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Archive for January, 2011

Glasses clanking in toast, plates hitting tables, waiters taking orders, the steady hum of Saturday dinner chatter;all blend to hush out the guitar, harmonica, and singing of the musician hired to perform a recent Saturday night at Granary’s Pizza.
But when patrons, usually the women enticed by his good looks, took the moment to look up from their food and focus on the small corner set aside as a mock stage, they noticed that the singer, Luke Byron, is unfazed by their apparent disinterest in his work.

Byron jams out enthusiastically. His fedora hat is set low on his forehead, as if on purpose to shield him from this less than ideal concert environment so he can focus on his music, or perhaps fantasize that he is playing it somewhere else- somewhere where people are actually listening.

“I’m kind of just a filler,” Byron said of his gigs playing restaurants around town, which, for the past five months, have been his main outlet for putting his music out to the public.

Byron, of Templeton, California, moved up to Eugene last August after graduating from Chico State with a degree in music industry and technology. And trying to break into the music scene in a new town where he knows almost no one, especially one with a tight knit community of locals like Eugene, has been difficult.

“People were hesitant to book someone that wasn’t from here,” He said. “It took over a month to get any shows at all.”

By the time he left Chico, Byron was playing at all of the major venues in town. He had a band he played with. He had a fan base. So, the change of scene has been an adjustment.

“The music scene in Eugene is kind of like everything in Eugene, spread out and random,” he said, “I haven’t really been around a community of other players.”

Byron’s music also doesn’t fit a certain genre. He plays what he likes and doesn’t adhere to one scene. “There’s all these little cliques of music and I’m just sort of in the middle,” he said.

But, the people who have heard Byron play have been quick to have him back.

Granary is one of four paid shows Byron has lined up every month and as the night passes and the restaurant gets less busy, the music gets its chance to shine through.  It becomes obvious that it’s more than just background dinner tunes, and that the musician playing actually has talent.

Byron started playing the guitar in fifth grade, but didn’t truly dedicate himself to it until high school. His interest sparked, he said, simply because he liked music, a sentiment that transformed into not only liking others’ music, but wanting to create his own. He began writing lyrics and soon integrated vocals into his guitar playing.

Freshman year of college, Byron got together with some fellow musicians in the dorms and started playing at house parties in Chico. But, as Byron described it, drunk people tend to be easy to entertain, and he didn’t really get confident about his playing until he moved away from the house party scene and started playing bigger shows.

“When you play a show and you see people dancing and having fun, when it’s something you’re playing and you wrote. You realize it’s working,” he said of playing his own shows in Chico. “It’s a really rewarding feeling when you realize that you music is being appreciated.”

Remembering back to his success in California keeps Byron optimistic, despite his struggles to get his foot in the door in Eugene.
“I feel like all my hard work has paid off, this keeps me going.”

Byron is ambitious, hoping to get enough recognition to get funding for a full-length album. He wants his music to be heard.
“I just want some major recognition at some point. Some kind of larger scale thing where you feel like you’ve accomplished something.”

But, he’s also down to earth and realistic about making music a career. “It’s the kind of thing I can do now that I’m younger. At some point I can’t afford just to scrape by playing music.” At least for now, though, Byron plans to do just that. Barely making enough to pay rent and nostalgic for the taste of celebrity he found in California, Byron plays with the same dedication now as many musicians do at the peak of their career. He’s willing to stick to something, even when it’s hard, because it’s what he loves.  Period.

When Byron was fretting over what to study in school a family friend advised said to him, “When you get older, you realize it doesn’t matter how much money you have if you’re not doing something you love.”

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The Hermit Flutist

By Michael Wallen

Emily Imhof surveys the first floor of the Frohmayer Music Building for an open practice room. She hasn’t spoken to anyone except professors for three days. She says that’s common. She spends a lot of time alone, but it’s productive.

It takes much practice to master the flute, but Emily doesn’t only develop her skill in solitude. The University of Oregon sophomore also plays with a handful of bands in Eugene. There’s no one steady band; she’s always in demand. The stretches of solitude are a choice, with other people trying to draw her out of them.

One of Emily’s choices was to leave her home town for a music boarding school. The years spent there were fun, she says. They were also intense, and she thought she could jump into the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin College. That school, which she describes as being run like a business, proved too harsh for her temperament. Since Emily had long been interested in early humans and the connections between their communication and spirituality, she decided to transfer to UO and study anthropology. After a year, she decided to change majors to her first love, music.

“I come from a family of musicians,” Emily says. “My grandma was a great organist.” She hopes to apply her degree to teaching music.

Her biggest inspirations are what she calls “outlaw musicians.” She says she’s inspired by early 20th century blues guitarists and hobo musicians. She also loves the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers.

Emily’s inspirational phrase is “Don’t give up.” Asked what tempts her to give up, she says fatigue and alienation. Most people don’t understand her passion. This is part of the reason for her hermit-like behavior. She wants to combine this temperament and fascination with primeval humans with performance by putting on a forest concert out in the isolated woods in the coming months. For now, though, her next scheduled performance will be at 8th and Taylor in the Whittaker for a flute and strings concert February 27.

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Remixed Reality

I almost never listen to the radio. Occasionally, I tune into the local campus station to hear some of my friends play, but even then I’m listening to hear them play music that would not otherwise be heard on the airwaves. Pop music and recycled pop music, also known as classic rock, new wave, and easy listening, is really all you can hear on the radio. The way I see it, U.S. pop music has mutated into a slithering, culture eating beast that preys on good artists and turns them into auto-tune zombies, and uses the same devices to make rejoiced celebrities out of talentless buffoons. There are three things that I can sincerely say of U.S. pop music: Most all of it needs remixed, much of it is, and some of it is done very well.

Of course I don’t exclusively listen to remixes, but due to my musical taste, which mostly consists of hard hitting, new age electronica such as dubstep and glitch-hop, the remix is a common occurrence in my everyday life. Ironically, I find myself sometimes spending ridiculous amounts of time trying to find the newest versions of the oldest, most played-out pop artists. For instance, I haven’t come across it yet, but I fantasize about finding the perfect dubstep version of Prince’s “When Doves Cry.”

One night, as I was about to fall asleep I sat up in bed and the only thing I could say was “Super Freak.” I then proceeded to spend the small hours of the night looking for a wompy, bass-infused version of Rick James’s naughty, funk ballad, which I found by a European producer who goes by the name Sluggabed. Unfortunately, there was only a short clip available to listen to online, and the full-length track could only be heard by purchasing the vinyl release – a little trick some producers are using to keep wax alive and combat the growing world of laptop Djs.

The remix encompasses a beautiful and strange element of modern culture that has been morphing and molding multiple art forms for years now. Re-appropriation is a cultural take-back tactic that has reclaimed certain portions of language once used as derogatory terms for certain social groups, and has also made revolutionary waves in the visual art realm by distorting commercial imagery and turning back into art. (Ehem… Warhol.) The remix takes the once significant sounds of former days and translates it into a new language that is more fluent for the technological times we live in, and more comprehensible to our ever-evolving minds that are continuing to process more and more digital information.

What is even more phenomenal is that by the time a song is actually released, there is a good chance it has already been remixed. For me, this is beautiful because it allows the terrible, soulless sounds of U.S. mainstream music to have a chance to be worthwhile, significant, and even revolutionary. Not only does the remix take pop music and submerge into the chaotically creative underground, but it also creates an opportunity for the sounds of the underground to be elevated to the mainstream surface.

London-based producer Rusko, one of the pioneers of dubstep, announced recently that he plans to focus on remixing American pop songs, and will be working directly with Brittany Spears on her new album. Supposedly, his intent is to make dubstep a commonly heard and understood genre by introducing it to the masses using the familiar (mostly auto-tuned) voices of U.S. pop stars. However, I fear, as do many others, that this move could very well take an innovative, bone-rattling genre such as dubstep and eat away at it until it is only a hollow shell of its former self, much like rock music.

The remix is a double-edged sword equipped for protecting the sacred, but capable of killing it as well. It has the power and potential to do massive things, that can be positive, negative, or both at once. For now, however, I can find peace of mind knowing that for every single producer like Rusko, who goes pop, there are at least three new artists, like Nit Grit, R/D, and Pretty Lights for instance, who bring the raw, filthy vibrations of the underground to audible levels all over the planet.

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There are a few artists who have embraced the power of the Internet and social media like Chamillionaire.

Cham has hosted Ustream videos announcing upcoming projects. He has posted songs and mixtapes on his website Chamillionaire.com. He is actively on Twitter and Facebook. The platinum and Grammy award-winning artist knows how to stay connected with his fan base. So it’s unfortunate that Cham’s Internet grind has yet to materialize into a third studio album. The frustrating troubles with Universal Records have halted the rapper indefinitely.

During a new Ustream interview on Jan. 14, 2011, Cham officially announced his departure from the six-year partnership with Universal to become independent. In order to leave Universal, Cham agreed to not release any of the music he created under the label. For long-time fans, any anticipation of Venom’s release date is gone. Universal owns the copyright. Venom is lost, simply because the near completed album didn’t have an infectious and fast-selling pop record Universal hoped for.

But starting from scratch isn’t necessary a bad thing. In efforts to evaluate his fan base, Cham is attempting to revamp his Internet presence. Cham announced his ‘Playlist Poison’ series, which will present a countdown timer on his website. The concept is consistently release free content to his fans. His first offering is “When Ya On,” which features Nipsey Hussle and produced by Kanye West’s engineer Andrew Dawson.

Every move I make is right like I ain’t got a left foot/ To keep it real a record deal couldn’t stop me/ I’m bootlegging bullets, you can still get a copy.”

It is refreshing to hear Cham come alive on the microphone. Dawson’s piano melody setups the track nicely, switching to more electronic synthesizers for his verses to ride on. Cham hasn’t lost his touch.  He still raps profanity free with witty punch lines and a versatile voice reminiscent of his Mixtape Messiah days. While deviating from 2009’s “Good Morning,” a dedication to Cham’s haters, his lyrics delve into the subjects of doubters and fake followers. As the hook hits, the switch in Dawson’s production returns to an intimate melody. Cham’s deep crooning is smooth as he questions fan loyalty. The mellow bass rhythm coincides with his message: “They only love ya when ya on/ the only other time is when you’re gone.”

And let’s not forget Nipsey. Nipsey, who has recently left Epic Records to also become independent, shines with his tough lyrics. Song collaborations of the South and the West always come with a nice dynamic of a rapper from either element. The Slauson Boy provides a West coast breath of getting money, boasting about his ways, and shutting down haters. And Nipsey’s adlibs during the hook reaffirms that Cham is here to stay.

It is clear that Cham has chosen a new direction for his music career. The move will open new avenues in discovering underground artists, especially if he continues to reach out for talent on social networks. “When Ya On” is a worthy indicator of his return, and a promising look into Cham’s future. As a chopped and screwed sample off 2007’s Ultimate Victory once said, “Come back to the streets.”

Click here for my top ten list of his greatest songs.

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If you look close enough in my mother’s walk-in closet in her Boulder, Colorado home you will find an old mix tape labeled: “Molly and Addie”. If, assuming you have a tape player, you listen to it you would hear two little girls, one with a pretty heavy speech impediment singing “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” or in my case when I was 9 years old, “Don’t cwy fow me Awgentina”. The song was from the motion picture version of the Broadway show: “Evita”. The singers: Madonna and Antonio Banderas.

My mother never allowed cable television when we were growing up. But, she always allowed us to watch movies. We never owned many films, but we rented them and when we found one we liked my sister Molly and I watched it incessantly, playing it over and over until it was stolen from us to be returned to the store.

When I look back on my childhood, the film’s music stands out as a consistent, and important part of it. Molly and I have different memories of the first time we saw “Evita”, but in the years that followed we rented it often.  And, based on our perfect memorization of the film’s lyrics we must have watched it over 30 times. To this day it remains one of our favorite movies and its soundtrack one of the most played albums on our Itunes.

But, the songs impacted me more than simply enjoying music does. It strengthened my bond with Molly and my relationship to “Evita” will always be intrinsically tied to my relationship with my sister.

Music has been an important presence in relationships throughout my life, which got me thinking about the power of music in connecting people and the instances in which it has done so for me.

The “Evita” soundtrack was the first record I ever obsessed over and memorized in full. “Gangsta’s Paradise” by Coolio sticks out as the first song I ever remember hearing. I’m sure it’s not actually, my mom was always a fan of the musical stylings of Raffie, but Coolio was the first that ever really stuck. And the only reason I can think of why I remember the song so well is the person who was playing it.

Growing up, and to this day, everyone in my family has yearned for my older brother Kenower’s attention. And for Molly and I, everything from the activities we took part in to how we wanted our eggs cooked was often directly intended to impress him. If Kenower thought something was cool then we did too.
When he was in middle school and I was six or seven Kenower became entranced with rap and hip-hop. And since my parents never censored what we listened to or watched, let alone limit their own cursing or foul language, I heard it to.

I imagine that, since Kenower was a teenage boy, my first experiences with the Wu Tang clan, Tupac, and Coolio were at a distance- anxiously listening through the walls of his secluded bedroom, desperate to be included in whatever he was doing. And since the song is relatively slow and easier to follow than other rap, memorizing “Gangsta’s Paradise” seemed like the best way to both show off to Kenower and relate to him on a new level as enthusiasts for hip hop. And in the process I started to actually become one.  In trying to impress Kenower, I inadvertently began to structure lifelong music taste. I still have “Gangsta’s Paradise” memorized and listen to it often and from 6-years old on hip-hop has been one of my favorite genres.

My relationship with mother had a similar impact on my music taste. A single mom and a nurse, my mother Mimi was busy when we were growing up and gone a lot of the day at work.  And before I became a bitchy and destructive teenager and learned how to appreciate and take advantage of an empty house after school, I wanted her around more.

Some kids lash out or become extraordinary to get attention from their parents. I just remember wanting to spend time with them. So, whenever Mimi was home I wanted to be in her presence and this often meant being around her music.

Mimi is more of a music enthusiast than anyone I have ever met. She is not an expert by any means and usually doesn’t know the names of bands that created her favorite songs, let alone anything about them. She doesn’t even have taste per say and will listen to anything.

What makes her an enthusiast is that she has never developed the same sense of shame that most people have for some of the music they listen to. She does not hide her Spice Girls albums and sees nothing strange about a 55-year old white woman in Colorado greeting houseguests with a giant Tupac poster hanging in the front hall.

I’ve been exposed to her eclectic mix of music my entire life and even though I haven’t incorporated all of it into my playlists, I have incorporated her attitude about music into my own.

It’s okay to follow a N*sync hit with the Chieftains, or to dance with as much enthusiasm to the “Riverdance” soundtrack as you would to “Footloose”. Like my mother I have never developed a taste for “good” music or pretend to know what that even means. But, partly because of her I refuse to be ashamed to say that I like a few Rolling Stones hits, but still do and always will, prefer Britney Spears.

But, sometimes the music on its own changes your relationship with someone. You’re not trying to impress them or spend more time with them, you both just happen to be listening to the same thing and being affected by it the same way.
This is often the case at concerts where, fueled by the environment’s energy or drugs, a person cannot help but feel almost at one with the people around them. This has always been my experience, but never to such an extent as a Rage Against the Machine protest concert I attended in 2008, followed by a 4-mile march in protest of the Iraq War.

My friend Jesse and I never thought we’d have the opportunity to see Rage in concert, and because of their tumultuous history many of their fans never will. It was mostly luck that we were even able to.

The concert was a one-day event coinciding with the Democratic National Convention going on in Denver that year. We had just graduated from high school in Boulder, 30 minutes away. Tickets could not be bought- you had to win them. And only because I didn’t start classes until the end of September and Jesse was taking a year off from school, were we able to take a day off from life to listen to music and protest. And all of this combined to make the experience that much more influential and make it a defining moment in our friendship. We were together, seeing a band for free that we never thought we’d get to see, and contributing to a cause we both believed in.

It was like a culmination and conclusion to defining the infulence music can have on my relationships. And it seemed like Jesse felt the same. Less than six months later “Never a broken man”, lyrics from her favorite Rage song, was tattooed on Jesse’s left shoulder.

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Note: I hope this post is read by daring entrepreneurs with capital to invest, deeply passionate music nuts, or a smart venture capitalist who thinks that Soul Coughing or Marvin Gaye or George Jones are otherworldly.

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It’s confession time.  If this review were a support group, I’d be clutching a Styrofoam cup of brown-dressed water, hesitantly watching everyone in the semi-circle, hoping that they A) understood my past addiction and 2) can empathize with how easy it is to get caught up in a kind of world that never ends and always demands more of your time and energy (both physical and in-game).  I’m not referring to any illicit drugs or even the mind-altering legal ones.  I’m talking about my slightly embarrassing past obsession with a silly little game- a game that doesn’t even have the decency to wrap itself in a world as nerdily encompassing as World of Warcraft.  I’m referring to the Zynga game Mafia Wars- a game with a blob-like presence on Facebook, the social media mainstay that seems to affect and infect everyone to some degree, whether through gameplay or wall posts or those lovely game requests we’ve all come to know and love . (more…)

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