Archives for category: The magical world of music

Ok, so let’s all move on from the fact that it’s been over a year since I’ve written. I know, I know…baaaad blogger.

Now then. There’s one thing that my musical exploits have reflected in my civilian life: Food. I suppose food and music have collided in the past…but, well…I’m gonna blog about it.

So the more I got good at “preparing dishes” (as opposed to “making food”), I would find myself busily going about a recipe when I would think to myself “y’know…this could maybe be bammed up with a bit of [random ingredient]”. Sometimes it would work (coffee and rosemary in beef stew) and sometimes it wouldn’t (beef stew and rosemary in coffee). But it’s making a connection between two tastes you savoured independently and then marrying them successfully that’s quite a thrilling and fulfilling accomplishment.

I find that it’s the same for music. When producing or arranging a song, I try to find instruments and sounds that will compliment it but that are also not your most expected elements. Some great examples (well, great to me) are the dark tom tom drums in my song “(Never) Let It Go” or the trumpet part in “It Was Love“.

With no false modesty, I think I’m pretty good at finding these matches. But sometimes, like Bovine Brew coffee, it just doesn’t work out. My latest song release, “Until“, is a perfect example of both a musical match and a music mismatch. Initially I sang the track like you can hear on the demo:


Then I met Lyndsie Alguire and it was nanoseconds between the time I heard her sing and the time I decided that perhaps her voice would compliment the track far better than my pained vocalizations ever could.

Right? 

Darn right I’m right! But despite the Lyndsie coup, the song was still languishing under another misguided musical attempt: the introduction of a harmonica during an instrument break. Despite the old college try from my producer, it still sounds like a braking freight train. Listen again to the above track and skip to 3:19.

Now as you wait for your hair to quit standing on end, enjoy the much better final version where we swapped out the harp for some subtle musical shadings instead of something that sounds like a wounded raccoon.


Voilà! Haute musical cuisine à la BBS.

Keep watching this space as I get back on my blogging horse!

Chef Blue Blue Satellite

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I’ve started recording my second record. It’s going to be an interesting time to be doing it because it’ll be framed within my dramatically monikered “Blue Blue Satellite Manifesto”, which dictates that my musical endeavors must be about:

  • Creativity – the joy of plucking elements out of thin air and assembling them with auditory artistic cohesion
  • Expression – interpreting the ups and downs of life into a personal soundtrack
  • Enjoyment – allowing myself to be swept away with music’s sonic power of elevation

I used to believe in the idealistic trope that “it’s all about the music.” But after album #1 and not quite having conquered the world with it, I’ve decided a more accurate adage is: “it’s all about selling your music” or “it’s all about the music that will bring people in to drink” or “it’s all about Tweeting, Facebooking, Instagraming, Tumblring, YouTubing, Vine-ing, Cat Video-ing your music” or simply: “it’s not all about the music.” So the Manifesto is my attempt to re-focus my musical goals onto the magic which got me into music in the first place. Which will probably see me ceasing to do certain things that are standard practice in music, but simply don’t adhere to my Manifesto.

Maybe this is just a highfalutin way to say I’ve given up. Or that I’m jaded. Or that I’m lazy. Or that I don’t have what it takes. Or that I’m hoping some record executive will be impressed by my radical thinking and sign me because I’m clearly an iconoclastic polymath…

But here’s the immutable fact: I’m working with Gallery Studio‘s Dean Watson again and we’ve so far recorded two songs. They’re not mixed or mastered yet, nobody has heard them and I’ve made no money off of them. Just two people, in a basement, creating music from my songwriting. And I couldn’t be happier.

Blue Blue Satellite
Iconoclast. Polymath. Thesaurus user.

There are many good reasons why I am not an actor. Most revolve around the fact that I can’t act.

There are also several good reasons why I shouldn’t sing but screw those. The beauty about being a singer-songwriter is that you can do what you love with relatively little effort. To wit, I can hop on over to any open stage, sign up and get to sing an original composition in front of an audience and get applaused at. And that’s pretty much the name of the game for us singer-songwriters.

Actors have it a lot tougher. Or I assume that they do since I know few actors. The pinnacle of an actor’s career would probably be to have a juicy lead role in an Anderson(Paul or Wes) movie or Herzog or Von Trier or Scorcese or whatever other director I can’t think of right now that would lead you to believe that I watch movies beyond those whose title contain the words “Human” and “Centipede“.

But how often does that happen for an actor? How often do they have to take roles like “Middle Human Centipede Link” before a choice role may or may not come up? Even if they take the bull by the horns and write a screenplay and sweet role for themselves, you still have to produce the movie(and produce it well) and have it distributed to get some kind of return on effort.

The only difference between an open stage and “making it” for a singer-songwriter is audience size, really. If Justin Beiber tweeted me tomorrow and I blew up huge, I’d still be singing and forgetting the words to “Blues’ll Always Be the Blues“, just to a lot more screaming tweens who have no idea what an old man I am.

So I guess this is a blog post to remind myself and other struggling singer-songwriters to be happy that you can share your undiluted work with an audience. Saying you played a small bar to five drunk people in the middle of What-The-Hell-Am-I-Doing-Here, northern Ontario still has a ring of keeping-it-real coolness to it than an actor listing as a credit: “Shirtless Oil Guy” in Kung Fu and Titties.

Blue Blue Satellite

Side of a Bullet by Nickelback

Yes, Nickelback. This song legitimizes the band for me because it features a lost guitar solo by the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel and was fully endorsed by his brother, drummer Vinnie Paul. The song does a great job striking a delicate balance between a revenge fantasy and a song about loss. The imagery of sitting and scratching someone’s name on the side of a bullet, I feel, is quite powerful and leaves a lot to the listener’s imagination.

We’re Off to See the Wizard by Harold Arlen

Not only did composer Harold Arlen find rhymes for the word “Oz”, but he does it repeatedly with different words and clever puns through the chorus while capturing the essence and whimsy of the scene quite brilliantly.

Victory by Megadeth

You know you’ve had a nice, long, distinguished career when you can write a four-minute song that’s composed almost entirely of the song titles of your back catalogue. A fun, gimmicky and surprisingly catchy song by veteran shredders and 1/2 born-again Christians Megadeth.

Lose Yourself by Eminem

The best way for me to feel inadequate about my songwriting is to listen to and analyze an Eminem song. Structurally and thematically, they are nothing short of astounding. Lose Yourself features so many advanced rhyming techniques that it makes my head spin. Not to mention that this song is epically inspiring, faithfully captures independent musician life, and just pumps me the hell up.

Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven

I’ve been starting to brand my style of music as “melancholy folk-pop”. This is the 18th century version of it. Except a lot better. This is the kind of piece you hold your breath listening to. Dark, beautiful.

Dr. Snuggles theme song

A melody you can whistle along to is a sure indicator of a good song. And this melody just struck me as I listened to it on college radio driving home in the wee hours one night in Toronto. I subsequently stole it for a song of my own.

Part of Your World (reprise) by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman

First of all the swelling string intro is gorgeous. And it continues into another fantastically lovely melody. I just have a tiny beef with the lyric “I don’t know when/I don’t know how/but I know something’s starting right now”. Doesn’t “starting right now” answer the “when” question?

Whiplash(live version) by Metallica

One thing I lament about being a singer/songwriter is that I’ll never really be able to really rock an audience. I mean really just wield my guitar like it was an adrenaline-spewing über weapon. That’s ok though…the boys from Metallica do a mighty fine job with this song that’s good on the album but killer live.

What a Wonderful World performed by Louis Armstrong

A study in simplicity. A 2 minute song whose melody is essentially the alphabet song. When doing a ridiculously optimistic song, you always run the risk of going into cheeseball territory. This song didn’t, probably because it was kept simple and due to the sincerity and believability of ‘ol Satchmo’s singing.

Tara’s Theme from Gone With the Wind by Max Steiner

The main theme is so deceptively simple…just a pattern of four notes repeated in variation four times. But it’s so rich and just absolutely full of emotion. I haven’t even seen Gone With the Wind but just from this theme you can get a sense of the epic scope of the film.

Violin concerto allegro moderato by Pete Tchaikovsky

Yes, simplicity is good, but sometimes a showpiece will bring the house down. As well as my estimation of myself. If you’re impatient, you can fast-forward to 5:36 where you can watch a nerdy-looking polio surviving violiner do some serious badass pwn-age.

If you bought a copy of my newly released debut record, “The Learning Days”, you’ll see a little name in the credits and hear a big voice on the record: Sara Melson.

Although not a household name, Sara is an exceptional L.A.-based songwriter and singer who has had some notable success including having a song on Grey’s Anatomy and singing backup for Moby on the The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Moby and Sara

Pictured: Moby, Sara, other white clad singers. Not pictured: Jay Leno, Jay Leno's chin.

This blog post will be less about how I got her to sing on my record, but more about what her being on the record means to me.

So let’s begin. And we will begin with…

Neil Halstead, my bearded musical raison d’être:

Neil Halstead

Full beard = extra realness

My bread and butter as a musician is fingerstyle guitar and finding beauty in the melancholy. And I learned how to do both from Neil’s songs. Specifically, this song and this song respectively.

Now then. Neil has a band called Mojave 3 and in 2006, their lovely bassist and co-vocalist, Rachel Goswell, fell ill and couldn’t tour in support of their new album. So as a young Blue Blue Satellite sat and listened to his favorite band on the highly influential Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show, I was saddened to not hear Rachel Goswell, but was gladdened to hear a more than capable replacement.

KCRW

Click to enlarge. Witty captions ensue.

The DJ said it was “Sarah Nelson”. After some intense research on internet search portal Google(Google, the verb, had yet to be invented), I realized that it was Sara, no “h”, and Melson, not “n”. Sara Melson. It didn’t take her long to gain me as a fan because her gift of melody, her bold, brave lyricism and her killer wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing voice made becoming a fan a no-brainer.

Meanwhile, Mojave 3 had posted a blog about their bass player’s health woes:

Mojave 3 blog

Before there was Facebook, there was MySpace...and Tom. (Click to enlarge and read).

Did you catch that? Let’s take a closer look…

Two magical words

Capitalize the "s" and you've got yerself a song!

That’s right…it was this blog post and those two words, “Sister Rachel”, that inspired me to write my poppiest song to date: “Sister Rachel”. It has since been a mainstay in my setlists and always manages to be quite a crowd pleaser. And when Sara Melson graciously agreed to provide some vocals on my record, there was no doubt in my mind: it had to be on “Sister Rachel”. And it couldn’t have worked out better…the way the second verse comes in, the key and vocal range, the harmonies…it’s like Sara’s vocals had found their way home. Every time I listen to that track, I break into a big dopey grin when her vocals enter.

So in summary, here’s serendipity Blue Blue Satellite style: Sara sings on “Sister Rachel” which was inspired by Rachel Goswell of my musical heroes Mojave 3, whom Sara stood in for when Rachel fell ill while Mojave 3 blogged about their “sister Rachel” which inspired me to write my song “Sister Rachel” which Sara sings on.

Too convoluted? Ok then, I’ll put it in the form of  a lame poem:

I love Sara Melson
I love Mojave 3
Sara sang with Mojave
and now she sang with me.

Blue Blue Satellite

p.s. despite her cool success, it ain’t easy being a full time musician in L.A. and Sara needs help to raise funds for her next album…lend a hand here. Tell her Blue Blue Satellite sent ya…

On Friday, a professional musician came in to the studio and played pedal steel on a few of my songs. Just hearing a professional touch playing an instrument I adore on a song that I wrote was an unforgettable moment. Goosebumps, chills, tears…bodily functions were at peak flow. And although that last sentence has a powerful lack of eloquence and subtlety, I can assure you that Anders Drerup’s touch on a handful of my songs was as eloquent and subtle as a Shakespearean ninja(i.e. very eloquent, very subtle).

And let’s not forget a few days prior when Tim Watson stopped by to add some drums to a track as well. I just watched the video footage I shot and as it started I thought to myself, “Weird, I don’t remember listening to a kickass rock song in the studio”…then it dawned on me that it was my song with Tim beating the hell out of the skins for the track. A monster on the kit making a monster out of the song…and again, let me assure you, that is a good thing.

I blogged awhile back that I’d probably cheap out and muddle through all the instruments myself in order to save a couple of bucks. Am I glad I didn’t, and that I got these two gentlemen in because once you have the real deal on the tracks it just kicks it up several notches. I can’t wait to hear it all mixed and mastered… It. will. be. EPIC.

Blue Blue Satellite

Let me tell you a story. A story of torturous decisions, of trying circumstances, of struggling against the odds….a story of…..heavy metal.

About a year ago I had a couple of days of vacation booked to go down to Sacramento to see Metallica live. Yes, Metallica. Literally hours before my flight, some s*** hit the fan at work. And when you’re on a Marketing team with limited resources, when s*** hits the fan, the scatological blast radius is all-encompassing.  As evening wore into night(and as my early flight time loomed), the possibility that I’d have to cancel the trip and miss the concert became probability. It’s a good thing that the office was empty around midnight because I would have been bad company given the dark mood I was in.

After much agonizing though, I decided to go, dealing with the consequences as they came. And come they did as the situation worsened as I learned over costly long distance calls and text messages. By the time I got to Sacramento, I was out of my dark mood…and in a much dimmer, deeper, danker and dangerous one.

And then….the concert.

There is a holy moment when music connects with you. Really. Just. Connects. And like the alignment of the cosmos in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Metallica, for one night only, was my Monolith. Being 28-year veteran Rock and Roll Hall of Famers, the band’s mastery of their technique and live show was something to behold. All the stress and tension from work didn’t just melt away but was lit on fire and cooked extra crispy in a hail of stage pyrotechnics and 115dB guitar shred. Never have I screamed along word-for-word and pumped my fist in the air with such reckless, furious abandonment than at this show.

I’ve been to a lot of concerts and many have been memorable spectacles in my life, but this concert, well this time…it was personal. And the frustration I was feeling from the “real world” took a back seat for a couple of hours as a monumental exercise in the power of music played out within me.

So the stigma of metal be damned. Or any type of music for that matter. I hope you’ve had or will one day have an experience similar to mine whether it be from a Metallica show, or a Justin Beiber show. Although it’d probably take another Metallica conert to allow me to vent the complications of attending a Beiber show…

Metallica: I thank you.

Blue Blue Satellite

I once heard it said that it’s not the amount of applause after a performance that tells you how good it was, but the silence just before the applause.

I won’t pretend that I’ve held an audience spellbound enough to garner that moment of awed stillness, but it does make me reflect on something. For years now, I’ve been playing at Toronto folk venue the Free Times Caf. And more often than not, I’ve had a very rapt, respectful crowd at those shows. I’ve played my trilogy of pretty, sad and pretty sad songs(“Don’t Cry”, “The Fair’s In Town Tonight”, “Against the Northern Sky”) and the room has been dead quiet. It’s quite a compliment and oddly quite a rush for me as a performer.

Lately however, I’ve had a rapid-fire opportunity to play at three different Toronto venues: Cadillac Lounge, Koolhaus and Holy Joe’s. Cadillac Lounge was cool, but the other two, well, I got a dose of reality. The reality of “if they don’t know your music, they’re going to talk over you”. I don’t blame them, really. I’ve always been quite cognisant of the fact that no matter how great I believe my music to be, somebody else will think the complete opposite. Oftentimes, that person will be in the room during your show. Oftentimes that person will have something to say loudly to the person next to them during your set. But as the clich goes: if you can just reach one person…

…And I consistently do. The Koolhaus gig was an expensive advertising fundraiser with high-powered execs with an open bar at 5pm where I was playing off in a corner. I did my thing, nobody was really paying attention, but after I wrapped up my set and was packing up, one of the wait staff gave me a “hey man, nice set” and really, that’s all I need to hear.

I wrote a song, and someone else dug it. Trs cool.

Blue Blue Satellite