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Some of you might remember that I announced 2017 as the year of my De-Tunia project. This was a concept I’ve had in the back of my mind for a while, returning to a more experimental recording approach built on layers of rhythms and pure play. The idea was to share works in progress throughout the year and once I had an album’s worth of tracks, do a final mix & master and put the whole thing out online, digital-only.

I was pretty excited to build new tracks this way, and began in earnest right away in the month of January. By the end of the month, I did a rough mix of the track I was working on and excitedly posted it online, promoted it and sat back to enjoy the feedback and online discourse I had been imagining would be a crucial aspect of the project.

I won’t lie to you–engagement with my post was low. So low, I got discouraged. Maybe the fault lies with me–maybe I communicated poorly about it, or maybe the music is just too weird, or maybe people don’t want to be bothered with “works in progress.” The idea was to keep people engaged and interested, and give them a peek into the creative process. But even just writing that last sentence, I got bored. Unless you’re someone’s favorite band, why would they listen to works in progress?

So I’m rethinking the whole thing. Moving forward, I don’t think I’ll share what I’m working on right now. That means you won’t hear anything from me for a while. Like, maybe a couple of years. But I hope that when you finally hear what I cooked up in that time, you’ll like it.

Then again, who knows what may happen?

Mystics_EP_jacket

For Mystics Anonymous, 2016 was pretty eventful. We finished up our new EP, She Wanted the Future, and released it halfway through the year in June. In addition to the usual download and CD versions, we had a limited edition version that came with a 10-page comic book illustrated by Ingrid Steblea. That was partially funded by an Indiegogo campaign, and we thank everyone who pre-ordered that way and helped make it happen! Once released, the EP garnered some very positive reviews in the press and even a little airplay, most notably on Boston Free Radio and the Sokol Heroes show on 93.9 The River. Thanks, guys!

Mystics also played some fun shows–a few rare solo shows from yours truly, with covers from Camper Van Beethoven and Echo & the Bunnymen sprinkled in among other surprises. Two EP Release shows with the full band and special guests in fun rooms with good crowds! Two tribute shows, for Prince and Leonard Cohen, respectively. For Prince, I put together a big band and we had a blast opening the night by playing a medley of three big Prince songs–1999, Pop Life, and Raspberry Beret. For the Cohen tribute, I did a solo electric version of First We Take Manhattan. Odd fact? I almost opened our Luthier’s Co-Op show in October with a solo ukulele version of Careless Whisper, and now we have also bid farewell to George Michael. Yikes. Next, we ended the year with a raucous set at The Rendezvous to a small crowd during the first winter storm. Thanks very much to everyone who performed on stage with Mystics this year, and everyone who showed up to watch us do our thing. I hope we did you right.

Finally, this year’s digital holiday single was a rendition of Baby, It’s Cold Outside featuring myself and Brandee Simone in an improvised duet. That was a blast to record, and I think it got the most eyeballs (or ear-somethings?) than any digital holiday single we’ve ever released. I hope you enjoyed it!

So, 2016 wasn’t all bad. And what’s up for 2017? Well, one thing is for sure: I am embarking on the next Mystics project, and this one will be an experimental music project called De-Tunia. Look for tracks to be posted online throughout the year.

And if you’ve read this entire blog post, and you’re paying attention to Mystics Anonymous, I want to thank you on behalf of myself and my fellow Mystics. Knowing there’s an audience out there helps a lot when things are tough or require a lot of work to make happen. Long live independent music!

We lost another one. It makes sense that we’re going to be losing more and more music icons as the generation from the heyday of rock n’ roll continues to age, I guess. Just another sad reality we have to get used to. And sad reality was Leonard Cohen’s stock in trade. Or maybe sad surreality.

Since his passing, many people have been posting their favorite Leonard Cohen songs all over social media, making their Leonard Cohen playlists, and in general celebrating his work and legacy. And of course we’ve all heard “Hallelujah” a thousand times in the last few weeks. I would like to share a few lesser-known Cohen covers from other favorite artists of mine, especially since that’s how I came to Leonard Cohen myself.

First, here’s the Pixies covering “I Can’t Forget”:

 

Next, here’s R.E.M. covering “First We Take Manhattan”:

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds covering “Avalanche”:

 

Concrete Blonde covering “Everybody Knows”:

In a small way, I will pay tribute to Cohen myself in a few weeks, when The Rendezvous in Turners Falls hosts a Cohen tribute night. On Saturday December 10th join me and a number of other local artists as we play Cohen songs and drink to his memory. The Rendezvous is a great venue, you can check it out here: http://rendezvoustfma.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sad. Went to bed with the news of George Martin’s death. Woke up in the middle of the night to the news that it was a hoax. Then woke up this morning to the news that it is indeed true. Rest in Peace, Mr. Martin. You forever shaped how I listen to and create music.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/10/arts/music/george-martin-producer-of-the-beatles-dies-at-90.html?_r=1

http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/music/posts/la-et-ms-watch-george-martin-los-angeles-god-only-knows-brian-wilson-20160309-story.html

 

 

25 years ago today, R.E.M. released Losing My Religion, which signaled the exact midpoint between early R.E.M. and later R.E.M. After this megahit, things would never be the same for them, or for music in general. A #1 worldwide hit with mandolin? Really? No one could call it calculated. If anything, this track was a bit of a throwback to Fables-era R.E.M. and a far cry from the brash rock of the preceding three albums. The decade-long run of college rock (aka alternative, or indie) had now well and truly bubbled up to the mainstream surface. It’s no mistake that mere months later, Nevermind would top the charts as well, heralding a sea change in what kinds of music were popular. Here’s the very first live performance of the song.

https://soundcloud.com/chartstonge/lmr

I’m a big music geek. Surprise, surprise. I love listening to the albums I’ve collected, whether they are vinyl, CDs, cassettes, or digital-only. Usually, in addition to just listening to whatever thing I’m into at the moment, I also go through my collection to ensure I listen to it regularly. This also gives me a chance to re-evaluate what I have. Sometimes I purge stuff, realizing I just don’t love it enough to own it anymore. But more often than that, I am reminded of just how amazing each album is.

Anyway, last April my friend Nicole challenged me to listen to all of the albums I own, in alphabetical order by album title. At first, I refused. But then I decided to go ahead and do it because it would offer yet another way to enjoy my collection. And listening to albums by title is very different–it juxtaposes all kinds of music, and the transitions are great. I have a pretty eclectic collection, so it can flow from classic jazz to alternative rock to chamber pop to hard rock to spoken word, etc.

For myself, I made a few rules to keep it enjoyable: no compilations, no live albums, no classical or orchestral score music. Basically, I kept it studio albums in the pop/rock/jazz vein. This way, I reckoned, it really is about “the album” as an artistic statement.

I’m about halfway through my collection at this time. I think I may actually make it all the way through. If you have albums–again, whatever medium they’re on–I really recommend doing this project. Too often, people don’t listen to albums anymore. Everything is on shuffle all the time, and that can lessen the impact of an artist’s statement, and you may not have the deeper relationship with a piece that you would have if you listened to the whole thing.

And no matter how often you listened to it in your youth, Dark Side of the Moon is going to be a great listen.

Opening Up

The most important lesson I’ve learned in my life so far is to be open to new things. Too often we close doors ourselves, narrowing our own choices, convincing ourselves that we are “not into” something or that we’re “not that type of person / artist / musician.” But this limits our experiences, and keeps us from learning and investigating–in my opinion, one of the main objectives of life.

But what’s odd about this is that, though I first learned this lesson long ago, I continue to learn it all the time. I find new ways in which I’ve limited myself, and these often have been in front of me all along. For example, as a guitar player, I’ve long thought of myself as a “songwriter guitarist” and have always limited myself in terms of being a true “guitar player”–whether this means someone who solos, or can play other people’s songs, etc. This has been relatively easy for me to do for years, as I was not concentrating on guitar playing. I was more often playing bass in collaborative, real-time settings, and only playing guitar around the house, most often as a way of composing.

But then, a few things happened. One is that Mystics Anonymous began performing live occasionally, and so I dusted off my guitars and began playing songs on guitar again, often re-learning things I wrote years ago or things I only played guitar on a few times as I recorded them. Some of them I even wondered if I could play guitar and sing at the same time–something I rarely did while recording.

The second thing that happened is I found myself more often playing with friends in an improvisational way. Sometimes I would play bass, or keyboards, or drums, or other things, but when I played guitar in this type of setting, I found myself really stretching out and playing in ways I rarely or never played before. It was fun. And liberating. And I learned a lot about the instrument as I did this. And it reawakened my interest in just “playing” guitar–not just using it as a composing tool, but just being in the moment and reveling in the instrument itself and what it can do.

The third thing is that, in the past 18 months or so, I began learning other people’s songs again. Something that, other than in my teens, I really didn’t do that often. Historically, I found learning other people’s songs to be largely boring (I’m not talking about other bands I’m in, I love that type of learning other people’s songs–I’m talking about listening to albums from major artists and figuring out how to play their songs). This came about through playing live, and often playing tribute nights. Suddenly, I was learning and understanding (or re-learning) how songs were constructed by Lou Reed, Brian Eno, David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker), XTC, Harry Nilsson, Robyn Hitchcock, Michael Nesmith, and The Band. This opened me up, not only as a player, but as a songwriter myself.

I’ve spoken with other artists and musicians about this, many of them far more accomplished than myself, and it seems a pretty common experience. There’s always more to learn. There’s always another way to be more open. And it teaches us so much.

So what have I done? I’ve begun playing guitar again more and more, actually buying some new pedals and getting interested in the instrument again. I’m still not a great guitar player, but I’m having a blast and learning and growing. I have a feeling it will show on my next album. Until then, excuse me while I go and crank up my amp…

XTC famously went out with the one-two punch of its Apple Venus Volume 1 and Wasp Star (Apple Venus Volume 2), the first of which came out in 1999, seven years after their previous album due to a self-imposed strike protesting the band’s treatment at the hands of its label. In short, us XTC fans were rabid and deprived, and this was a wealth of new material. And all in all, this was a good thing.

Of note, however, is that the Apple Venus project was initially conceived as a double album. At some point during the process, the band decided to split it into two separate, discrete albums. One would be the “acoustic with strings” album (what eventually was called Apple Venus Volume 1) and one would be the “electric guitar” album (Wasp Star). Dave Gregory disagreed with this approach, and conflict over the decision eventually led to his departure from the band before the release of either volume.

When Apple Venus Volume 1 was released, it was a revelation. I love it, and I think most reviews were overwhelmingly positive, calling it ambitious and delightfully poppy in that great Beatles and Beach Boys way of experimentation, unusual instrumentation and composition, and great use of the recording studio as an instrument. Also, how could you not love the soul-searching songs of a post-divorce Partridge such as “Your Dictionary?”

But when the second volume, Wasp Star, was released, it was met with much more neutral to negative reviews, and indeed my initial reaction was muted in comparison to the first volume. In the intervening years, I’ve come to realize that Wasp Star is actually filled with great songs, and perhaps XTC did the material a disservice by splitting it into its own album.

So what if the band had followed its original plan and released a double album with these 23 songs, rather than the two discrete albums? What would such an album sound like? Well, in typical muso fashion, I set out to devise the fictional tracklist of the XTC album that never was, which I call “Apple Venus.” In this alternate universe, XTC’s last album is not the slightly underwhelming but underrated Wasp Star, but a big, ambitious, eclectic double album in the vein of the White Album.

Here’s my fictional tracklist. If you own both albums, you can create this playlist or burn these versions of the album. If you’re a super geeky audio editing freak like me, trim some of the silence at the end of “The Last Balloon” for a wonderful segue into “The Wheel and the Maypole.” I think it works quite well, and I hope you do too! Enjoy!

APPLE VENUS

DISC 1

01. River of Orchids

02. I’d Like That

03. I’m the Man Who Murdered Love

04. Easter Theatre

05. Wounded Horse

06. My Brown Guitar

07. Harvest Festival

08. We’re All Light

09. Knights in Shining Karma

10. You and the Clouds Will Still Be Beautiful

11. In Another Life

12. Your Dictionary

DISC 2

01. Playground

02. I Can’t Own Her

03. Standing in for Joe

04. Fruit Nut

05. Stupidly Happy

06. Church of Women

07. Frivolous Tonight

08. Green Man

09. Boarded Up

10. The Last Balloon

11. The Wheel and the Maypole

So many great shows to check out, so little time! Here are four off the top of my head that you should be considering, if you’re not already. I’m sure there’s more, but here are the ones I’m thinking of at the moment…

First, the amazing Lady Lamb the Beekeeper plays a show at the intimate venue, The Parlor Room, in Northampton, MA. Her 2013 album Ripely Pine is one of my top picks for the year, and her live shows are not to be missed. The fact that she’s playing such a great, small room is nothing short of amazing, and probably not to be repeated. This happens this coming Tuesday, December 3. Learn more and buy tickets here:  http://www.ticketfly.com/event/395219-lady-lamb-beekeeper-northampton/

Second, at the same great venue, you can see Mark Mulcahy this coming Friday, December 6. He’s playing two shows, an early one at 7 pm and a late one at 9 pm. His 2013 album, Dear Mark J. Mulcahy, I Love You, is another of my top picks for the year. Two amazing friends and fellow area musicians will be backing Mulcahy–fellow Mystic Ken Maiuri and Henning Ohlenbusch. Another not-to-be-missed show! Learn more and buy tickets here: http://www.ticketfly.com/event/395309-mark-mulcahy-northampton/

Third, you can see five amazing bands–Sitting Next to Brian, Original Cowards, Banditas, The Fawns, and Boy Toy at The Elevens on Saturday December 7. Fellow Mystic Brian Marchese plays in both Sitting Next to Brian (his baby) and The Fawns. You can learn more here: https://www.facebook.com/events/532829280129194/

Fourth, at the Iron Horse in Northampton, MA, on Friday December 13, there will be a double-bill well worth your time. My friends Colorway, who released their most excellent self-titled debut this year (another of my top picks!) opening for the equally amazing Z3, a powerhouse organ trio that plays the music of Frank Zappa! And on this date, they will be joined by veteran Zappa player Ed Mann!

I want to sincerely thank everyone who contributed to the Dreaming for Hours Indiegogo campaign.  Over 60 days, we raised $2,045, exceeding the goal of $2,000.  Raising these funds ensured that the album was professionally and lovingly mixed at Sonelab with Mark Alan Miller, and that it will be produced in a beautiful package featuring the artwork of Herta, and complete with a booklet of lyrics and liner notes. Right now, we are in the middle of mastering the album and finalizing the artwork, and there are great plans afoot for a music video and an album release show.

I wanted to point out that over time, several great friends and performers came into the studio to lend their prodigious talents to the album, and so the album features not only myself, but:

Erik Amlee (Paradise Camp 23, Erik Amlee)

Pat Garland (Groove Shoes, Fiesta Brava)

Andrew Goulet (Salvation Alley String Band, True Value)

Daniel Hales (Daniel hales, and the frost heaves, The Ambiguities)

Dave Hamilton (Fling, Chafed, Go Figure, Hypnotic Clambake)

Ray Keane (Fiesta Brava)

Steve Koziol (Span of Sunshine, Something Else)

Ken Maiuri (Mark Mulcahy, Young at Heart Chorus, Heather Maloney, Pedro the Lion, School for the Dead, and others)

Brian Marchese (Mark Mulcahy, Haunt, School for the Dead, The Aloha Steamtrain, Sitting Next to Brian, The Fawns, and others)

Rick Murnane (Rick Murnane Band, Group DeVille)

Chris Rea (Fiesta Brava, The Westies, Eleventh Hour)

Brandee Simone (Salvation Alley String Band)

Matt Silberstein (Salvation Alley String Band, Swillmerchants)

Matt Snow (Fiesta Brava)

Some of you may remember this, but I had some difficulty during recording at the Gondwanaland studio. While tracking the above contributors, my studio software started to act glitchy, and finally in August stopped working altogether.  I was just weeks away from having all of the recording done, and had already booked two dates for mixing at Sonelab in mid-September.  Cue weeks of troubleshooting and anxiety, during which I was afraid I might lose some of what I recorded.

Long story short, those troubles were successfully resolved, and happily nothing was lost during that time!  The only bummer was that I was one month behind my original estimated schedule. Recording resumed, and I mixed the album with Mark Alan Miller at Sonelab on 10/28 and 10/29.  Now, as I said, we are in the middle of mastering, finalizing the artwork, planning the release show and video, etc.

Those of you who signed up for just the digital download will receive a code from me via email that will enable you to go online and download the album.  Those of you who signed up for a physical CD will receive the physical CD and any other perks you specified via mail.  I will send these out as soon as they arrive back from the plant.  If you’re local and you’d rather wait to pick up your CD and perks at the future release show, just let me know and I’ll hold onto them until that time.  The release show is being planned for January.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the Mystics Soundcloud page for rough mixes that I’ll be posting as we finish up the album.  And thanks again to all of the Indiegogo contributors, whose support was invaluable and inspiring.  I sincerely believe the album will have us all Dreaming for Hours!

Cheers,

Jeff