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Category Archives: Music

Happy 20th Anniversary to Me?

This month marks my 20th anniversary as a songwriter. There I was 20 years ago, 13 years old and sitting in Kathy Connon’s English class not paying attention as usual. Usually, my magical a.d.d. butterfly friends would transport me to a land filled with man-crushes covered in sequined Speedos and sparkly angel wings. But lo, this time, they took me to a far more enchanted and magical place – one where unicorns frolicked while shitting glitter and Pete Seeger songs played from a rinky-dink Fisher Price fake record player.

It was in this magical land that I penned my first song entitled “Daydream the World.” Looking back, it was one of the more earnest and creepy lyrics I’ve written.

Why earnest? Because at 13 I wasn’t faux-jaded yet. All I listened to was Erasure and The B-52’s. Happy gay music! Sure the jocks were cruel to me at that age but now that we’re friends on Facebook, it’s all water under the bridge. Or at least my therapist says so.

But why creepy? Lyrics included “Leave me now/I wanna be in a shell/Boxed up from/This real life of hell…” Boxed up? BOXED UP??

Sounds like I’m singing a folk song to a coffin. Egahds. But I digress…

As I thought about how to celebrate 20 years of folk-pop goodness, I was tempted to get myself a celebratory Cookie Puss Carvel cake. Then I realized FML I’m in Tokyo and the closest thing would be a Hello Kitty cake. Now THAT’S creepy.

Still, once I started thinking about cake and Cookie Puss, I had a flashback to a commercial like this one, forever etched into the Betamax in my mind…

As children of the 80s, with commercials like these, is it any wonder we’re all in therapy?

But yes, other than eating a cake that looks like an alien with a d*ck for a nose, how would you suggest I celebrate this 20 year milestone?

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Tokyo Hummers

Get yo head out of the gutter, boy. It’s not what you think.

As probably the only person in Tokyo without an iPod or some other music playing device, I often hum to clear my head and drown out the constant barrage of noise that this city has to offer. While short on NYC’s charming horn-riding antics and inter-personal warfare, Tokyo’s got everything from train door closing chimes to shop owners screaming out “Welcome!” if you get within 5 feet of their property, and my personal favorite – trucks screaming out announcements in a high-pitched women’s voice that go “The truck is turning left, be careful! The truck is turning left, be careful!”

Seriously?

So what, do you ask, am I humming? Today it was an eclectic mix of “Edge of a Broken Heart” (Vixen), “Baby” (Justin Bieber – shut it) and “Defying Gravity” (wicked). No… homo?

On an aside, I’ve noticed the absence (thankfully!) of folks that sing or rap along to whatever they’re listening to. That shit drives me crazy since 9/10 people have no flow and are totally tone-deaf. Way to make my ears bleed.

So yeah – I’ve noticed that NO ONE IN TOKYO HUMS. It’s bizarre. They’re all so… quiet? Is humming considered culturally rude? According to this, humming is a rude habit – equal to drumming your fingers on the table: http://www.etiquettehell.com/smf/index.php?topic=76882.65;wap2

Do you hum when you go about your day? If so, why? If not, why?

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Music

 

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The Sumo Playing Folky

Last Thursday was a Japanese national holiday whose name and purpose escapes me. But I took advantage of the day off to catch my first sumo tournament. Over five hours of lumbering giant sumo swagger. Highly recommended. Especially when drunk. And the fans are f*cking insane.

During the matches I couldn’t help but think about how different the life of your average professional sumo player (or most likely the life of any professional athlete) must be from the rest of us. For one thing, once you decide to pursue sumo, there’s no turning back – as I understand it, you join your sumo stable (team/family) at around age 16-17 and then your entire life until retirement is about eating, breathing and sleeping sumo.

So what exactly does sumo have to do with the ramblings of a scatterbrained singer/songwriter?

At the risk of making some rather sweeping cultural generalizations, sumo reinforces my view of Japanese culture’s emphasis on repetition, perfection, linear thinking and upholding of rules and tradition. And while I was technically raised in a Japanese/Jewish household, as someone who can barely stick with a task for 10 minutes, I wonder if I’m a perverse representation of stereotypical American culture – bucking authority and rules, thinking non-linearly, being creative and intense but sometimes sloppy in execution.

I can’t even begin to fathom the mindset required to dedicate 1000% of my life to something. Sure, I’ve been doing music in one capacity or another for almost 30 years, but my goals and practices have deviated wildly from year to year. I honestly feel that the only thing that has stayed consistent is my desire to write and perform songs.

As someone with diagnosed a.d.d., I can’t help but wonder how much of my way of doing things is because I was raised in the U.S. What if I was raised in Japan instead. Would I be a more linear, methodical and even-tempered person? Would I have set my sights on trying to be a professional pop-rock star from the get-go without my deviations to angry folk rock and 80s covers? Or might I be stuck in an office job with a wife and kids – and if that was the case, would I even mind it that much?

Nature vs. nurture when it comes to how you approach your creativity and your career.

Given your current career and/or what you see as your life-path, how has the culture/country in which you were raised shaped it? Do you think you’d be that different if you were born and raised somewhere else?

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2010 in Music

 

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Your MySpace? My YourSpace?

In theory, I embrace technological changes that allow me to get my music to the most people the fastest way possible. But unlike many younger musicians who seem to adopt these innovations immediately, I tend to jump on the bandwagon a bit late and almost always after something’s gone “viral.” Case in point – I only created a MySpace page when more than half the musicians I know had already joined and raved about it. And Facebook took me even longer to cave on. Now they’re both the lifeblood of my promotions, go figure.

Why did it take me so long to adopt these two platforms? Because I’m concerned that in being so plugged into the latest internet trend I’ll lose perspective on what’s most important to me – writing and performing music. All the promotion and spamming in the world isn’t going to be too useful if your songs suck. And I’m wary of our “quick-fix” culture, with shows like American Idol perpetuating the myth that just by entering you’ll have an overnight chance at fame (and by implication – a career in the music industry).Case in point – does anyone even remember who the fuck Taylor Hicks is?

I think though that what’s happened with all the musicians on MySpace and YouTube reflects a cultural tendency that favors instant gratification and fame over hard work, e.g. Thinking that getting into American Idol is all you need to “make it.” And I think my reason for holding off is I’d like to pretend that this has nothing to do with my being technologically challenged (my 65 year old mother who remembers the bombs destroying her town of Kumamoto, Japan got a palm pilot a year before me!) And while there’s plenty of positive things to come out of Internet innovation (just see how quickly some bands have climbed the charts once they went viral on YouTube and/or MySpace), I wonder if this new Internet heavy presence is becoming a substitute for face to face communications and the communal experience of live music performances.

A few months back, Fast Company magazine had a debate between two designers, one who said that the touch screen interface will come to be integrated into our daily lives without resistance.The other said that no digital interface can take the place of a live, tactile experience. He ended by posing a question along the lines of “what will you respond to more – a bouquet of freshly cut flower, or an email attaching a picture of flowers?” So in this context, is watching a performance on a screen ever the same or as rewarding as seeing live music?(Maybe Madonna was onto something when she decided to go with LiveNation – a live concert promoter – instead of renewing her contract with Warner.)

It’s interesting to see how interfacing with technology to promote music can bring out the best and worst in musicians’ insatiable egos, and how the rush to get more and more “friends” is often seen as a legit substitute for common sense, basic courtesy and organically building your fan base. Another attempt at the quick-fix. For example, I’ve gotten so many MySpace friend requests from musicians who don’t send a message, who never follow up and who seem to be requesting me arbitrarily just to up their numbers – to wit, just in one hour alone I got friend requests from a heavy metal band, a hip-hop record label and a country band – and one even got angry when I try to communicate with them. When I asked the metal group how they found me, their reply? “Oh, I don’t know. Listen to our music!” to which my thought was “Hmm. Go f*ck yourself?”

Perhaps a good comparison to the problem with musicians and MySpace (or in the larger context – the integration of the Internet into our lived) is that we’re doing the online equivalent of walking into a bar, seeing someone we like, shoving our business card down their pants without any introduction, promptly leaving the bar and then wondering why they never call to ask us out on a date! Before you think me trying to be above the fray- I admit I’m just as guilty of being cyber-etiquette challenged as anyone else I’ve met. And from a practical standpoint, it’s hard to spam or leave the identical comment to people when you see them face to face.But with the anonymity of the internet, I’m especially wary of not bringing real world etiquette to the Internet as anyone else, especially the way I handle my happy holidays MySpace comments. Copy and paste, anyone? I mean – I’ve got 100+ messages to reply to on MySpace that I probably won’t be able to get even close to answering for another month. Yes, it’s rude, I know. But if I get any less sleep than I am now, I won’t be able to function. So to clarify – I don’t wish to blame any musicians for how they conduct themselves on the Internet. Staying in touch with 500+ people on top of a day job is impossible.

But I think the best lesson learned from this is that it’s all the more evident with technological advents how important it is to do the legwork and pay your dues, and how to build relationships with your fans one conversation at a time.

While I’m excited by how these new tools allow us musicians to reach fans without some big monolithic corporate label behind us, I always find myself wanting to adopt technological advances after a l guess I’m a lil bit of a curmudgeon in this regard.

Anyways, a poorly edited entry. Apologies for that. Guess I’ve been spending too much time on YouTube :-X

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2008 in Music, New media

 

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Strangely Beautiful…er? 2? The Prequel?

My commute to and from work has introduced me to all of New York City’s crazies, e.g.: the woman  dressed to the nines who picked her nose and farted half the train ride, the guy who wanted me to be his fake bf to make his current bf jealous, the girl who had the most horrific speed dating experience ever, the prom queen wannabes, the woman with no less than 6 bags of Whole Foods – on a rush hour train mind you, the guy that was convinced he was Superman of Johnson City, TN, etc. 

Definitely some humorous ditties there. 

The album will also have its fair share of emo-tastical songs as well, since the possibility of giving the city I love a little break to move with my bf  to Cali is definitely on the horizon.  So ya know… Songs about love, loss and home. 

I’ve already drafted 30 songs which I’ll hopefully start recording demos of on YouTube this year and then hit the studio in early ’09.  At least at this point, I’m envisioning a musical mish-mash in the Beck tradition… except with some neo-soul, beatboxing, trip-hop, enka, chamber pop, pop punk and big band thrown in for good measure.  And maybe some more shamisen and a Japanese music ensemble *TWANG*

But all that being said, if “More Than Meets the Ear” does partiicularly well, I might be on the road promoting it, in which case the next album may not happen until ’11. 

That is unless there’s a sugar daddy/mommy reading this who wants to donate 🙂

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2008 in Music, transformers

 

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Brooklyn 2 Beantown – Concert at B.U.

This morning found me getting off the subway at 53rd/Lex and walking 4 avenues and 10 blocks while carrying two backpacks, a guitar, three coffees, a box of Dunkin Donuts munchkins and a partridge in a pear tree.  En route to Matt Sia’s (www.myspace.com/mattsia) apartment, I looked fracking ridiculous.  But several munchkins later he, his fiancé Marisa, buddy Rob Lara (http://www.myspace.com/roblara) and I were on our way.  No major hitches until I, as C.S.N. – Chief Spaztic Navigator, mixed up I-84E and West, I believe.  The exits are no less than 15+ minutes apart.  So if you miss your exit, oh well… you’re F*CKED.

Despite my inability to comprehend the most basic of directions, we eventually managed to make it to Cambridge when we hit a car (not Rob’s fault, the other driver was taking a left onto two lanes of oncoming traffic, appearing to intentionally slow down when Rob laid on the horn and breaks).  What ensued post accident was an amusing exchange between two American-born Filipinos and a considerably older, fobby Chinese-American couple.  Fortunately, the police officer that came by was very patient and even-handed about everything (despite looking painfully ridonkulous in an oversized, poofie hat, Starwars Storm trooper boots, chewing gum like a COW and also talking with the thickest Bahstahn accent I have EVAH heard).  On several occasions he had to tell the old Asian woman to “go back to your CAHHH!” since she kept attempting to peer over the officer’s shoulder and change the story around.

I’m sure the police officer returned to his precinct with some interesting stories… “Hey Joe!  You’ll never guess what I had to take care of today.  How many Chinese does it take to…”  ::drum roll/cymbal crash::

We eventually met the rest of the “roaming Asian mafia” (as I dubbed the 8 of us) and headed over to Matt’s sister’s apartment.  While the rest of the gang went to 5 o’clock mass, Annarei D. and I (the Agnostic and the Jew) watched “13 Ghosts” while I hid behind a mountain of pillows.  Wow – if you want to see a movie that’s bizarrely awful AND gross, so much so that it ends up being cultishly campy, then this is the movie for you.  No matter how hard I tried while watching it, I could not shake the image of Tony Shalhoub, who’s the main actor in the movie, portraying any character other than Monk.

Prepping the B.U. show was a blur of tuning, sound checking and catching up with Alfa Garcia (www.myspace.com/alfa), who I haven’t spoke to in months.  She opened the event performing material from her forthcoming album (which you MUST listen to – it’s awesome).  Her growth as a songwriter over the past few years has been profound, and I was honored that she invited me to the stage to perform two songs with her.  Matt Sia’s set followed.  I’m always floored by how cool and collected he is on stage – a true folky (albeit one with a fine understanding of how to use a loop pedal!), just having a nice conversation with the crowd.  He invited Jay Legaspi (www.myspace.com/jaylegaspi) and Rob up on stage for a great cover of Tenacious D’s “Tribute (The Greatest Song In The World)” and then Jay joined on stage to beatbox for another one of Matt’s songs.

While enjoying their set, I tried to gauge the audience based on what they reacted best to.  I decided to start my set with my 80s cartoon theme song medley, which everyone sang along to except when I got to the theme song for “Jem.”  Apparently only gay audiences know that one!  I then played my Missy Elliott/John Denver fusion version of “Work It,” followed by my ode to the joys and pitfalls of internet dating, “Even I’ve Got Standards.”  This was followed by a debut of “Arcee” from my forthcoming “More Than Meets the Ear: (Selections from) Transformers the Musical,” then I continued with an emo moment – “You’ve Just Begun to Discover.”  In case I wasn’t campy enough, I ended the set with “Karma Chameleon.”

Upon concluding my set it occurred to me just how unfiltered a set it was.  If you’ve seen me perform live, you know I swear like a sailor.  (Heck, you can see it in my blogging, too.)  At a divey bar in the East Village, that’s all good and fine, but when you’re performing for a predominantly Filipino/Filipino-American audience, there are undoubtedly some audience members who are good and churchy.  Hope I didn’t offend anyone!!!  Well, too much at least 🙂

For Jay Legaspi’s set, he introduced a Talk Box – perhaps best known from the weird vocal intro riff to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer.”  Despite this neat gadget, the audience was quite subdued throughout his set until Matt Pana (http://www.myspace.com/panapresents) guest bucket-drummed for a song.  The banter between Jay and Matt reminded me of the banter when I’ve performed with my sister.  I’ll be rambling on about some story behind a song and she’ll interject with “Danny – nobody cares.”  I think at one point, Matt said something to the effect of “Uh, Jay?  Just play the song…”

Matty P. (www.myspace.com/mattpereyra), a Berkley College of Music senior, entertained with an all original set.  While played on acoustic guitar, his songs would definitely fit with a rock band.  Seeing his confidence on stage got me wondering where I’d be with my music career had I gone to Berkeley instead of Sarah Lawrence, where I chose to major in the murky scrubland between Asian/Asian-American Studies and Queer Theory, instead of pursuing a music or performance studies major.

I was reminded how much I enjoy performing for college audiences tonight.  They possess this rare combination of awkwardness, sincerity and idealism.  Performing for them reminds me of how I saw the world 10+ years ago, and how, while I wouldn’t trade anything for what the real word has taught me since, I’d like to be able to see it again. That’s to say that while time has taught me to roll with life’s punches, I sometimes long for the burning energy and almost blind idealism I had when I was 19.  And I think that longing is part of the reason I enjoy sharing the stage with younger performers, or if they’re older, then performers who are young at heart.

In earlier ramblings, I’ve reflected on the challenges that come with presenting oneself or having oneself be presented as an Asian-American singer/songwriter as well as the challenges that come with playing to predominantly Asian-American audiences.  Those challenges being what they are, I was particular struck by how diverse the musical styles were that we presented at B.U. And I was further struck by how almost all of the songs performed were about universal themes, rather than any sort of stereotypical Asian-American themes, e.g. the immigrant experience, experiences with racism, experiences with stereotyping, etc.  Not that there’s anything wrong with songs that cover those themes; protest and political songs definitely have their value and I think they can be important to one’s finding their artistic voice – if you don’t know yourself, how can you write for others?

But seeing what went down at B.U., I’m curious if the “Asian-American music scene” might be growing in tandem with the larger Asian-American population, and the political empowerment that goes along with growing numbers.  What I mean by this is if we are at a stage in the Asian-American community’s voice where talking about identity isn’t essential anymore.  As the Asian-American music scene evolves and defines itself, there might be less of a desire to write and perform songs that are specific to the collective Asian-American experience.  Or there might be MORE of a collective desire.  Iunno…  I guess time will tell.  And I’m sure I will return to this topic again and again as I try to sort it out.

But while I’m rambling about collective experiences, I think something a lot of touring musicians contend with is the issue of where “home” is for them (regardless of ethnic and cultural upbringing).  I certainly return to this question time and time again – and I’m not even on the road that much!  Playing this show pushed that question to the forefront.

Years ago, I asked my mom what she considers to be home, since although born and raised in Japan, she’s lived more than half of her life in the U.S.  Now a practicing Jew, she hasn’t relinquished her Japanese citizenship for an American one.  When I asked her what she felt home to be, she said something to the effect of “home being something that’s inside of you and that’s shaped by your life experiences.”

As we drove through Boston, I kept looking out the window thinking “I could live here…” but would it ever truly become home?  New York definitely feels like home; with the exception of a year living in Japan, I’ve lived within a 40 mile radius of NYC my entire life.  Yet home for me has been shaped by PEOPLE.  Home is someplace I feel I belong, where I meet groups of people with whom I have a shared set of experiences.  What was reinforced playing B.U. was that the more I perform outside of New York, and the further I get from the people who have made this feel like home, the more important it is to find a sense of home wherever I am – by being able to connection with complete strangers and to achieve something like small-town feel wherever my touring takes me.

I think the small town feel appear to me in particular because I grew up in the suburb of Scarsdale.  While the population of 20,000 doesn’t sound like a small town, it had a small town feel- most people knew each other in one capacity or another.  Now it may be partly growing up and/or partly the culture of NYC, but since moving from Scarsdale to the city itself, I’ve learned to connect with people intensely for a moment, knowing full well it might be days, weeks, months and possibly even years before our paths will cross again.  And while there are plenty of amazing people here that I’d love to get to know better, I’ve come to accept that there’s not enough time.  The ability to connect on the go and still feel part of a larger community is particularly important to my surviving away from the geographically specific home off NYC but it’s a skill I’ve been learning BECAUSE I live in NYC.

At the same time, I think in order to articulate what home really is, I may need to leave it, for long periods of time.  Rob Lara and I spoke at length on our ride back to NYC about his and Matt’s experiences growing up in Marquette, Michigan (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquette,_Michigan).  They both left behind an amazing town to be in the thick of NYC’s insanity, but have somehow managed to still be small town boys at heart.  Why did they leave?  Perhaps Matt explains it best in song “Marquette.”  I think the lyrics speak for themselves.

Marquette, MI

by Matt Sia

Cold outside, it’s so
Rust-orange sun inside a periwinkle glow
Fifteenth Hole

Coming back, I understand now
How much more I do appreciate this town
Miss those sounds

Chorus:
Silence breaks away from the stone wall along the lake
And the air is sweeter than it’s ever been
With every breath, I take in memories of way back when
I left this place long ago
Now I’m home
I’m home

I’m paintin’ the rock tonight
The island fog is lifting, making for a perfect drive
Red and white

Cruising third at 3 a.m. over icy roads of sand and snow
Things have change and all the same, I let them fade
But still I’ll keep these memories not to return
Until I’d grown enough to see

Stars instead of lights
Cricket sounds instead of honking horns and sirens fill the night
Dragonflies

Chorus:
Silence breaks away from the stone wall along the lake
And the air is sweeter than it’s ever been
With every breath, I take in memories of way back when
I left this place long ago
Now I’m home
I’m home
I’m home

 

Chromia!

Tonight we wrapped up mixing of “More Than Meets the Ear” and holy fuckitty, I’m EXCITED!  Just gotta master the album at Salt Mastering in Greenpoint, Brooklyn and then send it off to the duplicators.  It sounds amazing and I can’t believe it’s all done.  Brooklyn fresh.  Word.  A decent analogy might be something like a graduation.  You wait and wait for that day to come, and then when it finally hits you, it just seems like BAM and it’s done.  Except now comes all the promotion work, which is a job in of itself.  Fortunately, my Director of Internet Promotions, Nathalie Gonzalez, is amazing.  So hopefully my dream of teaming up with The Minibosses (an incredible rock group out of Phoenix, AZ that does Nintendo covers) will come true and we’ll take over some anime/comic/toy convention near u!  Botcon, b*tchez, botcon!

 
 

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