Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 16: The Harmonies Change Everything

All right, so as you know from the last episode, I had reunited with the drummer from Upper80, and we had been knocking about sort of informally, just having fun and playing some tunes from the old days. It was a welcome distraction from whatever else was going on at the time, and after a while, we decided to get a bass player and give it a go - but, of course, only as a hobby, definitely not meant to be anything serious.
As is always the case (because - say it with me - no one actually wants to be a bass player), we cycled through a bunch of bassist candidates, even finding one that I thought would last for while, before finally, one day, we crossed paths with a dude who - despite the fact that he originally played guitar - actually did want to play the bass, was a good fit, and was even from Hawaii, to boot. We settled on a name that I had been wanting to use for some time (this is where it came from), and off we went.

At first, we played a mix of originals and covers, including everything from Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" to "Seek And Destroy" by Metallica to "Synchronicity II" by The Police. We did a bunch of shows around town, including the launch party for Book One and the Rock For Autism fundraiser for The Children's Occupational Therapy Charitable Trust. It was a rockin' good time, but, again, that's all it was really meant to be.

Then, one day - I don't remember exactly when - we decided to try and add some vocal harmonies to one of our songs, specifically, "Gloria." I don't really know why we did it; I suppose it was just something fun to experiment with. After a lengthy trial and error process, we finally got it, and the results were...pretty dang amazing, actually. Seriously, it was like we were playing an entirely different song.

So, encouraged by that success, we figured - in true mad scientist fashion - "why not add harmonies to all of our originals?" We started that process while we played a bunch of shows that featured punk rock versions of '80s classics (including an "'80s Night" at Mickey Finn's - Devo hat FTW), until eventually, the newly-harmonized originals just sort of took over and we decided to focus completely on doing our own stuff. In fact, it was so much fun, we found ourselves booking time with a recording engineer that I had worked with before to make some sweet-sounding tracks.

And what do you know - just like that, without even really realizing it, I was back in the band business. And, this time, it was fun. It just felt right. We finished recording ten songs with the aforementioned engineer and decided to release them as a proper album, which we chose to call - nerd alert - Fortress Storm Attack.

And that pretty much catches us up to today. Thanks for coming along on this ride through history with me. Honestly, it really feels like it's all gone by in a flash. But that's how it is when you're having a good time - most of the time, anyway.

Hey, so tonight, tune in here as we do a live interview on Anarchy Radio starting from 8pm Pacific Time!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Random Thoughts About Random Stuff

So, the new Star Wars show. Wasn't this supposed to be the live-action series? I had been looking forward to that. Anyway, I watched the premiere, "Spark of Rebellion," and I thought it was...okay. Now, I'm not one of those fans that want everything Star Wars-related to be super dark or whatever, and I consider myself to be pretty forgiving when it comes to new additions to beloved franchises (I didn't hate the prequels, and I also didn't hate Metallica's Load and Reload albums), but my reaction to this new show - the first episode, anyway - was mostly "meh." (WARNING: Mild spoilers to follow, although if you plan to watch this show you probably know all of this stuff already)
It wasn't really the familiar tropes (Ezra=Aladdin=Wan=etc.) or the creepy-looking Wookiees that I had an issue with, it was just...I dunno, the whole thing came off as kind of flat to me. The dialogue, which was often very Star Wars-y if you know what I mean, didn't feel like it was delivered with the kind of conviction needed to pull it off successfully. And since Kanan is taking such pains to conceal his Jedi identity, shouldn't he have killed all the Stormtroopers once he finally busted out his light saber? Or, at least, taken them all prisoner or something?

Anyway, on to something new that I really do like, and that's Hyrule Warriors. I had never played Dynasty Warriors, but I had a feeling that I would enjoy HW not only for its Legend of Zelda-based characters and setting, but also for the mindless button-mashing bad-guy-smashing gameplay. As much as I appreciate the puzzles in a "standard" LoZ title, one of my favorite things to do in those games is to take my Master Sword and slice up a bunch of bokoblins, so HW indulges me in a pretty serious way.
Also, the co-op feature allows me to play the game with my daughter, which is all kinds of fun. Believe me, the two of us being able to say things like "I'll take care of Ghirahim, you go check on the Allied Base!" to each other is a major highlight of the whole parenting experience. And yes, she totally gets the difference between fantasy violence and real violence, so don't worry, I'm still doing my job as a dad in that respect.

Finally, just a few notes about some cool things that are going on with my band, Second Player Score. Our debut album, Fortress Storm Attack, is now officially available as a physical CD or digital download - you can get it here, or, if you're in the Portland area, you can come to our release party on November 1st at The Sandy Hut. We're also on iTunes, Amazon, and Spotify if you're into those kinds of things. And next Thursday (October 16th) we'll be doing a live interview on the Anarchy Radio Show starting at 9pm PST, so check it out here. Call in and we'll give you a shout out!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 15: A Second Chance

As I said at the end of Episode 14, after Council Crest came to a close I was feeling pretty burnt out. Honestly, I was ready to hang up the band-playing-boots for good. All the hassle of inter-band drama, lugging around heavy gear, and playing shows on Tuesday nights at 1am just didn't seem worth it anymore.
Not to mention, by then I had discovered a new creative outlet, something that I had always wanted to do but never really had the time for: writing. It seemed to be some kind of divine coincidence that, right around the moment when Council Crest started to peter out, my son asked me to write a book for him.

I figured that this still-to-be-named novel would replace playing in bands as my life's work. It was fun, exciting, and a little scary to be embarking on this new journey, and I felt rejuvenated. Writing was going to be everything that playing in bands was not. It would be the anti-band. I would have complete creative control, I wouldn't have to deal with other people's schedules or temperaments, there was no gear to lug around (besides my laptop), and I could write on my own time. And yes, I know I tried the solo music thing before, but playing music alone just didn't feel right. Music, to me, is a social thing, while writing, by nature, is a solitary activity, so I didn't have the same kinds of doubts.

But then, a couple of months into the drafting process for what would become Book One, something strange happened. The drummer from Upper80 - remember that band? - contacted me and said that he had received an electronic drum kit for Christmas. Why is that significant, you ask? Well, if you recall, Upper80 had ended mostly because we had been evicted from our practice space. But, with an electronic kit and its adjustable volume levels, we would now be able to play just about anywhere - my garage, his living room, whatever.

So, despite my reservations, I accepted his invitation to get together for a casual jam session. The jam session went well and we had fun, and before you knew it, "jam sessions" turned into "practices," and we started looking around for bass players and open mics to play at. Honestly, I really hadn't meant for it to happen, but it was like the proverbial call of the siren, and I couldn't resist.

Still, I felt sure that, this time around, the band thing would be nothing more than an informal distraction, kind of like a regular weekend golf outing with buddies. Little did I know what was in store....

Next: The Harmonies Change Everything

P.S. If you're in the Portland/Vancouver area, don't forget to come check out the NIWA Writers' booth at the Portland Fall Home & Garden Show this weekend!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Talkin' With Joel: Most Annoying Zelda Mini-Games (#8 - Horseback Archery Range)

Howzit everyone! In honor of tomorrow's release of Hyrule Warriors, today we're continuing our review and discussion of what I consider to be the most annoying mini-games from the Legend of Zelda series. And, of course, with us is our very special guest, Joel Suzuki of The Spectraland Saga!

B: Hey, Joel. So, are you excited about Hyrule Warriors?
J: Sure, yeah. Although technically, it's already been released - it came out in Japan on August 14th, in Europe on September 19th, and in Australia on September 20th.
B: Right! Okay, so, let's get on with it...

#8 - Horseback Archery Range (from Ocarina of Time)
B: My problem with this one - and a lot of the other shooting-type games - is that I have a really hard time lining up my aim quickly and accurately with the analog stick.
J: Okay.
B: And even when I get it lined up - like when I'm shooting the pots, for instance - for some reason it gets offline again and then everything gets all messed up. I think I tried this game forty or fifty times before I just gave up and moved on.
J: What was your high score?
B: I dunno, like 500 or something. What did you get?
J: 2000.
B: Whoa - isn't that a perfect score?
J: I think so, yeah.
B: That's just...amazing. I have no idea how you did that.
J: Me neither. But it actually wasn't that hard. Took me just a few tries.
B: You're kidding.
J: No.
B: Wow.
J: It's just a pattern, and knowing where your arrows are going to hit depending on where you're aiming.
B: Sounds like the Sight at work once again!
J: Huh?
B: Well, that's all the time we have for today. Don't forget - Hyrule Warriors, coming out tomorrow.
J: In North America.
B: I can't wait. See you next time!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Give More 24! And Other Happenings

Over the next 24 hours, you can do something awesome! From 7am on September 18th through 7am September 19th (Pacific time), you can help support Autism Empowerment by taking part in Give More 24, an online donation challenge organized by the Community Foundation for Southwest Washington. It's easy - just go to this link to make a donation. Yes, I know, you want to keep reading my blog, but I'll wait right here, I promise....
You're back! On behalf of Autism Empowerment, I thank you very much for your support.

So, what else has been going on? Oh yeah? Cool! As for me, I've been pretty busy on the band front. Second Player Score now has CDs, a stocked locker full of merchandise - t-shirts, stickers, buttons, picks, you name it - an official website, a YouTube channel, as well as airplay on a bunch of different online radio stations and podcasts. We've also booked our CD release party for November 1st at The Sandy Hut in Portland, with special guests Shot of Mercury, Stab In The Dark, and Kings & Vagabonds. Here's the album cover, designed by my son (he is awesome with the Adobe Illustrator and whatnot):
Any of you know which late '80s/early '90s video game inspired this? Hint: it spawned a popular "Engrish" Internet meme....

As for book-related happenings, I couldn't believe it myself, but it's almost time once again for the Portland Fall Home & Garden Show, featuring your friendly neighborhood NIWA authors. The show will take place from October 2-5 at the Expo Center, and I plan on being there Thursday evening, Friday evening, and Saturday morning. So mark your calendars!

And finally, in video game news, the verdict on Earthbound is in: it's really cool. I am so glad I discovered it.
It's fun, challenging, and quirky, and although other RPGs like The Last Story and Xenoblade still rank higher on my list of favorites, this one is right up there. Check it out if you haven't already.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bulls-Eye Landing Coincidence Syndrome

One thing I never fail to notice - and that I like to think about from time to time (nerd alert!) - is an occurrence in movies and TV shows that I call the Bulls-Eye Landing Coincidence Syndrome, or BELCS, for short. This is when a character, usually the protagonist, arrives on a planet in less-than-planned fashion and immediately ends up right next to his or her intended destination. Not sure what I mean? Here are a couple of the best-known examples:

1) Luke Skywalker and Yoda
In Episode V, Luke is headed for the swamp planet of Dagobah (on a related note, why do entire planets always seem to be devoted to one type of terrain? Is the whole thing really just one big swamp?) where he needs to find a legendary Jedi master named Yoda. Then, basically, all of the instruments in his X-Wing fail, and he goes blindly plunging through the atmosphere until he crashes somewhere on the planet's surface. Not long afterwards, he runs into a small creepy green creature who turns out to be - voila! - Yoda. Wow, how about that?

2) Young Kirk and Old Spock
In the 2009 Star Trek reboot movie, Young Spock dumps Young Kirk off on an arctic planet (there we go again with the single-terrain planet thing) called Delta Vega after a failed mutiny attempt. Young Kirk gets chased by a big mean creature and then basically runs right into Old Spock, who had himself been dumped off on Delta Vega by Nero, a Romulan who wanted Old Spock to watch the destruction of Vulcan.

In both of these examples, entire planets are reduced to areas that are seemingly not much bigger than, say, a football field or so. And yes, I realize that this is done in order to move the plot along and keep things in sync, but it just seems funny, is all.

Also, both of these examples have been explained, more or less, in an Expanded Universe novel and a deleted scene, so, okay, I'll accept it. And sometimes, don't we all experience fortunate coincidences in our own, actual lives? So, as this article says, as long as BELCS isn't overdone, then hey, it's cool with me, and probably with you, too.

Although, just for fun, one day I'd like to see a movie where the main character lands on a planet and then travels for decades through all sorts of different landscapes in search of whoever it is he wanted to find. Or, well, maybe not...

Thursday, September 4, 2014

My Musical History, Episode 14: Inazan Turns Into Something Else Entirely

Inazan got off to a good start. We played our first show at one of the few local venues to sport their own marquee, and it was pretty cool to see "Inazan" - spelled correctly, even - in big letters visible from the other side of the street.
After the show, however, there were signs of discontent. For my part, I didn't feel that my vocals suited our particular sound, and frankly, I wanted to take a break from singing anyway and just concentrate on playing guitar for once. We carried on with the status quo intact for a while until one day, I suggested that we look for another member - preferably, someone who could take over the vocal chores.

So it was back to Craigslist we went. Not long afterwards, we found a singer/guitarist who fit in well, and we officially became a four-piece. With the new sound and direction, we decided that we needed a new name as well (besides, people were having a hard time pronouncing "Inazan.") After a lengthy and exhausting process - why is picking a band name always so difficult? - we finally settled on Council Crest, the name of a hill in Portland that is popular with hikers.

Council Crest motored along for a few years, and it was a good time. I got to play at a bunch of clubs that I hadn't played at before, and being just the "lead guitar" guy instead of the frontman and de facto band manager was a welcome change from what I had grown accustomed to. We had some personnel changes along the way, even expanding to a five-piece at one point, but overall, things were pretty stable.

For a while, that is. Eventually, the momentum started to slow down - bass player #3 (or was it #4? I can't remember) decided to quit, we had moved to a public practice space, and honestly, the whole thing started to feel more and more like work instead of fun. And so, Council Crest, formerly Inazan, was put to rest.

At this point, I was feeling pretty burnt out. It was a different feeling from when Upper80 ended - at that time, I wanted to take a break, but I think I always knew (maybe subconsciously) that I would get back to it one day, probably sooner than later. But this time, I seriously considered the possibility that this was it - that I was done playing in bands for good.

Next: A Second Chance