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The Cable Tv Taping


Feb 21, 2012 Thorny Swale performed 5 of my original songs at Northwestern Community Television (http://www.nwct.org/) a public-access cable station west of Minneapolis. This great opportunity came through a partnering between NWCT and the Minnesota Association of Songwriters (http://www.mnsongwriters.org/), of which I am a member. "Minnesingers" the original music program consisting of MAS performers is the brainchild of MAS member and NWCT Executive Producer Rita Fox.

This was an ambitious undertaking because just weeks before the taping guitarist Scott Iverson and I began playing our respective instruments (Scott had played drums on the originals while I fronted and played rhythm guitar) and I also began using an in-ear monitor system with my own mixer. In addition, there were three new songs - one of these (Be My Love) was so nuanced that it necessitated drawing up huge charts on gigantic-child paper (4 in all -- the Out took up one page in itself). I cleared my mantle, took down the painting over the fireplace and fastened the charts to the wall, where they remained for 2 weeks.

Guitarist Mark Rocheleau and I additionally spent an afternoon one-on-one with this song, for which I was very grateful.

Because of circumstance, we lost 2 rehearsals (I had wanted 6) and I think ended up doing four. I must thank "Sneakers" (http://www.reverbnation.com/sneakersband), the other stellar band I'm in for an intense period of regular rehearsing, the results of which were so edifying, I could come to T-Swale with complete confidence that we could and should do the same kind of focused hard work. I try to remain mindful of the sacrifices the wives and families make in letting their men go - bandmates who have full time dayjobs, busy families, and some of whom drive from out of state to rehearse.

Thanks to a new mini digital recorder, we were able to record and and I supplemented w/ other MP3 files (rhythm & lead guitar motifs, etc;) so the guys learned the new material increasingly with each rehearsal. I hoped to encourage them (within some strict visions I had of the songs) to make their parts their own. They did, to the point of re-arranging the 4-chart song Be My Love to a manageable complexity, and it was the right decision. I watched as the short weeks rushed by, my busy bandmates keeping up with MP3 files & accompanying musical ideas/notes/proddings, plus the logistics of my new monitor set-up, and increasing technical/practical details of the NWCT taping itself.

Myself, I was in athletic training mode 2 1/2 weeks prior to the taping. Number one, I practiced drums at a much slower bpm than normally played, to a click, recording everything and forcing myself to listen to all playbacks in a very focused way. I knew from the past (http://forums.songstuff.com/blog/76/entry-865-vital-studio-lessons/) this was crucial for getting inside the groove; and since I hadn't played these songs on drums live (save one), I was writing parts and shaping the songs. Many tools were needed to above all try to communicate the vision I had to my bandmates, and I learned that intimately knowing that vision could be an obstacle in said communication. I had to try to listen to what they were saying, try to understand what information they needed. They were very patient and dear with me.

Our bandmates are our best and only allies in very real ways. They deserve respect, gratitude, and sweetness wherever possible.

Vocally I had my work cut out. The 5 songs seemed quite different in power, style, etc; Be My Love uses the highest end of my range purposely breathy almost throughout, while There's Gonna Be A Storm is to the wall heavy. I practiced all vocals sitting down, because that is the way they'd be performed, sometimes a single phrase repeatedly...then 2 phrases in a loop and so on. That kind of care was needed in analyzing strengths/weaknesses vocally, not only because I was playing a different instrument now, but a loud instrument. I'm no stranger to this nit-picky work, it is how I learned to sing my own songs. A satisfying day when I was ready to concentrate solely on singing & playing as a whole.

The material came together at the eleventh hour. I wished for more time to reflect on how hard T-Swale had worked. These guys are accomplished soloists. As I learned (again) in drum prep, I needed restraint most of all in order to let the groovy licks shine. The whole band learned a lot about the discipline of doing this. I cannot express how pleased I am with our result. Simple to say "The Song Is Queen - Serve Her", but it is much harder to do. I know at least some of the guys wanted one more rehearsal (bless them!), but our time had run out.


We arrived at the NWCT studio intact. I'd been sick for a few days, striving to remain calm above all in the face of sore throat/sinus woes. We were one of 2 acts scheduled to tape and thus slated to have 90 minutes to set up a 6 piece band, sound check and then film, a challenging undertaking that we accepted, yet were nervous about being able to fulfill. Yet various supportive and buoying things had happened along the way. The people were sweet and really for us, in various email and other exchanges concerning gear & logistics -- notably Wayne Hamilton (President of MAS), Rtia Fox Executive Producer, and Ray Dahl, Sound Engineer at NWCT. It was an unexpected happiness therefore, to find out at the studio that we were granted additional time, as the second act couldn't appear that evening.

The studio was large and felt expansive, housed in a modern, sound building. There were amenities like a large, clean break room (w/ treats) and a great ladies room (LOL). Ray Dahl, Rita Fox and Wayne Hamilton (himself nursing a winter illness) all helped us load our gear into the studio. I was especially touched and felt supported to see Wayne there under that circumstance. He immediately asked if we wanted to use risers and began discussing some set design. Risers seemed like a good idea, so people began getting various set pieces and hauling them in. I was so happy to be vocally warmed up and confident I could sing.

(Sidenote: Tenor saxman and vocalist Jeff F and I are both hairdressers - I cut his hair last month, and he cut mine a week before the taping. So it was to him I showed the clothing I'd brought and we discussed possibilities. It's a comfort to know he's there on-the-gig for hair tousling or any aesthetic needs).

Once our stage set up was completed, we got a chance to sound check & actually rehearse. That was my favorite part - maybe because the studio door was open, and there was a buzz in the air. Producer Bob Woods then sat down with me, introduced cameraman Mike (we later met cameraman Mark), and we mapped out the songs in some detail regarding soloists and other cue-like info the camera crew would find helpful. The last few minutes before taping I listened to a recording Jeff F had done with new sax parts, which I was to yay or nay (he ended up doing them).

We were fortunate at being able to do some second takes of songs if we weren't pleased with the 1st result. I had one monitor in my ear and the other bare, to hear the whole stage sound. I love in-ear monitors, I can finally hear myself sing in a way I never could before. It felt so good to be playing those songs -- which happen to be my songs, but as writers tell it, often enough the song writes you. It's really been in the last 2 weeks that I have ever heard some of them, the way they've been in my head for so long. It is rare & thrilling in a deep-down way to behold. And frankly, it was wild to have an audience and be filmed right on the heels of still kind of in shock about the tunage being realized outside one's head.

This is T-Swale -- exceedingly tasteful and never robotic. Yet it had been a long day. In the end, we were tired and our own worst critics. But I have the little rough draft tapes of tonight, already listened to....even without hearing them, this writer couldn't be more pleased. But I am totally stoked! I am not the only songwriter in Thorny Swale, for one. And we are up to at least 7 originals live, with more of mine waiting in the wings, if the guys want to do them.

So grateful to God for this wonderful opportunity via the MAS, NWCT & Thorny Swale!

-Shrove Tuesday, 2012


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