🎹🎶 I believe in the 7 laws of the Indie SynthPop Manifesto

I’ve been meeting musicians in the city with the intent of putting together a band. I discovered that it can be hard to connect with the right people if you’re floating around in a genre-less haze. Defining your vision and drawing a line in the sand helps everyone understand what it’s NOT.

We music types have a tendency of seeing all sides of things, and struggle to shove things into a box. But I had an experience that inspired me to write a manifesto. In other words, to define in big bold lines, what it is that I want. It’s worked wonders! I posted it as an ad on Craigslist, including the story behind it, and I have people sending me messages from every from all over the province.

Oh and by the way I just bought a new (and by new I mean second hand from Craigslist) red Fender Telecaster Standard electric guitar.. which might make you laugh once you get to law #3 of the manifesto. It’s the first non-acoustic guitar I’ve owned in a decade, so let me enjoy this – as I all but ban electric guitar in my own writing haha.

Whatever. I’m just stoked that I got such a strong reaction from this online, met some cool people as a result, and wanted to share.

*Craigslist post begins now..*

er.. now…..

after this I mean….

you know.. below the x’s

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I was just at the Kellarissa EP release show on Granville Island and half way into her SynthPop set she was struck with a totally unexpected disaster moment on stage! *cringe*

In a sec I’ll tell you why this terrible fail directly inspired the first law of the Indie SynthPop Manifesto, which I typed down below..

I’m a singer with original songs, now chatting and meeting up with musicians here on Craigslist to form a tight SynthPop band, so watching her go through that and to see the “WTF?!” look on her face – hit way too close to home.

Long story short – Kellarissa was half way through a supreme set, complete with back up singers wearing golden capes.(YES! Full on) Stars in their eyes, audience loving every minute, fog machine running. And running. K.. RUNNING A LITTLE TOO MUCH.

Somebody. Turn. Off. The. Fog. Machine.
!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Too late. Mid chorus, all the fire alarms in the building whine and klang.. We were all stunned, so was she. There was a moment of panic that flashed across her face, followed by a confident laugh. Then she made a choice that took guts.

She kept singing. With intensity. And commitment. We couldn’t help but cheer on her on. Despite the noise we were totally won over and on her side. She probably would have kept on with the next song if it weren’t for someone from the front desk running in to yell for us to evacuate and wait outside for the fire department.

The show would have to wait, but we saw her look the tiger in the eye, and she stared it down.

Her act of casual heroism inspired me to write this manifesto.

(FYI, when I say SynthPop, think bands like:…
Chvrches, M83, Metric, Odesza, Naked and Famous, Empire of the Sun, Little Destroyer, The Human League, Depeche Mode, New Order)

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THE INDIE SYNTHPOP MANIFESTO

1. Imperfection is sexy

Synths break, laptops crash, economies collapse, and I’ll forget the words to my own song. Good. I focus human connection over sterile execution. I perform to work things out as I go, and I’m better for the wear and tear.

2. Passion over skill

Synthpop is the eccentric time traveling grandchild of UK Punk – which thrived on truth and simplicity (3 chords and the truth). I commit to expressing authentic emotion above all else.

But never too early – or before coffee.

3. SYNTH > guitar

Electronic soundscapes with a killer drum groove are my north star. I believe:

– Guitars are ok, but never surpass a 50/50 split with synths
– Guitarists have to sit in the back seat on the way to gigs
– YES to guitar delay, chorus and reverb type effects for atmosphere
– NO distortion

4. Honour thy genre. Then break it.

Gary Numan stumbled across a dusty Moog synth while recording his punk album and by pressing a single key, he shook the whole studio.

That was the moment SynthPop was born.

I study our history, value what our heroes were striving to create, and then snap their limitations over my knee like a cheap selfie stick. This will impress girls and breathe new life into old conventions.

5. The Indie DIY philosophy is my lethal superpower

Dreaming of a record deal (and in many cases, signing one) is a sign that I’m lazy and won’t do what it takes to succeed in the long run. In 2005 the following things may have cost me upward of $100,000, today they’re almost free:

– recording a quality single/EP/full length album
– distributing the songs locally & internationally
– building a direct communication channel through email list etc.
– dialogue with fans/community regularly
– reaching out to find new like-minded people who might love my band
– Amazon 1-Click when I’m out of paper towels

I learn how it’s done, and I do the work.

6. # of live gigs played last year? Double it.

This year I made a concrete goal of.playing 52 performances before the new year. It’s tempting to be a bedroom producer or aspire to be a YouTube star, but live music is a shared human ritual older than language itself. Listening to the new Chvrches single on Spotify is sublime, but going on a journey with the band in person – is a religious experience.

I find and create new opportunities to perform. Go where humans gather.
(eg. open mics, laundromats, hostels, college campuses, pubs, bars, house parties, intimate house concerts, BBQs, busy street corners, grandma’s birthday, coffee shops, day programs for people with disabilities, radio stations, community centers)

*Equally Important* I go to at least two shows a month by other bands. Playing in a healthy scene means being an active fan to other bands. JFK said, “A rising tide lifts all boats”. Wise words from a suspected Depeche Mode super-fan.

7. Travel, you fool, TRAVEL!

I leapt into the unknown when I set out to busk around Ireland in 3 months. My greatest fears were debunked one by one by meeting hundreds of strangers excited to show me the best of their hometown.

I travel to tour and play songs, but more importantly I travel to enrich my soul.

I paid $267 to fly from Vancouver to Dublin. Another connecting flight to anywhere else in Europe is well under $50. It’s cheaper today to catch a weekend concert in Prague than it is to fly to Edmonton and visit my grandparents.

In my home country I will tour effectively, with ever expanding concentric circles that allow me to return every few months to people who care about our music.

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That’s all 7 laws. More than anything this is about drawing a line in the sand and deciding what I stand for, and who I want to stand with. Are you on team Loud Synthesizer Band For Music?

K… we’ll work on our team name.

52 Donuts.. errr.. Performances in 2018

I came to an important conclusion this week as I played the open mic at Cartems Donuterie. (When I have donuts, they’re seasonal eggnog donuts) Jess Vaira hosts the weekly shindig and was kind enough to show me all the tech specs on her PA system so I can bring my keyboards and electronic nerd gear next time.

My conclusion came in the form of committing to a new goal – to perform 52 times in 2018! That’s once a week for a year, and I’ve got some weeks to make up – consider it my late-in-the-game New Year’s resolution.

Actually, this is an old goal. In 2013 back in Winnipeg I was determined to overcome my major stage fright once and for all with my homemade brand of exposure therapy. I got the idea from my Sports Psychology class at UofM, which could have just as easily gone by the name ‘How to Use Behavioural Psych To Train Anyone To Perform Well Under Pressure’.

And it worked! Big time.

Studies show (my eyes glaze over when sentences start with this phrase, but it’s true) that athletes (performers) who engage in deliberate practice in environments as close as possible to the way things will look and feel on “game day”, benefit multiple times more from their training. Makes sense – get the real thing burned into your habitual mind so there’s less to process when it counts.

So, playing in front of real strangers, singing into a microphone, hooked up to a PA, plenty of noisy interruptions etc etc.. that’s high quality practice compared to playing in my basement. And in 2013 when I put this method to the test, the benefits became clear.

Not only did I get over my stage fright, but several other invaluable things happened that I never could have predicted in my wildest dreams – all stemming from what I thought was a minor personal aim.

The first 10 performances were the hardest. They killed me. I had played in plenty of bands in the past on guitar and bass, but singing – and singing songs I wrote myself – *and going up there alone* is a different level of vulnerability.

Most of the first 10 were at the Le Garage Café open mic. I showed up an hour early every Tuesday night just to get that flood of anxiety to wash over me early, to get it out of the way. Then once I actually had to go up, I had been there for a couple of hours so it felt a little more gradual. A little more voluntary.

Le Garage Café Open Mic in Winnipeg, MB

(***If you want to get geeky about it, that approach allows the parasympathetic division of your autonomic nervous system to kick in which relaxes you, and lets your brain experience the thing you fear while also being kind of relaxed. Which can neutralize the fight/flight response over time. Wash, rinse, repeat.)

But it still felt like jumping out of a helicopter from 10,000 feet in the air. My hands and legs were shaking. I would forget which chord comes next. I forgot entire sections of songs I had been playing for years, and all the lyrics from others.

I survived. And it was a messy gong show. Accented with the occasional sublime moment of connection. Accidental beauty beyond the fumbling and struggle. Which was enough to keep me going.

It didn’t get any easier, until about the 15th time. I was still shaky and forgetful.. but something changed. I had been up there enough times that.. well.. being afraid of performing started to get old.

Fearing the worse case scenario was a huge expenditure of mental and physical energy, one that my brain started to rev up but ultimately say “Meh..” to, and plop back down on the couch with it’s bag of dill pickle chips to watch another episode of Storage Wars.

I had conquered the sharpest point of my fear. Ground it to a dull edge through repetition. Something I don’t think would have been possible without doing it again and again and again. It started to become as fun as it was terrifying.

By the 20th time, people took notice that I was playing a lot. I was out there. For better or worse, I was looking for excuses to play to rack up the numbers in my goal. It was around that time that two killer musicians in the folk scene, Patrick Boggs (standup bass), and Donovan Locken (mandolin), agreed to form a trio with me to play shows (thanks of course to an introduction by Dianne Martineau).

Tim and the Twelve String Band
Tim and the Twelve String Band at Frame Arts Warehouse

It was way more fun than playing on my own.

Because we were so active, all kinds of doors opened up to us. We started getting invited to play coffee shops, bars, house concerts, and showcases. I don’t remember “applying” for single gig, but inevitably one gig would lead to the next through someone that saw us play.

By my 40th performance, Tim and The Twelve String Band (our trio) was all tuned up and ready to play a full set gig at the Frame Arts Warehouse.

It was there that I met British expat Emily Senyk (Wood). She showed me some ukulele cover songs she had been working on. We shared an obsession for all things UK music and DCI Gene Hunt from Life On Mars/Ashes To Ashes. So naturally we formed an acoustic duo on the spot.

We played a number of gigs and even filmed some videos, like this cover of The Decemberists we shot in the St. Boniface Cemetery. Which wasn’t us being gothy, it was lyrically relevant to the song. 😉

By my 50th performance, it was hard to contextualize how far I had come as someone with major stage fright, to now being able to perform in front of a crowd of any number with relative confidence.

To use the helicopter metaphor again… if the 1st performance was like jumping out of a helicopter at 10,000 feet, the 50th was like stepping gently out of a grounded helicopter into an abandoned Salisbury House Restaurant parking lot in the summer and being handed a refreshing Dr. Pepper Slurpee from 7-11. Anyone from Winnipeg knows what I’m talking about here.

Mission accomplished!

It’s crazy to think how something as simple as setting a time limited goal can lead to so many intended, and unintended wins. So why would I commit to 52 shows in 2018? Why do pretty much the same thing again if I already got what I wanted?

The reason is because of everything great that came along from pursuing my goal back then. The very act of trying to crunch the numbers of those shows gave me momentum. People sensed that. The world seems to open up when you’re on a mission. When you’re on your way somewhere specific and that you know to be important, people want to help you, and more than that, they want to come along for the ride.

At the end of the day, that’s one thing I’ve found to be better than the music itself. The people who care, too, who I might not have met otherwise.

So, 51 more shows to go in 2018. What changes, lessons, and friendships might await me on the other side? It will be fun to look back on this writing next year and be able to answer that with specific examples.

Wish me luck!

Well, this isn’t the post I thought I’d be writing

Last time I wrote, I was totally on track to share my latest track on Oct. 31.

Promise! But life, especially life on the road, has a way of introducing plot twists just as everything is operating at its smoothest 🙂

The night I arrived in Lviv, Ukraine.. if there were a magic button to press that would have reset everything – to instantly warp me back home in Vancouver, to tap out and give up…

I would have pressed it.

I was maxed out. Stretched 150% past my available energy, 48 hours without sleep, after having been stuck in Budapest for several days trying to hitch a ride into Ukraine.

More on that later, but let me get to the music part first!

After a 9 days stint of Salmonella poisoning in Belgrade (Serbia is truly fantastic! Minus the sick part) I dragged myself out of bed to setup a makeshift mic stand and record the vocals for my latest song – “All I Need”

I had a plan. It was airtight.. I can do production and recording on my own, but the technical challenge of making music comes in the mixing stage.

Basically that’s when you take all of the ingredients of a song, stir them up in the same bowl and throw them into the oven.. trying to end up with a palatable dish on the other side. There are limits to what is possible when you only have what fits in your suitcase.

Solution? I hired a guy. Easy right? His work sounded great, checked all the boxes for me. So I’ll work on my songs in an AirBnb, then this guy will take them to the next level. What could go wrong?

Well… aparently a lot. I got the mix back.. and I wasn’t hoping for a miracle. In fact I resigned to the fact that it may only be one step better than what I can do on my own, and if I’m lucky, he’ll surprise me. Medium standards with room for greatness lol – I think that’s a fair deal.

When I listened back, it was like hearing my song in the Upside Down (Stranger Things reference, the world that’s like ours but everything is upside down and dark and wrong)… all the loud parts were quiet, and all the quiet parts I hoped would fade into the back – were LOUD lol. oiiii.. and the vocals are drenched in a weird reverb/delay effect that I wish I could just mute.

It’s like taking a photo you’re quite proud of.. and then someone throws the tackiest Instagram filter over it, and posts cat emojiis over everyone’s faces. Dude, stop!!!

It wasn’t one step better than my own rough mix. It was two steps worse. Of course better and worse are relative.. but the point is it sounds like the opposite of what I had in my head, and what I communicated to the mixing engineer.

And although I’m seriously disappointed and not keeping the mix for the future.. I’m forcing myself to share it here anyway.

The reason is a quote that I think is important.

“If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.” — Reid Hoffman

Launch early, and launch often, as they say. Or something to that effect.

I’m embarrassed of the current state of this song, but whether in art or business or in relationships, we’ve got to take small steps forward as often as we can. Bigger breakthroughs come from the weight of enough tacked on small bits. Rough edges and loose ends can become greater than the sum of their parts..

So one day I’ll have a proper mix, but for now, here’s a song I wrote called “All I Need”. It’s one that I’ve been playing for years on guitar, but today it sounds a little different –

Click here to check it out…
https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bxv8_jtCDGzrRTFXS3U0Wi13VkE/view?usp=sharing

The valuable lesson for me here is that mixing is still part of the creative process. And if I want to see that vision through, I may just have to take the extra time to do the mixing myself. That means a bit more learning and a bit more gear – but if at the end of the day I can be proud of what the result is.. it’s worth it 🙂

You know in the past few months in Czech and Serbia, I’ve made the most wonderful friends. They know who they are. They’ve been super helpful in this last little attempt to get to Ukraine by train.. but I made a miscalculation.

Sometimes the expensive flight (relative to the cheap Euro flights) to the next city is the better choice. But the lure of adventure and possibility of saving major travel cash is alluring.

For me it’s mostly the challenge I love. I like to see what I can get away with. If it’s $200 to fly to Ukraine.. I wonder if I can do it for only $25, enjoy a train ride across Hungary, make some new friends, and discover a bunch of hidden gems in the process.

Often the answer is; “the adventurey one please!” This time the answer was… OMG TIM JUST TAKE THE PLANE!!!!

I got stuck in Budapest for several days and my friends Fernando and Kati were saints to put me up and hang out with me as I calculated and tried to hitch the next ride.

It was exhausting, but doable. Everything was fine up until I got to Chop, the Ukrainian border town right after Hungary where a sleepless Tim had to wait almost 12 hours for the next train.. I figured I would just find a seat to crash on for a few hours.. but I got a text from my Ukranian friend Ruslana who said..

“Oh.. you’re staying in Chop? Be careful. That town is full of Gypsies. You’re going to get robbed.”

Ugghhh now you tell me LOL

Now I can’t tell the difference between a Gypsy or a Ukrainian, and I’m pretty sure Gypsy is a racist term of some kind. For who? From where? I don’t know. I don’t know enough to be politically correct. I just know she was right about the sketchy nature of this tiny town.

A dozen people in line for a single ATM, which took 8 minutes to process one person’s transactions. And a train station filled with uncommonly beautiful Ukrainian women soldiers in full army uniform. But equally filled with wandering people with sticky hands.

And a new cab driver that would approach me every 6-10 minutes hoping to score a tourist on their way out of town. It was exhausting trying to convince them I really didn’t need a cab, so I eventually resorted to saying “YES! Thank you, yes, I take taxi..to London. England. We can leave now?”

For some reason, none of them were eager to take me up on my request hehe.

I needed sleep so bad.. but I took refuge in Mayo Chix.

That’s right, Mayo Chix.. Your friendly neighborhood cafe where you can also buy women’s underwear – obviously. The barista was super kind.. and I sat there with her for 12 hours, getting a cheap and very good coffee from her every hour. A steady drip of caffeine to ensure I was “awake” and my luggage was still with me.

From Belgrade to Lviv, Ukraine.. I took a total of 6 trains.. and lost a total of 2 1/2 nights of sleep.

When I finally arrived to the Lviv trainstation, I was so tired. So ready to find my AirBnb and sleep the next 24 hours away. Only one problem…

Buses don’t really work the same way there.. when does the next bus come? I don’t know.. Neither does Google Maps. Or at least the times presented don’t actually relate to buses on the ground. You just kind of wait until it comes. And if it’s a good day – it does come.

Long story short.. no busses.. I texted my Ukrainian friends to ask them what’s up?

All I get in reply is the laughing face emojii plus “lol, welcome to Ukraine”

Then yesterday my Airbnb had no running water for the whole day..

“lol, welcome to Ukraine”

Then I had no power another day…

“lol, welcome to Ukraine”

..Ukraine is harsh, man! I came here actually because I found that inspiring. Ukraine and their history is really harsh. Lots of death. Lots of oppression. But the people flourish and are kind, and strong and courageous despite that. Maybe because of it.

My soft Canadian composure has been tested.. and as I said.. if there were a “go home” button, I would have pressed it. After a couple of days to get caught up on sleep and readjust.. I’m doing far better.

At the same time there’s sadness in the air. There’s poverty yes, but that’s not it. It’s that I see people in military outfits everywhere, in the city or in between cities.. they’re at war with Russia in the east. (The west here is fine fyi) And almost every day the death toll rises and they loose more of their friends and family.

It just makes me wonder what life would be like if that were the reality for me and everyone I care about at home. I can go home any time I want. But for these people – this is home. And the fight for an independent Ukraine, free from the crushing oppression of a not so distant soviet past, is not only at their front door, it’s in their living room.

This is a bummer to read and I don’t want to get political or talk about a war I know almost nothing about.. That’s not the point.

But I bring it up because for those of us who live in a country we’re proud of, that is stable and affords us a life as boring or exciting as we wish to live it; man.. we won a really important lottery.

Canada.. the US.. most places in the European Union… we’ve got a good thing going. And Ukraine is fighting and dying for the chance to be part of the EU. But for today, they don’t qualify.

Politics in this part of the world doesn’t pose the question “Who did you vote for? Let’s argue on Facebook about it” The question is.. “In 2018, will your country still exist, and what will you have to sacrifice today to give it the best chance?”

If you’re at all interested in learing more about Ukraine, there’s a Netflix documentary called “Winter on Fire” about the 2014 revolution. Yep, definitely didn’t hear anything about that on the news in Canada.

Coles Notes – The people successfully used non-violent (mostly, kinda) protest and blockades to force the resignation of their President after he refused to sign on for the application into the EU (meaning potential for a stable economy and opportunity for young people in Ukraine who want to work).. and instead pushed his agenda for a Russian future.

In it we can see on the ground footage, up close and personal, with protesters and police, as the President’s forces move in to attack, and eventually kill unarmed protesters with brutal beatings and eventually gunfire.

I’m not a fan of the violence, but I suggest the doc because the courage and unity demonstrated is breathtaking. The people from all around the country who came to Kiev to take a stand, and who wouldn’t back down for almost 2 months in the dead of winter. They formed a small resistance city behind barricades, occupying the Maidan in the capital city.

It was messy, and according to everyone I talk to here – it was tragic and too much was lost.. but the courage is undeniable. And it’s inspiring.

War can kill individuals, But nothing has been able to oppose the intensity with which these people have stood for independence and the freedom of their families in this country. Everything is on the line.And it still is.

Makes me sit back and wonder… what do I believe in that’s worth putting everything on the line for? Maybe higher ideals as expressed through music.. the connection I have to my firends and family.. one thing is for sure, I’m a lucky person to have the luxury of exploring that question – rather than having it thrust upon me on the wrong side of a gun.

And with absolutely no segway from topic to topic – here’s the link to my song again!

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bxv8_jtCDGzrRTFXS3U0Wi13VkE/view?usp=sharing

It is what it is, for now 🙂