Give Me Your Head

“Give me your head. No no no. Let me move it. Give me your head.” Why is this so hard, I wondered, lying on the floor in a spare room at Creativ Studios. My head was in Hilary’s lap. We were warming up for the first of two studio sessions to re-do all my lead vocals for the EP. I had now become one of those people who could tell a crazy story about vocalizing (Once I had this teacher who had me lie on the floor while she moved my head around…)

I really wasn’t supposed to be thinking about anything, except completely relaxing my head and allowing Hilary to gently turn it right to left, up and down, around in circles. And I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t let my head fall into her hands. This made no sense. I trust Hilary totally – it’s not like she was going to quickly break my neck and leave me dead on the floor – (I was pretty sure) so what exactly was the problem here?

My brain added its two cents to the situation. Oh great, it snarled. I can’t even relax. I won’t be able to warm up, I won’t be able to sing any better than I did last time and we’re just all going to waste our studio time ALL BECAUSE I CAN’T RELAX JUST RELAX RIGHT NOW MAIRA DO IT NOW! Ah, yes. So helpful. So soothing. Sometimes I would give anything to have a different brain. Mine tends to freak out regularly and needs to be kept on a tight leash.

“Give it. Give it to me. Give me your head”, Hilary kept murmuring calmly as she reminded me to breathe deeply, and practice some vowel sounds. I told my brain to shut up and listen to her. And it worked. With every breath tension flowed out and calmness flooded in. I sank into the floor and began to hope we could just do warm-ups all night.

“And this is the room where we do make-up” said Jim cheerfully as he led the makeup artist for the next popstar video birthday party into the darkened room where Hilary and I were sprawled out. Jim owns Creativ. Hilary and I scrambled to our feet. “Just doing some vocal warmups” Hilary said brightly as I stood mutely, feeling utterly disoriented. “We’ll find another room”. No need to feel sheepish, I reassured myself as we staggered out the door. They probably didn’t expect to see head twisting and lap sitting and dolphin sounds, but no matter. I’m a singer now! We can get away with doing eccentric singer things.

After a few more rounds of “Give me your head”, some visualizing about a deep mysterious swamp of emotion, and a bit of lip flapping Hilary deemed me ready to sing. I felt fantastic. I suspected it was going to be a great session.

We started with Every Single One. “You’re in charge of the talkbalk mic”, I told Hil. “Mike will engineer and push the buttons – you tell us how you want to approach this”.

“One complete pass first”, she said. “Then I’ll know what sections to work on next”. Ok. You tell it, lady. I sang all the way through and it felt way better than my last vocal session. Then we broke it down to Hilary’s specifications. After singing the first half of the song a few times, I timidly said “Hey, is this way better? I think it might be quite good”. “It’s much, much better””, said Mike in the control room. All right then. I wasn’t imagining it.

We did the two hardest songs, Every Single One and Sometimes that night. Hilary was calm and decisive. Mike and I did what she said. I’ve never sounded so good. I was thrilled. “Hilary, I love you”, I blurted out when we were taking a water break between songs. She laughed. “You’re doing great”, she said. ” No, this is because of you”, I gushed. “I could never have had a performance like this on my own”. She laughed again. I knew I was being uncool, but I was so happy with the takes we had done I didn’t care.

Three weeks later we went in and finished the other three songs in about four hours. We got performances that were above my wildest expectations. At Mike’s suggestion I tried a little improvising at the end of Go Away. It turned out excellently. I was dumbfounded. Hilary said I should do a before and after snapshot – actually line up the same clips from the first vocal session against the results from our re-dos, because the difference was so dramatic. I will do exactly that, as soon as we’re done editing, I thought. How cool will that be?

In the meantime here’s a couple of video clips Mike filmed during the recording of Blackbirds. Believe me, it sounds a lot better than our first recording.

Last part of the bridge

Verse and chorus

I Have To Admit It’s Getting Better

I practiced. I sang the songs over and over. At home with my piano, outside while walking in the rain, alone in the car traveling to teach piano lessons. But my first real leap of progress came when I booked a vocal coaching session with Hilary.

“The first thing I would suggest is more bounce”, she said as we sat at her piano with my charts.

“Oh, yes?” I said politely, remembering all the wild and unbelievable stories that my singer friends have told me about crazy voice lessons with crazy voice teachers where they tell students things like “all you have to do is imagine a rainbow, that’s the sound we want”, or they perform the Heimleich maneuver on your diaphragm to help you breathe, set books on your chest while you lie on your back, carry you across the room, say things like “inflate your inner tube”, “think vertically”, etc., etc.

This concerned me. How was I going to get better as a singer if I didn’t understand the instructions on how to do so? I’m not much of a “think of a waterfall” kind of gal. I’m your basic cold fish when it comes to achievement. Explain what I’m doing wrong – clearly, with no extra words – and tell me how to make it better – succinctly and logically- and I’ll go home and practice that until it’s awesome.

“Yeah, like this – WE’re all HUN-gry here/ STARving and SAd/ LOOking for COMfort/ there’s NONE to be had”, Hilary sang the first lines of “Every Single One”. Yes! Yes, of course. Bounce. Bouncy phrases, emphasis on syllables to make it sound more like how you would just say it to somebody. That was what was missing from my initial vocal takes. I was so concerned about singing in tune and delivering a good technical performance that I ended up with a completely lifeless result. And that wasn’t readily apparent (to me) until I heard the harmony vocals, shimmering with life and bounce and emotion. Then I realized, I have to do better. Otherwise it’s going to sound like somebody poured very expensive chocolate over a dry soda cracker and hopes no one will notice the cracker.

I felt a rush of gratitude towards Hilary. She was going to help me, really help me figure this out in a way I could understand. The mark of a great teacher, by the way. If you find a teacher like this, hold on to them. Chances are incredibly high you will learn something.

Things went quickly after that. I dropped deeply into that happy place where everything is clear and easy and time slows down completely. We went through all the songs and mapped out all the phrasing and dynamics. Then Hilary had me explain the story and the feeling behind each song, and had me visualize a setting. Where does this song take place? What do I see around me? I realized I hadn’t considered any of this. But as I started to think about it, the songs became more real to me. The story of each song came to life. The characters gradually came into sharp focus.

Now close your eyes, think about all of that, apply the phrasing and dynamics, and sing.

Much, much, much better. It was obvious, right away. Armed with this new information plus the warm-ups Hilary had shown me, I marched out of her apartment at midnight, afire with enthusiasm and looking forward to the weeks of practice ahead.

A Thick Layer Of Sparkle

Every Single One
Blackbirds

Another weekend in the studio, and this has been one of my most favorite sessions yet. Dawn and Hilary came in to do all the harmony vocal parts. We’d had a couple of good productive rehearsals in the weeks leading up to recording. They composed and arranged all their parts together and I was really looking forward to capturing it all.

And apparently Mike was looking forward to doing some choral conducting.

I realize that we’ve been making this little album on our own, with no outside help or input. Sometimes that worries me a little. Maybe it’ll be terrible. But maybe there’s something to letting a group of really good musicians come up with their own parts and play them together. That is, after all, how an enormous amount of good music has been created over the past hundred years or so. Good musicians have good ideas, especially about their own instruments.

Hilary and Dawn are great musicians. They were very sensitive to each other and thus blended beautifully into one Super Beautiful Singer when they sang together. Individually they have lovely voices and they made me sound much more awesome (thank goodness) when they sang with me. The parts they wrote made the songs come alive. It was like a thick layer of sparkle and color had been spread over the guitars, organ, piano, bass and drums. And I became wildly inspired to learn how to sing better and decided to re-do all my lead vocals. I’d been considering that for awhile, I knew I’d already learned stuff that would produce a better result.

Here’s Dawn recording her part on Every Single One.

And Hilary.

We had one gal record in the big room while the other sang along in the control room to help with balance and blend.

This is Hilary singing along, curled up on the couch with her book. Aw.

There’s still some fixes left to do, but now we have a general idea of how the songs are going to sound. I’ve been listening to them and I can honestly say now, there’s very good moments in all of them. I find the more I listen, the less weirded out I am by hearing my own voice. I’ve got a couple of weeks to practice singing in preparation for my re-dos and this time I’ll be enlisting the help of my dear vocalist friends for some coaching. See, so right there I know it’s going to be better than the first try. Yay for growing and learning.

Sing, Sing a Song

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend we finished all my lead vocal tracks. This is getting serious now, this album-making idea. I feel like we’ve past some kind of point of no return. I mean, any time up until now I could have just pulled the plug and walked away. A bunch of instrumental unmixed tracks, who cares? Doesn’t exactly sound like much of anything. But now I’ve sang the words to all the songs. It’s stored in Mike Southworth’s computer (and a back-up in my external hard drive. Maybe I do want to finish this. At least, I don’t want to lose it). There’s no mistaking it, these definitely sound like songs now.
I’ve never done this before, sang all the words and been the lead singer. Our first vocal session we recorded all the songs in about 7 hours. I was very pleased that I felt fine all day. No sore throat and my voice didn’t give out. So I must have ok technique. I was able sing mostly in tune, yay. We did a few fixes, but they were mostly on Every Single One, which I realized too late (after the bass had been recorded) is a half step too low for me.
I didn’t want to rely on the auto-tune…let me rephrase that, I would have rather died than rely on auto-tune to make me sound good. I’m old school. I’m a musician. I believe in practicing your ass off and playing as excellently as possible, live and in the studio. If you need a computer to take over and compensate for your lack of skill, you suck. And you’re lazy. Too lazy to work and practice and learn how to sound good on your own.
Now, having said that, I realize that I’m not nearly a good enough singer to record a song all the way through with perfect intonation, phrasing, and attitude. Piano tracks, yes. Vocals, maybe in my next life that I devote to singing. I practiced for weeks, but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. I still didn’t want to use the auto-tune though. So we compromised. Mike had me do lots and lots of takes, one verse and chorus at a time. As the day went on I was able to sing longer sections and stay pretty consistent tuning wise. We had a massive editing session to piece together the best takes and I was able to (mostly) avoid the dreaded auto-tuner. I think it sounds like a human being singing, not a computerized robot so I’m pretty happy about that.
I must admit though, I’m fairly unsettled. I’ve never heard my voice so prominently, so naked and alone. I felt ridiculously vulnerable the first time I listened though to the tracks at home. I wanted to crawl under the couch. And the lyrics, oh god. They are definitely audible. I’ve taken to listening to bands I dislike on youtube, trying to reassure myself that my songs aren’t THAT bad. Sometimes it works.
Now the only recording left is the harmony vocals. I had to send my vocal tracks to Dawn and Hilary so they can practice their parts until our rehearsals and recording session. And they are really, really good professional singers. I cringed a little as I pressed ‘send’, but whatever. They haven’t called me up to tell me they have to shampoo their hair and won’t be available to record. Not yet anyway.
After this next recording session it will be editing, morning noon and night. I’m looking forward to that – I do love editing – then we’ll mix, and master. I think that’s a big part of why the songs sound so weird to me. Right now they’re unmixed and the vocals are super loud. Plus the harmonies are missing. I’m hoping I’ll feel better about them once things are balanced out a little and Hilary and Dawn’s parts are added. And then I’ll really have to decide. Do I want to put these songs out there for people to hear? Do I want to draw any attention to this album whatsoever?
I’ve been telling great songwriters (who are sometimes plagued with uncertainty) for years that they’re the worst person to evaluate their own work. Let the band, the fans, anybody else do that for you. You can’t possibly be objective about your own work. Just put it out there and be proud you’ve created art from nothing. It’s bound to resonate with some people, maybe lots of people. So just enjoy the journey of creating it and then let it go, blah blah blah.
For myself, I can’t seem to believe that and follow that advice. It’s so interesting, now that the shoe’s on the other foot. I want to push myself, do things that frighten me so I can grow into a wiser, more beautiful little flower. Now for the first time, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that.
And then I’m like, fuck it. Get over yourself, Maira.
These songs aren’t the best in the world, so what? They aren’t the worst either.

Express Yourself

We find ourselves once more in the dark cave of Mike Southworth’s studio at Creativ, this time to record guitar solos. I’ve really been looking forward to this session. I always enjoy listening to Rees play. Unless it’s overpowering my piano solo, in which case I wish his volume knob was closer to me than to him. But that’s pretty typical of every guitar player I’ve ever worked with. I know, it’s wrong to stereotype. I will say that Rees is a very sensitive guitar player, who rarely tramples on others (musically, at least). Sometimes the music sweeps him away though, and he expresses his joy and excitement by playing more and louder. Hell, I do the same thing. That’s why people play rock and roll. Because you get to play very, very loudly all together and it’s so much fun that you don’t care if it’s dynamically sensitive or fits the song or whatever other bullshit detail you’re supposed to be aware of.
There were three big solos to record, and it took all day to do so. As usual there was a ton of good material and as usual Rees was willing to do hundreds of takes to keep making it better. I made sure Mike and Rees both were well caffeinated, which led to a lot of loud excited talking, and a river of swift-flowing ideas.

No E’s, Please

Every Single One

What shall we do this weekend? I know! Let’s record organ parts. Oh, how did you know that would be my favorite thing to do?

Playing organ is an entirely different animal than playing the piano. If you think like a piano player when you’re playing organ, you will sound lame. This is a fact. Although both instruments have white and black keys arranged in the same linear fashion, their physical appearance is about the only thing they share. When recording organ in the studio, using a real leslie speaker is also important. And incorporating the drawbars is a must.

Drawbars are little rods that you pull and push, each one can be set a different length to change the sound of the organ. Don’t even get me started about drawbars. They’re a whole world unto themselves. Here’s a brief summary: (obviously I can’t help myself) Drawbars can be pulled out towards the player, this corresponds with an increase in volume. There are usually 9 drawbars on most Hammond organs. Each one produces a different tone. One will be the fundamental (the pitch of whatever keys you’re playing). The others are: an octave below the fundamental, a fourth below, an octave higher, 2 octaves higher, 3 octaves higher, a octave + fourth, an octave +fifth, and an octave + seventh higher.

Drawbars coupled with the two different keyboards on most Hammonds, in conjunction with the leslie speaker which alters the pitches via the Doppler effect create a vast, endless world of organ sounds which can be specifically tailored for each song, for each different section of a song.

So we set up the leslie and the organ in the studio and I tried to get familiar with the drawbars so I could make a whole bunch of different organ sounds. Keep in mind, I don’t own an organ or a leslie so although I knew what I wanted it to sound like, I was basically flying blind with somebody else’s equipment. But every time I record organ parts I learn more about how to do it better. And I think jeez, I should get myself a real organ.

Mike settles himself in the control room and we begin. Before every take I have to position the leslie speaker in front of the mic. Then I play, turning the leslie on/off with the foot switch while my left hand adjusts the drawbars to a different setting for each section of each song. It’s all very invigorating, keeping track of all that stuff while thinking about notes and chords and so on. Every take was easier and more comfortable until…

“Um, there’s a something really jarring in those chords, try it again?” Mike says. I do. “It’s that E. It totally sticks out, it’s way louder than the others. Can you avoid it?”

Okaaaay. Yes, I can. I think. Sometimes that happens with recording organs, particular notes are way out of whack in relation to the others and you can hear it instantly on playback. Playing it live, probably no one would notice. Except Mike.

I added “avoid the E above middle C” to my mental list of things to keep track of while playing and we recommenced. Soon I was feeling comfortable again, although I had no brainpower left for conversing or assessing the quality of each take. But that’s why you have a producer, right? He’s more than happy to say “Do it again. Nope. Do it again”. So, every single take for me was like a mumbling crazy conversation you might hear from someone on the bus you’d rather sit far away from.

“Ok, set the leslie to mic. White 8, brown 5, brown4, white3, white2, white,5, black2, black4, black6. (drawbars) Foot on leslie switch. C, Am, Em no E’s. Turn leslie on. Turn leslie off. Bridge! White 8, brown3, brown2, leave white, change blacks 4, 4, 8. Leslie on. C, Am no E’s, leslie off.”

Beam me up, Scotty.

After 6 hours of this, we had all the parts recorded. I’m actually a little afraid of the editing session that will have to follow. What if a rebellious E snuck in there and we have to go back and do it all again? The organ sounds fantastic though, and those drawbars and the leslie are always worth the struggle. Hopefully all my burned out brain cells will grow back too.

We Bring Good Things To Life

Every Single One
Blackbirds

This weekend Mike and Rees recorded all the guitar parts, while I was recovering from surgery at home. The drugs were some consolation, although they did not make the awful feelings disappear as effectively as recording piano parts.
There was a great variety and plethora of guitar ideas. It was kind of overwhelming to see how many takes we ended up with. Truly this will require a most tremendous editing session. I have discovered I love editing. Well, I always knew that. Creating the raw material wasn’t really my thing until recently but I’ve always loved to mess with someone else’s raw material that needs shaping, a little snip here, a sprinkling of Maira-fluence there.
But messing with my own raw material is even more fun! It’s been a revelation to create a song out of thin air and then smash it merrily about, adding then editing vocal parts, drums, bass, piano, and now guitars. Once again Mike’s job as a backline tech has come extremely handy in the recording process as his bosses have allowed him to borrow whatever guitar amps and gear he wants from their warehouse for our sessions.
Rees played great. I’d given him charts and demos to listen to well beforehand and I was pretty pleased with what he came up with at the band rehearsals. The volume of takes that he and Mike came up with in the studio was impressive. And I found myself singing along with some of his lines on the second listen. A good indication of catchiness, that elusive and essential quality of all good music. Almost instantaneous catchiness is very encouraging.
For the first time I can get a sense of how these songs might take shape. The guitars have added so much color to the bass, drum and piano tracks. A lot of it wasn’t what I was expecting to hear, and for that I am grateful and delighted. That’s why it’s so fun to work with wonderful musicians who are also close friends. I can trust them to think hard and come up with something good that is in their own voice – their unique musical expression that I have come to know and love over the years, as I have also come to know them as friends. It boggles the mind to think how these beautiful people will sound all together.

Oh Loverboy…

Blackbirds
Every Single One

Got some surprise studio time! Somebody’s cancellation is our delightful gain. We recorded and edited all the piano tracks in 8 hours. The piano at Creativ Studios once belonged to the keyboard player from Loverboy, an excellent omen. I loves me some Loverboy. Especially the keyboard parts.
It was really lovely to play an acoustic piano all day. There’s something so satisfying about playing precisely and firmly, feeling the hammer strike the string. I can feel the impact from each hammer travel through my fingers and hand, up my arm, into my elbow and shoulder. It’s jarring, but in a familiar reassuring way. I’ve been playing piano since I was 7 years old and I’ve always loved to feel the notes go twang! into my joints.
So I played for 5 hours and was deeply, deeply calm and mellow afterwards. But also totally refreshed, like waking up after a satisfying sleep. I wish I could do that every day. Play piano until I fall into a waking dream.
We knocked out those songs one by one, very quickly. Sometimes on the first or second take. Well, I’ve been playing those songs on piano for months now. I would have been kind of horrified if it had been super difficult to play the parts well. The piano at Creativ sounds just gorgeous, which helps a lot. The only thing I was remotely concerned about was the one solo I allowed myself (all the other solos will be guitar). But we ended up with a really good one, something I’ll be happy to share with the world.
All in all it was one of the best days I’ve ever had in the studio. Although I can’t help but notice, each day in the studio is a best day. It’s like going on a fantastic weekend vacation, every time. No matter what other horrible tragedies are going on in my life, it’s amazing that being creative and having access to a mode of personal expression affords me some breathing space, some relief from the awfulness of real life.
I think it really comes down to the ability to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Something as challenging as performing and composing music requires every brain cell I’ve got. There’s just no room to spare for anything else. This doesn’t solve problems, but it does make them disappear temporarily. Sometimes that’s all you can hope for.

Everyone Needs A Hobby

Every Single One

Mike and I finally had a weekend off together that coincided with the studio being available so yay, we edited drum tracks and recorded bass tracks. I admit, it was pretty weird to see Mike strap on a handsome deep cherry red 5 string bass and play it. I’ve just never seen him play anything other than drums and very rarely guitar. The novelty of it was deeply amusing to me.
I got to push buttons to record Mike while he played. That was fun. It was really fun to be the one who pushed “record”. I think we got some good stuff. I’m having a really good time in the recording process. It’s very satisfying to spend every weekend we possibly have in the studio, recording or editing. I wish we could spend more time in there. I think I’ve found my hobby of choice.

Drums and Mikes

Whereupon Mike Zobac has returned from a wild summer of lady-rock on the Lillith Fair 2010 tour! And what a pleasure it was to share a day in the studio with drums and Mikes. In a radical departure from the usual, Mike Zobac was in the engineer’s chair and Mike Southworth was on the other side of the glass at the drum kit.
I recorded some scratch vocal and piano tracks for Southworth to play along to. After the drums were miked (in so many ways) to the satisfaction of both drummer Mikes, and many exclamations of delight and mutual congratulations (“That snare drum sounds awesome” “I know – SO DEEP!” “I love your china crash”, etc. etc) we hunkered down for 8 hours of drumming. Both Mikes were excellent and we ended up with the loveliest drum tracks a girl could ask for.
And I must agree, those drums sound damn good. Now we edit for hours and hours and hours.

That’s really Southworth playing in this clip, but the camera couldn’t see him through the glass with the reflections:(

Meet The Band

Blackbirds
Every Single One

It’s a delicate, patient process to schedule a rehearsal with 6 people who work full time jobs, go to school, play shows, go on tour, etc. In our case Mike Zobac is going on tour with Lillith Fair as a backline tech for the summer so I really wanted to get everybody together a couple of times before he was gone. So by booking about 3 weeks in advance we were able to find some time to play the songs and come up with ideas for parts and arrangements.
I had a good time at all the rehearsals. I think we had 4 in total. It was interesting to hear my friends play music together. I’m really grateful they made the time to do this. I’m not sure if the songs are good enough, but then I think what qualifies as ‘good enough’ and what does it matter? It will be fun to record songs and play them with these people. If I keep writing and recording and playing, the songs are sure to get better and eventually I’ll feel more confident about them. Yes. Of course.
When I think about the band I’ve assembled I get so pleased that I feel fine about the songs. Even if there are too many Mikes, which require me to identify them by last name. Southworth is playing drums. He’s sheer pleasure to watch with his band Scatterheart. He produced and engineered two of The Feminists albums and we’ll be recording these songs in his gorgeous studio space in North Van. I enjoyed every studio session I’ve ever had with Mike and I am perpetually awed at the deep level of his talent and how hard he is willing to work, always. To be honest, considering how busy he is as a producer and with Scatterheart, I was completely surprised that he said yes to playing these rehearsals. Asking him was a ‘what the hell, why not’ kind of thing. Note to self: Sometimes it pays to aim stupidly high.
Zobac is playing bass. This may come as a surprise for those who know him as a drummer. But he offered, and I became very curious to hear what he and Mike Southworth would sound like together. Zobac was Southworth’s drum teacher another lifetime ago, back in the late 20th century. So they go way back but haven’t played on a band together, seeing as how you don’t generally need two drummers at the same time. Mike and I played together joyfully in The Feminists for 6 years and I know very well how thoroughly talented he is as a musician. I knew he played bass too but hadn’t seen him bust it out until now. He’ll be producing and engineering this record as well.
Rees Haynes is playing guitar. Rees and I have played together in Parlour Steps for the past 2 years, but we first met at the Jazz Studies Program at Capilano College where we were both students years ago. It didn’t take long for me to realize, making songs with him in Parlour Steps, that I love his guitar playing. So melodic! So catchy! Such good parts, such good arrangement ideas.
Hilary Grist is playing keyboard and singing harmony. She’s working away on her own record, which we are all dying to hear. After hearing her parts at our vocal rehearsals, I am newly appreciative of lovely voice. It reminds me of clear, pure cold water flowing. Refreshing and quenching. Plus her mad keyboard skills. And did I mention the wicked vocal parts?
Dawn Pemberton is also playing keyboard and singing harmony. Dawn’s voice is instantly arresting, even your first time hearing her. It’s so familiar to me I have a hard time trying to describe it. I would say it’s a voice that makes people feel safe and loved. She’s always in demand as a session singer and plays in about 7 different groups, all kinds of music. I hadn’t really heard her play keyboard before, and it’s a thrill to hear how good she is.
We recorded all the arrangements at our last rehearsal, with seconds to spare before getting kicked out of the practice space. With one microphone and Dawn’s laptop. Excuse the ungodly distortion. Nothing more to be done now until Mike gets back. Then we’ll record drums.

And Now We Have Vocal Parts!

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I’ve been to probably 500 rehearsals since I started playing in bands.  The first one I remember was at age 16, in Mike Southworth’s basement, for a band called Funky T Franklin & The Clots.  I was a Clot.  So was Mike. Certainly I had not attained the lofty heights of Funky T, whose privilege it was to put her name out in front. It didn’t matter. I was happy just to be there, playing covers of old R&B songs.  We played one show at the Centenoka Mall in Salmon Arm for a fundraiser for the Red Cross.  I thought that was really poetic.  We Clots were playing to help raise awareness and money for blood donations.

Some rehearsals are boring.  Some are maddeningly frustrating, with essential members strolling in an hour late and sloooooowly setting up their gear. Some are emotional, as personal turmoils burst out in a sneak attack and everybody ends up yelling at each other for no apparent reason. Some are magic, where you are in the middle of great music being created for the first time.

But these most recent rehearsals were something different altogether.  Dawn and Hilary came over to work on vocal parts for my record. We’ve known each other for years, met in music school at the jazz program at Capilano. They are my true lady friends and I’ve had so many good times with them. But we’ve never worked together professionally before.  Played together a bit in school, but that was all. So they show up to my house a few times and we head up to my attic practice space and get cracking. No one is late and there is no yelling.

And I realize, again.  These gals are fantastic musicians.  Sometimes you can forget, that your best friends are also amazingly skilled and are out in the world doing their thing with great aplomb.  Maybe I have doubts about my songs, but I know for sure that Hilary and Dawn have already made them better.

Evolution

Blackbirds
Every Single One

I definitely believe in taking risks.  Trying new things. How else can one evolve?  And I guess that’s really what I consider to be my greatest purpose. To keep changing, growing, getting smarter, becoming a better human.

So today I did something I have never, ever done before.  I booked a session with my friend Ryen, who also happens to be a professional sound engineer with a home studio. I brought my keyboard and some rumpled sheets of paper that served as my charts for a batch of songs I started writing last summer. Then he recorded me singing and playing my own songs. Now I have demos. Now I have something to give the musicians I hope to be making a record with.  And did I mention these are my own songs?

It’s one thing to think about doing something.  You know, something you’d like to try, something you might even be good at (given enough practice and effort). I’ve thought about writing songs and forming a band to play my stuff. I know I love playing shows, arranging songs, recording, and being in a band with lovely people like my current situation in Parlour Steps. Would I also love creating songs from nothing?

Turns out, sort of. Despite being tortured during every writing session with thoughts of “no one will ever want to hear this”, there were also beautiful moments of barely being able to write down great gushes of ideas, melodies, chords, lyrics. I was proud of myself for sitting down and actually doing something I had daydreamed about.

Now I can hear the songs without me playing them. My singing sounds alien and weird. How can I offer these little scraps to the excellent musicians I want to play with? Fortunately these people are also some of my closest friends. We’ve never played all together in a band before, but we’ve all worked together in various combination. They’re not going to judge me too harshly, right?