Author Archives: Zack

Music….food for our souls

The first record I remember hearing was James Taylors “Sweet Baby James”.  The vinyl sounded course and dirty.  The lyrics confused my 12-year old brain; I had no idea what love was, or how it felt to lose it.  But the melodies spoke to me. James Taylor had this way of writing about pain and longing, without sounding whiny or….to use the parlance of my particular time: “Lame”.  My parents liked his music, so I was almost forced to listen. I’ve always been glad they were James Taylor fans.

The first album I bought with my own money was the “Days Of Thunder” soundtrack. David Coverdale, Chicago, Guns N’ Roses. I grew up in a sort of racing family, so the film moved me. The soundtrack was silly, and I kind of knew it at the time.  But still, I would crank that sh*t to eleven, and imagine myself behind the wheel of a speeding race car.

Grunge came along in the early 90′s, and my interest in actually making music started to take shape. Filthy guitar tones, front-men shrouded in mystery. Why were they so angry? Where did these vicious sounds and words come from? I wasn’t a particularly angry or disgruntled kid at 14. In fact, I had it pretty easy. (It wasn’t until about 15-16 that I started to get in trouble with the local police and disrupt an already dysfunctional family) But records like Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, and the soundtrack to “Singles” made me listen beyond the melody, and forced me to focus on the lyrics. At that point, I realized that pop music mattered, and that lyrics were so important; a time-stamp of an emotion; of a generation.

In 1993, I heard Counting Crows,”Mr Jones” on the radio, cutting through the static of generic “grunge/Seattle” programming. On the record “August And Everything After”, Adam Duritz poured his heart out with reckless abandon. He sang of longing and insomnia. Of love and love lost. Of finding ones true self. He washed his words in americana, and metaphor of vast panoramas and endless highways. I longed to explore the American landscape, free of parents who didn’t understand me, teachers who couldn’t teach me – and myself, whom I didn’t really know.  The album, “August And Everything After” made me a guitar player, and a songwriter. It made me an artist, and it changed my heart forever. It made me a romantic. It made me truly care about music, and the effect it had on my life. To this day, I regard that record as one of the most important catalysts in my life – not just it’s musical influence, but it’s affect on the way I viewed the world, and how I interacted with it.  Last year, I had the opening chorus of “Rain King” tattooed on my body:  ”I belong in the service of the Queen. I belong anywhere but in between.”  I see these words everyday, and yet their meaning continues to evolve.

This post is about the music that first affected you….the music that you truly adopted as your own. The music that defined you.  What first moved you? What upset your heart and challenged your mind? What defined/shaped your taste for art?  What made you dance and sing and shout and cry – madly and unabashedly?

Sound off…  Because it this little blog has taught me anything, it’s taught me to listen. And I like to listen…

Thank God for Talented Friends

Last year, I was hired by a non-profit group called Many Mansions, to produce a video celebrating their 30th Anniversary.  Many Mansions is a really great organization. Through donations and government subsidies, they provide homes for low-income families and the homeless.  

Without the budget for licensed music and voiceover, I called on Chad to help me out.  In one easy session, he laid down a great voiceover. Further, he donated music to the project. (“The Science Project” totally kills it!) Bryan Ashmore also donated a great track – one that Corey and I used before on another project, that worked perfectly for this video.  

Isn’t it great to be surrounded by insanely talented and diverse friends? Artists, musicians, teachers, nerds, etc. A big thanks to The Dailies, Chad Reisser, and Bryan Ashmore for their contributions to this project.

Many Mansions 30th Anniversary Video from Frequent Flyer Productions on Vimeo.

I Quit.

I’ve smoked cigarettes for 16 years.  I’ve averaged about a pack-a-day since 1993, when I first started at the tender age of 15. Here is some basic math to give you an idea of what I’ve done to myself:

I’ve smoked a pack of cigarettes every single day for 5936 Days, and counting.
I’ve smoked about 119,000 Cigarettes.
I’ve easily spent a little more than $20,000 Dollars on cigarettes. (If I average the per-pack cost to $3.50) 

I’ve been a smoker longer than I’ve been anything else. It’s literally defined who I am. 

In 16 years, the longest I’ve ever gone without a cigarette (aside from sleep, of course) is 5.5 hours – the duration of the average Los Angeles to New York flight.  I estimate that I’ve easily knocked a solid year off of my life. Granted, it’s most likely the year that I’ll be yelling at kids to get off my porch, and/or putting my dinner in the blender, but I think I’ve made my point.  I’ve never had a reason to quit, until now…

I promised the love of my life that she wouldn’t marry a smoker.  It’s just that simple.  My fiance has dreams and goals and expectations that don’t include marrying a smoker, and I have an absolute understanding of that. So, April 27th, I am quitting smoking. 

I have an appointment scheduled at Freedom Laser Therapy. Hopefully, their plan includes giving me high-powered lasers to distract myself from the nicotine withdrawal. Maybe they’ll shoot ‘em into my eyes Clockwork Orange style.

Lasers! FUN!

Lasers! FUN!

Who knows. Honestly, I don’t care. You see, I’ve never had to experience withdrawl….from anything, substance or otherwise. I’ve never denied myself anything I’ve liked. Fast cars, sure. Motorcycles, uh huh. Fatty foods, (nods head, mouth is full). Booze, bring it on. Excess, oh hell yes. 

This promises to be an interesting experiment. I’ve know that nicotine is one of the most powerfully addictive drugs on Earth. But I’ve heard that it only takes a week or so to completely expel all the nicotine from one’s body.  But I’ll need your help…

I’ll need to remove any and all “triggers” for a while. A “trigger” is any activity that reminds you that you’re a smoker. Here’s a list of the things I won’t be able to do while quitting:

1. Any Social Event, Regardless Of It’s Size, Duration, or Location
2. Everything Else I’ve Been Doing For The Past 16 Years

As you can see, this fairly limits my activities. There’s a good chance you won’t see me in person for a while. Don’t take it personally, but you’re all dirty “triggers”, and I’m a no-good “trigger-lover”.  

After April 27th, I’ll see you all on the other side…

Hooty McDeal: More Free Music from Amazon

hooty-mcdeal

Last week, I told you all about the 99 free songs from Amazon.  I have to apologize, as every single one of those songs is complete garbage. Seriously. I almost blew my brains out.  But now…

Amazon has a host of free “Label Sampler” downloads. Basically, a bunch of indie record labels released compilations of their respective artists. They’re offering 10 full albums/compilations for free, you don’t need to sign up for spam, either!  Check ‘em out here.  I have no idea if and/or when these expire, so get at ‘em, won’t you?

At the very least, download the sampler with the Flight of The Conchords and Iron and Wine songs, put together by Amazon. It’s got some really good music on it, including a track from Fleet Foxes, my new favorite band. and it costs none dollars and zero cents.

Don’t say I never gave you nuthin.

John Stewart Destroys CNBC

Reviews: The Dailies “Mixing Metaphors”

Let’s go ahead and get this out there: I might be the worst person to review this record. I’ve known Chad since we were about 16 years old. I watched him grow out of teen theater, and into Diesel Jeans. I’ve listened to the progression of his songwriting from his parents garage, to the studio, and even back to his folks house. I recorded some of his first pop songs. (Houseblend, anyone?) I saw the transformation from singer to songwriter, to artist, first hand.

I’m biased, if that’s not overwhelmingly obvious.  But whatever.  This isn’t about Chad. This is about The Dailies, which is a completely different thing entirely… 

From the opening track, “Signal Chain“, the band does an impressive job of separating themselves from their debut record, “What It Is“.  The first note imparts an urgency - unapologetic and confident.  But right away, the smoky Rhodes and the timber of two partnered voices soften up the listener.  You ride that airplane for a while, and then try to hang on as it soars through the chorus. This first track almost serves to introduce the listener to the band - I can practically see Rosy’s pursed lips and flailing arms as his snare drum introduces the bridge, Mike drops single notes on the piano that cut through the verse appropriately while Corey’s arpeggios return the favor. It’s like a conversation between musicians. At first, I thought this was a bit glaring. But after multiple listens to the entire record, it really works for the opening track. Not to mention, the mix of this track seems to serve the “introductory” purpose – a sound that isn’t embraced as much for the duration of the record.  

To this listener, “Mixing Metaphors” is about growth. Like I said, it’s a biased opinion. Gone is the sound of the “All-To-Well-Thought-Out” chart and recipe. These songs seem to have a life of their own – with the exception of a few songs on their previous record, it’s a life that wasn’t present on “What It Is“.  ”A Sovereign Nation” discusses the idea of conflict within a committed relationship – something very few songwriters are willing (or able, really) to tackle. The chorus pleads, “I don’t wanna go to war with you“, a defeated feeling all to familiar to the married/committed set.  

Speaking of growth, during the recording of “What It Is“, I couldn’t imagine Chad and Erica letting Mike Lee “chase the rabbit” on “The Science Project” – an unforgettable moment on the record, where Mike was allowed to shape dozens and dozens of individual takes and tracks on a single piano. Playing the keys, brushing the strings, and slamming the lid.  Letting Mike loose in the studio is a good idea. What follows is a sparse, haunting, and beautiful introduction to “Kiss Us Goodbye” – a clever and pretty song on it’s own, but Mike’s introduction softens the palate, and prepares you for the track. Somehow, I don’t think the song would work without it.  I’ve heard that Erica spends quite a bit of time “editing” these songs, throughout their birth and growth. If that’s the trick that separates this record from the first, then please, keep it up.  

Recording studios are very strange places. To the uninitiated, they’re nothing more than old Persian rugs, stale smells, and skinny Emo engineers seated behind rows of blinking lights. But to the artist, these rooms breathe. One inhales years of talented dust, and exhales something else entirely. What lived in your head and heart for weeks, as nothing more than time signatures and notes, eventually morphs into something unexpected – no doubt fertilized by the chemicals that are recording studios.  ”She Goes” and ”Feel Good“ sound like they was written in the studio.  They sound like sweet lil’ tunes, that chewed the old paint of the studio, and were shaped into something different.  ”She Goes” is rife with metaphor and rhyme. It’s predictable. It’s pretty, to say the least.  But to me, it sounds like the studio changed this song into something much more earnest and meaningful. It’s a true standout on this record.  Corey and I first discussed the idea of this session being referred to as, “organic”, and this song seems to define that theory.   “Feel Good” does exactly that to the listener – something that’s rare in the Smart-Pop genre. 

We all know Chad can sing.  Spend more than 5 minutes with him, and you’ll be well-versed in this talent.  If not, google that shit.  But Erica has pipes you’d not believe. In fact, if I have one overall complaint with this record, it’s that I don’t hear her as much as I’d like. “Love Brought You Here” has a cadence that is sweeping and lethargic at the same time. Don’t be fooled by it’s rather abrupt opening – this song quickly becomes something very unexpected.  Erica’s vocal builds slowly, from something basic and essential, to something urgent and desperate. It’s a really wonderful progression, and a true test of her vocal meddle. “Love brought you here…I know you don’t see, but in time it will all be clear…”  Simple and beautiful.  Look for Erica Reisser’s solo record sometime next fall. (I’m pretty sure that the usual suspects would be involved, too – Mike, Rosy, Dana, Corey, etc…) Kidding. Maybe…

Young Man” is the best song Chad has ever written. If you don’t agree, you’re wrong. It’s just that simple. For many years of listening to Chad’s music, I’ve been able to identify moments where I felt like he had a decision to make. Which chord to switch to, which solo to hide under, etc.  ”Young Man” has none of these moments.  It sounds pure, and unobstructed. Were there simply no decisions to be made? Or were all the right choices made, rendering the decision transparent? I don’t know. I can’t compare Chad’s writing to that of Springsteen (for many reasons, including the total lack of any drug addition, or working relationship with a Soprano) but this is Chad’s “Born to Run”.  The story is clear, precise, and relevant. It’s relatable, in a time where most music really isn’t, and it paints a perfectly clear picture. It’s very organic songwriting, and feels like a real departure from his normal style. Ever heard Jeff Buckley’s cover of “Satisfied Mind“?  It’s easy to hear that particular influence on “Young Man“. Kudos to Stick for a fantastic mix on this track. Upon first listen, you feel as if you know this road; you’ve driven it before, and you know which turn is coming next.  But this song hangs on the precipice. You’re always right at the edge. You can either stay and listen, or you can jump off the edge and miss it entirely. 

The Tide” brings us home. Throughout the record, we’re treated to the multiple talents of The Dailies; each track is a showcase of individual feel and contribution. The last track on the record, “The Tide” is simple and direct, and brings the listener back into the room with the band.  ”The waves roll out, and crash back in…and I am somehow comforted by their indifference“.  It’s thick and hearty through the chorus. Jangly guitars, chunky distortion, a bass line that won’t quit. The ride cymbal carries us out of the bridge, and back to the ground.  

Whether or not they planned it, “The Tide” reminds us of who the Dailies are.  They are singers and songwriters, and also students of the craft. They are mothers and fathers, struggling to be adults themselves.  They are evolving and growing, and the tide of the audience will forever rise and fall. No matter what is learned in the songwriting process, they’re never finished.  ”Mixing Metaphors” is very much a snapshot in time; a “Frozen Man” of sorts.  I’m really looking forward to the next chapter, and the snapshot that follows.

Home Sweet Home

Escrow
noun – a contract, deed, bond, or other written agreement deposited with a third person, by whom it is to be delivered to the grantee or promisee on the fulfillment of some condition.

Sara and I just bought a house. Well, maybe I’m being premature – we’re trying to buy a house. We found a nice little joint in Lake Balboa, put in an offer, and it was accepted. That was more than 30 days ago…

The Wild West heyday of California Real Estate in the early 2000′s is over, my friends. At it’s height, lenders were giving no-money-down loans on million-dollar properties to barely functioning crack-addicts.  Nowadays, you’d better have a credit score with 4 digits and one hell of a down payment. Escrow is a nightmare. I know a few of you Roadie’s are homeowners, so I’m sure you’re familiar with the process. Escrow is a daily nightmare of intrusion, delay, and disappointment. Sara and I are First Time Home Buyers, which means several things: a) We’re ignorant, and we make decisions based primarily on emotional response, and b) we’re ripe to be taken advantage of. Fortunately, we have a halfway decent agent, who’s got our best interests protected. For those of you who are about to buy your first house, here are some things I’ve learned:

The amount of paperwork to submit is astounding. I’m no tree-huggin’ hippie, but damn – even I was starting to feel a bit guilty about the amount of rainforest we decimated just completing the pre-approval process. Is there a digital alternative? Nope. 

As I mentioned, Escrow is a nightmare. No financial transaction is immune to military-esque scrutiny. Cash two paychecks at once? Prove it. Your folks give you a few thousand bucks for a honeymoon? Better have mom fill out seven pages in triplicate explaining the nature of the gift. Don’t even think about buying a $200 piece of gear for your studio. You’ll eat Taco Bell for every meal, and like it. 

Fees. Fees. Fees. Title Fees. Appraisal Fees. Loan Origination Fees. Loan Discount Fees (Yes, that’s VERY real. In order to lock-in a particular interest rate, you’ll pay for it) Credit Report Fees. Tax Service Fees. Lender Fees. Flood Certificate Fees. Good…..Sweet….Jesus……..  Honestly, there are more fees, but you get the point. 

Delays.  Want to get into that house quick, so you’re not paying rent and a mortgage at the same time? Tough shit. Expect EVERYTHING to be delayed. 

The upside?  Home is everything, and home is worth fighting for…

 

Home Sweet Home - before the renovations!

Home Sweet Home - before the renovations!

Shark Jumping 101

Dublin shelves plans for “U2 Tower”

“Foster (the architect) envisioned a 120-meter (400-foot) triangular tower on the south bank of Dublin’s River Liffey with an egg-shaped pod housing U2‘s new recording studios on top. That would give Bono and his bandmates a view at least twice as tall as any other building in Dublin.”

Yes, the idea has been put off due to a poor financial outlook. But consider the levels of supreme douchebaggery that got them this far. 

Now, get out and vote.  Just don’t write-in Bono on the ballot.

Wedding Cinematography

I’ve been producing wedding videos for about 5 years now. Five years. Whoa. I didn’t even realize just how long I’ve been doing this, until I decided to put together a “Best-Of” Cinematography reel – specifically for wedding work, without the other fluff.

Anyway. Here it is. It’s not often I get to shamelessly promote myself, so I’m jumping in whole-hog. (Pardon the crap-tastic quality of Google Video. A higher-quality Quicktime version is available for viewing on my site)

Godspeed, Paul…

 

Paul Newman lost his battle with cancer a few days ago. He was 83.  

There’s no doubt that he was one of the greatest actors of all time. His list of influential and powerful films is one of the longest I’ve ever seen. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid, The Sting, Cool Hand Luke. And a few personal favorites like, The Hudsucker Proxy and The Road to Perdition. (Hell, even his voice-role in Cars gave one goosebumps!)

But as an avid racing fan, I knew Paul in a slightly different way. Paul was the co-owner of Newman-Hass racing – a legendary American open-wheel racing team. Each time I saw him, or had the chance to speak with him at various Champ Car and Indy racing events, he was always cordial and commanding. He exuded charm and class as he walked through the paddock, and always had time for fans – both racing and film. In the past 20 years, Paul Newman championed a return to the romance of speed, and a departure from the hectic finances of the sport. All the while, winning countless trophies as a team owner. Oh, and by the way, he was still tearing up the racetrack at 73 years old, behind the wheel of various SCCA entries… 

Go fast, Paul.  You were the father of cool, and you will be sorely missed in a world that is lacking it.

“Life Forces Sale”

I’ve been an avid motorcyclist since I was 16 years old. I’ve always preferred to spend my Sundays checking the side mirrors and dragging my knee through canyons. I’d rather be washing my bike than washing my hair. I laugh at people who sit in traffic on the 405, while I whizz by between lanes. 

During this love affair with All Things Motorcycle, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time reading Craigslist, SoCal SV Riders, and Cycle Trader - regardless if I was in the market for new machinery. One common “For Sale” thread always made me laugh:

“______ Forces Sale”.  Whether it be “Baby”, “Job”, “Wife”, or even “Divorce”, these poor schmucks are forced to give up what I consider to be a mechanical extension of one’s self. I feel badly for them most of the time, and the rest of the time I’d just shake my head. “How can WHATEVER get in the way of your motorcycle riding?”, I’d think out loud. 

Recently, Sara and I decided it was time to buy a house.

On an unrelated note, I’m selling a mint-condition 2005 Yamaha FZ1. It’s got 12,000 very-loved miles on it, and it will rocket you north of 170 MPH. It has zero bedrooms and zero baths. It is wildly impractical, but you can outrun a helicopter on it.

I will miss it very dearly….

 

Go. Fast. Always.

Go. Fast. Always.

Surgery Shoot

So last night, Chad, Mike, Rosy, Ben, and Matty came over to my place to play poker.  Although the action was still heavy around 12:30AM, I had to kick everyone out because I had an early-morning shoot. I’m producing a reality pilot that focuses around a doctor who’s got a really amazing story and personality, ad we’ve been shooting different segments here and there. I was really vocal about my displeasure of this particular shoot, for several reasons:

1. It involved waking up at 6:30AM – something I don’t do all that often anymore. I am “self-employed”, which loosely translated means, “I wake up at noon”.

2. I had to shoot a surgery.  

I just got back from the hospital, and you know what? It wasn’t all that bad!  Initially, we were going to be filming a total foot amputation, due to a neglected wound – gangrene had set in, and this was the only option left. Fortunately for the patient, and my stomach, the surgical team determined they could try something less traumatic and save this dudes foot. Don’t ask me what the procedure was. All I know is that it involved removing large amounts of bone from the dudes ankle, and re-arranging a lot of local tissue.

The blood was minimal, surprisingly. I was sort of expecting a cartoonish gush of plasma when the blade opened him up, but the cauterizing knife eliminates a lot of that.  The two things that really surprised me, were the smell and the sound. Burning flesh smells like, well, burning flesh. It’s not potpourri. It’s like a mixture of burning tires, hot garbage, and iodine.  Wanna know what a bone saw sounds like? It sounds exactly like you’d think it sounds, which is to say it’s The Worst Sound Ever.  I really wasn’t prepared for the aural and olfactory assault.  I breathed through my mouth, and turned down the headphones as to not puke my guts out. 

 

Let's do this...

Let's do this...

All in all, still not as bad as I thought it would be. Although, I prefer shooting race cars and rock bands.

Now, back to eating your breakfasts….