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4 Years On November 25, 2013

Posted by craftlass in music, NASA.
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4 years ago today I was a space geek who had never been to any NASA center or seen any full-sized heading-away-from-Earth rocket launch. I’d yet to meet most of the friends I’d made via Twitter but was already feeling the positive effects of knowing people who shared a lot of interests with me. I’d just arrived in Florida for Thanksgiving. Atlantis was in the midst of her STS-129 mission and the first NASA launch tweetup had been held for that mission’s launch just about a week earlier. I had plans to make my first visit to Kennedy Space Center to watch the landing later that week, but was enjoying relaxing by my father’s pool with my family in the meantime.

A few months earlier I’d been watching the Augustine Commission hearings on human spaceflight while reading about lesser-known NASA projects that had resulted in excellent improvements to life on Earth, such as agricultural programs that have prevented a lot of starvation but are never hyped. I saw a joke on Twitter about how NASA was going to have to resort to bake sales if they wanted a decent budget and the idea captured my imagination. Visions of rocket-shaped cookies and moon pies danced in my head.

I turned to my computer as C-SPAN blared away in the background and found myself typing:

We sent men to the moon because of some lines

In a speech that inspires to this day

We learn more about Earth from orbit

Than we can in any other way

Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend

On corporate welfare that will never end

Programs that waste more than they create

Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA

Show our love for a program that actually works

The cookies are sure to be out of this world

We could even has astros as clerks

Give folks a chance to learn first-hand

Why we need these adventures in space

How it affects them directly at home

And elevates the whole human race

Yes, they just came out that way, no editing required. I picked up my guitar and the chords to complement my new melody just came together right away. As soon as I had a solid pattern going on guitar, the rest of the lyrics just flowed out. Later, I did a bunch of research to confirm my facts and was pleased to find that my statements were pretty accurate.

I wasn’t a musician, I didn’t want to be and had made that decision years earlier. I can’t help writing songs by the dozen, but I was way over-the-hill for a female musician already (33 years old at the time, over-the-hill is usually age 28 for women) and had spent enough time on the road to know it was a hard life with little chance to make a living or maintain the other parts of your life (paying jobs, relationships, etc.). But this song was special. This one had to be heard. It had an important message that wasn’t getting to people and there was no way I’d be getting someone else to perform something so quirky. My friend Stephen Bailey practically ordered me to play it at an open mic before I’d even memorized it, after I showed him my lyric sheet. It got the biggest response I’d ever received from the audience. I’d tweeted about the title and people wanted to hear it. When I published the lyrics online the clamor grew.

My background is in audio engineering but I strongly believe that a musician should not be her/his own engineer and producer if possible, especially for someone like me who writes in a vacuum, without collaborators. It’s easy to get tunnel-visioned about your own music and a fresh perspective is key to making a good song great. Dave Entwistle, a new friend I’d made through his open mic nights, was also an engineer who had been through some terrible music business experiences that gave him recording sensibilities very similar to mine. It was a perfect match. We recorded it over a couple of days and had a blast doing it, the best recording session I’d ever been part of. He elevated the song and my performance in a way that felt more like magic than effort and brought my vision to life.

Most of life requires a lot of hard work. This song never did. Everything just kept coming together.

I joined TuneCore and set the song up to release as a single while packing for Florida. The site said it could take 2-3 weeks to get it to the stores (that time has shrunk over the years) so I sort of pushed it out of my head and took off for the airport.

4 years ago today I got a tweet from @txflygirl saying that she’d just bought “Bake Sale for NASA” at Amazon. It had only been one day and it was up! Next thing I knew, I was on the Amazon charts just above Carly Simon, not in a high position but on the list and climbing. It was the biggest shock of my life. No promotion, no record label, I hadn’t done any of the things I knew I should do to spread the word. It was selling anyway.

Walking onto KSC grounds as an accidental musician with a song about NASA was quite the experience. I’ve never felt so proud. I got to meet Jen and Andy Scheer for the first time, Jen had done the beautiful cover for the song and it was just perfect that we’d already planned to meet that day. I had no idea how all of these things would change my life forever.

We make plans, we set goals, we try so hard to control our lives. It never works. The great things happen when you least expect them and weren’t looking at all.

To date, I’ve been to 3 NASA centers and their headquarters in DC, I saw four of the last five shuttle launches and three of the last five landings, I spent a day at the European Astronaut Training Center in Cologne, I’ve gotten to perform at some of the best events I’ve even been to, and I’ve met amazing people from all over the world who are so smart, funny, and interesting that I still have trouble believing they exist. I may not have full access to that part of my life right now, but the memories are priceless and I can’t wait to get back to traveling again someday.

There even was an actual bake sale for NASA, not to raise money for NASA (that would be illegal) but to raise awareness and support for planetary sciences, created by Alan Stern. My song didn’t inspire it, but it did inspire participants and helped spread the word. That was thrilling for this huge fan of planetary science and unmanned missions. “Bake Sale” might focus on human spaceflight a bit, but it is really about growing all exploration programs, whether they are pointed out at the universe or back home, because all of the pieces to this puzzle are very important to our understanding of the universe we live in.

I wanted to do something special today, like maybe a broadcast of a new live version, but my mouth rebelled and half of it is swollen to where it feels like I have an Everlasting Gobstopper stuck between my molars. I have to go to the dentist and its filling me with so much dread that I’m nauseated and unsuccessfully trying to get work done and probably shouldn’t even be writing this. How do you let the anniversary of the best thing that’s ever happened in your life pass by without notice, though?

A lot of musicians get frustrated when people obsess over one of their songs. Some react by refusing to play their big hit, some play it without putting any heart or soul into it, and still others just rush through the song as quickly as they can (such as Blues Traveler, who managed to play “Runaround” with such speed that you could barely even attempt to sing along after it became a hit). It’s demoralizing and can even be a creativity-killer. Why be creative if your audience only cares about one song? Or will walk out if you play something new, even if it is a far better song, just because it’s new? Or will get angry at you for trying to improve your performance and branch out in new directions?

Playing the same song night after night is boring. I get it.

But I still love playing “Bake Sale” every bit as much as I did at that open mic where it was debuted. Even when I’m home alone rehearsing I can close my eyes and see hundreds of special people in a host of special places, singing and clapping along. I can hear the ghost of an audience chanting, “NASA! NASA! NASA!” like they did at a local pub that was decidedly not full of space geeks. If I ever start playing out again, feel free to request it. I won’t get upset.

“Bake Sale” is the closest thing I will ever have to a first-born. It was far from my first song, but it was the song that broke me out of the prison I’d built around myself. It was the first baby I’d sent out in the world and it managed to survive on its own. I’m a proud momma.

I wish there was a way to thank every single person who has purchased any of my music, shared the links to my music at various sites, written about my songs, invited me to play an event, came to the Endless BBQs and Yuri’s Nights and similar, supported my adventures, and paid insane amounts of money above the list price for Above the Sky at Bandcamp. Every one of you will be in my heart forever, even if I don’t know who you are.

Okay, time to conquer my fear of dentists, just like “Bake Sale” forced me to conquer my stage fright.

Meanwhile, I’d love to hear about how you discovered “Bake Sale” in the comments and if you have any special memories attached to it. I’ve heard quite a few from people but it would be fun to consolidate them and maybe even hear some new ones!

Live Again September 28, 2012

Posted by craftlass in music, video.
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For just over a week I’ve been in Saratoga Springs. I’ve always loved this town but this is my first visit as an adult, not counting a single concert that I barely remember because we just went to the venue and left. I have a house to myself and a car at my disposal, which is a very weird existence for me these days that I’m quite enjoying. Even housekeeping is kind of fun when there is some elbow room, it turns out.

The first couple of nights I went out with some of my favorite people. Seeing friends you don’t get to see very often is such a precious thing, there’s a heightened sense of fun to everything you do and every word you exchange. Long-overdue hugs are the best hugs of all, too. It’s invigorating, like suddenly remembering parts of you that you had forgotten about, because the reflection you see in people who understand you at all is a much more accurate reflection than the one you see in a mirror and the image is taken less for granted when you are not used to seeing it all the time. Rehashing good memories is also quite the reminder of how good life is and can be.

Since then I’ve been primarily snuggling the cats I’m watching, enjoying new television (hooray for premiere week!), working on new music, and just enjoying the abundant nature as autumn begins in earnest. It’s been fantastic and I wasn’t particularly wanting to interrupt the flow last night. The thing is, it turns out that Caffe Lena has an open mic on Thursdays. Caffe Lena is an icon of folk music history in America. The oldest continuously-run coffeehouse in the country, it quickly became a jumping-off point for many of my musical idols, like Bob Dylan and Emmylou Harris. They take music very seriously, with no-whispering and even no-glow (i.e. no using phones or cameras, even silently) rules at their shows. Luckily, they aren’t quite as strict at their open mic, as you will see, but it is very quiet and respectful, all about the music. No alcohol is served, just homemade cookies and coffee. It’s definitely not your typical open mic at a crowded bar!

Okay, confession, I sort of hate playing in that environment. My ideal performance setting involves glasses clinking, chatter, and a lot of smoke in the air. Unfortunately, the last exists in few places that I go anymore. Still, I would put up with a lot more than silence and the ability to see the audience just to play a tune or two on that stage.

I haven’t played out in awhile for various reasons and right now I’m focused on writing and prepping songs to record. It’s nice to focus like that, and sometimes necessary, but it’s also important to get out and connect with an audience. After all, music is about communication and I’ve been set to silent mode for some time. The last time I was back home on a Wednesday I played my favorite local open mic for the first time in ages and it felt really good to just be out there again in the safety of familiar faces, especially after such a hiatus.

Performing at an open mic in a different town, in a room full of people who have never heard you before, is quite a bit different.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in that situation.

I LOVED it.

No expectations, nobody asking to hear the songs they know, no pleas to bring out something new, no bar set high or low. Just a voice and a guitar and the naked fury that is unleashing your music on an unsuspecting crowd. At least, you hope that’s what you do.

Then there’s the fun of hearing people you would never have heard any other way, from the scared beginner with a beautiful (if tentative) voice to the aging folkie playing the beloved songs of his youth with the ease that comes only with time, and all the passionate artists between. There’s a camaraderie at a well-run open mic that rarely grows in other environments and it not only fosters a supportive audience but often excellent conversation afterwards.

Right after I walked in and put my name in the hat for their sign-up lottery (a clever solution to the sign-up issues that plague many an open mic) I met a really nice guy who has been attending off and on for years. I wound up sitting with him all night and he sort of acted as a guide, pointing out participants I might particularly like and chatting about music in general between songs. He even kindly shot video of me performing two of my songs and let me upload it from his phone to my YouTube Channel.

The best part? Once again, playing Bake Sale for NASA got a lot of space discussion going, garnered huge cheers, and it even turned out that one of the other performers is a huge space geek who was really excited to meet another one and talk Hubble pictures and Martian rivers. Mission accomplished, at least for one night. I just love making people think.

It’s easy to just flow through life in your comfort zone, especially when in a good relationship with a comfy home and some nice toys, but the only way to be thoroughly alive is to get out there, do what you have to prod yourself into doing, and LIVE a little.

Will someone please remind me of this once in awhile?

If Love is Just a Dream… May 16, 2012

Posted by craftlass in music, people, relationship, writing.
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Those words began a journey that has lasted over a decade and taken so many twists and turns the whole story would take many posts to tell.

Actually, it begins before I heard them for the first time. In 1996 I was only 19 and living down South, doing odd jobs for and living on the road with a favorite band, when I came home to the New York City area to visit friends for Thanksgiving. I was mad for a local band called Native that all of my crowd loved and a guy somewhere between acquaintance and friend played guitar in, I always missed hearing them when I was elsewhere. Since I had road tripped up, I had my car and a few of us decided to take advantage and drive up to Westchester to see them play. My friends were all friends with the band and someone introduced me to a guy named Dave who I didn’t recognize. Next thing I know, I’m rattling off about an African drumming course that I had taken the summer before and how much I love drums and was learning about them. He mostly listened and seemed interested, so I kept yammering. Imagine my embarrassment when he walked onstage and got behind the drums! I had no idea he was Native’s drummer even though I had seen them play many times.

The band gave me a copy of their new-at-the-time cd and I passed it on to a friend in the business who in turn got them a series of Memorial Day weekend shows with Max Creek. As luck would have it, I moved back to the area just in time to see those shows and rapidly became friends with the whole band, especially my now-domestic partner (their percussionist) and that drummer, Dave “Hollywood” Thomas. Dave fascinated me, not only is he a drummer who had played in many bands but he is a huge geek and talented prolific writer of just about anything. He’d spent years researching and crafting an excellent screenplay about John Ford and was in charge of the band’s monthly newsletter, the Marmfington Times, as well as the songsmith behind many of the best Native songs (rather rare for a drummer). I started helping the band out with bulk mailing and the Marmfington Times right away, which made Dave and I not only bond but discover we make a great team. He hired me to type his screenplay into his very first computer and it gave me real insight into how lucky I was to work with someone so talented.

Over the years we’ve played in bands together, started and ran a record label, and generally turned to each other for anything, even if just an honest critique of whatever we are doing separately. I don’t even remember half the projects we’ve done together. He’s one of the best friends I’ve ever had, steady right through the great and the awful in life. He’s also my favorite person to argue with as every screaming match we’ve ever had makes us better artists, writers, businessfolk, and people. He challenges me constantly. I like that, at least from him.

He’s an actual genius in every sense of the word.

Considering his original songs number well into the hundreds I was really surprised one day when he called me up and said something like, “I have this music and this lyric for them, ‘If love is just a dream, I want to dream forever,’ and I don’t know where to go with this, but I think it might be a hit song if finished. Can you come over and help me?” Well, those requests are rare and you just have to jump at them. I rushed over after work and I believe we worked on the song until I had to go back the next morning.. Now, I was a baby songwriter back then and had never collaborated with anyone. What the heck was I doing creating a song with one of my favorite writers?

I did have one advantage at the time, though – I was working at a major label and listening to tons of songwriter demos coming in for our artists as well as carefully watching everything about how a song went from demo to full-blown release, many to platinum status and top rankings in Billboard.. I spent my spare moments picking the brains of my colleagues about what they looked for in songs for their artists. This was just before Napster was originally launched and the revolution in the music business began in earnest. My colleagues pretty much decided what the vast majority of the world would be listening to. It was a far better education than any college program could dream of being!

I consciously applied those lessons to what would become “Just a Dream” and Dave and I decided we should make a demo of the song so we could try to sell it to a pop artist to sing. After all, it’s very much a love song and also quite different from any of the musical projects we were working on (although one band we were in performed it for a brief time). I usually avoid writing traditional human love songs, hasn’t most of that been covered already? This one felt different, though, and too beautiful to not exist. Plus, you know, you really don’t get to write with someone that good every day.

Another lesson from my job that we applied was making a top-quality demo. When Dave invested in recording gear for what had been simply Native’s rehearsal studio we tapped some of the most talented people we knew to come play on the demo. The biggest coup was getting Catherine Russell, one of the best vocalists of all time and backup singer for the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Paul Simon, to come in and sing it. After all, even a great demo won’t get your song sold without solid vocals and I was not up to the task back then.

Actually, she sang it twice. Her vocals completely disappeared from the hard drive. She’s always busy as hell but she did come back and the performance was even better.

Then we did nothing. The song just sat on a hard drive. I left my job. Catherine finally got the record deal she deserved and the chance to focus on her own music. iTunes stormed into being and many of my old contacts lost their jobs. Life moved on. I recorded an album that never came out. Native broke up and Dave moved on to other projects, including a couple of bands, writing a play that’s caught a lot of attention, getting his movie scripts read and optioned all over Hollywood, and even developing a comic book. We started a label and focused on business collaboration and other people’s music together. I eventually quit music entirely due to exhaustion and frustration with all of it and tried to find another career.

Fast-forward to 2012: I’d semi-reluctantly become a singer/songwriter again, put out two singles and an EP, found minor (but amazing) success as an artist, and developed a loyal and incredibly supportive audience. It was all completely unexpected and absolutely wonderful! I dug out what backup discs I could find for my old album, figuring I could just re-sing my vocals and release it at last (I still love those songs and how well they came out, other than my raw youthful attempts at singing the oft-difficult melodies I like to write). At the back of the box there was a disc of rough (or, in music-spelling, “ruff”) mixes that had a couple of bonus tracks – versions of “Just a Dream” as I had originally sung it so Catherine would have a melodic reference. I called Dave in excitement and asked, “Do you remember this song? Do you still have the multitracks?” Luckily he’s a digital packrat and indeed, he had it all. We decided to record yet another set of vocals – this time, my own, with the intention of releasing it. Thus, on a cold and rainy winter night in New York City we opened up this time capsule of sheer beauty and collaborated on music itself for the first time in years. We reworked the melody and harmonies to suit my style, arguing the whole way and enjoying every bit of it. We shared the bittersweet sting of listening to the gorgeously perfect guitar work of Native’s late guitarist, Mike Jaimes, who had originally brought us together so long ago and lent his brilliance to our beloved song. We reminisced while working hard towards the future. These sessions were amazing in every way.

On Monday we did the final mix, which was a whole different sort of rebirthing for me – I hadn’t engineered at all in many years and had an absolute blast getting my hands on ProTools again. We worked together, swapping out who was at the controls from time to time, molding something pretty into something that takes our breath away. Neither of us could have done it this well on our own, talented as we may be. From near-beginning to end, this was a true collaboration and the result is far greater than the sum of our parts.

This song may seem out of left field to those who know my released music and I may not (yet) even know how to play the guitar part so I can perform it live, but I don’t care. I’m proud to have been part of almost every aspect of it and even more proud to release something that Dave spawned.

If you’ve followed this whole story you might have worked out that the week after Memorial Day this year will be the fifteenth anniversary of Dave and I working together. We’re incredibly excited to announce that we’ll be celebrating in the best way possible – releasing this fantastic song so you can hear it at last! It will be our first release together as writers and artists and we hope you’ll join the festivities we’re now planning and give it a good listen.

Follow me on Twitter (which I use by far the most), Facebook, and/or Google+ or sign up for my mailing list at Reverbnation if you want to be among the first to know about release plans as they firm up, or check www.craftlass.com as June grows closer.

Writing, My Agony and Ecstasy April 10, 2012

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Oh, us writers just love to talk about writing, don’t we? There are so many books, websites, forums, blogs, and more about the topic that you could spend your whole life learning how to write more effectively without ever producing a line.

Then there’s the dreaded writer’s block. It’s hard to explain to anyone who has never dealt with it no matter how good your communication skills might be when not blocked. I’m learning that I have distinct phases of production that include times of terrible blockage, which has been the past year for me. In 2009-2010 I wrote at least a few songs a week and a lot of blog posts. In 2011 I found myself struggling to write any music even I wanted to hear, although a lot of my experiences did make it onto this blog, so at least I had an outlet for the first 3 quarters. Coming out of six months of full failure to write just now, I’m figuring out a lot of why creation of art is a cyclical endeavor.

I’ve written songs off and on since I was 20. An avid music fan all through childhood and adolescence who worshipped great songsmiths, I never thought I would write a song, let alone even one anybody would want to listen to or record. A songwriter I met at 19 told me, “You’re a songwriter, you just don’t know it yet,” and I laughed so hard I spilled my drink. Then one song just popped into my head and started this cycle that has affected not only my writing but every aspect of my life since. Many overdue apologies for laughing, John.

The past 2 years of my life have been so inspiring that at first I couldn’t get the words and music out fast enough to capture it. I love the songs from that time, all of them. A few of them turned into Above the Sky, a few are partially-recorded, and a few are still in the maturing stage, but I’m proud of each and every one. As my travel increased the inspiration became overwhelming but my alone time was shrinking just as rapidly. Too many ideas with no time to mull them over was wearing me out. Unfortunately, this was discovered only through hindsight.

I’ve collaborated with a couple of writers but generally I write alone. Completely alone. I don’t even like having my windows open when I’m writing music because it takes an awful lot of ugly ideas to find the right construction. Since I generally write words, music, and melody together there are many ways that ideas won’t work at first. First drafts often barely resemble the final product and can be downright embarrassing.

When I write, I go a little crazy. I lose track of the mundane details of life, like eating, drinking, or thinking anything besides my songs. Luckily, these days my partner makes sure I take care of the basics, but I still feel a little ill when I’m in the throes of a really good spree and find the whole process both exhilarating and exhausting. I spend hours combing over every detail, trying to find ways to get complex notions into something under 5-6 minutes, checking any facts that I used as inspiration, and find words to describe the indescribable.

When I can’t write for more than a few weeks, I go a little crazy. Ideas push their way around in my brain, screaming at me to let them out, find them a home. My dreams become exhausting, negating any amount of sleep I get, if I can sleep at all. I get short with the people around me, try as I might to fight that behavior. If allowed to go on too long I hit the point where all I want is to be utterly alone and perfectly still, preferably somewhere quiet and pretty, just for a little while. Unfortunately, I don’t generally have the ability to find that oasis. The piles of ideas clog up and I find myself thoroughly blocked even when I do get the chance to be alone again. That’s the hardest part of all, and often leads to depression.

Perhaps the greatest struggle in the first world is finding balance, no matter what you do. My question is, in the realm of creativity, is this naturally unbalanced flow just a necessary part of life, or is there a way to find just the right balance to keep one’s edge? Is being aware of my best productive cycle a strong enough tool to help me find a way be both creative and able to maintain the other parts of my life?

Here’s the cycle, in case you are curious:

  • Gathering – Exploring places, meeting people, having long talks with people I’ll never see again, reading endless books and articles about things that interest me, and just taking in experiences alone and in groups. Since I started releasing music, this is also a promotion phase.
  • Writing – The intense release of new ideas.
  • Production – When the flow of original ideas slows down, it’s time to hunker down and polish songs up, play them live and see how they evolve, and then record the ones that feel appropriately mature. This is the one phase where I can have any semblance of a “normal” life.

When I look at this on paper it seems like the right way to do things, logically. When I look at the past few years of my life it seems fraught with complications.

I didn’t ask to be a writer, although I’ve always admired writers of all kinds. I’m still surprised when I read something I wrote or listen to one of my songs and think, “I like that.” I’m even more surprised when someone agrees, let alone pays for even one of my songs or comments on anything I write. I don’t understand where my ideas come from exactly, my best guess is that it’s a natural progression from my knack for seeing and hearing patterns in the world around me.

For once, though, I can say with certainty what broke down my writer’s block. I read this quote from an interview with The Clancys and Tommy Makem (the first musical act I can remember hearing as a child), “Someone said while talking about folk music as history. They said that written history was never any more than the propaganda of the victor, whereas folk songs were the true history of the people that were living through it.” I thought I was a folk singer/writer because I played an acoustic guitar, mostly solo, and I write some songs about current issues. This quote reminded me that folk music is something so much deeper than entertainment, it’s how we tell future generations what it is like to be alive around the turn of the second millennium. I have learned more history due to listening to and learning to play folk music of the past than I ever learned in a class. History books and classes teach us about the great events that shaped civilization while folk music tells us what it is to be human and often powerless. Without both we can never truly understand what brought us to where we are or how the actions of those in power affect everyday lives, not just statistics.

Whether or not my music or random musings here and there last through the ages I will keep telling the stories I’ve lived through and collected as thoughtfully and beautifully as I can. I don’t have a choice about writing, but I do have a choice to use that drive to simply entertain or to do my best to preserve the memories of some amazing events and people. I no longer question my genre or place in music, I am a folk singer and always will be, no matter how many genres I flirt with onstage or in the studio or how much success I do or don’t find.

Now, please excuse me while I go a little crazy.

As I Descend Into the Depths of Musician Stupidity… January 18, 2011

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I started recording again last week. Nothing huge, just a few singles to bridge the gap between my EP and my next big project, give me an outlet for some ideas I’ve had on a few favorite songs. Now that I’ve recorded a few times I’m noticing a pattern in myself that explains a mystery I’ve always noticed from the other side of the desk/console/etc.

Why are musicians so damn stupid?

Don’t take this the wrong way, almost unfailingly, musicians are highly intelligent creatures. It takes a big brain that works in a very special way to make music, especially if you compose it. Most musicians do compose to some extent, too, even if they never get a single writing credit, at least in rock and related genres, as each musician has their own spin on their part. If you have seen a lot of live music you probably have noticed this when a band member changes in an act you like and really know the music of. I’ve said it before and will repeat it until the mountains thunder it back to me: Music is a perfect blend of art and science and you have to have a working knowledge of both to create it well. This means that musicians (even ones who don’t realize this is what they are doing, since this can be quite instinctive) take some pretty advanced concepts and mix them up into something beautiful and warm.

I know, I know, I seem to be contradicting myself… Bear with me…

When I worked in the music business and did some audio engineering back in the day I was consistently shocked by the stupid things that would come out of musician’s mouths. I mean, here was this smart person I could have long talks with about all sorts of intellectual things, including the music we were about to work on, and then the studio or office door would close and BOOM, the stupid would close in. This bothered me (although it did explain a bit about how the music business got away with so much over the years!) and seemed inexplicable…

…until I started recording myself.

Now I’m the stupid one, and I feel it. I notice the drop the moment the mics are in place on the first day. It gets even worse, too, I’m just going about my life being stupid right now. The simple things seem harder, the complicated ones need to be put aside for the moment. It’s not actually stupidity, of course, it’s a matter of focus. All I can think about is the music. When all is silent in the room my brain is whirling through what we’ve done and making plans for what to do next. I’m having trouble typing this right now as a song is screaming in my head, trying to get me to stop writing for my blog and pay attention to it. I have little to add to any discussion, making schedules or plans is difficult at best and pointless at worst, and I make for a terrible friend right now. There’s just no room in my head for anything but these precious songs and what they need from me.

My songs are my children. They come to me unexpectedly, demand nourishment and constant care, have individual wants and needs, and eventually I hope they can stand on their own when they are let loose on the world at large. They even have “age groups” from the unformed embryos of ideas, to toddlers with their own personalities emerging, to going off to school by being performed for an audience, to the whiny adolescence of recording. Once recordings are released they are even like good children who leave home, we visit once in awhile but they are mostly doing their own thing. At that point, I am proud and pleased to hear from them, but my focus has to be on the younger children in my care.

So, if I disappear for a bit or say something that sounds incredibly unlike me, just remember where my head is right now. It will be back as soon as I hear that last final mix, or at least I hope so. I have a lot of work to do, and a lot of that work requires a functioning brain!

Musings on Creativity and the Power of Positive People August 8, 2010

Posted by craftlass in music, people, Twitter.
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I was looking at my web site and clicked through to my blog. Wow, how is it possible I haven’t posted in so long? Admittedly, most of my writing brain and time has been going into music these days, but sometimes you need more than 140-characters (re: Twitter, the only social site I like) and sometimes it’s nice to not have to worry about rhymes, meter, etc.

So, here I am, with a blog probably no one bothers looking at anymore and so much to say!

This past year has  been so amazing! So many things I would never have thought possible have actually happened. A year ago I was lost, had quit the career I’d spent most of my adult life building, was a bit scared of meeting new people, and never thought I’d even consider playing music in front of strangers again. Now I’m almost a full-time musician with wonderful new friends right here in my lovely little town and across the globe. One of my favorite friends lives about as far as possible on Earth yet we’re closer than I am to most people I’ve spent thousands of hours hanging out with!

More talented and informed people than I write plenty about the power of the Internet and the social possibilities it presents, but what I’ve learned is a bit less academic. Talking to people who are actually doing things, trying to make the world or even just their own lives better, makes you a better person. Rather than “the power of positive thinking” maybe we should concentrate on the power of positive people. No matter how strong of a person you might be the people you are surrounded by (in real life or virtually) inevitably exert an influence on your way of thinking.

Until the Internet really took hold, who you were associated with was largely a matter of circumstance. You played with the kids in your neighborhood, socialized with people you worked with, got to know people purely because they hung out at the same places, and so on. My world (with wonderful exceptions, of course) always seemed to consist of people who focused on how hard life is, how unlikely risks were to pay off, and how everyone is “out to get you.”

I spent most of my childhood through 20s depressed. The most damaging part was no amount of excelling at something meant I was actually talented to my mind, there would always be someone better. My bedroom was filled with ribbons and trophies from various activities and playbills from my theater work and dancing, yet I was convinced all of my dreams were out of reach. Luckily, that feeling didn’t stop me from trying, but it weighed on my brain like a truck and made it easier to give up on some things that were not only passions, but things I actually rocked at.

So, what made the difference? Well, two things. One day I decided that I could look at my life as a series of overwhelming obstacles or I could appreciate that the hard times made me better prepared for whatever comes next and therefore I should have hope. I can’t change my past but I could change my perspective on it and use it to make my current and future life better. Suddenly, the world seemed a lot warmer and brighter than ever before, and I found myself smiling a whole lot more.

One of the great secrets of life: Smiling=meeting more people=more chances to find the good ones=more smiling. Therefore, the first thing brought me right to the second.

Suddenly, my town of mostly young adults who party too much for my older taste revealed a whole bunch of people of all ages who had similar mindsets to mine. They were always there, I just needed to change to find them.

Meanwhile, I found Twitter and my social network suddenly spanned the globe, mainly consisting of incredibly smart and upbeat people who are contributing to the world in so many amazing ways (if someone tends towards the negative there I can just unfollow them, too, which is one way Twitter is superior to traditional social venues). They inspire me daily. Most importantly, they inspired me to write music again.

I used to believe that art sprang only from depression and my newfound lack of depression would kill my writing. It’s done the exact opposite. My brain is constantly flooded with ideas, rhythms, melodies, fragments of compositions that swirl away, demanding release. Even better, when I do have down days and find myself lacking in the willpower to keep up my disciplined attacks on writing and rehearsal, my friends, acquaintances, and dear fans lift me up and remind me why it’s important to keep putting in the effort instead of nagging me about how hard it is to have a career in music. I live the hard part, I don’t need to be how difficult it is! Positive encouragement and reactions are the finest fuels for motivation.

So, if you stumbled across me and what I do and you’ve ever sent me a message or bought even a single track, thank you. It’s a cliché but you truly are the reason I work so hard and I’m endlessly grateful to have these reasons. They’re a far better incentive than any paycheck could be!

Now, I just need to work on getting the non-musical writing momentum up…

The Worst Question You Can Ask Me October 13, 2009

Posted by craftlass in music.
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Since I’ve started playing music and talking about it again I’ve been getting asked the same question quite a bit, “What are your musical influences?”

It’s a very valid question, as it’s a way for people to decide if they want to listen to what you do, but it’s excruciating for this songwriter, at least. I listen to an incredibly wide variety of music, always have, and I think all of it has had a big influence on me even if you can’t directly hear all of it in my stuff. On top of that, much of my inspiration is music that people think of differently than I do.
For example, the Grateful Dead have certainly had a large effect but they are mostly known for their long drawn-out jams, especially to those who have only heard a little bit of them or gone to a show or two. The thing is, what I love best about them is their own diverse influences and how well-written their songs are. They have a much stricter structure than most people realize and the jams, while free-flowing, were always within the context of that structure much like great jazz. Many current jam bands just jam, the songs are more like vehicles for jams than examples of great songwriting, and it’s quite a different way to play, one that I don’t personally enjoy.
Huge influence? Yes. Do I play music like theirs? Not really. If you like the Dead will you like my music? Maybe.
From folk to jazz to classical to show tunes to good ol’ rock and roll from the 50s to today with lots of stops at music from across the globe, every piece of music I’ve ever heard has informed my style, even the music I don’t particularly enjoy has had an effect by teaching what not to do. I’ve sung in church and secular choirs, performed in many musicals, trained in African percussion, and played with very different bands in my past. What I do now comes from all of it and separating out specific examples just doesn’t make any sense.
Honestly, I think if an artist can pinpoint precise influences their music isn’t very interesting. It’s even worse if the audience can tell exactly where you are coming from. Music is a living beast that evolves just as we have evolved from single-cell critters to the complex species we are today.
If you tend to listen to just one genre, please go get something else and expand your mind, whether you play or write or just enjoy listening.

Bake Sale for NASA October 6, 2009

Posted by craftlass in current issues, music, NASA.
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I haven’t posted any of my music or lyrics on here because I have been writing anonymously and I have had an issue with people trying to steal my intellectual property in the past. However, when Jen Scheer (@flyingjenny), one of my favorite SpaceTweeps (appropriate, as it turns out she started the group) asked to see the lyrics to the following song I realized that maybe it’s not such a bad thing to mix these parts of my life. In fact, I feel like I’m starting to become CraftLass more and more in real life as well as online, since I’ve been meeting people in person who I first found online for the first time in years. Maybe that should become my new stage name as well as pen name…?

I also am quite proud of this song and think it’s timely, so I’d rather have it spreading around regardless of if I ever make a dime on it than keep it to myself. I performed it last night for the first time and the response was very positive, with a few people going so far as to say it made them think about their own feelings about NASA and funding. I tried to make it as accurate as possible, using information from Wayne Hale’s blog, NASA’s website in general, and posts and tweets by SpaceTweeps as my inspiration. Who am I kidding? The song popped into my head and pretty much wrote itself while I was reading those things and watching the Augustine hearings more than the other way around.
Okay, here goes:
Bake Sale for NASA

We sent men to the moon because of some lines

In a speech that inspires to this day
We learn more about Earth from orbit
Than we can in any other way
Yet we spend and we spend and we spend and we spend
On corporate welfare that will never end
Programs that waste more than they create
Yet we’re happy to let NASA deflate

Chorus:

So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks
Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

A very large chunk of what sets us apart

Is our driving need to explore
Humans are best when we’re trying to test
Our limits and find we have more
The more that we learn the less that we know
So further on still we must go
To answer the questions that in the past
We didn’t even know to ask
Chorus:
So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks
Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race

Bridge:
To turn this whole endeavor over
To private investors and other lands
Would be giving up the greatest power
We have in our nation’s hands
Some skeptics say we should keep funds at bay
Until we have fed everyone
But we produce more food than ever before
Because of what NASA has done
Nearly every invention created for space
On Earth has found a useful place
Saving some lives and improving many more
Like we’ve never seen before
Chorus:
So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks
Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race
Bridge:
In these days where folks are always trying
To take real science out of schools
We need to step up our efforts
Or become a nation of fools
I could go on for days extolling the ways
Investment in NASA makes sense
But I have only this song to convince those who are wrong
And think it’s a wasteful expense
I will dare to say it’s our greatest success
Less than 1% is hardly excess
In a budget that keeps us all in debt
At least here we can see what we get

Chorus:
So let’s hold a bake sale for NASA
Show our love for a program that actually works
The cookies are sure to be out of this world
We could even have astros as clerks
Give folks a chance to learn first-hand
Why we need these adventures in space
How it affects them directly at home
And elevates the whole human race
Human race
Humans in space!!
(If you like these lyrics, I’m talking to a producer right now about trying to get at least a simple acoustic version recorded quickly and will post it here when it’s ready, I promise!)
Also posted at the Space Tweep Society Blog.

Cherished August 13, 2009

Posted by craftlass in music, tribute.
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There will be a lot of posts on Les Paul by people who are better equipped to write them than I could ever be. Yet, as I can’t think about anything else right now it seemed like I should get on here and tell a little story.

When I was 18 I hung out at a place in New York City called Tramps a lot. They had tons of really incredible bands there, from legendary acts who usually played bigger places to some of the most talented new discoveries. The place itself wasn’t anything special but the moment the music started it was magical, an intimate environment that was all about music. It was also very special to be able to be there at the moment when I was all about musical discovery whether it was the best of the past or the future, which dovetailed very nicely with their lineup. Sometimes you really are in just the right place at just the right time.

After Danny Gatton’s suicide they held a tribute to him with mind-blowing musicians volunteering their skills to benefit his family. I caught every drop of music of every night of it and could write a whole book about the experience but one memory trumps them all.

I was alone there and killing time before the music started by browsing the merch table. An older man walked up to the table and we started talking about the most mundane things. It turned out I grew up one town away from where he’d been living for years so we actually found so much to chat about that we never even introduced ourselves. It was a great conversation, the kind I would remember forever even if the next events of the night hadn’t happened.

After awhile he said he had to go backstage, so I wandered over to the soundboard area to listen to the music that was now in full swing. My friend ran up to me and said, “You’ll never guess who’s not only here but is actually going to play a few songs! Les Paul!” I had, of course, heard Les Paul but only on records, so I was extremely excited at that moment. The music stopped and the very man who I’d enjoyed talking to so much walked out on stage with his signature guitar! I had no idea I’d been talking to a legend.

Oh, and the music – just so wonderful!

I ended up living right near the Iridium for awhile, so I went to see him whenever I could, but nothing can compare to those first moments of hearing his guitar sing. I have also ended up meeting quite a few musicians since then and, while many of those became people dear to my heart and Les Paul was barely an acquaintance, he touched my heart so deeply in such a brief time that he will always have a place in it.

We are so blessed that a mind that fine turned itself to music and that we did get to have him with us for such a very long time. It still feel like the whole world was robbed today, though.

Out from Behind August 11, 2009

Posted by craftlass in creativity, music, video.
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Last year I got a Handycam for Christmas. I’d wanted one for years but found it’s almost odd to actually own one, as you then are expected to film everything, which means a lack of actual participation. As someone who loves to experience things that’s tough to swallow for a lot of events.

I got a couple of really cool tripods off eBay, though, and that helps. Both are prosumer tripods, one is heavy and super-sturdy and the other is tiny and light for travel. They open up whole worlds of possibilities, but the funny thing is I mostly seem to be getting use out of the whole video getup around my home.

Since I recently started playing music again after a long hiatus, and am taking the guitar much more seriously than I used to, I have taken to recording a lot of my practicing. It’s incredibly helpful in so many ways.

However, I am realizing that I have a fear of cameras that goes deeper than I previously thought. Actually, I knew I used to have a fear of cameras but thought I had gotten rid of it when I last had professional pictures taken. That shoot was a revelation, I had so much fun and got quite relaxed, which of course meant the pictures were so good! Those were still pictures, though (on actual film, no less), and stills haven’t bothered me since, so maybe it’s just a fear of video cameras now.

I plug away, setting aside part of an afternoon every so often and letting the camera capture whatever I’m working on. It IS making me feel better about the camera just being there but it definitely makes it harder to play music. It’s quite distracting. For one thing, there’s the factor of not knowing where to look, it’s kind of creepy to look right in the lens but it seems like I’m shady or something when I look elsewhere.

Which brings me to the further creepiness of watching the products of all this effort. I’m actually writing this post as one of my songs plays on the PS3 and it’s possible that the reason I started it was for an excuse to look away. Defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

Well, at least my creativity is flowing in a lot of ways and I’m not letting my fears knock me back down. Baby steps, baby steps. Hopefully this will carry on through the nightmare of trying to play out again. There is no audience as scary to me than that stupid little lens!