Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Nashville Trip Log # 1: Tom Jackson's Bootcamp

For the last two days of my trip to Nashville,  I attended Tom Jackson's Live Performance Bootcamp for Singers and Bands.  It was a very valuable experience and I highly recommend it for all performing musicians. 

Tom Jackson is a guy who lives for great performance moments, and he wants to help musicians identify and accentuate them in their shows.  He calls himself a Live Music Producer, and he and his crew (including three other Jackson-trained associates) claim to be the only people doing what they do:  working with bands and artists to hone their performance into a truly memorable experience for an audience.

Even if they're not the only ones doing it, it's easy for me to believe that they are the best at it.  Although I had seen many of his DVDs, I had a blast seeing Tom Jackson work in person for two days.  He observes and listens with a keen eye and an open heart, and then leaps into action.  He interrupts, extracts, rearranges.  He suggests and watches.  He brings dynamics into a song, where before there was a wall of sound--"goulash," as Jackson would call it.  The process calls the audience's attention to the performers' personalities.  We hear deliberate sparseness, then fullness.  Suddenly, the hotshot guitar lead guitar player is in the spotlight.  Then we get a glimpse at just how funky that bass player can be.  Finally, the whole band rips it up together. 

A lot of Jackson's feedback is nonverbal, a hilarious and fascinating combination of air guitaring and imitating the sounds of various instruments.  The communication is beyond words--yet musicians get it, because it reminds them about what's exciting about music, about why they play in the first place, about the things that can get lost in the effort to get the notes and pitches right.  After a few repetitions of this process with an artist or band, everyone in the room of about 70 musicians would erupt in applause in response to the exciting effectiveness of his changes.

Tom Jackson's work is ultimately about courtesy for the audience.  It's about stepping back--really stepping back, to the tune of weeks' worth of additional rehearsal--to a) become conscious about what we're trying to say with a song and b) make that absolutely obvious to the person watching and listening.  It's also about writing a giant permission slip and handing it to developing performers--inviting them to take charge, take a chance, cop an attitude, and shine like a star when they step onstage.

If you were in a play or a movie, you'd have a director to help you focus your performance this way.  If you're a writer, an editor could help.  But for musicians, particularly in this Wild West era of Indie and the Internet--where an artist has to cobble together a support and development team on his/her own--artists and audiences alike can benefit from this kind of coaching.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Colin Boyd

I met Dallas singer/songwriter Colin Boyd in 1994 at the Kerrville Folk Festival, and we became fast friends.  In the years since, we have written and performed together a bunch, and he has always been a great supporter of my music and writing.  

Against great odds--at a time when I was living in Houston and getting my MBA at Rice University, a million emotional miles from my musical self--he was able to talk me into beginning the recordings that became my debut CD, Purple Room.  He was an awesome producer, engineer, player, teacher and collaborator throughout the project.  

This coming Tuesday, September 14, Colin's coming to Austin to play a show with me at Momo's.  It will be an extended, Happy Hour-palooza, from 5:15 until around 7:30 p.m.  The show will be some of me, some of him, and some of us.

There are so many reasons why the whole city of Austin needs to catch the Colin Boyd magic!  He writes the most yummy and catchy pop songs.  Like "Flutter," the song Jack Ingram recorded and took to #51 on the Billboard Country chart.  Or "Rainbows Follow the Rain," the song he wrote for a Barney movie.  He is a seasoned, rock solid performer who has logged about a bajillion live shows in the time I've known him.  His vocal and musical choices are always tasteful.  But perhaps my favorite thing about Colin Boyd is something you'll just have to come to Momo's next week and see live, and that's his amazing rhythm hand on the guitar.  Not that he doesn't rock it on the lead, too--but his rhythm hand is jangly and thwacky and for me, always a bit breathtaking

One of my favorite memories of my wedding day is Colin's version of Springsteen's "If I Fall Behind."  He is my very favorite guitar player, which is one reason why I wanted him to play in my band when I performed at SXSW.  Colin always sounds great, and I always know that when we share the stage, he's gonna make me sound great, too.  I can't wait for you to check us out!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My Coach

You may have asked yourself, "How does that Tricia do it?  How, exactly, did she grasp her creative life back from the swamp of motherhood?  How does she juggle all of those plates in the air, while standing on her head?"  If you have ever wondered, the answer is simple:  I have a lot of help.

For example, I have a creativity coach. Her name is Katherine Torrini, and we have been working together for almost a year and a half.  Mostly we talk on the phone, and sometimes we meet in person.  Since we began our relationship, I have accomplished many goals.  I have  successfully established routines around practicing and writing and also begun performing again.  However, these outward actions are merely the blossoms, the outcome of extensive inner discovery.  Katherine has supported me in questioning the way I feel and talk to myself about creating, helping me to remove real and perceived obstacles to getting to work. 

My favorite things about Katherine are her enthusiasm and her empathy.  She has the ability to meet me wherever I am on a given day.  The best thing about coaching is that it is my investment in my creative life.  I do it to strengthen me in remembering and making time for the most important and life-giving parts of myself. 

In October, I will be joining a new coaching group, led by Katherine.  If you live in Austin and are interested in investing in your creative life--which is to say, connecting with your truest self--maybe you'd like to join us?  Group coaching is more affordable than individual coaching, plus you will get the benefit of having a team.  The 3-month group will meet, in person, twice a month on Thursdays beginning October 7th, from 9:30-11:30 a.m.  Please contact Katherine, via her website, for more information!

Sunday, August 08, 2010


I've had a lot of great breakthroughs this year. For one thing, I shocked myself by getting a regular, twice-monthly gig at Momo's.  And it really does get better and better, more and more fun, each time.  A couple of weeks ago, I met with a music publicist, Cash Edwards, who gave me a ton of great advice and suggestions about working with the local press to get more folks on my bandwagon.

I also have some great stuff coming up. In early October, for example, I'll be attending Tom Jackson's Live Music Performance Bootcamp in Nashville.  It's my first trip to Nashville, and since I'm a songwriter, I feel a bit like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, heading off to the Emerald City.  Only it's me who's green!

I'm writing away, fantasizing about having a purseload of new songs, with which to knock off everyone's cowboy boots.  But I find I'm just not finishing songs right now.  I don't really like that.

The other night, I had my Songwriter Date Night, and I took some time to look back over my big songwriting notebook.  As I flipped through it, I saw that I have a ton of snippets--ideas, unfinished bits, etc.  I also saw a few instances where I worked on songs for awhile, several times, before I managed to "finish" the song.  These are songs I play live now, and I got to go back and see how I started them four or five different times before I came to the version that turned into the "finished" one.  Each time, I added more depth and exploration and came to a clearer sense of what I was trying to do with the song.

I'm choosing to embrace the snippets.  To see myself as a snippet writer, not a songwriter, and trust that the snippets will lead me on.  If I get all freaked out, I put pressure on myself to finish things.  But I don't want to miss out on the depth. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Heart Creative Moms

This is a YouTube video by Mom's Rhap(sody). It's a parody of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." These women totally have my heart, because they're taking their everyday life and making art out of it. Brilliant, funny, nuts. Their kids are lucky. (Thanks to my friend John Winfrey for passing this on).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Approximating Fairness

                                                                     photo: Luke Sharrett/The NYTimes

This morning, as is usual when I run errands, I was listening to the radio.  Today's top story:  BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward's appearance before a House panel to discuss the recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  There weren't a lot of details at that point, but without hearing too much, I knew some of what to expect.  From our representatives, I assumed there would be high emotion, tough questions for Mr. Hayward, as well as opportunities to publicly declare--and for all of their constituents to witness--strong stances on the disaster.  From Mr. Hayward, I expected an apology and careful side-stepping of legally treacherous details.

This is how we do it when things go wrong.  Does it work?  Does it help?  I hope so.  Over the past two months since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, I have heard a lot of people, with much good reason, condemn BP, the oil industry, and corporations in general.  I've heard expressions of satisfaction that BP and its shareholders have seen their stock plummet in value.  I've heard a lot of folks express sadness, anger, and helplessness about the extent of the damage.  Some are tired of greedy executives.  Others, even those who drive gas-powered cars and enjoy the convenience of petroleum-based plastic products, have grown tired of the drawbacks of fossil fuels.

It's a relief, and a luxury, to have someone to be the target of all of that rage.  I envisioned another scenario, in which God was invited to appear before a similar committee.   I imagined outraged representatives presenting equally blistering questions on the technical aspects of various earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, and that obnoxious volcano that grounded European air travel for a week or so back in April: "Why does the Earth's mantle have faults, anyway?"  "Why must the continents drift?"  "What, exactly, did You know, and what did You do or neglect to do to protect innocent people?"  I imagined a "shakedown" in which God was summoned to the president's office and pressured to establish an e$crow account for the victims of His disasters.  I imagined the factions building on each side--one side defending, the other accusing--according to whether He had contributed to or doomed their political campaigns.  

I also imagined the outcry that might ensue if God failed to appear, which He has been known to do, at least in my experience.

I intend no disrespect to the residents of the Gulf Coast Region.  Nor do I intend to minimize the gravity of the destruction of life and property caused by this tragic disaster.  I just wonder about the productivity of the media frenzy.  No doubt, Tony Hayward wishes for a way to click the "Undo" button, to somehow have the power and capacity to make it up to the sea, the birds, the fishes and shrimp, and the fishermen and shrimpers who make their livelihood on the Gulf.  Not to mention BP shareholders.  Or the families of the 11 crew members who were killed.  Fairness isn't so easily found.  And so, in a scenario of specialized knowledge, expensive technology, mind-numbing devastation, and slow progress, we grope for fairness as best we know how.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

My Comeback Gig

A couple of weeks ago, I played on stage for the first time in about three years.  While I have kept up writing, singing, and playing, I have taken a big ol' hiatus from performing since my daughter was born.  My "comeback gig" was a truly wonderful experience.  I had a great turnout of loving and supportive friends from my whole life in Austin.  I am so grateful for everyone who came out and helped create the festive and electric vibe.  Special thanks to my pal Renee Trudeau, who wrote a blog post about my show!

I loved playing at Momo's--it was my first time to play there.  I love the stage, the sound system, the fun indoor/outdoor space, and I loved the gorgeous weather we had that day.  My set wasn't perfect, but I knew it wouldn't be.  I had spent weeks working to remember my old songs, to write a new song, and I challenged myself to try out some guitar leads on about five of the songs. There are so many balls to keep in the air when you're doing it on your own, as I am.  Overall, I was really proud of myself.  Now I just have to replicate and improve it, over and over.

We had fun.  I gave out free CDs to everyone in the audience.  I sang a song about cookies.  Since I’m on this big scrapbooking kick, I had people sign a guest book to commemorate the night.  And I had a contest where folks could have a chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Waterloo Records if they named other artists who I sound like.  Want to know what they said?  My fans said I sound like early Jewel, Carrie Underwood, Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Tori Amos, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Colbie Callait, Sarah McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, and Joan Baez. Wow!

They used these words to describe the show: “smokin’ hot,” “beautiful,” “amazing presence,” “grounded in life,” “sweet,” “from the heart,” “hilarious,” and “inspiring.”

This is my dream!  To listen, to write, to play, and to sing.  To make space for all of the things that we don't always talk about, but need to feel, once in awhile.  To explore the connection between audience and performer.  To experience the power of music.  And to have fun.  There, I said it.  I don't know why I have this dream, but I am committed to showing up to see where it leads me.   If you are reading this, I hope you will join me when I perform. My next Momo's Happy Hour is Tuesday, April 27th, 5:15-6:15!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Live at Momo's Happy Hour!


It's my debut at Momo's. It's my first public performance in over three years. It's my return to the stage after a "hiatus" known as motherhood. It's your chance to hear some old songs and some new songs. Bring your smile. Bring your heart--get ready for me to climb inside!

Wed. March 3rd.  5:15-6:15 p.m. 618 W. 6th Street.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Makes Me a Good Mom?

First of all, I don't want to be a good mom.  I want to be an excellent mom.  I don't have to be perfect to be excellent.

So what makes me an excellent mom?
1.  An excellent mom is awake, present, open, and responsive.
2.  An excellent mom takes care of herself.  She has a self and a life.
3.  An excellent mom knows when to lead and when to follow her kids' lead.
4.  An excellent mom controls the pace and stress of the house.  She knows when to push and when to put on the brakes.  She doesn't overschedule herself or her kids!  She knows it's important to have time to putter.  She knows when it's time for a treat, a break, a bubble bath, or a backrub.
5.  An excellent mom is creative.  She creates "home," schedule, nourishment, nurturing, learning experiences, and perspective.
6.  An excellent mom is centered enough to weather the storms of her kids' feelings without getting sucked in.
7.  An excellent mom shares her joys, her struggles, her triumphs...not in a burdensome way, but in an informative way:  "this is what life is like...you try things..sometimes it works/feels good, sometimes it doesn't.  and you try again."
8.  An excellent mom has a network of support.  She doesn't try to do it all alone.

As kids, and as adults, who do I want them to be?
1. I want them to like themselves.  I want my kids to know who they are and what is right for them.  Sure, they can take time to arrive at that place, and they can make mistakes in the process.  But I want them to know that they have a place in the world, that they belong, just as they are.

2. I want them to be problem solvers.  I want them to develop tools to figure it out and/or ask for help.  I want them to be able to take something big and break it down into steps.  I want them to be confident to make decisions, to take risks, to try new things, and to learn and move on when/if something doesn't work.

3. I want them to dream big.  I want to provide an example to them that shows that dreams are real.  I want to help them to find the thing(s) inside of them that thrill them, and to make that into what they contribute to the world and make their livelihood from.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Guru

It was around the holidays.  I was grocery shopping, with both kids in the cart, around 5 p.m.--the busiest possible time in the very busy store near my house.  I was dashing from aisle to aisle, trying to hustle our way out of the building with dinner, before either kid (or both!) melted down.  My mind was full of plans, my to-do list, the recording of the Christmas song I co-wrote with my friend Terri Fann, which I had been schlepping around to radio stations.

At first, I didn't notice him:  the aisles were so packed with people.  But as I walked past him, in this kind of incredulous tone, he said, "Wow!  You're really beautiful!"  And I must admit, I did look really good that day!  I was wearing jeans and boots, and my favorite new orange sweater, which my super-shopping husband had given me for my birthday.  But still--it's not every day that someone comments on my appearance in the middle of my grocery store trip.

I was so taken aback, I tried to think of what to say.  So I decided to keep it simple:  "Thank you."  That's when I first really saw him.  He was young, probably college-age.  I don't know what his particular diagnosis was, but he walked with a walker, so I would guess he had some type of nervous system degeneration--maybe multiple sclerosis?  Talking was, for him, a great effort.  So this one statement, "Wow!  You're really beautiful!" took awhile to get out.

After I thanked him, thinking that was the end of it, he went on:  "Are you seeing someone?"  And at that point, I really had to start laughing.  Good grief, who on Earth did this guy think he was?  I was wearing my wedding rings, I had two children in my cart, I was grocery shopping, and he was hitting on me?  Huh?  I must have looked confused, because he said it again:  "Are you seeing someone?"  Followed by, "Are you seeing me, right now?"  It was then that I saw the twinkle in his eye, and I laughed again and said, "Yes, I am.  I'm seeing you, right now."

I don't remember much after that.  I was in my hurry, and it was crowded, and the whole thing was just so...weird.  He shuffled off, and I finished my shopping.  But in the next few minutes, I realized that something truly momentous had just happened to me.  Here was someone who must be the subject of so much projection from people in life, just making up his mind to have a good time.  He just didn't care, in a way that was completely inspiring.  He was gone, but I was suddenly so curious about him--who he was, what was going on with his body, what his parents were like, everything.  I wanted to know how a spirit could be so bright, so oblivious of rejection.  I wanted to be just like him.

If I see him again, I hope I have time to buy him a coffee, and to hear more about his story.  For now, and from then on, he's my guru.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Ass Power

Quincy Jones famously attributed Michael's enormous success to his "ass power":
At one point I asked Q what separated the great stars from the near greats he'd worked with. "Ass power" was his reply. To illustrate his point, Q compared Michael Jackson to another well-known vocalist he'd produced. The other singer, an artist with an immense voice and an insatiable appetite for cocaine, would come to the studio, maybe lay down a scratch vocal, and then wander off for hours. Jackson, in contrast, would come to the studio, record a strong lead vocal, work the stacked harmonies that distinguished his work, and practice where to place those ad-libs that were his trademark.
"His ass power," Q said, "would keep him in the studio until he felt he'd accomplished something that day. That ability to focus, to stay in that chair in the studio, listening to playback and then going back in to record some more -- that's what separates the good from the great."