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iLike Julian Velard

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

The Relevance Of Relevance

A regular journal is a hard thing to keep, not unlike exercising or a diet. If you don't stick to your guns, pretty soon your pants don't fit so well. The same rules apply to writing. The longer I put it off, the more my mind loses shape. These days I find myself procrastinating constantly, most recently by watching a music video of a teenage girl singing about her favorite day of the week. Having just finished a youtube clip of Rebecca Black being interviewed on Good Morning America, I can confirm that the rest of the world suffers from the same problem. In our heads, we are all junk-food loving fat asses.

This brings me to the topic of my journal. Things have been going very well for me in London. There is a genuine buzz around the release of my album, which is all that I could have hoped when I arrived a couple months ago. But this time around, as I gradually reenter the UK Pop Scene, my eyes are wide open. Having been through the sausage grinder that is the promotional trail before, I keep a healthy distance from all conversations about "music" with "music" industry professionals. I use quotations because while to most of us, music is an expression of the highest order, "music" is a commodity, a constructed product just like anything else for sale. Whenever my thoughts veer in this direction, I always take comfort in the verses of Billy Joel's The Entertainer. Despite his manic depressive tendencies, the Angry Young Man from Hicksville, NY displays surprising clarity in his 1975 ode to the frustrations of the music industry:

I am the entertainer,
The idol of my age.
I make all kinds of money,
When I go on the stage.
Ah, you've seen me in the papers,
I've been in the magazines.
But if I go cold,
I won't get sold.
I'll get put in the back
In the discount rack,
Like another can of beans.

Note to the reader: If I start to sound pretentious in this next paragraph, I apologize. Like all regional dishes, I am best taken with a grain of salt.

The world of today's media is a complex, infinite monster, much like the AURYN in the Never Ending Story (think of two snakes biting each other's tails): a statement is made regardless of its validity. The statement is then commented on, comments are made on the commentary, and the conversation is born. And it's the conversation that makes something relevant. As long as people are talking about it, that's all that matters. Whether "music" is deemed "cool" or "indie" or "cheesy" or "awful" is incidental and modifiable depending on the best way to sell a product, be it Coldplay, Lykke Li, Snuggies or Tiger Blood.

I know this reads like I've watched too much Mad Men (I have), but it's true. In my 12-year career, I've gone from "Who's Julian Velard?" to "Get me Julian Velard!" to "Get me a young Julian Velard!" to "Who's Julian Velard?" on at least 3 different occasions. Having run this gauntlet several times, I've learned to roll with the punches, take the critiques in stride. I don't care if "music" industry professionals think I sound like "Michalel Buble" or "Jamie Cullum" or "Daniel Powter" or "Andrew Gold" or even "Barry Manilow". I don't care if Time Out London went from calling me a "Cool, Classy and Classic Popster," to a "Camp Pirate but not in the good Johnny Depp way," in less than a year's time. I'm just happy to be part of the conversation.

As much as it pains me to say it, Rebecca Black makes a point in the interview with the blonde woman who needs to go away (saying Andrea Canning's name gives her power). Today's media isn't about quality, it's about relevance. Does it matter that George Michael's cover of True Faith is terrible? Does it matter if Charlie Sheen is truly insane? Does it matter that J. Lo's new song is a note-for-note rip off of the Lambada? Does it matter that the Black Eyed Peas did as much damage to American culture in 15 minutes as the Bush administration? As Rebecca herself says, "even a person that doesn't like it, it's gonna be stuck in their head, that's the point of it".

TGIF indeed.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Can't Believe I'm Missing Basketball

The title of this entry may be anticlimactic, but it's true. My beloved New York Knickerbockers are finally winning after more than a decade of losing. Blake Griffin of the LA Clippers is the most spectacular human highlight machine since Sean Kemp. And every other day there's news piece about Carmelo Anthony coming to play in NYC. And I am in London. In January. And I haven't seen the sun yet.

Ok that last statement was a lie. Today was my first bit of English sun since I arrived, and it was truly glorious. Considering I flew out of New York right before our second 20-inch snow fall of the season, you definitely could say I dodged a bullet. To be truthful, I'm enjoying London as much as ever. There's been several bits of good news upon by arrival, one which is that my single, Love Again For The First Time, has been added to the Smooth FM playlist 9 weeks before release! For those not in the know, the closest thing we have back in New York to Smooth FM is CD 101.9. Just the thought of my music being back to back in a playlist with George Benson's version of "On Broadway" sends chills down my spine (I am not being sarcastic at all).
There was also a blurb in the The Sun about yours truly. The Sun is England's daily version of People magazine with naked woman in it. What's not to love? There's a mention about my writing session with the lovely Olly Murs. It was a serious pleasure to work with him and that's saying a lot. I'm a true misanthrope when it comes to music. I don't like going to gigs, don't like watching other people perform at all. Even with artists I love, I always find ways to pick them apart, always thinking of how I would do it differently. Somehow that's missing the point no? The I fact that had a blast writing with Mr. Murs (who's name I absolutely cannot pronounce. For some reason it comes out sounding like Ray Mears.) is a testament to the man. If you haven't picked up his debut, you should. It's dope.

Also found out I'm getting my first ever sync! That's when they put your song on TV in a show or a commercial. I don't know why this should be so exciting, but for some reason having your music associated with a product makes people care about who you are. Seems counter intuitive right? Shouldn't the music lend credibility to the commerce? Apparently having your song in an Old Navy sweater advertisement is the best thing for an unknown artist's career. Well it ain't quite Old Navy, but a bank in Slovenia wants to use Love Again to promote new checking accounts. And I am A-OK with it. Though I think Take The Money And Run would have been more appropriate... then again, I don't want to openly promote bank robbery. But honestly isn't always badass when they get away with it in movies? Robbing a bank is without a doubt the coolest crime out there.
With these pieces of good news right upon landing, my first London show in 2 years coming up in March, and more coming through every day leading up to the release of Mr. Saturday Night, I'm strangely feeling on top of the world here in Holloway (if you saw Holloway,it's the last place you'd call the top of the world). In fact I'm feeling so high, I don't have the overwhelming urge to watch giant mutants men fly and stuff leather bouncy balls into 10-foot baskets. Thank God for though.

Home Sweet Homeless

It's late in Brooklyn. I can hear the BQE through the crack in my window, just two blocks away. The sound of cars speeding by at this hour is oddly comforting. It's nice to know someone besides me is awake in this city. If I don't think about it, the cars sound like a river. That last sentence is incontrovertible proof that I am a purely urban creature. I'm sure real rivers sound nothing like the BQE. Then again, how would I know?

The comfort comes at cost: I'm freezing. The cold air keeps me awake though, awake enough to write my first blog entry in nearly six months. I've had a hard time keeping up my internet musings, only cause there hasn't been something pushing me to do it. With a new album on the horizon, there should be lots to write about right? Funny I can't think of anything too compelling right now. If only you could see me, sitting on my pullout bed in blue and black striped boxer briefs, glass of coconut water by my side. A picture of domesticity. You wouldn't guess I'm hitting the promotional trail in a few weeks, about to trek up and down the island of England for 3 months in the name of great, glorious me. The irony is I've spent countless hours lately decorating my apartment, taking a strange solace in arranging what little furniture I have over and over again in an attempt to make perfect use of the 200 some-odd square feet I call home. I derive great pleasure from organizing my things, book, knickknacks. The more I travel, the more I crave something to come back to that's all mine, just the way I left it. It's like I'm trying to create a history that doesn't exist. I see my friends who have regular jobs and I want what they have - a motorcycle, a dog (in my case a cat). Because I haven't been in a single place for more than 3 months over the past 4 years, I don't get to have those things. Yes traveling is exciting and exotic, but as a lifestyle it can be exhausting. The grass is always greener.

I know as soon as I get on the road I'll be wherever I am, lost in the moment, as thick as thieves with whoever I'm with. But until then, I'm here, in my apartment alone, moving things around, trying to make meaning in this space and coming up with nothing. It sounds depressing and sad but really it's just curious. It reminds of being really thirsty and drinking some water and thinking, "Man water tastes amazing!"
Home tastes amazing.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

I Think I'm On To Something

I'm writing you, oh blog on the blogsphere, from my English drawing room. Technically it's not mine; I'm renting a room in my friend's place in North London. And technically, it's not a drawing room. Just 2 beat up brown couches, a mock persian rug featuring two roosters fighting over a butterfly, and a knock-off 15 inch flatscreen TV atop a small table, the kind used to hold incense in zen monasteries converted from NYC studio apartments (yes I tried meditation once). It's been a while since I addressed my virtual public with a semi-sarcastic diatribe. But it's not for lack of trying. I've started blogs in the past months, but abandoned them within two paragraphs. I can't articulate the reason for my silence, but I think it's got something to do with the old adage "if you don't have something nice to say, keep your pie hole shut". Now if only I learned that lesson with girlfriends...

I'm in London through the beginning of September, hanging around for my good friend and band mate Tom Richard's wedding (he's getting married in Oxford College, the backdrop to many famous films, most recently the Harry Potter franchise). Most importantly, I'm here putting the finishing touches on my next studio album, tentatively titled I Think I'm On To Something. I started writing and recording it over a year ago with two great talents, producer/writers Jerry Abbott and Grant Black. I've procured the drumming talents of Jeremy Stacey, as well as the mixing chops of my longtime collaborator, producer Steve Power of Robbie Williams fame. Steve was the secondary mastermind behind The Planeteer. The primary one being me. Of course.

The path to finishing this LP has been fraught with difficulty. For some reason, I find it impossible to make music in a fluid motion. Coming up in my early twenties, I had a vision of my future self as Tom Hulce in Amadeus, leaning over my pool table, effortlessly bouncing a ball off the bank, my quill in constant motion spewing out an inspired masterpiece. I don't know if it's my New York Jewish upbringing, the booming voice of my diabetic French father forever in my head, or that I'm fast becoming a cliche, but I don't think I'll ever create that way. Writing is a violent place for me filled with laughter, self-doubt, masochism, longing and the constant feeling of dissatisfaction. It's a fiery pit of despair and at the end of every album I have to be pulled from it screaming like a child torn away from the playground.

On top of my creative insanity, there's been serious financial hurdles to overcome. After being dropped from EMI in March 2009, I began writing songs with Jerry and Grant in an attempt to save my ass. Without corporate sponsorship, my time in England was limited. I'd hooked up with a new manager, Colin Lester of Twenty First Artists, and we were trying to get another deal. At the beginning of last summer, it looked as if we found a life raft in the form of Universal Music. But the music business is CRAZY, and that deal fell apart two weeks before signing. I was banished to my homeland that fall, the beginning of my six month decent into depression living at my parents place. By the way, I really do love my folks, my French diabetic father and my knitting obsessed, trivia champion mother. They were amazing to put up with me then. No one else would. I felt like the guy in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I grew a beard, wore a bathrobe and sweatpants constantly, ate a shitload of cereal.

With the new year came possibilities and inspiration. I returned to London this past Spring, and began to write for the album again. Through an amazing stroke of luck, I was given an opportunity to start my own label! My new album will be released on Planeteer Records in 2011. Planeteer has a staff of 3: Colin, Neil (who works for Colin) and Me. We're doing everything: the photo shoots, the design, the A&R, the budgeting, hiring the pluggers, etc. I know it sounds involved and boring, but what it means is that, at the tender age of 30, I have the freedom to make exactly the kind of music I want to make. And this new album is exactly that. I've created a true character, a cinematic element that lives in every song. I wouldn't go so far to say it's a concept album, more like an audio movie. Treat the tracks on the CD like chapters of a DVD. I wanted the title to sound like a film, some lost 70's/early 80's Woody Allen classic, made way before all that crap with Scarlett Jo. In I Think I'm On To Something JV plays a fearless, glamorous, slightly less neurotic version of himself. The sentimental private eye type (think Bogart meets Elliot Gould) who's famous in his own mind (The King Of Comedy meets The Long Goodbye) telling stories of lost love while celebrating his loneliness. I feel for the first time I've been able to take my sense of humor in shoot it straight into the music, without having it conflict with all the mushy gushy romance you people love.

Now that I'm not on the man's dime, the only expectations I have to live up to are my own. This fall I'm heading out to do my last bit of touring for The Planeteer, starting to weave the new songs in with the old. I'm bursting to share this new album with you guys. I'm even doing free shows in New York with a full 5-piece band. I must seriously have a screw loose. Or maybe for the first time in my career I'm having fun. God forbid.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Long Plastic Hallway (A Major Label Story) Part 3

Below is a blog I started a couple months back. Now that I'm back in the States, and have a little distance from my European adventures, I feel a lot safer putting this out there. It's hard to talk about the almost and what could have been with maturity and eloquence. Here's my best crack at it:

I've been back in NYC for three months now, through the summer and into fall and, the occasional overseas jaunt aside, I may be here for a while longer. It's a funny concept to wrap my head around, makes my time in London seem like a music filled dream of pubs and clubs, fried brekky and Wellingtons. These days I wake and find myself right back in my Red Hook stomping grounds, renting a dusty, floor-boarded apartment just a half a room bigger than the one I left two years ago. What happened? How did I get here? I never thought I'd find the answer in a Turner Classic Movies Murder Mystery DVD 4-pack at Barnes and Noble.
Lately I've developed a serious appetite for Bogart. His dry, pragmatic, pessimistic brand of optimism has pulled me in like magnet. The past few weeks I've scoured iTunes, renting any and all Bogart titles: The Big Sleep, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Key Largo. There's something so singular about his self-control; he never loses his cool, even when he's losing his cool (McQueen definitely took a page out of his book). And what a strange looking man for a movie star: a long, giant, stone faced mug planted a top a thin, wiry, body which at first looks awkward, but then moves with complete grace, taking guns from his enemies like a trained ballet dancer. And in no movie is the power of Bogart more on display then John Huston's masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon.
The story is typical noir: Bogart plays Dashell Hammet's finest creation, Private Investigator Sam Spade, who, in the pursuit of his partner's killer, is led down a continually twisting path, meeting all sorts of n'er do well miscreants along the way ala Peter Lorre and Sidney Greensteet. The cause of the commotion is The Maltese Falcon, a jewel encrusted bird lost since the 15th century and worth untold fortunes. All parties involved are after the bird, including Mary Astor, who is Bogart's love interest, and incidentally, (SPOLIER ALERT) the killer of his partner. What I found especially intriguing about the film, is how it's a direct parallel for the music business.

Standing at a fork in the road of my blog, I feel like Robert Frost, trying to muster the courage and take the road not taken, sidestep a bitter rant on the cruelty and injustice of the music business. We've all heard countless stories about major labels breaking the hearts of artists, shelving records for months, years, maybe even for good They lift musicians to the pinnacle of their profession, only to drop them out in the cold to fend for themselves. Sad to say I am another casualty, but rather than dwell in the darkness, I'm trying to see light at the end of the tunnel. And for me the light always comes in the darkness of a movie theater. Stay with me here, I'm going somewhere:


I remember peeing in KensalTown studios a couple years ago (Jason Mraz penned and recorded the international smash "I'm Yours" there, perhaps simultaneously while I was urinating). I had signed to EMI 4 months prior and was riding a high of accomplishment. It was in that toilet I first read Hunter S. Thompson's genius quote about the industry, scrawled on the wall by some musician who'd come before:

The Music Business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side.

Those words cut right to my core then, and still hit me hard now. If I think back to when I started writing songs in my high school bedroom, more than 12 years ago, I never saw it as a path to fame or a career choice. I wasn't trying to be the guy in Billy Joel's The Entertainer, didn’t want to play all kinds of palaces and lay all kinds of girls. I was writing songs because it was the only way I knew how to make sense of the world, to ease the weight in my chest. And somewhere along the way, despite my best efforts, I ended up like all the other singing, songwriting hooligans, chasing desperately after the Maltese Falcon.
For the bulk of my twenties, I recorded album after album, went from manager to manager, signed one bad contract after the next, all in the pursuit of doing what I love. I thought that if I made uncompromisingly great music and performed it with all my heart, that everything would work out in the end. Plow straight through life in the carefree pursuit of your passion and at some point end up with a permanent smile over the rainbow. I wish that cherubic 18-year old had seen The Maltese Falcon. Maybe Bogart could have knocked some sense into that baby Rock Star with the handle of his revolver.
There is no Maltese Falcon. At the end of the movie, the bird turns out to be a fake, and everyone who pursues it becomes obsessed. The only character who lives by any moral code is Spade. In the final minutes he not only hands over the Falcon to the cops and gives back $1000 of bribe money, he also turns in the girl he loves (remember she’s the killer of his partner, and is trying to get Sam's to, in his words, "play the sap"). Spade refuses love, the realization of his dreams. As an explanation, he gives one hell of a monologue:

You'll never understand me, but I'll try once and then give it up. When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something. It makes no difference what you thought of him. He was your partner, and you're supposed to do something about it... and it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's... it's bad business to let the killer get away with it... bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere. I've no earthly reason to think I can trust you. If I do this and get away with it, you'll have something on me that you can use whenever you want to. Since I've got something on you, I couldn't be sure that you wouldn't put a hole in me someday. All those are on one side. Maybe some of them are unimportant. I won't argue about that. But look at the number of them. What have we got on the other side? All we've got is that maybe you love me and maybe I love you. You know whether you love me or not. Maybe I do. I'll have some rotten nights after I've sent you over, but that'll pass. If all I've said doesn't mean anything to you, then forget it and we'll make it just this: I won't, because all of me wants to regardless of consequences and because you've counted on it, the same as you counted on it with all the others.

Let me make my metaphor as plain as possible:

The girl is the music business. Your partner is your art. The Maltese Falcon is the dream of success, and the detective/dreamer/singer songwriter is Spade. Every day I wake and hope for the strength to be like him. As I beat the streets of NYC once again, my mind lives in another city in the past; it's 1941 in San Francisco, it’s always raining and I'm wearing a trench coat with a .45 tucked in my pants. I've had to learn lessons I never wanted to learn first hand. The only advice I give to any aspiring acolyte is keep a good look out for villains, don't play the sap for anyone, especially yourself, and stay alive long enough to close the case and move on to the next one.

And write some good tunes while you’re at it. I mean, that's the whole point, isn't it?

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

The Zen of Aaron Boone (A Major Label Story Part 2)

It's 20 past midnight and up and down the long, narrow island of Manhattan, there are countless people celebrating the victory of their pinstriped warriors, The New York Yankees. Right now I present a stark contrast to the bustling, crowded sports bars of the Upper West Side, sitting in my sister's old bedroom, covered in stuffed animals and flowered blankets, falling in and out of sleep while watching hour upon hour of streaming online movies courtesy of Netflix. I promised myself not to let this blog's fate match my last. But last time I sat down to write one of these things, the words came gushing out like a rusty faucet, dirty brown water not meant for drinking (I'm doing my best to clean it up for consumption like an artistic Brita filter). It's a tough pill to swallow, going from living the life of a UK chart-raiding acolyte to crashing back at your parents for the first time since college. But hey, those the brakes. What would the up be without the down, the left without the right? Just as in January 2007 I was spending 5 nights a week boozing and accumulating credit card debt in downtown NYC, I had no idea that in January 2008 I would be living in England signed to a major record label, or that in January 2009 I would still be living in England signed to another subsidiary of said major record label. Right now it's looking like January 2010 will provide yet another stark contrast. But you know what - I'm actually happy. And being happy is a weird thing for me.

I've been suffering from a strained voice these past few months, a blister developed on my chords back in July as a result of stress and poor health. It's the kind of weakness that cuts right to the core of my identity. But do not fear loyal concert goers, I'm well on the mend and will be in fighting shape for my December tour, thanks to various "New Age" practices I've adopted. I went to my first acupuncture session this week, and I've developed a serious Yoga habit over past months, guided in my stretching by some guy named Rodney Yee who wears too-short shorts and sits on a platform on a cliff overlooking a beach in some perfect place that cannot exist. In addition, I've completely cut all alcohol, coffee, carbonation, dairy, citrus, spicy and fried food from my diet (In case your wondering, yes I'm very boring to hang out with now. I take all my friends to drink tea in Starbucks). But it's the combination of these things, along with an hour's worth of vocal exercises a day (which sound unbelievably terrible), that's making me healthier, building my sound back up so it's richer and fuller, and I suspect better than ever before. My day is taken up by simple tasks - writing new music, rehearsing my new band, responding to emails from fans, figuring out my new very nerdy keyboard rig. And for the first time since I left New York for London two winters ago, I don't feel the pressure of a giant looming in the woods. I don't feel like I'm speeding toward a terrible crash, some poor diner on the Titanic feeling the chill of the Iceberg. And this new found simplicity is bringing a bounce back to my step, ink to my quill, happiness to my warm gun...

There's an easier way to say what I'm trying to say:

Everyone wants to be Derek Jeter. But there's only one Derek Jeter, and I'm not him. And if you asked me to choose between being A-Rod and Scott Brosuis, I'd pick Scott the man with the ugliest face every time. And every now and then, if you bide your time, tuck your head down, and get a bit of luck, you get to have a moment like Aaron Boone in the 2003 ALCS, where the world stops and watches in wonder.

The irony is I don't even like the Yankees. 1986 Mets still play the field in the dreams of my life.

Monday, 12 October 2009

The Maltese Falcon (A Major Label Story)

Coming as soon as I wake up and finish writing it. I am a skilled woodworker with my thoughts. Stay tuned...