Sunday, April 7, 2013

New Strings and New Sounds

One of the things I have to do as a guitarist performing live a lot is take the current strings off my guitar and put new ones on.  Tiny bits of oil from my fingers get left on the strings when I play, and then tiny particles of dust in the air get caught by the oil and stuck to the strings.  The dust then corrodes the metal the strings are made out of.  If I didn't play very often, I could leave the strings on for quite a while.  But given that I am playing constantly, both in practice at home at live at these open mics, the strings need to be changed pretty often now, at least twice a week or so.

So yesterday I was switching out the old strings for new around noon PT.  I was scheduled to play at the Starbucks courtyard in El Cajon at the Open Mic Rancho San Diego at 3pm.  After I got the strings on and was tuning them into shape, I accidentally hit just one of the strings with one of my fingers, and then hit the headstock of my guitar against one of my closet doors.  The string sounded its one note and then hitting the closet door made it ring in this sort of echo-ey, haunting way.  Welcome to my songwriting process.

I instantly had an impulse that is now familiar to me: there is a song in me that needs to come out.  I grabbed my clipboard with sheets of black 3-holed notebook paper, and one of my trusty pens - a black Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine Rolling Ball.  I started to pluck one string, then two.  Words came.  I wrote them down. Soon most of the core of the song - three verses and a chorus, were all there, in black and white.  I played it a few times for myself in my bedroom.  I really liked it, and I had a very strong emotional connection to the words.  They were raw, from the gut, cathartic.

So I decided what the heck, I'll play it at Starbucks.  I practiced a few other songs, packed up my black Fender Strat and my Roland Cube Street amp, and drove over to El Cajon.  Another gorgeous San Diego Saturday afternoon, sunny and warm.  The huge hills in El Cajon rose on my right as they have the last few Saturdays in a row, with their round rings of sand- and orange-colored houses circling their tops.  I arrived at the courtyard between Supercuts and Starbucks, plunked my gear down, tuned my Strat, and listened to the performers before me.  

Then it was time for my set.  I clipped the two white notebook pages of my new song, "First Step to Starlight" to the all-black music stand with a little binder clip.  The lower corners of the pages flipped up in the cool breeze.  I greeted the crowd, and went into "Picture of Your Touch."  This was the second week in a row playing this song here with bassist John Rodriguez and drummer Dave Farrell, who sit in with just about everyone at this open mic, and just play by ear as they go.

I don't know if they remembered this song from last week, but it sounded even better this week to me.  I was still throwing John off like crazy in the chorus, because of its odd C#-Aflat-Eflat/C#-Aflat-Bflat/Aflat-Eflat-Bflat/C#-Eflat-Fminor progression.  But I think he was actually matching it with the correct root notes by the middle of the second chorus, a testament to his ear and talent.  I don't think it matters to Dave what chords or notes I play.

So then I told the audience I had written the next song just 3 hours previous.  I repeated a line I had come up with in my car on the drive over.  "So the  interesting thing here is, none of us up here knows how this next song goes!"  I thought I would get some laughs.  I got silence, blank stares and looks of slight confusion.  Oh, well.  The show must go on!

So I began playing the song, and it was quite rickety at first.  The guitar in the verses is very minimal, just three different notes ringing.  I didn't quite have the timing down, and I wondered if Dave was behind me thinking, "WTF do I play with THIS?" But in a moment or two I got the hang of it, and Dave and John got the hang of it pretty quick, too.

I wasn't able to make eye contact with the audience at all, except maybe for a second or two during the chorus, which I was already remembering a little bit.  Most of the time, my eyes had to be looking down at the lyrics on the music stand.  But it sounded pretty good to me and some people in the audience seemed to dig it.

I finished up with "The Door," a song on my last two records (as well as Victor Bravo's Hammer Meets Fire LP), which I hadn't played for an in-person audience since my Portland, Maine show last year.  It sounded just a tad rusty to me at the very start, but it quickly came into shape, and again sounded great with John and Dave playing along.

There will most likely be a video from yesterday's show posted on YouTube soon by Teri Hoffman, so I'll post that for you here as soon as I find out it's up.  The live video above is my performance of "Home of Love" from last Saturday's show at Starbucks.

I am getting more and more excited about the upcoming release of my new live single, "Pretty Blade Trickster," which goes on sale on Bandcamp April 17.

Thanks so much for visiting my blog and reading, I truly appreciate it.  MUCH more about THAT in tomorrow's post!

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