The title came from the name of an art showing a friend of mine from college was putting on. This take of it varies a bit from the original version, giving it a better feel for a solo acoustic play through. Despite it being years before I would be part of a band, I wrote Natural Appearances thinking it was meant to live as a rock song.
The lyrics tell a story of a struggling couple looking for a rock n’ roll lifestyle, though it was not a story about any relationship of mine. I was of age to start hitting music bars and finishing up with college, so it was a time of discovery for me. I was meeting other musicians in the area, going to open mics and just learning how to be a new singer songwriter in the area. And it was exciting! Staying out late, smoking more second hand smoke than first, going to bars I hope I never I have reason to return to, and covering all sorts of new ground for a soft spoken 21 year old.
The “original version”, with a more straight rock tempo and bass intend hook, was not played often, as it never had the gusto I wanted as a solo song. Years later when Strangers and Liars formed, it was reborn in the light I had always pictured it, and was one of the first original songs the band picked up.
You can hear the Strangers and Liars version here!
One of the hardest things about this project is (and will continue to be) attempting to bring up songs from the earliest stages of my songwriting “career”. Though I cringe looking through some of the early attempts, it’s an important exercise to go back not only to see from where I’ve come as an artist, but to understand that reviving these songs is not as impossible or implausible as it might seem. A song is never really set in stone as far as what it means to the listener and the writer, and therefore it should not have to seem like it’s set in stone even on paper. Lyrics can be removed or added, chord progressions can be altered, etc.
I wrote “What it Means to Me” after the first time I felt I was publicly upstaged by another musician (playing a ukulele of all things). Predictably, with a opening description like that, the song is a bit dark. In my defense, I was in college, and in the mind of most college boys, dark means deep. Being new to performing for others is tricky business if you don’t get some thick skin quick. It’s all fun and admiration playing for your close friends who would never tell you that you sound anything but great. Then you play somewhere a little more out of your comfort zone and watch a veteran steal the scene. Immediately, the battle of negative emotions occurs: do I hate the competing musician more for taking the audience, or do I hate the audience more for betraying me like this!?
It’s a dangerous business comparing yourself to others, wondering if this person with more talent and more of a following has the same kind of passion that you do. Are they just doing it for the chicks? To be cool? Do they really want to create something original in order to tell their story like you do? And if it turns out they do, does that make it better or worse?
At the time, I remember having one particular goal in mind: I wanted to write something happy. Writing sad songs can feel like such a crutch after awhile. It’s always easier to complain rather than look on the bright side, and I wanted to make the effort.
The theme of moving at my own pace has been reoccurring in my songwriting. Whether it’s that I was born in a generation that doesn’t quite appeal to me or that I just get overwhelmed by my surroundings too easily, the world always feels like it’s moving too fast for it’s own good. For the most part, my response to this is not that the world needs to slow down, but rather that the world shouldn’t expect me to desperately be trying to catch up (and this is supposed to be a happy song, right?). While other songs in this vein have been more combative in stating that my pace is my own, Take a Little Time is about not having to feel bad about avoiding the race. The world can be very intimidating, and it shouldn’t feel wrong, lazy or irresponsible to not be inclined to keep up.
A song from several years ago, Quiet on the Shoreline was a major stepping stone in my advancement as a songwriter. For one thing, it was one of my earliest story songs; more significantly a story song from a third person perspective. A lost love story between the captain and the lady, giving the listener in broad strokes an idea of what they had together and how they’re dealing with losing each other, while the details are left to one’s imagination. I’ve always preferred a certain vagueness in my songwriting, for the fear of the lyrics sounding too forced or uninspired. I have yet to master the ability of writing a story song that goes through the details and leaves little to interpretation.
It was also probably the first time I really wanted to try and create a setting in a song. Between the never ending chord progression like the constant roll of the waves and the lyrical asides regarding the surrounding, I remembering starting on this song thinking I wanted it to feel like being near the water. I sat outside, down the street from one of my favorite little lakes in Pennsylvania, saw the wind moving the trees and wrote “The wind is dying, trees are holding steady for awhile”. And the rest is history.
I’m honored to say that this song has been performed by a handful of my favorite songwriters, such as Tom Hitt and Glenn and Lucy Rankin. There’s also a version that appeared on Strangers and Liars debut album “Five Seat Concert Hall”.
I do my best not to worry about the future. Life has handed me plenty of unexpected turns, with moments of disappointment and excitement alike. I’ve made my peace with the lack of control over it, but realize I’m expected to travel through life with some general direction. It’s the combination of accepting the impermanence of ones plans while attempting to set life goals that leads to doubt.
Hazy is about that doubt. So much about the future is never clear. That doesn’t need to be an intimidating thing, but at times when you’re lacking direction and you take a step back to try and gain perspective, it certainly can be.
Turntable Turn was an idea that started from the play on words in the title. As a songwriter, I’ve always found it remarkable how life can alter the way we look at things so drastically. Any song a person is familiar with tends to have an association that comes with it–a person, place, youth, first dance, first kiss, first break up, and so on and so on. The first time something happened that one of my own songs ended up meaning something to me other than what I had originally intended was mind blowing, and even felt a little invasive. That some outside force could redirect my perspective on something I created was a notion that took some getting used to. The first time would not be the last time.
Turntable Turn is about just that. Anyone with a love for music knows the weight a song can carry, and how great of a turn the meaning can take along the way.
This is the first of two posts I am making today. Starting today, I’m changing to the direction of this blog to something more befitting of it’s abilities. I’ve used this to talk about shows, musicians, songs and things like that, but all in all I’ve used it as a promoting device. Truth is, there are better forms of social media doing that for me, so I thought I should change it up a little.
While I still intend to have the upcoming performances listed here, the primary focus will be songs. In close connection with my youtube channel, I plan to post one of my songs (via video recording) and talk a little bit about what it has to say. After years of writing and only so little recording, it feels like I’m sitting on top of a mound of songs gathering dust. And a good deal of it I wouldn’t mind sharing.
So instead of trying to make whatever upcoming show I have sound appealing to you (who may well be a reader several hundred miles away from said venue), it’s time to start putting myself on the chopping block of the world wide web.
Stay tuned for the first entry.
And here I am, returning shamefully after an almost entirely post-less month. I had expected my post frequency to diminish once I started working the day job again, but this is absurd! So here we are. Let’s catch up on September, shall we?
Season 3 of the Songwriter Sunset ended. Our final two Songwriters were Graham Scott and Aaron Work, with the following weekend being the finale. Excited to have had another great year, with talented songwriters who are enthusiastic about being a part of the show. Can’t wait for the 2015 season.
Thank you 2014 songwriters!
Strangers and Liars made some appearances around town, playing at The Crossroads Dinor as well as making a return appearance to The King’s Rook Club. Good times to be had.
Strangers and Liars, just Rookin’ it.
As the seasons change, the band has started to prepare more studio time. More preliminary steps have been taken towards album 3, with a plethora of old and news songs just itching to be in your ears.
I’ve also been plugging away myself with some solo performances. I’ll be returning this upcoming Friday (October 3rd) to the Erie Ale House, for the Doug Phillips show, which is always a good time. It’s a nice room, and who doesn’t like Doug Phillips?
With any luck, I’ll be a little more on top of things in the coming months. But goodness, in the meantime, where does the time go???
First and for most, let me say in this day and age, I am contented as a cumber to have a steady job with agreeable hours and a paycheck that gets me through the months. That being said, after a summer like this, it’s going to take a bit to get back into the swing of the 9 to 5. Thankfully, just because the daily grind is starting again doesn’t mean the music is stopping.
Hatch Hollow Music Fest was a blast, on and off the stage! Big thank you to Erich and Mary Beth Semelka for having Strangers and Liars down for the third year in a row, and of course, all the other great bands that played. And there was food! All the grilled corn you could eat. Yes please.
Regarding the upcoming week, we’re getting down to the final few Songwriter Sunsets of this year. This week will feature two veteran Erie Songwriters, Mike Rhodes (of “Breaking the Circle”) and Gabe Poland (of “East Clintwood”).
Then this Saturday (August 30th), Strangers and Liars will be returning to The Crossroads Dinor in Edinboro PA. We’ll be playing there from 9pm to Midnight.
It always takes a minute to get back to successfully juggling work and music once the off season ends, but this train will keep moving, so no worries!
What an excellent and honoring weekend of music playing this past weekend at Celebrate Erie!
And then this happened!
Between the Friday Erie All Stars Beatle Tribute and the Strangers and Liars show on Sunday, Celebrate Erie was an absolute blast! Great to see the home town celebration turn out so well.
Onward to this upcoming week. This Thursday (August 21st), we have a three piece Songwriter Sunset in the making. Chris Hannigan will be joining us from Pittsburgh, as well as two of our local Erie area staples, Claire Stuczynski and Dom DeCecco!
Friday (August 22nd) I will be returning to The Harbor View Bar and Grill for a solo show from 7 to 9pm. Then Saturday (August 23rd), it’s time for some REAL fun…
Home of the home-grown stage.
Hatch Hollow Music Fest! This Saturday starting at noon, and going all night! Strangers and Liars will be taking the stage at 2:30pm. I however, have just about every intention to be there all day.
This is sort of a last hurrah for me as I go back to the daily money making grind next week. Let’s here it for summer!