Taking it to 11

Still on the road, but pining for my little studio back home.  Right now I’m in the land of windmills, stroopwafels, and red light districts, visiting with some friends and associates.  Some of the talk has revolved around music: we’ve been holding a little debate on the relative merits of guitarists such as Clapton, the Edge, Gilmour, and Keith Richards, and bands such as U2, Queens of the Stone Age, Rush, the Stones…..  And yes, we are of a certain age, but we do hold these discovered truths dearly.

Also trying to dig through the debris of the name change from Steeling Time to Tunnel 18.  The latest issue is that there is a UK band who also released an album in 2015 using the band name Steeling Time.  As a result, the Spotify accounts are mixed up and… well, it’ll get worked out.

In the meantime however….  

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Supplemental Addition – Sound Studio Real to Reel (Various Artists [but mainly Dave Grohl] – 2013)SC-cover-album

I know. I’m supposed to be done – I gave you a list of 10 really influential albums. Albums that helped shape who I am as a musician and songwriter. Albums that showed me what was possible and challenged me to learn my instrument better and to keep pushing to find my voice.

Of course, any decent collection of rock albums has to go to 11.

I took a significant break from playing music and writing songs from the time I was in my mid 20s until… Sometime after that. It’s not that I forgot about music, it’s more that other things took priority, I forgot that it was something that meant as much to me as it did.

As you saw from one of my earlier installments, I was a huge Nirvana fan. And then after Kurt Cobain’s death, I followed what Dave Grohl was doing with Foo Fighters with intent interest.

I have absolutely no shame in saying that I have a huge man crush on Dave Grohl. Of the people who are active in music right now, he is the guy who not only can span most musical styles, but chooses to do so. He seeks out opportunities to play with people across the musical spectrum, and seems to have a blast doing it. This is his life, his dream, his passion, and he’s in-fucking-credibly good at it.

In 2013, Grohl learned that Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California was about to close. The studio had been home to bands including not only Nirvana, but also Rage Against the Machine, Fleetwood Mac, REO Speedwagon, Neil Young, Nine Inch Nails, the Grateful Dead, and many, many, many more. Defining albums were written and recorded here.  To celebrate the studio and the music that was made there, Grohl purchased the Neve mixing console from the studio, moved it to the Foo Fighters’ own private studio, and then brought a set of musicians with strong connections to Sound City.

All of this got turned into a movie and an album: Sound City, Real to Reel.  In addition to the Foos (all of whom participated), the album includes contributions by Chris Goss (Masters of Reality), Brad Wilk & Tim Commerford (Rage Against the Machine), Stevie Nicks, Rick Springfield, Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Paul McCartney, Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails), and even an appearance by Dave’s old bandmate, Krist Novoselic.

To be truly influential, a work of art has to inspire someone to action.  It has to force a change in behaviour, and perhaps even of belief. It has to fundamentally change the listener – a challenge well beyond simple entertainment and enjoyment.

I saw the film and then listened to that album over and over again in 2014.  That movie and that album made that happen for me.

Watching and listening to Sound City, Real to Reel finally got me to believe that not taking the chance to write and record music would be not only idiotic, but a real self-betrayal.  No, I might never be able to play alongside these legends of my youth, and certainly not as well, but I could and should write and play about the things I felt and loved and thought.  The songs were there in me, and good or bad, they belong out.

I wrote the first songs for Time and Motion in the summer of 2014.  I started recording them in January 2015 (under the band name Steeling Time), and by November of 2015 the album was done.

 

So, that’s the list of albums done.  But it did make me think that I have another topic I wanted to write about: studios.  More on that the next time we talk.

Top of the List (#1)

While not exactly on world tours for rock purposes, I do get around the world a bit (as one might guess listening to songs like “Last Flight Out” and “Take Me Home”).  Unfortunately, the jet-set lifestyle occasionally has health impacts: I have had a bit of bronchitis, which has curtailed doing vocals for a little while. I will redouble my efforts to get some new music out as soon as I can sing without coughing up a lung.

So anyway, this installment comes to you as I fly into the land of the ice and snow, to the midnight sun where the hot springs blow.  But, as leading as that description might seem …

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#1 – Exit Stage Left (Rush, 1981)71ACFbgmdXL._SL1092_

Those who know me have likely been wondering where all the Rush is!  All of Tunnel 18 over the years, including me, have been avid and unabashed Rush fanatics – the kind who argue about the meanings of lyrics, who have seen dozens of shows, who air guitar/bass/drums, who know the secret in-names for Geddy, Alex, and Neil.  Each of our rooms was wallpapered with Rush posters, we could easily recite the lyrics of any Rush song up through Signals, and yes, we even read, wondered at, and then carefully set aside the writings of Ayn Rand.

But I also figured that since my own musical upbringing was pretty varied (in a “rock” sense, anyway) I should limit myself to one Rush album for this list.  It would have to be #1 on the list, of course …

Rush already had eight incredible studio albums to their credit by 1981, and had spanned an incredible stylistic distance, from pseudo-Zeppelin clones to art/prog sci-fi to a new age of radio-friendly 5-6 minute songs on Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures.  The band’s first live album, All The World’s a Stage in 1976, was a pretty good sample of their live act at the time.  Exit Stage Left became something else. In particular, to a 13-year old not-very-good guitar (and sometimes bass) player, the album became a window into the world of the possible.

How did these three guys make all of that sound!?  How did they lock together so seamlessly? How could they fill these arenas with that much color?  How could they play two and sometimes three different instruments in the same song (we thought it might be overdubs until we all saw the Exit Stage Left videotape – which we wore out, trying to figure all this stuff out).

My favorite Rush song is – easily – “Red Barchetta.”  The flow of the song is exquisite – from simple plucked harmonics and a bass melody to a simple story, that leads into a free-for-all full-out race through the countryside, finally culminating in a quiet return.  In the right moments, it can still bring a clutch to my throat at the start, and goosebumps to my arms at the bridge.

And that’s just one of more than a dozen songs on the album.  The spontaneous audience singalong of “Closer to the Heart”, the multi-instrumental gymnastics of “The Trees” resolving straight into the opening of “Xanadu”, and the incredible, flawless, live “La Villa Strangiato” … yes, perhaps a bit of excess and self-indulgence, but we loved every minute of it.

The album became an anthem (ahem) and challenge to us as musicians.  Here were all of the parts of what it meant to be fully proficient at the instruments we held.  Power chords, arpeggios, shifting time sequences, real-time orchestration, bass as melody, drums as integral sonic elements in addition to timekeeping – all were there for us to find and learn.

There couldn’t be a more influential tableau than that, to my thinking.

 

Although perhaps there could be one that had a more… proximal effect.  And I’ll come to that in a few days.

Just a Second (meaning, 2nd)

For the first time in a while, I’ve got quite a bit of a creative streak going. A good half dozen songs and some form of development, but I’m not really sure what to do with them. As always, I beg your indulgence as it is hard to find time to be able to sit down and concentrate to get recording done. Also, the recording situation has changed over the past year or so, so finding time to do vocals is particularly challenging. Still…

After this next round of recording, going to have some hard decisions to make – specifically about which songs to include in this next album, and specifically what to call it.  I’m attaching a little sound clip here with some samples from the various things. It’s a mashup of all of the things that are in the works. Sorry for the choppy nature 

of it, but I wanted to give you an idea of the scope of possibilities.

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#2 – Greatest Hits (Steve Miller Band, 1978)SMB

As much as The Cars’ first album made me want to pick up a guitar, Steve Miller’s Greatest Hits 1974-78 – which I first heard just before I heard The Cars – was the album that made me really pay attention to music and also think playing music would be pretty cool.

Let me set the scene for you: Jeff D, Don H, Chris C and I upstairs in my room back in Harrington Park.  It’s about this time of year and there’s a family barbecue happening in the backyard. And there we are, upstairs, playing this album, singing and “playing” along to “Jungle Love,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” and “The Joker.”  By “playing” I mean that Jeff was singing lead, someone was pretending to play drums on pillows and whatnot, and another of us traded off playing guitar and bass on an old Harmony acoustic guitar. It was a blast. And over the course of the afternoon, we dreamed about becoming rock stars, making albums, and going on world tours.

Fast forward about ten years, and Chris C, Don H, and I were doing covers of “Jet Airliner” in front of party crowds in the first iterations of Tunnel 18.  

The album itself is a wonderful slice in time, showcasing some great pop/rock songs from the mid-70s, and the songwriting provides excellent examples of how pop didn’t (and doesn’t) have to be shallow to be accepted by a wide audience.

 

One more album to go, and then I have a special mention to add to the list.

 

Album the Third

A little recording update for you: we have two or three new songs that are in the works, two of which are really very close to being ready to be released. I will continue, as ever, to ask for your patience, but I hope that you end up loving them as much as we do.

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#3 – The Cars (The Cars, 1978)cars

This is the album that made me pick up the guitar when I was ten years old, and I’m really glad that I’m writing this at the very beginning of summer, as that’s the time of year I first heard this.  My neighbor Willie K had The Cars’ first album on vinyl, and I brought over my little cassette tape player, put it on one of his stereo speakers, and recorded “Good Times Roll“, “Best Friend’s Girl”, “Just What I Needed“, “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”, and “Bye Bye Love“.

“Don’t keep playing them over and over,” Willie said. “You’ll get tired of them.”  I didn’t but maybe the rest of my family did. Those five songs on a $.99 cassette got played over and over and over again – hundreds of times – that summer of 1978.

The songs are frighteningly catchy, in terms of both lyric and music. The music itself was easy enough to play, but very difficult to master. The solo to “Just What I Needed” was the first I ever learned all the way through. Eliot Easton’s incredible facility with the guitar was mind blowing, and only looked all the more mystical when you watched him play left-handed.

The whole album presaged what eventually would become new wave, and The Cars themselves toned down and simplified their musical style over the following albums, but this first album remains an incredibly memorable classic, and one that significantly affected how I approach playing and songwriting.

Tunnel 18 played “Best Friend’s Girl” as part of its live set in the early days, and it was one of those songs that absolutely got the crowd into the show.*  Our version as a three-piece was even simpler than the Cars original, but I still love going back and listening to how that the folks that came out to listen to us responded.

 

 

(*Nirvana also covered the song in 1994.  Clearly, we gave them the idea.)