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

I’ve been putting off this blog post for far too long… Even now, as I am beginning to write it, I’m also playing a TED talk in the background (the one about how body posture influences how we feel about ourselves), grasping at any last shred of distraction and procrastination. Ok, I’m turning it off— I know I can’t write and listen at the same time.

If you’ve stumbled upon my blog for the first time, you should know that I had tasked myself with documenting my shows, activities, and experiences with Little Rock Indie Rock mainstay The See during our two and a half week tour around the country (a component task of the overarching purpose for this blog). For the first two weeks, I did well to post my reflections every couple of days. Then, suddenly, all the loud shows, late nights, long drives, and deficient food caught up with me, and I didn’t have enough fumes to spare for a blog post— I reserved my energy for the stage.

Thus, having not posted anything in over a week, I’d like to give some quick thoughts about the final shows of our tour.

Thursday July 11, Kansas:
This was actually the one day of the tour which we did not have a show. We played in Kansas City the night before and were playing in Denver the next night so we decided to drive halfway to Denver, find a hotel in the middle of Kansas, and relax for the evening. We first stopped in Salina for a delicious hamburger lunch at the famous Cozy Inn (voted best burger in Kansas!) and a game of catch at a local high-school football field before arriving in Hays and checking in to the Ramada Inn. We enjoyed the indoor pool, water-slide, and hot-tub, and then wandered in to the hotel bar to discover that they had a stage… We asked the bartender if we could play a show there that night and she was open to it. Three of us wanted to do it (we wouldn’t be paid— simply the novelty of it was very appealing), but one of us (you know who you are) was adamant about having the night off. We ended up going to see the movie Pacific Rim instead. This proved to be possibly the worst mistake of the tour. Now I know Pacific Rim is actually getting a lot of good reviews from a number of sources, which is why I want to go on record and say that it as actually a terrible film, filled with forced dialogue, racial stereotypes, rehashed movie cliches, plot and logic holes, and mediocre CGI action sequences. Instead of playing rock and roll at a random hotel in the middle of Kansas (and having an awesome story to tell), we saw a dumb movie (which I want to point out, I told my bandmates would be bad) that we could have just as easily seen in Little Rock.

Ok, that’s as negative as I’m going to get in this post. On to better things…

Friday July 12, Denver:
Denver was the site of the first show of this incarnation of The See (bass-man Jason Tedford and I joined the band in March and played at Denver’s Walnut Room in April). It was nice to return to what is becoming a home away from home—we have a number of friends living there (who kindly let us stay at their homes) and now three different venues at which we have performed. This night we were part of a five band bill at a club called Herman’s Hideaway. We were tacked on to this show only a week before, so we performed at the very beginning of the set, kicking things off at 7:00pm. Surprisingly, people began steadily trickling in at this early hour and by the time we finished, there was a decent number of people who had heard us play (albeit, many were in the other bands). We sold some CD’s and met some cool Denvernians; yet most importantly, we impressed the sound guy, bartenders, and other bands enough for them to tell us that they definitely want to have us back. Making a good impression on the people most influential in booking shows was a primary purpose of every show, and we achieved it not only with our stage performance, but just as much by showing up on time, having efficient sound checks, being friendly and cordial, and setting up/tearing down our equipment as quickly as possible (at Herman’s we had all of our amps, pedal boards, guitars, and drums packed up and offstage in only seven minutes). We didn’t expect to make a ton of money or achieve instant fame on this one tour (our expectations were met), yet we do hope that by creating a network of helpful musicians and club-owners in other cities, we will be able to draw bigger audiences and receive more payment for future shows.

Saturday July 13, still in Denver:
Case in point: We played this night at Denver’s Merchant’s Mile-High Saloon, one of the two stops on our tour at which we had previously performed. Having impressed the sound guy and bartenders when we played there in April, the good folks at Merchant’s did a great job of promoting this show. This was perhaps the most well attended, high-energy show of our tour— absolutely the one that made me feel most like a rock star— the audience was clapping, dancing, yelling, and some even singing along to our songs. Feeding off of this energy, we played with passion and joy, savoring the moment, enjoying the zone. My single favorite moment of tour happened onstage during this show: at a particularly heavy moment in a song called Yul Brynner, Joe slammed-strummed his guitar with the force of Thor’s hammer, breaking a guitar string and shaking his guitar out of tune. There was a sudden quiet moment coming up of Joe singularly singing and strumming his guitar so he gave me a wordless look, we both nodded at each other, and when the time came, I played his guitar part as he sang and tuned his remaining strings. The song could have easily been derailed by the string-break (and it probably would have been had it happened earlier on in our tour), but instead we communicated with a single glance, adjusted seamlessly, and finished the song as strongly as ever.

Sunday July 14, Lincoln, NE:
I had never been to Lincoln before, and am not aware of any particular cultural stereotypes about Nebraska, so I didn’t know at all what to expect from this part of the country. What I found there was an attractive downtown, gorgeous weather, and an engaged supportive crowd at Duffy’s Tavern. We played our set and people responded extremely well, buying our merchandise and giving us shots of whiskey, but personally I was unsatisfied with our performance. Had this been our first or second show, it would have been fine, but we honestly didn’t play with a very high-level of rhythmic or technical accuracy. I got off the stage and was happy to meet and greet people, yet it didn’t feel to me like it was time to celebrate. As we play more and more shows, my critique of the band will get more and more demanding and this band will only remain satisfying to me if we continue to improve individually and as a collective. As Joe and I sat in the van that night, getting ready to fall asleep instead of joining the nearby after-party, we talked about what is not working in the band, what is going well, and how to improve. These are always useful conversations to have, but especially important after shows with such a favorable audience reaction. For the temptation is to use the audience as a measuring stick of our performance, but the truth is that many audiences are drunk and uncritical, responding well to any loud noises and high-energy— only we in the band have the perspective and familiarity to know whether or not we have played to our full potential. We simply have to be honest with ourselves, own up to poor performances, and strive to continually improve.

Monday July 15, Wichita, KS:
Kirby’s Beer Store is a tiny, deteriorating, graffitied, stickered-up, unpretentious dive bar, too tiny to host a full band and we just love it there. We love it there because back in April, with only a week’s notice, Kirby’s was kind enough to set us up with a show and a place to stay on our way home from our first Denver trip; we love it because we get to see our friend and stellar singer/songwriter Ryan Stoldt whenever we play there (come to Little Rock Ryan, you’ll have a place to stay!); and finally we love it because the room is so small that if you have seven people in the audience, it’s a packed house. Having such a relaxed environment for our final show and being relatively close to home made for a pleasant end to a long tour. We played well and with poise (sounding like we had indeed played these songs for 16 days in a row), and plodded on through some technical mishaps (the power to my guitar pedals went out mid-song, so I quickly plugged directly in to the amp). After the show, we took our time packing up, drove back to our hotel, watched National Lampoon’s Vacation, slept, ate a terrible breakfast the next day at a local restaurant, and eagerly drove back to Little Rock.

It’s good to be home.

Monday July 8, The See on tour day 10, at a club in St. Louis:

I’m blogging right now from the back of The Firebird in St. Louis. The band in front of me is as loud as anything I’ve ever heard. Even though it is inordinately loud, I have know idea what the music is saying. I hear some wholehearted “woos” from the crowd at the end of the set, so maybe they know. We were tacked on to this four band show at the last minute so we had to play a short opening set before two local bands and the main event, Brooklyn based three-piece Lemuria. This show would have made much more sense if we had played third in the line up. These first two bands are at a much more amateur level than The See. Yes that statement probably sounded snobbish and judgmental, but I’m not trying to be harsh. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to say that most every band sucks when they first start playing. It takes a large amount of desire, trial and error, and practice to simply not suck. The See has been putting forth great effort at home and on tour, and I feel confident in saying that we do not suck. I try to resist focusing on rewards (to be able to play music should be a reward in itself), yet it is hard not to wish for higher populated, higher paying shows when we are pouring so much time and energy into this project…

Whatever, I want to talk about Chicago. We played there the past two nights at two bars right down the street from each other. Saturday we played at an old, dark, dirty dive bar called The Mutiny (most every Chicagoan I talked to gave a mischievous, knowing smile when I mentioned I played there). The sound quality at the Mutiny was low as expected, on par with the sound at our first stop of the tour, The Nick. Yet whereas at the Nick we sort of folded under the dual pressure of poor sound and an apathetic crowd, we rose above the circumstances at the Mutiny and played a great set. Encountering such different crowds and environments every night has provided us with the crucial realization that we should only worry about what we can control: our performance. Luckily playing every night has naturally sharpened our performance. Sunday we played another solid, streamlined set a couple of blocks down the street at Quenchers, a newer, cleaner, better sounding venue. It was also helpful and energizing that for both of these shows we played with my favorite band (personally and musically) of the tour so far, Planar Ally (yes that’s a Dungeons and Dragons reference). Planar Ally played precise, melodic, rhythmically-advanced instrumental Indie-Prog-Rock comparable to Battles (but unique all its own— check them out!).

Quick side note: Instrumental Indie-Prog-Rock? That may seem like superfluous genre labeling, but as more and more people around the world play and share music, musical subcultures are becoming more and more specialized. We can either try to lump these musics into broad genres (i.e. Rock, Pop, Hip-Hop, Blues, Jazz, R&B, Soul, Classical), eschew genre entirely, or get more and more specific in our genre labels. I’ve certainly met musicians and bands in each camp. Because I believe that music is a multiplicity and not a universal language (with every instance of music inseparably linked to its own specific cultural and historical context), because I believe that specificity is better than generalization, and because it is just a fun game, I prefer to get particular (and yes a little facetious) with my genre titles.

The See’s genre? Atmospheric Indie-Mystery-Rock. It’s brand new. Get with it 😉

Tuesday July 9, The See tour day 11, on the road to Springfield, MO:

In Chicago we stayed with Planar Ally’s stellar drummer, and overall cool guy Ben Simpson. He composes a lot of the music for Planar Ally electronically, using Ableton Live, creating complex, multi-meter drum-beats that he then learns to play live on the drum-set. I admire this process because it doesn’t limit Ben to simply what he can play at any one moment. It frees him to compose in accordance with his musical imagination (rather than his muscle memory), and eventually increases his drumming dexterity as well. Listen to Wolf Lover for one of Ben’s creations. I’d like to adopt this strategy of composing and performing going forward, because as much as I feel like a relatively good guitarist and musician, I do get stuck sometimes playing through the same old patterns that my fingers know so well. I want to shift my musical output away from what is merely physically convenient and towards new tonal possibilities.

Overall Chicago was a great experience. It was extremely refreshing to simply stay put in one place for longer than a day. Though we didn’t get to explore much of the city, it was inspiring to see such great musicians and to be surrounded by so much cultural achievement.

Wow, that sounded like the ending to a seventh grade book report. I’m sorry y’all. I’m going to level with you, this was a difficult post to write. The lack of sleep is catching up with me. I’m happy that I’m posting this because I told myself that I would keep this blog going on tour, but man, this blog has seen better posts. Catch you next time.

“Mountains and Valleys man, mountains and valleys” — I heard the voice of a streetwise Matthew McConaughey repeating these words to me as I woke up yesterday morning. Apparently Matthew McConaughey is the voice of the sector of my conscience that reveals (in quick, folksy quips no less) the wisdom contained in my experiences. What ole Mathew was referring to in this instance was the dichotomy between our show in Birmingham (documented here), and our show in Chattanooga.
In brief, we played what was likely the least enjoyable, lowest energy, most “I want to get off stage right now” show that we’ve played as a group thus far (in Birmingham), followed by (in Chattanooga) our best show yet. “Mountains and Valleys man.” How did this happen? Let me try to list some of the (more objective) factors contributing to the respective failure and success of each show. Birmingham: we didn’t get a chance to practice before this show (always important even though we do know all the songs we played); the show occurred immediately after a 6 hour drive (so we were stiff and groggy); there was a small unenthusiastic crowd (people who most likely just came to drink rather than hear live music); we were the only band playing; the venue was extremely grimy (distractingly so); and the sound was mixed poorly. Chattanooga: we only had to drive about an hour; we spent the day before the show relaxing and enjoying ourselves (playing catch, having a picnic, joking around); we had plenty of time to prepare for the show (vocal warmups, listening to the album etc.); we played at a clean, cozy venue to a decent and supportive crowd (people who actually came to hear some music); there were two other talented and enthusiastic bands playing (Mythical Motors, and Monomath); and the sound was very balanced. Most importantly however, I think the Chattanooga show was a success because the Birmingham show was a failure— after such a sloppy start to our tour, we were all extremely motivated to have a good show, resulting in our most focused and in sync effort yet.
Yet I also have to acknowledge that our subjective experience of each show as good or bad is intimately tied to our experience of every other show. The Chattanooga show wouldn’t necessarily have seemed so spectacular had the Birmingham show not seemed so drab. Similarly, the Birmingham show wouldn’t have felt so terrible had our previous show at Whitewater in Little Rock not been so well executed/received. “Mountains and Valleys man.” It is sobering to realize that this shifting up and down may never end. Being in a band (or simply being human), and having enjoyed the utter bliss of a great performance, I naturally want every show and every experience to be glorious (I want to stay atop the mountain). Yet as we play better shows, my threshold for what I consider a “good” show gets higher and higher, resulting in a greater probability that I experience a “bad” show; then, when I do experience a “bad” show, my expectations are slightly lowered and I am able to analyze and fix mistakes made, resulting in a likely spring-back to a “good” show, ad infinitum… I think that the desire to always succeed (though natural) can have unhealthy consequences, especially in a field such as music (in which success produces such a fine natural high, and chemical highs are often an easy substitute to secure). To realize that there is an inseparable bond between good and bad or success and failure, frees me up to dwell less on the outcome of my musical efforts, and focus more on enjoying the actual process of playing, practicing, and performing (whether atop the mountain or in the valley).

Last night we played in Nashville at The End with a diverse collection of impressive young bands. The Blake Parker Band was a group of 15-16 year olds that played heartfelt folk-rock songs. Abernathy (also 16 year olds) was a tight, bluesy two-piece (a la The Black Keys) with an incredibly talented front-girl singer/guitarist and rock solid drummer. Fable Cry (anywhere from age 16-32), a brother sister duo and self described Adventure-Gypsy/Scamp-Rock band, whimsically garbed in raccoon pelts and feathers, put on a captivating and theatrical performance of acoustic fantasy story-songs (seriously, these guys are something else, check em out). Seeing such young, talented, and passionate bands was extremely energizing for me. Because I am attempting to earn a living playing music, much of it can sometimes feel like a chore. I admit that I do sometimes lose sight of the fact that music is an incredible expression of human potential and my greatest passion. I’m probably too young to feel too nostalgic about anything, but seeing these younger bands play reminded me of how romantic I felt about being in a band and playing music when I was 16. I am (in touring with this band) literally living out a decade old dream of mine, and even though I am now much less romantic about the rock band experience than I once was, it’s nice to be able to remember my 16-year old self, step on stage, cut loose, and just have a blast. This tour is dedicated to you little Lucas.

Hey blog-readers, so for the next few weeks or so, this blog is essentially going to be The See’s tour diary… Because for the next few weeks, I’ll be on tour with The See! Who the heck is The See you ask? Well let me tell you:

Since forming in the summer of 2008, Little Rock’s The See have made a steady climb to the summit of the Arkansas music scene. With their infectious melodies and primal rhythms, cornerstone members Joe Yoder (vocals/guitar) and Tyler Nance (drums) have ferried the band to enduring success despite changing lineups. Audiences and critics alike are consistently delighted by the band’s uniquely crafted high-energy rock songs and cathartic live performance (often comparing The See to bands such as The Pixies, The Strokes, and Built to Spill).
Having recently adopted local rock veteran/recording engineer Jason Tedford (Bass) and virtuoso* guitarist Lucas Murray (lead guitar), The See now look poised to achieve national recognition. They are currently embarking on a national tour in support of their debut album Pretending and Ending and will be playing in major cities across the Southeast and Midwest. Go to http://www.wearethesee.com to hear their music and see when they are playing in a town near you.

That’s a little something I’ve written for us to send out to radio stations, promoters, record stores, etc. to maybe get a little extra press before we perform in towns in which virtually no one has heard of us. Honestly this tour is one huge sloppily-designed experiment, with us simultaneously testing the multiple variables of our stage-sound, crowd interaction, promotion strategies, bandmate relations, sleeping arrangements, meal plans and more. We are having to do a lot of improvising in all areas and are learning things on the fly. Despite the fact that we are navigating mostly uncharted terrain, I feel confident that this will be a fruitful journey because of the amount of effort and care that we in The See are putting forth. For instance, earlier today we started recording for an on tour podcast that we are calling “Get in the Van”. I’ve been a part of other groups and bands in the past that potentially would have had the great idea to start a podcast or some other side-project, but The See is actually doing it! To me this points to the story of this tour, this band, and this stage of my life: Not really knowing fully how to do something, but just freakin’ doing it anyway, because that’s the only real way to learn.

So last night we played the first show of our tour at a bar called The Nick in Birmingham Alabama. A brief synopsis: “The Nick” is one of the dirtiest, grimiest, grungiest dive bars I’ve ever been to. There were plenty of roaches running around, but they didn’t really even look gross because the rest of The Nick was so sticky with filth that the roaches looked at home and even sort of tame by comparison. The stage was spacious; the sound quality was low; there were very few people there and they didn’t seem all that into the music. As a result our stage energy was low and we gave a relatively mediocre performance (compared to what we have done in the past). Yet somehow we must have impressed a few people because we sold more than enough merchandise to get us to our next location: CHATANOOGA (Choo Choo)!

Today has been a glorious day in Chatanooga (a delightful and thriving town that I’d love to revisit someday). We got here early enough to take our time, pick up some groceries, have a picnic at a riverside park, play some catch, record our podcast, relax, and enjoy a traditional irish band at The Honest Pint. We’re just a couple hours away from our show at the rich woodsy-smelling and stylishly decorated beer bar JJ’s Bohemia and personally I’m feeling very good about this one…

*Yes I am bragging about this band, yes I called myself a virtuoso guitarist, no I’m not being humble! I’m trying to get people to put us on the radio. Sit on it.