Ep. 99: Christmas Music 2019 (Winter Wonderland and Up on the Housetop)

My family has a tradition of recording Christmas songs every year. Some years, we’ve done as many as 5 songs and other years we’ve only done one. This year we were pretty busy but we were still able to do two song.

For the first one, my wife and I recorded a jazzy version of Winter Wonderland with 2 vocals, acoustic guitar, bass and drums.

The 2nd features our three kids on an instrumental version of Up on the Housetop with violin, chimes and sleigh bells.

Here’s the entire collection on songs we’ve recorded over the years:

We hope you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holidays!

Ep. 98: Favorite Music of 2019 – Top Ten Albums

As this year wraps up, I’m sharing my favorite albums from 2019. There were a lot of great records that came out and I honestly had a hard time narrowing it down to just ten but I did, and here they are. So, Let’s jump right into it.


10. Telekinesis – Effluxion

This is the fifth studio album of the band, which is really the solo project of Michael Benjamin Lerner. In some ways, it feel a bit out of step with what’s happening in music now. It feels like he belongs in the world of late 90’s to early 2000s indie rock with bands like Spoon and The Strokes. That’s not to say it’s bad things because I really miss the sound of that era. He weaves together fuzzy, guitar power-pop, honky-tonk piano, and acoustic indie folk. Somehow, this unique blend all works because the songs are so dang catchy. It’s a fun album, filled with lots of energy. Essential Songs: Cut the Quick, Feel It in Your Bones, Suburban Streetlight Drunk

Stream: Spotify


9. Joy Williams – Front Porch

Joy is perhaps best known for being half of the Grammy winning duo, The Civil Wars. She’s released several solo albums, both before and after her work with the Civil Wars and this is her latest. As the title suggests, these songs are performed in a stripped down fashion; usually with just a voice, an acoustic guitar, and an occasional mandolin or violin, but with no percussion. It works because of the strength of the songwriting and her beautiful, smooth voice. The songs are incredibility relaxing to listen to and come across very sincere and heartfelt. There is little bit of country flavor to it but it really falls more in the Americana genre. It’s a great album from start to finish with some great tunes. Essential Songs: Be with You, When Does a Heart Move On,  Front Porch

Stream: Spotify


8. Big Thief – Two Hands / U.F.O.F.

This is a big, break out year for this Brooklyn based band. They actually released two solid albums and I couldn’t decide which one l liked better so I decided to call it a tie. It’s amazing to me what they are able to accomplish with just a core lineup of guitars, bass and drums. They pay a lot of attention to the tone of the instruments, which sound crystal clear and mixed perfectly. They songs drift seamlessly between whispery folk ballads and bluesy indie-rockers. They songwriting is really strong, with heavy lyrical themes and a sincere and earnest tone and approach. In some ways it’s a homage to classic folk rock like Neil Young but also feels like a passing of the torch from other indie rock bands in the last decade or so who have lost their momentum. Big Thief sounds confident and energized, even if their music can occasionally be gloomy. Essential Song: Not, Two Hands, Cattails, Contact

Stream Two Hands: Spotify

Stream U.F.O.F.: Spotify


7. Angel Olsen – All Mirrors

This is fourth album by this St. Louis-based singer/songwriter. She has a real knack for creating atmosphere in her songs. It’s an interesting mix of retro and modern; of dark yet hopeful and accessible tunes. There are thick, heavy sounding string arrangements with layers of reverb. It sounds theatrical and dramatic in some ways.  Other songs have more of a classic rock influence. Overall, I would describe it as a very ambitious record but also hypnotic to listen to. Essential Songs: Spring, What It Is, Chance, Lark

Stream: Spotify


6. Vid Nelson – Beautiful Show

This one is by a local musician who came out of the Provo, Utah music scene where I’m from and has recently relocated to Nashville. This is his fourth album and it’s definitely a step up in terms of production and songwriting. It has a real classic rock sort of vibe with strings, maybe along the lines of John Lennon’s Imagine album or Arcade Fire. His voice is pretty unique and has a real passionate approach with his delivery, especially when he belts it out. There’s also a lot of vocal harmonies and details put into the arrangement. It’s a rewarding listen. Essential Songs: Bon Voyage Ami, Waiting to Find, All The Same

Stream: Spotify


5. Takenobu – Conclusion

This is the project of Japanese-American cellist/vocalist Nick Ogawa and more recently violinist/vocalist Kathryn Koch, who is now his fiance. I recently saw them perform and absolutely loved it. When they play live, they incorporate loop pedals to create multi-layered sounds. For instance, they might use their string instruments to make percussion sounds and then add multiple string parts on top of it until it practically sounds like a full orchestra. The album lives up to the live performance, in my opinion. It’s so interesting to hear what they are able to do with just a few instruments. They exist somewhere in their own world between classical music and indie.  I also think it holds up because the songwriting is so great. It’s refreshing to hear something so unique that no one else is really doing, but still done in an accessible way, that is a joy to listen to. Essential Songs: Glorious Harmonious, Nobody Said, Dark in the City

Stream: Spotify


4. Billie Eilish – When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?

This has been huge, breakthrough year for this artist. After a series of singles and EPs, she’s released her debut full-length album, which was highly acclaimed by critics and went number 1, and she’s just barely turned 18! Yet more impressive, Billie and her brother, Finneas O’Connell, wrote the songs and recorded the entire album themselves in their bedroom studio. The production sounds fresh. Nobody out there I’ve listened to lately is really incorporating all these styles in quite the same way. Her jazzy vocals weave in and out of a variety of blended genres from hip hop to alternative rock to folk to even a really pretty a capella choral track. With all the hype that surrounds Billie Eilish, it would be really easy to dismiss her and write her off as a fluke but she has the skills and great songs to back it up. She truly breaks the rules and treads her own path. I’m excited to follow her career and see what she does next. Essential Songs: 8, Bad Guy, You Should See Me in a Crown

Stream: Spotify


3. David Gray – Gold in a Brass Age

I first heard David Gray back in 1998 when his breakthrough album, White Ladder became popular, which is one of my all-time favorites. Now over 20 years later, he remains a consistently solid singer-songwriter. With this album, I feel like he upped his production game. He incorporates electronic elements with traditional folk songwriting, much like he did with White Ladder, but he sounds more updated and fresh with his approach. There are layers of subtle sounds and experimental flourishes sprinkled throughout. The beats are really interesting and fun and he sounds energized and confident. It’s like he took note of some of the things James Blake is doing and speed it up to fit his own style. The songwriting is really strong on this album. It’s a great listen. Essential Songs: Gold in a Brass Age, The Sapling, Ridiculous Heart, If 8 Were 9

Stream: Spotify


2. Vampire Weekend – Father of the Bride

This is their 4th album and it represents something of a new phase for them. It’s been 6 years since their last record and since then, one of their key members, Rostam Batmanglij, has left the band. The remaining members took the opportunity to rethink their sound and try some new approaches. This time around, they’ve incorporated more acoustic guitars and maybe more jammy instrumentation and sounds then before. The songs feel looser and more fun than their past albums. It’s kind of a good album for vacations or maybe road trips. They’re joined by Danielle Haim (of the band Haim) as a guest vocalist on several of the songs, which also helps distinguish the sound of this record and give it some cohesiveness. Ezra Koenig’s signature singing and songwriting style is as strong as ever. While this is their longest album, clocking in at just under an hour, they throw in enough twists and turns to keep it interesting and a fun, enjoyable listen. Essential Songs: Harmony Hall, This Life, Sunflower

Stream: Spotify


1. Kishi Bashi – Omoiyari

Kishi Bashi is a classically trained Japanese-American violinist who used to play in the band Of Montreal (among other projects). This is his 4th proper solo album. His debut album, 151a came out in 2012 and instantly became one of my album time favorites. I didn’t feel like his 2nd and 3rd albums were quite as strong but he brought me back in with this album and it might be my favorite of his now. The songwriting is really strong with the pretty melodies and poetic lyrics. It’s something of a concept album about the experiences of Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps during World War II. The production takes a more organic, folky approach with beautiful violin and string arrangements, much like his debut. If you’re a fan of the Shins, you’d probably dig it. My wife and I saw him perform this year with his band and he put on one of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever seen. It was over the top fun and joyous and it made me appreciate the songs from the album even more. Essential Songs: Penny Rabbit and Summer Bear, A Song for You, Song of ’42

Stream: Spotify


Favorite Albums of 2019 – Spotify Playlist


Favorite Songs of 2019

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Ep. 97: Jack Mergist and I Write a Sequel Song to Weezer’s “Only In Dreams”

For this episode, I meet up with Jack Mergist. We talk about how he balances his music and film projects and we challenge ourselves to write a sequel song to the Weezer classic, “Only In Dreams.”

Here’s a song from Jack’s band, The Lunatic:

Here’s a tune Jack recorded for the Song Club project:

A poster from a concert Jack and I played together back in 2007.

The “Big Muff” distortion pedal and it’s accompanying wooden box:

 

 

Links

Ep. 95: Cody Butler – Interview, Performance and Song Collaboration

In this episode, I sit down with singer/songwriter Cody Butler (aka The Boy and His Dog aka Cody Francis). He plays some tunes and we talk about his musical endeavors and life. We also collaborate on a song together called “Moving Forward,” which is about a father watching his daughter grow up.

Visit Cody’s music pages:
The Boy and His Dog
Cody Francis

Lyrics:
Sitting in the backseat, 4 years old,
Watching the clouds go by,
Daddy’s in the front with the radio on,
Singing loud to every line,
Now she’s all grown with car of her own,
Singing loud to every tune,
Handed her the keys and waved goodbye,
They always grow up too soon

She’s moving forward,
Starting a brand new life,
I’m always here for her,
But I know she’ll be just fine,
She’s moving forward,
She’s moving forward

Used to be afraid of the boys at school,
Never gave them a chance,
Daddy always said take your time,
When it comes to romance,
Walking down the aisle dressed in white,
Waiting for a diamond ring,
Daddy’s letting go of his little girl,
She’s ready for anything

She’s moving forward,
Starting a brand new life,
I’m always here for her,
But I know she’ll be just fine,
She’s moving forward,
She’s moving forward

Ep. 93: Song “Reminders” (Influenced by Nirvana Unplugged)

Here’s a track from my “50 Song in 50 Weeks” series, influenced by Nirvana’s unplugged performance of “Something In The Way.”

I wrote this song very late at night several years back. In order to keep from waking my roommates, I had to play and sing very softly, which dictated the direction of the song. The inspiration was Nirvana’s “Something In The Way.” My song has a similar dissonant, dark but soft guitar part played with a picking stye. It also has a similar minimal type of melody.

Nirvana’s song talks about living under a bridge. Lyrically, I tried to evoke a similar sense in my song of someone who had hit rock bottom and struggling to get their life back on track.

The instruments are sparse: just an acoustic guitar, a voice, and one electric guitar with an ebow. The ebow acts as sort of drone. The eerie quality is supposed to reflect the haze of someone who is in a fragile state of mind.

It felt like it dragged a little so I programmed a kick drum into the song, which totally changes the feel of it. It almost makes it sound like an industrial electronica song to me but I liked it so I decided to keep it.

Lyrics:

Cold nights I lie awake
Underneath the remnants of nothing
Spend time, spend it all away
Go ahead and ride all the rides

Early bed, early to rise
Rise above it all
Never, never, never will I fall

Holding on to the iron
Holding on to my life
Holding, holding, hold on to your life

Don’t you think it’s past your bed time son
Just an hour too late,
I am getting tired and I am getting cold
But I still can’t sleep

Holding on to the iron
Holding on to my life
Holding, holding, hold on to your life
Hold on to your life
Hold on to your life
Hold on to your life

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Ep. 92: Mike McClellan and I Create “Man on the Moon” (Modern Dance Pop Song)

In this podcast episode, Mike McClellan and I get together and collaborate on a song. We use the “track and hook” method, which is an approach to songwriting and production used extensively in pop music. We came up with this catchy dance pop tune called “Man on the Moon.”

Learn more about  Mike McClellan at Velvet Echo Studios.

Lyrics:

Feels like we got lightyears
Between you and me
From my lonely corner
Working up my nerve
Do I dare
Do I make a move and come on over

Do you see me
Am I there in your stars
Am I there in the night
Do you want me
Am I there in your stars

Don’t leave me floating in space
I can’t get through to you
Gravity it keeps me in my place
I’m your man on the moon

Running down the clock
Weigh the cost
Missing out vs missing nothing
Only one way out past of the fear
Past the shaking hands and past the blushing

Do you know me?
I can see how you glow
Like the earth on the rise
Do you want me?
Am I somewhere in your skies

Do you see me
Am I there in your stars
Am I there in the night
Do you want me
Am I there in your stars

Don’t leave me floating in space
I can’t get through to you
Gravity it keeps me in my place
I’m your man on the moon

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Ep. 91: Song “Brand New Life” (influenced by The Lumineers)

This week, I break apart a love song called “Brand New Life,” which I released last December on my album, Good Grief.

So, when I was putting the track list for my album, I felt like there was lot of intense topics covered. I wanted to end the album on a positive, upbeat note to balance it out a bit so this is the last song I wrote for the record. It’s about being in love and proposing and specially written for my wife, Melissa. I actually wrote a different love song and played it at our wedding about 12 years ago but I didn’t really think it was that great of a song. I was a bit rushed. So, this is my attempt at writing a better wedding song and I think it definitely tops the first one, at least.

I also talk a lot about water in the lyrics. There’s lines about crossing the river and walking towards the sea and watching the boats float by. It’s all kind of in homage to growing up near the water in Washington state. It carries a bit of nostalgia for me and there’s also something about how the water is peaceful and simple and I want to have that type of feeling in a relationship.

For my first attempt at the recording, I tired a really sparse approach with just acoustic guitar, piano, vocal and shaker. I was gonna go with just that but it sounded a little bit too serious or even contemplative to me. I started thinking about the Lumineers song, “Ho Hey” and like how it’s still pretty simple but there are some elements like the mandolins and percussion that give it a nice, upbeat and looser, folkier vibe.

I actually scrapped my first version and started over. This time I recorded a bit faster at 85 beats per minute instead of the original 80. The beginning starts with mandolin, acoustic guitar and a kick drum sound, which I played on a cajon.

I wanted the song to build so that with each section of the song, more instruments come in. So it would start spare but by the time you get to the end of the song, it sounds pretty full.

One of the first things that comes in is an organ, which just acts as a pad to fill out the sound and also provides some low end, since I chose to leave off a bass guitar.

There’s also the piano, which I pretty much played the same as the original version. I played really simple whole notes with the chords on the lower half of the piano, then played a simple solo about an octave higher right in the middle.

There’s also the percussion. By the end of the song, in addition to the kick, there are two tamborine track and two snare tracks played on cajon with almost sort of a horse trotting type of rhythm. It’s sort of a folkie sound that I think fits the vibe.

All and all, I think it came together nicely and I think it fulfills my goal of adding a positive, upbeat message to a somewhat serious album. Most importantly my wife enjoyed it so, mission accomplished.

Lyrics:

What if we got together
We could watch the boats float by
You could talk and I would listen
And I would understand your mind

Oh I long to be with you
Walking toward the sea
And the times when I’m lonely
You could be the one to comfort me

Everyday I am thankful that our
Separate paths have crossed
Every night I lay my head down
I know I’ll never feel so lost

What if we crossed the river
We could start a brand new life
With a house and a family
If you’d only be my wife

So I leave it you now
You can tell me what you think
We could step to the altar
And I could wake up to your face each day

And my promise to you now
Is you’ll always smile me
Blessed day when I come home
In your arms is where I’ll be

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Ep. 90: Song “Thinkin Bout You” (Frank Ocean Cover)

This week, I’m sharing an acoustic cover I recently recorded of the Frank Ocean song, “Thinkin Bout You.”

Frank Ocean first came on the scene as a songwriter for some pretty big artists including Beyonce, Justin Bieber, and John Legend. His big break through came in 2012 with his debut album, Channel Orange. My favorite song from that album is the atmospheric opening track.

So as it happened, I recently came across a listing of someone who wanted this song played acoustically at his wedding so I recorded this so he could hear what it would sound like with me performing. Hopefully he picks me and I get the gig.

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