Monday, August 29, 2011

3-Way Singles Club Volume 4 Discount Code

It's finally here!  3-Way Singles Club Volume 4, featuring Cavalcade, The Plurals, and Terminal Girls.  Mastered by Alex Hug.

If you are inclined to download this barnstormer of a 3-sided single, type in the discount code "moodring" when you go to check out for a nice surprise.  This code is valid until September 30.

My sincere thanks once again to the bands for all the hard work, songwriting, and playing that went into this very special volume of the series, probably the only time I will ever have legitimate reason to pay homage to the cover art of a great Black Sabbath album.  That's Erica Graham's photograph of Plurals guitarist Tommy McCord.

Stay tuned, the next few months promise some more great music in the forms of Volume 5 (Frank And Earnest, New Venice, and Jet Lag Superstar), Volume 6 (Sleeping Timmy, Flatfoot, and Drunken Barn Dance) and Volume 7 (Funender, Cat Midway, and Josh David & The Dream Jeans).  Dang!

Proceeds from the 3-Way Singles Club benefit the Independent Musicians Fund (IMF), a fund established in July by ITAV to support unsigned artists in pursuing their creative output by removing stumbling blocks like broken or lost cords, guitar stands, or postage for tour fliers.  As of publication, the IMF has raised a princely $13.05.  Not bad, actually, for being in existence just a couple of weeks!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Late August Release for 3-Way Singles, Volume 4!

Rock and roll is not about adherence to schedules, flight plans, or even expectations: some of the best records I've ever heard frustrated my expectations (or exceeded them) on first listen.  Such has been the case with the fabled 4th volume of the 3-Way Singles Club, which will see the light August 30th!

Originally slated to drop the first day of each new month, starting this past May, the Club made a slow entropic slide to the middle of the month for July's volume with Narc Out The Reds, The Hat Madder, & The Playback.  But it was a concession made in favor of the music: the bands' intention was to record all together, in the same room with each other adding input on the writing and recording process and frequently guest-spotting on each others' songs.  The results were worth the wait, and the single is a testimony to Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur's band-herding, engineering, and production skills.  Considering that two of the bands were about to depart on tour and Narc Out The Reds was wrapping up the mastering/pressing of the Pawnmower/Leak In The Disease vinyl 7" that same month, we were fortunate to appeal to their artistic sides and the resulting songs, mostly written in situ over a marathon weekend of recording, bring the Singles Club to more rocking territory at a high point, and with a grand entrance.

Work began almost immediately on Volume 4.  It was agreed that releasing a new single merely two weeks after the last one wouldn't do any favors to either, so we aimed for the middle of August.  Something to welcome the students back with, for those of us in college towns, and specifically something to introduce incoming freshmen to a portion of the independent music kaleidoscope in little old Lansing -- a city situated between the creative poles of monied Grand Rapids and decaying Detroit that has risen to its own musical prominence over the 19 years I've lived here, hatching such artists as Frontier Ruckus, Calliope, Benoit Pioulard, El Smasho, Apollo 9, Cheap Girls, Steppin' In It, and The Verve Pipe, just to name a few of the more nationally recognized ones.  You may also have heard of a guy named Stevie Wonder, who made his name in Motown but cut his teeth in Lansing.  Or maybe The Crucifucks, who among other things gave us Sonic Youth's drummer Steve Shelley?  OK, point made, right?

Lansing is also a crossroads for musicians who still bother with Michigan.  Back in the day, you could see Brainiac, At The Drive In, or even Taj Mahal at a house show!  Or you could see U2 on the tour for their album "Boy" in the basement bar Dooley's.  Or The Jesus Lizard at booty-dance bar Rick's.  The list goes on and on.

But this isn't just about Lansing, Lansing is just an example of a post-industrial Midwest town that wooed the auto industry and became defined by it instead of nurturing the varied artistic endeavors that sprung up -- despite an often negligent and indifferent general public.  You could replace "Lansing" with "Flint" or "Akron."  The unspoken was, we weren't Chicago so we didn't matter.  This is "The Flyover," remember?  We just build the cars and grow the food, let the folks in New York and L.A. worry about the art.

I'm going to bring that tangent back around to Volume 4...  The first song that arrived was Terminal Girls (from Detroit, mind you) "Pink Clouds."  It's one of two songs that got their radio debut last Thursday evening on WDBM 88.9 FM's Michigan-centric program "The Basement."  Also spun that evening was The Plurals' brand-spanking new song "Neon Life," a freshly-recorded tune hot on the hotter heels of their brand new, enthusiastically received "Futurospective: The Plurals Today, The Plurals Tomorrow" platter.  With these two blisteringly beautiful tracks in the can, there was just one more piece to fall in place for the puzzle to be complete.

People have children, and day jobs, and competing schedules, and financial priorities.  These are realities.  Yet we keep making art and releasing music anyway.  No one I know falls anywhere near the cossetted life of big-label bands, who can luxuriate through years of writer's block accompanied by starlets and bags of blow.  We're not in it for the lifestyle, it is life.  And that certainly goes for hard-working, groundbreaking dirge-psych-metal act Cavalcade, whose members split their time between several other bands, full-time jobs, running the Bermuda Mohawk label, and generally being an encouraging and inspiring presence on the regional music scene.  Cavalcade took it upon themselves to record something for ITAV outside of their norm, an acoustic song that pulled in bits of psych-rock and spaghetti western and that became a logistical tangle that they have admirably persevered through.

We are extremely proud to offer the fruits of their labor alongside Terminal Girls' swinging, sinister "Pink Clouds" and The Plurals' alternately bracing and hummable "Neon Life."  And we thank you for your patience and understanding in waiting for this singular 3-way to drop.  It's going to be sooo worth it, and it'll still be in time to herald a new semester, an Indian Summer, and a clutch of great shows and upcoming releases from all over The Flyover.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Listening to Tone Poems as mp3s: Heightened vs. Diminished Experiences

Tomorrow night, ITAV's Peter Richards will be appearing on 88.9 FM The Impact's local music specialty show "The Basement" to discuss the 3-Way Singles Series, preview some tunes from the forthcoming Volume 4 of the series, give out some download codes, talk a bit about the Independent Musicians Fund (IMF), and maybe some other freebies and fun stuff.  Tune in between 8-10 PM, if you're outside the Lansing area you can stream it here.

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On August 13th, Stargrazer performed live for the last time -- at least for a while.  As performances go, I felt really good about it.  I was relaxed and the songs flowed out of my fingers and my bass without the clunky notes or missed phrases that plague me when I'm not fully focused.  For once, I spent some time on a detailed soundcheck, and I even noodled around and improvised a multi-layered loop before I began my set using the innards of a music box that played "You Are My Sunshine" over a highly abstracted bass ostinato.  It got applause.  I nearly changed my mind.

However, the decision wasn't ever really mine to make.  Or maybe it was, somewhere way back in time when I could've had better posture, or been more diligent about warm-ups and practicing with proper hand position, or more conscientious at the computer with proper typing techniques.  It all began in March, with a persistent knot in my shoulder that wouldn't let up, no matter what I tried: a new pillow, backrubs, exercise.  Soon, it became a numbness in my thumb and forefinger accompanied by waves of pins-and-needles that would travel up and down my left arm from elbow to fingertips.

I kept hoping it would go away.

Finally, I went to the doctor.  "Classic symptoms of carpal tunnel," she said.  I asked if it ever went away and she just looked at the floor and shook her head.  She recommended I buy a wrist splint to wear at work and when I was sleeping.  I took some sort of $500 diagnostic test that my insurance wouldn't cover, and the conclusion was the same:  CTS, a catch-all diagnosis for repetitive stress injuries to the medial nerve -- the one that passes through the narrow tunnel of bones in your wrist and connects your thumb, forefinger and middle finger to your spine.  Since I am right handed, the presence of CTS in my left hand seemed to indicate that the culprit was fretting my bass.

I would rather have my hand amputated than not be able to play bass.

Other than surgery, the only solution is rest, with rest being defined as not using your fingers, wrist, or elbow.  So, in other words, impossible -- at least for anyone who needs to work for a living!

I've done a lot in the last few months to change how I play bass.  I've tried holding it differently and I've become much more conscious of what I'm demanding of my wrist and fingers.  I've started taking B vitamins (apparently, B vitamin deficiency alone can bring on CTS).  I was prescribed an anti-inflammatory.  I got the first-ever professional massage of my life (highly recommended!)  I realized much too late that I've been demanding a lot from my body for years but not giving it anything back.  My eleventh-hour efforts have improved the symptoms a little, but I still get woken up in the middle of the night by pain and tingles.  It sucks.  One of the things I enjoy the most in life, and that I feel I can offer something artistically with, is being taken away.  Unchecked, it will lead to more intense pain and loss of finger strength.  I'll start dropping things.

I'm not willing to let that happen.

So, Stargrazer is on indefinite hiatus, at least as far as performing live goes.  I have hundreds of songs to document, and I plan to keep recording, both in the studio with Eric Merkling and at home.  I have a couple farmer's market gigs to honor in September and October.  Part of me is saying "you're not a real band until you go on indefinite hiatus," but the other part can't parse the sarcasm -- in fact I am genuinely depressed that my body is in revolt against my head.  The condition of my wrist is placing a dam on the river of my creativity.  Just when I was getting somewhere, it's all being taken away.

So this is a downer of a blog entry, no?

What I want to put down "on paper" is that I'm not giving up.  I'm taking a break to get healthy, and I plan to do everything I possibly can to rest, recover, and eventually strengthen my wrist.  Being a graphic designer/bassist/writer/bookseller is going to make that a challenge, but I am highly motivated and in the interim ITAV will persist in its focus on exposing great music through the 3-Way Singles Series and some of our other exciting upcoming releases.

Stargrazer as a live unit is done, for now. 

Stargrazer as a recording unit will remain active.  I'm just getting the hang of my home recording set-up, and the full-length album I'm working on with Eric is something I am very excited about and very committed to completing.  I am also fully committed to releasing more great music by my comrades-in-arms in the independent music scene.

I had a fantastic time playing out with Drinking Mercury (who will release their own full-length debut September 3rd at Mac's Bar), Calliope (who are one of my inspirations in the local/independent scene), and Gnome Village (who I spent the latter half of the summer gigging with and who I look forward to collaborating with, one way or another, in the future).  I look forward to many more great evenings of music, pain-free, when that pain-free day arrives.  See you in the funny papers.

Until then, look for much more graphic design output from the ITAV studios (I just re-vamped the "Posters/Album Art" page of this blog), sporadic Stargrazer studio works, and an ongoing commitment to the 3-Way Singles series.  Sit up when you type, don't rest your wrists, pay attention to your posture, eat right and take care of yourself.