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Playing banjo with Steve Martin
Cris Cohen: And also, in terms of collaboration, you occasionally have a second banjo player that sits in with you, named Steve Martin. Rumor has it he has a successful career as an actor as well.
What I’m wondering… the banjo, especially the way you guys play, is a busy instrument. It’s not just three chords here and there. How do you guys work out how to have two banjos going simultaneously, and not step on each other?
Graham Sharp of Steep Canyon Rangers: A lot of it has been an education for me in how to play the banjo when I’m not playing the banjo, how I’m used to playing the banjo. I don’t want to double what the guitars do. And I don’t want to double what the mandolins do. I want to do something in-between. A lot of the times on the banjo, it’s almost like an accompaniment, like a piano would do. And there are times when I would play harmony when he’s playing a melody.
But a lot of times it’s just kind of recognizing that there does need to be some space in the music, and two banjos firing at once is, in general, too much. It’s been an education for me in how to build some space into my playing. Steve’s compositions are just fantastic. He writes songs like nobody else does. He’s got a very unique voice on the instrument, so it’s been a neat body of music to learn, especially as another banjo player, watching where all this stuff comes from in his unbelievable imagination.
Cris Cohen: What’s also interesting is, it’s one of those things where you realize, oh, two people playing the same instrument, you can definitely hear the different personalities in each person’s playing. Even if they're tuned the same and all that. I guess, in that way, it is kind of fascinating to hear. It does sound like two different people playing at the same time, and not like it’s double-tracked or something.
Graham Sharp: Steve has so much personality in his playing. Among a lot of really great banjo players in the world, Steve’s a player who you hear and go, yeah, that's Steve playing. It’s neat to work with somebody like that. And he has a very different approach to it than I do, so it works.
Covering guitar and drum parts together
Cris Cohen: You talked about Tiran’s unique style of playing. But also, Tom, you wrote in the book… you talked about “my chunka-chunka style of guitar playing”.
Tom Johnston of The Doobie Brothers: I'm going to find another term for that.
Cris Cohen: I think you should trademark that. If nothing else, I think the Ben and Jerry's people would get into that one.
But you said, “It was me trying to cover both guitar and drum parts together backbeat style.” Number one, it's interesting because it's very similar to what Dave Grohl said in an interview recently, where he said he approaches guitar playing from a drumming perspective.
Tom Johnston: That makes sense.
Cris Cohen: So what drove you to do that rather than think, “Well, the drummer will take care of the beat.” Rather than waiting for him, you said, “I'll come up with on my own and incorporate it into the guitar parts.”
Tom Johnston: I wasn’t actually playing drum parts, per se. Maybe listening to Bo Diddley a long time ago, that’s where some of that came from. But if you're sitting in a bedroom in San Jose way back when, or if you're sitting in a pasture waiting for your girlfriend to get out of school, and you're sitting there writing a song, and you've got an idea in mind of what it should feel like rhythmically, you try to incorporate that in the song as you're playing it. And the earliest version I can think of is the first single we put out, which is “Nobody”. There were other songs, but that's the first one that everybody heard.
Cris Cohen: Have you found that this experience (performing with an orchestra) has affected how you write, going forward?
Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls: Well, that's a very interesting and good question. I'm in the midst of writing right now and so is Amy. We're going to make a new record at the beginning of 2019. I am thinking a lot about... The one thing I think about now is, quite honestly, I'm a little bit tired of just playing guitar through things. When I made my solo album that came out last August, Lyris Hung, who plays violin with us on the road… There was a lot of playing guitars straight through the songs. I know there's a place for that, but I think a lot now about placement of other instruments. I don't always want to hear an acoustic guitar, up in the mix, through a song.
So, I'm just thinking more broadly about the way a song can be produced musically. I'm sure that has something to do with playing with orchestras. Not having the strummy guitar, my guitar part, be such a large part of the musical picture.
It's not really changing the contents of the songs. There's a lot to think about politically and socially and otherwise right now, honestly.
Styx Tribute to Neil Peart of Rush
Lawrence Gowan of Styx on the tribute he did to Neil Peart of Rush during a concert.
Billy Sheehan of Talas
Cris Cohen interviews bassist Billy Sheehan. They discuss:
- The new Talas album, "1985"
- With live performing, "If you think, you stink."
- "Chaos on a leash"
- The two songs that made him pull his car to the side of road so he could listen more intently
- And more
00:00 New Talas album
05:06 Recording together in the same room
07:52 Sense of urgency about their playing
11:20 King Crimson members
14:36 80s hard rock
19:21 His tone
25:33 Tribute to Phil Naro
29:58 The art of a good instrumental
32:37 The unintentional Police homage
35:40 Cover art by Hugh Syme
37:50 David Lee Roth
41:39 What the future holds
Billy Sheehan's website: http://www.billysheehan.com/
You can also read the transcript of the interview.
20 years between albums
Cris Cohen: Of course, I want to talk about “Steadman's Wake.” Everyone is making a big deal out of the fact that it has been 20 years since your last album. What I'm wondering, though, is what were the advantages of that? What was the benefit that you found from having that much of a gap between recordings?
Doug MacMillan of The Connells: It's a good question because there were some benefits. We recorded a record in the year 2000 called “Old School Dropouts.” (I almost forgot the name of it.) And it's a good collection of songs. Basically, it was a collection of well-made demos, because we were getting ready to make what would have been our last record for our record label at the time, TVT Records.
And they dropped us, [laughter], which was fine for a number of reasons. We did not have the best relationship with them. That happens. You know. I mean, you've talked to bands. Every band has those problems. As a friend of mine in advertising told me once, "It's the crucial juncture where art meets commerce". [laughter]
It's like a really bad intersection, you know. [laughter] A lot of wrecks.
So anyways... we basically made a record from four-track cassette demos.
We hadn't made the (previous) records. We had no idea what we were doing as far as selling something on the internet in the year 2000. We could have used you. [laughter]
Back then, we just couldn't really get it out there. So things kind of slowed down. We didn't break up. We didn't stop playing. We just didn't play nearly as often. And plus, it seemed kind of clear that the demand wasn't there for us to do a month-long tour. Just the way it goes.
So I guess it was maybe five or six years ago, and I was talking to David Connell. He was talking about some of the songs on that previous record. He was like, "These are good songs and they need a proper treatment, proper recording." So that's what got that started.
Then Mike Connell had some songs he'd been working on. So we had enough material. We recorded the album.
So that was one of the benefits (of the 20-year gap).
Be your own audience
Today I read through two interviews with content creators, both of whom gave the advice: Be your own audience. Create content you would want to see. To be honest, I think very few bands would find their own content interesting. Even limiting them to the subject of their music, what they talk passionately about and what they post are vastly different.
A friend sent me a sample report that a service provides for bands. Primarily it shows the artist's total number of followers on each platform and whether their numbers are up or down compared to three days ago, seven days ago, and 28 days ago. There was a time when I would have loved to receive a report like this. Hell, years ago I manually recorded this data about my clients. But now I see it as pointless.
For one thing, so many people have artificially inflated their numbers with fake followers. There is one band with 1.5 million followers on Facebook. Anything they post kind of gets ignored. So either most of their followers are fake or the majority of their fans followed them AND blocked them. Either way, not good.
But even for those artists who have not purchased fake followers, that total means nothing. It is no indication of what your ticket sales will be. Again, there are bands with millions of followers on social media who could not sell out a minivan, let alone an amphitheater.
It is no indication of how many people will:
• Buy your album
• Tell their friends about you
• Buy your merchandise
• Really listen to your songs and not just have them on as background noise
Follower count: An accurate measurement of nothing.
Recently I posted excerpts of my interviews into Facebook Groups dedicated to those bands. It has been great so see how people have taken to the content.
It also confirmed that social media algorithms still do not know how to deliver content to the people who want to see it. I have posted this content to my own properties and the algorithms never show these posts to those people. Hell, the algorithms don't even show those posts to most of my own followers, people who clicked the button that stands for, "I want to see these posts."
So despite all of the technology and advances in programming, if you want your content to be seen, you kind of still need to deliver it manually… often to one person at a time. Artificial Intelligence is still 95% artificial and 5% intelligence, much like the hosts of cable news shows.