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“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?).

OOEESatellitesnote

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.

All 50 States Day 43: Texas!

All 50 States Day 43:

Texas!

Texas is huge and should count for like 4 states, and I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of it over the years. My mom has lived in the Dallas/Fort Worth area since I was in high school and I’ve spent a ton of time with extended family there. Workwise I’ve done a few college tours which took me to the hill country, west Texas stops in Abilene and San Angelo, a week in the Rio Grande Valley, Nacadoches in the east, and up to the panhandle at Texas A&M Western in Canyon, Texas near Amarillo.

Austin, Texas, has been one of my Escape From New York fantasy towns for as long as I can remember. Any time I think about leaving New York for a less intense but still artistically stimulating place Austin is near the top of the list. My first experience with the city was visiting my college roommate just after we graduated and I’ve been hooked since. I’ve played a college gig there (at St. Edwards University not the enormous UT campus) and back in 2014 performed at the Out of Bounds Festival, which was one of my favorite performance fest experiences ever.

One of my shows opening for George Carlin was in El Paso on the western tip of Texas. You don’t appreciate how far Texas extends to the west until you have to get to or from El Paso. In fact, the drive from Phoenix to Dallas, which I made a few times on cross country trips, is 1,000 miles and 620 of those miles are in Texas, from El Paso to Dallas. Needless to say I flew to the Carlin gig because the night before we were in Salt Lake City (and the day after I did my last show with him in Anaheim, CA).

I also flew to El Paso when I had a show in Alpine, Texas, which is down near Big Bend National Park. Alipne is about 3.5 hours from El Paso and that’s still the closest airport. That show in Alpine also allowed me to make a stop in Marfa, a tiny town that’s become a bit of an artist colony over the years. It’s also famous for being the location for the James Dean/Rock Hudson/Elizabeth Taylor film Giant. The Hotel Paisano in downtown Marfa makes a lot of use of the fact that big stars stayed there and they named their pricier rooms after them. I didn’t spring for Rock or James’ suites though, I was probably in the Gaffer Room.

My most recent work-related trip to Texas was debarking a cruise ship in Galveston after a December voyage in the Caribbean. I got up before dawn to debark in time to make a flight, and as I got some air and coffee on the top deck I saw a very bright Venus in the eastern sky. Below it was another planet, I guessed either Jupiter or Saturn, and to confirm I opened my Planets app. The app said that Mercury was just next to Jupiter so I looked closer and sure enough there was a very faint pinpoint of light next to Jupiter. It’s the first time I ever saw Mercury and you can just make it out on the iPhone picture I took.

  • Longhorn steer, 2010
  • Austin Food Truck, 2014
  • Palace Theater, El Paso, 2008
  • Fort Worth Cats mascot, 2006
  • Venus, Jupiter, and Mercury, Galveston, 2018
  • View of mountain through binoculars, near Marfa, 2013
  • Me on the Grassy Knoll in Dallas, 2003
  • Mural of Eighter from Decatur, 2018
  • B&W Polaroid of Downtown Marfa, 2014
  • Corpus Christie, 2005
  • Food Truck, Marfa, 2014
  • Eva Longoria, Miss Texas A&M Kingsville 1996, pic from 2005
  • Pre-show in Brownsville, 2002
  • Moonrise over Eagle Mountain Lake, 2018
  • Crowd at Texas A&M Commerce, 2016
TZZXMap

All 50 States Day 17: Kentucky!

All 50 States Day 17:

Kentucky!

My most recent run-in with Kentucky was in the middle of a crazy trek across the eastern midsection of the country back in 2010, when I went from a gig at U.S.C. in Columbia, SC, hit Asheville, NC the next night, stopped in Nashville for a set the following night at Zanies, and then dropped in to Louisville for a night before a heading to a couple of college gigs in Illinois. Nicholas Anthony, with whom I had recently worked in Vegas, was living in Louisville at the time and we met up, hung out, did sets at the Comedy Caravan, and hit an art show and a bar.

My favorite show ever in Kentucky was a few years before that in Louisville opening for Carlin at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts in 2007. It was the 3rd in a series of 3 consecutive shows that took us from Erie, PA to Columbia, MO, to Louisville.

My first experience with Kentucky was during my first ever road gig: in 5th grade traveling to Nashville for a competition with the Waukegan Grade School Orchestra. We even stopped at Mammoth Cave for a tour before hitting Nash Vegas and coming home with a gold medal.

I’ve played several colleges in the state but just about all of the college shows I did in Kentucky were in the first years of my college touring career, from about 1995-2000. I therefore don’t have precise records of when and where the shows were (all my old contracts and physical calendars are in storage, I think), I doubt I have any pictures.

Off the top of my head I can remember names like Berea College, and names that sound familiar when looking at a list of Kentucky colleges include Centre College, maybe Morehead Sate? I know for sure that on Jan 16, 2001 I did two college shows in Louisville, an evening show at Bellarmine College and a noon show at the University of Louisville. I distinctly remember the U of L show being a typical noon show with a loud, inattentive audience in a large student union open area. That show specifically got mentioned in my Life as a Comic episode on noontime college shows cuz I blew some of the money I made on that show on upgrading a rental car in LA to a convertible Trans Am. Thanks U of L for being a terrible audience, cuz that was a sweet ride!

  1. Me on stage at the Comedy Caravan, 2010
  2. Louisville bar, 2010
  3. State line on I-65, 2010
  4. a few frames later, mile 0 on I-65. Check out that rolling shutter!
KYMap

All 50 States Day 11: Hawaii!

Iao Valley State Park

All 50 States Day 11:

Hawaii!

The U.S.’ 50th state was also my 50th state! I was stuck on 49 for several years and was wondering if I’d have to resort to going there on vacation and doing an open mic just to say I’d performed there. But in 2010 not only did I finally landed a gig in Hawaii, the show was on my birthday! The wonderful people at B.Y.U. Hawaii brought me in for a show on their campus on the north shore of Oahu and I flew in a week early to try to see a bit of the state.

My week in Hawaii started with a weekend in Honolulu where I stayed in Waikiki Beach and explored the city. I poked around the beach, hit a couple of parks, and had a Mai Tai at the Outrigger Reef hotel where one of my sisters had her first big singing gig about 20 years prior.

When planning my trip I had to decide if I wanted to island hop, and if so, which island to I hop to. I chose Maui because I wanted to do some snorkeling and Molokini, a small crescent shaped island formed from an ancient volcano cone, is just off the coast of Wailea. I stayed up the shore in a groovy older motel called the Aston Maui Lu*, in a great town called Kihei. I checked out Iao Valley State Park, sang karaoke at a restaurant bar, and sailed on a catamaran for a snorkeling trip. Sadly it was too windy for the catamaran to navigate the Molokini crater, but I got to snorkel in some great reefs, saw a sea turtle, and the crew threw up the sail in the strong winds and I got to experience a pretty thrilling ride.

I flew back to Oahu the day before my show at BYU Hawaii and a couple of very helpful and friendly students met me at the airport and drove with my up to Laie, where they treated me to the infamous local dish called the Loco Moco—a hamburger patty served over a plate of rice and covered with a friend egg and gravy.

The show on my birthday was so much fun and was a great way to wind up an amazing week. The audience included students and people from town, and after the show the student activities advisor told the crowd it was my birthday and they all sang “Happy Birthday” to me to end the night. After the show I hit the hotel bar—oh, I didn’t even mention, they put me up at Turtle Bay, the resort where they filmed Forgetting Sarah Marshall!

So yeah, I had a great week in Hawaii and it was a memorable way to check all 50 states off of my to-do list. I am looking forward to returning and seeing more islands.

Top Row, left to right: Waikiki selfie with Diamond Head in background; Color Polaroid of Maui sunset; Getting my Hunter S. Thompson on while sailing in Maui; Molokini crater.

Middle Row, left to right: Iao Valley State Park with quality lens flare, Snorkel selfie; swimming selfie in Kihei; Laie Hawaii Temple in Laie, North Shore of Oahu.

Bottom row: Rocks at Waimea Beach and yes, I jumped! Polaroid of a shrimp shack at a shrimp farm on the North Shore of Oahu.

HawaiiMap2
Maui Lu Motel
The late, great Aston Maui Lu Motel in Kihei, HI

*when going back to find the name of the groovy motel that I liked so much in Kihei I started poking around on google maps in the area to read the names of the hotels, sure I would remember it once I saw the name. I couldn’t find it. I switched to satellite photo mode. I saw a large, bulldozer area of land by the beach, a construction site.

The spot was labeled “Maui Bay Villas by Hilton Grand…” and I had a sinking feeling that the funky mid-century motel I dug so much had been bulldozed for a new corporate resort. I searched my old emails for a receipt to get the name and address of the motel: The Aston Maui Lu at 575 S. Kihei Rd.

I entered the address in google maps and it put the pin right smack dab in the middle of the construction site. Turns out it’s a friggin’ timeshare slated to open Spring of 2021.

google map construction site
Former site of the Aston Maui Lu Hotel

Fare thee well, Aston Maui Lu! You were a dope, classic motel with nice grounds and kick ass pool.

Arkansas—All 50 States Day 4

Downtown Rogers, AR, May 1990

Day 4 of my All 50 States chronicle takes us to…

Arkansas!

I got to Arkansas early in life because my maternal grandmother lived there on and off and eventually retired in Rogers, AR in the northwest corner of the state. When I would road trip back and forth from Illinois to L.A. for college, visiting Grandma in Arkansas would be one of my social calls on the way, along with Mom in Texas, and friends at ASU in Tempe.

In my touring days I’ve done a bunch of shows in Arkansas, all colleges and universities, including University of Arkansas campuses in Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and the main campus in Fayetteville. I’ve also performed at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia, Lyon College in Batesville, Arkansas State up in Jonesboro, and possibly my favorite name of the bunch: Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia.

coffee mug
Arkansas swag! Mug from Ouachita Baptist University!

In fact, I liked the words Ouachita and Arkadelphia so much that the mug the student activities board gave me has survived multiple moves and outlived most of the school swag I received over the years.

ArkansasMap

Tech Rehearsal LIVE tonight!

Since everything in NYC is shut down right now I’ll be streaming my monthly show The Odd Rock Comedy Hour live on my twitch channel Saturday, March 21 at 7:30 pm Eastern US/4:30 Pacific US (2330 GMT)

Tonight we’ll be doing a little tech rehearsal to get our studio up and running, and I’ll play some songs, show a video clip, hopefully have a live guest via skype! I’m also going to discuss my streaming setup if anyone’s interested in the tech side or has questions about how to do it yourself! Tune in to twitch at 7:30 pm Eastern/4:30 Pacific (2330 GMT)!

 

Watch live video from RobPRocks on www.twitch.tv

Live Stream March 17 8:15 pm! Eastern US

Hey everyone!

Since all of my shows are on hold and most of us are stuck at home I decided to try to put on a live stream show! Tonight, March 17, at 8:15 pm eastern US time (5:15 West Coast US, 00:15 GMT) I’m gonna log on to my brand new twitch channel and play a bunch of Monkees covers!

It’s an experiment! If it works I’ll try to do more of this kind of thing. Join me! We’ll have some fun and play some tunes!

 

Watch live video from RobPRocks on www.twitch.tv

Billesse: Perfume for Dogs [52 Sellout Week 38]

I confess, I didn’t know perfume for dogs was a real thing until I made this ad, so if any retailer needs a ready-made, abstract, arty commercial this week’s 52 Sellout is for you!

It’s been a busy week here at RobPRocks HQ and I wanted to keep my weekly streak of 52 Sellout posts alive so I needed something I could shoot locally and a music track with a stripped-down arrangement. I had a piece of music I’d been playing with after finding the melody in an old voice memo on my phone (my voice memo app is an unending scroll of snippets of music and lyrics). It reminded me of a nocturne and I figured if I matched the music with some night photography it could look like one of those art film-looking fragrance ads.

A few weeks ago I recorded some good night footage from in front of the Brooklyn Public Library when I was testing a camera stabilizer so I thought about using that, but there were no people in it, which wouldn’t really work for the kind of perfume ad I had in mind. Then I remembered I had some really fun footage of a dog playing in the fountain at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. It was a First Saturday, which is a monthly free event at the museum, and I went over to practice some night shooting. I heard some kids squealing with delight over by the fountain and when I looked in their direction I saw the happiest dog in the world playing in the dancing water.

I love dogs, especially happy dogs that are trying to bite moving water, so I got as much footage of the guy as I could. I wasn’t planning on using it for anything, I just wanted the save the moment. I thought it would be nice to look at on stressful days. But how to use images of a dog in a fountain for an arty perfume ad? Boom: dog perfume.

It seemed so ridiculous I ran with it, not knowing that it’s an absolute real thing (though “dog deodorant” is probably more accurate).

June 3rd

I don’t keep track of a lot of dates, but June 3rd sticks in my mind because in 1996 it was the day I moved to NYC, which means today marks 20 years since I took a flight from Chicago and a bus from LaGuardia to get to a 3-month sublet in Hell’s Kitchen. And though I didn’t do anything intentional to celebrate the occasion I spent the day finishing up a packet of songs and sketches for a potential gig, recording my own music in my studio, and discovering that my YouTube channel (which I obviously didn’t have in 1996) just hit 20 million views. Not bad.

In these 20 years I met a lot of wonderful people through the performing world and had a lot of great experiences, not the least of which are:

  • Opening a dozen shows for George Carlin
  • Opening for Lily Tomlin at the MGM in Las Vegas
  • Doing a 2 week tour in Afghanistan performing for members of the armed services at military bases
  • Completing my goal of spending at least one day in every state
  • Appearing on Comedy Central
  • Making the Dr. Demento Funny Five and Funny 25
  • Putting out 4 albums of music
  • Having a performance piece about my distaste for a certain Baroque piece of music go viral and lead to so many fun and interesting encounters and opportunities
  • Being in a concert film

Shoot, I could go on and on. And though I’m not a household name, nor rich, I feel I’ve gotten better and better at mixing comedy, music, and performance in a way that’s true to who I am and what I believe. Last year I wrote a musical which I hope you all will see and hear someday and I still thoroughly enjoy making people laugh with jokes, music and lyrics.

Thank you to everyone who’s been part of this experience, my good friends in and out of comedy, my family—both immediate and extended—and everyone who’s come to shows, watched online, and enjoyed what I do.

Yours in rock,
RobP

MarsCon ReCap

This weekend I performed for a crowd of Klingons, hobbits, wizards, and several incarnations of Dr. Who; and at the hotel were a full-size remote control K-9 and Dalek, panels on anime, and room parties with Wizard of Oz, 1970s, and The Big Lebowski themes. Hopefully by now you’ve guessed that I was at a sci fi convention. More specifically I was at MarsCon in the Twin Cities, a great fan-run sci fi con with an entire comedy music track curated by Luke Ski and others.

There were fun performances all weekend long with Dr. Demento regulars like Devo Spice, Sponge Awareness Foundation, The Great Luke Ski, TVs Kyle, Carrie DahlbyPower Salad and many more. I had a great time performing because the crowd at MarsCon really knows and loves comedy music and they enthusiastically support it like no other group.

The themed room parties are a blast too. As you make your way down the hall you can have a shot with a Klingons in their spartan room, a white Russian in The Dude’s Abode  while The Big Lebowski plays on a loop, and then a hot chocolate with the Manticon folks dressed as marines from a series of novels by a sci fi writer named David Weber. Up and down the halls are elves, Star Trek officers, anime characters and more.

The creativity of everyone there is one of the things I loved most, fellow performers have podcasts, animated web shows, and music projects; several of the attendees have elabroate costumes that they made themselves, and you even see parents and kids participating in events together.

 

Nyes_Selfie

I even had time for a quick extra-conventional sojourn, taking the Twin Cities’ relatively new Metro light rail to downtown Minneapolis to Nye’s Polonaise, a polka bar that’s been open since the 1950s and sadly will be closing its doors this year. I had a quick bite, listened to a set from The World’s Most Dangerous Polka Band, and then made my way—amongst the throngs coming out of a Timberwolves game—back to the hotel in Bloomington to revel with wood nymphs, steam punks, and various ogres, demons, and off-world types.

I can’t thank the MarsCon folks enough for treating me so well and inviting me to such a fun convention. As the Musical Guest of Honor I was truly honored to be there and very grateful to have been a part of it. If this kind of thing sounds fun to you get in touch with the MarsCon folks and get yourself there in 2016.

© Paravonian