Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Available Now: "Beacon" by Claxton & Larson

I'm very happy to announce that "Beacon", the song that Jon Larson and I created as a tribute to people who have been impacted by gun violence, is now available for listening and download via Bandcamp. 100% of the proceeds from sales of "Beacon" are being donated to March For Our Lives Action Fund, the fundraising effort created by the heroic survivors of Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.


Since the debut of the song this morning, we've received a number of wonderful comments, as well as coverage on Second Life-focused blogs like New World Notes and Magick Thoughts. I think that a good number of the people who've enjoyed the song so far appreciate the message/cause of the song as well as the song itself. I know I'm pretty proud of the result of this collaboration, and Jon and I had a really smooth and easy time putting the song together.

What The People Say...

"I got my copy. Have you gotten yours? It’s something special."
- Meegan Danitz

"I'm humbled by the song and the spirit in which it is written. Gave me chills, guys. Thank you for doing you like you do."
- Ren Enberg

"A great tune for a great cause by my very talented friend Zak Claxton."
- Ernest Buckley

"I love you, man."
- Ken Lee

"Beautiful, gentlemen! Thank you!"
- Dennis Mac Namara

Huge thanks to everyone who's listened to and purchased the song, and supported this incredibly worthy cause! If you haven't done so yet... do it now!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Serenity Gardens (03.26.18)

Another good time at Serenity Gardens. All photos by Kat.

Realization of the moment: I'm still over a year out from turning 50, but apparently I'm an old man already... or at least I am based on how my back feels and how I'm moving so far today. Seriously, it's been three days since the March For Our Lives event in which I participated on Saturday March 24, but waking up today I'm still moving like someone who is, well, old. And then, it struck me: perhaps I am. Old, that is. Getting out of bed this morning after a lovely night's sleep, I'm pretty sure the sensation was similar to that of getting 50 knives jabbed into my lower back and hips, and why? Because I marched for a couple of miles holding a sign and then stood for an hour or so while listening to speeches at a rally?

I almost just launched into a litany of telling you all the things I used to be able to do that included running, surfing, skiing, skating and so on, but let's just skip that and accept that fact that at a certain point in a human's life, it takes longer to recover from physical effort. Besides, none of that stuff stopped me from doing my show last night at Serenity Gardens in Second Life... though there was a moment while grabbing and putting on my guitar and wincing in pain that I questioned my ability to rock in my usual manner.

I needn't have worried. The show went very well, perhaps with an assist from some ibuprofen I'd consumed beforehand. Perhaps it also was a good show because I've been pretty immersed in music lately, having just wrapped up the single I created along with my friend and fellow singer-songwriter Jon Larson. The song, "Beacon", is now in the hands of Spencer Crewe, the super-talented Canadian mixing engineer who also mixed the They Stole My Crayon album. he's already working on the mix, so it won't be very long before we can release it, and I'm excited about it.

How To Record a Song From Different Locations
We live in an amazing world, technologically-speaking. Jon Larson lives in Sacramento, some 400 miles north of me. Spencer lives in St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, over 4,000 miles from here and so far east that they have their own weird time zone that's a half hour earlier than Eastern Time. Jon and I had the relative luxury of being in the same physical space when we wrote the basic chord progression for "Beacon"; we were both on vacation in Arizona in February, but for the month since then we've been far apart.

Here's how it works. I took the chords we wrote and, in my little home studio, recorded a basic rhythm track that included drums, bass, guitar, and some keyboards. Then, I sent those audio files over to Jon, who started putting down ideas for a vocal melody. The files are simply WAV files that can be imported into any computer-based audio software, so even though Jon and I use different tools to record, the standardization of the files allows them to be compatible in our respective systems.

At that point, there's little difference between us being hundreds of miles away versus being in the same room. We'd use Facebook Messenger to discuss our various ideas and to coordinate what our next steps were. Every so often, we'd bounce down a rough mix to get an idea of how the song was progressing overall, and share that with each other as well. Could the same process happen back in the days of recording to tape? Sure, absolutely. But it would involve sending actual tapes back and forth, and hoping that our tape recorders were properly aligned and all that. The digital world is certainly better from a viewpoint of convenience, and both Jon and I are competent and experienced musicians who can record ourselves fairly well.

"Beacon" will be available for streaming, download, and purchase sometime soon. All proceeds for the song's sales are being donated to a charity for gun law reform and assisting victims of gun violence.

Anyway, once we determined that we'd captured all we wanted to record, I prepared the final files (we call them stems) of our recorded tracks... drums, percussion, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, several layers of keyboards and synthesizers, and of course vocals, making sure they all sounded as good as possible but stripping them of any effects. That's because they were headed up to Canada, where Spencer would be handling the mix. When delivering stems for mixing, you want to leave the mixing engineer room to do his or her creative work, which involves setting the levels of each sound source, adding effects so the instruments and vocals all sound like they're in a similar space, and much more. Mixing is as much an art as a science, and we're glad Spencer was willing to join the Claxton & Larson team, helping out a cause that he supports as much as Jon and I do.

So that's how it's done. For me, the process of constructing a song like that is always exciting as it comes together, and I am in high anticipation mode at the moment to see what Spencer will do with the tracks we've delivered to him.

The Show
Back on topic. After finishing whining about my muscle pains, I did indeed strap on the Takamine and did my show at Serenity Gardens, and I'm very glad I did; it was a really good one. Perhaps due to my current immersion in social activism, I picked a set list that included songs which referenced that topic. My audience at SL shows spans a wide range of ages and tastes. While it would be easy for me to take the safer path and only play older songs that were familiar to most everyone, I almost always choose to add some more underground indie music to my set. I think it's a good thing for people to expand their awareness of the huge amount of great music there is out there.

Speaking of people, we had a terrific crowd last night. It's not the size of the crowd, as I've said before; it's the quality. While we did have a good amount of people there, I was even more appreciative that they seemed to be really into the songs I was doing, and that's what makes for a great show for me.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Lost Cause (Beck)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da (The Police)
All Lives, You Say? (Wilco)
Pigs on the Wing - Parts 1/2 (Pink Floyd)
For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)
Carey (Joni Mitchell)
Hand In My Pocket (Alanis Morissette)
Carry Me Ohio (Sun Kil Moon)
Space Oddity (David Bowie)
Pretty Pimpin (Kurt Vile)
Dusty Rhodes (Lotus Plaza)

Gigantic thanks to all who cam to my show last night, with super duper special thanks to the following people who supported it!
Asimia Heron, CharlieMack Resident, Trouble Streeter, Misty McConach, Scout Zsun, IPA63 Resident, not4gods Resident, go2smoky Resident, Augy Barbosa, Asimia Heron, Alex Zelin, Kat Claxton, Christine Haiku, TheaDee Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, my lovely manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.

Monday, March 26, 2018

March For Our Lives (03.24.18)

The crowd at Hermosa Pier plaza. Photo by Congressman Ted Lieu.

I'm not going to spend a bunch of time quoting statistics and offering ideas about gun control in this post -- there are many, many places you can get that info -- but I will tell you about my personal experience participating in the "March For Our Lives" on Saturday, March 24. It was an inspiring and meaningful event, not only for me but presumably for the hundreds of thousands of people across the country and around the world who also got involved, so I wanted to document the day through my own eyes.

Good Morning
The march was scheduled to start at 10am, and here in the beach cities, parking on a Saturday morning -- any Saturday morning throughout the year -- is a pain in the ass. Plus, our march was planned to start at the Manhattan Beach pier and end at the Hermosa Beach pier, about two miles south. Even if we'd driven, we would have had to get back to our car afterwards. It made more sense to hop in an Uber and get dropped off at the starting location. I was accompanied by my lady Kat and my son Nicholas, who is 18 years old and very much a part of the generation of young people who inspired this social activism. Nick and Kat and I all have similar feelings about the cause; none of us are opposed to gun ownership. We support the Second Amendment. But we do feel that unfettered access to guns, with no background checks or training required to own and use one, has a terrible effect on the world. Also, the types of weapons that the public is currently allowed to have -- notably, semi-automatic rifles with the ability to use high-capacity magazines -- are not those that are used purely for hunting, sport, and self-defense. They are weapons of war that serve no purpose in the hands of private citizens other than killing other people.

Enough on that. We got up about 7am, and make sure we had some water and snacks for the march. The weather was perfect... sunny with scattered clouds in the mid-50s. What we neglected to do -- which was amazingly dumb, considering we all know better -- was to use any sunscreen. All three of us have red, sunburned faces and raccoon eyes today as a result of where our sunglasses stopped the UV hitting our faces.

Getting Started
Our Uber driver arrived on schedule; it only takes about ten minutes to get to Manhattan Beach pier from our home in Redondo. I had no idea what to expect in terms of turnout, but the moment we pulled up and got dropped off, there was a certain electricity in the air. The very first person I noticed as I got out of the car was a guy pushing a two-kid stroller. He had on a "March For Our Lives" shirt, and both of his toddlers had pink t-shirts that read "#enough".

Kat and I had discussed what we thought the turnout might be, but it was impossible to estimate. I had noted that on Facebook, a few hundred people had listed themselves as going to the event. I was optimistically thinking that as many as 400-500 people might be there. Maybe even a thousand. Imagine my complete bewilderment when more than 5,000 people began to congregate there at the MB pier. This was going to be way bigger than I'd assumed.

Getting ready to march at Manhattan Beach pier. Photo by Kat.

The crowd was so big that they had to delay the start of the rally in Hermosa Beach, since the first marchers arrived there before the last of them had even left Manhattan Beach. Photographer unknown.

Right at 10am, one of the organizers got on a bullhorn and gave a little chat in regard to ensuring a successful event... little tips like not blocking the entire strand, not engaging any counter-protesters, and that since we were in public, we'd be in photos and videos. And then, it started. At first it was hard to move, with a ton of people crammed into the little area at the start of the strand, but once it got rolling, people spread out a bit and it was easy to walk at a brisk but manageable pace.

Not a Stroll
As things got going, a few people started some chants, but it quieted down as people were figuring out where they were going and what they were doing there. Fortunately, some woman who I've mentally called the Protest Drill Sergeant started screaming at us from a railing above the strand. "Start making some noise! This is a protest, not a stroll!" We laughed, but she was right. From then on, for much of the distance between the two piers, you'd almost constantly hear groups of people shouting in unison...

"No more silence, stop the violence!"

"Hey hey, ho ho, the NRA has got to go!"

"Enough is enough!"

The mood of the marchers was vibrant and upbeat, and the weather that day was absolutely perfect. Photo by Kat.

Going the Distance
I've walked between the MB and HB piers on several occasions. It's about two miles, and it's obviously beautiful being there right on the ocean, enjoying the fresh air and the attractive and athletic people who live in our community. I've never before, though, done it while shouting and holding a sign above my head for much of the trip. I'll just say that it's a good thing I exercise every morning, because I was definitely feeling the burn by the time we arrived at the Hermosa pier some 40 minutes later.

One thing that I hadn't thought would be a topic of conversation was my own t-shirt. It simply says, "It's Mueller Time!" in a similar script to the famous Miller beer slogan. I thought this was a well-known meme among the Resistance movement, but apparently it wasn't to most of the marchers there. Before, during, and after the march, I got a lot of laughs, handshakes, and people wanting pictures, which was fun.

I can also tell you that the vibe of the crowd was extraordinarily positive. Everywhere I looked, I was seeing smilies, animated discussions, and an optimistic crowd that seemed completely focused on the task at hand. As we wrapped up the last few steps to Hermosa pier, I saw that there was a small stage area set up in the plaza, so Kat, Nick and I found a spot not far from the stage.

The crowd gathers at Hermosa pier. Photographer unknown.

What an amazing turnout! Photo by Kat.

Rally Time
I knew there'd be some speeches after the march. I'm not very good at listening to most speeches; I find them to be dull and self-serving. However, on this day, I was captivated by each and every person who took the mic. It started with a couple of local leaders: Manhattan Beach mayor Amy Howorth and Hermosa Beach mayor pro tem Stacey Armato. State senator Ben Allen spoke about the NRA being a "paper tiger", which is something that all people need to understand.

Then, a series of local school students that ranged from 8th graders to high school seniors, spoke passionately. The fact that this entire movement is being spearheaded by young people -- many of whom will be eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections and/or the 2020 presidential election -- fills me with hope for the future. There were heartbreaking speeches by people who had lost loved ones to gun violence at Newtown and in Las Vegas. A local teacher, one whom my son had at Redondo Union High School, gave a speech that pointed out the insanity of expecting teachers to be armed. Finally, Congressman Ted Lieu and Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi addressed the crowd.

A student addresses the crowd at the rally. Photo by Kat.

Me (in my "Mueller Time" shirt) and my son. Photo by Kat.

Congressman Ted Lieu. Photo by Kat.

By the time the rally ended, we were definitely ready to sit, relax, and replenish some of the calories we'd expended that morning. We grabbed another Uber and made the very short trip home. It's safe to say that we were tired and more than a little sore from the walking and standing, but all three of us were very glad we'd been a part of this social activism. The next steps are pretty clear: we're going to take steps to ensure that no political leader who is in good standing with the NRA gets elected, or re-elected. But that's another topic for another day.

Only the Beginning
I do want to give credit and thanks to a lady named Liza Caso and her recently-formed organization, the South Bay Coalition for a Safer Tomorrow. It was through her efforts that the South Bay march happened, and I plan on being a regular participant in future actions of the group. While we'd all like to make a difference on a global/national scale, the most important efforts are often those focused in your local area, and it's great knowing how many like-minded people there are in my beloved South Bay who agree that gun control is as important an issue as any. I applaud the efforts of everyone who made Saturday's March For Our Lives happen, from the student leaders from Parkland, FL to every person here in our area. Thank you! And, as I've said before, this is only the beginning.

You'd better believe this is true. Photo by Kat.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show (03.17.18)

It was a long time ago, maybe in 2010, that I decided to branch out from my virtual world live music performances and try doing them on live video. From the start -- and for reasons not recalled at this time -- I called my live video performance the "Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show", and I did them on many different video platforms including StageIt, StreamJam, Ustream and more. Here in 2018, it seems pretty obvious that doing Facebook Live is a good way to grab audience members quickly and easily. The downside was that Facebook Live seemed to only want to function via a mobile device (phone/tablet) interface, and there was no good interface for my my audio gear that allows me to not sound, well, like I was performing over a phone.

I did a little searching and found an app for the Mac called Livedesk for Facebook Live. Despite it looking slightly sketchy, the trial download (limited to five minutes of broadcast time) was free from Apple's App Store, and seemed to work. The full version with unlimited time was under $20, so I got it, and it really seems to work just fine. The software immediately saw my USB-based audio interface and camera, and had no problem connecting to my Facebook account. So, on Saturday -- which happened to also be St. Patrick's Day, hence my green t-shirt -- I set up my microphone, plugged in my Takamine acoustic, fired up my camera and did a little show. I didn't do much to pre-announce it; I wanted to be sure the software was stable and the quality was acceptable, and everything turned out great. I think it's likely that future episodes of the Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show will be done on this platform. Hopefully it continues working as advertised; it's always a concern with third-party apps involving social media that something will change and the API will no longer function, but hopefully this developer is on top of things.

Facebook does keep an archive of live videos, so if you want to spend an hour watching me play music and be silly, you can.

Zak Claxton Happy Fun Show set list...
Save It For Later (English Beat)
Airport Bar (Martin Courtney)
It's Easy Like Walking (The Sadies w/Kurt Vile)
Abrasion (They Stole My Crayon)
From the Beginning (Emerson, Lake & Palmer)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
Half Moon Bay (Sun Kil Moon)
Wildflowers (Tom Petty)
This Afternoon (Zak Claxton)
Tea in the Sahara (The Police)
It’s Choade My Dear (Connan Mockasin)
Sleeper in the Valley (Laura Veirs)
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
Blew the Dust Away (They Stole My Crayon)

Big thanks to all the folks who tuned in live, or watched the video afterwards, or otherwise checked out my little show. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Serenity Gardens (03.12.18)

Another great night at Serenity Gardens. Photo by Kat.

The music has been flowing in a big way here in Zakland. I'll tell you about last night's show at Serenity Gardens in a moment, but first I want to make the first official mention of an upcoming new song and a new collaboration between myself and a terrific Second Life musical artist whom I've long respected.

Introducing Claxton & Larson
It was a number of years ago that I was at an SL music event and heard a performer that blew me away. Much like real life, the really impressive talents in SL do stand out among the rest. His name in Second Life, I found out, was Mulder Watts, but he performed and recorded under his given name of Jon Larson. I could tell by listening to Jon's music that we shared many of the same influences, and he was performing original songs that were very impressive. He often did dual-streaming SL shows with Voodoo Shilton, another really outstanding guitarist. I made a mental note at the time that I'd definitely take advantage of any opportunity to do something musical with this guy.

Fast forward to fall 2016, when Kat and I attended the Twin Cities Jam in Minneapolis. We met Jon and his lovely wife Alecia there, but it was only in brief. The larger SL Jams can be hectic, and you never seem to be able to spend enough time with any given person. Jon and I spoke afterwards and said that next time we were in the same place at the same time, we'd be sure to do some tunes together. That opportunity came along in February, when we both went to Arizona for a mini-Jam. While we were just relaxing one evening, Jon and I had our guitars out and the idea came up of quickly trying to write an original song. Sometimes those things actually work; sometimes they don't. But in the space of a few minutes, Jon and I managed to put together a little chord progression that included a verse, chorus, and bridge. It wasn't anything spectacular, but I thought it sounded pretty good. After we returned to our respective homes (Jon lives in Northern California, while I'm about 400 miles south of him here in the LA area), I spent some time on a weekend fleshing out the song with some added instrumentation, and showed Jon the results. He then came up with a melody and we started building the song together, going back and forth by sending audio files to each other as we got inspired and recorded new parts.

Jon and I in Arizona, just starting to create the song we're going to be releasing soon. Photo by Alecia Larson.

The real turning point happened when Jon told me his idea for a lyrical theme. He and I seem to share outlooks on social and political issues, and Jon asked if I'd be okay with the song being about the madness of gun violence and school shootings. I replied that I'd be 100% behind any message he wanted to offer in that regard. It just so happened that the horrifying mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida had occurred the day before our Arizona trip, so the subject was certainly fresh in both of our minds. On Saturday of this past weekend, Jon delivered the first pass of his vocals with the lyrics, and I added a harmony part. Our voices complement each other very nicely, it turns out, and the song is becoming more impressive with each refinement.

We've decided to release the song to the public when it's complete. Additionally, Jon suggested, and I heartily agreed, that it would be the right thing to donate any proceeds from sales of the song to a cause that is focused on eliminating gun violence and school shootings. More information will be coming soon on this exciting news, but I can tell you the name of the song and show you the artwork we developed for its release.

Coming soon: "Beacon" by Claxton & Larson.

And Now, The Show
As you may recall from a couple of weeks ago, my last show in SL didn't go so swimmingly due to Second Life being in the midst of a massive DDoS attack. I'm happy to say that everything was back to its usual stable self in SL for my show last night at Serenity Gardens. We had a nice crowd, and as I've been prone to do recently, I made sure to include a couple of songs I'd never done previously. Both went really well.

I think "Baker Street" will definitely find its way into future set lists. Cool tune. Photo by Kat.

I was happy to see Mavenn having the slot to perform after me at Serenity. She's a cool lady with a killer voice. Photo by Kat.

Serenity Gardens set list...
Take Me With U (Prince)
1979 (Smashing Pumpkins)
*Baker Street (Gerry Rafferty)
Woodstock (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
What I Got (Sublime)
The Needle and the Damage Done (Neil Young)
*You Make Loving Fun (Fleetwood Mac)
Sour Girl (Stone Temple Pilots)
Vendetta (They Stole My Crayon)
Swing Lo Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
So. Central Rain (R.E.M.)
Ashes to Ashes (David Bowie)
Always Tomorrow (Zak Claxton)

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

Huge thanks to everyone who came out to the show, with special super thanks to the following who helped support it!
Aurelie Chenaux, Tyche Szondi, fabilene Cortes, taryn Adasia, RansomTalmidge Resident, TheaDee Resident, Kat Claxton, my manager Maali Beck, and the great team at Serenity Gardens, Tilly Rose and Ilsa Wilde.