Denks du vielleicht…

And many weeks later, I emerge from the depths of the thanksgiving gravy and stuffing to once again wave my arms, jump up and down and scream for your attention.

LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME!

Anyhow, many things have happened lately. Thanks to the wonderful citizens of my hometown Vermillion, South Dakota. I went home for a week for thanksgiving and gave two exciting performances downtown, one at the Eagles Club and another at Maya Jane’s. Things went so well that I was asked to perform again at the Eagles Club when I return for the Christmas break. So if you missed me Vermtown, come see me at the Eagles on December 28th! Tell your friends, come on back to Vermillion for a few days before the new year and party it up while the town can be your’s!

I also did a great show at the Metropolis Coffee Company. I had two new songs that are now going through re-writes. A few offbeat poets I heard recently reminded me of the importance of re-writes, and I found that my song One Step Ahead was taking way too serious of a tone. I wanted it to be more “everything was cooler before I got her” rather than “you assholes follow the money and get where you need to go and I’m not rewarded for my self-proclaimed virtuous means to an end”.

That belongs in another song all together. So, back to the drawing board!

I might focus too much  on the tone of a song. My biggest problem is coming up with too much material and not being able to include it all, so I scrunch it all in, and before I know it, my song has too wide of a scope and no listener can tell what I’m really trying to say.

But the new songs will be rewritten very soon, just in time for my solo performance in the lounge of the Elbo Room, here in Chicago.

THIS IS THE SHOW TO SEE! IF I DON’T BRING 20 PEOPLE TO THIS SHOW, THE MOON WILL CRASH INTO THE EARTH AND NOT EVEN THE TORSO-LESS GIANTS OF TERMINA WILL BE ABLE TO HELP YOU!

Here is my soon-to-be-imfamous poster for said show at Elbo Room:

Adam A Nelson, Elbo Room Lounge, December 18th 2011 8 PM $5

 

And lastly, I was summoned at the zero hour to play TONIGHT at the Red Head Piano Bar. You just can’t escape all-request piano shows, can you? I’m playing from 7:30 to 11:30 tonight, and all of you Chicagoans should bring all of your friends and thank your lucky stars that you can come see me here in the big city and don’t have to wait until December 28th like my hometown buds.

 

Thanks for the continued support! Hope to see you at a show very soon!

Just-in-time songwriting

I’m pretty happy with the new song, One Step. Its a song about knowing that you should be grown up, but still finding it weird to look in the mirror and admit that you’re grown up….or maybe its just hard to look at my paycheck and admit that I’m grown up. Yeah, that’s probably the real issue, but I don’t really touch on that subject much in the song. It will take a lot of practice and polishing up to get it where I want it, but its ready for its premiere tonight at Metropolis.

Then there is a former song of mine, which used to be called Hate. I wanted it to be about the motivational power of this often-dubbed negative emotion. The old version had lost its way and it was unclear what the point of the song was. So I deleted the chorus entirely (yes, my new version HAS NO CHORUS!), rewrote the pre-chorus melody (and words!), and changed the key. Its not in C#, and not E (YIKES).

Firstly, it actually does alright without a chorus – the only thing I’m really missing, form-wise, is a strong ending.

The pre-chorus (ahem…pre-non-chorus) now sounds a lot more rockin and has more honest lyrics that convey the message much better.

And C# makes the song much easier to sing. It’s not harder to play, but I am unfamiliar with it, obviously. Once you’re used to playing a song in a certain key, and you’re not just mashing chords like I might do with a cover song I couldn’t care less about, it just becomes very comfortable. The new key isn’t difficult, but I will need to practice it a bit to get it to the level of performance I had when it was in E…one section of the song is actually easier in C# because I often cross my thumbs when I play – my right thumb might play the 7th of the chord while my left thumb goes under it to play the 8th or 9th. It makes for easier performance of melodic passages in the middle voices of my arrangements.

The only thing that’s missing….the ending. 5.5 hours until I take the stage and play the updated version for the first time infront of an audience. Will you be there to see me sink or swim?

The Latest Gigs

As everyone knows, tomorrow night I am making my Edgewater premiere at Metropolis Coffee Company at 6 PM. I’m playing a full hour of original music, some songs I have never performed before!

And upgraded versions of older songs! *

Different lyrics, some completely new parts to old songs, and filled out solo sections.

I think its true when people in Hollywood say “Movies aren’t finished, they are released”. If left to my own devices (and let’s face it, I am), I could spend my whole life making my songs better. Changing lyrics, expanding piano parts, tuning harmonies, adding effects, getting yet another vocal take and probably changing the lyrics again.

I’m happy with what I’ve got so far, and tomorrow night you’ll hear all of it. The emo songs, the post-break up songs, the finding-the-girl songs, the therapeutic songs, and a few meaningless ditties just for good measure.

 

Come see me November 17th!

1039 West Granville, Chicago IL 60660

*Note – upgraded always means better – just ask Netflix and Greedo

A song 6 years in the making, Part 4/4

I had lyrics, a form, an opening lick (though I almost changed that a few times), a concise ending, a solid groove and a sloppy solo.

Time to fix the solo.

The previous recording of Mr. Wrong had a rather lazy (and often tacet) left hand, and that’s all thanks to one sad fact: I’m not very good at improvising. I knew I had to write out what I was going to do and actually practice it. This applied to everything I was playing once I started recording back in June of 2011. I had to write down virtually every note I was playing so that I could edit takes (What?…). Thankfully, writing a solo was significantly easier than writing lyrics. I had already written the solo for Picture Yourself, and I had transcribed a good deal of songs and solos by Elton, Billy and Ben. I also knew I was going to be recording this very soon with drums and a bass so I wasn’t afraid to write a solo as if I was a jazz player – let the bass player play the bass notes, I’ll play a little “rhythm piano” (a little joke for your rhythm guitarists out there) with my left hand and play the actual solo with my right hand.

Here are the licks I came up with:

I ended up using almost everything on this page for my solo. You can listen and follow along – the solo begins in the very bottom left with an implied walking bassline under it. The lick towards the end of the line (just before the left hand stops walking) that you can’t read is a variation of a lick from the lead guitar in Elton’s Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting. From there the solo jumps up two lines, where you can see left hand and right hand written together. I liked the idea of taking the upper spelling of the D chord (playing A minor in my left hand) and letting the chord descend, and idea I got from the solo at the end of Ben Folds Five’s solo at the end of Underground. After four measures you can see the left hand continue while an arrow points to a lick written another line higher for the corresponding right hand lick, a simple mordent (?) with more upper spelling of each chord (G minor while playing over the C chord, and F Maj. 7 while playing over G7).

I love music theory. tee hee!

The solo was finished probably 2 days before I was to fly to Portland, OR. I went there to get a grip on myself, my music career, my goals, and to see my long-lost High School best friend, Steve Giedosh, who was getting me a great deal on musicians and recording producers so that I could make quick demos of three songs. In 9 hours, we rehearsed and recorded Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me), Another Day (also available on reverbnation), and another song that no one has yet to hear (because it’s freakin hard to sing and I need to get another take). That song is called Tomorrow Never Knows, a Stevie Wonder-inspired contemplation about whether life should continue as is or take a sharp turn.

Would you like to hear Tomorrow Never Knows? It’s not ready for release just yet, but you can hear it live at any of my performances:

NOVEMBER 11, 8 pm at Lickity Split
6056 N Broadway in Chicago

OR

NOVEMBER 17TH, 6 pm AT Metropolis Coffee Company
1039 W Granville in Chicago

or my latest addition to the schedule, the one you should go to if you can’t go to any other shows:

DECEMBER 18TH, 8 pm at the Elbo Room Cocktail Lounge
2871 N Lincoln in Chicago
I MUST BRING AT LEAST 20 PEOPLE TO THIS PERFORMANCE! If you’d like to show your support, the best way to do it would be to attend this show, say hi to me, grab some drinks and tell all your friends about it.

Thanks again for reading. New songs are on the way – hear them first this Friday at Lickity Split.

A song 6 years in the making (Part 3/4)

At the request of the powers that be at the dueling piano club I was playing at in 2008, I started taking voice lessons. My friend Pete Wilson referred me to Patrick and Bonnie at the Arizona Music Project. I started taking voice lessons, and even started teaching piano lessons. I could have easily gotten paid for these lessons, but I had found a new muse in life and I decided that it was time to record some of my songs, so I traded lessons for recording time at the AZ Music Project. The end result would be a rough (see: ROUGH) demo of three original songs and a cover that I could give to my new muse (see: GIRLFRIEND) as a Christmas gift. The track list was

1. Picture Yourself
2. Mr. Wrong
3. Digging
4. The Luckiest

For legal reasons, at least one of those would never be released to the public. But I had bigger fish to fry: Mr. Wrong only had half of a verse, no solo, and no bridge.

Step 1. The verses

Aside from adding “don’t tell me” to the hook at the end of the chorus, I hadn’t touched the lyrics in three years or so. I’m glad I took so long though. I had many experiences in those three years that honestly shaped where the song went. I knew the song had to be about rejecting immature advice about playing the field in favor of sticking to my own goals, so the pre-chorus (see: Part 1) became a sarcastic jab towards those who would tell me that I’m approaching my post-dumped rehabilitation incorrectly. Apparantly they thought that following my dreams and goals about relationships was incorrect (not to mention dreams and goals about horn playing that had fallen behind since becoming a pianist). The line “Security makes all my doubts so strong” was easy enough – living on your own and buying your own insurance and checking on credit reports and our society’s acceptance of things like pre-nups told me that security is only for the insecure (see: DUH).

And that lead to the insecure line that would round off the first verse: “I’ve my own insecurities to feed”

Where the first verse was speaking directly to those who had hurt me, the second verse would speak to those who were giving me therapeutic advice that I didn’t want to hear. Thinking with a man’s second brain turned into “Your heart can’t lead you where you need to go”, and my urge to be Mr. Right instead of Mr. Right Now gave me a great title for the song (see: TITLE), as well as my favorite line “Mr. Right can’t make it to the show”.

All that was left was the bridge. Given that I have a tendency to find a recording or artist I like and listen to it for many years, it was not unusual that I was still basking in the audio bubble bath that was Radiohead’s In Rainbows, specifically the second track from the bonus disc that came with the LP that cost a lot more than the LP or extended version of the album that would follow, King of Limbs. Though I wish the release date of the two had been switched – then I could have sold KOL instead of Rainbows to pay rent.

Anyhow, the second track from the CD of songs that didn’t make the final album cut had a great progression I liked – Yep, the I – bVII – IV that I was already using for half of the tune. What was the difference? Radiohead had it in Ab, not D. How was I going to modulate?

Well, that may be the way a real composer looked at it. I was honestly just playing the Bb7 to the A7 pre-chorus section and decided to continue descending down a half step and start a new (see: old) chord progression in Ab. After playing it I immediately recognized it as the progression (and key!) that Radiohead had used.

So I had my bridge (musically, anyhow). The lyrics came from my own reaction to the advice I was being given and my general reaction to it, which went something like this:

“I don’t want to hurt a girl, and I can’t fake my way into a casual relationship just to help me get over someone. I’d rather meet the girl and not waste her time by being who she isn’t looking for”…

These jumbled self-righteous thoughts became the lyrics of the bridge: “Am I only one man’s hero? Maybe a villain who’s misunderstood”

Either way, the recording went well. Not great, but well.

I still didn’t have a solo I was happy about.

And I wouldn’t until June of 2011, two and a half years later (see: PART 4!!!!).

A song 6 years in the making (Part 2/4)

*for part 1, click here*

I’d been dumped. I was mad. She was crazy. I was moving away from my hometown for the first time in my life. I wasn’t quite sure how to put this into lyrics, so the first line was stream of conscious.

“Give me a sign, are you out of your mind for giving me exactly what I need?”

I had many more dummy lyrics that I thought at the time were actual smart lyrics. Lines like “you’re running away, not scared of today but frightened of where the day may lead” and “one foot out the door, when you can’t take anymore, yous lip away and label my good name”. These were all things I thought were spiteful to the person who had just “broken my heart”. I put that in quotations only because in hindsight its hard to believe I really felt that way.  But at the time (September 2005) I felt angry. I didn’t feel as rejected as I felt abandoned, left to the devices of whomever would be my next best friend in my new home from home.

I got a lot of advice at the time, usually encouraging me to play the field, avoid commitment, and make bad decisions for the sake of having something to do, or having something to distract me from whatever I told myself I was feeling.

Well I mostly told myself that I didn’t know how to do all of these things I was encouraged to do, probably because I didn’t want to do these things. My song had turned into a love song, of sorts. I was only interested in being some girl’s Mr. Right, not Mr. Right Now.

It would be three years before I would put these feelings into verse, finally finishing the lyrical portion of my song. 2008 rolled around, and I was in a very different place than I was three years earlier. I was still in Tempe, AZ, but I had a job as a dueling piano player, I had a cool roommate who, for all intents and purposes, was my best friend, and to top it all off I had just started a relationship with a girl. I really hoped that I could be Mr. Right.

So while recording a song I had written for her as a Christmas gift (see Picture Yourself), I guess I thought I would reflect those Right feelings by also giving her a recording of Mr. Wrong

The next chapter, Recording Mr. Wrong for the first time!

And for all of you Chicagoans, here is the poster for my upcoming performance at Metropolis Coffee Company on November 17th, 6 PM.

Come see me November 17th!

1039 West Granville, Chicago IL 60660, 6 PM

A song 6 years in the making (Part 1/4)

I’m looking at a tattered, green-covered notebook that has traces of brown, punctuated cardboard in the spine, indicative of a back cover long gone. This one page is written in pen, while many other illegible pages have a strange lead mist about them, which started my policy of never writing song ideas in pencil. There is no date on the page, but its safe to assume that the notes were made during my first month of graduate school, shortly after imagining the song while teaching a marching band in early August of 2005.

The top of the page reads…

chorus
key of D
“no love don’t mean asexuality
except for viggie” or “u ain’t me”

I thought it might be cool to put my old “high school nickname” in the song. Rap artists say their name all the time in their songs, why can’t I? It seemed like the appropriate thing to do – it reflected an air of confidence, cockiness even, that I thought the song needed.

A squiggly arrow points to a chord progression: E7 C7 A g9, each chord shows 8 eighth notes under it, indicating the rhythm. Just above this progression is a hastily written line of musical notation, showing the opening riff in the key of F with the notes “horn part – swing shuffle”.

This is how Mr. Wrong started. I remember walking around a marching field in Sioux Falls with this lick in my head, knowing that count 2 of the bar would be a crunchy sound executed by playing the resolution an octave lower than the count before it. I had no lyrics yet, but the feel of the song was already solidified. It wouldn’t be given a melody or verse chord progression until about a month later once I had moved to Tempe, AZ for graduate school. I was late to the game when it came to Ben Folds fandom, and I had just started learning his songs by ear at this point. Song for the Dumped was very pertinent to my situation at the time, and I had just learned the whole thing when I couldn’t focus on horn one day in the practice room.

This trend continued at graduate school, when I found a chord progression that I liked – the Bb7 to the A7, which would function as a lead-in to the chorus. I told myself that it was an uncommon chord progression, so it justified using the tried-and-true I-bVII-IV progression in the verse (Think Sweet Home Alabama, Born This Way, Sympathy for the Devil). Playing the chorus lead-in on quarter notes and responding to each chord articulation with three quick sixteenth notes sounded cool to me, and also let me start the song in a thinner texture leaving more room for piano showoffedness later in the song, so I wrote many lyrics for this melody (what now is “Trying to find/all my dreams/and my goals/couldn’t be more wrong”) that include

“I can’t run/I can’t hide/from what I/know inside is true”
and
“I wish I/could be kind/but I know/that your mind ain’t clear”
and the even worse,
“I know you’ve/let me go/but the end/of the show ain’t here”

These would turn out to be “dummy lyrics”, obviously to be replaced by something much better at a later date once I figured out exactly what the lyrics would be about.

One technique is to write down a bunch of opening lines for a song. The first thing the listener hears is often the most memorable line of the song, second only to the chorus or hook. I already knew that the lyrics to my hook sucked (“you aren’t me?” come on!). I needed something with a little more confidence, stank, sting for the party who had given this song a reason to exist. I had the chord progression for the verse and a supposed melody, and thankfully no list of opening lines was needed. The first one I had thought of was exactly what I had been looking for:

“Give Me a Sign”

“Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me)” now available for download!!!

Whereas, Adam A Nelson has reached over 100 fans, and

Whereas, it happens to be a national post-mortem holiday, and

Whereas, I have never had anything available for download before,

the Interwebs is happy to bestow upon you, the fans, the first downloadable song from Adam A Nelson!!!!!

Visit the BRAND NEW WEBSITE adamanelson.bandcamp.com and name your price for Adam’s first downloadable singls, Mr. Wrong (You Aren’t Me). For the first time ever, you can download one of my songs, and it is all thanks to you for helping me reach over 100 fans and supporting me online.

ALSO

All week I will be celebrating with entries on the trail I hiked just to get this single to you. From inception to final edit, how to take an idea, turn it into a song, and release it to the public. A story 6 years in the making, written down over four days of blogging.

So visit adamanelson.bandcamp.com and download the song, send it to all of your friends and tell them to help me get yet another 100 fans, and keep checking back to adamanelson.com for more information on previously released songs and what is yet to come from Chicago’s newest piano rocker!

Collaborating

There is a lot to be said for working alone when creating something, whether it be a song, painting, poem, anything. Performance is of course a very personal experience – the performer is sharing his or her thoughts, emotions, moods, idiosyncrasies, dreams, beliefs, and any number of private things with the audience. But during performance, one usually has their song, painting or poem in a finished state. The artist has already weeded out the lines that are too cheesy, the melodies that were unconsciously stolen from another artist, the lyrics that serve as a placemat until the better synonyms or phrases present themselves. When you work alone, you can get all of this stuff out of the way without instant feedback, misinterpretation, a deadline, or creative compromise. And you don’t have to open yourself up before you’ve found out how to say exactly what you want to say.

I participated in a songwriter’s meeting last night, where we split up into two groups to go and write songs. Me being a pianist, I did not have an instrument with me. There was another pianist there and I decided not to make a big stink about getting to use the only piano in the building, as he said he was particularly stronger at the music side of songwriting than the lyrical.

So I headed upstairs with two men I had known for about 10 minutes, and we spent probably 80 minutes brainstorming lyrics. We never really settled on a melody or chord progression, just went through the creative process of writing lyrics. We started with a first line I had come up with, which we all three decided would be the title and hook of the song. Many ideas were brought up, about what angle to take on the song, how descriptive to get, what point of view to have, how we were going to make this song stand out amongst all of the other silly love songs out there…It felt a little uncomfortable, “going from zero to sixty” as one of my collaborators put it. I had just met these two men and now we had fallen into the trap of writing a love song together – exposing our emotional pasts and interpretations thereof, our musical preferences, what we thought was cliche and what we thought was forced, and what we thought was musically essential to make a song work…

But I never really got the impression that the song was working.

and all the while, we could hear the other group singing strongly with a piano accompaniment, clearly making a lot more progress than we were. And I was very happy to discover at the end of the meeting that the highest voice in the other team’s choir was infact a woman who had arrived late to the meeting, and not an awesome tenor. I was no longer jealous of someone else’s voice (yes, that happens a lot). Before, it was a bit distracting knowing that the other team had great singers, a fleshed-out musical idea, and were all collaborating very well.

I came to a very simple conclusion (gleaned from this experience and from many tv show commentaries about the writing process): I work best alone.

Or at the very least, if I want to collaborate, its best to give people something to start with and just let them go at it alone for a while. Once they’ve taken the concept somewhere and, its time to get back together. Each collaborator presents what they came up with and then combines the ideas, feeding off of eachother, and making the musical, lyrical, and conceptual compromises necessary to do the song justice.

To that point, I am going to start my first official collaboration sometime this week. A good friend of mine, whom I have known for about 13 years (YIKES!) has sent me some lyrics, and I’m going to try to make a song of them. I think this approach will work much better for me. Someone else has done some work and given me a framework from which to start. Now I can shape those lyrics into a song (or a few songs) for her to approve/amend later, without having to wade through the knee-jerk-reactions to ideas that aren’t fully realized. When I react quickly to input I typically put my foot in my mouth – I’d rather have time to soak it up and take a step forward with that foot instead of standing in the same place, too quick to judge initial contributions.

Thanks for reading, and don’t miss the Acoustic Showcase at Ballydoyle’s Irish Pub in Downer’s Grove, THIS THURSDAY NIGHT at 8:30. Click on SEE above to view my entire performance schedule, and stay tuned for new mixes of songs, and some new tunes never before released on the internet. CDs available at the Acoustic Showcase, so don’t miss it!

updates…

My hurdle for the day is finding out how to re-record a vocal track to an instrumental track – mind you, this instrumental track is ALL of the instruments already consolidated into one mp3 (yes, compressed) file so there is very little I can do for it. Eq’ing has made the instrumental track sound like its truly happening in the background, but the voice has to come out somehow.

So I think its a perfect time for a break to work on my other re-recording for My Greatest Wish. By the end of the week I plan to have all three of the songs on my myspace page updated with their new mixes and vocal takes. I think I’m finally happy with the takes I’ve got, though I still have to get another shot for My Greatest Wish – I changed some lyrics that now need to be changed back.

I’d love to start working on a new song but nothing worth developing has occured to me lately. Sometimes it does, while I’m listening to another song, and of course I don’t have a pen with me. I have so many notes for songs and it seems like I spend all of my time just finding them and putting them in one place – once that procedure is done, I’ve overloaded my brain and I can’t put it all together.

Who needs an energy drink?

I’m also going to try and to an impromptu photo shoot tonight. I think I already know how its going to turn out, but its worth a shot. Look for a new website header shortly!