Tuna Oddfellow: How Odd Can It Get?



By Traci Nubalo

How odd, indeed? It was a Monday night - early at that. I’d been in Second Life for just a short time. I was still walking into walls and entering chat into the wrong window. But I was on a mission. I was exploring this new virtual world to see what forms of musical and entertainment species lived and thrived here. And one person I spoke to told me that I had to - HAD to - see a show by this Tuna Oddfellow character.

At that point I didn’t know that Tuna (who has been called the “Peter Max of Second Life”) was already a longstanding inworld favorite.

I hadn’t heard that Tuna had won a million lindens in a popular NBC television series “America Has Talent”.

And I really didn’t know that Tuna (and his “Beautiful Assistant” Shava Suntzu, also his rl significant other) were busily working at the very cutting edge of the science of performance art.

So, armed with such a pathetic base of knowledge (and with no warning that one day I would be called upon to write this article!) I appeared in Tuna and Shava’s theatre standing nervously under a huge magician’s hat along with a couple dozen other avatars. Then, in an instant, as Shava admonished us to keep our hands inside the car, off we went into my first experience of the Tunaverse.

The printed word could never do justice to what is to be experienced at the Odd Ball, other to say this: you are totally immersed in - drenched in! a 3D visual imagery experience heretofore unknown to even the most ardent dance club fans. The music - primarily streaming trance/dance/techno, first rate - provides the sonic impetus while Tuna, manning a coliseum-sized control console, deftly improvises the imagery to fit the musical changes. It’s truly art in it’s most creative and intense form!

Let’s let Tuna and Shava fill us in a bit more:

Shava Suntzu: We call it the Cathedral Effect in our documents. There are elements of sacred architecture that use some of the same geometric tricks we use - statically, of course - to get that hushed awe when you walk into a cathedral or a mosque. It's also the feeling you get looking out over a valley from the top of a mountain.

What we are working on is a set of neurotransmitters that are all based around vision, proportion, the internal model of the body (proprioception) and those are also the systems that hallucinogens work on.

Tuna Oddfellow: I'm a performer in my first life and when I came to SL, I thought, how can I connect to people? How can I get that "WOW!" that I get from a crowd with my magic in a world where people learn to fly the first day?
Traci Nubalo: *smile*
TO: I mean, cutting a lady in half doesn't do much for folks here. So one of the things that dazzles people, virtual/real space, is fireworks. It started with fireworks and effects
and then Shava came into the picture. We got the award from NBC, and people started hiring us for sim openings and such. It made it worthwhile for me to learn to make my own effects, and commission what I couldn't make.
And for the first time, it really started to feel more like, you know, my art.

TN: So - when someone shows up at your theatre what will they experience?
TO: Oh, that's hard.
TN: Sorry *smile*
TO: Well, I like to say, "I blow minds for a living."
I'll create a texture, and then find 20 ways to reinterpret that texture, and get new filters and twists, and there's a lot that get thrown out. In order to generate these textures I use a variety of tools, like TextureMaker, GIMP, FilterForge, BluffTitler (makes animations) - we're doing more of those into the future. Various little toys and gadgets.

TN: Very often there is a sort of tubular X-shape that appears.
SS: Yes, those are toruses.
TO: I've been trying to find similar processed textures and do the animation by hand, because that's easier on everyone's computer than doing actual animations a lot. I have a few animated PNGs I use, with a script that makes them come to life as people watch them.
TN: The immersion aspect is important.
SS: There's a sense of immersion that's intense. LOL! We said it at the same time.
TO: But it gets to you. I'm the artist, Shava's the science geek, but I know what grabs people. So I do things intuitively and then she spends library time figuring out what we just did.

Back in the studio, avatars were blissfully whirling about the sim, making utterances in Open Chat that seemed to be taken directly from an arcane Hindu spiritual text. Clearly, all of this torus-manipulation (or whatever they were talking about LOL) was having a deep and positive effect on those present, including me. I felt a great sense of ease and an almost giddy style of happiness such that I couldn’t tell what was causing it, the music, the images, or the combination of the two? And you know what - I really didn’t care and I still don’t.

TO: Sometimes it'll be an entirely different style of texture that just grabs me, and sometimes new shapes and ways to manipulate things.
One of my behind the scenes projects is to double the amount of hypercubes (rezzing devices) we use in the show.
Currently I'm using 9 channels of rezzing devices, and I want to use 18. It'll take a few tricks to make it work but some of the visuals will blend and pop and go together more easily for me
TN: In the madness of the show it can be easy to miss the fact that this is absolutely cutting edge art. There's also a very evident "here/now" component to your work
TO: While it's all happening, the music is always there, and the music moves me to keep effects slow, or speed things up, color, mood. People give me textures and I've manipulated the texture on the fly and thrown it up into the balls. I'll look for images relating to conversations and manipulate it, mash it up, and put it in the show, just right then. It's like graphical jazz, juggling, and magic all together. It's crazy!
TN: Yes - wonderfully crazy. wonderfully crazy

By the end of the evening I was exhausted! I mean seriously physically spent! I had only pixel-danced but my body felt like I had been grooving and whirling for the entire two hours. I’ve since experienced dozens of Odd Balls - each wonderfully different from the others. I’ve probably taken more than 100 friends to the Tunaverse and not one has ever been less than enthusiastically complimentary.

Like my new friend tried to tell me early on - this is an event that simply HAS to be seen!


LadyScarlett Farstrider: A View From A Tree


By Traci Nubalo

During my time reviewing groups here in Second Life, I have pretty much limited myself to singer-songwriter type performers. This was not due to a prejudice of any kind - I just have not had a lot of experience writing about groups who play to track. So I was kind of excited when fate conspired to change this for me.
I had been chatting with a friend of mine who manages an act or two in SL and she had gone on and on about someone named LadyScarlett Farstrider. Now, people tell me about performers all of the time but this manager happens to be one whose taste I usually admire. And the first name LadyScarlett kinda sticks in the mind.
So - a few weeks down the road - there I was minding my own business. In fact I was wandering through a shop that sells top of the line skins and shapes, at the very beginning of a mission that I really didn’t feel like doing. But that’s another story for another day. *smile*
As I wandered around, my eyes glazing over from all of the images of avatars that I would never look anything like, I walked past a lovely being whose name tag read LadyScarlett Farstrider. I tried to put on the brakes but ended up in one of those things where you just keep moving and you fly out the through the wall and into the next sim a few thousand meters. When I had finally popped back into “reality” I checked out her profile and sure enough it was the very singer I had been pointed toward.
So we spoke - then we spoke another couple of times and I found her to be just the sweetest and nicest person. I promised to get out to see her sing. I guess I was at first a little surprised when I learned that she sang to track, but it was mostly a pleasant surprise. I not only LOVE her voice, but I learned that not all tracks make a singer sound like third-on-the-list at the Friday amateur karaoke scene.
I popped out to see her perform a couple of times and then we spoke for a while in my office as I tried to get to know her personally. Here’s how it went:
Traci Nubalo: So tell me, Lady, were you performing before Second Life?
LadyScarlett Farstrider: Only occasionally - at karaoke bars with friends.
TN: Where are you from?
LF: Tennessee
TN: Yes, I remember your lovely southern accent. I’ve been through Tennessee and it’s a very pretty state. What were your musical choices growing up?
LF: At first, oldies, like the Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis because that's what my dad listened to. Then country because that's what my mom listened to.
TN: And later on?
LF: Bon Jovi, Aerosmith, Def Leppard...
TN: How fun! So you were a rocker chick as a teen?
LF: Yeah, pretty much. Rock and country.
TN: May I ask your age?
LF: 31
TN: Excellent. I really admire your interaction with your audience. That’s something that usually comes with professional maturity. With such little stage background how did you learn to do that?
LF: Honestly, when I first started, the majority of the people who came to my shows were my friends. So it was easy to get up there and goof off with them, be silly.
As I've done it more - and people I don't know come - it’s pretty easy to just pull them into the circle and treat them like my friends.
TN: Yes. Friendly is the perfect word to describe your stage presence. And your fans seem to react in a friendly way, too. That must feel good.
LF: Very much.
TN: Another thing I like about your show is that you have a rather eclectic song list. Can you describe what material you do - for the new readers?
LF: I do covers of songs that in some way have touched me. Evanescence is one of my faves to do - and Pink. I have fun just throwing random stuff that the audience throws out at me during a show to see if I can. That‘s how I got convinced to sing “I'm Too Sexy” by Right Said Fred.
TN: Excellent
Eclectic perfectly describes Lady’s live work. At one recent show she brought the house to a whisper with a totally gorgeous piano-driven version of “I Can’t Make You Love Me” from the great Bonnie Raitt, then blew them down with her rich, clear vocals on “Zombie” from The Cranberries, a request from the packed house in attendance. Then - without letting the dancers catch their breath - Lady launched into an amazing version of “My Immortal”. Her voice held clear and steady against the nicely-orchestrated version of the hit from Evanescence.
LadyScarlett also does a killer job when she ventures out into a capella territory. On this night she pulled out Hanson’s “Use Me Up” and delivered a gorgeous, breathy version sans tracks, a great device that she also uses very effectively on Honey Honey’s “Thursday Night”.
And is she eclectic? the Lady with the Voice also crooned a superb take on the Patsy Cline chestnut "Walking After Midnight" that was full of soulful sass and twang.
I have to tell you, I was thoroughly enjoying myself! And just then my cover was blown!
The gig was at a fantastic tree house called Fantasmagoria. I had decided to take notes while I watched the performance, so to avoid having to chat with a lot of people I - well, I just sat hidden in the tree itself rather than landing on the dance floor. So I was really surprised when this sweet little voice appeared in my IM window. “Ummm, is everything okay? Would you like to join us?” I almost fell off the branch in surprise! Turns out it was Poison Foxtrot, one of the grid’s best and sweetest club hosts. We chatted briefly; she gushed about how huge a fan of Lady’s she has become; and I thanked her for checking on my wellbeing. It really was a lovely little scene - one very much in keeping with the super-good vibes I saw in all of the Farstrider shows I attended.
Back in my office, LadyScarlett was taking me to school. I recreate this fascinating part of the interview for the reader who - like me - had no clue where things like backing tracks come from.
TN: Lady, how do you select your material?
LF: If it's a song I love, like one I can't get out of my head, I try to find the music for it, then play around with it for a while to see if I can actually do it. Then I force my friend, Nanners Guardian, to listen to it and tell me if its okay or not.
TN: Where does one go to find the backing tracks?
LF: There are several websites where you can purchase them. I also use YouTube and a program called Zune.
TN: I see. Are the tracks key-specific?
LF: Some are, but most aren't.
TN: What do you look for in a track that feels right for you?
LF: I want it to sound as much like the original as possible. Some of them tend to sound very...childlike would be the best way I could describe it. I generally prefer it not to have backing vocals, cause those sometimes are very scary sounding.
TN: I've noticed that the tracks you use tend to be on the leaner side - not overly-produced. Is that to better highlight your amazing voice?
LF: No. The ones that sound overly produced tend to be too loud. I have to turn it up pretty loud on my end as it is, in order for my voice not to drown it out. If I have to crank up something that’s overly produced, it deafens me.
TN: Fascinating. One thing that I really love about your vocal delivery is that you have a great sense of pitch. You sing on key - even when not using vibrato - which is a difficult thing for many singers to do. I've also noticed that you tend to avoid the very fast vocal runs that today's hip hop singers use. Is that a conscious choice on your part?
LF: Yes. I'm southern, so I can't keep up with the fast stuff.
TN: *smile* Well, I think it works very much to your advantage, Lady. How long have you been performing in SL?
LF: Hmmm. A little over a year.
TN: How have you seen your presence here grow in that time?
LF: By small margins. LOL. It's taking me awhile to get comfortable with things. I'm really just now seeing an increase in show attendance and bookings.
TN: Yes. It can take some time. Well, you certainly seem very much in control of your act at this point. You exude a wonderful sense of confidence onstage.
LF: Oh! I'm not! LOL I still get nervous every time.
I guess I just control it better.
This has been a lesson for me. I’m no longer so simplistic in my thinking about virtual performers who choose to sing to track. Watching LadyScarlett Farstrider work her onstage magic has shown me that there is, in fact, an art in using backing tracks. When those tracks are chosen carefully and utilized skillfully the resulting show can be as joyful and fun as any other.
For those who have heard my new friend LadyScarlett Farstrider, nothing need be said; for those of you who are about to become new fans of hers I can't say enough. Get on out and support this rising star!
TN: So, what's next for LadyScarlett?
LF: I'm just going to keep doing this. I really love it. It's a way for me to realize a dream I always had in RL - to sing. And I have such fun with it.
TN: And I can say for a fact that the readers who check out your show will also have a lot of fun. So, in closing, this is your chance to speak directly to your fans.
What would you like to say to them?
LF: I'd love to thank them for all their support. I truly have never felt like much of a "performer". I'm just doing what I love to do. And the fact that people want to come listen and have fun with me is amazing to me. I've made some wonderful friends doing this, and several of them have become my family.
TN: LadyScarlett, thank you so much for chatting with us today.
LF: Thank you. *smile*



EricSteffensen Mistwalker: Going to Disneyland



By Traci Nubalo

This week we welcome EricSteffensen Mistwalker to our pages.I first saw Eric perform a few months ago when I wandered into my friend Dottie Iceberg‘s wonderful folk room Guthrie‘s. It was a Sunday morning and I was pleasantly surprised by a great crowd. After my usual round of hello’s I clicked the sound on and when the first notes hit my ears I felt this article begin to write itself.

Eric Steffensen hails from Salt Lake City in that other world we sometimes are confronted with. He’s an excellent instrumentalist, an accomplished singer and a very strong in the songwriting department. I would classify Eric as a “journeyman” musician. (I know, I know - Lao Tse says, “Comparisons are odious.” But the old Chinaman didn’t face a weekly deadline with only ideas and words at his disposal!) I should further explain: I intend “journeyman” to be taken in the British meaning: a tradesman who has completed his or her formal training and is working in the field completing work on their professional edge.
So Eric is working very hard toward perfection in his craft: to be a working singer/songwriter. If you don’t know how difficult such a process is try this: just tell a joke at a crowded dinner table. Now imagine doing that - effectively - for an hour or two! Then toss in playing guitar, just for good measure. Catch my drift?
Traci Nubalo: Eric, how long have you been playing in Second Life?EricSteffensen Mistwalker: My first show was May 9 2009, so just over a year

.TN: How did you find out about SL music?
ES: Great question! I found out about SL and SL music at the same time. I was reading CNN.com on a break at work and there was an article about musicians performing in a virtual world. I hadn't heard of SL before then, but wanted to start performing more, so it seemed like something I'd like to try.
TN: Were you gigging in rl at that time?
ES: A little, but not very much. Aside from open mics, I was playing maybe three or four shows a year, mostly at a coffee shop here in Salt Lake called Alchemy Coffee. I'm also friends with a couple of bands in town and sometimes they invite me to open for them.
TN: You clearly have more than a year's worth of originals built up.
ES: Oh yes, I've been writing for about ten years now, off and on.
TN: I find your originals to be strong and representative of your sound, for the most part.
ES: Thank you, it's the originals I'm most passionate about, although the covers are fun and allow me to mix it up.
TN: So - for our techie readers - what guitar(s) do you play in SL?
ES: I've got two acoustic guitars I use. One is a Taylor 310 CE. I keep that in an open D minor tuning and the other is a Blueridge I bought used for a super reasonable price that I'm completely in love with. That one doesn't need humidifying and the electronics sound great to me. Gives me a lot of sound for a small body guitar.
TN: Do you run straight into the board?
ES: I run a line into a breakout box and mic the guitars. I’m trying to go for a more natural acoustic sound.TN: Yes. Successfully, I'd say.
ES: Thank you. Eventually I will expand it to stereo mics but not yet.
TN: Any effects at all?
ES: Just light reverb and some EQ - all done in software.
TN: Great. Your strumming gives a hard, chunky feel. I really like the coloration that hard strumming can provide.
ES: True, as long as its not an hour of hard strumming for me. LOL But thank you. I have a lot of rock influences.
TN: Like who?
ES: My major influences are Smashing Pumpkins, REM, Eric Clapton and a lot of other rock over the past 40 years.
TN: I should mention here that the new listener will find you to be quite adept at fingerpicking as well.
ES: Thank you. I actually was fingerpicking before I ever learned to strum.
TN: Yes, your right hand is very strong in that senseI really enjoy the sound variation in mixing between the two styles. I have to say - your playlist is among the more adventurous that I've seen here.
ES: Well thank you! I try to challenge myself, but also try to keep some fan favorites on there as well.
TN: I couldn't believe you had the confidence to cover the Queen song “We Are The Champions” the other night. It was awesome!
ES: hehe, I have a fan who is a huge Saints fan and he asked me to learn it. The trickiest part of that song is the vocals.

Traci looks right into the camera and silently mouths the words, “Queen has tricky vocals? Who knew?”

This discussion of Eric’s strumming technique is not a small issue, as the guitarists out there will agree. By playing very hard with the right hand the chords are sonically compressed into a tighter arrangement, giving it that chunky sound that I mentioned. (Think the acoustic guitar part on The Who’s “Pinball Wizard”). It’s a tough technique to learn and even tougher to execute correctly on demand.

TN: Another interesting "deconstruction" that you do is Purple Haze.
ES: Yes, I figured not a lot of people would try that on Acoustic guitar.
TN: Exactly. But it breaks it down very well into simpler musical components. And your fans love it. Especially if you growl. LOL
ES: Yes, they seem to like that lately and yes Purple Haze is a song I've always done that with.
TN: I'm very impressed with your fan base and the relationship that's there.
ES: They are great. When I noticed that people were coming back to my shows I was totally floored. I haven't worked RL as hard as I worked here so it was a pleasant surprise to see that people enjoyed the music enough to come back. I had recordings on the internet for years, but there was no way to tell who was listening.
TN: Well, you seem to have hit on some key elements with your fans: the mix of originals/covers; a good mix of instrumental styles; and communicating that, yes, we are having fun.
ES: Well thanks, there's a part of me that realizes that performing is more than about just the music, it's about entertaining folks.
TN: Yesssss. I wish more players understood that. Okay...ready for Desert Island Disk?
ES: Sure.
TN: If you were stranded somewhere what three music disks would you want with you? And why?
ES: *pause* Smashing Pumpkins - “Siamese Dream”
TN: Good choice!
ES: Actually, SP was the band that after listening to lots and lots that I decided to start learning how to play their songs. At the time I lived in the dorms in college and played in the dorm lobby quite a bit but Smashing Pumpkins was very challenging and I wouldn't play the way I do today without them and that album. Next…Eric Clapton - “Unplugged“.
TN: Oh one of my faves.
ES: Yes, a couple of the songs in my setlist are from that album. Pretty much the same reason, but that album was even earlier in helping me realize I want to play guitar. In fact, as I was learning I was given the sheet music as a gift.TN: Awesome.
ES: And last - Foo Fighters - “Echoes, Patience, Silence and Grace”.
TN: In that collection Clapton demonstrates how much of a guitar sound is in the hands, not in the wood.
ES: Oh, absolutely. Although give Clapton wood he likes (aka Blackie) and he's in heaven!
TN: So, three great choices.
ES: Foo Fighters - there’s something about Dave Grohl's songwriting lately that I find very inspiring.His sound is so full but has some classic charm that reminds me a lot of John Lennon. It’s hard to explain why.
TN: Great observation. Interesting - both artists are notoriously sensitive, even uncomfortable with their own work.
ES: Hmmm interesting, I think when you constantly challenge yourself that's a given. You always believe you can push it to the next level.
TN: Interesting.
ES: Hey, do I get my guitar on the desert island?
TN: Sure. Why not?
ES: Awesome. See, not so limited for music now! haha
TN: Where do your compositional ideas come from?
ES: Most of the time I sit down with the guitar and just tune out, not try to play anything specific and when I hear something I like I try to go with it. It’s actually the easiest part of my writing. Occasionally I'll learn new chords by learning covers but that's rare
TN: Do you labor over the lyrics?
ES: Yes - a lot of labor over the lyrics, and more specifically the topic of a song. Once I've found a topic I really want to write about, the lyrics come easier.
TN: That makes sense - the muse has struck by then.

ES: But there are a million love songs out there, so if it is a love song I try to make sure it is unique enough - a different perspective
TN: Yes. *pause* LOL This little delay...Christopher135Quan was IMing. He said to say hello. LOL
ES: Oh, he’s a great musician.
TN: That's what he said abut you. I like him. We’re working on his interview for VIRTUAL TIMES, actually.
ES: Tell him hi from me. He was at the Villa Lobos show after you left the other night.
TN: I saw him there, actually.
ES: Oh awesome. I lose track of time up there sometimes.
TN: Of course. The stage is truly a place like no other place. And your love of performing is a big factor in your success.
ES: Yes.There's such great support of live music in Second Life.

This seeming interruption by Chris Quan’s IM points out another strong point about Eric’s work. He is liked and respected by the other working artists here in SL. The real camaraderie between the two of them in this brief little exchange was endearing. And it’s something I see all over the grid here.

TN: So what's upcoming for Eric?
ES: I'm going to be at the Chicago Jam, June 25 -27 meeting a lot of other SL performers and fans in RL.really looking forward to that. Some folks will be there that I've known online for about a year that I'll get to meet finally
TN: Awesome.
ES: Also, this past year in SL has helped me polish my performances quite a bit. I'm hoping to take that and perform more around town here in Salt Lake City more often. And eventually, And hopefully this fallI'll get back in the studio and finish my second album that I started last year. The first five songs are the Forge My Own Road EP right now.
TN: Great! What will the title be?
ES: Title will probably change when it's a full album.
TN: Okay. You raise a good point, though, about the synergy between playing live and playing in SL. Many SL performers tell me that playing here is really good for their live chops.
ES: Yes, there are weeks I've played ten shows here. So if I play that much and practice, I'm getting 2 - 3 hours a day of practice.
TN: Yep. Okay, one last item. This is your chance to speak directly to your fans - old and new. What would you like to say to them?
ES: This isn’t the question where I’m supposed to exclaim “I’m going to Disneyland!” is it? On a more serious note, I made a choice to perform music because I believe its one of the best ways that I can bring happiness into people’s lives. I sincerely believe that many of the fine performers in Second Life are here for the same reason and that’s why I’d like to encourage people to support SL live music. There’s so much talent here. I feel humbled on a regular basis and honored to play alongside so many artists that deserve to be heard.Linden Lab has expressed a desire to make live music a “killer app”. There is a lot that they can do, but I think it’s up to us as residents of Second Life to make that a reality. We can do that by continuing to build a buzz around the music scene both inworld and out. Ultimately, I believe that creating this buzz is good for our residents and businesses because it draws in more people.What’s the best way to do that? Attending shows! Take a chance and go listen to some artists you’ve never heard before. If you like what you hear, send personal invites to friends. If you blog or use social media, let people know what performers you like. When you’re at shows, interact with the performer! Second Life allows you to do that in ways that no other performance medium allows for…and it’s almost always appreciated. Donations are always appreciated (especially for venues who have fixed costs), but never required, so please don’t be afraid to enjoy SL music even if you don’t have lots of L$. And finally, have fun!

I couldn’t have said it better, although this I will add: be sure to put Eric Steffensen on your list of “must see” musicians. You won’t regret it!


Paradorn Ansar: Giving 100%


by Traci Nubalo

One of the newer faces in the Second Life music scene is that of Paradorn Ansar. Para, as his fans call him, is a Dutch singer/songwriter who is building a solid fan base behind his excellent live performances at some of the better venues inworld. At the first show I saw of his, I was first impressed with his deep, rich voice. Backing himself up with some very tasty guitar, Para treated his audience to a very interesting mix of styles and moods. While primarily doing country songs, his fans are often thrilled by his diverse selection of “cross-over covers”, one of the many factors giving Para such a wide audience appeal.

I invited Para to sit with me in our new VIRTUAL TIMES offices at Insight College.

Traci Nubalo: So, let's warm up with some tech talk.
Paradorn Ansar: Okay, hit me.
TN: What guitar(s) do you use here in SL?
PA: I mainly use the Takamine guitar.
TN: It's acoustic/electric?
PA: Acoustic. I love that sound.
TN: Okay - is it mic'd or straight to the board?
PA: It has a built in mic.
TN: What effects do you use? You have such a lovely sound.
PA: Almost none; I just add a little effect from the mixer.
TN: It's a very present sound. I find it delightful; very live. It also seems to survive the bandwidth issue very well.
PA: That’s good. I always wonder. I don't know how you guys hear it.
TN: Plus you have both a nice soft playing style with the ability to power a bit as needed.
PA: Yes. I'm not playing with a pick. I use my fingers only.
TN: What's your training?
PA: The street; friends. I used the “look and listen and try” method.
TN: Prior to SL what were you doing musically?
PA: I've been playing in bands since I was 17 and kept doing so up until now.
TN: Country music?
PA: I started with country. Then country/southern rock. After that I joined a blues/rock band. I still play in that band. Music is a never-ending love for me.
TN: Are you able to do music for a living?
PA: Nah. I have a full daytime job as a customs officer.

Struggling to repress the image of a tall, handsome Dutchman crooning “Folsom Prison Blues” while rooting through my luggage caused me to abruptly shift gears.

TN: Para, have you ever played Desert Island Disk?
PA: Can't say I have.
TN: Well, if you were stranded on a desert island what three music disks would you want to have with you?
PA: “Desperado” by The Eagles, “Pocket Full of Gold” by Vince Gill and any record from Linda Ronstadt.
TN: Excellent choices
PA: My heroes!
TN: Care to elaborate? Why those three?
PA: The thing they all have in common is the close harmony vocals. Sends chills down my spine. It's just heartfelt music for me.
TN: Yes. And of course the Eagles vocals are all over many of the Ronstadt records.
PA: Yeps. In fact, I discovered the Eagles by listening to Linda Ronstadt.

This response was not at all surprising to me, given that the man possesses a truly gorgeous singing voice. One of my great wishes would be to hear him with tasteful harmony backing. The deep timbre and presence he carries vocally would open the field wide for a rich, full California-rock-style backup treatment. One other small-but-pleasing aspect to Para’s vocals: I can often “hear” him smiling as he sings. This great love of performance comes through in his voice so directly that I find myself just smiling and singing along - tight harmonies, of course!

TN: You are relatively new to SL music right, Para?
PA: Yes, I am. At first i didn't know there was such a thing as live music; I was busy discovering SL. But by accident I landed in a ballroom and there was a guy singing there. That was the first time. Between that and me singing on SL took six months or so.
TN: And how long ago did you begin singing here?
PA: Pfff. Let's see. It’s been four or five months ago I guess.
TN: Well, you seem to be growing in popularity.
PA: Is that so? Cool! You know, my main goal is to have fun.
TN: In talking to some of your fans, one thing they like is your voice. You have a deep, baritone-type singing voice.
PA: Well, it's quite relaxing singing like this.
TN: Let's talk about your song list. How do you select your material?
PA: Mainly the songs are those which I'm comfortable with. I like a lot of songs. And sometimes I get requests from fans. If I like the song and I can do it, I‘ll add it.
TN: One thing i enjoy about your material is the variety. It's not all country.
PA: Nope. But they are all songs I like to sing. I don't like only country, or only blues.
TN: Yes, you do something like John Denver's "Sunshine on my Shoulders." It crosses over. Or "Pancho and Lefty" from the great Townes Van Zandt.
PA: I even have a U2 song on my list - “Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For.“
TN: You play a mean version of Dylan‘s "Knocking on Heavens Door", one of my all time favorites.
PA: Yes. That’s played in a thousand different ways. It’s a very cool song.
TN: Yes it is. So, being Dutch, how does the time difference impact your work here?
PA: Well, for one thing, I know some American and Australian venues who would like to have me, but they can't fit me in. So I'm planning to play on Saturdays or Sundays a few times so maybe that way I can play for them.
TN: This would be a real treat for the fans. One thing I know is that your wonderful Dutch accent seems to be popular with some of your American fans here - including me!
PA: Thank you! I‘ll tell you a secret: I was very nervous about that accent.
TN: I think it's a fun part of your show.
PA: Well, as long as I can keep having fun I go along.

Another fun highlight of Paradorn’s concert set is a hilarious version of David Allen Coe’s “The Rodeo Song.” It’s a hoot watching Para sing the most X-rated lyrics in SL using that gorgeous Dutch accent.

TN: It’s very obvious that you are having the time of your life singing, Para. And I see your audiences joining right in with you! I predict great success for you here in SL. Last question: This is your chance to speak directly to your SL fans; what would you like to say to them?
PA: I love their loyalty and support. And I always give myself 100%, even if there are only two people listening to me. That's a promise!


Eric Sampson: The Gunslinger


by Traci Nubalo


They are known as gunslingers.

Obviously, this is a throwback to the early western US where being a “hired gun” was a way in which a man handy with his weapons could be employed. In the contemporary musical context a gunslinger is a person so proficient on guitar that they could be called upon to bring their expertise into action for session or live work. They are highly respected not only by their fans, but by other musicians, as well.
This gunslinger image is what comes to mind for me when I think of EricSampson Swansong, one of the bright new stars on the Second Life musical horizon.

We first ran into Eric a mere few months ago when he appeared as a live sideman at the then-new CraigLyons Writer’s live concerts here. Even with the focus rightfully going to Craig and his songs, my attention kept drifting a bit to what else was going on musically. Being the good support artist that he is, Eric was always very careful to never overshadow Craig with his playing; his role was that of the careful, thoughtful side man, selecting and playing his tasty parts with an attitude of reserve and respect for the featured performer. However, I made a mental note to do some investigation when the time was right.

Upon my return to Second Life - having taken a well-needed break - I found Craigmania in full swing. I also found a note from my publisher asking if I’d be interested in an interview with - who else? - Eric Sampson! I soon found myself chatting with Kalli Birman who manages both Eric and Craig (and who will for sure be finding herself on every smart “Manager of the Year” list this season). She made the necessary contact, I started to hang out at Eric’s shows, and the result is this article.

I found Eric to be a warm and personable young man, seemingly secure with himself and actually a lot of fun to interact with. He was quickly able to relax and get into the “interview flow” - a feat that not every musician finds possible. Within minutes we were laughing and bouncing ideas off one another in a most enjoyable way. He’s very intelligent and though he claims difficulty with words and their usage, he a writer of excellent lyrics, and very much holds his own in the conversation department. As I often do in my interviews, I kicked things off talking about stage and studio gear:

Traci Nubalo: So, let's warm up with some tech talk. What guitar(s) do you use in SL?
EricSampson Swansong: In SL, the avatar guitar that I play is a Gibson Hummingbird which I am a fan of. However in RL, I use a guitar from a small little company called Thompson.
TN: The Thompson is mic‘ed right?
ES: Yes. It's mic'ed with a room microphone, and I have a mic for vocals as well.
TN: Any special mic for guitar and for vocals?
ES: Until recently, I was using an AKG 114 for the guitar, and a Shure Beta 87A for vocals. However recently I've just been using an Audio Technica AT4033 for the guitar, because we no longer have the 114 here at the studio.
TN: Your sound is so clean and present. Do you use any effects on the guitar?
ES: Just a little reverb. I try to keep it on the dry side, however it's tough. After the sound is compressed so heavily through the stream, everything usually sounds pretty thin.
TN: Yes, but you're getting a nice rich sound overall. By SL standards, anyway.
ES: That's good. I'm never sure exactly what it sounds like till I can listen to the show afterwards.
TN: So, pre-Second Life what was your background and training?
ES: Well, I started playing guitar when I was about 14 I think. I was a freshman in high school, and I remember going over to my friends house and his father was playing a Gibson 335. Just simple blues stuff but I thought it was just about the coolest thing I'd ever seen in my life. So, I just got bit by the bug. Started playing a little cheap guitar that my parents had. I’d play everyday, usually three to four hours. After it was apparent that that's what I wanted to do, my parents finally broke down and sent me to music school after high school.
TN: The school in Hollywood?
ES: Yep! I attended Musician's Institute.
TN A very well known and excellent school.
ES: It was a real eye opener for me. I didn't realize what I real musician was till then.
TN: How so?
ES: I grew up in a town of population of around 300 or so up in Humboldt County, CA. It wasn't exactly the music capital of the world, if you know what I mean.
TN: LOL I sure do.
ES: So I had never been around that class of player until I moved to L.A. Oh, I got my butt kicked again and again. But more than anything, the school introduced me to lots of people, some of whom I work with today.
TN: Very cool.
ES: I started playing in blues bars by the time I was 15 or so. That was when I was still up in Humboldt. That's where I first got my introduction to the main guitarists that would be the cornerstones of my style: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Jimmy Page were the big three. I didn't actually start with the singing and writing until a bit later. At first all I wanted to do was play guitar.
TN: I think that comes through in your act. I can feel the lead guitarist in there.
ES: Yeah, it's tough to get that out. But I still have plenty of opportunity to play every week. I do a lot of session work, along with playing guitar for many local artists. And gospel gigs. So I guess you could say the singer/songwriter thing is my night job, and playing the guitar is the day job.

In this part of the discussion, Eric begins to reveal the gunslinger aspect of his career prior to coming to SL music. It’s been my experience that players who engage themselves in such varied and difficult forms of work often become the most exacting, hardcore players of all. So, let’s bear in mind that this is the reality that Eric was involved with when we first met him here in SL. It’s important to recognize that although he was new to us, he had already passed through a tough initiation at the Musician’s Institute and had been making a living day-to-day as a hired gun in L.A.’s tough and demanding music scene.

TN: When did you arrive here in SL?
ES: Let's see, I was introduced to SL through Craig Lyons. If I remember correctly, he had been doing shows for quite awhile before I even created an avatar. But I would play guitar for him at his shows. Craig is a wonderful musician, and great to work with.
TN: Yes. And it’s a good match for you both, musically. One thing I admire about your work here, though, is that you are clearly holding your own as a solo act; not just living in Craig's world.
ES: Thank you! Well, I was hoping that my live show in RL would translate to SL.
TN: It totally does.
ES: I think it took me a little to sink in. But I think I'm getting more and more comfortable each time.
TN: Yes, that's obvious. If you don't mind, I'd like to discuss a few of your compositions for the readers out there.
ES: Sure!
TN: One of my personal favorites is “The Traveler.” I love the story line - ships passing in the night, etc.
ES: Yes.
TN: What was the inspiration for that one?
ES: Well, funny enough it was partially inspired by Craig. I was thinking of the relationship between him and Taylor, his fiancĂ©e. I was searching through quotes. I very much enjoy quotes and poetry. Robert Frost is one of my favorites, and so I was looking for a Robert Frost poem I hadn’t seen and I came across a big list of types of quotes. You click on the link to see all kinds of quotes about that subject - quotes about love, life, death, happiness, etc.
TN: Yes. A great writer's tool, by the way.
ES: Yep. And then a column of quotes about jobs; lawyers, quotes about doctors, artists, etc. And I had a conflict because I knew I wanted to write a song about a relationship. It started as a relationship between an artist and a musician. That's when I started to think about the relationships around me including Craig and my friend and producer, Dan McMains. I remember thinking about Dan's relationship at the time, which was where the line, "She was the activist, who couldn't let anything go" came from. But at the same time, she was also an artist. And when I started to think about it, there were times when Dan was the activist, and she would be the clown. The same with Craig. That's were I got the line, "She was the poet." At any given time, one of them always seems like the driving artistic force, while the other is the down to earth.
TN: Yes. Now musically, in that song you are using one of my favorite guitar motifs - the G - C ascending splits, as in “Alice's Restaurant” or “Blackbird.”
ES: Ha! Yep!
TN: It has so much energy and it defines that song perfectly.
ES: I've always been a huge fan of that style of music. It's stripped down, and personal. I've always felt that if you have a good song, all you should need is a voice and a guitar. It's very easy nowadays to make something sound good. People have gotten away from the basics of writing.
TN: Another fave is “32 Miles.” How did that come about?
ES: Well, “32 Miles” is based off a script for a film. The writer had asked me to write some music for it, and the basic premise of the song is very loosely what the plot of the movie is about.
TN: I see. Is the film in development?
ES: Yes. I have to wait till a couple more contracts are signed before I can say anything about it, such as who's gonna be in it, the name, etc.

One for the more exciting aspects of seeing and hearing Eric Sampson live is that he is totally unafraid to “go off the page” and improvise. Of necessity, this entails stepping out into unknown territory and Eric walks that line with the best of them. On the night that I wrote this review his improv work led him to a closing medley of songs that I can assure will never be strung together again!

TN: So last night you played a SL benefit gig and pulled off one of the best sets I've seen you do. I'd like to discuss the medley you did at the end - lawdy mamma!
ES: Ha! Sure!
TN: “Space Cowboy“, “Hang On Sloopy“, “No Woman No Cry“, “Fifty Ways“, “Faith.” wtf?
ES: Well, I don't really plan ahead on those. Just like I don't ever have a set list. I like to play what I feel like playing right then. So what ever comes to mind is what comes out.
TN: I could tell it was off the cuff - and off the hook, too! Out. I think this really tore the crowd up. It was reminiscent of some of the stuff I'd seen David Bromberg do live years ago - story-telling from the heart.
ES: That's what I love about playing live. The ability of going wherever you feel live, taking things musically, from moment to moment. I go crazy if I have to do things the same each time. That's why most of my backup players hate me I think. Every time I'm trying to get them to do something new.
TN: Keeps them on their toes.
ES: Yup!!
TN: On your website you've placed a couple of very cool George Harrison photo montages. Are you a big George fan as i am?
ES: Hey, you can never go wrong with George Harrison. Actually when I'm in a session, I almost guarantee during some point in the session you will hear me say, "Why don't we put a super-melodic part down like that part that George Harrison plays in that song (insert song name here)." He wrote some of my favorite songs of all time.
TN: Yes. And he sure did grow as a songwriter, didn’t he? I think that the Harrison/Jeff Lynne record “Braindead” might be one of the most underappreciated records of our time.
ES: Yes! I remember driving one day and I turned on the radio and they had just released the Anthology from The Beatles and that version of Harrison doing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" with just him and an acoustic guitar came on. I had to pull the car over and just listen and I was in tears by the end of the track.
TN: Yes, that track was so beautiful; so honest. *long pause* I'm sure you've heard of Desert Island Disk. If you were stranded, what three disks would you want to have with you, and why?
ES: Wow, okay. They will be completely different in a couple hours from now, but at this moment - "Sail Away" by Randy Newman. He is one of my favorite writer and composers.
TN: Super-good choice!
ES: "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkle. And the last one. Hmmm. For this instant, I'd have to go with "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor.
TN: Very insightful choices Eric. It's a tough question but sometimes very revealing. Hey, in your SL screen name, is the "Swansong" a tribute to Led Zeppelin?
ES: Yup. It took me awhile of resetting the names to find that one.
TN: GreyWolf, my publisher, nailed that one.

There’s just not much that can be said about EricSampson that is critical. He’s pretty much rock-solid in every department - musicianship, composition, showmanship, personality. I once heard Bruce Springsteen say in an interview, “All I know is that tonight when my boots hit the stage, I’ll know what I’m doing and how to do it.” One could easily apply this comment to Eric, as well. And confidence on that level is just downright thrilling for an audience, even if they are not really sure what it is that they are liking so much. All told, this is the confidence of a true gunslinger.

TN: So, winding down, what's next for Eric Sampson?
ES: Well, I'm almost done writing material for the next album. This next one is going to be quite a bit darker and stripped down than the first one, with more on an emphasis on the songs instead of the production.
TN: Awesome. Do you have the title yet?
ES: Not yet! I'm going to wait till I hear it near done so I can name it what it feels like it should be named. Other than that, I just wrote a song for a documentary about battered womens' shelters. It is currently in production, and it's such a joy to be a part of.
TN: That's a gesture that very few artists would take on. I applaud your courage in doing that.
ES: Well, I have some individuals in my family that have been in that situation so it's a personal subject, and it's great to be able to help out.
TN: So, one last thing. This is your opportunity to speak directly to your fans, old and new. What would you like to say to them?
ES: I would say, “Hi. Hello. Have you eaten yet?” Na, but really, I would say, “In the end the love you take, is equal to the love that you make.”
TN: *smile* Classic. And oh so true.
ES: Yes. They already said it best.




Russell Eponym: The Truth According to Russell Eponym

by Traci Nubalo

So, there I was at Twill’s Muse minding my own business (not exactly true: I was there to see the great Russell Eponym perform) and as I wandered around talking to people I suddenly got an idea I couldn‘t resist (slightly false: I knew when I went there what I was going to do). I had written about Russell once before and was nervous about what I could say in this article so I was procrastinating a bit (well…no: I LOVE Russell and his music and will talk about him at the drop of a hat).
After that introduction you probably won’t believe anything else I say but I SWEAR that in the crowd at Twill’s that day I saw a tiny dragon, a polar bear, a mermaid, and a couple dancing together while they mopped the floor. (All true: Twill’s is that kind of place. And it’s also where one might find some of the most interesting music on Planet Second Life).
And that brings us to Russell Eponym. The idea that I had for this this interview was that I would ask some of his many fans to anonymously contribute THE question that they had most always wanted to ask him. I would then slip the questions into the interview author unnamed. More about that later.
During the first article about Russ (which appeared in this blog before it had been picked up by VIRTUAL TIMES) I made the point upfront that Russ and I are good SL friends and that I am a huge fan of his work. He is the consummate professional, a total gentleman, and just a good guy to hang with. He also happens to be one fierce musician and writer. He - at one point in time - performed more than 1,000 shows on Second Life within a one-year period. This speaks directly to both his popularity and to his durability as a performer. He also has formed around him one of the very best fan groups in Second Life, which is called his Eponymous Family. It’s truly extended family in every sense of the term, and my respect for this group caused me to try to do this interview with them in mind.
Russell met me on three occasions in the brand new VIRTUAL TIMES office building where we shared a fascinating and informative couple of interview hours. I was so pleased with the results that I decided to not write a lot of prose but to try to let the interview speak for itself.

Traci Nubalo: You've been at this Second Life music thing a long time Russ. Five years is it?
Russell Eponym: Yes, in my 5th year now. In January I had a huge four-year show at my sim The Still Point of the Turning World.
TN: Wow! Has a lot changed in that time period?
RE: Yes. First and foremost the quantity of musicians has increased. There was just a handful of us in the early days. We were hot property. Then of course, the number of venues has risen exponentially. Also, there’s a greater variety of events which have now become firmly established.
TN: Are you not hot property now?
RE: You would have to ask my family. I do after all belong to them.
TN: Are you referring to your online fan group, the Eponymous Family?RE: Yes. But in another sense I am not property at all because I have remained my own master. I’ve managed my own career with a great team
TN: Yes you have; very artfully, I might add.
RE: Well, it has been very hard work, Traci. It’s not an easy thing to become successful in SL, and in many ways I have been successful. It is something which people do not always understand. The work ethic is important. I am here to fulfil a professional obligation and in so doing, I enjoy the most fulfilling job I have ever had - earning a living through playing live music. It does not get better than that.
TN: Well said.
RE: I am told constantly by other musicians that that is what they want. I know it is a good experience for me.
TN: I'm glad you brought up the Eponymous Family so early. I wanted to bring them into this as well. You have arguably the most fascinating and effective online group in SL.
RE: Yes, what can I say about them except that they are what keep me going everyday.
TN: Yes, I know this is a deep issue for you.
RE: It really is; they mean everything to me. They have autogenously created a community in itself - a place of exchange, a place for sharing and caring.
TN: Even healing.
RE: I always feel that a good show has been a corporate effort - all of us together. You just saw something of that at the show earlier, and you’ve seen many examples over the years that you and I have been friends.
TN: Russ, what I've seen in the family has amazed me. I’ve watched the group interact through marriages and births, passings and celebrations; suffering and joy.
RE: Yes, and always with a genuine sense of caring and as you say, of healing. The music is going well; the shows are at times spectacular. But most of all the energy is enormous. Over the long time that I’ve been watching Russell’s progress in SL music one of the things that has impressed me most is the extremely creative and progressive form that his online fan group has taken. The Eponymous Family has grown far beyond the typical “When are you playing?” info source that’s prevalent here. They truly have become family in every sense of the term.Several times a day the group chat window will open and members of the tribe will gather to share gig info as well as to chat about whatever topic happens to be on the table that day.The group seems to have evolved into extended family, celebrating - and sometimes commiserating - whatever life changes they share. I find the exchanges to often be very real and touching - one of the very best examples of positive online communication.
TN: So, on behalf of the family members I’d like to go back in time with you a little.
RE: Okay.
TN: How did this music thing begin for you? What were you doing prior to SL?
RE: It started when I was a twelve-year-old. I fell in love with the whole acoustic sound, the poetical possibilities of song, the political significance of music, the open door to creativity through music and song. It was enormous! The effect of hearing Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, and all the characters of that era. I wanted to do that, and I had my first harmonica when I was twelve and soon after I had my first guitar. I was overwhelmed in hearing the delicious artistry of Bert Jansch and John Renbourne. I went to see them play in London coffee houses, and raced home trying to keep a mental image of what they did to make those guitars speak the most wonderful language. I watched players like a hawk watches its prey - always considering, absorbing.I also I played in various types of bands - heavy rock, folk, punk, jazz.
TN: How were you employed?
RE: I was a teacher throughout my working life, and used music endlessly as a teaching aid.
TN: Ahh the Sting Syndrome.
RE: Yes I suppose so. My students sang. We wrote together; we sang together. It was a great journey. I practiced the art a lot and played when I could in clubs or pubs. Did some decent gigs, and the songwriting became an important new avenue. I had always been a writer - short stories, poetry and an unpublished novel so writing was in my blood.I also had the good fortune to know some excellent musicians - people I knew at school who later became important players in music. Classical musicians, jazz players.
TN: Such as…?
RE: I was lucky enough to have been the best friend of Julian Lloyd-Weber - arguably the finest cellist in the world and brother of Andrew. We were at school together. I also knew some and rock musicians who went on to tour with Al Stewart. Another good friend named Nico Ramsden ended up as Mike Oldfield's second guitarist for the live Tubular Bells performances. Another friend - Robyn Sylvester now plays bass for the Grateful Dead spin-off called Ratdog. I was so lucky to have had associations with these people. It was great knowing these musicians.
TN: And so at some point SL appeared?
RE: Yes. I had just moved to the USA and using another online program. At some point we heard about SL, how great the sound quality was and so we made the transition. We were all streaming on Day One.
TN: Are there others of that original group still here
RE: Yes, Frogg Marlowe was the first musician I met in SL. He was so helpful and so good at showing us the ropes. Also Neil Morrison; UFS Hyde (now deceased); Mel Cheeky; Cylindrian Rutabaga - I brought her into SL; Edward Lowell of course who owns the Stream Team; and DimiVan Ludwig who now owns the Hummingbird. We all had met in RL too - and then it all took off.
TN: *smile* And now, here we are - years down the road, still growing.
RE: Yes, the growth has been considerable, and it continues. We have to be careful. It can implode. At the moment we rely on courtesies and goodwill and trust. There is always a danger of the darker side of greed rearing its ugly head.
TN: What is your vision and hope for the future of SL music?
RE: I would like to see a full infrastructure in place which gives the musical community more stability; more systems and policies. I would like to see a policy of remuneration in place. But I do not think the answers are simple. And I have no intention of trying to address those now.
TN: Shifting gears - let's play "Desert Island Disk".
RE: Okay.
TN: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three albums would you want to have with you?
RE: I would take “The Magic Flute” by Mozart as one. *thinking* I’d also take “Flat Baroque and Berserk” by Roy Harper; and the first and eponymous album of Bert Jansch.
TN: Great choices. Not the typical "Freebird" response.
RE: Thank you. There are three things I look for in music. I want some genius, some poetry, and some skill. My disk choices cover those - the genius of Mozart, the poetic passion of Roy Harper, and the skill and precision of Bert Jansch.
TN: So...here's a tough one: where do you see those aspects in your own compositions?
RE: In terms of the genius, I aspire to mediocrity.
TN: LOL
RE: In terms of the poetic passion I am learning the necessary skill of leaving more out than I include. And my dexterity is there through hard work and perseverance. There is not a huge amount to commend me, really.
TN: Well, I might argue. I believe that there are large amounts of those three qualities in your writing and playing. And I know I speak for many in your family in saying so.
RE: Maybe there is; it is not for me to say. Thank you for that. I have learned something important: sincerity and authenticity are the keys to writing good songs. Also having a capacity to listen to the sounds of everyday which envelop us; to use nature and its energy and rhythms. I try to incorporate my own experience. Does that make sense?
TN: Total sense. Thank you.
RE: I am entranced by the wonders of nature and I use that as much as is feasible in my own composing to draw hearts and minds in.I have varying degrees of success. Much depends on the receptive capacities of my audience. My audiences are astute and very receptive - actively so.
TN: Yes indeed they are. I’m interested in something of a technical nature but I’m not sure how it will translate into the printed words. But let’s try. Recently you've been discussing some "tricks of the trade" in concerts. For example, the use of various capos, etc. Can we discuss some of these techniques? Or is this not such great topic?
RE: No, no. It’s of huge interest.
TN: Well, how do you use the various tools at your disposal? In other words, we are "watching" you play, what are we seeing you do technically? I’ll issue a TECH ALERT for the readers just in case things get too techie here! lol
RE: I use a number of different capos. Full capos of course, and partial capos.
TN: For the reader, what is a capo?
RE: A capo is a device for altering the pitch of your strings. In other words, it effectively shortens the strings by clamping a rod across all strings at any fret. So if you play a C chord without a capo you are playing in key of C. But if you put your capo on fret 1, that same chord would be in key of C# (c-sharp), and so on. I often play C G D chords with the capo on 4th or 5th or even 7th fret. It enables me to use familiar chord families but at a higher pitch getting those beautiful high tonal effects. With the partial capo I can cover some of the strings, enabling me to play in DADGAD type tuning or open G tuning DGDGBD without retuning the strings.
TN: Leaving, for example, the deeper bass strings open?
RE: Exactly - allowing the droning effect suitable for celtic style music. My favourite trick is to use multiple capos.TN: *smile*
RE: …a full capo and a partial capo at the same time, or a full capo and two partial capos.
TN: Jeeez, really?
RE: Yes. I am writing a piece at the moment using a full capo on fret 2, a drop E capo on 4, and then on 6 a DADGAD capo - each capo getting progressively shorter.
TN: Wow. So this all gives you more tonal coloration?
RE: Yes - exactly. I use two capos on the banjo. I have a full capo for main four banjo strings and a sliding capo for the high G banjo string. Many musicians here ask me about my use of capos.
TN: These are not commonplace techniques, are they?
RE: No these are specialized techniques. I’m currently experimenting with two new capos. One is called the Third Hand Capo. It enables you to clamp down any combination of the six strings - one string to all six.
TN: Realllyyyyy.
RE: Yes. And the piece de resistance for me is the Voice Capo. I just received this - it covers the first four frets enabling you to hold down any chord shape so you can set it to be clamped on say D chord enabling you to improvise all the way along the fret board. It’s perfect for the player wishing to be more adventurous and creative. It is not a substitute for being able to play the chords; it is really for advanced use.
TN: Now that you and I have discussed it I think the readers will be as fascinated as I am.
RE: I hope so. I actually gave a lesson on using the capo yesterday during a concert. People were very interested. And some engaged me in conversation about it long after the show.
TN: You also mentioned it at Twills the other day.
RE: Yes I did. I find any tools or devices for developing and discovering new horizons so valuable. Some players say a capo is a cheat device.
TN: pffft! It all serves Conscious playing.
RE: Exactly. I like the freedom to get my left hand secure and safe and allow my right hand to do the talking. It’s all in my right hand, Traci.
TN: Yes, you've told me that many times.
RE: It’s true. So when people ask me for twenty minutes to show them how to finger pick I smile.
TN: Excellent. Thank you for filling us in on that. End TECH ALERT here.
The flip side of this is that there is obviously a lot going on in a non-technical sense. Would it be fair to say that your impact on the audience has a spiritual component as well?
RE: Well, yes. I am playing a style which involves a huge amount of warmth and embrace. I am playing and tuning in with the sense of presence, of people - conscious people. I am feeling an energy, a sense of anticipation and elation; of mutual entrancement.To varying degrees I sense people are zoning in, if that means anything.
TN: Yes.
RE: I am playing rhythms and arpeggios; sometimes repetitiously, sometimes not. They are often in accord and harmony with my own bodily and organic functions. So heartbeat, cerebral rhythms are part of it. A sense of movement “from and towards” as T.S.Eliot says in the Four Quartets; a sense of the “Still Point of the Turning World.” “Neither flesh nor fleshless.” - all Eliot lines.It comes from a sense that the world is absurd but that this is one way of making some sense of it; a kind of ephemeral order. LOL I’m not sure the readers will want to read this.
TN: Oh yes. They absolutely will.
RE: Musically it falls into place.
TN: Russell, this is why you are called the “Music Whisperer.”
Your Listeners Want To Know:
TN: I promised a little surprise.
RE: Yes. Everything is a surprise to me anyway, Traci.
TN: I wandered among the Eponymous family a bit and pulled a few of them aside.
RE: And you found?
TN: I solicited some questions for you from them. *smile* Things they might never ask otherwise.
RE: Okay.
TN: No names involved. Ready?
RE: I sense a white knuckle ride looming - sure.
TN: Have you ever played with or for someone who is very famous?
RE: Yes
TN: I can't let you stop there. LOL
RE: LOL My first public performance ever was with Julian Lloyd Weber in a school performance. We played Sweet Little Sixteen by Chuck Berry. I played guitar and Julian played double bass (he is arguably the world’s greatest cellist) and some other boys played drums and guitar.I also played for a punk band called The Buzzcocks before they became the legendary new wave band fronted by Pete Shelley. He and I were original members of the Jets of Air - later to become the Buzzcocks.
TN: Awesome.
RE: Next?
TN: Okay. If you are done with that one we'll move on.
RE: Well, plenty of others but not as significant.
TN: Okay, next. If you could perform in any venue or location in the real world, where would that be?
RE: That’s a tricky one - there are so many wonderful venues. I do think Wembley would be a great place to play but probably too big for my kind of music. Something smaller. How about the Newport Folk Festival? *smile*
TN: Okay...just one last one from your family. What are you favorite foods? - and meatballs do not count.
RE: I like fresh food that tastes like real food; fresh fruit; vegetables freshly grown; seafood freshly caught. Pasta and mushrooms; pineapples and enormous plump pink grapefruits. Shrimp and lobster. Asian spices and rices. French red wine. I could go on.
TN: Yummmm. Yes, but perhaps it's time for lunch.Thank you so much Russ; the family had fun playing Three Questions.
RE: Thank you, Traci. You make a job into a pleasure.
TN: The pleasure truly is mine. And that IS the truth!


NANCE Brody: I Just Want to Play and Sing

by Traci Nubalo

When I was active in the RL music business I used to vacation regularly in Jamaica. On one of my trips there a friend took me on a journey up into the beautiful Blue Mountains to visit some friends of his. Upon hearing that I was from the world of professional music, the twelve-year-old son of the friend was sweet enough to put on a little impromptu guitar/vocal concert for me.

What I saw and heard was completely astonishing. To begin with, he had only four strings on the guitar, not the standard six. It appeared to me from the strange fingerings he was using that the strings he did have on the instrument were tuned in some fashion differently than I had ever seen.

The voice - wow, that boy could sing! He sang with his whole body, and without doing the MTV moves that we all learn early in life. The song was blissfully happy and sounded unlike anything I had ever heard before. I found myself regretting that I had no tape recorder with me.

After treating me to several other tunes like the first, he put the guitar down and I sat to talk with him and his Mom. It turned out that Junior had almost no contact with popular music in his life! He didn’t watch television and listened to very little radio. The minister at their church had managed to dig up a used guitar for him, but was able to provide only a few strings. Since no one knew how to tune it, Junior had invented his own tuning scheme and his own method for playing. This accounted for his amazing, totally-unique sound. It dawned on me that what I had heard was music as created by a talented young performer who was totally untouched by the indoctrinating effects of musical culture and all of the good and the bad that comes as a result. The music was unique, the player was ecstatically happy and I was totally thrilled!*

Now, when I first heard the great NANCE Brody play here in Second Life, this memory of Junior resurfaced after laying silent for awhile in my mind. And of course, there were no “connection points” that would have caused me to relate the two of them - I thought that it was just a stray thought passing though. However, the image of Junior smiling while he played those four strings so dramatically, and the inner joy that arose in me that day all those years ago just wouldn’t go away.

As I got to know NANCE better and as The Word opened up to Second Life reality we decided to sit together for an interview. Turns out her story was so interesting that it took two such sessions for me to get the total account.

NANCE invited me to meet up with her in her brand new theater complex. Essentially, she’s put together a home for her musical craft, as well as a center from which she can perform any kind of event that she wishes.

We met in a bright, cheery second floor lounge with awesome views of the ocean. I was curious about how NANCE creates that unique sound of hers, so I jumped right in with a few tech questions.

Traci Nubalo: Nance, what got you into all of this? Were you a music lover growing up?

NANCE Brody: I was a music lover, but I wasn't into listening. I wanted to play from a very young age. I used one of those little kid brooms once and pretended I was playing guitar out in my back yard. So yes, I grew up listening to musicians.

TN: Like who?

NB: My family was musical so I learned by watching uncles, cousins, father, brothers and friends play. I grew up in a large family and entertainment was to sit around and jam. I was too young to jam but I watched them play piano, play fiddle, harmonicas and guitars.

TN: What styles would you hear at home?

NB: Mostly just country folk hillbilly stuff. Not really anything that I wanted to play myself. But after a while I did want to learn how to play and guitar was the thing I picked up and had access to because my father had an old guitar that I learned on. No one taught me how to play so I taught myself
by watching.

There was also radio and records that my family played, so I learned some Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, Anne Murray, Cat Stevens and some campfire stuff before I started writing my own songs.

TN: Did you learn this all by ear?

NB: Yes. I wouldn’t know a note if I fell over it. It was more inspiration than education. I was not taught by them - just inspired to do it myself and it actually pushed me in the direction of getting my own sound.

So here we are given a picture of NANCE absorbing the music that she heard as a child. Like Junior, NANCE had no teacher aside from her own inner guidance. Somehow, though, she knew what she did and didn’t want to do with this new thing she was teaching herself.

When I first encountered her musically, I could tell that she was playing in a unique, original style. It was when I was pondering this different approach of hers that the memories of that little scene with Junior burst back into consciousness for me. And at first, I was confused. I mean, what the heck does a small, black boy in the Caribbean have to do with NANCE Brody? It wasn’t until this interview, however, that she “filled in the blanks” by explaining that her style is a product of being self-taught. It was then that the meaning and the connection between the two of them became clear to me.

Without the influence of things like a formal musical education, and acculturative means such as MTV and pop music radio, what would a young student use as a benchmark of success? Clearly, what remains is that he or she would play what made them feel good! And this might well account for the sheer joy that’s apparent in watching each of these unique artists perform.

TN: So what made you take the jump into actually playing publicly?

NB: I finally played the first time at a coffee house in 1990 after I started writing my own songs. I had never played before that in public.

TN: How did it go?

NB: The crowd loved my sweet butt. *laughs*

TN: So, did you have a sense of where you wanted your career to go back then?

NB: No, I was just singing. I’ve never wanted to be a star or go anywhere with music. I just want to sing and play. And then after shows people would come up to me and ask for my autograph and tell me stuff like, “You’re going to be famous someday.”

I did my own concerts. Rented halls and put on concerts but it was way too much work to do all the promo and singing and lugging, so I did a tour around to coffeehouses across Canada. Then I gave up music after I moved to British Columbia. I didn’t sing for 2 years.

Then one day I found a chat room in an online program called Paltalk and I heard someone reciting poetry. I thought, “Wow she sounds pretty good, pretty clear.” I had packed all my music equipment away and hadn't picked up my guitar in two years. I had pretty much given up on doing anything with it. I was just out of a bad relationship; I was unemployed and dealing with some crappy stuff. But I loved what she was doing online.

So I rummaged through my storage locker and dragged out all my equipment, blew the dust off of it and proceeded to figure out how I could play live over this crazy computer.

So that woman that had recited the poetry was the reason I am singing on SL today!

TN: How often did you play on Paltalk?

NB: OMG! For the first while I played every night. It got my spirit up again but my fingers were really sore! I played for a long while on there and did a few other programs too like Yahoo chat. I even did a few Skype nights.

TN: So at some point along comes Second Life.

NB: Yes a bunch of my musician buddies on Paltalk had already made the switch to SL. I knew SL was there but couldn't get on because my PC wasn't up to date enough. So I had to wait until I could afford to upgrade to get on SL.

TN: What were your first gigs here like?

NB: The gigs were fun. It was clumsy and just a hoot to actually be able to walk up to all my buddies from Paltalk and hug them and see them play and actually watch them walk up on the stage. And for me to walk up on stage and do my thing was just a dream come true, virtually. This is what I had wanted with my online performing but never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be with an avatar.

One of the things that I love the most about NANCE’s shows is that she goes directly for the “fun factor”! Unlike many great artists who get self-serious, NANCE revels in the fact that her shows are just fun!

If you’ve seen her live, you know that she possesses one of the sexiest voices in the known universe, and she uses it to great effect in her shows. She’ll banter with the audience and is fond of engaging in close-to-X-rated conversations in the midst of a song. This has developed over time into a hilarious routine that her fans have dubbed “nancification”. They will offer up a “virgin” - a woman who has never been to a NANCE Brody show - and NANCE will explain that she wants to have a “private” conversation with the unsuspecting person, which takes place, of course, in front of the entire audience! Launching into one of her old favorites called “You Won’t Be Going Home Tonight” NANCE proceeds to verbally wheedle, cajole, tempt, implore, and seduce her. Most often the result is embarrassed silence from the “virgin” but I have also seen my share of resulting date requests and even a public marriage proposal! In any case, it’s a very funny (and a highly original) bit.

But there is also a very serious, highly-talented songwriter in NANCE, as well. Right after creating such raucous laughter, she will slow the tempo down and practically break your heart singing a soulful ballad. She’s a well-rounded talent who demonstrates a clear mastery of her craft and has an unusually well-developed sense of who her audience is and how to communicate with them most effectively. And, just like Junior, NANCE exudes a natural joyfulness when she performs that is impossible to ignore.

TN: Was your style as developed as it is now? Or did that evolve over time?

NB: It was developed, yes, but I would say it has become a lot more “free”. I feel I can relax with my music on SL for some reason. I‘m not sure what the reason is, but I like it. It’s like I have come home

TN: Feels like good memories.

NB: This place is full of magic. I love it. It’s like a fantasy world to me. You can be anything you want on here. Your imagination is the only thing that could possibly hold you back. I have the utmost respect for what the programmers have done so far. To be able to build such amazing things on here is just truly incredible.

TN: In what ways do you enjoy and make use of this magic?

NB: OMG! To begin with my music alone is brought to life here. I also love the wonderful outfits that people have made and the instrument that I play is really amazing. The stuff that I have built is a big wow to me.

TN: Tell me about your fans, NANCE.

NB: OMG! They are incredible! They love me to little tiny bits and if they could love me more those bits would be even smaller. I have some very devoted fans, and even though they might not be here for every show I know they are out there rooting for me. They are all over the world which is pretty cool. I think I have a fan in every state in the USA, maybe two in every state but then there's Japan and Holland and Africa and the list goes on! They make me smile from the inside out.

TN: Can you feel them when you are singing?

NB: OMG yes! I feel their energy coming at me all the time. It’s funny when I do a song and the room goes still - I can feel them all sitting in front of their computers and the quieter the room gets, the more I know they are listening and just closing their eyes and enjoying the song.

Even if there is only one fan in the room I feel them. I feel their pain. I feel their happiness and I can feel their laughter.

TN: NANCE, here's the perfect opportunity for you to tell your fans what you have always wanted to tell them.

NB: Here is what I would tell each and every fan out there: I love you all! Sometimes it might seem that I am too busy and you might think I am not thinking of you but you would be surprised at how many times I have sat down after one of my shows and thought of each and every one of you and some of the things you have done in my shows. I have a special place in my heart for my fans and they know who they are.

You are the reason I sing; you are the reason I continue to try to do better on SL; you are the reason I write and try to improve on my songs; you are the reason I get up some days, because I know I get to come and sing to you. I love you for listening and encouraging me and supporting me in whatever way you have been able to do.

From the smallest gesture to the largest it means the world to my heart and soul. I love the way you make me smile from the inside out.

* After I arrived home I sent Junior eight or ten sets of guitar strings and a very bright, colorful guitar strap to replace the piece of cord he had been using. His mom sent me thank you note saying that he loved the gifts.

^ Dallas and Piedras are both well-known Second Life performers

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