Monday, March 26, 2012

On the other side of The Bridge (story of "All I Need")

What is "All I Need" about? (Track two on the new record and my featured March Free Download)

Let me put it like this. It might sound crazy but... maybe you relate somehow...

So one day, you're sitting there bored – with a job, or maybe just with yourself. A door opens... you convince yourself to run through it and seize the day.

You just broke the monotony of your life, pursuing this new opportunity, and you succeeded in forcing a change in your life's path. Change is exciting. And if lucky, your efforts maybe even resulted in previously unimaginable achievements that other people are recognizing you for. Nice work! You should be happy.

Yet along the way, when the novelty and excitement wears thin, and when familiar challenges start showing up dressed up in new clothes on the other side of the bridge, you're still not completely satisfied - maybe even dealing with new problems you didn't have before - and you start having second thoughts about your decision to change things up to begin with.

You continue running into the same types of people along the way that (you continue to tell yourself) are holding you back and messing with your head. They're holding the key to your happiness, and if you just keep pushing on... persistence... just one more door to open, and one more bridge to cross.

You're sort of at the same place you were before you even started.

Is this more a circle than a new path?

At some point, you have to wonder if maybe the common denominator is yourself, and your own personal demons and insecurities are causing this cycle, holding you back. Maybe you should just go back to that safe place you left and cut your losses. This logical/rational voice in your head starts to challenge you in ways like this (now that the demons who urged you to make such whimsical changes to your life in the beginning have gotten bored and gone away).

These angels (or are they the demons?) start convincing you to turn around and just head back to that safe place. People will understand if you go back. (Don't kid yourself, you still care what people think, no matter how many times you proclaim otherwise.)

But you're committed now. You can't turn back and feel good about yourself. You have no choice but to continue onward on the other side of the door, across the next bridge, even as the story gets more surreal and perhaps spins out of control.

So now you're conflicting yourself. Contradicting yourself. Convincing yourself at all costs that it was the right move to cross that bridge to begin with. Your yin fights your yang. Your angels fight your demons. You animus fights your anima.

You start to become your own worst enemy. You're in hell. And that's all you need in your life, right?



A few bits of trivia here before I cut out of the blog here tonight:
  • "All I Need" introduces Merilee Phillips-Miller on cello to the 8-song story. Her cello is prominent on many tracks moving forward.
  • Merilee had just moved to Chicago (she tells me later) from Michigan via San Antonio when I met her. She and her husband are really cool and interesting cats who have since returned to Texas, but we still keep in touch.
  • (Merilee is one of the only Craigslist-connections I've ever made that have actually worked out.)
  • So Merilee responded to my Craigslist inquiry for a cellist, I sent her the songs, and apparently she was interested enough to invite me and my guitar to her and Daniel's place one night to jam a little bit (which is always awkward in the beginning – I don't know them, and they certainly don't know what to make about this guy who shows up in black and shades at night. I need to sell myself and my songs through this awkwardness. And then hope when the dust settles that we all still like each other and no one's wasted anyone's time. God knows I've wasted so much time in this process.)
  • Honestly the first time we met (she had reviewed the demos), I was a little unsure whether she was into it or not when I left. Her cello playing was fantastic though. She, Daniel, and I had a few things in common too. Happily, she agreed to pile herself and her cello into my little car and head down Lake Shore Drive with me to that Southside attic. And we had a lot of fun! And we all became friends :)
  • Merilee never did get to play any shows with us officially (since the damned project was so chaotic and scattered while she was in Chicago. We talked about covering Old 97's "Buick City Complex." Maybe down the road in San Antonio one day! I really want to see those bats, Merilee! :)
  • But Merilee IS properly featured in the VIDEO for "All I Need" (coming later this week! Check back in!!)

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Official Record Release Party - Set One

Ok so by now you know much of the backstory – or at least have an introduction – to this project. My name is Trakan and I am promoting the release of my second record, Powder Kegs Beneath Dagger Trees. I have a lot of promotional material and samples and stuff on my official website.

This blog is sort of my diary – documenting reflections and memories I have about its making (which took three years), as well as its actual promotion.

To this point on the blog, you’ve met me and the band,



... and have even sat in on our dress rehearsal.

Let’s release this thing finally!

The official record release occurred on Monday, February 20 at Webster Wine Bar on Chicago’s north side, and filled every seat, I’m excited to report. We played two really fun sets – sets that included all of the new songs and (almost) all of the songs from my first release, Opening Soon Under New Management.

See this page on my website for a link to the full set-list.

Here's the stage on the evening of Monday February 20, just before "opening the doors"...


We had to squeeze all six of us into the corner to fit everyone in (below).


Don't worry though - the band swaps instruments and moves around on stage behind me, so even if our friend Rob Gaczol (who photo-documented the show) can't squeeze everyone into each shot, sooner or later Matt and Freddy will come into focus! To start, me and Roxy up front on vocals, with Claire on fiddle and Chris behind a kit that he literally had to crawl beneath to get to :)

You gettin' all this strummin' on film, Mr. Gaczol?!...


Roxy on bass for this song...


Chris on drums...


Claire on fiddle...


Freddy on banjo for this tune...


Matt on guitar (usually) when Roxy is on bass...


A primal moment for me coming... This record took three long years to write, record, produce, and package. Been waiting patiently for this. I suppose this is the closest I'll get to giving birth...


Well there you have "set one"! Thanks so much to everyone for your support. Thanks a ton to everyone at Webster Wine Bar for all your support through this process. And thanks so much to this band for being there for me these past several months! You guys rock!...


Check back soon for set two... I'll be back at some point to post photos from the rest of the show.

Meantime, take a peek at some of the artwork Veek (contributing artist to this project) had on the wall at the show back in February. (That would be Mr. Sam Cooke on the wall at my show. One of Chicago's all-time finest musicians at my show! Nice!)


Oh and some handsome gentleman showed up in a really fashion-forward and sensible ensemble for the show :) We took photos between the set.

Ok off to change clothes and get in the "zone" for the second set... come back soon to see the rest of the photos!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Factory - Join us for an Actual Practice!

Chicago, IL - Continuing our tour of the factory where we rehearse, in a tiny forgotten industrial neighborhood that is slowly being flanked and consumed by encroaching condos on all sides... come on inside and sit in on our rehearsal. Feel free to move my guitar case off the couch and relax while I take you through this batch of photos.

Our rehearsals typically go something like this...


And this particular rehearsal featured here was a mere two days prior to the CD release back on February 20. We rehearse "in the round," as they say. Usually it's at night, but this scene was right after our daytime "promo photo shoot" with Rob Gaczol (that blog is coming soon too). Mr. Gaczol followed us upstairs and documented this pre-release "dress rehearsal."

The first song felt great (to me). I was in a zone. The band is getting tighter and I'm excited for the release.

But wait... there's a problem, isn't there? Damn it!


Sometimes (now that the band has these songs down and I can get lost in the moment at rehearsal instead of teaching the songs... which is a first for me by the way - usually the musicians I assemble in the past for shows/recordings flake on me for a variety of reasons after a few months or couple of shows - see this blog for details)... Anyway, what I'm getting at is... sometimes I'm oblivious to something that is affecting Matt or someone else at rehearsal because I'm focused on working my stuff out. I noticed something was bothering them after the first song.

Matt explains the problem...


Today, there is an issue with Roxy's mic. Matt's sort of in charge of the board once Freddy gets everything plugged in and heads across the room to his space in our circle (Freddy is the factory connection to Dan Lakin who generously lets us practice here, btw. Thanks, Dan!)

So the thing is with practicing "in the round," if the monitors aren't positioned juuussst right, there can be feedback issues since we're all facing weird directions and our mics sometimes aren't aligned perfectly. Or sometimes it's a simple issue where the levels aren't right and "we need more Roxy in the mix!"

Thankfully Matt's there to work it out with her.

But damn it, we just can't seem to build momentum before this show. The FitzGerald's show was a fun show but it really didn't come together like we know it could. And that show was on the heals of a few stressful rehearsals too.

We wait anxiously while Matt performs some board maintenance...


Chris prays with me (below) that everything comes together. Hahaha. At least that's what I imagine when I saw this photo below. In retrospect, he's probably just praying someone brought beers.


Alright let's try this again...


Mmm... hmmm... feelin it....


Claire puts down her fiddle and plays bells on the first track of the CD (third of the set), "The Bridge"... (listen to The Bridge here)... (read about the making of The Bridge here)... look at Claire playing bells in rehearsal in this photo...


Happy to report virtually nothing else went wrong from here out...


Freddy concurs!

Things lighten up... oh yeah, we got this sh$t down...


(A sip of water for me. Sure enough we have no beers somehow.) Claire's ready to bow...



We're set for the record release! Which went AMAZINGLY by the way!! (Photos and story coming on this here blog soon!!)

Say "see ya there," Freddy...


(For more info on this project and samples etc., please see the official Trakan site here. Blog with you soon!)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Factory - A Tour of the Practice Space


Ok, let me take you on a tour of our rehearsal space. Like I was saying in a recent blog (and this will come up again... cuz it's cool and special)...

"So it had been months of rehearsing once a week, with this new lineup, at a factory down the street, leading up to this. The band had slowly but steadily learned and prepared seventeen songs with me – from both of my records (which is a lot by the way. Most bands who play original music prep 45-minute sets for a show but we needed two sets for the release, so we were biting off a more aggressive set list)."

Yeah that's a luxury for most bands who are raped $hourly at most rehearsal spaces in the city. Huge thanks to Mr. Dan Lakin for all his help and support. Most indie bands don't have a super-cool factory - in the coolest unknown corner of Chicago that no one knows about - to work virtually at their convenience! Incredible and fun.
So here's the front door... follow me...



This day we somehow beat Freddy and Claire who were carpooling. The top door is locked. I'm told that if the bottom door locks on you too, you're trapped till someone with a key comes by. Fortunately, Rob Gaczol was there to snap this shot seconds before the dude working in the factory heard us milling about (that's sort of a pun, I think) and let us inside. Come on in... that smell of factory particles in the air hasn't made anyone (in this project anyway) call in sick to the next rehearsal....


This was the first time we rehearsed in the factory during day-light (Saturday after our photo shoot. two days before the record release). Turns out those dark walls are actually full of windows. And (above) even though the dude from the factory let us in, Freddy has the key, so Roxy and Matt waited at the door to our space. So let's go deeper into the factory...


There's some factory stuff up there...


Mike Namoff and I (Mike mastered the CD) had a long talk while mastering the CD down in Chinatown, near Halsted and Cermak... what the hell are those endangered "water-tower" things on the top of factories called? Someone else recently told me that they were used "back in the day" to put out fires. Hm. Sounds logical. I used to think as a kid that they looked like aliens landing on the roof-tops, with big thick arms sucking the insides out through the roof... Now I'm just happy to be looking through a factory window at one of the last aliens on earth. One last question - when's the last time someone washed these windows? Industrial Revolution probably.

Meantime, Roxy finds a ping-pong ball, table, and box-top and serves...

Chris volleys...


And Freddy enters the building... HEY! No kidding, that locked window (that till now I thought was a wall) opens with your key?

I wanna come outside too!

Hey Freddy!


Over the Chicago River, looking north toward the Sears Tower. Bad-ass view. More pictures coming soon of this scene!


Factory orbs below... (or lens flares). Either way, two cool pre-rehearsal cats here, my friends, on the roof of some factory in Chicago on a sunny late-winter day. Does it get any cooler?


Maybe! How 'bout a spring video on some factory roof in Chicago? Hmmm.... Roxy, Claire, and Freddy scout our next video shoot and summer picnic spot?


Alright, let's go rehearse. But first, Roxy has to use "the facilities"...


...which are clearly not set up for "lady factory-workers"....

I'll just wait outside... in a mirror...

... next to a comfy chair...

Oh damn. Can't forget to introduce our loyal factory-resident-fan... Eddie the cat, who listens to us every week (I still think he looks like a "Gary the cat." Dude's got a blacklung-full of tire particles, a bum eye, and a limp that says "some rat the size of me almost took me out once. Almost.")


Ok, unlock that door and let's rehearse this set! (Photos from the release show's dress rehearsal coming next!)