Thing a Week 25: Stroller Town On a sunny day in my…

March 15th, 2011



Thing a Week 25: Stroller Town

On a sunny day in my neighborhood, you can’t throw a rock without hitting a stroller (believe me). I’m not complaining, in fact I freely admit that I am part of the problem. So this is kind of about that, though it’s also about a baby who likes to drag race. And before you point it out, yes, I was thinking very hard about the Beach Boys while I was doing this, specifically “I Get Around” and “Shut Down.”

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Late again, you are surprised. I’ve been waiting until I finished this song I was working on, and in fact I’m supposed to be at a session recording it right now. I am late for that too, and have rescheduled it for later this week, because I fail at being on time CONSISTENTLY.

And hey, I forgot how much I like this one! In my advanced years I’ve become a little suspicious of style parodies in my own work, it’s sometimes hard to keep it from becoming a crutch. And once you go down that road a lot depends on how well you are able to hit the right marks - style parody that fails to successfully evoke the style is a particularly sad kind of failure. I give myself pretty good marks on this front, you can at least tell that I’m faking Beach Boys. I’m especially proud of the Mike Love impression I’m doing in the lead vocal, and I worked very hard on getting just the right “crappy” guitar sound and bullshit Chuck Berry ripoff solo. I didn’t quite make it in a couple of places - the group vocals are evocative of the right things, but they don’t really get there for me. Part of the problem is that I don’t actually sing like ALL OF THE BEACH BOYS, but the arrangement is also off somehow, there’s too much low register stuff. And in the a cappella intro I was trying to do that Brian Wilson thing where he modulates somewhere extremely far away and back again, effortlessly in a couple of chords. But I am also not Brian Wilson, and I forgive myself for that.

But man, I still love the lyrics, I find them to be clever without being too precious. They lift language pretty freely from those other songs I mentioned, which helps. And the mashup of strollers and 60s drag racing songs is a pretty solid concept - there’s plenty of room for those specific details that make it sing, plus the added benefit of getting to write from the perspective of a baby (“full belly, clean bum” is my favorite line EVER). And style parody or no, it’s musically pretty successful, and the repeated chorus at the end blooming into an a cappella finish is still exciting to me.

And speaking of that Brian Wilson style extreme modulation, mine was so klunky and far away that I had a lot of trouble finding the right notes on that second chord. While I was recording each vocal part, I had to find the note, sing it out loud while I was waiting, and then just try to ignore the first chord. You can hear me doing that right here, and it’s pretty hilarious.

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com

Email Blast

March 8th, 2011

If you were on the mailing list, you would have just received THIS:

Hiya.

Just an update on what’s cooking at JoCo Industries over the next couple of months (hint: I’m playing some shows).

Boston, MA – Bigass Convention Center
Saturday March 12, show time super late
PAX East! With the band!
Details: http://east.paxsite.com/
I’ll be there all weekend, and will spend as much time as I can at the Bandland table selling and signing things. I tend to plan things at the last minute, so watch Twitter for updates, I’ll let you know when the store is open.

Nashville, TN – 3rd and Lindsley
Thursday March 24 at 7PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/gTXeBc
Band show

Asheville, NC – The Grey Eagle
Friday March 25 at 9PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/efIpz1
Band show

Chicago, IL – Park West
Friday April 22 at 8PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/gs4LAh
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Minneapolis, MN – Guthrie Theater
Monday April 25 at 7:30PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/f6MJfc
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Richmond, VA – Hat Factory
Thursday May 5 at 7:30PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/fu7Kjp
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Alexandria, VA – The Birchmere
Friday May 6 at 7:30 PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/ihg2kZ
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Annapolis, MD – Ram’s Head Tavern
Saturday May 7 at 8:30 PM
Tickets: http://bit.ly/eiaYUx
Acoustic show with Paul and Storm

Details on the shows page as always: http://www.jonathancoulton.com/shows. Please double check start times, vegetarian food options, parking situations and all other facts before making plans, because I am FREQUENTLY WRONG ABOUT THINGS.

New album. Yes. Soon.

Thing a Week 24: Don’t Talk to Strangers Yes: the Rick…

March 4th, 2011



Thing a Week 24: Don’t Talk to Strangers

Yes: the Rick Springfield song. This recording is based on an arrangement I once did live at Little Gray Books with my friend Phoebe. I heard a recording of it recently and my voice sounded terrible, but I liked the arrangement a lot so I thought I’d flesh it out a little more and give it to you nice people.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: This marks 6 months into Thing a Week (but only 24 songs due to the two weeks when I failed to make anything). So terse! What was happening in my life? No idea. I was just looking through blog posts from around then, nothing interesting. Nothing on my calendar. Was I even there? Happy JoCo is kind of a boring JoCo I guess.

This was a fun cover to do - I don’t think you can do sad versions of up tempo pop songs forever, but it sure would feel great. I cringe a little about the vocals now, it’s so damned high, I really should have dealt with it a different way. Changed the key or something. I remember recording that B section a million times, screaming into the microphone trying to keep it under control, coughing blood for a few minutes and then trying again. If I had one musical wish it would be to extend my range a little higher - on a good day I can hit a short chirpy G as long as I don’t have to linger on it, but it sure would be nice to be able to belt it out up there. Then I could do Journey covers…

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com

Thing a Week 23: A Talk with George Chapter 23 in which you…

February 28th, 2011



Thing a Week 23: A Talk with George

Chapter 23 in which you are visited by the ghost of George Plimpton and he relays to you an important message about life.

It was Jim Hanas who told about the song contest going on at The Plimpton Project, an organization dedicated to getting a statue of the man erected somewhere in the city. George was a hell of a guy, and he deserves about 10 or 15 statues, but I guess one would be a good start. I met him at a Paris Review party once, and he was pretty charming for a Harvard man.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: This might be my favorite from Thing a Week, and it was a real sneak attack. It started with Jim’s suggestion that I write a George Plimpton song, and my initial approach was to make it some kind of list song as sung by a guy who has done everything. I was tempted to go goofy (as always) with sort of a “isn’t it funny this song is about George Plimpton” vibe. But it wasn’t working - it wasn’t that funny for one thing, but it also just felt kind of pointless and off the mark. I met George once at a party he hosted to celebrate the latest issue of the Paris Review (which, not coincidentally, contained a short story written by John Hodgman - John is how I get to meet all the famous people), and he was a real treat. He was stork-tall, he was never far from his drink, his cheeks were flushed red, he was constantly grinning, and he wore a jacket and tie in the same way you and I might comfortably flounce about in our pajamas. I was a little star struck because I was a great admirer of his career - it seemed like the extent of his job was to be himself and do the things that were important and interesting to him. Nice work if you can get it.

So I kept messing with it, I tried going super serious about how awesome George was and then it just sounded all earnest and weird. And then somewhere in there I decided to switch it from “I did this…I did that” to “You should do this…you should do that” and it just clicked for me. Once I made it about George giving advice, it felt a lot more natural to me and it finished itself up pretty quickly. It became a warning that life is short, and an exhortation to go out and do the things you know you were meant to do. That has always seemed to me like a pretty good approach to living one’s life, but I had only just begun to really live that way, and it was just barely starting to seem like it might pay off. All that stuff that came out during the dark beginnings of Thing a Week when I was so terrified and lost turned out to be about this  - about finding my way to a place where I could really try to be that person. Looking back I see this song as a kind of secret pep talk to myself. I needed it then, and I continue to remind myself of it often.

So: go out and do something, won’t you?

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com

Hey, Band!

February 1st, 2011

Thanks to the kind audiences of Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia who sat through a bunch of new material with the new band without freaking out. I myself was freaking out a little, but mostly in a good way. Still learning to deal with this electric guitar thingie, but for the most part I think the new stuff is working great. This probably will not come as a surprise, but playing loud fast music with a band is SO MUCH FUN. I should make some sort of an “album.”

Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver are the next cities to have a chance to call me Judas, when I bring the rock (and the band) there in February. I’m excited to announce that JoCo Cruise Crazy phenom Mike Phirman will be opening for me all three shows. He’s a delightful fellow, a talented musician, and a very funny guy who absolutely killed on the cruise. You would not be crazy to come to these shows just to see him, never mind my dumb set.

OK, wintery mix, have to go salt the car.