Moving

Posted February 23, 2013 by lwillj
Categories: Uncategorized

Such is the fickleness of the internet that wordpress is already outdated for some reason. But more importantly, we’re revamping the bloggy mission approach. LWJ will be blabbing away on TWO new blogs.

One will be focused on all things music: LUJO

The other will be focused on activism and wonkery: The Citizen Will

Goodbye, One More Microphone! We had a great time.

It Was A Very Good Year

Posted August 1, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Daily Life, Music

RECEIPT FOR: MUSICIAN
LOCATION: AUSTIN, TX
DURATION: ~1 YEAR

 

LIVE MUSIC HEARD
13 live concerts/performances attended

  •          10 rock/funk/jazz shows
  •          1 musical theater
  •          2 “classical” performances

4 days of music festivals

  •          countless bands heard

1 SXSW week

  •          also countless bands heard

6 church services attended

  •          2 catholic
  •          3 presbyterian
  •          1 megachurch baptist

1 drumming workshop attended
+ every gig played usually had other bands performing too

 

STUFF MADE
4 music reviews written of bands at music festivals
1 website re-design
36 songs written/recorded*

  •          2 one-off songs
  •          2 albumlets of 4 songs each
  •          14 “song a day’s”
  •          1 album of 11 songs* (*the album is still under construction, counting it anyway)
  •          1 Will n William collaboration

25 videos made (almost all of the aforementioned songs)

  •          1 road-trip “documentary”
  •          2 one-off videosongs
  •          2 albumlets of four songs each
  •          14 “song a day’s”

Countless photos taken during a photo shoot with Viracochas

 

PERFORMANCES PERFORMED
1 solo “performance” of Idea at a composer’s forum
30 rock gigs at 14 different venues

  •          16 drumming with Viracochas
  •          13 drumming with Afro Taxi
  •          1 on accordion with Brian “Russell Brand Brandish Brand Bran Brandishing Brand Band” Oldham

15 organ gigs at 7 different churches

  •          13 sunday services
  •          1 ash wednesday service
  •          1 funeral

 

MONEY EARNED
no comment

 

SAVINGS USED UP
…not broke yet

 

OTHER NOTABLE (OR AT LEAST “NOTED”) ITEMS (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)
4 different bands jammed with without joining
1 container of 25 pairs of earplugs used up
1 vintage 1968 baldwin theater organ purchased
1 yamaha keyboard purchased
countless free beers at gigs
6 books read (3 novels, 3 history)
3 massive white board panels purchased
countless hours of practicing
0 days of below-freezing weather
2 meals out eating texas-signature brisket bbq
1 texas license plate and driver’s license acquired
~10 total number of cats seen in and around the house
~10 maximum number of cars seen parked in the driveway at once
1 (each) coyote, possum, raccoon sighting
2 scorpions found in bedroom (1 live, 1 deceased post extermination)
10 different friends/family who came to visit
1 (each) vice grips and metronome lost/stolen
too many movies watched
2 season of archer watched
5 movie theater trips
1 UT football game
2 visits to LBJ presidential library
1 visit to history of texas museum
3 visits to texas state capitol
1 homeless “occupier” living in the house (briefly)
5 drum sets in house at once (maximum)
~15 guitars, ~dozen amps, countless mics and cords in the house
bajillion cigarettes smokes by housemates/friends/people at bars
0 cigarettes smoked by me
~3 states that are not Maryland that people thought I was returning to (at least NJ, MA, SC)
~4 different dinners I prepared over and over and over and over
~1 type of lunch I ate almost every day
Friends made, memories created, music played, fun had, things learned: Indescribable. Uncountable. Unforgettable.

 

Behind every single tally is a story and the awesome people who were on the ride with me. To you all, cheers.

Tryna Be A Rockstar Part V – Playing The… Pipe Organ?

Posted June 5, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Music, Religion/theUnknown

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

In order to make a living, most musicians have to find a variety of types of work. Rarely does a single gig pay a full salary. In my situation, drumming and recording do not generate income. Instead I earn a modest wage by playing the pipe organ.

I have realized that people know very little about about pipe organs. Even those exposed to them in church almost never sit down even to just noodle around. So let me offer a window into the world of this underappreciated king of instruments…

Read the rest of this post »

Tryna Be A Rockstar Part IV – Finding Your Voice in a Homebrew Studio

Posted May 28, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Music

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

Some people like to talk in grand terms about the history of music, how particular human advancements had certain types of effects on music. I am going to be one of those people (briefly). I would argue that the single most significant change to music since the development of sound recording has been the democratization of high-quality recording capabilities. For millennia, music had to be performed in person. Then the phonograph brought the symphony into your living room. But now, you can bring the recording studio into your living room – we masses can produce our own music now. “Composing” is no longer about putting notes on a page or needing to perform whatever is in your head. You can immortalize it. Carve out your own Hammurabi slab of sound. Sing for your great great great great great great grandchildren. Or sing for anyone anywhere in the world, right now.

If I were born fifteen years earlier, I have no doubt that I would not have decided to move to Austin and pursue music. The core of my musical journey has been my own composing, songwriting, and being able to record whatever I write. My music is not confined to the vacuum of my own brain. I can put it out, listen to it, reflect on it, share it, improve upon it, and put more out. Just fifteen years ago I would have had to struggle to find musicians willing to play exactly what I wanted them to play. Then it would have cost an absurd amount of money to go into the studio and spend the amount of time I do fiddling around with sounds. Instead, I have a magic music box two inches from my bed and everything else I need closer than the bathroom.

Technology opened up a universe of composition, but for the longest time it confounded me with too much possibility. Only recently have I found-……

Well, here’s the story:

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Tryna Be A Rockstar, Part III – SXSW As An Austinite

Posted May 18, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Music

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

South By Southwest, or SXSW as it is internetly known, has grown into a globally-renowned technology and arts conference that takes place each March in Austin, TX. For the thousands of tourists that descend upon Austin over those two weekends, it’s like going to any big sporting event. Tons of people, traffic is terrible, food is expensive.

If you live in Austin, you get all of that, except you have a job so instead everyone just gets in your way.

But if you’re in a BAND and you live in Austin. Well then. It is the busiest week of the year! Kind of like holy week for churches. Or finals week for students. Or having-a-baby-week for new parents.

Everywhere and anywhere becomes a music venue during the non-technology portion of SXSW. The official conference only has a fraction of the acts that perform during the week. And because so many people are visiting the city, every band wants to get as much exposure as possible. This means there is too much music for too many people and it is just like any other day in Austin where nobody remembers who you are. Except way more fun, because you actually have audiences.

Everybody’s SXSW is different, depending on which shows they went to, which streets they happened to walk down while some band set up on a sidewalk, how long they felt like waiting in lines to see established acts, or how stupid they were to spend money on music that week when so much of it is free.

But here are some tales from my own particular SXSW as I played 9 shows with three separate acts over 8 days. I could probably edit it down a bunch, but I’ll leave it long so you get a sense of how crazy of a week it is to live through.

Read the rest of this post »

Tryna Be a Rock Star, Part II – Joining Bands

Posted May 17, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Music

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

Since I was thirteen, I have been a drummer in one band or another almost continuously, except for two 9-month droughts at the beginning of college and after I graduated. That’s over eight years of band practices and gigs.

As I’ve asked a few friends what they’d be interested in reading about, they’ve asked, “What’s it like to be in a band???” Right. Of course. Not everybody has been in bands for years and years, so I shouldn’t assume that they all know the routine of rehearsals and gigs…

So I’ll start with the tricky topic of joining bands.

There are two different ways to join a band. One begins with friendship: you and a couple buddies realize that you all play various instruments that would work together as a band, so you start one. The other way begins with music: you want to play in a certain kind of band, so you go find other musicians.

These two ways can be mixed – maybe you start with a friend but then find other musicians to round out the group, or a friend joins onto a group you’ve had for a while. The best bands ultimately become both good friends and good musicians. One particularly sound piece of band advice I’ve heard is from the almighty ?uestlove who says for a band to work, you need to (at least) have one day a week that is Band Day. Everyone comes over, hangs out, eats food, watches movies, and plays music. A band doesn’t work if it’s an impersonal, professional experience. Music is too much of a human activity to be stripped of relationships and reduced to just sound. This is also why rock history is full of interpersonal drama…

Every band I’ve been in before I moved to Austin was based on friendship – I played with people I knew from school. Moving to Austin all of a sudden presented a new challenge: figuring out what kind of band I wanted to be in; I had no network to draw on anymore. I was alone in a new city.

So after a few months of making my own music in my room, it became painfully obvious that I needed to be in a group and play some gigs. What was I doing in Austin as a musician if I wasn’t playing with other musicians? I turned to Craigslist.

I had two basic approaches. Approach #1 was to see if there were bandless musicians out there who I could meet that might be interested in starting something from scratch. I like writing music, and with another one or two talented writers, we might come up with something kickass and new, possibly even genre-groundbreaking. Hopefully.

Approach #2 was to see if there were existing bands looking for a drummer or a keyboardist. Obviously, there would need to be a skill match; I can’t play at super speeds like a metal drummer for example.

Approach #1 meant posting to Craigslist for the first time ever. Approach #2 meant I was checking Craigslist regularly, so I got a sense of how people advertised. Some postings are very short and uninformative with several spelling errors. Some have a long list of other bands they “sound like”. So I linked to my own music and listed an eclectic set of artists I loved. At the very least, I thought I could find some people with similar taste in music to give us a starting point.

The result? I got a few requests to be in bands that already existed. I responded to the ones that seemed interesting. A rap-funk duo never replied back. A metal band was too metally for me. A couple people simply lacked talent or didn’t send me any recordings of themselves. I was not about to go to a random person’s house to play who-knows-what music…

One did lead to a rehearsal. One guy wanted me to play keyboard with his acoustic guitar and drummer duo. They were nice guys with music that wasn’t too difficult for me on piano. Since I have only ever been the drummer in a band, I very much wanted to try being a keyboardist for once. This group felt like it would be good training wheels for me on keyboard, but logistics got in the way, and their music didn’t grab me enough to persuade me otherwise.

Soo, approach #1 never really worked out. But Approach #2 did! On the very first day of thoroughly checking craigslist, I found a couple groups looking for a drummer that indicated they already had an album and were getting ready to tour.

This led to a mini crisis. I was sure that I would have a successful audition, but I didn’t know if I actually wanted to be in those bands – they played very generic alternative rock. It was oddly a new challenge for me. I had only ever fell into bands with friends before – the option of choosing what type of band I wanted to be in felt like a strange luxury. I waffled. I consternated. In the end, I decided to wait for postings that would excite me more. I didn’t contact them.

After some time though, I desperately needed to at least meet new musicians. So I did contact a DIY soft-rock group that also had a cello. I doubted that their music was really for me, but they seemed creative so I met with them. They were very enthusiastic about perfecting a set of songs and putting together a home-grown tour (of people’s backyards on the east coast?), making enough money off of it to pay for expenses. But ultimately, I told them no thanks, though I was happy to keep in touch. I figured maybe we could do a little collaboration at some point. We haven’t yet.

It was at this point that I finally had to confront and really decide what I wanted out of a band – being a tease of a drummer was not a long-term plan. I figured that if I was going to join an existing band, it would have to be music that I really enjoyed playing. To that point, one of my most favorite gigs ever was a christmas party gig with a funk band I had in high school. The place was packed with drunk revelers and there was a huuuge bass amp that thundered the place with our groovin lines. People were dancing everywhere. It was glorious.

So I wanted a funk band. Or… something unpredictable yet compelling, comparable to what I had hoped to get from Approach #1.

After a couple weeks, I found a funk band. Afro Taxi. I’ve listened to wayyy too much Red Hot Chili Peppers in my life, and these dudes idolized the chilis, so it was an instant fit. They are awesome people and I’ve had a ton of fun playing with them the last few months. So it was then pretty painful when I told them recently that I was going to leave Austin because they are some of the better friends I’ve made this year. [And to the confused: none of us have afros nor drive taxis, though they have a trailer which some graffiti artists covered with awesome Afro Taxi designs. During SXSW, when every other downtown parking space contained a Band Van or Band Trailer, none come anywhere close to being as awesome as Afro Taxi’s trailer.]

I suppose there was an Approach #3 too. It was sort of like the “being in a band with friends” arrangement. My housemates have a psych rock band. It’s not really my style of music, but they needed a drummer and I really wanted to play shows. I also figured it might be interesting to see another side of the Austin music scene, since funk bands don’t always play the same places as psych rock bands. And they rehearse in the living room.

————————————————

I apologize that this account has been rather dry and logistical so far. A more flowery account would be a narrative of emails, text messages, and conversations over smoke breaks…

It starts with something like, “Hey, thanks for the message. I checked out your music and it seems cool. I play drums and here’s some of my music. I’d be interested in jamming. Let me know what works for you.” That is followed by an exchange of addresses and aligning schedules.

You arrive at a house of people you’ve never met with drums in your car. You go to the door and say hi to people you’ve never laid eyes on before. Will they become your new best friend and musical partner for life? Will this just be a one-evening jam and you never see them again? Or are they serial killers? Craigslist is always a bit iffy… They have some instruments set up already. You check out their gear the way a car enthusiast eyes a new ride. They offer you a beer and help you bring in your drums. As you unload your van you make the same old joke about how you drive the green soccer-mom van of the ’90s, “But it’s perfect for carting around drums!” You set up somewhere in the room while the rest of the band shows up. You tell everyone you’re terrible at remembering names.

Then the band practice begins. They start playing a song and you get a feel for it and start drumming along. Occasionally they might stop and point out some aspect of the arrangement that isn’t obvious, or they have a drum part in mind already. Afterwards, you all hang out a little bit and talk about first impressions of Austin because they just moved here too – everyone just moved here! It’s the city of misfit musicians! Then you pack up and either talk about how they want you in the band or how you don’t want to be in the band. Either way, you head home feeling accomplished because you successfully jammed with other musicians and, y’know, the world didn’t end. You feel slightly more confident that you could navigate the music industry if you kept at it…

If you join the band, then you go back to their house regularly for practice. It’s basically like going to a friend’s house, but you bring instruments. Band practice involves playing through songs. If it’s a good band practice, then you regularly stop and hone the riffs or transitions or parts that aren’t strong enough. If it’s a bad band practice you just play straight through, repeating whatever mistakes you always make. Upon joining a new band, the first few rehearsals are all about you learning their songs. You might record the practice and take notes so you can listen and study them on your own time. Some bands rehearse really loud so you wear decibel-reducing headphones like a construction worker. If the band has a website, they might update it to include you as a new band member. At some point, you exchange phone numbers with everyone.

And you look forward to the first gig.

Tryna Be A Rock Star, Part I – LIVIN

Posted May 8, 2012 by lwillj
Categories: Daily Life

Dispatches from the front lines of the music industry.

I figured all you non-music folk out there might be interested to see what this life has been like before I go off and do other things. Beginning with a bit of background on how I got here: 

So you’re facing down your senior year of college and staring towards the void of post-graduation real life, wondering “what am I going to DO???”

Naturally, you decide to spurn your degree and pursue music.

“But where?” you wonder. Through a rather arbitrary decision process, you choose a city hundreds of miles away from everyone you’ve ever known because it’s cheap and has a reputation for live music.

Now you gotta find a place to live in that place you wanna live. ALL HAIL THE MIGHTY AND SUPREMELY USEFUL AND OCCASIONALLY SERENDIPITOUS CRAIGSLIST. You begin to worry that you haven’t been checking often enough for housing opportunities and you might have missed the ideal one. Most postings in your price range of less than $500/month for a rented room are hard to decipher from afar, with just a photo and a curt description…

But after a few weeks of checking daily, finally! You find a posting worth contacting! Of note: you are not yet anywhere near this city in which you will live. But this posting is cheap and says it will be a house of musicians! Huzzah! You can live with people your age who can introduce you to the music scene! You won’t have to take the extra room of some empty nesters who work all day! You don’t have to consider living with the hippie who has a kid and some very particular demands and who reposts almost daily!

You skype with these musician folk. They’re using a real real estate agent. It seems like if it were a scam, it would be an overly elaborate way of just getting a couple hundo from you. You cross your fingers and sign the lease before you’ve even packed the van.

After a few days of cross-country drivin, you arrive. It checks out. They are real people. There’s really a house. It’s raining as you pull up. Apparently it hasn’t rained in months. It won’t rain again for months. There is a band practice shaking the walls as you start carting your stuff to the room they have saved for you. Feels like you’ll fit in well enough.

Enough of using the second-person voice.

But that’s roughly how I got here.

Now, here is what here is:

It’s a large one-story house with five bedrooms plus a closet-room that we are also renting out. I share the main bathroom with three other people. The rest of the house is one verrry large space divided into a carpeted living room and a tiled kitchen-slash-dining-room area. One of my housemates went to town decorating before I even arrived, so there are large tapestries on some walls and posters on others. Everywhere you turn some other rock god is glaring at you. Pink Floyd wishes you were here while you do the dishes.

We keep carpets and couches in the dining room area because the living room is too full of instruments. Currently there are: at least four guitar amps, a serious mixing board, half a drum set, two electric organs, a cello, a couple PA cabinets, several guitars and pedals… That is in addition to two closets full of gear, plus all the stuff in our rooms. Musicmusicmusic.

The house is I think at least twenty years old, judging partly by the fact that the ground has started shifting beneath it. Some doors no longer align with their jambs and my room slopes slightly. Several gutters have fallen off the roof. The little wooden gazebo roof on the deck out back fell apart a couple months ago after a few hard rains egged on the rotting process. The exterior walls are brick, the interior walls are plaster painted a light brown in a weird spray pattern that looks sort of like orange puke under certain lighting conditions.

The house is about 10 minutes east of Austin, technically in Manor (pronounced “may-nor”, don’t ask why), on a country road where the houses all have big yards and at least a couple people have goats and chickens. But right around the corner is a big subdivision where every house is identical and where the streets wind around every which way and you get lost when you bike through. The general area is still pretty spread out and empty – a large tech company found the space nearby to build a sprawling campus. Plus the dump is down the street. Sometimes when the wind is right, you can smell it in our yard…

Our property is long and narrow and a little less than two acres. When I arrived, it was a parched brown field weathering day after day of 100+ degree heat. After some rain, suddenly it all was green green green. Our landlords mow it for us, but they don’t do it very often, so it gets a bit wild. One of my housemates tilled the dried-up patch of vegetable garden in our backyard and planted a ton of seeds, but through some miscommunication the landlord re-plowed it. I think at least some carrots survived. There are a couple sheds – one with a bunch of unused lumber, the other with an old washer and a bunch of paint cans. The back of the property is a barbed-wire fence in front of a bunch of bushes. We have a two-car garage we use for storage and weightlifting. If you park under certain trees in the summer, your car won’t be an oven when you get in, but your windshield will be covered in bird shit. A tricky tradeoff actually.

For the first month I lived here, we hadn’t set up our trash service, so we would pile up trash bags in the sun room. Raccoons came in a couple times and made a mess of all the trash. It was incredibly foul and a huge relief to finally get them all taken away. A bit eye-opening though to see how fast garbage can accumulate…

One housemate has a cute calico cat called Caligula (Callie for short) but everyone just calls it “KITTIE!” It lives outdoors, but it was never taken to get spayed so right now it lives in a closet with its five incredibly cute kittens.

There is a spice factory next door. At least, we think it’s a spice factory: it smells quite fragrant when their doors are open and a breeze blows our way, but a car with “Playboy” painted on it in large letters is often parked outside…

My housemates range from ~19-28 years old. Nobody is a morning person. If you’re up before noon, you’re up early. I’m the only person who doesn’t smoke cigarettes, but thankfully everyone smokes outdoors (and each of them, at one point or another, have maintained that they were quitting). Nobody does enough dishes. The bathroom always needs to be cleaned. But everyone buys their own food, and for the most part leaves everyone else’s alone. Except that somebody will drink your beer. Always.

All in all, it’s about what you would expect from seven twenty-something musicians living together. The house is big enough that we aren’t getting in the way of each other too much. I generally don’t drum before 2 or 3, because somebody is probably sleeping. But you can usually make noise until about 1AM before someone will complain. Our landlord’s are happy enough with us that they are apparently willing to re-lease, but I won’t be here for the second year.

To conclude, here is a financial illustration of my life these days:

Weekly groceries: $30-$35
Earnings for playing the organ at a church on sunday: 1 service – $150, two services ~ $200
A full tank of gas: ~$65
Rent+bills (depending on which month it was): $320-$400
Baldwin HT2R 1967 electric organ bought from a church in Dallas and found off of Craigslist: $280
The first two beers when You’re In The Band: $0