Making Moments on Movie Night in Montclair (Part 2 of 2)

Here We Go!

Photo by David Nelson
Photo by David Nelson

 

It was time to rock. Our first number is almost always “Jungle Gym Jamming,” and I gave Miguel the tempo by speaking the phrase “Jungle Gym Jamming” a few times at the pace I wanted. He counted us in and we were into the show. At the song’s opening I was making eye contact with the audience, which was nicely situated on blankets and lawn chairs in the street. I was trying to get a feel for ways to delight this collection of families, pre-schoolers, tweens and teens. Interacting with Judy and Casey on stage helped to maintain audience interest, as well as adding some physical movements that match the lyrics. In “Jungle Gym Jamming,” I encourage kids to “stomp to the beat,” “jump up and down,” “play some air guitar” and “spin in circles.” So I physicalized these words to the best of my ability while singing and playing guitar.

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When I laid into the solo, Judy came to center stage to interact with me; I think that helps to intrigue an audience. And as with many good punk songs, I lead us out with several rhythmic chants of “HEY! HEY!” I’m used to hearing polite clapping between songs, but hearing young voices fully cheering was really something special! As I write this blog, I’m trying to remember the exact sound of all those kids going “WOOOOOO!”  and take that moment with me.

When I Say Marco, You Say Polo!

Photo by David Nelson
Photo by David Nelson

The moment when I truly knew we had the audience with us was in “Stay in the Pool,” which we performed second, when I got a call-and-response going: “When I say Marco, you say Polo! Marco! ____________! Marco! _____________!” – the shouts of “Polo!” back from the crowd were spirited and we kept that going for 4 times through (it’s only one time through on the record). This was our first-ever public, live performance of the full band arrangement of this song, and it went over as well as I had hoped. As soon as it ended, we segued right into “All Star,” and it was really gratifying to see all those kids and some adults mouthing the lyrics along with me.

My new guitar strings were slipping a little out of tune and I took a moment out to tune up. To make sure I didn’t lose the audience, I told the crowd what I was doing and I added a line I had picked up from another performer: “I tune because I care.” Now confidently in-tune, we launched into “Jackals on the Prowl,” which tends to be a crowd favorite in Montclair because the song’s namesake, the NJ Jackals play at the Montclair State University campus. This was our first public performance of this homegrown sports anthem with Casey in the band.

Our song “Window of the Train” was performed with dynamics – volumes rising and falling to give the impression of a train trip beginning, chugging along, and then coming to rest. I always get a kick out of looking over at Peanut during that song when I sing about “Grandma & Grandpa waving at me,” especially when my parents are with her, and I get to see them waving at each other.

Going Acoustic

Photo by David Nelson
Photo by David Nelson

The time was flying by and we reached the acoustic portion of our set. I quickly switched guitars and kicked us off into “Glass Half Full,” a song that deals with adult issues of sustaining optimism when things go wrong or our mood is off, but I feel it relates to everyone. Casey improvised a great call-and-response part in the verses and the band gave the song a great feel.

One of our great moments of connecting with the audience came as I introduced “The Pick Song.” I held up my pick and said “Don’t put the pick in your…” – then I heard all kinds of responses from the audience at once. The response that came out the clearest was “EYE!” – and with that I started strumming the intro and the band joined in. This song works like a good Pixar movie – it’s very kid-friendly and relevant to what we need to teach pre-schoolers when I let them strum my guitar – a friendly reminder not to put the pick in their mouths or drop it down the guitar’s sound hole. It works on the adult level too with clever setups to the variation of lyrics in the choruses that gets adults and teens laughing in anticipation of the punch line.

Photo by David Nelson
Photo by David Nelson

With time remaining for only one more song, but six more on the setlist to choose from, my inspiration to choose the last song came right from the sky. That beautiful waxing gibbous moon I could see rising over Manny’s Diner prompted me to play “Peek-a-boo Moon” as our closing number.

A Band on the Rise

It was clear all throughout the stage that as a band we continued to raise our game from one gig to the next, as we have since the beginning. This was only Casey’s second gig as a member of the group, and our previous full-band show was almost 2 months before this one. As she loosened up and had fun onstage, her vocals sounded freer and her harmonies blended with my melodies more naturally. She and Judy both continue to interact more with me onstage and create more moments. Miguel covered Ross’ parts ably and confidently and our band continues to improve as we work with both drummers. We’re heading into a busier time in our schedule with a growing confidence that we’re prepared for the growing opportunities ahead of us, one level at a time.

Packing Up and a Cool New Invitation

We quickly moved our gear off the street. I paused briefly to give Peanut a great big hug and got right back to moving equipment off the street so that the movie could begin.

On the sidewalk we started to pack up. During the packing, I was happy to be approached in conversation by Joann Smalls, a key player in the Montclair music scene. She invited us to perform at an outdoor festival for kids in September, which we’re now in the process of working out.

I could feel the benefit of having fulfilled Lisa’s request for live entertainment that night, and then having worked out the unique problems with the scheduling and physical logistics. Taking those obstacles in stride and then giving a heartfelt performance from everyone in the group led us to a good place and helped build constructive relationships with people who love the arts in our town like we do.

What requests have you come through on that ended up benefitting you? What challenges have you overcome happily, with gusto? What moments in doing your favorite things do you try to hold onto and remember? Do foresee events in your future where you can be more mindful of opportunities to soak up a little extra happiness?

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Aside

The Making of “Stay in the Pool” – Part 2 of 3

Studio Night

We carried a lot of excitement into the studio, knowing what a strong song we had. We also brought a great deal of confidence to the session, having done a full-band session before when the band was very new.

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Judy (bass) and Ross (drums) have become very adept at working out nuances to enhance the rhythms for each record that we make, experimenting with starts and stops that serve the song and communicating very clearly with each other and the rest of the band how we can work the part together.

Casey brought a sense of calm and quiet confidence that seemed to elevate all our abilities to do our best work. Our producer, Dave, kept the mood light and celebratory while also challenging us to keep up the pace and energy of each song from opening note to ending tag line.

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We had a very specific goal for our studio recording: record Judy’s bass and Ross’ drums live in the room. My guitar and vocals and Casey’s guitar performance would just be a means of giving Ross and Judy a frame of reference for where we are in the song and capture Ross and Judy’s genuine experience of recording their parts while the whole band plays together live in the studio. This process is known as “recording the basic tracks.”

Once we got a basic track that made us happy, we recorded the group shouts – the “YEAH!” after the lyric “‘Til my fingers get pruny” and the “NO!” response to “Do you think that sounds looney?” We also recorded the “POLO!” responses to the “Marco!” shouts in my lead vocal. It was definitely a loose, fun moment shared among the whole band after having been under the microscope to deliver the perfect musical performance.

Doing our Homework

We were coming up on the weekend and Dave had travel plans. He and I were both reluctant to let several days pass without progress on this time-sensitive tune, so we came up with the idea that I would rent his professional-grade studio microphone and pre-amp (a device that gives a microphone that full and warm tone you’re accustomed to hearing on professional recordings). Casey and I could then record into my Mac at home (I use GarageBand) along with Ross’ and Judy’s basic tracks. I record the final guitar tracks into GarageBand from home because I can get just as good a result at home as in the studio and not have to mind a time limit; this time the vocal was to get the same treatment.

Casey came over on Sunday night and we were off to a fast start. Casey added her extremely tasteful doo-wop backing vocals in the verses, some nice ooh’s and ahh’s were they would fit right in, and some big harmonies in the chorus that give that section of the song the feel of a big show-stopper.

Recording a second harmony vocal layer below the original layer would prove much more challenging. Casey would take on the second layer as well as the first to ensure a consistent blend of voices.  It took hard work and a willingness to try out different options that would blend with both Casey’s upper harmony and my lead vocal. At the end of 3-1/2 hours hammering out the vocals for the song, we were ready to capture Casey’s acoustic guitar part, which we recorded easily. Casey then moved over to the keyboard, where we chose the tone of a bright grand piano to complement the guitar parts. She laid out a rhythm pattern she had in mind, which inspired me to create a piano track of my own that incorporated her idea with some of my own, including slides down the keyboard and arpeggios, which are chords that are broken out to individual notes played one-at-a-time to imply the chord, instead of being played all at once.

Casey went home at around midnight. I had work the next morning, but knew that I’d have to return the rented mic the next night, as its owner would need it in the studio. So, I set out to record lead vocals at midnight on Sunday night, feeling a slight vocal strain from guiding Casey through her parts which were outside my vocal register. By 2:00 AM, I was re-recording the song’s chorus, piece by piece and was close to finishing the lead vocal – and then I heard something unusual for 2 AM: footsteps upstairs. Amy had woken up to hear Peanut wide awake and calling out for me. My last shot to record the vocals at home had seemingly come to a screeching halt. I tended to Peanut, giving her milk, reading books to her and starting her favorite movie, “Yogi Bear,” which we must have watched together over a dozen times by now. 90 minutes later, Peanut told me she was ready to try going to bed again. By the time she fell asleep, it was 3:30 and I insisted on completing the take. When I went downstairs to re-record my chorus part in one last spot, I found that the 90-minute downtime helped my voice bounce back a little, so I re-recorded all the choruses to make them sound consistent. Now, I knew there was precious little time for any sleep before having to get up and go to work. I also had a sense I should squeeze in some time the next night to re-do the vocals before returning the equipment to the studio.

To be continued…

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The Making of “Stay in the Pool” – Part 2 of 3