Musical Inspirations Vol. 2: Nobuo Uematsu

I know what you’re thinking: Who the hell is that?

Nobuo Uematsu is famous for his composition/arrangement works with the video-game company Square. He wrote most of the scores for over 30 of their games, including the core Final Fantasy franchise.

Also keyboard player for “The Black Mages” a group that took music from the franchise and turned it into a rock band.

Okay, but what does that have to do with you?

Glad you asked.
I try to find inspiration in every kind of music I listen to, and some of the best music I’ve ever heard has been written in video-games!

Don’t believe me? Can you recall the music from the classic NES game Super Mario Brothers? I bet you can. How about any music from The Legend of Zelda.. It’s iconic.

Personally, Nobuo is the reason I managed to figure out how to finger-pick on an acoustic guitar, and I’m honestly not too bad at at!
Specifically this piece of music:

It’s a beautiful piece of music and unless you know it’s from a video-game, you would never think otherwise.

His music is very technical and interesting. I think I hummed the boss theme from FF8 all the way through my 8th grade year of school, because it was such a memorable piece of music.

Then there’s the mighty symphonic “One Winged Angel” which sits near and dear to any RPG nerds heart.

I saw an interview once where Uematsu explained the writing process. It wasn’t meant to just be a symphonic piece. It was written in a way that it could also be a Rock piece. A perfect bridge between the big band style & the modern era heavy metal.

Isn’t that beautiful? I sure think so.

Being a long time band-geek has its advantages,

Through my early years of a musician, I learned how to listen to a massive group of people playing instruments, and being able to isolate each individual part, in my mind.

It’s one of the reasons I love modern progressive rock. There is SO much to listen to, I can sit and get lost in the music, without being bored with repetition.

People who arrange pieces of music like this, are the types you should be listening to. They are smart about writing. They know how to take an idea, and implement it through a whole arsenal of tones and sounds.

 

So, I challenge you:

Next time you’re listening to music. Actually listen to the music. Don’t idly drone words and zombie your way through albums. People put every single detail into a song, for a specific reason. It’s our duty, as fans, to find those details and appreciate the beauty of what’s been written for our entertainment. Really think about the way the music feels.

If we had more people like that in the world, music would be a hell of a lot more fun to write!

 

Thanks for reading! I hope you’re all enjoying this look into my musical inspirations, as much as I am!

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Hmm… Car talk?

Natty...

Honestly, a term I don’t recall hearing, before today. A quick google search shows that it means “Well designed” or “Clever”

Cleverness being the thing I am lacking, for this blog post…

Yep.. drawing a blank…

Ya know what was well designed, though? The 4.0 Liter V6 engine, in the pre-2006 Jeeps. I’ve been a fan of Jeeps (specifically Cherokees {Like.. the boxy ones, not Grand Cherokees}) For quite a few years now. I’ve owned 3 of them, and had nothing but fun with them!

Aside from crappy alternators and water pumps, they were the most reliable engine I’ve ever been around.

In fact, back in the 2011(ish.. guessing here) Stimulus package, when President Obama did the national cash-for-clunkers thing (that destroyed the used car market, IMO), I had a friend who worked at a garage. For fun, they would set a stop watch when they had to destroy the traded-in vehicles.

Let me back up a second.. they would have to put a highly corrosive material into the engine, and start it. Then the vehicle would run until the engine seized.

Anyways, the engine that consistently managed to last the longest in this test, was the 4.0 liter straight 6 engine, found in Jeeps. Just goes to show that under the harshest conditions imaginable, they would function.

I used to offroad a lot, with my Jeeps. My thinking was, if they could handle the vast PA wilderness, they were fit to be a good daily driver!
Mud, snow, sides of mountains.. Nothing stopped us from having a good time with our Jeeps… Man, I miss it. It seems like it’s been forever since I’ve been out in the woods, navigating the harshest roads imaginable, with my trusty Jeep.

I traded all of that fun in for a Mazda, and while I love my car, it can barely go over speed-bumps without scraping the undercarriage…

“Someday” I keep telling myself….

I miss working on them too… There was something about the bond between man and machine. If I screwed it up, I got to bring it home and fix it! It sounds frustrating, but there’s a great sense of achievement, to going through a rough patch, with your favorite automobile, and then having to make things better.

I tend to get really attached to the cars I like… My wife doesn’t get it. Even most of my guy friends don’t get it.  I still have dreams of driving my ’87 Daytona Shelby Z, it was the most fun I’d ever had in a car, and I think, somewhere in the depths of my mind, I long for the freedom of the road or the open trail. I long to explore the world around me, with a machine I made capable of doing so.

This may sound like some weird, testosterone fueled desire.. but it’s the truth… And I can’t water it down to something that isn’t that haha!

What about you? Have you ever been offroad? Do you ‘get it’? The feeling of freedom one gets from driving fast, or exploring the woods?

Thanks readers, I guess this wasn’t too bad of a post after all.

Musical Influences Ep1: Victor Wooten

If there’s something I can talk about, until I’m blue in the face, it’s music.  From theory, to its effect on our mood, deep lyrical ideas, to chord changes that give you goosebumps… it’s something that is such a large part of my life, i find a way to integrate it into every part.

I’m going to try a ‘series’ of posts talking about my biggest influences, as a musician. These are in no particular order (well, maybe this one is the most important, but the rest won’t be..), and I will write them as I think of them!

Does the name Victor Wooten mean anything to you?  Funny, that you probably haven’t heard of a guy who is a recipient of 5 Grammy awards; as a bass player, written 3 books, is an all around decent man, and an incredible teacher.

Probably because he isn’t a pop-star. He’s just talented beyond your wildest imagination!

I got to meet Victor briefly, and I promise I’m not going to romanticize this meeting. I was starstruck. My jaw hit the floor as I stood in front of the man who has no idea I exist.  What he didn’t know is this: I picked up the bass guitar from watching a VHS tape my dad had recorded of some Jazz festival in the mid ’90s, of two songs Bela Fleck and the Flecktones played.
After a few brief moments of silence, as I stood in front of my biggest influence, my friend Matt looked at him and said “He’s a really big fan.” I shook his hand, then ran into him later after his show. He signed the pick guard for my prized mid-80’s Fender Jazz bass, and I went on my way.

“The Sinister Minister” is the song that made me want to play the bass. The funky groove, high energy, and that damn bass solo.. From a song that didn’t even have spoken lyrics, is what captivated me to start plucking on a bass.

In fact, here’s the exact video that sparked my obsession:

Now that you’ve seen that… and I really hope you did. Maybe you can understand a little more about me, as a musician.  When I picked up the bass, I wanted to be able to to that.  After years of practice, I haven’t learned all of his tricks, but I’ve taken bits from his style of playing and added it to my own mixed bag of styles to create MY sound.

Here I am, almost 18 years later, hailed (not by myself, mind you) as one of the best bass players in the area. People know who I am, and I have a local “following.” It’s a weird concept to me, because I’ve never really thought of myself as that.

Aside from being a great musician, Wooten is also a great human being. He’s very in tune with nature, one of THE most modest people you would ever want to meet, and very kind.  He speaks to young musicians in a way that will comfort them as they come into their own. One of my favorite quotes of his, that I use all the time “You are never more than a half step from a wrong note” encourages the idea that if you DO hit a sour note, just bend it up or slide down and you’re in the ‘right key’ Now, from a young aspiring musicians perspective, that’s some impressive advice.

His website had (may still have) some of his lessons, when I started really beginning to understand how the bass worked.  A couple were sort of life-lesson sort of things, but a few were very deep into his methodology of the bass guitar.  The one that changed my ideas on the bass forever was the “Thump, Hammer, Pluck” Technique, which took me forever to understand (mind  you I was 13-14 years old trying to decipher the knowledge of a life-time musician.   The idea that you don’t have to play every strike of a note with one hand, is the basis.  Thump – to strike a string with your thumb, Hammer – to hammer a note, and Pluck – to pull a string or ‘pop’ it with one of your other fingers. I would spend hours at school drumming triplets out on my desk in this fashion: Right thumb, any finger on my left hand, then my right index or middle finger. This eventually evolved into the tump,hammer, pluck,pluck, or the thump, hammer, thump, pluck.. or any variation of alternate notation… It’s how he plays so fast- with seemingly no effort at all. It’s genius ideas like that, that have made him the number one bass player in the world.

I hope you’ve learned a little bit today about music, its influences on me, and why I’m so passionate about something other people tend to overlook.

Thank you, so much, for your time! Hope you all have a wonderful day!
-Joe

It’s like they know I need to lose weight

Portion Control

Uh oh… This one’s aimed right at my gut…

Look, I’m not a mammoth of a human being, but I’m a hell of a lot heavier, than I want to be. Can I get an Amen, who isn’t?

Taking a desk job has just about been the literal death of me, and things got very real at my last annual checkup. I’m all about getting high scores in the videogame world, but blood pressure of 165/90-something is not a high score to be proud of.

So, what have I done to fix it?  I didn’t do body wraps, or THRIVE (I have my own rant about that crock of garbage), or any of these gimmicks…. I started exercising and controlling the amount of food I eat!

Now, I love food… a lot.. I love cooking it, smelling it, eating it, everything about the endless combinations is fascinating to me… Unfortunately, when both you and your wife are exceptional cooks, you tend to eat a lot. Here’s a few things I’ve tried, to curb my tendencies to overeat:

  • Buy smaller plates: This sounds ridiculous, but it works. 8″ paper plates, from Sam’s Club, are the way to go. Only fill them once, with whatever you have for dinner, and JUST EAT THAT
  • Stop Buying Lunch: Spending 6 dollars a day for lunch at work, is just ridiculous. Plan something tasty and that is healthier than your current eating habits, and stick to it!  OR, Since you didn’t eat so much for dinner, take some of those delicious leftovers!
  • Cut Down On Drinking: I’m no alcoholic, but I do love to unwind with a tasty beverage in the evening. Whiskey and Vodka don’t have the calories that beer does, but mixing it with coke is waaaay worse. If you HAVE to have a drink, try mixing it with Coke Zero, Pepsi Max, or Sprite Zero. Less calories and sugar = less fat.
  • Stop Eating Garbage: I know, you work hard. You don’t feel like cooking, and it’s just easier to order out. Not only is it expensive, it’s really REALLY REALLY unhealthy.
  • Vitamins & Water: Remember, your body tells you it’s thirsty, the same way it tells you that you’re hungry. I drink about 3/4 – 1 Gallon of water A DAY.  In the same breath, you’re probably not getting all of the vitamins you need.  Find a good well-rounded multivitamin and TAKE IT EVERY DAY!

    Here’s what my wife and I started doing: She did some research and found a pile of delicious crock-pot meals, then made up a large list of ingredients (we stuck to pork, beef, and chicken proteins with similar ingredient recipes). We then went to the Grocery store, spent less than $300 (I know it sounds like a lot, just bear with me.) and managed to make 32 meals out of it, that are frozen and ready to stick in the crock pot. No extra cooking involved, just toss it in, go about your day, minimal preparation, and we eat GREAT.
    * Buy crock pot bags, they make this all so much easier.

So, there you have it. You can do it, if I can. I’m down about 10ish pounds from where I was, and as I get more active in the Spring & Summer, hopefully I can reach my goal of losing 35 pounds.

Have a great day! Sorry I kind of fell off of the face of the planet.

Stuck in Survival Mode

Survive...
I feel like I’ve sold my soul to survive.
The irony is, I feel less alive.
Give of myself, to make the months rent,
but money isn’t the only thing spent.
A part of me dies, with each passing day.
A part of my life, I’ll never repay.
The weight of the world, my boots full of lead.
The the hell I endure, to purchase some bread.
Yet I press on, drag feet through the mud,
survive daily battles, and pay with my blood.
The struggle is worth it, and you know it’s true.
For I’d give all my worth, to come home to you.

 

I’m not one for poetry… But this just popped into my mind.

I’ve been struggling a lot lately, with stress at my job. It’s absolutely exhausting to put up with the drama that these middle-aged angry men thrive in.
I’ve been craving a change. I’ve never been one to stick with a place of employment, when I know I’m not going anywhere. The job market just sucks right now, and I don’t make bad money.  I do feel that, this place drains me of my being and squashes my ability to create.

Fortunately, I get to go home to my family, every day, and they keep me going. Music, also keeps my head above water.

My wife and I have been discussing some major changes in scenery, and I couldn’t be more excited planning out our lives together. Even just exploring the ideas of being somewhere, other than this secluded valley we live in, excite the hell out of me! I think the both of us have been in survival mode, for so long, we have trouble being able to enjoy our lives to the fullest. Life with 4 kids, isn’t easy, but we are proud to say that they get the opportunities to do the things they want to do, unlike we did as children. We both came from not-very-well-off families, and have been blessed to be more successful, than where we came from. With that success, comes the chance to give our children the opportunities that we never had.  The only downfall of that is: a creative person, like myself, has to give up on some of my own dreams.  I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’ll never be a famous, touring musician a LOOONG time ago, and honestly, that’s not something I’ve ever been upset about. I enjoy being a local musician, and working with businesses in my region to try and get all of our names out there. So for my girls to be passionate about dance, singing, music, art, whatever they want to do.. is far more rewarding, especially with my ability to help them on some of it (mostly the music.. I’m not much of a dancer.. which is why I play music haha.)

Anywho, I’m done ranting. I hope you all are having a great week! My gig last night was a great success, and I’m on to gig #2 at the Four Friends Winery in Montgomery PA

 

Take care,

-Joe

Impressive impressions

Impression

 

What does it mean to leave an impression? This is important to me, as I try to carry myself in a professional light, as a musician and entertainer.  I know so many musicians who are just… slobs. They dress poorly, show up late, act like children, and honestly just make me want to make an impression on their face… with my fist.

That being said, the bar is set pretty low, in my area, as far as musicians go.  In fact, when my wife met me, she was leery because I was a ‘musician.’ Most musicians she knew, before me were pompous, arrogant, unprofessional, dirty, and most of all impolite.

I’m not saying I’m the most gentlemanly person on the planet, but if you’re going to do what I do, and be somewhat successful, you need to get your shit together and act like an adult.

What does that mean?

Show up to your gigs early:  Trust me, you look like a total tool, when you’re trying to rush around and set things up.. That’s when you make mistakes.  Nothing turns a crowd away from a band faster, then having microphones squeal and there being a large ruckus where the band/solo artist is setting up.

Dress the part: I’m not saying you have to be in full rockstar garb all the time, but try to look presentable. You’re holey Led Zepplin Tshirt from 1981 is not impressive. Wearing a nice button down shirt, jeans that aren’t falling off of you, and looking relatively well kept are not hard things to do.  Now, If you’re in a 90’s grunge band, and you’re playing at a venue, go ahead, wear ripped jeans and flannel..  I’m focusing more on the acoustic aspect of things. I’m pretty sure Dave Grohl isn’t reading this blog, so real rock-stars need not apply.

Be respectable: Walk into the place, without a chip on your shoulder, find the nearest bartender/server/whoever is in charge, and figure out where you are to set up. Say please and thank you. Order a drink, pay for that drink, and worry about what’s free later on.  REMEMBER, they are a business just as much as you are. You’re not doing any favors by drinking and eating all of their food for free.

DO NOT HAVE A RIDICULOUS GUEST LIST: Especially, if you are playing with other bands and charging a cover. Pick one: your girl/boy-friend, your favorite roadie, your corgi, I don’t care. Don’t expect to get your whole entourage in to the place for nothing. If there’s no cover, that’s fine, don’t try and get everyone free stuff, while you’re playing. Again, the venue is a business, and needs to be respected as such.

There’s just a few tips on leaving impressions, as a musician. I have so many of stories of groups that have done some seriously asinine things, and I wonder how they even manage to book gigs (most of them don’t anymore.)

Remember, live music and music venues need to work hand-in-hand to be successful.  Don’t expect them to do all of the promoting. I know you’re too busy changing the world with your music, but making a Facebook event and inviting your following only takes about 10 minutes.

Alright, I’ve rambled on long enough. What other tips do you guys have, to leave great impressions?

 

-Joe

I can’t figure this out…

This isn’t so much a post, as a “How the hell am I supposed to do this?!”

I absolutely, for the life of me, can not figure out how to get my site to properly display my Twitter feed….

I’ve tried the widget, I’ve tried direct HTML, I’ve tried everything!!

How the heck does it work?! Help!!!