Taking part in the 11-piece gospel-psycho-folk band backing up Sam Locke-Ward for a gig a week before last Saturday added at least enough inspiration, on top of other recent experiences the past couple years, to push me over the tipping point of making a major change to how I approach my music-making addiction and to approach it with renewed vigor. I got to meet and spend time with a lot of really great people who make music in Iowa City, and I think I kind of have more in common, in an artistic sense, with this little scene (PDF – see page 10) than I do with most of the music scene around my hometown. Looking into what these folks are doing really gave me a lot of inspiration and some good ideas.
Returning home after the gig, I decided to re-think my “solo” project yet again. I decided not to call it by a fake band name any longer, for one – suddenly it just felt right to just be myself, and bill the project under the name most people know me as, Chuck Hoffman. Then I resolved once and for all to figure out a setup of gear and techniques that would make it possible to do one-man performances that would do justice to the songs as well as to my big-guitar aesthetics. Overall, I think I could be a much more active musician if I didn’t necessarily have to contend with the overhead of working with a band. I can still choose to do so when it’s advantageous, though.
After several experimental iterations involving different configurations of effects pedals, keyboards, amps, looper, drum machine, and so on, I arrived at something that’s not only lean, but actually works. I’m playing my Boss DR-202 drum machine with a start-stop pedal, using one single, semi-carefully constructed pattern for each song. I tried adding pattern changes with the song feature, but the UI is clunky enough to make it more trouble than it’s worth, and I feel that constraining the structure of each song up front sucks more spontaneity out of the performance than I’m willing to give up. So I’m trying to come up with one pattern for each song that’s simple and flexible enough to work across verse, chorus, and whatever other parts. I’m using a Loopstation pedal to do some simple second guitar parts, but only when I absolutely don’t feel that I can get away with just the one guitar. There’s nothing synchronizing the guitar loops to the drum machine, so there’s a tendency for them to occasionally get off-tempo from each other, but it’s not as bad as you might think, and even when it happens, I actually think it’s kind of cool. As for guitar effects, once again I’m keeping it simple: just the Rat pedal, and a digital delay for when I want to get a little bit shoegazery. For songs, I’ve went back over everything I’ve written for every band I’ve been in since No Consensus, and picked out a set based on how good or how well-liked the songs were and how adaptable they are to this setup.
Not long after I arrived at this setup and practiced a few songs with it, I got a MySpace message from Grace asking if either I or Radio Dramamine would be interested in playing a show at The Picador with Petit Mal and Ed Gray this Thursday. Radio Dramamine has been difficult to get together lately – dudes have some complicated lives right now – and usually can’t manage to play weeknights anyway, so I took it as a solo gig.
So I’ve been all excited the past few days, practicing the hell out of my set and doing a lot of MySpacery. I’m trying to figure out to what extent I should get into writing about music stuff on this blog here. I’ve written a few short posts in the MySpace blogs, because people know about MySpace; it’s become the sort of de facto online communication/promotion tool for underground musicians these days. But it seems like undue trouble to have multiple blogs. On the other hand, this site seems to have gotten a reputation for being a programming blog, which gives it a neat little genre to fit in. And then back on the other hand, I ditched the fake band name out of a desire to be less multiple-personality, to reduce the “here’s Musician Chuck, and here’s Programmer Chuck, and here’s Miscellaneous Chuck” conflict in my own psyche.