Lucas1

Here’s a secret to life kids: do what you say you are going to do. In 2008 I was 19, I had just dropped out of Lake Forest College after one uninspired semester, and I was telling myself that I was going to write and record an epic album. I imagined all the glory, wealth, and fame I would eventually receive— oh how sweet it would be. Instead, I got a job working at Burge’s Smoked Turkeys & Hams, drank too much, smoked too much (and I’m not talking about the turkeys), and grew depressed. It would have been depressing enough to have a poor diet, not get enough sleep, and live in a disgusting house with three other lethargic 19 year old dudes (as I did), yet added on top was the existential angst of not doing what I had set out to do. I yearned to write and record, and instead I ate catfish sandwiches and partied for a year.

A turning point came when Michael Carenbauer, the Director of Guitar Studies at UALR, walked into Burge’s one day to get some lunch. I had known Michael from my days at the community school of the arts at UALR and he suggested I enroll in some of his guitar classes. Thus, I went to UALR part time for a semester until I decided, with encouragement from my parents and Carenbauer, that I should apply for the Donaghey Scholars Program. I received a full-scholarship and a generous stipend and began classes full-time in the fall of 2009. Unlike at Lake Forest, I was determined to put in my best effort this time around. Fearing a lifetime of making cherry limeades at Burge’s, I told myself that I would work harder than I ever had in school, and that is exactly what I did. In 2013, I graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 GPA.

Yet the most potent takeaway from my time at UALR was not my institutional success, nor was it the knowledge and skills I gained there— with a bachelor’s in music, and my only tangible skills being the ability to play guitar and write essays, I didn’t exactly have a clear path to follow after college. The most important thing I realized at UALR was that I had the personal ability to set my mind to something and achieve it. So I set upon my next goal: I would be a full time professional musician. I vowed to not take a job unless it was related to music, and thus started hustling to find enough gigs and guitar students to pay my bills. For three years I’ve steadily increased my musicianship, my notoriety, and my income (though all three are certainly modest) as I’ve succeeded in my goal of being a full time musician. I feel very proud of this fact. Although it is rarely a glamorous lifestyle, and I make far less money than some of my professional peers, I have a great psychological peace with the fact that I am doing what I dreamed of doing and what I said I would do.

Those of you who have followed the premise of my recent blog posts know that this is something else that I said I would do. On April 7th I stated that I would release one blog post and one song every week for nine months. For fourteen weeks I have diligently stuck to that promise (if you’re wondering why this week’s song is only Opus 12, it’s because two of the weeks I released songs under an alias). Now I’m going to quit. Yes I realize I just spent the last three and a half paragraphs talking about the importance of doing what you say you are going to do and bragging on myself for doing so! So what! I quit.

The truth is, I’m quitting for a good reason (I can hear your skeptical comments). I made the vow of doing this for nine months before I knew that I would be moving to New York City. Upon deciding that I would attend NYU this fall, I realized that I would not be able to keep recording a song every week. It has taken a lot of time and effort to keep this up, and I will not have that kind of time when I’m trying to keep up with the accelerated pace of grad school and NYC. I will, however, keep doing a blog post every week, I simply won’t be releasing a song.

I’m stopping now primarily because I need to take time to prepare for school. At the beginning of September I have music history and theory placement exams as well as ensemble auditions at NYU. I am going to take the time I had been using to write and record songs and use it instead to practice and study (I received two thick music textbooks to work through yesterday in the mail). Yet another big reason I’ve chosen to cut it off this week is that I am preparing to fulfill another long standing commitment I once made. I’m finally going to record that “epic album” I dreamed about when I was 19!

Ok, it might not be epic; it might not bring me fame or fortune; it might not even be that good. But I once told myself that I would record an album and I know that I won’t be happy unless I do. I’ve booked time with Jason Tedford at Wolfman Studios, recruited my friend and musician extraordinaire Daniel Olah to help me, and later this month will record 12 of my best songs (many of which I released during this project). I’m just gonna do it!

Now I could wrap this all up by saying this: “life is short, just do it!” But that would be a lie. Life isn’t necessarily short. If you aren’t doing that thing that you want to do or that thing you’ve been saying you are going to do, then life will be very long. You’ll have a nagging sense of regret, shame, and yearning and time will just creep slowly by. The good news is that in that long, lingering lifetime you can turn it around at any moment and start doing what you say you’re going to do. Don’t worry if you never become rich or famous— life isn’t about winning the prize, it’s just about doing the damn thing.

Now that was a nice, neat narrative, but the larger reality (like everything in life) is much more complicated and deserves some qualification. I realize that not everyone was born into circumstances as favorable as mine. I have a wonderful supportive family, and while I did not grow up rich, I certainly never felt worried about money. Some people do not have the freedom to set their mind to some lofty ideal because they are simply struggling to get out of a dire economic situation, or even worse, struggling for their survival. I am not here arguing that everyone can easily come up with a dream and achieve it. I understand that in America the chips are stacked greatly against you if you are a person of color, a woman, LGBQT, physically disabled, poor, or anything else that isn’t rich, white, and male. The inequality in our country is horrendous, and must be remedied if we want to continue to pretend to be a civilized country. I wanted in this blog post to offer inspiration and advice, but I’ve quickly bumped into the realization that my perspective is limited due to my fortunate upbringing. I haven’t fully wrapped my head around how to reconcile this. Yet I still feel that there are some good sentiments in this post, and they are here for anyone who might find them useful.

Here’s the final Opus (for now). Sorry to end it on a sad note, but hey, tears are part of life too.

 

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

LucasGuitar

For the past seven years I’ve been living a double life. On the outside, I’ve appeared to be a dutiful college student, guitar teacher, and performer— learning, teaching, and playing music that others have written. I’ve played with numerous original music groups along the way (Ezra lbs, The See, Velvet Kente, Rouxster, Big Piph & Tomorrow Maybe), but I was never the primary creative force in any of these bands, merely the guitarist. My dirty little secret is that I’ve been writing my own music and lyrics since high school. I have numerous reasons for hiding this shameful activity: it’s egotistical, it doesn’t make money, there are a million better songs, I don’t want people to dislike my art (or dislike me for producing it), and my songs are never as good as I want them to be. Yet I realize that I am not going to stop writing songs anytime soon— truthfully, writing, recording, and performing original music is my most pressing desire. I could continue to conceal my creations, but I would be cheating both myself and any potential listeners. Thus, I’d like to refute my reasons for not releasing my work and then share two Indie Pop-Rock songs I’ve recorded this year.

It’s egotistical. Of course it’s egotistical. My lyrical content is all about my life. I’m writing all about my personal hopes, heartbreaks, connections, and philosophy because that is what I know best and what carries emotional weight for me. Furthermore, the act of writing anything to be shared with others is always at least partially egotistical. Whether it is in this blog or the music I write, there is a consistent voice behind the overt content that simply says “hey listen to at me! I have something important to say.” This is fine. I don’t think I want to hear an egoless song because I wouldn’t believe it were authentic— perhaps a small number of spiritually enlightened people have learned to live without ego, but 99% of the world has not. Furthermore, without ego you don’t have the feelings of desire, ecstasy, vengeance, lust, frustration, confusion, depression and triumph that tend to make for a good song. To quote the late writer and instructor William Zinsser, “writing is an act of ego, and you might as well admit it. Use it’s power to keep yourself going.”

It doesn’t make any money. Truthfully this is a big reason that I do not spend more time creating and sharing my work. I teach and perform other people’s material because that is what people pay me to do. If I were paid handsomely to write and record songs then I would do it all the time. Yet even in the absence of payment, I do find time to create original music and yearn to do it even more often. This is because I don’t see the art of music as merely a means to a payday, but experience it as a way to explore and release my desires and emotions and ultimately satisfy my basic human need to be creative. There may even be benefit in not getting paid for my art (said the guy not getting paid for his art). If I needed to make money writing songs, then I would need those songs to appeal to whoever were buying them— all of a sudden my freedom to express myself would be narrowed by the need to appeal to my buyers and my songs could become watered-down and emotionally ineffectual. On the contrary, right now I can write and record literally anything I want (be it sad, experimental, obnoxious, long-winded, sloppy, offensive, etc…) and I think that often the best art is produced in this space of ultimate creative sovereignty. Yet I would be lying if I said I didn’t want to make money on my music. I do, and even use this desire as motivation to create. For although I currently get paid more to teach and perform than to create, in the long-term I know that it is original music that could make me the most money (through record sales, commercial licensing, movie soundtracks, etc…). In short, no my original music doesn’t make me money right now, and I don’t need it to for it to be a satisfying personal activity, but I do want it to.

There are a million better songs. Sure there are. But there are a billion worse songs as well. I don’t necessarily benefit from turning songwriting into a competition, but I do listen to a lot of music, and I do often think “I could write a better song than that.” Even more often I think “that’s offensively unoriginal.” In the least I know that I have a unique perspective and a unique voice (I think everyone does if they are honest with themselves) and I am going to try to express it in my songs because no one else will for me. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter if these are better or worse than any other songs— they are different, they are mine.

I don’t want people to dislike my art. This is my biggest hindrance to actually sharing my work. I admire people who seem to not care what others think of them, but by my nature, I can’t help but care — I really want people to like me. When someone listens to something so personal as a song I’ve written, it’s easy to feel like their judgement of it (whether good or bad) is a judgement of me as a person. My mom, a terrific realist painter, once gave me an empowering book called Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland; amongst many other “observations on the perils and rewards of art-making,” they addressed the need to detach yourself from your work. You are not your art. Your personal value, strength, and identity as a human doesn’t come from any particular symphony you’ve composed, still-life you’ve painted, or nude you’ve sculpted. Certainly during the fervor of creation you can become one with the piece, yet as soon as you share it with the world, it has a life of its own— people will view it, share it, judge it and interpret it through their own personal filters. You too will change, grow, and create new work, so there is no use in identifying yourself with a piece that is no longer representative of what you are. Thousands of people could love or hate your art, but it is up to you to love yourself and keep creating. Finally, the goal of creating art shouldn’t be to make something that everyone will like. Musicians who have tried to appeal to everyone have ended up making middle-of-the-road elevator music. It is better for some to love your work and some to hate it, than to have everyone kinda-sorta like it.

My songs are never as good as I want them to be. I could talk about this phenomena myself, but someone smarter and more experienced than me has already said everything I want to say about the matter. Enter Ira Glass: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

And so in the spirit of closing the gap between my killer taste and my amateur output, I’m going to share two songs I’ve recently recorded. In truth these are only rough drafts. I recorded these songsall on my own and I know they can be improved by professional mixing/mastering and live drums (although my sampled drum tracks are pretty charming I think). My plan is to record an album’s worth of songs on my own (which allows me to flesh out all of the parts) and then re-record them with my friends Daniel Olah (drums) and Brad Birge (bass) at Jason Tedford’s Wolfman Studios (none of them know this yet by the way). I’m sharing them with you right now in part because I think they’re catchy and you might like them, yet also to push myself to continue to record. If people like these songs, I’ll be encouraged to record and share more; if people don’t like them, I’ll be encouraged to record more and improve. Regardless, my secret is out now, and I am going to keep recording. I have too much material that I’ve been sitting to not release it into the world. I hope you enjoy!

(lyrics below)

Jesus Burger

you wear a shirt you bought today

you sport a hat and morning shave

you get your style from magazines

and style your hair like him onscreen

you only scream when watching sports

you dream just like a sleeping corpse

you only kiss when you are drunk

your love is sinking or it’s sunk

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

recognize…

you get your comfort from TV

you get your words from what you read

you eat your lunch at nearly noon

you only speak when spoken to

work all day for dollar bills

and go to sleep by eating pills

you cannot speak and so you text

you can’t make love but still need sex

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

sure tastes nice

these garish gods

they pave the way

for passive people

passing days

Jesus burger

Buddha fries

savior sugar

paradise

Sweat Machine

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

you got something

tell me

your secrets surely will compel me

to wear your darkness on my short-sleeve

to let me drink the blood I need

whatever you need

will only grow up from this black seed

will always be there when you breathe

will always be there when you breathe

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

stop now

you had another evil thought now

but we both know that it’s your heart’s vow

you signed up for this when you came down

when we came down

somehow we showed up in the same town

somehow you knew just when to spin around

and now I’m spinning with you… with you

with you with you with you with you

with you with you with you with you

with who with who with who with who

we’re through we’re through we’re through we’re through

I got nothing but time for myself

but you got something for me I can tell

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

pay no mind as I talk to myself

I’m just trying to say something else

pocket room but there’s nothing to sell

but you got something for me I can tell

A month ago Whitewater Tavern was packed for the final show of the eight-year old Little Rock band The See. Over the course of the cathartic hour and a half long set, I saw audience members dancing and singing along and at least two bearded band-members kiss former bandmates on the lips. Since 2007, when Joe Yoder (vocals/guitar) and Dylan Yelnich (bass/keyboard) founded the band, The See has played countless shows, recorded two-full length albums, been dubbed the “Kings of the Scene” by the Arkansas Times, and toured the country. Despite numerous cast changes (Louis Watts played guitar and sang briefly before leaving the band, then Eric Michael Morris joined on lead guitar, then Dylan and Eric left the band, and finally Jason Tedford and I stepped in on bass and guitar respectively), The See was able to endure because the signature pieces were always present: Tyler Nance’s heavy drumming and Joe’s infectious singing. The See is finally ending because the voice and vision of the band is going away. Joe is moving to Kansas City, and thus Arkansas is losing one of its best songwriters.

Joe started writing songs in seventh grade when he first learned how to play a power chord on guitar. Enchanted by his new power, Joe brought his mom to his room to hear his first song equipped with verses, chorus, and a bridge. When teenage Joe wasn’t at school or work, he was likely seeing live music at Vino’s or buying CD’s at Rod Bryan’s record store Anthropop (sadly, this is a very dated sentence— Anthropop is closed, Vino’s has declined, and no one buys CD’s anymore). Inspired by local groups like Ho-Hum and Ashtray Babyhead, Joe started his first band Attacking the Audio in 2000 when he was a sophmore in High School. He and his bandmates Mark Chisenhall and Taylor Willet recorded at Blue Chair Studio when it was still just a small shed. Soon after, Joe started another group called the Dischordos with Charles Lyford, Gaines Fricke, and Tim Tellez. In both of these groups Joe was the cornerstone piece, playing guitar, singing, and writing songs. Joe also played bass for a couple of other bands in high school, but recently said to me “any band I have been in, even if it was a jam band that I was playing bass for, I would always write or lead the jam. Song writing is my strong suit, not my ability as a player— it’s how I contribute.”

After moving to Tempe, AZ to attend college at Arizona State, Joe and Mark formed a more mature version of Attacking the Audio with fellow Arkansas transplant Louis Watts. Although Joe’s musical skill and creativity was apparent in college, he was still experimenting with his sound and artfully imitating his favorite groups. A home recording from 2003 called “All for You” showcases not only Joe’s love of Radiohead, but also two trademarks of Joe’s songs that he has carried with him to this day: 1. Long moments without any vocals, highlighting the instrumental side of the song and 2. Drastic section changes, switching from one mood to another within the same song. Listen for yourself.

ALL FOR YOU

Joe graduated from ASU in 2006 with a bachelor’s degree in film and theatre. Despite such a practical degree and likely countless job offers, Joe (like many graduates) didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life. After a bad breakup he left Arizona and went to Nicaragua for a month to build houses with his dad. He then moved in with his parents in Springfield, MO to save up for an epic road trip with his friend and band-mate Louis, all the while continuing to write and record songs. Joe and Louis spent nearly three months traveling all over America before Joe finally moved back to Little Rock in the summer of 2007, wishing to start a new musical project. By the time Joe moved back to Arkansas, though just 23 years old, he had been writing songs for over a decade.

Given Joe’s musical experience, a talented rhythm section in Dylan Yelnich and Tyler Nance, and numerous connections to the Little Rock scene, The See quickly gained popularity after forming in 2007. Joe even wrote some of The See’s most enduring songs when they were still just a three-piece. The song “Selling Gold,” written during this period, may be the band’s most popular song and to me is the prototypical Joe song, incorporating a long intro (almost a separate song), biographical lyrics, passionate singing, and a catchy guitar riff that can stand on it’s own with out lyrical support. Here is the very first version of the song recorded in 2008 at UALR, (though there’s a more polished version on The See’s debut EP Selling Gold if you can find it).

SELLING GOLD

The See hit their stride after lead guitarist Eric-Michael Morris joined the band in 2010 and provided the chord support, solos, and counter melodies the band needed. They played numerous shows in and out of town, performed at festivals like Arkansas Sounds and Riverfest, made it to the finals of The Arkansas Times musicians showcase, and continued to write new material. In 2012, Joe, Dylan, Tyler, and Eric recorded and released The See’s first full-length album, Pretending and Ending, with songs inspired and organized by the progression of birth, to childhood, to adulthood, to old age, to death. Fittingly, the tastiest ear-candy comes early on in the 15 track album. If The See had been in a bigger market with wider distribution and better promotion, I think we might be hearing the song “Hey” on alternative radio stations throughout the nation.

HEY

In early 2013, Dylan and Eric left the band on good terms in order to pursue their careers, but Joe and Tyler, encouraged by their strong new album, still wished to continue The See. Furthermore, they had already booked an April gig in Denver for a friend’s birthday that they didn’t want to back out of. Luckily Jason Tedford and I were eager to fill in and provide the missing pieces— I played good lead guitar and Jason gave the band literally everything else it needed (bass, foot pedal synth bass, amps, pedals, practice space, recording capabilities, and tour van). We played our first gig together at a Pizza restaurant in Denver to a largely lesbian audience who loved our big beards and loud rock (the opening artist performing at the party was a local lesbian singer-songwriter who brought out a large lesbian following). We introduced The (new) See to Little Rock at a Garland Street Art Party later that spring, and by summer I had realized one of my teenage fantasies: tour the country with a rock band. You can read about The See’s sandwich fueled do-it-yourself tour of summer 2013 in my past blog posts here.

Joe is not your stereotypical rockstar. Despite an enormous voice and robust appearance, Joe doesn’t revel in being in the spotlight. Joe makes music because he loves to make music, not because he wishes to be the center of attention. I suspect he enjoys writing and recording songs more than actually performing them—The See has certainly spent more time in the studio than on stage the past two years. The result of this time is an album called Borealius. It is a collection of old and new Joe Yoder originals enhanced and updated by the band and recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jason Tedford at his own Wolfman Studios. Tyler, Jason, and I are all pleased and proud of our contributions to this album, but I still think of this as Joe’s parting gift to us all as he leaves for Kansas City (it is quite literally a gift as you can download it for free here).

BOREALIUS

I suppose I should mention that Joe is my brother-in-law. He and my sister Liza are moving in July so that she can do a medical fellowship at a hospital in Kansas City. Joe’s no slouch either: he’ll be going to the University of Missouri-Kansas City to get a masters in social work. They’re facing a new job, a new school, and a new town, yet the most significant change is the new life that one of them could literally be holding in their arms at this moment. This past Wednesday, Liza gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.

Bridget Murray-Yoder is an adorable creature— as my friend Carmien said, “she looks like a human and not a potato-dinosaur, which is what most newborns look like.” I would love to spend the rest of this blog talking about how she is objectively cute and will surely be the most magnificent person this world has ever seen, but you would probably stop reading. Also, this is a music blog (I am reminding myself), so I think instead I’d like to tell you what this monumental moment means to Joe’s musical life. In sum, “suddenly everything has changed.”

You, reader, are warned that this paragraph is going to get flowery for a moment. When I saw Bridget, I felt my world expand. When I held her, I couldn’t stop gazing at her sleeping face— I wanted to make her feel happy, comfortable, and loved forever, and I’m only an uncle. I know that Joe and Liza are experiencing these feelings to an even higher degree. Yet songwriters rarely touch on selfless love. Most songs are about heartbreak or lust. This is because they are true forces that everyone has felt preoccupied with at some time, and good songwriters often sublimate the pain and passion of their life into their art. And that is exactly how I would brand Joe’s songwriting: he takes the real experiences and emotional content of his life and translates them into something that sounds good. Thus, I can’t wait to hear how the new dimension of fatherly love sounds in his future songs.

I am taking it for granted that there will be new Joe Yoder songs. Although he doesn’t (for now) have a band to play with in Kansas City, I know that Joe couldn’t stop writing songs if he tried. Songwriting has been a primal urge of his since he first started doing it in seventh grade. Joe admitted to me that he dreamed of gaining fame and fortune with Attacking the Audio, the Dischordos, and finally The See, yet I’ve seen firsthand that this is not why Joe writes songs and plays music. When we went on tour, Joe enjoyed himself, but also missed being at home with Liza and didn’t try to indulge in the proverbial “rockstar lifestyle.” Despite discovering a mild distaste for touring-band life, Joe was writing songs for the next See album within a matter of months. Joe doesn’t write songs to get rich or to attract girls (though I’m sure those have been motivators at various times in his life), he writes songs because he is good at it and it allows him to communicate his most honest thoughts and difficult emotions. Talking about why he writes songs, Joe recently said “when you believe you’re good at something, and people tell you you are, really cool things can develop in anything you do. So songwriting became a huge part of who I am and how I cope and relate to others. It feels great to create things that others can appreciate and listen to.”

Joe played his first song for his mother in seventh grade because he wanted to show his new means of expression to the person that he was the most deeply connected to. 18 years, 6 bands, 2 albums, and scores of songs later, and Joe now has a child of his own. I imagine that she will now be the first to hear his new songs. Because, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

MOM