Sunday, December 4, 2011

Amplifier fire

So the giant cabinet that I brought to the Cove show, only to not get to use...was deemed impractical.

Had to come up with a better solution, and...opportunity came knocking, in the form of a sudden arrival at Guitar Center, this Gallien-Krueger MB210 combo!

350 watts, 33 pounds. A little bit better than having an ancient 55 pound speaker cabinet, I would say...

Slippin' into darkness

So the ultimate Murphy's Law gig occurred last night.

Equipment that worked 24 hours before refused to work at the show - and worked when I got home.

Very little lighting where we were.

Very little time.

And yet at the end of the day, the smiles on the faces of those there speak for itself. I can totally live with that!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Welcome to our world of toys

So I haven't posted here in a couple of months...and here's basically why:

This 1994 Fender Jazz Bass has taken up most of my time.

It's funny...I originally got into drums (and returned to piano) because I've never been able to stretch my fingers enough to play guitar chords...and yet I ended up playing bass almost on accident.

The original bass we had in this band was a gift I originally got my sister for Christmas 2010...a Samick Greg Bennett Fairlane bass:

When she moved, she decided to leave it in the Bay Area with me, and we incorporated a little bit in time for our very first show -

Days before that performance though, I discovered my current axe at a music store in Citrus Heights and immediately knew it was meant to be. It made it to our second show too!

I've been practicing almost daily with the new addition to my collection since mid-September, trying my best to pick up actual techniques from bassists I like: folks like Marvin Isley, James Jamerson, Aimee Mann, Jack Bruce, Michael Henderson, John McVie...yeah, a pretty diverse list there. Though I won't deny that I tend to naturally slap in much the same way Aimee did for most of her 'til tuesday songs, even if I dream of being as free-flowing as Miroslav Vitous someday.

Just as long as I sound like myself when it's all said and done, I'll be happy with that.

I do love what this adds to our tendency to switch off instruments between almost every song, for sure!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Where The Boys Are

Top five all-male bands (in no particular order) that inspire the lone woman in this band in terms of music and showmanship.

1. U2 - Showing that socially conscious Christian kids can rock.
2. Journey - Hometown pride. Lights can bring me to tears at times. I don't care if tone-deaf, drunken fools at karaoke and overzealous Giants fans have killed Don't Stop Believin' for the rest of the world, it will always be my favourite song ever. (p.s. Let's Go Giants!! So what if they never win another World Series in my lifetime, I'm happy to have witnessed it at least once.)
3. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - the only all-male band from my previous influences list (not counting one-man band Self haha).
4. X Japan - Pretty much only for Yoshiki, but seriously you guys! YOSHIKI!! And that sexxxy crystal drum set that he rocks out on!!!
5. Arashi - for the lulz. Always for the lulz.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Post-show thoughts

Well, we did the show yesterday, and it was fantastic. We played to a grand total of... nine people, after Holden had invited 130: my two bandmates' parents; Joe (a school friend of my bandmates) and his girlfriend; Mario (for whom Holden wrote an affectionate parody that we obviously performed) and his lovely female companion; and my mother. (My stepfather had eye problems, so he stayed home; he had to be taken to the hospital after the show.)

The rest of you who didn't go after saying yes?

You missed out.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A song you might find anywhere

Now, I'm known for fangirling our band's namesake (how else could we have come up with the name?) but he's actually legit talented. I daresay some of his self-penned solos are among the best in J-pop today - they're well-arranged and the lyrics show a sensitivity that belies his quick-witted, almost bratty façade (except for when he's acting, of course - he's the resident tearjerker among currently popular J-actors).

I've been wanting to post this song for ages, and I finally got around to it - I thought the eve before our first performance as Nino Blankenship was as good a time as any.

I want to write more about this song, but I have to be at practice soon.

どこにでもある唄 (A Song You Can Find Anywhere)
二宮 和也 (Kazunari Ninomiya)
Translation by Yarukizero
¡Con subtitulos en español!

何が正解で 何が間違えで
What is right? What is wrong?
だから大丈夫 なんて言っちゃって
So I said, "it's okay"
その言葉が自分を 消してくから
Those words were erasing myself
That was what I was most afraid of

めいっぱい叫べ 「ここにいるよ」って証のように
Yell with all your might "I'm here!" like it's proof of yourself
僕らはそんな弱くはない でも強くもないから
We are not that weak But we're not that strong either
だから泣いていいんだ 恥ずかしいことじゃない
That's why it's okay to cry There's nothing to be embarrassed about
明日がある人しかできないことだから 明日への合図だから
Only people who have a tomorrow can do it Because it's the signal of going to that tomorrow

泣いて 求めて 転んで また泣いて
Crying Searching Falling down Crying again
君は そうして 大人になって
That's how you become an adult

Afraid of getting hurt
If I always try not to cry, I'll won't be able to laugh

When I realized I was alone, I was scared
That's when your voice came, so gentle it hurt
If I cry, then you'll say, "You're a crybaby"
あんたもだよ」なんて言ってみたら 楽になってた笑ってた
When I tried to say, "You are too," I relaxed and laughed

いつも見たいに ふざけたこと言い合って
Like always, messing around and arguing
Don't say it's nostalgic right now 
Tightly hold onto the "now" that's there

ほら、息を吸って吐いて 生きている
Look, breathe in and out You're living
一歩一歩歩いている ただそれだけでいい
Walking one step at a time Just that is enough

It's alright, we'll always be here
So try confessing everything
Come on, you should stand tall and say it
"That is us"

ずっと ずっとずっと
Always, forever and ever

... So yeah, I think this is a pretty appropriate anthem for our band, and not just because our namesake wrote it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

All your base are belong to us

After about 8-9 years for my bass drum's batter head, and the entire life of the drumkit for the resonant head...I finally splurged and got a new set of skins for the old workhorse!

Here's me taking out the original resonant, complete with logo for the budget company that constructed my kit!

And installing its replacement:

I also scored a second crash cymbal!  Specifically inspired by a specific Stan Lynch rhythm part to add this to the set...

Thursday, August 25, 2011

You can leave your hat on

New hi-hats! YES!

Also thanks to the power of Craigslist, I located a cheap but high-quality ancient Pearl hi-hat stand:

and this cheap amplifier, who knows what we'll use it for:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

You're the key to my heart

Many years ago, after an English class in which one of his songs was featured for an assignment...I became a huge Billy Joel fan - and in turn, discovering his organ-and-drums duo Attila, became focused on creating some sort of piano/organ-based band.

I think I'm finally there.

But as much as I derive a lot of inspiration from the Piano Man...technique-wise, I took very few lessons (only did that for a year in 1993), so I can't say I compare. (In terms of songwriting though...that's a topic for later.)

I can't really compare to this person's technique either, but I think his musical approach and eclecticism have informed my own playing and style for some time. And if anyone deserves a little bit more written up about his accomplishments, it's this guy:

The Isley Brothers' Chris Jasper isn't cited nearly enough as a force on the keys in 1970s music, but so much of the band's music centers around his tasteful, smooth work on piano (acoustic and electric) that it can't be overlooked.

On the more conventional end of things are two of the very best piano ballads the group ever pulled off:

"Love Put Me On The Corner" is considered by some as the first great love song of the group, in a time when Jasper wasn't quite officially a member (merely an accompanist). Can't say I disagree - even with all the great songs that came afterward, the devastation and melancholy still come across in that mix of Ron Isley's heartfelt vocal and the introverted arpeggiation on Chris's piano.

"The Highways of My Life" - lyrics written entirely by Ron - begins with a tasteful, warm synthesizer solo before settling into a comfortable piano-and-drums groove. Jasper's run-down-the-scale changes serves the stanza's melody nicely, especially when the synthesizer offers its line up before the vocal segments.

Both of those songs - and the similar "Lover's Eve" - thematically and musically take me to the same place...a quiet room...a piano surrounded by space and time...the aloneness of thought.

A little more outgoing in comparison are these Rhodes piano recordings:

"For The Love Of You" is the quintessential smooth R&B song, its meditation on devotion and sweetness coming out of what was originally a frustrating recording session (according to Wikipedia, Rudolph's original lyrics were tossed aside to his chagrin, while Ron's first vocal take was accidentally erased, forcing him to record the final version off-the-cuff). It's my parents' anniversary song and it's probably what really got me into the Isleys, even though I had heard them on R&B stations in the Bay Area for years.

Not as much of a radio staple - though I first heard it on 102.9 about a decade ago! - "Hello It's Me" for most people is known through Todd Rundgren's original versions (with his band Nazz and as a solo take), a staple of 70s soft rock. While I'm usually one to prefer the songwriter's version of a song over anyone else's (i.e. Jimmy Webb's material), "Hello" is one of the few instances where I sharply diverge.

The jazzy Rundgren version from Something/Anything (often found on oldies stations worldwide) works okay, but lacks the sheer heartbreak and contemplation the Isley cover has. Maybe it's the choice to fadeout the song on a definitive F# minor, or the additional lyrics and ad-libs behind the mic for Ron...or it's those bright fills on the electric piano that Jasper colors up the song with. Maybe it's all those things, but a song about seeming ambivalence becomes way more direct, way more heartfelt...not simply about one forgotten evening, but about a story built on a lifetime now ending, and a man remaining compassionate in the face of losing someone so dear to him.

Ballads were far from the only genre the Isleys dabbled in, of course...

"Ain't I Been Good To You" is a smooth funk workout for its first part, and a dark blues jam in its second. In the first part, Jasper deftly mixes a church-like organ part with a buttery electric piano line, before pounding out block chords for the chorus. Part One always leaves me wishing that there was another minute or three to it!

Part Two slows the pace down, and switches up to shuffle time, though repeating the same lyrics as the first segment. Where the first half of the song simmers with anger and fire...the second half remains intense, but becomes a plea of desperation, with the organ becoming more prominent in the arrangement. The electric piano remains but the organ's Leslie-speaker swirling provides atmosphere for Ron's incantations and Ernie's call-and-response guitar lines.

Take away the organ and the weightiness of the composition simply isn't there.

"Who's That Lady." I remember first hearing this on a flight to Newark in 1998 and getting blown away. It may have made its appearance in a million commercials since, but it doesn't get old.

So much has been made about Ernie Isley's fuzz guitar here, but I can't help and notice the subtle acoustic piano (mixed just beneath the drums) throughout the piece and what sounds like a Wurlitzer electric piano in the instrumental bridge...both elements providing more fullness to the arrangement and structure to the guitar jamming that unfolds.


I know that my mostly self-taught ways can't come close to matching Chris Jasper's skills, but I do have a desire to remain open in terms of song construction and arrangement, a desire for variety in writing that I think fueled his time in the Isley Brothers 3+3 lineup and made it one of my favorite bands ever - a group that straddled the line between rock and soul while blazing its own path for a good 13-14 years.

And here's a nice little recent interview with the man himself, for your perusal. :D

Monday, August 15, 2011

You're the meaning in my life, you're the inspiration

Holden has weighed in on some of his inspirations, so I'd like to provide some of mine. However, I just finished one of those huge writing memes so I don't really feel like expounding anymore. Still, this idea has followed me around for days so I think I will eventually get back up and write a full post on each. Meanwhile, I'm using this post as a placeholder.

Top 5 70s/80s [Female] Vocalists that Inspire Me:

1. Stevie Nicks - Obviously.
2. Ann Wilson - Face-meltingly awesome. More of a karaoke inspiration than a Nino Blankenship one, though.
3. Pat Benatar - Face-melting awesomeness with a strong classical foundation; like me, she is classically trained and eventually used it to rock out.
4. Kate Bush - Musically versatile, not afraid to sound weird. She embraces her weirdness, in fact.
5. Chaka Khan - For my funkier side. Also, "Through the Fire" is a litmus test for female (and sometimes even male) Filipino karaoke divas.

Top 5 Musical Inspirations:

1. Fleetwood Mac - Obviously.
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - For their garagey sound. Also, for their collaborations with Stevie Nicks.
3. Aimee Mann - the sardonic, sarcastic, and yet sometimes sensitive singer-songwriter whom Holden & I have adored for a decade now. (I introduced him to her music, and I've created a monster.) Her snarky songwriting and Bacharach-meets-punk influences inspire us quite a lot.
4. Kazunari Ninomiya - the "Nino" in "Nino Blankenship." Like Aimee, he balances snark with sensitivity, although his acerbic wit tends to display itself more in his daily life than his music, which is full of beautiful ballads and perky pop hooks. Also, his entire career is based on doing things for the lulz - he can be incredibly silly on television. Plus, the reason he began writing is pretty awesome: he couldn't afford to buy CDs, so he wrote his own songs. And something has to be said about always writing your own solos when everything else in your life is hyper-controlled and factory-produced (he's a member of top Japanese boyband Arashi).
5. Self - a mostly-one-man band who produced an entire album, Gizmodgery, using children's toy instruments. Also, on that album he covered "What a Fool Believes," which is one of the best songs in the history of yacht rock (another genre Holden & I adore).

Top 5 Covers:

1. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around - Stevie Nicks and Tom Petty - The first time Holden and I ever performed publicly with a live band (we weren't playing instruments, but it was awesome)
2. Tusk - Fleetwood Mac - Probably our best piece centered around Holden. Also, I get a sweet drum solo.
3. American Girl - Tom Petty - Another good piece, and one of my favourite songs.
4. Gold Dust Woman - Fleetwood Mac - Sparsely arranged, musically mysterious, and perfect for our little group. Also, Manny sounds fantastic on cowbell.
5. Don't Go Breakin' My Heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee - Holden's and my go-to karaoke duet, besides #1 (it preceded #1). We're really all about the lulz, when it comes down to it.

5 More Inspirational Women in Music:

1. Janis Joplin - A misfit good girl turned rockstar. An adopted daughter of San Francisco who taught me, misfit good girl and adopted daughter of San Francisco, how to rock.
2. Lady Gaga - Fabulous performance artist. She's got a brilliant musical mind behind those crazy costumes and headline-grabbing antics- she was writing pop hits, Carole King-style, before she was thrust into the spotlight; she has solid roots in jazz, pop and rock; AND she was accepted into NYU's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts at age 17. She really brings all dimensions of performance and entertaining into her craft.
3. Lea Salonga - Every Filipino girl grew up wanting to be her. I am no exception.
4. Utada Hikaru - Asian-American phenomenon. She's done all sorts of genres, from R&B and hip-hop to experimental electronica to rock to dance to sweeping J-pop ballads.
5. Madonna - The queen of pop and constant reinvention. She came to New York, knowing no one and having no money, and in just a few years conquered the world. I could learn a thing or two from her.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Everything old is new again

Okay, maybe the Fiberskyn 3 isn't really that old of a head design, but that vintage look and sound is nothing short of glorious. YES!

Also on the "outdated but useful" list is this Radio Shack mixer that I'm running all vocals through now. For some reason, I don't know if it's the teeny amp it's hooked up to or not, it generates a lot of reverb:

And finally, this cheesy C major toy flute I've had for several years that is great for soloing - if the songs are in C major or its relative minor in A:

More tales of the bargain hunting percussionist coming up soon, of course. woot

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nino Blankenship's Mission Statement

Right now, Holden & I are watching an Arashi video in which our namesake makes an impromptu haiku summing up his experience at the very end. Thus, I was inspired to write our band's mission statement in haiku form.

Mission Statement

Nino Blankenship
Is a band we made for lulz
I like pecan pie

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sometimes, the most beautiful things...

Saw this clip today on Youtube and thought it'd be worth sharing since today's a scheduled band practice day. :D

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's a trap!

Though I started playing piano way before I got into percussion, I still view myself as a much better drummer than pianist. Maybe with time (and with playing drums much less for several years due to living circumstances), that perception no longer resembles reality...

...but I still have an affinity for the throne. With both Sylvia and I taking turns at the set, at least one of my goals for this project has been achieved: participating in a group in which a drummer's perspective is not only appreciated, but actually critical to the underpinnings of the band!

And now, a not-so-exhaustive list of my influences on the kit:

Keith Moon. The one member of The Who least grounded by reality, but most driven by instinct. Maybe fills every two measures represents a rather excessive, showy approach to drums, maybe it does. Maybe it also happens to be, at the heart, what I'd like to do every once in a while: drumming at its most unfettered.

It doesn't work with every song though and that's where everyone else comes in...

Oh, Genesis's Phil Collins. More known these days for sappy soundtrack songs that beat out Aimee Mann at the Grammys, the king of mainstream 80s music mixed decent chops with tastefulness and groove, along with his well-known introduction (with an assist by Peter Gabriel) of the noise-gated drum sound that dominated the era.

The opening to "Behind the Lines" (off of 1980's Duke) exemplifies Phil's ability to naturally stay aligned with unusual transitions and time signatures, while the massive radio hit of 1983, "That's All," speaks to his skill at finding the heart of a groove and sticking with it throughout.

Way more obscure than the above two, but still part of a major recording group - Dennis Bryon, who played with the Bee Gees from 1975-1980 during their most successful period. Everyone's heard "Stayin' Alive" (a drumloop based on his work on Night Fever) but his two most defining moments in the pocket have to be "You Stepped Into My Life" (from the 1976 Children of the World album) and "Love You Inside Out" (from 1979's Spirits Having Flown). Absolutely on point with both tracks!

A little bit looser in approach, but nonetheless still very tasteful, is Billy Joel's former drummer Liberty DeVitto, who played on every studio album from Turnstiles to River of Dreams. Big snare sound, a slight behind-the-beat tendency, and a love of fast end-of-section tom fills (i.e. "Pressure") really contributed to the distinctive arrangements Billy had during his peak.

In comparison, I saw Billy live in 2008 - with his current drummer at the kit - and could tell the difference. Liberty's snare always managed to impart a bit of personality into the proceedings; his replacement on the other hand continues to sound as anonymous as ever, and it makes the experience less engaging as a whole.

Soundgarden's Matt Cameron to me represents the most talented and accomplished percussionist of the grunge era - even if I want to forget his work with Chad Kroeger as much as possible! But "Black Hole Sun," "Fell On Black Days," "My Wave" - all a mixture of technical ease (especially when time signatures got strange) and a compellingly dark, foreboding tone from his equipment. Even the last Soundgarden album, Down on the Upside, recorded while the band was falling apart...still provides plenty of evidence that Matt had not lost his sense of feel.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Who's That Girl?

Hello! This is Sylvia, the better other half of the band. My real name is Joanne (and even that isn't my actual first name), but I chose Sylvia as a nickname in middle school after finally growing sick of being confused with Joan (pronounced jone), Joan (pronounced jo-ann), and Joanna at school, and Joan (pronounced jone) and Janice at church. I could have used a shortened version of my first name, but there were people both at school and church who had that name too, whereas I'd never met a Sylvia my age.

But enough ruminating about nomenclature; I'm a childhood friend of Chris' (and also responsible for his nickname, Holden - wait, I said no more ruminating about nomenclature!) and we basically grew up as the church misfits. We grew apart eventually (college, etc.) until last year when we met up for pasta in North Beach and began meeting up for food (and usually - on my end - drinks) and then at some point we started meeting weekly and conversing about anything and everything but usually existential suburban twentysomething angst. From those conversations we decided to start a performing arts project - originally a comedic cabaret of sorts - and after my best friend suggested to Holden that he do something with his musical interests, we decided on doing a one-off concert.

One day, I showed Holden a picture of the actor/singer/songwriter/musician/Japanese pop idol/eternal-17-year-old Kazunari "Nino" Nimomiya dressed in Japanese period costume for his film Ooku, which Holden pointed out looked like the costumes worn by Kenny Blankenship, the host of the show Takeshi's Castle Most Extreme Elimination Challenge because of the pointed shoulders.

Thus, Nino Blankenship was born!

Oh, and I also happen to sing and play three instrument families (percussion, guitars and keyboards/piano) which is why I am in the band. Well, other than my debilitating existential angst/failed romantic relationships/commitment-juggling burnout/spoiled-only-child insecurity/general quarter-life crisis issues that inspire Holden to write songs for the band, of course.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The the hardest part

I've performed before.

I was in two high school musicals as a drummer, which is how I befriended Glee's Darren Criss way before anyone knew who he was.

I did two talent shows at said learning institution as well, playing for three different projects.

I attempted to participate in several other different bands that never actually performed - one that ultimately morphed into the high school group known as The Polygons, and another with another set of friends, one of who is now playing bass for a band out in the North Bay.

And now all these years later I'm actually finally starting something where I have some say in this process. It feels great to be at this point. Surreal, actually, because there've been many times where I wondered if my skills on the set and on keys would ultimately just sit there and go nowhere.

Through circumstance and serendipity, at least one of my creative dreams is about to be fulfilled. Not sure yet how it'll feel, only that this is hopefully going to be the start of something great.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Not the first day of this journey. Right?




But really, starting this blog/site is the culmination of ten years of waiting and several months of inspiration. (Sometimes I wish the order was the other way around, but I digress).

I'm actually starting a band for once, after all the years of talking about this.

This is kinda cool.

And soon I will be putting up walls of text thicker than the ones next to a freeway. Beautiful.