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.

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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.

The Guitar Player

It has been almost three years since I started this solo singer-songwriter project. The key part of making this a “solo” effort was getting arrangements for my songs on guitar that could hold up all by themselves, and then being able to play them well. This was important to me because I realized when my band broke up that I did not have the confidence to play out by myself simply because I knew my guitar skills were lacking.

A few weeks ago, I played a gig that many musicians would scorn. It could not have been more BGM – background music. I would play a song, finish, and no one seemed to notice, except to speak a little softer because they didn’t have to speak over me and my music. I was happy for the gig – I’m still happy about any gig – because even though people were not supposed to be listening, there always are a few who do, and they are listening closely, but not obviously. Background music gigs are weird, because there is something in the environment that tells people they shouldn’t really be listening, so it feels uncomfortable to listen obviously, because the venue is supposed to be about conversation. But some do anyway.

I found it interesting that those who listened most obviously were usually under the age of 4. They sit with their parents, faces open, staring and listening as intently as a satellite dish. Others come and stand directly in front of me, their faces wide with the intensity of their listening. One little girl was sitting with her parents, wanted to come forward, but could not decide. Her mother said something to her that absolutely made every moment I was there worth it, not that I didn’t already think that, because in my mind, it’s always worth it to play.

“Do you want to go closer to the guitar player?” the mother asked. I wasn’t just playing guitar, I was singing, and for years the quality of my voice has been a point of anxiety and pain, warranted or not. But this is not what the woman commented on. She called me a guitar player. Over and over I have told people, “I am not a guitar player, I’m a cellist.” I said this because I was insecure, and wanted to head off any comment on my guitar skills. I also call myself a “trained monkey” because I do not in fact know the names of many of the chords I have taught myself to play (I forget their names almost immediately after memorizing them) and still don’t really have an accurate or exhaustive knowledge of where the notes are on the guitar. I do not, therefore, consider myself a guitarist though I play my songs on guitar very well now.

But I came off to this mother, at least enough to discuss it with a toddler, as a guitar player. I heard her, even though I was playing and singing, and was so, so happy.

Finally. I realized in that moment that I had reached a milestone on my journey as a musician, specifically as a singer-songwriter. I can play guitar now, and do not feel embarrassed or inadequate about my guitar skills when I play out. I don’t even think about it much, which two years ago would have been unimaginable for me. This is huge and wonderful.

So now I realize it is time for another step – another goal. I will be working towards that goal this year, in the hope that by Christmas of next year, I will have something in my hand that says I achieved it. In the meantime, hold me in your thoughts, please, as I seek to climb the next mountain.

The Project

This solo singer-songwriter project began in February 2013. Before that time, with only a few minor exceptions, I had only played out my originals with two lovely ladies I still count as friends in a band we called MapleDream. We had parted ways, as bands often do, just a month before, and I was left with a stack of originals that, with a few exceptions, lacked solo guitar arrangements.

I am a cellist by training, not a guitarist, so I knew that if I were to get these songs to work on solo guitar, I needed help. I was looking for someone who is excellent at both guitar and arranging, whom I trusted to make my songs sound great, and who I knew would be brutally honest. I immediately thought of my friend Greg Newlon. I can confirm that working with Greg requires a thick skin (which I confess is not my forte), as he left no holds barred in his critique of the chording, lyrics, structure, meter, and thematics of nearly all of my songs. In other words, he was just what I needed. He also apparently has a high opinion of my potential as a guitarist, as more than a few of the arrangements he created for my songs have taken me nearly a year to play convincingly, and I practice a lot.

I can say that he had a hand in making several of my songs far better than they were before. He even re-wrote the bridge to “Leave It Alone,” which officially makes us co-writers. There are some songs, however, that he had nothing to do with: some I didn’t show him because I knew he’d hate them, and some I’m still playing the way I want to despite his counsel otherwise. This is another way of saying that if you don’t like something about one of my songs, it’s probably not his fault.

Thanks for thinking about joining me on March 15 for my debut as a solo singer-songwriter. I hope to see you there.

Got Some Shows ….

I am happy to report that I now have two solo shows booked; you can see the details here. I have been working diligently as promised, all focused on my solo singer/songwriter debut on March 15, followed by a second show on May 16.

Things are going well. I remind myself that 98% of this is showing up to it every day that I’m supposed to, doing the best I can that day, and as my old Tae Kwon Do instructor always said, “You show up, you work hard, time goes by, you get better.”

I’m still working on getting some samples up on the Listen page; those should be coming soon.

My forays to open mics have been an education; it really is a different experience to stand up there all by yourself, singing your own stuff, and doing your best not to think about what that means for fear of psyching yourself out. I’m looking forward to having the chance to play more than just two songs for a crowd, and taking the time to share my little piece of the world with the world. I hope you can join me at one or both of these little gigs. I’m excited about them, and would love to share that excitement with you.

Thanks for visiting

Thanks so much for visiting. I am playing out at open mics in the south San Francisco bay area right now, polishing and honing my stuff. My plan is to get things together well enough to have a solo house concert in Winter or Spring 2014. Details will be posted here and on my facebook page when it comes to pass.

Writing original music is pretty interesting. In some ways I prefer just to sing other people’s songs because it’s easier than having the responsibility for both the song and the performance of it. On the other hand, there is nothing better than having someone hear me play one of my songs, even once, and then having them tell me that my song speaks their heart. That’s when I think maybe it isn’t a self-indulgent waste of time and effort to get a song together, work it up, and play it for others.

As soon as I feel like I’m doing my songs justice, I will begin posting video and audio. Thanks for your patience as I work out the kinks and the nerves.

Blessings.