Be a pro

There's nothing like good customer service. I even think it's worth paying a little more for great service. In the world of the performing musician, good customer service is contained in being professional. And by professional I don't mean making a living at it. I don't mean any particular level of technical prowess on your instrument. I mean common courtesy. I mean doing what you say you will do. I mean not behaving like a dumbass. One definition from Merriam-Webster: following a line of conduct as though it were a profession.

For the second time this year Strange Land ventured south of the border to Illinois. We played on the north side of Chicago at the Redline Tap. Cool place, good food. Big thanks to Progulus listeners Iceman and Falcon and their friends and family for coming out. 

For the second time this year, a show in Illinois was partly hosed because other bands didn't show up. Click here for the scoop on the previous show. This time there were five bands booked. One cancelled a few weeks before the show. Two more were total no-shows. No call, no excuse, nothing. We were expecting to play a 30 minute set. We played for an hour. The other band that did show, Seeking, was cool. Glad to meet them.

But what kind of a moron do you have to be to just bail on a show with no notice? I've seen other examples of not being pro. Chewing out the sound guy. Wrecking the venues property. Being rude to the other bands and to the staff. Getting drunk and making a fool of yourself. Sorry, but acting like a "rock star" doesn't make you one. I know I'm weird but I've never thought it was cool to behave like a typical rock star. The closest I think you can be to getting away with it is when you actually are a rock star with millions of dollars and a team of lawyers. Even then, I'll still think you're an ass and your behavior isn't cool. You'll just be better equipped to not care and get away with it. 

We are probably the most punctual band in the state of Wisconsin. I feel bad if I show up five minutes late. We treat the sound guy with respect. We thank the venue and the other bands we play with. We thank the people who came to see us. That's pro, and that earns us the respect of venues, sound guys, bands and fans. That gets people to buy cds. That gets us invited back to the venue. That gets us invited to open for national acts. That gets other bands to trade shows with us.  And that is why we are entering out 11th year as a band. One measure of success in my mind is survival. We've made it 11 years, 3 albums, and dozens of shows because we've outlasted so many other bands. One of the biggest keys to our survival is our commitment to being pro. 


Identity Crisis

I've been thinking about my identity lately. Specifically, should I have chosen a stage name years ago when I started playing out after college? I'm not getting mobbed by fans and I have my privacy. But there is obviously a conflict between my life as a musician and my personal life away from the stage. Lately it seems the more I express my private life the more damage I do to my music life.

I am a guitarist, bassist, singer, and percussionist. I am a composer. I am a recording engineer. I am an artist. I am a designer. I am a traveller. I am a friend. I am a son, a cousin, and a nephew. I am a skeptic. I am an atheist. Did those last two taint your view of all the previous ones? I wonder if there are some parents out there who would complain to their kid's schools if they new that the music teacher was using music in the classroom written by an atheist. Probably a few, never mind that I've only had instrumentals published so far and I wouldn't advocate atheism in a song to be bought by a school.

Still, I am who I am. People will either accept me or not. If you decide not to like my music because I'm an atheist, well, I can't change that. Music is music and I've found many religious songs beautiful. Especially in the classical world (like Ave Maria by Bach/Gounod). Creativity will find its way in the world, filtered through each artist's experience.

I think instead of separating the private from the public, I'm going to be bringing them closer together. Music is my life. I've never felt like I needed to do something as compulsively. I breathe, I eat, I play music. It's not something I can't do. I feel like I should focus on that and just shut up about everything else. I have to be 'me' to the fullest to be satisfied with my music. But music is not my life. I am more than just little black dots. I can't be creative without experiencing life. I think Neil Peart of Rush said it best:
Back in April of this year, just before the Snakes and Arrows tour, I did a TV interview for the Canadian music channel, MuchMusic. The cameraman placed the interviewer and me in the rehearsal hall, in front of my drums, where I had been laboring for several weeks by then. Some of the interviewer’s questions seemed to angle toward a certain starry-eyed view of my work, especially the touring side of it, and I tried to explain to him that I didn’t consider touring, or even drumming, to be my life.
He seemed perplexed, and to appraise me as clearly jaded and cynical, because his next question was, “When did you start to feel that way?”
I paused to think for a couple of seconds, then was glad to feel the mental light bulb illuminate a true and clear answer. I was able to answer honestly, “About a month into the first tour, in 1974.” That really was when I started to feel that touring was “not enough,” and turned to reading books as a way to make more use of the days and nights.
Partly out of sheer contrariness, but partly out of a desire for context, I often refer to playing the drums, with deliberate disrespect, as “the job”—hitting things with sticks. Obviously it means much more to me than that, and has been a central focus in my life. But still, it seems rather sad to hear anyone say that their work is their life.
Not family and friends? Not reading and writing? Not hiking or cross-country skiing or birdwatching or motorcycle riding or swimming?
Just work?
I don’t think so.
Thanks Neil.



I think this will be the start of a new series. I'm going to post links to stories. I'm not going to say anything about them, no skeptic comments, no atheist comments, no comments from an American bias. Just WTF?

Yemeni girl, 12, dies in painful childbirth

Tips for debate - pack a lunch

“We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children are smart.”
H.L. Mencken
1880 – 1956

Let's be clear, I'm under no obligation to respect your ideas. I may need to respect you to get along if we work together or want to have a fair debate. Attacking you personally isn't going to help either of us. If you have a personal religion, fine. But if you're going to come into the conversation in a rage over my opinions on religion be ready to back it up with some rationality. If you think I shouldn't say anything that might be taken as offensive by a person of faith, pack a lunch. It's probably going to be a long day. If you think we should all just get along and live and let live then I expect to see some effort on my behalf from you. And I'm not going to live and let live when I see what I think is injustice, lunacy, or just plain folly. If you have a problem with me shining a light in dark places or playing court jester to call attention to peoples foibles, again, pack a lunch. 

It is a tenet of many religions to proselytize, witness or otherwise gain converts. I am the type who requires more than ideas. I need facts. I need something tangible. If I listen to your argument but still am unconvinced, do you have a right to condemn me? To be mad at me? If I take apart your pitch with my own viewpoint do you have the right to throw a temper tantrum and call me names? I guess you can but you'll only get further from your goal.

If I call attention to inconsistencies in your faith what is your reaction? If I give you my list of reasons I don't (and can't) believe as you do, what do you day? Do you trod out the same tired retorts like Pascal's Wager and the Argument From Ignorance? Do you swish it away with some vague comment about god's will? Do you refocus your argument and try to come from a different angle? Do you think about what you believe and wonder if you should change your beliefs? Do you fear that last possibility? I do not. 


The Dawkins Scale, or What kind of atheist am I?

Richard Dawkins, in his book The God Delusion, gave the following scale for describing how strong your belief or non-belief is:

  1. Strong theist. 100 per cent probability of God. In the words of C.G. Jung, 'I do not believe, I know.'
  2. Very high probability but short of 100 per cent. De facto theist. 'I cannot know for certain, but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.'
  3. Higher than 50 per cent but not very high. Technically agnostic but leaning towards theism. 'I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.'
  4. Exactly 50 per cent. Completely impartial agnostic. 'God's existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.'
  5. Lower than 50 per cent but not very low. Technically agnostic but leaning towards atheism. 'I do not know whether God exists but I'm inclined to be sceptical.'
  6. Very low probability, but short of zero. De facto atheist. 'I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.'
  7. Strong atheist. 'I know there is no God, with the same conviction as Jung "knows" there is one.'
I am a 6. So is Richard Dawkins. Yes, even Darwin's Rottweiler. Why is he a 6? Because like any good scientist he will change his beliefs viewpoints to fit new evidence. If compelling evidence for the existence of god arises, hey, I'm all in. So far I have seen nothing compelling, only appeals to emotions. 

People I have met that claim to be a 7, frankly, piss me off as much as those who are a 1. For the 1s, how can you "know" something that must be taken on faith? Faith is belief in something without proof. If I question your 'knowing' you will fall back on faith, saying you don't need proof. I have only met one 7 in my life. I get the impression that people who are 7s are very angry at the church or other authority figure. I think they arrive at their conclusion based on emotion, not reason. 

I think this is an issue for atheists. We need to get the word out to the public that we aren't saying we know god doesn't exist. I would say I find the existence of god extremely unlikely. You may call me a religion atheist and a god agnostic. I have always drawn a distinction between the idea of god and the man made construct of religion. I'm ok with that. I don't have to fill in unknowns in my life or in the universe with something. Unanswered questions make life interesting. 

What I'm not ok with is personal belief being used to exclude people. I'm not ok with being told that questioning someone's faith is offensive. I'm not ok with politicians pandering to the religious. I'm not ok with important decisions being made based on religious grounds. I'm not ok with religion being used to justify horrors. I'm not ok with being told that I'm going to hell because I'm an atheist. 


What I've done with my time - A history of me part three

Ok, the third installment. I think this will be the last, bringing everything up to my current activities. It seems this post-college phase of my life comes in larger pieces so I'm going to break it down more by project.

Strange Land:

  • Joined in Nov. 1998
  • Released Foundation demo in 1999
  • Released Anomaly in late 2001
  • The song I Don't Know You Anymore appears on ProgPower 4 sampler cd
  • Demoed new songs and gave away samplers at ProgPower
  • Blaming Season in late 2004
  • Catharsis in mid 2009
  • Have opened for National acts King's X, Joe Stump, Event, Three, ex-Marillion singer Fish, and soon, Gary Hoey
  • Have been reviewed and interviewed in print, online, and on the radio
  • Played many, many shows
Solo work:
  • Started working on solo acoustic music in 1998
  • Started playing out with friend Catherine Scholz. I owe her a lot for getting me out and helping me find my voice. 
  • Released Book Of Ashes in 1999
  • Released Driving Empty Miles in 2001
  • Released October Dust in 2004. All cds were acoustic instrumental to this point.
  • Released first instrumental electric solo album This Is What It Sounds Like Inside My Head in 2008
  • Many shows, including several trips along the Mississippi river/Minneapolis circuit.
(Hmmm... There seems to be a hole between 2004 and 2008/09.)

Miscellaneous projects:
  • Played substitute gigs with the Mr. Lucky Swing Syndicate and Les Artiste Big Band for a few years after college.
  • I've played for at least 5 weddings. One in high school and the rest after. 
  • Taught private lessons for 10 years. That isn't really a project but I am proud of many students who've formed bands playing original music. I've also had a handful go on to study music in college. 
  • Soaker - a Galactic Cowboys-ish rock band. Wrote some tunes, recorded a few tracks around 2003-04
  • Played in the ABS Blues band 2006-08. Fun, but died partly due to lack of drummer. Darn drummers.
  • The Julie B Well - Art/prog/pop band. I joined in October 2008. Currently recording a cd.
  • I work a day job at a music publisher. I have been fortunate that they have published 3 of my songs so far. I have also been doing a lot of artwork for them.
  • I've done the artwork for all the cd's I've done with Strange Land and solo. Some are original creations and some are arrangements and layouts of photos taken by others. 
And still I've managed to do some traveling which is what I really love. Maybe I'll do another post chronicling my travels. 


What I've done with my time - a history of me part two.

And now we enter the college years. The time I thought life wouldn't suck as much as high school because people would stop telling me what to do. Wrong. Honestly, I spent a lot of time in college as a bitter young man. I now wish I had enjoyed it more and had taken advantage of some opportunities I missed. Has a serious medical problem in my 4th year that caused me to drop most music classes and I was afraid I'd have to quit guitar altogether. A story for another time.

Notable activities:

  • Member of UWM Jazz Ensemble 94-97 (mostly guitar, bass here and there). Played on the first UWM Jazz band cd. Of all the tracks picked I'm actually only playing bass on a funk tune. 
  • Continued with Big Brown Newport through 96 I think. We recorded a lot. Probably at least 4 albums worth of material
  • Various Jazz combo and classical ensembles at the Conservatory. Many recitals including senior recital. 
  • Played electric guitar in the Downey festival (celebrating composer and UWM prof John Downey). The Edge of Space / Fantasy for Bassoon and Orchestra. That was a blast. Electric guitar in the orchestra.
  • Met Chad at UWM. Joined the band that would become Strange Land in November of 1998
There wasn't much else. I guess I was pretty focused and the ensembles I was in filled my time. Big Brown Newport and Fishboy had tapered off by about 96. I kept writing the whole time but only recorded a couple of experimental things. Had a low key few years before Strange Land.


What I've done with my time - a history of me part one.

"This is the beginning of a new day. You have been given this day to use as you will. You can waste it or use it for good. What you do today is important because you are exchanging a day of your life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever; in its place is something that you have left behind... let it be something good." - Unknown author.

Sometimes when I'm not feeling my best it is good to think about all the things I have done. Most often I'm beating myself up for not getting more done. For not living up to the quote at the top of this post. One thing I am not good at is stopping to smell the roses. As soon as one thing is finished I'm thinking about the next problem or project, chastising myself for not working harder or faster. But somewhere there is balance. I have not wasted as much time as I think I have. Allow me to flex my ego a bit and run down a list of achievements, activities and projects worth mentioning. These all fall into the "I chose to do these" and not in the "I had to do these" category. In roughly chronological order. To the best of my recollection. Some of these memories are 20 years old.

A brief look at high school, dipping a little back to middle school (which is all I can stand):

  • Started playing guitar, age 13
  • A few half-started bands and projects with friends
  • First public performance, freshman year. Terrified. Joined some friends on Metallica's One and I think maybe Man In The Box by Alice in Chains. I can't remember.
  • Two years in jazz band, mostly guitar, some bass
  • One year marching and concert band - percussion
  • Did the usual Solo & Ensemble competitions. 
  • Member of the Greater Milwaukee Youth Jazz ensemble - one year
  • Performed and wrote with a band. Started as Perpetual Motion, later became 3 Blind Mice
  • Recorded about a CDs worth of music with 3 Blind Mice (two tapes, back in the day)
  • Started the project that became Fishboy, recorded first album summer after junoir year
  • Joined Big Brown Newport on bass. Played around Madison
A detour into details:
Perpetual Motion - Me, guitar and vocals; Mike Troemel, drums; Joe Grandeffo, bass and vocals. Some older guy who turned out to be a douche on guitar and lead vocals for one summer. About 89-91 (my date recollections here are pretty sketchy)
Three Blind Mice - Me, guitar and vocals; Mike Troemel, drums; Bob Duclos, bass and vocals. Also a rotating cast of lead singers including Jamie Ryan, Tim Delay, Paul Hutchison and even my dad. Some guy named Chris on rhythm guitar for a while. About 91-93
Fishboy - Me, guitar, bass, vocals; Jamie Ryan - drums, bass, guitar, vocals. This was a studio project that wrote songs spanning styles from Maiden to Pearl Jam to freeform improv. We did one album the summer before college (an epic a la 2112) and did three more the following summer. One was an all improv trio with Jeremy Kreideman on trombone, bass and vocals. One was a sequel to the epic, and the third was more stand alone tunes. About 93-95
Big Brown Newport - Me, bass; Jamie Ryan, drums and vocals; Tim DeLay, guitar and vocals; Andy Beavers, guitar and vocals. About 94-96 I think.

/end part one


Sometimes I wish I weren't curious. I like to know things, find out new information. Often it's good. Being able to learn for a lifetime makes it worthwhile. I really enjoy reading a headline on a science website that makes me go "huh?" and I get to dig into it further.

But there are times I look for information before I think about whether I want it or not. And when I find it I feel torn up all over again. My own damn fault.


Today's Haiku

Spinning into sound
Whirling dots of black in wind
Like leaves from fall trees



This is a test. A test of the phone to email to blog hookup. Not like other tests. This is easy and it doesn't hurt. Not like opening those old wounds and revisiting the events that taught me lessons. Not like the constant test of wondering if I know what the hell I'm doing. No, this is easy by comparison.
Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device from U.S. Cellular