Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
(insert tangent on how people live longer these days, but our timelines for supposed accomplishments stays within the same parameters (or gets shorter/younger) that it has for decades.)
I write songs. Or try to. I want to be really good at it, but I'm not always. People have different goals for their songwriting. Some do it to sell hit records. Some write songs to make people dance, cry, smoke weed, think, have sex, fight, etc.
I write because I want to tell a story in a beautiful and passionate way. It can be an angry story, with dissonance and ugly sounds, but I still want it to be beautiful in it's craft and the care that went into it.
I used to only write songs about my own personal experiences. I think I felt like it was "my thing" to be really personal in songs, and cagey in my personal life. It got boring. It was really easy to sit at the piano and write sprawling songs, trying to put loneliness into different perspectives and metaphors. But my favorite songwriters are story tellers (Tom Waits, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie), often turning history, fairy tales, and science fiction into everyday life. It's magic to be able to write a song about outer space and have people relate to it like they woke up and went there yesterday. In order to not write about myself, I needed a muse. I needed a direction. I needed a challenge. I turned to a book that I used to read as child called "Outside Over There".
Outside Over There was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak and published in 1981. I was 2. My parents had just divorced and I lived with my mom at my grandmother's apartment in McLean, Va. I pretended the apartment building was a castle. A relative, or friend of the family, bought me the book. They didn't inscribe it. The synopsis of the book is essentially, the main character, Ida, has taken on the responsibilities to help care for her mom and sister while her father is away at sea. One day while she's supposed to be watching her sister, she gets distracted playing music and doesn't notice that goblins came in through the window, stole her sister, and replaced her with an ice changeling!
The rest of the book follows her journey into Outside Over There, trying to look for her sister.
For many reasons, the book resonated with me. Not only was it simultaneously beautiful, dark and scary, but it was also this imaginative story about this girl burdened with responsibility. I had it read to me every night until I memorized it, and then "read it" to myself every night.
While looking for inspiration for new songs not about me, I started to think about the book, and Ida. I started to wonder how Ida would have been as an adult after these heavy burdens were put on her as a child. As she risked her life for her sister. How would she be in relationships? How would she deal with death? What kind of job would she have? These sound like very basic questions for a book that is so colourful in story, but it sparked my interest. I wanted to see what I could create.
And so began my journey of "Foolish Ida". For the past few years I've been writing off and on for the project and am recording 2 EP's for it now. We have a good chunk of it done. The songs will be simple arrangements: piano, organs, layers of voice, an occasional string, and hopefully 2 or 3 songs with fuller orchestration. The recording process has been unexpectedly great and relaxed, and somehow went from this thing I did in my spare time to this thing I really really love.
On Wednesday August 24th, "Foolish Ida" is debuting at The Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Ma. I've coerced Vesela Stoyanova (midi marimba) and Valerie Thompson (cello) from Goli to be my backup band. Molly Zenobia, Mary Bichner (Box Five), and Peter Moore (Count Zero) have signed on to be my backup singers. I feel very lucky.
There's only a Facebook page for Foolish Ida right now, but more will be coming soon.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
From the ages of 3-15 my family had an upright grand that didn't sound the best, but was beautiful. Black satin finish, with filigree around the legs and chipped rounded corners. It was the piano I first started to play on and held great sentimental value to both my mother and me.
When I was 15 and living in the OC, our house got broken into and the burglars stole the antique silverware that my great grandmother had given us. My mom was devastated. I remember her calling me at my friend's house to break the news. My concern: Did they steal my Tori bootlegs? They hadn't.
Sometime after we'd gotten the insurance money for the stolen goods, mom had noticed there was going to be a piano sale at UC Irvine. I can't remember why the school did this, but I'm pretty sure it had something to do with these pianos being used at the school for a year or two, and then being thrown out to pasture because someone was insane. Something like that. Anyway, my mom decided that since the silverware could never be replaced, the only way to honor my great grandmother's memory (who was an ardent music lover - specifically piano music) was to buy a baby grand piano. I loved this idea.
So, one Saturday we went down to this big warehouse-of-a-room at the university and I was instructed to pick out my favorite. There were steinways, baldwins, yahamas, bostons. Uprights, spinets, grands, baby grands. Brown, black, satin, shiny, white. I was in heaven. After trying nearly every kind, I decided on the 5'6" yamaha, with the black shiny finish and the boomy bass. For some reason that escapes me, I named her Isis. It sounded hard and soft, like her sound.
For the next few years while living at home, I played Isis nearly everyday for hours at a time. I mainly was writing my own songs, but also took lessons in and out of school; playing Chopin, Satie and Debussy.
I made recordings on friend's 4 tracks and on tape recorders. I recorded everything. I took those tapes, listened to them all the time, gave them to people, and then put them in a box when I was sick of them.
I hadn't listened to these recordings in about 11 years. That is, until I found the box in my mom's basement today after recording tracks for my solo EP on that 5'6" yamaha, now residing in NY.
All the way home I popped in different tapes and sat in wonder. Memories flooding. Songs I had completely forgotten about until that very moment the worn tape started rolling. Suddenly they were as familiar as the day I had written them.
My feelings were very mixed. I was surprised at how well I played the piano. I wasn't amazing by any means, but my fingers were much more dexterous then; as they should be when you're playing for hours a day. The other things that really shocked me were my arrangements, chords and melodies. They were really weird. Really weird.
When I think about my songs at the time I think of being really influenced by Tori Amos and Joni Mitchell. I remember a lot of people saying my songs reminded them of Tori. After awhile I began to believe it and started trying to come up with more straightforward arrangements. Trying to make my songs more universal and not so obscure. But what I realized while listening to them in the car was that they sounded nothing like Tori Amos. They didn't sound like anyone I was listening to. It was like I was creating my own language. How could I have been so off? Why didn't I have the confidence to know I was doing something different?
I don't want to give the impression that the songs were good. They weren't. They were interesting, yes. And actually, the songs could have been good if the lyrics weren't such drivel. I didn't write bad lyrics, like 'I've been so sad without you. So I bought a new pair of shoes.'I wrote things that made no fucking sense. One song made mention of a lucid dream, laundry, the sexes in touching places(?), and something about a cake? I thought I was being so clever writing such meaningful poetry. How can it be clever if you're the only one that understands it? How can it be clever if you can't even understand it? If I had put random words into a hat, pulled them out and created sentences, it probably would have made more sense. It left me dumbfounded. It left me full of regret.
But somehow, woven into these mixed emotions was this one common thread. Music has been a part of my life since I was a kid. But only after listening to these tapes today do I understand the passion that was always there. I so obviously loved what I was doing. Even when it hadn't occurred to me to pursue it seriously. Even when I thought I wanted to be an actress. Or a psychic.
In this last year or so, that passion has faded. I've been influenced by what other people are saying and not saying. I've been influenced by the times, the popularity contests, the work that must be done that involves everything but the writing of songs. I've gotten overwhelmed and cynical. Where does realism and practicality start and end? Should passion really be limited by such things? Is this growing up or is this giving up? I'm left with the same answer that I started with: I have no fucking idea.
But today, while driving home from New York the weekend before Christmas, a box of dusty maxell's between my knees, I thought, 'has the answer been in the basement?'
Monday, October 04, 2010
Some of you may have not even noticed I’ve been absent, and I take absolutely no offense to that. Hopefully you’ve been living your lives, spending time with your close-ones and not killing your brain watching things that start with ‘Jersey’ and end with ‘Shore’. But if you have been, I won’t judge you. Not aloud, at least.
I have been busy doing things that would interest no one, except maybe a few lone nerds interested in natural remedies and becoming a Luddite. I have somehow started to think that life’s so much better when I’m not on a computer, when I’m not updating ‘statuses’ all day, when I’m not jumping into photos to try and remember, but instead trying to remember with my memory. I know. It’s totally fucked up. It’s so ‘beginning of time – 2006’ of me.
Is this what happened when you were a kid and all the old people got older while you got hipper? I really don’t want to be that old person, especially since I’m not all that old. But I also don’t want to be all that hip and connected. Maybe I will sometime soon, but as of now, I don’t. I want to be away from the constant barrage of innovation and information, and not forget who I am without it. I want to try and live without influence for a bit. So subsequently, I’m really fucking boring for the time being and I’ve been sparing you all the gory details. You’re welcome.
What I will tell you though, is that Self-Employed Assassins has multiplied in size. We have added a wonderful and handsome bass player named Eric Donohue. I once played with him in the Fast Easy Women, but then he went to Africa for a few years. He’s back and providing Matt and I with wonderful low end and pseudo British remarks. I also have coerced Peter Moore to sometimes play keys with us too. Why did I ask him to do that? Because I was so sick of him complaining about my shitty piano parts, and frankly, I wanted to dance. Ok, he didn’t really complain about my piano parts….in public, but I did want to dance. Or at least stand up and front the band that I’ve had for 4 years now. Is that so wrong?
Although we’ve been playing in other states, we haven’t played as a band in our hometown in what feels like 9 years. We’re coming out of hiding with our new Assassins on Friday Oct 22nd at Café 939 in Boston. The show is a sort of tribute to the band ‘The Motion Sick’, and all bands on the bill will pay tribute to them in some fashion. But in addition to this, S.E.A will be playing new songs and re-imagining old songs. It will be AWESOME. We go on at 8pm SHARP. And I will dance!
Friday Oct 22nd
@ Cafe 939
939 Boylston St
Agent Bishop presents: Red Eye at the Red Room
w/ Sarah RabDAU & Self-Employed Assassins, This Blue Heaven & Dramamine: The Girls of The Motion Sick
8pm Sarah RabDAU & S.E.A
9pm This Blue Heaven
Saturday, January 23, 2010
I woke up that morning to find my amaryllis starting to bloom:
The weather, for January 23rd in Boston, was surprisingly warm...I think close to 50.
Now it's a year later, to the day, and we are playing an anniversary show at Rosebud Bar in Davis Square tonight. The few weeks leading up to today have not been as wonderful as the days leading up to the CD Release. Based on some conversations with friends, I know I'm not alone in saying these past few weeks have been horrendous. Depression is in the water in Boston-town.
However, today feels a little different. Last night we had a spectacular rehearsal with the girls in Goli and Peter Moore. They will be joining us on several songs. This morning I woke up, stayed in bed, and finished 'The Pilgrimage' by Paulo Coelho. A book I have mostly loved, though winter cynicism has prevented me from fully experiencing. Nonetheless, I feel the book came to me at the perfect time. It got me to reach beyond the bowels of January, the world, and self-doubt and to once again be more comfortable with the path I have taken, and will continue to take. Life is a constant journey, even when you don't feel like journey-ing. Yeah, obvious, but tell it to the girl staring at the wall. She don't care.
It seemed only right that after finishing the book about a pilgrimage that I should do an hour of yoga and try to release all that's been building up inside this body o' mine. After all this zen-ness, the natural thing to do, of course, was make an Indian inspired breakfast with Bengali-style potatoes, spinach, and after years of practice, my perfectly mastered poached eggs.
I was feeling about as blissed out as I could possibly feel when I happened to check my email. There in my inbox was a note from my friend Brendan titled, 'Happy Albumversary'. I clicked on the email, and in summary, this is what I found:
I have never had anyone do a cover of one of my songs before. When I heard the first few notes I felt small and shy, undeserving of the sounds made from an accomplished hand and learned musician. But as I listened further, I could feel myself grow. My shoulders straightened, my cheeks blushed, my eyes brimmed with tears and I began to really process that I had written this song. For the first time I could hear how someone else really loved it, was performing it, shaping it into their own, and sending it out into the world. I could hear the love. And, holy shit, I made something that someone loved!
It is in these small gestures by others, in their thoughtfulness and honesty, that will sometimes force you to face your truths. Sometimes seeing yourself is the very thing that can hurl you into the bowels of sadness, never wanting to come out. And sometimes when forced to look, you turn away for fear of, what? Knowing? Swallowing the idea that you may do something beautiful? Worthwhile? If you take it in, you might be proud? Egotistical?
It is so hard to see beauty in the dark depths of a New England January. But this afternoon, with a click of a mouse, it felt like falling in love.
Sunday, January 10, 2010
Oh, perfect smart and glamorous person, why can't I live in your world?
You see, I cannot read papers. I get instant ADD. Reading articles in a paper is like mapping out a trip while maneuvering a vehicle.
Every Sunday I get so excited for Peter to open the door, reach down and pick up that blue translucent bag that contains all things I love in the world. I watch as he orders it to his liking; first taking out the crossword puzzle (extra smart points), putting the sports section in the 'fire' pile (oh, adorable music nerd), makes his way through arts, world news, throws out the travel section.....wait, what? Why aren't you looking at the travel? Wait, what are you doing with the Style magazine? Actually, can I look at the Arts?
And what do I do with these sections? I look at the pictures. I'm like a child. I go through the encyclopedia of papers, and look for fucking pictures. I insult myself with this admission, but every week I think I'll be different. Every week I hope that I will one day be the one who will get tailored clothes, be naturally smart, and wear horn-rimmed glasses.
Sadly, I am not. All of my clothes have holes in them, I have never not had to study until my eyes burn, I cannot remember historical facts--though I can remember meals from years ago-and lastly, the nail in the coffin...I read magazines. With big pictures in them. Gasp. Smart person fail.
Ok, I also have a rather voracious book reading appetite, but it doesn't matter. The New York Times is my Harvard, my MIT, my Julliard. I will never be that romantic, dashing, perfectly coiffed person whose brain is a well oiled machine. I will be the sophomoric, disheveled, poor music girl reading the news on the internet. Do I know they have the Times on the internet? Yes. Do I read the articles? Sometimes. Is there a difference? The internet is not romantic and therefore doesn't count.
Romance is the only thing that counts.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
But luck doesn't mean perfection, and connection doesn't leave me free of issues. I have plenty.
This Christmas I spent it with my mom, my dad, Peter, and two sisters. My parents have been divorced since I was two. This was the first Christmas I've spent with my dad since their divorce. On Boxing Day, my stepdad's brother and wife came over. My mom and my stepdad have been divorced for about 10 years. My stepmom and dad (married 20+ years) are now separated, and my other two sisters were spending Christmas with her. I've been through almost three divorces and one death (someone that felt like a stepfather) in my 30 years. I have four sisters, but I am the only one made by my mom and dad. Everyone on my mom's side of the family has been divorced at least twice. My dad's brother and parents married their high school sweethearts.
What's the point of this blog?
The point is that I had an absolutely fantastic Christmas. I ran around NYC, taking in the last day of the Hockney landscapes exhibit with my mom, dad, Peter and two sisters. I was brought to tears by the color and wild abandon of Hockney's strokes, while also loving the sight of my mom and sisters sitting on the concrete floor discussing perspective. I ate with my mom and dad at either end of the dinner table. I made a chocolate bread pudding with bourbon caramel sauce that upon taking the first bite, everyone let out an 'oh my god'. We went to Sherlock Holmes on opening day (amazing). We all became addicted to Mad Men and watched the entire first season. My dad and I cried while watching 'Julie and Julia' solely because Julia Child was so passionate about what she did. This is my family. They understood why their local grocery store named 'Four Season's' is so ridiculous. We ate together. We drank together. We art-ed together. We played games at 2am and laughed our collective asses off. We listened to Neko Case while we ate oyster stew.
I have been hurt by them and have hurt them. I have laughed with them and at them. I have felt torn to pieces because of separations and relationships gone wrong. I have felt overwhelming love every moment they come into my head and heart. They are mine and I am theirs.
This is the modern family. Broken, but bound by blood.