After I had been in Second Life for several months - and had already fallen in love with the live music scene here - a friend suggested that I should check out a singer she had recently seen. I dutifully added his name to a growing list that I was keeping (and still keep) and there it sat for a number of weeks. To be perfectly honest, it was the name AcousticEnergy Nitely that kept me from making the effort to track him down. I realize how juvenile this must sounds, but we humans are full of strange ways of ordering and understanding our world and the power of a name can sometimes be a factor in that baffling process.
So I started regularly attending his shows and gravitated into a friendship that lasts until this very day. James - turns out that’s his given name - is a man of great intelligence and deep personal conviction. I was drawn to him right away, and learned a very good lesson about prejudging people on spurious bases.
AE, as we call him here in SL, is also an extremely talented man. To begin with he possesses one of the very best sets of pipes inworld. He sings with great clarity of tone, and with immense passion. In all of the hours I’ve spent listening to AE I have never heard him give less than his best while singing a song.
I recently sat with the man for a couple of one-hour discussions in my SL home. As is often the case, we began with what I call “tech talk”:
Traci Nubalo: What guitar do I hear you playing these days?
AcousticEnergy Nitely: It’s a brand new Martin; purchased from the money I made playing in Second Life.
TN: Do you go straight into the board? Or do you use some effects?
AE: I plug into an Alesis Multimix 8 - but I have a TC Electronics M350 processor for voice.
TN: Excellent. Your sound is always so present; always mega-clean.
AE: The processor has compression - that's the secret ingredient.
TN: Is that what allows for you to get to almost whisper-level so cleanly?
AE: Yes. And it brings all the hidden nuances to life.
TN: One of the things that SL listeners (myself included) seem to like about your vocals is that every word is crystal clear and that the emotional content is so high. Is that voice training?
AE: Mmm not at all. Let me comment on that. The emotional content is high during my performances because I try and put everything I have into each one. This is why I don’t sing back to back gigs; I sing as if I’m singing to one person. I learned a long time ago that I need to sing to the faces. So, I usually pick someone out from the crowd, in SL or RL, and sing to them. After a gig, someone always comes up and says, “I thought you were singing right to me.” So, I’m always tired and hungry after a performance because I try to give 100% of me.
I do back to back gigs sometimes and it still seems to play well - I'm just very tired afterwards. In RL I do two-hour gigs often - but there is more time to break and interact with the audience to create pause and connection.
At a Second Life music venue called Rumbled, AE's recent Friday-night set incuded a few of my favorite original and cover songs, each of which exhibited his ability (and willingness) to use his amazing talents to captivate his audience, individually and collectively. After warming the crowd up with an original called "One More", he launched into the Elton John fave "Rocket Man". During the body of the song AE told that haunting tale, using both voice and guitar to remind us of the feeling of deep loneliness. The audience (and myself) responded in kind, but after setting that mood he ended the piece with a plaintive vocal improvisation based on singing audience members names. It was a a routine that only a master-level voice like his could pull off. Then, using very minimal guitar backing, he pulled it back together with a simple "La la la"-type vocal vamp that the room picked up on and sang to him.
Following through again with abstract, practically bare guitar work he half-whispered his way into "In A Moment", one of his most -loved original songs. It was at that point that I realized the intensely sybiotic nature of the vocal/guitar interplay. Had AE attrempted even a slightly more complex or intense musical backing, the loveliness of the vocal work would have been overwhelmed. This, dear reader, defines AcousticEnergy's magic: artistic balance!
There's one more revelation that happened for me at that same gig: AE's voice is able to move almost effortlessly between high full-voice and falsetto. This means that he has a pallette of audio "colors" that very few male vocalists have access to. This greatly enriches his sound, and also offers the listener an emotional connection that is rarely found in either world.
TN: How did you originally get involved in performing, AE?
AE: I used to play in Skype almost every night. Skype is an IM or chat software and they used to have something called Skypecasts where you could talk with almost 100 people at one time in a controlled and monitored environment. Well, I met many beautiful and talented people on Skype and one of them was Aussie Blackburn* who’s an amazing Australian singer and performer. He basically dragged me into SL, got me a stream, and completely set me up for performing. I owe my SL presence to Aussie. He had faith me and supported that faith with solid actions.
TN: When did you arrive in SL and begin performing?
AE: Last July - so I've been performing here for over a year now.
TN: And what a year it's been!
TN: I see audiences getting very much involved with your music and lyrics. You were and even selected as Artist of the Month at Bringiton Paine’s** Music Hall of Fame.
AE: I love my audience with a passion. I don't expect anyone to show up, so when I see five or six I get pretty excited.
TN: I've certainly seen very large audiences for you.
AE: Well, you probably came when I played after Maximillion Kleene*. LOL
TN: How big is your SL song list? Variety seems to be a big thing at your shows.
AE: Well, I'm a little different in that I do both secular and Christian gigs. I know maybe 150 secular originals; maybe 25, Christian covers - shhheeesh - 200+, Christian originals - 60.
TN: Since you mentioned Max, who are your role models among SL musicians?
AE: Hmmmm. Unfortunately, I have not heard too many. And I don’t know about “role models” but the musicians that I really enjoy are Maximillion Kleene*, and Ayden Kruh*, and Blu Ducrot*, and Jackdog Snook*, RaRa Destiny*, AMFORTE Clarity*, JueL Resistance*. Ayden is not in SL any longer. He was one of my favorites because of his passion and originals. I’m forever looking for other original artists to listen to. I can turn on the radio and hear any cover song a thousand times. Originals rock.
TN: Indeed. In that vein, you are the first performer in SL that I ever saw who could effectively make use of audience members names in your live shows. How did that come about?
AE: Well that’s just a part of my interest in creating more intimate, spiritual relationship with not only my audience but with everyone I meet.
During my first musical introduction to AE, in those early days, I cought on to the fact that he was using audience members' names as part of his songs. Essentially, he will zone in on a particular person, and by including their SL name into his lyrics, sing a much more personal love song to the audience. The effect can be rather pronounced. It's not unusual to see ecstatic reactions for the avatar being name-dropped, along with audible sighs from others.
When I first expereinced this it felt a little bit off-putting to me. But as I heard it more and more I actually began ot love it to the point that I now consider the technique to be a wonderfully-savvy piece of stagecraft. It's all done from the heart, which makes it all the more endearing to me.
Interesting story: Quite some time ago I was chatting with a very well-known and very polular SL musician and I brought AE's name up. Immediately this talented performer mentioned that he was turned off by this use of names from the stage. However, a few weeks later I happened to notice this very same muso employing the name-drop technique in his set! AE, don't forget - they only copy the Rolex!
AE's deep desire to dreate profound bonds with others led me to broach the topic of faith with him.
TN: I know you are Christian.
TN: How/when did you get into the Christian music scene?
AE: Really, when I first made the decision to follow Christ (during high school) I was playing guitar and writing poetry at the time, and the transition just flowed naturally into songwriting. I learned a few songs but for some reason I always felt more comfortable writing, playing, and singing my own songs. It wasn’t but a few years ago that I started learning secular music.
TN: So your worship songs came first?
TN: Were or are you part of a specific ministry?
AE: Oddly enough, I never really fit into the church scene. I always wanted to learn things on my own and experience God rather then be a part of a church. But, I was a youth pastor for about five years for a small church and I’ve lead worship at various churches throughout the years. I don’t stay long in one place, though. I’m always changing things up for one reason or another. I can talk forever about my thoughts on the church but it’s all good. God is my focus, though.
TN: How has your faith impacted your secular writing?
AE: Hmmmm - It leads me in so many different directions and offers me avenues, insights, and deeper revelations in my songwriting process. I guess it gives me a more expanded canvas to paint what my spirit, soul, and body wish to express. I’m kind of “fully integrated”. But, I guess we all are in most ways of course. We simply don't realize it.
TN: I agree. It feels to me that your secular songs are definitely rooted in, shall we say, a higher love.
AE: My life reflects my art, as others in our same situation would. I sing of Jesus and I sing of sex. I can't deny either. Both are a part of my life and balanced at that and I'm not ashamed nor afraid to share that through music or my writings.
TN: When you write, do the lyrics come first, or does the music?
AE: A popular question. Most of the time the melody comes first. And it’s birthed from another song. I play one of my tunes, and then I kind of wander off into a lala land where another song lives. I hear, consume it, and breathe it back out again. The lyrics almost come naturally. My philosophy is that all the songs are already there; you only need to have the ears to hear them and the heart to transpose them.
TN: Excellent observation.
AE: There is a piece of me, my flesh, in everything I do or say. But I know that God speaks to His children in many ways. I take those words, pass them through my heart, and pen them on paper. I'm very aware of what I write.
TN: May I inquire about your personal spiritual practice?
AE: I'm a very transparent person. You can ask me anything.
TN: Do you employ prayer? Meditation? If so what form(s)?
AE: I pray daily. I read the Bible often. I worship through song, sitting still, and through loving.
TN: I see. Do you regard your music as a type of ministry?
AE: I regard my life as a ministry. God says in Romans to offer your body as living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.
TN: Well, you truly have impacted a lot of us here in Second Life in some very deep ways. What are you working on musically now?
AE: I'm working on a Billy Joel song.
TN: Which one?
AE: “Just The Way You Are”
TN: Love it! You truly are one of SL's masters of the love song. I think you have a profound level of communication with your audience, and this is your chance to speak directly to them. What would you like to say to them?
AE: My audience is a very diverse group. They are more than a group of listeners, more than fans, more than avatars; they are my friends. And without these friends, my songs are empty. I need their ears and hearts to explode life into my music, and to fill the space between the melodies.
I’ve shared this before in a recent note that I sent out to them, thanking them for their support. I hope they all read it. I’ve developed deep relationships with them over this past year. Some have left and some have endured with me. Such is life in both worlds. I've laughed with them, shared tears, listened as they spoke about their break-ups and encouraged them while singing at their weddings. My love for them is deep and I'm in continual awe as each attends my performances over and over again.
I love this group of friends and I try and say 'I love you' to them as often as I can, in and out of performances. As I mentioned, my audience is a very diverse group - diversity with one common ground - a beating heart that animates each avatar. And I get that. So I sing to their hearts.
Addendum: On Sunday, January 10th AE will team up with POL Arida by participating in POL's great stage spectacle called MONSTERS. AE will be singing an original of his own, and also gracing us by singing his own version of POL's great song "Passion" Please join us at Shine Stage for this event, which begins at 11:30 am.