Sunday, September 5, 2010

Listen to Your Voice Within

When last we left our intrepid heroes, they had found a lead singer but were somewhat thwarted by the lad's reluctance.

Okay, so it wasn't really that big a deal.  While we hadn't planned on having a second guitarist, Jason's skills on the instrument could only be an asset to the band.  Also, while he didn't want to sing lead all of the time, he was willing to share lead vox with me and Bill, giving us three distinct singing voices in the band.  Not too shabby.

He was therefore, in.

Before I go on, however, I want to share an example that I think will shed some light on why, still to this day, I believe Jason and his voice fit the lead singer slot.  In fact, I honestly believe that, while I can't honestly say I believe in doing things for commercial appeal (gag), I have no doubt that Jason's voice is much smoother and his stage demeanor would have been much more leadsingeresque which, in the long run, might have won us a larger audience.

The evidence before the court consists of two recordings of the same Naked song, "What's the Difference?", one of my own compositions.  The first recording is from the Naked - Live at the Coffeemill of Exeter album, and features the band in an "unplugged" setup with Jason singing lead:

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The second recording is from Naked iii, and features me on lead vocal:

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Am I a horrible singer?  No, not at all. However, I still think Jason's version wins out.

Comments?  Votes?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

You Just Have to Turn Off Your Mind

A lead singer. That rarefied creature in the music universe. I hate Robert Plant. Get it?

If you've listened to the EBS mp3s I've posted, I'm sure you'll understand why Bill and I thought a lead singer would be an excellent idea. Don't get me wrong--our voices weren't bad. They were a bid rough, though, and not classic-lead-vocalistish enough. Plus, we just wanted to play our instruments and let somebody else belt it out up front.

I can't really remember how this all came together, how the connections were made. My cousin Jason Knox had been one of Bill's guitar students. We weren't exactly in regular contact, though. Nothing bad. No family feuds or anything, we were just on different tracks. Plus, he was still in high school.

However it came about, there we were in Jason's basement, going through preliminary chatter as he prepared to audition as the lead singer for this new band of ours. I had already decided that we would be called Naked ("Haha do you play naked?" gosh... never heard that one before... 9,456,234 times...). Why? Youthful idealism. I believed at the time--and still do, really--that if you are truly being a servant to your art, that you are up there on stage, naked. It's a purity thing, a tapping-into-the-undefinable thing. Coltrane said it best:

"There is never any end. There are always new sounds to imagine; new feelings to get at. And always, there is the need to keep purifying these feelings and sounds so that we can really see what we've discovered in its pure state. So that we can see more and more clearly what we are. In that way, we can give to those who listen the essence, the best of what we are. But to do that at each stage, we have to keep on cleaning the mirror." (

Okay, cosmonauts... back to Jason.

Keep in mind, I LOATHED hair metal--you know, the kind where the band members wore more make-up than their groupies... and those were some rosy-cheeked groupies. I am convinced that Cinderella, mid-career Bon Jovi, and others of that era (even my much-beloved Ozzy in the Jake E. Lee phase) single-handedly caused the hole in the ozone layer with their liberal applications of Aquanet. Jason pulled out his Epiphone acoustic guitar, started singing "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"...

...and blew us away.

The kid had a great voice. Sure, he'd need a little work, but the natural voice was there, something you can't just make happen. It has to be there.

He moved on to "Black" by Pearl Jam. I've always felt that some songs are untouchable, as far as remakes or covers go (only Bob or Jimi should do "Like A Rolling Stone"), and "Black" was on that list until Jason auditioned. I don't know what the guy was tapping into, but I heard the future in his voice.

There was only one problem. He didn't want to be the lead singer. He wanted to play guitar.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I See It Forming Patterns

Sorry about the hiatus. One of my other lives took over for a bit. It's hard when there's only 27 hours in a day.

So... EBS bit the dust. Well, that's too simplified. In truth, the drummer read the writing on the wall; he somehow knew that once I started my own band, EBS would no longer keep my interest, so he disbanded the band.

Since Bill said, "I'm in!" almost simultaneously with my announcement that I wanted to start an original band, my first-choice guitarist was locked in [side note: my brother is seriously a mind-blowing guitarist. if the guy had some kind of manager to put together the business end, you'd be seeing his name on the cover of Guitar Player magazine]. It took me all of 2.3 seconds to figure out who I needed to call to fill the drum chair (well... throne, really... they're called drum thrones).

David Carlberg had been a few years behind me in high school. He was a rambunctious class clown in the percussion section. He was/is also a life-long friend of my cousin Chris, brother of Jason (who you will meet eventually...). I had actually played with David, and even been in the studio with him. He had been in a band called No Strings Attached, made up of students from my alma mater (where I had been hired as a substitute teacher the year after I graduated. craziness). No Strings Attached had pulled me in to play keyboards on a few songs at a school dance/concert (Queensryche's "Silent Lucidity", Van Halen's "Right Now"--which I butchered, and The Black Crows' version of "Hard to Handle"). Their senior year, they also brought me into the studio on keys for a hey we might never see each other again so let's document this type of EP (for which I was very thankful, by the way - it was an opportunity for me to get my professional studio legs).

David is one of the most naturally gifted musicians I have ever known. He's the kind of drummer other drummers are in awe of... but also sort of hate. The guy couldn't read a lick of music and he couldn't do a "proper" drum roll in the rudimentary sense... but his kick drum work was faster than most guys on the scene could play a drum roll with sticks! More importantly for me, the guy had big open ears and a big open mind in the area of music. He was a sponge.

I called David up and gave him the scoop - I wanted to start a rock band and play originals (with a cover or two here and there). The word I kept coming back to was tribal. I had turned my back on rock when hair metal hit, biding my time listening to Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Weather Report, Chick Corea... Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Yes... But now rock had finally gotten some guts back. Punk made a resurgence with some aspects of grunge. Pearl Jam was riding the charts with a fretless bassist. Things seemed to be making sense to me again in the rock world... and I wanted to rock.

I gave David a cassette of a bunch of songs by various artists, not to learn and cover but to get a flavor of the range I was going for. He said yes. I was ecstatic.

Next I had to find a singer...

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Dreaming

I was getting ready to write about the beginning of Naked, but I keep finding things to say about Emergency Broadcast System. Indulge me one last time...

In 1993, EBS "released" an EP called This Is Not A Test. It was my first attempt at totally DIY production. I've already talked about the actual recording process in earlier posts. We would mix the songs from the four track down to a TEAC home cassette deck, then duplicate them on that same deck. I then designed the cover and little cassette labels on my Tandy computer and we hand assembled everything. We were so not high-tech - I almost trashed my printer by feeding white contact paper though it to make the labels! The labels then had to be covered with clear contact paper... you get the picture. Ghetto style.

We had been ordering blank cassettes through Bob Moore, then owner of Exeter Music (great guy - Bob had encouraged me and my brother in our musical endeavors during high school). It was cheaper to buy standard-length cassettes rather than custom-length ones. Money has always been tight in our musical projects.

As it turned out, we ended up with way too much blank space on side B of the master tape. Rather than rip off our adoring fans (um... our mom... um... wait--fans?), I went nuts on a four-track piece of my own. I laid down a gurgling sample-and-hold texture on my beloved (and, sadly, long-gone) Rhodes Chroma synthesizer. Then I cut a percussion track by throwing a Radio Shack mic into my trusty Kent Bonanza acoustic guitar. I flipped it over, muted the strings with my legs and went for it. A little Alesis Microverb and it sounded pretty cool. Over this back drop, I improvised a melody on my (also sadly long-gone) Roland SH-09 monosynth, then doubled it with strings off of the Chroma.

The track was sounding pretty nice in a trancy kinda way, but it needed something more. Bill stopped by, plugged in direct through his pedals, and laid down some sick Alan Holdsworth-meets-David Gilmour solo lines. I had instructed him (in my fledgling producer way) to just play whatever he felt. Then, I fished through the solo and found punch-in spots, literally recording over sections of his performance (how arrogant was I?!!) with my own synth solo (again on the SH-09) in a Joe Zawinul-esque approach (this YouTube clip should give you a pretty good idea of what I was listening to when all my classmates were into Bon Jovi and Cinderella). What we ended up with was a pretty convincing prog/fusion jam that sounded like Bill and I had a live duel:

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Not bad for a filler. I titled it "The Dreaming" as a companion to "The Awakening", which is the sonic synth extravaganza that opens the EP and leads into the track, "Be Yourself" (which you will hear again later with Naked):

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"Be Yourself" was 100% Bill White lyrically and compositionally. An early song in his catalog (and he's no big fan of it now) it showed a new potential for where we could go musically, given a different line-up.

It didn't occur to me until I was converting tracks to mp3 for this blog that I composed "The Dreaming" around the same time that I composed "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It", my Zappa-esque instrumental. "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It" lived solely on staff paper for another sixteen years until I finally recorded it for my first Eutoxita album, trainwreck. You can hear a clip of "It Didn't Move, So I Ate It" here, or you could always buy trainwreck...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Only Thing That Wouldn't Be Right

Well, before I leave EBS behind, I suppose I should talk about how the demise of that band led to the formation of Naked.

Basically, we started writing originals. Truthfully, Bill started writing originals using lyrics provided by the drummer. We also collectively wrote a pretty cool Rush-style instrumental (but more on that later...). My new-found love for the bass guitar opened up a whole new vista for me. I found then--and it still holds true--that my most creative music comes out when I'm augmenting someone else's work. Don't get me wrong, I've come up with some pretty nice bass parts, guitar lines, etc., on my own material but there's something about finding a new angle on a fellow musician's riff.

In the end, exploring songwriting was the final nail in the coffin for EBS. Once I got a taste of playing originals, I just didn't want to play covers anymore. At least not as the mainstay of the band's repertoire. In going back over those first songs, I can hear the seeds of Naked. The best example is probably "If I Died Tonight":

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Angular rhythms and unusual note choices became hallmarks of Naked's music. Smart pop in the vein of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, XTC, and their like blended with progressive harmonies and rhythms. We wanted it to groove but keep the brain busy too. "If I Died Tonight" shows the beginnings of that approach.

For any recording geeks in the audience, all of Naked's earliest "albums" were done by tweaking a mix through a Peavey mixing board designed for live sound, going in stereo to a four-track Tascam Portastudio. The two open tracks left room for vocals. On EBS's This Is Not A Test EP, from which "If I Died Tonight" is taken, we used whatever vocal mics the drummer had, as well a an assortment of Radio Shack mics that I had purchased. We ran my Squier HM 5 bass through my little Toa PA and through the speaker cab in a small pantry-type closet. Bill's guitar work was done straight off of his pedals into the mixing board. On "If I Died Tonight", I sing the verses and Bill sings the choruses. You can hear that I sang the verses in two passes, as I just didn't have enough singing chops yet to sing those long lines without turning blue and passing out. Ahhh... youth...Italic

Saturday, August 14, 2010

There's Somebody Out There

I had a long conversation with my friend David Steadman about what I'm doing with this blog and why. For one thing, I thought there might actually be some Naked fans out there who would find this interesting. Certainly not fascinating... but at least interesting. Also, I totally geek out about band histories, so I thought it would be fun to do this so any similar geeks would have a sense of where I'm coming from musically.

Plus, I'm an egomaniac.

So, before I really get into Naked, here's a (sort of) brief account of my (and the band's) pre-Naked history...

I started playing music the "usual" way - a bunch my and my brother's friends wanted to start a band. It's a little fuzzy, but I know I was in middle school. Thirteen? I'm pretty sure that my brother Bill had already gotten his first acoustic guitar. He and I are the only ones who went through with it. Long story short, I started on a small-keyed Casio keyboard and worked my way up from there. I had a little Peavey Decade guitar amp and I would pump out distorted power chords (which was all I could play) while four or five visiting guitarists would take turns noodling their high school hearts out in my parents' garage.

My freshman year of high school, our school had the good fortune to get a new band teacher - Roy Bailey. Roy became my piano teacher, mentor, and dear friend. He left after three years to pursue other opportunities but had been helping me to go from barely playing with only my right hand to being prepared for Berklee college of music in Boston (I got accepted but didn't end up going. To any college--that wouldn't happen until I was about 30).

Asleep yet?

The unusual part of the story is that, deep in the heart of a small, rural New Hampshire town (Country, Grand Ole Opry, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, Van Halen, assorted hair metal...), the greatest act of musical rebellion for us was to become... jazz musicians. Sort of. We had a rock/jazz/whatever band (Enigmatic Ocean. Really.) and played in small jazz/fusion/funk ensembles with Roy. Music was our obsession. I still remember the first time I made it into NH All State for jazz piano (I was number two. Both times). I was sitting in US History class. The PA interrupted with polite congratulations.

The teacher said, "Congratulations, Mr. White."

The kid to my right said, "You play piano?"

The kid to my left said, "What's jazz?"

For reasons unimportant (and even boring-er than what you've already been put through), I quit playing music for a while after I graduated. Bill was playing in a cover band that wasn't gigging, partly because the bass player kept flaking out. He kept after me to join in on keyboards and I kept saying no. I really didn't like the drummer/band leader, who had been a few years ahead of me in school. Eventually, the bass player's girlfriend wouldn't let him come out and play any more, and I ended up joining on keys and borrowing Bill's Peavey bass and filling that role as well.

The band was called Emergency Broadcast System (EBS). We played some Rush, Police, Eagles, Thin Lizzy, etc. (We even did a gig as a faux-country band) It was a great way for me to get back into music and learn to play bass, but I quickly grew bored with other peoples' music. We started writing songs but things just weren't going fast enough and then we had a falling out with the drummer. We had done a pretty decent four-track cassette recording, with me engineering (this was 1993). Armed with that and a desire to make music that was more visceral, more tribal, more... not what EBS was doing, I decided to start from scratch, and Bill was immediately on board.

Enter Naked.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nothing You Say, Or Anything You Do

Once upon a time (back in the early 1990’s), there was a Music Scene in the New Hampshire Seacoast region. It was, in a word, inbred. No, nobody had banjos (well…) or did horrible things to poor old Ned Beatty. It’s just that the scene was rather… closed. They said they were an open scene; certainly the Portsmouth press said so, as did the bands that were established in said scene.

From the outside, however, it didn’t look open.

As far as I could tell, it worked like this: First, you became a student at UNH and formed a band. Then, you played little parties on campus. Then, you maybe scored a gig at Mike Libby’s bar in Durham. You know, in the confines of UNH. And so on… bringing along your dorm-mates/party pals/friends along, showing the clubs a strong following and, thus, guaranteeing liquor sales. Eventually, this led to Portsmouth clubs and the Stone Church in Newmarket.

I think this is pretty much how it works in most scenes. I’m not crying. I’m not complaining. I’m just observing that, if you weren’t part of that whole UNH-originated loop, it was pretty hard to get in. This was the scene Naked attempted to get into. We were not completely ignorant of the other scene---the Manchester scene—we just didn’t think we fit in with hardcore, death metal, or hair metal.

Luckily, we hooked up with a handful of bands who were trying to start something on the side in Hampton. We had a run of about three good years, and then stumbled through unsuccessful lineup changes, unsuccessful name changes, and… that was it. In the end, we really hadn't fit into any scene, something I'm actually quite proud of, even though it ultimately contributed to our demise.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.