Not Being There at 663 Studios

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More than one of my friends have invested time, money, and pain in a tattoo that says “Be Here Now,” and through the pressures of life I figured I’d submit my version. I leave it to the listener to decide how to quell their own dissatisfactions.

A Word on the Engineer/Co-Producer/Accompanist/Studio:
It would seem there are very few people with whom Ted Wulfers has not worked in some capacity or another. Rife with creative ideas, add-ons, and ability – patient with foible, experimentation, and rejection – happy to speak honestly, encouragingly, and hospitably – these are all accurate summations of Mr Wulfers the engineer and producer. There was nothing he boasted as an accompanist that he could not execute. His upstairs studio is a sight to behold: littered with instruments, cases, cables, jerry-rigged objects about whose application you’d be forced to ask, amps of all ages, analog and digital mixing applications, and about a trillion stories on a hair trigger, 663 Studios reeks of good use and good coffee. Well worth it. Thanks a mil, Ted! Good times leading to more good times!
And thanks to Jagger, the Good Vibes Cat, as well.

Deep In the Homeland – Krueger Studios

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So back in January there was a special sort of single – the kind that is terrifying to undertake because it is so bare. The kind that leads me to the soft dry hills of Sunland, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood. The kind that even though you can’t afford the cello and the viola this month, you’re not so disappointed because the alternative turned out to be just as interesting in all its quiet simplicity.

The story of Michael and Sarah is not a new one, and not a true one, but I have to hand it to Dave Morrison and Greg Krueger for bringing it to light in such an honest, laceratingly raw fashion. Thank you, gentlemen.

A Word on the Studio and the Engineer:
I made up the name Krueger Studios since Mr Krueger has never settled on a title for his amalgamation of high-end gear, exceptional resume, and sensitive ear. His sense of humor coupled with his in-studio efficiency made for a truly enjoyable experience. For more information write me. He’s worth a bit o’ diggin’.

A Word on the Accompanist:
Dave Morrison is not accustomed to singing without a guitar. The man has a shining, well-deserved reputation around the Los Angeles scene as one of the finest American songwriters around, and I have had the pleasure of sharing a stage with him, accompanying him, and seeing his genius for myself. He presents a concert series in Pasadena called “Quarter Moon Revue” at an ancient Unitarian church by the name of Throop, makes the audience dinner with his two hands, and never puts on a bad act. Dave is in the process of forming the 2.0 version of the Dave Morrison Band, and for goodness’ sakes, keep your ears peeled.

Take This Ring to the Hayloft!

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(This will be the last free download people! You can still listen on soundcloud, but downloads will only be enabled for patrons on the Patreon site!)


A Word on the Accompanist:
Chris Murphy is one of those surprise people in life who mysteriously appear at exactly the right moment and seem to be a complete survival kit of all the things you need. It’s kind of like getting lost in the Rockies and stumbling into the camp of a grizzled mountain man who’s been panning successfully there for years with his mule, griddle, and beat-to-hell coffee pot. Getting the opportunity to work closely with him on his own projects has been rewarding enough, and thanks to his efficient, expert, and excellent work on fiddle, mandolin, bass, percussion, and side-coaching for both me and the engineer, this track is one of my prouder productions. Thanks Murph!!!

A Word on the Studio:
Hayloft Studios is typical only in that it packs an amazing amount of tools into one tiny garage space, and you don’t even realize they are there until you think to yourself, “Man, it would be great if I had a tiny accordion…” and there are at least two suddenly within reach, for example. Cartier’s state-of-the-art operation is a no-space-wasted one, and while you never feel crowded at Hayloft, you can be sure that you’ll never be in want, either.

A Word on the Engineer:
I told Josh ‘Cartier’ Cutsinger that I could be a snarky person and he was welcome to use sarcasm with me (sometimes people don’t know). But Cart is also a gentleman and while Chris and I dashed to and fro making noises and changes, he sat quietly and patiently (and productively), keeping his beloved pug in check and acquiescing to all our mad-hat requests, sometimes even before we’d made them. He was a pleasure to work with, was more on-time than I was, and while often agreeing with me on certain points, was by no means an annoying “yes-man.” A pleasure, Cartier!!!

A Word on the Good-Vibes Dog:
Every session should have a listener. Thank you, Mickey.

One Ranger in the Treehouse

  IMG_0227 OneRiotSign one-riot-one-rangerIMG_0249Patronize Me!

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So my uncle is a Texas Ranger and he wrote a pretty rad book that only bears mentioning because it inspired the November single.

Recorded with Ed Tree at The Tree House in San Gabriel. Ed’s playing the baritone guitar, I’m playing the regular ol’ guitar and a pile of dead leaves (not at the same time).

A word on the Studio:IMG_0252
Cozy in what seems like it might have been a garage before years of gear, instruments, artwork, jokes, cables, sound insulation, and a veritable mountain of amps situated themselves in a manner so agreeable that you feel you can stretch your legs without knocking anything over, the Tree House lives up to its name. Not because it’s in a tree, but because it boasts lofty ideals while having its roots firmly planted in the ground. Ed’s state of the art equipment has immortalized countless artists much finer than myself, and I feel honored to have set foot there.

A Word on the Engineer/Player:
IMG_0246The first time I saw Ed Tree play was at a minute songwriter festival in the dusty hills of Santa Clarita, and it was also the first time I saw the Tall Men Group perform. In talking with Ed after the show, and discovering he was an engineer, hungry and blind I got his information, little knowing what an artist he was behind the board. When I tried to do some foley in his studio (dropping leaves down a plastic sheet) and wondered why it didn’t sound like anything, he noted that another sound was missing: Wind. Whereupon up he jumped to his library of CDs, procuring one he himself had produced and engineered, and “borrowed” the sound of wind from one of the tracks. (Thank you, David Serby and Carl Byron for your unwitting collaboration…)


Studio 770 (the single back in October)

I wanted to blog retroactively about Studio 770, because I think what they’re doing is such an interesting and creative way to keep the place afloat even in the dark times of bedroom iPhone recordings.

A Word on the Studio:
If you go to the website you’ll see that they’re a fully-equipped, multi-soundproofed-roomed operation boasting several staff and a house band to boot. Situated in Brea, CA, in what appears to be an old motel converted to office/studio spaces, Studio 770 (based on the address) seems to be thriving. How do they afford this when the rest of the recording studios in the world are struggling to stay relevant alongside the easy, user-friendly, gear-light technology of the digital age? The answer is simple, community-oriented, effective, and fun: Open Mic Night.Screen Shot 2015-11-15 at 4.05.12 PM

A Word on the House Band:
If the above picture isn’t registering, for $20 you can come for the first time and either do a jazz standard, or bring your own chart and trust the (very trustworthy) house band to get the take in 10 minutes (which is all the time you have! And if you prepare well enough, it’s all the time you’ll need). Let them know the tempo, the feel, any kicks, whether you want the bass player to walk or to hang on roots, how many times to run through the form, and how to end the thing, and in ten minutes and for twenty bucks, you have your monthly single, Sarsaparilla, accompanied by the following professional studio players:

Ron Kobayashi – Keys
Sam Montooth – Bass
Isaac Sanchez – Drums

A Word on the Engineer:
Part of the reason I was so interested in this particular studio is because it’s owner and chief engineer is a graduate of the Dick Grove School of Music–the school where my parents met and from which every alum I know has fascinating things to say in regards to their music educations. More to come on Dick Grove in future writings. In the meantime, Shantih Haast, who graduated from the composition and arranging program in 1987, has a long history working in and around studios and in lieu of the looming obsolescence of her business, tried something a little different. (She’s pictured below, but don’t be scared, this was in honor of Halloween. Her real visage is in the frame beside her.)IMG_20151013_191322_500

Big thanks to Troy Ambroff for mixing and mastering on the spot! And Kimberly Lane for coordinating the event, and Alba Tucker for the photography! Studio 770. Keepin’ it floatin’ in the funnest of ways.

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My Your Our Water

My music is on someone’s blog!

(Click the pic to go see and hear!)

I don’t remember how I heard of her project, but Erin V. Sotak – who has been intersecting art with community engagement her whole career – has been on a new project since Oct of 2014 to generate conversation and awareness about the let’s-go-ahead-and-face-it desperate water crisis. Our lackadaisical attitude toward one of life’s top three most critical commodities is startling! 
Erin rides a tricked-out tricycle around local bodies of water, snapping photos and chatting with passersby, encouraging them to send her their own images of anything water – from Niagara Falls to a cup of coffee. She and her team put an enormous illuminated floating sign reading “MY YOUR OUR” right in the wet, drawing eyes to the thing we keep forgetting is right there sustaining our every move. Check out her inspiring project! And shorten your showers!

The Annual Special Session


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On both Eponymous and The Second Album there has been one cover song. One Eponymous it was Gerda’s Gone, by my uncle, Barny Van Valin. On The Second Album it was Cowboys and Pirates, by family friend Michael McGinnis. I’ve decided that for the twelfth song of each year, I’ll honor one of my musical influences with one of their own tunes I love so much. It will always be a cover, it will always be someone I know personally, and it will always be an awesome song.

So enjoy my fumbling stylings of this year’s inaugural Special Session: Jennifer. A song my father, Scott Mitchell Brownlee, wrote in a phone booth in 1972 while he was waiting for his band manager to call him back. Around 2003 I heard him play it for the first time while our family was hanging out in a hotel room at the Glacier National Park, and I burst into tears. Ever since I’ve been sharing it with special friends in special situations, and now it’s the first Special Session.

Incidentally, my dad has 40 or so years of recording/producing experience and was additionally awesome in making the session happen last night.

Scott and Pamela Brownlee live in the beautiful state of Washington and during summers run a Cowboy Supper Show called the Rockin’ B Ranch (<–if you click on this you’ll get some insight on my upbringing). The Rockin’ B will have two more shows this year before closing its show doors indefinitely (Oct 9 & 10). It’s ridiculously worth traveling for: