Monday, March 25, 2013

First contact has been made!

Squids here. Happy to report that Sound of Contact's first show is complete and it went really well! The whole band is thrilled about it. The reception from the audience was nothing short of astounding considering not a single one of them had previously heard any of the songs apart from "In The Difference Engine" which is the instrumental music you hear in our video trailer on the SOC Youtube channel. We closed with that one and people were actually cheering in the beginning which means they recognized it and were excited which to me is kind of funny. Usually you'd get that for your catchiest pop song but here's this dark instrumental which is the only thing we've released publicly and that was our "hit"! Haha. We added a BIG ending to it that's not on the album which is a massive drum fill courtesy of Mr. Collins and a fat Mellotron choir Major chord from me with a dive bomb guitar from Wes and it was a real tip of the hat to all that is prog... not the least of which being Genesis. Someone even shouted "Los Endos!!!!!" and believe me had we rehearsed Los Endos we would have done it!!!! Haha.

(Photo courtesy of Jordan DeGuise)

But, of course, it wasn't about doing any covers. This was a very genuine heartfelt presentation of our own music. These are songs that either Simon and I wrote together from ideas we brought in or we wrote together with our collaborators on the album including Matt Dorsey (who played bass in the live show) and Kelly Nordstrom who was our other guitarist/bassist/co-writer in the studio. John Wesley and Jonathan Schang joined us to help flesh these songs out live and this being our first gig playing in front of close to 3,000 people it really was an epic experience. Members of Marillion watched the show and said they loved it too. Just hanging around at sound check made Simon a bigger fan of Marillion. Steve Hogarth is such a power performer and the whole band is just so melodic and musical. We all agreed that it was a good combination of styles for a show... Sound of Contact opening for Marillion. Maybe we'll do more again in the future whenever that may be. I hope so. We had such a great time and so did everyone there. We are beyond grateful that they invited us along to share the Marillion Weekend experience with them and their incredible fans.

Me with Wes and Matt from Sound of Contact and Steve Hogarth of Marillion

Sound of Contact's Set List for March 24th, 2013 L 'Olympia Theater, Montreal

Cosmic Distance Ladder
Pale Blue Dot
Remote View
Not Coming Down
Closer To You
Omega Point
Möbius Slip Part 1: In The Difference Engine

Sunday, March 24, 2013

One of those days...

One of THOSE days...

... when you're going to be playing certain songs off your album for the first time in front of thousands of people! But, actually I'm singing "one of those days" in my head because Marillion played "Drilling Holes" off of their album "Marbles" last night as well as a suite of songs from "Clutching at Straws" which really brought back memories of a misplaced chi... (woops I almost went into full Squids pun mode... but Misplaced Childhood and Clutching at Straws were among the albums I was listening to back when they came out)... they played a lot of great music last night but most significantly they played their entire "Brave" album. The show went really well! The band seemed pretty darn happy backstage and I'll tell you the energy in the theater was spectacular. People were absolutely loving it and that's great to see. So cool to be there in the audience when it happens but it's also interesting to see as a band and musician yourself because you take note: "This is the sort of crowd reaction you want!" People singing along and even taking over sections of songs from Steve Hogarth without him needing to say the typical "Come on I can't hear you!" thing. Oh he could he hear them alright! The audience was loud, clear and even sang quite well on top... almost like a choir. I wouldn't be surprised if it was filled with musicians. We should be so lucky to do our own shows that have these sort of qualities to them. But it's certainly an inspiration to do our first show in a venue like the L 'Olympia Theater with this fantastic audience. Needless to say we're really looking forward to it! Today is the day! It's a big one!

Mark Kelly's keyboard rig

Backstage talking to Marillion's keyboardist Mark Kelly

With Wes and Steve Rothery (Guitarist for Marillion)

After the show some of us went backstage to meet the band. I had an "iRig present" for Steve Rothery, Marillion's guitarist who is responsible for bringing Sound of Contact into the fold here. He's the one who suggested to the band and management that SOC be added to this gig and we're so grateful for that. I've worked with him a few times over the internet but this was the first time we've met in person. He's such a nice guy. So was Mark Kelly. I didn't get a chance to talk to Steve Hogarth but you could tell he was very personable and cool. These are all great people doing what they love and I respect that. They have made so much music over the years and to be able to pull from such a vast catalog in a live show is something earned that is absolutely priceless. I hope we have 10+ Sound of Contact albums to do the same... but I have to say I am thrilled even to have just one and to be performing songs from it tonight! One step at a time El Squidsarino. (He said to himself in a Big Lebowski sort of way). 

We are not alone (something Close Encounters about this shot! haha)

So, today is March 24th and I'm up early. Despite Rothery making me a few creative colorful drinks I'm surprisingly up without the slightest hangover. Not very rock n' roll of me but I'm so used to dealing with Europe for the upcoming tour and album release that I've gotten used to waking up early (temporarily anyway). Later on today we have a sound check. Gotta make sure that all the rented gear arrives and everything works... fingers and tentacles crossed! We test drive it and then do the real thing at 8pm! It's only a 45 minute set so we're not doing the whole album (which is over 73 minutes btw) but we are doing highlights and it'll be interesting because there's only ONE song in it that anyone has heard before... and that's only if they've been to our Youtube page

Monday, March 18, 2013

Greg Lake and Squids

Greg Lake and I at rehearsals (wearing my Tarkus shirt that Keith gave me!)

Yesterday, for the first time, I met Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. He was rehearsing for his one man show gigs where he performs songs from his solo career as well as from his days with King Crimson and ELP. I was called in to help program sounds and explain how the Nord Stage keyboard works. My friend Erik Norlander who plays keys with Asia FJP had put me in touch with guitar tech Andre Cholmondeley who I happened to have met previously at a Steven Wilson concert in Orlando. Small world! Andre asked me to come to Greg's rehearsals and help them. It was Sound of Contact's day off so fortunately I had a little bit of time to do something fun like that! 

I used to program keys and/or do custom sampling for tours as one of my sources of income. Today I do it more as a favor trade or just gratis because I want to. For a living I do it on a grander scale through my company Sonic Reality which supplies sounds to thousands of musicians all over the world. But over the years I've done interesting direct custom sounds for many performing artists like Genesis, Madonna, Barbara Streisand, Crowded House, Tom Waits, Ringo Starr, The Who, Rolling Stones, Beyonce, Pearl Jam and others including Keith Emerson and ELP! I told Greg I helped create the Fanfare sound for Keith which they used in their most recent EL and ELP shows. He had no idea. He was really surprised! It's not like we're in LA or England. This is South Florida so what are the chances that there'd be someone here coming to help him with his keyboard that has worked with Keith? Then, if you consider what the chances are that the same person happened to have provided string sounds for the factory Nord Sample Library and could dial up with certainty which sounds would work best... it was a fun synchronistic situation to be in! He was so happy to hear all that and we immediately hit it off. 

Got treated to a private performance from Greg

We talked about a bunch of things including the possibility of me playing with him or working together at some point in the future. The idea of working together was his and of course in my mind I was thinking "Hmmmm. Keith and I are pals. Uncle Greg is my new buddy... now if they'd only let me co-produce a new ELP album..." Haha! That's how I think. I didn't say anything of that nature of course. I could see me sitting in with him on some gigs or doing a stint of duo or full band live shows perhaps down the line and/or at least him guesting on one of my Sonic Elements productions. Maybe I'd even play some keys on his next album if/when he does one. But, the lofty idea of them even DOING another ELP album let alone me being involved on that level... well, if you don't dream it doesn't happen that's all I can say. If you DO dream and it doesn't happen there's no harm in that either! Dream away I say. As long as you keep it to yourself and don't blog about it. WOOPS!!!! Haha. Nah, come on. You have to know these are the kinds of things I would be thinking. Surely by now you know I think big! If they were open to a creative and objective younger generation co-producer, I'm confident I could help them make a new classic... something that is up to the standard of quality songwriting, sounds and performances that they themselves set in the 70's. [Just to be clear, there's no actual talk of an ELP album - this is just me talking in Squids fantasyland! Although Keith did say in my interviews with him that he'd be open to it.]

Anyway, back to present day reality here... haha. This turned out to be a great unexpected Sunday afternoon event! Greg proceeded to tell me how he put his latest one man show together and the reasoning behind picking various songs. It was almost like an interview and I was tempted to say "Wait, this is awesome. You mind if I capture this on video so everyone can hear this????" but it was the first time we met and I didn't want to freak him out by putting a camera in his face. It was going to just be one of those private rock history moments that you feel you are truly a "lucky man" to hear and see. (will you please forgive me for the obvious overdone pun? Thanks! It had to be done.) He grabbed the guitar and started performing different Crimson and ELP songs for me and then we talked about them afterward! It was a real trip. I loved how he was like a big kid excited about the show he put together and all of the elements. I respect that. Keith is the same way. That's how I am as well and I realized how important that is. Rock n' roll never grows up!

His voice sounded great! Unmistakably "Greg Lake". It's wild to be talking to him and then all of a sudden he starts singing and it's a vocal character you grew up listening to just coming out live right there in front of you. I've never seen him perform live before but I've always loved his voice. Wish I could go see the actual show. They invited me to go on the cruise! But, I've got other Squids to fry. So many cool things happening at once and at light speed. I love it. All in all it was a great time though and something I thought would make for a good "Squids Travels" adventure. Hope you enjoy this eventful rock n' roll stuff. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Counting to Marillion

Just a week left of rehearsals before Sound of Contact plays its first show in front of thousands of people at the Marillion Weekend in Montreal. So far everything has been going great! Simon got an endorsement with DDRUM and Felix DeLuna of the company came through with shining stars on everything Si needed kit-wise and more.

Simon Collins and his new DDRUM kit! 

Matt Dorsey recently did an artist endorsement deal with Spector basses. He's loving his new 5 string that he's taking out on tour with Sound of Contact. I have a bunch of friends who use Spector. Billy Sherwood, formerly producer and member of the band Yes, not only has one of Chris Squire's Rickenbacker basses but a massive collection of cool Spectors... and of course we'll be sampling them as well for Sonic Reality! 

The empire strikes bass! Matt Dorsey with his Spector in front of a Miami Industrial Imperial Walker Looking Thing.

We did our first band photo shoot this past week of the SOC live line up. We have another one or two scheduled this coming week. I'm working on coordinating lots of photos and hopefully video as well of our performance at the Marillion Weekend. It has to at least be documented! What a way to start! We're so excited. It's sounding powerful in rehearsals. Wes is known for being a "big" guitar player in terms of covering a lot of sonic territory and converting multiple guitar parts off of albums into a cohesive single guitarist's live performance. He's had to do that a lot with Porcupine Tree and Fish. I'm also what Wes calls a "big keyboard player", meaning that it's not just ambient sounds in the background but rather a more prominent character element in the music. There are a lot of dynamics from ambient to full on aggressive, almost guitar-like, keys. Plus a little pretentious prog thrown in for good measure... ie. Mellotrons and analog synth leads! Haha. The Tony Banks/Richard Wright/Rick Wakeman/Keith Emerson side! Muahahahahaha. Keyboards shall rule once again!!!!!!! (woops sorry I got a little too excited there for a second). 

Me surrounded by keys (where I like to be)

One thing I did yesterday which was a wise move I think is consolidate my rig down from 3 keyboards to 2. Just to have a more portable keyboard set up for these initial opening act gigs. At least in terms of what I bring WITH me. If we can rent another keyboard wherever I am that's cool and if not then I can make it work with just the two now without sacrificing much if anything. Normally if we were headlining I'd have 2 Nord Stages, 1 Nord Wave, 1 Yamaha Motif XF and maybe one additional smaller keyboard controller connected to my MacBook Air running SampleTank with Sonic Reality sounds. Depending on the tour or venue a vintage Hammond B3 organ or Wurlitzer 200 electric piano or CP70 electric grand piano would be quite welcome. I just don't want to make enemies with any roadies! ;)  

One thing that's great about ALL of the keyboards I mentioned above is that they have something called "Flash Ram" which means that a keyboard player can load in samples (in my case I own a sampling company and have a LOT of samples I like to use) and the cool thing about "flash" is that it STAYS in memory even when you turn it off and back on again. This is GREAT for live because if the power goes out or anything happens you're back up and running FAST!!!!! No wait time to load up the samples. 

So long bottom 88 weighted keyboard. Gonna miss you! Hope I can rent you some time. 

Years ago I had a funny experience that made me LOVE flash ram so much. I was playing with an artist named Kevin Gilbert and we were doing a promotional gig at Tower Records on Sunset Blvd in LA (now sadly gone). Rosanna Arquette, who starred in Kevin's Toy Matinee video "Ballad of Jenny Ledge" was there in the audience and I met her for the first time. (She's also the "Rosanna" Toto was talking about by the way... little rock trivia for you! Plus she lent Kevin the Rael jacket we used when we played The Lamb. Peter Gabriel gave one of the Rael jackets to her when he went out with her so it was the real thing... more parenthesis trivia). Anyway we started playing in the middle of the store when the power went out. I don't think they had enough juice to supply a rock band or something. It came back on quickly but I had to reload all of my samples into the Kurzweil K2000 I was using and had to miss an entire song. Then it happened again! I was scrambling to get all my sounds together in my set up when I looked up only to see Rosanna laughing! Not sure anyone else really noticed but she knew exactly what was going on. Kind of embarrassing... but also bizarre and funny too. Made for a good LA Squidstory. Haha. After that though I used to carry around a heavy UPS (uninterruptible power supply) until FLASH ram became more popular. Now do you understand why I like it so much? 

So both the Nords and the Yamaha Motif XF have flash ram and that means I can load my own custom samples into them and it's like they were built-in to the machine. Great for live. Technically I have more room to do larger sounds and more sounds on the computer which I usually have with me as well. But, I like to make my set up very hands on because I'm spontaneous and like to do things a little differently each night and adapt to what I'm hearing. If I need to get more aggressive I'll reach for the "overdrive" knob. If I want to get more ambient I'll tap a delay in and increase the reverb. I control it all with knobs and pedals in real time. I'm a very "interactive" keyboard player. In this case since I wrote the parts I'm playing I know where it's appropriate to stay true to the original and where it's good to embellish. 

Go Wes young man! John Wesley and Chip Walters at another EPIC sushi session

Wes brought his friend Chip along to hang, help out and be just a positive force of good things beyond expectation. He did so many cool things to help this past week that Simon and I actually stopped the press to add him in the thank yous on the album. Here we are at yet another post rehearsal sushifest. If they let me order foggeetttaboutit. I know how to order. There's an art to it! JUST the right amount of food. It can be expensive but I go for the quality dishes that are worth it. Overpaying for an average meal sucks. But if it's toro tuna sashimi like this pic above? You're living large. Enjoy it! 

Sound of Contact live band rehearsing while Simon rests his voice

Getting back to the band. It's sounding fantastic! Wes is such a cool guitar player. He really dials in some great sounds and plays tasteful well thought out parts. Matt Dorsey is nailing it on the bass and backing vocals. He's actually doing some that I would normally do so I can concentrate a bit more on the sounds and parts of the live reproduction. I'm 3rd backing vocalist in the band and Wes would be 4th even though he's incredible on vocals and 2nd to Steven Wilson when they perform in Porcupine Tree. The only reason he's 4th is because he's got enough on his plate learning and coming up with his guitar parts on an album he didn't play on. He also doesn't know the rather complex lyrics as well as Matt and I do since we co-wrote the songs with Simon on the record and both sang back up on the album as well. There's one song toward the end of the set where Simon, Matt and I sing harmonies almost the whole way through and it sounds so cool! 

Simon and Jonathan are sounding great on drums.  Originally Simon was going to sing and drum for practically the entire set and we did that in rehearsals for a few days. I was amazed at how well he was able to play complex drum parts and sing! He can really pull that off and it's very cool too... reminds me of his dad Phil back in the early Genesis days singing into that gooseneck mic hanging down above his kit. But, since Simon liked Schang's playing so much he gave him more drumming to do so he could come out front more and engage the audience singing lead. Good to have options though! Simon still plays the two instrumentals we're doing in the set. 

Alright that's me catching you up on things. I thought I'd be able to blog everyday but it's so crazy busy that I'll have to just fit it in when I can. Got some cool new developments in the works and we ARE starting to shoot video of the rehearsals as well so we'll share some clips soon of that. Working on band t-shirts and a marillion other things... :)  

Friday, March 8, 2013

Sound of Contact Launch!

Yesterday was a BIG day! In the same day we announced the news of our band "Sound of Contact" signing with the progressive rock label "InsideOut" along with the release date for our debut concept album "Dimensionaut" AND we had our very first rehearsals for the upcoming tour featuring the live line up with Simon Collins, myself, Matt Dorsey and John Wesley!

The rehearsals went great. It started off with everybody setting up their gear at my studio called "SR" (SR stands for Sonic Reality... it's not actually the Sonic Reality office but a remote studio in Miami where I engineer and produce various projects and do in-house sampling for popular music software from IK Multimedia and many other companies). It was great for Simon and I to reunite with Matt Dorsey who co-wrote and played on the album with us. Kelly Nordstrom who also played on the album isn't part of the touring line up. But, he's still very much a part of the creative team that has made the music what it is. Joining on for the upcoming tour is John Wesley who has spent many years touring with one of our favorite bands Porcupine Tree (as well as Fish from Marillion and many others). Coming in on Sunday is Jonathan Schang from the band District 97 to assist us with additional drums and keys. Jimmy Keegan of Spock's Beard will be guesting on drums on some of the European dates as well. There are a lot of complex parts on the album and Simon being a singer AND drummer... well... this may sound a little familiar! ;)

Me, Matt and Simon playing together again. 

Matt Dorsey goes over one of the songs with John Wesley

Simon Collins with John Wesley loading in.

Working with these guys on the first day was an absolute BLAST! It really felt great for everybody. We celebrated with a stellar sushi dinner with Wes's friend Chip who was over the moon about it all. A memorable milestone moment. The energy in this project is so high and we're feeling it... just very genuine good vibes and that to me is what it's ALL about. The present moment and the big picture. The balance between those things with the least amount of expectations is a foundation for happiness... and happiness is itself the meaning of success. Today I feel successful because I'm here doing this! That alone is rewarding on so many levels. It's a philosophy we share as a band and that's great. Seeing the potential feels good and everyone at the label is behind us. We're already working closely together to make things happen. Our fans, friends and family are really excited and that gets us pumped. 

It really is exciting to think that in just a few week's time over 2,000 people are going to be hearing our songs performed for the very first time on March 24th at the Marillion Weekend in Montreal! So grateful to Steve Rothery and the whole Marillion family for bringing us on board for that. Gratitude goes around to a lot of people for everything that's happening. 

Today I'm just chilling at Sound of Contact HQ Miami. We have a new apartment near the studio that's our "rock pad" (with a rockin' kitchen... I just told Wes I'm gonna make him seafood gumbo and he nearly lost his mind! He doesn't even know too... I make a mean gumbo! I used to live in New Orleans and I reverse engineered that one). Simon and I are going to go do a little shopping for threads and a flat screen, ping pong table and other "necessities" for a bunch of rock musicians to be as happy as we can be. Making music, hanging out and telling stories, laughing, eating well, enjoying the SoFla weather... life is good! 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Squids Are Alright!

It's been almost a month since I posted last and that's only because I've been so busy! The good kind of busy. Running a sound company and being in a rock band isn't easy! It's like juggling squirrels that bite while chewing gum and talking on the phone at the same time (while balancing on one leg and hoping across a busy street!!!!). Lots of details... but I won't bore you with that! I'll just give you the highlights!

Sound of Contact - Dimensionaut

Got some cool news coming with regard to the label we've partnered up with for Sound of Contact, the band I'm in with Simon Collins. We've recently announced that John Wesley (touring guitarist for Porcupine Tree, Fish and others) and Jonathan Schang (who is touring with his band District 97 and John Wetton) have joined our touring line up of the band this Spring for some dates in Europe as well as a one off in Montreal opening for the band Marillion. Let me tell you more about how all of that came to be! A cool backstory for anyone who would be interested in reading some obscure blog from a guy named Squids anyway.

When we first started working on the album in 2010 I had made friends with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree. He was interested in using Sonic Reality and IK Multimedia software and from there we got into some talking about music. He was working on his second solo album "Grace for Drowning" and shared some work in progress tracks with me which I thought was incredibly cool. I ended up playing on a 20+ minute song called Raider II for him. When it came to our material he gave me some really helpful advice with regard to guitar sounds and shared his opinion about various things. What a deluxe sounding board I had! 

Then, when I went to see Wilson's band Porcupine Tree perform at Radio City Music Hall in NYC I met John "Wes Dearth" Wesley. He was incredible in the show and a really nice guy. I eventually worked with Wes with my project "Sonic Elements" and he sang and played guitar on tracks like "Tom Sawyer" which featured the drums of Neil Peart via his sample library with my company called "Neil Peart Drums by Sonic Reality". Ironically, Wes is friends with Neil but he's never played music with him until this "virtual session". Here's the song if you want to hear it! It also features Billy Sherwood (Yes, Circa) on bass, me on keys (and I took the liberty of doing a keyboard solo at the end! haha). 

Wes is also friends with the guys from Marillion. He used to tour with Fish and he's worked with all those guys in different capacities over the years. But, that's not the only reason behind us opening for them on their Marillion Weekend event in Montreal. I met Steven Rothery, Marillion's guitarist, on Facebook after working with Hannah Stobart who was a guest vocalist on our album (and Hannah was previously in a project called "The Wishing Tree" with Rothery). Confused yet? So, that was a few years ago and we talked about the possibility of us playing at a Marillion Weekend event then. However, we weren't ready to release our album and tour yet. Now we are and I reached out to Steve again thinking maybe we could join them on some gigs later this year. After talking it over with his band he came back to me offering an open slot at the Montreal event. That's coming up soon! March 24th. Fortunately we'll all be in North America this month rehearsing (down in Miami) so it seemed to work out great! What a cool gig to kick off Sound of Contact live! We're all really excited about it and I've been getting into their new album and digging back into their back catalog lately. A true honor to be part of their special event... and I look forward to watching their show the night before! 

I had a nice email chat with Nick Davis, who has produced/engineered bands like Genesis, XTC and also Marillion. He mixed our album and was pleased to hear all the good news from the album's imminent release to us opening for Marillion at the end of the month. We might mix some bonus tracks over in the UK at Genesis' studio The Farm. Something to be released later in the year... we have a handful of tunes that didn't make it on the album. 

Also joining us on the tour is Jonathan Schang from District 97 who I met on a music forum called Progressive Ears. He was already touring with his band and special guest John Wetton (King Crimson, UK, Asia) the same time we were going to Europe to tour with Spock's Beard and Beardfish. So, we've got him joining us for a week on drums then he plays with D97 and Wetton and then on the 18th of May we all play at the same venue in Zoetermeer. Pretty crazy! Crazy in a cool way. It's going to be an adventure... and certainly worthy of some Squids Travel Blog posts so expect more out of me as we go here!