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.
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.
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.
Marco: ( Laughs ) Somebody crazy ( More Laughter ).
Why was Jesus a carpenter? When God had the ark of the covenant built, He made it from wood, covered with gold. I believe wood represents mankind and gold represents God’s purity covering mankind.
Why did He do that; wood covered with gold? Jesus was a carpenter. He is the gold that covers us.
I tell people, misery is a good teacher; you learn things you can’t imagine.
I come from a very rural part of Brazil. There wasn’t a lot of money. I started to make instruments because I was playing in my church.
Mackncheeze: How old were you when you started?
Marco: Fourteen. I started to play guitar. The church I played at had one really bad bass . I would take it home and bring it back before service. I tried to buy a bass with credit but didn’t have enough income. I decided I wanted to make my own.
I could not afford the instrument so out of necessity I started building basses. At that time all the good instruments were coming from other countries. Good instruments were the equivalent of buying a decent car. I had no tools, it was crazy, but I had a drill. I drew out the body on a piece of wood and then drilled out the body like a stamp. I would use a file to file out the shape.
I said to myself, “If Fender can build a bass, why not me? I’m a man just like he is? Why not?” My friends told me I was crazy, “You’re never going to make a bass better than Fender.”
So I started building one; I had no information. At that time there was no internet. I tried to figure it out.
The first basic idea is to have a truss rod. Because I had no information I had to figure out how to do things.
As a musician, if you don’t have information about music in the world, you still have the heart of a musician. You create your own music, you develop your own style.
By the time I was able to collect information on how others were doing it I had established my own style.
Hendrix played left handed on a right handed guitar. He had his own style. He had the drive to be a player; he had to figure out how to do it. A player can play exactly like another.
I used to make my pickups in Brazil. I did not have good materials. I had to push myself to make something good. I had a lot of wood but no magnets or wire.
I had to work with materials that were inferior in quality, coming up with results that worked, finding my own way to do it. By the time I moved to the USA I had established my techniques and now had materials available. With quality materials I could apply my own style.
In Brazil, I did not have tools. I had to learn to make my own tools; everything form scratch, even down to paints and lacquers.
Mackncheeze: You made your own lacquers? My Lord!
I started living in West Seattle. I could not find a job because my English wasn’t good.
Mackncheeze: How is you’re Portuguese? You’re Portuguese Good?
Marco: So, so ( Laughs ).
I ended up working construction. Very heavy outdoor work. One day one of my co-workers asked why I was so happy.
Let me explain: in Brazil work is much harder, much heavier. Here, work is much lighter. Misery is a good teacher.
Bass is a weird instrument. Bass is an instrument working with other voices in music. Look at music as a graphic. You have the four voices of basic theory. The primary job of the bass is to play the root. In a trio bass has much more freedom, but in a four piece, you have to content yourself not to overplay.
Music is about the moment.
Mackncheeze: What is it that drives you?
Marco: Being a Luthier; it’s a little crazy. For an example: you’re a drummer, what motivates you? You spend an hour after a show tearing down gear, there’s no money in that, but it’s the passion and love, that’s why you do it. Its not logical.
Building an instrument is the same because it is difficult business wise. I’m not going get rich off of this.
Working with the musicians I do, some of the ones I endorse, this is very good. Whats good is because they are real players. They are in love with what they do.
As a successful musician, to make money, generally you have to play music that other people like. It’s the same for me. First I made instruments for me. That’s where I started. Now I make instruments for others and end up tweaking the process as I go along.
Mackncheeze: What are some of your struggles?
Marco: Being a luthier is hard because being a luthier is not very different from being a musician. It’s how I divide what I’m doing for myself and what I’m doing for my clients. Basically it becomes what people can pay me. I have to down grade some guitars in order to make them approachable. The instruments I make for myself are too good.
Playing music is very complex and most people do not understand what a musician does. That’s one thing I tell my customers; they don’t understand what I do. We sell ourselves, our time, our skins, to do our job. That’s part of life. It’s part of the struggle between art and the real world. I make instruments for what people are asking for.
But every bass I make is for me. It’s hard to find the balance. That’s the difficult thing, because I want to do more.
Part of the challenge is that most amps on the market are made to work with Fenders. That’s part of the standard. I had to downgrade the quality of my pickups to adapt to the Fender standard. I can’t be too creative. But still, this is fun.
Mackncheeze: What has been the most exciting thing in your life?
Marco: Watching good musicians who play my instruments, who enjoy my work. It’s like enjoying cooking, making food for someone, food that they enjoy. They understand why you did it. It’s like serving the best wine in the world.
I kept getting better and better and better. I probably had built about fifty basses before I got it. At that point, I figured it was something I could do. People started to ask, “Could you make one for me?”
The instruments are a very complex. People have no idea because they think it is normal wood working. The basses are almost alive. Every bass is different. The one thing is-they basically communicate with the musician, the sound of the instrument, musicians feel the instrument, they kind of interface while playing. They just play different.
Mackncheeze: What are your sources of wood?
Marco: I try to be as local as possible. I have tried hundreds of different woods; woods from Brazil. Musicians are very traditional. Most guitars are expected to be made from ash or alder. I use a lot of alder. I don’t like to use ash a lot.
Leo Fender is a genius because he found a way to make a good guitar a less expensive way, what Henry Ford was to cars. Fender made a production line. He chose ash because it was easy to work.
Sometimes I use pine. For fretless basses pine sounds good. I haven’t yet made a fretted bass with pine. Pine is pretty knotty so we have a lot of waste. But it sounds good.
I have used Douglas fir and it works well. One of my favorite woods is cedar. It sounds really good.
When I moved to the United States I started working construction. I had no money but making instruments was still my hobby. I had some extra Douglas fir beams and I cut those and made some guitars. They sounded amazing.
People buy things with their eyes.
I judge a piece of wood by its feel. Musicians taste the instrument like people taste food. People don’t understand why we are so absolutely in to that because that can’t feel what we feel. We taste the sound with our ears and with our hands we feel the touch of the instrument. There is dimensionality to it.
It’s hard for me to understand a luthier who doesn’t play. I ask people, would you ask a blind guy to paint your house?
Mackncheeze: What do you want to tell people?
Marco: It’s about our relationships. Every customer becomes a friend. I make instruments but I collect friends.
Mackncheeze: This has been great. Thank you, Marco.
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!
Some days I find it hard to be inspired. When I reach a point of nothing, which can be alcohol induced, I usually plop down in front of the TV and enter a state of, “Since it’s TV time I should be eating.”
This condition usually shows up about midnight.
My basic understanding of Circadian Rhythm is quite limited. But the part I get the most is when mindlessness enters in to my brain. Which, frankly, is about midnight. If I’ve played a gig, mindlessness occurs about three in the morning.
For some reason, we humans are hard wired to be our most vacuous around bed time. Maybe its a precursor to sleepy time; maybe its precursor to sex, of which, these days, I have very little knowledge.
Mindlessness plus TV? Oh God, could I please sit here forever?
Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Outdoor venue, great PA, big stage, no covering on stage; open to the elements.
Its the 80’s. Our keyboard players are running Roland and Oberheim gear.
I’m running a hybrid: acoustic snare, Paiste cymbals, Pearl DRX 1 Analog Drum Kit with an Emulator sample package for the kick drum, and Roland 707 Drum Machine.
We carried our own monitor system because most venues at that time were not set up for all the electronics and our stage reinforcement needs. Lots of sequencing, arpeggiation and digital delay timing.
Half way through the show the sky opens up and drenches us. The sickening feeling of pouring water out of the Pearl Drum Pads and watching one of the keyboard players drain water from his OB-8. I can’t even imagine how the sound company felt.
Total garbage and crap. Shame on the promoter for lack of attention to detail; shame on us for taking the gig. Stupidity.
Fast forward 17 years. Outdoor festival in the desert, middle of August. I’m playing a Roland TD-10 kit, the keyboard player is using Yamaha and Korg gear. One hundred and six degrees on stage, no canvas or protection over the stage, open to the elements. Our LCD displays turn to liquid, not able to read programs. My rubber cymbals melt. Total garbage and crap. Shame on the promoter; shame on us for taking the gig. My Mama always said, “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Keep your eyes open. It’s not always about the next gig.
I have been reading a lot about tapping in to my super power. Most people who know me know that I am not super powerful, which is disappointing to myself since my own self expectations are so high.
I wish I wasn’t prone to error. I wish I would not forget arrangements. I wish that a fellow musician’s bad meter would not affect me.
Shouldn’t I be able to transcend bad meter? If I could have just one super power that would be it.
Another super power I wish I had – I wish that I would not suffer from Delayed Intelligence; also known as CRS syndrome. I have heard it’s terminal. I don’t know how many times I have thought back on a situation and said to myself, ” I wish I had said that!”
What are your super powers?
I can’t control elements, don’t have Telepathy, Telekinesis is out (for sure), nope on time travel, Super Speed is not my specialty ( yet I’m still working on those paradiddles ), Invulnerability ( just ask my last girlfriend about that ), Super Strength ( Hah ), Teleportation ( I’m still stuck here ).
The best super power I can actually think of is Association. Yeah, if I have one super power, that’s it. Association: My family, my friends, my mentors.
After all, maybe thats the best super power there is.
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