Author Archive | nick cody

Jake Shimabukuro Interview – The Greatest Day

Nick Cody: Hi Jake,it’s so great you have a new album coming out.So the first question is,- there’s a big range of songs on the album. How did you decide which songs to actually include in the end?

Jake Shimabukuro: Well, with this album we wanted to include some covers, because the previous album was all original material. So we tried to write a little bit, but we also wanted to try some recognisable tunes … I remember early on  we were talking about covering tunes as I know “Time of the Season” was one that was on this. And we were talking about covering  Hendrix too. But we weren’t sure which one at that moment. We also talked about “Little Wing”. My all time favourite was “If 6 Was 9”. So that’s why we did a little mashup of “If 6 Was 9” with the Little Wing guitar solo at the end.

Jake Shimabukuro: And then, yeah,  we just tried writing and coming up with some ideas. And Nolan and I got to spend a lot of time on the road, writing together and putting ideas together. So we started a lot more prepared when we went into this together this time around. And that was kind of the intention,we wanted to at least have a majority of the material ready before going into the studio.

Nick Cody: And how did you happen to be working with Jerry Douglas?

Jake Shimabukuro: Oh man. Well, I’ve always been a huge fan of his. And my manager Van new Jerry from before. And also the producer of the record, R.S. Field, he also produced the Nashville Sessions record. I think Jerry is married to his cousin, or sister. I think he’s married to his cousin. So yes, I did. They’re sort of related, too. So I know that he had also mentioned to Jerry that we would love to have him on the new record as a special guest.

Nick Cody: And I read that you were originally going to do one track, but you ended up doing three!

JakeShimabukuro: Yeah. It was only supposed to be one track. But I think he had a lot of fun and enjoyed himself. So after we did the first track, then he kind of- I guess- looked at us and was like, “You guys want me on anything else?” And we’re like, “Yeah sure.” And then after that, “Another one?” It’s like “yeah!”. So it was really awesome. We were so honoured that he stuck around for so long. And stayed in the studio. It was just so generous of his time.
It’s was really a great experience playing with him.

Nick Cody: The tracks sound absolutely phenomenal. When Van told me, he says, “Oh, and Jerry Douglas is playing on this,” I thought, “What?!!!” Because I’m a big fan of his stuff with Allison Krauss.

Jake Shimabukuro: Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah. That was my first time getting to play with him. And it was just so much fun because we did everything live. Everything was tracked live. So just Jerry, Nolan Verner on bass, Evan Hutchings on drums. And that was it. Yeah, we just did a couple takes of each tune, and picked the best one out of the several.

Nick Cody: Wow. And not only have you been playing with Jerry Douglas, but also Warren Haynes as well, at the Xmas jam.

Jake Shimabukuro: Yeah, that was another great experience being able to collaborate with him. He’s an incredible guitar player. He’s just the nicest guy as well. That was this past December actually. It was such a great show. We got invited to play that the year before, but it just didn’t work out the schedule.

Our schedules didn’t jive with that. But yeah, when he invited us again, we were like oh yeah, we couldn’t miss it the second time around. And I’m so glad I went there because getting to play with Warren and some of the other musicians out there was just a tremendous experience.

Nick Cody: Well, his shows are the best of the best of the best.

JakeShimabukuro: Yeah, they are.

Nick Cody: Do you think you might record one day with Warren? That would be something to hear.

Jake Shimabukuro: Oh, yeah. Oh, that would be. Yeah. Would love to do that. We’re actually working on a duets record right now. So I’m getting pretty excited about that. Got a few tracks already recorded. And a few to work with. It’s going to take about 18 months to put this stuff together with everything’s schedule and all that. But yeah, it’s not far off to a good start.

Nick Cody: Wow!

Jake Shimabukuro: So that’d be great to get Warren out there as well.

Nick Cody: I was looking at a YouTube clip where you were talking about different pedals. And how some pedals respond very differently because they may be great with a guitar, but they’re not necessarily with a Uke. Because obviously, it’s a Piezo, it’s a different whole set up. Have you found any new pedals since the Nashville album? Or are you pretty much staying with what you’ve had so far?

Jake Shimabukuro: Oh, yeah. No, it’s changed drastically from the last time. But yeah, it’s always just experimenting and trying new things. And I think recently, some of the things that I’m just throwing out there, I’ve got this electro-harmonics thing. It’s a freeze pedal. That is so much fun to use. And yeah. On this run, I don’t have it on my board though. But I have had it on my board the beginning of the year. And it’s just been so much fun using that. And what else? I got a new reverb pedal up there. I’m still using that JAM pedals, the Delay Llama. Still my favourite delay pedal. And let’s see, what else? I’m trying to think if I have anything else new. I set up the pause. Still using the Jam pedals from my overdrive, distortions out.

Nick Cody: Have you come across the Dude pedal, the Rocket Dude pedal which is like the Dumble set?

Jake Shimabukuro: Yeah. I haven’t tried it. But I’ve heard a couple of demos on it. And yeah, those are pretty cool. You know which one I’ve also been looking at  … Oh, what do they call it? That really freaky pedal that Game Changer Audio just came out with. It’s like a lightning rod, so you’ve got to make sure it creates that distortion sound. I’ve been wanting to try that, it’s pretty wicked.

Nick Cody: Well it’s interesting you say the freeze pedal because my friend in New York who knows Bill Frisell really well said, “Bill said, this pedal will change your life.”

Jake Shimabukuro:  It has. It’s really helped us in so many new ideas. It’s a different tone, different … Yeah, it’s just an awesome, awesome tool, I think

Nick Cody: Wow. A friend of mine in Georgia, Alan Thornton asked me this question to ask you. He said that years ago you said that the right thumb was really important in playing. How has this developed with your playing over the years?

Jake  Shimabukuro: Yeah, the thumb has always been a key part to my playing because your thumb has the thickest and the largest nail. So you’re able to, I think to reach the fattest tone out of your thumb. It’s like using a really thick pick, right? So you get a really big sound.

Whenever I play a melody, or play something, as much as possible, I like to use my thumb. Just because I can get the tone that I want.

nick Cody: Yeah.

 

Jake Shimabukuro: But obviously the are tines when you need to use your other fingers to play different things, whether it’s a string skipping thing, or if it’s just a really fast quick passage. And can’t just use one finger. You have to compromise the other fingers. But the thumb has always given me the tone that I like, and I’ve been trying to work on the other fingers to get a fatter sound. But yeah, it’s never ever going to be as fat as the thumb.

Nick Cody: Yeah. … Do you have a favourite track on the new album? There’s a big, there’s a really nice diversity of material on it. Is there a particular favourite that you have on it?

Jake Shimabukuro: I don’t know if I have a favourite. But I think with a lot of the tracks, there are certain things that I really like about it. Like I really like the tone of the ukulele on Time of the Season, the opening track. And especially the distortion sound of the ukulele. I thought it just had such a great colour to it. Yeah, I think it’s one of the better … It’s one of the best … This album captured some of the best overtures of sounds that I ever recorded. And I was really happy with that. And I think just some of the tones that we’re able to hone in on sounds great. I really love the way the bass and the drums sound. They just sound so big, and so live.

And I think some of the original pieces of the album turned out pretty cool. Like “Double Pangram”, Nolan and I had written that one together. And I think the idea for that one was based on the chromatic scale. So it’s a song that utilises 12 tones of the western scale. So I thought “Pangram” it’s something that uses all the letters of the alphabet. It’s good to have a cool title for the song, it uses all 12 tones. And then the “Straight Heat”one, I really like the way that one turned out. The idea for that one was kind of like you know the Joe Beam song “One Note Samba”?

Nick Cody: Yeah, yeah.

Jake Shimabukuro: I always thought that was so cool how the melody could be a single note. But it’s very interesting because the way the harmony changes around it, even though it’s the same note but at a section, because the harmony’s changing in all these different ways. It makes the sustained melodic note very interesting because it’s always functioning at the different interval, every time the chords change. So I thought it would be cool to write a piece lie that, and that’s another one that Nolan and I wrote together. And the idea was if I were to have someone jam along to that song with us, I could just tell them to just play the A note throughout the entire song, and they would be contributing to the piece. You know?

Nick Cody: Yeah.

Jake Shimabukuro: So I went through all the different key changes, and all of the different signs, the whole chord progression like the A is always present. And it’s always functioning. Maybe, in the beginning, it’s functioning as a root, and then it functions at the fifth, and then functions at the thirds

You know it just … F Sharp 11, then the 9. It just keeps changing throughout the piece. I thought that was a cool concept. Especially with the ukulele, the A string, that first string, is always so prominent in your voice.

So I just thought it was cool to move the second, third, and fourth string around it, just keeping that A open throughout the whole piece.

Nick Cody: When I had some of the mixes in Van’s basement, he has the history of box sets and music from A to Zed there. You know?

Jake Shimabukuro: Yeah.

Nick Cody: So it’s like he has everything. And I was blown away by the tracks. I think they were still being mastered at that point. And they sound absolute … The production is first class on the album. It’s really, really good.

Jake Shimabukuro: Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah, we really had a lot of fun working on this record. And I can’t believe it’s only coming out now. It’s just like we recorded this years ago. But yeah, I’m glad that it’s finally coming out. But yeah, we’re just being on tour, playing all the new songs from the upcoming record. Just it’s been a lot of fun playing these live. But yeah, we just can’t wait to back into the recording studio. We’re ready to start working on the next one, and this one’s not even out yet.

Nick Cody: Oh, when you’re writing yourself do you have a … when you’re writing original material, do you have a particular way of going about that?

Jake Shimabukuro: Not really. Gosh, sometimes it’s just sitting with the ukulele and just playing for an hour or two. And then you’ll come across something that, “Oh, that’s kind of cool.” It just brings up some ideas, then you just start working on it then. But I love it, Nolan and I have been writing a lot together and that’s been a lot of fun because it’s so great to have someone to just bounce ideas off of. And he can suggest things like, “Oh, we need to get this.” And I’m like, “Ah, that’s cool.” And that’ll inspire me to try and come up with a part to match what he’s doing. And so it’s really nice to have people to write with.

Jake Shimabukuro: And Dave Preston, whose out with us now, the guitar player, he’s just so creative. And it’s really good shit, you know Nolan and Dave are such great musicians. I’m so lucky to have these guys. But yeah, we’ve been talking about the three of us just coming up with new stuff. And writing things together as a trio. So I think on the next record, there’s going to be some … We’re just going to take it a whole different direction. Do something very different from the last two records. I’m looking forward to it.

Nick Cody: What I find is impressive is that you all continually developing and moving things forward. So it’s not like the same thing but slightly different. “Nashville” was very, very different. And I think when people hear the new album, and when they hear “If 6 Was 9”, minds will be blown.

Jake Shimabukuro: Oh good. I’m happy to hear that. And yeah, thanks for taking the time to listen. I really appreciate it.

Nick Cody: You’ve often cited Jeff Beck and Eddie VanHalen as influences. Have you ever been tempted to move across to the guitar at any point?

Jake Shimabukuro: No. Never had any desire to play the guitar. It’s always been the ukulele.

Nick Cody: Well, I thank you, and certainly from al the people I know for your continued development, enthusiasm, and really taking the ukulele to a different place. And showing people possibilities that most people have never, ever thought about.

Jake Shimabukuro: Thank you. I really appreciate it. And yeah, I don’t know, I’m just a big fan of the instrument. And I just love that so many people are … I just come across so many people who play it. And they share stories with me about the instrument that has transformed their lives. And it just brought them so much joy. And I love hearing things like that because that’s exactly what the ukulele does for me. And how being able to just play it all the time, and share it with people is really a dream come true. We just love doing this. And just have so much fun every night, on stage and off stage. And just constantly talking about music. Coming up with new ideas. Just trying out these things on stage in front of an audience. And it’s just a dream come true.

Nick Cody: Are you going to be over in the UK again at any point?

Jake Shimabukuro: Yeah, well we hope so. I know we’ve talked a couple times. We hope to get back there because we really had a blast the last time. So yeah, I think we’re trying to plan something for next year.

Nick Cody: Well, that would be great to meet up when you come over. It’s always an absolute pleasure to talk to you,

Jake Shimabukuro And it’s a delight to talk to you and Van.

Nick Cody :And thank you for all the work that you’re doing because it just moves the listening and the instrument to a much bigger audience. And that can only be a good thing.

Jake Shimabukuro: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thanks so much. Thanks for your time. And thanks for the support. And really hope to get back to the UK again very soon.

Nick Cody: Great, well listen, I’m going to get this interview up in the next week or so. And I’ve done a review of the album, which I think is just great as well. And I wish you all the best, you guys on the road. And take care of yourselves.

Jake Shimabukuro: Okay. Sounds great. All right, Nick, I appreciate it. You take care, and we’ll talk soon.

Nick Cody: Will do. Take care bye.

Jake Shimabukuro: Okay, aloha. Bye.

 

Jake Shimabukuro Tour Dates: http://www.jakeshimabukuro.com/tour

 

http://www.jakeshimabukuro.com/

@JakeShimabukuro

https://www.instagram.com/jakeshimabukuro/

https://www.facebook.com/jakeshimabukuromusic

https://www.youtube.com/jakeshimabukuro

For more information on Jake Shimabukuro, contact Erin Cook (erin@jensencom.com) and Ryan Romenesko (ryan@jensencom.com), Jensen Communications, 626.585.9575

 

2

The Case Against Contests by Mike Turner

One of the “opportunities” that the Internet and social media sites have made available to songwriters as never before, is the songwriting competition. Some believe as Enzo Ferrari (the noted Italian carmaker) said, “Competition improves the breed” – that we as individual songwriters, and song in general, will become “better” through competition.

   Others – and this is the camp I’m in – believe that, as an artistic means of expression and communication, songwriting doesn’t lend itself to a competitive evaluation of which is “best;” and that most songwriting contests do little if anything to improve one’s technical craft. Let me explain why.

  The difference between Senior Ferrari’s field, and ours, has to do with the criteria used for judging. In the auto world (and I grew up in Detroit, and worked closely for years with the automotive industry, so I’ve had some exposure to the auto industry), and particularly in racing, there are objective criteria which can be used to measure and compare vehicle performance: which car is capable of the highest speed? Which crosses the finish line first? Which stops in the shortest distance? Which car sells the most units? These and similar objective criteria can be used to compare one car to another and determine which car is the “best” or is the “winner.”

  In the music world, there are objective criteria as well – but they tend to lend themselves to performance, versus the creative act of songwriting. For example, between two trumpet players, who hit a given note more cleanly? Who better keeps time over the course of a given piece? Again, objective criteria, as in, “The tempo is 80 beats per minute – who better achieve that timing over the course of the four-minute piece?”

  But in matters of artistic creation, objective criteria tend to fall away. Let’s think about cars again – which is more beautiful, a 1986 Ferrari or a 1936 Packard? Different, cars, different styling cues – and two different people can give two diametrically-opposed answers to the question of “prettier” based on their own tastes, judging criteria, etc

  The same for a song – each listener hears and interprets a song through the lens of their own musical tastes and experience, to determine if they “like” a song or not.

  There are of course some technical, “craft” considerations that we as writers may evaluate a song against – say, in structure, or in the avoidance of forced rhyme, or in the creation of a storytelling arc. We certainly employ those criteria when critiquing an individual song – but that’s to compare an individual song to those craft criteria, not to judge whether one song does so better than another. And of course, the average, non-writer listener doesn’t look to these craft criteria in judging whether they “like” a given song.

  In the case of songwriting contests, while judges may to a degree use some craft criteria in evaluating a song (certainly, they’ll mark down a song that evidences poor craft, such as inconsistent structure, forced or cliched rhyme, etc.), how can one then say whether one song or another made “better” use of craft? That one tells its story “better” than another? The criteria become far too subjective to carry meaning.

  And here’s my real rub with songwriting contests (and, yes, in earlier days I’ve entered a few): other than “winning,” there’s virtually no feedback to the writer on what the judges found “good” or “bad” about their song. Even if one wins or places (and, yes, I have), there’s no feedback as to “why” one did so.

  How can a writer, or songwriting in general, improve through competition, if we’re not told what the judging criteria were, or how we stacked up against those criteria? If I win a competition, does that mean that I should write all my future songs in the same way as my “winner”? The next judge in the next contest may look at the exact same song as my winner, or my future clones, and subjectively judge that this one isn’t a winner.

  Note that I’m making a distinction between contests, and peer review (as we find in some FaceBook groups, or songwriter associations). Peer review can provide meaningful feedback on songwriting craft – chiefly because (a) the criteria are somewhat objective and established (structure, rhyming patterns, etc); (b) individual songs are evaluated against the criteria, not against one another; and (c) the writer gets actual feedback from the critiques, not simply a “win/lose” notification.

 

   Two final points: first, many songwriting contests are actually “singer/songwriter” contests – decisions are based not just on the song, but on its performance and even sometimes on the technical production of the audio/video recording used as an entry. So, from a writer’s perspective, some judging may have nothing to do with the quality of the song itself.

 

   And, particularly in the FaceBook world, more and more “contests” are starting to be based on votes – which means that “winning” may be a factor of how many family and friends (and even yourself!) cast votes (repeatedly), not necessarily on the merits of the song itself.

   In my view, the music world is already competitive enough, particularly if one is in the business end of album sales, gigging, touring, etc. That’s a tough enough row to hoe. Artificially creating more competition, through songwriting contests that don’t provide any meaningful feedback to help writers grow their craft, isn’t in my mind an effective way of developing as a songwriter.

  Others, of course, may disagree – and there’s room enough in the tent for all of us. But I would suggest that, if one is interested in growing their songwriting craft, there are better ways – participating in peer reviews and critiques; studying other writers’ works; and writing, writing and writing – of doing so.

 

4

The Covert Pop Songwriter by Derek Reynolds

My name is Derek and I am a solo acoustic singer-songwriter. That is the story and I’m sticking to it… oh, also I perform with a ukulele.

People have written SO extensively about the problematic image the ukulele has with musicians that I won’t dwell on it However I find it interesting that even the primary and obvious use of ukulele in hits by Vance Joy, Twenty One Pilots, Train, Young The Giant and Bruno Mars haven’t really helped the public perception of the little 4-stringer. There is not a uke to be found in either of the official videos for Vance Joy’s big hits Saturday Sun or Riptide, which are both played on the uke. So we can assume that Vance’s management definitely understands the issue. Even though I applaud Vance Joy’s YouTube videos where he seems to usually be on one of his ukuleles, thank you James Gabriel Keogh! And YES, Eddie Vedder came out of the closet and released the Ukulele Songs album. Hooray! But not so much, here is what Rolling Stone said: “The ukulele doesn’t allow for the widest range of expression, which makes it a challenging foil for Eddie Vedder, who never met a feeling he couldn’t drive through a wall. But this uke-suffused album stands up because he adapts the instrument to his idiosyncratic needs.” When have you EVER read an album review that blamed the instrument for the shortcomings of the music? As a person who HAS released a solo acoustic ukulele album, much Like Eddie’s, I can attest that he did not even scratch the surface of what the instrument can do. Can we admit our lovely ukulele has a PR problem? Absolutely yes. Is it fixable? or does it really NEED to be fixed?, that is a bigger question that plays back to being a musician in the first place.

I don’t say I play the ukulele and the “U” word does not appear prominently on my website. But that is just so people don’t turn away before hearing my music. Once people hear your music it shouldn’t matter what you are playing ON if they find a connection with what you’re playing. If the songs matter the medium becomes a non-issue. And I think that is what a lot of online performers are missing. Learn your instrument, develop songs (original or covers), make them musical, dynamic and interesting. Then go play your music live and see what gets a response. Put yourself emotionally into your songs, be honest, be yourself and make the audience part of your music then you will find the people that “get” what you’re doing. A lot won’t get it but the ones that do are your fanbase, at that point, it becomes a numbers game. And there is no faking it when you are playing a three hour set of 40 songs because it is exhausting.

I play a fair amount of Farmers Markets which sell locally sourced produce, meat, furniture, pottery paintings, etc… The “Local Grown” movement is big in these parts and as far as I’m concerned music is part of that. Just because you can post a video to thousands of people all over the world with social media tools you are not really building fans. Start local, the real fans come from an emotional connection with your art so get out and play for them. That is the work that goes into being a performing musician and it is and SHOULD be hard and occasionally frustrating. That’s how you learn. I think it’s a concept that seems to be losing ground because it is SO easy to just cut a 55-second video and post it. But there is no real connection to your audience in that format, no shared vulnerability of a live show. So if you get lots of online attention for your music try posting a lyrics-only video of a song and see how that affects your numbers. It’s a good litmus test to see if you have followers or fans.

So get out there and show people that your ukulele is more than just a gimmick or a social strum-along toy. It was born of an old Portuguese instrument and proudly honed for 100 years by Hawaiian artists and luthiers all over the world. It has a long and proud tradition so make real music with it, write songs on it, go play shows for people who really aren’t expecting what you are about to do, be brave. Get off the web attention-fix and make your OWN music. It’s not easy but it is definitely worth it and the whole ukulele community will thank you for it.

Derek Reynolds


Derek Reynolds
503-902-8353
http://unexpected-ukulele.weebly.com
https://www.facebook.com/unexpectedukulele/

3

Ukulele builder and lover – John Doug Dumle

I started out playing ukulele just over 1 year ago and really enjoyed it but, I wanted to do more. I saw that people were building cigar box guitars and thought I would give a cigar box uke a try. The first one was cool but I enforced the face and it killed the sound. I talked to someone that repaired and worked on stringed instruments and ask for advice. He showed me a cut away of the inside of a guitar and explained that uke strings and steel guitar strings are very different. So back to the shop and the next one sounded a lot better and as I continued to build they got better looking and the sound was getting better. I have used several different types of wood for the neck and even built my own boxes. I have a 8 string with a ceder box and a cherry neck that i believe sounds great. I have even added pickups to some of my ukes.

A few months back we were in Maui and a friend said “Pick up some Koa while your there. It will be cheeper than here in Colorado.” I have also got pointers from several luthers and have continued to improve on my builds. I have now completed 2 traditional style ukuleles (1 tenor size, and 1 soprano size) they look and sound beautiful.

My next project is a Ubass of maple and walnut. I am not much of a player but am getting this build thing together. It has been very rewarding and great for stress management. To date I have about 35 cigar box builds and 2 traditional styles and I don’t see this ukulele addiction going away any time soon.


 

0

The Greatest Day by Jake Shimabukuro

In 2017 I was lucky enough to be invited by Van Fletcher, Jake’s manager to his house in Nashville to listen to the latest mixes of the new Jake album. Interviewed Jake in the UK in 2016 and we had a fascinating discussion about music and it was clear to me that he has a great love of all kinds of music. Of course Jake is well known for his brilliant Queen and Beatles covers and I had his excellent Nashville album. Now he has released The Greatest Day and its excellent.
The new album is a brilliant choice of material with some fantastic guest musicians, including Jerry Douglas who is on three tracks – If 6 Was 9, Eleanor Rigby and Go For Broke
Jake commented
“It was such an honor to have Jerry guest on the record” He was only going to play on one tune, but we had such a great time that he stayed and played on two more tracks.”

You can preorder online here 

Here is the tracklisting
  1. Time of the Season
  2. The Greatest Day
  3. Eleanor Rigby
  4. Pangram
  5. Bizarre Love Triangle
  6. Straight A’s
  7. If 6 Was 9
  8. Shape of You
  9. Go For Broke
  10. Little Echoes
  11. Mahalo John Wayne
  12. Hallelujah
I have long maintained that the ukulele is a terrific instrument, but often many (not all) ukulele players don’t explore more of its real potential. This album is a brilliant example of pushing the sonic boundaries and raises the bar for all ukulele players, but then Jake is far from just a ukulele virtuoso. In my opinion he is a superb musician who just happens to play the ukulele.
The album has a diverse range of material and kicks off with the great Zombies song “Time of the season” which has a fantastic melodic hook. The production is excellent on this track and throughout the album. The rhythm part reminds me of something Michael Jackson might arrange, a really great driving beat. The Greatest Day is a Jake composition and swings wonderfully with Jake’s part soaring in the mix. There’s also a great use of effects on the uke, which I’m not usually in favor of, but here it works really well. As with all the other tracks on the album, there is a real consideration to sonic dynamics which is essential especially for instrumental work. Few artists truly pull this off.

The title track “The Greatest Day” follows and here’s Jake talking about it

I know Jake has a love of Beatles music and Eleanor Rigby is really well arranged and sounds great especially with Jerry Douglas. I’ll kill to see Jake and Jerry play live as they work brilliantly together. “If six was nine” is where Jake takes this album to a whole new level. The playing is superb and I suspect Jimi would have approved.

The challenge for uke players in playing guitar classics is to do something new. Otherwise why not just play the guitar? On this version, there’s, a great arrangement and this could sit comfortably on “Electric Ladyland” which from me is the ultimate compliment. Jake’s playing throughout is wonderfully fluid with a lot of dynamics. He’s been described as “the Jimi Hendrix of the ukulele”, but I think of him more as “The Eric Johnson of the uke” Both musicians are world class and have a very distinctive sound.
“Straight As’ is an original composition by Jake and has a great feel. Its good to see Jake writing his own original material and continuing to explore new sound combinations.

The album concludes with Hallelujah another great cover of a classic song. Those who know me, know that generally, I favor original material, but Jake is a rare individual who has the talent and creativity to bring something entirely new to such great tunes. He literally set the world alight with “While my guitar gently weeps” and I was blown away by Bohemian Rhasphody on his Ted talk. The Greatest Day will in my view continue to showcase the magic of the tiny uke to a much wider public, which is most welcome. He’s also on a trajectory for exploring new territory and that is always the sign of a smart musician.
Clearly, a great deal of time and care has gone into this recording and it shows in the result. Jake is touring extensively in the USA and Asia and audiences are in for a treat.
1

The importance of encouragement and good manners

 

 

I set up OUS almost 3 years ago with the purpose of bringing together ukulele artists interested in creating original music. The FB site was the initial platform and then we set up this main OUS site. This was from what I see the first site dedicated to this end and its a fair amount of time and money investment to keep it all live. In fact a few months back the main site crashed due to traffic as we blew the bandwidth.

I have always adopted a policy of thanking people for their work, no matter how busy I am or where I am on the planet. On average I am in a different country every 6 weeks, often in different time zones. Alan Thornton and Cody Reeson help administer the FB site. On the main site we welcome artists in having their own pages and to date 127 have taken up the offer. We also invite guest blogs and articles and many have contributed thoughts including Phil Doleman, Mike Turner, Percy Copley and many others.

The platforms are advert free and there is no pleading for PayPal contributions to keep this all live. OUS has also sponsored uke festival stages, give away samplers, live charity events, musician travel, musician accommodation and many other initiatives. All this is done to encourage new music creation. I think some people would be surprised at the amount of financial investment in creating artist opportunities, but I am happy to do this as longs as there is enthusiasm for people creating original songs.

Next year we’ll be launching “Music for the Head and Heart” which is much bigger than OUS and not confined to any niche instrument. Of course, neither OUS or new the platform will be to everyone’s tastes and that’s fine. In the uke world, there are all kinds of politics and of course commercial interests that shape opinion. This is often the main focus of social media, but its not the focus of OUS. I mostly stay away from all that nonsense but will always stand up for OUS if people hurl negative posts and especially when these are fabricated.

I always welcome discussion and of course, people can pm any comments rather than try to be the centre of attention in some flame war online that serves no positive purpose. There are plenty of online groups for all that stuff. There is also a small group of characters who seem threatened by the whole concept of OUS, which is a bit odd to say the least. The often fostered image of one “ukulele community” is IMO total fiction. In reality, there are many completing commercial and artistic interests and all too often there’s not plenty of selfless actions and genuine encouragement, which is a sad reflection. Fortunately, there are a few beacons of hope and that’s the good news!

Some of the comments on social media defy belief and at times it’s like watching the lastest walk back in current Trump based  White House with a number of fabrications spouted online.

One recent example from a character who criticised OUS, was on the platform, left and then tried to apply again but was refused because of his history of online behavior commented –

“I was thrown out, because I didn’t agree with him.”

NOBODY has ever been “thrown out” or off the forum for not agreeing with myself or anyone else.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite! Discussion and debate are always welcome as is honesty and good manners. I don’t think its too much to ask for.

I blogged about this earlier this year on my personal site and little has changed – http://nickcody.co.uk/diary/2018/01/welcome-to-planet-crazy-social-media-behaviours/

I think it’s important to call people on such behavior as its the polar opposite of good manners and encouragement

The FB platform is growing faster than ever and the approved artist applications for this site are also at an all-time high. Part of the reason for this is that OUS is more than just an FB group that ebbs and flows, its a bigger creative movement for artist expression.

We will continue to promote artists at all levels interested in creating original music. OUS is inclusive and the FB page is a friendly place to share content.

Best Regards

NC

 

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Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele? Part 2

The first article on this subject generated some useful and interesting discussion. Since setting up OUS a few years ago I have noticed that there are often two very polarised views when it comes to “ukulele music” Some people love to play cover songs and strum and its more of a social interaction which is fine. I have regularly supported running a PA for such groups and my wife attends a weekly strum along group.

My point is that as well as this, there is an opportunity for more diverse and ambitious sonic exploration. Good musical development means a willingness for critical evaluation. Of course, you never please everyone, but I’d like to think that its possible to aspire to greater creativity and OUS is a testament to that being totally possible. Without critical thinking, we never really develop as artists.

Developing your sound

One of the things I have learned from setting up bands is the importance of investing time and money. This means setting aside time for rehearsals and ensuring that you mean getting the best possible sound. Of course, will have time and money constraints but often a well-considered investment into a musical instrument rather than a “ukulele shaped object” can make a massive difference to your sound and enjoyment of playing. String choice can make a major difference and even a DI box choice can make all the difference between a sound and a really good sound. I have always promoted Fire Eye Development’s products for this.

Some artists use a multitude of effects but don’t explore how to set the effect parameters. This can result in effect saturation to the point where the sound loses any kind of dynamics. Of course, there is always the argument that people can have whatever they want, but a good musician knows the capability and limitations of equipment and s always seeking to refine and improve what they do.

The challenge with any instrument is that on its own there is a limit to its sonic range. Of course with a guitar there’s is the possibility of altered tunings and of course, typically a guitar is at least six strings. Ultimately its all about exploration and innovation. One of the best bands I ever saw was Morphine at The Pink Pop festival. The lead singer had a two-string bass and was accompanied by a saxophonist and a drummer. They opened the festival and blew everyone else away including Bjork, Crowded House, and The Orb.

As I mentioned in the first article, I absolutely love the ukulele as a musical instrument and even after a recent cull still own 20 ukes. I’ve written recorded 36 original songs on the uke and played this material all over the world. I admit to not being a fan of the quirky comedic uke image, but that’s a personal view. There are a few artists that have enough imagination and musical skills to connect with the wider public. These include Victoria Vox and James Hill among others.

 

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Is it time to expand the sonic range with the ukulele?

I’m a massive fan of the ukulele as an instrument and especially as a songwriting tool and I set up the OUS platform a few years ago to bring together the best original ukulele musicians. The OUS FB page now has over 3100 members and on average we only approve one in 6 applications to join. One of the motivations for setting up OUS was that in my totally biased opinion a lot of what I saw and heard didn’t really inspire me. I admit that I am very picky about music and that probably comes from decades of playing and listening to some of the very best artists on planet earth.

One of the challenges for ukulele based artists is that the instrument itself has a specific sonic range. Yes, there are differences between soprano, concert, and baritone ukes, but even if we stretch beyond four strings there’s only so much of the same frequency that I can personally enjoy in one sitting! The instrument is a brilliant accompaniment for singers and artists like Eddie Vedder have really showcased how brilliant a ukulele set can be. I saw him perform his “Ukulele Songs” set in New York as well as the UK and it was a real masterclass in entertainment.

This is an exception of course and despite the superlatives bandied about online, few artists and songs are “awesome” “amazing” or “transcendental” to my ears. Those superlatives should, in my opinion, be reserved for the very few exceptional performances and songs. When almost everything is described in this way, we seriously run the danger of dumbing down music in an unhelpful manner. When everything is described as “awesome” nothing really is…

One of the best ways to expand the sonic range of material is to include other instruments and by “other instruments” I don’t mean just more ukuleles! There’s definitely a place for group strum alongs, but some of the most interesting material in my very biased opinion is where the uke is combined with instruments that make for a far more interesting and sonically diverse mix. James Hill is a good example of this and some of the bands on the artist page here also show what can be done. My first band “The Small Change Diaries” are not a typical ukulele based band and you probably won’t find us on the “ukulele circuit” as that’s not really our audience. My new band “the Caravan of Dreams” is even less uke based although I still write primarily on the uke.

A friend of mine who attended a well-known uke festival this year commented that for him it all got a bit dull hearing one solo artist after another mostly paying cover versions of songs. “Its all as Britain’s Got Talent” he commented. I reminded him that the public love that show but agreed that also in my personal opinion it would be nice to raise the bar for sonic exploration. Here is a wonderful example of how good the uke can be when incorporated with other instruments

 

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The Importance of caring about what you create

A few years ago I had the total pleasure of interviewing Bill Collings of Collings Guitars. Bill has now passed away but throughout the interview, he constantly talked about the need to care about what you create. I mentioned to him that in my travels across the globe I had played countless instruments from his company including all manner of acoustics and electrics. Every single one was superb in playability and sound. This is one of the reasons why Collings instruments are so highly regarded by musicians.

I have always had a policy of striving to create the best possible end result. Often this means being stretched a bit financially and spending more time in any creative work. I came across some almost unlistenable video on social media of some uke artists. The sound was so bad you couldn’t really make out what was being played. In this day and age, you don’t need cutting-edge equipment to create some really good music. Often it’s simply about having some interest in quality control so anyone watching/listening can see and hear what is going on.

Of course, everyone will have their own views on this subject and some folks become extremely defensive about this whole issue suggesting that there are only two options – super slick crafted videos and homemade efforts. Of course, this is more than a bit simplistic. Its totally possible to capture great sound and vision with really basic gear, if of course, you care about the end result.

Here’s an excerpt from the interview with Bill May 2016

NC
As I was saying to Alex, (Bill’s right hand man who was kind enough to show us all around the facility at Collings)I’ve been all around the world, New York ,Japan and everywhere ,and I’ve never played any of your instruments which don’t sound great, and I can’t say that for any other builder.

BC
Yeah well, that’s what we try to do, so we’re supposed to care!

The other day I heard from a dealer about electric guitars, that nobody cares about fit and finish in an electric guitar ,and I thought “you know, well I guess the world is done” I mean to say that if you don’t care about something like that , you’ve given up, you know?

NC
Well I don’t think that is the universally accepted view

BC
I hope not

Bill’s passing was a great loss to the music world and especially the ukulele world, where he made many superb instruments. I fully endorse his philosophy about caring and paying attention to the quality of what we produce. It requires more effort, but then why settle for anything less?

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When the muse moves you

I remain fascinated by the songwriting process, which is one of the reasons why I set up the OUS platform. Next year we launch the Music for The Head and Heart platform which is much bigger than OUS. This also has an element that looks at the creation and delivery of original music, but is not confined to any individual instrument.

Recently I was getting ready for a rehearsal for “The Caravan of Dreams” ensemble, playing the wonderful Gregor Nowak guitarelle. I found a really simple haunting riff that really stuck in my head. With 20 minutes before other band members turning up I scribbled down a couple of verses. This was one of those moments where the first draft is great and there’s a whole stream of consciousness going on where I’m writing as fast as I can to get down the ideas.

Instead of rehearsing what I had planned, we launched into this new track, literally hot off the press. My violinist and double bass player created an intro harmonizing both instruments which sounded amazing. We ran through the track 3 times with Agi on vocals and harmony vocals and it sounds so good, I putting it to the top of the list for July’s recording date. This is the fastest piece of writing ever, even faster than “There’s only one of you” which is on the first Small Change Diaries album and a favorite track for many.

My experience is that its helpful to be in a particular state when creating new songs and crucially not to start editing too soon in the writing process. This is a strategy used by Walt Disney when he created his films and Disney still adopt this way of working today. When the muse turns up its truly a fascinating process and its in my experience being like a channel for something to appear. Sometimes once the song forms I think “Where on earth did that come from?”

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