Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fairy Tales For The Ears

It’s not always easy for a musician to make music the way she/he hears it. If there is a record label behind an artist, the label, as well as the artist have an idea of the kind of record they want to make. Those two camps don’t always agree and the label is usually not shy about enforcing their vision with the artist. Lisa Germano has recorded for major record labels and independent ones. She has never compromised her vision. Listening to several of her records reminded me of that. Her most recent is Magic neighbor. I was spoke with her last week about the record, collaborating with other musicians and Oxfam.

Lisa first came to my attention when she performed violin with John Mellencamp. We worked with her at Side One Management on her debut album, On The Way Down From the Moon Palace. The first single was the wonderfully whimsy and droll You Make Me Want To Wear Dresses.

If it is possible to do a valid remake of Valley Of The Dolls (not sure that anyone can top the 1967 epic), Lisa’s music would be the perfect soundtrack. It has a childlike feel of wonderment, yet the lyrical themes are very adult. It’s lilting, haunting, melancholic and upbeat. It’s very cinematic. It’s visual in an audio format. When told that, Lisa acknowledged that People tell me this often, but I can't say why. I am not influenced by film scores as far as I know. I do love movies and I love when the music fits perfectly. I think my music is more like little stories, maybe fairy tales and those are also visual when you read them.”

Magic neighbor is comprised of fairy tales for the ears. The leadoff track is marypan, a beautiful, yet short musical interlude. Lisa notes that “I've had this little song for awhile and it was even shorter, just one time through …a nice moment, a breath. When recording it, Jamie (Candiloro) suggested playing it through again with the addition of the pedal steel. I'm glad we made it longer. It didn't need to be turned into a song with lyrics, as it felt fine as a melody.”

In another instrumental, the fairy tale-like kitty train, the piano is reminiscent of hearing your music teacher playing piano at a school recital. It’s a song that Lisa often plays on the piano. “Sometimes when I practice, I need a break from my voice. I get tired of hearing it. A simple piano song is helpful for this break.” Lisa loves cats so it’s no surprise that she pays homage to them in this song. “I changed kitty train a bit when recording it since it was reminiscent of my three cats who come rushing into the kitchen all in a row like a train waiting for their breakfast so I made the tempo change like a train: starting and slowing down and starting again.”

While Lisa's music is beautiful, the lyrics and themes do take on mature matter. There is a recurring message in the songs on Magic neighbor of wanting to enjoy the moment and if it’s not working start the relationship over. Women can easily relate to what she’s saying, although may not always heed the advice. Lisa said she doesn’t write with women in mind. She did get some strong male reaction when she released geek the girl several years ago. “I got reviews from men who thought I was a real hard-lined 'I hate men’ woman...which I'm not. At the same time I received more gay fan mail from men who thanked me for this record as they related to it. It was pretty cool.”

a million times is about coming to terms with the fact that maybe the person you’re with is not who your thought (or who you wanted him to be) he was, but living in denial. Unfortunately, too many people have lived this scene at least once.

we fell in love and we were caught

inside this game we call “together”

and it felt good until we found

we had more fun when we were strangers

Besides being lyrically intriguing, a million times also has interesting percussion and guitar. The production is spot on. “I wanted the song to be monotonous as the actions of the lyrics suggest, so it needed to be a bit boring but it also needed a kick to say ‘What? Again? OK’ To emphasize the mundane, Lisa used an everyday item, but it didn’t exactly end up sounding the way she envisioned it. “I did want it to be even weirder, like when the vacuum machine turns on every chorus. I really wanted you to hear that it was a vacuum machine, cleaning the house yet again, but on pro tools since it already had a lot on it, there's only so much space. You can't really tell it's a vacuum. The percussion had to be things in the house to hit, lots of simple things like spoons, glasses, stuff at the home where you keep repeating your actions a million times”

The guitar in simple brings to mind the Kink’s song Lola. Lisa doesn’t have any connection between the two songs, but said “simple just needed to feel heavy because of the self indulgence and the weight that is on your mind and then it needed some irony so the circusy recorders on the chorus could help make fun of this self indulgence. You can look at it easier.”

There doesn’t seem to be another musician out there with such captivating song and album titles ((lullaby for liquid pig, dream glasses off, you make me want to wear dresses, Magic neighbor, on the way down from the moon palace). Many times the titles do not appear in the songs lyrics. “Song titles to me are what the song is about in general. Sometimes it's simple and sometimes it's the same as writing the song, which might need stripping away of a lot of the obvious to get to the heart of the song: what is it actually about. Sometimes the titles don't come until much later for me. Like to the mighty one. It was titled it's a beautiful day, but for me I knew there was some deeper meaning to the song. Do you know how many songs there are in the world called a beautiful day? LOTS. My cat Lou was fighting cancer, as well as people I knew that had cancer... and I was fighting my bad side so I titled it to the mighty one. The song is about fighting your demons and at least trying to take control as much as you can overthings you have little control over except for a huge try. These are the mighty ones and the beautiful day could be just one day.

“Magic” in Magic neighbor is the only capitalized word of Lisa’s song titles. “Every time I see my name or titles of my songs capitalized it just simply feels wrong. It's too big...missing an intimacy for me. But Magic neighbor felt wrong in all lower case. Somehow it needed the Magic to be big because it takes Magic to deal with the horrible unconsciousness that it takes to put two cats to sleep when they aren't even sick, which my neighbor did and how this can lead to blowing up people and fighting stupid wars...boom boom.”

Being a fan of album artwork, she isn’t happy about the digital age making it somewhat a think of the past. “I love a record with artwork to help the whole concept and these days people don’t seem to care about it so much. I want a cd to hold and love. It’s always a gift when people give you their art. Dean (he did the artwork for Magic neighborhood) is a friend of Neil Finn and my friend Tchad Blake. I've known him for years. When I decided to put this record out I contacted him cause his paintings are amazing and make me feel so much. He let me use anything I wanted for free. Check him out : deanbuchanan.co.nz

Besides John Mellencamp, Lisa has played with a list of amazing musician including Neil Finn, Johnny Marr, eels, Sebastian Steinberg and Latin Playboys. I remember getting chills hearing and seeing her and David Hidalgo face off on stage during one of those all too rare Latin Playboys shows. She considers herself “the luckiest person ever” to be playing with these artists. “They are drawn to me which I struggle to understand but which also gives me confidence that there is something to my music when I feel insecure.”

7 Worlds Collide, The Sun Came Out is a collaborative record spearheaded by Neil Finn. Proceeds from the sale of the record benefit Oxfam. Lisa recorded and wrote Reptile for the album. “I got involved with 7 Worlds Collide back in 2001 when Neil got a bunch of people together to create a band that did some shows before they would break up. It was friends he had met through the years who didn't know each other but knew Neil and it was an amazing experience. We all have been on him to do it again.

Finally he had an idea how to do it but do it differently: get everyone together in New Zealand and in 3 weeks record a record for Oxfam. Everyone on the first 7 Worlds came except for Eddy Vedder, who just had a child. There was the addition of some new friends such as Wilco and KT Tunstall. Everyone came with their families and it was huge and crazy with all the energy around. Since everyone was performing with each other and pretty busy I decided to use Jeff Tweedy's boy Spencer as my main drummer on Reptile. We recorded it with him, Seabstian on bass, Glenn Kotche on percussion and me on guitar and got it in one take. All the kids (Jeff Tweedy and Johnny Marr’s children) were around having fun but rather bored so I decided to have them come in and sing the chorus. It was great fun and I think the songshows this especially with Neil at the end playing a marimba that was in the room. The kids were singing with a big smiles on their faces...good stuff!”

Looks like there be some live performances for Lisa in 2010. “I am planning a 10 or so day tour with Boybrain in Europe at the end of March beginning of April. Philip Selway of Radiohead has made a record under the name Boybrain which should be out early next year. To make the record, he put a band together of people he knew from this last 7 Worlds Collide experience with Sebastian Steinberg from Soul Coughing, Glenn Kotche and Pat Sansone from Wilco and me. On tour it'll probably just be me, Sebastian and Philip doing some of his music and some of mine. 7 Worlds may be at SXSW in some form...still being worked on. If Lisa performs anywhere near you, make sure you get to her show. You'll count your Magic stars.

Friday, December 18, 2009

$500 YouTube Video Nets Director Hollywood Deal

Panic Attack, a 5 minute movie made for $500, has Hollywood opening their pocketbooks. Federico Alvarez runs a post-production visual effects house in Uruguay and is the director. He worked on the project in his spare time according to newslite.tv. He has been given millions of dollars by a Hollywood production company for a bigger project and would work with Sam Raimi says Cinema Blend.

It's all about getting your work in front of people. If you keep it under a bushel, it will stay there. You not only have to build it, but you have to set it free. Reap the rewards later.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Not Exactly What They've Been Listening To

Arbitron has been monitoring people's listening habits for years. Their method was for listeners to record their habits in a book and send it in. Radio stations use this data for everything from advertising rates to changing formats if the ratings aren't there. For the past year, Arbitron has been using electronic monitoring systems called the Portable People Meters and needless to say, there are some results that vary from the old paper diary method.

The NY Times talks about these glaring difference. Men were thought to make up 34.7 percent of the soft rock listeners. Well it turns out they may have been closeted Air Supply fans. The new report puts the men at 40.1 percent of the audience. Taking a blow are the classical music stations. Their market share fell 10.7 percent. Talk radio also had a hit with their audience down 2.6 percent. 80% of talk radio is conservative.

I guess every once in awhile guys need an Christopher Cross fix.

Govt gets inovlved in saving Hollywood from piracy

Is this really where our government should be spending $30 million? According to a post on Cynopsis:

The U.S. government earmarked $30 million in new funding to help track down and prosecute piracy of Hollywood content. The funds are part of the Omnibus Appropriations Conference report, targeted for personnel and programs authorized by last year's bipartisan Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property (PRO-IP) Act and will be divvied up as such: $20 million will be allocated in state and local economic, high tech and internet crime prevention grants; $8 million will be used to put FBI agents on the case targeting IP crimes; and $2 million will be reserved for new Dept. of Justice IP prosecutorial activities. MPAA CEO Dan Glickman released a statement thanking Congress and calling attention to the impact piracy has on industry jobs. The MPAA and RIAA also praised this year's "Operation Holiday Hoax," launched by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a task force dubbed the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center.

There are so many other worthy causes out there (first and foremost the high number of unemployed people) that our government should be focusing on. If the film industry had taken any notes on how badly the major record labels handled the digital age, they would not be in a position to need $30 million to fight piracy. Note: piracy is not why your industry is flailing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Vevo: Music Video Content All In One Place?

Universal, Sony and YouTube are partners in Vevo. The two record labels are trying to control how their content is presented (and I'm sure monetized) on the web. They have created Vevo to be the destination for music. A few results are in and they are not promising. Read Fred Wilson's review.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Kinks To Be Celluloid Heroes

NME is reporting that director Julien Temple will be involved in a biopic of The Kinks. The film will explore the love/hate relationship between brothers Ray and Dave Davies. They are the founding members of the band. Screendaily adds that Ray Davis is working with Temple. The film is tentatively titled You Really Got Me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Royalty Statement Fiction

Tim Quirk, a member of Too Much Joy is also a music industry executive with Rhapsody. He had been trying for years to get an accurate royalty statement from Warner Brothers Records for the records the band released on that label. Although he knew the band was not recouped (paid back all the advances given by the label), he did not see one digital royalty listed. Being that he worked at Rhapsody, he had access to the Too Much Joy account there and was able to see what they were making and what was paid to the label.

In his blog, Tim details his experience dealing with Warner Bros accounting. This is a pretty common scenario and I've spoken many time about artists I've worked with who have sold over 1 million units a title and never saw a dime in royalties from the label. Tim points out that the label makes money on many bands that never recoup. Bands usually receive between 10-18% of the retail selling price. That money goes to recouping the advance. The bulk of the money goes to the labels. What Tim doesn't mention is that the labels often bill unapproved expenses to the artist. In most cases the musician's contract does not specify that they need to get approval for spending. Labels can spend tens of thousands of dollars on radio promotion (yes that includes gifts for programmers, giveaways and promotional items), crazy marketing ideas (let's put the band's name on a hot air balloon for $6,000) and dinners with the band. It's not limited to these things, but the spending builds. I've yet to see a truly transparent royalty statement. Tim astutely notes that if they accurately report to the bands that don't recoup, they have to do the same to those that do recoup and that means shelling out more money than they want to. If they can afford it (it's very costly), an artist can audit the label. From what I've heard from managers, there is always money to be found.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Top Ten Lists of 2009

The Top Ten Lists are popping up everywhere. David Dye (longtime host of World Cafe) notes that his list is of the moment. Ask him to list the songs at another point in the year and his choices might be different. I wonder how many journalists and djs look back on their past lists and say "what was I thinking?" Music can endure and it can also hit a momentary chord (pun intended). Sometimes a beat can intrigue, sometimes it's a melody. No matter how, why or for how long the music affects you, it has to be an honor for a musician to see her/his work be singled out from the increasing myriad of music that gets released each year. When Los Lobos released Kiko in 1992, it was staggeringly wonderful to see the amount of people that had it in their top 10 of that year. It was a well deserved crown on an enduring, classic album.