Sunday, 24 June 2012

All Of The Strands

Well, a huge thanks to all of the people who read the last blog post about the Turning Heads project. This week has been pretty amazing actually.

The week itself has been an amazing story which could be classed as coincidence or destiny, but I'm breaking this into two sections for those who have asked me about the process of recording and songwriting, and those who want to hear the amazing story of this week's meetings with some extraordinary women from the Alopecia Foundation and beyond. Sorry if it's a bit long as a result.

It's rough but it gives a good idea of where the song will eventually go. Real, organic drums are always livelier and give a lot more energy to a song, and I am looking forward to doing the actual recording in July-ish. In the meantime, the song can be played by clicking the player below, if the embed code works:

We really hope you enjoy and are encouraged by the demo.

Recording on Saturday
All Of The Strands was written to try to achieve two goals. The first was to try to capture, in the chorus, the joy I saw in Lina's photos; to write something affirming to these women to make them see the beauty I saw. The second goal was to reflect upon how we measure things as humans, as I thought about my own kids and the various judgements they will no doubt face at some point.

So, I was hoping Marty or Micky might have been available to record the demo version of the song, but Micky's tyre was flat and Marty had open houses to get to and Pat was in Korea. Often when I write a new song, I'll record a demo in Garage Band using loops and playing a bunch of the instruments to get some ideas, so this wasn't unusual. Marty, Micky and Pat are exceptional musicians and much better on their instruments then I am, but demos often create a good springboard for when the band actually plays through a song together later and if you have the facility to do it, it's a process I highly recommend. So Ted came over and we got to work.

I hadn't slept much the night before and was a bit sloppy. My piano playing was all over the shop. We finally managed to get a passable piano take but the instrumental part was a bit sloppy. I thought I'd come back to it later, and moved on.

Recording in my garage gym, which also feels like a Chinese laundry due to the recent weather.

Next we did some electric guitar lines. My plan had been to take piano out of the choruses to try to create a more significant distinction in the lyrics, which are affirming, compared to the verses which are more reflective/contemplative. I had been listening to Switchfoot's Dare You To Move and really liked the long single hard guitar strums, so tried that in the chorus, but it sounded messy and ugly. Tristan decided to try running an acoustic guitar keeping simple, quick rhythm and it sounded really nice. I resolved to use high guitar lines with a delay on them, because the acoustic guitar would fill out the sound of the chords and I wouldn't need to play the chords strongly on the electric, but rather let the notes themselves ring and try to bring a sense of the joy that the original photos captured.

Working on strumming in Drop D. Wasn't a winner, and went with a new line you can now hear.

Ted's genius idea to use Mr. Maton and fill out the chorus chords. If you write, try to write with someone who gets you musically, which is a lot harder than it sounds.

With Micky away, I pulled out my bass to get a placeholder down. This is probably my second-weakest instrument and the bass itself has been playing up but I haven't had time to get it fixed. This led to some very frustrating takes and in the end I decided to keep the bass line simple so Micky could work his magic on it when we begin rehearsing it. I opted for long sustained notes in the verse and a steadier rhythm with some long slides in the chorus, although I find myself thinking that I should have played the chorus notes an octave lower at the end of the choruses.

It's actually a nice bass, but having some... issues. Given it hasn't been serviced in 5 years, that would explain it.

Finally, it was time to get Ted up to the vocal booth. Which is actually a squat machine. We found, when working on Hoping For Jupiter, that we could get almost vocal-booth quality with a decent condensor surrounded by a heavy doona to help absorb the sound and avoid the reverb that the garage lends itself to. Often we'll spend time balancing the sound out first, but in this case due to time and the demo nature of the song, we whacked it all together and just went with what we had.

Now to the tale of the last week:

The Amazing Tale of Providence

First off, last Saturday Tristan and I recorded All Of The Stands on iPhone between the piano and me. I sent this to Lina, who in her usual amazing way sent it on to a bunch of people. First was Helen, who then found me on Facebook and added me as a friend.
If you weren't aware, Helen Beasley is the amazing artist who conceived the project. Helen used to be a bread scientist (I asked her if it was because she kneaded the dough; for some reason, she didn't laugh), who worked with a lovely lady I used to go to church with back when I was in Five Dock, Jill Chambers. So all of a sudden there was a multiple connection thing.

Helen's story of how she started face/head/any body part painting full time is quite amazing but since I haven't checked with her, I won't share it here at this point in time. However, I will say that her original plan with the head art was to do it with the cancer council or something similar, but they were uncertain about the idea. She met Chel from the Australia Alopecia Aerata Foundation, who was totally super keen on the idea, then asked at a photography store, who referred her on to Lina.

So Helen sent the terrible recording to Chel, and gave Chel my contact details. I had an idea that it'd be mad to get a female alopecia lady singing on the track, although not entirely sure where/how. I first asked Stacy, who was the woman in the photo with the flower on her head (and the first person in the project), whether or not she could sing but she said that no, she was restricted to singing in showers and it's not a good idea to put good condensor microphones into showers, even in the name of art.

Anyway, Helen asked Chel if she knew anyone, and Chel was all, "I know this lady called Lisa who has a big, big voice."

So then I wound up SMS-ing Lisa and she was keen, though unavailable this weekend (springing recording on someone 16 hours before actually recording was always going to be a tall order), and so now at some point we'll get a huge duet thing happening.


Chel was amazingly encouraging, given that all she had was a sub-par iPhone track that is hard to get distinct vocals out of. There was a video they were working on raising awareness for alopecia sufferers and she asked if we'd be OK if the final track was possibly used in the video. Flabbergasted, we said of course we would be; it may or may not happen, depending on the music's vibe compared to the video's intent, but it was mind-blowing to get such a positive response from someone doing such impressive work as Chel. 

Moreover, I guess, what amazed me was that somehow the song's message had actually touched some people, hopefully in the same was I was touched by the Turning Heads project and photos. Any artist in any field aims for connection between the inspiring subject matter and the recipient, and to know this made any difference at all to these incredible women who were either dealing with the challenges of the disease or supporting and advocating for those same people was humbling beyond measure. I spent a couple of days just grinning, to be honest. Tristan and I had a lot of moments calling each other saying "DUDE! Did you see that post that this lady put up? I know, right?" and things of similar ilk.

I'd like to finish this post by thanking Lina Hayes, Helen Beasley, Stacy Richardson, Chel (I'm sorry, I forgot your surname) and Lisa for their amazingness this week and for being willing to accept a poor offering from an obscure Western Sydney band inspired by the fantastic work of your projects and organisations. It drove me to understand more deeply what God says in 1 Samuel 16:7- "For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
It's from this part that I derived the chorus chords "for we are judged by our hearts, not the sum of our parts."

I hope that somehow this song makes some of these sufferers understand this in some way shape or form: they are uniquely beautiful and valuable beyond measure, far beyond what we see on the outside. Thank you for your very existence, because without it, I fear I would not have gotten a glimpse of the truth of those verses. Your life, love and vibrance have had a profound impact on me, and I can only hope that in some small way this helps to do the same to others. 

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Pat's Korean Diary

Pat recently went on a work trip to Korea. I asked him to provide an insight intro world travel (since I doubt very much we'll ever get to do a world tour. Or even a nation-wide tour. State tour. Heck, we haven't even done a Western Sydney tour!) and he kindly agreed. Without further ado, here is:

Pat's Guide To International Travel- Korea

Day 1
Climbed aboard the plane and took my seat. Work hasn’t upgraded me to first class yet, so I used one of their phones to hack the plane’s internal database and give myself an upgrade. I also increased the plane’s engine efficiency by like, 75%, and mixed four songs and a martini. First class was next level, they even served kimchee. I heard that on the way back a return flight to Australia was forced to divert over Singapore due to engine overheating but I’m sure that’s a coincidence, legit.

This guy apparently tried to sneak fruit past customs, and they cut both his arms off.

Day 2
Arrived at Incheon airport. It is connected to land by one of the world’s largest suspension bridges. It is not widely known but the bridge was built not to cut the commute time to the airport, but because the Domino’s Pizza was on the other side of the bridge and the President was tired of his Kimchee Hawaiian/Meatlover half-halfs arriving soggy. At a cost of a mere $4b, I have to say it was a wise investment, legit.

Pizza to your door in under 35 minutes. Talk about next level!

Day 3
We had an intense series of training sessions on new products and it went later than expected. The local staff were complaining because the country’s normal terabit connection was only running at, like, 750gbps. The catering never showed up and we were forced to hijack passing McDonald’s deliveries. The drivers are in the boxes of the new 80” 3D plasmas, they get a free trip to Uraguay out of it. On the up side, we halved our catering budget, legit.

No, officer, I assure you those delivery bikes are not related to us.

Day 4
Looking forward to having a day off tomorrow. I have had nothing but kimchee for four meals a day and my room is smelling quite lived-in. Even the McDonald’s meals were the McKim, which was a kimchee patty with kimchee.
I am keen to see the Mega Bass Ball Exhibit. People think it’s modern art, but it’s actually a series of carefully crafted and balanced subwoofers used for public performance, low-scale demolition and mob control. At a recent protest it was reported that they played the Brown Note and 10,000 people had to change their underwear. It was next level. Legit.

Next level crowd control. They turned it up and my heart rhythm got confused, legit.

Day 5
These surnames are beginning to confuse me. I thought someone asked “You wanna come to the park” but in fact they were calling out to “Yu, Wan, Kim, and Park”. I went anyway, and made some great new friends. We went out for kimchee for dinner and over a tobacco burger (those things are like next level addictive) they told me one of them had a serious criminal record. I asked them which one and they said “the guy with the black hair and brown eyes.” I think I’ll stay away from him, legit.

One of us has a criminal record. I knew it wasn't me!
Oh, those tasty tobacco onions. Makes me want to buy Tomacco, the Simpsons hybrid!

Day 6
Time to head home. I gave the company a way to save eight million dollars a year and they promised me a pay rise of like, seventy-five dollars a week. That is next level and I’m assured that the offer is, like, legit. If I hurry, maybe I can make it back in time for band practice.
I got to the airport and couldn't find my terminal. The help desk staff said it was next level, I said that may be the case but I can't find Terminal 53. The kept repeating that it was next level, and I admired their pride in the quality of the terminal but eventually it sounded like a loop so I left and found it one floor up. Legit.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Getting serious about Turning Heads- UPDATED x 1

Given the absurdity of my previous posts, it could seem somewhat odd that I am going to take a serious moment but the subject of my post deserves to be void of hyperbole and invention because it is just so darn brilliant.

So, the story goes like this. I randomly clicked a Facebook ad- which I normally never do- for a young photographer based in the inner-west, because it looked interesting and I wanted to find someone who had a good instinct for shots so we could do album artwork that didn’t involve trawling Google Images and then spending subsequent weeks trying to find the owners of the images to use permission. That photographer was Lina Hayes, a 21-year-old legend with an eye for landscapes, sunsets, and silhouettes.

So we emailed back and forth a bit, regarding projects and availability and other such things related to band and album photography. Since we weren’t even going to start recording until after Pat finishes getting his house built- which, at the current rate, will be September 2017- I figured it was more about identifying a talent and coming back to the whole situation in a few months’ (or years, depending on builders) time.

Periodically, I’d come back and look at the latest pictures. Pop a comment up, click away, maybe come back a couple of days later.

It was one of those days later when I saw this photo:

Amazing or what? Lina and Helen for the win! Photo (c) Lina Hayes Photography

That photo was the first in a series that were done for a project with Helen Beasley from Rainbow Face Painting and Body Art. The project was called Turning Heads.

Now, I wasn’t sure what this was for at first. Was it part of some monastic tradition? But then I found out that no, it wasn’t. The baldness of the women in question was not a choice, but a condition known as Alopecia Totalis, and the project was aimed at creating something innately beautiful to help these women feel special, unique, and amazing, turning their heads into an amazing canvas and creating art that reflected them personally.
Alopecia Totalis is contrasted to Androgenic Alopecia, or pattern baldness, or as I refer to it, “having kids”. Tristan is always keen to point out my lack of hair compared to his strong, thick and flowing locks, but given my work with teenagers over the years, I assured him I had already had it pointed out plenty of times.
Alopecia Totalis, however, was the complete loss of all the hair from the head (well, not the eyebrows), and could effect any age.

Next came this article in the Hornsby Advocate and as I read about Stephanie, who was diagnosed in year 5 and was now in year 8, I was struck by the images themselves. So great a blow to the confidence of the subjects had been dealt by the condition that many avoided going out because, well, it caused stares, but the amazing canvas that it enabled them to be, and the joy that was captured in the photos as for a moment their heads were in fact the perfect subject for the art, was in that moment a glimpse of another kind of value.
Finally, Lina put up some shots of a 2-year old girl. Little Jono turned 2 in March and this little girl had a similar vibrancy and joy as he has; she took the condition in her stride, unaware of any difference. The photos really captured the fierce joy, although this one is my personal favourite:

Best. Photo. EVER. (c) Lina Hayes Photography

The shots moved me in unexpected ways as according to my wife, I don’t have things known as “feelings”, whatever those are. Something about the project really created an amazing connection, and as I read the girls’ stories, I gave pause to reflect on how we automatically attribute our definitions of beauty to the exterior, how flawed our assessments of other humans can be.
For those who don’t know, I have three kids, Ben (9), Tamara (7), and Jono (2). As I looked at these girls, and read their tales, I felt enormous sadness for the circumstances we find ourselves in in our human condition, and I wondered what I could say that would make a difference. So I sat down and started writing a song, and then dragged Tristan over to help me push through writer’s block. In 40 minutes, the song was done, and entitled All Of The Strands.

We’re doing some work on it and will be aiming to record it in July, to pass on something encouraging to these women. But as a sneak peak,  thought I’d include the bridge lines below:

Are you simply a picture, with warmth and a smile,
The depth and the beauty of somebody’s child?
You knew they were looking, but did they see more
Than all of the strands as they fell to the floor?

But in the meantime, please can I encourage you to go along to Lina and Helen’s Facebook pages, find out about the project, and make sure you share it with your friends. There’s something uniquely beautiful about it, I suppose because it creates beauty out of an ugly situation, and creates joy in the midst of sadness or resignation. There may not be a specific cure for it at this point in time, but perhaps the opportunity to celebrate a different kind of beauty is cure enough; perhaps it is we who need curing.

UPDATE: Tristan and I are going to record a demo of it this weekend which I'll try to get up on our site as soon as I have a moment. Stay tuned! Then we'll record the proper version with the rest of the band when Pat is back from Korea and the next gig is out of the way.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Things You Never Knew About... Tristan "Ted" Edwards and Me

All good things come to an end. This series has increased our blog popularity by like 5,000 percent, because we went from having 1 person reading to having 200 views and if we’d gone from 1 to 2, that’s a 100% increase. My mathematical calculations for the adequate number of zeroes might be slightly out. Shocking, I know.

Anyhow, to complete our band profiles, our front man is exposed and his true history is finally on the record. Straight from Roswell, New Mexico, prepare for:

Things You Never Knew About... Tristan “Ted” Edwards and Me.

Here’s the thing people don’t realise about Tristan. He and I are actually identical twins. I was eight and a half months premature and he was twelve months overdue, because he was growing hair and I evidently didn’t have to. Strangely, we were both born at a normal gestational weight, which our parents put down to hormone-fed chicken.

Back then, our parents were living in a potato sack which they rented with seven other families and money was tight. I was sold to a travelling gypsy troupe when Tristan was finally forcibly removed from the womb with an eviction notice and removal of his cable TV subscription.

Whilst I travelled with the gypsy caravan troupe, things were tough at home. A ninth family had put in an application to move into the potato sack, and Mr. Edwards (I mean, ‘Dad’), finally fed up with the lack of career progression options at his job training tapeworms to rollerblade, took a job which was remarkably similar, but paid better, which was teaching in the NSW public school system.

The sudden influx of money confused Tristan. Up until that point, the potato sack tenants had had to share one piece of toilet paper across all the families per day. Now, he could use three, four, even five sheets at a flush. Giddy with power, he convinced our parents that he should have singing lessons.

Mother had read somewhere that long-lost-twins who played music somehow found each other, like in that animated movie An American Tail where Feival brings the Black Plague to America, and so she enrolled him immediately and hoped that as he sung mournfully under the moon one night, somewhere I too would be singing in harmony. But she was wrong, because I can’t sing in any key.

Back with the gypsy troupe, life was good. I had a daily ration of peanuts and hay, and was taught all the educational tools I would need to grow up and make my adoptive parents proud: pick-pocketing, avoiding baths, scabbing cash, and sleeping til noon. Playing an instrument somewhere usually allowed crowds to gather so that members of the troupe could more effectively steal their wallets and phones (referred to by marketers as “Cost/Benefit ratio increase), but after the troupe’s main guitarist had his fingers broken in an unfortunate incident involving heavy losses on squirrel ballet and a bookie named Big Bubba, I was the only one left and the only instrument that spoke to me was piano. Loving parents that they were, they promptly stole a baby grand piano from a rehearsal room in the Opera House, a fact that wasn’t even discovered until 2009, because they also left a note saying “taking piano for a walk, back in 10 (years)”.

My twin was meanwhile living the good life, but couldn’t help feeling that there was a conjoined part of his soul somewhere out there, beneath the pale moonlight. The call of performing running strong in his veins, he began doing clowning for children’t birthday parties, becoming the first party clown to make an exact replica of the Mona Lisa out of balloons, including the half-smile and the eyes that followed you around the room. In order to supplement his act, he learnt guitar, so as to teach the children educational songs like the compound materials for making C4. However, listening to music to hone his skills would also develop his first substance dependency, that substance being CDs. He would go into record stores and casually order fifteen, sixteen boxes of the latest singles and either leave a pile of cash on the counter or run like a hungry cheetah was chasing him.

And in fact, this is how we met. As he fled the mall security guards, fifteen boxes of CDs in his arms, singing “You Can’t Catch Me, I’m the Gingerbread Man” with a beautiful vibrato, I was chasing my piano downhill as I’d forgotten to put the wheel locks on. I had managed to get onto the keys and was trying to slow it with me feet, but drawn by the beauty of his Gingerbread Man song, I began spontaneous accompaniment, and the guards were caught in the music and began spontaneously dancing, which is a difficult feat if you are running downhill at great speed. Our getaway was a fait accompli.

Catching our breaths and dividing the CD spoils (I referred him a support group, but got the name wrong and he attended “Seedy Addicts” instead,  which was full of guys wearing nothing but trenchcoats, but that’s a story for another time), I noticed a birthmark on his right ear that looked enormously similar to one on my left foot. As I looked at my new friend, I realised I was virtually looking into a mirror, and he realised it at the same time. Twins! How could it possibly be anything else?

The resemblance is uncanny, no?

It so happened that I had ‘borrowed’ a bible from an elderly priest earlier that day and hidden it in the piano in case he ever came around, and as we pored over the texts and felt a calling to write songs about the duality of human nature, the mysteries of the universe, and cowboys who find out that they’ve actually been dead the entire song with a twist ending. Feeling guilty, we returned the stolen piano to the Opera House in 2012, instead stealing a smaller, more portable one for street performing. We left a copy of our CD in payment.

In order to formalise our performing, we took the name “Redwoods”, a portmanteau of “Rose” and “Edwards” by Autocorrect. And it was the beginning of something beautiful.

Ted, I am glad our various nefarious activities allow us to finally meet in that constabulary-avoiding collision. I’m not sure if you’re a friend closer than a brother, or a brother closer than a friend, but either way you’re a legend and I’m ever so glad you found the GPS tracking device in the piano or otherwise we’d be in a heap of trouble right now.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Things You Never Knew About... Marty

It’s Friday before a long weekend, and that means it’s time for you to get to know the latest band member and his incredible true story.
Look up the word “incredible” in the dictionary some time. Or even the word “credible”. You’ll see what I mean.
Things you never knew about... Marty

Those who have met Marty could be forgiven for thinking he was American. The truth of the matter is that Marty was born 150m below the earth’s surface in a West Australian opal mine to a nigerian mother and her Cherokee Indian husband. Raised in the same mine with his only source of contact with the world above the surface being American TV programming, it accounts for his pale skin and mysterious accent.
It was kind of like the movie Blood Diamond, but, like, with a happy ending and not-one’s arms being deliberately chopped off. Because accidents still happen in mines. 

It was in this mine that Marty first discovered (at the tender age of 3) some of life’s great engineering principles, such as leverage (by jamming crowbars into rock), transmission of energy over distance (getting TV underground), and drinking (by drinking). By the age of 5, he had re-designed the entire mine to increase operational efficiency by 75%, and drunk his first keg. Nobody told him that the contents were actually sparkling apple juice, because nobody keeps alcohol in a mine, but as part of an engineering fraternity, he needed to feel as if he was drinking lots. Even now, give Marty enough Appletiser and he’ll start acting drunk. Deadset. Some kind of psychological thing evidently. 
After submitting some improvised designs for the internet to the Edison foundation via the internet, which he had built a test version of using parts from old TVs, a kilometer of copper cabling which coincided with the same amount mysteriously vanishing from the mine, seven hamsters, one large cat and a lot of chewing gum, he was unearthed (so to speak) and sent to further his education, like Dougie Howser MD. By the way, did you know that Twitter got the idea from Dougie Howser’s updates at the end of each episode? Yeah? Did you know that it was Marty who gave them that idea? No? There you go. Marty called them up after watching an episode and said “we need to put, in 140 characters, stuff nobody really cares about. I saw it on TV and people were tuning in.”

Who says TV is a waste.

Marty was flown to the United States and given an education centering on engineering. He was loosed in a forest with an axe, a generator, a few magnets, some assorted tools and some wire, and came back with an electric guitar. He found out later that it had already been invented some years before, but that didn’t stop him.

A new world had opened to Marty. As an engineer, he could only meet women who were in the middle of doing a keg stand. As a musician, he could totally meet women well before they’d found where the kegs were kept.

Marty travelled to Australia to pursue his dream of engineering a relationship out of music, and one holiday ended up way out west near Penrith at a small church with a good-looking single Italian lady. He struck up a conversation, a little something like this:
“Hey, I play guitar.”
“Hey, I’m Italian.”
“You wanna get married in like 5 years?”
“Sounds great!”

We first met Marty as we were walking down the street pushing a grand piano and a guitar together, it being the day when we were taking busking seriously. Marty, in full tuxedo, ran up to us and asked us if we could play at his wedding. Which was in fifteen minutes’ time. That was twice the rehearsal time we needed, so we bought chips and milkshakes and then headed up. Amazed at his organizational skills and ability to wield a compelling argument with such dexterity, we asked him to join us during the wedding practice on guitar. He quickly improvised one out of a pew and the remnants of a broken heater, and we knew we were onto a winner. 

So I told him that unless he joined in the band, I would tell his wife-to-be that he secretly hated pasta and the entire family’s mafia connections would come for him. I didn’t know if they even had mafia connections, but I heard the word “Italian” and just went for it. It seems to have worked.
Marty, we love you and your unerring instinct for beauty. Thank you for sharing your African/Cherokee heritage with us, as we are far more culturally aware now than we ever were before!