Tag Archives: rock

New album out now!

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http://timbirchard.bandcamp.com/album/tai-chi-montage

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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

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New Album: The Sacred and Profane

The latest album is ready in digital form (www.timbirchard.bandcamp.com). Aiming for an August release of the physical cd.

This album is about three questions:

What is sacred?
What is profane?
Who decides?
Words and music by Tim Birchard except “Eagle Pass to Torreon”, words by Chris Birchard; and “Hunger”, words by Chris and Tim Birchard.
Thanks to my friends and family who are always supportive.
Special thanks to Glenn Schindler, Jason Gabbard, and Scott Kadera for always being there.
Special thanks to my brother Chris for the collaborations.
Special thanks to David Kairis and Katie Kisiel for way huge support.
And, as always, deepest thanks to Cheryl for unwavering love and support.

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Photo Contest: winner’s work becomes album cover art

The new album has 8 songs. Clocks in at around 31 minutes.

I’ve been wrestling with the issue for awhile… “Is 8 songs enough?” “What’s more important, having 40+ minutes and an eclectic blend of musical styles, or 31 minutes of tightly-knit songs that represent a particular style?”

And yesterday I heard about an ’emerging’ trend (across various markets) of releasing albums with 6-8 songs. I did some research, and sure enough, people are rediscovering this idea. (It isn’t new.) Seeing someone else do it made me feel more comfortable with the idea. But at the end of the day, what feels the most authentic is putting out these 8 songs that play so well with one another.

This album features distorted guitars, heavy drums, and ukulele... a new genre I like to call "ukulele love metal" (Photo by Cheryl Birchard)

This album has changed shape more than once. Initially, it began as a collaborative project with my brother, Chris Birchard. Like Trip to Pine, for which he wrote all the words and I took care of the music side of things, this project started with him sending me lyrics.

Thing is, upon sending me a particularly magical poem, he unwittingly provided a central concept for the album, igniting my creative passion in the process. Suddenly, I had a clear vision of the “story” that we were co-writing. And songs started presenting themselves to me. In my sleep. In the shower. At the copy machine at work. It was all I could do to keep up.

Every time I turned around, I was hitting ‘send’ and firing off another completed song to my brother. Soon, we had at more than ten songs to consider. And I’d written about 75 percent of them. He told me that, in all honesty, it made sense to call this album what it had become; my album that he’d contributed to (as opposed to a fully-shared, 50/50 co-written album). I had to admit, he was right.

Now I’ve pared the album back to the 8 songs that tell the main story. I’m still working on finalizing the sequencing (song order). I could either follow the musical flow or the narrative flow. To me, it feels more important that the album flows musically. As a result, the story will be told in a non-linear fashion. When I listen to the album as a whole, I feel really happy; it evokes emotion and creates sonic environments that make me think of watercolors staining the page. So I guess in that respect, this album is already a success.

Still working on identifying the album cover art and finalizing the title. Still leaning toward the idea of “A Place Of My Own” for the title, incorporating some image of decay for the cover. An abandoned gas station or house. A beachfront shack. An old car. Something that harkens back to days long gone.

Can you help me, Gentle Reader? I invite you to summon your Inner Photographer and submit some of your original photos for consideration. If I end up using some of your work for the final product, you will receive photo credit on the back of any printed material (e.g., cd packaging) and on all marketing materials. You’ll also get credit in the liner notes of the cd, if/when hard copies are created. In addition, I’ll send you your choice of a free hard copy of the music on cd or provide you with a free download of the album. For more information, please contact me: tim@timbirchard.com.

Can’t wait to hear from you!

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Operation: Beehive hairdo

I feel like a film noir private detective with a juicy, new case.

It’s 3:52 a.m. on a Saturday morning and I’ve got music in my head.

I’ve just been given a new assignment. A musical assignment; my favorite kind. My new task: to write a song showcasing a friend’s professional talents. It’s for a contest. The prize is a bunch of money for publicity and marketing for his company.

I’m so psyched. We had our first brainstorm session last night, and we made great progress. This assignment has all the hallmarks of my favorite projects: a) a clearly-defined goal; b) the genre has been identified; c) some basic content for me to work with.

That’s it. Those three things. And I’m in heaven.

I can’t reveal too much about this project, but what I can say is that the contest happens in March or April, so I’ve got some time, which is great. And the drums, keyboard and guitar sounds are already dancing around in my head. The best part is, we don’t even have to WIN for me to be a winner. I’m already having a blast. And just getting some exposure, getting my songwriting ‘out there’ is huge for me.

My biggest challenges here are going to be (in no particular order): a) keeping the chord progression simple; b) making the melody accessible and memorable (catchy with a strong hook); c) creating a final mixdown with clear vocals that are intelligible; d) achieving just the right guitar sound.

I’m hearing B-52’s first two albums; crappy guitar through crappy, overdriven amp. Cheesy space sounds from the Korg. Male/female vocal harmonies. I’m getting a vision of a weekend full of music. No sleep. A smile on my face.

How about you, Gentle Rock Star? What sorts of “assignments” do you get (or assign yourself) that really make you feel inspired? What key elements need to be in place for you to roll forward? What are you doing about it?

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Elevated Mood Syndrome

Yeah… I’m laughing for no good reason. And it feels great. Seems to happen every time I ride my bike to work. It’s only 2 miles each way, but it’s enough to get the blood circulating. And when I get home, I feel almost ecstatic.

I find that if I combine this cycling activity with drinking water, and maybe eating healthy food throughout the day, I have a smile on my face all day long.

I truly believe that for best musical results, I need to balance my maniacal need to write/record with healthy diet and exercise. When I get time off, it’s always tempting to squeeze the juice out of every moment by spending every spare moment in the studio. But I know rationally that man cannot live on coffee and Elixir strings alone.

Why am I so resistant to getting out there and taking a hike before recording? How is it that I so easily forget this fantastic high?

What about you? What are some ways that you incorporate healthy living into your creative process? And what benefits have you seen in your life?

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What makes a really good rock song?

So my wife is in the other room watching that movie about Julia Childs… it was a great movie, and I really enjoyed it the first time we watched it.

I happened to catch, out of the corner of my ear, that the song “Psycho Killer”, by the Talking Heads, is in that movie.

Now I don’t know about you, but I love that song. And so do lots of other people. It seems to me that even if I didn’t like anything else by the Talking Heads, I’d like that song.

My question to myself (and to you, gentle reader) is, “why?”

Because I figure that if I can get to the answer, then I’ll know how to write some seriously great songs. Or at least one really good song. A song that stands the test of time. I don’t even necessarily care if anyone remembers who wrote it; I’d just love to write a song that sticks in people’s minds so much that they can’t seem to shake it. (I’d prefer they smile when they think of it.)

Let’s face it. These days, there is SO MUCH music available that it can become tough to distinguish between bands. It can become tough to care.

I know from personal experience that it wasn’t always this way. I grew up poring over the liner notes of LP’s. My mom used to blast Barry Manilow and Cher at full volume while doing housework. And she’d sing. Loud! It was awesome.

Meanwhile, my dad would be back in his den. I’d go in and stare in awe at the blacklight posters… And when I went to kindergarten, I just assumed that all the other kids knew Zappa and Dr. Hook. Because that was just normal at our house.

Turns out they didn’t.

The other little kids in my class weren’t hearing Warren Zevon. They weren’t getting an education in rock. They weren’t hearing about the subtle nuances that distinguished a Fender Precision bass from any other bass. They weren’t wondering who Waddy Wachtel was. They weren’t studying “Guitar” magazine from 1979.

So for them, “Exciteable Boy”, “Briefcase Full Of Blues”, and “Aja” didn’t mean a thing. But for me, they were unquestionable. They carried a weight that could not be denied. And they were instantly recognizable.

Is it still that way today? Maybe. Maybe not. I can’t tell anymore. All I know is that there are certain songs that carry a wallop. And that wallop doesn’t seem to be the result of any predictable recipe or formula.

I’d love to think that some of my music carries a wallop…. I know for me a lot of it does. But I’m not sure how much that counts, since I wrote it. But I can tell you that when I hear something that really moves me, it REALLY moves me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up. And somehow I can stay interested in it even after 500 listens. That’s the hallmark of a magical song for me.

To break it down, a really sweet distortion sound is important to me. Doesn’t have to be overly-overdriven to be good. And a lot of compression can sound great in some circumstances (Dream Theater), but crappy in others (like when I try anything like that).

All I really know is that some rock songs just grab me by the throat, and others don’t.

So, what is it that makes a song magical for you?

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