Monday, June 29, 2015

Triana's Music Trivia 10th Anniversary (06.28.15)

Zak and Kat rocking TMT. Photo by Triana.

Here's some Zak Trivia for you: if not for one thing, I'm pretty sure that I would have been one of the many people who joined Second Life, checked it out for a short while, and then never logged in again. Can you guess what it is?

Did you guess "live music"? You'd be wrong. I was in world for a good month or two before I even discovered that live music in SL was a thing. No, the thing that kept me coming back into SL in the early days was something called "Triana's Music Trivia" (aka TMT). Kat and I initially got into SL based on the recommendation of a friend, and we found it to be a great way to be virtually together while we were living far apart at the time. But like many folks, while we did some exploring around various areas, it wasn't initially apparent back in 2006 that there was much to actually do in Second Life. It was a Sunday when we started looking through the listings of events, and noticed that some person named Triana Caldera was hosting a music trivia game. Kat and I are both big music trivia buffs, and it sounded fun, so we checked it out. It turned out that it was indeed fun; fun enough that the following Sunday, we said, "Hey, we should go to that trivia thing again."

That was in fall 2006. In the 8-1/2 years since, it's been rare that we've missed a Sunday evening without being at Triana's. More importantly, Triana herself ended up becoming one of our very best friends in the world. We've hung out in real life on many an occasion, even planning and going on vacations together. A lot of people talk about the connections they've made in Second Life, but I'd wager that few are as deep and long-lasting as our friendship with Triana.

A collection of good friends, old and new, attended the show. Photo by Triana.

I really like performing in houses, both in real life and in the virtual world. Photo by Kat.

Our TMT friends already know that we're kind of wacky. Playing live music just confirms this. Photo by Triana.

Two-thirds of They Stole My Crayon. Someday we'll make Bunny perform in SL with us. Photo by Kat.

Good friends, good tunes, good times. Photo by Triana.

Every year in late June or early July, Triana puts on a little party to celebrate the anniversary of the start of TMT, as well as her own SL rezday. Every year since 2007, she's had me perform at this event. This year was a big one, being TMT's 10th anniversary and her own 11th rezaday, making her among the oldest residents of Second Life. As has been the case in many years, Triana moved the trivia portion of the evening back an hour to 6PM to accommodate the show at 7PM. This year did have something new; since Kat has gained a bunch of experience as a musician over recent times as a member of our band They Stole My Crayon, she performed along with me, joining in on vocals and percussion. As always, the show was tremendously fun. I do songs at TMT that I never perform elsewhere, in that environment of close friends where no one's going to be judgmental about what I play.

TMT set list...
Triana (Zak Claxton)
Borderline (Madonna)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
I Like You (Zak Claxton)
Got Guilt (They Stole My Crayon)
Loser (Beck)
Banana Boat (Harry Belafonte)
*Still The One (Orleans)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Cat's In The Cradle (Harry Chapin)
Blue Skies (Irving Berlin)
Tribute (Tenacious D)

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

Huge thanks to all of our amazing friends at Triana's Music Trivia. We love you all!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Second Life Music Fest at SL12B (06.27.15)

One of my most memorable live music shows in eight-plus years of Second Life music happened on June 27, 2015. All photos by Kat.

As you may recall from about a month ago, I had auditioned to perform for the first-ever Second Life Music Fest, an event sponsored by Linden Lab as part of the SL12B festivities. I've been hesitant to talk about it since, and I'll tell you why. Obviously, an audition is just that: a chance to show people who may be unfamiliar with you and what you do that you can deliver whatever it is they're looking for. Along with many of my fellow SL live performers who are veteran real-life musicians, I have plenty of experience in this regard. The one thing to keep in mind with any audition is that you may be seriously great at what you do, and still not be what the folks in charge are seeking. Back at the May auditions, I heard dozens of seriously high-quality performances, and was frankly rather shocked when, at the start of June, I received a message from SL Lead Community Manager Xiola Linden saying that I'd been chosen to play the event.

A big deal? Yeah, I'd have to say it was. There were only 16 slots available for the Music Fest; eight for the Friday show, and eight for Saturday's. There are literally hundreds of currently active live performers in SL, so for whatever reason that I was found worthy to be in the small group who was chosen, I have to think of it as an honor. Were some people seemingly hurt when they didn't get picked? Of course; it's human nature, especially as a creative artist, to get feelings of rejection when you are not selected. But with limited time slots and funding for the event, some got picked and some didn't, and it's my honest opinion that the Linden folks did a good job at trying to represent a variety of different music genres and performance styles that help reflect the musical diversity of Second Life artists. I can say that while the performers chosen were all pretty damn good, it certainly doesn't mean that in a subjective art like music, they were the "best". I don't even know what "best" means in terms of music. In any case, I was really happy to help represent SL music to the attendees. More on that in a moment.

A brief side note: I had a moment of panic when I initially realized that the SL Music Fest was on the same day as the Lobsterfest that I had committed to attend with my family. Fortunately, it all worked out fine. The Linden people were cool enough to oblige my request for a later show in the schedule, giving me plenty of time to shove tons of lobster into my face at the Cabrillo Beach Yacht Club, and then make it back in time to wash up, warm up, and be ready for my 10:30PM show. Here, then, are a few observance about the event itself.

1. It Was Amazingly Well Run
In retrospect, perhaps it should have been more expected that an event a) run by the excellent staff who puts together the SL Birthday festivities and b) with the direct assistance of Linden Lab would be terrifically well organized. The fact is, many of the SL Birthday staff have been a team that has been working together for years and years. They know all the problems and pitfalls by now. Some are unavoidable, and are simply based on the limitations of a platform like SL. But considering the size of the crowd there and all the intricacies of multiple performers getting on and off stage, I can't imagine the SL Music Fest being more smooth from my standpoint as an artist. They did all of the right stuff. I had received my stream information and landmarks for the event well ahead of time. Upon arrival, there was a specific person who did a sound check of the stream, and another person who was in touch with me to help the timing of my show start and end. Each show got excellent promotion from the Lindens via the official SL web site and social network feeds. I've played hundreds and hundreds of shows over the past eight years, and rarely has such a big event come close to the level of great organization as this one did. Hats off to all involved.

2. I Couldn't Get In
Funny, then, that when I logged into SL and attempted to teleport to the Ixtlan stage where the Fest was being held, I couldn't get in. It was for a great reason: the huge area had 90 people there according to the map, and the region was full. This is just a limitation of not only SL but the Internet itself; more avatars and more scripts equate to more load on a server (or series of servers), and there's only so much bandwidth and throughput that can effectively function at once. Did I panic? No, not in the slightest. I did, however, get in touch with the organizers immediately to let them know my dilemma. I still had tons of time before my set, and trusted that they'd have a solution. Eventually, they did, courtesy of the Linden Lab people who whisked me away and teleported me via their own mysterious ways that are unbeknownst to we mere mortals. In any case, I had plenty of time to sound check and get ready while Taunter Goodnight and Donn Devore did their sets previous to mine.

3. Biiiiiiiiiiiig Crowd
So, as I said, the region was maxed out at 90 people, which is pretty huge for any SL event. But then, my assigned set manager Nance Clowes dropped me an IM right before I went on saying that they were broadcasting the stream to other areas as well, and she was showing around 140 people listening. Let me tell you, for any performing musician at my level, having an audience of 140 actively listening is a seriously great crowd. I am perfectly happy playing to small crowds, as I've made clear here many times. But the opportunity to do my own music as well as some very purposefully-selected covers (see below) for that big of an audience doesn't come around every day, and I was pretty stoked to give it my best shot.

4. Commemorating History
The last few days have seen some massive historical events happen, and I do tend to allow world events to have an effect on the songs I choose for any show I happen to have scheduled at the time. Since I was still undecided on my set list for the show, it become clear to me that this was an opportunity to help throw a spotlight on the legalization of same-sex marriage throughout the United States that had occurred just the day before. Two of the cover songs I did in my half-hour set were specifically chosen for that reason.

Second Life Music Fest set list...
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
You're Like a Cloud (Zak Claxton)
The Rainbow Connection (Kermit the Frog)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

5. Thanks SL
I've been both a big supporter and occasionally a semi-harsh critic of Second Life over the years. One thing that I tended to harp on, when I got harpy, was that live music has long been one of the cornerstones of Second Life. It's been a huge draw of people to SL, and one of the things that helped established communities of people in SL and kept them coming back over the years. Despite that fact, it never seemed to me that Second Life or its makers, Linden Lab, did as good of a job as they could have highlighting the live music scene of SL. As a guy who makes his living via the music industry, I was well aware of the reasons why this may have been the case. There are many pitfalls involved in promoting musical performances, and like everything else in SL, it ultimately was the responsibility of the residents to create their own world. That's been done and done well in many cases. But I should note that the phrase "better late than never" definitely applies here. The Linden Lab people did a terrific job for their first-ever SL Music Fest, and I'm happy and proud to have taken part.

At one point during my show, I absent-mindedly welcomed the crowd to the "first annual SL Music Fest". I have no idea if this is something that Linden Lab will do again in the future, much less annually, but I can say that if this event is any indication of how the Lab can help bring a spotlight to the live music scene in world, it's nothing but a positive thing for everyone. The artists gain exposure to new and bigger audiences, the residents of Second Life gain awareness of the vast depth of talent and variety that make up the SL music scene, and the platform of Second Life itself gains a new way to promote itself as an exciting online entertainment destination. I'd say those are all great things, and everyone who was involved in this event, from the performers to the organizers to the producers to the sponsors to the audiences, seem pretty damn happy with it. Massive thanks to all, including everyone who attended and helped support my show, as well as a few people who went above and beyond to make it great: Doc Gascoigne, Diana Renoir, Nance Clowes, and the lovely Xiola Linden who seemed to be the champion of the whole thing.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Ya Know... of last weekend, none of this stuff had happened.

If you ever wanted to be part of history, well, here's your chance. Look around; it's happening now.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Panorama Arts Center (06.16.15)

Before I get into the details of my show last night at Panorama Arts Center in Second Life, I'd like to step back a bit and talk about music in general. I know, I talk about music often anyway, but hear me out... this is something different.

Last night, my friend Matthew Broyles (aka Matthew Perreault in SL, or The Matthew Show in various musical circles) was performing before me at Panorama. When Matthew is playing in the slot previous to mine, I always arrive quite a bit earlier than I ordinarily would. To me, he's one of the best and most original musicians that has chosen to perform in Second Life, and I really enjoy hearing what he might be playing that day. I'd like to think that Matthew and I have some similarities. Both of us are competent musicians and singers. Neither of us have particularly flashy styles in the music we choose to play, or how we choose to perform them live. We're not out to impress other musicians. We both seem to prioritize the song itself.

But while I readied myself for my own show -- setting up my microphones, getting my software ready to stream my audio and all that -- Matthew was playing a song that was over 100 years old... "Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal (aka Low Bridge, Everybody Down)", written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen. Side note for anyone who likes to compile Zak Claxton trivia: the oldest song I play occasionally is the substantially newer "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin, written in 1926. But Matthew's choice to do that song made me think about something that has to do with a much broader observance regarding music performance in general.

Why We Choose What We Play
In any environment, virtual or otherwise, there are going to be a lot of different categories of musicians. Some differences are based on obvious factors like musical genres. Some people pick the genre that they like, and perform songs that are only in that genre. It's easy for those people to find an audience of like-minded people, if the artist is any good at what he or she does. So, you have those artists. Maybe they focus on soft rock hits of the 1980s. Maybe they do gangsta rap of the '90s. Maybe they do classic country songs. And then, there are those who try and stay within what they consider to be current hits that people hear on the radio, regardless on genre. I think of these artists as the "American Idol" types. Perhaps they genuinely love the music that is considered popular at the moment. Perhaps they're smart... people gravitate toward familiarity, and enjoy hearing live performances of the songs they currently know. Those artists tend to draw the largest crowds in an environment like Second Life, and it's not surprising in any way.

Artists like Matthew and I do things a little differently from those folks, and we pay a price for it. At any given show, I might do a song from 1967, followed by a song from 2015, and then one from 1993. I've done a Neil Young song, and then completely alienated the fans of that tune by playing a cover of Snoop Dogg next. Even more often, I'm playing songs by other independent artists that 90% of the crowds have never even heard of, along with my own original music that even less people know. Am I not aware of what I'm doing? Of course I am. But my priority is never to make a lot of tips, or bring in a lot of people, and I do apologize to those venues who mistakenly hire me for those reasons.

Why, then, do people like Matthew and I do what we do? There's no clear-cut answer. We both have a great appreciation for people who do come to our shows; I know that much. But we don't ever tailor our shows to what we feel that audiences might want. Instead, we do what we want. I'm not sure about Matthew, but I don't even take requests. There's no song list to pass around. I play what I want, when I feel like playing it, for whatever reason I have on that day at that venue at that moment in time. If one were of a poetic nature, you could say that my musical choices are dictated by the Muse, and I respond accordingly. Does that make me selfish? You betcha. But it also creates an environment that is perhaps a little more exciting and unexpected than being a musical jukebox, where people put in a coin and hear the song they want. And perhaps, some people have discovered and come to appreciate songs and artists to whom they'd never have been exposed if I hadn't played their stuff live. I hope that's the case, anyway.

I'm not going to keep making these comparisons and analogies, but I'm also willing to bet that Matthew doesn't pay much attention to what style of men's hair is popular this year, or how other guys are wearing various cuts of jeans or shoes, and so on. It's not that people like us begrudge others for following trends. But we also tend to find things that we like, and go with those things rather than abandoning our own vibe to adopt that of others. I also find that a good portion of the people who I consider close friends -- people like my bandmates Bunny and Christina in They Stole My Crayon, for instance -- have a similar attitude. So now you might have a better idea of why I do what I do. If not, well... I'm just going to keep doing it anyway, heh heh.

All that having been said, let's talk about last night's show at Panorama. As I mentioned to the folks who attended the show, when I'm playing at a place that is focused on creativity (i.e., an art gallery), my reluctance to play my lesser-known originals and covers is lessened considerably. In fact, I find that in places like that, I will go out of my way to avoid playing the songs that many other people perform regularly. We didn't have a big crowd there, but those who hung out seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I tend to take quality over quantity.

Photo and top photo by Kat.

Photo by Triana Caldera.

Panorama set list...
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
*When I'm Gone (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Antiphon (Midlake)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Avalon (Roxy Music)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
*Got Guilt (They Stole My Crayon)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Big Bad Bill (Van Halen)
Man On the Moon (R.E.M.)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)

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

Big thanks to all who came out to see my show at Panorama, including the following who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Nova West, Kat Claxton, Gigglefits Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, CB Axel, Cicadetta Stillwater, Niki Andel, Matthew Perreault, my great manager Maali Beck, Panorama hostess Ursula Cinquetti, and the rest of the Panormama team!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ground Zero (06.15.15)

Photo by Triana Caldera.

I will start this report with three seemingly contradictory statements.

1. Last night I performed at Ground Zero in Second Life for the third time, yet it was my first full performance there.
2. I performed a song for the first time that I'd played ten times before.
3. Joel W Corey Tamas is a wonderful guy and a good friend, but I may have to kill him.

Let me now elaborate.

Finally, a complete show at Ground Zero
Ground Zero is owned and run by a couple of people who I consider great friends. Thea Dee is someone who I first met in college back in the early '90s, and her involvement in Second Life, I'm happy to say, is because of our connection. GMetal Svartur is Thea's partner at the venue, and is about as cool and nice of a person as I've ever met. however, I'd had a terrible string of luck when it came to playing at Ground Zero. My first show there was in March 2012, and my second was in July of that year. Both times, I got ill the day of the show, which is super rare for me. So, last night I was finally able to make good on those poor events with a double-barreled blast of Zak attack. The whole show went phenomenally well from my perspective. We had a great crowd; Ground Zero had been down for awhile, with Thea continuing treatment for her cancer, and it really was great to get on her stage to help relaunch the venue. In addition to being good-sized, there were tons of green name tags out there (meaning that those folks are my friends). So, I was loose and in a great mood, which usually makes for my best shows.

Debuting "Picked Up Off The Floor"
Not every song by my band They Stole My Crayon works well in a solo acoustic performance. Don't get me wrong; most of the band's songs were actually written on acoustic guitar, and the songs themselves stand up. But we make use of a lot of instrumentation and vocal harmonies in this band, and sometimes the solo performances don't do the song justice compared to its full-band arrangement. However, I'd say that "Picked Up Off The Floor" went pretty well. While I'd played it many times as part of the writing and recording process, this was the very first time I'd done the song live. Moreover, it was the first time I'd done the song at all. Bunny sings lead on this one in the recorded version, and before I played it before an audience at Ground Zero, I'd literally never played it before. Not even once.

Photo by Triana Caldera.

I love and hate you, Joel
So, I'd noticed earlier in the day that my Canadian pal Joel W Corey Tamas (aka Joel Eilde), who performs in both Second Life and the physical world as Red Heaven, had a show at the same time as me, at another venue (obviously). Just as I was starting my show at Ground Zero, I received a strange and perturbing private message from him. It said...

"Each time I tip you L$1, I'm touching myself."

First, let me explain that L$1 refers to one Linden Dollar, the currency employed in Second Life. There are roughly 250 Linden Dollars that equal one USD dollar, so a single Linden Dollar is the equivalent to less than half a penny. I shrugged and went about getting my show rolling. Well, about 20 minutes into my set, I saw a tip come in from Joel... for L$1. Maybe 15 minutes later, there was another. And then, the floodgates opened. Joel had obviously shared his twisted little game with his fans, because I was getting tip notices from a bunch of people who a) weren't even at my show and b) were all for L$1. Some included lewd messages, so I shudder to think what he had told them. I, of course, shared this with my crowd who seemed to enjoy these shenanigans. I am now considering any and all measures of revenge for Joel's evil deeds, and have sworn that my retribution toward him, while perhaps not swift, shall be deep and painful.

The line must be drawn here! No further!

Ground Zero set list...
Summer Breeze (Seals & Crofts)
Northern Sky (Nick Drake)
*Picked Up Off The Floor (They Stole My Crayon)
My Hero (Foo Fighters)
Rocky Mountain High (John Denver)
Lost Cause (Beck)
Thanks Anyway (Zak Claxton)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
California (Joni Mitchell)
Tea In the Sahara (The Police)
Accidents Will Happen (Elvis Costello)
*Improvised Ode to Ground Zero (Zak Claxton)

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

Many thanks to all who came to my show at Ground Zero, especially those who supported it... including my L$1 tippers via Joel!
Triana Caldera, Syd Baddingham, Bonita Denimore, Ironman Deakins, Treeman Bayn, Augy Barbosa, Skeat Abonwood, Jocelyne Tennyson, SummerIvy Resident, Tpenta Vanalten, Staciface Schwarz, Tyche Szondi, Maurice Mistwallow, BAT8997 Resident, Alexis Fairlady, Sesh Kamachi, Christine Haiku, RansomTalmidge Resident, Triana Caldera, Aurelie Chenaux, my great manager Maali Beck, Ground Zero hostess Shanny Fall, Ground Zero owners TheaDee and GMetal Svartur, and perhaps most of all, Joel Eilde. I will break you!

Monday, June 15, 2015

Crayonifying the Weekend

See those squiggly line things? We call those waveforms. They are visual representation of recorded sounds, in this case tracks for our song "When I'm Gone". When one is working on music via a computer, it can be easy to be caught up in what the sounds look like, rather than the much more important aspect of what they sound like. The Crayon focuses on the sound.

Making an album -- writing the songs, making the arrangement and production decisions, and recording your ideas -- can be a tedious process. I don't mean that in a bad way; it's just a fact. This weekend, my band They Stole My Crayon hit what could be considered a pretty big milestone in the creation of our album. To understand why, here's a little background: we've written a total of maybe 25 songs as a band. Some of those were early attempts that happened way before we truly "found our sound" as a band, and they were eventually abandoned (or at least pushed back until they can be revisited). Some were worked on for awhile, only to have us come to the eventual realization that they simply weren't among our best stuff. So, we ended up with 14 songs that we felt were strong enough to be album-worthy.

As you know from following this blog, we've worked on them in dribs and drabs. This year, 2015, has shown us really kick into high gear; I'd say that 80% of the album was really created between April and June. Anyway, as of this weekend, we now have tracks recorded for all 14 songs. Does that mean the album is done? Hell no. But it does mean that from here on out, what we'll be doing is refining, rather than creating, the new music.

What Does That Even Mean?
Simple. It means that we have tracks that can get better, and we're going to make them better. Some drum parts that need re-recording. Some vocals that need better sound quality and will be re-done in a studio (rather than my somewhat poor excuse for a recording environment). But the parts themselves are done, and we are stoked. As of this morning, I can finally listen through the entire album, all 14 songs, and have a pretty close idea to what the final version will sound like.

That's huge. And of course, we'll make some more decisions between now and wherever we start handing off tracks to our mixing engineer Spencer Crewe. There will be little things here and there that we'll decide to change, or some small thing to add -- a vocal harmony, a percussion part, some synthesizer bed, whatever -- that will be apparent as we get closer to the finish line. But even if we were to hand off the album today, most of what we want to impart via our music is already in there. Again, that's huge, and I'm very happy about this, as is Christina and Bunny.

Saturday June 13: "Got Guilt"
Every once in awhile on a Saturday morning, Christina and I grab my teenage son and meet my dad at a local restaurant for breakfast. We go to the Redondo Beach Cafe, and it's always fun. So, it was one of those Saturdays this weekend. That was good, because for pretty much the entire rest of the day, we were in Crayon mode. As I mentioned last week, Bunny had re-recorded tracks for his song "Got Guilt", and for the first time we had everything in a format that allowed Christina and I to add our contributions. We loved the sparseness of the song, so the last thing we wanted to do was fill it with superfluous crap. Instead, we used his vocal harmonies as a guide, and recorded our own vocals. It came out fucking fantastic.

Out to breakfast on Saturday morning, here's me and my dad. This has little to do with The Crayon, but we did make some great music after this meal.

Later that evening, Bunny had requested to have mixes of a bunch of our songs that required some revisions on the drums. I provided a batch of them in one fell swoop, which made Bunny happy and gave him plenty to do. That's good, because we had one more song that needed some serious work.

Sunday June 14: "When I'm Gone"
This is a really interesting story, or so I think. When you create, one of the biggest challenges is knowing when to let go of something you did to make it better. "When I'm Gone" is a perfect case in point. I originated the music for this, while Bunny took a set of lyrics I'd written and gave them a melody and worked them into this tune. However, I must say, when I started the song was at a point where I'd only recently shifted the main software I use for music creation and recording. Listening to it with slightly different ears a few months later, it seemed that it wasn't consistent with our other music. It also seemed that I had settled for using some preset sounds rather than truly carving my own to create a unique sonic experience. The song was good; it just needed a vibe shift. On Sunday, that's what I did, changing around some parts and removing/replacing others. Also, we received Bunny's revised vocals for this song that, like "Got Guilt" on the previous day, allowed Christina and I to do our own vocals.

I really like the end result. I'm certainly much happier with the tune as far as how it fits in with the rest of our songs. By late Sunday evening, we had a mix that we all were digging. Hells yes.

Make no mistake; we still have a lot to do. But the point is that we know what we have to do, and are doing it. I can't ask for anything more than that. In this silly world where three people can have lives as hectic as any adults with jobs and families and all the responsibilities that go along with them, and still want to devote a good chunk of any free time to making some album that certainly won't make them rich or famous, the reward is the music itself, and I'm damn proud of what we're doing. It's good to be a Crayon.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Wednesday Night Monday Crayon Update

Well hello. As you might know by now, I try and fill you in on what fun-filled musical activities we did in our band They Stole My Crayon every Monday morning, since our recording work is pretty much limited to the weekends. Unfortunately, Monday became a whirlwind of mundane work that continued through Tuesday, and then somehow ramped up today, which would be Wednesday. It suddenly occurred to me that late is better than never, so here's the latest.

As you may have seen in my most recent post, last weekend included a birthday of two Crayon members (myself and Christina), a live show in SL at a new venue, and the unfortunate injury to a rather important finger. But in between those events, we did manage to do some really good work on the album.

Saturday June 6: Crayonifying "Underwater Underground"
After I wrapped up my show on Saturday, Christina and I chilled for awhile, and then got to work on some of our own music. We were putting our mark on a song that Bunny had originated called "Underwater Underground", and we liked his initial version quite a lot. The goal was to add some more vibe of The Crayon without taking away from the feeling imparted by Bunny's original version. Why work on music on our birthday? Because we love doing it! We started by adding some new guitar parts, and then added a new background vocal line. We were enjoying how it was coming together when the Horrible Fingernail Incident occurred. It should tell you something that as soon as I got bandaged up, I was hitting the record button immediately to continue on the song. The pain was bad, but not as bad as missing an opportunity to get this song recorded.

Sunday June 7: Tweaking "Bag of Nothing" and Bunny's Studio Adventures for "Got Guilt" and "Vendetta"
I should start this section by mentioning that when I got up rather early on Saturday morning, there was a note from Bunny, who had just left that studio after having worked all night on re-recording the song that is planned as the opener for the album, a sparse and haunting song called "Got Guilt". It's notable in that along with "Underwater Underground", it's one of the final Crayon songs that we had to transform from a Bunny-based demo into a fleshed out band song. Bunny continued to make use of the available studio time on Sunday to record some live drums for our tune "Vendetta". The results from both sessions came out great. "Got Guilt" in particular was simply outstanding when we got to hear it late on Sunday evening.

Earlier in the day, though, I had some Crayon work I could do despite my finger injury (which has forced me to take the last four days off playing guitar, and probably will keep me sidelined until the weekend). Our song "Bag of Nothing", as good as it is, just was suffering from a hurried initial mix and needed some tweaks, which I did and made it sound much better, in line with the rest of the songs we've recently done. Now I can listen to it without cringing at some of the sonic problems it previously exhibited.

The Order of Things
One thing we've faced as a band is a problem that most other bands would be happy to have: we have too many songs. I don't have an exact count, but since we formed the Crayon in late 2012, we've created somewhere in the range of 25 tunes. We considered the idea of putting out all 25 on multiple albums at once, but the fact is that like any collection of music, some songs are stronger and some are weaker. More importantly, as time went by, we found our sound as a band, and some of the earlier stuff simply didn't fit the vibe that is now well defined. We began the process of narrowing down which songs we wanted on the first album, and now we've settled at a magic number: 14 songs that comprise 49 minutes of music. Still a pretty hefty album; no one who buys this album will feel shortchanged.

With this hopefully final group of songs decided, Christina and I made an attempt at getting them arranged in order. Sequencing the songs on an album is not at all easy; it's possible to make an argument for or against just about any decision. Many things come into play, including the tempo, time signature, key, and other undefinable "vibe" aspects of each song. So we quickly put together a list, which Bunny immediately pointed out was flawed based on our stacking too many songs of the same time signature in a row. We're somewhat back to the drawing board in that regard, but all of the little details are coming together that will allow us to get this album done pretty soon. Go Crayons go!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

DB Club and Dance (06.06.15)

It's the day after my birthday, and the day after Kat's birthday. Yes, for those of you who don't know, we share a birthday (though not the same one; I was born a year before her). We both agree that we had a good birthday (with one significant exception which I'll mention below). In my many years on this little planet, I don't believe I'd ever previously played a live show on the actual day of my birthday, though looking back through the archives of this very blog, you cam see I've played many times on the day before or day after. That irrelevant fact notwithstanding, I had a show scheduled by my manager Maali at a new venue in SL, a place called DB Club and Dance, and birthday or no, I always honor my commitments to perform. Besides, I love doing those noon shows on Saturdays... wake up, enjoy coffee and breakfast, get warmed up and play a show, and still have the whole day ahead. It is, in a word, awesome.

As usual, I arrived at the venue about 20 minutes before my show, giving myself plenty of time to set up and do some last-minute notifications to people who might want to come check it out. The people who ran the club, Deno and Linnea, seemed very nice. I'm not sure where they're from, but while English may not have been their first language, we all spoke the language of fun. They seemed to have a good time, and we pulled together a pretty nice-sized crowd considering that I was that only live music artist appearing there that day. Linnea seemed somewhat apologetic before the show began in regard to them being a brand new place who didn't have a big crowd to pull in. I told her that I would be happy to play no matter if there were four or forty people there. It all worked out just fine, as things almost always do.

All photos by Kat.

DB Club set list...
Pigs on the Wing - Parts I and II (Pink Floyd)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Help me (Joni Mitchell)
Pink Moon (Nick Drake)
America (Simon & Garfunkel)
Blew The Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)
Shock the Monkey (Peter Gabriel)
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Carry Me Here and There (They Stole My Crayon)
Say Goodbye (Beck)
Falling Down (Zak Claxton)
Polly (Nirvana)
Everlong (Foo Fighters)

Big thanks to everyone who saw my debut at DB, especially those who helped support the show!
MaximilnSwann Resident, Serenti Resident, Kat Claxton, Gaia74 Resident, Alexis Fairlady, TheaDee Resident, RansomTalmidge Resident, my manager Maal Beck, and DB management LinneaSydney Resident and Deno Bury!

My Finger Meets the Window
So, that was fun. One other thing to report from yesterday was less fun. I was walking by the open window in my bedroom in the early evening, and it was getting a little chilly, so I did something I've done hundreds of times before... I closed the window. However, it didn't go as planned. I somehow wedged the nail of my index finger into the window frame, which proceeded to tear half the nail off my hand. Yeah, ow, big time. Kat came in to find me in a fetal position with my hand tucked under my other arm. After re-learning how to breathe and stuff, I gingerly held it up to my camera while Kat assembled some first aid treatment. Pretty, huh?

The upshot of this is that it's going to be a little while before I play guitar again. Putting the necessary pressure on the finger to properly fret a note or chord is impossible right now. However, I'm a resilient guy as well as an optimist. I estimate that this will be mostly healed in a few days, so it won't affect my live show schedule (my next one isn't until Monday June 15), and I'll just have to wait before recording any more guitar tracks for The Crayon until at least next weekend. There are other things I can do in the meantime.

Despite that little setback, it was a great birthday, and we ended the day by cramming as much sushi as possible into our mouths. I could complain about my painful finger injury, but instead I'll dwell on the deliciousness of a fun live show and perfectly-prepared raw fish, because that's just the kind of person I am.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Weekend Crayon Update

I'm rather enjoying this routine of starting my Mondays with a report about what my band They Stole My Crayon did over the weekend. Well, truth be told, this report is not the first thing I do at the start of a new week. There are responsibilities, of course; getting up, getting showered/dressed, getting my son to school, getting back, and going through work-related emails and schedules to get the week rolling. But once things settle down, I do enjoy telling you people what we did over the weekend, while simultaneously being wistful about the fact that I can only devote a couple of days each week to our music. But that's not an unusual situation for all but the top echelons of musicians. You'd probably be amazed how many well-known musicians also have day jobs. It's just how it is.

But I'm not here to complain; I'm here to triumphantly relate another good weekend of creating new music. In that regard, how lucky am I to live in a time where making music in the way we do is even possible?

Saturday May 30: "Vendetta" and "Blew The Dust Away"
I couldn't be happier that we finally went back to a couple of our earlier songs and did some much-needed work on them. "Vendetta" and "Blew The Dust Away" share the fact that they were initiated as songs that Bunny did as a solo artist. Christina and I loved them both from the first time we heard them, which was in March 2013. When we have a song that just one of us creates on his/her own, the challenge is a little different than on a song we all start together. I think there's a balance that happens so that the initial vibe of the song (which we all enjoyed) isn't lost, but that the feel and sound of us as a band gets added without it being contrived.

We had done some previous work on both songs, but then they kind of fell by the wayside as we went on to work on newer music in recent months. For "Vendetta", we'd made some notes at our last band meeting to make some additions to the song without drastically changing the very sparse sound found in Bunny's original track. We started that process last weekend, and continued it this weekend with some changes to the new drum additions. With "Blew the Dust Away", it had been so long since we worked on the song that the previous mixes and audio files were dated exactly a year earlier, at the end of May 2014, and I had to rescue them from my old MacBook Pro, which is now in disuse for the most part. Upon pulling them out of the archives, a few things were very apparent; we needed a new acoustic guitar, and the former version had a computer-generate tambourine sound that would be much better using the real thing. Both of these additions went smoothly, and we posted a new mix for Bunny to hear.

That night, we went back to our notes... a good idea whenever you're in the midst of a project this big. We saw that we'd decided on adding a military-style snare drum to the final chorus, so I added that and posted a new mix.

Sunday May 31: More "Vendetta", More "Again", and a Chat with a Friend
Speaking of our notes, we also saw that someone (Bunny, perhaps) had suggested that on "Vendetta", there needed to be more layers of vocals toward the end to build the song to an exciting conclusion, something we enjoy doing in The Crayon. We didn't have any plan, though, for what these vocal layers should be. Christina and I thought it through, and came up with an idea that was so good, I fired up the digital audio system on the spot and we recorded the parts before we'd even bothered to get dressed for the day. Hey, I don't mind doing vocals in a bathrobe. I do mind forgetting a really good part, though!

After we'd wrapped that up, Christina and I were once again having the conversation about how we were going to do the final recording of some of the most essential tracks... namely, the vocals. We had a few options, but we knew which would be our preferred method: recording with Phil O'Keefe, the audio engineer who is a great friend of all three of us, and did a ton of the heavy lifting on my solo album. Phil had gone through some upheaval in recent times, and we weren't entirely sure if he was set up in his new residence to be able to record. You have to understand that while we have some fine recording gear here, it pales in comparison to what Phil has available. Also, as I've mentioned before, I live on a busy street, and recording things like vocals, with sensitive condenser microphones, is never, ever ideal here. We'd greatly prefer to record those last crucial tracks in a more acoustically sound environment.

Back in 2009, here's Phil, me, and Bunny during one of the sessions for the Zak Claxton album. I can't wait to work with Phil again!

So what happened about an hour after we mentioned talking to Phil about tracking some vocals at his place? The phone rang. It was Phil, calling me out of the blue about a totally unrelated topic. My mind was blown. We chatted for awhile (it's always good to hear from him regardless of anything else), and now we're all looking at our respective calendars to take a little weekend trip to his new home and knock out a chunk of the vocals. This is incredibly exciting, as it represents the last hurdle before handing off tracks to our mixing engineer, Spencer Crewe. This will likely happen in early July.

Later that evening, Bunny had made it back from a weekend family trip to Northern California, and in the late evening he delivered a new pass of drums for our song "Again". As of this moment, I am awaiting the first spare moment of the day to get those plugged into the tune, and I really can't wait to hear what he's done; he seemed quite pleased with them, and that's always a good sign.

So, there you have it. Another good weekend producing hopefully good music. More to come!