Review: Hole In Your Pocket – The Panics

562871_5f525ddd5b5c43b78b6c255a2e7ab09bmv2_d_2000_2000_s_2I don’t know what it is specifically about WA-bred bands, but they know how to write some big songs.

As someone who rates The Triffids as one of the best bands to ever come out of Australia, I’m more than willing to put The Panics in that company. And they’ve produced enough great songs to give Born Sandy Devotional one hell of a run for its money. Yes that’s a big call but i stand by it.

Hole In Your Pocket is the fifth album from The Panics and it’d be unfair to say they’ve hit their stride as that arguably happened more than five years ago. This album is polished without sounding self-assured and passionate without being florid. Cinematic is a term often applied to this group and it’s for good reason – the scope of these songs vary but they all feel like significant events.

Highlights for me are Carparks of Greschen, Not Apart, Not Together and the first release from the album, Weatherman. That said, at nine songs the album has no flab anyway so it’s an academic exercise finding outright favourites.

If you’re after fist-pumping four to the floor rock then look elsewhere – although this outfit are no slouches in the live arena either from the couple of gigs I’ve seen. They’re about to hit the road in coming months in support of the album.

If you like some real meat on the bones of your rock music, then you may just want to check out Hole In Your Pocket and pretty much every other release from these guys.

Check out Weatherman right now:

Five of the Best: Rock Sax Solos

A friend on Facebook asked around about the solos that you couldn’t help hum note for note when you heard them. When I had a think of my favourites, I realised there was a healthy dose of sax solos in there. I did some trawling and here are five hot sax solos that I think rate pretty highly. Don’t hesitate to make your own suggestions below!

1. Bruce Springsteen: Badlands

You could have a whole list of Springsteen songs that have killer sax solos, and Jungleland is probably considered the signature sax offering from Clarence Clemons. It’s also hard to go past Born to Run, but for mine, Badlands has the best rock ‘posership’ of the lot.

2. Eddie and the Cruisers 2 Soundtrack: Runnin’ Through The Fire

I’m really pushing it putting this right under the Springsteen pick, but there you have it. The movie wasn’t up to the standard of the original but it still had some great music thanks to John Cafferty and Co. If you ignore the mullets, this little ditty has a damn good sax solo.

3. Billy Joel: You May Be Right

Short, sharp and damn catch – it’s what every sax solo should be.

4. INXS: Never Tear Us Apart

Another sign of a great solo is not being able to imagine a song without it. This is one such song.

5. Men At Work: Who Can It Be Now?

Greg Ham – you are missed.

There’s a lots of others that deserve honourable mentions, but I’m keen to hear your picks. Which sax solos stand out the most for you?

Best Rock Cover Band Opening Songs

If like me you’ve been in a rock covers band or three, you’ll know that the first song of the night is important for a couple of reasons. First, if there’s an audience there, it’s the initial impression that can sometimes set the tone for the whole gig. Second, whether you’ve had a good sound check or not, it’s the time for your sound person to get their levels right.

For the hell of it, I thought I throw together a list of what I think are great rock songs a band could open with and make a big impression. I’ve kept it 1970s to today, and it’s all obviously subjective. I’d love to hear your thoughts in comments of opening songs you’ve had that have gone down a treat.

One other disclaimer: some of this songs would require a major commitment to pull off well – personally I think there needs to be more of that approach as it gets too easy to decide to play Sweet Home Alabama or Mustang Sally instead…

Here we go, in no particular order:

1. John Mellencamp – I Need A Lover

The album version of this song gives every member of the band a chance to jump in boots and all:


2. Hothouse Flowers – Hardstone City

The Hothouse Flowers themselves have opened with this and for good reason – it kicks arse:

3. Boy and Bear – Feeding Line

If you’re outside of Australia you may not know this song. Even so, have a listen and tell me it wouldn’t make a good opener:


4. U2 – Where The Streets Have No Name

A worthy inclusion although I doubt a lot of bands actually cover this:

5. The Who You Better – You Bet

Not for the faint hearted – particularly if you play bass, but what a song:

6. The Killers – Somebody Told Me

’nuff said:

7. REM – Me In Honey

This is a bit of a left field REM choice but it’s always made a great impression on me as a potential opening song – particularly if you have both a male and female vocalist.

8. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – My Love Will Not Let You Down

If it’s good enough for The Boss to open his 10th night at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2000, it’s good enough for me. Also watch the clip to see a true band master at work:

9. Spacehog – In The Meantime

10. Fountains of Wayne – Stacy’s Mom

Some will argue this is definitely saved for later in the night but it has a good place as an opener:

The Impossible Dream: Dave Matthews Band -Drive in Drive Out

If you’re in a cover band that can pull this one off, I hope you’re aware you have a very bright future. Drummers in particular should listen to this one from start to finish:

Over to you: what openers have worked well for you?

Ten great music mashups on Youtube

All top ten lists are arbitrary, but here’s another one anyway. Mashups are a very creative process, especially so when they result in a quality outcome. Below are ten of what I think are the best mashups to be found on Youtube. Please add your own favourites in the comments, otherwise enjoy:

1. Royals (Lorde) Vs Roar (Katy Perry)

2. Adele Vs Eurythmics – ‘Rolling In Sweet Dreams’

3. Ghostbusters (Ray Parker Jr) versus Thunderstruck (AC/DC)

4. Stayin’ Alive (Bee Gees) versus Another Brick in the Wall (Pink Floyd)

5. The Final Countdown (Europe) versus Smells Like Teen Spirit (Nirvana)

6. We Will Rock You (Queen) versus Hey Ya (Outkast)

7. Song 2 (Blur) versus Daddy Cool (Boney M)

8. No Woman, No Cry (Bob Marley) versus Let It Be (The Beatles)

9. I Kissed A Girl (Katy Perry) versus Mr Vain (Culture Beat)

10. Blue Monday (New Order) versus Hung Up (Madonna)

Why the iPad 2 is going to change a lot of musician’s lives

It’s very unlikely you’re unaware of the iPad, and chances are you’re also aware the iPad 2 was announced today. For most people it’s likely an incremental upgrade for the popular tablet. The thinner, faster iPad with an optional white colour scheme sure looks nice and it’ll no doubt be more fun to use with the dual-core chip. For most people however, it doesn’t go much beyond that. One exception that stands out for me in a big way are musicians. I don’t just mean electronic musician geeks like me. I mean guitarists, drummers, bass players and pretty much anything else you can think of. Why?- because GarageBand is now a serious option on the iPad. There’s been no shortage of music recording apps for the iPad, but having the well known music-sketchpad on there is a big plus. The faster processor is another important part of the equation from a music creation viewpoint.

Aside from GarageBand, the reason I’m convinced the latest iPad iteration is going to make a splash is the level of adoption of the platform by other hardware manufacturers. Using my own passion of synths and keyboards as an example, there are already a bunch of options around for using an iPad as the display / sound source / editing interface for a range of keyboard gear. It makes a hell of a lot of sense – with the growing adoption of tablets, why would you create your own proprietary LED / LCD screen in a synth? Install an iPad dock and allow people to take it from there. The more innovative manufacturers are already looking at ways to allow importation of sounds for a synth from the iPad and there are already controller keyboards (that don’t contain any sounds themselves) that allow the use of the iPad as the sound source rather than a PC or Mac.

My only concern on this falls around the docking connector itself. Apple are renowned for changing connectors and if I’ve spent thousands on a workstation synth that relies on an iPad as its interface, then I may have a large problem a couple of years down the track. Sure there may be adapter options but workarounds like that can be frustrating at best. It’s a risk with most technology so it’s hard to complain too hard on that front.

For the guitarist / bass player / drummer, the prevalence of amp modelling software and soft synths / drum machines, combined with either GarageBand or third-party sound recording apps, is providing a real option for both home and performing musicians. Although the iPad’s sound input options are pretty limited, there are plenty of audio interfaces around designed to help out and things are only going to get better in that regard.

Is the iPad the Messiah? Not at all. Are there alternatives? Absolutely and you should check them out. Does it have limitations? Damn straight it does – the size of its flash memory, lack of USB and the incredibly restrictive file sharing options outside of iTunes are three big ones. All that said, as an evolutionary development musicians should be sitting up an taking a lot of notice. The novelty value of bands like Atomic Tom has pretty much expired. In its place is a growing acceptance of the tablet computer as an intrinsic part of the modern musician armoury. I play in an 80s/90s cover band and I’m already planning on integrating an iPad into my rig – I somehow think I’m not alone in that.

The Virtually Live Events Project

This is a guest post from Surreal Numbers on how the Openlife grid has played host to numerous musical events. It’s one of many examples of how OpenSim and related grids are continuing to grow in popularity and maturity.

Thanks to Shai Khalifa for the heads-up on the project initially, and for a historical take on Openlife you can also view our original 2008 profile of the Openlife grid here.


I’d like to thank Lowell Cremorne and The Metaverse Journal for taking an interest in the Virtually Live Events Project and publishing this article.

Purpose and Initiation

User-created virtual reality is the most flexible and powerful tool for sharing information and imagination. Upon entering a space made with 3D modelling primitives and scripts, a visitor can take a journey far richer than that offered by other sharing technologies including blogs, photographs, and audio-video streams. At the same time, community development using virtual reality can have a significantly different life-cycle as compared to the use of other social media.

Social development and technical capabilities are closely entwined in virtual worlds. For example, without a functioning script engine, reliable login servers, and robust sim physics, it is not reasonable to plan and host events. By late-2009, The Openlife Grid had reached levels of stability, scalability, and security appropriate for hosting events reliably. The Virtually Live Events Project (VLE) was started on 05 September 2009 with a solicitation for an “International Live Music Events Developer” committed to consistency, innovation, excellence, and sustainability. Goals were set for number of monthly events, expected audience size, an international distribution of performers representing all continents, and integration with the grid’s business community. The quantity and quality of the responses were overwhelming. They were invariably professional and, most strikingly, reflected a strong spirit of generosity.

The solicitation was focused on finding a single person capable of initiating and maintaining the project so I had not anticipated that the majority of feedback suggested that I form a project team and manage it. As I came to learn, a team was easily justified by the extensive list of tasks that needed to be addressed. But I was reluctant to manage. I’m a mathematical scientist, not a musician, and I felt unqualified to understand music event hosting much less how to build a sustainable arts program.

Eventually, I recognized two things. First, I have a strong interest in hearing music from everywhere. My father had been a Grammy-nominated recording engineer for RCA Records and worked with outstanding musicians and singers from around the world. In addition, I’m a product of the South Bronx, which has a rich fusion of multinational music that simply will not allow one’s body and mind to sit still. Second, professionally, I have a lot of experience planning and hosting conferences as well as managing international research project teams. It seems to be an odd combination of characteristics on which to base the decision to manage but now, a year and a half into VLE, they seem even more applicable.

Challenges and Team

The challenges for the project are to:
1. host music events consistently;
2. innovate to keep performances and venues fresh;
3. work towards a standard of excellence; and
4. sustain and grow the project into the future.

To meet these challenges the team, which has evolved over eighteen months, was initially Debbie Trilling, Adec Alexandria, Shai Khalifa, Digital Dreambuilder (Digi), Pantaiputih Korobase (Pants), and me. At present, it includes Shai, Digi, Cheops Forlife, and me as well as a consulting group with Caro Axelbrad, Grimley Graves, and Pants.

Debbie Trilling and Adec Alexandria (both UK) helped establish a strong footing for the project as well as provided me with the best possible mentoring for managing it. Debbie’s artistic work is well-known in Second Life. She sets a very high standard for quality and was always quick to point out what would not work, what would work, and why. Adec has experience hosting events, is a keen photographer with a great design sense, and an excellent builder who can quickly bring prim form to the vision in his mind’s eye. Debbie and Adec eventually resigned because of other personal and professional obligations but their influences still underpin Virtually Live Events.

Shai Khalifa (Australia) has a degree in arts management, was a professional musician, and has extensive experience managing virtual music events. She has been invaluable for vetting, contacting, and booking performers. Her role is especially challenging since she is literally the artist’s first contact with VLE and she has the professionalism to address whatever questions, comments, or observations arise. In addition, her experiences have provided sound insight into how the performance program should be structured and how it will evolve.

Digital Dreambuilder (Native of Ireland living in Finland) is innovative, a skilled builder and scripter, and an amateur musician with experience planning and hosting virtual events. He’s also professionally involved with virtual education and training, which has implications for the future of VLE. He has a well-grounded sense of setting goals, the capabilities for meeting them, insights for avoiding pitfalls, and the creativity for crafting fallback plans in the case of disaster. He’s built and animated almost all of the exceptionally detailed musical instruments used by performers on Virtually Live.

Pantaiputih Korobase (Germany) was an early member of the project team selected for his insightful nature, exceptionally big heart, people skills, and diamond in the rough building skills (nowadays, he’s well-cut and polished). His role has been recast as a consultant in order to accommodate his personal wishes.

Cheops Forlife (France) was added to the team after Debbie and Adec left. She is unfailingly cheerful, positive, and creative. Once new performers are booked, she brings them inworld and prepares their avatars for the performances. This is no small task since there are psychological, sociological, and technical factors involved. However, she is exceptionally well-suited to the effort given her training in psychology and professional background managing non-profit programs.

Caro Axelbrad (Spain) and Grimley Graves (US) serve as consultants to VLE. Caro custom builds skins, shapes, hair, and clothing for the performers when needed. Both she and Grims have been longtime supporters of the project and, along with Pants, share their creative ideas for helping VLE grow and evolve over time.

I help the team meet the project challenges. I especially enjoy designing and building our default and themed venues.

Although not a member of the project team or consulting group, Logger Sewell deserves recognition for donating the stream used by Virtually Live. His action was an early example of the generosity the project enjoys.

Performances and Venues

VLE performances and venues have been well-documented on the project blog as well as Twitter where performers are announced and event photos are posted. Over the last eighteen months, VLE has held themed events (seasonal parties, wear your green dots, pool, beach, and valentine’s aftermath, among others) and rebuilt the project region, Virtually Live, many times to accommodate the themes as well as new concepts for the entire venue.

Performers have responded enthusiastically. It is really important to the VLE team that the performers have the best possible experience whenever they visit Openlife and this is reflected in their feedback both to the team and the event guests. Time and again, performers have commented on how much they enjoyed the entire process of coming inworld and performing. While musicians and singers had previously crossed from one grid to another to perform, the VLE project broke new ground by establishing an innovative mentoring model to make their transition to Openlife simple and fun. One broad reaching effect of the VLE model is that it has provided a methodology that performers use to explore the potential of other virtual worlds, which increases their reach and audience base.

The performers, moreover, invariably notice both the unusual artistic venues on Virtually Live and the chatty appreciative crowds that attend. The Virtually Live region is devoted exclusively to the arts and the builds are among the most distinctive and beautiful performance venues in any virtual world. In turn, performers all want to come back and have spread the word to other performers throughout the metaverse, who have either already performed on Virtually Live or will be booked in the future.

The most important thing the team wanted for the audience was simply a relaxing fun time that everyone could count on happening regularly. Again, the response has been overwhelmingly posiitive and the best part of this has been the social development. Friending occurs frequently during each event and connections are made or strengthened. New residents of the grid are treated to a warm and helpful greeting in an enjoyable atmosphere, which reinforces the reputation of the community.

In addition to the many blog photos from events, Caro and Pants have each made videos of some VLE performances; a few links are:

Openlife 3rd Birthday and Halloween Party by Caro

Idella Quandry “Fields of Gold” by Caro

Yellow Pool Party by Pants

The Future

Recent updates to Openlife’s infrastructure have brought further improvements in scalability and features, which, in turn, can be used to enhance and expand the social environment of the grid. For example, for several events, VLE has made use of scene-flip, a unique to Openlife feature that, with the touch of a button, flips the entire region to an alternate scene. Having a full-sized blank region with 45,000 prims to use for a themed event has led to some beautiful scenes that required a lot of people to build. The Openlife 3rd Birthday and Halloween Party video illustrates the use of flip-scene. While the default venue remained secure in Slot 1 of Virtually Live, an entirely different scene was built for the party in Slot 2, including themed terraform and builds.

Virtually Live Events, notably, has been a valuable source of performance and stability data for Sakai Openlife, 3DX Openlife founder and owner. These data have been helpful for identifying technical problems and solutions that lead to grid improvements enjoyed by all residents.

While the emphasis to date has been on music, VLE intends to increase its scope to include theatre, art exhibitions, and arts education venues. Virtually Live Events wants to thank all performers and guests for their support over the last eighteen months and looks forward to where technical capabilities and social development take the project in the future.

iPhone as complete band: Atomic Tom prove it

I’ve been writing about the iPhone and music for a number of years now, and I’ve never ceased to be amazed by the quality of the music apps created.

A lot of people get excited by the newer apps released, but there’s plenty of life in the older ones too, as demonstrated by New York outfit Atomic Tom. Using four iPhones and some amplification, they shot a video on the New York subway. The video itself was shot by four people just using the iPhone’s video capture capabilities. The drum, vocal and piano apps are all evergreens, I’m unsure on which specific guitar and bass apps are used.


via [Gus Lozada]

Three great online communities for musicians

Online communities are one of the greatest things about using the net, and as a musician I’ve heavily used a bunch over the past decade. I thought it might be useful to point you in the direction of some forums that you may not have come across before. They all have long-standing populations of musicians that are usually very welcoming of newcomers. I’ve found that forums like these can solve a lot of problems as well as being a great source of advice for those looking to buy new or used musical instruments. I also learnt on one of these forums that one can suffer from GAS – Gear Addiction Syndrome.

In no particular order:

1. Musicplayer Forums

Run by the US company that publishes EQ, Bass Player, Guitar Player and Keyboard magazine, these forums cover all the bases. If your forum post makes a particularly original or interesting point, it also can end up in the magazines. Disclosure: I do moderate one of the smaller forums (for free) and have been a contributor on the forums for nearly ten years.

2. Gearslutz

This community is focused on the recording musician, and it shows in the number and breadth of topics covered. Plenty of options for the newcomer to computer-based recording.

3. Harmony Central

Arguably one of the bigger communities online, there’s an enormous range of sub-forums including some high traffic off-topic forums. I find the signal to noise ratio can be high but the size of the community means there’s no shortage of interesting discussions going on.

So jump in. Forums sometimes get overlooked in favour of social media, but all three examples given show there are huge communities doing the do with not a Like button in sight.

Keiko Takamura’s Dreams of Rock Stardom

Keiko Takamura (2006 MTV video profile here) is a musician who performs in Second Life, one of the burgeoning community who do.

I’ve followed her progress over the years and I certainly admire her desire to succeed, which when combined with her songwriting and performance abilities, put her in a good position to do so.

She’s of course not alone in that regard, there are plenty of talented Second Life musicians hoping to make an impact more widely, and we’ve covered a small number of them over the past four years.

Which is why I was interested in a message Keiko sent out in the past week, via Twitter and her blog, to her fans, friends and fellow musicians:

My dear musician friends,

My band (The Shebangs) and I have been rocking out in meatspace for a good while now, and we’re ready to record. The studio I have my eye on has engineers who have worked with names like Elvis Costello, Teagan and Sara, CAKE, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, etc… but it’s PROHIBITIVELY expensive.

That’s why I’m planning a HELP KEIKO FINALLY RECORD tour from 4/18-4/23.

I’m asking you, my musician friends, to donate an hour (or even half-hour) of your time to help me raise donations for this project. Why should you bother? Well, I know you have heard the whole song-and-dance of “exposure”, but I have a 1,000+ Twitter following, 500 people in my SL group, and if this thing is successful they’ll probably write this up on New World Notes (I live next to Hamlet Au IRL!). Also, my True Life episode on MTV just re-aired, and a slew of new SL residents just joined and are waiting to see what “virtual live concerts” are.

Also, you’ll be helping me out a lot. 🙂 My dream of being a rockstar feels like it’s inching closer, and a polished, professional, radio-ready recording of my music will put me that much closer.

If you’re interested, please EMAIL ME – TakamuraKeiko at gmail
and tell me which day/time you want to play (time is totally up to you), and send me your music website/Myspace. I’ll get back to you about a venue.

Thank you so much for being wonderful friends and awesome musicians,


After reading the message, I contacted Keiko via email to ask a few questions, which are replicated in full below:

TMJ: How’s the response to date been to your call for musicians to donate time to raise money for your recording dream?

KT: It’s been mostly good! Within the day I posted my idea for a “Help Keiko Record Tour”, I got most of the week booked up with both good friends and musicians I’ve never heard/met before.

TMJ: Have you had any negative reaction to your call for people to donate time to raise money for you personally?

KT: Yes, but just one person.

TMJ: More specifically, have you had any negative feedback from fellow SL musicians, who may hold the same ambitions but haven’t asked the community to raise the funds for them?

KT: Yes.

TMJ: You mention the likelihood of coverage in New World Notes due to living close by Hamlet Au -was Hamlet aware you were going to make that statement?

KT: No, but he knows now! 🙂

TMJ: If the funds are raised successfully to allow you to record, and the results earns profit for you, do you propose to enter a profit-sharing or pay-back arrangement for those who helped out with the benefit?

KT: Short answer: Yes! Long answer: I’ve been a live musician in SL since 2006, and I’ve played for COUNTLESS benefits from Relay for Life, Toys For Tots, Make a Wish Foundation, etc. I’ve also donated my time for the benefit of other musicians who needed help. Some needed help because they had serious medical bills. Others needed help because they needed tour money. In any case, I was there. And now I’m asking for help. If any musician is willing to donate an hour of their time in order for me to make a 5-song EP, I would be more than happy to help them out in return in the future. And more immediately, I hope to give their music some good publicity in any way I can.

TMJ: What safeguards will you have in place to demonstrate the amount of money raised and how it is spent by you?

KT: I don’t have anything automatic set up, but if anyone wants to email me personally and ask, they are welcome to. Also, I intend to make each donation of $5 or more a “presale” for a digital copy. Meaning, if you chip in $5 (or l1400 and give me a notecard with your email address) I’ll send a digital copy of the EP when it’s done!

Let me clear some other things up, just in case:

My “tour” is going to be from the 17th to the 24th – 8 days. I’m going to play a show in SL every single day, on top of my RL work and RL band practices. I am setting up schedules with several musicians. I am coordinating with venues. I am creating promotional graphics/notecards. I am reaching out to others who have blogs, podcasts, large Twitter followings, etc. to make the “exposure” part of this deal worthwhile for the musicians who are kind enough to donate their time. It’s not like I’m going to sit back and collect tips while the musicians work and I do nothing. I’m going to work hard, play hard, every single day of that tour — and if my friends want to be a part of this and make it into an awesome event, that’s even better! I really, truly appreciate all the support I’ve gotten from my musician friends who are willing to help me out. It’s because of them that the live music community is as strong as it is today. I have absolutely no intention of making this a one-sided deal, solely for myself. I know it’s a lot to ask.

Over to you: is Keiko being creative, entrepreneurial, mercenary or all of the above? There’s certainly plenty of uncharted territory in regard to creative projects in virtual worlds, and undertakings like Keiko’s are certainly exploring some of that territory.

(Picture courtesy of Keiko Takamura’s 2008 Sugar Pill video)

Interview – Zak Claxton, Second Life musician

zakclaxton_liveZak Claxton is one of many Second Life musicians who have built up a loyal following. Over the past year I’ve been aware of Zak’s work on an album showcasing the body of original songs he’s built up. With the December 11th release of his self-titled album, I thought it was a good time to profile his work, to get his thoughts on the SL music scene and some tips of SL music performance.

I do need to make a disclosure – I’ve known Zak’s real-world alter ego for seven years or so – we’ve hung out together throughout that time on a number of musician discussion forums. We both became Second Life residents around the same time and the Metaverse Journal’s Second Life presence was constructed by Zak’s partner Kat Claxton from Encore Design Group. Finally, I have had extensive involvement online with the other musicians on the album as well.

On to the interview:

Lowell: You’ve been a musician for decades – aside from the Second Life learning curve, was there any aspect of musicianship you’ve had to learn or change with Zak?

Zak: Absolutely. Most musicians are used to receiving immediate feedback from their audiences, be it clapping, cheering, or throwing beer bottles at their foreheads. When I first started performing in SL, it was a bit disconcerting to finish a song and then wait for 15-40 seconds to have the audience react, due to the latency of the stream. You get used to it after awhile.

Also, on a personal basis, most of my musical experience as a live performer previous to SL was as a member of bands. It took a short while for me to get used to being alone on stage, with no other sources of music than what I can perform in real time with my guitar and voice. But I got over that relatively quickly… it’s just a matter of experience.

Lowell: Can you describe in a paragraph or two the process of making the album?

Zak: I am extremely fortunate to have developed close friendships with a number of talented people in the music/recording business. When I decided to get serious and do a “real” album (as opposed to something I could record in my bedroom on marginal equipment), I enlisted the help of engineer/producer Phil O’Keefe, and recorded all of the tracks at his Sound Sanctuary Recording Studios in Riverside, CA. Then I called upon the talents of a couple of other multi-instrumentalist friends; Bunny Knutson provided drums on every song as well as some additional guitar parts, and Ken Lee also came in for a few songs on keyboards and guitars.

The process was pretty simple. All of the songs were those I’d written to be able to perform as a solo artist, so it was just a matter of fleshing out the songs, arranging them for a rock band setting. We would go into Sound Sanctuary, and Bunny and I would perform the songs in real time, without any click tracks to lock us in. It was a very free and creative environment. After we got the drums down, we would layer other tracks via overdubbing. I played the majority of the guitars and bass, and did most of the lead and backing vocals as well. Phil O’Keefe also added various parts as needed.

We started recording in March 2008 and didn’t finish until August 2009, but that’s only because our respective schedules didn’t allow us to record whenever we felt like it. We actually only spent six days in the studio during that time frame, and each of those days had us creating two complete songs. The sessions were actually very productive. Phil would then make rough mixes as we went along, and at the very end we had one final session to go through and make tweaks to those rough mixes. The whole thing was very smooth, and since I was working with great friends, we had an incredibly fun time at each session.

Lowell: Can you divulge the inspirations behind any of your songs?

Zak: I’m inspired by many things, both for the musical and lyrical content of my songs. First and foremost, I’m inspired by all the great music that’s been done before me. I’ve spent a lifetime as a lover of all kinds of music, and I did my best to allow those influences to be reflected in my songs.

On a more specific basis, I find that nature is often a key source of inspiration. In a number of my songs, you’ll hear references to the sky, the sea, the sun, the stars and so on. I don’t know why; perhaps I feel these things are part of a bigger picture than the fleeting stuff that happens in our day to day lives. But I’m also inspired by relationships, and the interaction between people in general. Certainly, the fact that I’m madly in love with my ladyfriend Kat Claxton resulted in the creation of several songs on this album, specifically “This Afternoon” and “Always Tomorrow”.

Lowell: Have you written any songs based on your performances in Second Life?

Zak: I have, and have performed them upon occasion in SL. For example, I have a song called “Triana” that was inspired by a gal to whom Kat and I have become close in SL; she runs a weekly music trivia game we attend.

However, it was important to me to make a distinction between what I do in SL and what I do on a more general basis as a musician. I did not want to make this an SL-centric album, and it was my intention all along to create music that people could relate to whether or not they’ve even heard of virtual environments. It’s safe to say that nothing that ended up on the album is specific toward SL, only because I wanted all people to be able to enjoy it with or without references to virtual worlds.

Lowell: I know it’s hard to list a few, but are there particular SL musicians that you admire / have inspired or impressed you?

Zak: Definitely, yeah. SL is simply a microcosm of real life, and much like the rest of reality, you have a small percentage of people who probably shouldn’t be playing music in public, and then a much larger percentage of people who are pretty decent and can play and have fun along with their audience. And beyond that, you have a small number of people who are obviously very talented. Again, these percentages line up with what you’d expect from any collection of musicians in any real life community.

While most SL musicians do cover tunes in world, I have a greater admiration for those creating and performing original music. Some of my personal favorites include Grace McDunnough, a fellow singer-songwriter who is from Atlanta. I’ve also really enjoyed the live creations of a guy who would probably be considered a DJ, but is actually a great real-time remix artist named Doubledown Tandino. Slim Warrior is another original remix artist and singer who is very talented. She’s known in real life as SlimGirl Fat, and is currently achieving some well-deserved recognition in the UK. I also enjoy the music of a British guitar player and singer Blindboy Gumbo who does blues-based music. He’s great and does a fun show. Hexx Triskaidekaphobia puts on reggae/jam shows in SL as a pseudo-band called Born Again Pagans who are very original and cool. I also enjoy the performances of SL artists like Mimi Carpenter, Mel Cheeky, and several others.

Lowell: What are Zak’s goals for the future?

zakclaxton_albumcoverZak: I tend to create music for the sake of the music, as opposed to ulterior motives like fame or fortune. I can say for sure that I still have a lot of music inside of me that has yet to emerge. I’ve begun writing songs for a second solo album, which I intend to start working on in early 2010. But on an immediate basis, my self-titled debut album is just coming out now, so I have some stuff to do to help promote it. In that regard, I will be doing some live shows in real life, and we’re making an effort to get terrestrial radio airplay here in the USA in addition to the Internet radio play we get on stations like IndieSpectrum Radio and SL Live Radio. While I’m not fooling myself into thinking my album will be some massive pop hit, I still want to do the things that will at least give it a chance to get heard, so the current focus is in that regard. I’m working closely with Kat on this stuff, since we’re partnering in a record label called Frothy Music to do the release of my album.

And, of course, I intend on continuing to do live performances in SL on a regular basis. On average, I do about 5-6 shows each month, and I have no plans of slowing down. At the end of the day, I play in SL because I really enjoy it, and as long as there are people who want to see and hear me, I’ll be there.

Lowell: Have you collaborated at all with other SL musicians and if not, is it likely to occur in the future?

Zak: I have, but not in the way I’d really prefer. I’ve taken part in a couple of collaborative efforts that were designed to bring some attention to the SL music community as a whole, but in both cases, I just sang a few lines on someone else’s song and didn’t have much direct participation beyond that. However, I would definitely love to really collaborate on something new with a fellow SL musician. While I don’t have any firm plans at the moment, having focused on my own album in recent months, I can absolutely see that happening at some point soon.

Lowell: You’ve put a lot of work into developing the Zak Claxton persona: do you see Zak as a creative psuedonym for Second Life only or is there a broader connection for you?

Zak: My story is pretty funny in this regard. I became Zak Claxton pretty much by accident; it was a name that I picked while signing up for SL in 2006 without giving it much thought. I certainly didn’t plan on it being a name I’d use for purposes other than in SL. At that stage, I wasn’t even fully aware that one could perform music in SL at all.

I started doing live shows in SL in early 2007, and I can now honestly say that around the world, many more people know the name Zak Claxton as a musician than they would associate music with my given name. If I already had some really great sounding, marketable name in real life, I might have been more open to using it for my musical endeavors. But unfortunately, I don’t; my real life last name is kind of long and German and clunky. So, Zak Claxton has become my official stage name. I find it likely that with or without SL, I probably would have chosen an alternative name which I’d use to release my music, just as Bob Dylan, Sting, and many other artists have done before me. It just so happened that Zak Claxton sounds cool, and I’ve already built a decent-sized following of fans who know me as Zak. It all worked out, despite not being part of a plan. I love when random things happen like that.

Lowell: Does Zak have any plans to perform in other environments like OpenSim, Twinity or Blue Mars?

Zak: I see no reason why not, though I have yet to delve into any virtual world beyond SL. To me, these are all platforms where new fans might be found. Live music is an appealing form of entertainment in just about any environment, and if OpenSim, Twinity and Blue Mars (or others) offer ways to attract an audience and do performances as easily as can be done in SL, I think it goes without saying that I’ll eventually be looking into them.

Lowell: Ignoring the Second Life aspect, why should people buy your album?

Zak: What I really want is for people to throw away all the other stuff when it comes time to judge my album worthy of purchase. Don’t think about SL. Don’t think of me as an avatar strumming a cartoon guitar on a virtual stage. And above all, don’t think, “He’s pretty good for an SL musician.” I want the music and the recording to be judged based on the same criteria you would any new music you’ve ever heard. If you hear something that connects with you, and you truly enjoy the music, then I hope you buy the album, or at least get on one of the online retailers like iTunes and purchase the song you like via digital download.

I think there are aspects of the album that will have a strong appeal to people who appreciate music that lasts longer than the typical pop tune. My strongest musical influences — people like Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Police, and so on — seemed to write music that stands the test of time, and doesn’t necessarily feel dated after a few years go by. I would like to think that my album possesses some of the qualities that put it in a similar vein. And while some folks may want to skip over the harder rock stuff and others won’t bother with the softer stuff, I think there’s something on the album for everyone who enjoys well-crafted songs. I hope so, anyway.

Lowell: Have you managed to convince the other musicians on the album to join you in SL? If not, why not?

Zak: Well, I can say that they’ve certainly heard me babbling on for three straight years about how I view SL as a musician’s paradise. But what I usually get in return are excuses like, “That seems cool, but I don’t have time for it,” or, “I’m not sure my computer can handle the graphics,” and so on. In fairness to them, not all of my real life collaborators are the type of musicians who are comfortable doing solo performances, as most SL shows are done. Out of the three folks who helped me on my record, only Bunny has even tried out SL, and sparingly at that.

On a side note, I would enjoy the hell out of doing a full band show in SL. I mean, there are logistical challenges, but it’s been done both as real-time live performances with the band members in the same room, and as relay-streamed performances where each musician is in a different place. But it can be done. Like most things in life, it’s more a matter of people with busy schedules and jobs and families to take care of, rather than a lack of desire to do it. I think it’ll happen eventually.

Lowell: Is it true the drummer on your album spent many hours camping in SL casino chairs before the gambling ban came in?

Zak: Let me tell you something about my drummer: I love Bunny as much as any man can love another without deviating from his heterosexuality. His contribution to the overall feel of the album cannot be understated. He was right there for every moment of the recording sessions, and added invaluable opinions to the process of capturing the songs. The mere fact that he was probably better known as a punk rock guitar player before tackling drums on this album says a lot. He stepped up to the occasion, and while he’ll tell you with typical modesty that his performances were subpar, I tend to think that he was the best drummer on the entire planet for my music.

And yes, I think he did enjoy some camping chairs during his brief tenure in SL. It’s certainly true to his form.

Lowell: What advice would you have for musicians wanting to create music in Second Life – what mistakes should they avoid?

zc_streetZak: Lots and lots of mistakes to avoid. First and foremost, check your ego at the door, as Quincy Jones once famously said. I’ve seen a number of musicians come into SL thinking they should be the hot ticket from day one, since they have a bit of real life experience as a musician. But as I mentioned earlier, there’s actually a pretty deep talent pool in SL, and like any music scene you’re trying to break into, you have some dues to pay in terms of getting recognized.

Second, it’s pretty silly for musicians to think of SL as a viable income source in and of itself. Granted, there are folks who’ve worked their asses off to develop a large fan following, and perform several times per day every single day, and make relatively great tips at each show. I can see some of those folks making enough money to pay their rent, perhaps. But in the entirety of the SL music scene, which probably comprises over 500 people who perform on a regular basis, there are maybe three to five folks who fit this description. It’s a tiny percentage.

Third, while you shouldn’t set the expectations too high from the income available in SL itself, don’t get discouraged and quit. In my opinion, the real value of SL to musicians is exposure beyond your wildest dreams. Look, I live in Los Angeles, right? One of the world’s musical Meccas. And yet, there’s no possible way I would have had as many people listen to my original music as I have with SL. That’s not even mentioning the fact that I have fans who enjoy my music and are based in Australia, Canada, all over Europe, across the USA, and so on. The opportunity for getting your music out there is tremendous.

Here’s a simple thing that still needs to be said: if you’re at all serious about using SL to perform at a level expected for a professional musician, don’t try and sing and play through your computer’s built-in mic using Voice. You should treat it like you would any real show, meaning you use gear that’s appropriate for showing off your skills, and you use an audio stream that will give reasonable quality to your sound. Anyone can hear the difference when musicians are using decent mics, instruments, computer audio interfaces and so on.

Finally, keep in mind that despite the preponderance of people like me who strum acoustic guitars and sing in SL, there should be no limitations in terms of the type of music you play. I’d actually like to see more hip hop artists, more ambient and experimental music, more classical music, and more jazz in SL. In fact, there are probably entire audiences of SL residents who are just waiting for more varied types of musical performances. No matter what type of music you do or how you perform it, give SL a shot and see what happens.

Lowell: Aside from musicians in SL, which SL residents have inspired you the most?

Zak: I’m certainly amazed by the talented builders and scripters in SL. Some of what they do is awe-inspiring. A blog run by resident Bettina Tizzy called “Not Possible in Real Life” ( sadly just decided to close, but the content there is fantastic, showcasing the art, architecture, and other creative aspects of SL. I would also say that some of the SL-centric social commentators like Crap Mariner have been enjoyable to get to know. Also, the few people who have successfully established business models that work in SL are inspirational from the standpoint of virtual worlds’ continuing acceptance into the mainstream.

All that having been said, my biggest inspiration in SL does indeed come from the community directly involved in the music world, which includes the artists, the people who own and run venues, and the fans. It’s been a positive inspiration since day one, and even if I’d never used SL as a platform for my own music, it would have been highly worthwhile based on the friendships I’ve made through the SL music scene.

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