I’ve been in this weird place in life right now where things are moving at light speed forward and days are busy and full, and also where, with my music, I am working countless hours and making seemingly no progress at all.

That happens. I wonder, I really do, if it is me procrastinating subconsciously on wrapping up new albums. It really is a scary thing… once you’re done it’s like… ok: does you likey? what should I work on now?

My thing is mixing. Mixing is when you put all the instruments together at a reasonable volume AND you somehow make it exciting AND you make it sound good on ALL stereos/headphones/cars. It’s not an easy feat and amazingly talented people make a living just doing that end of things. Paying a professional is a little pricey for me though, sadly. So sadly.

I would love nothing more than to take these tracks and send them off to someone to mix and master for me if for no other reason that tragically I get really really sick of these songs by the time I release an album. It’s not that they aren’t good songs, it’s that if they are I wouldn’t know.

Hearing them literally hundreds of times takes the excitement of what’s around the corner out of it. And I think that that is music’s big shazam, surprise, like comedy. Even if you’ve heard OK Computer 673 times, there’s a pretty good chance that you forgot how the tone of that guitar just makes sense for that solo, even though it shouldn’t. Something like that. Or is Caravan before or after Into The Mystic. Etc.

So today though it’s back to the grindstone. Honestly it would be a lot easier to mix my own material if I weren’t so addicted to bass. I listen to a lot of heavy low end music, not at all the more acoustic music I’m mixing. I cannot get enough bass. But too much bass drowns out the high end and it all sounds like mud.

I’ve been guilty of this bass addiction with pretty much every album I’ve ever released. This time I think I might try the recommended balance of things. That’s ok. It’s like following a recipe instead of (my preferred) throwing whatever you have in the kitchen together “artfully”. Recipe seems boring but could be the most amazing. Regardless it probably won’t be a disappointment. Intuitive kitchen-ing? Yeah. That can fail miserably.

I do not subscribe to this belief for songwriting though. No no no. The kitchen of songwriting (for me, don’t mind/care what others do) is not a place for cookbooks. Never ever. Maybe that’s why I’m so well known!

Yeah, I mean, the formula for big pop songs really works. But I just can’t help but feel that it is… not my thing to follow a song formula. And that’s a specific take on the process. The whole songwriter genre is a relatively new thing, but I do believe in it. That one person’s take on creating something is worth the tunneling required to follow/get there.

Well. There you have it.

So here’s the plan:

Finish mixing

Give you some pieces of the album along the way the next few months

Tour and see you and play

Repeat

Bye!

As is the habit lately, sadly, this archive is rarely being updated, which is too bad for me perhaps more than for you, as it is such a good record of my music persona and all the things “that” does.

You could easily deduce that on the music front I am more a crockpot on warm than a roiling boil. Nonetheless the pilot light is lit. I have this project that feels very organic, an album that, go figure, is a return to what I’ve always done. Guitar based acoustic based songs earnest and emotional. I would like to keep the production very minimal with it. Meaning: instead of writing a song and recording the main parts, then adding and layering and tweaking from there, I’d like to have all the songs under my belt and record them in a space I’m comfortable with and that sounds good. I’m not terribly concerned with having other musicians on the album, I would LOVE that, and the more the merrier, but if I go forth with just cello, guitar, and singing, then that is great.

So yeah, the songs are mostly there. I go back and forth on the lyrics. What happens with my lyric writing generally is that I kind of spew out as stream-of-consciously as I can, as little editing as possible. This sounds easy, but for me lately it has been the hardest part. I suppose I would say that the more you TRY to “craft” your music, the more you hold a certain standard above your own head, ironically the more difficult it can be to just produce the raw materials to work with. For me at least.

So, but, ideally I’ll take that pile of lyrics and if I’m really really lucky I won’t touch a thing and I’ll make the guitar or cello parts underneath it as interesting as I can make them while still being able to perform them while singing. Usually it’s not quite that easy, and my literary editor declares that what I’ve created is nothing short of a horrible embarrassment to the history of songwriting. What it is is that I am fully aware that I am not writing heady story-telling songs, and I’m not even actually aiming for high literary achievement… I aim for honesty and I tend to believe that rock and roll is better for it, from me. In other words, the type of music I love walks the razor’s edge between profound insight and simple truth. And, unlike a lot of songwriters, I don’t allow myself to rely on pure whimsy and irreverence. This is a very, very common songwriting “technique” that I hear ALL THE TIME in indie music these days. It sometimes works. It works for everyone, apparently, but my tastes lean to actually abhorring the smug indifference of pretending not to care, or not caring. I just feel that the music that I am aiming to make is all about emotion and the transference of. I’m not saying that all music has to be uber-emotional, and obviously it can be quite terrible/embarrassing when it is. But it’s what I resonate with so it’s what I attempt to do.

Woohoo.

Anyways yes, so there is an album in the works. My songwriting is just SO SLOW lately.

It’s because I’m not playing. I’m really not playing as much in L.A. as I hoped/expected to. I just can’t seem to crack the shell of the scene or find my happy place in it. I suppose that’s the nature of the big pond. I really need to play it turns out. It’s truly what I feel I am meant to be doing. And I’m not! Yeesh. That has to change. Even if it means returning to small towns to play.

Ok, I’ve got to paint a box I made now. Yeah that’s vague but true. Tonight my lady is putting up an installation for a Twin Peaks based art show/cocktail party at The Falls in downtown Los Angeles. I made the box and stand. It’s neat.

Thanks for being amazingly loyal considering my own lack of enthusiastic input into this here weblog. Rest assured though it shall continue, and be more exciting soon!

Oh blog of mine, which hath been updated irregularly and regularly since 2004. I’m glad you exist my sweet blog. Although you make me nostalgic too.

But yeah, I’m reminded that documenting moments of time has a purpose, perhaps a hell of narcissistic purpose, but purpose nonetheless. It’s a night like this, last night of March 2012, where I am sipping cheap whiskey on my roof deck, lamenting that Kate is out working for the evening, teaching painting to a group class which must be terrifying. I am listening to Thao and the whosiwhatsits, which isn’t a common choice lately but it fits for now. It was really too quiet in this sweet orange ish apartment. Cinco is sitting on the orange chair making the scene all the more orange.

Life has been really kind of brutal in a non complainy way the last six months or actually year. No breaks man. No big hearty moments of smiley ness. A bit of confusion stew with generous sprinklings of self-doubt and repetition. What a weird time. Ugh. I don’t know that I could have lived it better, in fact I’m willing to bet I couldn’t have. But yeah. Aimless, hopeful and heartbroken.

Well, I mean I finished those albums about this time last year. After endless silly revisions. And then… wha happend? Weird mastering issues, time just passing in such an uncomfortable way, expectations built, and then shattered. Then reality set in.

Thank god for walks and brothers and family, lovely girls and dogs. Thank god for cheap whiskey and a night where I have the balls to write a journal entry that could be read by someone wondering who I think I am. I don’t know. I would love to personify the super cool musician to you, and seduce you with imagery from the special mind of a special musician. But that’s all obviously a bunch of scaredy cat bullshit. There aren’t any musicians out there that are really better than you, in your quiet apartment. They may have the perfect hairstyle in their press pictures, and they may tweet cleverly, and on stage they seem invincible, but they aren’t invincible, and they certainly aren’t cooler than YOU, who, incidentally, are the coolest ever. Music has a purpose, but it oughtn’t be to maintain the egos of its makers. So sayeth I.

Whatever.

So yeah. Turned a corner. Thank god for April. I am starting a new job on Monday. That’s right, a job. Well, yeah, I know. I hoped to break through with the new album enough to not worry about such trifles as “money” and “groceries” but it didn’t happen that way. It’s ok. I like work. I hope to be able to work as a musician and I think this job will give me breathing room. Maybe it will remind me how imperative it is to play music as the thing. I am really really really not interested in giving up. Even though at times, scary sad times in the past year I have actually thought that perhaps I ought to. Give up. Let’s face it. If you are reading this, you are the few and the proud. Unless I have indeed “made it” and this blog becomes a hysterically stupid piece of the legend dispelled of this music. Or what. This music. This… life.

I miss my friends. Gonna say it. Getting older you miss everything. And it’s important to realize the utter and complete sweetness of each phase. I would say “of each day” or “of each moment” but really I can’t keep up. I would just say that each phase of life is insanely sweet and poignant in its own lonely lovely way. Not that you are lonely, but that those phases are lonely. They want you to appreciate them. Remember first break up phase? Remember first apartment phase? Yeah. Those phases are lonely/lovely.

Ok. that’s my check in. Thanks for reading. You are rather patient.

Thanks life. This evening is cool. On to the greatest raddest most fantastic adventure yet!

A big storm passed through LA yesterday. It kind of ravaged this desert city. I heard that an inch came down in a couple of hours. The streets became rivers, rushing downhill almost over the edges of sidewalks, and the drains to which all water rushed were big loud vortexes one would not want to slip into. Especially while unloading a guitar amp.

I witnessed all this as I was loading-in for a show at the Universal Bar in L.A. (It’s called the Universal Bar & Grill, but for some reason my pride allows me to play bars, but not bar & grills). The rain made the load-in more exciting than usual.

This venue was on the shore of the LA river in North Hollywood, which is not really as rustic sounding as it could be. At that point the river is a concrete slough and last night it was really raging, with no trees or grasses to slow it down. The rain was relentlessly dumping.

There was something kind of charged to the atmosphere outside and inside of the bar. Red light mixed with black lights and a cozy warmth. The smell of damp jackets and beer. Everybody had braved the elements a bit to make it out, and, as only some bars can do, it felt like THE place to be in case of emergency. So it was good. People were happy, the previous bands put on a great show and brought in a good draw and all was well.

We (as Midnight Door) played with abandon, as has been the case for all three of our shows thus far. Last night I felt even more the need to exorcise, and the feelings behind the songs felt pretty spot-on to me in my life. Being emotive wasn’t particularly difficult. More importantly though, the small crowd was TOTALLY into it , which is something that you can feel viscerally on stage. It is important and amazing when a crowd is wrapped up in every note… you can be exponentially more interesting and interested as a performer.

Then a rainy drive through Hollywood, which, at the risk of sounding like a farmboy, still impresses me greatly. I don’t know what Hollywood is or means, but it has a certain energy and excitement in its present that just being near is undeniable.

My brother came all the way up from Orange County and drove me to the gig and back which was amazingly cool. And my girlfriend as usual was present and super-into the whole thing, including carrying heavy equipment. Some good friends showed up for a meet up at the bar before and after, and my new partner in musical destruction Tripp played drums so excellently as only a pro can.

The night before, Saturday, we played in Echo Park at Pehrspace, which is this cool, funky venue that sits inside of a strip-mall type area. On both sides there are tiny hispanic churches whose buildings would be equally fitting for a laundromat or a travel agency.

Pehrspace is run by incredibly sweet and kind people whose real purpose seems truly to be allowing for art to happen. The opening band was a duo of drums and synth/beat/sounds and they brought a bunch of their super supportive crowd out. It was really great party jam music with thick beats mixed with urban psychadelia, and their drummer played live with a fury and a precision that is very difficult to pull off with electronic stuff.

There weren’t a whole ton of people there, but the ambience was supportive and great and wide open and so we just rocked it out. To tell the truth, circumstance made it such that we didn’t rehearse prior to the performance, but I had a feeling we could pull it off and we did. It was great. I was sweaty and sore after.

So now as is the usual though I just try and filter out what it means. To play great shows for a few people. To not actually have anything booked. It’s a mix of accomplishment and what now? It feels good and bad at once. I want to play more shows and reach more people and just, be able to do that. And that isn’t always easy to do. Ideally some clarity will come about, some natural career-ish evolution will become inevitable, and I will not have been spinning my wheels on a stationary device. Regardless, it was good great fun, and a solid workout to boot!

Played a show in Echo Park yesterday and the little room at the little cafe was nice and close and intimate and good and the daylight shone through the window which is not all that common for a music gig. Improvised set means you don’t have any basis for judging the performance. Actually, you never do.

I have two gigs coming up this weekend. Didn’t mean for that to happen, that’s usually a no-no, even in a big city, because you you know, use up all your pulling people in power. To be honest I don’t have a ton of that at the moment so every show played out is a chance to reach people. I’m… well… I hate to admit this but I’m desperate to play more. And so if someone says “will you play?” I say “Yes!”, no exceptions (almost).

So I’ll be revisiting Tomorrow Was, which is good. Playing through those songs, which are still full of a meaning I don’t even know that I understand yet. I’m happy to stick around with them a bit, though I’m always anxious to write and create more. Perhaps now that I’ve split my persona in two (Midnight Door and Luke Janela) I can write under one and continue on with the other.

Spring is really here. LA is so ridiculously lovely weather-wise, to the point that it creeps me out at times. I loved the big and rare storm that roared across the basin and blew down my wind chimes. It is essential that break, that chaos.

Anyways, the point is that I will be practicing this week. And that will be good.

Today I hope I can inspire myself to put on a few sweaters and brave my little studio. I actually really need to, I’ve got a show tomorrow and two the following weekend. And in the midst of that I’ve got some other “real world” responsibilities that are pretty pressing, needing my every bit of extra attention.

I will be working on this ambient set that I’ve been performing for a long while now. Beats + Cello + Effects.

The Process?

I write the beats first thing. I’ve always been a fan of big beats and while I can’t say I am any kind of expert, I enjoy the act of creating beats. I don’t use canned beats (Canned beats are free-to-use beats that somebody already wrote and recorded a sample of, for anyone to use).

Most of the “songs”are quite free-form, and I enjoy that freedom. It’s like electronica/jazz, that openness. But a lot of times I will, no wait, I always decide on a key initially, whether it be b minor or C Major or what-have-you. Sometimes if I can think that far in advance I’ll go modal, though really if anything I play in Dorian and tend, sadly, to not explore the other modes too much. Some of these “songs” over the years have in fact developed their own melodies or themes, and so, in that sense they are not completely improvised. But after those things are out of the way (beats + key + theme) I just see what happens.

The most difficult thing about that in a live context is self editing. It doesn’t take much at all for one of these songs to turn into 30 minute self-aggrandizing tombs. It’s extremely important to try and think quickly and move forward quickly, in my opinion. I’ve seen far too many musicians wanking over how awesome they are for too long and I don’t want to be that guy. A helpful thing for me to keep in mind is that less IS indeed more. In fact that is sort of a mantra I repeat over and over as I perform (less is more… less is more…). I think Miles Davis is the master of that and everything else, and I can’t count how many times his face has popped into my head while playing as a way to remind me to let things breathe. It’s a startling vision that snaps me back sometimes.

That’s the process. As technology has changed the process has changed, the performance has changed. My first attempts at doing things this way was in Portland playing some random loft parties. I had my trusty Korg Electribe ER-1 and a delay pedal. I played loud and feedback was rampant. It was great!

Music device fiends: My favorite favorite thing about the Electribe is its “audio in” feature, which is hard to describe in words, but allows you to create a rhythmic pattern for your external input to actually be outputted… So that the notes I play on my cello beep through with the beats in a set pattern. It is a nice sci-fi sound that makes it sound like more than one instrument is playing. I am bummed that so far the electribe is the only device I’ve found that does this. Even software like Ableton doesn’t have this feature. You can hear that effect in “Everybody Is Dreaming“, it’s the synth sounding rhythmic noise going on throughout, especially audible for the verses.

The Electribe is still with me, even though I don’t really need it. I’ve found a way to integrate it via midi into my current setup. My setup is not all that different now, I just use my laptop with Ableton Live + Electribe + Effects Pedal + Keyboard Synth + Launchpad.

Using a laptop live does have its drawbacks… 1. software glitches and computer malfunctions (they happen, I can attest) 2. It’s your laptop, which, in my case, is the most valuable thing I own second to my cello, so that’s not ideal to have on a stage at a club, but in the end it takes a solo act to levels probably impossible otherwise.

So yeah, time to stop writing and go practice! Maybe I’ll record some snippets and post. Maybe!

There is no set career path.

You can blow up big and be gone from the scene in less than a year. You can trudge away for years and years and that does not by any means guarantee or even increase the odds of a “promotion”. You can start off playing punk clubs and end up at the county fair. You can become a huge hit only playing people’s living rooms. What that does to the psyche is simply that there is no career guidance that fits for every musician. There are very few things you can share with each other as musicians that sort of point to the “proper” way to go about being a musician.

The paradox of taste.

Most of the bands that I adore also have people who adore them, but were I to lift the needle off of “Baby Baby” and drop it on a song I will eternally love, say,  “Drunken Butterfly” I would likely be pummeled with scorn. Faces would contort. So that can be an odd feeling, knowing that some people love in a real way the music you make, where as others actually, sincerly, hate it. I imagine that is even more weird but probably less concerting the more popular you become.

The Endless Crescendo

Career wise and/or skills wise, there is never a point where you put up your feet and say “I am finally a ‘good enough’ violin player”. Inevitably there will be another goal to push through. You might play your dream show with your favorite bands and most likely that will inspire you to think “this is only the beginning”.

More of these to come. If you are a musician let me know yours.

It’s suddenly spring in LA, at night the jasmine smells waft over the city, people are taking off their sweaters that were in use for 2 weeks, and everything is growing in a lush way.

I’m loving spring and the feeling of rebirth that comes with it. Honestly you get so deep into the things you are working on and sometimes you just reach a sort of wall. I was starting to feel that way with the new album, and so strangely so, because I really really love the thing. But for whatever reason I’m feeling rejuvenated and the album is too.

Some of it may be outside inspiration… I was playing cello for my friend and fellow musician Molly Allis in Boston, and we had to figure out how to get the cello parts I recorded transcribed and performed with violin, cello and upright bass, as opposed to three imaginary Lukes. It was a really fun process and reminded me of the lovely depth that strings bring to chords. Since then I’ve been looking at the album and finding moments that could be more lush and composing little ditties for that. I actually wrote a cello quartet that I’m really happy with the other day. It’ll be an interlude.

Some of it is the weather. More hours of the day. I don’t know about you but I can’t really be bothered to start playing the cello at 9am. For whatever reason my creative work just doesn’t happen until the afternoon. And in the wintertimes that means it’s just dark suddenly when I emerge from the cave of my recording studio.

Oh and I think some of this newfound push is getting over hesitations… also again tell me what you think but for me the closer I am to putting something out in the world, the further faults I find with it. Nitpicking I suppose you’d call it. I’m real keen on that one too as honestly if there were one thing I would change in my music career it would be to not have released several early albums in such blatantly tawdry states.

Lastly perhaps, or at least just for now… I want to get the thing done! I’m ready to move along and create more music and play these songs live.

So if you are having a hard time getting out of winter perhaps this’ll help. Spring is around the corner. Let’s go!

I have been really not writing blog posts lately if you haven’t noticed. I kinda thought I’d lean on twitter and facebook to keep things updated, especially in this new attention span world the internets have developed. But I’m missing my real posts and keeping score on how things are going with the music.

As you may know I’ve been working on a new album “Tomorrow Was” for the past several months. I had in mind an album that I can perform live that is an amalgamation of the styles of music that influence me heavily lately in a visceral way: electronic, punk, classical, and jazz, all leaning on the pillars of that rock and roll that Neil Young rightly proclaims “can never die”.

It’s been intense, many hours, ten songs, constant reworking. I feel an obligation to have no regrets with this one, and to give it my all. There are a few other albums that I can’t wait to make next, the all acoustic one, the next instrumental cello one, the all electronic beats + cello one, but for now I’m locked in. The lyrics ought to be my own, I try and get layers of meaning into each line, I try to avoid that ever-tempting chasm that is being trite, I try to make them coherent and mysterious at the same time. It’s going well. I’ve never had so many rewrites of lyrics. The cello can be tighter and bigger always, the layers of sound can be less dense and more complex. This is why it takes so long.

I had the amazing opportunity to record with Adam Carson (AFI) on drums and we banged 5 songs out in one day. I replaced a lot of the electronic beats on those songs and have learned a lot about getting an organic but lively drum recording. It sounds incredible, I can’t wait for y’all to hear it.

So yeah, the months are cruising along with further work on what I intend to be by far my best album to date. REDWOOD SUMMER was awesome to work on, Midnight Door was a triumph for me personally, and all those other albums feel like good stepping stones.

I’ve gotten further away from worrying what the world might think of my own particular brand of music and more concerned with meeting my own very high standards of (subjective) quality. I never have been great at following the latest musical trends, and frankly I have no idea what drives the pitchforks and college radio stations of the world to make kings and queens out of new musicians. I understand that my earnest, emotional, raw and honest music that is heavy on sound and (attempted) musicality may not be the current THING in music. I could get more ironic, more irreverent, more silly and less dense. I could try to catch the wind of popular trends but you know what? I don’t want to and it probably wouldn’t be that pleasant or necessarily successful. No, I figure I’ll keep doing what I do best and I’ll push it and work on it and disassemble it and keep trying to get it out there just as is.

Like this very un-edited blog post.

Los Angeles has been very good to me and mine. The weather is pleasant, our neighborhood exciting, my musical inspiration exponentially expanding. It’s a massive massive blanket of humanity spread out widely over the desert-y ocean-y southern part of California and it is different for me and thus refreshing and invigorating. I come from Northern California, where mere mention of LA brings involuntary sneers, but honestly I feel like it’s one thing to look down upon it from afar, another to actually live here. I love the energy, I love the go get it attitude, and I love feeling like people are involved in their art very passionately. It’s a place to come and get down to business, get to work, get yourself out there. I am timidly sliding my foot into doors, and occasionally I have been met with great opportunities working with music video directors and other musicians. I feel like though I’ve been here a year now I’m just getting my feet underneath me.

My days have been filled with more cello, almost out of nowhere I rediscovered an intense desire to play Bach, to practice exercises, to spend a chunk of each and every day with this nuanced, gorgeous, frustrating, endlessly potent instrument I play. I’ve been playing the same cello since age 14, been saving for that fancy-pants cello some day, but for now, me and my beginner/intermediate cello spar with each other and I learn how to play it in particular. I can only play Suites 1 and 3 of the Bach Suites for Solo Cello, but I figure it’s time to expand that and delve deeper. Getting into Suite 2 every third day and eventually will have the courage to jump into the last three and their menacing keys and fingerings.

I read this book “The Cello Suites” by Eric Siblin and it got me all fired up to embrace the instrument. This book came into my life a couple weeks after deciding to practice seriously again so I feel like it’s a sign. Read it, it’s great, whether you are a musician or not.

In other projects I’ve been recording cello for Molly Allis’ new album PILGRIM, performing with Jessica Ripka, and juuuust started working with film composer Lior Ron. All of these activities are really really fulfilling. Between that and conspiring with Adam Carson on my own music I’m gettin’ pretty close to that true vision of being a musician that I have fought for for 15 years.

So that’s the update. All is well down south, all shall be revealed. I’m going to make an effort to scratch around my life for enough interesting things to write about to make it a very regular thing. I’m ready to come out of hibernation I suppose.

I sincerely hope you are well, and I sincerely thank you for checking in on my blog and my life and my music.

Words.

Luke.

Well it’s probably a few months late but last night I was thinking I ought to keep a little better track of the process of making my albums. The process is so important, and I feel like by writing about it here it will not only keep you up to date but help me keep track of what’s going on.

After REDWOOD SUMMER, I started writing new songs pretty much write away, but very casually. I like to have an audio recorder on me at all times (lately it’s my phone) and when an idea comes up I’ll record it for later purposing. The lyrics at this point are improvised but what I like to try and capture is the feel behind the idea. I’d say that since last summer I have between 10 and 20 sketches for songs that I revisit to see if they are album worthy.

Before REDWOOD SUMMER I had been performing a set of about 5 or 6 songs accompanied by my beats and effected cello. Those actually came about before I even started writing REDWOOD SUMMER but somehow I let it sit long enough that they ended up on the backburner.

So, to the present. Right now I’m working to not only bring those back to life, but also to add some fresh material to that set. The tone and sound of those songs is comparable to my album “Midnight Door”… but my personal challenge and caveat is to be able to perform those songs live, using the parts and pieces to be able to improvise around them in a live setting. It’s tricky when you do it solo, without a band, and with more than just your primary instrument involved, but I like that challenge and I like the end result. Also the marvels of modern technology allow me to give it a shot and so I’m doing that.

As a result of my stubborn insistence on performing these epically layered pieces live, I tend to lament the days of simply picking up the guitar or cello and just play, the way I would for a more simple live gig. The artists I admire the most can do this with so much talent and subtlety that a wall of sound is not necessary for them. So I’ve been working on pulling that out of my hat as well. Sitting down, playing and singing. Practicing it a bunch and then recording it pretty close to that pure sound of one person, one room.

And then, as I cannot seem to stick to one persona musically, I have developed a set I’ve been performing at art galleries and parties that is electronic music influenced, the cello, some beats, no vocals, lots of effects. This music works well for all kinds of settings and I enjoy the luxury of not needing to sing, and of going deeper with my cello playing. I’m working on recording these as well.

RIght now the electro-cello stuff is closest to being a hole album, mainly because I’ve had a full hour plus of music together already for performing live. The parts are in place and all that’s left is to lay down my lead cello parts.

I’m getting the arrangements together for that and my goal is really to create an album that is best suited for long drives, long walks, long sessions of work, that can be listened to over and over again. It’s tricky with electronic music to not get too repetitive or even too complex. My favorite electronic music gets folks dancing and sets the right tone, and it tends to sit in one music scale for a good long while, long enough for it to become hypnotic.

The acoustic album is in the works and I like where it’s going. I was real influenced by working with Chuck Ragan recently, he’s a great example of a guy and a guitar putting great songs out there with no frills and nothing lacking. Also, his vocal strength reminds me that sometimes to get the right feeling you’ve really got to belt it out. The only problem with making that album right now is that some of the songs end up being catchy enough that I want to add layers to them and some beats and move them over to my “Midnight Door” style album. So I constantly am producing, and diverting the songs into where they need to go.

Anyways. That’s where it’s at. Today I’m going to retouch the last three songs I recorded for the acoustic/solo musician album, and I’m going to get deeper with the electro-cello album.

This post is kind of a leadup to upcoming posts where I’ll be more specific about what I’m working on, and share some snippets of what I’m getting done each day, in true blog fashion.

Thanks for checking in, can’t wait to share the music with ya… Take Care!

Luke.

Life has been rolling along. All the sudden it’s May. It’s not even May, it’s the middle of May. Wow.

That slip of the tongue of time has happened (for me) because I’ve been buried in music. Culminations occur tomorrow night, Thursday at the downtown art walk in Los Angeles, where I’ll be playing some jams at the Annex Gallery. Basically I’m playing cello, mixing it up with beats, and making rad action happen all the time. It’s cool, playing music in the center of one of the biggest cities in the world. It’s why I’m here.

On the other fronts, I’ve been writing new songs and nostalging about old ones, culminating in at least a couple new albums by the end of this (very busy) Summer.

Life is good, my fingers have callouses, I’m deeply inspired.

Still awaiting, I suppose, the big break, but I’ll just keep making this music, like I always have, and that will do it, I think.

Let me know when I should come to your town and play a gig.

I sincerely hope you are well. Thanks for checking in. You know I’ll post some new music here when I feel it is deserving of your ears…

In all things, do good, be well. Etc.

Luke.

People have been asking me for the past several years what looping software or hardware I use. And I say “I actually don’t use looping software.” Or they ask me if I’ve heard of such and such, most often Zoe Keating, and of course I have. I’ve found that these days there is this very common thing for string players to use looping software/hardware.

Looping is when you play a part, a little device (a foot pedal or a laptop) records that part and plays it back in rhythm. You can then play another part, and then another part, and then another part on that. It’s quite the spectacle, and I’ve seen one guy perform a whole big band piece by playing all the instruments one by one into the looper and having the sound build into one big unified sound. It works really well for string instruments, because, as in the case of symphony orchestras, the more the merrier, sound wise.

I’ve tended to avoid it, but now I’m in the belly of the beast, as I’ve finally thrown down for some Launchpad/Ableton Live action.

To make a long story short and to spare you the music geekery, with Ableton Live, you play your instrument into your laptop and on the spot you can chop it up and spit it out musically & rhythmically, the idea being that it is seamless and smooth.

So, for casual observers this post basically ends. I’m looking forward to adding this capability to my electro-cello sets and I want to tell you to look forward to it. Pretty exciting the possibility. Oh, and do check out Zoe Keating, and also, please drop me a line on any other amazing cello playin’ musicians you may have heard of that I might not know about.

For those more interested in the Launchpad, read on for my “first impressions” review.

Pretty much everyone seems to hype this thing to death, and when you get it out of the box and plug it in and all its pretty lights light up you kind of feel like you are going to understand why. It feels very capable, and is very compact.

Getting used to the basic basic functions takes approximately 5 minutes. Not even being a rabid Ableton user, I was able to get the gist and to see WHY people go apeshit over this thing. It does make a pretty clean translation from the software to the hardware.

My big question was and is, can I play it with my toes? (seriously). If you’ve seen me live you know I operate my current two drum machines (an Akai XR20 and an old school Korg Electribe) with my toes. I cue up parts that I’ve pre-writ and set them off when I need them, like when the chorus is coming up.

Tangent: Why not just set up the song and play along to the whole thing? The answer for me is that, yes, even though I do in the end tend to play the songs pretty close to the same length each time I play them, I really believe that the essence of music lies in its possibility. And so I must have the option to repeat a verse or to have the bridge go on for ten minutes as opposed to 30 seconds.

So back to the toes. I think I can play the launchpad with my toes. What I hope to use it for is to NOT replace my drum machines that I currently use, but to loop and shape sounds on the fly over the top of my beats. I think that less is more with this type of thing, so for the time being I’m working on being able to create a bass line for myself for a solo, as opposed to layering out the whole song.

With the Launchpad, though, you can preload your parts of songs (using your laptop as well of course), and I could in theory have rich textures live. I just don’t want it to ever cross that “karaoke line”, the place where you are just playing along to pre-recorded music, as opposed to creating it every time you go out there.

Back to my “review”. The only complaint I have is that there is a LOT that can be tackled by this thing, and I quickly found a plethora of youtube videos that demonstrated people tearing it up with them. BUT, there seems to be this assumption that you already know how to do some pretty basic stuff, like understand user functions, midi programming and even simple audio editing in Ableton. Also, Ableton claimed/claims to have a “whole chapter dedicated to the Launchpad” in its user manual for Live 8, but after searching around and downloading the newest versions of the manual, such a thing does not appear to exist. So there’s a little bit of assumption that you already know how great this toy is and thus we don’t need to spell it out for you.

Otherwise, I’m really happy for it. One of the main selling points for me, consciously or otherwise, is price. I wanted a few things for my live electronic set arsenal: a looper, some more effects, and another drum machine. With a $199 investment, I essentially get all those things and a LOT more.

The only thing I am trepidatious about is the notion of using a laptop live. The only folks I’ve seen really pull this off in a non annoying manner are DJs. Otherwise there tends to be, with laptops in a live performance, a lot of technical problems and a lot of noise posturing that is really, in my ever so humble opinion, not music.

Alright. Well. The point is you should look forward to some new sounds on the coming albums/live performances.

Also, if you are interested, and want to use Ableton Live, and have $200 burning a hole in your pocket, I give you permission to go out and buy a Launchpad. And also, I wish someone were actually paying me to endorse this thing.

Also, as a pre-emptive comment, I DO in fact feel strongly that a musician and an instrument (voice is instrument yes) is all you will ever need to make the most beautiful music ever. But if you are like me, and like to take many side roads off of that main road, using the modern worlds’ many technological bounties is not necessarily a bad thing…

*warning = this is a loooong rant.

Luke Janela live at The Catalyst, January 28, 2010 - Photo Credit: Pete Geniella, petegeniella.com
Photo: Pete Geniella

Last Thursday, January 28th, I got to open for AFI, one of my favorite bands. We played The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, and all the pieces fell into place for a great great show.

The show had been big in my mind for too long, I knew it was on, but the band I had recorded REDWOOD SUMMER with wasn’t to be available. I thought, ok, we’ll just make it happen for a good long while, and yet the band wasn’t nailed down, even just a couple weeks before the show.

My own fault, because the obvious choice for the best drummer was right in front of my face; I finally realized that I needed to call one of my best friends and bandmate of many many years Mr. Keith Feigin. He was with me for my first show ever, he recorded Blue Star, he recorded The Key, he is an amazing drummer. However, he hadn’t played drums, literally, for 5 years. Nonetheless, he was open to the idea. We’d jam on the songs, and if it worked, great. If not… welllllll….

My brothers pointed me in the direction of a guitar player they knew also in Ukiah (Keith lives there now), my hometown. A really talented guy who knows the business, touring all the time with his band, Luke Slinkert. Fortunately for me, Luke is also a huge AFI fan, which meant that the expenses and time spent practicing and traveling, especially when compared to the nominal guarantee we were getting to play (standard for opening bands) were worth it.

So I headed up to Northern California with less than a week to prepare for the show. A new band, I didn’t know Luke S. that well, and I didn’t know if Keith was going to be comfortable playing drums at all. I didn’t know how well my cello would play live, if my amp would even do the trick, if this was really realistic at all, or if it would all sadly implode.

I was optimistic, however!

Got into Ukiah, really really excited and anxious for our first practice that day, stopped by a friend’s apartment, bent down to pet the cute gigantic growling pit bull and promptly got bit in the face by said dog. Everything was suddenly chaotic, the dog got pulled off, I looked down at my hand and blood was dripping everywhere. Asked where the bathroom was, went in, and saw my lips looking pitifully mangled, kind of hanging there, as if confused, in all kinds of directions.

We rushed to the hospital, Keith was there, my brother Nate was there, my Mom showed up soon. I was sitting in the emergency room and I was on the verge of tears not because of the pain, which was pretty intense, so much as the idea that we would not be able to play this show. I wanted, I needed to play this show. It mattered to me.

The doctor stitched things up and took his time. He was great because he seemed to care and methodically put 28 stitches in my lips and face. He did a nice job. I went home, high on morphine and still wondering about the show.

The next morning things were good enough in my face to go ahead and schedule a practice, albeit without vocals from me. We’d play through the songs and kind of evaluate if it was even conceivable to go up on a stage in front of 1,000 people in less than three days. Things went well. I don’t know how, but Keith could really really bust it out still. Luke S. had memorized all the songs quickly and instantly was laying them down. The first time through the set was a little scary. The second time, the songs already sounded great.

So we had two more rehearsals to go. And they went really really well. Our set was only 6 songs and went like this:

True North
Strobe Light
The Unattended Ball
Time Is Near
Closure
Fever Saved Me

It clocked in at about 25 minutes, and we played it over and over again, just one song leading into the next. The last rehearsal we played through the set 5 times straight. That’s all we could do.

And it sounded good. I can honestly say that I wish I could re-record a version of REDWOOD SUMMER with the songs recorded in this raucous, garage/punk style that we had formed together in few days. Cello, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Vocals. Simple, sweet, short.

There’s a kind of crummy sounding/looking recording of it available for the curious here:
http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/4262515

We drove down to Santa Cruz the day of the show. I went to college in Santa Cruz and knew it oh so well. I learned to really play cello there. I played the clubs and coffee shops (mostly coffee shops when I was there) often, it was my town. It was epic to return to the big venue in town and be loading my stuff in.

AFI’s bus and equipment truck were there, and the equipment had been unloaded. To me, it was an impressive setup, boxes and boxes of gear and stage equipment. The stage was already setup, with AFI’s huge banner tied like a curtain behind the drums. Davey Havok was walking around talking to all the folks at the Catalyst (he is a verifiably super-nice person by the way), Adam, their drummer was there. I love Adam, I don’t think I know very many people, musicians or otherwise, who are as cool, kind and humble as he is. Smith was running the show, Fritch was selling the merch. Much of the AFI crew was intact from the last time I had seen them play, only since then they had gone on to sell millions of records and land a #1 billboard debut. And yet they are still real, down to earth, nice people. No BS. And they are GOOD if not AMAZING as a band these days. I watched their sound check and they now have this amazingly fluid sense of their own sound, super super tight and just, in their element. I suppose the countless weeks of touring will do that for you.

Pre-show AFI, at the Catalyst

My nerves were crazy. I was still on antibiotics for my wounds and couldn’t really eat well so I had been on a liquid diet for the whole week. It was an enormous and woozy feeling. All my favorite people in the world, my family and my girlfriend to name a few, old college friends, showed up pre-show.

At one point me and Keith walked around the block to go grab a protein shake for me and a bite to eat for him, and the line to get in the club was already around block. That recognizable AFI crowd, dressed in black, non-conformist, devoted. Then we were scared… would they boo us off the stage? Also, up on the marquis, my name alongside AFI and Ceremony. Really cool for me, a good image, unexpected, and great.

The Marquis

Then we just tried to be not nervous. And soon enough it was time to get on stage. And we’d have to not blow it, of course.

Keith pre-show

And we got up there and just tore through the songs. The crowd was amazing. They were kind and into it. There were a lot of people in there too, 500-1000, I can’t really say a good estimate, but a lot. And the sound ruled, and my bandmates NAILED IT. And it was fun. This was it, a good show, good music, that euphoric state that musicians live for. It really was… yeah. It was great.

I had a lot of people to talk to when it was over, and thus I missed Ceremony. AFI put on an incredible performance, as they always do. Those guys play their hearts out EVERY TIME they go on stage, and that is often. They give everything to their fans, which is how it should be, in my opinion. The songs were so tight and so good, they played a couple really old ones, and a couple new ones off of Crash Love, and a few from in between. I was kind of in heaven, I had a great view, and I love seeing AFI play.

AFI performs live at The Catalyst, January 28, Santa Cruz

My brother took some amazing pictures of AFI that night, check them out here.

So the night settled down, nothing to crazy that evening, as my stitches were still healing and that was a good excuse to kind of get to ruminate on the whole thing. I couldn’t have asked for a better show, with better people around me. I’ve already directly said my thanks to all mentioned, but to my family, my girlfriend, my friends, to that crowd, and to AFI, I have a lot of gratitude.

Now it is on to the next big show. I’m eager to get it all going. I’ll let you know as it unfolds… Thanks so much for stopping by…

Yesterday REDWOOD SUMMER finally made its way onto iTunes which signified a kind of final touch to the release of an album. (JUNEAUREVOIR is still on its way there)…

So how does an album come about from start to finish? I’ll tell you the story of REDWOOD SUMMER…

Basically a year ago I decided I was going to record a new album… the steam had stopped whistling for MIDNIGHT DOOR and it was time to explore new songs again. Only I became distracted when making MIDNIGHT DOOR… I was frustrated that I had recorded all these songs off that album without having a real live setup for performing them. The songs were written on the road and out in the world, not the usual where you try out songs live generally before they make it on the album. I was stripping the songs on MIDNIGHT DOOR down to the drum and bass tracks and pressing play on my ipod and performing along. Which, I have come to accept, is totally legit, especially of course if it is YOUR music you are playing along to, your beats, your sounds. I used to think it was not so legit, until I saw a few performances that incorporated the same technique, and it didn’t feel or seem weird to me at all. One caveat of this is that I really think if you play along to beats it HAS to be electronic… it’s true to me that playing along to ‘real’ sounding drums from a machine is kind of cheesy looking/sounding (in my opinion). Plus, then you are truly playing with the whole organic meets electronic thing, which does yield some interesting results and feels very much a part of our times. I think I like Thom Yorke’s solo stuff so much because he is able to work with (besides the brilliantly abstracted beats and great compositions) his raw voice, very plainly effected, wafting over the top of what feels like a Bladerunner landscape.

Holy tangent.

Anywaaaaays, the point is is that I got distracted by working on beats and effects that I could perform live, without accompaniment, and most importantly, which left lots of room for improvisation if necessary. My thing with electronic music and all music really is that if there is no room for improvisation at all, if it is super super polished and things are always done “perfectly” and the same, it is not really music. It’s theater. Which is fine. But I feel like at the core of music is the subconscious and its yearning to budge in and elbow things around here and there. I feel like it’s about the emotions of a room becoming one with the music. Et cetera.

So I worked on that and played a few different art party type things, improvising cello over beats around set songs and making the beats go this way and that and using lots of effects.

How did that lead to REDWOOD SUMMER which is very organic and non-electronic? Well, I just kind of missed making bedroom acoustic guitar anthems. I got so far away from home with that stuff that I really felt sentimental about sitting down and writing poetic lyrics by a fire with an acoustic guitar. Which is EXACTLY what happened with the writing of REDWOOD SUMMER… we had the opportunity to house sit a really beautiful house in Nevada County, with vistas of the foothills and gorgeous star filled skies, and there was a woodstove and no tv and no internet and the evenings were cozy and quiet. And I just started writing songs like crazy.

Most songs you hear on REDWOOD SUMMER were written in a three week period in January (more irony). Usually the process was to just grab ideas quickly, really as quickly as possible, meaning not interrupting the flow of musical idea by writing it down… this time I just used a handheld recorder, played through a new “song”, whether it was finished or not, and then started another. If it was any good, I kept it and worked on it. I’m not sure what my lyrics sound like to you, but you might be surprised to know there was a pretty good amount of polish on them. Obviously I’m not a real storytelling songwriter, but I do like to make the words work their own story and set their own stage. I spent a lot of time on various pretentious preconditions that I won’t bore you with.

I really wanted to record these songs to album as quickly as I was writing them, but you know, life gets in the way. We had to leave that housesitting gig but actually ended up returning in April I believe it was. By this time I was anxious to get this REDWOOD SUMMER thing on tape, I had a good sense of what I was doing and what I wanted, and I didn’t want it to slip by… so I set up my recording equipment in the upstairs bathroom of this great house, which had a really big all tile shower. I fit all my mics in that shower. I liked the closeness of the sound that the mics picked up in there. I tried just doing things simply, getting good guitar takes first and foremost. A huge part of REDWOOD SUMMER was playing guitar a lot again, so it was important to lay that down. Another part of the album though was actually, really, fully incorporating the cello into the main thrust of the song, making the cello NOT a supporting instrument but the center of the sound.

So what I wanted, by the way, was a country album. Well, not a country album in the traditional sense, but an album that felt like the places I’d grown up, the woods. I’m not sure that that makes sense or that it translates at all, but that’s why you have side A with its sparkly, sunny, swaying rhythms, and side B with its darker undertones. It feels like meadows and forest to me, it feels like Northern California to me. And of course, I wanted the process to be more “like it used to be” when I wrote songs: the edge of a bed in a lonely room to sit on, a quiet spot on earth, and no “coolness” filtration, no “authenticity” filtration, no input whatsoever from the “tastemakers“.

So I got most of the basic tracks down. I recorded cello and guitar, and I sang most lead vocals.

By that time it was May and soooooo much more time had gone by than I wanted.

The last four months of album making are probably the strangest for an independent musician. You gotta understand, when you are working full time and being a musician in your other time, there is no label pressure for a drop date, there is no pressure whatever, and so it is very very easy to let albums slide along and before you know it it takes 5+ years to finish an album. I have seen this happen many times, and I just really wouldn’t like the feeling. For one, or perhaps the main thing is that I try and capture a specific window of time/my life/my thoughts/the world in my albums, and if it takes more than a year it just seems like too much input on that front, too many influences. I mean, I had already been completely influenced by the Nevada City music scene subconsciously… I really thought that the mountain melodies and rocky yuba campfire cabin ghost song vibe wouldn’t get to me through Mariee Sioux, Alela Diane, Casual Fog, Them Hills and others, but they did, dammit I admit it, they did influence me. They inspired me to return to my personal truth being the core of the music. Purity of vision, untampered. It was really playing with Aaron Ross that had this affect on me the most. I have never heard let alone met a songwriter so talented and so potent with their own truth in music. And I was hanging out with him all the time, recording albums, playing shows!

The last four months were just a matter of gathering people in one place. It seems easy but for some reason it can be maddening. I wanted a real ‘community’ vibe on a lot of the songs, and getting Aaron Ross and Cody Feiler to sing on a lot was essential. Molly Allis banged out the drums in one day (one one take mostly! she is amazing), and of course Chuck Ragan and I met up for an afternoon to trade music. There were still lots of little things missing, the cello solo in the middle of ‘True North’, a piano for ‘The First Step’… these things really just kind of slowly slowly fell in line. But the finishing magical touch was realizing that my beautiful and way too modest girlfriend has a beautiful voice. We started by recording her voice on ‘Soundless’ and I realized I needed that voice on a lot more of the album. What was good about that was that it was pretty easy to get her in the same room with me! The “choir” you hear in ‘Strobe Light’ was recorded the day before I finished off the album, layering loads of her lovely voice until a big enough sound was achieved.

So, yes, this is an epically rambling post and I congratulate you for reading this far…

So you’ve got the thought of the album, you’ve got the writing of it, you’ve got the preliminary recording, and then the tricky follow up recording. Now you’ve got to do something with it.

As an independent musician (without a lot of money) you end up doing your own mixes, and therefore listening to the songs over and over and over and over and over again. I’m not very good at mixing, I always want all elements to be louder, and have a hard time with nuance in sound, but I learned a lot with this album. In the end though I’m not sure if I would have ever landed on what I wanted, it changed too much. It would be ideal to hand off songs to an external ear that you trusted and then say “have at it!” but it’s just not possible for me. I’m a control freak about my music, and plus, I felt my tracks were a mess and wouldn’t want to do that to someone!

Basically what happens is you spend four hours straight looping the chorus of one song trying to decide if the cymbal is too midrangy and whether the cello should have a touch more reverb. It’s kind of awful and time consuming but somehow rewarding.

Lastly you just set a date to send it off to be mastered and you stick to it. Because the mixing could literally go on for-ev-er. Thankfully Grass Valley is blessed with the best engineer with the coolest studio and greatest gear and mostly an incredible ear in Dana Gumbiner of Station To Station Recording… The luxury of calling him up is not something I took for granted.

He took my final mixes and really really filled them out. He made the sound of the cello big, and the sound of the backup vocals full. He kind of technicolored the album, in short.

So, and really, this is the part I want to get to… so you are done. You have the final mix, all mastered, and in your hands.

You may have noticed that there is not a lot of time to think about promotion, with everything else going on, let alone booking shows. But that, my friend, is what you must go and do.

I make my CDs through a ridiculously great and anonymous company that cranks them out quickly for me, and most importantly, for my meager budget, does not require that I buy 1000 at a time. At that point I send them to CDBaby, which gets them for sale, and also sends the digital files off to iTunes and Amazon and a number of other digital retailers. CDBaby truly is necessary for the independent musician, especially moving forward into the digital age.

And also, because if you’re reading this deep into the post you must be somewhat interested, also you wait. You put the CD out and you wait. You wait mostly to hear the pebble reach the bottom of the well. A few friends and family casually tell you that they like the album and it makes you glow for days. You check your email and website statistics incessantly to see if it is spreading on its own. You spend a lot of time doing that, it’s true, and I bet it’s true for most artists so I’m not afraid to admit that I’m in the phase where you are rather keen on listening for whispers of feedback.

The next and perhaps last step of an album though, and don’t you forget it, is to go out and play shows. You can’t can’t can’t sit around waiting for feedback. You have to go and bring the music to people directly.

And so the life of an album evolves. I still really really want to put out a vinyl version of REDWOOD SUMMER and JUNEAUREVOIR. I think it would sound great on vinyl. I’m working on a big move, and I really would like these albums to get wider distribution. It would be great, of course, if a label with reach picked either of them up. Playing more shows will be great. Getting JUNEAUREVOIR and its cello epicness into film would be my dream with that.

But mostly you, sitting somewhere, maybe standing, maybe headphones, maybe not, maybe at home, maybe in your car, maybe with yourself or with friends, mostly you hear it. Mostly for maybe only 1 minute, it makes a dent on your day and makes your day more important and beautiful the way that music can do that. Maybe it becomes a companion for a few months because it speaks to where you are at in your life. Maybe you know someone who it seems like would love it. That’s the final, and most important step. It could be now or 20 years from now. That’s one thing I love about making things. You never know…

Wow thanks for going with me down those million tangents. In short, REDWOOD SUMMER is done but not done. Hope this inspires you to bring things to completion (but not completion)… if anything, it might be oddly inspiring that 10 songs could take over a year to get out to the world… and yes, the year is worth the effort.

Be well, enjoy October,

Luke.

So this thing happens when I finish an album, it’s kind of weird. My excitement turns to a vague fear.

I mean, not like, deep-seeded fear or rational fear, just a general fear. I think it comes from: bracing for reaction (critics, friends, family, etc., will they love it? hate it?), letting go something that was yours, and what next?

Some musicians have the what’s next generally worked out, I don’t, yet. You promote, you tour. OK, got that.

Letting go something that was yours… that’s different, and I think is really at the heart of this vague fear. I was talking with my girlfriend last night who is a painter and has better words for these things, and she said that she experiences the same thing, and that what it is is that she really enjoys the process. Making the art is not really about the finished product, it’s about the process, and I always, always, always forget that.

And then, yeah, the basic fear of rejection. Of course I have that. I’m certain all musicians have that. But, I think you maybe develop a “confidence” like Kanye West because it doesn’t really matter whether people like it or not and besides, they will! Also, that confidence definitely makes people more intrigued to hear it. Plus, in my case, I am waaaayyy beyond the question of “would I make music if people didn’t like it?”…

Of course I will. I will always make music, I love the process.

The first best thought when finishing an album (or two) is that revelation that a big project was indeed taken on and finished.

It takes a while. A lot of hours. I mean, you can do an album project in 2 weeks or 2 years. It could be the same music. It could be the same end product more or less. There is no end to the tinkering that can be done. The layering, the “perfecting”.

It’s like any big project. Starts as an idea, takes its mutations, many different hangups, lots of different things to learn, and then, finally, after that final push it becomes a reality. It’s important to remember the process.

When you record and mix your own stuff, it’s a bit different than handing it over to an engineer to finish off.

That’s where a good amount of critical feedback is good, from yourself mainly. I am stubborn, but that’s not why I don’t like to hear about the flaws until after I’m done. I do get feedback though, and lots of good ideas from friends. But as far as the “artistic” influence, I try to stay true to my instincts. On the other hand, sometimes your ears can’t hear it anymore. I’ve had a huge amount of feedback from my girlfriend and good friends and family on these albums. Volumes too loud or not loud enough, ideas on how to introduce a new part of the song, inspiration for the concept… sometimes I just needed someone to listen to it so I could watch their face during certain parts of songs.

Redwood Summer and Juneaurevoir came about as a concept. They both were about getting down to my more straight forward roots musically. Do what comes naturally, don’t over think it. Why haven’t I recorded an all cello instrumental album yet? I mean, it’s fun, it’s rewarding, and it can be enjoyed by a huge spectrum of people. And with the rootsy sound of Redwood Summer, it harkens back to my earliest albums: no self-censorship, no attempts at adhering to a certain sound per se, just songs straight up.

In retrospect Redwood Summer is very pop oriented, in the sense that most of the songs have a traditional verse chorus verse chorus bridge chorus format. I always thought that would sound formulaic, and it is formulaic, but you can’t tell, that’s not what I listen for anyways. All my favorite popular music has that going on, and, yes, it’s trite, it’s been done before, but it sounds good.

In retrospect Juneaurevoir could be more ‘perfect’. I have been nice and open to the different tones and sounds. I didn’t use much in terms of effects, but I had thought I would use no effects whatsoever, like a recording of chamber music. I don’t have written versions of the songs even. Someday I’ll do that. This is the first in what I hope is a long string of cello albums.

Anyways, after mixing for 80+ hours the past couple weeks after work, I am struck by how big every ‘little’ project is.

But getting it done feels amazing. It makes it all worth it. I’m just waiting for a call and then they get mastered, and then I don’t get (have) to work on them any more…!

You can pre-order them now. They’ll be at itunes in September, and CDs will be available 9/9/9.

Thanks for stopping by!

Spent the weekend sorting out dramas in my world and also putting the final touches on the new Cello album JUNEAUREVOIR.

Mixing cello can be pretty rough. It’s so full of bass, obviously, but the more you pull back on that bass, the more tinny the high ends seem.

Also, it’s one of those instruments you just want to cover with the frosting of reverb. But I’ve found that it is very very easy to go overboard on cello reverb. It has its own resonance which gets lost the more stacks of reverb you throw down.

As far as dramas of my life go? Well, let’s just say that plans, even when huge and pivotal, the big boulders of plans, can slip out of place and wreak havoc. More to come on that later.

If your are interested in how I record the cello (ie you are a recording nerd like me), read on!

I’m sure some people have figured this out, and that nicer microphones can make it sound great. I have figured my own “method” out on this last album. It is simple, not profound, and is as follows:

I take my nicer mic, an Audio Technica that is powered, a fairly small condenser mic, it looks sort of like this. It’s not that one. Anyways, it has a full bodied sound and also picks up the “icy” part of the cello, those highs where the bow moves across the string. I put that in front, facing the bridge, about six inches from it, straight on, or as much as possible.

I don’t believe in mic’ing the f-hole. Too many fluctuations in tone and none of that bow sound action. I happen to like the bow sounds, even on “perfect” classical recordings. Or, I should say, especially on “perfect” classical recordings. My favorite recording of the Bach Suites is Pablo Casals’ very early recordings of them. One take, wax cylinder, lots of imperfections, no retakes, lots of real natural beauty. Perfect and authentic sounding to me. You can really hear the bow moving across the string. I like it.

And then, and this is odd, but it works, I decided that it is ok to record with a pickup if the pickup picks up some tones that a mic just can’t. So I used my Shadow Nanoflex Cello Pickup and recorded the two, mic and pickup, together. The blend of the tones allows for a more full tone. I tend to roll off the low end on the Audio Technica, and also to roll off the high end of the pickup. Low end of the mic is full of hum, high end of the pickup is full of hiss. But they compliment each other nicely.

So what you end up with is like, if you had your ear right up against the cello PLUS you have a prime spot seated in front of the cello. I like the blend of the two.

I played at St. Joseph’s in Grass Valley this past weekend and it was seriously one of the most fun shows I’ve played in a while.

I always love playing there, even just being in that room, but this was super cool and fun and good. Got to play with Molly Allis of Huff This! on a couple of songs, and later in the evening she returned the favor and played with me.

And it was all about the crowd: they/you ruled. As soon as Molly started pounding out awesome drum action, everybody was on their feet and dancing and we ripped through new material off the upcoming album “Redwood Summer”… people danced to ‘The Unattended Ball’, ‘True North’ and then it all got crazy and everyone got loose for ‘Fever Saved Me‘. I mean, I’m telling you it was great.

Thank You!!! to all who made it, I had a ton of fun.

So I don’t know about you but spring 2009 has been crazy!

So much going on and I will indeed spare you the details, despite the fact that this is a blog.

What I want to tell you:

2 big shows this week
April 18 & St. Joseph’s Hall, a 20 minute set of my new stuff, a benefit for a libraries in Africa, Moore Brothers, Molly from Huff This!, food, dancing, a great event.

Facebook Event Page for Books Across The Water

PS – Why not become my fan on facebook if you’re reading this? Click here.

Then, on the 24th, the eagerly awaited record release for Aaron Ross & The Heirs Of Mystery, of which I’m an heir. Also at St. Joseph’s. Facebook event page here.

Albums: yes they are not done. They will be done for my friends by mid April like I had hoped, but for the public, I am simply going to have to let it ride until I get back from the Azore Islands, where I’ll be for the month of May.

Which means I may not be posting much in May!

Just thought I’d let you know… thanks for stopping by!