Tuesday, January 15, 2019

The new band.

Well well well. Despite the lurid "Year Of The Snake" 2018 proved to be (as well the lurching spill-over into the current calendar) at least 2019 is off to a great start band-wise. The new line-up has been rehearsing for our upcoming shows and I am delighted to say that it is shaping up very well. There is a new energy in the unit and the two new members are doing an amazing job. The lads have been doing their home-work and the thorny odd meter stuff the band is known for, is being played with aplomb. It is all very exciting.

It makes sense then to use this opportunity to introduce the new members of the band. I will go alphabetically starting with....

Andrew Burns-bass, vocals, keyboards. 

Andrew is part of the new incarnation of the band, but actually has been the Rebel Wheel bassist since 2012. He brings a calm air of quiet virtuosity into the band. Although his main instrument in the band is electric and upright bass, he is a multi-instrumentalist who is equally adept at keyboards, vocals, guitar, banjo and mandolin. David and he met at an early PepTide's rehearsal back in 2010 and have kept a strong working relationship ever since. A full-time musician, Andrew plays with a whack of artists (The Rebel Wheel, The PepTides, The Powergoats, Al Tambay, Ty Hall, DeeDee Butters) as well as releases his own music. He also runs a studio and music school (Living Music Studios).

Alex Wickham-drums, vocals, keyboards.

Alex and David met towards the end of David's five year residency with The PepTides. Together with Andrew they played to a crowd of 14,000 at Ottawa's Westfest (among a few dozen other festivals and gigs) and formed a solid working relationship. David drafted Alex for his folk-rock act The Rapids and then for the precursor to the latest iteration of The Rebel Wheel, The Bag of Snakes. Alex enjoys complex odd-metered material so gave his hearty assent when asked to be a fellow Wheel. He has chops galore and a strong work ethic and all in all is a joy to work with (as artists like The PepTides, Junkyard Symphony, Bradley Scott, Caveman Techno, Chantal Hackette etc. will attest).

Both players have at a high level of craft and professionalism and are making The Rebel Wheel V8 a really unique and overwhelmingly fun project to be involved with. Our first gig will be in four weeks time (as The Rebel Wheel, we have close to a hundred gigs playing together in other units) and we are very excited about it.

Here is a brief excerpt of our latest rehearsal recorded on my i-phone:

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

This will be the last post about snakes. I promise. Well...I expect. 

So 2018 is over and the lurid details of The East Coast Percussion Syndrome have been already been mentioned. This post is about another snake I met in 2018 and is closely related to some other similar snakes I have met in the past, (poor snakes; they get such a bad rep when people like those I will detail are compared to them).

 Way back in 1991 or so, I was in a band called the Barbara Lynch Band. We were all full-time musicians with a pretty good management contract so we were able to rehearse daily and hone the band's sound and stage show pretty well. We did a ton of show-cases, and like any band who works hard and has even moderately good players and material, we were able to attract a fairly large following and generate a lot of buzz. Eventually we came to the notice of the Toronto press and for about a year or two, were the darlings of the King Street scene. We won a ton of press accolades (like best band in Toronto etc.) and were featured on Much Music's The New Music (along with Keith Richards) and on CITY-TV's music shows. In fact, I think there are some very bad copies of  a few of our performances at CITY-TV on Youtube.

The band eventually started to be wooed by labels and booking agents. We were offered quite a few tours overseas, and several pretty good deals with small independent labels. Our manager refused them all and was waiting for interest from the American majors. Given that he had just signed two of his acts to similar deals it made sense to follow his advice. The only problem was that we weren't really all that fashionable as far as commercial music went. We were more like Sword-Fish Trombone era Tom Waits meets Weather Report. Nevertheless a parade of deals crossed the table.

Quite a few producers offered us demo deals and we ended up in quite a few major studios in Toronto. Eventually we settled with Metalworks studio and recorded an EP with Roxy Music producer John Punter and Rush engineer Rick Andersen. It was a delightful time and something which I will detail in a a post about amazingly good experiences. This post is about the opposite.

So. Before we ended up at Metalworks with the amazing aforementioned production team, we did quite a bit of demo recording with other producers. One of them took us to a great facility. Back then it was all SSL boards and 24 track Studers coupled up via Adam-Smith synch units. It was all very impressive so we were awe-struck to be in the studio recording with this one producer. He was super friendly and kept telling us how great we were and how unique. All he wanted to do he said, was choose the best two songs we had and produce them up for a more radio friendly sound. We had a song that had this very cool drum intro we loved (think of I Mother Earth's Used To Be Alright, a wholly appropriate choice given that we shared management and a ton of stages...in fact I am sure that intro to their song was inspired by ours).

Anyway....the song chosen was one of our stronger pieces so we totally understood why the producer wanted to start with it. So we started tracking. We got about 40 seconds in and the producer called us to a halt. He wanted to iron out something in the drums he said. So we went over the intro with a fine tooth comb. Maybe not so many clicky rim sounds was the first directive, so Jim Casson the drummer began voicing the pattern on just the heads. None of us liked it as much, but we were doing our best to be professional and follow the producer. We started recording again. Forty seconds later we stopped again. Hmmm, maybe a snare hit on three would be better, was the next directive. Ok. Snare hit on three it was. On with the tune. Ten seconds later we stopped again. Maybe the snare should hit on 2 and 4 instead. Ok.

This went on until the intro had NONE of the flavour it originally had, but instead, sounded like every other drum part from that era. The producer was beaming; "see how much I have improved your sound in so short a time?" was what his face radiated. We spent the next 12 hours trimming off every unique burr we had laboriously inserted over several years of performing, writing and rehearsing. We took a wholly unique band song and trimmed sections off and idiosyncrasies away until we had just another mediocre pop pap piece.

Our manager was delighted: our producer was delighted: we were totally deflated. This was NOT how we envisioned the band. In the end we dropped the producer and convinced the manager to go with John Punter instead and we ended up with the songs the way we had arranged them only with a far superior sonic thumbprint and of course, world class production.

I now know that the demo producer was just another snake. He figured he knew how to make us better when he absolutely no idea what we were. I understand trying to be radio friendly. I understand wanting fame and fortune. What he didn't understand was that we wanted our music to be our music first and foremost. All of us made fairly good livings as musicians already (I was writing for TV's Nature of Things and 5th Estate etc. so was doing VERY well and the other lads were first call session guys) and wanted this project to reflect our musical tastes, not our need to be rich. But there will always be that guy who shows up and starts directing everybody, smilingly telling them how good they are, but all the while forcing their own weak aesthetic into the room. Behind the smile lies a conceit that their mediocre vision of music is real and that the band's is charmingly naive.

Fast forward to 2018 and a band I had been in for several years. We played the folk rock Tara and I had written and produced and were called The Rapids

We had just started doing gigs and in a attempt to incorporate more tunes in our set-list we asked a local top 40 guitar player to join our band. As most of the songs featured two guitars, I was excited about having another player involved. It meant we could perform the album with the same arrangements we had recorded originally, plus we could supplement our set list with some covers. Both Tara and I knew we wanted NOT to be a cover band, so we decided early on that we would approach the covers from a unique point of view.

So in came the local hero. Smiling. Complimentary. Humble. At the first rehearsal he started out quite amiable but by the end was making lots of faces. This went on for a few weeks until about the third rehearsal when he stopped the band and said that something didn't sound right and that he thought we should focus on the drums. So we focused on the drums. How about we play the song VERY slowly so we can put the drummer on the spot? Once we allowed him to do that we had opened the flood gates. How about we excise this whole guitar part so we can make the material more "radio friendly"? Let's lose these tunes from the set-list because they are downers. After half of our songs he played a country riff and laughed saying he thought of that every time he heard "songs like these", without thinking that his association revealed more about his lack of imagination than any real plagiarizing on our part, which was what he was really getting at. We were all good sports and let this guy have his way, but none of us were having any fun anymore and felt like we were being given some kind of "master class" by a moron.

We decided to change gears and just worry about covers instead. So we did a few the way we wanted to. The local hero was quick with his comments; "Oh we can't play "These Boots Were Made For Walking" like that! To begin with, it is a swing type song, sung by a woman, not a head banger sung by a man. And what is with the extended guitar solo? No-one wants to hear that!".

The truth is we had already played that version of the song and it went over like gang-busters. It was good that we had, because for me, my growing suspicions became confirmed. What we really had in our midst, was a conceited, mediocre cover tune musician who had never worked in an original band in his entire life, treating us like we were rank amateurs who needed his expert guidance.

He was able to derail our project for a long time with his antics and his bullshit. The fact he never learned a tune properly (he simply hadn't the chops to actually perform ANY of the guitar parts, preferring instead to strum campfire chords on his expensive 12 string, smirk and generally dis the material) and refused to gig with us (his "professional" top 40 reputation was liable to be sullied by our "amateur hour" take on covers) did him in in the end, but not before he brought us to a grinding halt.

That was a year ago and we are back up again, but just like that other snake on the East Coast mini-tour, not without a bitter taste and certainly not without some other far-reaching and actually gut-wrenching consequences. Just like in the studio 20 years ago and on stage in the spring, one should always be on guard for the people who not only don't understand creativity, but who are also consumed with a smug satisfaction in themselves and what can only be described as their overwhelming mediocrity.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Year End Review and the Coast Percusssion Syndrome

2018 was a busy year for the band. At the beginning of the year we were really out gigging as Bag Of Snakes but as we covered more and more material from The Rebel Wheel catalog it became fairly obvious that we were quickly becoming the next iteration of THAT band. My Aunt (who is in hospital right now) told me that "Snakes" is an unpleasant word with bad connotations and my very good friend Rachel actually shuddered when I told her our name. So. Bag Of Snakes is no longer a band, it is instead just another album in the ever-growing Rebel Wheel canon (albeit a more hard-rock "angular garage-band" album than usual).

There have been lots of high moments this year. It was a delight to watch my friend Tara develop as a seasoned and confidant performer (she was already a strong song-writer but even that aspect of her career has developed too). Watching her become more and more at ease with the stage and allowing me to be part of that growth was a real privilege for me. Local song-writer and leader of The PepTides, Claude Marquis drafted me into his band for his first solo show featuring his "folky" tunes. The show was a great success and we have re-kindled a very strong working relationship.

Another PepTide front-person, Dee Dee Butters, also decided to start her own solo career and I was honoured and delighted to be asked to join her in her jazz gigs. We play as a duo, or sometimes as a a trio with PepTides, Rebel Wheel bassist Andrew Burns.

I also have been doing a lot of solo gigs myself, mostly jazz guitar "chord solos", where I might play any number of standards or originals playing the melody in four part harmony, usually with contrasting motion bass lines. It is a challenge but is immensely fun as well.

But it wasn't all lavender and jazz. I went on perhaps the single worst road-tour of my life in the spring. The much touted "East Coast Mini Tour" was a disaster from the get-go. In retrospect I should never have climbed into the car when the "driving force" of the project arrived an hour early and over-the-top-surly at 5am. We all scurried about in a panic so that when we left (an hour ahead of schedule and grumpily impatient), it ended up I had forgotten my wallet. I noticed about 100 miles in and spoke up, thinking that we still had plenty of time to turn around and fetch it. The driving force bluntly refused so I was looking at a ten day tour with no money of my own. As another friend of mine said, I should have gotten out of the car right then and there, but as I was the "band" for both artists I felt duty-bound to stay.

I am not going to detail each and every abuse I endured along the way, but the gigs were done against a back-drop of escalating tension and many whispered conferences and dirty looks. The driving-force would pull me aside and complain about the other artist as being unprofessional and not worthy, but would also pull the other artist aside and would say the exact thing about me. The irony is the driving-force was perhaps the single most UNPROFESSIONAL person with whom I had ever worked. If there wasn't a transpose key or WIFI, they never would have been able to even get up on stage, having no actual ability to remember a song, nor play in any key but C.

It all came to a crashing end in Halifax, when the driving force showed up at the gig too drunk to set up or even do a sound-check. They were wholly unable to perform but were somehow capable enough to hurl abuse from the floor as I performed. My set with the other artist on tour was pretty good despite the insults being screamed at me from the bar. Apparently I was a "bad father", a "loser" a "bum" a "dime a dozen guitar player" and would be "a total nothing" without their expert guidance. When we finished, the driving force proceeded to insult the other artist to the point where she stormed out, throwing back the car keys at driving force (which had wisely been kept from them but unwisely returned in a dramatic gesture). So now the driving force had the car keys and was going to drive home to Ontario because the band, the bar, indeed, all of Halifax had thrown them under the bus (they were almost beaten up several times at the bar for insulting patrons and trying to encourage them to join in on the abuse hurling). I tried to stop the driving force from leaving with the keys by having a tug of war with the duffle coat in which the keys had been pocketed. After driving force started yelling that I was assaulting them, I let go and off they went into the night. Thankfully the bar owner (who had already demanded her to leave) had called the police so driving force didn't get far. When they were found, they actually tried to have me arrested for assault, but due to the public nature of their melt-down, no-one was having any of that.

So. The East Coast Percussion Syndrome came to a crashing halt, and even now, six months later, the damage done to the other artist's and my relationship hasn't wholly recovered. It was the lowest point in my career; stranded in Halifax with no money, no place to stay and a spurious assault allegation leveled against me. Of course it all worked out but now I know EXACTLY why Rachel shuddered and my aunt warned me when I told them my band was called Bag Of Snakes. When you actually meet a true snake it is a totally disgusting experience.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Simple machines. The concept fascinates me. The idea that there are simple physical mechanisms that can use leverage to multiply force is intriguing to me. The actual physics of "mechanical advantage" are more complicated than I care to explain (or could do justice to truthfully), but the product of levers and pulleys multiplying the magnitude of a force by any factor is very revealing of man's ingenuity in transforming his world. The idea that several simple machines in conjunction create a compound machine (think bicycle with its wheels and levers and pulleys) inspired my musical design for the new Rebel Wheel album, "Simple Machines" (that and i just love the sound of the term).

The idea here was to create a series of motives that would operate like simple machines, from which we would build longer form compositions (as opposed to say writing a series of pieces called "Screw" "pulley" "lever" or "wedge" say, all of which tend to evoke sexual connotations for me). Coming up with motives was easy, simply because of the visual aspect of a guitar neck and of how notes look on paper. If you visualize a root, a b5 and a m7th (say C, F# and Bb) as a shape on guitar it kind of looks like a wedge. If you think of a series of tri-tones stacked up (C, F#, C, F#) it looks like an inclined plane both on a guitar neck and on paper. If you take a pattern like C to C8va, to A (down a m3) to Bb (down a ma7) to F (up m6) to F# (up semitone) to C# (down a 4th) to D (up a semitone) and put it in motion, it looks like a screw. You get the idea: the actual note patterns are visual more than aural.

These then became the building blocks for the music (which is still being written) and as is always the case, these motives serve more like spring-boards for further machinations rather than hard and fast musical statements. In other words the simple machine cells can be altered traditionally (with techniques like retrograde, inversion, retrograde inversion, expansion, contraction, transposition etc. etc.) or freely.

This is always the fun part for me: taking small cells and fucking about with them. I myself am a simple machine.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

What a Bag of Snakes (or how The Rebel Wheel was re-born)

It has been a long time since our last blog in this series of Rebel Wheel Broadcasts. Usually when someone starts out with "it's has been a long time" they add, "and a lot has happened". Of course it has. The one thing anyone can count on is stuff happening. The longer the time, the more "a lot" enters into the sentence.

In my case, divorce, a series of deaths in the family, several heart-breaks and a lengthy detour down a folk-rock rabbit hole that started so well and ended so terribly is the bulk of what happened to me. Through it all though The Rebel Wheel kept on ticking, albeit in a kind of off-the-radar way as far as the prog-rock community was concerned.

I was also able to finish my 4th Symphony, my 5th string quartet, a whole series of electro-acoustic compositions, a batch of TV work and some hard rocking proggy stuff. Right now I am finishing my master's and am writing a large scale percussion piece using several techniques derived from my study of Bartok's technique of poly modal-chromaticism.

Since Whore's Breakfast (the band's first all-digital release) I have relied heavily on the splendid "bandcamp" site to distribute my music.It has worked a charm. I released four more albums for the Rebel Wheel in succession, all of which were either albums that had been released under other titles (Filth Therapy, Bag Of Snakes) or compilation albums of released tracks (5 Epics) or unreleased ones (3rd Wheel). These all basically helped me keep my hand in the game (foot in the door, head in the clouds).

Last year I wanted to do some hard rock after a disastrous tour to the East Coast with a certifiable sociopathic, megalomaniacal, loud-mouth, red-neck boor. A year of doing gigs with this person pretty much soured any taste I had for doing any work with posers. I should have known better. No matter. The good part was I immediately jumped into a hard-rock odd-metered aesthetic and after writing and recording for a few weeks came up with a new project called Bag Of Snakes. I released it on bandcamp and Cd Baby and it did well right out of the gates. It was only when a reviewer said that it sounded like Stone Temple Pilots meets Rush, did I realize I had basically written the perfect successor to Whore's Breakfast (the two compilation albums and Filth Therapy notwithstanding).

While touring the album with Alex Wickham and Andrew Burns it occurred to me that I also had a new Rebel Wheel unit on my hands so I very gleefully re-formed the band with them and swallowed The Bag of Snakes into the Rebel Wheel canon. Six months later we are writing, recording and rehearsing new material for the 2019 release of "Simple machines" which will be the 9th Rebel Wheel album and the 8th iteration of the band. Here is the Bag of Snakes unit before we decided we were really The Rebel Wheel

Monday, June 7, 2010

Album release date

It has been a long-time coming, lot's of hard work, some tough decisions and a lot of talk, but finally the CD is officially released to day. It can be purchased here .

I'd like to use this post to thank everybody on the project. First the band; Ange MacIvor, Claude Prince and Aaron Clark for doing such a stellar job. Then the guests; Rick Barkhouse and Guy Leblanc, for considerably raising the bar on our keyboard status. Of course a special thanks has to go out to Guy Dagenais who played on only one track of the CD, but has since joined the band full-time and has had to learn over 90 minutes worth of pretty complicated music. He has done so with aplomb and has also raised the bar for the band.

I'd also like to thank: Matthew Thomas of Shattered Wing for his wonderful engineering prowess, Francis Depuis for his amazing art, Roger Woods for his kind permission to use his iconic clocks, Socar Myles for her Discoverie art, and of course Nick Brisebois for the inspiration for the whole album in the first place.

I'll be sending each of you your very own CD's very soon (or of course you can go to any number of sites and simply download it illegally as so many people have already done). No matter; that's a rant for another post!

Ok, thanks all.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Who does what and we aren't Yanks thank you very much.

As I have mentioned numerous times in the past I love Robertson Davies' writing. In his novel "A Mixture of Frailties" some of the characters have a magazine called "The Lantern". In it they take critics to task for their inaccuracies and ignorant assumptions. Named after Diogones and his quest for an honest man, the magazine ostensibly gives a forum for the artist to correct his critic's unbased assumptions, but in reality is nothing more than a chance to rebutt the opinion's formed and published by them (which in itself is a pretty cool idea).

I remember talking to Guy Leblanc from Nathan Mahl about similar ideas where he would review the reviewers. As vindicating as it might appear I think it ultimately would do nothing more than reveal the artist as petty, thin-skinned and childishly nurturing his sour-graped grudges.

Nonetheless I also think having a blog allows me to address certain issues I have with some reviews we have been getting, so at the risk of looking petty I'm going to set certain trifling yet niggling details straight.

To begin with; WE ARE NOT YANKS!!!! I realize that to some Europeans, making a distinction between Americans and Canadians is a silly and unreasonable one, after all we essentially share a continent, a language (I'm honour/honor bound to say that) and much the same media, but as ridiculous as it might seem, we actually consider ourselves pretty different.

To our German friends who consider my son's "Evil Clock" story as a typically "Yank" (said with a disparging sigh no less) endevour, let it be said that he was only 10 when he wrote it and the Walmart in question (it's a strange tale, but in my son's story the Evil Clock in question gets bested and ends up working at Walmart) is a few kilometers from us and has been a growing (and highly unwelcomed) presence in most Ontario small towns. Working for Walmart then would be a just punishment for the fallen Evil Clock. Weird eh? Maybe there is a language barrier at work, but missing out on THAT nuance is actually missing the point of my kid's brain-power and sense of irony. Calling us typical Yanks as a result would be about as insulting as if we called our erstwhile German critic Norweigan (or Swedish, Dutch, South African whatever, they're all kinda the same aren't they? non-english ie).

To our French critic who thinks that by naming some high-profile (can that term even be used in reference to progressive rock?) prog bands as influences we necessarily think we sound like them; grow up! I grew up listening to Zappa and Gentle Giant and they were huge inspirations to me (among others like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Igor Stravinsky and John Coltrane) but that doesn't mean I write about yellow snow in 4 part counterpoint, play a recorder and love dirty-worded Doo-wop any more than some author who loves Ernest Hemmingway is going to pepper his novel with a thousand "fines" and write about characters who've had their balls blown off.

I guess being stupid enough to play in the "prog-rock" idiom invites these kind of

Ok. That's the vitriolic part of today's post. The other stuff is simply some clarification on who does what. Some reviewers are having an understandably hard time figuring out who is still in the band (we do change line-ups a lot and at any given time have tracks from members who are on their way out sitting cheek to jowl with those who have just joined) and just what each person does. The latter can be attributed to the very small info page included on the CD. It uses a arty little font that, along with its miniscule size, doesn't make sussing this stuff out any easier. The fact we all play keyboards at any given time and the fact that often I'll play bass as well as guitar doesn't help either. So..here's the inside scoop:

Evil Clocks P1
Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass on the verses
Guy Dagenais: 5-string bass and fretless bass solos on the chorus,
David Campbell: opening industrial synth ambiences, programmed drum loop, electric guitars (dbl'd left and right), synth solo, acoustic guitar, vocals,
Ange MacIvor: alto sax, vocals.
Composed by David Campbell and arranged by the band.

Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: vocals, electric guitar, keyboard drones (bass swells at beginning and after solo) and mellotron pads in chorus,
Ange MacIvor: distorted organ, string synth pads in chorus, soprano sax solo
Music by David Campbell, words by Geordie Robertson. Arranged by the band.

Aaron Clark: drums
David Campbell: electric guitars, mellotron pads at intro, bass, acoustic guitars, synth solo, organ and electric piano.
Ange MacIvor: vocals, soprano sax solo
Composed by David Campbell, Ange MacIvor, Aaron Clark. Words by Ange MacIvor.

Scales of the Ebony Fish
Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: vocals, keyboard ambiences, acoustic guitar, electric guitar,
Guy Leblanc: synth solo
Composed and arranged by David Campbell.

Settling of Bones
David Campbell: electric guitar, synths , bass, vocals, drum loops, pads
Ange MacIvor: lead vocals
Music by David Campbell. Words by David Campbell and Ange MacIvor.

Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: electric guitar, synth solo before sax solo section, vocals
Ange MacIvor: keyboards, alto sax, vocals
Composed by David Campbell. Arranged by the band.

Hags 1
Aaron Clark: percussion
David Campbell: classical, steel string and 12 string acoustic guitars, ambiences, mellotron (strings, vocals and flutes), vocals
Ange MacIvor: vocals
Composed and arranged by David Campbell.

Mad Night
Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: electric guitar, synth line after guitar (leading into B section), B-section synth swells, electric guitar solos, synth solo, vectory loop, whispers, autoharp
Ange MacIvor: main synth bass riff, B-section synth pads, alto solo
Composed by David Campbell. Arranged by the band.

Hags 2
David Campbell: classical, steel string and electric guitars, ambiences, mellotron (strings, vocals and flutes), vocals
Ange MacIvor: vocals
Composed and arranged by David Campbell.

Invitation To The Dance
Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: electric guitar, mellotron at intro and exit, electric piano
Ange MacIvor: soprano sax
Rick Barkhouse: electric piano solo
Composed by David Campbell. Arranged by the band.

Hags 3
David Campbell: acoustic guitar, mandolin, electric guitar, ambiences, mellotron (strings, vocals and flutes), vocals
Ange MacIvor: vocals
Composed and arranged by David Campbell.

Invitation To The Dance
Aaron Clark: drums
Claude Prince: bass
David Campbell: electric guitar, loops and ambience, screams and hollers
Ange MacIvor: synth lead
Composed by David Campbell. Arranged by the band.

Evil Clocks 2
David Campbell: synths and ambiences