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The End?

This could be the last blog from this tour.  Sad, I know.  To answer a few of the questions I’ve received, yes, yes, no, 167, absolutely! and I came in second place.  Our tour manager, Chris, won but he’s a league bowler.  But for a league bowler he looks more like he’s playing volleyball than bowling!  He put a couple of divots in the lane!

Someone asked about the typical day on tour, so I think I’ll use today as an example, but first a bit about the bus environment.

The bus is divided into three sections separated by sliding doors.  The front-most section is a lounge with a kitchenette that has a fridge/freezer, a microwave, a sink, lots of cupboards and drawers and a small bathroom.  The second section is where the bunks are, twelve of them, stacked in threes from floor to ceiling, six on one side and six on the other.  Each bunk has a reading light, an electrical outlet, a few USB charging ports and on the ceiling of each bunk is a DVD player with a screen that unfolds down.  The bunk is just over six feet long, maybe 24 inches tall, and maybe 36 inches wide.  Then the rear-most section is another, smaller lounge that has an ice chest and some couch type seating and a few closets.  Each lounge is equipped with an HD TV attached to a very nice 2.1 sound system.

After the show we get on the bus and hang for a bit, with friends if appropriate.  Usually there are tunes cranked in both the front and rear lounges.  Eventually the party dwindles down to just band and crew and people start heading to the bunks.  Last night the bus call was 7 am meaning that’s when the bus will start heading to the next city, in this case Albany.  So my experience is that I hit the bunk while the bus is stationary and fall asleep.  It’s pitch black in the bunks; there are no windows and no way to tell what time it is unless you have a cell phone in there.  Eventually I wake to the bus starting to move.  The ride through the city is pretty jerky in the bunk so I’m usually awake until we hit the highway, then I fall asleep again and stay asleep except for the occasional rest area stop.  The next time I wake up, we are driving through the next city and the jerky ride has woken me up again.  I stay awake until the bus stops, usually I’ll check the time.  In this case I think it was about 9:40.  Back to sleep.

I woke up about an hour later.  Again, it’s pitch black in the bunk so I have no concept of where we are or what kind of day it is.  Typically I’d check Google Maps on my phone while I’m still in the bunk to figure out where we are, but today I roll out of the bottom bunk into the hallway and head to the rear lounge and I’m surprised to see that we are parked right in the middle of a very busy plaza near The Egg with lots of official-looking buildings around, fountains spraying into the breeze and picnic tables full of people.  There are food trucks parked around the perimeter and office people and construction workers lunching.

So imagine you’ve just rolled out of bed.  You’ve standing at the window in your underwear, hair standing straight up, sleep crust in your eyes, wool sweaters on your teeth and breath that could kill.  And you’re in a plaza full of office workers!  Nice!  Hi everybody!  Fortunately you can freshen up somewhat before you leave the bus, but you’re still in last night’s clothes.

Anyway, at this point I brush my teeth and make some coffee and check email, still on the bus.  Oh, we have internet on the bus.  Very cool!

This venue is one of the ones with showers, so I creep out of the bus and open the bay where my suitcase is, grab some clean clothes, and head inside for a shower.  Ah, much better!

Typically at this point I would head into town to find a coffee shop to blog from, but this plaza has such a nice vibe to it I’m blogging from one of the picnic tables.  This is also when I might find some food.  This is my free time so once I finish blogging I might walk around town, window shop, or head back to the bus for a nap.

My work day begins at 4 PM usually.  The crew has been working since 10 or 11 am loading in and setting up the show.  It’s an amazing production and as such it is quite complex.  The stage is a maze of gear and wires.  It’s like the inside of a space ship.  There are weird looking antennas and devices all over the place.  So at four o’clock I walk into the maze with my in-ear monitors.  I’m handed a receiver pack that I plug the in-ears into and then attach to my belt.  I put on the guitar, switch the pack on and I’m ready for sound check.

Sound check is just that – making sure that everything works and sounds okay.  Everyone is adjusting their in-ear mix and Rachel, our front-of-house engineer is tuning the PA to the room.  Typically Mike will have a punch list of things he remembered from the last show, just little improvements or suggestions specific to certain tunes, so we’ll run through that list.  I may also have a couple of things as well.  Then we do an EEL test to make sure the audience interaction piece is working.  Then we play something very loud for Rachel.  We may or may not do a listening exercise to make sure everyone can hear everyone else.  And lately we’ve been doing a “trance jam” where we create a jam by each repeating a single phrase over and over again for about ten minutes.  Something about this is very… hmmm… enlightening.  I’ve heard of people doing this for hours at a time and reaching some sort of nirvana and I can see how that would work.  For us it opens up this door and creates a realization that being hypnotic is much more interesting than always changing what you’re doing.

When sound check is over we have one to two hours to have dinner and get ready for the show.  I like to change into whatever I’m wearing for the show and put my contact in so that I can eat dinner without feeling too rushed.  I try to eat more in the afternoon and keep dinner light since I’m usually not that hungry before I play anyway.

After dinner we gather in the dressing room and maybe talk about any special things we’re doing in the set, or not.  Then the huddle and we hit the stage.  (See my blog entry about that!)

After the show we head to the bus and start all over again!!

All in all, this has been a great tour!  It’s such a fun band with very good, caring people in it.  It’s not all glamor and party; in fact it’s a shitload of work, done on very sketchy bus-sleep.

I once again have to shout out to the crew, in particular Chris Friday, our tour manager who takes care of everybody and everything on this tour and still manages to make me laugh my ass off;  Trey Kerr, our guitar tech, bass tech and everything else tech who sets up my rig and takes care of me while I’m on stage; Rachel Capobianco, our front-of-house sound person who makes us all sound amazing in every venue; Jamie Capobianco, our keyboard tech and other stuff tech who sets up and takes care of Robert’s keyboards as well as a slew of other stuff; Jason Liggett (Liggy), our LD who makes us feel like we’re tripping balls every night with his phenomenal lighting; Walt Westinghouse, our monitor guy, who makes the in-ears sound unbelievably good every night; and Max Cohn, our EEL tech, who sets up and runs the EEL every night and does hours and hours of programming every day.  These guys work ridiculously long hours every day and still manage to take exceptional care of us while maintaining a super fun and happy atmosphere the entire time.

I also have to shout out to my band mates as well.  Johnny Kimock who kicks my ass every night and does so with a smile; Robert Walter who blows me away reaching into the depths of his being with every note he plays; Craig Myers who’s joyous attitude radiates outward from every creative thing he does;

And most of all to Mike Gordon, my partner in crime whose vision has opened my mind to the limitless possibilities; whose bass playing interweaves with my guitar playing as though there were coming from a single mind; and whose unrelenting faith in all of us allows us to be the creative people we want to be.

Eh.  Maybe this ISN’T my last entry!:-)

PS: I have to give another shout out to Brad Sarno whose sound expertise and Earth Drive pedal helped to make my guitar sound the best it could be!  http://www.sarnomusicsolutions.com/

The Mythical Broomstick

It’s when you see that the red recording light is on.  It’s when the TV camera is pointed at you.  It’s when you know this is the one that counts.  It’s the broomstick, or at least that’s my expression for it.  It’s when everything is on the line and you’re nervous, and you’re trying so hard that… you try too hard.  You’re so concerned with being at the top of your game that you forget that the most important things are to relax and listen.

Where the hell was my placard when I needed it?

But that broomstick stuff is all a myth.  Of course I’m referring to our Cleveland show that was webcast.  It was our fourth night in a row and I was tired.  My voice was shot and kept faltering unless I pushed it too hard.  And I wanted to make these sets the absolute best because I had a lot of friends watching as well as a lot of new people.  And that attitude is a formula for disaster.  I didn’t feel great about the sets after they were done.  I got lots of good feedback from people watching but that doesn’t change my own impression of what happened.

But later on the bus we listened to the show and watched some of the video.  And you know what?  It was great.  Much better than I thought it was.  It didn’t sound like I was trying too hard.  It sounded relaxed and creative and fun and hypnotic.

I had a similar experience recently taping a video with Max Creek.  We did “Playing In The Band” for Telefunken’s Song Of Their Own series https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYQXW4KMIh0 and I did the first pass of a mix for it.  And at the time I thought we were stiff and self-conscious.  But watching the video now I can see that we were on top of our game.  We were relaxed and patient allowing the jam to ebb and flow naturally and we hit some amazing space considering we were only playing to the cameras.

I guess the point is – if you find yourself in that situation, where it’s all on the line and you have to be at the top of your game, don’t sweat it.  Pull that mythical broomstick out of your ass and do what you do.  Get your swagger on.  And don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you choked.  Chances are you didn’t.  Chances are it came out much better than you thought at the time.

Fly On The Wall

I would say that I have my sound and my IEMs figured out, and so I’m wondering what to write about.  Or maybe more accurately, what would be interesting to write about?

About 30 minutes before the show starts I start prepping to hit the stage.  I figure out what clothes I’m wearing and I put in my one contact (so that one eye can see far and the other can see near… I need to see close up if I break a string).  And about ten minutes before the show I put my IEMs on and feed the wire down the back of my shirt.  Then Walter gives me my IEM receiver which clips onto my belt.  The actual ear pieces I let sit on my shoulders until we’re about to walk on.

Right before we walk on, I put the IEMs in my ears and turn on the receiver.  At this point we’re on stage right behind the screens and in the IEMs I can hear the ambient mics picking up the crowd noise. We have a little ritual we do right before we walk out, the “band huddle,” just a little check-in before we walk out.

Then we walk out.  The stage is very dark and you have to be careful because there’s lots of gear and wires up there.  I pick up and put on the guitar which has no cable attached, but it’s tricky to get the strap over my head because of all the junk taped to it.  There’s a transmitter of the guitar’s audio, a battery pack for the lights, and a DMX receiver that receives light information from Liggy, our LD.

The strap is suede which I like because it holds the guitar still on my shoulder, but there’s a little adjustment period in there because when I first put it on, it’s pulled my shirt off my shoulder and bunched it up between my neck and the guitar.  So I do this thing where I pull the bottom of my shirt and adjust how the guitar hangs by pulling on the neck of it.  All this just to get the damn guitar on!  But it happens in a matter of a couple seconds.

I have to assume that the guitar is in tune.  My OCD wants to tune the guitar but I know the band wants to just play right away.  The tuner is on, so the guitar is muted when I walk up, so now I turn the tuner off and play a single note to make sure it’s all working.  Then I set my effects pedals to whatever is necessary for the first song and turn to face Johnny and wait for his drumstick count.  Click click click and we’re underway!

The receiver for the IEMs has a volume control so that I can control the overall volume of what I’m hearing and usually I have to adjust it during the first few seconds of the first song.  Usually it takes about three adjustments to get it to where I want it.

At this point it becomes all about the music.  There are so many things that I need to remember besides the music that I’m thinking of making a little placard to put on the floor in front me.  Like for vocals, I need to remember to sing soft, take deep breaths but not too deep, sing behind the beat a little when I’m singing lead.  And for guitar I need to remember to play behind the beat, play with swagger, and when I do a lead try to bend time.  This is all on top of remembering the arrangement, remembering the lyrics, and most most most importantly, LISTENING!!!

As the first song winds down I need to remember that the stage is very dark between songs and the set list is written in silver on black paper, so it’s a good idea to find the next song on the list while the lights are still up for this song that we’re in.  That determines what changes I need to make between the songs, like different pedals, different tunings, or even putting a capo on.

When I’m singing lead I need to remember to forget all the technical crap and think about the lyrics that I’m singing so that I can deliver them convincingly.

I’m going to digress a little.  Vocals.  Vocals are weird.  What I hear when I sing has very little to do with what everyone else hears.  Because the human voice-box resides near the base of the skull sound vibrations travel through the bones and cartilage to the ear drums.  The result is that you hear your own voice much differently than other people do.  This becomes evident when people hear their own voices recorded for the first time and say, “Wow, do I really sound like that?”  Becoming aware of this fact doesn’t change anything.  And having the in-ears in creates a similar effect of singing with your fingers in your ears which accentuates the voice-box/eardrum resonance even more.  As a result, I’m never satisfied when I hear recordings of my voice.  It never sounds the way it does when I’m doing it.  And so a large part of what I’m thinking about when I’m singing is how hard I’m pushing my voice.  It’s very easy for me to get too gritty because I can’t hear the grit in any monitor system, in-ear or otherwise.  And so I’m always conscious of that.

So at some point we are inevitably going to come to… “the jam.”  This is obviously the place where the whole band is improvising and is the coolest part as well as the trickiest.  This is what separates a great band from “Jamband 101” as I call it, that noodly, directionless “Look what I can play” crap.  And there are as many philosophies about how this is done as there are people doing it.  One good place to start is to shut the fuck up and listen to what’s going on WITHOUT your input.  This is another one for my reminder placard, “SHUT UP AND LISTEN” because doing that will inform you what your place should be.  Sometimes your place is… don’t play at all.  Everything that’s going on is enough.  There are four other musicians up there conversing.  You don’t want to turn this into “Dysfunctional Family Thanksgiving Dinner” where everybody is trying to talk above everybody else.  In a good five way conversation people speak one at a time.  It’s very much the same with jamming.  So I’ll stop and listen and rather than listen to what everybody else is doing, I listen for the silent spots.  IF they exist.  And if they do, that’s where I’ll place my voice.  And not in every silent spot.  Silence is necessary in order to accentuate where the sounds are so I leave some of them silent.

And then the next secret ingredient: REPETITION.  This is essential for a number of reasons.  First, it prevents “wanking” – playing a bunch of continuous notes with no focus.  It also give the listener something to latch onto.  I could write a whole blog entry on listening to music and the related psychology.  People like it when they can predict what’s coming.  Repetition enables that.  Also, people like simple melodies.  Repeating simple melodies grabs people.  And then once you’ve grabbed them, you can fuck with them by changing ever so slightly.  It’s like, “Ha, you thought you were getting THAT, but now you’re getting THIS instead!”  And the last aspect of repetition is HYPNOSIS.  Not only have you drawn them in with your repeating melody thing, now you’ve done it enough times that they’re mesmerized by it.

More later!

Sarno

I’ve got two words for you: Sar-no.

Yesterday I had a conversation with Mike about my in-ear woes and he told me how he had the guitar in his mix, and it was something I was on the edge of considering anyway, only with a little extra added benefit.  I was considering changing my mix and pushing the guitar off to the left side and bringing the bass back to the middle.  It would create more of an album mix instead of trying to reflect the phyiscal proximity of everything on stage.  That thought had occurred to me already but the little bit extra was that Mike put the guitar reverb on the opposite side!  Cool idea!  The thinking was that it would get the guitar out of my face and put me even more in the room and Mike said it sounded really good in his mix.

So. Brad Sarno.  I’ve been hearing about him for years, about how he’s the preamp guru; about how he’s helped various guitarists get the elusive “Garcia Tone” and whatnot.  And Mike mentioned that he was coming to the show.  :-)  Perfect!

So he came down early to check out my rig and I explained the issues I was having with the IEMs (In Ear Monitors).  Actually before I even got a chance to do that he said he had something for me to try and he handed me his handmade distortion pedal, the Earth Drive.  So we plugged that into my pedal board and compared it to my other two distortions, the AC Booster and the OCD.  It was unbelievably good!  It was so responsive to touch, kept the bottom end intact and had a very buttery sound but still crisp.  Sold! I actually put it in place of my AC Booster, my favorite distortion on the planet.

Then he recommended a different mic for the amp.  They’d had a Sennheiser 421 on it and he said that that was a very crisp sounding speech mic that was good for a variety of applications, but said that I might warm my sound up a bit by using a Sennheiser 609 instead.  Then he mentioned that they also made a 906 which was closer to the original discontinued 409 and it just so happens that Rachel (our FOH) had a 906!  I know, a lot of tech talk, but the 409, 609 and 906 are recognizable as the square looking mics Pink Floyd sing into in the Live In Pompeii film.  And it didn’t disappoint.  At the show last night I had the best mix I’ve ever had with the IEMs and it gave me back my guitar voice so I was able to really play the way I like.  Amazing!

But in spite of the great mix, the first set last night seemed a little disconnected and that was reflected in what the other guys were saying during the break.  I sat down with Craig and we examined the set list for the second set and decided to make a couple changes.  Probably the most important change we made was to start the set with my song, Jones.  That’s a tune that Creek starts a lot of sets with and there’s a good reason for it: It puts everybody in the groove.  It enabled us to do a reset of the show and was exactly what was needed.  Second set was a smoker!

Another thing we did was some EEL stuff (the audience interaction piece) near the end of the break.  So when we came on for the second set the crowd was in the middle of jamming out on the EEL and we just joined in jamming with them and eventually working our way to Jones.

All in all yesterday was a great learning experience, and as a result my experience on this tour is going to be much better.  And the Sarno Earth Drive is a large contributor to that.  I highly recommend this pedal to anyone “searching for the sound.”

http://www.sarnomusicsolutions.com/products/ed.html

Now to work on my bowling skills….. cheers!

Ah.  Well you know, if you don’t have bad gigs then what do you have to compare the good ones to?  But perhaps “bad gig” is a little strong.  Actually there were some amazing moments.  Lots of them.

You have to be able to laugh at yourself.  That’s first and foremost.  With that in mind, my night started horribly in that I had seen the set lists earlier in the day and realized that one of the sets started with Horizon Line, which uses a drop D tuning.  (The low E is tuned down to a D… makes D chords fat as hell.)  And so about ten minutes before the start of the set I was scrambling… changing clothes, putting in contacts, getting my ears in… and I thought, Oh!  I have to tell Trey (our guitar tech amongst other things) to tune my guitar to the drop D.  Which I did.  Ha.  I’m ahead of the game!

And so we walked on for the first set, and then the count.. one, two, three, four…. and the band kicks into Another Door!  F#CK!!  Horizon Line starts the second set!!  So now, I’m in the wrong song, with the wrong tuning, and the intro to Door is one of those one meter on top of another meter sections, so I have no idea where I’m supposed to be playing.  Hell-lllo!!?!  It’s hard to worry about making mistakes when you start with a massive CLAM on the very first note!

Things can only get better, right?

And they did.  There was some great jamming.  We did Peel and Spock’s Brain which both came out awesomely!  And Take It As It Comes, one of the new originals Mike and I are writing, and that came out great as well.  Lots of good stuff.

But by the end of the second set I was tired.  I think the crowd was tired maybe, or maybe I was projecting that.  We ended the second set with a couple of rockers, How Many People Are You (another new M & S original) and Dig Further Down and, for me anyway, it was like pulling teeth.

But you know, it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.  I’ve learned my lesson about that.  It used to be that if I had a bad night and people would say, “Great set!” I’d be like, “Um, no.”  But I’ve had enough experiences listening back to nights I thought sucked only to realize they were pretty good.  It’s all so subjective!

So yesterday we had a much needed day off.  It was a chill day that included a BBQ and a little bowling…:-)

And today we play in St. Louis.  I think I have an idea on how to improve the sound of the guitar.  I’ve been being kind of a purist about things in that I haven’t done any EQ or compression on the guitar sound in my in-ears, the idea being that I want to know what it sounds like out front as much as that’s possible.  I would hate to have the guitar sounding like butter in my ears and like crap out front!

But I need the thing to sound good so that I can play the way I want to.  Did I make the helium comparison yet?  Imagine you needed to convey something deeply emotional… only you’ve just inhaled helium.  That’s what it’s like to play guitar without the right sound… it just doesn’t express the way it’s supposed to.

And so my idea has to do with panning.  The way I have my mix currently reflects my perspective physically, with Robert’s keys panned right, Craig’s percussion panned hard left, Mike just a little left, but my guitar and vocal dead center.  Mike mentioned to me yesterday that he originally had me and Robert panned right because that’s where we are physically, but he moved me to the left but also put the guitar reverb to the right, and he said it sounded great!  So that’s one of the things I’m going to try.  It will be mixing the band how I would mix an album rather than reflecting the physical reality.  I think that will help get the guitar sound out of my face.

I have to give a shout out to our crew here.  None of this stuff would work if it wasn’t for them.  They start setting us up while I’m still rolling out of bed and they are taking down long after the last notes ring.  And the entire time they are there helping to create this amazing thing.  There is just SO much technology and creativity overlapping here which requires considerable effort on everyone’s part and our crew does an amazing job of getting it altogether and tolerating us musicians at the same time!  Much gratitude in their direction!

Get Your Swagger On

The second night of the tour …. so much less nerve-wracking than the first. Life is so much less stressful when you know what to expect or even sort what to expect. Still there’s always some stressors.

We broke out Last Step, an epic somewhat composed musical piece from our recently released EP. It’s one of those tunes that gets composed into the recording medium so that parts of it are recorded one measure at a time. Then when it’s finished, you can transcribe what you did and wow, it’s one intense piece of music. On the original demo, the first thing that was recorded was Mike saying, “someone needs to take a long journey because of a loss.” That was the beginning concept before there was any music or lyrics. And so musically it does that – it starts with a theme, moves to another theme, and then to another, travels into some strange territory before it’s starts to make its way backwards to the third theme, then back to the second and then to the first with the final line being an echo of the first line. The theme changed when we got to the lyrics. We imagined that a man wakes up to the presence of something like a ghost that could be the spirit of someone who traumatized him previously …. possibly.

Anyway, the music has many overlapping layers and at certain points each part is playing in its own meter superimposed on top of one another. As a result, it can be hard to know where you are because nothing anyone else is playing can anchor you to your own part. And in a lot of cases, Mike and I are singing in three while playing in four! Not so easy! During the rehearsals we had to stop many times and restart because we would end up out of sync.

But at the show, we totally nailed it and was delivered with passion. The jam went to interesting places and it all got very powerful at the end. Success! But my original point – even though songs like that can be stressful, the overall vibe going into last night was relaxed, energetic, excited and fun! And that’s how the show seemed … at least from my perspective.

As everyone gets comfortable with the material, it’s nice to feel us all “get our swagger on” by really laying into this stuff. At the end of the night, I had a long conversation with Robert where on top of solving all the world’s problems, we more importantly discussed the general concept of what we’re trying to do musically in relation to the darker side of sound … or maybe the edgier side. “Irreverence” is the term Robert used, which I like. There are certain moments …. well maybe there should be lots of moments … where you can get your brain out of the way. It’s no longer about notes or rhythm or changes or arrangement It’s about gut-wretching emotion traveling from your inner depths directly to your hands, skipping your brain. I feel like I’m not playing the guitar but instead slathering hunks of emotion on to a sonic canvas – with a crowbar.

Oh, and as a follow up to the in-ear rant yesterday, we have these ambient mics on either side of the stage to pick up the room noise. I didn’t have much of them in my mix on the first night, but cranked those up for last night’s show which made a world of difference for me. I could hear the room again!! The question of the day: Who thought of pole vaulting and more importantly, why?

Opening Night

Well, the first show of the tour is behind us, thankfully.  But let me back up…

We have new band members, Robert and Johnny, and we have a bunch of new material as well… a few new covers and some new originals from a batch of new material that Mike and I are writing.  And we have some new crew members, new stage gear, new lighting stuff…. lots of new new new!

There was quite a bit of preparation for this tour… two sets of rehearsals, one for a week and one about ten days long.  We had to learn all the new material plus bring the new guys up to speed, but not only that, we wanted to revamp some of the older material and bring it into the new… hmmmm… direction?  Attitude?  Philosophy?

And all of that went very well.  Johnny and Robert learned a LOT of songs!  And we did a lot of arranging and figuring stuff out.  There are a TON of lyrics I had to learn!  And remember!

Anyway, our first night went very very well.  It was a nerve-wracking day however.  The first day of the tour will always have it’s glitches.  With all of the technology we use, combined with having new crew members and new gear, well, needless to say things ran behind schedule.  And as a result sound check started very late and we didn’t have much time.  It was Johnny and Robert’s first time using in-ear monitors and it’s just time consuming to set those up.

With regular monitors, you really just fill in the sound that’s missing from your proximity on the stage.  So normally I can hear the other instruments pretty well, so I just supplement the sound by adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  And then a LOT of vocals.

But in-ears shut out the ambient sound of the room, pretty much completely, so that everything you need to hear has to be put into them.  There are huge advantages to this, as you have total control over the overall volume.  For vocals especially this is a great thing!  I can hear pitch very well but more than that I can hear how much “grit” I’m putting into my vocal.  I can control the tone of my voice to a very great degree.  And the clarity of everything is improved greatly.  I can hear all these nuances in peoples’ playing that would normally get lost in the mush.

But clarity is a double-edged sword especially for the guitar.  Normally when I play, the amp is down by my legs and the sound blows right by me.  And when I solo, I’ll even take a few steps away from the amp because I like to hear the guitar in the room.

But with the in-ears, it’s like my face is directly in front of my amp.  I hear everything. Way. Too. Clearly.

Ah, I’m getting lost in the technical stuff.  Back to reality.

The new material is awesome!  It rocks in a way none of the other material ever has.  And the new guys are very rhythmic players on top of being very attentive and responsive.  The resulting sound is sparse, yet full.  It breathes.  The space between the notes becomes as important as the notes themselves.  Time becomes amorphous yet the pulse throbs steadily.

On top of that, Craig has greatly expanded his pallet of sounds.  Combine that with the sounds Robert gets, and Johnny also has an electronic pad for generating sounds…. Sometimes I can’t tell who’s making what sound!  Not that it matters!

Ok, enough for today.  Next time I’ll dig into the new material some more.

What is that guitar?

That guitar is one that was built specifically for this tour.  One of the themes of this tour is “moire” which is that weird thing that happens when you look through two screen and you see all sorts of weird 3D shapes.  Moire is everywhere in our production, including in our guitars!

Mike and I worked very closely with the builder, Ben Lewry of visionaryinstruments.com, who specializes in creating very funky electronic guitars that usually feature all kinds of touch controllers and accelerometers that can be used for controlling audio effects in software like Ableton Live and whatnot.  These guitars have no such controllers, but instead feature full RGB lighting behind the moire screens that make up the face of the body.

Ben and I had lots of conversations about my Ibanez because he wanted to create the instrument so that it would sound and play simlilarly.  The body shape and neck and headstock are all designed based on my favorite guitar.

As part of the design, he put all the controls along the top of the instrument, so there are no controls on the face of the body itself, to leave the moire screen as emtpy as possible.  There are four preset light designs built in that I can choose with a selector swith.  Most of these presets react to the sound of the strings, so that when I play something, the guitar lights up.  It’s very fast and when I play choppy rhythms or staccato leads, the lights really accentuate the sound!

But, even cooler than all that, the guitar has a DMX input, which means that it can receive color commands from the light board and be totally controlled by our lighting guy!  It took a few shows to get that working, but now it’s in full effect.  So cool!

I’m also using in-ear monitors for the first time.  And everything is wireless, so for each show I’m wearing a transmitter for the guitar audio, a receiver for the in-ear monitors, a receiver for the DMX data, and a battery pack for the guitar’s lights.

WIRED!

Coming Soon…

Mike Gordon Tour….

http://mike-gordon.com/tour/

MC350

In retrospect I had no idea what I was doing back in 1981 when I was looking for a new guitar.  I had been playing the Travis Bean for four years but Max Creek was getting ready to record “Drink The Stars” and the Bean had intonation issues because of the aluminum neck, so it was time.  I had been looking around and I read a bunch of things about a guitar that Ibanez had on the market, the Musician series, patterned somewhat after the Artist model that Bob Weir was using at the time.  There seemed to be a few models of Musicians, some with active EQ and some without; some with “dual sound” pickups and some with “tri sound” pickups.

Creek had a weekend playing at Jonathan Swift’s in Harvard Square so since we were hanging out in Boston on Saturday a few of us when to Wurlitzer Music in Boston to check out what they had.  It turns out that they had one model of Ibanez Musician, an MC350.  I played that thing for probably an hour in the store and every five minutes this very rude sales dude would come over asking if I was going to buy the thing.  At one point he asked, “Do you even have money?”  Yes, you dick, I have money.

Long story short, I did get the MC350.  And I still use it today.  It’s pretty much all original except for some brass knobs to replace the plastic ones, and a small wiring change I made in 1985.  But all the hardware, including the pickups, is original.

Well, relatively recently I found out some information about this particular model.  There were only 84 of them ever made, and mine is one of the earliest ones, and one of the few made in 1981.  Most of the rest were made in 1982.

A couple weekends ago I had the rare experience of seeing one of these other MC350s.  My friend John is a collector and brought his to a Creek show and we couldn’t help but take some photos of the twins:

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