Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Life in a Traveling Show

My profuse apologies for the long time in between posts. Unfortunately, the business of releasing and touring behind our album prevented me from keeping up my regular posting schedule. However, I was also diligently working on this little travelogue video below that I shot while on tour this past summer...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Adventures in Garageband

I really should have started doing this years ago, but I've finally amassed the equipment to start doing a little Garageband home recording. For somebody like myself who has spent lots of time in recording studios, but really only has enough technical knowledge of engineering to be dangerous, it is awesome. They let you manually adjust compression and EQ, but also include pre-sets for different instruments and vocal styles to give you a base to work from (asleep yet?). I don't know if I'd ever make a record like this (at least not yet), but I can't wait to start developing new song and production ideas with it.

My cousin has asked me to play a few covers at what it seems is going to be her very hip wedding next month. Below are a few demo recordings of the songs she has asked me to play, recorded in my office / Xbox man-cave.

"First Day of My Life"

And as if the world needed another recorded version of this song : ) Hey, I just did it to assure her that I wouldn't completely ruin the ceremony.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

That's My Jam!: Spring 2010

We finished mastering for our record several months ago, which means I've had a bit of time free from obsessively listening to rough mixes and agonizing over fader shifts and horn arrangements to actually pop my head up out of the sand and start listening to music like a fan again. These are a few of the records that have been putting a little extra bounce in my step lately.

Jonsi, Go: Jonsi is an alien. He and his fellow "Icelandic" cohorts in Sigur Ros landed on our planet roughly ten years ago and, ever since, have been crafting the kind of lush, other-worldly music that is probably played in outer space while stars are being born or something. Having been here for over a decade though, Jonsi has learned some of our Earthling ways. He's picked up a couple of our languages and even learned the pop song structure, as made newly evident on his recent solo album, "Go". Now, I've always loved Sigur Ros. They know how to craft sonic textures better than anyone else in the galaxy. But I just don't have the attention span for 60 minutes of ethereal contemplation with no pop payoff. Jonsi's solo album combines all the things I loved about Sigur Ros with all the things I wish they would adopt. Great job Jonsi, I hope you make a few more of these records before reporting back to the mothership that we are a parasitic race and must be annihilated.

Jason Collette, Idols of Exile: I'm totally mystified and jealous of this whole Toronto scene. What the fuck, it seems like EVERYBODY up there is hipper than hip, makes super awesome records and used to be in Broken Social Scene. I totally wish I was a part of this whole thing, but alas, the closest I've come is almost getting punched in the face by Kevin Drew at Eddie Rickenbacker's a couple years ago. This past winter while I was doing the dishes, my girlfriend (who would dump my ass for Jason Collette in a heartbeat) put the song "We All Lose One Another" on and I was instantly hooked. It's just one of those tasty little country-pop songs that I'll listen to on repeat. Jason's got a new record out, but frankly I haven't gotten over "Idols" enough to give it a fair shake.

Rogue Wave, Permalight: These guys have been San Francisco indie-rock stalwarts for the better part of the last decade. I first saw them opening up for the Shins in Chicago about a week before moving back out to California and have been a fan ever since. From the lo-fi bedroom fuzz of "Out of the Shadow" to the epic sprawl of "Asleep at Heaven's Gate", I've followed most all of their musical twists and turns, and have enjoyed every one. Their latest release, "Permalight" sports the new addition of programmed tracks and some of their catchiest hooks yet. Harumph, Rogue Wave...long may you ride.

Metric, Fantasies: Yet another impossibly cool Toronto band, this record holds the distinction of being my favorite album of 2009. Every element of this "Fantasies" is stellar, from Emily Haines intangible voice to the acerbic lyrics covered in honey-sweet melody. Any band that manages to squeeze the perennial question facing all musicians "Who would you rather be, the Beatles or the Rolling Stones?" into a killer chorus without missing a beat gets my vote.

Taylor Swift, Fearless: I was a bit of a late-comer to the Taylor Swift bandwagon, which was already overflowing with screaming, hormonal tweens. And it might be questionable that a grown man be as fervently into a country-pop starlet as I am, but holy cow, Taylor Swift is the BEE'S KNEES!!! The songs on "Fearless" are some of the best crafted pop songs I've heard in recent memory. From the second verse melodic shifts and tasteful modulations to her epic, "catchier than the flu" choruses, these songs pull out all the stops in a way that sounds like effortless payoff. The skill of crafting a song that goes exactly where your ear wants it to go without sounding trite is deceptively difficult and something that most songwriters never master. The fact that, at 18 or 19, Taylor had a hand in writing all of these tunes makes my head want to explode. Sure, the lyrics have a "ripped from a high-school girl's diary" quality to them, but they're charming in a way that makes me nostalgic for the days when my two favorite things weren't naps and listening to "Marketplace" with Kai Ryssdal. To all you dismissive cred-sters out there, I challenge you to put some headphones on, turn the volume up to at least a 7, and try to get through all of "You Belong with Me" or "Love Story" without those little hairs on your arm standing up at some point...you won't. These songs are objectively great. Taylor Swift gives me hope for the institution of pop stardom.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

From the Studio...

Our new album was recorded in our drummer/engineer Peter Craft's home studio. Pete lives in a great old Victorian house just off the Castro in San Francisco....pretty idyllic setting to cut a record. When we weren't laying down takes, Pete took a bunch of photos. I've shared a few below as a little behind the scenes glimpse into how our record took shape...

The Board

Me, listening to playback

Brian Mello, doing his best Jimmy Page impression

This piano is almost 100 years old


Stephanie Finch, lending her voice on "Cabaret"

This is an AKG C-12 ribbon mic that Pete somehow managed to acquire from New York's Battery Studios just before it closed. If this mic could talk, the stories it would tell about the iconic artists who've sung through it. I'm no gearhead, but this thing captures vocal detail like no other mic I've heard.


Gear galore

Kevin, givin' it the headphone treatment

....and politely informing Pete that he'd rather not have his picture taken.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bands We Ripped-Off!!!

My original plan for this week's blog post was to secretly take camera-phone photos of the rest of the guys in the band during rehearsal and then post them to the blog site accompanied by lightly-mocking yet affectionate descriptions of each of them. This would serve as an introduction to the rest of the group and also illustrate what a zany / fun dynamic we have! Unfortunately practice got cancelled, so you'll have to settle for this instead...

One of my favorite new inventions of the past 10-15 years is the Director's commentary in the Special Features section of DVDs. I like knowing little behind the scenes info on my favorite movies and it's cool to hear about the filmmaker's creative process. I often wish there was an equivalent that came with albums, so in an effort to provide a little insight into our creative process, I've composed the following blog.

I realize that, as of posting time, most of you reading this probably haven't heard a damn note from this album that won't be out for another few months. So let this be a little primer if you like. If not, put this post in your digital sock drawer and pull it out once you've spent a little time with our album, if you plan to listen to it that is.....

To paraphrase Picasso, "Artists steal shit...a lot". Any musician dude who tells you he doesn't rampantly steal ideas probably also told you he started playing music for the art and not to get girls...which would be a fucking lie even if Thom Yorke said it.

Here is a list of bands, songs and records that we shamelessly ripped off during the recording of our new album, "Life Underwater"...

1. THE BEATLES!- Obviously EVERYBODY rips the Beatles off. Even if people aren't actually ripping the Beatles off, they say they did. I wouldn't claim the Beatles as a major reference point on any of my other recordings, but we really did rip them off a lot on this record and here's how....

Mellotron- For those of you not familiar, the mellotron is a wonderful keyboard based instrument that uses analogue samples of flutes, strings (etc.) to generate it's sound. In the 40 odd years since the Beatles broke up, the mellotron has frequently been used by talented folks like Jon Brion, but this instrument will forever be recognized as a signature sound of the fab-four. Those warbley notes at the beginning of Lucy?? Mellotron. That lush bed of sound in Strawberry Fields? Mellotron. We used copious amounts of Mellotron on our new record coz the Beatles did it and we thought it might sound rad if we did it too...Exhibit A

Sellout- This is a song off our new record and is as shameless an attempt at Paul McCartney rip-offage as I could devise. The chord progression was HEAVILY inspired by songs like "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" and "Martha My Dear". "That horn solo sounds mighty similar to the horns in "For No One" you think? You may be right.

2. Joy Division- I was born in the 80's and was forced to listen to lots of Adult Contemporary radio as a child, so naturally I grew up terrified of synthesizers. It wasn't until Tim Mooney, the producer of my first solo record, turned me on to the wonders of Joy Division synth that I finally realized it's potential for use in non-soul crushing music as well. When deployed tastefully, the synthesizer can be a beautifully ethereal addition, and we used it a lot on this record. Thanks Joy Division and Tim Mooney.

3. Dire Straits- This wasn't really intentional, but when I was getting our album mastered, John Golden, the mastering engineer, noted that our song "Knock on Wood" reminded him a lot of "Sultans of Swing". Far be it from me to argue with John Golden and neither should you. John Golden listens to more music in a month than you'll listen to in your life and if he says we ripped off Dire Straits, we ripped of Dire Straits damnit.

4. Coldplay- Now I realize that in the land of mega-hipster indie shoegazer vegan bike kids, copping to being inspired by Coldplay is the musical equivalent of wearing pleated jeans, but bear with me here. Back in 2001, before they became the Bon Jovi of the naughts, Coldplay was a little Brit-pop band that released a sad, shimmering record called Parachutes. I was lucky enough to be living in London at the time and I used to take the tube to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square while listening to it. My favorite song on the record was a sweet little minimalist ballad in 6/8 time called "We Never Change". I very fondly remember walking around the gallery with my Discman (Ha) staring as those paintings in naive wonder as Chris Martin sang from what sounded like the edge of the world, all by himself. The last song on our record, "All You Want" is a bit of a tribute to that early Coldplay sound. I wish Chris Martin were left to himself a little more often these days.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Notes from a Hibernation Cave

One of the great things about recording an album is it affords you the opportunity to stay in one place for an extended period of time. During these stationary periods, one is truly able to take a deep breath and enjoy the little things... And as we all know, Zombieland Rule #32 of Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse: Enjoy the Little Things.

Below is a list of things for which I have grown a deep and abiding affinity during the past year of recording our new album.....

My Kitchen Window

This is the view from my kitchen window. I live in a modest, two bedroom apartment in San Francisco, for which I pay entirely too much rent. But things like this view make it worth it. Nothing spectacular, but looking at it first thing in the morning is a good way to start the day.

My Espresso Press

Don't let those archive footage clips of the Summer of Love fool you, if there's one thing modern day San Franciscans love, it's being smug. And there are few things residents of our fair city are smugger about than coffee. Recently, a number of high end local boutique coffee brands have sprung up whose beans are flown in by magic carpet every morning from places like Sumatra and Columbia. Generally, the more emotional abuse you have to tolerate while buying it, the better it tastes. When I was younger, naive...er and coffee grinder-less, I once asked my uber-hiptser barrista to grind the entire bag on site....don't....just don't do that.

I might enjoy the ritual of making the coffee more than actually drinking it. There's something about grinding the beans, heating the machine and steaming the milk that I find therapeutic. The milk steamer on this particular model is a little jenky, so you really have to pay attention to the machine to get a good cappuccino froth goin'. It doesn't always come out right, but when it does, the feeling of satisfaction is sweet indeed.

My Goddamn Xbox

You know those stories they tell about lab gerbils in a cage outfitted with two buttons, one for food and one for cocaine or something? All the poor little guys gotta do to get some life sustaining food is push the food button, but they're so preoccupied with the coke button that they end up starving themselves to damn death....that pretty much sums up my relationship with the evil contraption known as Xbox. There are times, hours into a weekend long Assassin's Creed 2 bender that I can literally feel the little bastard altering my brain chemistry, yet I am powerless to stop it. Beware the siren song of digital escapism...

Microsoft: 1, My Socially Well-Adjusted Adult Life: 0

Declaration of Dependence

Last November, I drove up to Portland by myself to finish mixing on our new album with Justin Phelps. Every morning, I would drive to his studio and the Kings would gently serenade me along the way. The Kings of Convenience are from Bergen, Norway, which to me feels like an exotic mystical land where people pay 80% income tax and take sweat baths all day. Their singing style is refined, sophisticated and very European...all qualities I'm fascinated by and envious of.

This record represents one of my favorite things about music. Portland, OR during the fall is beautiful, and I like going there in my brain sometimes even if I can 't be there all the time in real life. This record helps me do that. Music is one of the best place markers I've yet to find for those times in your life that you'd like to visit again, if only in your imagination.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


My name is Ryan. I've lived in California for a 1/3 of my life now, but grew up in the landlocked middle. I still don't think I'll ever get over being this close to the ocean as long as I live here. 

I play in a band from San Francisco called Halsted. Before that I was strictly a singer/songwriter and made a few records under my own name....No more....There is no Dana, only Zul. 

Every now and then I'll post some goings on related to our musical endeavors, but I have a feeling most of this blog's content will focus on things infinitely more trivial, like my hopeless man-crush on Anthony Bourdain. I guess that depends on what you consider trivial though. 

Anyhow, welcome! It's nice to see you. Make yourself at home, just don't steal or break anything.