Thursday, 2 October 2014

It's Always the Drummer's Fault Isn't It?

Or… "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Machine."

As I write this I'm in Scotland heading towards the final dates of the tour. Touring is tiring but it's been going great. I've been reminded again that when talking to people after my shows, or in interviews and so on, without a doubt the one question I get asked more than any other is:

"What in the world inspired you to start building your own instruments (or whatever you call these crazy things)?"

     My answer is pretty straightforward: it basically started with getting fed-up after years of being in a long line of band situations where the drummer (it's always the drummer isn't it?)  wasn't showing up for rehearsal, or canceled on shows last minute or just quit the band, and so on.  Finally I decided to build my own mechanical drummer that I could always rely on. And I haven't looked back since.

     This is basically true and looks good in print, but it's also an oversimplification of what was actually a combination of things that transpired gradually, and probably puts too much blame on some of those drummers, who were (and in most cases still are) good friends and musicians that I respect and feel lucky to have worked with.

     In addition to music, I've always had a fascination with machines and moving parts, and things that want to get out of skips and make noise, which I keep an eye out for and try to rescue. I have some history as a stop-motion animator, which I started doing as a kid, building puppets and models and shooting them one frame at a time on an old 8mm camera.  Later it became my final day-job (before I was able to scrape a full time living playing music) most notably on shows like MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch and Cartoon Network's Robot Chicken.  Much earlier I also spent some time doing magic shows for kid's birthday parties,  and I ran off with the Toby Tyler Circus for a while and I think there are a lot of elements in these experiences that had a big influence on what I do now.

Toby Tyler Circus
    The last band I was doing before I 'went solo' was called Like Wow and it went through a lot of lineups. My great friend and long-term guitar player for Like Wow, Carlos Vivanco, was building some instruments. He asked me never to throw away my old guitar or bass strings when I changed them, so that he could have them for what were usually stringed instruments, kind of like cigar box guitars, but with wooden bowls or plastic cups as resonators. It was partly because of seeing him doing that that I started working on the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel, my first bike-wheel drum machine, which I originally thought might just be a cool addition to the band if the drummer played along with it (and in fact 'Shooting Stars' on my first album is exactly that, drummer Scott Hartley playing to the Cadillac Beatspinner).  I don't know why we didn't use Carlos's instruments more in the band, but had we stayed together it might have gone in that direction.

     I definitely was a little burned out by the band thing.  I never thought I'd enjoy being a 'solo' artist, I saw it as potentially being too lonely, but I'd never done an open mic before and I thought I eventually had to do it just to see how it felt, kind of as a rite of passage. So I did the famous 'Antihoot' one night in NYC at a place called Sidewalk (run by antifolk kingpin Lach).  It was rough.  I thought I played terrible and that that would be the end of that, but Lach seemed to think otherwise and immediately offered me a gig.   Since gigs in New York City don't usually come at you like that, I agreed, and then thought in a panic "what the hell have I done?"  I really didn't have any other solo acoustic songs down yet and didn't know how I'd fill up the half hour time slot.

    But I had been working on the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel, I had practically abandoned it because it just wasn't coming together without falling apart, but I decided  I'd drag that along and play some old stuff I had with that as my drummer.  I made flyers that billed it an "Experimental Electro-Acoustic Rhythm Contraption and Romantic Song Demonstration".
Early gig poster NYC probably 2002

   As I was playing this show I was thinking the whole time that this is really an embarrassing disaster.  The machine was indeed not behaving at all, pieces actually fell off and flew at the audience at one point and the rhythms were fluctuating all over the place.  But in the end, to my surprise, it didn't seem to matter to the audience- they seemed to be entertained whether it was working or not!  My friends said enthusiastically that I should forget about my band and go in this direction, which was both encouraging but also a little insulting because we'd put our hearts and a lot of work into trying to make Like Wow fly. 

     But that was really the turning point for me where I realized I was on to something a little different, and that really stems from just having let my imagination run wild instead of trying to do it by the rule book.  I realized I'd been compartmentalizing my talents and interests with music/bands in the one drawer and my love of building things in another drawer and my storytelling and movie-maker selves in other drawers, and there was a kind of internal battle over which of these sides would eventually win out and what I'd eventually "become". But when I let all of them collide it felt a lot more like I'd loosened the reigns on myself and had something much more unique to offer as an artist.

     So it all started with the drum machines, of which now I've designed an built a good handful, culminating in my current road-partner Mother Superior.
Mother Superior
  I'll just wrap this entry up by chiming in briefly about The Hornicator, because it's a completely different kind of thing, a gramophone horn which I originally intended to be part of the Cadillac Beatspinner Wheel  in much the same way that I've now got a horn as a percussion element on Mother Superior.  That combination didn't work out though, aesthetically or practically, at the time, but I sat with that Gramophone horn for a long time because it was such a beautiful piece, and started tapping out rhythms on it with my hands. Then I realized what a strange and wonderful reverb it had when I sang into the big side of the horn. So I stuck a mic in there.  I'd received a gift of a 'Space Phone' which is like one of those things you make when you're a kid that has a cup on each side and a string down the middle, so that when you speak into one side your friend can hear the reverberation through the other side. Only this one had a spring that  perfectly matched the circumference of the small end of the gramophone horn, so I substituted the horn for one of the cups. Then I got the idea to string it with more springs and some guitar strings almost like a harp, and to add frets and put a kazoo inside and, well, by that time it had practically taken on a life of it's own. The Hornicator seems like it really wanted to be born, I just had to help it along.
with The Hornicator - photo by Chris Saunders
The second most-asked question I get is 'How long did it take you to build that?'  It's a simpler answer (basically, always longer than I think it will take) but I'll save the details for a future entry.
As usual, please let me know what you think about these blog entries by leaving comments or questions, I like hearing back and really appreciate you taking the time to read these.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

I am suspended from the rafters + New Album on the way

I am suspended from the rafters with my guitar, various electrical gear and inventions in an open front two-meter-square metal container above what can best be described as a stage turned into a shallow lake of water. (Those in the front seats in the theater are provided with blankets to shield them from splashes.)

Below me, scantily-clad actresses are cavorting around in the water and splashing paint on themselves and doing things with their bodies that sends various colors of tinted water caterwauling in fantastic curved shapes through the air and the stark spotlighting.

 I am wearing a suit tailored to resemble my Hornicator in color and texture (and sparkling red shoes that you can't really see but personally I think they are cool whether you laugh or not), and here play the part of what you might describe as a kind of puppet-master/observer/musical commentator.

 Though my songs are (mostly) in English, this is a modern German interpretation of a classic Norwegian play first published in 1867, rich in strange folklore, but in many respects pertinent to our modern obsessions with speed, success, wealth, self, Facebook.  I'm still struggling to really get a hold on the German language, so though I'm familiar with the somewhat surreal story that's being told, I have to take my cues from the action more than the text. This can get tricky when all you can see is the inside of your Hornicator, or there's a complete stage blackout or a spotlight in your eyes, and your hanging cage is swinging around a bit. But it's arguably also the best seat in the house at the Theater Dortmund, and it's a wonderful privilege to be part of this talented crew lead by my friend Kay Voges, who is trying not to let descriptions commonly appearing in the press like "currently Germany's hottest director" go to his head.

Described recently as a "Punk" director (as much for his Ramones T-shirt as his directing style, to be fair),  Kay replied: "Punk ist drei Akkorde und die Wahrheit. Für‘s Theater heißt das: kompromisslose Leidenschaft.”
("Punk is three chords and the truth. For the theater, this means the same uncompromising passion.")
Uwe Rohbeck, Bettina Leider
If the whole of Peer Gynt, in five acts, is produced as written (it often has been), it typically lasts four or five hours.  Kay's version races along at a lean 90 minutes.  That doesn't mean it isn't rich with subtlety and quiet moments of beauty, and I gave it my all to make my original music follow suit.   There are some playful instrumental incidental pieces but the majority are full blown, new original proper songs (and a few tasteful covers) Some of them will only be heard in full on the album because of the pace and economy of the play.

While we were developing and rehearsing this summer I started recording everything, but being the perfectionist I am it's taken me a while to hone it all to a proper whole that unfolds satisfyingly in a purely audio form:
Cover Photo by Chris Saunders
It will be released in February but pre-release orders are being taken ahead of time,  and you get an immediate download of one of the new songs when you pre-order from HERE.

 I steered away from treading on Grieg's intimidatingly beautiful classical score written for the same play for the most part, but we felt it needed an homage or two. It is after all, in most cultures, even more synonymous with the name Peer Gynt than the play itself. It's interesting to note that Ibsen himself thought Grieg's score was too sweet, but said it "Sugared the pill so the public could swallow it."
Here's a short promo video for the play featuring an early demo-version of one of the new songs:


In case you're wondering whatever happened to the songs I started working on quite a while back now with (Dresden Doll) Brian Viglione, that album is still in the works (a lot of work to go!) and I'm quite excited about it.  Peer Gynt just came along and took over my life and as the play is still running it just makes sense this comes out first. That said, there is one track on the Peer Gynt album featuring some fantastic Viglione drumming.

 I'm proud of this new album and in it's live presentation it's had a very warm reception (I've graduated from being called a  'one man band' to a 'one man orchestra' now. Uh oh). There's some symphonic stuff, some electronic stuff, lots of guitar, and there's a new instrument I built specifically for the play called the 'Saxogramophone' on which I perform an instrumental derived partially from Grieg's 'Morning Mood'.
The Saxogramophone
In favor of doing a Kickstarter or Pledgemusic campaign for this one, I am offering pre-sales which will help get the album through all the work involved in its launch.  CD versions will be in a beautiful limited edition Digipak.

Order a pre-sale and get an IMMEDIATE DOWNLOAD of the song 'Crazy Me' here: There's also more info about the album on the bandcamp page.

If you're reading this before tuesday the 17th of December here's a special code that will get you 10 percent off any downloads or CDs I've got for sale on my bandcamp page:  HornicatorLove

In other news I'll be playing a rare one-off show in London at the Spice Of Life on the 29th of December get tickets here

As you know, I don't blog very often (this being only the second time this year) so in case I don't see you in London beforehand I'd like to wish you a Happy Holiday season from all of us in Wowtown!
As always, please feel free to leave comments below and share this post. Thanks for your continued support.


Remaining live Peer Gynt performances at the Theater Dortmund:
Sa, 21. Dezember 2013
Do, 16. Januar 2014
Fr, 07 Feb 2014
Do, 20 Feb 2014
Sa, 01 March 2014
Sa, 22. März 2014
Do, 10 Apr 2014
Fr, 06 June 2014

Thursday, 24 January 2013

America's Got Talent Invite, Must Be The Music, and my Rapid Rise to Superstardom

First off, thank you to all of you on Facebook and Twitter that responded to my question about how I should respond to the invitation to participate on 'America's Got Talent'.  I'm not going to do it, and I'll explain why. 

I'm surprised by how many of you said 'go for it', and  'what have you got to lose'.  I have a wonderful group of people that appreciate the music I make and come to the shows and buy my records and help keep my head above water.  I'm sure there are plenty more people out there that would appreciate my act and my music it if they just knew about it. That can be frustrating so I am just as enchanted as the next guy by the idea that something like this could possibly be a magic bullet of mass exposure and move my career up to that seemingly ever-evasive proverbial 'next level' or break through stage.   Several of my friends that surprised me by saying "go for it" are also artists that have significantly larger fanbases. I know I need to build my audience if I want to keep going and growing, but is it really necessary to stoop to being involved in such ugliness to do so?

 I'm also a little, but not too, surprised that so few recall that I've played this game before a few years ago when I was invited to appear on similar show 'Must Be The Music' in Britain.  I was in two minds about that one and struggled to decide, but in the end the 'what have you got to lose' voice won out. I thought well, someone's gotta stand up and let the kids know that we don't all aspire to being the next Robbie Williams or Mariah Carey, and the idea of me with Hornicator on that kind of show seemed too absurd and surreal to reasonably pass up the invitation.  I've also thought that it seems important for me to cement my identity in a larger public arena before someone in that larger arena rips me off (trusted friends have told me I'm paranoid when it comes to things like this). I even thought maybe here was an opportunity to try and battle the corporate homogenization of music by infiltrating it from the inside.  But I should have known better.  I used to work at MTV, after all.

  I mostly enjoyed the actual experience though, and I don't regret doing it, even though these kind of shows really turn my stomach and after further contemplation I think they are even more of an ugly blemish on our modern culture than I originally thought (more on this later).  Anyway, on the show I think I performed my rendition of 'Why Dogs Howl At The Moon' well.  In fact, the live audience were clapping along and howling without prompting (see email below).  They let me finish the song, but the judges promptly and unanimously voted me off.  I wasn't all that surprised. We each had an on-camera exchange of words following the performance (as is the standard thing) which I thought was priceless and in a nutshell went pretty much like this:

Jamie Cullum - "When I saw you setting up I was hoping maybe it would be something like Tom Waits"

Me: "So, in a contest where you're supposedly looking for something original, I'd have faired better if I'd been a Tom Waits imitator?"

Dizzee Rascal
: "You got the crowd going I'll give you that"
then he turned towards the crowd and said "but would anybody want to BUY a song like that?" 
(As I recall, a large part of the crowd roared approvingly, to his dismay). 

Sharleen Spiteri: "That was just a lot of noise with no melody, it was terrible"

Me: "That's what my parents used to tell me when I listened to old rock and roll and punk music when I was a teenager"

Dizzee Rascal: "It were good fer da eyes, but not fer da ears"

Me: (intending the comment for all the judges, though Dizzee seemed to take it personally) "Everything you've just said to me I could say is how I feel about your own stuff."

With that a big 'Woooooo!'  from the crowd and I was ushered off.  I left feeling quite happy about all that and thinking how great it would be if they aired all that. But I knew deep down how it was probably going to turn out, and what was actually aired in the end was about five seconds of me howling into the Hornicator and Dizzee's final comment, my response and a priceless shot of him looking dumbstruck, all as part of a quick edit montage with an introduction something to the effect of "the solo acts didn't fair so well either".  I was surprised they kept that last part, as that show is obviously really more about perpetuating/glorifying the celebrity of the judges than any new talent. But I guess they were trying to show that they knew how to laugh at themselves sometimes too.

A day later I received a couple of nice facebook comments and the following email from people that had been in the studio audience:
(Andy, I'm assuming you wouldn't mind but  if you read this and you want me to take it off just let me know and I will, I couldn't reach you via the return email address)

"Hi Thomas

 I saw your performance at The Hackney Empire and I we thought your performance was very entertaining. I liked the way you looped the samples and built the song up in stages. We could see exactly what your musical concept was all about. I hope you could feel that the audience was with you all the way.
The song was very addictive and in case you were not aware that at least two hours after you had gone the audience were still doing the Howling sounds. So much that the compare felt intimidated by this and reminded us that you had left a long time ago and to think of something else. The judges were just considered as not really up to their job as they did not make decisions as individuals and they were not exactly the best people to judge. They themselves have not exactly had what we would consider ground breaking careers. It would have been better for A & R people to Judge these kind of events because they really know what to look for. But of course on telelvision its all about image I guess.

Have a great Career Thomas,you deserve it.

Kind regards

Andy ***"

Thanks Andy.

I felt okay about having done the whole thing, no regrets. I felt the sting, but I've been doing my thing for years, played large shows as well as empty rooms, lived through some bad reviews and rejections and sometimes downright violent responses (amongst the generally favorable reactions) and have, through the course of it all, built up a reasonably thick skin.  I took a chance that it might work, that maybe what Andy saw would also go out to millions of people.  A chance that some of those people might just happen to be open minded souls tied to their chairs by burglars and forced to endure Sky 1 programming rather than go out on a Saturday evening.  Problem is, in mainstream television, they have an agenda and have to answer to advertisers.  Together they hold all the cards, and will use and edit them as they see best fit to sell their products and keep their salesmen looking good.

Something else really bothered me much more than my own little situation though, and that was being in the green room beforehand and seeing all these hopeful younger kids go through the same wringer with much higher expectations and a bit more at risk.  A lot of them needed the encouragement they were seeking to grow.  Some of them will probably never sing or play an instrument in public again. Whether they have talent or not, a lot of them don't have all the positive things I do to fall back into after they get three (or four) giant X's and buzzers flashed in their faces by 'famous' 'judges' on national television, after they give it their best shot. Let me tell you, there's something powerfully psychologically destructive in that.  I only vaguely knew who the celebrity judges were (Yes I have to admit I'm out of touch that way) but what if one of those judges happens to be a personal idol or hero of yours? Seeing it on TV is one thing, but I'm telling you, it's cartoon rejection on steroids and if you can't laugh about it and see through it it's not going to result in anything positive.

I'm not saying that their foremost intention is to be sinister (they just don't care), but  after considering it more carefully I believe that shows like these personify and perpetuate some of the worst illnesses of our modern society, especially in the US, where the myth is more along the lines of either you make it real big, or you haven't really 'made it' at all.

I don't see music as a competition.  I think such things are about as healthy and realistic as a beauty contest.  When I was in high school and they had things like 'Battle Of The Bands' I steered clear and hid under the stairs making up scary sounds with my Moog Rogue and a Boss Delay pedal. I'm still doing that sort of thing. I wouldn't have been happier playing 'Stairway to Heaven' in a school gymnasium then and  I wouldn't be happier now playing on some televised red white and blue lit Las Vegas stage. 

I'm not sure the producers of AGT even realize I'm not living in America anymore anyway.
Now if it had been the Jools Holland show that called...

Sunday, 12 August 2012

What I did this Summer, so far...

Catch up time.

Location: Krefeld, Deutschland, the Mansion Jansen.  So named after the building's owner,  my friend Markus Jansen (of the great German bands M. Walking On The Water, and -of course- Jansen). It's not really a mansion, but it's a great old house with some great old crumbling decorative mouldings, ancient lamps, amps, and a cellar haunted with weird old bric-a-brac, drums, cobwebs and present laboratory.  I like 'weird old'.
The idea of being here is partly a kind of self-imposed isolation, a place to work without too many distractions, and a place to rest up a little after the smoke and fires of the mad challenging year reflected in the Monthly Journal album and it's  ensuing promo and tours in Europe and the UK. (After all, I worked hard to burn myself out.)

A Certain "Tone"

It's the first time in many years I've spent any extended amount of time outside a major city.  Ever tried learning a second language? I'm trying to learn German but it doesn't happen over night.  Meanwhile it hasn't been too big a problem but increases the feeling of isolation sometimes, and at times the lack of clear communication has been more than a little frustrating. For example just a few nights ago there was a neighbor/friend who said something to another neighbor/friend who offered me this translation: that a certain "tone" was emanating through the walls from my place lately, and that if I was planning on basing a new song or something on this "tone", that, in her opinion, it would be a "mistake".  I deduced that said "tone" was either a certain something new I've been working on with  a looped Hornicator, or Wendy Windless (new instrument in-progress).  It had been my intention to work on one or the other that very evening. You've got to laugh at these things in the long run but knowing she was within earshot, so to speak, it felt really uncomfortable. Sometimes I miss my old floating room sound booth I had back in NYC.

Weird old Krefeld

Birthplace of Joseph Beuys, Ralf Hütter (Kraftwerk) and velvet (it was invented here). I've come through quite a few times on tour in the past.  Remember the Shooting Stars video by photographer Philip Lethen?  I watched the Perseid meteor shower last night and was reminded of it.  That was shot in the upper rafters and clock tower of an old church here.

So it's a  bit of a home-away-from-home. I remember years ago lying ill with a horrible fever/cold next door to where I am now, and Kay (Vogel , theater director - who also used to live here) coming by with a VCR and Woody Allen's 'Manhattan'. Better than a bowl of chicken soup. 

Recording with Brian Viglione


There are some exciting other new things in the works, one of which was having brought my old pal (Dresden Dolls drummer) Brian Viglione over for a few days in May for recording. Brian is, in my opinion, one of the best drummers out there right now, as I'm sure any of you whom have seen him play will agree. He was in the country working with Botanica at the Theatre Dortmund.  We laid a lot of stuff down, including some mad jamming with Mother Superior, but worked mostly from some abstract rough sketches and loops that I've not been sure what to do with -up until this came together.  I don't know yet what the final shape of these creatures we started will become, but they were exciting sessions that we both felt real positive about. I have a feeling that the results are going to grow into something real special. 

America and Video

I also spent some of the summer in America.  Visited some friends in Philly and NYC.  Went back to Colorado, visited my Mom and spent a few days in the fiery Rocky Mountains. And did some crawdad fishing with my niece and sister. I filmed a crayfish attacking my camera.

This will surely wind up in a piece of some sort at some point.  I've been collecting quite an assortment of odd footage over the past few years, and it is one of my goals to do more work in a sound+visuals medium, i.e. probably digital short movies, but I'm trying to think outside the box so I'm not sure.  Meanwhile filmmaker WIll Tribble just sent me a treatment for a proposed video for 'Cannibals Have Captured Our Nicole Kidman' which is quite entertaining so I'm really excited about working with him as well.

Is a DVD still a good idea?

People have been asking me why I haven't got a DVD for sale at my shows for years.  I've got loads of material, just not enough time to put it all together into a package. 

So that's my summer in a nutshell so far. Where does the time go?  Next weekend I'll be back in the UK, playing Festivals and shows again for the better part of two months. The schedule but is still being fleshed out so I'll be updating as they come in but here's how it starts (and as usual the latest is usually first on the LIVE  page)

Thomas Truax Strange Case  UK Tour 2012

18th Aug, Sat: Preston, HED at The Mad Ferret 55 Fylde Road, Lancashire, PR1 2XQ.

19th August, Sun: Beacons Festival, near Skipton, Yorkshire Dales

25th Aug, Sat: London, Joyzine at Screamlounge in Croydon 20A South End  Croydon, Surrey CR0 1DN 

26 August, Sun: Greenbelt Festival, Cheltenham Spa UK headlining Performance Stage

6th Sept, Thurs: Bestival, Isle of Wight, Continental Drifts Stage

7th Sept, Fri: Lincoln, Asylum Festival

9th Sept, Sun: Stockton, Waiting Room 9 Station Road, Eaglescliffe, Stockton on Tees, TS16 0BU

16 Sept, Sun: the Hope, Brighton 11-12 Queens Rd BN1 3WA  

28 Sept, Fri: Manchester, The Castle Hotel, 66 Oldham Street, Manchester, Lancashire M4 1LE

29 Sept, Sat: Newcastle Cumberland Arms, Ouseburn, Byker, Newcastle Tyne & Wear NE6 1LD

3rd Oct, Wed: Glasgow, Hug and Pint

4 Oct, Thurs: Edinburgh (Details TBC)

5 Oct, Fri: Aberdeen Lemon Tree  5 West North Street, AB24 5AT 

Advance Tickets Available Now:

7 Oct, Sun: Inverness, Market Bar, 32 Church Street, Inverness IV1 1EH

9 Oct, Tues: Coventry, Taylor John's (TBC)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Out of a Black Hole into Berlin

I'm loving Berlin so far. I've been here close to a week. I divide my time between just trying to get my bearings, working on music and business for the Monthly Journal album, picking up groceries, meeting friends (and friends of friends), and exploring the terrain. I'm on a strict budget and it's a good city for that.
A day ago I saw this astronaut sitting alone in Görlitzer park. It comforted me. I'm not the only one from somewhere-out-there lost in this alien landscape.

 I've had the Momas n' Pappas 'California Dreaming' haunting my head regularly since I've left England(!) I guess it's because all the leaves are brown.

 It was extremely cold the first few days and I caught a cold right away. But it's grown warmer in the last few days, and in general I'm feeling good.  One thing I've been reminded of again, is that you take your neurosis with you when you move, along with your more positive baggage: imagination and outlook, etc. I still wake up thinking I've got about a million things to take care of. But it's more like a thousand at the moment.
As it gets dark so early, and I tend to rise late,  I've taken to getting out and exploring first. Getting lost. Letting the little green GDR Ampelmännchen light my way.  Then usually my way back to the rented room in Neükolln (that I currently call home) to work. It's good to be piecing some vague sense of routine back into my days, even if part of that routine is getting lost.

What a crazed life I've had recently, leading up to this.  Like some kind of science fiction film I've felt like my spaceship was being sucked slowly but surely (through a kaleidoscopic 2001-style tunnel of Lava Lamp goo) towards the black hole of a future which involved my  departure from my beloved home in the UK, due to my work-visa limit being maxed. Like most of us these days, I live a complicated life. The best I could do as the craft rattled and shook more violently the closer we got to that deadline, was to do my best to batten down the hatches and make whatever ad-hoc repairs to try and keep the thing together.  "She's breaking up captain!" would ring in the back of my head at various points daily. Car repairs, tying up business loose-ends and preparing for the album release, the pledgemusic drive, packing and sorting out places to stay in this 'Mainland', and the Hornicator not lending a hand in any of it (!)
Recently I've been so apprehensive and even fearful a lot of the time.  The monthly song project and time spent with Catherine or my friends was helping, but it's been a challenge to keep sane in the face of such a major change as switching countries, temporary or not.

There had been no approval or disapproval of my final work extension application. There is always a wait with these things, but this was the longest I've ever had to wait to hear back. The UKBA was apparently holding my passport and there's a catch-22 because they have a strict "don't call us, we'll call you" policy, but it hadn't been delivered even when there were only days until my deadline to vacate the country was to hit.  I woke in the night, busy in the brain, often during this period and lack of proper sleep added to a kind of paranoia. As it had gotten so close it didn't really matter anymore whether the extension had been approved or not, so I called a sort of emergency line in which you can retrieve your passport in extreme circumstances but forfeit your application (along with the hefty fee).  As it turned out, my passport had been sitting in the local sorting office of the Royal Mail for the previous two weeks. No note or attempt to redeliver.  Days later, an hour before I was to board the ferry to Calais, a knock on the door announced the delivery my approved visa (just as it was about to expire). I laughed aloud.

I spent a few days staying with an old friend from the Denver music scene James Langan in Fieffes-Montrelet, a small village in northern France. Population: 300 (almost as small as Wowtown). It was beautiful and detached, but there's not even a restaurant or café in town. We visited nearby Amiens which hosts the largest still-standing gothic cathedral in the world, and where Jules Verne is buried. I dream of finding another ideal small town like Wowtown but don't know if I could really live in one permanently.

Winston (my car) is getting on in years and though I believe in him and we usually get along well, setting out with all my instruments and a lot of possessions for this long trip worried me. My worries were not unfounded. Outside Antwerp on the ring road, in the middle of standstill traffic, he overheated and blew his radiator cap right off.  A crawl to Dortmund, some help from a friend and a trip to a car hospital and we were back on the road.

So...we've made it through the black hole and out the other side is Berlin. It's cold and dark and I may not have my London laboratory or some of my fancier outboard recording gear. But I've got the essentials: the Hornicator,  Winston, my Casio PT-20, some liquid aminos.   You can buy Big Red gum here, and WFMU, possibly the best radio station ever,  streams live on the internet to help keep warm. I've seen some great things and I've met with some great people, some that I've known for a long time and some I've just met. I like that it doesn't feel tense here like most big cities do. Everyone seems to think Berlin will be good for me. They may be right.  I have to remind myself that I'm not really on Holiday. With the new album needing to be finished and packaged and promoted, I'd best stop talking about myself again and get to work.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Farewell UK Tour Update

The 'Farewell UK Tour' has been going well.  The last 'Full Moon Sunday' was a sell-out. Post War Glamour Girls were phenomenal. The drives have been long and exhausting but the weather's been good. Inverness was madness as it always is, well appreciated madness! Aberdeen and Glasgow were great, both rich with fantastic support acts, and just this side of being completely unhinged. I do feel blessed to have so many of you wonderful people coming out, telling me how much you enjoy the shows and supporting and encouraging me, keeping me from losing my mind. Of course there's a little bit of a sad undercurrent. My immediate future looms somewhat ominously because I'm not sure where I'll end up in the long run.  I'll head for Germany next and see how that unfolds. At the very least it will be an adventure and likely to be creatively stimulating.  I will get back here to the UK eventually but not sure how soon that will be and how long for,  and I'm sad to have to go.  I'm sorry that I'm not able to play more cities on this tour, I'd have liked to, but all the more incentive to get back again I reckon.

Right now I've got a night off and will spend the evening with some good friends a little distance outside of Glasgow. There's a fog and some low clouds over some beautiful hills.  I just went out for a walk and saw some sheep and bats flying about as the evening rolled in.  (Well, the bats were flying, not the sheep). My friend Steve was just telling me about how a sheep floated down the river past their house just recently during a flood. They got it out of the water and into a neighbour's garden significantly down river from where it had probably originated, then had to knock on the neighbor's door and explain that they had a lost sheep in their garden. Ah, country life! Touring is tiring and I'm exhausted. Must remember to replace the Backbeater batteries before tomorrow's show in Hull, as well as recharging my own batteries. 
HornicatorNavigator, (HornNav for short). Sorting out the route to Aberdeen Wednesday.

The October song is nearly ready for posting to pledgers on the Pledgemusic site, hope to have it up within the next few days.  It's called 'Everything's Gone Halloween' and it's spooky.
Speaking of spooky some more remixes for the Sonic Dreamer remix mini-LP have been filtering in. I've just listened to Sebastian Reynolds remix of 'The Cannibals Have Captured Our Nicole Kidman' and it's downright frightening, in the best possible way. I think it's going to be an amazing collection. The artists involved are really bringing out some twists and shining lights on subtleties that may have gotten lost in some of the original versions.

Here are the remaining dates on the tour:

15 Oct, Sat: Hull, Adelphi, 89 DeGrey St. HU5 2RU

16 Oct, Sun: Stockton, Waiting Room 9 Station Road, Eaglescliffe, Stockton on Tees, TS16 0BU

25 Oct, Tues: Leeds Oporto 'We Know Eno' night 31-33 Call Lane Leeds, West Yorkshire LS1 7BT

27 Oct, Thurs: Manchester Night & Day 26 Oldham Street Manchester M1 1JN

28 Oct, Fri: Liverpool, Pilgrim (still waiting for confirmation on this one, yikes!)

Hope to see you out there, or if not, at least in spirit!

Warm regards from Glasgow,

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Gold Stars and Walks on the Sun

August was an extremely busy month.  In the rush of setting up a Pledgemusic campaign for the 'Monthly Journal' album and playing the Edinburgh Fringe fest and a lot of other shows and so on, I only just realized that I had written a July blog entry (off line) which I completely neglected to post (!), so below it is.

The Monthly Journal album-in-progress has been an encouraging success on many levels so far. I've heard from many of you about how much you've liked the songs, thank you for that!  It's meant a lot to me in an especially challenging year. I've reached the conclusion of what would be the end of proverbial 'Side A'.  'Side B' starts with 'A Gold Star for Miss July'. Due to the necessities involved in survival as an artist I've also reached the point where I've realized I'm not going be able to get through to delivering the project as a proper full album without a little help.  So I've started a fan-funded campaign to facilitate the completion of this project and it's release as a full album in January.

 Once again I'm using the great Pledgemusic platform as I did with Sonic Dreamer, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Red Cross. It's not easy times for most of us so I've set up a varying range of things that you can pledge towards, including:

A subscription to download the remaining tracks as they are delivered
The COMPLETE ALBUM as hard-copy (CD) (pre-buy)
A 2012 CALENDAR featuring the cover art from all the singles.
A mini LP of amazing remixes from Sonic Dreamer

Check out the details at:

The free downloads are over, but here's a streaming version of July's song:

When I was a kid in 2nd grade elementary school, I learned about famous signatures and autographs and such. I was fascinated by expressions like "Give us your John Hancock".  I decided I was going to invent my own fancy signature, and began signing my essays and homework and such with an otherwise fairly modest autograph that ended in a decorative five pointed star.  Even apart from my lifelong fascination with the night sky, I've always found something inherently satisfying about drawing stars. There's something of a trick to doing up a nicely balanced one,  especially at that age.

Once in front of the class during a reading session when the teacher was sorting through the assignments on the basket on her desk and handing some over to her assistant, the assistant guffawed at one of the pages and the teacher whispered (out of earshot she assumed, but I could hear her) "Oh I know, he always puts that star on there isn't that hilarious." They both giggled a bit more, and I never added a star to my signature again. Painfully humbling.

Around that time I  had a friend named Steve McQueen. When I told my older sisters I was going to go hang out with Steve McQueen, they laughed and said "Really? Why, Steve McQueen has been in all kinds of action movies with car chases and such!" I was quite impressed.  For the longest while it didn't cross my young impressionable mind that my friend might not the same Steve McQueen.  I didn't even question that at six years old or so he was still ten years short of being legal to drive. But of course all kinds of illegal activities are displayed in films. I used to ask him to make sure and tell me if and when any of his movies were going to air on TV, as we drove our matchbox cars around the sandbox. He never replied, he just looked at me like I was off my rocker.

Another friend of mine used to talk about how his father worked on the Sun.  He wore a fire-proof suit made out of a shiny material not unlike aluminum foil, and oversaw operations to keep solar flares from getting too out of control and burning us up back here on Earth.  Sometimes his Dad was a little irritable after a long hot days work, but it must have been a great comfort to come back to Earth and eat some chilled jell-o salad and enjoy the cool evenings which his interventions had helped to preserve for all of us.

I mostly hated school.  I hated to be told what I had to do, what I had to think about, how I had to act, to dress, to feel.  Above all I resented the pressure to conform.  I still feel pretty much the same way, even though I've realized gradually (and in some cases regretfully late) that there is a wealth of material and experience outside my own arrogant world worth learning about.

This year, 2011, has been the second most challenging year of my life as an adult, so far. Number one still goes to 2006, when I got divorced, left New York and lived on the road for 3 months. But that one had a decidedly better second-half, so we'll see how it goes.