I first learned of the K.I.S.S. concept in college jazz lab band. The professor, a horn player by the name of Bart, introduced the notion to soloists. I loved Bart; he was awesome.
Evidently there are two ways to interpret K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple Stupid, or, Keep It Simple, Stupid. I always considered the latter as proper interpretation. Evidently, the U.S. Navy, who by the way, coined the acronym, identifies with the former. Just keeping things stupid simple, or simple stupid, alleviates greater frequency of errors.
I’ve always thought in terms of, “Hey Stupid, keep it simple.” But that’s me and my sarcastic mind set.
I think it is a perfect way to interpret a mix, especially when starting with a foundation. Simplify, keeping the concept stupid simple, identify your substructure: drums, vocals, melody, rhythm tracks, use your own judgment, then base your mix on that.
I constantly cross reference mixes from the big boys, using compromised sound sources ( iPhone speakers, bluetooth speakers, crappy head phones, extremely low volume near-field play back, listening from another room, car stereos while driving…)
For me, the ultimate foundational K.I.S.S. mixing technique: Isolate the kick and the lead vocals. Make those two voices as musical as possible, then move on. That’s what I do. E.Q. and compress the kick drum and vocals and blend them the best I am able; everything else follows.
K.I.S.S. can also be applied to personal rehearsal. Being a drummer, I imagine the concept is much less complex. I break down rhythmic passages into 2’s and 3’s and slow the metronome to excrutiatingly slow BPM, requiring painful concentration, actually making my brain hurt.
When practicing like this, I can actually feel new neural paths carving different channels through my brain. I have told this can delay Alzheimer’s but does nothing to alleviate Some Timers or Delayed Intelligence.
In all my endeavors, I try to start with as basic as an idea as possible. It’s overthinking that complicates matters.
Chubby digits, that’s what I got. What I mean is – I make a lot of mistakes. I blame my mistakes on my five thumbs which are attached to both of my hands. Generally, fat fingers applies to any editing program I might be working with: photo, video, audio, text… all of them.
The wrong command is pressed, Fat Fingers. Forgot to save the project, Fat Fingers. Turn off the lap top by accident, fat fingers.
It’s important to remember to concentrate on the moment. I find myself so easily distracted, bouncing around from concept to concept, action to action, in a huge hurry to get to my next destination. My chubby digits hit the wrong command, and bam, there I go again, off to another error.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid flat screen control devices. I don’t know how many times I have been mixing with an iPad app, and one careless brush of my little finger, kapow, I turn off an entire sub mix. Makes for very interesting performances.
Getting a great mix can be very tough. Recording well requires quality inputs, correct performance, and extreme listening skills. The adage, “It’s not the gear, it’s the ear” holds a lot of truth. Better listening begets qualitative judgement, which enhances desire for equipment that can satisfy ever expanding qualitative judgement, which creates gear sluts, people who always need some better gear. That’s me.
Of course subjectivity is involved, but its more satisfying to be objectively subjective (oxymoron, maybe) when proper equipment is utilized.
My first real studio experience was when I was 19. We had no idea our band was terrible. Spending three hours recording four cover tunes on traditional two inch tape and some big console, excitement and expectations were huge. The engineers mixed it out for us in about a half hour. Those big old JBL studio monitors sounded great at full tilt; you know, loud is best. We were presented a cassette tape of our session which promptly went on to the car stereo.
Feeling like rock stars, disappointment was huge when we compared our three hour session to cassettes produced by big labels. We had no understanding that those projects could take weeks and months of ten to twelve hour days before release. And that’s before mastering. Mastering?
We understood nothing. Sometimes it still feels that way.
I have been on a path of discovery. Since I have started blogging I have had to do a lot of inner searching. I understand that I need to be who I am and not try to fake my way through this process. Friends who read my blog have told me that that they can actually hear my voice when they read it.
That is good news. I really desire that I focus on others and get their stories out. The way I see it, we are all in this together, and if we can have our paths converge on different parts of our journeys, more power to all of us.
I’ll scratch your back and you can scratch mine, so to speak.
It seems almost all my projects require collaboration with others. If I had a budget and I could afford to hire musicians out, I would. But funds are limited, knowledge is limited and I can use all the help I can get. I’m not a one person show, nor do I want to be.
I thrive on social interaction. What better way to be sociable than to work and share my passion for music and creativity.
In the midst of trying to achieving these things, what is really needed is a fundamental change in my attitude toward life. I have to learn who I am and that it does not really matter what my expectations may be, but rather what life expects from me. In that, I desire to help as many others as I am able.
I choose to hang with folks who are smarter, more talented and more driven than myself.
Daily, I take time to read and garner other peoples ideas, checking to see if their concepts and practices are adaptable to my circumstance. I think I have applied maybe 1 out of 1000 suggestions. You might think it takes a lot of time to do this. I ain’t going to lie, it does. This habit is actually an extension of personal rehearsal and reading habits. I understand the results of constantly applying myself, seeing no immediate return on my efforts. It’s a cumulative effect; more fuel creates a bigger flame.
As you can imagine, 1 out of 1000 ideas acted upon isn’t a huge return. Face it, most concepts I look at aren’t that great and most are just flat out stupid. That’s okay, I can live with it.
The biggest result is increase of process. My process is far greater now than when I first started churning out ideas. I spent the first months of idea gathering just thinking of anything and writing it down. Any concept is worth writing down, no matter how dumb or inaccessible.
Still, the biggest purveyor of new ideas acted upon is personal rehearsal. Music is a limitless world of possibilities. Virtuosity is achievable in so many different genres, it is truly mind blowing. I believe that music has direct connection to elements of the universe; I see and understand this more and more.
Back to my first statement: I can’t over emphasize how important friends are for inspirational growth. Because they are who they are, just being around them is a form of collaboration. For me, innocuous collusion is cool. It is truly awesome to sit in front of the console and flat screen, together, piecing out arrangements, parts and voicings.
My absolute, top priority is to become a better player. Honestly, I believe I require practice four hours per day to actually achieve needed results. I know this is true; when I can consistently commit time day in, day out, week in, week out, I rise above plateaus and keep pressing on.
I have spent years reading self help books, sometimes so formulaic I feel like I’m just absorbing drivel. The usual recipe: write down my goals, visualize, journal, associate with people smarter than me, identify what I want, consistency, persistency, embrace passion. Yep all that.
The biggest take away from all of it? There is no guarantee of outcome. Life is fragile and so much of our journey depends upon good relationships, health, both physical and mental, willingness to work with others and to be able to give of ourselves.
Having done this, maybe I haven’t done enough. What I have learned is that my success is the process; I have not become who I am today without it. Any of my abilities has been developed through patience and humble recognition that there is always more to be done. I can see where I want to go, what I want to do, be it tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Since I can’t control the outcome, all I can do is control the process.
I have come to a place of acceptance and gratitude. I know, no matter what, I would be driven to improve musically. I have walked away from pursuing music for extended periods of years and perspective has shown me I was immensely unsettled, discontent, facing turmoil, confused and seeking after things which I was not made for.
We all have been there. Forgetting our vocal line, missing the cue, blowing the arrangement; one domino falls over and the entire band goes with it. As uncomfortable as it can be, revealing our disappointment on stage, telling the audience how badly its been blown with body language and comments to one another, should never occur.
I, for one, take mistakes very personally. I believe I can perform at a higher standard, never comparing myself to others, but comparing myself to myself. My personal standards are much too high and that’s not right to lay on someone else.
They, who ever they are, say that public speaking is considered one the most fearful experiences a person can have. How about botching parts on stage and throwing everyone off? Particularly annoying is working with sequences and not playing the proper arrangement: oops, that was the chorus but here we all are at a verse.
How do you fake your way out of that? Well, you just do. Sometimes you stop; it can’t be taken back.
How about most of the band being half in the bag by first down beat? Don’t worry, by the third set they will all be fully in; that’s when the fun starts.
One of the things I love about all of this is how thick my skin has become; it is becoming ever more difficult to shame myself. I used to become mortified at mistakes but now I recognize blunders as Standard Operating Procedure. I attribute my complacency to error as part of a humans ability to adapt. My personal evolution has gone from being disconcerted by failure to owning the mistake. Let’s just see if I can consciously repeat the flub next measure. Call it technique.
My brain constantly fires on all cylinders; I can’t keep up. The distractions are endless.
Like walking through the front door and leaving a trail of keys, wallet, phone and whatever else my hands happened to be clutching. It’s like a slug trail, except it’s not slime, but an ephemeral path I will retrace sometime within an hour, trying to remember where I left stuff.
A big joke around my house: I’m watching television, maybe I was drinking, maybe, looking for chow de dow in the fridge, and suddenly I can’t find the remote. Scouring high and low, frustrated on the misplacement of the channel changer, looking for a new beer…AHA! I find the controller in the Frigidaire next to the cheese. Makes sense.
I’m not ADA, but I’m always somewhere else, or so it seems. Ever since I was a small child, I have had this endless stream of music running through my brain. My coworkers know that I always have a song to sing to them. One of my friends has told me that everyone I know gets a theme song. It’s not everyone, only the people I like. Sorry everyone else. No theme song, uhh, not sure how to say this…
How about mixing a track? When I’m getting close to the end of a mix, I throw a track into my near fields and turn up the volume as loud as possible. I wander around home pretending I’m, like, doing house work, or something domestic. What I’m actually doing is listening with my subconscious, letting my brain hear things that previous concentration has missed. And there is a lot I miss because I’m constantly distracted.
Setting down to woodshed; concentration is a key element. I get about twenty minutes in to an exercise and then I say to myself, “Bry, what if you simplify this in such a way?”
Oops, turns out I’m borderline incompetent in the simplification of said exercise. Great…turn the metronome BPMs way down and learn how to play it slow. Plug away for twenty minutes and realize there is another way to fail another variation of the exercise.
Maybe I got something better to do, like, something not as challenging, or cleaning the bathroom, or cooking dinner, or finding my keys.
I’m not sure what I did. Rumor has it, as an infant, I was dropped on my head. I don’t know, I can’t remember. Perhaps my amygdala smashed in to my hippocampus, resulting in memory loss. Could have been the drugs or maybe my continuing love of alcohol. Or that last bicycle accident; was that a traffic divider, or a guard rail?
How many times must I make the same mistakes before I figure it out? There must be something amiss in my grey matter’s neural pathways. How many times am I going to blame my circumstance before figuring out I am my circumstance?
One of my nicknames is Chuckles; I snigger a lot. There’s too much that could make me cry, so I choose to counter with a grin and a snort, embracing absurdity. Yeah, man, life is too short and difficult.
Another nickname is Pelon. My Latin friends gave me that name but usually there is a preface that I won’t mention. It’s quite amusing in Spanish but the English equivalent translates in very harsh terms. The first time I heard it I almost cried I thought it was so funny.
My journey along this path has been littered with countless failures and disappointments; I could dwell on those ad nauseam but what’s the point. I choose to find humor in life’s challenges because of the monumental ironies which preclude its course.
Those I choose as my friends need to have thick skins, big smiles and the ability to shrug off the inevitable shortcomings of this existence.
We have all had moments of epiphany: a moment when a veil uncovers our eyes, blindfolds are removed, an ‘Aha’ moment.
Mine came many years ago in a recording session. We had a 10 song project with plans to finish taping in three weeks. Everyone had full time jobs so we were only able to record in the evenings, three times a week.
I made it through four tunes. By the fifth, I was so over wrought, over thinking my playing, I could not continue. A ringer was hired to finish drum parts for the project.
That experience was the deciding move to home recording. I figured I better get used to that red light which represented active recording enabled.
I work with some folks who have the same challenge. Playing live is not a problem, but putting on a pair of headphones and really hearing every note they play raises blood pressure and handicaps performance. I relate, I get it. Even in today’s recording environment, we still undo our flies and let it hang out. A recording experience can leave a person feeling quite vulnerable, especially second guessing each note that we play.
I have full recording capabilities; my home recording studio is literally a home that is a recording studio. Full keyboard set up by the fire place; the entry way can be used as the vocal booth, with isolation. Upstairs, drums fully miced, a full array of tube and analog preamps, more inputs than I need. A hundred foot snake allows me to utilize each room of my house as a tracking room; complete with independent head phone mixes and talk back capability.
Now it’s a turn around from performance anxiety to idea anxiety. I invited some friends over the other day to lay down ideas at the studio. Call it cavalier confidence; “Hey, if we all get together and lay down some ideas we could get some keeper tracks.” Yeah, right. We breezed through my ideas, afterwards sitting down down to discuss chord structure and arrangements. Then we had dinner.
It’s great being a drummer; a person who hangs out with musicians.
As much as possible, I try super hard to shield myself from negativity. Well meaning friends and relatives, seeking sympathy or empathy for their less than positive situations, inadvertently drop their experiences into my refuse pile.
Which brings me to Negativity Bias: negative situations have greater impact on one’s state of mind than a positive situation of similar intensity. Perhaps this explains some of this Covid mass hysteria thing. Hey folks, last I looked there were flowers and grass growing, birds singing, a beautiful sunrise and sunset ( somewhere, anyways ).
Since I have a brain, I prefer to wile away the hours, sniffing at the flowers.
If I am an average of the five people I most closely associate with, then those folks are the average of the five people they most closely associate with, meaning those folks are the average of those five people: exponential ad nauseam. Results: mediocrity, negativity, fear, unmotivation paired with demotivation, lack of expectations; these can become symptomatic to my head space.
Welcome to my cocoon. I am a the expectant caterpillar, metamorphosing into a beautiful butterfly ( I have an aptitude for triteness ). It can only done in a protective sheathe.
Mackncheeze Music Podcast # 12: with Todd Ainsworth cofounder of Seattle Country Band, Hartwood –
Bryan At Mackncheeze
Does any one remember rotary phones? My biggest challenge with those phones was lack of privacy. There was no solitude when conversing; who ever was in the kitchen or living room became an audience to conversations with girl friends. I hated that.
I remember my first debit card. It felt like The Beast was taking over civilization, creating minions of mindless citizens who no longer had to count out cash. Now there is currency based on algorithms; who knew.
I finally started talking to Siri. My Iphone face plate needs replacing and I discovered I could open apps by commanding Siri. She is the only person I’m comfortable with not thanking, but still catch myself.
The ultimate good old days: using analog and digital drums for decades before going back to acoustic.
If I’m using a loop or sample, I make my own. It’s first generation and hasn’t had its 2nd and 3rd harmonics erased and then manipulated back. The weird thing – my samples actually punch through the mix with out having to depend on much filtering.
Excuses are like armpits: everyone has two and they both stink. Doesn’t matter the subject or the situation.
Social media, brother, what a rabbit hole. How many times a day do I check my phone? Leave it up to a former smoker to fidget, having an intense need to have something at my finger tips; a great way to waste time.
Delloitte, a multinational professional services network, conducted a study on smart phone usage. They found out of 270 million smart phone users, each looks at their phone 52 times a day. That is a total of over 14 billion times each day. What a waste of time. How did we survive pre-cell phone?
How about getting lost on the internet? When I first discovered online I would be just ‘Gone’ for hours; lost in front of the screen.
The simple reason I’m not getting anything done – I’m not getting anything done. I allow constant distractions. There isn’t actionable motion; progress is only accomplished one step at a time. Spending my life away on a smart phone isn’t helping.
I started writing a blues tune called Flat Screen Zombies but never finished it. My Facebook feed blew up and, well, you know.
Adam: My first experience with digital audio was Voyetra. It was basically a MIDI orchestral arranger. Before Voyetra I was using Cakewalk for its MIDI capabilities. Do you remember how you discovered MIDI?
Adam: A buddy of mine had a Yamaha drum machine. I had a Casio CZ-101; I still have one.
Mackncheeze: We did an album with a CZ-101.
Adam: The sounds that you can get out of that thing, it’s the only place where you can get those sounds. We did so much with that thing, so much.
How I figured out MIDI was that the drum machine had MIDI in and out and I had a set of MIDI cables. The very first thing I did was use the drum machine controlling the keyboard. From there it was like, “What else can I do?”
From that point on digital audio workstations would combine both the digital element and the MIDI element.
I was already at the point where I was editing MIDI with Cakewalk, that was before audio was integrated. I was using every component of MIDI, I learned everything that it could do. If the performance wasn’t doing what I wanted I would look at another control to see how I could manipulate the response; that would get me closer to what I was hearing in my head, basically just playing around with numbers. You have the value 0 to 127 in about a thousand different places. What am I going to do, what are the combinations of 0 to 127 going to be? At the time the possibilities were endless.
Me: Do you manipulate audio transfer with MIDI?
Adam: Sometimes. One of my songs I took the vocals, I turned it into a MIDI file. I’ve got that file playing strings in unison with the vocals; and it’s dead on.
Now I consider using MIDI like ketchup; it’s an accoutrement. I don’t like ketchup; I don’t put ketchup on anything but meatloaf. Sometimes I need to make a choice of which is the more direct route to accomplishing my goal. Sometimes using MIDI is faster, sometimes manipulating the audio is faster. Mostly what I’m doing with MIDI these days is globally tweaking the velocities. I don’t do the surgical shit I used to.
I’m glad I know the surgical process because every now and then I’ve got to go in and just change one note.
Mackncheeze: I’ve never had the patience to go to that level. What made you make the transition to multi-track recording?
Adam: It just kind of happened; probably very slowly. It was one of those things where I just looked back and said, “Ten years ago I was doing that and now I’m doing this.” It wasn’t a conscious process; my abilities would outgrow the equipment that I was using. I’m like, “Okay, I’ve got to get more money to get more equipment.”
Mackncheeze: Awe, so you’re a gear slut. Tell me about your guitar processor.
Adam: It’s a DigiTech GSP 2101 which I bought in 1992. It was really ahead of its time.
This thing is not a modeling preamp, it’s a tube preamp. Every effect that is available is in there; wah to resonance to everything in between. If I could get it done with a tube amp I would use that. The DigiTech has tube distortion so if I need that crunch it’s there, there is no solid state processing. It sounds like an amp.
Me: What are your philosophies on recording?
Adam: You have to capture the mood as early as possible; without losing the mood. Get the best sound that you possibly can; get the idea down while the mood is there. The first impression is always the most important. Whatever made you want to record that idea in the first place, you’ve got to capture that, if you can capture that on tape you can recreate it.
You can learn that mood. If you can make it feel the same way, you’ve nailed it. I don’t know if I can actually do that but at least I can capture the mood, the groove and tone that inspired me in the first place. Then I get the euphoria when I do something great, now I’ve got something to build on.
Mackncheeze: What is your songwriting process?
Adam: Pretty much what I just explained; it’s never planned. Usually I’ll be getting ready to practice, I’ll turn on the amp, I’ll put on a drum loop, drag the loop out for about a hundred measures, and I just start jamming. As I’m playing along something inspires me, I will stop and press record. Most of the songs that I write, if I write a song and finish it, it’s usually right then and there. From beginning to end I have about 90% of it, the whole concept is there. Every single song is different.
I have no habits when it comes to songwriting. I could sit and just jam on rhythms for hours; work with a drum loop and just go. Why? Because it feels good and that’s it.
Mackncheeze: What are your current projects?
Adam: I’m working with John Wright, a great friend and great guy. We first met when he came over to just to do a quick 3 to 4 singer-songwriter type demo. That turned into the Stone Lantern CD. Nothing that I have written is on that CD. We took the project up to Paradise Sound in Index and had Paul Higgins lay down drums. I did all the mixing and mastering here.
Videos that Joe O’Hearn and I are working on for the Wicked Snake Bite project.
I’m working with Amy Turner.
Working with other musicians, it needs to be instinctive. Practice is everything; if you don’t practice you don’t see the results.
Mackncheeze: Some challenges you face?
These days everything takes time. The other day I was getting mad because I was thinking, “I have to work today but I have no errands to do.” I was thinking I was going to get 3 to 4 hours of practice in. It was 8:30 before I could sit down to do anything; I barely had enough time to warm up. I was too tired and not in the mood anymore. No one’s fault, it’s just the way life is.
Mackncheeze: Where do you see yourself headed? What are your motivations?
Adam: My motivation is the same that it has always been; it is to make me happy first. I don’t think of money. The ultimate goal is to just have some fun and do it. If I’m in a situation where it’s not fun anymore, if it’s getting too political, or people in the band or arguing the difference between an F or an F#, as far as I’m concerned, pick one or the other, we’re not cutting a Yes album. I refuse to argue about music; it’s not worth it, nor am I interested. I can’t motivate myself for something I’m not interested in.
If there’s decent money on the table then I might be interested other than just doing it for fun. Money can be as much a motivator as a cool voicing you’ve never played before. “Triads, you want to pay me for triads? What kind of triads do you want?”
Mackncheeze: So you’re running Sound Forge and Cakewalk? Is that a new version of Cakewalk?
Adam: It’s the new version; it’s the one that Bandlab took over. Bandlab bought Cakewalk from Gibson after Gibson pretty much abandoned it; they just stop developing it. I had paid a lifetime licensing fee for it and then Gibson dumped it.
Mackncheeze: What is it you want to say?
Adam: Music is just for everyone to enjoy, it’s not a competition, it’s not a statement, it’s not a protest. I hate protest music, some great stuff has come from it but I’m not interested in messages. I’m not against messages, obviously that would be very stupid. I just don’t need a message in the music. I grew up on Van Halen, Rush, AC DC, Judas Priest; I like instrumentals, I like jazz , there’s a lot of country I enjoy, I love the early days of rap. I can listen to some old Judas Priest and say to myself, “That was pretty Neanderthal wasn’t it?” Did they do a good job of it? Damn right they did; not a lot of deep messages there.
Good lyrics? I don’t really hear the words as much as I do the syllables; it’s like I’m color-blind in that way. I hear the syllable with the notes and if they flow that’s great. I could listen to a song my whole life and not know the words.
I don’t care what the words are, I just want the music to flow. Someone could ask me what the words to a specific Zeppelin tune are and I’d have to say, I don’t know. If someone starts singing it and I’ll say, “Oh yeah, I know that song.” If they speak the words I’ll have no idea what the song is. Music is about feeling good, I don’t care about the message.
As far as my own playing? I’m probably like every other musician, I am my own worst critic. I very rarely like my playing or what I do. If I capture the moment, I like what I did right there, something I can listen back to a lot.
Adam: I love music. I do what I say I’m going to do and that nails it. If I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it; I’m not going to tell you otherwise or act otherwise.
Mackncheeze: What got you started in all this?
Adam: Weed and Kiss. Seriously.
A friend of mine had an old Sears guitar and a Vox AC 30 amp. We didn’t know what we had. Before we knew how to make it work we would just turn up the amp feedback on the reverb and throw out obscenities. We didn’t sound any better than my six-year-old nephew who’s right now trying to learn guitar. We were having a ball; we destroyed the amp and the guitar.
We were sitting in my friend’s bedroom, listening to Kiss and I had the guitar in my hand. I played seven notes, and you know that feeling you get when the music you’re performing is just perfect, you get that high, it was like, “Hey, these things actually work.” From then on it was like, “Hey, that’s it!” The magic was there.
It’s like being addicted to a drug. Sometimes it happens in the studio, sometimes it happens on stage, sometimes it happens just thinking of an idea. I’ll be in bed thinking about something and telling myself I’ve got to record this thing.
For the rest of my life I’ve always been searching for that feeling. Ultimately, when you are playing music, you’re trying to please yourself. You hope everybody else likes it but if you please yourself then there is success. That’s what it’s all about for me. It’s such a rare occurrence and I’m trying to get back to that point again. I know it’s only going to last a minute or so, and then I spend the next three months trying to make it happen.
The best thing that ever happened was Facebook because the people that really mattered in my life, we are now all back together again. Most of us stayed involved with music one way or another. We loved every minute of it and still do. We share our projects with one another with a little more expertise than we had when we were younger.
Mackncheeze: So your high school band experience…
Adam: We had different bands; we weren’t actually doing the high school dance scene or anything. There was a group of us and we knew we were good; we were having fun playing and we knew we could play.
Mackncheeze: So tell me about your dad…
Adam: My dad is amazing. Growing up we used to hear him every single day just playing scales on piano; all scales and exercises everyday, four hours at a time. We grew up listening to virtuoso practice everyday. It was the way it was and that’s how my father lived.
We would go into Manhattan regularly and my dad would be working on some Off Broadway show. There were always good musicians and good music around the house: classical, jazz, Henry Mancini, Burt Bacharach. He would be listening to this stuff and then just rip it at practice.
I had to know where I stood on the guitar before I realized how astronomically good my father was. There was nothing he couldn’t do. Give him any tune and he could play it stylistically perfect in any interpretation: Fugue, jazz, classical, whatever he felt like doing. That’s how he played all the time, it was amazing.
Mackncheeze: Did your dad teach you? Did you go to school?
Mackncheeze: Where did you learn all your theory? You know theory backwards and forwards.
Adam: We were sick of Reno and my friend Bob Knight, who is an amazing bass player, we both moved to Washington. My dad was already here and said there was a pretty good music scene going on.
After we moved to Washington from Nevada, I went to Bellevue Community College for a year. I had been playing guitar for four years and playing in bands for regularly three.
Mackncheeze: What casino was your dad working at in Lake Tahoe?
Adam: His regular gig was playing dinner piano at the top of Harrah’s, but he would also get side gigs at other casinos. Before that he was the piano player and arranger for my grandfather’s band, The Al Tronti Orchestra, at the Sahara Tahoe. My dad played with Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Sonny and Cher, The Jackson 5, Frank Gorshin, The Carpenters, Phyllis Diller, with whoever. Think of the major acts of that era and he played with them.
After that my dad had to hustle. He came to Seattle in about 1982 or 1983 and did a 20-year stint at the SeaTac Holiday Inn playing the main dining room.
I came up in late ’84. When I had first moved to Seattle I took Bob with me to an audition for this band called The Earl White Review. Bob was getting ready to audition for the band and I was talking to Earl and he found out I was a guitar player. He asked me to bring my guitar and amp to his hotel the next night and I sat down and played with some tapes.
I was playing along with a bunch of tunes he had and he asked me if I wanted to play in the band. I said, “Oh yeah, this will be kind of interesting.” I’d only been playing for four years; I wasn’t a seasoned pro by any means. I had been playing mostly 80’s pop metal, and now all of the sudden I’m playing covers like Tina Turner, Chuck Berry, a huge amount of Motown, some goofy hits from the 40s to the mid-80s.
That was a Tuesday that I took Bob to the audition, it was a Wednesday that I sat in the hotel room and played to the cassette. Thursday I showed up for rehearsal and by Friday the guitar player and the keyboard player were gone.
I didn’t know any songs on the set list and we opened on Friday at the Cotton Club on Martin Luther King way. We were booked for a week. My plan was to follow along discreetly with the set and try to stay out of everybody’s way until I learned the music. But now I was told I had to carry the whole thing and I didn’t know any of the tunes. That night we played a lot of Blues.
I worked with Earl for about a year and then that ended because of extenuating circumstances. After my tenure with Earl I went to Bellevue Community College.
That’s where I learned theory. Because I was living with my dad at the time, if I had questions about something that didn’t sound right, he would direct me into the way I needed to go. My dad was an arranger and he was used to writing out music for an entire orchestra. He would do all the copying for each part for each instrument; every bit of it was second nature.
Mackncheeze: How did you get involved with recording?
Adam: Before I even knew how to play I would plug my guitar into my dad’s stereo quarter inch input. I didn’t have an amp at the time. It sounded like garbage. I recorded onto a little Radio Shack cassette thing. I was farting around with the cassette player, I would play something through my dad’s stereo and record it and then I would jam along with the playback. I decided it would be cool if I could record me trying to play along with those cassette recordings; I bought another cassette player.
I had this cheap little mic, I had my little practice amp, I would play back the cassette recording and jam to it and record it onto the other cassette player via the little mic.
I realized the cassette player had outputs, so I was able to accomplish a multi-track recording by recording one track into the right Channel and another track into the Left Channel. I was 15 years old and I realized I needed to do something else. I utilized that for a while before I got a 4-track cassette recorder. It was a Tascam Ministudio Porta One, which I still have.
Mackncheeze: You never got rid of it?
Adam: I keep it because I still have old recordings that I can play back.
We recorded my dad at Kearney Barton Studios in Lake Forest Park. His Studio was immaculate. He had a full size grand piano. Hendrix had recorded there a few times, among others, a veritable whose who.
I mastered my dad’s recordings on Cool Edit Pro which was freeware. I paid 10 or 20 bucks for the pro version in about 1994, 1995. I didn’t know what I was doing; I just winged it and it turned out okay.
That was my first mastering experience. For that time, it was basically a light version of sound Forge. That was my introduction to a stereo digital audio processing workstation; strictly working with stereo files. That’s when I when I made a distinction between recording and mastering. I was using DOS 2.0; this was before Windows even existed.
I just love hearing about people doing stupid things. It appeals to my twisted, satirical humor. When I heard about people drinking lysol I laughed hysterically. Yep, more candidates for the Darwin Awards. And high school kids eating soap pods, are you kidding? When I was in high school, I had more sense, I just got stoned and took drugs and drove drunk and … but eat laundry detergent? Yeah, I was a lot smarter.
Mockery, yeah, like a contact sport, I love to scoff.
Taunting, sneering, vocalizing derision for my fellow humans.
I love the word Trenchancy. It implies my behavior is incisive, keen, suggesting I am unusually caustic. Purveying effective, energetic sarcasm. I like it. I am clear cut and distinct in my level of sardonicism.
I discovered a long time ago that I flourish around folks who are less inhibited. Folks willing to expose their talents on stage have a warped, fun loving relish for life; and incredibly thick skins. Oh Lord, and an endless stream of being novel and extraordinary.
It started in high school when I hung out with the theater folks. My best friend and I worked as stage hands for the thespian group. We painted props and staging, acted as stage hands, and had great times with much laughter. They were people who understood the twist in my brain that determines my behavior.
And I learned.
These are my people-
People I feel joy being around; being comfortable with one another.
Non argumentative people, who have opinions different than my own, open to the opinions of others.
People who don’t put down others.
People open to opportunities, mine and theirs.
People who enjoy the company of my friends and family.
Those who are not envious and jealous.
Folks who listen.
No drama. Please, God, no.
Folks who do not drag down my time, whose bad choices do not affect my choices and decisions.
No such thing as perfect friends but everyone I choose to be my friend hangs in these categories.
What is the price of our relationships? I often joke that I do not have the emotional, intellectual, spiritual and financial capital for another girl friend.
I ask myself: what am I willing to spend to consummate my musical relationships?
The answer is simple yet surprisingly complex.
First: I haven’t got time to work with folks who are unpleasant. A good criteria – is this some one I would break bread with? Do they have a good heart? Is their conversation engaging? Do they like animals? Are they funny?
Second: Is there proficiency in their playing? Is there commitment? Are they able to back up words with action?
Third: Are they worth my friendship? I used to be altruistic in my musical relationships. No more.
Has any one you have worked with ever committed to a rehearsal and then not shown up? Did they even contact you?
I get that there exist extenuating circumstances.
Did you reschedule with them and have the same result? Those actions are an indication self importance. It is happened to me many times. I no longer give people power over me.
Maybe I appreciate the one trick pony. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.
In my network and associations, I have experienced superficiality among many players; they just won’t get back to me. But the moment they want something……
Anymore, I’m not jumping through hoops. Done with that circus.
Mackncheeze: When you were at the Art Institute, did you study vocals? How did you learn to sing the way you do?
Rob: A mixture of church, singing by myself, with my quarter inch reel to reel, some vocal training; at the Art Institute there was a lot of recording. At that period of my life I wasn’t really into doing music. I wanted to be a producer and make albums. I had no interest in being an artist. There was no intention.
The first time I ever started singing was at a karaoke bar when I was stationed in Japan. At that time, most karaoke bars in Japan would have Elvis songs, some Beatles songs, Johnny Mathis. This is like 1988. Back then, in Japan, karaoke was cool because everything was on a LaserDisc. They all had videos.
Some of the most amazing bands I have seen were in Japan. This one band was a Zeppelin cover band. This Japanese dude looked just like Robert Plant, his hair and the whole nine yards. He was blind and he sang just like Plant. His pronunciation was spot-on. There was a part of me that was asking, “Is he really blind?” I’m just like, wow. A high energy, amazing show. I’ll never forget them.
So the cool thing was my Aunt Dee Dee knew Jay King who was the head guy of Club Nouveau. He was in the Army and he was stationed up in Anchorage. I was working at Miramar ( Abraxas Pool, The Storm, Steve Lukather ). I was doing a few projects for him that we’re not related to Miramar. It was more R&B and rap stuff and we hooked up a few times. The initial connection was through Japan. I was off and on in Japan for two years.
I was given the opportunity to go back into broadcast journalism in Japan and be a writer for the Stars and Stripes. The catch was that I needed to re-up for 2 years. This was right before the Gulf War. I didn’t go that route.
Mackncheeze: Please give me a history of being a DJ.
Rob: I started when I was in the Marine Corps. When I wasn’t in Japan, I was in Pohon Korea. That was a cold weather training, and I was also a part of the operation Team Spirit. North Korea’s leader Kim il-sung was firing missiles in protest of the American and South Korean operations occurring at that time.
So the club DJ did not show up.
Everybody knew I was a broadcast journalist and so they said, “Hey Brewer, you have to DJ.” I crawled up in this really small square cube glass enclosure. I’m sitting cross legged, the club is packed, all the heat is rising to the ceiling. I was in this tiny little room in my own world, just getting down , throwing down all the cuts, and keeping everyone happy. I did not know it at the time, but being a DJ would be something I would end up doing.
It was all turntables back then. I was having a good old time. That was back in the day, my first real experience with turntables. I got paid a bunch of free beer. I was happy, everybody else was happy.
Mackncheeze: I find it very interesting that you sing in two different bands, doing a DJ Act as well.
Rob: Being a DJ, I am my own entity. I control my own destiny, I don’t have to pay anybody else at the end of the night, I make my own decisions. Being in a band, you can not instantly take a gig. When a gig is offered you have to call everyone up and ask who is available. Many times booking agents and club Owners need to know right away.
As a DJ I’ve never had that problem; it’s just me.
Mackncheeze: You carry a light show?
Rob: Yes. I think ambience is important. Not only do I carry lights, I carry video as well. I have a philosophy that most people are pretty much wallflowers. I think they need an icebreaker to engage them to want to dance. If I can nostalgically take you to a period, or mentally put you in a happy place, have you visually see something that makes you think of someone else, makes you think of another time, it might engage you to want to dance.
Macknceeze: Have you thought about writing books on psychology?
Rob: I think it’s important to be a good DJ but I think you have to do a little bit more in order to get people to buy into what you are doing. Being a DJ, you definitely control the mood and the tempo of the Dance Floor. Technically, I’m not the greatest DJ ever, but I know what I need to do to make it work.
I do a little scratching, but I’m more into blending and overdubbing, I’m not trying to be a turntablist.
If you’re a turntablist, people are only going to your show to see you perform. If you’re a club DJ, people are going to a club to dance. It would be selfish of me to practice turntable technique to a packed dance floor of people trying to get their groove on. It’s good to show a level of skill, whether it’s taking a song and mashing it into another song, or recreating some songs. To me what’s important is creating my own brand and originality of style.
Mackncheeze: A technical question: if you were a DJ with a live band, could you take your discs, sans CDs, using correct tempo and scratch tracks into the band’s performance?
Rob: Oh yeah. Mackncheeze: There are not many DJ s that can do that.
Rob: That’s where some of my time at the Art Institute came into this. During that time I was producing and engineering. Knowing how to lay tracks properly, knowing how to piece together songs and how to orchestrate and collaborate, that was very important on my education. It’s one thing to know how to play an instrument but it’s another thing to know how to work as a team and work together.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about the two bands you are working with…
Rob: Midnight Radio Revival, that’s a band I’ve been with for 7 years. I took over the lead vocal position around for 11 years ago. We’ve mainly been doing psychedelic Rock from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. We call it Golden Age Heavy Rock. We cover about 80 or 90 songs.
Over the past year, Doug, our lead guitarist, has written some amazing stuff. We could continue playing covers, but our new focus now is to take some of this music that’s been written, and do it in a classic rock style. We want to record it and get it out. Certain clubs do not want a cover band; they want bands with original content. There are radio shows and TV shows that love to have a bands like that. They can’t do it with bands doing covers because of licensing agreements.
I think for a lot of the people who come to the shows, they’re like saying okay, what’s next? You can only do so many covers. Our next step is to record about seven or eight original songs. We will still do covers and blend in original material. That’s our next big step.
Bands are like sports teams. At the end of the day, after piecing all the music together, it becomes a collaborative effort. In order to have success it has to be a team effort. It’s funny because music is kind of oxymoronic; a lot of it is based on self oriented concepts where there is no team.
The other band is Cold As Ice. We’re a foreigner tribute band. We have only been doing Foreigner covers. Foreigner is a 7 piece band. We have been covering all the parts as a four-piece. We have some amazing folks. We did a show together last year on the 4th of July. That was the last gig we did. We got together before this whole corona virus thing happened. We pieced together a song list of what we were going to work on. All this came about and that’s where we’re at now.
I almost had the opportunity to play in an Earth Wind and Fire tribute band called Kalimba. The manager approached me and during the interview I was told they do about 70 shows a year. Most of the shows are out of state. As a cover band they’re probably doing better than most national Acts. It was good; I was practicing all of that Philip Bailey stuff. It helped increase my range. To me, any opportunity is always a fun challenge. To be acknowledged or even thought of as being a part of that is kind of cool.
I pretty much enjoy all aspects of music. I’m always keeping my ear to the ground.
Mackncheeze: So Rob, what do you personally want to say?
Rob: Rob Brewer, aka, DJ Forrest Gump, still has a lot of music in front of him. I have a lot of things yet to accomplish. I’m looking forward to doing those things.
I am Robert Brewer, son of Shirley Brewer, grandson of Lula Bell Brewer, from Seattle Washington, born and raised in West Seattle, at High Point.
Back in World War Two, High Point was subsidized government housing for military personnel, all the way into the 90s. High point is now gentrified; now it’s $500,000 plus Homes.
I come from a family where music was a very important part of our lives. My older sister, Kathy, her father, was a local music icon in radio; his name was Burl Barer. He was on KJR for a long time. He is not my dad.
My life has jumped through a lot of hoops. I have been a radio DJ, on and off, for 25 years.
Mackncheeze: Really, what stations?
Rob: KCMU 90.3, which later became KEXP, and KLSY 92.5. My first internship was at KFOX. 1250 AM. That was when I was in college. Bob Wickstrom was president of Bailey’s School of Broadcasting. He asked me if I would like to intern at KFOX. I would run from The Art Institute to KFOX to do it. I stayed there until the station went off the air.
Some of the first records I ever had were from my mom and my dad. When I was three, I remember my mom playing Sly and the Family Stone. One of my first vivid memories is hearing the song, Stand.
Mackncheeze: That’s a cool memory man. I love Sly Stone.
Rob: Stand, I Want To Take You Higher, those are really the first memories of my life. As I grew older I would listen to more and more of my mom’s and my aunt’s music.
My grandma loved Hee Haw. So I watched Hee Haw, Lawrence Welk, and a little bit of the Grand Ole Opry. The folks from my mom’s side are from Little Rock Arkansas and St. Louis Missouri, as well as the Mississippi Delta area. In my back ground there is some Creole, Native American, and a little bit of Haitian.
Mackncheeze: You got the turntables, you got the vinyl, that’s awesome, man.
Rob: My mom had these records which I have kept till today. My mom and my dad wrote on the album sleeves. I cherish those albums because I really feel like I have a connection with them. Through these pieces of vinyl, to me, that’s really the only true connection I have with my dad.
As a child, watching TV, my grandma always used to record me singing Michael Jackson songs; ABC, I Want You Back, stuff like that. I pray those recordings have been destroyed.
In recording, if you don’t get used to you the sound of your voice, you are going to have to either accept it or forget about it.
My aunt Catherine was the music collagist of our family. She was an amazing woman. Her life and music, in a weird, chronological way, went along with the albums she collected. I have all these older Fats Waller albums. I have a Quincy Jones 78 disc. It is a recording of Quincy’s band when he was stationed at Fort Lewis. My aunt would not only give me vinyl but tell me stories that went along with each one, how they were purchased, how each artist inspired her and why she liked them. My mom was into The Supremes, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix.
Mackncheeze: What influence started you performing?
Rob: I was the only boy in the house. I grew up in a house full of women; me, my mom, my grandma and my sister. If I wanted to hang out in the house I either had to be in my bedroom or I would be doing chores. My other choices were down at the gym or down at the park playing.
My mom gave me all of her vinyl. Some days, Seattle being drenched with rain, I would spend part of the day at the gym and spend afternoons and evenings listening to albums.
One day, my mom got me a quarter inch reel to reel tape deck. I started experimenting with recording. I would take my record player and record sounds, just goof around. Those were my early recordings.
Through a buddy of mine I got a body of a Gibson SG. There was a record record shop called Zobrist. Zobrist is the first place Jimi Hendrix got a guitar. I bought all my guitar components there. When I was 13 or 14 years old, I built my first guitar, a copy of a Gibson SG.
When I started going to High School I saved up some money, my mom helped me and I took guitar lessons. I took lessons at a place called The Rosewood guitar. That was in the U District. After school and in between playing basketball I would go there and learn guitar.
I was a decent athlete and I wanted to play basketball at Roosevelt. In the early and mid eighties Roosevelt was the number one team in the state. I had been going to private school most of my life; I wasn’t part of the Seattle public school system. That gave me an option to go wherever I wanted to go.
I would get out of class at 2, basketball practice would be at 5:30. A lot of times I would go to a place on the Ave called Kennelly Keys. The Rainbow was across the street. I would go and jam out on different guitars. After practice I would go back to the Rainbow and listen to bands play. The one band I enjoyed and listened to a lot was Robert Cray.
After High school I played basketball at Shoreline Community College. We weren’t good; we went 8 and 20 or 7 and 21 something like that, we were really bad. That was the first time in my life I had ever played on a losing team. It was unfortunate, we had some really, really good players who got caught up partying too hard.
I went into the Marine Corps which really was not my first choice. When I first started at Shoreline I had applied into ROTC Army officer training program. I felt like the process was taking too long . I remember one day I went across the hall to the Marine Corps and signed up. That was in 1988. The day after my mom’s birthday I shipped off to boot camp. Believe me that was an experience and a half.
I was in the Marine Corps for four years.
I had decent scores so my original job was a broadcast journalist. The Marine Corps School of Journalism is at Syracuse University. Towards the end of boot camp I had to take my school of Journalism tests. I was just trying to finish boot camp and I wasn’t ready to take all these tests. In the middle of physical training I was not able to focus; there was no chance to study. The only thing I was brushing up on was cleaning my M16.
They decided to send me to Wire and Comm School At Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Part of Comm School is that you spend three or four weeks climbing telephone poles. Most of those poles are 40 or 50 feet off the ground. The pole yard had tons of wood chips spread across the ground so if we fell 40 feet down we wouldn’t break a neck.
Mackncheeze: Did you ever fall?
Rob: Hell, yeah, I fell down many times. We were provided boots and climbing gaffs; it was never a hundred percent free fall. Poles can be really slippery, especially in the rain, especially with a lot of humidity. Where I lived in North Carolina there could be days of 90% humidity. Five, ten feet off the ground, you’re drenched in sweat.
Towards the end of my time in the military, a really good buddy of mine who has passed away, used to work at The Improv. The Improv was a comedy club that is now the Showbox.
I was doing security there. I started doing that on one of the last times I was home on leave. Larry Harris, the owner of the Improv, he used to own a couple of recording labels named Buddha and Oasis. Larry and his first cousin created a record label called Casablanca. He used to manage Kiss. Two of his other bands were Parliament and Funkadelic.
I started going to the Art Institute when I first got back. I was studying music and video production. I was inspired by one of my good friends, Russ, a super great guitar player. His group was called Bitter End. They were a heavy metal band. They were one of the last heavy metal bands pre grunge in the Seattle area. I remember seeing them on MTV when I was stationed in North Carolina. It was really cool to see my friend on National Television.
The Art Institute was one of those organizations where people would come to the school because they were infatuated with Grunge music; people seeking a musical education for not all the right reasons. For me, going into it was for all the right reasons. I knew my limits; in order to advance I knew I needed a higher level of musical education. So a combination of me going to the Art Institute and working with my friend Russ in Bitter End, and also working at The Improv , having a mentor like Larry Harris, from Casablanca, really helped me connect all the dots of entertainment. Working with Larry was not just about the whole business of music, but included the whole business of comedy and the whole business of dining.
Times were when I used to envy my married friends. But enough about my thirties. When I hit forty it was like, “What was I thinking?”
I’ve been told I would be a good father. Yeah, maybe when I cared. Now I’m selfish and jealous with my time. Life’s priorities have moved from, “I want to make time for someone,” to, “How much time is left?”
I do not live by a honey do list. It’s the, “If I don’t do it now, it won’t get done,” list.
I’m not complaining. Life is good. Life is exciting. I marvel at the timing of all going in my little world. What a blessing. Truly, my head spins at the possibilities.
Pardon me, but I sometimes forget an ordinary human being is not interested in sitting down for hour upon hour trying to perfect an imperfection. Basic nature of artistic endeavor of any sort requires lots of time spent by one’s self, working out a path of accomplishment. Social Distancing.
Wood Shedding, the old timers called it, spending hours in the back wood shed, away from the house, practicing. For me, its like, duh.
I had to learn how to conquer impatience. I always wanted to be really great but I wanted it right now. Repetitive failure inspired me to make a perpetual habit of practicing. Perfect practice makes perfect, as the adage goes; a great truth.
I have a friend who is actually a real engineer. Unlike me, he knows the inside and out of all his gear. He will unassemble a piece of equipment, replace necessary components, and reassemble. Add the fact that he is an accomplished musician, song writer and producer. The real deal.
How many times has he rotated the ten thousand hour rule?
The average person isn’t interested in these kind of commitments. I identify this as a quest for perfection. That perfect song, perfect mix, perfect rhythm section, perfect performance. All it takes is patience.
Yes, I want it right now. Why do I have to wait? Why must I fail? Why is it so hard?
In my entire life, my kids are the best thing that’s ever happened. My kids are centered and focused and on their way and they are artists. I told them if you’re not ready to go to college, don’t go to college. Their college is paid for, they don’t have to worry about it. My son said he didn’t want to go, he hates school. I said don’t go. Right now he is making wine with me. He is going to Europe with his sister and when he gets back he’ll be working harvest.
I’m a kid who grew up in the state of Washington. I’ve lived here my entire life. I have walked into pretty much all of my opportunities. I’m someone who wants to be the best human who I can possibly be. I have been able to chose from opportunities that have presented themselves. I am so lucky, so lucky.
Mackncheeze: Everyone that I talk to, who are at the top of their game, says the same thing.
Tom: We don’t make a lot of wine. It’s amazing to pull it off at 4,500 cases. We have three full-time employees. I love my staff, I have the best staff ever. They are beautiful people. They love their job.
I love all the moving parts. I get to do everything. I get to manage people, I get to work on the financial side and the marketing side.
I get up every day and get to work by 7:45 or 8. I take my dog for 45 minutes and we walk the orchards and vineyards. It’s so beautiful. I might see a four-wheeler or a tractor but there won’t be any people or cars.
I love the people I work with, the people I deal with, it’s especially about managing relationships. Life, when you throw in wine, is so much more fun. Everywhere I go I take wine and make new friends; not always but most times.
Mackncheeze: How do you draw the line between science and Alchemy?
Tom: Humans are 90% sensory-based. As winemakers, if it doesn’t smell good or taste good, people are not going to want to drink it. I just don’t pay attention to what numbers say. I have never been a proponent of scores.
I tasted wines the other day and I said to myself, it’s just not a good day to be tasting. It’s like playing music, sometimes your guitar sounds out of tune when it’s not.
Mackncheeze: Back to the science thing: What part of your career did you embrace the science of making wine?
Tom: The whole time. At this point I don’t use as much science. I’ve dialed it down to – what is it do we need to know.
Before we make a picking decision, as far as longevity of the wine goes, we are looking at the balances of our sugars and PH s. It changes every year. That’s pretty much what we look at before we pick grapes. After we pick grapes, we use chemical analysis to see if we need to make any changes. We test, we cross-flow everything, test before and after filtering. We have gotten away from using commercial yeast. We will let things ferment on their own.
We call our wines uninoculated, that’s the fairest way to state it. Most natural yeast cannot finish a fermentation of wine that is over 22 brix, the alcohol will be too high. Most natural yeast cannot handle that much alcohol.
We use an outside source for testing. We run tests at the beginning and end of fermentation. It’s nuts, every year the results come back differently. Two years ago our Merlot fermented dry with a white wine yeast. Last year we had a wine that fermented dry with a yeast we have never used before, it had never even been in the winery.
Tom : That’s technology and the applications we use.
When it comes down to picking decisions, walking in vineyards, I know what the numbers are. We’re just walking through and asking ourselves, how does the fruit taste? What are the chemical constituents of the skins and seeds? That’s the art part of what we do.
Mackncheeze: Hypothetical question: You’re a Roman winemaker two thousand years ago, with your vineyards, how would you approach wine making?
Tom: I’d have to see what kind of equipment they had. I think criterion would be the same: Does it smell good? Does it taste good? I guess I wouldn’t be worried so much about cost.
Mackncheze: You understand the history of what you’re doing. Tom: Where did Syrah come from? Mackncheeze: It would have been Persia? Tom: Legend has it the Phoenicians brought Syrah to Europe from around present day Syria.
Mackncheeze: As an entrepreneur, as an artist winemaker, what is it you would like to say?
Tom: The main thing is, I wish people were more aware of what was the last wine that they were drinking. I think about it all the time, I really do. I want wines that I make to taste like the person who made them loves their job. I see so many people in this industry, to them, it’s just a business. I want people to understand that there’s a difference between my $25 of Cabernet and my competitors $20 bottle of cab; there’s a huge difference. We truly care about what we do. We take every step to make sure that the wines are true to what they are. A customer will know where our wines are from and know how they’re produced. I saw an ad for the sale of 75,000 gallons of Cabernet. No consumer is going to know its source. That’s wine manufacturing.
Mackncheeze: Lot of that going on.
Tom: I want people to know we make our own wine. Only three people touch it. What we do is our testimony. We Care.
Mackncheeze: This has been great.
Tom: Yeah, this has been fun. I always tell people I like answering questions because it helps me to remember what I know.
This interview involved sharing a bottle of 1998 St. Innocent PinotNoir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.
Mackncheeze: Tell me about the kids and playing music?
Tom: They both grew up playing instruments. My son played trumpet for a year and didn’t really like it. My daughter, Amelia, played Cello. She had her great-grandmother’s Cello. She played cello for a couple of years and is pretty good.
A couple of years ago I thought, I’m going to buy Winston drums. I bought him a drum set for graduation; he loved them.
It was really strange because my buddy Jared, I was out to dinner with him one night, and he asked me, do you know anyone who wants to buy a bass? I said I would. Two hundred bucks and a case of wine later, I got a bass.
I already had a Stratocaster and acoustic guitar. So we have electric guitar, bass and drums. Winston and I would start playing a little, and my daughter started playing bass. It’s one of the most awesome things in the world to come home after work and have my children be there. I walk into the basement and I say, oh my God, I love my children. They love it.
I bought Amelia her own bass. I didn’t know what to get her for her 18th birthday, I just didn’t know. I was perplexed; I was in Spokane and I went to the guitar store, and said, “Hey, I’m getting her a bass.”
I figured she would like a black one, it would be cool for her. When I gave it to her it was the best thing in the world. She was so happy and so excited. I gave her a bass amp. She can practice at home and also play at my house. It’s one of my favorite things in the whole world. I love it
Mackncheeze: For you, what sparked your interest in playing music?
Tom: I started playing piano when I was in second grade. I really didn’t like it but at the same time I liked it. In sixth grade I started playing trumpet. I liked trumpet a lot but then my music teacher quit. Then I did shop and pottery.
My former music teacher came back and he asked me why I quit band. I said, “Because you left and I didn’t like the other guy.” He asked, “Will you come back? I don’t need a trumpet player but I do need a baritone player.” I said okay and I went back to band class.
When I went to high school I didn’t see any baritone players in jazz band. So the band instructor told me he would buy me a valve trombone. In my freshman year of high school I played valve trombone. The next year he told me I needed to play regular trombone. So my sophomore year I played regular trombone and my junior year he bought a bass trombone. By my senior year I said, I’m just going to smoke weed and play Hacky Sack.
Mackncheeze: ( Gut Laugh ) How did you become intrigued with wine?
Tom: I got married in 1995 and moved to Walla Walla seven days later, no job. I started working at the Walla Walla Country Club. Mornings I mowed Greens, afternoons worked the pro shop (this is pre children) and I worked the clubhouse at night. Finally the golf pro asked me to work full time. I passed my players test and entered the PGA as a Club Professional.
Tom: And then he got fired. I said to myself, I don’t want to work for anyone else and I don’t want to do this anymore. So I got a job as a commercial loan officer at Banner Bank. In that time I met Eric Dunham. He was living on the top floor of L’Ecole 41. It was a small world thing because I gave Marty and Megan Clubb and their daughter golf lessons. I also gave Megan’s parents golf lessons, so I knew them all. When I was in between jobs, Eric called up and asked me if I could help out at L’Ecole. Eric was beginning to open Dunham Cellars.
When I worked at the Country Club, part of my job was to act as the host part of the winemakers golf tournament. There were only eight wineries at that time. I started at L’Ecole in 1998. Rick Small, Chris Doucet and John Abbott would come out and play golf. Jean Francois played as well, so this got pretty big.
I was helping out at L’Ecole and Marty asked if I knew anyone who would want to work there and I said I would.
I hooked up with Mike Corliss. We started talking and he said if I ever wanted to do a winery let him know. That was a great opportunity . That was in 2001 that I started with Mike. In the process of ordering fruit, I contacted Tom Waliser, he has a vineyard in the Rocks. Andrew Will had to back out of a fruit purchase, so I called Tom and he said, “Come down and pick up some fruit.” He then asked if I would be interested working for him making wine.
For two full harvests I was making wine for both Tom Walesir and Mike Corliss. There wasn’t a production facility for either winery. The first vintage of Corliss and Beresan were made at L’Ecole 41, which was great because I was helping Marty out and simultaneously making my own wine. We did that in 2001 and 2002. In 2003 I left Corliss and started with Ash Hollow; that was a short-lived brand.
Mackncheeze: I’ve never even heard of it
Tom: I got to manage 50 acres of vineyards so that was good. I learned a lot about growing grapes and vineyard management.
Mackncheeze: So you just fell into this?
Tom: Yeah the whole thing. When I worked at L’Ecole they sent me to school at UC Davis. When I first got there I had no idea what they were talking about. When I went back the next year it kind of made sense. Year three, I got it; between schooling and practical application is what set it straight.
Mackncheeze : So you have no degree? Practical experience is the whole thing?
Tom: Yep, at that time, most people in Walla Walla learned how to make wine by making wine.
I was at Ash Hollow in 2003 to 2004. In 2004 my dad passed and I said to myself, I’ve got to do my own thing. I was tired of working for other people. So I quit and found an investor who helped me start my winery. I was just about ready to pull the trigger on that deal and my buddy Mike Sharon, who was the winemaker at L’Ecole 41 said, “Why don’t I help you out.”
In 2005 we started Balboa Winery with $40,000.
Mackncheeze: Really, that’s nothing.
Tom: Tom Waliser helped a lot. He created space for me so that I could vinify wine. We were the first people to use screw caps in Walla Walla.
Mackncheeze: Really? I haven’t seen any of your wines with screw caps.
Tom: I have four wines with screw caps.
I like the concept. I think it’s a much better capsule. The wines age fine. That’s the big thing, before it goes in the bottle, you have to make wine correctly.
Mackncheeze: That’s what you’re all about, making wine correctly.
Tom: Two and a half years ago we merged Beresan Wines and Balboa Wines.
I was thinking about this earlier. I love my job now more than I ever. I get to hang out with really great folks. I love playing golf, I love playing guitar, I love making wine, these are things which will never be perfect. I can always try to be better.
This is my 22nd year of wine making. I love walking through Vineyards and tasting grapes and running the numbers. I love the group of people who go through a harvest together, it’s seven days a week, 12 hour days, you become extremely close with that group of people. Some of my closest friends are people I have worked with during harvest.
I could go on for days.
The whole relationship between sunshine and dirt and plants and temperature, I mean, it’s different every single year. You have to be able to adapt. You can’t make wine the same way every year. That’s what I love about wine, we are always trying to capture wine at its peak regardless of vintage. Last year was tricky. It was a cooler; the fruit was ripe but sugar levels were low. Physically, the grapes were ready to go, so we picked. A lot of wineries did not.
Mackncheeze: The wine was more complex?
Tom: Yeah it was. I like cooler vintages. The 2011 vintage wines are still great. They will be great longer than the wines from 2015. I would never say one vintage is necessarily better than the rest, it’s always a reflection of what that year was. That’s why we make wine the way we do. Our wines reflect vintage; this is what we were given.
Scores are very challenging. How are you supposed to score wine if you haven’t been part of the process? You weren’t there, how do you know? You don’t know the soils, you don’t know the harvest, you don’t know the vineyards. There could have been six 100-point wines in that release because that’s the best you could have done with both grapes and vintage. It’s extremely difficult to judge a great wine unless you know how it was made.
You want to talk about the art side of what I do? It truly is an art; I mean, we’ve decided to use as few of commercial products as possible. That decision we made because we feel our wine is more like a wine should be. A lot of wine making is just a job; some winemakers make a wine because its profile is predetermined.
As a young winemaker, I was geared towards younger wines, but now I think it’s much more fun to drink older wines. I have wines I made in 98 and 99, it’s so fun to try them.
Mackncheeze: How you feeling about them?
My office is in a wine library. In that room I’m surrounded by every bottle of wine I’ve made for Beresan. I remember the sense of all the work, this is where I was, this is what went on that year. It’s great, I love it.
I remember when I dumped a cup of coffee over a hard drive recorder, AAARG! Thank God it was creamless. One week under a blow dryer cured that potential disaster. Hats off to the manufacturer for apparent musician proof design.
When on stage as a warm up band for national and international acts, my stomach would come up my throat. Problem is, it’s not fair to be comparing yourself with someone else’s success, misunderstanding the travails they are going through.
Lets not talk about relationships. Enough said.
I have spent decades failing in many endeavors. If failure is the building block of character, I should now be incredible and unshakable.
When I first started contributing to the Mackncheeze Music Blog, I thought I’d just give a few stories from the front lines of Seattle’s early 90’s heyday, or give a personal story of how music has affected my life. What I didn’t expect was that our lives would be turned upside-down in a matter of weeks, nor witness a health and economic disaster, a scale not seen in my lifetime of nearly 52 years.
While the health of ourselves, family and those around us should be first priority, we are losing much more. Because of our Governor’s mandated shut down orders, unemployment has risen sharply due to so many businesses being affected, either directly, or indirectly. For weeks to come, performances of live music, plays, musicals, ballet, art galleries, movie theaters and much more, have been cancelled.
Art and music obviously are considered “non-essential.” I’m not going to sit here and try to argue the point when people are dying by the thousands. We all need to do our part to stop the spread of this virus. However, we must remember, for our souls, art IS essential.
Many years ago, in the late 1980’s, I was working full time and going to school at night. On weekdays, I didn’t get home until 10 p.m. and was back to work mornings before 8 a.m. There was a show coming and I was a fan of this new band – Jane’s Addiction. On a week night, it was going to have Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone opening. I seriously thought about going, but decided I would just be too tired; I’d catch them next time around. You can probably guess…something like that didn’t come around again. Soundgarden went on to superstardom, Jane’s Addiction got huge and started Lollapalooza, Andrew Wood passed away and in the ashes of Mother Love Bone rose a little band you may have heard of…Pearl Jam.
Likewise, about a year or so later, a good friend had an extra weeknight ticket to see Stevie Ray Vaughn. My excuse was the same…work, school, tired, catch him next time. Three months later, Stevie died in a helicopter crash.
I decided my new mantra was going to be – “If I want to see a show, I’m going to – no excuses.” From that point on, I decided that music was too important to take for granted. It’s important to me; it is important, period!
When we come out the other side of this crisis, when clubs open up again, theaters raise curtains, touring bands start up buses and art galleries start letting you in, remember what its been like for the last month. Think on of what we’ve been missing out. Don’t take it for granted because you never know what the future holds. You could be about to witness something that happens once-in-a-lifetime, or the artist may not be around “next time” – so make your choice (only you know what is important to you). Make it with a new awareness for how fleeting our opportunities truly are. Tell the people you love, you love them. Pet your dog.
Stay safe out there and maybe I’ll see you at a show soon…when again we can share the experience together. Thanks for reading!
I’m astounded at what a comfort zone drama can be. Personally, I try to minimize conditions which allow for its growth.
Politics, avoid politics. Some folks crave ongoing bad news and having vitriol for public figures. Yes, it is deserved, but there are more interesting subjects that get my panties tied into a knot. I have no presence of mind for stupid words coming from mouths of politicos who never deserved my energy or attention.
Media is also prone to drama. From both left and right, there is constant complaining about how bad things are. I choose not ingest their “news” or commentary.
Ongoing bitching seems to abound in profusion. “So and so did this”, or, “What’s His Name is such a creep,” over and over again. For God’s sake, get away from those people; stop thinking about them.
What are the motives behind this behavior?
Why have that sort of association?
I haven’t resources for ongoing bad attitudes. My clock is ticking fast; ongoing theater is not a luxury.
A question: is First World whining a fear of unfamiliar territory and not having a willingness to escape it?
John Passerelli Has Been Local Force In The Seattle Area For Decades
Mackncheeze: My first question-who are you?
John: I have some cute answers. I consider myself to be, how do I put this, a positively charged rhythmic and melodic confluence of heart and mind. That’s my musical self, which is most of it. It’s what I have been doing my whole life. There isn’t much else except motorcycles and dogs and women and alcohol.
I’m very simple, I don’t need a lot to get by.
The last couple of years I’ve been living a bachelors life. Myself and two other room mates, musicians; they’re both bass players.
Mackncheeze: Wow, two bass players in one house.
John: I know, as long as I get the girls.
Mackncheeze: I’m glad that’s working for you. What kind of dreams or aspirations are you focused on?
John: When I was young I had very big dreams. Especially with music. When you’re good at it, and you’re in a decent band, people take notice. You would like to think you could take it to the next level. I know a lot of people who aspired to that and never achieved it and a lot of them just don’t play any longer. I could never do that.
My aspiration is not necessarily success oriented but to keep enjoying music. It pacifies me when I’m angry or down. Music, you know, is more than something to just listen to. I stick with music and I just want to keep doing it as long as I can and to keep playing with people I like; having fun, not taking it too seriously.
I’m primarily a stage performer. I’ve got a couple of albums under my belt with other bands, but my home is on stage. I feel a little less comfortable with studio work. The problem with studios is the pressure of time constraints.
As long as I can connect with people at a venue, if somebody appreciates what I’m doing, when I play I can see it in their faces. After a show, when they come to talk to me, that is some of the best payment I can get. I’m done with trying to get money from it even though I earn more now than I ever have. It keeps me from working too hard at a day job.
Its a good plan; I have always wanted to be part time employed and part time music. Life isn’t worth working yourself to the bone unless it makes you happy.
Mackncheeze: You were at the top of the Seattle Grunge scene?
John: Yeah, we were called Paisley Sin. We weren’t Grunge enough. We were a little more pop oriented, we could play different styles in one show. There were a lot of bands that made it, per se, that were more one dimensional.
We had our moment. We went down to L.A. a couple of times and met some lawyers at Capitol Records. It didn’t work out; they signed Blind Melon instead. Look it where that got ’em. Their lead singer, Shannon Hoon, overdosed on a tour bus. Everyone from Paisley Sin is still alive.
Mackncheeze: There’s a lot to be said for that.
John: Paisley Sin’s lead singer Gerry Smith and I have worked together for thirty years. I’m working with him in Sweet Emotion.
Mackncheeze: Our friend, Eric Ritts, just did NAMM as an exhibitor for Marco Bass Guitars. You’ve been to NAMM?
John: Eric’s great, I went to high school with Eric.
Yeah, it was a work thing, it was still a lot of fun. I was with THD Electronics. Andy Marshall, he’s a friend of mine, I’ve known him 30 years; I was one of his first clients.
NAMM was a lot of work. We brought our own isolation booth; they won’t let you play very loud without one. If people wanted to test one of our amps, we had a room for them. It was pretty cool; it had its own air conditioner and everything.
We shared a booth with O’Donnell Custom Guitars from Australia. Craig is a great guy. He didn’t give me a guitar, though.
Mackncheeze: You digging that Marco Telecaster?
John: I love that thing, man. There’s something I want to say about Marco Guitars. The reason I like that Telecaster so much is because there is a connection between the player and the instrument; there has to be. If it’s natural right off the bat you are ahead of the game. You’re going to be inspired by not fighting it. When I picked up that guitar, it fit me, I knew I was going to enjoy it for a long time. That’s the greatest thing. Those axes are something special and they should make more.
John: Sweet Emotion. We’re an Aerosmith Tribute Band. We had all kinds of shows booked from March on out.
A side project I have going on is called ZZ/DC. Its pretty self explanatory. We’re not doing stylistic interpretations like Hayseed Dixie; a little bit of ZZ Top and a little bit of AC/DC.
There was Guilty Pleasure; we worked hard on that band. We had two female singers and a different collection of songs; a lot of stuff I had never heard. I learned all this stuff I had never played before and it was fun.
Mackncheeze: What have been some of your biggest struggles?
John: Wow, yeah, interpersonal band member things. A band is like a relationship with four other girl friends, or what ever. I have learned not to carry grudges. Its too easy and humans are really good at it. People leave the band to start their own thing and its like, “Wait a minute, we had a good thing.” I can’t hold it against them.
Mackncheeze: Not holding a grudge is super important.
John: It takes a while to learn. Some people never learn it.
Mackncheeze: What is it that you personally want people to know?
John: That’s a rough one, man, because I really do this for myself. I just want people to know that I will do it if they will appreciate it. That’s my reason for doing it, someone getting off on it.
You got to take the negative criticism as well.
Mackncheeze: Whats your musical education?
John: I started playing trumpet in third grade. I played trumpet for eight years ending up on the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble. We took first place in Reno two years in a row. There was a transition, there at the end, where I started playing guitar, and I let go of trumpet.
Mackncheeze: By the time you reached high school you probably had put in your first ten thousand hours?
John: Yeah. When I was 8, 9, 10 ,11, 12 and 13, I was playing in concert bands and symphony. Jazz band made it clear it would be a lot more fun. The band director told me I was one of the best sight readers he had ever seen.
When I picked up guitar, all my reading skills were put aside. I became completely ear trained.
I was sucked in by Rock n Roll: Robin Trower, Jimi Hendrix, AC/DC, Rush; anything with good guitar work. I started out playing covers before moving to originals.
At first I absorbed a lot of really good styles and all that has coalesced in to a style of my own.
After High School, I briefly went to college. Pre Engineering, at Western and the University of Washington. I just wasn’t that into it. That didn’t work out, so I took some time off, and then I went to Shoreline and studied music for two years. It was fun, but I was already ahead of most people. I was a working professionally, having recorded in big time studios, had done some studio engineering. I was like the Golden boy. I knew my shit. But what I really came away with was two years of theory. I already knew what it was, I used it all the time, I could recognize all these things I was already doing.
I’m always looking to break the rules. These days I don’t take theory too seriously. I’m not very modal. I’m a Blues Guy. If it sounds good I’ll make it work.
Mackncheeze: You sing very well; did you have vocal training?
John: Nope. In fact, I played guitar for fifteen years before I started singing. It started coming easier, because I was working on original music. I didn’t have to be some one else. I’ve been working with Gerry and we are connected well. I know his nuances.
I think there is much more magic in original music, whether or not a person is a very good song writer, its something to believe in and to be more attached. The magic is when you can get four people to make a song happen on the fly. It’s inspirational. That one idea makes me do something , then the bass player joins in, then drums, pretty soon you have written a pretty cool song with out even trying. That is the magic.
Sometimes the process is not collaborative. Sometimes someone brings in a great idea and wants to try it and we do it.
The other part of magic is the spontaneous combustion. Everybody should want to do both; bring in an idea to bounce it off one another or to go off in the moment. That’s the fun; that’s when you’ve found the right people. It’s whether or not they are your friends.
I’ve gone back to just playing with my friends.
We are going to release our music, we’re just going to give it away, it doesn’t matter, we’ll put it out there and hopefully somebody likes it, ’cause that’s what its about. You’re playing music to connect; there are far too many people that play great music and nobody hears it.
Mackncheeze: Do you consider yourself a prolific song writer?
John: I haven’t written a lot of lyrics in my life, but yes, as for music, I have unused ideas from years back. There is stuff floating around that I want to do something with. Then there’s the fact that I can just noodle something into existence.
Used to be I would get my best ideas from just watching TV. You’re just so disconnected.
Mackncheeze: You’re subconscious just zeros in….
John: You’re not contrived, hardly paying attention to what you’re doing. But then you have to go, oh, wait a minute, that was cool. Then you repeat it and hold on to it and keep it. I have lost so many of those things in my life by not remembering them, not recording them.
There are some that are still there, that are awesome, and all I can say is, one of these days.
Mackncheeze: What’s another part of the song writing process?
John: I trust my ear and the theory I learned in college. Things I listen to, things that influence me. Sometimes things that are new enter me. I would never change my style but new ideas infiltrate my writing process. It’s an intuitiveness that I have.
I really just go with the flow. Some days I write, some days not; some days I feel inspired, some days not. Though I never quit. Some of my best recorded work has been in inspirational, improvised solos.
Mackncheeze: What are some of the most influential shows you have ever seen?
John: Getting back to that Blues thing, in my youth, I was really in to Southern Rock. Back in the old days I saw ZZ Top, The Outlaws, Molly Hatchet, 38 Special, The Allman Brothers; I cut my teeth on that. It was fun; there was a lot of guitar work . Sometimes there were three guitars, a lot of bands with two drummers.
Mackncheeze: What would you like to say?
I want to write a book someday. It’s going to be called, Why Am I Still Here?
Mackncheeze: John, this has been a great interview, man. This was really a lot of fun. Thank you.
It might seem odd that I would do a book review on a subject that we all are familiar with. I couldn’t resist. Shopping at the local bookstore, title screaming at me, I had to pick it up.
Turns out Harry G Frankfurt is a Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. His resume is filled with a Who’s Who list of schools including Rockefeller University and Yale. I had no idea this fellow was such a heavy weight. Imagine my surprise when I discovered On Bullshit had been a best seller and Professor Frankfurt had appeared on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. I thought it was just going to be a cheeky expose on a fairly common subject.
On first examination, there are 67 very small pages. Having no understanding of the author, my first impression was that this was light weight material. I flipped through some pages just to get a feel for it’s subject matter and found my self chuckling, then laughing uproariously.
Quotations from St. Augustine, Max Black and Ludwig Wittenstein are interesting. Evidently, B.S. has been a foundation of culture through the ages.