Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Fender Jaguar

For pretty much my entire musical career up to this point, my only electric guitar has been my Fender Jaguar. I bought it at a small mom 'n pop shop in Maryland just outside of DC, where I was living at the time. It was the summer of '93 and I had just made a bunch of money working in construction (I was framing houses). Up until that point I had been playing a nothing-special Squire Stratocaster (Fender's cheaper, made in China, line) that my parents bought me in highschool. I decided since I was starting to play live more I would need a cooler axe.

I chose it because it was the same guitar Kurt Cobain played and had become one of the main choices for grunge guitarists the world over. It definitely looks cool. Beautiful sunburst finish, rosewood fretboard, floating tremolo....all perfectly weathered and worn. It came off the factory floor on April 1, 1965 (Fender first started making Jaguars in 1962) and was wonderfully aged by the time I bought it 28 years later. It's a good investment; since buying it the guitar has tripled in value.

We've been through a lot, playing gig after gig, recording albums, gig I accidentally left it at the club. I was so relieved when it was still there the next day (someone from the bar held on to it for me). I recently got it set up for the first time in years and it plays better than ever!

For all the switches and tone controls, the sound is actually not that versatile. It goes from warm and rich (using the neck pick up) to sharp and twangy (using both pick ups), to very thin and twangy (not a good or useful sound). Still, it does what it does well, and the action is superb. I've also used the tremolo bar for all sorts of solos and effects. Lately, I've been eyeing a new guitar; a hollow body or semi-hollow body Gibson or Gretsch. It would give me a different sound and, after playing the same guitar for so long, I'd like a chance to try something new. But I have no plans on ever selling my Jag and it will always be my first love. Here's to you 1965 Fender Jaguar!!!

Me being goofy and posing with my guitar back in the day

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Congrats Neil!

Neil Diamond has entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!!! Turn on your heartlight, Neil! Congratulations.

Oh, good ol' Brooklyn boy Neil. I was first introduced to him by my college girlfriend...I initially thought it was ridiculous that she liked him and thought it was some kind of joke. To be true, liking Neil Diamond always has a sort of knowing glance to it. Many of his songs are oh-so-precious. But you can't hold a good performer down, and Neil's one of the greats. I was quickly a convert.

The only time I saw him live was early in the morning at Rockefeller Center for the Today Show. Maybe not the greatest example of a show, but I'll take what I can get. His greatest album is Hot August Night, which ends with a raucous sermon, screaming and spitting at the top of his lungs.

Tonight I drink a toast of cracklin' rosie wine to the Diamond.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where am I from?

Whenever I meet someone for the first time the inevitable question comes up. "Where are you from?" I still don't know how to answer this. I moved around so much as a kid that I really don't identify myself with any one place. Until the age of 18 I moved about 7 times (and then another 3 or 4 times after that). I first try to explain I'm not from anywhere because I moved around so much. This does not satisfy the questioner and they ask the second question: "but where were you born?" Well, I was born in England, but I certainly don't consider myself from there because I moved when I was still a baby. "But then where did you live after that?" is the 3rd question after which I usually start to babble about all the places I've moved in short succession, confusing both of us. By now I've thoroughly annoyed the person I've just met and they think I'm being devious. If they're still talking to me at this point the 4th question is always, "was your dad in the military?"

No, my dad was not in the military. He went to business school and managed engineering firms. Pretty much a suit and tie business man. He just
got transferred a lot and brought the whole family with him. Moving was just a factor of life, my sister and I didn't know any other way. Was it hard? Fun? Exciting? A little bit of everything I guess. I remember being excited to move to California because I was naive enough to think it might still be like the wild west as depicted in the movies (I was a little kid with a wild imagination). I dreaded moving to Scotland because California was so nice, but then cried like a baby when I learned we were moving back to America. Weird times.

All in all I'm happy to have lived in the many places I did. It's influenced me to become quite an empathetic and open-minded individual.
And so, ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, here's a list of all the places I've lived in:
  • Pratts Bottom, England: Born in merry ol' England - Kent, south of London. As a result I'm lucky enough to have dual citizenship (US & UK).
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts: Although still permanently residing outside of London, my dad was attending Harvard Business School at the same time (George W Bush was in his graduating class but my dad said he never saw him in class!) so we spent the school year in Cambridge and the summers in England - sounds nice, right?
  • Highland Park, Illinois: After 3 years of living in England we sold the house and moved, with my very pregnant mother, to Highland Park, Illinois just outside of Chicago (much to my sister's chagrin for just missing being born in Europe).
  • Morgantown, West Virginia: After only a blink of an eye we moved out of the mid-west and into Appalachia country. My dad worked in the coal mining industry and my mom taught at WVU. For my first year of school my classes were held in a mobile home while the permanent building was still being built.
  • Los Gatos, California: Moved to the beautiful bay area. Apple computers was just starting at this point and we were in the middle of what would later be known as Silicon Valley. We had an Apple IIe.
  • Edinburgh, Scotland: After a few years of feeling quite comfortable in the laid-back California lifestyle, we were sent to cold, dark Scotland. Don't get me wrong, I love Scotland now and think Edinburgh is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. But at the time it was a jarring culture-shock. I became a teenager here.
  • Long Island, New York: While keeping the flat in Edinburgh, my dad's job was transferred and we moved to Long Island, NY. This was yet another culture shock. I had developed a Scottish accent and all the kids in my new school would surround me, demanding me to talk. They loved my accent but I was shy and uncomfortable with my new performance role. I still remember hiding in the bathroom after school was out until all the other kids had gone home.
  • Washington DC: Time to leave the parents and go to college. I studied architecture. While living in DC my family moved outside of Atlanta, GA and lived there for 6 years. I spent 2 summers in Alpharetta working in construction.
  • Philadelphia, PA: After architecture school I moved to Philly. My parents, meanwhile, had left the south and moved to Minneapolis. Spent 2 great years in Philly, but ultimately left because the tiny music/art scene had become stifling. Besides, New York was calling.
  • New York, New York: NYC! So nice they had to name it twice. First East Village, then Williamsburg and, to this day, Greenpoint. This is the city I identify with the most. I've lived here far longer than anywhere else (over 10 years now). Although I wasn't born here, I consider myself a New Yorker through-and-through. Home sweet home! My parents now reside in Vermont and they plan on staying there. My sister lives with her husband in Arlington, VA. Finally, a sense of permanency.
So there you have it. Hopefully you can now see why saying where I'm from is not such an easy answer. So, please, kindly refrain from asking. Upon meeting someone new perhaps different questions can be asked. Like "Hi, nice to meet you. What's your favorite fruit?"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Home Recordings

I've been recording music since my teens and doing multi-track recordings since sophomore year in college. I really enjoy the art of putting together a song.....crafting the arrangement just right, layering the mixes, perfecting the performance and finally capturing it all on tape. It's a highly involved process and very rewarding. I've been to recording studios and worked with professional sound engineers, and that's very exciting, but there's nothing like doing it yourself in a private setting on your own time.

My recordings are captured on hundreds of cassettes I keep under my bed...

The first recording equipment I ever used was an old boombox I inherited from my dad in the '80's. It was a wonderful machine, with a built-in microphone loaded with compression. So much punch and clarity. The extra bonus was this thing had a short wave radio built in, which I used on a few songs for sound effects. I used this thing pretty consistently until the late '90's when it finally conked out (the microphone was picking up radio interference on top of whatever it was that you were recording).

My vintage '80's boombox

In highschool I had read Mark Lewisohn's "The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions", which first made me aware of multi-track recording and the basics of how it works. I read how on one piece of tape you could record multiple tracks, and found out for the first time it didn't all have to be done live; you could overdub while being able to individually control each completed track on its own. Amazing! But I figured this kind of equipment was only available in expensive recording studios and you needed a record contract to do it. I had no idea there were compact home mixers available at a decent price.

Then, in 1992 or so, a friend lent me his cassette 4-track for a few months. Now, I finally got to try multi-tracking on my very own. It was so exciting to layer on guitar solos and vocals and use weird special effects with varispeed and panning knobs. It was a cheap little thing with lots of tape hiss, but I loved it. I recorded about a dozen songs with it in a matter of a couple months (none of them worth listening to today, admittedly).

Recording with my beloved Tascam back in the day...

I bought my own 4-track in '94, at a store in Maryland. This was the Tascam 424 portastudio and this became my main axe for the next 6 years. I recorded hundreds of songs on this thing, including my old band, Nerve Generator's underground CD, "This is 4-Track!". With the 4-track I learned about bouncing down, which means after you record onto 3 tracks you bounce them all down to the 4th. Now track #4 has three different instruments on it and 1-3 is available to record more music onto.

For years my equipment was very bare-bones. All I had was the 4-track and one microphone. All the electric guitars I would run directly into the 4-track, bypassing any need for amplification or microphones. I didn't know better; it was easier but I found out later the sound quality wasn't as good. It took me a couple years before I started using the more common practice of micing the amp. In '97 while recording demos for our band, my friends and I learned about Sam Ash's return policy and how lax it was. So we would buy expensive mic's and DAT machines and use them until we were done with the mix, then return them. Since bouncing down degrades the sound quality, we would do a mix onto DAT, then record the DAT back into the 4-track on one track, and record onto the other 3 tracks for a full, clear sounding demo. Nice tricks to learn on a low budget.

Recording with the 8-track

I often write charts like this to remember how the mix was done

After my 4-track crapped out on me I bought another Tascam, but this time with 8-tracks! I still use it do this day for portable or field recordings. Because of noise complaints, I can only record guitars and vocals at my house. For the louder things like drums and piano, I walk over to a studio down the block with my 8-track and cassettes, set up the mics, record, then go back home and mix it all down into my computer. Which brings me to computers....

By the early 2000's I was working with engineers more and more on computers. It was becoming the industry standard and I realized I had to get with the times and learn this thing. I laid down a thousand bucks and bought a Pro-Tools rig. So for the past 6 or 7 years I've been recoding with a mixture of old-fashioned cassettes and a digital audio workstation (or DAW). As with all computers the technology is constantly being upgraded and as a result the sound quality of digital has been getting better and better. I'm really happy with the set up now and I use mic pre-amps, some outboard gear and lots of plug-ins to get some great sounds out of my mixes.

Me and my current recording set-up at home. You can tell I'm just posing for the picture and not really playing.

For my Francis Friday stuff I record all the instruments myself at home. I usually start on the cassette with the scratch vocal and acoustic guitar. Then I go to the hourly-rate studio down the street to record the drums and piano overdubs. This is the most stressful part of the recording because I'm on the clock. It takes a long time to set up all the mics, and drums are a tricky beast. I never have time to practice so my playing can be a little sloppy and the work can be tedious. By the end of the session I'm sweaty, exhausted, stressed-out and still not sure if I got a worthy take. Most of the time I have to do some editing later on the computer to take out the flubs. From there I bounce all the cassette work onto the computer and record the rest of the song on Pro-Tools. I take the longest on vocals and guitar solos. I like to craft a guitar solo very carefully so it's arranged and melodic. It's great mixing with pro-tools because you can automate everything. Then the mix is saved forever if you ever want to do some tweaking in the future.

Well, now that you've heard my boring recording stories, you'll have to download some of my albums available here on my website. Just check out the links in the right hand column on this page. Thanks for listening!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Welcome to the world, Lucy!

I've been intentionally taking a break from blogging ever since I finished my new album (which if you still haven't downloaded yet please do so!!!!). But I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my sister and her husband on the birth of their baby girl, Lucy. She was born this morning and weighs 7lbs 10oz and very healthy. The labor lasted 24hours (an all-nighter!)!!!! I haven't spoken to my sister yet, she must be exhausted, but I expect to this weekend. Can't wait to meet my niece!!!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Nature of Things - the fourth Francis Friday album

click HERE to get to Francis Friday's "The Nature of Things" bandcamp page!

The Nature of Things is a good companion album to Culture & Consequence. It's a very well rounded collection of material, with all sorts of themes and styles explored during its making. I took my time on the recordings and learned a lot about my craft as a result. There's a lot of collaboration on it which is something I missed in the previous 2 releases.

The whole thing was recorded from about December of last year until about a week ago. Probably the longest I've ever taken on a single album. It wasn't non-stop work, sort of in spurts, but I think that was a good thing. I recorded the usual way.....I play all the instruments in my home studio....which is pretty basic. The photo below shows the space I work in. I record the basic tracks, like guitar, piano, vocals and drums on my vintage cassette 8-track. I've been working with cassette recorders like this for pretty much my whole life. It's not superior recording, but it does have a waning style to it and it's nostalgic and comfortable to me. I then dump it onto pro-tools and do the overdubs and mixing digitally. It's a nice balance of analog texture and feel with digital accuracy and control.

The cover art came from Rebecca Posner, an a
rtist I discovered at the Greenpoint Open Studios this past weekend. She was part of a group show at one of the old factories by the East River and her work really spoke to me. I was delighted when she let me use one of her pieces for my album cover!

Divided in the Rain was a fun one to do because it was an older song that I transformed into a country ballad duet. I'd been doing a few shows with my friend Rachel Mason and she was kind enough to collaborate with me on the recording. We did the session in just a couple hours and that was all it took.....I really love the way our voices work together! To add the final touch of country, I found a guy on the craigslist musicians community to play the sweet sounding pedal steel guitar. I didn't even meet him, it was all done through email and file transferring. Great work though (he also appears on the song Memphis Summer Dream).

Another fun one was the 3-part h
armony of myself with good friends and long-time collaborators, Rob Markoff and Jonathan Cole. While on my tour down south, I was touched by the pure soul of gospel groups, especially The Swan Silvertones. The song Therapeutic Confessions is basically a gospel song but replacing the idea of god with the practice of psycho-analysis. Pretty fun!

my gospel group...

I really think this is my best album ever and I hope you do too!!! Also, if you haven't done so already, be sure to check out my Culture & Consequence album I put out last year. It was a pre-cursor to this one.

The entire album is available for free. Download the zip file below.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bring To Light

Bring to Light was New York City's first Nuit Blanche festival, which apparently happens annually all over the world. Don't know much about Nuit Blanche or its history but some friends of mine and I went to the installation and loved it. The performances and installations took place in the industrial section of Greenpoint's East River waterfont. Old, half-abandoned buildings came to life with projections and amplified sound. It was great to see such an exciting scene right in my own neighborhood! It was tied in with the Greenpoint Open Studios weekend so the whole neighborhood was buzzing. Pencil Factory was packed that night.

These are videos I took that night of some of the projections on the buildings. I added my own soundtrack since the live audio was quite noisy.

I hope things like this happen more often in Greenpoint. The neighborhood has been steadily gaining momentum in creativity and business. I'm happy to be a part of the process.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ship Graveyard in Staten Island

My friend Matt and I went on a Staten Island adventure this past weekend. Our initial plan was to visit Mandolin Brothers to check out their archtop guitar selection (it was amazing). Since we were there I suggested we check out the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard in the Rossville section of the island. I can't remember where I first heard about this place, but the stories have intrigued me and we hopped in the car with our cameras and gear.

To get to the ships we had to wind
our way through towering metal cargo containers, a sort of garbage-cathedral.

The entrance was hard to find. And it was a strange, partially-desolate area. On the road bordering the junk yard where the boats are laid to rest are 1) an animal feed depot 2) a car wash 3) an automechanic 4) a night club (with a back to the future theme night on mondays) 5) a western-style saloon 6) an 18th century graveyard and 7) a lone house between the feed depot and graveyard.

A partial view of the ship graveyard through the trees...

We finally found our way around Do Not Enter signs and rusty, twisted cargo containers to our destination. It was a smelly and muddy place. Crabs darted sideways in and out of their protected holes in the ground. Garbage everywhere. But amongst the water and the reeds lay dozens of rusted, barnacle-covered ships, scuttled to rest until they decay into oblivion. It was just what we were looking for. We clicked and clicked away with our digital cameras. Carefully we stepped and climbed amongst the wrecks as they lay rotting along the shore. I may return to this strange area again....when I feel up for yet another Staten Island adventure.

Yosemite Movies

My last post about Yosemite. Here's some quick clips I shot w/my camera while on my trip. I love this movie option on my camera!

The view from Glacier Point.....where you can observe almost the entire valley from one vantage. Stunning.

View from the bottom of Yosemite Falls. This is already fairly late in the season so it's just a trickle compared to what it's like in the early spring after the snow melt.

As we were driving back from the Eastern Sierra we saw this mysterious blinking X on the horizon. I had to check it out. Turned out it was a signal for a small runway nearby.

Jesse and Jon were performing at the Awanee Hotel. Jesse is an amazing piano player. This is my favorite Beethoven song.

Jon's special sound effect while opening a wine bottle.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Climbing Yosemite

I've been rock climbing about a year now. The first time I did it was last summer up in the Shawangunks (or as the climbers simply put it, "the gunks"). A good friend of mine was just getting into it and a group of us drove up for the day. As a kid I always loved to climb things and through college I would always sneak up onto rooftops, so this sport definitely fulfills a need in my life.

If you go to a gym, the basic equipment you'll need is a harness (this loops around your waist and attaches you to the rope, your lifeline), a chalk bag (the chalk keeps your hands free from sweat which will cause you to slip), and a good pair of shoes (fits extremely tight on your feet and takes some getting used to....they'll never be comfortable). When you're out on the real rock I would recommend a belay device, a helmet, some slings and a loop chain, and an assortment of carabiners (locking and non-locking). Here's a link to an equipment list by REI if you want to see what I'm talking about.

I find this sport very good for core-stren
gth. Goes very well with yoga. It also helps you with balance and keeps your brain sharp. When climbing, make sure you conserve can be a long way up.....and stay calm, even when things get real difficult or scary. Some people can get freaked out by the exposure and heights....but remember that you're locked into your rope and trust that your leader has set up good points of protection on the rock face.

At Yosemite the rock is all granite, which is great for climbing. Very solid and climbable. You will get a great mixture of face climbing (scaling the face of the rock) and crack climbing (wedging your hands, fingers or limbs into cracks in the rock). There's so many climbing spots in the valley that there's something for every level of climber. I tend to feel comfortable on grade 5.8 (which is fairly entry-level). But I can do a 5.9 and possibly a 5.10 in short runs with a good belayer.

Off-roading to Area 13 in my rental car

The first climb I did was just with me and Jesse (Jesse James!). An early morning rise, to avoid potential crowds, and it was a short bike ride from our apartment. The route was Bishops Terrace. It was a 160 ft climb involving 2 pitches. Jesse lead of course and I belayed from below. Then I climbed as he belayed me from the top and I cleaned up all the protection off the rock (removing the cams and nuts). We did 2 pitches and then double rappelled down the rock to the ground below. My rope got caught on the way down and I had to climb back up to free it, which was a bit of a challenge because then I had to climb back down (which is trickier than climbing up). It was a great start to the day!

At the anchor station

Jesse praying to the rock climbing gods
rappelling down bishops terrace

The next day we climbed Area 13, which is not in Yosemite Valley but in the Eastern Sierra in Clark Canyon. This was very different ro
ck than the granite I is sedimentary and therefore the holds don't feel as solid. Little bits of it can crumble in your hands. But the climb I did was very easy and it was a straight shot up with great views of the canyon.

climbing Area 13

view from the top of the climb
we met Moon while climbing Area 13

The best climb I did was back at Yosemite in an area called Manure Pile Buttress (don't ask why it's called that). The route was Nutcracker and it was 600 ft, 5 pitches and a 5.8/5.9 grade. It took us 5 hours to do and was filled with many challenges. But after a few challenging parts you would get a few easy moments which would then give you time to take it all in and enjoy the views and the fruits of your labor. It was damn exciting mantling over a roof hundreds of feet in the air. Occasionally I would see cute little chipmunks scurrying across the cliff face in front of me. They live up in the crevices and, I suppose, from many of their predators. At one point Jesse dropped his chalk bag and it fell until it caught itself on a bit of roughness about 20 feet below us. I rappelled down to rescue it and self-belayed my way back up. It was a cool feeling to climb up the rock like that. Another new experience was belaying while hanging off the anchor. It was a bit uncomfortable but was cool to be safely leaning off the edge like that. Instead of rappelling down, we hiked down the other side of the mountain. Or basically running down the mountain since Jon and Jesse were late for work.

belaying off the edge

view up to the 4th anchor point
not much room to stand at station 3
a brief rest
Jesse & Jon at the top of Nutcracker

The final climb that week was a 200 ft, 1 pitch crack climb called Jamcrack. After doing Nutcracker this was easy. Right next to it was a 5.10 that I wanted to try but we ran out of time. For this climb we had our friend Natasha have a go. She had never climbed before but was a total natural. She's extremely athletic and took to it right away. I was impressed, especially since she didn't even have the proper climbing shoes.

belaying Jamcrack

Jon leading Jackcrack
view up the crack

It was a great experience climbing in Yosemite and I hope to do it again. The biggest climb there is called El Cap, and takes 3 days to do and you have to camp on the mountain. I don't know if I'd ever be interested in something quite so epic, but who knows.