bptm-morocco

Last week I opened up my blog by boasting about a Tinder date that I went on. I truly meant this only to be an attention grabber before I launched into an exploration of the decline of melody in music. Yet it appears that people were much more intrigued by my date than my musical musings. The overwhelming response to my blog post about the disappearance of melody in music was this: “how was the Tinder date though?” Well much like Fauzio, I aim to please, and so I’m going to indulge your thirst for a vicarious experience of NYC Tinder life and tell you about my date.

I had an incredibly pleasant time with a beautiful young Irish woman who was charming, upbeat, humorous, and delightfully outspoken. Our plan was to meet up at The MoMA, view some art, chat over coffee, and then part ways. Yet after the MoMA we had dinner together, and after dinner we went to a bar, and after the bar we went for a walk, and after the walk we met up with a friend of mine and chatted at a cafe, and after the cafe, we took the subway to my house and watched some Game of Thrones. And no, this was not a “Netflix and chill” kind of situation— get your mind out of the gutter people. It was just wonderful evening filled with really good conversation, laughter, and flirtation.

The truth is I’m not actually telling you all of that because I want to grant you your wish of peaking into my romantic life— (as usual) I have a larger point to make. Believe it or not, me going on that Tinder date, has everything to do with me fighting for the presence of melody in music. That’s right fools! I’m not abandoning my discussion of the decline of melody in music. Stay with me now…

What is melody? The technical definition of melody (per dictionary.com) is “The succession of single tones in musical compositions, as distinguished from harmony and rhythm.” But more generally what is melody? It is an active statement; it is the part you can sing; it is the part you remember. If you think of a musical composition as a story, as many composers throughout history have, melody is the dialogue and action that propels the plot. Harmony and Rhythm would be more like the setting and pace of the story. And yet if it is such an important part of the musical story, why then are more and more composers in jazz, film, and popular music abandoning clear melodies?

The simplest answer is that it is easier to not write a melody than to write a melody. While the simplest answer is often the correct one, I believe that there is also something more poisonous at play: on some level most everyone wants to be cool, and at some point melody became uncool. I can express this easier with a musical example. Listen to any or all of both of these pieces of instrumental music: Serenade no. 13 in G Major by Mozart and Lizard Point by Brian Eno. One has a very distinct memorable melody throughout, and the other doesn’t really have a melody. Which do you think is cooler (not better, just cooler)? Because it is much more mysterious and abstract I am going to guess that most people think that the Eno tune is cooler. A melody is a clear statement, and a clear statement is rarely going to be perceived as cooler than something more oblique.

We could think of it like this: a melody is like looking up and saying “I love how the sun beams through the trees in Central Park.” As nice and true as that statement may be, it is simply not as cool as just staring off at the trees, silent and expressionless as you smoke a cigarette. Certainly the latter is cooler, but is it better? No way. First of all, smoking is bad for your health. Secondly, you are not communicating anything to anyone else by staring off into space. You’re just living in your own cool, insular, lonely world. And yet we are all victims under the oppressive tyranny of the cool— nobody wants to be considered uncool, and yet nobody knows exactly what it is to be cool, thus many people simply avoid making statements (verbally or musically) for fear of being uncool.

So what the hell does going on a Tinder date have to do with writing a melody or being cool? Well, on Tinder I’m a perfectly cultivated cool guy. I have pictures of me holding a guitar, laying on a raft with sunglasses on, effortlessly posing with a real live butterfly on my shoulder, and an equally cool “about me” write-up to boot. Given the extra time to think up responses I’m also far more clever and witty in Tinder text message conversation than I am in real life. Thus, I could have contented myself to stay at home and just be a cool idea of a person, but I chose (as did she) to actually go meet up with someone and expose myself as a real, flawed human. In person, you hear my goofy laugh, you witness me fumble with words sometimes, and you sense my subtle nervousness and excitement about being on a date. I’m not as cool in person, but I am much more real— I’m someone you can actually connect to. It doesn’t matter how cool someone is on paper, the only thing that matters in romance is how well you connect with someone face to face, and the only way to do that is to get out of the house, go on a date, and put yourself at risk of being uncool. Thus, the acts of writing a melody and going on a Tinder date are both mini rebellions against the tyranny of the cool.

And even the coolest people can rebel against the tyranny of the cool. My friend Epiphany Morrow (musical artist, rapper, public speaker, philanthropist, and entrepreneur) is by all measures a very cool dude. This week Epiphany released his long awaited Legacy Project. Billed as the world’s first “living album,” The Legacy Project is a smartphone app offering an interactive music and video experience which draws users into a unique world of Piph’s creation. You most certainly should download it (just search “big piph” or “the legacy project” in your app store). Despite the fact that many would undoubtedly consider Epiphany a cool dude, the best part about him is that in The Legacy Project and in so many of his other endeavors he too routinely and unapologetically puts himself at risk of being uncool. For it is not because I think that he is cool that I respect and admire Piph (in fact I know him well enough to know that he is actually a closet-nerd)— no, I respect and admire him because he is incredibly genuine, disciplined, and creates art that has true perspective and substance behind it.

You may not see it, but I do: the acts of going on a date, releasing an app, and writing a melody are all important rebellions against the tyranny of the cool. Certainly nobody wants to be uncool, and yet the only actions or statements that have any meaning or weight behind them are those that do put us at risk of being uncool. And here’s the liberating truth: there is really no such thing as cool. When Miles Davis gave birth to the cool back in 1957— he gave birth to a phantom. Cool is simply a figment of our collective imagination. Love is real, beauty is real, laughter is real, and cool is not real. The sooner we all realize that, the sooner we’ll being to really live.

TheLegacyProjectFor the second straight week, I have the honor of contributing to Big Piph’s The Legacy Project. For those who haven’t heard about it, go check out the first paragraph of my blog post last week (I don’t have time to be repeating myself). Piph has already released the album portion (it’s great, go get a copy), yet the truly unprecedented part of this project will be released later this month in app form. Suffice it to say, that there is a whole world of characters in this project, and just like you or me, they each have a rich web of personal history, personality traits, and influences that make them unique. Today I’m giving you a special sneak peak into the world of one such character. Meet Eric Smith.

boom2Eric Smith lead something of a charmed life. He was an orphan before he could even crawl, yet he was quickly adopted by a wealthy, loving couple, who nurtured, guided, and bonded with Eric as much as any biological parent ever could. Growing up, he went to the finest schools, was treated to European vacations in the summer, and was never lacking in emotional or material support from his parents. Athletic, intelligent, light-hearted, and friendly, Eric was well liked and had many friends. By the time he was a teenager, it was apparent that Eric had a world of opportunities before him; he could have been a professional athlete, a doctor, a lawyer, an entrepreneur, or anything else he set his mind to. Yet Eric’s singular flaw was that he did not set his mind to anything. Indeed from Eric’s perspective, he could not set his mind to anything. For despite having all the comfort and security a young man could hope for, he always had a restless sense that there was something missing and a higher path that he needed to discover for himself.

As a senior in high school, his restlessness turned to despair. He became reclusive and uninterested in schoolwork, sports, or friends. Witnessing their son’s stagnation and desperate to help him, his parents decided to tell Eric about his adoption. Far from being shocked, sad, or confused, Eric was inspired by the news of his adoption. He felt he finally had a direction he could follow— he needed to find out who his real parents were. He hoped his past would hold the key to his future, his higher path.

It wasn’t difficult for him to find out the names of his biological parents— just a matter of contacting the orphanage. Unfortunately, once he started looking in the public records, he saw that the most recent appearances of his parents’ names were on death certificates. Yet Eric also discovered that before they died, both of his parents were registered members and proponents of The Class, a now defunct self-help organization that was notorious for pushing it’s members to the peak of intellectual achievement and beyond the limits of psychological and physical pain in an attempt to make them super-human. Eric wanted to take The Class. He knew that it’s practitioners must still be around somewhere and he vowed to find them. After a year long search, Eric finally found what he was looking for… within the walls of L.E.S. headquarters.

That was six years ago, and Eric has since proven the most distinguished member of The Class to date. Yet even an Übermensch has a soul. Eric Smith may have achieved supreme intellectual, physical, and psychological strength, but he still likes to kick back and listen to some tunes. Here’s a candid look into Eric’s musical life.

1. You are at an amazing, lush house party at a Venice Beach mansion. Everyone there seems to be friendly, attractive, intelligent, and having the time of their life drinking, dancing, and socializing. Mos Def and Penelope Cruz are among the guests that are casually enjoying this party. This is the best party you’ve ever been to. You must pick one song that will play every time you walk into a new room at this party. What song do you pick?

Eric: My House— Flo Rida

2. What is the one song you wish you had written? Note: You are not necessarily the performer of this song, but you will receive royalties from it, and everyone who knows and loves this song will know that you were the brilliant person who wrote it.

Eric: Started From The Bottom— Drake

3. What was the last song that played in your car?

Eric: Outro— M83

4. You are an Olympic boxer in Rio this summer about to compete for the gold medal. What song do you play in your headphones beforehand to get you ready to fight?

Eric: BLKKK SKKKN HEAD— Kanye West

5. You are 76 years old telling your teenage grand kids that their music is crap, and how much better your musical taste was during your teenage years. What is the first song you play for them to prove this point?

Eric: The Pursuit of Happiness— Kid Cudi

Finally, you’ll remember from last week’s blog post (or you won’t because you didn’t read it) that another Legacy Project character is a recording artist in her spare time. For your listening pleasure, we have another dark masterpiece from Ellie V. Enjoy.

PiphpicThis week at Lucas Murray Music, I’m doing something a little bit different: I am entering into world of Big Piph (aka Epiphany Morrow). I’m not talking about just hanging out with him— I’ve had the pleasure of performing and hanging with Piph countless times. I’m talking about taking a step into the vast universe that he has created for The Legacy Project, the world’s first “living album,” which he is releasing tomorrow. This is Piph’s magnum opus, tying together an album of new music, enough videos to rival Beyonce, and an interactive app for your smart phone. For the past four years I’ve witnessed Piph grow this ambitious little pipe dream into a full blown reality. He has likened executing this project to trying to jump the grand canyon on a moped, and if that is the case, I’ve been a captive audience member eating popcorn on the sidelines, waiting to see either a miraculous landing or a terrible crash. Well everyone, it appears that he is going to make it, and because of that I get to give you a tip of the iceberg peak into the project. Today we are going to take a musical look at one of the characters in The Legacy Project. Enjoy.

Ellie V BackgroundEllie Evans was an extremely gifted student and athlete. In spring of 2006 she graduated salutatorian of historic Little Rock Central High School at age 16; that fall she began attending Princeton University and maintained a perfect 4.0 GPA during her stay; at the end of 2007 she qualified for the Beijing Olympics in gymnastics. Yet after a string of personal tragedies, Ellie inexplicably left school and Olympic glory behind, moved back to Little Rock, and began a transformation into the mysterious woman we see today. Ellie V (as she chooses to be called now) is a modern renaissance woman: one part martial artist, one part computer programmer (or hacker as some have claimed), and one part punk rock icon. She granted me this rare interview on the terms that it would only be about music. It seems she does not want to address the rumors that she has become a consultant for L.E.S. in their “special outreach” division. So, ok. on to the music. Here is Ellie V in five songs:

1. You are at an amazing, lush house party at a Venice Beach mansion. Everyone there seems to be friendly, attractive, intelligent, and having the time of their life drinking, dancing, and socializing. Mos Def and Penelope Cruz are among the guests that are casually enjoying this party. This is the best party you’ve ever been to. You must pick one song that will play every time you walk into a new room at this party. What song do you pick?

Ellie: Let’s Get it On— Marvin Gaye

2. What is the one song you wish you had written? Note: You are not necessarily the performer of this song, but you will receive royalties from it, and everyone who knows and loves this song will know that you were the brilliant person who wrote it.

Ellie: Nothing Compares 2 U— Prince

3. What was the last song that played in your car?

Ellie: You’re With the Wrong One— Fried

4. You are an olympic boxer in Rio this summer about to compete for the gold medal. What song do you play in your headphones beforehand to get you ready to fight?

Ellie: Bring Your Whole Crew— DMX

5. You are 76 years old telling your teenage grand kids that their music is crap, and how much better your musical taste was during your teenage years. What is the first song you play for them to prove this point?

Ellie: Bull in the Heather— Sonic Youth

Finally, Ellie has also granted me the exclusive privilege of pre-releasing her brand new single “eat your heart.” You heard it here first kids. Thanks Ellie!

JasoninStudio

I admit that today’s blog-post is a bit longer than normal (that’s only because it’s a lot more interesting than normal). So if you’re simply looking to hear this week’s song, you can click this link right here. But you have to promise me that you’ll go back and read the post. Promise? Ok, go ahead you can click it.

Today marks the fourth week of my nine month long endeavor to release a song recording and a blog-post every week. As I explained in the first weekly blog-post, my primary goal for this project is to produce a large quantity of work, yet my underlying hope is that I will happen to create some good quality work along the way as well. Yet quality songs are hard to come by. Assuming that I have written a good song (which is certainly not a safe assumption), there is still the problem of making the recording of the song sound good. I use a recording software called Logic 9, and with it I have more ease of control, more effects, and more tracks at my disposal than George Martin and The Beatles could ever dream of, but I have an extremely limited understanding of how to use all this power. My knowledge of the recording process comes solely from me tinkering around with various recording devices and software and watching a few youtube videos. When I am recording, I typically have a vague sense that I am doing something wrong, and sometimes when I make something that sounds good, it feels a lot like luck.

So instead of subjecting you readers/listeners to weeks and weeks of poor quality recordings, I decided to try to learn a thing or two this week from my ole buddy Jason Tedford. Jason is the sole owner and operator of Wolfman Studios where he records musicians and bands in all genres and all walks of musical life. He also plays guitar for the riotous rock band Iron Tongue and is a co-owner of the brand new music shop Dogtown Sound in North Little Rock. I got to know Jason during our stint together in the band The See, and he has always impressed me as someone who is extremely kind, humble, genuine, talented, and incredibly knowledgeable about music, recording, and Star Wars. So for the small price of one Gyro Platter, Jason agreed to meet up with me Monday at Leo’s and let me pick his powerful brain. Below is an abridged transcription of our conversation— if you want to delve deeper into more technical side of our conversation, feel free to send me a message and I’d be happy to share. Enjoy!

L: Jason, this is just so the people can get to know you a little bit. You are probably the biggest Star Wars fan I know, but who are you in Star Wars?

J: Han Solo. Who else would I want to be? Han Solo.

L: I mean that’s a pretty bold claim, we’re talking about the whole star wars universe— most of us probably aren’t Luke, or Han, or Leia, or even Jar Jar— we’re probably just some dude sitting at the cantina.

J: Ok I can say I want to be Han Solo. That for sure. Whether I am him or not… I mean I don’t know, I’m a bit of a scruffy looking nerf herder. So I think I got that. Scoundrel a bit. I think I got that. He’s very anti-establishment. He’s a nonconformist. He sums me up pretty well. He’s definitely who I want to be, and he’s definitely who I’m most like. I mean I do have this (points to his millennium falcon tattoo).

L: Ok, I’ll give it to you. Here’s another Star Wars question, where does The Force Awakens rank against all the Star Wars films?

J: I’d say it’s a tie for third. First is New Hope— I saw it when I was six and it was a huge thing for me, now is Empire a better movie? Probably, but there would be no Empire without a New Hope. So second is Empire Strikes back. Third, is a tie between Jedi and Force Awakens. And then if you’re going to add the prequels in the’ll be ranked in reverse order: It’s gonna be, revenge of the Sith, Attack of the Clones, and if we have to put it in there, Phantom Menace last.

L: Ok now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, we can start talking music. So you both play in bands, and record them. Which do you identify yourself as more, musician or recording engineer?

J: Oh I think I definitely identify as a recording engineer/audio nerd, more than anything else. There have been times when I’ve gone years without being in a band, that I’ve always had the studio going on.

L: Did you start playing first? Or did you start recording first?

J:I started playing first… Well… that might not be totally true. Because when I was a little kid, I would spend hours at my grandmother’s house playing on this cassette deck doing all sorts of radio shows— all sorts of crazy stuff. And ya know, going through high school, I mean even when I was playing guitar, I had cassette decks chained together trying to record something. I didn’t really understand the concept of being a recording engineer. I didn’t even realize that was a job until I was in my first band and recording for the first time.

L: And what band was that?

J: Well it I guess it wasn’t my first band, but it was the first band I was in that actually recorded. It was a band called Pseudo Hippie, and it was all the same people who were in Ashtray Babyhead. It was like an early 90’s grunge band, we sounded like we came right out of Seattle!

L: Cool, cool, cool…

J: Eh, I don’t know if it was that cool. Haha! But we recorded, and it wasn’t real good—it was in a not great studio, but I was like “wow this is fascinating!”— this whole process ya know? And it really kinda grabbed me at that point. But it wasn’t really until the next band that I was in— which was called Marigold and we wen’t to record with Barry Poynter, at his studio which was then still at his parent’s house, and we’re recording with this dude and he has a console on a pool table and he’s tracking drums in the sun room, and we’re like “this sounds amazing” — that’s when it dawned on me “hell, I could do this!” I bought my first four track probably weeks after recording with him and was tracking stuff in my house, and that’s when it all started for me.

L: So jumping forward quite a bit, what are some of your favorite bands that you’ve recorded to date?

J: The Becoming Elephants record was a lot of fun to do— those guys are just incredible musicians. The See record was a personal accomplishment, I was really proud of The See record. The Collin vs. Adam record was really really fun and good. Who else… That’s it. Haha! No. I’m always recording with this guy Drew DeFrance— hard to say I like a particular album because he just does a ton of stuff. He’s really great to record with. They’ve got a full band now, and they’re all really good solid work your ass off players. Who else, Brian Nahlen is always really fun to work with. He’s great, writes great songs, great singer, and he’s got really great ears. Piph is really great to work with— he’s a pro.

L: And do you record using Tape or Digital? And is one better than the other in your mind?

J: I use digital. I used to have tape, but I don’t have it anymore— I mean it’s sitting in a closet, because it’s just too hard to mess with, and it’s not the type of tape that people are looking for. People are looking for 2 inch tape—16 or 24 track whatever— because it sounds better.

L: It sounds better than digital?

J: Well, two inch tape sounds better than the half inch tape that I was running. Two inch tape vs. digital? They both sound good. It’s really more of an opinion. I think that certain things sound better on tape— I think drums and bass guitar. Guitars can sound good on anything. But I think with a lot less work you can make things on tape sound a little bit punchier and a little more real and have some grain to it that is really fun and interesting, whereas you have to literally create that on the digital side.

L: Can you do that? Can you fool somebody with digital into thinking that they’re listening to tape?

J: You can. But the fact that you’ve got 90 percent or more of the population listening to music as MP3’s on their phones or streaming off of Spotify, I don’t know if it even matters anymore! Hahaha! You can listen to something and go “oh, that has a nice warm, punchy kind of feel to it” — that could have been done with tape or it could have been done with digital. I think some people, depending on the medium that they’re listening to—whether it’s vinyl, or CD, or MP3, and depending on the speakers and where they’re listening— maybe they can tell a difference; maybe they can have a preference. I don’t think it matters anymore. The funny thing, is that it’s all going to be digitized at one point or another.

L: When you listen to music, how do you listen to it— what medium do you use?

J: Usually it’s off of CD. Usually it has been ripped onto my iPod, but at full range. I don’t mess with MP3’s— I’ve got friends who are like “I’ve got 50,000 songs on this iPod of mine” and I’m like “yeah, but they’re all MP3’s, and I’d rather have 5,000 songs that sound good, than 50,0000 songs that sound bad.” I mean there aren’t 5,000 songs I’m going to listen to anyway! So that’s what I usually listen to, in my house or in my car. In my house either with my studio monitors, or in my room with my vintage Klipsch Heresy speakers.

L: So here’s a technical question. What are you referring to when you say “full range” as opposed to MP3?

J: Well an MP3 is a compressed audio file. CD’s are generally 44.1 (kHz) sampling rate, 16-bit audio files. When I’m ripping a CD into iTunes I’m ripping it in at that same resolution. It makes your file size 10 times better, but it sounds as good as it does on CD.

—At this point, Jason launched into a long and fascinating technical explanation of the sampling rates he uses during his tracking, and mixing process in the studio. I learned a lot, but I had to stop him to insist that he take a bite of his Gyro—

L: Ok so before we wrap up, I want you to try to ruin one of my songs for the public. I want you to listen to it, and tell me what’s wrong with the recording. This song is called Jesus Burger.

J: It’s kind of Beatlesy! But are you tracking any of this stuff as MP3’s?

L: This is an MP3!

J:Oh yeah I can tell… It’s very 60’s. It’s good. I like it. But I could tell it’s an MP3 right off the bat. I could definitely hear the phaseyness and the weirdness about it. The drums are a little hard to kind of distinguish, at first you can hear them and then as it goes on they kind of get muddied up in the mix. If they were a little more defined, I could probably feel the rhythm a little better. It might be an EQ thing— usually a lot of your muddier frequencies are in the low-mids, and sometimes dipping some of that out can give you a little clarity. The vocals are a little on the thin side— which may be that you are using a dynamic mic. If you got a condenser mic, that might be better. Your voice is a little on the higher side, and you’re singing throughout it, rather than screaming like some guys do. I feel like a condenser would be better for your voice. A condenser will be a lot clearer and more flattering for your voice and might sit in the mix better. We could make a great song out of that.

Thank you Jason for sitting down and talking to me! It was a totally fun and educational experience. I’m going out to Dogtown Sound now to buy a condenser mic to help make my dainty vocals a little thicker and creamier. For now, here’s another Opus recorded without the help of a condenser mic. Enjoy!

This post is part of a nine month project in which I am releasing a new song and blog post every week. If you want to get caught up, here are the links to the previous entries:

Nine Months of New Music— Opus 1

That’s Masturbation—Opus 2

Oblique Strategies—Opus 3