Sunday, December 9, 2012

Cheap Seats 11: Thanks! (I Couldn't Have Done It--Not Alone!)

Oh!  It's The Noble Fir!  With Ellen and Rick
Ok!  Official Release Day for the album is behind us, as is the release party (I performed an acoustic set and released CDs to Kickstarter contributors, friends and family and regulars at The Noble Fir on Thursday).  Before I get to the business of introducing some of the specific creative content on this album, I'd like to expand a bit on the album's credits and "thank you" section, as there are many people whose efforts helped bring the project to fruition.  Though this diary entry comes out a bit long-winded, it's of paramount importance to me to give credit where it's due.

As far as the sounds recorded on the album, nobody played a bigger role than Justin Phelps--he was recording, mixing and mastering engineer, and as I've mentioned before, he played a crucial role in the quality control department.  In addition to those technical roles, Justin was pretty much the first person I met after emerging from my creative cave--he's a hard-working, friendly guy, and the fact that he instantly took my artistic goals seriously was a hugely important boost to my confidence and morale.  There's a lot of loneliness involved in making music independently, and it's connections like these that, for me at least, act as lifelines.  Though we didn't always reach complete accord regarding my artistic goals (which is to-be-expected), Justin was always ready to constructively challenge and question my decision-making, which is an important part of the learning process for me as I move forward to my next projects--knowing how a sympathetic pair of ears hears ideas you may have thought you made clear is a good signpost to understanding how completely unsympathetic listeners might respond.  Most importantly, I'm looking forward to teaming up with Justin again on my upcoming plans.

Sarah, of course, sits at the top of the thank-you list.  I can't imagine what it's like to be subjected to another person's artistic ups and downs in close quarters, but she is always emotionally supportive even if it's hard for her to understand how high the stakes can be for me personally in the midst of these projects.  Also crucial is having a stable, "real" life to return to from the peaks and troughs of the creative roller coaster.  It's good to be reminded of your responsibilities and know how important the simple things are in life.  Speaking of real life, my mom and dad have also been incredibly supportive throughout the process, hosting me in Camas for long periods while I commuted to and from the studio.  While I'm sure my aesthetic path and career choices continue to mystify them, I know they appreciate how important and critical my current goals are to my happiness and I'm proud to have shown them how seriously I'm taking my current endeavor.

Rick and Ellen at The Noble Fir deserve very special mention, too.  Ever since I burned them a CD-R of the In Not-Even-Anything Land material as I was finishing it up in summer of 2010, they've generously exceeded any expectations as patrons of the "arts," hosting not one, but two CD releases and always providing positive feedback and the warmth of friendship that allows labors of love to flourish.  It was a great pleasure to celebrate this friendship in song, performing "The Noble Fir" at the release party.  In a more serious, "brass tacks" sense, the fact that they've also employed me at the bar since June 2011 has provided me with enough income and leave time to actually afford projects like this--the costs for this album would have equaled about half a year's worth of my previous income, and I'm extremely grateful for the fact that my job enables me to fund artistic projects of this scale while still maintaining a reasonable standard of living and savings--I take this privilege very seriously!

Working my way through the list, I again find cause to thank Nick and Cathy Manwell--I've been friends with them since Nick gave me a dollar when I was playing at 4th Avenue Coffee Shop outside the Liberty Theater in Camas back around 2002.  Since then I've played countless hours of guitar with Nick and "borrowed" pieces of his gear for years at a time (it's his bass heard on the whole album).   It was a real pleasure to get Nick involved in Cheap Seats--he plays lead acoustic on "Chrysalis (In Three Verses)."

In terms of the rest of the "band" heard on the album, much thanks is owed to the kinetic energy provided by drummers Drew Shoals and Russ Kleiner.  I've known Drew since he was an already-legendary presence on the Whitman College campus, playing for every band from the school's jazz band to r&b/hip hop group Love Child to his own solo stuff (releasing such unforgettable singles as "I Can Hear You Having Sex")--apart from a brief stand-in soundcheck appearance, we never played music together.  So, Drew's appearance on eight songs here fulfills a goal I'd long had in the back of my mind.  Additionally, Drew came into the recording process at a very early point (December 22nd of last year), so his willingness to take the music seriously and add some real bones to the fleshy mass I'd concocted was a huge boost to my confidence, which was quite low at the start of the sessions.  I love how Drew's contributions acknowledge the complexity of the songs' meters but also aren't afraid to run rampant, enhancing the "nearly-falling-apart" feel with a free-flowing, intuitive groove.  Russ (to whom Drew introduced me after his school schedule prohibited his return to the later sessions), somewhat contrastingly, approached his songs with a meticulous attention to the details--I was really surprised at how thoroughly he'd internalized the knotty meters of songs I'd not even bothered to chart for him--his energy and sympathetic attention to detail really shine through on his contributions, which were made in spite of a monumental cold (he went on antibiotics after our session).  Finally, my friend Peter Bruckner provided piano for two album tracks and one bonus track, lending a lot of complex feeling with his jazz voicing knowledge, and providing some really choice melodic nuggets in the small spaces that were left by the time he came into the picture.  Here's hoping I'll get to work with these musicians again! 

Chelcie (L), Michelle (R)

Though they're further down this posting than they really deserve for their staggering team accomplishment, the post-production design team that created all of the album art and other visuals for the release deserve huge props for making this package something eye-catching and realizing of a concept I'd had in my...brain...for two-plus years.  Chelcie (who sits both in the credits and "thank you" sections of the booklet, deserves enduring credit for acting as a sounding board for ideas, a confidant for hopes and fears and a companion/fellow traveler on the artistic path) contributed the hand-made collage and watercolors that grace the album art, as well as the watercolor image of my imbecilic grin that disgraces the deluxe package.  Michelle Koelbl (who designed the whole package for In Not-Even-Anything Land) returned for some stellar typographic contributions to the outside cover.  My brother Andy took a lion's share of the "odds and ends" that always crop up with this kind of thing, impressingly finding an attractive layout for the verbosity that is the inside of the CD jacket and the liner notes, as well as promptly responding to needs for posters, image manipulation, print layout for the deluxe package, and probably more time-consuming minutiae that I'm ungratefully forgetting (*brrriiiing*"Hey, I know you're at work, but can you do me a favor?").  Similarly, Courtney Morgan picked up numerous loose ends, creating the sweet brain graphic that appears a few times in the art and became a rubber stamp for the deluxe package, designing the t-shirts, and responding to numerous small design needs throughout the project.  Finally, Johnnie Heinz hand-painted the menagerie of brains that sit quietly behind the lyrics in the insert. Again--I'll be a lucky man if these people continue to help me in the future!

This brother band is formed!  Tentative band names include: Knappetite for Destruction and Knapp Kin.

Finally, I need to round out this list with some people whose contributions are less measurable but no less important in sum--Patrick (whose djembe I've been using for something like 6 years) gets thanks for providing ongoing cheerleader support and continuing connection with an atrophied social life.  Randy Parsons and Cody Green at Parsons Guitars have continually serviced my guitars from basic setups to trouble-shooting to exacting custom work, all the while with professional attention to detail and reasonable prices.  Ike's Auto Repair in Centralia replaced my truck's alternator within two hours when it failed in the middle of one of my many trips to Portland--talk about coming through when it counts!  Professor Mitch Clearfield and his metaphysics course at Whitman must be credited with introducing me to many of the philosophical and cognitive science ideas and writings that form the conceptual basis of these songs and the album's overarching concept--these unsolvable problems still haven't let go of my imagination something like eight years later!  Joel, Andy, Donny, Rick, Sandi and all of the interns at Cloud City Sound and Super Digital provided a welcoming studio environment, friendly support and feedback and some especially professional studio and duplication services.  Paul Davison provided inspiration for "Adjacent to Not-Really-Anyhow Time" in conversation on his Roy Harper Podcast.  Finally, there are all of the Kickstarter campaign contributors, supportive music fans and friends, family, artists, teachers and thinkers who provide a huge grassroots network out of which creative projects like this spring.  I'm sure my frazzled brain has forgotten to credit specific contributions, but please know I am constantly thankful for the wellspring of energy that has brought this to fruition.  One of the later lines on the album is "I couldn't have done it not-alone;" rest assured--when it comes to this project, "I couldn't have done it--not alone!"  Thank you!

John gleefully brandishes his deluxe package CD.

Cheap Seats Part 1
Cheap Seats Part 2: Non-Commercial Music 

Cheap Seats Part 3: A Day in the Studio 

Cheap Seats Part 4: The (Un)Happy Accident 

Cheap Seats Part 5: Mix Mix, Stir Stir 

Cheap Seats Part 6: Kickstarter Campaign
Cheap Seats Part 7: Alicia Dara Interview  
Cheap Seats Part 8: Tyler Fortier Interview 
Cheap Seats Part 9: Anna Coogan Interview 

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