“When others say “no”, find a way to “yes”: Tina Shafer of the Songwriter’s Circle and her advice for today’s musicians

TIna at Young Performers Night 2014, at The Bitter End night club Many artists we have come to know experienced their first big break at the right place and the right time. This is especially true for Billy Porter, a former pupil of songwriter/ vocal teacher and founder of The New York Songwriter’s Circle, Tina Shafer.

“When I worked with Billy Porter – who won a Tony 2013 for his performance in the hit Broadway Musical “Kinky Boots” – he was an unknown singer with one of the most amazing voices I had ever heard. In the late 90’s he got a record deal with my help on the A&M label.   He later went on to perform “Love is On the Way” a song I co-wrote for him that became the Center piece song in Bette Midler’s film “The First Wives Club”.   Later that year, Celine Dion cut “Love is on the Way” and it ended up on her album “Let’s Talk About Love”.  The Album sold over 33 million copies worldwide because it also contained the song “My Heart Will Go On” from the blockbuster movie “Titanic.”

The songstress, who I had the pleasure of meeting in-person at a performance at the New York Songwriter’s Circle held at Bitter End last month, also talked about another former vocal student named Lana Del Ray.  Those who follow Lana know her break was very different from Billy Porter’s.

“Lana, when she was studying with me,” recounts Tina, “wrote the song “Video Games” and most of the attention she first received was through online bullying.   She is very beautiful and an easy “hate Target”. As people started listening to her they then started actually liking her music.  There was a whole backlash of people that starting standing up for her.  It became a viral phenomenon.

But then, where do you go from there? How do you keep your fan base and the customer in mind?”

Music Historian has welcomed advice on how to make it in the music industry from current and former record producers, music publishers, A&R representatives. Now, I welcome advice from Tina Shafer, who is a vocal teacher, singer-songwriter and the founder of the New York Songwriter’s Circle that helps provide a welcoming community to those who work in the beautiful, yet sometimes, lonely and cutthroat world of songwriting. I welcome Tina Shafer to my blog.

Before I get into what Tina advises to current and aspiring musicians and songwriting professionals, I want to share her story about how she became involved in songwriter and began with The New York Songwriter’s Circle.  Music served as the background to Tina’s life. Her mother was a composer, and she brought Tina up in a house where there was always music. At the age of 4, Tina started to learn music in an experimental class for young children at a conservatory in Cleveland. Tina explains:

“They [the teachers] were trying to prove they could teach difficult theory and composition to young kids.  This is similar to the way they teach languages now to young kids.

“The first time I really decided to become a songwriter was when I listened to my first Joni Mitchell record. I was in the 10th grade. From there on, I decided to pursue music and songwriting.”

Just as she finished high school, Tina made the move to New York City, by herself, where she did not know anybody. She performed in clubs, including the Bitter End, and picked up any gig she could do. After 10 years in the city, she obtained her first publishing deal as a songwriter with Warner Chappell and started working with some big names. In addition to Billy Porter, she has written for Celine Dion, Donna Summer, Phoebe Snow, and performed with John Oates (Hall Of Fame), Suzanne Vega, Marc Cohn, The Hooters, The Spin Doctors, Gavin DeGraw, to name a few.

The New York Songwriter’s Circle officially started in 1991 held the first Monday of every month at the Historical Bitter End located in New York City’s West Village.   Tina originally took over the circle as a temp for the original founder. The woman who was initially in charge left to Nashville for a trip and decided to not return. In 2016, The Circle will celebrate 25 years of facilitating rising talent. I then wondered how the business model worked. 

“The New York Songwriter’s Circle is a platform for great talent and up and coming writer/performers but her own company “Tina Shafer Inc.,” I work as an executive producer, developing talent, and putting together  the best creative package to represent that talent.  This often includes, putting together all the musicians, writers, and producers, making an LP and finding the proper promotion.  This is known as “Content packaging”.”

The last component of her business model; marketing, is perhaps most crucial. According to Professor Ana Valenzuela, a faculty member at Baruch College, 75% of a plan for any type of business involves marketing. The other 25% are finances. Marketing enables entrepreneurs to understand who they are as a business, which customers they serve, and what makes the customers return to use the product or service.

Based on what I learned at the New Music Seminar earlier this summer, the same holds true for musicians. They must make music for their audiences. On the same token however, the music industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, making artists perhaps more vulnerable.

“When Vanessa Carlton – another Grammy nominated artist and student of Tina’s appeared at The New York  Songwriter’s Circle before making it big – (in 2002), some of these new artists received $400,000 advances  on their first record,” said Tina. She adds that in those days, record labels fostered artists’ development, now, labels do not want to pay for this. On the other hand though, Tina, just like Daylle Deanna Schwartz, asserts an artist does not need a record deal. She explains:

“All you [the artist] need is a great booking agent and advisor. Then you tour, make money from that, and create a record on your own. In a way, this is good, but it costs money to have a booker, a website, you have to pay for so much.

“Now, you have to be self-propelled. Ed Sheeran, for example, was couch surfing and writing with everyone and anyone he could when he started out, then got some air time. Then, he started touring with Taylor Swift.”

While so much has changed in the music industry, Tina reassures songwriters that even when record labels stopped paying for artistic development, Napster started satisfying customers who could get content for FREE, and self-recording and digitization has become more prominent; the only thing that has not changed is the need for great content. In other words, excellent records, songs, playing and performances. We are slowly catching up to the ways of the internet and trying to find avenues to get payment for content.

However, like everybody working in music, I heard a lot of ‘no.’ Even while I was in college, many of my colleagues who were vocalists were told they would have the hardest times finding work after graduation. Now, I find myself talking with a Tina Shafer, who is a conservatory-trained vocalist and guitarist who managed to make her dreams of being a singer-songwriter come true. Naturally, I wanted to know whether she had any advice for someone who is currently in college or in the music industry and receives a lot of discouragement.

“Anyone who goes into the arts will almost always hear that they are not going to make it,” says Tina. “You have to find a way to say, “that is not going to be me”. You have to recognize your strengths.  You may be an ensemble player, you may be a soloist, there are many avenues of music to explore”. “When people said “no”, it gave me [the chance] to find a way to say ‘yes.’”

Tina carries these encouraging words to her sons. Her oldest, Ari Zizzo who is 18 and becoming a well-known teen songwriter.  He has so far, opened up for artists like Mumford and Sons and this summer will open for Emblem3 and Demi Lavato at the Pop Tarts Concerts in Chicago.

Thomas, her youngest who is 16, is a sophisticated writer who hopes to become a film critic. The boys’ father is also a music producer. (Peter Zizzo)

Tina Shafer at the Songwriters Circle on July 7, 2014, The Bitter End In addition, Tina applies this lesson to The New York Songwriter’s Circle. While her company also works to help artists create content, Tina confirms that musicians must push themselves to connect with their own fan base, communicate with their customers directly, and get out into the performance spaces. In addition, good music will not change, and a great song has a way of rising to the top.

One might bump into a cynic who discourages them from continuing with the music industry, but remember this – while music is an undervalued industry, music consumption will double within ten years. Thanks to digital technology, the artist, who I believe can now become more personally involved in the marketing and distribution, has the chance to ultimately get closer to the consumer via social media. Therefore, the consumer can have a better relationship with the product. This gives way to great branding opportunities exist for today’s musicians. Also, musicians trying to fund a record through KickStarter.com help create business while increasing communication with their supporters and customers. Finally, digital vehicles like iTunes and Spotify can immediately deliver music to buyers. Fantastic customer service, right?

If you are a musician and worry about making money, your best option is to focus on the customer. A returning customer, whether it is a loyalist who will come to your shows or always buy a new record, will bring you the most financial return. Lastly, I can attest, that customers return for the good music. So don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Tina didn’t stop. If you happen to be a singer-songwriter looking for some help, check out The New York Songwriter’s Circle www.songwriters-circle.com

You can also check out Tina Shafer directly Tinashafer.net.

Plugging into Modern Southern Rock: My Interview with Kim Logan

 Behind the full-bodied and slightly sweet vocals of Southern Rock singer-songwriter, Kim Logan, is a fiery woman who know what she wants and what she is about. Lyrics like I’m a real good catch and I know it… from “Voodoo Man,” And I’ll give you three, but no more, turns across the floor/ But then it’s your turn, boy you better learn to be a gentleman, from the chorus within “Gentleman,” and finally, I ain’t someone’s other half/ I don’t like you baby, but I’m like you baby/ I think I love you but I don’t know if I should/ because there’s already one of me in the neighborhood from the song titled “Neighborhood,” which you won’t find on her first full-length record, but on the landing page of Kim’s website, will get the message across to any listener.

Although she recently turned 23, Kim has had a long road of musical development and plenty of real-life experiences which she transforms into great songs. In addition, she has an attitude about music today that matches the female empowered persona portrayed in her tracks.

“In the music industry today… It takes at least twice the work for a woman to accomplish half as much as a man. I really want to break that ceiling, and someone who has inspired me with lyrics, statements and actions has been Lady Gaga. What really disturbs me is Classic Rock and Southern Rock does not have somebody like that,” says the young musician. “I want to be the new millennium woman, the Lady Gaga of southern music, telling women and all creative spirits that it [the music industry] doesn’t have to be gender divided anymore.”

I agree with Kim on the subject of women in the industry. Daylle Deanna Schwartz, New York City’s first white female rapper will tell you that in the ‘80’s, women used their bodies to get ahead in the industry. Look back at the history of the American industry in your own personal time, and you will see women were only given two masks to wear – the emotional exhibitionist who was a sex object, or the unsentimental, bitter and passive-aggressive woman. Both of these facades are one-dimensional and superficial and sadly, female musicians are still expected to put on these faces today.

On a brighter note, there are female artists in country music that did not play either of these roles during the pinnacle of their careers, and led and continue to lead by a more positive example. One woman that comes to mind is Dolly Parton. I asked Kim about her thoughts on this, and while she agrees Ms. Parton continues to positively speak up for women’s and gay rights, her prominent years were the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The Southern Rock scene needs a fresh young face, and Kim hopes to be one of those new faces.

Yes, Kim is a very ambitious young woman. So I listen to her story of how she got into the industry, the positive experiences she had along the way, and what she wishes to make of them. In doing so, I begin to understand what fuels this passionate musician’s ambition, and why she chooses Southern and Classic Rock to tell her stories to the public. I am happy to welcome Kim to Music Historian.

Kim credits her mother and father for their support in her long road to becoming a singer songwriter.

“I always wanted to sing and my Mom worked in pubic relations and events for some really amazing people in the 90’s like singer songwriter Charlie Daniels, Southern Rock bands [like] Molly Hatchet and the Marshall Tucker band.

“I developed a special bond with Doug Gray, the guitarist from the Marshall Tucker band, and when I was about 9 years old, I was talking to him during one event weekend and he said I should go out on stage with Charlie Daniels at the end of the show and sing with him during a jam. Doug and Charlie jammed together after the show.

“I believe we sang “Amazing Grace” and Doug kicked my ass out on stage. Singing with Charlie and Doug is when I got the [rock ‘n’ roll] bug. I went to my Dad and told him I wanted to sing professionally, and I think my Mom had already realized that. My parents said “you’re going to do it right,” so they put me in classical and vocal training and the opera program in Sarasota, Florida for about a decade. This started when I was turning 9, and I did this all through high school.”

During this time, Kim also picked up the guitar. Her motivation was to accompany herself in her singing and songwriting.

“My parents got me a guitar and my father told me I wasn’t allowed to play electric guitar until I made my fingers bleed on my acoustic guitar, which he was right about,” says Kim. “I don’t know where I would be without a guitar in writing. I can’t do without it in the writing process, I want to have control over the writing process.”

Throughout high school, Kim also participated in additional musical activities such as playing in punk bands, party bands, blues and classic rock bands. Whether it was opera or songwriting, she was always singing.

Kim’s strong classical education helped her get into the Berklee College of Music in Boston for vocal performance. However, her desire to play honky tonk and rock ‘n’ roll made it difficult for the young artist blend into the Boston music scene.

“I think, at the turn of the millennium, everybody just got so crazy with music technology and music school, and students at Berklee had all of this new equipment available to them, they were held up in their dorm rooms tracking themselves and playing shows for other students,” expresses Kim. “It was also that weird blog [phase] that happened at the same time… and for the first 10 years of the new millennium, I think everyone was a little too innovative and saturated with music technology to get out to a show and plug their amplifiers into a wall and play. I wanted to play, not sit in a classroom anymore.”

So, the artist moved to Nashville to perform, record and tour. “Nashville is very centralized,” she explains. “I have been able to hit the entire deep south, including Texas, and then come back up to New England, and Chicago. I very briefly studied at Belmont, but that was more of an afterthought because my schedule for years has not been conducive to a classroom environment.”

Thankfully, Berklee College reached out to Kim while she was pursuing her career and Nashville, and she is now completing her music degree online. She hopes to obtain her degree from Berklee soon. Although Kim has been in and out of school, she never stopped educating herself in the history of American genres. Through self-education, she learned to appreciate some of her songwriting heroes and favorite musical styles. She explains:

“It really comes down to the fact that I am obsessed with Music History. Before I was in college, I sought to learn the history of the genres in contemporary music myself. I would just dive into everything from the 1860’s civil war tunes to jazz and the blues.

“What really lit my fire was the father and son team of John and Alan Lomax, who went to the Appalachians and the deep southern terrains and did their field recordings. When I learned about that, and the Great Depression, and where everything after that comes from, it helped me understand the songs of Jack White and heroes of mine who, have also gone back and learned the same things. I felt like I was going back and strutting the same path, learning the same things in order to create my own contributions.

“My potpourri of different stylistic attempts comes from a deep love of other genres of music and re-creation of southern and grace, and different types of music. This lets me stretch my muscles in songwriting and vocal performance. That’s sort of my life’s work there.”

 Pick up Kim’s self-titled debut and you will hear how she flexes her songwriting muscles. “Black Magic Boy,” a Southern Rock song with a grimy tin-like effect in the guitar will leave you feeling like you transcended into a barroom in a southern part of the U.S., perhaps New Orleans. Listen to “Devil Makes Three” and the pitch bending produced by the steel-peddle and the major melody within the tune makes one feel like they are driving through a small sunny town in the Midwest. Then, there is the blues-infused track “Gentleman” which includes soulful vocals that back-up Kim in the chorus.

Aside from her style of writing, Kim continues to display her love for music history in the Vinyl production of her debut record. I asked what attracted her to recording with analog equipment, as opposed to staying strictly with digital.

“It is a science that non-compressed music and sounds, which have not been diluted digitally, are much warmer, more open and richer,” explains Kim. “I recorded the album at a converted church, and I pressed the record at United.

“I am passionate about vinyl records, no matter who represents me or what management I am under. We want that instant gratification and that quick satisfaction of logging onto Spotify and hearing something from somebody’s iPhone or their party. When you are at a live show though, you are listening to real live music, and you want to take home a vinyl of that record so that you can listen to it and understand the artist’s brain, and why they felt it was necessary to create that thing.

“It’s plain and simple, but that is the best method of listening to what a musician has to convey and say.

“I do think analog and digital can go hand-in-hand, they both can be complementary.”

I remember reading articles in Brooklyn-based publications, like Brooklyn Magazine and I heard that the vinyl is making a comeback in some music communities. I thought back to when I had researched Kim Logan before I contacted her for an interview. Specifically, I recall feeling surprised when I learned about some of the other artists on the Artists on the Verge roster for the New Music Seminar, who also make Southern Rock music – The Blackfoot Gypsies, Jamestown Revival, and Carolina Story. I thought to myself ‘something is happening within the Southern and Classic Rock community somewhere in this country that is getting industry players here in New York City excited.’ In regards to Kim, I wanted to know what made her passionate about classic rock, and the other form of classical music that attracts her, opera.

“It really is the timelessness in a piece of artwork. Each movement, whether it was classical, romantic or experimental in opera, were associated with distinct feelings. It was both a genre and community.

“I feel that way about classic rock and I feel that way about the blues, classic country, and the new wave of classic country that is currently happening. You have a community of artists who are trying to achieve a certain standard while enjoying art as much as possible.”

As I got to know more about Kim, talking with her in the very crowded and active second floor lobby of the New Yorker Hotel, I wondered about her personal observations of the music communities throughout the U.S. What did she think about the scenes throughout the different places she has lived?

“The scenes are going to be completely different in almost every city in America. Everything springs from the ground up. There are very different kinds of people in New Orleans, Atlanta, Nashville and Chicago.

“I think Nashville and Brooklyn have become my favorites. I spent a lot of time in the Boston and Brooklyn scenes trying to connect with some of the bands, who came from indie pop music. There were many blog-driven Pitchfork bands with whom I did not connect. I was happy to take my act to Nashville where I not only played with large bands, but also became a fan of the bands.

“As Americana has taken hold, and as retro recordings make a comeback, like vinyl, it feels good for musicians playing rock ‘n’ roll, country and soul.”

While this young artist works towards greater goals like being a positive role model in the Southern and Classic Rock genres; like every savvy business person, she is always setting little goals along the way. Kim self-produced her debut. At this time, she gets ready to make a second record with producer, Dave Cobb.

“I am excited to work with this guy because I think it will provide the perfect combination for what I want to hear on my record, and what I want everyone else to hear. I am returning to the studio in the late summer and I am aiming for a Fall release.

“I think I am going to tour on it, and start the whole cycle over again. I think I have beaten this last record almost to death, and it’s time to get some new material.”

At the moment, Kim is currently unsigned. If any producers or A&R agents in New York City plan to attend CMJ in October, I encourage you to check out one of Kim’s shows.  If you are an industry player in Nashville, watch out. She is playing several shows throughout the summer.

Between her move to Nashville in 2010, and the release of her debut in 2013, and her appearance at the New Music Seminar, so much has changed for Kim, and the development of her career continues.

“I have put out records in March of 2013 after I had gone down to the SXSW Festival and I did not have merchandise nor any recordings, and I scrambled to release this record so that I could take it on the road. Then, I got an article in the Nashville-based Native Magazine, and it all kind of tail-balled in the last year and a half.

“I’ve been on the road, and I have been working my ass off, and the iron happens to be hot. Absolutely everything has changed, and I’ve checked a lot off my list since then. I’m really grateful, and I want to go to as many places as possible and bring the best records there. It will only get busier.”

Music history lit this young artist’s fire. Plugging-in to a performance space with other musicians and making something happen helps feed that passion. Whether listeners are attracted to her country songs, driving rock ‘n’ roll riffs, or blues-infused choruses, they are bound to hear the voice of a woman who delivers stories about her real life experiences through clever lyrics, thoughtfully written compositions, and warmly recorded sounds.

She might be a combination of a music nerd and a young woman who reveres the Southern and Classic Rock legends who were big in the 60’s through the 80’s, and in the early millennium. Regardless, Kim Logan has found her voice within this genre, and she flexes it freely. She comes to the city as much as possible to bring her sound to Southern and Classic Rock lovers here in New York City, Nashville and just about any city she can reach. Kim says, “I want to get people excited about it, and I want people to put money, time and energy into real music, with real instruments.”

Soul, a foundation that can’t go wrong: An Interview with Juicebox members, Lisa, Nick, Isaac & Jamie

Juicebox Perform at the New Yorker Hotel (l-r): Isaac Jaffe, Lisa Ramey, Nicholas Myers, Aaron Rockers Juicebox, the soul and funk band based in New York City, experienced several positive changes that launched them into a new direction after they released their 2012 single “Occupy my Heart.” Isaac Jaffe, the bassist of the band, shared the story of the birth behind this sultry and contagious single.

“I wrote this song while we were on a previous tour. It was probably one of the first songs where I wrote the lyrics before the melody. In my head, I pictured this song as a Neil Young-type of folk song – one with a falsetto voice which was sweet and a little bit wistful. Then I said, ‘there is no way the band is going to want to play that.’ So, I gave it a few weeks to kind of incubate and then I found a rhythm and the syncopation for the song.”

Saxophone player, Nicholas Myers, singer, Lisa Ramey, and then the newest member of the band, percussionist, Jamie Eblen laughed with Isaac as he shared this story.

After the single’s release, Juicebox toured Italy. Isaac claimed that sharing a song with people in a very different place was incredibly thrilling. Lisa added, “That’s when we turned to being pretty cool. We were nerdy cool, then we were not nerdy anymore. Now, we had this style, we had artwork, we were the Juicebox guys.”

As I interviewed these four members from the seven piece band, I noticed how elegantly they answered each question. Like a perfected performance piece, nobody interrupted each another. They came in with their own words and comments in a timely manner, never too soon and never too late. All members neatly and smoothly connected their comments so that they flowed like a well-written article. It almost felt like they had a structure for the way they interviewed. I had the same thoughts regarding the composition within their songs. So I asked the group how important structure was for a band like Juicebox?

“It’s not so much structure as it is about communication,” said Isaac. “That’s the key. Because of the improvisational thing, we have a pretty clear roadmap of how we work, but at the same time, every once in a while, our guitar player will play something that is too good to run away from. With the bands all in the same place, you are plugged in and there is nowhere to run.”

Whether or not soul and funk are your thing, Juicebox has proven there is really nowhere to run when you listen to their music live or on a recording. That is why I just had to interview this band. As I talk with them, I soon realize what will attract all types of listeners to Juicebox. Read my interview with the band right here on Music Historian to find out.

Starting in 2009, all the instrumentalists in Juicebox met through the jazz performance community at New York University. Isaac was a senior when Jamie was a freshman. Prior to Jaime joining the group, the five piece group of male performers recruited Lisa while she playing with another band in the city.

“She was singing back up with another group,” recalled Nick, “and I said to myself, ‘what is she doing singing back up?!’ She needs to be in front of the band! We did not have a singer at that time, we were only instrumental. We wanted to be a band but could not find anybody. Then, we saw Lisa and said “we need her. She is phenomenal. We need her out of the background and right up front. It was a match.”

Lisa remembers the moment this five-guy band approached her as being a tad terrifying. However, she quickly recognized the opportunity to come into the forefront. Juicebox perform at the New Music Seminar Conference on Tuesday, June 11th. (Left - Right) Isaac, Jamie Eblen, Lisa, Nick and Aaron

“I enjoyed being in the background, and I knew I would sing in the front. But at that time, I was trying to perform and get out in front of people. They [the Juicebox band] said ‘you are up in the front, in the middle, go!’” she explains. “I actually remember being so nervous when I sang in front for the first time with the group; I had all of the lyrics and everything written out. I thought I was not going to get hired for the job.”

“That was a really great show,” added Isaac. “I remember we had been playing in many downtown bars, performing mostly soul, jazz and instrumental stuff. Then, we did the first show with Lisa – I had only known Lisa after we hung out once or twice – and she started singing, I looked up and saw her immediately rock the crowd. I thought to myself this is probably the coolest experience I have had being up on stage. So, I knew it was going to work out.”

“I am the quiet one here because I was not around to see any of this,” said Jamie.

If you need a little more convincing that Juicebox is a band you must hear, consider how this ensemble can move a crowd of rap and hip-hop enthusiasts. This happened to be the case at the New Music Seminar during the performance nights, when Juicebox performed next to hip-hop artists, Dylan Owen, M Bars, and Lanz Pierce at Tammany Hall on the Lower East Side, on June 9th. Speaking to the group, I learned that although hip-hop might be very different stylistically from funk and soul, these two genres have something in common. Nick explains:

“All of the hip-hop artists sampled records we listened to. That’s what first got me to listen all of that stuff [soul], I would listen to [hip-hop] songs on the radio and I figured out the samples turned out to be my favorite parts. When I heard a sample from Stevie Wonder in a song, I would go and listen to the original song by Stevie Wonder.”

Returning to the show, Lisa said, “Everybody loved our show… With a foundation like that, you can’t go wrong. It was a hit.”

I then asked myself, which soul artist presented an example for Juicebox, and what have they done to move that influence forward? What is the most important element within soul for this band? Finally, how do they fit in today’s music scene while remaining distinct?

It turns out the name Juicebox, pays homage to one of Nick’s personal idols, James Brown. Aaron Rockers, the trumpet player within the band, suggested the name and it clicked.

“In his [James Brown’s] band,” stated Nick, “all the instrumentalists called themselves the JB’s, and we look up to them. So then, we thought about Juicebox and felt it was really cool.

“We went through many names and thought, ‘oh that doesn’t feel right.’ Then Juicebox immediately felt right, and with the type of music we had, it [the name] makes sense. Plus, it makes everyone feel positive when they say then name.”

Personally, I don’t see how anybody can ever get angry saying the word juice box. In regards to music, I don’t recall a moment where a person got angry saying the word soul. Soul is supposed to make you feel good. Nick adds, “that’s what we’re about.”

Juicebox at the New Yorker Hotel Jamie then entered the conversation with his thoughts about Juicebox’s performance practice – “Another crazy thing about the band is that they are in different settings and it’s kind of like a chameleon. When we play live, we will have a different vibe, whether it is one for a dinner club or bar. We’ve also played acoustic sets.”

“It’s going to be much different than when we play at Rockwood,” adds Isaac, “where we put the pedal to the metal, beat one and we hit the crowd. Then, it’s like ‘Wow! Did that just happen?’

“I think that’s where all the time we put in playing in different jazz bands… [and] whether we played in a club about 100 times… we are still improvising… we’re trying to be fresh.”

Nick concludes, “I think that is an important part of what we do. I think every time I listened to a James Brown record, he rearranged his theme at every live performance.”

Juicebox rightfully recognizes the JB’s, and they find great comfort in incorporating the music element that attracts the group to soul and funk – improvisation. So, what is Juicebox doing differently from the other bands I have interviewed thus far? The answer is this, they read the audience.

Depending on the setting, Juicebox will slightly improvise certain elements within their songs to match the tone of their performance settings. Juicebox’s has mastered this into a winning strategy.

“We put in a lot of work learning how to win over the club,” explains Isaac. “You walk up on stage, and you see people [in the audience] eating dinner, talking to their girlfriend, or doing whatever. You have to start small and figure out how you are going to get your ‘in’ with them, and have them listen to you. That’s all we really want, is to play music people want to listen to.”

Isaac adds, “We’re getting to the point right now that, when we walk on stage, people automatically think “I am going to have a moment with this.” That I feel is a real privilege and I’m really thrilled. That makes me happier than anything else.”

As all marketers know, word-of-mouth is the best form of promotion. When listeners start feeling this way about a band, the word spreads. When the word spreads, the possibility of an A&R representative or a music producer attending a concert increases. Lisa attests that in this industry, the chances of getting accepted within this industry is very opportunity-based.

“Someone saw us and recognized us. Everyone here, and out there, understands how hard that is, and it is a matter of someone who came to see you, and maybe they liked you, and then maybe they will talk to somebody who will maybe look at your stuff. With all of those things happening, we just feel really honored.”

While for many bands, this career path is full of a lot of maybes, one thing that will always be definite for Juicebox – they will always give their listeners an unforgettable show and music that will move them. According to Isaac, dancing is a level below talking, the internalization of music listening.

“If it hits people there, when they are dancing and they feel it, then I know we did a good job.”

Nick adds, “My personal goal is to leave fans completely speechless.”

Based on fans’ testimonials, Juicebox has accomplished what both Nick and Isaac want. Fans have given testimonials like “Can’t stop moving,” and “[They] murdered it. Oh my God, so funky,” just to name a few.

Juicebox will now continue to bring more great music to audiences with a second album and a second tour which are supposed to peak sometime this Fall. Keep your eyes peeled on their website or Facebook Page for updates.

If you do visit their website and listen to their music, I will say this Lisa’s voice is powerful within all the songs. What makes me remember this group the most is how the instruments come into the forefront with the singer, they are not just accompaniments. I wondered whether Juicebox treated the human voice as an instrument, or the instruments as voices.

“Personally,” began Lisa, “I am not Ella Fitzgerald. She is a natural horn. I can’t say I am a horn but, I can say in body movement, I play every instrument. I consider our band to be an act, a function of different people. Everybody has a chance to shine. I think we are all a bunch of instruments.”

Isaac enters, “I think it’s interesting because, for a long time, all the music I wrote was instrumental. Then, when the shift came, I gave Lisa some words to sing, and that changed the way I wrote songs, and in a really good way.”

“Yeah,” agree Nick and Jamie.

Isaac continues, “I think it [the voice] really made the instrumental parts deeper… and they reflected what was happening in the voice. So, I think there is an important separation there.”

“I think it brings the instruments closer to the vocal side, which positively influences the way we play… They are not meeting, but they definitely inform each other, and that really helps along the way,” adds Nick. Juicebox at the New Yorker, on June 10th, 2014

Isaac intercepts, “I was going to say, there is something really satisfying when you’ve got this idea built in the melody within the horns, and then Lisa delivers a lyric that makes everyone fall on their head, and set up the delivery. That’s really satisfying.”

“I’m glad we’re having this interview,” responds Lisa.

So there it is. In addition to Juicebox’s successful delivery of soul and funk, and improvisational music that is sometimes missing in today’s popular music scene; this group makes sure that everybody has a chance to shine. Just like the JB’s, this band relies on all instruments equally to deliver a great piece of music. Yes, they might say the instruments and the voice complement each other within the music, but nobody here is an accompanist.

At the moment, electronic pop seems to come to everyone’s mind when they hear the word “dance music.” Juicebox is plugged-in and they constantly master the craft of live performance as opposed to relying on automated technology. The only drawback is this group still has a small audience. The right exposure, however, and additional time to increase their fan base might be the next step in spreading Juicebox’s soul and funk onto the modern scene.

The 1st Day Experience of the Governors Ball Music Festival

Bridge to Randall's Island from Manhattan

If you came to the Governors Ball Music Festival on Randall’s Island for the first time this year, you probably learned to expect the unexpected. For one, I learned the shuttle from 126th Street and Lexington Avenue to the West End entrance to the festival is far more convenient than walking the bridge, which stretches along the entire length of the Triborough Bridge. If you really want to experience the bridge, which results in a 30 minute leisurely walk or a 15 minute jog (at 5mph), go for it, as long as you are not running late for the show.

The Chain Gang of 1974 and Little Daylight at the Gotham Tent

I ran to the grass field underneath the Gotham tent from the East end entrance to catch the last few seconds of The Chain Gang of 1974’s performance of “Sleepwalking,” the single from the Los-Angeles based band’s second full-length release, Daydream Forever. Afterward, Kamtin Mohager introduced the closing song for their set, the hit that most fans recognize from their 2011 debut Wayward Fire, “Hold On.” The strength about this performance lays in the fact that the band was able to display plenty of gusto in their performance, and the lead singer’s efforts in paying attention to the audience members at the right hand and left hand corners of the standing area just beyond the stage was appreciated by the audience.

My only criticism at this moment focuses around the tent as a proper performance space. The speaker for the bass player might have been too loud, preventing me to hear the little nuances in “Hold On,” like the little trills in the last two minutes of the song that are produced by a synthesizer. However, this might also have something to do with the elongated tent. A highly raised canopy over the entire audience standing area and the sound control panel possibly made the sound bounce more than project.

I experienced the same loudness with the next band Little Daylight. Luckily, the timbre of the lead singer’s voice and the rhythm-driving synthesizers in the songs stirred my intrigue about this band’s musical style. Little Daylight is one band to research in the future.

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Charging Stations and Conversations at the Miller Lite Tent

After Little Daylight’s performance which concluded at 1:30pm, I scouted the festival area to see the different business vendors, merchandise tables, game areas and food stations. By 2:30pm, the battery on my Samsung Galaxy had a life just below 50% and I knew I had to find a charging station quickly. At the festival, Citi Bank has a charging station for Citi Bank card holders. Then, the lounges reserved for VIP ticket holders had charging stations, but exclusively for these customers. My last hope was the Miller Lite lounge between the Gotham Tent and the Governors Ball Stage. I successfully found a station – a small bar table – where I could charge my phone, place my iPad mini, and chat with some interesting fellow concert goers.

The first visitor came from Melbourne, Australia. A college student who was traveling after completing a semester abroad in Los Angeles. He booked a ticket for the ball in January to see Outkast, and had come to the festival early where he waited to meet up with a friend. The other was a resident of Queens, who had moved to the states from the Philippines when she was 13 years old. She had also come to see Outkast, and while she planned to meet with friends for the entire three days, she claimed she wanted to attend the festival by herself for a few hours.

The young college student claimed that spending the first few hours of the festival alone enabled her to partake in additional musical acts and activities the festival had to offer without compromising her preferences. This reminded me of one of the perks of attending festivals alone – answering only to yourself.

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The third stranger stood across from me from the bar table. He currently studies music business in college, and he came to the festival to see both Phoenix and Outkast. As I typed notes on my iPad mini, he told me about the festival last year and the shows that were cancelled due to Tropical depression Andrea – a storm that had not affected me, but certainly affected those who attended the concert. Luckily, many of the bands set to perform during that unfortunate storm were rescheduled the next day. Trust me, wet New Yorkers, who spent hundreds of dollars on a festival ticket never want to hear that the band they paid so much for and traveled long distances to see, cancelled the show.

The final visitor I spoke to came from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and he talked to us about the difference in security etiquette and people’s behavior at Bonnaroo versus The Governors Ball Music Festival. Apparently, Bonnaroo allows visitors to bring with them a specific amount of alcohol into the premise as opposed to Governors Ball. Based on experience where I saw a member of the security staff empty the booze from one man’s whiskey flask, I can attest this festival very strictly imposed a zero-tolerance rule. All alcohol had to be bought and consumed inside the festival gates.

Some Market Research: How Guests Used the Governors Ball Smartphone App

Governors Ball Smartphone App I asked these four visitors how they created their plan for the festival. They used the free Governors Ball Music Festival app. I too used the app and conducted a simple quantitative marketing research, a T-test in which I analyzed the number of times app users scheduled specific shows within their own course in comparison the number of app users who said they “liked” a band playing at the festival.

The data showed that more people scheduled bands than “liking” them and my initial hypothesis was the means for the samples of these two populations were very different. I then ran the test, and thanks to some help from one of my Facebook friends, I rejected my initial hypothesis. In layman terms, there was no difference in the mean of the two sample sizes of those visitors who included a band in their itinerary, and those who simply “liked” a band; those who scheduled the band perhaps did not bother to “like” the band.

All four concert goers claimed they used the app more for scheduling purposes than for fandom entertainment. I happily gathered some qualitative marketing research to help support the T-test results. Plus, it brought me great pleasure to find a way to mix what I learned in my Business School curriculum with social data from a large-scale musical event.

Janelle Monae and Bastille

As 3:00pm approached, I checked my Governors Ball Music Festival app and saw that I had to head to the Governor Ball stage for Janelle Monae’s set. During her set, I experienced the importance of little steps to the perfect spot within the audience that would give me an excellent view of the stage. While I got a view of the stage, I was so far away from Janelle Monae, I could only take pictures of her from a distance. Here was the best I could do; and in the midst of all my efforts, I indulged in the sounds of her hits “Electric Lady” and my personal favorite, “Queen.”

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My experience with seeing Janelle Monae taught me that if I wanted to have a better view, a closer view of the stage and the artists performing, I had to arrive at a set at least 20 minutes early to beat the stand-stills of the crowd and squalor and ultimately, get a decent place for taking pictures. Luckily, whether a large mass of people dominates a large outdoor space or an intimate indoor setting, the performing artist can facilitate a sense of community among listeners. Bastille demonstrated this in their performance by performing covers of songs from the ‘90’s many of the audience members, especially those around the age of the band members, knew very well. These selections included “Rhythm of the Night” by Corona, and TLC’s “No Scrubs.”

(Please check out this great slide show of my pictures made possible by Google+) https://plus.google.com/photos/103337755454641381498/albums/6022561660631199729

Aside from creating a temporary sense of musical nostalgia among attendees; Bastille’s covers helped the audience sing along comfortably and confidently with the band. Of course, let’s not forget that members of the audience had come to listen to and watch live performances of Bastille’s original record, Bad Blood. Here is a snippet of one of their songs titled “Blame.”

At a particular point in the set, singer Dan Smith left the stage to travel through the crowded audience, followed by a single bodyguard while he sang the vocals to the song. Although this move easily excited the public, the tone of the atmosphere felt civilized. Everybody is respectful of each other’s space, including the musician’s. However, one audience member did overstep her – at least I assume it’s she – boundaries when she threw a bra on the stage. Dan picked up the undergarment and read the message penned on the inside of the cup aloud. I don’t remember the message verbatim, but I believe it suggested that Dan should Snapchat with her sometime. I recall that one of the musicians hung that bra on the keyboard and left it there for the remainder of the set.

(Here is a collection of all my footage from the Bastille show in one teaser. If you enjoyed it on my Facebook page, you’ll love it on my Google+ account) https://plus.google.com/photos/103337755454641381498/albums/6022559621574821937

This story covers what I did on the first day of the Governors Ball Music Festival. I look forward to sharing more content from the festival right here, and I will plan further ahead in the next days.

Alyson Greenfield Releases “Uncharted Places” on May 30th

Alyson Greenfield is one of those artists who are everywhere, both behind the scenes and center stage. Now she returns to the scene with new music and debuting her single “Uncharted Places.” Greenfield will release the track at the Roc-Elle Records’ curated Brooklyn Night Bazaar on May 30th at 8pm, performing alongside Hearts revolution, Ninjasonik and Demetra. See event details here.

Greenfield recorded “Uncharted places” at the Converse Rubber Tracks Studio with engineer Alex McKenzie, and then mixed the track with Roger Greenawalt. Watch some of her experience right here:

“I’m so excited to finally release Uncharted Places,” says the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. “I’m also very excited about the new direction my live performance is taking. With the help of collaborators Interroben and Nate Morgan, we are able to produce a more dancey vice, which I hope translates into a more communal and vibrant feel.”

Alyson Greenfield performing at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Brooklyn on May 30th

 

Throughout the indie music scene in NYC, Alyson has become known for partaking in multiple projects. In the Fall of 2013, she directed and performed in the Tinderbox Music Festival. Earlier this year, she worked with film director Michael Carr to score a feature film The American Templars, and also had placements in the film SuperSleuths which premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. During this time, Alyson also formed a new synth-pop side project, Polyvox, with collaborator Joe McGinty, who also collaborated with Psychadelic Furs, and The Ramones. Additional highlights include becoming a regular at the Loser’s Lounge series at Joe’s Pub, and a featured performer at the 4th Annual Brooklyn Rock Lottery alongside band members of Oneida, Bad Girlfriend, Superhuman Happiness, and Rainer Maria.

Alyson is also known for participating in various musical communities throughout New York City. She talks about some of her experiences in this clip.

Experimental Classical Music Exists in a World of Art: My Conversation with Ian Fiedorek, composer of Fallout Symphony

Ian Fiedorek Experimentation with classical music quietly lingers around the New York City music scene. Singer songwriter Ian Fiedorek, and the composer the project Fallout Symphony states the following about experimental culture and instrumental music in the city, “I don’t think too many people are thinking in terms of the classical structure, the four-movement structure … but there’s an incredible wealth of experimentation happening in New York generally. By nature, categorizing or pigeonholing this music can be difficult, as it should be.”

Ian recently completed the shooting of a music video for Fallout Symphony’s second movement “Jim Crow”, with the help of film directors Nasa Hadizadeh and Robert Dume of Cultured Productions. This fashion-charged short film which captures the avant-garde beauty of the song. The themes of paranoia and overcoming bigotry addressed in the lyrics – “I’m your guardian angel now, tearing this all down to timeless/ There’s an ancient bigotry that’s always set in drunken stone/ I will stop their hateful words tonight” – are emotionally conveyed in the music and video.

Watching this beautiful video, I could not help but raise the following question – why experiment with images that, while aesthetically pleasing to the eye, do not capture the historical aspect of the song’s title?

Ian answers my questions and also talks to me about this experimentation, and touches on the following for this type of musical among today’s listeners. It is my pleasure to welcome Ian to a full-length interview feature for the month of December, right here on Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

Musical Background

Ian began studying classical piano at 7 years old and grew up a pop/rock aficionado. He appreciated classical music for its long-form structures and physical challenges, two attributes that attracted him intellectually. As a mode of expression, he states “nothing was as viscerally impacting as picking up a guitar at age 13 and writing songs. Fallout Symphony is something of an amalgam of these two components of my musical upbringing.”

After studying music at NYU and Cal State Los Angeles, Ian entered the NYC music scene as a guitarist for Harlem Shakes. Then, in 2012, he continued as a solo artist. Ian does not see these life events as transitions, but as “lateral movements between projects.” He explains: “Studying music was beneficial, but it was mostly an excuse to devote my time to making music. Performing in Harlem Shakes and other bands while working on my own material is all part of an intuitive progression in my view. I never thought in terms of ‘going solo,’ I always viewed myself as a singer, songwriter and composer who dabbled in a couple of different projects on the side.”

Harlem Shakes and Fallout Symphony differ immensely from a musical perspective. One is an indie rock band that is very performance-centric, mobile and public. The other is a 30-piece orchestra that is restricted to recording music in a studio, Ian spends hours after rehearsal mixing and editing.

Fallout Symphony is a far more insular experience than Harlem Shakes or other bands I’ve been in – there’s a moment in the timeline of production where it’s very collaborative, but generally, it’s you alone in a studio putting together the most detailed and thorough score possible, then later, the clearest final mix.”

Fallout Symphony

Creating a band is easy, and many of them emerge spontaneously in NYC. One might agree that the cultural scene in large urban and cosmopolitan areas are often saturated with the typical pop-rock band, the guitarist, drummer, bassist, a keyboardist, and a lead singer. Very rarely do we hear about symphonic groups emerging on the popular music scene. When I asked Ian about what classical musicians are doing on today’s musical scene, he responded, “I haven’t met many artists experimenting in this particular way [the classical structure].”

Ian describes Fallout Symphony as an ambitious, kaleidoscopic effort, and bold musical vision; one which mixes symphonic elements with vocals and a lengthy lyric sheet – something unusual in classically influenced music. I asked Ian about his greatest influences:

Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was an influence on me – his use of non-linear musical cues and motifs was a large reason I structured Fallout Symphony to be through-composed, in many ways quite unstructured. Only a few of my motifs loop around and appear again. Mainly, the entire 40-minute duration is all new sections. I relied on the lyrics to be the glue of continuity, helping the piece cohere.”

The song and video for “Jim Crow” Ian Fiedorek in his music video for "Jim Crow"

As I thought about what Ian meant by continuity, I recalled how the lyrics “Now I know I dress like Jim Crow,” sung after “I am your guardian angel now…” contrasted each other. I wondered whether Ian did this on purpose.

“The lyric is,” Ian explains, “’Now I know why you dress like Jim Crow’ – as in, you are in ‘tattered rags.’ They have brought you to a breaking point, you are a non-entity to ‘them’… These lyrics are all of a piece I would say, or at least are intended to be so. It is about overcoming the bigotry, whether tangible or ethereal, foisted upon the “you” character in the story.”

According to Ian, if we had to identify the “you” character of the story in “Jim Crow” by watching the music video, “you” would come in the form of a tall and brunette young woman with deep set eyes. One moment, she gracefully models the most beautiful 1930’s inspired clothing, the next moment curled up in the corners of a dark room appearing frightened and confused or reaching out to touch an invisible figure.

When the video’s main character is dressed in her glamorous garb, she is often sitting down on a couch in a foyer with a piano. At this piano sits Ian, playing. In other shots, he stands behind the young woman. Both characters in the video have their own inner story stirring simultaneously. This is visually represented during the first two minutes and 30 seconds of the song in which two different coherent musical ideas are played at the same time. Although these two characters visually appear together in certain scenes, they never interact with one another, at any time within the video.

Screen shot of the music video for Fallout Symphony's second movement "Jim Crow"“Certainly, having the two characters never interact was intentional – authorial intent perhaps is not particularly germane – but I believe the male character,” who is Ian, “is something of a figment, a specter, in her [the main character’s] troubled mind.”

Then, there is the main theme of the music, a theme that talks about the inescapable oppression cast by society. In this case, Jim Crow is relevant to this theme; but I did not feel the music video reflected this theme at all. I inquired about the artistic inspiration and the intention.

“We did not want the video to be too ‘on-the-nose,’” explains Ian. “We felt, instead of literally translating a narrative of overcoming bigotry, it would be more effective to let the lyrics do that heavy lifting, and instead create a more general narrative for the video about conquering one’s own ailments and mental spooks.”

The video for “Jim Crow” was shot in one day, on a budget that Ian describes, was lower than what the final product presents. He credits co-directors Nasa and Robert for “wringing the sponge of all its possibilities.” In addition, Ian believes the video “came to fruition in the way any good piece of art does – with some really good planning and some very happy accidents.”

Ian asserts, “I believe the video as an entertaining piece of work in its own right, complements and contextualizing the music to be heard from new angles, with heretofore undiscovered wrinkles.”

The audience looking for this musical and visual experimentation

The making of Ian’s video was supported by the donations of fans and people interested in Ian’s music – a type of support that allowed Cultured Productions to put the finishing touches on both music and artwork, and the replication of the Fallout Symphony CD. When I asked Ian about receiving this support, he responded, “It is fantastic. Art exists for the community, and to have that community support its creation is a blessing.”

Through the video for “Jim Crow,” Fallout Symphony exhibits that postmodernist classical music through the help of visual imagery makes a greater emotional impact on listeners. Ian helps listeners understand that music exists within a world of art, surrealism, culture and most importantly, a community that wants to hear experimental classical music.

It is my pleasure to share with readers this beautiful video. Thank you Ian and Nasa.

Roger Greenawalt on Music & Business Part 1: Running Shabby Road Studios

Roger Greenawalt at Shabby Road Studio. Courtesy of Originalhipster.net Last week, on one of the windiest evenings in January, I stopped by the Shabby Road Studios to talk with record producer Roger McEvoy Greenawalt. I asked him what a high-quality recording requires, and he says, “All you need is a good microphone, a mic pre-amp, and an audio digital converter like an M-Box going into a computer.

“That’s it; then knowing where to put the microphone, and a good musician playing a good part on a good instrument. Finally, a good mixer can make anything sound serviceable.”

As my conversation with Roger continued, I learned that while anybody can produce a record, a musician needs more than talent and ambition to become a professional.

My debut full-length interview for 2013 will be divided into two parts. In this article, part one, I talk with Roger about: the most important lessons he learned as a musician in his early years; the day-to-day in the life of a record producer at Shabby Road Studios; and the advice he has for young musicians looking to make it in music.

Early years with The Dark

During the start of his career in the early 1980’s, as a guitarist for the band The Dark, Roger learned the difference between a musician that was ready to take on the music industry, and one that was not. Roger explains:

“We [The Dark] were on Relatively Records at the same time as the Beastie Boys, when they were putting out their first record, “Cooky Puss.” And Megadeath was also on the label. We were at the right place at the right time. Our music, structurally, was cutting-edge, but not suicidally so.

“I think ultimately though, we had two weaknesses. The first was all my fault – I was the leader of the band and we did not develop an effective business team. Although we had some good PR instincts, we just couldn’t focus on them.

“Art lives in a system defined by commerce. Visionary entrepreneurs like David Geffen, for example, actually curated the culture. The artists that were closest to him defined the core of a dominant style and they acquired the best reputations. Think Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Are they really the best of their era, or did they have the best PR and management?

“Secondly, our singer did not believe whole heartedly that he was the “Joseph Campbell” hero character. He would not inhabit the hero. He thought it was okay at the time to make fun of the rock star. Our singer was a virtuoso but he didn’t really believe he was a star. He made fun of it and didn’t really own it; so that gave people this view: “If he doesn’t believe it, then I don’t believe it either.””

Transitioning into the Recording Business

Roger eventually became The Dark’s ad hoc manager. Then, in 1983, the band parted ways.

Roger then describes the transitional period in his life from the guitarist in The Dark to learning the business of the recording studio.

“The Dark won a Battle of the Bands contest, and we won the time to do a record with Rico Ocasek at the Cars Recording Studio Syncro Sound, on Newberry Street in Boston. Then, I became the habitué at the studio and just insinuated myself there and made myself useful.”

Roger’s experiences at The Cars Recording Studio later took him to different recording experiences in the United States and abroad. Roger has only been living in Williamsburg, Brooklyn at Shabby Road Recording Studio for the past 13 years. Prior to this, he lived in Los Angeles; Kingston, Jamaica; and London. He briefly touches on what he experienced in each of these musical landscapes.

“During the time that I was in London, in the 90’s” Roger says, “the major label businesses were flushed with money; very different from now. I liked the energy of that city; it was similar to that in Los Angeles at the time. I still like the energy of LA now.

“When I lived in London, I was always learning a lot about new music. London is fantastic for music – their [London recording studios’] recordings are just more exquisite. They have more quickly evolving styles, they’re cutting edge. Since it rains there all the time, people stay indoors more when they record music.”

Working at Shabby Road: “…master the technical stuff and listen widely and voraciously.”

Living and working in different studios will definitely provide a developing music producer with plenty of experience. The more experienced the producer, the better they are at the craft. Roger states:

“To be a producer is to master the technical stuff: audio engineering; the physics of music – to understand that music is a subset of the physics of sound; and also the challenge to become an expert on as many musical instruments as possible; and listen humbly, widely and voraciously.”

During our interview, Roger exhibited to me exactly how the required skills of a music producer would translate into the everyday work of creating a record.

“My job is mixing and recording albums. I’m actually making loud speaker paintings.

“When we look at a classical musician, like Bach Concertos or especially Ravel, we figure out what to do with all the tones, frequencies and the ranges. Then, there is Nelson Riddle and George Martin and Max Martin to contend with. Time is the magic that music flows within. The rhythm of what’s coming out of the speakers, the display of all the different frequencies. What are the words being spoken/ rapped/ sung? You ask yourself ‘what do you do with all of that?’ ‘How do you disperse the energies to tickle the human brain and the nervous system just right?’ ‘Where do you draw the line between structure and surprise?’”

Roger on bass at the Shabby Road Studio. Image courtesy of Originalhipster.net Roger continues, “I really like playing reggae bass. I’ll give you a taste of what reggae bass is – the opposite energy-wise of the ukulele, which is a collection of high frequencies just floating and dancing above in the hi register. The voice is here, in the middle,” he shows me with a flat-hand positioned in front of his mouth, “and the ukulele is here,” he moves his hand above his head, “and the bass is down here,” he re-positions his hand below his chest. “So it’s great that the voice has all this space and the bass generations so much more energy without clouding the vocal.”

Roger plays me a line that is typical reggae bass. The line is written in a minor melody, and is easy to remember and repeat. He then picks up the ukulele and plays a few staccato minor chords. He plays these chords again in an arpeggio, and then changes them up again my turning these chords into major chords. Meanwhile, for every variation, he repeats the same minor bass line.

“There is a lot of color that can go over it [the bass line],” concludes Roger.

Whenever an artist comes to Shabby Road Recording studios, Roger applies a similar technical process to every client. The instrumentation and the goal for each recording session varies widely though.

“For musicians I haven’t worked with before, I ask them to send me a Spotify list of all their favorite stuff. I will listen to these songs with the artist and talk music. Then I will play them my favorite stuff and say “this is what I think is cool.” Then we would make a Venn diagram and see where our likes overlap.

“In the same moment, I will also try to tactically push a formal element so that this way, we are consciously doing something innovative without abandoning my two core values. The first: hook and second: groove. And crucially, the emphasis is on the singer. After that, everything is up for grabs: what instruments; what historical influence; what ensembles; tempos; and mood/feeling.”

Confident and Experienced Musicians are Interested in Learning

Artist Kiddeaux (Left) accompanied by Roger Greenawalt (Right) in the basement of Shabby Road Studio. Photo courtesy of maneatingseas.com  Roger’s job goes beyond providing the recording space and acting as master of the equipment.

“I don’t want to be anyone’s bitch,” he enumerates, “nor do I want to oppress anyone. I find that the more confident and experienced the person is, the easier it is for me to collaborate with them and the easier it is for them to listen and take advice.

“It’s painful to work with the inexperienced and insecure. They’re unable to put excellence outside their ego.

“I ask, “Can you be taught?” Because if they are interested in learning, then I am as well, and I see they want to be on a team that learns together.

“I don’t care about me and what I think, I care about the thing being excellent; and that takes a little bit of maturity.”

Of course, there are plenty of artists that know exactly what they want when they enter a recording studio; that is to put their song on a record. While Roger is open to this idea, he still expects more openness and commitment to the creative and collaborative process from the musicians that enter his orbit.

“If a musician has songs to record, I’ll be up to record their songs. I’m still into all of that, but I would rather start songs from scratch and create songs together.”

For The Young Musician: the benefits and challenges of the industry

Shabby Road Studios caters to musicians looking to get serious about their craft, and sometimes that means the artist must step outside of their normal routine and create new songs with producers. Based on what I learned from Roger, the musicians that are open and willing to accept this are the ones ready to take the first steps in pursuing the music industry. So what are the benefits and the challenges of taking on such a task today? Roger explains:

“There are multiple levels of rewards. The arts are good for people’s soul. Talented artists that work for themselves and are not working for any corrupt institution that oppresses people is a win/win for humanity.

“Aside from the grandiose and narcissistic personality; fame is necessary for economic survival in popular music. Fame is just part of the job. On a spiritual level, it doesn’t have to be who you are. There are a range of celebrities that are more-or-less well-adjusted. There is a range between Amy Winehouse and Tom Hanks.

“The challenges? Now, you have to be an artist, an entrepreneur, run your own small business, find your own scenes and drive people yourself. You have to be very good at that and adapt. The more you adapt, the faster things are going to change for the better for you.”

Recalling my past interviews with artists, each one encountered a specific obstacle. Sometimes it involved growing comfortable with performing in front of a large crowd, discovering a signature sound, or seeking the right ensemble. Each musician found a way to overcome their challenge and continued on their professional path.

What I didn’t realize until I met Roger is that economic success for a musician also depends on their ability and willingness to firstly, grow artistically and secondly, learn from a producer with extensive experience on the business side of music. Like Roger confirms:

“Being good at music is just not enough. We have to be good in business.”

What’s ahead?

Since I am talking to a music producer that has a ton of experience under his belt; my debut interview with Roger Greenawalt will continue in part two, which I plan to have up by the end of the month.

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele with Roger Greenawalt: A Breath of Fresh Air

The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at the Brooklyn Bowl is a musical collaboration between young singer-songwriters on the New York City music scene and lifelong instrumentalists that met for the purpose of celebrating the canonical music of one of the most world renowned British bands.

Image Music producer and ukulele player Roger McEvoy Greenawalt led this event for the fourth time. This year, the back-up band he played with was The Angry Buddhist East Band. On stage, from 8:00pm to 12:00am this past Wednesday, Roger was also joined by a number of musicians of different professional backgrounds.

The Brooklyn-based experimental singer-songwriter, Alyson Greenfield was the first artist to jam with Roger on a cover of “Glass Onion” and “I Will.” The electric violinist who has toured the world with Cyndi Lauper, appeared on Saturday Night Live and the Late show with Conan O’Brien, Deni Bonet helped Roger and the back-up band transform the upbeat “Please Please Me” into a folky minor-key serenade. Avi Wisnia worked with Roger to turn “She Loves You” into a slow and sensual cover that echoed the pop singer-songwriter’s signature Bossa Nova sound.

Additional artists that joined Roger that night included: Mike Rimbaud, who covered “Can’t Do That”; Olivia Mancini who performed a rendition of “I’m Looking Through You”; the ukulele female duo, Supercute that performed “Getting Better”; Leah Siegel who performed “Oh Darling”; the underground industrial rock musician, Yuzima who covered “Hey Jude”; Craig Greenberg who together with Joy Askew performed a rockin’ version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”; and many more.

One might call this event a breath of fresh air, especially if the individual looks to get away from the confines of mosh-pit concerts or the house DJs in New York City’s most expensive clubs. The Beatles Complete on Ukulele allows Brooklynites to enjoy music among a crowd of respectable musicians and audience members. On this note, I will talk about some of the reasons why this event is attractive, as well as reasons for why some people might be turned away. 

A Wide Range of Listeners

The meeting of musicians of all ages and different musical backgrounds attracts a crowd of people that come from different walks of life and span across a wide age range. Some audience members might have formed a friendship with the musician from past shows, and have come to this event to lend their support and see a familiar friendly face on stage. Some might have just come from work, looking to have good and clean musical fun.

The majority of the audience absorbed the atmosphere and performance vibe just in front of the stage. The bar in the back of the performance space, just at the right of the coat check, was occupied by individuals that had planned social meetings with several of their closest friends and acquaintances, and purposely wanted to keep the music in the background. However; this is not to say the music didn’t reach them at all in the foreground of their conversations.

As I waited at the bar for a Brooklyn Lager and a long flat bread pizza, I listened to Craig Greenberg and Joy Askew play “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and applauded them. A British man in a long black blazer and shades to my right joined me in my applause and remarked “This band definitely rehearsed!” I responded with a nod of agreement.

Everyone enjoys themselves and the music 

I watched Yuzima lead the crowd in a sing-along to Paul McCartney’s “Hey Jude” – a moment that lifted everybody’s spirit and created a sense of community in the audience. Earlier in the program, Leah Siegel sang her rendition of “Oh Darling,” in which she gracefully choreographed a physical performance that communicated beautiful anguish. This performance could only make some of the feel like Leah was specifically singing to them.

 Whichever artist came up to the stage, Roger was always in the foreground interacting with the main act. This makes audience members, especially those who are new to the Beatles Complete, naturally think that Roger is a part of all these groups. As for those who are returning for a second time to watch this line-up, they will also feel like Roger is a part of every musical act. Roger’s complete sense of comfort and joy in performing with each consecutive performer might attribute to this visual affect. Some might even begin to wonder how he finds the energy to stay on for the entire four hour program.

Ticket holders get their money’s worth   

I applaud the musicians for overcoming the distractions from the bowling area adjacent to the main stage. Every musician that night performed with Roger and The Angry Buddhist East Band like they were at an intimate venue. Attendees can rest assured that they will get their money’s worth at the Beatles Complete.

On this note, I should mention the ticket is only $10.00. However; if you are very pleased with what you hear and see, you will probably feel compelled to enjoy some food and drink. Now, here is where I believe concert attendees will run into a petty and annoying detail: Brooklyn Bowl is an expensive place.

Price for food and drink a little bit high

The drinks are all over $6.00 and customers can only use credit cards for a minimum of a $10.00 purchase. Although this might be great for attendees that crave food; a dish as simple as a Margherita flatbread pizza is at least $10.00. This and a drink come to $20.00 per individual, and this is only bar food! In addition, the kitchen closes at 11:00pm – something that audience members must research in advance.

Although I can come to understand the kitchen has to close at some time; the price for food and drink is still a little bit high. However; I do say the price is definitely worth the great experience at The Beatles Complete.

Avoid the “Gypsy Cab” after the show

I must also warn concert attendees that if they wish to take a cab home, they must vigilantly seek a yellow cab service as opposed to the white or black Lincoln Town Cars that are used in the highly popular and dodgy “gypsy cab” scheme. The outside of Brooklyn Bowl will be lined with both real taxi cabs and false ones.

See who is active on the NYC Music Scene

In conclusion the positives of The Beatles Complete on Ukulele at Brooklyn Bowl weigh out the negatives. The greatest strength about this performance includes Roger Greenawalt’s love for the Beatles, ukulele and collaboration with great artists on the independent music scene.

I am happy to share some very muffled-sounding videos from Wednesday night’s performance right here on my Youtube channel. I apologize for the poor sound recording quality but I hope readers form a good idea about the experience they might have if they’re interested in coming out to Brooklyn Bowl either for next year’s Beatles Complete led by Roger or other musical occasions. And then, of course, there is always the bowling.

Finally, for those real music lovers out there; The Beatles Complete is a great opportunity to see who is active on the independent music scene of New York City. Most of the artists that performed with Roger on stage that night are very likely to have something new – an album, a tour, or exciting musical project – taking place in the New Year.

So, to those that came out to the Beatles Complete last Wednesday night, I hope they enjoyed themselves and the musical experience. For those who did not, I encourage them to learn more about the musicians, including Roger Greenawalt, and make a trip to Brooklyn Bowl for next year’s performance.

The life lessons behind cross-dressing: a Review of Yentl Today

This Fall, the New York City-based troupe, The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective is reproducing the play by Leah Napolin and Isaac Bashevis Singer, Yentl.

In the story written by Singer, Yentl the Yeshiva Boy, a young Jewish woman living in Poland at the end of the 19th century, desires nothing more than to study from the sacred text, the Talmud. This means defying the rule that women are prohibited from reading scripture; and the only way she can pursue her dreams is by impersonating a man. Playwright Leah Napolin would later adapt this story into a play, which would then be adapted into a film in 1983, starring the actress that immortalized the character of Yentl, Barbara Streisand.

The BSTC production of the play under the direction of playwright, Steven Carl McCasland, doesn’t have the same pizzazz as the Streisand film, with the various musical numbers sung by the main character. Instead, the music in this 2012 remake is pushed in the background to conveying a restricting, uniform and orthodox atmosphere of a Polish town at the turn-of-the-century. Men and women sing songs in four-part harmonies that sound liturgical. All songs are composed in minor keys; with maybe just a few staccato rhythms that would make only the most attentive listeners do a double take but nothing more.

So if the music doesn’t do it, what makes this production of Yentl so desirable? Simply put the themes of cross-dressing and bi-sexual tendencies that are still a taboo in our society today, and most importantly, the lessons we learn from watching the main character explore these taboos.

Today, so many young people like Yentl are on a search for their own identity and eager to reach their desired destiny. Sometimes that requires temporarily stepping away from a life they know or are expected to live and understanding the realities of the life they want.

“God, what did you bear women for?”   Yentl (Mallory Berlin)

Yentl grew up as the only girl in her village whose father taught her the Talmud. During this time, a woman was prohibited from reading scripture. As Yentl matures, her parents realize she is not ready to be a wife. Further, Yentl has already set her sights for her own future on continuing her studies. Yentl’s wishes put her at a constant disagreement with her parents, even her father.

In the play’s opening scene, Yentl, played by Mallory Berlin, is quarreling with her father, played by Orlando Iriarte. Mallory successfully displays Yentl’s desires by bluntly dismissing the idea of living as a housewife. Meanwhile, Orlando exhibits a blatant impatience as a father that tries to deal with his stubborn daughter.

Strangely though, there is a compassion and bond between father and daughter that audiences will immediately feel. Although Orlando’s character recognizes that though he is slightly responsible for Yentl’s negative attitudes towards marriage and the feminine way of life; he also treasures the relationship he has with his daughter, which might have been facilitated by Yentl’s interest in the Talmud.

 When Yentl loses her father in the second scene of the first act, audience members can further understand why she is more adamant and more anxious to live a different way of life. In this moment of the play, Yentl is mourning her father’s death with his colleagues at a synagogue, and she joins the men in saying Kaddish, a prayer. However; they do not welcome her because women are forbidden from reciting this prayer and thus, leave her to herself. Then Mallory helps unleash Yentl’s voice in a time of confusion and sorrow. She says at the top of her lungs:

“God, what did you bear women for? To have children, to light candles? Then why give them souls?”

Our protagonist’s father, the only man that ever accepted Yentl for who she really was has passed; and now she worries that her only means for survival is to marry and abandon her dreams. It’s clear to her that In order to continue on to a life of study, she must travel into another town, change her identity and attend the Yeshiva, a Jewish school. So, she disguises herself as a man by the name of Anshel.

 

As a man, Yentl enjoys the freedom to study

In the second scene of the second act, Anshel comes off as a shy, stubborn and defensive young man. Yentl makes sure that Anshel keeps his head down in the Talmud in the company of male classmates, insisting he needs to study though he is ahead of all the students. Yentl does not want anybody to wonder why Anshel refuses to undress in front of other men; why he cannot grow a full beard; or why he covets at the naked body his 24-year-old classmate, Avidgor who is played by Peter Oliver.

Viewers watch as Yentl learns to behave like a man. Throughout the play, Yentl becomes close with Avigdor as a study partner and a friend under the disguise of Anshel. Avigdor reveals personal information to Anshel, including that he is already divorced and still in love with his ex-wife, Hadass, who is played by Kim Sweet. Avigdor even asks Anshel to talk with Hadass. Avigdor trusts that Anshel will find out whether Hadass still has any feelings left for Avigdor. Middle: Anshel, Yentl's diguise (Mallory Berlin)

For the first time in her life, Yentl feels like an intellectual equal among men that are not her father. As Anshel, she enjoys the freedom she so desired; but little does she know that even men in these Jewish towns are expected to fulfill specific roles as well. Our cross-dressing heroine slowly discovers this as she becomes better acquainted with Hadass in order to learn how she feels about Avigdor.

While Yentl plays the information medium, Avigdor develops an uncanny attraction for Anshel, who as far as he’s concerned is just another Yeshiva boy. This is evident when Avigdor expresses to Anshel, “Why can’t women be more like you?”

One might see Oliver’s character, as what we would call today, bi-curious. However, Avigdor is not one to consider a romance with another man. Avigdor admits to Anshel that he still needs a woman in his life, and announces that he is ready to marry another woman in town, Pesha.

The bi-curious and the heartbroken: Yentl lies with a woman

Like a good friend, Avigdor suggests that Anshel marry Hadass, but little does Avigdor realize that inside Anshel there is a woman slowly falling in love with him.

Left to right: Avigdor (Peter Oliver), Anshel (Mallory Berlin) At Avigdor’s engagement party, Anshel gets drunk, flirts and kisses the groom, falls on the floor and almost blurts out Yentl’s true identity. As a result, Avigdor leaves the Yeshiva. Yentl who feels disappointed and betrayed, asks for Hadass’ hand in marriage in order to get Avigdor’s attention, and eventually, it works.

By the middle of the play, viewers have so far believed that the gender-bending and bi-sexual themes within this play have been innocent. The second half however shows the dangers that our heroine faces in carrying the disguise of Anshel. Not only does she risk revealing her true identity; but the further Yentl is dragged into this love triangle, the easier it will be for her to commit one of the ultimate sins – “laying with one and wishing for another.”

In the scene that follows, Hadass and Anshel sit across from one another talking about the engagement, the hero turns to the audience, in a narrative, comments to the audience on how great it feels to have the freedom and power of a man.

Audiences now see a vengeful and selfish side of Anshel. Berlin successfully exhibits Yentl’s full transformation into her male disguise as she shamelessly exercises knowledge and power over a previously heart-broken woman who believes she is receiving a second chance in marriage. Anshel and Hadass lie in their wedding bed, and Hadass has no clue that it is Yentl’s fingers penetrating her; she believes she is making love to a man. Further she expresses her true emotions to Anshel when she says, “I feel like we are two bodies with one soul.” Then Anshel reveals that he feels the same way…about Avigdor.

The realities of living like a man Left to Right: Anshel (Berlin), Hadass (Kim Sweet)

As the marriage between these two develops, Hadass slowly becomes unhappy while Yentl grows tired of constantly upholding her disguise. Playing the role of the male did have its perks, like freedom to study scripture and choose any spouse. However, Yentl discovers that the pressures of being a proper spouse and having children can be just as taxing for a man, as it is for a woman.

Viewers now watch Yentl come to the end of her days as Anshel in a scene where Berlin’s and Sweet’s characters are trying to communicate their feelings to one another. Here, Yentl insists that Hadass can learn the Talmud like any man and find personal happiness in this. As Anshel opens the book and starts reciting the first lesson to Hadass, she directly expresses a lack of interest.

Yentl fulfilled her dreams of studying the Talmud among men as an equal, and now she learns that not all women have the same desire. Some, like Hadass prefer to live the life that is expected of them and find contentment in tradition. Afterwards, Yentl leaves Hadass, and makes arrangements to meet with Avigdor so she can reveal to him her true identity.

While Avigdor is upset to learn that his best friend from the Yeshiva is in fact no man at all, his emotional attachment to Anshel has not disappeared. Avigdor even proposes the idea of marriage to Yentl in hopes that she will accept. After all, Avigdor needs a woman. Yentl however refuses.

Our protagonist recognizes the bond she had with Avigdor once was false. Avigdor is really in love with Anshel, but Yentl has finally become tired of playing the man in order to feel accepted and appreciated for her intellect. She wants to be herself again.

Identifying with Yentl: Neither a Blessing nor a Curse

At the end of the play, Yentl has completed a full circle and has come back transformed. She traded back her pants for her skirt. The only thing she has not given back is her love for the Talmud.

One can say that through her gender-bending journey, Yentl learned more personal lessons than any man at the Yeshiva. She committed the ultimate sin; partook in taboos; and came out transformed. Yentl realizes that being a woman is not a curse and being a man is not a blessing, and living one life is not necessarily better than living another.

Yentl’s lessons might resonate with individuals in today’s society that might believe people belonging to a specific gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or religion have an easier time achieving certain goals and living a fulfilling life. The Beautiful Soup Theater Collective’s production of Yentl proves to us that such thoughts are based more on beliefs than actual facts.

Yentl became a man and entered a Yeshiva based on the belief that she would have complete power and freedom over her destiny. Once she experienced the life of a Jewish man, our heroine realized that Anshel would experience just as many restrictions as a woman. The takeaway from Yentl’s experience is learning the sacred text and reciting from it freely and having a male counterpart, like Avigdor accept her as an equal.

The BSTC is currently showing Yentl at the Gene Frankel Theater from now until October 21st. Visit the official Yentl Facebook Page for this show to learn more.

3dCosby’s Daniel Harris Talks about Band’s Latest Album, Satan’s Secret and “Doing Family”

 On the hot and muggy Thursday, June 21st, I traveled to Williamsburg to visit the Cyn Lounge. Here, Avi Wisnia was hosting his annual BBQ Block Party. Although the heat persisted as 8:00pm rolled around and I was sweating through my work clothes, I was happy catch up with Avi to hear some of the bands in his line-up. One band I particularly enjoyed was 3dCosby.

The songs by this band that caught my attention included “Paint by Numbers” and the humorously-titled track, “Star F*cker.” Both songs are featured on their latest record, Satan’s Secret. All of 3dCosby’s tracks combine funk and jazz. Occasionally, they will add a special musical technique called polyphony – the playing of four different voices or melodies produced by the guitar, keyboard and bass all at the same moment.

During their performance, the front man of 3dCosby, Daniel Harris, invited audience members to dance to some of the instrumental pieces. The audience, me included, responded positively, and moved to the rhythms of their songs inside the small cemented outdoor space of the Cyn Lounge.

Daniel Harris on guitar and mic at the Cyn Lounge, June 21, 2012

Daniel admits that “it’s great to see people respond to it [our music].” However; Daniel and the member of 3dCosby who is perhaps closest to him, Matt Ross, see music making as more than just a means for having fun; it is how they “do family.” Over a telephone conversation, Daniel talked to Music Historian about the history of 3dCosby, the album, Satan’s Secret, and most importantly, the development of their style. I am happy to introduce 3dCosby as the full-length interview feature on Hear; Don’t Listen for the month of July.

Pre-beginnings of 3dCosby: Hillel

Anybody who listens to Daniel talk about 3dCosby can believe that this band is a family.

Daniel says, “Matt and I initially met when we both moved to Monroe, New York. Our Moms introduced us, and we were pretty much attached at the hip. We went to the same camp; we were in the same Jewish youth group” and they made music together from an early age. Daniel continues:

“We both grew up around music. Matt’s Dad was a professional musician who practiced saxophone and flute. My Dad taught me to use the turntable when I was 3 years old; and in the 4th grade, I started playing cello and Matt picked up trumpet. In the 5thgrade, I picked up guitar, and at that time, Matt and I would listen to songs on the radio and write our own lyrics.”

Daniel Harris and Matt Ross, courtesy of 3dCosby’s site on bandcamp.com

Daniel and Matt initially dabbled in the idea of forming a band. Then, once the two hit high school, the idea slowly turned into a reality.

“Matt and I wrote our first song at 14 years old called “Never End” inspired by the author, Michael Ende who wrote The Never Ending Story. We also started playing in bars, coffee houses and in people’s backyards at that age too.

“Our band was first called Hillel (named after Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), though we eventually changed the name to Ethan’s House of Pancakes. At the end of high school, I got a call from our friend Alan asking if I wanted to start a new band with him. “Can Matt be in the band?” I asked. Alan said “Totally,” then added, “We have a gig in two weeks at the House of Blues in Boston.”

Daniel admitted that playing the House of Blues was an epic opportunity for him and Family Junction at the time. The band stayed together for about 7 years. While they were in the process of recording a series of 5 EPs, Hillel separated. Daniel describes the break-up:

“We [all the band members] started taking on extra projects. Matt was working with other bands and I was working on solo stuff. We made the collective decision not to play anymore shows until the EPs were completed, which ostensibly was a diplomatic way for us to sadly agree that things had come to an end. In the Fall of 2008, I put out my first solo album, “Thirty-two bit isn’t really eight bits better” which you can check out on http://www.iamdanielharris.com.”

Luckily, the break-up of Hillel was not the end of the friendship between Daniel and Matt. These two would continue to make music together.

“This is just what we do – we’re brothers, and at the foundation of our relationship is music. It [music] keeps us together and it keeps us sane.”

“It All Made Sense”: A few jam sessions and songs later, a new group and record forms

Although Family Junction was over, Daniel and Matt decided to come together for a jam session in 2008. Daniel enumerates:

“After the band was already broken up, I drove to Matt’s house in New Paltz and decided to just jam. We soon started writing songs in his living room.

“We just wanted to see what would happen, and as we continued writing together, we soon had enough songs to make album. Just last winter, we decided to make a record which transformed into 3dCosby’s first album.”

3dCosby still remains just Daniel and Matt, and their friends that are invited to play during live performances. So far, the band gained tremendous recognition for their album, Satan’s Secret. The track “Paint by Numbers” became the band’s hit.

3dCosby’s album cover for “Satan’s Secret”

“This [“Paint by Numbers”] is a funny track. My younger brother wrote the lyrics, and it is about a guy named Colors, who only saw in numbers, and a girl named Numbers, who only saw in colors. It was originally an instrumental piece, but someone demanded we add lyrics. So, we gave Jesse, our bass player, my brother’s story, and asked him to write the lyrics.

“This song also makes fun a band we played with a few times. We still love them, and so we decided to tease them in “Paint by Numbers” because we feel one of the ways you show someone you love them is by teasing them.”

After the album was completed, Luke Sullivan, the musician who mastered Satan’s Secret suggested that 3dCosby send “Paint by Numbers” to Michael Marotta, a disc jockey who played songs by local artists in the Boston area on WFNX.

“Luke suggested we send the single to Michael. So we did, and he wrote back to us within 3 to 4 hours and agreed to spin it on the air. He also asked us to follow-up with him once the release date for the album came closer. Then, we were played on 4 to 5 difference station, and we made it to the top ranks on a few music charts like “The Deli New England.”

“The attention from the press was just flowing very naturally and it all made a lot of sense.”

3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret”

Daniel and Matt have constructed their own world of excitement by incorporating their own jokes into their songs. In addition, the dance beats and funky rhythms and dissonances that accompany the lyrics in 3dCosby’s songs invade the minds of attentive listeners and music lovers without creating any discomfort or pain. Daniel validates my thoughts as he explains the meaning behind the album title.

“When we were naming the album last year, this joke happened to come into our minds; then it became that 3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret.” We want to destroy you,” joked Daniel as he continued to make a reference to the Satan character in the 1999 South Park movie.

As Daniel and I continued to talk, I soon realized that we were starting to joke between ourselves. I reiterated back to Daniel my understanding of why 3dCosby thought that “Satan’s Secret” was a great name for their record. I said to him:

“Satan’s Secret is 3dCosby. They want to destroy you, and so do you. They will annihilate you in the best ways possible, and it will seem like you’re not being destroyed at all.”

Daniel responded, “That’s great, write that down.”

As our conversation continued, I saw the progress between the beginnings of 3dCosby to the band’s full-length, Satan’s Secret, which was released in February of this year,as the result of Daniel and Matt’s musical development, their friendship and the appreciation of different musical styles. One individual that Daniel credits for fostering his and Matt’s appreciation for music is their history teacher from junior and senior year of high school, Mr. Lee.

“He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path”

“When we graduated,” explains Daniel, “he gave me a copy of the book On the Road and two Frank Zappa albums. I didn’t listen to them until the year 2003. I was going to attend a protest in NYC against the war in Iraq, but ended up spending the weekend in Monroe, New York at Matt’s house.

“When we were there, we really wanted to listen to something we had never heard before, so I found one of the Frank Zappa albums Mr. Lee had given me and I remember listening to the first track titled “Inca Roads” off the album, One Size Fits All.We loved this track; we literally took it with us in the car and drove around Monroe for one hour listening to this song.

“This marked an important musical change in my life. This motivated me to get Frank Zappa’s albums, and through listening to them I was inspired me to revisit an album I already possessed by John Coltrane. Afterwards, I eventually fully understood jazz.

“So, if it wasn’t for Mr. Lee, we wouldn’t have learned to develop an understanding of jazz. He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path. That’s why, when we released Satan’s Secret, the initial idea was to make 3 copies of this CD: One for me; one for Matt; and one for Mr. Lee.”

“People…whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music” 

Although Daniel and Matt graduated high school over 10 years ago; have experimented with several different musical groups; and have each jumped from job-to-job in order to support themselves; the members of 3dCosby always remember the friends that have helped them and the communities that facilitated their growth and love for performing.

“This is what we want to be doing and we’re doing it our way,” says Daniel. “We’re gregarious; we have a strong sense of community and we love meeting new people. We also stay in touch with our friends from home. Matt still keeps in touch with the friends he’s known since he was a child.

“Through this album, and through music, is how we do family. When people see 3dCosby, and listen to the record, they get to know who we really are and they also see our profound dedication to music, as well as our humor and what music does for us as individuals. People get it. Whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music.”

3dCosby is currently working with a third party on a Fall tour for this year. They are booked to perform at Lit in New York City on September 22nd. In the meantime, the duo will continue to make music and perform for audiences everywhere they travel. For Daniel, playing music and doing music with Matt “means more than what any words can appropriately describe” – playing together is “a saving grace.”