Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Golden Opportunity: Jordan Youtz to craft album in OU's recording studio

You'd be hard pressed to find a musician in Athens more bursting with sunshine and joy than 20-year-old, acoustic guitar-wielding singer-songwriter Jordan Youtz. He can typically be seen performing at open mics around town at places like Donkey Coffee and Espresso, and has been prepping to record a 10-track album in the School of Media Arts and Studies' state-of-the-art recording studio during the upcoming spring quarter.

I recently sat down with Youtz at his house on W. Washington Street, in his living room that among mismatched college-kid furniture also houses a drum kit and a few acoustic guitars, to talk about the project. After musing over inspiration, the collaborative process, and the apparently incredible John Mayer concert Youtz attended the night before, the interview devolved into an hour-long jam session--which you can hear the best bits of at the end of this post--where Youtz and I fooled around with some of the material he plans to record. There were guitars and a drum kit sitting around; we couldn't help ourselves.

Youtz is recording the album as senior Trevor Sherman's final project before graduation, which Youtz tells me is something of the equivalent to a thesis paper for a music production major, but sounds a hell of a lot more fun.

"He came to me and said he had to record an acoustic artist, 10 tracks," Youtz said. "I was amazed, I felt so privileged. I've been in the studio once and I was really intimidated, because it's so awesome."

And indeed; completed in 2004, the School of Telecommunication's recording studio is 1,755 square feet and features two control rooms, one equipped for both analog and digital multi-track audio recording, the other fully digital and featuring Pro Tools software, for work with sound and video. It was designed by John Storyk, founder of Walters-Storyk Design Group, a firm responsible for many state-of-the-art recording studios around the world--not the least famous of which being Jimi Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios in New York City.

"I don't think I'm ever going to have this opportunity again," Youtz said. The recording time, for which Youtz says he's had to clear his Thursday and Sunday nights from 10 P.M. until 6 A.M., will be completely free of charge.

"I'm not pursuing music as a career, but this is right at my fingertips," Youtz said. "I'm just going to go balls-to-the-wall with it."

Youtz is recording the album with his friend and fellow musician Joey Fuller, who Youtz says he met after playing an open mic at Donkey last year. The pair have been playing together since, with Fuller primarily supplying lead guitar to Youtz's radiant pop tunes.

"He's a shredder, just completely rips it up," Youtz said. "The album wouldn't be as cool as it's going to be without him."

"I wish he were here for this interview," Youtz said, reaching for his guitar from the corner, and beginning to play one of his original songs. I, not one to miss the opportunity to mess around with a drum set, climbed from the couch to behind the kit. With my computer still recording from the interview, we captured a rough, extended preview of some of the material that Youtz plans to record for his album. Check out the track below, and try not to be uplifted by Youtz's intricate, rhythmic guitar and sun-soaked melodies (and try to ignore my rather rudimentary understanding of playing drums):


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Study Music

Pictured is my favorite spot in Alden Library, where I'm currently sitting, attempting to cram as much communication law information into my brain before Monday afternoon. That's right, everyone: it's exam week.

In attempting to come up with an idea for a music-related post while having been buried in books the past couple of days, it struck me--"Hey, I listen to music when I study! So do other people! I can blog about it!"

In my last post, I talked all about mix-making (and let me tell you, working on a mix CD is a terrific way to procrastinate), and I've attempted to make "study mixes" before, but they never work out all too well. Probably because I like to make mixes with a bunch of loud and attention-grabbing tracks, not so conducive to memorizing a bunch of case law (or whatever it is you're studying). I find that specific albums are the way to go for studying--usually weird ambient or electronic music that you can tune out if necessary, but enjoyable to have playing. Lord knows you don't need any more distractions, nevermind that you've been logged into Facebook for the past hour. So here, without any further hesitation, are some of my go-to albums for hours spent in Alden:

Boards of Canada, Music Has the Right To Children

If you're looking to immerse yourself in a mess of eerie vocal samples, vaguely hip-hop drum beats, and otherworldly keyboard noises, then look no further than the first album from Scottish two-piece Boards of Canada (yes, Scottish. Surprise!). I'd recommend holing up somewhere among the eerie stacks on the 6th and 7th floors of Alden for this one, providing you've got the stomach for the at times unsettling nature of this album. But, you're supposed to be studying, so maybe you shouldn't be that focused on atmosphere...

Stars of the Lid, and Their Refinement of the Decline

Here's another duo, specializing in drone-based ambient music. Exciting, right? The band's name refers to, as quoted in an interview by member Brian McBride, as "your own personal cinema, located between your eye and eyelid." Sounds spot-on to me. It's perfect stuff to have on in the background, with swells of orchestral and electronic textures rising and falling over the course of this 2-hour double album (I'm going to be studying for a while). They're not without a sense of humor, though--among their song titles are gems like "Dungtitled (In A Major)" and "December Hunting for Vegetarian Fuckface." I don't know what the last one means, either.

Unwound, Leaves Turn Inside You

A bit different than the last two listed, Unwound is more a traditional rock band; they sing and use guitars and drums and things like that. Still, their brand of music-making on this, their final album, is a hazy sort of psychedelia that you can really get lost in if you're not careful (be careful.) I can specifically remember memorizing French vocabulary words to the tune of "Terminus" more than a few times last year.

Pantha du Prince, Black Noise

This album is sort of like aural caffeine--it's ticking rhythms and pulsing sound swells is enough to keep your heartbeat up and concentration level high (hopefully.) I've only tested this one on the studying battleground a few times since this winter when it was released (his first album, This Bliss, is phenomenal as well), but it's got "future study-music classic" written all over it.

Earth, The Bees Made Honey In the Lion's Skull

Earth specialize in a kind of slow-moving, scorched-earth guitar rock. There are no vocals to be found here, rather impeccably slow-moving rhythms dressed up with band-leader Dylan Carlson's dense guitar work. This album in particular has got an epic, cinematic quality to it; you're studying and it will feel goddamn important if you've got this playing. It's also a pretty good soundtrack for a hangover, so if your Saturday evening festivities don't particularly care what you've got going on Sunday afternoon, this album serves a double purpose.

So, there you have it. Now stop reading my blog and hit the books.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

The art of mix-making

"Hey, we should trade mix CDs sometime!"

"I'm going to make you a mix. You'll love it."

"So I'm making a mix CD for this cool girl in my history class..."

To the music lover, there are precious few forms of communication more personal and revealing than that of the mix CD. You spend hours, agonizing over which Beach Boys song is really the right one, if including Bob Dylan's "I Want You" will completely blow the cover off your agenda, or if this ten-minute long Detroit techno single you've been digging lately is going to be up their alley ("It's up my alley," you'll think, "and everything I like is awesome.") Maybe you're trying to express yourself, maybe you're just trying to put together your favorite songs in one place, but there's almost always a clear motivation behind pushing the "burn" button

I want to first note my use the term "CD"--I use it because it's been the most prevalent form of mix trading... well, I'd say "of my generation," but that's a bit too sweeping. We'll say that most mix swaps I've taken part in have been on shiny compact disc format, the kind you can buy in bulk at Best Buy. I've gone through more of these than I can count since having access to a CD burner, each with some supposedly clever title scrawled in Sharpie across the front (the last one I made, for a buddy of mine, was called "19 #1 Smash Hit Singles from the 1970's." It was a red herring.)

But historically, it was cassette tapes that kick-started this homespun artform. The book Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture, written by indie rock godhead/Sonic Youth front man Thurston Moore, notes:

Durable, inexpensive, and portable, the new format was an instant success. By the 1970s, we were voraciously recording music onto blank cassettes. It allowed us to listen to, and, in effect, curate music in a new way. Privately. Mix tapes let us become our own DJs, creating mixes for friends, lovers, and family, for parties and road trips.

And though this kind of freedom of listening carried over into burnable compact discs, then further extrapolated with the advent of Internet file sharing, cassette tapes are not something of ancient history. Pitchfork recently published this piece on the prevalence of cassette tapes among the indie rock contingent, as bands such as The Dirty Projectors released their last album on cassette as well as traditional 21st century formats.

This is the part of the post where I considered mapping out my "rules" for making a mix CD / tape, until I realized what a fruitless venture it would be. First, I don't necessarily have my own rules; inspiration hits and I work from there. Second, mix-making is a labor of love; following a set of rules inherently contradicts the personal nature behind the best mixes. Sure, like any thing that can be considered an art form, there's an element of craft that can't be ignored, but ultimately it's your expression--go nuts and do what you want.

That said, I did find this WikiHow article to closely mirror my own thought process when making a mix. Except for this part:

Group slower or softer songs together and then gradually build up momentum to more upbeat songs. A fast/heavy song might not go well after a soft, acoustic one.
To be perfectly blunt: that rule is bullshit.


P.S., I can't resist embedding a clip of one of my favorite scenes from the movie High Fidelity (caution before pushing play, though, if you're in an area intolerant of vulgarity):

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Local Focus: Amish Electric Chair

For my money, Amish Electric Chair is the best-named band in Athens. Some thing about the slightly oxymoronic tongue-in-cheek-ness makes me want to chuckle every time I see it. They're bringing their socially-aware punk rock furry to the Smiling Skull tonight--something tells me things are going to get pretty sweaty.

They're beginning to transcend the levels of success found by the average Athens-based bands; tonight's show at The Skull effectively kicks off their East Coast Tour that finds them in Washington D.C., New York City, and other cities throughout the month of March. They've also recently been featured in The Post, and released an EP called Straight. No Chaser on Geykido Comet Records.

The EP distills the band's potent sound into 5 songs, each an an agitated blast of classicist punk rock--it's nothing you haven't heard before, but it's certainly good at what it does. The lyrics at times get tripped by being so forcefully "socially aware," but it's also something of punk rock tradition to wave politics in listeners' faces, so it's not something that takes too much away from their attacking sound. "Social Revolution" opens the disk with lead singer Neil Tuuri's trademark shouting vocals and a stomping attack provided by the rest of the band. Elsewhere, Tuuri tempers his singing style on "State of the Union, which a bit less tightly-wound as its surrounding material and feels like it could have been heard on an alternative rock radio station sometime in the mid-90's.

You can listen to Straight. No Chaser. over on Indie Pit.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Athens' proposed noise ordinances: are we surprised?

photo courtesy of

Take a look at the above picture--maybe you're in it. If so, you might be part of the reason that Athens City Council is currently thinking of proposing changes to its noise ordinances in effort to reduce the number of embarrassing couch-burning spectacles that mar the city and school's reputation, last year's Palmer Fest being the most recent and pressing example.

As a fellow class blogger pointed out, the whole mess is currently being debated, and nothing is official just yet. But the proposals, according to the linked Athens News article, "are to amend the city’s noise ordinance to prohibit amplified sound 'intended directly or indirectly to be heard outside of the structure where the event is being held,'" which would cause serious detriment to the house shows that I and countless students enjoy so very much, as well as the hot-button spring fests.

The Angry Young Man in me is certainly incensed by the fact that this could mean that outdoor music in someone's yard could incur beyond-college-budget fines. Just another case of The Man bringing us down, you know? But there's no way it ought to come as a surprise that the city wants to do something. As students it's easy to forget that not everyone in town is a twentysomething booze hound, and that real-live families inhabit the area surrounding campus who might not appreciate ear-shattering noise-rock floating through their windows on a Thursday evening in spring. Just as well, Athens ought to be taking greater steps to keep the spring fests from degenerating into drunken orgies of violence. Every time a police horse gets pelted with a beer bottle, the baby Jesus weeps.

So what's to be done? Personally, I don't think forcing students to go through some kind of permit process to host a live show at their house is going to do much besides make everyone involved a lot angrier. I'm trying to think of where "Get proper permit" falls on the to-do list of a student planning to have a band play in his yard, but I'm guessing it falls somewhere far below "Decide between Natty or Keystone for the keg."

Might it be that we as students ought to be a bit more responsible during our ritualized spring revelries? Or perhaps be a little more respectful when a tenured professor walks down the sisdewalk in her nightgown asking the band playing on a Washington Street porch to turn it down a bit because her child is trying to sleep? (This may have happened to my band, once...) I'm thinking the answer is yes. As this Post editorial put it, "If we want the city to start respecting us, we could probably start by doing a better job of respecting the city."


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Navigating the sounds in A-town

There are tons of places in Athens where you can discover, hear and play new music. Sometimes, though, it's a bit difficult to know where to begin. With the help of Google Maps, I've put together an interactive map that features 10 of Athens' most distinctive purveyors of music, be they coffeehouses, bars, or shops.

Zoom in to view the locations pinpointed, and click on a pin to explore more information about each location. Enjoy.

View Hear in Athens... in a larger map

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Woody Pines at Casa Nueva

Woody Pines, a steel guitar-wielding, folk/country troubadour from North Carolina, made a stop at Athens' Casa Nueva this past Friday night, bringing along with him a small band and bunch of tunes that turned Casa's main stage into a real hoe-down--something you might not expect to find at a vegan friendly, Mexican restaurant. Nonetheless, the near-capacity crowd (indeed, I had some trouble getting back into the place after taking a short reprieve outside) had a grand ol' time, stomping and dancing to Woody's high-energy, down-home stage show.

I brought along my video camera to document some of the action. With no further adieu, here's my directorial debut, featuring Woody Pines: