SoN BAKER’S DOZEN: 13 songs in 2013

Greetings & Salutations!

January…

February…

March…

So, just what in blazes is going on here?

I’ll get the TL;DR version out of the way up front: the plan is for Sons Of Nothing to be releasing one new single every month for the year of 2013. (And at least two singles for one of those months, thus “Baker’s Dozen”.) Most will be re-recordings of our older songs mixed with a handful of cover tunes, but Matt and I are back in the process of writing again, so it’s likely that new music will also be coming before too long.

So, how and why did this plan come about?

Well, as has been documented elsewhere, the making of Green & Grey took a long time. A ridiculously, painfully long time. To be fair, the process was complicated by a number of sizeable events in our personal lives, and it’s not as if we had a hard, fast deadline to meet. But still, it was a frustrating experience – for us, and most likely, for some of you – and one that we don’t wish to repeat.

A lot has changed in that span of time, including the music business and our relationship to it. Although we’re past the learning curve of long-distance recording, the fact that we live so far apart has made playing live gigs a tough (and rare) proposition, and whatever momentum that the band managed to generate in the earlier years has atrophied, on a number of fronts. We’re getting older. Our audience is getting older. The chances of achieving even a scaled-down version of the dream we had when we started this are…well, not something I want to contemplate here, lest I end up turning the whole thing into a self-indulgent blues jam. Maybe later.

But here’s the thing: we still love making music, and we know there are folks who still want to hear the music we make. Maybe, if we’re lucky, there are even a few fans-in-waiting out there, just one listen away from jumping on board with us. So, it’s time to start turning weaknesses into strengths, and to begin fully embracing the technology and media landscape of the 21st century, which is a pool that we’ve been dancing around for a very long time without ever really jumping in with both feet.

Thus, this new venture into shorter-term projects.

We’re being careful not to bite off more than we can shred, keeping the commitment to one release per month, and keeping the focus on re-purposing songs that already exist. The plan is that by and large, the recording will be 100% new, even if the song is a familiar one, and some will be radically re-imagined. This latest release – “Thursdays,” with Marie’s lead vocal added but the rest of the original recording intact – is about as conservative as we’re going to play it. Most of the cover tunes will be songs that have been in our live set for a little while, so they’ll have our particular sonic stamp on them as well. And I’ve been wanting to go back and re-record some songs from our out-of-print first album since…well, practically since we released it. So there’s a lot of material from which to choose.

Everything will be available from our new BandCamp site, streaming for free or downloadable for $1 per track. The covers will be streaming-only until we work out the licensing details, then we plan to offer them for download as well.

As I already mentioned, Matt and I are also back in writing mode. So, once this operation is humming right along, brand new original music is sure to follow, likely along the same delivery method. We’re still very much album-band guys, but we’re also excited about using this new situation to helps us feel more connected to each other, to the music, and to you guys. The hope is that this new spirit of continuous interaction will lead to other opportunities as we go along, including more video projects, more live shows, more everything.

As Art Blakey famously declared: “If you’re not appearing, you’re disappearing.”

We want to be the first thing. And we would be honored if you joined us.

More soon…
TB

Baker’s Dozen #1: Atmosphere

Greetings & Salutations!

Yes, this is entry #1 being posted after entry #2, and everyone is just going to have to be Ok with that.

Atmosphere

This song was recorded for SoN’s first album in 2001, but its origins actually go back further, to the mid-90s and a band called The Rain Kings. Rick Kreifeldt (the band’s guitarist and chief songwriter) and I wanted to do a song within a song, essentially two sections of instrumental with a brief verse-chorus sandwiched between.

I had the lyrics already, and they were written specifically to fit a blues figure. Since that vibe had begun bubbling to the surface during the instrumental sections, we decided that we should go full-on blues rock and use those lyrics for the vocal section. The intro and outro jams were originally much longer, but we pared them back a bit by the time we were playing the song live, and even further when SoN got around to recording it.

My favorite thing about the song was its versatility. In The Rain Kings, we found that it worked well anywhere we cared to employ it in a live show, whether grabbing attention as an opener, ramping up to a big finale, or anywhere in between. And because it straddled its various genres pretty well, it also followed me through every band I’ve been in since — whether pop, blues, jam-band, metal, whatever, Atmosphere has always seemed to fit the bill, and take on new facets every time I went back to it.

I think the version the first SoN album turned out pretty well, especially in comparison to some of the other tracks, but it had certain weaknesses: some performances were a little too loose, my vocals could have been better, etc. But the thing I felt it was lacking most was the the crunchy power that it always had as a a live number — in short, it needed to rock more.

And now it does, thanks to stellar production (not to mention awesome guitar tones) from Matt, a propulsive, commanding drum performance from Tommy, and urgent, soulful backing vocals from Marie. For my own part, I spiced up the bass line considerably from the original, adding little side-riffs and nuances that I’ve developed from playing the thing live for so long, and also trying to tie the intro riff to the main body of the song more strongly. Helping in that endeavor was the great phat tone I got from the Thunderbird that my friend Robbie was kind enough to lend me for the session.

I never was happy with the vocal on the original recording (as was the case with most of the songs on that first album) so I worked hard to improve it on this one. I’m still not 100% satisfied with it, but I do feel that it’s far better than the older version — more natural and more musical, sounding like me while staying in key. As one anonymous listener opined: “Most people probably wouldn’t be bothered by it,” which made me chuckle. Sometimes that’s the best assessment one can hope for, I suppose.

Atmosphere is currently up at our bandcamp site, streaming for free or downloadable for the low low cost of a single American dollar. We believe it’s a fine addition to your digital SoN collection. And though the album it from will never see print again, this song will soon have some re-recorded friends and neighbors in its company.

Wait, what?

Stay tuned for details…

TB

Govt Machine Boy

Greetings & Salutations!

What an odd little beast this song is, and what a long strange trip it has taken in getting here.

Next week, we’ll be re-releasing our 2003 EP One Left Turn. It has been out of print for several years, and unlike our more recent releases, has never been available via digital distribution. We figured that as long as we were bringing it back to the world, we might as well polish up the original recording with a new remastering job, and cast about for some bonus material while we were at it.

“Govt Machine Boy” was one of two tracks that Matt played for me when we first sat down in January 2004 to start writing songs for what would eventually become the Clarity album. (The other track was an instrumental version of “Amazed,” which ended up in the “Trepanation” suite on Green & Grey, but that’s another story for another blog.) Entitled “Technobabble” at the time, it had the same rhythm track and synth layers, but arranged in a slightly different configuration. I don’t think Matt seriously considered it as a song for the band, more just an experiment that showed off his production skills. But I was immediately smitten with the track, and began dreaming up ways that we could put it to use — a scenario that has, incidentally, repeated several itself many times in the years since.

We used it as the intro music for a run of shows in 2004-5, accompanied by a video created by our friend Fozz. The arrangement had been changed to include the slow build-up to the drum & bass entrance, which remains today, and the first round of spoken word snippets were added. Once the track’s rhythm section kicked in, the live band would take over and play a stripped-down version of the arrangement until we could segue into the opening song proper. It’s something we might try again in the coming year, especially with our current line-up of players giving us additional musical ammo to more faithfully re-create the track’s multiple layers.

The guitars, flute, and saxophone were added in 2007-08, while the song was being considered for Green & Grey. It had been in the hopper for Clarity too, but was just too left-field to fit in with either album’s overall vibe. We were on the fence about including the saxophone at first, fearing that it would make the song’s Alan Parsons influence a too overbearing, but decided that John Flanders‘s performance was too good to leave on the cutting room floor.

By this time we were far enough into the digital side of things to release it as a standalone single, but the last few pieces of recording and arrangement — the breakdown towards the end, the inclusion of another handful of spoken bits — took a little while longer to fall into place. Now that it’s finally complete and ready for prime time, as it were, it seems obvious that this re-release of One Left Turn is a perfect opportunity to give it a home. Those songs are already such an unlikely hodgepodge of styles, with jangly pop sitting alongside crushing metal like they’ve been set up on a blind date, that adding a techo-ish instrumental at the end creates just the right straw to stir the drink. In my opinion, anyway.

“Govt Machine Boy” is currently available as a free download from Bandcamp, and will also be released with the rest of One Left Turn next week. Give it a listen, let us know what you think, and spread it around it if you dig what you hear.

TB

Quality & Quantity, Part 2

Greetings & Salutations!

So…where were we?

The concept of the show changed quite a bit in the months leading up to it. There were several bullet points that I wanted to hit: the 10th anniversary of Flyin’ Zion and the FloydShow, the 10th anniversary of Matt joining the band (we had downplayed the 10th anniversary of SoN itself last year, which made the check-boxing of these milestones more important somehow) and my desire to play a wide selection of our catalog, pull a few older tunes out of the mothballs, maybe try a new cover or two. We had been playing pretty much the same short-ish set list since the premiere of Green & Grey, and I was looking forward to shaking things up and stretching our legs a bit.

When the gig was originally booked for May, Dave Slack was not going to be available, so we looked for a way to work around a full-time keyboard presence. I hit upon the idea of starting the night with an acoustic set, beginning with just Matt and I on stage but gradually adding musicians as we went,. By the end of that set the band would be fully assembled, and we’d go electric for the last song. Then we’d take a break, come back and do a full electric set with Matt switching back and forth between keys and guitar when necessary, and after a second break we’d finish off the night with a full performance of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

I knew going in that taking on the Floyd material was going to be…tricky. Not just in a musical sense, but also because of a heavy dose of ambivalence. It’s something we’ve approached rarely, and with caution, since the split in 2007. It’s not our intention to show any disrespect to our friend and former bandmate Tim Hollinger or encroach on his great work with The Floyd Show, which continues to this day. Or, for that matter, re-muddy the waters of public perception concerning the SoN name. But oh my stars, do I miss those songs sometimes. On the occasion that we have thrown a random Floyd cover into one of our sets, it’s been a spontaneous event, nearly always at a gig where Tim is present and we’ve invited him up on stage to play it with us. It’s been a fun way to keep in touch with each other and our shared – if borrowed – legacy. This time, even though we were planning to involve Tim, the context would be different: a polished, full-band, full-production, full-on set, like the days of yore. I’ll admit that my motives were 90% selfish (WYWH is my favorite Floyd album and it was my birthday, damn straight I was gonna push this agenda) but I also thought it was a special enough occasion to warrant taking things a step further just this once.

Goblets of Rock raised in anticipation…

By the time we arrived at the night of the show, the musical landscape had changed. Pushing things back to July had put Dave back into the mix, so the song choices leaned toward the more orchestrated. Playing three sets was still the order of the day, but the full acoustic set was scrapped, leaving only a couple of songs now integrated into the broader swath of material. I had been persuaded by the rest of the band to drop the WYWH idea and include a more eclectic choice of Floyd tunes, some of which were still being learned and arranged right up to the last minute.

A quick word on the folks at Gino’s. When I first walked in to check out the stage space, I was gobsmacked to be greeted by several oversize banners emblazoned with our logo and ad for Saturday’s show. I had a few posters and flyers delivered to the club earlier, but nothing on the scale of this. They took our medium-budgetary ball and ran with it, asking for nothing in return but a great show, and that care and attention extended everything else about our experience. To Brett and everyone on staff, thank you so much for making us feel welcome and valued. Looking forward to coming back again.

Plenty of familiar faces in the crowd: fans, friends, and family, some of whom have become regulars at these shows, some of whom we hadn’t seen in a while, and even one guy who drove all the way from Colorado to see us live for the first time, which blew me away. All were welcome, all were enthusiastic, and all stayed for the duration. Pretty great.

We got a late start due to an unusually long and laborious sound check, but soon were off to the races and still had time to play everything on the roster. Hard to pick out highlights from a 29 song set that was performed 5 months ago, but for me, one of the biggest standouts was the full-band debut of “Solitary World,” a long-time favorite that took on a whole new life when brought to the stage. I also really enjoyed our take on “Atmosphere” that night, thought we did our best-ever performance of Marillion’s “Incommunicado,” and dug the hell out of “Thursdays” with Marie on lead vocals (she owns that song now) and Matt’s reading of Queen’s “In Only Seven Days” as a cheeky intro. And speaking of Matt playing solo, the brand new acoustic song he debuted – while the rest of us departed the stage and let him hog the spotlight whether he wanted to or not – was yet another great moment in an evening full of them.

The band delivered once again. I haven’t felt that relaxed on stage in a while, and a big chunk of it came from knowing that everyone had their ducks in a row and I could focus on communicating with the audience instead of giving cues and holding the arrangements together. My stress levels were also quelled by the fact that I was playing through Ray Opheikens’ fully-loaded bass rig, left at the club from the previous night’s festivities. I usually borrow a bass from Ray while I’m in town but it’s not often that I get use of his full set up, which provided glorious sound all through the night, and kept me wireless so that I had no cord-stomping anxieties and the ability to zoom around the room for both entertainment and communications purposes. As always, my time spent away from the stage was met with the requisite overcompensation – by the end of the second set, I had already sweated through my second t-shirt and was joyously exhausted.

And then, it was time for the Floyd…

To be honest, we could have been better prepared, and I blame myself.  I had dithered with the set list too long, and in a way did the band a disservice by allowing them to change my mind about the format, because it made things much more complicated. Consequently, there were some performances that were looser than we would have liked, but we pulled it off overall and had fun doing it. And some moments were bloody fantastic, like Mike & Dave’s intro for “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” or the trance-jam of “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun,” or the always reliable audience singalong with “Wish You Were Here,” amongst others.

Of course, it helped that this audience was populated by so many folks who not only were on our side in getting the job done, but had shared the stage with us while doing it on many occasions. Not only was Tim there (and, as always, pulled up on stage to take the lead vocal on multiple songs) but also the likes of Juli Holt, Jason Giron, and Carl Roehmann. Our friend Fozz turned up as well, capturing the night for posterity just like old times — all of the videos embedded in this entry were forged by his hand. The looseness of the event and the family reunion combined to create a great party atmosphere, and I came away from the experience profoundly grateful. Getting the chance to scratch that particular musical itch – and even indulge in a little nostalgic time traveling, was not something I had ever really expected to happen again, and having so many friends there to share it just enhanced the experience above and beyond.

Partial Family Portrait. Clockwise, from left: Jeff Hildy, Jason Giron, Carl Roehmann, John Flanders, Matt Meldrum, Tim Hollinger, Dave Slack, Thom Bowers, Tommy Maras, Mike Thiriot, Marie Estrada, and Juli Holt.

Matt and I chatted afterwards, and I thanked him for his indulgence on the Floyd front — it was much more my quest than his — and we both agreed that the major takeaway from this show is a renewed confidence in our ability to fill an entire night with so much music, so many different facets of ourselves, and have it pay off. We have enjoyed playing with other bands in the past and will undoubtedly do so again in the future, but it’s nice to know that this option is…well, optional. We’ve been doing this for too long to settle for anything less.

More on that subject, and other plans for the further future, in upcoming installments…upcoming sooner than you might think.

Thanks so much for reading,

TB

Quality & Quantity, Part 1

Greetings & Salutations!

So, this is a ridiculously long-delayed and long-winded (both of which I apologize for in advance) gig recap. I almost didn’t write it at all, due to a combination of the usual procrastination issues plus a perverse curiosity about whether I could last an entire year between blog entries, and whether a fully blank 2012 might be, er…cleaner, somehow, than a year with an untoward gap followed by a glut of lengthy entries popping up at the last minute.

No, really. This is my brain.

But since I am embarking on a serious effort to update the blog more regularly, this seemed like tangible territory that would make a good place to start. And really, the shows that we did earlier this summer were just too cool, for a whole bunch of reasons, to go unremarked upon.

To begin with, the shows themselves were delayed by a little over a month. We had initially booked May 26 for this year’s birthday show, but a combination of circumstances forced us to push it off until July 7 – still a holiday-adjacent time frame, but post-Independence Day proved much more agreeable to everyone’s schedules than pre-Memorial Day. Plus we got another two bonuses out of the deal: more time to prep what would turn out to be a very ambitious set list, and an invitation to Matt and I from our friends Roll The Bones to open for them with an acoustic set on July 6, the day before our show. Because both shows were being played at the same venue (Gino’s in Salt Lake City) we also decided to throw in with RTB to provide additional lighting and backline which would be used by both bands over both nights.

This time I chose to drive instead of fly, departing Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon and making my way to Beaver UT where I spent the night before pushing on to Salt Lake the next day. The drive was downright meditative, even with unexpected rainstorms in Death Valley and the occasional traffic snarl. I listened to a lot of great music (albums only on this trip, no shuffle allowed) and was inspired by my surroundings to dictate the occasional lyric idea into my recorder. The long car trip was also a prime opportunity to finally listen to the Rick Emerson Show finale, a four-plus hour affair which I had been putting off since the show actually ended in January. Pulling the band-aid off slowly. It’s what I do.

Full band rehearsals don’t happen too often these days, obviously. Even when prepping for a gig, we usually break into sectionals and it’s rare to get everyone in the same room. I miss that aspect of things, and feel that it’s a chink in our armor both musically and chemically. Fortunately, the folks that we’ve tagged to play with us over the past few years are talented, quick studies who work well under pressure. This last is especially important because my bad habit of constantly tweaking the set list shows no signs of abating anytime soon. So, it was great to see nearly everyone at Matt’s place that night: Tommy Maras on drums, Mike Thiriot on guitar, Marie Estrada on vocals, and Dave Slack on keyboards, basically the same lineup as the Green & Grey release party last year. Only John Flanders, our resident woodwinds guru, was absent.

As I said before, Saturday’s show had a lot on the plate. It was our first all-nighter with no other bands on the bill in several years, with a broad mix of originals and covers spanning the band’s entire history, and a special Pink Floyd set as a tribute to the 10th anniversary of Flyin’ Zion.

10 years. Wow. (I’ve been saying that a lot lately.)

The gang’s mostly here!

The practice session ran late (well…late for us, see the clock above) but things went swimmingly, especially considering the sheer bulk of material we were tackling. Even the songs we had never played together before seemed relatively smooth and confident. We didn’t quite have time to run everything so we made the decision to leave a few tunes for a brush-up the next day.

Friday morning brought a one on one session with John Flanders, a pre-gig tradition that we’ve built up over the past few years due to the radical scheduling differences between him and the rest of the band. It’s always great to chat with John, catch up on politics and pop culture and life in general, and going over his contributions to our arrangements is a blissfully low-maintenance job. This time we decided that in addition to sax and flute duties, he’d be throwing in some clarinet on “Sunny Day,” and we toyed with the notion of adding baritone sax to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” but decided that the stage was probably going to be claustrophobic enough as it was.

Afterwards, I did some ping-ponging between Salt Lake and Layton to keep up with show prep. I caught my first glimpse of Gino’s while helping the guys from Roll The Bones (as well as the sound and lighting techs who would be bringing some extra zazz to the proceedings) with their load-in.  Once their gear was settled in and the setup underway, I took some time to get a feel for the stage and touch base with the staff about the details for Saturday, then took off for Matt’s place once again. We had a little more work to do with Tommy and Dave, particularly on the Floyd set which was still somewhat in flux, then dashed back to Salt Lake, walking into Gino’s with only minutes to spare.

Matt brought a six-string, and the kind folks at the club had already set up my acoustic bass. We also left a guitar and mic space to further stage right, where guests would be joining us during the set. Because we didn’t have much time to select songs and weren’t entirely sure how long the set was meant to last, I jotted down a couple dozen titles and we called the show on the fly for the most part. The set list ended up being sort of a microcosm of what we’d be unveiling on Saturday — a few covers, a few originals, and a Floyd finale.

The unstructured nature of the show was a great release, and I was happy that we finally managed to play Cyndi Lauper’s “Goonies R Good Enough,” all the way through, and our fierce rendition of “Quo Vadimus,” a very proggy tune which we were taking our first stab at acoustically, seemed to go over well with the crowd who were anxiously waiting for their Rush fix from RTB. Mike came up to play on “Saving Grace” and “Eye In The Sky,” and Tim finished things off with “Misery” (a de facto rehearsal, since we we’d be repeating it with the full band on Saturday) and a couple of Floyd tunes, “Cymbaline” and “Wish You Were Here,” both played by request.

Roll The Bones then took the stage and brought the rock both heavily and progressively for over two hours. Goes without saying that I was impressed, but I’ll say it anyway. Every time I see Ray, Mike, and Russ do their thing, they’ve added new songs, new gear, new techniques, and new authenticity to the Rush experience. The crowd agreed, keeping the guys on stage until their catalog was nearly exhausted and still shouting for more. I still think they should have added a song or two from the just-released Clockwork Angels right away and actually scooped Alex, Geddy and Neil on playing them live, but that’s an extremely mild nitpick amid a night of awesomeosity. 🙂

RTB in action!

On the way home, I finished off the Rick Emerson Show finale. Must admit, I got a little misty. Not only have I been entertained by his show for over 15 years, but his influence looms large in the way I’ve handled many creative endeavors, from banding to branding to blogging to podcasting. And the fact that he’s willing to walk away from this overwhelming thing he’s been doing since he was a teenager, it’s…humbling, inspiring, and disconcerting all at once. I came out the other side of the listening experience feeling older, not so much wiser, but satisfied. And grateful.

To be continued…