I was privileged to speak at the most recent Ignite Seattle and talk the audience through how I wrote one of my new songs, “Tricks on Me.”
Ahh…Valentine’s Day. That celebration of our modern commodification of love. The day when expectations are set sky high to find the perfect gift for your lover.
Or, if you don’t happen to have one at the moment, the day when the world conspires to make you feel shitty about that fact. (PS: Please try not to feel shitty. There’s nothing wrong with you. It’s just not time yet.)
It’s also a fun time to record a nice love song, so I thought I’d do just that to show you all how much I care. Thanks for being a fan and enjoying my music. I love you!
I love talking up other musicians, both because discovering and sharing great music is awesome and because we all need to look out for one another. It would be easy to feel competitive with so many extraordinary local acts, but my good friend, singer-songwriter Roem Baur likes to tell me that not one of your fans has just one CD. So here are three Seattle acts whose work I would love to see my fans pick up.
It’s easy to get lost in Five Letters From Far Away, the latest release from Seattle cosmic folk rock trio Julia Massey & the Five Finger Discount.
I particularly respect the way that Massey approaches her vocal performance on standout track “Who Silently Suffers?” It’s extraordinarily difficult to be both etherial and powerful, and to deliver such a relaxed vocal performance without sounding either pitchy or lazy. Massey pulls it off flawlessly. I’m also a huge fan of the group’s choice to include the perfect lyrical and musical compliment of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” as the song’s denouement.
Also of note on this album are “Back Door Open” and “Top 100″ which both feature standout keys performances by Massey, and the terrific wordplay of “Marquee Malarkey.”
Whitney Mongé has been one of my favorite Seattle artists since I stumbled across a recording of “Crash” in a friend’s Spotify playlist while I was going through a bad breakup. Her voice is at once melodic and gritty, and she tells stories that are easy to empathize with. I’m particularly moved by “Walls,” which speaks of a lover too guarded to reach. Mongé has historically been a fixture of the busking scene at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, but lately she’s getting so many bookings and packing so many shows that it’s growing much harder to find her performing on the street. I fully expect 2013 to be her year.
City Faire is a very recent addition to my rotation, but I was instantly drawn to “Gone” both for the soulful lead vocal performance and explosive percussion line. And if you like blues and jazz-infused rock, then you really shouldn’t miss their live recording of “I’ll Be That.”
I’ve chosen to say yes to more opportunities to get my music out into the world this year, and one of the ways I’m doing that is by entering music performance and composition contests that come my way. I’d love your help in two of those contests: Hard Rock Rising and VeeWall Vocals.
Hard Rock Rising
What is it? In this contest, musicians compete in phases to win a world tour, a music video, and a bunch of new gear.
What do you get out of it? A free download of my song “Beautiful Lies” and the joy of knowing you helped me move on to the live performance phase of the competition.
How do you help?
- Click here
- Click the “Download” button next to Tae Phoenix.
- Share with your friends.
- Enjoy your free download.
What is it? In this contest, musicians compete to win $100,000 cash.
What do you get out of it? If I win, I’ll donate half the before-tax winnings ($50,000) to a charity that my fans and I choose together. You’ll get to help with that if you wish.
How do you help?
- Click here
- Sign up for a VeeWall account.
- Vote for me.
- Come back every day until April 29th and vote again.
- Share with your friends.
Thank you so much for your help! I deeply appreciate it.
Love and hugs forever,
I don’t need to rehash the speculative firestorm* about Beyoncé lip syncing her performance of the Star Spangled Banner at the Inauguration on Monday; but since some very prominent folks are asking whether it even matters, I feel the need to weigh in.
It matters. A lot.
Twenty-first century Western culture is hideously narcissistic. We’re surrounded by glossy exteriors that desperately cover even the tiniest flaw. Our culture tells us to be ashamed of our brokenness and horrified that someone might find out we’re not perfect.
The result is millions of Photoshopped ads, pornography that looks nothing like real human sexual interaction, music that’s had the soul autotuned out, professional athletes taking drugs to make them seem superhuman, and the rich telling the rest of us that they got it all through “hard work” alone.
Live music is supposed to help us cut through all that garbage by being entirely spontaneous and of-the-moment. It’s supposed to take us where we’ve never been before and will never go again. It shows the artist as they are, flaws and all. It hangs in the air for an instant and then vanishes; and in doing so it puts artist and audience in touch with the upside of mortality.
Studio music is different. When you’re making a packaged product, you polish things. I’ll admit, Pete and I used a touch of autotune here and there while we were mixing Rise; because like even the best singers, I sometimes go a little flat or sharp. We also did about fifteen takes of every song and spliced together the best phrases from each take. Everyone does this with studio music, and everyone knows it; but it’s not supposed to happen live.
That’s why, when you set the expectation that you’re playing live, but you lip sync to a track that you made in a studio using the process I described above, you make control and perfection a higher priority than authenticity and vulnerability; and in so doing you rob your performance of its living force. So if Beyoncé did indeed lip sync, it matters a great deal and it was a crappy thing for her to have done. I hope next time she sings the Star Spangled Banner, we get to hear the magic of her extraordinary voice in the moment and enjoy a miracle nobody has ever heard before.
* Nothing has been proven conclusively one way or the other; but compared to Kelly Clarkson and James Taylor’s performances, Beyoncé’s did sound oddly perfect. There wasn’t a breath out of place or a flat note. Even Christina Aguilera hit some flat notes in her recent performance at the People’s Choice Awards. I don’t know for certain that Beyoncé’s performance was autotuned, but it sure seems that way when I listen to it.
The vast majority of men I meet at shows are lovely. They’re respectful, kind, thoughtful and genuinely fun to sing for. When I have a crowd of men and women who are like that, I feel free to have fun with them. I smile. I flirt. I dance and have a great time with my band. And when the band is having a great time, the audience can feel it. And that helps them have a good time, too. That’s what we’re there for after all: a fun night of live music.
That’s why I truly wish that a few drunken, entitled creeps (DEC’s) wouldn’t try to ruin the experience for the rest of us.
At a recent gig, a very drunk man repeatedly approached the bandstand and grabbed his genital area directly in front of me. When I ignored him, he grew belligerent and started yelling. He would leave, only to come back five minutes later for an encore of his nasty, disrespectful antics.
In addition, he approached other women at the venue, grabbing them and grinding on them much to their discomfort and chagrin. This happened for almost two hours before someone finally said something (I couldn’t, I was in the middle of a show) and he was sent packing.
This is different from mere heckling (which I can handle without assistance). The kind of behavior I’m talking about is threatening, sexual violence-charged, and scary. It makes me feel unsafe – like I have to watch my back if I step outside or go to the bathroom on a break. And when it happens during a show, I smile and flirt less and retreat more into the music. I interact with the rest of the audience as best I can, but that can be hard when the DEC puts himself right between me and the rest of the crowd.
Live performance requires tremendous vulnerability. As a singer, I have to bring down my walls and engage with my audience. When there’s a DEC in my face, I can’t do that nearly as well. I have to self-protect and attempt to shut the guy down. If I don’t, the situation can go from uncomfortable to truly dangerous very, very fast. That’s the antithesis of putting on a good show.
So folks, the next time you’re out and someone is harassing the performers (especially a guy harassing a female performer), please don’t let them get away with it. You’ve payed good money to see a live show and the DEC is ruining it for you by diminishing the quality of that performance.
You have a right to see a show that doesn’t involve DEC’s. Please stand up for that right by taking five minutes to tell someone – a bouncer, a manager, a bartender – what you saw and point out the DEC. You will make the show and the night better for yourself and everyone around you. And if you do it at my show, you will have my gratitude and respect.
To the person who finally got the DEC ejected from my recent gig: thank you from the bottom of my heart. You are a real fan and I love you! Hugs forever, Tae
I remember saying those words to Jazz goddess Cleo Laine when I was about twelve years old and got to see her backstage after a show at Seattle’s Jazz Alley. At that point in my life, grown ups still thought it was cute when I said those kinds of things.
You’d think that by the age of almost 30 (!!!) I would have grown out of it, but last night it happened again. I got to see cosmic-folk rockstress Julia Massey perform at The Sunset in Ballard. And while I was marveling at her songwriting, and watching her work it in epic fashion on two separate keyboards while belting out near-flawless vocals, I thought, “Julia, I want to be just like you when I grow up.”
This wasn’t an anomaly; I routinely have the urge to say this to people I admire – be they tech luminaries, masters of media (social or otherwise), or great musicians. There are only two ways I can interpret this impulse: either I’m hopelessly clinging to antics that were better suited to my early adolescence, or I’m still approaching things with the same beginner’s mind that I had in those early years.
Obviously, I prefer the latter interpretation because it means that I’m still actively approaching the world with wonder and taking the opportunity to learn from the skills and victories of others, and what my reactions to those victories tell me about myself. I hope I’m never too proud to admit that someone younger or less experienced might have something to teach me. I’m certainly not so jaded as to think that I should be “grown up” by 30 anyway.
Maybe I’ll be grown up when I’m 100. That should give me enough time to be just like all of them, right?
When I was about eight, my parents started sending me to weekly voice lessons with a local opera singer. She taught me classic vocal technique: breathing, resonance, where to create space, how to avoid straining for high notes.
There’s a lot to learn as a vocalist; singers have to learn and practice their instruments just like any other musician. There’s some natural giftedness involved in being a good singer, but not as much as you might think.
One of the things about being a classically trained singer – or so I was told – is that once you can sing opera, you can sing anything. That’s true in a sense. To this day, I will often pull out tricks I learned performing arias when I’m singing a pop ballad in a club on a Saturday night; opera training is particularly useful for those big runs that a lot of pop singers use (and often overuse) today.
That said, there’s also a lot that opera singers learn that doesn’t come in handy when you’re working on, say, a belty Broadway showstopper or an uptempo Whitney Houston classic. For example, flipping over into full head voice (read: opera) to hit that F below high C (read: really high) isn’t just frowned upon in pop music, it’s a deadly no-no.
So before recording Rise, I spent a lot of time working blending my voice so that those high belty notes would come through crisply and clearly. I think I did pretty well, but the listener is the ultimate judge.
And now, even as I’m performing my straight ahead, unapologetic pop in nightclubs and restaurants, I still hanker to sing more classical music. So, I’m going to be doing some of that too. And why not? I already sing jazz with the No Jive Five and pop / rock with the Rhythm Underground. Opera is another way I can exercise my vocal muscles and spend more time on the stage.
I’ll let you guys know more as I start fleshing out this part of my performing life. I hope to see you at one of my shows!
A couple of weeks ago, I had a truly enjoyable interview with Greek pop music blogger John Vlachogiannis. He writes for Poping Cherry (yes, one “p”, not two). He asked some really terrific questions that made me think carefully. I love it when writers do that. Here’s an excerpt!
How can you describe your album ‘Rise’? Why did you call it that way? Can music illuminate the dark?
Rise is a collection of interconnected short stories about getting perspective on and healing from past hurts and wrongs.
I called it “Rise” because I wanted to convey a sense of both freedom and being lost. What does a balloon do when its tether breaks? It floats away. I was going for a sense of escape, of rising out of hell, and soaring off into the terrifying unknown.
Can music illuminate the dark? I can’t say for others, but music definitely illuminates my darkness. For some people, it’s good cooking, for others it’s dance. I think listening to your own creativity is what illuminates the dark.
You can read the rest over at Poping Cherry.
Julia Cameron’s classic guide to re-orienting toward creativity, The Artist’s Way, is a gem. The book is broken out into twelve chapters, each chapter containing a week’s worth of exercises to break through barriers, get unblocked, and get back to writing, painting, or whatever it is that you do. But for those of us with atheist leanings, it can be trying. The book contains a lot of language that externalizes creative energy, attributing it to a divine force rather than putting the locus of control and agency where it belongs: on the reader.
For that reason, I got stuck during week two, when Cameron asks readers to work twice daily through a list of “ten principles,” and try to let go of their own skeptical reactions. I found the task impossible, since I kept getting hung up on words like “creator” and “divine.” I couldn’t force myself to respond un-skeptically to things I don’t believe in. It was totally inauthentic.
There was only one thing to do: re-write the principles to fit an atheist worldview. This is my humble attempt at bringing the locus of control and creativity back to the individual rather than some god-thing.
|1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy: pure creative energy.||1. Life is a manifestation of creative energy that includes cycles of building and destruction.|
|2. There is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life – including ourselves.||2. The innate urge to create is a healthy part of being human.|
|3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.||3. When we open ourselves to creativity, we embrace vulnerability, intuition, spontaneity and uncertainty. This leads us to greater happiness and peace.|
|4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.||4. Our lives are a manifestation of creative energy; it benefits us to align our own efforts with that energy for as long as we are able.|
|5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.||5. Creativity is a precious component of our whole selves. Valuing it is a gift to ourselves and leads to greater self worth.|
|6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.||6. It is our choice which parts of our nature to feed. The refusal to feed our creative nature runs counter to our well being.|
|7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good orderly direction.||7. When we open ourselves to being creative, we become aware of our ephemerality and yearn to use our time here well.|
|8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.||8. As we open ourselves to creativity, we will see powerful but subtle adjustments that lead to personal and artistic growth.|
|9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.||9. It is safe to open ourselves up to creativity, insofar as anything in life is truly ‘safe.’|
|10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.||10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a part of ourselves that we must listen to in order to value all that we are.|
These modifications might seem arrogant, or downright unnecessary to you if you are a believer. But for me, making these changes was essential to continuing the practice in The Artist’s Way, which has already done me a great deal of good.