Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove, Vol. 1

I am pleased to announce the availability of “Peter Rowan’s Twang an’ Groove, Vol. 1”, a compilation of live recordings from our inaugural show at the Purple Bee Halloween Hoedown on 10/27/2012 and Antone’s on 1/30/2013.  You can download the album from iTunes right now, and the physical CD should be available tomorrow on Amazon.  Twang an’ Groove Vol. 1 is released by There Records, the same organization that brought you Reggaebilly, and it was mixed & mastered by Mike Morgan at The Zone Recording Studio (Mike is also the bass player in Twang an’ Groove, for those who don’t know.)

I got an opportunity to play with Peter and the band again last Wednesday at the Old Settlers Music Festival pre-party, and it was an amazing experience as always.  Over the past 18 months, Peter has evolved into a beast of an electric player, with the chops necessary to drive the straight-ahead power trio that is the new incarnation of Twang an’ Groove.  The concept of Twang an’ Groove has always been basically about reading Peter’s mind, about him starting off in a particular direction and the band following along, so it took us a dozen shows spread out over a period of 9 months before we could really get a sense of where he was going.  If you saw us last Wednesday, you saw a band that was a lot tighter– but also less experimental– than the band that was out standing in our field in the freezing cold on Halloween weekend, 2012.

What you’ll hear on Vol. 1 is the much more raw form of Twang an’ Groove, a band that was still throwing things against the wall to see what would stick.  As with most experimental projects, not all of the experiments were a success, but when they were, they were sheer brilliance.  Vol. 1 tells the story of a bluegrass legend who, at age 70, after having played acoustic guitar and mandolin most of his life, picked up the electric guitar and hired an Austin-based jam/country band (Rhythmic Statues) to back him up (in fact, that first gig was still billed as “Peter Rowan and Rhythmic Statues.”  The name “Twang an’ Groove” didn’t exist yet.)  Vol. 1 is basically every form of roots music America has to offer thrown into a blender with Peter’s finger on the “purée” button.  The sound is undeniably Peter Rowan but still completely different from anything that any of us have ever done before.

Either way, though– jam band or rock band– it’s a brilliant and ridiculously fun band to play with.  I’m proud to have had the opportunity to participate in the project, and I hope there will be a Volume 2.

 

Why I’m Giving Away My Music for Free

Yeah, you read right.  Free.  Crazy, huh?  “Seven Cities” was always intended to be a loss leader and a vehicle for building my fan base rather than a cash cow, and now that I’ve actually paid off the production costs, I’ve decided to take a page from Jonathan Coulton’s playbook and release all of the tracks from the album under a Creative Commons license.

What does this mean for you, my friends and fans?  For starters, you can now download my album for “any price you deem appropriate” — including $0 — from my BandCamp store (http://drcommander.bandcamp.com).  Any money received goes toward helping me continue to make music without starving.

Next, it means that you are free to– and I encourage you to– spread this album far and wide.  Share the link above on Facebook or Twitter.  Send the tracks to friends or family who might enjoy them.  Put them on mix tapes.  Use them in YouTube videos.  Remix them.  Remaster them.  Mash them up.  The only restrictions are:

  • Thou shalt give credit where credit is due (i.e. always include my name and a link to drcommander.com whenever you share or use my songs)
  • Thou shalt let people know if you modified the songs in some way (i.e. add “remix” to the title or whatnot)
  • Thou shalt not use the songs for commercial (i.e. money-making) purposes

Some further musings regarding why I did this can be read here:
http://drcommander.com/creative-commons
Basically, blame Woody Guthrie.

Really, though, I have nothing to lose at this point.  After 8 months of trying to sell and promote my album, including thousands upon thousands of spins on streaming radio, ad buys, you name it … I have made about $100 and spent a lot more than that.  I have had very little success in using the album as a promotional vehicle to book solo gigs.  It is simply not finding its audience.  Art is a form of communication, and thus art without an audience is like a tree falling in the woods.  Whether or not it makes a sound is kind of irrelevant if there is no one there to hear it.  Artists are natural self-doubters, which makes it particularly hard when we, as indie artists, also have to be shameless self-promoters.  When our art doesn’t “hit” the way we expect, our natural impulse is to press the reset button and try again.  In the case of “Seven Cities”, it was a gamble to come out of the gate with a concept album, particularly in a market that is not very receptive to bandless singer/songwriters.  So I understand why it’s not selling well, and from a business point of view, I would rather not throw good money after bad.  From an artistic point of view, however, even though I know that I have a better album in me, I can still be proud of what I’ve done and believe in the concept and believe that there is an audience for it somewhere.  Who knows?  Maybe it’ll be huge in Japan.  Thus, I’m switching from a pinpoint laser approach to a scatter bomb approach, in hopes that by letting the music run wild, it will eventually find its way into the ears of new fans.  Meanwhile, I’ll be finishing up writing songs for my next project and financing it via sideman gigs.  I hope to get started on my sophomore album in earnest this year.

In short, please pirate my album.  I would consider it a big favor.

December Shows, New Bands, Videos, etc.

December Shows

In the interest of not burying the lead, I’ll be performing a solo “acoustic” show next Sunday, Dec. 15 at Stompin’ Grounds Coffee & Cocktail Lounge at 3801 S. Congress (below the lofts across the street from Expose’.)  The Studio E Song Class will open at 6 PM with their acoustic renditions of “songs that should not be done acoustically” (I will probably accompany them on a couple of those), then I do an hour set at 7:30, featuring songs from “Seven Cities” and my next album (working title: “Songs What I Done Writ But Ain’t Yet Sung Into a Can”), with some covers thrown in for flava.

Also next weekend (Sat. Dec. 14 at 11:30 PM), I’ll be playing keys and singing backup with Ulrich Ellison & Tribe for Ulrich’s birthday show & single release party at One-2-One Bar at 1509 S. Lamar.  Ulrich is a native of Austria, and his new album is steeped in 70’s and 80’s prog. rock.  It has given me an opportunity to exercise my synth chops, which I don’t often get to do around here.  Some of his original stuff will remind you of Pink Floyd, Sting, Moody Blues, even Manheim Steamroller, but he’s also prone to launch into some blazing Texas blues with little provocation.  FB event: https://www.facebook.com/events/666410780046948

The following weekend (Sat. Dec. 21 at 7 PM), I’ll be playing with Robin Wiley at Milt’s Pit BBQ in Kyle.  Robin and I do a Captain & Tenille sort of duo, with her singing and me doing keys and backing vocals (Captain & Tenille currently outrank us, but I’m long overdue for a promotion.)  We had a great show down in Corpus last month at Chat’s Drive-in and did a short concert and interview on KCCT radio with “Daddy D”.  Robin’s original material is both folk and R&B-oriented and includes a lost Guthrie song that apparently no one else has ever recorded.

You can add any of my upcoming shows to your Google or iCal calendars by going to http://drcommander.com/shows/upcoming-shows and clicking on the + sign next to the show.  I’ve got a lot more stuff coming up in the first part of 2014.

Twang an’ Groove News

For those who weren’t following our tourettes with Peter Rowan this past summer (Telluride in June and North Carolina in July) on Facebook, you can get a recap and see/download all of my pictures on my flickr page:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/drcommander/sets/

Telluride was perhaps the most amazing musical experience I’ve ever had.  First time to attend the festival, much less perform there.  Got to hobnob with a who’s who of the bluegrass/jamgrass scene, not to mention hang out in one of the most beautiful places in the world (with free food and 4-star lodging, no less.)  We did two encores at Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, and the audience still almost wouldn’t let us get off the stage.  Other highlights:  Lake Street Dive; Milk Carton Kids; String Cheese; Jackson Browne (!); Hot Rize/Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers; and the Telluride “house band” that consisted of Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Stuart Duncan, Bryan Sutton, and Edgar Meyer with special guests Jackson Browne, Peter Rowan, half of the Punch Bros., etc. etc.

The First Annual Crystal Coast Music Festival in North Carolina almost got rained out, but the skies cleared in time for our show, and although the rain had driven a lot of people away, it was still a good crowd and a great show.  Keep an eye on this festival, because they apparently have 5 years of funding secured, so they are likely to grow and may end up being the North Carolina version of Old Settlers.  We got the rare opportunity to perform with Yungchen Llamo, a Tibetan mountain singer, at both the Crystal Coast festival and at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh.

Peter has been off performing with Yungchen and others since then, but at least according to the Old Settlers web site, Twang an’ Groove is on the bill for 2014.  We haven’t yet received confirmation of that, so I’ll keep you posted.

Videos

A lyric video for “Dead to the World” is now available here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=537ciFAX8Ws.  Enjoy!

Some actual music videos are also in the works, including “Hill Country Rain” and “The American Dream.”  My friend Tony is producing the latter, and it should be amazing.  Subscribe to my YouTube channel to be notified the second that these are available.

Social Media & Stuff

I rail against Spotify frequently, but if it’s going to exist, then I might as well take advantage of it.  If you’re on there, then please visit my official Spotify profile (type “spotify:user:drcommander” into the search box) and follow me.  I am curating some playlists that bear some relevance to my music career, both past and present.

Have a José Feliciano Navidad!
DRC

“Seven Cities” CD For Sale on CD Baby

CD’s are now for sale on CD Baby:

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/drcommander

For those who bought the MP3 version, you can download the full-sized CD artwork by clicking on one of the following images:

"Seven Cities" - Front Cover"Seven Cities" - Inside Cover

"Seven Cities" - Tray Card

“Seven Cities” in Statuses

D. R. Commander  is giddy after stumbling upon a formula to duplicate that early Dire Straits drum sound in Logic.
June 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm

D. R. Commander  is trying to channel Ronnie Milsap.
June 30, 2009 at 12:18 am

D. R. Commander  is facebooking when he really should be recording drums.
July 3, 2009 at 11:31 pm

D. R. Commander  is intensely frustrated at Logic.
July 17, 2009 at 3:03 pm

D. R. Commander  is polishing up the instrument tracks for “Jennifer.”  Somehow I shot for Ronnie Milsap but ended up hitting Fleetwood Mac.  I’m gonna need backup singers on this one.
July 19, 2009 at 2:24 pm

D. R. Commander  is up ridiculously late, per usual.  Finished instrument tracks for “Jennifer”, minus guitar.  Probably moving on to the Calgary vignette next.  Next time I get the idea to record and produce a concept classic rock album entirely by myself, someone please shoot me.
July 21, 2009 at 2:49 am

D. R. Commander  is absorbing every Steely Dan and George Benson drum line in his collection.
July 26, 2009 at 1:11 pm

D. R. Commander  is looking for someone who can shred a face-melting guitar solo in the style of Mark Knopfler.  Pay is proportional to how much my face melts.  Will send practice MP3 to any interested parties.
July 26, 2009 at 10:27 pm

D. R. Commander  Instrument tracks to four songs (“Jennifer”, “The Way We Started”, “One-Way Line”, and “Dead to the World”) more or less done.  Working on the re-spin of “Atlanta”.
August 27, 2009 at 4:56 pm

D. R. Commander  isn’t sure Hank done it this way …
September 10, 2009 at 2:52 am

D. R. Commander  wishes his vocal cords were being more cooperative.
September 30, 2009 at 6:08 pm

D. R. Commander  is trying to record the piano part to “Blacksmith Shop” but is having difficulty finding a piano sound that isn’t too resonant.
October 6, 2009 at 12:06 am

D. R. Commander  is on Take 53 of the solo.
October 8, 2009 at 4:39 pm

D. R. Commander  is comping about a dozen solo tracks
October 27, 2009 at 9:41 pm

D. R. Commander  is reasonably sure that “Graceland” has one of the top five sickest bass lines of all time.
November 6, 2009 at 6:00 pm

D. R. Commander  is working on the most difficult drum line of the album.  Someday, I’m going to write a song I can actually play.
November 16, 2009 at 3:52 pm

D. R. Commander  This album is becoming very much a blend of country and jazz.  I may really be onto something here.
November 19, 2009 at 5:20 pm

D. R. Commander  is sequestering himself from Facebook for four days to try and get some recording done.  BTW, anyone have a bridge I can borrow?
December 15, 2009 at 2:26 am

D. R. Commander  was about to be proud of himself for writing the line “like a boat against the tide” until he realized that Dennis DeYoung beat him to it by about 30 years.
December 17, 2009 at 12:26 am

D. R. Commander  There are several implicit risks to being friends with a musician, perhaps the most well-known being that if you screw one over, you just might get immortalized in song.
January 2, 2010 at 4:24 pm

D. R. Commander  is discovering that about 5 times through “Atlanta” is the limit before his hands turn to complete mush.
January 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm

D. R. Commander  I don’t care what anyone else thinks …  the riff Knopfler hits in “Lady Writer” when he sings “just the way that her hair fell down around her face” is the sickest lick in rock & roll.
January 27, 2010 at 2:03 am

D. R. Commander  will be going into the studio the week of SxSW to record two of the remaining Seven Cities tracks (“Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain”) with an actual band (Bass: Pat Harris, Guitar: Aaron Goldfarb, Drums: Graeme Francis.)  Me: stoked.
February 13, 2010 at 12:54 am

D. R. Commander  Huh.  Now that air can actually pass through my head semi-normally, I’m starting to notice how ridiculously long the phrases in my songs are.
February 13, 2010 at 6:02 am

D. R. Commander  is recording a demo of “Hill Country Rain” for the lads
February 26, 2010 at 12:19 am

D. R. Commander  I knew there was some reason why I saved the 7-minute and the 9-minute songs for last.  Wondering if this album will fit on vinyl at this rate.
March 2, 2010 at 2:51 am

D. R. Commander  is setting up at Congress House Studio.
March 16, 2010 at 9:20 am

D. R. Commander  hearts his band.
March 16, 2010 at 2:39 pm

D. R. Commander  DigiDesign is a PFS.
March 16, 2010 at 8:30 pm

D. R. Commander  is producing bass tracks.
May 26, 2010 at 11:50 pm

D. R. Commander  Dammit…  Spock, I…  just…  can’t make…  the snare…  sound…  right…
May 28, 2010 at 3:41 am

D. R. Commander  Installing my new MBox 2 Pro, so I can finally open the sessions we recorded at Congress House three months ago …
June 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm

D. R. Commander  is teaching himself Pro Tools 8.
June 24, 2010 at 12:21 am

D. R. Commander  Argh.  Unfortunately, I somehow smoked the FireWire interface in my mixer.  Nearly nuked the hard drive in the process, but fortunately DiskWarrior saved my bacon again.  Now I have to figure out how to get a new Onyx FW card before tomorrow.
July 2, 2010 at 7:04 am

D. R. Commander  finally has the studio up and running again….  Whew.
July 2, 2010 at 7:27 pm

D. R. Commander  just had a super productive day of recording Aaron Goldfarb’s tasty strat and dirty dirty slide.  Starting to feel really good about how the album is sounding.
July 3, 2010 at 4:25 pm

D. R. Commander  is completely geeking out over the new guitar parts on the album.  It sounds like I had Mark Knopfler, Paul Simon, and Walter Becker in the studio this weekend.
July 5, 2010 at 12:50 am

D. R. Commander  To include “Calgary” or to not include “Calgary”.  That is the question…  Cons:  I’m really sick of recording and want to get this thing on the market.  Pros:  I really like the song.  Cons:  It’s 9 1/2 frickin’ minutes long.  Pros:  I really like the song.  Cons:  If I include it, then there would actually be 8 cities on “Seven Cities” (trades description problems.)  Pros:  Did I mention I really like the song?
July 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm

D. R. Commander  Wow.  With enough reverb and chorus, I can almost make myself sound like a singer.
August 3, 2010 at 12:41 am

D. R. Commander  is comping vocals.
August 13, 2010 at 3:02 pm

D. R. Commander  Next album:  me and a piano.  That’s it.  (well, OK, maybe some congas)
August 14, 2010 at 7:39 pm

D. R. Commander  Track 1 (“The Way We Started”) is pretty much done except for some mix tweaking.  Will be laying in vocals on “Dead to the World” and one other track (TBD) in the next week and will then post pre-mixes of all three songs.  It’s finally happening!
August 15, 2010 at 1:20 am

D. R. Commander  wanted to record vocals today, but my larynx had other plans.
August 18, 2010 at 2:53 pm

D. R. Commander  is re-cutting the solo on “One-Way Line” to dial down the Hornsby a bit.
August 19, 2010 at 1:21 am

D. R. Commander  Got one good vocal track laid down last week, and then I’ve been suffering through a week of CSS (can’t sing $#!+.)
August 20, 2010 at 3:24 pm

D. R. Commander  is back to recording vocals.
September 15, 2010 at 2:27 pm

D. R. Commander  I’m pretty sure Justin Bieber never stayed up all night comping 20 vocal takes because he was too stubborn to use AutoTune.
September 19, 2010 at 12:40 am

D. R. Commander  Pre-mixes of the first two tracks (or rather, the first and last track) from “Seven Cities” have been posted to my ReverbNation page.  Props to Aaron Goldfarb and Pat Harris for the tasty strat and bass fiddle tracks (respectively.)
September 21, 2010 at 10:28 pm

D. R. Commander  really needs to attend a 12-step program for songwriters who are addicted to rhyming “moonlight” with “midnight” and “remember” with “September.”
October 17, 2010 at 2:17 am

D. R. Commander  The bridge.  It’s always the bridge.
October 17, 2010 at 8:51 pm

D. R. Commander  What I learned today:  how to comp a guitar solo in ProTools.
January 12, 2011 at 1:47 am

D. R. Commander  needs to stop Facebooking and finish charting out this song.
February 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm

D. R. Commander  writes way too many songs in the key of F.
February 8, 2011 at 5:49 pm

D. R. Commander  There’s really nothing more disheartening than the realization that you inadvertently lifted a lyrical phrase from Eric Carmen.  Not only does it mean that you have to rewrite the phrase, but it means that, somewhere in your past, you apparently listened to a lot of Eric Carmen.
February 10, 2011 at 12:01 am

D. R. Commander  just figured out how to perfectly reproduce Steve Winwood’s multi-moog sound from “Arc of a Diver” on my Nord.
March 29, 2011 at 4:38 am

D. R. Commander  is making yet another futile attempt to record vocals.  Vocal cords have other ideas today.
April 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “The Blacksmith Shop (Seven Cities Pre-Mix)”
April 11, 2011 at 12:46 am

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “One-Way Line – Acoustic Version (Seven Cities Pre-Mix #2)”
April 11, 2011 at 1:01 am

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “The Way We Started (Seven Cities Pre-Mix #2)”
April 11, 2011 at 1:33 am

D. R. Commander  Ahhh…  Form PA, my old friend.
April 12, 2011 at 1:22 am

D. R. Commander  Dear voice:  please hold out long enough to get enough decent takes on “Dead to the World”, and I promise I will never write a song that has a high D in it ever again.
May 27, 2011 at 11:36 am

D. R. Commander  is compin’ vocals.  Oh de doo dah day.
June 1, 2011 at 2:21 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “Dead to the World (Seven Cities Pre-Mix)”
June 4, 2011 at 2:55 pm

D. R. Commander  discovered, buried in Apple Loops, the exact drum machine riffs used in “Sexual Healing.” And there went 30 minutes of an otherwise productive day. :)
July 7, 2011 at 5:32 pm

D. R. Commander  You ain’t got no problems, Jules.  I’m sendin’ The Wolf.
July 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm

D. R. Commander  is trying to memorize all 14 verses of “Hill Country Rain.”  So far, I’ve made it up to 10. 😐
June 14, 2011 at 11:14 pm

D. R. Commander  Need backup singers– anyone willing to work for credit?
July 25, 2011 at 5:46 pm

D. R. Commander  now has backing vocals on “Dead to the World”, courtesy of the one they call Akina Adderley
August 12, 2011 at 3:44 pm

D. R. Commander  has finished tracking vox on “Jennifer.”  Now I can turn the A/C back on.  <pant>  <gasp>
August 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm

D. R. Commander  I’ve come to the conclusion that my voice is about as naturally suited for bluegrass as a tuba is for “Flight of the Bumblebee.”
December 9, 2011 at 11:15 am

D. R. Commander  Nose to the keyboard in the studio this week.
January 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm

D. R. Commander  Charting backing vox.
January 24, 2012 at 6:08 pm

D. R. Commander  Logic is being really lame today.
March 13, 2012 at 5:28 pm

D. R. Commander  Upgraded to Logic Pro 9 and loving it a lot more than Logic Express 8 so far (the lack of daily crashes is a plus.  They really should advertise that feature more.)  I’ve decided to mix this beast myself, as crazy as that may sound, but I’m planning to release it as a series of 3 “maxi-singles” so you folks don’t have to wait for me to finish the whole bloody thing.
March 14, 2012 at 6:03 pm

D. R. Commander  Back from H-town.  Good show last night at Last Concert (“Atlanta” sounded awesome)– chillaxin’ for a bit before heading to OSMF.
April 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm

D. R. Commander  had a very productive day at The Zone Recording Studio tracking backing vocals with Andrea Whaley, who somehow managed to make two of my songs sound like they were written for the Dixie Chicks, then watched Mike do the first mix on “Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain”, then tracked main vocals on the latter.  Much comping and tweaking ahead of me, but first sleep.
June 20, 2012 at 7:51 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “The Way We Started (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
November 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “One-Way Line (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
November 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “One-Way Line – Mostly Unplugged (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
November 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “Jennifer (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
November 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “Jennifer – Mostly Unplugged (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
November 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “The American Dream (Seven Cities pre-mix)”
December 15, 2012 at 3:26 am

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “Dead to the World (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
December 29, 2012 at 7:59 pm

D. R. Commander  Posted a new song:  “The Blacksmith Shop (Seven Cities final production pre-mix)”
January 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm

D. R. Commander  Geekin’ out over album artwork
January 16, 2013 at 12:29 am

D. R. Commander  Integrating steel guitar trax from Lloyd Maines.  They.  Sound.  Awesome.
January 25, 2013 at 2:13 pm

D. R. Commander  just finished producing “Atlanta.”  It sounds amazing.
February 2, 2013 at 6:05 pm

The Story of “Seven Cities”, or “How Not to Record an Album If You Want to Preserve Your Sanity”

The songs on “Seven Cities” draw inspiration from a number of different sources.  “Jennifer” and “The Blacksmith Shop” are autobiographical, “Hill Country Rain” is historical, and the others are inspired by my travels or by tales told out of school from people with whom I’ve worked in the indie music and film business over the years.  The songs were written primarily during the 2007-2008 timeframe, when I was first starting to perform as a solo artist, in addition to playing and recording with Akina Adderley & the Vintage Playboys (“Dead to the World”, in fact, originated as an AAVP song.)  Having devoted much of my musical energy to that band over the course of two years, it wasn’t until I left the band in late 2008 and subsequently lost my day job in early 2009 that the idea for a solo album really cemented itself.  In early 2009, while still living off of a severance package, I volunteered (in the same sense that Ben Rogers volunteered to whitewash the fence) as the pianist, pit boss, and arranger for the UT School of Law’s annual follies pageant.  Given that the orchestra consisted of whatever volunteers we could get from the law school, I was tasked with arranging a variety of show tunes for one flute, one cello, two guitars, a bass, a drummer, and myself.  To make matters worse, the drummer broke his arm three weeks prior to the show, so I ended up having to computerize most of the drum and brass parts for the Broadway numbers using Logic Pro.  For some of the other numbers, I had to play the drum parts live by triggering samples from my keyboard.

I hadn’t really done much work with MIDI sequencing since high school and college, but this crash course in electronic drums actually proved to be a blessing in disguise.  I had always wanted to do an album that sounded like it was made in the late 70’s/early 80’s and transferred to digital in the early 90’s.  1993, in particular, was the year that, after a 5-year obsession with New Wave, I started to discover 70’s rock and to fall in love with the earlier works of artists like Dire Straits and Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac.  In early 2009, I didn’t know very many Austin-based drummers, and I wasn’t sure whether the ones I did know could pull off that kind of intricate-yet-understated Mick Fleetwood/Pick Withers/Jeff Porcaro sort of thing.  Not that I claim to be a drummer by any means, much less a good one, but having gained confidence in my ability to create at least a passable rhythm track using my keyboard, I figured what the hell.  Over the last half of 2009, “The Way We Started”, “Dead to the World”, “The American Dream”, “Jennifer”, and “The Blacksmith Shop” took shape in this way, with me first laying down the piano part to either a click track or a drum loop, then laying down the final drum tracks by triggering samples from my keyboard in real time.  I had intended to do this with “One-Way Line” as well, but I got used to the temporary drum loops I was using and never bothered to record over them.

I knew, however, that two of the songs were not going to fly without a real band.  Fortunately, in January of 2010, I met that band.  I had been working off and on with bassist and songwriter Pat Harris since 2007, when he sat in with a Latin jazz combo with whom I was playing at the time.  Pat was good friends with bluegrass singer Anna Mitchell.  The two of them had worked together back in Michigan, and Anna had recorded some of Pat’s songs on her first album.  He brought her down to do a taping of “The Infynit Hour” on the Austin public access channel and invited me to sit in on keys, with Aaron Goldfarb (then a law student) on guitar and Graeme Francis (a percussion instructor at UT) on drums.  Building upon the success of that performance with “The Uninvited Guests”, I hired the band to lay down “Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain” during the week of SxSW at The Congress House Studio, the studio at which Akina and the Vintage Playboys had recorded our album two years prior.

In the ensuing months, I brought Pat and Aaron into my home studio (aptly dubbed “Spare Oom”, a reference to “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe”) to lay down bass and guitar tracks on the rest of the album.  The day before Aaron was scheduled to record, I accidentally plugged the FireWire cable into my Mackie Onyx mixer backwards and completely smoked its FireWire interface.  It nearly nuked my hard drive in the process.  Fortunately, I was able to recover the hard drive and bring up an MBox 2 Pro that I had just purchased.  An MBox, or other DigiDesign hardware, is required when using Pro Tools 8, which is why I had purchased it.  However, the MBox is a less-than-ideal solution for Logic, owing mainly to DigiDesign’s flaky CoreAudio drivers.  Regardless, I had to use it for all of the remaining work on the album, because I didn’t have the $500 in the music till to replace the Onyx FireWire card (it still hasn’t been replaced, as I write this.)

I laugh now when I think back to the many times that a friend or colleague would ask me “how’s the album coming”, and even as early as 2009, I always seemed to think I was “about 80% done.”  At some point during the summer of 2010, I started to realize how unrealistic it was going to be to produce a 10-song album myself, particularly when one of the songs (“Hill Country Rain”) was 7 minutes long and another (an epic two-parter called “Calgary”) was 9 minutes long.  Thus, “Allegheny Sunrise” and “Calgary” were unceremoniously cut and replaced with acoustic mixes of “Jennifer” and “One-Way Line.”  Those two songs would have made the album too long for vinyl anyhow, and had they been included, the album would have actually been about nine cities instead of seven.

By September of 2010, the instrument tracks on everything but “Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain” had largely taken shape, and I once again naively asserted that I was about 80% done– not realizing that, when recording and producing an album, the instruments are the tip of the iceberg, and the vocals are the rest.  Recording vocals proved to be a “learning experience” (translation: a royal pain in the @$$), because in a large sense, I was trying to teach myself vocal recording from both the vocalist’s and the engineer’s point of view.  One of the things I discovered was that, as a singer, you can get away with a lot of stuff live that you can’t get away with on tape, and I discovered that my songs were actually really hard for me to sing in the studio.  I had already determined that the original key of “The Way We Started” was too low, so I moved it from C to D prior to recording the guitars and bass (fortunately, since I had tracked all of the piano parts using MIDI, doing this was a simple matter of transposing the MIDI data and re-recording it through my Nord.)  However, it wasn’t until I had banged my head against the wall over the course of two days trying to track vocals on “Jennifer” that I realized I needed to bump that song up a whole step as well.  Unfortunately, at that point, the guitars and bass had already been recorded, so I had to use the Elastic Time feature in Pro Tools to transpose them.  Fortunately, Pro Tools does a good job of this, and in the places where you can still hear the artifacts, they sound almost like analog tape distortion.

I personally found vocal recording and producing to be the most tedious and least enjoyable part of the whole process.  I was trying my best not to use pitch correction, so I would record a fairly insane number of takes and go through them with a fine-toothed comb, taking the best pieces of each one.  If I didn’t get what I wanted, on some occasions I would end up recording even more takes of a particular phrase.  I think some of the phrases ended up being recorded 25 or 30 times.  If I wasn’t so fully invested– or perhaps “obsessed” is a better word– at that point, it would’ve been really easy to scrap the whole project or to do like Carlos Santana did and hire other singers.  One valuable lesson that I took away from this:  pitch correction software is often overused and misused, but if used properly and sparingly, it can make the producer’s job tremendously easier without detracting in any way from the track.  By the time I got around to recording and producing the last few vocal tracks (bearing in mind that the album was not recorded in order), I had figured out that it was a lot better to pick the take that had the best “feel” and correct the bad notes rather than to judge the takes purely on intonation.

Another not insignificant reason why the album took so long to produce was simply lack of money.  Working as a contractor for my day job, I was and am living somewhat hand-to-mouth, so I was trying to finance the album from other music endeavors.  Reserving a studio and an engineer for a day is usually in the neighborhood of $500, so I was really trying to do as much as I possibly could myself.  Fortunately, in early 2010, I fell into a gig as the keyboardist for Flounders Without Eyes, a successful jam band in the Austin area, so all of the money I made performing with them was funneled into production of “Seven Cities”.  Additionally, their rhythm guitarist and erstwhile producer, Mike Morgan, owns a studio in Dripping Springs (The Zone) that records a veritable who’s who of acoustic, Americana, and Texas country acts.  As I started becoming more and more of a fixture with Flounders, Mike brought me in to record piano tracks on his solo album, in exchange for future help with mine.

At some point during 2011/early 2012, I got really distracted with the notion of trying to mix and master the record myself, which in retrospect is about the stupidest idea I’ve ever had.  It was partly born out of the desire to keep everything in Logic Pro rather than going to the trouble of bouncing all of the tracks into Pro Tools and re-creating all of the volume and effects automation.  I learned some useful techniques by playing around with mixing & mastering in Logic, but ultimately it delayed the release by at least 3 months.  Ultimately, I just had to bite the bullet and spend the many hours necessary to recreate the tracks in Pro Tools.

As early 2012 rolled around, I had mostly finished all of my vocals– except for the 11-verse elephant in the living room known as “Hill Country Rain”– and had brought Akina in to record the backing vox on “Dead to the World.”  (Since she had formerly performed that song, I was used to hearing the chorus up an octave, and it just didn’t sound right without that part.)  I had worked out backing vocal arrangements for “Jennifer”, “One-Way Line”, “The Blacksmith Shop”, and “Atlanta” and was looking for someone who could do a Fleetwood Mac sort of thing.  Mike knew just the lady for the job:  Andrea Whaley, who had just finished recording backing vocals on Mike’s solo album.  Since I had everything in Pro Tools at this point, we brought Andrea into The Zone in the summer of 2012 to lay down the backing vocals, and I recorded the main vocal for “Hill Country Rain” at the same time.  I was somehow able to do that song with only 5 takes– I guess I was getting better at recording vocals.

At this point, I probably was really 80% done, but there was still a lot of production work left, and I had long since stopped talking about how far along the album was.  As my friend Pedro pointed out to me, sometimes talking too much about a project makes the project real in your mind, and thus, on some level, your mind doesn’t really feel any urgency to finish it.  The other thing I learned is that releasing “sneak previews” of the tracks is even worse than talking too much about the project.  Not only did it waste time by forcing me to temporarily perfect an unfinished product, but it also made the album feel even more real and complete, which made it even more difficult for me to accept how much work there was left to do.  I still had to tame the instruments on “Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain”, and making real drums sound good is a lot harder than making electronic drums sound good.  Mike saved my bacon by EQ’ing the drums enough that I could work with the tracks, and he also showed me some basic techniques for producing them.  Through the process of bringing in the tracks from Logic, I already knew a bit about Pro Tools, but now I had to spend numerous hours learning it in earnest so I could comp and produce Andrea’s backing vocals as well as the instrument tracks on “Atlanta” and “Hill Country Rain.”  Bear in mind that, while I was spending probably 8-10 hours a week (on average) working on the album, I was also still actively playing with Flounders Without Eyes and holding down a job as a contractor to pay my rent.

Toward the end of 2012, I was starting to finalize production on the songs, but “Atlanta” and “The American Dream” really just needed something more.  Mike came to my rescue yet again, hooking me up with none other than Grammy-winning steel guitar player Lloyd Maines.  Production finally wrapped on March 4 of 2013, and as soon as I let go of the reins, things started to happen very quickly.  Within 3 weeks, the album had been mixed by Pat Manske at The Zone.  Over the course of two days, he took the mish-mash of layered tracks from my home studio and full band tracks from Congress House and somehow managed to build them into a coherent sound.

I was going to have Pat master it as well, but he left on tour in early April (in addition to being the engineer at The Zone, he’s also the drummer for the Flatlanders), and I really wanted to have the album online before Old Settler’s Music Festival.  Thus, I decided to bring it into Terra Nova, Austin’s premier mastering studio.  I had never worked with Nick Landis before, but as soon as we started talking, I knew I had found a kindred spirit.  He suggested foregoing the use of “brick wall” limiters and mastering the album as if it were a direct transfer from analog.  This gave it exactly that 1993 classic rock CD sound I was looking for, and it had the added advantage of allowing the vinyl and CD masters to be identical, which saved time and money (“Seven Cities” is vinyl-ready, if and when I raise enough money to do a pressing.)  “Brick wall” limiters basically shape the sound so that all of the peaks in volume are cut off, which allows the mastering engineer to raise the overall loudness level of the track.  This makes the track sound better on cheap speakers, cell phones, and earbuds, but since it also eliminates much of the “dynamic range” (the distinction between the loud and soft parts of the track), it can make the song sound flat and emotionless.  Like pitch correction, “brick wall” limiters have become overused in recent years, and critics of the practice have come to refer to their overuse as the “Loudness War.”

Nick is not only a fellow dynamic range fan, but he is also a member of the Pleasurize Music Foundation, so he was able to certify “Seven Cities” using their official tools.  The final master of “Seven Cities” received a rating of DR12 (12 dB between the peak and RMS signal strength, for the engineers in the audience), which gives it the same dynamic range as the original CD versions of Steely Dan’s “Can’t Buy a Thrill” (1985), Bruce Hornsby’s “Scenes From the Southside” (1988), Dire Straits’ “On Every Street” (1991), and Bruce Springsteen’s “Human Touch” (1992), all of which were albums that heavily influenced me.

Well, anyway, that’s the story.  I don’t claim that “Seven Cities” is Grammy material, but I’m proud of how it turned out, and I hope you enjoy it as well.  I doubt that there will ever be another album like it, unless someone else comes along who is as crazy as I am.  In the future, if any album I make contains more than just me and a piano, I’m hiring a producer.

Free Song, CD’s on the way, PRTG in North Carolina

Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove Update

Playing Old Settlers was an absolute blast, and thanks a bunch to everyone who came out to see one or both of our shows on Saturday.  Audience response was amazing.  Here’s a video of our noon show, shot by Ted Branson from KOOP radio 91.7:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZryjUmbyo3M

We’re getting amped up to play Telluride in about 6 weeks, and we’ve announced several dates in North Carolina in July, including the Lincoln Theater in Raleigh and the Crystal Coast Music Festival over in Morehead City.  More info on these is on my gig calendar.

Free Stuff!

In the world of DRC’s solo music, you can now download “Dead to the World” for free from my ReverbNation page in exchange for signing up for my e-mail list.  If you’re already on my e-mail list, just click “Download” under the song, then click “I’m already a fan”, and where it says “I’m on the mailing list”, enter your e-mail address and click “Submit”.  Bada bing.  Free song.

Please share this song with anyone who you think might like it.

CD’s

CD’s are on the way and should be here early next week.  My BandCamp store lets you name your price on “Seven Cities”, and all proceeds at the moment go toward paying off the 4-figure production debt.  :)  If you pay $10 or more, or if you already paid that amount through BandCamp, then I’ll make sure you get a CD if you want one.  So don’t delay– buy today.  You can pay either with PayPal or a credit card (you don’t have to create a PayPal account.)  If you’ve bought the record via iTunes or another outlet, then I thank you heartily for your support.  I won’t know for probably a few weeks how those sales are doing, because reporting from the major online stores has a significant delay.

Spread the word!

The album is now officially available “everywhere” online, including most streaming sites.   If you know someone who might like my music, please take a moment to tell them about it.

More good stuff in the works.  Stay tuned!

“Seven Cities” Officially For Sale

I am pleased to announce that you can now listen to the entire “Seven Cities” album, read the liner notes and lyric sheets, and purchase the whole thing (or individual tracks) at:

http://drcommander.bandcamp.com/album/seven-cities

The MP3s have embedded lyrics that will display on your iPhone or other players that can read MP3 lyrics.  Pretty cool.

The album is also available on iTunes and Google Play (search for “d. r. commander”) and should be on Amazon and every other major online store within the next few days.  A limited number of CD’s will be available within the next couple of weeks (I still have to finish doing the back and inside cover artwork for those.)

If you prefer to cut out the middle man, I will also have download cards available at Old Settlers.

If you enjoy the album, please also consider sharing the link with others you think might enjoy it.

Hope to see you at the Old Settlers pre-party tonight and the festival this weekend!

Old Settler’s Music Fest + “Seven Cities” Release

Lots of big news, so I guess I’ll just go in chronological order:

“Seven Cities” Digital Release

This coming Wednesday, it’s the day you’ve all been waiting for … or, at least, I hope you’ve all been waiting for it … the digital release of “Seven Cities.”  As we speak, I am in the process of pushing it out to digital distributors and setting up the BandCamp.com page for direct sales.  I had the pleasure of working with Nick Landis of Terra Nova Digital Audio, Inc. last week to master the record.  I told him that I was looking for a sound reminiscent of an album that was produced in the 70’s but transferred to digital in the late 80’s/early 90’s (pre-“loudness wars”), and not only did he know exactly how to achieve that, but it turns out that he can issue official dynamic range certifications from the Pleasurize Music Foundation (http://www.pleasurizemusic.com/).  “Seven Cities” received a rating of DR12, which gives it a similar level of dynamic range to some of my favorite late 80’s/early 90’s classic rock CD’s.

I will provide more details on Tuesday or Wednesday regarding the album release.  Stay tuned.

Old Settlers Pre-Party

This coming Wednesday (4/17), I’ll be playing a free show at Camp Ben McCullough (across from the Salt Lick on F. M. 1826 near Driftwood, TX, about 15 minutes south of Austin) with Rhythmic Statues.  RS is a project conceived by Mike Morgan and featuring most of the members of Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove band (including Carter Arrington on guitar, Mike on bass, and me on keys), but it centers around Mike’s songwriting.  For this show, we’ll have Jenny Mier and Andy Markoff from Flounders Without Eyes as special guests, and we’ll be doing some of the songs that Mike wrote for Flounders, in addition to some new Rhythmic Statues material and some covers of old favorites.  I’ll be playing keys and helping out on backing vocals.  We may also have a couple of other special guests joining us.

Bring a lawn chair, munchies, and BYOB.  Admission is free.

Lineup:

5:30 Tom Vickers
6:15 Chris Baker
7:00 Bob Slaughter
8:00 Three Hands High
9:00 Rhythmic Statues
10:30 Jabarvy

Old Settlers Music Festival

Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove will be doing two shows on Saturday, a matinee at 12:05 PM on the Hill Country Stage and an evening show at 9:30 PM on the Bluebonnet Stage.  Also performing on Saturday will be Jerry Douglas, Leftover Salmon, The Gourds, Martin Sexton, and Bob Schneider.  Friday’s lineup includes Terri Hendrix, The Del McCoury Band, Michael Franti, and Fred Eaglesmith.  Camping is currently sold out, but 1-day tickets and 3-day wristbands (without camping) are still available at http://oldsettlersmusicfest.org/tickets/.

Telluride!

Yes, indeed.  The good news is that Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove will be performing at the 40th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival on Friday, June 21.  It will be my first time to ever attend the festival, and I’m super stoked to get the chance not only to play but to see some of my idols, including Jackson Browne and Béla Fleck, from the VIP section.

The festival is completely sold out, as is our show at Fly Me to the Saloon in Telluride on Thurs., June 20, but if they’re doing live streaming, I will be sure to send out the link.

North Carolina

For you Blue Ridge folks, we’ll be coming your direction in July.  Currently, the band is not even 100% sure where the festival is, but I’ll be sure to let you know as soon as I find out.

Performing at SxSW + “Seven Cities” Release Date

It’s hard to know where to start without burying the lead, so I guess I’ll just flip a coin.  :)

As some of you know, Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove will be performing at SxSW this year.  We finally got the deets, and here they are:  we’re going to be at the KCA Artists Showcase (official showcase — wristband required) at The Stage on Sixth (508 E. Sixth, Austin, TX 78701.)  The showcase is on Thursday night (3/14), and check out the lineup:

9 PM:  Rodney Crowell
10 PM:  Ray Rylie Hubbard
11 PM:  The Black Lillies
12 AM:  Billy Joe Shaver
1 AM:  Peter Rowan’s Twang & Groove

No pressure, right?

In other news, I am pleased (thrilled, ecstatic, relieved, Dance of Joy, etc.) to announce that, after nearly 4 years and well into the 4 digits’ worth of hours spent futzing with Logic and Pro Tools, production of “Seven Cities” has finally wrapped.  It’s been a long ride, full of big doubts and bigger lessons and many sleepness nights, but I’m proud of how it turned out.  I want to thank all of you for your support, and I especially want to thank those who lent their various talents to the project.  I’ll be going into The Zone Recording Studio after SxSW so Pat “Goldenear” Manske can work his magic mixing and mastering it, and the current plan is to release on or about April 15, to coincide with Old Settler’s.

Speaking of Old Settler’s, PRTG will be performing on Saturday evening (4/20.)  Get your tickets here:  http://oldsettlersmusicfest.org/tickets/.  We’ve also got a couple of big festivals lined up for summer in various scenic locales, so stay tuned!

Upcoming shows

More shows / More information