Entries in new music (5)


But that's not new

I have this conversation with myself quite often. Don't worry, I keep it inside my own head most of the time. I lie awake at night trying to figure out what comes next for me musically. I struggle to develop an approach or concept that will drive the next batch of songs and set them apart both from my previous work and somehow allow them to stand apart from all music past and present. I'm not doing too well with those struggles and that bothered me quite a bit until I wrote The Pursuit Of New.

I feel a little better now. See, music can't always be completely new and absolutely unrelated to the music that preceded and surrounds it. Every musical work (and really any creative work) is a melding of influences both internal and external. Just the internal component alone pretty much guarantees that what I create will be different from anything ever created. There never has been and never will be anyone just like me, and if I simply channel who I am into the music, it really can't end up being like anything else. Then, on top of that, if I draw on the music I listen to, a unique, eclectic collection of influences, how could my next works not end up standing on their own?

It's amazing how music works that way. Most music is restricted to 12 notes, often 8 or less. Most popular music leverages 4-6 instruments, including the human voice and even orchestral music relies on a very well-defined, centuries-old collection of instruments. And yet, every song and every performance of that song is unique. Much like the complex genetic and developmental process that guarantees each of us are unique, similarly every musical performance stands alone. There are so many elements even when a power trio gets on stage, tempo variation, slight pitch variation, room response, audience response. Every single song performance is unique.

By the time I come to the table with a song that I've written... By the time I find other musicians to help me capture that performance live or recorded... By the time that performance reaches your ears... It is guaranteed to be unique. It may not be brand new and entirely unrelated to the music I've heard before. Maybe if I chose to play nothing but reggae-infused quarter-tone polka, leveraging only power tools as instruments, then maybe I'd completely distinguish myself from everything that came before. Even that, however, would not be completely unrelated. It would draw on reggae and polka; other musicians have composed with quarter-tones and power tools have been used as tone sources.

The more I listen to and enjoy music, the more I realize it's not about reinventing yourself. Food tastes good not because the latest big-name chef has decided to throw away all known ingredients and cook with only what is mopped off the floor at your local auto repair shop. Nope, tomatoes, potatoes, salt and pepper still taste good after all these years. A chef can cook a unique meal using known ingredients, without needing the chemists of tomorrow to continuously concoct brand new ingredients. Music is the same way, guitars, violins, drums and the human voice still make great music. Not everything needs to be newly synthesized and modeled, but it can be. It's more a question of how you put it all together.

I've got access to all the ingredients I need and can generate something uniquely David. Not only can I, but I will and I look forward to experiencing the results along with all of you. I also look forward to experiencing all of your unique creations. Life is fun when we experience things. That's really what newness is about, it's the freshness of experience. The more we can find in our day-to-day meanderings that we view through fresh, open eyes, the more interesting each day is. Some of those experiences aren't always fun, but the freshness is still a valuable source of drive and stimulation.

While you're out there experiencing each day with a fresh outlook, let me know what you discover. What are the key things that make your day interesting, and what music serves as the soundtrack?


Mnemic - they're not your Mnemesis

When I took over KGLT's "Loud Rock Director" responsibilities, my first week was an adventure in new music. I suddenly had access to the latest metal releases, days or even weeks before the general public. One of the albums that showed up as an "add" for the upcoming week was Mnemic's "Mnemesis". Denmark's self described "future metal" band has carved out a unique blend of styles over the years, and their latest release hammers home the point.

When I listen to Mnemic, I hear many things. They combine elements of the Gothenburg sound associated with In Flames and Engel with some shock rock textures that are more at home in the music of Marilyn MansonWhite Zombie and Powerman 5000. They bludgeon you like the best death metal band and then cross check you with soaring, textural hooks. "I've Been You" is a great example of that contrast, starting with pounding industrial death metal and finishing up with spacious textures and vocal harmonies.

"Transcend", the first single from "Mnemesis" is a great place to start exploring Mnemic's material. From there, I recommend listening to "Pattern Platform" and "There's No Tomorrow" to get a sense for the band's range. It's hard to say whether there's a time of day or mood that's best suited to experiencing Mnemic. They sound great when they're loud, but the more surreal elements of their songs would work just as well for those introspective cloudy days. I highly recommend exploring Mnemic's work in-depth. They are unique, deep and refreshing and I hope you enjoy the discovery.


Object Writing: A Creative Catalyst

Recently, I stumbled onto a YouTube video of Pat Pattison describing the online Lyric Writing: Tools And Strategies class he put together for Berklee College of Music. I have been trying to jumpstart my own creative process, especially where words are concerned, and was immediately captivated by Pat's description of the class. It didn't take much thought before I knew that I wanted to take the class and, as luck would have it, the new term was starting in only a few weeks.

I have now been taking the class for 6 weeks, and it's been an amazing and rewarding experience. The class focuses on tools you can use to get from a raw idea to a finished set of lyrics. We've learned a great deal about structure, rhyme schemes and how the overall assembly influences the character of your song. But, the key element for me, object writing, began on day 1 and has continued throughout the class. It's been the secret to getting me immersed quickly again and has served to funnel my creative juices rapidly into new songs.

Starting that first day and every day since then, we've been expected to do object writing. This was an entirely new process for me. Essentially you start with a word and then proceed to develop words, thoughts and phrases that are drawn from that word. We try to focus on all the senses, and the results can vary greatly in how directly they relate to the original word. Sometimes the writing immediately diverges from the original word, never to return. In other cases the writing stays locked solidly on the word.

We use a timer and vary our writing from 90 seconds, to 5 minutes and as long as 10 minutes. Each day of the week is a different word, and many days vary in duration. Berklee gives us the words via an online tool, so we don't know the word until we're sitting down doing the assignment. I typically do my object writing early in the morning, right after I wake up. I find that really helps to keep my brain from getting too intellectual and helps make sure there's a smooth creative flow.

After each object writing exercise, all students submit their work and we all have access to everyone's writings. One of the keys to the success of this class (and I consider it one of the best classes I've ever taken) is how interactive it is. All of the students are involved in reviewing each other's writing. It works in a fairly organic way, there are no rules or instructions about who should review what, but this group of students is great about keeping up with each other's writing and providing regular constructive feedback so that we all get lots of input.

There are websites that help you with your object writing routine;  are examples. However, if you have any opportunity to do your object writing with friends, family or peers, I highly recommend it. It's a really great experience to take turns picking seed words and then sitting together to do the object writing. When the timer runs out, you can all read each other's work. I think you'll be surprised at how sometimes everyone ends up with completely different results and other times there are common themes, even similar phrases shared in everyone's work. Doing your object writing together with others also serves as a great springboard for songwriting collaboration and is both fun and rewarding.

I've gone from struggling to generate just a few words to being genuinely confident that, even under time pressure, I can crank out ideas and song lyrics in both good quantity and self-satisfying quality. Although, the many techniques from this class have helped me hone my lyrics, I really have to give all the credit to object writing when it comes to getting the ideas flowing in the first place. If writing creatively, regularly and under pressure is a goal for you, I highly recommend that you try object writing for yourself. Establish a daily routine and stick to it, then look back at it after a few weeks and then again after a month or two. Let me know how that affects your creative process, and your satisfaction with the results. And then, if you still want more, check out Berklee's online course catalog.


Lullacry - Their latest: "Where Angels Fear"

After more than a half decade, Lullacry is back with a new album. Having only discovered them in the last 2-3 years I was disappointed to realize that their most recent release was from 2005 and their web site indicated they were searching for a new label. I was worried we'd have to go without new Lullacry material indefinitely. Thankfully, that changed over the last year. Status updates on the website indicated that not only were they back in the studio, but they had made headway on a label for a new album release.

Then over the course of April 2012, "Where Angels Fear" was released around the world and we finally have new music from the band since 2005. I have already and will continue to play songs from the new album on my KGLT radio show. Lullacry hits me right where it counts. They are always melodic, powered by Sami Leppikangas' wall of guitars and Tanja Lainio's emotional vocals. I played the title track, "Where Angels Fear" during my radio show on May 5th, and am looking forward to playing "I Am", and "Antidote To You" in upcoming shows. You can check out their video for the first single, "Bad Blood" on the band's website or on YouTube.

The "Where Angels Fear" album is, to my ear, edgier than the band's earlier material. I don't know if this was a concerted effort or a natural progression but either way it works well for Lullacry. The album sounds fresh and full of energy. The years since their previous release ("Vol. 4", 2005) have helped the band come back with a vengeance, sounding both solidly Lullacry and absolutely contemporary.

I don't know what my chances are of seeing Lullacry in the U.S., so a trip to Finland may be my best bet to catch their show. If you haven't heard the band before, go check them out on your favorite internet music service. If you're lucky enough to live near one of their tour destinations, please go check out their show and give me a play-by-play. I may need to enjoy the show vicariously through your experiences, at least for now. Can you do yourself (and me) that favor?


For finding new music, I prefer analog search

We have iTunes. We have Pandora. We have Facebook. We have and Spotify and MOG. So, where have I discovered most of my favorite bands?

I tried Pandora a few times. Awhile back, I tried creating a station based on two bands I love, Sevendust and Systematic. I started listening to it, and as one might expect the first couple songs were from Sevendust and Systematic. Then the station started throwing other bands at me. The first few of those sounded like weak knockoffs of Sevendust and Systematic. But then, the real fun kicked in. The station started playing me singer-songwriter material, including a number of songs recorded with only acoustic guitar and vocals. Not quite James Taylor, but bordering on that. This is in no way a criticism of singer-songwriters or acoustic guitar, but I'd venture to guess that most of us that are in the mood to hear Sevendust, Systematic and similar artists are not really interested in having our attention interrupted by a mellow ballad on acoustic guitar. I thought, hmmm, maybe I screwed up the station settings. No, when I dug around a bit, I noted that one of the characteristics that Pandora associates with Sevendust is acoustic guitar. To be fair, Sevendust, does use acoustic guitars and they do a ballad here and there. Still, their work always lands far away from singer-songwriter ballads and when I put together a Sevendust/Systematic station, I'm expecting Heavy!

Now, does quite a bit better for me. If I look up one of my favorite bands on and stream their associated station, I will often discover some bands that I haven't heard of that I like. Usually, the hit rate is 30-50%, where the remainder I don't like, regardless of whether I've heard of them or not. For me, it's a much more useful discovery tool than Pandora but still falls well short of what I look for when I'm trying to discover artists that I like.

Given that the digital age hasn't quite given me the ideal tool for discovering new bands, how do I discover most of the bands that get added to my library? From people... A few years back, Steve Shumake ran a Live 365 radio station named VonGoober Radio. I discovered it at some point and was awestruck by how many of the songs were a) new to me and b) exactly the kind of music I love. I discovered dozens of bands every time I listened to the station. It led to a great period of musical discovery for me, broadening my listening to include bands from Finland, Sweden, Germany and throughout the world. My own music library grew rapidly during that period and the newly discovered bands had a big influence on my musical arrangements and songwriting. So for me, a single human music mentor is orders of magnitude more effective at expanding my musical knowledge than the sum total of all the digital services out there. The key is that Steve likes similar music and has a big appetite. When he discovers new music, he makes it known to the rest of us, and I know from past experience that if Steve likes it, it's very likely that I will like it as well. Steve eventually decided to shut down the radio station but he still maintains a VonGoober group if you'd like to explore his taste in music.

Looking back at digital tools, I do find Wikipedia to be a powerful tool for discovering new music. Whenever I notice myself asking the question, "What ever happened to that band...?", I look them up in Wikipedia and find out. That often leads me to discover they split up and started new bands, or renamed themselves or just reunited and are due to release a new album. Still, this isn't really at the heart of what I imagined would be possible on the web. In a general sense, the innately "analog" learning channel, human advice, is still much more accurate and reliable for me than any of the recommendation/rating services online. Perhaps someday that will change, but for now... Thanks Steve!

Where do you discover most of your music?