Don’t fall…

I have a confession to make. I’m a “closet fan” of Linkin Park… While they’re not the “coolest” of bands in my circles, especially among my music friends, their first two albums Hybrid Theory and Meteora in particular sit amongst my fave albums of all time. Definitely a case of “I like your old stuff better than your new stuff,” but still…

There is so much groove in the riffs, the guitar tone is massive, and the impressive vocal performances meshed with the raw power and energy of the underlying music is just a magic combination in my book.

The interplay between Chester Bennington’s melodic vocals and Mike Shinoda’s rhymes is just gold. There’s a directness and a simplicity—dare I say honesty?—to the lyrics. A lot of them reflect on the challenges of personal relationships. They could so easily come across as naïve or contrived, but they don’t. There’s a “real-ness” to it, an anger and frustration that is infused in their delivery, making it feel like a genuine reflection of lived experience, a rarity in what is ostensibly a pop-rock song.

A friend said recently “[Chester Bennington] sang so many of my sentiments over the years.” Yeh, me too. Another friend noted that working out to their music was a saving grace, helping them on a weekly basis work through their own challenges. That speaks to the powerful combination of music, energy, lyrics, and vocal delivery—all of it together is what makes it work.

That said, Chester’s voice, in particular, was a big part of my connection with the music. Not only in terms of the emotion and power evident in the delivery, but also his melodic choices—the intervals and directions he took really caught my attention and imagination. Someone more learned in music theory can probably explain why—perhaps it’s reminiscent of a lot of my favourite vocalists like Sting, Bjork, Colin Hay, Jeff Buckley… In any case—I liked it. A lot.

He had the most amazing tone to his voice too. There’s a scene in the DVD that accompanies the special edition of Meteora, looking at the making of the album, where I think it’s (producer) Rick Rubin who says that there’s an upper harmonic to his vocals that makes it sound like he’s doubling the part, when it’s just a solo vocal. In the doco they single that out and it’s really apparent, but you can hear it in all their recorded work if you listen closely.

And, IMO, he just oozed cool in terms of his visual persona. I really wanted to be able to pull off that look (but there was no chance)!

There’s another scene in that documentary that stuck with me. The first album has a lot of dark lyrics—there is often no resolution or uplift. In the end is a great example (now, sadly, being used as a reflection of Chester’s choices). Given the initial success of their debut album, it was clear this music, and these lyrics, were resonating with millions of people worldwide. Ruben highlights to the guys that their words are an influence on so many people, and suggests they consider how they might shape those lyrics for a higher purpose, to provide a light, guiding people through the murkiness, not just reflecting it…

You can see in the film that the young lyricists—Chester and Mike—really take this to heart, adding a lot of weight to the creative process and no doubt to each of them individually. (And I wonder if this weight had any bearing on recent events?) But you can also hear this shift in the music. The anger and frustration and power remains in the delivery, but there’s a subtle but important shift, that continued into later albums.

There was an introspection, an examination of the role we each individually play in creating our own situations. But also a pushing back, saying “it’s not just about me, and I don’t have to accept it.” I can move on, and beyond this. (See, for example, Breaking the Habit, Faint and Numb.)

All of this makes the recent news of Chester’s passing deeply felt for myself, and clearly some of my friends (based on what I’m reading in my social networks). It is the third occasion I’ve heard about in recent months where a talented songwriter, lyricist, singer and performer has taken their own life. And seemingly when they had it together. For example, Chris Cornell had seemingly made it out the other side of the grunge heyday, when we lost so many talents—Kurt Cobain, Layne Staley, Scott Weiland—to name but a few. They had families (Bennington leaves behind a wife and 6 kids). And both still enjoy a degree of commercial success, and the adoration of a plethora of fans.

When I was working with I recall hearing that a report of suicide in the news often triggered a spate of suicides in the community. I wonder (and worry) that this is what is happening here. (Bennington was very close to Cornell.) It’s one thing to hear about a suicide from afar, but it always hits harder when it’s a person who is close to you, or is so admired and through whose music we develop such a strong connection. If so many people drew hope and inspiration and outplayed their own anger and frustrations through this music—as is evident through my own experience and those of my friends—what happens with the people behind that music take their own life? Does this set a template? Are people “inspired” by this action to follow suit?

I hope not.

As Tim Byron, in response to the news of Simon Holmes’ passing, so eloquently stated (the whole post is definitely worth reading, but I’m quoting one bit at length here):

“…I want to point out that it’s sometimes hard for men of a certain age to admit to needing help—there’s a cultural value in Australia about resilience and self-reliance and stoicism, and a feeling that getting on with tit is the best you can do. There’s a good side to this, I think—it often means you don’t get caught up in the small stuff. But it also means that people often lose the ability to deal with the big stuff.”

“Going and seeing a doctor and getting a referral to government-subsidised sessions with a psychologist isn’t going to totally uproot your identity. It’s not self-indulgent.”

“…if you’ve read this, and you had a poor experience with a psychologist, and that put you off—please do try again. … Sometimes you don’t quite connect with a psychologist—psychologists do have a variety of personalities. It’s worth persisting until you get someone you do connect with.”

I wholeheartedly second this statement, especially the bit about “try again”.

I’m white, middle-class, and male. This puts me in a position of privilege, and it’s easy to think and feel when you’re wrestling with the pressures and challenges of life that “I’ve got it good, why should I need help or support? I should have all this together. I shouldn’t complain. I shouldn’t lean on others.” You could argue the same for the above people, adding to that their success commercially and the admiration of others for their skills in their chosen craft as an additional driver against seeking help. But it is so important that if you find yourself in that situation, that you do get support.

Personally I have chosen to do as Tim advises—a year or so ago I sought out the support of a psychologist to help me untangle the anxieties and constant feeling of exhaustion that I was feeling. It was a decision that has helped me tremendously. (But it took 2–3 attempts to find the right one for me…) I’ve also taken to meditating, after two good friends shared with me that they had benefited from the program (an iPhone app). I signed up, and have found a great benefit in doing so. And I’ve also found N.E.T. and kinesiology of help.

In reflecting on these recent events, I choose to see the spirit and extraordinary talent in what the likes of Chester, Chris and Simon provided in their time with us as my inspiration. To work through my own challenges via an appreciation and connection to their art, rather than any final choices they made.

I also choose to take that inspiration and channel it towards my own art, something that I have lost touch with in recent years, having done very little songwriting and performance in that time. I have renewed vigour in re-locating my creative voice, and expressing that. Even in small ways, untethered to goals and aspirations of commercial success. It’s the least I can do to honour their gift to me (and countless others) in their music.

I thank the creative spirit for their gifts and how their sharing of those gifts have helped me, and no doubt will continue to do so, through my tough times. I hope that their legacy continues to bring joy and support to others. And that our memory of them will remain on the light in their lives, not the darkness of their passing…

Hippy bifday to me…

I’m having a birthday.

One that ends in a “Zero”.

Wanting to do something small to mark the occasion.

Doing two things:

  1. Seeing Death Cab for Cutie on 1 August at the Opera House. 10 years ago, I celebrated my birthday by going to see DCFC at Home in Darling Harbour. Great show. Figured given the timing being not far away from my birthday again, that this show would be a fitting “revisit”. Given the nature of the latest album, being a bit more about “growing up”, also a little poignant. The last show Ang and I saw at the Opera House (heh: from “Home” to the “House”)—Elbow—was amazing. We discovered a little gem near Wynyard serving a tremendous selection of boutique beers on tap called Frankie’s Pizza. Seems like the perfect start to the evening. So kicking off there about 5ish. Dinner. Then the show.

  2. I live in Katoomba now. I love the place. I feel my roots starting to dig in up here. And it’s a long way from Circular Quay 😉 So, I’d really like to do something close to home to mark the occasion as well. I’m away on business on my actual birthday (in Darwin, attending/co-facilitating/participating in the Broadband for the Bush Forum), but figured I might just hole up at Station Bar, one of our favourite joints up this way—and perhaps unsurprisingly one that usually has a great selection of boutique beers on tap (noticing a theme here?). Date: Saturday 18 July. Time: 6pm+.

’twill be low key. But fun… If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance it’d be great to have you there 🙂

So, if you’re up for it let me know which/when/where in the comments so I can book tables and stuff…

Reconnecting with music

I’ve been trying to reconnect with the art of having fun making music.

Anyone that knows me well knows that making and performing music has been a big part of my life for, like, forever.

But since Fuzu called it a day, in part due to my sojourn into Sustainable Practice at uni, I’ve found it hard to reconnect with any particular musical venture.

I had the support of some great musician friends to record an EP last year, but that project feels like it’s stalled. Which is disappointing. If only because I feel like I’m dishonouring the effort and creativity of the folks involved. It don’t treat that lightly.

But, to be honest, I’d forgotten the tremendous amount of energy and headspace required to do justice to a project like that. My previous efforts were all group efforts—with a band, where each member contributed some forward momentum to the process. This project felt different, as it was to record something akin to a “solo” project. And a lot of hard work. To co-ordinate. To write. To rehearse. To arrange. To perform. To mix. To promote. To turn it into “something”. Something of note. Something to carry forward. Something that begins something else.

After many years doing the whole “band thing”, I recognise and acknowledge that if you want to make it in the business, you have to treat it like a business. And after many years of trying to do that, I am at a point where I think I’ve worked out I don’t actually want it to be a business.

I want to reconnect with the feeling that I get when inspiration strikes. A sense that you are a conduit for something more. Something outside yourself.

That sense of flow that you get where you lose an hour evolving and developing a riff. A verse. A lyrical idea. An arrangement.

That sense of camaraderie that emerges from being in a room with other musicians and you create something that feels bigger than yourself.

A synergy.

A spark that begets a spark that is transformed into something to share. And when another human connects with that, to honour that mutual sense of connection. Of a shared experience, emotion, sentiment, imagery.

For the longest time I’d start a song, or a project, and enjoy that creative process. I’d enjoy the opportunity to get in front of an audience (with a bit of marketing and relationship building with venues/bookers etc.). And to experience all that.

Times have changed.

My professional life requires a lot more headspace.

To even get a gig now requires a solid Facebook following. And a guaranteed audience.

I get that. I understand.

But I’ve come to realise that’s not what I connect with music around.

So… letting go of some of that, I decided I need to revisit the sorts of behaviours that got me started. And to let go of some of the baggage around the whole “making music” thing.

A new song doesn’t have to be a launching point for an EP or recording project.

A jam doesn’t have to be the launching point for a band.

A performance doesn’t have to be at a commercial venue.

So, I’ve been attending the Western Fringe songwriting sessions here in Katoomba. Stewart Peters and Snez have been organising these for some time (and until recently they were running at Parramatta at, the now defunct, Mars Hill Cafe).

Watching Stewart and Snez perform at those sessions was inspiring. It reminded me about the “why?” A passion for connecting with the creative spirit. To express oneself. To enjoy the process.

Since I’ve started attending the sessions, two songs have flowed. Not a lot (esp. compared to what I used to produce), but a start. And I’ve enjoyed reconnecting with the art. With that spirit. And having a small audience to share that with—not necessarily having to have it finished, polished, recorded, marketed, rehearsed, socialised via facebook et. al.

To just create. For the sake of it.

I was speaking to one of my besties the other day, and he was advocating the virtues of just woodshedding on your instrument. To find flow running scales, transcribing a favourite line, playing along with someone else’s work. And, importantly, not having to come up with something new.

There’s something very strongly appealing to me about that.

I remember many hours spent working out (and later transcribing) bass lines at home and at uni. ‘Shedding on scales and patterns from instructional videos from John Patitucci and other inspiring players. There was a joy. In the challenge. In the flow. In the developing of one’s own “voice” on the instrument, through understanding what you liked in others’. To find resonance with/in what others’ have got to say. And to pass that forward.

So I think I’ll be setting aside some time in the coming weeks to give it a go.

In the hope I can rekindle that connection to what is important to me about music.

To understand and process the world around me.

To express my emotions. To transform negative energy and experiences into something positive. (And to celebrate the positive stuff too.)

Annandale brick in the wall…

I’m a fan of live music. I am a musician and count on venues to remain viable as an outlet for my artistic expression. The Annandale is a long-running venue in Sydney’s inner-west. I’ve played there, and seen countless great gigs there. It would be a great shame to see it close, especially so to make way for residential apartments.

The Annandale recently launched a “buy a brick” campaign, where fans of the venue can contribute $20–250 to get their name on a plaque at the venue. This is to help reduce debt and upgrade facilities.

At face value, this seems like a great thing to contribute to — a way of supporting live music into the future. Especially important with venues like the Hopetoun having shutdown some months ago and there being very few venues around in the inner-city continuing to support live music.

But… I have a doubt. As the FasterLouder article (linked above) notes, the venue has been under the same management for 10 years. There is no indication anywhere in the article, nor the Annandale’s campaign page, is how the Rule brothers intend on actually turning around the fortunes of the hotel (e.g. get it out of debt and into a sustainable, viable ongoing concern).

I assume (though it’s not clear) that the “membership” system is one of renewing annual membership. It’s not clear how much money the scheme is intended to raise. There’s no indication as to the level of debt that needs to be cleared, or how much the upgrades are going to cost and thus how much the scheme will likely assist in achieving this goal. While I’m sure it was a last ditch effort to avoid foreclosure, selling the poker machines has devalued the venue and removed an important revenue stream — this seems like a very short-sighted and ultimately detrimental decision.

I want to support this initiative. But I want to know my money is going to actually create the desired outcome — a vibrant, ongoing, sustainable Annandale hotel. Unfortunately, based on the information provided to date it’s hard to say whether this would be a worthwhile thing to put my money into. Not because I don’t care, but because I don’t know if it would actually work/help.

This is the second crowdsourcing project that I’ve seen that has suffered from this problem. also put the call out to supporters to bankroll it for a year, with promises of “bold plans” for becoming an ongoing, sustainable journalistic enterprise. These bold plans never materialised (unless the odd sponsorship/prize draw are the extent). Promises of a new site design and mobile tools never seemed to come about. A year rolled by and NewMatilda were again asking for support. Without any sense that the organisation is self-sustaining on the basis of anything but an annual membership drive makes it a harder to support.

If you’re going to enlist the support of the “crowd”, you really need to communicate your plans and increase your transparency so that we can make an informed judgement. Be honest about what your plans are, and honest when you aren’t able to deliver on them.

I will be keeping an eye on the Annandale project — I do hope that more details come to light so that I can count myself among their supporter/membership base. But until then, my contribution will be limited to being an interested bystander…

Top 5 albums (in 2010)

I’m a couple of days late, but was just thinking about my fave albums of 2010 and thought it would be nice to document them here for future reference.  This “Top 5” list is of music that I acquired during 2010 (not necessarily released this year) and is in a loose order, though it’s hard to distinguish some of them.

Bon Iver — For Emma, Forever Ago: I’m very late to this particular album, but since picking it up earlier this year, this album has resonated with me in a very deep way.  Absolutely beautiful and spellbinding.  Some may find it a bit depressing, personally I find it quite calming and uplifting.

Fionn Regan — The End of History: I first heard this album at a friend’s party, and managed to pick it up dirt cheap (for $2!) at a record sale shortly after.  The rawness of the acoustic arrangements appeals to me much more than his most current album.  Some lovely turns of phrase and atmospherically charged moments.

Brian Borcherdt — Torches (Side 2004/05): I downloaded this album for free from Brian’s site based on the recommendation of a friend and was immediately taken by it.  Another mellow acoustic set (what is it with me and mellow acoustic male singers this year?) — simple arrangements, but a lovely mood.  I’m a much bigger fan of Side 2004/05 than the second album from the sessions, and I’ve since bought his previous album on iTunes with much the same feeling.

Land of Talk — Cloak and Cipher: Ang and I have become fans of this band since getting their previous album Some are Lakes a little while back, and this new album certainly didn’t disappoint.  A much more polished affair than Some are Lakes, but still retaining the essence and energy of what I suspect is a great live band.

The Mercury Program — A Data Learn the Language: I found this band after hearing them on the cafe speakers at Berkelouw Newtown.  I chased them up on iTunes and grabbed this album (released in 2002) and loved it.  Very reminiscent of Pivot (now PVT), though pre-dating Pivot’s debut, and Tortoise.  Another great atmospheric instrumental, guitar melody-driven album to add to the collection.

There were also two “notable mentions” that came up for me when compiling the list:

Arcade Fire — The Suburbs: I didn’t really get into this band with their previous albums, but I finally caved into the hype and picked this one up after seeing the wonderful Google Maps mashup “video” that accompanied The Wilderness Downtown.  I think that really set the tone as it grounded the songs in my own childhood growing up in a Queensland suburb.  There are a couple of misfires on the album, but the standout tracks like Ready to Start make up for them.

Massive Attack — Heligoland: it’s been a while since I felt Massive Attack hit the mark — this one nearly gets there, but not quite.  It still has some great tracks on it and I hope is a signal of a return to form — really looking forward to the next one.

Novation 25SL – first impressions

While in Hong Kong on my recent holiday (I hope to have some photos and thoughts up on Flickr soonish) I picked up a Novation 25SL mk II. I wanted something a bit smaller for live performance (the previous 49 note keyboard took up a lot of space on stage) that didn’t lack the various faders, controls and triggers of the M-Audio Axiom 49 that I’ve been using for some time.

Over the jump is my first impressions of the Novation, specifically as used with Ableton Live…

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Launching The Point

So in my recent busy-ness, I’ve neglected to post on what’s been happening in Fuzu land…

First single

We recently ran a competition asking folks to choose our first single from our new EP The Point – which they thankfully did 🙂

We’re kicking off with Fire Exit, which you can check out on
MySpace or download from the Fuzu website (does anyone know where the download link went from MySpace’s player? We’ve enabled downloading, but can’t seem to see the download option in the player anymore…)

Launch gig

Launch gig poster (details reproduced below)

We’re booked in to launch the EP at the Supper Club on 9 July.
The Rapids and Sean Carey, who also engineered the EP, will be joining us for the night.

We’re looking forward to officially launching the EP and showing off the limited edition packaging; each is hand screenprinted and numbered, and featuring fab artwork from We Buy Your Kids.

We’ll also be playing the tracks off the EP and debuting some new material. Should be a fun night 🙂


The Point is now available on iTunes – which is always a buzz. We’d be stoked if you could leave a review as well. (And just a note that you can also get our previous EP Between The Lines there too…)

EP progress/budget

In a previous post I outlined the costs of recording an independent EP, and hinted that with Fuzu‘s second EP we were trying to significantly reduce our costs.

Some friends who read the post found it useful, and I’ve also participated in some further discussions on a related post over at new music strategies.

As we’ve just completed mixing and mastering (i.e. we’re close to finished the project) I thought it might be worthwhile looking at the costs so far…

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FBi Radio fundraiser on Thursday and Friday

Just a quick note to say that I’ll be joining a host of great musos this Thursday and Friday night at the Hopetoun Hotel, Surry Hills, to perform songs from Big Star for the nonzero records/FBi radio fundraiser show.

If you’re on Facebook, you can get more details on the event page.

On the Thursday night Fuzu (my band) is also playing a 40 minute set kicking off around 9:15pm. But if you can’t make that, we’re also playing a headline show the following Wednesday at the Hopetoun (Facebookers: details here).