop, like I could ride forever
Almost feel like I may never stop, I think I’ll ride forever

How about you? What songs, poems, prose, ideas scribbled down on a napkin have you written? How do you infuse your love, your fears, your triumphs, your losses… your LIFE into your music or writing?


Filed under About

creative process: defining ‘real work’

“Why don’t you do some real work?”

Digging around through some old cd’s the other day, I ran across a cd-r labeled “cool beats for Tim”. Hadn’t seen that one for a long time. A friend of mine had burned it for me back when I primarily did arts-based work with elementary and middle school students. It’s a disk of canned hip-hop and rap music without any lyrics, the idea being that you pick a track and play it and each student writes her/his own lyrics to it.

Hip hop isn’t really my language. My brother Chris knows this. In my ongoing efforts to get a laugh out of him, I often try to surprise him with the unexpected. So I grabbed one of the canned tracks and put one of his poems to it. I even played it straight–no goofing around, but really trying to emulate a song written in hip hop style. When it was done, I was surprised to find that I really liked it.

What if I rewrote the entire “Trip to Pine” album from a hip hop perspective? I played with the idea, then abandoned it. I couldn’t get too excited about using canned music for anything other than a parody.

So I decided to try my hand at writing a “Trip to Pine” summary song (lyrics from every song on the album included in this one song), through a hip hop lens. I ended up with this:

Trip hop to Pine (click to play)

Since I started it at 10 this morning and finished it at 3 this afternoon, I’m not sure whether I like it or not. I’m too close to it to judge yet.

The recording process included a little lesson on hitting “save” often. I’d been working for about two hours and had a really nice sonic bed laid down… about six tracks worth of work. I’d tracked the drum machine, piano and three harmony vocals. Suddenly (you guessed it) I got a message on my screen that Garage Band had unexpectedly quit.

Cold sweat.

I reopened it to find that… yes, I’d lost everything. I hadn’t even saved once. I had, however, locked my tracks to optimize performance. But that’s NOT the same as saving.

I was at a crossroads. As the reality of my mistake sank in, I realized I had some choices:

1) I could get up and curse, go make more coffee, go outside, kick the firewood pile and work myself up into a frenzy.

2) I could shut everything down and quit for the day and accept defeat.

3) I could take a quick restroom break and start from scratch, focusing on the fact that I now knew just exactly what these first 6 tracks looked/sounded like, so I could get right down to business.

I chose number 3.

Yashima, Shikoku. 2007

I felt the added pressure of knowing that my beloved would be home around 3pm. One of my favorite Sunday activities is recording while I have the entire house to myself. That way I can belt out the vocals without having to worry about what anyone thinks. As a professional musician, she knows her stuff. Still, she’s always very supportive and believes in the importance of ‘play’ in the creative process. That’s cool for me.

At this point in the process, I had some momentum worked up and was racing the clock. (Self-imposed, I know.) So I decided to skip eating lunch and just keep writing and recording to see what would be revealed. (Very rarely do I know what a piece of music is going to sound like until after it’s completely finished.) This was another mistake. Blood sugar levels crashing, hands shaking as I pour yet another cup of coffee… not the best approach. But part of the joy I call ‘doing music.’

Can’t see the outcome yet… occasionally I am hit with the thought, “why are you spending your time doing this?” All I can say is that I love to do it. It might only be for myself. It’s possible that nobody else on the planet will find value in it. Somehow, I feel okay with that. When I listen to my own music as I’m driving down the road, there’s a sense of accomplishment that comes from having created something out of thin air.

So even as I’m looking out the window at the sun’s bright reflection off the snow-covered trees and mountains, and even as I feel a little guilty for not being outside doing outside things, I’m really, really happy because I have the time, space and resources to create some music.

I might be crazy. But this is what I call fun.

More importantly, this is what I call ‘real work’.

What is “real work”? Is it a definition of activity? Is it what we do to pay the bills? What we do to put food on the table?

Is it time-based? Is it simply what happens between weekends?

Or is real work the stuff we do that connects us to those inner parts of ourself that shine and sparkle more brightly the more we express them? I choose to believe this is what real work is about… For me, it’s not limited to time nor activity. I think it’s possible to connect with that inner wisdom wherever I am, and no matter what I happen to be doing.

I don’t claim to be able to remember that 24/7, though. I’m not there yet.

I think the best life in the world is a life spent bringing these two things together– earning a living while expressing ourselves artistically, be it through teaching, playing guitar, serving coffee, digging fenceposts… the possibilities are endless.

I have to remind myself often that just because plenty of people in the world equate ‘success’ with ‘money’ and ‘real work’ with ‘money’ and ‘happiness’ with ‘money’… (you get the idea), doesn’t mean they’re right. This is why I can find joy in my recording– because when I’m working on a song, I’m not thinking of the potential for mind-blowing fame and fortune… I’m just thinking of how cool the song might sound. How good it will feel to share it.

How cleansing it feels to address some topic and pour out some emotion through the music… and maybe, if I’m really lucky, to connect with a listener or two.

I hope you have a great week and that you find at least one way (if not a thousand!) to express your own inner light.


Leave a comment

Filed under About