DOCTOR: Hmm. Presumably why the planet was never colonized. Androzani Major was becoming quite developed the last time I passed this way.
While my social media feeds are maintaining the fiction that I am still in France to continue a run of guerrilla marketing posts for EGPhest V, I’ve been back in the states for a week now, having had my first foray out of the country in years really, but more importantly since the whole pandemic thing shutdown travel whether I felt up to it or not.
While recovering from the jet lag, which hit hard on Tuesday, and trying to get back into the swing of normal life (or passes for it these days), I’ve had occasion to record backing vocals for Christine Tence’s upcoming EP. I didn’t tell Christine, but this is actually the first time I’ve ever recorded backing vocals for someone else’s album. Not that that would have deterred her — she was really enthusiastic about having my lower register voice in the mix — which, after all those SubmitHub rejections where the reviewers said that didn’t like my voice, made it very hard to decline. And she was so insistent in finding some way to pay me back in kind… a ride somewhere or a studio session or something… getting her just accept that I wanted to help was work enough, so I doubt I could have declined.
We were originally scheduled for August 8th, so I thought I’d have some time between by European sojourn and then to get back into doing vocal warm ups, but fate intervened and Christine called me rather frantically on Wednesday just as I was about to get on a work call asking if I was free the next day. Fortunately I have the flexibility with my working hours these days to do so. It was also my first opportunity to visit the famed Hyde Street studios.
As it happened I’d already scheduled a COVID test on Wednesday, (the time I spent in CDG made me feel like I should do this for my own piece of mind). Since the testing center wanted me to stick around in the neighborhood while the results were being processed, I decided to scope out the scene a bit to know where I’d be going the next day (I also stopped by the Hotel Carlton…. alas, my poor, beloved, Hotel Carlton… lobby locked up and looking forlorn) For some reason I had the impression that Hyde Street Studios was much further north than it was and didn’t expect to be wading so deep in the bowels of the Tenderloin, San Francisco’s cirrhotic liver. Aside from meaning I was on my feet more than I was prepared to and aggravating the sunburn I’d mysteriously developed my last day in France (despite the fact I was wearing pants or only out in the evening), it meant I took a lengthy walk through an area of extended human misery. Lots of damaged people with broken teeth huddled on the sidewalk in odd clumps or under a haphazard tent city. Between the pain in my legs (I was really hurting by the time I got home, which I stupidly walked the full way, even having to double back a bit to get my coat, which I'd dropped) and all that, I decided taking a Lyft would be a better option for the next day.
I’d been listening to Christine’s tracks for the better part of a month on and off — it’s probably the most I’ve actually really listened to one of my fellow songwriters in a while. If you meet Christine, you might have trouble connecting her up with these powerful, belting anthems with a gritty and deeply soulful feel. She’s so sweet and relentlessly self-conscious. Even on stage, she has this compulsion to apologize for everything between songs. It’s a good reminder that you never know exactly what’s going on below the surface and what someone’s inner life is truly all about — that’s something a good songwriter can give you some insight into (not to be confused with the folks who are rather conspicuously assertive they are songwriters and have an outsized and rather desperate sense of self-import as result).
I met Christine at the first Balanced Breakfast music summit, held at Piano Fight in February of 2018. I recall it was out on Taylor Street and it must have been during one of the breaks between sessions. I don't recall much else beyond her being cute and friendly and from the Sacramento area, which meant that there was an opportunity to do a show exchange — I would set up a show locally for her to come and play at, and she does likewise in her area, where she has a more of a draw — it’s an exercise in building an audience outside your own particular sphere or influence.
A few months later, in April, I got a message from Christine saying she’d be performing in a “Battle of the Bands” at Lennon Rehearsal Studios. Not having hard an opportunity to check that location out, I agreed to swing by after checking out some performances at Amado's in the Mission — which coincidentally included a set by Maayan (who would be part of the vocal recording session for Christine's EP). As it turned out I was the only audience member there at Lennon for this mildly pregnant woman performing solo amid all the other larger ensemble acts. Christine was, as usual, ever self-critical, whether it be about her preparedness or the lack of effort she’d put into rounding up people. But she was great and it was a crime that she didn’t win.
From that I roped Christine into EGPhest III at the Hotel Utah, where she was very enthusiastic about the rubber duckies (and much more pregnant). She later reprised her version of “The Mystery and Milieu of You” from that show at the Secret Garden some months later for the debut of the music video for “The Albatross Song” — she was was of course big hit with the denizens of that venue. She was also a star of that music video, playing one of the many “birds” featured in the video when we'd filmed it the previous December.
At some point later down the line I ran into Christine again when she was driving for Uber (I don't recall if this was during the brief period where she was in the city or not). I had finished playing my gig at the Carlton during their wine service and walking down Polk Street when we happened to intersect. I have a distinct memory of her taking a drag on a cigarette in one of the alley’s opposite of Fern Alley. She was actually scoping out venues to perform at in between rides and we ended up at this bar where you could pour drinks into your mouth with what looked like an elaborate glass watering pot. I don’t remember the name of the bar — and it may not even be the same one now with all the pandemic churn. I know it wasn’t McTeague’s — that’s for sure — a venue with a rich history and plenty of character, but the one time I was there it seemed to have lost all of its soul to insanely loud music and the sort of people that actually call each other “bro.”
The pandemic I think sent a lot of us into their little hovels and we burrowed in, despite all the opportunities technology affords us to connect. It was as the tide was beginning to recede that Christine reached out to me — I think I may have triggered it simply by liking a post of hers on Instagram — something I hadn’t been doing in all this many months of self imposed social media lockdown. This led to an actual phone call, something I hadn’t done with anyone, save my parents, occasionally. when I had the wherewithal to actually pick up…. which wasn’t often… We commiserated a bit. It felt good. At that point she proposed I sing backing vocals on her album.
The session was good — I got a chance to reconnect with Maayan, who was one the songwriters I had pulled into the tragically under attended DylanPhest and I had not seen since the ill-fated attempt to create a music video for “Lullaby for the Unloved” She’d since moved to Boise during the lockdown and was only in town briefly before heading off to relocate to Nashville. I also got a chance to meet Kevin Seal, who was doing the vocal arranging. As soon as we met he suggested we do some vocal warm ups, and we went through scales on the piano — on the one hand I felt like I was being treated a bit like a pro, on the other I felt a bit like I was being probed for my abilities a bit, but he seemed satisfied and said that my voice already sounded warmed up (it was, but it was from my first vocal practice in weeks just an hour earlier). During the course of doing the recording I learned that he and the producer and recording engineer had their own band which would be debuting live shortly and had accumulated a large set of recordings during the pandemic that they’d be rolling out over the next few months. But their first rehearsal in person was just about to happen.
We had a cool set up for recording — the three of us, Kevin, Maayan and myself set up facing each other, so we could get visual cues as well as aural — which is good, because my ability to come in on time would have been severely cramped otherwise. But as it was, it was fun to go through the parts (lots of oooohs) and just follow Kevin’s lead. It it was real step up from recording vocals in my closet (as I've been doing for my latest project) and it was enjoyable just being in a real studio again. Chris and Liam (the producer and recording engineer, who I got to know less well owing to them being in the recording booth) seemed happy with the results, and it sounded good on play back, even if I wasn’t quite sure during the actual recording. But it’s backing vocals, so it’s not like I’m going to mess things up too much.
I didn’t get a lot of time to explore around the studio — I even neglected to get a flyer up for my upcoming show on their billboard (where I saw one of my EGPhest players had her card) — but I did enjoy having some pizza out in the back alley / garden — and for SF pizza it wasn’t that bad. That’s where I learned a bit more about Kevin, Chris and Liam’s recording project. And Christine gave us all the low down on what was going on with her — why the recording date had been moved up and and what was going on such that she was going to be down in San Diego for the next six months.
It’s all very personal and she was subsequently a bit embarrassed by her oversharing so I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say, I wish her the best, and we could all commiserate to a certain degree. Overall the recording session was great and I think the EP will be great. My contribution was small and I headed off to go do the open mic at Bazaar after only couple hours — long before they'd wrapped. But before I went I imparted a suggestion to Christine about the ordering of the tracks that I hope she takes up.
Whatever she ends up doing, it will be great.
Check out Christine's Instagram feed.
One of the many EGPhest traditions is the artwork used for the Facebook Event and flyers/posters. I consider it a cover if my "ducks with pants" "theme" not unlike the songs that are played at EGPhest. For each of the now five years I've been doing this show, I've asked different local artists to do their take on "ducks with pants" — former open mic host and now proprietor Josh Johnson set the ball rolling and then it hit out of the park with his original Pete Townsend inspired guitar playing duck for the 1st EGPhest — which led to a series of open mic hosts / artists as Clyde Always of Cafe International lent his talents to EGPhest II and Mario M. Noche who hosted Ireland 32's open mic gave us a trio serenading the Hotel Utah's mermaid. Jesse Israel, who also did the animation for the Lighthouse at the Edge of the World music video handled the art for the EGPhest IV's poster.
Added to that pantheon, we now have Vica Hernandez-Lew, aka @yayitsvica for next month's EGPhest V, which will be starting at 1 PM on August 15th at Bazaar Cafe in San Francisco, home of the 1st EGPhest and a place of many musical happenings over the past several years including its open mic and a series of residency shows.
Vica, who I've seen perform at various open mics around the city, such as the one hosted by KC Turner, and I've who I've seen scribbling away at Bazaar, performed "The Octopus Song" at EGPhest IV. I've made note of her self described "adorkable illustrations" as I've followed her Instagram feed. I thought her playful, colorful, and whimsical style would be a great fit for the Phest.
Vica's goal is to write and illustrate a children’s book and to have her own line of stationery products. She would also love to release a full length music album soon. You can listen to Vica's EP "Dear Universe" on Spotify, Amazon, Apple, and all the usual places. And you can also enjoy a video of her performance from EGPhest IV below:
See you all at the Phest next month!
You'll find yourself at a reunion of old grads, and old undergrads, and somebody will start croaking out one of these things and everyone will gradually join in. Each in his own key, of course. Until the place is just soggy with nostalgia.
There were new faces. But there were also a lot of familiar faces. Some of the faces were still behind masks. Some of the faces belonged to those who had drifted away from San Francisco since the pandemic began but were back for in town in a way that coincided with this momentous occasion in a bitter sweet way — an occasion that was one more sign that life was truly getting back to normal — Bazaar Cafe’s regular Thursday open mic was back live and in person and on the premises.
I was pleasantly surprised that my performance muscles hadn’t noticeably atrophied and I was able to make it through “The Albatross Song” and my newer-ish song “Till We Have Faces Again” as well as do some promotional schtick that involved tossing out a few rubber duckies into the audience (EGPhest V is coming) — fortunately no injuries were sustained in that process. It felt good to not be playing to a computer screen and hear people's laughter at my jokes or joining in on the "audience participation portion" of The Albatross Song.
A lot of familiar tunes got sung with the audience joining in. A lot of catching up was done. And some familiar habits and patterns were fallen into. It was good.
The extended musings of a songwriter.