Thursday, November 7, 2013

So. How ya been?

The last time I posted to HearSoundsWrite—almost two years ago, as the timestamp on the post below this one indicates—I was at the precipice of something new. In fact, I'd already begun a transition from largely ignored music blogger to largely ignored musician.

Early in 2010, I was bored. I mean that in a musical sense—I'd grown sick of playing acoustic guitar by myself, sometimes taking to a coffee shop to play the twenty songs in a cleared out corner for kindhearted friends and the occasional onlooker. Every now and again, I'd have someone ask if I was in a band—"Nope, just me"— or if they could buy a CD—"I don't have one."

Perhaps I felt insignificant or as though I owed myself something, but I developed an itch to address these voids. I posted a Craigslist ad in March of 2011 in search of a likeminded musician interested in collaborating on...anything, really. It's through that listing that I met a songwriter, who introduced me to a guitarist, who passed my demos along to a drummer, who shared them with a bassplayer. And that, more or less, is how my band fell into my lap. After the first songwriter and I played together for a few months, she became involved in another project. Then, in July or August, that I found myself in a shed with the other three musicians, feeling simultaneously exhilarated and in over my head.

I'd also begun to explore the possibility of recording an album. I had a batch of songs of which I was relatively proud, and a few bucks in the bank—why shouldn't I indulge in such a worthwhile adventure I've long coveted? I knew a guy whose band had hired a local producer to record their album, so I asked for his information. We set up a meeting, and the producer agreed to work with me on a ten song record. While my initial plan was track everything on my own, I chose to recruit my newfound musical comrades as session players to expand the album's sonic reach. It was an opportunity they eagerly embraced. We rehearsed for several months before tracking the songs. These rehearsal sessions led to two new songs (one each from the bassist and guitarist) finding their way onto the record.

The recording process wasn't always smooth. Our producer was sometimes tough to nail down, and we probably blew his budget which resulted in a bit of tension. Because of this, there were takes I wanted to scrap but had to live with, and they still sting to hear. But I'm still tremendously proud of what we put together, and it was an invaluable learning experience for future studio ventures. I'll never forget the day the printed CDs arrived. Still one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

I spent most of 2012 gigging with the band. I'd only ever played with a band in high school, and since then, my performance experience had consisted almost exclusively of tame coffee house gigs. Now, I was playing dive bars on weeknights amidst drunks and partiers, all the while scrambling to learn about pedal boards and amplifiers and how to sing over a rock band. I had a lot of sore throats in 2012. I was also the band's de facto manager, publicist, point of contact, problem solver and HR director. All the while I was working an 8 to 5 job. And now you realize why the blog fell dormant.

We did OK for ourselves. We were never as tight as we could be, but we were a happy stage band and rarely had trouble winning over a bar crowd. But things eventually fizzled. Some tension between band members compounded by my growing desire to scale back led to a semi-amicable dissolution in December 2012. We played a final gig at a favorite dive bar in downtown Charleston, to a raucous reception. After loading out and driving home, I crawled into bed at 2:30 AM. Despite the screaming tinnitus and still-pumping adrenaline, I slept as hard as I can remember.

It was an eventful run. We played to packed bars and we played to empty houses. We appeared in local papers and on local television. We played on some fairly impressive local stages and played in sticky bar corners. We even hit the road a couple of times (Myrtle Beach counts, right?) Just like with the recording process, it was an eye-opening and educational experience. More than anything, I felt initiated.

About a month after the band parted ways, another unique opportunity emerged. The songwriter I'd initially met on Craigslist contacted the guitarist and me to help her with a folk project. A connection had encouraged her to submit for a slot in at a major festival in Virginia, and she asked if we'd round out the act. So we gathered and recorded some demos on a laptop. And believe it or not, we were accepted. Figuring we needed something to sell, we planned a weekend trip to Nashville to record at the guitarist's cousin's home studio. The cousin, an engineer who's worked with some impressive names, was gracious to lend his expertise and impressive arsenal of equipment to our project—pro bono, no less. The result was a five song EP with dazzling sound quality.

The festival was a bit of a letdown. It was clear from the onset that our little act was an afterthought. Perhaps we should have expected it—after all, we essentially BS'ed our way into a lineup filled with some heavy hitters. We were naive enough to think we'd at least get a stage and a PA; we got neither. But, hey, on the bright side: free VIP festival ticket! After all, it was another unique experience I certainly don't regret. Plus, the project gave us the magical Nashville recording experience and forced me to become a better mandolin player.

I never forgot about the blog, though. I've come back and reread old posts and often had the urge to update, but something stupid happened: I let my ownership of the domain expire, and some prospector snapped it up. I guess I take that as a compliment, since it means the domain was worth something. Anyway, this crushed my motivation since who wants to operate with the ignominy of a .blogspot URL? But a recent exchange led me to check on the status of the domain, and lo and behold, it was available. Yesterday, I repurchased the domain. And here I am, back on the horse. For now, anyway.

I doubt I'll update as often as I did back in the day. My duties as a musician haven't completely subsided—I'm still playing, writing and recording music, and in fact am traveling back to Nashville in a few week's time. I'm also writing for a prominent South Carolina Gamecocks blog. Plus, there's that job thing. That said, my brain's got a backlog of musical rumination, observations and lamentations that need a home. And even though it's been a few years, that's exactly how this place feels.

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