Saturday, May 28, 2011

Under the Willows (05.27.11)

Nice crowd, great venue, a fun Friday night. I don't ask for much more. Photo by Kat.

I always enjoy an opportunity to perform at venues that are new to me, and this was my first time at Under the Willows. It's a gorgeous SL build, with the stage on a small island in an artificial harbor. I was particularly pleased to see a batch of SL's finest musicians performing that same evening; Damian Carbenell had the 5pm slot, I was up at 6, followed by TwinGhost Ronas and then Max Kleene to round out the evening. All modesty aside, I'd say that owner Precious Rallier has pretty good taste in SL performers!

Only one thing marred an otherwise great night, and it's pretty funny now (though was less hilarious at the time). Right before I was getting onstage, as Damian was wrapping up his last couple of tunes, my computer graphics completely freaked out (which is very rare for me; I usually get pretty damn exceptional performance running Second Life on my MacBook Pro). The result was that suddenly, everything went gray, to the point that I had no idea how I was going to get onstage! Using some combination of intuition and luck (and some degree of seeing shadows in the haze), I managed to make my way in the general direction of where Damian was playing, and planted myself there. It was so surreal, I had to take a pic so you could see what I was experiencing at that moment.

It's amazing I managed to get my guitar attached and point myself at the crowd.

Fortunately, after a couple of songs, my FUBAR graphics suddenly snapped back to reality, and I was able to see my crowd and the rest of my surroundings. Beyond that weirdness, the show was really fun, and I pulled out a coupe of rarities just for the hell of it. Since the venue is named "Under the Willows", I played a tune from the Broadway play Godspell which I last did in 1983 for a high school performance. Also, since Bob Dylan turned 70 this week, I played one of his tunes for the first time in quite awhile.

Under the Willows set list...
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
*On the Willows (Godspell)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
†Tangled Up in Blue (Bob Dylan)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Help Me (Joni MItchell)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Suite: Judy Blue Eyes (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
The Weight (The Band)

*Indicates my first performance of this song in SL.
†Last performance of "Tangled Up in Blue" was in August 2010

What a pretty place to see a live virtual show! Photo by Kat.

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to see me at Under the Willows, especially those who supported my show!
Triana Caldera, Leondra Larsson, Doc Edman, Kalli Birman, Aurelie Chenaux, Horizon Darkstone, Kat Claxton, Christine Haiku, TheaDee, and especially my manager Maali Beck and Under the Willows owner Precious Rallier!

Friday, May 27, 2011

The 69'ers

I've never been ashamed of my age, except when I was in grade school. I had skipped kindergarten, and was therefore a year younger than damn near everyone else in my class. So I did what most kids would do under those circumstances: I lied, and said I was a year older than I actually was. This became so habitual that years later, I still tended to claim an extra year on my age. Funny, huh?

Well, especially now that I'm a little older, getting deeper into my 40s, I don't mind revealing the truth: I was born in 1969. As it turns out, there's a good-sized list of interesting people who were also born that year. Since I have a birthday coming up in a little over a week, here are a few of the people who share my birth year, in order of their respective birth dates:

- Dave Grohl (Musician)
- Bobby Brown (Singer)
- Chaz Bono (Child of Cher and Sonny Bono, gay/transgendered rights activist)
- Bunny Knutson (Musician)
- Paul Rudd (Actor)
- Joe Buck (Sports broadcaster)
- Renée Zellweger (Actress)
- Eagle Eye Cherry (Musician)
- Cate Blanchett (Actress)
- Emmitt Smith (Football player)
- Steffi Graf (Tennis player)
- Ice Cube (Rapper/Actor)
- Joe Sakic (Hockey player)
- Jennifer Lopez (Singer/Actress)
- Edward Norton (Actor)
- Christian Slater (Actor)
- Matthew Perry (Actor)
- Nate Dogg (Rapper/Singer)
- Jack Black (Actor/Musician)
- Dweezil Zappa (Musician)
- Rachel Hunter (Model)
- Catherine Zeta-Jones (Actress)
- Gwen Stefani (Singer)
- Brett Favre (Football player)
- Nancy Kerrigan (Figure skater)
- Sean "Diddy" Combs (Whatever)
- Matthew McConaughey (Actor)
- Sam Cassell (Basketball player)
- Ken Griffey, Jr. (Baseball player)
- Jay-Z (Rapper)

In case you were wondering, I'm chronologically right between Emmitt Smith and Steffi Graf, which isn't a terrible place to be, I suppose.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Band reunion: Liquid to play again July 23

Liquid's classic lineup, rocking a sports bar somewhere. Guitar: Zak Claxton. Drums: Dante Silva. Vocals: Randy Harmon. Bass: Phil Gilbreth.

How many of my friends who read this blog are even remotely aware that for years before I launched my solo singer-songwriter career, I spent the majority of my musical life playing in rock bands? Well, it's true. Starting in 1982, when I was barely a teenager, I played in a number of bands throughout the 80s and early 90s. Starting in the mid-90s, I took time off music entirely, focusing my attention and time on my career. However, in 2002, my old friend (and drummer in several previous bands) Dante J. Silva contacted me. He'd met some guys who he felt would be a good fit for my style of playing, and wondered if I had any interest in getting together to jam with them. Well, it was the right time for me to try and do some live music once again, so I accepted his invitation and was introduced to singer Randy Harmon.

Liquid Forms
We knew it worked right from the start. We did have one weak link with the original bass player, who was a super-nice person but had some trouble remembering his parts in the songs. After awhile, we had to make a switch, which is when we found bass phenomenon Phil Gibreth, and renamed the band Liquid for no particular reason (though it was an apt description for both the fluid sound of the band and the alcohol-drenched bars and pubs where we tended to play).

Liquid generally could be found playing live at seedy sports bars and Irish pubs, most often around LA's South Bay area (though we occasionally had shows in Hollywood, Orange Country, and elsewhere).

Liquid's glory years were from 2003-2006. We did a ton of shows. It was rare that a month went by that we weren't setting up in a bar, at a street fair, at wedding receptions, and other events where people wanted some straightforward rock tunes being performed live by a good band. And make no mistake, we were good. While none of us were young enough to expect anything to happen with the band beyond doing what we were doing, we all had fun, made some money, and enjoyed the adulation from our small but fierce group of fans in the area.

An added bonus in having Randy sing for our band was that his daughter Amanda could also sing her ass off (it must run in the family), and she'd join us from time to time at shows for some female-sung songs.

Unfortunately, in 2007 we ran into a wall. It was getting tougher to schedule practice and gig times. Unlike bands people have as teenagers, Liquid was comprised of guys who at the time were in their 30s and 40s (now 40s and 50s), and we had jobs and families and other responsibilities beyond rocking out. Also, as is common in cover bands, we started burning out on the material we performed. Combined with the fact that my personal musical interests had moved toward doing my own original stuff, Liquid evaporated that year. We parted amicably, the other guys got involved in different bands, and I've obviously kept busy since then, recording a solo album and performing hundreds of shows in the virtual world.

July 23, 2011: We're Baaaaaaaaaaaack
Last weekend, Randy dropped me a note on Facebook. It turned out that he'd run into Phil at a club, and sat in with his band. Had a great time. He mentioned this to Dante, and the end result was the idea of a one-off reunion show. While I have no plans of committing myself to being in a full-time band again, the idea of getting together with these great musicians (and fun, cool people) for a special show sounded great. Therefore, in my long-winded way, I'm here to tell you that Liquid is reuniting for one night only. Hopefully some of you LA-based friends can come watch us get the Liquid rock machine running one more time!

One Night Only... LIQUID reunites!
July 23, 7-10PM

Keegan's Pub
1434 Marcelina Ave
Torrance, California 90501
(310) 328-3750

Click to enlarge.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Virtual Musician Tip #1: Save Your Chat!

Between 2006 and the present, I've performed hundreds and hundreds of shows in virtual worlds such as Second Life, and I think it's high time that I start paying forward on some of the expertise I've accumulated over that time. Therefore, I'll be doing occasional articles on tips and tricks for the virtual live musician. Our first one is simple, yet it's something that's come in handy many times over the past four+ years: save your gig chat!

How to Do It
Couldn't be easier. When you finish your show and have said your thanks and goodbyes to the attendees, don't log out just yet. Instead, open your chat history. It should contain everything that was written publicly (i.e., everything but IMs) within earshot of you since you logged in. Select all of the text, and simply copy/paste it to a text document on your computer, and then save the file. My simple organizing system is that I call the file "gigchat_(date)", so that the show is easily findable in my archives. Betcha had no idea I could be that anal retentive, huh?

Why Do It?
Many reasons...

1. You shouldn't be focused on chat while you're performing. Note that I didn't say "You should completely ignore chat." When you're just starting out, it can be a big distraction, trying to watch text fly by while you're playing an instrument and trying to sing. As a noob, it can affect the quality of your performance. As you get more accustomed to playing in a virtual world, it's fun to glance down every so often and be able to give verbal responses to people typing things to (or about) you. But your first job is to put on a good show and entertain with your music. Therefore, plan on missing a lot of the audience banter while you play. However, having the chat after your show means you can go back and see what was going on in your crowd while you played. That brings us to...

2. You can see what people liked... or didn't like. In real life, it's easy to know how well you're doing onstage. You can see and hear people's immediate reactions when you start a song, sing a certain section, play a solo, or finish with a flourish. You have the benefit in real life of seeing the looks on their faces, and hearing them cheer and clap... or, possibly, boo and throw things. In any case, you're able to use that instant feedback from the crowd for later shows. In virtual worlds, all you really have is the chat, so if you're not seeing it in real time, you don't get the benefit of learning from your audience. I like to scan through my chat after the show and look at the time stamps. I know roughly what I played at various points in the show, and can see which songs received the best reactions. That's cool.

3. You can see who was there. Granted, it's my opinion that virtual musicians should take a moment and pan around the room to greet folks, but everyone has their own style. In any case, you might have missed someone who came to your show, and it's cool to be able to see after the fact who the attendees were. Also, just in case you didn't peek at the map to check the number of little green dots on the sim during the show, you can get a rough idea of your total attendance this way.

4. It's fun! Hey, when you're the entertainment at an event, you don't get to really participate in the event the same way that your audience does. That's true in real life as much as your virtual life as a performer. However, at least in the case of my crowd, there's a lot of fun banter that happens, and since I only am able to see bits and pieces of it while I play, I get to replay all the silly little interactions between my Zaksters and other fans while I'm relaxing after the event.

Do You Keep them Forever?
Sure, why not? Text files are tiny, and the hundreds of files of chat logs that I have from years and years of shows take up a miniscule amount of space on my computer. I can tell you at this very moment that at 5:55PM on Monday November 5, 2007, Suka Nishi said "Nothing like a man with a guitar and magical fingers," or that at 3:49PM on Sunday February 17, 2008, Triana Caldera stated, "That's okay - i'm in the north pole. snowed in. can't get home."

Is any of this crucial info? No, not at all. Can I live without it? Sure. But ultimately, since it takes all of 10 seconds to grab your chat before poofing out of world, what can it hurt? There have been times where I've wanted to see when the first time a particular person came to my show, and a simple search of my hard drive sorted by date tells me the exact day and place. That's pretty cool. So save your chat logs, my fellow musicians. You might be glad you did someday.

Friday, May 20, 2011

First Show in InWorldz: Equinox (05.21.11)

Zak Claxton in Second Life (left), real life (center) and Inworldz (right). It would be nice if our virtual selves were more transferrable between an ever-increasing number of virtual worlds.

It's been well over four years since I did my first show in a virtual world. Kat and I joined SL in October 2006, and it wasn't long afterward that I first put on a pixel guitar and started entertaining the virtual masses with my music. Today, for the first time since that moment, I got to enter a new virtual world and play for a whole new crowd, this time in InWorldz.

InWorldz probably looks pretty familiar to anyone who has been in SL; it obviously operates on the same platform, but runs the basic SL interface on a private set of servers apart from Linden Lab. In any case, I didn't know this until Talia Fournier got in touch with me on Facebook, having listened to my tunes, and asked if I wanted to play at her place. I thought it was high time I tried out a virtual world beyond SL, and more importantly, it sounded fun. So I accepted, and we set today as a date to perform.

If anything, my IW avvie probably resembles the RLL me even more than my SL self, oddly.

Days of Noob Revisited
It had been since 2006 since I found myself a stranger in a strange land, with nothing but the noobie clothes on my back. Luckily, registering for InWorldz is easy, and they have a nice welcome area where you can pick up your first set of freebie clothes and such. As a musician, I needed a couple of things (like a guitar, duh), so I explored around InWorldz a bit, getting myself set up for my show.

The process, though simple, made me all the more aware of how nice it would be if one's virtual self was a bit more integrated across the digital universe. Don't get me wrong; it was sort of fun setting up a new avatar for myself (I hardly ever touch my avvie in SL), but it would definitely encourage more inter-world traffic and economic growth were traveling to a different world as simple as teleporting there, with one's inventory intact. Obviously, the current systems of exclusive server-side assets wouldn't allow it for the time being, but I can dream, right?

InWorldz is the same as SL in every basic way, except they have their own currency, the I'z. I'm such a noob, I don't know if this is pronounced "eyez" or "izz-es" or what, but unlike the market-value fluctuation of the SL L$, they're set at $500 I'z per $1USD, making it very easy to keep in mind their actual value.

But enough on InWorldz; you can get the basic info anywhere. Let's talk about my first-ever show there!

Keep on Rocking in the InWorldz
Talia Fournier's music venue, The Lodge @ Equinox, is a nice build reminiscent of many of the better SL places I've played. We had a nice-sized and appreciative crowd there. One nice thing about being in InWorldz is that with such a smaller population, there's not nearly as many events competing against each other. It's more like SL was a number of years ago in that aspect. I may have been the only live music performer on the IW grid today, so visitors seemed glad to have me there. Felt nice.

The show itself went fine. I split up my repertoire between originals and covers, and the crowd seemed to dig what I was playing, so no complaints there. I'll definitely be finding some more shows to do in InWorldz soon.

My crowd at Equinox. I may have been the only person rocking this new grid at the time of my show!

Bringing the Zak Rock to a whole new world...

Equinox (IW) Set list
Heart of Gold (Neil Young)
Ziggy Stardust (David Bowie)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
If You Could Only See (Tonic)
Lines on Your Eyes (Zak Claxton)
Fire & Rain (James Taylor)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
Things behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Lola (The Kinks)

All songs, obviously, performed for the first time in InWorldz.

Huge thanks to all who joined me at my very first show InWorldz! There will be more! Thanks for your support...
Leanna Caerndow, Drakon Cortes, Diana Renoir, Teal Freenote, Triana Caldera, Katie Hawksby, Anna Loom, Roxanne Marksman, David West, Beth Welles, Mera Kranfel, Kat Claxton, and especially today's host, Talia Fournier!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Being strong: why bother?

Why is this post starting with a douchey picture of me flexing? Why am I suddenly interested in physical fitness? What the hell is going on? We'll answer all of these questions and more if you'd just kindly continue reading.

As most of you probably know, about six months ago, I was hanging out with my son and saw a commercial for Nintendo's Wii Fit Plus. Previously, I had always scoffed at anything that tried to combine "working out" with "video games". It seemed completely contradictory to me. While I'd never actually looked into what this kind of thing was all about and how it actually worked, I'd already prejudged it. How human of me.

Anyway, we're watching this video, and suddenly I get it: it's simple stuff that you could easily do on your own, from yoga to weight training to aerobics, but the video game aspect of it keeps your interest level up and allows you to keep records of your workouts while giving you specific goals to meet. Well, that sounded good. But why was I interested in getting back in shape?

It's Not About Looking Buff
Honestly, it's never been an important thing for me to be big, or have extreme muscular definition. In fact, heh heh, I'd gone through a long time frame where I felt that those "gym people" were self-absorbed ego freaks, and I went out of my way to not be like them. I had a naturally thin physique most of my life, and other than a time frame in my late teens and early 20s where I was working out and being very physically active, I never really cared for anything to do with body strength, until my body started forcing the issue.

Why Being Strong is Good
Much of my 30s was filled with physical maladies. It was rare that a few months would go by without my having to have some urgent trip to see the chiropractor. My immune system was crap; if a breeze blew by, I'd end up catching a cold. I also had problems with chest pains, muscle spasms, fatigue, anxiety... it wasn't a good situation. Some of it, obviously, was stress-induced, but by leading a life that was devoid of exercise, I wasn't giving myself any outlet to alleviate the stress, or to give myself strength to help negate some of the other issues.

I also found out that starting at age 30, the human body tends to lose about 10% of its muscle mass each passing decade. You know how you see very frail-looking elderly men and women? I was giving myself a head start on that look, and the thought was frightening. Even at age 41, I could see some of those effects happening.

Finally, despite my thin frame, my metabolism finally started slowing down. I like to eat, and the collection of fat around my waist area was starting to become a concern.

I'm stopping at "in decent shape Zak". No need for "muscled out douche Zak".

Six Months of Wii-ing
Ironically, right around the time I got the Wii Fit Plus last December, I injured my rib cartilage carrying a laundry hamper across the street. It's like my body was saying, "Dude, it's now or never," so I started my daily Wii workouts on Christmas Day, and haven't stopped since.

Every morning, I wake up, get my son ready and sent off to school, and -- before I allow myself to start checking email, browsing the Internet, making work calls or anything else -- at 8am, I start my routine. The workout is very simple: I start with some yoga exercises which help get me limber (and improve my posture and circulation and metabolism and a number of happy things). I then do some strength training, which includes push-ups/side planks, twists, jackknifes (basically sit-ups), and more. Then I do 10-15 minutes of aerobics, including step exercises and the like. I then like to reward myself with some "exercise games" that still help work my body while actually being fun (I'd never have combined the words "fun" and "workout" in a sentence before now).

The whole thing takes exactly one hour, so at 9am, I'm at my desk and feeling terrific. Do I feel like working out every single morning I wake up? No, of course not. But I do it anyway, and I find that I feel great afterwards. Plus, the exercise euphoria often lasts a good portion of the day. My attitude and mood is better as a result, and I also react to stress better than I ever have before.

More importantly...

• Not one visit to the chiropractor in 2011 so far.
• No more muscle spasms, nor pain down my left side that I'd been experiencing for months.
• No trips to the ER for mysterious and distressing aches.
• More energy throughout the day.
• Happiness that I'm finally doing something good for myself.

I should mention, I think Kat's okay with my new muscley self.

Bottom Line
Most people start exercising because they're overweight. I never really had that impetus; on paper, at 5'11" and 165 pounds, it seemed that I was already in good shape. But numbers do lie in this case, and if I hadn't started my routine when I did, I am absolutely sure that this year would have marked the continuation of a big downfall in my overall health.

So, six months in, and no sign of slowing. I've supplemented my Wii workouts with a 12-pound dumbbell that I use in the afternoons, doing curls and triceps repetitions, and I'm even starting to consider quitting smoking, if you can believe it. But in any case, I'm unquestionably stronger than I've been in decades, I have to admit that I look pretty good for a guy who'll be 42 in a couple weeks, and I feel better -- mentally and physically -- all around. Based on that, I'd say that the Wii Fit Plus is full of win.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Molaskey's Pub (05.15.11)

Other than some unexpected weirdness to start the day, my show at Molaskey's was terrific.

I'll make a very long story short: Molaskey's Pub had been sold, and the new owner had hired a bunch of well-known SL musicians to perform at the grand re-opening today. This morning, less than two hours before my show, the artists were informed (by the original Molaskey's staff) that the new owner had backed out of the deal at the last second. The new owner, who had hired the musicians to perform today, didn't even bother notifying us that the grand re-opening was not going to happen. In fact, at least in my case, she never said anything at all. Just didn't show up; she contracted with six artists and then blew everyone off completely.

That left me in a very uncomfortable situation. I'd already invited all of the Zaksters and a good number of other people who I thought might like to be there to support v.2 of Molaskey's from the start. Also, I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to the folks who've run Molaskey's for the last four years, and didn't want to leave them hanging either.

So, we musicians did the show despite having been stiffed by the supposed new owner who hired us to perform. I don't want to harp on this matter, but it was a thoroughly classless thing to do. Even under the worst of circumstances, and I do not proclaim to have any idea why she pulled out of the purchase of Molaskey's, the least she could have done was sent a mass message to the artists who were scheduled to play there to let them know she wouldn't be able to pay for their services. Something as small as that would have changed everything. But as of now (Sunday night), I still haven't heard back from her. Nothing. No apology, no explanation... nothing. I will tell you straight up that under no circumstances will I do business with this person again, and I'd highly advise anyone else in the SL music community to do the same. Or at least have her pay you up front. It only seems right, given her amazingly dishonorable actions in this regard.

Back to the Happy
Now that that's off my chest, I'm happy to say that today's show at Molaskey's -- likely the last one ever at that place, unless someone else comes in to keep it rolling -- was fantastic. Due to the efforts of Katydid Something and the other former staffers, along with people like my wonderful manager Maali Beck, we had a terrific crowd of lively music fans. I pulled out two songs I'd never before played in SL, one cover and one original, and all in all felt like the show went extraordinarily well, especially considering the circumstances described above.

As I said... despite all the bullshit, it was a great show, thanks to the original Molaskey's crew.

Last time rocking Molaskey's? Hope not, but if that's the case, we went out with a bang. Top photos by Kat, bottom photo by Triana.

Molaskey's Set List...
*Radio Free Europe (REM)
Rock and Roll Woman (Buffalo Springfield)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (Neil Young)
*Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Any Major Dude (Steely Dan)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
Old Man (Neil Young)
Tribute (Tenacious D)
Behind Blue Eyes (The Who)

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

Huge thanks to the folks who supported my show today... especially the amazing staff of Molaskey's!
Triana Caldera, Alexis Fairlady, katherine Langer, Kimmey, Diana Renoir, Kat Claxton, Crap Mariner, my manager Maali Beck, and the Molaskey's team of Katydid Something, Cicadetta Stillwater, Mia Kitchensink!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Changing Strings (in more ways than one)

Oh joy. 12 old skanky-ass strings.

Let me be clear from the very start: I hate changing guitar strings. Simply put, it's a pain in the ass, and even after 34 years of being a guitarist, I still manage to screw up something pretty much every time I remove old strings and put on new ones. I'll do the winding in the wrong direction and have to reverse course, or find myself with too much/not enough string length for proper winding on the post. I also tend to stab the sharpened ends of the strings into my thumb and fingertips, and I consider myself lucky if I get through a string changing session without poking my own eye out.

Day of Change
Today, I prepared by doing several Zen-based calming exercises, and then tackled changing strings not only on my Martin D-18V, but also on my cheap backup guitar, the Rogue RA-100D. Not only was I changing both guitars' strings, but I was also trying out a different kind of string than I'd usually used on each, and was interested to see how it would end up affecting their respective sounds. Previously, I had used a rather heavy-gauge string on the Martin (though they're still listed as "medium"): the Martin MSP4200 phosphor bronze, with gauges of 13-17-26-35-45-56. Yeah, pretty thick, but I loved the rich tone.

It's the first time I'm trying a different string on the Martin. Can you blame me for being concerned?

Recently, I spoke to a guy who is many times more knowledgeable than I am in regard to care and feeding of high-end acoustic guitars, and he let me know that in addition to having a terrific tone, the lighter gauge Martin MSP4100 was actually better for the guitar's neck tension over the long term. That alone was enough for me to want to give them a shot. You'd think with the miniscule change in thickness (gauges 12-16-25-32-42-54), you wouldn't notice a big difference. Au contraire, mon ami! While I lost a little of the boominess in the low end, the shimmer that I get in return is fantastic. I'm really going to enjoy playing it at my next show, as is my fretting hand (it feels quite a bit easier to play as well).

One Down, One To Go
I keep the the little cheapie guitar around for two things. First, I use it for alternate tunings so I don't have to spend time during my shows retuning my guitar multiple times. Second, it's great to take on trips or to kick around the house in ways I'd never consider with the uber-expensive Martin. It had previously had very light (and very cheap) strings, so it actually got a little more ballsy with the Martin MSP4100s. My only scary moment of the entire string changing experience was when, in bringing the Rogue up to concert pitch, a couple of the bridge pins threatened to pop out and come hurdling toward my forehead at mach 8. But they stayed put, and all is well.

I do hate changing strings, but it's definitely nice to have two clean and freshly-strung guitars when it's all done.

One thing that you should do while changing strings: give your guitar a once-over with a cleaning cloth, and also use the opportunity to do any small maintenance work. I'd had a slight issue with a rough spot on the tuning mechanism of the Martin's G string, but a tiny dab of Vaseline solved that quickly. I"m happy to report that with the new strings, both guitars are sounding better than before, and both feel much better.

Now I need to go dispose of my old strings in some hazmat receptacle. They're the type of things that would require a tetanus shot if they impaled anyone at this point. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Report: Zak Live on StreamJam ep. XVII (05.04.11)


I had taken an extended break from playing live video shows via StreamJam, or anywhere else for that matter. My focus lately for live performance has been on my return to playing more shows in Second Life, and between that and working on new songs, I simply didn't have enough time to devote to doing StreamJam shows.

So, with my last SJ show having been in February, my crowd of Zaksters seemed happy to have me back on their computer screens in the flesh (as opposed to in cartoon pixel form). Since my musical attention has been geared toward new material, I decided to perform the majority of my set doing stuff that will be on the next album (whenever that's coming), including the first-ever performance of my brand-new tune, "Broken Day".

Rocking the new stuff for my Zaksters. Photo by Triana.

SJ #17 Set List...

The Other Way (Zak Claxton)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Go Easy on Me (Zak Claxton)
*Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Look Out for Me (Zak Claxton)
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to all my Zaksters for being there!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The "A" Word

There's a word used to describe a certain kind of pop music that strikes fear into the heart of any composer who likes to rock, and that word is "adult".

What's so bad about "adult music"? Oh man, where do I start? When you grow up with musical tastes that shifted between confrontational metal/alt rock artists and those bands who pushed the boundaries of experimental composition styles, it's a hard pill to swallow when one day you wake up and you find people are referring to your style as "adult contemporary", "soft rock", or (more charitably) "adult alternative". The mere thought of it makes me want to dye my hair blue and form a punk band. Anarchy in the South Bay!

But it's time for a little reality check: while I love plenty of hard, fast, in-your-face music, I've always also enjoyed sounds that were softer, with a more subtle way to impart the emotion of the song. That ranges from Joni Mitchell through Nick Drake, Joe Jackson, and many more in that vein. Also, the need to impress other musicians with how fast or complex my playing can be has waned over the years. Beyond all that, the real thing that causes the shift in musical direction is time. A funny thing: many artists who start off as being in the underground end up in this odd adult zone as they and their music get older. Nirvana was cutting edge in 1991. 20 years later, they're played on "Hot AC" stations, and you can hear Pearl Jam at the grocery store.

Speaking of time (the most important reality check of all): I've been an adult for quite a bit longer than I was a child. Why shouldn't I be writing stuff that reflects who I am now, as opposed to who I once was? The fact is that trying to position myself as an angry young man just doesn't reconcile with the guy I see in the mirror. And, ultimately, my music comes from the heart, and when I write songs that sound a certain way, it's not like I sit down and say, "Okay, today I will write a song like (insert band here)." I just write what I feel, and it seems to be that my natural direction is to write stuff that's maybe more in line with this format. It's more Aimee Mann than Metallica, more Laura Veirs than the Vandals. But I think I'm okay with that.

Now I just have to lose than gagging feeling when people describe me as an adult pop artist. I sure as hell didn't want to grow up and become Phil Collins. Hopefully, despite the fact that my long-hair days of speedy guitar playing are over, there is still a little edginess to my songs. If I do my job right, I want you to feel slightly unsettled when you hear my stuff. If I start making music to sleep to, just put me out of my misery.

New Zak Music: Coming Soon
In related news, I am EXTREMELY excited about a brand new song called "Broken Day" that fell on me like an anvil out of the sky over the weekend. I did the entire song on Saturday April 30... wrote music, wrote lyrics, and recorded an initial demo so I could capture the moment. It came out great! However, it needs some refining before I'm ready to share it with anyone other than a select few. I'll be happy to give everyone the chance to listen as soon as I add some of those details I'm hearing in my head.

I predict exciting times ahead from the Zak Claxton camp. As one of my new songs says, look out for me.