Sam McCormally (Ugly Purple Sweater @ Bloombars, DC – April 2011 – Kristian Whipple)
There is a musician you need to have in your regular musical vernacular. His name is Sam McCormally. He is the voice of Ugly Purple Sweater (who have recently released a beautiful new album). Sam and I have collaborated on the 365 many times, released a song on a Pearl and the Beard EP, and continue to admire and support each other’s work in the real world.
As the 365 is a journal of sorts of my musical life, I would be amiss if I did not include two beautiful pieces written by Sam McCormally (playing guitar and piano) on which he asked me to play cello. He is not only a talented songwriter but scores for film as well. These two compositions I’m posting for you were written for a film he was working on, but, like most film scoring, a piece is bound to not make it into the final score. In this case, one of my favorites that didn’t actually make it into the film was recorded in a stranger’s house earlier this year. I am going to post the first of his two compositions today, as he just sent me the final mixes yesterday afternoon. I hadn’t heard them in months.
He and I played this live together, but the quality of the piano Sam recorded on didn’t quite capture the piece as he had envisioned. However, it still stands as a great testament to Sam’s fine musical ear and talent for tone color.
At the time of this recording, I had been doing so much songwriting and improvising that coming together with another musician to play off of a score was so refreshing. Every kind of activity uses different parts of the brain and body – this was muscle memory I had been neglecting. I miss collaborating musically over a score in this way (like a classical trio or quartet might do) and working with Sam in this way was especially rewarding.
This is a collaboration! Jim Altieri is a good friend of mine, a fantastic composer, violinist, accordionist, guitarist, and all around hilarious conversationalist (of additional note: this guy is probably the most dependable guy I know outside of my own house.) You can hear is compositions here – http://tweeg.net
Jim can do a million different kinds of musics: silly songs, sad songs, serious songs, atonal pieces, tonal pieces…the sky is the limit with Jim, and he’s a very selfless musician, which can be hard to find nowadays.
I went to his house and found that Jim had just obtained some very nice, new mics, so I was lucky enough to get to break these in with a collaboration for the 365! The first thing we did was do some free-improvisation. (It’s very freeing and I would suggest it to anyone.) After some walnuts, Jim decided we should:
1. Lay down an accordion drone
2. Stack cello and violin on top, a few tracks of each
3. Put vocals on top.
The only rules: we could only do one take of each. I like the danger behind knowing you can’t take things back once you’ve done them. Mistakes don’t really exist in this realm for me because everything is just a part of the music and you use those things for good, not bad!
The lyrics: Next to Jim’s bed is his dream journal (which he doesn’t write in anymore). We opened it up and found a dream he had written about and used what he had written as our lyrics! The words we used are almost word-for-word from this book though we cut and changed a few lines and moved things around to keep the flow.
My one observation: In improvisational mode, I’m noticing that I use a particular interval in my vocals. I think I could go back to other songs I’ve done improvised vocals for and pick it out. What’s that from, I wonder?
In any case, we finished up and Jim did a really quick mix and sent it my way. He has such a great musical imagination: I hope you enjoy!
By myself at night
Remote control cars on the sidewalk
Bare feet keep me from food I want to eat
Karen left me gifts and surprises
Band-aid folded up in bed
Note on inside of my blanket
“By honey, have fun.”
Tapes a book to the ceiling
I would never find
When I came to New York to come to school, I expected my life to be nothing extremely different from what it had been anywhere else. Sure, I’d meet new people and experience new things, but I really wasn’t prepared for the kind of people I would meet in New York City. The second I walked into the Sidewalk Cafe for the first time in January 2008, I introduced myself into a life of people and music that is so colorful and so full of richness that there are times when I really don’t believe it could exist. I met Mr. Rick Patrick and Master Lee at Sidewalk Cafe in those early winter months of 2008. They really are honest men, fascinating storytellers, musicians, and all around good people.
Yesterday, I dropped by Mr. Patrick’s house and did a bit of recording with storyteller (also a juggler, comedian, musician) Master Lee. I met him some time ago through Mr. Patrick (a musician and storyteller who will appear in a collaboration tomorrow). We set up the mic in Mr. Patrick’s beautiful Harlem home, played around with the positioning and recorded it about 4 times before we really felt like it was finished. I played the cello standing next to Master Lee (I found myself wishing I was sitting as I forget playing classically comes with needing more balance than what I play now…). There are sections of Bach Suite Preludes and improvisation as well.
Master Lee and Mr. Patrick perform everywhere. Not only do they perform, but they started a monthly storytelling event called Talkingstick. (They have been in the New York Times as well…) Talking Stick takes place in the Rubin Museum of Art. The Rubin Museum of Art is a nonprofit cultural and educational institution dedicated to the art of the Himalayas. I’m including a video link to number 98 of the Talking Stick here: http://blip.tv/file/1310511/ Talking Stick is a wonderful way of fusing art and music, and I would encourage those of you in town to attend!
About Talkingstick, in their own words:
Talkingstick was founded to give the truth a safe place to be told. We speak to universal truths by telling deeply personal stories, stories that changed our lives. We have learned there are guidelines to help us achieve this goal. They are:
– Tell the truth
– Speak from the heart
– Go deeper – Mix the tribes
Speakers include storytellers, poets, comedians, writers and musicians. We’ve been to the Friends Meeting House, Tibet House, St. Mark’s Church, Bowery Poetry Club, Rubin Museum of Art, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and Taliesin Spring Green. Talkingstick events float between locations because these truths belong to us all.
Master Lee and Mr. Patrick are fascinating people. I am honored to present you with a 365 installment from each of them for the next two days.
Abbie Gardner is a fantastic musician, and when she asked if we could do another song, I was thrilled. I went to her house in Jersey City on Thursday morning and asked if she had anything she was working on that we might look at. (Ending in prepositions! Ah!) Abbie brought out this song, Momma.
Originally this was a simple outline of a song about a girl in love with a boy who kissed just right and loved just right so much so that she went straight to her momma and said, “I’m in trouble I love this guy so much.” Well, we took a look at it and talked about this relationship between this girl and her mother. We found that the song isn’t really so much about a love between a man and a woman, but the relationship between a mother and a daughter. We talked about what kind of mother this woman is: is she caring and totally helpful? Or a bit apathetic? What kind of reaction might she have to this girl who has obviously been in trouble before?
We decided we didn’t want to focus on the daughter’s problem with her man in this song. We felt like we didn’t need to spell it out for the listener, but that capturing a single moment between a desperate daughter and her mother was more important to us in the span of a three and a half-minute song.
One of the best classes I ever took in college was a course called Theater Analysis. I have no idea what lead me to it, actually. I mean, I think I was mostly done with my music credits as a performance major and just needed some more of… something. I’m not sure. We studied Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie among many others. And though I don’t remember our text, I remember this was the first time I was introduced to the word “aesthetic” because it was in the title of the book we were referencing for all the work we were reading. I remember the teacher being really good and very interesting. We used various tools to look at each work: deciphering movement, cause and effect of each character and how the playwrite used word choice and other tools to create his or her vision.
I think I use the tools I was taught in this class on songs, too. In the case of this song, we addressed the daughter and mother’s own history not only together, but as individuals. We came up with the idea that the mother had a similar history of rebellion and relationship trouble that the daughter was creating for herself which is why the mother reacts in such a, “I can’t do anything for you, child” kind of attitude.
Instrumentation: Abbie started playing this song on her Dobro, and I love the sound so much, I left my cello at home! It’s so awesome and makes me want to learn how to play it!
Writing: Took place on Thursday morning. The bulk of the “Momma” chorus’ were already in place, and I just came in and brainstormed ideas. We worked on the general storyline and Momma’s verses together. Abbie had the idea of a kind of call-and-response towards the end, which I really like.
Recording: Took place on Friday (yesterday) morning due to parking restrictions on Thursday. I only had 2 hours on each day to park before I had to move my car, so we just did it in shifts on two different days. What a pain! But it actually made it kind of nice to have a time frame with which to finish.
I’m so glad spring is starting to peek through the cold lately. Outside our window is a huge rock where trees grow. In the spring, the trees start growing their green leaves and make a nice shade into the house. It doesn’t feel like we’re in the city, but we certainly are! New York. What a place.
May your day be well and spring be where you are, too.
Momma, I’m in trouble this time
Oh Momma, oh momma of mine
momma, i’m in trouble this time
oh my child, what you gone and done now
oh my child, don’t let your daddy find out
oh child, what you gone and done now
momma, he said he was going clean
thought we were in love, but he lied to me
(I) stole daddy’s gun, won’t you help me please
wake up child i can’t save you this time
this is your story, but it sounds just like mine….
but i love him, momma
oh my child
I’m in trouble this time
what you gone and done now
oh my child
oh momma of mine
don’t let your daddy find out
my poor child
I’m in trouble this time
yeah you’re in trouble this time
I’m in trouble this time
Big trouble this time
i’m in trouble this time
oh my poor child
alternate call & response:
won’t you send me a sign
you got to run and hide
don’t waste no time
child my hands are tied
now my hands are tied
had no choice this time
I’m in trouble this time
You’re in trouble this time
Good morning or evening or afternoon to you; whichever it may be right now.
Taken this past Sunday night at Bryce Canyon, Utah by a very kind stranger who put the memory card of our camera into his very nice camera and took our picture. I had never thought of that before, but, man, how nice!
Today is a special song written me and Jonathan Clark. I did the uke playing and Jonathan did the singing and lyrics.
Jonathan and I sat down with the baritone uke, found some chords, and improvised the rest. This was a good exercise in improvisational lyric writing. Jonathan had written the first two lines while we were trying to find a good uke part, but the rest was all improv. I think he did a splendid job. It’s funny how revealing improvisation can be if one empties one’s mind and puts it out onto the table.
Yesterday, I was reading an interview Charlotte Gainsbourg did with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. It was super interesting, and Kim Gordon talked about how she wrote lyrics and music and such. It made it all the more interesting to find that even the great artists get stuck with lyrics now and then. Bon Iver does some mumbling and improvising to find his lyrics, too. It’s an interesting process.
We recorded this in about 15 minutes, I’d say.
May your day be wonderful today…
I don’t know what the bad news brings
All I know is it brings me to my knees
I find it hard when the sun don’t shine
I will eat lemon pie
Yesterday was just a day away
But it feels like three lifetimes past
We just keep on moving forward
The wind does blow in this cold time
The wind does blow all the time
But it keeps me from thinking about the past
It keeps me moving, keeps me dreaming
It keeps me all the time
Keeps me moving, keeps me dreaming
It keeps me here.
More Pearl and the Beard Tour Pictures!
Pearl and the Beard played in Memphis in a bar called The Buccanneer. This was a huge painting that hung on the wall right behind us. How could I not capture this (about 5 different times!) on film?! AWESOME!!!
If you haven't heard of the band, Lost in the Trees yet, today is the perfect opportunity. This was one of the most amazing live show experiences I've had. Virtually a chamber orchestra of sounds and goodwill. Look them up, buy their work, love it, too. Shot in Austin, TX during SXSW while we were there on tour.
We played in Greensboro, North Carolina for a Monkeywhale Productions presented evening. It was awesome. Jocelyn is shown here mimicking her picture on the poster. The picture on the poster is from a video we shot during our last tour with Harvey Robinson for Harvey's Kitchen: a guy who has bands visit him and shoots a live video of them in his awesome kitchen. He did our song Vessel and Lost in Singapore. Look it up! It's truly amazing!
This is day three of the Wynn Price catalogue. I have been working on a song I’ve done with field recordings I took from Panguitch, Utah. I have come up with an arsenal of sounds and songs I’ll be posting for the 365. Admittedly, with all this traveling, I’ve been able to get a few days ahead because of all the fortuitous meetings I’ve had with people. I arranged another song with my dad while I was home.
This is one of the first songs to which I remember memorizing all the words. I even remember being taught it in music class in elementary school. I have a hard time remember words, but I remember these! I played the mandolin on this song (since my dad has one). Though the mandolin and the violin have the same tuning, and I feel I have no excuse, I don’t know how to play it that well. It’s a hard instrument for me to play.
Jonathan and I returned this morning at 2 am from Utah. The burial of Jon’s dad, Thomas Cecil Clark, took place yesterday morning in Panguitch, Utah. It was so hard and sad… but happy at the same time: remembering all he was and all he symbolizes. Because it was in Panguitch, as his dad requested, Jonathan was able to take me to Red Canyon and Bryce Canyon. So beautiful. I will post a few pictures later today. As Jonathan and I flew home, I realized we had become that couple on the plane you see who sit really close together and whisper quietly. I have seen couples like this before, sitting very close. There are times when I’ve, very rudely, mentally rolled my eyes and thought, “Get a room.” But maybe they were coming home from burying one of their parents, too. Maybe I shouldn’t have judged them so quickly and harshly. As a person who currently has both her parents still living, it’s hard for me to fully grasp the surreal nature of losing a parent who was close, who was so influential. All I can do is hold his hand and hug him all the time. So, on the plane, that’s what I did, not realizing at first that we had become the couple on the plane I had seen. I thought back to all the times I had flown. I wondered, “How many of those people had just returned from burying someone they loved?”
I do remember one time when I was flying home to Pittsburgh from Salt Lake City. A young woman got on the plane, sat down immediately across the aisle from me and immediately got on the phone before take-off. I could hear her talking about a grandfather and funeral arrangements. When the plane was up in the air I looked over after a while and, in the darkness, I could see her, head in her hands, crying. What an odd experience for me, though I might be construed as the eaves-dropper: interrupting her private moment, subtly, with my eyes and ears. I guess I never thought that girl across the aisle would be me, and, last night, it was.
Sending you lovely thoughts for a hopefully lovely day.
Meet 4-year-old Jasper Christmas and his musician father, Jeff Christmas . They live in Knoxville, Tennessee. We stayed with them while we were there, and they just happen to be the coolest people ever AND we all joined Jasper’s band: Laying On A Pillow. Jasper and his dad are great song writers: They performed several songs for us while we were there. Jasper is actually a huge inspiration for Pearl and the Beard’s newest song! So, keep an ear out for Jasper’s debut.
Jasper is playing the banjo in this song! It’s awesome!
I waited to post this until I had enough time to fix the video I took of us doing this song, but I will just post the mp3 for now. We are dashing to Austin today and need to get there by 1:00 and still have 5 hours of driving to do!