Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Another Month Gone

Another month is pretty much gone by. I am in the middle of working like crazy, taking some online classes, writing songs, and trying to decide what the best next steps are. I'm also doing my best to be a good husband and father. In short, it's all pretty crazy, but crazy leads to stories, and stories make up interesting lives. Some of you probably saw on social media (btw, use Google+ people,  it's way better than facebook, imo) that I got to meet the Minimalists. That definitely inspired me to continue working towards living with fewer possessions and distractions. I will have to write a post on them and some other folks who have influenced my ideas about how we live soon. Anyhow, this is just a check-in to say that I am still alive and well, and that the new songs are coming along. Further updates will come soon (sooner than a month this time I promise). Take care, everyone.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Other Music You Should Be Listening To - William Elliott Whitmore Edition

Other Music You Should Be Listening To is an ongoing series wherein I identify bands and musicians whose work I enjoy. Many of you already know about this music and will either revel in our shared opinions or post comments about just how wrong I am. Either way, it should be fun.  If you don't already know about this music rest assured it is worth your time to check it out.

You want to know what is incredible? Seeing one man with a banjo and a boot captivate 1,000 or more people, that is incredible. New Years Eve 2006. It was my first time seeing Clutch live, and they put on one hell of a show. They were not, however, the most impactful act I saw that night.
William Elliott Whitmore is a guy a couple of years older than me, from the middle of nowhere, Iowa, and he happens to have put out some of the best records that have been produced during my lifetime. On top of that, he is a beacon of truth in our mixed up world and a truly nice guy. He opened the show that December night, and I have been a huge fan ever since.

Like the majority of the artists I feature in this series, Will Whitmore made his way in the music business on the punk rock, diy, tour your ass off path. For a number of years he burnt up the highways playing show after show. He hasn't been out much, though, since touring to support his last record, Field Songs, which came out in 2011. Thankfully, he has been in the studio working on a new record.

Will Whitmore stands on a different level because his music is unquestionably sincere, his writing is superb, and he has an amazing voice. I have played his music for the uninitiated many times only to have them ask how in the heck I found out about some octogenarian black man putting out records. Hearing him, it's hard to believe at first that you are listening to a white guy currently in his thirties who's covered in tattoos and loves independent hip hop. Once you find out that he lives on his family farm in Iowa where he built his own home, though, you begin to realize that the soul in his voice is absolutely real.

His discography begins with three releases on Southern Records. This trilogy, Hymns for the Hopeless (2003), Ashes to Dust (2005), and Song of the Blackbird (2006), are all fairly similar in that they are stark, minimally produced records that rely on songwriting and charisma to convey Whitmore's message. It becomes clear very quickly that he is a man interested in living a simple life while struggling with the realities of mortality, salvation, and damnation. If, for a single second, his words are an affectation, it does not show. The music is simple, and the language is not complex, but the songs are so real you can feel it in your bones. His music will move you when you hear, and even more so when you see him perform live. As I said before, I've seen the man completely captivate a packed club full of metalheads with nothing but a banjo or an acoustic guitar and a foot for stomping out time.

In 2009 Animals in the Dark came out on Anti- Records. There was a bit more production on the record, but not so much as to make anyone think W.E.W. had abandoned his musical roots. Thematically, some of the album was a reflection on Whitmore's dissatisfaction with the Bush administration and the continual loss of personal liberty and freedom in our society that so many people either refuse to see or just ignore. Some of it dealt with familiar themes of loss and resurrection on a personal level. It is definitely a different record than the previous three, but it's a bit hard to describe just how. Again, though, the songwriting was absolutely on point. Watch the video and try to tell me he doesn't mean every word.

2011 brought Field Songs, again on Anti- Records. It was a return to an extremely stark style of recording, and the songwriting was once again phenomenal. Throughout the record you can hear the sounds of Whitmore's Iowa home running in the background, and the themes of honest work and a simple life of resilient honesty ring forever true.

I've had the opportunity to chat with Will a few times, and he truly is a humble and nice guy. I am looking forward to his new record and even more so to catching him live again as soon as I can. This man, who might be the best songwriter working today, posted a journal entry about getting chains for his tractor so as not to get stuck in the snow when plowing his driveway the other day. Something about that just makes me feel like everything in life would be much better if we would all just live the life we were designed to live. Do yourself a favor and head over to his website as soon as you can, and never miss the chance to see him perform.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Been too long

I haven't posted in a while. Way too long. It's been a rough time in many ways. A confusing time. Such is life. The good news is that my family and I are healthy and well. Alicia and I have been writing, and, not surprisingly she is really good at songwriting. I have articles on William Elliott Whitmore and Scott Biram and Lucero and Willy Tea Taylor that I ought to finish, but life keeps getting in the way. New music will be here soon. Studio time is ready to go. I wish I had more to say, but it's been survival mode for a bit. Should have new music soon. Hope you all are well.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Other Music You Should Be Listening To: Tim Barry Edition *with a cover*

Other Music You Should Be Listening To is an ongoing series wherein I identify bands and musicians whose work I enjoy. Many of you already know about this music and will either revel in our shared opinions or post comments about just how wrong I am. Either way, it should be fun.  If you don't already know about this music rest assured it is worth your time to check it out.
I lived in Richmond, Va for over 5 years. I was heavily involved in the local music scene. I never met or saw Tim Barry. I am officially stupid because of this. Tim is amazing. He writes incredible songs, and he never sings an insincere word. I should have realized this before I left and camped out at his shed, but I didn't. Many folks think of Tim first as the singer of Avail, a hugely influential punk band, and it's understandable because Avail's work stands the test of time and holds up. For me, however, it's Tim's solo work that grabs me and forces me to take a listen and contemplate what I'm hearing. Like many other artists I have and/or will profile, Tim is not a particularly great instrumentalist, but he writes great songs, and he very often collaborates with other musicians, namely his sister, a violinist, and Josh Small, who most often plays slide guitar along with Tim's acoustic. The combinations, recorded or live, end up becoming flat-out great pieces of art.  Even playing solo, though, the sheer commitment and feeling that Tim sings and plays with takes control of the moment.


Tim is also a big believer is living with less, taking care of oneself whenever possible, and sharing love and freedom. You can watch videos on YouTube of him talking in interviews, between songs, and sometimes even during songs about his values and beliefs. Everything about the guy is sincere, and it shows.Sometimes I can't listen to his stuff, in fact, because it's just a bit too real and overwhelming if you aren't in a place to take it in.

Tim has become a father now, but he continues to tour quite a bit, and I would encourage all of you to listen to his records, learn the lyrics, and go sing along with him for the maximum live effect. Just understand that you are going to be exposed to complete honesty from the man, and it might just cause you to look at yourself and your life with a new set of questions.

This is my cover version of my favorite Tim Barry song. You should check out some videos of him talking about the meaning(s) behind the song. Meaning(s) because they have changed over the years. As someone who struggles a lot with existential depression, this song speaks volumes to me. As a father, this song speaks volumes to me. I wish I could have written this one because it never fails to move me on some way. Thanks Tim.  Everyone go check out his site and buy some shit from him because he does it all himself and he deserves the support.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Songs Always Win

Songs always win, and every musician on planet Earth needs to recognize that fact. Some of you are probably saying "I have no idea what the heck that even means, Doug," so let me explain.

There are geeks for every instrument and every means of delivery of music. You can find them online...guitar geeks who seemingly worship certain top-of-the-line instruments, vintage amp geeks who will tell you that only vintage tube amplifiers will give guitar players the "tone" that sings to people's souls, and it can go on and on. In the end, though, songs always win. It doesn't matter if it's played on a damn-near-worthless beginners instrument through a truly worthless P.A., a great song will catch people's attention. A forgettable song through the finest equipment ever assembled won't really mean a thing to the people who hear it. You see, great music is great because it causes an emotional and sometimes visceral reaction in those who hear it. Think about it, has a song ever made you cry, and you're not even sure why? Has a song ever made you feel great, even though you had no real reason to feel so great? I'm willing to bet both of those have happened to every person reading this. Songs and skill, while not mutually exclusive, can create far different types of music.

It Doesn't Require A $110,000 Guitar Like This One

As I have grown as a person and as a musician I have come to appreciate the blues artists who built the foundation of rock music. Guitars are an African instrument. Blues, rock, and jazz are all related, and they all come from the African people who were brought to America as slaves. Essentially, a great number of us, myself certainly included, are simply white guys playing black people's music. Even country music is known as the "white man's blues," so there is no denying where the roots of modern music lie. I only bring this up because I want you all to think about what kind of instruments slaves and freedmen had access to. Most of the blues artists whom we credit with inventing American blues and the roots of rock and roll could not afford fine instruments from the best luthiers. The truth is, the foundation of modern music was built by people playing instruments that were serviceable at best. Sure, almost everything was built better back in the day, but most of the bluesmen who created blues and rock were dirt poor, and the crappiest budget guitar of today is often comparable to what those guys were playing. It didn't matter that their instruments were pretty lousy because they could play them well enough to deliver their songs. Songs are what matters. Lead Belly didn't shred up the neck, but he meant it when he sang.

Style and Sincerity Mean More Than Shredding
Let's jump to modern artists. William Elliott Whitmore has admitted in interviews that he is no great guitar or banjo player. He knows that his true talent lies in writing memorable and moving songs. Tim Barry is exactly the same. Lucero is one of the greatest bands of this or any generation, but when you start looking at their catalog you realize that everything they've ever recorded is based on only a few basic chord progressions. Ben Nichols writes great songs, and the rest of the band plays those simple progressions in memorable ways. Great songs are great even if they are so simple a beginner could play them.

Great Songs, Not Transcendental Guitar Playing
On the other end of the song-skill spectrum would be someone like Yngwie Malmsteen. A monstrously skilled guitarist who only appeals, for the most part, to guitar nerds. Yngwie, outside of his less-than-embraceable attitude, simply doesn't create songs that most people can latch onto and appreciate. His skill is so great that he has built a fantastic career, but he will never have mass appeal. I don't mean to imply that Lucero and W.E.W. are not skilled, because they certainly are, but, rather, I am saying that skill playing an instrument and skilled songwriting are not always tied completely together. Style plays a role, lyrics play a role, and melody plays a role as well. Again, though, songs will always win over pure skill.

Unreal Talent, Also Kind of a Douche, Also Boring After About 5 Minutes

Why am I writing about this? I suppose it's a way for me to formally acknowledge that I recognize I am no great instrumentalist. I could practice every day for the next year and guys like Ed Savoy and Robbie Eastman, and, let's be honest, every guitar player I've ever worked with, would still probably be better than me at playing the guitar. For me, it's about songs. Some of the best songs ever written use three chords or less. I am not a big Beatles fan, but they and their producers understood that songs win, and nearly every band that has come after them owes them a bit of a debt of gratitude for that. The truth is that I love singing and playing, and I still believe that I am capable of creating great songs.

Songs and Meaning Every Word For The Win
There is and will always be a place for people who are truly gifted at the technical aspects of playing an instrument. Very rarely, a person like Eddie Van Halen will come along who pushes technical playing into new territory while still embracing the art of creating a memorable song. In the end, though, people, whether their ears are sophisticated from years of dissecting various forms of music or relatively simple from listening to whatever the thing-of-the-moment pop is shoved down their throats, will always be drawn to great songs. I make music because I want to make great songs that move people, that help people understand their world and experiences or at least understand they are not alone.

Songs always win. What I mean when I say that is that songs matter more than skill. Songs matter more than a superbly built instrument or the perfect amplifier. For most of us, the hook brings you back, the melody draws you in, and the words mean something to you long before the technical aspects of playing ever cross your mind. Hopefully I can write some more songs that move people, and even if I can't I will never stop trying.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Tribute to Scott H. Biram

As I mentioned the other day, Scott H. Biram is a big reason I wanted an ES 125 style guitar to begin with. He is a huge influence on the new music I am working on as well, so I filmed this as a tribute to him. Be sure you check out his website and buy his stuff. I also cannot recommend seeing him live enough. Without a doubt he puts on one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. I hope you enjoy the song.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

I Finally Have the Right Guitar

Instruments are funny things. We bond with some, not so with others, and the reasons aren't always clear. Maybe you have a guitar that sounds amazing but just won't stay in tune. Maybe another is reliable and sounds good, but you just don't enjoy playing it as much. Maybe you have the right guitar for a certain setting or style, but you need something more versatile or you need a guitar that's suited to a different style. I have never been one to change instruments often, and I have always been fairly happy with the instruments I have, but I haven't ever truly felt like I had the one instrument that just fit me, though. I have the right one now. When I started working on new music as a solo artist I studied others who have been successful performing alone, and I became a huge fan of Scott H. Biram. Biram plays a vintage Gibson Es-125, and I love the sounds he gets out of it. Then, when I became a fan of Larry and His Flask, I took note of the Godin Kingpin, essentially a modern ES-125 clone, that Ian Cook plays. I have been looking for a few years now for an affordable ES-125 style guitar. I had come close to buying one several times before, but last week I finally found the right one and brought it home. It is an Alvarez AD65E, a pretty rare ES-125 clone that Alvarez only produced for a few years in the late 90s/early 2000s. I am very excited at just how nice the guitar is, and I really am enjoying it a lot. It's not a vintage, American-made Gibson, but it feels right and sounds sweet. I can't wait to get out to some shows with my new songs (keep an eye out, I'll post another new video within the next week) and my new guitar.