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AS:R had debuted!

AS:R debut, May 18, 2022!

American Songbook: Redacted logo

The American Songbook: Redacted has finally hit the stage! The show last week at Caveat was a lot of fun and I’m really excited by how everything went, from the material to my performance to the crowd and the all the tech. Performing 11 new songs (with detailed intros and slides, no less) is a daunting task and something I would never consider in a regular standup set. But this show—an attempt at understanding American history and culture through music and humor—is near and dear to my heart and something I’ve been eager to try.

I want to give a huge thanks to everyone who came out the the show in NYC, it was on the later side on a Wednesday night in the middle of yet another Covid variant surge, so I know it wasn’t easy to show up in person. The team at Caveat was also top-notch, from front of house to the tech, everyone there was helpful, friendly, and damn good at their jobs. When I checked out the video of the live feed I was blown away by the quality and was so excited to realize that the people watching the live stream (thank you all so much for tuning in!) got such a great view of the show. If you’ve seen any of my Cover Tuesday DIY livestreams from home you’ll know that I know that tech is hard!

Now that the debut has has debuted I’m excited to develop the show further with performances, festivals, and more. I hope to do the show many more times here in New York, perhaps even an extended run somewhere. I’d also like to take it to select theaters and venues in other cities, and now that I have video of it to prove it actually exists, I’m going to start reaching out to places. If you have thoughts on a venue that could be a good fit let me know!  I’m also going to start recording studio versions of the songs for a companion album. Maybe I’ll release it as a live/studio double album! 

So many possibilities, and the possibilities feel even more real now that show #1 is in the books! Thank you to everyone who helped get it going!

“Let It Run” Behind The Song

“Let It Run”

Behind the songs of The Green L.E.D.s debut—Track 11

Let It Run is one of the first two songs I wrote when I started working on this album and I wrote it right after Show Me Something Else in March of 2021. I wanted to try to write something upbeat and optimistic to balance out the pensive mid-tempo vibes of “Something Else,” and for the first few days the working title was simply “upbeat” or “uplift.” As the basic tracks came together I knew it had to be the closing song on the album, it had a driving energy that would get me to stand up even when just listening back to rough mixes. I wanted that to be the lasting impression as people went off into the world.

I also think this is a perfect song for a running playlist, so if you’re looking for new tracks for your workout mix this is a great candidate. It’s about moving forward and trying to push through to something better, about being determined to keep trying (seriously, add it to your playlists, it helps the algorithmic faeries show the song to more people!). Funnily enough though, the word “run” in the title doesn’t refer to exercise, it’s about computer programs.

Mixing early 80s musical influences with thoughts of optimism and hope somehow got me thinking about my first computers and playing around with the BASIC programming language. It was exciting to try to learn what could be done, I played around with simple games, tried to design fun screen visuals, and was always trying to figure out how to do more. The way learning a new language can make you dream of travel to other parts of the world, experimenting with my Timex Sinclair and Atari 800XLs helped me learn what computers could do and got me dreaming of the future.

And speaking of retro technology, the intro to this track features a very weird piece of vintage gear, The Ludwig Phase II Guitar Synthesizer, which makes weird phasing and “yoy-yoy” sounds. I bought it from my friend and neighbor when I was a teenager and held onto it all these years mostly because it has lots of cool looking lights and switches. I really wanted to use it somewhere on the album and I think it creates a happy and otherworldly soundscape leading into this track.

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Let It Run is one of only a couple of tracks that have an acoustic guitar anchoring the mix (the other being I Ain’t Gonna Play That) and I think it really drives the chorus, especially in the break after the bridge. It’s also the highest vocal part on the record and I debated whether or not to lower the song to set the vocal in the range of the other songs. I tried a few versions in which I kept the voice lower but it just didn’t match the energy of the music so I deviated a little from the rest of the album and tried to belt it out.

In the end I’m really happy with the vocal and the track overall, and I like the way this song and “What’s In Store” create optimistic bookends for an album that has a fair amount of angst. It’s like a compliment sandwich: a sweet coating of peppy vibes surrounding a creamy nougat of melancholy and despair. Maybe that should’ve been the title of the album!

Nah, The Green L.E.D.s was the way to go, a blinking signal that the listener can decide the meaning of.

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“Here Comes The Money” Behind The Song

“Here Comes The Money”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut—Track 10

Here Comes the Money had a very interesting journey to becoming a song for The Green L.E.D.s debut. The music was written sometime near the beginning of 2018 but the only lyrics I could come up with to fit the melody told a story about a haunted corn maze. The song lingered in my notebooks as a novelty/oddity for about 2 years.

In the summer of 2020 when we were all stuck in our homes thanks to the global pandemic, John Bolton was all over the news hawking his memoir of working in the Trump administration. I found it vile that was hoping people would pay money to hear the information he should have given in testimony at the first impeachment trial and I started singing the line “F*** you John Bolton” to myself over the Haunted Corn Maze melody. I recorded the song and made a lyric video for it. I posted it online and promptly forgot about it, but the melody stayed in my head.

I really liked the music; it’s dark and moody and I always felt that if I found the right lyrics it would make a really cool song. When I started toying with the idea of doing The Green L.E.D.s album I went back to this song to see if I could come up with lyrics that would fit the project, most importantly trying to find a phrase that would fit the rhythm of “a haunted corn maze” or “f*** you John Bolton.”

I tried a ton of options, including “you know it’s bulls***,” “it’s not the answer,” “I’m not a robot” (which would’ve been about captchas), “this song is blockchain(?)” Then finally, in mid-May, I scribbled down “here comes the money, there goes all the fun.” It hit on the idea of investors coming in and with their money and influence ruining the thing they’re trying to acquire. It’s ostensibly about startups but also applies to the entertainment industry, when studios and producers ruin the unique aspects of a project in an attempt to broaden its appeal.

The song also had a few incarnations on the music side. At first it had a sort of dark cabaret vibe, then there was an attempt at a Latin go-go feel before I settled on the upbeat, guitar driven version heard on the album.

I think this version fits in well with The Green L.E.D.s but who knows if the song won’t be reborn again? A reggae song about cruise ships? A country song about drive thrus? Stay tuned!

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“I Ain’t Gonna Play That” Behind The Song

“I Ain’t Gonna Play That”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut—Track 9

I Ain’t Gonna Play That is about trolls, and not the cute fun kind. It’s about the online a-holes who stir up anger, grievance, and resentment to get ratings, boost listenership, or “drive engagement.” Political radio hosts like Rush (may he rest in torment) and Glenn Beck, TV pundits like Tucker Carlson, or the thousands of podcasters and vloggers who all poke at hot button issues to get attention, like spoiled brats flicking your ear to get you to engage with them.

Can you tell I hate these kind of people?

Getting that anger into a song that wasn’t just me screaming out at the universe was tricky, but I think I came up with something that makes the point while still being fun to listen to. In fact my biggest concern with the song wasn’t the subject matter but that the track’s feel and arrangement are a bit different from the rest of the album. I wanted the album to be a cohesive project with a strong foundation of early 80s alternative influences; would a track with a laid-back shuffle beat and acoustic guitars fit?

“Is it too groovy for Green LEDs?” is a question I asked myself in my notebook when I was working on the song, because that acoustic shuffle groove was the first thing I wrote and was the core of the song. The shuffle beat makes this track a little more bluesy and roots rocky than any of the other songs so I worried that it would stick out and be too much of a gear change, But once I hit on the subject of not engaging trolls I worked to convince myself to keep it in.

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I wasn’t lying! I literally asked myself “Is it too groovy for Green LEDs” in my notebook 😛

I had tried some other lyrics here and there but nothing quite fit the feel and attitude of the music until I thought of the “Homey the Clown” sketches on the 90s sketch show In Living Color. Homey was a birthday party clown whose catch phrase was “Homey don’t play that,” which he’d employ any time a kid wanted him to do something clowny that he felt was beneath him. Once I landed on my version of the phrase, matching it to the subject of trolls came up almost immediately, because here in 2021 trolls are ascendent and everywhere. We have sitting US Senators who seem to care more about trolling the media and their political opponents than doing anything remotely resembling legislating, for crying out loud! They’re taking over.

Even when the track was finished though I still debated whether or not to include it on the album. “Is it really a Green L.E.D.s song?” I asked myself, as if I were the A&R guy at a major label. In the end I liked the track too much to leave it out, and the advice to not engage toxic trolls—advice I constantly need to remind myself to take—was something I wanted to include.

I still ask myself if it fits. Does it? Let me know what you think in the comments, but please, no trolling 😀

“I Can Feel It (Can You?)” Behind The Song

“I Can Feel It (Can You?)”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut—Track 8

Not only is I Can Fell It (Can You?) the earliest official song by The Green L.E.D.s, it’s the song that launched the sound, vibe, and the very name The Green L.E.D.s. I wrote the song for the “Back in Time: Vol 2” project put together by my old Steppingstones bandmate Dan Pavelich. It was a concept album wherein people wrote 80s style songs under an assumed name of an 80s band, as if they were “lost hits” from the decade. 

The original version of the song had a synth bass, following the inspiration of the song “Cars” by Gary Neumann (which was released in 1979, sue me). I was also influenced by The Cars, the band, because I knew I wanted to mix in some guitars with the new wave synth sounds. Vocally I wanted to use my lower register to give the song a bit of a different sound from my comedy recordings, and it was something I knew could sound pretty decent because for an earlier project that Dan put together I did a full on Peter Murphy/Bauhaus impression. When I put all those musical elements together what came out ended up sounding a bit like the Psychedelic Furs and Echo and the Bunneymen and is a sound I loved. When I decided to do a full album of original non-comedy music it was the sound I wanted to explore further and having that starting point and direction really helped me focus the project.

As the new project was taking shape with some of the newer tracks on the record I went back to my original recording of ICFI(CY?) to see if it held up or if I should rerecord it to better fit in. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I still liked what I did and how well the subject and the style fit with the newer material. I decided to change just a few things to bring it into the fold: I replaced the synth bass with a new electric bass part, replaced the drum machine sounds with the drum kit I used on the other rock songs on the album, and I redid the guitar solo. The original solo was fine but not great, and I felt that after a full year of playing a 12–14 song set of covers every week my guitar chops were leveled up a bit so I gave it another go.

The lyrics, written back in 2017–2018 also fit really well with the angst and mood of the newer material. When I approached the song for the original project my goal was to capture the feeling of late March in the midwest. There’s something about the feeling of the snow beginning to melt, the smell of mud, the hope of spring mixed with the fatigue of a long winter;  I wanted to set that to music. Those seasonal transitions remind you that time is passing, that you’re a year older, but also you have a new season coming up to try to get it right again. It’s a combination of hope and dread that is both exciting and terrifying and I’m sure the Germans have a word for it.

And if it weren’t for this song and that original Back In Time project, I wouldn’t have come up with the name The Green L.E.D.s! Having a name in place was a huge help because I’m sure I would have gone back and forth on what to call the project. Do I release it under my own name? What if people are expecting a comedy record? Do I come up with a pseudonym or a band name? Having a name in place that I liked was another reason I was able to hit the ground running.

So why The Green L.E.D.s? For that first project I was focusing on early 80s influences, (ok, late 70s if you factor in The Cars and Gary Neumann) and there’s something about green LEDs that remind me of that era. Handheld electronics were just starting to add green LEDs in addition to the red ones that were in everything prior. Lots of electronic devices and pretty much any amp I had had red or green LED indicator lights. And when blue and white LEDs hit the consumer market and started showing up on everything, I hated how bright they were. The indicator light on my external hard drive doesn’t need to light up the whole room at night!

Green LEDs, especially the lower powered ones from the 80s, have a nice, warm glow. The color is soothing. It’s like the color of Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Thinking about them helps me take a little step outside myself and try to connect my past to my present. I can feel it, can you?

“Start over Again” Behind the Song

“Start over Again”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 7

Start over Again kicks off “side 2” of the album and, as the advance single released back in July, it was the first public glimpse of what the album would sound like. Since The Green L.E.D.s had yet to release anything on the streaming services the decision to put out an advance single was more of an administrative one than anything. I needed to establish artist accounts at Spotify, Apple Music, and other places in order to properly promote the release of the album in the fall. Still, I wanted the single to showcase the best parts of the project and get people excited to hear more. There were three songs I considered for the single: Start over Again, What’s in Store, and Show Me Something Else.

Even though I think What’s in Store one of the strongest candidates for a single I decided against it because I already knew it would be the opening track of the album and I didn’t want to kick off the album with a track people had already heard. I wanted the album to start off with something brand new, with that upbeat energy the track has, and a song that sets people up for, well, what’s in store.

The remaining choice between Show Me Something Else and Start over Again wasn’t as easy because I think they both have intriguing elements and are catchy enough to stand as singles. Show Me Something Else has a guitar solo I’m really proud of and I wanted people to know the album was going to be guitar oriented. Start over Again has a dramatic chorus and a lot of angst, which is also an important ingredient in the album. In the end I felt Start over Again not only best captured the overall mood of the project, starting over again is what the album is. It’s a restart. It’s one of the many times in my life and career I’ve felt I had to take a few steps back in order to move forward. It’s me trying to navigate a way out of the abyss of 2020-2021.

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above, from my notebook on March 29, 2021

With the working title of “Chicago Bar Chords,” the second working title to include ‘Chicago,’ Start over Again started taking shape early in the project. My first audio note for the song is on March 28, 2021 where I have the chords and melody of the chorus, and by April 12 I had the lyrics worked out and had named the piece “Start over Again.” As I worked on the backing tracks I started to hear the angst and longing coming through in the chorus and my goal with the song was to set that up and deliver it as best I could.

From a songwriting standpoint this song has a bit of an odd structure in that there’s a prechorus that only appears once, before the second chorus (the section that starts with “it’s a waste to wait another day”). The bridge is in a more traditional position after the second chorus, which means chorus 2 is sandwiched between two sections that only appear once in the song, which is a little bit weird. And is it really a prechorus if it’s only in the song once? Are they really two bridges?

This deviation from the formula was one of the reasons I thought maybe the track wouldn’t be the right choice for a single. But in the end I felt the sections flowed so well that the exception to the songwriting “rules” wasn’t an issue. And the fact that the song so perfectly summed up why I was making this record—the hope, the doubt, the dread and fear of a restart—made it the perfect song to introduce The Green L.E.D.s new album to the world.

“It’s a Drop” Behind the Song

“It’s a Drop”

Behind the Songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 6

Keeping the dance party going, It’s a Drop started out with the inspiration of ska mixed with goth and somehow ended up someplace between a Falco or Tones on Tail dance track and straight up disco. The truth is I don’t know how to classify this song but I do know it was the most fun to work on.

It started out as “Just one drop” inspired by the story of Theranos, the biotech company that raised hundreds of millions of dollars on the promise it could run blood tests on one drop of blood, then went bankrupt when those promises turned out to be empty (and fradulent). Early on though I realized that the words “just one drop” might have a bad eugenics connotation and I didn’t want to be misinterpreted in any way on that front so I started searching for alternative phrasing while keeping the theme of corporate hucksterism. 

As I explored the idea I realized that there was something common to corporate fraudsters like Theranos and Enron, and multilevel marketing schemes, and even in limited runs of sneakers and clothing items. All of these things make money by playing on someone’s fear of missing out. For investors they want to be in on the next billion dollar company. With multilevel marketing companies there’s always the cult like top seller or leader of the company whose story of self-made riches inspires people to fill their garages up with herbal supplements (or cosmetics, or whatever). And with clothing and collectibles it’s the forced scarcity that drives the hype.

Musically this song was so much fun to work on I used it for not one but two of my behind the scenes videos (so far). The bass line and the marimba sound were the first to come together with the straight up disco drumbeat. Additions from there varied from disco influenced, like the Syndrum electronic toms, to the horn parts, which were inspired in particular by a song Tear the Whole Thing Down by the Higsons. The scratch guitar with a wah wah pedal was essential, and when I threw on the backing vocal “hey hey heys” I knew I had a track that would get people moving. 

I think it’s a good follow up to Into the Groove, as it keeps the dance party going, and even though the album isn’t pressed on vinyl I think of it as closing out “side 1.” By this point in the record you’ve heard some rock, a ballad, you’ve gotten your dance on, and you get a little break while you flip the record (or cassette) over. Then we hit side 2 with the very aptly named Start Over Again. See what I did there?

“Into the Groove” Behind the Song

“Into the Groove”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 5

I knew I wanted to have at least one cover song on the album and I started working on the project around the one year anniversary of Cover Tuesday, my weekly live stream of cover songs, so I had plenty of cover ideas to choose from. I went through my old set lists and there were about five songs I was seriously considering. I played around with them, even started some backing tracks on a few, but in the end covering Into the Groove à la Bauhaus or Echo and The Bunneymen was too interesting to resist.

I first covered the song on a live stream on February 23, 2021, right when the first inklings of doing this project were in my head. When I was learning it I realized if I kept it in the same key and sang an octave lower the song would fit right in with the vocal range of the rest of the album. The lower range and the gender swapping of the vocal turned the track from an upbeat pop celebration to a brooding and moody piece.

Even with the same key, I think this version of Into the Groove really stands out with its completely different arrangement and just slightly slower tempo (102 bpm compared to 116 in the original). The cornerstone was getting the bass line right since this is first and foremost a dance track. As you may have seen in my bass TikTok, I take the bass guitar parts very seriously and work hard to get them right.

Once I got the bass line down the most important instrument was the electric piano and I really like the way it drives the chord progression. Electric piano is in every track on the album and it was usually one of the first tracks I’d record after the drums. I like having the piano there as a guide through the chord progression for recording guitar and bass. I ended up liking the piano parts so much that on a lot of the tracks I kept them prominent in the mix. Into the Groove is the track with the most prominent electric piano but if you listen closely, it’s there on all of them.

When it came to the vocal, singing it an octave lower than the original gives the song a different feel—ok, I’ll say it, it sounds kind of creepy. I decided to lean into that and whisper sing a few lines here and there (“at night I lock the door where no one else can see.”) It may sound unsettling to some but maybe that just opens up a whole discussion on gender roles and power dynamics in social situations?

OK, that’s pretentious, I just think it sounds cool. And it’s a great tune that I hope this cover does justice to. After “Satellites,” which is heavier and darker, I wanted to lighten the mood a bit with a cheeky cover while keeping the energy up. And in my mind I would think of this song as kicking off the “dance party” section of the album because it segues really well to the next track “It’s a Drop,” which we’ll talk about tomorrow!

“Satellites” Behind the Song

“Satellites”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—track 4

Of all the songs on the new album Satellites is the most directly inspired by the pandemic and the ongoing global poop show of… gestures at everything. I think it’s one of the most dramatic songs of the set and I think it captures both what I was thinking about the world and why I needed to work on a non-comedy album. It’s about being in the moment, being aware of the world, and how willful ignorance to science or accepted verifiable facts is going to send us all to H-E-double toothpicks.

In my notebook, right after the first draft of the chorus, I wrote these notes to try to sum up the feeling behind the track:

“Gotta put the work in to benefit from science, we can’t have an advanced system with a willfully ignorant population. Some basic science literacy is needed, not that you have to understand the details of everything[,] but understand the process and the procedures by which knowledge is gained, tested, and accepted. ‘Measure the degrees so everyone can see the satellites.’”

Writing-wise this song came together rather quickly. The first audio note for it is on April 28, in which I have the general melody of the verse and chorus worked out. Later that day I have a longer audio note with most of the song together. The next day I have the lyrics just about finalized. But my favorite note for the song is a production/arrangement note from May 1, 2021: “oo-ee porta-lead synth for Satellite,” it’s that electronic whine you hear in the 2nd and last choruses (chori?).

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A few people have mentioned that this is their favorite track on the album which is really gratifying because it was the one that took the most effort to get the vocal right. I think I rerecorded the lead vocal three or four times—that’s not three or four takes mind you, that’s three or four sessions recording multiple takes, comping together a vocal, listening to it and not being satisfied, and going back days later to try the whole thing again.

I was so particular about the vocal because to me the backing tracks, especially the final double chorus, really delivered the intense energy of a world out of balance and I wanted to vocal track to live up to it. I’m still not overjoyed with the vocal in the verses, but it’s best version out of all the ways I tried it. To help out a little on the first verse I doubled the vocal track with a vocoder—a voice controlled synthesizer—and layered it just underneath the lead. It ends up sounding like a dreamy kind of reverb which really fit the song.

It’s really satisfying when a song captures the emotions you felt when you were putting it together and “Satellites” does that for me. I hear this track and I feel both my frustration with the world and my attempts to ground myself and be present in it.

“Looks Like I’m Living Now” Behind the Song

“Looks Like I’m Living Now”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 3

Looks Like I’m Living Now is one of two songs written before 2021 (ok one of three if you include the Madonna cover 😛 ) and I wrote it back in 2017 with a female vocal in mind. At the time I wasn’t writing a lot of non-comedy songs but I came up with a groove that I liked based on a sort of slow dance hall beat, and when I started putting the backing tracks together the idea of a breakup in the era of social media took shape. I thought it could be a good song for someone in an alto range, like Miley Cyrus or Lana Del Ray.

I put a nice track together and sang a terrible guide vocal that was way too high for me, but I never got a female vocalist to record it. The song lingered in my rough mixes playlist and I still really liked it and wanted to find a way for people to hear it. Every once in a while I would give it a listen and think I should do something with it; but with my main focus being comedy music and trying to write more material for my cruise show sets, getting an introspective ballad out into the world wasn’t a priority.

When I started working on The Green L.E.D.s album earlier this year I decided to give the song a try in a lower key to see if it would fit in with the feel of the rest of the songs. Originally in Db I lowered it all the way down to F which made the vocal sit in the sweet spot of raspiness that I was going for. I also completely rearranged the song to feature electric piano and tremolo guitars for The Green L.E.D.s version over the more electronic and contemporary pop arrangement I put together for the original. The electric piano groove really helped convince me the song would work on this project and it was one of my favorites to work on.

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That’s not to say the song came together easily, I had trouble finding the balance between a sparse, flowy arrangement and keeping it interesting and moving. And at the last minute I decided to swap in a brush drum kit instead of the one I’d used on the rest of the tracks.

It’s also the only track without a live bass guitar which, if you’ve seen my bass video on TikTok, was a tough decision for me. I used a virtual upright bass instrument in Logic when putting the basic tracks together and the more I heard it in the mix the more it felt like the right fit. There are also some bleeps and bloops from synthesizers and, if you listen closely, an accordion in the verses, which I added because the song gave me some French café vibes.

I’m glad this song is finally seeing the light of day. It’s one I’ve been proud of for a while and I’m thrilled it found a home on the new album.

“Show Me Something Else” Behind the Song

Rob and his sister on SNL stage, 2017

“Show Me Something Else”

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 2

Show Me Something Else probably has the clearest early 80s influence of all the songs on the album with its jangly guitar layered over a drum beat reminiscent of Simple Minds and mixed with some classic synthesizers for good measure. I am really happy with the sound of this track. And it has a one of my best attempts at a guitar solo, which is definitely something that is not my strength so any time a solo sounds halfway decent I consider it a win!

It’s another song about soul searching and, like What’s In Store, it’s not necessarily about finding the answers but finding the things that resonate with you and point you in the right direction. In this case it was the TV we had in the basement of our house growing up.

Like a lot of houses in the midwest we had a basement that was always somewhere between unfinished and finished, a rec room in progress. The were wood-paneled walls, a pull out couch, and a TV where you could watch something away from the commotion of the family or late at night. It’s where as a teenager I preferred to watch Saturday Night Live, which, since you had to catch the show live or you’d wait months to see it again, always felt like an event. It made me, a moody awkward teen in Waukegan, Illinois, feel ever so slightly connected to something else, it showed me there was a huge world out there and that there were really cool ways to make fun of it.

Growing up near Chicago I knew that a lot of the iconic original cast came from The Second City and after college I went through their year-long course of improv and sketch classes. It was an important step in my comedic development and a place where I got great insights into writing scenes and comedy songs.

Rob and his sister on SNL stage, 2017

Above: I’m on (the stage of) SNL! My sister and me after an SNL broadcast in 2017

My love of SNL also played a big part of me deciding to give New York a try when it came time to leave Chicago. New York was where a lot of my favorite comedy was happening: Letterman, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, SNL, Comedy Central. Hell, even MTV and VH1 had comedy in those days, and after years of seeing New York City on TV and in movies I wanted to experience it for myself, even if I failed miserably and only lasted a year here.

Well, now it’s redacted years later and I’m still in NYC after being pointed in a direction by a signal that came from miles away.

“What’s in Store” Behind the song

Track 1: What’s In Store

Behind the songs on The Green L.E.D.s debut album—Track 1

I decided pretty early on that “What’s In Store” was going to be the opening track of the album. That peppy guitar riff in the chorus had the right mix of upbeat energy and a little bit of snark that I thought was a great way to kick off the set of songs. But the pep wasn’t yet there when the idea of the song was first coming together.

The first part of “What’s in Store” I wrote was the chord progression for the verse, which I initially played a little slower and with a sort of strutting mersey beat, kind of like 45 Grave’s cover of Riboflavin. I even nicknamed the chord progression “Chicago Goth Skank” on the audio note on my phone, which is the second time I used “Chicago” to name one of my works in progress, the other being “Chicago Bar Chords” which turned out to be “Start Over Again.”  Apparently going back to my non-comedy musical roots took me back to my days in Chicago when I was often going to see shows, hitting record stores, and hanging out in pre-gentrified bars.

I worked out the melodies of the verse and chorus at the slower tempo but on April 14 I wrote myself a note to “try at 176 bpm for an upbeat song, not all songs should be so plodding and pensive.” I think the song was dying for a chance to break out because once I upped the tempo it really came together. The lyrics and the basic tracks for recording flowed easily and it was clear the song would be a great way to open the album, especially with a name like “what’s in store.”

Tryat176bpm_Note

The title of the song can be looked at two ways. The first is of course talking about what’s coming up, what lies ahead. But the “store” in the title is also about record and music stores, and even more specifically the bulletin boards in those stores where local bands post flyers, musicians post notices looking for bandmates, or people post music related job listings and such. 

In my early years of touring for shows, long before we had social media or the internet on our phones, I would always stop in at record and guitar stores as my first step in navigating a new town. There I could usually pick up the local music and arts indie paper to flip through and see what kind of music venues and performance spaces were around. I loved seeing the designs of the different band logos and venues—severe old English typefaces for metal bands, organic and crunchy type for hippiesh 90s bands, the inventive spelling of hip hop acts. 

And back in high school record stores had a similar function, they were access points to art and music scenes that you had to go out and find. Record stores weren’t themselves the place you went to find yourself but they were places where you could find the music, bands, and shows that helped you find your place in the world. Or at least let you know there were other people out there that understood, or at least accepted you.

That quest to find your place, that hope that it’s out there, and the thrill of finding those clues as to where it might be, are all intertwined throughout this album. “It’s the hope that we’re all here for…”

The Green L.E.D.s new album is here!

It’s here! The debut album from my non-comedy music project The Green L.E.D.s is out! It’s available to download, stream, and there’s even a limited run of 50 signed and numbered CDs pressed by Vandalay Records! I’m really proud of this record and can’t wait for you to hear it.

The idea for the album came to me at the beginning of the year, in the depths of the pandemic’s winter wave just before the year anniversary of lockdown. I had been doing Cover Tuesday, my weekly live stream comedy show, for about 9 months and was really enjoying just playing music. I was having musical ideas of my own but with the state of the world as it was (and still is) I wasn’t super inspired to write comedy songs. Like a lot of people I was taking a step back to look at my career and life, and I started to write some of the things I was feeling.

Musically I wanted to explore and expand on a sound I had first experimented with for my friend Dan’s “Back in Time” compilation album, where he had people write 80s style pop songs. I really liked the way my song, I Can Feel It (Can You?) (which I reworked and remixed for this album) turned out; it had the mood I was going for, the angst in the lyrics, the sound that nailed it to certain place in my soul, and I wanted to see if I could write more songs like that.

I originally hoped to put together an 8-song EP with five or six originals and a couple of covers but as I started writing new ideas started pouring out and I ended up with ten originals and one cover, Into the Groove, originally by Madonna, which took on a new life when lowered an octave and gender swapped.

I worked intensely on this project for most of this year and it’s quite honestly what kept me sane during this ongoing pandemic and everything else that’s going on in the world. I would turn off the news, tune out the stress caused by a stalled comedy industry, and dive into recording, arranging, and writing this album. I looked forward to my walks through Prospect Park during which I’d listen to rough mixes to come up with arrangement ideas and jot mix notes.

Today, walking through the neighborhood I listened to the full album streaming directly from Spotify and it was an amazing feeling. I’m proud of the work I did, I’m really happy with the way the album sounds, and I’m relieved that I got the levels right so it sounds decent next to label-produced stuff with infinitely higher budgets. Like literally infinitely higher, since my budget was basically zero 😛

And now that it’s out I can’t wait for you all to hear it. As I’ve said my inspirations were early 80s post-punk and new wave mixed with some 21st Century rock revival, but I’m curious what you hear in there. Is it more 80s to you? More contemporary? 90s Alternative? Let me know (but please be kind)!

Here are all the places you can find the album:

Or heck, just stream it in one of these players

Bandcamp

Spotify

The Odd Rock Comedy Hour Returns to Q.E.D.!!

The Odd Rock Comedy Hour is back!

After a loooong hiatus—thank you Covid-19—my comedy music variety show will be returning LIVE to the QED stage (or back yard, weather permitting) and I couldn’t be more excited!

I also couldn’t be more grateful to Kambri and Q.E.D. for the hard work and determination they put in to get through the absolute hardest year+ I’ve witnessed in my entertainment career. We all went a little crazy I think, and I hope you’re as ready as I am to experience live entertainment again!

Q.E.D. will be very safe: audience members and all performers and staff are required to be vaccinated and tickets will be sold through the Eventbrite service to facilitate contact tracing should there ever be an issue (get your advance tix for our return show here).

I’m putting the lineup together for the first show now, already confirmed is the very funny comedian Christina Walkinshaw, who was booked on our March 2020 show waaay back when.

A Project Full of “Real” Songs

There’s a weird and very annoying question people have asked me after shows. I’ll have just performed from 10-45 minutes—playing comedy songs of mine that are well-known, new, or somewhere in between, singing said songs and playing guitar—and people will ask “do you ever write any real songs?”

THEY’RE ALL REAL! I’m playing them! Can you hear them? The air molecules are vibrating and moving your eardrums! They’re real!

But I get it: they mean non-comedy songs. They don’t mean any offense by implying by contrast that comedy songs aren’t real They’re only unwittingly negating my entire life’s work!

Well post-pandemic life is gonna be a lot easier because I’ll be able to just say “yes” and point them to the new non-comedy album of 100% real songs I will be releasing this year under the name The Green L.E.D.s.

Why the name? To differentiate it from my comedy music stuff!

Don’t like it? Come on, it’s better than “Childish Gambino!”

I’ve been enjoying working on it and I’m really happy with the way the songs are shaping up. I’ve been inspired by early 80s post-punk and some Aughts rock but those were just the starting points and I’m going to wait until it’s done before I characterize it more. It‘s been hugely helpful for my mental state to have a creative outlet. Writing comedy during the pandemic has been really difficult for me because there were no live shows to test out the material, and with a global pandemic, a nationwide reckoning on systemic racism, and a dangerously contentious election year (that didn’t end at the election), I haven’t been super inspired to be funny. So what does a comedian/songwriter do when he doesn’t feel funny?

I guess he writes some “real” songs 😜

Look for the first single in July and the full album this fall!

Cover Tuesday Greatest Hits Vol 4!

More Faves, Including Song #500!

Watch Song #500: Buena by Morphine!

Song #500: Buena by Morphine!

I hit the 500th cover on Jan 12, 2021 in the 39th episode of Cover Tuesday which was our Pills, Meds, & Drug themed show in honor of National Pharmacist Day! Thanks to RickyRae for the suggestion of Buena by the pharmaceutically named band Morphine!

Pusherman by Curtis Mayfield

Another track from our Pills, Meds, & Drugs theme on National Pharmacist Day was the Curtis Mayfield classic “Pusherman!” Broke out the looper and the wah wah pedal for this one!

Watch Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman, complete with wah-wah guitar!
Watch Gold Digger by Kanye West

Gold Digger by Kanye West

Back before he was a certifiably crazy presidential candidate the obviously crazy Kanye West released really good hip hop tracks. Here’s my attempt at covering one of them, from our Gold-theme show!

I definitely crashed Red Barchetta by Rush

The 2nd of 4 color-themed shows during the holidays was the red theme, which gave me the perfect opportunity to ruin this Rush classic Red Barchetta! If you like vocal percussion and guitar harmonics this is the track for you!

Watch Another ridiculous Rush cover: Red Barchetta!
Watch Private Eyes by Hall & Oates

Private Eyes by Hall & Oates

My sister was kind enough to give me a groovy eye projector thinking an “eyes” theme would be a fun show. And she was right! There were so many fun songs to choose from, including this 80s classic.

Tomorrow by Silverchair

For the silver-themed show there were plenty of songs with silver in the title and a few from bands with silver in their name, including this 90s grunge classic. Travel back with me to the era of flannel, long hair, and songs that are quiet then get loud then quiet then loud again!

Watch Tomorrow by Silverchair
Watch These Eyes by Hall & Oates

These Eyes by The Guess Who

Another track from the “eyes”-themed show, complete with special effects! Or at least complete with googley eyes projected in the background. This song even includes hand claps triggered by a foot pedal! So much excitement!

© Paravonian