Monday, March 31, 2014

Working on music for They Stole My Crayon (03.30.14)

Of the infinite number of analogies one can use in regard to the making of an album of music, I just thought of a good one. Imagine that you are behind a train, and you have to push the train forward using your own strength. It would take a superhuman effort to get the train moving, and chances are that you'd have to build up your muscular power for years and years to even hope to move the train an inch. So finally, you manage to start the train moving very slowly. Eventually, though, momentum takes over and the train begins to move. However, you're at the back of the train. You have no idea what's ahead of you. It could shift tracks, it could start going out of control on a downhill, or even derail around a curve.

What the hell was I talking about? Oh yeah, making an album.

Anyway, train analogies aside, making an album isn't easy for most people. It takes a completely focused effort, and let's face it: very few people have the luxuries of time and money to see it through. But the thing to keep in mind is that if you have songs, and you have enough creative vision to preconceive what you want the recording to sound like when it's done, you just have to keep pushing that train steadily, and at some point you will make it to your destination.

Such is the case with the work we've been doing on the debut album for my band They Stole My Crayon. It's an interesting dynamic at work here. All three of us -- Bunny Knutson, my lady Kat Claxton, and myself -- can contribute to the process in a variety of ways, all of them important, and you never really know who will come up with what, or what direction it will go from there. I spent much of this weekend working on a song that Bunny had already "completed". That is to say, he'd written and recorded a very good song for one of his solo projects, and then showed it to Kat and I thinking that it had some potential as a Crayon song. We both strongly agreed.

Seeds and Stems
So, the seed for a Crayon song had been planted. It usually doesn't come in the form of a completed song. One of us will write a lyric, or some music, and then on our own, we'll create some kind of demo. Then, assuming we like what we hear, we begin working on the song in earnest. For the song we did this weekend, called "Longing On", Bunny's version of the tune was already very cool, and easily stands on its own. But there's a particular vibe that we're consistently putting on the songs for our TSMC album, and I knew Bunny's tune could be more Crayonified.

The first step was having Bunny send over the stems of his recording. For the uninitiated, "stems" are the individual tracks that make up a recorded song. The bass part has its own track, as does the lead guitar, or the harmony vocal. The semantic difference between a "track" and a "stem" is only that a stem might include multiple tracks that might have already been submixed together, like the stem for the drum kit as opposed to the individual tracks for snare, toms, cymbals and so on.

So Bunny sent over the stems of "Longing On", and from the moment they arrived, I was engrossed in making the song more Crayonish than simply Bunnyish.

What Does That Even Mean?
I can't tell you. Crayon music is like the cliché about art: I know it when I see it, or hear it in this case. But describing it isn't easy. I will tell you, though, what we did with Bunny's "finished" song. Kat and I wrote and recorded an entire backing vocal part that wasn't in Bunny's original composition. We then did some deconstruction of the song, changing small parts that gave it some more sonic interest. I also added some synthesizer lines, and some textured guitars. We liked how it sounded so far, but since Bunny lives toward the other end of Los Angeles from Kat and I, we needed to show him remotely what we'd done. After all, it was his song that we'd been mangling.

By Saturday night, we had a rough mix of our additions which we shared with Bunny via FTP. He really liked the direction we were going, which is what inspired me to wake up early on Sunday and keep going. Remember that "creative vision" I mentioned earlier? This one was so clear that before I went to bed on Saturday night, I wrote a list of additions and tweaks for the next day. I ended up spending nearly all of Sunday working on the tune.

That afternoon, I had another mix to send Bunny, this one much closer to the final vision that I'd had. He really liked it, but it's at this stage that you start getting very focused on details. He mentioned a couple of mix ideas that I thought were right on the money, and I did those tweaks pretty quickly. By that evening, we had a song that was really great, and fit in with the vibe of the other songs we'd done.

For the time being, that's all I'm going to write. I could talk about what happens next, but keep in mind: I'm still pushing from the back of the train, and I have no idea if there are dangerous curves ahead. For now, though, it's smooth sailing, and a great ride.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Crystal Gardens City (03.27.14)

I love my Thursday night bi-weekly shows at Crystal Gardens City. First, as I've mentioned previously, I have the pleasure of having the middle time slot between Mark Allan Jensen and FrankLee Anatra. It's a good flow of music from three similar and yet different kinds of musicians, and it's a good time for all. There are a number of people who seem to stick around through all three of our shows, so hats off to you, and to Sandi and Mikal Beaumont for putting the three of us together every other Thursday night.

My show last night went well. Almost all of them do there at the City, regardless of any minor technical problems or the size of the crowd (which was decent; I do the same show for three people as I do for 3,000, so it's fine either way). I tend to perform well when I'm comfortable, and I really feel at home there.

Photo and top photo by Kat.

Crystal Gardens City set list...
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
California (Joni Mitchell)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
#9 Dream (John Lennon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Birds (Neil Young)
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
Let My Love Open the Door (Pete Townshend)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)

Huge thanks to all who came to the show, especially those who supported it!
Mia Kitchensink, Winter Thorn, Richy Nervous, BuffaloMike Hammerer, Allegra Genira, Cicadetta Stillwater, TheaDee, MAJJackSlade, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and Crystal Gardens City owners Sandi and Mikal Beaumont!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

SL Buddy Walk for Down Syndrome Awareness (03.21.14)

I do plenty of gigs for charities in SL, and it's always important to me to feel like I'm giving back to others with my music. After all, one needs to balance the karma scales of this life as a virtual rock star with all the accompanying fame and fortune. So, although for years I've done shows for various kinds of charitable organizations, this was my first invite to the SL Buddy Walk, which is now in its sixth year. The event was scheduled on the day of national Down Syndrome awareness, and was established to promote acceptance and inclusion of people with Down syndrome. In Second Life, it's also a good fundraising event. I was happy to participate.

Selfishly, I also must admit I enjoyed getting onstage right after my pal Max Kleene; needless to say, there was a nice big crowd there, and quite a few Zakster fans came along to add to the party. I tried to have a theme of tunes that were appropriate for the situation, and I think things went pretty well. Photos by Kat.

SL Buddy Walk 2014 set list...
I Am a Child (Neil Young)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
I Dreamed a Dram (Les Miserables)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Landslide (Fleetwood Mac)
Just Like Starting Over (John Lennon)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts I and II (Pink Floyd)
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
You've Got a Friend (Carole King)

Huge thanks to all the generous people who supported the SL Buddy Walk and the National Down Syndrome Society! You rule!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Boom Pony Beatlefest II (03.15.14)

It was quite awhile ago, perhaps a month or more, that I got a message from my manager Maali Beck. She wanted to know if I wanted to perform again at the Boom Pony's Beatlefest event. I'd played the last one as a fill-in for an artist who wasn't able to perform, and it was great; a huge crowd was in attendance, and it was a blast hearing my fellow musicians doing Fab Four tunes all day.

The cool thing about having plenty of notice this time around was that while I always have a big repertoire of Beatles tunes, it gave me time to do two things: choose some tunes I hadn't played before, and get a little help from my friends. That came in the form of Kat, my lovely girlfriend and bandmate in They Stole My Crayon, who rehearsed with me on backing vocals and percussion and then joined me for the show. It was the first time, outside of a few times playing for our close friends at Triana's Music Trivia, that Kat has done a live show with me in SL.

As far as I'm concerned, it couldn't have gone better. We got to the Boom very early, knowing that it would be jam packed, and heard parts of the shows of three artists before us (Tamra Hayden, Kevin M. Thomas, and Pete Mroz) before we took the stage for a half hour at 2:30. I get inspired when I'm playing on a bill with other talented people, and just about everything we heard that day was great. I need to give special kudos to Frederick Reed, who does amazing original arrangements with super creative on-the-fly looping and sonic sculpting that puts him in his own class.

Back to our set. I did my usual thing of playing acoustic guitar and singing lead vocals, while Kat shifted back and forth between a number of percussion tools (clave, crow sounder, tambourine, and so on) along with harmony and backing vocals on most songs. I always enjoy actual live interaction between musicians, and Kat had really practiced her parts so that her natural talent and enthusiasm made up for her relative lack of experience. It all came out great.

Boom Pony Beatlefest II set list...
*Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)
Norwegian Wood (Beatles)
Eleanor Rigby (Beatles)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)
*Fool On The Hill (Beatles)
*Hey Bulldog (Beatles)
A Day In the Life (Beatles)

*Indicates the first time I've performed these songs in SL.

Big thanks for including Kat and I in the lineup for Beatlefest, and special thanks to those who helped support the show!
Funkyfreddy Republic, Trixie Bumbo, Winter Thorn, Shambala Pearl, Athena Chardin, Taliesyn Drachnyd, Ayesha Lytton, Kaj Qinan, Horatio Freund, my manager Maali Beck, and the Boom's Andi Karsin, Kiran Sporg, and Aznana Shieldmaiden, and most of all my darling Kat for her great musical performance!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Crystal Gardens City (03.13.14)

Happy Pi Day. I'm convinced that in the future, every single day of the year will be some sort of manufactured holiday. I'm not at all kidding. This is my dystopian vision. At one point, of course, there were no holidays. Then someone started noting the day that a new year began. Then some pagans made some holidays around the time of harvesting crops. And then other religions started getting in on the party action. Then countries and governments started noting days of their independence, days to commemorate and memorialize certain people and events, and more. Then people started coming up with their own cute reasons to celebrate various things including everything from talking like a pirate to planting trees to waving flags, and... well, happy Pi Day.

Maybe I'm just in a grumpy mood, and I do have something to blame. For some reason, the start of Daylight Savings Time completely screwed up my sleep patterns this year, and the entire week has been like a jog through molasses. One of the few highlights of the week was last night's show at Crystal Gardens City in SL. Every other Thursday, I'm on a regular lineup there that includes Mark Allan Jensen at 4PM, my show at 5PM, and then FrankLee Anatra at 6PM. It's a good blend of sounds and repertoire between the three of us, and the shows have been well attended and fun.

I might be the least consistent crowd-draw in SL. Sometimes I get big crowds, sometimes small crowds, with no rhyme or reason for the fluctuations. I play the same regardless. Photo and top photo by Kat.

A good night at Crystal Gardens City always inspires me to play as well as I can. Photo by Kat.

Unlike previous recent shows at the City, I managed not to fall off the stage. Bonus! Photo by Kat.

Last night, I didn't have any kind of theme in mind. However, my real life job of marketing communications for the music/audio business had me doing some recent promotion for Neil Young's very cool new Pono Music system, and perhaps that lingered in my head a bit, since I ended up doing several of Old Neil's songs in my set.

Crystal Gardens City set list...
Say Goodbye (Beck)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Doin' Time (Sublime)
Expecting to Fly (Buffalo Springfield)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*#9 Dream (John Lennon)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Jane (Barenaked Ladies)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Call Me Al (Paul Simon)
On the Way Home (Buffalo Springfield)
Tea for the Tillerman (Cat Stevens)

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

Thanks to all who came out to my show at Crystal Gardens, including the following who helped support it!
Diana Renoir, MAJJackSlade, Kat Claxton, TheaDee, Rina Miles, Aurelie Chenaux, Allegra Genira, my manager Maali Beck, and CGC owners Sandi and Mikal Beaumont!

Friday, March 7, 2014

My final show at Molaskey's Pub (03.06.14)

"There is an end to everything, to good things as well." ~ Geoffrey Chaucer (1374)

Chaucer was right. All things, good and bad, come to an end. Sometimes endings are slow, and sometimes they happen fast and without warning. My final show at Molaskey's Pub in Second Life was somewhere in between; it was just Tuesday morning of this week that I found out Molaskey's was going to be closing in a week, making last night's show my final performance there.

I thought about dedicating a bunch of space on this blog post about why Second Life venues tend to close, but honestly, it boils down to two very simple things: time and money. They are two things that most people feel they don't have enough of. Running a venue properly can take a lot of each, but neither of those were the specific cause of Molaskey's demise. In actuality, it was SL itself that was the problem, at least for my friend Katydid Something who ran the place. She found that she was increasingly unable to enjoy SL due to technical/connection problems that barely allowed her to log in, much less move around or talk to people. Without being able to do the things she loved in SL, it's completely understandable that there's no way she could continue to make the investment of time and money that allowed Molaskey's to keep rolling. Her staff -- including Mia Kitchensink, Cicadetta Stillwater, and sometimes Stace Silvercloud -- did an excellent job hosting shows and keeping things happening at the club. But the money to pay tier and artists has to come from somewhere, as does the huge amount of time handling events.

It obviously wasn't going to work, and so Molaskey's will have its final shows on March 17. They have the distinction of being one of the longest continually running live music venues in SL, having opened on the same day exactly seven years ago in 2007. I could look back through this blog and tell you exactly how may shows I've done there, but there's no need; dozens and dozens of times, I got on their stage and played live music, almost always for great crowds of truly appreciative music fans. Most of the time, my shows were down on the beach stage, and during the winter months, I'd set up on the ice rink above the beach. In addition to Katydid and the hosting staff, my thanks for all the great Molaskey's experiences over the years wouldn't be complete without mentioning Apple McKay and Nasus Dumart, who also co-owned the place for a long time.

Here are a few of Kat's shots from last night.

I don't need to write some long historical retrospective of my shows at Molaskey's; all of them are documented here on this blog. Instead, as I usually do, I'll tell you about last night's show, which went very well. After Mia told my manager Maali Beck and I about the impending closing of the pub, she asked if I could do a special long show for my last performance, and I was very happy to oblige. I did a full hour and a half there, with a good crowd (especially considering that I was performing alone, with no support artists bring in their own audiences). My voice and guitar skills mostly held up, though I was pretty hoarse and drained of energy by the time I finished up the show. That's okay; it's what being a performer is all about, especially at a place like Molaskey's where the effort for an artist to put on his/her best show was always appreciated.

Molaskey's final show set list...
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Golden Years (David Bowie)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Redemption Song (Bob Marley)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*Say Goodbye (Beck)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Black Peter (Grateful Dead)
Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Go Easy On Me (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
After the Goldrush (Neil Young)
Soul Kitchen (The Doors)

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

A special thank you to everyone who's attended and helped support my many shows at Molaskey's over the years... especially Katydid Something, Mia Kitchensink, and Cicadetta Stillwater. And, of course, thanks to those who supported my final show there last night!
Maurice Mistwallow, Scarlette Vendetta, TheaDee, ChingALing Bling, Harry Wheeler, XaraTeransula, Kat Claxton, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, Richy Nervous, Crap Mariner, Aurelie Chenaux, and my manager Maali Beck.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (03.01.14)

Video streaming by Ustream

I've lost count of how many Zak Claxton Happy Fun Shows I've done; it's probably about 25, as I guessed while talking to Kat during yesterday's show. For the uninitiated, the show is my live video music performance I've done sporadically via Ustream for the past four years or so.

I decided to depart from my standard "all original" formula for yesterday's show, so it was more reminiscent of the typical shows I do in Second Life, intermingling originals and covers. Honestly, it seems I was the last live performer doing video shows on the planet who wasn't doing covers, so I decided to throw caution to the wind and do some other artists' music for a change.

It was fun. I enjoyed having the expanded repertoire from which to draw, and the set felt quite appropriate for the rainy Saturday afternoon vibe of the day. I'm going to try and keep up my recent streak of doing a ZCHFS at least once a month. Meanwhile, you can watch all of yesterday's show above (or at this link), and here are some silly pics.

ZCHFS set list...
*Tomorrow Never Knows (Beatles)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind The Sun (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Never Run Away (Kurt Vile)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Loser (Beck)

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

Thanks to everyone who tuned into the show... see you at the next one!