Articles in Category: Audiophiles

Audiophiles #266

Louise Kahj

 

– Trips Journeys & Chapters

This semester I am teaching a songwriting course at SCU. There are plenty of folk out there who would argue that songwriting is intuitive and not something you can teach. However I think there is always scope to become more aware of how and why things work. By analyzing other songs you inform and refine your sense of what works. Somewhere further down the track you end up applying your knowledge, perhaps just intuitively, in the creation and refining of your own songs. So this month I thought I’d apply some of the songwriting course concepts to local artist Louise Kahj’s recent album, ‘Trips Journeys and Chapters’. The album features last year’s Dolphin Award winning Song of the Year, Thought You Were my Angel – written by Kahj and Glenn Anthony. I’ll start with that.

Louise Kahj

In many songs the song title is contained in the chorus. The title is often the hook that the listener should retain in their mind after the song is over. Some songs bang you over the head with a repeating title in the chorus, others just put the title line at the start or end of the chorus, emphasized in some way to make it memorable. Kahj and Anthony don’t do either of these, instead the line “Thought you were my angel” is used to open and close the song and not used in the chorus. It is made memorable by the vocoder-like treatment combined with a simple melody and phrasing. So we can throw out the rule about having the title in the chorus, but rest assured there are other aspects that fit the rules.

An important aspect of lyric writing is repetition. Repetition helps set up patterns and lets the listener follow the story. Kahj does this in the verses with a series of questions:

How could you leave me?
Why would you leave me?
Standing on the road
How could I please you?
How could I ease you?
When your life was untold

A nice regular pattern - two questions and a statement followed by two questions and a statement. Lots of rhymes and similar phrase lengths, this sort of writing makes it easy for the listener to latch onto. We know what’s coming. The meaning is clear from both the title and this verse - this is a broken heart story. The verse lyrics above are sung by Kahj and are written in first person. However there is a complexity to this song that is achieved by having a second lead vocal, performed by a male, acting as a judgmental voice.

She looked into your eyes
And you filled it with your lies
She opened up her heart
And you filled it with your darkness

Again, nice repetition of phrases with lines 1 and 3 very similar to lines 2 and 4. The two voices share the same attitude - a disbelieving, bitter and condemning tone. Importantly the delivery style of the lyrics reinforces the sentiment of the lyrics. Kahj’s voice reminds me at times of Patti Smith and she cites Stevie Nicks as an important influence – both masters of acrimony. There’s plenty more songwriting skills on display, such as alliteration (Seekers of the Sun) wordplay (“Come our way/Karma away”) and that’s without even starting on the musical aspects. So you’d better get hold of the album yourself and start doing your analysis homework.

For more info see: www.louisekahj.com

Audiophiles #265

Connor B Fitz

The R-complex

Connor B Fitz

Connor Fitzgerald is a local born and bred lad who, after seven years of playing other people’s music, decided it was time to write his own. His debut album “The R-complex” is quite remarkable. The songwriting is first rate and Connor plays all the instruments (drums, bass, guitars and keyboards). Christian Pyle recorded the album and the two seem like a perfect combination. A most humble and mild mannered musician, I asked Connor a few questions about the album and music making in general.

Audiophiles: Do you make a living out of music performance?

Conner Fitzgerald: Yes, most of my income comes from performing live and I do a little bit of recording work. My staple is the Lisa Hunt band. I am the musical director for her band and I play keyboards for her. She is a touring machine! She gigs two or three times a week for 9 months of the year all over the country so I am very fortunate to have the gig.

AP: Did you study music?

CF: I took drum lessons at high school and then did some of the practical music electives (on drums) at SCU while I was doing a law degree. When I left school I wasn’t really sure that I could make a living out of music so I did law as the backup plan.

AP: Has studying law helped you in the music industry?

CF: Not really. It was a very interesting course and certainly broadened my perspective generally but has not really had any impact on my music career.

AP: Who are your songwriting influences?

CF: Wilco, Elbow, Elliot Smith, The Weepies and of course the Beatles, Radiohead and many others. I listen to a lot of music, from classical to country.

AP: What is your songwriting process?

CF: I usually write on guitar or piano and everything, including all the melodies, the arrangements and so on come before the lyrics. I find lyrics the most challenging part. I like to get everything in place first and then see what kind of vibe is there to trigger lyric ideas.

AP: The arrangements on the album are very tight, there aren’t lots of overdubs. You play all the instruments but have obviously resisted layering lots of stuff over the top.

CF: I wanted to be able to recreate the tracks live, with a four-piece band so there was no point in having too many layers. I really like a cohesive band sound, such as a band like Wilco. I made an effort to get that. I didn’t edit any of the tracks and each instrument track in the album is one whole take, even if there are a few details not right. I think this gives the tracks a more ‘band’ sound even though I am playing everything myself.

AP: You are offering the album as a free download from your website. On your website you say that you feel that because you get a lot of your music for free (downloading) you don’t feel right charging for your own music. How do you think musicians can make money out of original music?

CP: I have a ‘donate’ function on my website and I’m surprised how many people use that. I actually do a lot better in one $10 donation than what I’d get back from iTunes from their mechanism. But as far as making money goes, I think doing live shows is very important. I know I will pay a lot of money to see a good live band and I think that’s where the money is. Also maybe licensing (TV and film) and radio play but you need to get a bit more popular for that to count.

AP: What advice would you give to songwriters starting out?

CF: Not that I am much of an authority… but I think it is really important to establish something that is your own sound. It doesn’t have to be technically amazing as long as you are not ripping anybody else off too much. Be objective and honest: does the music sound like you?

AP: Finally, what advice would you give to would be session performers?

CF: You’ve got to get your shit together, do your homework and make sure you can play what you have to play!

You can download the album for free (or make a donation of course!) at www.connorbfitz.com. You can hear his new band playing at the Beach Hotel on 7th July.

 

Invisible Friend #263

Invisible Friend - Sunroom

For many musicians, the European tour is the marker of success. If you can do a string of shows and sell a bunch of your CDs in Europe than you’ve surely made it. So what does a band do after touring Europe and the UK for months on end?

Sunroom by Invisible Friend

Well if you’re from Wagga Wagga you move to Whian Whian of course. Invisible Friend began life as a band in the 1990s at a Wagga Wagga high school and have now set up their own studio in the sunny pastures of Whian Whian. They have just released a new album, ‘Sunroom’, a follow up to the very well received ‘Mysterious Maps’ from 2008. The new album was recorded and mixed at their studio (also called Sunroom) and I spoke with Nino Haggith, the percussionist and vocalist about making the album and about the music business in general.

Audiophiles: How would you describe Invisible Friend’s songwriting process?

NH: We generally write and arrange all the material together. Someone might bring in an idea and we all contribute to the arrangement. Someone might write lyrics to someone else’s melody, that sort of thing. It is a democratic process where everyone has input. Because we have worked together for so long we generally know each other’s likes and dislikes.

AP: The tracks have a very energetic and dynamic feel to them. What was the recording process for this album?

NH: With this album we wanted to have a more live feel. Our previous recordings were fairly conceptually based and featured a high degree of overdubs and production. With these tracks we recorded most of the beds [drums, percussion, keyboards, guitars] live and only vocals and some percussion were done as over dubs. The vocal takes also emphasised the ‘live’ aspects.

AP: One of my favourite parts of the album is the ending to the track “Rubber Ball” that features a great drum n bass type groove and synth/guitar wall of sound. Could you talk about that?

NH: Our keyboard player, Michael White, reckons that section best represents what Invisible Friend can do in a live setting.

AP: I hear bits of Steve Miller Band, Lenny Kravitz, Steely Dan and The Beatles in Invisible Friend, what would you say the band’s influences are?

NH: We have quite an eclectic range of tastes. When we started out as a covers band we did things like Crosby Stills Nash and Young. [Guitarist] Matthew Gulliford is a big Eric Clapton fan, [keyboardist] Michael White likes Dr John, I like a lot of soul and Motown tracks and [drummer] Brendan Drinkwater has a very diverse range of influences.

AP: After touring Europe and doing shows in London you moved to this area, why?

NH: Living in London made us realise how expensive cities are to live in. We are all from the country originally and really appreciate the sorts of things a country community offers. This area has such a strong musical community and also the University where two of our band ended up studying, doing the technology/engineering course. We set up the studio as a long term venture and that has given a focus to what we do here. I am also now working at Vitamin Records. It’s great to be able to go to the city, play a gig and then come home to the country.

AP: What advice would you give to new bands starting out?

NH: Try to really hone in on what sort of band you are. For example, you might be just a studio act, or maybe just a live band. Really explore and exhaust as many opportunities as you can find for reaching an audience. Initially it might be all about doing gigs and selling CDs but there are a lot of other things like publishing/licensing opportunities worth pursuing. Also try to continually share with other acts to keep a sense of community about what you are doing.

 

Audiophiles #262

Spikey and Friends – In My Backyard

As a father of a 5 and 7 year old I have just moved on from being involved in my local preschool. But I’m already missing it. While my kids were there I had the great pleasure of doing music once a week with all the preschool kids. This was some of the most fun I have had as a music teacher. Three and four year olds are so open and willing to get involved in music. Most respond immediately and intuitively and love to move around and act out songs.

Pacific Baza

Some songs worked better than others, Mr Frog was always a big hit, as was the Train song – I don’t even know its proper name - but we did it fast, slow, stopping, starting, on the guitar, on the piano, it was never dull. I was always on the lookout for kid’s songs. I listened to the pianist on Playschool with incredible awe. How does he manage, all at once, to play the melody, harmonize it, add little colourful bits, hold down some killer kids groove with his left hand, and waft away in an interesting way underneath the talking bits of the song? And never play a wrong note? I guess if that was your job you’d get pretty good at it.

Anyway, the fun part of music with preschool kids is that the grown ups get involved. That’s the key to a good kids music CD too. If the parents can stand something being played a zillion times then it is going to work. Some of the Wiggles tunes worked for me, but the production always seemed pretty wussy. Like really lightweight watered down versions of classic 60s or 70s sounds. Not so for Spikey and Friends. This kids CD has got plenty of grunt. It sounds like a good 90s or 00’s indie rock album in places, not a pale imitation. The guitars sound like they are coming out of real amplifiers and the drums sound loose and earthy, not some dinky sampled sounds that are unfortunately so prevalent on kids CDs.

The lyrics are thoroughly kid focused with plenty of local angles. One of my favourites is Five Slimy Toads – “Five yucky slimy toads, sitting on our busy roads, being a pest for all to see, lazy as can be …vroom, vroom, splat … another cane toad flat”. Old Man Bray is a retake of Old Macdonald had a Farm with the Bundjalung greeting “Jingi Walla Jingi Walla Jingi Walla” replacing the “e-i-e-i-o” bit. There are plenty of animal songs – ants, caterpillars, dolphins, echidnas, koalas, snakes and lizards all get a turn. (There’s a tip for the aspiring kid’s songwriter – go for animals, and go for alliteration — Larry Lizard, Trevor Turkey). There is a naughty nose picking song Ooey Gooey Boogie Woogie and a feral cat warning in Ginger Nut Pussycat – “one day a brown snake will sort you out”. My kids were singing along in no time at all.

Spikey’s alter ego is Michael Turner, a former member of Wild Pumpkins at Midnight. On this album Thierry Fossemalle joins him on bass, Nick Fisher on the drums and an assortment of quality local musicians with some standout backing vocals by a host of willing school kids. Christian Pyle has worked his usual organic magic as engineer, mixer and co producer. The arrangements are filled with interesting titbits allowing the weary parent to find something new, even on the 42nd listening. If I was back with the Dunoon Preschool kids this week I’d be definitely giving these songs a run.

Audiophiles #261

Music Education for the Career-Minded Musician

audiophiles_01.ai

One of the more troublesome aspects of taking up an artistic career is coming up with an answer to the “How were your holidays?” question that inevitably comes around the end of January.

The question carries a whole raft of assumptions about work and life that just don’t seem to fit an artistic perspective. I have tried a few different answers – “Holidays? Oh that’s just the time that I’m not getting paid from the assortment of casual teaching jobs I do” or “I’ve had lots of time with the kids” or the more hazy “I’ve had a few projects I’ve been working on” or the more adventurous answer “I’ve been practicing and writing”. The latter is definitely what I’d call ‘work’, but for the artistically inclined the link between ‘work’ and ‘money’ seems to be missing. Perhaps they’ll soon find the gene that predisposes someone to an artistic bent and it will be at the expense of the bit of DNA that predisposes someone to have an interest in money. Then again, I’ve read about artists who make a living solely from their arts practice but have you met many lately?

Which brings me round to my main topic for this month –music education for the career-minded musician. There are lots of ways to make a living in the music industry (Check out Michael Hannan’s 2003 book “The Australian Guide to Careers in Music” for starters) and many of these don’t need a university degree. In fact dropping out of music school or university has been the career path of choice for a number of very successful musicians including Miles Davis and the lads from Coldplay. However, I’m sure such luminaries would agree that what is important to sustain a career is not just talent and tenacity, but a legion of like-minded folk who play a part in creating a receptive and fertile music scene. This includes the audience, the venues, the media, the online outlets, the gear makers, the festival curators, the sponsors and on and on. It is this ‘scene’ aspect where institutional courses can play such an important part. Institutions bring aspiring artists together and can provide a safe haven that nurtures creativity while developing skills and an awareness of musical possibilities. Institutions can also be a good wake up call for those who decide that an artistic career is not the right road after all. Institutions also usually have a lot more gear than your average aspiring musician.

For a good portion of my ‘holidays’ this year, I have been writing a new Certificate IV Music course for the Conservatorium in Lismore and trying to put my music education philosophies into action. The course tries to balance the ‘nurturing creativity’ stuff with the ‘develop skills and knowledge’ stuff. I think that too many courses focus on the latter at the expense of the former and the music scene becomes a poorer place because of this. The focus of the new Con course is for students to write, perform and record their own music in collaborative band/ensemble settings. At the end of the year-long course students will produce a 4 - 6 track EP of their original compositions, perform their tracks at a major end of year gig and produce a media package (with an online focus) to market their work. Students will have individual lessons on their chosen instrument throughout the year as well as ongoing theory, aural, songwriting, music business and technology classes. I have high hopes that this course will help to put the career-minded musician onto a satisfying musical path whilst helping to grow a quality local scene. Then again, it might be better to move to Oxford, study English literature for a year and then drop out and form the next Coldplay.

For more information on the new Cert IV Course at the NRCAC contact Imogen on 66212266.

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