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.

 

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When I was in college at UALR, I minored in Information Technology. I learned a lot of useful stuff about web design, writing code, and creating databases (very little of which I use today). There was also a great emphasis in the program on group projects— which I hated. My arrogant belief was that I just as easily could have done these projects on my own and I’d rather not be slowed down by some dead weight classmates. In fact the most personally inspiring moments in IT class came when I was learning about web services that would allow me to get on with my life all on my own.

My dream was to write, record, release, and perform my own music, and I discovered things like TicketFly, Pond5, CD Baby, and Soundcloud which made me believe that my dream was a realistic possibility. Apps like these point to the “do-it-yourself” ethic that is the current zeitgeist in everything from music, to comedy, to fixing your toilet. I am certainly a part of this song and dance: I am a self-employed gigging musician attempting to keep a blog and record/release music all on my own.

Yet if you take do-it-yourself to mean literally doing it all on your own, then you are actually just talking about masturbation. Anything good and fun done completely alone is just masturbation. You’re cooking decadent meals, but not sharing them with anyone? That’s masturbation. You’re working on your jump-shot, but not playing in pick up games? That’s masturbation. You’re writing and recording songs but not letting anyone hear them? Masturbation. This isn’t a knock against masturbation. I think a moderate amount of literal or metaphorical masturbation is healthy, natural, and fun. But if all you are doing is masturbating, you’re missing out on the most important thing in life: connection. So don’t take do-it-yourself literally. Find some folks with similar interests and do-it-together.

You literally cannot do it alone in the field of music (or in any creative field for that matter) and expect to succeed. Your lifeblood as a musician is other people. You need other people to teach you how to play (and don’t come at me with that “self-taught” BS— if you claim to be “self-taught,” you’re just saying that instead of taking formal lessons, you learned by directly listening to other musicians); you need other musicians to play your songs; you need bar and venue owners to book your band; and most importantly, you need fans to support your work.

In addition to basic musician’s needs like these, there’s also the fact that you probably want your actual creative work to be good. If this is the case, you’ll benefit from bouncing your artistic ideas off of other creative minds. So as much as it pains me to admit it, being forced to do group projects in my IT minor program was not the worst thing. It is certainly effortful (and often a pain) to have to schedule meetings with other people, and lobby for your ideas, and come to compromises; but the purpose of group work is not to make the project quicker and easier—the purpose is to create better work than you could have on your own. John Lennon, George Harrison, and Paul McCartney all had great solo careers (sorry Ringo), yet their greatest works were made when they were working together (with Ringo) in the Beatles. Music is simply made better when other creative minds, expert ears, and skillful hands are contributing to it.

Yet I confess that none of the songs I’ve released online to date have been collaborations. This is not a point of pride—throughout the course of this project I hope and plan to release many songs that feature other musical artists. Last week I took a serendipitous step towards this end when a couple of young bass players from Bloomington, Indiana came over to my house. My college buddy Noah McNair and his friend Brenton Carter were in town to play with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and they popped over to my house during the day to jam. I’ll forgive them for forgetting the beer, because I roped them into helping me record a song of mine. We started jamming on a song that I had written and I decided to hit record. After they departed the song was left with a much better bass line than I could have possibly played, recorded on a much better bass than I could hope to afford.

But you’ll have to wait until next week to hear that one (remember, I’m posting something every week for nine months). For now, here’s another one of my do-it-alone efforts. Enjoy Opus 2.

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

Saturday night I played for “Novel T’s 2013 Pine Bluff Summer Jazz Fest” at RJ’s Grill in Pine Bluff with some excellent local musicians: Ed Lawson (Saxophone), Ivan Yarbrough (Bass), Sheldon Joshua (Piano), Cliff Hawkins (Trumpet), Gavin Hawkins (Drums), and Legoria Payton (Vocals). I was very happy to get to do this, because after having spent four years at UALR allegedly learning how to play Jazz, I wasn’t totally sure I would get to actually play any Jazz outside of school. Because I don’t personally know many people who really like to listen to or play Jazz…

Yet I could express almost the exact same sentiment by saying that that I don’t personally know many people who know how to listen to or play Jazz. If more people were familiar with the songs, structures, and idiosyncrasies of Jazz, more people would enjoy it (or at least people would enjoy it more).  I don’t think anyone would question that having (or seeking) knowledge of the vocabulary and allusions in a great work of literature would yield a greater enjoyment of that work, yet many people don’t realize that some music also requires education about its language in order to enjoy it. I don’t want to imply that there is one unequivocal way to listen to or play Jazz— every true Jazz artist has found his or her own unique relationship to the ever evolving music— yet Jazz will always be rooted in a tradition of standard repertoire, swing feeling, and improvisation, and the more familiar a musician or fan is with this tradition, the greater capacity he or she will have for enjoying Jazz.

Much Jazz is advanced and challenging, and the listener who seeks only a simple drug-like pleasure from music will perhaps have an averse reaction to it upon first listen. I don’t think anyone would question that having (or seeking) knowledge of the vocabulary and allusions in a great work of literature would yield a greater enjoyment of that work, yet it may not occur to people that some music also requires education about its language in order to enjoy it. Jazz rewards those with a critical ear and a knowledge The more one listens to great Jazz artists, the more he or she is rewarded with a greater capacity to understand and enjoy it.

As I’m writing this, The Temptations’ “My girl” is playing on the radio over the speakers of the restaurant I am sitting at— the woman at the table next to me is singing along. She love’s it, I love it, we all love it. But why do we love it? I argue that certainly one of the prime reasons is that we understand it. We’ve heard these harmonies, this bass-line, these lyrical sentiments all before (and not only in this song). It’s familiarity makes it easy to digest. Furthermore, there is a probably a whole collection of pleasurable extra-musical associations we have with this song (a movie we saw, a person we love, a fun party we went to, “the good old days” etc…). “My Girl” and other pop songs provide a nice familiar pick-me-up in the moment, but listen to it once or twice and you’ve fully discerned all it intellectually has to offer. Jazz on the other hand is often advanced and challenging, and the listener who seeks only a simple drug-like pleasure from music will perhaps have an averse reaction to it upon first listen. Yet with each new listen, the music of great Jazz artists (unlike pop music) keeps revealing new insights about what music is and could be.

Note: Many other thoughts about Jazz, oblique to the point of this particular blog post, have been running through my head as I’ve been writing this. For one, I am uncomfortable with simply stating the word Jazz as if it is a definite solid unified entity separate from it’s many diverse and evolving parts, yet I only have so much time and energy for one post, so I’ll leave it alone for now. But rest assured people, this is the only the beginning of an ongoing (but probably sporadic) soapbox about Jazz.

Disclaimer: This is my “about” page. I thought it could be useful to make this a blog post as well.

My name is Lucas and I, like most humans with a pulse, love music. Unlike most humans with a pulse (and any sense), I am attempting to embark on a career in music. I graduated from the Scholars Department of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in the Spring of 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in “applied music” with a focus on guitar performance— hardly the most lucrative degree. Practically all I’ve been directly trained to do in school is play guitar, analyze music, and write papers— hardly the most lucrative skills. Yet during my undergraduate years I additionally developed great capacities for self-discipline, time-management, and connecting with other people. These skills combined with my love of music and inborn stubbornness make me feel that I can actually attain and sustain a career in music.

My plan of attack is broadly that every weekday I will practice the Art, Craft, and Critique of music. I define these as such:

  • The art of music is writing, recording, and performing original music.
  • The craft of music is learning pieces of music, practicing technique, giving lessons, and performing non-original music as well as marketing myself and finding new venues for my music.
  • The critique of music is a written critical analysis of the art and craft of music.

This blog is the cornerstone of my critique of music. Though I do sometimes write about other musical artists and their work, the main focus of my critique will be on my own musical output, and the methods I use to put it out there. I do this for one to help myself— writing about my experiences practicing, performing, composing, and working with others will better allow me to learn from my successes/failures and will hold me accountable to works, projects, and goals that I set out. For others the critique of my musical life will offer an insider’s look at what it is like to live the life of a working musician— perhaps interesting for the non-musician, and hopefully useful for anyone trying to follow a similar musical path.