Music

Definitive Proof That Size Does In Fact Matter… Musically.

While I have been chastised in the past for the sometimes cringe-inducing size of the gauge of picks and strings that I use. However, the following video seems to do justice to the fact that a heavier picks in particular give a more even sound, hitting the string with more mass and therefore causing a more even, balanced, and more importantly compressed sound.

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Digging for Greatness: What Happened to the Era of Great Guitar Players?

It is well recognized that the days of gun-slinging guitar players such as Jimi Hendrix, and Leslie West are well over. The countless rock shows filled with the fluff and theatrics of burning guitars, four hour long guitar solos, and the ear-shattering volume of Marshall amplifiers three stories high have all retired, along with those who originally performed this way. However, what happened to The Greats?

No, we haven’t lost these awe-inspiring heroes of old such as Jimmy Page or Stevie Ray Vaughan to the sands of time, but where are the creative geniuses destined to follow in their footsteps? The answer is more complex than one might think. The qualities one must have to become a Great would follow along the lines of an innovator, a developer of a new approach, skillful in playing at any genre, speed, or creative setting, and has a tone all their own. A master in the same way that Picasso was a master artisan, pioneering the French impressionist period. Today, a bit if digging is needed to find anything close to players of this caliber.

To begin with the understanding of why such a strange phenomena of the extinction of Great has occurred, the musical equipment used by today’s industry must first be understood and scrutinized. Digital and easy to replicate equipment such as effect pedals, amplifiers, and other such tonal shaping tools have been glorified and over-exaggerated before being drafted into the newest versions of any major recording equipment/software. To get one’s hands on the tone of their “idols” is a matter of downloading an App, rather than slaving away in a hot garage over a single guitar, a single amplifier. Sure, this way is more comfortable, but what or where is the creativity?

Although such new technology is an absolute Godsend to those such as I who record and write on a weekly basis, it must work hand in hand with creativity and genius, in order to reproduce anything greater than what was created in the first place. That being said, the creative force which drives any musician worth his or her salt is diminished the moment the individual does not have to think for themselves; putting their brain on auto-pilot whilst software works out a melody for them. This in turn removes the ideas of music theory from them; not knowing why certain chord changes work together, or even why scales are made up in the manner in which they are laid out, only that because it sounds “right” to them, that it goes together. Now in a way, this is not a bad thing. After all, that is the basic institution of ear-training is it not? But something like a brilliant software like Garageband can have its limitations on the human psyche before the spirit of songwriting a skill starts to diminish.

The Greats of olde began learning to play guitar in a time when such recording and writing techniques were in their infancy. Reel-to-reel, 4-Track, and other such magnetic tape-based recording devices were primarily all there were to offer in a recording sense no matter your level of proficiency or fame. Not only were recording techniques shrewd by today’s standards, but the way these musicians learned to play is a giant determining factor to their greatness. Often growing up poor, many of The Greats grew up with nothing to do or play with, other than maybe a beat up old guitar. It probably didn’t play well, and it may not have even had strings, however these musicians at a young age began to innovate the way they played guitar based on the restrictions they had naturally placed upon themselves as young players.

Today, even cheap guitars can easily be made to play fantastically well, but as a teacher, I personally warn against having your guitars adjusted to playing too nicely for the first few years of learning. Otherwise you spoil your hands, giving them nothing to build resistance and muscle tone/memory upon. Of course, this is merely a way to familiarize oneself with making precision movements over the fretboard, etc under any playing circumstance, strengthening the hands and forcing one to spend copious amounts of time fine tuning one’s own personal technique. I’ve told many people who assume because they are buying breathtakingly expensive equipment who think they’ll have a perfect tone that “you’re doing it all backwards”. You struggle, fight it, learn it, bond with it. Spend thousands of hours and hundreds of dollars rather than thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours perfecting one’s own personal sound. After all, some of the most iconic music of the 20th century was written and recorded on surprisingly cheap and sometimes hard to play equipment.

The next aspect of said conundrum involves the discipline with playing at such a high level of expertise. The musicians which you see recording the most timeless music with the most elegant and complex styles are the ones who have absolutely dedicated their lives to the instrument, not surprisingly the song. Once one has mastered the instrument, and type of genre of music or complexity of song is remarkably achievable with a relatively small matter of practice in comparison to the thousands upon thousands of hours locked away in a quiet room repeating the mantra of scales and chordings, over and over again. in the same way that a Buddhist monk meditates to the point of Nirvana, a musician must play to the point of perfection on his instrument; until it has become little more than the extension of one’s body.

Glen Hansard's "Horse"

Of course in a world where we as a people are collectively more and more busy with our day to day lives, much of the time tha could have been spent is used for our careers, education, etc. This makes and effort of concentration and learning that much more difficult, with only a few finding the time between life and sleep to actually do any learning. This is why it is to one’s best advantage that he or she begins the process of learning guitar as early in life as possible, building a strong foundation to build with as the musician grows older, and more busy. As always with any art form-turned hobby, here are those who believe that playing twenty to thirty minutes a day, not to mention the same musical pieces and warm-ups will become exponentially better. This is sadly quite the opposite. If everyone was able to sit down on their lunch break and learn as such, there would be much fewer accounts and lawyers graduating with degrees, but rather touring to sold out theaters.

Dedication is, before anything else, the deciding factor on the proficiency of any given musician. Bar none.

This still is not all that is required of an individual to truly become one of The Greats. The quality and personality of one’s tone is crucial to being heard differently by an audience. The biggest problem I have seen in recent years is the crutch of the pedalboard. Guitarists in particular have be slowly increasing the size of their pedalboards for years, but what does that matter? That creates left-brained thinkers and innovators, right? Well yes and no. Yes to whosoever is using their effects not to drown out their mistakes or the fact that they are in all honesty, awful at guitar, but only to color the sound or palate, or use the effects to all together aid in the melody that he or her the musician has created. No to whosoever is using them, believes they are “pushing the boundaries”, but are doing nothing more than following the current trends of every other player with an Instagram or Flickr account. These pedalboards usually consist of a few low gain overdrives, a volume pedal (as if hand dynamics have gone extinct), a delay or two, and a reverb. Every last person sounds exactly the same as the others. Same guitars. Same amplifiers. No talent. No dedication. This is how musicians believe they are changing the way they approach music. They couldn’t be more wrong.

If you love effects as much has I do, use them properly. Use them for the reason they were invented to be used; to make one sound like no one else on the airwaves to date. Change the order of effects, use them for things that don’t make sense (like a Fuzz pedal for an overdrive). Yes, it will be experimental, and no, one will not always like what one hears, but if one can combine the quality of their musicianship with their drive to sound like oneself, one’s voice will be heard. I myself had a similar problem up until recently, when I realized this every problem. As most people who build equipment setups this way, my cleans were too squeaky, my drives too grainy, my guitar too thin, and my delay too “Edge-ish”. So I did the best thing there was for me to do. I removed my pedalboard, changed my amp settings, and adjusted my guitar. For 6 weeks I forced myself to play nothing other than the ideas that came out of my head, making me incredibly vulnerable.

I was vulnerable in a beautiful way. I began to experiment, and learn as if I had just picked up the guitar for the first time in years. I began learning Middle Eastern guitar techniques and Indian guitar, Japanese scales and South American chord voicings. I reinvented the wheel, and that is how a Great comes to fruition. I am not stating such things in order to brag and worship myself, but rather to inform that even I after fourteen years of playing, am learning at an alarming rate, and if I can, why can’t those stuck in this observational rut of being musically dead do exactly the same. The answer is they can. The problem is no one has told them so. But what is genius and divine inspiration if one has to be told to do so? It is nothing more than the catalyst for the same reason we have to problem with uninteresting players flooding the market for those who can actually play today. Everything they learn comes from somewhere else, not themselves.

 

Cleanliness is not Nessesarily Next to Godliness

soapWhat I believed to be the foundation in my constantly expanding sonic dialogue has been shaken, crumbled, and rebuilt. I had thought for years that to gain the perfect tone in your playing, you must start out with a perfectly clean fundamental tone. I did and still do believe to an extent that the high gain screeching of the 70’s and 80’s rock guitar gods was a barbaric and primitive style of expression, reserved for those who didn’t have the knowledge nor the patience to truly sculpt their own sound. Obviously there are exceptions to the rule: There is the soulful blues of Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Ballsy-but-clean Led Zeppelin, and the classic and natural sound of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, but the list is much shorter than most people perceive it to be. The genre “Classic Rock” is anything but; filled with the he-man garbage of many a one hit wonder, but on occasion the music industry gets it right with bands like those listed above, and it is these bands that have inspired my next move artistically.

For those of you who know me, I am an aficionado of fuzz effects. The type of gain that is an almost 180 degree turn from the distorted Marshalls of classic rockdom. Thick and low gain, becoming lower and lower in fidelity with a thumping low end driving the amplifiers tubes into oblivion. Unlike regular distortion, fuzz gives you a more tangible feel for the gain stage of your signal. More cutthroat than the hardest distortion in some cases, and yet it can be more dynamic depending on the effect. The fuzz then is an extremely dynamic instrument, yet… yet this wasn’t working for me anymore.

Yes, fuzz does and will always have a place in my heart and on my board, but the difference between my clean sound and fuzz is just too drastic. To transfer from a smooth silky ala “Bon Iver” style verse to a heavier chorus using fuzz almost changes the attitude of the song, even at lower gain settings. Moving on from fuzz, I decided to try the extreme low gain types of boosts/overdrives. I’ve had and still use a Blackeye Effects Palmetto, a JHS Morning Glory V3 overdrive, and a DMB Cosmic Crunch among other low gain alternatives and still the difference between the two types of distortion couldn’t be spanned by a suspension bridge.

This is where I currently reside. I understand that I need a middle ground alternative to bridge the gap between crazy low and gritty high gain, without the thin snarly classic rock sound. After much deliberation and several hours of asking around and trying out, I have narrowed it down to two options. With both amps still set on a fairly clean setting, a JHS Angry Charlie or a boutique type of Klon Clone would both have enough gain to push the delays, amps, octave effects, and reverb just enough to squeeze every last drop of tone out of my rig.

My previously distorted ideas of distortion have been wiped clean, realizing that given enough searching and tweaking, I can make it work to better my own sound. Adding a rumble underneath the dark, rolling repeats of a Dbucket-style delay, or to push a smooth plate reverb just enough to lengthen the decay and boost its mix. This is how I will utilize the distortion effect to my own advantage, and how I will apply it to change the style of my music.

Into the Light

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Setting the Mood

The remoteness and rugged beauty of Acadia was the inspiration for the sound of the album. Rugged; beautiful; melancholy. The complexity of transposing a physical space for a sonic one is quiet difficult, yet with enough meditation and attention to detail of each track, it can be done.

I wanted the album to flow from track to track, not like that of new albums formatted to fit single after single until a ten to twelve song “album” is complete. Acadia has been written to flow. The tracks themselves tell a story of the search for personal understanding in an empty and desolate landscape such as the Acadian wilderness without the utterance of a single word. Each track produces the emotional processes of thought of the unknown man (Who can be interjected as yourself) as he treks through the wilderness. In some ways, it is a story not unlike that of the Exodus led by Moses, or the frostbitten musher leading the pack of Alaska’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race. By the time Acadia crescendos to a powerful final act and soon thereafter end, the mental journey as well as the sonic pleasure of those hearing it emerge as a well-rounded and beautifully sculpted idea which quietly exits the audible stage that your mind has developed in the hour the album is played.

The Tracklist

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Saltwater

– The introductory track gently pulls you into the world that our unknown man resides. Perhaps arriving by boat, or even by foot, the misty hidden world he chooses to isolate himself on slowly steps into view. The song of the track itself deep and somewhat muffled; giving your ear the air of something tucked away by the fog. This world is completely alien to anything you know, almost as if blanketed in a cloak of monochromatic greyness.

Out of Acadia

– Out of Acadia establishes the insoluble security of dry land. The jagged rocky shore acting as a barrier between where our man with no identity has come from, and where he wants to be. The track is much more clear, almost sharp sounding like that of the craggy mystic shore of which you just arrived. 

Lost Pt.1

– Out of determination to understand yourself, our character begins to wander into the vast wilderness, unable to prevent any type of harm that may come to our man who walks into the bleak abyss empty handed, only to find himself abandoned to the mercy of the island, and lost beyond hope. His personal journey has now began, as he has nowhere to be; nowhere to go. The feel and sound of this track in particular is meant to feel heavy and dark, giving the listener the feeling of a burden like that of Mr. Unknown.

Dirty

– Locked into this small world of nothing and everything, you begin to rely on the things you cannot trust; yourself and the strange new land you now lay on. Being more scared than reflective, he falls to the ground, tired, hopeless, dirty. This song in particular is written in a minor key, to put pressure on the emotional psyche of you the listener, and delve into the depression of our man who is looking for any possible way out of this darkness.

The Storm and the Sea

– The ground you lay upon is no longer ground. You are in a dream, upon the tilting desk of a thrashed sailing ship, far out at sea. The waves overwhelm the boat, plummeting you into the dark cold sea at the dusk of a stormy day. Just as Mr. Unknown breathes his last, there is an incredibly powerful drum of thunder, which lays the sea flat in its wake. Starting as a whisper, the man becomes quickly overwhelmed with the infinite knowledge of a greater entity. The man does not know if it is in fact God, or deep self discovery that is fueling this wave of awareness which is feeding him now, but nevertheless understands what he has to do. The man now realizes that in order to regain self-purpose, he needs to remove anything in his own life that distracts him from personal growth. All the people, the jobs, the media, the stress of day to day monotonous life must be eliminated for him to truly become his own person. This will make him happy; this will make him whole. The track is a mini story set within the tale to add drama and depth to the storyline of the dream, as well as the entire album.

Lights

– You have awoken. From your dream. From your old life, on a grassy desolate plateau on an overcast morning. In the hazy distance, you, our man sees two single lights on either side of the horizon. The one behind you represents the old life you can still return to: The one even farther away in front of you represents where you want to be. You begin walking one step at a time in the direction of your future, shedding off the problems of your past as you go. This is still a struggle, yet you have seen what life would and will be like if you could only keep walking. The sound of Lights is almost that of a distress call from either light on the horizon to follow them. This creates the idea of choice between the two distinct calls, and which to follow in the end.

Lost Pt.2

– Our man is running now, working harder than ever towards the light on the distant horizon, miles and miles away. He becomes Lost once again, frantic to find his way out of the wilderness that is Acadia. Stumbling and weak-kneed, he is walking with everything in him towards what in his mind he knows to be true. With the same feel as Lost Pt.1, this second addition to these pair of songs but with a slightly more uplifting feel, showing the overcoming power of Mr. Unknown’s determination.

Palisades

– There is a cliff. A cliff towering infinitely taller than the beach below of which the sea crashes over, stretching out to the distant white light. Unsure of what to do, he sits. He takes in the beauty of the island which has caused him so much pain, and so much hurt. The ground, the towering rocks that were once his weakness would now become his strength. He must begin to climb. Palisades takes in the full spectrum of beauty that our man observes during his meditation on the cliff. In building intensity towards the end signifies the building up of nerve and initiative to climb down the infinite cliff; the final test.

Electric

– Spurred on by the insatiable drive for a better life, he begins to climb down, the energy electric flowing through his body. This climb is long, and tiring, but the listener cannot give up now. The Unknown Man cannot give up now. If he lets go, everything he worked for would be for nothing, everything he wants will never come to pass, and Acadia will win as easily as it had invited him in. He does not waver. He does not stop. Absolutely drained of every last ounce of energy, his feet touch the rocky sand of the beach. This track sounds desperate, at nerve’s end and tired.

Remnant

– You have nothing left in you but the weakness left behind from the most tiring journey you have ever endured, but you are proud. You, the unknown man stand at the foot of the vast expanse of ocean, looking towards the light that glows not so far off through the haze. You are happy and have made peace with yourself, perfectly content with whatever type of confrontation whether physically, mentally, or spiritually possible. With the comfort of a new soul and the remnant of your old self left far behind in the wilderness of the island, the man with a smile begins to swim. The sound of the final song is comforting, soft, warm, and theatrical, a sweet and somewhat untold ending to the story of the Unknown Man.

 

 

 

Out of Acadia

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Although it has been a lenthy seven months since I have graced the servers of wordpress.com, I am finally back talking about my newest project, “Acadia” which is still in its infancy. This album has been a three year long metamorphosis of two albums, several different bands, and thousands of hours, and dollars, and hundreds of people to finally get a set image and feel for the album.

Firstly, the album has actually been constructed from two separate entities. The first album from my band The Northern Arcade never saw completion, along with the many hours of solo “sonic exploration”, I was able to come up with a palette of sounds that “worked” for me. By picking the best pieces from The Northern Arcade and mixing it with the almost shoegaze and ambient complexity of my newer works, my album could finally have a place to grow in the mind of myself, and others who have aided me in this mind-boggling task.

The new album in itself will be a feat of sonic engineering. “The best albums overall of any band is always the first” I had said in an interview. “You can hear and feel the creative hunger in the music, you can hear the soul and the long hours of searching for the right sound until they put down whatever they have, and say ‘To hell with it; we second album will sound better anyways.'” This is exactly my predicament: I want this album to have the hunger and edge like that of the first recordings I can remember laying down, but with a more mature and natural sound. This will be the third album I have put out in recent years, but the first I have released under a self-titled and solo name, truly making Acadia a difficult venture.

In the past six months, I have worked with a new drummer, vocalist, bassist, and possibly two new guitarists to give the new record a fresh, and hopefully “Freshmen” album feel. The sound will be as dramatic as the making of the record as well: Two drummers, like that of The Northern Arcade, two guitarists (me being one) focusing on ambience and mood setting, rather than intricate guitar licks and screaming solo work. Unlike my previous band, most of the work for this album will be instrumental, with the addition of harmonic, string-like vocals. To cap off the already dramatic arrangement of instruments, the bassist and keyboardists are new and will build a ambient pad that the rest of the band can work on top of.

The sound of the band will be reminiscent of Explosions in the SkyMogwaiand Bon Iver, but with an acoustic twist, a hint of piano, and a dash of experimental effects usage. Very mellow, very melancholy, but at times uplifting and overwhelmingly beautiful, this new sound will become almost cinematic as the album presses forward, ending as though you have just finished a blockbuster movie. As for now, only about 20% of the final product has been approved and is ready for mastering, with the other 80% being written and recorded within the next couple of months.

At the rate that Acadia is progressing, the finished product will air by the end of summer 2013, but as of right now, hard work and perseverance is my motivation, not to mention my work ethic. Hopefully the following album cover spoilers will keep you interested, as well as a promotional video for the Acadia album in the near future.

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Just when you think you’re out of ideas.

So I’ve been worried lately with whether I could get another band off the ground and running before life catches up with me and makes is almost impossible. However, by taking a trip to a small music store earlier this week, there is hope for this idea yet. I went to a great local music shop, Redphish Music, on Monday afternoon with prospects of seeing my old friends Travis and Dane, always slumped behind the counter, always talking of bigger and better plans. As predicted they were there, slumped as they will ever be, waiting for an inkling of business to trickle in. As we caught up from the week, me and Dane grabbed a couple guitars off the wall and began to fiddle with them. As any musician knows, this snowballed into a jam session to the point that I was late for my evening class at the local community college! Another friend and haunt of the business filmed us, and quickly has both videos on the internet. As me and Dane looked back at the material, we realized how much wasted potential there is in our playing together. It was with this spark that we discussed him retrieving his equipment from Indiana, and the two of us beginning another band. This could be the beginning of something great- two seasoned players from two different backgrounds collaborating solely for the art of music. This Saturday we will be reviewing old materials from records’ past that never made it to the final cut, discovering new sounds, and maybe even writing a few new ideas. Just when you think you’re out of ideas, everything gets dropped on its head, and you start from scratch.

Happy Recording!