Monday, 29 April 2013

The Writing Process Described in Songs

If you are anything like the rest of us music junkies here at ATWN, and you're also a writer, you probably have extensive writing playlists for your novels. You probably listen to a song a hundred times over just to be sure you're hitting the mood you want just right. Choosing the perfect songs and creating the playlists that will keep you writing long after your mojo has run out is complicated.

But, then, so is writing. Writing is complicated. Last week I was talking to my husband about a new book idea. We'd been throwing scenarios and questions at one another, and it was I had just finished (first round) revisions a couple of weeks ago on my last WIP, and it felt good to be brainstorming something new. It was exciting, and it got me thinking. Our books have playlists, but what about us writers? It kind of makes sense for the writing process to have its own playlist, doesn't it?

Here is how I envision my own writing process to play out in songs:

The shiny new idea:

LET'S GET IT STARTED by Black Eyed Peas 

I especially agree with these lryics. I mean, it's like they were taken from my own head:

C'mon y'all, lets get woohoo!
Lets get woohoo! (in here)
Lets get woohoo!
Lets get woohoo! (in here)
Lets get woohoo!
Lets get woohoo! (in here) Ow, ow, ow!
Ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya, ya...

After I've been writing for a while, and things are probably going waayyyy too smoothly, I almost always hit THE DREADED SAGGING MIDDLE.

That's when this song makes the most sense:

LOSER by Beck

You can't write if you can't relate anyone? 

But then it happens! I pull myself out of that no man's land and suddenly the fire is back. I'm writing with more intensity than before and I know my characters and story better than ever. That's when this song fits:


I think we all know the lyrics to this one, especially the hook (okay, maybe I'm not walking around saying "yo" but I can sing the crap out of this song):

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo

And before I know it, I've reached the ending. It's always a bit rushed on the first few drafts, but nevertheless, the book is written. I've completed an entire draft! So of course this is how I'm feeling:


Seriously, is there a better song for that moment? Maybe, but I still kind of feel like this every time I overcome that first draft hurdle.

Then there is always the fun of revisions, but maybe I'll make another writing playlist for revisions, because let's face it, revisions are a totally different beast. They definitely deserve their own post.

How would you describe your writing process using songs? Which songs would you say fit your method best?

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The POSITIVE Playlist

The Positive Playlist

Sometimes we need reminded that we, as writers, are chasing a dream. We're working towards a goal. For most of us, that means publication in some form or another. No matter how different our paths are toward that goal of publication we have to remember that we're already winners. Why? Because we're pursuing  something we love. We're living examples for our families and friends that if you put in the hard work and don't give up, amazing things can happen! 

Writing, as a craft, is difficult. Then throw in jobs, families, friends, health. Sometimes writing is almost impossible. But if we stay positive, remember WHY we write, and know that our hard work and dedication will pay off, then it makes the day to day stuff more bearable. 

To aid you in staying positive in your writing endeavors, I put together a POSITIVE playlist. Sure, it may sound cheesy, but positive people get stuff done. (Yeah, yeah - some of you are going to call me out on "Hall of Fame" by The Script, feat., but listen to the words and visualize your printed book sitting front and center on a Barnes and Noble shelf. I dare ya.)

Remember the future is just around the corner. Give it your all. You can do this.
Cheerleader out, yo.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Nightlands: An Interview with Dave Hartley

photo credit:  Catharine Maloney  

For anyone who isn't in the know, Dave Hartley spends a good deal of his time playing bass guitar for the outstanding band, The War on Drugs, out of Philadelphia.  I could go on and on about his solo project but, it might just be best if I step aside and let his label, Secretly Canadian, tell you a little bit about Nightlands:

Nightlands is the recording project of Philadelphia-based multi-instrumentalist Dave Hartley. The music he creates in his bedroom is itself a bed of delicate, chiming strings and bubbling synths beneath a blanket of choral vocal arrangements. It's dreamy in the literal sense -- the seeds for the album were sown when Hartley began archiving musical ideas that occurred in his sleep with a simple bedside tape recorder. As a result his debut album Forget the Mantra is, in essence, a field recording of Hartley's dreams -- a travel journal through pop music and a collection of psych-hymns from the first human lunar colony. The songs sound both huge and intimate, breathy and cavernous like massive echoes of a faraway concert. It's the big, shadow music from just across the lake.

Nightlands released a new album, Oak Island, this past January (which you can purchase right HERE) and Dave was kind enough to take a little time to sling emails back and forth and answer a few questions about writing, reading, music, and a little basketball for safe measure.

The futurism of Oak Island seems to line up with themes that appear in the work of Arthur C. Clarke or Philip K. Dick.  The multi-layered vocals of your songs certainly creates a robotic vibe.  Although, your cyborg seems a little more at peace than the Replicants in Dick’s story.  If anything, your robot seems to come from a planet with a fascination for 70s era AM radio.  From reading other interviews, I know that you have an interest in sci-fi.  Any authors in particular?

 Those are interesting observations. I don't really understand exactly what the connection is between my interest in sci-fi and the music I write... It's not explicit, but it's certainly there. I generally favor really ethereal, spacey sounds but more classic, universal lyrics as a contrast. I like the contrast. My favorite sci-fi author is far and away Arthur C. Clarke--I've read and reread all of his classics and even some of his non-fiction. The City and the Stars is my favorite, followed by Imperial Earth, Fountains of Paradise, Rendezvous with Rama, Childhood's End, and 2001, of course. He just thinks with such amazing scope...he can take a human story, zoom out to show interpersonal context, zoom out again to show communal context, zoom out again to show cultural context, zoom out again to show geological or biological context, and usually zoom out to some unheard of distance to show the story in the context of time itself. It's just so heady and sensitive and mind boggling. I'm also a big fan of Dune, although the sequels weaken substantially. Other authors I admire are Heinlein, Asimov, Orson Scott Card, Dick, and some others that are escaping me.

You do a little non-musical writing here and there.  Most notably, your NBA blog for WXPN has been a showcase for your written work.  As a writer who loves music, I’m always trying to convince myself that the two are really closely related but, being that I only know three chords, I can’t say I’m an expert.  Since you wear both pairs of shoes, what kind of relationship do you see between being an author and being a musician?

I see myself absolutely writing a novel someday, probably relatively soon. Writing to me seems a bit like recording: long periods of frustration with occasional bouts of exhilarating inspiration. I imagine everyone writes differently, just as everyone records differently. The huge difference is, of course, that music is meant to be performed, whereas literature or prose are meant to be read. Much less payoff, it seems. Perhaps that's why authors are so grumpy.

You have a degree in Philosophy.  If you could sit down at a bar with any author and just shoot-the-shit about philosophy, who do you think you’d be sharing a beer with?

Well, I come from the school of thought that Philosophy is more of a process rather than a body of knowledge. So in that sense I don't really have a favorite Philosopher or Philosophical thinker, though there are many interesting texts. The author I'd most like to have a beer with is William Knorpp, and I have had a beer with him on a few occasions--he was my advisor and mentor. He is just a profoundly reasonable man, capable of cutting through mounds and mounds of jargon and rhetoric with a single phrase. On the other hand, I'd love to "shoot the shit" with Cormac McCarthy, Oliver Sacks, Malcolm Gladwell, Jon Krakauer, to name a few.

I’ve heard you say before that the freedom to make almost any kind of music can be taxing.  I believe you used the term paralyzing.  I think our readers, who are mostly trying to pound out words for novels, can relate to that feeling.  I know I struggle with containing myself to a single idea at times.  How did you rein yourself in while working as a solo artist?  What was your most consistent struggle?

I impose restrictions upon myself by using a primitive recording set-up. My goal is to use consumer-grade gear and stretch it to places its not meant to go, using hyperbole and innovation. I love when I send an album to be mastered and the engineer says, "wow--what studio did you use to record this? what microphones did you use?" and I say, "I used a 7 year old M-Box, a 6 year old macintosh and a beta 57". You don't get bonus points for making a record with shitty gear--if it sounds good, it sounds good, but I think the shitty gear really helps me, at least at this stage in my development. I have to make lots of commitments early and figure out strange ways to make the gear work, and its my process. I like it a lot. I'm sure I'll graduate to better gear and choose new, arbitrary restrictions at some point.

My most consistent struggle as a solo artist is choosing between comfort and discomfort. There is no right or wrong. Sometimes comfort is a signpost saying "go this way, follow this impulse" and sometimes comfort is a signpost saying "you've done this a thousand times, you're scared--go the other way." It's a struggle, and without other sounding boards, I'm constantly challenged.

You’ve said that you grew up as an avid reader.  A fairly significant number of our readers (and the writers on our staff) write books for kids.  What are some stand-outs from when you were a kid?

Ender's Game was a big one. It was one of the first books I choose for myself and devoured. It was a private world and stoked my love of reading. I'm also massively indebted to my Dad, who read me Lord of the Rings and Dune as a kid, both of which remain my favorites to this day. From there I plowed through all sorts of sci-fi and youth literature. Clan of the Cave Bear was another big one. All these books still hold up now.

Am I right that the name of the band is inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s “Blood Meridian”?  Your music and McCarthy’s grittiness seem like strange bed-fellows.  Is there a significance to the connection or was it one of those “that sounds cool” moments?

I went through a two year period where all I did was read Blood Meridian or listen to the audiobook (which is spectacular, by the way--totally recontextualizes the work). It became something of a pathos. Anyway, I remember reading the phrase "night land" or "night lands," and it made me stop. The context was, a landscape or a stretch of earth, is a different place at night. It is not the same place. And then a few months later I was re-reading 2001: A Space Odyssey and came across "night lands" in reference to the side of a planet that doesn't see the sun (the dark side of the moon, for instance). I just knew it was the name for project--later I realized that my music was all coming from my dreams and from recordings I had made of my dreams. I swear it didn't register to me that there was any connection. It was either subconscious or coincidental.

I can't emphasize, though, how deeply Blood Meridian wedged itself inside me. It was insatiable. I couldn't get enough, and I couldn't explain why it fascinated me. It was a little embarrassing, actually, because the book was so incredibly dark and morbid--but there are thousands of gruesome and violent books that do nothing for me. I still don't completely understand the connection, aside from the fact that it's simply an astounding, colossal work. How does something like that get written? What sort of mind set was McCarthy in during its creation? What sort of combination of inspiration and analysis did he use? I will come back to it for the rest of my life, I'm sure.

Do my Celtics stand a chance in the play-offs this year?

No, but they could upset the Knicks in the first round. Without Rajon Rondo (and Ray Allen, for that matter), they won't get out of the conference-semis, though.

Any books on your nightstand right now?

Right now I'm reading "Time Enough for Love" by Robert Heinlein.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Interview - Author Emma Trevayne

Everyone here at ATWN is so excited to have Emma Trevayne, author of the upcoming YA sci-fi CODA, here today talking about her love of music, how it influences her writing, and Robert Smith?
Okay, let’s get started…

Time for the toughest question for any music fan....What is your favorite band/artist and why?
Oh, you didn't really ask that. I can't name just one. In general, I want music with interesting lyrics and beautiful structure. Bright Eyes, the Antlers, the Decemberists all do this well, same with the bands I grew up listening to, like the Cure, Bowie, and the Smiths.

How important is music to you when you are writing?
Completely. I can’t write without it. I’ve tried and the words don’t come. On the bright side, it’s basically the only essential thing. I can pretty much write anywhere, anytime as long as I have music. (And caffeine, but if I had to choose, I’d ditch the coffee.)

How specific are your playlists when you write?
That depends? Pretty specific for CODA and its sequel, CHORUS, maybe a little less so for some other projects. With CODA and CHORUS, almost all of the songs on the playlists have some relevance to the plot, the characters, the mood I was trying to evoke, or all three. There are a few random weirdnesses thrown in as a result of what I was in the mood to listen to when writing certain scenes, because I was/am trying to write about music with love and wonder and so I’d listen to songs I think are miraculous, but mostly the songs are linked somehow to the stories.

What is CODA all about?
A world in which music is a marketed, addictive, mind-altering, and eventually fatal drug. And a musician who realizes he doesn't want the people he loves to suffer any more than they already have.

Where did the inspiration for CODA come from?
The Prodigy song “Voodoo People” at the beginning of the movie Hackers. Really. It is such a perfect choice to set the tone and mood of that movie. You hear the song and you know what you’re in for. It got me thinking about how effective music is at directing our thoughts. Maybe more effective than anything else.
Is there a songwriter you wish you could write a song with?
Oooh, good question. Robert Smith.

If we were to look on your iPod, what bands would come up the most?
Definitely the ones named above. I just looked in my “Top 25 Most Played” in iTunes for you and in addition to songs by those artists, songs by Slow Club, Animal Collective, Okkervil River, Frightened Rabbit, And One, Covenant, and the Limousines all make appearances.

Would you say your musical interests have a direct impact on what you write?
Yes. I haven’t yet written a book that wasn’t, at the very beginning, inspired by a specific song or piece of music I love. If that trend continues, my eventual body of written work is going to be very eclectic. The last manuscript I finished (a middle grade due Summer ‘14 from Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) has its roots in a ballet. CHORUS has a kind of theme song which has partly influenced the plot.

Is there a concert you attended that you’ll never forget?
Many! But I’m going to go with having seen David Bowie live. He was incredible and it was one of those nights where the crowd was really into it. Live music is a partnership, and I’ve been to a lot of gigs where that partnership didn’t work--which are the gigs you either forget or remember as just being okay.

Have you ever found a song you just couldn’t stop listening to?
Too many times to count. The most recent was Robert Delong’s “Global Concepts” and that one is my best friend’s fault. “Here,” she says. “You have to check out this song.” I listened to it for three days straight. And now I have to go listen to it again.

Are there any bands that you would like to recommend to everyone?
The Antlers are the first that popped into my head here. They deserve every accolade people can throw at them. Wolfsheim, who were sort of Germany’s answer to Depeche Mode. Yellow Ostrich. The National.

Final question, what genre of music best reflects Anthem, the eighteen-year old MC in CODA?
Electro-industrial, the unofficial sponsor of cyberpunks everywhere.

Thanks to Emma for taking the time to stop by All The Write Notes. CODA, a YA sci-fi novel set in a futuristic, dystopian New York City, is out May 7th, 2013 and you can find it's STARRED REVIEW over at Publishers Weekly. If you're looking to pre-order CODA, head down to your local book store, or pick it up on Amazon.

If you would like to find out more about Emma, check out her blog, or give her a follow on Twitter. BTW for those of you on Goodreads, you can add her book to your to-read pile by clicking here. Now sit back, sip on your tea, and enjoy a special Spotify playlist with tracks from the bands Emma loves. Enjoy!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Interview: Kelsey Macke, YA Author

Last week, the lovely Kelsey Macke announced that her amazing book, Damsel Distressed, has been picked up for publication by Spencer Hill Contemporary!

Kelsey Macke has been creative for as long as she can remember. From an early age she was on stage singing, penning poetry, and writing notebooks full of songs. When the idea for her debut novel, DAMSEL DISTRESSED, popped into her head, she was undeterred by the fact that she had no idea how to actually write a novel. Her bff, the internet, was her guide, and after much trial, error, and candy, she finished it, and set out to get it published… a process far more difficult than, the internet (now her mortal enemy), had lead her to believe.

Her whirlwind adventure was made even more unbelievable when she signed with fabulous agent, Jessica Sinsheimer of the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and, shortly after, Danielle Ellison of Spencer Hill Contemporary bought her debut.

This innovative, mixed-media art project has given Kelsey an incredibly unique opportunity to join two of her passions: writing and making music with her husband as half of the folky, indie-pop band Wedding Day Rain.

DAMSEL DISTRESSED, and the companion album of original songs, Imogen Unlocked, are scheduled for release in October 2014.

Did you catch that? Her book is being released with a companion album! How amazing is that? I cannot tell you how excited I am about this project. If you're curious about what it might be like, check out her vlog, where you get a tiny taste of her music intertwined with her book.

And now, five questions with Kelsey!

1. Tell me about Damsel Distressed. Where'd you get the inspiration for the story?

Damsel Distressed popped into my head shortly after I read John Green's The Fault In Our Stars. It was after reading THAT book and watching his vlogbrothers videos on youtube that I realized for the first time, that he was not some magical word elf. He was a regular dude, with a family, and an obsession with the internet, and he wrote books. It wasn't long after that that I got the inspiration to write what was basically a Cinderella story from the point of view of the "ugly stepsister". The Cinderella thread was all but forgotten, however, as I began to outline. What WAS emerging, though, was a girl, Imogen, who had a lot of baggage. I heard (and can still hear) Imogen's voice LOUD and clear... which was why the first draft came relatively easily. I wanted to write the story of a person who had problems, but those problems could not be glossed over as in so many books. I didn't want a  main character who was "sad." I wanted a main character who was clinically depressed, medicated, and who had struggled with self harm. I didn't want a main character who was constantly saying, "oh, I'm so plain and un-beautiful, but all the boys like me." I wanted a main character who doesn't match any of societies biggest requirements for stereotypical beauty.

2. How did you come up with the idea of Imogen Unlocked? Did you know you wanted to do the companion album while you were writing the book?

Imogen Unlocked came out of a collaborative brainstorming session with my agent, Jessica Sinsheimer. We were discussing the book, and also discussing my experience as a recording artist (in my younger days) and how much singing/songwriting is a part of my life. She thought there must be someway that we could tap into my own musical interests in connection with the book. It was like a bolt of lightning struck my head when I realized that my band, Wedding Day Rain, would be perfectly suited to create the companion album and that I would be able to enjoy the fruits of both writing, and also experience the joy that I feel when performing/writing/recording with my husband Daron as Wedding Day Rain.

3. What's your favorite band/album? Who are your musical influences?

I know that it's annoying when people can't name a specific band or album that is their favorite, but truly, it would be impossible to choose just one. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and even before that. Through my life, I've listened to all sorts of music, from growing up on southern gospel quartet music, to my obsession with New Kids on the Block in elementary school, to emulating Mariah and Whitney with my hairbrush for hours on end, to my punk rock phase in junior high school when I wore baggy pants and saved my money to buy Green Day albums that were YEARS older than "Dookie". When I was in high school I was in a sequined-vest wearing, jazz hand waggling show choir, and I fell in love with broadway musicals, and in college, I became nostalgic for 80s hair metal and subdued alternative rock music like Augustana and the Fray. Now I listen to just about everything. In my car, I almost exclusively listen to 90s on 9 for my throwback jams, but at home, I listen to bands like Tegan and Sara, the Civil Wars, Bon Iver, The Temper Trap, Death Cab for Cutie, MGMT, Phoenix, Imagine Dragons, Of Monsters and Men, Metric, and M83... I really could go on for hours. It's best we stop here. 

The point is that art inspires art. 

Every word I've ever read, every painting I've ever contemplated, every song I've ever sung along to has inspired every single piece of art that I, myself have put into being. I think that's one of the most beautiful things about art, really. We NEED art to MAKE art. I NEED art to MAKE art. Art isn't made in a vacuum. 

4. Do you listen to music when you write? If so, what'd you listen to while writing Damsel Distressed? 

I am weird. 

I can't listen to music with lyrics... or truly, music with structure of any kind while I am actually putting new words on the page. I can't turn off the lyrics. I can't stop thinking about what the music is saying and free myself up to say what I AM saying. Even so, I could have music on prior to writing, or while editing/revising, and I had a playlist for DD that always put me in the perfect state of mind for working on Imogen's story. 


5. Do you think of yourself more as a writer or as a musician, or is it possible to separate the two?

I think it's hard to separate the two, but certainly not impossible. I've been singing/writing songs for way, WAAAYYYYY longer than I've been writing. I've been singing my whole life and only really began writing fiction in 2012. That said, I think that writing is just another form of creative expression and for me, all creative expression is precious and useful and important. I see these experiences as a way for me to connect with a totally new side of my creativity. In truth, I don't really think of myself as a writer... unless I'm actually writing. Like, right now, I'm far more of an tumblr-wench than a writer, and when I'm teaching, I'm certainly more of a teacher than a writer. Being a writer is "in" me, but it's not all that I am, not at any given moment anyway. 

I think that everyone has creativity in them, and it just takes a bit of trial and error to see what the best ways are for them to get that creativity expressed! I'm lousy with clay and paint, but I draw a MEAN DOODLE, and I think that counts for something. I hope that everyone who already identifies as a writer or a poet, or whatever, would give songwriting a try, or slam poetry, or playwriting, because I feel that creative expression only makes you a more well rounded artist and human being. 

Thanks for taking the time to do the interview, Kels! Don't you guys LOVE HER?! Now's probably the perfect time to add Damsel Distressed to your Goodreads shelves, right? Right.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Write Frame of Mind

I know a lot of writers really love the revision process.

In general, I'm not one of them. I love drafting (and I do it SLOWLY), and revisions are typically on a shorter deadline and I stress and I procrastinate and I write and I rewrite and I CRY.

(I do not actually cry.)

(I mean, not usually.)

I generally get to a point where I become a little insane and incapable of normal social interaction, especially when someone asks, "Are you finished with your revisions yet?"

Luckily, I know about this delightful personality trait of mine, and try to do what I can to make myself a pleasant person to live with while I'm revising. When I started my first round of post-book deal revisions on Between, I created a playlist to help me get into the right frame of mind for revising (or the WRITE FRAME HAHAHA WORDS ARE FUN)--just a mix of happy, upbeat songs that didn't really have anything to do with my book. I'd listened to my Between playlist roughly 435928405 times by the time I actually signed my contract with Spencer Hill Press, so I was a wee bit tired of it. I wanted a playlist I looked forward to listening to every day, that would play in the background and keep me happy.

As I dive into the second round of revisions this week, I decided to create yet another playlist and I'm pretty sure I've outdone myself with this one.


Based on my research, you cannot be stressed and/or sit still while you listen to these songs. It is scientifically designed to make you happy. It's magical. And even if you're not writing or revising or doing anything you find stressful, it's a great mix to celebrate the end of dumb, gray winter and the beginning of bright,warm spring!

Hope you enjoy it! Do you have any favorite feel-good songs? We all know I could've made an entire mix of my favorite 90s rap songs and been just as delighted by that, right?
Stay tuned for Monday--I've got an interview with the lovely Kelsey Macke about her amazing project, Damsel Distressed, a YA novel that includes it's own soundtrack, Imogen Unlocked! 

Monday, 8 April 2013

Blondfire and AWOLNATION rock the house

Ok, more specifically, on March 16, 2012, they rocked this house:

A small venue, standing room only, the kind of venue where there's no bad seat, er, spot in the house. :)

Let me start by saying I love both of these bands, and I know every word to every song they sing, a fact that for me, always makes the entire concert experience better.:)

AWOLNATION headlined, and they killed it, like I knew they would. I'm talking full-on crowd surfing near the front, a lead singer who knew exactly how to work the crowd from minute one, and in that small venue, the whole crowd sang along TO EVERY SONG. I'm not kidding. And when they played Sail, the crowd went insane. AWOLNATION is the real deal, both recorded and live. If you've been living in a cave or just want to learn more about the awesomeness that is AWOLNATION, check out their website. Here's also some links to YouTube videos of my top three AWOLNATION songs right now: Wake UpKill Your Heroes, and Not Your Fault. Join the nation.:)

But before AWOLNATION took the stage, Blondfire rocked. IMO, they couldn't have picked a more perfect venue, since Ponte Vedra Concert Hall sits minutes from the ocean and Blondfire just recorded a new video for their song Waves.

Blondfire killed it too.

I'm a huge Blondfire fan, even more now than before. Erica Driscoll is the lead singer, and her vocals are amazing. Ethereal, fresh, and edgy smooth, Blondfire's music is total WIP fuel for me, no doubt in part because so many of my novels seem to incorporate beach settings. And they were awesome live.

Here's Erica, Blondfire's lead singer, mid-concert:

Blondfire played every song from their EP WHERE THE KIDS ARE and sounded incredible. They don't have the rabid fan base of AWOLNATION--yet!--but for their sake, I hope it comes. Because Erica, her brother, and the rest of the awesomeness that is Blondfire are extremely talented, and I can't wait to hear more from them. I'd totally see them in concert again, either as an opening band or headliner. They were that good.

And they were very gracious in person. Here's me, with Erica and Steve of Blondfire after the show:

Cool, right? Yup, I'm a total fangirl.:)

So here's the deal. I want everyone to discover Blondfire. Give 'em a listen, check 'em out. And to encourage this Blondfire listening, I'm giving away a free $10 iTunes card. You read that right: free tunes on me! And while I can't make you buy their album, I highly recommend it. :)

To enter, spread the word.:) Go to Blondfire's Facebook page and "like" it, or tweet about this giveaway, then listen to their tunes and leave a comment below telling me which Blondfire song you like the most. Only the comment is mandatory. Then you're in the Rafflecopter drawing.* Yay!

So go. Listen. Enter! Woohoo!

a Rafflecopter giveaway > Good luck! Winner will be announced next week.:)

p.s. Now that you've listened, isn't Blondfire awesome?! Told ya.:)

*This giveaway is now closed. Thanks to all who entered. And congratulations to our winner, Amy Keita! We'll be contacting you shortly Amy to get you your $10 iTunes card! :)

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Why I (sort of) hate Led Zeppelin

I'll get to why I sort of hate Led Zeppelin, but I have to digress for a moment. For context. And so you don't think I'm a bitch.

In another life, some years ago now, I managed 20 or so miscreants at a hair salon. I was a poor college student who needed the job. I was also young and I put up with a lot -- too much -- from the staff.

Hairstylists, in general, are an interesting bunch. Societal misfits, artists, and amateur counselors for their clients, they live life on the fringe of moral acceptability and like it. Moody and dramatic, fascinating and frustrating, I loved working with them slightly more than I hated it.

Every single one of these hairdressers drove me a little crazy. A typical day involved at least two of the following:

  • A fight in front of clients, leaving me to smooth things over. 
  • Recreational drug use in the bathrooms. 
  • Loud, slanderous gossip about their prominent clients.
  • Theft of each other's commissions/tips, often using me as a scapegoat and feigning innocence. 
  • Calling in "sick" when I knew -- and they knew that I knew! -- that they'd been out partying the night before, leaving me to call their angry clients. 

And so, needing employment badly and having no other outlet for my frustrations, I behaved as you'd expect a consummate music nerd to behave: I burned passive-aggressive CDs for my coworkers in a show of "goodwill", and in a desperate attempt to get them to stop being such narcissistic assholes to me.

Here are three of my musical responses and the shenanigans to which I was responding.

EXHIBIT A: One female stylist I worked with was once a robust woman in her late 40s who used meth (or something like it) to lose over 100 pounds rapidly. Her change was so dramatic that I was confronted by an irate (bigoted, massive bitch) customer who thought that we had hired a drag queen.

"I know you hire those people in this industry," she hissed at me, "but this is too much!"

Patrick Swayze would have kicked her ass, God rest his soul.

Anyhow, this particular stylist was occasionally so strung out ("I'm hypoglycemic!") that she would pass out cold in the middle of cutting hair, horrifying her clients and causing two or three of her fellow stylists to stop what they were doing to pick her up off the floor, drag her to a shampoo bowl, and hose her off. No big deal.

RESPONSE: I made her a CD filled with songs about the dangers of doing drugs. She loved it.

EXHIBIT B: Then there was the especially promiscuous stylist who, one sunny afternoon, ran screaming out the front door of the salon when he discovered that his itchy eye was the result of crab larvae wriggling around in his eyeball.

To cleanse you of that visual, here's a puppy. 

RESPONSE: I made him a CD filled with songs about self-love, with euphemisms about the act written all over the disc. He thought it was hilarious.

See, this was the reaction I got from the stylists -- none of them had any clue that I was poking fun at them or, if they did, they didn't care. They would just thank me profusely for making them such cool CDs and they'd be extra nice to me for a day or two before they'd be back to their usual behaviors. So, I decided to be more brazen just to see what would happen and because, well, fuck 'em.

Here is, finally, where Led Zeppelin enters into it.

EXHIBIT C: Okay, so there was this stylist who was head-over-heels for Led Zeppelin. She was a super cute blonde and had lots of borderline creepy male hangers-on.

No, she wasn't Robert Plant.

When her birthday rolled around I, naturally, made her a CD called I Love Jimmy Page, full of obvious, pointed examples of what a talentless group of thieving hacks Led Zeppelin were. The idea was that she'd put the CD on, thinking that it would be a bunch of Led Zeppelin "bootlegs", but would instead get 80 minutes of all the songs that her favorite band in the world had so shamelessly ripped off.

Now, before you convict me for crimes against rock for ripping on Zep so hard, hear me out.

The Zep-loving gal was one of the worst offenders of calling in "sick" at the very last minute, and her creepy clients would have meltdowns when told of her absence. I spent many a morning getting screamed at and/or talking her clients down from their bizarre metaphorical ledges. And this bullshit happened at least once a week, which is why I decided I'd make my first brazenly passive-aggressive CD especially for her.

Problem: I had no idea how I was going to prove that Led Zeppelin sucked, since I was firmly of the mind that they didn't suck. Not even a little bit.

Solution: With the gusto of a cherry-picking cable news pundit, I went straight for the minor, seemingly insignificant details: I checked song credits.

True Fact: Jimmy Page invented the blues.

Score! It is well known that Jimmy Page went far beyond "appreciating" old blues numbers to downright ripping them off AND, in a staggering display of kicking one when they're down further than he would ever be, he gave HIMSELF (and bandmates) songwriting credits! What a complete bastard. Here are just a handful of examples:

Howlin' Wolf - "Killing Floor"
Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor" is one of the more obvious examples (right up there with "Sweet Little Sixteen"/"Surfin' USA") of outright theft perpetrated against black musicians by white musicians; if nothing else, Howlin' Wolf should have at least throat-punched Jimmy Page for "The Lemon Song".

Just like that, I had my first track. 

And then there was the matter of Robert Plant. Who can deny that his vocal range is at the very least iconic?

But it turns out that even he stole his chops from another British bluesman, only this guy had more talent in his pinky than Robert Plant has dreamed about while dressed up as a white knight atop his steed. Don't believe me? Watch and learn from Steve Marriott:

The Small Faces - "You Need Loving"
At least The Small Faces had the class not to claim they wrote "You Need Loving", nor to change it up "Surfin' USA"-style and cause legions of their fans to try to convince their blues fan college roommates that the Small Faces were NOT a bunch of rip-off artists.

But Led Zeppelin's thievery didn't stop there, of course: Jimmy Page even stole his whole cello-bow-on-electric-guitar move!

The Creation - "Painter Man"
Yeah, it's mimed, but he's drawing the bow on the recording and that's what counts. The Creation got lost in the shuffle of British R&B bands who turned psychedelic, but at least one of their gimmicks found a home forever in Led Zeppelin lore.

I was able to dig up half a dozen or so more examples of questionable song credits to round out the first half of the CD. And then something very unexpected changed my trajectory:

It turns out that Jimmy Page, session musician, gave more than a few British rock bands a lift!

Including The Kinks:
The Kinks - "Revenge"

The less-well-known pysch rockers, Les Fleur de Lys:
Les Fleur de Lys - "Circles"

And, perhaps the most disputed of all his credits, The Who:
The Who - "I Can't Explain"

But even if he didn't play on "I Can't Explain", Jimmy Page found time to record with at least one of the guys in The Who (see if you can guess which one):
Jeff Beck Group - "Beck's Bolero"

The girl, of course, loved it and I learned a hell of a lot, which is the goal of any good music nerd, right? And while I was severely annoyed at all the outright thieving bastardry I uncovered in my passive-aggressive quest, I couldn't fully turn Jimmy Page into a villain. He's too good, too cool, and too everything that rock 'n' roll once was and should be again.

You magnificent bastard.

TL;DR: The reason why I sort of hate Led Zeppelin is simple: Like his rock 'n' roll heir apparent, Jack White, Jimmy Page has the ability to take what's been done before and make it sound like something you're hearing for the first time. I don't know what you'd call that, exactly, but I'm glad a little bit of it still exists.

On a probably unrelated note, I haven't had a decent hair cut since I left the salon. True story.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Hit 'Em With The Remix

I thought it was an April Fool's joke at first, but Nelly just released a country song. Okay, he released a remix of a country song. But when I first heard it on the radio, I actually changed my radio dial because I could've sworn I'd been listening to pop radio and not country. I wasn't on the wrong station though: Nelly and Florida Georgia Line teamed up!

That's right, they're CRUISIN' together.

This is the original:

But then, as so many country artists do, they wanted to cross over into pop for a new audience.

And boy did they cross over. I've heard both Taylor Swift and Hunter Hayes do this, but they normally just change the acoustic guitar to an electric guitar, but not these guys. They teamed up with Nelly and totally reworked the song.
And now I hear “Cruise” all the time on both the country and pop stations. They expanded their audience, because they reinvented the original.

And isn’t that what our drafts are? Remixes of the original. We change the bridge, rework the melody in the chorus, add a line or two–all the while keeping the integrity of our story. Because whether it's the remix of "Cruise" or the original, I roll my windows and rock out in my car. The song gives me the same feeling, it achieves the goal (for me at least) in both versions, but it's two completely different executions.

So if you’ve got a plot that’s not working or a character that falls flat, don’t be afraid to remix it. Don’t be afraid to cut multiple chapters and go an entirely different direction or completely revamp your character's wants, needs, life, etc. That’s what you’re there for. You’re the author.

Hit ‘em with the remix.