Underground Radio - Open Source Rock Opera

Zack and rob studio 4x3 with titles

My buddy Rob and I are almost finished with our epic '70s homage rock opera Underground Radio. It's been nearly two years in the making. It includes 20 original songs, 4 vocalists, a slew of vintage amp simulations, guitar effects, hammond b3 organ, handclaps, cowbells, backwards guitars and more.

We even got a 30 piece symphony orchestra! And it's the first rock opera to include sound effects from Mars, courtesy of NASA and the US taxpayers at a cost of $18 billion. NASA also does some other cool things besides supporting rock operas. As far as we know, this is also the first rock opera to be recorded entirely in GarageBand

Underground Radio is inspired by music of The Pretty Things, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers, Television, Pink Floyd and others. It's set in a dystopian future under an evil surveillance government, 50 years of winter, rock music is illegal. But these two guys try to jam the government's systems with rock and roll, yada yada yada.

All of the songs will be published under a Creative Commons license so they can be used royalty free by anyone in their own creative projects, like films, games, you name it.  If anyone wants to re-mix the songs, we're happy to share the GarageBand or LogicPro files. 

The project is now fully funded on Kickstarter but if we can raise more money towards defraying the mixing and mastering costs, that is appreciated. We're looking for input about what else we should provide backers in return for hitting our "stretch goals".  For example, we could provide more bonus instrumental tracks, chord charts to the songs, higher quality loss-less audio files, a digital tour booklet,  tour poster, album covers etc. Let us know your input in comments or on the kickstarter page.

Update: The music and Libretto are now available for free download at www.rock-opera.com. You can also listen at SoundCloud.

 

 


After Hours Blues Machine - Live at Redhouse

Blues machine live cd cover

My other other band, "After Hours Blues Machine" had a successful gig last night at Redhouse Studios in Walnut Creek.  It was a showcase for half a dozen bands and things went pretty well.  We did a short set with some straight ahead rock songs, and hopefully it came across with a lot of energy.  I think things sounded pretty good.  There were a couple of minor mistakes, but I'm not sure how obvious they were to the audience.   

Here are some iPhone videos via YouTube:

 And here are a couple of MP3 files from our rehearsals as well as a live version of Black Magic Woman / Sweet Jane recorded with a portable Tascam recorder:

Blues Machine  - One Way Out

Blues Machine - Who Do You Love

Blues Machine - Black Magic Woman - Sweet Jane

It's been great playing together with Dave, Jeff and Marc at Redhouse.  And we were fortunate to have Assaf sit in on keyboards with just a few rehearsals.  

If you're in the east bay area, I highly recommend Redhouse Studios' workshops.  They've got a wide range of workshops they run for rock, jazz, Beatles, Stones, metal and more as well as lessons and regular concerts.  I'm gonna miss this place.  


Numbers Stations at Red Devil Lounge

Numbers stations CD

My "other" band "Numbers Stations" played a gig on Sunday at the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco.  The set list was pretty varied including songs by Weezer, Al Green, Lou Reed (of course), The Stranglers, Queens of The Stone Age, Santana and more.  I played bass and covered vocals on two songs.  This was part of a showcase for the non-profit Blue Bear School of Music.  Here's a video from the show.

Here are a couple of videos from our final rehearsal at Lennon Studios.

I've posted a few sample MP3 songs below.  You can listen to more over at SoundCloud.

Numbers Stations - Sweet Jane

Numbers Stations - Take Me To The River


Soul Crush at Cafe Du Nord

Soul Crush Live CD Cover

My band, Soul Crush, played a gig last night at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco.  Our group came together through the non-profit Blue Bear School of Music.  There was a good crowd and the sound system was great.  Vocals came through loud and clear, but oddly enough, the guitars probably could have been louder! (How often do you hear that?)  We covered a range of R&B, blues, rock and indie tunes including "Respect", "Oh Darling", "Valerie", "I'll Play The Blues For You" and more.  I sang vocals on "Sweet Jane" and we were able to pull off some nice drum hits during the song along with a great guitar solo.

This was my first time playing bass in a band, and other than a few minor hiccups, everything went well.  Here are a few photos from the gig:


And for die hard fans, here's a higher quality MP3 version of Sweet Jane:

Soul Crush - Sweet Jane (live)

There are more photos and a videos at the official site www.soul-crush.com.


From Guitar to Bass

JayTurserViolin

I've never been a guy with a lot of natural rhythm; it's always been something I've struggled with.  Unfortunately, both bass players I play with have left their respective bands --one due to, ah, creative differences, and the other has gone back to his home of Australia.  So I decided to throw my hand in and attempt to learn to play bass.  I figured it would be good for me as a way to improve my rhythm.  And for some of the rock and blues songs we've been playing ("Come together", "Day Tripper", "Sunshine of your Love", "Killing Floor", "Early in the Morning") the bass line is pretty much the same as one of the guitar parts.  So how hard can it be, right?  I mean, it's only got four strings!

So I picked up a couple of used short scale basses and Roland cube amps on Craigslist and GuitarCenter.  One bass and amp are kept where I rehearse with my guitar buddy Rob, so I don't have to schlep gear every time we play, and the other set is at home.  

  • Jay Turser Violin Bass ($150 w/case) 
    A Hofner "Beatle bass" clone with a 30" scale that I picked up in white as seen in the photo above.  I've never seen another Beatle Bass in white, so I'm pretty chuffed about this.  
  • Ibanez Mikro Bass ($100)
    A really short 28" scale bass, also in white
  • Roland Cube 20XL Bass ($150)
    A solid practice amp, with built-in amp emulation and loud enough you can play with a drummer 
  • Roland Cube 100 Bass ($200)
    This is a discontinued model, loud enough to play a gig, but still only 35 lbs.  Lots of built-in effects so you can go from smooth Motown sound to Stranglers growl.  At $200 this was a steal.

I decided to go with a short scale bass which would be easier to transition from guitar.  It's still a bit of a stretch, but not too bad.  That makes it a different sound than the classic rock Fender P-Bass, but I figure with the effects and amp emulation, I can boost the low-end if I really need to.  For guitar players interested in picking up bass, a short scale bass makes a pretty easy transition.  The Ibanez Mikro is about the same size as a Fender Strat, so it fits nicely in the trunk of my convertible.  Alas, the Beatle Bass has to ride in the passenger seat.

I'm not giving up on guitar, but I'm going to see what I can do to learn some proper bass skills. Heaven knows you always seem to have more guitar players than bass players, so I figure it's a good skill to have.  It's certainly different from guitar.  But it's a cool feeling when you get a groove going with the drummer.  And so far, no pressure to do a bass solo.  

Any other bass players coming from guitar who want to provide advice?  Let me know in the comments below.  And if anyone has another short scale bass (Ibanez ARTB100, Eastwood, Gibson EB0 etc) in white they'd like to sell, I'm all ears.  


NGW Student Performances

Ngw_cheers

One of the best things about the National Guitar Workshop is that you get to work on songs during the day and then get up on stage in the evenings and play something.  While skill levels and musical genres vary widely, it's nonetheless a nervewracking experience when you're live in front of an audience.  There's no do-overs, no mulligans.  You make mistakes, you just keep going.  And believe me, we made plenty.  But we were definitely less nervous than in prior years. 

Here are some videos including our performance of "Mustang Sally" and "All Your Love." (Note there's a minute of intros before "All Your Love" gets underway.)  While we were a long way from playing flawlessly, it was fun and it occasionaly even sounds like music.  There are also plenty of other more talented students who got up and did their thing.  Special thanks to Pete Weise, Lynn Daniels and Ernie Durawa our instructors in this year's Blues class.  Also kudos to Ted Hall and John Horne for giving us a great musical foundation.

The photo above is with my NGW buddies Philippe and Bruce.  Cheers to Pete who couldn't make it this year, but was with us in spirit.  Or at least via interweb.


Another Blues Gig

Zack_hoochie

Apologies that it's taken me a while to post this write up on last month's blues gig.  Somehow the videos were hard to get hold of and some of the footage shot on iPhone rather than my usual Canon G9 left something to be desired.  Nonetheless, I've posted video of most of the songs.  (We had one near train wreck, which no one in the group wanted to see again.)

The gig was heled at Red House studios in Walnut Creek, where we practice on Monday evenings in a Blues workshop.  I think everyone was less nervous this time, but still a few things went awry.  In some ways it was a miracle that we even pulled off the gig as we had one person recovering from surgery and two others who earlier in the day were borderline as to whether they would be able to make it at all due to respitory ailments.  For reasons I cannot fully explain, we substituted one song about 20 minutes before going on stage.  In retrospect, that might not have been the best idea, since we had not played it together in many months.  

Nonetheless most of the gig worked out well.  We started with the 1977 Stranglers song "Hanging Around" which is about as far away from the blues as you can get.  Although the video doesn't show our awesome intro, it does a pretty good job capturing the energy of this song, especially the tremendous drums & bass from "the rhythm chicks" Holly & Lynn.  I'm singing vocals (occasionally off-key), James does a fantastic solo, and we started and ended together, so that was pretty cool.  I was more relaxed for my solo than the last gig, though I should have had more volume, as usual.  

I played on a few other songs ("Shakin' All Over," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Ain't no Sunshine") but to me the standout songs were "Messin' with the Kid," "Hurt so Bad," and "Juke Joint Jump," the latter featuring our ever-inspiring blues instructor Jeff Magidson.  

It's been fantastic to play with so many awesome musicians: Lisa is phenomenal on vocals (and guitar), Val is a brilliant guitar player, James is a superb showman, Tom has made major strides in the last few months.  Best of all, the whole crew are great to work with.  There's no doubt that playing at Redhouse has helped me improve my own abilities.  I don't know when our next gig will be, but we will continue to make progress gradually, week after week, gig after gig.  


My Second Gig

Zack_redhouse

A couple of nights ago I had my second live gig with a local Blues Workshop group.  We played at Red House studios in Walnut Creek, where we practice on Monday evenings.  Even though we played on the same stage we rehearse on, I was still way too nervous.  In fact, I was more nervous for this gig than I was for my first gig a few months back.  Maybe because I've not had as much time to practice since taking a new job or maybe because as a second gig my expectations were higher.

The set consisted of ten songs, four of which I played on.  We always have a surplus of guitar players, so we swap in and out of songs as necessary.  I played on the second song of the evening, "Early in the Morning," an old Louis Jordan Rumba.  The room was quite cold and I messed up my timing a bit on that one.  James, the singer (and a superb guitarist), was very gracious and we traded some licks at about 4 minutes into the song, which was fun, despite my nervousness.  We'd never done that before and I think James was trying to make things more interesting.  I wish I'd been able to venture a little bit further out of my comfort zone on that, but I was so afraid I'd screw up that I just stuck with first position Pentatonics.  "Bring Down the Curtain" (JJ Cale) was the next song.  Val, one of the other guitar players sings on this one and he developed a great rock arrangement of the song.  I was off stage for a while and came back up for "Give me One Reason" (Tracy Chapman) which came out quite good, due to some awesome vocals by Lisa.  We finished the evening with the classic "Sweet Home Chicago"(Robert Johnson).  The idea was to get everyone from the workshop up on stage and just have some fun with it.  I had a beer by that point and figured as long as things were noisy and chaotic everything would be ok.  

There's some video below from YouTube.  I'm the guy on the right hand side in the dark shirt. I also included our workshop's version of "Chain of Fools" which I think came out exceptionally well, though I don't play on it.  (And maybe that's why it sounds so good!)

I am sure other guitarists will recognize a certain amount of panic creeping into my playing that caused me to play too many notes or lose the tempo.  Nonetheless, the rest of the band are so good that it's a minor issue in the grand scheme of things.  So I'm proud of how we sounded.  

But I also recognize this is a long journey.  I couldn't have played this well on stage a year ago if I dared.  And I know I'll sound better a year from now, especially if I continue playing every week with this group and every day on my own.  But it's still a bit frustrating to feel like I didn't play as well as I could have.  But I guess if I can get another 100 gigs under my belt, then maybe I'll learn to relax more and be more confident.  Either that, or I'll get some liquid courage with a 24 oz tallboy.


First Live Gig

Lafayette_arts
 
For the past few months, I've been part of a Blues Essentials workshop at Red House Studio in Walnut Creek.  We get together every Monday evening and work on a new song. Our workshop includes a range of guitar players, bass players and drummers of various skill levels.  This past Saturday morning we played our first ever live gig at a local wine & arts festival in Lafayette.  Although the set was quite short, a group of us rehearsed quite a bit over the last few weeks and it paid off.  

I'm an occasional runner and I can't help but compare this first gig to running your first serious 10k race. You gotta respect any such event with your taining; you don't just show up and wing it.  And like a race, there's a million things that could go wrong.  Will anyone show up?  Can I find parking?  What if it rains?  Will our vocalist make it on time?  Where are the bathrooms?  Just like a race.

Luckily, everyone did make it.  And I think we sounded pretty darned good.   There's some video below that I've posted on YouTube.  The camera is a bit shaky in parts, but it captures the sound quite well.  I've also included the song "Love Me Like a Man" by some other folks in our workshop and a nice solo by Tom on "Tore Down." 

Astute viewers will notice a minor slip up in the second song, JJ Cale's "Bring Down the Curtain."  James and I are soloing at the same time and stepping all over eachother.  Had I been paying more attention I would have just reverted back to rhythm and given James the space he deserved.  But there were 100 things I was trying to keep straight in my head (What key are we in?  Can anyone hear my amp?  Where's the 17th fret?  Don't play too many notes!  Relax. Is this in B?) and by the time I figured out what was going on we were back to the vocals.  No doubt it sounds like we were giving the song an unwarranted prog-rock treatment.

Even with this rough spot, I think we did as good a job as we could have done. James and Val were awesome both on their vocals and on guitar.  Holly and Lynn kept the rhythm locked in for us.  I was happy that I was in the right key at all times and didn't totally lose the plot. 

They say that the difference between a jogger and a runner is a race entry form.  Perhaps we did the same thing today moving from wannabe's to musicians by playing what was the first live gig for most of us.  Playing in front of an audience is different from a basement jam or rehearsal.  You're out there without a safety net, exposing yourself to whatever might go wrong.  And that's part of why you rehearse, so that even if things go wrong, or rather, when things go wrong, you can still make it work.  Just like running a race.  I have no doubt there are thousands (millions?) of better players out there in the bay area alone, but we did something together on stage and put it in front of the audience and I could not be more proud of our performance.  

If you're an amateur musician or wannabe in the SF East Bay, I strongly recommend you check out Red House Studio.  They have group and private instruction, rehearsal space, recording facilities, jams, shows, you name it and cover all range of music, skills and age groups.  Special thanks to everyone who helped get us on stage, especially Jeff Magidson the musical director and our blues instructor.  Jeff, we couldn't have done it without you.