Blue October; I Hope You’re Happy.

If, like me, your favourite band isn’t a stadium sized dinosaur, you may be familiar with an uneasy contradiction. On one hand, I want *everyone* to experience the magic of that band, and I want them to be shouting from the rooftop of pop culture. But I also get a real buzz out of being ‘in the gang’ – of meeting other fans, connecting with the band directly, and having the joy of seeing your favourite band in decent-sized (i.e. not stupidly big) venues. There’s a connection, an intimacy, and it’s unashamedly hip pleasure. You want your favourite band to take over the world AND be your little secret, all at once.

So for now, I’ll enjoy everything that comes with being in the exclusive who know and love the magic that is Blue October.

I’m really late to the party, having only discovered them a few years ago. They almost immediately became one of my all time favourites, neatly dispelling the tired idea (that I was starting to fall for) that all your favourite music is the stuff you discover in your youth. Blue October haven’t had the decades of my attention that R.EM. or Metallica or Smashing Pumpkins have, but they made it to legendary overnight in my musical imagination.

A couple of years ago, another evening spinning nostalgic on YouTube with my other half Nicci; somewhere along the autoplay way a song called Fear came on. I was immediately knocked back. The striking lead singer seemed to reach out from the beautifully understated video and grab me. By the time the second chorus came around, I knew I was hearing one of my all time favourite songs for the first time. It was a Today. An Everybody Hurts. A Nothing Else Matters. It was… everything.

And so I was hooked. As a band they make beautiful widescreen rock tracks, but it was in the lyrics where I really got lost. Frontman Justin Furstenfeld is an incredible force. He’s cut from the same kind of cloth as Michael Stipe; cryptic yet direct, introspective yet relatable. Like Stipe, he shapes complex ideas out of unexpected phrases. But Justin takes this further; his lyrics are more intense, more revealing. Like all my favourite songwriters, Justin digs deep into himself in a way that makes digging into myself a little easier. I’m not just talking as a lyricist myself; I learn more about me through these songs. That’s the power, when songwriting reaches beyond and dares to go deep.

The show was nothing short of extraordinary. The whole band worked to connect with the audience, and the crowd/band dynamic was beautifully crafted. It reminds me that a great show is always a collaboration between the artist AND the audience – serving up music to be passively consumed is not the real thing.

Justin’s connection as a frontman to his audience takes the power of the writing to an even greater height. To say he’s one of rock’s greatest frontman (tempting as it may be) does him a disservice. This isn’t just about rock star moves. This is about a human connection. He reaches out, he reaches wide, with sincerity and utter fucking conviction. It’s a HUGE thing he’s building out there on that stage every night.

All of this reminds me to keep digging, to go bigger, to be honest in my own songs. Blue October drive me further on into what really matters in music. They remind me to keep pushing for that truth, that beauty. To never settle. I’m a better songwriter for being a Blue October fan.

I’m not normally one for the meet and great, but Nicci and I agreed we had to connect IRL with the band. Besides their influence on my work, they’re a huge part of our life soundtrack. Our kids love them. Draven sings Fear at the top of his lungs most days. If I ask the twins what music they want on, they’ll almost always say “COAL MAKES DIMONS!” (sic, obvs).

We got to share this with the band, and we got onto our tenuous musical connection; us both being collaborators with Imogen Heap – small world that it is. Justin has so much love and admiration for Imogen, it was nice to be able to pass that on…*

Of course, I can’t help hold my own work up to the light, and damn, I would LOVE to share a stage with these guys. We’re trying to hit things from a very similar place, I gotta think that would be a great show. Or maybe I’m just being totally absorbed by my own ego’s gravity. OF COURSE *I* can see myself opening for my favourite band! And everyone loves them gloves, I guess… It’s a real bucket list thought, and my bucket list is looking pretty healthy too…

  • Perform one of my all time favourite songs (Breath In by Frou Frou) with Imogen Heap
  • Play music full time
  • Challenge perceptions of what disabled artists can do
  • Get some real world recognition for my music (being recognised never gets old!)
  • Provide for my family with MY music!
  • Perform at Abbey Road
  • Travel the world playing my music
  • Play a BIG show in the US
  • Perform for my guitar hero, the legendary Steve Vai!
  • Open for Blue October?

…Shush now. I can dream big. You can’t stop me…

I’ve ticked off some huge stuff on my bucket list, for sure. Right now, just having seen my favourite band be THAT FUCKING GOOD in an intimate venue is bucket list stuff. After all, a band that are *that* fucking POWERFUL onstage can’t do intimate venues forever…

*I performed with Imogen a few days later, and she wanted to send her love right back at Justin and the guys. So Justin, if you’re reading this; WE LOVE YOOOOO! 😍😍

Access, Blogging & Fitting It All In.

I read a great article recently about five common blogging faux pas. I can happily say that I have never committed four of them, however I was guilty of the last one all the fucking time.

And that is… Not blogging for ages and then making your next blog post an apology for not blogging for ages. Yawn.

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MiMu Gloves Live: That You’ll Never Know @ Live Music Now

On Friday I was at a conference held by for Live Music Now. LMN are a fantastic organisation connecting music experts to SEN/D schools and other disability focused groups. I was there to show off the MiMu Gloves and talk about my journey through the gloves and my tentative steps into SEN/D focused music leading.

This demo shows quite neatly how I use the gloves to live-loop different instruments and layers. I’m really pleased with how it sounds now. This song was always a casualty of the light-touch electronic sound I started creating with the gloves. There’s a big wall of feedback-type sound, a huge droptuned guitar riff, and some finger-tapping type sounds.

I’m manipulating sounds of my regular guitars (in this case my Ibanez 7-String) sounds for the main riff. This concept has been with me for a while; to play *my* guitars “through” the gloves. I’m still playing live, and it’s still my guitar, there’s just a new interface between. This is exactly the kind of thing I got excited about doing with the gloves when I first got them, a neat little moment of accessibility creating something new entirely…

(My) Access Barriers To Blogging.

I hadn’t originally intended to do it but throughout January I blogged every day. That was really just to set up the scene of what’s going on with this project. There was no big ambition to blog every day, however it seems to be proving to be quite interesting to people and it is certainly a healthy thing to do for me. That is, in theory. In practice, I hit an access barrier that wasn’t there the last time I blogged day (which is a good few years ago at least).

Typing. It fucking kills nowadays.

Cerebral palsy keeps me guessing. The hard medical line is that CP is a non-progressive condition. I think that’s a little bit misleading. I understand that the neurological damage doesn’t get worse, but the wear and tear that that imposes on the human body through the course of a lifetime simply has to. I can’t move my limbs accurately and comfortably. My joints are my muscles get yanked in around in ways that they were never “designed” to do.

One of many results; my hands are shakier and less reliable nowadays. That is of course old news in some contexts; the impact on my guitar playing and glove use is well documented. Struggling with fairly menial tasks such as typing is the new thing for me. That makes daily blogging painful and less accessible. Boo hiss indeed.

But, as is often the way, technology brings hope. Apple’s own Siri voice recognition technology is laughably inept in my opinion, so I didn’t hold out much hope of being able to do speech to text blogging. A recommendation via a colleague at Drake music led me to software called Dragon Dictate. It’s not perfect, but my distrust in voice recognition technology was unfair it seems. Dragon is actually working really well for me, so hopefully that brings me some relief in effect.

My work at Drake music often means lengthy evaluation processes, which involve a lot of typing. When it comes to medical forms but I have to fill in by hand with a pen… Well, forget about it. Having the freedom to not only work hands-free not only spares me discomfort, but it seems to be quicker too.

So, I’m hoping to get back on track with regular blogging this week. And in case you’re wondering, yes; this is indeed the first blog post I have written entirely hands-free with this new technology. Living in the future FTW.

Studio Diary #7

Momentum is a powerful thing. Last week I worked five days straight, and really hit my stride. This week, Monday and Tuesday were wiped out by other projects, website tweaking and studio availability. That’s meant today has felt like hard work. I’ve spent hours on one part today, and it felt like a slog. Meh. There’ll always be bad days, but I feel like momentum helps reduce that. A lesson here: even on busy days, where many tasks are competing for time, it pays to do *something* every day.

With that in mind, I’m thinking more about how best to get things done. Over the last few months I’ve researched and refined techniques and tricks to help me get things done. There’s A LOT of stuff I can say on the subject, so I’m thinking about how to make that part of this blog. Earlier today I’ had a really healthy conversation about sharing knowledge and resources, something I was resistant to. It’s not useful* (*key word for a future post) to be possessive about my methods, so starting next week I’ll be aiming to make this blog a useful resource for creative productivity. I’m being honest and saying now that I’m not sure how far I can take that idea, but I’ll certainly try. If one other person improves their creative output after reading this blog, it’ll be worth exploring… stay tuned!

Studio Diary #6

Today is the first day that this opening out into more than just a song. That was the goal to start with of course, but I’ve been so super engrossed in the first song, it started to feel like the only song. Panning out a little and taking a couple of more songs, the album looks like it could take shape.

That’s right. I said album.

It feels like an album is there. What this means in this day and age, I’m not sure, ’album’ sounds a little antiquated, but it’s definitely a cohesive body of work.

Whatever I end up putting out, I can honestly I’ve never been more excited about releasing material. It’s early days, but I feel like my best work is taking shape… that all sounds terribly vague, terribly cryptic, once again I’m dancing about architecture. I’m almost ready to pull the trigger on letting some sounds out into the world. That’s something I’ve not felt up to doing in over two years. My crisis of confidence in my abilities to make records has been well nurtured, but I finally feel myself coming out of it. It’s exciting. I’m excited about my music again, and I hope you will be too. 🙂

Studio Diary #5

Day Five! It’s strange but still familiar to be this deep into a recording project; I haven’t recorded anything of my own in the last couple of years. I know, right. I’ve been really focused on glove performances, and I’d lost my mojo with recording. I’d tried getting something off the ground several times, but nothing would stick. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my “genreless” ambition had, ironically enough, become massively restrictive. Without a place to land in sight, I circled aimlessly in a nondescript airspace.

The song I’ve been working on has really come into shape. It’s a complex, dynamic beast, so it’s taken me a few days to shape the track, but I’ve arrived there now. It’s also been a learning curve, so hopefully the next track will come together quicker. My plan at the moment is to get tracks minus vocals into shape first, cementing the feel and sound of the songs. I’m really keen to have consistency across tracks; finishing one then moving onto the next feels like an inconsistent way of working. Also, I want to tackle the vocals in one body of sessions, so I need all the tracks in order. I’ve got a decent amount of songs to work through, so I’m trying to work out the quickest route through all this.

So tomorrow, I’ll start laying foundations for the next song. It’s all a clear path to the end in my mind; just got to keep my eyes on the prize…

Studio Diary #4

My struggle with guitars is well documented. My guitar playing took a dive as my hand cramps worsened, and I contemplated a musical future without guitars. ICYMI, this is the full story:

All caught up? Good. So the glove thing took off, but behind the scenes, I missed guitars. I still struggled with the acoustic guitar parts, but my earliest Metal influences helped me make sense of my hand issues. Heavy riffing is physically a totally different approach compared to acoustic fingerstyle. So for the last year, I privately toned my rhythm guitar riffing chops. It’s paid off. Today I recorded new guitar parts, specifically a part that I was convinced I wouldn’t be able to manage without serious editing. I’ve regained some dexterity, strength and speed over the last year. My playing has improved, albeit in a different style to where I left off. Thankfully, it’s exactly the place I want to be right now. There’s still pain and tightness to work through, but I played tight and heavy today. And now I’m getting excited about this new music going out into the wild…

Music People Of Birmingham; Don’t Miss This!

Tomorrow, music people of Birmingham, is your lucky night. My dear friend and occasional colleague is delivering a workshop on music publishing. I can personally guarantee that it’s going to be great.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have John Mostyn on my side as a friend and mentor for many years. Having been on several training programmes lead by him, I’ve had a front row seat to one of the most engaging and knowledgeable minds in the music business. I’ve also worked with and for him, and learned a great deal that way. His ability to unbox and explain complex music industry concepts that go over my head is unmatched. John is a master at gently steering artists towards solutions; I’ve had more than my fair share of good advice to career obstacles.

A gifted raconteur, John demystifies the Music Business in a uplifting and naturally humorous style. John’s solutions are always so simple, so elegant. I’m enjoying a rich and rewarding career as a touring and recording artist. Doing business on a large scale at international level, I’m confident in how I build relationships and do business. And that confidence is born out of what John Mostyn has taught me over the years – I often find myself thinking “what would John do?” That’s because he has a certain style of doing business and bringing creative professionals together. In much the same my songwriting is influenced by what my favourite songwriters do, John has been a huge influence on how I approach business with those songs.

So go, learn, enjoy!

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Studio Diary #3.

When you start out, you love every minute. You’ll sit up for hours; tweaking, listening, refining. But by the time you’ve turned that passion into the thing that puts food on the table, the landscape is very different. There is an expectant audience. There are the connections you’ve been meaning to follow up for this eventual release. There’s the money you spent getting the gear and/or people together to make it good enough to get to this point. You might have a family too. It’s a lot of stuff that shifts that perspective, and if you let it, it can all zap that inspiration you were flinging about the place carefree only a few years ago.

But that’s the test. Can you sustain it? I used to be daunted by the prospect of committing to dates to record. What if I’m not feeling it? What if I’ve got nothing?

Of course, waiting for inspiration makes for a poor and thin career. It may sound trite, but you just have to get shit done. You’re only as good as you are when you’re getting shit done, those thrice-yearly-best-song-evers don’t pay the rent. Blimey. This is nothing like I imagined it.

Except, it is. Because all that stuff about being in the headspace, about culturing and capturing this special other, it’s a big lie. It’s a lie that helps us all feel better about procrastination. We can dream BIG, but can we get it on tape? Can we have that elusive thing ready, when our schedule requires it?

That, to me, is the whole game. Inspiration when it strikes is not what makes you a great artist. A great artist is someone who turns up on time every day and just works at it, whether they’re ‘feeling’ it or not.

So I turn up every day that I can get to the studio. And I’m not waiting for inspiration to strike. I feel inspired to be there. The turning up, the getting on with it, that inspires. Reigning creativity in is healthy. Give it boundaries, put it on the clock, and it will blossom. Honestly, I’m coming up with the best stuff right now, and it’s not because I feel some magical inspiration. It’s because I’m cultivating it, disciplining it. That’s what great art really needs.