Monday, December 15, 2008

Bret's Birthday Bash Review and How Being In A Band is Like Being Married

Still shaking off my hangover from this weekend, but here's a recap of how our 2nd gig ever went.

My girlfriend, 2 of our married friends, and I loaded up her car with all the gear and drove down to Victoria Friday after work. We spent Friday night in Victoria and drove down to POC around noon on Saturday. At about 2, we went over to the yacht that Bret works on to get a tour. I had seen it before, but it is kick ass. $1.5 million can get you one nice boat. At about 3, I cracked my 1st beer. We chilled there for a couple of hours, then went to Josie's for lunch. We were feeling ready for a nap after 5 beers and a greasy mexican plate, so we went over to my brother's bayhouse and slept for about an hour. At about 7, I met Keith and Sarah over at Josie's and we started unloading and setting up.

Admittedly, I had a pretty good buzz before the gig even started. I kept drinking beers while we set up and after we were done, people (including my married couple friends and their bottles of Jaeger and Herradura) started showing up. By the time we were ready to play at about 10:30, I had drank 3 shots of Jaeger and about 8 beers. In retrospect, this was more than was wise.

From the time Bret had asked me if we would play this gig, I had developed a very strong sense that playing our music in front of people whose list of favorite bands consists of Pat Green, Stoney LaRue, and Cross Canadian Ragweed was not going to go over well. My feeling was that this was a birthday party, not a rock show. I thought the best idea was to play mostly songs that were either funny or covers, and save the bulk of our set for another time. At a hurried practice on Thursday, I brought this up to Keith. He disagreed.

Being in a band is kind of like being married. All the decisions have to be discussed, and compromises have to be made by everybody in order for things to move forward. That's why Behind The Music episodes are so Soap Opera-esque. One of the fundamental differences between Keith and I is how we view "what the band is all about". For my part, I'm an entertainer. I've never really considered myself a "musician" and I probably never will. I don't play guitar and sing to make music that is technically sound. I play guitar, write songs, and perform them for the sole purpose of entertaining people. As long as the crowd is happy, I'm happy. Keith was raised with music. He is leaps and bounds and head and shoulders ahead of me and WAY better than me when it comes to playing instruments. The music really matters to him. Being out of tune or stopping in the middle of a song or missing notes bothers him a great deal; those things don't really get to me as much. On the other hand, if the crowd is not into it or is grimacing, cringing, and/or booing, it really, really gets to me. Keith takes it in stride. Neither of our approaches is wrong, they're just different. In fact, if they're managed correctly, they can be complementary.

Long story short, Keith was adamant about playing our songs regardless of how the crowd reacted. I was adamant about playing to what I thought were the crowds tastes. In the end, our set list was a compromise that I don't think either of us were totally comfortable with.

We started off with "Waste My Time", which I thought would be good because it has a funny chorus ("don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me"). It felt good starting out. The only bad things about it was that I had decided to use my acoustic guitar instead of playing my Telecaster like I usually do. This was a mistake because the acoustic is harder to play. It sounds better and stays in tune WAY better, but it is harder to fret than the Tele. This affected the performance--I kept missing notes and just messing up overall. Even still, I thought the song sounded okay. We finished it up and things looked like they were going to be alright.

Next we played Tyler, which I thought would be good because it's a cover of a hit by Toadies, so it was something people had heard before. For me, this is where things started to derail. For one thing, I was pretty hammered. For another, I started noticing people moving towards the door, and the people who were watching were either looking on with a cringing grimace or moving further away from us. People I talked to later disagreed that these social cues meant we sucked. They rationalized that people were going outside to smoke. They said people were moving away from the stage because it was loud and there were people dancing. They said people weren't grimacing or cringing at all. Regardless, my confidence was shot by time I screamed my last "I will be with her tonight".

Our 3rd song was a bit of a rebound. I think both Keith and I and anyone who has seen us will agree that "Down Here Together" is our best song. Right before we started playing it, I switched to my Telecaster. This was smart. The bad thing was that we put new strings on it before the show and somehow they got put on backwards. This caused the B string to constantly come up off the bridge and slip into the G string's slot. It REALLY bothered me and caused me to F up a lot. Despite that, I thought Down Here Together sounded REALLY good and I got the same vibe from the crowd.

Once we started on our 4th song, I totally lost my mojo. First, I could tell that people wanted us to play something they could dance to. "Down Here Together" had reeled them in a bit, and we needed something to get them moving. "Gave It Away" is not something you can dance to unless you count running into each other in a moshpit as dancing. Second, I just didn't feel like screaming any more. One or 2 songs like that are cool, but I don't like being that aggressive for a whole show. Third, I was really, really drunk. Fourth, my guitar was badly out of tune. Fifth, I was REALLY, REALLY drunk. I don't remember exactly what happened, but we didn't finish the song. I'm almost positive that this was all my fault. I just wasn't feeling it. I wanted to spare the crowd from having to endure the misery of my shouting over an out-of-tune overcranked amp and Keith's smashing drums. I totally blew it. The #1 rule of being in a band is YOU NEVER EVER EVER STOP PLAYING IN THE MIDDLE OF A SONG. Ever. I don't care what happens, you NEVER do that. Forget the words? Make something up. Forget the chords? Play whatever comes out. Crowd throwing tomatoes? Make ketchup. I completely choffed; I'm ashamed. Oh well, lesson learned.

By now, I was certain of 3 things: 1.) I was way too drunk. 2.) The crowd wasn't liking us. 3.) Keith was pissed at me for douching that song. I asked Keith what he wanted to play and he said 10 Feet Tall. I started it off and it just never came together. I don't know whether or not we even finished the song, but either way, in my mind it was an unmitigated disaster.

I was ready to just quit. I felt like a total douchebag. In a last stab at redemption, I started playing "Have a Good Time". The chorus of the song is "Don't worry, baby, we gettin' fucked up tonight". It was sure to be a winner. Things went well, and the crowd was getting back into it, but just as they were, Bret had an announcement to make, so he grabbed the mic and we were done for.

I immediately we to the table and took 2 more shots of Jaegermeister. A couple of Bret's friends who had been biding their time for the stage immediately jumped up and took over. They started off with "Gin and Juice" by the Gourds and that song by Cross Canadian Ragweed that goes "Them boys from Oklahoma roll their joints all wrong...". Of course, the crowd freaking ate it up. The worst part was that Keith, who had sworn not to play cheesy covers or to play for the other people who took the stage, rocked the drums the whole time. Uggh.

A long time and a lot of alcohol went by. Just after midnight, Keith and I decided to take another crack at it, mostly because Bret wanted to hear a song I wrote called "Gettin' Busy". We started off with "How Do You Like Me Now". It went ok. Then, Brittanie came up and asked me to play a song I wrote called "Not Too Late". It's one of these alt-rock ballads in the mold of Dashboard Confessional or Linkin Park. I don't know whether or not it was pure alcohol, but we sounded AWESOME. It felt like the crowd was totally into it.

The bar did last call, so I busted into "Gettin' Busy" with all the drunken fervor I could muster. It's a fun, catchy song about doing the hibbity-dibbity, so of course the crowd loved it. We finished up, drunkely loaded our crap into the car, and headed back to bayhouse to get even more wasted.

Good things:

-"Not Too Late" was awesome. I have found a new love for this song.
-Eloisa, one of the owners of Josie's (who is a REALLY cool chica), apparently loved us and told me "I had such a blast, you guys rock! Y'all definitely have to come back!" I'm pretty sure she was drunk.
-There were a table of cool guys from San Antonio that didn't know Bret at all, and I think they liked us.
-Two different girls came up to me at the party and told me we were awesome and reminded them of Toadies. I'm pretty sure they were drunk.
-According to my brother Chris, "Down Here Together" is a hit. I'm pretty sure he was drunk.

Bad things:

-I did the ultimate no-no and stopped playing in the middle of a song. Twice. I deserve for Keith to use my face in place of his snare.
-I got a really bad vibe from the crowd for most of the show.
-I inadvertently gave away $300 worth of band t-shirts. The box was sitting out next to our gear, and apparently that means "Hey, these are free! Take them even though you hated the band and would never support them in any way!"
-No telling where Stevenson Road goes from here. I wouldn't be surprised if Keith never wanted to play with me again; I deserve no better. I think if we recorded a few tracks professionally, we could start gigging here in Austin and pick up some momentum. Until we have something to show folks, I don't know what more we can do. I really think we have some great songs and are polished enough to put on a good show in the right scenario.

Boy, I HATE Cross Canadian Ragweed.

Thanks for reading, hope y'all have a good week and a Merry Christmas. Much Love.

Monday, December 8, 2008


Not much happening bandwise this week. I had my 10 year high school reunion this week. It was a lot of fun. I talked to my good friend Lyn, and he told me Schroeder was a no-go. Oh well, maybe next year.

Keith and I are still playing Bret's birthday this weekend. Should be a lot of fun. Hope to see you all there at Josie's in POC.

I bought a PA to use for the gig this weekend. I had seen a decent set up in a Guitar Center Xmas mailout that I wanted to take a look at. The guy in the live sound department was extremely helpful. The setup I looked at first was $300, and was comprised of an 80 watt 4 channel mixer and 2 12" detached speakers. The guy asked me questions about how I would be using it and then recommended what essentially is a powered speaker. It's a 15" woofer with a 4" high end speaker powered by a built in 200 watt amp with 4 adjustable inputs. It cost $200. Basically, by saving $100, I got a much more powerful amp that can still take 4 inputs and EQ them. What I lost was the option to have sterio sound on 2 speakers that are not attached to the amp. Because likely the only time I will ever use this is when we play gigs at PA-less venues, all I'll ever be miking is my vocals. In the rare instance that we need to mic the drums and guitar as well, I can still do it, it will just all come out of one speaker. Totally worth it.

I'm slowly trying to accumulate all the equipment I will ever need for my music hobby. Here's a list of all the crap I have:

Electron Blue Standard Fender Telecaster (Made in Mexico)- I don't think I'll ever need a nicer electric guitar than this. I played the (more expensive) American made version and couldn't tell the difference. I know the Tele is my guitar of choice. I wouldn't mind adding a Gibson SG to play as well, but for my purposes and unless music becomes more than just a hobby, the Tele works fine.

Gibson CJ165 Acoustic/Electric- I know I'll never own a nicer acoustic than this one. I bought this on a sort of whim at Guitar Center about a year ago. It cost over $2000. There are definitely more expensive guitars available, but I played many Martins, Gibsons, Taylors, and Takamines before settling on this one. I knew once I got back from overseas I would buy a nice acoustic guitar that would last my lifetime. I knew I wanted it to be a dark stain and I knew I didn't want it to have a pick guard. I'll know I'm satisfied with my guitar ability when I've played so much I wear a hole where the pick guard should be. This guitar is extremely well made and the action is perfect. The tone, especially when it has new strings, is beautiful. I'll own this guitar for the rest of my life and the only thing I think I could add as far as acoustic guitars go would be a cheap Spanish style nylon string and a deep toned 12 string.

I also own a Fender Standard Mandolin; it was given to me as a college graduation gift from my brothers. I know how to play The Gourds version of "Gin and Juice" and a poorly done version of Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried"; I'm deeply ashamed at how long I've owned it without mastering it at the most elementary level. I also own a Jay Turser brand Resonator guitar. It's basically a stratocaster-style body with a banjo-style tone. It looks like a guitar with a pie tin in the middle. I got it for like $80 at a pawn shop, mostly because I just thought it looked cool. I have 2 Hohner harmonicas that I can't play worth a crap. One in the key of C and one in G. I like to bust them out every once in awhile and blow into them while I play a song in the key of the harmonica. It makes me feel like Bob Dylan. I play my guitars through either an old British brand solid-state amp whose name escapes me or a small 8" Marshall practice amp. Eventually I want to get rid of them and buy a Vox AC15 tube amp. I've also been looking at acquiring an upright piano. There are always at least a half dozen of them available on Craigslist for under $300. Many times there are people giving them away just so they can get them out of their homes. If I learned how to play piano, my head would probably explode with awesomeness.

Besides the various mics and whatnot that I need for recording, that's all I would ever need to tote to whatever gig we'll ever get. My desire for musical equipment is kind of like how some dudes get with cars; I could walk into any large music store and easily drop several hundred thousand dollars and still not be completely satisfied. I'm not wealthy and I don't plan on ever being so, but if I ever do by some miracle become rich, I would own many, many guitars, amps, and the like.

That's enough blathering for now. Have a great week. See y'all in POC.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Studio Construction, 3rd Gig Ever (maybe-kinda), yada, yada, yada

Hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving. Mine was GREAT. Nothing like family, food, and football.

So, I came into some good luck last weekend. While driving home from Whataburger, I spotted a roll of almostbrandnew carpet in a dumpster. Coincidentally, and luckily, Keith was driving by right as I stopped, so he helped me fish it out and haul it to my house.

Last night I glued the tack stripping and laid the padding in order to install carpet on the studio floor. Brittanie helped me haul the gigantic piece of carpet in and (kinda) unfold it. It looks to be more than large enough and in near perfect condition. This is awesome as it saved me about $400 since I don't have to buy it new. I hope to be finished cutting, placing, and stretching the carpet as well as putting in trim by Thursday so that we can practice before playing in POC this weekend. There's no doubt that munching carpet is much more fun than installing it.

All that's left after that is putting in carpet on the ceiling, putting in molding, and furnishing the studio with a desk, futon, small fridge, cabinets, guitar racks, etc. Then I'll throw down a couple grand for the gear (ProTools interface ($1400), Sennheiser 421 mics ($400ea), a Vox AC15 tube amp ($800), Fostex monitor speakers ($400), a PC with a flat panel monitor ($600), a mixer ($400), a Fender P-Bass ($400), an upright piano (free on CL), an Ampeg B-15 Fliptop Bass Amp ($800), and a Manley ELOP ($2000)). So, there's still a lot to do, but I'm excited to get it all done.


Yesterday I got a text from a friend of mine whose parents-in-law own Schroeder Dance Hall asking if I wanted to play there over the Christmas holiday. I am waiting to hear which dates they have open, but I think it'd be a great time. So, there's a chance of a solo acoustic gig in the next month or so. Stay tuned, and if it goes down, I expect all your asses there to drink beer in the saloon with me.

That's all I got for now. Hope to see all y'all in POC this Saturday!

Monday, November 24, 2008

2nd Gig Ever

So Bret pretty much guaranteed that we will play at Josie's Cantina in Port O'Connor on December 13th. It's B$'s B-Day. Come if you can; there will be plenty of beer, music, and Haweses.

I want to play a different set than we played at Hanover's, mostly because the atmosphere will be totally different. Hanover's was a large venue, and the crowd was made up of strangers. It was more of a concert atmosphere. This gig will be a small venue (they don't even have a PA) filled with people who know me and are used to hearing me play Old 97s covers and improv comedy tunes. Bret said he thinks we should plan on playing for about an hour, then his (future) brother-in-law will play a set of solo Texas Country, then Bret wants to have open mic. So, an hour gives us time for 10-12 songs. I've yet to clear it with Keith, but this is what I'm thinking our set list should look like:

1. Waste My Time (start things off with an original but funny song)
2. Ten Feet Tall (another original, one of our YouTube songs so anyone who watched those will recognize it)
3. Tyler (a Toadies cover that I think we do a good job of covering, a song most people will recognize)
4. Down Here Together (imho our best song)
5. Gettin' Busy (a funny song I wrote; I will play this solo acoustic while Keith takes a pee and/or downs beer--Bret's favorite song of mine, so I know he will want to hear it)
6. How Do You Like Me Now
7. Have A Beer With Me (a new alt-countryish song I wrote that will sooth all my family members who by this point are scoffing and wondering when I starting worshipping Satan)
8. Mission To Mars (Keith's favorite song, another YouTube one that some people may recognize)
9. here I will play an off-the-cuff made up song to make everyone laugh and think I'm cool
10. Have A Good Time (our 'funnest' song; the hook is "Don't worry, baby, we gettin fucked up tonight")

Then if there's time we can play some of our other songs or covers.

Hopefully Keith will go for it, because if we play our standard set, I don't think people will like us or have fun. The folks who show up aren't there for a Stevenson Road show, they're there to celebrate Bret's b-day, get f'ed up, and have a good ol' time.

Ok, hope to see y'all there. Have a good Thanksgiving. Peace.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

(more) Recording

Sorry (Matt) the post is a day late. I promise to post every Monday as long as the band is together.

Anyway, this one will be short; my day job is killing me.

So Kenny came over on Thursday and we laid down tracks for "Short Wheel Base", "How Do You Like Me Now", and "Ten Feet Tall". Next Thursday we will record "Have a Good Time" and "Mission to Mars" and then re-record tracks for any of the songs we need to fix. So, when it's all said and done, in a few weeks (8 or so I imagine), we should have a dem0 EP that looks like this:

1. Ten Feet Tall
2. Waste My Time
3. Down Here Together
4. Short Wheel Base
5. How Do You Like Me Now
6. Have a Good Time
7. Mission to Mars

We got a sneak preview of the work Kenny has done on Waste My Time and Down Here Together. I was really pleased with what he had done on Down Here Together. My voice has never sounded so good on a recording. Ever. He added a ton of reverb to make my high pitched whine have this fuller, further away sound. LIke I said, I was pleased. I think the track would sound really, really good if we were able to add bass, lead, and background vocals tracks. Kenny still had a lot of work to do on Waste My Time.

I'm getting really motivated to go into debt and finish the studio so that I can work on these thigns myself. We'll see.

Ok, hope you're having a good week. Thanks for reading. Take care.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Not much has happened with the band this week. Keith and I had our normal practice on Thursday. There's a good chance we have booked our 2nd gig. It will be at Josie's Cantina in Port O'Connor, TX on December 13th for B$'s Birthday Bash. If it is confirmed, that's what next monday's post will be about.

The hardest, most self-doubt-inducing part of being in a band is writing lyrics. Not only is it the most unique part of songwriting, which makes it the most memorable, it's also very personal. Lately, as Keith and I have been writing new songs, I've found that there are basically 3 ways songs get written:

1.) The music comes first. You start with a series of notes or chords, find the melody, then you play it. Generally this is how Keith and I write songs as a band. I'll start playing some chords on the guitar during practice, then Keith will start the drums. Eventually, we'll piece together a verse, chorus, verse, chorus, break, chorus, end, and there's the lyricless song. Almost every time during the course of all that, a chorus line, or "hook" will form. Whenever I play a chorus over and over again, I find that the same words sort of repeatedly pop up on instinct. The hard part is writing verse lyrics based only on a melody and hook. You have to invent what the song is about, but you're confined to the music you've already written. This is the main reason half a dozen of our most frequently played songs don't have finished lyrics. An example of a song Keith and I wrote this way would be "Waste My Time". I started off playing the G-B-C chord progression, and shortly thereafter we had our verse, chorus, verse, chorus, break, chorus deal written. During that time, the line "Don't waste my time!" had formed at the end of the break as a sort of hook. I decided that the song should be about how all these shallow douchebag 6th street posuers think. Anyway, here's what ended up coming out of it:

Don't know why you're looking at me
'Cause I'm not that kind of guy
Don't know why you're smiling at me
'Cause I'm not that kind of guy (I roll hard)

You know I've got feelings too
I just ain't got none for you
Don't know why you're looking at me
'Cause I'm not that kind of guy
Wait till I've had a few more beers
Then maybe we'll see
Don't know why your smiling at me
'Cause I'm not that kind of guy (I ROLL HARD)

Don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me
Don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me

Pretty simple stuff, but it works. It was a lighthearted melody, so it called for a lighthearted topic. I think "Don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me", since it comes during a break where the vocals are pretty isolated, is a memorable line that a lot of people will think is funny or identify with.

2.) The hook comes first. Sometimes, I'll spontaneously come up with a chorus line. If I have a chorus in my head, I can pick out the chords. Then, I basically progress just like if the music came first. It ends up the same, with the most difficult part being writing the verse lyrics, except it's a little easier since I started off with a hook, which instead of being some nonsense generated out of a hum during a chorus, it came first, meaning it most likely gives a decent topic for the song and the verse lyrics. A song we wrote this way was "Down Here Together". I actually wrote the hook for this song while I was in Iraq. It started off as just this:

You will cry into your pillow for me
You will sleep with someone else to get over me
But it won't work
Sweetheart we are down here together

Once I played it for Keith, we flushed it out. The topic was already there. This is how it ended up:

Ain't this a sweet thing baby
That we been in
Ain't this a sweet thing baby
That we been in
But now you're leaving
And I am believing
That you mean it this time
You moved in with that man
Some crazy Mexican
But that's not how it's gonna end

I will go back to where the boys go
You will go back to where them little girls go
You will cry into your pillow for me
You will sleep with someone else to get over me
But it won't work
Sweetheart we are down here together
Sweetheart we are down here together
Sweetheart we are down here together
Sweetheart we are down here together

You think you beat me darling
Don't you girl?
You think you won sweet angel
But you didn't
Just 'cause you're seeing
That I'm grieving
And I've been crying myself to sleep
You think you've got the upper hand
But babydoll you don't understand
That that ain't how it's gonna be




I'm proud of those lyrics because they flow, they tell a story (sort of), you can tell exactly what the songs about, and they have a catchy chorus. I'm happy with the way it works even though there are a lot of words. I really like the lines "You will cry into your pillow for me" and "You will sleep with someone else to get over me but it won't work" because I think it's something a lot of people have felt in the throws of a nasty breakup.

3.) The lyrics come first. I've only written 2 songs this way in my whole life. Both were written for girls who busted me up. This is basically like you write a poem and then try to find a way to fit music to it. This can be the most rewarding, because the only times I've done this were with lyrics that were very personal, and (at least to me) very well written. A song I wrote this way is "Short Wheel Base", which I wrote for my ex-girlfriend. She broke up with me before I ever got a chance to play it for her. Oh well. This is the poem the song came from:

"So here I am
Letting you in
I swore I'd never talk like this again
But I'm defenseless
When I'm in front of you
I'm not good with words but baby here it goes

I'm sorry that I freaked out
I always mess up somehow
But I'm still around
There's no such thing as perfect
But I believe you're worth it
So I'm trying to hang on
This ride has been a wild one

Your neck
Small of your back
And the tomboy scars all about your knees
Your collarbone
All of you
Showed me that love happens more than once"

All of that was written before I even picked up my guitar. I wrote a melody to it. In this case, we just left it as a guitar and vocals only song. I added a repeat of the middle part as a chorus and that was that. Short and sweet, but heartfelt and personal.

I like most of my songs to be much more Rhett Miller than Adam Duritz, meaning I like to use a lot of similies and metaphors but keep it kind of grounded. I like knowing what a song is about. As much as I love the Counting Crows' songs, they tend to be too much symbolism for my blood. They almost never tell a story or talk about specific feelings. Old 97s' lyrics do exactly that. Gems like "If my heart was a car, you would have wrecked it a long time ago" and "someday somebody's gonna ask you, a question that you should say yes to, just once in your life" don't leave themselves open to much interpretation. What does "coffee black and egg white" mean? (Taken from CC's "Colorblind".) Now that I really think about it, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe it's a topic thing. I'd rather write songs about drinking and heartbreak than loneliness and soulsearching.

Regardless, writing lyrics is certainly a skill I've yet to master. I only have about 4 songs that are completely finished that I am actually proud of. It's just so hard to make it all come together. But when you can get a song that has a catchy chorus line, a nice verbal flow, it hits all the beats correctly, and it just "works", it's a good feeling.

Thanks for reading. Start makin' yo' plans to be in POC on the 13th!

Monday, November 3, 2008


The bass player for the punk band we played with in our first gig went to this expensive recording school called Full Sail. He offered to record us, so on thursday he brought some of his gear over and we laid down tracks for 3 songs (Waste My Time, Mission To Mars, and Down Here Together).

Recording music is a very tedious (and many times expensive) process. You're making something that's permanent, so there's a strong desire to make it perfect. It is VERY difficult to get through an entire song without messing up at least once. The slightest hint of missed timing, a missed note, a buzzed fret, or an awkwardly hit drum can ruin an entire 5 minute take.

I've read a lot about recording online. There is a very good article about the Old 97's recording their latest album here: . I also have a moderate amount of experience recording my own songs on my pc using a shitty mic and CakeWalk Guitar Tracks recording software. When it comes to recording a band, there are several ways to go about it. You can try and record the whole thing "live", where everybody plays their mic'ed instrument together, or you can record one track at a time. Both have their positives and negatives, but I think the one track at a time method is used most often. That's how we recorded on thursday. Kenny (the guy who recorded us) mic'ed up Keith's drums first. Keith played along with my unplugged (hence silent) guitar. After Keith recorded all three songs, Kenny took down those mics and put them on my amp. I chose to play through my practice amp, a 6" Marshall, because it (in my opinion) has a better clean tone than my larger gig amp. When you record, volume and effects in an amp are many times not used, because those things are much more easily added later in editing on the computer. So the most important thing in a recording amp is the sound of the clean channel on a low volume. Anyway, I had headphones on, listening to Keith's drum track, and laid down my guitar track. This was hard for several reasons. First, I'm not a very good guitar player. Second, many of our songs start with the guitar first without any drums, making it EXTREMELY difficult to catch Keith's first tap in perfect rythm. The way I combatted this was to look at the computer monitor to see the track display, which would show when the burst in volume of Keith's drums was coming up. A better and much smarter method would have been to have Keith play a tap beat from the beginning and delete it later, but we're not smart. Lesson learned.

After I finished laying down the guitar we scrapped Mission To Mars because the timing was so bad (not to mention the lyrics are not yet polished). So I laid down vocals for Waste My Time and Down Here Together. Thus, the chorus of the 1st song my band ever recorded is this:

"Don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me."

I'm a regular Bill Shakespeare.

Anyway, the vocals went way better than I thought. I, like pretty much everybody else, cringe when I hear my recorded voice. I always think I sound nasally, pre-pubescent, and over-emotional. But Kenny had a really nice vocal mic, and I had one of my better "voice days", so it wasn't as bad as I had expected.

I LOVE singing. I wish I had more range and control, because if I could sing for a living it would be a dream come true. I mean I LOVE it. I'm always singing. I just cringe when I hear it played back to me.

So we took about 3 hours and came away with 2 1/2 songs. This is fast work. I was disappointed that Kenny wanted to record that fast, as I would have much rather set the goal at recording one song and getting 3 perfect tracks than recording 3 songs filled with fuck-ups. That said, I don't know what kind of magic Kenny can work in editing, because every time I caught an imperfection, his standard response was "no worries, I'll fix that in the mix down". He was great to record with, and seemed to really know what he was doing.

Anyway, in 2 weeks we'll get a mix back from him. If it sounds worth a crap I'll post it on here, YouTube, and/or the myspace page/band website. I'm really hoping it turns out good so we can use it to book more gigs.

One decision that was made was to just record guitars, drums, and lead vocals. We didn't add any bass, effects, keys, backup vocals, or anything. On the one hand this is good, since it means when we play live, it will sound just like the record. On the other hand, we may not end up with a full sound, and I think Keith and I would both agree that when we hear the songs in our heads, they have all those other elements. That said, we can always go back and add them in later.

This experience really made me want to finish the studio. I think I'd really enjoy recording and would be good at it. If I had my own setup, I'd never forget a song, and I'd be able to take the time to record it to my standards. My current personal economy prevents me from doing that in the near future.

Ok, that's all I have to say for now. Hope this finds you well. Thanks for reading. Peace.

Monday, October 27, 2008

First. Gig. Ever.

Keith works with this dude named Greg, who is in a punk band (their name escapes me; all I can remember is that they have a song called "Death To Midgets"). This guy came to see us practice two times, and offered us a chance to play with them at an upcoming gig. It was a charity event for St. Jude's Hospital, which was cool. Even cooler was that it was at a bar called Hanover's in Pflugerville. With the recent death of The Backyard (damn shame), Hanover's outside venue is the 2nd largest outdoor venue in the area. The place has great character. The outside is set up with a large deck, then a large area with picnic tables, then the stage, then behind that there are some volleyball courts.

Keith and Sarah came over to my house at about 10am. We were supposed to go on at 1. We loaded up all our gear and headed over there. No one was there when we got there; the bar had just opened. We left our stuff in the car and drank a beer(s) and watched some football. Keith and I both have a tendency to drink to excess. The only other time we played together in front of any sort of crowd was when my older brother asked us to play his 10 year HS reunion. We were WASTED, and things ended poorly. So I was kind of worried about either or both of us getting too hammered. On the other hand, I needed a buzz to take the edge off. Anyway, by the time the other bands showed up, I had drank about 4 beers. I imagine Keith had about the same. I had the perfect buzz. It was decided (since it was our first gig) that our band would go on first. We put our gear on the stage and plugged it all in. I looked out from the stage. I felt good. There were about 8 people there who were there to see us, plus about a group of about 15 people who were members of the other bands. There were probably a dozen people up on the wooden deck outside the bar. There were probably another dozen or so near the outdoor entrance who were cooking meat for the charity. There were 3 teams worth of volleyball players. So all total, there were 50-75 people watching. Not bad for a 1st gig. Sure, only 8 of them were there to see us, but still.

Anyway, the guy whose PA it was let us do a check to make sure you could hear everything, and we were ready to start. Most times when you play, there is a guy who mixes the mics for your drums, guitar, vocals, etc. to make sure that everything sounds right. Since we didn't have that, we were going purely by what we could hear on stage. Drums sound A LOT louder when you are up close to them than when you are out in a crowd. So does a 200W guitar amp. Your voice, however, does not. The vocals coming through the monitor (to my ears) sounded like they were the same volume as my guitar and Keith's drums. Not so. If you've watched any of our YouTube vids, you can tell that my voice overpowers the guitar and the drums were practically inaudible. Not a good thing. I believe I can carry a tune, but Pavarotti I'm not. I have the type of voice that you hope can get lost in between cymbals and clanging chords.

(ir)Regardless, the set went well. Keith and I were in good sync. No obvious missed notes or changes. I broke a string during the second song, so I had to switch to my backup guitar, which wasn't a big deal until I broke ANOTHER string on our 7th song, which meant I had to play our last 3 songs with no G string. (HAHAHAHAHAHAH "G string", HAHAHAHAH!!!!!).
During our most "rocking" song, these dudes who were in the band playing after us came and danced/moshed around in the pit in front of the stage, so that was really cool. Their drummer came and put some money in the tip jar. They were "scream" rock, which ain't my cup of tea, but they were polished and they seemed like really really cool guys. Especially the drummer. (They were called "Liquid Revolution"; they're living in Austin while they're recording, but they live full time in Colorado. Check them out if you like bands like Korn and Tool.)

When we got to our last song ("Mission To Mars"), I completely forgot how to play it. I remembered the chords, but I had no idea what the beat was. I played through the chords like 4 times and still couldn't get it. Keith was giving me a "dude wtf" look, so I knew something was wrong. I walked over to him and he started the beat on his drums, and I got it together. We finished the set, I thanked the bar and the crowd, and we got our gear and we were done.

It felt great. Everyone who watched liked us, I'm pretty sure. I did notice that the chorus line from "Waste My Time" ('...don't talk to me unless you're going to sleep with me...') got a big laugh. I considered the gig a rousing success compared to what I was expecting. The venue, crowd size, and overall setup were all better than I thought they were going to be. Our musical performance, though not perfect, was not bad. Stage presence, something I rarely think or worry about, was decent I think. Not too much rock talk, but just enough to show a little personality. Like I said, it felt like a great first gig.

Other random thoughts about it:
  • Something I hadn't expected was the comraderie(sp?) of the other musicians. You could sort of feel this "we're all in this together, none of us are worth a crap and this is a tiny crowd in an unpaid gig, but we all love playing music and entertaining people so let's support each other" vibe. It was nice.
  • Playing outside is completely awesome. My wet dream gig would be playing a main stage at ACLfest just as the sun sets. I could die a VERY, VERY happy man if that ever happened.
  • I badly wanted to have an acoustic guitar and play an Old 97s cover or two. The venue just called for it. I think those in the crowd who were unaffiliated would have enjoyed it much more than our hard 2 piece, the Colorado scream rock, the "Death to Midgets" punk, or the Pat Green wannabe who closed.
  • I made it a point to go around and thank everybody who was responsible for allowing us to play. Sometimes I think bands 'make it' or are able to book gigs more on the fact that they are nice people rather than talented musicians.
  • Advantage of being in a 2 piece: short setup time. I HATE being at a rock show and waiting for like 45 minutes while some tool tunes and retunes and moves drums and blah blah blah. The drummer for the last band took like an hour to setup and sound check his drums. Weak. Keith and I were set up and ready to rock in less than 10 minutes.
  • I'm still trying to decide where the best places for Keith and I to book would be. I think Emo's inside would be good. Maggie Mae's downstairs on a midweek night would be nice. I think we're too hard for Stubb's, Nutty Brown and the like, but too soft for Red Eyed Fly and the metal bars.

Anyway, thanks for reading. See ya soon.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Welcome to Stevenson Road!

So, welcome, everyone, to the official weblog of the rock band Stevenson Road. For those of you who got here by accident, Stevenson Road is a 2 piece rock band made up of Jake Stevenson (guitar, vocals, beer) and Keith Alstrom (drums, beer). Their name comes from the street they both grew up on, which not coincidentally is also Jake's surname. Their common musical influences include bands like Toadies, Counting Crows, Coldplay, and the Pixies.

Jake will most likely be the main person posting here, although Keith will be given full access and encouragement to post as well. So, unless otherwise stated, anytime you see the word "I", that means Jake. This blog may stray from time to time, but mostly it's going to be about what's happening with the band.

How we got to this point

Keith and I have known each other for 25 years. His family moved to my street when I was 3, I think. We lived out in the country, in a neighborhood made up of a single street (the aforementioned Stevenson Road), so Keith and his brothers and my brothers and I spent a lot of time playing together growing up.

Keith's dad is musically inclined, so Keith and his brothers grew up learning piano and guitar. Throughout junior high and high school Keith and his older brother Chris played in various garage/patio bands. I know they played at least two gigs under the name "Fetish". I was at one of them. It was in Port O'Connor for 4th of July, and they opened for the local cover band on the beach. They played awesome. Little Chris wore sunglasses at night as they did a rockin' version of The Troggs' "Wild Thing".

No one in my family could play instruments growing up. Both of my parents can carry a tune, but neither of them can play an instrument. Both of my brothers picked up the guitar sometime in college. My parents saw I was musically inclined, and offered me guitar lessons, but I balked (wasn't 'manly' enough for me--*sigh*). I got a guitar for the Christmas of my junior year in high school. I went through the typical learning process of practicing chords alone in my bedroom after school, and pretty soon I could play a lot of popular songs. The first song I learned was "Closing Time" by Semisonic. The first song I learned to play and sing at the same time was "Goodnight Elizabeth" by Counting Crows. During college I got good enough to start singing and playing at family get togethers. Playing Gin and Juice by the Gourds always got a good laugh.

Fast forward several years to 2007. Keith and his wife Sarah had recently moved back to Austin (more specifically Round Rock) from a 2 year hiatus in Colorado. I had just moved back home after a year and a half in Iraq. I moved in with them while I was househunting. They let me crash with them, rent free, for 3 months. During this time, Keith and I picked up one of our favorite pasttimes--pipe dreaming about being rockstars. Keith had been talking about picking up the drums, so as a thank-you for letting me stay with them, I bought him a $300 Gammon Percussion drumset. When it arrived, we decided to jam the next day. Keith had his drum rig and practice amps set up in their upstairs loft. I brought my $150 Takamine acoustic/electric, plugged it into a 8" amp Keith had, and started off on this G-B-C riff I'd liked forever. After 3 or 4 bars, Keith kicked in a beat. Our first song, "Waste My Time", was created. Stevenson Road was born.

We started practicing every Thursday night. That was in September of last year. I think we've missed one week since. Practice is awesome. It's the highlight of my week. We play covers we both like. We drink beer. We write new songs, and polish old ones. We drink more beer.

We've settled into a routine of playing a 10 song original set. Then we may play some covers, try to write something new, re-practice ones we screwed up, or call it a day (if there's good sports on TV). I bought a house with a detached garage, which I've started remodeling into a studio. It's far from finished, but makes a great practice space.

A couple of weeks ago, we had our first gig, at Hanover's in pflugerville. It was awesome and one of the funnest days of my life. After playing together for a year, we finally had a gig!

So anyway, that pretty much catches y'all up on what's happened up to now. We're practicing, longing to record, and trying to get more gigs. I figured a blog was a good way to keep track of what we're doing. I wouldn't say we have "fans" yet, but we do have people who may be interested what we're up to. So that's what the blog is about.

Thanks for reading. See ya next time.