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!!!