CALL for SUBMISSIONS!!!
ALL artists! I am very, VERY happy to announce that IMPROVIJAZZATION NATION is ACCEPTING SUBMISSIONS again. I have been granted a (possibly long-term) stay of execution for my trip to Iraq. I will still be traveling all over the U.S., so new issues may be a little less timely, but (as always), we will review your materials as soon as possible after we receive them. Look at the guidelines for submission below, please:
MUSIC: All formats accepted. Snail mail to: Zzaj Productions, c/o Dick Metcalf, 5308 65th Avenue, Lacey, WA 98513 The only criteria for music you submit is that it MUST HAVE high performance energy... if you submit lacklustre material, it will be reviewed accordingly
POETRY: Poems are accepted for publication ONLY via e-mail. Poems submitted in any other fashion will NOT be published. Poetry that includes some reference to music is granted first priority for publication.
BOOKS: We will review some books; books about music are PREFERRED. We will NOT return any books submitted for review. Snail them to the address listed above for MUSIC.
DIY Announcements: We will post your (e-mailed) ad about DIY projects, regardless of genre or medium... HOWEVER, this is ONLY for INDEPENDENTS... if you are a corporation, don't even BOTHER sending stuff... it will be marked and reported as SPAM!
Improvijazzation Nation - Issue # 78
INTERVIEW with SelfTort
ZZAJ: Before we get to the “in-depth” questions, please give us a little “history of SelfTort”… where you’re from (originally), where you’re at (now), when you first started playing, etc…
SelfTort: Dick, I was born in Sydney Australia in the 50s. I grew up in the southern suburbs in a family that loved music. We always had a piano and Dad in particular loved to play it. Every dinner party or family function ended up with a sing-a-long with Dad at the piano.
Apparently, although I don’t remember it, Dad and a mate were drinking in town one night and had a bit too much to drink. They ended up in one of those old “make a record” places and did a version of “Tea for Two”. I’m told that I used to play that endlessly and try to work it out on the piano by ear.
My brother and sister, who are older than me took piano lessons and I was keen to as well. But they didn’t follow it up once they stopped lessons, although they both took up music again at a later stage, so my parents didn’t think it was worth sending me. Then when my brother started playing again and getting into jazz bands at uni, Mum and Dad decided to send me for lessons. Unfortunately by that time I was more interested in playing football and cricket, and although I had lessons for a couple of years I didn’t get a lot out of it.
When I was about 11 I met a school friend Terry Doust who has been my longstanding friend ever since. We have played soccer and cricket together since that time and still do. Although Terry was never really into music, his brother Graham was and Graham took up the drums. Graham, Terry and I got on really well together as kids and Graham and I talked about getting a band together. So I bought my first acoustic when I was about 16.
It took a
while to get my head around the guitar. Meantime Graham had graduated to playing
in bands, and that sort of spurred me on. This was the late 60s, the time of
Hendrix and Clapton in particular.
At the end of my first year at uni, 1971 I did pretty well in my exams and was able to convince my parents to let me buy an electric guitar. At this time Graham was at Teachers College and was between bands. He arranged for a college mate of his, Peter Scott, to come over to his place one afternoon and we had a bit of a jam. It sounded pretty good to us, although the amount of alcohol we consumed during the session may have contributed to that. We decided to form a band.
We started off with a three piece with just Peter and myself on guitars and Graham on drums. Then Peter decided to buy a bass and we got a girl that I had been out with previously to assist with singing. We eventually got a job, but not a paying one. There was a guy at the gig, Geoff Barlow, that Graham had played in bands with previously and who was a good singer. Graham complained about having a bad throat and asked Geoff to sit in for a couple of brackets. It worked well. Graham later confessed that he hadn’t actually had a sore throat but wanted Geoff in the band, but thought I didn’t like Geoff and would object if he had suggested it without the charade.
The girl singer wasn’t overly interested, which was probably a good thing as she was more into pop and we were into rock. So we became a four-piece. We played intermittently, generally at parties, weddings, engagement parties, 21st birthdays and the like. Eventually we got a chance to audition for a 3 month residency at a hotel about an hour from Sydney, near where both Peter and Graham were now living. At the audition we played the house down. It’s the best we had ever played, and got the gig.
The residency was Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons. Geoff and I would take it in turns to drive up on the Wednesday night. We were given a motel room at the venue on Friday and Saturday nights and we used to practice every Saturday morning at the hotel. As a result of all that playing we were getting pretty tight.
After the residency finished we were asked back about 6 months later to do the Wednesday and Friday nights which we did for a couple of years. By this time I had started to do a bit of writing and we eventually decided to do some recording. We did 2 sessions. In the first one we did 6 tracks in one day. In the second we went back and concentrated on three of the tracks. I’ve actually posted a number of the tracks on Mixposure on my page. They have “Sirrah” in brackets after the title of the song. Obviously, if we were to do them now they would sound a lot better, but I’m still pretty happy with the way they sound.
By the mid 70s Graham and Peter had married and started teaching. I was getting to the end of my law degree and Geoff was working as a graphic artist. Peter announced that he wanted to travel overseas. We tried a couple of replacements but the chemistry wasn’t there. The beauty of the band was that we all got along really well together, both socially and musically. It just didn’t gel with an “outsider”. So Sirrah ceased to be.
I started work as a lawyer in 1977 and married in 1978. I kept playing guitar and piano at home, and occasionally filled in for bands that Graham was in when a player wasn’t available.
In about 1990 I decided to try a songwriting course. I was skeptical at first but wanted to give it a go. I found it very worthwhile and it was a catalyst for me to get into writing more. “Unvictorian Victoria” and “Time to Train the Horses” and the lyrics to “Light the Flame” from my debut CD “N.I.C” were written during the course.
By this stage I’d purchased a Tascam 4 track recorder, a basic synth and got a very rudimentary knowledge of midi. I loved the fact that I could sound like a full band in my lounge room.
In the early 90s I was President of my kids’ “P&C Association” (I think it’s the equivalent of your PTA). We had a function coming up but had no money to hire a band. I got the idea of forming a pickup band from other parents and put a notice to that effect in the school’s newsletter. I got three responses. We played the night and it went really well. We decided to stick together as “Mid Life Crisis”. I played keyboards in that band. We average about a gig a month for a few years and again it was a good fun experience.
Costa, the lead guitarist was an electrical engineer, Laurie the rhythm guitarist was a professor of pharmacology, John the singer was an accountant, and I was a lawyer, so it was difficult to get the four of us together as often as we’d like to practice. It got to the stage where every gig we were playing the same songs and it became a bit of a drag. The band never officially split up. It just sort of faded away.
By this time I was starting to feel confident about performing as a 1 man band. At my local pub a guy that I’d known through soccer used to run a trivia night. He owed me a favour and I asked him if I could play a couple of sets during breaks in his Christmas night at the pub. He agreed. Although I played pretty appallingly the publican liked it and booked me. That was December 2000 and I’ve been doing the gig once a month ever since.
On a personal level, I’m still practicing law. I’m still married to Jenny and have two wonderful kids, Nick and Emma.
ZZAJ: The “one-man-band” configuration is something we often encountered in the early days of the (long-gone) “home-taper network”, which I was part of for many, many years. Is that your preferred method, or do you more enjoy playing with other artists?
Self Tort: From a purely commercial point of view, one advantage of the 1 man band is that I get to keep all the money without having to share it with other band members. I’m getting pretty much a night what the entire band used to be paid. Also, I get to choose what I play. I used to get frustrated in Mid Life Crisis that we didn’t do songs because one or more player couldn’t remember the chords or the words or whatever. Learning new songs would take ages for the band, whereas I can learn something new pretty quickly. If someone comes up at a gig and requests a song I know, I can play it without worrying about whether the other guys do or not.
However, my preferred method of playing would be in a full band. I love the energy that the playing of others can give to my own playing. I would dearly love to be in a four or five piece outfit, finally doing all original music. But family, work and social life don’t really allow me the time that such an arrangement would involve. Plus, I’ve been lucky in the two bands that I’ve been in, to have had people in the bands that I really liked and who had similar musical tastes. It would be hard to find a similar group of people.
ZZAJ: Do you do a lot of “live” playing, or is most of your composition/work in-studio?
SelfTort: I have had my regular monthly gig at the Mortdale Hotel in Sydney for about 8 years, now. Plus I generally pick up about between 6-12 gigs from word of mouth. My practice as a lawyer makes it hard to really push the live music. I don’t really promote it heavily. I’d like to do a bit more live work, but then I look at the PA, the speaker boxes and think, “do I really want to be carting them about three nights a week”.
I’ve recently taken up playing at acoustic venues, doing my original stuff with just me and my acoustic. That’s fun and it seems that there are more venues setting up for that sort of entertainment in Sydney at the moment which is positive. I’ve had a bit of difficulty in converting some of my songs to an acoustic format and I’ve really got to work more on my technique on the acoustic. But it’s nice to be playing your own compositions and to not have to cart carloads of gear.
I do some originals in my 1 man-band sets, but in reality where I play in that format the people really only want “covers”.
ZZAJ: The collaborative aspects of OMD’s (like my favorite, MIXPOSURE) seem to offer “new” ways of producing music(s); how have such sites influenced your own music, or playing?
SelfTort: My coming to OMD sites has really transformed me and my music. I had had a Tascam 4 track for a number of years and had done some fairly primitive recordings of a couple of songs that I’d written. I joined the Songwriters Society of Australia and saw an ad for recording studio hire. That got me into contact with Stewart Havill of Sound Dog Recording. I took a couple of sessions with Stewart and was really impressed by what he did with the songs. At that stage I had a “long-term” aim to complete a CD but that seemed a long way off.
Then I came upon OMD sites. I first found mp3.com.au. I can’t remember how I got onto it. I uploaded a couple of tracks and got some nice reviews, but really hadn’t worked out how to use the site. Someone from mp3.com.au told me about Soundclick and I went there and enjoyed it for the first few months. Then I went overseas for a while and when I came back I just felt SC had changed a bit and felt a bit like an “outsider”. At about that time, Kat Speel whom I’d met on mp3.com.au, suggested I come to Mixposure.
The difference that I found between Mixposure and the other sites is that whereas the others seemed to consist of a lot of individuals competing against each other, on Mixposure there was a real sense of community, with people supporting each other.
I was quickly made to feel welcome on Mixposure and I had finally found something of an audience for my music as well as a diverse range of new music from other artists.
I was a novice at recording and production and had no idea of how collaborations worked over the internet. I had recorded an instrumental “Newrybar” on my home 8 track. The main melody line didn’t really work for guitar and needed some type of horn to play it. My original version used a “muted trumpet” patch from my synth but sounded a bit cheesy. I put up the demo on Mixposure and asked for suggestions as to improvement. I got a couple of very good suggestions, but by far the best was from Alexis van Eeckhout who suggested “Why don’t you let me play tenor sax on it?”
I’d heard a number of Alexis’ collaborations with Carl Eichman and others on Mixposure and was in awe of his ability, so I couldn’t pass up the offer. I arranged to re-record the backing track at Sound Dog and sent Alexis the files. He returned a remixed version containing his sax playing. I was absolutely blown away by it.
That was my first collab. I did another with Alexis shortly after that. Since then I’ve collaborated with Aron David Bradley, Lex Zaleta, James David Knight, Ratman, Rob Favre, Shyonen, Don Shafer, Red Eye C, Keith Trimm and Loren Risker. I’m presently working on collaborations with Rapster, Gary Carciello and Dr C, and Carol Douglas.
This sense of community in Mixposure was the real catalyst for me getting my CD done. It’s like I was saying earlier about being in a band where you can get energy from your fellow players. Having this available audience to listen, review, make suggestions about my music was a huge sense of encouragement.
Before I joined Mixposure I had a dream of completing a CD at some indeterminate time in the future. I had written about half a dozen songs that were planned to be on the CD. After joining, the first CD was completed about 8 months later. In addition I’ve recorded an EP of songs for children, am well into my second CD, am part way through a CD of collaborations with Lex Zaleta, and have nearly enough collaborations with others to fill another CD. Plus I am about half-way through a CD of instrumentals.
That level of musical activity would never have occurred without the impetus of being part of a musical community like Mixposure. So Mixposure has had a huge impact on me.
ZZAJ: What is your musical “training”? Are you, for the most part, self-taught, or did you take any “formal” musical training?
SelfTort: I learned piano for about 3 years. As I said earlier, I started to learn at the wrong time. I also found that the lessons I took were all about preparing pieces for exams. I guess that’s part of the discipline needed, but the music I was playing didn’t thrill me. After I got my guitar I took lessons for about six months. The guy that was teaching me played in a band that did “Shadows” covers and the like. He was a good teacher, but more importantly, I was learning the guitar because I wanted to play it. So practicing wasn’t a chore like it had seemed when I learned piano.
About a year or so later I also went back to the piano but didn’t take any further lessons.
ZZAJ: Players (like me) who have been doing the “underground recording” thing for so many years now have often envisioned a (musical) world in which distribution is ALL “online”… no “medium” (like CD’s, mini-discs, etc.) needed… do you think that’s going to happen, has it already, or is that just a “pipedream”?
SelfTort: I think that to a degree it is happening already, Dick. I know that when I am at work I listen to music either on sites such as Mixposure, or tracks that I’ve downloaded from those sites. I rarely put in a CD, and if I do it’s usually one I’ve made from downloads from those sites on another computer. Similarly, at work I don’t usually listen to music on the radio. I listen to quite a few internet stations such as nexus radio and the stations at song planet. They are a great way to hear new music and meet fellow artists.
My concern though, is that much of the trend towards an “online” musical world is “artist driven” rather than “listener driven”. I’ve found it difficult to get people out of their comfort zones. In my website newsletter I often encourage my subscribers to head into Mixposure, to listen to nexus radio because of the diverse range of music and the overall high quality that exists there. But so far as I am aware only one or two have ever taken up the suggestion. And as you’ve probably noticed yourself at Mixposure, Dick, almost all of the members there are themselves artists. It’s rare to run into someone who is just a listener.
And the crazy thing is that so much of the music on Mixposure and other sites is available for free download, so it’s a godsend for listeners if we can get them in there.
So I really think that sites like Mixposure, SC and others are a fantastic resource. How we get people to come in and find out for themselves, seems to be the big issue.
ZZAJ: One of the dilemmas I expect you’ve mulled over is that having artists review each other (on sites like MIX) can be sort of like a “ponzi scheme”; what are your thoughts on that? CAN players be “honest” in reviewing other players, or is it all just a giant “fan club”? Is it “OK” if it IS just a “fan club”, or should there be a “different dimension” on such sites?
SelfTort: This has been the source of a lot of debate, and often heated debate on Mixposure. Because it’s a “review based” site it probably is more likely to arise there than on other sites. I’ve found the reviewing on sites like Soundclick to be more “honest” than a lot of those on Mixposure. But SC for me doesn’t have that same sense of community
It’s a really difficult balance. I look at Mixposure as a real “community”, and being a member of a community requires compromises from time to time. I’ve posted a few tracks at Garage band from time to time. That site seems to epitomize the range of reviewing options. I’ve had some really comprehensive, thorough and constructive reviews there (not necessarily “favourable” ones) and I’ve had the downright useless meaningless and slagging reviews.
For my part as an “artist” I take the view that I am putting music up for people to listen to. On the sites where my music is posted people are invited to post reviews. If I thought my music was perfect and that any criticism of it was unjustified and unreasonable then I really shouldn’t post on such sites.
Fortunately, I don’t think my music is perfect and I really do appreciate people’s opinions. But there are ways of expressing opinions. I believe it’s important for someone reviewing a track to bear in mind that the artist has taken the trouble to write, perform and record the track. And he or she is letting me listen to it. That warrants a respectful approach to the review process in my view.
Accordingly, if I listen to a piece of music that I don’t like, or that doesn’t grab me I don’t review it on Mixposure. If someone PMs me to review one of their tracks and it doesn’t grab me I PM them back explaining why I don’t think a review would be in their best interests and explaining, as politely as I can, where I think the track needs to be improved or why it doesn’t grab me. Often it’s that the track is so far out of my preferred genres that I’m not in a position to really comment. But I try to be as positive and constructive as I can.
If I like a track but consider that there are things that could be improved I will generally include those things in a review.
So I think there is a real need for compromise. I don’t think anyone benefits from smart-a**e reviews putting people down. But by the same token, jumping in and saying that a three chord preset backing track with a one-take melody line is “fantastic” is, in my view, just as useless.
It’s human nature for us to want to have nice things said about our music. Some artists take the view that “this is how I recorded it, and this is how it’s going to stay”. That’s their right as it’s their baby. But if you expect respect from those reviewing you, you have to show a reciprocal respect to the reviewer. They are entitled to not like what you think is fantastic, and having asked them for their comments by posting the track, I think you’ve just got to wear it.
The “giant fan club” is also a vexed issue. On the one hand, part of Mixposure’s strong points is its sense of community. That feeling arises because of the review based nature. On the other hand, I’m aware of a number of “serious musicians” who have left the site because of the perceived lack of honest and constructive reviews and the perception of “cliques”.
Unfortunately, human nature being what it is, I don’t think there’s a perfect solution. From my experience, whilst it’s not perfect, Mixposure has the best balance.
ZZAJ: If there was one artist/band you could play with who is a “hero” to you – who would it be?
SelfTort: I would probably have to nominate Jack Bruce. “Cream” was the band that really inspired me to take up music. His vocals in particular really were influential. When Cream split I followed his solo career as best I could from the other side of the world.
I really admire the way that he’s done what he’s wanted to do and hasn’t taken the soft commercial option. His first two solo albums were also very inspirational to me from a songwriting perspective. He’s done a lot of diverse things playing with Tony Williams Lifetime, Carla Bley’s Escalator Over the Hill, as well as pursuing his own solo work.
It’s funny for a guitarist to have a bass player as a “hero”. I’ve also always been a big fan of Gary Brooker from Procol Harum. I love Ray Davies’ songwriting and wit, and Peter Gabriel is another artist whose work I really admire.
ZZAJ: I know you’ve stated that you can “adapt” to particular playing situations; what gives you the ability to adapt?
SelfTort: I think that the most important aspect for me is that I have a very eclectic taste in music. That I think stems from the family background. I know all the songs that my parents loved. I had an older brother who was a teenager when rock and roll started and sharing a bedroom with him I got to listen to that music even though I was only 6 or 7. My sister was in her teens when the Beatles and the British Invasion took place in the early 60s, so again, even though I was only 10 or 11 I felt part of it. So when I got to my early to mid teens I had had a pretty solid background in listening to a variety of music.
I also think that after playing in bands for many years at a wide range of venues and functions, I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what an audience wants and I work hard at getting that right. For example, a lot of functions require background or dinner music. I think a lot of acts find this demeaning or boring, but I like the challenge and really work hard at it. It also gives me the chance to play genres that I enjoy but don’t get to play too often, such as latin, swing and old standards.
Because I love a wide range of music, my live repertoire is pretty, well actually, very extensive. To give an example, I played at a wedding a couple of years ago. The reception was at the bride and groom’s house and started at 2pm. We hadn’t discussed a “finish” time. I played a couple of hours of “background music” and then the dancing started. I finished playing at 1.30am the next day and didn’t repeat a song.
I dedicated one night at the Mortdale Hotel to a “60s night”. I did four 45 minute brackets consisting only of music from the 60s. Because of the extent of my repertoire I could do similar nights for the 50s and 70s as well.
So I think it’s the width of musical history that I’ve been lucky to grow up with that allows me to adapt.
That plus what I think is my understanding of what people in any given situation will want.
Although sometimes you can get it wrong. I remember one night with Mid Life Crisis we were booked to do a gig. The person who made the booking had booked us for other functions that had all gone well. But this night there was a completely different demographic to the ones we’d played previously. The audience for the earlier ones had been pretty much the same age as the band, which was perfect. On this night though, everyone arrived in formal dress, no one in the audience looked under the age of 60. It was for an organization associated with the Catholic Church and there was a frocked priest at each table. We thought they’d booked the wrong band and expected it to be a dull night. I had urgent discussions with the lead guitarist to try to piece together a couple of brackets of dinner music. Halfway through the first song, which from memory was Funny Valentine, a number of couples were up dancing to the dinner music and by the end of the song the dance floor was full. It turned out to be a sensational night which ended with the priests defrocking themselves during a rendition of “You Can Leave Your Hat On”.
ZZAJ: Please give us any parting “words of wisdom” you may have for artists… both beginners & those who have been around for a while:
SelfTort: I guess all I can really suggest is to stick with it. If anyone had said to me during the 1980s when I wasn’t doing much musically that in 2006 I would have been playing live as a solo artist, and would release a CD I would have laughed.
And for heavens sake, don’t throw anything out. In recent months I had a period of “writers block” and so I started trawling through things that I had started to write many years ago. I’m really pleased that I’ve found them again. I've recorded a couple of them and 2 in particular have developed a new lease of life with Stewart's deft production and wise and innovative suggestions.
The advance of technology has been a real boon for me. I consider myself a bit of a “journeyman” as a musician. I believe I’ve got a good ear, can play a bit of guitar and a bit of keyboards and pretty much hold a tune with my vocals.
But I’m not a “specialist” by any means on either instrument. And it was only towards the end of “Mid Life Crisis” that I got the confidence to sing. In Sirrah we only had enough money for three microphones so I missed out (although I was allowed to do the lead vocals on Sweet Transvestite, which is another story). In Mid Life Crisis I used to do backup vocals and the occasional lead vocal but had never really seen myself as a “singer”. At one gig, John, our singer was unavailable and I had to take all the lead vocals. I was surprised that I got through the night and that experience made me more confident in my vocals.
Although I don’t see myself as a great vocalist, guitarist or keyboard player, I know that when I perform I throw myself into it. I love music with a passion, and it really doesn’t matter what genre or style. In the 8 years I’ve been playing solo, I can remember only 2 gigs that I found to be a chore, where I was constantly looking at the clock waiting for it to end. The rest have been a ball. It’s only when that ratio changes that I would ever think of giving up live performance.
I would really recommend people getting on to sites like mixposure. For someone who considers himself a journeyman musician, the opportunity to play with people like Alexis, Gary Carciello and Dr C who are three of the best exponents of their individual instruments that I’ve heard anywhere, is both uplifting and damn fine fun.
One final suggestion directed to those looking for mixing and mastering services. As I hope I've made clear, my music has really benefited from my association with Stewart Havill and his recording and production techniques. He did a fantastic job on the first CD, doing all the recording, mixing and mastering. Those on Mixposure and other sites will be aware of Di Carlo. He has set up an on-line mixing and mastering business and I thought I'd try him out on mastering a couple of tracks I've recently recorded with Stewart. His prices are very reasonable and I thought that from a mastering perspective it might be interesting to have someone do the job that wasn't involved in the recording process. It's certainly not a reflection on Stewart's mastering, which is excellent, but I thought the idea of bringing a fresh pair of ears to the tracks had merit. And I was right, Di's done a fantastic job on two new tracks "What's the Attraction" and "Self Sufficient". The mastered mp3 versions of the tracks are up on my Myspace page at www.myspace.com/selftort2 . I can thoroughly recommend his services.
And if you live in Sydney and are looking for somewhere to record, I couldn't recommend anyone more highly than Stewart.
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