First Concert of 2014 – Hallelujah!

Hi Friends,

Just a quick update this time, I’ve got my first real concert of the year this Friday the 7th at Creative Juices Lounge in Guadalupe from 6 to 10 pm.  I’m joining Rob Larkin and John Batdorf, my set is from 7 to 8 and there’s a $5 charge at the door.  I call this a “real” concert because I’m not providing background music for a winery party or some other event, this time the music is the event.  Creative Juices is a great new local establishment with awesome food and drinks, friendly staff, and a serious love of great live music -  if you’ve been hoping for a chance to just relax and enjoy some music, this is your chance!

Details on this show and about a dozen others can be found on the shows page – lorenradis.com/shows

And speaking of real concerts – here’s another video from my performance at last year’s Band Together.  This is my cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic “Hallelujah”.  I hope you enjoy it. – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_qcDEufp8c

And be sure to check out the rest of my videos on the youtube channel at youtube.com/lorenradismusic, and subscribe if you haven’t already so that you don’t miss any of the new stuff coming down the pipe!

Thanks for reading, talk to you later,

-loren

In Honor Of… The Beatles! Again!

Get it here – music.lorenradis.com/album/the-beatles-2

So I said there might be another cheat coming, and this is it – I covered the Beatles twice!  How could I not though?  There are literally hundreds of amazing songs to choose from and they’ve most definitely been the biggest influence on me as a musician.  So you get four more Beatles songs this month, and I’m guessing no one’s going to complain about that :)

For those who don’t know, I’ve been putting out a new album every month in 2013 covering the songs of musicians who’ve influecned me in my own songwriting.  I started and ended with the Beatles, and you can hear each month’s entry in the “In Honor Of…” project here – music.lorenradis.com

So this time’s a little different – I covered one song written by each Beatle, even Ringo!  Here’s why I chose the ones that I did :)

Paul McCartney – I’m Looking Through You

Paul McCartney – sorry, Sir Paul McCartney – is a living legend.  He’s one of the most prolific and talented songwriters ever and he and John Lennon practically invented numerous genres of music all on their own.  That being said, I think my favorite Paul songs aren’t the experimental ones (“Helter Skelter”) or the throwbacks to old-timey music (“Your Mother Should Know”), but are rather the songs where he just commits to writing a really solid pop song.  He was amazing at it, and there’s a reason people are still mimicking his style 50 years later.  Anyone can tell you that Paul has a way with a melody, conjuring sequences of notes that are irresistable and so simple you wonder how they’ve never been used before.

I’m Looking Through You is no exception, the melody is catchy as all get up.  The lyrics are relatable but not too obvious, the chord progression is unconventional and genius – the changes hit on a really abnormal beat in relation to the lyrics – and the arrangement is just flawless.  This song was released on Rubber Soul, thought by many to represent the Beatles’ graduation from enjoyably forgettatble pop to truly historic songwriting.  The boys and George Martin were just on fire for every single track this album, playing with new sounds and new styles without losing what made them the Beatles.  And that attention to detail that they kept honing on through Abbey Road is present here, not a note out of place (unless it improved the song).  I think this song really represents a zenith of pop songwriting, commercially viable while maintaining relevance and artistic integrity in a way that very few artists have duplicated since (even Paul, sad to say…)

My cover is a little more mellow, like my Paul Simon covers, I wanted to let the lyrics shine a little (simple as they are, they’re still good) and let the melody really take center stage, it blasts by so quickly in the original you almost don’t get to appreciate it.  I directly copied a few harmonies and came up with several parts of my own, this song was a ton of fun to work on.  Hope you enjoy it.

George Harrison – While My Guitar Gently Weeps

George Harrison would have been the standout musician in any band other than the Beatles.  He was the whole package – a memorable singing voice, incredible and unique guitar work, and he turned out some really amazing songs both during his time with the Beatles and in his solo career.  The only two musicians who could have overshadowed him are Paul and John, and it’s a shame that George didn’t/doesn’t get as much recognition as his more famous frontmen.  Hearing stories about how his songs weren’t shown the same respect in the studio and how he had a hard time imposing his vision on the others is just heartbreaking.

George wrote a lot of really good songs for the Beatles, and maybe two or three really great – transcendent songs.  I consider “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun” to be some of the best work the Beatles ever put out, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is definitely in the running to be George’s 3rd best song ever.  I didn’t cover either of the other two because, honestly, they’re perfect in a way that I don’t think I could capture.  I know I’m not making any of these songs better, per se, but I think (see: I hope) that I’m presenting them in a new light that is worthwhile on its own.  “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” are just too good, and too tied to their original arrangement.  If I covered those in any other style, I can only see it being a detriment.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, on the other hand, is an amazing song that also has a lot of room for interpretation.  George’s original demo was a beautiful, sparse, melancholy piece of music featuring only his voice and a guitar, and one extra verse.  The White Album version is one of the great rock songs of the past … ever.  Eric Clapton’s guitar work is some of his best and the whole band contributed perfect performances – the drumbeat in particular is so bizarre but so perfectly in line with the emotional thrust of that version of the song.  They experimented with severeal different styles along the way, and my cover most closely emulates George’s original acoustic demo.  It’s almost too melancholy, but not every song needs to be sunshine and rainbows, so I think it’s OK.  Anyway, hope you like it.

Ringo Starr – Don’t Pass Me By

So, let’s get right down to it.  Ringo (Richard Starkey) is a very talented drummer and he has a unique style that was perfectly suited to the Beatles’ sound.  Without him they might still have succeeded, but they wouldn’t have been the same, and I think they would have sounded worse with any other drummer.

Ringo was not, however, a super awesome songwriter.  He only contributed two tracks to the Beatles library, this one, and Octopus’s Garden.  Octopus’s Garden is actually really solid.  It’s silly and simple but it’s catchy and the opening guitar riff (which I’m told Ringo wrote) is downright eloquent.  Don’t Pass Me By, on the other hand… well, it’s one of those cases where it’s so bad it’s good.  OK, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that it’s so laughably simple.  Every lyric is the most obvious rhyme (Don’t pass me by/Don’t make me cry), the story of the song is just as dull as a highschool hocky game (he’s mildly concerned because his date is late, turns out she got in a fender bender and will be there soon), and the instrumentaion, man.  It almost seems like the other guys realized what a clunker this was and just owned it, y ‘know?  “Let’s make this sound so boring and amatuerish and phoned in that no one will know it was us.”  Even the violin seems to be out of tune.  Crazy.

But here’s the thing.  Something about it is just so damned endearing.  The song is unassuming.  It’s not pretentious.  It shows you so much of Ringo’s character – his life isn’t full of these big philosophical questions, he’s just worried that his girl is either hurt, or she doesn’t care about him anymore.  His insecurity is so pathetic that it’s kind of sweet, and we’ve all been there.  Even if he was low man on the totem pole, he was still a Beatle, and if even he can get scared that this person he loves doesn’t feel the same way about him, then it’s OK that I’ve felt that too, right?

Plus, the image in my head of Ringo walking up to John and Paul (who had just recently put out Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band) saying “Hey guys, I’ve written this song called ‘Don’t Pass Me By’, I’d love it to be on the next record…” is just too funny to ignore.

So what I decided to do was try to highlight the sweet and unassuming nature of this song.  Plus, I just got a ukulele for my birthday and wanted to try it out, and nothing says sappy sweet like a ukulele cover of a pop song!  I think the song benefits from a simpler renditionlike this, I think it feels a little less silly without all the busy-ness of the original version.  No pomp or circumstance, just a sweet love song by a guy who’s not super confident in himself.  Love ya Ringo.

John Lennon – Don’t Let Me Down

John, John, John… He’s such a tragic figure… Don’t Let Me Down was recorded during the Let It Be/Get Back sessions and never ended up seeing release on a proper album, though it appeared on Past Masters and a few other places.  By all accounts, John had mentally checked out during their recording sessions, showing complete apathy towards the Beatles and instead focusing on his solo work with Yoko Ono.  George and Ringo had both quit the band (only to rejoin after a brief absence) by this point, and it wouldn’t be long before John left and the group disbanded for good.  The Let It Be sessions were reportedly the most heated of any in the Beatles’ short history together.  I wonder when John wrote this song?  I wonder who John wrote this song for?  I wonder who he wrote it to?  Is he pleading with the Beatles to rise above their personal squabbles and be the great musicians he knows they can be?  Is he pleading with Yoko not to let him down since he’s choosing her over the Beatles?  Is he screaming at himself?  Is John begging John not to disappoint him?  Who knows.  I sure don’t.  But if John was checked out while recording Let It Be, he definitely wasn’t when he recorded this song.

Like a lot of his later work, you get a peek behind the curtain at the anger, the insecurities, and the hope that made John who he was.  He’s divorced his first wife at this point and has a strained relationship with his oldest son, but he has the gall and simultaneously the optimism to say he’s in love for the first time, and that he has no doubt it’ll last.  And yet he begs every chorus not to be disillusioned again.  He’s a dichotomy, the yelling choruses are so full of anger while he’s pleading for love.  John was nothing if not complex, and the tension in himself produced some amazing songs.  Even though this is so simple lyrically, sonically it’s got a depth that resonated with me.

My cover is very toned down, but I did very little to change it, sticking with the same tempo and progression and melody.  I don’t claim to understand John any better than anyone else, but everyone has a past, a history of defeats, a desire to have their hope rewarded for once.  If the song feels like that at all, then I did what I was trying to do.

So if you haven’t yet, have a listen, let me know what you think – http://music.lorenradis.com/album/the-beatles-2

Thanks for reading, later,

-loren

In Honor Of… Damien Rice!

Damien Rice!  Everyone’s favorite poetically-depressing-heartfelt-powerful-modern-indie-irish-folk-singer/songwriter! – music.lorenradis.com/album/damien-rice

So, Damien Rice is a bit mysterious.  He’s written some really beautiful music and released two albums, but he hasn’t released a new full length LP since 2006.  He still gets around from time to time playing shows, making special appearances and that sort of thing, but he’s almost disappeared from the public.  Which is weird, because he’s awesome and I wish he was still making music. 

I found his music in 2006, I think it was through last.fm or pandora.  I think the thing that really grabbed me about his music was that the most important thing about it wasn’t the music, it was the emotion.  His lyrics, chords and melodies are all beautiful, but the unifying and ultimately most attention-grabbing element of his songs is the emotion.  Sadness, joy, anger, shame, disappointment, love, he runs the full gamut, and you can’t help but feel what he must have felt when he wrote the songs.  Finding his work, as I did, coming off of a breakup is something of a perfect storm, I identified even more strongly than I might have with the feelings of loss he so eloquently expressed, and it made me wish I could do the same for others.

So my style isn’t all that different from Damien’s, I didn’t change nearly as much about these songs as I have about others in this project.  Really, they’re almost completely unchanged.  Just the minute details in how I present myself, versus how he presents himself, are really the only differences here.  I hope you like my take on his amazing work, and I hope you’ll check out his stuff too, maybe we can bring him back!

Listen or Download now! – music.lorenradis.com/album/damien-rice

Thanks,

-loren

Pop Music Alternatives 1 – Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason”

Hi!  So I’m listening to KSTT 101.3 here at work because I have no choice (you may recall that I’ve tried to change the station a few times and my lovely co-workers keep changing it back the second I step out of the room… nice) and Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason” (featureing Fun.’s Nate Ruess) © came on.  I was struck immediately by the similarity to another power pop duo I’ve been a fan of for many years and I thought “Man, I’d really rather be listening to them right now…”

So then I had a thought, that maybe instead of just whining about how I don’t like Pop Music very much at all… I could instead try to be constructive and suggest sonically similar alternatives for your listening enjoyment and education.

So first and foremost, if I’m suggesting an alternative, I must have a problem with the given song, right?  Well, yes.  I have personal beefs with a lot of the Top 40 scene right now, but I don’t think that you need to agree with me, it’s perfectly fine if you love Katy Perry, Justin Beiber, Pink, and whoever else.  So when I point out my issues, they’re just my own personal (subjective) problems, and I’m not trying to make you agree with me or prove myself right.  In fact, I like most of Pink’s music, for reasons I can’t really explain, since she exhibits most of the traits I usually find repulsive in musicians.  She’s one of the least offensive pop artists out there to me, right now.

The Beef

So what’s my problem with this song?  It’s all contained in one little by-line on the wikipedia page – “Writer(s) Pink · Jeff Bhasker · Nate Ruess”.  It’s that name right there in the middle, Jeff Bhasker.  Who’s that?  Well, according to his wikipedia page, he’s the guy who also wrote hits for dozens of other artists, most notably almost all of Fun.’s songs.  Pop music songs are being written by somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen “producers” like Max Martin, Red One, and Jeff Bhasker.  So it all sounds the same, it’s all specially formulated to appeal to the widest possible audience and is therefore getting more and more generic so that more and more people can identify with it, or rather, just not be offended by it.  This homogenization of music is good for no one and means a continued degradation of quality and innovation if it continues un-checked.  So I don’t like songs that are produced by “the machine” and are engineered to be hits.

The Alternative

So in spite of all this, there’s a lot of things I do like about this song.  The vocals are tight and the melody is simple enough to remember, but not too cookie-cutter.  I really like how they sing together, the same notes in the same octave, and both really loud and strong, which is possible because Pink has a bit of a low voice for a woman and Nate has kind of a high voice for a guy.  The drums are really prominent and the instrumentation is sparse but tasteful.  The theme of the song is love/troubles/reconcilliation, and that’s a great theme.  What other artist meets all of these criteria but also writes their own music and hasn’t committed the vague-but-unforgivable-sin of “selling out”?

The Mates of State. – matesofstate.com/

This husband and wife power pop duo has been making music together for over a decade.  They’ve toured with Death Cab for Cutie, Jimmy Eat World, Spoon and The Postal Service, they’ve got a catalog of seven full albums and have had songs placed in dozens of TV shows over the years.  You’ve probably heard some of their stuff even if you don’t realize it.  My favorite album is Re-Arrange Us, but Bring it Back and Mountaintops are really great too.  I admit I haven’t heard their older albums, they’re probably awesome and I’m  probably a bad person for not knowing their whole catalog.

So their sound is very similar to “Just Give Me A Reason”.  They sing together in the same range or in really great harmony on almost every track.  The husband (Jason) plays drums and makes sure a) the beats are great and b) the drums always sound huge and prominent in the mix.  Their melodies are ridiculously catchy, like right up to the edge of being annoyingly catchy, but they don’t quite cross over.  I’m always happy to get a Mates of State song stuck in my head.  They write about the standard pop subjects – life, love, all that jazz, but they do it in a really thoughtful and personal way.  Some of their songs sound super upbeat but when you listen to the lyrics you realize they’re a bit dour.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxnSJKt51zk – You Are Free (Live)

So anyway, check them out, that link will take you to a live version of their (great) song “You Are Free” on youtube.  Let me know what you think of their music, and if I was way off in comparing them to the above Pink song.  Later!

-loren

Train is Just… the Worst

OK.  We’re going to talk about a band I don’t like, and I want to be careful to start by saying that if you do like this band - or any other that I don’t like – that doesn’t make you wrong, or dumb, or uncultured, or whatever other hurtful things music snobs like to say.  It just means we have different tastes, just like everyone else on the planet.  I am going to talk about specific reasons I personally can’t stand Train, though, so if that’s not something you’re interested in, well, read at your own risk, I suppose.

So Train is terrible.  I’ve never liked them.  Not their old stuff, and certainly not the garbage they started putting out after they re-invented themselves to be more in line with current pop culture expectations.

First off, a complaint I have about lots of pop music – they don’t write their own songs.  I don’t honestly know why this bothers me as much as it does, maybe because I’m a singer who does write his own songs, your guess is as good as mine.  But it’s not just that they’re not writing their own songs, it’s that the same few people are writing ALL of pop music, which is why it all sounds exactly the same, and crappy.

Espen Lind wrote most of Train’s hits from their new album and the production team called Espionage (the aforementioned Lind and buddy Amund Bjørklund) produced them. So no one actually in the band decided what words to say, what chords to play, what notes to sing, or what instruments should go where, that was all handled (even the lyrics) by these two guys who also happened to write the majority of hits for Chris Brown, Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce, the Jonas Brothers, everybody!  So next time you complain that all music sounds the same, know that these guys (and Max Martin… damn him) are the ones to blame.

Next Point!  Train’s lyrics make NO sense, just none at all, it’s insulting how little logic there is to their songs, it would almost be better if they just said “La la la la” over and over again… and now I’m terrified that their next hit single will be just that… *shudder*

Let’s take their biggest hit – “Hey Soul Sister”.

Hey Soul Sister, Ain’t that mister mister on the
Radio, stereo, the way you move ain’t fair y’know

OK, so who’s mister mister?  No one, it just rhymes and is easy to remember, that’s all.  Did he forget if the song is playing on a radio or a stereo?  Why does he need to say both?  Because it rhymes and fits the timing.  Who could forget his brilliant line about his heart beating “right out of [his] un-trimmed chest”?  Who wants to picture this guy’s hairy chest?  I’m guessing no one.  This song also contains the line :

“So gangster, I’m so thug
You’re the only one I’m dreaming of”

What does that mean?  Well, gangster means exactly what it sounds like, and so does thug, so what is he saying, she wears her pants around her ankles and goes on drive-by shootings over territorial infractions?  No, again, these words just happen to rhyme and fit the rhythm.  It’s like someone said “What kinds of words are kids using nowadays?  Gansgta?  Thug?  Sure, we’ll throw those in there.”  Their songs are FULL of garbage like that, someone says “What’s hot in pop culture right now, American Idol?  Pirates of the Carribean? Sure, we’ll mention all those things, and then kids will think we’re cool, right?  Right, guys?…”  But none of this will last, 15 years from now (when the Beatle’s entire catalog is still as relevant as ever) American Idol will be off the air Pirates will be getting re-booted sansJohnny Depp, and no one will get their insipid little references, it will just make them sound that much more out of date and out of touch with the cool kids of the day.  They sacrifice artistic integrity and cultural relevancy for a short-term flash in the pan style of popularity that will burn off as quickly as it flares up.  It’s exactly what happened the first time they hit it big and then suddenly the trends changed and Train had to suddenly become a completely different band to fit in again.

They write (“write”) one song about never getting married and the next second write one about wanting to propose to a total stranger in a coffee shop.  There’s no meaning, no feeling, no sincerity, no heart or soul behind any of the music this band craps out.  Their songs are so interchangeable (because they’re all written by the same person) that they could easily have been performed by Enrique Iglesias, Chris Brown, One Direction, or any one of the dozens of other disposable pop performers littering the musical landscape.

That’s my biggest problem with them and a lot of pop music.  No one sat down and said “I feel like crap, and I’m going to write a song about how terrible my life is right now to help me sort it out”, and no one said “I’m in love and I can’t contain my feelings so I’m going to put it in a song to express my love!”  Instead, a group of people sat down and said “What’s our target demographic?  12-19 year old girls with lots of disposable income?  Ok, what are they interested in? Johnny Depp?  Being flattered?  The romanticised version of clubbing they see in movies?  Some of them want to get married?  Some of them don’t want to be tied down to one person?  Ok, let’s write songs about all those things and sell them to whatever band wants it and will pay the most.”  It’s all about money.  And while all of capitalist America is about money to some extent, there can be a balance of art and profitability, and the leaders of the modern music scene have swung so far over to the cash side of things that they can’t even see art anymore.  It’s a remembered dream from a time before the bottom line was all that mattered to them.

I could literally go on for at least another thousand words, but I won’t.  I can’t stand Train, they, along with all the other hundreds of corporate designed performers with their outsourced songwriting and catchy but ultimately irrelevant and painfully temporary “music”, represent everything that’s wrong with music today.

I personally don’t believe that record companies or performers can sustain the current business model of hyper focusing their attention on a small number of big-selling artists and then discarding them as soon as they lose profitability and some young performer is the new best seller, and I hope that the end comes sooner rather than later.

-loren