Thursday, February 27, 2014

Five Times I've Shot Milk Out Of My Nose While Listening to Rap

          First a bit of necessary backstory; as a kid who grew up in the 90s in Atlanta, I've been into rap music since I started getting into music in general. It also helped that I was and still am a huge fan of 90s basketball (Glen Rice forrrrrrrrr 3!). It seemed to me like that was the heyday of all that original swag, but while rock music has gotten pretty square over the years (and incredibly pretentious), hip hop continues to push forward.

One of rap's biggest fans, Michelle Benbama

          I love the rap industry; I'm the smallest part of it, just a bass player, but I see the way all these people treat each other. It's very business-like, but with a great amount of respect for what each individual brings the table. From my experience, it is more about teamwork than anything else. Certainly more about teamwork than being in a band.

          And there are unbelievable hip hop lyricists out there. Gangstarr's Guru raps what are essentially well written essays about important subject matter. But as evidenced by the title, you won't be seeing any of Guru's verses highlighted here. So without further adieu…

5-Candy by Will Smith
-You know I've gotta lead this off with a heavy hitter. I remember bumping this disc (Big Willie Style, if you didn't know) on my walkman on family trips in the old Vo. I could always relate to the metaphor in this song, because I've always had kind of this emotional/sexual thing with candy (don't reread that). So when Will really busts out with that Independence Day swag in the 3rd verse, whew. 

"I know the deal, I talked to Mary Jane and she said
Your ex-boyfriends Mike and Ike are both Lemonheads
I ain't tryin' to playa hate girl I know
That you go with Bazooka Joe
Now you know he don't love you like that
He tryin' ta get a Reese's piece of the Kit-Kat
Really hon, what he need is a Jawbreaker
Cause I'm the one that'll love you baby, Now and Later
Be my Peppermint Paddy with a hundred wishes
And I'll be your Hershey daddy with a hundred kisses
Get the Twins M&ms, they booked all outta flights today
Me and you can Starburst to the Milky Way
I don't care what it cost, girl a hundred grand
we could snicker all night at my jolly ranch
just me and you, I'll call your friends up too
I could get my friends Babe Ruth and Charlston Chew."

TLDR: With a whopping 19 candy references in one verse, Will Smith reminds the world that more than his movies have slick product placement. 

4-Get Your Walk On by Xzibit
-The "Pimp My Ride" star showing why he is a double threat with these gems.  

"I can drink a whole Henessy 5th 
some call that a problem but I call it a gift"

3.-Break Up by Lil Wayne
-There could be an entire list of Lil Wayne verses. And before anyone gets the wrong idea, I could point out maybe 100 creative, clever, and expert rhymes. But that's not the purpose of this blog, so for now enjoy one of his classics where towards the end, Weezy lets you know just where his mind is at when he is rapping.

"nice tires on my 'ghini
you should wanna king me
brain dead flow
vegetable zucchini"

2. Black Dreams by Young Jeezy
        -No doubt rap fans knew this was coming, but since most of my blog traffic is made up of lesbian-folk appreciators, this one deserved a spot. I love Young Jeezy and hardly anyone has a cooler sounding voice in rap. Nevertheless, that makes it all the more hilarious when he busts out this INSTANT CLASSIC

"Mafia B*tch, I'm in the mafia
holla at your boy, I can do a lot for ya
speakin my language if you talking bout Tilapia" 

1. Ayy Ladies by Travis Porter featuring Tyga 
-Where have all the rockstars gone? You'll have a tough time finding dudes who rock like Travis Porter does nowadays. These dudes are the greatest and chock full of great rhymes, but the funniest line from their smash "Ayy Ladies" actually comes from the mind of featured guest, Tyga. 

"man I wouldn't shake his hand with a broke hand"

         There is beauty in simplicity and much like Keats wrote, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever." 

          In conclusion, we can make fun of rap all we want; and certainly to hear tough dudes talking about tilapia, it should be well-deserved. But perhaps the goal sometimes is to evoke laughter. There is nothing shallow about making another person see the lightness of their light's heavy lifting. There is nothing deeper than bringing a smile to another's face. 

          There is far too much emphasis placed on music "meaning something." So much emphasis in fact, that I've seen artists spend more time trying to "mean something" than "being someone" or even simply just "being." More people need to be true to themselves in order to inspire genuine authenticity in a world where, although authenticity is praised, it is too much effort for most people.
          The race to be the next Bob Dylan is really more of a pissing contest to be perceived as such. 

          The race should be more of trot, against no one besides yourself. You should be stopping to smell the flowers, stopping to pick up other people's miller lite cans (why are there always so many of these on the ground?), and perhaps you should be stopping to smile and chuckle. You should respect and admire that which and whom makes you laugh. 

          And after this race, make sure you eat some Tilapia!

rap on maine,

Thursday, February 20, 2014


          Lately my musical life has been mainly focused on practicing singing like a madman, teaching my awesome students, or recording sessions. 

Will Dollinger took this photo

           My recording history has been pretty consistent for a while with a HUGE spike in work last winter. I was blessed with a fantastic opportunity to learn a lot in a short period of time. My musicianship improved beyond measure, and thankfully so did my social skills as a collaborator. You just had to go in there and do your thing, no matter what malfunctioned. It truly helped me learn how to believe in myself. 

           A lot of people tell me that they dig how I smile for most of the time of perform. It's because the performance is the culmination of a lot of hard work practicing and studying. It truly is a reward, and its so fun to experience the power of rhythm in harmony with a big group of people. I don't really agree with most kinds of people on most kinds of things; but on this, we are together one. It's really fun for me, so I act a fool and goober up. This is what we call natural expression. 

           But having a recording session feels far more consequential. This is the chance to go inward and confront myself as a musician. Think of it as a phycological analysis almost, where I am in the chair and on the sofa. And sometimes both of us indulge in cigars. 

           Recording music has always reminded me of leaving little flakes of my soul in the past to be experienced new again in the future. It is my chance to make a resounding impact on people with no histrionics, just music. Just my expression. This is a fairly deep connection, and although not a true connection in reality, it is pure. 

          Of course I still maintain a joyous attitude because recording sessions are, for the most part, collaboration sessions. It's a mistake to really take group work too far beyond this fact, I believe. Relationships are collaboration sessions, and if you are a good collaborator, it is far easier to do anything. 

          In truth, I approach recording with a bit more fear, because your true expression and ability is often under a microscope with a bias lens. Fear is simply switched with excitement, and I'm ready with my senses heightened. Because of this, I probably tend to take a bit more of a spiritual approach. As such, I really like to have a routine to how I get ready and set everything up. The French call this "mise en place." 

          "Mise en Bass" seems more appropriate for our purposes. Try out your own pun. 

          I like doing certain things the same way; like an archer hitting his mark or a surgeon arranging his materials before a bypass. There is no better feeling to me than doing things in an easy order to ramp up. Do it right; right makes light. 

          The chord charts get made the same way. The cables are un-coiled in the same fashion. I even find myself taking the same amount of coffee sips between each prepared activity. I can notice all these things easily because I do them the same way each time; it really helps assuage my body and mind to notice all the new details much more easily as well. Eventually it, or you, is all there. 

          Perhaps this is why recording feels like leaving parts of my soul behind. More than a snapshot of who I am in a precise moment of time, recorded baselines are pristine conservations of who I am exactly then in a way that is indescribable by words. You can only access that way thru using your ears, using your mind, and using your heart. All at once. 

       off to leave musical dandruff that even head n shoulders couldn't help with,

Monday, February 17, 2014

Sit Back, Relax, and Enjoy Your Excitement

          I wanted to write a blog about how to enjoy our own excitement. Hopefully it would help me work thru some issues I have pertaining to why my stomach ties up in paralyzing knots when I'm to do basically anything besides performing or playing music. Whenever I'm engaged in one of those activities, my nerves are still there, but they only feel intensified towards my goal. Things feel stronger; I feel things more strongly; I feel stronger, in all ways of interpretation.

          From all my lessons in music from my many excellent teachers, it has been revealed to me that when we are afraid, we are simply experiencing a sensation that really is excitement. Even this simple reframing did wonders for me. Performing and playing music always seemed to feel good, even before I was particularly good at it. Some of others aspects of my life, however, hardly ever seemed to feel good. Like figuring out how to work an entertainment system...

          This is obviously something that everyone experiences; self-doubt, being unsure. This is the natural experience that some of us have to moments of importance or greatness. I was an absolute mess as a test taker; I still am. Last year, when I reenrolled in university to complete my math requirement, I lost sleep constantly on nights before tests. It's unfortunate, however, that so many people equate moments of nervousness before great events as crippling anxieties. This is quintessentially having someone judge you according to a strict criteria. Fortunately for me, playing bass cannot be judged according to a strict criteria.

          Fortunately for us, life cannot be judged that way either. If we can learn to appreciate and even love our fear, it can be channeled towards our heightened selves. Like preworkout.

          Great events are opportunities to be great; we all know this. But nervousness is our body revealing to itself that is it ready to be great. These nervous feelings leave us excited, which is anticipation to be at the state of a most heightened awareness. I write a lot about being mindful and being in the moment; this is exactly what excitement precludes, if we let it. If we let our energy flow thru, it can fill us with the right stuff for what is to come. I believe that our body intelligence surpasses that of our mind's and in this case, I believe we should trust our bodies.

          When I think of my greatest moments, there are always sickening moments of nervousness followed by my follow thru. And with practice it has become a habit loop for me; feel nervous, enjoy it, feel relaxed, feel heightened.

           It all comes back to reacting to what our bodies tells us. We cannot ignore how feel beneath the surface, because this can be our greatest indicator. Like every other positive lesson I glean, I am much better at taking advantage of these feelings in my musical life. Nevertheless, I am striving towards responding to that sickly nervous feeling in my stomach with feelings of love and readiness. Bring it on.

          always keep turning up,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

With a Steady Hand

       One of my favorite teachers once told me that making music was akin to being as furious as you’ve ever been and at the same time being more exuberant than ever before while carrying a mug of hot and piping tea across the room. Whew. 

Knowing myself, this is a recipe for disaster. As you can see from this picture, I can't even keep the blood of my enemies on the bone. Okay fine; its strawberry wings sauce from Jack's Pizza. But it's still messy!

Making music, however, is important to me, and as such, I always feel the need to confront myself and make the improvements and adjustments that I know I can will myself towards. I’m not really satisfied with quitting when the right notes are hard to find. I’ll never go down without a fight, essentially. This music thing is really more about self-discovery and progression than it is about songs. 

How do we keep a clear and focused mind when our emotions are anything but? To which side of the emotional scale do we tend towards throughout the day? To what do we give in and feed? And, how are we supposed to carry some hot tea across a room during all this?  

This answer is as easy as you can imagine in theory and as difficult as anything else in practice. We carry the mug with a steady hand. 

When making music, it is important to remain steady. We have to be of balanced mind and balanced breath in order to account and be prepared for all the nuances of performance. Certainly we can all recall how hyper-exaggerated all of our senses are during a performance; we truly seem to notice more, and we do. This “more” can be more of a distraction if you can’t keep a steady heart during the process, after, and before. 

A lot of musicians have some sort of ritual to help them prepare for the show. Anything works, as long as it helps you settle in to your environment without being dull. You can be sharp and steady; be ready. My whole musical life is made up of rituals. Some notable ones…

1. Basketball Jerseys 

2. Scarfs 

3. Clapping with a metronome before a show with my eyes closed. No pictures of that holy place. 
4. Dancing

5. Sneakers/Sneakerz

These are all ways that I help prepare and keep my mind and heart steady. You would have to experiment with something that works for you. Obviously my little tricks tend to be kind of silly; that's because I'm a silly person if you haven't figured that out.

        Of course it is very important to have your life steady in order to be steady in your music. The synthesis of life and music happens at the exact same point. There is no single correlation. It is all the same. 

The following three tips I’ve learned regarding steadiness have really helped me conquer what I would have referred to as some sort of psychotic imbalance between my brain and reality. This can be fun to experience sometimes, but isn’t the best mindset for creating music with others.

Physical Steadiness: Don’t Be Afraid to Move
A lot of people will tell you that your body reflects your mind. While this is true sometimes, it is dumb to make generalizations about our own bodies. Only our brain is capable of putting our bodies’ thoughts into the English language for us to understand in that way; as such, it becomes a very confusing game of telephone. 
        Life is extremely dynamic; it is also, as I keep mentioning somewhat morbidly, transient and over very quickly if we are lucky and even quicker if we aren’t. Life moves constantly; like water, it crashes over pebbles and plants. It comes out on the other side in different ways, but always returns to the steady flow of the water cycle. We can learn so much about playing the bass from water. 

        Let your body move and let it breath. Don’t be afraid to dance and don’t be afraid to clap your hands. Even bouncing my shoulders to the beat can sometimes steady my proverbial hand for the rest of a performance. We must never be too attached to any one position; we must only be attached to the dynamics and ever-changing position of life. 

Generate Your Finger Strength From Your Hand: It All Comes From Somewhere
As musicians, we tend to put so much emphasis on our fingers; their precision, their strength, their endurance. We tense up our fingers so much to hold on to the music that we want to love so much. Obviously your finger strength is valuable as a musician, but where does it come from? The muscle fibers in your finger receive some help generating power from your hand; your hand from your forearm; your forearm from your shoulder blade; your shoulder blade from your core, etc. 

We cannot emphasize one part of our body as the reason for music. Music would exist if we did or not; so it is important to understand this vitality of influence from sources you’d never expect. 

This way, we don’t depend wholly on our fingers to create music. We don’t depend on anything other than faith that the music will be there. 

Give Your Brain Breaks: We Aren’t Machines 
I’ve been trying for a few years, but the reality of life is that I will never become a machine. No matter how much time I spend clapping quarter notes on a metronome; no matter how many days I spend with routine after routine; it has no effect on the fact that some days I am in it and some days I am not. And, if I’m being honest with myself, I am in and out of it constantly all the time on every day. 

The reality of having a steady hand is that it won’t always be steady. So sometimes, instead of spilling the tea all over the carpet, we should just leave it on the counter for a while. 

It is very difficult for me to take breaks while practicing, but every 45 minutes seems to have become a popular idiom for myself. In addition to giving my body and mind time to unwind and recharge, these forced breaks have taught me a thing or two about restraint, which is an area of life that I know is one of the many secrets to being helpful and being happy. 

It is impossible to be perfect; but we can always be close by striving in the right direction. True musicianship comes from honoring your discipline, your influences, your spontaneity, your training, your creativity, your life experiences, your impulses, etc. It comes from a myriad of resources and, when we combine those resources with all those other factors of a day to day life, it came become confusing.

Breathe, dance, and throw on a basketball jersey. If we curate a healthy mind and body thru exercise (on both ends...running and reading. and lifting), we can have the steadiest hand in the room. 

And sometimes we are going to spill the tea. I spilled a lot on myself this morning, which is what prompting me to write this. But fortunately, unlike tea, you can always pick up the compounds of music and make something beautifully expressive. 

slow and steady plays the bass,
Benjamin Ryan Williams 

Friday, January 17, 2014

Always Keep Your Heart Open

There are a great many number of things that a young bass player can learn to improve his playing. He or she can learn about the importance of having backup strings, or the about the pertinence of adequate preparation. He or she can be told about the value of practicing with a metronome, and how sometimes meandering around in the scale is better than playing the scale from top to bottom. The information out there that can help one learn how to play bass better is limitless and infinite. Everything is already out there; even that which hasn’t been discovered yet.

To me, today, the most important lesson to young and old bassists alike is to always keep your heart open.

Before we should sit down to play, it would always behoove us to tune our instrument. On some level this means to make sure our 4 strings are tuned to E, A, D, G (if we are in standard tuning). On another level this means to attune ourselves to our particular environment. If we are playing a fancy party, it might help to appreciate what that means and how that is precisely unique from a frat party. On another level, this tuning our instrument means to check and see how the ultimate instrument, our heart, is doing.

I have to credit Madeline Bruser with helping me appreciate this tuning of the heart. I simply thought that sometimes the music flowed with truth and other times I had to force it. I never knew that this act of opening your heart can be made easy with some concrete steps of vigilant effort.

So how do we tune our hearts to be open? For me, the first step is accepting the vulnerability of the moment. Music has always been so amazing to me because I understand the transient nature of each performance; of each chord; of each single beat. Here one minute, the next gone. This is the reality of music and this is even the reality of all things. Nothing lasts forever. This is a crushing concept to think about before playing music, but this is also incredible hopeful because each mistake doesn’t nearly matter as much as you’d think. And, if nothing lasts forever, then the only solution is to appreciate whatever is happening currently with all of your heart.

The next step is to
be thankful for the opportunity in front of you. I could have been hardly more lucky so far in my career as a musician, and any chance I get to strap on my bass and jam out is unbelievable. But even if you are only playing in your bedroom at home, think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in destitute countries. Think about the amazing opportunities you have compared to people in the past. Many people have been jailed for practicing and performing music throughout time’s story. Here we are with the opportunity to be a part of that without the strife. This is an amazing feeling.

Again, recall step one and accept this moment’s vulnerable demeanor. Perhaps I will wake up tomorrow unable to move my fingers. This thought makes me sad, but it opens my heart to appreciating the opportunity to move my fingers today with precision and power.

When we reflect on the preciousness of all in our lives, our hearts warm and vital energy flows thru our bodies and our minds. The heart is open and, much like the bass itself, adds harmony and texture to every other physical and mental aspect of our bodies.

Finally, we have step 3, which is to consider the frame. Music is not performed in a vacuum; it is played in a hall; it is played in the state of Georgia; it is played on the earth; it is played in the year 2014; it is played to people who have had different days; it is played in a town where their football team with high expectations didn’t perform well; it is played by us, who sometimes have vastly different days.

We must be observant and consider the frame of our performance. Our heart will be attuned towards sympathy and empathy to all aspects that participate in the performance, of which there may be infinite outside influences. Although we can do nothing to control those aforementioned influences, we can accept them and thank them and consider them. They are there and so are we. Let’s be thankful.

Although none of this is truly technical advice, I believe that the musician could always benefit from remembering to always keep his or her heart open. Music is the language of the heart organized into mathematical patterns; it is truly communicative, but only when performed with the gusto and appreciation for the transient nature of life. Notes are here and then they aren’t. A chord is played and, while its vibrations never end, we can never keep it quite the same in our ears. It simply leaves our life. Or maybe we leave it.

This understanding of the duality between true joy and true sadness can create true music. And while exposing the heart is frightening, realize it is the only way to be the best musician you can be. 

You simply have no other choice.