BK Bulletin: I’m back…with news!

Yours truly in his new, makeshift home studio.

Hello there…it’s been awhile. I hope every one is doing as well as they can given the circumstances of these crazy past 16 months.

I come to you with some news…I have just officially released music for the first time ever, in the form of a five-song EP titled A Matter of Time, under the project name Ferocious Designs (see below for an explanation). It’s basically a collection of five songs I’ve written and recorded in GarageBand on my Mac over the past eight years or so, but I cleaned them up a bit to the point that I felt reasonably comfortable releasing them for potential commercial consumption.

The EP is currently available via Bandcamp and will soon be on streaming/download services like Spotify, Amazon, Apple and YouTube via DistroKid.

Visit ferociousdesigns.com for more information.

I released the first single, “Lay It on the Line,” a song co-written with John LeMasney during our old Technology and the Arts podcasting days, on June 18 to coincide with Bandcamp’s Juneteenth fundraiser.

Then, something completely unexpected happened. Longtime New Jersey music journalist Bob Makin reached out to me and said he was going to make “Lay It on the Line” his Makin Waves Song of the Week for when the EP was released, which was last Friday (July 16). So, yes…something I created is the current (for another couple of days, anyway) Makin Waves Song of the Week. Crazy, right?

It gets even crazier. Here is how Makin’s write-up appears.

As you might have guessed, that Peter Gabriel reference made my day. My entire worldview changed when I saw Gabriel’s powerful performance of “Biko” to close out his set at the Amnesty International concert at Giants Stadium on June 15, 1986. As the entire stadium echoed the closing chant of the song, Gabriel commanded “the rest is up to you” before walking offstage. The crowd kept the chant going for a few more minutes, but I took that call to action to heart, and seeing a seasoned music writer compare a specific element of the first song I ever release into the world to my all-time No. 1 music hero was incredible validation of this endeavor.

I have made two music videos so far for the EP, one for “Lay It on the Line” and another for the faux title track “Years Go By,” for which I decided to have fun with green screen and stock video footage from Videezy.com.

So…you may be asking “Why the name Ferocious Designs?”

Well, I never imagined ever releasing music under my own name, even when I was dreaming of being in a band in high school. Back then, I was obsessed with the name Omnium Gatherum, meaning a miscellaneous collection of things or a hodgepodge. But that name has since been taken by a European death-metal band, so that was out.

But the phrase “ferocious designs” — a lyric from Marillion’s 1991 song “Cover My Eyes (Pain and Heaven)” — had always stuck with me as a possible title or project name, so that’s what I went with. Listen for it in the first verse below.

Before I go, I should mention that a lot of this was spawned by working with my friend Christian Beach on his music since late March 2020. Christian released an EP called DoubleLife around that time and we worked on a couple of music videos remotely while under stay-at-home protocols, including this one for the amazing “Food on the Table.”

At the start of 2021, Christian released an album of mostly previously unreleased demos called Basement Noise and we again worked on a video remotely for the first single from the album, “Platte Cove Road.”

For the song “Missing Link,” I came up with a video idea that required us to shoot on location at a park just outside of Trenton, N.J., that once was the site of a popular amusement park in the early 1900s. The video’s centerpiece was the remnant of a grand staircase on the side of a hill that was a literal “missing link” to a bygone era. 

Also, this past winter, Christian assembled his live backing band — both in-studio and remotely — to record a new version of his song “Paper Ships” at Lakehouse Recording Studios in Asbury Park, N.J. I recorded an organ part at home and sent it in to be added to the mix. Christian released the standalone single in April, accompanied by another music video we shot at Huddy Park in Toms River, N.J. Oddly enough, a 2015 live performance of “Paper Ships” recorded at Huddy Park was included on the Basement Noise album. 

Oh yeah, I also learned how to make paper boats and used the dead roses left from the flowers I gave Alison for Valentine’s Day to create the single’s cover art.

So…this is what I’ve been up to during the pandemic. Honestly, releasing this EP was mostly a 50th birthday present to myself. But it’s been well-received and I am feeling a bit more confident about doing more of it. I don’t know when that will be, but I will always write songs every now and then. I’ve been doing it for over three decades so there’s no reason to stop now. I have some strong ideas in my head right now, so I guess Ferocious Designs will continue to exist exclusively as a studio project. It just might be a few years until the next release.

OK…that’s all from me. Again, I hope all is well with everyone.

Take care.

Making a music video while quarantined

hqdefaultMy longtime friend Christian Beach is a talented musician based in New Jersey who fronted a few industrial and alternative rock bands from the early 1990s into the early 2000s. Around 2006, he made the transition to a traditional singer-songwriter influenced by Hank Williams Sr., Bob Dylan, The Band and contemporary artists like Jeff Tweedy (Wilco). Continue reading “Making a music video while quarantined”

Help ‘Make Music Philly’ stage 300 free live music events on June 21

Make Music Philly
In the latest installment of my Tandem With The Random podcast, I interview Natalie Diener, coordinator of Make Music Philly, a campaign to bring 300 free live music events throughout Philadelphia as part of World Music Day on June 21, 2014.

To do this, Make Music Philly has set up a Kickstarter campaign to hopefully raise $20,000…but the deadline is THIS FRIDAY, APRIL 11, at 1:33 p.m. ET. A donation of just $10 will get you a Make Music Philly kazoo! How could you not want that?! Come on, Philly! Part with $10, get 300 free live music shows all over the city on June 21…AND you can play that kazoo as you make your way from show to show.

Become a Make Music Philly backer today!

And while you visit the MMP Kickstarter page, feel free to listen to the latest Tandem With The Random podcast below.

Show Notes

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)…

A look at New Jersey’s summer music festival scene

2008 XPoNential Music Festival
2008 XPoNential Music Festival

Summer is around the corner and that means it’s almost time to enjoy multi-day music festivals here in the northeastern United States, especially here in New Jersey.

The biggest summer music festival in these parts is All Points West, which returns to Liberty State Park in Jersey City, N.J., from Friday, July 31, through Sunday, August 2, 2009. The second-annual APW festival features 65 artists on three stages, including the Beastie Boys, Vampire Weekend, Tool, Neko Case, the Ting Tings, MGMT, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Coldplay. A lot of great acts will be there (although I’m not a fan of Coldplay at all), but APW is very pricey. Three-day tickets for APW cost $199 + applicable fees (for a limited time, so that rate will go higher as the date gets closer) and single-day passes are $89 plus fees (again, for a limited time). However, I did read on the APW web site that tickets can be purchased in installments. Not sure if that was the case last year, but that is a nice option if you really want to go.

For the third consecutive year, I plan on attending WXPN’s XPoNential Music Festival at Wiggins Park on the waterfront in Camden, N.J. This year’s XPN festival takes place Friday, July 24, through Sunday, July 26, and features headlining acts like They Might Be Giants, Aimee Mann, Peter Bjorn & John, Robert Cray, Shemekia Copeland, Guster, and Steve Forbert on the main River Stage. In addition, many local and up-and-coming acts like Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles, Hoots & Hellmouth, John Gorka, and Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby will be showcased on the Marina Stage.

And because WXPN is the home to the weeknight kids program, Kids Corner, there is also a Kids Corner stage away from the main festival area that will include family-friendly acts like Skip Dennenberg and Miss Amy on the Saturday and Sunday of the event.

What’s especially nice about the XPN festival is that, if you buy your tickets before July 11, you get nearly three days of music for just $40. And if you are a member of the station (based at the University of Pennsylvania), the cost is just $30 for the three-day pass…PLUS, you get access to the ever-popular “members only” area where you can get free water, iced tea and lemonade AND meet the artists performing at the festival. After July 11, the three-day ticket prices go up to $40 for XPN members and $60 for the general public. Still a bargain for such a great music festival, but there is no reason not to buy your passes at the early-bird rate.

If you are more into the club-hopping type of festival, Asbury Park, N.J., offers the fourth-annual Wave Gathering Festival from June 19-21. Although the schedule and artists have not yet been announced for this year’s Wave Gathering Festival, last year’s event featured more than 180 artists at 23 venues throughout the city…so that should give you an idea of what to expect. The Wave Gathering Festival has been a big part of Asbury Park’s recent rebirth as both a city and a local music scene, and has featured the likes of Ingrid Michaelson, Ben Arnold, Val Emmich and Nicole Atkins & The Sea.

Three-day passes for the Wave Gathering Festival are also a very affordable $40.00, while single-day passes are $25. You may also purchase admission to individual shows at prices set by the venue (and many of those are typically just $5 or $10).

There are many other music festivals going on in New Jersey during the coming months, but these should be a good starting point before you go looking for others.