A great event is happening this weekend onBlowUpRadio.com. It’s a benefit to raise awareness and funds to fight Spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain in the back, neck and hips. “Banding Together” features an amazing number of performances streaming all weekend, and my longtime friend Christian Beach is one of the participating musicians. You can hear his set TONIGHT (Oct. 21) at around 6:05 p.m. ET.
Also, anyone who clicks on this link and makes a donation to the Spondylitis Association of America this weekend will receive a compilation CD that includes lots of great music, including the track “Platte Cove Road” from Christian’s upcoming EP.
So head on over to BlowUpRadio.com, listen to some great music from the state of New Jersey and try to make some kind of donation to this worthy cause.
Below, is a video of Christian performing his song “Taking It Real Slow” at Fergie’s Pub in Philadelphia in July 2009. That’s me on accordion and the drummer is Michael Scotto of the band Agency. Incidentally, a solo set by Scotto can be heard during Banding Together at around 7:15 p.m. ET tonight.
If you search “TMC” or select the “TMC” category on this blog, you’ll find a bunch of posts about a music group I was part of back in 1988-90 called TMC + The New Generation (although, shortly before I left the group, we informally changed our name to Interläken Pröbe to reflect a shift to a more industrial hip-hop sound). The group consisted of me and my friend Christian Beach—who went on to become very talented singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist—on keyboards, samplers, sequencers and drum machines…and a rapper from Asbury Park, N.J., named Tariq Mohammed.
Christian’s father, Gorgo, also a musician, put us in touch with Tariq, who was a rapper looking to work with a band rather than using backing tracks or a DJ. Knowing that Christian and I had recently started working on electronic “new age” music together, Gorgo suggested to Tariq that the three of us should get together and see if we could combine rap with electronic music.
The full story of TMC + The New Generation can be read here, but the short story is we obviously didn’t get anywhere as a band.
Looking back, though, you could say that we were very ambitious—actually, TOO ambitious. But what we were trying to do—combine rap with electronic music AND multiple pop/rock genres—wasn’t very common in those days. And here we were, three teenagers along the Jersey Shore (and not one of us drunk or with a stupid nickname) to create this type of music with an array of electronic instruments we didn’t fully understand. As you would expect, we just were not experienced or mature enough to properly turn our musical visions into reality. But there were moments that still exist on old recordings and videos in which a glimpse of brilliance shines through. One such moment was a song that started out as something we nicknamed “Reggae Rap.” Tariq had the idea of rapping over a reggae-style song so we started playing a preset reggae rhythm pattern on Christian’s Roland R-8 drum machine and improvised some keyboard parts over it.
Eventually, we added a three-part harmony to the chorus and the song became known as “You’re That Kind of Girl.”
We performed the song a couple of times, including once at The Green Parrot—the long-gone rock club that used to be on Route 33 in Neptune, N.J. Someone videotaped that show for us so, despite the poor quality of the audio and video, it provided us with a recording of a lot of our material. Unfortunately, videotape doesn’t last forever and the quality continues to get worse over time. My copy of the tape, which I believe is the only one still around, actually broke near the beginning of “You’re That Kind of Girl” and I had to repair it to salvage a partial version of the song.
Anyway, I’m rambling so here’s the deal…after a few years of being in and out of touch with each other after our TMC days, Christian and I have been reconnected since 2005 and I have even performed and recorded with him a few times over the past few years. More recently, a virtual TMC reunion took place when Christian and I became friends with Tariq on Facebook.
Tariq and I have since exchanged messages via Facebook and an audio excerpt of the live version of “You’re That Kind of Girl” popped up unexpectedly on my iPod while driving a few days ago. It got me thinking that I should record a decent version of the song…so that’s what I did. Of course, since I never knew the lyrics rapped by Tariq in the verses (and the lone surviving recording is mostly unintelligible), I rewrote the verse lyrics while retaining the spirit and melody of the original version (and, yes, I rhymed “me” with itself at one point…I wasn’t spending THAT much time on this). I also tweaked the arrangement a bit.
But, overall, the 2012 version of “You’re That Kind of Girl” is pretty much just an updated version of the 1989/90 version…and I even included a some faux auto-tune as a nod to the song’s rap origins since I was not about to try rapping.
This post started out as a recap of the notable moments from Thursday night’s Howard Jones show at the Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pa…but evolved into something completely different.
So, yeah…I went to see Howard Jones perform this past Thursday night, marking the fourth time I’ve seen him live. The first time was a solo performance of “No One is to Blame” on a digital piano during the June 1986 Amnesty International Conspiracy of Hope Tour finale at Giants Stadium (where he was introduced on stage by Michael J. Fox). I saw HoJo again in June 1989, this time in full electronic mode in Holmdel, N.J. (with the incredible Midge Ure from Ultravox and Visage as the opening act). Then, I had the chance to briefly meet and talk to HoJo after seeing him perform in an “acoustic duo” format (even though he was playing a digital piano) in Blackwood, N.J., in January 2008 (I would have had a picture, too, if my camera batteries hadn’t died).
Last night, HoJo was in full electronic mode and, for this tour, is playing all the songs from his first two albums, both of which I probably listened to thousands of times as a teenager. The first half of the set included all the songs — although not in track-list order — from HoJo’s 1983 debut, Human’s Lib; the other portion of the show featured all the tracks (again, not in album sequence) from his 1985 follow-up album, Dream Into Action.
Personally, what was great about this show was that Howard Jones was the artist who really inspired my teenage love of electronic music and served as the catalyst for my purchasing two pro-grade synthesizers, a sampler, a sequencer and a drum machine by the time I was 17. I felt I had the skills to create songs even though my technical musical ability was — and is — extremely limited. This prevented me from really working with musicians in a traditional band setup so I felt this equipment gave me the means to do everything myself, as well as correct all the flubs due to my craptacular playing ability.
Eventually, I found a like-minded spirit (at that time) in the form of my friend Christian Beach, who was my bandmate from around 1988 until late summer 1990. He lived just across town from me and also owned an array of synths, samplers and drum machines. There were two other advantages working with Christian – 1) his gear was better, and 2) he is much more talented and gifted than I could ever hope to be.
While many people in the mainstream have this idea that electronic music is easy to execute, the reality is this is not the case. You still have to write the music and lyrics, and play all the backing parts into the sequencer…and this took forever back in the 1980s and early 90s. To prepare for playing live, you needed to do a lot of programming of your instruments and saving those settings into a MIDI file stored on a floppy disk in the sequencer. The song sequences (which include the drum and bass tracks, and any other parts not being played live) were also saved on floppy disks. Since the instrument and song data took up a lot of room on those old floppy disks, we needed several disks…that needed to be loaded (quite slowly, mind you)…in specific order during our shows.
As you might expect, this led to some embarrassing moments like having a saxophone coming in as a hi-hat part, or the wrong song sequence popping up, or a footswitch not set up to start a song when it was supposed to be…stuff like that.
And Thursday night’s HoJo show reminded me of all the joy and pain electronic music has brought to me over the years. As exciting it is to create all the parts of a song on your own, I remember all too well the difficulties of making the so-called “easy-to-use” technology work for you when you need it to.
Two such instances cropped up Thursday night for HoJo. During the Human’s Lib portion of the set, it seemed like the sound assignments for his keyboards on “Don’t Always Look at the Rain” weren’t set up right. That threw the whole song off after a few measures, resulting in a total restart of the song.
But that was a minor hiccup compared to what happened during the Dream Into Action half of the show, when “Assault and Battery” — a song I was really looking forward to hearing played live — had to be restarted…TWICE! On the first attempt to play the song, HoJo got through the piano intro only to have the sequence from the previous song kick in (been there, done that…a few times). On attempt No. 2, HoJo completed the piano intro and the right sequence started…and then stopped inexplicably about four measures in. The third time proved to be a charm, however, and the audience was treated to “Assault and Battery” in all its glory.
Anyway, I was just happy to see one of my earliest musical influences. Granted, aside from the more recent organ/accordion work I’ve contributed to some of Christian Beach’s live shows and recordings, I haven’t done anything musically significant in my life (although Christian did use lyrics I wrote for a chorus in the song “What Does It Mean to You?” by one of his old bands, Slave of Id, that received some airplay on long-departed 106.3 WHTG-FM around 1993…that was kind of cool). But I still write songs when I can and still do all the parts myself, thanks to Apple’s GarageBand application…and Howard Jones’ influence.
Back in the summer of 1989, my friend Christian Beach and I were in a misguided — but well-intentioned — synthesizer-based rap outfit called TMC+The New Generation that was the brainchild of a rapper from Asbury Park, NJ. I’ve often described this band as something like Depeche Mode-meets-Run DMC…but not in a good way.
Of course, this wasn’t for a lack of trying — or a lack of talent. We were just too young to know any better. I had just graduated from high school and Christian was still there. But even back then, it was easy to see a ton of musical talent in Christian that just needed time to fully develop (and today he is a really talented singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist).
Anyway, that summer of 1989 was probably our most productive time writing songs for TMC. One of those songs was called “Domination.” The night before a rehearsal, I had written most — if not all — of the lyrics for the track and told Christian about it. He then said he had been playing around with a synth-bass line that fit the lyrics I had written perfectly.
As we often did, once we got the foundation and structure of a song together, we would record a rough live version of it so we could listen to it away from rehearsals and think of ways to improve the song. Fortunately, that means a copy of an early version of the song exists, which you can listen to below.
A year or so ago, I was listening to the original version of “Domination” and thought about reworking it a bit and making it a bit more modern. But the 80s techno quality is really a big part of the song so I wasn’t sure how to go about it.
Well, during the past month or so, I’ve been slowly but surely finding bits of time here and there to work on a new version and now feel ready to present what is sort of a “Domination 2.0″…with the possibility of subsequent “Domination 2.x” revisions or perhaps even a “Domination 3.x” to follow that.
So, for your listening pleasure, here is the original recording (with some vocals added recently for improved vocal depth) followed by the 2010 version of “Domination.” Enjoy.
By the way, that female-sounding vocal in the 2010 version is actually me. I used the “male-to-female” vocal transformer effect in GarageBand to do that. I did it as a joke at first, but I liked the contrast in the vocal quality (even though it’s not the cleanest of effects) so I kept it in.
Oh, for one more treat, below is a video of us performing “Domination” at the long-defunct Green Parrot in Neptune, NJ…this is chock full of my forgetting lyrics in the first verse, stepping on and pulling out the microphone cord and — by mid-song — just wanting the song to end so I could return to the relative safety behind my keyboards. And all of that doesn’t even mention my hair, which was a complete disaster on its own.
You might recall that a couple of months ago, I entered a “best piano/keyboard performance” contest on a web site called TalentTrove.com. I came in second place by one or two votes, mostly because the rules said one date was the final day of voting while the voting system itself was set to end 2 1/2 days earlier.
Anyway, despite that experience, I have entered another TalentTrove.com contest…this time for music considered “electronica.”
Now, even when I was into mostly synthesizers, sequencers, samplers and drum machines, I never really considered myself in the genre of “electronica.” I always thought of myself as pop, techno or — in the early 90s — industrial.
And techno-industrial is what I want to talk about right now. As I have written many times before on this blog, my friend Christian Beach and I have worked together musically — on and off — since 1986 or ’87, I guess. While we were in the ill-fated band TMC & The New Generation (a techno/pop/rap project that I like to describe as “Run DMC meets Depeche Mode”), Christian and I started listening to music generally classified as industrial or — in some cases — cyberpunk. In any case, we really started to get into Ministry, Front 242, Nine Inch Nails, and Nitzer Ebb, among others. Hence, our writing started getting heavier and our songs became angrier and full of more samples. At this point, we convinced our rapper that we needed a name change and we began calling ourselves Interläken Probe, which borrowed from the name of the town to the west of Allenhurst, NJ, as well as the model of car I was driving at the time (a Ford Probe). The “ä” was used to make it look European.
Anyway, one of the last things we worked on as Interläken Probe was a song called “Don’t Lose The Groove.” The phrase had been mentioned during the recording of another song, but it had always stuck with me. When I was trying to come up with lyrics for “Groove,” I thought the phrase fit pretty well in the chorus. In the context of the song, it referred to the idea of the human race all flowing with the groove, and that each of us does our part to screw everything up by losing the groove every now and then (some more than others, of course)…kind of like a record skipping when a needle loses the groove.
OK…back to the present. While thinking about the TalentTrove.com electronica contest, I decided to update one of my old techno songs and submit that for the competition. But which one?
Well, that answer came to me when I stumbled upon “Don’t Lose The Groove” on my iPod. I decided to rerecord “Groove” into GarageBand on my MacBook and bring it a little up to date.
First, I tamed it by removing the samples. While keeping touches of its industrial origins, I made it a more of a dance track. I tried to actually sing the lyrics instead of screaming them like I did in the original. But it just sounded better when I screamed them…although the newer version features more restrained and refined vocals than the original.
I will be playing accordion for my good friend, singer-songwriter Christian Beach, when he performs at Twisted Tree Cafe in Asbury Park, NJ, on Friday, June 19, at 9:45 p.m. The performance is part of the annual Wave Gathering Festival, which features more than 175 artists appearing at more than two dozen venues throughout Asbury Park.
Gorgo (mandolin) and Agency‘s Michael Scotto (percussion) will also be taking part in the ensemble.
So if you are in the area, please stop by and take in some great local music.
So I recently became aware of a great online community called TalentTrove.com, which I kind of think of as “Star Search 2.0.” Basically, it is one big talent search site featuring all the social networking tools you know and love (friends, messaging, forums, and — most recently — blogs).
What sets it apart from other social networking sites is that TalentTrove.com puts an emphasis on getting talented artists — spanning several disciplines (which I’ll get to later) — discovered by the rest of the community, as well as external audiences. This creates a network of friends all supporting each other’s creative endeavors. Through the daily “Stage of the Day” profile (profiles are referred to as “stages”…or a person’s “MyStage”) and the editor’s picks featured on the home page, the site promotes the talents of its own members to both the TalentTrove.com community and to external visitors.
In addition, there is TalentTrove.com Radio and TalentTrove.tv. TalentTrove Radio provides streaming audio of programs and music featuring the audio-based talent found on the site. TalentTrove.tv, meanwhile, provides channel-based navigation of the user-generated videos found on TalentTrove.com.
The site also has regular contests, such as Best Comedian, Best Cover Band, Best Singer, Best Guitar Solo, Best Drum Solo, etc., which are voted on by other members of the TT.com community (more on these later).
And getting back to what kind of talent is on TalentTrove.com…well, it’s probably easier to talk about what talents are NOT featured on TalentTrove.com, because almost any kind of talent imaginable is showcased on the site. Of course, you have your musicians, bands and singers. But you also have actors, comedians, writers, dancers, culinary artists, craftspeople…just go to TalentTrove.com and click on “categories” to see for yourself.
The site can also be used by people seeking an online portfolio, as TalentTrove.com accepts uploads in the form of audio, video, photos and text (and the upload process is pretty easy). Another great feature is that it allows you to copy videos you may have already uploaded to YouTube so you don’t have to go through the trouble of uploading the same video to your TalentTrove.com profile (or stage).
While TalentTrove.com is a relatively young company, it has received some pretty strong press and it appears to be gaining a devoted following.
OK, back to the talent contests. TalentTrove.com was recently seeking submissions for a Best Piano/Keyboard Peformance contest. Now, I know I’m not that great of a keyboard player, but there was this techno thing called “Vortex” I recorded back in the early 1990s that I thought would be my best option for the contest. Even though techno really isn’t my thing anymore, I felt it best represented a full keyboard peformance. Even though all of my songs are keyboard-based, I cover a lot of the crappy playing with fake strings and stuff that take the emphasis off the actual keyboard playing.
However, the only recorded version of “Vortex” I have was done on an old 4-track cassette recorder and the song is poorly mixed with a couple of audio glitches thrown in, as well.
So I decided to try to record the song entirely from scratch using GarageBand on my MacBook. I didn’t have much time to do this either, but I managed to remember how most of it went. I didn’t necessarily need it to be an exact copy of the original. I just wanted to capture the spirit and feel of the original song while updating it a bit. Unfortunately, a lot of the sounds on the original recording came from an old Roland Jupiter synthesizer I had for a few years. However, I sold it to Christian Beach’s former keyboard player in Slave of Id and Artists That Kill. That meant I was going to have to settle for the weak sounds included with GarageBand instead of the fat, warm Jupiter sounds featured on the original. But I still think it came out pretty well, considering I was trying to reconstruct a 17-year-old song while working under a tight deadline with little time to spare.
Anyway, I submitted “Vortex” to the TalentTrove.com contest. The finalists will be revealed tomorrow (Friday, May 29) at 10 a.m., but even if it’s not among the candidates, I am glad the contest inspired me to bring another old song of mine back to life.
You can listen to the new version of “Vortex” by going to its media page on my TalentTrove.com stage, or by using the embedded player below.
Like I said, this isn’t really my kind of music anymore, but let me know what you think.