I got to Lausanne on Sunday, and checked in to AKA studios. To be more accurate, the studio assistant Renaud met me at the train station, and helped me find my way, which we did by taking Lausanne’s metro–I’d been to Lausanne a couple of times and didn’t even know they *had* one. More interestingly, it’s pitched, as this line (there are two, and they are considering building a third) runs uphill from the lake (what Americans call Lake Geneva–which is in reality the name of a lake in Wisconsin–the lake that Geneva is on is called Lac Léman), and in fact the metro stations themselves are pitched–the platform is parallel to the ground, as it were–so in the metro you have a kind of “Being John Malkovich” between-floors kind of effect, with the right end of the station in theory getting smaller, the platform as you stand on it means your right leg is higher than your left, and yet the supporting columns are upright. Anyway, in a stop or two we were off, and we walked in the cold of the early morning to the studio. My god, it was cold that morning…and the empty space between buildings created a natural wind tunnel, aiyee.
At the studio, the engineer, Thomas, greeted me, and I outlined the plan for the day. Until Bastian Baker was to arrive that afternoon, the studio was mine. I had to record a track for an upcoming compilation for the legendary station WFMU. And we’d agreed, kind of to my chagrin, but kind of good for me to man up and deal with my feelings about this song…that I record a version of “Moonlight Feels Right”, a hit for the group Starbuck in 1976. A unique entry in the category of dateraperock, this song dangles every cool guy cliché in the book. Like, it’s cool to say “seven four” instead of “seventy-four”. As if anybody does that. But this cat is so cool…he knows things you don’t, and it’s that kind of knowledge that will get your kit off. Musically, the song is an oddball–the song is mellow, the drummer is putting WAY too much visual effort into the video, and the band is technically formed around a duo of a guitar player who isn’t even in the mix and a lead xylophone player. No direction home, indeed. The saccharine Moog riffs that power the chorus, of course, were ripe for the picking, so I transposed them and put them into the chorus of “Travelling” on Eva Auad‘s first album.
Well, my take on the song is very Krautrock, with a hint of the Residents thrown in. You’ll hear it next year if you donate to WFMU’s spring fundraiser. I had it pretty much done by the time Bastian and Maya arrived, thanks to Thomas and Renaud’s helpful support.
Bastian didn’t have a total plan for the day, just figured we’d mess around and see what happened. He’d brought Maya Karin, along, who was to perform with us on Bastian’s radio special (more on that later). Maya is an actress and singer who was born in Germany, and now lives & works in Malaysia. Her father is German, her mother Malaysian, and she grew up in Indonesia. She and Bastian sat together on a flight one time and have been corresponding ever since. So, with no plan in mind, we were free to create. And create we did, I sat down at the piano and by pounding it out we wrote a haunting new song that was inspired by Bastian’s recent loss of a friend (the friend passed away, death by misadventure). Maya sang on it, and even the demo has that ‘it’ quality. We’re really proud of it. Bastian really is a natural and very good at this kind of writing session–he has a natural sense for hooks so even a song essentially as somber in origin as this one moves towards something memorable, singable, epic.
After dinner at the restaurant where Bastian’s dad ate nightly before opening his *own* restaurant, we went to the Great Escape, Lausanne’s wildest bar (tho pretty calm on a Sunday) and drank ‘surf’, which is bitter from Bastian’s home village, mixed with Coke. The Bitter is supposed to be good for you, we all know Coke is not. Bitter doesn’t have a high alcohol content, so in essence, it wasn’t so hard on me. But the day had been long, almost 20 hours since I got up so early, and bed beckoned.
The next day was spent at the RTS studios where we rehearsed for the upcoming radio broadcast. It was hard work, but really gratifying. I was to play on several songs–electric guitar, baritone guitar, and singing. Plus, we decided to add the new song (called Paradiso, which was also the name of the radio program hosting us, but as the song is about the the end of a life, appropriate) with me on piano. After the long day’s rehearsal, Bastian, Maya, and Bastian’s manager Raphael, whom I’ve known for years, had dinner at the restaurant Bastian’s dad owns. Bastian’s dad was a pro hockey player, back in the day, and now runs a family-style restaurant/sports bar. I had a steak du cheval (the Swiss love their horse meat, and so do I). Bastian’s dad and grandmother were there, clearly proud of him and they have every reason to be, he’s done very, very well for himself. When you meet the family you understand how he’s so sane, he’s got a good, loving family around him who keep him grounded.
This night I got an early night, or more accurately, I stayed in the hotel after dinner and caught up on work.
My joke of the day, when I had a headache–this will be only funny in French, and even then only mildly so
“Est-que-ce quel’q'un a une chouette qui dis que les gros mots?”
“Hein? C’est qoui, ca?”
“Bah, un hibou profane, naturellement!”
And spent the morning working as well. I had the post-tour report for the Posies to make, for our new business managers (our previous business manager, with whom we had worked since 1991, is retiring). So I prepared the receipts, the spreadsheet, etc…and had to send off the receipts plus the report and receipts from my Swiss solo shows, to the office in New York. I packaged them up and headed to the big post office in central Lausanne. I took a number, and saw that I was in the midday rush–some 40 customers ahead of me. But this is Switzerland, folks…and what would a 2 to 4 day wait in a Paris post office was not even ten minutes. There was some haggling as my envelope of receipts was quite thick and things in Switzerland have to be *just* *so*, but it worked out.
Eventually, Maya and I were picked up at the hotel (the geometrically odd Alpha-Palmiers, it’s like a space colony) and taken back to the RTS Studios. My stuff was left there overight, I just had the guitar with me. We were able to do a full run thru of the show, and then turn around and do the show soon after. A two-hour special of Bastian’s music or music he chose to present, with a live audience, that will be broadcast on Christmas Eve (Christmas itself to Europeans, the 24th). I will present a link when I can. I played the opening song on baritone guitar, “Colorful Hospital” from his first album. That went pretty good…next up were other guests–Noah Veraguth from the band Pegasus, who is a Beach Boys fanatic so we had lots to talk about. Alizé Oswald, from the band Aliose, with whom I’d performed before with Bastian, and with whom we discussed some songwriting possibilities, she’s such a lovely singer and writer. Rootwords, an American-born rapper who’s been based in Lausanne for years. His parents were in academia and hail from Zambia, and he left the USA pretty young to live in Europe. He’s a very sweet, thoughtful person, I enjoyed talking to him very much, mostly we discussed what music we liked but importantly, the philosophy around why we liked what we liked. Pascal Auberson, who turned his back on early, safe, pop success to explore the outer edges of composition and music concrete, and more. Dressed in a worker’s jumpsuit and in bare feet, he played a classical guitar strung with cello strings, and beat on it to make violent chords and rhythms while presenting spoken word interchanges with Bastian. Mindblowing, actually. Stress, another rapper, Swiss born, cynical and humble. Matt from 77 Bombay Street, an angelic singer. Add a string trio and Bastian’s live drummer Nathan Bonjour and keyboardist/ukelele-ist/percussionist/backing singer Simon Jaccard, who are phenomenal musicians, and you have a hell of a show. And Maya, of course, as previously mentioned! In Maya’s case, Bastian actually learned one of her songs, and sang it with her as duet–in Malay!
The show was mixed live, with interspersed interviews with the guests, in French (I didn’t have to say much) with the host Yann Zitouni, who’d seen the Posies in France in 1993. So, I came back to perform “Paradiso” with Bastian and Maya, just piano and two vocals. People really loved it. Then I played slide guitar on a song called “Prime”, and did backing vocals. I’m no expert at slide but I had worked out what I wanted to do in the song pretty well by that point…there were a couple of free jazz moments but the spirit was good. After that I played on “Dirty Thirty” which climaxes with a full on rock solo from yours truly. Guitar solos are also not my primary area of expertise but this one worked out so well…the adrenaline was so strong….I was shaking afterwards.
At the end of the show we had most of the guest artists plus the string players back on for an epic rendition of “Perfect Day” by the late Lou Reed, I sang a verse and did yet some more solo-ing. And it was a wrap. We all agreed that the show was intense, hard work (anything that’s being recorded for a big broadcast…nerve wracking) but we all felt good about it. We all made little fumbles and what not here and there but it was a human endeavor after all.
After the show we had dinner at the studio’s canteen then met up at a bar; I didn’t stay long as the bar didn’t have wine and I had an early train to catch. Very early indeed–I was out the hotel door at 6 the following morning. Slept heavily in the train, just awake to show my passport to the French customs and then to get out when we arrived to Paris. That day in studio I did all the last mix touch ups and such for Jim Tyrrell‘s album. The next day I worked on Eva Auad‘s mixing and that night I took a dinner break for wine and snacks at a posh wine bar that I won’t disclose cuz it’s crowded enough as it is, with composer Philippe Benasso. We have mutual friends. Philippe is originally a guitarist, from the south of France, blessed with perfect pitch. He did his conservatory training and now composes music for film and theatre, as well as doing playing/programming on album productions.
On Friday I did some playing on Phil Ajjarapu‘s album, in preparation for the mixing I’ll be doing soon. I played guitar, keys and did some backing vocals, and then headed home to grab my stuff, jumped a cab, and sat in traffic for almost 2 hours, thinking I was sure to miss my flight. Sometimes Paris is like that–it just gets gridlocked and you don’t know why. Sometimes there’s not a single cab for an hour.
I flew to Berlin, as I *did* make my flight, checked in to my hotel, went to the bar for a mediocre glass of wine, and called it a night.
Up at 7.45, I was out the door heading to the Apple Store to set up for Carice’s showcase there. I had to program the keyboard to replicate sounds that I use based on the album, and to have them set up in an accessible way for ease of use live. And also, set up my laptop so I could use some Mellotron sounds that the rental keyboard provided was incapable of making. I got ‘er done, just as everyone was walking in, fresh from the plane. We did our soundcheck–note that Carice & band had not played together in like 6 months at this point, if memory serves. The event was presented as a Q&A with Carice, open to anyone who registered at the store’s website. This is an ongoing series of talks recorded for podcasts, but Carice also wanted to present a concert as a bonus. And, so we did a 5 song set at the end. Maybe 6. It went well, considering the hasty nature of the set up and the long time between shows. We didn’t have much time to bask in the glow of our achievement tho–we where whisked outta there to the Berliner Festspiele, where the European Film Awards were taking place. I hadn’t really heard of them before last year when I knew that Carice went, but the Awards are presented by the European Film Academy, which founded in the 80s by Ingmar Bergman. She was invited this year to perform and present one of the songs on the album, “Something Funny“; as it happens, I co wrote the lyrics. So, that we did. Now, when we soundchecked, the floppy-haired, distinguished and professorial gentleman eating from a plate of pasta on his knees sitting in front watching us was none other than Wim Wenders. Yow. When we re-entered the building later, via the red carpet, where we were paparazzi’d with Carice, Wim, who has been the head of the European Film Academy for some years, shook our hands, with a congenial put-the-other-hand-on-top shake, very warm.
Now, when we performed, I was on my little dias looking into the front row, directly in front of me were seated the following: Mr. Wenders, Catherine Deneuve, Ennio Morricone, and Kristin Scott Thomas. Now *that* was surreal. Being a TV thing, etc…with extremely questionable sound onstage (Joost on drums was on a pyramid like 50 feet away from me) I had to concentrate, so I can’t say I was free and easy onstage but I played well, and more importantly, sang really well (this song has astonishingly high backing vocals).
So, the after party. We had dinner, band, crew, Carice, her agent Janey, and German actor Sebastian Koch, her costar in her most successful film, Black Book. He was very friendly. The rest of the party, was kinda…meh. I mean, they were generous, the free booze was flowing, but…I wasn’t feeling the vibe. I was so impressed tho: Joost, JB, Janey & Carice were literally the first, and for a long time, the only folks on the dance floor. I was too tired to put on my boogie shoes, but I hung for awhile, then…wow, took advantage of a morning with no obligations, and got a decent night’s sleep, from about 2 til about 10. I woke up at 8, my body expecting to take Aden to school, told it to stand down, went back to sleep (the best feeling ever). I was surprised that so few people openly complimented us about our performance, tho…maybe film people are used to be discreet about praise? Dunno.
Today I’ve been with filmmaker Claudia Rorarius, working on some things for a film project, as yet unnamed or ever known what dimension it will take.