Failure by Anthony Rivera

This isn’t a self-aggrandizing blog post. The past 12 months have been pretty good. We’ve gotten some placement for a song or two, we’re looking dead-on for a new release this year, one of our major projects (Starspawn) is on the front burner after a hiatus, and even the non-music stuff is perking along. But it has me wondering a lot as to how success is measured.

The internet and blogosphere are full of articles regarding the mathematics of success. And the ones that are often enthusiastically pointed to… the Ted talks, the friend-to-friend Facebook shares, and the Youtube celebrities… these people are generally very deliberate in pointing out how much failure, misstep, and falling short is integral to the process. I appreciate the honesty in that. It’s exceedingly rare to win out of the gate, and yes, the road to any feat, project end, or discovery is often paved with a lot of time, sweat, energy, and frustration. So yeah, I am glad that this is acknowledged.


You know what these people all have in common, these folks talking about how important failure is?

They’re all successful.

Look. I get it. I get all the clichés. Anything worth it is worth fighting for. Anything good is hard. You’ll never succeed if you quit when it gets tough. Hey, I have been trying to make a name in an industry known for exceedingly low odds of payout for the past 20+ years. I’m optimistic, not stupid.

But let’s be honest. We live in an era of RESULTS. And even though the people that we often venerate are telling us how important failure is, how often do we really get the freedom to crash and burn without losing something in the process? A job, or a relationship, or a connection, or an opportunity?  Failure sucks. Even if it wasn’t our actions that led to it. Guilt by association is enough to make us never want to talk about it even with our closest friends and family. And when you’re in the middle of failure? No one wants to hear about it.

So yeah. List all the failures you’ve had on your resume and see if it gets you a callback. Boldly talk about how many planes you have crashed and see if anyone gives you another shot in the pilot’s chair. Celebrate your messes and count how many people celebrate them with you. And certainly see if anyone wants to hear from the likes of you as to how important failure has been in your life.

Look past the stage, the green room, the cameras, the first-class plane tickets, and the speaking fees. Look beyond the pretty, well-dressed people who can speak of the virtue of failure as a privilege of their victories. Their wins are real. I don’t begrudge that.

But they are not the only people who understand that failure is part and parcel of the gig. For every big-ticket success story, there’s a thousand stories that go unheard. ALL of them have elements of struggle, setback, and disappointment. Most of them aren’t remarkable or spectacular. Still, I wonder how many of these stories are worthy of Ted talks, regardless of the eventual outcomes.  

But maybe the real emotional core isn’t about ‘failure’.

Maybe the difference is in how we define success. And if we’re willing to listen to those who lack the blessing of society on the topic.   


Tradition by Anthony Rivera

True story.

A few years ago, I was doing some pro bono work with a small, rotating-cast musical ensemble.  I was doing a lot of this kind of work at the time, which amounted to 1) show up, 2) get handed a stack of charts, 3) learn 30-45 minutes worth of music in an hour or so, and 4) play it.  It’s great for extending your musical reach, particularly if you’re not familiar with the musical genres you’re being asked to come up with parts to (which I wasn’t, really).  There’s a lot of down sides to this kind of ensemble, though.  The biggest being that you will never sound better than the least experienced member du jour.  Woe befall everyone if it happens to be the drummer. 

It was shaking out to be one of those days.  The team wasn’t overly strong and we were trying to get to a lot of songs.  The bandleader, who we will call Jerve, was clearly struggling.  In these kinds of gigs, it’s not my job to be the place where the buck stops.  But I do know a thing or two about music and arrangement, and Jerve made it clear from the beginning that he wanted my 2 cents, so I was offering what help I could. We got to a brand new song (let’s call it Blarfingame), and everything just stopped.  I mean, literally ground to a spark-spitting halt.  It wasn’t a hard tune by any means, but the band chemistry and this song just didn’t get along. 

Jerve plowed forward, leading the song largely by himself on guitar.  After we’d taken a pass through the tune, I had an idea or two of how to make Blarfingame easier and more dynamic.  Jerve listened to me, agreed it was a good idea, but in the interest of time, he wanted to stick with the arrangement we had just slapped together.  Fair enough; been there myself. 

So we did.  And Blarfingame didn’t sound bad.  Not great, but sometimes any landing you can walk away from is a good landing. 

Flash forward a week.  Smaller group and Jerve has the week off.  Ah, but the keyboardist from last week is the bandleader this time, and Blarfingame is on the setlist again!  Okay, cool.  So we practice the other tunes in performance order.  We get to Blarfingame.  I make my suggestion about arrangement again. 

She informs me, in all earnest and without an ounce of duplicity, that “this is how we’ve always done the song.”

I ponder that whenever someone appeals to tradition as an authoritative benchmark.


Spotlight: Defiled by Marcell Marias

If it’s true that moments of beauty can be found in the midst of ugliness, then we have to accept that the reverse is also true.    

There’s a place in the California mountains that’s the closest I’ll ever get to having a personal spiritual retreat.  Literally out in the middle of nowhere, with limited internet and in a cell-dead zone, there’s nothing to do but revel in natural splendor.  Smell the pine and creosote. Walk along the ridgeline and see down into the Fresno valley, surrounded by trees, tall grass, and meadows as the warm sun embraces you.  It’s easy to empty yourself of all your cares and just…be.

It was on such an outing that I was empty enough to ask a curious, unanticipated question.  That being: “What if everything you ever believed is a lie, and you have only lived to advance another’s agenda?”

Weird question.  Even weirder response. 

I’m glad nobody was around.  I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t see straight.  All I could do was feel a burning, haunted, acidic rage.  I wanted to break something. I wanted to burn the skies down.  I wanted to shout rebellion and defiance to the universe.

When I got back, still seething with anger, I didn’t so much write as open the emotional floodgates and get out of the way. In less than 15 minutes, the lyrics to the song Defiled were complete.  And for the record, this isn’t how my songwriting process usually works.  Which is good – it would be way too fatiguing if I had to go through this every time.

Defiled is not a pretty song.   It’s a revenge tale dripping with sadomasochism and torture imagery. As a songwriter, I don’t go out of my way to shock or offend; I don’t have anything to prove one way or the other lyrically.  Sometimes, though, there just aren’t words jagged, or hateful, or malicious enough to communicate what you’re really feeling, so you punt to the imagery our culture understands.  If turtles and rainbows communicated all the angst I felt in writing the tune, then the song would be about turtles and rainbows.  And it would still be ugly. 

The up side about writing lyrics like this is that it pretty well dictates where the music should land.  Aggressive and unrelenting.  Current heavy music usually dictates a slower, grinding tempo, but this felt more like it belonged to the thrash metal days of barely in control riffing.  I think the basic musical sketch took less than 2 hours to form.  The use of synthesizers and loops on this tune was in the plan from the beginning. I wanted some tones that sounded epic (and even intentionally dated) without sounding hokey. Distortion-saturated guitars can only give you so much sonically, and I’m quite happy with the contribution of the keys on this one.  It was also liberating to bust out the metal chops and push to keep up with the tune.  Don’t ask how long it took to record the guitars.  This one was literally painful to play sometimes. 

And, of course, it went without saying that Oily would sing it.  We tried some supporting stuff with both Julie and hitch (hoping it would have that male/female duality a la KMFDM), but the female vocals never quite sounded right.  Oily kept pushing to have the single singer, and I kept pushing back with trying the girl thing ONE MORE TIME.  I’m glad he was persistent in his opinion; the tune is way more cohesive and brutal with just the male vocal energy paving the way. 

Funny thing, even after all that.  When we were mastering the song, Rick (our engineer) turned to me with a half-smile and commented, “You guys had fun recording this one, didn’t you?”

Yes, yes we did.   


Spotlight: All Fall Down by Marcell Marias

I often get asked what my songs are about. It’s fair question, although one I’m hesitant to answer.  We don’t usually ask what a painting is about, or a sculpture.  It could be that we’re more used to the abstraction of emotions with those art forms. Lyrics, however, are often very literal. Songs have been used as storytelling vehicles for centuries. Certainly, in popular music, we’ve become accustomed to some specific tropes – boy meets girl, boy loses girl, unrequited love, partying, etc. 

Sometimes, though, a song isn’t necessarily ‘about’ anything.  All Fall Down is one of those.

Funny thing.  This single, repeating “And we all fall down” chorus line was one of the first things that popped into my head some years ago when Tanya and I were starting a new band.  At the time, I heard it over a faster tempo, with distorted, heavily delayed guitar riding over busy tom fills. Hey, everyone ripped off U2 back then. Sue me. Maybe because of that, I could never figure out the rest of the tune. So it went onto the back burner – a dusty little folder titled “Lyrics: In Progress” in the low-rent part of my computer.  And stayed there. 

Fast forward a few years to Mirror Darkly.  We were finishing up the studio work and I was starting in on the collection we now call Infernal Divine.  Decided to see if there was anything worth working on in the back burner.  Usually the answer is no.  The folder is embarrassingly well-populated with orphan song ideas – a line or two here; a paragraph there; a concept that never made it any further than that.  Opened up the file for All Fall Down… and finished the lyrics in about 15 minutes.  Kinda helped that I’d heard a King’s X jam that, while totally different from my original vision, had the inspiration for the main riff that I could hang the rest of the tune on. 

There were some firsts on this song.  This was the first song where I wanted the drum programming to sound like an actual drummer.  Even though it’s fundamentally a 4-on-the-floor groove most of the time, we gave it some fills and turnarounds that a live drummer would use.  I think it’s also the first song where I started specifically creating synthesizer lines in bits and pieces as opposed to flowing through the entire song.  Mostly so it was easier to record them.  Nothing more depressing than having to play a part perfect for 6 minutes (because the part never stops), messing up at 5:54, and having to start all over. 

It's also the first song not performed by a self-identified member of the ensemble. I had planned on Tanya singing this one, but she didn’t feel like she was doing the song proper justice with her interpretation. I asked a friend of mine (Crode) to give it a shot. She agreed, and gave the tune a feminine, somewhat gritty vibe. She added the ‘ring around the rosy’ part without telling us she was going to; our response was “Yeah, that’s cool!  Let’s keep that!” I didn’t provide much direction on the harmonies either; I totally dig the eerie, melodic vibe she created. 

I suppose that if the song IS about anything, it’s about feeling overwhelmed.  There’s all manner of things that want our attention in this noisy world.  Some of them are welcome; most aren’t.  For me, the “All Fall Down” of the chorus is “I give up”.  Not in despair, or failure, or anything like that. More like throwing up your hands and saying enough.  So yeah – no great conclusions, no specific ideas, no boy meets girl, no lost love.   Just a musical expression of those times when you feel like everything is pressing down on you and you don’t see any easy fixes. 



Caveat by Marcell Marias

I’m going to spend the next while highlighting some of the tunes off Infernal Divine.  Since we don’t exactly have liner notes or lyric sheets, I thought it would be kinda fun to let everyone in on what goes on behind the curtain in the writing and recording process.

Now, having said that, I almost don’t want to do it. 

Does anyone remember getting a new CD or (heaven forbid) LP when you were younger?  Or even now? You’d charge home.  Rip open the packaging.  Gaze at the artwork and liner notes.  Slap on the headphones.  Hit the opening track. And be lost in the experience. 

I think part of the reason that time seems so transcendent (other than the usual ‘good old days’ thing we all gain as we age) is that so much of the musical experience was your own interpretation.  Yeah, the artwork and the liner notes guide that, but everything else was your own.  As you listened to the music, you felt what you felt. Your mind’s eye conjured its’ own images. The music didn’t dictate your emotions… they gave you a diving board to explore it on your own. That’s how, for example, a song like “Southern Cross” can become Our Song with me and my girl, even though it’s a song about failed relationships. 

Enter MTV: the game-changer of the early 80s.  And yes, they did play music on it at one time. 

Visuals have long been a part of musical performance, to be sure.  And even though a lot of those early videos were embarrassingly bad, it gave artists a new dimension to play with. And for the first time, a mass-audience could actually SEE what the band looked like.  Being able to get a small slice of that live experience was pretty compelling for those of us who grew up in tiny towns with conservative parents who would rarely let us see shows.    

But that comes at a certain cost.  Visuals are strong associative cues. And once you get those in your head, it’s hard to let them go.  I like a good vid as much as the next person.  But too often I feel like videos have the (possibly unintended) side effect of telling you what you should get out of the song.  Or, perhaps more cynically, the song really doesn’t have any depth in the first place, and the video is simply a) a way to deflect attention from that fact, and b) something modern rock artists are obliged to do as a part of marketing their brand.  By the way… yes, I DO believe there are good songs and bad songs.  But that’s for another entry.

I don’t want to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t get out of our music, or music in general.  I’d rather you draw your own conclusions. If a sad song makes you happy, or an angry song gives you some serenity, then cool. I’d be the last person to tell you that you got it wrong.  It’s one of the reasons I’m reticent to do videos as well.  I’m not opposed to the idea… but the stars would have to align just so.  Probably for the better; my mental visuals of late would probably be considered too blasphemous or surreal for the average video consumer. 

So, having said all that, I’m going to regale you with tales from the writing desk and studio anyway.  And why not?  Some of it is pretty funny.  Some of it is uncomfortable.  Some of it is just weird.  I hope that knowing what went into this particular sausage doesn’t spoil your appetite for it. But the stories and insights of what went into Infernal Divine are worth telling, and who knows – knowing some of the grist may take you to new places when you hear one of the tunes.

Still reticent about doing a video, though.


Scorecard by Marcell Marias

One of the problems with making short communications (Facebook, Twitter, etc) is forgetting what I’ve actually said.  In looking back over what I’ve said for the past few months, I realize that for all the referencing of the projects I’ve done I haven’t really said much about them.  So, with that in mind, here’s where all the projects stand.

* Shai Azul

Infernal Divine – our second compilation – is 95% tracked.  We thought we were done a few weeks ago, but then we got the clever idea of trying out our new female alto (call her hitch) on one of the songs.  That gets done tonight.  We have a guest guitarist emailing us a few guitar solos as well.  We started mixing last week; that’s an interesting time.  It’s when you take everything you’ve been working on so carefully and diligently over the course of months and throw half of it out.  Not that it was bad, mind you.  Just too much stuff going on.  Album photography was completed earlier this year.  Beginning work on the art/packaging.  Still not sure if we’re going to press any CDs or whether this will all be digital.  Early 2012 looks like the release date.  Work on the 3rd album is already in progress, with about 6-7 song ideas being bandied about.  With our present lineup being pretty stable, I’d sure like to be talking about pressing CD number three this time next year.  Awfully ambitious, that.  But it could happen. 

* Redshift Heretic

Vic and I have combed through about 14 different scratch tracks and have landed on about 7-9 of them to start producing.  I still want to have a few more songs in the 85-120 bpm range, but we have plenty to work with as is.  Once Infernal Divine is mixed, this project is going front burner.  If you don’t hear from me between December and February 2012, I’ll be easy to find.  Just look in the home studio for the guy with headphones on.  People still keep asking us what the difference between Shai Azul and Redshift might be; after all, the music has a lot of crossover (techno/industrial/metal/pop/rock).  In short – the lyrics in Shai Azul have emotional weight and significance.  In Redshift, the lyrics are less about content and more about ‘does this sound cool?’.  It also lets us try out things like spoken word, wildly effected vocals, narration, and other ideas that don’t necessarily fall into the typical realm of sung melody/harmony.  For that matter, some Redshift songs are straight instrumental. 

* Starspawn

Oily’s solo project continues to evolve and write.  So far we have 3 songs solid in addition to intros and outros; we’d like to have 5 actual songs on the first outing.  Oily is working on the overarching story and arrangements.  I, on the other hand, am working my extreme metal chops, which is something I am really enjoying.  I didn’t get a chance to play in any metal bands until I was older, so this is like unwrapping musical Christmas presents every day.  First half of 2012 looks good for this EP. 

(Quick crash course in extreme metal.  Thrash=Metallica prior to the Black Album; fast, riff-heavy, intense.  Death=similar to thrash, good luck understanding the lyrics. Black=see Death, add overtly Satanic imagery, tremolo picking, and simpler production.  Doom=see Thrash, slow it down by 300%.   Starspawn has elements of all these.)

Time to head back into the studio; I just got a new keyboard module that has me rethinking the synth tones for ALL the projects…




Bunnies by Marcell Marias

“How was your day?” he asked.  I groaned.  He laughed. 

Julio (name changed) and I were headed to band practice a few years ago.  Julio didn’t have a car, so I’d pick him up in Greenwood and we’d head across the Aurora Bridge into West Seattle 1-2 times a week for rehearsals.  We’d always talk about our days.  Julio was (and still is) a great conversationalist.

I remember that day being particularly brutal.  At the time, I was working at a company with a large volunteer corps.  Several thousand, actually, spread across the globe.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I was in charge of them all.  And whether it was fair or not, there were forces within the company that held me at least partially responsible for their actions.  My weeks were full of meetings, policy documentation, program creation, and uncomfortable conversations to the tune of 55+ hours a week.  I suppose what I was doing was important at some level to someone.  I just mostly remember being exhausted and waking up at 4am with my mind ablaze.

Julio listened, nodded sympathetically.  Julio is arguably the best guitarist I have ever played with.  His intelligence simmers quietly behind kind eyes, and you don’t realized how capable he is until you find yourself in need of some skill or knowledge and invariably Julio has it.  He could be a player in many arenas if he wanted.  But he had chosen a simpler life.  He works to make money to do what he wants to do.  That’s enough.

His turn.  “So, Julio, what did you do today?”

In his slow, thoughtful cadence, he recounted a day of getting up a bit late, playing guitar, making lunch in his small apartment, culminated by a walk down to the park.  “I fed the bunnies”, he recounted, a small smile spreading across his face.  It was clear that he enjoyed the experience. 

Julio is not lazy.  He’s a hard worker and not afraid to get his hands dirty.  He is, however, doing what he wants to do.  And on this day it was feeding the urban bunnies that live in our parks.

I like working hard.  Just like the majority of the 99%, I am sure.  But I also like having time for other pursuits.  For a while there, the two were almost incompatible.  The job demanded more and more, and I slept less.   The pay was okay, but the pressure was nonstop.  And forget having any time to feed the bunnies.  You have more important things to do. 

Until that evening, when Julio gently reminded me that there’s a big difference between what is important and what is necessary. 

Getting to work by 6am?  Late nights drafting documents?  Postponing celebrations to hit deadlines?  Hitting goals with limited budget?  Endless forum management? 

Necessary.  It’s what I was hired to do.  No surprises or regrets there. 

Being able to sleep through the night?  Hang out with friends?  Create?  Be spontaneous every now and then?  Enjoy occasional moments of serenity?   Feed the bunnies?


The company that was demanding so much of my time would soon reorganize and dissolve my position.  Twice, in point of fact.  All my hard work is now, at best, a footnote in a disused server somewhere. 

Important?  Probably not. 

I still work hard.  I put in 20-70 hours a week on music, depending what’s on the burner or if I’m on tour.  I still sometimes wake up at 4am with my mind on fire.  I still agonize over things that probably aren’t that meaningful.    

But there’s time now.  Time to do the important things.  And that’s worth a lot.

I haven’t gotten to actually feeding the bunnies in the park yet.

But soon.



Multiplication by Marcell Marias

Funny thing happened in the studio.

We went in with one project and came out with 3. 

Oddly enough, that’s part of the plan.  It’s still weird when something actually goes according to plan. 

I’ve gone on at length in the past about how Shai Azul is an ensemble, not a ‘band’ per se.  I’ve been in a million ‘bands’.  I know how they breathe and work.  And I wanted something else.   I wanted a creative place where people could come and go as they were able and interested. That has its’ own set of headaches, yeah.  But it has some upsides. 

This summer, while in the studio, some of our ensemble had drastic changes in their availability.  Nothing toxic or dramatic, just changes in life and careers.  Thing is, if you’re a ‘band’ and a key player steps aside… you’re pretty much done.  In our case?  Projects that existed as concepts and back-burner ideas emerged to fill the vacuum. 

The scary thing is that these other projects have arisen in addition to Shai Azul, not as replacements.  These days, it’s a case of listening to a new scratch track or composition and wondering “Hunh… who gets THIS tune?”

The first, which I’ll call “Caligula”, is closer to my original vision for Shai Azul; electronic/industrial dance hall music.  Some have asked me what the difference between the two projects is.  It’s admittedly kind of arbitrary. The best way to say it is that Shai Azul is far more lyrical, and became so early on.  Songs MEAN something, with an emotional content we want to communicate, whether it’s a heavy, fast tune or a more atmospheric one.  Caligula, on the other hand, is all about having fun. Nothing to prove here. Just thumpy, sweaty, have another gin and tonic, turn-it-up-loud and dance/drive/do housework/whatever fun.  Some of it is strictly instrumental.  Some of it is a chance for Vic and I to try our hand at singing.  Caligula is developing a sci-fi bent, from the actual name of the project to the proposed artwork to the tonalities of the keyboards to some of the lyrics (one tune is based around an HG Wells quote).  We’ll see how much that sci-fi thing ends up sticking.  At this point, it’s mostly me and Vic; we’ll probably drag Oily and Carl and one of the girls into it at some point.  We have about 7-8 scratch tracks for this one so far. I’d like to have about 12-15 to choose the best from.  Having this out by the end of the year or early next is realistic.

“Operation Bluebook” is Oily’s baby, and a bit harder to explain. I’ll try to get him on one of these blogs at some point.  Oily has an ambitious science/horror/ambient concept that he wants to get across in about a 5-6 song EP.  Instead of producer, I’m a player and arranger.  It’s already pushed me musically.  I mean, how do you compose something that emotes rising panic, or claustrophobia, or dread of an undefinable horror without the lyrics spelling it out?  The whole project is like this, and I am enjoying it immensely so far.  We had a great session this week where we collectively figured out our overarching direction.  This will also probably be the first project where we’ll need to recruit some folks from outside the usual Shai Azul orbit.  Hard to say when this one will come out; look for first quarter 2012 as a guess. 

Shai Azul remains cohesive and vital, if somewhat delayed.  I’m not ready to announce any lineup changes yet; some things are still in flux and I want to let those things sort themselves out a bit first.  And in an ensemble like ours, nobody ‘leaves’ permanently unless they decide they don’t want to be a part of it anymore.  We are continuing to record Infernal Divine (did I just mention the name of the second CD?  I guess I just did…); in fact, it’s about 85% done and mixing will commence in October.  We are still looking for the right vocalist to complete 1-2 of the songs.  AND we are already writing scratch tracks for the third CD.  This is not the kind of energy you put into a project you’ve written off. 

So, yeah… change seems to have made the ensemble even more creative and vital. Between Shai Azul, Operation Bluebook, Caligula, and all the other projects in the works, it’s going to be a busy fall…



The Calm by Marcell Marias

I took this picture a few weeks ago while on tour with the theatre troupe.  We were about an hour away from performing the first show of the season to about 600 kids and adults.  We’d set everything up a little more downstage than normal, which meant that even our usual rat’s nest of cables was hidden behind curtains or back walls.  In short, we ended up with a relatively wide, uncluttered corridor from one end of the stage to the other.  That doesn’t happen very much.

Some people might call it stark, or empty, or black.

I call it peaceful.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that the number of times I’ve hit the stage in a musical or performance capacity over the years is easily in the 4 digits.  I don’t get nervous or jittery anymore.  In fact, I think the last time I had any performance butterflies was for a show at Folklife, playing for, oh, what… 3,000 people?   Even that was at least 4 years ago. 

Still, I find that I still need to get ready mentally, even if my stomach isn’t doing flip-flops.  My Other will attest that I usually vanish off by myself about 60-90 minutes before a gig.  Don’t mean to be rude.  Just need to be silent for a bit.  Tune up.  Maybe run through some warmup exercises (a must when playing with the metal band).  And just take in the stillness. 

I can’t tell you why lurking in the shadows like a dime-novel villain amps me up for a performance.  All I know is that it does.  I don’t question it.  And I don’t feel quite right if I don’t get a chance to do it. 

Shai Azul is in a calm of sorts right now.  The singers are recording and re-recording their parts.  Collaborations are waiting for other comments.  Disc 2 is approaching completion; disc 3 is forming.  Not a huge amount for me to do personally right now.

Other than find the dark, quiet place.  Breathe.  Focus.  Rest for a moment.

Because the curtain always goes up eventually. And you need to be ready when it does. 


Level Up (Vic) by Marcell Marias

Hey kids, this is Vic.  First a quick note about me.  I am not a musician by trade although I have played the drums and bass guitar in the past.  I am a visual artist, photographer, and have dabbled in 
poetry and song writing.  Shai Azul is my first official step into the  music world and it’s been a helluva ride so far.  I think anoN brought me in because I am an outsider, artistic, and have some unique 
perspectives on music and I tend to push him in musical directions he had never considered. 

What really fascinates me about the music creation process is how much more organic it is than visual arts as  far as the actual creation is concerned.  There is a great deal of back and forth collaboration with the band mates, audio engineer, songwriters, singers, etc.  The music can change course at any 
moment.  It was a new form of artistic creation and expression that I had not experienced before even though music has been such a huge inspiration in my life and my art.  Anyway, I thought it was high time that I had some input on the blog about my experience with Shai Azul, and I figured that this weekend’s session was definitely worth writing about.  So let’s begin ^_^

Tanya was in town for the weekend so we decided to hit 3 new songs that needed her vocals: Communion and the songs I wrote, Faith and Infrared.  On the way to Birdhouse Studio I was talking with Tanya about my discussion with anoN concerning more emotional impact in the songs.  Technically they were very good, but as an artist I felt that we could take the vocals to the next level.  I had a few examples that I thought had an emotional impact for me: Bjork’s All is Full of Love and QueensRyche’s Someone Else (acoustic version).  Both of these songs had a way of tapping that emotional lizard brain for me and I wanted to have our new songs deliver the listener a visceral response.  Have you ever stood in front of a painting and after staring at it you feel draw into the canvas?  Feel emotionally 
connected to the scene, the color, the texture?  This is what I would like out of our music, to draw the listener in.  To make the music visual.

The session started out very well despite Tanya being a bit sick.  The first song, Communion, was executed very nicely.  I recommended that we add a very deep monk chant in the background of the chorus.  Our comrade, Anthony, was able to pull it off after some experimentation.  With a slight tweak by our engineer, Chris, we had an awesome and haunting chant that sounded like it was in a grand cathedral. I was still thinking that we could get more emotion in the music.  So I decided to call my brother, Alberto, in Manhattan.  He is an actor, director, and published playwright.  He is also a professional acting coach.  I talked to him on what I wanted out of the music and he said 
he could do some coaching to Tanya.  After she wrapped Communion I put her on the phone with him and the rest of us took a beer/smoke break.  

Not long after, she came out of the sound-booth and seamed a bit...different, emotional.  We tied up a few loose ends with Communion and jumped into Faith.

Faith is song that is emotionally charged with despair so I was anxious to see how it would go.  After the first verse I knew that my brother’s coaching had brought a change to the surface.  Her voice was 
rich with sadness and loss. It was something new.  She was taking her voice to a new level and we all new it!  We did a series of takes where Tanya experimented with some different ways of singing the 
chorus and other takes to correct a variety of other items.  By the end of that session we had a solid emotional track.  I had never been more impressed by her performance. 

That is, until she started the next song. }:-)

Next up was Infrared.  Since it is a duet we had temporary tracks of Oily’s voice and Tanya was going to redo hers.   Now, this song is in a complete 180º direction as far as the content of the lyrics and 
musical style.  Its sexually charged, naughty, laced with innuendos, and has a pounding rhythm.  After listening to the tune, and doing the mental exercise my brother taught her, she dove into the song.  Oh... Wow!  The song suddenly exploded with energy and intensity.  We did several takes with Tanya owing the music and bending it to her will.  Sometimes, the way she sang... well it made us giggle and blush, haha!  Chris had some extra fun by adding some cool audio FX. In my humble opinion, we had the most fun recording this song.

Faith and Infrared are my first two songs that I have seen to near completion.  I don’t think that it could be going any better as far as the experience is concerned.  But, there is still much to do before we 
release this album.  Now it’s my turn to level up so anoN let me borrow one of his keyboards and I will be learning to play, at least enough to get the music in my head into chords and notes.  I feel the 
need to be more connected to the music instead of just writing and directing my tunes.  As an artist, if you are not fully engaged with your medium, be it music or photography or painting, the observer of 
your art WILL know it.  This is why it is so important to me for us to be engaged as much possible with the music we make.

I want you to share in the experience of our music.


Kite by Marcell Marias

There’s a park near us.  It used to be a military base; in fact, Dad anoN was stationed there during the Korean War.  Over the years, it’s been slowly repurposed to be a public area of walking trails, picnic areas, and overlooks. A prettier area in the city of Seattle you will not find.

The old parade grounds, by the way, make a perfect place to fly kites.

Which is exactly what we did, a few weekends ago.  Me.  My Other and her delta-winged kite, which she can get aloft when there’s hardly a whisper of wind.  Oily and Sylvia.  Vic, Kelly, and their  son, Leo.

Oily and Sylvia brought their dual-line kites; parasails on strings.  It’s been a long time since I flew a dual-line.  We had a delta wing dual line kite early on in our marriage, when we had lots of time and not a lot of money.  We flew it enough (and crashed it enough) that we eventually wore it out.  But these parasail constructs looked much more capable of taking punishment.  And Oily was having a great time buzzing us and making it dance in midair.

He turns to me with a big grin and says, “Wanna give it a go?”

I give it a go.

I am less than graceful.  I crash it quickly several times, much to the amusement of the rest of the gang.  But I slowly remember how to control the dual lines.  I remember how to make it go left and right.  Oily instructs me on how a parasail works.  A tug here and this happens.  A sharp, repeated tug on both lines and it rises. 

Soon I am making it do figure 8s and guiding it across the breezy sky.  I’m not as good as Oily is, but I’m having a blast. 

I don’t know what any bypassers might have thought, seeing two grown men hoot and yell with delight as we guided a flying sail through loops, bends, and near misses with the ground. 

But you know, it doesn’t matter.

This world isn’t much for encouraging dreamers.  It will always tell you that you’re too something.  Too thin.  Too fat.  Too uneducated.  Too awkward.  Too old.  Too young.  Too late.   Too early.  Too risky.  Too unattainable.  Too anything. 

It’s not personal.  It’s just that there’s always reasons NOT to do something.  Which it seems are all too quick to be pointed out to you one way or another. 

Me?  I’m tired of giving those voices any more credibility.  I’m going to go fly a kite.  I’m sure it looks stupid to some and I’ll crash it a lot.  Hey, whatever.  It’s not life or death.  It’s flying a kite.  And it’s fun. 


You might be with me one day at the park.  And I may turn to you with a big grin and say, “Wanna give it a go?”



Hands of Kali by Marcell Marias

As much as I dig the national and international acts, what’s REALLY cool is discovering hidden talent in your own backyard. 

That’s Hands of Kali.

A few months ago, Vic and I were at a mutual friends’ birthday party on Capitol Hill. We were told, by all means, to come early enough to ‘see the bellydancers’.  Well, sure, why not?  It’s an art form I know little about but I appreciate it when I see it.  Vic and I were talking a little shop over by the bar when the music came on and two stunning, lithe, black-clad women quietly stepped to the center of the room.  For the next while, I was captivated.  I couldn’t categorize their vibe; “belly dance” doesn’t begin to cover it.  The music was industrial and Goth in flavor, and the dancers, in their black tops, flowing skirts, silver jewelry, and elaborate tattoo work spoke to that as well.  But their performance!  Flowing.  Alluring.  Tantalizing.  Dark without being black.  Precise, yet organic.  Tribal, yet refined.  Modern and timeless.  And underneath it all, mischievous smiles, real and unforced, that spoke of a true passion for what they do.  If the sound of a midnight waterfall under a full moon could be given human form, I imagine it would be Hands of Kali. 

“I want them to perform at my birthday party,” says Vic.  Cool, says I.

“I want them to perform to one of our songs.  Faith.”   It’s one of our collaborations. Vic provided the lyrics and direction; I gave it musical form. 

Pause.  Sip drink.  Sip again.  Do the math. We are going into the studio in a week or so, but the singer we wanted to perform the song can’t make it.  Can our newest vocalist pull it off with only a few days’ prep?  If she can, we can have a working mix by Vic’s party.  Mentally cross fingers.  Big gulp of drink.  “Sure.  Go for it.” 

Vic makes the arrangements.  Anika, being the killer singer she is, pulls it off.  It takes us longer than I like to get them a mix of the tune, but I’m out of town for a good chunk of March. 

Vic’s party arrives. 

I’ll admit.  I’m nervous.  Not like anyone but me and Vic and Kendra and Deidra know it’s our song.    I just don’t want it to sound weird or wrong or out of place in their performance. 

Kendra and Deidra take the floor, looking as mysterious and striking as I remember from last time.  They begin.  And again I am taken to the midnight waterfall. 

The keyboard intro to Faith kicks in at some point.  My heart skips a beat.

Deidra performs a veil dance.  All eyes are on her the whole time as she gives a sensual, unhurried, almost sorrowful interpretation to the song.  I think Vic and I are grinning at each other like naughty schoolchildren the whole time.  Not because it’s our song… but because Hands of Kali were able to take it and make it much more. 

Deidra, Kendra…. that was awesome.  Thank you.  We would love to help you out in the future, whatever that may look like.  Always happy to support another local artist. 

And if you should find yourself in a place where you can attend a Hands of Kali performance… don’t hesitate. 

You will love it.

You may even get a preview of some of the music from our next release…


Ego by Marcell Marias

I won’t lie.  I have a massive ego. Big enough to take up the entire room and keep going if you open the windows.

Just not in the way you might think.

Seems that you can’t open up the paper or a browser without seeing some celebrity shooting their mouth off about how cool they are and how they think things ought to be.  Their words are colored with the inescapable notion that they think themselves the most important thing in the universe, much like former-day astronomers thought the earth was the center of all things. 

You know what?  That’s not ego.  That’s vanity.  Or narcissism.  Or narcotics.  Or more likely, insecurity run amok.  Maybe all of the above. 

No, my ego is based on a very simple notion.  That my sense of self doesn’t depend on what others think of me. 

And it’s a place of power. 

All artists have to be egoists to some degree.  Human beings create simply because it’s what we do.  Did you make dinner tonight?  If you didn’t take it out of a box, you created something.  Artists are just people who think that other people might like their creations.  That takes a lot of chutzpah, when you think about it.  I mean, what makes an artist’s expression more compelling than anyone else’s?  You have to believe in yourself.  Because there’s far more people that will tell you you’re wasting your time than will encourage you.  And yeah, that means I believe in this band, the songs I write, and the people in the project. 

But my outsized ego also means I don’t have to be ‘right’ all the time.  And that’s a good thing.  Ever watch or listen to an artist who had to have their own way on every little detail?  They may in fact be very good at what they do.  But they will eventually reach the end of their ability.  And if they can’t get over themselves, they have to live in a self-created delusion or it all comes down.   Forget that.  Life is too short for self-imposed prisons. 

Nah, I’d rather have the singers tell me they don’t get one of my songs.  Or a collaborator tell me that I’m off the rails with the arrangement or the keyboards or that’s a dumb guitar riff anyway.  The goal is good music.  And I really don’t care how we get there as long as the end product is made of 100% awesome.  If we’re doing that, then there’s plenty of room for everyone else’s input.  I am not lessened by this.  If anything, we all become more for it.  And the next song just gets that much more awesome. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’d rather be friends.  I’d rather you think well of me.  I’d rather you like the tunes. 

But if it’s not to be, it’s not to be. 

I can live with that.


Vocals, session 1. by Marcell Marias

I should never be allowed in front of a mic, ever.  But just because there’s no guitars to record doesn’t mean I get to slide.  There’s a lot of brainwork involved, a lot of listening, a lot of giving guidance.  Not like the singers don’t know what they’re doing.  They do.  They come prepared.  But sometimes even the best ideas don’t sound quite right when you hit tape.  And sometimes the best ideas don’t come easily or from one person.  Sometimes, the coolest vocal cut happens at the end of a frustrating 5-hour session when you’ve changed it up a dozen times. 

That’s what gives you the best end result, though.  Give and take.  Taking a few steps back to see what makes sense.  Trying everything.  Listening to everyone while trusting your gut. 

And Manhattans.  Thank you, Anthony.

Our guest singer A (we’ll call her that until she decides how much she wants to be a part of Shai Azul) kicked it off, with me, Chris, Anthony, and Vic sitting in the control room.  She knocked out All Fall Down – a midtempo, riff-heavy, pulsing tune – in about 2 hours, complete with a harmony part I wasn’t expecting and a middle section that kicks the whole thing up a notch.  Both A and Tanya seem to dream in harmonies, which is pretty cool since that’s my weakest thing.   But they’re both different.  Tanya’s harmonies tend to be melodic and pretty.  A comes up with stuff that’s eerie and unexpected, while still being feminine.  Next song – Faith, one of Vic’s tunes.  It’s a slower tempo, hypnotic tune, and we wanted to get a cut of it for Vic’s birthday party.  Ask him why.  Since Tanya couldn’t make it, A gave it a whirl.  And added another cool unexpected harmony.  Last song of the day – House of Cards.  This one is admittedly a fast tempo, heavy pop tune, but for as short as it is, the choruses have proven a bit tonally elusive for everyone.  A found it, but we still felt like we were missing something.  We threw Oily in front of the mic since he showed up around this time.  And realized that it was his melody double we were missing.  One day, 2 tunes solid, one tune with a firm foundation.  And Greek for dinner.  Good day. 

Sunday was just me, Chris, and Oily.  Oily started off working on Defiled – one of my angry tunes that definitely shows off my thrash metal roots.  He didn’t really feel like he was getting it as well as he could, so we set down some basic tracks with the goal of working on it in a few weeks.  In listening back to the scratch vocals… there’s a lot that worked.  Oily is a perfectionist in the studio.  It’s not enough to nail the performance…he wants to ‘get’ the tune; to sink his teeth into it.  Defiled is close, for sure.  We spent the rest of the day on Oily’s song, Xs For Eyes.

Let’s talk about that song a bit.  It channels mine and Oily’s metal kid in a big way.  It’s a blast beat, sonic onslaught.  It’s the furthest we’ve ever pushed a tune in Shai Azul musically and lyrically. It’s a chance for Oily to cut loose. It is probably even toxic to plants and small animals.  It is also made of 100% awesome.  I am really curious to see the response to this one when it comes out.

One weekend, 3 tunes solid, foundations for another two… yeah, I like that progress.  We’ll revisit all the tunes again in a few weeks.  You have to do that; gives everyone a chance to listen, digest, and get annoyed enough with what they didn’t like about their performance to want to fix it. 

Now we just need to shake Tanya out of Boise for a few weekends. 


Work. by Marcell Marias

It’s been weeks since I reported on Shai Azul.  Which is lame.  There’s lots going on.  We go into the studio next weekend to lay down vocal tracks.  The instruments are done.  Vic, Oily, and I are already talking about CD number 3 and side projects.  We’ve decided on a new image for the band which, while not wildly different from the present look, fits us way better. 

I’ve just been too exhausted of late to write, blog, or Tweet about it. 

Like most aspiring musicians, I am presently working a day job.

And like most aspiring musicians, there’s a part of me that hates it.

It’s not like working a day job is anything new.  Being a full-time musician, for most of us, is taking a vow of poverty.  Sure, the top-earners are wearing Versace and vacation in Paris. Ain’t reality for most of us. Even a top-drawing local band is only making play money in the grand scheme of things.  And music costs money.  Want a guitar that doesn’t go out of tune?  Pony up $600 at a minimum.  Want a good, reliable amp?  Kick in a grand.  And don’t get me started on studio costs. The second disc is going to set me back about 3-5 large.  And that’s with the friend discount. 

So yes, after almost three years, I have returned to corporate America for a while.  By choice.  I’m in a situation where I don’t “have” to work…but the extra income is the tipping point in my little family.  Even if I were to walk away from the job right now (that won’t happen), it’s generated enough resources to pay for the next recording and upgrade some gear.  I dig my new synth.  It’s going to be all over CD number 3. 

I even really like the place I am working at and the people I am working with.  Learning lots of useful skills and staying out of trouble.  Being a contractor, however, isn’t so much fun.  Ever wonder why companies are reporting record profits and unemployment is still at 9%+?  Part of that, in my less than humble, is that many entities have discovered that they can get the same amount of work out of a contractor for half of what an employee would cost.  My Other (another contractor) encounters this at her workplace as well. Contractors don’t get much in the way of benefits, and sometimes, it almost feels like your nose is getting rubbed in it. It’s also hard to shake the occasional feeling that people in other departments know I have a limited shelf life, and maybe aren’t as civil as they normally would be because of it.

Still.  My immediate co-workers are a hundred different levels of awesome, and they take care of me.  And I reciprocate the best way I know how – work hard, solve problems, and kick ass.

I am reminded, though, of how hard it is to balance full-time work and full-time musical aspirations.  Work demands brainpower, focus, and attention to detail.  Music demands creativity, forward motion, and technical excellence.  And last time I checked, there was still only 24 hours in a day. 

I used to work a full-time job and be in 4 bands.  My Other and my friends also remind me that I was miserable, prickly, and never had time to do anything fun.  And that was also 10 years ago.

You know, I can’t really complain.  All things being equal, things are good. Shai Azul is moving forward, I can pay for it, I get to work at a place I’ve always wanted to work at, and I’ve even figured out how to cycle in (at least to downtown) a few times a week. Even if that does mean a 5:15am alarm.

But if you and I are at a party, and I should nod off on you…nothing personal. Just tired.  That alarm goes off awfully early most days. 

Because, like most aspiring musicians, I am presently working a day job. 


Persona by Marcell Marias

A good friend asked me why I bothered to go by ‘anoN’ a few weeks ago. 

It’s a fair enough question.  Not like most of you don’t know who I am. 

And so far, I have answered it with something snarky.  Like “Why not?” or “I wanted to.”  I have also taken on the pseudonym as an ironic, paradoxical play on the anonymity of the Internet, which is our main source of band information. 

And those responses are true. 

I got a chance to reflect on that a little more this past week, when my Other and I went up to Victoria, Canada for a few days post-Christmas.  It’s becoming a ritual; we’ve been up 7 times since we got married.  And it’s amazing what sort of state of mind you can get into when it’s helped along by cocktails mixed from 100+ year old recipes.  (Shameless plug:  If in Victoria, get drinks and food at Clives’ in the Chateau Victoria.  Have a sipper like your great, great grandparents used to enjoy.  It will NOT be fruity and sweet; it will taste like booze.  And you will like it.)

And I realized that the biggest reason I go by ‘anoN’ in this project goes back a ways.

When I first started writing songs, I wrote with a specific purpose and goal.  I consciously shaped my artistic expressions around these values.  And I did that for quite some years.  The bands changed; the purpose and goal did not. 

Times changed… I changed.  Things that used to make sense didn’t anymore.  And things that made no sense seemed less opaque. 

And by the time Shai Azul came into being, I didn’t want to write with a specific purpose and goal anymore. 

Thing is, this purpose and goal shaped a lot more than just music.  It shaped ME.  And not in a bad way.  The person most of you know is who I am because of that journey. 

I’m just… not sure how much of that applies anymore.  Times changed.  I changed.

And for some dumb reason, taking on a persona makes it easier to understand what all that means in the here and now.  It certainly encourages creative freedom.  Even were I to throw out all the false starts and half-written ideas, there’s 2 more discs worth of lyrics already to go. 

To quote a Stevie Winwood song, I’m the same boy I used to be.  Quick to smile and laugh; overly optimistic if prone to worry; enjoys a good drink; empathetic; wants to help; cares that his friends are doing well. 

But the blood, viscera, and thunder that’s coming up on the next CD?  That’s there, too.  Always has been.

It’s just getting a voice now. 

Happy New Year.  I hope your 2011 will be everything you hoped and dreamed it could be.

-anoN, also known as Tony by some. 


Dark. by Marcell Marias

It’s always dark now.

That’s not figurative or metaphorical.  That’s literal.

It’s dark when I wake up.  It’s dark when I travel to my temp job at a game company.  My cube is in the middle of the office; I have to stand up and walk to a window if I want to see daylight.  And there hasn’t been much of that recently.  It’s dark when I leave.

As I type this, I’m reminded that it’s winter solstice today.  Shortest day of the year.  Darkest, too.  Beginning around 4:30pm. 

Not trying to be depressing or imply anything here.  It’s just how it is in the Puget Sound in the winter.  It’s the price you pay for long beautiful summer days. 

Many say that the light shines on and reveals the truth.  But I have found that the darkness can be a mirror as well.

For if the light is certainty, the darkness is uncertainty.  And I have found that uncertainty is often minted in greater quantity.

It’s in times of darkness (this time both literal and figurative) that you find out what you really are.  Anyone can be bold and brash in the daylight.  But the sun goes down, it gets harder to see…and be seen.  What are we in these times when nobody’s looking?  Do we hold fast to our sense of honor and integrity?  Or perhaps we cheat a bit.  After all, it’s dark.  Nobody can see us. 

The darkness reminds us of what we fear.  Also not a bad thing.  We should have a healthy caution for what we cannot see, understand, or control.  But does the fear instruct you, or consume you? 

Yes, you can hide many things in the dark.  But you can never hide from yourself for long.  Eventually, the darkness forces you to look at things you’d rather not look at. 

Because there are times when we all feel small.  Alone.  Naked.  Afraid.  The question is not why… that part is inevitable.  The question is… what will you do with it?  What will you do in SPITE of it?  What will you be when all you want to do is cry, run, or vanish quietly into the earth?

This is the gift of the black, I think.  The opportunity to meet your frailties and weaknesses face-to-face… and by doing so, gaining power over them. 

It will be dark soon.  But that’s okay. 


Throwing it up against the wall. by Marcell Marias

I won’t lie.  I was nervous about our session back in October.

Not that we don’t have the right chemistry.  We do.  It’s just that when you get that many artistic people in a room together, things can go off the rails.  Egos can get bruised.  Ideas can fly so fast and furious that nothing really ends up sticking.

That was the concern I had going into the first combined session for the next Shai Azul compilation.  I’ve been working with everyone in ones and twos for some months; this time, I wanted to get everyone together in the same room.

On Mirror Darkly, I introduced the vocal parts to the singers in the morning and we cut the tunes in the afternoon.  With this go-around, I wanted more of their input.  Just because I came up with the melody doesn’t mean that it’s the best idea for the tune.  I’ve always known this.  But knowing it and giving the singers time to wrap their vocal chords around it are two different things.  It was also a first to have pretty much the whole band there… Tanya, Oily, Anthony, Vic, and Chris.  All we were missing was Kelly.  Something about small children needing attention or some such thing. 

I shouldn’t have been concerned.  I couldn’t have asked for a better idea session. 

We kicked off at around 10 am with just myself, Tanya, and Chris.  We set the rhythm for the day with the first song; spending some time listening to the tune, me singing the melody (big thanks to Tara W, my vocal coach, for giving me more training and confidence than I have ever had), and then turning the singer loose for about an hour.  As more people showed up, more conversations and ideas were thrown around.  But rather than just being a chaotic jumble, it seemed like every idea was a touchstone for forward motion. 

In fact, at one point, there were six of us working on one song. Vic, with tremendous artistic humility, said “Guys, I don’t know where to take this.”  You don’t often hear someone say that about their own tune.  So we all dived in.   And the song turned out better than we could have imagined for it. 

Lather, rise, repeat.  9 songs later we had gotten through the whole disc (or as much of it as we were going to get done that day). 

We now have a disc full of vocal ideas.  Sorry, you don’t get to hear any of it yet.  We used the time as a musical sketchpad rather than trying to get melodies set in stone.  So if I played it for you it would sound pretty scattered and random.  We got what we wanted - tons of ideas and direction.  It’s taking longer than I hoped, yah.  But this is all about making the best music we can.  If it takes longer, it takes longer. 

The work is in the vocalists’ court for a season.  And I am glad for the break. 

This disc is gonna kill. 


Space by Marcell Marias

Sorry about the silence.  Been kinda busy recently.  Took on a temp job which should run through the end of May 2011.  Hey, the recording won’t pay for itself.  And it’s actually a good time for this since right now the bulk of the development work is with the singers.  Has been liberating to save all the musical data to hard disk and put it away…in advance of the next project.  And there will be more.

The job is a good one; helping out with event planning, logistics, and management.  It stretches an existing skill set and adds new ones.  I like the people I work with and I still have time (although less) to do Shai Azul stuff. 

Thing is that it’s about 20 miles away, and I hate driving.

I take that back.  I like driving.  Some of my most recent fond memories are of long trips in the trailer down to SoCal.  I hate COMMUTING.  That ever so vexing time of day when everyone is trying to get to the same place as you.  Right now, it takes me about 50 minutes from my front door to theirs. Less than 22 miles. Blech. 

Now, I think I may have a plan.  There’s a bus that gets close enough to the office.  So the present plan is to ride the bike to downtown Seattle (about 6 miles), lock it up at this really neat bike storage place/shop, walk 2 blocks to the bus stop, and let Metro worry about everything else.  It will add about 40 minutes to the commute, but I’ll get exercise and won’t be burning gas.  All good things. 

I was reminded, though, as I rode the route this week, of the general lack of awareness people seem to have regarding the physical space they occupy.

Lest you think I am just calling out vehicle drivers, I have noticed this of pedestrians and cyclists as well.  I have been run over equally by things with 2 wheels, 4 wheels, and boots. 

I am not sure whether this is a Seattle thing, an American thing, or just a people thing.  Maybe we’re just used to having a lot of (literal) space here in the west.  Or maybe it’s just that we’re a busy people; lots going on in our heads.  It takes us out of the here and now, perhaps distracts us. 

Whatever the case may be, it’s oftentimes a little disconcerting to be on my bike and to see a car/pedestrian/what have you and to know, from personal experience, that all of my lights, reflectors, wild gesticulations, slowing down, and vocal prompts of “Passing on the left, please!” will go unheeded.  And one of us is going to have to make a drastic yield.  It’s usually me. 

Hey, I’m not perfect at this either. I am guilty of spatial cluelessness as well.  But being a cyclist has made me far more aware of my surroundings.  It’s also made me aware that BEING aware of one’s surroundings isn’t something that comes naturally to such as us who to live where we do, when we do. 

Let’s make a deal.  I will watch out for you.  You watch out for me.  Cool?



For the 50th Time… by Marcell Marias

By the time this goes out, we will have had our first studio session with (almost) everyone.  I hope to be able to report good things about that. 

However, before we get there, there’s a teeny thing I needed to do.  Finish up all my instrumental tracks.

One of them just about killed me, I won’t lie.

Funny thing is that it’s really not that difficult a riff.  It’s a repetitive 16-bar guitar hook.  It only happens twice.  So you think it wouldn’t be that hard.  But it’s the dominant part of the song it’s in.  It has to start strong and end stronger.  On a technical side, it also requires a fairly quick alteration between palm muting and picking.  So it’s not just bashing out slop chords, but it’s also not Flight of the Bumblebee.  Should be doable. 

And for the life of me I could NOT get it right.  Something was always missing in the performance.  A missed mute here, a wrong note there.  I added up the time usage while I was taking a frustrated break.  I had tried and failed to get the riff recorded correctly 50 times. 

So what do you do when you’ve blown it for the 50th time?

Play it for the 51st time.  Or however many times you need to so you can get it right. Or maybe even swallow your pride and re-evaluate the part.  Because that’s what it means to be a professional.  The whole is more important than any one part.  Get over yourself that you’re not a hot guitar player and serve the tune, anoN.

In this case, serving the tune was to simplify the riff down to the parts that were cool and iconic and jettison everything else.  6 takes later it was done.  And you will never miss the other notes. They weren’t really required. 

You know what?  Sometimes doing what you love really sucks.  It doesn’t make it any less cool that you get to do it.  But just because you love it doesn’t guarantee pure joy; sometimes it’s just soul-sapping work.  Just because you love it doesn’t immediately make you a master of it.  And it doesn’t always mean it comes out the way you envisioned it. 

That’s not weird.  That’s life. 

For the record, the guitar line that nearly did me in is the main verse hook from “House of Cards”.  That song should be out in the next 6 months.  And yes, you probably could have done it better.