Archive for the ‘I Remember….’ Category

Collisions this & that

July 28, 2013

Thank you everyone for your kind words regarding the passing of producer, engineer, & legendary studio owner James Bentley.  As well-known and respected as he already was, I can’t help but think that in another world, set amongst a different musical landscape, his name would have been even more widely recognized.  Yesterday, James Carthew (Royal Chant bassist), came across a very good article on James, written by David Weiss for Sonic Scoop.  At nearly the same time, I came across this home-made video set to a Creeper Lagoon song that I had previously never heard.  In a sad collision of sorts, they seemed to fit together, so I thought I’d present them to you as our own requiem for someone halfway around the world.

Death of a Studio Owner: RIP Jim Bentley of The Fort Brooklyn

My favourite line from the article is from Bones Howell, when he finishes his remarks with, “He was servicing the garage and indie rock community with a high degree of low fidelity, if that makes sense somehow.”

Yes. Yes it does. That was exactly what we’d been searching for by the time we hit Brooklyn, and we walked out with a single was as close as I’ve gotten to the sound in my head.  We had a laugh when only weeks ago, a DJ from one of Australia’s “big” stations (and no, it was not Triple-J), wrote back regarding the track. “Hey ______, had a listen and it’s a good track! It feels like it needs a better mix / master though. Is it a demo?”

No, you sad corporate twat, it’s not a demo. That’s how music actually sounds. A high degree of low fidelity indeed.

Be extra nice to each other this week…let’s see what happens.


Going Big. Going Home.

December 29, 2012

Things were rather dreary for a while.  The band was depressed, I was depressed, etc etc.  When so much of what you perceive to be your existence or success depends on the opinion of someone else, then yeah, you’re basically setting yourself up for misery, and that is exactly what we fell into.  No matter how much I try to be isolated and independent, at some point, sooner or later, getting our music out to the world does, in large part, require some assistance in any number of forms: radio, TV/video, mags, street press, blogs, word-of-mouth, buzz, whatever.  Of course, you can solve most of those problems by being so unbelievably, undeniably good that people will be forced by the absolute power of your art to spread the word for you, but as of yet, we have yet to create that.  As it stands, we create whatever it is we create and toil away at getting the word out in whatever fashion we can.  Sometimes things are good, sometimes they’re bad, and sometimes there is nothing at all.  That’s when it gets dark.

So we were all collectively bummed out for much of the past year, wondering what we were doing and where we were going.  Getting even a sliver of success can do that to you.  It’s not that we all developed raging drug habits and started dating B-list Aussie actresses.  Nothing quite as interesting as that.  Rather, we got used to people paying attention and assumed that they would continue to do so.  After all, if people thought that one of our throwaway songs was good….

….then surely they would like our other, newer, better stuff, right? And after all, aren’t we getting to be a much better live act?

Well, no and yes, and really, in the end none of that matters.  It’s not a science project.  Buzz is buzz and that is that.  You cannot buy it (not for long anyways), and you can’t fake it.  It can only happen when it’s the real deal and it is ON.  When you’ve got it, it gets under your skin and that same electricity you create onstage is with you 24/7….at least, until it wears off.  And then it hurts.  A lot.

So we’re swimming in this state of withdrawal, heavily addicted and starting to fray at the seams, but not quite coming apart.  We kept writing songs and playing shows but kept chasing something bigger and better, all the while suffering from sever highs and lows and confusion and doubt.  All of a sudden I couldn’t tell what was good or not, and my instincts, which had kinda sorta served me well enough in the past flew out the window.  I don’t have any hard data, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t finish a song for 10 months or so, getting lost in false starts and meandering blah that really didn’t go beyond a few opening arcane couplets and some weak chord progressions.  It wasn’t pretty.

So…we decided to go to America.  We’d been wanting to do it for ages and although no one said anything I’m pretty sure we were all thinking that we might want to have a last blast of fun before things completely fell apart.  Surprisingly, we actually managed to get our shit together enough to buy plane tickets, book a run of shows, and step on the plane.  We all left at different times, but we met in New York City and whatever was meant to happen…it happened.

We played in traffic:IMG_5544

We went bowling:133025_10151249789458126_1234063652_o 244183_10151249786943126_551534578_o

We played some music every once in a while:IMG_5180

Along with a bunch of other headaches and pains that go along with being a band on the road.  We went into a recording studio and recorded our latest single (more on that in the new year), all the while using trains, planes, and automobiles to get from point A (NYC), to point Z (Atlanta), where we all said goodbye and went our separate ways, each person (or group of people, since we actually had more Aussie friends/roadies/groupies with us than actual band members) off to finish their time in America as they saw fit.

As for me, I went to visit my parents & fiancé in Florida.  We drove to New Orleans and along the way stopped to snap this:

And now I’m sitting here in the dregs of Summer, a bit bummed out and staring at a nearly empty glass of beer resting on a cheap-yet-arty fleur de lis coaster that we picked up in the Crescent City.

The net result? A lot of memories, some new friends, some new fans, and most importantly: buzz.

Not from other people, but from within, the kind that turns us back into teenagers who have written their first song and are pretty well convinced that we’re the greatest band ever.  Soppy?  Yeah, probably, but I don’t much care.

And that’s what we got up to and that kind of gave us a new lease on life.  For the first time ever, I could see Australia in a different light regarding its status in the larger world of music.  After all, when one gets amongst it in the beast that is the USA it does make a large island with a small population seem somewhat….provincial?  It is what it is, both good and bad (and oftentimes great), but it is not the center of our existence, and that has made all the difference.

I probably could have saved us all a lot of time and trouble and just called this post “How Sparky got his groove back” and added  the “Humpty Dance” for a backing soundtrack, but nah, you know me.  Why use one word when 1,000 will do?

We made you a souvenir.  Here is us banging away at the Bar East Ale House on September 22, 2012.  It’s not great, but if you’ve ever wondering what Royal Chant is like live this ain’t too shabby.  Consider it the most povo Festivus present we could scrape together, and apologies if you wanted something good, like socks.

Catch you soon in the New Year.  Stay safe, but make it a smashing one.

Love, peace, hugs, & kittens.


6 years and a day

January 20, 2012

Last night as I was packing up my gear I realized the date: January 19th, 2012.  I stopped for a moment before it sank in: today is my 6 year anniversary of arriving in Australia.  Maybe I should have come straight home and done an elaborate post in true commemoration, but instead you get one with a day of thought, (or non-thought) behind it, plus a title that nearly oozes with über-cool nonchalance.  Nearly.

So here I am, 6 years on after landing on a very hot Summer day that seems exactly like yesterday.  Exactly like today as well.  Tomorrow is projected to look eerily similar.  Although I did leave for about 11 months or so to hop back on a cruise ship to earn money and continue traveling the globe, overall I consider myself to have “lived” in Oz for 6 years.  The fictitious biographers waiting in the wings of posterity can squabble over the dates and details.

I briefly tried to reflect, really reflect, on what my time here has meant, but I’m not coming up with much.  One sad fact that I have to admit is that 6 years represents quite a sum of my legally adult life, and now I can say that I have spent an equal number of years being happy as I spent unhappy.  That oversimplifies things quite a bit, because while I’m not saying that all my time in America was rubbish and all my time down under has been grand, it’s rather handy to summarize it in exactly such a fashion, and far more true than not. As in, 99% true.

A few random things, in no particular order, illustrated in a clumsy manner with bad punctuation….

–Summer here doesn’t really, really start until mid-January.  We had a fairly cool November and December, and I remember thinking, “Hey, it’s gonna be a mild Summer.”  Bollocks to that.  I’m pretty sure I still have some Northern Hemisphere hard wiring going on, so to me the idea of January will always require a bit of translation, and since I’m bloody slow at that I suffer from yearly amnesia.  There is no such thing as a mild Summer here in Australia, and certainly not in Port Macquarie.  They are all the same.  Hot.  One day I shall remember this.

–I have been fortunate enough to either be put in or carve out a situation where my entire existence is based on and derived from music.  I might not be making a lot, I will grant you that, but I’m not starving either.  Since I have an ever-growing fascination now with US politics (survivor’s guilt of sorts?), and keep in touch with my family, I understand how bad things are for a number of people and their families in the US.  I remember struggling against the forces of economic reality, and only yesterday realized that, had I stayed where I was, it’s almost certain that I would have wound up as either a manager (or former manager) of a failing Ruby Tuesday restaurant, drinking too much and hating the world, or else just completely burned out and living on the streets or with my parents in some sort of court-ordered supervised care.

Reading about grown men and women who spent years of hard work in good employment now looking for any sort of job, no matter how lowly or underpaid, certainly made me think, whether rightly or wrongly: I got out.  Call in cowardice, call it fate, call it treasonous, call it self-romanticizing myth-making; I don’t care.  It feels true.

–Since I do get to spend a fair amount of time on the road (last week was a particular example of me at my finest ; ), I get to come across a few bands that I like and feel the need to share.  Keep in mind that whenever I try and hype up other bands nobody gives a flip, because my own band is largely out of fashion, and thus my tastes and top picks.  Whatever, I’m learning to live with that fact.  We are so far out of step that all we can do is keep marching until the world is in step with us, if only for a moment.  To close, I give you a new fav that I’ve encountered live.

CHERRY DOVE: We met this band when we were playing in Brisbane.  I developed a man/musician crush on their guitarist coz of the way he played (and looked, I’ll be honest), but he is listed on their bio as “Duckboi” and I can’t really remember his name.  It might be Chris.  It might be James.  Anyway, he plays much better than me, in a way that I wish I could play.  The weird thing is that he was really only the teaser to the band, because they are fronted by a very capable singer/guitarist named Logan, who is everything a front-woman should be.  They also have a bass player, Mel, that our roadie/driver developed a massive crush on, but that’s understandable.  Live, they kind of reminded me of the old riot grrrl sound, but that almost damns by association, so instead I’ll just say that I liked them a lot and would actually leave my house to go see them.  Hopefully our paths will cross again soon.  They have their new Wanted EP out now, and it’s available for free on bandcamp.

As a closing aside, I will say that it is great for the consumer that there’s so much free music out there, but it also points to a very sad and depressing trajectory for music.  Like a kid who’s never known anything other than a digital photo, or a blue whale that will roam the oceans its entire life without ever meeting another of its kind, there are more and more bands who will never know anything other than giving their music away for free and hope that somehow, some way, that will translate into success.  There’s more to be said, a lot more, but I just don’t have the heart to go into it now.  You know that whole 99% vs 1 % thing happening right now?  The very same could be said for music and the music industry.  There are fewer and fewer bands and artists making money off fewer and fewer revenue streams, and the rest of us keep accepting less and less while making bigger and more far-fetched gambles.  The middle class of music is shrinking, and now there are only millionaires or those who want to be millionaires.  That’s why we all have real jobs that pay the bills and keep us with almost-but-not-quite-enough dosh to keep recording and releasing music….for free.

Happy New Year’s.  I know it’s late, but it’s from me.  I’m sure you understand.  Write back if it’s been a while.  Stop by and say hi.  I might do a review of the Cherry Dove EP, God knows they deserve it, but for now I will say good night.

Fare Thee Well, part 1

June 3, 2011

It is dreary days here in Port Macquarie. Probably for all or most of Australia as well, but I couldn’t say for sure. The Mid-North Coast of Oz certainly sat up and begged for praise when my parents were here a few months ago, giving them its best and brightest, making it now seem that it was saving this stretch of misery for when they were gone and had no one to impress. The locals of nearly any paradise on earth always look a little weary and nonplussed for a reason, namely because they live there year-round and have grown accustomed to times such as these.

Even last week I noted that there were a few moments that looked and felt decidedly English, and I mean that as no insult to either the UK or Australia. As we were pulling away from the Newcastle airport there was a striking resemblance to a neglected RAF base amongst the fog, drizzle, and rusting architecture of the industrial age. You could say that Newcastle always seems like that, but even Port Macquarie has managed to reveal its own patches of soft decay. With the cloudy skies and days that end in their infancy I don’t think it’s a stretch, but maybe it’s just me.

It was on another morning of this same bleak weather when I noticed a missed call on my mobile phone yesterday. Immediately my heart sank. It was not just any missed call mind you, for there are plenty of those during the long stretches of teaching, but because I recognized the number and what that might mean. The call came from the president of our local pipe band, the Hastings District Pipes & Drums, and indeed the news was bad.

Ian McMaster, our esteemed & respected pipe major, local pipe tutor, and all-around pillar of the community, had passed away during the night. All I could think was, Bugger.

The news, while deeply sad, was not unexpected. He had been fighting brain cancer for well over a year, and, like many whom cancer strikes, had seen a promising remission reverse with a swift and unflinching vengeance. The entire pipe band had been braced these past few weeks, knowing that he had been sent home from the hospital. What no one ever finishes is the last part of that sentence–to finish out his days at home. Although is was distressing news to both his friends, family, & students, the last time I spoke to him (at the annual pipe band Christmas dinner) even then he had begun to say his goodbyes while still in his full capacity. He spoke then, as always, with his usual combination of frank honesty and gentle humour. A rare enough feat for anyone, but that was his genuine nature.

I have always had a slant for all things Celtic, be they Scottish or Irish, even English, when it comes right down to it. It is through a long and curious series of events that my path should have ever crossed that of Ian, but I am, and have always been, glad that it did.

There is so much to say about this man, but it is hard to write without turning the reflection inwards, which rather misses the point. Since I began writing this (NOTE: I began this post on Wednesday and finshed & posted it on Friday), I have searched for the most simple way of expressing my admiration and deep respect for him without resorting to sentimentality, fabrication, or some other corruption of praise. The simplest way I can say it is that Ian McMaster was a Man Of God.

There is a certain rare nobility in that phrase, and I use it sparingly, this being the first time in fact. Even as an agnostic using this phrase (or am I borrowing it?), it rings with a certain right-ness, like finding the right word for a song or poem and feeling the calm restored. It has nothing to do with God, per se, but everything to do with the Man.

He was a kind soul to the core, and the term “gentle nature” only begins to paint the picture. In essence, there was a very real depth to the man, one that made people happier to be around him without bringing out their envy. In short, he simply was. He had a calm that seemed to hum in the air that surrounded him, and he inspired those around him to achieve the greatness within themselves, while feeling no threat when their achievements might outstrip his own. That is the mark of a true teacher, of music or any other discipline, but most importantly of life itself.

We attended his funeral today (Friday), and the attendance was staggering. We should all be so lucky to be loved and remembered by such a large and diverse flock. (I’ll stick with the biblical phrasing, now that I have opened it). He planned his own service, being the sort of person who would do such a sensible thing. There were many tears, moving moments, laughter, and much reflection. One of his daughters took the podium for a bible reading, and I paid close attention. He chose Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

As a rare bible reader (translation: never), it struck me as the choice of a very wise person. Absent of judgement and soft in tone, with the last sentence the advice that someone who has lived fully and enjoyed the beauty of life is passing on to those whom he wished might find the same. All that is good in humanity can be found in that sentence, and it struck me as no surprise at all that he would choose such a muted and philosophical message to be remembered by. That he chose the word of God to say it, rather than come up with his own version of the same advice, is again no surprise. Above all things, he was humble.

I was very proud today to be a member of the Hastings District Pipes & Drums, and proud of all the young drummers who have come through the ranks in recent years who hardly knew Ian but knew how important he was to our small band and showed up to pay their respects. We formed an honour guard for the casket as he was brought both in & out of the church, and lastly as he was driven away. It is with no stretch of the imagination that I say that the honour today was that which he bestowed upon me.

Rest In Peace, Ian McMaster. Fare Thee Well….

I shall close today’s sermon (for that is what this has become, has it not?), with a final, overly-famous poem. It has been read at countless funerals since it was written, and no doubt will be read at countless more. In fact, there is a very real chance I will choose this for my own funeral, quite possibly because I will be too lazy to think of or find anything else. Also, it’s hard to top this, it being so bloody good. In honour of Pipe Major Ian McMaster, I thought that Auden’s Funeral Blues/Stop All The Clocks a fitting sendoff to the Isles.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.


May 5, 2011

The Iron Man Triathlon has come and gone, which means that slantrhyme just celebrated it’s second birthday. I didn’t even remember until this evening.

I guess it’s far too late for a cupcake and a solitary sparkler, but I will try and make it up this week. (Why have I personified my blog and given he/she feelings? Don’t I have enough guilt without concocting an imaginary guilt-creating friend/source?)

It’s just Elliot & I in the house tonight. Earlier today, we worked on his three tricks–sit, down, & fetch. It’s a kitten, for crying out loud, so try and act impressed. Right now we’re playing fetch the tin foil, and despite well over 1,000 successful retrievals he continues to slide across the floor like a proper clay court tennis champion. Good kitty.

There is more to say, but not just now.

I remember….Part I

August 7, 2009

I Remember….

…the night I met John Hughes.

I own a car that has a working radio, but no CD player. That means that unless I feel like driving in total silence, I have the radio on. I’ve only had the car for a few days, mind you, so I can’t say how long this comfortable relationship will last, but for now I don’t mind it. As I was puttering around this morning, fresh out of the water and rather cold, a news bulletin came on which included the announcement of the death of John Hughes, the American filmmaker. I was very sad to hear that, and turned the radio down after hearing the news. I had the pleasure of meeting him, and although he would not remember me from a flea on his dog I think of that night with fond thoughts during a very bitter and rough time in my life.

It was the Winter of 2005, which means that down under it would have been one of your glorious sun-kissed & beer-soaked summers, full of Big Days of Out, the beach, sunburns, and the general heat infused laziness that no one can fault. I, however, was in the Northern Hemisphere, and it was not any of those things. It was miserable. I was miserable. I will not elaborate on why, so you’ll just have to trust me on this.

The odd thing was that, for me, despite my personal shambolic state, that time also represents one of slight musical triumphs for me. I had the good fortune to be associated with an Atlanta musician by the name of Chris Case, and although we had worked together on a casual basis, I was shocked when he came into the bar where I was tending and asked me to drum for his group, Samadha. He had a previous association with Hefty Records in Chicago, and they had offered to put out the debut Samadha LP based on the strength of his talent, material, and vision. I had never been involved with anything that had any money behind it, and since I respected Chris and liked working with him I jumped at the chance to do something with meaning. Obviously my life had none.

I remember quite a few months of very intense rehearsals, getting the songs ready to record in the studio and all that jazz. We had the chance to play the Hefty Records showcase at SXSW, which was nice, I think. I was looking pretty worse for the wear by that point, so all I can recall is cracking open Bob Dylan’s Chronicles in the car, finishing it well before we got to Austin, and then staring out into space for the rest of the trip with nothing else to read. In the hotel lobby, I actually saw guys trying to look like rock stars, which was a real novelty for me. We played a showcase and then I passed out in the hotel room. I can’t recall the drive home, but I think we may have been feeling somewhat triumphant.

Sometime later, we took another road trip, this time to the offices of Hefty Records in Chicago. It was freezing. I was getting worse. We played a show at some trendy nightclub, which they recorded for a live release. I remember spending all the money I had on drinks, only to find out later that I should have been getting them for free. I don’t think I minded much, at the time I thought that was just how things went.

As I later found out, Hefty Records is owned and run by John Hughes III, who happens to be the son of John Hughes the filmmaker. At that point I became very excited, because I’ll be completely honest and say that I had very little interest in experimental electronica, etc., which is what Hefty Records mainly put out. I was, however, absolutely fascinated by the script of The Breakfast Club, thinking it brilliant in every way. For some strange reason, I had seen it about 10 times in the weeks before, and just kept putting the cassette in the VCR and watching it over and over, thinking about it and being fascinated by a story so simple.

It’s not Shakespeare, mind you, but there is something so vitally human about his characters that is very Shakespeare, if we are to believe Harold Bloom and his Shakespeare: Invention of the Human. I will leave it to others, and certainly my betters, to pontificate and articulate on his films, but for whatever it’s worth, I truly loved the way he represented youth. The kids were REAL, and so were the adults, for that matter. No one was any ONE thing, but rather, a collection of traits and contradictions. As in, HUMAN.

I remember thinking that it would make a great play, if adapted properly. In my head I saw it all without scene changes, just the kids at their desks, with the principal walking on for his occasional lines. I had the notion that the janitor was a metaphor for some omniscient being, and I wanted all of his lines spoken over a loudspeaker, as a character we couldn’t see but was definitely THERE. That was pretty much my brilliant idea.

All of this was simmering in my brain by the time I got to meet Mr. Hughes. I was probably drunk, or at least half-drunk, but not so much that I don’t recall spending perhaps half an hour with him near the entrance of the club, away from the music and the dancing. I was dumb enough to tell him my idea for doing The Breakfast Club as a play, and to my surprise he said that it was originally conceived as such. So much for that idea, but I had a small measure of pride in thinking I was not so much off target.

I recall his countenance, or at least my perception if it, and it seemed that he viewed this whole music endeavor (both our own and his son’s involvement in it), as something not that serious, but something to be humoured. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that his films bankrolled the label, but maybe that’s not how it was. I can’t be sure.

I’m not sure that I have any “heroes”, at least not in the storybook sense of the word. There are, however, a great many people whom I respect and who produce works which I admire for many reasons. John Hughes was one of them. He made some remarkable films, films that were subtle but still accessible, and were stamped with a sense of honesty (and the occasional flicker of absurdity) which reflected an intelligence and an actual sense of respect for the audience. There was no need to dumb it down, because he was just showing us life as it is lived. I’m glad I got to meet him and shake his hand, and tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

If there is a point to these recollections, I would not be the one to draw them for you, much less for myself. I’m just sad that he is gone, and I could not help but remember the night I got to meet John Hughes. It just happens that way.