This one time, on digital Bandcamp...

The other night, while I was clumsily eating some sort of Korean rice dish with a friend, he told me I should start putting music on Bandcamp. 

I really didn't take much convincing. He just said, "I buy music on Bandcamp. And I know lots of people who buy music on Bandcamp."

Henceforth, check out my new Bandcamp page. Only my Funky T-Shirt song is on there so far, but the plan is to get more up there when I have more recorded.

It seems like a great place to discover, buy and sell independent music, and if you want to know what I get up to in the future, you can "follow" my page on there.

And yes, when I was in high school, I went on several band camps. And no, I did nothing untoward with my clarinet.

Indie 100: Like the Speed-Dating of Music Recording

Here's a new song that I recorded as part of the Independent Music Project: Indie 100...and below, the tale of recording the song in under four hours.

THE SCENE
I’ve never been on a speed date before, but I imagine it would be something like Brisbane’s Indie 100. 

Picture tens of eager musicians wafting in and out of recording studios, making quick introductions with producers they’ve likely not met before - let alone sung in front of - being smooshed together to record a song in under four hours.

This is what I was part of a few weeks ago.

(Actually, that description makes it sound more like a really short, but thoroughly enjoyable, arranged marriage....rather than a speed-date. Let’s move on from the coupling analogies).

 The room I recorded in, and the piano I played, in the Gasworks Studio.

The room I recorded in, and the piano I played, in the Gasworks Studio.

Indie 100 is the baby of something called the Independent Music Project run by the Queensland University of Technology. What’s special about it is that it gives 72 independent music acts the opportunity to have an original song or two professionally recorded, produced and mixed in a swish studio. The ‘swish’ studio I speak of is the QUT Gasworks Studio in Brisbane’s inner-city suburb of Newstead. It houses three recording studios, two luxurious grand pianos, and a slightly unwell harpsichord, last time I checked. To let you know where this studio lies on a scale of 1 to Hipster, it’s next to a craft beer brewery.

2015 was the fifth, and last year of the project. But it was the second year in a row I was selected to record a song. (Here’s my 2014 contribution). I’m pretty sure I jumped around excitedly when I got the call to say I was in. Because it’s seriously fantastic to be given recording time, with engineers in a nice studio, for free. In the real world, that would cost a LOT of craft beers.

The other bonus? Musos get to feel like they’re part of a special music community all striving towards a common goal. When Indie 100 is on, I feel like maybe - just maybe - the sum of all of us musicians meeting, collaborating and simultaneously recording, may inadvertently create a musical movement to be known in years to come as Indiepressionism.

 Indie 100 artists being asked questions like, "If your music was a dance step, what would it be?".

Indie 100 artists being asked questions like, "If your music was a dance step, what would it be?".

THE SONG
The way in through those Indie 100 doors was to submit a song demo. My song “Somehow” started life...oh, about ten years ago. It’s always been one of those slippery tricksters that I've half-wanted to drop, but could never completely forget. 

Through rewrite after rewrite, I’ve always called my song “Somehow” and it’s always been about the closing of a chapter. What’s changed over the years, is WHICH chapter it’s been about. And it's been a struggle to get the chorus up to Wendy Standard™.  

Early last year out of frustration, I took the unfinished version to a workshop run by a visiting lyric writing teacher called Pat Pattison. It was my last resort to help me get unstuck. I played my song to the class, and Pat did what I thought was unthinkable. He swapped around verses. He also showed me where my chorus at the time wasn’t making sense. By the end, I felt disjointed and even remember staring at the floor mumbling something like, “I should just bury it”. Pat, sensing my despair, said he quite liked it. A slither of hope!

It turned out that breaking the song apart was exactly what I needed, and after the workshop, I finally finished it to a standard I was pretty happy with. (No easy feat!). When I ended up in Austin, Texas in late 2014, I then took the song to a songwriting critiquing session run by a group of Pat Pattison devotees who meet monthly in a lawyer's office. They drew my attention to a few lyrical discombobulations which I hadn’t picked up on before. I’m a fan of being pushed that extra three percent. Often that’s when the magic happens. 

 Happily listening back! (While the others are stressing over some technical issues).

Happily listening back! (While the others are stressing over some technical issues).

THE RECORDING
This is where Indie 100 feels like a speed-date (or a really short arranged marriage). Musicians are allotted a time, a producer and a producer’s assistant. You can nominate the timeslots you’re available, but you can’t pick the studio or the team. You literally walk in, meet your production team, then have to be all vulnerable and start singing in front of them about that guy who broke your heart. 

It’s pretty much like, “Hi! I’m such-and-such. Here’s my song. Shall I sit by the piano now?”. 

Reactions you DON’T want from a producer when you play them your song:
-snoring
-speedy parkouring out of the studio
-suggestions that you should rewrite all the lyrics without using the letter ‘e’

 Nothing beats the sound of a real piano.

Nothing beats the sound of a real piano.

Thankfully, my producer Adam Kharita did none of these. A jazz-pop singer-songwriter himself, he exclaimed something like “This is right down my alley” and later thanked me for not bringing in a banjo.

We started by recording the piano - a lovely, white, sumptuous beast that I happily would have let follow me home. I can play enough piano so that I can compose on it, but I’m not a proper pianist. This became obvious when Adam sat down to give me a few tips, making the keys sound like melted white chocolate. Nevertheless, I did my plonky piano thing and we got there.

Next step was to record the vocals, which went pretty smoothly. Voice is the instrument I’ve focussed on most in recent years, and Adam and his assistant Alex Van den Broek (from the sassy singing quartet Jazel) informed me that I seem to have a talent for mirroring my own voice. That is, singing a line, then being able to sing along with that recorded line almost identically. It's my mediocre superpower. 

After vocals, I layered on some clarinet (an instrument I’ve played for decades) and some simple bass drum (an instrument I’ve never really played). Adam suggested I give it a go, and I felt mighty powerful sitting behind that drumkit. As it turns out, you need quite a bit of calf strength to play a bass drum evenly -  and my right calf just ain’t up to scratch. But post-editing, it sounded great.

 Inside the beautiful piano that I played.

Inside the beautiful piano that I played.

We had our noses to the grindstone throughout those four hours, especially during the last 30 minutes. But we got the song and all its parts recorded, edited and mixed. Exhausted but content, we packed up, congratulated each other, and handed the recording baton over to the next arranged musical marriage. A group with a banjo.

While I’m a little sad this was the last ever Indie 100, I look back on my experience with joy. Both Adam and Alex were very professional, gave useful ideas and feedback, but were also fun people to work with. I think we made a great team! And I’m happy that this song, which has been plaguing me for a decade, has been released into the wild. 

Now let us all raise a glass of craft beer to the Indiepressionists!

Thanks to the QUT Independent Music Project team for this opportunity.

Please let me know what you think of my song. Constructive criticism is welcome - it’s how I get better!

  Alex Van den Broek, Adam Kharita, and moi, post-recording. Exhausted but pleased as punch.

Alex Van den Broek, Adam Kharita, and moi, post-recording. Exhausted but pleased as punch.

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!