All posts by Jon Powers

MountainCity ~ A Family Band

By | Music | No Comments

In my early 20s I was the band leader for a church youth group in Longmont – Planet Youth. It was a singular experience and highlighted by being in a band with my brother, Dave. Growing up I remember us jamming on Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze even before he was a teenager (I was thrilled and proud my kid brother played guitar so well), but we’d never been in a band before.

Over the years I would frequently come back to the idea of being in a band together, and, while we would play on occasion, nothing consistent worked out. And honestly, we’ve had our ups and downs and it’s taken time and perspective for us to iron some things out.

But now, here we are! Presenting the band MountainCity 🙂

Dave and Tara (his wife) have laid a ton of ground work to get MountainCity started. The first song, This Is Love, has been recorded and released, website is up, social media is in place (see Facebook, Instagram, YouTube) and the first show is in the books.

We’re also doing a Kickstarter so we can record some more music. See below.

Like with any business, you need start-up capital – someone who believes in you and is willing to invest. Traditionally this would be a record label but the music business landscape has changed making this a less feasible option. So rather than go into debt or try to find a record deal that would leave us hamstrung, we’re asking people to listen to the music, check out the social media and consider donating to help us see if the music will strike a chord.

Regardless, I hope you’ll enjoy discovering MountainCity! This is something I never thought I’d be able to do and I’m grateful for the chance to play in a family band 😉

 

Be Prepared. Be Nice.

By | Music, Philosophizing | 2 Comments

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My daughter and I were having a conversation a few months ago about what it is you actually learn in school. We were going through how important academics are and how it’s a big deal to try to understand and retain the information coming at you – to really get it. And we were also talking about the social side of things, how school is a training ground to learn to deal with different personalities and to see how forming and maintaining good relationships affects your day-to-day life and potential to succeed.

This got me to thinking about my work in music and, it’s the same situation! Whether I’m jamming with people, playing at church or on the road, trying to get along makes a huge difference. It’s important to come as prepared as possible musically and be ready to give your best effort, but you better hope you’re close to a living legend if you’re going to be a jerk to people, because they won’t WANT to work with you. They’ll just be trying to make money off you.

Leland Sklar, bass player wizard, said in this article (quite the picture!!) that the supporting musicians’ job is to come prepared and be a cheerleader for the other musicians. He’s addressing the same issues my daughter and I were talking about.

Granted, musicians do have a reputation!!! They can be prickly, moody, inconsistent, tardy, bad at communicating, sensitive and awkward BUT, if you TRY TO GET ALONG and simultaneously keep the bar as high as possible in terms of musicality, things can work out so well! Time flies, people have fun and inspired playing can take place.

I don’t know, maybe this is just how my personality works best, but it seems to be working for Leland 🙂

BE PREPARED. BE NICE.

Quitting the Drums

By | Music, Philosophizing | 5 Comments

I quit playing the drums a couple times – the first was around 9th grade. I was tired of lessons and practicing, didn’t have a very exciting musical outlet and frankly was more interested in skateboarding. I guess the break lasted about a year.

The second time was a more complex situation. I’d just completed my first year as a music major at DU and was disillusioned with school and overwhelmed by the work. Certainly I was struggling with laziness, had some of the little fish, big pond thing going, but there were also frustrated expectations and some bad experiences.

My girlfriend at the time was moving to Portland so I decided to follow. Another complex situation. I worked odd jobs, went to CD and book stores and spent time with her. During that year I didn’t play drums and considered selling my set.

To circle back to my time at DU, one of the main reasons I felt overwhelmed was because of my sudden exposure to SO MANY phenomenal drummers. I felt like there was no place for me. If I had a band, I would’ve hired one of them over me any day!

After leaving Portland I moved back to Denver and ended up playing again through some connections with musicians I had from DU. There were 2 main reasons I decided to start playing again and they are the inspiration behind this blog post.

First, I saw that there were more opportunities to play than there were drummers. They couldn’t be everywhere at once so I’d get chances to play by default if nothing else!!

Second, and much more importantly, I realized that I was the only one who could be me. I was the only one who could fully realize MY artistic voice and at some point, others would need or want the perspective that only I could bring. All I had to do was keep trying and hopefully someday I’d be in that position. Obviously there was no guarantee, except that if I didn’t try, it was guaranteed NOT to happen.

These were powerful, inspiring ideas for me that have helped buoy me along ever since.

Phantom of the Opera and The Musician’s Dilemma

By | Music, Philosophizing | No Comments

Boy, dilemma . . .  pick one!!!!

Well, this post was inspired by the film version of Phantom of the Opera which I re-watched this past weekend.

In my upbringing in a devout Christian community, I was left with the impression that one tribe of the Old Testament Jews – the Levites – were in charge of keeping the temple of worship and the religious traditions. One of their specialties was music. They were trained for years and not permitted to play publicly until well into their adult lives. The other tribes took care of them providing food, water, protection, etc. The idea that this existed makes me feel like I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Currently our society seems to hold a low regard for the arts as a legitimate adult vocation. There isn’t really a system in place or “career track”. For teachers, absolutely. Performers, not so much.

To me, The Phantom of the Opera is a wonderful portrayal of the internal struggle the artist has between music and day-to-day life. The main character, Christine, is pulled between the Phantom (Gerard Butler from 300 singing!!!) who represents art, and the other dude, Raul I think, representing domestic life. It’s quite pronounced as Christine is faced with an ultimatum: she must choose one or the other. No hobbyist or weekend warrior here.

I have personally felt this struggle ever since it was time to decide what to study in college. I don’t think I’ve ever felt completely at ease with choosing music as my job. One of the reasons I love being in Los Angeles is it seems ok to be an artist there – there’s a lot of work and a lot of people doing it. There’s more space in that community to be an artist. I get why people move to music cities.

But where does that leave all the rest of the communities throughout the country and the musicians in them?

Music is an amazing medium of communication. It can be like having a heart-to-heart conversation with a bunch of people all at once. What if our culture had more of this? What if there were more opportunities for people to become excellent musicians and live music was a part of our local, day-to-day lives? I wish my kids and students could experience that.

Perhaps electronic music can help change this? That’s a whole ‘nother topic, though!!

 

Falling Asleep Drumming

By | Music | 6 Comments

I must’ve been about 21 years old. I’d had very little sleep, wasn’t eating well and was taking every musical opportunity that came my way – jazz gigs, experimental music, rock and latin gigs, musicals, jam sessions, etc.

Paris on the Platte

The gig was playing jazz at Paris on the Platte in Denver. The crowd was younger (high school/college age) and focused on drinking coffee, intellectual conversation and being counter-culture. I was in a fog. I don’t even remember who the other musicians were.

I do remember my head snapping up and waking out of a dream to realize that I had nodded off and I was still on stage playing the DRUMS! I quickly looked around but none of the other musicians were looking at me and no one in the crowd flinched. After my heart stopped pounding I realized no one was listening. Like, no one.

And no one cared.

I began to wonder why I was there.

It was a clarifying moment.

I was scared and disappointed that night because I thought I was there to play music that would help bring everyone together and transport us all to that “other dimension” which music can and I thought I had destroyed that chance. Turns out I was just hired to do background music haha!! And really it was an opportunity to practice my craft and gain life experience. I was putting in time toward those “10,000 hours” so that in the future I could be ready to help facilitate those special musical experiences when they did happen.  Seeing the situation for what it was and getting ahold of WHY I was there really helped.

There’s always the chance that someone’s listening, though 😉

Play an instrument!!

By | Music, Philosophizing | 2 Comments

My brother forwarded this video to me today.

Regardless of your end goal, playing an instrument is a huge plus. I’ve heard discussion around this before but the research done showing the effects of how playing an instrument is different from other activities is what really got me!!

‘Nough said – watch the video!!

 

The Metronome, The Head & The Heart

By | Philosophizing | 2 Comments

My first “gig” with Matt Morris was a studio session in Denver at Macy Sound Studios. He was recording 2 more songs to go on his debut album for Tennman Records, Justin Timberlake’s record label. No Pressure.

We set up the drums, I warmed up, played too much (excitement and nerves) and then we sat down to talk about the ideas Matt had about the song. I knew right off the bat it was going to be harder than I thought. After about an hour of trying to actually play something appropriate I knew we were wasting our time. I wasn’t going to get it. Matt was very patient and we continued to try for quite awhile after that, but we didn’t even get close. I thought I was fired from the gig – like, not gonna work with Matt anymore period.

The main problem was that in over 25 years of drumming, I had worked very little with the metronome. When you’re recording, either the metronome or another part of the recording is always playing. As a result every little deviation from time is heard and there were TONS of them in my takes. I either had to focus on the metronome OR on being creative. I hadn’t developed the skill of playing creatively with the click.

Today, for whatever reason, I was thinking about what it means to have the head and the heart connected. All this means is, to take the analogy of speech, do you mean what you say? Many of us say the right things without really meaning them. Many of us say the wrong things and knowingly go against our hearts. In these cases, our heads and hearts are not connected and our ability to communicate is hindered. People can tell; you can tell.

In music, we connect with what’s in the heart of the artist. If the artist has hangups, snags, blocks in their mind while they are playing, the heart will not transmit. In my case, I hadn’t developed the skill of playing with the metronome and my mind was blocking my ability to connect with my heart.

Btw, I realize there’s plenty of vague terminology here, but I hope the gist of it comes across despite semantic shortcomings and philosophical differences. You know what I’m saying?! Haha!

J

Learning Double Bass Drumming

By | Practicing Drums | No Comments

Happy New Year! I wish you all a great beginning to 2016! Welcome to my blog.

To dive right in, one of my most recent ideas is to do a series of videos about double bass drumming. I have never invested consistent time into learning double bass and as a teacher, I want to be able to help my students who are interested in learning it. So I thought maybe there’s a way I could chronicle the process AND provide a way for drummers to learn along with me.

The videos are pretty low-budget (haha) but functional (I hope). Sometimes having something to practice along with in real time is an added motivator and makes it more fun!

The YouTube playlist is here: Practice Double Bass Drum with Me!

If you have any questions or feedback, it would be great to hear from you!

J