Saturday, October 12, 2013

Bastard Jack - lyrics and thoughts

Nathan: I'd always thought that there was another side to the story. I mean, really. Imagine that you're this giant living in his cloud home and some little punk comes into your house and charms your wife, steals your gold and then kills you in the end. What a jerk!

I had the title for this long before I had the lyrics. It was a story that I wanted to tell and was trying to shoehorn it in a few different musical ideas before finally hitting the current orchestration. There was a moment when I was trying to put words for this to the music that would eventually become Red. Thankfully, that didn't work out. Red is so much better with the current lyrics.

It finally came together when the basic bluesy riff came into my head. In my minds eye I heard it as a blend of Led Zeppelin and Men Without Hats. I dunno. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I wrote the first verse and then Alyssa picked up from there. We went back and forth a few times shoring up the rhymes and meter when I came up with the idea of doing a rap in the middle. Now I can't rap to save my life so I changed it to a smugly delivered spoken word with a slower delivery. That fits the character of the song much better, I think.

Alyssa:  This one was the hardest for me to write on.  I was struggling to find connection between the character of Jack and the music.  Then I finally gave up trying to make Jack a sympathetic character.  Jack was just a jerk.  He was a braggart.  He was a thug.  He was guy in all the rap videos with the gold chains and fancy cars talking big about his “street cred”.  So then the song became a tale of bragging, of “look at me, I’m so big and bad” instead of, “oh poor guy, a hard life led him to crime and murder”.  Nathan picked that up immediately and added in the rap/spoken word section.  I laughed out loud the first time I heard that part!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Baba Yaga lyrics and thoughts

Baba Yaga

Mother and daughter, the witch and the crone
Ugly as winter with legs thin as bone
As my house turns on its four chicken feet
I hunger for young men to lure in and eat   

Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga
They call me Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga

Mortar and pestle, a mop and a broom
Will I assist or send to your doom
I'll give you a riddle I'll give a rhyme
Answer it quickly before dinner time

Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga
They call me Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga

Death or the goddess, to aid or deceive
Many weird faces deep in the trees
Dare you to find me, I dare you to try
But lad if you trick me then yours is to die

Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga
They call me Baba Yaga
Baba Yaga

A bit of History:

Nathan: Several years ago we played a improvised set at an event in San Mateo, CA called The Maker Faire. The ensemble at the time was violin (me), voice (Mel), guitar (Jean Paul), and drum (Jes). We also had a trio of dancers that were performing with us. One of the tunes that we came up with was very much informed by how my friend Slava was dancing. She had a very light step and it felt like the music came as much from her dancing as her dancing was coming from the music.

After we went home we brought those musical ideas into the studio and turned them into a complete tune. I sent Slava the music and asked her if she would give it a name. Since it was her dancing that really made the music coalesce into my head it seemed like the right thing to do. She replied with the name Pesnya Tsiganki which she said translated into English as "Song of the Gypsy Woman."

I loved the name because it hinted at hidden narratives within the music. Since the tune had several different sections it suggested to me that the story was complex and interesting. Who is that singing? Why is she sometimes glorious and sometimes plaintive? Here's a link to that version of the song:

I had always wanted to come back to Pesnya Tsiganki and do a studio version but it never came together. There is an energy to this live performance that I just could not capture. There is such a good energy and it moves around in mood and texture. It's very much a product of the musicians on the stage.

I had mentioned to Alyssa that I was hoping to do something with it and that I wanted it to reflect a folklore from the mountains and forests of Eastern Europe. There is an incredibly rich history of tales from that part of the world, so much culture started there. I wanted to honor that history and so I went for the biggest, baddest legend ever: Baba Yaga.

She is the queen mother of all witch tales. She's the scary lady in the dark, the sometimes benefactor, sometimes villain, and the last hope of romantics. Do you think she'll help you? Will she bring your bones and make you into a stew? Love potions? Curses? Perhaps she'll turn your mother into a bear? Who knows?

What I do know is that Alyssa nailed it in one. There's a swagger in her voice. She's totally self-aware. And she's a compete badass.

Once I saw the words I knew how the music had to go. It wasn't going to be soft and plaintive. It had to be raucous, unapologetic, and there needed to be screaming. I'm really happy with how it came out.

Alyssa: Again, Nathan came up with the topic of Baba Yaga and had a gorgeous melody with Mel singing that he wanted to put it to.  The long notes in the chorus match perfectly to crying out “Baba Yaga”.  Baba Yaga doesn’t have a defined story but is instead a recurring character in a lot of Russian folklore.  So therefore, instead of telling a story about Baba Yaga, I wanted Baba Yaga to tell you about herself, to warn you about her dangers, her complexities, her vagarities.  It’s Baba Yaga's self aware of what she represents, daring you to come to her anyways.  This one was all Mel’s vocals in my head, haunting, strong, and glorious. 

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Violin Fundraiser Completed!

Thank you everyone, the violin-repair fundraiser has achieved it's goal! The funds have been raised and the order for the repair has been finalized! You guys rule.

A few more thoughts about my violin:

I bought my violin at David T. Stone Violins in early 2007. David asked me some questions about my budget and what I was looking for in an instrument and then said something like this (very loosely paraphrased):

"I'm going to put 15 violins in front of you and I want you to play each one and pick out the ones that you -don't- like. We'll take those and put them away. Then I want you to go through the left overs and do the same thing. Keep doing that until you narrow it down to a couple. Then I'm going to send you home with them for a few days and I want you to play them until you know which one you want to keep.

I'm not going to tell you how much these cost because I want you to pick your violin only on the strength of how you like it. Don't worry, I won't sneak in any really expensive ones. They'll all be within your budget."

I narrowed is down to three instruments and I then took them home and spent the week playing and comparing them. I narrowed it down to the one I chose on the strength of it's unique low register. I love that throaty G tone that it has. It felt a little closed up in tone because it hadn't been played in years. I knew that it would open up with practice and was very happy with the purchase.

I can't wait to get it back and work with it again. As happens when an instrument is disassembled, it closes up a little as the new glue and structural work has yet to settle. I plan to play the hell out of it when I get it back. Alas, it'll probably be a few months before I take it back out to performances.

If all goes well I'll have it with me when I go to New Orleans over Halloween for the Anne Rice Ball for my show with The Ghosts Project.

Again, thank you everyone for your help with my violin repair. It means so much to me that I have friends out there that are willing to help me on my path towards making the music I love so much.


Monday, July 29, 2013

A few notes on my violin

When I bought my violin in early 2007, the shop owner told me a few things about it:

- it was made somewhere between 1880 and the start of WWI in Germany
- it is a tradesman's instrument most likely made by a handful of makers under the supervision of the shop owner
- it was owned by a musician named Emmanuel Moss. He played in the orchestras in Hollywood during the golden age of the movies.

Last night I finally followed the name to see where it's been played. I found a whole mess of links to albums, movies, and sessions in which he played this violin. The dates range from 1942 clear through 1975! That's a 33 year career as a professional violinist in all kinds of formats. I only hope that I can play it for so long.

Harry James and his Music Makers:

Mason Williams - The Mason Williams Phonograph Record

Nat King Cole 1961 Sessions: Nov 21, Nov 22, and Dec 21

Nat King Cole 1962 Sessions: June 19, Aug 11

The Night of the Hunter Sound Track

Eric Anderson - Be True To You

Above and Beyond
Dead Ringer
Grand Prix
Invitation/A Life of Her Own
Joy in the Morning
Julius Caesar
Miklós Rózsa Treasury
Mutiny on the Bounty
The Naked Spur: Classic Western Scores From M-G-M
Penelope/Bachelor in Paradise
Plymouth Adventure
The Prisoner of Zenda
Random Harvest/The Yearling
Ride Vaquero!/The Outriders
The Shoes of the Fisherman/Where Eagles Dare

It makes me all the more impatient to get it fixed and back to playing. The Violin Repair Fundraiser is only $250 away from completion. At the moment, I'm keeping my fingers warm by playing my viola. I can't wait to get my violin back! Looking at that list of links up there I feel like I need to step up my game a fair amount. :)


Sunday, July 28, 2013

A Violin In A Violist's Hands

Every time I pick up my viola I am amazed at how easy my left hand slips into position. My intonation is spot on, my arm position feels comfortable and I find myself reassessing my choice to play the violin as my main instrument. It's a little frustrating, at times.

Here's the thing: I started on the violin so it is definitely my first love. I played from 4th-7th grade and then was switched to viola by my orchestra teacher who said that because I was the violinist with the longest arms I would be a better violist. At the time I didn't question her thinking. I got to learn a new instrument and I became one of the special few who were oh, so important for the 7th grade orchestra.

From that day on I was a violist. Clear through college.

What that means is that as I grew into adulthood I spent all those years building the muscle memory of a violist thereby, in a sense screwing my self as a violinist.

Every time I pick up the viola my hands go, "Ah! This is how it's supposed to be! Where have you been my dear viola??"

And then my ear hears the viola range and says, "Well, damn. Where are those lovely high notes??"

Inevitably, I go back to my violin. For multiple reasons, actually. One: most of the music I have written over the past 6 years has been for violin. Two: I am totally in love with my violin's tone. The higher notes have a tendency towards the shrill but the low notes are so throaty and glorious! I have managed to clear out most of the shrillness in the past several years as I figured out which strings were best for the higher notes. It's the instrument itself that I love so much. I've not felt this kind of connection with any other violin.

The bummer, though, is that my intonation kinda sucks when I go back to the violin. My 4th finger wants to go sharp because it naturally expects the viola scale length. It takes a few days of consistent exercises to get back into the proper intonation mindset.

At the moment, I'm having a grand time playing my viola. The violin is in the shop and will most likely be there for the next few weeks. I plan to play the hell out of my viola and enjoy it but I'm kind of dreading the transition back to the violin. If it weren't for the fact that I so love my violin's tone I might be convinced to be a violist for good.

The violin-repair fundraiser is still going on. I'm a little more than half-way there. Thank you again for your support. I am humbled and honored. Thank you.

Once I have my violin back, I am going to write a new piece for it and all of you who helped out with the fund-raiser.


Saturday, July 27, 2013

Violin fundraiser progress

Hey everyone,

Thank you so much for your support with my violin-repair fundraiser! I'm definitely feeling the love. :)

So far we're at $429 towards our goal of $800. At the moment, my violin is in the shop and will most likely be there for the next few weeks. They have a pretty busy work schedule s this gives me a little more time to raise the funds for the repair. If you haven't already, please consider moseying over to my store and buying a CD, a shirt, or perhaps a digital download of my album - there are some special items up right now you can normally only get from us at shows!

A link to the fundraiser page:

A link to my regular merch page:

A link to bandcamp:

Gepetto's Lament - Lyrics and Thoughts

Take the wood
Take the knife
Set the blade and carve away all the pain and sadness

Cut it out
Sand it down
Build it to perfection
Arms, legs, fingers, toes
Carve it a brand new face, eyes, ears, and nose

    This, my new creation child, one lacking sin
    His, a new emotion wild, what lies within?

        No mortality or affliction
        No cause for discontent
        No doubt, no artifice, no lonely fears
        Gifted wit, wisdom and charm
        Simple little child, little one who could do nobody harm

Instumental 4 bars

Take the string
Tie it off
Articulate the joints
Fingers move with intent

    This, my new creation child, one lacking sin
    His, a new emotion wild, what lies within?

Pause in music:
Heartless life is not to live, so I machine the beating clock,
placed within turns sap to blood, animating wooden block
But I forgot a conscience clear so will he to man or monster steer?

Instrumental 8 bars

    This, my new creation child, one lacking sin
    His, a new emotion wild, what lies within?

        No morality, no affection
        No cause for discontent
        No doubt, no artifice, no lonely fears
        Only wit, wiles and charm
        Simple little child, little one who could only ever harm

So it speaks

So it lies


Nathan: Gepetto's Lament is the first song that I wrote specifically for Narratives. I'd written the instrumentals already and had started on the music for Beast but that was all before I realized that there was a themed album that could be made.

I immediately came up with the electronic drum groove, banjo and bass parts. That took me all of an hour or so. I figured that there would be some breaks and a chorus or two but the basic groove that happens during the verse really set the tone for what was to come. I was surprised at how easy the words came. Like in Frog and Toad, I just started riffing on words while listening to the play back.

The words told a story that I've always felt very close to my heart: Unintended Consequences. Even the best of us can really foul things up at times. I've made plenty of mistakes in my life - and a lot of them were a result of miscommunication, confusion, and good intentions that went awry. I picture Gepetto as a nice old man who just wanted to make something beautiful all the while not realizing that even the best of things need to have a firm grounding in reality.

At the end of the song we reach that moment when Gepetto realizes that his creation isn't perfect. Just like life. I like to think that after the song is over, his creation has some adventures and then turns out basically decent. Y'know, just like in the movie.

Alyssa: This is the first song I worked on for the album.  Nathan knew I wrote a lot of poetry and asked me to look at some lyrics he had come up with for this song.  After getting over the shock of Nathan adding lyrics to his songs, I looked them over.  I got a good sense of the idea he was trying to convey, but it was all a bit clumsy.  I tried to preserve the emotion and intent behind Nathan’s words, but sharpen and refine them so that each emotion and idea was crystallized and more poignant.  What would happen if you built a child without a conscious? One that acted on pure emotion in the moment.  Gepetto loves him despite the flaws but is also terrified of what he had created.  In the end Gepetto loses control over his creation, as all parents do.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Red - Lyrics and Thoughts

Hey there boy, take a look at me
I’m the prettiest thing that you ever did see
Got a shiny red car that’s done broke good
Won’t you take a little peek here under my hood

Blood red like my lips
Your eyes all on my hips
Down your back run my finger tips
Red blood on my lips

Hey there boy, do you like my view
There are so many things I could do to you
Not a question of if but when you should
Steal a little old kiss here under my hood

So follow me boy let’s head out back
Take a little walk off the beaten track
Cause I want you all alone when I make you scream
Howl at the moon in your ecstasy

Blood red like my lips
Your eyes all on my hips
Down your back run my finger tips
Red blood on my lips

Blood red rising fast
Follow me to the last
Big eyes in the full moonlight
Red blood on teeth tonight

Don’t mind my nails, how they’re sharpened so long
Or my nose how it grows as the darkness falls
It’s all a trick of light in the evening wood
It’s just the girl from the road here under my hood

So kiss me boy, and I’ll kiss you
Till we both howl at the full moon
Our skins with sweat are in complete coat
You tilt your head back, I rip out your throat

Red Blood, how it drips
From my mouth and my finger tips
Naked stained there as I stood
Little Bloody Red Riding Hood

Red Blood, how it drips
From my mouth and my finger tips
Boy never go out into that wood
With Little Bloody Red Riding Hood


Nathan: I was experimenting with a Saidi rhythm and it occurred to me that there was an inherent bass line in the rhythm. It screamed blues to me so i busted out some really sloppy blues and it fit totally! I put it up on Soundcloud and left it there for a few weeks when (surprise, surprise!) Alyssa dropped me a line with the lyrics. I  knew upon reading them that I had to get Jody Ellen to sing it. She's got just the sultry delivery that the song needed.

Alyssa: As soon as I hear the bluesy guitar in this one, my mind skipped back to Louisiana, dirt floor dance halls, bare feet, and sexiness.  Which, when I think of Grimm fairy tales, Little Red Riding Hood and the Predatory wolf has the most sexual undertones.  I knew the piece had to be about that story.  Nathan wanted it to be about Jack and the Beanstalk originally, but nope, this one was all Red.  But I wanted Red as the seductress, the temptor.  No longer the victim but the killer.  So werewolf was an easy leap.  I wrote the whole piece in about 20 minutes and sent it to Nathan with the message:  “Oops, I think I just wrote lyrics for this piece.”  I wrote it with Jody Ellen’s voice in mind.  Luckily Nathan made that connection before I even had to say anything and Jody was sweet enough to agree to give the lyrics and music some seriously sexy soul.  No one else really could have embodied it quite so well.  Thanks Jody!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Beast - Lyrics and Thoughts

Innocence and trusting eyes
Heart untouched by lovers break
Can’t she see under my smiles
The demons that would harm her wait

Darling, run from all I am
As this twist of soul pervades
Darling, please take my hand
For without you, I’m lost, afraid

Darling I love you
Please will you love me
Twisted and ugly
Won’t you see be

Neath all my horror
Beating so torrid
Heart less than sure of
Beast or beauty

Sharpened claws on paper skin
Heart to heart our matching beats
Gentle kiss and then its twin
Shield and sword, Oh gods grant mercy

Will I beast or beauty be (give me beauty)
Will I beast or beauty be (give me beauty)

Now in the final
Hours of night will
Monster unbridled
Darling save me

Please be my angel
Quiet my rage and
Help me to change from
Beast to beauty
Vision red slowly clears
to reveal my angels face
Dearest love only bruised by tears
Holding firm to our embrace

Will I beast or beauty be (give me beauty)
Will I beast or beauty be (give me beauty)


Tempest: I had the honor of being invited to perform at Belladonna's Raven's Night in DC in Fall 2012, and the piece had to be a dark twist on a traditional fairytale. And I wanted Nathan to create the music for it. So many choices and possibilities! But I kept coming back again and again to “Beauty and The Beast” which has been one of my long-time favorites – particularly Robin McKinley's retellings of the tale – but how to perform a two-character story solo? And how to twist it? So I decided to challenge society's concepts of who is “Beauty” and who is a “Beast” - is it physical, emotional, spiritual – what about what is below the surface? The description for the piece ended being: “Beauty/Beast: Society backhandedly teaches us that on the surface beauty=goodness and ugly=bad or evil. Appearances can surely be deceiving to others, as well as to ourselves, but is it so wrong to be the Beast, and so right to be the Beauty?” There were no costume changes, no masks, no props besides a single rose that I carried on stage, eventually discarded, and collected again. It was up to the audience to determine who I was portraying and when from my expression, movements, and body language, making it a psychological thriller. This was all done to an earlier version of the song without lyrics, and I'm curious to try it again with the words and see what happens.

Nathan: I was listening to Bauhaus' song Double Dare and was struck by the tone that David J got out of his bass. It was an aggressive, choppy, distorted sound and I decided that I needed to do something with it. The bass groove came out fully formed. From there it was strictly groove and ambience and there was no real melody that came to mind. I passed the song around to my small group of collaborators and two of them, Paul Mercer (violin) and Jessica Leppaluoto (piano) sent me tracks that, though almost entirely unrelated fit together to make a wonderful brooding texture. In the end it sounded nothing like the tune that inspired it. That's generally the way of things.

Once I decided to put this on the album I decided to put some lyrics to it so that the story was a little more explicit. I wanted to have a conflict in the mind of one person – a battle between Beauty and Beast. We all have our darker side that sometimes makes us say and do things we regret later and a part of growing up is learning how to temper that so we can make our way in society without getting into too much trouble. I put together a patchwork of a lyric and sent it off to Alyssa for feedback. She ended up scrapping the words entirely and replacing them a whole new lyric. A good decision, I think.

Alyssa: Nathan sent me this track a while back and kept sending me iterations of it as it progressed. He told me he wanted to write a song expressing Beauty and the Beast but combine it into one person, one person who was struggling to between being evil and good. I immediately came up with two images in my mind: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the Phantom of the Opera. Both were good men, desperate to find the best of themselves for love. However, they are preyed upon by a monster inside, a monster who is much stronger. The song is about that struggle and needing the love of a partner but terrified that, by staying, you will destroy that person you love so much. Nathan convinced me to end the song on a bit more hopeful note than I had originally wanted, but the song is just a battle scene. The war rages on.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Frog and Toad lyrics




Frog and Toad are friends
Frog and Toad are friends

Frog makes some cookies and he shares them with Toad
Toad eats the cookies and he likes them

Frog and Toad are friends (x4)

Friends, not enemies

Toad plays the banjo and Frog, he dance
Dance, Frog, dance
Dance, Frog, dance

Frog and Toad are friends (x4)

Friends, not enemies



I loved the books when I was a wee lad. That's about as complex as this gets.


Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thoughts on Frog and Toad

Frog and Toad

I started writing this one in early 2007. It is one of two pieces that I wrote while experimenting with the newest version of Cubase (4, I think). I'd just upgraded and wanted to see how the new plugin synths sounded. I played it for a few friends and then set it aside and forgot about it.

In December of 2012 I found it again and decided to see what would happen if I put words to it. This is the result: first take, improvised words, at 6am. That's my pre-coffee, sleepy gravel voice. I made up the words on the spot though I ended up having to go back and fix up the second verse because I flubbed the lyrics the first time out.

Here's a link to the youtube of it:

My friend Greg Walter of ( did the animation in a fit of creative glory. I love it!

All the instruments and voices are by me with the notable exception of the Stunt Guitar Solo by Cleetus Hartwood.