Monday, April 29, 2013

The Crayon Continues

My great friend and musical collaborator Bunny Knutson posted a link to a satire piece in The Onion awhile back. It was right on the money for people like us. Unfortunately, it's not a happy message.

It could be anything—music, writing, drawing, acting, teaching—it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that once you know what you want to do, you dive in a full 10 percent and spend the other 90 torturing yourself because you know damn well that it’s far too late to make a drastic career change, and that you’re stuck on this mind-numbing path for the rest of your life.

The Onion is a funny satire publication, but this article was a little too close to home to write off as comedy.

I'm a little more optimistic than Bunny in this regard, and the fact is that both of us have managed to make music a part of both our personal passion and our professional lives. That means we're luckier than 90% of other musicians (and other creative people) who work in jobs that have nothing to do with the thing that they enjoy the most. But the part of the Onion article that is undeniably correct is that except for a tiny fraction of a percent of people, no matter how good you are at an art form or how much you care about it, it's likely that you will never be in a position to devote as much time to it as you'd like.

All of this is a preamble to tell you some great news: we made big strides on another song by my "other" musical project, They Stole My Crayon. If you need a reminder, I don't blame you; it's been too long since I even mentioned this band which includes my ladyfriend Kat and Bunny. We went on a flurry of songwriting last fall, but as the Onion article implies, there's just not enough time to set aside for writing and recording to keep the project moving along at an acceptably fast pace.

Still, I'm not a quitter. When I found that I had some open time on Sunday, I was very happy to be able to dive back in. I didn't bother showering or changing out of my sweats, and actually started working on music while still in my bathrobe. That's a very good sign! We had a song that up until yesterday was purely the efforts of Bunny and Kat; she'd written some good lyrics for a song called "Things Under Trees", and Bunny had picked up the ball and run with it. The whole reason to be in a band is to get the contributions of a person like Bunny, who will do wonderful things with music that I'd never consider doing in a million years. He wrote the music, created the melody and song structure, and then did a very cool recording of the song, doing all of the parts himself.

And then... nothing. The song sat around for months. I liked it a lot, but for whatever reason, I wasn't hearing in my head how it could be further fleshed out. And then, with no warning or specific inspiration, I awoke yesterday and heard exactly what I wanted to do. I arranged some backing vocals for Kat and I... Bunny's voice is perfect for the lead on this rather spooky song. I feel the backing vocals brought out a cool element to the song, which has blossomed into something more baroque than I'd have earlier expected.

Watching someone work on music has, at most points, all the excitement of watching grass grow, or paint dry. Here's me mixing. Feel the thrill.

We spent a good chunk of the day coming up with parts and singing. After that, while Kat ran out to pick up lunch, I threw down a tiny effected guitar part in the song's coda. I did a quick mix of what we'd done to show Bunny, and was happily relieved when he replied to say that he liked what we'd done. The song is by no means "done", but it's a lot closer than it was when I got up yesterday morning, and I am inspired to move forward onto other songs.

So it goes. Hopefully I can stay on track, and keep Bunny and Kat with me, so we can actually wrap up enough songs and put out an album that we're proud of sometime this year. That's the goal, anyway, and if it has to happen on evenings and weekends, then so be it. I'm not the kind of person who ever wants to look back and regret not doing something that could have been great. Finishing this album is a step in that direction.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Rabbit Hole (04.27.13)

I'm pretty sure that over the last 6+ years in which I've been performing live music in Second Life, I've played every possible type of virtual venue. Very much like the real world, each place has a distinct vibe, and there's a fascinating phenomenon about those distinctions that people outside of SL might not understand. As a musician, my style as a performer and my choices of repertoire to play is influenced by the differences in places and the people who go to each respective venue. That having been said, I don't think it's very odd that my performance at an online virtual college event is a bit different than, say, a virtual strip club. I'd hope that the real life versions of these would also want different types of musical entertainment.

A couple of weeks ago, my manager Maali asked if I was amenable to performing at the grand opening of an adult sim in SL, and I said I'd be glad to. I did a show at a similar place last year, and if anything, it was anticlimactic in terms of the blatant adult aspects I'd been expecting. It was pretty much like any show I've done before, and that was mostly the case yesterday at the Rabbit Hole.

Photo by Kat.

Photo by Kat.

For one thing, we had a surprisingly good crowd of 30+, and only a couple of my Zaksters were there, meaning it was an opportunity to introduce my music to a bunch of new people. This is always cool. Second, the people who ran the place were nice, and appreciative of my performance. Finally, other than a few rather minor displays of blatant sexual content (it is an adult-rated sim after all), the place felt like any other well-designed SL venue. All in all, it really was a good show, and I'd be happy to play there again. As has been my goal lately, I also used the occasion to pull out a few tunes I hadn't played before.

Rabbit Hole Set List...
Polly (Nirvana)
Lovesong (The Cure)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Lola (The Kinks)
*Boss of Me (David Bowie)
I've Been Waiting for You (Neil Young)
*Closer (Nine Inch Nails)
Perfect Girl (Zak Claxton)
Love Hurts (Everly Brothers)
*It's Good to be King (Tom Petty)
Parallax (Atlas Sound)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
Mad World (Tears for Fears)

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

Many thanks to the folks who supported my show at the Rabbit Hole!
davidstar204, Rogue Braveheart, DarrowD, Abysinnia, TheaDee, Kat Claxton, Weston Loxely, and Rabbit Hole staff KissMyAzz and Gina Soulstar!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Crows vs. Seagulls

Pretty much every day, right outside my window, there's a war being waged. It gets pretty ugly at times.

It's crows versus seagulls, and it's hard to say who wins. Both birds can be pretty aggressive, though it's the crow that seems to start the most shit. But do they? It would also seem that the crows are reacting to the seagulls coming in and pillaging their food supplies. I can never tell who to blame for the fighting.

Let's look at the tale of the tape. The gulls are larger, but the crows are smarter. The gulls have a more lethal-seeming beak, but the crows have talons, as opposed to the webbed feet of the gulls. The gulls are bigger individually, but the crows are better at bringing in their friends for an unfair fight. At the end of the day, it's a closer battle than you might imagine.

I will say one thing: the crows don't fuck around. I regularly see them doing a vicious loop maneuver, going up about 20 feet and then dive bombing the gull at full speed. Add that to the previously-mentioned mobbing behavior, and the usual result is that the gull is high-tailing it out of the neighborhood, screaming at full volume, with a couple of crows chasing it off and calling it presumably hurtful names on the way. Also, the crows seem more organized. The gulls tend to cruise in by themselves, but the crows, like some well-trained paramilitary force, stay evenly spaced at various lookout points along treetops, light posts, and electricity poles, waiting for the slightest hint of invasion (and reacting with prejudice when the inevitable gull comes by).

I'm less than a mile from the ocean, and down at the shoreline, the gulls are undoubtedly kings of their domain. But here across the street from my home, at a parking lot of a mini-mall in seemingly sleepy suburbia, I have to acquiesce that the crow is the baddest bird around.

Game: crow.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Boom Pony Beach (04.21.13)

Before I say anything about my show yesterday at the Boom Pony Beach in Second Life, I want to tip my hat to my fans. There aren't a lot of them, at least not the hardcore ones who have come to show after show after show. Some of them have seen the majority of my performances almost since the get-go in 2006. I owe them all much more than I can express here. One thing that I feel that those poor Zaksters have to put up with is the fact that by nature of being on a never-ending tour of the virtual world, I play the same songs pretty often. And of course, I have to hear myself playing those same tunes as well. Despite the fact that I have hundreds of songs in my repertoire between originals and covers, I occasionally get the feeling that we've all heard each of them about three too many times.

So, I'm on a mission to bring in more new material, and that started at the Boom yesterday. I pulled out five covers I hadn't played before, and in subsequent shows, I'll be continuing to add to the list of new tunes. Also, given my connections to the city of Boston, I felt like I should take the opportunity to do a couple of tunes in tribute to that great city. The show itself went very well. We had a good-sized crowd from the get-go, and I was feeling good (which is generally important to my ability to be entertaining). Kiran Sporg and Andi Karsin, who own and run the Boom, are really cool people, and I enjoyed being able to rock their beach on a nice Sunday afternoon.

One thing about playing new stuff: you have no idea how well it will go. That adds to the excitement as a performer. I've also found audiences really don't mind being guinea pigs for song debuts. Photo by Kat.

Sweet Caroline (bom bom bom)! Photo by Kat.

Boom Pony Beach Set List...
Come Around (Zak Claxton)
*Long Time Gone (Crosby, Stills & Nash)
Theme from Cheers (Gary Portnoy)
Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
*Our Lips Are Sealed (The Go-Go's)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
One (U2)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Mother (Pink Floyd)
*Angry Chair (Alice In Chains)
*Here Comes the Rain Again (Eurythmics)
*Is She Really Going Out With Him (Joe Jackson)

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

Thanks to the great friends and fans who enjoyed new tunes on the beach at the Boom, especially the following who supported my show!
anjali Insoo, Triana Caldera, LilyKierkegard, Kiki Szetey, TheaDee, TheVeryFirst, Kat Claxton, Aurelie Chenaux, Blindboy Gumbo, Selene Setsuko, my manager Maali Beck, and lovely ladies of the Boom, Kiran Sporg and Andi Karsin!

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Salute to Boston

For obvious reasons, Boston is on people's minds this week following Monday's terrorist bombing of the Boston Marathon. As of this morning, one suspect is dead and the other is probably going to be shortly, given the nature of the manhunt they have underway. A few of you probably know that I have roots in Massachusetts. I thought the rest of you might like to hear about them.

Zak's Early Years
While most of you know me as a proud Californian, I wasn't born here. Granted, I've lived here since I was six years old, when my family moved to Southern California in summer 1975. Previous to that, though, we moved around... a lot. My dad was a salesman in the apparel business, and he switched jobs and territories often. That ended up having me living in six different midwest/East Coast cities before my sixth birthday: Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago (Evanston, to be specific), and two cities north of Boston: Lynn and Marblehead.

My earliest real memories, in fact, were in Marblehead. It's a beautiful town that I've since revisited. Marblehead is a small city filled with history; it's next door to Salem, the place known for the famous witch trials. It's also a well-known harbor, and a place that's filled with boating enthusiasts (in that aspect, much like my current home of Redondo Beach, CA). My dad took me to Red Sox games, and despite my subsequent years of enjoying warm LA-area weather, I recall building snow forts and loving the cold back then. There was a restaurant we'd go to back then called The Barnacle that had the best clam chowder I've ever experienced in the many years since.

Back Bay Days
In 1985, between my junior and senior years of high school, I attended a semester at Berklee College of Music, one of the finest music schools in the country. I lived in the dorm there on Massachusetts Avenue near the corner of Boylston Street. It's in the heart of Boston's Back Bay area, and was my first real exposure to living on my own, and the only time I've ever actually resided in the middle of a big city.

Berklee was not only an amazing place to learn about music, but also was huge in my maturation process. The few months I was there was a preview of life to come in terms of being on my own, having a serious girlfriend (I never forgot about you, Juley Katz!), and enjoying the freedom of exploring a city with my friends. We'd take the T into Government Center, or walk up the street to the banks of the Charles River, or down toward Fenway. I have terrific memories of that city, and will always feel like it's part of me.

Here's to Beantown!
Like many cities temporarily affected by tragedy, Boston's going to be fine. Or, as a Bostonian would say, fuckin-A right, we'll be fine. It's a city filled with strong, smart, tough, and proud people, whose history eclipses almost any other place in the USA. Here's my salute to all of you.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (04.14.13)


We musicians are always looking for different ways to be heard. Sometimes, it's easier to be seen than heard, which is one reason why back in 2009, I started doing regular video-based live shows via Ustream. I called my little program "The Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show", and it worked out well for awhile, and I was doing Ustream shows every couple of weeks. But then my SL performance schedule ramped upwards, and I was spending more time working on new music, so it had been about a full year since my last ZCHFS.

Finding myself with a hole in my schedule last weekend, I decided to resurrect the show at noon on a pleasant Sunday. There's really no downside to doing shows on Ustream, other than forcing your audience to sit through an ad or two (which always seem to come up in the middle of whatever their favorite song is). The show itself is pretty simple: just a version of my typical SL show, except people are watching me bounce around in my little office/studio in my home in Redondo Beach, as opposed to a pixelated representation of myself in a virtual environment. We had fun, and so did our little crowd. Song-wise, I did more of my own stuff than I usually do in a typical SL show, but also had a nice batch of covers mixed in as well.

If you want to skip to a highlight (or, really, a lowlight) in the video above, go up to 01:03:31, close to the end, and watch as I do a fast Townshend-esque strum coming out of the solo section of "Shine". Yeah, here's a new one: I caught the index fingernail of my strumming hand under the high E string, something that I don't think has ever happened before in my 36+ years of playing the guitar. It sheared off a corner, which then jabbed into the underside of the fingernail. So basically, that sucked, but I was able to repair it pretty easily after the show.

I'd caption the pics below, but basically they're "me playing music and being silly in a room". Beyond that, feel free to write your own imaginary captions.

ZCHFS Set List...
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
Frigid Spring (Chairlift)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Edith and the Kingpin (Joni Mitchell)
Lines On your Eyes (Zak Claxton)
Valentine's Day (David Bowie)
Shine (Zak Claxton)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

Big thanks to the friends and fans who hung out and had fun with me!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Key West (04.03.13)

It's been a busy week, and I'm glad to be relaxing on a Saturday (and actually working on some new music right now for They Stole My Crayon). While I have this rare moment of chill, I thought it would be nice to write my usual little report from my most recent show in Second Life at Key West.

I have little to say other than I always walk away from shows at Key West with a smile on my face. We had a superb crowd on Wednesday night, and I enjoyed pulling out a good number of original songs at the show. Also, it had been awhile since I'd heard Gina Stella (she followed me at this show), and forgot what a cool voice she has. Hope to hear her again sometime soon. Anyway, the photos can tell the rest.

If it's an early show, I'll often start with just a few people at Key West, but then the crowd swells quickly. Photo by Triana. Top photo by Kat.

Hell yeah. Feeling good at Key West. Photo by Kat.

As I wrap up my last song, Gina Stella gets ready to jump up and take over for her set. Photo by Kat.

Key West set list...
Time Never Waits for You (Zak Claxton)
Free Man in Paris (Joni Mitchell)
Afternoon Delight (Starland Vocal Band)
Change (Tears for Fears)
Alabama Song (The Doors)
Fade Away (Zak Claxton)
Allentown (Billy Joel)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
Polly (Nirvana)
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away (Beatles)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Broken Day (Zak Claxton)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)

Huge thanks to the great crowd of people who came out to see me at Key West. Special kudos to those who helped support the show!
Kathleen Auer, Triana Caldera, Radiant Mahogany, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, Banestar, Lyn Carlberg, Kat Claxton, Rosinante Vinson, Sassy Nitely, my manager Maali Beck, and Key West owner and music lover Liz Harley!