Sunday, May 29, 2011

Tagging ourselves

We've needed to update our business cards for a while now. This is the one we've been using for the past couple years:

The first problem? Check out the URL in the bottom left corner. Nobody uses Myspace anymore. Or at least we don't. I haven't felt the need to send people there since discovering how to put our songs on the sidebar of this blog.

Additionally, the tagline bugs me. It's accurate—a number of listeners who've seen us live have said they were surprised to hear such a big, full sound from just a keyboardist and a drummer. But if you've never heard us, is "little band, big sound" going to make you curious enough to try us out?

This time around, we went with one of my original ideas:

When I ran this past Ron the Drummer a few years ago, he had reservations. Why typecast ourselves as a coffeehouse band when we didn't want to limit ourselves to coffeehouses? I saw his point. But on reflection, "coffeehouse stadium rock" is a good description of our sound. We do singer-songwritery stuff that fits in well with the coffeehouse genre. We also play a lot louder than the typical singer-songwriter who brings herself and an acoustic guitar to a cafe. There's only so much you can turn down when drums are involved.

I haven't had a chance yet to hand one of these out to somebody who's unfamiliar with the band. However, I did get to give it to our producer yesterday when he visited Phoenix. He loved it. Thought it was hilarious. I'll take that as a good sign.

Here's hoping a lot of people ask for our cards in the near future.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Freelance fixation

When I made the leap from full-time employee to freelancer, my biggest worry was that there wouldn't be enough work to pay the bills. Eight business days in, however, and I'm as busy as ever. So far, anyway. That is good news.

On the flip side, all that extra time I thought I'd have for musical adventures hasn't materialized. I haven't done more songwriting, haven't seen more live shows, and practicing ... that's actually suffered.

It's weird. On the surface, I'm doing pretty much the same job-related tasks as I did before—I'm just doing it from my little office at home. But somehow the work is more addictive now. It's always there, beckoning seductively.

People talk about how you have to try not to let work take over when you do it out of your house. That kind of makes sense. I expected the work-life lines to blur a little. What I didn't expect was experiencing withdrawal symptoms when it came time to break for dinner.

I'm not complaining. It will be a long while before I can predict how often I'll be this busy. Until then, the more the better.

Still, if work keeps pushing music to the sidelines, music is going to have to find a way to push back.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The ear of the beholder, part 2

"I found out why that woman walked out on us at the Folk Festival," said Ron the Drummer at yesterday's rehearsal.

My ears perked up. The woman in question suffered from ME/CFS, and the song that drove her away was our ME/CFS advocacy song. I'd been curious as to why ever since I'd heard about it.

"She thought all of our songs were downers," Ron continued, "and 'Everybody Knows About Me' pushed her right over the edge."


OK, "Everybody Knows About Me" is not a cheerful song. In fact, it's pretty over-the-top depressing. On the other hand, Ron and I tried to compensate by making sure every other song we played was energetic and upbeat. The first songs in the set list might have been a little angry in places, but not sad.

After about four seconds of mulling this over, I realized that arguing with the woman in my head was stupid. It's not like she can be wrong about her own emotional response. If the first two songs brought her down, they brought her down.

* * *

I thought about the fleeing woman today when our neighbors started playing mariachi music at top volume. I hate mariachi music. The accordion and bouncy brass and lack of a groove set my teeth on edge. And I can't grasp why anybody else likes it.

Kind of fascinating, really. I accept that musical tastes are subjective. I accept that I'm not right. I accept that the woman at the Folk Festival and my neighbors aren't wrong. I just wish I could figure out what it is that draws other people to things I find so annoying, and what turns them off of things I like.

I wish there were a way for me to hear what they hear.

Of course, if our species had developed that degree of empathy at any point in its evolution, we probably would have achieved world peace by now.

* * *

More on this topic: The ear of the beholder

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

After the layoff

So gather up your jackets, move it to the exits
I hope you have found a friend
Closing time
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

—Semisonic, "Closing Time"

On an ordinary day in February 2003, my boss IM'd me with a request to see him in his office. As I got up and exited my little cubicle, I mused about how it used to rattle me when I got those messages. See, for most of my three years at the company, the projects I worked on were finite. They had a beginning, middle, and end. My worry had always been that one day, they'd run out of work to give me.

But there had always been more. And after countless meetings with the boss passed without incident, I'd finally stopped worrying that THIS time, he was calling me in to tell me I was fired. So with confidence, I walked in, sat down, and the first words out of his mouth were

(of course)

"I'm going to have to let you go."

A few minutes later I was sitting outside where nobody could see me, cursing my fate and mourning the loss of the job. I loved this job!

Well, no. Not really. I used to, back when the projects were fun. In the past months, however, my primary mission had been to write and edit the promotional mailings our company sent out on a too-frequent basis. Not the most odious thing I'd ever been paid to do, but not interesting either, and an absolute conversation killer at parties. ("What do you do?" "Oh, I write spam." "...")

What I loved was the company itself. My coworkers were the kind of people I'd hang out with outside of work. The hours were flexible. Every day was frickin' "casual day." The perfect environment. I'd never find another place to work like that.

Still, even in those first moments of shock, I tried to look at the bright side. I'd have more time for music. Maybe I'd finally start my own band. You know, after I learned to sing.

* * *

Soon after the job ended, I agreed to back up a musician friend on keyboard for one of her gigs. I mentioned the layoff during our rehearsal together, and Amber suggested I look for work as a lounge pianist.

The idea intrigued me. I didn't know any standards, but I could improvise. The trick would be finding an affordable way to record a demo of myself doing that, something I could send to resorts. Wendy Adams, my vocal coach, recommended that I call Hank Childers at VGB Studio.

Done and done.

As we wrapped up the session, Hank asked me what my plans were.

"I'd like to find a guitarist and start a band eventually," I said. "Maybe in a few months. First I need to become a better singer."

"I know a drummer who's looking for a project," said Hank. "Would it be OK if I gave him your number?"

The rest was history.

* * *

If Cinder Bridge emerged as a result of the previous layoff, I wonder what this one will make possible.

The trick is to be prepared for anything.

At least I already know how to sing.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

ME/CFS: Myths and facts

ME/CFS AwarenessI'll be honest with you. I normally hate awareness-raising campaigns. They tend to consist of:
  1. Mentioning a disease or problem that everybody already knows is bad.
  2. Saying that it's bad.
  3. No, actually, that's it. We're all aware now. Yay us!
That said, ME/CFS Awareness Day is upon us, and I'm going to join in the awareness-raising festivities. Why? Because after so much time, most people have no idea what ME/CFS (myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome) is. They think they do, though. That's the problem.

Here are a few things you may believe about the disease, often referred to as "chronic fatigue syndrome," and what you should know.

Myth: "Chronic fatigue syndrome" means you're tired all the time

Fact: Though fatigue (read "crushing exhaustion unrelieved by rest") is one of the symptoms, there are many others. These include:
  • Chronic, debilitating pain

  • Post-exertional malaise—symptoms get worse after physical or mental exertion and require an extended recovery period

  • Greater susceptibility to fatal cancers and heart failure

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as joint and muscle pain

  • Cognitive impairment, including problems with short-term memory

  • Other common symptoms include cardiac arrhythmias, chemical sensitivities, food sensitivities, blurry vision, eye pain, irritable bowel syndrome, and a host of other conditions that are nasty in their own right
* * *

Myth: People with ME/CFS are slackers. They should soldier on, just like everybody else who gets tired.

Fact: Many people with this disease try to push through the pain and fatigue in the early stages; they attempt to continue working. Unfortunately, this tends to make them worse. A lot worse. (See "post-exertional malaise" above.)

* * *

Myth: They'd get better if they exercised.

Fact: Exercise is a wonderful thing ... for most people. It tends to make people with ME/CFS worse (see "post-exertional malaise" above). Additionally, if you don't always have enough energy to feed yourself or drag yourself to the bathroom, pushups are not going to be a high priority for you.

* * *

Myth: There's nothing I can do to help.

Fact: There's plenty. Start by treating the sufferer in your life with respect. Stay in touch, even if the person doesn't have the energy to contact you most of the time. Then, donate to this fine organization:

These guys are working furiously to find treatments, and they receive very little funding.

* * *

Happy May 12, everyone. Here's hoping the day comes when awareness campaigns for this disease are unnecessary. In the meantime, here's hoping that we can translate our awareness into action.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Will this wind be so mighty ...

As I've mentioned before, the thing about outdoor gigs and singing is that you always end up with hair in your mouth.

Brushing hair out of my mouth between songs
at the 26th Annual Tucson Folk Festival
(Photo by Rick Johnson)

I came better prepared to yesterday's outdoor gig, in which we provided entertainment for a little neighborhood get-together. I tied my hair back. Barrettes only get part of the job done, though. Some stray and rebellious strands will always escape their clippy confines.

Good news: The wind consistently blew toward me, keeping those strands out of my face.

Bad news: Said wind also blew smoke from the ginormous barbecue grill directly in my face. Singing becomes more of a challenge when you're trying not to choke.

Win some, lose some.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Interview at BSceneLive

The first time I met Don Martin online, I thought he was trying to sell me something.

Out of the blue, he asked me if I wanted to do an interview. We hadn't gotten fully acquainted; the only thing I knew about him was that he liked music, and that we had some musician friends in common on Facebook. So if he wanted to interview me, there was likely some ulterior motive, right? That's what previous experience had taught me. Eventually he would mention that artists had to pay to be interviewed, something like that.

But no. Further probing revealed that he was a writer who'd stumbled on Cinder Bridge music one day and liked us. When he talked about our songs, it became obvious that he had actually listened to our songs.

My faith in humanity somewhat restored, I agreed to the interview. It's up at BSceneLive. Read on to learn about my thoughts on music, performing, and songwriting. There's tons of stuff there that I haven't already blogged about, promise!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Support from folks

Remember how I said we got amazing support at the Tucson Folk Festival? We now have visuals to prove it. All photos were taken by Rick Johnson.

Our friend Neill played roadie and helped us get my keyboard onstage.

The sound quality was fantastic, and I realized after we got offstage that I completely forgot to thank the people who made that happen. So, thanks, Jamie the Sound Guy (above, left). Thanks, festival volunteers.

And, of course, there's no point to any of this without the people who come out to listen.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Making a disconnection

Ever since writing "Everybody Knows About Me," our ME/CFS advocacy song, I've had this fantasy. We're playing at a coffeehouse. Someone with ME/CFS is in the audience, and she (or he, but I'm going to make her female because I hate writing "he or she") is there with friends. While her ME/CFS isn't severe (she couldn't leave the house if it were), the outing takes its toll. She wants to go home and collapse. Her friends, well-meaning but clueless, negotiate with her. Just another half hour, they say.

She doesn't want to argue, so she tries to hang in there. We finish whatever song we're playing, and I launch into an introduction:

"I wrote this next song about somebody living with myalgic encephalomyelitis, a disease that causes chronic pain, crushing exhaustion, and, in many cases, early death. If you've never heard of heard of myalgic encephalomyelitis, that's probably because it more commonly goes by the term 'chronic fatigue syndrome,' which is a stupid name for a serious disease. The song is called 'Everybody Knows About Me.'"

This grabs the attention of everyone at the table. Though they came to socialize, now they stop and listen to the words. The person with ME/CFS feels vindicated. The friends are chagrinned, realizing that on some level they had assumed she was being overly dramatic. Everyone goes home at the end of the song, and her friends take her more seriously from there on out.

That's the fantasy.

When we played "Everybody Knows About Me" at the Tucson Folk Festival this Sunday, I hoped we could make that kind of connection with the audience. That somebody listening would be happy that somebody else understood. Maybe that happened. I don't know. But the one story I heard ended differently.

Ron the Drummer found out that someone he knows went to see us play. With her was a friend who has ME/CFS. They left in the middle of our set because "Everybody Knows About Me" made the woman with ME/CFS uncomfortable.

I always assume that some, or even most reactions to our music will be lukewarm at best. It doesn't matter who you are: not everybody is going to be a fan. So if this particular woman had wanted to leave because she thought we sucked, I would have forgotten about it by now. But "uncomfortable" wasn't a response I expected. And unfortunately, the details above are the only details I know. Ron has no idea why she became uncomfortable.

I have a couple of theories. One is that she thought my little intro speech was over the top, what with the "in many cases, early death" part. The people I know with ME/CFS, the ones I talk to, are already aware of that statistic. They don't want it to be true, but it is, and they want the rest of the world to know about it.

Maybe our erstwhile listener hadn't heard this before. Maybe tossing it out so casually was insensitive.

The other theory is that she prefers to maintain a positive outlook, and she doesn't want songs like mine evoking pity on her behalf. A possibility that never occurred to me until today.

For the most part, feedback on "Everybody Knows About Me" from ME/CFS sufferers has been positive. I know it's impossible to please everyone. Still, it's disconcerting when one of my songs has the opposite of its intended effect. I wish I knew what happened to chase this listener away. For what it's worth, I hope the rest of the Folk Festival treated her better.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Good vibes at the TFF

Our Tucson Folk Festival gig has come and gone, and I'm winding down, basking in the afterglow. Highlights:
  • With Tucson weather comes a different definition for "the good seats." The first audience members to arrive at the Plaza stage took chairs on the left or right. Only after those were all grabbed up did anyone sit in the middle. Why? The trees off to the sides. (You'll also find this principle at work in parking lots, where many drivers choose spots in the shade instead of closest to wherever they're going.)

  • The weather was amazing, with a high of 74. Perfect. Wind provided the only meterological annoyance; I performed every single song with hair in my mouth. One of these days I'll give in and tie my hair back for outdoor gigs.

  • Good crowd. They seemed to like us. But come to think of it, anyone who didn't like us would have simply wandered off to one of the other three stages. The Tucson Folk Festival is cool that way.

  • The support we got was just amazing. Friends came, and they brought friends who hadn't seen us play before. Fellow musician buddy Chet had brought his video equipment and offered to record us. New Facebook pal Don shot a bunch of pictures of us, confident that he could get good pics even after I warned him how unphotogenic I was.

  • One of my greatest fears before the show was that technical difficulties would prevent KXCI from broadcasting us. I promoted the hell out of that broadcast, promising we'd play our ME/CFS advocacy song, "Everybody Knows About Me." I felt like if we didn't go on the air, I'd be personally responsible for letting everyone down. But two people have confirmed that the broadcast went fine. I think it started around 15 minutes later than I said it would, though, so I hope distant listeners hung in there.

  • Got sunburned again. Oh well.

  • Saturday night, I dropped CDs off at the Tucson Kitchen Musician's Store. I figured I'd given them more than enough. Not so. Within a half hour after we played, one of my friends informed me that we'd sold out. We rushed over with more CDs. By the time we left that evening, at least some of those had also sold.

  • I sure hope they let us do this again.