Monday, January 30, 2012

The Islands of New England (01.30.12)

Ah, what a good feeling it is to get back to playing live after a few weeks of... not.

As I mentioned to the crowd tonight at the Islands of New England, since I was forced to take a hiatus from playing live due to an annual business obligation, performing at that super-fun venue on a bill with my good friend Sassy Nitely was more than I could have asked for my return show. It was a lively and fun crowd primarily made up of many people who I've come to think of as friends, so I had as good a time as anyone... perhaps better, now that I think about it.

My view from the stage at the Islands of New England. Photo by Kat.

As most musicians are, I'm a harsh critic of my own performances, and I could tell that just a few weeks off had left me a little rusty. Despite some minor vocal and guitar issues that popped up now and then, I was still happy with the show, all things considered. Speaking of rustiness, my having forgotten to remove the phone from this room was a good example of something I never do when I'm in the flow of gigging in SL, but it was still pretty funny when it rang in the midst of an otherwise very quiet tune.

One more thing: the hosts of the venue decided to make it a themed event there, and chose "Ugly Sweater Night". I have to admit, for those people who participated, there were some excellent examples of what not to wear in SL -- or any other life -- unless you have a good excuse. My baby-blue patterned sweater with matching scarf was rather fabulous, but I don't think it'll find its way out of my inventory ever again, sadly.

Maali claims that my sweater wasn't exactly ugly, which I have to admit is true. However, it is decidedly something that you generally wouldn't see me wearing in any life. Photo by Kat.

The Islands of New England Set List...
What I Got (Sublime)
Wonderwall (Oasis)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Wish You Were Here (Pink Floyd)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Soul Kitchen (Doors)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)
California (Joni Mitchell)

Big thanks to everyone who made it a fun night at the Islands of New England, espcially those who helped support my show!
Kiran Sporg, GMetal Svartur, Sommer Shepherd, Diana Renoir, Alexis Fairlady, Kat Claxton, Sassy Nitely, Xerxes Ninetails, Jwheels Carver, Sesh Kamachi, TheaDee, Gideon McMillan, my great manager Maali Beck, and IONE managers Adam Luponox and Christine Haiku!

Friday, January 27, 2012

It's good to be back

Hello people who read this stuff that I write. As you may have -- or more likely have not -- noticed, I've been mostly absent for a couple of weeks. This is due to something I do for my job every January called the NAMM Show. In the part of my life that doesn't directly involve writing and performing music, I work as a marketing communications guy for the music and audio products industry, and NAMM is the big annual trade show for that business. It's the West Coast's largest trade show, with over 90,000 attendees, and is the source of much insanity for me each year. In any case, it consumes a good deal of my time and energy in the weeks preceding the show, and during NAMM itself.

But that's all over now, so I can get back to doing stuff that's more fun and cool than work. I'll start by admitting to you that toward the end of 2011, I slacked on my daily exercises on the Wii Fit Plus, and ended up taking pretty much all of November and December off my exercise routine. I have a legitimate excuse, though: I was dealing with a tendon problem in my elbow, and everything I read said that I should give it a chance to heal via rest. Well, guess what? It continued hurting worse and worse, and meanwhile, I was feeling physically down without my daily exercise boost. So, on January 1, I threw caution to the wind and got back into my morning routine. The result was that a) my elbow actually started feeling much better right away, and b) my entire body is getting back to where it was when I left off. So, that's really good news.

For those of you who've been missing my silly shows in Second Life, I'm happy to say I'll be returning to that as well, this coming Monday evening at the Islands of New England. They're hosting a themed evening of "Ugly Sweater Night" starting at 4PM with Sassy Nitely (and me at 5PM), so I'll be doing some shopping in SL to find something particularly hideous to wear.

I enjoy the fact that my first show back after a few weeks off playing in SL is a) at a great venue, b) on a bill with my friend Sassy, and c) has an utterly ridiculous theme that inspired the poster above.

In other music-related news, now that I'm done with NAMM, I can divert at least some of my focus to getting back to recording. As most of you know, I released my first solo album back in December 2009, and was intent on getting straight back to the studio to start working on my follow-up. However, plans sometimes don't come to fruition the way you expect, and over two years later, I still don't have any new recorded music to show you. The good news is that I've continued writing new music in the meantime, so when we get to the point of seriously recording the new stuff, I'll have a lot of tunes to choose from. In May of 2010, we recorded some of the tracks for "Shine" and "Time Never Waits for You", so as most of the Zaksters know, we have tons of other songs yet to even see the studio. These include:

- Perfect Girl
- The Other Way
- Broken Day
- Go Easy on Me
- Black Phoebe
- Change the Night
- Look Out for Me
- Desert Lily

There are probably another 6-8 songs that are in various stages of completion, so I'm pretty optimistic about how the next album will turn out.

May 2010 was my last time in the studio. You can't imagine how much I want to get back. Photo by Kat.

Well, that's all for now. As I said on top, it's good to be back. It'll be even better after I get to a weekend and enjoy my first two full days off in weeks. All work and no play makes Zak an insane boy, so hopefully by next week, I'm all the way back to my usual fun-loving self.

Monday, January 16, 2012

My Top 20 Most Influential Guitarists

Since I'm on a bit of a hiatus from performing (while focusing my attention on some more mundane job-based events), I thought I'd fill you in on the guitar players who have been the biggest influences on my own writing and playing. PLEASE NOTE that this isn't a list of "most influential guitarists". That list would look very different than the one I'm about to write. Instead, it's a list of the 20 guitar players who I feel have affected me, personally, as a musician and songwriter. Trust me, there are hundreds upon hundreds of great players not on this list whose talents amaze me. These are just the ones that left their mark on me as a player/writer in some way.

Instead of trying to rank these people in order of perceived greatness (always a mistake), let's just be safe and list them alphabetically. And no worries; I will still let you know about the ones that have had the highest level of influence for me. Here we go.

Lindsey Buckingham
An amazing fingerstyle pop-rock player. We don't have much in common in how we respectively address the guitar (like, I use a pick and stuff). However, he's been a big influence on me as a pop composer. God knows both the Fleetwood Mac and Rumours albums were on constantly in my house while I was in my formative years as a player.

Playing Example: "Big Love"

Elliot Easton
A brilliant melodic lead guitarist and founding member of the Cars. Again, you don't hear much of Elliot's playing in mine, except for what I strive to do in my leads (play solos that people can actually hum). Listen to the solo in my tune “Fade Away” to hear a little of Elliot rubbing off on me.

Playing Example: "Candy-O"

The Edge
I was already a veteran player with 6-7 years in as a guitarist by the time I discovered U2 in the early 80s. The Edge was one of the players who taught me that painting sonic landscapes can be as fulfilling as blasting out a bunch of notes. Sometimes just hitting some harmonics and letting them ring is a beautiful thing.

Playing Example: "Surrender"

Peter Frampton
In 1976, I was starting my first guitar lessons, and my parents were playing Frampton Comes Alive all the time. How could I not be influenced by this criminally underrated guitar wizard?

Playing Example: "I Want To Go To The Sun"

Jerry Garcia
What can I say about this thoroughly unique and emotive guitarist? No matter what style he was playing, I loved every note that drifted out of this man's guitars. Through Jerry and the Dead, I gained my first exposure and appreciation of Americana and other traditional music styles, and it rubbed off in a big way. I also learned from Jerry that if you play the right things, you can solo for 17 straight minutes and no one will mind.

Playing Example: "Eyes of the World"

David Gilmour
Again, I can't underemphasize the sway Gilmour had on me as a musician. He plays with such a depth of feeling, and yet with such technical accuracy, that my only criticism of Mr. Gilmour is that occasionally he's just a little too perfect, if that's possible. Some of my soloing on “Waiting for This” and “Always Tomorrow” were definitely, if subconsciously, attempts on grabbing some Gilmourian vibe.

Playing Example: "Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Part 1)"

George Harrison
It should probably go without saying that John Lennon and Paul McCartney remain in my top tier of pure songwriting influences... they're the Beatles, for Christ's sake. But in terms of guitar playing, I took a lot from the quieter member of the band. While other people on this list may be more technically proficient, I love George’s approach to weaving a complete sonic tapestry.

Playing Example: "Something"

Jimi Hendrix
Why does Jimi top nearly every list of guitar players over 40 years after his death? Just listen to him, man, and you should know why. My playing doesn't sound much like Jimi's, and very few people should bother trying to imitate him. However, his approach to tone and some of his signature licks can definitely be heard in many of my songs. I could pick any of dozens of tunes, but the one below kind of showcases Jimi’s versatility and openness to making new sounds.

Playing Example: "Are You Experienced"

James Honeyman-Scott
This guy might be the least well-known on my list, but he's still a god of guitar in my book. Exuding raw power, JHS was the original guitarist for the Pretenders, cranking out melodic pop with a rock edge and a punk vibe. I was a huge fan when he was the new thing, and remain so today many years after his unfortunate passing.

Playing Example: “The Phone Call” / “Space Invader”

Robbie Krieger
It's criminal that people overlook Robbie's playing (and focus only on the Lizard King) in the Doors. First off, he had the benefit of being a pretty new player... he'd really only been playing seriously for 4-5 years when the Doors started. I love his blues-based rhythmic stuff, but also his great single-note lines on many Doors tunes.

Playing Example: “Peace Frog”

Alex Lifeson
You can spare me your holier-than-thou criticisms of Rush. While I've grown in my musical tastes since my enjoyment of prog-tinged bands in my teen years, Alex was a huge influence on me at the time. Listening back to albums like Moving Pictures, his playing holds up as time goes by.

Playing Example: "Red Barchetta"

Joni Mitchell
Anyone who knows me also knows of my love for Joni Mitchell as a songwriter and performer. But as a guitarist, she was unquestionably a big influence on me, especially in terms of her unorthodox approach to alternate tunings. Many of my songs, including "Lines on your Eyes" off my debut album, use tunings I first found in Joni's music.

Playing Example: "Black Crow"

Jimmy Page
I flat out challenge you to listen to many of my guitar solos and not hear the influence of Zeppelin’s master of the dark arts. With the number of hours I spent glued to my stereo in my teen years listening to everything Jimmy ever played, it’s no wonder that his style shines through in my own music. My song “The Sands of Redondo” borrows liberally from a few of Page’s masterpieces, including “The Rain Song” and “Kashmir”.

Playing Example: "The Wanton Song"

Joe Perry
Many of my influences turned out to have their own influences who I discovered later. Joe Perry is a good example, as are several others on this list. Again, with many of my formative years spent listening to 70s-era Aerosmith, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear Joe’s influence on my guitar playing.

Playing Example: "Toys in the Attic"

Keith Richards
The mighty Keef took from some of the greatest blues, rock, and R&B players, and delivered his own quintessential vibe to the mix. I certainly listened to a lot of Stones while learning to play, and some 35 years later, I still do.

Playing Example: "Monkey Man"

Mick Ronson
While I have great respect for everything Bowie ever did, his stuff with Mick Ronson on guitar is spectacular, and helped define Bowie in the art rock oeuvre. I loved his tone, which always fit so well with the vibe of the songs. Sometimes his part was just a small contribution (wait for the solo below), but added tons to the end result.

Playing Example: "Life On Mars?"

Stephen Stills
While Neil Young (see below) may be the heavier influence on me, the tasty playing of Steve Stills was something that I appreciated deeply for many a year. I also enjoyed his propensity for using odd modal tunings, like he does below (E-E-E-E-B-E? Seriously?).

Playing Example: "Carry On"

Andy Summers
There aren’t enough words in the English language for me to describe what Andy Summers did for me as a guitarist. While I rarely set out to write or record something that “sounds like Andy”, I often note while listening back that I’ve done just that.

Playing Example: “Bombs Away”

Pete Townshend
Another super heavyweight in terms of his effect on me, I voraciously devoured everything Pete did with the Who and as a solo artist. When you hear me strumming fast on songs like “Thanks Anyway”, that’s Pete coming through (though his influence extends far deeper and more subtly than almost anyone else on this list).

Playing Example: "Sparks"

Neil Young
Ironically coming in at the end of our list alphabetically, Neil may be number one in the prime players in my personal Hall of Influence Fame, if such a thing existed (I guess it does now). From soft acoustic playing with hammer-ons in the midst of cluster chords to screaming feedback and sickly distorted tones no guitar was ever designed to make, Neil has been profoundly influential on my music. Listen to my songs like “Waiting for This”, “Faling Down”, and “This Afternoon”, and you’ll hear Old Neil coming through the Zak filter.

Playing Example: "When You Dance I Can Really Love"

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Key West (01.09.12)

I really enjoy performing live music at Key West in Second Life, and look forward to each of my shows there. Last night turned out to be as good as any I've played at this picturesque venue run by music lover Liz Harley. Since this was my last show for the next several weeks (I have some real life obligations that will take me out of SL later this month), I'm glad to say it was a good one.

I can always count on Key West for a terrific crowd. Photo by Kat.

We had a nice crowd there when I arrived, since Tukso Okey had played directly before me, and some of his crowd hung out for my show as well, which is always cool. I put on what I consider to be the "standard Zak Show", meaning I pulled out a semi-random mix of cover and original songs that I thought would go well at Key West (I think by now, I know Liz's tastes -- and that of her venue's visitors -- pretty well).

We had a good turnout of Zaksters there at Key West, and it's always good to see all the familiar faces of fans/friends in the crowd. However, one thing I tend to get at Key West that not every venue in SL can deliver is that we end up having new people discover my music, and we get more new fans there who subsequently come to more of my shows. That's about the best thing that a live musician in SL can hope for at any venue, and Key West provides that more often than not.

My view of Key West from the stage. Photo by Kat.

Key West Set List...
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Games Without Frontiers (Peter Gabriel)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young)
Cassidy (Grateful Dead)
Look Out for Me (Zak Claxton)
Nowhere Man (Beatles)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)

Huge thanks to everyone who helped support my show!
ThisisCin, EvaMoon Ember, Jordan Hazlitt, cheri Rainier, Aurelie Chenaux, MERLINzz Magic, Diana Renoir, Xerxes Ninetails, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner Liz Harley!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Triana's Music Trivia (01.01.12)

Ah, the first show of a fresh new year. As you most likely know (but I'll tell you anyway), Triana's Music Trivia is Second Life's longest-running trivia game, and it's probably the reason that Kat and I decided to stay in SL after our early discovery of it back in 2006. Like many new residents, we found the platform fascinating, but especially in those relatively early times, it was pretty hard to find things to do that were truly fun and entertaining on the grid at that stage. Once we discovered TMT, which was held every Sunday evening, we started developing close friendships with other SL folks from there, and the rest is history. Triana Caldera, who founded and runs the event, has become one of our best pals, and we've had many adventures together both inside SL and in real life excursions.

Anyway, I've performed at TMT many times... it's always fun playing for good friends, and I tend to pull out tunes there that I wouldn't play anywhere else. The way we usually structure it is that Triana moves the event back an hour, and then I perform live during the usual 7PM time slot when the trivia game is played. That's how we did it last night, which (I'm happy to say) marks my third consecutive year as having TMT be my first show of the year. It's a tradition I'm happy to continue.

My darling Kat boogies down next to my silly poster. Photo by Kat.

Nakira Tennen and Alchemy Epstein enjoying the show. Photo by Kat.

MrNoCal Honey, Diana Renoir (nice butt), Triana Caldera, and Jordan Haslett dressed up for the New Year. Photo by Kat.

The always lovely Triana Caldera. Photo by Kat.

At last year's TMT show, I played an entire set of songs I'd never done before, the theme being "New Songs for a New Year". I did a similar thing this year with all of my cover tunes being performed for the first time, but also did a number of originals that were picked by the audience of our friends who know my material well.

Triana's Music Trivia Set List...
Triana (Zak Claxton)
*Leggy Blonde (Flight of the Conchords)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Pork and Beans (Weezer)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
*Fast Car (Tracy Chapman)
The Sands of Redondo (Zak Claxton)
*A Million Miles Away (The Plimsouls)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
*Everlong (Foo Fighters)
*Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
Triana Reprise (Zak Claxton)

A great start to rocking SL in 2012. Photo by Kat.

"I remember when Kat and I were new... looking around SL for something to do...". Photo by Kat.

Much love to all of our great friends from TMT, especially Triana Caldera and the folks who helped support my show last night! Kat and I truly love you all!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Love Factory New Year's Eve (12.31.11)

First, welcome to 2012! Still no flying cars yet, as far as I can tell (though I haven't looked outside today, so perhaps they are there after all).

When I was in my teens and 20s, New Year's Eve was the most acceptable time of year to get silly drunk and be a complete idiot. This fact was dampened by the reality that at the time, I spent much of the rest of the year getting intoxicated on various substances and being a complete idiot, making New Year's just another night for the most part. Anyway, for the last 15 years or so, my New Year's Eves have been very sedate compared to my youthful experiences. During this millennium, it's been difficult for me to even stay awake until midnight to ring in the new year.

Rocking the New Year, Zak-style. Photo by Kat.

A happy crowd ready for some fun and good tunes. Photo by Kat.

However, I do enjoy performing live music on New Year's, and have done so on a good number of occasions, both in the flesh and in Second Life. When my manager Maali Beck let me know that the folks at Love Factory in SL wanted to bring me back to play at their event (which celebrated New Year's as well as the 2-year anniversary of Love Factory and its owner Violet), I was quite happy to do so. Making matters even cooler was the fact that since the organizers were based in a location 10 hours ahead of me, I could play from 1-2PM local time, which would be the hour leading into the new year for them.

My view from the stage. Photo by Kat.

Good times at Love Factory. I'll be glad to play there again. Photo by Kat.

The show itself was very fun, as most New Year's shows are. Folks were in a festive mood, and they had a good crowd at Love Factory when we got rolling. As I tend to do at special events, I put together a set list that was appropriate for the party mood, avoiding most of my gloomy repertoire and staying with stuff that had high energy.

On a side note, later that evening, Kat and I managed to stay up long enough to give each other a kiss to start 2012... and then headed immediately to sleep. Being old may be boring, but at least I start the new year feeling happy and not hungover and miserable!

Love Factory Anniversary/New Year's Eve Set List...
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Bertha (Grateful Dead)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
She's Always a Woman (Billy Joel)
Fuck You (Cee-Lo Green)
Shiny Happy People (R.E.M.)
Daniel (Elton John)
One (U2)

That was fun! Thanks to Love Factory and all the folks who came out to the show... happy new year to all!