Thursday, May 26, 2011

Fourteen Is The Magic Number

Yesterday, I read an op-ed in the NY Times that mentioned Bob Dylan's 70th birthday was Tuesday. The author felt there was a musical and cultural significance to his age. He mentioned other musicians hitting that mark this year including John Lennon. The gist of his article was that these cats all turned 14 when Elvis was at his zenith. He also mentioned that Sinatra and Billie Holiday were 14 when Rudy Vallee became the first true recording star; and that Vallee hit that age as Scott Joplin's rags were the hottest contemporary songs. When we turn 14 we are at the beginning of adulthood and developing our own tastes. Or at least acknowledging popular trends.

So, I thought about my own 14th birthday in relation to the Hit Parade. In no time flat I rattled off 10 songs that are a permanent part of my cerebral fabric. Of songs released in my lifetime, 5 of these songs from 1983 rank among the most exciting pieces of music in my mind. I quickly created an iTunes playlist of 60+ songs from the month preceding my birthday to the end of the year; basically 1983. My 14 year old taste is permanently locked. Highlights included: "Billie Jean," "Is There Something I Should I Know?," "Let's Dance," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," and "(Keep Feeling) Fascination." "Time (Clock of my Heart)" remains my favorite ballad of the era.

The first pop LP I bought with my own money was Culture Club's "Colour By Numbers." "Karma Chameleon" came on MTV; my Mom had to run an errand at the mall and I knew I needed to go along. I think I spent $8 for that album. Took it home and wore it out. I was already a fan of Culture Club, but this LP was stunning to me. Had I been 13 or 15 or 25, would I have been as in thrall? Culture Club (and MTV) were a gateway drug for my musical bent. From there it was ABC, Duran Duran, Madness, Bowie and myriad new wave/new romantic/British pop acts. Only Prince and the MPLS groups could pry my captured imagination from the likes of Boy George, Simon LeBon and Martin Fry after turning 15.

Of course there was the zeitgeist of my 14th year, who moonwalked all over us in the 8th grade. Only thing is, as influential as Mike was, his musical stamp doesn't seem to be on people my age. Perhaps he got too odd too quickly. There aren't that many 42 year-old pop singers out there to begin with, or at least that I interact with to know which influence is more important or what we'll remember at age 70.

Peace & Disco Beats

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

5 Years

Good morning, Soul Mates.

Today is the five year anniversary of Rush Hour Soul's tour of the UK. We took off from LAX on the 24th, spent an entire day air-traveling. When we landed in London on May 25, we hopped right into our magic Peugeot and drove several hours to Sheffield. There, the home of ABC, we made our European debut at the D'n'R Live, thanks to Hayley Nelson and the Seaweed Biscuit fans. We shared the bill with fellow Americans, Locksley, a power pop combo who have gained a decent level of notoriety in Asia.

That opening night show was the beginning of a golden fortnight in the UK. Our travels took us further "oop north" with a clutch of shows in Liverpool, York, Huddersfield and Barnsley. The audiences really took to us and welcomed us. Of course, the band had fun recording in Wales at Monnow Valley Studio, visiting Stonehenge, touring the Abbey Road Studios and filming the video for "A Talent For Loving" with director Will Archer in the City.

If you revisit earlier blogs, follow along to the right (go to the posts from May and June of 2006), the trip is recounted quite vividly. It is exciting, knowing that a return to Blighty is coming in a year's time. That will allow me to get the new album completed for promotion and set up a dozen or so key dates. I am especially looking forward to participating in the 10th Anniversary version of Liverpool IPO (the 9th edition is going on currently, good luck DB) in 2012. The fans in the UK are so passionate and I cannot wait to reconnect with you, I think you are really going to dig this new long-player.

All for now. Dreaming of England. And Wales. And Scotland.

Peace and Disco Beats

Monday, May 23, 2011

Norman Kelsey's Second Album Journal Vol. 4

Well, here we go, Soul Mates.

This new album has a bedrock. Today, we completed the drum tracking with Kevin Jarvis at Karma Frog. In about 4 hours we polished off 4 tracks, including a remake of "Our Love Is Known By Name." I'm truly excited, so much that I hardly know where to start.

OK, we began the day with "Rebound." This is one of my collaborations with Bryan Farrar. In fact, all three of the new cuts we tracked were co-written with Bryan. He handles the chords, I supply the melody and lyrics. Kevin did not require many takes to get a master take down. My producer, Adam Marsland, has really directed some fine performances on this record. I think the first takes on all of the sides were solid. "Rebound" is cut from that 70's pop-funk cloth and even though the arrangement is not particularly conventional, it should be a fun one for shouting and singing along.

"A Miracle Is On The Way" came next and it is disco-ness lead to a conversation about the way rock groups, like Simple Minds, U2 and Franz Ferdinand, use the four-on-the-floor dance grooves. Adam appropriately pointed out that the Durans are the musical linchpin between the genres. I agree. On Saturday, I had a 22 hour road trip and got to listen to the new Duran Duran CD, All You Need Is Now, five times in its entirety. They are still one of my favorite groups.

Which brings me to "So Sophisticated." When Bryan and I started writing this track, I wanted it to be the centerpiece for an LP. It was challenging translating just the bass and guitar to a demo. No vocals, either. As a result, its importance to the new record diminished and other material was feeling stronger. However, driving home a few nights ago, I put the track on repeat and came up with a new hook. The bridge is straight-up jazz funk; that I did not touch. When Adam and I pre-tracked it on Friday, there was a some concern on Adam's part that it was still wonky, so we added lots of percussion and hand-claps, and I'll be if it didn't suddenly sound like some P-Funk. Now, with Kevin in, all of this was explained and he just smiled the entire time. I don't think he heard the track all the way through but once. On the first take, he took us to the funk-side of the moon. I don't know as if I have ever smiled that hard while listening to someone track any instrumental. It took all of my energy to stay in my chair, otherwise I would have ruined the recording. Friends, "So Sophisticated" regained its rightful place at the top of the track listing for the album and will most likely be the first single. It also has to be a front-runner for album title, too. For my fans who love the California Sunshine Funk: what it do!

The fourth side we worked on was a remake of "Our Love Is Known By Name." I realized I over-thought the original rhythm track and asked for a few musical cliches that were deemed unnecessary after a few listens to the rough. Kevin nailed it. Now, this ballad will be more straight ahead, and I hope, ear-pleasing.

The gist of this whole endeavor is to make a record that makes people want to dance. All of the best pop music should make you move. So much of the current dance music relies on electronics (not trash-talking, just fact-checking); this one is going to be much more organic. And I hope it won't feel like too much of a pastiche. I want things to feel familiar, but not sound grafted. Adam and I discussed how exciting it is to be producing what sounds like a vintage dance album, without feeling dated. It's very exciting for me, because there are so many unknowns. Only a few of these songs have been performed live. Some have never been heard by ears outside of the inner circle involved in this project. So far, the results have been breathtaking and gratifying.

If you are doing the math, that makes nine sides with drums. There is an elusive 10th song. The first song I wrote for the album, which may not get analog drums. Adam and I have discussed options for it, from a vintage drum machine to simple percussion. Either way, it is on to the next round. I will start tracking bass parts in June when Adam returns from the road and drum mixing is complete. Then we will start bringing in the guitarists. Adam will be handling the keyboards.

All right, my Indians are on TV. Gotta go support the Tribe. Thanks for checking in. If you are a friend on facebook, please be sure to "like" my music page. I will be shifting all musical attention there shortly, as well as relaunching my website.

Peace and Disco Beats

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Dropping Science at Karma Frog

Hey Soul Mates,
we had a productive pretracking session last night that crossed over into today. No rapture, so Adam and I kept going. Three tracks were tackled for Monday's recording date with Kevin Jarvis on drums. All of them are collaborative works with my songwriting partner Bryan Farrar (formerly of Rush Hour Soul, currently of Hypnogaja).

The first, entitled "Rebound," I consider the musical sequel to "Down By Love." It's got Bryan's trademarks; fun chord changes, a well-placed bridge and soulful melodic solo. As a collaborator, he gives me a good palette to work with and lots of freedom to build my own melody and lyrical theme.

Then we worked on "A Miracle Is On The Way." "Miracle" received the workout the other night, when I rearranged it and hit a good formula to present one of my strongest hooks.

Finally, Adam and I fleshed out "So Sophisticated." This was the track I originally heard in my head as being the first cut on the album and probably the lead single. It has healthy competition with "She's My Go To" and "Miracle." When I started writing it, I wanted a Chic-vibe. But it has become a hiphop jazz inflected piece that is sho' to be a mover.

One song remains un-tracked; the first one I composed for this LP. Adam and I are discussing a radical presentation for the rhythm track. It will be an 80's style new wave R&B ballad. So watch out.

I know it is a brief run-down, but there will be more news on Monday.

Peace & Disco Beats

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Life Along The Mississippi

Hey Soul Mates,

this has been a nice musical week. Started with Monday and a live performance for the Wesley School kids. My new song "Huckleberry Finn" got its world premiere at my church where I volunteer for the school chapel there. The audience (K-8) can be demanding, but their applause was loud after I sang. Pastor Joey dovetailed the song's topic and setting into the Monday morning prayer in nicely; reminding the kids to pray for the unfortunate souls who live in the towns threatened by the Mississippi River.

Then, last night, I had a major breakthrough on the tenth and final composition for my new album. It's a dance piece called "A Miracle Is On The Way." In preparation for tomorrow night's pre-tracking session, it occurred to me that the arrangement wasn't quite right and the 7th/minor chords in the verses weren't working. So I dusted off the old drum machine to get a beat and I completely rearranged the song. When I was finished, I knew that I had another potential lead-off track/single on my hands. It will be fun to hear it fleshed out at Monday's recording session.

I'm feeling very blessed and optimistic about the prospects for this album. I've got to find someone to work on my website, however. Almost time for new pictures and artwork, too.

Peace & Disco Beats

Saturday, May 14, 2011

IPO LA Booked for Aug. 4

Just announced, IPO Festival Los Angeles 2011. The line-up for this year's event is really cool. This will be my only solo appearance before my LP is completed. However, I will be playing material from the new album. Don't miss it.

Thursday, August 4 @ Molly Malone's
575 S. Fairfax Ave. L.A.

7:30 Aaron Durr
8:15 Brandon Schott
9:00 Morty Shallman
9:45 Norman Kelsey
10:30 The Resonant Heads
11:15 Math & Science Pretend Band

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Rockwell Is Back

Hey Soul Mates,

It has been nearly a year since I gave up on Blogger. But I am back. I was in Bangkok 12 months ago when things went haywire with my blogs and posting. Hard to believe. And it has been 3 years since the release of A Talent For Loving. More nostalgically, this month marks the fifth anniversary of my first tour of the UK with Rush Hour Soul. Gadzooks, where does the time go?

I reread the postings specifically from the first half of 2006. All of that optimism and open road. That was a grand time, but the dream was deferred. Now with a new LP on the horizon and a return to England in 2012 in the works, I felt it was time to put energy back into the blog, my website and my career in general.

The new LP will be exciting. Half of it is material that began life as Rush Hour Soul faded, the rest is all new compositions. The older songs never got their due. Some were live favorites that went unrecorded or were recorded with meager budgets/means. The new tunes speak to where my heart currently resides musically. I miss being in a band setting, but with the new recordings there is freedom, too. Of course, I will have to put together a line up to present these numbers in a live setting.

I'm being fueled with a new sense of purpose. I'm on a mission from God and looking forward to entertaining all of you. Thank you for coming back to support me and my music.

Peace & Disco Beats

Norman Kelsey's Second Album Journal Vol. 3

Hey Soul Mates,
remember that salutation? Well, the soul was in full effect at Karma Frog yesterday. So was the Spirit. We had Kevin Jarvis (Lucinda Williams, John Wesley Harding, Grant Lee Phillips) on the drums for the session. There were three songs on the agenda and I arrived as the first take was rolling. The first tune, called "She's My Go To" is a strong candidate for lead single. The groove was impeccable and Kevin gave it a Kid Creole flavor with the tome to go along with the dance beat it already possessed. I wouldn't have thought of that choice, but that's why I'm the singer. It was exciting to hear the rhythm come to life. Adam supplied the bass, the first time I have relinquished my Fender Jazz to another's magic fingers. Sometimes, I think Adam is just the palest black dude I know. He is fonky.

Next, we worked on my tribute to Sam Clemens and the Staple Singers. And you thought the Twain would never meet, Yount! Anyway, "Huckleberry Finn" was given a nice Mississippi River roll. Because this was a prime example of my free-form compositions with overlapping parts, the math was interesting. Fortunately, Kevin handled the bar count and made the transitions very dynamic. Kevin's snare work was a wonder to behold. Hence, my live comment on facebook about Sam knowing about the funk. Lyrically, it is one of my favorite compositions on the LP; though I'm not sure what Spike Lee will think about it.

The third track was a bit of a head-scratcher. For the pre-tracking, I multi-tracked a finger-picked acoustic guitar part. Very tasteful, but not helpful in conveying the song. We had fun discussing the directions we could take and whittling it down to the appropriate parts. Kevin's hi-hat playing will be a hi-light on the finished record. "Our Love Is Known By Name" is one for the ladies (Lady) and the lovers. Get ready to slow dance and get your back up off the wall.

Another productive day at Karma Frog. Adam is getting great performances and the process continues to be a thrill. We are taking the next two weeks off from the studio, however, Adam will be editing. Oh, I have officially pushed back the release date for the album. It will be out well before Halloween, but August 9th is too soon and I don't want to rush. That being said, the lead single will be ready in time for my summer shows.

Peace & Disco Beats!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Norman Kelsey's Second Album Journal Vol. 2

Hey Soul Mates,

back to the lab at Karma Frog tonight. We pre-tracked a few new songs. The first two got knocked out pretty quickly. It helps when I have a clear vision of what I want a song to say or do. And these are brand new tunes. Never heard before by anyone other than the few people involved in the project and Mom and the Missus. I think they are going to translate well, under Adam's direction.

Thank goodness, Adam is patient with me. By the end of the session, the third song, I was running on fumes. I rearranged the song a few days ago and as a result threw out half of the lyrics and rewrote the hook. After Adam figured out what the heck kind of beat I was looking for and I put down the scratch vocal, we were in the clear. These tracks are being prepped for our next drum session on Monday with Kevin Jarvis. The songs are quite varied: a jaunty Southern Soul song; a big old ballad; and the third, which will be Disco-riffic for your dancing pleasure.

On Tuesday night, I had the honor of joining Adam and his Chaos Band on stage at Cinema Bar for his 70's night show. I sang Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug." That was a lot of fun. We followed that with "Stayin' Alive" with Adamd and me duking it out on the falsetto vocals. There were plenty of other cool covers performed including "Brass In Pocket" and "King Tut." I hope to be at Adam's next 70's show on June 14.

Peace & Disco Beats