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

POL Arida: Passion and Pasta

by Traci Nubalo

In the beginning there was the heartbeat - very faint at first, but it kept getting louder and louder until it filled me entirely.

It felt as if was coming from inside me or from the outside, or from every direction at once - it was hard to say. Then came a ghostly whispered voice so present that I could almost feel the breath on my ear:

(can you hear the sounds?)

POL Arida’s softly hammered guitar set up an incessant rhythm which in countless variations would sustain the music until The Last Song Ever. It’s an incredibly unique voice coming from such an ordinary instrument - devastatingly percussive, with infinite overtones and tonal movement in a million directions all at once.


It’s all emanating from an amazing stage at Melting Pot City custom-built for a recent concert by the enigmatic POL Arida. My fellow attendees also arrived early, as they tend to do. (Arida concerts are notorious for filling a sim quickly, to the chagrin of the slower avatar who often finds the SOLD OUT sign on the virtual door). We mingle about, some chatting idly among themselves, many more standing around the outside of the square, gaping in astonishment at the stage which was created by POL Arida himself.

(can you feel the sounds?)

It’s a vast green semi-domed affair with a backdrop inside decked with images of Allessandro Bavari`s work, of whom POL is a friend and great fan. Bavari is one of Italy`s most famous living artists. The overall effect is an example of Arida`s post-gothic imagery which he uses to enhance the menacing atmosphere of a live gig.


When the heartbeat began it seemed to take a few seconds before many people really noticed it. But then the chat ceased and a deep, respectful silence fell over us.


There’s a moment that I love: that instant when the stage lights have lowered, but the opening notes or lines have not yet begun. That instant, pregnant with possibility, filled with the collective desires and expectations of those present holds a special sentiment for me and I’m feeling it now at the foot of this altar that we’ve decided to call a stage.


And as that heartbeat increases and the whispered voice calls I’m drawn in, pulled to the solo figure who has just appeared under the dome. He’s got that mysterious hood pulled up as if he could somehow hide himself from all of those who are gathered here to see only him. Or is he shrouding one identity to point toward another?

(can you feel the sounds?)

But it’s that guitar that’s the center of the experience. The figure stands stock-still at the center of the stage - HIS stage - in HIS world. Just the right hand is moving, striking the strings, slapping, hammering, coaxing sounds from the guitar and it’s not like anything I’ve ever heard before.

Then with a vast primal shriek - all frustration and need - the master launches into his composition “Words Can Change the World.” As if released from a trance the avatars around me press closer to the stage, many breaking into dance, some still just standing there gaping, seemingly overwhelmed by the spectacle.

* * * * *

From the very beginning, he offered a wry kind of mystery. I asked him the derivation of his name:

POL Arida: Yes, POL Arida is my name.

Traci Nubalo: Well said.

PA: You could turn POL into Punishment Of Luxury, Poor Old Leech or whatever. I obviously have a RL name, but only POL Arida appears as my music.

TN: Okaaaaay. Let's talk tech for a moment please. Your sound - so many great overtones - such superb richness. Is a lot of that due to the technique?

PA: Yes, I use no effects apart from reverb on a semi-acoustic guitar. And I bang my foot.

TN: You must have the guitar turned up very loud.

PA: Well, the guitar has to be monitored loudly as tapping or hammering the guitar is not as loud as strumming, and I need to hear all the notes.

TN: I assume you are using some forms of alternate or open tuning?

PA: Not at all. Standard tuning and guitar. Anyone can learn hammer guitar. It’s the physical side that’s the hard bit.

TN: I noticed on a film that your right forearm is rather muscularly developed.

PA: Yes, it took me seven months before I could play a three-and-a-half minute song using the technique.

It all started about three-and-a-half years ago when I picked up the guitar after a fifteen-year break. I decided that if I was going to start playing again I wanted to try and use the guitar as a piano. That’s an instrument I always wanted to play but never learnt, although I do play some keyboards.

I cannot read music, and hammer guitar, so far, cannot be notated into music.
At the moment it is how and where you are on the guitar that gives it its sound. Thousands of notes if you listen closely, but the bass notes are the most important.

TN: It's incredibly complex sonically.

PA: I play like I do in bed, but at the concert I leave the G string on.

TN: *laughter - then a sense of wanting to quickly move past that image and on to the interview*

I sense that there might even be inaudible overtones that add a rich "feel” to the sound.

PA: Yes. And there are many notes you will not hear without a good sound system.

TN: Were the songs written using the hammer technique, or were they adapted?

PA: Well, in way, the technique is a double-edged sword . Sometime it distracts from the songs and words.

Most of all the songs I do in SL (apart from two) were written on hammer, although I don’t use the technique all the time.

TN: When you write, is it usually lyric-based or music-based?

PA: Aaaah, the question of all songs. Most of the time it starts with a musical structure and melody. Then the hard part begins. I write topic-specific songs, so I need to find a topic I am passionate about.

TN: write with plenty of passion!

PA: I write with the interpretation of passion in mind, although I rarely use the word in in a song.

TN: That said despite having a song entitled “Passion.” Here are some lyrics for you to comment on: “It’s the punishment of luxury, that drives the mind of the free.”

Can you go deeper with that line for us?

PA: Well, the western mind is tainted with the fact they are very well off compared with many people in the world. So anything we think or opine about is slanted by our “safe” upbringing. This is a subject I have included in a couple of my songs. We are slanted by virtue of our circumstance to not see what other people see.

To sum up that phrase - we can sing “Feed the World” but actually no one will get fed; we just feel better.

* * * * *
Back at Melting Pot City, POL (who hails from Scotland) followed up “Words
Can Change The World” by leaping headlong into a rather surprising cover (he does very few in concert). Using a rapid-fire slapping technique (he claims to be able to effect such slapping at faster than 300 beats per minute) to state a very simple two-chord pattern, he held the audience - and me - spellbound as we awaited the first verse/chorus. The chat erupted into astonishment when he sung the opening lines to Lennon’s revolutionary call “Working Class Hero.”

What I found most absorbing was that hammering technique. Over two chords almost any guitarist would devolve into banality within a minute. But POL not only avoided triteness, but by using his spellbinding slapping moves, he continuously wrenched a constant barrage of new sounds from the guitar.

Apparently, by slapping at different intensities, and at different places on the body and neck he has learned to work with those limitless overtones. So I found the exercise sonically fascinating. I was drawn in, mesmerized by the ever-changing nature of the sound he produced.

He closed the song with a one line cautionary warning: “If you want to be a hero, don’t follow me.”

Before the cyber-applause was even able to die down a little, POL blasted the gathering with the opening notes of one of his most-loved originals entitled “Gotta Get Out Of Here.” Using his foot as a bludgeon, he began a rhythmic stomping on the stage. Unless you’ve been in close proximity to a high-caliber weapon being fired, you cannot grasp the intensity of each of these perfectly-timed blasts. (I always listen to SL live music on a pair of Bose noise-cancelling headphones, and this was the first time that I found it necessary to turn down the volume, which I did with the biggest of smiles on my face).

“Don’t hide the cries, don’t hide the pain don’t side with the fascist lies again. Don’t walk that line don’t think the truth...
I gotta get out of here.
What will you do when they knock that door
Just look away like you did before.
I gotta get out of here.”

* * * * *

TN: Have you always been a solo artist?

PA: No. Years ago I had a band. We were signed with a major record company and I hated it. They censored my words.

TN: POL, you seem to have a strong interest in the quality aspect - great sound, great stages, carefully crafted songs.

PA: I have a vested interest in words, mainly. Words are the thing that make pop music a joke.

TN: Are you a poet?

PA: Am I a poet? Hmmm, that would be for poetry lovers to judge. I write words that I hope either make sense, or I can justify down to the last punctuation mark.

TN: Well, you are correct: words can change the world.

PA: Martin Luther King summed up the ultimate feeling for humans with the words “I have a dream.” That is what humans are fundamentally. They require words to change their world. But we are still so entrenched in physical crap, like sports are so important. Huh! They are usually tribal.

TN: Clearly, you write from some deep space. It's not "She Loves You yeah yeah yeah."

PA: No, I hardy ever actually mention love in a song. All those songs have been written; let’s get on with the other bits of life in songs.

TN: In your song “No Science” you wrote “Take your fucking problems and get out of here/Split the atom/Break a jaw/That ain’t science that’s your law, your destiny.”

PA: Yes, that’s a swipe at the drunken half brained idiots you have to put up with in bars and clubs. The same ones that would not understand that “words can change the world.”

Incidentally, that was the first hammer guitar song I wrote. It’s not very good, as I was experimenting with the technique rather than thinking about the song.

TN: I like the song. I can tell from the complexity in the guitar work that you were finding the edges.

PA: There are two parameters to songs: the effect, and the overall quality. If you get both it’s a great song. “Passion” and “1” are good songs; they both are very simple, but effective. I think in “Passion” when you look in the mirror and sing “Time is the cruelest sensation of all” it sums it up.

* * * * *

At this point the audience was tearing up the open chat box with applause, woooots and whistles. The sound level had increased by several-fold and the intensity of POL’s delivery unnervingly alternated between the whisper that makes you lean in closer to hear and the pained, savage shriek that makes your entire being vibrate.

And amidst the sonic bedlam and the whirling avatars, the master sings us a love song - as much a lullaby as is possible at 90 decibels:

“And we call out in the darkness
It was as twins we fell and kissed forever
Now we shout out that challenge
It is as clowns we discover
That time is the cruelest sensation of all.
It’s Passion that’s missing - It’s Passion that’s calling us home.
So tell me which answer lies sleeping beside you
How quickly the tide flows - you’re running on low
Nothing that changes can change without moving.
It’s Passion that’s missing
It’s Passion that’s calling us home.”

Like in the eye of the storm, we stood together participating in this primal event; the chat boxes falling to no words. I had an eerie sensation that everything was standing still and quiet even on the neighboring sims. In that moment I was completely content to quietly tp home with that lovely melody in my heart.

But that was not to be.

* * * * *

PA: When I first looked into Second Life and realized there was a live music scene, I thought, “I could do that.” And so it went.

TN: Were you performing as a solo act in RL at that time?

PA: Not really; very occasionally. SL kinda inspired me to get writing again as I realized people could actually hear the words.

TN: Yes. And your fans LOVE your work.

PA: Yes I have some very dedicated fans, but I really regard them as people who like and listen to words.

But the word “fan” always get me a bit uneasy. They are people, many of who are pixel friends who like the music. I am not really one for the rock star fan thing.

TN: In speaking with some of them it struck me that they are quite knowledgeable musically.

PA: They would have to be; my stuff is not exactly light entertainment.

TN: So, this is an opportunity to speak directly to the listeners who enjoy your work. What would you like to say to them?

PA: Well, I do humbly appreciate the dedication of people who come to every gig (even I get bored) and love the way they actually listen to songs, rather than in a club when its all just noise and effect. I know a lot of my songs are not easy listening, things like Screaming Song for A Retard and Mr. No. I always reckon, just sing the song like you mean it, even if that means grabbing a listener and strangling the life out of them.

TN: Kids, don't try this at home. LOL

In yesterday's concert you did an amazing version of The Last Song Ever.

PA: It’s one of my faves.

TN: Care to share some meaning with the readers?

PA: Well, as most people will know that have heard it, it’s about a middle class guy who has had enough of his middle class false life and sings a last song to end it all. It’s loosely based on Mike Leigh`s BBC play “Abigail's Party.” but as always, is a reflection about how I felt (and still do) about mediocrity and banal people.

TN: Yes! And the story told in the live version yesterday was both chilling and hilarious.

PA: Humor is very important to handle life.

* * * * *

As those vast, lovely final notes of “Passion” began to wane, I began to desire my little pixel bed. But the Scotsman apparently had other plans. After the briefest of pauses, the opening notes of “The Last Song Ever” rang out, causing the chat box to fill with comments like “time for a story” and “bedtime stories with Uncle POL.”

Arida began the piece in the most ordinary of voices (at least for him) offering the tale of a man (Eddie) and his wife (Deirdre) - also referred to as “Mr. and Mrs. Boring Fucking Jones”. Eddie is on his way home from his bumbling, ordinary insurance job when he learns that Deirdre has invited their dull neighbors to their flat for dinner. Eddie valiantly attempts to bear up under the mediocre food (spaghetti bolognaise, no less) and the dreadfully boring dinner table chat. But, at a certain point, our poor host can take no more. What follows is a hilarious, horrific, blood-spattered chain of events that would make Tarantino proud. The mayhem includes (but is not limited to):

- the terrorist next-door neighbor
- a borrowed Kalashnikov machine gun
- serial murder
- several clips of ammo
- a totally destroyed Mercedes Benz automobile
- a 911 call
- more clips of ammo
- assault on an undetermined number of officers of the law
- death by cop
- a pretty-much ruined dinner…

…not exactly the lullaby that I had thought was ending the POL Arida concert at Melting Pot City.

* * * * *

TN: Who does the cooking in the Arida household?

PA: I do the cooking. I am a chef.

TN: Wow, really? That’s impressive!

PA: Yes, I take a lot of time cooking. I love it. I invent all my dishes too.

TN: No kidding!

PA: And I make a mean spaghetti bolognaise.

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