Category Archives: songwriting

The song I wish I had written. Kalamazoo Star by Gerald Dowd.

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The best written song I have heard this year is the non-kindie type written by all things a drummer in a kindie band. A DRUMMER! Yes though I am not as shocked and amazed as you might think. The song is Kalamazoo Star and it’s written by one Gerald Dowd.  Most of the time you find him behind his kit backing one of the many fine bands he plays and sings with (Justin Roberts, Robbie Fulks, Frisbie, Kelly HoganElectric Dirt, etc) but, on this occasion he has released a CD of his own material.  Home Now is a great example of American Music and Kalamazoo Star is as good a song as one can ever hope to write. A superior CD with filled with great American music.  Props to Liam Davis stars-in-the-night-sky(producer), John Abbey (engineer) and the many wonderful musicians and singers (too many to list) behind the music. As good as the CD is this tune stands apart.  The magic of the song is its positive message in the face of and mournful and sad occasion. Add in the fact the band itself sounds like they could be playing on your front porch, barn, campfire etc. It’s a celebration of life in the face of death and it’s all done in a single take (They saved the best take for last!).  “There’s another star in the Kalamazoo Sky tonight. Same old sky but it feels brand new”. Someone special has passed on and even in death they are looking over family and friends. It’s poignant, sweet and smart. Anyone who ever penned a song wishes they could write songs like this. Thanks for this one Gerald. I’ll be looking for that star next time I’m in Michigan.  So where can you get this CD.  Head on over to www.geralddowd.com and he’s supposed to have it available by Friday.  You can also catch him in the street or a concert venue near you. I’m sure he’ll gladly sell you a copy or two. I intend to buy a bunch as Christmas gifts this year. Go and support an independent music artist today!

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The Song and the Process. Imaginary Friend by Secret Agent 23 Skidoo

 

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Here’s a crazy fun fact! Would you believe that Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and I lived within a half block of each other in 1994? Right here in Chicago by Belmont and Clark? Well it’s true!  What is also true is the genius of this song and writing from the view of an imaginary friend who looks at the world in the belief that he’s real and the boy he hangs with is the imaginary one.   It all started with the idea for a song about imaginary friends.  Mr. Skidoo let it marinate in the brain awhile.  Like myself 23 is a big fan of comics and the idea of the parallel or multiverse.  This is where the idea of what if the Imaginary Friend had a universe of his own.  Telling the song not only from the child characters point of skidoo-photo6-lgview but making it a duet by having Pickles (the Imaginary Friend) who believes he’s real and the child he’s with imaginary contribute to the story. Two universes in one song!   So the idea is set and now he sets up Pirate/ Sea Shanty hook.  Which is how the Skidoo Process works.  IDEA – HOOK – MUSIC – LYRICS.  He tends to write when he has to. He disappeared for a month writing for this CD though he is storing ideas all the time in his phone. The ideas use to exist on scraps of paper under a stuffed monkey (which may be a song idea of its own) but with technology he may be saving a few trees. But I digress…  Because he’s now living in California and likes to record back with his crew in North Carolina there was a bit of travel involved with the CD.  For him the funky music groove he needed was where he had done his previous album in NC. The musicians do a fantastic job (I love the horns and the spooky keyboard).   He has one ending written but ends up changing it under the advice of his wife (a honest sounding board is very helpful).  Now he needs a pirate voice so he calls his pirate buddy (Of Course Secret Agent 23 Skidoo has a pirate buddy) to lay down perfect quirka vocal but… too scary.  How about Jack Forman (We’re big fans of this Recess Monkey/KPL DJ)?  Too nice.  So Skidoo is showing another vocalist what he’s looking for and bingo.  He finds that groove he’s looking for within himself.  Not too scary or nice but just right!  If you like smart songs with a funky haunted house vibe and great horn play check out this song.  Right now Secret Agent is in the middle of a National tour, finishing up a Halloween song and putting out a 7” vinyl with The Not-It’s.  Imaginary Friend can be found on The Perfect Quirk. So go listen to Secret Agent 23 Skidoo and support a Kindie Artist today!

 

What I was gonna write about the School Break Primates… a.k.a. Recess Monkey.

monkeyhandsI recently had a great talk with Drew Holloway of Recess Monkey  about their kindie career and how they got to where they are today sonically. How once upon a time they were just three school teachers recording in a school.  That he and Daron Henry would play guitar and drums and Jack Forman  would record them.  Then when they (Daron and Drew) got done recording the guitar and drums Jack would record his bass while the other two plotted out the next song.  No fancy studio for them as they recorded in the classrooms they taught in. It was a very sophisticated way of making a CD. Just three guys playing three instruments making good music.  A long way from the band that’s playing with the Seattle  Symphony on May 17th!    This is as far as I had gotten in this articlesubmonkeys about the growth of the Recess Monkey.  Especially in the world of music production.  I’d love to tell you about the many other cool things about Recess Monkey.   But it seems the notebook I recorded my notes in has disappeared.  In my house!   It may be under my son’s bed or being used as a diary by my daughter. Perhaps the wife’s been jotting down grocery lists.  I’m not sure.  If I had it I’d tell you about their awesome experience recording with Dean Jones (Most mentioned guy on this blog. Due for an interview.) on In Tents.  Perhaps we’d discuss the addition of Korum Bischoff after long time drummer Daron Henry left the band. (They have a drummer coming out party on the song Fish Sticks on last year’s Deep Sea Diver.  It is a truly amazing piece of drumming.)  Then I’d make mention of the fact that Deep Sea Diver and Desert Island Disc were originally one CD that grew into two because of the plethora of songs.  Talk about the heavy Brian Wilson vibe on Desert Island Disc.  That their upcoming disc was recorded with their musical hero John Vanderslice and that after Drew packed up all the Recess Monkey instruments into the minivan, drove them to the Tiny tiny telephone recordingTelephone Recording in San Francisco he ended up using just a mandolin. That John recorded the upcoming CD all on two inch tape.  TWO INCH TAPE!!!  On a Neve no less.   Why you ask is that so impressive?  Tape is a finite analog recording experience unlike digital.  Once you get the right take you erase the rest to use the tape again. So when you’re in the recording room you better be damn ready to record the song (Watch the documentary Sound City to get the scope of why recording on 2 inch tape and a Neve is so impressive.) Those are the things I would probably talk about.  Did I mention that Drew is still teaching,  Korum has around 3 jobs including Drum Teacher and Director of Events and oh yeah… Jack Forman.   The bass player, song writer, original engineer and now the late afternoon host on Kids Place Live (We’re big fans of Jack and the Monkey House listening most days in our car). These are things I would discuss if I could find my note book. Wherever it is.  What I did come away with from my conversation with Drew is the idea that a band becomes greater than its pieces.  That new recording experiences whether with Dean Jones, Johnny Bregar, Tor Hyams or John Vanderslice help fuel the way to more music and keep it interesting for the band.  In the beginning they recorded everything they wrote and then learned to write more and record just the cream of their writing.  They’re still having fun and still writing, playing and grooving out with audiences coast to coast.  Maybe I’ll find that notebook.  Would of been a heck of an article.  Now go support a kindie artist today! I leave you with my kids favorite Monkey video.  Self produced of course…

Congrats to Jack Forman and family on the arrival of the new Baby!  May she and mom be healthy and you all get lots of rest!

The Song and the Process. Picky Eater by Brady Rymer

brady rymerIt should come as no surprise I’d find my way round’ to interviewing Brady Rymer.  I have championed his Love Me For Who I Am CD on this blog a few times and even named an award after him for the Best Kids CD not nominated for a Grammy (First annual “Rymer” this year awarded to Frances England.)  But I digress…  Upon listening this seems a pretty direct song.  Picky Eater is really a universal song about those who choose not to eat many of life’s great foods and how when on a plate they “should not mingle”.  It’s got a bit of a funky reggae rhythm and it’s quite infectious in its joy of not eating certain delectable dishes. Unless it comes to dessert which has no sort of restrictions.  Just like my own children. They might not like dinner but they always have room for ice cream.  The great thing about this song is that it’s origin lay a bit deeper than expected. Seems Brady has been playing regular gigs at Celebrate celebrate schoolthe Children School in New Jersey which is a school for kids with autism, aspergers and other related disorders. He thought he should write songs for that audience, that they could own.  But also the idea those songs also be universal. So with the help of the school (they sent a list of song titles) he came up with songs to be on the CD, Picky Eater being one of them. By intertwining his experience with his own kids (one a picky eater) , his childhood and the song title he had been sent Picky Eater was born.  This isn’t his usual way of writing songs, not that he has a set songwriting style. Sometimes it starts with a hook and sometimes strumming a guitar sorting out big ideas while humming.  He had never before started with a title and worked from there. When these titles arrived he grabbed his guitar and excitedly got to working. It was a nice change of pace and with Picky Eater he developed an over abundance of material.  Once he gets to writing he usually gets on a roll.  In this case he ends up having to shorten the song.  Now that he has these songs he heads over to Budd Lake, New Jersey where his friend, musician and teacher at Celebrate the Children School, Dan Myers, has his dirt floor studiosstudio (Dirt Floor Studios).  Dan also helped compile the list of song titles along with school founder Monica Osgood (they both got writing credits).  The two of them (Brady and Dan) get to recording the majority of the songs with just the two of them playing all the instruments (you should be impressed).  Only adding other musicians when necessary.  Brady recorded his vocal track live while he played an electric guitar.  He felt recording his vocals while playing helps give the songs a “live” feeling. They used a drum sampler called EZ Drummer to give them a grove and added the live percussion with Dan Sadownick later.  Brady worked on a couple songs at a time for this recording, traveling from his home in Long Island, NY to Budd Lake,New Jersey.  I’d say the travel was well worth it as the song turned out quite infectious. The brilliance of the song is it’s universal appeal but knowing the origin is anything but universal.   Anyone who ever had a child say no at a dinner table will empathize with this song.  I should mention that Brady has a brand new CD coming out this year called Just Say Hi! and can also be found playing bass with the Laurie Berkner band not to mention he has gotten back together with the love me for...band From Good Homes who play a few shows a year.  Do yourself a favor and check out the Love Me for Who I Am website, listen to the songs (Picky Eater is second) and go buy the CD.  It’s an amazing piece of work celebrating those who don’t always fit “the norm” but deserve to be heard and celebrated!

 

https://bradyrymerandthelittlebandthatcould.bandcamp.com/track/picky-eater

In case of songwriting emergency

I just discovered this brilliant emergency hotline due to a posting by Stefan over at Zooglobble on Monday.  Robbie Fulks is a really talented singer/songwriter based here in Chicago and usually plays Mondays at the Hideout for a mere 10 smackaroos (one of the best deals in the city!)  As I like to write here about how songs come to be  it seems he has discovered where to go when the process bogs down via the Fountains of Wayne Hotline.  The “where to go” when you get stuck in a song.  Have a listen and look for some “expert advice”.

We’ll be catching up with one of my favorites Brady Rymer this week on The Song and the Process.

The trouble you ask for, The Big Leap and Thank You Kindieverse

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Tonight is the benefit for Brickton Montessori School called The Big Leap.  A bit of wordplay there because the schools mascot is a frog. A Fierce Frog to be exact.  Fighting Frogs don’t quite fit the school and I for one like the uniqueness of the Fierce Frog.  Well I decided the frog needed a theme song and in one of those motivated/inspirational/get’r done moments I wrote a song for the aforementioned Fierce Frogs.  Having the song wasn’t enough because once written it NEEDED to be recorded (if only in my head).  My kids really liked theOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA song and my wife did as well so… after calling a couple studios on short notice with no luck I called a friend (Kevin Carney) who does remote recordings and with the help Cheryl Lacost (Head of the School) arranged for the song to be recorded at our school. The I got fellow parent Dave Degand to sing on it and Brickton Teacher John Huber to play on it (banjo was his idea) as well plus Frank and Don of the Poochamungas. A rough track was sent to everyone involved so they could practice at home and  John and I got a rehearsal in on Friday and  Saturday last week we laid it down.  This as in last Saturday!  The recording went well.  John Huber’s banjo playing ended up driving the song as well as Dave’s expressive vocals.  It was still missing something (again my artistic vision).  Just needed to add some piano because in my head the piano is needed and managed to get Alton Smith (Poochamungas) to play and add harmonies and John Abbey to record on a Wednesday afternoon and then delivered those tracks to Kevin that night which he mixed and had to me by the next morning. You would think that’s enough but if your gonna have a theme song you should have a video to go with it.  Wednesday I also spent the morning shooting clips in the school for the song which we had just recorded.  Many thanks to Chris Wyer for coming out OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwith his awesome HD camera and helping capture a Brickton School Day.  So Kevin finished the song Wednesday night. Phew… But that’s not all.  Fellow Brickton parent Joe Somers is edited all the video to go along with the song for the fundraiser tonight!  TONIGHT!  Saturday, February 15th at 6:30pm. TONIGHT!!!  Which he has just dropped off and it looks AWESOME!!! All I can say is thank you to eveyone who helped it was a lot of work but a lot of fun.  If yor interested in seeing the video it’s World Premiere will be at the benefit tonight and tickets are still available on the Brickton website.

Here is a shameless plug and link to all the artists that sent me CD’s for the benefit. Many thanks!!!  Go support one of these kindie artists today!!!

The Song and the Process. Pandas are Dangerous by The Boogers.

the boogers stepWhat I love best about Pandas Are Dangerous is that is a Punk Rock Love Song from Paul to his kids and it makes no apologies and takes no prisoners.  Paul Crowe, aka… Crusty Booger of power punk trio THE BOOGERS was watching a video with his wife that was posted on Facebook. It is about a silly panda that’s attacking people which triggered the thought, “Pandas are Dangerous”. It then flowed from there with first the chorus and then the melody.  Paul is another person who sing into his phone (Molly Ledford does as well).  He usually hums into the phone and then “mines that later to see what full ideas  comes together.” Cover_-_Extractum_small_hires_RBG-343x311On Pandas first came the chorus and then the melody.  The song then became a metaphor for the parent child relationship.  How kids are trying to assert their independence from the parental units.  The idea is that each of us has to raise our little pandas and one day the little pandas become big pandas and will raise pandas of their own.  That in the parent/child relationship neither usually sees the compromise necessary to make it work better.  Did I mention Paul is a Doctor in Developmental Psychology (How cool is that? That he understands the psychology of why kids love punk rock music. We had a very cool discussion about that once. A report for another day…)  Paul has composed this tune with lyrics, chorus and melodies so it’s time to record and he takes it to… Himself.  That is correct Paul self produces all of the Boogers music.  You see he gathers up his musicians and records at home.  Actually he gathers up himself to record himself.  While The Boogers are a rocking Power Punk Trio almost all the recorded CD is performed by Paul.  For me this is daunting but for Paul this is how it works best. It “allows him recording freedom”.  Being a father of three he is able to record when the78 musicmaster bass opportunity presents itself. He owns a 78 Musicmaster Bass (named April) and a Gibson Firebird  he plays through Marshall and Mesa Amps. On Pandas he also used a Telecaster thru a Marshall 5 watt for a backround chime sound that blends in.  Given the nature of hard rocking the song is it’s very cool that he uses subtle techniques to keep the music full without overloading it. The simple but full motto has been mentioned here before (Dean Jones).  His son Nathaniel has a lot of input on songs and (Paul) says his family should probably be given credit as his co-producers as they give a lot of feedback on his work.  While he might not record with the band they do rehearse once a week doing 30 songs a practice!!!  Running crusty jump01through them to keep up with the cardio of their show which I have seen and is best called (awesomely) frenetic!  They rock hard till the show ends.  Finish one song and it’s 1, 2, 3, 4 and they drop the hammer again.  Have a listen to the song on the youtube video below and then go buy it. Go buy the whole Extractum Victoris CD. This is a great song by one of my favorite bands that’ll get you pumped up!  Support the artist so they can keep making great music!