Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Take it away, Frusciante!

"The Empyrean is my new record and will be released worldwide via Record Collection on January 20th 2009. It was recorded on and off between December 2006 and March 2008. It is a concept record which tells a single story both musically and lyrically. The story takes place within one person, and there are two characters. It contains a version of Tim Buckleys, 'Song To The Siren' and the rest of the songs are written by me. My friend Josh plays on it, as does Flea. It also features Sonus Quartet, Johnny Marr and The New Dimension Singers. I'm really happy with it and I've listened to it a lot for the psychedelic experience it provides. It should be played as loud as possible and it is suited to dark living rooms late at night."

- John Frusciante, November 3rd, 2008

Any Peppers fan will know this man's name instantly. He joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers as their guitar player when he was just 18. He played on Mother's Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, left the band for some time (during which the band released an album with Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction fame) before coming back to do three more albums with them.

But, it's not RHCP I want to talk about here. Throughout the years, in fact from 1994, John has written and released over 10 solo albums, and they are very, very unique.

He is reportedly working on a new album to be released this year, but his last album, The Empyrean, is what I want to talk about. I always come back to this album. As he says, it really should be played as loud as possible.... It is an album that is meant to be listened to from start to finish, with headphones. Full attention on this, please. I have done this many times, just listening, and man, what an experience.
Now, I am a pretty emotional person, and music has a great effect on me, but listening to this record, time and time again, I can not stress enough. It is among some of the most incredible and beautiful music I have ever heard. The first track just takes you in. Over 10 minutes in length, with no lyrics, just haunting, slow, beautiful guitar that somehow sends shockwaves through the heart.

Frusciante himself has some pretty interesting views on music, and indeed his own work. 
"When the intellectual part of guitar playing overrides the spiritual, you don't get to extreme heights."
—John Frusciante (Rolling Stone, February 2007

Just before any solo album were brought out, Frusciante decided he would become a drug addict. Out of choice. Just listen to his first few records, with such tracks as 'Your Pussy's Glued To A Building On Fire'. This music just sounds like it's coming from another dimension. He has also suffered from some kind of mental health issues and has described voices in his head telling him what to do. Scary stuff. Maybe, it's thinking about him in this condition, trying to imagine what it must be like, but listening to his first record made me cry like a baby. In some strange way, it was the greatest emotional experince I'd ever had. "I wrote [the record] because I was in a really big place in my head—it was a huge, spiritual place telling me what to do. As long as I'm obeying those forces, it's always going to be meaningful".

But, The Empyrean is a different thing all together. Written and recorded 3 years after RHCP's Stadium Arcadium, this is a clean, healthy John.
There is a scene in the film Amercan Beauty, in which a young man show's his girlfriend 'the most beautiful thing he's ever filmed'. For some time, they sit on the bed together watching his footage of a plastic bag floating around in the air against the backdrop of a red brick wall.
He's describing how it makes him feel and he says "Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world, I feel like I can't take it, and my heart, it's just going to..... cave in...."
THAT'S how John's music makes me feel, and especially this album.
I can't recommend it highly enough. If you aren't familiar with his work, you should be.

Friday, 10 February 2012

It's not just on the radio

Led Zeppelin. Jimi Hendrix. Neil Young. Jefferson Airplane. Fleetwood Mac. I could go on. We've all heard of them. There are so so many artists and bands that came out of the 1960's and 1970's that everyone has heard of. These are bands that were so revolutionary for their time, so different, like nothing anyone had ever heard before. These are bands that were in the UK top 40 charts, with albums and singles at number 1 all through this time. This is what kids were listening to, this is what was popular. This was pop music, rock and roll.

These days, these bands are still very much alive, new generations of kids are discovering them and listening to them, buying their records, but I think I would be right in saying they are seen as 'alternative' by today's standards.

Now, I'm not going to judge anyone's music taste, and of course, times change. Now take a look at the charts today. We have today's generation of kids watching the X Factor. We see so many singers and artists come into popularity by singing someone else's songs, and have lyrics and music written for them by someone who knows what they're doing. They become hot. Look at Justin Beiber with his millions of followers or 'Beliebers' on twitter. Granted, the kid can sing. I just wonder how much involvement he has in the songwriting process. Who are his influences?
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not attacking the entire pop industry. There are many genuinely incredible singers, artists and bands who hold their own. Beyonce and the late Amy Winehouse for example.
I just can't help but hear half the shite on our radios and wonder, just what the hell happened? I think we need somebody in mainstream radio to come along and do what John Peel did.

If you are a musician, have been in a band or know anything about writing music of any kind, you know it's not easy. There are people who are naturally gifted, but sometimes that isn't enough. There are so many struggling artists who never get noticed or picked up by any labels. I have heard some incredible acoustic performers, bands and singers playing the local bars nobody's ever heard of who have more talent, originality and stage performance than many artists out their touring the world, earning millions with their legion of teenage fans. Clearly, this is not a fair world, at least in the music business.

As a music fan, I seek out the good shit. I'm always looking for new music. I can't get enough. Every so often, I discover a band I'd never heard of before, and I'm hooked. I never really listen to the radio. They always play the same shit. Now, don't get me wrong here, there are some great radio shows, I'm just directing this at the music they play on your typical breakfast show and during the day, just chart stuff, repeated every day till you're sick of it.
 They only play what they think will be popular, or it seems that way to me. You know what I mean. How are we supposed to hear anything fresh? It's not just radio. I used to go down to a rock club here in Belfast, almost every week. I remember one time going to the DJ and requesting a Pepper's song. He refused to put on any of the songs I wanted, and said he would play Give It Away or Dani California or Can't Stop. He only wanted the people to hear something they would recognise and dance to.
I really, REALLY don't understand that mentality. Why not play something people don't know? I knew if he put on Stone Cold Bush or Good Time Boys, people would dig it. They would dance. Or so I like to think. We are so blinded by radio. I have had so many people who told me they thought Californication was the Red Hot Chili Peppers first album. Oh, the look on their face when I told them they had an album out in 1984.

One example of a band that takes influences from past decades of rock and blues while giving us an original, modern sound is The Black Keys. I'm glad they have been getting a lot of mainstream attention, but bands like this, in my opinion should be far better known than they are. If you're reading this and don't know of them, have a wee listen to this.

I think I'm leaving myself a little confused as to what my original point with all this was, but hopefully I've been able to make you think.
It just makes me sad to hear the same old crap day in day out in work on the radio and think that of all the people who never hear anything different.There is ALWAYS more beautiful music out there, that's what we all need to hear. Search for it. Music that makes you feel something. I can't wait to find out who I'll discover next.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Will digital downloads kill the CD?

Your opinions on this matter will most likely largely depend on how old you are, but this is something I feel worth talking about. This digital revolution - or whatever you want to call it - that's been happening over recent years. I'm not going to go much into music piracy, although yes, that is an issue, it's not my point.

Digitally downloading music, legally or illegally has now become the norm, I think I would be right in saying.
I myself, am a fan of the physical copy. I love the experience of walking into a record store, picking up an album, and I love being able to go home, put it on and listen to it from start to finish, while looking at the cover, admiring the artwork, reading the leaflet and reading the lyrics inside. I love putting it in my case along with the rest of my collection. I don't have a very large collection, but here it is anyway.

My fear is, with my growing collection (and I do plan on it getting much, much bigger in years to come) that I won't be able to buy cds in 20, 30, 40 years time, that record companies will be making too much money strictly on downloads through the likes of Amazon and iTunes.

We also have to consider that these days, buying music on vinyl is coming back into popularity, mainly with very big music fans who are willing to shell out a lot of cash for the record players, and vinyls themselves, where available. Here in the UK, the average price of a cd is about £10 or £11, whereas the same album on vinyl would be twice that. I have even seen albums that are £50 to £100, or even more on vinyl, as they are a special release, or a limited number of copies have been made, say.
Although, nowadays, with music in the first place being recorded digitally, it will usually sound better on cd, or even slightly better in some digital formats. All this obviously depends on what sort of hardware you have. Likely whatever the format, you won't be able to notice much difference in sound quality if you haven't put a lot of cash in buying a decent amp and speakers for example.

Maybe, in the future, (as it was suggested to me by @theronster on twitter) actual lossless quality audio will become readily available and everybody will be buying into that.
But, setting aside the whole issue of 'what is the best possible quality of sound?' I for one, hope that record companies will keep releasing their music on CDs for many years to come. I wish I had a collection like Rob Gordon, in one of my favourite films High Fidelity.

Monday, 6 February 2012

What's That NOISE?!

Metal. You either love it or hate it. Now, before I get into this, I must say. I don't like grouping different bands into genres (sometimes, you have to, but I still don't like it). To me, it's all just rock 'n' roll, man. Even within metal, there are so many different genres, and I've heard people actually arguing about whether a band is 'nu metal' or not, for example. Who fucking cares?!

Anyway, some people get the impression that if you listen to metal, you must be some angry, sad little soul all the time. Not true. Yes, there are some metal bands that write about suicide or devil worship, but certainly not all of them. Look at those american boys of 'metalcore' band Devil Wears Prada. You'd think, with Mike Hranica screaming down the mic, veins popping out of his neck, saliva flying out of his mouth that he'd be screaming about killing a goat and setting it on fire. But no. They're a Christian band. That's right.
Personally, of all the really heavy stuff I listen to, my favourites are Black Label Society, Pantera and Cancer Bats.
I was bullied in school. When I was younger, I couldn't take a joke. I couldn't stand up for myself. Then I see Zakk Wylde stand on a stage saying "Don't take any shit from FUCKING ANYONE!" and bust out a guitar solo like he was born to play. Shit yeah! I mean look at this guy, he's a beast.
What I'm saying is, listening to metal, and BLS in particular, it fills me with the power and the strength to stand up for myself and never lie down for anyone. It's also perfect to listen to when you're angry or stressed out. Metal plays a very positive role in people's lives. It's also fun as hell to play if you're a musician. In fact, I would say it fills me with a positive energy, and what energy.
You get out of work after a shit day, listen to Deathsmarch by Cancer Bats. Liam shouting "Hey, world, you'll never break me! Bring it on, give it your best shot!" and it might just give you that push you need, the strength to carry on and put a smile back on your face.

I'm not trying to convert people to metal here, I'm just saying, it means a bit more to people than a certain woman singing about how she kissed a girl. I'd rather have my kids banging their heads and listening to someone playing from their fucking heart.

I'll leave you with the late Mr. Hick's thoughts...

Beginning's of a music addict

Hey folks. Thought I'd start this blog with a little bit about me, and what got me into music in the first place. It was maybe before I started going to high school that I was given 3 Red Hot Chili Peppers albums on cassette tape. They were, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, Mother's Milk and Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
I started listening to RHCP, and for years they were pretty much ALL I listened to. I got a lot of stick for that from my friends, and rightly so.

Eventually, mostly from borrowing cds from my two older brothers, I started listening to other things. I discovered Nirvana, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Metallica and many, many others. As it stands today, RHCP are still my all time favourite band, and I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Parliament/Funkadelic, Charlie Parker and others through them. They're what made me want to become a musician. I started learning to play the alto Saxophone when I was in school. But, I learned up to grade 4 level and dropped it. I was bored of it. I was made to play a lot of old boring traditional songs. I didn't want to play the national anthem. I wanted to blast out some fucking John Coltrane, man!
But, a little later, after learning a few chords on my dad's old acoustic guitar, I decided I'd try learning the bass guitar. I wanted to play like Flea! Maybe because I was listening to a lot of funk, with Flea's bass dominating especially the early Pepper's records, I just thought it was way cooler than guitar.

Shortly afterwards, I really got into metal and punk too, but that's another story.... My whole point here is that RHCP and in paritcular their 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik is what made me fall in love with music in the first place. I still listen to that album these days, and last year I decided to get a tattoo of it on my back, seen above.
That picture has been posted all over the web, thanks to the band's fan site posting it to various social networks, and I met some incredible people because of that.

So anyway, that's me. Throughout this blog, hopefully I will introduce some people to some beautiful music and maybe learn some things myself.

I believe that music is essential for living day to day. For me anyway, it has shaped my life, sparked friendships and helped me through bad times. I owe a lot to music. So we'll see where this goes....