12/30/09

The story behind the song...

My pal Leona writes for MetroLyricsblog.com and she asked me to tell the story behind the song 'Snakes' for her songwriter series of articles.  Would you like to know the story?  Check out her blog and see a live performance of the tune here.

12/17/09

Young and Restless



A few weeks ago I decided to write a little Christmas song for fun.  I'd never done it and I thought it might be a good writing exercise.  I recorded it in my little garage studio and it turned out pretty well.  I posted it online and sent it off to a few folks who were looking for Christmas music for various purposes...I found out yesterday that it will be featured on the Dec 22nd episode of The Young and the Restless!

It's not Grey's Anatomy, but it is the highest-rated soap on the air and it is viewed by millions of people around the world every day.  I'll take it.

Want to hear the tune?    Listen and download it here.

12/11/09

Cool critics



I am not thin-skinned.  I don't mind a little criticism, even if it's heavy-handed.  In fact, I appreciate it when someone takes the time to listen to my music and offer a thoughtful opinion.  No big deal.  Lately, however, I have read a couple of reviews that really got me thinking about music criticism.

First, my pals The Dimes released a new record which has received a ton of critical praise with the exception of one cynical Portland critic.  My other pal John Shipe wrote an excellent response.  Read it here.

Next,  I recently happened upon the site of a singer/songwriter named Allison Weiss.  She released a record and has been getting some attention, including a writeup in the New York Times.  One of the most notable and press-worthy aspects of her career is the fact that she seems to have mastered the social networking game and has built a pretty solid fan base by communicating with her fans directly.

So, someone in her hometown of Athens wrote this review titled "Allison Weiss and the Beiging of America" (implying that Allison represents a trend in music towards less colorful work in favor of broad appeal...this guy's blog page happens to be beige).

He doesn't care for her music as far as I can tell, but I'm not positive because instead of writing about what her music is he writes about what it isn't.  As one reader noted he spends a large part of his article addressing an assertion made by another local critic...confusing, I know. 

He takes issue with her talent, determination and success when it comes to self-promotion.  He takes issue with her DIY status...somehow being a college student disqualifies her from being DIY...what?  She's not bitter enough for him.  She doesn't write about a broad enough range of topics.  Her fans provide too much support.  She is writing beige music for the masses.  On and on.

The overall message seems to be that an artist should not have the nerve to promote their work unless it meets a certain music critic standard.  If they happen to achieve some small success it must be because their fans are dumb.

To my ears, Allison seems to be writing music from an honest place.  Her record isn't going to redefine the art of songwriting or record production but I don't think she was aiming for that.  Her music doesn't have sharp edges or abrasive textures, but does that make it bad?  Why shouldn't she make records?  Why shouldn't she bust her ass to spread the word?  Why is her success so distasteful? 

This guy doesn't offer much insight.  From reading his article you wouldn't know whether Allison sounds more like Miley Cyrus or Edie Brickell.  I know that he doesn't think her record is cool, and I get some clues as to what his idea of cool is, but he offers readers no information to be able to make their own judgment.

It's a line-in-the-sand approach to music criticism.  "Cool is on this side...uncool is over there...don't cross". 

I should probably stop reading music reviews.  They always make me feel so uncool.


 

     




       

12/2/09

My office

I have a serious fascination with recording studios and music work spaces.  I absolutely love being in the environment.  I geek out looking at studio pics on recording forums like Gearslutz and TapeOp...I thought it was about time that I post pics of the space where I work.

Shortly after moving to Seattle, my friends from the band Reily offered me the use of their little studio space.  They let me move all of my gear in and set up shop.  It's modest; just a tiny one car garage with some drywall and carpet, but it is a great space for me to work without distraction.  I love it.

Decorations are courtesy of Grant and Dave.















11/30/09

I wrote a Christmas song...

Things are really getting busy around here. I've been writing and recording, booking shows, and plotting my course for the coming year. Highlights include a mini tour in late December with my Australian pal Krista Polvere, and a mini tour in January with my Oregonian pal John Shipe. I'll cover the Northwest thoroughly between the two.

I may have mentioned that I play lap steel for the Portland band The Dimes who just released their new record, 'The King Can Drink The Harbour Dry' to overwhelming critical praise. Very nice.

And, as the title of the blog suggests, I wrote a Christmas song. I'm a little self-conscious about it...please don't tease me. Today I was trying to decide how I should put it out into the world. Release it as a single? Put it on iTunes? Print up some CD-R's and wrap them with a bow to sell at shows? In the end I decided to embrace the spirit of the season and give it away. I took it a step further and created the Ebbage Patch Song Collection, a site where I'll post all sorts of free downloads. Expect to see live recordings, demos, b-sides...everything that would otherwise go unreleased. It's on a separate site...in the future I'll figure out how to link it with my website but for now, go to:

http://ehrenebbagesongs.blogspot.com/

The downloads are free...I did however add a link to donate in case the spirit of the season grabs you too.

11/10/09

Talk softly, carry a big schtick


Portland, Oregon is chock full of bands. Get coffee anywhere on Mississippi Ave and you're likely to be served by someone in a band. It's actually pretty cool...music is alive and vibrant in the soggy Northwest town. Bands are taking chances and pushing boundaries. You're more likely to see a band made up of accordions, glockenspiels, violins and clarinets than you are a two-guitar, bass and drums band. Take Loch Lomond for example; they're emerging as one of Portland's sweetheart bands and they don't even have a proper drumset. They're great.

As with all music scenes, there is a tendency for bands to be born with all of the aesthetic of the trail blazers but none of the substance. It becomes a schtick. Think about all of the Beatles copycats. The psychedelic clones. The southern rock of the seventies. The countless punk bands. The new wave scene. The LA hair band scene. The Seattle grunge scene. Etc., etc. For every great groundbreaking band, for every cool music scene, there are a dozen more who jump on the bandwagon.

There are signs of this in Portland.

I have the honor of playing in The Dimes, a Portland band with a schtick. But it's not. The band's last record, 'The Silent Generation' is a concept album of sorts. Guitarist Pierre Kaiser found a cache of turn of the century newspapers stuffed under the floorboards of his house. Songwriter Johnny Clay decided to write songs based on the quirky stories in the papers. Sort of an indie pop history album. Through the process, Johnny found his voice. He is a genuine history buff, and he found a way to merge his music with his interest in US history.

Since making this connection, Johnny has become a prolific writer. The songs pour out of him and the inspiration is obvious to all of us in the band. It is entirely genuine. He loves it. It may seem like a schtick, and I guess it is; the band that only writes songs about obscure historical figures from the pages of history. The truth is, it's an honest artistic effort and it's very well executed. Johnny has a clear vision for his music and he is going to see it through.

The band is preparing to release a new album, 'The King Can Drink The Harbour Dry' this weekend with shows in Seattle, Portland, Eugene and Ashland, OR.


There have been some glowing reviews in the lead up to the release. There have been a couple reviews written by critics who are not impressed. Fair enough. For what it's worth, I am totally inspired by Johnny's commitment to his vision and I am honored to be involved in the project. The record is worth having in your collection, and the live show is worth braving the rainy weather to see. If you're in the Northwest come check out one of the shows, and if you're elsewhere spend a few bucks on a great record. Get all of the info at The Dimes website HERE

10/21/09

Last one standing

Wha-wha-what??!!!! It's been a month since my last post? Wow. I am sincerely surprised. A lot of things have happened in the past month. I met and opened for a few of my musical heroes, set up a writing/studio space to work in, played in Chicago...it's been a busy month! I could write a blog for each day, but I'll refrain. Instead, I'll post the blog that I just submitted to Calliope Epic as a guest writer. It will be featured when they re-launch their website...it isn't happening for a couple of days so I'm posting it here first.

"It's early. I woke up thinking about last night's show and couldn't fall back to sleep. What do you do when the venue stiffs you? Raise hell with the bartender? Make snide comments from the stage while the audience watches uncomfortably? No, of course not. Not if you want to be a professional.

My friend and mentor John Shipe once told me that success in the music industry is about being the last one standing. I'm not talking about 'fame and riches' success; you have better odds winning the lottery than becoming the next John Mayer. I'm talking about the 'pay your rent' success. The 'I don't have a day job' success. After years of working towards this goal I have finally achieved it. I am a professional songwriter and musician. Recently, a friend asked me how I was able to transition from being a part time musician to making my living at it. There are a number of specific things that made a huge difference, but the 'last one standing' idea is the one I'd like to focus on. It is key.

I've been stiffed by clubs a time or two. It feels awful. I can't bring myself to throw a tantrum or demand that the bartender pay me out of his tips; I'm always conscious of the manner in which I do business and the impression that I leave. So, I say "thanks for having me" and I suck it up and leave quietly. Thankfully it doesn't happen often. My consolation is that I can see past it when it does. These are the experiences that make musicians quit and become bank tellers or schoolteachers, and I know it. These are the experiences that, over time, knock musicians down. Sometimes, as John put it, you just have to be the last one standing.

The ability to stay upright is a huge unspoken factor in having a successful career. Sure, you have to develop your skills, build your network, make the phone calls, send the emails, etc., etc., but you also have to be able to withstand the pressure and conditions of the career. Sometimes that means sleeping in an airport. Sometimes it means spending 3 days in a motel room in Laramie waiting for a freak blizzard to pass. Sometimes it means driving several hours to play for a half empty room for no money. Sometimes it means pawning a guitar to pay rent. It means driving a shitty car, going for months without getting your broken tooth fixed, wearing socks with holes. It means eating a lot of rice and quesadillas, moving back to the parents' house, breaking up with girlfriends who don't understand. It means not buying gifts for Christmas and spending Thanksgiving in New York handing out samples of Airborne at the Macy's parade to make a few bucks. It means waking up at 4 am to catch the green line train to Midway because you can't afford to call a cab. It means asking for another favor from a friend who has been doing you favors for ten years.

The list goes on and on, and as I write this I realize how it must look. Who would voluntarily go through this? Me, I guess, and countless other musicians and artists who are making it work. So when someone asks me how to be a professional musician I tell them to practice their craft, get their business together, and be the last one standing."

9/21/09

School

Listen closely: if you are a fan of fantastic songwriting and intimate live shows, go see Slaid Cleaves.

I opened for him at the Tractor in Seattle last night. I felt good; played well, didn't forget any words, didn't tell too many long and boring stories...I finished the set feeling good about my offering, and the audience reinforced the feeling buy applauding loudly and buying a ton of cd's. Hot dog!

Then Slaid got up and it became clear that I was watching a guy who has mastered the craft. Every song was great. Not a single line out of place, and he set the songs up with perfectly told stories and anecdotes. When a performer is truly great they have a way of becoming invisible; you are engaged in the show without being distracted by the performer. It's smooth, seamless, dreamlike, and they don't do anything to wake you out of the feeling. By the end of the show I felt like I had received an education in the art of performing.

This sort of thing is not well represented by clips on YouTube. You have to be in the room.

Speaking of Youtube, I posted a video of Ten Cent Souvenir from last night's show.

9/16/09

Band assembly, live show broadcast...

It's been 6 weeks since the move to Seattle and things are progressing quite nicely. I'm in the process of putting a band together for the first time in a long while...very excited about it.

In an attempt to keep up with all of the online media stuff, I arranged to broadcast the September 20th Seattle show live at www.synclive.com. It's free to view...you just need to create a user account. You can do that and see the show details here:

http://app.synclive.com?show/32182

I hope you all tune in!

9/11/09

Earthquakes vid

Okay, so I'm late to this game. Here's my first attempt at a video entry. I'll do more of these in the coming weeks...


9/1/09

Years ago I went to see Ian Moore play at Sam Bond's in Eugene. I had opened for him once or twice and we exchanged a few emails, so we were somewhat acquainted. After the show he mentioned that he had to drive through the night because he didn't have a place to stay. I offered my floor and he accepted.

At the time I was suffering through a tough breakup. She moved out and took everything with her. All I had was a bed, a desk, a couple of chairs and an old rotary dial TV. The place was barren, like the home of a person who has sold everything of value to support a habit of some sort.

The only bit of decoration was a life size poster of Michael Jordan that I kept from my childhood days. I stuck it to the living room wall after the girlfriend left because it was comforting for some reason.

So Ian walks into my nearly empty place with a huge poster of Jordan staring down from the wall. I offered him some food...I had one sweet potato in the cupboard...he politely declined.

We started talking about Jordan's decision to come out of retirement to play pro ball again when every sports opinionator said he was washed up. Those guys were mistaken. Jordan averaged 22.9 points per game and proved them all wrong. Ian's take on it was that it was ridiculous for the naysayers to tell Michael not to play. He was the best player in the history of the game; even if he'd lost a little with age he'd still be a top player in the league. Who were these guys to say he shouldn't play?

This memory comes to me now as I watch highlights from Bret Favre's recent win...he came out of retirement at the age of 39 and he looks pretty sharp. Of course a lot of folks criticized his decision to play again, and they appear to be wrong.

This makes me think about the psychology of the various types of performers. Athletes, musicians...I think about the mental fortitude required to perform at such a high level. The public is so quick to find reasons to discourage. Even when you're the best in the world, it just takes a slight push to get the momentum of public opinion going against you. Every day that a performer goes to work he or she is required to prove his or her right to be there.

I can't exactly say that I am in Michael Jordan's position; the general public has not heard of me, let alone criticized me for my decision to do this work. Still, I'd like to borrow a few things from his approach: work towards mastery of a craft, work harder than the next guy, and pay no attention to anyone who says I shouldn't.

For the record, my parents have both been very supportive of my career choice.

8/25/09

The Fixer

Is anyone else getting excited about the new Pearl Jam record? I am. Years ago they won me over with their blend of old and new sounds, their well-crafted recordings and their outrageous energy. In an era when most frontmen were singing about cherry pie Eddie Vedder was a breath of fresh air. He seemed like a guy you could admire and hang out with at the same time. Interesting lyrics, heartfelt presentation...I really liked them. Over the years I followed them less and less. It seemed like the songcraft was drifting away from my taste and it was becoming less relevant to me.

Their new single, The Fixer, is fantastic. It has all of the elements I used to love with enough new stuff to keep me interested. I find myself in admiration of Eddie Vedder once again, and I absolutely love the way the band sounds. It's cool that the song was written by drummer Matt Cameron. It makes me think that Pearl Jam is a real band made up of guys who all like and respect each others contributions.

Cameron Crowe directed the video. It looks great and makes me wish I could see these guys in a small club. It's free on iTunes...check it out!

http://www.itunes.com/backspacer

8/18/09

Wage Slaves finale

Another week went by so quickly. Honestly, this whole year has flown by in a blur. I'm looking forward to a bit of time to rest and write in my new digs in Seattle.

The Sunday show at Mississippi Pizza in Portland was great. Some friends came out to support and I felt really happy to play for them. The set flowed nicely, I didn't forget very many words and I kept the awkward banter to a minimum. I tried a new approach to merchandise sales, too; I left a stack of cd's by the tip jar and told the audience to help themselves to a cd for whatever they could afford. When I was done playing the cd's were gone and the tip jar was full. Nice.

On Monday I taught the first day of a week-long rock band camp for kids. I've done this for a few years in a row and every year I have fun. The kids are totally excited to play some tunes with a full band and I'm glad to have a week to spend teaching the subtleties of 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.

Another fun thing: Wage Slaves wraps up its season with episode 6 this week! Created by Chris Bolton, Wage Slaves is a web-based series about the baristas at the fictional 'Rose City Coffee'. Many of the songs on my record were used as the soundtrack for the entire series, and I make a cameo in a few episodes including the one this week. I've written a more detailed description in recent blogs but the best way to find out about it is to see for yourself.


8/12/09

The shrinking/expanding world of the internet

A few months ago I bought a couple of microphones from a guy named Mike Jasper in Austin, Texas. He posted them for sale on a recording forum called Gearslutz. As a precaution, we spoke on the phone before the money and mics were exchanged. Turns out he's a baseball fan as well as a writer for TapeOp, a recording mag I love. We chatted for a bit about music and ballgames and he told me about a songwriter friend of his, a guy named Slaid Cleaves. I hadn't heard Slaid before so I checked him out online. Wow...he's good!

Mike and I stayed in touch via email and he asked me to take part in a panel for an upcoming article in TapeOp. I did, and sure enough I got to see my name in print in one of my favorite magazines. Cool.

Then, I moved to Seattle. I was booking shows as I usually do and I noticed that Slaid Cleaves is coming to town in September, playing at The Tractor Tavern. I happen to know the guy who books the Tractor...I asked him if I could open the show and he gave me the gig. September 20th...tell your friends.

I'm thinking back to the days before the internet. This would never have happened. The internet has drawn the corners of the world within easy reach, making these sorts of connections an almost daily experience.

Old news, I know, but sometimes it's fun to think about how we managed before technology came along.

Anyway, here's video of Slaid playing a tune called 'Cry'.


8/4/09

Seattle!

I have always loved Seattle. Now I live here.

Anna and I moved two days ago after a whirlwind couple of months of big life changes. Marriage, trip to Italy, deaths in the family, career moves, etc., etc. We’ve been busy. Somehow in the midst of everything it became clear that we wanted to leave Eugene in search of new opportunities, so we did. She interviewed for a job, a week later they gave her the nod and within 48 hours we were in Seattle.

I’m excited. There is a community of artists here that rivals any in the country. I have seen it from the periphery and now I can jump in. I’ll take a cue from my buddy John Shipe; when he moved to SoCal last year he immediately hit the open mic circuit. It seemed like a step backwards for someone who has been playing professionally for years, but within a few weeks he connected with a ton of local music fans and made a few good friends.

Last night I played at an open mic for the first time in years. Molly Maguire’s is a cool little Irish pub in Ballard. It’s like Cheers where everybody knows each other. When my turn came up I played my tunes and felt warmly received. Looks like I may be invited to play a songwriter in the round show this week.

It’s hard to know what will come of this move. It happened fast and without much forethought, but it’s a step in the right direction. As my friend Joe once said, “How can I look when I’m already leaping?”

7/28/09

More DIY/Sara Lov

I've been all pumped up to find creative ways to get my music out to the world. There are way more opportunities than any one person can manage...all of the internet media outlets draw gazillions of viewers and it would be wonderful to work my way into their line of sight. One of the big elements that I lack is video content, so I'll be working on putting that together.

Sara Lov had a great idea; she shot a series of videos performing covers as requested by her fans. They are extremely simple, low or no budget, and by encouraging fan input she engages them and provides a reason to follow her efforts. It's such a great idea...I may need to 'borrow' it...

Here's one installment. She's accompanied by Zac Rae, who produced my record. Sara is touring like crazy this fall...go see her!

7/21/09

Boltron/Wage Slaves

Chris Bolton has been writing for a long time. I have known him for 17 or so years and he was writing before we ever met. I count him among a few friends whose work ethic, discipline, and drive are on a level above most others. It has been fun and inspiring to watch him develop his craft. I'll never forget the time a few years back when we found ourselves sharing a hotel room in the Philippines; each night when I left to carouse with the locals he stayed behind to write. Each (mid) morning I'd wake up to find him already awake, writing. He is on a mission.

In recent years there was a stretch when he seemed to be on the verge of bitterness and jadedness; he had become a great writer and was working like crazy to produce a solid body of work, but the world wasn't paying attention. He submitted screenplays to publishers and contests and got great feedback but never got the stamp of approval that so many of us seek from our respective industries. He had stacks of stories and screenplays and he knew that his work was good...why didn't anyone take notice?

I think that this is the point at which many artists choose to throw in the towel and become hobbyists. In Chris' case, it was the point at which he stopped waiting for the green light from an imaginary financier and started making it happen on his own.

In the past year, Chris launched an increasingly popular web-based comic, Smash, which is illustrated by his brother (and my best buddy) Kyle Bolton. They have maintained an incredible pace and have released 10 episodes since its debut one year ago.



















Chris also wrote, directed and edited a fictional web-based series called 'Wage Slaves' based on the lives of the baristas at the Rose City Coffehouse. He shot the episodes over a number of weeks on a shoestring budget. Yours truly provided the soundtrack and I play the role of Rob in a few episodes. The series makes its debut today!





"Wage Slaves" Episode 1 from Chris A. Bolton on Vimeo.





On top of it all, Chris was one of sixteen selected to contribute a story to 'Portland Noir', a collection of short stories by Portland writers. It's a real book, by a real publisher! You can find it online HERE.

In the past year Chris has received more attention than ever and it has come as a result of the initiative he took to put his work out into the world. Bottom line is, nobody is going to come looking for you while you toil away in your bedroom. Find ways to make your work visible and it will get the attention it deserves and you will be happy. Just look at Chris!

7/9/09

Me and Eli

Fun news this week: 'Land on You' will be featured on ABC's Eli Stone on Saturday, July 11!

Licensing has become a major source of revenue and exposure for independent artists. Many of today's well-known artists' careers were launched as a result of a choice placement in a film or TV show (think Grey's Anatomy, Garden State, etc.). This is the first major placement for me...it's exciting, and hopefully there will be more to come!



7/7/09

Hitched!

Whew, what a month it has been. I’ll explain:

Months of wedding preparations came to a head and the result was as I had hoped. I married my sweetheart on June 13th. She and I left the country a few days later. We flew from Seattle and landed in Barcelona and after sleeping for several hours we ate tapas and danced all night.



















The next day we caught a $16 Ryan Air flight to the Mediterranean island of Sardegna. I have never seen such clear blue water outside of a swimming pool. The island is gorgeous and somehow it has resisted turning itself into a tourist trap a la Disneyland or Club Med. There are real people who live there and couldn’t care less if your towels have been washed. I’ll spare most of the details of the trip and just highlight the highlights, in order of appearance:

1. The best croissant (locally referred to as a cornetto) I have ever had. It was in the town of Fertilia which was built by Mussolini all those years ago. I remember thinking as I ate that if the extreme right wingers are right about Obama being a fascist a la Mussolini, maybe we’ll get to eat croissants like these. Here's a view from our room.
















2. Clear blue ocean water. Clear like a swimming pool.

















3. Cappuccinos and macchiatos.


4. The tiny town of Bosa. They have a castle. They have parades. They have people who stand on the backs of horses galloping at full speed. They have Ichnusa.





















































5. Cala Gonone. Okay, this town was sort of touristy. But in a good way. On this part of the island a mountain range plunges directly into the sea. It looks like someone put the Alps in Hawaii. To get there, you must risk your life on the mountain roads that have cute guardrails and crazy drivers, but when you finally make it you are greeted by bars and cafes and gelaterias, and of course the clear blue Mediterranean.
















6. Bonifacio, Corsica. We took a ferry there from Santa Teresa di Gallura. Another small town on another island. Here they speak French. The town was built on sheer white cliffs centuries ago. The buildings are built to the very edge of the cliffs and sometimes are incorporated into the rock itself. You would think that they might have built the town a few feet back from the edge for safety’s sake. We ate mussels and attempted to blend in by saying ‘bonjour’ and ‘merci’.































7. Mainland Italy. Cinque Terre. Five little towns nestled into the hills along the sea. They are connected by hiking trails and a train line. You can have dinner in one town and ride the train to another for dessert. They all have their charm, but I liked Vernazza the best.


















In the mornings in Monterosso, outside a cafĂ© called ‘Laura’s’, you will find a small crowd of people sitting around waiting. Eventually an old man appears with a tray of freshly baked pastry cream-filled pastries and the crowd erupts into cheers and laughter. Everyone reaches for the tray and the cheers give way to satisfied munching sounds. Anna decided that these are the best pastries anywhere. We stumbled upon this scene on our first morning in Monterosso. On our second morning we were there waiting for the old man with everyone else.

















8. Florence. Il Duomo is incredible. Pictures cannot capture the simultaneous enormity and micro-detailed nature of the building. To think that this was built so long ago and with such old technology…it is simply amazing to see in person.

















9. Real gelato. Seriously, not like anything else I’ve ever had.


















10. Piazzale Michelangelo at night, overlooking Florence. Bring wine.

5/12/09

Cool

Holy smokes. The midwest tour was great. True, I did get snowed in and couldn't leave Laramie, WY for a couple of days resulting in a canceled show, and I got a speeding ticket in a tiny little town in Iowa, but for the most part the tour was a success.

Since I've been back I've been sort of obsessed with learning more about engineering and producing records. I've spent a ton of time browsing the forums on sites like TapeOp and Gearslutz and I am continually amazed at the amount of information that is so readily available. It's awesome. In addition to all of the nerdy tech stuff on the forums there are occasionally posts of things like this:




Perhaps the coolest thing I have ever seen on the internet. Check out his Youtube page...I love #3 too.

4/16/09

Hello, Buffalo



I can't believe it's been so many weeks since my last entry. Time is flying. For those of you whose lives and happiness depend on reading my updates, please accept my sincere apology.

So, I'm in Buffalo, Wyoming. You learn something new every day...like, there is such a place as Buffalo, Wyoming. I haven't actually seen anything here. I got to town late last night and went straight to the Motel 6. I woke up this morning and looked out the window to get a sense for what the place is like, but there's a Holiday Inn blocking all of the view. I guess I'll have to leave the lap of luxury to explore Buffalo further. One thing I know for sure is that it is windy. Seriously windy. From the time I arrived last night until now the wind has been blowing hard like when you're driving on the freeway with the window down.

Anyway, since my last entry I have been busy. The California tour ended well. Zac Rae sat in with me at the Hotel Cafe in Los Angeles (the show was recorded and I'm giving away a couple of mp3s at the link to your left). Anna, Louis and I made the 800 mile drive home in one long day.

The following day I resumed work on a record with Patrick Kavaney. His record is coming along well and the finish line is in sight. A week or so later I left for Seattle where I worked on a record with Reily. They booked some studio time at Orbit Audio in Pioneer Square and I had the pleasure of working on the very same console that Guns and Roses used to record Appetite for Destruction. At least that's what Joe the owner told me. He may have just wanted to see me giggle. Reily's record has been long in the making...we started the project a year and a half ago. It's fun to hear side by side comparisons of stuff I engineered at different times. I heard some progress in my skills, which felt nice. On a side note, Tat's Deli around the block from the studio makes a great cheese steak.

I left Seattle a couple of days ago...wow...seems like weeks. I drove 815 miles directly to Billings, Montana to play for the students at Montana State. Christine and the rest of the Student Activities Board were gracious hosts and bout me lunch, dinner, and a mango smoothie for the road. I left Billings at around 8 last night and drove a couple of hours down I-90, stopped at the Motel 6 here in Buffalo, and that brings us up to date. Now, I'll find some bfast, a large coffee, and continue on to Laramie where I will play for some more college students.

Oh...check out Slaid Cleaves.

3/22/09

Tour blog 4 / eating

We've been kicking around the Bay Area for a few days, seeing friends and family, hiking in the Berkeley hills and eating some terrific things.  Highlights:  

-Pizza at the Cheeseboard with feta, mozzarella, tomatoes, basil, and lemon zest
-Dinner at Ajanta on Solano, especially the naan stuffed with cheese and mint
-Coffee at Cole Coffee on College Ave
-Inspiration Point in Tilden Park
-The Starving Musician on Shattuck...wish I could afford that Ampeg
-More coffee at Cole Coffee
-Bfast at Rick and Anne's...going back today

The show on Friday was fantastic.  The Uptown is a great Oakland venue...the sound is good, the staff know what they're doing, and the beers don't cost a fortune.  I played on a bill with some of my childhood friends...we grew up playing baseball in Oakland and dreaming of playing in the big leagues.  Now we're all musicians.  Their band is called The Real Tom Thunder, and their live show was pretty rocking.  It was a bit like Zep with Sublime with Tower of Power, except not like any of them.  Fun music, good songs, played with all of the enthusiasm of guys trying to stretch an up-the-line grounder into a double and diving head-first into second base. 

I played a short set, just the hits...it felt pretty strong and the audience was full of friends and family so they were cheering at all of the right moments.  It was a bit overwhelming to have so many of them show up...I saw everyone but didn't have a chance to really talk to any of them.

At the end of the night Anna left with her cousin and I stayed to pack up and hang out with my old buddies.  Of course, I put my car keys in Anna's purse and forgot to get them out before she left, so I had to leave my car full of gear in downtown Oakland overnight.  Dumb.  RTT drummer Leon gave me a ride home and we finally had a chance to catch up.  We sat in the car and talked for an hour about gear, signal chains, mix techniques, etc.  Leon was probably the first friend I ever had who shared my interest in music and performing...as fifth graders we used to arrange performances for our class...it was great to reconnect with him and find that we still have a lot in common.

The last couple of days have been spent with family...Anna and I both have a ton in the area and we've been running from place to place to get a little time in with all of them.  We still have more to go.  Today's schedule:

Bfast in Berkeley with friend and former manager Elliot
A visit to the Italian consulate in San Francisco
Early dinner with Anna's grandparents
Late dinner with my uncle in Castro Valley

Somehow in the middle of this I need to wrap up booking the last couple of shows for the midwest tour in April.





3/20/09

Tour blog 3 / Aussie press!

Yesterday felt like vacation. Woke up, lazed around a bit, went for a run, layed in the grass, wrote a blog, looked for gear on craigslist, went downtown for some excellent tacos...I didn't have to be at the University of the Pacific until 7pm, and it was a mere 25 miles away (we drove almost 1ooo miles over the two days prior). For the past two months I have been frantically booking two tours, making records with folks, planning a wedding, etc., etc. I haven't had any real opportunity to decompress. It's funny to think that this tour might actually provide me with a chance to relax.

The show was fine...college shows can be so hit or miss. The student production staff was great, the campus was beautiful, but the show itself was a little bit underwhelming. The students were kinda half listening and more interested in the March Madness ballgame on tv, I guess. Just one of those gigs where it takes a little extra effort to get into the tunes and play with enthusiasm. They invited me back and I'll happily do it, but I might need to bring a box of fireworks or a clown or something.

It's probably for the best. I got some fun news yesterday and if the gig had been any better my head may have swelled up. My friend Jenny Queen released her record this month. She's based in Sydney, Australia and is signed to ABC Records. I co-wrote the majority of the tunes with her and I've been eagerly awaiting the release. Well, it's out and she's getting some press. Jenny tells me that The Australian is 'one of the two big newspapers, like a smart USA Today'...they reviewed the record and interviewed her, and she talked a bit about our writing process. You can go to any newstand in Australia and get a paper, or you can read the article online HERE.

Congrats, Jenny, and thanks for the shout out!

Tonight I play in Oakland at a cool club called the Uptown with some of my oldest friends.

3/19/09

Tour Blog #2 / Industry


Oh man...we jumped right into full tour mode on the first day of shows.

Up at 6:45 am, showered, ate oatmeal and strawberries thanks to Anna, wrote a quick blog entry, and out the door a little after 8. We had to make it to Fresno by 11 to load in for the nooner at Cal State Fresno. Guitar? Check. CD's? Check. Good...we're off. It was a beautiful morning in the central valley. We enjoyed the drive for about 25 miles when I realized that we were headed in the wrong direction. North instead of south. The extra miles, plus a little traffic changed the drive from being a leisurely jaunt through California farmland to a bat-outta-hell mad dash down Highway 99. I made it just in time to hop out of the car, hustle over to the stage, plug in (thanks for the battery, D!) and start no less than three minutes after the scheduled show time. Yep, now this is a tour the way I remember it.

We had a few hours to make our way back up to Modesto...we took some backroads, stopped for burgers and a Blizzard, and got to the Fat Cat Music Hall right on time.

The club was huge...and empty. The audience was really just made up of the other bands and a few folks who came to see them. But the sound was amazing. It was a true pleasure to sing and play in that place, and by the second verse of the opening tune I was really into it.

After the show I talked to one of the other bands for quite a while. The Mainland is a rock band from Yuba City who really have a lot going for them. Their show is put together very well, and they play like guys who have twice their experience.

I got into a conversation with the singer about his goals for the project and he kept mentioning their plan to shop around for a record deal. I couldn't help but offer my opinion in the form of advice...Don't Do It!!!! See, his band already has everything a label might offer at this point. They have gear, a van, a record, a developed sound...for them to sign a record deal at this stage of their career would likely result in the halting of all momentum, and possibly the breakup of the band. This is the typical outcome...totally standard and to be expected.

The conversation called up lots of memories from my own experience with a major label. Honestly, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I am glad to have gone through it, and I don't feel like we were treated any worse than any other young band with a contract. Our A & R guys were great and would have helped us if they could, but the band broke up in the end and we never got to see our record on the shelves or hear it on the radio. As an individual, my life was enriched and enhanced by the experience. For the band, though, it was a disaster.

The lesson? Do it yourself. Make your own records. Book your own tours. Make your own goals and decisions. Build a fanbase. Develop a career. If you deserve attention from the big industry, it will come to you. Don't spend all of your time and energy pursuing their attention...get the attention of fans first. They'll be the ones buying the records and coming to the shows.


Speaking of shows, I'm playing a free one at University of the Pacific in Stockton tonight!











3/18/09

Tour blog/Interview!

We arrived in central California last night after a long drive from Oregon. It was just a driving day...no show, so the highlights were:

Excellent lunch at Allison's in Ashland.
Got sleepy in Yreka...Anna took over at the wheel.
Looked for a Dairy Queen in Redding...didn't find it.
Listened to Ryan Adams, Calexico, Iron+Wine...totally suited the rural interstate drive.
Arrived at Aunt Kay's, where Camarie had some spaghetti waiting.
Slept

Today I play two shows...Fresno State and the Fat Cat Music Hall in Modesto!

Oh...also:

Andrew at Northwest Indie Music took a moment to call and ask about what I'm up to. He posted the interview as a follow-up to his review of Ten Cent Souvenir. The interview is posted HERE

3/11/09

A nice review

I met Andrew Fickes a number of years ago when I was a member of John Shipe's band. Andrew booked shows at Central Washington University in Ellensburg...John and I played there and made friends with Andrew. Years later, he's writing for various local and regional publications and has a blog dedicated to independent musicians and industry stuff. He wrote a review of 'Ten Cent Souvenir' and we did a follow-up phone interview. The review is posted here:

Northwest Indie Music review

The interview will be posted sometime soon.

Thanks Andrew!

3/6/09

Pet Marmoset presents Writer's Block

I was going to write a little note about the benefit show tomorrow. I decided that Ryan Wines' post, on www.petmarmoset.net/blog says it perfectly. Here is the post in its entirety:

This Saturday night at Holocene in downtown Portland, Team Marmoset will be “using our power for good”, as we present, “Writer’s Block” - a benefit show, with all proceeds going to the Oregon Food Bank.

Writer’s Block is a little idea we came up with to accomplish a couple of things in the community. First off, we are all quite aware of the unfortunate and challenging economic situation the world has quickly fallen victim to. This new Writer’s Block series will be a vehicle for raising awareness of our community’s needs and raising both funds and food for one of the better community service organizations in town.

The second objective for this event is to bring together a diverse number of singer-songwriters from the Portland community and feature the core of their talent - songwriting - in a simplified, stripped-down presentation. As you can see, many of the artists participating in this first edition of the Writer’s Block series are songwriters and leads for successful Northwest-based bands. Others are some lesser-known, but equally talented artists, which we’ve chosen to highlight and introduce to an appreciative audience. Ideally, Writer’s Block might weave a new thread in the Portland music community, bringing artists and people together in community, while removing some of the barriers, clubs, and cliques that naturally prevail in an music scene such as Portland.

Writer’s Block is this Saturday night at Holocene in Portland and only costs $5, along with at least two cans of food. All proceeds and food will be donated directly to the Oregon Food Bank. The show will feature an intimate candle light setting, with non-stop music rotating between two stages throughout the evening. All of the performances will be stripped-down, acoustic solo, duo and trio performances and, hopefully, will all combine for a very special evening. Additionally, it will be a great time to meet new people and build some relationships in the PDX music community. There will also be a Motown-themed dance party to follow, with our dear friend, Karizma, working the turn tables. The doors open at 8pm - get there early! More info at www.holocene.org

2/27/09

Download Ten Cent Souvenir in its entirety for free!

Wow...I just discovered that, as part of my digital distribution agreement with CD Baby, Ten Cent Souvenir has been made available on Amie Street. If you've never seen the site, you should take a look. They price music according to its popularity...new music starts out being free and as more people download it the price goes up. Well, I haven't done a lick of work to promote my page on Aime Street, so all but one song are available for free. I thought I'd spread the word to the folks in my little corner of the web first. So, for a limited time, you can download 'Ten Cent Souvenir' in high-quality mp3 format for free. Here's the link. Pass it around!

Ten Cent Souvenir on Amie Street

2/23/09

Shaking the Tree




I had the chance to catch up with a friend the other day. We had a great conversation. I wound up clarifying an idea that I have been bumping up against a lot lately…I thought I should write about it.

The way I see it, any time you make an effort towards something, you will see returns. Maybe they will be the results you hoped for and intended to see and maybe not. But you will see something…a reaction to your action. The analogy that comes to mind is this: It’s like shaking fruit from a tree. Maybe you have your eye on one apple. You shake the tree. Leaves fall around you, other apples drop from the branches, and if the one you want is ripe and ready it does too. But if it’s a peach you’re after, and you’re shaking an apple tree, a peach is not going to fall no matter how hard you shake.

I think back on the years post high school. I was pretty sure that I wanted to find a career in music but I heard a lot of advice about the importance of having a backup plan. Perhaps a feeling of obligation drove me towards school. I went to community college for a couple of years, then to a university. I liked it enough but I sure didn’t apply myself the way other students did. I didn’t feel like I was in my element. I didn’t know what my element was…the time I was spending at school could have been devoted to finding it, but I talked myself into being practical. It took quite a while, but I finished with a degree.

I don’t mean to say that I regret going to school, or that school in general is a waste of time. I learned a ton of important stuff, and all in all I appreciate the experience. I regret making the decision to trudge through something that I wasn’t in love with. I regret not being more proactive in seeking out my element. I regret shaking an apple tree expecting something else to fall.

Maybe regret is too strong a word. I can’t expect myself to have 20/20 foresight vision, right? In reality, it was part of the process that has led me here and for that I am extremely grateful. I wouldn’t choose anything else.

The thing is, when you shake a tree, something will fall. It feels like progress. You see results. You find yourself with fruit all around you. It encourages you to keep shaking. You have something to show for the effort you made. Who knows if you could expect the same under another tree? Maybe there’s nothing up there but dry leaves? Maybe, but if you don’t take the time to find out you will be destined to eat nothing but applesauce, apple pies, apple juice…

If you want to be a musician, don’t go to business school. If you want to be a hairdresser, stop selling real estate. The more you work towards the wrong goal, the more entrenched you will be in that world and the harder it will be to find your way out. Besides, you will be working half-heartedly towards something that others are reaching for with all of their might, and you will seem much less special than they.

Of course, not everyone knows which tree to shake. In that case, the goal should be to vigorously shake every one in reach until the right one is found. Don’t just plant yourself under the wrong one and give it a little push once in a while.

Heh…I really should be writing a song or practicing guitar right now.

* Photo by Melissa Rae

2/12/09

Criticism

For years I have wondered why critics choose to write so many negative reviews. There is plenty of fodder, maybe now more than ever, but there is an amazing amount of good stuff being produced. Why don't critics use their forum to spread the word about things they like? Bad music certainly doesn't need a critic to slow its momentum. That will take care of itself. But good music can always benefit from a little critical praise.

So this week I saw two shows. One was terrible, one was fantastic. I found myself thinking and talking about the bad one a lot more than the good one. Why? Who knows? Was it because I felt ripped off? Well, I did. Had the tickets been free I still would have felt ripped off. The 'world famous' band looked like they had just rolled out of the tour bus bunks, a couple of them were obviously quite hammered, and totally called it in. One guy stumbled around the stage for the entire show and sounded terrible when he was actually playing. The rest of them performed with as much enthusiasm as a 12-year-old taking out the trash.

It might have been fun if the show was in a venue that was more suited to the music. A smoky bar with a stage in the corner and beers for a dollar would have been a better fit. Unfortunately, it was all wrong. The vibe of the room was stuffy. The sound was AWFUL. I'm not just being picky...it was undeniably bad. You'd think a venue that consistently charges $30 for tickets would install a proper sound system. Both acts were clearly struggling to hear themselves in the monitors, and the audience was struggling to hear anything the singers were saying. AWFUL.

The following night I went to see another show at the same venue. It was amazing. World class musicians, world class music. Every song had something great happening. I'd rank this show up there as one of the best I've seen. I felt the contradictory urges to go write music all night and to burn my guitar in acknowledgment of the fact that I'll never reach that level. I love that feeling.

Still, I wonder why I feel more compelled to tell people about the bad show than the good one? Am I trying to warn the masses? Do I need sympathy for the loss of time and money? Am I simply offended by the disregard for the audience showed by both band and venue? Whatever it is, it makes me want to talk about the experience.

In the restaurant world they have a saying: "If a customer has a good experience, they'll tell a few friends. If they have a bad one, they'll tell ten."

Maybe I gained a tiny bit of insight into the mind of a critic. It's a little more understandable, I guess. They have to listen to stacks and stacks of mediocre CD's. They probably feel robbed of their time and their only recourse is to make their experience known to the rest of us. Fair enough...but I still think they should cheer up.

2/10/09

Fine tuning a process

Part of what I enjoy about my current lifestyle is the variety; yesterday I worked with my friend James West on a short film score project. Today I made tamales. Tomorrow I'll remix a couple of tunes for a project I produced for a friend. Every single day is different and I look forward to them as they come.

On the other hand, I really like routines. Lately I've been accompanying Anna to the U of O where she's auditing an Italian class. I go to school with her each morning and spend an hour reading and writing in the library . I bring my travel mug full of coffee, my notebook, turn my cell phone off, and allow myself to wander through the stacks and read a chapter of any book I want. It's time that I have scheduled to follow my nose a bit and I end up discovering something cool and new every day. It's an attempt to keep 'the well' full.

There's a part of all of this that I'm trying to adjust. True, I really do look forward to each day. True, I have a life of varied and interesting experience. But I have found that it is hard to finish projects in a timely manner. I might only have one day a week to devote to any number of things that I have started. The recording project with James has been crawling along for months!

I'm starting to wonder if I shouldn't divide the year into quarters and devote each quarter to one or two things. Write songs. Record songs. Release record. Tour. I'd feel like I was letting a lot slip through the cracks if I did it this way, but the net result might actually prove me wrong.

Anyone out there have a work routine that is working well?

2/7/09

Free download!

It's amazing. I am becoming a fan of Google. I spent an hour or so putting together a page where folks can sign up for the mailing list and get a free mp3 for their trouble. I got the idea from this guy: Cameron Mizell

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when I shopped around to find a web guru who could help do this for a reasonable fee...now, I can do it myself and it is totally functional. I wonder what other promotional tools are available for DIY artists...

So, I'm giving a tune away to help promote the record. I'm hoping that friends and fans will pass this link around, post the tune on their blogs, etc. We'll see if it works! Get yours here:

2/1/09

In Bruce's defense...

I've been keeping an eye on the Lefsetz Letter, a blog about current music, media and marketing. The guy seems a bit surly but he offers good insight into the music industry. In the past week he wrote two entries about The Boss. Both were fairly harsh criticisms that I found to be off-base. I felt compelled to write a reply to him, but he doesn't seem to post many comments on his page so I thought I'd post my letter here. His original post can be found here.

What do you guys think? My letter is as follows:

Wow...another Bruce blog?

I've appreciated the opinions and analysis on your blog ever since a friend turned me on. Good stuff. When I clicked on your previous Bruce headline I was a little surprised by your scathing review of his latest record; I think it's a solid effort. I chalked it up to a difference in opinion. Now, another anti Bruce blog...he must really get under your skin! I would think that a writer might rather use the time and forum to spread the word about something he/she likes, rather than write two articles in a week dismissing the same artist. He's in the news, though, and your blog deals with current music, media, marketing...fair enough.

I guess I just don't agree with this one. Listen, the guy has been in the public eye for 30-plus years. He has run a multi-million dollar operation for 30-plus years. I'm trying to think of another person in his position who hasn't made a few bad calls over the course of their career. I love me some Paul McCartney, but that whole Jacko thing in the eighties? Ouch. Miles Davis put out some serious crap at the end. Go down the list of legends and you'll find some strange decisions and missteps in all of their careers.

So maybe Wal-Mart was a bad idea. Maybe 'Magic' was compressed all to hell. Maybe there is more strategy behind his public persona than some of us might want to believe. I don't think any of this is part of what he thinks of as his art. These are all just decisions that were made, probably by a group of 10 or so people, with the same goal that every artist/manager/label has: get the music to the people. This part of the process comes after the art is made, and in today's industry artists are forced to consider every possible outlet for their music.

Your description sounds more like Elvis in the final years. Washed up, desperately clinging to the fame and fortune of a bygone era. Bruce is nowhere near that world. Doing it in part for the money? Um...yes. Which professional artist isn't? But he continues to produce relevant work. He's not simply repackaging old stuff, crappy unfinished demos and half-assed covers. He is not simply squeezing the last remaining drops from a career based on work he did as a youngster. He continues to work. He continues to push forward. Even if his latest record is an album of singles (an assessment I disagree with; the opening track clocks in at over 7 minutes), who the hell else can write an album full of singles?

(An aside: I dare say that Ann Powers is totally wrong about our era...it is all about the single! Maybe the sales are dramatically lower than ten years ago, but consumers are making it very clear that they would rather pay $.99 to download their favorite song than $18 for the song plus 12 other crappy filler tunes. Fans love the single. The current industry is entirely single-oriented)

As for Bruce's artistic motivations, I know a few folks who have worked on his albums at various stages in his career and they all say the same thing: he works harder than anyone. He devotes more to his craft than anyone. He cares more about what he does than anyone. The fact that he continues to write, record, and tour is amazing. If his sole motivation was money he would simply tell his team to work the back catalog, book an occasional stint in Vegas, and spend the rest of his years kicking sand along the Jersey Shore. Instead he tours the world (think that's easy?) and makes records of new material during breaks. You put him in the category of aging, out of touch nostalgia acts...who else among his peers is still working so fiercely after 30 years?

After reading and re-reading your articles I'm not sure what you are suggesting he do. If he were to have packed it up and given in to the changing times, wouldn't that indicate that he was in it for the short term success? Lost the edge and got too comfy? If he were to attempt a different strategy, say, working with the latest hipster producer and making a Youtube video with treadmills, wouldn't he seem like a desperate old fella trying to reach an audience of children? If you were his manager or attorney, what would you suggest?
It seems like you are simultaneously criticizing him for being too calculating and not calculating enough.

I look forward to your next blog...thanks for putting your ideas out there.

Ehren Ebbage