A Year In Quarantine

Channel avatar Brightshine


Hello Friends, Thanks so much for your continued support!

     Wow, what a year it has been!  While everyone has walked a different path through this pandemic and some, sadly, did not make it through, I think it’s fair to say that we have all have shared certain things together in quarantine.  Isolation, despair, depression, elation, free time, loss of meaning and purpose, silver linings, and much more have been on the menu for all of us this year.
     For me, it’s been a tough year.  When the pandemic hit I had finally gotten two musical projects going that I had been working on getting up and running for the past 3 years, Brightshine and The Left Hand Monkey Wrench Gang.  We had gigs at Terrapin Crossroads, The Brick and Mortar, Ashkanaz, The Cornerstone, Michaels On Main, 19 Broadway, etc.  All gone.  All the preparation, rehearsal, promotion, stress and joy, gone.
     After absorbing and coming to terms with the shock and weirdness of adjusting to the pandemic I had to assess what I was left with and what I could do to move forward if I was alone and couldn’t play live or collaborate with other musicians in person. I was very fortunate to be able to keep working with my guitar, production and songwriting students on Zoom.  In addition to putting food on the table, teaching keeps me engaged with music and the guitar in ways that I don’t engage as an artist.  I have so much gratitude for my students who stuck with me even though we have had to do a year (so far!) of lessons through a zoom window!
     During quarantine I resolved to start delving into some parts of my musicianship that I felt needed work.  Practice time was definitely one of the silver linings of the pandemic for me.  In 2019 I had already started working with an amazing voice instructor, Thomas Clark, and I resolved to redouble my efforts with him.   I had always been a singer because I was a songwriter and I resolved to spend the year becoming a stronger and more confident vocalist in my own right.   With the help of Tom I feel like I really am in control of my singing in a way that has never happened before and that has had a huge impact on my songwriting and performing.
     The newfound control and power of my voice started to have an immediate impact on my songwriting as well.  I typically write in a flow state where I’m trying out different melodic ideas, chord changes and lyrics.  My new vocal approach has allowed me to create different types of melodies and resonant pitches in the songs that I was writing.  My lyrics are almost always born from sounds or nonsensical phrases that come out of me when I’m writing and these too were being shaped by the nature of the new sounds I was capable of making with my voice.   I wrote a ton of new songs this year and am excited to share them with you on the upcoming Brightshine album that we are in process of recording.
     I had always wanted to delve deeper into jazz on my instrument so I started working daily with a couple of jazz instructional videos as well as transcribing some of favorite solos by Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard and Miles Davis.  This started to seep into my writing and lead guitar phrasing.  I’m really looking forward to improvising with some of these new tools as well once we are playing live again.
     I also had the time to redo my guitar rig and will do a separate blog post for the gear nerds out there on all the minutiae but the important thing is that I now have a guitar rig that is able to translate my tone and musical ideas into the air in a very accurate and toneful way that translates at a wide range of volumes and that too has had its role in inserting new creativity into my playing and that feels amazing…
     Just before the shutdown, I had a very fruitful writing session with Celso Alberti (drums) and Eric Levy (keyboards).  I wanted to work with some grooves and chord changes that would take me out of my usual patterns of songwriting and hopefully stimulate some exciting new material.  We got some really cool ideas down and I had those ready to go when quarantine began.  Starting from these new places had the effect of making me write different types of songs and were an excellent writing catalyst that spilled over into some of the tunes I wrote on my own during quarantine.  Having no other creative outlet had the effect of making songwriting my first priority and I am very proud of the songs I wrote this year, both in collaboration and alone.  The lyrics inhabit all the emotions I went though in quarantine and draw from the experiences of my friends as well.   I have to say that while I would never choose it, it is fascinating to see who we are if you strip all in-person contact with the outside world away.  Whatever that was and is for me, it is in this batch of songs!
     I was itching to record these tunes and, after 8 months of quarantine, cases began to drop in the fall and my bandmates and I felt that with proper precautions (testing, masks, social distancing, limited personnel) it might be possible to safely have a recording session to start the next Brightshine album.   I was really excited by the prospect of taking some of these new songs out for a spin and seeing how they sounded outside of my studio being played by my badass bandmates.
     So it was that myself, Celso, Eric and Murph booked Wind River Studios in Santa Cruz for a day of setup and 2 days of recording.  Because vocals are overdubbed after the basic tracks (drums, bass, keys and guitar) are recorded we didn’t need Maria Caycedo there although she was with us in spirit!  This was good because we needed the fewest people possible there to keep the Covid risk down.  In addition to being a phenomenal drummer, Celso is also a world class engineer who engineers for Mike Stern, Dave Weckl, Airto and Flora Purim to name a few.  This was key because with our combined engineering ability and with me producing we were able to record at a very high level and have no extra people there other than the 4 of us.  We all got tested, came back negative, and it was on! 
     It was so great to see and hang out with everyone and making music with live humans (especially these humans) was truly the most incredible feeling.  It’s always a rush to bring one of my songs to life in the studio but the feeling of doing it when you haven’t played with anyone for 8 months was truly stupendous and you can definitely here that in the songs we laid down!  The tracks came out great and are now nearly done, we are just waiting for it to be safe to get together with Maria so she and I can co-create the vocal soundscapes on each song and she can add her magical voice to the tracks. At that point we can start releasing some singles while we finish up the rest of the album.  Stay tuned for some snippets on the Brightshine FB and Instagram and please like/subscribe to stay in the loop for release info.
     It’s been a true joy to have these tracks to mix and record vocals on as well as play with arrangements and mixing ideas for the last few months.  Now it looks like we are hopefully getting to a point where we can do live shows in person in the near future, exciting times indeed!  As we return please consider supporting local original music that you love by subscribing, buying merchandise and music and coming out to live performances.  Only through your support can we exist and grow and thrive!
     OK, that’s how I’m doing!  How are you?  Please let me know in the comments or in email/dm’s, let’s stay connected!
Rock on!

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Great to hear your music!


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