You know the feeling you get when putting on a coat you wore the week before and reach into the pocket and discover a small memento of a night out with a loved one, close friends...or even someone really special...that has yet to discover you find them *that* kind of special? It’s in those quiet moments and private times that with a deft and delicate hand, those mementos, a receipt, a napkin of a bar from a first date, a concert ticket, a matchbox from a restaurant … finds their way into a box under a bed or in a closet and are taken out months or years later to be closely examined, taking you back that particular time and place.
What about when it's not a tattered playbill, a shell from a far off beach or a stone from the other side of the planet? What about when it’s not something material you can carry with you? What about something you carry within you? Music is what we can all carry with us. My own inner playlist is as varied as you who read this. Tonight’s blog is four pieces of music that have touched me at unique points (if not recent points) of my life. A bit of the when’s, how’s and where’s are included.
Las Vegas, NV
Bon Iver - Holocene
Late one night, I sat at my computer looking up a few facts and figures on a (then) upcoming project and found myself pleasantly distracted. The ethereal, moving, meditative calm that makes the sonic fingerprint of Bon Iver’s self titled 2011 celebrated album and the leading single plays out more art piece than a typical “the-lyrics-mean-this” delivery. To start your day with ‘Holocene’ or to close your night out with it, you can’t go wrong. My own emotional stamp of it, is that this is one of the rare songs that preps you for the day ahead to make the right choices, or to review your day late at night through the luxury of hindsight and wonder if your “would-have-could-have’s” have merit. I love the drums in ‘Holocene.’ Its not that they are memorable (i.e. Phil Collins In The Air Tonight), but they serve more as a texture than time-keeping capacity. The subtle panning on the guitar is really nice too. There are a few stellar covers around, one of my favorites is voice, marimba and alto sax….in a parking lot….live.
We Are All Astronauts - Ether
I’m convinced that Skynet is real. I am also convinced that Skynet isn’t robots intent on wiping out mankind….but in fact turning them on to new music. I am also convinced that Skynet is really just the ‘Music You May Like’ algorithm on Youtube. I swear: that algorrithm knows me better than friends I’ve known all my life. Your listening to Tribe? Check this B side out from a one-and-done rapper that is absolute fire. Oh...Tupac this morning? You may love this interview he did talking about this song. Missing somebody in your life? You may like this soul crushing anthem. Excited to take on the world today? Here is a playlist that you can play when charging into battle.
That said: the algorithm delivered sonic gold in the form of We Are All Astronauts track Ether. I’m sure as of this writing I’ve listened to this track over a hundred times. More than a few times has this been the soundtrack to driving late at night under clear skies in the deserts surrounding Las Vegas. The peaks and valleys of this piece are incredible. The listener is brought to the highest zenith where you can see for miles and miles...then softly sat down in the closing section of the piece, and be a better person for it. The comments on the Youtube page reflect the best attribute of the song. The song isn’t happy…..it isn’t sad...it’s what you think it is. One listener simply wrote, “This song gives me power not to give up on life.”
Lord Huron - The Night We Met
Shimmery 6/8 guitar? Check. Slap delay? Check. Lyrics missing someone special? Check. Lord Huron’s The Night We Met is the song you hear on a roadhouse jukebox on outskirts of town that reminds you why your inside a roadhouse on the outskirts of town at midnight on a Wednesday night, alone, drinking down the damper between you and another sleepless night. This song doesn’t provide you the answers to why she left. It only agrees with you on a solitary point: she’s gone and it hurts. The lyrics …”I had all of you and then most of you and now none of you.”
Boy Harsher - Pain
Its interesting when you dig deep enough in music and find artists or songs that give creative nods to their own inspirations. I recently discovered the dark journey of Boy Harsher’s Pain. Equal parts goth, synthwave and new wave. A relentless synth and dark and atmospheric vocals give this 2014 track a dark sexual energy that made it a welcome dance floor anthem at a recent late night event I was at. Not all music has to be about falling in love, or falling out. Sometimes it can be about the dark crevices of the human condition. Favorite lyric: I am needing this from you tonight
Your side, your dark side.
I am born, raised and live in Las Vegas.
Anywhere on the planet I have ever gone, when I am introduced as being from Las Vegas, I am always asked what it is like to live here, or told about a trip somebody is planning or still recovering from. Waking up in a hotel room two states away earlier this month and going about my business that day was the first time the excitement in meeting a Vegas Native (yes...we are a rare breed) was met with with sorrow, sympathy and empathy. Seeing your hometown suffer a tragedy like the events of October 1st, in simple terms: profound.
Ever since Mandalay Bay opened, it has been one of my favorite resorts on The Strip. Great food, nightlife, daylife, spas, rooms, venues….you could check in Monday and check out Friday, and never have to leave the property. The two largest audiences I have ever performed for happened at Mandalay Bay. Once as a loop artist, the other as a trumpeter. Mandalay Bay has always, still continues to be a very special place to.
Years ago…..I mean years ago. I was working a job near the Strip. It was the first week of training and all week my eye had been caught by a girl who just had the certain something that made her stand out. On the second to last day of the work week, I asked for her number. On the last day, I asked her to spend the afternoon with me after work.
“Where do you want to go?” she asks.
“Howabout Mandalay Bay?” I reply.
“Perfect.” She says.
We meet. We get lunch. We walk around the casino. We check out the view from the top of the tower. Finally we walk down to the pool. Actually, thats a lie….We snuck into the pool. So there we were, two young lovers-to-be….in the middle of the summer... laying on deck chairs….wearing head to toe black. Long sleeves, slacks, boots. (It was our work uniform). We didn’t exactly blend in with all of the sunburns, floppy hats and swimsuits that lined the pool.
The afternoon was going really well. The conversation never stopped until...well it stopped. It didn’t stop because we ran out of things to talk about, it didn’t stop because things got boring. It stopped for the best reason possible.
She kissed me.
Not just, a kiss….but the kiss. The kiss that you hope in the awkward crucible of high school will one day finally come. The kind that screen writers explain and explore in prose better than my own. The kind that your write about years after it happened. It was the first time her and I shared a kiss together.
Soon after said kiss, someone took notice of the black clad couple in the pool. Room keys and numbers were requested by security and upon failure of her and I to materialize with a decent cover story: we were politely shown the door. The near-heatstroke, the sunburn...all if it was worth it. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t change anything, hell, I still wouldn’t apply sunscreen.
That's my town.
That's my Mandalay Bay.
Beautiful things happen there every day. Beautiful things happen in this city all the time. Even amidst the chaos and carnage, heroic and beautiful stories surfaced. Total strangers saving each other’s lives. First responders establishing order in the thick of unheard of chaos. Watching the videos of people getting reunited can make even the saltiest person tear up and the expidience in which funds were raised for the victims and their families.
Fifty Eight people didn’t make it home that night. Fifty eight people. Fifty eight communities, families, friends, book clubs, jobs paths, flourishing careers, sons, daughters, wives.
You don’t have to go far here in Las Vegas to find someone that was either at the event, or knew someone that was...and more common than I want to admit, knew somebody that was lost.
Like anyone else in their right mind, I don’t have answers. All you have is the process that is uniquely yours to help understand Oct 1….
Last week, I went to the ‘Welcome To Las Vegas’ Sign to pay my own brand of respect to those we lost and the hundreds injured. A sea of flowers, cards, flags, candles, jerseys and hundreds of others types of mementos flooded sign area. It was incredible to see people in the local, regional, national and international community to come together and support one another.
On my way out from the sign area I stopped to take a couple of photos (all of the ones I have posted here) and a big gust blew from the east. A large piece of posterboard with well wishes inscribed was blown from the vigil and was headed for the street. I moved to get in front of it to save it from blowing away and no sooner had I moved those three steps do I turn around to five people already finding stuff to put on top of it as I set it down, helping secure it, helping it find it’s place…..helping.
A microcosm of the whole event: Unexpected events met with complete strangers helping other….and helping those that can’t help themselves, or those that aren’t with us anymore.
That’s my city.
That’s Las Vegas…
And beautiful things happen here every day.
Las Vegas, NV
October 20, 2017
"I'm more than just a singer." ---Holly Pyle
It’s a hot mid summer’s night in Scottsdale, Arizona and by the time I have checked into my hotel, secured dinner and cleaned up….it is well into the evening and the nightlife in this affluent suburb of Phoenix is well into their third drink of the night and music is pouring out of every wine bar, microbrewery and traditional bar in any direction I look. Keeping the canal to my right, I make way through the various art bodegas, galleries and yoga studios that dot the downtown area and ask locals along the way, “Where is a great place to check out killer music tonight?” Everybody gives me the same answer, but directions are as varied as the people that give them. One thing is agreed on: I am to “look for the large bouncer outside of a door with no name.” Rounding a corner and down a narrow alley, I see the promised bouncer and the anonymous door….I have come to the right place.
House of Stairs is the first group I have witnessed that features looping as an equal part to the traditional colors of a trio (guitar, bass, drums). Instead of looping serving as a small piece of the equation, the loop platform serves as the centerpiece of the ensemble and the rhythmic and harmonic colors fit seamlessly and organically around what is running through the looper. The artist doing the heavy lifting is Holly Pyle. Vocal looper, composer, songwriter and closet piano/uke player, Holly serves as frontwoman of a stacked band that ‘supports her looping habit’ and in her words, “wastes no time” in exploring musical ideas, avenues and possibilities.’
With influences like Schubert, Phillip Glass, Thom Yorke, Ella Fitzgerald and more, it is easy to see the sonic and creative footprint each of these artists has left on Pyle’s own career. With a a voice that emphasises the nuances of the lyrics rather than technique in which it is conveyed,it’s easy to hear the influence of Ella’s ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’, mix it with a Radiohead moodiness and and rich, realized sound of any parlor piece by Schubert, Holly Pyle honors her heroes of the past while still pushing House of Stairs into the future.
On the next break Holly and I sit in a booth trading looping stories in the muted glow of the venue when she shares her pre show routine. “I’m huge on pitch and intonation. I have excercises I have found on Youtube. You suck for the first five minutes...no doubt...but once you get into them, they are very helpful. After the show, I have my own warm down and if my voice is really tired, I make as little sound as possible.” I ask her what she wants to improve on: “I would love to get a wider beat boxing palette. A wider palette will allow a bass player to go a little more crazy and focus less on having to keep time.”
House of Stairs takes the stage again and go into their version of The Beatles ‘ “Across The Universe.” The song unravels like the a mystery novel. You’re not rewarded by a famous hook, or even the melody right away….the audience has to earn it by hanging onto to every note House Of Stairs rewards the listener with. Suddenly, the song has all of it’s primary colors and you’re well into the second chorus. The voices Holly has layered complement what the keyboards are doing ( courtesy of resident mad scientist and keyboardist-at-large Garrison Jones). The pitch is spot on. I’m left scratching my head on how these magicians pulled this trick off…..and the girl at the other end of the bar is too busy on Tinder to realize she was witness to killer musicianship.
A few days later I am in Holly’s home studio taking shelter from the relentless Phoenix sun and she is showing me how she uses the transpose feature onboard her 505. I show her the litany of vocal effects I use. She uses my EQ for vocal percussion. I try to decipher how she used the transpose feature five minutes before! What’s obvious about Pyle is that through constant experimentation, she is always on the edge and adding something new to her solo shows and as part of House Of Stairs. I ask her what is the most important quality a musician should have. “Being adaptive.I’m always listening to what the band is doing in hopes I can interact with it in some fashion. Within looping it’s the ultimate for matching/interacting with whatever tracks I lay down, regardless of whether it’s a deliberate arrangement or improvised loops.”
The next morning, with the sun breaking over the Arizona horizon I point my car home and race across the desert floor to Las Vegas and mull over my experience with House Of Cards and meeting each member at a personal level. Seeing the interaction onstage with a live looper was something I had never seen before and watching arrangement switch directions on a dime….incredible. Three hours later I pull into Vegas wanting my next musical address to be wherever the House of Cards may be found, and maybe...just maybe….get another lesson on the ‘transpose” button.
Be it at home or on the road, give House Of Stairs a listen when they are in your area. Keep up with them on Facebook and check in with them on their website.
Somewhere between Phoenix , Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada.
“Dude...are you still alive?”
That's the common question I’ve received from a number of my music peers around the world in the past month since I’ve taken a small (and much needed break ) from social media and my public profile. Fret not though, even though I’ve been of the radar, I have been working really hard in getting new material ready to roll out of the next couple of months. There are a number of things I want to catch you up on both on and offstage and a few more things I need to let incubate privately before bringing them into the light.
I’ve recently added the Roland JDXI keyboard to my set up. Hang on...relax….yes I am still a vocal looper...yes my shows will always be vocal-centric, but the JDXI is getting thrown into the mix for certain gigs that need a bit of extra sounds that no matter how much I stretch, manipulate, push, pull or drag my voice into new sonic territory…..a keyboard just does the trick better. What I dig about the JDXI is the easy-to-use set up and of course the sounds. If you need string patches, piano, synth(y) bass and a stellar Rhodes...then the JDXI has it in spades. With the small footprint and very lightweight, consider this piece as a very viable and versatile addition to your live or studio set up.
If you have ever stopped at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant and had the best Mexican, Italian, Chines, Barbecue, etc in your life and wondered….”What in the hell was I doing with my life before I came here,” then you probably know where I am going with this. After a recent stop at the Phoenix, Arizona Sam Ash, one of the guitar associates recommended the Octamizer and after testing it out on my set up in store, I asked the above question. I called up the team and as of this writing UPS has my very own Octamizer in a brown truck on it’s way to my pedalboard.
Look for a proper review on this and the JDXI in the future…..
If I was any more excited about dropping my new album, I would probably be seeking medical help….or clinical counseling. This a long gestating project that has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. With enough false starts in other studios to stock five blogs….my music found a home at a studio here in Vegas and more importantly with an engineer who heard and saw the sculpture in the stone early on.
We are two songs away from finishing the recording side, then have a bit of mixing/mastering then will get physical copies and digital downloads ready to go. I have a few surprises on the album an it’s surrounding release that will get brought out into the public eye in the next while once I am ready to drop it. I’ve not heard anybody in the looping community do anything like what has been achieved in the studio and sincerely hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we did making it.
The corporate side of things has kept me busy and on the road the past couple of months. Vegas, Phoenix and Denver next month make a busy tour docket. I am really excited about this Friday’s kick off at new digs at The Cromwell. Arguably one of the swankiest spots on the famed Las Vegas Strip, this Hotel/Casino features one of the biusests night/dayclubs in Vegas and quite frankly some really pretty people that work there. Look for the new vocal looping set up AND the keyboard to make its debut in the lounge this Friday and next.
There are a number of things that are still incubating and will be brought out in due time. ‘Next level’ is really the only way I can describe it. I am beyond thankful for the individuals and companies that have supported me this summer in me taking my career to the next spot. Keep on eye on my social media, I’ll let you know when the album is ready to drop and getting some tour dates made available.
Big love to all of you wherever this finds you,
Walt Blanton was about as punk rock as it got. Opinionated, passionate and burned with a youthful fury in his dealings on and offstage that was inclusive and inspiring to students, peers and colleagues alike. Walt and I talked about Jack Kerouac novels a lot. It was easy to understand as an undergrad that men like Walt were exactly who Kerouac was talking about when writing about those that are “Mad to live, made to talk, mad to experience everything all at once, and never say a common place thing.”
It was rare…if ever, that you didn’t get 100% of Walt. On the chance I didn’t….Walt would put his hand on my shoulder and apologize…then down his fourth…or fifth espresso of the day. Walt was a barfight in well pressed slacks…..a riot in a collared shirt serving as an educator, musician, mentor, father figure and more to countless individuals over his teaching career.
After talking with Walt…you were every bit as energized, engaged and inspired as any follower of Lombardi, Bernstein or Eisenhower. One comment from Walt would have you taking on the Mongol hordes with a potato gun. One comment could inspire the confidence and pride in yourself to dig ever deeper, and find the core of an etude, exercise or excerpt…and claim it as your own.
As an incoming college student years ago, Walt was served not only as my Trumpet instructor, but also a safe harbor. I had zero clue what I was doing going into college…and truth be told, I stumbled, staggered and bounced around the music college until they decided I had enough, and gave me my walking papers five years later…in form of a college diploma.
You could count on Walt to always be there in your lesson. That was the double edged sword. He was either the Dad you brought the shiny new etude you practiced all week and were ready to show off….or he was the leviathan waiting in the deep to scare the hell out of you because collegiate partying and co-eds ranked higher that week than the Thelonious Monk song you were asked to learn.
There probably isn’t a student of Walt on this planet that wasn’t the focus of his fury at some point in time. I remember the time 21-year-old me thought it would be a great idea to sass back at Walt because I had enough ‘tough love’ that particular lesson….Tigers don’t move as fast as an enraged Walt Blanton kicking you…your Tumpet case….backpack and anything else you walked in with out of his studio and closing the door.
He scared the living hell out of me that day…….
My next lesson…..I could play ‘Bemsha Swing’ better than most mortals.
The next three years….I listened to, read, researched, transcribed and studied all things Louis Armstrong with a reckless abandon. Walt introduced me to one of my largest inspirations on Trumpet and in a sense….Louis Armstrong inspired me to be the best teacher I could be.
My favorite photo of Louis is one that was taken on the steps of his home in Queens, New York. Looking more neighborly with his summer clothes and hat than one of the deities of Jazz Music, Louis has two neighborhood kids enthralled by the guy who simply lives across the street and happens to play trumpet. The look on the kids faces says it all. The humanity pouring out of the photo has always touched me. It shows Louis Armstrong the person…not the public image or icon. Just a guy being a good neighbor and hanging with some kids.
The look on the kid’s faces was not entirely different from what my Trumpet brothers and sisters would have with Walt showing us phrasing, breathing, scales or blowing over Rhythm Changes.
My second or third year of college I came back to school after a long summer, but now had a major change to contend with. Braces. I tried practicing over the summer with them…but had very little success. I almost quit music. I almost ‘took a semester off.’ The day came when I articulated this to Walt.
“John,” He says….”You still have to play Trumpet.”
Angry. Sad. Confused. I could only reply, “Why?”
“Because you have to.”
Don’t give up.
No matter how dark it may get…how high the mountain may be…how fast the wind is blowing…go back to your basics…..long tones….lip slurs….blowing the pipe….and go after that goal….just keep putting your feet in front of each other.
The last time I saw Walt, I ran into him at a restaurant in Las Vegas. The reaction I had when I first saw him, the other dining patrons must have thought the Beatles were setting up for a secret gig. How else can you react, but with unabashed love and joy when the man who instilled so many positive tools for a life, shows up at your local watering hole?
I never got the chance to show Walt my new path I forged in music. I never got the chance to show him that like him, I would constantly search for the cutting edge in my own artist expression, and use that as a jumping off point.
What I lacked in opportunity, I make up for in my actions. My own path has me in front of tomorrow’s artists…. guiding, encouraging….and at times kicking them out of my own studio for not practicing. I have to consider, what would have happened if I didn’t have Walt’s guidance to keep pushing further into music. What would have happened if Louis Armstrong transcriptions were never part of my own musical upbringing?
The greatest monument to a person isn’t etched into a mountain or held behind velvet ropes in a museum. It is in your thoughts….your actions….your ideas in the quiet moments in life. How many people Walt inspired will never be known, but it doesn’t take too deep of digging to see those living tribute to Walt Blanton on the world’s concert halls….or shows on the Las Vegas Strip…college symposiums in South Carolina, a Trumpet lesson in Colorado….or a symphony in Japan.
Walt’s shadow will cast long after he is laid to rest. Still though, I have to look to my brothers and sisters in music and implore them as Walt would….Keep pushing, keep working…if it gets tough, go back to basics and recommit. Find the edge and go past it. Take the chance and stay focused. Not because it is right…not because it is wrong…but because you have to.
Las Vegas, NV
In my laundry room my beat-up world weary suitcase sits next to my washing machine. Her insides still full with a week’s worth of laundry and a few goodies Winter NAMM 2017 sent my way. Tonight, the laundry will remain undone and the toys, trinkets, pedals and more from the largest music trade show in the world will remain like last week’s shirts, untouched and neglected. No fewer than a few scant hours have passed since the long ribbon on concrete and asphalt led me from Anaheim, California back to my home in the high desert of Southern Nevada and I am left reflecting on the how the road does wonderous things for the mind. It gives you a solace and clarity that few other activities can afford. Tonight’s blog articulates a number of my NAMM experiences in vivid techicolor and puts them into words before vivid memories makes way to hazy recollection.
The NAMM Show represents something different to everybody that goes there. A sort of 4 day Rorshach test for the musical auteur. For some it’s to be discovered, others to do the discovering. The start up music company is thrown into the race with established giants of industry, or maybe the very giant they are up against is on the look out for something new and innovative to change the marketplace. Maybe that change comes from the guys that have a twelve by twelve booth and a small tattered vinyl sign advertising their small piece of the expo.
NAMM will bring out the widest cross section of the music loving, making and selling audience you will ever see. In my own experiences, it isn’t the guy walking around with the biggest entourage (Stevie Wonder) or the largest security guards (Steve Vai) that will have the furthest reach or the deepest pockets. It’s usually the extreme ends of the musical-meets-fiscal measuring stick. It’s the guy/girl with a planner full of meetings that will decide on the next year’s million dollar deal with X, Y or Z company, or as mentioned earlier, it’s the inventor, the musician, or salesperson that has the next great thing or idea that just needs one change and a business card to change the musical landscape. Both people you will walk by at NAMM. Both people will pass right by you….and you will never know it.
If the music manufacturers are one half of team music maker, then the artists themselves are the other half. There is a stage or jam session hitting any myriad of musical sweet tooths out there. Jazz guitarists wowing gathering crowds with enough alt chords to make Joe Pass weep with joy, bass grooves to spare, guitar pyro technics from holdovers of the hair metal days and horn players making the newest trumpets, trombones and more look and sound incredible. It’s when you least expect it when a musical talent knocks the wind out of your from the sheer amazement they have in their craft.
Lisa Bella Donna. Damn. Stopped me in her tracks with her playing. Her Hammond was ran through an array of Earthquaker devices. Delays (single and double as Sarah’s flute) but also reverbs that gave her Hammond space to live and breath in. Shades of Bill Evan’s hit me when listening to her with her masterful stroke of silence vs. sound. Where many musicians can just not play and silence happens, her silences and and uses of spaces was deafening in the best way possible. She allowed the music to develop with Sarah in an unrushed and unimpeded way that left you guessing and wanting the next note. In a convention hall where volume of sound and notes is king, Lisa was the queen of NAMM in giving a very captive audience the exact amount of notes, texture and groove that made her music collaborative effort with Hargis my favorite musical moment of NAMM. The Mini Moog she was playing delivered warm bass lines to drive the music forward or reign it in as needed. My immediate homework for NAMM is to find more of their music as soon as possible.
As NAMM 2017 gets put into the past tense and the wheeling, dealing and beat making sets up the rest of 2017, I am truly thankful for being able to spend the past four? Five? Days with so many musicians from around the world. I hope each found what or who they were looking for and are able to express their own art in with the help of those they met in Anaheim. The long drive back to Vegas through rain, snow and hail gave me plenty of time to decompress and defrag my brain that is beat up from 5 days of the a creative energy I’ve never experience anywhere else. If you’ve not gone to NAMM, go. Get there. Be part of the creative energy. Be part of the greater vibe for the greater good of musicians everywhere. To those that were there this year, I thank you. For your talent. For your heart and for your courage to express your art to the rest of us.
Las Vegas, NV
Jan 23 2016
2016 finally ground to a halt a little less than 48 hours ago. So much internet chatter has been dedicated to losing so many of the movers, shakers and dream makers of the world that I don’t need to add any more fuel to that fire on my website, so tonight I’ll shine a light on the positive highlights of what 2016 gave me.
From Fan to Friend…
Musicians, artists, craftsmen….we all make our living on the shoulders of the giants that preceeded us. Beethoven studied Bach, Dizzy Gillespie studied Roy Eldridge. In my own career many of the musicians scattered around the globe that have influenced my own music have in their own way, been giants. Individuals who at one point in time were no more than moving pixels on a website, turned into flesh and blood people with interviews and Skype sessions connecting me to some of my favorite artists at the personal level. Sharing tips, tricks…or in some cases….a living space with artists from around the world, 2016 gave me so many opportunities to do this, and brought these people…these giants a lot closer to the ground.
From Student to Scholar
I remember the first time I bought a mic….and a loop pedal. I remember my first gig. I remember my first gig as a loop artist. To have that clarity of those initial steps in this facet of the music industry….and to now be invited to top tier music colleges, performing arts schools and private schools…not only gives me a feeling of accomplishment, but also ground my teaching style. I taught everyone from middle school students in Gary, Indiana to some of the most accomplished collegiate musicians at USC’s Thornton School of Music, to those in the Cirque Du Solei shows on the famed Las Vegas Strip. Each group had it’s own beasts to wrestle with, but also had its own unexpected glory. 2016 gave a deeper width and breadth to my music education skill set that is refined, recharged and is already in demand in the first quarter of 2017.
From Faceless to Face-of
2016 brought me closer to the companies that have supported me for a number of years, and also brought me into the rank and file of companies I never thought I’d have the opportunity to represent. From mics to speakers to effects pedals and everything along the signal path, I’ve been very blessed to work with some of the best companies in the world, and look forward to making our symbiont relationship flourish even more in 2017.
From Chaos to Cash
When 2016 kicked off, I found myself at a crossroads. I knew I wanted to revamp my rig. New sounds, new capabilities, and a smaller footprint were paramount to the next chapter of my gear. It took me the entire year to revamp my set up and in upcoming blogs and videos, I will give you the nickel tour of my new rig. My rig now is right where I want it and the direction I see my music headed with excites me to no end.
2016 to 2017
So how do I follow up 2016? Well, this year is going to serve as me taking my music, my art, my business and more to the next level. I was talking with a musician I know a couple of nights ago and I was asked, “What is your plans for 2017?” I replied simply, “To pour gas on the fires I lit in 2016.” New videos, new gear…and an EP on the way..I have my hands more than full at the moment.
Where ever this blog finds you…I wish you happiness and health all year and into 2018. Drop me a line sometime and say hello if you dig reading my blog. I will write back…pinky swear.
Lets do this 2017,
Las Vegas, NV, USA
With the release of the BOSS RC-202 Loop Station , there is a smaller platform to loop your voice and keys or any other instrument through it’s smaller and powerful design. The smaller sibling to the flagship RC-505, the 202 has many of the same functions onboard. Input and output effects, MIDI i/o, 64 channels to save your music onto and the impressive three hours of onboard recording time.
One of the design difference between the 202 and the 505 is the display screen. With the smaller body, the 202 is equipped with a small 7 character LED screen. Today’s blog casts a light on what the abbreviated terms translate to so your practice time can spent utilizing the impressive features onboard, rather than wondering the title of each one is called.
All abbreviations are written as they are found on the RC-202.
Example: dL = Delay
Las Vegas, NV
November 13, 2016
Input/Output FX Abbreviations
Te- Tape Echo
GdL- Granular Delay
SG- Slow Gear
G2B – Guitar to Bass
PdL- Panning Dealy
APn – Auto Pan
nPn – Manual Pan
Pho- Phone Vox
hLn- Hard Limiter
nLn- Natural Limiter
hCP- Hard Compression
nCP- Natural Compression
dST- Vocal Distortion
PS- Pitch shift
rnG- Ring Mod.
LFi- Lo Fi
hPF- High Pass Filter
bPF- Band Pass Filter
LPF- Low Pass Filter
hiS- High Isolator
nis- Mid isolator
Lis- Low Isolator
E9 – EQ
UF- Vinyl Flick*
SCT- Beat Scatter*
SFT- Beat shift*
rEP- Beat Repeat*
*OUTPUT FX Only
I’m standing outside of a Peruvian restaurant in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles and as far as I can see, car dealerships line the main thoroughfare, and as far as I can tell….the artist I am here today to interview is not. I check my watch to make sure I’m on time and find a seat outside as midday LA traffic crawls down the road. No sooner have I sat down –“Hey man, sorry I’m late. LA traffic.” I look up and am greeted with the face of a young man that looks not too far removed from the gauntlet that is high school and (strange for LA) a smile. Today’s artist has arrived: Brandon “Box of Beats” Martinez.
Introductions are made as we step inside. As a testament to his choice of restaurant he admits, “I’ve been coming here for 15 years. I could eat my body weight in the lunch rolls.” His tardiness is forgiven: We have vocal looping in common, but are also loyal to local eateries, and would eat our body weight in Latin food if we could get away with it. Somehow, I think we are off to a great start.
Time is short today as Brandon has an upcoming show at the Universal Walk outside the gates of Universal Studios. “I play in front of thousands of people a night from all around the world….and its 15 minutes from my house. I am a very lucky guy.” Call it luck, skill or perseverance, Martinez in his few short years as a professional musician, has gained considerable following through social media and has a songbook that ranges from the American Songbook, to Club Anthems and Pop.
“Seeing big name vocal loopers online was my introduction into what I do now. Bands, more so than individual artists influence my sound and direction I’m headed. For me, a song doesn’t have to be crazy complicated…its just has to be musical.” Brandon’s set-up reflects this simple philosophy. An Audix OM7 Microphone and a TC Helicon VoiceLive Play. “The Audix is a crazy responsive, crazy durable mic and the VoiceLive Play gives me a small canvas to paint on.” I inquire about the effects side of his approach to music, “Outside a bit of reverb and a harmonizer every now and then, it’s pretty organic.”
Our food comes. I have steak and rice that looks like it has sat under the heat lamp for ten minutes and his is a vegetable-steak-rice creation that is vibrant and colorful and smells as good as it looks. I now have lunch envy. “I think being in choir (low tenor) made me appreciate the lyrical side of music more than having to have all of the latest toys or bells and whistles for my set up. What bands like The Lumineers, and Mumford do with less, really impresses me. The lyrics are the strongest bell and whistle in their music.”
I’m sawing through my tougher-than-LA-traffic steak with a knife that needs to retire, when our conversation comes to both the blessing and bane of artists worldwide: Self reflection. “Vocal health is paramount to a good show man. A good warm up. Tea, honey, ginger slices…all of that helps me do street shows two or three nights a week. A killer app you should check out is called Activate Your Voice. There’s a lot of solid material in there to keep you on top of your game.” I’m fighting a losing battle with my steak and Brandon is king of the world with his culinary treat. “Still though, it’s important to move forward. I’m always practicing guitar, piano and trying to improve my voice.”
Our server takes our plates away and dessert is contemplated, but turned down. Downbeat for him is in an hour and LA traffic makes for a sliding scale when it comes to showing up on time. We step outside to say our goodbyes. Handshakes lead to hugs and hugs lead to talks of a few shows together. Brandon then disappears in the LA traffic and I head back to my car. Tonight The Box of Beats will be delivered to the gates of Universal Studios and a vocal looping songbook spanning four decades will capture the attention of thousands of people from around the world. The Box of Beats will drive home that night, happy and thankful that his own sound and organic approach to live music has found a home in Northern Los Angeles .
Brandon ‘Box Of Beats’ Martinez can be found on:
Why Split Your Mic Signal?
With Vocal Looping very much in it’s infancy, many of us in the (vocal looping) community still find ourselves using guitar effects on our voice rather than….well….vocal effects. In my own experiences, I’ve applied my voice through hardware built for guitar, bass,vocals and plug-ins when I am in the studio. What about gear where you can run a voice and guitar through it? How can you spit up your voice into a vocal channel and a guitar channel? Is this possible? Today’s blog shows one route to the top of this mountain that will allow your voice utilize both guitar and vocal effects pedals.
Keep in mind, there are more than a few ways to go about this. My blog reflects my current set up. Using only foot pedals and not getting a mixer or power regulating units involved.
What I Do I need?
Lets get our usual suspect identified:
The Eventide Mixing Link
The Eventide Mixing Link is a studio level pre-amp (amongst other things) that has an immense versatility built into a small footprint. It’s ability to be used as an A/B switch, a practice amp, a mic pre, a mixer or splitting a guitar between two amps give the Mixing Link staying power as much as your mic or loop pedal on your set-up.
My current approach on the Mixing Link has me using it to sing through guitar effects pedals, but also split the signal between MIC level and INSTRUMENT level.
Splitting The Signal
Notice on the diagram the MIC is plugged into the Mixing Link? From there, the MIC is sent out the Mixing Link LINE OUT into the MIC IN on the VoiceLive 3. The MIC is also sent out of the AMP out on the Mixing Link into the GUITAR IN on the Voicelive 3. I’ve color coded the routing so you know which cable goes where.
Keep In Mind......
Congratulations….Now you have full access to the VoiceLive 3 using only your voice! The Mixing Link from Eventide can be used in a myriad of other ways to give you creative options to materialize your creative vision. Any questions or comments….Leave them below and I will reply.
See you in the practice room….
September 4, 2016
There is an endless supply of information on the web to help you achieve your goals, so much that most of the time you’re left wondering, “Where do I start?” Today’s blog is going to give a short road map to a few resources available that will help you up your musical or marketing game. Although not every entry is directly about looping, other areas important to making music professionally will have a light thrown on them.
1. How To Use An EQ
Want to know how to clear up your vocals? Want to give more presence to your drums? Want more response in the bass? This video is an incredible resource that is given in a very matter-of-fact way. Where many videos get cluttered with techie vernacular, this video is easy to understand and sound itself is reduced to its basic building blocks then built up, and readily explained from there. At 125k views, upon viewing this video, the only question you will have on this video…is “How come it doesn’t have more views?”
2. How To Assign Foot Switch Buttons To A Roland Loop Station
I’ve been there before. You have a cool creative idea, but there’s just not enough buttons to press or knobs to turn to make it happen. Luckily, music makers are giving up avenues to add functionality to our hardware. TC has the Footswitch for the Voicelive, Pigtronix has the Infinity Remote and Roland has the FS-6 for the Loop Station. The video included shows you how to program the FS-6 to function as…well almost anything the Loop Station allows it. It won’t pirate Game of Thrones episodes…but it will give you a way to add, erase and augment your music.
3. How effects.......affect
Although the videos hosted by guitar guru Johnny DeMarco are from six years ago, the information is still relevant and easy to understand. Want to know how compression works? What is a delay? What is an octaver? This collection of videos are great for anybody looking into effects pedals or thinking about making the jump to multi effects pedals. At less than 4 minutes each….these are short and to the point.
4. How To Get Awesome Fonts For Your On/Offline Needs
If you saw a heavy metal band and bought a CD off of them and their logo was Comic Sans…..yes….that Comic Sans, you would be left wondering why they chose the In-house-preschool-memo-font-of-choice instead of….well…anything better. Thankfully, there are sites out there that have thousands of easy to find, download and apply fonts. The best one I have found is Dafont.com. No fluff. No bloatware. Just fonts. Check out the movie font section, if your two-woman-cello group needs the Terminator font…they have you covered.
5. How To Turn An Image Into Vector
Whoops. You’re computer crashed and you lost the cool logo you had designed on 5iver. That’s cool. If you still have a JPEG of it, you can it converted into vector and now have it back to it’s Photoshop-friendly glory! A few weeks ago, these very thing happened to a looping peer of mine, ten minutes after sending this website his way I received an email, “Dude…you saved my butt.” Here’s to yours if it needs saving. Give Vectorizer a look!
Many of us teach in addition to our performance careers. You may have a studio of private students, or may have worked your way into presenting for classes in a workshop setting. Today’s blog is a few ideas I keep in mind when I present to a group of any size. ---JA---
I have had many bad teachers in my life. Public school through college. The truth is, I am as thankful for them as I am the incredible teachers I’ve had as well. The good teachers show you how effective an educator can be, inversely the bad educators show you what not to be. I had a college professor that told us how easy geometry and trigonometry came to him….every….class…..of…the….week.
A class isn’t about how much you know….it’s how much you can teach.
What will the students walk out with? What can they put into action in the short, intermediate and long term? Focus on that. A student remembering that MIDI is that language pedals talk to each other in, is far more effective than pontificating on the history of MIDI and the in’s and outs (pardon the expression) to finally make the point of it being a ‘language’.
Be concise. Be simple in your language.
You’re teaching for their benefit….not yours.
Look at your cell phone. Notice the numbers? Notice the letters on your apps? Notice the colors? Notice the sounds it makes when certain functions are engaged? Notice the vibration when it rings? You have just experienced many of the documented learning styles. There are visual learners that learn by seeing you do something. The aural learners can learn by listening. The tactile learners are engaged by going hands on.
An effective presentation can cover many of these areas. I try to use a camera feed to a TV screen on store workshops so the audience can see the pedals as I engage them. If it is a music business class, Powerpoint and I get along nicely. The visual aids allow students to write down websites, artists and ideas I have as they are delivered. At school workshops, I try to get as many students as I can on the mic and using my equipment. As sure as a student is making live loops, there are a dozen or so of his/her classmates watching and thinking, “If he can do that…so can I.”
The students are as much of the presentation as you are……Read that again. Did you read it again? That’s ok, I will wait. Ok…..Believe me, I’ve never had a workshop where student involvement isn’t the high water mark of the presentation. You can teach all you want, but without context or application, it is a moot point. Get a student up on the mic, or guitar and make a simple loop. Remember you first loop? Why not be a part of another young artist’s first loop? Involving your audience not only bridges the gap between teacher and student, but also serves as a litmus test for how much they have retained during your workshop.
We all love stuff. We love finding cash in an old jacket pocket. We like an app on our phone that does odd things or is the most useful app we have ever seen. Stuff is fun. Why not have your students walk out with something? They walked in not knowing about looping, or beatboxing, or how effects work, or knowing what a delay is. Give them that. Give them something they can put into action that night. I have seen t shirts with a logo of a music manufacture or even my own stickers/autographs excite student who 45 minutes before had zero clue who I was or what I do.
Ideas, instruction, inspiration and items all go a long way. Give them out freely.
The Pigtronix Infinity Loop Pedal is one of the most versatile and powerful loop pedals on the market today. The MIDI onboard the Infinity has earned a reputation as one of the best in the game and today’s article will throw a light on how to get your Pigtronix Infinity Looper MIDI Sync’d to a effects pedal that will act as a MASTER.
MIDI Syncing allows your live looping set-up the ability to have all of your effects in time. Meaning your delays, slicing effects, etc . are in time with the track you have established on your loop pedal. After getting your effects and loop pedal(s) MIDI Sync’d, gone are the days of having to guess where a certain delay is falling or having a certain effect fall out of time.
Before we get to it, there are a few terms you should now. The first one is MASTER. The MASTER is going to be the piece on your rig that is setting the tempo. In some cases, it is the loop pedal. On some loop pedals, they are made to be MIDI MASTERS. Simply put, the loop pedal sets the tempo for the effects to follow. Sometimes you will hear a MASTER also called a MIDI CLOCK.
The second term is SLAVE. The SLAVE is the piece of gear that is getting told what the tempo is. Lets say your loop pedal puts out a signal via MIDI that says “This song is 109 BPM.” The SLAVE will take that information and make adjustments accordingly and now your effects will be in time! Pretty cool huh?
Make sure you have a 5 pin MIDI cable as well, now lets begin…
Pigtronix Echolution 2 (MASTER) to Pigtronix Infinity (SLAVE)
Pigtronix has a fantastic video showcasing the MIDI capabilities of the Infinity Looper. It can be viewed here. Read ahead for the 4-1-1 on how to have your two Pigtronix devices “talk to each other” through MIDI.
1) Plug in MIDI cable into MIDI OUT on the Echolution 2
2) Plug other end of the MIDI cable into MIDI IN on the Infinity Looper
3) You’re done
This is by no means an all encompassing list of how to use MIDI nor all of the devices that showcase MIDI, but a quick look at having MIDI connect two Pigtronix devices. A MASTER MIDI signal can also be sent from a DAW and Drum Machine as well. Vocal looper/Beatboxer Shlomo has a video where he addresses how he MIDI Sync’s his rig (6:40). It is a fun watch.
Have fun in your first steps into the MIDI world…
Las Vegas, NV, USA
A few years back, I was driving across town listening to the radio in my car. Between boy bands, Youtube sensations and bubble-gum-pop songbirds fighting for airtime and Redbull-addled DJ’s droning about whatever social media was buzzing about, it was hard to find a safe harbor in the storm of music with little to no substance. I remember changing the dial a number of times and then my ears picked a sound I had never heard before. A clean rhythmic motif, simple in its approach, but delicate and deliberate in it’s execution. Then the drums come in, accenting the silence rather the sounds, with the bass making it’s entrance. The bass (like any masterful bass line) is felt more than heard. Pushing you into the lyrics of the first chorus that picks up strings a third of the way through.
And so on and so forth it went, building into the next lyric. Each lyric building into each line, each line encouraging and guiding my ear into the next verse. Each verse complimented with better and more interesting harmonies than the last. The lyrics pull you into the songsmith’s world that is equal parts self-discovery and self-reflection and soon the realization that he/she/it knows nothing…and simply is. I wasn’t familiar with the song but managed to scribble a lyric down for to figure out who made this beautiful music.
I had just had my first experience with Brian Eno. The song was ‘Spinning Away,’ from his 1990 effort Wrong Way Up made in conjunction with Velvet Underground founder John Cale. What interested me more than the cryptic lyric that I would investigate later that night, was the man that followed up the Eno/Cale selection with hidden gems from the Deep House genres, or little know/rarely played gems from David Bowie or a slow burn from the electronica/ambient world.
I had just had my first experience with Brian Eno….but this was the night I was introduced to George Lyons….
Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Downtempo, Jazz and even local bands share, rather than compete for air time on George’s show. A few months back I was driving down the interstate and listening to a band destroy (!) a track with an organ player that played with the soulful approach of a Jimmy Smith or Joey DeFrancesco, but played with fury of the gates of Hell slamming shut. Again, I wrote the song title down at the nearest off ramp to discover it was the boys from Moksha. Friends of mine from college! George’s deft hand in music taste of not only what to play, but when, had struck again.
George Lyons has featured the man born David Robert Jones many times over the ten plus years on his program. That night was the first show George introduced Bowie in past tense. You could hear sadness in George’s voice. If I could’ve crawled through my radio and given George a hug that night I would have.
With urgency of a modern day Lester Bangs but with the soft touch of a clergyman, George Lyons faithfully provides a weekly Rorschach test in audio form that allows the listener to decide what the message of a song was or what happened in the exposition between the bridge and the chorus. Again, greatness is known and as a friend of mine recently said, ‘If it is great…it will last.’ The Lyons Den has outlasted trends, management changes, budget cuts and any number of obstacles that can befall of a local radio show. Yet the Lyons Den endures….The Lyons Den perseveres….’If it is great…it will last.’
'Talent trumps all......"
A few mornings ago I walked into a bustling coffeehouse in the heart of the Arts District in Las Vegas to meet a man who is equally at home talking with Grammy-award winning bands with millions of records sold, or giving a newly formed band gems of advice to cull for inspiration and direction at their leisure. His office can be the green room at a music festival with thousands of fans just outside the red rope, an airport parking lot in asphalt jungles of Southern California or his Emmy award winning showroom that generates over 100 million views a week online. His work requires a unique brand of professionalism that is equal parts cheerleader, ambassador, father figure, medicine man and business guru.
His name is Patrick Genovese. Patrick is part of the Entertainment Relations team for Gibson Brands. A three-billion-dollar-a-year company that has had guitars, amps, mics and recording gear on the most famous names in music over the past one hundred years of popular music. Gibson maintains a who’s who of artist that live and die by their guitars made popular by guitar icon Les Paul (amongst others) and now has many other brands and products under their banner. Today Gibson earns another reputation: patience. I am late…and the three billion dollar man is waiting for me.
Patrick’s background comes from planning events, concerts, fundraisers and more in the civic setting. “My job isn’t a 9-5 sort of thing. I keep business hours, but nothing about it is 9-5. My former career was exactly that, but it drove me crazy.” My curiosity gets the better of me and I inquire just what is his job? “My job is to get Gibson products placed in TV, print, press, videos and anywhere else our products can be seen. I also have artists I work with.”
"You don't have to have a Grammy..."
We dive head first into what many musicians inquire with him about: Sponsorships and Endorsements. “You don’t have top have a Grammy, millions of Twitter followers or even a huge record deal. Talent trumps all, and if you have done your homework, you’re going to earn a higher chance of a a closer look from somebody in my position.”
He takes a sip of his black coffee as it cools and I have to ask, ”What is most important piece of the puzzle a band should have in talking with you?” Patrick puts down his coffee and a half smile spreads across his youthful face, “Be nice. If it’s your manager reaching out, a record label, or the keyboard player. Be nice. I won’t work with an a-hole, I don’t care who they are.”
“If a band is talking with a company they should be able to say at least these two things: Here is my body of work and I’d like to speak about x, y or z with you.” I stay quiet to spur Patrick further and it works. “The body of work should be videos with a product, a tutorial, performance, a blog, a review. One of our artists I work with made a three-minute product review on his own accord and it blew me away! That’s the stuff that will get my attention.”
Patrick on what an endorsement means to him: “An endorsement needs to come from both sides. The artist and the company. The artist needs to make the company visible. The stage. The website. Social media. There are a lot of avenues to find success and provide that visibility for the company. It’s not just sending a guitar or amp to an artist and calling it a day. You would be surprised how many bands don’t have ownership of that small detail.”
So what can make a band lose their endorsement? Patrick considers his answer and chooses his words carefully, “Bands haven’t delivered what they promised, or we have had artist’s products discontinued because sales were low. We have lent gear to bands before and had the guitars come back destroyed.” “Destroyed?” I ask. “Destroyed. I understand that wear and tear happens, but these were painted, chipped, dropped and cracked…..They lost my support, and in turn Gibson’s.”
“I love working with bands. In the challenge lays the fun. What can I do to help? What is the band going to do to help us? There has to be a relationship. There should be a clear-cut idea of who is doing what. Open ended promises on either end of the conversation don’t work.”
The lunch crowd is now in full effect. Yoga students from the studio next door stand in line behind law clerks and delivery drivers. I am scribbling notes and finishing a word cloud when Patrick interrupts my thought. “Accountability.” I ask if that is the start or end of a sentence. “Accountability between an artist and a company goes a long way. I will call a band on the carpet if they haven’t delivered, and I would expect them to do the same to me. “ A few tables over a table of girls are buried in the cell phones while their salads wilt.
Patrick picks up his coffee but uses it more as a visual aide than beverage of choice as he explains one of the greatest teachers in the business. “Failure is a great thing. It’s not an endgame, it’s a great teacher and allows you to learn. I help bands, but I won’t hold their hand.”
I pay the check and Patrick excuses himself to answer one of the dozens of calls that has stacked up since we sat down together. He comes back and I ask him what two things a young artist should do when communicating about forming a partnership with a company. Patrick zips ups his hoodie and we walk outside into the now-early afternoon sunshine. “Be cool and be real.” I thank him for his time and Patrick starts to his car and drives away. I start my own car and finish up my notes on the interview as my engine idles and secure key moments and details Patrick articulated to my notepad. Armchair journalist/blogger and professional musician or not….Patrick was right….accountability is key.
Special thanks to Patrick Genovese from Gibson Brands for his time and making this interview possible. ---Just Alliance, Las Vegas, Nevada, February 2016
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
January 29, 2016
To My Westone Family,
The NAMM 2016 Show is now in the books as my 5th appearance at the show but arguably my favorite so far. At a show where the latest in music technology, application, fabrication and instrumentation is showcased on the most visible stage in the music retail industry, I was chosen as one of a few artist to represent your company on the stage you provided (literally and figuratively) at NAMM.
Maybe the layman reader might not know about NAMM and the thousands of attendees: the pros, the auteurs, the weekend warriors or even the hundreds of buyers from every corner of the globe that for a few short days every January, speak a common language: music.
Layman or otherwise, it is easy to understand that this is one of the largest music platforms in the world and very much high in both visibility and if a deft hand is cast, profitability.
That said, I can only thank every person in the Westone family for their help in inviting me into their artist roster and the privilege of being a featured artist daily at your booth. Out of the thousands of musicians in the country, only a select few are given the opportunity you gave me.
This is not lost on me….nor forgotten….
For this I thank you. For your stage, for your time, for your hospitality and for amount of support you all of have extended to me since day one. At NAMM, not one person was above or beyond helping out in even the most mundane tasks. From pros to teachers to weekend warriors to those getting their first “ears,” everybody was treated as individuals and with a practiced dignity and hospitality that has kept Westone at the top of it’s field for over twenty years.
Every kid dreams of being part of an all-star team. Not every set of all-stars wears jerseys. Not every set of all stars has their face on cereal boxes and garnering millions of shoe endorsements….
Instead, some all-stars make quiet magic on the eastern slope of the Colorado Rockies….
They are the dream makers, the innovators. They help rock stars, country artists and loop artists share their music with the world….and give those that need it, the ability to hear a loved ones voice again. To listen to the ocean, or a symphony…or to listen to a grandbaby cooing in the next room.
Some all-stars invite a kid from the blue collared streets of Las Vegas to be a part of the magic….and for a few days in January…call him an all star as well.
Thank you for every bit of it. I am beyond words in how much fun I had…and how thankful I am to be a part of it.
January 29, 2016
Often times the best movies are those that deliver more questions than answers. Did he really survive or was it his imagination? Did she ever really love him? How did he not realize he was already a ghost? Great music is the same way. It piques you interest raises your own curiosities on not only the ‘how’ it was done, but also the ‘why.’ This week’s article showcases five looping tracks that you may cull inspiration from in the common ground between ‘why’ and ‘how.’
1. Endru, 'Root of the Rhythm'
Our first entry finds us in the Czech Republic from vocal loop artist En.dru. Utilizing a ‘less is more’ approach Endru is very much in line with a latter day Bobby McFerrin. Minimal vocal effects with maximum results. Spot on diction and pitch with very effective vocal percussion with groove to spare, ‘Root of Rhythm’ provides a stellar blue print for any vocal looper to follow.
2. Idiot Savants (Featuring Rico Loop), 'Pig'
Lets face it: many loopers are solo artists by choice. We want to do what we want how we want it right? Looping titan Rico Loop makes an appearance in a Jazz club in Frankfurt as part of an ensemble featuring two(!) drummers, a guitar. bass and of course Rico on….well….everything else. Shifting styles, key centers and overall vibe, ‘Pig’ is an incredible display of collective musical energy and is worth watching the band have Rico as a true equal in the group and set the initial vibe of this piece.
3. David Ford, 'Go To Hell'
Don’t let the song title fool you, Eastbourne (UK) artist David Ford isn’t all doom and gloom in his 2008 single where he plays on anything that’s not tied down. Who doesn’t like a video where the artist plays a jar of sugar and two forks….and bass, guitar, drums, piano, background vocals. The established musician will understand the artistry behind the ‘one-take-to-make- approach, but will be left wondering…How many takes did this take?
4. Randolf Arriola. 'With or Without You'
As a massive U2 fan, I have watched tutorials on how musicians will get ‘The Edge’ sound, but every now and then you will run across an artist that will pay homage to a certain quartet that was born in the blue collared streets of late 70’s Dublin and ultimately take that inspiration to another level. Singapore based Randolf Arriola has earned over a million views with his incredible take on ‘With or Without You.’ Gear heads will appreciate his creative choices in the not only his effects but also the amount of each he deftly applies. The speed in which the entire song is built also speaks volumes in Randolf’s mastery of the looping artform.
5. Beardyman, 'Open Jam'
Beardyman is more or less the living embodiment of the Konami Code: unequaled in not only his execution of looping, but also the sound design and tech behind the sounds in which he fashions his music. Many have seen him in his live performance where he mixes, mashes and loops music and comedy in equal fashion; many more have yet to see this side of Beardyman. A flawless , hour-long set that showcases the Beardytron ( his custom set up) in full flight.
A few weeks ago I found myself 25 minutes out of Las Vegas in the small community called Boulder City. If you have never heard of Boulder City, It is the town where the workers from Hoover Dam were housed in the 1930’s during the building of (then named) Boulder Dam…Now called Hoover Dam. Furthermore, if your history is still a bit rusty…Hoover Dam is where Megatron was kept in the first Transformers movie.
After dinner in the local diner, my friend and I were walking around the main shopping/dining district and I stopped in my tracks. Our conversation over dinner was about gigs both near and far, music festivals, concert lighting, endorsement deals and the amount of blood, sweat and tears it takes to grease the gears of an independent musician. The talk lasted through dinner, post-dinner pie and now my stride along with our talk, stopped on a dime. My friend looked at me and asked why I stopped walking. I motioned to my right…
We were in front of the first place I ever performed as ‘Just Alliance.’
Before endorsements, before a ‘name,’ before my bonds of fellowship with fellow loopers around the world and around the country, before a website, a business card, music videos and a logo, before being mentioned in the same sentence as my looping peers worldwide…at a time and place where they were (and still remain) heroes who I looked up to. This was the place where a major step in my music career took place.
That time in my life was a transition in every sense of the word. Friends of mine were very much on career paths. Marriages were starting to take place and friends of mine I had known since childhood, were now having kids of their own. My own path took me far away from a ‘traditional’ point in my life. My career as a Trumpet player left me unfulfilled and performing music and in venues that disinterested me. It was at this crossroads where my life was very much camped out for a few years.
Fast forward to seeing looping for the first time by those that I still call inspirations to this day and one day I was asked, “Can you perform at an art shop next weekend?” Sure, What time?” “All day.” I told the person that hired me that I would be there. When they asked how to spell my name for their social media blast to their customers letting them know they had a live musician performing for a special event I sent back a simple text, “J-u-s-t A-l-l-i-a-n-c-e.”
Five or six years later, on a cool autumn afternoon in the last breath of an afternoon’s amber light, I am the same street and in the same parking lot…where I first performed as Just Alliance. It was hard not to have a flood of memories come streaming back. I had two fans show up: My Mom and Dad. I barely had two songs I could perform start to finish, and was still getting the hang of a multi-effects unit and a workhorse loop pedal (that I bought with the money from the gig).
That gig, like a majority of my career, had a constant thread throughout: Making the most of what you have and taking advantage of the moment. I didn’t have the best sound. I was stiff in execution. I sounded like crap. I didn’t let that set me back though. I performed with every ounce of determination I had and people would stop and listen. Some watched in mild intrigue, others kept walking to other events down the street.
A parking lot is part of a long line of humble beginnings for a musician, but for me in retrospect….that parking lot is square one. That parking lot gave birth to small open mics, then open mic features, then showcases , then small art galleries, small stages, then opening spots, then mid cards and so on. Today and even tonight, I wonder what tomorrow’s square one will be the launching pad for.
The holiday season is always a time to be thankful, and being thankful, by design, opens your retrospective to the past year and beyond. What am I thankful for? I am thankful for that parking lot. I am thankful for every crappy bar, empty club, hot load-in, freezing load-out, broken monitor, late paycheck, shady club owner, second rate sound system, third rate stage and fourth rate event I’ve performed at. Street corners, stages, classrooms and boardroom I’ve called venues. Saints, sinners, convicts, priests, the elderly and the young. I have performed for all them.
Today I have relationships with artists who years ago were carved into the granite face of the looping community. Today I call them my friends. Yesteryear’s pipedreams are next year’s summer and fall dates. The companies that believe in me and trust me to represent them: Electro Voice, Westone Audio, George L’s Cables, Design One Printing, Pigtronix, Fusion Bags, Harris Music,. I am thankful for them. International companies with great products that gave a kid from the high desert of Nevada without a record deal, without the millions of followers, without the ‘buzz’ that so many of us strive for…without any of that…a shot at being a part of their product line…their reputation…their artist rosters.
I look at my neon soaked city here in Southern Nevada and I look up and down the Las Vegas Strip and see more places I’ve performed in than not. A tally is taken of so many people in the music industry that have shown me the ropes (and continue to foster my aspirations). Riders, Contracts, Compression, Graphic Design, Phone Etiquette, Travel Buy-outs, etc…I can isolate any of those items and tell you exactly who introduced me to them.
There is much to be thankful for as artist. We all get caught up in hustle and daily grind….but imagine NOT being an artist. Imagine waking up and not being to express yourself though your music or not having the outlet (big or small) to showcase your music. I am thankful for it all.
Each of us have…or will have that parking lot. It is hard work getting to…and getting out of that parking lot. Few things are handed to you, but the reward of earning every piece of your empire is exciting. Each of us question what it will take to get in and out of that parking lot. Each of us will ask ourselves if we have what it takes? What if you do? Then the worst that happens is that you had a great time making music. What if you don’t? Then the worse that happens is that you had a great time making music.
As the year closes out, I am thankful for you. Followers of my music both friends and peers. Even you, the anonymous reader who will read this blog and leave without a trace…I am thankful for you sharing part of your day with me. Thank you all for positive energy you have sent my way: in person, on social media, in an email. It all matters. You matter. Good luck in the coming year with all that you strive to become and achieve
In the next year, I am looking forward to seeing you succeed. There is plenty of great things for all of us in this world. Make the best of what you have and take full advantage of every opportunity….then head to the next spot in your career. I hope that when you’re in an office, at school, at work or onstage….. you look up and see me there in support of you and all of your dreams….in the middle of that parking lot.
Las Vegas ,Nevada, USA
I was recently interview by the Long Beach Post. I have put the article here on my site so you can have a look at it. I don't have a copywrite on it or and other legal stuff that gets people in trouble....but what I do have is an appreciation for being asked to represent my fellow artists in the interview and joining them in Long Beach at the end of the month. The original posting can be found here. If you want the text...I have posted it below. Many thanks to Sander Wolf for taking the time to interview me.
October 16, 2015
Las Vegas, NV
Freedom In The Music: A Q&A With SoCal LoopFest Headliner Just Alliance -by Sander Roscoe Wolf October 2015
On Wednesday and Thursday, October 28 and 29, the annual Southern California LoopFest returns to diPiazza Restaurant and Lounge. LoopFest, the brain-child of Noah Peterson, was inspired by Rick Walker's long running Y2K International Live Looping Festival in San Jose. The SoCal LoopFest will, over its two day run, feature artists from around the globe. Performers from the United States, France, England, Mexico, Canada, and Germany are scheduled to take the stage. The festival is a traveling celebration of an art form that first gained popularity in the '70s when English artist and music producer Brian Eno collaborated with King Crimson founder and guitarist Robert Fripp on their seminal album, No Pussyfooting.
There are two main kinds of live looping. The first, known as phrase looping, uses small segments of music, which repeat continuously, to create complex arrangements. An artist might create a rhythm part, overlay a bass part, add a chord progression, and then improvise over the whole thing. The second is, for lack of a better term, non-phrase-based looping, which uses a system where each part that's played repeats and, with each repetition, slowly fades out. This can create slowly evolving compositions. The main feature which both share is that everything is created live, with nothing pre-recorded.
Within both of these looping styles, you'll find people who tend to perform composed pieces. Peterson, for example, has written beautifully arranged songs for the saxophone and, aside from the natural variations inherent in live performances, will be pretty much the same from show to show. Others, like bassist Steuart Liebig, nearly always improvise all aspects of their performances.
John Allen, who performs as Just Alliance, is headlining Wednesday's show. He's solidly in the phrase looping camp, but blends composition and improvisation rather freely. Using only his voice, mad skills, and various effects, he creates performances that have thrilled thousands in his home town of Las Vegas. He recently performed at the LoopFest in Denver, which has stops in Seattle, Portland, Austin, and San Antono.
Long Beach Post: How did you get started with music?
Just Alliance: Music has always been a huge part of my life. I was exposed to a wide array of it when I was little. Rap, Rock, Oldies, Country, and Gospel. In the sixth grade I delved into classical music, and the stories behind some of the greatest pieces ever written really struck a chord with me. High school was spent shoulder deep in jazz, and the rich history behind it. Noodling on the the piano led to the upright bass, which lead to the trumpet.
Were there musicians in your family?
My Mother and her sisters sang old time gospel in their youth. When I was little she played a lot of that music-and traditional country-around the house. That was, and remains, the closest to musicians in the family outside of myself.
What sparked your journey into classical music?
In the sixth grade I had a music appreciation class. My teacher started us off with Bach. He gave us not only the music, but also a historic and cultural context behind the music as well. This continued all the way through the music of the 20th Century. Learning the "why" of the music was very captivating. Learning "why" a piece was composed gave life, and a new meaning, to music that, up until that point, I thought of as merely background music. I never thought of it that way again.
How long did it take before you felt like you could play music with it?
It wasn't until my second year of high school when my band director held a jazz clinic over the summer. He gave us the Bb Blues scale and put on an Aebersold. [Note: Jamey Aebersold created play-a-long recordings of jazz and blues standards that had simple arrangements and no solo parts.] The idea that I could take a particular scale and play anything I wanted was the turning point. After that, I was immersed in jazz for the next six years. I didn't buy one pop album that entire time. [It was] 100 percent jazz.
Much is the same, now, with live looping as my initial foray into jazz: 100 percent freedom in the music. Your choices. Your rules. There was something about expressing yourself without the printed page that affected me. When I started listening to jazz, I began with big band and worked my way all the way up to "modern" jazz. It was exciting to pick up licks and styles along the way and drop them into a performance or jam session. Even today, much of my live performance is improvised!
When you listen to The Jazz Messengers, they have some of the coolest melodies (or heads) around. Once their improvisation starts, and everybody is taking a solo, it brings the music into such a higher level. Looping is much like that for me. Many times I will improvise entire sets out of the germination of the smallest fragment of a sound, melody or texture. It is never the same.
How did you discover live looping?
I heard of looping from other musicians I knew, but I never understood what they were talking about. One day, I was at home and was poking around the web and a website had a link that said, "Musician makes entire song with just his voice. #Onemanband" I clicked on it and my life changed forever right then and there. What I saw was just as exciting and just as much of a revelation as improvising over a 12 bar blues years before. One person, making all of the music, live! WHOAH!
To be honest. I didn't know what I was watching, what the gear was, let alone how it was done, but I knew I wanted to do it. It would take months of saving money to pick up my first effects pedal, but my very first loop pedal fell into my hands about a week or so after watching the video for the first time. Keep in mind that, up to this point, I was a trumpet player and had zero effects, knew zero effects, and couldn't tell you the difference between an XLR cable and a mic stand.
At first I didn't know how far this rabbit hole was going to take me. So I picked up a small loop pedal and a entry level mic and a small amp. When I started listening really closely to the initial video, I made my first landmark discovery in looping: vocal effects. I saved a bit of money and bought my first vocal unit. I remember the day after I bought it. I came home and panicked because I spent close to a rent check on an effects unit I had zero idea how to operate.
I locked myself in my apartment and watched every video I could, online, about my initial rig, and spent many nights saying, "Lets see what this button does." A couple of months later I performed in public for the first time as a loop artist. I brought my small rig, wrapped in a sheet and placed inside of a laundry basket, to an open mic. I set up onstage and performed, "Moondance." There were four people in the audience. Three weren't paying attention. Only the host was listening. He invited me back for the next week's open mic. My new looping career had begun! That was 2007.
What's the music scene like for you in Las Vegas?
Las Vegas has so many incredible musicians, both on and off the Strip. Many people don't realize that Vegas has around 2 million residents. There are the regular gigs in showrooms, restaurants and lounges on the Strip, but there is also an arts scene that is always having an event of some sort. I have gone from one end of the spectrum, playing an art opening for a couple of dozen people, to performing on the Strip for a couple of thousand.
Between performances, workshops in schools (elementary though college), and being an endorsed artist, there is always something to be working on and following up on. Sometimes it leads to performing in front of the shot-callers on the Strip. Other times it leads to helping a roomful of musicians in learning the fundamentals of their initial looping set ups.
You participated in several legs of last year's LoopFest. What was it like?
The loop festivals, last year, were full of some of the most incredible musicians I have ever witnessed. Musicians came from around the world, where the only common denominator was looping. Everybody had their unique approach and overall execution of looping. Even among the vocal loopers on the tour, we all had our own unique take on what we do. I made some very close friends from that tour, and am very much looking forward to doing it again in the fall.
What have been your most enthusiastic audiences?
I do workshops in schools around the country, many of them in middle and high schools. The younger students are very into what I am doing. I think, with the rise of technology's role in music production, live looping gives them another approach into making their own music.
Performing at the NAMM [National Association of Music Merchandisers] show is always exciting. Musicians and gear makers worldwide are there to see the latest and greatest. I've always enjoyed performing there.
What inspired you to work with students?
I taught middle school for close to eight or nine years. I went to college for music education, graduated, then discovered that the "traditional" method of school music wasn't for me. Once looping came into my life, I refashioned my approach to teaching music. My workshop is an extension, and product, of that. Many teachers don't realize that it has many of the hallmarks of music education, just packaged differently.
I've also done team-building and self-esteem workshops with high school students. They don't want another, "You can set your mind to this" seminar with some dated platform. I am very, very real. I tell them, "I struggled trying to fit in, to find a venue that would have me, to find musicians to confer with, so I started my own thing and now I do me."
How did you come to the name 'Just Alliance?'
At the time I started looping, many people called me by my initials, "J.A." I also knew that if I put my full name on a billboard, marquee or flier, people would come expecting a jazz quintet or something that is trumpet-based. A friend brought up the idea of a moniker. I wanted it to keep my initials and sum up why I do music. Something honest, pure and positive: Just. Oneness, family, community, friendship: Alliance. A positive oneness: A Just Alliance.
The festival begins at 7:00PM and wraps up around midnight on both nights. Admission is free.
To learn more about Just Alliance, including upcoming performances, visit JustAlliance.com. You can also find interviews with fellow loopers, discussions about teaching, and performance highlights on his blog.
I recently caught up with Rico Loop on the banks of the Elbe River in Usit, Czech Republic. In a spacious flat with the windows open welcoming the early evening air inside, Rico found himself in a very familiar situation: experimenting, improvising and pushing himself into new musical and (at times) spiritual places. The calm early autumn air served in the stark contrast to the fervor and fury in which arguably one of the most well-known and well-respected loop artists in the world throws himself into his work and continues to shine as a luminary in the looping community.
“Looping for me started out as creating my own venue for self-expression. After traveling the world in the 90’s I came back to find I wasn’t a good enough singer to front a band, nor was I a good enough guitarist to be invited into one. Looping allowed me to make my own band and discover my own music.” Sitting on the balcony of a third floor flat, Rico’s eyes register a far off memory and reveals it to me in the amber light of a cigarette. “When I was little, piano was my first instrument. I never practiced though.” The look of surprise on my face gave away my disbelief. “Instead I played what I could with the experience I had and the experiences that made me who I am. This still fuels my music today. My initial loop set up was small, just a single looper. Then a few years later a looper came out with three loops on it.” Rico stands to stretch and smiles, “I thought, who is going to use this?”
Rico has been visible on the international looping stage for a number years. Touring, giving workshops, school performances and street shows have all kept the native Berliner busy and releavant. This level of success has failed to cloud his vision of what brought him into the looping community, nor diminished his efforts in promoting the looping artform. “Freedom attracts people. If it is an honest thing you are doing, then it is a good thing. Performing in parks and street performing taught me a lot about being truthful with my music.”
"The heart always listens....."
“Realness always touches you. I once performed at a park and saw a lady roll her eyes at me while I was performing. Maybe she didn’t like my music, maybe she didn’t care for how I did it. I caught this with my peripheral vision. She stood up, made her way through the crowd and started walking out of the park. I finished the song a few minutes later and through the crowd, above everybody’s head I saw the lady standing behind a tree. I felt my music had kept her there and changed her mind. I pointed at her and said, “The heart always listens. Then she smiled and left.”
With technology moving at a unbelievable speed Rico has and continues to do with relatively little gear what many artists require twice as much gear, gadgets and gizmos to achieve. “I don’t understand how we can have mobile phones that can do anything. We invent these machines, but we can’t invent more peace and fellowship between people.” Many of the artists mentioned in the same breath as Rico showcase technology as the force behind the creativity. Watching Rico perform, one could gather that technology is used to reign in his own energy and creative impulses. Truly a soundtrack to putting the cart before the horse.
“I’m not much of a (gear) nerd and I don’t like having lots of effects on my voice. It isn’t honest. It isn’t truthful. My voice acts as my voice, not as something else. If I need effects for a particular venue, say an Electro club then that is where the KAOSS Pad or Micro Korg come into play.” When asked about vocal effects as a whole, “There are companies making great things for vocal effects. Many of these products are for people that can sing.” He then pauses and the replies with a laugh, “And those that can’t sing!”
The inspiration behind Rico Loop’s music is very much his own impetus. In an age of manufactured stars, reality TV and insta-celebs, Rico remains dedicated to what made looping his prime muse. “Inspiration is the biggest thing. The loop machine is a great teacher, every now is a new now. It has brought me more answers that it has raised questions and the possibilities are endless.”
I asked Rico about how a machine remains fresh and new despite it’s nature to repeat. “You have to let go of control. You have to remain open to the grace of music….open to it’s muse.” Rico has stated in past interviews that his muse can be the wide open spaces of mother nature or even those in front of him. “ A performer at times, can be only as good as his audience, But you have to groove.”
"Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry."
Watching live performances of Rico, groove is never on short supply. Performances from Los Angeles, to Berlin, Ibiza, India and beyond show this. “Groove is a mystery. Determination, love and joy…all of those make “groove.”” With improvisation such an integral part of his shows, I reflect my curiosity on making a mistake onstage. Rico’s eyes light up, “Integrate the mistake. It can lead to a deeper level of music and bring out your best.” Many musicians will have a set way of constructing a show, Rico explains the richness of improvisation, “It is a huge luxury to go onstage and not know what you are going to do! “
Telling Rico Loop that he is at an international level is met with as much belief amazement as telling him that you will get wet when walking in the rain. Humility, but not with the expense of self-awareness reigns supreme. “There are incredible musicians in every genre. Jeff Buckely and Kurt Cobain are songwriters who inspired me early on but I soon realized being a virtuoso doesn’t necessarily make you fun to listen to. Being flawless onstage isn’t artistry. Artistry is the intentions and authenticity of your craft. Performing without reflection or self-control is artistry. Removing the blocks to your own genius is artistry.”
Experiences on and offstage, traveling and being an icon in the looping community have forged Rico Loop into a focused and motivated individual yet something happened that changed Rico’s life and facilitated a transition and ruminating period for his future: Fatherhood. When asked about how fatherhood has affected his career, Rico takes care in his words and pauses for clarity, not dramatic effect. “Oh man. It has made me more self-reflective and made me strive to be a more effective musician both on and offstage.” He then admits, “I am the least professional musician I know! I am working getting more videos, tutorials and records out in the coming year.
Rico is very aware of the effect of marketing or lack therof can have on your own career when your are truly a one man show. “Beardyman is an artist who inspires me. He does things I won’t be able to understand in this life. His music inspires me. He embraces the crazy and runs with it. He takes lots of chances in his music, that really interests me. I wish he didn’t make fun of his own music, to me it takes depth out of it. He is one looper that continues to make new ground for all of us.”
With a yawn and a stretch I understand that the Czech night is starting to wrap Rico in her embrace and our time together is soon coming to an end. Rico glances over at his rig set up in fellow loop artist Endru’s flat as if he missed a stray piece of inspiration that lounged idly by. He is putting up the last invites on social media for the show they are conducting the following night in Usti. I thank him for his time and he adds one last piece for me to consider. “Everybody is a musician….just not everybody knows how to play an instrument.” I consider this for a moment, and Rico has to move to other commitments before he calls it a night. Our time is over and I am left looking for clarity on this cryptic insight, hoping that answer is somewhere along the Elbe River in the Czech autumn air.
Rico Loop can be followed on his website
Or followed on Facebook and Twitter
September 15, 2015
Just Alliance's Blog
Thoughts, ideas and musical musings from this Silver State Loop Artist.