A Song for Ourselves – new song featuring Bambu!

tad_sundanceI first met Tad Nakamura soon after I transferred to UCLA almost 10 years ago.  Whoa has it been that long already???!! Hold up.  I gotta catch my breath, cause I feel really old now.  Anyways, Tad was on the lawn near the student union, introducing a group of prospective members to the student activist group CAPSA, and wearing a thuggish bandana.  I knew dude was for real the first time I saw him.  Flash forward to today, and now he’s an award-winning filmmaker who teaches Ethnocommunications at UCLA.  His previous documentary won him Official Selection at the Sundance Film Festival, and his upcoming film is having its world premiere on Feb 28, 2009.  It’s called “A Song for Ourselves,” and it chronicles the life and music of pioneering Asian American Movement troubadour Chris Iijima.

asongforourselves01To help publicize the event, Tad enlisted the help of DJ Phatrick to put together a mixtape of both remixes and original versions of Chris’ music.  I contributed a track, a remix of a really beautiful song, “War of the Flea,” by Chris Iijima, Nobuko Miyamoto, and Charlie Chin (as the group A Grain of Sand).  It features some poignant and heartfelt verses by legendary local emcee/activist Bambu (of Native Guns).  I’m really happy with how it turned out, and it’s available for free download, hope you enjoy!

The way the track came about is actually interesting.  Tad needed instrumental versions of Chris’ music for the film, to mix underneath interviews.  So he enlisted me to recreate them, which I did by painstakingly transcribing and then playing on acoustic guitar and bass.  Boy I tell you, they did some mean ass fingerpicking back in the heyday of 1960s/70s folk music!  My cramping fingers could attest to that.  Well, I now had all these tracks of isolated acoustic guitar just laying around on my computer.  It dawned on me that I should put it to more use, so I chopped it up, slapped a beat to it, and added some of Chris’ original vocals.  Lucky for me Bambu liked the beat, so he added a couple of verses that really took the song to a new level.  Much gratitude and thanks to Nobuko Miyamoto for allowing us to sample the original music.

If you like the track, please share it with friends and help spread the word about the premiere of A Song for Ourselves.  And please check out the original A Grain of Sand album, it’s incredibly soulful revolutionary folk music that is still very relevant today.

Edit: Tad just released a trailer for the event!

Published in: on January 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm  Comments (2)  

static to distortion

On Friday night after my gig at Cafe Metropol I sat in my car, in front of my house, for a good half hour or more, completely transfixed.  The lights were off, the engine was off, but the radio was on.  I sat there with my s.o. as we stared blankly out the windshield, listening to Exile perform a live set on KPFK.

He was always one of my favorite producers (his album “Dirty Science” is completely sans the chain) but that night he became my hero.  Exile had sat in the radio station’s studio the first hour before his interview just sampling the output of the radio show.  He then proceeded to create an on-the-spot sound/beat collage using the samples he just captured.  He then went into a set of tracks from his just-released album, which uses the same premise: created from samples culled entirely from the radio.  El Keter has a great Blogarhythms post about the new album–titled succinctly, “Radio.” That night I went straight to my computer and bought it from iTunes.

Exile has an uncanny sense for rhythm as finely tuned as J Dilla, with a musical pallette that is absolutely unique.  “Radio,” from start to finish, was constantly putting my ears in a state of “holy shit, I’ve never been in this place before, and yet, it feels oddly familiar.”  It’s euphorically disorienting, aurally rich, politically poignant, and his beats are still funky as hell.  I’ll venture to say that when music historians look back, they’ll see the release of this album as groundbreaking and important an event as the release of Endtroducing…..

As much as I used to rag on LA, it’s a wonderful time to be living here.  Some of the most amazing music on the planet is coming from here at this moment.

Published in: on January 26, 2009 at 3:10 am  Leave a Comment  

new Leviathan Brothers video!

Sean O’Connell and Tom Child have collaborated on another awesome video (seen the other one?) and this time they’ve really outdone themselves.  As for the music, Sean and I recorded, mixed, and mastered the entire song in my studio, aka Grandma’s Dojo, in one day.  Here’s what Sean has to say:

It’s called “Dr. Werrenrath’s Prized Pupil” and it’s the first time Miles and I really stretched out with some studio trickery.  It’s got a vocal sample, organs and one of the sweetest drum breaks Miles has ever laid down.  I’m happy about the song and believe it may even be released on a 7″ record through White Noise this Spring.

Check it out.  Rate it 5 stars and forward it to all your friends.  And then come out to see us at the Continental Room on February 1st (Super Bowl Sunday!).  We’re playing two sets starting at 10pm and it is absolutely free.  We had a great time there a couple of weeks ago and think you’ll enjoy visiting the oldest bar in Orange County.

Published in: on January 21, 2009 at 8:30 pm  Comments (1)  

a day in the life

I’m not sure why it took me so long to put up a the first post of this year.  This month flew by, and as I sit here recovering from a cold on a beautiful sunny day, I should probably try to reflect on the new year with some sort of optimism–what with a new President on the way and all.  But times are tough and the economy has really hit every segment of the population hard, including musicians.  When gigs disappear and things start to look bleak, I’ve realized it’s vital to keep a sense of humor.  Especially for musicians.  Let me explain.

Being a musician in LA is like having a job with a bi-polar disorder.  From gig to gig, we are constantly being thrown into every varying strata of our society; one night we’ll be playing a gig at the stankiest, shadiest dive-bar in the outskirts of town, and the next night we’ll be playing a reception in the backyard of some Hollywood producer’s Beverly Hills mansion.  One night I’m worring about my ass getting kicked in a bar brawl, and the next night I’m standing in a buffet line in front of Sidney Poitier and Diana Ross (this really happened).

Anyways, point being, this job is about as boring as it is lucrative (i.e., it is neither).  And while I think having this kind of firsthand insight into the stratification of society is amazing, it really takes a toll on one’s psyche.  I mean, if you work an office job, you kinda know where you stand–you have a title, a position, and you generally know what level of respect you are going to get from your collegues based on this.  But for musicians, it’s all over the place.  I’ve been talked to like I was a 12-year old kid by an asshole sound engineer at a club.  On the other hand, just the other day, an assistant at Warner Bros studios (I was backing up a singer for a showcase) asked me if I’d like “room tempurature” or “refrigerated,” bottled water and then personally retrieved it for me.  I don’t know why, but that blew me away.

In conclusion, you really need to have a strong sense of self in this business or else you’re going to feel very manic depressive.  Which leads me to this wonderful video that was taken by a guitarist that I know and have played with, and takes place in a club I’m very familiar with.  It is a vivid sneak peak into the life of a jazz musician.  If Flight of the Conchords ever decided to play a jazz club, I’m sure the scene would go something like this.

Published in: on January 17, 2009 at 3:59 pm  Leave a Comment