Tag Archives: Brandon Schott
This month we are proud to welcome songwriter and performer Ted Wulfers to the DGM family. Not only do we get a great chat with Ted, but also witness the start of a brand new co-write with host Brandon Schott – “WRONG SIDE OF THE TRACKS”. Ted is an American singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Born and raised in the Chicago-land area, he splits his time between Chicago and Los Angeles but calls the road his home. He is the leader of the Ted Wulfers Band and also performs solo acoustic. As a rootsy rocker, his combination of Heartland rock, Stadium pop, Stonesy swagger, California cool and Texas twang has earned him comparisons to Tom Petty, Wilco, The Foo Fighters, Chris Isaak, Dierks Bentley, Kid Rock, Kings of Leon, Lyle Lovett and The Wallflowers. His ability as a performer to connect with listeners keeps him busy for 50-200 shows a year.
Music. Songwriting. Inspiration. Discovery. Faith. Family. Transcendence. Our life is art, and this is Defying Gravity…
MORE THAN A MYSTERY – AN ESSAY ON SONGWRITING
When it comes to discussing the writing and recording process for my 2013 release Lucky No. 7, I find it nearly impossible to narrow the focus to one song. During the sessions for this album, I recorded seventy-eight songs…most of which were written for the album and a handful were ideas or older recordings that hadn’t been up to par on previous albums until they were spruced up to the level I was at and found a new home. Of the seventy-eight, eight songs found their way onto my What Would Santa Do? album which is a very fun, rocking and interesting holiday themed album. Fifteen of the seventy-eight made the final cut for my Lucky No. 7 album and two extra tracks were added to the seventeen track Lucky No. 7 double LP Vinyl edition. So of all these songs, all of the stories that go into writing and recording them, all the adventures, joys, pains, cheers and tears, where shall I begin…
Part of me wants to talk about how “Dreams Come True” was born instantly after considering for a minute to give up the music business and how “Think Of The Good Times” was written on ukulele the day I learned of my Father’s cancer and how while writing the slow groove, I knew immediately the song should close in a New Orleans Jazz Funeral Second Line. I thought of talking about how the intro lick for “What R U Doin’ 2Nite?” came to me while listening to Les Paul and how “Here We Go” started as a heavy metal lick that eventually bonded with the emotion to escape narrow mindedness and mirror image haircuts for a new promised land. I want to mention how “Break My Heart” was written in separate sections all to be different from one another but to fit together perfectly to craft a big rock pop song and how the album’s leadoff rocker “When You Run” started with a slow solo piano vibe. Also to be mentioned is how “Me & Miss 4th of July” was a verse and a chorus only until I learned Kenny Aronoff was going to be playing drums on the album and I wrote “Keith Moon-ish” sections for Kenny to play that altered the song into the awesomeness of rock it is today. Songs change, ideas morph and albums find their own way and path to what fits, what’s pitched and what is obvious all along.
Ah, but there I go rambling again. Even though I could write a book about each of the songs mentioned and most likely a large amount of the rest, the song crafting story I shall share with you today is how the song “More Than A Mystery” came to be and why it is so fitting since song writing is exactly that…much much more than a mystery!
I’ve been writing songs all my life ever since I was inspired in the 7th grade to write my first. I began playing piano at age three while playing the melodies of TV commercials by ear and at age 5, I began classical lessons. By 6th grade however, baseball was king and when my piano teacher died, I stopped taking lessons. That was the last formal lesson in music I ever had. I often wonder if I hadn’t stopped if I ever would be able to write the way I did because writing had no rules, there was no practicing…only playing and it was the ultimate form of expression. It really was the only way I knew how to express myself after learning of the passing of my Godfather and ever since it has been my escape, my expression, my inspiration, my ball & chain and luckily for me my living and livelihood as well. It really is a form of magic. As songwriters we control time, we control space, we control energy, mood, story and dynamics and with that control comes a lot of responsibility. Weʼre dealing with one of the oldest elements in the universe and it must be crafted and handled with care as well as respected.
Where do these ideas come from? No one really knows. I feel thereʼs a beauty in not knowing. I feel it is a skill that can be learned, that can be acquired but that can’t really be taught other than by example. There are those who are open to the mystery and those who aren’t and when you combine natural talent, lifeʼs empiricism and the knowledge of song craft/music theory/music ability anything can happen but the song itself is always the leader.
My Lucky No. 7 and What Would Santa Do? albums were recorded in 14 different studios throughout Los Angeles, Nashville and Chicago. I was living in Chicago at the time and ping ponging constantly between the three cities with piles of hard drives, arsenals of guitars and amplifiers and ten million tons of big dreams and ideas.
“More Than A Mystery is Born”
It was March 2009 and I was in Los Angeles for 7 days and wouldn’t return again until April so the mission was to record as many parts to as many songs with as many available people as possible. It was one of most inspiring times of my life and for my music from working in such amazing studios with such incredibly talented people and musicians and writing some of the best and most potent material of my career. Everyone came to these sessions impressed by the songs and following the songʼs lead wherever it would take us. Iʼd write 3-4 a day sometimes just to try to outdo the songs Iʼd written previously and the rule was bigger better best…keep on writing and recording until everyone in the room knew we were onto something special. Lucky for me and lucky for us, these special moments were happening ALL the time so we just rode the wave. Of the hundreds written, seventy-eight were recorded and then the list was condensed from there.
During one particular session, I was working with Dave Raven on Drums and Taras Prodaniuk on Bass at Daveʼs beautiful Honky Abbey studio in Los Angeles. Dave and Taras are some of the best rhythm section players in the world where vibe and feel and tone are king. They are a joy to make music and share stories with. We were recording rhythm guitar, drums, bass and scratch vocals for somewhere around six to seven songs that day and we were working on the song “What Would Santa Do?” when as I was tuning my guitar, I hit a lick. I was thoroughly impressed and I hit the lick again. Taras and Dave took notice and asked what that was. I asked them what it was since they have played with so many legendary people, I thought I was ripping someone off but it turned out I was onto something great of my own. We jammed on it a minute or two and we all agreed it was a great song. The trouble was that we had some more songs to finish that day and I was leaving two days from then for a while. We jammed a little more on this new lick and Dave and Taras said that if I could write that song by the end of the day that they would come back and track it the day after. The challenge was set, the gauntlet was down and I was ready to finish this new song.
We finished tracking parts for the rest of the songs that day and it was getting to be around seven oʼclock in the evening. I asked Dave and Taras if they were still up for recording the new song tomorrow and they said that they were and that I had until 10p to finish it and feel if it was good enough to record and then to call them and let them know. I agreed and then called Carl Byron to see if he was available for recording tomorrow as well and luckily he was. Carl is a true gentleman of the musical arts. His touch on piano, organ and accordion is so fantastic, beautiful and awesomely powerful. He is a treasure of a human being and a great musician to make noise with. If we were going to record this song, I wanted to go back home to Chicago to work on it with as many parts recorded and DONE as possible.
I was staying with friends that night in Santa Monica so I headed in that direction but told them I had to finish this new song before I would have any time to hang out with them. I was cruising westward down Santa Monica Blvd. thinking about how this song should go and what it should be about. There were a few girls in my life at the time but one was really hot/cold and extremely mysterious. I couldn’t help to think about her love was more than a mystery and I figured that was a great way to start. I wanted the lyrics to be catchy, intriguing, slightly naughty but mysterious and interesting. I try to be specific enough to tell a story but vague enough to make the story your own once you’ve heard it. We’ve all known the person who never changes, never wants to but still changes the world while doing so. This can be a lover or a friend or a stranger. The beautiful thing about songwriting is sometimes you don’t know who youʼre writing about until years later. Youʼre stuck in the moment of the idea.
Suddenly the song made sense and I pulled over into a grocery store parking lot and moved the seats forward on the rental car. I got my Rickenbacker 360/6 string out of the trunk and sat in the backseat of the car in this grocery store parking lot on Santa Monica Blvd. and wrote the song. As usual for me, the verses and chorus came immediately and I was suddenly lost in a world of beauty and inspiration. When I write on my own the songs usually appear to me in full packages ready for me to capture and get down as soon as possible. This sums up this period of my life really well.
So I had great verses and great choruses but I wanted this song to really stand out and I feel great songs have great sections that hold their own and make the song stronger as a whole. The verse is sloppy, swampy and spooky, the chorus is beautiful and majestic, so the bridge really has to stand out so I changed keys (kind of) and added a drastic chain gang blues vibe. This is a nice contrast that keeps the verse lines going but in a different way or a new path If you will. I then added some hits so set up the guitar solo. Whenever I think of these hits or play them onstage Iʼm always reminiscent of Tchaikovsky, Pete Townsend or the band Phish. I don’t know if these even sound like any of these artists but thatʼs what goes on in my mind. I also like that the hits allow there to be more notes in the song. I love songs that have almost every key note in the scale in them at least chord-wise. The intro verse is Em D A G D A (or Em) and the chorus is G D C G D C Am C. The hits are B G A, B D A Em. The solo is followed by more set of hits to get bigger impacting the listener only then to dissolve into the third verse.
I knew the third verse would be a slight breakdown. I could already hear the tremolo guitar that I wanted there but it also had to sum it up. Who was this person? Who was this girl? Was it even a person I was singing about? Who knows, letʼs drop some sexy lines and more ambiguity and go into an awesome double chorus and then a long jam guitar solo. Done.
I had written it, I was in love with it and it was ready to be recorded! I called Dave, Taras and Carl and made arrangements to record the song the next day and that I was confident it was going to be a good one. I looked at the clock and it was 8:45pm. Song done and it was then time to hit the Santa Monica bar scene with my friend in celebration.
The following day, we tracked the song in two takes at Honky Abbey and then I went to Sonora Recorders to record Carlʼs Piano, Organ and Accordion parts. I love how graceful and sparkly the piano playing is, how huge the organ holds everything together and his sparse accordion playing is so vibey and sexy that it makes the verses really special. A lot of people ask me if itʼs a harmonica in those sections but itʼs actually an accordion! We kept falling more and more in love with this song and the pure joy and inspiration of being surrounded by positive energy, beautiful scenery and talented musicians was taking its toll on my music in a very wonderful day.
One really awesome thing that Iʼd like to point out is that there was no demo of this song. What you hear on the album is the first time the song was ever recorded. Lucky No. 7 as an album is about 50/50 that way. For some tracks, Iʼd make a demo and weʼd spot on do it that way only bigger and better on the album and others the demos are the live tracking that ended up making it on the album. It makes for a great mix of impromptu ideas and recordings and methodical planning. You have to have both in rock ʻn roll. There must be fresh chaos and careful planning. If itʼs all of either, you just get a mess of horrible noise, lost confusion and a genre of music I kindly refer to as shit!
I went back to Chicago successfully with tons of songs tracked and ready for overdubs and “More Than A Mystery” was awesome and ready for me to go through the parts and shape this song but who was going to play lead guitar on it? The minute we started recording this song, I knew it had a very Lucinda Williams/Tom Petty/Neil Young vibe and I knew that I could accomplish a lead part and tone that would fit really well. But I also thought it would be really amazing to get Doug Pettibone or Mike Campbell to play the part since it was a song that was so perfect for both of their playing styles. Doug Pettibone got right back to us and we tracked his guitar parts a month later. He added the super sexy sizzling lead on top of the wonderful foundation we had begun and that was a wrap folks. I added some percussion in my home studio and it was on to vocals.
The lead vocals for “More Than A Mystery” were recorded during the spring of 2009 at Sixteen Tons Studios in Nashville, TN and we used a very special early serial number Telefunken 251 microphone that was on loan to us via Blackbird Audio Rentals. My longtime mentor and mastering engineer Richard Dodd had introduced me to the Blackbird gang and we hit it off amazingly and did a microphone shootout and that 251 was the winner! Itʼs called the “Faith” mic since Faith Hill has sung so many hits through it. The “Martina” is the other special 251 in the Blackbird mic locker but only one person is allowed to sing through it (Martina McBride) and only one engineer is allowed to touch it and thatʼs John McBride…her husband.
The backing vocals for “More Than A Mystery” were tracked during some really fun sessions at the Chicago Recording Company in Chicago, IL My friends Shawn Davis, Phil Hurley, Nick Randolph and Dave Phenicie were in a band called Stonehoney that was becoming very popular and they were in Chicago on tour playing some shows. We did a few dates together and during this time, I rounded them all up to sing backing vocals on several songs for Lucky No. 7. For the Stonehoney sessions, “More Than A Mystery” was a different approach because usually I was tapping into them to get their amazing group harmonies. This time I wanted unison…big unison that sounded like a chain gang for the bridge. We nailed it in a few takes and it was on to the next song.
The main backing vocalist in “More Than A Mystery” is Mark Cantwil who was bassist in my 1990s band Beggarʼs Bridge. Mark has one of the best voices in the world and can really nail those Tommy Shaw, Timothy B. Schmidt, Bon Jovi notes and we tracked his vocals at Chicago Recording Company.
All in all itʼs a wonderful song because it came from pure inspiration and in the heat of the moment. I can honestly say if the song “What Would Santa Do?” wasn’t in the key of E, I would have never hit that Em > D lick that kicks off “More Than A Mystery.” And if I hadn’t had the deadline of needing to finish that song in the back of the rental car in a parking lot of a grocery store on Santa Monica Blvd, I don’t think the song would have become a song nor would it be the great nugget that it is today. Playing it live onstage, it can go forever and solo acoustic, it can be trim and sweet. Either way, I don’t know about the girl and I don’t know about songwriting. They are just clues along this journey that we find and remark about and share a story with so that it becomes the listenerʼs story more than our own. Iʼm just happy to be one of the makers of this music who is open and able to tap into that mysterious energy and harness it long enough to be able to share it with myself and an audience using the instruments and voice Iʼm gifted enough to communicate with. Thatʼs the magic, thatʼs the fun and itʼs all truly much much more….than a mystery!!
“More Than A Mystery” was mixed at GodaveyGo in Atwater Village and mastered by Richard Dodd at Richard Dodd Mastering in Nashville and mastered for vinyl by Ron McMaster at Capitol Mastering in Hollywood, CA.
May 15, 2013
Ted K, Ted W, Kenny A, Eric C, and Carl B at HOB Studios, March 2009
A NOTE FROM YOUR HOST, BRANDON SCHOTT: Well, folks – this one is certainly a keeper. My dear friend Manda Mosher and I went to school together in Boston a number of years ago, and our paths have continued to intersect since. A native Los Angelino with three commercial releases under her belt (and two more currently in production), Manda is hands down one of my favorite people in the world. The deeply rooted music and perspectives she puts out in the world in her art and actions have truly inspired me greatly over the years. Am so proud to share our chat with you, as well as a brand new recording we made together of the title track of her first LP, “EVERYTHING YOU NEED.” Turn up the sound, sit back with a nice glass of red wine (or ice cream) and enjoy – ladies and gentlemen – as Defying Gravity Music brings you, Manda Mosher…
Music. Songwriting. Inspiration. Discovery. Faith. Family. Transcendence. Our life is art, and this is Defying Gravity…
When long time friend and colleague, Brandon Schott, suggested we do an episode of Defying Gravity ~ the idea of him producing my song “Everything You Need” seamlessly came to mind. Brandon approaches production with a unique whimsy and depth perfectly suited to a lullaby of this style.
I came over to his studio; we set up for a live guitar vocal and captured this performance on the 1st take. From there, Brandon surrounded my performance with his background vocals, strings, and keys stylings ranging from toy piano to glockenspiel.
“Everything You Need” was always a song dear to my heart in its simplicity and truth. It became the title track to my first album release in April of 2009 (Red Parlor Records.) It was a delight to revisit the tune again…
The song’s meaning is simple. It answers the call of wanting comfort and love. I believe that we all want for someone who can embrace us, and in that moment in time, help us feel at peace and unafraid. During the darker hours, it’s a ray of hope shining between the cracks of harsh reality. We all grow old, we all die…but we can experience love while we are here.
- Manda Mosher
Manda Mosher is a Los Angeles based singer-songwriter, founder of MMTV and co-founder of ReValue Music – her music can be purchased online at the usual digital resources.
This month’s episode is pridefully very different. Some of you may know that I was raised in a military family, both my parents were active air force for over two decades. Today, July 31st, is my father’s 60th birthday and this episode is a tribute to military families, and especially of course my folks – who have been amazingly supportive of my creative endeavors through the years. Because of the nature of this month’s theme, we wanted to open up the floor – and I’m pleased to also include the stories of writer/actress Leigh Hall and radio host and comedian Sheena Metal in our video and podcast, both of whom are fellow military brats themselves that have gone on to lead rich and creative lives. Together, we reflect on how our nomadic childhoods have since colored our work. I’m also proud to present a brand new, unreleased song I wrote last fall called “KEEP THE SUN OUT OF YOUR EYES”, which directly inspired this month’s theme and has a deeply personal and unexpected story of its own further below. Thank you to all.
Music. Songwriting. Inspiration. Discovery. Faith. Family. Transcendence. Our life is art, and this is Defying Gravity…
“MANY MILES FROM ABERDEEN”
It’s Father’s Day 2012, and I’m writing this at a Peet’s Coffee in Glendale, CA – many miles and a continent from where my dad is being pampered for the holiday. He’s likely enjoying fresh grilled ribs and perhaps one of those peach schnapps cocktails he’s so fond of. Given my family’s nomadic history, I suppose its no coincidence that for the past 11 years I’ve hunkered down far from my extended family, chasing a life’s mission on a distant shore.
I was raised a military brat, both my parents active Air Force, for the better part of my youth. I was born in the DC area, lived in Utah for a spell (where my sister was born) and even lived in the UK for eight years, my parents stationed at RAF Croughton in the Northampton countryside. That’s where I attended middle school & high school, on the base. There’s a roaming instinct in my blood, and it’s manifested itself over the years in many ways – creatively unsettled, spiritually restless – “home” is a moving target, always ready for reinvention.
Friends came and went – each of them with their own complex and rich stories. I learned not to become too attached to things and places. I’ve touched on this part of my life very little in my songs, which is still surprising to me given how deeply it informs who I am. There’s a song on my DANDELION LP, “FOUR WINDS BLOW,” which is probably my most obvious reference to these years.
It took a long time before I’d considered my parent’s perspective in all this – how tough it must have been to maintain a consistency within our immediate family, given how far away they were from their own. For a long time I resented the lifestyle, hated the constant loss of friends, swore my kids would stay more ‘grounded’, but underneath I think I understood and respected the sacrifice and strength it took. The older I get, and through all the changes we’ve endured together over the years – illness, birth, death, marriages – I realize those years lived in military service brought us closer together than I could have ever known. We became our own constants. And as my life as a performer gathers its own mileage, with three kids and a family of my own, I deeply admire my parent’s ability to keep our family so strong through it all.
One day late last year I went to lunch with my dear friend Steve Barton. We ate outside and caught up over some fantastic Indian food, Steve opposite an ever climbing, and blinding, ray of sunlight. Subsequently he kept his sunglasses on the whole time, leading us to the phrase “KEEP THE SUN OUT OF YOUR EYES” which became a punch line for the rest of our meal. We laughed as we thought it sounded like an old British battle hymn from the 1st or 2nd world war, sung over pints of ale – perhaps with a slight Liverpudlian accent.
In Defying Gravity episode 2 with Steve, we talked a lot about how some songs are written and some songs write you. “KEEP THE SUN OUT OF YOUR EYES” fell into the latter category, and over the course of that very afternoon the song became obsessed with me – writing the first, second and third verses through me in a furious flash. However, I was soon to realize the universe was giving me a gift, a premonition of an unexpected twist in my family’s story.
I write a lot in the car, in silence – just thoughts and phrases rattling around with the shocks on the road. Upon scribbling and revising the final lyrics to the song, I pulled up outside my home in Glendale. The phone rang. It was my mother – my Dad had suffered a heart attack, and was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital. Here I was, miles from the action – far from the fight, unable to be with him – hold his hand, comfort him. I ran inside and held my own family close, continued our routine as it was needed – getting updates from time to time from my mom & sister.
The version in the imperfect demo above is a recording I made that night, after the kids were tucked in – just me alone, live in my studio, the house settling into sleep, resting on the edge of an event that could have changed everything. And here was this song that seemed to preclude and understand it all, tethering me to the universe’s larger plan. Once again, music proved to be a powerful ally.
Thankfully, as previewed earlier in this story, my father is fine – two stints in his heart and a lifestyle change later, we’re all still celebrating all the usual milestones together. On separate coasts, connected in the knowledge that – “till its time to move on” and beyond – our connection to each other will cross all divides. We never know when our time together will come to a close – until then, I promise to do what I can to “keep the sun out of my eyes” and my heart fixed on all that will always be important in this life. I love you, Dad.
“trouble holding back”
growing up on 45s of the beatles, dave clark 5, the animals…well you get the idea, not alot of blues. although the electricity of the blues masters runs through all of these records. at the time, i just didn’t know it. i was exposed to country music at a young age by my grandfather. liz anderson, lynn anderson, johnny cash etc. he was the first person to create mix tapes on his tandberg reel to reel tape recorder. no two songs were alike. what they had i common was, he liked them. one day, i played him a song from the first grand funk railroad album. didn’t go over well. then i played him “back in the ussr” from the white album. it made it to his mix tape! never a ballad or a sad song. always upbeat. “i like it loud, and i like it fast” he once told me after a sold out show by lone justice at the palace in los angeles. a few years before that, while i was discovering glamrock’s t rex, i found jimmy reed. he had it all. country, blues, rock and roll, all rolled up into one. it was his powerful songwriting. i was hit between the eyes. i found out years later, he was the most popular blues artist of the fifties. his groove was so deep, no one wanted to follow him on stage. i’ve discovered many other blues artists over the years from robert johnson to howling wolf, but the first cut is the deepest. Jimmy reed cut me deep on first listen, and still does to this day.
in the fifties and sixties, america was painted black and white. that was the real world where people of color had to use separate bathrooms, sit in the back of a bus or stay in their own hotels. in the world of music, there were no colors to be seen. anyone could listen to the rolling stones back to back with the supremes on commercial radio. black and white kids were dancing in the streets on dick clark’s american bandstand. martha and the vandellas had as much to do with the civil rights movement as martin luther king jr. the influence of the blues was seeping through the AM radio, i just didn’t know it. i had to dig for it, and find it. once i did, the could see that the original pipeline to the golden age of rock and roll was connected to the blues. ask elvis. ask brian jones. ask lennon. you can ask them by listening to their records. spin the 45s of “hound dog”, “satisfaction”, and “revolution”. they were slaves to the masters of the blues. “chains…and they ain’t the kind that you can see.” every artist sings the blues. even if they cover the production in sugar. the blues is in the foundation, the ground floor, in the dirt before the building of the record is even built.
my co writer, sam lorber, and i wanted to write another song together. somehow we tapped into the blues. the way a blues song doubles the opening line to reinforce the power of it. the simplicity of the chords (1-4-5 for those who play). before recording the song, i added a non blues section at the end, encouraging the track to go into a pshyodelic section. i added electric mandolin, wanting it to sound like the harpsichord in “lucy in the sky with diamonds.” we added melloton as well. when i play live, i sometimes have a string quartet that comes in at the end to help build the ending. treveor manear added the electric guitars inspired by jimi hendrix (an inspirator).
there are songs, and there are records. my favorite records happen to be great songs. however, i’ll listen to a record where the song is second to the style or production, and gain something from that listening as well. i think brian wilson once said, people listen to records. so i keep that in mind. when i record, the song needs to work on a solo instrument (guitar, mandolin or piano are what i tend to write songs with). when a record is being made, i consider the choices and follow my instincts. when we recorded this song, i left out the bass as a tip of the hat to jimmy reed. at the time of the recording, the white stripes and black keys were not in vogue yet. i’m glad that these artists have picked up on blueprint of the blues. i wasn’t trying to follow or create a trend. i was just following my heart as an artist to create a record based on a song i believed in, that would stand the test of time. to paraphrase bob marley, no record, no song. yet without the song, at least in my world, there is no record.
sam and i wrote the lyric before katrina. “swept up in the moement/washed away in the flood…”. then i realized that “ain’t no work in missisippi” was on the album as well (also written before katrina hit), and there lies the subtle connection between these songs. that really is how the album was put together. i wasn’t looking for a concept album like tommy or sgt. pepper, although i could probably turn marvin country! into a country rock opera if i spent time with it (maybe one day i will!). i just wanted a spider web thread running through the album, something you couldn’t see, but just feel as the album was being experienced.
so recording a blues song felt like the right thing to do. if you take the time to listen to the album, i hope you agree.
I stayed home Sunday mornings when I was too little for Sunday school and watched Mahalia Jackson on TV. I had no idea who she was or what she was singing about, but I knew it was real and I knew I was moved. Even in the psychadelic 60s I listened to Elmore James, Arthur Crudup, Curtis Mayfield, and Etta James more than anything on the radio. That is until Hendrix. Those were passionate times and I wore everything on my sleeve. When Marvin and I started working on this song, I was ranting about something, and, well, you hear the product.
Our host and co-creator, Brandon Schott released a new music video this week – check it out above and spread the word!
And stay tuned for Defying Gravity Music Episode III with guest Marvin Etzioni coming next week – 6/30/2012!!
Here’s a special performance by Steve Barton of his song “SUPER FANTASTIC GUY” (from his new LP PROJECTOR). This was filmed in his backyard after our interview segment on May 12, 2012. Be sure to catch his episode in full HERE, featuring an exclusive demo from the “Projector” sessions.
Watching both episodes (of Defying Gravity) reminds me that there are others out there, just like me, which is important to be reminded of. Writing and recording, whether in my own head or my home studio, are very solitary events. At times, I think of music as a coping mechanism as much as it is a hobby, an art, or whatever other people think it is. It is something that I want to do and love to do, but it’s also something I can’t NOT do. I’m rambling here, but I really enjoyed the interviews. Watching them made me feel a little less alien.
|-Dan Pavelich, Music Journalist / Musician|
I received the above note via our FaceBook page – the response to the series has just been wonderful and heartwarming thus far and we here at DGM truly appreciate all your letters of encouragement and support.
But, Dan’s note really struck a chord for me, as it really spoke to the core of what we hoped to accomplish with Defying Gravity. The initial seed of our efforts were born out of a desire to harbor some kind of online musical residency, bring people together – talk about the thing we love and why we love it, share the seeds of our musical adventures (our influences) as well as the story behind some of our work and how it relates to the larger story of our ongoing creative lives.
Community is everything.
The internet and the readiness of technology has exploded the music business with opportunity and resources – we can all write a song, draft a simple (or complex) recording and upload it for the world to hear within minutes now. We can reach across state and country lines and connect with other like minded talent from across the globe. But with this outpouring of talent and content, it’s also harder and harder to cut through the white noise – conversations more fragmented, attention spans shorter. We’re all out there doing our own thing, all of us with a project on the verge of greatness (and never is this more apparent than after 11 years living in LA). We’re living in a ‘singles’ world, and I want to hear an album.
Our life is art – the time we share with each other, the relationships we form along the way, how we conduct ourselves in this ever changing business, and of course – the life’s work we offer to the world. So here’s to a new plot of land here on the internet, a new creative home.
Defying Gravity, in the spirit of its greatest potential, is here to bridge this conversation a bit further – or as Dan says so eloquently, make us feel “a little less alien.”
So, I suppose the overall purpose of this long (and rambling) post is to say….with all my heart: welcome to the Defying Gravity music community.
June 5, 2012
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In the re-occurring spirit harbored here at Defying Gravity Music – how songs weave themselves into the story of our lives – we are pleased to bring you a special post by guest contributor and journalist Alex Stein…
Another Grey Area:
I Used Graham Parker for Evil, Not For Good
Three things you need to know about Graham Parker, the English pub rocker with twitchy New Wave leanings who came up in the 70s with Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello and was often lumped in with them by lazy journalists who labeled them as “Rock’s New Angry Young Men”:
- He was signed to and then dropped by every major label over the course of 10 years. In the music industry, it was thought that Graham Parker was just months (or maybe even weeks) away from becoming a superstar, but no record label could ever make Graham Parker a household name along the lines of Bruce Springsteen.
- Bruce Springsteen himself said of Graham Parker “He’s the only person I would ever pay to see perform – and I’d pay any amount of money to see him.”
- Graham Parker has made better albums than Another Grey Area, but none that are closer to my heart. Because I used Graham Parker (or more specifically his record Another Grey Area) for evil, not good. I’m not proud of this, but it is what it is.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
It ended badly. I won’t give you details, but it ended badly.
She was sneaking around with her ex-boyfriend while stringing me along. I found out. And was heartbroken.
And she moved on. Quickly. Because that’s who she was.
And I moped around. For months. Because that’s who I was.
And that should have been it.
Except for the dream.
Months after we split up, I dreamed I was at a Graham Parker concert. Right in front of the stage. The show was amazing. Rock and roll that scorched your heart. And then, mid-song, he stopped singing, waved off the band, stepped forward, and tipped his ever-present sunglasses down on his nose.
And looking right at me, Graham Parker said: “Stop moping about, Alex. If you want her back, get her back.”
Smart guy, that Graham Parker.
The next day, I was in a used record store because I’ve spent a great percentage of my life in used record stores. And there, between Dolly Parton and Ray Parker, Jr., was a Graham Parker record I’d never heard before called Another Grey Area. Remembering the dream, I bought the album. Plus, it was only 75 cents, so how could I not?
Every song reminded me of her. “Temporary Beauty” was like an argument where I said she didn’t need to wear a lot of makeup or look like everyone else and she got mad and thought I was saying she wasn’t beautiful, which I wasn’t because she was.
“Another Grey Area” (the song) reminded me of how stubbornly she refused to label relationships (and how desperately I needed to do exactly that).
And on and on. The entire record just spoke to me.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I have to tell you right now that I never thought the songs were about her. Or that they were written for me. That would have been crazy.
And I wasn’t crazy. I was just obsessed to an unhealthy degree. It’s a fine distinction, but one I insist on drawing.
So I overlayed my emotions onto the songs.
Dream Graham Parker was right. I was going to stop moping around. And get her back.
I’d just finished a semester of reading Kierkegaard, which is a mind-fuck even under the best of conditions. So I started repeating over and over again the title of one of Kierkegaard’s books: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing.
And then it hit me. If I really wanted to get her back, then by sheer force of will, I could make it happen.
No room for doubts. No room for questions. Just want it bad enough.
And I knew that Another Grey Area got me in the right mood. (And there’s really no harm in that. It’s like when actors or athletes listen to one piece of music over and over again to get them psyched, right? Right?)
So I started to listen to the record. Over and over again.
Often three or four times or eight a day. Driving my roommates crazy.
I knew every strum and downbeat, every intake of breath, every backing vocal part, every keyboard riff, and each and every click and pop on the deteriorating vinyl.
I was going to classes and doing normal things, but I hardly slept or ate and threw every spare ounce of my energy went into getting her back.
Not by doing anything, just by wanting it.
My friends all told me it was impossible and I cheerfully agreed. I’d never get her back. I knew this.
Days blurred into weeks and into months. Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. Graham Parker’s Another Grey Area.
Ironies were lost on me — including the irony that Kierkegaard’s title meant something very, very different. (Plus, in all likelihood, Graham Parker would have been appalled that I was using his record as the musical and romantic equivalent of weight training.)
Like I said before, I’m not proud of this.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
And then the impossible happened.
Things thawed between us. We started spending time together.
I remembered all the little things I liked about her.
I ignored my strong desire to label the relationship. And I still listened to Another Grey Area but now only two or three times a day and repeated the Kierkegaard title in my head like a mantra, but only 8 hours a day.
Song titles and lyrics echoed through my brain. “No More Excuses,” “You Hit the Spot,” “It’s All Worth Nothing Alone,” “Can’t Waste a Minute,” “Crying for Attention,” and especially the last song on Side Two: “Fear Not.” Clearly (at least to my 21-year-old lovesick brain), the record was a call to action.
And then one night it happened.
If this had been a normal relationship or I hadn’t been so obsessed, I would have been more responsible. But I knew instinctively that having that talk would pull us back. And then it would never happen.
And purity of heart is to will one thing, right?
So, knowing I was being irresponsible and watching her pull my pants down past my knees, I plunged ahead. (It’s not something I did before or have done since… and, like I said, I’m not proud of this.)
You can probably guess where this is going.
She got pregnant. And had no desire to be pregnant.
I certainly didn’t want her to be pregnant (or at least not until we had jobs or could care for a house plant for more than a month without it dying), but I was confused about what I was supposed to do. And I felt guilty because I had the chance to stop and be responsible… but chose not to. (And if you think she could have been responsible, you just don’t know her. I knew it was up to me.)
Ironically, there’s a Graham Parker song (not on Another Grey Area, but on Squeezing Out Sparks, which if you don’t own already you should buy immediately – you can thank me later) called “You Can’t Be Too Strong” which is about this exact situation. Graham Parker accidentally gets this girl pregnant, she has an abortion and he has to hang out with his friends and pretend everything’s okay when it very clearly isn’t.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
She wouldn’t let me go with her. And after she just wanted to put it all behind her and pretend it didn’t happen. Which meant having nothing to do with me.
So it was over. Again.
I put Kierkegaard and Another Grey Area away. I kept going to classes, started eating more regularly. Slept a little. At some point, I guess, I graduated.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Recently, I found Another Grey Area at the bottom of a pile of old records. And I listened to it. From start to finish. For the first time in 15 years.
From the very first note, I was 21 again. Determination and hope swelled up inside me. Purity of heart is to will one thing.
I could do it. Even now after all these years, I could get her back. Hell, I could get anyone back.
All I had to do was listen to the record again. And again and again and again.
When the second side ended, I turned it over to listen to the entire record again immediately. I picked up the tone arm.
Then I asked a question my younger self never would have considered: What’s the cost?
And I turned off the stereo. Sat in a silence made noisy by too many memories.
I know now I was selfish, blinded by determination. I’d harnessed energy in a way it wasn’t supposed to be harnessed. Convinced I could do the impossible if only I wanted it badly enough. I’d sinned against the gods of music. I’d used Graham Parker for evil, not for good.
And I paid the price for it.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
I know what you’re thinking: So is this a good album?
I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. But I know this:
About a year after all this happened, I had another dream.
Graham Parker was strumming an acoustic guitar in a coffeeshop when I walked in. He nodded to me, then said “See? I told you you could get her back.”
And then he started playing songs from Another Grey Area. Each one was slowed down and rearranged, the energetic calls to action now slow dirges. The hunger and yearning reduced to melancholy and loss:
And I walked up to Graham Parker, shook my head angrily, and poked him in the chest. “You never told me what the cost would be.”
Graham Parker nodded, staring at me, weighing his words carefully. “You gotta learn some things for yourself, kid,” he said eventually. “And there’s always a cost. The more impossible the task, the greater the cost. Hell, I’m just a songwriter — not even that, I’m your dream of your fantasy of a songwriter – but even I know that.”
And he strummed his guitar and right before he started singing again he said “some day, you’ll thank me for this.”
And… I do.
LISTEN TO ALEX PERFORM HIS PIECE LIVE.
Here are a few pics from this weekend’s video/podcast shoot with guest contributor and songwriter Steve Barton. We discuss his new album, “Projector”, how the powerful and emotionally stark material on this record was informed by his father’s passing in 2009, about writing songs as a healing and therapeutic endeavor, the touchstone albums for him during his time, PJ Harvey and the Plastic Ono Band, the first Translator album in 26 years – “BIG GREEN LAWN”, and whether or not Steve uses stick or aerosol deodorant.
Steve also gave us a beautiful essay and an exclusive demo of the Projector song “PLEASE”, which will be available for download for a limited time. Coming only to Defying Gravity Music on 5/31/12…
And while you wait, here are a few links to fill you in on the global “PROJECTOR” conversation…