Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cleaning out a Squier

The first guitar in my household was a Squier Strat purchased by my brother.  He ultimately decided that guitar wasn't for him, so he gave it to me.  I played around with it, but I never really did much - I wasn't really interested in guitar at the time.  

Fast forward a decade.  Now I play guitar but never really dabbled in electric.  I stumbled upon the Squier again and decided to give it a good cleaning and restringing.  

The patient.

Dust, rust, and one screw short of a Happy Meal.

It hadn't been strung correctly, so the strings had to be cut.

Ready for the operation.

Open sesame.

What a mess.

After cleaning everything out, I cleaned the grimy fretboard, polished the body, polished the bridge, put everything back together, and restrung it properly.  Now it looks like any ol Fender Squier.  It needs some adjusting still, but it's playable now!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

DC Holiday Market, Year III

Playing djembe and keyboards in front of the National Portait Gallery on a brisk December evening with singer/songwriter Evan Polisar (link to his music!).  Thank to Melinda S for the photos!

Photo: Melinda S.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Spring Cleaning ... in Autumn (Part 3)

     Here we are!  Here's my workspace (unfortunately taken from a camera phone).  Instead of getting a new computer, why not divide tasks among old ones?  That's a 2006 Dell behind the Mac (both acquired used).  Old Dell still has a decent video card (more so than the Mac), so it's good for photo editing, burning the Lightscribe CDs, and killing virtual zombies.  The Casio Privia PX-320 is my practice keyboard after being retired from stage abuse; the output jacks no longer function properly.

     Here's the setup used for recording recent videos.  The office chair is one I've had since elementary school.  The cushion's non-existant, but has otherwise held up well over the years.  On the tripod is my trusty Panasonic Lumix used for shooting the videos.  On the floor is my makeshift lighting.

     Aside from tidying up some loose items, the new studio is basically good to go.  Feels great to have the place more streamlined for musicing.  We'll see if it makes me any more productive, haha.  

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spring Cleaning ... in Autumn (Part 2)

     I wanted to have two desks close to each other.  One would be dedicated for recording, mixing, and computer stuff while the other could be used for writing.  Yes, I still write by hand ... and in cursive.  Since I wanted to have Netflix running while I cleaned, the computer desk was the first to be set-up (you'll also notice that it's the only clean part of the room).  Not too much writing was going to get done.  The flatscreen monitor wasn't going to be used anymore so it's now in the guest room.  

I wonder NetFlix is loading now?

     I began cleaning stuff out of the closet like the quiver of skateboards and suit jackets (yes, a funny combination).  The stuffed animal in the top shelf was my very first stuffed animal bought from the Seoul Olympics.  It makes a squeaking noise that apparently made me cry when I was a baby (it might still: I'm just afraid to try).  The bookshelf in the foreground was filled with the textbooks mentioned in the previous post.  They all got thrown into the basement (AKA the library).  The shelves are now home to my show shoes and a whole bunch of music binders from my many musical endeavors.  

Yup.  Still a mess.

(For a goof, note all the little turtle gifts I've received over the years.  There are about nine turtles in this picture from a quick glance.  See if you can find them.)

Next week:  What the studio looks like now!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Honey Fest 2011: A PKD Charity Event Promo

     This is a beautiful video from this year's Honey Fest put together by Alexis Pyne and Marykate Santalucia.  Anyone who's gone through having a friend or family member suffer from medical conditions will be moved by the letter at the end.  


Friday, November 11, 2011

Watch Me Butcher ... #1: Wonderwall (Oasis)

     My very first iMovie 09 movie!  Man it was a pain in the butt getting this off the ground.  Apple really doesn't make it easy to import AVCHD-Lite files to their program.  That's usually fine and dandy because of a wealth free conversion software, but everything I found wanted my money.  I wanted my money more as tempting as it was to end my pain and drop $300 for Final Cut Pro.  

     Sure, there's a lot of trail software out there, but I needed a permanent solution.  I finally found it though it required using a Windows PC and transferring files between the two computers.  First world problems, eh?  

     Then there was the issue of editing the audio file to sound halfway decent and not so quiet that I'd have to turn my sound all the way up to hear.  I caved into using compression and got some acceptable results.  Synching the audio to video was relatively easy compared to hassle of figuring out how the transition and effect system worked on iMovie; my only prior video editing experience was with Window Movie Maker on WinXP.  

     Anyway, enough said about this.  Stay tuned for the next video set to be released a week from now.  

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spring cleaning ... in Autumn (Part 1)

     It's funny how plans change.  A little over a year and a half ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.  After college, I took some time to really explore every avenue of interest to see where my strengths were.  Among the many career avenues I was exploring, becoming a comic book artist (or children's book illustrator) was, surprisingly enough, a top choice.  

Concept sketch in ink and watercolor for a story I wrote but never finished illustrating.

     Music won out, but my studio hadn't changed to reflect the redirection of my efforts.  A lot of my art stuff sat around unused along with psychology and rhetoric textbooks that got little more than the occasional glance.  I decided it was about time to reorganize my studio to be more streamlined for the music work I was doing.  Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting pictures of the slow, messy transformation.  Looking at the old pictures now, the change wasn't as dramatic as I thought it'd be, but hopefully my productivity will be.  

The before picture.

     As you can tell from the cracked windows and tower fan, it was still hot when I started the mini-rennovation (which is my way of saying my studio usually isn't this messy).  In this picture, I'd already begun dismantling my sound system (seen on the bed).  At the bottom, you'll see two keyboards.  They were used in a failed attempt to save a dying desktop that has since been salvaged for parts and pitched.  And so it began.  

Next week:  Moving books and desks.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Announcing: the "Watch Me Butcher" video series!

     Anyone who's come up to me after a show and asked me if I sing has been given the same response: "I can't sing."  That's silly.  Of course I can sing.  Do I sing well?  Not really.  Definitely not a year ago.  But I'd been hiding behind that excuse for a long time.  

Lighting test in my bathrobe
AKA blanket I wear around the house.

     It finally hit my impervious-to-common-sense brain that I wouldn't improve unless I practiced.  So I did.  Much as how I used YouTube to learn guitar and keyboards and drums and, well basically every instrument I play, the Internet proved to be an indispensable source of tips to get me started in the right direction.  Having some killer singer friends who freely gave tips helped even more.  

     Since my high school days of singing to Weezer records while driving (that's what we used to do to distraction ourselves before cell phones --> no joke, I had a bumper sticker that warned other drivers that I was singing) I was a fan of shamelessly harmonizing to whatever I heard.

     Fast forward to now when I'm in the process of recording EP II: Center but haven't made much progress because of my lack of skill in Audacity (I'm too cheap to shell out cash for ProTools, Logic, Reason, etc) holding me up.  Additionally, I wanted to up the quality of my video editing for future music videos but don't know anything outside of Windows Movie Maker on WinXP.  

     I have everything I need: a Panasonic Lumix point-and-shoot that records in HD, input preamps, a condenser, recording microphone, Audacity, iMovie 09, and a newly renovated studio to do the work (more on that come Wednesday).  The next step is to simply practice.  In the coming weeks, I'll be releasing some covers of tunes everyone covers.  They will be neither quality nor professional, rather good-humored sketches as I try to get a handle on steamlining all this tech.  

     Check back Friday for a blog post about the video if you haven't seen it floating around already!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Backstage photos from Hard Rock gig

I found some more pictures on my camera from the Hard Rock gig!

If you were to put these pictures side-by-side,
you'd get a somewhat panoramic view
of the room.

Drummer for The Way Home, Nick H on the right.

The guys from Gashouse Radio!

Singer/Songwriter James Hearne!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Turn off the radio and listen to some music!

     At one point, record stores and radio used to be the only means by which we could come across new music (or bootlegged casette tapes?).  Now, we're able to get music straight from the artists in the purest forms without meddling from record labels, sponsors, and contractual obligations.  Of course, most of what you'll hear on mainstream radio consists of music following the tried and true "hit" formulas.  The formulas work and make people a lot of money.

     However, sometimes it's nice to listen to something a little different, a bit more edgy.  Experimentations always runs the risk of coming-off as gimmicky, but some of them really do yield something cool.  In this blog post, I've got three YouTube videos that displays music you probably won't hear on the radio (though one of them was featured in a movie).

     First-up, guitar + kalimba.  I'd long thought about doing something like this and even unsuccessfully tried mounting my thumb piano to my guitar.  Well, someone beat me to it, and boy does he do so successfully!

     Second: an unlikely trio of piano, guitar, and ... beatboxing?  How's this for a fusion trio?  If you find the intro a little inaccessible, fast forward about a minute into the video.  Magic.  And how about that ragtime solo?

     Third and finally for today, how about fusing rock/disco beats with Mongolian folk music and throat singing?  You might recognize Altan Urag's music from the movie Mongol.  The fusion of western style composition and drumming with the sounds of eastern folk instruments has been addictive to my ears since I saw the film.

     Have any recommendations of your own?  Let me know!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Endy photo shoot.

     Ever see the movie Zoolander?  Yeah, I think it's funny too.  The vain model, idiots viewed through a TV a screen at least ... three times that size, ambiturning, mind-reading bulimia, internal computers, mermen, etc.  But Earth to Hansel ... *sigh* ... alright.  I'll say it.  Modeling isn't easy.  Ok, sure at its core, modeling is easy.  You stand still, you get a picture taken, model.  Right?  

     As it turns out, I'm camera shy when it comes to getting my picture taken by someone I'd just met (in person) whilst shooting outdoors in a public place.  No pressure, right?  That said, young photographer Nathaniel Dodson of Endy Photography ( did a great job in making my first outing feel loose, informal and more animated than the cardboard cutout I initially felt like.  He was very friendly, patient, and conversational.  

     Three years my junior, Nathaniel is quite the accomplished and ambitious character.  His talents are wide and varied, but one thing is clear: he hates mediocrity and doesn't settle to just be "good enough." His hard work and perseverance shows.  He put his all into the photo shoot.  

    The session went on for a while, and the change in lighting (or lack thereof) lead to some interesting experiments and some really cool concept photos that didn't pan out the way we'd hoped.  He did a fantastic job of making due with with my complete lack of modeling talent, so I'd highly encourage you to check out his website (link) to really see what he can do!

("Obey my dog.")

Sunday, October 16, 2011

October highlights

     October is proving to be a busy month!  With music going on seven nights a week, I reached a point where I realized I was spreading myself too thin.  I was compromising quality musicianship for the sake of a shallow, machine-like efficiency, and it was showing in my playing.  The month has been a gradual process of simplifying my life and re-evaluating my priorities.

Baller status backstage?
(Photo: Nick H.)
     That said, the beginning of October marked my debut at the Kennedy Center with, appropriately enough, the very people who inspired me to pursue music.  The place was decorated lavishly like a high-end 1950's jazz club and the music was well-received.

(Photo: Cesar C.)

Jazzin sound check.
(Photo: Cesar C.)
Hard Rock, hard to miss.
(Photo: Cesar C.)

     Later that week, I made my debut with the group formerly known as the Sobriquets now named The Way Home.  The venue of choice was the Hard Rock Cafe in Philadelphia, and we shared the stage with Hamburger Hunt and the Folkadelics.

The Way Home's debut.
(Photo: Cesar C.)
Two hands, two keyboards.
(Photo: Cesar C.)
     There are some projects I'm sad to be leaving and others I'm excited to see blossom.  Unfortunately, relatively little attention has gone to my original material as far as releasing all this music I've been writing for the past while.  Once I have everything catalogued and streamline my recording techniques, expect to see some new content out little by little.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sept 25, 2011: Wedding at the Waterfall Conference Center

Neato torpedo venue: Waterfall Banquet Center in Claymont, DE.
Wonder where they get the name?

     As a musician, I think I oftentimes take for granted how much live music can add to the mood and ambiance of a place.  When I hear music, my brain has been trained to pick it apart, analyze it, and process it in a way I could learn the piece.  For the past year, I've done a pretty small amount of listening for pleasure the way I used to.  Whenever I was listening to music, it was for the purpose of learning it.

The wedding hall.

     Tonight's gig was for a wedding and the people in attendance made their appreciation and enjoyment of our music very evident to us.  Some picked out the tunes they recognized while others asked us for tips to improve their own playing.  A couple of staff members also put in their kind words. 
     The jazz quartet I performed with were very laid back, trusting in everyone's talent and only requiring that we enjoy ourselves when we play.  I felt no pressure to try to be ultra-progressive in my playing, no pressure to dance around like a buffoon despite being unable to hear what I was playing (as often is the case with many rock shows), and no pressure to exactingly recreate studio recordings.  It was just a group of three other guys, two of whom I'd never met, and me just enjoying the simpler pleasures of jazz.  

Donald Williams, our sax player for the evening
showing-off his new bari sax.  
     During the commute back, I popped in some music that I was in no way obligated to learn and just listened and sang along like I did in high school.  It made my hour-long drive home feel like a vacation instead of work on the road.  Good times.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Jam for Jeff Benefit Concert

     The kind of company a person keeps says a lot about him/her.  Like it or not, we are defined by our friends and family.  As social creatures, something as tragic as a person's death sends shockwaves felt by everyone in that social web.  A few Friday's ago, I had the privilege of performing at a benefit concert at Sweeney's Saloon in Philadelphia held the loving memory of one Jeff Hauser, a man I did not know.

Gifts, T-shirts, and raffle prizes!  (Photo by Noelle F.)

Words of kindness.  (Photo by Scott P.)

Hugs and dancing.  (Photo by Noelle F.)
     The proceeds of the benefit helped some great organizations that help children with developmental difficulties.  The turnout and energy were great and a lot of money was raised.  Much love and the joy of being reunited with old acquaintances filled the air.

Rocking a Zappa tribute in Jeff's memory. (Photo by Scott P.)

Hustle and bustle.  (Photo by Noelle F.)

Lap steel.  (Photo by Scott P.)

     I played keys with Honey Juice, a band of musicians and friends I first saw perform about a year ago at the very first Honey Fest.  In addition to our usual repertoire of Grateful Dead, Phish, and several other phunky, groovy favorites, we were asked to cover some Frank Zappa songs as Jeff was a huge Zappa fan. Friends of his hopped on and did their tributes.  The night went long as did the dancing, cheer, and merriment.

Me jamming away on keys.  (Photo by Scott P.)

Honey Juice and friends.  (Photo by Noelle F.)

     I returned home parched, exhausted, and smelling of cigarette smoke.  As I drifted to sleep, one thought lingered in my mind: I might have never known Jeff, but I got to know the people he held dear.  Seeing the support, love, and smiles that this gathering brought-up really spoke to his character, the kinds of people who were drawn to him, and in turn, what he meant to them all.

Poster board of memories.  (Photo by Noelle F.)

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Biking and parkour combined?

     There are many ways of expressing oneself creatively.  This video really caught my eye as an incredibly beautiful expression of that fact.  

     As a longboard skateboarder (of course, nowhere near the level of proficiency this guy has!), I can personally attest to how doing sports like these changes the way you see the world around you.  Go on a drive with a longboarder and you'll see him oogle and crane his/her head at the sight of hills you pass by like a 17-year old seeing a scantily-clad supermodel.  

     Though nowhere near an all-encompassing definition, for me, a large aspect of art stems from the artist's the ability to see the world from unique perspective and express it in a way that helps others come to appreciate the paradigm shift without the need of long-winded explanations (like the one I'm writing here).  Case in point, Danny Macaskill transformed what most people would dismiss as an abandoned train yard into a playground for his bike.

     With these kinds of videos, it's easy to over-glorify the acts being portrayed.  There was no non-diegetic music playing while Macaskill rode.  He had to have messed-up many times while practicing these skills.  The story told in the video was of a lone rider solitary in his craft, however, there was obviously someone manning the camera.  Point being that the video editing quite successfully told a story, enhanced the experience, and allowed we the mainstream to view the biking in a way that is entertaining and accessible.  

     Really though, this post was probably just a lame excuse to show a couple of cool videos, so while I'm at it ...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Novel Music Tech #3: The musical flying saucer

     One day, I hope to own one of these!  It's a really cool instrument called a "Hang Drum."  It sounds and works similar to steel drums (see bottom of this entry) but instead of mallets, the softer, more rounded sound is made by the hands.  The instrument also has a nice, percussive element to it that makes it a great solo instrument as well as something to be included in an ensemble.

     These unique and rare instruments are actually products of the 21st century from Switzerland of all places (which also happens to be, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful places in the world).  Very few are in circulation, and even with the wonders of the Internet, obtaining one is an ordeal and an expensive one at that!  However, the sounds are beautiful.  

     There are alternatives however, the Hapi Drum being one.  It works similar to African thumb pianos sans the plucked sound and the added element of that metallic percussion sound.  

     If you're looking for something closer to the real thing, a US based company called Pantheon Steel offer their Halo Drums (link).  These are made to order, so you've got to really want it and know what you want, but as popularity (and with it, demand) of these instruments increases, I'm sure more and more avenues will open up.  Now, I might be underestimating the versatility of this instrument, but I wonder if the mainstream-ization of the hang drum and saturation would reduce this to nothing more than a novelty item.  

     That said, to close, here's a video of some enthusiastic steel drummers to leave you on a good note (so to speak).

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Honey Fest 2011

     Well, after all the time preparing, planning, promoting, practicing for, etc Honey Fest 2011 (link), it's finally over.  It was one huge party with some very unexpected surprises that came along the way.  The organizers of Honey Fest are friends of mine, and I've only been getting closer over the past year, getting to know their story and how this all came about.  It was a huge honor to be able to perform with them on stage to close the night's on-stage music to an incredibly appreciative and supportive audience.  

     Though a three-day celebration full of good times, good people, good food, and good music, the underlying and driving force behind this relatively new festival is more sobering.  It was organized to raise awareness for Polycistic Kidney Disease or PKD for short, an incredibly common yet relatively unrecognized condition.  No cure currently exists, and victims must undergo regular dialysis or a kidney transplant.  It's also a genetic condition meaning parents suffering from PKD have a 50% chance of passing it on to their children.  

     One of the big things that was emphasized throughout the festival was the importance of organ donors.  This is a topic that is very near and dear to me: my uncle's life was saved thanks to an organ donor.  Additionally, a friend of mine who passed away in an accident two years ago was able to give the gift of life to five people because he was an organ donor.  For those who have never gone through the process, being the recipient of an organ donation is a difficult, unpredictable, and nerve-wrecking process.  Unless someone donates directly to you (usually a family, friend, or loved one), you're put on a waiting list meaning it's anyone's guess as to when or even if you'll get it.  At the festival, several people who weren't already volunteered to be donors.  

     That all, said, I enjoyed staying active, enjoying the food, meeting some new faces while reveling in how small the world can be sometimes, and had an absolute blast performing both my solo material as well as on keys with Honey Juice, the headlining band.  No doubt that many more will come, but photographer Greg Martini ( has already posted a bunch of pictures of the day (link).  All of the pictures you see here are courtesy of Greg.

     Also, a special shout-out to the sound guys, the unsung heroes of live music.  They did a bang-up job of providing nice, clean, balanced sound throughout the festival.  Both the on-stage and off-stage levels were great, something that unfortunately doesn't happen very often.  They were all also really nice, cooperative, patient guys to boot too!  

Until next time,

Love and Peace!