Melbourne Radio and a Cactus Chorus

One Friday night in April, Melbourne's youth radio station SYN 90.7 interviewed me for the radio release of Funky T-Shirt. While at home in Brisbane, I spoke to the lovely Harry and Amy from the New and Approved program in their Melbourne studio, live-to-air via phone. It was much better than the last interview I did, live-to-air via tin cans joined by string. Who knew you were meant to take the peaches out of the cans first?

Anyway, Harry and Amy were so...youthful and enthusiastic. They asked great questions, said really sweet things, and henceforth, I want them to be my friends.

I've been slow to upload the interview because I've scared to listen back. See, 15 minutes before we were to speak live on air, Harry rang me to check that I was good to go, and also to warn me that they were going to talk about my cactus song. In one of the biographies they'd read, I'd mentioned the first song I'd ever written. It was called What Kind of Dirt Does My Cactus Need?, which I wrote when I was about 13. Back then I called it a 'song'. It was really just a chorus*. 

Before the interview, Harry asked if I remembered any of it. I did. (See above paragraph about it being just a chorus). But I'd never sung it to anyone before in my life. It had always been a secret between me, the piano, and my cactus**. 

Thankfully, I had a few minutes to practice before going on air. They were pretty eager to get into it, and suddenly there I was, on live radio, singing about a cactus. I have to admit, when I finally did listen back with butterflies in my belly, I wasn't too embarrassed. It's a pretty catchy cactus chorus. They thought it was cute.

I'm pretty happy with the rest of the interview, but I must make amends for a mistake I made later on. I mentioned my musical friend Sarah Calderwood who provided some backing vocals on the track. And I said that she was fundraising for her album on Kickstarter. In fact, it was Pozible. (Elders of the Internet, please forgive me). Nevertheless, in the time since the interview aired, Sarah not only reached her goal but kicked the ball right past it. See?! 

Big thanks to SYN 90.7 for taking a chance on me. And please do let me know what you think of my skills as an interviewee. I've interviewed other people on radio before, and been interviewed as part of a band... but this was the first time I'd been interviewed for my own creation. It was just like Sting stepping out from The Police. Or Justin Timberlake going solo from NSYNC. Or a cactus being planted into its own pot. 

*A chorus about a cactus with an insufficient supply of dirt.
**Cactus is not a euphemism. I really did have a cactus.

 

An interview with Melbourne's SYN FM - tonight at 6.20pm!

Lately I've been sending my song "Funky T-Shirt" to community radio stations around Australia (there are a LOT of stations - I'm getting better at my Australian geography!). I honestly wasn't sure how it would be received, but guess what?! I've got my first interview coming up tonight with the "New and Approved" program on Melbourne's SYN FM.

My association with SYN FM goes back to my days when I worked for Brisbane's classical music station 4MBS Classic FM. I attended a few community radio conferences and got to meet presenters and producers from community stations Australia-wide, including SYN FM. SYN  was a station that always stood out to me at these conferences. Youth-oriented, their folks were bubbling with energy and edgy ideas, winning awards for their innovative programming. Actually, I felt intimidated by them. They seemed like the cool, confident, big city media kids, and I was the shy music nerd from Brisbane who would take any opportunity to hide in her hotel room. 

Since then, I feel my coolness factor has gone up half a notch. It probably happened the day I bought a pair of skinny-leg jeans, or the day I discovered the true meaning of the word "irony". Either way, I'm really excited to be speaking with them tonight. BUT...I'm also pretty darn nervous. I've done plenty of phone interviews before, but I've always been the interviewer, asking opera singers and classical guitarists about their upcoming releases. I like asking lots of questions. It drives my friends nuts. But being ASKED questions is trickier. Under pressure, I have a habit of saying the thing that I absolutely DON'T want to say. 

Hence, the butterflies in my belly.

But that's what makes live radio exciting, right?

I asked friends for advice on what to do. One told me to have the word "BREATHE" in front of me on my laptop. Another said to have three talking points ready to refer to.

A third person told me to iron my underpants, to help me feel prepared. I thought about it, then remembered that my underpants are a combination of both cotton and elastane, and therefore might disintegrate under a hot iron. Too much information? I hope I don't bring this up in the interview tonight. Which means, I probably will. Hmph.

Find out for yourself! Listen to the interview tonight on SYN 90.7 FM if you're in Melbourne, or listen live online here

Here's to a magical, musical 2015!

HAPPY NEW YEAR, friends!

I know most of you are in 2015 now, dreaming up the wildest, most fantastical adventures you could have in the year to come, and writing your wishes on handcrafted paper to keep in a jar by the door. Or, perhaps you're just making a sandwich. Either way, I'd like to thank you for your support and encouragement in 2014!

I still have an hour left before the new year begins...because at this very moment, I'm writing to you from Austin, Texas, y'all...the live music capital of the world! I'm here visiting family, but I've been enjoying checking out the music scene and meeting local songwriters too. More on that soon.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with the latest piece of music that's inspired me. On these cold Austin winter days, I've been curled up on the couch with my two-year-old niece watching a delightful animated children's film called Room on the Broom. I wasn't planning on watching it, but the soundtrack by French composer René Aubry got me hooked!

Here's one of its prettiest musical themes:

The film (based on a book) is a lovely tale about magic and sharing, and it represents what I'd like 2015 to be for me - full of exciting new ideas and adventures, enriching friendships and beautiful music.

I hope it is for you too. Dream big! xox

P.S. Did anyone notice the Eleanor Rigby reference I made earlier?

A world music side project...and a gig!

There's an old phrase (I think it's from America's South) which goes, "You gotta dance with the one who brung ya". I thought about that phrase when deciding whether or not to tell you about a musical side project.

But I'm gonna.

See, I was going to keep this website focussed on my original music and written output. But I don't know where I'd be musically without having taken up the clarinet at the age of ten. Without having learnt from a Romanian clarinet teacher who introduced me to gypsy and Klezmer music. Without having simultaneously gone through a Celtic music phase, playing Irish tin whistle in a smoky Irish bar every week for a couple of years. Which then ironically led me back to clarinet and down a rabbit-hole of Balkan and Middle-Eastern music, playing with amazing people, discovering a new world of mind-boggling melodies and rhythms.

I don't know where I'd be without the musical skills I picked up and the intricate melodies that I welcomed into my head. (They take up a lot of space in there).

So,  I will mention that I've been dancing again with "the one who brung me", playing clarinet and tin whistles with Ensemble Diaspora, a 9-piece world music ensemble featuring some of Brisbane's finest folk musicians. The repertoire combines all the different types of world music that I love - Irish, English, Balkan, Middle Eastern, Russian and Jewish - and I'm having a blast. It's as though everything I've learnt over the years is finally merging, like dogs from the neighbourhood coming to play in one big dog park. Let's hope they get along.

We'll be playing this Wednesday night, 5 November 2014 at the spectacular St John's Cathedral (Ann St, Brisbane) as part of the G20 Cultural Celebrations! The  gig starts at 7.30pm, beginning with our support act Nicholas Ng playing Chinese erhu. We'll be on around 8pm. It's a FREE, all ages performance.

I cannot wait, because it's been a long time since I've performed in the beautiful St Johns Cathedral. How long? Since I was in high school. Was I wearing a cummerbund at the time? Most likely. 

See the G20 website for more details. 

 Just some of the members of Ensemble Diaspora! 

Just some of the members of Ensemble Diaspora! 

The 100 Songs Project 2014

In May this year, I was super-fortunate to be picked to record my song "Childish" as part of the QUT 100 Songs Project! Around 72 acts were chosen to record a grand total of 100 songs, in about a week - a marathon recording session! The fancy-pants Gasworks Studio was transformed into Brisbane's own song factory, as day and night, musicians were recording tunes in the three recording rooms.

Luckily I'm a late-night person, because I was given a 10pm-2am slot to record and mix a song, but it seemed perfect to record a song about the stars and the moon while the stars and moon were out! (However, producer Craig McCollough did have to tell me "Wakey wakey" after about 12.30am. Engineer Jake Tomlins seemed to draw energy from the night.)

As much as I would have loved, I didn't get to record in the room with the luscious grand piano, so this version is recorded with a keyboard, but overall it's not too shabby. Let me know what you think!

Thanks to QUT for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this exciting project!

You can buy the song for just 50 cents. The cost of a rapper!

 Producer Craig McCollough, me, and engineer Jake Tomlins, trying to stay awake after our midnight recording session!

Producer Craig McCollough, me, and engineer Jake Tomlins, trying to stay awake after our midnight recording session!

The Curse of the Gothic Symphony - on ABC1 TV TONIGHT!

Here's a story that for me, started eight years ago.

Sometime in 2004, I was doing work experience at 4MBS Classic FM - a community classical music radio station in Brisbane. If the words "community classical music radio station" trigger in your mind images of jolly retirees discussing opera and the last cruise ship they went on, with a backdrop of homemade bottled jam and a soundtrack of Mozart, well, you've nailed it.

But the more time I spent at 4MBS, the more I realised this wasn't just a place for baby boomers and older to come and play their favourite tunes. Rather, the station was very active in producing concerts and festivals, engaging and encouraging local classical musicians - both young and old. 

And as it turned out, the station's General Manager Gary Thorpe had a MUCH bigger vision.

I was sitting at my desk one day when, completely out of the blue, Gary came to me and asked, "Have I told you about the Gothic?".  

I said no. And he plopped a giant score (A3 size and half the thickness of a phone book) and a photocopy of an old photo on my desk. The score, he said, was of a symphony by a relatively unknown eccentric British composer named Havergal Brian. Symphony No. 1, The Gothic was considered to be the largest, longest and most complicated symphony ever written. It was such a ridiculously huge thing that hardly anyone had performed it. 

Gary had managed to catch a rare performance of the work in England in 1980 and ever since then, had dreamt of getting it performed in Brisbane. He'd had about four failed attempts already.

The photocopied photo he showed me gave a clue as to why. It was of one of the few performances ever staged - showing hundreds and hundreds of musicians and singers crammed into a concert hall. This mammoth symphony actually requires over 1000 musicians. That includes over 600 singers, four brass bands, one massive orchestra and one self-disrespecting conductor. 

Where in Brisbane, do you find a stage that can fit that many musicians, let alone find that many musicians who are skilled enough to handle such a musically complex work? Oh yeah, and the music itself divides people. For every person in the world who thinks the Gothic is an undiscovered masterpiece, there's another spitting and saying "Ugh, it's horrible!".

So yeah, Gary had a bit of a challenge on his hands. But also a potentially fascinating story. So I called my friend, documentary producer Veronica Fury (from WildFury), and she was crazy enough to take it on.

Eight years later, the feature-length documentary The Curse of the Gothic Symphony screens on ABC1 TV, December 30 2012 at 10.20pm.

I sang in the chorus so I can testify how NUTS the piece is!

But it was a pretty special experience. I've written more about it here

And now I shan't tell you any more because you've got to watch the documentary! 



 

Songs I Wish I’d Written: Adele’s “Skyfall”

Song: Skyfall
Performer: Adele
Writers: Adele, Paul Epworth
Producer: Paul Epworth
Released: 5 October 2012 

 The name’s ADELE. James...no wait, just Adele. 

*insert cockney laugh here*

British singer/songwriter Adele has co-written and performed a James Bond themesong for the new film Skyfall. Coincidentally, the song’s called Skyfall.

She’s written it with Paul Epworth with whom she wrote Rolling in the Deep. (Another song I wish I’d written). Big tick to the James Bond Music Director for choosing these two.

Look, I don’t have the faintest idea what the film Skyfall is about, and just like most of the other James Bond films, I’m unlikely to go and see it. Action films aren’t my thing. But we all know the James Bond theme music is a killer. (Sorry). But it is! Those flaring muted trumpets! And that sly guitar! They don’t make it like that anymore. 

So I was excited when I heard echoes of the original theme music creep into the new song, starting with the iconic murky brass chords, using the trademark step-wise bassline in the verses, kept in place by simple drumkit rhythms (which always remind me of high school stage bands).

On first listen I was blasé about it. It doesn’t rival Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger. But it walks all over Madonna’s Die Another Day. And now, I can’t get this darn thing out of my head! It’s catchy, but not annoyingly so. The lyrics are vague, like a lot of Adele’s songs, but the writing’s clean, so it just lets the melody do its thing. And what a strong melody! Seriously, as a result of me singing this constantly around the house, (along with having the flu), I’ve lost my voice. I’m dying for it to return completely so I can sing this song again!

Speaking of voices, let’s speak of Adele’s. How does she do it? How does she sound so effortlessly powerful? Most other belters around seem to overdo it. But Adele sounds incredibly strong without being forced. And unlike a lot of belters, it seems to come directly from the very depths of her soul. A cliche, but so true. 

Adele is also the master of vocal textures and colours, in my opinion. One minute she sounds soft and tender; the next, she’s as assertive as all hell. I love the textural differences between her lower and upper registers. She does lovely little slides without being indulgent. She uses just the right amount of vibrato. And those little jazz ornaments floor me. Listen to the little vocal turn she’s put in on the end of the word “overdue” at 1.11. Gorgeous. 

Favourite line: “You may have my number. You can have my name. But you cannot take my heart.”

Adele, can I take your voice?

Skyfall 




James Bond theme music





 

 

The Ten Recording Studio Commandments

Earlier this year I spent time making a little pop music (to be revealed next month!) in a few different recording studios around Brisbane. It was something I'd always wanted to do, and as expected, I found the process to be thrilling.

But I also found it to be emotionally draining.

As TED speaker Brene Brown says, "Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change". And boy, did I feel vulnerable in those studios! Anxious thoughts would rush through my head like, "Maybe I'm not making the right choices. Maybe people will laugh at me. Maybe I'm wasting everyone's time. Maybe I shouldn't have had those triple-choc-chip-fudge cookies instead of an apple".

Often, I'd leave the studio feeling gloomy.

After one particularly disenchanting session, I finally put my foot down. Or at least, I put my pen down...on paper. I'd had enough of feeling so sensitive in the studio. It was counter-productive. So...I WROTE A LIST! 

I thought hard about how to make the studio experience a positive one, and came up with about seven points. At my next studio session, engineer/producer Andrei Maberley contributed his excellent ideas (drawn from many years of experience), and we ended up with a guide that would make Moses proud. It works wonders! (Especially Commandments One and Ten). Drumroll, please...


THE TEN RECORDING STUDIO COMMANDMENTS

1. Thou shalt not go hungry or thirsty.
Fed, watered musicians = happy musicians. Stick to healthy snacks + good quality chocolate! Carrot and celery sticks = rock 'n' roll.

2. Thou shalt come mentally prepared.
Don't let small worries and disorganisation get in the way of big ideas!

3.  Thou shalt not use the word 'no'.
Instead, maintain morale and ask 'how' it can be better. Some may disagree with this point.

4. Thou shalt remain positive.
Disillusionment will only hold you back! 

5. Thou shalt write fearlessly.
Borrowed from Pat Pattison. Fortune favours the brave!

6. Thou shalt have FUN.
Isn't that what you're here for?

7. Thou shalt take breaks.
Give your mind some space!

8. Thou shalt protect thy ears
Keep volume to a safe level. 

9. Thou shalt be decisive.
Because, as Steve Jobs would say, "Real artists ship".

10. Thou shalt bounce and take away!
At the end of the studio day - even if you think what you've done so far is lame - a recording in the hand will give you a proud sense of achievement. This is a powerful one!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these commandments. Let me know if you agree or disagree with any of the points - or if you'd like to add your own. Feel free to share!