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Report: First Gig as Next Paperback Hero

Well, I made it. It was a nerve-wracking and sweaty evening, but I am pleased to report that I didn't totally shit the bed. Exactly a week after my initial decision to just be open to the prospect of gigging again, I put together a set and performed before a small crowd for the first time under the name Next Paperback Hero.

I haven't stayed up that late for anything but New Years in a long, long time, especially on a Friday after a tiring work week. So I was definitely feeling it as I drove up to Frank's for load in at 9 pm (I know, I'm old.) It was clear that as the last act to be added to the bill, that I was going to have to go last. In this case, that meant starting around midnight. But beggars can't be choosers and I was grateful for the opportunity.

I was actually quite thankful I didn't have to go after the opening funk/jam band. Their vibe simply did not mesh with mine at all. The touring band, Wild Age, was a great transition as their set was still energetic, but brought in more of the indie vibe. (Read more about my thoughts on Wild Age here!) 

I found a couple of things I need to do:

1. Build a pedalboard. All of the other guitarists had pedalboards...so it was a bit awkward to pull out all of my pedals one by one, check the dials, plug them in, etc. Not only did I feel like an amateur, but I saw how easy it was for them. They literally took their pedalboard out of its case, plugged it in, and away they went. #Jealous

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2. Buy a handkerchief. Despite it being pretty cool outside, the venue was warm and the stage lights were radiating heat. I'm a sweaty guy in general, but this really took the cake. Sweat streamed down my face and into my eyes. I know that wiping it away with sleeves is weird, so I tried to power through. Kristen tells me she's seen people carry handkerchiefs while playing shows, wipe their brow between songs, and it is far less distracting. Well, that's what comes next!

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3.  Practice. Now that's not to say I didn't practice enough for this gig. I put in quite a bit of time and did what I could. And while I had a few misfires with the loop pedal, they were relatively easy to overcome. The real issue was comfort. It a bit harder than I remembered being alone out there and I could tell that I wasn't as moving nearly as much as I did when practicing at home. But I've been gigging for years, alone for the better part of three years. So why now? 

Well, in my experience, a new band or new set up hits the reset switch in many ways. There are so many new unknowns that you can't anticipate how it's going to go or feel, no matter how many times you practice. Sometimes, you just need to get that first gig out of the way and learn from it.

I can tell you that this gig felt significantly better than my last performance from over a year ago. I don't know if I technically played any better, but overall it felt good to have some of these songs out in the world again, not just online. At the end of the day, this was all I needed to start moving forward again.

In summation, I'm glad I got out there and did it, learned some valuable lessons, and feel more prepared for the next one. I can't say I'm going to go book a bunch of shows, but I am open to playing more and striving to find balance between gigs, studio, family, and everything else in life. 

Everything You'd Want to Know (And More) - "How Long Till Dawn?"

On this edition of Everything You'd Want to Know (And More), I'll be going over the writing, meaning, and decisions behind my song,  "How Long Till Dawn".

For me, this is a song about restlessness. The narrator has difficulty sleeping, thinking about what has been and what could be. He sees a black and white picture and imagines the subject looking back on all the things he should have done, but it's too late. Our narrator strives to avoid that fate, but feels so many things are out of his control, so he whispers, "How long till dawn?".

I started chasing the opening chord progression a few weeks ago and settled into a pattern that not only highlighted the melody I wanted, but one I could also perform. I'm much more comfortable with a pick, but this song required something more nuanced.

I'd had some trouble sleeping for a few nights and it felt like something was there, but the real inspiration came while re-watching the 4 hour Tom Petty documentary. In the opening of the movie, Jackson Browne refers to Tom Petty being the embodiment of the rock and roll dream. For whatever reason, the word "Dream" triggered everything else. The verses came together relatively quickly, though the pre-chorus gave me some trouble. I occasionally write melodies that have a very specific syllable count and that can really pigeon-hole things. This one got in my head, but I ended up writing out as many of these 3 syllable words and phrases as I could. From there I mixed and matched them along with the other sections of the verse.

The arrangement could have gone so many different ways. I was tossing around keeping it really quiet with some light synths while featuring the finger picking, but the restless nature of the song and picking pattern moved me away from that. Then I started recording a version with some pretty heavy fuzz bass that turned the chords into a choppy riff. While interesting, it didn't feel quite right.

I had just written another new song that I was really excited about and started to feel uncertain about "How Long till Dawn?". It didn't feel as strong and I lost confidence in the direction of the arrangement/recording. I played both songs on the acoustic guitar for my wife and she gave me some really helpful thoughts. Aside from the chorus, I had been trying to sing everything full voice. But she pointed out that some softer vocals would compliment it better. She was totally right!

I started over with a new recording and performance of the guitar as well. It all fell into place from there. The guitar turned out better than I thought and the lighter vocals really complimented it. The chord progression moves too fast for the long, spacey synths I had originally envisioned, so I had to adjust. I made the parts purposeful, but not overbearing.

I've really enjoyed utilizing background vocals as well, so this one was a great opportunity to do more. I added some "ooos" and "ahhs" to give it more color. The beat you hear on the second half of the song was originally playing throughout. It didn't feel right, but I knew I wanted it at some point. After recording almost everything else, I sat down to cut up the drum part and created the simpler beat to give the opening more space and room to build. I really love the congas that add more excitement to the beat as well.

The synths ended up having a "Stranger Things" vibe that I really enjoy. Though I don't know many Tears for Fears songs aside from the hits, I'm seeing some similarities there as well. I also enjoy the balance of the guitar and synths, keeping up with the dichotomy of my recent music. Overall, I'm really happy with how this one turned out and it may end up being a favorite!

- Nathan

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