Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Mystery Of Mastering

I'm sitting in the mastering room at Engine Room Studios and having to come to terms with the fact that I don't know a damn thing about mastering. It makes it louder, right? It makes everything cohesive? But what exactly is happening? Christian, our mastering engineer, calls mastering "the black art." That sounds like something I could get on board with.

We just finished listening to Autolux's album Future Perfect as a reference point for our album. That got me excited, as the Autolux record is one of my favorite sounding records of the last decade. Now we're listening to our opening track, "This Would Be The Time" and Christian is playing the last minute and half over and over while tweaking all sorts of compression and EQ knobs. First he makes the record sound like we're listening to it through a line of string and a tin can. More knobs twist. Now the record sounds like it's underwater, with huge bass swoons and swells. Then he cuts the bass all together and the mids shine through like glaring sunlight through clouds on a hangover morning.

A rapid succession of clicks as if he is trying 15 different channels ensues, a slight pop like a needle skipping separating each one. A quick check on our reference. Silence. He switches some more knobs. He says he's having trouble matching the kick in our recording to the level of that in the Autolux. Perhaps Autolux is not the best reference?
We listen to Built To Spill. Still no match. Christian is of the opinion that we need to bring the kick up in the mixes. It's a sobering statement, one whose implication could throw a serious monkey wrench in this whole business. Going backwards to the mixing stage is the last thing in the world I want to do, but listening to other recordings, Christian has a valid point. In order to make the record sound as big as possible, the man needs more kick.

Oh, the mysteries of mastering, if only you'd remained as such.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Summer Darling CA Mini Tour Diary Day 4: Vanaprasta, By Sunlight, & Shiloe.

We were very honored last night to be able to play with 3 bands who we respect as musicians and as people (with the possible exception of a certain female Rush-loving shit talking bassist) and end our 4 days of rock and roll with a joyous celebration.

Vanaprasta was the first band on the bill and one of the things I immediately respected about them was the amount of hard promotional work they must have done to get a great crowd out early. There seems to be an unwritten understanding of excusable malaise if you are either the midnight or nine o'clock slot in LA. This is not always the case, as bands like Vanaprasta and Shiloe reminded everyone last night, but this unspoken attitude says that if you're not the headliner, you don't have to promote as hard. I'm sure we've been guilty of that in the past, so last night's kick in the pants will not be soon forgotten.

Besides owning the show crowd-wise, let's take a minute to recognize how good a band Vanaprasta is. Vanaprasta is stoney without being boring, enigmatic without being preachy, and rock and roll without the pretension. I see them raising the bar of the local scene this year.

By Sunlight is from Seattle and what I like about them is they seem to be doing something similar to what we're doing: borrowing from 90s indie rock and reinterpreting it for today. I love their meter changes and the way their set is one continuous jam. I've always been impressed by their work ethic and professionalism. Somebody sign this band, for Chrissake.

Long time readers of this blog need no introduction to one of my favorite bands, Shiloe. They are the loudest fucking band in Silver Lake, which makes me very very jealous. Last night was no exception as they tore through their set in blazing fashion. Melissa, you need to buy a 2 x 15 cab. It rumbled my soul in a good way. Dan is a freight train of a drummer and Ken's guitar playing seems to expand and contract at the same time creating an effect that is at once ethereal and precise. I imagine them as the perfect link between shoegaze and no wave.

Did you miss us? Here's a video of questionable quality:

Our thanks to the bands we played with over the last few days and the venues that welcomed us. Most importantly we sincerely appreciate all of you who came out to see us play. A special shout out goes to our Long Beach friends who surprised us by coming out last night. Thank you all very much. Love, SD

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Summer Darling CA Mini Tour Diary Day 2 & 3

Sunday was one of those long days, a day where each section seemed elongated and stretched out like silly putty. It gets thinner and thinner and holes begin to form and the light shines through and then finally when just a few strands remain connected, time gets wadded back up into a ball only to be pulled apart again. The morning seemed to take forever, waiting on us all to get our shit together and packed into our Volvo 240 wagon. We were blessed enough to be borrowing gear from Highway Patrol allowing us to all go in one car.

The drive seemed to take forever, which wasn't necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. The grapevine was covered in sunshine and snow, the hills refracting light like gigantic prisms. People were lined up on the empty frontage roads, parking wherever their cars would fit and flocking out into the white fields with makeshift cardboard sleds and thermoses of Campbell's and coffee. From the mountains the 5 empties out into a wide flat valley emerald in color from our weeks of rain. When we stopped for gas we received scary news: Josh, the lead singer and guitarist for Highway Patrol, was sick with a high fever and they were on the verge of regrettably canceling their performance.

Now Josh is a subject of a whole other blog that I'm planning for February as part of my Heywood musical history month series, but the long and short of it is he's my best friend and I've never had the pleasure of playing with his band and for a while I was very saddened by this news. However, it all worked out and judging by the below photo, he seemed well enough to rock the hell out of Hotel Utah.

I guess that's the funny thing about playing shows, especially when you're on the road. The whole day revolves around 1 hour of activity and no matter what you do, the day feels long but the show is over before you know it. Hotel Utah was no exception. My parents and Aunt and Uncle were there as well as my best high school and college buddies, so add that to roaring, incendiary sets by us, Highway Patrol, and Reduced To Ruin and you have a show that is over in a blink of an eye or a swig of warm rider beer.
The evening continued with an after party at Josh's home across the bay, and we stayed up way way way way past our bedtime discussing sordid stories from our past love lives and drinking ourselves blind.

Monday was another road day in order to get back in town to finish the recording of our 826LA song, "Mexican Food." Unbeknownst to them, we crashed Matt and JQs pad and did the vocals in their little studio since S Foye was house sitting. We'll owe them some mexican food when they return from South Africa. The vocal recording went smoothly, if not a little crankity. Todd and Heather really fleshed out my main line, adding a lushness the previous versions lacked, so for that I am excited. The song reminds me a bit of early Helmet and Sonic Youth mixed with a really over the top chorus sung in rounds. I can't wait to share it with everyone.

Tonight we finish our adventure at Spaceland, so please come hang out with us and celebrate the conclusion of 96 hours of Summer Darling.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Summer Darling CA Mini Tour Diary Day 1

Saturday Jan 23rd, 2010.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. With a full day of recording ahead of us, we chose Nick’s on North Spring Street. Todd, S Foye and I go over the incidentals of the upcoming session as well as the surprising fact that Florida is chalk full of bald eagles and jaguars.

After we head over to Bedrock Studios in Echo Park where KamranV, who runs Spaceland Recordings, has just opened a brand new recording space and Summer Darling is to be the inaugural session. The best part: it’s all for charity! Bedrock has donated the room and their gear to us for the day so that we can track “Mexican Food,” our song for the upcoming 826LA Benefit Compilation, proving that we too, are not above some charity from time to time.

The room is spacious with a Moroccan flair, reminding us of NRG in the valley. All sorts of toys are ours to use and abuse along with very expensive mics and pres and an HD Pro Tools rig. Todd picks out a DW drumkit while I fool around with my new distortion pedal, the Holy Fire by Creation Audio Labs. It takes a while to debug the system, but Kamran, S Foye, and Tim, the assistant engineer, take it all in stride. The biggest challenge stems from the fact that there stands a gi-normous radio tower pumping Echo Park and Silver Lake with Christian Mexican Radio across the street from Bedrock. So occasionally the amps, guitars, pedals, or mics pick up the signal, proliferating some Dios y Jesus all over the track.

Once we sort through these types of issues, Todd is ready to track. We had done the scratch vocals and guitar to a click track the day before. Upon hearing it in his headphones and playing along, Todd felt the first half of the song was too slow. We bumped the section up about 15BPM and left the back section at the original tempo. Because of the song’s structure, the ploy works remarkably well. With a few minor overdubs, Todd finishes and I head in to do my part. Playing out of my own rig (63 Fender Bandmaster, Wren And Cuff Fuck Off Boost Pedal, and the Holy Fire pedal), the recording goes smoothly enough, and the torch is passed to Dan.

Dan plays through a 15 watt Gibson Les Paul Junior, but soon discards it as the tone isn’t what he was looking for. He fools around with a solid state Fender Twin before ultimately deciding on a Fender Tone Master head and a 4 X 10 Marshal cabinet. Meanwhile Heather has been fooling around with an Ampeg flip top tube bass amp. Originally we think the tone sounds like garbage because of the amp, before realizing, nope, it’s our janky ass bass guitar that was shitting out sour tone. Kamran raids the vaults of his studio and returns with a Gibson Thunderbird bass, which we throw straight through S Foye’s tube preamp. Both Dan and Heather’s parts combine to give the song serious balls. We ran out of time to do vocals, since we had to get to our show in Long Beach at the Basement.

The Basement is real cool club. We’d never played there, but it has a decent sound system headed up by Brian Smith, the ubiquitous Long Beach sound man. Swear to god, this guys has done sound at nearly every one of our recent Long Beach shows no matter where we’ve played. The gig went swimmingly, we were surrounded by friends and well-wishers, the DJ was actually playing awesome music in between songs, and there was plenty of laughter. Heather and I spent our three am drive home from the show reflecting on how much we love our life. The feeling after a good show is one of triumphant euphoria and easily outweighs the feeling after a bad show. The trick is to remember that fact when you’ve just played a bad show, but it’s a trick I’m starting to get better at!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Credit Where Credit's Due

Today I'm working on the credits to the Summer Darling record and noticing that while some things are easily annotated--for example the record was produced by S Foye--other things aren't so obvious. So I'm going to take a brief moment to credit the vagueries that were instrumental in the making of this record.

Matthew Beighley and Jacqueline Santillan get credit for allowing us to invade their house, tune their piano, and bang away on it until we frightened their cat and disrupted their neighbors.

Kenn Shane gets credit for filling in on drums for us while Todd was in Portland. If our live set throughout the first half of 2009 was awesome, it was because of him.

Loop Haro gets credit for being around during the four years it took us to write some of these jams, and for being there during all the aborted recordings of them. He also gets credit for giving me coffee and tums on an empty stomach the morning of one such recording that caused me to shit myself then puke in the alley behind the restaurant at which we were breakfasting. It was a hangover, dude, not heartburn.

Dave Colvin gets credit for tracking a bunch of stuff that didn't get used. I still fear Black Jesus FBI.

If our guitars sound shit-kickingly bad ass on this recording, while due in part to S Foye's magical production, we must also recognize Matthew Holl who runs Wren And Cuff Pedals. His kind donation of prototypes over the past couple of years is our sound, not to mention the custom telecaster I play, which he made.

Ryan Callis gets credit for creating a lot of art that inspired the aesthetic vision of Summer Darling. Even though his designs were not used in the final version of our new record, his work is invaluable to what we do.

Nico Stai gets credit for letting us borrow his amp whenever we wanted to without really asking in order to record blazing guitar parts. He also gets credit for being the first person in Los Angeles to think we were a real band. He also recorded a version of a song that didn't make the record. Sorry, mate, I sound too damn happy on it.

Coors Light gets credit for being so easily drinkable. It can loosen one up without turning all your playing to shit. At least, we hope so.

Remember these fine folks when you read the "official" credits of the record, for their vision and support helped us out a bundle. Thanks everyone!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Th Pressure Of A Full Plate

I must admit to feeling a bit overwhelmed at the moment. Heather and I were in Madison, WI until last monday night and then her mom came to visit Wednesday and left yesterday. Today we begin a whirlwind weekend of amazing Summer Darling activities. We have rehearsal and pre-production for the 826LA benefit recording tonight. The recording begins Saturday. Saturday night we play Long Beach. Sunday night finds us in San Francisco. Monday night we're back in the studio. Tuesday night we're at Spaceland. And then Kissing Cousins play Wednesday night at Echo Curio. Finally, on Thursday the 28th, we head into the studio to master the new record! And all the while we'll be working shifts at our day jobs whenever we can squeeze them in!

I suppose there's no real point to this post other than to say I'm excited to be so active playing music, but I could also use a day off. We hope to see you all at one or more of these events in the next couple of days. Be well!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Power of Personality: Light FM

So much goes into being a successful band. One important thing I've learned that contributes to success and all around bad-assery, I learned from people like Josiah from Light FM. I've seen Light FM a handful of times. They have the hard-to-come-by ability to combine massive guitars and hooky melodies. But I probably would not have seen them the amount of times I have if not for Josiah.

Josiah is a gracious, humble, and generous human being who I respect. I've seen his enigmatic charm put smiles on nearly every face he runs into at a show, and that is an invaluable gift. People want Light FM to be successful because they want Josiah and the other lovely members of his band to be successful. And that is something all of us in bands should take to heart. Here's to not being giant dicks in 2010.

You can help Light FM conquer the masses this year by voting for them as the best emerging band in Los Angeles at Deli Magazine here.

You can catch them live:
Feb 4th @ Tokyo Garden in Fresno
Feb 8th @ Spaceland

New Member Tuesday: Amanda P Joins Kissing Cousins!

The departure of Kara from Kissing Cousins last month left a vacancy that needed to be filled. While Heather considered finding another flutist, she instead decided to use this change as an opportunity to shift the band's direction into new territory. Enter Amanda. She plays guitar and sings, adding a whole new level of bombast and swagger to the all girl group. Chain Letter conducted a brief introductory interview with Amanda to better get to know the newest member of Kissing Cousins.

CLA: Congrats on being a Cousin! Which current member of Kissing Cousins do you think you'll kiss first?

Amanda: Thanks! Probably all of them at once. That’s how it works right? Yaaaay!

CLA: Girls in rock music have a long history of out-there fashion sense. What accessory or clothing item do you have that you never get to wear that you're excited about pulling out for a show?

Amanda: Oh probably some sort of wrist bling. I’m not sure what yet, buuuuut it’s going to be awesome. If it’s sharp we might have a ‘danger zone’ marked off for safety.

CLA: Melissa (KC bassist) is a huge Rush fan. Name a band or artist that you like or that influenced you that may surprise us and tell us why on earth you could possibly like them.

Amanda: Jesus & Mary Chain – they really have the best combination of noise and sweetness. I love how they mix ghost-like sound with feedback & distortion.

CLA: Having a blog, I find it very gratifying to be able to have a forum to talk shit. Say something mean about someone without using their name. Trust me, you'll feel better.

Amanda: This person is not worth talking about too much since their very existence is questionable. They are known for their tendency to eat butts & talk about so-and-so all day. On most occasions you can find him/her swimming in the gutter, looking for snacks. Most of the time, however, he/she is rolls around on the pavement trying to scrub off the ugliness that is his/her soul. :)

CLA: Multiple Choice Section:

a. Cats or Dogs? A: Dogs are best friends. Loyal & so sweet. Cats are dirty & will eat your face. I have 2 just in case I need to throw them in the face of some enemy (like unnamed person of question #4).

b. Bloody Marys or Mimosas? A: Bloody Marys (until last Sunday)

c. Heart or Blondie? A: Blondie - She’s got more sass, pop, and looks bad ass :)

d. TV or film? A: Aaaaa. Film probably.

Kissing Cousins perform Saturday January 23rd @ The Basement in Long Beach

Monday, January 18, 2010

Birth Of A Nickname + David Bazan Show + Summer Darling CA Mini Tour Announced

All the boys who have ever been in Summer Darling have the same nickname: Manny. We're all Manny. It can be confounding hanging out with a group of us because we all call each other Manny. Someone how through inflection and subject matter, we can tell which Manny is being addressed. This actually started in my old band ten years ago. We were on our way to play this festival outside of Portland and this dude tagged along that kept inexplicably calling us all Manny. Roadtrips lend themselves to this sort of perpetuating nomenclature so Manny stuck.

This weekend I witnessed the birth of a new nickname. Saturday night my friend was crowned "Muffin Top." I suppose I could go through the specifics of how and why this nickname came about, but I prefer to let you use your imagination. Now this nickname probably would've died out if this same group of friends hadn't hung out again the very next night at our David Bazan house show. In fact, the lucky recipient of this nickname involved himself in a bit of self-aware myth making by wearing a cummerbund to the show. This resulted in a spirited discussion, much akin to a democratic roundtable, about whether the nickname should include this new twist in the tale. The consensus: this gentleman will now be known as Cummermuffin. As a nickname it's a bit bulky off the tongue, so good news, sir, I give this nickname a week before you go back to being plain ol' Chris.

Below I've posted two selections from last night's show. If you were there, then I don't need to reiterate, but for those who weren't I'll just say it's a unique and special experience, and if you are a Bazan fan it is absolutely worth your time and effort to check one of these shows out. He mentioned he'll be doing more of them later this year, so you'll have your chance. In the meantime you can catch Bazan with a full band live at Alex's in Long Beach on March 8th.

Summer Darling CA Mini Tour Dates

We are playing a few shows this upcoming weekend and we would love to see you all in person. We get to hang out so infrequently these days with our crazy lifestyles, so make it a point to come out to one of these shows and connect with some friends, share some laughs and some beers and enjoy some great music. Each show features a lineup handpicked by us and we will be road-testing selections from our new record which is set for a tentative release date of end of June/early July on Origami Vinyl.

Saturday Jan 23rd @ Basement, Long Beach, CA w/ TWO GUNS and KISSING COUSINS

Sunday Jan 24th @ Hotel Utah, San Francisco, CA w/ HIGHWAY PATROL and REDUCED TO RUIN

Tuesday Jan 26th @ Spaceland, Los Angeles, CA w/ SHILOE, BY SUNLIGHT, and VANAPRASTA

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Crew Have Killed The Captain (But They Still Can Hear His Voice): David Bazan Week Pt. 5

My first spiritual derailment of 2009 came early in the year when the pastor of my church was promoted within his denomination, meaning he was leaving my church. These last 6 years I had continued to listen to the weekly sermons by downloading them from the internet. Although I had no interest to return to an actual church, I enjoyed the sermons, as the pastor had a very practical approach to religion. He specialized in communicating how to live like a Christian in the modern world in a pragmatic and useful way, instead of the many sermons I've heard over the years that are full of dogma, empty theology, and Christian hyperbole. I began to download the new pastor's sermons, but quickly realized, to my disappointment, that these sermons didn't speak to me like the old pastor's. They were messages written by life-long Christians for life-long Christians, filled with nice stories with very little applicable value to the critical thinker.

By the time David Bazan released his first proper solo LP, Curse Your Branches, in September I was already filled with doubt over my spirituality. I began to wonder if my religion was based on one man's understanding of it, and without his understanding, did I really have any of my own? I liken the process of doubt to a tiny hole in a sack filled with grain, or a glass of water left out in the sun; it may take a while and you may not notice it, but eventually the grain and water disappears and you are left with nothing. Each question resulted in five more, and before I knew it was inundated with the sinking feeling that my religion made zero sense.

Curse Your Branches has been described as Bazan's divorce from Christianity, and while that may be over-dramatized, a cursory listen to the lyrics suggests a man who has serious, unresolved doubts of his faith. Below I posted an a brief interview spliced with a live performance I found on the web that seems to sum up the record from Bazan's view better than I ever could:

For me Curse Your Branches solidified my feeling that I am completely alone. I had lost two men who at various times in my life had been spiritual, creative, and moral guides. And while I am still coming to my own conclusions about God and Christianity, one thing is absolutely clear: the journey to discover or abandon God is a solitary one. I am involved currently with some deep discussions with an old band mate of mine who is now a pastor, and boy! it's been insightful and stimulating. I am beginning to feel the value of the process, the excitement in the search, the beauty of not truly knowing. Where for the previous nine months I have felt panicked by my identity-changing doubts and saddened by my loss of security, today I feel hopeful, not so much that there is a specific answer out there that will satisfy this question (because I don't believe there is one), but that the question faith is something that is always changing, like a living organism. In the same way that Science sees its understanding of the world as something always growing, morphing, becoming something new with the capacity to surprise and delight the dedicated follower, so too should our understanding of faith.

David Bazan plays our house show Sunday, January 17th. As this show is sold out, I will try to post something helpfully expository on Monday.

You can catch Bazan with a full band Monday, March 8th at Alex's Bar in Long Beach.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Descent Into Revival: David Bazan Week Pt. 4

Sometime around the release of Control someone began to anonymously send me sermons on CD from my old pastor, Ron Pinkston. It wasn't until nearly a year later in April of 2003 that I listened to one. I was struck by the title: "The Bridge Over The Church." After my three years of leftist zealotry (that included me registering to vote as a member of the Socialist Party, which didn't change until I realized I could not vote in primaries), I began to be troubled by a sneaking suspicion that my problem with God was not so much metaphysical as it was a personal resentment towards His followers. If the Church was God's representative and the Church had done nothing but let me down, what does that say about God? (Editorial side note: There exists in my mind a long litany of transgressions my family and I suffered at the hands of the Church in the name of God, but in order to stay on topic I'll direct the interested reader to revisit Summer Darling's previous 2 EPs which were almost exclusively about those experiences in some form or another.)

The long and short of it was this: when I listened to this sermon in which the pastor was critical of the modern Church's pension towards corporatization and ashamed and apologetic of the many ills the Church committed over the centuries and remorseful for the current state of people's church experiences, I felt revived. I was released from the burden of feeling like I had to agree with the Church in order to believe in God. Over the next five years I would work through and forgive my past issues with the Church and the specific people who had damaged my faith. It was a liberating time, and a painful time, as I had to re-examine the whole of my belief system and somehow integrate my liberal political feelings with my spiritual convictions. I was able to do this.

Meanwhile David Bazan seemed headed in the opposite direction. Pedro the Lion's last LP, Achilles Heel, does its part to walk the same line I lived, balancing faith with secularism, but I remember hearing an advance copy of the record sitting outside a recording studio in March of 2004 with my band-mate, Loop, and feeling sort of disinterested in the songs. I've gone back and revisited the album many times, but the simple fact is that the songs don't speak to me like previous Bazan releases. My obsession with Pedro The Lion faded just like the band. I enjoyed Bazan's 2006 electronic side project Headphones as more proof that no matter the subject matter, Bazan could write the hell out of song (see below) but I stopped wondering what kind of social or metaphysical statement, if any, was being made. (I've since had the conviction that the ascribed meaning I gave to old Pedro jams was my own and that the things I was sure Bazan was saying was very much my own experiences being recycled and reinterpreted through his music. It's actually a beautiful thing about music, see my post on Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 for more on this subject.)

I even gave little afterthought to meeting Bazan for the first time in the spring of 2006 at a festival Kissing Cousins and Map were playing. He seemed funny and charismatic and drunk off his ass, but as those of you who know me know, I am certainly capable of imbibing on a regular basis past the reasonable amount of alcoholic consumption, so I wasn't in any mindset to judge the dude later that night when the poor guy needed to be basically carried to his hotel room. Having read some interviews recently about that time in his life, Bazan admits to having a tough stretch where he sort of lost the plot. But for me it was relatively smooth sailing. My tough time was right around corner.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On Anger And Politicization: David Bazan Week Pt. 3

In the 2 years between the release of Winners Never Quit and Control, Pedro The Lion's seminal 2002 LP, I became politicized. Looking back now I realize that I needed to believe passionately in something, and since my religion no longer inspired me, I grasped onto leftist idealism and socialist philosophy. When I began listening to Control, I discovered a reflective outlet for my own anger and frustration towards my conservative Christian upbringing and current government.

Control was a relentless criticism of puritan morality and commercialism in the form of a story that follows a corporate executive through unseemly affairs that ultimately end in his murder by his estranged wife. It's a bizarre love story that ends in tragedy, and along the way no character is spared, from the lover that promises his fiancee "I would never divorce you without a good reason," to the unfaithful husband calling down rapture, complete with Jesus and his angles, at the moment of the his orgasm with his mistress, to the wife obsessed with getting her face on "the cover of a magazine," to the children contemptuous and undisciplined, to finally, the priest at the funeral who proclaims, "We're all going to die. It could twenty years, it could be tonight. Lately I have been wondering why we go through so much trouble to prolong the pain of being alive." The record ends with the narrator's disparaging conclusion: "Wouldn't it be so wonderful if everything was meaningless? But everything is so meaningful and most everything turns to shit."

The record gave a name to everything I was feeling at the time. I had been made irrelevant by my religion, a belief structure that supported the very policies I was against. My reading and the lectures I was attending reflected the record's scathing criticism of consumerism, corporate greed, and harmful environmental policy. And while Control stops short of being a cry to arms against the conservative ethos that was "evil" in the context of the record, the implications were clear to anyone that was listening. Bazan was onto something wholly other than his own upbringing in the Christian church. Control was the tipping point not only for Bazan, but one that inspired and incited me. Little did I know at the time Bazan and I were about to go in two divergent directions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How Good Is Good Enough? David Bazan Week Pt 2

By the time of Pedro the Lion's second full length album Winners Never Quit in 2000, much had changed for me. I had become a secularist, a closet believer. I had taken a variety of classes at university on the philosophy of religion and more specified classes on Existentialists from Kant to Camus, plus others on Neitzsche, Heideger, and Hegel, among others. Needless to say I was heavily ensconced in my own head. Knowledge of God was just that, knowledge, without any kind of experience. By this time my religion was all but dead, even though I still thought of myself as a believer.

I was also becoming heavily interested in creative writing. I had officially changed my major to reflect an emphasis in creative writing (UCI did not offer a creative writing program at the undergraduate level) and was fascinated by short story writers like Flannery O'Connor and Ernest Hemingway. So when I got ahold of Winners I was stunned with excitement at how narrative the album felt. It read like a short story set to music. Until this moment I had assumed that in most songwriting the "I" of the narrator was synonymous with the songwriter. (From then on my own songwriting was forever altered to reflect this. Most if not all my songwriting tends to be allegorical where the I of the song is not me, Ben Heywood.)

Winners follows the narrative arc of 2 brothers, each sharing first person accounts of the story line depending on the song. I interpreted the album to be an examination of good and evil in terms of the blurry line between modern morality and immorality. One brother is "good" in the eyes of society; he is a politician and a Christian fighting for what he believes is right, yet is capable of cheating and lying to get his way. The other brother is the proverbial fuck up, a drunk who amounts to nothing, but has a stronger sense of morality than his successful brother. The story ends with the "good" brother murdering his wife and then committing suicide while the "evil" brother has ended up in prison. The only overt mention of God comes in the second to last track "Bad Things To Such Good People" where the "evil" brother reflects on the irony of seeing his father down on his knees "crying out to Jesus, 'But Lord I've always done what's right.' " His one "good" son was now dead and gone. The song ends with the refrain "And all the while, the good Lord smiled, and looked the other way."

I took the implication of the album to be connected to the Deist tradition that believes there is a God, but that He is wholly disinterested in human life, a dispassionate creator unconcerned with man's daily struggles. I immediately rejected that conclusion, even if it wasn't the conclusion meant to come from listening to the record. I continued to reason, to this day, in fact, that there was no point in believing in a God like that, and since at the time I knew or felt no other God, I essentially stopped thinking about the question all together.

Monday, January 11, 2010

I Still Have Never Seen You: David Bazan Week Part One

I’m currently 31,000 feet in the air experiencing some mild turbulence and trying to write a blog that can adequately explain why after 30 years I’m no longer sure I believe in the existence of God. To be fair, if I had to make a choice at this very moment, I would say I believe there is a God. An atheist friend of mine and I were having a discussion about this very topic recently and his assertion was that the burden of proof falls on the believer to make the case for God. I opened my mouth to start making that case, but nothing came out. What happened to me?

From 1997 to 2004 David Bazan fronted a band called Pedro the Lion. Bazan has long been associated with the Christain faith, having released his first record on Christian label Tooth & Nail, and done extensive touring of churches and Christian festivals before transitioning into playing bars and clubs as he began to release records for Jade Tree and, most recently, Barsuk.

Upon the release of Pedro the Lion’s Whole EP in 97, I was just finishing high school. I was raised in the Christian church and my parents were pastors the majority of my life. I was your average teenage believer, meaning I believed what I did because I had very few reasons to question it. Sure I had a girlfriend break up with me because “God told her to” and I had a very close friend die in a car accident, but because I was rooted in the same belief system I had been in all my life, these circumstances seemed more like annoyances to my faith rather than deal-breakers. I remember thinking about them and not being able to come to a viable conclusion, so instead of forcing the issue, I just stopped thinking about them.

I started listening to Pedro the Lion that fall during my freshman year of college. I immediately identified with songs like “Nothing” and “Almost There” because of their fresh narrative structure. Bazan had a way of using irony and metaphor that I had never heard before from a “Christian” arstist. To say the songs challenged me to start thinking differently would be to ascribe a fictional importance to them; my questioning was coming from a different source. By the time I saw Pedro the Lion for the first time in 1998, being outside my belief structure, specifically the church I grew up in, already had me exploring the heretic nature of modern philosophy and trying to figure out why I no longer felt anything when I went to church.

It’s then that I heard Pedro the Lion’s It’s Hard To Find A Friend LP and a song called “The Secret of the Easy Yoke.” This song, whose lyrics are quite literally about the narrator's struggle to experience God within the structure of the corporate mega-church, rang true to me. I interpreted the song as a comforting lullaby for the disenfranchised church go-er who still believed in God--and that’s precisely who I was at that time. I felt encouraged, reasoning that I might be able to think critically about the world around me and the religion I grew up in while still holding fast to my belief in God.

This Weeks Chain Letter Happenings

Hey all! I'll be posting later today after I get off the plane, but here's some shows you should check out this week:

Wednesday Jan 13th the Robotanists @ Spaceland
Thursday Jan 14th TS & the Past Haunts @ Echo (unconfirmed)
Friday Jan 15th Modern Time Machines @ Pehrspace


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Video from Madison. WI

Chain Letter will return tomorrow with David Bazan Week in anticipation of his house show we are hosting Sunday January 17th. I will be tracking 2 trajectories of spirituality as it relates to Bazan's music.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Winter Wonderland

Turns out landing in the snow is not nearly as scary as I imagined it was! Heather and I spent the entire day yesterday traveling from Los Angeles to Madison, WI, and the final, heavily delayed landing in Milwaukee was the least interesting part. My highlight was driving west on highway 94 in a snowstorm at night when the windshield wiper of our car went flying off the windshield. With no exit for miles and the wiper hanging like a dead limb off the side of the car we debated whether or not it was a good idea to have Heather hold the wheel from the passenger seat so the driver, my good friend Josh, could unbuckle his seat belt and reach his entire body out the window into the flurry and attempt to put the wiper back into place. This plan, while not completely carried out, did not work. Luckily we were traveling behind a snow plow that was salting the road keeping us in traction and visibility until we could pull off the freeway and fix the problem.

Madison in a snow storm is absolutely gorgeous. We had dinner and beers at a local pizza joint that we walked to from our hosts', Josh and Jessica's fantastic house. It's been fifteen some odd years since I've been in the snow and I sorta forgot how wet it was. It looks so fluffy until your drunk wife makes powdery snow balls and hurls them at you. Then you get wet and cold. So fun, though!

In the only music related news of the day, I received a phone call from Travis as we deplaned in Milwaukee telling us that the Past Haunts have a gig next Thursday night at the Echo. I'll keep everyone posted on this and our adventures in the winter wonderland that is Madison,WI.

Ps I just checked the outside temperature. 9 degrees.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

High Anxiety

I'm getting on a plane tomorrow. This is a very normal thing for many people, but to me it takes some self-conquering. By that, I mean, if I allowed myself to be a slave to my anxieties I would never, never, get on an airplane. Never. But I fly all the time because I am able to rationalize my way into the cabin.

If you are freaked out by flying here's a couple of things that make me feel better:

A planes wings can safely bend something like 15 feet in either direction.

Flying is all physics. It works. Crashes are mostly due to human error and in 99 percent of cases, there were seven consecutive human errors that lead to disaster.

It's a lesson in control, or lackthereof. Driving a car, walking around on the ground, these things give me the illusion of control. Without sounding overly dramatic, life is by definition out of my control and can be taken from me at any moment no matter what I do. Sure, there are certain laws and principles of living that increase my chances of staying alive. Never getting in car would increase my chances of living far greater than never getting in an airplane.

So flying in a plane is actually a freeing experience because it allows me to acknowledge the fact that I'm not in control and let go.

I am always a happier person when I let go.

If none of these things work tomorrow, Heather is under strict orders to heavily medicate me.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Music Tuesday: Kissing Cousins and Summer Darling Team Up With 826LA

Recently, Heather was invited along with other local songwriters to participate at an 826LA function in Echo Park where she was teamed up with three neighborhood kids and a fellow volunteer to help the kids write a song. Below is a performance of their song "So Sleepy (The Bells)." Pretty priceless stuff.

As it happens, this was only phase one of the kids songwriting extravaganza. 826LA has teamed up with Origami to ask bands to record the songs the kids wrote for a charity record and concert. The record will be a Vinyl/Digital release with the vinyl being limited to a 500 count pressing. Confirmed participants include Cold War Kids, Fiona Apple, Zooey Deschanel, and now, Summer Darling! That's right. We spent the better part of 4 hours last night working on our adaptation of a song called "Mexican Food." As you can imagine by the below video, it was certainly an entertaining challenge, but we're pretty sure we got a kick ass song out of it. Look forward to a Summer Darling song like you've never heard us released on this amazing compilation where all proceeds go to benefit 826LA sometime later this year!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Goals: 42% Less Scary Than Dreams

This year I said good-bye to resolutions. Not that it was difficult; I've never given New Years Resolutions much thought. Picking an arbitrary date and deciding to change an aspect of my life is something I've been relatively successful at (I quit smoking 864 days ago, to name one) so I've never felt the need to make resolutions.

However, a conversation I had with Todd on our way home from Christmas merry-making convinced me that setting goals is an important step to achieving success. This conversation coincides with a book I'm reading on success, and while I've always been a skeptic of recipes for succeeding--and still am as I tend to believe each person's path to success is different--I have to admit there's value in setting goals.

Goals are like dreams you have just prior to waking; often times they are clearer and more defined than the countless dreams we experience during our deepest sleep. Dreams seem unattainable at times. Sure, I'd love to be signed to Sub Pop but I have no clue on how to get there. Goals are merely speculations, ideas that if actualized may lead us closer to that unobtainable dream.

So in the spirit of accountability, I've decided to publish the goals Summer Darling have set for ourselves in 20Penn. It's a bit scary. I hope to re-read this post next January and discover we've accomplished all of them, but it's certainly possible that we may not get them all in.

Summer Darling's Goals:

1. Put out the record. We've all signed off on the mixes, the art is nearly done, and mastering is scheduled for the end of the month, so this one seems like a no brainer. Except that we've been writing and making this record for the better part of 4 years. I've learned patience the hard way and I refuse to take this goal lightly until I'm listening to the record on my record player.

2. Play more shows that are all ages and play more shows outside of Los Angeles. Don't get me wrong--I am so excited to play Spaceland this month. I couldn't believe it when I realized this, but it will be the first time Summer Darling has ever headlined Spaceland. However, we feel like it's time to expand our audience. We want to get the kids into this. We want to get the kids in other cities into this. We gotta escape from Los Angeles!

3. Music Video. We need to make a video for our new record. This goal is probably the most intimidating for me, since I know little to nothing about getting this done.

4. Vocals. We need to learn how to sing live. It's fine to coast on passion now and again, but the vocals on the record are very intricate and we want to try and recreate them for shows.

5. Write and record new material in a concise fashion. No more 5 years between records. We've talked about trying to write and record at least another Ep's worth of material this year, if not start on another full length.

There we have it. The 5 goals for Summer Darling. If anyone feels compelled, post some of your own goals in the comment section. Feel free to do it anonymously. You'll at least have a record of them. Accountability is key! Let's make this a good year!

Be part of the collective this week: Chain Letter happenings

Kissing Cousins and Twilight Sleep @ Pershing Square Ice Rink Wednesday January 6th. The show starts at 7:30. Free.