I have FOUR very special things for you via the wonderful NY music blog The Wild Honey Pie “Honey, I’m Home Sessions” (‘Honey I’m Home’ is a live session series produced by The Wild Honey Pie. With each new episode, they welcome a different band into Sounds Like A Fire home studio in Brooklyn and record intimate versions of two or three songs which are given away for free.)
1. A song/video/free mp3 download about getting knocked for Christmas thanks to the ever beautiful wordsmith: Jocelyn Mackenzie
Something special for your holiday season from Pearl and the Beard recorded with the help of the ever attractive and always lovely Wild Honey Pie here in New York City. We got back from tour a few weeks ago and the day after returning home we filmed these two very special renditions just for the holidays. Jocelyn wrote a very extra special number for the holidays called “Baby For Christmas” and her lovely beau, Jim Altieri, made a cameo appearance at the keyboard.
3. An introduction to an amazing band via a beautiful live video from The Wild Honey Pie:
I knew I liked Lucius, an amazing (and quite attractive) band based out of Brooklyn, but I didn’t know how much I would fall in love with them after touring part of New England and Montreal with them for 10 days. It was an adventure not to be forgotten, so I’m happy to show you two of my favorite songs of theirs, not to mention a free download of a song they performed acoustically on tour which I fell in love with. I offer you: Lucius via The Wild Honey Pie “Honey, I’m home” sessions. Get the free mp3 download of this performance here:
4. “Two Of Us On The Run”: via bff NY music blog: The Wild Honey Pie. Download the mp3 for free here.
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.
Dear Joshua Stacy,
You just hiked the Appalachian Trail. It took you months and months and months. You have showered by now, I think.
Thank you for calling me sometimes from the trail and telling me how things were going. Thank you for meeting us for lunch where the trail went right through a zoo in New York. Thank you for answering all my questions about what it’s like to do something so huge.
Thank you for being you.
Thank you for being my friend.
This began by recording the left hand piano part of Chopin’s Cinq Mazurkas, Vivace Op. 7, No. 1. I made a slight change in the chord progression. There wasn’t a plan. Sometimes the best laid plans aren’t laid.
There are 4 cello tracks: pizzicato (plucking) with delay, bass pedal, 2 different, but related, melody lines.
Through the whole process I thought about my friend Joshua Stacy, also a cellist, who just hiked the Appalachian Trail by himself. It is a feat, and he is always a friend of whom I think so fondly. When I think of him, I feel motivated to be better, wiser, and more decisive. I don’t talk to him very much, but when I do, I’m reminded of how a single person has the power to make another person feel..for the lack of a better word…Good. Good in the most pure sense that there is. So, I felt it appropriate to dedicate this one to him because he was on my mind. This is not the first 365 that has been dedicated to him. This one was, too.
It’s also technically tomorrow, but I’ll say that it is still today. I have been singing this song all week, so I thought I might as well add it to the catalogue of last-minute cover songs for the 365.
Pearl and the Beard just finished our last tour with Ani DiFranco and her crew tonight. It was bittersweet, and I’m sad, but so happy we got such an incredible experience.
I am so tired. How fast can i put together a cover at 2:30 am? Hmm… This fast. So Super Fast:
Crazy (The Willie Nelson Cover)
Crazy, I’m crazy for feeling so lonely
I’m crazy, crazy for feeling so blue
I knew you’d love me as long as you wanted
And then someday you’d leave me for somebody new
Worry, why do I let myself worry?
Wond’ring what in the world did I do?
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you
Crazy for thinking that my love could hold you
I’m crazy for trying and crazy for crying
And I’m crazy for loving you.
How does one wake up from sleeping feeling melancholy? It’s just sleep. That’s all it is. It was even a dreamless sleep. Profoundly confounding.
I tried a bunch of stuff this morning. I even got out my accordion after a million years of not playing it. I recorded several different things, but The Melancholy didn’t want anything. So I did this in three tracks, largely improvisational. Reverb. Lots of reverb makes things better sometimes, too.
The Melancholy (Study in Three Voices)
PEARL AND THE BEARD “40K” VIDEO RELEASE TODAY
Pearl and the Beard released a zombie video today. It is premiering on WNYC’s Soundcheck. We’re very excited, and we hope you like it. You can watch it here. You know what eats away melancholy? A zombie.
And to top it all off – we are completing the last two days of our amazing tour with the stunning Ani DiFranco today and tomorrow. She’s leaving the road for a while, so if you’ve ever wanted to see her, now is your chance. If you’re in or have friends in the New York City area, there are still tickets available for tomorrow night’s (11/17) Town Hall show in Manhattan. Ticket link here. (Tickets for tonight’s show (11/16) at Music Hall of Williamsburgh are sold out!)
Nothing like posting at the eleventh hour – literally.
I started a piece today and liked it initially, but when it came down to finishing it, it just wasn’t doing it for me, and it was getting later. When it gets late in the day, and I still haven’t settled on something, I usually opt for some kind of quick fix like an improvisation. Funny enough the improvisations so often turn into actual compositions and take just as long as the original attempt. I get drawn in and want to get consumed by it; make it awesome. This one is somewhere in the middle of those two methods.
After scraping my first try today, I began day 230 as you are hearing it. It is 4 cello tracks and one track of a recorded record. I did the cello tracks one at a time, the first one being improvised harmonics recorded once, the second being an improvised drone recorded twice while taking the second take and so on. The more tracks I add to an improvisation, the more attempts it takes me to get it where I want it. I always do whole takes and keep the best one – I rarely punch in (fix) an improvisation – only in dire straights do I band-aid something like that. The fourth, and last, cello track is the rhythmic bass line you can hear. I kept the fourth and final improvisation take of that one because, as a whole, it was more of what I wanted.
I found this record in a thrift store. It is called “Great Ghost Stories”. I’ve used pieces of it before in the 365, but I can’t remember where at the moment. (Those of you who know me know that I love vinyl – I love how it’s both crisp and warm all at the same time. The first few seconds of a record spinning before the recorded material begins is my favorite sound in the entire world. It is hushes people by bringing the entire room into anticipation. It’s great.) I chose a random story and began recording the beginning, stopping and starting the recording in real time. Whatever I got is what I got. I allowed myself to take away or move bits around, but I could not add to the track later. I had to use what got captured in the first go-around.
Mixing: There is a magical land somewhere, I’m sure of it, where little elves make everything sound amazing. It is a place where I never have to mix again for the rest of my life. I am so bad at it. But because mixing like a boss isn’t a part of the 365, I can apologize for the horrendous job I did of this and easily move on.
Until tomorrow! And hopefully I will get it in early this time rather than by the skin of my teeth. Ew. Gross. Who has skin on their teeth?
It’s funny how events in your life lead you to people who introduce you to people who introduce you to other people and so on. I met a man through a girl I performed at Puppet Playlist with in New York who creates web documentaries who was looking for music to add to his films. She put me in contact with him, and he recently contacted me to do some work for him creating instrumental pieces. He doesn’t really ever need anything longer than 1.5-2 minutes, so it’s really nice, but also challenging to fit what he needs in that space of time. He’ll send a request saying: (This isn’t an actual request, but they kind of sound something like this), “This is going to go into a short documentary about an art collector from the Sao Paulo, Brazil. There will be voice overs, so something minimal but moody and moving forward and building to a climax at the end.” I really like him. He’s patient, enthusiastic but honest and straightforward. He’ll tell me straight away if it’s not working. It’s great working with him.
This piece was created from his request that I either compose or improvise something over a drum track he sent me (which you can hear a solo section of in the beginning). He gave me specific direction on mood and what he was looking for, but not so specific that it was limiting. I ended up creating 4 different trial tracks for him to use. This being the second one, it wasn’t until he sent me an actual clip of the scene I was writing for that I understood what needed to happen. This version was much too busy and chaotic especially considering there was to be quite a bit of voice over. I need to finesse the end as well. He ended up liking the 4th, much more Philip Glass-inspired, composition I sent him. Ever heard of Philip Glass? I highly recommend him – look him up and have a listen.
I’ll be honest and tell you that this is largely an improvisation – responding to each of the three cello voices as they were added on top of each other. For those of you who have followed the 365, you know this is my preferred M.O. a lot of the time, but I enjoy traditional scoring as well. In this case, where I was sent a drum track that ebbed and flowed within itself, it was easier to feel it out improvisationally rather than a formal score.
1. Original drum track sent to me
2. 3 cello tracks
I moved to Brooklyn last year into a very small apartment, and I’m still trying to find the sweet recording spots hidden within it. This recording was done a little hastily as I was leaving for tour and wanted to get something out as soon as possible. Someone should publish a book on how to build a quickly collapsible recording space into the tiniest apartment – because you still have to walk around, cook dinner, and play with your dog while tripping over all of your recording equipment in the corner of the room.
Here you go: Hope you’re doing very well. Thanks for listening, reading and sharing.
No. You aren’t dreaming. And neither am I. It’s true: this is a post after nearly a year. I’m going to finish the 365.
Part of the incentive behind finishing is that I’ve had so many people come up to me and ask if I’m going to finish that I can’t ignore it any more. It’s a painful thing, in a way, to know you have a creature of your own floating out there in the vastness of internet space that’s incomplete. And I’ve had enough insomnia recently that I can’t put it off any more. Plus, I want to finish it. I miss the exercise of it, and I have felt its loss because I haven’t created anything in a long, long time. I just needed some… time, I guess. Some really wonderful things have happened in the almost year and half since my last song post. Some sad and bad things, too, but even those things can be considered a welcome creative push (in retrospect most of the time).
Let us begin:
The Good Death. This song was initiated by a Pearl and the Beard writing session. I brought to Jeremy and Jocelyn sections of a uke part I had come up with a few weeks earlier on my own. We put things together and configured exact chords, verse melody, a chorus, a bridge, but didn’t have lyrics or exact form of the song at all. We took the bare bones sketch home with us after our session, and it sat. Months and months later, we put it back on the table, and Jocelyn worked out some really beautiful lyrics with the original melody we had designed. In a rehearsal last week, as much as I loved her awesome lyrics, I wasn’t convinced it was in the sweet spot. It just wasn’t there for me. So, I took it home myself as an exercise, throwing out the melody for the verses and the bridge while keeping the chorus melody we had liked. I redesigned the job of the original uke riff, making it more of an intro or ornament rather than it being the verse itself and wrote a new verse section with a brand new melody. The bridge was a different story. Jeremy and Jocelyn and I came up with this t00-hard-for-me-to-play-on-the-uke bridge but didn’t really know how it was going to function in reality. But we liked it so we left it. In this re-imagining exercise, I almost threw it out. I’m still undecided about its effectiveness, but I like elements of it, so it stayed.
I am posting this as an exercise. I wanted to show the development of a song and how deep it actually can go. The original, original version of this is actually a completely different song. We may go back to it, we may take this, we may throw out all versions all together. One can never predict what will stick and what won’t.
I had 4 focuses for this song:
1. Find cathartic, sincere lyrics. Mean what I’m saying while trying to avoid cliché but make it relatable. Maybe use ideas I’ve discussed recently.
Discussing “The Good Death” – From the internets: “There is no single definition of what constitutes a good death. The definition of a good death will vary for each patient. In 1997 The Institute of Medicine defined a good death as: ‘A decent or good death is one that is: free from avoidable distress and suffering for patients.'”
Also, yes. There is a reference to The Neverending Story.
*Personal note begin*
Have depression? Tension? Anxiety? This might be cliché in and of itself, but it totally works: Find an art or a creative outlet you think you might enjoy (baking [and then have a huge party and let your friends who love you enjoy the fruits of your anxiety], rock painting, cat photography, kazoo playing, etc.). It really doesn’t matter if you’re “good” at it. Create something. Anything. Look at it or sing it. Again and again. Or don’t. Burn it or throw it away. Running. Running also works.
*Personal note end*
2. What do you want to hear? Re-imagine the song keeping as many original elements as possible, but you don’t have to keep what you don’t want to keep.
3. Expect nothing. Possibility of disappointment is high when you’re putting yourself out there, especially if you’re writing in a team situation like Pearl and the Beard. This is a [personally cathartic] songwriting exercise using elements of a previously group-developed skeletal song. That’s all. If it makes it in, it makes it in. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Like Tom Hanks says, “It’s not personal. It’s business.”
4. And as always: No Pre-Judgements. None. Hell, let’s just say No Judgements. Ever.
365 Project alumni know that even if this ends up being used in any way by either me or the band, it will be totally different as a finished product. I mean, I went running the other day and already came up with a totally new verse, new tempo, etc. But displaying it in such infancy is why the 365 was developed. And like we say in sessions, “There’s no judgement in brainstorming.”
Oh. And there is no chorus yet. I have no idea what to put there that doesn’t sound like I’m 5. (Not that being 5 isn’t way bitchin’, cause it totally is.)
RECORDING: As I mentioned above, I have total insomnia, so it is now 4: 43 am. I recorded it at my kitchen table three times at about 2 am, just taking the last one because I think my neighbors could only stand it that many times so early in the morning.
Thank you for listening, reading, sharing.
THE GOOD DEATH (draft – missing chorus)
Give me the Good Death
Because I’ve called it willingly
Just give me the Good Death
Don’t hold it against me
Conjure The Nothing
I’ll contemplate my final breath
Inside your chest The Nothing
Loss always is where you look last
Reach in and eat a broken heart
Starving mouths make ill returns
Quiet now this lump of heart
I can’t escape what I deserve
Could this maybe be fiction using all your calculations
With the giants I’ll kill your lofty, genius intuition
Using arms of a dozen like it, there will be no complications
We’ll be strangers then.
Be strangers then.
Give me the Good Death
Because I’ve called it willingly
Just give me the Good Death
Don’t hold it against me
The incredibly talented Sam McCormally of Ugly Purple Sweater and I toured together during early 2010. During that time, he and I sat for a few hours and wrote and recorded “A Thousand Thousands” in a few hours for the 365 Project. It sat here, on this site, for nearly two years, waiting to be re-imagined.
Well, we did it. It has been imagined. Again. Recorded by Ivan Basauri at Inner Ear Studios, Arlington, VA and mixed by James Frazee in New York City, we offer it to you proudly and whole-heartedly.
You can listen to it and own it yourself along with 3 other songs – 2 of those three being penned by non other than Pearl and the Beard‘s Jocelyn Mackenzie and Jeremy Styles, each having their own song debut on this EP single release.
Buy the fancy-schmancy, digital download only, version of
Pearl and the Beard is going to the UK! We couldn’t be more excited.
In honor of our first trip across the pond, we teamed up with Britain’s very own ukulele songstress Sophie Madeleine to record a cover of Katy Perry’s “Firework”. We did a video and everything – and we drank “real” British tea with Oreos and Pringles. Best. Combo. Ever.
And here are our tour dates… so if you’ve got somebody over there who can come, we’d love to see them!
11.03 Barfly w/Jukebox the Ghost (London, UK) [TIX]
Technology. Technology is allowing me to type this on my stupid cell phone in the middle of a show! AMAZING!
Today’s song is so special, it’s crazy. Tonight, we are in Asheville, NC. We drove here after a two-day stint in Greensboro helping out our friend Harvey Robinson. I mentioned him and his production company, Monkeywhale, in an earlier post. Well, last night during our Greensboro show, I busted my C string, the cello’s thickest string, right in the middle if the set. Today, as I was putting on a new string, Harvey came up and said, “Have you done your song of the day yet?” “No”, I said. “I want to film the song today!” “I haven’t started it yet,” I replied. “Just improvise it…”
Well, I did. And he filmed me doing it. Harvey has been awake for nearly 3 days now with only a few naps because of the 48 Hour Film Project – and he is still in a great mood! Thank you, Harvey for capturing a 365 song in such a beautiful way.
I missed yesterday… but would you believe me if I told you I actually worked on SEVERAL songs yesterday, just can’t show them to you… You should believe it because it’s true!
Pearl and the Beard is in Greensboro, North Carolina working with Harvey Robinson/Monkeywhale Productions on his 48 Hour Film. If you’ve never heard of the 48 Film Festival, you can research it here and be enthused and blown away. It’s an amazing feat of artistry that must be completed in 48 hours. For more about the festival click HERE.
Well, we were recruited by dear friend Harvey to help on the soundtrack to his film this year. We showed up yesterday at noon, ate lunch and headed to the studio where Ben Singer, Wayne Reich, and Matty Sheetz were there waiting for us to arrive. Truthfully, I was worried this was going to be a painful experience. I’ve done soundtracks to film, and it can be as slow as tar, tedious and frustrating. But I was welcomed with the warming arms of organization: these guys were amazing. They were ready with ideas they had recorded before we got there, and, though they hadn’t seen the footage to what they were scoring, they had ideas and were moving on them. Wayne is a wonderful violinist, and we were able to do some free improvisation together as a violin/cello duet, which I haven’t done in such a long time. Free-improvisation is so… well… freeing. If you have the inclination to do it with anyone using any instrument, I highly encourage you to find a friend and just play!
Rule #1 to Free Improvisation:
There are NO WRONG NOTES. There are NO mistakes.
A personal guideline I have when doing free improv is to listen. Listen to what your partner is doing. React. Remember you are not playing by yourself. Space is also a great tool, especially when recording a free-improv. With including space in a performance you can cut sections and move them around where necessary.
We finished around 9:30 pm. Late last night we were able to hear a rough mix of what we had done during the day. I wish I could post the duet for you to hear: what a cool moment! We did several takes of it, each one different in its own way.
Speaking of improv – done in only a few minutes, the song today is improvised everything. Sometimes things just come to you and you can craft them into something wonderful. You feel the movement forward and you pat yourself on the back a little. But sometimes, there is the hugest brick slamming over and over into your brain prohibiting any ideas from coming forth. This is where I am. This is where I have been for several months. The best way out? Just do it. Keep doing it. Keep working through it. So, here is an improvised, one-take song, Disease.
We are getting ready to leave ASAP. So, I created the beat base in Garageband in less than 5 minutes and asked Jocelyn to rap because she’s a genius. Jeremy, as usual, is an awesome hype-man. We used the internal mic of Jeremy’s computer, though I underestimated how great it was and sat a little too close. Jeremy didn’t know Garageband had beats. He is now quitting the band to become a rap star. Good luck, man.
We leave for Lexington, VA today for a house show. I love house shows as they never seem to disappoint and people are always so kind.
I am up early like usual this morning. I have guests, and this is slightly problematic for recording, so I’m going to need to improvise. It is very unusual that I run into someone (who often isn’t in their retirement years) that wakes up as early as me, but I find that my new street wakes up with me. At around 7 am loud music announces the morning. The other day it was a guy walking around with a boombox playing REM’s “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” (that was at 6:30). This morning it was a white car with an excellent sound system parked right across the street hitting the rap.
After the morning call of music comes the voices. Locals are already awake, sitting on the stoop, chatting it up. This morning I heard the words, “Jail”, “Murder”, “Hardware store”, “I gotta get paid”, in between shots of laughter sprinkled with a bit of cussing. All of those words, mind you, were not related to one another within the conversation, though I could start a whole new rumor about something going down at the hardware store down the street. But I would want to include a mermaid: every good story has a mermaid.
Today marks the first day of Pearl and the Beard’s second leg of tour. I know. That’s weird. We intended on a full two weeks including dates up in Canada, but they didn’t pan out. I secretly attribute it to a fiasco I got myself into a few years ago trying to do a solo show up in Toronto. I tried to cross the border at Niagra Falls. They said, “Why are you coming here?” Now, what I should have said was… nothing. But instead I said something to the effect of, “Oh, you know, playing a Radiohead show.” Never. Never. Never use sarcasm at the boarder. Never. Needless to say, I was kicked out post haste. Did the Canadians know Pearl and the Beard wanted to play there? Do they have plants who report back to them? (I’ve made a few sketchy Canadian friends in my life (Erin A., Stephen M., Kayson B. [okay, Kayson is only sort of a Canadian]). I’m forming a belief they are spies set to destroy…or at least entertain me.
Today’s song will be dedicated to those officers… particularly the hottie in the booth who initially pulled me aside.
I wrote this in about 10 minutes. The great thing about music is that you can put three chords together and have a song. Quick. Cause that’s what I need. The cheer in the end is from my visiting anthropologist-sister-in-law Bonnie. Recorded once and I didn’t even bother editing it because a song about Canada should only take one time with no editing. Sorry about the internal mic use – I hate it so much.
See you on the road! Pearl and the Beard leaves in 20 minutes for Pittsburgh, PA…check out the schedule here: www.pearlandthebeard.com
Oh Canada you kicked me out
An officer, he cast his doubt
On me, on me
Sarcastically, proclaimed my stay
A free, fine show to my dismay
Was my mistake
I called for help, you ran from me
Cried out your name, beyond the sea
But you wained, you wained
Passport sports a large black spot
Upon it now reads, “Enter Not”
Such a fool, to believe…Oh, Canada
Oh Canada, gave me the boot
The officer was super cute
Thought I could win with a smile
No matter my coquettishness
They sent me back to the eagle’s nest
America. America. Oh, Canada!