Living gets in the way of life…

May 20, 2016 1 comment

I’ve been thinking about time a lot lately. I’m damn near 50, so that might be why. But I think it’s actually more than that.

I don’t have enough of it to do the things I want to do. I spend too much of it doing things I don’t want to do. Of course this doesn’t make me any different than 96% of the people I know but I adore obsessing over things I have little control over. It’s one of my many charms.

Plus, I write.

I’m one of those people.

I don’t talk much. I’d rather listen and then regurgitate.

classical_guitar_clock-r201cd44db5554d78a1903efec46c9142_fup1y_8byvr_630I write songs mostly. And plays. In my spare time. And therein lies the rub. Because as time passes “spare time” takes on a different meaning. In my early 20s a few free hours could turn into pretty girls and a 12 pack. Now I use the time to cut my relentlessly growing grass….or put on my Uber driving cap for my 2 kids….or run errands…..or to attend to 1000 things that need attending to because that’s the way life works for most of us. Living gets in the way of life…one of the world’s cruelest ironies.

I have a full time job, for which I’m grateful, but let’s face it. Unless your full time job entails doing what you love to do (does yours? No? Gee, really?), a full time job is pretty much a huge pain in the ass. We get up earlier than we want to and spend a third of our day with people we’d probably avoid in a Wal-Mart aisle. We make less than we should for the work we do and come home at the end of the day with way less brain cells than we had when the day started. It’s a ghastly cycle really, but going through it doesn’t make us special. It makes us normal. It allows me to pay the bank monthly rent for the house I pretend I own.

What’s not normal is the rare bird who can wake up and go to bed every day immersed in his or her passion. If I could wake up, ice up a case of Diet Coke, and go into a room with a guitar and a legal pad and a few condenser microphones, and emerge 16 hours later, day after day…..that would be just swell. 

I could do this, of course. But I don’t like divorce lawyers and repo-men and threatening letters and phone calls from creditors. I also don’t like the idea of not having health insurance. That’s the sort of thing that can ruin your day and keep you up at night staring at the black ceiling.

So what’s a poor boy to do?

I’ve got so many talented friends. Musicians mostly. I’m talking guys and gals who can wail…who can play anything with strings or keys or that requires sticks and can sing the paint off the walls…all the while creating very impressive bar tabs. Rock and rollers as badass as anybody you can mention. And nobody knows who the fuck they are except for the locals. Maybe that’s as it should be. We all deserve our own rock stars. They’re way more interesting than the universal ones.

So yea….time. When I’m making music the clock moves like somebody is winding it forward. When I’m doing the 9-5 thing, it’s more like there’s a power outage and the clocks stop working entirely. So what does this mean, in practical terms?

And why do I feel like, despite having less and less time to write and make music, I’m actually getting better at it?

Gather round, children….and I’ll enlighten you. Like much enlightenment, it ain’t rocket science.

Knowing that I may only have, say, 2 hours in a week to creating something, when those 2 hours arrive I don’t fuck around. I focus and I work my ass off. If I’m in a recording studio, I don’t obsess over the drum sound. I deal with people who know how to make drums sound good and leave them to it. I make sure my guitar is in tune, count “1-2-3”, hope the bass player is sober, and we’re off. I don’t say “let’s try this and see if it works”…..I decide beforehand if it’s going to work, and then do it. Because in 2 hours I have to pick up my kid at the movies. If you think the song would sound better with a Hammond overdub…..have you come-to-Jesus moment before the clock starts running and your kid is standing on the curb waiting for your late ass.

Want to know why the Guns N’ Roses record “Chinese Democracy” record took 15 years to make? Because Axl Rose didn’t have a full time job and have to cut his own grass, that’s why. If he did, maybe it would have taken a week and not been a piece of pretentious gibberish. (As one critic wrote on the day the record was finally released…”If you purchased a kitten on the day that Use Your Illusion I & II arrived in stores, it’s probably dead by now….”)

Oh, and write a good song. I’ve written many un-good songs. If there is a good song in there ready to come out, it’s gonna come quickly. If it’s leaking out like the drip-drip of a faucet, it’s probably fighting to remain unheard for very good reasons. Have an idea. A title. A riff. Something. Then take it out for a spin and try not to drive into any walls.

Focus. Work smart and only waste time if you have it to waste, which most of us don’t. So, in short, don’t waste time.

Shortcuts for some are just a quaint change of scenery. For others it’s how we get home without running out of gas.

Oh, and it helps if you don’t need a lot of sleep because between midnight and 2am are excellent “free time”.

Thus endeth the lesson.

In a bit..

–tf

 

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Welcome to Feeling Old

May 3, 2016 2 comments

In a few months I’ll be 50 years old. Want some glorious alliteration? Ok, how’s this?

Fucking fifty.

There are lots of roundabout ways of feeling old.

images“Purple Rain” is 32 years old. At the time of Prince’s release, “Love Me Do” was 21 years old. Ponder that for a moment. “Purple Rain” is older now than “Love Me Do” was then.

The song “Wonderwall” is 21 years old. In 1995 the song “Kung Fu Fighting” was 21 years old. Doesn’t that make you think that you should have taken more drugs when you had the chance?

“Stairway to Heaven” was only 9 years old when drummer John Bonham died, and the song was already embedded in “classic rock” playlists, never to be dislodged. You know who had the top song in the nation 9 years ago? Something I never heard of by someone named Beyonce.

Isn’t that just……messed up?

One of the great rock and roll documentaries is”Hail Hail Rock and Roll”, a film wrapped around the great Chuck Berry’s 60th birthday celebration. Keith Richards helped roll Chuck out of mothballs to sing 30 year old songs to 40 and 50 year olds. Pure nostalgia. Chuck was 7 years younger then than Springsteen is now. Bruce is currently ending his shows promoting his 36 year old record “The River” with a roof rattling version of “Shout”, which most people know through the movie “Animal House”, which was released the same year as “Miss You” by the Rolling Stones…their attempt to ride the disco wave kick started by the Bee Gees and Vinnie Barbarino. By the way Chuck Berry is now 89 years old and playing gigs in his home state of Missouri….duckwalking through the same songs he wrote during the 1950s, a decade before I was born, and a mere decade after Truman dropped the bombs.

When Tom Petty had his first hit with “Breakdown”, Green Day’s Billy Joe Armstrong was 5 years old. Green Day’s “Dookie” is 22 years old, the same age as One Direction’s Harry Styles. “American Idiot” is 12 years old, older than the life of the Beatles.

My favorite REM album is “Fables of the Reconstruction”, released in 1985, the same year as the Live Aid concert, and the year Bruno Mars was born. I was 19 years old. That REM record is now 31 years old. In 1985, the song “Rock Around the Clock” was 31 years old.

Justin Bieber and Roger Daltrey share the same March 1st birthday, born 50 years apart. The length of my life thus far.

See how circular (and sad) this all is?

I bought my first CD (“Green Thoughts” by the Smithereens) 28 years ago, the year I graduated from a small college that is now a significantly larger university. That year Elvis Presley’s “It’s Now Or Never” was 28 years old. You know who else is 28 years old right now? Snooki.

Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” is older than the combined ages of my teenage daughters.

And just to remind myself how broke I am and will continue to be….my parents bought their home for less than it cost me to put up a fence in my backyard. A entire year in college for me cost less than a single semester’s meal plan for a kid today. And so it goes. Time mocks me forever and ever.

I have to blame the death of Prince for all of this. I sorta built my own little world in between my stereo speakers….and in this world people like Prince aren’t supposed to die. Ever. Of course Elvis and Lennon and Cobain and Levon Helm weren’t supposed to die either. You’d think I’d learn but I never do. It’s like algebra class. You can sit my ass in there all you want, but I ain’t ever gonna get it.

And speaking of Prince….do you realize he started recording the year before Pink Floyd released the album “Animals”? I immediately thought of this when I saw David Gilmour’s glorious wordless tribute last week…..turning “Comfortably Numb” into “Purple Rain” and back again during a show in London, proving once again that the only music that isn’t timeless is music that sucks.

Of course this didn’t make me feel any less old…..to the contrary. But it did remind me that there are advantages to years, especially if you’re lucky enough to live at the same time as people like Prince and David Gilmour.

Comfortably numb indeed…

I don’t ever wanna get old. I might miss stuff like this.

In a bit..

–tf

 

 

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American Royalty

April 22, 2016 2 comments

People way more qualified to write about Prince are writing about Prince right now. But I’m going to write about him anyway because I want to remember, years from now, how this made me feel when it all went down.

I have five brothers and sisters. The best stereo in the house was in the basement….and one of us was always down there with our albums, rocking and rolling. We’d sit in the large chair against the wall and groove. No distractions. No TV. Just the music. Singing, air-guitar-ing. There was no sharing though. If one was down there, the others weren’t allowed. Unwritten rule. If somebody invaded, they were summarily ejected. If one wanted the space, we’d flick the light off and on at the top of the steps. “How much longer?” “Get lost!” Rock and roll was serious business in our house.

Prince-CTCMy twin brother was and remains an unassuming dude. But there were times when he’d be spinning something down there that I’d never heard before. He was a Cheap Trick fan before the Budokan record broke them. I was seeing these oddballs on album covers….some lunatic with a cap who looked like one of the Bowery Boys, writing songs like “He’s a Whore” and “Elo Kiddies”. My brother didn’t give a fiddlers fart that nobody knew who Cheap Trick was. He knew them and the rest of us could piss off as far as he was concerned.

He felt the same way about Prince. For You. Dirty Mind. Controversy. He had ‘em all down there, and I remember thinking, “what the hell is this?” Prince was some strange looking dude in his underwear…singing songs that were positively filthy. I scoured the album jacket, because in those days we did things like that, and saw that this kid was playing all the instruments himself. He was singing like James Brown and funking like George Clinton and then, out of the blue, he’d rip out a guitar line that would melt Hendrix’s afro. This was cosmic shit, and when the coast was clear I’d spin the records, thinking I was listening to some strange alien. Then just as quickly I put them back so I didn’t get caught. It almost felt like listening to Prince would bring on repercussions.

And then Prince became American Royalty.

The “1999” record blew minds, and “Purple Rain” followed and changed the fucking world. In retrospect we all should have seen it coming. Because this wasn’t just your run of the mill multi-instrumentalist. This was a total freak…..a talent not so much touched by the gods as one who overwhelmed the gods and forced them to question their own divinity. He could write better songs than you. He was a better guitar player than you. And a better bass player and drummer and keyboard player too. He was a better producer. He could dance you into the grave and had a voice that sounded like he swallowed Motown and Stax whole. He didn’t share the spotlight. Prince brought his own spotlight with him.

Remember in 1984 how Springsteen was everywhere? “Born in the USA” mania was upon us and “Dancing in the Dark” was being played every 7 seconds on the radio, propelled even more by MTV, who played that ridiculous Courtney Cox video every 8 seconds. “Dancing in the Dark” reached number 2 on the charts. It couldn’t dislodge “When Doves Cry”, a song that crystallized what every artist in the 80s was trying to do, and doing it all in 4 minutes. Prince was a badass. “Purple Rain” the record made him a celebrity. “Purple Rain” the film made him a star.

He was also a colossal fucking weirdo of course, but that’s allowed in rock and roll. Encouraged actually. Nobody normal changes the world.

“Sign ‘O the Times” might be my favorite Prince record. A sprawling double album that was impossible to pin down….normal people do not make music like this. He was inventing stuff on the fly and then moving on, sometimes in the same track. This music inspired my favorite record review of all time, when Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called it “Merely the most gifted pop musician of his generation proving what a motherfucker he is for two discs start to finish…”

And thinking on it….if ever anybody ever topped the Beatles in pop song-craft, it was Prince with “Raspberry Beret”. Argue this with me at your own peril.

Last night 6 of us formed an impromptu “Revolution” and got up on a stage in a bar and sang “Purple Rain”. The song is devastating and deserves better than was gave it, but I make no apologies because that’s exactly 6 musicians in a bar should have been doing last night.

Prince could always fascinate us. Even as he fell off the cultural radar….fighting the good fight against thieves and record labels (but I repeat myself), he’d pop up like a whack-a-mole with some one-off gig or Saturday Night Live appearance wearing 3-eyed sunglasses, or with some strangely distributed music in his pocket, following his muse wherever it took him. He made music constantly, and probably only released half of it. Rumors of thousands of unreleased tracks behind bank-vault thick doors at Paisley Park abound. So expect some unseemly money grabs in the future. A few nights back Prince performed a solo piano show in Atlanta. By all accounts it was absolutely transcendent. The man needed music like the rest of us need air. But music didn’t kill him, so don’t think that way. Music kept him alive.

But for now….I just feel gutted. Because Prince isn’t supposed to die. Our nation is diminished. But we were stone lucky the have him. And now he belongs to the ages.

I like to think of “the ages” as being a place similar to my childhood basement, with a killer stereo and an unlimited collection of our favorite records. And people rocking back and forth saying, “you ever heard of this guy?”

“Everybody shut up / and listen to the band
shut up already / damn”

–Prince

In a bit..

–tf

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Hello. How are you?

April 16, 2016 Leave a comment

I just got home and my head is spinning. I wanted to share this with somebody but it was late and I didn’t think anybody would understand. So I decided to share it with myself.

My daughter Kiera is 13 years old. She’s in 8th grade. Her grade school has a father/daughter dance every year. Tonight was our last. High school beckons. Growing up beckons. Life beckons. But she’s my baby. She’ll always be my baby. Nights like tonight are pretty special. I love her in ways that make love scary.

As a father watching my girls grow (I have two, ages 13 and 17) up has been both intensely satisfying and intensely sad. They were easier to protect as children. I still hover of course, but at a distance. They’ve begun to chart their own course, and have become extraordinary young women. I have to trust their navigational skill, and hope that me being slightly fucked up hasn’t rubbed off on them. Thus far they seem untainted.

Fathers don’t dance of course….so the night is comically misnamed. The DJ plays a handful of slow songs and the girls dutifully wander off to find Dad and drag our sorry asses onto the dance floor. It’s charming really. Watching the fathers…..I saw 100 other guys worn down like a used pencil….just like me. But with a light in our eyes when our girls were close. We stood around in pairs and and threesomes and talked about how our wives would say “no” and we’d always melt and whisper and say “yes”. Show me a man with a daughter and I’ll show you a man who can be rolled like a drunk in an alley.

It was getting late. The dance was nearly over. And then the DJ fired up Adele’s song “Hello”. That’s when the magic started.

It’s a great song, so that helps.But you’ve never heard or seen it like this. Perhaps 100 girls. Ages 6 to 13. Grouped together in a bunch….like a rugby scrum. Singing every word. Dancing to every word. Jumping and swaying and holding onto each other for dear life. Their inhibitions were gone. For 4 minutes they became a single entity. I was a wallflower for all of it, which is what I was born to be. I kept thinking…”I should video this”…..but I never did because I would have had to take my eyes off them for a few moments to do so. I wish I could show it to you but I can’t. All that’s left is my fumbling around late at night trying to describe what it was like. When I say that I can’t remember the last time music has affected me this way, I’m telling you the truth and kinda wishing that I wasn’t. Because it seems crazy. It sounds crazy. These were just kids. Singing a pop song.

But during these 4 minutes they were thinking about what they’d been through. And what was upcoming. They were thinking that things weren’t always going to be like this. Friends were going to fall in and fall out of their lives, seemingly on a whim, and moments such as these needed to be savored…..to be put in a choke hold….to be lubricated in tears born from laughter and from sadness.

Jesus H Christ. Calm down Pops!

I’ll be the first to admit that most of my fellow Dads are probably in bed now, giving no more thought to Adele’s song than they are to the fact that the dance ran out of ice for the 2 liter Pepsi bottles. Who the hell runs out of ice?

But that’s ok. Since my early 20s I’ve attacked life with not much more than a handful of chords, a beat up Gibson jumbo, and a yellow legal pad. I feel eminently qualified to wax poetic on situations that others find no poetry in.

So it’s left to me to describe how the earth tilted on its axis this evening…and how yet again music proved to me that it has more power than anything I know of. And that includes prayer. It’s the only thing I know of that is incapable of being divisive. It’s the only magic that doesn’t require an explanation. Because there isn’t one. Music pulls rabbits out of hats and everybody says…”yea…ok….makes sense.”

It’s the only thing left that leads me to believe that maybe…..just maybe….there is a higher power. And that being….whatever he or she or it may be….sits at a piano or stands with a low-strung Strat, and beckons us together.

The better angels of our nature. They are the ones who sing.

In a bit..

–tf

 

 

 

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Bret Alexander’s Dupont Back Porch notes…

April 5, 2016 Leave a comment

We each wrote liner notes for the record. I posted mine here. Below are Bret’s thoughts..

coverBret’s NOTES – You learn a lot about someone when you make a record with them. Some guys seem laid back and mild mannered in real life but become insane micro managers in the studio. Some are prima donnas….. you gotta light a lot of candles and dim a lot of lights for those folks. And others are like Tom Flannery, they just don’t give a shit.

Now there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring. People that don’t care anymore are so tired of fighting that they have given up. But people who don’t give a shit, well, they have already won.

If there is anything good about getting old, that is it. You have seen enough living to know what is real and what is a waste of damn time. I used to have a file folder in my studio that I would pull out in certain situations. When a band was worrying about something they shouldn’t be I would say, “Let me check my file of things I give a shit about.” I would open the folder and it would be empty. “Nope, it’s not in here. Let’s move on.”

There’s a line in one of the tunes on “Dupont Back Porches”:

“If you see right through me/I’ll see right through you too.”

I think that was the mantra for this collection. The record was done before we had time to analyze whether or not it sounded finished. It was like a bunch of candid photos. Both of us caught in the act of being ourselves.  It was like having a jam session where only one of the players sort of knows the song. I was watching his hands and reading lyrics and interpreting it all in real time. Most of the time, I got it right. Sometimes not so much. But that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe.

When you open up a magazine or a newspaper, there aren’t only pictures of airbrushed super models. There is raw, ugly shit in there. But for some reason people think all records have to be perfect. It doesn’t make sense.

Even with some live albums, a lot of the stuff is redone after the show. Stuff gets tuned and tweaked and replaced. The singer comes in and stares at the video while re-singing the show. God forbid someone would actually witness them making a mistake.  Pussies.

We cut 11 tracks. I didn’t want it to be pretty and bright and hi fi. Most singer/songwriters (and their engineers and producers) want everything pretty and bright and beautiful. Fuck that. We went for dark and raw. Like an early Dylan record or Springsteen’s “Nebraska”.

“Orphan Train”, “Four Winds, “Forever Again”……..most all of the tunes were first takes. If we added anything, we went with our first impression and that was it. It was the same with the mixing. “Slap echo would be cool here.”  Ok, done.

Tom and I had never worked together before. I had met him a few times and jammed with him even fewer times. He is also a playwright.  He sent me a play he had written based on the The Gin Blossoms’ guitarist Doug Hopkins, who had written all the band’s hits but committed suicide before the band broke. I knew Tom was a great writer, but I didn’t know he could write like THAT. It was a treat to work with him. There will be more.

The Edge is known to work on a guitar sound for a week then spend 5 minutes actually playing it on the recording. Neil Young and Crazy Horse get in a room and record live then spend weeks deciding just which flavor of shitty, loose, and sloppy they want to use. I suspect Tom worked hard on his lyrics and ideas before bringing them into my underground bunker of a studio. But once we got started, I had to make sure everything was working…… because you don’t get a second chance at a first take.

Like I said, there is a difference between not giving a shit and not caring.

Making “Dupont Back Porches” was a real experience.  I like to think that we were having a bitch session and a record broke out. That’s how it feels to me.

I think there is plenty of room in the world for records like this one…..

–Bret Alexander 4/5/2016

Get your copy of Dupont Back Porches here…

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Dupont Back Porch notes…

April 3, 2016 1 comment
cover

“Dupont Back Porches” is available now

NOTES – Yea….so this happened. I’m not sure Bret had any idea what he was getting himself into.

We knew each other. We’d played a few shows together. I was a huge fan of his band “The Badlees” since the early 90s. (“Riversongs” was the second CD I ever bought). I think he’s a brilliant songwriter. After a recent show I said…..”hey man….we should make a record together”. Bret, ever the gentleman, said “yea man, that’d be cool.” Probably figured I was just making small talk. I wasn’t. I suck at small talk.

So I called him a few weeks later and reminded him that he said “yea man…that’d be cool”. In case he forgot. Then I said….”ok, when can we start?” He said something like…”um….er….well Monday is free…” I said…..”see you then” and then hung up before he could say “um…who is this again?”

So that Monday night saw me almost killing myself on that ridiculous roundabout off route 81 on my way to his studio in Dupont (I’ll never get used to that roundabout….ever, and I still have no idea how to get to the airport…it tells you “turn here” and then says “do not enter”….I still think somebody is fucking with us for a TV show or something). I had my guitar and case crammed with half completed lyric sheets and less than half completed melodies. I felt totally prepared because this is how I make all my records. It’s not normal but then neither am I.

The studio is small and dark and narrow and walled off from the world by a door thicker than a bank vault. It felt like I was walking into an Edgar Allan Poe short story down there. Bret, as usual, dressed head to toe in black, including the frames of his glasses. Deep voiced and elegantly mannered. We sat down and talked for 2 hours. About the world. About our kids (we both have 2 daughters around the same age). About music. About film. He had war stories. I had some too. We’re the same age. We’ve covered a lot of the same ground over the years. We were becoming friends.

It was getting late. I hadn’t even taken my guitar out of its case. Finally I said….”well…let’s try one.” He said….”ok, what do you wanna do?” I said…”I have no idea.” His look said….”well this is gonna be interesting…”

That first night we eventually cut 2 tracks I think.  I needed a bridge for “If I Could See Right Through You” and Bret came up with something that I added some lyrics to. And we were off. Cut it live with 2 guitars in one take (the problem with multiple takes is that it never sounds like it’s the first take again, because it isn’t. Profound? Maybe not but it is so…). I asked Bret to sing every other verse even though he didn’t know the melody, nor had any time to digest how the hell I could cram all those lyrics into a I-IV-V progression. He was learning that I liked to work fast….and that the word “rehearsal” to me meant tuning the guitar and counting 1-2-3. I think we did “Got To Be the Change” too. I heard the playback and said “we sound like a demented Simon and Garfunkel”. He said…”well…that’s kinda cool”. It was. Done.

And so we were off. First takes almost exclusively, unless one of Bret’s dogs invaded the studio or something equally catastrophic happened. If the bum note sounded like it fit, we let it go. If the chair squeaked, I’d say “that sounds cool…turn that part up.” Bret would layer on mandolin tracks or add what he called “singer-songwriter piano”. I wanted some harp but forgot mine…and didn’t want to slobber into his harmonicas, so Bret did the duty. Neither one of us gave a shit who did what. We were just looking for a certain sound. I gave him completed lyrics to “Orphan Train” and “Music in the Mud” and he cut what he assumed were just demos one night after I left. I heard them the next session and said…”perfect”. He said…”what?” I said…”in “Orphan Train” can you just add a harp solo that sounds like Springsteen’s “The River” and he said….”um…sure” and 30 seconds later he’d done so. I heard him sing the bridge in “Music In the Mud” and we both smiled at the same time. I said “you ever gonna do it better?” and he said “nope”. So. Done. Making music is easy when you work with Bret Alexander.

I can’t say the same thing about making music with me, because….well….there’s the phrasing thing.

I’m used to playing solo acoustic. So if I’m singing a song with a repeated chorus, I might sing it with different phrasing each time. Just because I can and because I get bored easy. That’s all well and good when you’re singing by yourself, but when you ask somebody to add a harmony vocal to the inconsistent warbling you just recorded, well, let’s just say that Bret’s hair was jet black when we started and now it contains stray gray.

His efforts on “Oh Mary” and “That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore” were herculean. By the final track we cut…”Dupont Back Porches”, he simply threw up his hands and said “singing harmony with you is like trying to catch a greased pig”. I pondered this and replied…”can’t argue with that.” And so by mutual consent there’s no doubled voices on that chorus.

So the record is done. It’s not perfect. I hear all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be there. Or at least…..things that weren’t intended to be there. Deep breaths. My bracelet jangling against the guitar sound hole. I can hear myself searching for ways to end songs. Flubbed chords. Late arrivals. Dropped picks. Ragged timing. In short, all of the things that make live music live. If we tried to record the songs again, they might sound better, but they wouldn’t be better. Musical eggheads will know what I’m talking about.

I was talking with Bret last night and he mentioned something he’s always wanted to try. Writing AND recording an entire record (10 songs at least) in a single day. Now, let me remind you that I once wrote and recorded a song every week for 5 years running. Over 250 songs. So it’s not like I’m not fucking crazy too. But this? An entire record in a DAY? Absolute creative lunacy.

My response? Ain’t it obvious?

“When do we start?”

Sláinte.

–tf 3/31/2016

Get your copy of “Dupont Back Porches” here.

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Dupont Back Porches available now!

March 31, 2016 1 comment

Download the album NOW for only $7.00
(old fashioned CDs coming soon!)

Ben Franklin Bridge
When the Four Winds Blow
Got To Be the Change
Dupont Back Porches *
I Feel Like An Orphan Train *
Oh Mary
That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore
Music In the Mud *
Forever Again
If You See Right Through Me (I’ll See Right Through You Too) *
I Think I’m Feeling It Too

All songs by Tom Flannery except * by Tom Flannery and Bret Alexander
copyright 2016 all rights reserved
recorded at Saturation Acres in Dupont, PA
produced by Bret Alexander

Tom Flannery – guitar, vocals
Bret Alexander – guitar, vocals, mandolin, piano, harmonica

NOTES – Yea….so this happened. I’m not sure Bret had any idea what he was getting himself into.

We knew each other. We’d played a few shows together. I was a huge fan of his band “The Badlees” since the early 90s. I think he’s a brilliant songwriter. After a recent show I said…..”hey man….we should make a record together”. Bret, ever the gentleman, said “yea man, that’d be cool.” Probably figured I was just making small talk. I wasn’t. I suck at small talk.

So I called him a few weeks later and reminded him that he said “yea man…that’d be cool”. In case he forgot. Then I said….”ok, when can we start?” He said something like…”um….er….well Monday is free…” I said…..”see you then” and then hung up before he could say “um…who is this again?”

So that Monday night saw me almost killing myself on that ridiculous roundabout off route 81 on my way to his studio in Dupont (I’ll never get used to that roundabout….ever). I had my guitar and case crammed with half completed lyric sheets and less than half completed melodies. I felt totally prepared because this is how I make all my records. It’s not normal but then neither am I.

The studio is small and dark and narrow and walled off from the world by a door thicker than a bank vault. It felt like I was walking into an Edgar Allan Poe short story down there. Bret, as usual, dressed head to toe in black, including the frames of his glasses. Deep voiced and elegantly mannered. We sat down and talked for 2 hours. About the world. About our kids (we both have 2 daughters around the same age). About music. About film. He had war stories. I had some too. We’re the same age. We’ve covered a lot of the same ground over the years. We became friends.

It was getting late. I hadn’t even taken my guitar out of its case. Finally I said….”well…let’s try one.” He said….”ok, what do you wanna do?” I said…”I have no idea.” His look said….”well this is gonna be interesting…”

That first night we eventually cut 2 tracks I think.  I needed a bridge for “If I Could See Right Through You” and Bret came up with something that I added some lyrics to. And we were off. Cut it live with 2 guitars in one take (the problem with multiple takes is that it never sounds like it’s the first take again, because it isn’t. Profound? Maybe not but it is so…). I asked Bret to sing every other verse even though he didn’t know the melody, nor had any time to digest how the hell I could cram all those lyrics into a I-IV-V progression. He was learning that I liked to work fast….and that the word “rehearsal” to me meant tuning the guitar and counting 1-2-3. I think we did “Got To Be the Change” too. I heard the playback and said “we sound like a demented Simon and Garfunkel”. He said…”well…that’s kinda cool”. It was. Done.

And so we were off. First takes almost exclusively, unless one of Bret’s dogs invaded the studio or something equally catastrophic happened. If the bum note sounded like it fit, we let it go. If the chair squeaked, I’d say “that sounds cool…turn that part up.” Bret would layer on mandolin tracks or add what he called “singer-songwriter piano”. I wanted some harp but forgot mine…and didn’t want to slobber into somebody else’s harmonicas, so Bret did the duty. Neither one of us gave a shit who did what. We were just looking for a certain sound. I gave him completed lyrics to “Orphan Train” and “Music in the Mud” and he cut what he assumed were just demos one night after I left. I heard them the next session and said…”perfect”. He said…”what?” I said…”in “Orphan Train” can you just add a harp solo that sounds like Springsteen’s “The River” and he said….”um…sure” and 30 seconds later he’d done so. I heard him sing the bridge in “Music In the Mud” and we both smiled at the same time. I said “you ever gonna do it better?” and he said “nope”. So. Done. Making music is easy when you work with Bret Alexander.

I can’t say the same thing about making music with me, because….well….there’s the phrasing thing.

I’m used to playing solo acoustic. So if I’m singing a song with a repeated chorus, I might sing it with different phrasing each time. Just because I can and because I get bored easy. That’s all well and good when you’re singing by yourself, but when you ask somebody to add a harmony vocal to the inconsistent warbling you just recorded, well, let’s just say that Bret’s hair was jet black when we started and now it contains stray gray.

His efforts on “Oh Mary” and “That Ring It Don’t Fit Your Finger Anymore” were herculean. By the final track we cut…”Dupont Back Porches”, he simply said “singing harmony with you is like trying to catch a greased pig”. I pondered this and replied…”can’t argue with that.” And so by mutual consent there’s no doubled voices on that chorus.

So the record is done. It’s not perfect. I hear all sorts of things that aren’t supposed to be there. Or at least…..things that weren’t intended to be there. Deep breaths. My bracelet jangling against the guitar sound hole. I can hear myself searching for ways to end songs. Flubbed chords. Late arrivals. Dropped picks. Ragged timing. In short, all of the things that make live music live. If we tried to record the songs again, they might sound better, but they wouldn’t be better. Musical eggheads will know what I’m talking about.

I was talking with Bret last night and he mentioned something he’s always wanted to try. Writing AND recording an entire record (10 songs at least) in a single day. Now, let me remind you that I once wrote and recorded a song every week for 5 years running. Over 250 songs. So it’s not like I’m not fucking crazy too. But this? An entire record in a DAY? Absolute creative lunacy.

My response? Ain’t it obvious?

“When do we start?”

Sláinte.

–tf 3/31/2016

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