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!

The Free One!



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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The Free One:

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:

Deep Water – for Sylvia Casberg

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The Free One:

Over a year ago now I went to Laos for Music as a Second Language and raised all the support through GoFundMe. A certain support level warranted you a song written in your honor, and two people met it – Lea Smith, whose song you heard in February, and Sylvia Casberg (whom I call Aunt Sylvia even though she’s my mom’s cousin). I woke up in the middle of the night halfway across the world and scribbled “Deeeee-eeeeeep…water (*!*)” in my notebook, hearing the (*!*) as a massive gong.

Then I left Laos and all its massive gongs behind me and it wasn’t until last winter working with Fort Point Theatre Channel that I discovered someone whose creative innovation rendered this song a definite candidate for the Singles Project.

I’m happy to have finally gotten the chance to work with Mitchel Ahern and his organic, electric Harrow – a.k.a. “Gong on a Stick.”


A Word on the Engineer

In addition to being the engineer and drum sampling master, Hendrik David Gideonse XIX is a carpenter, a musician, a teacher, a father, a husband, and a maker of a killer cup of coffee. He approaches problems methodically and works with you to get the sounds you want, maintaining a light attitude throughout. Hendrik is a nerd to the enth degree, and will consult details you didn’t even know existed, but are glad in the end he did.

A Word on the Studio

Indecent Music is handmade by its owner and well-equipped with a sunken floor, plenty of variegated sound insulation, double-plated windows, and an array of excellent equipment intimately known by its handler. I arrived tardy to my session, and found everything not only set up and ready to go, but some sounds already sampled from the accompanist. A pleasant and interesting selection of instruments also awaited, making my schlep much more bearable.

A Word on the Accompanist

The most appropriate title for Mitch Ahern is “Artist.” Printmaker, instrument inventor/player, musician, improvisor, performer, cocktail entrepreneur, the man seems continually to be creating his job. When you play instruments no one’s ever seen or heard before, one would think you’d have an inflated ego and penchant for loftiness and high maintenance – but not this guy. With a huge heart for collaboration, he agreed instantly to work with me on this project and gave me three takes’ worth of the most intriguing noise from which to choose. His “Harrow” makes deep, expansive, timeless sounds, both percussion and pedal simultaneously. Adjectives which lend themselves also to my Aunt Sylvia. Well-played, Mitch, and thank you.

Mass Tour!

Bringing myself to Boston for LEMIfest and more! Dates below if you’d like to catch a show! …

Sat, Aug 22, 7pm
Accompanying Joel Henry Stein​ at a house concert in Newton, PM me for details! All ages, Pay What You Like!

Sun, Aug 23, 4pm
Accompanying Joel Henry Stein at a house concert in Ipswich, PM me for details! All ages, Pay What You Like!

Thurs, Aug 27, 5-8pm
Loring-Greenaugh Farmer’s Market, Jamaica Plain – All ages, Free!

Sat, Aug 29 – doors at 4pm, Pig Roast at 5pm
LEMIfest at No Place Special House Concerts​, Mashpee! SD: $35 food included


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The Free One:

It took me ten months. You’d think a perfectionist would have realized this sooner, I guess my mind was elsewhere and I was trying to meet deadlines like a panicked mole digging tunnels. But I’ve come to realize something about doing things last minute: You generally sacrifice a lot of quality when you procrastinate.

This comes up because my family friend Richard Barron gave me a wonderful gift, that of taking the raw recording session and spending a good four+ hours mixing it down at his studio in Los Feliz. Consequently there’s a much more polished and well-thought-out product at hand this month. The Singles Project wasn’t meant to take that much studio time, literally two hours to come in, lay down track (ideally live) in the first hour, mix track in the second hour, and walk away with finished product. Not a huge commitment on the part of my collaborators, but we get to make a thing together and I get a monthly project.

Up to this point I’ve booked studios, engineers, accompanists, notoriously last minute. After booking their time they were lucky to receive a track and/or a chart from me of the song in question before the recording date. Accompanists were lucky to get a rehearsal. I have benefited enormously from working with people who are completely game and supportive, and have enough chops to walk into a session like this blindly. However, I now see with a good deal of shame that my procrastinative behavior runs the risk of making my friends and supporters look like hacks, when the reality is that they saw and heard the song for the first time not five minutes before we hit the red button.

So from here on out I have some new goals that are more likely to make everyone a little more comfortable, including myself. Procrastination is the pits!

A Word on the Accompanist:

Richard Barron has known me since I was an embryo. He found his first accordion in an LA thrift store about two and a half years ago and under the tutelage of some fine musicians – not to mention direct performance application for the whole time with bands like Carnival of Futility – has finessed chops that would turn the head of any polka dancer or French couple. In this session he flourished with direction and provided ample melodic material from which to choose the licks you hear.

A Word on the Engineer:

David Franz is a Los Angeles-based composer, producer, engineer, multi-instrumentalist, performer, and educator, and I count myself lucky to have gotten to work with the guy who wrote the book on Protools. Also it was nice to connect with another Bostonite on the West Coast, thanks to our mutual friend, Hugh McGowan. David was wonderful to work with, easy-going, taking my procrastination and fussy behavior in stride, and generally doing that thing I’m beginning to suspect is an overarching quality in engineers worldwide: Making his guests feel comfortable. He was very supportive of me and the project at large, and patient.

A Word on the Studios:

Underground Sun, David’s studio, has a proper beach vibe, complete with exposed whitewashed wood and surfboards stacked outside the door. Inside there’s hardly room to sit for all the magnificent instruments strewn about with the air of a wizard in his laboratory – the place has that alchemic smell of being constantly put to good uses. Richard and I were mainly in the soundproof closet where you’d be able to hear an ant breathing if you weren’t so focused on your harmonies. David’s equipment is state-of-the-art and we’d expect nothing less of such an aficionado.

Sonora Recorders is Richard’s studio – you may remember the place from “New Mexico,” the #3 single. Sonora reminds me of hanging out with people who have great public personalities: They tend to be quiet in person, have nothing to prove, and watch and listen a lot. The studio has much to boast: large rooms, a grand piano, a legacy as long as my shadow – many a name you’ve heard has waltzed through those muraled doors and tracked songs you recognize in those isolated booths. But it’s part and parcel for the place, and I get the sense that the homeless man sorting cardboard outside is just as much a virtue to that legacy as the amateurs who come in to mix their singles.