Tuesday, May 17, 2011

BRAAM--- The Power (and Magic) of the Demo

Tom Braam is a friend of mine.  Well, he is more an acquaintance, a "Facebook friend".  What little I know about him has been filtered through the Internet.  I know that he is a musician and that he formed a band with his brothers (Braam), that they have released five albums and are at present working toward a sixth, that he is an avid supporter of music in all forms and does not exclude the true indies (not surprising, considering that he and his brothers' band is a true indie).  I know that he loves Zoe Muth & The Lost High Rollers almost as much as do I (He would more than likely say that I love them almost as much as does he). 

Beyond that, I know little, other than the fact that he and his brothers are either egoists of the first order or fearless.  A little over a week ago, Tom posted a link to a Soundcloud page on which were posted twenty demos, basic song arrangements of tunes being considered for the sixth album.  Some were as basic as it can get--- rough vocals, an acoustic guitar and nothing else.  Some were basic but with overdubs or added instruments--- bass, more than one guitar, and did I hear a mandolin on Fists?  The key to this is that they were demos in  the true sense of the word--- songs in the rough and some, barely ideas.  Sure, they were recorded in a studio (probably home) and didn't have that dreaded garbage can sound, but I can't say that they were ready for prime time.  Yet he posted the link and asked that people visit the page and make comments in hopes that it might help Braam whittle the twenty down to an album-sized number.  Now, allow me to emphasize that he asked people he doesn't know and whose yardstick for comparison might well be Miley Cyrus or The Beatles to make comments on songs not ready for public consumption and, in fact, mostly in embryo form.  I remember Dan Phelps, who produced and played on Jess Pillmore's outstanding Reveal album, telling me that working with musicians sometimes took a psychologist's touch, the songs created as much "little babies" as songs.  Random Facebook acquaintances hardly qualify as psychologists and if you know anything about the Internet, you know that a large percentage of its denizens use every open port to bolster egos and what better way to prove yourself than to denigrate others.  For that reason alone, I lean toward fearless.  Heavily.

So I sit here listening to twenty rough demos when I should be working, the workload growing along with angst, and I find that I can't stop.  As rough as they are in places, there is something in these songs that will not let me stop.  And I'm finding myself taking notes.  Notes like This Changes Everything--- Laurie Biagini because I can hear this song recorded by Biagini with her magic Annette Funicello/girl group sound.  I'm making notes when I should be working and they are notes which are meaningless.  What am I going to do?  Send Biagini a link and say, hey, you should consider this as a cover on your next project?  Okay, yeah.  If I was producing her next album, I would ask her to consider it.  I'm sure it would turn out as far from Braam as it could possibly be, but there is something there that tells me This Changes Everything + Biagini = winner.

Do you understand what is happening?  I've moved from music lover (and, unfortunately, critic because that is what I am) to producer.  If you've ever wondered what a producer does, that is it.  Oh, it is not all that he/she does, but helping pick songs for a recording session is a  large part of it.  In my head, I'm in the big-time!  I'm doing what the big guys do!  And I want to say that you, too, can do it--- if you want.  Braam has opened the door.  Here are twenty songs in their demo stage.  Listen closely.  Beyond the basic guitar chords and the sometimes strained voices.  Beyond the sound (in thinking Biagini, I overlapped her impressive retro pop sound onto This Changes Everything) and beyond any criticism you may have.  The secret sometimes is not hearing what is there, but what could be there.  And sometimes it is hearing what is there and realizing that that is enough. 

I've heard twenty demo tracks this morning by a band I had heretofore not heard.  I want to visit their webpage and hear more, but I am reluctant.  I am reluctant because I heard more in these twenty rough cuts than I might in any of Braam's finished product.  I liked what I heard.  Some of these songs are good and maybe even better than that.  Sometimes it takes more than one listen to hear a song or an album.  Sometimes it takes many.  In spite of pending work, I will more than likely end up visiting their Soundcloud page a few times before checking out their albums.  Not that you should.  You like what you hear, check out their albums.  I will, too, eventually.  Right now, though, I think I will enjoy immersing myself in the demos.  I did like what I heard and with all the music I listen to day after day, that does not happen often. 

The photo of Braam taken by Silverella.  I have not yet asked for permission to use it and should anyone wish it removed, I will do so immediately upon request.

Speaking of Demos.....

I was digging through my tapes the other day and found demos handed me by the drummer for my pick of the grunge era bands--- Son of Man.  That drummer, referred to as "Top Jap" on their only (to my knowledge) release, a European 45 (The Dummy and Me b/w Temporary Altercations), handed the demo tape to me after getting the okay from the other Sons and only on the condition that I not share it with any other human being or Android.  Seattle was in the midst of the Grunge era, Mudhoney and Soundgarden and especially Nirvana on the cusp of taking over Seattle and then the world.  I wasn't sold on the music yet, but I was listening.  It took Son of Man, in fact, to open my ears. 

I listened to the seven-track demo last night for the first time in years.  I am surprised that the music stood the test of time so well.  Seven songs-----  Security Force, Lucky Dave, Bound In Chains, Slick Willie, Hard Life, Come In, and Electrolux.  Of the seven, my favorite is Bound In Chains, guitar-driven crunch that to my ears is right up there with anything Seattle produced during that period.  Why did they not make it?  Who knows?  I do know that they were being considered by one and maybe more major labels, that they lost all of their equipment in a house fire, that many other bands tried to hold fundraisers to put them back in the game.  Somehow, it didn't happen.  They did end up releasing the 45 mentioned above and that's a good thing, but they never had the chance to see what might have happened if.....  The lineup was (as listed on the back of the 45 sleeve) Tal Goettling (vocals), Nick Cash (bass), Brad Kok (guitar/vocals) and the aforementioned Top Jap (drums).  Anyone knows where any of these guys are, send me a note.  I'm curious as to what their real story is.  I wish they had had their chance.

And speaking of Jess Pillmore, I know that sometime in the near future I will go on a Jess Pillmore rant.  When her knockout Reveal album found its way into my mailbox some years ago, I picked it as my Album of the Year and I'm sure that the pick was ignored and discounted by most who knew about it.  But it was an honest pick.  It shoved all other albums to the side, did Reveal, and I followed up the review with interviews with Jess and producer/musician Dan Phelps.  My thought was to enlighten the masses as to the processes which made the album what it was and as outstanding as it was.  Unfortunately, every attempt at writing has been doomed to failure.  Maybe it was too personal--- the music and the story.  Maybe it needed to ferment in my mind and soul until I was ready.  I don't know.  What I do know is that the urge to write the story is slowly working its way to the surface again.  The album is a gem.  The story is one which, if told right, would give insight into the processes whereby good music becomes better and even great.  Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. I realize this is an old page, but Wow! Son of Man! I, too, had said demo tape; and "Bound in Chains" was also my favorite! Wish I had that thing today! My (at the time) boyfriend's brother used to be their manager or some damn thing so we would hang with the band and go to their shows. He and Brad were friends from school.
    Brad's been in Berlin for the last 25 years or so heading up his band "Pothead"
    check him out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLPMLEoXJuU&list=UUQkku4D8oZzu3aJ0XKkraeA

    (he goes by "Brad Dope" now; He always had trouble with his name, "It's pronounced "Coke"!" he would always say). Anyway, Pothead rocks and they have quite a fan base in Germany. The German fans seem to adore them and Brad is cute as ever. I have lots of Pothead on my iPod ("Let's Complete" is my favorite) and listen to them quite a bit.
    I know Tal still performs and is heading up some band or another. The other guys, I don't know.
    Cool blast from the past!