two years later

This is another nostalgic post. What’s happening to me? Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of my old band’s first and only record. By total coincidence (which is why I felt compelled to write this post), I also I met my good friend and former Counter Riot cohort, Anthony, for beers and catching up yesterday. This was necessary as we both now live pretty far apart, and he’s busy these days building and repairing guitars, while I barely have enough time to do my laundry.

I smashed the TV myself.

I could probably write pages and pages about being in this band, but I’ll try to restrict the rambling. To sum up what we did in a phrase would be this: totally uncompromising. We were loud. Like really loud. We had more gear between three people than bands with 5 or 6 members. And it was big, boutique (read: heavy), expensive gear. There were literally no shortcuts taken in Counter Riot. We recorded an album in a real studio with a real producer, and it took a lot of time. In this era of bedroom recordings and plug-ins that can doctor every facet of digital audio, we were pretty old-fashioned by comparison.

However, the band was completely unsustainable. We burned bridges, were banned from playing certain venues, frequently had other bands not want to share bills with us, and generally polarized anyone we ever dealt with. Beyond that, we never found our audience. We jammed a lot, but were too aggressive for the jam band and festival scene. Our music had a lot of rock and punk elements, but we couldn’t seem to fit in with the club circuit. Above all else, nobody really seemed to care about what we were trying to do (although that’s pretty common with regards to playing original music, and speaks to the difficulty in generating interest from the Philly local music scene in general). As musicians, we should always be doing what we do for ourselves, but it’s easy to get burnt out without seeing too many external results, particularly when you take the aforementioned “no shortcuts” route. Not to say that there weren’t mild successes: regional touring, nationwide radio airplay, and a very small faction of militantly devoted fans certainly helped.

In the end, it was great to be in a band that did exactly what it wanted to do, with real integrity, and I’m incredibly proud of the record we made. I haven’t listened to it in a while, as I usually don’t revisit projects, but the two year anniversary of its release gives me reason to check it out again.

Also, while searching for an image to add to this post, I found this. I thought it was kinda hilarious to be “officially removed.”

oldie but a goodie

My friend and frequent collaborator Dom Hilton recently made a promo video for the InLiquid Art+Design non-profit as a submission to the PhillyDoGooder Awards. He needed a bit of music for the piece, so he came to me looking for “something jazzy.” I looked through some of my older recordings and sent him a few options. Dom ultimately decided on “My Punk Rock Song,” a tune recorded by my old jazz quartet, The Last Resort, a group I founded at the end of high school/beginning of college in Ocean City, MD. The name of the band was a dig at the severe lack of original, thought provoking music in the resort town where I grew up, aka Cover Bandland. The name of the tune was meant to convey a certain cleverness in composing a jazz tune with only three chords that clocked in at three minutes, both very punk rock elements, but juxtaposed with lots of tricky rhythms and meter changes (sooo not punk rock). At least, my 19 year-old self thought it was clever.

I was glad to revisit this track after several years. The playing still sounds very green since 3/4 of us had almost no real jazz training or experience, except for the great tenor sax of my old friend and (he didn’t know it at the time) source of much musical inspiration, Bill Stuart. Bill was in his late 50’s playing in a band with kids not even old enough to drink, yet the creative environment and excellent group chemistry kept him coming back. His desire to play was infectious, often citing that all he needed before hitting the road for a string of dates was his horn and a clean pair of underwear. His attitude of “anytime, anyplace,” in reference to taking a gig is the sort of positive motto that I have tried to maintain in this increasingly difficult business with which to make a living. Bill’s career credits (Dizzy Gillespie, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan, and many others) could have been intimidating, but his sweet nature overcame any of that. The Last Resort was one of the best musical upbringings I could ask for – getting to write and play exactly what we wanted with some great friends. We even made three records. And for one magical summer, we damned the conventional entertainment options in Ocean City and actually made enough dough from gigs to sustain ourselves. Look at me, getting all nostalgic. Here’s Dom’s video:

InLiquid Art+Design from Dom Hilton on Vimeo.

tour, filming, jazz, rambling

As is inevitable with anyone who writes a blog, I haven’t updated this in a little while. I have no regrets and will not furiously apologize to you, dear reader, since this blog mainly serves to showcase/shamelessly self-promote my own endeavors. To that end, here are some updates in my recent world:

I just got back from being on the road for a short run of dates in Vermont with AlyCat. Besides having a blast on the various gigs throughout that fine state, the band had a chance to relax and enjoy the changing season. Some real gems were found at Burlington Records, and I couldn’t resist picking up a signed Henry Mancini LP, made out “to Gail.” The record was filed under the “cheese” section, and with the lush strings on the opening Beatles Medley, I suppose that is apt. The Magic Hat Brewery tour was also a great time. Copious beer sampling and beer mixing ensued, as our able barkeep guided us through “Caramel Apple,” “High 9,” “Smoked Apple,” and probably more. Yeah, AlyCat may have had too much fun in Vermont.

My film production company, Naut Pictures, begins shooting our next short this weekend. Entitled “Izzy’s Storm,” this one is a stark contrast to our two other shorts made this year, “Trouble’s A’Brewin’” and “Max Thrust.” All three films are the brainchild of my co-conspirator, the amazingly imaginative Dom Hilton, and we’d like “Izzy’s Storm” to round out our rep as we have plans for bigger (and longer) productions. Many of the usual cast and crew suspects are on board for this short, and I’m continually encouraged by the wonderful dynamic of this team. I realized earlier this year that working on a film is like being in the ultimate band: instead of each band member bringing their own specialty (drums, guitar, bass, voice, etc.), a film crew has even more niche roles (actors, camera, sound, make-up, director, etc.), and they are all working towards the greater good of making the best possible movie. It’s really cool to watch it work, and being producer affords me the opportunity to help coordinate it all.

Dylan Taylor and I are taking a short break from working on his record because he was contacted by a Taiwanese filmmaker to provide music for a feature film. The director has requested that Dylan arrange “The House of the Rising Sun” in many different ways. For the last couple of months, we have been recording versions that stretch the familiar tune in all sorts of genres and different sound worlds. A theme and variations to say the least. It’s been a fun process and we’re told the film will have English subtitles when all is said and done, so I’m quite interested to see the finished product.

Exuberance has a gig tonight that features some heavy Philly cats: Steve Giordano and Bob Meashey. I’ll be there with proverbial bells on.

Also, I was in Asheville, NC last month mixing my good friend Jamie Paul’s record. A full blog post will be necessary to describe that experience, so I hope to get my act together to write it soon.

As a random side note, the David Byrne and St. Vincent record has some of the most innovative textures I’ve ever heard. Please give it a try if you haven’t already.

At the risk of rambling (too late?), I’ll end here. Thanks to all who follow these posts. I’m having a blast and don’t see any sign of stopping.