Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Radio Dept. and a New Song

Over the last year I have fallen head-over-heels in love with a genre of music I refer to as indie pop-shoegaze. Without ever having had heard of such a thing last winter I was in one of those moods -- the kind marked by an intense desire to listen to some new music. I dropped by my friend Joe's apartment before taking my Sunday night trek back to Somerset for the week and I saw a cd lying on the dining room table. The band was called The Radio Dept., the album Lesser Matters. He let me borrow it and the rest, as they say, is history.

I can recommend neither this band nor this record enough. I knew little about indie pop and even less about shoegaze (and I certainly had not heard of the two together) but when I listened I thought to myself, if I were to try to describe this, I would call it a mix between indie pop and shoegaze. Wow. Its awesome. As soon as I got home I looked them up on wikipedia and apparently thats what everyone else calls this melodic, enchanting band that hails from Sweden. I have continued to love and enjoy all music that reminds me of said genre. Melodic. Layered. Ambient. With verbed-out vocals and often melancholic. Its just gorgeous. Aside from The Radio Dept., Wild Nothing, and (though they may not be directly in the genre -- they are more chillwave -- but certainly related) -- Washed Out. Though for me The Radio Dept. takes it. When I listen to bands like Pheonix or Passion Pit its always like... yeah this is cool but now I just wanna listen to The Radio Dept. (though the former two may be slightly better for a dance party, but of course TRD has their own wonderfully danceable tunes.)

If you know nothing of what I am talking about I highly recommend some investigating. The Radio Dept. and this genre of music has quickly risen to one of my all-time favorites. Its sweeping and beautiful and maybe just as important as anything when it comes to music, it has longevity. Find it. Listen to it. And enjoy.

this new song is my own attempt at the genre

words and stars by Glen Yoder

**As my love for this stuff has grown, so has my desire to write it. My friend, Pete, and I are starting a project where we will do just that. Yesterday I spent the better part of 8-9 hours in front of my computer writing and recording this song. Its not finished. It needs a lot more (especially on the verses.) Its a rough demo done w/ my mac so keep that in mind. But here ya go. Enjoy.

words and stars

all these words they call

like a falling star

hearts sleep in the fields

like a broke down car

smiles fade like the sun

wrapped among the stars

as pretty and bright as love

and just as far

everything you wanted

it lies inside a different light

when you find it

all that you wanted now

you wanted now

it's come it's go it's always


all these words they fall

carving out their scars

weeds grow round these hearts

like a broke down car

all the words you spoke

always seem to stay

hanging on in my

pocket like dead weight

and some useless change

everything you wanted

it lies inside a different light

when you find it

all that you wanted now

you wanted now

it's come it's go it's always


Friday, September 10, 2010

You Gotta Serve Somebody

I remember my freshman year in college I played it like most other greeny freshman. I church-hopped every sunday, picking out congregations like treats in a candybar aisle, going with whatever suited my taste and particular mood on a given sunday. I'd get up after a few short hours of sleep and a long night of Halo and say, "Cool. So where we gonna go today?"

At this time I had been playing guitar for a couple years but I was definitely a hack. Total hack. I knew a few songs and I could could play chords and strum in rhythm just fine but when it came to being creative or writing lines you could forget it. You would think the thought would cross my mind, "Hey, the Vineyard has a good worship team and they know music, why not serve with them and get to commit to a solid group of friends and believers and at the same time improve my craft, get better at guitar, and who knows, maybe even begin to write songs and lead worship?" But no, of course not. That would make way too much sense, not to mention require some responsibility.

I continued in my flaky, immature, irresponsible, church-hopping ways throughout the extent of my freshman year. However, when I became a sophomore I decided in my heart that, come what may, I was going to commit to going to the Vineyard full time and call it home. It amazes me to think back, I showed up one evening to worship practice with my gig bag and metallic red, Mexican-made, Fender Powerhouse Strat, total newbie-hack guitarist. But Adam let me on the team anyway.

A few years later, something changed. I begin to round some major corners on the guitar. Things started to sound different. Multiple people were coming up to me after church telling me how much they loved what I was playing. After this something flipped in my mind and I continued getting better and soon I started writing songs.

My point is that everything I know about music, everything I'm able to play, everything I've done consequently came simply from one thing: serving. For the first few years I never even worked very hard at guitar but regardless I made some major breakthroughs and even became a solid guitarist and it actually came from nothing more than just showing up every sunday and playing. (Sure, after I made major improvements I actually started to become serious and work and hone my talent, but the initial big jump was just from showing up and being available.) Thats it. Now, I'm a solid guitarist, I write songs, I've released a solo EP, I help lead worship at the Vineyard, I have a song on the upcoming Embers album and will probably have a song on the next one as well.

Two things: one, if I hadn't decided to commit to the Vineyard none of this would have happened and two, there is a huge part of my destiny I would have completely missed out on. At this point its hard to imagine myself void of the role that music plays in my life, being a serious musician and songwriter, but none of that would have happened if I hadn't found a place where people would not only give me a chance to serve but they would pour into me, teach me, encourage the gift, develop it, and finally, give me a platform to use it.

Serving will not only please the Lord but it will further your own skills, vision, goals, ambitions and quality of life. So grow up. Find a place. Get in there. Commit. Serve. In the end, you'll be better for it.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Domingo Dabela

I was 18 years old; naive, a bit of a whippersnapper and a-lotta-bit of an idealistic. But I had an experience with Domingo de Jesus Dabela that I will undoubtedly remember until the day I see him again. It was nearing the end of my high school experience when a friend of mine invited me to go to Nicaragua in the upcoming summer. Well, why not? I thought. Sounds like a good idea to me.

I remember we were out in a particular dirty section of some random town of which I will never remember the name. The trees seem to sag a little lower, the dust seem to lie a little thicker. The simple houses, many with dirt floors, were spaced together along the rough streets in that Latin-American fashion. The air was thick and humid and the sun glazed our foreheads with perspiration. For a time, I was alone enjoying a cold soda and I looked across the way to see an old man walk out from a side street. He walked slowly, spotted a large rock on the side of the road and sat down.

I've always had a fascination and respect for old people. Maybe because of the stories. I love stories. When I see a head full of gray hair or old hands I think of how many stories they must have in those callouses, how many stories are wrapped in the years they've seen. Their faces seem a little wiser and their eyes a little deeper. Like maybe the more things they see the deeper their eyes become, filling with time and memories and the space of things lost and things won, stretching all the way back through the recesses of their mind. I saw this man and I just really wanted to meet him, talk with him.

I went and sat down beside the man. His darkened skin from the years of sun was set around dark eyes, his hair gray, his shoulders were sure and extended into weathered hands. He spoke slowly and he had a kind disposition. This was my first trip to Latin-America but I've always had a knack for languages and somehow I had picked up a decent amount of Spanish in my little time there that I was actually able to have a fairly cogent conversation. The depth of conversation that proceded however was nothing short of a miracle. With my English to Spanish book in hand, the conversation took its turn and I began telling him about the Lord and asking him questions, (most of which were simple yes or no questions). Slowly, the conversation began to build and gather momentum and I could see light and hope were filling his dark eyes.

The next thing I knew the man was bowing his head and asking the Lord to take over his life. Later the man found a translator so that he could speak to me more in depth. Through the bilingual woman, he told me how he used to have a wife and family and threw it all away to alcoholism. His brokenness was obvious but his countenance was soft and open. Then, with tears in his eyes he told me he would never forget my name because I led him to salvation and that one day he would see me again in heaven. My eyes filled with tears and I became weak and almost fell over in the street. We parted ways and of course I've never seen or heard from him again. It was all a bit surreal... the kind of salvation experience you read about in the scriptures. I haven't raised the dead, I haven't seen blind eyes opened or limbs grown back -- not yet (and I'm sure I will), but I did watch a man step from death to life as sure as anything I'd ever seen before. And I know, beyond a doubt, that I will one day see Domingo de Jesus Dabela again. In heaven. Just like he said. And he will remember me and I will remember him.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Once You Go Vinyl...

I have recently discovered the beauty of vinyl. Listening to music the way our fathers listened to music, (or your fathers rather, since my fathers milked cows and plowed fields). But all the same, while I may have been a little late to the game I understand its beauty, its importance. When a friend asked me about this recent "infatuation" he said, "But why?--it doesn't have the crystal clear quality of dolby digital surround."

Firstly, I'd like to debunk the myth that spinning vinyl will produce a quiet, paper-thin sound. My system gets plenty loud enough and it's sound is anything but thin. At any rate, its all about the experience. It becomes a labor of love: taking care of the records, going through each beloved, necessary step in the process of the listening experience - and it is an experience. Its just not the same, putting on a cd, looking at a little 4" by 4" fold-out sheet of lyrics. And it certainly is something that could never be captured with the click of an mp3. (I do realize these others methods are adequate and can even be great in other situations such as the car or a dance party). However, there is nothing like having a double LP, opening up the gatefold to take in the massive artspread. Then, delicately pulling out the sleeve, placing the record on the turntable, flipping the switch and watching the stylus connect with the vinyl to produce an intoxicating sound full of texture and landscape. Lost in a rush of music you can watch the record spin, the stylus gliding gently over the vinyl like smooth waters. Visual soundwaves.

Another thing I like so much about vinyl is it really forces the listener to approach the album as an album, as a whole work of art, not just random songs to be mixed, fast-forwarded, skipped, etc. And with many albums you find, as a result, that song order and even the flow from Side A to Side B were not an accident, and they even give the album a fuller meaning and a much deeper context for both each individual song and the album as a whole.

Its so much fun making all the connections throughout an album. From the obvious mantlepieces of each song to the subtle nuances hidden in the tracks that the artists must have been so excited about during the recording process. From my own experiences in the studio I know the joy in these; the subtle mistakes that you end up keeping, you guard them like carefully placed gems. And the quiet layers that lie beneath surface. All of these and more seem to come alive when listening to a record.

I can listen to a record the way I would sit down to watch a movie. You know how it is, you go to see a movie with your friends and afterwards you talk about it for awhile. You break it down, discuss the things that stood out to you and, (depending on the film), even analyze things like imagery, allusions, and symbolism. Listening to vinyl with your friends is like that, only the discussion takes place in the middle of the action, wrapped in the album's aura like a cloud over the room. The space just opens to discussion and ultimately, a deeper appreciation for the music you so love. Discussions sweep the room in cycles and then you are, of course, overtaken by long moments of silence where you just let the music fill the room and envelope your mind. Sometimes after its over, you can look over and see that glazed look in your friend's eyes, as they can in yours. You could almost put it like this: if the movie experience and concert experience had a love-child, it would be vinyl.

Records are great listened to with friends or even all alone. I remember the day I recieved The Radio Dept.'s Clinging to a Scheme I seriously listened to the album in its entirety three times. One of the most vivid vinyl experiences I've ever had was alone with Ryan Adams' 29, the album of his that has probably garnered the least amount of praise (as well as the most amount of flak) and I'll be honest, for years I gave it little thought or listen as well because it was so inaccessible on the front-end. Then one day quite randomly, the songs started turning over and over in my head. I bought the vinyl and spent the quiet, still part of a summer evening listening to that record.

There, on my bed I sat, 12" by 12" insert in hand, studying the lyrics in typewriter-print with the drawings and pictures. From the stark, yet beautiful folky acoustic/ukulele combo of Strawberry Wine, the lush, ethereal landscapes of Blue Sky Blues, the infinite melancholy of Starlite Diner, to the chaotic, opera-like emotions of The Sadness, and finally, the gut-wrenchingly haunting resolve of Voices. I was swept. Mesmerized. Enchanted. In one crucial listen, my least favorite Ryan Adams album became an immensely enjoyable and incredibly important piece to me. Sure, I have little doubt I could have made that discovery without the use of a turntable, but at the very least, it was the vinyl experience that helped usher in that deeper knowlege and understanding of the album.

I assure you this is no passing infatuation. I am convinced that vinyl can actually help you love and appreciate music even more than you already do. People often associate vinyl with a certain sound or style of music but that just isn't necessary. Vinyl isn't prejudiced or biased toward the music. Its all so great, from the folk/alt-country madness of my boy Ryan Adams to the blissful, indie-pop/shoegaze goodness of The Radio Dept., its all just a little bit sweeter on the turntable.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Pop-Country Grieves the Holy Spirit

I love art--visual art, that is. I can sit and look at paintings, appreciate their color, and even pick out my favorites. I have various pieces hanging in my room by Renoir, Van Gogh, and Hurtgen. Even though I love art, I myself know little to nothing about painting. And that being the case, I would never, ever presume to tell a master artist about what art is good and what art isn't.

Imagine I'm standing with one of these master artists and we're looking at two paintings side-by-side. I could look at one of the paintings and say, "Well, I like this one because it has a lot of blue in it and I like the color blue. Its pretty. It makes me think of the ocean. I really like to swim, hopefully one day I can go deep-sea fishing and catch a swordfish." And then the artist may respond, "Well, yes it does have blue and I agree, blue is a pretty color. I like that piece too. However, I like this piece beside it better because it is the superior work of art. See the artist's exceptional use of etc. etc. [insert fancy art term here] etc. and how they create etc. etc. with their use of etc. etc. etc." I may continue to hold to my opinion of enjoying the other piece of art more and that is totally fine. Really, it is. I have no qualms with that, whatsoever. However, when it comes to the artist's claim of which is the superior piece of work would I actually have the gall to argue with a sheepish, "Well you can't know that" or "Maybe for you, but that is just your opinion" all the while consciously or subconsciously exerting my ideas on art to the level of his own?

The answer is no. No, I absolutely would not. I would not proceed to argue with a bona fide artist about art because I am not an artist. It is quite possible that maybe--just maybe an artist that has the key to the Louvre knows more about art than me. They know more about technique, style, difficulty, and even further -- they know more about creativity in terms of what is original and what has already been done many times before.

I've never been very good at building things. In fact, most often when I attempt to be "handy" I usually end up making the situation worse. I don't know the things an architect knows and I don't understand the things a carpenter understands. I would never presume to tell a carpenter how to build a house; the correct techniques, methods, or processes in building a fine architectural structure. I could look at a house and say, "Wow this house looks awesome! Its so interesting and I like the blah blah blah." He may look through the house and laugh and say that the house wasn't structurally sound and actually had a plethora of problems including foundational, plumbing, and insulation issues.

Opinions are fine. They really are. We are all entitled to them even if we are ignorant of the subject. But that doesn't make the opinion any less ignorant than the person forming it. Furthermore, may I suggest that certain things are not necessarily opinion? Yes, actually, I may. And I will. I would never tell an architect how to build a solid house or a painter how to paint a great painting and to do so would be utter foolishness. You can listen to your Brittany Spears, your 3 Doors Down, your Toby Mac, your Nickelback, and your pop-country radio. But it will never hold the artistic value of such giants as Bob Dylan, Arcade Fire, David Gray, Josh Ritter or Ryan Adams. That is not simply my opinion.

I find it mildly offensive when people who have their musical decisions dictated by the radio and/or the mainstream flow and who have never so much as strummed a chord or written a line try to tell me about music or what makes a good song. Sure, even among artists and writers tastes may vary, (and everyone even has their guilty pleasures), but the sense and understanding of who holds more value as an artist or what holds more value as a piece of art does not. Would anyone ever dream of setting Freaky Friday against Romeo and Juliet or perhaps Maid in Manhatten to Hamlet?--only a fool, maybe. Likewise, only that same brand of fool would set Taylor Swift next to Johnny Cash or Nickelback next to the Killers or Kutless to Neil Young (I'm speaking both musically and lyrically.)

It may have some to do with taste but honestly, it has more to do with education. An education in music does not happen overnight. And at the threshold, its gates were, to me, originally distasteful and completely unappealing. However, I guarantee you that like myself and all the others, after entering fully nothing could ever drag you back to the other side.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Go On and Take It

In the spring of my twenty-second year, with twenty-three just around the summer's corner, I finally began writing songs. Its odd for me to think about it, how when I was younger, as in really young (maybe nine) I used to look at songwriters and the whole idea of songwriting and think, "Wow. That is so cool. I wish so bad I could write songs." After awkwardly fumbling around some chords I thought, "Oh, thats for talented people. The naturally gifted. If only I could write songs."

In high school I remember looking at the people that took AP classes and honors classes, I considered them to be in a different league of studies. Brainiacs. I never, ever once considered taking an honors class. "Man, those classes are for smart kids," I thought. I never told myself it was possible. I never told myself I could do it. And whats worse, neither did a teacher.

Disclaimer: I am fully aware that my album is not some sort of ground-breaking piece of material. Its not going to shake the world, it won't even shake a community. That being said, its still really, really good for a normal average-joe like me. My point is this: if someone would have shown me the When the World Was Young EP when I was in high school (or even farther back like when I was nine and thought writing songs was for the talented and intelligent people) and said, "Hey little man, you're going to write this." I would have just laughed at them. Or crapped my pants. Or maybe both. But at least if there were some sort of thread of belief in myself I would not have waited fourteen years to start doing the thing I love because I felt under-qualified.

My point is simple. What is it that you want? Find a way. And no matter what, you have to do it for you. I may not make platinum albums, and I may never make so much as a ripple in the music world. But hey, I get to write songs. I get to play music with my friends. And I get to look at my students and tell them the things that no teacher ever told me: that they can, and they are worth it. And if they want it, they can have it.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Glen the Hobo

Ask and you shall recieve. Such a simple concept really... one that has been overused, quoted, and even parodied in the most ridiculous of films. When I was 21 years old there wasn't a lot that I was good at, but I tell you this: I had being an idiot nailed. Even so, there was at least one thing I did right: I asked.

For some reason, it one day occurred to me that I wanted a house. And so I asked. I asked the Lord to give me a house. The desire grew and it became more real and vivid in my mind, until one night in the middle of prayer, quite literally and somewhat out of the blue, I was beating my pillow and yelling, "Lord give me a house!" and probably waking up the Dillards who up to that point I'm sure had been sleeping peacefully, as it was the middle of the night. Not yelling in a demanding sort of way but in a this-is-a-good-thing-and-I-know-you-wanna-bless-me sort of way. And six months later, after turning 22, he gave it to me. A house. All my own.

I went from sleeping on random hard floors in Nicaragua, to sleeping under a bed in a dorm, to living in a laundry room, to a basement, and from that to the master bedroom of my very own home. Not a very typical sounding progression. Seriously think about that. Four months on random matts / hard floors in Central America (on a bed when I was lucky). Three months under a bed in a dorm room. Six months in a laundry room. Thirteen months in a basement. And then from all that to my very own house. Essentially, I went from hobo to homeowner. For real, I was a certified hobo, that is, if there were such a thing, in which case I would have been a gold card-carrying member.

(And by the way, the living in the other half of a laundry room thing is not a joke. Not to mention it was actually an add-on to the house so it wasn't even properly insulated and this was during the winter months I lived there. At nights I would lie there on a broken fouton set on cinder blocks staring at the wall which was covered in vinyl siding because it used to be the outside of the house and of course, being that it was a laundry room my make-shift cot was separated from the wall by about three to four inches. I would actually run the drier to try to heat up the room and keep warm.)

But thats how it happened. In the week right after my twenty-second birthday. It was like the Lord was saying, "Glen, I love you. Happy birthday." And yea, people give me crap about it. They say its a bachelor house. And that its dodgy, at best. And they say it smells like a shoe. But its my shoe. And I love it. And here I am, five years later, still living in the best birthday present I've ever recieved and as thankful as the day I moved in. Thanks Lord. You're the best.