Friday, December 31, 2010

Speaking of the King

I had the privilege of seeing the "King's Speech" this afternoon. The movie is directed by Tom Hooper and stars Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush. It was incredible. It was a simple idea and story delivered perfectly. The direction was superb, and the visuals were stunning. I found myself in tears in moments from the sheer power and sincerity of the movie. The performances were incredible. Please, if you love Cinema see this movie.

But why i wanted to bring it up in this forum is that the power of voice, whether singing or speaking has defined many aspects of human history. There was a line in the movie that shows this- 'The Prime Minister and Cabinet govern and make the decisions, however, the King is the voice of the people, when he speaks, he speaks as the people for the people'. It is in his words that people can find hope and strength. It has been the same for the last century. Hitler captivated his audience with the power in his voice and conviction, those alive probably know where they were when Martin Luther King delivered his 'i have a dream speech', when Neil Armstrong said 'One small step for man'. These pieces of audio stay with us and remind us and connect us with so much. Music is the same. Music like a King's speech in how it connects with the people. But unlike a King's speech the great thing about music is it's made by the people and spread to the people through each other.

Bob Dylan and the Beatles music helped define the 60s. Even the when the crazy gay men in the club i play in go CRAZY for Lady Gaga, she is lifting their spirits and taking them to a place of happiness. And hopefully when i play i am doing the same. All musicians have an obligation to their craft to be great and persevere and to speak clearly with a message. It doesn't matter what that message is- it can be fuck you or fuck that, but be clear of who you're fucking or what you're fucking.

Sounds shape us, voices speak to us. I still remember OutKast's 'Hey Ya' from when i finished High School and it always takes me in my mind back to that happy place of completing something huge and accomplishment and peace. There are many other songs, speeches, and sounds that connect me to the world and people around me.

Another thing that the King's Speech reminded me is that you have to have confidence in yourself to deliver what you want to say and what you've got to say, and that if you can't do it alone, seek out the help of those wonderful spirits that can help give you your voice. I was never one for training or advice, i thought i knew it all- but i know shit all, and there are many people out there who you can learn from. Lionel doesn't tell the KING WHAT TO SAY (someone else kind of does i guess.. but you get my drift, the King is theoretically saying his own speech) but tries to give the King HIS OWN voice to say his words.

Don't take advice from people who tell you what to do or how to do something, but always be open to advice to those who try to bring out the YOU in YOU!

That's what i learned today.

Go see the movie!!

Recording update!

There hasn't been a blog for a while with Xmas festivities.

What a great Canadian Christmas i had. They really know how to do xmas over here- so joyous and giving. Joyous- that is a word that you don't hear too much these days, but should be felt and used way more!

We've been back in the studio this week, and now have roughly five songs mapped out in their most basic form. Still a long way to go and many finishing touches and vocals and orchestrations to put on, but now we have 5 of the 10 songs down it is now seeming not an impossible task to finish! Just recorded 'Mine'. Absolutely adore this song and would play it over and over and over again if i could. Just love it. Guess Who's right again became a little more structured and now feels like a really catchy pop song. Looking forward to what a 'gang vocal' will sound like in the choruses.

Hope everyone had a great Christmas. I am off to a gig tonight starting at 11pm. News Years Eve!

Happy New Years Everyone!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

In Search of Truth

As i sit here at 9pm on a Sunday evening, about to consume a Banana prior to a long night gigging (yes i said prior.. my gig starts at 10pm!) i wanted to reflect on some discussions i have had with my producer lately.

Dave Thompson is a very insightful man, and very much has become a mentor to me. I am blessed i have a few mentors in my life that i trust and listen to- not always agree with, however always process their opinions, taking the time to consider them thoughtfully. We have been talking very much about discovering truth in music, quite specifically 'your' truth in music. And for me this is a process of discovery every time i sit down to write, and especially in the studio. I think back to all the covers gigs i have done and although i impart a sense of me in to those gigs (the show man) i am merely portraying like an actor my interpretation of someone's writing. The real question lies in, how do i portray my own writing. This is something i am still coming to terms with. It is also important to consider how you portray your own writing in a commercial medium that requires a deal of specificity and stylistic confinement. There is a beat- it must be kept not changed, you would think this is indeed the essence as Dave would say to all music, Rhythm, but in covers gigs one can vary this from phrase to phrase, chorus to chorus, verse to verse depending on what you are trying to achieve- usually some form of drunken engagement to lonely souls, or souls out to have fun with their friends with what you are doing not foremost in their minds. But pop/rock music has a specific rhythm- it must be felt in the bones and kept. The melody has to sit on top of this rhythm, to serve the rhythm, in fact i think it is a mutual kind of respect for each other.. they serve each other and no one else. When the melody and rhythm serve each other that is where the feeling, the idea, the message, the magic comes from. If you have killer lyrics as well then maybe you might just change the world, or change people's hearts with that philosophy. Will Smith's daughter's ridiculous new song 'i throw my hair all around' is a prime example of a catchy catchy melody on a stringent powerful groove... for me it still gets me and is swimming around in my head.. unfortunately i think it's for the worse as the lyrical content doesn't connect. But this great book i am reading about Bob Dylan raises a great point on this subject. Dylan was asked about his change from folk to rock music (although he doesn't define either, or doesn't feel he belongs or ever has belonged to either). He said that rock music is different than folk music in the sense that rock music let's you escape for 2-3 minutes on a groove into another place, with catchy rhythm, you are not faced with any world changing message, you are just implanted with enjoyment. I guess Lil' Smith's song is what this is. Pure escapism. Maybe Lady Gaga as well- but its still great music, don't get me wrong, it's just not necessarily the sort of music i want to create. Traditional Folk music however is a thinking constant engagement. You can't just chill out like you can to Bob Seeger's Old Time Rock n Roll, or Chuck Berry's Johnny Be Goode.

So this is what i am learning. I don't want to be Lil' Smith and create catchy rhythmic melody trash to sell records. But i need to take some tips from this music, and harness the energy of rhythm and melody together to create strong phrasing in my writing and especially my delivery to connect with the heart and soul of each song i write. And this is where i believe that truth is found. Its not a huge high kick or spirit fingers done in a lounge to backgroundingly entertain drunk people.

Dave explained that modern pop/rock music by songwriters is effective when the performance is more introverted. It's not just about show. Its about giving one's soul simply through the song. Think of Radiohead, Oasis, and any great singer songwriter. There are show elements between songs, in some solos, but when they step up to the mic (even Bono and Freddie Mercury who are very much show men) they fucking give it right down that cord and into your heart. You are drawn in to their truth and the world of their song.

For an extrovert, hooked on over playing in lounges, this perhaps is going to be the greatest challenge, yet most rewarding in my artistic career.

Always search for truth. Inwardly then give it Outwardly from that place.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Idea Bank

Every artist has their book don't they? I am not sure in what forms their books come. They probably come in all sorts of different types and shapes and sizes and binds. I think some these days keep it purely electronic. I can never write romantically or ideally on a computer. Blogs and anecdotes for sure, but pieces from the heart like songs or poetry need a hand written authenticity for me to deliver the right message. Plus i think my hand writing is so bad that it is not a bad way of keeping my ideas mine as well- no one else can read them.

My mum gave me a book while i was in Hong Kong when i first departed Australia on this long journey. The first entry was a list of all these great bands and albums on the Air New Zealand in flight library- it was hugely comprehensive. I look back at the list now and some of those bands that were really indie at the time have risen to be huge. But the book has served me through many acting workshops, dialect training workshops, gym workouts, records of note and anything personal to me. The back of the book is where all my song ideas are.

This is my book, just so you know where the songs are written down in their roughest, un-neatest, rough, honest form.



Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mine

Mine is a place where we can go together
To keep warm and escape the stormy weather
A place to hold you close for all of time,
A place where Rhythm backs the Rhyme

Hold on my love,
Your head on my chest close enough,
I'll stand by you when seas get rough,
Can't you feel that you'll be fine,
Just cling to mine...

Mine is a place where our thoughts can meander
Far from fear to places where light dances
Amid our hopes and dreams of yesterday,
Guiding us together on our way

Hold on my love,
Your head on my chest close enough,
I'll stand by you when seas get rough,
Can't you feel that you'll be fine,
Just cling to mine...



Alex Hopkins (6pm, 11th December, 2010)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Laying Down Good Vibrations

Well, i just joined Twitter. My social networking guru (who shall remain nameless for his privacy, people would swamp him with requests for representation!) tells me that tweeting is the new fad. I have noticed that some of my old friends are on it, and now i can follow them too!! LOVING IT already. Just have to set the Do Not Disturb hours for the night (or early morning and mid morning as my sleeping patterns dictate) otherwise i will be getting bombarded with people's tweet's in two different timezones! Hopefully this can be a new brief way of updating people simple ideas... and when i update the more emphatic, long winded blogs i put out there, i can tweet that they are ready to read. I am going to try and make the blog more enjoyable... less texty and more sexy. I will try and post some photos and video and music, and that kind of stuff to make it interesting for everyone to follow. Perhaps when i get to designing the Album artwork people can even suggest the kind of things they like. I am hoping to employ my great friend Laurie Assender back home in Oz to design the cover and inserts for me- she is so great at that kind of stuff, would be very interested to see what she can do.

We are now into week 4. Recording for a month. We do only get in there 3 days a week, the other 4 days are let the stuff sink in. It's a really involving process, i can't of ever imagined how involving it is. I am staring down the barrel at the start of Song #3 thinking god, we have another 7 to do after this. Let alone record final vocals and mixes and write further parts for the first two songs. Building an album and an original artist from scratch is an intense project, but one that will change my life forever i am sure. It's like everything in life where its about taking everything one step at a time and deal with the small pictures first then the big pictures will come later- in fact the small pictures are almost like little pixel squares that eventually make up the large multi mega pixelled final sensational breathtaking image.

I have heard so many break up stories from back home that i have not been there for. I haven't been able to support my friends over coffees and big breakfasts. This is still one of my fav things in life- being positive and when my friends are down trying to give them as many perspectives as possible to look at a situation so they can be happy and start moving on and having fun. I am not a preacher and i didn't write the gospel of go get em', but i am positive and its good giving that positivity to people. In the end, it's only women, or only men- it's not everything- there are still amazing Latte's out there to be had. So this next song i decided is perhaps melody wise the strongest i have ever written.. it really does sore over a big vocal range. I want it to drive and inspire and make you feel the wind in your hair as you drive along the coast down for your surfing trip or across the Harbor Bridge as your heart bleeds and mends.

The chorus goes something like this..

'Hey I'm On Your Side...
Let your Spirit Dance..
Feel the Wind at your back..
There's more to life than just romance'

Because there is more to life than just romance, its a huge part of it for all of us. It's in nearly every song, its on nearly every billboard, it is in every movie- even in Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger (i google-d the spelling!) has a love interest with that woman (the only woman, so i refer to as 'that woman'). I'm not sure if anything actually happened between those two in the plot, but the movie seemed to suggest some kind of romantic/sexual tension. But seriously, romance is fed to us like baby mash and breast milk from the time we can't even get an erection. The media latches onto it, hell i spent the first 3 years of song writing, writing ONLY love songs, with words such as heart and soul and heart and soul and in your eyes etc. etc. etc- and probably will still write these kind of songs forever more. WHY! Because romance is driven into us, we look for it everywhere, and we often tell ourselves we need it when we don't. And it when it leaves us, it leaves us hurting like hell. Then we go 'oh, i'm never going to find another person like that again', 'it's so hard being single', 'how could she cheat on me, i am an ugly worthless piece of shit'- the truth is, you won't find another person like that again, but you might find someone better for you or different in a great way. It's not that hard being single, go to Amazon.com and buy a book on a topic you like and throw yourself into it- you'll save money on booze and learn something about something you like or are interested in and then you'll bring it up in conversation one day with a beautiful person that shares your knowledge that you then connect with, and that simple thing of getting out of the doldrums and not becoming an alcoholic or a druggo to supress your problems, is the very thing that leads you onto the next stage of happiness and fulfillment (and WAY BETTER SEX!). And you know what, the cycle might happen all over again, but at least then you can go buy a book on a new topic! This song really is about that. Buying a book, then buying another one on a new topic. There seriously is more to life than just romance.

Hope everyone is having a great time. It's now snowing in Toronto, i will take some pics and post them to show all your Aussies back home how lucky you are right now.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thought i would post a headshot!

This is a cool head shot that i recently got done in Toronto. Thought i would upload it!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Few Pics of the Studio!

Here are some pics of Digital Underdog.. not too revealing.. i am sure there will be more to come and some video in due course!!!


Educated Woman guide vocal done. Still a bit of arrangement to be done and parts to be considered. But a great day. I learned alot!

I am learning about Rhythm. Funny that!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Song for You by Leon Russell (performed by Ray Charles is my fav)

CHECK OUT THIS SONG!

I can't believe i have never heard it before. Ray Charles i think does the definitive version. Seriously close your eyes, block your world out, and listen to the passion, amazing lyrical content, and heartfelt soul. I cannot stop playing it. I just can't stop playing it. I just want to sing like that.

Red Tape got Redder... and it started pretty red

Hey everyone (implying a substantial number of people reading this),

I am hoping his blog will become some light office reading for those sitting at desks crunching out numbers and working out risk and dividends franked or not franked (i.e. probably my brother!).

This week has been one of the most challenging of my international career- i guess i can call it that. Anyone knows what it's like crossing a border or getting on an airplane these days. Those who have traveled for extended stays to work or study know the visa process is even harder. And once your at your destination you are at the mercy of every little administrative difference. It sucks. It's not that you can't do something, it's that you can't do it because of some superficial legality or provision in an agreement that was put there generally (and generally does make sense), but of course scenarios arise when there are a specific set of circumstances (haha, usually to do with you!) that should make you an exception or you feel wasn't considered in writing the rules. Then there are the lackeys/minnows in lower ranks that you have to deal with who to the 'non pain in the ass' can ruin their chances at everything. If you just take a minnows word as gospel you are fucked before you start. One thing i have learned here is NEVER EVER GO TO THE BOTTOM EVEN THOUGH IT MIGHT BE EASIER! Go as high and tall and high and tall as you can- even if it's the fucking C.E.O- make sure you talk to person as close to where the buck stops as possible. Anyone back in Australia just think of having to deal with the R.T.A (Roads and Traffic Authority- DMV equivalent) on a daily basis and that is what i am getting at. Nightmare. Just let me DANCE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I JUST WANT TO DANCE!!!!!!!!

NOW! In album news. Been listening alot to our first track and it is getting in my veins- love it, but the more you listen the more ideas you come up with about the mix, instruments, backing parts. It's really great. We are now onto guide vocals for song number 2- TODAY actually, i am writing this blog in the 'am' over a triple espresso i made myself in my new Bialetti espresso percolator. I have the new Elton John and Leon Russell album on in the background called the 'union'. Remind of Songs from the West Coast- which is one of my ALL TIME favorite Elton Albums. Now to my album: The second song is 'Educated Woman', and Dave was writing a guitar rhythm part and a great string line came to me from what he was doing, and we put it down and it sounds epic! It's actually really great fun building a song, writing parts, finding the groove- really finding the soul of the song. I think the song is universal. I was having coffee in the freezing cold at Starbucks after our session and was saying the lyrics to Dave and some old guy goes

'did you just come up with all that on the spot' and i said, nah its a song, have you ever met a woman like that.. and the old dude goes.. 'every woman i've ever met is like that'.. so i think we are onto a universal theme which is what i like!!!!! Not sure if it can be universal if it can only be applied to men's experience. Let's just say its a Universally Male Experience.

Thanks for reading. And may you all see the red tape early, and find the cheapest way to avoid it. I think it's more expensive because its Red. If it was just black or grey tape then it would be so cheap and easy to get around it.

Lots of Love

Alex

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Guide Tracks, Great Advances and Red Tape

What a week. Learn to channel excitement, because if you get too excited life has a funny way of throwing it back in your face.

In any career in the arts you have weeks like mine. You finalize a guide for your first produced original song ever and you are proud of it. You feel you like you are made for this. You have had self belief for two years living away from home and get a great agent and start looking to a big hardworking creative future. You are in negotiations for a crazy 'big brother' type Xmas gig living in a makeshift house outside the biggest sport arena in Toronto, you are about to change agents and then your last agent all of a sudden has 3 auditions for you in one week, and you call to tell him, sorry i need to move on because its best for my career. All good. THEN, you find out that there is certain amount of ridiculous red tape that may prevent you from chasing your dreams which you think with a week like this, they are starting to be realized. WAKE UP CALL. Nothing is certain in life, and luck and love and even life itself can be taken away from you as quickly as you are given it. Unbelievable. Let's hope there is some common sense in this world that will prevail.

The first guide track i am not completely satisfied with- the me part. The production is top notch and i have to say, Dave (my producer) really is a genius when it comes to compiling and channeling great ideas into a great usable product. What he has done with my first song is nothing short of amazing and its only a guide. My vocals still need some establishing. In that i mean, i can sing, but i feel i am still 'putting on' certain phrasing, long habits from playing in lounges, and crooning to guests around the piano. There is nothing wrong with this in its own environment, and its a skill in itself, but when you hear it on a powerful recording, its just not honest and doesn't give that message and melody the punch and feeling it needs. This is the process for me in becoming an original artist, not a cover artist. But i am learning to let go in the studio alot more, and just give over to the process. Simplify and build. Simplify and build. Simplify and build, build, build, build. I think i am making huge progress artistically, and i am sure the results are going to show long term, not only in my song writing and vocals, but in the finished spirit of the album. Bring it on. Its a consuming and emotional experience, but fucking fabulous.

Hope everyone in America has a great Thanksgiving. Although i don't celebrate it, i have alot to be thankful for, even if Red Tape is hurting my positive spirit today. Tomorrow's a new day, and who knows, maybe some good news.

The next song we are recording is a song i wrote called 'Educated Woman'- its about those woman among us who appear sweet and kind, 'the girl next door', the real heartbreakers- blonde tight bodied girls with big tits and tight butts and slutty clothes make men excited, but they don't break the heart like a brunette with blue eyes and soft skin and sweet voice, and artistic charm- they take your heart and run away with it, and they sit with you at coffee and go 'boys don't like me, what do you mean i'm beautiful'... BULLSHIT. You know it and you make it work for you every subtle way you know how. Daddy's girls break little boys hearts.

Lots of Love

Alex

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Into Week 2, and Into my mid 20s

What a week! Huge week in my life really. I used to hate birthdays, thinking they were overrated, walking along with the mantra 'live everyday as if it's your birthday'. But i have been schooled once again by the world into the simple truth that Birthdays when you have great friends are great. People from all over the world were great to me. I am very lucky to have met so many people from so many different places, industries and cultures. It's nice to know that it doesn't matter about differences, and that it is possible to get along and be great friends with people from all over the place. There is a universality to being open and friendly that creates alot of love.

We have got alot down for a song i wrote last week that we are calling 'in my hands'- about controlling and accepting destiny and having the freedom to do so. Will put down a guide vocal this week so i can let the song sink in. Recording was tiring but a really involving experience. I learned alot about myself in just a couple of days. I heard some great news out of Vancouver yesterday. I spoke with my great friend Colin Bullock (www.colinbullock.com- check him out) who is a great singer songwriter from Byron Bay Australia who has just finished his latest album which will arrive in his hands in proper CD cases next week. Can't wait to hear his progress and his new songs. He let me know that another musician friend Andrew Allen (out of Vernon BC) has just signed with Epic Records. This guy has worked so hard and toured and toured and toured and poured everything he has ever earned into being better and better and getting more attention. I am so glad that he is not only in the Canadian Charts (top 20) but that Epic are throwing a heap of cash behind him to get his career going in the states. He is recording an album for them now and then goes on tour with JOSHUA RADIN across the states. So very very very cool- can't wait to see how big he becomes.

Went out to a Drag Bar called Zippers in Toronto and auditioned for a piano bar gig (same cover type gig i have been doing for years) and got the job. So i have a regular Friday and Sunday gig now. Hopefully can throw some of my new writing in and start building a fan base in Toronto. For those of you who know me they know i am an actor as well, and got some big news signing with a big new Agent in Toronto that will hopefully open some huge doors for me in the North American industry. All my hard work on American Dialect over the last year paid off (although i still need ALOT more work always) and the meeting went great. So it was a great week. Isn't funny that when you let yourself go and take chances, like recording an album, investing money, writing an email to 1000 immigration employees to find that girl at the xmas party (i have been reading the Sydney Morning Herald), that energy seems to follow you and drive you further and further. I definitely have opened my arms to Toronto (even though they are starting to get frostbite on them) and it is starting to breathe me in. That is not a bad lyric eh "Breathe me In"- its mine, i said it!!!! Unless you write it better than me...

Felt inspired and wrote almost a complete song (minus a short bridge, but have some ideas for it) last night. Love it, just not sure what theme i want the lyrics on. I could go two ways.. romance or anti-romance, i want to write a song for the broken hearted to pick them up, not to dwell too much on romance and that there are lots of other things out there. I have had a few friends with broken hearts in the last few years.. so i might write it for them.

Much Love

Alex

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Day 2

Recording is emotionally and physically tiring. I am discovering this. That is all i have to say. And also that peak hour traffic and rain adds almost double the journey time to anywhere. But you probably already knew that.

Monday, November 15, 2010

First Day of Recording 15th November 2010

Ok. I had some complaints- man you write so much, you write like you have A.D.D, write less. So i will endeavor to write a bit less. But i write how i write, so if you need to take a coffee break then Starbucks (or preferably your local indie coffee house) will be happy to accommodate.

Met with Dave out at Digital Underdog HQ at 2pm this afternoon for our first 'proper' session. I had written a song over the weekend that i was keen to show him- good news is that he loved it and we spent the afternoon honing in on it to find the right groove, right tempo and right soul to the song- as well as a Chorus. We were certainly both on the same page. The guy is a freakin' genius. I give him a solid piano riff of the basic chords and he goes into the zone and sits the song in his head coming up with idea after idea about instrumentation and feel and instrumentation and feel and instrumentation and feel and instrumentation and feel. Dave breathes a great creative energy and focus (something that i need more of). We laid down a basic tempo, i laid down the verse chords, pre chorus chords and the chorus chords. We spent the rest of the session trying to nail the feel of the verse. We played around with classic 'cock' rock (Dave's example was Oasis and Creed like) beats, and then some more driving soulful grooves. Then the genius goes to work with his multi-instrumental talents, and brainstorms bass lines and guitar leads and drum additions. What we came up with is a real song about exploring the freedom of creativity and the power to follow your own journey- an anthem for the people-this is what i want the song to be. There is so many places it can go.

The most interesting part of the day was laying down some basic vocals. I am so glad we did this- i have SO MUCH TO LEARN. Dave will not let me get away with staccato 'speak singing' (as i call it) that alot of crooning in lounges has created in me. Let the voice hang behind the groove slightly and feel the song, feel the soul of the idea, let it come out honestly, smoothly and directly to the audience. Playing back some of my takes, it is clear that i have developed some habits (i hesitate to use the word bad, because they were habits i developed as a cover lounge act) that just don't really cut it truthfully. It walked in after a bathroom break and said to dave 'I don't believe what i am saying' after hearing him replaying my take over and over. So this is going to be a work in progress learning to do lead vocals in a commercial style.

I love the process we have undertaken. We will record all the final vocals at the end of the album process. So we will develop the songs, then let them sit and breathe within me and let the grow, and the let the honesty of the stories in the song and the messages grow over a few months, then come to lay out the 'gold' at the end. I think this is a great idea, and a process that will benefit the final product greatly.

That is all i am going to write today, and i won't write everyday, but today was a great learning day, and on learning days that is when i want to write to constantly be growing.

'only time knows where i'm going to lie.. and so it goes, i'm writing my own life'

Alex.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

New Ideas

With the direction we are taking with the album for a more commercial less lounge sound i am liking the idea of real profound anthem type songs- the songs that you want to listen to when you are down, or you would see on the montage of gray's anatomy. I know they are the sequences that get me, and probably get you to, putting beautiful powerful music to powerful images- that's kind of how i have always written. Come up with a few ideas over the last day and some nice simple honest progressions. I have found a nice riff to support the idea of making big decisions in your life such as creating the album.. the words are something like this scribbled down on my pad..

'Please, give me a sign, show me the light to guide my path.. I feel out of mind, cause i'm out of my skin, trying to begin. Only time knows where i'm going to lie. And so it goes, i'm writing my own life'

I like this theme of trying to find answers. I wrote some lyrics while still at school when dealing with religion and its effects and its truths and its practices. Mmmm. I wanted answers, i wanted to know why this was so, why my school would openly tell thirty 14 yearold kids that homosexuality is evil and that you will burn in hell if your practice it. I know now for a fact that two kids in that class are now openly gay, and i can only imagine what was going through their minds at that time. I liked the idea of a song that challenged religion, or this god or jesus we grew up being saturated with to come up with answers and prove himself in an honest, tangible form. I wrote these lyrics back then, and i think they still have soul to them now..

'Bread of Heaven, sing hallelujah's, now turn my water into wine.. there are answers to all your questions lying waiting to be found. Somewhere, Sometime, Some feeling waiting to unwind. What you don't know won't hurt you. What you don't know might set you free. What you don't know might save your soul for redemption at the end of the road. What you can't see can't tempt you, where you don't go might ease your mind, what you can't feel aint ridicule, its just a lesson, apparent in time'

I think these are just ideas and outlooks that lots of young people like me go through- and as you get older, Dave and i were discussing the other day, you become far more aware of your mortality. I have flown in planes for years now, hundreds of hours especially in the last few, and all of a sudden i have developed a fear of flying- i had to ask the air canada stewardess last trip to Disney to sit next to me talk me through what she described as only light turbulence. But i think that a huge part of growing up is learning about your mortality and coming to grips with it. Tony (an old friend!) used to always ease my mind by saying 'Alex, you aint going before i go, so don't even start worrying about till i do'.. that helps you for a while, but the more you learn the more you learn to question.. especially now Qantas engines are blowin' up??

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choosing the Studio and Producer

I'm sitting around Toronto- unemployed. There have been long patches of unemployment in the last 2 years of my life. But i like to call it active unemployment. I have spent my days taking vocal lessons for the first time in my life. Anyone (especially my girlfriend, from here on forever known as - Kait) who has been around me in the last couple of years knows i am obsessed to the point of boring everyone around me with the vocal mechanism. Going to a private school (or perhaps any school) as a kid (and those of you who have been there know this) that it is perceived as cool to succeed without trying. I like to call it the 'A-' syndrome. The letter being the result, the negative being the effort. Who wants to get an A plus when you get an A minus. Fuck that! Fuck that! Fuck that! God, i can't believe i spent my teenage years and my early twenties (i am now entering mid twenties) with that attitude. That attitude is for losers, and those who haven't grown up yet. I remember being banned from doing all musicals and plays at SHORE because of my 13 year old ego, once being described at 14 on an audition form as 'wasted clarinettist'- they should have locked the door to the music admin room. Not that any 13 or 14 yearold should be banished from participating in artistic endevour purely because of behavioral defects, but the teachers had a good point. I wrote a some lyrics to a song that other day on this topic...

'if i had listened long ago, i'd be much further down the road'

It is a good thing i have finally learned this. It's not just about you. Use your talent to do something bigger than you. You in the end will end up boring people (maybe not after one reality series or movie lead), but what you can create can inspire and engage people. Larry Moss said in New York about the new Jennifer Anniston moving flopping at the box office- she is just doing the same character shit over and over and over again, people are over it, they want something else, something more. But you need to develop your talent. Its not good enough to not try- you'll fail. So voice lessons changed my life, i love them, and i will continue to take them forever, whether i end up succeeding in the music and acting industries or not. Hopefully that hard work will come across on the new album.

So where was I, got to make sure i don't just get rambling all the time and stay to the topic of the blog. I never got tested for ADD, but i swear i have it.

Being unemployed in Toronto- new city (again), not where i saw my journey going, but hey, what the hell, its where i am, and its a great city. It's like Melbourne, in fact it pretty much is Melbourne, just a whole lot fucking colder. Indie coffee shops are taking off here all over town- if your looking for me, that's where you find me, in one of them. I don't drink really or do drugs (maybe my kids will go, daddy tried to become a 'soft-rock' star), but i love coffee. God i love it. So my unemployment finds me hanging out in coffee shops with other unemployed musicians and actors. So Kait told me to get off my dragging ass and start looking at doing an album project. I got a reference from her and my friend Jeff who are both musical theatre performers in town to a guy called Alan Poaps who recently recorded an album for a great fucking singer called Michael Hughes (a bit buble like with a slightly more musical theatre sound). Check his sound out http://www.mickehughes.com/. David Foster flew him out last year to Vancouver to do his huge arena show.

I met with Alan and discussed making a CD with him at Timothy's Coffee Shop (real specific) up at St Claire Station. I liked the guy immediately- he bought me a sandwich and a coffee- good first impression. We talked alot about Michael's CD and his recording process. Then we got to cost. It was going to cost about $2,000 a song, before mastering (the final mix process for those who are not aware, it's the final sound packaging if you like for a song that gives it that radio quality sound) and publicity. Alan stressed the importance of publicity. So it would cost $20,000 for a 10 track CD (including the development of the songs, arrangements and recordings). But as Alan pointed out, no point spending the cash if no one is going to hear it. I like Alan, and feel like he would be very truthful to where i am at at the moment with the lounge kind of style and my story songs. I however worried about the price. I am a business minded kind too, and marketing is too important. So by the time i got things mastered and publicized i honestly think i would be looking at $30,000- maybe one day i would make it back, but god that is a lot of money. That is 6 months back on Disney playing every night just to get close to break even.

I emailed musician friends i had met around the place and they felt that $2,000 a song was on the expensive side for a first crack at an album. I like Alan and i am not opposed to working with him in the future at all. He couldn't start recording me and working with me until Jan/Feb next year anyway as he is busy on current projects. He has given me some feedback on some songs i sent, so i appreciate him for that- he is the guy i would like to record a Jazz/ProgressiveMusical theatre type album with. The thing is- i wasn't sure what i wanted to record, what style and where i would have a competitive edge in the market out there. The thing is, i appreciate musicians and artists who want to starve for their art- i knew one at University who didn't want to sign a 4 record deal as he thought he was signing his life away, he has since not done anything in 5 years from what i can see- and the guy was/is amazing. There has to be a balance. If you are actor you have to do commercials to survive- even the big actors take a shitty blockbuster that stinks to make cash- look at DeNiro. People slag him off, but who gives a fuck- that shit movie still made $100 million a the box office and he pocked $15 mil in advance. I'd make a shit movie so i could give $5-10 million at least to charity or something. Why not? I don't want to a record a CD that no one will listen to. I don't want to be Britney Spears- but i want to create something that comes from me, that tells my story(s), that lots of people can tune into and engage with. I am not an artist who wants to make art just for myself- i am in this business because as fucked up as most people are- i still love them to bits and they fascinate me, so i want to be out there telling stories to, telling stories about those people. The more the merrier. Human experience is shared for the most part (unless you live with the animals and the wind somewhere), and i want to share in it, and share to it. So it is important to find a sound that will resonate with people out there and allow me to travel and share.

I stumble online across a production house called digitalunderdogproductions in Toronto. I start reading and listening to the stuff. I like the sound of the production, although it is far from the jazz lounge stuff i have been doing for the last few years, and i read about the producer. He is an aussie guy called Dave Thompson. Vagabond kind of, multi instrumentalist. I email him, the next day he has researched me up and we speak at 2am in the back alley in the freezing cold on the phone (so i didn't wake Kait up). We have a huge discussion about art, and acting and our journeys, and we really fucking clicked. He likes what i have to offer and thinks there is alot there that he feels he can get out of me. He wants to strip away that loungey 'disney' carisma (which certainly has its place in those gigs) and find the original artist in me. I like the sound of this guy. He is either the best fucking salesman i have ever encountered or a genuine fucking artistic producer. We say we want to meet for coffee.

I met him on Spadina and Queen West downtown, and funny enough we go to a Timothy's. I was looking for dark horse indie coffee, but went south instead of north on queen. We just talked about life and art again, and his vision for me. He tells me he thinks i have everything i need to really go to the next level (i am aware that every producer is going to say that.. i mean i am paying the guy), but i would rather have someone who says he believes in me than not. And i think he does. He is a commercial rock/pop producer. He wants the stuff we write and record to be on the radio and to be in arenas. He is not interested in me selling my CD's in jazz clubs and hotel lounges. I would be happier playing those places than working in a law firm for the rest of my life, but arenas sound better to me. Or at least the Enmore Theatre in Sydney or the Vogue in Vancouver- i would take that.

I enjoyed our first meeting, and like the idea of working with him. He goes to see 'Let Me In' (great film, go see it) then emails me the package cost. We will certainly not be using live musicians as much as the other option, but Dave played every instrument under the sun, so for commercial music, bass, guitars and drums go along way to the final product. I of course can play a bit or alot of piano (depending on how you view classical training as important) so we are alot of the way there in terms of instrumentation.

Kait is the best supported to have in your corner. Constructively critical, but always supportive at heart. I have spoken to Dave about my fears of recording with him. I went out before committing to the project and met him in his studio. Its in his house out near Sheppard and Yonge (about 50 mins from my place in the St Lawrence Market). He has made it very clear that he is not the jazz/musical theatre even Queen type producer- he believes his skill set lies in Brit Pop/Rock commercial music- coldplay, keane, kings of leon, u2 kind of sounds. When i first wrote music this is what i envisioned my sound to be. However the more jazz i have learned and sung and even being around the musical theatre world, the more i have swayed in that direction. Kait is concerned, and rightfully so that i may be heading in the wrong direction from what my true calling is- i have been a success in the lounges and maybe could go places in musical theatre (with alot more vocal work) and jazz. But Dave thinks my look and my true sensibilities may lie in being stripped back from that happy 'disney' type style, and give true honest renditions of my ideas in powerful ways. We did some work on a song i wrote last year called 'Beautiful Little Thing' as a tester of how the process would work. It sound amazing. Its amazing to see how two simple chords can become an anthem when the right minds come together. I always felt my loungey, piano ballads could become so much more if put in the right hands. This potential was certainly proven if that is the sound i want.

The truth is, i like Dave, i don't think he is a bullshitter. He is either the biggest bullshitter in the history of bullshitters, or one of the most genuine, honest, artistic guys i have ever met. I like his confidence, his professionalism, his reliability, his openness, and especially his blunt-ness (get to the point, i honestly believe life is too short not to get to the point, we fuck around so much to make people feel good, healthy criticism and discussion is necessary to create good things, i don't want to be working with a precious mother fucker who doesn't tell me if i do something shit or unbelievably- Dave tells me if he thinks i am delivering disingenuously he will call me on it, and i better have a good explanation for why i am doing it that way- i like that- when creating art, you need to be specific, or come from a specific place, it doesn't have to be technical it can be as simple as 'i love you', or 'i hate you', and if you really feel that do it and it might come across, or perhaps you need to go further and ask 'i love you because...', or perhaps even more complicated 'i love you because...but i hate you because'.. it all depends.. just be honest).

I am excited about getting started. Got a few things on this week so have postponed start date until 2pm Monday the 15th of November, 4 days before my 25th Birthday (god i am old). I like the idea of 'Alex started recording in his early 20's' better than 'Alex start recording in his mid-twenties'.

Of course i will continue my vocal lessons, hopefully still gig in lounges and bars, and hopefully i will continue getting TV and film auditions as well.

Who knows what is going to happen. But i will continue to update as we work on concepts, songs, and start putting things down.

Love to you all

Alex

The Process Begins

Welcome friends, music lovers, and those just wondering what i'm up to having been away from Australia for so long.

As the description above says, this is a blog/journal of the making of my first studio album that has been a long time coming. There have been so many adventures that i have experienced over the last 2 years living overseas that i regret not documenting. I have learned that any artist should write as much as possible, it doesn't matter what form it takes, or how public that writing becomes, but writing (or i guess any type of active documentation) is part of expressing what is going on in your world, your observations about what is going on in you and around you, and increasing that ever so important (but often lacking in society) quality of self awareness. You can only grow as an artist (and person) if you are self aware. But there is a huge difference between being self aware, and serving yourself- hopefully this blog and this album will not be to serve me and my ego, but to be truthful and create something greater, and more profound and lasting than aimless self promotion and ego chasing (which i undoubtedly have been guilty of at times, and still am, probably more than i'd like to be).

My journey over the last two years has taken me from the end of my Law Degree in Ottawa, Canada (on exchange), to Vancouver where i thought i was going to get into film and television again, however that was put on hold when i got a great contract working for Disney Cruise Line out of Orlando Florida. I've never worked harder as a musician. Those long Friday nights since i was 19 years old driving in peak hour traffic to Wenty Leagues Club and Castle Hill RSL in Sydney, Australia, seemed alot easier than playing 4 hours a night 6 nights a week (and then seven nights a week and more in Europe) for month and months on end. A great training ground, but as a singer not sustainable for the rest of my life. Lounges, pubs and clubs are great, they in many ways have made me the performer that i am today and have led me to so many great friendships and connections all over the world. I feel so privileged at my age to have played some of the places and for some of the people that i have. But this album is about taking a new creative step- not just playing and interpreting other people's music, but creating something from me entirely (with the help of a good producer). I can say at the outset i am not super confident, when you spend so long learning other people's songs and stories (albeit interpreted in my own way) its scary thinking of seeing how your stuff can measure up- your ideas, your melodies and i guess your artistic soul which is at the essence of it all. But a sayings i haven't heard over in Canada, but used to love in Australia is 'we're not here to fuck spiders', and 'have a concrete milkshake and harden the fuck up'. I am not here to fuck spiders and i have taken that concrete milkshake and am ready to just dive into it. That's the only way you move forward. I dived into the overseas adventure, dived into American Dialect training, voice lessons, dived into Disney not knowing what to expect, fell into a long term relationship for the first time at the time i perhaps shouldn't have, dived into the Larry Moss workshop in NYC- there is alot of diving going on, but although there is probably a better metaphor than diving in, that's what you got to do to keep growing as an artist and a person. I am fully expecting that no record company will like my sound, or my voice, or my ideas, or my writing- but you never know what could happen if they do or more importantly the people at large do. At worst, my kids one day can go, 'my daddy tried to be a rock star once' and i am sure they will have a good laugh at my Tim Bowrey inspired Skinny Jeans and Designer stubble.

Welcome to the next few months of my life. Welcome to my artistic process, i will try and be as honest as possible. I really hope friends i haven't seen for a while will enjoy reading this blog and coming on this journey with me from start to finish.

So much love to everyone and send me creative genius vibes

Alex