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Yes, I still play the drums.  Yes, it makes me happy.  Yes, I want to do more of it, and yes I will. 

In fact, this coming Friday, June 24, I will have the pleasure to sit-in with the phenomenal band "Mary" to play a MOBfest 2005 show at Martyrs' in Chicago.  If you live in Chicagoland, I'd love to see you there.  This is going to be fun.  For those of you that have never heard Mary, I describe the music as "Trip Rock."  Like if Pink Floyd was raised on a farm in El Paso, IL, they might have sounded like this.  And the melodies and words are as good anything around.  And my good friend Edwin Pierce, 100 Year Picnic co-writer and collaborator, plays the bass in Mary...

Anyway it's very cool stuff, so you gotta check it...  (You know I don't just say these things about anything.)  You can listen to some music samples at the band's website or their CDbaby site.  On CDbaby, you can even read a review that yours truly wrote about their last record. 

In other drumming news, I got to play on a whole slew of songs for my friend Chris Chambers, a very talented local songwriter, who is recording his first full-length album.  We got some real good sounds in Tim Bilyeu's basement home studio, with some very nice microphones, and a very nice vintage Fibes drumkit that yours truly has been playing since the 8th grade.  Can't wait to see how the record progresses....will keep you posted.

One last item, I recently played drums at Oxide Lounge for the latest Monster Pawn commercial jingle, which should be out sometime soon.  Tommy OD played guitars and bass, and Doug Johnson provided all of the excellent vocals.  Too much fun...

Independent songstress Eleni Mandell recently scored some commercial success due to a popular and controversial Carls Jr. commercial, featuring a scantily clad Paris Hilton (imagine that)....along with Eleni's suped-up cover of "I Love Paris" by Cole Porter.  You can now download it exclusively on itunes. 

In this recent news story, Eleni says, "Well, I've been wondering for a long time when the hell it would happen and how," she says. "I certainly wouldn't have guessed that it'd be a rock version of a jazz song sung for a hamburger. It's somehow very apropos ... or ironic. Maybe even both at once, if that's possible."

Some of you know I've been a big fan of the Eleni.  I first heard her through a CMJ magazine cd sampler, which featured the brilliant song "Pauline".  I've been hooked ever since... 

Eleni releases one or two records a year, and they are all fabulous, with the best, hippest producers and musicians.  Stylistically, she is very eclectic, which I like of course, typically drawing comparisons to Tom Waits and PJ Harvey.  Everything from avant folk, to pop rock, to torchy jazz, to old school country.  She gets to do whatever she wants basically.  And it's really some of the best songwriting around.  In June 2003, Eleni, along with the late great Elliott Smith, was voted Best Songwriter by LA Weekly.  Cathy and I have trekked up to Chicago to see her a couple times, once at the Hideout and once at Gunther Murphy's...each time an intimate show to a very lucky packed room of music lovers. 

Here's a list of the Eleni records I have in my collection.  I love 'em all, but Snakebite and Wishbone are my top two favorites...

  1. Snakebite
  2. Wishbone (her debut)
  3. Thrill
  4. Country For True Lovers
  5. Maybe, Yes (EP)
  6. Afternoon

You can order these records through her website or through your local independent record store. 

Anyway, since Eleni is in the national news, it's a good excuse to salute a great independent artist that is making a living making exceptional music, doing it her way.  Pretty cool. 

I first happened upon this eclectic jewel when Eleni Mandell (one of my favorite independent artists) had a link from her site to an online live performance.  It was a couple years ago, but I think it was this one

Morning Becomes Eclectic is live radio show based out of LA, but also broadcasting to the world through the internet.  Nick Harcourt hosts this nationally recognized program, known for promoting a wide range of music ahead of the curve.  They provide streaming videos of these intimate, in-studio performances for all of us...and it's free!!!  My favorite part of each program is an interview segment, which is usually after the band does a short set of songs.  Nick is very much in tune with these artists, turning out some insightful interviews.  The sound quality is excellent, the video is often a bit lo-fi but effective, and the interviews are superb.  Highly recommended!!!

Here are a few I checked out recently:
Arcade Fire
Azure Ray
The Decemberists
Aimee Mann

Now clickity-click...

This is one way to write songs...  And one way to get them done and recorded very, very fast...

A week ago, my friend Tony from Oxide Lounge Recording asked me if I would be interested in helping him out with some sort of online songwriting challenge/experiment.  Well, since 100 Year Picnic is all about the songwriting and recording experiment, I happily obliged. 

The challenge was to take a pre-existing drum track and write a song around it.  Tony had already put together the chord progression with guitars, bass, and keyboard.   By the way, Tony's main instrument is drums, so we have casually referred to our collaborations as "The Drummers Who Write Songs Club."  So by the time I came in, the challenge was to put together melodies, harmonies, words to go with a pre-existing rhythm track, and record them all in a 4 hour time box. 

So you want to hear what we came up with?  So glad you asked...  Here 'tis for your free downloading delights:  Calm Down (mp3)

You should also check out the free downloads of what other artists around the country came up with for this little experiment.  One of them is the original song the drums were intended for.  It's all very different, with some very creative stuff.

A few of you probably have heard me talk about writing I'd Take You Anyplace (lo-fi) in this very same fashion.  I had a drum track laying around that I had recorded for another song for my friend Tommy Neal.   As an experiment I tried to write a song around it.  Turned out pretty cool.  Anyway the idea of boxing yourself IN to something causes you to box yourself OUT.  The boundaries help you limit your options to create something bigger within a smaller space.  If that makes any sense...  (I know it doesn't, but I like it anyway).  Basically, the experiment comes down to fun because you do things you would never do...especially with the arrangement. 

A lot of the new 100 Year Picnic music is being written like this, only using improvised songs as the bed for the melodies and words.  Some pretty wild stuff coming out of this process...

So all you songwriters out there, take the drum track challenge someday soon.  You will likey.