Putting a dream into action

Howard Jones
Howard Jones

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.

Here’s Howard Jones performing “Look Mama” from his Dream Into Action album at the Keswick Theatre on Oct. 20, 2011 (courtesy of YouTube user Nostalgicflashback)…

Another reworked song from my past…”Domination”

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.

Domination (Original w/ 2010 vocal overlay)

Domination (2010)

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.

Revisiting my musical past: “Don’t Lose The Groove”

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.

Anyway, despite promoting world peace and unity, the song was kind of angry and full of somewhat violent samples. Here is the original rough mix of “Don’t Lose The Groove” that Christian and I recorded around 1990.

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.

Anyway, you can hear “Don’t Lose The Groove (2009)” below.

Another gig this weekend…

Christian Beach @ Twisted Tree Cafe
Christian Beach @ Twisted Tree Cafe

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.

New web site…old song (made new)

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.

“Vortex (2009)” – Brian Kelley

Source: Tandem with the Random

Reminder: Christian Beach CD release party this Friday

Christian Beach CD Release Party - Click for PDF Flyer
Christian Beach CD Release Party - Click for PDF Flyer

As mentioned earlier on this blog, I will be part of the backing band for my good friend, singer-songwriter Christian Beach, when he takes to the stage at The Saint (601 Main St.) in Asbury Park, NJ, this Friday night as he celebrates the recent release of his self-titled, solo CD.

Joining in the festivities will be Arlan Feiles and The Lone Howdys, as well as The Sunday Blues. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are just $10.

Christian’s band this time out includes John Pfeiffer (Well of Souls, In Between Dreams) on electric guitars, Michael Scotto (Agency) on drums and percussion, Gorgo (Private Sector) on mandolin and bass, Keith McCarthy (The Works, The Sunday Blues) on bass, and yours truly on organ, accordion and tambourine.

If you are in the area and are available that night, please feel free to come to the show. If you want to get a taste of Christian’s music, visit his new web site at ChristianBeach.net, or visit him on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/christianbeach. Plus, he is now on Facebook and Twitter.

The CD can be purchased via CDBaby.com, iTunes or Amazon.com.

Christian Beach
The Saint
601 Main St.
Asbury Park, NJ
(Directions via Google Maps)

Christian Beach’s CD release party @ The Saint, 4/10/09

Christian Beach
Christian Beach

Mark your calendars for April 10…not only is it my wonderful girlfriend’s birthday, but my friend Christian Beach will be celebrating the recent release of his self-titled CD with a show at The Saint in Asbury Park, NJ.

I will once again be part of Christian’s backing band, helping out on organ and accordion, as he performs the entire 12-song CD in tracklist order. Christian will be hitting the stage around 10 p.m. and tickets are just $10.

If you are in the area and are available that night, please feel free to come to the show. If you want to get a taste of Christian’s music, visit his new web site at ChristianBeach.net, or visit him on MySpace at http://www.myspace.com/christianbeach.

The CD can be purchased via CDBaby.com or iTunes.

Christian Beach
The Saint
601 Main St.
Asbury Park, NJ
http://www.thesaintnj.com

YouTube Playlist: Christian Beach @ The Strand, 2/7/09

Here is the YouTube playlist of Christian Beach’s complete set at the Strand Theater gallery on Feb. 7, 2009, as part of the CD release party for “A Few Uneven Rhymes – A Tribute to Winter Hours.” Enjoy!

(And thanks to Alison for capturing the video with my Flip mino!)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “YouTube Playlist: Christian Beach @ T…“, posted with vodpod
Christian Beach CD
Christian Beach CD

And, remember, the new, self-titled CD from Christian Beach is available now at CDBaby.com!

“Christian Beach” CD now available on CD Baby

Christian Beachs CD now available on CD Baby
Christian Beach's CD now available on CD Baby

It’s finally here…the self-titled, solo CD from my good friend, singer-songwriter Christian Beach!

“Christian Beach” is now available for sale at CDBaby.com, where you can also listen to 30-second samples of each of the album’s 12 tracks.

And here’s a fun fact for you: I designed the CD artwork around a photo by Charlie Pranio, which means I just did layout and selected an appropriate font.

Anyway, if you want to check out Christian Beach live, he has a few shows coming up:

Sat., Feb. 7, 2009
5:00 p.m.
The Strand Theater
Lakewood, NJ
http://www.strandlakewood.com
with band

Sun., March 8, 2009
8:00 p.m.
Rosie’s Cafe Presents at the Atonement Lutheran Church Hall
Asbury Park, NJ
http://www.atonementlutheranchurch.com/ROSIES-CONCERTSr.html
solo

Sat., March 28, 2009
8:45 p.m.
S.S. Cape May Music Conference Showcase
Congress Hall – The Brown Room Lounge
Cape May, NJ
http://www.sscapemay.com
solo

Fri., April 10, 2009
10:00 p.m.
“Christian Beach” CD Release Party @ The Saint
Asbury Park, NJ
http://www.thesaintnj.com
with band

Thurs., April 23, 2009
8:00 p.m.
Triumph Brewing Co.
Princeton, NJ
http://www.triumphbrewing.com
solo

Thurs., May 21, 2009
8:00 p.m.
Triumph Brewing Co.
Princeton, NJ
http://www.triumphbrewing.com
solo

For information about Christian Beach, visit http://www.myspace.com/christianbeach