Inspired by Rehearsal

Posted on: November 19th, 2012 by ben

We had a great rehearsal yesterday afternoon and I can’t wait for Wednesday night’s show! Ruthie is an awesome drummer — solid and steady — and Dave’s bass playing and high harmony parts add to both sides of the hi-fi experience. Dennis has been on a mission to rock with grit and overdrive and a few more foot pedals than I’ve ever seen him use before. All this gives me plenty of room to sit back and listen, which is a good thing to do while you’re performing. In fact, I can completely stop playing at almost any time to great effect. (As Todd Snider once quipped, “Silence — music’s original alternative!”)

It is always a challenge to avoid feedback when playing lead on an acoustic instrument in an electric band. That’s because magnetic pickups on electric instruments amplify changes in a magnetic field, while acoustic pickups and mics are amplifying physical vibrations. When you pipe those vibrations through house and monitor speakers, the resulting sound waves don’t interfere with the electric instruments, but the mics all pick them up again and again in a feedback loop. I need the volume dialed up as high as it can go without feedback in order for the rhythm parts to be loud enough to blend with the band, so when I jump in with a lead, everybody else has to pull back a tiny bit, which isn’t always the desired effect of an instrumental solo.

I’m dreaming of foot pedals which are tough to use with acoustic instruments. Hmm… Maybe it’s time for one of these!

Unexpected Outcomes

Posted on: November 4th, 2012 by ben

It’s been a long time coming and now it’s official. Our latest CD “Long Season” has led to the birth of our new band — Americana Graffiti! This was absolutely unintentional, but it makes perfect sense to us. The Courtney Janes will continue playing bluegrass-influenced folk and roots rock as a (mostly) acoustic duo. Americana Graffiti is a full band with drums and plenty of electrophonic instrumentalisms.

Our first gig will be the grand opening of The Hopmonk Tavern in Novato. The music venue will easily be one of the top 5 in Marin, on a par with Terrapin Crossroads and The Sweetwater.

The best part is The Courtney Janes will open for us!

We’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this. What’s your favorite band with a side-project?

The Merry Month of May

Posted on: June 7th, 2012 by ben

May was a busy month. I took two road trips — one with the boys to celebrate K’s birthday, and another to attend a music festival. My 14-year-old car started spewing smoke halfway through the first trip. We made it home but it needed about $850 of work so I finally bit the bullet and got a new car. I started going deep with my job search with several organizations and I hope to be making a big decision in the near future. My band had several more mixing sessions for the CD and I got to sit in with my favorite band for children at Ashkenaz.

Of all these experiences, the most blog-worthy was the chance to attend the Strawberry Music Festival at Camp Mather in Yosemite. For awhile in the 90’s I collected bootleg recordings, convinced my favorite musicians saved their best licks for their live shows. Some of my favorite bootlegs were from Strawberry, so I knew it was a special place. Guitarist David Grier tells a story of a harrowing drive to that festival before his performance of a tune called “Have You Ever Been to England?” I think I found the road he describes in that story.

It was delightful spending more time with Steve & Jill’s friends — Karie and Donovan, Pam + Will, Patrick and Cindy, Paul, John, Jeff and an ever-present entourage of young people. Being away from my own young people, I also took full advantage of my freedom to play as much music as I could! I jammed with my friends at “Camp Get Enough Music” and a menagerie of banjoists — Rick, Peter and our new friend (and banjo-maker) Tom Nechville. I was happy Larry recruited me for the breakfast broadcast on Sunday morning and Rick was kind to get up early and join me on stage.

Besides playing music, I love discovering great music for listening and dancing. The California Honeydrops were my favorites. Sarah and the Tall Boys were an equally pleasant surprise. And it is always great to see Alison Krauss and her band. I was thrilled to see my favorite dobro player on a regular old flattop guitar for the encore. That will keep me going for a long time.

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Catching Up on the Mix

Posted on: April 21st, 2012 by ben

We spent April Fool’s Day in the studio with Erik Yates (from Hot Buttered Rum) and the amazing Jill Pierce. Dennis and I overdubbed vocals for a few tracks and we added harmonies with Jill. Erik played accordion, flute and clarinet for us. It was an inspiring session. (Stay tuned for the Vimeo…)

On Thursday we began mixing in earnest. Our session ran from 5:30 to 10 p.m. and we walked away with complete mixes for five tracks. I am always amazed how time consuming it can be to mix a song — and our sessions were pretty simple. In fact, we intentionally limited ourselves. By recording multiple sources in the same room, most tracks are not completely isolated, so you cannot make an edit to one track without editing others.

Still, there are limitless digital possibilities. I have been told about one program that can take the signal of a guitar strumming a chord and sweeten the tuning of a single string!

The most effective edits we made were in panning. One of our rough mixes sounded a bit muddy. By panning the drums on the left with the guitar and moving the bass over to the right with the mandolin, it suddenly became easier to hear all the instruments clearly. We made another track Mono, to give it a bit of an AM radio feel. In general, we have Dennis and his guitar on the left, while I’m on the right with my guitar or my mandolin. Decisions like that help to keep a coherent sound throughout a project. But some tracks are much more folk, while others are straight-ahead rock. A few might are solidly alt-country, one feels like an old swing-era tune and one even has a bit of a zydeco flavor. It’s fun and exciting to try to find the right sonic space for each track.

We’ll go back in on Tuesday in hopes of finishing.

In Development

Posted on: March 29th, 2012 by ben

I have several mobile apps in development.

One of them is almost ready to submit to the iTunes store. About 90% of the app is working the way I envisioned it. But in order to get the last 10% dialed I need to abandon some of the things I’ve come to rely upon, face a steep learning curve and embrace The Great Unknown.

Specifically, I am moving data from a property list into a SQLite database and rewriting the code to support the move. I don’t mind the programming gruntwork. My resistance purely stems from a lack of experience with relational database management. I can copy blocks of alpha code and even trust that it will work but I long for a deeper understanding before I begin.

How much research–how much knowledge–is enough? I am reading books and watching online tutorials, but my client is anxious.

There are some things I will only understand in concept until I experience them at runtime.