Welcome to the Numberhood

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Well, this one is a little behind the ball (as usual), but it definitely deserves a post. My band, The Real Numbers, has finally finished our first album, “Welcome to the Numberhood”. W00t!

Seriously, this is a huge achievement. Aside from the long hours spent in the studio. Beyond all the hand-wringing over the album design. Certainly more than the money spent. This is a huge achievement because four guys spent a lot of time together crafting some good songs and then turned their sights on the studio and didn’t let go or give up until they sounded even better. I want to thank those guys because this album would not be possible with out them. Evan, for getting me going. Dave for keeping me going and writing some kick ass tunes (and making my tunes even better). Andy for just being a monster talent whatever booth he’s in. And extra special props to Andy’s company Bay Area Tone.

Most of all, though, this feels like such a huge achievement to me because so much of me is in this album. More than any other project in which I’ve participated over the course of my musical “career,” this music is my music, and this album is a testament to me embracing the musician inside. It marks my growth as a guitar player and my birth as a songwriter. And it reminds me that you can’t run from the creative impulse.

So take a listen. Maybe even buy a copy. Most importantly, enjoy!

[bandcamp album=1246679949 size=venti bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=4285BB]

As a special bonus, check out the album art below. I love it. Mad props to my friend Wendy MacNaughton for the artwork, and special thanks to David Marr for putting the whole thing together.

Welcome to the Numberhood front cover
Welcome to the Numberhood back cover

Final Thoughts on the Whole Shebang

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Today, I am back in Bay and in my work clothes — some different pants, shirt tucked in, and on this occasion, a blazer to set the tone. This means, of course, I am no longer in Austin, TX, and the annual event known as South By Southwest has wrapped.

Though woefully non-descript, I use the noun “event” because I’m not quite sure what word best encapsulates SXSW. “Conference” could work, considering all of the amazing sessions by thought leaders and industry bigs, but SXSW is more than just a conference. I’ve tried “festival” on for size, but that seems somewhat too flippant, and gives no credence to the serious work and ideas being shared. In the end I think the word I settled on was “shebang”. As in, “Yep, I’m here for the whole shebang.” Okay, maybe no more descript than “event,” and certainly flippant in its own way, but at least now you understand the dilemma. Words are imperfect, after all.

The whole shebang was quite a run. 10 days, pretty evenly split amongst geeks and rockers. In looking back, I must admit that I found the Interactive portion to be more engaging than Music. Don’t get me wrong, I fully enjoyed the opportunity to take in that much music, but day after night of consuming — be it others’ music or food, alcohol, caffeine, etc. — was not nearly as stimulating as the ideas that flowed prior. In fact, SXSWm began to feel like more of a job than an enjoyment. MUST. GO. SEE. BANDS. In the end, while I saw some amazing performances with some incredible peeps, I really just ended up missing my guitar.

Interactive, on the other hand, was truly wonderful. Not that every session was great, or that those 5 days weren’t overwhelming and tiresome in and of themselves. But on the whole, the tenor of Interactive felt much more broad and transformative. And my suspicions about a stronger community at Interactive turned out to be true. During Music, I never felt that I could turn to the stranger at my side and make an obscure comment or topical joke that would resonate. I met some great folks during the music portion, but what can I say? The geeks get community right.

I’ve heard the rumblings that this was the year that Interactive “jumped the shark,” but I found the quality of the sessions on the whole to be very high, and I came away with a lot to think about and much to inform my work. In the end, I’m a jaded musician, but not a jaded technologist. At least not yet. Perhaps when the bloom is of the digital rose I will feel the same way about Interactive that I did about Music. Until that time, thank you SXSW. I think you will be seeing me again.

The Bands of SXSW (or at least 2.3%)

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The title pretty much says it all. I saw a cubic butt-load of bands at South by Southwest — upwards of 40, but probably way more. I heard that there were over 1700 bands at SXSW this year, so by my calculations I saw about 2.3% of the music being performed.

My full list follows, with a few notable highlights emboldened and expanded upon. Mind you, most of these sets were part of showcases and hence on the short side of 30 minutes, and I certainly didn’t stick around for the entirety of every set. Nonetheless, it was pretty incredible to hear this much music in such a short span of time.

  • Acid Mothers Temple & The Melting Paraiso UFO – best freak rock of the show…Japanese space oddity thrash that boggles the mind and tests the ear drums
  • Bachelorette
  • Balkan Beat Box – best dance party of the festival, these dudes threw down a mix of eastern european big band, hip-hop and groove that defies categorization and reminded me of how Ozomatli first took the stage by storm
  • Barcelona
  • Bear in Heaven
  • Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore
  • Billy Bragg
  • Birds & Batteries (SF)
  • Born Ruffians – kind of in the vein of the whole Vampire Weekend preppy afro-pop, these Canadian youngsters really impressed with their angular yet smooth song-writing, great vocals and a clean, hollow-body rhythm guitar tone throughout the whole show (who else does that?).
  • Broken Bells
  • Cheeseburger
  • Dawes – plain and simple, tasty alt-country with some nice, soaring vocal hooks
  • DEVO – this actually wasn’t a performance but rather an interview which was more like performance art. DEVO, Inc. has hired a advertising company to market DEVO music like any other product on the shelves, like, say, a package of Charmin toilet paper. The interview included an riotous powerpoint and a live focus group about what DEVO’s new album should be called. These guys may not have been in the limelight for the past few decades, but they haven’t missed a beat
  • Eisley
  • Ferocious Few (SF)
  • Frankie and the Outs
  • Haper Blynn – best power pop of the festival, and maybe the most polished all around performance with great keys, awesome 3-part harmonies and wonderfully concise and catchy songs. I will definitely go see these guys again
  • Hottub (SF)
  • Hurricane Bells
  • Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights
  • Kashmir
  • Lou Barlow (of Dinosaur Jr. fame) – solid, dye-in-the-wool indie rock from one of the genre’s pioneers that simultaneously felt unique and fresh
  • Man/Miracle (SF) - of all the San Francisco bands I saw in Austin, these guys impressed me most with some great indie-afro-rock song-writing full of twists and turns and solid vocals delivered with confidence and intensity
  • Minus the Bear
  • Morning Teleportation – best psychedelic rock of the festival….these vintage fashion enthusiasts are young yet, but their high-energy delivery shows great promise
  • Or, the Whale
  • Quasi – did’t realize they rocked so hard…impressive.
  • Royal Bangs – probably the biggest surprise find…a trio of drums, guitar and keys whose ferocious grooves and pounding drums set to some tasty loops reminded me of a southern soul version of Nine Inch Nails. if that kind of thing is possible.
  • Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – I’ve loved this retro-soul band forever but never had a chance to seethem…they didn’t disappoint. Sharon has a beautiful stage presence and her band is tight, tight tight!
  • Shearwater – kind of alt-country-ish, but probably the best voice I heard all festival…haunting, really.
  • Shinobi Ninja
  • Spoon – these guys get better and better live, what else can you say?
  • Superlitio
  • The Beets
  • The Dutchess and the Duke – eschewing the PA for an intimate set against a rowdy bar backdrop, this Americana duo really impressed me with their harmonies and passion and provided what was probably the most intimate performance I experienced the entire festival.
  • The Lemurs
  • The Low Anthem - part of the new folk movement that the young kids these days adore, replete with hand-pump organ, upright bass and dueling bowed saws…good stuff
  • The Ready Set
  • The Very Best
  • The Walkmen
  • Titus Andronicus
  • Visqueen - maybe my favorite new find of the whole festival…kick ass indie pop-rock from Seattle lead by the beguiling and bad-ass Rachel Flotard.

Across the Spectrum of RAWK – from Geek to Glam

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It is now Wednesday — the beginning of SXSW Day 7 — and I have been here in Austin for almost a week. Things are starting to change around these parts, and I found myself yesterday feeling a slight sense of loss. Maybe it was a long string of sessions and socializing and too little sleep. To be sure, last night I took a much needed night off to rest up and recuperate before Music kicks in. But most to blame for my blues, I think, was seeing all my Interactive friends, new and old, leave the building, as it were, only to be replaced by a different batch of old friends, and plenty of new ones, to boot. It wasn’t just the people, it was everything they took with them — the geek passion, the futurist slant on present day tech, the strong sense of community, the slovenly chic, the MacBooks, the iPhones, the….I’ll stop there.

Maybe I am jumping to some conclusions, but I can’t see the Music crowd being as cohesive or convivial. I have a sense that there might be a lot of grandstanding and standoffishness to put up with in the next few days — I know I’ve seen enough of that throughout my days in rock ‘n’ roll — but maybe that’s just my projection. So far, though, it is clear that the Music crowd have their own trappings – scruffily slick, cocked hats, deep, dark glasses, headphones, guitars, black leather, the list goes on.

Somehow or another, I walk the line between these two worlds, between geek and glam. I embrace both, but oddly don’t feel a full member of either. I suppose I’ve never been a “joiner,” persay, which might explain my sense of partial-belonging. As SXSW morphs from the stage of ideas to musical ideas on stage, I will be very curious to see how the tenor of community here changes. However it goes down, when you’ve got two of the most awesome, creative communities in the world to celebrate with, why not take a bit of both?

First Notes from South By

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Well, I’m here. After an overnight flight from SFO to AUS through Dallas, and only a few hours of in-flight sleep, I touched down and made my way to the HI Hostel in Austin to drop my bags and settle in. This included chillin’ at the hostel, bangin’ on the shared guitar in the common area, some food, and some coffee, once I realized that sleep would NOT be included.

My next step was procuring a rental bicycle from a fellow I met through Craigslist. Renting a bike has turned out to be both a brilliant idea to get between my hostel a bit off the beaten path and all the action, as well as quite an imposition — I blew an inner tube mere hours after picking up the bike. Don’t worry, I’m fine, and my man James has been a very responsible rentee. He actually rode out to where I was with a new tube and all the necessary tools. Now that’s Texan hospitality.

Anyway, I’m here, and I’m actually sitting in my first session — How To Rock SXSW, a primer of what to expect and how to make it to the finish line in one piece. If anything, that’s what I’ve come to realize so far. SXSW is a marathon of ideas, sessions, parties, people, music and who knows what else. Since I’ve elected to be here for the whole thing, I’m going to try to pace myself. One practical strategy? I figure the more sessions I go to, the better off I’ll be.

So, to close, here’s a list of sessions that I’m interested in attending:

What Are Analytics? A Guide To Practical Data
Time + Social + Location. What’s Next In Mobile Experiences?
Mind Control: Psychology for the Web
How Nerds Can Foster Democracy in Local Government
Moon 2.0: The Outer Limits of Lunar Exploration
Gmail: Behind the Scenes
Is The Brain The Ultimate Computer Interface
Mapping and Geolocation: Turnkey Approaches You Need to Know
SXSW Interview: Cheap Trick
Devo, the Internet and You

And the list goes on. With sessions like this, if my body manages to make it to the finish line, it might just be with blown mind. Wish me luck!

My Fave Albums of the Aughts

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Well, better late than never. But I’m not late just yet…two more days left in the decade known as the “Aughts”. Or something. Actually, who really knows what to call this decade, or what the hell happened during the last 10 years. Let’s face it, it was a weird one. I’m working on compiling my thoughts (and deeds!), but for now, at the prompting of my pal Casey at The Contrarian, here are my favorite and/or most listened to albums of the Aughts. I may have missed the deadline at The Contrarian, and my list might be a bit different than all the critical “top 10″ lists floating around out there, but, hey, this is my list and my blog. So enjoy!

PS – looking over these selections, you would think I stopped listening to new music circa 2005. I assure you, this is not the case. These albums just had a headstart…

PPS – I really wish I could have embedded the LaLa.com player for each album on this post instead of the rather unsatisfying link. However, after a half-decade, I’ve come to realize that WordPress sucks. Imma movin’ to Blogger come 2010, you betta!

Tool – Lateralus [2000] listen >>
I remember loving Tool’s big ’90s hit, “Sober,” but it wasn’t until Lateralus that I finally grokked the fact that Tool are a straight-up prog band wrapped in the more fashionable cloak of heavy rock. This album is cohesive, instrospective and badass. Long live Maynard, Danny and the boys. I might also mention that seeing tool at the Oakland Arena in 2005 may have been my arena rock moment of the decade.

Ween – White Pepper [2000] listen >>
There was a point in time when this album was the defacto soundtrack for the apartment I shared with DJ Ranztron in Burlington, Vermont. Sure, there was some serious competition with Curtis Live! and The Redheaded Stranger, but somehow or another, the wide girth of White Pepper was the perfect mix of weirdo pop for that moment in time, and many others to come.

RJD2 – Dead Ringer [2002] listen >>
Nas may famously (and accurately) commented that “Hip Hop is Dead,” but it sure wasn’t down or out. Hip hop beats that crept into otherwise poppy 90′s tracks were on display full force in the Aughts. But only DJs like RJD2 and Shadow who continued to innovate with the form kept my attention. Dead Ringer is a head noddin’ treat from start to finish.

The Roots – Phrenology [2002] listen >>
I think this is the album when the Roots finally embraced the fact that they are a rock ‘n’ roll band who plays hip hop. Evidence? The first guitar player to join the lineup, a straight up thrash track, and a blisteringly soulful collaboration with Cody ChestnuTT, “The Seed (2.0).” The rhymes didn’t disappear, but on Phrenology the Roots opened the floodgates and upped their game for real.

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot [2002] listen >>
I remember seeing Wilco back in 1998 at my old stomping grounds of Higher Ground in Vermont. My reaction? A shrug of the shoulders and a disinterested “meh,” despite my love of classic Country & Western. Now, if Wilco had been playing the kind of edgy, emotional alt-country that comprises Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, my reaction would have been very different. Jeff Tweedy’s change of course on this album changed my mind about Wilco.

The Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music [2003] listen >>
In case you don’t know, I love melody. Big melody. Vocal hooks galore. Never one to disappoint, Gary Louris packed what was to be The Jayhawk’s last album, Rainy Day Music, with so much heartbreakingly beautiful harmony that the album nearly makes my computer weep with joy. “All the Right Reasons” may be the best alt-country love song of the decade.

The Shins – Chutes Too Narrow [2003] listen >>
With so much indie being, in large part for me, predictable and derivative, Chutes Too Narrow snuck into my music library and knocked my socks off. I missed their debut, but this album endeared me to The Shins  — smart lyrics, simple yet solid musicianship, beautiful arrangements, and unforgettably, undeniably something new.

Green Day – American Idiot [2004] listen >>
So there are a lot of kids from the Gilman St. days who are gritting their teeth right at this entry, but clearly I’m not one of them. American Idiot packs such a potent punch of so much that I love — tight arrangements, searing melody, political dissidence — that it finally earned Green Day my respect.

The Polyphonic Spree - Together, We’re Heavy [2004] listen >>
For the life of me, I can’t remember where I discovered The Polyphonic Spree. It was almost as if they found me through the intertubes for the sole purpose of embedding their joyous cacophony directly into my neocortex for the span of 6 continuous months. During that time, I could listen to nothing else; I could sing nothing else walking down the street; my housemate Evan and I would stage Spree singalongs at his piano. Suffice to say, Together, We’re Heavy took the title track of Sgt. Pepper’s and adapted it for the Aughts and for that, I thank you, Spree.

Spoon – Gimme Fiction [2005] listen >>
Like other artists in this lists, I came late to the Spoon bandwagon, too. Actually, it wasn’t until I saw an absurd video of an adorable yellow robot dancing to “I Turn My Camera On” that I was moved to seek out what is now one of my favorite rock acts. Gimme Fiction gives us Spoon at a turning point in their career and creativity. Marking the move from memorable indie edge to an unforgettable something bigger and even more bold, this album put Spoon on my map and in constant rotation.

Benji Hughes – A Love Extreme [2008] listen >>
Eletctro-freak-funk-hick-pop at it’s best. Yes, he sounds like Beck. No, he doesn’t look like you would expect him to. Get over it and get into it. He had the guts to put out a debut double album that nails it…pretty much. I can’t say that this album is 25-tracks solid, but I can tell you that the 93% that works is a beautiful thing. After all, it’s all about the Love.

Special Re-Issue Mention: The Beatles – Let It Be…Naked [2003] read >>
I’m including this album because, well, I love it. Cheers to Paul for having the courage to go back into the studio — with George’s permission before he died, although I’m not sure if he even asked Ringo — to expunge the heinous crimes of Phil Spector, and put out an unbelievable re-issue which was just a taste of what was to come.

Honorable Mentions:

Iron & Wine – Our Endless Numbers Days
Animal Collective - Feels
TV on the Radio – Return to Cookie Mountain
Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
The Feeling – Twelve Stops & Home
Hot Chip - The Warning
Danger Mouse – The Grey Album
The Flaming Lips – Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

The Real Numbers: Ugly Face

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Hello. I’ve been trying to post a bit more frequently, and I’m working on a few things. However, for the time being, here’s something I’ve been wanting to share for a while. This tune has been up on our MySpace page for a few months now, but you probably didn’t know that. So here it is, the newest finished track from The Real Numbers, entitled “Ugly Face” (music by Dave Ambrose and words by Andy Freeman):

Expect more soon!

It Must Be Official…

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Well, my new band has a myspace page, so it looks like we are finally legit.  Funny how that works.  The proof is in the pudding, as they say:

http://www.myspace.com/therealrealnumbers

This project started over a year ago when my good friend (and bassist) Evan asked if I wanted to maybe sing in a band with him and another guitar player.  While that lineup didn’t quite work out, it did kick start the creative juices and get me writing some tunes for the first time in many years.  After a draining search to fill out the lineup, we found one Dave Ambrose, a guitar slingin’, road-hardened music geek if there ever was one.  I don’t know what Dave heard in the crappy Garage Band demos that Evan and I posted, but he kept showing up every week and helping us craft my musical seeds into a semblance of proper songs.  In due time, and many drummers, Andy Freeman descended upon our practice space and ripped the sh*t out of those fledgling tunes.  It was pretty clear that Andy’s innate musicality and producer’s ear were too good to be true.  And so, by November of last year the lineup was complete, The Real Numbers were born, and work began on filling out the set.

All told, this band has already exceeded any expectations I had when Evan and I set out to make music in early 2008.  I’m delighted and humbled that such talented musicians are interested playing my tunes and have been so supportive.  It has been a truly collaborative effort, with each member brining their own contributions to the table, be it songs, lyrics, arrangement ideas, etc.  As a songwriter, this has been immensely rewarding.  As a novice guitar player, it has been an amazing opportunity to build some chops and venture forth into electric arena.

And so, The Real Numbers are officially out and about in the world.  Enjoy what we’ve got posted, and come out to hear us sometime, because the best is yet to come.  Your next chance is May 14th at the Connecticut Yankee here in San Francisco.  Until then, rock on.