Jul 26, 2009

Kite Festival

Steven, Maya, Vijay and Kate played at the Cesar Chavez Park today during the Berkeley Kite Festival. Played through our set and started working on a cover of "I Feel Fine" by the Beatles.

Jul 19, 2009

"Dead Parents"

Russ offers his thoughts on "Dead Parents":

Firstly, I have a terrible memory, so this is likely to be more storytelling than anything actually that happened. "Dead Parents" was a slog of a song. From the beginning, it was a combination of a poppy hook and hyperbolically depressing lyrics. A sob story love song. After the initial riff and some bits were written the band jammed around with the song on a number of occasions. Every time we played it we came up with some amazingly innovative way of juxtaposing poppy harmonies or 80s era hand claps with increasingly somber lyrics. And as many times we forgot or misremembered all the parts we had written. It was a jumble, a mangle, a song trying to find its adequate expression amidst a number of interested and differing parties. And with only shabby direction from the initial song writer.

Even this recording is just one more version of the song. The this-time-recording. Now Devin's mandolin riff gets to rollick along with our young lovers in their depressing escapades. But the song would be nothing without the hand claps.

The lyrics start us off in an unequivocally sad moment. Maybe there isn't a good reason for this, but there is certainly a power in hyperbole. What it occasions is an odd moment for two people to meet, a moment for the girl to assert radical independence, an independence that will be undercut but only on the terms of this newly emerging relationship. Otherwise the song is full of teenage, love-lorn longing. Midnights spent pacing streets alone when it feels like rain even when there hasn't been rain. Days spent next to phones and ringing phones that you can't pick up. Romance and obsession. In the end it is a look at hyperbole in love and the fragile, tenuous "out of sight" that can still manage to persist within it.

Who played on the recording?
Russ (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin); Steven (guitar, backing vocals, percussion, melodica, handclaps); Lisa (handclaps); Molly (backing vocals, handclaps); Maya (viola, handclaps); Devin (lead mandolin); Hilary (cello)


I met you the day that both your parents had died
You leaned into me and told me that you’d never cry
That all that you’d ever needed you had inside
I am to admit, I certainly sounded like lies

All I needed to know
And all I had left to show
Was the look in your eyes
The dream in your mind
And I wanted to be
And I wanted to see
All you could be
All that you are
Wanted you more
Than I know you are
You are the heart
You are the land
The only girl
That I could stand

I was lonely, on my own
You’re the only, one I phoned
Deep in my heart I was calling out for your love
So I wandered the streets until I had had enough.


You’re the one that got this right
All we have is one more night
You and me and the out of sight
All we have is one more night
To get it right.

You were always, on your own
But when I called up, no one’s home
Nobody loves you like I said that I would
Nobody loves like that, nobody could.


Jul 17, 2009

"The Drifter"

"The Drifter" is about somebody who wanders home the day after an extremely hard night of partying. This is not something I've experienced, so I can't say I really connect with the song. Also, I never really liked the way the music turned out. However, it is included on the album at the insistence of my bandmates who think this is a great song.

I wrote the music near the end of March 2008. The yodeling part was inspired by "The Lonely Goatherd" from The Sound of Music. After I finished the music, I wrote some filler lyrics in five minutes, and recorded a demo for the band. At the time, Lisa had been raving to me about the remarkable life of Stede Bonnet, so I thought, maybe I could turn it into a pirate song. The song went like this:

When I was in town
A rich and favored child
I was sentenced to be loved and forgotten
My stuffy civil life
With oh my nagging wife
I desired more of an adventure

So I gathered up a crew and leased a boat
And then, we set sail from the coast
Towards Aruba, Martinique, and Kokomo
We're sure to put on quite a show


This week we'll plunder five
In my matching suit and tie
We'll show them what nobility's made of

We're the pirates from a new and fancy mold
With cannons plated in gold
If you work for me, ten coins I will bestow
On you, everyday we're afloat

Yo-ho, lay-ee-oo...

I've seventy hired men
I manage now and then
When I'm not below heating my kettle
Would they ever leave?
That's a silly inquiry.
They have got the brawns, but I've got the money

So we sail into the waves of history
And we'll do this articulately
If they say I'm weak, well, fine, just let them say
But my friend, Blackbeard, will shut them away

Yo-ho, lay-ee-oo...

Despite such great lines as "They have got the brawns, but I've got the money," we decided that the original set of lyrics were stronger. I tweaked them a bit to form a story, and then brought it to rehearsal. There was a bit of a group effort on the arrangement: Ciana and Russ figured out the "Egyptian" countermelody during the chorus, Devin wrote the trumpet lines at the beginning of the song, and Molly wrote her vocal harmonies.

As fun as it was to play, "The Drifter" is really not my best songwriting, and I thought it was sometimes repetitive and boring. So, I decided to make it a little silly, and loaded it up with sound effects like the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine." I brought in my friend Hana to play a harp line to transition from the bridge back to the verse.

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, melodica); Molly (backing vocals); Maya (viola); Devin (trumpet); Hilary (cello); Hana (harp)


The night I wasn't home
I was a little stoned
I was tripping out to the beat of a disco
Whatever happened next
I bet it was complex
I woke up in the heart of San Francisco

With me and you and everyone we know
From all of the places we've found
All the smiles and eyes and sparks from long ago
They spun like a merry-go-round

I walked along the shore
I walked along some more
I found it hard to talk and hard to swallow

With me and you, and people I don't know
We played on this big haunted ground
All the smiles and eyes and sparks from long ago
They spun like a merry-go-round

Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh

Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh

So then I reached the park
As it was getting dark
I was introduced to a stomach in peril
My senses came to light
As the world sank out of sight
I found my rented home in a street oh-so-narrow

Oh me and you and everyone we know
Flew out of the old lost and found
All the smiles and eyes and sparks from long ago
They spun like a merry-go-round

Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee ooh

Yodel lay, yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee, yodel lay ee ooh
Yodel lay ee, yodel lay ee ooh

Jul 16, 2009


"Frankenstein" was the first original song for Band Practice/Party! Designed to be easy to play, the song uses only four chords: G, C, F, and D. Over and over again. I guess I was also being influenced by Beirut, who uses a lot of simple chord progressions.

The lyrics are based on Mary Shelley's horror novel Frankenstein. In particular, I wanted to capture the moment that Frankenstein (the scientist) created the monster.
It was already one in the morning; the rain pattered dismally against the panes, and my candle was nearly burnt out, when, by the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open...
So that's the beginning of Volume I, Chapter IV, which our Verse 1 is based on. Frankenstein had just spent the last two years working hard at creating life, and this is the culmination of his labors. Right now, he's thinking,
How can I describe my emotions at this catastrophe, or how delineate the wretch whom with such infinite pains and care I had endeavoured to form?
Well, Frankenstein, you can pick up a guitar and start singing this song.

I think it would be appropriate to film our music video at the Albany Bulb, a park that has a lot of artwork cobbled together from junk. I thought about doing it as a live performance (like La Blogotheque), but the strong winds would probably make that impossible.

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, toy piano); Russ (mandolin); Ciana (accordion); Lisa (banjulele); Molly (backing vocals, ukulele); Vijay (violin); Devin (trumpet)


A wintry day of dismal rain,
Falala, it falls against
The window panes, the withered stains,
Tralala, the spark of feeling anew!

I have been waiting all this time to make you mine,
I have been waiting all this time.

So young and fine, sublime, divine
Are the words I’d use to tell
About my pride, synthetic bride--
Weialala, a portrait of my mind!

I have been waiting all this time to make your face come alive,
I have been waiting all this time as time goes by.

Everyday I live to bring me closer to you,
And through the window nature looks so heavenly,
But nothing compares to the beauty of my dream.

I have been waiting (all this time)
I have been waiting (all this time)
I have been waiting all this time. (I have been waiting.)
I have been waiting (all this time)
I have been waiting (all this time),
I have been waiting all this time to make you mine.

Jul 15, 2009


This is a lullaby for children of the future. "Sylvia" is named for Sylvia Plath, one of my favorite writers.

The music came to me while I was riding a bus to work one day in January 2008. I had to scramble to write it down after arriving at the office, before I forgot everything.

Here's our official music video for "Sylvia", using NASA footage from the latest space shuttle mission.

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead and backing vocals, guitar, percussion); Russ (mandolin); Hilary (cello); Lisa (banjo, glockenspiel); Molly (ukulele); Maya (viola); Devin (trumpet)


Smile, Sylvia
I don’t know when I’ll love again
But smile as you fly around the planet smile
As you count another year
Smile, Sylvia
The books I’ve read will come again
Alive, curious and waiting to be
Know your letters A to Z

Life, Sylvia
Won’t be so bad, won’t be so sad
Life if you stop and play in the middle of strife
If you sing a song when something’s awry

If they hurt you no matter how they try
If they push you there’s no need to comply
Turn the world upside down
And then you’ve found it
Go to sleep and

Smile, Sylvia
I don’t know when I’ll love again
But smile as you fly around the planet smile
As you count another year
Smile, baby, smile

Jul 14, 2009


"Marcher" is based on the novella The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James. I don't want to give away the story in case you want to read it, so I'll just talk about how the song came into being.

It was the autumn of 2007 and Band Practice/Party needed more original songs. We already had "Frankenstein," but I wanted to write a song that everybody could play a unique part on. I was messing about with E and whatever the chord is that looks like an open E but is two frets higher. I was listening to Stereolab's The First of the Microbe Hunters at the time, and I really liked the song "Intervals" because of its strange descending melody at the beginning. In fact, I've always been fascinated by descending melodies, including "Teardrop" by Massive Attack and "Weird Divide" by The Shins. So I wanted to write my own. The "bap bap" countermelody came afterwards, as I was trying to make it sound like Stereolab.

I sent the instrumental over to Lisa, who said it sounded like two people sitting on a car by a beach. Somehow that got me thinking about this story that I had read for English 45C. I remember reading The Beast in the Jungle during lunch time one Wednesday afternoon in 2003, on a bench in front of Sproul Hall. I remember this, because I was so moved by this novella that it sealed the deal for me to be an English major. So, in a way, you have to thank John Bishop for making this song possible. Anyway, I wrote the lyrics from the point of view of John Marcher, the protagonist of the story.

The music video will feature Russ playing the role of Marcher. I'd like to have it so that Marcher is wandering around town. It would be nice to have it in Berkeley, so that some of us Cal alums can have this footage for nostalgic purposes later. There will also be a few seconds of us playing in the park. At the end of the video, Marcher reaches his destination, which turns out to be a cemetery. "May, now I feel you..."

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead vocals, guitar, percussion); Russ (mandolin); Ciana (accordion); Lisa (bicycle bell); Molly (backing vocals, claves); Vijay (violin); Devin (trumpet)


Drawn together young embraces
Sat like loveless seeds who perish
You remember, May, when we were young
Found us in the cool November sun

I sensed something looming towards me
Vaguely, just beyond my arm’s reach
Oh, won’t you watch with me?
Oh, won’t you watch with me?
I drift like a ghost through a fate that I keep holding on

Long nights we stayed up in sentry
Gazing, playing, side by side we
Saw the joy that passion could have brought
Lost the joy that passion would have sought
May, now I feel you, my tears fall in vain on your tomb

Jul 13, 2009

"My Kind Idea"

"My Kind Idea" is a love song. I guess you could also call it my idea of a good time. The lyrics were easy to write, because they simply describe some of my favorite things: drinking tea, staying in, and wandering outside.

Like many of my songs, the music came first, and the filler lyrics that went along with it were: "That old sun, lucky lucky lucky sun." (I wrote the music early February 2008, shortly after Brian Wilson debuted his new album That Lucky Old Sun in London.) The melody is strange and uses some difficult intervals, including a tritone during the "ooh" parts. It's definitely no nursery rhyme. And the chords are a bit chromatic----for example, the verses switch between A minor and G# major. I'm not sure what possessed me to write this kind of music.

The recording is pretty amazing. Please listen to it.

I would like the music video to portray the construction of a Lego set. Particularly this one. The idea is that building a Lego model is one of the coolest things you can do at home when you want to be away from the nightclubs, bars and disco lights.

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead vocals, guitar, percussion); Russ (mandolin); Hilary (cello); Molly (ukulele, backing vocals); Maya (viola); Devin (trumpet)


As we walk into a room of freezing cold
You laugh and say hello my friend
My fear my kind idea
And I brew a kettle drumming tea for you
Yellow foggy silver blue
I feel its sweet appeal
And you in the armchair all alone
Ooh, tell me something about the past decade
Of blue and the monochrome tube
We can swing and rock till
We both have had our fill
Of time and of space and of fun
But we know we will never be done

The nightclubs and bars and disco lights
Ooh, don’t compel us
As much as our habit of
Staying up talking all night
As I fell into your arms
Fallen out of harm
The charm of a dream of mixed rhymes
And the fancied invention of lines

Later on, the sun is in the room again
Chased away the moon again
The mirror is frosty dear
In a daze, gentle wind a warm embrace
And everything is in its place
So near come for me here
The Sunday review is on the lawn
Ooh, we should go out, see what it’s all about
The bricks in the old custom house
We can stop and wonder
In front of a window of a shop
That is closed for the day
And the sights that we’ll see on the way


Superficially, "Twenty-Five" is a shameless imitation of the educational cartoon Schoolhouse Rock! I can even tell you specifically that I had the episode "Figure Eight" in mind when I wrote it. Putting all that aside, "Twenty-Five" is a song that has a lot of meaning to me, and I think it stands very well on its own. Basically, what the lyrics are trying to say is that "age is just a number," and therefore we have the verses that say, "Well, 25 is just this and that, it's just 5 times 5, and so on." But then, you shift to the point of view of somebody who's just reached this milestone in life, is bewildered by adulthood, and still feels like a child.

Based on the timestamps on my demo recordings, this song actually took two months to write. The music came to me about two weeks after my 25th birthday, but I only had filler lyrics that went, "Marigolds, here they come, la la la la..." It subsequently sat on the shelf while I entered a not-so-creative phase that resulted in "The Drifter," also known as "Yodel." When I went back to work on "Marigolds," I decided to make it like a girl-guy duet, kind of like Blonde Redhead, one of my favorite bands. Finally, something inspired me to write the lyrics that became "Twenty-Five."

A lot of the arrangement was worked out in Molly's backyard during June 2008. Noah gets credit here for the "ooh" and doubling harmonies throughout the song. Molly's voice is perfect for this song, and she does a great job with it.

If you ever catch us live, listen for a little surprise at the end.

For the music video, I'd like to make a cartoon in the style of Schoolhouse Rock! A few months back, I drew storyboards for this video, but haven't had time to do any more work. Anyone know of an animator who can help bring this video into reality?

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead and backing vocals, guitar, percussion); Molly (lead and backing vocals, ukulele); Russ (mandolin); Hilary (cello); Maya (viola).


Twenty-five, or two and five
Spelled with two prime numbers
Twenty-five, or five times five
And sum of two square numbers
Twenty-five, la la la
Five more than a full score
If you count by fountain pen
Count five groups of tallies

Suddenly I found myself beginning to sit still
Suddenly I found that I was picking up the bill
Yet my scribbles from so long ago still send me chills
Still send me chills

Twenty-five is silver, please
When it's my anniversary
Twenty-five is manganese
If you're into chemistry
Twenty-five is a quarter of
The big old sum one hundred
Twenty-five is the quarter coin
The head of our first president

Dusting off my old Nintendo really made me feel
Like those days I weren't in charge of making any deals
They assure me, son, you ain't seen half of what is fun
They say I'm still young

Twenty-five golden rings
On five lucky hands they fit
And every year, many like
This day in December

Jul 12, 2009

"Picture Yourself"

It's been almost a year since I wrote "Picture" one night after work. I was listening to the Kinks at the time, and I guess this was an attempt to write my own "Village Green", complete with things I remember from my own childhood. I did take some artistic license with that----for instance, I never lived in a house with a white picket fence. There are also things I borrowed from other peoples' lives, such as the family photos hanging above a seldom-used piano. But you get the idea, this is a song about a comfortable suburban upbringing, and the passing on thereof to the children. It could also be about aging... in fact, I remember being really moved by the last verse which alludes to the speaker as an old man. The very last line was originally "Make my living worthwhile," but I thought that was way too sad, and so I changed it to repeat the previous line, "Remember them with a smile."

I must have been feeling lazy that night, because the chords are very simple (no barre chords), and it's just one verse-chorus after another. I think it's catchy, though, and it's still fun to play. It's true, I play a Hohner acoustic guitar, but it'll be a while before it becomes vintage.

For the music video, I'm thinking of walking down the street in a suburban-looking location with wide streets, nice houses, and no traffic. Something like this location in Pleasanton, CA. Probably just a continuous shot of me miming to the song, like this video.

Who played on the recording? Steven (lead vocals, guitar, melodica, percussion); Lisa (glockenspiel); Russ (guitar); Hilary (cello, backing vocals); Molly (ukulele, backing vocals); Maya (viola); Devin (French horn)


Picture yourself one day you’re married
With a home and job and family
And children running around
White picket fence and Reader’s Digest
A Sunday Mass to feel blessed
In this familiar town

All those things I knew so well,
All those things I lived back then
I miss those simple, carefree days,
Will I live them through again?

Picture yourself one day you’re driving
Screaming kids on the highway
On the way out of state
Not quite the trip that Kerouac spoke of
But you’ve got to take good care of
The things you wanted so much

All those things I knew so well,
All those things I lived back then
I miss those simple, carefree days,
Will I live them through again?

Picture yourself one day you’re happy
With a grand piano that will
Sit for seventy years
A portrait of Mum and Dad and Junior
Still looks young and rosy
On his wedding day

All those things they knew so well,
All those things they lived back then
I miss those simple, carefree days,
Will I live them through again?

Out on the porch there you’ll be strumming
A vintage Hohner acoustic
You picked up long ago
That you were playing since you were twenty
Songs of hope and of promise
Remember them with a smile
Remember them with a smile
Remember them with a smile