Thursday, December 14, 2006

Top 10 albums for the year

Now, I should note: these are the top 10 albums that I have discovered this year, not that necessarily came out this year, though most of them were released this year.

10. The Fray: How to Save a Life

Though their music tends to bore me after a while, this CD is a great "chill" CD. It has some really great stuff on it, but my tastes have moved more towards rock, so this CD, one that I would have eaten up 2 years ago really falls down the list of favorites. But I include it here because it really is a great album. Obvious standouts to me are "Over My Head (Cable Car)" and "Look After You".

9. The Elms: The Chess Hotel

These guys were a band that I literally hated. I thought they were horrible with their first few albums. But then I saw that they had left Sparrow and had moved to Universal and it piqued my interest a little. Then I started to keep up with their myspace blogs about recording and my interest was piqued some more. Then I heard the first coupla songs on their myspace and decided I had to buy the album, and for the most part, I was not dissapointed. This album is a great album of roots/bluesy rock. The playing is great and it sounds like an album that fits in this genre. Standouts are "Makes Good Sense to Me", "I Left My Body and Never Came Back" and "I am the World".

8. Downhere: Wide Eyed and Mystified

It had been a few years since my favorite Canadian band had released an album and I was looking forward to it when I heard they had signed with a hip, cool indie label and that the label was actually going to push them this time around (they were crapped on by their former label). Well, the wait was worth it. The album was great, though the lyrics were a little too evangelistic for what I normally listen to. However, overall the album was great. Standouts are "Surrender" and "A Better Way".

7. Sheryl Crow: Wildflower

This CD is another that is a more "Chill" CD, but Crow's songwriting is simply incredible. I've been a fan of Sheryl's for a while and am constantly blown away that she write great song after great song. This CD is shock full of them, though it seems she wrote from a more melancholic state than she has before. Standouts are "Always On Your Side" and "Good is Good".

6. needtobreathe: Daylight

This album is killer through and through. These guys are from the Greenville, SC area, so it was cool to see some local boys make good. I had seen this band in the past and they weren't very good. However, working with producer Andy Green (Keane), they were able to bring out the great songs, killer hooks and pretty good playing. This is a great CD and should be on your Christmas list for yourself or any other music lover. "You are Here" and "Don't Wait for Daylight" are obvious standout tracks.

5. All-American Rejects: Move Along

This CD is a collection of catchy chart toppers that combine punk/pop with well-written, well-performed pop/rock songs. The band isn't breaking any new ground, but there is an undeniable catchiness to the songs that you can't get past. I love this CD and listen to it often. The title track and "Dirty, Little Secret" are standouts.

4. The Beatles: The White Album

Yeah, I know...this album definitely didn't come out in 2006. But I have recently gone on a discovery phase with the Beatles and have fallen in love. Of all their albums, the White Album, I think is the greatest. In listening to this album, you can see how far they had come from the "Love Me Do" days and also how far ahead they were of everyone else in 1968. "Ob-La-De, Ob-La-Da", "Helter Skelter" and "Blackbird" are standouts from the 26 songs on the album.

3. Ray LaMontagne: Trouble

Again, a CD that came in 2004. But I discovered it this year and it made me extremely happy. I absolutely love Ray's voice and I love his songs. I think he's the best songwriter out right now, at least in this genre. The title track and "Jolene" are standouts.

2. MuteMath: MuteMath

A great album by my now-favorite band. They had released the shorter Control EP a year or so earlier that I loved, and I had anxiously awaited this album's release. I was not dissapointed. Extreme creativity abounds. The album sounds great, the songs are great and everything just fits together. "Typical" and "Chaos" are standouts, but nearly every song on this album is a standout.

1. Muse: Absolution

This is probably one of my top 5 CDs of all time. It didn't come out this year - I think it came out in 2004. But I discovered it this year. It is incredible through and through: great songs, remarkable musicianship and a great, interesting voice. This is my 2nd favorite band, following closely behind MuteMath. I don't know that I can give standouts because literally the first 8 songs of this CD were on repeat for months.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Taylor Hicks vs: Daughtry

American Idol CD showdown

Okay, so I have now listened to both CDs a couple of times and have formulated opinions on both of the albums. So, this will basically be a short review of both.

The album is good. Really good. I'm not a big fan of the style of music here: cock rock as it is referred to. Basically, to me, this kind of music is a just a bunch of strong men, running around screaming about how bad life is and occasionally talking about love. Daughtry's album, lyrically is a little lighter than dark, but musically it falls into all the pratfalls of modern rock.

First off, every song, with the exception of 2 in the middle of the album, are basically the same tempo. For some reason, modern rock loves these mid-tempo ballads that happen to have huge guitars and a screaming vocal on it. I personally enjoy a little rhythmic variety, so for this fault, the album loses points in my book.

Lyrically, the album is actually pretty good. From what I understand, Chris is a Christian and grew up playing praise and worship music, though this album is far from that. I'm not sure if his lyrics reference any kind of relationship with Christ, but few of the lyrics are stupid or cheesy. Most of them are well-thought and well-written.

Overall, the album is a little plodding for me. It's 12 songs that runs under 50 minutes, which is a great for an album, but his guest stars (Slash, main example) and guest writers (Ace Young, Brent Smith, and more) fall a little short for me. What I can say is that the album is obviously music that Chris is passionate about. You can tell he loves the music that he is making, and that is more than could be said for Kelly, Clay and Bo's first albums. So, for straight passion, the album gains points in my book. But with that said, the album does fall short artistically in my mind.

I give the album a B (4.2 of 5)

Taylor Hicks
I have been wondering for a while how this album would turn out. I liked Taylor on the show but didn't love him. His little quirks got on my nerves after a while and I thought his voice was marginal in comparison to other contestants. But I knew that this CD could turn into a hit because of reports I was hearing. The record was produced Matt Serilictic, former president of Virgin Records and the producer of all the Matchbox20 and then the Rob Thomas solo record. Taylor was reported to have written songs with some top songwriters, like John Mayer. Rob Thomas wrote a song for the record. He was covering a Marvin Gaye album cut. Supposedly, the estate of Ray Charles gave him a ballad that Bryan Adams had written for Ray before the soul great passed away. I mean, a lot of things could make this album a hit. Plus, he did win American Idol.

I got the CD today and was, overall, blown away by the CD. It was better than I could have expected. From the opening song to the end of the Taylor Hicks original "Hell of a Day" (a bonus track from the Wal-Mart edition of the album), the album twisted and twitched and turned and made me a happy camper. The first song is a soul-funk groove that rocks. Next is the Thomas ballad, followed by a song that samples the wurlitzer riff from Charles' "What'd I Say".

From a musical standpoint, I was very, very pleased. The album covers a broad range of styles while still holding to a core sound. He goes into old-time soul, some funky soul, some 80's type pop/r&b...he has a Diane Warren ballad, a 6/8 ballad that's beautiful, and then his original songs come out of nowhere and blows the rest of the stuff away. His voice sounds great and he actually can sing! He makes each of these songs his own. My only beef with the album is that I hate brass and this album has a lot of brass. But that's a personal preference and the rest of it is good enough I can overlook the brass.

Lyrically, the album is strong. The writers that he chose can write well and he sings like he knows what he's talking about. There are a couple of lyrics that are a little over the top for my taste, but again, just preference here. the lyrics to the originals are simple, but they fit what is happening musically, so I can take them in stride.

To wrap it up, the album is a fun, twist and shout kind of record that will make you smile. You will listen to this CD all year and when summer comes it'll be a great summer CD to listen to while you roll down the road with your windows down.

I give the CD a flat A- (4.6 of 5)

So, once again, Taylor wins.

But will he win in the sales division? Well, we'll see.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Major Musical Influences

Adam Duritz - hands down, my favorite writer. Everything he writes is great.
Bryan Adams - I know, everybody thinks he's cheesy, right? Well, screw you! The guy wrote hit after hit after hit...and his voice is freaking incredible. What' s a guy to do? He wrote some cheesy ballads, but they really were great songs.
Bob Dylan - well, of course. It took me a while to get past his voice, but I have fallen in love of late.
Paul McCartney - I'm a huge Beatles fan, though it did take me a while. Lennon's songwriting is good, but I think McCartney was the one who walked the fine line of making art and making great music the best.
John Mayer - I think of all the young songwriters, his stuff is the best. There are certain songs of his that just
send me into a different stratosphere.
Ben Folds - He's as close to Adam Duritz as anyone can get. I think his songwriting is remarkable.
Ryan Adams - His Gold album was incredible. The stuff since has been okay, but he is a great songwriter.
Sheryl Crow - the one chick who I will listen to and enjoy. And she's a darn good songwriter.

Muse - these guys rock my face off with their remarkable playing, songwriting and arrangements. Radiohead Light, my butt.
MuteMath - This is probably my favorite band right now. All of their music brims with creativity and they are never satisfied with normal instrumentation. I love how they take known sounds and make them almost unidentifiable. And their use of the key-tar definitely puts them high on my list. One of the best bands I've ever seen live, by the way.
Switchfoot - I love these guys. One day, I hope to tour with them. They are some of my favorite musicians and I love what they stand for. And Jon Foreman is one of my favorite songwriters.
The Afters - These guys are going to be freaking huge next year. They just signed a deal with Columbia and I hope they get a huge push. They're great songwriters and they are great musicians.
needtobreathe - a favorite new band. They're from around here, too, so I give them props. But, really, I listened to their CD almost non-stop after it came out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Musical Journey

Growing up, my parents were very conservative fundamentalist Baptists. I know a lot of big words, right? Basically, what that means is that my parents believed that music and movies and everything the world had to offer were off-limits for Christians.

My dad actually had enjoyed the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel back when he was a kid. His freshman year of college he attended a "liberal" Christian college called Taylor University in Indiana and had traveled around to different coffee houses, playing his guitar and singing songs he wrote. But for some reason, he decided to move away from that and transferred colleges to a conservative Baptist college where he met my mom, which I guess was good because they made me, right?

I was born in Tennessee where my dad was the music pastor/youth pastor for a small conservative Baptist church. By the time that I was almost 3 my parents decided to take a music pastorate in Durham, NC. So, we moved while my mom was pregnant with my little brother and soon after my bother Jon came into the world.

So, my dad was a music pastor and he played guitar. Sounds like the start to a beautiful musical journey to me? Well, it took a while.

When I was 6, my parents decided to go to the missionfield as missionaries. They originally decided on Bermuda because there were no conservative churches in that country. Unfortunately right before we were supposed to leave, Bermuda denied our Visas, and my parents had to scramble to figure out where they were going to go. So, from the paradise of Bermuda they decided on the cold, dank country of Germany.

When my parents decided to go to the missionfield, they took part in a missionary ritual called deputation. This is where missionaries travel from church to church and try to get churches to support they mission work. Usually a church will give anywhere from $25-500 a month...most of the time in the $25-50 range. And missionaries (at least at that time) had to raise all their support this if they needed $5000 a month, then they had to get that from however many churches it took.

So, I spent 2 and a half years on the road, basically on a tour of America. Again - foreshadowing?

While we were on deputation, we lived in Chatanooga, TN. While there, I can remember climbing a tree and telling my 3 years younger brother that I had written a song. I can't remember if I had words for it, but I hummed it to my brother and then he climbed up the tree. I don't think he cared.

When I was almost 8, we hopped on a plane to Germany. I still remember my mom making me wear a wool skull cap. I hated it because it made my already wiry, curly haired head itch even more than usual. We got to Germany and my parents took a church in Weisbaden, West Germany (at the time you had to make that distinction) where we worked with the U.S. military. Basically, my dad was a chaplain without having joined the military.

My parents have told me that I was the loudest child they could have ever imagined. They said I sang almost constantly when I played and I would do all kinds of voices as I played with my G.I. Joes. I recently found some old tapes that I had recorded with a cassette recorder where I did G.I. Joe dramas where I would do several voices and then sing different theme songs. It was hilarious to listen to - mainly because I had an incredibly thick southern accent back then.

The first time that I remember singing was in my dad's church when I was 8. I sang "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" and I forgot the words. Forshadowing anyone? I was thoroughly emberrassed and decided that I wouldn't sing in church again for a while. I would sing off and on in Sunday School and stuff like that but never anything serious.

At home, my parents had discovered the records of a Christian recording artist who called himself Patch the Pirate. Basically, Patch would record a batch of Christian songs and form a play around it, complete with dialogue and a batch of memorable characters. As a kid, I thought that Patch the Pirate was the coolest thing ever and I learned every word to every song, as well as most of the dialogue from the plays.

Also, my dad had found old country artists that he enjoyed like Jim Reeves, Johnny Horton and ilk like that. My dad, every now and then, would put the records on and I LOVED it. I would play the records as much as I possibly was just really cool music.

Pretty much the pre-teen and early teen years of my life continued the same musically. I can remember when I was 10 hearing the song "Cocomo" by the Beach Boys and thinking that the harmonies were the coolest thing I had ever heard. My friend had the tape (yes, we had moved up from records by this point in my life) and we listened to it again and again until I had the words memorized. I came home and told my dad about it and he admonished me for listening to rock music with my friends and told me that I was grounded from hanging out with my friend. At twelve I couldn't understand how that music was bad, but I trusted my dad...he always knew what he was talking about.

Also when I was 10, I had a little girlfriend named Veronica who loved the New Kids on the Block. She would let me listen to them from time to time and I thought they were cool. Everyone said I looked like Joey. Hey - I was 10!!! And I was sheltered!!! What do you expect?

When I was 14, I was riding in my friend Warner's car, and Warner's parents let him listen to the radio (I was not allowed), and a song called "MotownPhilly" came on the radio and it changed my world. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got chills as I listened to these guys sing the crap out of something and make these amazing harmonies. I decided that I had to figure out who this was. I soon found out that the group was BoyzIIMen and soon after they had another huge hit with "In the Still of the Nite" and I went crazy for the acapella harmonies there, too. They followed these 2 up with "So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday" and one of the greatest songs ever recorded: "End of the Road". I can remember sitting in my room listening to my radio with headphones on and as soon as the song would start, I would record it on my cassette tape recorder. I would listen to those songs until the tape wore out.

I started using any money that I made to buy tapes as much as I could. I remember buying R.Kelly's first album, BoyzIIMen, Shai, Silk, Keith Sweat and anything that had harmonies. I also was influenced by my friends to check out rap and I actually really got in to M.C. Hammer, Vanilla Ice, Wrex'N'Effect and some other popular rap groups of the early nineties. My rap obsession didn't last for long, though. The thing I was really drawn to was great vocals and great harmonies. Originally my sole music taste was pop/R&B. My only real try at pop/rock was Ace of, I thought they were incredible.

At 15 I tried to run away from home and during my 24 hours of freedom I bought a CD player and 3 CDs. When my parents caught up to me, they took the CDs but they let me keep the CD player but, of course, I was only able to listen to conservative Christian CDs. They also took away the 25 or so tapes I had of certain artists, and for a while I straightened up and flew right.

We came back to the states for a couple of months when I was 15 and after we came back I decided to not listen to any music my parent disapproved of. I really wanted to be a good Christian boy, but at that point I really started to get interested in songwriting. Also, one of my friends discovered a group called Acapella and soon after, I was hooked and I bought every acapella CD and learned every word, every part and decided that acapella music was the bomb.

My girlfriend at the time also introduced me to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey and they were really the only women that I enjoyed listening to. I think that for me, music was more of an interactive experience so I've never really enjoyed women singers because their range was different than mine, so I just never really listened to a lot of female singers.

In my church, I decided to start an acapella quartet, and we would perform once a month for church was just me and 3 other military guys that could kind of sing. It was probably pretty horrible (if you've ever seen a hymnbook, you know the 4 parts weren't written for male 4 part harmonies), but it was a lot of fun for me as I started to figure out how parts worked and how harmonies worked. I actually had a low voice, so I sang baritone on everything, and I actually sang bass in my church's choir.

About this time, too, I really started to try my hand at songwriting. A friend of mine allowed me to use a keyboard that had drums and bass and stuff and I would take my two tape recorders, record a drum loop first, then play that tape back to and record another part to the other tape recorder and so on and so on until I had a whole track. Very primitive multi-track recording. I would do the same thing and record full acapella arrangements. The thing was that the original track that I did would fall further and further back into the mix with each successive recording. But hey it allowed me to exercise my creative demons, so to speak and I spent hours upon hours doing that.

However, I should note that I was never interested in doing music as a living. My real passion growing up was writing and I fell in love with John Grisham and Michael Crichton, both of whom had had a career before they moved into writing (law and medicine, respectively). As a side note: my dad would read the novels beforehand and black out every curse word and any section that had sex in it and then he would let me read them. Funny, I know. Anyway, I had decided that I would be a lawyer and eventually move into writing, once I had established a career.

In high school, I actually wrote several plays, short stories and I even wrote a 600 page novel. My teachers thought my writing was very, very good, and they all encouraged me to cultivate that. I read voraciously and would read books on constructing a great story and how to write professionally, etc. So, that was my passion growing up. And I really wanted to write screenplays. I can remember having notebooks full of novel and screenplay ideas. In looking back at the notebooks now, the stories were actually pretty good, though they were stories that have been told before - I just didn't know because I wasn't allowed to watch any movies over PG rated.

It was at 16 that I had my first performance of one of my songs. I wrote a song called "Heaven" after one of my dad's messages and my dad I worked out an arrangement with him playing guitar and singing lead and me singing harmony. It was pretty cool to hear all the people tell me how great a crappy song was. But hey I was 16. It was supposed to be crappy.

When I was 17, my friend Aaron introduced me to some more rock stuff like Red Hot Chili Peppers, R.E.M., Crash Test Dummies and several others...but the one that I fell in love with was an unknown group from South Carolina called Hootie and the Blowfish. I can remember listening to that CD time after time...then the band blew up. And you could not go anywhere without hearing their songs. And I liked them before they were famous.

The summer before my senior year of high school, we came back to the U.S. so that I could go to school in the States for my senior year in North Kansas City, MO, which is where my parent's sending church was located. They had a small Christian school of perhaps 200 K-12, and my graduating class was 12. Yeah, small Christian school.

During my first weeks of school, I formed another acapella group, this time of 5 people and I actually did some of my first arranging for this group. I would sit down at a piano and plunk out arrangements and write them sloppily on staff paper. It was ugly. But I enjoyed spending hours working out that stuff. And it began to really train my ear for harmonies. With this group, agian, I was baritone and I would never solo - I never thought I was a good singer, just a harmonizer. At this point of my life, I was still dead set on being a lawyer/writer.

My best friend at the time, Ryan Goss, was really into film scores and so we dove headfirst into buying almost ever film score soundtrack that we could find. We loved John Williams, of course, and James Horner was my favorite. Ryan was an immensely talented musician and he would write scores to videos and such for the school, and I tried my hand a little at writing some instrumental pieces. It definitely stretched my knowledge of harmony and melody and I even wrote some key changes that were, well, we'll say interesting. He and I wrote some songs together, but for the most part, I didn't really write that much during this time period except for soundtrack-type stuff.

I graduated from college and my parents gave me 3 choices of where I could go to college: Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones University and Northland Christian College - all 3 were very conservative Christian colleges. I chose PCC because it was at the beach (and it was freaking cheap) and I went to school as a pre-law major.

Now, I should explain that PCC has very strict rules. They go on a demerits system. 150 demerits kicks you out. If they find out you have illegal music (read anything with a "rock or sensual" beat) gives you 75 demerits the first time...kicked out the second time. However unlike my parents, they didn't search through my stuff without cause to look for illegal music, so my first week of school after my parents left me, I went to the local Christian bookstore and bought like 20 CDs of various contemporary Christian artists that I had always heard about but never listened to: Michael W. Smith, 4Him, Michael English, etc. And I fell in love with this music like crazy.

First semester of that year, a few weeks in, I was walking down the hallway humming a Michael English song (for those of you who don't know, Michael English was the Christian version of Michael Bolton). A kid walking the opposite way heard me humming and came up and tapped me on the shoulder and told me he was starting a vocal group and that he liked my voice. I later went and sang for him and he put me in his quartet. I had written a song my first week at school called "Ransom" and I thought we might be able to do it. The guys loved it and from there on out, I wrote all the songs for the group - I would write a skeleton of a song, and then would sit down with Ryan (the guy who heard me in the hall) who was an amazing pianist and we would flesh it out with chord structure and everything like that. It was my first taste of fame, as we would sing for various school functions and people started recognizing me around campus.

About half-way through the 2nd semester of my freshman year, I began thinking that I really wanted to be a music major. More and more I was spending all my time working on music and loving it. I hadn't written any prose in months...just song after song, trying to work on the craft of songwriting. I looked at the school of music at PCC and realized that it was okay, but I really wanted something great. So, I transferred to a school called Bob Jones University - one of the 3 schools my parents would help pay for. It was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I didn't want to have to pay for school on my own and the music department is well-respected...but it is solely classical.

When I went to BJU, I originally really tried to stay within the rules. They had even stricter rules than PCC did, and so, following their leaders advice, I broke and threw away all of the "sinful" CDs that I had and really tried to follow the rules. The worst that I listened to at this time was big band stuff like Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

I dived into music on all cylinders and found that it just made sense to me. I had never had theory, but I made great grades through all my theory classes. I sucked at piano, but worked to get better. I had chosen voice performance because it was the only music major that got to have electives, so I had to take private classical voice lessons. At first, it was tough. I breathed completely opposite than you should and I had to learn the basics of tying in breathing with singing. Also, my teacher told me that I was in fact, not a baritone as I thought, but a tenor.

I scoffed, but within a year, I was singing tenor very easily. At school I was very involved and nearly every semester at college, I wrote and performed in skits for the student body meetings. I also put together various men's groups that sang at functions around school. My sophomore year, I started a 10 person mens acapella group. I took ideas from the acapella groups I had loved when I was younger and would arrange conservative hymns and such to perform around school for various functions. We sang several times in Student Body.

It was during this time with the acapella group that I really began to write voraciously. I wrote a lot of sacred material and then worked hard on my arrangement skills with writing for the mens group. Taking cues from more classical groups like the King's Singers, I really began to fill up my chord vocabulary. It was at this point that music really started to make sense to me.

On a more personal level my music tastes ran some into opera, as I had learned love it by listening to it a ton in order to pass my vocal exams and to learn my songs. But mainly for pleasure I listened to a lot of vocal jazz. I LOVED Harry Connick, Jr. and owned every one of his albums. I also got a couple of box sets from BMG...I had every song that Frank Sinatra recorded for Reprise, and I had every song that Nat King Cole ever recorded. I also loved me some Tony Bennet and Bing Crosby. I really enjoyed vocal jazz, though because of my upbringing, I think, jazz for the most part eluded my comprehension.

A natural progression for me that was somewhere in between jazz and the classical music I was studying was Broadway. For about a year, I thought very, very seriously about trying to make it on Broadway. I loved musical theater and I was a drama minor while I was at BJU and had acted in several (non-singing roles) plays at the University. I loved acting and I loved music. Broadway was a natural progression. I even took playwriting class and wrote a full-length musical for the class.

But then my 3rd year at BJU, I discovered pop music again. At this point in my life, I felt compelled to only listen to Christian music and as I traveled off-campus I would turn on the Christian radio station and listen from time to time. I can still remember the first time I heard a song called "Dive" by Steven Curtis Chapman. I literally almost ran my car off the road. I pulled off to the side of the road and listened to the song completely and decided that I HAD to get that album.

Soon after, I began my foray back into the pop music buying with Steven Curtis Chapman's CD Speechless and I also found a new artist called Bebo Norman. Both of these CDs were extremely influental in who I am today, as strange as that may seem. First off the SCC CD was extremely groundbreaking as a pop/rock album. The songwriting was incredible and the production was bad to the bone. I ate this album up. I literally would listen to this album 10 times in a row. The Bebo Norman CD changed me in a different way. It also is one of my favorite album from a songwriting standpoint and his voice is still to this day one of my favorites. But it was this album that made me say that I wanted to play guitar. I went out the next week and bought an old Epiphone acoustic piece of crap from a pawn shop.

A little backstory: my dad played guitar my whole life, but I had never really been interested in it until one of my friends picked it up, so I learned a few chords and learned how to play every guitar player's staple - "Stairway to Heaven". However, after a few months I got bored because I really didn't have any music that I was allowed to listen to that involved guitars, so I didn't have any reason to keep on making my fingers bleed. Then 4 years later, I still had a few chords under my belt, but I really applied myself, and now music made sense because of my education. I picked it up very quickly. Everything that is except for rhythm. BJU doesn't exactly teach you rhythm.

My CD collection grew steadily, and Broadway more and more started to fade from my mind. By my fourth year at BJU, I knew that I would be a rock star. Or at least do something with that kind of music. With my acoustic guitar I began to write a ton of acoustic pop songs and soon I would sit around and entertain groups of friends with my songs. Looking back, they weren't quite good yet, but they were getting better.

During this time period, I was listening to all Christian music. Bands and artists that I loved were groups like 4Him, FFH, Bebo Norman, Andrew Peterson, Michael W. Smith, Steven Curtis Chapman, Caedmon's Call, DCTalk, Jars of Clay, etc...pretty much the who's who of Christian music from the late 90's on.

Then at the end of the 2nd semester of my senior year, on the last day of the semester I got called up to the Dean of Men's office and was told that someone had turned me in for going to a concert. I had been to several concerts that semester, but the one that I was in trouble for was one 2 days into the semester where my best friend and I drove up to Knoxville, TN to see 4Him and FFH (2 cheesy Christian pop groups - sorry, I didn't know what I was doing at the time). Basically, the school allowed me to keep my credits for the semester that was ending but kicked me out with 7 credits left to graduate. That was in December.

In February my best friend (who also got kicked out) talked me into going to truck driving school. I went to truck driving school and it was fun, hanging out with this completely new brand of people. Truck driver really are a culture all unto themselves. While up in Kentucky for 3 weeks learning to drive a big rig, I wrote a lot of songs, several of which ended up being on my first solo album.

We came back from KY, and we looked for a job as team drivers and after a couple of weeks, we got hired by a place up in Nashville. We took the job and began to train, but they let my friend and I know that they would be splitting us up. At that point in my life, I knew that I could not handle the temptations that the road would constantly throw my way, so I rented a car and cut my losses and drove back to Greenville. I took a job at Domino's Pizza (where I had worked during college) and began to work my way up the ladder there.

In May of that summer (2001), I saw an ad up on a bulleting board at a local coffee shop that said that a local studio would record an album for free. That looked like a pretty good deal to me, so I called the guy. Basically, the deal was, he would record my album for free if I would release it anonymously. Wierd, right. Well, I wasn't too sure about it, but over time I came to trust the guy, so we recorded the album. I was anonymous anyway, so why did it matter if my name was plastered all over the album? It was a chance to put down on tape all these songs that I had been writing.

We recorded 13 original songs and a new hymn arrangement. Listening to it now, it all sounds like crap, but I was so proud of my work at the time. And really, for a Christian CD, the songs are not that bad. Sure, they were a little wordy, but Berg:Vessel as the album was called was my first foray into writing and recording an album. It was very poppy/inspirational and was very acoustic guitar based. Very different from where I am now, but it has all been a progression.

Soon after, I began to play shows around town acoustic. I never felt comfortable enough as a guitar player to do it solo, so I used some of the musicians from my church and put together a make-shift band. We played a ton of shows together, but after a few months, the band members started to drop out one by one because they all had families and real jobs. I was still working at Domino's.

In August of that year, I decided to go back to college and I decided on North Greenville College, a small Baptist University in Tigerville, north of Greenville. It was a breath of fresh air. These people actually had liberty in their faith! It was incredible. Sure, there were still rules, but they were strictly biblical: don't have sex; don't get drunk, etc. There wasn't a bunch of rules that were meant to control as I had seen at BJU. It was refreshing and as I met more musicians at the school, it opened up my world to a lot of different music. And my palette started to grow. Quickly.

And my album dropped in September.

In February of 2002, I put together my first real band. They were all high school kids, but we were all committed to getting better. I was writing a ton, and had plans for another album. We started to play a bunch of shows and the new songs were receiving a good response.

In March of that year, along with going to school, I decided to put together a music company. I joined with some local business men and we formed a small company that would basically provide a financial backing for me making albums. The one album that we did was recorded from March to May of that year at a very nice studio in Greenville. Unfortunately the guy who owned the studio didn't know how to make his half million dollar studio sound better than I could've gotten on half thousand dollars of equipment. The album sounded like crap. In retrospect, I should've taken more time to write songs and explored more options for recording, but I was new to all this and no one gave me good advice. In my mind if you have half a million in equipment your stuff will sound good. Not true.

Looking back and listening, the songs were okay. Some of them were good. But the album sounded like crap. Because it sounded like crap, sub-consciously I had a hard time overselling it at shows. The album didn't sell even though we played over a hundred shows in a years time. The business fell through and that was a major setback, emotionally if nothing else. Also, around this same time a long-term serious relationship fell apart and all of this made for a tough time in my life.

One highlight about this time was in the beginning of August 2002, I entered a national songwriting contest with the Gospel Music Association and won 2nd place, so that was interesting. It opened up doors with record labels.

However in August of 2002, I met a girl named Sarah at church. I had noticed her at some of my shows, and she had had this girlish crush on me because I was a singer and she loved my CDs. We had our first date August 26, we got engaged December 12, and we got married May 9, 2003. It was a whirlwind, but, oh, so right.

After the failure of the business, I really started to think about a lot of things about what I wanted my career to be, etc., and I really started to lean towards going the John Mayer type route. I wasn't really interested in the Christian music industry any more. I had been courted by record labels and nothing ever happened and it didn't seem like the Christian music industry was really the place to make a living doing music. I also was toying with the idea of just giving up music and getting a "real job". I had received a lot of pressure from different people to simply throw in the towel because I hadn't gotten signed yet. So, I toyed with different possibilities.

In early 2004, I met a guy at church who was kind of a local hero because his band had gotten signed to a label up in Nashville. We got to be friends, and I started to find out that he was not happy in his band. Then, after Sarah and I got back from our honeymoon (to Bermuda by the way) I found out that he had left his band. So, Joey and I started to toy with the idea of putting together a band that would feature both of us on lead vocals. I knew that in August, my band were all going to college and the band had planned on breaking up then anyway, unless we go signed, which didn't seem feasible at that point. So, Joey and I planned and dreamed together while I finished out my responsibilities with the Chris Sligh band.

In August of that year, I returned to GMA again, this time winning 1st place in the songwriting contest. Another highlight. That was cool.

At this point, musically, I was a little adrift. I was beginning to discover some secular music and finding how much better this stuff was that anything that was being put out in Christian music at the time. It was around this time that I fell in love with Counting Crows. Since about 2002, Counting Crows have been my favorite band. I respect Adam Duritz and idolize his songwriting. He tells stories that are so different and good and lyrically I think he's one of my favorites of all time. Around this time I also discovered Ben Folds, the Black Crowes and several other mid-90s bands. And I fell in love with all this new (old) music. And my palette extended even more.

In September, I took a job as a youth pastor for a local church and Joey and I started to audition different people for the new unnamed band. We decided to take our time putting together a band. We went through quite a few people till finally settling on two of the members of my old band for bass and drums. We hadn't quite found a lead guitarist, so we decided that I would cover the guitar parts.

Originally, the band was set up for Joey to be the frontman, and I was supposed to be the guitarist and I would sing occasionally. Joey had this very interesting image and had a great, different voice that I thought we should capitalize on.

Then, in October of that year, Joseph Bunn who had been the keyboard player/guitarist for the Chris Sligh band was killed in a car accident. It was a pretty devestating blow for all of us since he was only 18 and he was so excited about life. That was tough for all of us in the band to work through.

After the death of Joseph, we decided to take Andrew, CSB's old guitarist as our lead player. We decided on a name: Half Past Forever, and we began to work hard on songs and started to play some shows after several months of just working out stuff and learning how to be a better band. Within the first couple of shows, though, I began to realize that Joey wasn't a frontman. He was content to simply sit at his piano and never engage the audience. I realized quickly that I had to step up and be the frontman, which I myself was not very good at either, but I knew I had to quickly learn.

Another problem that we ran into with the new band was that Joey was not very prolific as a writer. His work was slow and plodding. Everything he wrote was pretty good, but he took so long to finish a song, that we ended up using a ton of my songs, as I wrote almost every day at that point, and very few of his.

In May of 2004, I decided to go ahead and leave my job at the church to focus on the band more. Joey and I had decided that we really needed to find a great producer in Nashville to produce our stuff, and that no one in SC would do. We also knew that in spending the money it would take to do this that we had to have a more serious band. Tim, our drummer at the time, was playing with several other bands and we had to give up shows because of his schedule. Andrew, too, had never been fully committed, and was never actually a member of the band. So, we began to scour the Upstate for new members.

In May, too, we opened up for a major label band called Downhere. We did very well with the show and after the show, a guitar player came up and told us that if we ever needed help that he would love to play with us. A couple of weeks later, we called him up and from there Chad became part of the band.

In July, Tim finally decided to leave the band and we met a drummer named Russ who ended up being exactly what we needed. In July, also I took a worship pastorate for a small church and from there on out that was where the band practiced. From the moment that Russ first set up his drums and played, we knew that he was the drummer for this band. We finally had our Half Past Forever.

In August we got the name of a producer named Stephen Leiweke who had produced Jars of Clay's first CD and we decided to start on the album in November. Between August and November we recorded a ton of demos and I wrote a ton in expectation for recording. We ended up sending up 22 demos - 12 were songs that I had written, 5 Joey and I wrote together and 5 that Joey wrote. When we showed up in Nashville Stephen had pared it down to 7 songs I had written, 2 that we wrote together and 1 that Joey wrote. It was tough pill for Joey to swallow and it was really the writing on the wall.

We had a great time recording the album, and I learned a buttload of stuff about recording and producing from Stephen. And we all worked on friendships with Stephen, but it was tough as the band moved from Joey being the frontman before to now me being the obvious frontman. It was a power struggle and no one was trying to be a jerk about it, but stuff just happened.

The band hung together for another few months, but in September of 2005, 2 weeks after we celebrated our CD release party, Joey left the band. The rest of us took a few weeks to figure out what we wanted to do, then we all decided to go ahead and give it a go with the 4 of us.

On a personal note, this is where my musical direction definitely started to change. Earlier that summer, Russ and I had started a side project band with a guitarist named Mike and a bassist named Cole. We did Blues-tinged rock and we used bands like the Stones and Faces and Lenny Kravitz and the Black Crowes as our basis. We wrote 20 songs together in literally 5-6 practices. It was incredible how well we worked together. It was definitely not a Christian band, though all of us in the band were Christians. We just wrote hard rocking blues/rock and rocked out. After a several years of drifting trying to find who I was as a musician, I realized that I just enjoyed making music for the sake of making art - and the Exciting Mr. Brown, as we were known, made great art. I loved worship and I loved leading worship, but I realized at this point that I did not have to do worship in order to please God. As long as I was not doing anything immoral, I was free to worship him through music that did not necessarily mention His name. This was a crucial point in my musical existence.

In HPF, though, Joey was dead set on being a worship band. So, when he left, it freed me up to change the focus of the band. Very quickly I started to write a bunch of songs that I liked. Some spoke about a relationship with God. Some didn't. It was that simple. I wrote what I wanted to write, and it was incredible freeing.

As far as personal music, at this point, I was listening to a lot of different stuff. In my CD player any given day, you could find Coldplay, The Rolling Stones, The Black Crowes, Gov't Mule, Hookah Brown, U2, the Beatles, Switchfoot, the Afters, and a bunch of other bands. At this point, my music tastes were ranging from everything classic to a bunch of modern stuff. It was awesome, my musical taste buds were tingling almost all the time. I was discovering all this new music!

HPF plugged along for a while with the 4 of us, but I quickly started to realize that the othe 3 guys, especially 2 of them, were just along for the ride. They weren't really willing to make the sacrifices needed to make the band work. I was doing the work and they were along for the ride. I began to really ride the guys to get on board more, but ultimately my pushing is what pushed them off-board. Hey, it was bad at the time, but it had to happen sometime.

The final straw I think came when we went up to Nashville to start recording the new songs. We worked and worked and worked and nothing happened. We were all frustrated and we were fighting. Stephen heard our stuff and said that we needed to get prepared because this was a record deal. And the guys somehow couldn't reconcile that, it all came to a head and the band decided to play out the rest of our shows and end on a good note.

Right as the band was about to break up, I had brought in another guitarist named Adam to free me up to sing a little more without playing. Literally his 2nd practice there, the band imploded. But Adam and I had started a friendship. Adam had been in a band called Nova77, and I had somehow gotten one of their CDs and I was blown away by the production and professionalism this little Greenville band had gotten on their debut CD. The lead singers voice wasn't that great, but the CD was awesome. His band had basically done the same as my band: one person did all the work while everyone else kind of road the coattails. So, we developed a friendship.

When the band broke up, immediately, Adam and I came to the conclusion that we wanted to be in a band together. We both worked hard and we both wanted to make a living doing music. It was natural. Now, we just needed to find people to fill out the band.

I bought back all the merch from the old HPF, and I owned the name, so we decided that, though the new band would be a completely different thing, we would keep the name Half Past Forever. We quickly added Cole from the Exciting Mr. Brown on bass and decided to use several drummers for shows instead of just throwing somebody into the band and having it not work out.

From April to about August of 2006, I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. We would record a demo for every song I wrote and finished. By the end of demo-ing, we had like 30 songs demos. And almost of all of it was the best stuff I'd ever written. I was writing stuff that was great to perform, people could sing along with easily and we were making great artistic choices to deliniate the music from other music in the modern rock arena.

The music that I had really been listening to a ton over the last few months was catchy pop/punk and rock stuff: Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Muse, MuteMath, Cartel, the Darkness, and some older stuff like Switchfoot and the Afters. And finally, I was writing the music that I loved.

So, here we are in the present. The album is completed for the most part (with the exception of a few string parts that need to get recorded). And things in my life may change very soon. That is my musical journey.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Recording Blog 6 (December 5)

Well, over the last week or so, I have put the final finishing touches on what I feel is our masterpiece. We have worked very hard to make a great album, and as I allow a small circle of people to hear it, I am hearing very good things back. And it is making me excited to unleash the album onto the world.

I really can't wait for you guys to hear this album.