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.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Such An Amateur

Inspiration is for amateurs? Maybe. Well... its possible. Okay I'm sure it probably is. It can be a wonderful tool when its available, however, the simple fact is that it just isn't always available. Furthermore, a full reliance on inspiration alone can be crippling to one's creative endeavors. I'm sure of this.

Of all the songs I've ever written I can honestly say only a few of them were 100% born and brought to fruition - from beginning to end - of pure inspiration. So often when speaking to people they say things like, "...don't worry about it, you just gotta let it come" or "you can't force a song, you can't sit down to write a song, you gotta let it flow." I beg to differ. Sure, I believe you shouldn't force a lyric and you should work and craft till you find the right touch. Key word: work. If I adhered strictly to the "let-it-flow" mold of thinking my entire catalogue of songs would come down to two or three... maybe.

I have a specific song to post with this blog and a reason for posting it. This is a brand new song and I really, really disliked this song and everything about the process of writing it from the beginning to the end, so much so that I actually scrapped the song several times but eventually finished it out of sheer discipline. Ironically, upon completion (and not a moment before) I actually came to really enjoy the song and appreciate how it was different from the stuff I typically write, almost like a painting that looked and felt like a mess but once it was finished and I could step back I was glad I finished it, even if it was simply out of discipline.

Chuck Close, an extremely successful and gifted painter said this in an interview:

Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work and the belief that things will grow out of the activity itself and that you will, through work, bump into other possibilities and kick open other doors that you would never dream up if you were just sitting around looking for a great art idea. And that a belief in that the process, in a sense, is liberating and that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel everyday. Today you know what you will do, you could be doing what you were doing yesterday and tomorrow you are going to do what you did today and at least for a certain period of time if you can just work to hang in there, you will get somewhere.

And I think in one paragraph he pretty much summed up the Rising Street blog. I especially liked what he said about things growing out of the activity itself and believing in the process. I'm not nearly as disciplined as I should be. And I am definitely an amateur. But I'm working to rely more and more on work and less and less on inspiration. This song is a testament.

you are the one

***rough demo recorded in garageband on my computer with an acoustic and rhodes keys -- for some reason soundcloud has not been consistent and so if its not working just click the "you are the one" song title and it will take you to the page where you can listen to it there