Not to Get Lost to the Scrolling Sands of Your Timeline: Roger Greenawalt’s 366Visions

The healing power of music comes in several packages. Roger GreenawaltRoger_Greenawalt_ukulele_happy – who has worked with Iggy Pop, Albert Hammond Jr., Ben Kweller, Rufus Wainwright, and Nelly McKay – experienced his healing power with music starting with Twitter poetry. What is Twitter poetry and how does it work with music? Roger’s project 366 Visions will launch online on April 17th, 2015 on Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud simultaneously. On the same day, he will premier 366 Visions as a live performance at Webster Hall. Both occasions will provide the answers.

In late 2013, as he recovered from cancer surgery on his throat, Roger experienced complications which left him unable to speak. He began to write furiously and found a new voice in Twitter poetry, poems that fit into the 140-character limit of a “tweet.” This literary form that has received praise and support from the Poetry Society of Great Britain, former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins, and Yoko Ono.

Roger then challenged himself by adding visual and audio elements to the poem, combining Twitter poetry, original Instagram imagery, and self-composed Soundcloud music into a single unified piece called a Vision. He says:

“I found the challenge of fully expressing myself as a writer in 140 characters not unlike the challenge of expressing myself as a singer in a three-minute pop song.”

Roger begins each Vision by asking for a word from a guest “Celebrity Vision,” a well-known artist, and then inspired by the words, composes a poem in his head. Along with his “Celebrity Vision,” he edits the poem to exactly 140 characters. The Celebrity Vision becomes the subject of a photograph inspired by the Twitter poem. Roger then composes and expertly records an original song with music inspired by the photograph, using only, and all of the words of the Twitter poem as lyrics. Then, he simultaneously posts the poem on Twitter, the photograph on Instagram, and the song on Soundcloud. Through the act of publishing it across these social networks, the Vision comes to a completion.

“It is impossible to experience the work without participating in all three of these social networks,” says Roger. “By combining elements on Twitter, Instagram, and Soundcloud, this work breaks down artificial barriers between these gated communities.

“A Vision is not only content. It is an event that takes place in a moment, and then lost to the scrolling sands of your timeline.”

Perhaps it is no surprise then that Roger also wants to make 366Visions an actual event. One Friday, April 17th at 8pm in Webster Hall’s The Balcony Lounge, he will perform 366Visions music live with guest stars Eric Hutchinson, Anya Marina, Nicholas Megalis and more.

Aside from launching on Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud, the completed Visions will also be archived in their entirety on Greenawalt’s 366visions.com website for posterity. Please visit Greenawalt’s Rocket Hub campaign for 366 Visions and watch a 5-minute explanatory video here.

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More than Meets the Eye: Fiona Silver discusses her music, career success and building confidence

12/20/13 Fiona Silver In her music video for the song “Sandcastle,” which she just premiered last Thursday live at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, Fiona Silver frolics on the beach while sporting a 1950’s inspired bathing suit – with beautiful make-up to match – while building (wouldn’t you guess it) a sandcastle. Listen to the song, and you hear a heavy bass coupled with a sweet yet depressing sound of minor 7th chords on the ukulele. Then, Fiona releases her smoky voice. Some would say they are surprised to hear a big voice come from such a petite woman.

Fiona says, “Because I have played with many styles of music, the thread that kind of ties it all together is my voice. So, people comment a lot on my voice and the thing they often say is, “I can’t believe that gigantic voice comes out of that tiny body.” I’ve probably heard that about 100 times. Your outside doesn’t always reflect your inside, and I love that.”

The second sentence in Fiona’s quote then got me thinking about how often times in music, listeners and players focus too heavily on aesthetics – the artist’s physical appearance, what they wear, and the make-up. Now, I am guilty of doing this as well, at FIRST glance. Vision is our primary sense, not hearing. When we listen though, we find there is so much more to an artist and their music than meets the eye.

In this interview, Fiona shows me that even a talented, beautiful and imaginative musician still needs to humble themselves, keep their sight on the art they create, and focus on building confidence from the inside. More importantly, music can help with all of this. I am happy to welcome Fiona Silver to Music Historian.

I asked Fiona about the solemn tone of “Sandcastle” and the lyrics. There is a specific line which Fiona describes water rising on the shore and knocks down towers made of sand. I wondered what message she wanted to convey.

“This song is pretty unique and different in composition and vibe from the rest of my songs,” she explains. “It doesn’t have a lot of hooks. It really is a story, or a poem, about how you can be so focused on something that you really don’t see the big picture. It is the water, the image of a child, or me, building a sandcastle and trying to get all of the details right; being in a state of perfectionism and not noticing that the tides are changing and time is passing. The tide rolls in and knocks down the sandcastle. It is definitely a metaphor.”

While Fiona poeticizes her lyrics and keeps them vague so that they are relatable to anybody; the songwriter and singer also writes from her own experiences. One such experience that the lyrical theme of “Sandcastle” would fit within her own life include dealing with the dilemma many independent musicians have when they are presented with a possible record deal. Fiona Silver (on guitar)_1

“I would like to be signed to a record label if it makes sense for me. I don’t want to be so focused on getting a deal and everything around making music, that I miss out on really being an artist. Ironically, this goes back to the song, “Sandcastle.” I have met a lot of people who are just very focused on my look, and because I can also be versatile with genres – my voice has this range where it can be soft, then raspy, and then can also be belting and loud – they really wanted to push me into pop. For me, as an artist, I want to focus on my expression and creation. I think that if I focus on what I am actually making, things will fall into place as they should.

“The industry is in an interesting place. It used to be that this [a record deal] was the goal [for a musician]. Now, things are shifting. Artistic development is crucial and it is wild how [many labels within] the industry has dropped that.

“I am not interested in being boxed-in so that someone else can make money. I would love to have a record deal with a company that could nurture my talent and help me move to the next level. I am thoroughly confident this will happen one way or another.”

Although Fiona continues to simultaneously develop her own music and keep an open eye and mind for a possible record deal opportunity, she has experienced success independently. Fiona has collaborated with producer and owner of the Shabby Road Recording Studio, Roger Greenawalt on the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele Compilation. In addition, she received an endorsement from Luna Guitars and has become the representing artist for their ukulele line.

“Someone just gave me a ukulele randomly years ago, and I loved it; and who doesn’t? The ukulele is one of the sweetest instruments on the planet.

“When I toured in Austin for South by South West, I stayed down there for a while with my ex-boyfriend who was a BMX biker. I made a video with him at the dirt trails, he rode the trails and I played one of my songs on the ukulele. A fellow BMX biker happened to also be a filmmaker, and he works for Luna Guitars. He told me, “We are just about to launch a ukulele line, and you would be the perfect artist to represent that. That’s how I got sponsored by Luna Guitars for ukulele.”

While sponsorships help with monetary needs, Luna has also helped Fiona connect with more artists around the world, including Pipo Torres, a guitarist and songwriter in Puerto Rico who played on “Sandcastle.”

“I would have never known him if not for my sponsorship with Luna Guitars,” says Fiona humbly. “After I got sponsored, I learned about the different artists on Luna’s roster. He [Pipo] immediately reached out to me. I eventually went down to Puerto Rico for a vacation, and then met with Pipo. I jammed with him and some other great musicians he plays with and kept our connection strong since then. Now, we have this collaboration together. It is beautiful when you can connect with more musicians and people.”

Fiona has also received attention from the press. Curve Magazine named the musician one of the most desirable women next to P!NK and Tegan and Sara. In addition to feeling “honored” by the recognition, Fiona is also grateful for Curve’s support in helping give back to the New York City community that supports artists. Fiona explains:

“Curve Magazine is great. I got placed between P!NK and Tegan and Sara. Those are pretty big names in music now. Then, they featured me again in a full article in a later issue, where they talked about my music.

“They even sponsored an event I did to raise money for the Ali Forney Center – an organization that provides assistance to gay teenagers who are homeless. I put on an event where I played music, collaborated with other bands and DJ’s. We tried to raise awareness and funds for the center and have fun. Curve Magazine helped put the word out through social media.”

Fiona’s accomplishments reflect her ambitions as a young artist. Yet, all musicians in her positions who receive this great recognition all come from humble beginnings. Fiona kindly shares how she first became involved in music and how she decided to pursue music as a full-time career and lifestyle.

“My history with music is a bit varied,” she begins. “I started playing piano as a child. When I was a kid, I lived in a place that had a piano, so it worked out. Then, I moved and did not have the piano anymore. I would love to get back to that. I play around on the keyboard sometimes, but I haven’t really played anything in years.

“ I have an older brother who plays guitar, so I took his guitar and started jamming one night. I probably made the worst ruckus ever, but I felt amazing. So when I was about 13, I moved over to guitar and started taking lessons.

Fiona Silver_ukulele “When I picked up guitar, I started writing songs. My guitar teacher would record songs with me, then later on, I played bass in the rock band I had called Little Body and The Big Sound. Then, I picked up the ukulele.”

Fiona has always described herself as a creator. Fiona also claims that from a very early age, a tender 7 to be exact, she was determined to make a living with music.

“It really wasn’t a question throughout any of my adulthood or anytime through my teenage years,” she recounts. “I always just knew that this is what I wanted to do.”

Fiona was also born and raised in New York City, a place that is filled with opportunities, communities and audiences for music. On one hand, the saturation of culture and art sometimes proves a challenge. On the other hand, with the challenges also come rewards.

“Being in New York in particular, is kind of a double-edged sword,” explains Fiona. “The rewards come from having so many great places to play. There are many avenues where you can get your music out. But, there is also so much going on. It is really difficult to grow in a natural process without getting sidetracked by the concerns of image, marketing and business.

“In this day and age, artists before they make it big, really have to be a “jack-of-all-trades.” You have to do your own promotions, make your own flyers, social media, and all of these tasks that have nothing to do with the music you create. Those are challenges.

“A personal challenge is to have a solid band. There are so many incredible musicians in the city, and I played with great musicians, but they are also in 10 other groups. This makes scheduling difficult, but I go with the flow and keep meeting new people and play with them. In other places, like Austin, for example, where it is not so chaotic, people have more time to jam and live in the process of creating as opposed to hustling around it.

“The reward is working with so many artists and gaining inspiration. This city is very eclectic and I get exposed to so many styles.”

Our artist definitely absorbs the variety of musical styles in her own work. At the moment, she focuses on making a music video for another song, “Medicine Man.” This track differs greatly from the straightforward yet challenging “Sandcastle.” “Medicine Man” literally takes a person on a journey both musically and visually.

“I co-wrote this song with Roger Greenawalt, whom I have known for many years. It really is an example of everything I love about music. It really blends genres from disco to psychedelic to reggae.

“The video [reflects] the journey happening in the song. I wrote all of the scenes which play like a wild dream sequence. We shot in various locations like Ithaca, we shot in the basement of a gay bar in Williamsburg, and we shot in one of my favorite venues, Pete’s Candy Store, and even the studio I recorded the song in. I have so many friends in the video, and some really talented friends who helped create the video with me.  I feel if I worked with anyone else, they would have said “you are crazy.” These guys just worked with me and made it happen.

“Everything [in this video] comes back to this sense of community and other artists I respect who have a lot of imagination and just want to create. The director, Leslie Van Stelton, who also worked on “Sandcastle” and the make-up artist for that music video, DNicole also showcase their range of talents here.”

Fiona does not currently have a release date for this video. When the public does see it though, they will observe the same grace, beauty and personality of the artist with great confidence. And, of course, listeners can expect to hear that voice that travels great physical distances. Reader, I encourage you to see Fiona’s video for the song “Tonight” as well as her promo video for Luna Guitars in which she sings “Sweet Escape.” While you are on her website, click on the “about” tab and you will learn about her vocal inspirations.

As I researched Fiona’s website and learned about the singers she admired, I wondered whether she tried to emulate any of these influences through her voice or music.

“Actually, I don’t,” responds the artist. “I feel like certain characters can come through, different sides of my voice. The genres which change from soul to rock ‘n’ roll to indie, all bring out different sides of my character but I don’t think like an actor. I never think I’m going to channel a specific person. I think the energy and influences, like Billie Holiday – who is one of my favorite singers without a doubt – and Aretha Franklin, are infused together to help create my sound.”

Armed with her sense of autonomy in her musical style, the songs she creates and the strong belief in what she does and represents, one will definitely see Fiona as a confident woman. Lastly, I wanted to know whether she is always this confident as a musician and person. If she is not, I wonder how Fiona builds up that confidence.   Fiona_Silver-3

“There are times when I don’t feel as confident as other times,” says Fiona. “I think I do walk with a sense of confidence in general. Part of that comes from the love my parents gave me as a child. Part of that also comes from growing up in a tough city and needing to toughen up. Sometimes, as expressive as I am, as much as I sing and dance and do all of these outward expressions, it is also important for me to get quiet. I love to do yoga and meditate, and also watch the sun set from my roof top.

“When I don’t feel as good, I definitely reach out to people who I love for support. I have an amazing community of friends and that’s huge in life. I express myself through song and poetry, and that really helps me process any pain. When I can move through the pain, it sort of transforms it from something that hurts me to something that helps me.”

An artist’s beauty, talent and imagination can certainly help in attracting the right people who will help them with their endeavors and career path. Yet, even with all the support in the world, a young artist must also toughen up and realize that not everyone in the music industry has his or her best interest at heart. Fiona shows me a musician does not have to change their demeanor, appearance or beliefs in order to experience success through their work. One must, however, persevere in periods of difficulty.

Transforming disappointment, pain or challenges into stepping stones towards success is definitely a stride in the right direction to building confidence as an artist. This is the lesson I learn from Fiona. Further, confidence has helped Fiona focus on staying true to her style and voice, while keeping out any distractions that might be counterproductive to her art. As she continues to sculpt a career that works best for her, Fiona continues to watch her environment. She is a creative soul who has experienced so many beautiful moments in the music world, while also having seen and acknowledging the challenges that knock at her door. Fiona will continue to build her castle, but when the tides roll in, she will be ready.

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking “Songs for a Traveler” Album Release Party

The Looking Album Release Flyer

The Looking Album Release Flyer

You have read about Todd Carter a.k.a. The Looking’s exciting listening party for his newest rockin’ cover album, Songs for a Traveler. Now, everyone has the chance to hear these great songs for live at The Looking’s album launch party at Bowery Electric on Friday, April 26th!

“I have been interested in American folk songs since the time I started playing music in Indiana,” Todd says. “It was the thought of mixing my love for 80’s and 90’s alt-pop with these old songs that resulted in Songs for a Traveler.”

Todd will spin songs from the 1950’s, like “Sail Around” and “Long Black Veil” into lush, dreamy soundscapes that climax in full rock fashion, with the help of his backing band. The band features John Andrews, Gerald Menke, Chris Morrissey, Adam Kromelow, and Bill Finizio. NYC Ukulele Troubadour Roger Greenawalt and Violin Virtuoso Ernesto Villa-Lobos will also join Todd as guest performers.

Loudboy, led by John Andrews (Botanica, Angela McCluskey, Morely), and Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls will open the show at 7:00pm.

Official Press photo of Todd Carter

Official Press photo of Todd Carter

Experimental indie-songstress Alyson Greenfield, who has recently found fans in WNYC, Converse and AOL.com, will close the night.

Collected Sounds describes Todd’s vocalism and performance as “intriguing and fascinating.” The Chronicle claims his work is “eclectic and provocative.” IndieMusic.com says Todd’s voice is “like nobody else you have heard before…majestic.”

Make the weekend of April 26 one filled with the American classics you love made great for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Todd’s album launch party for Songs for a Traveler will start at 8:00 pm. The opening show begins at 7:00 pm. Purchase your tickets here and save your spot at the Bowery Electric.

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking Make Old Folk Songs Great for Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Looking perform at Symphony Space on February 25, 2013 Todd Carter (a.k.a. The Looking), the New York City-based singer songwriter, is in the process of releasing their third album, Songs for a Traveler. In this record, Todd turns American folk classics and old country songs from the years 1850 to 1950, like “Wayfaring stranger,” “900 Miles,” “River in the Pines,” and “Blue River” into rock ‘n’ roll.

My personal love for rock music motivated me to talk with Todd about his newest album, which is set for a release date in April of this year.

In our conversation, I learned that Todd’s love for the archaic folk songs The Looking covers in their latest record doesn’t stem from a deep understanding of American folk music. Instead, he has developed an appreciation for how some of the crazy, romantic and mind-boggling themes and stories within these songs easily transition into the rock genre. This is why I am happy to introduce Todd Carter as the subject of my March full-length interview feature on Music Historian’s, Hear; Don’t Listen.  

The Perils and Romance in Travel-Themed Songs

I asked Todd what he liked about these folks songs and he said:

“I love travelling, and a lot of these folk songs have some sort of traveling theme in them. “900 Miles” is about a man trying to get back home to find this woman, but he’s lost on a train somewhere. “Hobo’s Meditation,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “River in the Pines,” all share this theme.

“It really comes down to, not necessarily being about the music but how much I love these songs. It’s about taking the listeners on the journey of these songs. I just want to articulate that and present it in a way that is really available to people.”

To enumerate on this point, he took me through the process of recording “Blue River,” a ragtime song that was popularly performed by jazz singer Sophie Tucker in 1928.

“We ‘unragtime-ized’ the song by taking it out of its original 4/4 time signature and made it 6/8. We put some heavier guitar in there and we thought it would be fun to leave some of the jazzy influence. We also removed some of the lyrics that are found in the original version, which are really hokey.

“I really wanted to move it to another dimension.”

Some songs on The Looking’s latest record underwent fewer modifications. This enabled Todd to focus on conveying the tone and themes they presented. One example is “River in the Pines,” a song made famous by Joan Baez. He explains:

““River in the Pines” is a wild song that takes place around the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. It’s about a logger named Charlie, who falls in love with a woman named Mary. Later in the song he dies in a river accident; and at the end, Mary also ends up in the grave, but it is unclear how she got there. You think she was so bereft by Charlie’s death that she couldn’t handle it anymore. There is something romantic and a little hard core.”

The Story of Finding These Songs

Stories about danger, loneliness, and suggested taboos that one learns about on the road have graced many rock songs. Based on my experience, I always felt rock ‘n’ roll was a more popular and familiar genre among urbanites than American folk, especially in New York City. So then, I became curious about what motivated Todd to release a rockin’ cover album of folk music.

“Last year, I completed a residency at The Underground on 107th and West End, and I had two hours to perform every Wednesday night,” says Todd. “So, I started to gather a repertoire of more songs I could perform besides my own.

“I found some old Bob Dylan, which led me to look at Townes Van Zandt, which led me to examine all the versions of “Wayfaring Stranger.” We also found some old Gospel tunes like “Angel of Death” written by Hank Williams.

“My band and I started experimenting with these songs; and we started playing them live for the audience in different arrangements and keys.

“I really enjoyed playing the songs and started recording a lot of them in my studio. Then, I tried to figure out which ones I liked most and got the idea that I really wanted to make a record.”

Todd’s Musical Influences and Performance Background

Todd Carter aka The Looking at Symphony Space 02/25/2013 When I first listened to Songs for a Traveler, I had no prior knowledge that these songs were covers of folk and old country tunes. I simply judged them as originals. In doing so, I developed the following thoughts on The Looking’s record: the lyrics express an old country feel and tonally, the songs convey rock ‘n’ roll. Then, I picked up subtle influences of classical music, like the minor to major key modulations, and the simple duple meter in the song “Blue River.”

This led me to ask Todd about his performance background. He enumerates:

“Growing up, I loved listening to Michael Stipe from R.E.M. As you listen to Michael’s vocal evolution, you hear that he started becoming more of a crooner. Although he was never exactly a crooner, it was interesting to hear.

“During my early years, I was into Brit pop, and bands like New Order and Joy Division. I mixed that with my old-time love for country music – Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and Bob Dylan.”

Todd adds, “I started out singing in my parents’ garage in Carmel, Indiana. I played a lot of punk rock and didn’t have any real training until I moved to New York in about 2000, when I decided to study at the Mannes School of Music. That’s when I became really interested in vocal training.

“I began to study with various teachers. I eventually trained with a singer at the Metropolitan Opera, Edna Lind. I studied with her for quite a while and started putting on some Operatic performances around the city.”

The Recording Experience of Songs for a Traveler

During the time that Todd was performing Operatic pieces around Manhattan, he also worked on two other albums recorded with The Looking: Tin Can Head (2005) and The Cabinet of Curiosities (2009). Both of these albums were created under his label, Astraea Records. I asked Todd how his experience with making his 2013 album differed from that of his last two records.

“That’s a good question,” he remarked. “I wanted this record to have more of a live feel. I wanted to come out of our recording days with Ken Rich over on Grant Street Recording and record a lot of live music off the floor. I really wanted to try to deliver some of the vocals in the studio while we were recording the instrumentals live.

““Sail Around” included a live vocal recording. Then the vocals for “Blue River” and “900 Miles” were recorded in the studio. I sang the lyrics right back into the speakers.

“I love the way this record sounds. The man, who mixed the music for the latest record, Songs for a Traveler, Myles Turney, did an amazing job.”

At the moment, people can listen to some of the tracks on Songs for a Traveler on The Looking’s website. When I listened to the tracks prior to interviewing Todd, I received no auditory indication that these songs were recorded live. In short, the album lives up to its promise of being finely mixed.

As for Todd’s love for the musical styles and genres he previously touched upon, listeners can expect to hear something different on each record that he will release with The Looking. Todd already has another complete album he hopes to release in the next couple of months.  

Todd’s Plans for the Future

“I actually just finished another record that I’m hoping to release in the next couple of months called 1969 to 1984, produced by Roger Greenawalt,” he says. “It is another cover project I have been working through. We recreated songs by Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett, Echo and the Bunnymen.”

When Todd is not recording or performing with The Looking, he works with an intermediary company that helps him place his original music on spots for television programs on channels such as Bravo and Discovery. Then, there is Todd’s record label Astraea Records, which he has been running for ten years.

Todd explains that owning his own record label “Came out of helping of friend who wanted to make a record. Her name was Morley; she is a New York singer songwriter. We got a couple of people together to help her and we created this record to get that project off the ground.

“It was really out of the spirit of assisting some friends that needed to get their music out. I felt it was important at the time because Morley made an incredible record that helped her get signed to Universal in France.

“Then, other projects came into play like Camomile, Parmidian One, and then mine.”

Todd continues, “Astraea has become more of a production company than a label per se. We’ve had a few releases. Astraea has been around for quite a while and it has created a presence on-line which enables people to listen to the different artists. I would say it’s more in its twilight sphere now. I’m actually moving my attention to The Looking.”    

At the moment The Looking are planning an official launch party for Songs for a Traveler sometime in April. A tour for this album and a potential release of 1969 to 1984 are also possible plans for later in 2013.

Roger Greenawalt on Music and Business Part 2: The Beatles Complete and Beyond

Leah Siegel sings "Oh Darling" with Roger on Ukulele In Part One of my conversation with Roger Greenawalt, I learned about the life of a record producer at Shabby Road Studios and how some producers work with artists. In the continuation, I learn more about Roger’s inspiration behind the annual Beatles Complete and his other title, the ukulele carrier.

“For three and a half years, I’ve been carrying this [the ukulele] everywhere,” Roger explains. “It’s an ongoing permanent art exhibit. This performance is forever. I also do it to constantly interact with people, and I sort of know the range of reactions.

“Today, for example, a woman jogged by and said “go on brother.” That was one reaction. A very common one I get is when a mother is with her kid, and she points me out to her child, but she doesn’t need to because children usually directly engage with me and follow me with their eyes. Then, there are those that pretend not to see or hear me.”

I asked Roger whether anybody ever approached him and asked to play his ukulele. He says:

“No, actually, the opposite happens. I’ll show you.

“Someone will come to me and say “wow that ukulele is so cool” and I will put it in their hands.” Roger hands me the ukulele to demonstrate. “I would tell you to put one finger right there and strum steadily.”

I placed my finger on the first string right on the third fret, and strummed as Roger sang an English lyrical improvisation of “Frere Jacques.”

“I’ve taught them a song they will always remember for the rest of their lives,” says Roger. “I’ve had people come back to me after I taught them the song, and they would say “I will always remember that first song.””

My personal experience interacting with Roger on the ukulele was exciting, especially when I realized playing the ukulele is really just playing a fragment of the guitar. According to Roger, many skilled guitar players express the same realization about the ukulele.

“That’s what I realized when I started playing,” he echoes.

I then asked Roger why chose the ukulele as a trademark instrument, and then why dedicated an annual music event to The Beatles.

“Multiple factors,” explains Roger. “A) People love the ukulele.

“I started playing the ukulele right after September 11th (2001) and like many people that year, I was in a lousy mood. Then, one day, my cousin who lives San Francisco – he is a book publisher and a talented amateur musician – invited me to visit. So, after the flights started up again, I took a plane to San Francisco.

“When I went to see him, I learned that he had just been in Hawaii cheering himself up from a break-up. He picked up the ukulele and started learning songs. It just made him happy; it’s this happiness machine. And, the appeal of the uke keeps getting bigger.

“B) There is the undying universal appeal about the Beatles.

“They have been a unique phenomenon throughout the years. The passing of their music from generation to generation has been frictionless. Kids continue to like their music and they keep getting bigger every year. They are the second best selling artist of the last decade after Eminem. So, these are both two good things.”

Roger continues, “Then, if there are 60 artists and they each have two friends, there is a good chance these two people will show up to watch them perform. So, there will be 60 different people in the show, and they will bring in an audience of 120.

“That’s why the event works.”

Yuzima jams with Roger at the Beatles Complete on Ukulele to "Hey Jude" Based on my experience, The Beatles Complete on ukulele does work in attracting a crowd. I remember the 2012 show, which fell on the first weekend in January. People packed the space in front of the stage, shoulder-to-shoulder. I remember singing to Yuzima’s rendition of “Hey Jude” with my sister as we stood among the crowds. To our right stood two Brooklyn bachelors sporting wind breakers and beanies, while to our left, a father was raising his toddler-aged son on his shoulders to see the musicians on stage.

However; I also do admit that outside circumstances, which are not related to music, also play a determining factor on whether the next show the following year will produce a greater turn out than the one prior. For example, this year’s show fell on a weekday, which probably prevented families from attending. In addition, it was also one of the coldest nights in January, a factor that might have discouraged many from coming out. Roger comments:

“If it was not the coldest night that day, the place would have been packed.”

Luckily, people, whether they are returning attendees, new comers to the area, first-timers, or tourists, will likely come to Brooklyn Bowl next January to hear the cheery sounds of the Beatles on Ukulele and hopefully remember it as an event that brightened their beginning of the New Year.

The same applies to many of the musicians that return the following year to perform a set. It gives them a great performance opportunity; a chance to jam with similar groups like them from the Williamsburg area; and a moment to make themselves known to a new group of Brooklynites.

As Roger prepares for next year’s Beatles Complete on Ukulele, he will also continue to work closely with artists looking to really make their big break on the New York City music scene. Roger talks about two musicians in particular.

“Lovely Liar,” he explains, “is a collaboration between me and Tatiana Pajkovic. She is tall, authoritarian, fabulous and tense. She has a Billy Holiday-kind of tone to her voice, and her style ranges from stately mid-twentieth century to French disco.”

Roger is also working with another act called Reno is Famous. Reno is a world class dancer who is a member of the Ballet Company of the Metropolitan Opera.

Roger describes her as “A very well-thought of modern dancer making her way to rock star.” He adds, “Her repertoire includes aggressive punk music ranging to electronic dystopia; a style that is much darker than Radio Head.

“This one’s really close to my heart. I’m making all the soundscapes [in her music] and it includes experimental elements of all my favorite things like strong acoustic ukulele and guitar riffs. It also includes reggae bass, funky drums, and hooks and groves…”

My interview with Roger has come back full circle to his work at The Shabby Road Studios.

In Part One, I learned of two very important pieces of advice that Roger has for aspiring professionals: musicians must always make room for business if they want economic success; and that the more an artist adapts, the faster his or her circumstances will change for the better. In Part Two, I learned about his inspiration behind playing the ukulele and the annual Beatles Complete.

Reviewing our conversation, I realize that Roger makes room in his studios for artists of all backgrounds. A musician can be inspired by a genre that is not widely heard in America, or have performance experience within a different art form other than popular music. If the artist is willing to commit to his or her craft, and willing to work with an experienced professional like Roger in making excellence in music; they will learn a great deal about how to work in the industry, and continue on their professional path with, hopefully, more confidence.

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.