Music From 6 Potomac: Update

I have lost track of the days since my father and I started working in our home studio. Time flies, as they say.

Our first track is scheduled for release on September 23. It’s a comic song about our current infatuation with being outraged. Entitled, appropriately, Outrage.

The track is already available for patrons. It will be on most streaming services once it goes public. You can keep track of this and upcoming releases at https://reverendpillsbury.hearnow.com/.

Now that we are getting a feel for what works, my father and I can start pushing the envelope a bit and dig into some slide blues.

I won’t say any of this is easy. My hands are so bad that just getting dressed is a challenge, but, there is a bright side. My father and I are working closely together. I’m the hands and he is the ears. While there are days when everything seems difficult, I am aware of how lucky I am. Not many men get to work like this with their father.

Audio quality, my comfort with the electric banjo, and everything else will improve over time. Learning as we go has always been our favored methodology.

In other news, Crisfield, Maryland, has seen another summer come and go. While the weather won’t start cooling down until late October, there are little signs of autumn all around. I still have a standing invitation to play dominoes with some local old-timers. I hope to get some kind of wheelchair, so I can roll a few blocks down the street and see my friends. My Irish stubbornness dislikes begging for a ride, and walking there hurts so bad that I’m lousy company when I get there.

On the bright side, this is the best time of the year for sitting on the back steps in the evening. Just as the sun starts going down, a cool breeze will start to drift in the air. Dragonflies the size of sparrows buzz and dart at one level. Above them, bats circle as, above them, swallows circle in the twilight sky. Sitting quietly brings welcome visitors. Whitetail deer wander under the pecan tree as foxes, raccoons, possums, and groundhogs come and go. Owls have been crying at night, while the crickets, toads, and other night musicians play a rhythmic backup.

I will be experimenting with recording the electric using a slide tomorrow. If the tinkering yields interesting results, I’ll post sound files for patrons.

Well, there is a storm rolling over town. Neuropathy and arthritis are riling up something fierce. Going to curl up with the three cats and a cheesy movie. Given how bad the pain is presently, it feels prudent to break out one of those mind-bendingly weird movies I keep in reserve for extreme situations: Samurai Cop. It’s my version of chicken soup.

Help! I’ve Fallen And My Banjo Won’t Pluck!

The time since my last post has been, shall we say, eventful?

Dad and I both took bad falls. In dad’s case, I tried to pick him up.

Now, there was a time when I could pick up and carry just about anything. Those days, my still aching muscles tell me, have passed.

We are both okay. While much of the country seems divided, Crisfield is still Crisfield. We have a support network that, in some cases, runs all the way to the great-grandchildren of the old-timers who adopted us over thirty years ago. There isn’t any trouble that is a phone call away from being fixed.

In other news, my father and I are continuing to experiment with the recording equipment. It is interesting how much trial and error it took to come up with our final setup. The recordings I worshiped as a teenager were recorded with primitive gear and in bad settings. We want to keep that simplicity, while taking care to ensure the final mix sounds good over a stereo.

That’s just the acoustic banjo.

Dad is picking up the electric banjo from the shop tomorrow. We are both excited and mildly terrified.

For the gearheads, we kept the imported Stratocaster body and simple bridge for the moment.

Things we did replace:

The pickups have a less powerful magnet. This will give the frailing technique a little more room to breathe. Scatterwound, middle pickup reversed, and a steel baseplate on the bridge pickup.

The baseplate will alter the field of the bridge pickup. This will give the pickup a different tone and sensitivity. Coupled with the wiring harness, this setup will add wide range to my banjo’s sonic palette.

The wiring harness is a classic 5-way switch with a few tweaks. It is set up to tamper the freaky high-frequency notes that sort of belch out of frailing technique. It is also configured to dedicate the second tone control to the bridge pickup.

We also added an aluminum pickguard shield to cut down buzz and a set of heavy brass control knobs. I use the volume and tone controls a lot in my playing. Having something with weight to it will give me better control.

As soon as I am comfortable with the new setup, Dad and I have a few options on how to best blend the electric with my voice.

It’s exciting.

On the teaching front, there is a rather large batch of my videos on Vimeo. The books are scattered about the Internet like dandelion seeds.

As for myself, I am taking a temporary break from teaching.

There are two primary reasons for this.

First, for reasons both business and personal, I want and need to focus on recording.

My second reason is the fact that old-time banjo has morphed into something I no longer recognize. What I teach doesn’t match up with what is chic now. Rather than argue in defense of the tested and proven manner my mentors shared with me, I’m gonna go make music.

Bo’s hard work of organizing the archives has been saved and will be uploaded to the Internet Archive as time allows.

There is still a book in the works. As work continues, we will be uploading drafts for patrons.

At some point down the road, expect a rig rundown for my electric setup. I am also planning on workshops with tips on how to approach frailing with the electric. This instrument uses familiar techniques in an entirely new and surprising way.

On a personal note, I finally found out why I have been unable to get help with pain management. One of my former doctors was messing with my charts.

My neurologist is intervening. I am getting a referral to another pain management center. It is hard to impart this in writing. The last few years have found me in nearly constant agony, at a level that often find me weeping on bad nights.

I don’t know what to do about the doctor. Any legal advice would be appreciated.

The pain tonight from neuropathy, osteoarthritis, and migraines is… Let’s just say it’s bad. Imagine falling slowly into a woodchipper on a freezing cold day while Andy Dick provides commentary. That would be better than how I’m feeling tonight.

I am going to partake of some medical cannabis and wait to see if any critters visit me in the backyard. With the drought, it’s been like Noah’s Ark under the pecan tree at night. I miss being able to tend my garden, but the birds and wildlife are a blessing.

Goodnight, my friends. I love you all.

God bless,
Patrick Costello
Crisfield, Maryland

Music From 6 Potomac: A Project Diary – Day Four

Well, the studio monitors arrived today.

What’s in the box?

Speakers and every cable known to humankind except the one we need!

Jeff Bezos has a quiet moment of bliss.

From the Se7En Sequel: AmA7on

The cables are on the way. Sigh.

I did have time to work on some arrangements. That probably sound crazy from a somoneone improvisation prone as myself. I’m not working on solos as much as the rhythmic setting for the voice.

When the audience can see me, I can do a lot to sell a song just from visual cues. Take away my ugly mug, and the song has to stand on its own. So, I am taking a bit more care in how I balance out the separate aspects of the banjo to better support my voice.

That’s all for now. I’ll be posting more about the project and how you can get involved, but that can wait for tomorrow. I’m going to sit on the steps all night waiting for the mail.

Music From 6 Potomac: A Project Diary – Day Three

8/21/2022: Day Three!

We took yesterday off, and got to work early this morning.

Our main goals for the next few days are focused entirely on getting comfortable with the equipment. I can’t wear headphones and my BAHA (Bone Anchored Hearing Aid) simultaneously, so I am relying on Dear Old Dad to serve as my ears. We are working out hand signals to let me know if I need to change my distance to the mic, play or sing with a different delivery, and other things.

Patrick home studio
It’s a pretty snazzy home studio, if I do say so myself.

Dad is taking to PreSonus like a champ, by the way. His background as a production manager along with the depth of our friendship make him the perfect partner for a wandering creative like myself. When he tells me a take is good or bad, I can trust him unquestionably.

That unspoken bond my father and I share used to drive Amy crazy. She said it reminded her of a scene from the movie Blast from the Past. Adam, the son, asks Calvin and Helen, his parents, to trust him. Their response is something that constantly happens within my family.

                 ADAM
                 And, I'm asking you to trust me
                 without understanding why.

                           CALVIN
                 Well, in that case...of course, son.

                           HELEN
                 Of course.

Maybe we are old-fashioned, but I never see that as a bad thing.

Tomorrow I’ll be working on tweaking arrangements. A few more experiments with mic placement, and we should be ready to start putting out music.

We also messed around with the guitar amp today. The electric banjo sounds fantastic, even with buzzing wiring. Once we get the upgraded axe back from the guitar tech, we will be ready to boogie.

One day at a time.

Very soon, we will be updating my Patreon to reflect our new focus. Stay tuned for more details, exclusive tracks, and other fun stuff.

Presently, I need some coffee and a bad movie. We got a lot accomplished this morning!

Music From 6 Potomac: A Project Diary

8/19/2022 Day one!

After twenty-five years of simplifying my playing for students, and more than a few major setbacks along the way, I sat down in front of the microphone with dad working as both recording engineer and project manager.

The Focusrite Scarlett 414, MXL microphones, and Presonus all worked without any major hitches. It is going to take a bit of trial and error to get the mic settings completely dialed in, but that is to be expected with a deaf musician relying on another person’s ears to get the music across.

Hobo’s Lullaby sounded pretty good for a test run – but the creaky chair needs to go.

Tomorrow, we run through some song titles until we have six songs for the EP. Then we do nothing but that until we have six tracks.

The main challenge we face is getting a good take from song to song. My voice can go from low and smooth to overblown if I am not careful. As a result, each song is going to require different mic placement for the vocals and banjo.

In other news, we now have enough parts to either entirely rebuild the electric banjo, or simply upgrade the electronics. It seems as if a simple wiring upgrade will do for now, or we run the risk of not having the electric for the tracks after this acoustic set.

Not a bad first day. It’s great to do this with my dad. I just wish my hands and ears were in better shape. No point in pouting, as I must work with the tools I have. If this were easy, everybody would be doing it.

Just a clip direct from the microphones. We’ll balance stuff out in the mix as takes improve.
Meatball

Changes

The life of an artist never takes on a set path. Life and time throw changes at us all that can be difficult to manage even with a steady job. You learn to adapt and evolve, or run the risk of joining other dinosaurs in a dusty museum.

Presently, I find myself at yet another moment where I am forced to shift my plans. Some projects will be temporarily shuttered and others shelved entirely to free up my attention, allowing my father and I to take on this new, new thing.

We will post more information when there is something to share. For the moment, my advice is to do what I plan to do right after posting this: go out into the summer night and play a few songs for the lightning bugs and the stars. There is more to learn right there than the entirety of the Internet.

Go on now. Get lost. Don’t come back until you can do like we showed you.

God bless,
-Patrick