On the move: Songwriting challenges while travelling

Moving to another country is somewhat of a daunting task. Even more so when I have two EPs (one with my band, one solo) which will be coming out while I am away from my home.

My motivations for leaving are not completely joyous: my partner did not get permanent residency in Canada and rather than break up our fledgling relationship I agreed to move country. Within the past month or two I have sold most of my belongings and have left the country with the intention of being gone for at least a year. The journey to our end destination includes stops in Ontario, Switzerland, and Thailand and lasts about two months in length. The idea behind this extended vacation is that it will take the edge off of the disappointment that my partner and I both feel about the residency application’s rejection.

My brother and I have already mapped out our follow-up album for Critical Unity: we have the major themes and images that we want to use. Months ago, we created an image board in our shared apartment. More recently we created the outlines of two new songs, although they do need work. We have decided to continue writing by skype as much as possible and to try to work on ideas from a distance.

Although most people find travel enjoyable, I often find it troublesome. Why choose to be away from a piano or a guitar for so long? Why choose to leave behind my support network of people to cowrite and create with? Why leave behind the venues that I have come to know and love as places of inspiration and transformative experiences? That being said, travel is a great way to challenge yourself and observe the world. It is a great way to build your own confidence and learn to be self-reliant, which is highly transferable to songwriting craft.

For me, music is key to my own personal happiness. There are many things that I can do without while travelling: playing music is not one of them. I will have to find ways to incorporate creative time into my travelling schedule so that I can enjoy my life as fully as possible and not see my creativity slowly dull. Songwriting is like any skill in that it needs regular practice.

Admittedly, I did not do much writing while visiting family in Ontario. My challenge for the next week in Switzerland, followed by a month in Thailand, is to keep writing lyrics and letting my ideas grow.

 

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Cowrites and collabs of 2015

I’ve been pretty lax about blogging lately. I’ve been really busy this year working non-stop on collabs, website design, and writing more songs. I’ve been working on the new Critical Unity album, a new Hello Time Travel album, and doing a bunch of cowrites and collabs.

Critical Unity, Blank Canvas:
I am brimming with excitement for what I believe to be my best musical work to date. For this album, we brought together an amazing team: Kyle Anderson, a budding sound engineer with a style of mixing that I really love; Edward Whelan, a fantastic multi-instrumentalist/session musician/sound engineer who is not only the front person of the amazing band The Glendas but also our drummer on the record; and my co-conspirator in chief, Product A, who wrote the astounding song Wake that I can’t wait for the world to hear on this album.

The album is dark but hopeful, personal yet political, and everything that I have ever aspired to create. Catch a quick 45 second sneak peak of it on Kyle Anderson’s website. There have been a few roadblocks in the release which we hoped would come together before the end of 2015, but we know that good quality is worth a wait.

Hello Time Travel, Terror Mare Runs for Mayor:
While on a 7-day roadtrip from Vancouver down to San Francisco after quitting my job, I began writing the first songs of a ridiculous album titled Terror Mare Runs for Mayor. I wrote it initially on acoustic guitar as some sunny and silly songs that I thought my friends might enjoy about bike riding, petting dogs, falling in love, and the simple joys in life. After workshopping the songs substantially, I started re-writing them as synth-heavy dance tracks that take influence from the 80s. I am excited to release my happiest album ever full of accessible tunes that sound fun but not overproduced or forced. The title has nothing to do with the content but is ridiculous enough to match the songs. It’ll be out in 2016.

Cowrites & Collabs:
Michella D. is an amazing vocalist, model, and general delight to be around. We met at the YVR Songshop and together worked to write and record an 80’s-inspired dance track about surviving hardship and living life joyfully in spite of challenges. Check it out HERE!

Autoheart uses the very rad autoharp to accompany his glorious vox. Together we cowrote a song about Lucifer that I just adore. I won’t say too much about it, since it has yet to be released, but you can look for it on one of Autoheart’s upcoming albums.

Kristopher Lee Scott is an awesome guitar player who has a really distinctive style of playing. Our stylistic differences didn’t stop us from writing a joyfully silly song about dated technology. Look out for Old News on my upcoming release that will be out in early 2016, Terror Mare Runs For Mayor.

Tyrow James and I have put together another hip hop collab that will be on Tyrow’s next EP. This is my third collab with Tyrow after I enjoyed working with him on Run (The Scociopath Always Swings Twice) and HxC Iz Srs Bznz. Although I’ve already laid my vocals for that track and we’ve taken footage for the music vid, that one will be staying in the vaults until 2016 as well.

Thanks for reading!

Music Classifieds: Gender and Voice

One of the things that’s been grinding my gears a lot lately is music classifieds. I don’t often troll the classified sections myself since I’ve found myself happily busy lately, but I am a part of (or follow) a few different musician’s groups on various social media platforms.

Lots of things crop up in my notifications: self-promotion, requests for musicians, cool events going on in town. Classifieds, or request for other musicians, are a wonderful way to try and bring musical projects to life. That being said, I find myself groaning inwardly to myself every time I read the words “wanted: female vocalist”.

I appreciate the idea that female voices are in a different range and have a different timbre than male voices, but this strange specification makes them seem almost like female vocals are an endearing novelty. Each time I see the posting I always find myself wondering “Is this person looking for a musician? Or are they looking for a visual-compelling ornament to stand at the front (or slightly off to the side as a backup singer) and distract the audience from terribly self-indulgent guitar solos?”

Gender is a strange thing specify since it tells you really nothing about the instrument that you would be working with. Female voices vary widely in range, tone, and texture.

Here are some techniques for finding the right vocalist for your band that will actually help:

-Describe the training: self-taught, operatically trained, with a background in jazz

-Describe the quality of voice: smokey, clear, breathy, brassy, smooth

-Describe the range of the voice: Contralto, Alto, Soprano, etc.  …or “low” and “high” will work if you don’t know a lot about voice types

-Describe the music you’re making: Blues, rock, pop, dance, etc.

-Describe the places you want to book: Some voices belong better in arenas, some in soft-seat theatres, and some work more naturally in small cafes

Does it truly matter that your vocalist have a certain type of genitals? Probably not. When you start using my tips (as mentioned above) while drafting music classifieds, I guarantee it will lead you to better musical collaborations with men, women, transmen, transwomen, intersexed people, and gender non-binary folks.

Remember: it’s not about having the “right” gender. It’s about making the best music.

2014 in retrospect

2014 was an especially challenging year for me: I released the album Yearbook and within less than a month got a concussion from a snowboarding accident. I have spent most of the rest of the year feeling fairly fatigued and overwhelmed as I struggled through my concussion symptoms and painful headaches. I also still struggle to do any type of sports and athletics without getting a headache, so a major part of my life and source of happiness was removed from me this year. I also parted ways with my boyfriend of two years. There is no question that this year has been a challenging one for me.

Despite these setbacks and challenges, the good outweighed the bad for me in 2014. I started a rock duo called Critical Unity with my brother (stage name: Product A), found an awesome producer who Allan and I are both really excited to work with in 2015, got an awesome new job in June in the music industry, attended a week of artist development for work (I was doing production, but managed to sneak in quite a bit of education for myself), was featured on Tyrow James’ album, visited both Calgary and Portland for the first time and had a blast at both places, and found a new apartment with an awesome landlord. I put in many hours and worked sometimes upwards of 60 weeks between the four jobs that I had this year, and I think that my work ethic has not gone unnoticed by my supervisors.

Although the concussion that I got caused me a lot of hardship, without it I would not have had my brother looking after me. If my brother hadn’t looked after me then we probably would not have started out on what I see as the best musical output of my adult life. I wouldn’t have a partner in crime or someone to push me forward and require the best of me, and allow me to do the same in return. It’s awesome to know that someone has your back, in life and in music. I am grateful for all the challenges in 2014 and look forward to 2015!

Good listens

Here’s a short list of stuff I’ve been listening to lately.

Lowell’s other single, The Bells, has a lot more online traction, but personally I feel like this is the standout song. It’s raw, charged, full of sexuality without cheesiness.

I know that St. Vincent has had a lot of success recently with her new album and tour, but personally I am really digging this old tune right now.

Cool stuff September: La Luz, Gallows, and Meshuggah

Last night I went out to a pretty amazing show on the advice of a friend. La Luz, from Seattle, played to a surprisingly rowdy (for a Monday night) crowd at the Electric Owl. I am totally digging this band’s modern take on surf rock of the 50s and 60s. La Luz’s cool nonchalance did nothing to detract from their strong strange stage presence.

 

In a totally different genre, I am really digging Gallows’ new single (see video below). This group is known for their amazing Grey Britain album. There are so many things that I love about this track: the clarity of sound (good work by the mixer), heavy guitar riffs, the aggressively political lyrics, and the singer’s amazing vocal performance.

My only dislike is the close up of the female model’s legs and bum near the start of the music video. Objectification is not cool.

 

In other news, check out this video from Meshuggah’s light tech. This guy has some seriously awesome skill to keep up with their polyrhythmic songs.

Yearbook: A quick summary of the concept album

I’ve been getting feedback from friends and family saying that they enjoy the album a lot more after a bit more explanation about the concept and story-line behind the album. After all, I originally wrote it with the intention of making it a musical, before deciding to release it as an album instead. So, for concise clarification, read the short summary below. I hope that the music video will make more sense with the explanation.

 

YEARBOOK

 

Yearbook is a quick surreal snapshot of the lives of four teenagers at a rural high school. They are depressed, self-conscious, overly earnest, selfish, and highly superficial. All of the students are, at first, totally lacking in nuance: they behave as if they are caricatures of themselves in a bizarre attempt at self-expression.

When the news breaks mid-day that a classmate has committed suicide the students make wild speculations about the reason for the suicide. Things take a turn for the worse as allegations begin to fly. They treat each other with incredible ruthlessness. Quick references to darker issues (eating disorders, domestic violence, poverty, misogyny, etc.) briefly surface and then pass by without resolution. The whole album flips back and forth quickly between comedy, parody, and tragedy as it explores the taboo topic of mortality, appropriate and proper reactions to death, and the performative nature of grief in a small community.

 

Listen to or buy the whole album here.

 

A beautifully written article about terrible acts

This article that interviews music journalist Jim DeRogatis is as incredibly fascinating as it is hard to digest (Content warning: rape and pedophilia are discussed in the article).  It delves into the monstrous and predatory acts of R. Kelly and, in the process, raises questions about the role of music journalists, the separation (if there is one) between the life of the artist and their art, the choices that promoters make about artists who commit violent criminal acts, and the ethical considerations that we face every time that we consume music.  DeRogatis also speaks bluntly, honestly, and eloquently about race, gender, and the legal system in the USA.

“I think each and every one of us, as individual listeners and consumers of culture, has to come up with our own answer. […] You have to make a choice, as a listener, if music matters to you as more than mere entertainment.”

Recording is a beautiful time suck

I just returned from a long vacation in which I visited Quebec and Ontario.  I improved my French skills in Sherbrooke, visited art galleries and botanical gardens in Montreal, enjoyed incredibly delicious gluten free pizza and biked around in Ottawa with my friend Austin, met up with many awesome people in Toronto, and visited my cousin Amy near Hamilton.

When I arrived in London, I had much work to do sorting through boxes from a few months ago when my parents’ house finally closed.  I got to see many old friends and family members and had so many wonderful conversations.  No doubt about it, I do love the Forest city for its affinity for natural, unforced small talk and old brick houses in North London and Old South.  However, this is my first trip back to London since I moved away in 2011 when I haven’t felt a desperate longing to return and pangs of nostalgia.  I’ve been living in North Vancouver for one and a half years now and I’m beginning to really love it.  That’s no small feat given that I’m skeptical of change and stubborn as a mule in my personal life.  I’ve shown a few friends, who are visiting or temporarily working here, the parts of Vancouver that I think are the best, so I’ve been seeing the city vicariously through fresh eyes.

The vacation was a success, although I must admit that the week leading up to it was chaotic and stressful.  I was attempting to finish all recording and mixing of my fifth record, titled Yearbook, before leaving.  I completed the task but while on vacation I realized that the record was missing something: bass and another melody line to fill in sparse sections.  I’ve spent most of last week recording bass parts and low synth to fill out the recording and make the songs sound fuller.  I’ve also been notating parts for violin.

When I began recording this album, I thought “it’s old material that’s been lying around from as early as 2007.  I’ll just whip through it quickly, get it off of my chest, and move on to the next recording that I want to get done.”  Instead, the perfectionist in me reared its head and I end up with four part harmony, violin, guitar, multiple vocal takes, and endless hours of mixing.  This project, which I thought would be some rinky dink little one-off, has turned into a massive time suck and obsessive ongoing quest for the ultimate listening experience (although it will certainly fall short, since I’m no sound engineer or professional).  It’s been strangely fortuitous that my hours at work have been cut, even if it means venturing into questionable territory financially.

Although I use the words “time suck” and “obsessive”, I want to make it clear that this is also an enjoyable project for me.  I can happily spend five or six hours straight working on recording projects.  The scariest part is letting go at the end of it all and releasing it into the world.  Luckily I have 2.5 more albums worth of material, so at the end of this project I won’t have to worry about floundering without direction and can focus all of my creative energy and workaholic tendencies towards the next thing.

I find recording to be the most fulfilling activity in my life and envisioning how an album will take shape brings me happiness that carries me through each day with purpose.