Archives for posts with tag: Toronto

Looking back at the Blue Blog, I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this topic before. If ever I had a pre-rehearsed, ranting opinion about something, it is the following:

Accusing an artist of selling out is itself a sellout.

I’m applying this specifically to musical criticisms, like when an artist switches styles, not when an artist hawks an ad or sells their song to a Burger King or a Grand Theft Auto.

First off, the sellout argument has been so over-used that it carries zero weight and tells your listener or reader nothing about your opinion. It’s like being anti-gay marriage and wading into the debate armed only with the already-specious “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” line. It’s lazy reasoning.

Secondly, if a songwriter who’s known for, say, deep, introspective lyrics decides to do a bubblegum pop album, as long as he or she still writes all their own songs, that’s not selling out. If you and only you are creating something artistic, no matter how “commercial” or “mainstream” it is, it’s still coming from your own creative force and that makes it unique and legit…i.e. not a sellout.

I’m saying all this because I’ve found that I’m running out of ideas for songs. Specifically, the lyrical theme of a song…i.e. the subject matter. I’d love to tell you that I’ve had a hard life and that I’ve hitchhiked coast to coast and met every type of man, woman and child along the way and therefore have a wealth of songs buried in me, but the truth is, I’m an average, middle class Canadian. So what does that mean for Blue Blue Satellite lyrics? It means….I lie. If I can’t come up with lyrics from the heart, I will make them up. That’s right. So if I write a song that sounds uber sincere, think twice…I just may want you to think it’s sincere. But, following from my “sellout” theory above, it’s the very fact that I want you to think it’s sincere that makes it sincere. It’s pretty much the songwriting equivalent of movie making. I’m sure Coppola would have loved to capture and chronicle the life and drama of a real mafia family in real-time, but since he couldn’t, he created a fictional account of one. But it doesn’t make it any less of a powerful film.

So here’s the twist. My latest song, “The Storyteller” is a song about all of this. I think the line “but even if there’s one attentive ear / you’ll see it drive away the doubt and fear” sums it all up. In the end, who really cares if a songwriter wrote a song, if it’s in line with their previous work, if they actually experienced what’s being sung, if you’re interpreting it as they intended? If you’re touched by a song, that’s what’s real and that’s all that matters.

I will end this blog now, before I italicize it to death.

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When it comes to my vocals, I’ve always been the first to admit that it can use work. “Work” is an understatement, it needs slave labour. I’m not  arrogant enough to reject vocal lessons, but until I actually take some, I cover up my weak singing with what I am only too arrogant to claim: great songwriting. But there is another way….

And that way is to add a vocal harmony of a voice that’s better than yours. If you are not familiar with the concept of harmony, it’s essentially the bread and butter of Simon & Garfunkel. Actually, it’s the “bread” of Simon & Garfunkel. The “butter” would probably be, you guessed it, songwriting. So add all that up; great singers, great harmonies, great songwriting equals legendary folk duo. Which is why they’re Simon & Garfunkel and I’m blogging about Simon & Garfunkel.

Anyway, I finally wrote a song that features a prominent vocal harmony by a close friend of mine. She was definitely one of the milestones in the early evolution of Blue Blue Satellite so I’m happy we were able to record this together and have it for the archives. I think our voices blend well and sure enough her quality voice redirects attention from my inferior one. The song is called “The Storyteller” and you can hear it in its entirety here: Storyteller.mp3

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Collaboration has never really been my strong suit when it comes to songwriting. I’ve always enjoyed being in control of my own songs; melody, music, lyrics, what-have-you. Live, though, the solo act does have serious limitations. Sure, all the attention is all on you and only you…a perk that I can assure you is not lost on me, but sometimes what is lost is the audience. When I got my loop pedal it upped the ante some, but even then, over-use that and you risk crossing over to being like those ridiculous, yet hilarious, one-man-bands with cymbals between his knees and a bass drum strapped to his back. The singer/songwriter/circus act is not a niche I’d like to corner…

So all that being said, nothing really beats a good band setup. A few months back, I cobbled together a one-time-only band and we jammed with the ghetto-est of gear but once again, the music rose above! It was a thrill for me to hear Sister Rachel, my “single” if you will, with a full band setup. Then at an Open Stage recently, I got the host, who is also a drummer, play along with my newer song “Thieves”…he nailed it and once again, the seed of expanding the Blue Blue Satellite head count germinated…

So this Sunday, I intend to go back to the Open Stage and do Sister Rachel and recruit the full house band if possible. Even just the addition of a drummer is an epic improvement over beating on my guitar body like some kind of organ grinder monkey and then looping it with the RC-2. Looking forward to it…for the first time, Blue Blue Satellite will rock!

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I started my web presence on MySpace back in 2005. MySpace has always been good to me. Thank you MySpace. You gave me a means by which I can have my modest artist page and have my tunes streaming front and centre, showing off to the world how few people listen to my songs.

But the time has come to turn the (web)page.  The only active thing left on the MySpace account was my blog which, bafflingly, got almost 3x the traffic that my songs had. The blog has been fun and will continue, but will continue here at WordPress. I’m sorry MySpace, your relevance is waning. Even your testament of how few people listen to me has been usurped …that job now goes to my YouTube channel.

BLUE BLUE SATELLITE MYSPACE BLOG READERS: Thank you for reading. I can’t believe you do, but the numbers don’t lie…so thank you. But the fun isn’t about to let up…welcome to the WordPress blog…please continue reading right here, right now.

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I debuted my two of my newest songs live at an open stage the other night. It’s been awhile since I’ve played live and it was a good feeling to “be back” of sorts. I was at Supermarket in Kensington and this seems like a pretty high profile open stage. By which I mean it’s very much a showcase of people who want to show off. Me included.

It helps that there’s a full band setup on stage so there’s a wide range of musical styles represented. Which is a good opportunity for me to sit back and silently pass judgement on the acts. Yes, I’m that shallow and competitive. But not delusional though and I’ll readily admit that many of the acts schooled me. But mostly because they played a style of music that is very condusive to large, late night drinking crowds who really aren’t there to see you. So up-tempo full-band blues and rock jams always got a good response from the crowd. Singer/songwriters not so much.

But I was comforted in the fact that very few people are doing what I’m doing, which is moody folk songs using a finger picking guitar style. In *my* mind, that says that Blue Blue Satellite is unique. Realistically however, that says that nobody is interested in Blue Blue Satellite’s music. Whatever, while I’m still independent and “undiscovered” I’ll stay true to myself…which is a good thing because I’ll therefore probably be true to myself for a long time to come…

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Be forwarned. This is going to be a very music-nerdy kind of post.

I’ve long had an affinity for the pedal steel guitar. You may have seen it if you’ve ever seen a traditional country band and there’s some dude you think is lazy because he’s sitting down, playing a guitar that’s kinda on a table.

Well, that’s the pedal steel. And he’s not lazy. Sure, it’s sweet being able to sit down and play an instrument, but from what I know about how a pedal steel operates, he’s not only playing the guitar with his hands but he’s controlling the volume with his feet and controlling the string tension with this knees…all in real time.

Here’s an example I shot when I visited the Grand Ole Opry a few years back. (link axed for copyright reasons)

Technical skill aside however, the pedal steel creates one of the most beautiful modern musical sounds I know. The only way I can describe it is it sounds like a warm desert wind. Especially when played as accompaniment to a slower ballad. My favorite band Mojave 3 are the masters of this. Unfortunately, pedal steels start at around $1000 and are difficult to learn(I’d imagine) and would be a tough addition footprint-wise for my home “studio”:

My point is for years I’ve been trying to approximate the sound of a pedal steel. I used to use a synthesized midi patch(I think it was Pad 6 (metallic)) to decent results which you can hear on thesecond verse of my song “The Fair’s in Town Tonight”. On my latest song “Thieves”(listen now) I tried a method which I think is the closest yet: using a slide on an electric guitar then tweaking the volume fades using software. And by “slide” I mean “empty wine bottle”. A quick note about the song. I think it’s a good song, not great. Musically, it’s pretty stock but I think its strength is more in the lyrics for a change. But it was a nice benchmark for my new quasi-pedal steel. “Benchmark”? “Quasi”? Wow, I wasn’t kidding when I said it’d be a nerd post.

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How could I write “My favorite band Mojave 3 are the masters of this.” without backing this claim up?:

Ok, I’ll level with you oh anonymous blog reader. I like the FOX TV show “Glee”. They’ve got a nice little thing going there with a fun cast of characters, energetic arrangements of some classic tunes and hoo doggy can that little Lea Michele belt a tune out something fierce!

Recently I was in attendance at the finals for an American Idol-type contest for the Toronto District School Board. The “opening act”(if one can really have an opening act for a high-school knock-off of a reality show) was a choir of mentally challenged students. Yes, there were a lot of polite smiles and cheers but in all honesty they were pretty good and the crowd got behind them. They may not have been Vocal Adrenaline or even New Directions circa Glee episode 1 but as the host, Funkmaster Flex(or something), said, they really showed us the joy of music.

And I guess that’s what I like about Glee. It may not be completely my style of music(quite often it’s the polar opposite) but the spirit is there. Good songs, punctuating the emotional arcs of the characters, delivered with passion and enthusiasm….even if they tend to have the beautiful singers front-and-centre and the aforementioned Lea Michele is an established broadway singer. You know, it’s very telling to just compare the title of this show with another music-oriented show: “Glee” vs. “Idol”. As a musician I can tell you that there is much glee to be had in music. What the hell does being an idol have to do with music?

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I don’t know if songwriting is a skill or a talent. I tend to think of it as the latter but for society’s sake, I hope it’s the former. That is, something that anybody can pick up with a little instruction and practice. Songwriting is such a wonderful experience. So rewarding, so artistic, so cathartic, so….needed. So when I think of it as a talent that only a few are gifted with, it seems unfair to those those who are missing out.

So here’s my small attempt to let anybody experience the magic of songwriting…I’m going to attempt to break it down into a skill. And I’ll do it by trying to concretely describe how I write my songs.

For starters, you need inspiration. Whatever moves you. The girl, the world…anything. Sometimes just coming up with a title for a song gets the creative juices flowing. This happened to me with my newest song. I thought “Thieves” would make a good title and ran with it.

Then maybe decide how you’re going to approach the songwriting. Are you going to recount the story as a narrative(e.g. Boy Named Sue) or express it poetically and abstractly(e.g. Blowin’ in the Wind)? That’ll get you going on lyrics. And remember, lyrics don’t always have to rhyme.

Next up, melody. If you can hum or whistle, you can invent a melody. My only advice in this department? Make sure it’s not predictable. Melodies are like written sentences. Don’t write the melodious equivalent of “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Finally the accompaniment. Unfortunately this does require you to know how to play some kind of instrument that can do chords. My weapon of choice is the guitar. Piano’s a good one too. To be honest, I’ll often start with the accompaniment(the chord progression) but I didn’t want to turn people off who can’t play an instrument.

And that’s pretty how to write a song. Sure there’s song structure, instrumentation, phrasing, time signatures, rhyming pattern, harmonies, backup singers, tempo, percussion, samples, extended drum solos, weird Coldplay falsettos and mid-song raps to consider, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. At least for Blue Blue Satellite. And if all else fails…steal steal steal. But not from my songs.

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Popular music is a funny thing. If the idea of being in the right place at the right time was ever apt, it most certainly is for pop musicians.

By contrast, look at sports. No rec league athlete will ever claim to be able to hang with the pros. And if they can, you can bet that they’ll be plucked from obscurity pretty damn fast.

Now back to popular music. I’ve had the pleasure to play on the same bill as and watch some very talented local musicians. Key word being “local”. They aren’t known outside of their own little circle of friends, family and modest fanbase. And probably never will be. Yet if I were to hear their songs on the radio in a set of other, “established” artists, I wouldn’t bat an ear, if indeed an ear could be bat.

Now, I’ve written some good songs. Well hell, I’ve written some great songs! I honestly believe that my songs such as “Sister Rachel”, “Against the Northern Sky”, “The Learning Days” to name a few are all songs that would feel at home in a set of say, Coldplay, Damian Rice or Feist songs. Certainly Jack Johnson or John Mayer. Hell, I’m feeling ballsy…I’d even put those songs up against U2 or Tom Petty.

Delusional? Nope. Bitter? Uh-uh. Blinded by my sad inability to have my music heard by more than 10 people? Hell no. A little cocky swagger never hurt anybody. Just ask Oasis. But at the end of the day, John Q. Softballer will never hit like Barry Bonds. But can “Against the Northern Sky” give, say,  “Hallelujah” a run for its money? I most certainly think it could…

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A couple of weekends ago I played my first benefit. It was for METRAC, a local organization which raises awareness of violence against women and children(

It was a very fun evening with 20 or so acts going on in a span of 4 hours. Pretty epic but if you think about it, it’s essentially just a by-invite-only Open Stage. But hey, Blue Blue Satellite got an invite, so who am I to judge? It may have been a rapid-fire 10 minute set but it was a great cause.

I was lucky enough to have had a very stable and happy childhood so the thought that there are women and children in my city who are victims of violence or who live in fear thereof, during this time of year especially, is sickening. I hope the money we raised that night does some good.

Regarding the show, I did two songs…tried to keep the mood light, so I did a Christmas song and an upbeat song(covered Sara Melson’s “The Holidaze” and did my own “Photographs and Wine”). I guess it’s a good thing that we only had 10 minutes…any more and I would have run out of happy songs to sing. And if there’s any truth to the “know thy audience” adage, well, a Sunday holiday crowd full of children was no time to be playing my moody, melancholy shoegaze tunes like “The Fair’s in Town Tonight” or “Against the Northern Sky”.

So thanks Monique Barry(organizer), Cadillac Lounge and METRAC for a good time!

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