“It’s hard to choose between messing with knobs and dancing” a talk with Michelle Miears

 

This is the latest in a series of articles about some of Houston’s most fascinating female members of our music community. I’m not sure I meant for it to become a series but what began with wanting to showcase people who live lives in and around our community, juggle responsibilities, manage what often seem like conflicting goals, led me to the women you’ve read about here at Cathedral Records.

I’m inspired by people who live with their feet firmly planted in different worlds; musician and parent, spouse and business owner, band member and athlete, songwriter and business executive. That duality and those seemingly diametrically opposing forces are where the magic happens and where I find reassurance that my own ambitions are not impossible to achieve.

So with that, I give you this article about Michelle Miears. Her debut solo EP, “Who Will Save You” is amazing but you probably already know that from the incredible love she is receiving both in the press and from audiences who have been fortunate enough to see her perform.

This article, I hope, will shed a little light on the lady behind that powerful voice and those incredible arrangements. Her story is one of balance, of persistence, ambition, bravery, and certainly talent.

Her musical journey began, like that of so many of us. Her grandparents were avid musicians who performed regularly both on stage as part of multiple bands and in their homes for their children and grandchildren. One of her first memories of being attracted to commercial music was as a young child riding in a car with her mother as Enya came on the airwaves.

By 10, melodies were becoming imprinted in her mind and one of her first musical fascinations arrived on radio and TV in the form of three talented brothers from California, Hanson.

“I formed a little ‘band’ with my best friend and we would write songs while jumping on the trampoline day-dreaming about making it big” Miears explained.

The ambition and determination that have marked much her evolution as an artist began to take root early on as Michelle described her feelings at the time, “I took myself very seriously inside and I really thought this could happen for me and it was around this time that I taught myself piano.”

Piano led to flute in junior high band which she continues to play this day. During her high school days in band, Michelle even participated in the drum line challenging herself by competing and performing with players with many more years of experience. She cites the challenge as one of the “best and most rewarding times of (her) life.”

This notion of a sense of reward and empowerment through challenge and perseverance is a common refrain throughout her life and musical journey.

As the discussion turns to her influences she cites a long list of varied artists, two of the first being Paramore’s Hayley Williams as well as Imogen Heap.

“The first artist that made feel completely gutted inside (in a good way) and made me desperate to perform was Hayley Williams. I was living in California listening to (Paramore and Imogen Heap) on repeat. These two women taught me how to sing.”

A couple of start-stop band experiences led to an opportunity to join her brother’s band where she found her place within the word of electronic music.

“I had spent a lot of time listening to a few electronic bands in the past but in working with ZolotiNatioN I dug deeper into it. From that point, I felt like stylistically my voice fit better in this world than the pop-punk world that I had previously day-dreamed about.”

Shortly thereafter, hungry for a new band after ZolotiNatioN ended, BLSHS was born which further deepened her love of electronic music, composition, production, and expanded her horizons as an artist and performer. It was during a lull in the band’s activity that Michelle decided to take the massive step of writing, producing, releasing, and ultimately performing an EP of solo music.

When asked about the inspiration for the songs she doesn’t really have any artist or bands to rattle off.  Rather, her muse is born from the emotions and reflections of past relationships, her role in them, and how they have shaped her life and outlook moving forward.

“The songs on this EP were inspired by my own self-exploration and discovery of my relationship patterns, past and present, and my tendency to be codependent. I have a habit of assuming the role of caretaker, so far. Unfortunately I tend to measure my self-worth through feeling needed.”

These stark self-observations belie the powerful, passionate woman who commands the stage but give further insight into the high-wire act she walks between seemingly opposite forces: co-dependent and insecure but at the same time masterful and confident; inexperienced as a solo artist but having the focus and sheer force of will to craft an entire stage show while teaching herself an entirely new medium of performance in using Ableton Live.

The songs on “Who Will Save You” are meticulously crafted with a polished production that mask the fact that they were composed on an old keyboard with initial demos recorded not in Logix but on her mobile phone.

By day, she sits at a desk managing accounts for a staffing agency but by night Michelle becomes MIEARS as she anxiously races home, leaving her “civilian” life behind and embraces the world she much prefers, a world where “anything is possible.”

When the time came to perform the songs found on “Who Will Save You,” Michelle had a decision to make. She could perform alone, singing to her pre-recorded tracks or she could create something else, something more. The decisions to include a live drummer as well as a keytar were born of the same kind of duality that has defined so much of her musical journey.

“I don’t have the best self-esteem at times. I think the idea was originally conceptualized from my fear that people would be bored watching little ol’ me on stage by myself. I was actually terrified at the thought of being on a stage all by myself. The thought sounded very exposing and I couldn’t think of a more vulnerable position to be in.”

These words sound surprising coming from a woman with such masterful command of the stage as well as the creative vision needed to arrange the songs in such a manner that would allow space for live drums and in-the-moment performance using her cherished key-tar. “I love my keytar. I feel naked without it!”

That key-tar might as well be Thor’s hammer. As soon as she puts it on, the shy young lady I met in a parking lot outside Rock 4 Recovery becomes the incendiary performer who takes the stage night after night.

When asked how her busy performance schedule has been and how the process has evolved she expresses nothing but enthusiasm. The insecure, even shy young lady loses ground to the master craftswoman who values the kind work ethic that many fans or aspiring musicians may not realize are needed to reach the measure of their ambition.

“I’ve performed both with and without my drummer and I have received positive feedback in both circumstances. I am glad that I’m still pushing myself out there totally solo because it forces me to work on my confidence and stage presence.”

When the topic turns to Houston as a community Michelle’s passion is once again ignited. The environment’s collaborative and supportive nature that is often overlooked by outsiders is a huge source of inspiration.

“I am lucky to be emerging as a female solo artist at a time when there are so many other strong women surrounding me. I am so excited that there are women taking charge of the music scene like Mandy Clinton (of the Lories and Pearl Crush) who has a booking collective called DAMN GXRL which advocates for inclusiveness and diversity in the music scene. Teresa Vicinanza (Tee Vee) and Vicki Tippit (Black Kite) are pushing the boundaries of creativity and how an audience experiences live music. Black Kite recently wrapped up a series of immersive theater performances called Red House which completely blew my mind.”

Michelle quickly catches a breath and begins again:

“All three of these artists produce incredible music and I am a huge fan. Kam Franklin is touring Europe with her band, The Suffers, and taking on the globe one venue at a time. There are so many, it’s hard to name them everyone. These women are inspiring me daily with their creative journeys. I feel super empowered to be a woman in music and a woman in the Houston music scene right now.”

With the perspective and outlook Michelle has developed an audience may think her career is decades long when in fact Who Will Save You is her debut album (though the follow up is nearing completion). As I often say however, it’s not the number of years, it’s the number of miles and in Michelle’s case she’s logged enough to understand that the life of a musician, male or female, is not one to be entered into lightly.

While she can see no other life for herself because the thought of not pursuing her passion provides more pain than that of continuing and facing all struggles the road may bring, she is quick to offer both strong words of caution as well as a call to arms. (There’s that duality again)

“Being a musician requires a lot of time, work, dedication, and some thick skin. Somehow you have to force yourself beyond any doubt that you may feel. You have to put yourself out there, even when it’s scary and unsure of the outcome.”

Her advice to aspiring musicians?

“No matter what your age is, you can start any time. The time is now!”

Her words of encouragement ring as a sort of carpe diem, an anthem calling even the most trepidatious to step up to the microphone or piano or computer.

“Just take that first step. Whether it’s sharing a demo with a friend, finding a way to materialize the ideas in your head, learning to produce on your own in a DAW, learning to record at home with some basic equipment, learning an instrument or finally singing in front of people you have to take that jump!”
She concludes with a bit more self-reflection:

“I finally realized that every day I let slip by without taking another baby step is a day that I’ve lost at growing and being productive towards my dreams and passion.”

Oh and if that’s not enough to endear you Ms. MIEARS…she’s a Beatles fan…be still my beating heart. 🙂

 

 

Hello….how are you? Have you been alright?

 

Wow…what a few months.

If it seems like I’ve been away or like things have been quiet it’s because things have been more than a little busy…tumultuous even.

Quick rundown: I had a brief health scare that turned out to be nothing I can’t manage, nothing tooo serious. I quit smoking, and I hurt my back (again).

I’ve been drowning in school work, but the end is in sight to the point that I was able to take part in commencement. I even got to visit New Hampshire to visit the university campus. It was awesome!

 

 

I have to say, the Irish pub there in Manchester, NH poured me the most beautiful pint of Guinness I’ve ever had!

 

 

 

 

My home continues to be a hive of activity with Young Master Oliver evolving from a tiny baby to a not-so-tiny kid.

He’s stretching out, his weight redistributed and what was once a chubby adorable baby is now a lean, incredibly active little boy who lights up my tired, broken soul even when I think I’m about to drop.

How about them Astros?! My son and I greatly enjoy each evening as we cuddle up for bed and watch what might be my favorite incarnation of my beloved Astros. We even managed to go to a game with my dad a couple weeks back and we’ll be going again in June and July!

As far as music goes well…me personally I’ve not had a ton of time to write or record, save for a demo I posted to SoundCloud a couple weeks back. It’s called “Drink to Forget” and you can check it out here: https://soundcloud.com/jason-r-becerra.

I still hope to do proper recordings and work with some of my friends within the Houston music community with final mixing/mastering to release my first EP hopefully by year’s end but if there’s something I’ve learned over the course of this year it’s that I have to be careful about placing deadlines on myself.

With a baby and a house to run and a full-time career and everything that comes with all of that, it can be more stressful than anything to try and set deadlines.

One thing is setting a goal and striving for it. Another thing is setting a deadline and stressing about meeting it and then feeling awful because you missed it. Right?

So as of now, my plan is to finish up these last few weeks of school assignments and then take a nice break from everything. I want to take a month or two, or three and just relax knowing I don’t have weekly assignments to turn in, no research to do, no frantic weekends scrambling to write term papers…and more important than all that I want to enjoy what I’ve achieved.

People tell me all the time that they don’t know “how I do it.” They tell me how commendable it is to get a masters degree while working full time, raising a baby, serving as the operations manager for a household and trying to do something with my little Cathedral Records project and writing professional pieces for www.jasonrbecerra.com and LinkedIn.

So while I’ve never thought much of it and don’t typically stop long enough to congratulate myself, I think I want to do just that. I think I want to kind of sit around and see what it feels like to feel successful, like I’ve accomplished something.

But not for too long mind you. Hopefully by the fall/early winter I’ll hole up in the Cathedral and sift through songs and begin the process of making proper recordings with polished lyrics and arrangements. At that point I’ll be making phone calls to see who wants to help mix/master and then we’ll see.

I think it would awesome to do a digital release and have a few LPs pressed.

As for performing…I don’t think I have it in me to do it extensively but if the opportunity arises to share a bill or take part in a series of shows in a cool intimate storytelling setting then I may just jump on that…once Oliver is old enough and I don’t feel guilty about not being around for bedtime. We’ll see. Again…my new thing is trying not to put artificial, unrealistic, or stressful deadlines or expectations on myself.

That doesn’t mean I want to be lazy and remove all goals but it does mean I want to do a better job of managing stress and how much I take on at once.

Anyway – in the next few days I’ll be publishing what I hope will be a very well-received article about the one and only MIEARS! She was kind enough to take some time out of her incredibly busy schedule to discuss a variety of topics related to music, life, the universe, and everything.

Shortly thereafter the promised album review of The Beatles Live at the Hollywood Bowl. I’ve listened to it several times on 180 gram vinyl and it’s just excellent. I’m fascinated by the technical undertaking involved with making that record what it is and I look forward to sharing my thoughts with all of you.

Also, I’m putting my thoughts together regarding a look back on the Singles film and soundtrack. That album is essential listening for me and I seem to listen to it at least monthly.

Chris Cornell’s death has hit me harder than most deaths…his, Robin Williams, and Prince’s deaths have really impacted me.

I’ve been unable to really put pen to paper about it all in any formal way but I think it’s time I did…for my benefit more than anything.

Finally, support your favorite musicians and get out to live shows when you can.

MIEARS just announced a gig at Eleanor Tinsley Park on June 4th. That should be a great start to these incredibly hot and sweaty days of summer. Her EP continues to make for an dynamic and impactful listen. If you haven’t listed to “Who Will Save You” then make that top of list.

I just found out Ian Moore is playing Main Street Crossing in Tomball TX of all places! Mark your calendars, August 18th.

All of us outer-loopers love to talk about how none of the great bands come out to the ‘burbs…well, The Glass played Spring’s 19th hole a few weeks ago and Ian is hitting Tomball. TOMBALL!?

Raquel Cepeda played Katy not too long ago. KATY!?

We can’t expect these artists to come back to the ‘burbs if no one shows up to see them play right? So let’s do our part.

So that’s about it for now.

Until next time folks…

Be Well and Kind,

Jason

 

Strange Days Indeed – thoughts on Ian Moore’s latest album

Ian Moore has never been afraid to follow his muse wherever it leads him, even at the risk of leaving others bewildered by their inability to neatly paint him within the lines or the confines of traditional genres. Many struggle to define what he’s “supposed to be” but he’s never been one to let others tell him who he is.

A Little Background

My introduction to Ian Moore came when my friend David Elbert, of Houston’s The Glass and Fake Believe, announced with rabid enthusiasm that we had to make a trip to the record store to get the new album. That album was Ian Moore’s Got the Green Grass and it changed me. I began following Ian and his incendiary group of musicians through the years. And All the Colors, Action Company, Luminaria, To Be Loved, and El Sonido Nuevo…each album a perfect collection of songs that led me through Moore’s passion for the craftsmanship of songwriting.

Never afraid to tip his hat to those who influenced him, there were nods to the Beach Boys, Dylan, the Beatles, as well as the compact and efficient songwriting of the Brill Building. He blended this with the sweaty soul of Sam Cooke, Sly and the Family Stone…he even threw the Monkees in there.

Certainly volumes have been written of the blazing guitar style seemingly born in some netherworld smelting furnace bringing together bits of Eastern scales with grimy Texas blues, jazz, Django gypsy melodies, funk and soul, and good-ole country pickin’.

There is a reverence for those who influence him in every note that pours from Moore’s voice and fingers. That appealed to me, a child raised to cherish these classic artists and genres.

On a Journey

At the end of every show I ran to the car and made notes. The next morning, off to the record store or off to the internet because beyond the fact that Ian Moore’s performances were cathartic celebrations of all things passionate, joyful, and inspiring – he always left bread crumbs for me to follow. Names like Chris Bell, Townes Van Zandt, Doug Sahm…all new to me.

Jeff Klein, now of My Jerusalem was introduced to me at early Ian Moore shows and soon thereafter the connection between Moore and David Garza appeared. Both Klein and Garza have become essential listening for me.

In bringing all these artists into my life, Ian Moore opened a door to a world that had been soulfully churning and burning just beneath the surface – as if in another dimension – and these artists, like those mentioned above, are held dear to his heart…and have become so in mine.

Every show, every album appears to be Ian Moore exploring all these musical traditions…not as a simple tribute or review…not as someone who wants to ride any given wave. No. Each album seems to be the result of him taking these influences into his soul, letting them simmer as the world around him seasons it all in a pressure cooker.

What comes out is uniquely Ian Moore. What comes out may nod its head to what inspired it but Moore cannot help but be himself. While having an uncanny ability to play everything – he’s unwilling to play just anything.

Almost like a tormented alchemist, he always seems to be moving forward seeking new methods, new formulas, and new paths to unlock the truth within…to take things forward…always forward.

Strange Days Follows This Path

Strange Days opens with a dirt-under-your-nails and sweat-under-your-collar guitar lick that would be at home in any 60s R&B club with rumors of James Brown maybe showing up after his gig uptown. But then, JJ Johnson’s snare roll brings an urgency that immediately introduces these Strange Days.

I went out walking towards
A free man of conscious with my gun
Free will or destiny, you’ve got to choose
You might build an empire but sometimes you’ve got to lose

The refrain comes quickly; this album has no time to waste.

 “I keep on dancing just to know I’m ok, nobody told me about the coming of the strange days.”

Strange Days indeed.

This album, like those before, has a salient thread running through it…at least I perceive it as such.

This album explores Moore’s funk and soul inclinations. Bass and drums in songs like Hercules provide a pulsing rhythm that drives the song forward as Moore’s guitar lays back until it’s time to explode…the filthy solo sweats fuzz as he bends the will of the guitar but again, no time to waste on this album. It ends leaving those many fans inspired by Moore’s guitar playing hoping for more…and are rewarded during the fade-out.

Two songs, “Saturday Night” and “My Girl” get a more polished reintroduction as they first appeared as part of the “30 Songs” demo series.

“Saturday Night” has a tight and efficient craftsmanship that would make Holland-Dozier-Holland proud. Complete with “do-do-do-da-da-das”  and sugary harmonies its arrangement and melody mask a more somber lyric – again, master craftsmanship.

“My Girl” finds Ian’s angelic falsetto in full display, again nodding his head to the masters like Smokey Robinson.

“I Will Carry On”, “Indian Red”, and “How Can I” bring a sense of angsty wisdom…cynical but without surrender or resignation. The music again reflects the subject matter as he blends demanding drums that allow the bass lines to roam and beefy horns provide a wall of sound all his own that embraces his not-so-subtle social observations of these times in which we’ve found ourselves.

The album closes with perhaps my favorite song.

“MaryGoRound” reminds me of when Moore used to close shows with The Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” and of the roaming, fuzzy dreamscapes he crafted during the All the Colors and Luminaria albums and shows.

The echo-drenched vocals surrounded by acoustic guitar and a warbling fuzzed-out electric carry the song sans percussion.

The closing lyric:

I was wide awake
You were half asleep
I need you
You said you don’t need me
And then it’s over.

The album pulls me in. There are so many surprises, so many layers, so much to explore. It gets better with each listen as it unfolds Moore’s inspiration and intention.

As part of the Ian Moore canon, it stands on its own merit while seeming in some ways a natural progression.

After exploring spacey acoustic folk, psychedelia, Texas troubadour storytelling, blues, jazz and everything in between, it seems appropriate that we would get an album that displays such reverence and enthusiasm for funk, soul, and R&B.

Yet…it stands as its own testament, its own statement.  This album and artist are not derivative or predictable. Yes there is evidence of what came before but it is something altogether different.

The album’s urgency, acknowledgement of frustration with the current socio-political landscape, and defiant yet optimistic (even sweet) temperament make this another essential listen in the long list of Moore’s incredible catalog.

I don’t do “ratings” or “stars” or any of that stuff so let’s just say I dig the album and I’ll be at the show next week in my usual spot…just to the side of Ian’s microphone so I can peek at his pedal board and maybe get a wink and a nod from him if he recognizes me again.

Haha…he once looked down at Dave and I and said “Hey, it’s you two guys. Man, you’re always here.”

Yes we are Ian.

We’re here and loving every minute of the journey you’ve been leading us through for all these years.

You can purchase Strange Days and all Ian’s albums on his website or through the usual digital streaming channels.

He plays Houston on March 17th at Rockefellers.

Until next time….

Be Well and Kind,
Jason

 

Tessa Kole Tells it Like it Is – an artist profile

Tessa Kole is one of Houston’s most dynamic and outspoken musicians. She quickly pivots from passionate artist to outspoken activist to successful athlete with what, on the surface at least, seems like almost effortless ease.

The same agility is true even in how she speaks. Her southern drawl is as sugary and comforting as grandma’s ice tea served on the porch under the blazing Texas sun. In a moment it can transform into rapid fire expletives and a tone as sharp as any West Texas barbwire.

Essentially, Tessa’s personality and life are as widely diverse and far reaching as Texas itself. Full of passion and integrity, she seems to embody ideas, approaches, and goals that at some points seem to be diametrically opposite to one another. Yet somehow they blend together to create something special and unlike anything, or anyone, else. Like the Lone Star State, Tessa is not willing to settle or be defined by any one aspect of her life. In fact, just one of the many distinct projects she juggles in a normal day-in-the-life could overwhelm even the most committed go-getters.

Tessa fills her day with her students that require extensive lesson planning and organization, her band, in which she is a principal writer, guitarist, and vocalist.

Having trouble keeping up?

She also collaborates with extensively with Stiletto Broadcasting on radio programs and in championing women in music. Her passion for community inspired her to create the Musicians’ DIY Fight Club.

How many hours are there in a day again?

Oh, and she’s also a competitive swimmer which demands incredible training, diet, and more than a few scheduling challenges.

Such an ambitious lifestyle often comes with compromises and creative multi-tasking. Perhaps the most of which she detailed by saying, “(Sometimes) I make breakfast and eat it in the bathtub to save time. I know that sounds crazy, but when I need more sleep…I sleep as late as I can, and that means that certain things have to be done together to save time.”

Tessa life in music seemed to be predestined. Born to a classical pianist mom while dad, a band director, also owned an orchestra and band repair company. At 4, at the insistence of her mother, she began piano. Piano led to guitar and even to “dabbling” in bass. An accomplished musician, she has a mastery of reading and writing notation and insists on doing the later by hand. “It’s a more organic process to me” she mentioned as we discussed her approach to writing and about her role as teacher.

At an early age she was inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees and cites two of Prince’s albums, Sign O’ the Times and Around the World in a Day, as among her favorite albums of all time. A fan of dynamic Houston bands like Glass the Sky, Jealous Creatures, Only Beast, Valeluna, and Whit she also deeply enjoys Hiatus Kaiyote. (More evidence of the diversity that define her spirit)

Her music, which includes the band PuraPharm, (in which she is joined by her husband Paul Adams) weaves between moody, textured rhythms employing programmed, often frantic, beats to authentic Texas roots inspired acoustic folk marked by her passionately belted vocals.

Her writing process is not marked by any particular or rigid method but rather finds inspiration and melody from wherever it can be found. “I’ll know when the melody is right. It just happens naturally,” she said. Despite her extensive musical vocabulary and knowledge of theory, she continues to explore progressions rooted in basic open chords, the same one she teaches daily to her students.

“It’s like pieces of a puzzle that they can be creative with and use any way they want. I’ll take open chords and move them up and down the fret board until I hear something that works well and (sounds) unusual. The more I’ve started learning about certain chord progressions and how they work when rearranged a certain way, plus using my own intuition, magical things happen. I’ve got so much new material coming to me right now it’s ridiculous.”

She laughingly mentions that one of the songs she’s currently sewing together includes a progression born during a lesson with a 9 year old student who was kind enough to approve its use. How’s that for community and collaboration?!

A fiery Texas gal, there is no shortage of hot topics that ramp up her passion. When the topic of the Houston music community (she refuses the term “scene” and all it implies) the flames burn a few notches hotter. She is quick to express her passion and loyalty, and shower praise on her peers but just as quickly can launch criticism to those venues or “middle men” who exploit artists by charging bands to play or take advantage of the inexperienced to forward their own success.

“They will praise you one minute and tear you down behind your back the next. The only interest they have is their own, and advancing their own agendas. Most of these bands are just a pawn in those agendas. I refuse to be a part of it at any level.”

Now her engine is revving as she continues…

“A lot of bands don’t understand this, or just don’t care about it, but I do and that’s why you don’t see me hanging out with almost anyone. I don’t trust most people anyhow, so I don’t talk to these types in the first place. It saves me a lot of bullshit down the line. I run my own operation and do things in a way that is best for me. I learned early on not to trust anyone. I’ve never been one to run with the herd and follow their program, especially when there are so many flaws in it. I stay safe, stay away from all of those people, and my life has been much more drama free and I feel more (free) to create and do anything I want. I don’t want to be associated with any of those people. They’re the biggest two faced hypocrites you will ever meet. They don’t really have our backs; they just play real good at it. At the end of the day, they’re all out for themselves.”

This passionate independence and desire to provide others with the resources and the benefit of her experience cultivated over a lifetime in music inspired her to begin the Musicians’ DIY Fight Club. Not a record label, nor a management company, it operates as a sort of collective comprised of like-minded musicians who wish to collaborate and share wisdom in order to facilitate aspiring musicians as they attempt to take control of their own destinies and the business side of their careers.

“MDIYFC isn’t an organization. It’s more of a place to come for education and also to vent. It’s for people seeking the truth behind the way the music industry operates and (who) want ways to run their own show without the intervention of some POS middle man. Honestly, in this day and age, you don’t need ‘em. Some people may WANT them, but really, you don’t NEED them. There’s a big difference. It’s a place to come and talk about solutions.”

She’s running on all cylinders now as we discuss what advice she would offer aspiring musicians:

“Don’t trust anyone! That’s my biggest ‘don’t.’ People will lie to you, talk shit behind your back, and make you empty promises every day of the week….DO surround yourself with positive, uplifting people. Anything is possible if you believe it will work. Belief and faith is the main thing.”

Her passion for advocacy and activism hardly end at her beloved music community. A proud Christian, she does not shy away from openly sharing her faith. “My identity is through Him. I am proud to say I love Jesus Christ.”

The immediate reaction may be to think a devout Christian may cause a measure of conflict within a community known for its agnostics and atheists but Tessa happily states that while always feeling like an outsider of sorts, her faith has never been an issue with her fellow musicians in Houston.

The same, unfortunately, cannot be said when the topic turns to politics.

A long time conservative that voted for Donald Trump in the most recent election, Tessa has been an outspoken activist going back to her participation in the Liberty Movement in 2009. More recently, the toxicity born of such a controversial and heated election cycle has taken its toll on many and she is no exception. Tessa describes some of her relationships as being strained, to say the least.

She has become somewhat of a target for those who find her outspoken support for conservative values. The political climate and heated debates have created incredible stress and ended several friendships.

“This election has caused the greatest divide amongst people I’ve ever seen. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I’ve been fucked with in every way possible, and I haven’t always responded well to that. I have been angry, hurt, frustrated, and depressed way too often and I have acted on those feelings in a manner that has not been healthy for me many times. I’ve cut ties with so many people I can’t even begin to tell you. Losing most of them has been for the best, but some I have really been shocked and hurt over.”

She continues with a heavy weariness in her tone, “There are people I will absolutely never speak to again. Then there are those that I’ve reached a level of pleasant discourse with, even though we completely disagree politically. Being a Trump supporter in the midst of a large group who hates him more than anything in the world has been really difficult.”

Refusing to let the drama bring her down, she chooses instead to focus on what inspires her and keeps her in a positive frame of mind: community, her music, her incredibly supportive husband, and finding solutions to problems through collaboration and faith.

“I’m really past the point of being upset about everything I’ve seen and experienced. I’m now to the point where I’m seeking better solutions. I want to keep things more positive. It’s a challenge for me. Once I get past the anger and hurt and frustration, I can get to the solution part. That’s where I’m headed now.”

In the end, Tessa Kole embodies the DIY individualism that has shaped Texas’ legend and lore for generations. She’s confident but not arrogant. She’s humble but not self-deprecating. She’s devoted but not self-righteous. Her music nods its head to her influences but could never be described as derivative. She’s sweet and polite like a well-raised good Texas gal, but mind your manners because like the barbwire that tamed the Wild West, she can shred you to pieces.

Her mantra? “Do no harm, but take no shit.”

Uncompromising in her beliefs and approach to music and life, she backs down from no one, stands up for everyone, and speaks from the heart no matter what. She’s exudes a gentle compassion for her friends and the community as a whole but to borrow from the famous slogan, Don’t Mess with Tess.

To listen to PuraPharm or Tessa Kole check them out on YouTube or Facebook.

 

 

Reflections on my songwriting – Sad songs say so much….

So last night was a night like most others save for the fact that a new song started to take shape. I posted the rough first take to Soundcloud and asked the missus to take a listen.

She reacted the same way she always does. “It’s sad.”

We have this discussion every time I write something new and I go back through my demos and point to this song or that song and say “look it’s happy, it’s even in a major key!” and she says “NO…it’s SAD!”

She’s hears my music differently than I do but last night as we were going back and forth on the nuances of sadness verses melancholy I finally had to admit that yes, the new song, and even the song I used as an example of a happy one, are both kinda sad.

That got me thinking.

This morning I played through my entire track list on Soundcloud.

She’s right…there is an undercurrent of sadness, of reflection, self-doubt, and melancholy that runs through everything I write.

Last night, and often when this discussion comes up, she asks me if I am a sad person and takes it personally when I confess that, well, yeah…I have always kinda been more of an Eeyore than a Tigger…but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m “sad.”

I’m content with my life. I think I have a great life. My wife and I have built something pretty awesome. We have a beautiful home full all the luxuries middle class America (and credit cards haha) can afford us.

Most importantly we have the most gorgeous, perfect, incredible child anyone in the world could ever wish to have.

My parents are a blessing and, while I have but a few friends, they are true friends.

But that doesn’t change the fact, I am very melancholy. When I think about myself it’s usually in terms of what I can’t do, what I didn’t do, what I should have done. I worry. A lot.

I always have. There’s just no getting around it.

Two years ago, on my 38th birthday I wrote a song and the line says “Funny you should ask, yeah it’s birthday. 38 and still full of my teenage angst.”

That’s as true now at 40, as it was then at 38, at 28, and at 18. I’m sure it will be true at 48, 58, and 68.

The song also says,

“But through it all I’ve found myself in a good place
I’ve got a good wife and a kid on the way.
Though I’m always down, and I like to complain
That’s just how I’ve always been and always will be.
But oh my love, I love today.”

I think, as much as anything I’ve written, that last bit captures where I’m at in life, certainly since getting married and even more so since the birth of my son.

As much as there are parts of my day-to-day, parts of my overall life that infuriate me, depress me, or act as a hot wet blanket, I am very grateful, very humbled, and yes “happy.”

That doesn’t mean I’m not still addicted to my sad. I still bathe in self-loathing, doubt, and the frustrations that come with carrying a lifetime of baggage around with me…but that’s just how I am.

It doesn’t mean I’m not “happy” with my wife, son, and life in general. It just means…well, I guess it just means I’m “THAT” guy…I’m that guy that writes sad songs because, well, it’s how I get it out.

I don’t write songs with anything in mind. I never have. I began writing songs out desperation. I needed the combination of words AND music to get certain feelings out of myself. Most of those feelings, I guess have been sad in one way or another.

She challenges me to write a “happy” song. She’s not the only one to have done so over the years.

From the perspective of a songwriter, someone who approaches it as a craft, it makes sense to stretch myself but when I’ve tried to do that, it feels disingenuous. I’ve never sat down to write a song as an artistic exercise…at least I’ve never succeeded in completing a song like that. I always toss it away because it just doesn’t feel right.

When I sit down to write, I’m not thinking about quality or structure or style, I’m just trying to get something off my mind, or out of my guts.

Sometimes I sit back and listen to what I’ve created and I think “hey, that’s not a bad song.” It seems almost coincidental though…like I managed to get my feelings out AND it might be enjoyable for someone to listen to.

I don’t know. That’s not really for me to judge though. I just sort of judge my songs on whether they sound good to me and whether they expressed what I needed to get out.

Bottom line, my songs are a reflection of who I am…obviously. And while it’s true that there has always been a thread of melancholy in both my life and my songs, it doesn’t mean my wife has failed me or that my son does not inspire anything short of jubilation.

Besides, “sad” songs are almost always “better” anyway haha…when I  think of all the songs that cut to my core, that inspire me, that embrace me soul, they’re all sad songs. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way.

Like I said, I guess I’m just “that” guy…38 (well 40) and still so full of my teenage angst. 😉

You can visit my “sadcloud” here. 😉

Be Well and Kind,
-Jason

So who is this guy anyway?

As the last couple weeks have unfolded and I’ve made several new connections on Facebook, it occurs to me that a lot of you may be wondering, “Who is this guy and what’s this whole Cathedral Records deal? Why is he sharing all our content and where did he come from?”

Haha…makes sense really…so here’s a little about me:

I began playing when I was a kid and by the time I graduated high school my dear friend David Elbert (currently a member of The Glass, Apple Scruffs and Fake Believe) and I started doing what so many of us do…we started hitting the open mic circuit, acoustic guitars in tow.

After a while we really wanted to plug in but who was going to play drums?

Well, as the only one with a full time job and a credit card…haha…that responsibility fell to me.

I vividly remember going to Mars music and buying my first drum set. We threw it in the back of my Toyota pick-up truck and went to our new practice space in Francisco’s. Now mind you, I’d never played drums before. I put it together like some caveman and we counted off – him running through a 5150 head/cab and me at me behind my Sonor 5-piece.

Wait…I can’t hear him…he’s trying to sing. Crap. We need a PA…damn it.

We drove to Guitar Center and bought a PA and ran back to Francisco’s…set it up and we were off and running.

Our buddy played bass and came to join us and our first band was born!

We gigged semi-regularly for a good while…culminating with some great shows at the Oven and at Fitzgeralds…never made it upstairs but we played out hearts out…never made a dime…haha.

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Then we briefly shuffled roles and I started singing and playing guitar (my main instrument) in a different incarnation that didn’t last long. For a time I went back to drumming behind a very talented singer/songwriter who played keyboards and ukulele and then began doing solo-acoustic shows around Clear Lake.

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I’d always been going to school and working full time so time management was always a challenge and I never firmly planted my feet in one world or the other, business or music, daytime or night.

Around 2000 I took a full-time job at Guitar Center which I did enjoy for a while. I met a lot of really talented musicians and was able to contribute to the community in an entirely different fashion but the schedule really wasn’t conducive to performing…nor were my increasingly serious back troubles. I had my first operation in 2003 and was married shortly thereafter.

Around 2004/2005 I jumped back into performing, this time focusing on singer/songwriter material with a very talented player and we began hosting showcases around the Montrose and downtown but with very little success, crowds were sparse, we never found a venue that was really willing to invest and things sort of fizzled out.

In 2008 or so my dad decided he wanted to perform again…him asking me to be his principal guitarist was the single most validating moment of my life as a musician. After spending so many years practicing, performing, writing, and trying to hone my skills – to have the man who inspired me to begin with actually come to me and say “hey, I want you to be my guitarist and help produce these shows” was amazing.

We gigged regularly for a few years around Houston and in Dallas performing variety shows that combined jazz, Spanish boleros, pop standards from the American songbook, as well as a litany of songs from across Latin America and the Caribbean.

Working with these very mature, experienced, professional players was an incredible learning experience. It was eye-opening how little I actually knew about playing and performing and those years with the Rolando Becerra Celebrate Music Show really transformed my playing and songwriting. We played some big shows, the Arena Theater with Julio Iglesias the biggest…and we certainly took our lumps playing to some tiny crowds…but it was tremendous in every capacity.

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As that wound down (it’s incredibly difficult to find venues who are willing to pay enough of a wage to support a 7 piece band AND provide sufficient marketing and advertising) I went through another back surgery, bought a house, finished my BA, started my post grad work and…most incredibly of all – had a son.

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As all this was happening I found myself realizing that my days as a performing musician were probably coming to an end. With my day-time career, my new family, and the realization that living that upside down life where I’m getting home at 3 am, loading and unloading gear was probably not in the cards anymore…not saying I’ll never perform again, I do want to…but I sincerely doubt I’ll ever find myself in a full-time band again. Maybe…never say never…but the circumstances would have to be perfect.

So…I built a pretty good home studio and entered the next phase of my life as a musician. I’ve been working on learning Ableton Live and going through the process of recording all my songs and writing new ones.

As I’ve been recording, I was wondering what I would do with all these songs. I want to self-publish and distribute but I wanted my own “company” or “label” under which to do this.

Simultaneously, I’ve often thought back to my adventures and I often think about “had I know this” or “gee, I wish someone would have told me about that” or “man, if there had only been a place where…”

Thus, the idea for Cathedral Records was born.

I want to create a place that young, aspiring musicians can look to for information, for guidance…somewhere that could help with whatever they needed but I don’t want it to be a “label” per se because I don’t want to own anyone’s publishing or copyrights. I don’t want to be that kind of gatekeeper.

Rather, I want to showcase talent, educate and inform, and serve as a conduit through which service providers, musicians, retailers, and fans can connect with one another.

I think this is the next phase for me as a member of the community.

Whether it’s encouraging promotion and collaboration or helping a venue organize a showcase or providing informative sessions where community members come to The Cathedral and teach aspiring musicians about any and every aspect of the business…I want Cathedral Records to serve as a good steward of our community here in Houston.

I believe in the old saying “leave it in better shape than you found it.”

I want to do that with our community. My son may be out there in the clubs, playing his heart out just like I did for so long and just like so many of you are doing every night.

I want to make sure the community is the best it can be for him and everyone else coming along behind us.

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Be well and kind,
Jason

The eternal issue – The Houston music scene

A recent Facebook discussion really helped me focus and frame this post that has been percolating for some time now.

Cathedral Records was born out of a desire to help cultivate and support the music community and to this point that has taken the form of championing bands, venues, retailers, photographers, and other members of the scene here in Houston as well as around the region.

The biggest debate in our music community has always been about the viability and vitality of our scene.

Do we have one? If so is it any good? Is it getting better or is it on the decline? Is it true that only cover bands draw crowds? Are venues really supporting the artists? Why don’t fans come out?

These are all questions that get thrown around bars, practice rooms, and of course on internet discussion threads.

Here are some of the challenges I, and many other musicians and enthusiasts, have brought up in regards to Houston.

Houston is too spread out. The geography does not lend itself to a thriving scene because people live too far away from wherever the bands are playing. Suburban areas do not support live music in any form beyond cover/tribute bands or DJs. Inside the loop there lacks a central, walkable area with multiple venues ala 6th Street in Austin, the French Quarter in New Orleans etc.

Venues don’t do enough to promote artists or drive traffic, instead leaving that vital aspect of running their business to the performers themselves. Compounding matters they don’t provide ample backline resources and don’t pay musicians a reasonable amount…if at all. This puts all the responsibility of promotion, marketing, and capital investments in the hands of the musician. Musicians thus have to become marketing professionals on top of masters of their chosen craft and then invest in their own PA equipment in addition to the investments they’ve already made in their instruments and training…which then requires additional investment in transporting all this equipment and specialization in live sound engineering.

Fans don’t come out. Artists hammer Facebook, Twitter, make fliers, and shout from the mountain top but in the end all they get is a tepid response from the same friends and family who have been going to all their shows since they started playing and struggle to attract all the people outside their immediate circles who seem to be shouting from the mountaintop that there’s never anything to do in Houston, that the live scene stinks, and that if only there were good clubs and bands out there playing they would go out.

The media doesn’t do enough to promote the existing community of artists and venues or to cultivate further development. The “media” as it pertains to Houston is typically the Houston Chronicle, the Houston Press, and whatever other small distribution, local and free papers you can think of. The Chronicle is…well…the Chronicle. Chron.com’s entertainment section is littered with click-through photo galleries, recycled time and again, and articles about national artists and gossip. The Houston Press, for all its stated goal of championing the alternative audience who are disaffected by “mainstream” media has its own problems with consistency and quality. What they share is an apparent desire for quality content opportunities that will generate interest and those oh-so-important ad impressions and clicks.

Bands. Bands are also a problem discussed in our community. They don’t work together. They are cliquish and cynical. They don’t like to share bills or cross promote or they get a sniff of regional/national attention and they “forget where they came from.”

I’ve been playing in Houston since I was a teenager sneaking into open mic nights at roadhouses, desperate for any audience I could find. I began “promoting” singer/songwriter nights soon after high school in a coffee/internet café (remember those?) shortly after graduating high school.

These were the same arguments my older friends were talking about then, the same arguments my peers have been having, and the same ones happening with the talented group of bands coming up behind me.

So what’s the point? What am I getting at?

The point is that while each of us puts our flag in the ground with one issue and proclaims that it is THE defining problem with the Houston music scene, the other issues continue to go on and others stake their flags in their opinion when really…we should be addressing the problems.

Here’s what I think makes a great scene and what I’d like to see happening and how I’d like to fit into that…and it’s very important to state: all of it is already happening in pockets around the city.

We’ll start at the top.

Houston IS big. It’s a giant wasteland of sprawl and concrete with more tan shopping centers and isolated communities than I can count. The inner loop – outer loop battle will rage on long after the “inner loop” becomes understood as Beltway 8. This isn’t a challenge so much as it is an opportunity. A band can “tour” without ever leaving the 713/281/832 area codes. Clear Lake, Galveston, Pasadena/Deer Park, Katy, Humble, Spring, Woodlands, Almeda, downtown/Montrose/midtown are all hotbeds of activity just bubbling under the surface. There are bands sweating in practice rooms and bars looking for acts that can help drive business. The inner loop does NOT have exclusive rights to talented musicians. They’re all over the place. Rather than looking at the inner loop area as “the scene” Houston musicians and fans need to see the larger picture and understand there are lots more opportunities.

I currently live outside the loop…and count me among the people who gets up for work at 5 am, drops my son off with my parents, spends 9 hours at the office, leaves, grabs my son, goes home, makes dinner, goes through the mail, cleans up around the house, plays with the baby for a bit before it’s time for him to go to sleep and then I pass out because I have to do it all over again. I miss out on basically every show ever because after doing all that I can’t fathom the idea of going out to see someone perform who isn’t going on until midnight in the Montrose or downtown somewhere. I would get home at 3 and have to “wake up” at 5 am.

Bands need to understand that while geography poses some very real challenges…so to do they provide an opportunity to go out to where the people are.

Which of course brings us to the venues: many have written excellent pieces on how venues take advantage of talent and often use the analogy of a restaurant “hiring” a chef to work for free because after all, it’s their passion to cook and they should be happy to be given an opportunity to cook for people…and oh by the way, you’re responsible for bringing people in…and oh, our oven is broken. It’s a very valid point.

Venues have for too long skated by for years using pay-to-play or by forcing artists to do their own promotion. As bands became too much of a “hassle” to deal with it, they brought in karaoke, DJs or just said screw it and went with a juke. Now…see it from their point of view. Running a business is hard and expensive…just like running your business as a musician. Investing in a proper backline, tailored marketing campaigns for each band, and the allocation of valuable real estate inside the club for a good stage is a big deal. They need a return on those investments. This, however, by no means whatsoever, excuses them for what I deem to be unethical dealings with musicians.

What is needed is real partnerships, real collectives among venues AND talent and the use of effective, best marketing practices to ensure success…and no, it’s not a sure-fire-overnight deal. Investors need to see the long-term returns and not bail at the first sign of danger. All too often venues agree to “test” live music only to fail at picking the right bands, giving them the right support, effectively promoting the event, and then giving up after one show because “it didn’t work.”

Just like musicians are expected to become masters of marketing and communications, so too do venue owners need to become adept at promotion and in creating effective, attractive showcases for bands…doing their research on which nights will be most lucrative and provide the most opportunity for growth.

I subscribe to the belief that “if you build it they will come.” But you can’t build it, only tell your immediate friends, only let people in between the hours of midnight and 2 am on a Wednesday, and locate your incredible edifice an hour away from everyone that would like to come. Fans, in the end, are the consumer. Venues and musicians are the vendors/suppliers/products. To connect them together you have to meet in the middle. Bands and venues have reach out to the audience in more ways than Facebook event shares and traditional calendar ads in the back of the Houston Press squeezed next to the rub-and-tug and escort classified ads.

The internet has provided a lot of great ways to connect with fans outside the traditional live event inside a club. Do live performances and broadcasts from your practice room..a “From the Studio” gig, as it were. Do an afternoon show on Saturdays or Sundays…these are typically down periods for venues but, particularly in outlying areas, could open up a whole new audience who, by the constraints of their M-F lives, are unable to participate in the traditional 10 pm – 2 am schedule of events taking place.

But fans have to do their part too. BUY the damn record. BUY the T-shirt. WEAR the T-shirt. TELL 10 friends you were at the show or are listening to the music. If you have time to take a picture of what you made for dinner, you have time to tag the name of the band whose music you’re listening to at that moment. If you have time to take a selfie at the show, you have time to tag the band and the venue. It isn’t enough to “like” someone’s content. Likes don’t pay the bills and they don’t generate new opportunities. Sharing is caring. Fans are a critical part of the equation and should step up their game.

Ahh…the media. Who doesn’t love ripping on the media. They write an article we love and they are a bastion of true journalism, objective, well-researched, and honest. Write something we don’t and SCREW THESE biased, ignorant bastards and their agenda!

The media can’t have it both ways as far as I’m concerned. They can’t proclaim their desire to give a voice to voiceless and then throw up a bunch of click bait photo galleries with pointless images of people walking down the street or sticking their tongue out at a music festival.

You don’t get to take the easy road. You also don’t get to outsource your content to independent bloggers, post their material on your site, and then say their opinions don’t reflect those of your editorial staff. Writers don’t get to sit back and essentially write entire pieces filled with inside jokes and obscure references letting everyone know how cool they are while essentially ignoring what they’re actually supposed to be doing – reporting and describing the music scene around Houston.

As a member of the community your role, as reporters/photographers/journalists is to shine a light on the good and the bad. Not every review needs to be glowing and they certainly don’t need to be advertisements hidden behind the mask of a news article. What I want to see is fair and honest reviews of bands across the city. I’m not just talking about bands that are drawing big crowds at the few “major” venues, those bands that are already getting some national attention. They absolutely deserve coverage and attention because these bands should be a shining source of pride and inspiration for every other group in the area.

BUT…what about that cool wine bar off Rayford that has a fantastic singer-songwriter showcase attracting some of the most talented people I’ve seen in a long time?

What about that circle of metal bands playing in Pasadena and La Porte…they are doing it old-school. Printing their fliers, sharing practice space and stage time, dolling out some of the nastiest and aggressive music in town.

Oh you haven’t heard of those? Exactly. People of the media – Do. Your. Job. Check your email and your snail mail. Go trolling usergroups and Facebook looking for content opportunities. End all your published pieces by asking for, not comments below to which you can make all those snarky responses you’ve had in your pocket, but for leads on new content. Get out of your comfort space. Leave the same four clubs you’ve been going to for the last three years. Houston is big and you’re supposed to support and serve all of it…not just yourself.

I’d like to see guest articles from band members themselves. I’d like to see updates on progress is coming along with different recording projects. Reporters should go to the many studios in town and see who’s working on what. Go to the practice rooms, the teen clubs. Get members of the Houston Association of Acoustic Musicians to write guest pieces. If you haven’t heard much from this band or that band, look them up and give a quick blurb on what’s been happening.

Now the bands…first…bands need to be good haha. Learn to play your instruments. Learn to write songs and be willing to put in the time, earn your scars, sweat, bleed, sweat some more. Sadly…in a way, that’s the easy part. We spend our lives doing that part. But then, when we want to share our music we’re faced with all these challenges I’ve spent close to 2000 words writing about.

Sorry but we DO have to cooperate with each other. We DO need to get out and network. Support other bands’ shows, share their calendar of events…cross promotion is critical to building a good, thriving scene. No matter how far along your band has gotten, never forget that you were just coming up once too. Offer your opening slot to a no-name group of kids in your neighborhood. Be mentors. Share what’s working for you. If you’ve found a great recipe for success, share it!

All too often I’ve seen bands become islands unto their own…afraid that other bands will glom onto their thing, stealing their trade secrets and render them somehow, less unique.

I’m a believer in a rising tide raising all ships. Bands that have had success will have MORE success if they help other bands build their brands and establish themselves. The more bands playing out, the more quality singer/songwriter nights happening, the more smoking blues jams happening all around this sprawling city the better it is for everyone.

Venues aren’t the best at promoting? Make it easier for them. Approach them with an entire bill. Three bands, committed to performing two nights a month…once every other week. Put together what you think is the perfect ad and work with the venue manager to get it into the papers, onto the social networks. Negotiate a rate – work out the details…anything is on the table. 5 bucks a person at the door? Fine…band takes 4 – house takes 1. Consumption gets split 60/40 to the house. That’s right bars…the bands deserve a cut of consumption. Deal with it. Those people are there drinking because of the entertainment you provide.

Once everything is ironed out, do a Facebook live session at the “contract signing” and then write a press release announcing this beautiful union. Blast it everywhere you can think..even if you think it’s pointless. Follow up with phone calls and invite reporters to the show. Venues need to print up nice color posters for the doors and small ones on each table keeping the event on everyone’s mind. It may take a couple months for both the venue and the bands to reap the rewards but if both are committed, it will work.

Oh…so no one is coming out on Tuesday night for your 10 pm show with four bands no-one has ever heard of in an obscure underground club in midtown? Well…how about playing a half-time set during a weekend roller derby bout? Make a night of it..play the national anthem before the bout, a quick half-time set of fan favorites and then rock the crowd with a 30 minute set of your best material. During the bout you’re networking, handing out fliers, supporting our roller derby gals and having a great time.

Look…no one said it was easy. No one said it was easy to run a bar/club. No one said it was easy to be a musician…in this city or any other. No one said that your favorite bands were going to be playing 5 minutes from your house at the exact time that you would have 45 minutes to devote to them that also perfectly coincides with you being in the mood for live music, and have absolutely nothing else to do.

Being a part of community is sacrifice, compromise, cooperation, and collaboration.

So when you think about why this music scene isn’t what you want it to be…don’t focus on what others fail to do about it…focus on what you can offer that might, in some way, contribute to building that community you wish you had. Encourage others to do the same. Take a look at Jealous Creatures. They are the living embodiment of how to do it. They work hard at social media, they collaborate with other bands, cooperate with venues and promoters and they put on amazing shows full of incredible music.

And remember – Cathedral Records is here to promote, to counsel, to collaborate, to share, and to help in any possible way.

I want to bring everyone – musicians, venues, and related service providers together in a way that enriches all our lives.

Let me know what I can do, how I can help. If you’re struggling with a particular aspect of your endeavor, get with me and let’s talk. Need help filling out a bill? Let me know and I’ll help find a good band.

Just recorded an album and are thinking “well…now what?” Let’s talk about your options related to distribution, promotion, copyrighting, and publishing.

Are you just starting to write songs and want to get some recordings done but don’t have the tech savvy to do it yourself or the funds to go to some of the established studios in Houston? Call me. Cathedral Records has a great project studio and some of Houston’s best musicians at the ready to help in any way we can.

Are you an owner of a club? I definitely want to hear from you. One of my goals is to promote a monthly event called “Cathedral Records Presents…” It will be a showcase for aspiring songwriters to share their music and their passion. Let me help you with best practices related to building an audience for your venue and with negotiating fairly with talent.

Finally – thanks for reading of course – this is obviously a long piece but I hope it provides everyone with a morsel of food for thought.

If your take anything away from this it should be this: “the scene” is never dead, it’s never alive. It’s never awesome and it never sucks. It is what we all make of it. Let’s ALL do our part to make the best of it for all of us to enjoy – musician, venues, vendors, and fans together.

Be well and kind,

Jason

Q&A with Houston’s Own – David Elbert

David Elbert is one of Houston’s most talented guitarists and songwriters. I know this to be true because I’ve had the honor of calling him a best friend for over 20 years. We cut our teeth together and some of my fondest memories, musical or otherwise, include him. I humbly present to you Cathedral Records’ newest Q&A session with a dear friend of the Cathedral and one heck of a guitarist – David Freaking Elbert.

 

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You’ve been playing music for most of your life at this point. Tell me about how and why you started playing?
I grew up in a very musical family. My father, uncles and cousins all played guitar and my grandmother was a terrific pianist. If I had to really pinpoint why I started I think that it was a bit of hero worship for my oldest brother, Jeremy. He was a terrific singer, songwriter and guitar player who seemed to be able to play anything he got his hands on. He exposed me to more music than I thought possible and I certainly don’t think I would have ever picked up an instrument had it not been for him.

Tell me about your path from sitting at the edge of your bed to where are you are now…bands you’ve been in, what you’re currently working etc…

I’ve played in a number of bands and served a number of roles over the years. I’ve been both a lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist, I’ve been the singer, the bass player, I’ve even been a bad keyboardist in a band. Right now I’m working with some amazing musicians in a cover band called The Apple Scruffs. I also play lead guitar in a project called The Glass and I work with a band that I sing, play guitar and song write in called Fake Believe.

What are your main guitars and effects at this point? How did you come to start using these? What have you used in the past?

Like all guitar players I’ve bounced around a lot. For years I used a first year (Peavey) 5150 and I still love to play my ‘75 Marshall Plexi with a Les Paul or hot-rodded Strat. Right now I am using a custom made Telecaster-type guitar that I helped design and put together. My main amp is a boutique British style amp form a company out of Dallas called Jackson Ampworks. They do amazing stuff. Effects are always coming on and off my pedalboard. I use a few different boast, fuzzes, and delays. I couldn’t live without my Memory Man.

What are your thoughts on the Houston music scene? Being here for as long as you’ve been here, you’ve seen a lot, endured the whole “Austin is better” mentality, and have been performing regularly for years. How has the scene changed?

I’ve never been a part of the Austin scene, so I can’t really speak to it. I will say there is a history there that has been respected for a long time and I truly hope they hang on to that.  Houston’s strength in the world is our diversity. You can see a badass Tejano band, punk band, country band, rapper or indie band all playing the same weekend. One of my favorite things to do after a rehearsal is to walk down the hall of the rehearsal space I rent and listen to the drastically different artist all playing on the same night. I would love to see more venues play to that and put different genres on the same bill.

What is your favorite local artist or band out there right now?

There are several I could mention. I’ve been a huge fan of Hayes Carll since his first record and it’s great that he has made a national name for himself. It was so exciting to see The Sufers have a successful tour. To do it all without the support of a label speaks volumes about their talent.

What’s your favorite venue in town? What do you think makes a venue good for an independent artist or band? What do you look for when you’re trying to decide what venue to select for a gig?

My favorite venue is any venue is giving a stage to good acts. It’s always best if they have good beer too.

You’re a recording engineer too. Tell me about your background and education, software you prefer and a little about your philosophy in the studio.

I studied audio engineering under Les Williams (among other amazing professors) at San Jacinto College in the late 90s. They have an outstanding music school there and their recording program is one of Houston’s best-kept secrets. I worked at Sugar Hill for a little while and learned so much there.  Everyday that I got to be a second engineer for Andy Bradley or Dan Workman was a learning experience. Beyonce cursed me out over there, so that was pretty cool.
Currently I have a project studio set up with a Pro Tools system. I’ve worked with every DAW in the book but I’m most comfortable with Pro Tools. My philosophy as an engineer is the same as my philosophy as a musician. “You have to serve the song.” I love making other artist sound good. I love seeing them see their vision come out of the speakers.

In our lifetime, we’ve seen digital home recording explode. Prices have come down while the technology has grown leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. Given that, what role does an actual studio and hiring an actual engineer or producer offer an independent or aspiring musician? Why should or would someone pay to visit a studio when they can use something like garage band an ipad or even have a pro tools set up with a basic interface in their bedroom for less than a thousand bucks?

I think that’s a question that the industry is still coming to terms with. Amazing things are being done in a home studio. However, I’ve found that when an artist is trying to be all things in a session (producer, performer and engineer) that something is going to suffer and lots of time can be wasted. We’ve all found ourselves going down rabbit holes in the studio and wasting hours of the time we were supposed to be working on music.
Being in a pro environment can actually make things a lot less frustrating. Professionals have already made the mistakes that novices will inevitably fall victim to. The staff of a good studio can help keep the artist focused on their craft and push them to perform in ways they never knew possible.

How can an aspiring artist cut through the noise and distinguish themselves? While the tools exist to help someone get heard, what are some tips you can give to someone in order for them to get beyond their friends and families and connect with audiences?

Write killer songs. When I hear a new band I want to be blown away by how good the composition was. I want to go home singing it. There are always bands that are masters of their instruments or put on fun shows, and those are an important part of our job as musicians. But to have songs that set you apart and that connect with an audience is what makes a band cut through the noise. We as musicians like to write songs that are enjoyable for us to play, but we have to remember that our music is meant for an audience. We have to take that job seriously and give them something worth their time.

I think it’s getting harder and to get people to come out and see live music. There is so much competition for our time. We have so much more to be entertained with from the comfort of our couch than just a few years ago, so respect the craft and the audience that’s there even when it’s just the bartenders.

Most important advice you can give to an aspiring musician? He’s just learning to play, just getting started writing songs and riffs…

I don’t have all the answers so I’ll say what I wish someone would have told me when I was 21. Music isn’t a competition. Don’t let it be. You’re not trying to be the best, but to do your thing the best you can. Surround yourself with other musicians, better musicians, different musicians. Learn from those around you and be a part of a scene. We are all better when we all succeed. Go to other bands shows and cheer them on. You’ll be amazed at what’s out there and how much better your music will be.

Essential gear for a guitarist?

It depends on the guitarist. Guitar is such an interesting instrument because there is so much tone to chase and it all sounds different in other people’s hands. I love jamming with my younger brother, Kevin. He picks up my guitar and plays it through my rig and makes sounds I could never replicate. There is no magic box. Believe me, I’ve looked. I love the stuff that makes me want to keep playing and exploring.

Last question for now, and you know I have to ask: Beatles or Stones?

I love The Rolling Stones and have gotten into them more as I’ve gotten a bit older, but come on. When you look at songwriting, production and influence there’s no comparison. The Beatles are the reason we are all still playing in rock and roll bands.

dave 1Check out Dave’s current projects!
Apple Scruffs
Fake Believe
The Glass

And as always…support local music, not just with your ears but with your time and pocket. Get out to the shows!