Friday, July 30, 2010

New Song Demo! "Go Easy On Me"

Bleh. I started feeling funky (and not in an Earth, Wind & Fire kinda way) yesterday afternoon, and when I awoke today, there was little doubt that some kind of virus-type thing had taken up residence in my body. In other words, I'll say those two words that I try and deny to myself under any plausible circumstance: I'm sick.

Well, says Captain Obvious, being sick isn't fun. However, there's something you might be able to do while you're ill that you can actually do better than when healthy, and that's write a song. I'd had some experience with this myself, working on tunes of my own long ago, but then I had it validated by none other than Neil Young. He wrote a good portion of one of my favorite albums, Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, from a sickbed. In an interview with author Jimmy McDonough for the biography Shakey, he gave the following explanation.

"Sometimes if I get sick, it's easier to write. Everything opens up. You don't have any resistance -- you just let things go. Your guard is down."

Interesting. Well, that works for me too. So back to today and feeling like crap and so on: I've had this song that I've been chewing on for a long time. I think I wrote the basic progression for the verse maybe six months ago, and for the life of me, every time I'd pull it out and start a lyrical theme, I'd just hate it. Also, the original chorus of the song was way sappy and it broke the feeling of the song into a mistaken direction. Today, I not only wrote a new chorus, but the lyrics seemed to just spill out. I could barely jot them down with a pen fast enough. I think the entire process took under ten minutes.

And then, so I didn't forget what I'd done, I powered up the camcorder and did a one-take video of myself performing the song for the first (and currently only) time. So, here it is.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

Report: Zak Claxton Live! on StreamJam (episode 1)


It's now been 12 hours since I finished my very first live music show on Facebook via StreamJam, and I still don't think I've fully recovered despite getting a good night's sleep. Just about every live performer will tell you that they put a lot of energy into their shows, but with some shows in particular, you draw upon every ounce of energy you have available, leaving you a drained husk afterwards. And those shows, my friends, are usually the best ones. Some performers -- James Brown and Bruce Springsteen come to mind -- seemed ready to collapse at the end of every show, and I don't know that I could do that night after night and expect to have a long lifespan. Still, when the vibe is right and you're inspired, it's cool to give it all.

And that's what I did at my first StreamJam show... gave it all. So, as I sit here this morning and reflect on last night's festivities while sucking coffee down like my life depended on it (and it might), I'm happy to give you a few details.

Taking a look at the StreamJam stage set before my show started.

My shows are usually as fun for me as they are for my audience. Probably more fun for me, actually.

First, some deservedly positive points about StreamJam itself, from my performer's perspective. Technically, it was 100% no-hassle. The way it works is that I broadcast audio and video via Ustream, a free online live video streaming service. It's the same process I've used for my bi-weekly Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show that I've done for the last six months or so, and I'm familiar with the interface as a result. The video comes directly off my MacBook Pro laptop camera, while the audio comes off my mixer into the line input of the computer. Anyway, all I did was start up Ustream and hit the "broadcast now" button, and StreamJam did the rest. My video feed popped up in the little club-like screen of StreamJam without a hitch. I'm not sure how this is going to work as StreamJam gains popularity and more artists will be broadcasting at the same time, but I'm sure they have a plan for this eventuality.

I start rocking while my global audience on Facebook watches and listens via StreamJam. What a wonderful world we live in!

My audience was able to communicate with me through a little "Ask the Artist" button in the StreamJam interface. I think that this may change to something a little more integrated as the app develops past its current Beta state, but for the time being, this was set up to feed a special Twitter page that I logged into before the show. I kept the Twitter window open next to my Ustream broadcast window, and it was no problem seeing when I had new questions and comments from my crowd.

Checking my messages from the audience.

So, as far as I'm concerned, the app worked flawlessly. I know that the developers, the Electric Sheep Company, will be continuing to improve the app during and after the current Beta period, so I have high hopes for StreamJam as well as high expectations.

I would be remiss to not point out one aspect of StreamJam that might take some adjustment for people like me, who've done a lot of performing on real stages as well as hundreds of shows in Second Life. You do have a loss of connection with the audience to a degree. Even if you were logged into StreamJam while performing, you would only see the people who are in one "room" of the show, and that's limited to around 12 people. If you had 50 people in your crowd, there would be at least four different rooms going. If you're a performer who's used to being able to look around (in person or at an SL venue) and see the faces of everyone in the audience, you'll just need to accept that StreamJam is not meant to replace that sensation. Rather than compare it to those types of shows, I prefer to think of StreamJam as being on TV, where you wouldn't expect to be able to see or communicate with your audience at all, and the ability to connect with them in a limited capacity is much better than nothing.

Anyway, back to the show. I think it went really well. Later today, I'll get in touch with the StreamJam folks and see if they can give me any info regarding the number of people who saw the show and all that good stuff; at the moment, I'm only aware of those who contacted me via the Twitter feed. But regardless of that, I felt good about the performance, which was entirely comprised of original material of mine.

ZCL on StreamJam #1 Set List...
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

I strap on the fifty dollar guitar for "The Sands of Redondo"...

... and then the harp for "Falling Down".

Huge thanks to all the people who checked out StreamJam and watched my premier show there! In case I didn't tell you before, I'm going to be continuing this little residency there for the entire month of August, every Wednesday night at 7PM PDT/10PM EDT, so please tune in for my next show on August 4!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wed July 28: Zak's first show on Facebook via StreamJam

It's on!

Wednesday July 28, 7PM Pacific/10PM Eastern

So, to be clear (especially if you haven't read the post below this one)...

1. You get on Facebook.
2. Or just visit (even easier)
3. Allow the app.
4. Enter the Lounge!

Once you're there...

• You can see/hear me perform live music
• I'll be performing in the flesh via live video
• You can chat with friends
• You can have fun
• And it's all 100% FREE

So come check out what live music shows on Facebook are like. Next Wednesday, 7PM PDT. Yeah!

More info and cool stuff coming soon. Stay tuned!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

StreamJam: Live music on Facebook

I'm pretty excited about something, and you know how I get when I'm excited: I'm like a grenade, and you're bound to get hit with shrapnel when I explode. Therefore, let's take this slowly.

I've just signed up to be involved in a new application for Facebook called StreamJam. It's currently in Beta, and I'm officially a guinea pig for them at this point. What is StreamJam? I'll let them tell you...

When the full version of StreamJam is launched, it will be a perpetual 24/7 online music festival with venues embedded on pages across the Web. Fans will be able to travel between many live events online, meeting other fans, hanging out with their friends, playing games, and interacting with their favorite musicians.

So, if you haven't gotten the idea already, I'll make it even more simple: StreamJam allows for virtual live music concerts and other events on Facebook. Here's how it works:

1. You see a notice from me on Facebook.
2. You click the link and after okaying the StreamJam application one time, you're there at the show.

That's it. The show will look like a little animated club in a Facebook window. On the club's "stage" is a live video screen when you'll see me perform live music. Cool, huh?

But Zak, don't you already do virtual live shows in Second Life?
I sure do, and I'll continue doing them as long as they'll have me. SL shows are fun for me, and fun for my audiences there, and have been great for the past 3-1/2 years I've been doing them. Still, there are a few limitations that seem tough to get around. For a lot of people, the learning curve of Second Life itself is insurmountable, and for many others, the requirements for a fast computer with an up-to-date higher-end graphics card just doesn't allow them to get into SL. It puts a restriction on who can see my show and hear my music. Not and ideal situation, obviously. With StreamJam, literally anyone who can access Facebook should have no trouble finding and seeing/hearing my show. Cool, huh?

But Zak, isn't StreamJam just like the shows you already do on Ustream?
Yes and no. I've been doing my Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show bi-weekly for about six months now, and I still enjoy it and will probably keep doing it. However, StreamJam is integrated with Facebook, and the promotional possibilities as a result are phenomenal. As you probably have heard by now, 11 million people per day play on the Facebook game FarmVille. Well, if the makers of StreamJam can garner even a small fraction of that audience, it'll be a huge opportunity for musicians like me.

Is this the same Zak Show we've seen before?
No, actually! It's a new show that I'm putting together, called "Zak Claxton Live! on StreamJam". One thing that's different: StreamJam only will allow musicians to perform songs they have the rights to perform, which means that my new show will have me doing 100% original music.

"Zak Claxton Live! on StreamJam" is the name of my new show. See, it's me. And I'm live. It can't be any more simple than that, right?

When is the new show starting?
I am very close to being able to tell you that. The makers of StreamJam (the Electric Sheep Company, who are well known for their other creations of virtual world and social media tools) will start their Beta test performances on July 25. I am hoping to establish a weekly show the following week, and have it run through the month of August. I will obviously let people know as soon as this schedule is confirmed.

For the time being, I am excitedly putting together ideas for the new show, considering everything from the music material to my little home-based set, wardrobe, and lighting. I enjoy the opportunity to step up my show a bit, and this seems like an ideal time to do it. Anyway, more news on my new show and StreamJam coming soon. Very soon.

Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Relay For Life 2010 Finale in Second Life

My view from the stage at Relay For Life 2010 Finale. Photos by Kat Claxton.

Cool entryway to the Volcano Stage at RFL 2010 Finale. Photos by Kat Claxton.

People rocking out to some ZakTunes™ at RFL 2010 Finale. Photos by Kat Claxton.

Take a look at the arrangements of sims for the event, and the crowds. Awesome. Photos by Kat Claxton.

For the past three years, I've had some level of participation in the Relay for Life activities in Second Life. In 2007, I played at a few independent fundraisers; in 2008, I played at their big kickoff party. Last year I once again performed at an event or two. But I think this year was officially my favorite show that was involved with RFL. I performed at the grand finale event, where all the relayers travel around a multitude of sims. They had a multitude of live shows happening, and mine got scheduled for their Volcano Stage on the RFL Wish sim.

It was, in a word, terrific. Everyone was very enthusiastic about helping out for this obviously worthwhile cause. All the proceeds for the day were going directly to the American Cancer Society, and I was more than glad to be able to chip in. If you're not familiar with Relay For Life...

Relay For Life (often shortened to Relay) is the main volunteer-driven cancer fundraising event of the American Cancer Society. Originating in the United States, the Relay For Life event has spread to 21 countries worldwide. Relay events are held in local communities, campus universities, military bases, and in cyberspace. Although the main objective of Relay is to raise money for cancer research and cancer patients, the event is held to spread cancer awareness, celebrate the lives of survivors, remember those who lost their lives to cancer, and unite a community in the fight against cancer.

So, as I said, it is always an honor to be chosen to help bring in funds for this cause. For more information, please visit I was amazed when I saw a note pop up during the show that the events this year had raised over $200,000 USD. That's not an insignificant contribution!

We had a completely awesome crowd at my show, which was between two other very cool SL musicians (Zaphod Theas and Naphalti Hawks). Zaphod had done a metal/punk set and Naphalti was doing his usual sweet reggae act, so there was a cool variety going on. I saw a lot of great music fans in the audience, and it was so good to perform for both old and new friends.

Relay 2010 Setlist...
Pigs On the Wing - Part 1 (Pink Floyd)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
A Day In The Life (Beatles)

Thank you, thank you, a million thank yous to everyone who came out and supported my show today, while helping fight cancer! You're all heroes!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Blarney Stone (07.15.10)

Photos by Triana Caldera. Thanks Tri!

There's something that I specifically like about the Blarney Stone that doesn't happen in many places in SL.

See, as a live musician in the virtual world, when you arrive at the venue, it's pretty commonplace for it to be empty. I'm not talking about metaphorically empty; I mean you are literally the only person there. Granted, you are soon joined by the venue's staff, and then an audience. But unlike real life, where people tend to arrive a little early since they have to travel to get there, people in SL know they can teleport to the show ten seconds before it starts.

But the Blarney Stone is a hangout, and it's refreshingly lovely to arrive at a club where there are already a bunch of people there to greet you. I'd like to think that the lack of apprehension regarding, "Will anyone come? Will I have an audience?" enables me to relax and put on a better show. And today's show, I'd like to think, was really pretty good!

Blarney Stone Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowle)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
One (U2)
After the Gold Rush (Neil Young)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

We had a bit of a rowdy crowd going on, which I personally enjoy and frankly, it wouldn't seem like a good Irish pub without a bar fight in the middle of my show. I enjoyed that; entertainment can go both ways, you know. On a different note, it was great seeing three of my favorite Zaksters -- Triana Caldera, Diana Renoir, and Cher Harrington -- in the crowd today. Everyone seemed to have a good time (and I know I did), so mission accomplished.

Big thanks to all who helped support my show today!
Phooka Heron, Diana Renoir, Triana Caldera, anurati Guardian, Cher Harrington, Casey Brouwer, and Supreme SecretSpy, and the rest of the crazy crowd at the Blarney Stone!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

ZCHFS #12 Report (07.11.10)

Note: Fast forward the video and start at the 5:00 minute mark. I kinda hit the "record" button a wee bit early. Oops.

Last weekend was a holiday here in the good ol' US of A, and since July 4 fell on a Sunday, most of the working world was given Monday July 5 off. I tend to work on these kind of days regardless, but Kat had the day off and we spent it mostly relaxing around the house. However, I'm not very good at doing nothing for extended periods of time, so after awhile I took on the task of some rearranging stuff in my office/studio room. After a few trash bags filled and some shoving useless crap in closets, I cleared some space to set up my old keyboard (an Alesis QS8), then plugged it in and was pleasantly surprised to see it still powered up after a few dormant years. The QS8 is a pretty good workhorse of a keyboard, with 88 weighted keys (like a full-size piano) and some good piano and organ sounds. I was a little disappointed that a few of the keys had decided to stop working, but for the most part it was fine.

My piano skills, however, were much more rusty than the keyboard itself. I messed around on it a bit, trying to get the old muscle memory happening. But a couple of days ago, when I was planning Episode 12 of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show, a crazy thought popped into my head: could throw in a piano song for the first time in any of my recent performances ("recent" being "for the last 10+ years"). Seriously, the last time I played live piano in public was at a party sometime in the mid-90s, I think, so you have to give me some props just for having the cojones to tickle the ivories at the ZCHFS.

And I'm gonna be hii-iiiiiiiiiigh as a kite by then...

So, after accidentally starting to record my show five minutes before I actually came in and started playing, the show was super fun. I started on piano, switched over to my Martin for a few familiar tunes, whipped out the Cheap Ass Rogue guitar which was set up in D modal tuning for a couple of numbers, and then back to the Martin. I'd intended on finishing there, but my pal NoCal popped in and I had to jump back to piano at the end for a reprise of my Shatner/Elton John song. In fact, here's what I played for Episode 12...

ZCHFS #12 set list...
*Rocket Man (Elton John)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Waiting for This (Zak Claxton)
Ohio (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
The Worst (Rolling Stones)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Rocket Man (Elton John)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song.

Strumming my Martin...

... and rocking the cheap guitar too.

It's hard to keep a straight face while covering Shatner covering Elton. It really is.

Thanks to my friends who came by for todays Happy Fun Show! See you again on Saturday July 24!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rare BIC Lighter Colors

Bow to the glory of my new brown BIC.

Smoking is bad, mmm'kay? Now that we have that part out of the way, may I say, "Whooooo!", for today, my friends, I got a brown BIC lighter.

What had happened was that just earlier in the day, I'd lost my lighter. I had a pretty standard BIC lighter of the black color, and it went missing. I assume it will pop up somewhere, since I didn't go anywhere and they tend not to walk away on their own. I checked my pockets, the patio table, my desk, and basically all around my home. Nada. I haven't looked in the fridge yet, but I didn't intend on waiting until some years from now when I move a piece of furniture for it to pop up. Reinforcements needed to be summoned.

A little after 4PM, feeling the need for some caffeine, I walked across the street to the Bean Counter, where Francesco brewed me up a delicious vanilla latte (my semi frou-frou beverage I occasionally consume in the afternoons). With my delicious drink in hand, I then walked to the cigarette store and surprisingly remembered the predicament of my missing lighter. I usually forget these things until it's too late and the store is closed, and I'm digging through drawers in my kitchen at 11PM hoping to scrounge up a random match.

But I remembered this time, and glanced down at the BIC display on the countertop. At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but there, in between the typical mix of black, red, yellow, green, purple, and blue BICs, was something that seemed to exude a more organic vibe. I reached toward it, half expecting it to disappear or scamper off like a mischievous wood sprite, but my hand plucked it from its nest and lo and behold! The elusive brown BIC!

Flame on!

Now that you're thinking that I'm some kind of lighter collector or pyro fetishist or something of that sort, let me assuage you: I'm not very picky about lighters at all. I do tend to use the classic BIC lighter, but I'll usually take any color available that's not particularly obnoxious (though I tend to favor the black, green, and red ones over the blues, purples, or yellows). However, there are certain shades of BICs that seem to come up much less often than others. Brown, in addition to being a lovely natural shade, has also been pretty rare in the BIC product line. I'll always grab them when I see them out there.

More rare BIC colors
In doing a wee bit of research (i.e., googling "rare BIC lighter colors"), I do see that the brown is indeed a talked-about commodity and is appreciated by aficionados of BICs (BICophiles?). From what I can tell, the entire standard current BIC range includes the following:

Black, White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Brown, Pink, Purple. 10 colors. That's it. Now, I know for a fact that there have been others in the past. I recall a delightful beige version, for example, and at least two shapes of gray, medium and charcoal, that I'd love to see again someday. Alas, the non-permanent nature of disposable lighters dictates that when BIC stops making them, they soon vanish off the face of the planet forever. Goodbye, beige and grays! I also recall having seen now-discontinued sky blue and lime green versions, though I can't say I miss them much.

From the current selections, most colors can be found everywhere, except for two: pink and brown. Both of these seem to be produced in much lower quantities than any of the others. Who knows why? Perhaps BIC has sound business reasons for this seemingly odd disparity of lighter hues, but the proof is in the pudding, or rather at the point of sale. You just never seem to see the brown or pink ones. Since I'm not a personal fan of pink (not that there's anything wrong with it), brown is the color that I mostly covet. And today, my friends, the brown is mine.

You might find it interesting to note that the classic BIC Maxi Lighter is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. I find BICs good because they actually do last a long time and tend not to break. And, of course, they're cheap. And, above all, I'm a creature of habit and have been using BICs as long as I've been igniting things, which is a pretty long time now.

So, that's the end of my story. Brown BIC. Happy day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

More radio play! Zak on KSDT (San Diego)!

One kind of fun thing about being an independent musician is that you occasionally don't find out about cool things until way after the fact. It kind of stretches out the cool factor, if you want to think of it that way. For example, since we can't sit here and monitor every radio station in the country 24 hours a day, we rely on occasionally checking published playlists (which not every station has available, of course) to see if I got any radio spins.

Well, today, my darling Kat (who shares duties with me running our little Frothy Music record label) sent me an instant message from work. There was some excited-looking typed gibberish, and then a link. I clicked it, and there was a playlist from KSDT, the indie student radio station out of UC San Diego. Glancing down the list from May 3 (yeah, almost two months ago), there I was! It's the first college radio airplay of my instrumental song "Waxing Gibbous". Yay!

This makes me really happy. I'm imagining some person kicking back on a Monday night in the 11PM hour, perhaps doing some studying in the dorms at UCSD, and chilling to the mellow acoustic guitar vibe of "Gibbous". I hope he or she liked it. Of course, since KSDT sends its sounds out over an Internet stream (like most radio stations these days), it's as likely that a person chilling in Sydney or Saskatoon was listening in as the student in San Diego. In any case, it's made my day.

Looking at the list above, the set I was in gives me some pretty great company. I was played directly after Weather Report, one of the pre-eminent jazz fusion bands in history. The show's set list also included Lole y Manuel, the amazing flamenco duo, with their song "Tu Mira" from the Kill Bill: Volume 2 soundtrack; a tune from Woody Herman who was one of the world's best big band leaders; and finally Geddy Lee and Alex Lifeson of Rush doing a performance of the Canadian national anthem, "O Canada". Wow! I am loving the eclectic list, and it's a trip to see my name alongside those infinitely more well-known musicians.

By the way: KSDT is a student run station, and is very highly regarded in the world of college and indie radio. It really is an honor just to be played there. Now I have to hurry up and finish this blog post so I can send the DJs some love letters or something.