Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Big Bad Mike!

As a part of the Artist Initiative Grant-- I wrote a community aspect into the proposal (Thank you Minnesota State Arts Board!!). The idea was to share music with a Minnesota community. I chose to work with youth from the Urban Arts Academy. These youth are going to help record some songs on the upcoming album! Many thanks to local South Minneapolis photographer Bruce Silcox for the photos in this Blog Post!

What a treat it has been!! Working with kids on music can be alot of fun. You do have to be flexible and ready to go with the flow if the mood changes. Doubtlessly, youth in today's world are looking for cool trendy music. What better way to get them excited about music than through.. Big Bad John..right?!? Have a listen.

Big Bad John

Well maybe not. When I played it for a couple of the youth, i was worried.. One of the kids was like.. 'oh, it's kinda like country rap.' As soon as the word 'country' escaped the lips, I thought I was done for. Country music can get a pretty bad 'rap' (no pun intended) in some circles. I'm not denying Taylor Swift is popular.. But when you say, 'Taylor Swift', half the kids in the room will perk up..and the other half usually go "Lame!!" If you've never heard of her.. check it out. 50/50 chance you might love it? Regardless though, country music evokes alot of strong, often heart-felt emotion in young people today.

I wasn't totally downcast though. 'Rap' had come out in the same sentence as country, so I thought..well we might be on to something here. And who can deny that 'rap' is cool. Isn't rap the essence of cool? Kids like it right? ..I can't really rap, but I thought I could at least try to country rap.

Now alittle more backstory is necessary here. Big Bad John was composed by Dean and Roy Acuff and made famous by Jimmy Dean. My father-in-law, Phill Stoelb, wanted to re-write the song for a retiring co-worker by the name of Mike. He re-wrote the lyrics for the song, to fit the original Big Bad John arrangement. He wanted me to record the re-written song so it could be played as a surprise at Mike's retirement party.

I thought it sounded like a great idea. Here I could work with the kids on some rhythms, and some singing. It would work as a warm up for them. Get them accustomed and ready to record other songs on the album coming out in May. (One of those is currently in the works as we speak!!) We made tambourines from bottle caps and wood scraps. We learned about microphone safety and sensitivity. We also played to a metronome so we were on rhythm. And the youth joyfully chanted 'Big Bad Mike!!' for the microphone. The photo above is an earlier class we did on inspiration and instrument making (cigar box guitars) with the Re-Use Band Project.

Now if you are interested in hearing this conglomeration of sound, you should travel to this link.

Broken Ground - Neal Swanger's Song of the Soul

That will take you right there.. this is a 50 minute interview with Northern Spirit Radio and host Mark Helpsmeet. We discussed some of my recent projects, including the Folk 'n' Thieves, the Broken Ground EP and Big Bad Mike with the Re-Use Band. If you just want to hear from the Re-use Band, you'll have to fast forward the interview to just about the end. It's well worth it. you'll get a few more details about the song in the interview itself.

Our current song project with the youth involves a bully named Billy. He eats red hot cheese puffs and he has big original feet. His favorite target to pick on??? (at least currently)-->> Little Francis. Poor Little Francis.. :( Well, I don't want to give away much more. Besides the youth are helping to write this song and frankly, i don't think i have permission from them to speak about it on the record... They were very concerned about their rights to Big Bad Mike! It is a strong-hearted up and coming generation!!!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

In Pie and Other Unrelated News..

Chances are that you've got a cooking blog that you follow now and again. I'll start by saying don't follow mine. You may end up with indigestion... But here's a recent experiment that could have turned out tragic for the squashes involved. Looks like they came through it okay though.

I had some leftover squash filling and pie dough so I poured it into the little cups and made mini pies. I also used a butter crust recipe. That was all that was in the house and nowadays I've found that I can google any random assortment of ingredients and come up with some recipe that has at the very least some well taken photographs to make it look good... like this!!

On Friday I sent out some EPs to some local radio stations.. There are a couple in the Twin Cities and also just outside of and in Wisconsin that I put on the list. I sent out five to start and as I find out about more, I'll keep sending them out. If you hear any music let me know!

I have been in the recording studio with other musicians now for the past couple of weeks. Work continues on the album. It is coming together and the more layers we get, the more exciting it is to see it start to coalesce.

Well if you've made it this far.. speaking of coalescing, new music and all with a new group!! Folk 'n' Thieves is just starting to get off the ground in Minneapolis, but we've already had a few Farmer's Market shows and gigs..and we've been warmly received. We're still working on getting some decent recordings up, but if you want to take a sneak can have at it here.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Indian Lake, New York

It's hard to explain, but easier to understand if you have your own place of retreat. Indian Lake has become that for me. Often blanketed in mist and always surrounded by the old and rugged Adirondack mountains, for the past four years I can't help but feel a certain lack of bustle and hustle when I'm sitting on the beach with a chosen book or watching a storm blow up and across the lake from the southwestern mountain ridges.

Every year, the lake seems unchanged and every year it goes through it's own, sometimes drastic, cycle of 'feelings' during the week and often each day. Morning is calm and misty. The water can almost be glass. Droplets will literally form and stay on the surface of the water from paddle splashes and then slowly disappear as the lake absorbs each one back into itself.

Mid-morning into the afternoon the wind will pick up, generally out of the south and blow down the lake. Swimming at this time is wild fun. Often, to keep your head above water, you have to be glancing at what's coming with the next wave. You can end up with a mouthful of lake water or with a good deal of sloshing in one of your ears.

Evenings, it's back to glass. Water skiers paradise and well..perhaps an after dinner cigar in the kayak. Bobbing out on the lake, the water warmed throughout the day, one can't help but feel they're in a giant bathtub, with the steep mountainsides circling around.

My pictures can't do it justice. Really you have to see the Adirondacks for yourself to get the full experience. The Adirondack Park is about 6.1 million acres. Roughly half of the park is owned by private landholders, the other half by the state. Building new structures in the park is strictly controlled. A landowner can really only build on the structures already on their property. This has kept the park from exploding in lakefront buildings and in general kept it 'forever wild.' But at the same time, much of the park's small towns are dotted with dilapidated buildings and closed businesses. Sometimes, tourist season can come and go awfully fast and if an business owner can't make what they need during those three months, there's alot of scraping by come late winter.

It's hard not to look forward to some lake time every year. This year was especially worth it. My summer has been very busy with earning the rent and getting some artwork done for the upcoming album. Before I left I was also able to record some vocal tracks, so it has been a busy summer. Now that I'm back from the lake, I do miss it, but not terribly. It doesn't change in my head, and I know that if another year goes well I'll be sitting on the same Twin Coves beach in August next year.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Water Bottle Rockets

This summer has been a fun one. Lots of time spent at our local Lake Nokomis Beach. Although water quality isn't what it should be here in the Twin Cities Lakes this year, it has been nearly impossible to stay cool without going for a dip in the lake. HOWEVER...there are other ways...

Recently I taught a class for some kids as part of a summer camp at Leonardo's Basement. The course title was "3,2,1 Water Blastoff!!!." The above rocket was made by the assistant in the class. As you can imagine, it was alot of fun and I found a pretty cheap and easy way to get wet. A PVC water bottle rocket launcher powered by a bicycle pump is not hard to build at all and cheap. I'd say you could find some things in your tool box at home. The rest you can buy for under $20. It comes apart in two easy to carry parts like so:

Here's list of materials you'll probably find at home. You can also go to the link at the bottom of the list if you need more explanation. Just click on Materials List and you'll be all set to go. Here's mine.

List at Home
-Duct tape
-2 two litre bottles
-bike pump
- 3 feet of rope (strong shoelace works)
-drill with 1/2 inch drill bit and a smaller sized bit to fit the twine or shoelace
-tape measure

Materials at the store:
-1/2 inch PVC schedule 40 pipe - 10ft section--this fit in the Buick, but you can cut it at 4ft at the store
-short piece of 1 1/2 inch PVC (2 inches long)
-1/2 inch slip tee connector
-2 pieces 1/2 inch slip end caps
- 1/2 inch slip and internal thread
- 1/2 inch slip and external thread
- roll of teflon tape (plumbers tape)
- PVC primer (don't need to have this, but i used it anyway)
- PVC cement
- hose clamp that opens to at least 1 inch
- 8 plastic zip ties
- tire valve from O'Reilly's or auto parts store of your choice. You don't need the expensive threaded kind and you want the thin kind if they offer more than one type.
- you can get a tire pressure gauge if you want

In building my rocket launcher I found the videos at this link very helpful. Same spot i got the materials list from. The videos are very well done and easy to understand so I'm not going to go into too much depth explaining the instructions. The site is very thorough.

Basically you are going to be cutting up the PVC tubing into specific lengths with the hacksaw. You'll be drilling a 1/2 inch hole in one of the end caps to put your tire valve into. Then you'll be gluing your parts together.

Next you've got to create a bump in the pipe so your water bottle rocket will stick on the pipe without leaking. This is probably one of the trickier spots. You've got to melt the pipe with the candle at a specific length to form the bump. There are other ways (o-rings) to make the seal air tight, but this is probably the most effective.

Then you've got to build your trigger mechanism using duct tape, zip ties, shoelace, and the small piece of 1 1/2 inch pipe.

You'll have to line that up with the bump in the pipe you created and tighten it down with the hose clamp. After that you build your safety spring with one of the two liter bottles. Attach one piece of leftover piping to keep that from sliding down, set up your trigger, slide on the remaining 1/2 full 2 litre bottle of water, fix the trigger, pump and let 'er rip!!!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Racking Strawberry Wine

Hot Summer Week. Good thing there's lots of berry farms to go picking at on the weekend. Today we headed out to Blueridge Farm in Western Wisconsin to pick some blueberries. Then off to the Garden Diva for raspberries. They didn't weigh us when we went in or left, so we weren't charged for anything we ate. My shirt was stained with blueberries when I left..guilty as charged.

Earlier in the summer we picked some fresh strawberries..You can see the result of that in the glass carboy next to the blueberries and raspberries. We're looking forward to some strawberry wine this winter if all goes well.

Today I spent about 30 minutes racking the wine from one container, (a five gallon glass carboy) into another container. Right now we're working on the wine's clarity. By transferring the wine from container to container over a the course of a month, I'll be able to allow much of the particulate to settle to the bottom and with each siphoning make the wine just a little clearer.

All you need is a bit of plastic tubing and a racking cane. I have tried to do the mouth siphon technique..and failed. So i fill the plastic tubing with some of the sanitized water and then plug it up and hook it on to the racking cane. That was enough to get the siphoning started.

We'll let the wine sit for another week, probably rack it one more time and bottle it. We'll crack a bottle in six months I imagine..January. Who knows what the world outside will look like then.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Line!

Sure I do music and i have lots of stuff that centers around music, but every once in a while something happens that doesn't involve music, but is just one of those strange occurrences..
I had an experience the other day at the DMV that hasn't quite worn off yet.

We had just picked up a new car last month and were getting all the plates and registration stuff taken care of at the DMV. Amanda and I had wanted to head down to register it together so we had a bit of a time crunch to fit it into some schedules but we got there shortly after 9am when it opened.

I had picked up my papers at the processing point in front and we set about to registering the vehicle. Of course...most of this time was spent waiting..and waiting. We finally got registered and all that and were all set to waltz right out.. unfortunately though I couldn't find my parking garage ticket. Thinking it had fallen out of my pocket, I went back to retrace my steps..nothing. I had no idea where it could have gotten to and did not want to pay the $30 parking fee for a lost ticket.

I remembered though that I had gotten it validated at the processing point so i figured i might have left it there. By the time I realized this however, the line was about 9 people deep...and there were a couple of people at the counter, one of them being a woman who had some questions about some forms she had just been given. I decided i was going to wait those couple of folks out and just hop in quick with my question, figuring the lady at the desk would just be able to hand over my validated parking garage ticket.

So i positioned myself up by the front of the line off to the side a bit. In a couple of moments I was tapped on the arm...and a slightly older foreign gentleman was looking me in the eye and pointing over his shoulder.. repeating, "the line, the line." The people at the desk continued to sort out their problems while I attempted to explain my situation to the gentleman next to me, which was that I was only going to be asking a quick question and retrieving a parking pass i had left at the desk (or the desk attendant had forgotten to give back to me). Amanda was going to be late for work as well. This continued for another uncomfortable minute. He didn't raise his voice, but he just kept urgently and irritatedly insisting on 'the line!' stretching behind him. i was starting to lose my cool even though I knew that I wasn't necessarily in the was a bit of a gray area on the matter..just a fleeting question that would only take a moment of the front desk's time to answer and then I'd be on my way. He didn't see it that way.. I was budging rudely into front of 9 other people and taking advantage of everyone. I wanted to explain my situation to him fully, but was also running into the problem of realizing that the only thing he kept repeating to me was, "the line." I figured his English might not have been that good and no matter how much I explained i would only irritate him further and the rest of the people waiting behind me. I was about to give up..or explode..or try to explain one more time as my face and ears got redder and redder.

The desk cleared up...the couple in front had their papers..the lady with her questions had answers (not to her liking as i recall)...the front desk lady saw me and waved me over and handed me my parking pass (at this point i had remembered a very garbled page come across the P.A. system about a missing parking pass and figured I had missed that easy opportunity to avoid this awkward situation). So I had my parking pass and I quickly left the situation and headed right out the door..hoping to appear justified and in the right about my claims of only taking a minute. The whole exchange of the parking pass took literally 10 seconds. But as I walked out the door...the gentleman walked up to the front desk still talking about, 'the line.'

I left with a feeling of relief, but also a slight guilty feeling. I'd found my parking pass, we were registered, and fairly on time for the rest of the day... but had I done anything particularly wrong by taking advantage of my 'timely excuse' for budging into line?

I thought for the most part it was alright and culturally okay to do so. In retrospect, I should not have gone to the front of the line and stood there, but would have avoided alot of uncomfortable awkwardness, by standing off to the side and attempting to wave and make eye contact with the front desk attendant. But even that didn't take away the feeling of some sort of white privilege at work or of it being seemingly so. To the foreign gentleman who had probably waited in more lines than he could count..and probably had spent more hours of his life in lines than he cared to remember, I was probably one of the worst people imaginable at that moment. Even the quick solution to my issue did not seem to erase the fact that I had jumped to the front of the line.. whether i had used my knowledge of the system, of cultural norms, or possibly the fact that i was white which played a part in all the other aforementioned things . I wish i could have understood how he might have seen what I did. To me it made sense, but to him and possibly to others in line I looked like that ass who barrels down the highway in the passing lane even though the lane closes in one mile and everyone else sits in the slow lane waiting to get past the lane closure.

Another interesting day at the DMV...

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Spring Days

If you haven't heard already...I'm pretty ecstatic. The news that i received the State Arts Board Grant hasn't fully settled in OR worn off yet. My days of late have been filled with alot of preparation for the upcoming year. I'll be trying to get some recording in so I'll feel ready for the real thing in another month or two. At this point, I've been running through many of the songs that i think will be on the album through my small studio set up at home.

Having done a good bit of recording in the past couple of years, I've been finding it fun to run through songs at my own pace and add backing tracks as they present themselves. I spent about four hours on a guitar solo on Sunday. I don't know how regular studio musicians do it. I've probably tried to record the guitar part for Four O' Clock Flu literally 400 times. Granted alot of those i hadn't gotten past the first verse, but it is still a VERY frustrating process at times. i hope future albums don't take quite as long to record, but i suppose that if its done right, the time input doesn't matter.

It's spring break this week, which means I'm doing some recording now and I've been prepping some 'cases' for the EP Release on May 13th! They are starting to look pretty cool. I've got the old map folded as a cd holder and that will be placed inside a nicely wrapped brown paper, tied up with a bow. Next step is a little bit of artwork for the cd itself and then it'll be off to kinkos. I've pretty much got my songs lined up for the release. They need some production changes here and there, but for the most part good to go except for a track here or there.

On other notes, our days are going to be getting alot brighter with the return of sunshine (warm sunshine) in Minnesota. That'll mean that I'll be outside working on the Buick alittle more. Transmission fluid leak there 8/ But I picked up a Haynes Manual and with the help of a couple of friends, we should be able to take care of the issue, i hope. Rumor also has it that we're going to put in a chicken coop in the backyard. Amanda picked up a book so we'll see what comes of that.

I've got a couple of other exciting summer projects coming up. I've got a weeklong class for teens that I'm offering with a couple of other musician friends at Leonardo's Basement. The class is entitled, "You are the Recording Artist." We'll be heading to a studio and then making one of our own at the basement, recording and making an album of sorts. It'll be a weeklong whirlwind, but well worth the fun. I'm also hoping to be teaching an Urban Arts Academy class this summer.. which might include making cigar box guitars... That's still up in the air though.

A final note on buying guitars. two years ago, i bought one that has made me pretty happy. I'm realizing though that not everything is perfect with it. It's an Art and Lutherie guitar that i got for a modest price (definitely a step up from my original Epiphone). I had been noticing some tuning and tone issues though and figured it was weather related. I took it in to Hoffman guitars (where they will adjust the neck of the guitar for free, but will often find some other work that needs to be done). My trip was not an exception. Turns out the neck was a bit of the problem, but the bridge on my guitar was slightly out of place, if it is adjusted back about a quarter inch or so, it would solve the problem. $150, but an investment well worth the money. I didn't figure on having many issues with my guitar and i guess I've been pretty happy with it, same goes for my car, but stuff just requires maintenance and care and sometimes we're never quite satisfied. It takes a cool cucumber to just 'be'..

I find it very similar to my recording troubles and insecurities. There's always something somewhere that needs done or fixing or some sort of fine adjustment, but there are times when you have to let it go and move on. This may be the case with Four o' Clock Flu.. besides..I've been driving Amanda crazy if she's around when I'm playing the song. Perhaps the other silver lining is, that if the recording is good enough..we might use it for the album.. if not..i can always do it again in the coming year.. ehh or maybe it won't make the album. :)

Hope you're all well out there. Some up and coming gigs in May, the 13th being the big gig!

Enjoy your spring!!!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Interview with Midwest Music Society

Here's a link to a recent interview I had with Midwest Music Society. It'll fill yah in on some of the latest happenings with my music projects.