Monday, December 29, 2008

Drummers

Dante Negroponte, our drummer, is nearly fully recovered from his motorcycle accident. He has retained one of the finest personal injury attorneys in San Francisco, and will be pounding the skins in no time (he'll also be playing drums, too. Har har.)

Of course, I couldn't let the hot engine of my career idle or cool while Mr. Glasshands went through physical therapy or whatever you do when you break your hands. I did what they taught me to do in Hollywood: I sent him flowers, a fruit basket, and a note that said "Your job is waiting for you".

And then I started auditioning replacement drummers.

My first choice was Jens Hanneman - cat can play everything - but apparently he's already "committed" for 2009. We did have a good jam session, though. Jens totally dominated. Amazing stuff. Jens made a DVD a few years back, which was how I heard of him:


This young lady was my second choice:

She was quiet and polite (I don't think she said a word during the audition - her "uncle"/manager did all the talking). Can play to a click no problem. Moved her own gear, which was refreshing. Also apparently available for cheap.

3rd choice was a guy named "Gregg". He tried out for Luxxury a few years ago and blew us all away. Apparently he's now fronting a band called "G.R.E.G.G.", which is going to blow everyone away real soon.

Anyhow, Dante's on the mend, so I guess this was all for naught.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The tortured genius of Adam Ant

My friend and bandmate Rich "Foxx" Trott says he enjoys when I write about my musical influences, so here's some more in that vein...

The only thing worse than "not making it" as a star is "making it for a little while".

I've never met Adam Ant (a.k.a. Stuart Goddard) but I feel like I know him well. Yeah, he ripped us off a bit (hint: the song was originally called "Pantmusic"), but then again, who didn't rip us off?

To be fair, I stole from him, too - in obvious ways (What's my band called?) and less obvious ways.

Adam Ant not only worked with Malcom McLaren (better known for a less-talented, less-successful one-off band called The Sex Pistols), Adam got screwed over by him in truly spectacular fashion! McLaren helped shape Adam's pop star vision...and then more or less stole The Ants from Adam and refashioned them into Bow Wow Wow, replacing Adam with teenager Annabella Lwin (there are stories to be told here soon, too). Like the Pants, Adam was forced to rush to get an album out with "his sound" before Bow Wow Wow released theirs. Bow Wow Wow is primarily known today for covers - both their retread of "I Want Candy" and the (at the time) under age Lwin posing nude on the sleeve. (This is not to knock Bow Wow Wow - they are awesome, too)
The Devil take your stereo and your record collection


Ant was so punk he decided he wanted to make both pop music and money, not just smash everything - at the time, that was seriously radical. He wrote clever, hooky songs, teamed up with a fantastic guitar player (the underrated Marco Pirroni), and developed one of the most distinctive visual styles of the 80s (or any decade), right down to typography. Like Billy Idol, he often played (uncredited) bass guitar on his albums, and is much smarter musically and in other ways than his cartoonish image would have one believe. (However, unlike Billy Idol, one of my ex-girlfriends did not date Adam Ant.)

Trent Reznor says the backwards "N" in the Nine Inch Nails logo was inspired by Adam Ant's backwards "D" and NIN covered "You're So Physical" on their breakthrough "Broken" album.

Close personal friend Roxy Epoxy covered "Beat My Guest", and her vocal stylings and the music of her band, The Epoxies, owes a clear debt to Adam Ant as well.

As a kid in the 80s, Adam Ant was unlike any other singer, celebrity, or person I knew. He wasn't as polished, smooth, or awesome as Duran Duran...but he was oddly scary/threatening, raw, sensual, and human, receding hairline and all.

My first real girlfriend was head-over-heels for him, and thought he was sexy as hell (she also broke my heart, so her judgment is somewhat questionable). I saw his videos and wondered what he was thinking. Was he serious? How could he be in that get-up? But he couldn't possibly be joking because he seemed like he meant it...His songs were funny, sexy, and sometimes creepy.

Eventually I realized that part of what made Adam Ant's whole thing work was what actors strive for - that sense of "commitment" to the role, to the part, to the song, to the look. Adam Ant is fearless when he sings. He throws himself into his music completely, and that abandon is what makes it and him powerful.
We went on "Top of the Pops" for 3 minutes - "Dog Eat Dog", that was it - and the next day 200,000 people went out and bought the record. That 3.5 minutes took 3.5 years to prepare for...
He sent copies of his records to a teacher who had been supportive of his artistic tendencies. And he was "the most written-about celebrity [in the UK] in 1981 except for Princess Diana". He had a slew of hit singles before flaming out in 1989 with an album produced by one of Prince's understudies. Took up acting, got some b-movie and TV roles. Did commercials for Honda scooters with Grace Jones. Carefully, obsessively managing and plotting his career.

The whole time he was grappling with serious mental illness: depression.
Did I tell you I didn't cry?
Well I lied
The music lifestyle is demanding and fatiguing in every way. You work so hard to "live up to your potential" and to "make it". And then what? Even if (to quote Mr. Ant and others) there's always room at the top, you're always just renting that room. You will be evicted.

Once that happens...well, there's nothing worse than watching something you've worked so hard for - your fame, fortune, fans - slip away from you. To go from playing rooms packed with screaming girls to being harassed and called a "has-been" everywhere you go...it's tough to take.

Adam Ant went through all that and more. Dated Heather Graham! Yet he still came back and put out "Wonderful" in 1995. It's not a crazy, wild record - it's a grown-up album about dealing with all this stuff. I was skeptical then and am still not crazy about it, but the stellar "Won't Take That Talk" opens the album, and I still get a thrill and a smile on my face when Marco busts out that Jazz Chorus-fueled guitar part on "Wonderful".

At some point Stuart/Adam wrote an autobiography - why am I only finding out about it now?

Here's the first part of a great, long-overdue documentary "The Madness of Prince Charming" on YouTube. The whole thing has some surprising moments, both funny and extremely dark:


Mr. Goddard, I raise my hotel bourbon to you. You helped make me who I am today. You can steal from me any time, and I hope to someday shake your hand and thank you for your words of wisdom, and your music.
Ridicule is nothing to be scared of
Don't you ever
Don't you ever stop being dandy
Showing us you're handsome
Don't you ever
Don't you ever lower yourself
Forgetting all your standards
Adam Ant Sampler:
Car Trouble
Beat My Guest
You're So Physical
Stand and Deliver
Prince Charming
Desperate But Not Serious
Wonderful

Monday, December 01, 2008

On Instruments

Music software crank and blogger Chris Randall wrote a typically thoughtful post on what makes something a good instrument. He should know - his company makes really good effects plug-ins, many of which I own and use.

My take? "Pro" isn't what you use. It's how you use it.

The notion of "inspiration" is too subjective for me to consider, though. For me, it's easy to be briefly inspired on any new instrument, from the sheer novelty of the sound or interface. I've come up with many a part or song by noodling around on someone else's gear.

And what inspires you today may be what you're sick of tomorrow.

Good instruments make it easy to get at sufficient depth to encourage creativity without either losing you in details, menus, and parameters or restricting your choices.

Sadly, I no longer have any of the gear dating back to the Pants' early days in the suburban garages of our youth. However, I do have a few pieces of gear I've been using since the late 80s and many I've been using for nearly 10 years.

The good stuff is limited just enough, and frequently references old, tried, tested designs - the Nord Lead 2 we use live is basically a digital Prophet-5 with more voices (sadly, it doesn't do much better than the original for a display).

Back in ye olde dayes (a.k.a. the 80s) the Pants threw down big cash (at the time) for a Yamaha DX-7. It was considered one of the "Seven Deadly Synths" one had to have for a complete studio/record/band/whatever. It remains one of the best-selling synths of all time. New Order used it for their famous bass line on "Bizarre Love Triangle". I think Howard Jones used one for "What Is Love?" And its electric piano sounds were inescapable for the whole of the 80s.
I hated it.

We only ended up using it on a few tracks on "Life, Style". It was hard to program, combining a brand-new synthesis methodology (frequency modulation, a.k.a. FM) with one of the worst user interfaces ever to grace a popular keyboard. At the time, we (like almost everyone else) were unable to move much beyond the presets.

Parenthetically, it also schooled me on the dangers of beverages in the studio - I spilled a bottle of diet Pepsi Free into the key portion a week before a major gig. Ended up costing several hundred dollars to fix and I had to borrow a Korg Poly-800 to cover for it. Ouch.

A few years ago I traded a hot pink Ibanez Steve Vai Jem 777 for a DX-7IIFD, largely because I was interested in exploring alternate tunings, which the IIFD did (and was one of the only keyboards to do so). By then, I had learned enough to understand FM - but the interface still got in the way.

And no matter what, the DX series always felt like work. I never once sat down and said "ooh, this makes me want to write a song!"

The first synth I ever had was a Casio CZ-101 which my parents bought me for Christmas. I loved that thing and could program it 9 ways to Sunday. My brother sold it a few years ago after I asked him to take care of it for me (I guess I should have been more specific about what I meant by "take care of it for me!").
I still have horrible ancient recordings of that thing - seems like I couldn't touch it without starting to write something. Ironically, it was only slightly easier to program than the DX, and far more limited. And definitely not considered "pro".

But given a choice between the two today, I'd grab that CZ-101.