Singing

Singing. Is there anything else a performer can do that is more personal? Maybe dance. Probably dance. But singing is right up there.

Being an instrumentalist, at least at first, is a lot about taming this thing we are trying to coax a melody out of, learning its quirks and intricacies, and figuring out what we can do to make something beautiful come out. If the instrument doesn’t sound good after we’ve learned to play it, then, well, we can blame the instrument. Everyone knows some instruments sound more beautiful than others, and if someone does not appreciate the sound of an instrument, instrumentalists generally don’t take this terribly personally.

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The voice, however, is a different matter. Yes, singers can learn technique, improve tone, whatever whatever, but at the end of the day, what comes out is not something we can change that much. It is utterly personal. If someone doesn’t like your voice, you can’t blame it on the instrument in the way you can if you could simply pick up a better cello, for example. Much like dance, I’m guessing, you are the instrument. Rejection, therefore, is that much harder to weather.

I thought I had a decent voice when several years ago I received some deeply discouraging feedback and a rejection that still lingers a bit in the back of my head. Happily, and with the help of a few friends, this propelled me not into the silence I was contemplating but instead into intensive work, and last month I began to believe that it is paying off.

At my gig with the good folks at Back Yard Coffee in Redwood City, a woman sitting with a group across the room and near the door – so she could easily have walked out without doing this – approached as I was singing, tossed some money into my tip jar, and told me, “you’ve got a great voice.”

People have said this to me before, and I never really believed them, probably because they are people who know me and love me, so of course they are going to be nice. But other people I don’t know have said it, too, and I didn’t really believe them either. That night, however, I was in fact really happy with my vocals, so the compliments resonated. I came away from Redwood City with a sense that I no longer need to worry if my voice is good enough, especially if I keep working. I also don’t need to worry if my vocals go a little south every once in a while. No one is perfect. In other words, I think I got over the fact that it is me doing it just a little bit more.

Another woman named Auntie Lou, having just turned 100, bought my CD that night and insisted that I autograph it. She had come from across the room to listen, and from what I know of centenarians, they don’t waste that kind of effort unless it’s worth it. I’ll take it.

I’m playing … and singing … next at Davenport Roadhouse this Tuesday 4/4 at 6:00 – 9:00 pm. I hope to see you there!

Thanks for reading.

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New Year, New Goals

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I’m not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. One year I made a resolution to eliminate my constant, withering commentary on other people’s driving skills. It didn’t go well. I do tend to use the break between Christmas and New Year’s Day to make some goals and intentions for the following year, however. Last year, it was to get an EP recorded, and that turned out pretty well. This year, my goal is more about process and discipline: I want to finish at least one new song and have at least one gig every month.

So far, pretty good. I finished two new songs in December and one in January, but February was so busy with booking gigs that the new song did not get finished (it still needs one more verse and a bridge); I plan to finish two in March to make up for it.

I did have a gig each in December, January, and February, so that part is going well, and I’ve booked a little more than one gig a month through August, so I am very happy today to publish my show calendar for the spring and summer. One goal behind the goal is to get lots of experience playing out to build my confidence and skill. When I was on tour a few years ago, I got to the point that I felt no nerves at all on stage, and was able to access a musical place in me that is the closest I have ever come to being fully present in what I am doing, which, when it comes to music, is the happiest place I can possibly be. Getting to that place while playing my originals rather than backing someone else is the next rung on that ladder, and I’m eager to climb.

But there is another goal behind the goal, and that is to get enough new songs written to have a good selection, along with the songs I already have that are still unrecorded, to put together a good full length CD in 2018. If you have any interest in accompanying me on the journey this year, I welcome you in any way that suits you – come to a show, buy an EP, post some sweet emojis on my Facebook page, or e. all of the above :). In the meantime, please take a look at my current show calendar, and thanks for reading.

ArtemesiaBlack

artemesiablacklogo_blackartemesiablack-bw-prArtemesia-Freakin-Black. When I asked them if they would consider opening for my EP release show, part of me was sure they would say no. I even acknowledged that if they opened, the show might be upside down. That’s how much I think of their music. But part of me thought they would say yes, because I knew they were thinking of playing out again after working through the rough patch that losing a loved one inevitably leaves in its wake. When they said yes, I knew I had a show.

First, Sabiné’s voice. It has an intoxicating, other-worldly quality. She moves easily from sassy to dreamy. When I listen to her sing, I can’t help thinking about being in art class as a child and looking over at my neighbors’ papers and thinking how much more talented they were because the qualities they brought to their drawings were so different than mine … so they must be better. Sabiné lives into the people that her songs represent so thoroughly, and she’s not afraid to use her voice in ways that I, in my straight-laced efforts to please some imagined singing arbiter, have not yet reached. I am inspired listening to her because of her ease with what her voice is and what she can do with it. Amazing.

Second, the songs. Sabiné’s writing is so different than mine. Her lyrics are impressionistic, poetic, and suggestive of many unseen layers. She reaches into a world of deeper truth, even as the stories that the songs weave seem so specific. Beautiful.

Third, Kenny. Having submitted five of my songs to Kenny’s ministrations (one being the bonus song I will play with the full band on November 12), I recognize his signature work even though their songs are so different than mine. Kenny reaches into the guts of a song and pulls out its essence, and no matter the genre, seems to know instinctively what the song needs to bring out its full character. Then the damnedest thing is that he can bring that vision – if an auditory experience can be described that way – into existence. The interplay between what Sabiné brings with what Kenny sculpts around her voice, melody, and lyrics is intoxicating, especially when you really allow yourself to listen closely, and preferably more than once. Stunning.

ArtemesiaBlack has so much to offer, so please come to my EP Release Show at Art Boutiki  on Saturday, November 12, 2016 to hear them. They will open, I will play a solo set, then Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond as well as Kenny and Sabiné will back me in a full band set. We had our first band rehearsal last week, and we’re going to blow the doors off ….

Sbpt_buy_tickets_large-copyhow time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here for $10 plus a small transaction fee, or by clicking on the icon to the right. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

I can’t wait to hear ArtemesiaBlack on November 12, and I sincerely hope you will be there to listen, too. Please come on November 12.

Dreaming Songs: Why I Write

I started dreaming music about five years ago. Not all of my songs originate from dreams, but most do. I wake up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head, sometimes with lyrics, and stagger to my iPhone in the next room, sing it into a voice memo file, then stagger back to bed. I consider these little gems as gifts from elsewhere. The songs that come from them are from me and through me, but they feel like donations made on my behalf that are meant for others.

Despite many other things she has said to discredit herself, Michelle Shocked had a small quote posted on her website that I took to heart when I got home from touring with her: “Make your own music. It is possible.” I was afraid of extending myself this way, but felt guilty about ignoring the nocturnal sprinkling of jewels I began receiving.

There was a time not long before that when
my life felt out of control, and I vowed never to do anything without a clear call, and always to do what I felt called to, even if I didn’t want to. Without this call, I would have abandoned songwriting a long time ago because it is nerve-wracking having your insides suddenly on the outside and packaged in a way that demands a listener. Doing an EP is exponentially more nerve-wracking for this reason, but at the same time, hearing my songs fully produced has had a strangely soothing result, even with scratch vocals.

I saw an interview with Gwen Stefani recently in which she said that when she releases a new CD, she plays it on repeat in her car for weeks because listening to herself singing her own songs is therapeutic. I was startled, because I had thought myself wildly narcissistic because I am doing the same thing with my EP. Every time I listen, an empty place in me fills in a little more. It is the place I used to try to fill with other people’s opinions of me, which is why it was still empty. The opinions of others fail to satisfy. Instead, I am slowly filling it with confidence that comes from being obedient to what I think I am supposed to be doing.

Toni Morrison once wrote:

Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.

I take heart from this thought – that sharing stories with one another authentically and thoroughly is what we need from each another. Songs penetrate easily the gate the intellect hammers up around our true selves. Songs drop straight into the heart. I am moved when people tell me that my lyrics and melodies touch them; hearing this is encouraging and deeply appreciated. Even so, their experience cannot be why I write. I write out of faith and obedience to a call that comes from  a longing that has always been deepest in my heart – bringing myself forward in song.

bpt_buy_tickets_large-copySongs demand a listener, however, and my EP Release Show at Art Boutiki needs lots of live listeners. Please do what you can to come on Saturday, November 12, 2016 to help me celebrate the release of my EP; please click the icon to the right for tickets. ArtemesiaBlack opens, I will play a solo set, then you will see and hear Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond join Kenny Schick and Sabiné Heusler-Schick of ArtmesiaBlack back me in a full band set.

Show time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here for $10 plus a small transaction fee. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

Please come on November 12.

3 EP Songs Selected by Women of Substance Internet Radio!

slide1-1Here’s a nifty bit of news … My EP is getting some national attention! Three songs from my Something Good EP were selected by  Women of Substance Internet Radio to appear in their regular rotation! Each song will join the rotation after being introduced at 3-week intervals in their “What’s On My iPod?” New Music Show, then will later be featured on their award-winning podcastI See You will be introduced first, daily at 5 pm ET / 2 pm PT, October 3-7, 2016. Please listen to the New Music Show here, and please consider  helping me spread the word about this, my EP release show, and the EP itself by giving me a shoutout online on your favorite social media.

Please also come to my EP release show at Art Boutiki on Saturday, November 12, 2016. Thank you so much for your support of me, live music venues like Art Boutiki, and local musicians including Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond, who will join Kenny Schick and Sabiné Heusler-Schick of ArtemesiaBlack in backing me. ArtemesiaBlack will also open the show.

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Show time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here and by clicking the icon on the left for $10 plus a small transaction fee. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

Getting Over It

“Ah. You haven’t gotten over the fact that it’s you doing it, have you?”

It was 2007, and I was sitting with my cello while Greg Newlon adjusted the baffles and microphones around me. It was one of my first times recording anything, and I was understandably nervous.

I started as a classically trained pianist, cellist, and vocalist. I had never considered doing anything but classical music until Greg asked me to write and play a cello line on “Eloise,” a song on Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon’s 2007 CD Any Doorway Will Do. That was the first in a series of adventures that brought me where I am now.

IMG_5214 I have fallen into a few pretty significant ditches – there were a few months when I considered never singing again – and had some pretty crazy times – while I was on tour, a police officer who pulled us over for speeding at 4:00 am (I was not driving) asked if we had “any drugs or guns in the car.” We didn’t, but I nearly burst out laughing at this fantastic moment of insanity in my otherwise fairly ordinary life. In these last few years, I was kicked out of a praise band, wore fabulously over the top costumes as a lead singer in a crazy cover band, went on tour with a name artist, began writing originals, launched and saw crash an original band, then spent more than a year playing and singing only for my dog, who still howls miserably when I play.

Putting myself out there has brought intense and lasting pain because I suck at rejection, and there is a lot of it if you try to be an artist. On the other hand, putting myself out there has also brought me the chance to jump on the better end of the dichotomy in the internet meme “It’s better to look back on life and say, ‘I can’t believe I did that,’ than to look back and say, ‘I wish I did that.’”

I released my first EP at age 50; in fact, it is my 50th birthday present to myself. Some people might wrinkle their noses, sniff “mid life crisis” under the breath, or assume it’s trite and horrible because it comes from someone who only got up the guts to put herself out there in this way when one kid is launched and the other is on the doorstep. I would ask them to listen, just once, to all 4 of the songs, because they might be surprised. Then if they like them, I would ask them to spend $4 (less than a Venti latte!) and please buy them.

bpt_buy_tickets_large-copyIf you have any interest in seeing me play live, my EP release show at Art Boutiki on Saturday, November 12, 2016 is the best chance to do it; please click the BPT icon to the right for tickets. I don’t play out often, especially with a full band, and your help filling the venue will go a long way towards supporting me, live music venues like Art Boutiki, and local musicians including Dave Maurischat, Chris Lanier, and Will Diamond, who will join Kenny Schick and Sabiné Heusler-Schick of ArtemesiaBlack in backing me.

Speaking of folks who haven’t played out recently, I somehow managed to talk ArtemesiaBlack into opening before they back me up. This is a rare opportunity to see and hear the magic they weave. Please take advantage of it.

Show time is 7:30 pm, and advance tickets are available here for $10 plus a small transaction fee. You can also buy tickets at the door for $10.

In the meantime, I’m well on my way to getting over the fact that it’s me doing it. Putting out this EP helped a lot (more on that in another blog post), but I am definitely not done. I’ll keep working on it, and invite you to listen, buy, download, come to a concert, and see what it sounds like.

Thanks for reading.

Recording

I began this year with a resolve to get an EP recorded. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I was tired of having nothing to offer when supportive audience members approached me after a gig asking, “Where’s your CD?”

One tricky part is I have no band. I certainly have no shortage of incredibly talented friends who have offered to back me. I even invited a few to my house one day in December to jam, but it didn’t work as well as I would have liked. It wasn’t their fault, which leads me to the other tricky part. I have little idea what my music needs beyond the melody, lyrics, and the guitar arrangements that I work out, or that Greg Newlon developed for me when I was working with him.

In other words, I don’t have a producer’s ear, and I needed help.

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“… on a quest for the right reed for recording … here’s 20 or so years of rejects … maybe one of these will work with this mouthpiece and my mood today … only about 500 to go through.” ~Kenny Schick, working on “Leave It Alone,” April 12, 2016

Happily, I was steered to Kenny Schick at Basement 3 Productions in Boulder Creek. Kenny specializes in working with singer-songwriters like me, and is weirdly blessed with an insane ability to play many instruments extremely well. He’s basically a one-man band, one track at a time.

He is also blessed with the ability to hear what a song needs with only melody, chords, and a sometimes tentative guitar part to work with.

I sent him my first demo in January of “Leave It Alone,” previously known as “Scab,” with which Greg helped me so much that he has a co-writer credit whether he wants it or not. When I received Kenny’s sketch of the song a short while later, my head exploded. He added drums, bass, electric guitar, organ, and eventually sax, and turned a stammering, hesitant tune into a sizzling, hard-driving blues ode to obsessive thinking. Listening to his sketch, I was overcome. I was amazed at his ability, and, frankly, amazed that a song I wrote sounded so damn good. I didn’t know if it was lipstick on a pig, but I was willing to take it even if it was.

I am familiar with how merciless the recording process is from my work on cello for Michèle Sharik, Women with Strings Attached, Bev Barnett & Greg Newlon, and Rich Armstrong. The level of precision required is daunting to say the least. I was at one time relatively comfortable with recording on cello, and am familiar with the amount of time and hard work needed to prepare for a recording session.

The recording preparation process for the EP is fascinating, and very different from preparing to record on cello, and preparing to play live. First, it requires that I separate playing guitar from singing – because the guitar and vocals are recorded on separate tracks so they can be mixed properly. This is so odd to me considering I’ve spent the last three years working like hell to be able to do them together well. Separating the parts, and studying each closely to make sure it is doing what I want it to do is strangely satisfying. In the end, it’s a numbers game – how many times I can run each part with consciousness, intention and intelligence determines how well I will do on recording day. But preparing the vocals takes a little more …

One thing that hearing Kenny’s sketches has given me is the freedom to sing the way the songs need to be sung, and truly to be myself. I love the process of figuring out which vocal coordination each part of the song needs so that it fits both my voice and the mood. I love hearing my progress as I gradually settle into the pocket of a song, so I walk into Kenny’s studio and nail it in a take or two. Then I love putting the song back together – vocals and guitar – when I understand both parts so much more intimately. It’s like re-introducing old friends who are more mature and confident, and seeing how they get along.

In the end, this process is breathing new life and understanding into my stuff, song by song. Even more importantly, it’s helping me to love my voice and what it can do in ways I have never previously known. This is amazing to me.

So I can’t wait to share this EP with you when it’s done, which I hope will be by the end of the summer. I have plans to put together a show to celebrate its release; I will let you know when those plans firm up. In the meantime, I appreciate your support as I continue the recording process. I could not be happier.