Em McKeever is a self-described “classical guitarist gone haywire.” She is also awesome. I awkwardly met her in 2010 towards the end of February Album Writing Month. I’ve been nothing but amazed by her talent since meeting her. About a month ago I got to record her instrumental EP in her home. We did a couple revisions of mixes and masters, and I’m finally really excited to announce that you can listen to her new release as of today! Check it out.
Note: This post somehow developed itself into a story of my recording & performing history. I guess it helps sometimes to look back. Skip to the bottom to see my conclusion ^_^
Since I started playing music in my high school band, Ship of Fools, I’ve been really interested in recording and live sound technology. Microphones, speakers, amps, mixers, cables, pre-amps, snakes, duck lamps, etc. There isn’t much in the world that makes me happier than opening and using new sound equipment. It wasn’t until my freshman year of college though that I realized that we had spent our time thinking about what to invest in and what to wait for rather than actually making and recording music. We wasted time with technology rather than being productive and harnessing our creativity and honing our musical knowledge. Sure, we did get a half dozen songs recorded, and we thought that they sounded okay (they were impressively awful), but we could have done so much more if we hadn’t worried about recording things that we hadn’t yet completely written. Those sure were fun times though.
The summer after my freshman year, I lived in a chicken coop/guest house at my uncle’s farm. I was working as a catering student manager/server at Irish Eyes in Lewes, DE and invested in a Pro Tools LE system, a small pair of monitors, and a couple of cheap microphones and stands. That summer, I recorded lots of demos with roosters accompanying me. I spent time learning to record with cover songs and got some good practice working a real digital audio workstation. It was good.
I moved into my sophomore year housing and Andrew brought his drumset in. I had somehow gotten a double room all to myself so there was lots of space. We had a few small band practices but did not want to bother neighbors, so the drums mostly just sat there lookin’ pretty.
Danny and I started to form Battleshy Youths that winter (January-March 2009), but we mostly just fiddled around working on some covers. He does not like when I post those demos, because he used to sing back then. I like his singing though. Anyway. I did FAWM that year for the first time, so got some good use out of my equipment again.
That summer I moved to The Castle and had to cram everything into my tiny closet-room. There was room for a desk, bookshelf, dresser, and lofted bed (Mitch had hand-built the loft, before I replaced him as “Mitchell 2.0”). Sometimes there was space to get in and out of the room, but for the most part I just kept my things there and slept there; I couldn’t record very easily there. That gave me a lot of time to write. I completed FAWM in 2010 in that closet and at remote locations. I was working a lot with InterVarsity doing sound, so I became adept and setting up and tearing down audio setups anywhere quickly. I think I met Em during that March as well, while I was helping Katie K hook up a borrowed keyboard at a fundraiser show in America for hospitals in Haiti. Shane told me that I should meet Em after he introduced her to FAWM, but I was nervous, so Captin Ryan introduced us, even though he didn’t know her.
Danny and I played at SCPAB‘s open mic that spring and it went well. Sometime that winter I begged Shane to let me play one of his Palko basement shows. It was my first true public performance in years, and my first real solo performance other than coffee shops and open mics. It was not my best performance, and I think a lot of my nervousness showed through. It helped to see that community of local musicians though, and I am forever grateful to him for making me feel included.
In June of 2010 I moved to the top of the tower at The Castle. We had been hosting open mics there in the basement bi-weekly since March. It was a filthy setup, but it worked. We were getting a good turnout of musicians and were developing a good crowd. That is where I met Stefan and Paul and Anne and Corey and Zach and so many others and also where I became comfortable hosting and performing things. I recorded a lot of audio and video during that time.
Throughout that summer, I finished up the songs that made up Grow. Danny and I rehearsed them a few times, and he helped me to smooth out some of the bumpy portions of those six songs.
I contracted Justin to work on the artwork, and hired Mitch and Andrew of Blind Sea Studios to record it for us. Kelsey (cello) and Sharon (fiddle) and Rob H (drums) all contributed to some of those sessions. I picked up my trumpet for the first time in years as well. By the end of the process (August – December) of tracking and mixing and mastering, I had asked Mitch and Andrew to join us for live shows. We released the CD in February, right before Em and I hosted our first FAWM showcase at the Newark Arts Alliance.
Katie K had gone off to Mexico for the semester and therefore stopped playing bass for me at my church. She recommended that Eric fill in for her. He had drummed with me before at IV, so he took her spot playing bass at church (Eric is not and was not a girl though). Andrew asked me to get him to come play drums with Battleshy Youths when we led worship at a youth retreat in PA.
And that’s how Eric became a Youth.
He first performed with us at our first real full-band show in March 2011 at Trabant for SCPAB’s battle of the bands. We did not place, but we did sell a bunch of CDs and our friends got to see us. It led to SCPAB letting us open up for friends Jenny & Tyler in April. Now THAT was a fun night. So many mistakes and such a horrible sound system, but lots of fun and so many friends.
So, we had a band. And we had some songs. Next up? Play more gigs. I played 52 shows in 2011. Some were solo, some duo, some trio, some with full band featuring Mitchell Ebbott. Some were volunteer/charity shows, some were paid in beer, some were paid in real cash money. Some were for a hundred people, some were for five. It was tons of fun. Playing live that often dragged me away from recording and writing as often though. It took us a long time to add new songs to our sets. We learned how to perform and how to deal with booking agents and promotions people and different venues and sound guys (I finally had my first ever sound girl two weeks ago in Philly yay!). Danny was busy being busy, so a lot of the time it was just the four of us – me, Andrew, and Mitch practicing in Eric’s apartment above his dad’s veterinary offices. Then Eric went away and Erin started playing more with us and Andrew #2 (Deinert) began drumming for us. Lots of changes. I got to play my first Pennsylvania show in August in Bethlehem, PA, thanks to my friend Lauren booking independent artists at Musikfest. Cara came to see my set get rained out.
I played World Cafe Live at the Queen multiple times throughout the year, and got to be on the radio with WCHE West Chester and WVUD Newark and WSTW HD-2 Graffiti Radio and on WSTW Hometown Heroes. The first time I heard our stuff on the air I freaked out.
In October 2011, Blind Sea Studios set up their gear in Super Magic Studios in Landenberg, PA, and we recorded “A Diner Club Christmas” with lots of friends in a ridiculous 16-hour session. This CD eventually won a WSTW Homey Award for Best Collaboration of 2011. We were all very proud of it. We played lots of Christmas gigs. I played even more Christmas shows solo and with Erin as The Honey Badgers. In November, I won Delaware’s Got Talent at UD. Very prestigious. By the time Christmas rolled around, I was all Christmas’d out.
Em and I started working on FAWM 2012 stuff in January (my fourth FAWM). We were hoping to get lots of local musicians into writing new songs for February. SUCCESS. Three showcases, each with more than 10 performers. So many collabs, so much new music, so much awesomeness. February flew by. I also flew, by plane. Being away a week for work really hurt my workflow, but I finished with a few songs with which I am happy. Also, I got to meet Matt. He is super-talented and really cool and sings about birds and other miscellaneous awesome things and makes delicious soups. Erin and I also got to hang out with Alyssa and I have determined that she is super-talented and also awesome.
Last week we won SCPAB’s Battle of the Bands. So much has happened in the past year. I am constantly learning and trying to improve myself. I see so many of my faults that I want to fix. It is hard to focus on getting things done in the limited time that we all have in a single day. Focus. Focus. Focus. So much is possible when you stop wasting time.
Anyway. Back to the main point for this post. Waiting to acquire more gear can get really time consuming, and can distract from the actual writing and creation and recording of music. I should probably change the title of this post to “How Eric Became a Youth,” but I’ll leave the original title. I got out of control writing down my own history.
Now I am here, spring of 2012 upon me, with a new job and no more school and 16+ new songs under my belt. The past couple weeks I have been looking at new recording interfaces and new computers and new video cameras and such, and this morning I determined that I do not need any of it. I already have a working system. I’ve been acquiring new microphones and instruments when I need them. I will make do with what I have, just as my parents and their parents before them did.
My friend Erin asked me to join her family on vacation in Maine this week. I saw this wonderful state for the first time in June on my epic road trip with Cara, so I jumped at the chance to come back up and stay in a cabin and work on writing and recording new music for our duet formerly known as The Honey Badgers (side note: we need a new name that isn’t stupid, so let us know if you have any cute suggestions). We left late Thursday evening (after Jefe), and Erin drove through the night until we stopped for sleepin’ in Connecticut. We got up early and her dad drove the rest of the way into Maine. Friday we got to bike around and explore the Boothbay area and eat pizzer and ice cream and drink local beers nom.
Saturday we got up really early (7am in vacation time) and went down to the docks with Erin’s Uncle Ben to fetch his boat. This thing was a fancy 21′ powerboat with a shiny wakeboard tower on top. It didn’t fit in too well with the other wonderful sailboats that surrounded it, but she sure did go fast. We stayed in the tiny bay waterskiing and wakeboarding and waiting for the fog to burn off. It never really did, but we decided to go on a risky island adventure anyway, using my phone GPS to navigate (the captain didn’t have a compass on board >.<).
We went about six miles out to this magical state-owned nature preserve island called Damariscove Island. The caretakers were the only two people who lived there. Apparently they have a non-native European Fire Ant infestation that some unknowing European perhaps brought in on their feet. Sad story. Ants. Honey badgers.
The north side of the island is reserved for birds only (jealous), so we hiked a couple miles on the south side around the freshwater pond. There were lots of ruins from past ages of inhabitants, both people and cows. It was a fishin’ and lobsterin’ base for a while, and before that lots of colonial-type people lived there, and before that some injuns went there to fish occasionally. Anyway, it was beautiful and the hike was nice and there were lots of rocks and berries and sea tomatoes. As we left the harbor to return home, but before I had booted up my gps to check where we were going, the captain (Uncle Ben) somehow got turned around and was heading back towards the island as soon as we had passed the safety buoy that warns of shallow rocky waters. Moments after I realized this and told him, we heard a very nasty sounding crunch come from the propeller hitting a rock shelf. We all winced. The turning maneuver was almost complete, but we started to lose speed. The engine was still running, but we weren’t accelerating. This was bad news since we were starting to drift towards the island and the rocky waters around it. Tom and I started to paddle as Ben dove under to check the propeller. She looked fine, but something in the transmission/drive shaft must have been knocked around because she wasn’t spinnin’ at all. Luckily the tide was going in and pulling us towards the mainland, but we were still six miles out at sea ): View a map down below. Damariscove Island has the marker on it:
Ben called 911 to get the coast guard, but nobody was a dying child, so they only helped us by giving us the Seatow phone number. They charge $250/hr, so we called around to other friendly boat owners. In the end we got picked up by the East Boothbay Harbor Master. That name sounds pretty fancy, but I think he just wanted something to do on a foggy day. They radar’d us and eventually picked us up about about a mile north of where we had originally called for help (the middle star above). The northernmost star on my map (near Squirrel Island teehee) is where a family friend was going to switch off and tow us back to our harbor, but the Harbor Master neglected to tell us that he was bringing us all the way back to his harbor, so our friend made a fruitless dangerous trip out in the fog in vain ): We got back safely to land about three hours after the propeller had failed. The only challenge for me was that nobody had brought food or water on the boat, so by the end we were all dehydrated and hungry. I feel like I always just assume parents/adults are supposed to handle things like that, forgetting that I’m 22. Lesson learned. And we’re all alive.
Anyway, that was a fun adventure.
The rest of our time in Boothbay was spent biking, kayaking, swimming, and eating too much. Most importantly, we got a lot of writing done and some recordings were made. Lots of late night noisemaking, since midday sessions had too many dogs and children barking outside. Hopefully I’ll get some mixes online soon. Pictures below!
And now I’m sitting in the Portland, ME airport. I have to go back into work tomorrow. There was an earthquake in Virginia (not too many power outages to worry about thankfully), so my flight to BWI was delayed and I took an offer to take an even later return flight in exchange for a free round trip to anywhere in the AirTran network yay. That’s like a two for one deal in my mind. Maybe even a three for one deal, since this flight is just one direction. I sort of actually miss Delaware. Maybe I just miss Newark. I think what I’m trying to say is that this might be the longest length of time in which I haven’t been to Deer Park in the past year. Leaving my guitar behind to be driven home later in the week is hard too. Oh white people and their devastating problems.
Today was successful. I slept 3 hours. I got a piano lesson from a nice friend. I finished all of my homework. I went to classes. I got coffee with another nice friend. I edited/uploaded some videos from the Queen open mic. I went to work. I left work early for a study session. I left the study session early for an awesome planning meeting with new friend Joe who will be filming our music video for Two Hands next weekend ^_^ I brought some of my guitars and recording equipment to the student center. I went to an honors program senior year reunion and got free ice cream and mountain dew and saw lots of friends including Katie Baker. I got to spend three hours recording an Asian worship band for Eric’s drum audition tape. So much fun. Today was a good Wednesday.