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Came in from the city walked in through the door…

June 16, 2014

circuitry
ˈsəːkɪtri/
noun
noun: circuitry

electric circuits collectively.
solid state circuitry
a circuit or system of circuits performing a particular function in an electronic device.
plural noun: circuitries
switching circuitry

Moog Rogue

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If I wait for just a second more I know I’ll forget what I came here for

March 30, 2014

What have I been up to? Not a huge amount musically. The day job has been a bit demanding and long work weeks became very common while holding on for dear life to that endless to-do list.

When I have made time for writing and demo’ing new songs it has been fun even if disappointing because I don’t finish as mush as I would like. Energy levels are low so I get an hour maybe two before I’m flaked and have to stop. Today I am damp-dusting and vacuum cleaning the studio as the dust has been giving me asthma attacks. Nothing like  wheezy vocal to make for a charming demo eh?

With this batch of songs the approach is different and I’m doing it all electronically with software recreations of classic synthesizers and drum machines. Software versions of old Moog, Roland, Korg, Oberheim and Yamaha synthesizers  have supplied the basslines melodies chords and little melodic pieces of ear candy. In the same way I have recreations of those old drum machines that were the pulse of the late 70s and early 80s : Linn Drum, Drumulator, Roland CR78 TR808 Drumatix and so many more.

Studious Studio

The writing process has been different. Now I leave the guitar down and sing the vocal line while trying to figure out the melody on the synth. A simple drum machine beat and a basic bassline usually follow. The subject matter is less about message and making the listener think and more about creating a simple piece of synthpop. The influences are worn loud and proud on my sleeves: Vince Clarke, Alison Moyet, John Foxx, Howard Jones, Thomas Dolby, Phil Oakey, Jo Callis, Trevor Horn and so on….

So… song titles? I’m pleased with “Diary Song” and “Green Light Go” while the rest of the mini-album will feature soon-to-be classics “The Blind Dignity of Labour” , “Toy Soldiers” and “Don’t Push Your Luck”.

With so much technology available to me I have limited myself to using “equipment” that was available up to 1984. Almost like a virtual keyboard rig with a couple of drum machines on the side. I have thought about and almost bought some vintage synths but realised I have been down this road before. Nostalgia is a powerful aphrodisiac and I almost pulled the trigger on buying synths I wanted so badly back in the day but were completely beyond my means.

That said… when I have completed writing the songs and am ready to properly record them I’m going to treat myself to a Fairlight ! Back when Vince Clarke bought his you’d have got an apartment in London for the same price. Now I can get a software version for just over $100.

Have a look at the Fairlight. Recognise the sounds?

 

Apple Venus on a half open shell

December 8, 2013

My most recent blog post was a bit of a downer.  I received some amazing messages of support and felt very guilty about burdening my disappointment and frustration on friends and strangers. I know people with real problems. I don’t have problems.

As planned I moved ahead with the release of Saving Souls as a single.  My primary motive is to raise awareness of meningitis and how we can all learn to spot the signs and save a life.  Back in 2000 our eldest daughter had a near death experience as a result of meningococcal septicaemia. We very nearly lost her.  Against all odds she made a 100% recovery.  There is not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that it turned out this way. It’s the root of the story behind the song.  My secondary motive was to finish what I started. There is a third single all ready to go but my heart isn’t in it.

“Saving Souls” was released November 24th 2013 and beforehand I sent promo CDs to a few select radio shows in Ireland. My lesson learned from the “This Hometown” single release was that I couldn’t follow-up with every station and for friends/fans who might request the song it’s better to have a shorter list of shows to request. The promo video was ready and despite multiple emails and attempts to contact individuals I was blanked by TV3 and RTE. Nothing new there 🙂

I’m really proud of the video.  Made with zero budget (well.. I bought lunch) and produced by my very good friend Tony Faulkner we put this together in a single shoot. It took a few hours of editing by Tony who also mixed the track.

As I type this I have no idea if the single has been played. I have pushed as hard as I can and short of starting my own radio station I don’t think there’s more I can do. While at work I can’t really keep tuning through all of the stations so fingers crossed it will get a little traction this week. I sent promo CDs with updated press release to a number of shows and have been using Hootsuite to schedule messaging on Facebook and Twitter to remind my friends & fans to request the single.

Here are two links where you can buy Saving Souls. All profit from the sale of the single will go to Act For Meningitis. It is available here at iTunes and here at Amazon.

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Last week out of the blue I received a phone call from Francie Conway who I had met at the 2012 Christie Hennessy Song Contest Final. He very kindly complimented the work I had been doing to promote the single and my efforts to promote the charity. He’s a supporter of the charity and wanted to lend his support. As a result I’m on the bill for an upcoming show headlined by Francie and the one-and-only Mikey Harte. It will be a great night out, no cover charge and I’ll have a mini-band on the night which will feature Mark O’Reardon (who played bass on the “Other People’s Hats” album), a to-be-confirmed guitar player and <big drum roll!> Heather Fitzpatrick on percussion.  I’ll be digging out my keyboard for the show so expect to see something a little new.

I’m touched to have been asked to participate and am looking forward to a great night out.

What’s next? I stand by my decision and don’t see myself doing much more with the singer-songwriter thing. I’m not giving up making music and will share whatever I make. If asked I’ll gladly play and will do it with no expectations.   What’s next is some fun synthpop. I’ve been mucking about with synths and drum machines and have been reliving my teen years when I discovered artists like Yazoo, Depeche mode, Thomas Dolby and so on…  who knows where it will lead?

And in the end the love you make is equal to the love you take

September 30, 2013

‘Cause the high heel he used to be has been ground down

I’m done.

No more pretending to be a singer-songwriter and trying to get my songs “out there”.

I’ve deliberated for weeks on this and saved this blog entry before publishing. This isn’t heat-of-the-moment stuff.

After much effort and countless favours from friends old and new I got that album out a year ago.

Since then I have tried to place songs on radio, get online or print reviews, get gigs, get festivals, get anything. The result has been soul destroying and I don’t want to do this to myself any longer.

I’ve finally accepted what I probably knew all along but didn’t want to face up to. The songs aren’t all that good and the voice isn’t doing much for anyone.  That’s OK because not everyone can be good or great and there’s enough creative and wonderful songwriters out there.

In a private detective’s overcoat

Getting live gigs is becoming silly now and embarrassing. I looked back on another year of festival submissions and took a look at who was playing those tents around the country. Younger than me, more soulful than me, edgier than me. I’m a man out of time haha.  I’m also the oldest guy at every gig. It’s getting a bit creepy so probably best for all concerned 🙂

I thought the levelling of the playing field with online blogging would maybe open up the possibility of a review but despite contacting over 20 blogs who review and feature material not dissimilar to mine I didn’t get a single bite. Not so much as an acknowledgement.   Bloody hell at least the record companies back in the day used to at least send a form rejection letter “not what we’re looking for at the moment”.

Radio play is not coming my way no matter how many angles on promotion I take. I have a wonderful video for “Saving Souls” and a box of promo singles all ready to go but no-one wants to hear it.

I can’t even give this shit away.  That sums it up. Maybe that’s what I should have called the album ! 🙂

And dirty dead man’s shoes

Speaking of which, I’ve got a few albums left. If anyone wants a copy drop me a note. When they’re gone they’re gone.   There’s no more gigs. I’m not prepared to bare my soul to a room of people who would much rather talk among themselves over a pint. Somehow I don’t think my particular brand of middle-age middle-class angst will be missed 🙂

If you supported me by coming to gigs: thank you.  If you supported by buying an album: thank you.  If you got a free album: thanks for playing it. If you requested a song on radio: thank you.

It hasn’t all been bad. I’ve made some friends along the way and had one of the best nights of my life launching the album (even if I lost my shirt on the night). Here’s a great memory:

What’s next? I’ll stick to making little bits of music and watching some really talented friends create amazing songs and perform in front of audiences alongside fine musicians.  I think the songs are better off in a notebook or on a hard-disk and I’ll be better off not trying to improve, craft, compete with myself, spend time chasing elusive exposure.  A win-win.

I had to make a life decision a long, long time ago between being an artist or being an aspirational middle-class professional. I don’t do regrets but there’s no way you can do both. Burning the candle at both ends is not good for either side of my brain. It’s exhausting trying to flip between the business person on one side and the creative on the other.

He stands to be insulted and he pays for the privilege

Before I knock it on the head and throw the last toys out of my pram I’ll leave with the single release for “Saving Souls”  since I’ve already spent the money for distribution and a video because my friends were so good to help make it.

Keep an eye out for my communication in the next few days… whether it’s on the blog, mailing list or Facebook.  Grab a copy if you’d like one and let’s pretend one last time 🙂

Groups of guitars are on the way out Mr Epstein

April 25, 2013

My normally positive outlook is going to take a backseat for this blogpost.

Back in January I repeated an annual process I’ve been doing for the last 2 years: I started sending in submissions to the various festivals that take place around Ireland.  Rather than a scattergun approach I deliberately researched each festival looking at previous year line-ups to make sure my material/show was a good fit. This year was going to be different: I had an album under my belt and a strong video channel on YouTube with clips from my album launch show.

From the dozen or so submissions made I received no responses. None. Nada. Not even an automated response to say “sorry we cannot reply to individual submissions because we’re overwhelmed with your emails”.

Not liking my music I can deal with. I know what I’m producing isn’t to everyone’s taste. I get that. I don’t like it but can take the rejection.   Copy-and-paste “thanks but no thanks” communications I can also deal with. I process a lot of email and communications in my day job and I completely understand why it’s necessary to take an impersonal approach.

Getting no response whatsoever is getting beyond a joke. Weeks/months later when I revisit the festival websites I then see that they’ve announced artists.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m not looking for a seat on the right hand of Calvin Harris.  I’m looking at the “independent” / “emerging artist” stages.  I recognise some of the acts from previous years and festivals/gigs from around the country.   What do they have that I don’t?   The doubt monsters start to creep in.

There was one very notable exception to this. In February I sent a submission to a festival to be held in Dublin this June that looked very credible. In previous cities & years it had guest panellists of great repute. This was the real deal.  “Peter, just to let you know that I’ve been listening to your music and I really like it” went the gist of the email.  I thought to myself: at last!   Sure enough last week I got confirmation that I was one of 100 acts to be confirmed for the festival. I immediately confirmed my availability and sat down to plan how I’d take advantage of this opportunity.  I was ready to pay again for rehearsal rooms and to do the rounds of pulling-in-favours to get a band together for the gig possibly even having to shell out to pay the musicians. More expense in order to play. I’m about to release a couple of songs to radio as “free download singles” so this invite couldn’t have come at a better time. I could use it to try create a bit of a buzz around the release and it always looks very credible to radio programmers.

Before I go any further, and for the benefit of non-musicians who might read this blog, I should point out that the emerging and independent artists for this and most other festivals do not get paid and do not get any expenses covered. You’ll be lucky to get a beer!  What you get is a chance to play on a stage and hope that some of the audience will stick around for your set. If you’re really lucky you might get a handful of people to sign up to your email list and if you’re really,really lucky you’ll sell a couple of CDs.

Yesterday morning an email arrives marked “high priority <name of festival>”

I am writing to let you know that unfortunately due to an error in the artist selection process, we over-invited 14 artists to play at <festival name>. I am extremely sorry for this error and to have to
give you the news that you are one of the 14 that were over invited. Please accept my most sincere apologies.

All members of your band will still receive an access all areas pass (other than to workshops), if you could give me the names of the band members, I will arrange for them to be put on the guest list for the event.

Whatever about the rights and wrongs of this I’m sure dear reader that you agree this is a crappy way to handle the situation.  The sender didn’t even realise that I was a solo act: that’s how much attention was paid to this.   In a city the size of Dublin there is little difference between finding stage-time for 114 acts and 100 acts.

And then it begins.  I did a little Facebook status rant to blow off some steam. Some encouraging responses from friends helped.   Looking on Twitter I saw a few acts that had confirmed their participation in the festival (boy am I glad I didn’t post anything on social media or my mailing list!)  and every single one of them was from outside the country.  “WTF?” as the kids say.

Last night I found myself in my hotel room unable to sleep (travel will broaden your mind but disrupt your body rhythm unlike anything else in the world). I looked at the (lack of) sales of my album, the black hole of gig requests: half a dozen asks for support slots ignored in the last month alone, the demoralizing non-response from festivals, the 20 blog submissions for reviews that went un-written (or even acknowledged).

I was THIS CLOSE to closing my website, blog, bandcamp store and Facebook page. I’d had enough. No more.

Of course I didn’t do that.  Once I got over feeling sorry for myself I remembered every past rejection and screw-up and finally fell asleep thinking about the bollox who stiffed us after a club gig in Dublin back in 1987.

So where to next?  Keep on plugging away I suppose.  There’s a caseload of CDs in the studio that need new homes. Reality check: a small but very appreciated fraction of the Facebook fan-page likes and mailing list members have bought my album. A fraction – nobody is obliged to buy but I thought I should share the reality of releasing an album. There’s some really great work being done by a friend to create single sleeves for my ‘radio singles’ and I’ve been inspired by an old Thomas Dolby live concert DVD to revamp my live show and remove the reliance on favours from musicians. It might even set me apart from the other singer-songwriters out there.

Which means: there’s still people out there who might buy my CD, there’s still gigs and festivals out there and one of my radio singles might just get a result. 

It still grinds my gears though . . .

This blog post  I Think You’re An Asshole, So I’m Going To Tell You, Asshole resonated with me.  I don’t think anyone associated with the festival that stiffed me is an asshole. I reckon most of them are barely, if at all, getting paid to put up with egos, slackers and assholes (that’s “musicians” to you and me).   So, I’m going to move onward an upward and not be a dick.

Deconstructing 12 Step

February 25, 2013

12%20steps12 Step started from a single phrase uttered by my son Ben. We were on holiday in a sunny place with a swimming pool. Ben had spent so long in the pool and the sun was so bright he remarked as only a little boy can do “I’m turning blue !”

For months I had that opening line “I’m turning blue… because of you” and it went nowhere. I’ve read lyrics by real songwriters who cleverly develop a word theme through the song so I thought verse 1 would be blue and verse 2 would be… red.  Too clever for my own good aren’t I?

One evening I had a conversation with someone who was coming out of a bad relationship. His former partner was/is a nightmare by all accounts.  Putting on his “hat” (see what I did there?) I tried to tell a story from the side of someone who has stuck it out but eventually reaches breaking point.

The air turns blue next to you

You’re out of line we’re out of time

I’m always stuck in your firing line

Watch out . . .  here comes the chorus !

Over a simple C to A minor progression.

Jumps up to B7 to E for the chorus when he puts his foot down.

I deserve more than this shouldn’t be a one way street
I deserve more than this shouldn’t be a one way street
I deserve more than this

Have you ever been to a dinner or party when there’s someone who wants to crawl under the table because of their partner’s behaviour? Picture the scene as this guy apologizes again for what happened. Again.

I’m turning red at everything you’ve said

In the morning when they’re gone

You won’t remember what you’ve done

I should stress… this is all fictional and no actual people were mentioned in the writing of this song.  The song title “12 Step” refers to 12 step programmes as I wondered what it might be like to be stuck in a relationship with someone who needed all 12 Steps every day.

Middle 8 sections: what’s not to like?  The middle 8 is a section in the middle of a song to give the listener something fresh… also called the ‘bridge’.  You can read all about it here if you’re so inclined.
I’ve wanted to use the A minor > B minor 7th > C > D progression for years and now I finally had a place for it.

I will try I will fail look at me I’m too good for you
I will try I will fail look at me I’m too good for you
I will try I will fail look at me running after you

A twist in the end… yet again he’s suckered back into the relationship and we hear her complaint

I deserve more than this… she said

The recording of the song took me through a few versions but it wasn’t until Mark (bass) and Tim (drums) got to grips with it in a rehearsal room that it took proper shape. My favourite bit are the backing vocals in the middle 8 singing ” me me me me me . . . “. They were fun to record and I have to credit Dan Prendiville for the idea.

12 Step was remixed by two friends (Dave Riley and Dan Prendiville).  I sent them the multitracks and let them loose with it. I still get a kick hearing what they did and you can too (for FREE!) just visit my online store and get a free digital download of “Other People’s Remixes“.  While you’re at it… buy a copy of the album “Other People’s Hats” too.

Deconstructing “Saving Souls”

February 12, 2013

The Scritti Politti classic “The Sweetest Girl” was playing in my mind’s ear while writing. I’ve always remembered an interview with Suggs from Madness who spoke about this recording when Madness released their own version. He described it as a demo. He was right. It still has that etheral 2-in-the-morning 4-track demo to it.

drowning

“Saving Souls” is track 6 on my album “Other People’s Hats“.  I clearly remember writing this late one night in my home studio. Sat at a keyboard I left a simple percussion loop running while I vamped some chords and decided to keep it as simple as possible. I approached the lyrics by thinking of those Sophie’s Choice situations a parent can find themselves: only one hand to save someone drowning…. trying to keep control of the fast moving car on an icy road…. all that good stuff that surfaces in your nightmares.  You too eh?

Meanwhile in the conscious world this song is about a couple holding on for dear life
when circumstance is trying to tear their family apart. It can sometimes feel all that’s left for you is to save their souls.

Save yourself from the wind Save yourself from the rain

I know we’re saving souls tonight

On the road rainy night Slippery slope do it right

I know we’re saving souls tonight

Sacrifice yours or mine? Hold on tight grip the line

Till we both run out of time

The lyric and melody came in minutes. One of those lucky breaks. When you’re in the zone and your writing muscle is well exercised it seems to happen that way sometimes.

Recording the song was very satisfying.  I kept the original demo which was a simple electronic percussive loop, fender rhodes keyboard and a vocal.  I somehow lost the settings for the loop which annoyed me no end.  The original idea was to have a Roland CR78 drum machine playing the rhythm.  Once upon a time I had one of those drum machines. You’ll probably recognise it from that Phil Collins album “Face Value” which features the drum machine on a few songs including “In The Air Tonight”  Sometime during early 2012 I located a €5 soft-synth plug-in which gave me a software version of this collectable device.

cr78

I kept pushing for space in the track and wanted to keep the instruments to a minimum. This is a tricky balance because I also want to keep the listener’s interest up with instruments poking in-and-out between the lyric.

Mark played a great bass part on this. One of my favourites of his. We octave doubled the bass and I asked him to channel Tony Levin.  In my mind I heard the bass line on Peter Gabriel & Kate Bush “Don’t Give Up“. The bass part does a great job of not playing all the notes. Do you know what I mean? It’s the gaps that matter. Lovely stuff.

By this point I knew I wanted two more instruments. Harking back to Phil Collins “Face Value” I have always liked the slide guitar played by Eric Clapton on the track “The Roof Is Leaking“.  I called Jude Shiels who obliged with two takes of playing. Nailed it in 30 minutes and left me to edit to my hearts content.

Almost there.  I had left some gaps for a solo instrument and I knew it was going to be for my old buddy David Mayne who I had last played with in the 1980s. Dave is a truly brilliant sax player and he “got” straightaway what the track needed. 3 or 4 experimental takes and I was left with more virtual tape to edit.

My old buddy Tony Faulkner was over visiting the house one day and I was telling hinm about the slow but steady progress on getting this damn album finished. I said there was one track that would make a nice video but it wasn’t yet mixed and I didn’t have the budget to make a video anyway.  By the second glass of wine Tony had volunteered to produce the video and mix the song.   Result 🙂

We spent a great evening in my studio and referenced some Trevor Horn productions on a couple of Seal albums while building a mix. This was like old times – we’d dreamt of pop stardom in the 1980s. Well… at least I had.

Mix completed I gathered some volunteers to spend a day shooting a video. Tony is editing the video… which reminds me I must give him a call.  I think this track might be an interesting radio single.

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