Sunday, September 28, 2014

Thoughts on Yoga & Music

Illustration by Boonchu
I play music. I practice (and teach some) yoga. But I don't play music when I practice. And I don't make 'yoga music' as an artist. That said, I think yoga and music are exceedingly complimentary, if not the same in many ways.
On an experiential level,  I often find that the act and results of a 'good' yoga practice and a 'successful' session are really the same. To make music with others takes both listening well and holding your own line to play your part well to create something larger than all involved.   Practicing yoga is similar, especially in a Mysore room where everyone is following their own breath, playing the parts (in this case doing the postures) while building a larger energy field than most mortals can do alone.  And if I'm lucky, I leave a performance (or rehearsal or jam) feeling the same as I often feel when leaving a Mysore room: clear, calm, inspired and connected.
Sometimes the progress of my yoga practice suffers from the time spent playing music; oftentimes the early morning practice schedule runs at odds with the 'typical' late musician night (napping is key). But diving into a week of yoga after a three-gig weekend provides a much-needed reset button. And I know my yoga practice informs my writing and playing on every level, from helping to keep my mind clear to feeding my muse.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Artist Interview: Oakland Musician Blood & Dust

Blood & Dust, aka Oakland-based artist Doug Tiemann, first came to my attention through the Balanced Breakfast East Bay music meet-ups. A hard-working and well-respected artist, the Midwest native has been tearing up the Bay Area circuit, garnering raves for his brand of acoustic soul. Leading up to our shared gig at The Monkey House in Berkeley this Saturday, September 27, Blood & Dust kindly answered my questions about his musical path.
 Q: How did you first start singing and writing songs?
BD: I actually started writing songs pretty late in the game.  I spent many years playing drums and percussion and picked up the guitar in college.  It wasn't until grad school that I got the gumption to write a song.  Life had changed a lot and I had my first quarter life crisis, so I decided to write about it.
Q:  Who were some of your earliest influences?
BD: I have an interesting mix of influences.  My father grew up in the 50's and 60's so naturally there is a lot of early rock n' roll and Motown in my influences.  I still draw a lot of inspiration from early soul singers like Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Otis Redding.   My mother brought to the table a lot of songwriters from the 60's and 70's like Simon & Garfunkel and John Prine.  I can't help but acknowledge these influences mix in the way that I approach my singing and writing. Today I find a lot of inspiration from songwriters like David Ramirez and Amos Lee among many others.

Q: Blood and Dust. Great name. What led to it?
BD: Blood & Dust came out of needing a name.  Doug Tiemann isn't a bad name, but it's not a great stage name either.  It pretentious to me to change my name to something cool so I thought that I would choose a name that could work whether I was playing solo or if I had a whole band behind me.  I wanted something gritty and earthy, something that when you heard my music, it made sense with the name.  Blood & Dust was where I landed, I figured that it's either a great name for an Americana band or perhaps some sort of death metal band.  It seemed to make sense to me so there I landed.

Q  What/who led you to California? Can you say anything in respect to how the Bay Area music scene is influencing you in contrast to/or similarly to your experience as a musician in the Midwest and South?
BD: I originally came to bay area to attend graduate school.  I'm a Midwest boy, so you can imagine that the Bay Area changed my life a bit.  I even moved away for a short while but I couldn't stand NOT to live here so I moved back. The Bay Area has been a huge part of my influence as a songwriter.  I've been a musician in the south and the Midwest and while there are definitely scenes, the Bay Area music community inspired me to write, to build community, and to try to be part of something bigger than myself.  While every music scene is competitive, the Bay Area scene has a sense of camaraderie that, I believe, has allowed me to pursue music and grow in my craft.

Q4: What are you working on now? Any new projects or recordings shaping up?
BD:  I've been working on a new block of songs since my first album.  Sophomore albums are definitely a challenge across the board, but I'm excited to explore new sounds. My first album ended up sounding a little more like a rock album, but I'm excited about the using roots instruments and what that will bring to the mix.  Revisiting old songs with new instrumentation has been really refreshing as well.

Q: You host a music series—what's it like for you being on the other side of putting on a show? Any rewards, pitfalls, or recommendations to share with us? 
BD: I was doing a concert series called "An Evening in DogTown."  While it's currently on hiatus, the experience there has been invaluable to me.  I think what made our concert series so valuable to those who participated was that we kept our focus on the most important thing: the music and the people making it.  When you abandon that for just trying to get people in the door you lose something.  I would say that there are too many venues that are only concerned about making a quick buck.  It's a business, and to be successful money has to be made, but you have to care about the product you put out.  I think this is why so many of my fellow Bay Area musicians are seeking out more house show gigs.  I would encourage anyone that wants to pursue putting on house shows to clearly define their reasons for doing so — that's a good start. 
Blood & Dust appears live at The Monkey House Theater in Berkeley, Saturday, September 27, 2014 7:30pm. Tickets & more information: 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumnal Sky

Christopher Capell photo
The word equinox comes from the Latin words for "equal night." The fall and spring equinoxes are the only days of the year in which the Sun crosses the celestial equator.
From here on out, the temperatures begin to drop and the days start to get shorter than the nights. — Farmer's Almanac

Practice, life,  everything, about living, it seems, comes down to balance between opposites: light and dark, hard and soft, life and death, sweet and sour, male and female, heaven and earth.  The Autumnal equinox was Monday, providing a fine opportunity to stop a moment to marvel at the earth hanging in balance between all these poles.

I celebrated the equinox by planting my feet on the earth and looking up at the sky. After an early-morning practice in San Francisco with Peter Sanson, a visiting Certified Ashtanga teacher from New Zealand, I headed up Hawk Hill in Marin for my fortnightly stint as a Hawk Watch volunteer. By the time I left the studio, the sun was fully up, the sky was clear and bright blue, making a perfect backdrop for hundreds of migrating raptors. A half hour late to my shift, I barely had time to say hello to my hawk-watch team-mates as there were so many hawks in the sky: Cooper's Hawks, Sharp-shinned hawks, Broad-Winged hawks and more, there were hawks everywhere. The day would go by quickly as there was rarely a moment when the sky wasn't busy with migrating birds (and the hill full of both tourists enjoying a stellar view of San Francisco and other avid bird watchers). It was tremendous. It was was wonderful. 

Autumn Sky

By Charles Simic
In my great grandmother's time,   
All one needed was a broom   
To get to see places   
And give the geese a chase in the sky.   


The stars know everything,   
So we try to read their minds.   
As distant as they are,   
We choose to whisper in their presence.   


Oh Cynthia,   
Take a clock that has lost its hands   
For a ride.   
Get me a room at Hotel Eternity   
Where Time likes to stop now and then.   


Come, lovers of dark corners,   
The sky says,   
And sit in one of my dark corners.   
There are tasty little zeroes   
In the peanut dish tonight.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Starling songs and the Hesitation Blues

Basically, I live in the suburbs. A few businesses operate nearby, but we're on a mostly residential grid, complete with sidewalks and a smattering of trees lining the streets. In the bird department, we get Western bluebirds and goldfinch, hummingbirds and house finches, brown towhees, crows and scrub jays. A predictable bunch of birds for Northern California,  whose songs I readily recognize. So I rushed to the window along with the cat when I suddenly heard a  racket one morning, both of us straining our necks to get a better look. Ah-ha, I saw, deflating slightly, a hundred or so starlings had alighted on the telephone wire in a sudden burst, singing and trilling and chattering away as only they know how. And do starlings know how to make a sound. While I was a little disappointed at finding these prolific and invasive birds in the spot containing my potential wonder of the day, I was nonetheless respectful of their ability to learn and recite the songs of other birds. Starlings are like the ultimate cover band, err,  flock. The European variety evidently haas 15-20 songs ( a whole set!) of other birds' songs that they've learned to imitate and are  ready to sing at any time. The even have local dialects of those songs.
I don't want to identify too closely with a starling, but thinking of starlings reminded me of a song that has become a stalwart in my long sets, 'Hesitation Blues.' (I may have mentioned the song here before ). A traditional song that's been adopted by popular writers (including WC Handy) in the early part of the 20th Century, versions of the tune have been covered by a whole bunch of folks since,  including Louis Armstrong, Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin, varying its feel (blues, Western swing) and lyrics accordingly. I 'found' the song listening to the radio when the DJ played an hour's worth of Hesitation Blues versions. While I sometimes improv my own lyrics based on where I'm singing* (local dialect!)  I typically do a version using the lyrics Willie Nelson plays:

*KALX plays a very Berkeley-centric version I recorded of the song 'KALX Hesitation Blues' after playing a late-edition of KALX-Live in 2013.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Read.Eat.Listen: Full

Read: The dear writing-group friend LJ recommended 'Things I Don't Want to Know: On Writing' by Deborah Levy and I ate all but all of it up on the flights to and fro LA a couple weeks back. A free night looms and I'm about to devour the rest. Any writer/creative sort will appreciate her eye for detail, hard-stories-to-write-when-it's you material. This books isn't so much about how to write rather than the mysterious why we write (her chapters are titled 'Political Purpose' 'Historical Impulse' 'Sheer Egoism' and 'Aesthetic Enthusiasm.'
Eat: Oakland's Eat Real Festival is a foodie's dream (9/19 – 9/21) Oakland Local -  This weekend marks one of the quintessential Bay Area foodie events of the year as the 6th annual Eat Real Festival sets up in Jack London ...
I was one of the musical acts at the first year of the big foodie shindig that is theEat Real Festival. I'm returning to play at Jack London Square during the party this coming Saturday, Sept. 20.  Look/listen for us  2:30-3:30pm on the Lot Stage. There will be plenty to eat. I'll report back on what I actually ingest while there.

Listen: I'm a sucker for the ever-prolific, heart-on-his sleeve,  perhaps 'hard'-songs-to-write/writing-them-anyway truth-telling badassery of Ryan Adams whose got plenty new music with which to fill one's ears.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

KCDC Your Own Reaction Released!

I'm pleased to announce that the KCDC "Your Own Reaction" Cd is now available worldwide, online via CDBaby, Amazon, iTunes, etc.! We're proud of these songs and had a great time playing them live in Berkeley on Sunday. If you weren't at the show, I hope you'll take a listen and order a copy ...or two or three!
KCDC: Your Own Reaction
Representing about two years of focused work, from the time Kwame and I challenged one another to co-write an album, to recording the basics of 10 songs at Lost Monkey Studio, to overdubbing, working out the vocal parts and the artwork, and mixing the tracks, the disc represents more than the production cycle: it's actually the result of about a century of combined experience of scribbling in notebooks, practicing scales, playing shows, etc. et. al. by the individuals that form the band and who helped produce the CD. When the box of KCDC Cds finally arrived on our doorstep a month or so back, we took one out and sat a moment with it, looking at the credits, awed and grateful for how much expertise came with each name  (be it design, audio engineering, playing specific instruments, writing, listening) and the day-by-day process that led to a finished result.  It was humbling to hold the finished product, a marker on the path that has taken us through all sorts of terrain of collaboration and consensus and expression, and satisfying. We'd seen these songs through.

 On the surface, KCDC's debut CD "Your Own Reaction" is a guitar-driven batch of California-made roots music played by a veteran group of musicians who appreciate a good riff and an infectious beat. But really, the 10 songs on "Your Own Reaction" are about putting your heart on the line, surrendering to love and taking responsibility for your actions. It's meant for listeners who love real instruments and authentic writing; listeners who are seeking out truth and beauty in their lives and think this world deserves the best they've got. Recorded with band mates drummer Mike Stevens and bassist Andrew Gibson at Stevens’ Lost Monkey Studios in Hayward, CA, and co-produced by Crooks, Copeland and Stevens, the album is a truly collaborative effort. Mastering by Ken Lee; design by Harper Design Group.

Friday, September 12, 2014

KCDC CD Release 9/14 @ The Starry Plough

Yes, the KCDC CD release show is this weekend, Sunday September 14, 2014, 4-7pm, at The Starry Plough in Berkeley. We'll be sharing the bill with Seattle's wonderful Joy Mills and Tom Parker who will kick things off at 4pm. KCDC goes on at 5:30pm and play til around 7pm. We'll have the new CDs, as well as cool hand-printed shirts by Kate Fire, and I'm even playing an electric guitar! Please join us! It's free, all-ages and everyone is welcome. 

KCDC (CD Release) & Seattle's Joy Mills & Tom Parker @ The Starry Plough, Sunday, September14, 2014 4-7pm   Facebook Like Button

Joy Mills & Tom Parker Following the release of their balladeering and soulful country album, Trick of the Eye, The Joy Mills Band brought forth their 2nd full-length record, Cat & Mouse, in May of this year, exploring a well-grooved blend of roots, rock ‘n’ roll, folk and country. They'll be touring as an acoustic trio, with guest Julian Martlew on Dobro.
KCDC Born of a songwriting challenge, KCDC's debut recording "Your Own Reaction" finds Deborah Crooks and Kwame Copeland displaying their literary, post-punk and twang tendencies on 10 new tunes. "KCDC's debut CD "Your Own Reaction" is a guitar-driven batch of California-made roots music played by a veteran group of musicians who appreciate a good riff and an infectious beat. It's meant for listeners who love real instruments and authentic writing; listeners who are seeking out truth and beauty in their lives and think this world deserves the best they've got." KCDC will perform at The Starry Plough as a full band featuring Crooks, Copeland, Waters and Andrew Gibson (bass) and Whitney Jacobson (drums).
Rootstime Review
KCDC received some review love from my friends at Rootstime, a music magazine in Belgium. Nice words for the project included: "That the two musicians can create excellent songs is [not only] proved in abundance through songs like the ballads "Jesus And The Jed," "Gone Missing," "Oh Oh" and "Love Some More," but also by the uptempo charged and handsome guitar riffs on songs such as "Put Away the Year," "Sweep Out the Dust," "What To Say (Come Here)" and the album title track "Your Own Reaction." ...we'd love to hear more quality music from this duo on record."
LISTEN TO 'What to Say (Come Here)" from the new KCDC CD (click link or view in browser if player doesn't appear)