Traveling Band

Stephen Simmons W/ Band

Dave rocks out on his twangy Tele­cast­er while play­ing for Stephen Sim­mons, who was in Ash­land, VA last Fri­day night. That’s Paul on drums and Willie on bass.

My younger broth­er Dave was in town Fri­day to play a show up at the Ash­land Cof­fee & Tea house with Stephen Sim­mons. We had a good time at the show and I learned that the Rich­mond area has at least one decent place to go lis­ten to music (I’ve so far been less than impressed, as you can tell).

That night, he and drum­mer Paul Grif­fith stayed at our house. Paul was in dire need of some wifi, so we hooked him up in order to try and make some pub­li­ca­tion dead­lines he had. The next morn­ing, Dave joined me and Angela at the train­ing team for our Sat­ur­day long run. After­words, it was Smooth­ie King (our lat­est addic­tion) and some show­ers. We took the guys out to lunch at a local joint we’d been want­i­ng to try our­selves and every­one seemed to agree it was well worth it.

We wish that Dave and the rest of the band could have stayed even longer, but it was off to North Car­oli­na for anoth­er show that evening. We’ll look for­ward to hav­ing some more bands trav­el­ing through to lis­ten to and hang out with.

My Pandora Thinks I’m… Okay, It Just Thinks

I just this evening dis­cov­ered prob­a­bly the only online stream­ing web site for music I’ve ever want­ed to lis­ten to. That’s because I actu­al­ly get to dic­tate what gets played on this sta­tion. I real­ly quit lis­ten­ing to radio a few years ago and buy­ing an iPod real­ly sealed that cof­fin. As much as I hate to admit, I real­ly don’t even lis­ten to pub­lic radio any­more, even though Rich­mond has a great pub­lic radio/TV sta­tion. We even have a decent indy sta­tion, but I just don’t lis­ten.

You see, my prob­lem is that while I real­ly want to dis­cov­er new music, I want to have some con­trol on what direc­tion that takes. Sounds like a con­flict, does­n’t it? Well, not so much. I’m just par­tic­u­lar about what I want and while oth­er peo­ple who know me can make ter­rif­ic rec­om­men­da­tions, most DJ’s and the like have no idea what I’m going to like.

So, for the past few years, I’ve used Amazon.com, iTunes Music Store, and Meta­crit­ic to track down new music when no one I knew and who in turn, knew my tastes, was mak­ing rec­om­men­da­tions for me. They’ve worked well, but I still felt like I was only just lis­ten­ing down the same path I’d been on for quite a while. Well, this evening I was lis­ten­ing to Inside The Net No. 6 inter­view­ing Tim West­er­gren, the founder of Pan­do­ra and The Music Genome Project. I won’t go into all the gory details of Pan­do­ra’s rec­om­men­da­tion engine (which is The Music Genome Project), but suf­fice to say, it is the most advanced I’m aware of. Bet­ter yet, it is as sim­ple as nam­ing your favorite song or artist or just as com­pli­cat­ed and in depth as you wish to make it. Even bet­ter still, it is com­plete­ly free. Not only is there no charge, it is inter­con­nect­ed such that I can be at iTMS or Amazon.com with just a cou­ple of clicks.

So while our TiVo may think1 that we’re rav­ing lunatics for slash­er films and Amazon.com thinks I wish to pur­chase every build­ing code ever writ­ten, Pan­do­ra is real­ly point­ing in the right direc­tion. Time will tell how use­ful it is, but so far I’m very impressed.

  1. This and my title are in ref­er­ence to a well-known Wall Street Jour­nal (sub­scrip­tion required) arti­cle titled “Oh No!, My TiVo Thinks I’m Gay“by Jef­frey Zaslow. The arti­cle real­ly cap­tured what so many peo­ple were notic­ing about rec­om­men­da­tion engines and led to some refine­ment in TiVo’s sys­tem. How­ev­er, our TiVo still has a long way to go. []

“Twin Cinema” — The New Pornographers

Twin Cinema

Angela bought me the lat­est album by the The New Pornog­ra­phers last month, despite her mild dis­com­fort with the band’s odd choice of name. After let­ting her hear a cou­ple of songs, she decid­ed they were okay after­all and even has a cou­ple loaded onto her iPod for bop­ping around the house to.

She pur­chased the song off of iTunes Music Store, which is where a lot of our music comes from these days1. I had heard about the album back over the sum­mer in an NPR piece about great sum­mer music, even though the album was­n’t even out yet. They played a 45–60 sec­ond snip of one of the songs. I had also lis­tened to each of the songs 30-sec­ond clips on iTMS and decid­ed I like what I heard.

I was then com­plete­ly blown away when I lis­tend to the album in its entire­ty. Each song is like an mul­ti-move­ment pop-sym­pho­ny. The song you are lis­ten­ing to at the begin­ning isn’t like the mid­dle or end, and the pro­gres­sion is both nat­ur­al and amaz­ing. Songs like “The Bleed­ing Heart Show” change and evolve in a way that would leave both pro­po­nents of Dar­win’s The­o­ry and I.D. stunned.

Also, the band has a very hard to pin down tax­on­o­my. They strum gui­tars and bang on key­boards like a true rock band, but also show the emtion of the mood­i­est of emo and indie rock. How­ev­er, I don’ t think I’d ever call them indie, since to the best of my knowl­edge, hey-la hey-la cho­rus­es are by def­i­n­i­tion, not allowed in indie rock (see also “The Bleed­ing Heart Show”). The lyrics are smart and this ablum’s addi­tion of song­writer A.C. New­man’s niece Kathryn Calder on vocals (and piano) add even more lay­ers of nice to a great album. If you like vari­ety in your rock and want some­thing new and sol­id, you should have this album in your col­lec­tion.

  1. We love the con­vience of iTMS, but of course the DRM is a bit frus­trat­ing. I typ­i­cal­ly burn and re-rip the music bought there for two rea­sons: 1) a phys­i­cal back-up in the event of hard-dri­ve fail­ure and 2)Re-ripping removes the DRM on the music. []

End of the Rode

I received an e‑mail today with absolute­ly noth­ing new in it today. It was an e‑mail that I knew was com­ing and I knew almost exact­ly what it would say. What I did­n’t know is just how sad I’d be when I saw it.

My friends’ band, Green Rode Shot­gun, are going their sep­a­rate ways. They’ve thanked all their fans and acknowl­edged that it is the time for them to try some­thing dif­fer­ent in their lives.

I was prob­a­bly the biggest Green Rode Shot­gun fan in the world who nev­er saw them live. I have sev­er­al record­ings of a live show the did in Nashville a cou­ple of years ago. Also, I heard about 45 sec­onds of a record­ing of them per­form­ing a Tom Pet­ty song as an encore once. That’s it. Oth­er­wise, it was just stu­dio record­ings as how I knew my friends’ music as they all live and per­form in a dif­fer­ent state and nev­er had the occa­sion to play in Vir­ginia and I nev­er was able to sched­ule trips to Nashville when they were play­ing there. Still, I real­ly enjoyed them. It’s a rare thing when a band has enough ener­gy to make a stu­dio record­ing where you can almost see them jump­ing up and down. You’d swear you would hear things being knocked over in the excite­ment that they would put onto a disc. It was a rare and great thing, and I’ll miss it.

I under­stand why they’re not play­ing all togeth­er any­more. As much as I’ll miss them as a band, I know for my good friend, Jason, it is the right thing. We often find our­selves lament­ing on the break-up of rock bands. It is all too easy to see them as one-dimen­sion­al. How could they not want to keep mak­ing music togeth­er, after all, it was so good? How­ev­er, they are all peo­ple and have many dimen­sions to their lives. Not all deci­sions can be about the career you are in right now, and it is no dif­fer­ent for musi­cians.

I’m look­ing for­ward to hear­ing Yenko Camaro some­time. I’m also look­ing for­ward to see what Jason can cre­ate in the next phase of an already impres­sive artis­tic career. When the peo­ple in the band are your friends, you have those sorts of things to look for­ward to and them break­ing up does­n’t seem so bad, after all.

Influential Album Meme

Here’s a brief list of some of the most influ­en­tial albums.

Well, Kot­tke did it first, and then Van Buren, so here’s my list of ten albums that have influ­enced my musi­cal tastes over the years, in no par­tic­u­lar order, and far from being exhaus­tive.

  • John Williams/Various — “Return of the Jedi Sound­track” Proof that I was born under a geek sign might be that the very first album (okay, cas­sette tape) I ever owned was a Star Wars sound­track. The next was a Bil­ly Joel album, but I nev­er claimed to be cool.
  • REM — “Green” While Doc­u­ment was the first REM album I had, my big broth­er Stephen took me with him to a REM con­cert in Knoxville, TN on the “Green” tour. Watch­ing the band per­form “Turn You Inside Out” made me a life-long envi­ron­men­tal­ist. The entire stage became the screen for lots of Green­peace-like footage. Any­way, a ter­rif­ic album that still means a lot to me.
  • Anthrax — “Per­sis­tence of Time” This might have been any num­ber of thrash-met­al or heavy met­al albums, but none of them real­ly start­ed the fire in me like Anthrax did. They weren’t into the­atrics and imagery, they just rocked real­ly fast and loud. The lyrics were nev­er Dylan or any­thing, but as a ide­al­is­tic kid, I found them agree­able. They weren’t singing about mur­der­ing peo­ple (well, most­ly not) or drugs. They were just rant­i­ng about soci­ety. Oh, and did I men­tioned it was fast and loud?
  • Pub­lic Ene­my — “Fear of a Black Plan­et” Although Apoc­a­lypse 91 and Nation of Mil­lions were also huge albums, it was Fear of Black Plan­et that was the most defin­ing album for this group. They had all the atti­tude of gans­ta rap, but with­out all the bull­shit. I got the impres­sion that they were rap­ping about try­ing to live in the inner city as a young black per­son, rather than just wast­ing away there. There was no short­age of wig­gers and red­neck raps fans (I can’t explain them, so I’m sor­ry if you just don’t know what that is) where I grew up, but Pub­lic Ene­my made me want to be nei­ther. I did­n’t want to be like these guys nor did I despise them. I just want­ed to hear their mes­sage and lis­ten the best rap that has ever been.
  • Lenny Kravitz — “Are You Gonna Go My Way” For my broth­er, Dave, our friend Hitch, and I; this re-defined how cool rock could be. We were all lis­ten­ing to lots of clas­sic rock and also look­ing for new bands. Most­ly at the time, that was ear­ly grunge. Then Kravitz puts out this retro-rock sound­ing album (okay, his third, but what­ev­er) that just blew us away. I remem­ber lis­ten­ing to the album and Dave kept say­ing “If I made an album, it would sound just like this.” Can a musi­cian give a high­er com­pli­ment?
  • Mar­ty Stu­art — “This One’s Gonna Hurt You” I should state that this one is on here because of my broth­er Dave, more than me. I came home from col­lege one week­end to Dave going on and on about how cool Mar­ty Stu­art, the coun­try(?!) gui­tar play­er was. I thought he was jok­ing. Then he made me sit down and actu­al­ly lis­ten to what this guy was play­ing, and I was amazed. This start­ed a career in coun­try music for Dave, and new found appre­ci­a­tion and love for the music for me. I still despise com­mer­cial coun­try, but that’s why Mar­ty’s here. He’s just about every­thing that is good about Nashville, with none of the crap.
  • Var­i­ous Artists — The “Matrix: Music From The Motion Pic­ture” Okay, so this is pos­si­bly cheat­ing, but we find music in odd ways. I did­n’t real­ly care for techno/electronic/industrial all that much until I saw the Wachows­ki broth­ers put it to such good use. When I got the asso­ci­a­tion with Prodi­gy and Cyber-punk, it just clicked. We all walked away from this film think­ing how cool the movie was. I was also think­ing, I got to get me some elec­tron­i­ca.
  • Jay Far­rar — “Sebastopol ” This could have been any num­ber of Amer­i­cana albums, but hon­est­ly it was always Jay Far­rar’s voice, gui­tar, and lyrics that I liked about Uncle Tupe­lo and Son Volt. I still am crazy about those bands, as well as Wilco. I even like musi­cal­ly relat­ed bands like The Jay­hawks, but it was Far­rar that real­ly clicked with me.
  • Tie: Green Rode Shot­gun “Bang” & The Coal Men — ” Nowhere’s Too Far” This isn’t just shame­less pro­mo­tion of friends. We all have friends in bands or that are song­writ­ers to some extent. How­ev­er, when you get this pol­ished CD from them and you lis­ten to each track, you might find your­self won­der­ing about every­thing you ever said or did around them. Did you real­ize just how tal­ent­ed these peo­ple are? Don’t you feel a lit­tle fool­ish for ever even dis­cussing music around them? They were always artists, you just did­n’t real­ize until now. How could an album like that not affect how you lis­ten to all oth­er music?

Borderless Shopping

In the age of dig­i­tal deliv­ery of goods, what do I care about nation­al bor­ders?

iTunes Music Store, you lost some busi­ness today.

At 99¢ per song, iTMS lost $13.86 to Amazon.ca. Why? Angela heard a Rufus Wain­right song on an NPR pro­gram about 4 or 5 months ago. It is a bonus track found only on for­eign releas­es of a col­lec­tion of B‑sides called “Want Two.” The song is called “Quand Vous Mourez de Nos Amours” (in French, obvi­ous­ly). I went to Tow­er Records to buy it, and they don’t have an import sec­tion any­more. Fur­ther, even if they did have it, they’d want $35 for it. I know that Amazon.fr car­ried the album for a while, and we actu­al­ly had thought we just buy a copy while in Paris. How­ev­er, when in Paris for only a few days, you tend to not waste time look­ing for rel­a­tive­ly obscure albums.

Today, Angela called me ask­ing how to buy songs from the Cana­di­an iTunes music store, because they had the song she was inter­est­ed in. It isn’t car­ried on the Amer­i­can iTMS. Why? In whose mind does this make any sense? Where are the vast sums of mon­ey to be col­lect­ed on hav­ing songs that can­not be found in this coun­try? How can an indus­try com­plain about ille­gal down­loads when this sort of thing dri­ves peo­ple to do just that? I want to buy my music. I want Rufus Wain­right to get com­pen­sat­ed for record­ing weird lit­tle French songs. I want to be able to down­load it to my iPod and lis­ten imme­di­ate­ly. With infi­nite shelf space and near­ly zero cost of deliv­ery, why is this not pos­si­ble?

iTunes Music store lost a lit­tle mon­ey today. Angela prob­a­bly would have only bought the one song for 99¢ and that’s not going to make or break any busi­ness, musi­cian, or con­sumer. How­ev­er, if Chris Ander­son is to be believed, when mul­ti­plied by the num­ber of obscure songs that only a hand­ful of peo­ple in this coun­try want, the amount of mon­ey is stag­ger­ing. At least Amazon.ca has no qualms with ship­ping to me. For­tu­nate­ly, nei­ther does Amazon.co.uk or any oth­er Ama­zon store around the world I’ve bought music and movies from. I’ll con­tin­ue to do it, and I’m not alone. Some­day, maybe the exec­u­tives and legal depart­ment will wake up and see the prof­its there. Sad­ly, they’re more like­ly to try and sue me and get me and those like to stop. That’s okay, there’s always bit-tor­rent.

Mowing

When I was kid, I hat­ed to have mow lawns (but I liked the mon­ey). No one pays me to do it now, but I love yard work.

When I was kid, I hat­ed to have mow lawns (but I liked the mon­ey). No one pays me to do it now, but I love yard work. This after­noon, I walked straight through the house after arriv­ing home from work and to the shed to get the string trim­mer. I bought a gas-pow­ered string trim­mer a few weeks ago and I’ve been try­ing to mas­ter edg­ing with it. I did­n’t even both­er change clothes. I just start­ed edg­ing.

After get­ting the back yard done, I let the dogs back in (they were trau­ma­tized enough from 20 min­utes of buzzing sounds). I actu­al­ly changed into my mowing/painting clothes and came back out to fin­ish the front yard. I then pulled out the mow­er and got down to busi­ness. I began to think about when I was a teenag­er and I mowed lawns around the block and at the church for mon­ey. I used to lis­ten to thrash met­al (Anthrax, Tes­ta­ment, Pan­tera and Death Angel, how could I for­get DA!) real­ly loud­ly on my old Sony Walk­man. I still get flash­es of head­bang­ing when I’m out whip­ping my push mow­er around.

Now, I see mow­ing the lawn as a kind of relax­ing. The repet­i­tive­ness and pat­terns appeal to my OCD nature. There’s the sense of accom­plish­ment as I close in on the last lit­tle strip of tall grass. The feel­ing of tam­ing some­thing wild. It isn’t because I’m try­ing to impress the neigh­bors, because God knows, my lawn looks like shit (and I have the pho­tos to prove it). I sim­ply enjoy doing it for myself.

Also, Angela recent­ly point­ed out that dur­ing the warm months when I’m mow­ing the lawn reg­u­lar­ly, she thinks I’m slight­ly less of a lazy hus­band than dur­ing the rest of the year. That’s cool, too.

This evening, when I was all fin­ished, I just sat down on the deck bench and began to doze off to the smell of fresh­ly cut grass and gen­tly hum­ming thrash met­al tunes to myself…


Lord of the Race

This week­end con­sists of Sym­phonies and Road Races.

Last night (Sat­ur­day), Angela and I went to see the Rich­mond Sym­pho­ny per­form the Lord of the Rings Sym­pho­ny. It’s not that I was­n’t amazed at Howard Shore’s score already, but I was com­plete­ly floored last night. Angela and I both decid­ed that this score ranks up as one of our favorites (indi­vid­u­al­ly, and col­lec­tive­ly). Fur­ther, with all due respect to John Williams, who is anoth­er favorite, this was all com­plete­ly orig­i­nal scor­ing. Williams often uses famous pieces for direct inspi­ra­tion in movie scores, which isn’t all that uncom­mon in film score com­po­si­tion as I under­stand it. Case in point: Carmi­na Burana is an obvi­ous influ­ence on the Darth Maul theme in Star Wars: Episode I. Of course, Williams has plen­ty of orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions to his cred­it (not the least of which, the main theme to Star Wars). How­ev­er, I think that Shore has raised the bar in how com­plex, both musi­cal­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, a film score can be. He weaves in tra­di­tion­al music, pop music, and sym­pho­ny hand­i­ly. All this, and it was very nice get­ting to see the home town sym­pho­ny play it at the Land­mark.

This morn­ing, I ran the Cary­town 10k. My goal: to run the race aver­ag­ing an 8 minute-mile. For those of you who don’t feel like doing the math, that would have been at sub-50 minute race. I had even been run­ning dur­ing lunch breaks the last cou­ple of weeks to make sure the heat would­n’t both­er me too much and that I could keep a good pace going. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, I can’t keep a steady pace for long enough. After run­ning a nice 7:50 pace for three miles, I dropped off sharply for most of the next mile-and-a-half. I end­ed up at 51:26, which is whole minute slow­er than my last 10k. What was the dif­fer­ence? I’d say it was the fact that last month, the larg­er race had wave starts, so I start­ed with a whole group of peo­ple to pace with. This race was a pack start, so I was just with what­ev­er group hap­pened to fall in about the mid­dle of the crowd. The les­son here is that I’m going to have to use the pace alarm on my Fore­run­ner if I hope to be able to train for a cer­tain pace. Then, I think I can break the 50 minute wall and reach my next run­ning goal. After that, I hope to work more on dis­tance than speed. After all, I’m not like­ly to ever win any of these (which is a stretch of the term “not like­ly”). How­ev­er, I can at least have some brag­ging rights for run­ning far­ther some day.

Music Inside The Beltway

Angela and I drove up to Alexan­dria to check out Dave play­ing with Jes­si Alexan­der, who was open­ing for Von­da Shep­ard.

So Dave calls me Mon­day morn­ing to tell me that he is in West Vir­ginia and on his way up to Alexan­dria to play a gig with Jes­si Alexan­der that evening. He want­ed to know if Angela and I could make it up to the show. Well, of course we get cut off before he tells me where (there are a few hills in West Vir­ginia and only one cell tow­er). I call Angela, and she’s all for it. Final­ly we get back in touch and he tells me it’s at the Birch­mere and that Jes­si is open­ing for Von­da Shep­ard. Even bet­ter.

Now, it’s a hun­dred miles one way from Rich­mond to Alexan­dria, but well worth the trip to see Dave, Jes­si Alexan­der, and Von­da Shep­ard. We got there in time to see the sec­ond half of Jes­si’s set, which was real­ly great. It just made me wish we could have made it to see the whole thing. Jes­si is a great song­writer and per­former, and I can see why Dave enjoys get­ting to tour around with her. Fur­ther, after meet­ing her in per­son, she’s a real class-act. She was fun to talk to about music, trav­el, and what­ev­er else the four of us all talked about. I have to admit that since I absolute­ly nev­er lis­ten to com­mer­cial radio or watch music videos, I’d nev­er heard her music until Mon­day. I bought her album and I’m glad I did. I’d rec­om­mend it to any­one as what real­ly good coun­try music can be when some­one writes songs and not “hits.”

The Birch­mere is more like din­ner the­ater than your typ­i­cal honky-tonk. I know Dave and Jes­si noticed the crowd was a lit­tle sub­dued. I think Dave took it as lack of inter­est or even dis­ap­proval. I think these peo­ple are way too used to watch­ing music on A&E, and don’t know to clap, whis­tle, and yell after gui­tar solos, piano rolls, and wail­ing vocals. There was no short­age of any of that between these two ladies, and the crowd had the pulse-rate of a nar­colep­tic golf cad­dy on the seniors tour. As far as Von­da Shep­ard goes, she’s prob­a­bly not used to crowd’s not respond­ing. She is a great enter­tain­er, singer and song­writer. I hate peo­ple who do this, which is weird because I do it more than any­one, but here goes: she’s like a cross between Ben Folds and Car­ly Simon. I did­n’t real­ly expect to enjoy her set half as much as I did, and now I’m telling Angela to go down­load some songs from iTunes Music Store. Next thing, you know, I’ll be sit­ting in my PJ’s watch­ing the DVD sets of Ally McBeal. Okay, that’s not very like­ly.

Towards the end of Von­da’s set, Dave, Angela and I went back to the dress­ing rooms to hang out. Dave showed off his high-end tam­bourine and his flashy new lap­top. He let us lis­ten to a cou­ple of songs off of the forth­com­ing Coal Men EP. Damn, it sounds ter­rif­ic. I was kick­ing myself for not bring­ing my USB flash dri­ve to grab some copies. I was also just proud that Dave was let­ting his inner geek shine for a while. Rock on, man. \w/

Any­way, Angela and I real­ly enjoyed the whole evening. Get­ting to hang out some with Dave alone would have been worth the trip, but two real­ly great per­form­ers real­ly made it a great trip. I hope Dave and Jes­si enjoy their time up in Philly and Detroit, and I real­ly look for­ward to see­ing Jes­si per­form again.

In oth­er music/geek news: Green Rode Shot­gun’s web site is back! Jason’s been a busy man, and the site looks great. He’s indeed a man of many tal­en­t’s, includ­ing occa­sion­al­ly threat­en­ing to post com­ments on this site. Glad to see you back on the web, my friend.