Sunday, August 24, 2014

Whisky Bar No More - At Least for a While...

We all want to be recognized and treated well.  Even in this age of conspicuous consumption, we still want things to have value. Most of us want to hang out in familiar places where people are friendly and the surroundings are comfortable, etc.  For the past few months, I’ve been attempting to do that at the bar across the street.  I’m now done trying.  

First off, where else but in Belltown or possibly lower Queen Anne or Ballard can you have a bar directly across the street from where you live?  Sounds pretty sweet, does it not?  So yes, I’m well aware that there are tons of rewarding drinking options just one block away.  But I’ve never felt all that comfortable in any of those places unless I’m there with at least one other person.  People go to bars, I have surmised, in order not to drink alone, even if they are alone.  If I go alone, I generally end up feeling like I’d be more entertained drinking cheap red wine at home and watching The Simpsons.  I was hoping to find a place where I didn’t feel that way.  

Let me say that the Whisky Bar has a top-notch selection of all grades of booze (except maybe for wine, but that’s OK; I have that at home) and its owners are very, very nice and friendly people.  I don’t drink whisky (or even whiskey), but I was quite enchanted with their rotating roster of beers.  Many are quite delicious.  Once the keg runs dry, they replace it with something else.  It’s like a great adventure in beer-land.  I’ve never had this opportunity before.  I looked forward to exploring the landscape.  As I said, I’ve just been drinking cheap red wine at home in general.  So I started going there late Sunday nights during the spring.  I’d have two pints, look out across the street at my building as the quiet zen descended on the neighborhood and let my mind wander.  The place was usually nearly empty, although for some reason the music was at Saturday night levels.  That was a bit of a hinderance to mind-wandering zen-ness, but hardly a deal-breaker.  The only other issue was cost.  Everything there is expensive.  Six bucks-plus a pint is pricy.  Most other places are far less, as you may know.  Plus, they charge you tax, so your six-dollar pint comes out to nearly seven.  There’s something not kosher about that.  If the tap list says six bucks, that’s what I expect to pay.  Build in your liquor tax and make that the price.  I understand that rents are higher in Belltown.  I witnessed their renovation from post-sushi restaurant to wood-paneled pub.  It was slow, painstaking and lasted for months.  I’m sure they’ll be paying that down for years.  I truly want to support them.  But their prices verge on the exorbitant, even for Belltown.          

In June and July, I stopped drinking at home.  That’s right, I gave the cheap red wine a rest.  So I started going over there for happy hour once a week in addition to the Sunday nights.  The beer was still excellent and I was still very much intrigued by their rotating selection.  But funny thing, even as I showed up more frequently, I was generally greeted as a stranger.  Each and every visit, it was like I was there for the first time.  The only person who seemed the least bit glad to see me was the jovial owner on the few occasions he was there in the evening.  Now, much of the staff seemed to really know the inventory well, especially the hard liquor.  They could discuss hints-of and notes-of and implications and production, location, climate and so forth.  That’s all very well and good if you’re into it, you’ve got a wad of cash and you’re looking for prime booze.  They can tell you all you want to know about anything they serve.  They’re just not that sociable otherwise.  

Earlier this month when I was recording, we would knock off for the day at nine or ten.  I’d get back to Belltown, tired but still keyed-up.  I mean, I was super-excited by what we’d accomplished on any given day.  The best way for me to reflect on this was to have a beer across the street.  So I started going nightly for one or two pints.  Since I was spending thousands on recording, the cost of pricy pints finally wasn’t the least concern.  Again, showing up each night earned me little more than a curt nod.  As a native Seattleite, I’m naturally suspicious of overly-friendly people, but I’m also fairly keenly aware of overly-unfriendly people, too.  I was definitely getting an overly-unfriendly vibe from much of the staff.  On the rare occasion that one of the bar-guys guessed at what I was having (I’d been drinking it all week, as it was super-delicious), he guessed wrong.  This was all well and good.  The weather was nice and the recording was shaping up into something very special.  I was feeling really good about everything and an increasingly-unwelcoming bar across the street wasn’t going to change that.  It wasn’t till the end of the week that something strange happened and it got me to thinking.  It was just at the end of happy hour, the place was clearing out and a bunch of staff were having smokes on the sidewalk.  Ah, I remember smoking.  I did it for years and I miss it.  On the other hand, I can breathe freely and sing on my own projects now.  In conclusion, life is a compromise.  But I digress.  Anyhow, I go to leave and I’m stepping past them.  Suddenly, they all go silent and look uncomfortable.  I’m probably very wrong about this, but I could have sworn they were openly mocking me.  It's so much sweeter when your target doesn't march out when you're doing it, but that's what I'm supposing was going down.  Maybe I’m just being paranoid, but there was something very weird going on there that required them to stop their conversation dead in its tracks.  If it’s true, why the hostility?  I’m just there to pay a lot for beer.  And honestly, it’s just beer.  I want to enjoy it in a nice place and not ruffle anybody’s feathers simply by showing up.      

I realized what that weirdness was right away and decided to give it a few days to air out.  I dunno, maybe these guys were having a rough day or something.  The next time I went there, the reception was really frosty.  I guess even the curtly nodding familiarity I had with this place had bred contempt.  And then it occurred to me: this bar doesn’t need me.  As such, it also doesn’t want me.  They want strangers, not regulars.  For all the times that I went there, I never saw the same patrons twice.  People would drift in and drift out, all different, all the time.  That is the nature of the business, I suppose.  It doesn’t depend on me showing up however many nights a week, so I won’t.  Strangers don’t think twice about the high cost.  They drink, pay and leave, never to return.  They require little maintenance outside of elementary recognition and some rudimentary advice.  The staff’s knowledge of the inventory seems a worthy substitute for sociability, as well.  True, I’m solitary, but not unpleasant.  I can be friendly and talkative, if the situation presents itself.  It never really did.  You know, I realize that it’s important to support local businesses, but this is one that doesn’t want me to support it.  And I wouldn’t mind the high prices if they seemed worth it.  I really, honestly want to believe that I’ve gotten the wrong impression through a series of misunderstandings.  But I also believe that going there more would only garner more hatred from the staff.  So what's the point?     

I tried again this evening and the service was terrible.  I had to wait half an hour to pay.  Seriously, there were all of six people in there and they couldn’t even notice that I was done and wanted to leave.  That’s part of the job, right?  I’m sorry, but I’ve made it a point to never beg, request or beseech anyone to take my money.  I’m done with this place for the next few months.  It’s just not worth it.  I’m done.  I would recommend that you do the same.  I've tried for a long time, so now I say to you:  don't go to the Whisky Bar.  Don't go.  
    
I’ll tell you something, in the fall and winter, I used to go to the Five Point every week for their excellent happy hour burger special.  Each time I went in, the staff was always friendly and efficient.  They knew who I was and they knew what I wanted.  Things were never weird like this.  I really miss that.  I think I’ll start going back there.  It’s not about people fawning over me or anything.  I just have no desire to go to a place where it doesn’t matter whether I’m there or not.  Life’s too short for that nonsense.  Service matters.  Seriously, when I’m in a place like the Whisky Bar, paying a premium for poor service, drinking cheap red wine at home is infinitely preferable.   

Your Sunday Squirrel

Here is last week's squirrel, also in the dappled sunlight.  It's a really nice shot if you fail to notice that it's kind of blurry.  Thanks for not noticing that!  And thank you, focus-bot, for failing to capture a sharp shot of a stationary squirrel in adequate light.  Oh well, it's still pretty dramatic.

I Went to the Beer Fest and All I Got Was...

...slightly drunk.
Imagine a place where you pay $30, they give you a teeny glass and 10 tickets and then let you in.  It's hot, totally crowded and so many people have terrible tattoos.  Welcome to Beer Fest 2014!  You take your tickets around, stand in a long line and get your teeny glass (4 oz.) filled with the beer of your choice.  One of these can set you back as many as four tickets.  I stuck to the 1- and 2-ticket beers.  Everybody was there with everybody else, and people seemed really super into it.  Luckily, my first beer was nearly 11% ABV, so things weren't completely unpleasant.  But it was hot.  I couldn't do much about that.  Except sweat.  Which I did.    
They had a band.  These guys played surf and rockabilly.  They weren't bad at all, but they only mentioned their name once and I didn't catch it, because I forgot to eat lunch and all previous beers were hitting me at that exact moment.  I was quite the cheap date.
So yes, people everywhere.  Somewhere along the line, I lost my last ticket.  That of course was a tragedy.  I had enough presence of mind to get some poutine (a poutine?) from a truck called Skillet.  It was fantastic.  I feel like I'm still carrying it around with me.  Anyhow, with my tickets gone and the poutine settling into a permanent lump in my stomach, I walked back to Belltown.  I've always wondered what a beer festival is like.  Now I know, so I don't have to ever go back.  

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Almost Done!

Recording and mixing, done!  All that remains is mastering, which is merely the normalizing of volume levels and the addition of an extra layer of compression.  In case you were wondering, compression is what separates us from the animals.  The above cartoon hangs in the office at Avast.  I find it very, very funny, because there are dozens of things that need to be fixed at the session, but they generally get kicked down the road to the mixing stages.  There are, however, some things so crucial that they could potentially ruin an entire tune if neglected.  Plus, errors of that magnitude tend to get in your head and stay.  In those cases, I'm in favor of fixing them immediately, so I'm totally in the Batman camp.  Of course, I'm a lot nicer than Batman.  
This last week wasn't all mixing and sitting around, not in that order.  I also went to the zoo.  I saw Dave, the new giraffe (not pictured) and a sleepy penguin (above).
Yesterday was the last of mixing.  After it was all finished and everyone got paid, we went off to a bar in Wallingford.  So above you see Johnny on the left, who is the finest engineer in town and, as luck would have it, Ryan, who sang backup for yours truly.  He was just there playing pool.  Ryan is in the Chasers.  I have seen them.  They're pretty terrific.  And intense.  I highly recommend them.  I guess I was celebrating, because I drank a lot.  The bartendress was Roma, which was quite interesting.  For those not in the know, Roma is what we know as gypsy.  I ended up walking home, which had nothing to do with the Roma-ness of the bartendress.  I got back around 3:00.  All in all, it was a fun evening.  I got up early, had a run (not recommended) and listened to the mixes of the album.  It's good.  I'm happy with it.  In fact, I'm overjoyed with it.  As I've mentioned previously, it's a funk effort.  Now, those who know me don't detect a whole lot of funkiness to my character.  That's where they misunderestimate me.

As a jazz musician, funk is not a long stretch.  That doesn't mean it's easy to attain, it just means that I know how to get there.  So this album has many aspects of the genre - and a rich one it is.  There are a few raw funk tunes, full-on juggernaut numbers and even a fake-gospel effort that is really quite surprising.  OK, here's the thing, I did not expect this particular song to pack a wallop.  I'm just this guy from Edmonds who grew up very Catholic.  What the hell do I know about gospel?  It turns out that I know enough to write and arrange a pretty convincing chart.  Yeah, I'm surprised, too.  That's one of the great things about music.  Unexpected stuff happens all the time.  How else do you explain one-hit wonders?

It's important to know what you want.  If you don't, that's trouble.  It's so weird; you hear all these tales of chaos, drama and brawls in the studio.  That's pretty much the opposite of what goes on at my sessions.  True, this time there was a slight difference of opinion between me and my B-3 player over one tune.  The fault was entirely mine, as it's my job to give direction to the band.  The whole problem was that I kept telling him what I didn't want, rather what he should do.  After several attempts, we shelved it for later.  And it super-happened several hours afterwards.  It's a recording that I'm truly happy with.

You know, it's strange; exactly two weeks ago was the pre-session rehearsal.  We covered eight tunes.  At the end of it, I was concerned.  But then again, I'm a worrier.  The next day, we recorded five tunes.  The day after that, six.  In comparison, it's fairly normal for bands to take one or two days per song.  But when you hire jazz musicians, you get superior performances and you have a lot of fun.  That's just what happened.

I don't expect this album to sell any better than any previous releases.  Once again, it doesn't matter.  This is all about making as many albums as I can until this all starts looking ridiculous.  I know that it will happen at some point.  Maybe I can become a bard after that.  I'll have to hire a guitarist, as I don't possess the skills to self-accompany. This may also seem a stretch, but if I can pull off a honest-to-god funk album, I can probably do that, too.  But I promise nothing.          

         

Your Sunday Squirrel

Ah, this shot existed in just one moment of time.  Of course, I was shooting as fast as I could, complete with groaning focus-bot and all.  So this photo isn't totally, completely in focus and the leaves near his head are kind of distracting.  But he does get his own puddle of sunlight.  However, five seconds later:
Gone!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Your Sunday Squirrel

OK, maybe this isn't so much in focus, but it is recent.  I saw the James Brown biopic today.  It was kind of nightmarish.  However, it was pretty informative.  I myself have just made a genuine funk album, and I do have to say: I was not at any time channeling James Brown.  I know that he is a huge influence on popular music, but I didn't focus specifically on what he was doing.  The movie calls him a genius.  That's a bit of an overstatement.  Charlie Parker was a genius.  Duke Ellington was a genius.  There are several others.  James Brown was merely a guy who took advantage of the situation.  And he treated his players badly.  There was a great need for showmanship back then.  We kind of also need that sort of thing now.  Lady Gaga briefly filled the void, but those days are gone.  Where's the new James Brown?  It certainly isn't Justin Timberlake.  But today's squirrel doesn't care about any of this.  All he wants are peanuts.

Recording

Well, this is where I spent most of my week.  It's a recording studio.  I'm making another album.  Since recording is super-fun and generally pretty wonderful, I'm planning on doing it a lot.  When you go in and you know what you want, everything proceeds quickly and smoothly.  If you don't know and you can't describe what you want (or if you can only use negatives like: "Don't play like that" or "Don't do that"), things will slow down and get tense.  This happened just once, but it proved to be no big deal.  We recorded live instruments onto 14 songs in three days.  If that sounds impressive, consider that we got 11 songs in the can in the first two days.  The third day was just for horns, piano and vocal tracking.

I tried to describe the experience of the last album, but words failed me.  They fail me now, as well.  It's so fantastic working with this group of great musicians.  When they breathe life into a tune that previously existed only as a pale demo, it's something to behold.  I wish I could describe it.

This effort is funk.  You know, in the past my music has been compared to They Might Be Giants, a band that I don't particularly like.  It's so nice to put that comparison to rest.  I get compared to Beck, as well, but I don't mind that, because I like his stuff very much.  It's been years since Midnite Vultures - in fact 15 years - so it's time for something to follow it.  Of course, Beck's album is more of an eighties-informed work.  Mine is mostly from the sixties and seventies.  It'll be done in a week.  I plan to call it Unobscure at Last.  I know that "unobscure" isn't a word, but it works for my purposes.  It will be very good.

I have two more tunes to record vocals for and four days to mix everything and so far, I'm very, very pleased with the results.  I'll have more details as the release date approaches.  

New Place on 2nd!

As I'm always first to admit, I'm generally slow on the uptake.  Things close or open and weeks pass before I notice.  This is slightly different.  I believe these guys have been open for just a little more than a week.  It's at 2nd & Battery, next to the Moroccan place (where you eat with your hands) and right across from Buckley's.  It used to be an Indian restaurant.  I never went there.  I never had a spiciness craving that couldn't be sated by Mama's.  Sorry, guys.  I'm sad that you're out of business.  But the circle of restaurant life continues.  This place is now open.  If anybody's been there, let me know how it is.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Your Sunday Squirrel

Here is another shot of last week's guy.  I dunno, he was really off his game.  Who knows, maybe he had rabies or plague.  Nature is brutal; it deals all kinds of bad stuff out to little creatures.  And to big creatures, too.

I start recording this week and it is a very exciting prospect.  We had our one and only rehearsal today.  It went well.  The session tomorrow should be very nice.  For the moment, though, I'm pretty exhausted.  It's the good kind of tired.  What I have to do is get five guys accustomed to many tunes that they're seeing for the first time.  Initially, everybody's hesitant, then eventually they're confident, then they tear into the thing.  We got to semi-confident today.  Tomorrow, they'll be tearing into it.  I am sure that this will happen.  And it will be wonderful.  It's always wonderful working with excellent musicians.