Friday, January 31, 2014

Band Review: Clones of Clones

There was something very comfortable for me in listening to Clones of Clones. The have taken much of their inspiration form the alternative rock of the '90s, and those were good times. The music does not feel a need to be ultra-aggressive or upbeat, but finds quiet, reflective grooves that are a nice change of pace. So, they are more mellow than many DC bands, but that is not a problem.

I really like what they do with the guitars. Intros are consistently good, setting the right tone and bringing you into the song.

You have to search a bit to find links for purchasing, so that may be an area where they could improve, but I eventually found that they are on iTunes, and that you can get a hard copy of a 4-track EP via Kunaki. For just listening, music is available through multiple sources.

I would like to hear them doing more. The band sounds promising.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Band Review: Sunshine Collective

On Sunshine Collective's Twitter profile, the description is "Fun yet sophisticated music for parents and kids alike."

Having that in mind, I expected something geared more for children, though that wasn't really the case. The songs are accessible to children. There are songs about grown-up relationships, but a reference to "heat" does not put it anywhere in a dangerous area. Stephanie Richards' vocals generally keeps the songs in a higher register, which may also be child-friendly, but it's nothing where you would feel like you would need children to listen to it.

(And if you do have children, child-friendly music for adults is certainly a better approach than Kidz Bop.)

For the overall sound, it reminds me of Jill Sobule, obviously with differences in content, and maybe some lighter Buffy Sainte-Marie. The music pulls from many different musical eras, sometimes sounding a little '20s or '30s, and then moving up. The best surprise is that finding that combination of strings and drums that I liked so much at the beginning of "This Day" (it has sort of a railroad feel, and it gets you) involves Gin Blossoms guitarist Jesse Valenzuela.

Music can be purchased via CDBaby, iTunes, Amazon, and Bandcamp.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A week of music listening

I had a different post nearly ready, but I think it is still wandering too much, so I will see if I can whittle it down into something concise.

Music is important to me, and writing about it is important to me, and there is a lot that has happened with it, especially since starting the music reviews, and then it goes beyond music. So there is this jumble, where I probably have four posts that are all related.

Right now the simplest thing to do is go over my listening habits. I tracked my time spent listening last week. I was kind of curious, and it is a look into processes, which I dig.

Usually I work Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, with Saturday, Sunday, and Wednesday off. Work days are 7:30 to 5:45, but usually for the first couple of hours I keep things quiet. There are people getting up and ready, maybe sleeping in, and I am not a morning person.

I usually start listening to music somewhere between 10 and 11 AM, and the first thing I will do is pick the song of the day. That usually just takes a few minutes. I had been working through existing play lists. Currently I am going through bands I have reviewed, and I have a list of bands that have not had a song of the day yet, but whom I intend to use. If I don't already know what song I am going to pick, I will check the review for ideas, and I will listen, maybe to a few different songs, but I generally don't agonize over it.

The next priority is listening to the bands that will be reviewed for that week. Ideally I will listen to all of the songs three times through, though with a group with a lot of songs it may not be possible. Thursday morning I will listen to the Thursday band one more time before I post the review, then the Friday band and will start Friday with them. I want to know that I have really given the music a shot, and that I am not missing anything about it.

I started off with For the Broken and Closer to Closure, but they sounded similar enough that I thought I better change it up, so I brought in The Delinquents. Normally that would just bump Closer to Closure to this week, but they have a longer discography available, and this week in addition to the regular reviews I am getting ready for a concert with three bands, only one of which I am familiar with. So this week I am listening to Sunshine Collective and Clones of Clones for review this week, and Dads, Pentimento, and Reggie and the Full Effect for concert preparation. (I did throw in some Esoteric, and I may add some Coalesce and Get Up Kids too, just to be thorough.)

The Reggie review should be next Friday, but I won't know if I will review the openers together or separately until after I have heard them. I could possibly decide that I have written enough about Reggie already, based on the one general review plus an album review. This is the first time I will see a band live after doing a review, so it's a new thing. (Though, if I can make it to see Dave Hause February 26th, that will be a second time and in the same month.)

Then is music that I listen to for different projects. One is that I have been trying to understand "Emo", but it was not really sinking in. I read Nothing Feels Good, and I listened to some of it, but what I am doing now is going through slowly and listening to all the bands. Even with that, it wasn't working, and so I have been needing to expand.

Everyone agrees that it starts with Rites of Spring, and listening to some Fugazi and Minor Threat in connection with that makes sense, but it was reading more on Spotify (most biographies come from Rovi) and Wikipedia that started giving associated bands from that time that really started to help. Some of it was understanding punk's move to hardcore, and the rise of indie bands, with the growing emphasis on DIY, and it all seems to contribute to the environment where emotional hardcore happens.

This basically means that I have also listened to REM, Black Flag, the Meat Puppets, Minutemen, the Replacements, and Hüsker Dü, but I finally feel like I am on solid ground. The Buzzcocks were part of that, and I have actually started moving forward, having listened to Embrace and Gray Matter this week. After Beef Eater and Fire Party, I will be ready for Chapter 2.

This also led to some other things. For example, "Lipstick" by the Buzzcocks reminded me of "Shot By Both Sides" by Magazine. This totally makes sense, as Howard Devoto was a co-writer on both. I also heard a little bit of similarity between Gray Matter and Billy Idol's "White Wedding", so I needed to check that out, but it seemed less obvious, and  I can't point to any part of a Gray Matter song and say "Here!" Sunshine Collective may remind me of Jill Sobule, so I want to listen to her a bit this week as well.

Hearing one thing often leads to other things. For example, someone posted a clip of "Bell Song" from the opera Lakmé, which was fine, except that I was disappointed that it wasn't "Flower Duet", so then I needed to listen to that, and to the barcarolle from Tales of Hoffman.

There is also music that I use for writing. The big one was deciding to try and create a set list for a Gin Blossoms concert, because I wanted to listen to everything for that. When I put in the All American Rejects, that was while I was going over the screenplay for Hungry before loading it to Amazon. I guess after working on Family Blood, the Rejects are my vampire band. I can see where it could have gone in other directions.

When I pulled up "Barely Breathing" and "Kiss Me", that's because I was getting ready to work on Out of Step, which I have not loaded to Amazon yet. Conventional Weapons and Danger Days are for a different project, that I will probably not work on any more until next week, because there are too many other things.

"More Than This" is for a comic that I think I will also put off a month, but because that is on one of my play lists (Non-annoying love songs), I just let the other music go. I have started to rely on play lists a lot as my go-to listening, because I know I like them. However, I have also been making more of a point to pull up bands I like. So because I was hearing "Goodbye Copenhagen" in my mind, it was good to listen to New Politics, and "My Perfect Thing" led to listening to Farewell My Love.

I have mostly listed where I was listening. I use Spotify as much as I can, even when I own the music, because it pays a little, and more than the other paying sources. And, I can find a lot. For Gin Blossoms I needed to pull out my CDs for Dusted and Major Lodge Victory, and I have Pencey Prep on my desk right now, but they do pretty well. I will go through Youtube at least once for any band review though, if they have videos.

It may also be worth pointing out how closely this ends up being associated with work. On my off days, I try not to be chained to the computer, and that is where I do most of my listening. It does make my work hours more interesting, and if I must have a day job, having one where I can listen to music is an awesome perk. There are a lot of jobs where either the environment or the type of work would make it impossible.

The one thing that did not come up for the week in question is that some times I will pull up songs to sing. If I have karaoke coming up, or I just get in the mood, it will happen, and it tends to involve Fall Out Boy, Misfits, and Alkaline Trio, very likely with some Gin Blossoms and maybe Kaoma.

There are some important points to make there regarding how the current setup for music distribution limits what newer songs end up being available for karaoke, but I think I will save that for later. I will always come back to writing about music, because the music is always there. I am always hearing it and thinking about it, and eventually the words have to break through.

January 20th - 26th, 2014

Monday (late start due to a doctor appointment)
1:30 - 2:15 music videos for blog ("Love Like Winter", "Sing", "Don't Cry" and "Go")
2:30 - 3:02 For the Broken (Spotify)
3:03 - 3:14 Closer to Closure (Spotify)
3:15 - 4:11 The Delinquents (Soundcloud)
4:25 - 5:20 Buzzcocks Singles Going Steady (Spotify)
5:40 - 7:41 MCR Conventional Weapons and Danger Days (Spotify)
7:42 -8:30 "More Than This", rest of Non-annoying love songs play list, "Lipstick" and "Shot By Both Sides". (Spotify)

10:15 - 10:30 song of the day stuff
10:33 - 11:04 Delinquents, Soundcloud and Youtube
11:45 - 1:05 For the Broken, Spotify, Youtube
2:00 - 4:00 R.E.M, Murmur and Reckoning on Spotify
4:16 - 5:11 Farewell My Love, Gold Tattoos (Spotify)
5:12 - 5:47  Alkaline Trio tracks off of Crimson (Spotify)

10:15 "Stars of God" by Crow Black Sky for the song of the day.
1:40 - 3:20 AAR, When the World Comes Down and into Move Along, Spotify
5:13 - 5:30, 6:35-6:45 For the Broken, Spotify

9:10 - 9:25 "Bell Song" and "Flower Duet", then barcarolle from Hoffman (Youtube)
9:30 - 10:05 New Politics, A Bad Girl in Harlem, Spotify
10:15 - 10:20 Song of day stuff, Fever Cadence
11:00 - 12:08  For the Broken, Spotify (with Youtube break for Chantal and Jimmy and Helena)
1:30 - 2:24 Fugazi, Repeater, Spotify
3:35 - 4:02 Delinquents on Soundcloud
Little break for Barely Breathing, Kiss Me, More than This, and some Reggie.
4:52 - 5:45 Rites of Spring, starting with 6 song demo but then going into Rites of Spring. Like the intro to Drink Deep.

10:45 - 11:00 Looking for song of day, Rattlesnake Gunfight and Kris Orlowski
11:45 - 12:50 Delinquents
2:16 - 2:40 Finishing Rites of Spring
2:42 - 3:24 Embrace
3:26 - 4:30 Gray Matter, Food for Thought/Take It Back, plus "White Wedding"
4:47 - 6:45 + 30 minutes later, Gin Blossoms

11:15-11:30 Puppet Rebellion for Song of the Day
11:30 - 12:20, 2:30 - 8:30 on and off Gin Blossoms

10:10 - 10:13 All the Apparatus for song of the day
3:00 4:30 - Gin Blossoms

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Creating a set list - Gin Blossoms

As we covered last Monday, I get fixated on ideas, and then I have to do something with them. I can come off as weird and geeky and obsessive, but then there are often rewards, so I'm just going with it.

Wednesday, Jesse Valenzuela of the Gin Blossoms tweeted "New shows coming up! New set list? Send us some ideas"

I know a normal response to this would be to suggest one song, or a few that I like, but I started thinking specifically about a list. What songs would you put together? You want to start on a high note, and usually end that way, and then as you do slower or lower key songs, bring things back up. Then generally you run a similar trajectory with the encore.

You need to strike a balance there, but then there is the issue of balancing the old material with new material. People expect to hear the hits, but if you are promoting a new album, you need to do current music too. Maybe you want to challenge the audience a little; bring up something obscure or different, and let them arrive at it with you. Sometimes you can throw in something unexpected, like maybe the theme song from "The Jeffersons", and that element of surprise spices things up.

Different bands do it differently. Johnny Ramone knew their sets down to the minute, and knew when they were starting to play faster and get through it faster. Third Eye Blind seems to improvise more on stage, though I don't think they are flying completely blind. I'm not sure how the Gin Blossoms do it, but I started thinking about it.

My first thought was "29", because that was the one song I remember wanting that they did not play at the show. After getting used in a movie (The To Do List), that has better odds of getting included now.

I also thought I saw someone say "Cheating" to which I mentally screamed "No!" That's the one song I strongly object to. I don't care whom she reminds you of, yes, it is totally cheating and there is nothing else to call it! I know it's just a song! (Infidelity is kind of a hot button issue for me.)

The other reason "Cheating" stands out is because it is very country. Normally I would say that is not a recommendation, but I recently sang "Till I Hear It From You" at karaoke, and it came out kind of twangy. That never happens when I sing it at home. I do get the value of having some variety in the mix, but there are other songs that are a change of pace as well, like "Cajun Song" or "Memphis Time".

There are other factors that I can't really use. For example, if multiple songs use the same instrument tunings, it would make sense to cluster them together, and I have absolutely no idea which ones those would be. Still, I wanted to work on one entire set list, and I decided it needed to be done. So, I listened to a lot of Gin Blossoms, trying to figure out what would make a good set.

I did listen to Dusted again. I have thought of it more as a novelty, and I think that is an oversimplification, but at the same time, I'm not pulling anything from there that is not on something else. Also, while I would be totally down with "Quitter" showing up, I don't know if there would be anything weird about doing a Gas Giants song, so I did not put that in the mix.

Also, I did not put in a song by another band. I have heard them cover the Replacements, and I know they have a version of Folsom Prison Blues. I was thinking about something new, that they haven't done. It would feel presumptuous to include it in the set list, but different thoughts that I had that could work include "All Star", "Smells Like Teen Spirit", or "When I Come Around."

It's hard work, and there are tough cuts to be made. There are songs that I love, but there were too many already. (I went for a 13 song set followed by a 4 song encore, based on Just South of Nowhere - Live In Chicago having 17 tracks.)

As I was listening to Major Lodge Victory, miles away Mary, another fan that I met through tweets with the band members, was listening to "The End of the World" as it was just coming up for me. So that had to be on the list, because we fans connect with the music, and the band, and each other, and it's a beautiful thing.

My experience is that bands end on really upbeat songs so everyone is pumped, and that didn't feel right here, because I was thinking that we would not want them to go, even though it's inevitable, so I ended on a song about leaving and then a song about looking back.

Ultimately, my list doesn't matter, The most important thing will be that they are there, and bringing themselves and laying it down on the stage; that's what makes the show good. The planning is important, but the magic is in the moment.

I nonetheless did make a list. It boils down to me spending some time listening to good music and thinking about this band I love, and that's not bad.

I'm Ready
Miss Disarray
Follow You Down
Lost Horizons
The End of the World
Learning the Hard Way
Till I Hear It From You
Perfectly Still
Seeing Stars
Don't Change For Me
Found Out About You
Hey Jealousy
Going to California

Allison Road
Keli Richards
Until I Fall Away

Related posts:

Edited 2/28/2014
I just wanted to add this note, which relates, from Jack Barakat of All Time Low: 

I don’t get serious on twitter very often, but I would like to please ask people to stop chanting song names while we are talking or performing on stage, especially while Alex is playing acoustic songs. I appreciate you guys love certain songs, but we rehearse our “ideal set” for weeks before a tour so that we can put on our best show possible. We have 5 albums out and it becomes difficult, and often impossible to please everyone. We have a lot of songs to chose from, and because of that we are playing our longest set ever on this tour. We are very proud of the set we have created, and there is method behind our madness. All you're doing by screaming out song names is ruining the show for people who are enjoying it :) mahalo!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Bass notes

Last week was about catching up on the drawing and screenwriting, which is one type of creativity, and now I have a lot to say about the blogging and music writing. The natural space between that is the bass playing. That also works because the bass just may be the aspect of my life that best represents all of the other aspects. I am still pretty bad at it, and I still love it.

I am not naturally good at bass. It's not just being new to it; my fingers are pretty short. It reminds me of when Lisa Simpson was told how her stubby fingers would hold her back for saxophone. I don't think my fingers look stubby, but when I am trying to get them into the right position it feels like I was crazy to ever think of playing anything larger than a ukulele.

I am also not living up to my minimum goals associated with it. I decided I would just ask myself to practice fifteen minutes a day (plus getting it up on my head), and I often don't manage that. So basically, there are time constraints and limited abilities that prove frustrating, which again fits in with all aspects of my life.

At the same time, there are things about it that are remarkably fulfilling, and touching, and where it connects me to the larger world, and that's kind of how the other things come out too.

First of all, any time I sound a pure note, or I make an adjustment and it works, it gives me joy. The amount of satisfaction per note might go down somewhat as it becomes more common, but I've probably got a while.

I still need to forge my own path, which is overly intellectual. When I was starting out, I kept sounding out scales, and having all of these questions about why things worked that way, and I realized that I needed more background to feel right. I checked out Music Theory for Dummies, and that gave me what I needed to get to the next step. There is still a lot that I don't know, but it filled up the gaps that were bothering me. It also gave me future books to read, and introduced me to Boethius, so that was time well spent.

It has allowed me to help people. I have two Twitter friends who are learning guitar, and encountering frustrations. Even though I am sure that they already surpass me in playing and that they will get far better at this than I ever will, I have still been able to tell them things they need to hear. That is a really hard song; two of the best guitar players out there are featured on it, so give yourself some time. Your ear develops faster than your ability, so you will hear your errors before you can fix them, and that seems like torture, but it's how we get better. I might have known those things already, but I understand them better now.

I have gotten help from unexpected places through Twitter as well. About a month ago, one guitarist was sending other acquaintances a picture of a very unusual guitar, that I think would be hard to play, and I say that without intending any entendres, but they are there.

Anyway, I joined the conversation, and I sent a picture of my guitar, for no real reason except that I felt an impulse to do it and I mentioned being awkward with it. He wrote back "ahh. The flying V bass. Those can indeed feel a bit awkward to rock. Takes some getting used to..."

The first thing there is that it never occurred to me that I had picked out an awkward model, though in retrospect it totally makes sense. That might be part of my problem, and I would not have known. His saying that helps me take heart.

The other thing that is amazing is that the tweet was from Cory White, formerly of Coalesce (and some other bands) and now touring with Reggie and the Full Effect. Months ago I was listening to Coalesce, along with so many other bands, because I was trying to understand guitar better, and because they were touring with Torche. That was the show that I decided I could not go to, because I was worried about the venue, and yet I am pretty sure that is the venue where I am going to see him with Reggie Sunday night. (This show starts and will end earlier, and I'm just going to make it work.)

There are a lot of musical connections there, which is cool, but also just being present I learn things that help me, from people who really know what they are doing, and it's an amazing thing.

It is possible that I will not progress much as a player, but that what I do will help me write about music better and appreciate it more. That would be okay. At the same time, sometimes I will see someone playing and think "I could do that". I've got eight years before I'm late for starting Sabbath Keepers.

I'm just going to stick with it, at my own glacial pace. This is a magical guitar that appeared to me in a dream carried by Frank Iero, Lindsey Way taught me to drop my inhibitions with it, and Cory White has given me perspective. It is a beautiful part of my life no matter what happens from here.

So I will leave with these points to ponder. I have fallen in love at first sight with four guitars now: my bass, Dan Brown's (the Fixx) bass, the Schecter Ultra III (as seen with Kevin Preston in Prima Donna), and the guitar used by Charlie Sexton in the "Sunday Clothes" video.

Is this going to become an expensive hobby? Some people seem to end up with a lot of guitars.
What drives the chemistry, where some guitars I love instantly and others I only like?
Does it mean anything that the two 6-strings and their contexts lean a bit more Southern?
Why do some songs (especially "Bulletproof Heart" and "Thnks fr th Mmrs") make me want to play the guitar part, not the bass?

It's okay; I only really worry about the songs where I feel like I should play the keytar. I might be better at keytar, but it feels like that could lead to a scary place.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Band Review: The Delinquents

I'm glad it ended up being The Delinquents this week.

Part of that is that I enjoyed listening to them. I value covering a variety of bands, but there are sometimes downsides, and then sometimes it is really rewarding. My mother liked them too; she responded to them similarly to how she responds to the Black Keys.

So, there was just enjoying the band, but also the timing was good because I had just been listening to the Buzzcocks, and I detect some of the same musical tradition there. While they are not from Manchester proper (they are from Lancashire) they have played there, and they fit in well with the other bands I have enjoyed from there.

There are some retro notes in their songs, but in the sense that they honor history, not that they feel dated. I think they are a breath of fresh air.

One thing I should mention is that listening on Soundcloud it seemed to jump around, where I was not sure if I was getting all the songs, and then I ended up getting some multiple times, so be aware of that.

I would say don't miss "Supersonic Girl", and that will probably end up being a song of the day fairly soon, but the intros to "Back At Me" and "Let Me Go" have me thinking, "Yeah, that's the stuff." It's worth spending some time with them.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Band Review: For the Broken

For the Broken is a post-hardcore band from Fredericksburg, Virginia.

It was pretty much their turn for a write-up anyway, but the timing is good because they recently started an Indiegogo campaign to produce a new EP, so if this can send a few people to their page and help them hit their goal, that would be great.

As one would expect from the genre, there is a lot of growling and shouting, but that is not all there is. They do include more melodic singing, as well as using guitars and other instruments to add some fairly intricate detail. In that way they remind me of Crow Black Sky. The sound is not quite as mature, but it is a younger band. There is a pretty consistent balance among the various tracks. "Elysium" is a good example.

In addition to supporting the Indiegogo campaign, current releases can be purchased via Bandcamp.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Moving on to the internet

Today's post is going up a bit late. It's my day off, so I have had some errands to run, but also, I've been working on screenplays.

Last year I was in this pattern of uploading a screenplay to Amazon Studios, letting it go through its submission period, and then uploading another. After the third, it didn't seem productive.

I had been thinking that I should just upload them all (there were three already up and I have seven), but then I thought I should go over them, and try and improve them, and there was just this sense of inertia, and hopelessness. This morning I uploaded Between the Lines, which I had read over and updated a bit last night, and today I was reviewing Hungry, which I just uploaded before starting this post.

I can see things about them now where I should have more descriptions, but I don't have it in me to do major overhauls. I can't exactly forget them either. So, I'm giving them quick updates, and then uploading. That still takes some time, so I might get Out of Step out there tonight, or maybe tomorrow. Jade Mask will take a bit longer. That was my first one, which I wrote in Word, so I am in this process of retyping it in Final Draft, which will then let me save it as a PDF, which I can use to upload. It's a process.

When I thought of just uploading everything before, I would get stopped up because you have to write a short description and a long description, and I would always feel like whatever I could say was stupid. What I have to face is that when I am communicating, I pretty much always feel stupid.

I'm not stupid, but trying to share things with other people makes me feel that way. When I first got on Blogger, it became about being more open, and letting my flaws and weaknesses and insecurities out. Twitter leads to a lot of that too. I know a lot of people view social media as a means of image management, but that could just never work for me.

I do think about it. I still remember losing one follower for some of the re-tweets, and it would be possible to have a one profile for the writing and one profile for teens in pain, but it's not practical. What if I was on one profile when someone needed me on the other? Which one do I put my feminism on? Or my comics? Once I start thinking about how it looks, nothing will ever be good enough.

I am more integrated now than I have ever been. For me, that has been less about uniting disparate parts of my personality than just smashing all the compartments and letting everything bleed into each other. Sometimes really good things happen with it, and sometimes nothing happens, but it hasn't been terrible.

I realized recently that this phase is about doing things I do badly. I am okay with being flawed - I have been for a while - but now it's about drawing and music and things that I am not really good at, but doing them anyway and sharing them. That's why the comics are up, and all of the screenplays are going up, and I am going to link to Amazon and Ficwad through the blog, which is linked to Twitter.

I can't link to the Dropbox folder, though I could share it with another person. I guess when a new comic goes up I will tweet it and link it on Facebook. I haven't worked out all the details yet, but I will share.

My art is out there. I want it to lead to opportunities. Selling a screenplay feels like the best thing that could possibly happen. If someone wants me to write a comic, I'd love it. If not, at least one comic has helped people. That's worth something.

No one reads the fan fiction, I know. Most of the people who are into that are looking for sex scenes, and that's not something I'm going to do. (Though if I did, they would be scorching; you have no idea what I'm capable of.) However, that last chapter, that I wrote long afterwards, I have shared with people, and it has helped them. That matters.

Gerard Way tweeted on my birthday something that resonated with me:

"So many comics and songs I want to make, I don't know if I'll ever get them all done before I'm super old and super crazy."

Yes, it feels like that, especially because everything I do gives me other ideas, but I love it. I love seeing things come alive. While I do not know if there will ever be a market for what I do, there are outlets, and I am going to keep at it.

The next phase will probably be a Youtube channel at some point, when I am ready to record songs and film things - I have so many ideas there too. For now, I have two more screenplays to get ready, and a musical to write, and lots of blogs, and a few comics - I have so many ideas - and it's good. It's invigorating. It's satisfying. Even when I see all the flaws in my comics, which are bad, there is always some panel, or something that went right, and it's not a loss.

So that will keep me busy for a while, and it's a good life. If I never make a dime from it, but I can get by, it's still a better life than if it was all kept in. If I do succeed, it will be as a whole person.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monthly comics

Here are all of the comics (except for one, which I will explain later) and a little about them.

The first one, which I did for the MOOC in May, has been pretty well covered in writing, so I am just going to link to that:

After deciding that it was something that I needed to do, I was sure I was going to draw a scene from one of my screenplays. Every time I tried that, it didn't work. Finally, on the last day of June, I noticed a weird weed in the yard, and I tried to cover this imagined life cycle:

The next two both felt more successful. I shared them with my family, and they enjoyed them. Karate Kat really functions more like a children's book, but I have been playing with different forms.

The cat does not look like Maeve at all, but it really does capture her personality. 

The Vampire Nightmare one is in some ways very similar to the May comic, in being autobiographical and using a lot of text:

I did use a real picture as a reference for one panel. See if you can guess which. I did make it a bit more "cartoon" cute to emphasize the inherent unfairness of the situation.

The September one functioned differently again, almost like a flow chart, where I was going through options for my Halloween Twitter name. I was really deciding as I drew, and the conclusion of the comic is that I decided on Sulky Grebe. I set that up online, and immediately changed it to Gorgon Harris, which had also been in the running. The grebe just wasn't scary enough, no matter how sulky.

October is the one that is missing. My thought was to start with a plain pumpkin and show its progress to jack o' lantern. What I was hoping was that if I did it right that even though it was a totally inanimate object, that it could feel animated. It was not horrible but not great either, and I have no idea where the paper went. It may turn up.

November happened because I had a girl in crisis. She was suicidal, and I asked her to wait a few days so I could make her something. She was not sure if she could, but then the pressure was on. It's not trying to create a comic that can save a life, because really, it's the distraction, and the will to live despite strong suicidal urges, that makes the difference. I did still hope that I could give her a different way of looking at it. That if just talking to her in that moment and asking her to wait helped get past the crisis, then maybe the comic could provide some comfort and hope, and a reminder that people do care.

One thing that I was hating about the scans was how hard to read they end up being, so I wanted to eliminate the bad handwriting factor, which meant planning a layout so I could print out the words with sufficient space and then just fill in the drawings.

It's still inadequate drawing of course, but it is also the most valuable one I have done. It did help, and it has helped others. It's not a life-changer; it's just one link in a chain of caring and connection and if that's the only purpose any of this serves, that will be worth it:

I wrote about why the December strip happened yesterday, but I did not go over the technical aspects much. One issue is that I have been feeling like I rely too much on words for these, and I wanted to see if I could tell the story only through pictures. Well, I would have needed to draw more images, and better ones for that. I know what's going on; I'm not sure others can follow it.

I knew drawing people on horseback would be an issue, but so many things came up. I found a way I liked to show a few snowflakes, but once it's a blizzard, so that you have wind and snow drifts and people in danger of freezing, and ice forming, cracking, and breaking up, that is a challenge. Drawing scenes underwater, and then having soaked people above ground is a challenge. The one panel I am really happy with is the skull, and I used a photo reference for that. I did a search for screaming skull, and looked at that. Obviously I had to add the hair and the knife in the eye myself, but yes, I need to spend more time drawing from reference.

The other thing that was interesting to me was the way the panels are laid out. When I was a teenager I choreographed videos for unreleased songs by bands I liked and submitted storyboards. (No, no one ever got back to me.)

My storyboards were always two rows of three panels on a sheet with landscape orientation. Without even thinking about it, that's how the comic based on a music video started out. The January comic is a replacement for an insufficient music video, and I will use that layout too.

That one also has me thinking differently, because I can do larger panels on a page, and sometimes will. When you are planning for television, or a movie, the panel is always the same size. The camera angle can zoom in or out or pan, but the screen will not change, so the ground rules are different and the way of thinking is different.

The other thing that was significant about December is that it was the longest thing I have done. Even without drawing every single thing I saw, this is the first one that I did not draw in one sitting. I needed breaks.

Without being sure about February, March, and April (Would a paper doll book work?), I know that May is going to be long. It has a complex plot, and I want it to look good, and I will have to work out better lettering than my scrawling on the page. It can't be a last minute thing.

So, I am still learning a lot, which I think is what I wanted. The comic-related books on the reading list include a few histories, but a lot of them are books on drawing, and different techniques, and I hope things will start looking better. Also, I kind of hate my pencils. I'm not sure what to look for, but I'd like to do something different there. There's lots to figure out.

As a bonus, here is a link to the drawings I did while in Italy. These are all from my aunt's home:

Related posts:

Monday, January 20, 2014

The intersection of bands, comics, and over-functioning

This current blogging segment should cover all of my creative endeavors over the next couple of weeks, and I am starting with the monthly comics.

If you are just catching up, while in Italy I decided that I should draw one comic monthly, because there is more to comics than drawing well; there is also effectively telling a story. Tomorrow I will go over all of them, but I feel like I need to focus the December one first. There is a feeling of having come full circle.

In spring of 2012, I couldn't shake a music video ("Sing" by My Chemical Romance) where every member of the band died. It stuck with me until I started writing, and didn't let me go until over 400 pages later. It led to reading other comic books, and where the music led me was not necessarily related to that video, but a lot happened.

In October of 2013, I watched a video ("Love Like Winter" by AFI) where every member of the band died, and it stuck with me and eventually I drew this:

(If I apologize every time that I feel like my drawing is inadequate and stupid, we will never make any progress, so that should just be assumed.)

On the plus side, "Love Like Winter" did not take over my life nearly as much as "Sing" did. I guess the negative side is that nagging feeling that I haven't learned very much. Do I really need to take music videos so seriously? Does my solution always have to be the insertion of a female character who fixes things? Apparently yes, this is my thing. I guess now the question is how I feel about that being my thing, or my collection of things.

Always wanting to fix things for people: I don't mind this part terribly. I do understand that I have limitations, I don't usually panic, and I think that the things I end up doing in real life are generally appropriate. Caring isn't torturing me.

For the literary part, having women fix things seems pretty realistic, but the men do heroic things too. I think my gender balance and character development is pretty good, actually.

Making everything into stories: That is just what I do. I need to be okay with it, and I am.

Being traumatized by music videos: That part is a little embarrassing. I know it's not real, and then anything that I do starting with someone else's work then feels derivative. That does bug me.

At the same time, what else am I going to do? Let the characters and ideas knock around in my head and possibly get in the way of other thoughts? Not figure out what lessons there were in the story?

It's not like I am going to apologize for caring about musicians. Maybe that doesn't mean that I have to care about their fake deaths, but I do. And it's not like the musicians are going to apologize that their videos lead to people writing or drawing; Gerard might die more on purpose just to see if he could get someone to do an interpretive dance from it.

So I apparently am stuck, and the only thing to really do is write semi-humorously about it while continuing to be me. Therefore, it is interesting to note that you have to kill off the entire band for it to work. Killing off just one member, like Mikey in "The Ghost of You", does nothing. Killing off all but one member, which AFI does in "Silver and Cold", (and possibly in "Medicate", but that one has a different feel, and if the others are dead then Davey is probably following them there at the end). Also, I guess if the band kills everyone not in the band, like in "Beautiful Thieves", I appear to be okay with it, though that sounds bad.

Our other parallel is that I got really into the weapons again. That dark line running down the dagger? It is mineral salt, and the dagger is silver, so it is designed specifically for the supernatural. I know if I fled a convent before taking the veil because it seemed like that would be living death, and then was surviving as a ranger in a landscape where sorcery and apparitions were a real possibility, this is the dagger I would want to have.

Less parallel, this ending stayed pretty happy. I think the world of the Killjoys was created so bleakly that any gains could only be temporary.

As it is, there is a part of me that watches the video and feels like there is a difference between the entity above the ice and the one under the ice, like maybe the surface woman is evil and a copy, but he shares the fate of the real woman and there is some comfort in that. It's an interesting idea, and it reminds me of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, where I do find her to be sympathetic. However, then I think of those hands frozen to the branch and other hands falling, and yeah, basically she came out evil and spiteful. Quit killing bands!

Really, it all begs the question, why have I never written anything based on Asia's "Don't Cry"? Is it because it is so long ago? Because the video is cheesy? Is it that I don't like Asia as much as MCR and AFI? Asia is okay.

It could be that the last frame jumps back in time before the deaths, so your last visual has all of them alive, even though chronologically that was the beginning of the events. Or maybe it was because they all sought out their quest and died separately, instead of working together and perishing as a band. The disintegration of the girl at the end of "Go" always bothered me more as far as that goes. That and the perfunctory objectification:

We may go over some of these issues more as we get start exploring music videos. It is taking us long enough to get there that The Youngblood Chronicles may give me a new take on what happens when band members are killed off separately.

Before we get there, we will talk about comics, music blogging, bass playing, screenplays, and moving out onto the internet. Over-functioning will come back, but not for a while.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Band Review: Vertical Horizon

Vertical Horizon is not an up and coming band that followed me on Twitter, and I have not seen them in concert, but I really wanted to write about them, so they get the special birthday edition.

I first became aware of them at some point after Everything You Want came out. "Best I Ever Had (Grey Sky Morning)" just pierced me right to the core immediately, taking me back to a time and place and the emotions left with it. It was at least seven years since the last time I had seen him, and there are reasons the lyrics wouldn't fit, but at the same time that didn't matter. It felt like if we ever saw each other again, that song would inevitably be playing in the background.

You don't forget a song that does that to you, and so it was a song that I always held close in my heart. A couple of years ago, I did a Valentine's countdown, and that was on the list. That countdown led to many other things, where I am even writing band reviews twice a week and have something to say about them, but I mention it for something else. Another friend commented on that song because she loved Vertical Horizon and she had met them. She mentioned the issue with the record company not supporting their second album (which I had not known about) but how they kept going and she respected them so much.

So, as they became a part of the Under the Sun tour, and I would see tweets, and it became inspirational to me, and it's a reminder that when it looks like things are going your way it may not last, but if it doesn't, that doesn't mean you're over. That's why I wanted to write about them.

There are a couple of interesting things about the music that I want to put out. One thing is that in the very early stages of they band they spent a lot of time acoustic, and then more recently a country artist recorded a cover of "Best I Ever Had" which did well.

I mention those two things together, because I think they may both have a significant influence on the sound. It is guitar-centric, but with a tendency more towards the subtle than the driving power chords. Especially on "I Free You" and "South for the Winter", the last two tracks on 2013 release Echoes from the Underground, I hear all of these delicate details and flourishes. There is a richness there, but calibrated to never overpower the emotion.

I do think this is a good band to use if you would like to get a country fan more into rock. It will not sound completely discordant to them, and yet it is rock. There may be a good opportunity there.

Mainly, I just want it known that they are still around.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Band Review: KitCat

I think I am the wrong person to appreciate this. I'm not a big fan of remixes in general, and most of the music being sampled here is unfamiliar. I think it is generally well-done for two reasons.

First of all, there was one song that I knew well, MSI's "Never Wanted to Dance", and it was easy to recognize both the source material and the changes, and while I prefer the original, I can see how the remix works for what I am guessing would be a club situation.

Also, at one point I suddenly found myself really annoyed, and I checked and that song was referencing Lady Gaga, so again, I think KitCat is capturing the essence of the song.

Overall it is very much electronic, with some dubstep mixed in. My favorite track was "Lindsey Sterling - Spontaneous Me Remix?", but if this is more your genre, it may make sense to start with the Skrillex influenced-tracks.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Comics for 2014

This means comics for me, not an exciting preview of new titles and revivals that will be coming out over the year; I'll leave that to the professionals.

Last year was a big year for me. Reading comics started in 2012, but 2013 saw the MOOC and ICAF and volunteering at Stumptown. None of that will be happening this year. Well, I guess it is possible that another MOOC could come up that sounds interesting and I would go for it, but I definitely can't go to ICAF. Even if it would not be unreasonable for someone at my level (not at all professional or academic) to travel for the conference (it will be in Ohio this time), I am already booked for something else that week. I was lucky that it did get held in Portland and that I found out about it.

Worse than all of that, they have ended my beloved Stumptown Comics Fest. A big part of that was because of Rose City. What a world. The good news is that Stumptown may still try and do other, smaller events, like bringing guest speakers, and that does have potential. Still, taken all together, it kind of feels like 2013 was magic and the magic has ended.

However, there is still a lot of magic to be had within the comics. As we got closer to the end of the year, I started writing a lot more reviews, and I want to do that more. It is not something that will conform to a regular schedule yet, like the music reviews. I'm still getting the hang of this.

I still keep getting so much pleasure out of the things I find. Even the ones that are kind of disappointing lead to interesting thoughts, and new ways of looking at things, and I feel like I understand a lot more now.

There are a lot of unknowns. I don't know if I will find it in me to try Rose City. For those who are into that, don't mind me; I know my aversion is atypical, and a bit crotchety. I don't know how often I will write reviews. I might do weeks of three reviews at a time in between other series, so maybe a week after I finish updating on my life, before starting on music videos, and then another as we switch from music to teen girls. It will probably depend on what I read and what I have to say. I do have some ideas on the reading.

We'll be starting off with the fruits of another .99 sale, though this was from Dark Horse. They had a sale on Rock comics, so I snapped up all of Orchid and Emily and the Strangers. The sale also included Killjoys, but I have been getting those at Things From Another World because I wanted print.

After that I need to return to my trove of free digital comics from Dark Horse. There were so many good ones already, there should be some good ones coming up. Those are all first issues, so then I will want to take some of those series and continue. So far, that probably includes 47 Ronin, Alabaster:Wolves, The Answer, and Colder.

Otherwise, there is this list I keep of things that I want to read. Technically there are two, because there is a mental list, and then there are things that I actually write up and enter. This year I want to make some headway on the written list. I am aware that this will just lead to me writing down new things from the mental list and I am comfortable with that.

I will read The Black Beetle and Ultrasylvania. I will read some Shigeru Mizuki, probably his new one. It looks pretty good. There are several web comics I want to explore more, including some from my Eugene crew; I would love to bring them some new readers. I intend to check out Bandette. There is a graphic edition of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. I want to check that out.

I said in an earlier review that I need to read more of Lazarus, and that is going to happen. One thing is that there are so many creators and studios that I feel attached to, without having read their work yet, and that's because of the other things. They were on a panel, or spoke at the MOOC, and I have learned from them. Or, I see their tweets. There is always something more to check out. Also, because of Twitter, I have two quests.

The first comes via Steve Morris of Comics Beat and other publications, but it is through Comics Beat that I know about International Darkstar Day:

Yes, the second sketch is mine. He had tweeted worrying that there wouldn't be many submissions, and so I committed that I would. I had many attempts that did not work, and then I just let my instincts take over, and it did work, but it turns out that I have the artistic instincts of a 14 year old girl. It's a little disappointing, but there are reasons that makes sense.

Obviously, there is a larger quest there of learning to draw better, and there will be more on that next week, but also, I want to know Darkstar better before I try her again. That list in the article? I am going for it!

Accomplishing that goal should be pretty easy; the next quest is trickier. After coming back from my Stumptown, I saw a tweet from one of the Twins about an artist selling his book there. I had the program with me, so I replied with the booth number, because that was an easy and helpful thing to do. However, I was then aware of the artist and the book, I'm a German Shepherd by Murilo Martins:

It looked like something I would enjoy, but I had no idea how hard it would be to find. It would have been so easy to buy it that day, if only I had known that would be something to do. It's the limited edition part. The few places that should have had it are either sold out or simply not communicative, but I can't quite give up. A copy may turn up on eBay eventually, or since it seems to be well-liked, perhaps he can do a second edition, but I'm not ruling out travel to Brazil. It's nice there in December, right?

Related posts: