I'm Still Alive 

And deeply ashamed at the negligence of this website. I promise better attention in the very near future. In the meanwhile, I do have some updates.

Over the past 5 years or so, I have been having these dreams in which songs present themselves to me in completely finished form. I feel they are a gift, or maybe my muse crying out to be heard in the face of my own real world negligence to indulge it. As much as possible, I woke up and dug up my little zoom recorder and scratched out a quick rendition. Other times, I just wrote down what I could about it.

Two years ago, my home studio was pretty much ruined due to a leaky roof. I was lucky that the equipment was not damaged (I had it covered), but I had to gut the place and rebuild it. It was sort of a blessing in disguise, because it is much, much nicer now, with functional windows and climate control. And the mouse shit and squirrel stash is all gone (it's an outbuilding, hard to keep the critters away).

After I put everything back, the first thing I did was plug in the little zoom recorder and, holy shit, I had 12 or 13 song ideas, many of which I had virtually forgotten about. I decided that this experiment was going to go a little differently than in the past. I put my best effort into fully writing all of the songs that seemed worthy of completion before I ever started recording anything. It was fun and took awhile, but now 9 of them are fully fleshed out and ready to be captured.

I've been a bit of a luddite about getting up to speed with the world of modern recording. The last album was done on a Roland VS-1880. It was capable enough, but the tiny LED monitor and bizarre F-key commands became intolerable, so I ponied up for a Macbook with Logic, a Mackie Pro control board, and a Behringer (don't laugh, it's nice) audio interface. I've honestly never been that enthralled with the engineering side of recording, but am getting up to speed now and it's so much nicer with this rig.

So there you have it. I have a working title and song order and am heads down laying down tracks with the time and energy I have to devote to it. More to come. Thanks for listening.

Robots - Spiders - Or Real People?? 

Hi Everyone (who is not a Robot or Spider),

I'd like to start with an apology for letting the dust settle on this blog for so long.  After the flurry of activity that followed my last CD release, I sort of retreated back into my little hermit world.  I'd had enough of talking about myself and my music for awhile. Just wanted to give it a rest.

So today I decided to blow the dust off the usage stats section of my web site admin tool, expecting  to see that my daily visit average had likely dwindled to a figure I could count on one hand. To my surprise, it has actually risen since my hiatus, to upwards of 75 to 100 unique visits a day. 

Now I'm not naive, I know that a site just needs to simply exist in order for the bots and web crawlers to create unique visits.  But I can also see a lot of kilobytes of music being streamed to what I'm assuming are human ears.  This gives me a great deal of pleasure - any musician will tell you that's what it's all about.  People aren't inclined to actually shell out a buck for a song these days, but you'd at least like to think someone might have given it a listen.

So what I'm trying to figure out is - if I actually have that many visitors, why do I still feel stranded in my own little hermitdom?  Can't anyone actually drop me a line to say Something/Anything (to borrow from the great Todd Rundgren)?  Click that Guestbook link on the menu and send a note. Tell me you listened to my music and you thought it sucked (if that's what you thought, or any other actual thoughts).  Tell me you read a Song Story and found it boring (or interesting, or....you get the idea).  Give me some suggestions about what you'd like to see (or not see) on the web site. Or just say "Hi".  If you're uncomfortable with a Guestbook entry, click the little Twitter icon on the Home page and drop me a Tweet.

Well, that's all for now - I promise to rejoin the blogosphere with more frequent visits.  Some upcoming topics will include the half dozen songs that have written themselves in my dreams and will be forming the basis for my next musical project.

Ciao for Now,


Song Story #9 - Finally Home 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the final installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

There are times, often late at night in the studio, when I just plug in the electric, pick some spacy effects, and start improvising. Sometimes fully realized melodies in verse/chorus structure come out. If I'm not stupid about it (which I often am), I'll remember to hit record on one of the devices so I can at least come back to it later.

Finally Home is one of those tunes I picked up from the scrapbook of these types of recordings. (I've got a lot more, believe me.) When I found it, I realized it would fit nicely with the sweet, melodic focus I was shaping up for the Looking Glass collection.


It was written on my 6-string Rickenbacker, wired into some kind of chorus/delay sound. Strangely, when I listened to the rough demo, I felt that I was trying to play three distinct parts at the same time. A lead guitar part that carried the main melody, an electric rhythm part with chordal embellishments (the sort of thing I usually record with the Rick), and some finger-picked accents, as I would do on the acoustic. So when it was time to record, I used the Gibson L6S for the lead, the Rick for the chordal stuff, and the Ovation for the acoustic accents. The picture to the right pretty much represents the starring cast.

It was a bit tricky to get all these stringed instrument sounds to work well together and not conflict. One thing we decided to add to the mix was a theremin-like synth part to play off the main melody, just to add a little bit of non-stringy accompaniment.

When it came time to give this one a title, "Finally Home" just seemed to fit. It sort of felt like that sense of relief you get after a long drive back from a vacation. It seemed to encapsulate where I'm at in my life now - settled and somewhat at peace after some tumultuous years.

So this song did seem like the perfect last song on the album. It's a bit unusual in these days of iTunes one-offs, but I thought long and hard about how to order the songs on Looking Glass. I will never give up the practice of arranging the order of songs in a collection to tell a certain story (and back up the album concept with appropriate artwork). In this case, it worked out in a very interesting way; when you play the CD in the car, "Finally Home" fades out and "I Remember Now" fades in to start over. They're both in the key of E, so the transition is seamless.

In that spirit, go get the CD, play it on your car, and keep it spinning!

Song Story #8 - A Place for Two 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the eighth installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

As I've discussed in the notes about other songs on Looking Glass, there are instrumentals and there are songs with unfinished lyrics.  I feel that A Place for Two really could have gone either way, but ultimately ended up being an instrumental.

I had the first line of a chorus in my mind that went something like "When she comes, we'll make a place for two".  It was written during the same period of time as "Should Have Known Better", which was a breakup song, but this was written before the utlimate breakup.  So it was really meant to be a hopeful song but, ironically, seems kind of sad now - or maybe that's just my personal feeling.  Others have told me the hopeful feeling is what strikes them, which is fine with me.  At first it was titled "When She Comes", and later changed to "A Place for Two".

I wrote the song on guitar, and then somehow began trying to play a rendition on the piano.  They each sounded like the appropriate compositional instrument in their own way, and when it came time to record it I was really uncertain which one to use.  So I used both of them (!)  I'm sure a lot of producers would have forced me to choose one or the other, but one of the advantages of a mostly self-produced effort is that I get to follow as many misguided paths as I feel like.

Which is not to say that this recording came together very easily at all.  You can ask Jeff Buck - we spent a lot of time trying to get at the root of a proper feel for this one.  The initial tracks just seemed too bare and sparse-sounding, and the rythm was plodding and dull.  At one point during a bout of insomnia, I realized that this song called out for the use of a brush snare, which we ended up adding.  I also decided to add a melodica part on the chorus because I wanted to give it a taste of the theme from Midnight Cowboy, which I have always loved. (If I could make my dreams come true for this song, I would love for it to end up on a soundtrack for some kind of romantic film.)

Another interesting part came about quite by accident.  Jeff was editing the space out of the beginning of the tracks, and one of the guitar tracks got out of sync by a full second. When we listened back, it created this amazing and unexpected rythmic counterplay to the rest of the tracks - it blew us away!  So I recorded a new guitar part that consisted of 16th note staccato embellishments to the original sparse parts, and it adds an interesting and subtle atmosphere.

After all this, we finally ended up with a track that seemed to have a rich enough sound to back up the kind of emotional, dreamy feel that it seemed to cry out for.  Add Garret Haines' mastering touch, and it actually comes out a bit crisper and louder feeling than many of the other tunes on the album, an outcome I never would have predicted.

Song Story #7 - Waiting For You 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the seventh installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

Back in the early 80's, I was living in a rented cottage with my band mates in Lake Ronkonkoma New York, a sleepy little town in the middle of nowhere, er, I mean Long Island. The Slack Brothers Band consisted of myself, my brother John, Pat Woods on piano, Mike Franco on bass, and a litany of drummers. We were part cover band (the only way to get gigs on Wrong Island), but also played originals. We recorded some very nice demos at Sound Heights studio in Brooklyn Heights (no longer around, of course), but never garnered enough interest in our sort of blue-eyed soul/pop sound to get a record contract.

During this period of time, I borrowed my engineer friend Tim's TEAC 1/4-inch reel-to-reel tape deck and spent my spare time doing some experimental recordings of instrumental tracks. At the time, I had a day job packing musical instruments for shipment from a warehouse, which is a bit ironic, but I did come across some cool stuff on the scrap heap - including this little primitive touch-key moog-like synthesizer known as the WASP. It was highly unpredictable, but it had some real cool sounds and effects, and I used it to lay down a lot of these tracks.

I wrote the song Waiting for You on Pat's Yamaha electric piano, and put four tracks together to back it up using the WASP. It was one of several quiet, melodic instrumentals that Pat and I put together back then. It's funny, but I feel in retrospect like that really should have been our true calling, because it was kind of unique and we loved it, but it wasn't trendy back in the hoppin' new wave days, so it was sort of like a hobby. At some point, these tunes were dubbed on to a cassette tape and forgotten about.

Flash forward to 2009 when I'm in the middle of mixing sessions for a retrospective collection of quiet melodic tunes I'd written over the years, and I find this old cassette in a pile in my studio. (I have a lot of cassettes from that period - it was the easiest way to make a quick recording.) As I listened to 'Waiting For You', I instantly realized that it would be a perfect fit for the Looking Glass album. So I went about re-recording the parts, staying as true to the original tracks as I could, but using Kuzweil samples of actual instruments instead of the bizarre synth sounds of the WASP. Jeff Buck supplied the awesome drums (somewhat channeling Neil Pertz!), and we had an uptempo modern recording of a lost gem.

In case it's of any interest, the song title was simply about waiting for my girlfriend at the time to come visit. This being utterly meaningless to me in the current day, I flirted with changing the name to 'Joie De Vivre'. Be grateful that I thought the better of this and stuck with the original title!

Song Story #6 - Don't Walk Away 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the sixth installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

In the last installment, I talked about how sometimes an instrumental seems like an unfinished song waiting for lyrics to be written, other times it stands on its own without the involvement of words. Unlike 'I Remember Now', the song Don't Walk Away spent a lot of time as an instrumental that ultimately belonged to the former category.

This is obviously a piano-driven song for which the chords and melody were quite clear for me. It may have stayed an instrumental, were it not for the fact that the words "Just don't walk away" insinuated themselves into the chorus. I didn't know exactly what it meant, but it absolutely fit the emotion that permeated the feel of the music. It was written at a time in my life when I felt like I had had enough of change and instability, and just wanted to grasp on to the things and people that meant something to me.

But, unlike most inspirations I get to write a song, the rest of it just never crystallized. So I decided it would be a semi-instrumental, with only the layered vocal part coming in at the end of the chorus. Jeff Buck and I worked with these basic tracks during mixing, assuming that was the final shape of the song.

As was my pattern during our mixdown sessions, I spent the long drive home (Jeff's studio is about 45 minutes from my house), listening to the mixes we had worked on that day. As I listened to this one, driving alone as the sun set, the concept of "long road" crept into my head. It seemed like a good metaphor - both for the amount of time it was taking us to produce the mixes for Looking Glass (!) - and also the amount of time that passes by without, at times, seeming as if you ever quite reach some of your life goals.

So this became the inspiration for the lyrics to this song finally coming to me. I began to realize that it was about not giving up on the things you love, even when the path seems unclear at times. And it wasn't just written for myself - I had some concerns for others in my immediate family who I thought might be giving up on life.

It might sound strange, but the song began to feel very much like an old Righteous Brothers tune to me, that kind of blue-eyed soul song about an emotional, longing feeling. Unfortunately, I can't sing like the Righteous Brothers at all, so I did my own soft, quiet rendition. Overall, I think this song is the quietest of all of them on this album.

Ironically, for such a quiet song, it is the only one that attempts to rock out just a bit (or perhaps jazz out as it were) with a guitar solo on the bridge. That being generally a trademark of my songs in the past, this ended up being the only one on the album to keep up the tradition.

Song Story #5 - I Remember Now 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the fifth installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

It's not as easy to talk about instrumentals from the songwriting point of view, but they are songs after all. Sometimes an instrumental seems like an unfinished song waiting for lyrics to be written, other times it just seems to stand on its own without the involvement of words. I Remember Now falls into the latter category.

I'll be honest - this song came out all in a rush after I watched a very inspired performance by Bruce Cockburn on Austin City Limits. He's always been one of my favorite artists, and after listening to him play that night, I just felt like doing some melodic finger-picking and this tune came out as a result.

I think it's fair to talk about how instrumentals develop during the course of recording them, because they can change quite a bit during this process. In fumbling around for a beat on the drum machine, just to get some kind of rythm going to play along with, I stumbled on a Samba beat. In retrospect, some kind of shuffling brush thing might have been more appropriate, but the sort of jazzy feel actually seemed to work, so it stuck. (It's not a drum machine on the recording - Jeff Buck played the drums.)  After layering in some backing electric chorus strumming and rolling bass, it sort of transformed into sounding more like Pat Metheny than Bruce Cockburn.

So why the title? It floated around for quite awhile without one, until I decided this would make a good intro song on Looking Glass. It always had a kind of sentimental feel about it, like remembering a good time in your life, and as an introduction to what amounted to a retrospective of my own musical past, the title 'I Remember Now' just seemed to fit.

One final note - there are a lot of pauses in this song, and in fact on every song on Looking Glass. I really have no idea why this happened, probably a just coincidence. Or maybe it's accidentally symbolic of the start/stop nature of my own musical pathway. At any rate, thank goodness for modern recording technology that allows for the gaps to be silent, instead of tape hiss!

Song Story#4 - Should Have Known Better 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the fourth installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

I wrote the song Should Have Known Better in the summer of 1979 sitting in my little shithole apartment in the Seagate section of Brooklyn. (For anyone who's curious, Seagate is a gated community on the southwestern tip of Brooklyn that used to be famous in the 1800's for a casino. I only landed there because I was able to rent a studio apartment for $140/month from a slumlord who owned a house there - but it was actually a pretty nice neighborhood.)

But I digress. This song and another from that time (also on Looking Glass, which I'll write about soon) came out at a kind of peak time of loneliness in my life. I had moved up to NYC from Pittsburgh so that I could spend as much time as possible working with my pal Tim B. at Bell Sound Studios. I really didn't have many friends, and less money, so I spent an awful lot of time just wandering the streets of that huge metropolis all alone.

Should Have Known Better is essentially a breakup song. I had a quick intense affair with a girl I met right before my move to the City. She lived in DC, which was not too bad a train ride from NYC, and we tried the long distance love affair thing for awhile. I think we both knew it wasn't going to work out, and of course it didn't. So, in the solitude of my sad lonely little studio apartment, out poured this lament for lost love. Not exactly a unique perspective (how many songs have been written about this), but it did reach pretty deep for me emotionally.

So why did it take me 30 years to get around to recording it you ask? I explained part of this in a recent blog post - this song and other quieter folky songs I wrote at the time didn't seem to fit my idea of a musical identity for myself. I spent many years way too wrapped up in the belief that one had to present oneself as an "act" - something that fits in with current trends - in order to make it. Remember - these were the old days with no internet; advice from music professionals was always to follow the tried and true path that others were successful with, and hope you get lucky. My professional demos were nothing like this song - they were slickly produced new wave "dance" tracks with kick-ass guitar and socially conscious lyrics. (Got me a record contract, BTW)

I always thought Should Have Known Better was a good song, I just could not get over this dichotomy in my own mind that didn't allow me to realize that I should have written a lot more like it. And, in fact, I ended up eventually coming full circle back to writing soft, introspective songs as more of the norm. So the moral of this story is - always follow your heart with your music. It's the place that is most true to yourself.

Song Story #3 - If I Had Time 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the third installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

The genesis of the song If I Had Time was a melody I had written for the verse way back in the mid 90's. It didn't come to me with any lyrical inspiration, so I started thinking about different ideas when the song was fresh in my head.

I took a trip to Europe around that time, and had a thought about how strange it was that I could wake up one morning and go to sleep later on halfway around the world. This was also around the time the Internet was really just starting to pick up speed, and I met some friends in London on that same trip whom I knew only because we all participated in an online forum for fans of the band XTC called Chalkhills. (This was very cool by the way - I had some beers with Neville Farmer and we talked about the book he had just written Song Stories. Great stuff.)

Anyway, I started thinking about how the world was getting smaller, and this became the original first line of the verse: "It's a small world, keeps getting smaller." But somehow, this thought never developed into a full blown lyrical concept, and the song was basically kept on the shelf.

In early 1999, I was in a very pensive and mournful state of mind following the death of my father on December 7th, 1998 - the 57th anniversary of Pearl Harbor - an incredibly ironic date considering he was a WWII veteran in the Signal Corps who helped break the Japanese Code. Of course, my father could never escape irony; he was a professor of Victorian Literature, an accomplished scholar of Thomas Hardy, whose main focus was dark irony. In planning for my father's funeral, we dug up a poem he had written and published entitled "Time and the World", and we had it printed on the In Memorium cards handed out at the funeral. The gist of the poem was that's pretty much all we get - time and the world.

In my state of sorrow, I mourned the fact that I had not said the words "I Love You" to my father in recent memory. This thought plagued me, and I had to express it somehow. It all came out one night as the first verse to the song, and everything else just fell in to place to express some thoughts I've had for a long time. But I owe the inspiration for writing this song solely to Dr. Robert Charles Slack.

Even though the story I just told is kind of sad, I don't think of this as a sad song. It's more like a sort of reckoning. As time slips away, I have to face the fact that many words don't get spoken, many dreams don't get realized, many important events live on only in memory. Of course, it's never too late to chase dreams and make more memories, but truly in the end this thing we call life is just a brief visit.

I'm convinced there is much more in the realm of a spirit life - I believe we live on in some other reality, and possibly come back as something else - but in the grand scheme these little bodies on this little planet are like ticks of the clock. And I like to try to remember that so that I don't have too many regrets for what I did not do when my time comes.

Song Story #2 - Your Love 

Every song has a story. The 9 songs on Looking Glass are no exception. This is the second installment of a blog series to talk about how each of them came about.

I enjoy reading about how songs usually start out as one thing and end up as something completely different. One of my favorite songwriters, Andy Partridge, often describes this metamorphosis when discussing his own incredible songs (he talks about this a lot on the XTC Fans Blog).

Your Love is a song of mine that went through a number of phases. It started out as a slow, spacy melody that came to me while I was fooling around with a synthetic Sitar sound on my Kurzweil. It might have languished there forever if I didn't try playing it on the piano at one point and discovered a chorus break that played off the original melody as a verse.

The song had a kind of hymnal quality about it, so I decided to make it a devotion to something, but I'm not a super religious person (I do have strong spiritual beliefs, just have some issues around organized religions). I'd long meant to write an ode to the power of love, and so that became the theme. At that point, it was a pure lyric writing exercise to weave imagery about all things important and awe-inspiring in life in order to contrast them to the always more powerful force of love.

The first version I recorded was for a limited distribution Christmastime release from Silver Moon Music called Peace on Earth. It was very keyboard oriented and slow. From my perspective, I'm glad it was a limited release, because I was not happy with the final product. I feel that it was perhaps one of my worst vocal performances, and it just sounded kind of lifeless and plodding to me. But I still got some compliments about it, so always felt it deserved another treatment.

When I was formulating the roster for Looking Glass, this song seemed like one that would fit the theme, so I started messing around with it. On a whim, I put a drum beat on at about twice the tempo and tried to play along on the guitar. Suddenly, it just seemed to click for me - I was able to find a "voice" that was much more like an Under the Boardwalk type of early R&B rock feel. I recorded a new version that, ultimately, sounded not much at all like the spacy, drifting melody from which it grew.

On a final note, I tweaked a couple of lyrics from the original recording as well. I wrote it shortly after 9-11 and, in a somewhat shell-shocked patriotic spirit, made the 4th verse about winning a war battle. In the end, I felt that this song would be better served with the imagery of a different type of devotion juxtaposed against the power of love. And being the original songwriter, I feel pretty confidant I won't get sued for changing it!