Saturday, January 21, 2017

52 short stories in 52 weeks


Ray Bradbury suggested that a writer or would be author can't write 52 bad short stories in the space of one year. If you keep writing week in and week out, you're bound to come up with something good. I'm inclined to agree with him.

I attempted to do this with songs when I first started writing songs in my late teens and my early 20's. At one point I was averaging a song a week that I would record into my cassette recorder. It was in the 90's, back when I didn't have access to proper recording gear or a DAW on a computer yet. Singing and playing into a tape recorder was the only option. I didn't even own a 4 track recording machine because I wasn't ready to get into producing yet. It was more about getting the songs written and recorded as basically as I could. If it was worthy of being produced and recorded properly, I would find a proper studio to do it. 

By the end of the first year writing, I had more than half a dozen cassette tapes of songs. By the second year I easily had a hundred songs. Some of the songs ended up on my first proper studio demo that I recorded in 1996-97. Others ended up in the various albums I have recorded since then. However, apart from maybe 12 songs, most of my material from back then never saw the light of day. Listening back to some of it recently, I realise that most of it was just an experiment in songwriting. I was still developing and had a long way to go. Despite the flaws, there are hooks and riffs from some of those songs that I might still use in the future, even if the songs won't remain the same as they were. 

Am I better writer now than I was back then? I hope so. I am now producing my own albums in my home studio and have had a few songs on local radio. However, in my mind, I will always be the kid who still approaches each song as if it is the first one I have written.

I have also finished writing my first book at this point; something that has taken me years to do, but like any self indulgent endeavour, I'm still reluctant to put it out. When I do, it will be self published on Amazon.com on the digital platform. Anything that is an easy and free way for you to keep control and publish your book worldwide is fine by me. No one is going to offer an unknown a publishing deal anyway.

I'm might just take up this 52 short stories in 52 weeks challenge. I've written short stories before but not religiously. Something else to occupy my mind other than making sales and paying bills. Let's see what I can come up with. 

Monday, January 09, 2017

2017



What's my resolution and wish for 2017?

I don't have any resolutions because resolutions are for fools who will just break it by the second week.

I do have a goal and my goal this year is to downsize. Yes, I want to downsize everything from the size of pants to my guitar collection along with all other stuff I don't have time to use. A lot of things have been left languishing in storage.

The good thing about guitars, especially good ones, is that they will never drop in value if it is in good condition. You have heard stories about how some people have discovered a 1958 Gibson Les Paul in their store room and sold it for more than their house is worth. I don't have one of those unfortunately but with guitars in general you will get your money back and might even turn a profit if you bought it at a good price or when the exchange rate was favourable, like I did. I will be keeping a handful of my favourite ones, of course. I will never retire from playing the guitar. It's a life long thing.

Reducing my waistline so I can fit comfortably into my pants is also a goal. I don't bothering myself with the weighing scale anymore these days. Staying healthy is enough. It becomes more of an effort as you grow older. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Recording

There has been a lot of recording going on lately. The great thing about having your own recording studio at home is that you can be as creative or as lazy as you want, without anyone looking over your shoulder. The clock isn't ticking and the recording engineer isn't trying to finish off and get you out of the door...or worse, bill you extra for the time consuming task at hand.

Whether you have  a Neve 8078 board mixing console or just a laptop hooked up to an interface and couple of speakers, the results will speak of itself. Everything I record these days is recorded, mixed and mastered without the help of an outsider. I play all the instruments and as much as I hate singing, I do all the vocals myself too. I learnt a long time ago that if I want to continue making music, I need to be self reliant. Being in a band held me back for a long time, to be honest. I am happy to be able to be creative without the interference of others. There is a lot of freedom in that. 

I don't do this for a living, so the amount of time I have to dedicate to it varies depending on how tired I am after work and family duties. There have been months and years at a time when I just wasn't up to it. However, these days I am making a concerted effort to be more productive. Seeing my ideas through and putting in the work means sacrificing sleep. I have at least one new album worth of decent songs almost done and another two albums worth of material also in the works. 

The new songs are much longer and don't fit the structure of pop/rock songs anymore. There is a lot more musical content in these songs and they go to places I wouldn't normally go if I want to get my song played on the radio. At this point in my life I am just making music for myself, so I'm not too concerned about pleasing an audience. I'm grateful if anyone is still tuning in but reaching a bigger audience isn't much of a concern anymore. 

Music is an end in itself for me. That's how it was when I was a kid and that's how it is now. 

TragiComedy - Time Well Spent

TragiComedy- Great New Life

Never Lonely by Tragicomedy

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Gypsy Jazz

I have been fascinated with Gypsy Jazz for decades. Doesn't get much better than Django Reinhardt and some of the contemporary players like Birelli Lagrene, Stochelo Rosenberg, Jimmy Rosenberg and Frank Vignola, who keep that style of playing alive.

Learning how to play gypsy jazz was something that was beyond me for a long time. Jazz chords and scales were alien to me. I come from a typical pop/rock background. If you asked me to improvise on a 12 Bar Blues, I can probably do a decent job, since the I, IV V chord progression and years of butchering Clapton and Stevie Ray licks has created some sort of muscle memory there. 

Gypsy Jazz on the other hand requires a different vocabulary altogether. It is more akin to trying to speak a different language. Even the techniques involved are vastly different. However, if you're a decent guitar player and you're willing to put in the work, you might be able to pull off some of it. In the last year or so  have been putting in some time trying to learn it, on and off. 

It has been a massive learning curve for me because I am not a technical guitar player and gypsy jazz requires a lot of technical ability in order to be played properly. Once you get into it however, it can get addictive. You have to enjoy practicing. Once you enjoy practicing, it will come to you slowly, just like with anything. The whole down-strokes only when changing strings is particularly hard to get used to. I usually use economy picking.   

I don't see myself putting out any Gypsy Jazz music in the near future. It is purely for personal enjoyment. Might take lifetime for me to get it to sound decent, anyway. In the meantime, I am enjoying expanding my repertoire and improving the way I play. The journey should be as enjoyable as the destination.  


Monday, February 22, 2016

What are you?

Most of time when you meet someone new, one of the first things they will ask is, "What do you do?", or "What are you?”

I can never get used to that, although most people probably won't bat an eyelid before answering. My first urge is to answer with a quote from Fight Club:

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all singing, all-dancing crap of the world."

What you are and what you do for a living, are two different things. You could be a brilliant math wizard but your day job could be selling insurance or teaching kids. You might be a great writer but instead of writing books, you just write for some local newspaper or an entertainment/lifestyle magazine. Everyone needs a paycheck. Surely, that is not who you are. 

In both instances you are certainly not your job although you might love what you do. Your capabilities far exceed what you do on a daily basis. You could even say you are underemployed. For some people, the only way to utilize your talent is to be self employed. However, how successful you become will still depend on how good a salesman you are. A people person who grabs his chances well and sells himself and his skills in a likable way will always do better than that introvert with artistic integrity, who would rather let his work speak for itself rather than pander to an audience. Musicians have had this problem since the beginning of time. Most have to do what pays the bills versus what they actually love doing. 

So, what am I and what do I do?

Well, I am a full time dreamer who runs a small trading company. It's not an easy task running a business. There are a lot of overheads involved. Hopefully, I can pay off my two mortgages and have enough to send my kid to a decent College when the time comes.  

Continuing to record and put out music occasionally would be a plus. However, these days I just love playing music for the sake of it. Usually, it's late at night after everyone is asleep. I still have hundreds of songs left in me. There has to be more to life than just sales and collections.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On to 2016....

As another year comes to a close, I choose not to reflect too much on what transpired in 2015. The most important thing is that everyday is another chance at life. Not repeating past mistakes is already a sign of growth. Don't sweat the small stuff. Love the ones who love you and don't waste energy on things that bring you down. In life, we're lucky if we have a handful of people who care about us. Be good to them.

I have decided that life is all about what you're doing at the moment and who you are in that moment. In the course of a day you are a son, father, husband, a Boss, an employee or any number of things. You are different things to different people. However, the most important thing is who you really are in your head, because how you feel determines how you will treat others. Feel like shit and shit might hit the fan in the wrong circumstances. I have had episodes I'd rather not talk about, where I did things I shouldn't have just because I was in the wrong headspace. 

No one cares about your demons but you. In fact, you shouldn't care about them either, lest you keep feeding them with your baggage. The most important thing I have learnt lately is that you can plan as far ahead as you want but don't focus on anything more than what is within your control for now. That will give you a little more sanity and make you more pleasant to those around you. 

All I can hope for in the new year ahead is that I live in the present and make the best of it because as short as life is, it can also feel awfully long if you think too much about things beyond your control. Don't put that kind of pressure on yourself. Just wake up everyday and take it as it comes. I've got no other resolutions other than that, although losing a bit of weight might be beneficial to my health. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel

If you're a guitar player, Guthrie Govan and Tommy Emmanuel need no introduction. However, if you don't have a clue about what's going on in the guitar world these days, perhaps you can Google or YouTube them and find out. Like most things in life that are not designed for mass consumption, it may not be your cup of tea. Although, I fail to see how good music may not be an enjoyment for you. In my opinion, when it comes to the guitar, both these guys are masters at what they do. Their repertoire of songs will leave you in amazement.

Tommy Emmanuel's show was midweek, five days before Guthrie Govan's guitar clinic. It was my second time seeing him perform, the last one being a couple of years ago. As usual, his energetic one man band performance brought the house down. It was a smaller venue this time around and you could almost feel the music and his acoustic guitar vibrate through you. His joy while playing was infectious. Only he and Eddie Van Halen can smile through a two hour set and make sure everyone does too. It's amazing that one man and his guitar, standing alone on a stage, can entertain an audience for a full two hours without a break. There wasn't a dull moment in the whole show.

He gave the same advice as last time about practicing the instrument. It's about repetition and you have to do it alone...not in front of your family members or friends. No one wants to hear you play something a thousand times over until you get it perfect. You don't wanna get discouraged by them getting sick of you playing something before you have even mastered it. I need to pass that advice on to my son, who normally gets discouraged if we don't tell him he sounds great instantly when he plays something.

Guthrie Govan's solo album is my favourite guitar album of the last decade and his work with his supergroup "The Aristocrats" is mindblowing. His first visit to our neck of the woods, the weekend after Tommy Emmanuel's show, wasn't for a full concert but rather a guitar clinic/workshop. It was well worth attending. His thoughts and explanations about his approach to the instrument were enlightening in many ways. We all know he can play the hell out of the guitar, which he proceeded to do with a few tracks from his vast repertoire. The highlight however, was the question and answer section part of the afternoon. He is the opposite of the monosyllabic and inarticulate hippy that he claims he looks like. The tone and substance of the stuff he talked about can only be compared to a philosophy professor trying to put across esoteric ideas in an accessible way.

Of course, there is nothing esoteric or mystical about playing the guitar. You can get most of the answers you need from YouTube or Google these days. However, nobody is more eloquent at explaining the intangible than Mr Govan. He has a gift with words that the normal mortal doesn't and it's no surprise that he was an English Literature student at Oxford before he decided that becoming a guitar wizard was more fun. He has been travelling the world, displaying his brand of sorcery and garnering disciples ever since.

One of the most important things I took away from the experience is that you should focus on the most basic things first, like being able to play what you hear. Conditioning the ear has been forsaken these days. Most people are engrossed with the tactile aspect of the guitar, which is to be technically proficient by learning visually, through tablature and videos rather than by ear. He made a joke about knowing people who can play long and complex Dream Theatre songs but wouldn't be able to play "Happy Birthday" when the need arises. His point is that if you can't even play something simple by ear at the drop of a hat, all the other stuff is just pointless.

Hearing a song or idea in your head and being able to play it instantly is the same as forming thoughts in your head and being able to articulate it well when you speak. A native speaker of the language doesn't need to think about it. It will come naturally. Therefore, you should make communicating on the guitar the same as speaking your native language.

He also shared a lot of his other views and ideas including something interesting about how Miles Davis introduced modal jazz to get away from the complex changes in jazz music. You can stay on that one chord instead of always moving. That's why modern jazz fusion exists. You need people to think outside the box. Playing the wrong notes is fine, a long as you know how to land back on the right note after your excursion. Stuff like that...

I won't go into detail about what was covered in the clinic. Not everyone is a guitar geek. Neither am I, to be honest. The guitar is just a vehicle for me to let out my songs. However, I get inspired by gifted people who are able to do brilliant and tasteful things on the instrument. Guitar wizards like Guthrie Govan don't come by everyday offering their wisdom. Thanks to John Lau for bringing him over. It was very enjoyable.

For a proper write up of the workshop you can visit Az Samad's blog. If you're in the guitar community here, you will be aware that Az is one of the best fingerpickers and educators in this country. He did a great job covering all of the important stuff from the clinic.
Here's the link: http://azsamadlessons.com/?p=97