Thursday, July 31, 2014

Flyover Country

This was one of the first songs written for the album. I was in a melancholy and reflective mood when I first put words to paper.

Once upon a time I fell in love with a lady who lived too many miles away. When I first laid eyes on her she was dancing and I was dumbstruck. Looking back on it, I must have been crazy - long distance relationships really suck. That's just an unfortunate reality. And yet, here I was pining for a woman in a different time zone.

It's a common theme nowadays, though. So many of us are not able to be with our loved ones. Whether it's work, school, a deployment, whatever. So many of us have to negotiate the emotional mine-field of distance and love. I hate it. But. At the same time I wouldn't want to let distance be the end of things.

The story of Odysseus and Penelope has always struck me as being about the wrong thing. Sure there's heroism, epic journeys, and monsters and all that. But to me the biggest story is how they kept their love alive in the face of 20 years apart. How the hell do you do that?

PS - My mom is convinced that this is the breakout song on the album. I think she's nuts. Clearly, Snugglefish is going to be the hit of the album. What do you think?

Alyssa:  This song began as a song about a breakup, about how the distance became too much and the person singing it needed a closeness that was not possible.  However, he did not look back on it in anger, but instead in fond remembrance.  As we played with the themes of the album, it became clear that this was Odysseus pining for Penelope.  Remember in those times, communication was either very slow or nonexistent so neither really knew if the other even lived.  So we changed it up and the result was Odysseus, thinking of his love, wishing he could get to her and working desperately to return…and hoping, hoping that she would wait for him.

Thudding beats throbbing bass
In darkened room I saw your face
Dancing close with smiling eyes
Dancing close with smiling eyes

There's very little to discuss
As the music swirls around us
Dancing close your smiling eyes
Dancing close your smiling eyes

    Flyover country
    Lies between you and me
    The heart of your city
    In your voice calls to me

    The heart of your city
    Calling sweetly

Far is near with you my dear
Our love will bridge and never fear
Can’t you see it in my eyes
Can’t you see it in my eyes

But distance wounds which cannot heal
And lonely beds, I need you here
Can’t you see it in my eyes
I've got to look into your eyes

    Flyover country
    Lies between you and me
    The heart of your city
    In your voice calls to me

    The heart of your city
    Calling sweetly

    I’m calling
    I’m calling
    I'm calling
    Can’t you hear me
    Come home to me

My absence grew as did concern
That you’d be gone when I returned
A memory of smiling eyes
A memory of smiling eyes

Though I’m gone, don’t acquiesce
Our time’s not done, please reminisce
in memory of smiling eyes
in memory of smiling eyes

    Flyover country
    Lies between you and me
    The heart of your city
    In your voice calls to me

    The heart of your city
    Calling sweetly

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Dance With Me - An exercise in ebullient nihilism

It seems that everywhere I turn I see bad news. Every time I look at the internet I see evidence of the four horsemen of the apocalypse: war is over here slaughtering millions, plague is over there insinuating himself into cities and nations, and famine is evident all over. Admittedly, I haven't heard anything from pestilence but I'm sure he's out there doing is level best to ruin someone's day.

On top of that we have all the tales of near misses in the world around us. Apparently we were only just narrowly missed by a massive solar flare two years ago. If it hadn't missed, our world's entire power grid would have collapsed and we'd have descended into barbarism. And then theres that super volcano rumbling to itself under the state of Wyoming. Apparently, it goes off every 70,000 years or so and it's overdue.

It wears on me sometimes. Ok, pretty much all the time. But what the hell can I do? I'm just this guy who writes songs with his friends. My solitary vote is pretty insignificant. Compared to the captions of industry by own economic potential is practically microscopic.

There comes a time when the world is so big and the dangers so massive that it defies reason. When the sun decides to puke on your little planet, when the state of Wyoming decides to explode, and when the ocean swallows up your island … it might as well be one of the Gods punting your sorry ass over the horizon.

Imagine yourself living on the island of Thera in Ancient Greece. Your world is coming to an end as far as you know it. You're standing there with a bottle of fine wine and the love of your life standing next to you. One last kiss. One last swig of wine and perhaps one last dance. What the hell else are you going to do?

That's where my mind was when I wrote the song. I try to adopt the mindset that you can't account for acts of god, so why try? Just do what you can, when you can, and enjoy whatever pleasures there are to be had.

The words came in a rush of ebullient nihilism. Alyssa offered up a few choice lines that brought it all home. I expect there to be dancing!

Alyssa:  When I began working on this song, I thought of a Doctor Who episode where the Doctor takes Rose to watch the end of Earth.  It is a tourist attraction, watching the natural ends of planets…are party as such.  I wanted to capture that scene in some of the lyrical imagery.  I combined this with the end of a great love, “Casablanca”, and a few choice Firefly easter eggs.  I thought of this mostly as resignation to mortality and the choice to celebrate the end, rather than mourn it, if there is nothing left you can do. 

Tell me my darling, my love did you hear?
Our total destruction is ever so near
But we've got naught to fear but fear
And the end-- the end of time

Soon the explosions will light up the night
And our lives will flicker out like fireflies
But we'll find serenity in our demise
So dance with me to the end of time
Dance with me to the end of time

Dance with me, dance with me 'neath burning skies
Dance in my arms 'til we laugh instead of cry
Dance till it hurts and then we'll dance through the pain
Oh, yes let's dance on again
One last dance and again


Dance with me, dance with me 'neath burning skies
Dance in my arms 'til we laugh 'stead of cry
Dance till it hurts and then we'll dance through the pain
Oh, yes let's dance on again
One last dance and again

The dread riders shadows darken our door
Famine and Death,  Pestilence, War
So play it again Sam, and give me a pour--
Of the wine, blood red and fine
While we dance to the end of time

Dance with me, dance with me 'neath burning skies
Dance in my arms till we laugh instead of cry
Dance till it hurts 'cause we're all going to die
While we dance to the end of time
It's you and me to the end of time

Dance with me, dance with me 'neath burning skies
Dance in my arms till we laugh instead of cry
Dance till it hurts 'cause we're all going to die
While we dance to the end of time
It's you and me to the end of time
We shall dance to the end of time

Friday, July 25, 2014

A random data point to explain my obsession with music

This is a reblog of something I posted several years ago. A friend suggested that I put it here as a more accessible record of my experience:

In late 2001, my hands broke. Not in the dynamic snapping of bones way but in the dull throbbing pain every time I tried to do anything music or computer related. Using a computer mouse was an excrutiating exercise in masochism. Playing a single scale on a piano was agony. Alas, even playing guitar was painful.

It was, as my specialist called it, a Repetitive Strain Injury in both hands. Basically that meant that he didn't know exactly what it was but that if I wanted to heal, I had to stop doing a lot of things. I had to quit piano. I had to seriously cut back on computer time. I had to (and this was the hardest one for me...) quit playing guitar.

I was a wreck. I was confronted by the very real possibility that I would never be able to play guitar again.

I soldiered on as best I could for a few months but I couldn't take it. In desperation, I went out and spent $400 I didn't have on a left handed guitar and tried it out. Because it used a set of muscles and tendons that I hadn't used and abused into oblivion already, I was able to play it without pain. Alas, I was not able to play with any kind of skill. So I practiced. And practiced.

I sucked really badly for over a year.

But then I found myself getting to the point where the southpaw fumblings began to sound like music. I was learning some really crazy jazz chords and was jamming with a bassist friend whenever I could. I was learning stuff I'd never been able to play right handed. I was actually getting to the point where I was as good as a lefty as I had been as a righty. Well, I never quite got the fluid speed down - my left handed picking was still a bit clunky but my right hand took to fretting really well.

In the fall of 2003, I tried one of my right-handed guitars again and found myself able to play it without pain. It seems that the time spend away from it was enough to let my hands heal. I started playing that more regularly and found that while I lost a little bit of the ease and facility with the instrument, I never lost the spark. Soon enough I was playing right handed exclusively and never went back to the lefty.

I still can't play the piano. When I try, my hands got sore really quickly. But that's ok. I was never a pianist. I was a guitarist.

So now. Whenever I pick up my guitar. I know that one day I may have to put it down again for good. Happily that's not today. And for as long as it's not today, I'm gonna play that thing like there's no tomorrow.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A bit of my musical background and the song Steam (Prometheus)

When I was a wee lad, oh, around the age of 11 or 12, my musical world was pretty much defined by my older brother. He was, after all, the arbiter of all that was cool. He introduced me to bands like Black Sabbath, Motorhead, Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Judas Priest, and others from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. On the basis of his say so, I went out and tracked down albums by these bands and absorbed them into my very psyche.

Eventually, he would move of to college and I ran afoul of bands like XTC, Bauhaus, The Cult, Siouxsie, Shriekback, Sisters of Mercy, The Mission and all the other bands of the early 80's. But this isn't about them, really. This is about that list in the previous paragraph.

That heavy guitar-oriented rock stayed in my style. It was kind of like the reptilian hind-brain of my musical self. Wherever my musical tastes took me, there was always that heaviness. Even as I descended into new-wave, I still had that inner metal head at the very roots.

Somewhere in the development of The Antikythera Mechanism Alyssa sent me a lyric about Prometheus. And we went back and forth on it a few times. I loved the words but none of the music that I came up with seemed right. I was thinking that I might have to hold off on those words and was kinda bummed about it.

That's when I happened to be in the local used CD shop and saw Black Sabbath's 1st album sitting right there on the counter. It was only five bucks and I'd not had a copy of it in years so I went ahead and got it. As I drove home I popped it into the CD player and my musical youth exploded into my head. I'd forgotten how much I loved that album. It was some serious blues rock. Iommi was on fire!

And that was when I knew what I had to do for Steam. I had to go back to my 12-year-old self and learn the song through his eyes. The result is a little more early Def Leppard than Sabbath. There's a hint of early Rush in there too. So yeah. That song is totally the song that I would have written if I'd known how to play guitar when i was 12.

And as far as the credit where credit is due goes: I don't play any of the guitar. Guitarist Adam Bratman plays that blistering solo in the middle while Jean-Paul Mayden lays down the rhythm. The bass is totally me, though. :)

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Another band mate blog post!

So last summer I totally poached Kate McKnight from her other band, Dogwood. That sounds pretty douchey until you realize that her other band was just her and a ukulele. Thankfully, she still is in that band and does plenty of shows as and when the opportunity presents itself. I've even been one of her side men at a few of them. Woot! She's got an amazing voice and also can throw down on the ukulele.

Here's one of my favorite tracks off our album The Antikythere Mechanism: One of the deals we made last year is that once we have a pause in the business of recording my newest album and doing a few shows on it we'd take the time to record an album of her stuff so that when she eventually takes her act on the road she'd have a CD to share. So throughout the past year I've been hearing her songs get written and we've been talking about how to orchestrate them. It's been an ear-opening experience and I can't wait to see this stuff get out there. She's a natural talent and her songs really impress me.

Those of you who saw us at Clockwork Alchemy and the Steampunk World's Fair have seen her in action. At SPWF we performed one of her songs during our set: Persephone. I love her songs and I think you will to.

For the past few weeks, Kate and I have been demoing out the songs for her upcoming album Persephone is Dead, Long Live Persephone. We've put down vocals, ukulele, some guitar, and some percussion. The next step is to hire our friend Tom to put down some drums and get the rest of the band in order. After that we're going to mix and master and make a bunch of CDs. We plan to have the CD done in time for our show here in Seattle: Steamposium on Sept. 26.

We'll post some of these new demos next week with information about the fundraiser we'll be starting to fund it. Be on the lookout!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Persephone Rises, Thoughts and Lyrics

Since Tempest wrote the lyrics for this one I think it best that she write this:

This song was written in the week of the Vernal Equinox – the official beginning of Spring. Springtime always makes me think of Persephone rising from the Underworld, bringing back life from the grips of Winter. 

I have had a fascination with the myth of Persephone for over twenty years. As I grew up and experienced life, I could not help but find a personal parallel in the root of the myth. With the passing of time, my understanding of the myth changed, deepened, and unfolded. 

Myths are stories that evolved to explain the forces of nature and time upon the human condition – and our relationship to the divine. At the root of the Persephone myth is an explanation of the seasons – that she cycles through this world and the Underworld, her presence on Earth bringing Spring and Summer while her descent marked the marching of Autumn and Winter. The changes of the seasons are caused by the emotional state of her mother Demeter – goddess of earth, fertility, and life – celebrating the return of her daughter and then in turn mourning her loss.

The most common, traditional telling of the tale depicts Persephone as a victim – an innocent pretty young thing stolen from her mother's side. She was said to have been taken against her will, dragged down to the Underworld and defiled. In this story, she is essentially stripped of any agency or power, and needs to be rescued, in order for the world to be saved. 

The more I reflected upon the myth, the more I wondered if Persephone did indeed have a hand in her own fate. What if she hadn't been kidnapped by Hades, but instead had gone willingly, her heart full of love and desire? Maybe she was a willful young woman, disobedient and a bit reckless, as we tend to be as teenagers. We think we know everything, and the hormones do nothing to dissuade us of this folly. Then the reality of the situation sinks in, and we must realize that there is much responsibility that comes along with our choices. Whether in the end, her match with Hades is one made in heaven or in hell, she accepts the consequences, and helps to find a balance amongst the needs of her mother, her husband, the other gods, and humanity – as well as her own. 

So when I wrote the lyrics for Persephone Rises, I was not considering that hapless victim, bystander to her own fate – but a strong and determined woman, striving for balance, and most definitely owning her power.

Back to Nathan:

This song comes from the same place as Stone Women: that hypothetical folk metal bellydance album. There's a Discipline-era King Crimson vibe to this one that I really, really love. Erik just kills it on the melodic breaks and the bass groove. I kind of wish that I was able to play a Chapman Stick and could go all Tony Levin on this song but, hey, I can't have everything! :p

When Tempest showed me the lyrics I could hear that this music would work before even finishing her draft. The orchestration is much sparser that is usual for me. Just bass, percussion, and a touch of synth. A bit like Who Mourns Eos? in that respect. It's a vibe that I think I will revisit in the future.

The Lyrics

Out of the dark
Out of the night
Here she comes
Bringing the light

Tell you how it is I came to be
Kore, Maiden, Persephone
Child of Earth and Air, symbol of life
In a bed of poppies, I became death's wife

His burning eyes dark, heart of steel
Trapped my spirit, my dreams unreal
Six tiny seeds of jewel-tone red
Made me queen of all that is dead

Hekate above, show me the way

Hades my love, my path 'not delay

Oh mother dear I see your face
From below I rise, not a moment to waste

The gods conspired to keep me hid
The secrets ours, betrothal forbid
But earth withered, the mortals cried
My mother's grief could not be denied

And so a deal on Olympus was made
The divine, the mortals, the earth all saved
Six months in the land of the sun 

And the rest beyond Styx undone

Hekate above, show me the way

Hades my love, my path 'not delay

Oh mother dear I see your face
From below I rise, not a moment to waste

I Persephone, Hades' wife
I bring you love, I bring you life
I arise, set the clock and gear
I bring forth the lighter part of the year!

Out of the dark
Out of the night
Here she comes
Bringing the light

Monday, July 21, 2014

Spotlight on Mr. Erik Brown, Bass Monster

So one of the really neat things about my band is that they are all incredibly talented, self-starting types who are already well-established in their own music trajectories. That makes it all the more awesome when see fit to set their own projects down every now and then so that they can support me in my composition and development as a composer and band leader. As I've been doing the occasional blog post about the songs from The Antikythera Mechanism I'm going to highlight some of the amazing musicians that I am lucky enough the jam with.

My current bass player, Mr. Erik Brown came to the ensemble originally as a percussionist. His percussion is all over the place on both Narratives and The Antikythera Mechanism. Any of the world-music type hand drums you hear are most likely his work. He's a straight-up virtuoso on the doumbek. It wasn't until I'd already been working with him that he let slip that he was a bass-player too.


Go listen to Stone Woman, Persephone Rises, and Dance With Me. That's all his work. No lies, there's no way I could have played that stuff myself.

He's got his own project that he manages here in Seattle: House of Tarab.

They've also got a Bandcamp Page.

They remain one of my very favorite bands to see play live. They are incredibly tight and are clearly having fun at their shows. I had the great joy of seeing my darling wife Tempest do a 30 minute set with them at one of their shows a while back. I so rarely get so see her from the audience seat. It was lovely!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Thoughts on Stone Woman

This started out with two different trains of thought.

Train #1: In the summer of 2013, Erik and I came up with the idea of doing a folk metal bellydance album. He had come up with several baselines that just needed to have music added around them. We demo'd out three songs in just a couple of weeks and then we got really busy with shows, other recording projects, and before we knew it we were deep in the process of recording the Antikythera Mechanism album. With each new album track reaching completion I could hear those three tracks crying out for attention. They were too good not to use and, realistically, that metal bellydance album had been pushed too far off into the future.

So I talked with Erik and we both agreed that we could put words to the tracks and incorporate them into the Antikythera Mechanism.

Train #2: At the beginning of my own brainstorming at the beginning of the album song-writing process I had a plaintive voice in my ear. I was imagining the voice of a young lady cursed beyond comprehension and wondering why. I'd imagined Medusa not as a harsh voice or a monster of vengeance but rather as a soft heart trapped in the cold monstrous shell.

I sent the words off to Alyssa and she took the idea and turned it on its head. This young woman wasn't the shrinking violet lamenting her fate. No. This young women was well aware of the injustice committed and was not about to go off quietly into the night. I got chills reading the words.

The collision: When I went back to the metal bellydance tunes I found the music for Stone Woman right away. The anger and aggression was right there. At first under a veil of quiet anger and then showing forth with clear intent. When Kate came into the studio and laid down her vocals I was flabbergasted. I had no idea that she could channel that kind of rage. It scared me just a little bit, actually.

Alyssa: The story of Medusa is a rough one.  Once a beautiful woman, she is raped by Poseidon.  Because this happened in one of Athena’s temples, Athena is enraged and (wrongly) punishes Medusa (instead of Poseidon) by transforming Medusa’s hair into snakes and her face into one so hideous that people would turn to stone by looking at it.  This would make anyone angry, to be punished for something terrible that happened to her and was not her fault.  I also pulled from the story of Medea and Jason, another tale of a woman thrown away, where her only crime was loving and trusting the wrong person.  No wonder there are stone hearted monsters, products of the lies and abuse they endured.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thoughts on the song Stardust

Nathan: Stardust sprang fully formed in my head the minute Alyssa showed me the words. The words and song structure would eventually morph (but only a little). I took the last verse of her original poem and altered it (only slightly!) into a chorus. It's definitely one of my favorites to play live.

For me it's all about the bass line. That tone and that energy sums up everything I wanted to put into the song. For the longest time the song consisted of bass, drums, and vocals. I eventually decided that it need a little help from guitar and keys but still … that bass line make my blood rumble!

Two bands that really inspired my views on bass and tone are Bauhaus and Motorhead. Both bands have baselines that are gritty and very forward in the mix and yet are simple and at times can be very minimalist. The line I wrote for Stardust is raw, no-frills rock and roll.

Alyssa:  Stardust was originally a poem that I wrote for my husband, Shawn.  We are not religious people but I very much believe in the idea that everything is connected.  So I formulated this idea that perhaps the atoms that make up Shawn and I were once previously together in the heart of a distant star.  When that star exploded, our atoms traveled across the galaxy to eventually make up the bodies, hearts, and minds of Shawn and I.  And since our molecules had previously been together, we were naturally drawn together again, such that our love was “written in the stars” as it were.  Nathan took those words and made it into a fabulous song!  The original poem is below.


Once I burned
Phoenix bright
Molten waters
Exuding light
And you were there
Lover true
How high the heat
Of Me and you

Dwarfen might
Unblacked hole
Endless night
Chemically timed
With gravity's hold
So we collapse
To then explode

Scattered my love
'Cross film noir
Motes of dust
But settled ours
In earthen vessels
With beating hearts
Starry eyes
Of Blue and dark

Your atoms mine
As you to me
So I am thine
Lucky chance or
Fates direction
Forged again in
Love convection

To you my dear
Pledge love and lust
Till we return
Once more stardust