Two Years

September 5, 2018 was a pretty momentous day for me. I spent most of that Wednesday pretty completely freaked out. Anxious beyond all belief – and for me that’s kind of saying something, as I spend most of my life in some degree of worry or anxiety. However, this was a deliberately sought-out source of anxiety, and one for which I had prepared over the previous two or three weeks. 

You see, that Wednesday night was the first time that I was signed up to play the Open Mic Jam at Terry O’Reilly’s. I hadn’t played live on my own since I’d fronted a band back when I was in my early 20s. I’d continued to do songwriting and recording, but life had gotten in the way of performing. 

In January of 2018, I wrote down a list of things I wanted to accomplish that year. “Playing my music live” was at the top of the list. And then of course the anxiety and self-consciousness that comes with exposing yourself – and all your flaws – in public, for all to see, caused me to find excuses not to move forward. 

I’d known about the Open Mic Jam for years.  I’d gone to see other friends play, and it was always a very big deal. It also seemed like a really supportive crowd, so I knew that’s where I wanted to start. 

Come August, Jen reminded me that I had in fact set a goal for myself, and suggested that I actually get it on the calendar. So, I found the Facebook page and the link to sign up, and took the third open spot for the night of September 5. 

I met both Andrew Geano and Terrance Reeves for the first time that night. Andrew listened to a little bit of my story, and then when the time came he said in his inimitable way, “OK, we have a first timer here. I want you to take your one hand, put it high in the air, then raise up your other hand, and bring them together fast to give a big Open Mic Jam welcome to Chris Steele!“

I played “Caroline” and “Old Age and Treachery” that night. 

There was a lot of sweating. My hands didn’t work right. My voice felt weird. And at the end, there was a lot of applause, and a really warm feeling that reminded me why I wanted to do this, and told me that I might have found a community I wanted to do it with.

Two years on, I’ve played another 95 sets, and over 500 more songs. I’ve played in Newton, Boston, Allston, Maynard, Concord, Cape May, Indianapolis, Red Deer, and my second hometown – Edmonton. It’s become a core part of my life, and one I won’t ever walk away from again.

I have also made so many good friends along the way – Tim Ko, Joe Dunn, and of course Andrew and Terrance, who have run the shows, and then Danielle, Miriam, Audrey, Ethan, Polly, Sarah Beth, Rory, Lisa, Alex, Elliot, and all the others with whom I have shared a stage and a microphone. (And of course Jen – who is both a poet herself and a main source of encouragement.)  I’ve also done my own small part to try to support our group and others during this period of COVID by establishing a virtual safe place to perform and try out new ideas – The Virtual Necessity Open Mic.

I cannot fully express how appreciative I am, and how wonderful it feels to be in community with all of you. (Of course, I do wish that our community could be more in each other’s company these days.) The past two years have allowed for a tremendous amount of growth and change. Two years from now, if the fates allow, I hope to look back (with another 100+ shows under my own belt) and celebrate with all of you all that we have accomplished. 

Stay safe. 

-Chris

The Joy of Collaboration

For the past several hours, I have been listening to something that is giving me great joy. The narcissistic fact about this is that it is one of my own songs: “Pulling Nails”. The reason it’s making me so happy is that I am hearing it in ways that I have not been able to realize until now.

I think I’ve shared here that I am in the process of putting together a collection that will be released as an EP sometime in the coming months. I don’t have the timeline quite yet, but I know what songs are going to be on it, I know what order they’re going to go in, and I’m already starting to put together the artwork for the collection.  All of the basic recording has been done (I think — I am prepared to be wrong). What needs to be done now is the mixing and mastering.

In the past, I would’ve done all of the mixing myself, and then used an online provider to do the mastering. As I’ve also mentioned before, this time Terrance Reeves has been working with me on the mixing. And it’s been a revelation!

As a musician and a recording engineer, I am not without some degree of chops. I don’t know everything, I am constantly learning, and it’s not what I do all the time, so I don’t necessarily have all of the skills that I would want to have.   However, and more importantly in recording my own music, there is one fundamental necessity that I lack – and that’s objectivity and perspective. 

(“Two! Our two weapons are surprise and…”)

As I’ve been listening to the various mixes Terrance has sent me of “In A Minor Key”, “Clouds”, and “Pulling Nails”, I’m noticing he has found things not just in the recordings but in the songs themselves that either I had given up on unconsciously, or never even realized were there. He has been able to give them groove and flow and narrative. 

He’s also been able to listen to the songs from the outside and ask questions about what I think the song is about, the emotions it should inspire, and how I’d like the listener to hear this song. And since he hasn’t been with it from conception through arrangement and recording, he can put forth ideas that I don’t have the perspective to think of. 

It’s important to remember that collaboration provides a chance to enhance your art. In no way is it about sacrificing your vision: in fact, it is the chance to be able to know that your vision is getting through to your audience in the way you want it to.

Collaboration also makes the act of creation much less lonely. And in the present day, that has a tremendous value all its own. 

So, here’s a little sneak peek – but only a peek. Stay tuned and I am so looking forward to sharing the finished product with you really, really soon.

2020 Can Go Suck It

2020 Can Go Suck It 

So far, 2020 is a year when I can’t see people I love, when I can’t hear the music live that I want to hear, when the world is falling apart at the seams, and when tyranny has become the rule of the day. 

A year when the resurgence from winter into spring was stymied because we were stuck inside to keep ourselves from dying or from spreading a virus to others who might die. A year when summer has been spent behind window glass glancing outside – not a baseball game to be seen, not a swim club to be enjoyed.

It is a year in which a man tinted Easter-egg-dye-orange tries to define reality through the warped lens of his own imagination. And his imagination wants to take us to a dark, dark world.

It is a year in which pandemic has become a word that is part of our everyday lives. 

It has become a year in which I have memorial services to attend, and I don’t know when those memorial services will take place, or if they even ever will. People who were dearly close to me are gone, and I don’t know when or if we will ever have the opportunity to come together to celebrate their lives.

Here’s my tally-

  • An icon taken by glioblastoma 
  • A mentor taken by Covid
  • A friend taken – again – by glioblastoma 
  • Another friend (and boss), taken by a tragedy I don’t and likely won’t understand 

A year of mortality. 

A year of confronting the temporary nature of everything. 

A year of learning how each moment is a gift, and the next cannot be taken for granted. 

A Farewell to Kings

Today, right now, is August 1, 2020.  That’s five years since Rush played their final concert ever at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Tonight we’re watching Time Stand Still, the documentary from that tour and of its final shows. 

It’s a good thing to do. A worthy thing to do. It brings back good memories of years gone by – of getting together with dear friends and going to see and hear great music together.  

And I hope that it’s also a reminder that we will do so again, and that there are friendships yet to be forged and memories yet to be made. 

Sometime. 

Somewhere. 

-Chris

The Bestest Music Stores….

Wow. Been a little time between posts here, but thank you for sticking with me.

There has been a lot going on both in my day job and with just the stuff of day-to-day life. As a result I have not done as much of this kind of writing as I should like to, but rest assured there’s a lot of music that I’m going to want to share with you.

Both “In a Minor Key” and “Clouds” are in the final stages of mixdown. Terrance has been doing incredible work with these tunes, making them pop in ways that I hadn’t really appreciated they could. I am really, really excited to share them with you, and we will do some kind of a formal release in the coming weeks. I will post details here when we are ready.

I was thinking just yesterday about how the ability to pick up a guitar and play, write, and sing for people has been such an incredible relief during this period. 

I was also thinking back to when I was learning to play, and the things that both sustained me, and also could very easily have caused me to stop. I was thinking of this in the context of what has happened to music stores over the past 20 years, and I began to wonder a little. 

Some dude’s receipt from Manny’s. Explains a lot.

Those of you musicians who know New York of old know that 48th St. between 6th and 7th was where all the guitar stores were. I can think of at least seven, including Sam Ash, Manny’s, Rudy’s, and the aptly named We Buy Guitars.  Now of course I used to go there as a teenager and stare at the guitars all the time (“Hey kid – got a credit card? Gonna buy…. anything?”), but somewhat later I had the fortune (misfortune?) of working at the corner of 6th between 47th and 48th for about six years.

Sam Ash of Old

You might or might not be surprised at the change in a sales associate’s demeanor when you walk in wearing a tie rather than as a 16-year-old long-haired kid. 

And I guess that’s my point because let me give you a contrast:

There’s a fabulous music store called O. DiBella Music on Washington Ave. in Bergenfield, NJ.  It’s the kind of place that my Jewish not-quite-my-grandmother would refer to as haimish. Now over a hundred years old, the store was very much a neighborhood tradition, and they knew their clientele.

My 16-year-old self was their clientele. 

16-year-old me did not have a car, so I would pedal the 6.2 miles from my house down to DiBella to shop for, lust over, and occasionally buy musical equipment. There was never any snotty question out of anybody running the counter, and in fact exactly the opposite. Tons of encouragement, tons of help, tons of questions answered.

One particular summer day, I rode all of those miles on the bicycle down to the store and purchased this little beauty. An early 80s Gibson “The Paul” that has been with me ever since. 

My One.

By the way, I did not buy a case that day. I carried that guitar by its neck while I pedaled the 6.2 miles back home. 

The guitar has been through a lot. It’s been dropped on 89th St. in Manhattan, had its headstock snapped off, and repaired – ironically – at Rudy’s Music Stop on 48th St. – and oh my god it is still my favorite guitar. It feels fabulous; it moves air like you wouldn’t believe. The action is wonderful. And if there is anything that truly defines my tone, it’s that guitar. 

So, is Sam Ash still on 48th St.? Does Manny’s still exist? No. 

Is O. DiBella still going strong in the original location?  Oh hell yes. And I cannot thank them enough for the support and good advice they gave a 16-year-old kid.  

Be safe. Rock on.

-Chris

Recording, and Being

Greetings everyone. It’s the end of another week, and the beginning of yet another. I cannot express to you how happy I am that I’ll be taking vacation time at the end of this week. Also, there are at least two new songs that feel like they want to be written. I plan to work on those as well as the approximately 8,243 other songs that I have in various forms of semi-completeness. Three days of work should allow me to finish them all…

This is… easy?

Terrance sent me the first remixes of “In a Minor Key”a few days ago. The new mixes are just absolutely wonderful. He re-envisioned these songs in ways that I hadn’t quite thought of, yet capture their spirit beautifully! The new punch and clarity of In A Minor Key made me really see how I could give still more to the song by recording the vocals in a much cleaner way. Just spent three hours today doing exactly that, and I am so excited to hear the final product!

One of the things that occurs to me, though, is the difference between the songwriter’s experience and the fan’s experience of a song. A songwriter lives with a song as it evolves from the initial germ to the point of recording and beyond, including varying interpretations in performance. Every performance is different, every night is different. A song is like a child: born full of potential, growing into itself over time, always changing.

However, fans very often have cemented in their minds the one performance that is captured on tape or the recording that they play in their bedrooms, cars, and phones hundreds upon hundreds of times.

For the musician, it is one song, but taking on thousands of lives as it is performed over and over again. For the fan, it is one performance, played thousands of times. 

Anyway, all of this is by way of telling you that there is new music on its way, and quite soon. I can’t wait to share it with you!

-Chris

Burnout

Sometimes life gives you clues in the form of subtle metaphors. Other times it delivers them with blunt force. 

Tuesday was one of those other times. 

My computer monitor had been acting strangely over the previous couple of days – suddenly shutting down, but responding to turn back on, and then turning itself off again 20 minutes later. Tuesday morning, it shut down again, so I turned the monitor off and then on — only this time the monitor didn’t turn on. Instead it released the puff of magic blue smoke that we all understand to be the spirit of the device leaving for electronics Valhalla. 

Burnout affects us all, I suppose. 

Feeling empty

I’ve been running way too hard and way too fast, particularly with work. I’m going to take a few days off from work next week and I’ll use that time to focus a little more on music. Terrance and I spoke earlier today, and he’s well along on the first of the remixes. I’m really looking forward to sharing some of this music with you soon, assuming nothing catches on fire before then.

-Chris

Four in a Week (Live Music, Recording, etc)

If you’re wondering why it’s been a little while since there has been a long blog post, it’s because we have been busy! 

One of the things we’ve been working on is recording music. Demo versions of both “Clouds” and “In a Minor Key” were released to SoundCloud a few weeks ago. If you haven’t already had a chance, please take a listen. I’m very proud of the songwriting on both, but they are very different feels. I would really appreciate it if you sent me your thoughts.

One of the key reasons I’m asking for your thoughts is that I’m about to do something with both songs that I haven’t done before. Terrance Reeves – who is a musician, a producer, and a friend – will be taking possession of the original tracks over the next couple of days with an eye towards mixing them properly, and turning them into final products. My vision is that these two songs (along with five others) will eventually become an EP for my favorite songs from the last year.

The waiting is the hardest part….

Getting this done has already been a little bit of an adventure as apparently I have not been updating my recording software as often as I should. In my initial effort to try to get the tracks ready for Terrance yesterday, I was presented with an update for one piece of software that then crashed the core StudioOne engine. It is at times like these that

1) I am thankful that I back everything up to the cloud, so no original recordings would ever have been lost, and

2) I have enough experience to know panic is not the right option in this case. Instead the right option is to step away, think through how one got to this particular crisis, and back up two or three steps.

Short story – everything is back to normal, and now I have a newer and slightly more capable recording system than I did two days ago, with no damage, and with only minimal out-of-pocket outlay to fix the problem.

There’s also a lot going on for us on the live music scene – which is not quite the same thing as the in-person music scene, although there are glimmers of hope here as well. For example, our dear friend Andrew Geano is starting to play out again in New Hampshire – open air and socially distanced, but still live and in person. Tim Ko has a similar set of situations, and the links here will take you to their pages.

As for me, I have now two regular gigs and a couple of upcoming specials.

First, I will be playing at 2 PM on Father’s Day (Sunday, June 21) at the Music Salon. Linda Marks has invited me to do a set, which I am very happy to do. This set might be a little different from my usual sets because I’ll be playing from a slightly different location – should be fun. 

Next, the two regular gigs: Tuesdays at 8:30pm I play the Apocalyptic Open Mic, and I’ve also just added a Friday afternoon gig (5 – 5:30) at Eagles Nest Revisited. Very grateful to Jay Singing Spirit Cunningham for including me in the latter!

Last, but certainly not least, this coming Monday, June 22 at 7 pm we will be hosting our sixth Virtual Necessity Open Mic session. Do you sing? Write songs? Write poetry? Haven’t had a chance to perform in a while? Please sign up and join us. You will be among friends. 

Thanks, and I really look forward to seeing you all in person soon.

-Chris

Juneteenth

Hi all,

I’ve got quite a bit to share with you, including an update on new recordings and also a few new virtual events. But I’ll do that tomorrow.

Today is Juneteenth.

I’ve been spending the day doing something I do not irregularly – educating myself on just how little I actually know about the American history of people of color or of their lives in our nation today. I am not proud of my ignorance and therefore I choose to correct it.

So, I’m going to share with you some links to things I’ve reading, and I hope you’ll read them too.

Let’s make today a celebration of recommitment to true equality of respect and opportunity in our nation.

Thanks

-Chris

Juneteenth, the Black American Holiday that Everyone Should Celebrate, but Doesn’t

What is Juneteenth

This Juneteenth, I Have a New Plan

This Juneteenth, I Don’t Feel Like Celebrating

Before…. (On the remixing of new music)

2020-05-24 23.04.29I come from a long line of do-it-yourselfers – tinkerers, mechanics, electricians, and even an engineer.  As a result, my first impulse is almost always to try to figure things out on my own. While this does get me into trouble sometimes, my successes so far outnumber my utter failures (utter failures being defined as those that did not subsequently become learning moments leading to much better results).

However, occasionally a little help is in order, and I have reached one of those occasions.  In recent weeks, I’ve shared two of my new songs on Soundcloud: 

Clouds, and In A Minor Key

I love them both very much, and think that both are interesting showcases for my songwriting.  However, I don’t quite feel like they fully capture what I wanted to hear. At this point the songs might well benefit from an objective, expert touch, so I’m going to ask a professional to work their magic with them. I’ll share the results with you as soon as I have them.

cws5In the meantime, there’s plenty of music to enjoy.  I hope you were able to join us last Friday for the Tunnel 18 anniversary event. If you weren’t, here is the recording – it was a great evening, and I’d really love it if you had a listen!

Also, a quick reminder: you can find me every Tuesday night at the Apocalyptic Open Mic.

We desperately need to embrace art, joy, community, and the things that give life meaning right now. For me, music is one of those great bridges. I hope that you, too, can find the things that connect you with your fellow humans and with the universe at large.

Please be good and kind to each other. And I look forward to seeing you all really soon.

-Chris

Playing some music and raising a little money

CWS2Hi everyone. Relatively short post here today. I want to remind y’all that I will be playing some music live this Friday night at 8:30 Boston time on Facebook live. Here is the link to join in. I’d love for you to stop by to listen to some old familiar tunes and maybe a couple of new ones, and I also hope that you will consider clicking here to make a donation to the Glioblastoma Foundation, which does a tremendous amount of good work in caring for glioblastoma patients and working to develop better treatments.  When (not if, I’m certain) the disruption and risk of the current pandemic subside, the doctors and researchers looking to beat diseases such as these will still need our help to do their good work. So please – for the sake of Donald, Neal, Gord, and tens of thousands of others past and present, give what you can. (There are also links on the Tunnel 18 facebook page)glioblastoma-foundation-logo

Thank you, and I promise I will spend our time together on Friday in a spirit of celebration. And I will look forward to seeing all of you in person and singing together very, very soon!

-Chris