Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Islands of New England (03.22.17)

Playing some tunes, laughing with friends. A typical night at The Islands of New England in SL. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Hey blog. I haven't been here in a month or so. How ya been? Not mad at my absence, hopefully. It wasn't intentional; I just haven't been doing any live shows lately.

Actually, that's not true. Just last weekend, in an act of extreme randomness, I picked up a bass and turned on Facebook Live, and did a playthrough of multiple Rush songs. Twice. Frankly, while that was silly and fun, it was a bit of a wankfest. Nothing wrong with Rush, mind you. It's just not really representative of the music that I do on a regular basis, even if it was a fun surprise to do something completely unexpected. Regardless, it wasn't exactly what I'd call blog-worthy. If you really need to see me wearing a kimono and doing a B-minus impression of Geddy Lee's godlike bass playing, you're welcome to do so.

But last night's show at The Islands of New England in Second Life certainly was worth a few words. I play so rarely in SL these days that I do try and make each show somewhat special. TIONE is a place where I feel very comfortable, which means it's more likely that I'll stretch out a bit and try some new stuff from time to time. One way I can tell that the show will be good before I strum a single chord is to glance up at the audience. When I see a majority of green name tags -- the indication in SL that someone is your friend -- that's always a positive note. Perhaps just as good is when I see people whose tags change to "Zakster" sometime during the show, meaning they asked for an invite to my fan group. That means I did or sang or played or said something interesting enough to make people want to know when and where I'm playing next. That's a good feeling, and one I don't take for granted.

The actual show that I performed went well... mostly. On a positive note, I did a couple of songs I'd never played before. One was an oldie. Speaking of Rush (above), it was a band that I -- like many young musicians of my generation -- was really into in my teen years, along with a number of other progressive and hard rock bands who play intricate and challenging music. I had a short-lived Rush cover band called Permanent Waves when I was about 15. Yeah, really. The reason I don't play much music by that band is very simple: a) Geddy's is nearly impossible for me (or anyone) to cover well, and b) per above, I've moved on to other areas of interest in terms of the style of music I prefer to perform. However, Thea Dee is one of my good friends in SL -- who happens to also be a person with whom I went to college. She's a massive fan of the band, and I've long wanted to pick out a song by Rush that was somewhat within my vocal range and possible to cover on solo acoustic guitar for her benefit. That song turned out to be "Entres Nous", and I went fairly well, I think. The other new song was truly new; "It's Easy (Like Walking)" was released a couple of weeks ago on the new album by The Sadies, and it features one of my favorite singer-songwriters dudes: Kurt Vile. The moment I heard it, I knew I'd be covering it.

My shows are equal parts music and silliness. Sometimes more silliness than I expected. Photo by Triana Caldera.

People seem to have fun either way, so it's all good. Photo by Triana Caldera.

One hilarious side note. I got to the end of my set and had time for one more tune, so I launched into "Say Goodbye" by Beck. I did the first two chords, and then my brain completely blanked on how the song actually goes. While I do have lyrics sheets, I don't use any chord charts while I perform. Twice, I tried to get the relatively simple song rolling, and twice, the launch was aborted at takeoff. The result was, I must admit, pretty damn funny, when I eventually gave up and ended with a completely different song.

TIONE set list...
Big Yellow Taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
*Entres Nous (Rush)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
*It’s Easy Like Walking (The Sadies/Kurt Vile)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
†No One Knows (Queens of the Stone Age)
You’re Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Big Empty (Stone Temple Pilots)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†I've only done "No One Knows" once before, in April 2014, also at TIONE coincidentally.

Huge thanks to all who came out to the show... especially the following who helped support it!
Trouble Streeter, Triana Caldera, KarlPeterKP Resident, RoxxyyRoller Resident, gracelenrose Resident, RansomTalmidge Resident, pimaren Wulluf, Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, Lyndon Heart, TheaDee Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and TIONE's wonderful event manager Christine Haiku!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

MadPea's International Food Fair for Feed-a-Smile (02.20.17)

Playing some guitar and feeding some smiles. Photo by Kat.

I enjoy daydreaming. It's actually a very healthy and productive use of time, I feel. Through those brief moments of fantasy and reflection, sometimes it's possible to visualize concepts that may seem illogical at the moment, but gives you a pathway for it to possibly come to fruition. So, when I do a performance for a charitable organization as I did last night at MadPea's International Food Fair in Second Life, I imagine someone donating a small amount of money toward the cause, and think that perhaps that very donation was the one that got to the right child who grew up to become a doctor or scientist or teacher whose work eventually helps thousands and thousands of other people.

It really doesn't work like that, I'm well aware. Each charitable donation is a tiny drop in a bucket that always needs to be refilled, but that big bucket is made up of a whole lot of droplets. Each one matters. Who knows which one is going to find its way to that deserving beneficiary who will pay it forward in his or her own way? Whether it's the shows I've done to fight cancer, to rescue animals, or many other very worthwhile causes, I do allow myself to imagine that the small amounts that get raised while I perform have a direct impact on someone out there. The thought puts a smile on my face every time.

This particular show -- one of a huge series of events between February 18 and March 4 -- was benefitting a cause that's dear to me: Feed-a-Smile, the charity run by my friend Brique Zeiner that funds the Live & Learn in Kenya NGO. I've posted many photos of the kids who are the recipients of funds raised through Feed-a-Smile. The money goes to help keep them fed, and to create a learning environment in Africa where they can grow up to hopefully become productive adults. While it's kind of selfish of me to say this, I must admit that being able to see the direct results of my efforts to help them via the photos and stories of their success helps drive me to keep doing benefit shows for them.

Rocking some Zak tunes, Crayon tunes, and other people's tunes. Photo by Kat.

Is that Doubledown Tandino scaling the wall while I perform at MadPea's food fair? Of course it is. Photo by Kat.

It's a good thing that the show itself happened to be for an important cause... because I was feeling like shit yesterday. I had a (thankfully rare) bout of insomnia the night before, and throughout the day had been experiencing some physical issues that certainly didn't put me in the best frame of mind to put on my usual upbeat show. But then, and who knows why this is the case, about an hour before I was schedule to go on, I got a second wind of sorts and found myself ready to rock. It could very well be that the act of psyching myself up to play, doing vocal warm-ups and tuning my guitar and all that, is what got my energy to the point where I felt like I could perform at my best level. By the time I strummed my first chord, I actually felt pretty great.

The show itself was quite good. I've been happy lately at the way my voice and guitar are working, and as my own biggest critic, that's saying something. They had the area set up so that the audio from my stream went out to all of the many sims that were set up for the food fair event, and I made it a point to let people know who might happen to be listening while browsing around the fair to come by and check out the show. As time went by, more and more people started filtering in so that toward the second half of the show, we had a really nice-sized crowd. I know for a fact that the event was a success; when I started the show, the contribution tally was around L$1,400,000, and this morning, the tally is at L$1,543,000 and counting. A good portion of that fundraising was done via the food fair itself, but it's nice to consider that my generous fans helped kick in around L$150,000, or about $600 USD. That is pretty amazing, and will have a direct impact on the kids in Kenya. Going back to my daydream, maybe that's the amount that allows one of the kids to get the food and learning materials he or she needs to move to the next level, and perhaps they grow up and create a cure to some disease that affects someone close to me. Yeah, I know; the chances are small... but there is a chance. There's always a chance of good things happening when you stay optimistic and keep working toward a goal.

By the way, as I noted before: the Food Fair event continues through March 4, so here's a SLURL where you SL folks can go check it out.

MadPea's Food Fair/Feed-a-Smile set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Polly (Nirvana)
I Am A Child (Neil Young)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Appetites (Jib Kidder)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Things Under Trees (They Stole My Crayon)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

Gigantic thanks to everyone who came out to my show, especially those who were able to support Feed-a-Smile with your donations. You all helped to make the world just a little bit better. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Friday, February 3, 2017

The Islands of New England (02.02.17)

The Islands of New England is more than a pretty place to play live music. The people who visit there make it what it is... one of the best venues in all of Second Life. Photo by Kat.

Performing live shows in Second Life is similar to sex: it feels good, it's physically and emotionally fulfilling, and people applaud when I'm done.

Wait... let's try this again. So, last night, I played for the umpteenth time at The Islands of New England, a terrific live music venue in the virtual world of Second Life. I play there as often as I do for two reasons: first, because for whatever reason, Christine Haiku (who manages the venue's bookings) seems to like what I do, and second, because I really, really like playing there. Those are good enough reasons for just about anything. Since I'm unable to play much (or at all) in January each year, February is a time where I start ramping back up in doing SL shows, and New England was the perfect place for me to kick off my "Zak's Still Here Tour '17". It's not much of a tour; I don't have any other shows booked at the moment. But I trust that I will soon enough.

Here's something that any musician will tell you: when you're sounding good, you perform better. Pretty obvious, eh? What I mean is that music performance is like a wheel. If your guitar is sounding good and your voice is doing what you want, you then have more confidence and the performance itself gets even better. The opposite, negative aspect is also true. I'm happy to say that for last night's show, right from the get-go, I knew it was going to be a good show. A few minutes before I started, I strummed my guitar -- an acoustic-electric Takamine Pro Series P5DC that has become my go-to instrument for SL shows -- and it sounded so good in my headphones that I felt inspired to try and sing at a level that would match the great sound my guitar seemed to be making. It didn't hurt that I also took a good hour before the show warming up my voice.

"Why bother doing that?" you ask. "It's just an SL show." I have to tell you -- and this is just my opinion, for what it's worth -- that if you don't give a shit about every single performance, you shouldn't bother performing at all. I try and make the effort to do the best I can each time I'm playing music in front of people. The audience is taking time out of their day to come hear me do what I do, and the last thing I want to do is be a disappointment to them. Will every person who comes to my show like what they hear? No, of course not; music itself is extraordinarily subjective. But for those who appreciate the style of music I play, I want to give them a special and memorable experience each and every time. I want the people who are checking me out for the first time to want to come back again. I want my terrific longterm fans, the Zaksters, to be able to enjoy each show despite having attended dozens (or hundreds, in some cases) of previous shows. I know it sounds silly, but I genuinely feel a sense of responsibility to be entertaining to those folks who click the link and find themselves listening to what I do.

I don't have many ways to make the world a better place to live for other people, but within the scope of what I am capable of doing, my only goal of each music performance I do is that people get to the end of the hour feeling a little happier than they were when I started my first tune of the night. Whether it's through the choices of songs I do, the way I sing and play guitar, or the fun and camaraderie that seems to happen at my shows, I think I hit that goal more often than not. Happy people tend to make positive decisions and actions, and maybe my silly little shows are one drop in a bucket that can prevent the bad things in life. You never know.

Nine out of ten dentists agree: my shows are fun, whether you're all that into my music performance or not. Photo by Kat.

Joel joins me onstage for a delightful little dance while I played his improvised theme song. Photo by Kat.

One final note: Christine Haiku has a unique ability (at least in the SL music scene) to pair performers for shows that works really well. Each time I play at TIONE, it seems that the person who's performing before or after me is a great fit in some way. This time, as Christine has set up in the past, it was Joel W. Corey Tamas who played after me. Joel is a Canadian man who has a band called Red Heaven. He and I are almost exactly the same age... he was born about two weeks before me, some 47-1/2 years ago. We have a lot in common in terms of life experiences, political and cultural outlooks, and more. While our performance styles are very different, we enjoy a lot of the same influences, and our respective audiences seem to appreciate what each of us do. While he and I met purely by chance through the virtual music scene, we've become better acquainted via Facebook, and I consider him a genuine friend at this point. He's a talented guy, a funny and compassionate human being, and I wanted to take the opportunity to acknowledge how much I enjoy and appreciate our friendship.

The Islands of New England set list...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Man on the Moon (R.E.M.)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty)
How Soon is Now? (The Smiths)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Black Hole Sun (Soundgarden)
For What Its Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Nearly Lost You (Screaming Trees)
*Joel (Zak Claxton, improvised)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

Huge thanks to all who came to the show, with special thanks to the following people who helped support it.
Bonita Denimore, AinemacLir Resident, Joel Eilde, Tyche Szondi, Lylah Landar, RansomTalmidge Resident, Richy Nervous, Sesh Kamachi, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, Diana Renoir, Aurelie Chenaux, my terrific manager Maali Beck, and most of all, TIONE's superb manager Christine Haiku!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Veterans Isle/Homes For Our Troops 01.29.17

So, I can play guitar and sing for an hour and help an injured vet get a home? Sign me up.

Did you miss me? I'm back.

Each January, my life gets turned upside down via my industry's largest trade show. In my non-virtual life, I do marketing for the musical instrument, professional audio, and related industries, and January is when the NAMM Show happens. I actually start my preparing for the show in November or earlier, making the holiday season and start of each year a whirlwind of business activity, leaving very little time for actual music making or performances of my own. As a result, each year I need to block out weeks of my Second Life music calendar with the words "ZAK UNAVAILABLE", and in fact, about the earliest I can hope to get back into performing in SL is about a week after the show ends.

Coincidentally, that's when this month's benefit for Homes For Our Troops had been set up by my fellow musician and friend Frets Nirvana, held at Veterans Isle in Second Life. The NAMM Show wrapped up on January 22; his benefit, which happens on the last Sunday of each month, was on the 29th. Since I managed to not get sick at the show and my voice was reasonably healed after four days of yelling in a convention center, I was glad to help out, and at the same time perform my first Second Life event of 2017.

I've played many charitable veterans events in SL. As I've explained before, as a pacifist and a person with a progressive political outlook, it truly bothers me that these people coming back from military engagements with severe injuries are so often neglected by the government who sent them there in the first place. Frankly, as I mention at the shows, the act of being compassionate toward others is not tied to any political affiliation. It's an area where we should all agree. These people need our help due to the egregious negligence and lack of funding by the government. Should it be that way? No, of course not. But it is, and the least I can do is spend an hour playing guitar and singing, if it helps them even a little bit.

We got a nice crowd of very generous people and raised a good amount for HFOT. Mission accomplished.

Having not played live for about six weeks, it took me a little longer than usual to get warmed up and ready to rock, but all things considered, the show went pretty damn well. I pulled out a couple of tunes that I've done very rarely in my SL shows, and we had a good number of my Zakster fans who probably enjoyed the variety.

HFOT Set List
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
Is She Really Going Out With Him? (Joe Jackson)
Falling Down
 (Zak Claxton)
Better Man (Pearl Jam)
†Sunny Came Home (Shawn Colvin)
Comes a Time (Neil Young)
If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)
It’s Good to be King (Tom Petty)
*Car on a Hill (Joni Mitchell)
Again (They Stole My Crayon)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
†My last performance of "Sunny Came Home" was all the way back on July 17, 2012.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out for the show and helped this great cause. You're all awesome.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Bunch of Good Shit from 2016

Did this year suck? Yeah, but not all of it... and it could have been way, way worse, I promise.

Yeah, yeah, I know... 2016 was the worst year ever, right? Look, I don't blame you for feeling this way. A bunch of your favorite musicians and actors passed away unexpectedly. A bunch of terrible disasters happened. And after a super contentious political season that pitted friends and families and neighbors against each other, the United States elected some guy who conceivably might cause the end of human existence. I get it; it was pretty awful, and it seems like the future doesn't provide much hope of getting better any time soon.

I'm not here to tell you that 2016 was actually good, or that you're all mistaken in your feelings and perception of a year that seemed to be more brutal on many fronts than most others were. But I am writing today to tell you that good and bad is always a matter of scale, and your own experiences and backgrounds have a huge effect on how you perceive any period of time. So, I'm going to give you some short examples of really positive things that happened to me in 2016, and perhaps you've had some similar aspects in your own life over the last year that's drawing, thankfully, to a close.

I Stayed Healthy (and so did Most of my Family and Friends)
There's a reason this is on top of my list; it's by far and above the most important. Nothing else that happens -- good, bad, or otherwise -- matters in relation to our health. I've had previous years where I battled all number of ailments, from influenza and pneumonia to mental health issues to physical injuries. I'm happy to say that 2016 was one of my best years in recent memory in that regard. Some of it is probably due to my just taking care of myself better and better... I exercise daily and my eating habits are healthier than I'd had before (though I still have plenty of room to get better in both areas). Perhaps more important is that most of the people who are closest to me also stayed pretty healthy in 2016. I've had other years where that wasn't the case, and any year that no people close to me died or got seriously ill is something to be thankful for.

If you made it through 2016 with most of your friends and family alive and in good health, consider yourself a very fortunate person, as I do.

My Band Released our Debut Album
Think about it; while it took four years from conception to realization, it was really just 2015 and 2016 when a huge portion of the work that went into the making of They Stole My Crayon happened. And of course, in August, we were able to finally release the album to the public, which turned out to be an experience way above and beyond my meager expectations. NO matter how bad 2016 seems in retrospect, it was a landmark year for me and my band from a musical perspective.

They Stole My Crayon signing CDs at Mel's Drive-In. We worked for four years on our album that came out this summer. 2016 will be remembered for finally getting the album out and being very proud of what we'd done.

I Moved Into a Nice New Home with a Lovely Lady
Some people know that Kat and I met in 2003, became a couple in 2005, and that she moved to Southern California to be with me in 2008. But many of you assumed that she and I were living in the same home in the time since. Not so! Kat and I lived a half block away from each other for the subsequent eight years. This was a purposeful decision on both of our behalf, with good reasons behind it. But last spring, we found out that a perfect place was opening here in the same neighborhood where I've lived since 1995. At the end of May, we went through the hideous process of moving -- which I hopefully will never do again -- and ended up in this really nice 4-bedroom home where we may stay until we're ancient (since, as I mentioned, moving is simply the worst). We're happy here and appreciate being under the same roof all the more, given the time we spent residing apart.

You'd think moving would be less of a pain in the ass with movers doing a lot of the work. No, it's still a giant pain in the ass. But all of the work was well worth it, culminating in Kat and I finally co-habitating after many years of living separately.

A Lot of Musicians Stayed Alive
Not just the young ones either. While none of these people have physical immortality and will eventually pass on, we're wrapping up 2016 with a lot of greats still around, and many still making great music. To name a few who 2016 didn't get... Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul McCartney, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Steven Stills, David Crosby, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Roger Waters, David Gilmour, and many more will presumably get past the New Year's Eve celebration alive and presumably well. I'm thankful for that. Side note: just because 2016 is ending doesn't mean that these folks will be immune from death in subsequent years. But let's at least be happy they made it this far.

All the great musicians died in 2016? I think not.

I Don't Live in Extreme Poverty or in a War Torn Area
Listen... I have plenty of friends who live paycheck to paycheck, and who squeak by each month after being saddled with medical bills, debt, and more. Few people I am personally close to have an easy, affluent life. But none of them live in areas where 10-person families huddle in one-room, dirt-floored hovels, or where each day could be interrupted by exploding bombs and drone attacks. Where there's no accessible drinking water, or working waste disposal. Where disease is rampant and untreatable. The fact is that even many of us who think we have it bad are doing pretty damn well compared to a good chunk of the planet's population. I don't take that for granted... ever.

The candidates I voted for in the primaries and the general election both lost. But I did get to vote, and I do live in a really nice place, and have a life that is more comfortable and filled with opportunity than most others living today or at any time in the past. Be aware of those things before you start thinking about how bad your life is.

I Went to Minnesota
Yeah, that's right. In September, one of my best friends in the world, Jess Smith, was a host of the Second Life Twin Cities Jam. Kat and I went. Side note: Jess had visited us here in Southern California like 50 times over the last eight years or so (I'm only exaggerating slightly), and had we not gone to see her in her hometown, she'd probably disown us both as crappy friends (and she'd be right). But we made the trip, and had a great time. While Minneapolis isn't known for being a great vacation destination, the weather in September was lovely and the people there were nice, and I spent a few days jamming with many of the friends I've met through the SL music scene, which is always a good time.

Okay, it's true... I mostly went to Minnesota to put my head on Jess's boobs.

The Cubs Won the World Series
Not that I really give a shit -- my connection to Chicago is tenuous at best, having lived in Evanston for a year or so when I was a toddler, and I'm a Dodger fan through and through. But you have to figure, if a team that last won a championship 108 years ago makes it back to the top, then anything can happen. Like Donald Trump being elected president. Perhaps I should have left this one off.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

16 Interesting Songs from 2016

Well hello, everybody. I'm Zak Claxton, former child fashion model and current occasional not-well-known rock star, here to hip you to some of the songs that were released in 2016 that I found interesting. Be very aware that this isn't a "Best of 2016" list. You can find those all over the place, and I don't think music has anything that qualifies as being "best" in any way, so perhaps you will enjoy the following 16 songs and the people who made them.

Side note: on a general basis, I didn't find 2016 to be nearly as great as 2015, or 2014, or especially 2013, in terms of the kinds of indie/alternative music that I really enjoy. That having been said, there was still plenty of super cool stuff. In alphabetical order (because why not?), here they are.

"The Air" (Soft Fangs)

Soft Fangs is John Lutkevich, another "one guy performing as a band" indie artist out of New York, but he does it well and with a unique take that I enjoy. Strong/sensitive songwriting is all over his first full-length album The Light, which came out in March. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Alarms" (Goat)

Goat is a super-fascinating alternative/experimental band out of Sweden. They perform in costume. What's not to like? Their new album Requiem came out in October. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Big Deal Party" (Jackal Onasis)

I really love the dissonant beauty of this New York-based band. This is the title track off their debut EP which was released in June. Plus, singing girl drummer. Get it on Bandcamp.

"The Breeze" (Lou Barlow)

Lou is a godlike legend of alternative music due to his membership in Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh. The guy basically invented lo-fi music in the late '80s (though maybe not on purpose). His new 5-song Apocalypse Fetish EP came out in October. It's a solo effort that showcases Lou playing... a downtuned grungy-sounding ukulele? And man, it's great. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Do You Need My Love?" (Weyes Blood)

Weyes Blood is Natalie Mering, an LA-based songwriter with a super amazing contralto voice that's kind of like a modern take on Karen Carpenter. Her new album Front Row Seat to Earth came out in October. It's her fourth full-length, and it made many of the critical "best new music" lists for good reason. If you appreciate the mellow gold of early '70s AM radio, you must hear this. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Dollar Days" (David Bowie)

It's with both happiness and sadness that I note how Bowie had songs that made my 2015 list as well as this 2016 from the same album. The first single (and title track from Blackstar) which grabbed my brain by the ears came out in November 2015, while the album itself was released in January of this year, just a few days before the artist's shocking death. "Dollar Days" has that something which only Bowie could do... that thing that made him a genre unto himself. Get it on iTunes.

"Daydreaming" (Radiohead)

While I've always appreciated what Thom Yorke and his band have done over the past 30 years, I've never counted myself among their true fans. The album they released in May of this year, A Moon Shaped Pool, is among my favorite things they've ever done -- which is all the more impressive given that most bands have used up their creative mojo by this point in their careers. Get it on iTunes.

"Favorite Things" (They Stole My Crayon)

Call me an egotist or a narcissist -- many have before and many will again. But my band's self-titled album came out in August, and if I didn't think we produced some of the most interesting music of the year, we shouldn't have bothered releasing the album in the first place. "Favorite Things" is one of my personal favorites on the Crayon album, but it's one among 12 songs that are all pretty different from what many people hear regularly. It makes the list, proudly. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Gardenia" (Iggy Pop)

This song, and the album it's on (Post Pop Depression), hit me like an anvil falling from the sky when it came out in March. I've always admired Iggy, but when you combine his totally unique vibe with the musicianship and production work of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), something magical happened. I'm pretty sure "Gardenia" is a love story about a male transvestite prostitute, and why not? Interesting music should have interesting themes, and this one sure does. Get it on iTunes.

"Human by Night" (Lucky Shivers)

A couple of years ago, my band unsuccessfully tried to have our music be featured on a podcast we all enjoyed. It's called Welcome to Night Vale, and it's fantastic. We may not have yet had our music featured on "The Weather" portion of the show, but I discovered an artist whose song that had been selected which I absolutely loved. He's a UK-based independent musician and terrific visual artist named Nicholas Stevenson, and I've actually gotten to know him a bit since discovering that song, "Here I Land". Recently, Nicholas began a new project called Lucky Shivers, and this is the first song I've heard from them, and I'm already hooked and looking forward to much more. I don't think "Human by Night" is available for purchase yet, but you can leave it happy comments on Soundcloud.

"Human Performance" (Parquet Courts)

Of all the bands on this year's list, Parquet Courts and the title track from their latest album probably requires my validation the least. The album, released in April, made the year's best lists from everyone from Pitchfork to Paste to Rolling Stone. I don't care about any of that; I just like Andrew Savage's Jimi-esque approach to the vocals and the overall vibe. I have a bad habit of turning off any Brooklyn-based indie band that other people like without giving them a chance, but Parquet Courts are cool and different enough that they merit my respect and a spot on this year's list. Get it on iTunes.

"Lonely World" (Moses Sumney)

Try and hang a genre title on LA-based singer-songwriter Moses Sumney. Go ahead, I'll wait here. The dude performs live shows all by himself (something with which I'm rather familiar), but employs all manner of loopers and effects to create lush sonic atmospheres using just voice and guitar. He released a 5-song EP called Lamentations in September, and it's remarkable. The song "Lonely World" features another LA-based musician whose talent slays me... bass player Thundercat. Get it on iTunes.

"Night Witch" (Wolf People)

Ah, I just enjoy the hell out of this UK-based psyche/folk band. I don't know or care if they're looking backward or forward in time. Their sound is both intensely rocking and deeply introspective, often within the course of the same song, which is the case of "Night Witch" from their new album Ruins which was released in November. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Someone to Lose" (Wilco)

If you're looking for "interesting", Wilco really never fails to deliver. A band that has one foot in the alt-country and Americana realm, and the other in experimental/indie art rock, they've consistently done cool things for over 20 years. The latest album Schmilco came out in September and, surprising no one, is great. "Someone to Lose" is another superb Jeff Tweedy song... he rarely misses the mark. Get it on iTunes.

"Sleep Easy" (Sam Evian)

Much like the salmon travels hundreds of miles to return to its spawning ground, I've had this huge attraction lately to artists who are showing the influence of the '70s mellow pop/rock vibe. Sam Evian does it, along with a quirky use of timing and cool production stuff that I enjoy. His new album Premium came out in September. Get it on Bandcamp.

"What" (Bart)

I'll freely admit to still having much love in my heart for progressive rock, stemming from my teen years listening to Yes (usually with a bong close by). There's a new style of prog that's become more prevalent in recent years that combines much of what I enjoy in indie rock along with the intricacy and challenging musical skills that attracted me to the original masters of the genre. Bart, a band out of Toronto, has a new album called Holomew that came out in April, and is chock full of that neo-prog vibe that I'm digging so much. Get it on iTunes.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Islands of New England (12.14.16)

The Islands of New England in Second Life is a place where I can always count on having an appreciative and happy crowd. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Readers of this blog must have assumed that I became a hermit and moved to a desolate cave in the mountains after the election, but that isn't the case. Zak Claxton (he said, referring to himself in the third person) doesn't run away from challenges. But the fact is, I use this blog more for reporting on my live shows, and for the last six weeks, since November 1, I've done exactly none of them. It's a busy time of year for me, and I've had to be careful throughout 2016 to divide my musical time wisely between my live performances and the work we did to wrap up and release the They Stole My Crayon album. Last night, I finally got back into Second Life and did a show at The Islands of New England, but -- speaking of 2016 -- there's a point I'd like to make first.

"Why Are All the Musicians Dying?"
It's easy to think that the year 2016 was especially harsh with the passing of so many great musicians. Actually starting with Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister at the very end of December 2015, this past year saw us lose David Bowie, Glenn Frey (Eagles), Paul Kanter (Jefferson Airplane), Maurice White (Earth Wind & Fire), Merle Haggard, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake (Emerson, Lake & Palmer), and a number of other lesser known but still impactful musicians. It's tremendously sad, but there's a pretty mundane reason. The concept of the "rock star" really came into play in the 1960s, with a batch of young men and women who were in their 20s at the time. It stands to reason that the combination of age and -- in some cases -- the rock star lifestyle would eventually take its toll.

Here's what I want you to keep in mind: it's actually surprising how many iconic musicians are still with us, at least for now. Paul McCartney. Mick Jagger. Keith Richards. Neil Young. Joni Mitchell. Roger Waters. Bob Dylan. Pete Townshend. All of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Not only are all of those musicians in their seventies and seemingly vibrant for the most part... many of them are still out rocking live and putting out new music! So, while I get the reason why it seems like we've lost so many inspirational makers of music, the reality is that we're super fortunate that we still have the ones who are still around. On a less happy note, be aware that the end of this seemingly rough year won't mark the end of seemingly immortal rock stars passing away.

The Show
Back to the present. As mentioned above, I hadn't done an SL show in six weeks, and I was a little concerned that my voice and/or guitar playing would be pretty rusty for the show at TIONE. Frankly, they were. However, I'm a much more harsh critic of my own abilities compared to everyone else; most people wouldn't have noted much of a difference from my well-rehearsed abilities, and at least I got through the hour without my voice giving out or my fingers giving up.

As is typical at TIONE, we started with a smallish crowd that built up pretty quickly once I started playing, and we had a great turnout of Zaksters... my good friends/fans who've seen and heard me play hundreds of times. I didn't have any particular theme to what I played, though I did get a couple of tunes in that I hadn't done before. I should also note that it's a special pleasure when I'm performing before or after Lyndon Heart, as I've done many times. He's a great friend, and I sincerely enjoy his show (and not just when he covers my compositions, as he did last night with "The Waiting Boy").

Doing what I do. Photo by Triana Caldera.

Wrapping up my show while the mighty Lyndon Heart awaits in the wings. Photo by Triana Caldera.

TIONE set list...
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Sex & Candy (Marcy Playground)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
*The Wassail Song (Traditional, arr Zak Claxton)
Man of Constant Sorrow (Traditional)
*From The Beginning (Emerson Lake & Palmer)
Don't Let It Bring You Down (Neil Young)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Peace Love & Understanding (Elvis Costello)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Welcome Lyndon Improvisation (Zak Claxton)

*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.

It's good to be back! Massive thanks to everyone who came out to the show at TIONE, especially the following who helped support it!
Bigfoot Hendrassen, Aurelie Chenaux, Sesh Karachi, Triana Caldera, TheaDee Resident, Roan Blackburn, RansomTalmidge Resident, Brooklyn Breen, not4gods Resident, my great manager Maali Beck, and the wonderful stage manager at TIONE, my friend Christine Haiku!